The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Martin Torbett

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor
Joint Treasurers: Chris Smart, Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Martin Torbett
Caving Secretary: Rich Long
Tackle Master: Mike Willett
Hut Engineer: Toby Limmer
Hut Wardens: Vince Simmonds, Bob Smith

Letters and articles published in the club magazine do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor the Committee or the club in general

Editors Ramblings

and gleanings from the comers of the Hunters Lodge

Congratulations to Rich and Leslie Blake (nee Sibley) on their wedding at Shepton Registry Office on Sat 11th November.

Christmas is nearly upon us and all that goes with it; caving trips with hangovers, caving trips wearing tinsel, the lunch at the Belfry and a whole day of drinking (hopefully) in good or bad company.  As the years pass there is only one thing that you can rely on and that is the caving. Whether caving abroad or in the heart of the Mendip Hills, I hope that you all enjoy the festive season and the caving that you are now free to do in the short break before the return to work-don't forget to write the articles!  All the best to all Belfryites – Ed

Recent news from the AGM was that Tony Jarratt has been elected as an honorary life member for services to the club.  See picture.

The BEC nearly get into space!  Ben Ogbourne of Westbury sub Mendip is currently training as part of a team of three people who have won a place in a European Space Agency project.  Just think where will members get to next!

Thanks to Dizzie Thompsett - Clarke for the recent donation of several Mendip maps to the club library.


Tony Jarratt with life membership and a large cider mug from Chas.

A big thankyou to all who sent articles in for publication.  Once again, I am indebted to the few regulars, so all readers out there, pick up your electronic pens and write something.  I would PREFER articles in Word format as the easiest for ME to deal with.  If you are working in other formats, changes to your article are very likely!!

I am happy to type out non-word processed pieces of interest so long as they are about a page - with pics even better.  So, get writing, next issue out around April time. Ed


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


Alaska 2000

By Rob Harper

It's true confessions time. Many years ago when the earth was young and we still called SRT "abseiling and prusiking" (and other people called it a suicidal cult that would never replace ladders) I was a Wessex member.  Yes, I know, it's hard to believe but I was.  I still occasionally go to Wessex Anonymous meetings.  However I digress.  In those days I caved with a fellow by the name of Paul Hadfield who left Britain in 1980 to take up residence in British Columbia and become, eventually, an avalanche technician.  He got married to Dooley Walsh (also Wessex) and over the years we kept up an intermittent flow of correspondence about two rungs above the once-a-year-Christmas-card level.  His caving days seemed to be over by the end of the 80's.  All his letters and telephone calls kept urging us to "get our arses" over there to do some "serious ski touring". Certainly when we visited him in the early 90's he confirmed our worst suspicions.  There was apparently too much fishing/canoeing/climbing/skiing to do.

The first inkling that this situation had changed came not from Paul himself but from J’rat who casually remarked to me in the Hunters one day that Paul had telephoned with an order for caving equipment.  My curiosity was aroused and at our next contact I asked about it.  Apparently he had been bitten by the bug again after hearing of cave discoveries on Prince of Wales Island in the Tongass National Park in Alaska. This island is only about 100 miles, as the crow flies, from his abode (at that time) in Stewart.  By the standards of caving in that region that's closer than Cuthbert’s is to the Belfry.  He went across one year and has been going back for about a month each summer ever since.  Eventually we succumbed to his tales of misty forests and virgin cave on every trip (and his lies about no bears!) and this summer Helen and I plus Keith Sanderson from the Wessex travelled over to meet him and Dooley on the Island.

Time now for a bit of background on the area and the caving politics.  Prince of Wales Island is one of an archipelago of karst islands that lie a few miles off the coast of British Columbia but actually belong to Alaska. Together with a small area of the mainland they make up the Tongass National Park.  The whole area is densely covered with temperate rainforest.  POWI itself is the third largest Island in the USA at about 120 miles long and a maximum of 50 miles wide and aligned in a NW-SE direction (see map).  Currently caves are have been located in small clusters at locations all over the island.  The caves are almost certainly far more widespread.  However due to the immense difficulty of moving through the forest once a cave is located there tends to be fairly intensive investigation in the immediate vicinity.  Hence the clusters.

The forest is potentially a source of enormous income for the local people most of whom are ethnically Native Americans/First Nation - it's not very PC to call them Indians these days.  So they want to log it.  Before they can log it the Forestry Service need to produce an environmental impact assessment.  Are you with me so far?  Concentrate because it starts to get even more complex in a moment.  Also, in the USA, they have something called the Cave Protection Act, which as the name implies confers a degree of protection on any cave system. In order to assess the importance of a cave system and thus its level of protection it needs to be explored and surveyed.  To comply with these regulations the US Forestry Service has funded an exploration programme each summer in which they provide free accommodation, food, transport and group equipment in return for exploration and survey work by any cavers who turn up.  However conservation groups (AKA "tree-huggers") are convinced that the Forestry Service survey programme is not good enough in a number of respects.  Therefore they have banded together and obtained grants to fund an independent exploration and survey project known as the Tongass Cave Project - henceforward referred to as the TCP.  The main agenda of the TCP is not exploration of caves but collection of information to use to try and preserve the primary forest in the region.  We were caving with the TCP rather than the Forestry group. According to Paul they are slightly less regimented.  Also we were told that the newly appointed liaison officer with the Forestry Service had not managed to organise a schedule this year and thus there was no official exploration programme.

That's enough of that - now back to the narrative.

Continental Airlines (not quite the cheapest but it felt like it) got us to Seattle via Newark in 18 hours; arriving at 11:35pm local time.  The 11-hour wait until our onward flight to Alaska was passed by scouring the airport for somewhere quiet and deserted to kip down.  A couple of hints - go to the mezzanine floor, as it's quiet but don't sleep on the baggage trolleys as someone turns up at 5 am to claim them. A 90 minute hop with the world's most amusing airline, Alaska Airways, and we were in Ketchikan in time for a couple of pints (Alaskan Amber - excellent) lunch and a long dozy afternoon before catching the 11pm ferry for POWLI.  This utilitarian vessel dropped us at POWI ferry terminal at Hollis (two huts and a car park) at about 1:00am and after a quick search for something better it was out with the mats, sleeping bags and bivibags and off to the land of Nod.  Helen claims that a crowd of people turned up for a 6:00am sailing but we only have her word for it as Keith and I slept through.  We awoke to a bright and sunny mid-morning - in fact for the bulk of our stay POWI had a freakish spell of warm dry weather.  Two brews of tea later our transport arrived in the form of Val White the partner of Pete Smith (they are a local caving couple who are one of the mainstays of the TCP).  We piled into the old pickup and headed towards Whale Pass a small community in the North of the island stopping en route to do food shopping at the last supermarket and to view some old totem poles.

Map of Northern USA to show the location of  Prince of Wales island

POWI is a bit like being in a mega-version of Stock Hill Plantation.  Miles and miles of dirt roads through rolling hills covered by trees, trees, more trees and yet more trees punctuated by the occasional lake brought us to a sign hanging over the road saying, "Welcome to Deliverance".  Thus we came to Whale Pass a scattering of forestry tracks, dwellings and abandoned vehicles in the forest tucked at the end of a long inlet from the sea. Val took us for a tour of the sights, both of them, the shop (a locked Portacabin) and the post office (a wooden bus shelter with shelves).  Then it was back to our accommodation a half built wooden house - even half built it was vastly better than a lot of caving huts.  This house belonged to Kevin Alldred who has been the major figure behind all the cave exploration in this region.  We dropped off our kit then headed around the corner to Pete and Val's for food.

Pete and Vas' place was a self built wooden house - two living rooms over a large workshop with a spare room downstairs and an outside toilet.  An aerial wooden walkway led to a second workshop just big enough for three or four lorries.  Pete and Val had designed and built this all themselves starting by selecting and felling the trees!  They are fairly heavily into self sufficiency so we also admired the solar panels, hydroelectric generator etc.  Besides trapping, killing and preserving the local wildlife Pete also makes fuel for the lorries from leftover cooking oil!  We were left feeling a bit lazy and inadequate.

Back in the house there was fresh salmon for tea. I only mention this in passing.  It sounds great but I do have to say that at this time of year in North Western America you can get a bit fed up with fresh salmon.

After an extremely short session of small talk Pete sat back, fixed us with a gimlet eye and asked, "Can you sketch?"  It took a few questions to sort out exactly what he meant.  I had to translate for Keith, as his Essex accent, unsullied by quarter of a century of living in the Dales, was unintelligible to the Alaskans.  Apparently in the States the person on a survey team that we know as the "recorder" is known as the "sketcher" and there was a serious sketcher shortage in the TCP.  Because Helen (the obvious choice) was not going underground at all, Keith had never done any surveying and Hadfield was still on his way to POWI.  I became, by default, the new sketcher on the block.  Which meant that Keith had to learn to be the tape/compass/clino man.  Next we were handed a printed sheet of detailed instructions for producing a survey to the satisfaction of the TCP and sent back to our accommodation to learn it ready for a test in the morning.

Next morning Pete drove us about three miles into the woods and en route we had our first bear sighting. While on POWI we were to average one bear encounter per day (thanks Hadfield) but these all consisted of the bear running away at high speed.  Pete's first lesson was tree identification followed by emphasizing to us the dangers of this area.  Unlike tropical rainforest the fallen trees in temperate rainforest take decades to decay. Therefore the "ground" is often a layer of dead and rotting wood up to three metres in depth. Combine this with the dense new growth of conifers which restrict visibility to about a metre or so and it means that you can easily walk over the edge of a shaft without noticing it for the few nanoseconds before gravity kicks in.  Suitably impressed with the couple of examples he showed us we were then rounded up, loaded back into the vehicle and taken off for some cave surveying practice.

