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Much Wittering on the Moors

By Peter Glanvill

1999 was the tenth anniversary of the Mendip invasion of the Assynt region.  Little did we know back in 1990 what we were to start when Brian Johnston, Tony Jarratt and I arrived in the old shed at Knockan at the start of a gloriously sunny week.

Ten years on we have the longest caves in Scotland, the most beautiful caves in Scotland plus the largest chamber in Scotland and it's been a privilege to be around when most of these discoveries were being made.  In the course of the weeklong trips over the last decade I have made many new friends, climbed many new hills and sunk many, many pints of 80 shilling.

It has to be said during the same period of time that many members of the Grampian Speleological Group (not sputum article society as my dictation software would have it) have devoted their lives to construction of the magnificent new hut Taigh nam Famh which has turned at least one person into a caving softy.

It is always sad to leave those distinctive hills behind in my rear view mirror as we drive south until the next time we can return.  My great satisfaction  is  the huge library of photos I have built up over the last ten years. This year, I took the opportunity of donating to the GSG four compact discs containing a collection of my best photographs of the four main systems in the limestone of Assynt. Copies are available at £10 a throw.  These contain 25 MB TIF files which will comfortably enlarge to A3 or bigger.


The high waterfall- photo: Pete Glanvill

This year was a quiet year with no major discoveries being made.  However we enjoyed some magnificent weather, did some exciting diving and I was very pleased to come home with yet more satisfying images of those remarkable Scottish caves.

This report has been delayed by my deciding to use dictation software to compose it.  The original reads like Finnegan's Wake - if bits of that creep past the corrections forgive and (perchance) enjoy.  In fact you can play spot the error for the next few thousand words.  No prizes will be awarded though as I have made it easy by putting the dictated errors in italics!

This year Peter Rose decided to subject the Grampian's theological group and also the rest of his family to more of his wittering so they, Quackers and myself were the vanguard of the Mendip invasion for 1999. At the start of the week I had only one objective which was to gain access to the tantalising Holland roof which had been seen by me on my first trips into the Farr series of ANUS cave.  The said hole in the roof lies a few feet back from sump 4 and could only be reached by maypoling.  So it was that on the Sunday morning a small party consisting of Crackers? (well, why not it's what my mum thought he said when he answered the phone once) Derek Guy a new Grampian member and old caving friend made our way up the ANUS valley along with the Rose family and a number of maple sections up to the entrance of Abbas? cave.  A number of rather poor Terry Toby Chuck tub beat jokes (what did I say to the machine really folks) were made with regard to the way I happened to have carried my sections - namely protruding in an ungainly fashion from the back of my rucksack.

We had planned to climate Bray bag (that one's easy) but it remained obstinately shrouded in cloud for most the day (that's climate for you) and accordingly we changed our objective to the bluff overlooking the Bone Caves (the pronunciation of which would have caused the dictation software to develop a stutter).  En route we visited the sink for Abbas (OK - ANUS) cave which is currently almost completely choked such that a stream poured continuously over the waterfall above the cave for the entire week.  Once we were on the summits of the bluff the clouds began to clear and we got some terrific views towards Quinn Alec, other Charlie Gill Filey (Christ knows what I said there) as well as the cloud shrouded Conical.  At this point Derek and I split away from arose (The Rose) family and examined the limestone areas of the moor as we headed back towards the salmon farm. Several very interesting depressions were found although nothing resembling the famous cave of the more of the wild builder is (easy peasy that one).

Derek, who is working at Lochgilphead as a Jeanette assist (say it fast) for asylum brooding operation (something fishy) then struck up a conversation with those running the salmon farm and we were taken on a brief tour.  In the evening Crackers and I headed off to Kylesku where we had a short dive examining the famous boy Montenegro (this has nothing to do with the Balkans but more to do with drowned cars) and its steady deterioration.  Quackers vanished as usual in the course of the dive. Pete Rose very kindly bought us pints as we crawled from the water at the end of the dive.  After a meal at the hotel we headed back for home.

