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The Bildon's Mole Project

by Dave Yeandle (Pooh)

In 1978 I was living in Yorkshire and rather low on funds.  I had been trying to get a job in oil exploration but had been rejected on the fairly reasonable grounds of having no qualifications or relevant experience.  Perhaps it would be possible to make some money out of caving?  After some thought, I came up with a scheme.  I would survey Swildons Hole on the Mendips.  Then I would publish it and sell copies at a profit. I reasoned that the only available survey of Swildons was out of date and as this was such a popular cave, then my survey would sell very well.  I needed an assistant for this project and started to scout around for somebody suitable.

To my delight Geoff Yeadon agreed to come along.  I stressed to Geoff that this was a serious business venture.  I further explained that I had calculated that if we went down Swildons two days out of three and averaged trips of ten hours then we could expect to have the survey completed in two weeks.  Of course we would have to make sure that we stayed out of the pub as drinking would result in a loss of motivation and seriously jeopardise the project. Geoff agreed to all this and made a suggestion.  "There is a need for secrecy here D.W" he said with a perfectly straight face.  "Why don't we code name this excellent plan of yours "The Bildons Mole Project"

Why not indeed!  We slipped away from the Dales and headed south. We stopped off at Buxton and purchased a compass and clinometer from Caving Supplies.  This cost me £55.00, so my scheme was already running at a substantial loss.  I told myself that this was actually a very sound investment.  We later heard that our appearance in Caving Supplies had started several rumours in the Derbyshire Caving world.

When we arrived on Mendip we immediately set off down Swildons.  I had decided that this first trip should be a long one in order to make a good start.  I reckoned that we should survey Black Hole Series, Saint Pauls and as much of the streamway out from sump one as we could all in one go.

We made rapid progress to the end of Black Hole and started to survey out.

Now it all went rather slowly and I started to remember that there are quite a few rather unpleasant side passages in Swildons and all these would have to be included in the survey. We had surveyed about half of Black Hole Series when I noticed a side passage, about the third one already. The previous ones had been horrid. I pretended not to notice this uninviting hole and carried on down the main route.  Geoff was not letting me get away with this.

"D.W. Yeandle, get up that passage immediately".

"I'm sorry Geoff, what side passage are you talking about?" I replied dishonestly.

Laughter, "You know as well as I do, get along it at once!"  Groans, as I disappear along a squalid tube.

After a while we emerge from the side passage.  My wetsuit was in shreds and I'm bruised, muddy, cold and rather pissed off.  I was having second thoughts about "The Bildons Mole Project".  I really didn't want to continue but also did not want to admit this to Geoff.

"I'm really enjoying this Geoff I lie, "How about you?"  "Never been so happy, D.W. old chap"

"I think this is going to take us longer than I thought" I ventured.

"As long as you are happy to continue, I will not let you down"

Typical!  "Geoff, I don't want to do this"  Laughter, "Thank goodness for that" said Geoff jovially.  "I expected you to give up this mad plan long before this!  I was wondering how much more I had to put up with".

We headed rapidly out of the cave. "Bildons Mole" was over.

So there we were on Mendip and neither of us had a job, we had no real plans for the future.  For several days we hung around Mendip, spending rather too much time in the Hunters Lodge.  After a conversation with Martin Grass, we regained some sort of direction.  Martin, along with Martin Bishop was diving the coming Saturday in Wookey Hole. "Would we like to join them." Good idea, I also suggested that Geoff and myself survey Wookey 20.  It had not been surveyed accurately and I felt I should at least put my new surveying equipment to some good use.

We had an enjoyable dive to 20 in superb visibility; the only slight mishap being a large slab being dislodged when one of the divers was climbing out of the sump pool in Wookey 20. This unfortunately resulted in the last section of the shallow route line being buried.  After a quick look around the two Martins set off out leaving Geoff and myself to do our survey.  It all went rather smoothly with only one small argument temporarily spoiling the proceedings.  This occurred when Geoff insisted that I grovel into some disgusting passage in order that the survey would be complete.

"This passage is horribly tight, and half full of muddy water,"I protested.

"D.W don't be such a poof!  You have recently navigated 500 foot of underwater passage and I'm quite sure you can manage this".

Geoff as usual was right, and muttering I entered the offending passage.

Once we had finished our survey we set off back out through the sump.  It was by now evening and the show cave was closed.  This was not a problem until we had exited the cave and found ourselves confronted with a large metal gate, with spikes on the top, barring our exit from the show cave grounds.  I climbed up to the top of the gate and while precariously perched, Geoff started to pass diving gear up to me.  This operation was interrupted by the arrival of the manager of Wookey Hole Caves.

Suspecting burglars he shone a torch at me and demanded an explanation.

I started to try to explain, but fortunately the gentleman now recognised Geoff from a TV film that had been made at Wookey.  He was now very friendly and kindly opened the gate for us, after I had climbed down.

We then attended a very enjoyable bad taste party at the Priddy Village Hall.

Martin Bishop turned up wearing only a jock strap.  Phil Colette turned up as me.  One lady dressed in tight black leather and brandishing a whip, insisted on chasing Geoff and myself around the dance floor.  A Rolling Stones record was being played loudly (Sympathy for the Devil) and when Geoff wasn't jumping out of the way of the whip, did his rather realistic Mick Jagger impersonation.

The next day we went back to Yorkshire.  Geoff started work on the Keld Head film, The Underground Eiger.  I continued to look for a means to make some money. Christmas week 1978: I'm back on Mendip for the festive season and decided to do a pushing dive in Swildons sump 12.  What follows is an extract from the Martin Grass's log book.

Swildons Hole. 30. 12. 78           Self and Dave Yeandle

Aim: Yeandle to dive sump twelve with 40 cu. ft. bottle and 150ft. of line reel.  I was to be support diver.

After spending four hours trying to find carriers, two lads from the M.E.G. gave us a hand to take gear down to sump two via the Wet Way.  The water was high and very cold.  At this point Dave decided not to do a pushing trip and to leave some of the gear, fins, line reel etc.  Then his main bulb blew so he continued on Aqua -Flashes. We dived sumps two and three and continued to my first dive of sump four, which was a lot easier than I had thought.  Once through we met two lads on their way back from free diving to sump nine.  When we reached sump five we could not find the airspace (water level rather high).  Dave following the line but it led to an underwater mud bank.  At this point my light started fading so we decided to abandon the trip and make our way out on two Aqua-Flashes.  When we reached sump one the two lads who had gone to nine plus some friends helped get our gear out.

When we were at last out there was a hailing snow blizzard and everything iced up (hair, ladder etc.).  A pleasant, but frustrating trip to sump five.

After a really huge session in the Hunters on New Years Eve (I am trying to remember if this was the year that Fish and myself collapsed in a ditch on our way back to the Belfry and had to be rescued by Liz, but no, those brain cells seem to be gone) I returned to Yorkshire and finally got a job.

Dave Yeandle