The chosen cave, Whispering Canyon Cave, was only about 70m from the track where we parked.  Carrying full kit we thrashed through the undergrowth, teetered along fallen tree trunks and traversed past an intimidating eyehole into the 50m entrance shaft of the next-door cave ( Thunder Falls Cave).  Whispering Canyon was a short winding vadose passage that led after 80m or so to a sump. Keith and I blundered through our first few survey legs ("shots" in American cave-speak) and slowly built up a reasonable rhythm.

Pete, Rob and Keith at entrance to Whispering cave

 At least we thought it was reasonable.  Since Pete is one of those people who habitually wears an expression that suggests that a close member of his family had recently died it was difficult to tell what he thought.  Several points were discussed at length including the metric vs. imperial argument, which had already been thrashed through the night before. However it was re-opened when, all prepared to work in feet and inches; we were presented with a tape marked out in tenths of a foot!

We must have done something right because next day we were allowed to go solo on a survey of Starlight Cave.  This cave was much more spectacular.  A 20m abseil over poised logs down one wall of a 50m-diameter collapse shaft ended on a floor of logs and scree ("talus" or "breakdown" in American cave-speak).  Left was a spectacular 20m x 20m x10m chamber leading to a short scramble over ice blocks and up a scree slope into a canyon passage varying from 15m x 10m to 4 x 4m and ending in 2 daylight avens after about 100m.  A short side passage ended in a silt choke.

Rob Harper at the entrance of Starlight Cave

Right from the bottom of the entrance led to a boulder choke where we stopped at a squeeze due to lack of time.  Back at base Pete scrutinised our efforts and announced, with the air of a man who obviously felt that beggars could not be choosers, that we had done sufficiently well to be allowed to do some real surveying.  Suitably pleased with ourselves and fortified by yet more fresh salmon we stumbled back to our accommodation only to be awoken by the Hadfields arriving in the middle of the night complete with dog and cat.

Next day the weather was still fine and, so far.  There was dearth of seriously biting insects - even the locals felt that this was all a bit spooky.  After a leisurely breakfast, several brews and a catching up on Mendip gossip we headed around to Pete's place.  There were cavers everywhere.  As well as Keith, Paul and myself we were joined by Dave Lodge (TCP caver) Pete Smith and Pete's two sons (Jedediah and Kina - yes those are their real names, they're that sort of family).  We all piled into Pete's cooking-oil-fuelled ex-US Army truck, threw the caving kit and dog in the back, plugged in our ear defenders and headed off up into the hills.  Six or seven miles of ear battering and bum-numbing travel along forestry tracks and we pulled off in the bottom of a steep-sided valley.  All out, packs on and quarter of an hour of sweaty thrutching through dense undergrowth and up steep gullies got us to a large gully cum small gorge ("solution trench" in American cave-speak) at the bottom of which was the entrance to "Kamano Cave".  Here we left Keith, Dave and Paul who had been instructed to reclimb and rerig an aven that Pete had bolted the year before.

Pete and I and his sons then spent another happy twenty minutes searching for another cave entrance ("Snow on the Ground Cave") which the boys had discovered while out ski-ing but which had not yet been descended.  Eventually this was found.


Descending into Starlight cave

Yet another gully/gorge this time with a small stream in the floor which sank into an entrance at the bottom of a small doline type collapse.  A rope was slung around a convenient tree and Pete descended into the doline.  After clearing the loose logs and rock he disappeared from view amidst much crashing. The boys were next and then myself. The 3m-diameter entrance shaft dropped about 8m to a ledge and then on down a further 4m or so to a cobbled boulder floor in a 1m x 15m descending rift.  The limestone was originally very light almost white but had been heavily stained by tannins from the undergrowth above.  The rift soon entered a muddy bedding plane with a vadose trench in the floor, which meandered around to a 'T' junction.  To the right the bedding plus trench ended in a 10m aven and left the bedding disappeared and the trench could be followed to a small stream passage, which still continued.  All this was surveyed.  A small passage that appeared to be a stream overflow at the downstream end was pushed for a short distance with no conclusion.  Probably no more than 50m in total and all fairly small.

Out and down to Kamano Cave to wait for the others and then back down to Pete's place for large helpings of lasagne (made using the last of the bear meat!).

Once again next day was bright and sunny.  I felt that I ought to complain.  This really was not good enough. We had been promised miserable rainy weather. However we just bore it with typical British fortitude, daft hats and masses of insect repellent.  Today's objective was the survey of the inlet in Kamano Cave that the others had re-entered the day before after an epic of bout of climbing and falling and climbing again. This time it was just Paul, Keith, Dave Lodge and myself (plus Paul's dog "Vlu").

Kamano Cave turned out to be very pleasant.  A short crawl led to a winding vadose rift very reminiscent of many of the Yorkshire entrances, which dropped in 3m steps to a short bedding plane passage with a slot in the floor.  After about 40m we arrived at a 10m-diameter chamber with a Swildon's sized stream falling from a passage high on the left and disappearing down rift on the right.  The streamway was accessed via a series of bolts on the wall of the chamber, which did not give the best of hangs.  However everyone managed to struggle to the top to reach a spectacular little streamway with deep pools and cascade climbs to a cobble floored rift passage.  Paul and I surveyed from the floor of the chamber and Keith and Dave went to the "end" (or at least were it got down to a low crawl in the water but still going) and started back and we met in the middle.  This came to about 80m in total.  Going back down the waterfall we were supposed to put on another rope as the original had nearly frayed through - don't believe anyone who tells you that Bluewater is totally indestructible.  I led off and managed to find a deflection that at least meant we were not in the full force of the water but at the rebelay I found that the existing rope was tied into a screwgate krab that couldn't be opened. So I cut the rope off it.  Much grumbling from Pete when we got back!

Next day was a lazy sort of day.  I spent a lot of the morning expanding my survey notes and drawing some extended plans and profiles to try and help the person who would actually be drawing them up. The others packed up the vehicles in preparation for a move to a camp up in the forest where we would be based for exploring a cave known as Zina Cave.  The camping party consisted of the three UK based cavers plus the Hadfields plus Bruce White (a TCP caver).

Now ALL Alaskans are a bit odd but even they thought Bruce was a bit weird.  He was a science teacher, part-time radio religious broadcaster who had an obsession with Barbie dolls (right down to having a caving Barbie complete with her own helmet, light, sit-harness and full set of SRT kit) as well as having a dozen machine guns with ammunition buried at various locations in the USA/Canada/Alaska "just in case".  He says he is coming to England in a few years - we suggested that he stay at Braida Garth and give a Caving-Barbie lecture at BCRA Congress.

Rob "sketching" at Whispering Canyon Cave

Packed tightly into two large 4WD Tesco-shopping type vehicles ("sports utility vehicles" in American-speak) we drove for fifty miles or so.  En route we stopped for essential supplies at a small store. Having bought several boxes of beer and some crisps we left civilisation behind and ground slowly up into the hills. A fallen tree across the track posed a problem for a while which, after several ingenious engineering solutions were proposed tried and rejected, was eventually solved by the simple expedient of unloading Paul's SUV and taking the obstacle at speed.  Thus we arrived at the campsite, which was a small clearing in the forest at a fork between two tracks.  Tents were pitched.  A dining shelter was erected.  Wood was collected for a fire.  Food was made and eaten.  A few beers were drunk.  Bruce showed us his handgun, (10mm stainless steel Smith and Wesson revolver for those who might be interested).  Then we went to bed and lay there waiting for a bear attack. Paul's dog brushed past the tent sniffing loudly which was enough to send our pulses up to about 300/min. Convinced that we were about to be savaged by a large black bear we set about making ourselves safe by pulling the sleeping bag over our heads!  No attack came and over the next few days we became inured to the nightly canine ritual.

Paul is an early riser so he brought us tea at 5:30am next morning.  He felt that this would ensure that we into the cave at an early hour but the rest of us interpreted it as the cue for an extremely leisurely breakfast.

After Pete had arrived we ambled over to the entrance shaft (approx. 50m away) at around 10:30am. Zina Cave apparently needed to be resurveyed as the original was not good enough so Keith and Bruce became one party, Paul and I another while Pete set off with a drill and some ropes to rig a traverse line to the head of one of the pitches in the cave.  From the lip of the 8m diameter entrance shaft a 17m steep slope cum pitch over mud, rock and fallen trees drops to the floor of a chamber.  From here right leads to a series of steeply sloping muddy tubes, which Keith and Bruce started to survey, and left to a steeply sloping narrow high rift.  Paul and I followed this rift until it became too tight after about 10m.  A large passage 3m up on the left wall led to a 10m roped traverse to a single bolt at the head of a 13m pitch.  The rope on down the pitch from this bolt was not joined in any way to the rope on the traverse nor was there any attempt to protect it from any abrasion.  I stopped for a moment or two to join the ropes together which at least gave us some chance if the bolt were to fail and then headed down trying to ignore the rub.  From the bottom of the pitch a dry vadose canyon led after 70m to a slot in the floor and just before this the other series of passages from the bottom of the entrance shaft entered on the right.  Paul and I slowly surveyed our way through to this point and stopped. Pete had been worried that this "squeeze" or another just beyond it would prevent me going any further into the cave.  So just before we left I had a go at it and found that I hardly touched the sides! Confident that it would be no problem we headed on out for beers and food.

Another crack of dawn tea round from Paul and then he and I spent the next day tidying up loose ends of our survey in the cave while Bruce and Keith procrastinated long enough to put off caving for the day.  Paul and I also re-rigged the 13m pitch with a rebelay, which did not entirely eliminate all the rubs but made it considerably safer.  Out to find Dooley waiting at the lip of the entrance shaft with a couple of bottles of beer.