The next morning dawned reasonably beautifully and we decided that some air should be obtained. Shortly after this I discovered that I had a bit of a problem as I had locked the keys in the car and it's central locking.  An hour later a friendly AA man from Lochinver was demonstrating how to break into centrally locking cars using guess what - they caves hangar as well as big man monitors cuff and surpass the wages (come on, come on you're too slow).

J'Rat and the strange mud formations in Upholes Passage - Photo: Pete Glanvill

When all had returned from Lochinver it was decided that we ought to attack Abbas cave again and charged uphill ahead of the recently arrived other Mendip contingent which consisted of Tony Boycott, Rich Blake, Tariff (who he - guess) and Tony Jarratt.  They couldn't resist the magnetic attraction of the Allt as they drove past so it was that I found myself and a pile of maypoles behind the wittering Rose in the connecting crawl leading to the Farr series. After a few minutes order was re-established and steady movement continued through the rather loose environment around Sotanito chamber inexorably towards sump four.  In the process I took the precaution of re-belaying the rope on the climb out of Sotanito chamber to a somewhat larger boulder than that to which it had been belayed previously.  I don't like the idea of relying on something lighter than myself!   A wave of beer fumes and some cheerful shouts  indicated  the presence  of  the  Alps contingent who rapidly overtook us grabbing maypoles Willie nearly as they passed us so that we  quickly  arrived at  the  base of the famous hole in the roof where the maypole sections were hurriedly fitted together - in fact so hurriedly that the final product ended up as two sections which we couldn't connect!  After a few minutes Rich Blake and I scrambled to a ledge which we hurriedly gardened and managed to prop the maypole across the passage and then just get it securely into the base of the hole.  The this point we had a fold of then tried ride on more Pol if we couldn't freeze the remaining pieces brackets clout role always use Greece on maple in future clothes brackets in. (God knows what that means - I can't remember.)  However Tony Jarratt had other ideas and as we both screamed "Don't do it! Don't do it!" he disappeared up the ladder like a, well, rat up a ladder out of sight into the roof in a sort of Indian rope trick (well he had just come back from Meghalaya) but unfortunately he reported that the hole narrowed down and any further progress would anyway need further maypole efforts.

After a lot of pissed mutterings most members of the party seemed to disappear leaving Derek and I to explore those bits of the Farr series that I hadn't seen before.   We were soon to discover why Goon had seen fit to describe the cave as a vertical maze when I started to drop down a slot in the floor and found I had descended something like fifteen or 20 m before I got anywhere near the stream.  In fact I dropped out of the roof with Derek closely behind at the upstream end of sump 3, right beside the diving line.  A dull roar ahead indicated that we were near the base of fund aghast (another easy one) falls and a short crawl took us towards them.  The falls certainly are impressive and after some scrambling around and examination of a funny little hole in the wall beside the falls (and a mysterious rope dangling from the ceiling) we returned to the falls and completed the roped climb up the side.  The route then led past some small cascades and wallows until we found ourselves just downstream of sump four.  After completing the photography Derek and I left the cave, ate some of Angie's famous apple cake and headed downhill.  Unfortunately we had the car keys and the wittering from Rose could be heard half a mile away as we came over the hill.

Thunderghast Falls, ANUS Cave - Photo: Pete Glanvill

The next morning started unpromising with grey cloudy skies and the original plan to tackle Suilven was scratched in favour of a walk to the highest waterfall in Britain.  By midday we were ready to go and while Tony B,  Tony Jarratt and Co attacked Rana Hole (it is now known as Six Buddles). Derek, Crackers, the Roses and myself started along the track  to the  waterfall - in brilliant sunshine. Crackers         disappeared early on his track having decided that he didn't want to sacrifice the 700 feet required to view the waterfall.  This caused certain noises from Rose which diminished steadily as we disappeared downhill towards the waterfall.  The waterfall is certainly an impressive sight as it plummets into Glen Coul although from the top one cannot see right to the bottom but I suppose at the bottom you can't see the water going over the top!  After a quick picnic we then started up the long track back over the Col and down towards the Inch.  At times the shout of the lesser spotted Rose could be heard calling to its straying offspring.  We passed a pair of ptarmigan as we climbed up high into the col amidst some wild scenery.  There are splendid views down into the Glen Coul area dominated by the massive Stac of Glencoul. Tiny lochans dotted the landscape.  A long plod downhill past more lochans eventually brought us within sight of the Inch and the prospect of a welcome pint or three.  The diggers had got somewhat ahead in the drinking stakes and decided that Pete's glow role (eh) was not to go diving this evening.  However he had other ideas and set off towards calcium with Crackers.