That evening we are joined by Kevin Casey a Forestry Service employee who is in charge of the only show cave on the island and has been invited up by Pete to help with exploration of Zina.  When Pete arrives next morning he and Kevin head off down and the rest of us follow half-an-hour later.  At the pitch we find that Pete has put it all back to the old less safe situation including belaying to a single manky bolt without joining it to the traverse rope (also using the same bolt) as a back-up.  We catch up with him at the slot where he is drilling some shot-holes to enlarge it and Pete and I have a full and frank discussion about his rigging. Once the air has been cleared Pete used Hilti type charges to blow some of the lip off the slot and we all follow him down.  A 3m pot leads to a 10m "T -section" crawl to another 3m pot. The Alaskans think that this is tight but I find that it is easier than say the Devil's Elbow route into GB. From the bottom of this second pot an 8m-boulder slope led to the head of a 20m pitch.  A deflection at the top of the pitch gives a free-hang down the middle of a spectacular vadose canyon between 3m and 4m wide.  At the bottom Paul and I follow the stream for about 200m at various levels to another short pitch where we stop.  Pete is somewhere ahead of us but is stopped at a sump a short way beyond.  Upstream from the big pitch leads to a free-climbable waterfall about 6m high to a small active streamway that continues unexplored.  All out without too much trouble although it is noticeable that the Europeans with a "frog-type" rig have much less hassle than the locals who are using 3-point rope-walking rigs when it comes to deflections and awkward manoeuvres.  Pete and Kevin go straight home that night.

At last the next day is cold and misty and raining.  This is more like it.  Helen and I elect for a rest day in camp and the others all go off to do a tourist trip in a cave about an hours drive away.  I fester and read all day.  H goes berry picking in company with a bear.  When the others arrive back they come bearing a grouse that Bruce has shot - it took only three 10mm rounds to bag it and this is a gun that he told us would stop a bear in its tracks!  A pleasant evening is spent under the dripping awning covering the dining area.  As the booze goes down taller and taller tales are told, old jokes brought out and dusted off and we finish by grilling the grouse over the fire.

Another cold and misty day dawned.  Enthusiasm for going underground is noticeably absent.  Eventually Bruce persuades me to help him finish his section of the survey. Since we have to move out that day anyway I figure this will get me out of packing up so I agree.  We spend a miserable four hours but at last we get his survey tied into a known station on mine.  As predicted just about everything is packed away by the time I get out so it's out of the kit, into the vehicle and back to our home- from-home in Whale Pass not forgetting to pick up some more beers on the way.

That was the last of the caving for this trip.  We whiled away a day or so on POWI fishing and a few more days in Washington/Oregon sightseeing, drinking and eating before flying home.

To sum up - my feelings about this trip are very mixed.  On a personal level it was great to see Paul again and as always when you travel in good company we had a lot of fun.  However on the caving side the caves were small, short and cold.  Despite the fact that there is a lot of potential virgin cave out there it is likely that most of it will be the same and we certainly had the impression that we were being steered away from anything really interesting. The local cavers were fairly welcoming but they are very parochial in their outlook.  Like the Mendip cavers of the sixties and early seventies they give the impression that they feel that their own little patch is a major caving area in global terms.  Possibly because, like their Mendip counterparts of thirty and forty years ago, they are mostly home grown and have done little if any caving elsewhere.

Would we go back? Well certainly not to POWI. However Hadfield has list of other sites in remote locations that need looking at both in Alaska and BC which sound more appealing.  So watch this space.

Apologies to Rob if some of the picture captions are incorrect - Ed



by Chas



A Treatise On Subterraneous Rex

by Mr. Wilson

During my time as a caver I have had occasion to notice that there is a strange species of animal (not listed in the Guinness Book of Records) called Subterraneous Rex.  If anyone wishes to observe this species in their natural Karst Habitat, first you have to track them down "as they tend to congregate in dark obscure places", the best method is to follow the trails of curious white heaps (carbide) placed at random underground. These are usually interspersed with debris such as old boot soles, bits of rubber wet suit, batteries, flash bulbs, and marigold gloves!

If you can get really close to them, strange cries will be heard (these are not to be confused with mating calls!) or birthing grunts when the species are climbing rifts!  Closer observation will reveal that these calls are designed to maintain the morale of the group and boost the team spirit. Call the MRO, and my light has failed, are by far the most common.  Other calls tend to be interspersed with the occasional swear word.  This Species started life underground in Yorkshire and Mendip later spreading to Scotland, Wales and Ireland.  Their habits have changed over the years, in the early days dress tended to be grots, worn hobnail boots, and Miners bathgate helmets with wee bubbies (carbide lamps).  Clothing then progressed to overalls and wet suits, it is now not uncommon to have 3 types of clothing all-purpose made, such is progress!  Brand name purchasing is now the norm and no doubt in the future sponsorship and personal advertising will step in.  I cannot wait to see cavers with Marlboro Lights on their wet suits or may be Durex stencilled on their helmets, some will welcome the Butcombe Brewery sponsoring their efforts, and will no doubt will have to test the product thoroughly!  Please help me find the ultimate S. Rex, you never know they may include caving in the next Olympics.



Shrimpbones, Mongooses & Porcupines

(What could possibly go wrong)?

Matienzo Valley

Over Christmas/New Year of 1989/90, a well-known village within the Cantabrian mountains of Spain was witness to a small group of BEC cavers intent on exploration and merry making.

The aforementioned foray into Spanish caving became infamous and is now firmly engraved in Cantabrian and Belfry folklore.  This was mainly due to a small incident involving a few San Miguels, half a pint of Anise & Brandy, a couple of "empty looking" houses, a few cars and the Santander Civil Guard's riot squad.  However, a lesser known aspect of the 89/90 expedition was the exploration of Shrimpbone Inlet, situated deep within Los Hoyecka (Uzueka), Systema Los Cuatro Valles.  The trip extended Shrimpbone Inlet a further 700m, finishing in a chamber with a ten foot waterfall coming out of the roof.

Easter 2000, Matienzo was yet again the scene of an invasion of cavers.  The annual cave and drinkfest started early this year.  A small noisy encampment of tents was located in the marsh behind Casa German (Bar).  A large collection of MUSS, NCC, Bolton, Liverpool, TSG, CUCC, CDG, RRCPC, and of course BEC, were responsible for this camp.  The BEC contingent consisted of Rich Blake and Tony Jarratt, who had arrived by "Talking Terry's (I don't do time) magical mystery tours" and myself, who had arrived by the aid of a drunken taxi driver.  Our objective was to carry out some unfinished business in Uzueka, namely to climb the aven at the end of Shrimpbone Inlet.

However, as a starter we were invited, along with Andy Pringle (RRCPC) Liam Wright (TSG) and Sam? (CUCC) to a new find at the top of a 30m aven to help with surveys and detackling. This was to be carried out via an undescended surface shaft that Mark Wright & Martin Holroyd (NCC) had spotted from within their discovery.  With the surface shaft quickly located, two 10m ladders were swiftly dispatched into the hole.  RB descended the shaft to find that we needed a third ladder.  Unfortunately, the third ladder had been inadvertently left in the boot of the jeep.  This posed a small problem, as not everyone had SRT kit with them.  The descent was an entertaining abseil on the lifeline to a knot, to ladder change over, via a small ledge.  After the inevitable faff, the survey, exploration and photography took place without a hitch.  Unfortunately, the remaining leads fizzled out, and the new passage was surveyed at around 150m long.  The team split into two with four having fun and games detackling the 30m aid climb and the new entrance shaft by combined tactics and one completing SRT kit, whilst L Wand myself (PM) detackled Abono's original entrance, thus a pleasant through trip.

We decided to carry out a gear carrying recce trip into U zueka as far as the 'Astrodome', a huge missile silo type aven, 120m high, which is about a third of the way in.  A simple trip, we thought, to refresh our memory - what could possibly go wrong!  A strong team consisting of RB, TJ, MW, Sam, PM, (three of which had been in the cave several times before) were unexpectedly side tracked by the Riano bar.  This resulted in a devastating failure of internal compasses and route finding abilities. Many hours were spent wandering up dead-end passages and exploring series we were not intending to visit. All in all, it took seven hours to find our way to the Astrodome and two hours to get out.

The next trip into Uzueka was an overnighter, destined for the end of Shrimp bone.  Heavily laden, Sam, RB and PM proceeded through the first third of Uzueka in good time.  The additional gear was collected from the Astrodome.  Our next obstacle was the massive 'Armageddon' choke.  Luckily, we managed to locate the road works bunting that marks the route through the complicated choke.  The only problem we had was locating the pitch at the end of the choke.  The 1975 ladder was exchanged for a slightly newer one, then we continued down the extensive stream passage, interspersed with the occasional boulder piles. Eventually, the next potential obstacle 'Duckhams sump' was reached at about two thirds of the way in.

The roof of the 10m wide streamway lowers and the water deepens to neck deep with a couple of inches airspace (if you're lucky).  Although you can avoid the swimming and most of the neck deep water by a sneaky right hand wall route, you can't avoid the final 10m duck/dive, in which you head for the sound of falling water.  Once found, you search for a hole in the roof next to the waterfall and struggle in the deep water to climb into the passage above.

A guide line was rigged through the duck and left in situ, just in case.  A thrutchy rift led to the start of the 'Rocky Horror Series'.  At this point, Shrimpbone Inlet enters from the right.  Shrimpbone Inlet is about 1.2 km long and starts as an impressive small stream passage. After 200m, it degenerates into misery and hard work.  Alzheimer's must have set in over the preceding decade, because memories of formations, sculptured passages and delicate false floors were quickly replaced by sharp jagged spikes, awkward rifts and endless crawling.