As we approached Kylesku we noticed to see Mr (the sea mist actually) rolling in up the loch so we crossed the road bridge and around the corner. Some entertainment followed when I turned the car in the middle of the road just as the only other car we saw that evening came roaring around the bend. We then took a series of pictures of Mr rolling around the basic rheumatic (some times known as Quinag) in the most spectacular fashion.

Derrick Guy in Knockers - Photo: Pete Glanvill

Shortly after I started kitting up for my dip in the harbour Jake and Becky arrived and Becky proceeded to jump into a kayak and disappear out into loch Glencoul not to be seen again for some time.  Pete surfaced with a few scallops and he and Crackers departed leaving Jake not a little concerned still waiting for Becky in the gathering twilight.

The next morning Derek and I headed off to do some shopping in Lochinver and obtain air from doom (Jim) Crooks.  After the usual crack with Jim we wandered back via the tourist office (where is the cave at Kylesku? (- the cave at Kylesku (Uamh Ruaidhridh) apparently dropped into the sea many years ago and has not been seen since! - J'Rat) and pie shop and then later on in the afternoon I decided to introduce Derek to the joys of clan light (this is a cave not a beer - think about it).  I think we must have chosen one of the driest spells I have ever visited the cave which made the trip a lot more pleasant in dry gear. After a rapid trip to Sump 3 we slowly made our way out taking pictures as we went.  We also undertook the opportunity to have a peek at the Capital series that I am ashamed to say I had never visited before.  In the evening we had an excellent Scott male (not cannibals - think shellfish) which rounded the day off very nicely.

On Thursday I decided to join Tony Jarratt and Rich in the new dig at ANUS Cave. The dig houses the prospects of passing over sump four and lies in Upholes Passage.  It was dubbed Anus Horribilis by Tony Boycott and Co.  After taking some photographs of very delicate mud formations hereabouts Peter amused himself mainly by stacking spoil while the smaller dimensioned Tony Jarratt and Rich Blake continued to excavate a mud filled bedding plane which apparently draughts if you're feeling optimistic

ANUS Horribilis with J'Rat and Rich Blake - Photo: Pete Glanvill

Back at the hut we met up with Tony and Crackers for a planned drift drive underneath the Kylesku Bridge.  Tav decided to go fishing, which was a bit sad, because the weather started to deteriorate somewhat and certainly underwater was the best place to be. Eventually Tony, Crackers and I were sitting on the bank directly underneath the bridge.  Tony and I submerged and descended to about 20 m which seems to have been a good depth to be at rather than where Crackers was which was more like 15m and meant battles with kelp.  In fact Crackers emerged a couple of times convincing Peter Rose and Co that they were watching a particularly clumsy otter.  Tony and Pete found themselves on a wall literally smothered in dead men’s fingers and as they moved along in the currents and around the point so the underwater encrusting fauna altered to that seen nearer the fairy slept (come on, come on).  Navigation could not be easier because as soon as the wall finishes and you are on the sand the ascent leads straight to the base of the ferry slip (okay now).  This is a very exciting scenic dive and well worth it if you are in the area.

Derek, who'd been on a tour of salmon farms the previous day, returned that evening and so, on the Friday, I decided to initiate him into the delights of the Traligill valley. After a leisurely start we arrived in the company of Quackers (dictation software off from now on) (Thank f**k for that!!!  J'Rat aka proof reader!!) for a speleological ramble starting at Knockers.  As we prepared to kit up by Glenbain a soft spoken gentleman and a young lady appeared.  They were leading the Oxford Uni. Geology field trip staying at the Inchnadamph lodge.  For a) presumably intelligent people, b) geology graduates they asked some amazingly gormless questions of the "How far do you go in?" and "How much is unexplored?" variety.  I found the male of the pair amazingly effete (Quacker's blunt comment: "He's a prat") so decided to spice up their lives with some caving education and a short trip into the stream chamber in Knockers.  I hope they were suitably impressed and educated.

Derrick and I knocked off Knockers in an hour or two taking in the worms by Boycott's sump plus some of the Rabbit Warren and took a few snaps on the way before emerging for a stroll to the bottom of the Water slide and visit to the sump.  J-Rat's dig there still looks promising with the inlet stream emitting a healthy echo from beyond the currently constricted end.

After a brief poke at Uarnb an Cailliche Peireag we bimbled down the dry streambed to Lower Traligill. Derrick was well impressed.  A peep was taken at Lower Traligill and Tree Hole and Disappointment were left for yet another day before we wound up eventually at  Firehose  also admired from afar.

Hens - Tav and Colin Coventry - Photo: Pete Glanvill

Down at the Inch the diggers were in full swing when we arrived closely followed by a hen party. It all seemed reminiscent of that old rugby song except for the absence of virgins (from Inverness or anywhere). Some of us left to return to the cottage where we were later rudely interrupted by Tav and Colin Coventry dressed as Saxon and Viking hotly pursued by hens waving frilly underwear.  The brave duo then vanished into a minibus packed with women out for a good time in Ullapool.  I have a note here about a duck anybody who can enlighten me let me know!

The next day was the great diving and curry day.  Tav had persuaded Murray at the Kylesku Hotel to take us out in his boat (for a reasonable fee) so all assembled at the Hotel about midday.  Tav looked slightly wrecked and as the day progressed tit bits of his nocturnal adventures trickled out.  Apart from pouring vast quantities of whisky down his neck he did manage to recall running around Ullapool in the early hours pushing a wheelbarrow.  We decided to try diving on the site of the Duke of Westminster's yacht mooring on the far side of the loch.  Rumour had it that antique bottles could be found.  Murray got us to where he thought we had a good chance of finding something and after some cramped kitting Estelle, Fraser, Quackers and I plopped into the water.  We all appeared on Murray's fish finder, - Estelle and Fraser as a shoal of pollock, me as a shoal of wrasse and Quackers as a .... whale!

On the bottom there were bottles galore!  We shovelled them into our goodie bags with gay abandon and struggled back clinking into the boat.  I was quite chuffed by relocating one of Estelle's ankle weights in 10m below the boat - search for known object completed.  After a brief lunch break the dive party shrank to Estelle and I although everybody got to watch the seals.  We emerged after our dive with enough scallops for a good couple of meals and headed back to the hut ready for the great curry evening.

When we arrived at the Alt near sunset a crowd of Meghalayan tribesmen seemed to have arrived.  This turned out to be J-Rat and Co. in appropriate costume for the theme night.  The meal was terrific - thanks to Eric and team and the evening ended in a slide show with suitable heckling.  A strange board game was played and more beer was drunk.  I ended up making two journeys to the hut due to a pissed communication breakdown but we will pass over that!

Sunday was my last day's caving so I decided to give Fraser and Simon Brooks a hand sherpering into ANUS where an assault on Sump 4 was planned.

Seal watching - Photo: Pete Glanvill

Both divers found the sump low and silty but everything was set up for what turned out to be a successful later push to a large airbell by Simon.

Quackers and I returned south the next day. Next year could be the year of the Rana/Claonaite exchange.

P.S. Regarding those bottles.  I took them to our local bottle expert - Nick Chipchase, a week later.  His comment "See that bottle bank there - put 'em in that". Apparently the collectors only like hand made bottles and these are too modem.

Peter Glanvill August 1999

Curry Night at the Allt - Photo: Pete Glanvill