However, the chert false floors were still there, albeit pockmarked by caver’s feet crashing through them with shin-numbing regularity, and a body-sized hole with a slight resemblance to the shape of a certain Mendip caver.  The Alzheimer's didn't stop there.  When we reached the final chamber, we were dismayed to discover that the ten foot waterfall had increased in height to nearer forty feet.  A brew station was established, while we took turns over the next nine hours to aid-climb up the overhanging waterfall. The waterfall issued from a letterbox, 10m above the deck, which was eventually reached by RB, only to find that a stal rib prevented access into the visible stream passage beyond.  Time for a quick exit.  The majority of the gear was abandoned and a fast five hour retreat was made.  We surfaced after a 21 hour trip just in time to catch last orders at the Riano bar.

After a suitable period of rest (mostly spent prospecting and sampling the occasional ale) a plan for a third trip into Uzueka was formulated.  This time, the same team armed with a lump hammer and chisel set off for another long trip.  The stal rib was swiftly dispensed with, allowing entry into a decorated chamber. We surveyed up into the chamber and assessed the ways on.  Above led up through boulders towards tantalising black voids.  This route would require further bolting.  Straight on, the stream cascaded 3m out of the roof over a delicate chert false floor.  A passage could be seen beyond.  The walls of the chamber were completely shattered, and we initially thought we would have to return with a maypole (a daunting prospect).  However, after a short consultation and some precarious balancing, we managed to hammer a hole up through the false floor, allowing access via a human pyramid.  With the ladder belayed to a convenient stal pillar, we continued with the survey along stooping stream passage.  The passage eventually reached a fork, and we decided to explore the left branch, as it issued the larger stream (both draught strongly).  The passage degenerated into a crawl and eventually reached a rifty squeeze, covered in sharp crystal spikes - 'The Porcupine'. The slot led through to a walking-sized rift, which in turn led to a chamber at the base of four large avens. The avens disappear into blackness, and any further progress will require a drill and a bivi.  A small plastic mongoose (acquired from a local bar the previous evening) was left to mark the permanent survey station. Carbide and time were running out, so an exit was made, leaving the other two leads unexplored and still going. The two waterfalls out of Shrimp bone Inlet into the 'Mongoose Extensions' were left rigged; a short ladder on the 3m waterfall and an old climbing rope on the 10m waterfall with a rebelay to keep it away from the water (The rope will need replacing by whoever visits next).  We exited the cave around 9 am, heavily laden after a 19 hour trip, and promptly knocked up the Riano bar.  AJ accompanied by Talking Terry and Brian Davis arrived a couple of hours later, to kindly give us a lift back to Matienzo, via a Santander Blanco run.

Recovery from the latest Uzueka trip was again spent prospecting with AJ, TT, BD.  Several interesting holes were dug along the hillside on the road up to the Smoos Bar.  The most interesting was a small hole in the road cutting above Cueva Volvo. After a couple of hours of hammering, chiselling and collapsing boulders on to the road, we eventually managed to break into a small decorated cave - 'Cueva Roadshow' - about 70m long, with a hopeful dig at the end.  A call for help came from a couple of local farmers.  Firstly, a gate was needed on a surface shaft, to prevent cattle from falling in.  Secondly, we were called out to rescue a foal from the bottom of a 20 m shaft. Unfortunately, the foal had not survived its fall, but it did help to further good public relations with the locals in Matienzo.  All in all, we had a superb time back in the happy valley where time is never called.

by Peter 'Snablet' MacNab


Caver in campsite


Strange rituals involving caver and animal




Let Sleeping Bats Be!

By Vince Simmonds

As the winter months draw in we may find that we have to share caves and mines with several other kinds of creatures, in cave entrances we may see cave spiders and possibly another species of spider, Nesticus cellulanus. Deeper into the caves common gnats and Herald moths may be found to hibernate along with other species of invertebrates (having no backbone such as insects etc.) and vertebrates (with a spinal column such as mammals etc.).  One of the most notable of these vertebrate species are Bats.

Out of the top ten species of British bats we could possibly come across eight species in caves or mines in the Southwest and Wales.  It should be noted that all species of Bat are fully protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  The conservation status of most bats is vulnerable and the Greater and Lesser Horseshoe are on the endangered species list.  We have already lost the largest of cave-roosting species, the Mouse-eared Bat (Myotis myotis) and some other species are close to extinction on the British Isles.  This is mainly the result of over-use of pesticides in agriculture and the subsequent loss of insect prey, however, we should do what we can to protect the species still remaining.

The Greater Horseshoe (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) and Lesser Horseshoe (Rhinolophus hipposideros) can be recognized by their horseshoe shaped nose-leaf which are fleshy lobes around the nostrils.  They are distinguished from each other by size the Greater Horseshoe can be 55-75mm in length (excluding tail) and weigh up to 35g, the Lesser Horseshoe is around 35-45mm in length (excluding tail) and weighs between 3 and 9g.  These bats are likely to be present in caves and mines all year round moving deeper in during the winter where temperature is even and constant and it is frost-free.  They can be seen either as individuals which are usually older adults, or in groups which tend to be younger bats and can vary in number depending on conditions.

The Brown Long-eared Bat (Plecotus auritus) is immediately identified by, you've guessed, its long ears. It is 40-55mm in length (which doesn't include its tail) and can weigh about 15g.  They may also choose winter sites close to the cave entrance and have been found with a body temperature as low as 0oC.

Daubenton's Bat (Myotis daubentonii) is a smaller bat with rather large feet and velvety fur like a mole. Excluding its tail it is 45-55mm long and weighs up to 15g. Natterer's Bat (Myotis nattereri) has a fringe of short, stiff bristles along the edge of the tail membrane and they also have longish ears, 40-55mm long (excluding tail) and weigh 5-12g.

The Whiskered Bat (Myotis mystacinus) and Brandt's Bat (Myotis brandtii) are both small bats with dark skin and small ears.  They are not easily distinguished from one another although the Brandt's Bat may be redder in colour.  They are about 35-50mm in length, not including the tail, and weigh possibly up to 109.

The Serotine (Eptesicus serotinus) can be recognized by its large size possibly being 85mm long excluding its tail and weighing up to 35g.

Horseshoe Bats hang by their feet from projections on the roof and walls and wrap their wings tightly around the body like a cloak.  Most of the other species of cave bats will choose to crawl into narrow cracks and crevices and in amongst piles of rocks and boulders possibly for several metres because of this they may not be easily visible.

Try to avoid sites where bats are known to be hibernating and if you do happen to come across any bats make every effort not to disturb them, for example don't all stand around with lamps gawking at them.  Remember none of us likes to be rudely awakened from deep, drunken slumber at the Belfry.


Cave Conservation Handbook; National Caving Association 9.4, Bats underground, 9-9

Caves and Cave Life; Philip Chapman (New Naturalist series)

British Caving, An introduction to speleology; Cave Research Group, x. Cave-dwelling bats, w.M. Hooper and J.H.D. Hooper pp 396-415

Complete British Wildlife; Paul Sterry (Collins)

Book of the British Countryside; AA

The Postcode Plants Database; The Natural History Museum


Waldegrave Swallet

(ST/5473.5155) - also known as Balcombe's Hole (note 1)

a brief history by Dave Irwin

1 - Wheel (or Wheal) Pit after the loss of water, undated.  Photo. HE. Balch [ Wells Museum Library}

The sites associated with the west side of Stockhill interested cavers throughout the 20th century and continue to this day.  That streams were sinking in the area was already well known from old mining records and this fact was first recorded in caving literature by Herbert Balch.

Balch formed the opinion that the water sinking hereabouts resurged at Rodney Stoke from a single observation following a flood early in the 20th century.  On a dry summers day the water at the Rodney Stoke Rising [Springhead Rising or Well Head as it is also known] became polluted with' ... suspended sediments ... , (note 2) Shortly after this event Balch heard that a deep pond  (note 3) whose depth had been artificially increased by the miners had suddenly emptied on the very same day.  The pressure on the bottom of the pond, Wheel or Wheal Pit, had increased due to the greater head of water and caused the floor to collapse allowing the water to drain away leaving an open hole. Today, hydrologists doubt that there is any subterranean connection between the sink and the Rodney Stoke rising and believe that the water travels underfound to one or other of the two main Cheddar risings some six miles to the west. (note 4)

Waldegrave Swallet has been dug on at least three occasions over a 55 year period, 1925-1926 and 1935-1936 by MNRC, and during 1975-1977 the workers were members of BEC and WCC but none achieved more than the MNRC attempt in 1935.

MNRC Dig, 1925-1926

During the early 1920s water commenced flowing into the depression known as Waldegrave Swallet and soon the site took a sizeable stream under all conditions.  Cavers of the day noted this change and in the summer of 1925 three MNRC members, J. Harry Savory, Clement Richardson and Eric L. Bird on holiday at Priddy, decided that the site looked sufficiently promising to merit an excavation.  Although the dig looked extremely promising and a considerable quantity of infill was removed a collapse occurred effectively fillin~ the excavated hole. The site was abandoned for the rest of that year.  Balch recorded  (note 5) :

During the summer holidays, Mr. Savory, Mr. Richardson and Mr. [E.L.] Bird, (note 6) whilst staying at Priddy, took the opportunity to make an examination, so far as was possible, of a new swallet close to the big pond near Miners Arms. The water has here commenced to develop several new cavities on and near the eastern end of the pond and one of these appears to be so extensive that an entrance seemed possible. A considerable quantity of debris was removed by them and an open aperture appeared in the rocks.  Towards the close of the work however, a considerable fall of the side occurred and the effort was abandoned for the time.

John Savory records that two photographs of the three diggers exist and that they may have been taken at that time. (note 7)

2 - General view of the 1935 dig site. Photo.- F. Graham Balcombe [CDG Library} [The bare hillsides are now thickly pine forested, see photo. 7}

Digging was continued by Richardson and Savory in 1926 but not to the extent that had been done the previous year though they succeeded in reaching a depth of 20 ft. (note 8) Balcombe records that it was rumoured that another party ventured into the dig and recorded a depth of 40 ft. He added' ... that the validity of this report is questioned.'  Balcombe was more forthcoming in his report written on the 13th February 1935  (note 9)

Information has come to hand that an excavation was undertaken on the identical spot some 20 years ago, by a gang of navvies working for a fortnight, and that no "sizeable passage" will be met with until 40 ft down.  It is almost certain, however, that no excavation has been done on this identical spot, for apart from any other indications (e.g. the nature of the material removed during the present work) there is no trace of any timber whatsoever, and an excavation without it would be frankly impossible.  Further, it is not considered possible to get down 40 ft in twelve working days or so. The source of the information has not yet been examined ....

Though Balch in his 1926 Annual Report to MNRC was enthusiastic about the work and added that' ... there is great hope of results being attained .... '  (note 10) no further progress reports were given and it can be fairly assumed to have been abandoned.  However, because of the 'promising situation' Balch convinced the Street Council Engineer, Mr. T. Jones, to carry out a water trace at the swallet by pouring nearly 250,000 gallons of water into the sink and arranging a careful watch at all the main risings .

... Though there was great discoloration at the swallet and chemical tests were employed, and day and night watch was kept at each possible outlet, no trace of this great volume of water was to be found anywhere .... '

None of the resurgences showed any sign of discoloration of their waters to which Balch assumed that there was a great deal of dilution and settling between the sink and the rising.

2nd MNRC Dig, 1935

Following his work in Swildon's Hole, Balcombe turned his attention to Waldegrave Swallet.  There appears no reason given why he should have chosen this site but in January 1935 digging with other members of MNRC commenced. Before seriously commencing to work at the site he invited a Westbury-sub-Mendip water diviner, Mr. H. H. Dennis to investigate the site.  Balcombe recorded that the  (note 11)

... line of action now being pursued is excavation from the swalIet back towards the Pond, a shaft then to be sunk into the boulders and a heading driven as necessary along the stream course.

Fig1 : H.H. Dennis’ dowsing map, c. January 1935.  Original 25cm x 17.5cm.  Copy drawn by Balcombe 29th November 1935.  (BRCA Library)

The course of the stream has been approximately traced through the favour of H. H. Dennis Esq [sic] of Westbury- sub-Men dip, by the method of water-divination. Five points have thus been obtained and should work at the swallet prove fruitless, it is proposed to sink a shaft at the fifth point ...

Helped by Bufton, C. (Digger) Harris and Baker, a new shaft was commenced which lay in the location of the diverted streamway carried out by Savory during the excavation a decade earlier.  Because of the potential damage to the earth sides of the shaft opened by the Balcombe party it was thus decided to divert the stream back to its original route - in doing so it  (note 12)

... will not have any undesirable effect, but in any case wilI provide interesting and perhaps valuable information .... '

Balcombe added that if the diverted water created difficulties then it would be piped into the swallet.  It was one, though not the first, of the digs to employ the use of explosives as a major digging tool.  During January 1935 the diggers used over 21 lb. of explosives in the form of 2 oz shots; 'Rupert', a 2 ton boulder, was removed with the help of equipped sledgehammers' ... '  (note 13)

By the end of January, sometimes digging under the light of a paraffin flare, the dig had reached a depth of 32 ft.  Two features were uncovered but led nowhere : a narrow creep, heading ESE, and a 10 - 15 ft. long rift, heading NNE.  Though the rift became too narrow for further exploration several diggers aired the view that

... 15' to 20' was visible, opinions differing on the final direction assumed

A variety of side passages were investigated including the rift but though

... various obstructions were blasted away, and the passage-ways cleared [it was found] that this also peters out in a small basin of about 18 inches diameter, and 12 inches deep, in boulders again, but unworkable and in any case without prospect. ... The acquisition of a rock-drill and compressor for such work is being considered.

Shoring the dig now became a necessity and by the 4th February the job had been accomplished. By this time Balcombe and his fellow excavators had come to the conclusion that the shaft was but a section of a large rift which peters out in the ESE Creep but as it widened considerably towards the NE wall it was concluded that it was the way forward even though it comprised a very unconsolidated infill of loose boulders and as Ba1combe succinctly put it

... and further more the excavation under this wall will present a problem of some delicacy

Small cavities appeared as they lowered the shaft floor but none gave any new passage though they were encouraged when they found that the rock in the lower sections of the shaft was in limestone though  (note 14)

... the Geological Survey indicates that the Limestone does not occur within a quarter of a mile of the swallet, it is gratifying to meet it at a depth of only 10 to 20 ft below the surface.


Fig. 2 : Sketch survey of dig site produced by Salcombe, 4th February, 1935. Original: 25 em x 18 em. [BCRA Library]

The deeper the shaft was driven the greater the instability of the shaft sides.  This gave much concern but gradually the shaft was shuttered.

The greater interest of diving at Wookey Hole Cave caused the diggers to abandon the site until later that year. Ba1combe was not too enthusiastic about the possibilities of digging for large caves in the central Mendip area and, further, because of the heat of the summer sun

' ... and surrounded by hordes of excursionists, the work was markedly distasteful…..'

However, returning to the site after the Wookey diving activity the diggers had to spend a great deal of time repairing the damage done by weathering and by interference from the general sightseer including damage to the lifting tackle.

... Of the former, the principle is the wrecking of the counter-weight which, falling down the shaft, knocked out some of the timbering and resulted in minor falls from the walls; burial of the accumulation of beer bottles and other trippers rubbish thereby will call for careful work when re-excavating ....

Work continued during the Autumn of 1935 but was dogged by slippages and general instability of certain sections of the shaft.  To ease the extraction of the rubbish from the site the hoisting gear pulley system was improved enabling a man to lift about half a ton single-handedly and ' ... work is possible with quite a small party.'  (note 15)  A diagram of the arrangement was published with Balcombe's Report No. 11. (note 16) A second, lower section of shuttering was installed and by the middle of November it had been completed between the -10ft to -20ft levels to enable work to resume at the bottom of the shaft.

Fig. 3: Sketch survey by Salcombe, dated 29th October, 1935, carried out before shoring of the upper sections of the shaft was undertaken. (BCRA Library)

Eventually by mid-December 1935 the dig was to reach a depth of 50-55 ft revealing only small cavities under the upper rift feature  (note 17)

... which here had dwindled to a small crack, and the sound of falling water was audible.  The work of  driving  a heading through to this was absorbingly interesting but was doomed to disappointment, the cavity was small, only a few cubic feet; the water was a mere trickle running in from the wall and disappearing again under a floor of fine detritus ....

Digging results were far from encouraging and by the 24th December 1935 the site was backfilled. Balcombe wrote that though the rigging had been a good exercise in removing material towards the end of the dig the equipment was of little use but

... undoubtedly added to the interest of the task.  The efforts below proved unsuccessful; the hole was closed down, the excavated material discharged round the timber core, and the surrounding fence closed up to complete the protection of the site.  The hole is accessible to anyone sufficiently interested to remove the nailed-down lid, but although everything was sound and safe when left, please remember the notice on the fence :  "Persons entering do so at their own risk," and also remember to fix the lid again securely.

3 - [left) Starting to shore the 1935 shaft.

4 - [right) - Shoring the upper ection of the shaft.

Both photos. : F. G. Balcombe (Album B1 in CDG collection) CDG Library)

The site received little more attention until the 1970s consequently the shaft and its shoring fell into disrepair and became a danger to the casual visitor.  C. Howard Kenney reported that during 1950 they had to fill the dig site. (note 18)

Owing to the large number of the public visiting this spot and the unsafe nature of the entrance shaft, the Estate agents considered its protection or closing essential.

A days work with spades, explosive and Mr. Devenish's jeep with bulldozer blade completed the task.  A full report was made on the excavation by F.G. BaIcombe in 1936 on behalf of the Society,. and it may be examined on request.

Digging Teams

Getting a regular digging team together is generally a struggle today but it was no different during the 1920s and 1930s.  During the time that Balcombe was enthusiastically working the Waldegrave site he often nudged fellow members of MNRC to help out with the heavy hauling work. To ensure that his helpers knew of the digging arrangements he printed headed note paper for correspondence and circulars and produced cards which gave the times of the forthcoming digging sessions.  Balcombe circulated a letter dated 25th November 1935 to MNRC members bemoaning the fact that support from 'clubmen' is 'practically negligible.'  He continued:

... caves in the Mendip area are not to be found by turning up a stone, and walking in.  The broken nature of the strata, and the wide covering of Mesozoic [sic] deposits make their discovery a matter of hard and continuous labour.

Waldegrave Swallet is a hole of great promise, but the goal will not be won without much hard labour .... The job is elegantly equipped with tackle, no pains spared to assist the work of excavation.  The job has cost on £200 in workers time and in hard cash.

... What are the club-men doing?  Hibernating.  With a sleep so deep that even the spring or the summer will not wake them.

Wake up! ... At Waldegrave, where even bucket hauling is a fine art requiring many weeks of practice, bucket hauling is not the only thing to do.

Can you shore up a face, or prop an awkward boulder?  Can you say just where a face will slip?  Can you place a shot and say this and this will go, say that and that will not be touched?  Can you recognise the fossils, or say just how the new met phenomenon occurred?  Can you tell a good prop from a dud?  Do you even know the quickest way to fill a bucket?

I reckon not!  Take a load from the men who do not need a club to lean on!  Do a bit of work, get tough and let your fellow club-men lean on you!

Those that did attend more or less regularly form a list of many of the best known cavers from this period. Their names have become almost immortal in Mendip caving circles: Atkins, Baker, Douglas Bovertson, Joe Bowsher, Braithwaite [of Weston- super-Mare] Bufton, Frost, Gibbons, Harris, Humphries, Murrell, Needham, Robertson, Sheppard, Taunton, Tucknott and not least Penelope Powell.

Although Balcombe seemed to have great enthusiasm for the dig he considered the Central Mendip area to be a barren zone for the discovery of new cave passage.  He identified the main problem that diggers would encounter - limestone interbedded within the limestone shales which would enable small bedding development which would be subsequently choked with the disintegrated shale.  That coupled with the fact that the catchment area associated with each site was small would yield little or no cave passage.  History has shown that several large caves were to be revealed in the area in future decades which included Mendip's second longest cave system, St. Cuthbert's Swallet; the only cave in the area that could be associated with Balcombe's thesis would be Welsh's Green Swallet opened during the 1980s.  Balcombe philosophically summed up their efforts at the site in a report published by MNRC in 1930. (note 19)

 ... The odds against success in this venture had been realised for some time and this realisation has helped in no small measure to soften the final blow. Waldegrave has been a great task, and has given much joy and satisfaction to those sharing in it. Though no cavern has been found it has served as a training school of no mean severity and for this alone it has been well worth while ....

Fig. 4: Hauling systems used at Waldegrave Swallet, 1935. (CDG Library)

Fig. 5: Letter headed notepaper. (BCRA Library). Size: Quarto

Fig. 6 : A digging invitation card produced by Ba/combe for digging sessions on the th and 8th December, 1935. Dimensions: 14cm x 9 em. (BCRA Library)

Mossy Powell's Poem

The famous expression 'Pump, you buggers, pump' that caused the plug to be pulled during the BBC Broadcast in July 1935 of one of the Wookey Hole diving 'expeditions' was immortalised in a little known poem by Penelope Powell (Mossy) during the Autumn of that year.  Obviously she wasn't going to let Balcombe forget that he couldn't dive at Waldegrave Swallet and his faux-pas! (note 20)

Waldegrave Swallet

By Mrs Powell.

Oh, Graham as you know by now,
Is seized with notions queer,
He's diving on the Mendips,
And there ain’t no Water there.
Ah called his troops together on
The Waldegrave Dump,
And announced his new intentions,
Pump, you boogars, Pump.

He covered up his box of tricks
With canvas pure and pale,
Then tootled down to Cheddar,
And got Mossy out on bail,
"Now you and Ting must guard my store,
Or you’ll have cause to jump,
So keep the frogs and lizards
Out of
Pump, you boogars, Pump.

He won a lovely diving suit,
From distant London Town,
And tried to catch the tadpoles
As they wriggled up and down.
Then he moved off to Wookey Hole,
Where Captain got the hump,
for Graham bust the telephone,
Pump, you boogars, Pump.

Some fat men came to B.B.B.,
What Graham meant to do,
And brought their wire entanglements,
And left them there on view.
The gang produced the diving gear,
And stacked it in a lump,
Then Graham promptly shattered mike,
Pump, you boogars, Pump.

Continued interest

In the first volume of the Shepton Mallet Caving Club Log Book, Fred Davies entered (5th April 1955) that the excavated shaft had' ... run in, some ofthe shoring still visible. Also found swallet at the SE comer that showed evidence of having been shored up but no accessible opening there now .... ' The latter site could possibly be one of the swallets that were opened by the slaggers during the 1850s and 1860s to drain the overflowing ponds. Ten years later Paul Allen (SMCC and SVCC) and Peter B. Smith (SMCC) visited the site after reading Davies' log note. An entry in Allen's logbook records that [April 11th] (note 21)

.. , Only one stake of the original shoring is visible and the entrance is well and truly filled in.  Pete Smith returned to the hut [SMCC] for digging tools whilst Roger [Biddle] and myself damned [sic] the stream. Once Pete returned we set to work clearing rubble. Almost immediately Roger nearly lost the crow-bar [sic] down a hole which opened up!  A little more scratching and the hole could be seen to continue for a few feet. Roger and myself were all for putting a couple of sticks in the boulders and having a big bang - Pete, unfortunately, was loathe to part with the jelly, and so we retired.

The swallet is quite impressive, and its chances of "going" must be rated pretty high.  It takes all the drainage of Walde grave Pool (when the pool contains enough water) which in turn takes the drainage of the hills near Priddy Nine Barrows by a well defined stream valley.  Now that some of us are showing a definite dislike for Priddy Green we could do far worse than transfer our attention to this sight [sic].

No further activity followed this visit.  Reopening the site 1975 - 1977

Re-opening the site 1975 – 1977

During 1975 several BEC and WCC members decided that another attempt at Waldegrave Swallet was on the cards.        To establish the acronym for the digging teams' name, as was then the habit of other inter-club groups, e.g. ATLAS, the team became known as the Priddy Institute for Scientific Speleology.  This becomes a vulgar acronym!  However, the team projected their energies into relocating the Balcombe shaft.  Initially large chunks of limestone were removed and several large boulders had to be manhandled.  Some weighty lumps of limestone were described as being of 'hernia' size and the larger blocks were known as, succinctly described by Phil Hendy, ' ... a two hernia boulder was a fearsome lift indeed .... , (note 22)

Work began on the 27th April 1975 and was spearheaded by Chris Batstone, Martin Bishop and Richard Stevenson of the BEC and Phil Hendy and Adrian Vanderplank of the WCC.  After a few weeks of toil pieces of rotten wood began to appear and the team knew that they were now in the Balcombe shaft. However, the broken nature of the side walls made the process extremely dangerous and shoring was once again installed in the shaft. Hendy wrote  (note 23)

... All this while, the stream sank well but indeterminately; digging was easy, being mainly a matter of lifting boulders of varying sizes, and carefully rescuing the newts and dragonfly larvae from the mud ... progress was fast, and a depth of about six feet was rapidly achieved.  By June 1st, wooden shoring became necessary ... While fixing this, the top of a rift was uncovered, with limestone on the left, and conglomerate on the right. ...

5 - The site before the wooden shoring was installed, 1975. Photo. Phil Hendy

Though the rift was about eight feet deep the whole area was unstable' ... being roofed with loose infill, so the cavity was closed with shoring.  Later that same day a hole opened having an estimated depth of about 20 ft. (note 24) - this was the rift noted in 1934 by the Balcombe team.  With that discovery the diggers established a permanent entrance and introduced the use of explosives to remove the larger boulders.  Good progress was made in the next few weeks and the dig face was progressing eastwards. Work stopped for the summer expeditions to the Pyrenees and Picos and digging was slow to restart. A visit by Hendy in October of that year found that a massive collapse had occurred' ... resulting in a jam of boulders, wood and scaffold poles in the floor of the depression.'  Later that month, cementing the walls enabled the diggers to have a roof of sorts and have sufficient room at the shaft floor to manoeuvre the excavated infill.  (note 25) On one such trip Hendy recorded that though stone walling had been successful and a few feet of infill removed from the shaft floor' ... More diggers and concreting needed.'  Enthusiasm waned and an ill located charge destabilised the roof and the site was subsequently abandoned.  The spoil heap was transferred back into the shaft to make the whole site safe.

6 - Adrian Vander plank (WCC) working on the installation of the shoring, 1975. Photo. Phil Hendy

Following the success of the BEC at extending a cave in conglomerate at Wigmore Farm - Wigmore Swallet, the WCC felt that there was sufficient justification to reopen the Waldegrave Swallet again but little came of their efforts except to install a strong, lockable gate.  Digging commenced just after the Easter holiday and continued regularly until the end of May when activities were abruptly brought to a halt due to heavy rain. Hendy commented that  (note 26)

, ... The following day I had a look at the site to find a heavy stream flowing out of the pond.  It was too voluminous for the normal stream channel, and flowed as a sheet over the old spoil heap ... and directly into the shaft.  I am not looking forward to our next digging trip, as it is likely that the underground scene will not be a pretty sight. ... '

No further work was done at the site and a year later repairs had to be made to the entrance gate when it was noted that though the gate was well repaired by Glyn Bolt, the' ... same ... cannot be said for the sides of the dig!'  (note 27) By 1986 the site was' ... much collapsed ... ' since when the site has been backfilled. (note 28)


My thanks to Tony Jarratt for reading the manuscript and the Trustees of Wells Museum for the use of Photo. No. I from the Balch photo. albums; Martin Grass, Librarian of CDG for use of Photos 2 - 4 from the Balcombe collection in the CDG Library; Phil Hendy for access to his photographic collection and the PISS logbook; Roy Paulson, Librarian of BCRA Library. for permission to reproduce sketch surveys and illustrations from Balcombe's Waldegrave reports Nos. I -12, formerly part of the BSA Collection.

Dave Irwin, Priddy. Somerset. 28th September 2000

7 - The fern filled depression [foreground) of Walde grave Swallet in 1997 (looking east). digital photo. Dave Irwin


Price, Graham, 1980, Caving News, Mendip. Cer SS Jnl 10(2)67(Mar/Apr)

Mine found at East Harptree; New MCG Hut destroyed; Lamb Leer Cavern, Manor Farm Swallet




On the hills interesting work has been done.  Mr. Harry Savory and Mr. Richardson have carried on the attempt to open the new swallet by the big pond on Earl Waldegrave's estate on the old British road near Miner's Arms, and there is great hope of results being attained.

An indication that this group of swallets feeds the stream at Rodney Stoke led to a great experiment carried out by the Street Council Engineer, Mr. T. Jones, on my initiative, when nearly a quarter of a million gallons of water were discharged into this swallet in twenty-four hours, and a careful watch kept for results.  Though there was great discoloration at the swallet and chemical tests were employed, and day and night watch was kept at each possible outlet, no trace of this great volume of water was to be found anywhere.

These experiments were repeated, and in no case has a test material put down a Mendip Swallet been traceable at either of the risings of Wells, Wookey Hole, Rodney Stoke or Cheddar. The dilution of course is very great and this accounts in some measure for the difficulty experienced.

References :

Jarratt log books: 20-21 Apr. 1976 - Digging and removing boulders

Tony states that one BEC member, Pete Lord descended the dig and was promptly buried by a collapse. He was dug out and the site abandoned


1.                  Oldham, Anthony D. et ai, 1963, Not in Barrington - or Oldham. WCC Jnl 7(90)199-207(June)

2.                  Balch, Herbert E., 1937, Mendip, its Swallet Caves and Rock Shelters. Wells: Clare, Son & Co., 211pp, iIIus .. figs, surveys [po 174} and 1947, Mendip - its swallet caves and rock shelters. London: Simpkin, Marshall (1941) Ltd., [vi] + 156pp, surveys, iIIus. [p.137-8]

3.                  Possibly Wheal [Wheel] Pit (ST/5477.5 143).

4.                  A new trace is planned to be carried out in the near future.

5.                  Balch, H.E., 1926, Mendip Nature Research Committee Report for 1925. MNRC Rep (18) in WNHAS Report for 1925, p.44-46

6.                  Possibly Eric Bird that was associated with Tratman in the UBSS and accompanied him on the Balch trips into Swildon's Hole during the last half of 1921.

7.                  Savory, John led], 1989, A man deep in Mendip. The Caving Diaries of Harry Savory 1910-1921. Gloucester Alan Sutton, xviii + 150pp, maps, illus., figs, surveys. [po 142]

8.                  Balcombe, F. Graham, 1936, Waldegrave Swallet, Somerset. Lon. 2 degrees 38' 55" Lat. 51 degrees 15' 35" Wells: WNHAS & MNRC, i + 5pp, fig (17-6-1936) [po 2]; reprinted in WCC Jn 114 (168) 125-127 (1977)

9.                  Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No.6, 13th February 1935 [in] Reports Nos. 1-12.  Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, illus. [BCRA Library]

10.              Balch, H.E., 1927, Mendip Nature Research Committee Report for 1926. MNRC Rep (19) in WNHAS Report for 1926, p. 27-30, illus

11.              Salcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No. I, 9th January 1935 [in] Reports Nos. 1 - 12. Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, illus. [BCRA Library]

12.              Salcombe, F.G. 1935, Report No.2 17th January 1935 [in] Reports Nos. 1 - 12. Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, illus. [BCRA Library]

13.              Balcombe, F. Graham, 1936, [as above]

14.              Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No.2, [as above]

15.              Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No. 10, [undated but written after 29th October 1935 and before 26th November 1935 [in I Reports Nos. I - 12. Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, iIIus. [BCRA Library]

16.              Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No. II , [undated but written after 29th October 1935 and before 26th November 1935 [in] Reports Nos. I - 12. Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, ill us. [BCRA Library]

17.              Balcombe, F. Graham, 1936, [as above]

18.              Kenney, C. Howard, 1950, Summary of work, 1950. MNRC Rep (43) in WNHAS Report for 1950, p.7-8

19.              Balcombe, F. Graham, 1936 [as above] [p, 4]

20.              Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No, II [as above]

21.              Allen, Paul, 1965, Caving Diary, 1965. Vol. 3" 26-27, map

22.              Hendy, Philip G., 1977, Waldegrave Swallet - thirty years on. WCC JnI14(170)169-l70(Nov), illus.

23.              Hendy, Philip G., 1977, [as above]

24.              Jarratt, Anthony R., 1974-1981, Manuscript Caving Log, Vol. II [photocopies in BEC Library and Wells Museum Library]: T he entry given in this log book is dated 1st June 1974 where Jarratt found: ' ... that M[artin] B[ishop] & Co. had opened up the top of the open rift - some 20-30 feet deep.'

25.              Anon, 1976, From the Log WCC JnI14(l63)2(Feb)

26.              Hendy, Philip G., 1979, Waldegrave Swallet - another chapter in the saga. WCC Jnl 15(l77)156

27.              Anon, 1980, Council of South em Caving Clubs AGM Report. WCC Jnl 16(l81)33(May)

28.              Anon, 1986, From the Log WCC Jnl 19(211) 17(Dec)

29.              Balch, H.E., 1927, Mendip Nature Research Committee Report for 1926. MNRC Rep (19) in WNHAS Report for 1926, p. 27-30, illus.


Cave Divers From Somerset Establish New Record in the Dordogne

sent in by Clive Stell


Clive Stell of Bath

A team of British cave divers have beaten the depth record for Dordogne caving at the Grand Souci in the Commune of St. Vincent sur I' isle.

The team consisted of divers Tim CHAPMAN, Sean PARKER and Clive STELL, all of the Bristol Exploration Club and the British Cave Diving Group, with Andrew KAY of the Speleo-Club de Perigueux and the Wessex Cave Club acting as logistics and surface Controller. The record breaking descent went to 107 metres below ground level, and the bottom of the cavity has not yet been found!

This was not cave exploration as visitors to the underground tourist sites of the departement probably imagine it, for 102.5 metres of the site are under water.  Obviously in these circumstances not only does progress require a quantity of expensive equipment and meticulous planning, but also nerves of steel.  The reward for the cave diver is knowing that he has been to a place where no one has gone before. As a favourite expression goes, "more people have been to the moon"!

The Grand Souci is a geological enigma for the region.  Most caves in the Dordogne are predominantly horizontal, and until now, the deepest known was the Trou du Vent in Bouzic, at the extreme southern border of the departement.  Only further probes into the Grand Souci will help to explain its origins: at present it is considered to be a "relic" of a massive and ancient under ground system formed millions of years ago, before the verdant hills and valleys in the area even existed.

For the technically minded - the 'point' dive, made by Clive Stell of Bath, took 2 hours and 47 minutes, of which only 18 minutes were for the descent and exploration, the remainder the ascent and respecting the previously scheduled 'decompression stops'. Special computer programs had been used to calculate the mix of gasses to be breathed by the diver, because at such depths pure oxygen or even compressed air, become fatally toxic. The mixture used is known as 'Trimix', comprising oxygen, helium and nitrogen all mixed into the dive cylinders in precise quantities with different mixes used at different depths.  It is not cheap: each cave dive to these depths costs £100 in gas alone, not to mention the equipment to use it.

Clive decided to be prudent and turned around two minutes earlier than his maximum scheduled dive time permitted.  In the dark, hostile world of a flooded cave, it is better to play it safe.  At a depth of 94 metres the visibility dropped to a point where Clive could not seen his gauges despite bright dive lights but he continued on laying the dive line linking him with the world above until any situation became too dangerous.  In these conditions, it is easy for a diver to become disoriented.  His mission was accomplished: the deepest cave in the Dordogne at 107metres!

By Andrew Kay - La Chassenie, 24390 Chervieux-Cubas, Dordogne, France.  Note: The official deepest cave dive in Britain is 67.5 metres at Wookey Hole in Somerset.


What! More Armchair Caving for the Alcoholic?

by Ray Mansfield

I was delighted when the Chief Bat gave me a copy of the Belfry Bulletin which included his article on bottle labels and associated ephemera.  There was a catch in this kind-hearted gesture as it was followed by the comment "I expect you can add to this and produce something for the next BB".  Well here goes:-


I can only add one beer label to Tony's list but it is probably the finest cave related beer label I have ever seen.

Pabst Brewing Co.  An early 1900's coloured label showing a group of tourists in Mammoth Cave enjoying a glass of beer.  This was one of a series of 8 topical labels produced by this Milwaukee Brewery, which were also published in booklet form for advertising.


Krugman, Attendorner Hohlentropfchen from Sauerland is not a beer as Tony suggests in his list but a 32% Schnapps advertising the show cave Attendorn Tropfsteinhohle.  This item was on sale at a number of Sauerland show caves in the early 1970's.

Zmajeve solze, Dragon's tears homemade plum brandy (Slivovka).  Once upon a time there lived a frightful dragon in the Postojna Caves.  In fear of the roaring monster, the people of the region used to throw their sheep, goats and even calves into the caves.  The insatiable monster represented an ever-growing danger to the local people.  A clever herdsman called Jacob happened to live nearby.  When the inhabitants of Postojna asked him for help, Jacob hit upon a very good idea.  He told the people to throw the dragon a calf stuffed with quick lime.  They did as they were told.  The greedy monster devoured the bait instantaneously and afterwards drank water.  The lime began boiling and the dragon started roaring, raving and raging with pain. Finally it threw itself on its back, cut at a cave wall with its mighty claws so strongly that its traces can still be seen, - and it was done for.  According to their good old custom, the locals drank to this great event, toasting each other with homemade plum brandy.

This slivovka could certainly be bought at concession stalls outside Postojna Jama in the early 1990' s but I do not know if it is still available.

Bacardi rum.  The bat trademark of Barcardi & Company Ltd is claimed to be the most famous bat in the world.  A 16pp booklet published in 1984 will tell you why.

Dew of the Western Isles, Old Highland Whisky.  An early 1900 bottle label reproduced on a postcard in 1986.  The whisky was produced by Train & McIntyre Ltd of Glasgow and the label shows Fingal's Cave.

Mammoth Cave Brand straight bourbon whiskey.  Tony records the 1940's label from the Stitzel-Weller Distillery but there are others. Probably the earliest is a late 1800' s or very early 1900' s bottle with a multi-coloured enamel picture of the historic entrance to Mammoth Cave with white enamel lettering Mammoth Cave Whiskey.  One of these rare items recently sold for well in excess of $200.00 in a recent auction.  A half pint label dating from 1916 shows a similar picture to that used in the 1940's, but the distillery was then solely owned by W.L.Weller & Sons.  This 1916 bottle is of considerable interest as it has another label which is a caution notice about mis-using the bottle and its contents, and the neck tax stamps have a bottling date of 1916 and a made date of spring 1911.  It claims to be 100 proof.

Jack Daniel's Whiskey. The California Caver of June 1980 carried a copy of an advertisement for this famous bourbon.  It shows three people at the entrance of the cave and carries the following text.  Of the 2,531 caves in Tennessee, this one in Moore County is particularly prized.  It's fed, you see, by an underground, iron-free spring flowing at 56 degrees Fahrenheit year round.  Mr Jack Daniel, a native of these parts, laid claim to the cave in 1866 and from that year forward, its water has been used to make Jack Daniel Whiskey.

A full description of this cave and a survey can be found in:- Thomas Barr - Caves of Tennessee. 1961. pp.334-337.  I visited this distillery on 18th June 1974 with Martin Webster, Martin Mills and Bob Mehew to find that the water from the cave was really used to make the whiskey but we did not get a free sample as the distillery is in a dry county, most disappointing.


Tony suggests that serious students should consult the Belgian published bulletin collections (now defunct).  He is quite right in saying consult it, but it is not defunct.  It stopped at number 40 in December 1994 but Guy de Block must have relented and started again with number 41 in September 1999 and the last issue number 43 came out in May 2000.  Numerous labels (mostly wine) have been described and illustrated and check lists have been produced by Philippe Drouin in the following issues:-

Number 29 pp.12-13 (February 1991).  Number 31 pp.13-16 (December 1991).  Number 40 pp.11-23 (December 1994) and Number 41 pp.3-10 (September 1999).

Quitapenas Malaga.  A sweet wine purchased in the last five years with a label showing some cave formations in the Cueva de Nerja, Spain.

Cueva del Granero 1987. From La Mancha region of Spain does not have any cave illustration, just in the name.

Tautavel.  Cotes du Roussillon Villages 1995.  Label shows three Palaeolithic hunters from the site Caune de l' Arago, Pyrenees-Orientales, an archaeological site renowned for the discovery of Tautavel Man.  Some details on this site and this wine appeared in the Oddbins winelist for Winter 1995.

Grottes des Tunnels Merlot 1992.  From a show cave in the Ardeche visited by Martin Mills and family in 1994, this label shows a stylised cave entrance.  His comment was that the wine was undoubtedly better than the cave.

Moc Chau 989, Speleo Vietnam.  A 1996 Cotes du Rhone showing a caver either prussiking or abseiling off a map of Vietnam.

Renski Reisling. Produced for Postojnska Jama 1818-2000. The label is taken from a Schaffenrath print of 1825.

Valvasor penece vino. Similar to champagne produced in Ljubljana in the early 1990's.  The neck label is a portrait of J.W.Valvasor, explorer of caves and underground sources in the latter part of the 17ih century.  The bottle cork also carries his name.

Soft Drinks

Agua de Cuevas.  No cave shown on the label but from a cave spring in the Cantabrian Mountains of Spain.

Schweppes.  A German advertisement from Enzyklopadie des Schweppens lists Homo Schweppiens showing a frieze of prehistoric animals and a prehistoric hunter holding a bow in his right hand and a bottle of Schweppes to his lips with his left hand.


Just one item which is a brown cardboard box 5l¼ high x 6½ wide x 8¼ inches long.  All four sides are marked Mammoth Cave Twist Sweetened.  The box contained 2 dozen packets from the Scott Tobacco Company of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

I am deeply indebted to Tony Jarratt, Martin Mills, Trevor Shaw and Jan Paul van der Pas for awakening my interest and providing many hours of amusement.

Ray Mansfield. July 2000.


Nostalgic Wanderings (Two)

by Roger Haskett

A Fishing Interlude, Gamtoose River, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Where to start? Around 1980, I joined Pick 'n Pay supermarkets and was given their branch in Commercial Road, Port Elizabeth, as a butchery manager.  Seeing as I had come down from the Transvaal, a management meeting was called, and I was introduced to the other three managers in the area.  After a few canapes and many Castle lagers, the chat came round to the local scene and fishing in general.

Well, fishing or caving, I don't care which.  So there! I hit it off with the guys straight away, and was immediately drawn into this crazy eastern Cape angling scene.  It's mad down there.  Everybody goes; it's a way of life, everyone's hooked!   Except.

Two of the blokes, one from the Hypermarket, who shall remain nameless.  He liked to stray away from home, so the two times he came with us he brought his wife along (clever bugger he were).  He used to throw his line in with no bait on, so, obviously he never caught anything.  Well, his Misses soon got bored with that and stopped coming.  Guess what?  So did he. Dirty swine!

The other bloke, Marc Jackson, he just reckoned fishing was a waste of time.  However, myself, Ted Rogers and Colin Smith (a guy from a rival firm) palled up together and went fishing most weekends.  We used to take the families, girlfriends and the Bar Be Que and have a whale of a time.

Now Jacko, he got to thinking that he was missing out, so he started creeping around, asking silly questions.  Like; How much did a rod cost?  Etc., Well, we kept him on a string for a bit, and then one day, we asked him if he would like to come with us?  This, of course, was what he was after.

The following weekend we had organised a little competition with one of the local Angling Clubs, so we invited him along.  He was made up like a dog with the proverbial two .... !  We had arranged to meet this other club in Patensie, at 6 am where we would draw lots for where we were going to fish.  We had fished the Gamtoose up there many times before, but never in the section which we drew that day.  So, we didn't know that stretch (very profound Roger).  However, nary a daunt, we are going to give it our best shot. But first, we have got to get Jacko tackled up.  So we find him a rod and reel, tie some hooks on - you are allowed to fish with two hooks in S.A., bait him up and cast his line in the river for him.

Now think to yourself, it's 6.30 in the morning, just getting light.  There is a miasma rising from the water and it's still quite chilly. We've drawn a small swim where the four of us can only just fit along the bank.  Either side of us are banks of bulrushes and tall reeds.  Jacko's got a line in the water and the rest of us are turned away on the bank tackling up.

All of a sudden the silence is broken.  This first time bloody fisherman, Jackson, has hooked into a monster Carp.  Within minutes of being at the river, this "Groot Vis" is trekking upriver like an express train, Jackson's screaming his head off, and the fish is heading into our side of the bank about forty yards up stream.  Clever Dick Smith tells him," Hey Jacko, you are going to lose that fish in the reeds if you don't get in the river and play it!"  So Jacko jumps in!  Now here's the punch line - nobody told us that the river was eighteen feet deep here. When we looked around, all we could see was the tip of Jacko's rod and his cap floating on the surface, Ho! Ho! Ho! He could have drowned, but we couldn't help him, we were laughing too much.

What a baptism!  He eventually managed to get himself into shallower water and landed a fine 12 lb. Common Carp.  Shame, the poor blokes been hooked ever since!

Hope someone will find this story amusing, Roger Haskett

Roger Haskett with a large Common Carp


Stock's House Shaft - Winter Draws On.

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BB’s nos. 502, 504-508.

"Now we descend into oblivion or we enter the great book of history".
Journey to the Centre of the Earth (the film) - 1959

On the 6th September 2000 a distinct hint of Autumn in the air spurred the team on to drop the downstream water level before the onset of the rainy season.  In an attempt at economy Quacker’s generator was tried a couple of times to power the pump but was not "man enough" for the job. In the meantime all full bags were dragged back to the Shaft and clearing of the Upstream Level and Shaft bottom continued.  Three visiting cavers from Meghalaya assisted on the 11th and now know why we go to their country to walk into huge, open and warm river caves!

On 13th September 125 bags reached the surface with another 108 coming out on the 20th - the fuel crisis and B.C.R.A.  Conference putting an effective halt on the intermediate weekend digging.  The level of the terminal choke had been lowered enough for the standing water surface to have dropped considerably.  This enabled it to be pumped "dry" using the hand pump during generator problems.  An infestation of tiny flies added to the fun at the working face as diggers with pooh-covered hands felt them settle on their noses.

Work continued in both the Upstream and Downstream Levels and the outlet from the submersible pump hose was used to good effect to wash mud off the walls.  On the 24th 62 bags were hauled out and the following day the writer, on a solo trip, pumped out the water and succeeded in bringing down the terminal choke with the use of Trevor's long garden hoe handle - "the Chokebuster".  It made a pleasant change not to be underneath it at the time.  A stream issuing from the Treasury of Aeops heralded the onset of an early "monsoon"

The planned major assault on the 27th was defeated by continued heavy rain but despite two good sized streams entering at the Shaft bottom (where Alex had earlier that day heaped up boulders from a clearing session) the end was eventually pumped out and a few rocks removed before the sudden noise of the pipe bung being blown out of the dam caused a minor panic.  Amidst general cursing pumping was recommenced and more rocks later removed from the choke.  It was then possible to scramble up over the collapse into a standing sized, solid roofed "rift chamber".  This may be natural, mined out or created by roof collapse during the driving of the level and had been used as a convenient stacking space by the Old Men.  Despite a very strong inward draught there was no obvious outlet from this rift to indicate the way on.  It is assumed that the level continues below this rift and the excavation of the floor here would have been the next priority if the weather had not shat on us.

The 1st October saw 83 loads out and the welcome return of our German friends Helmut and Michele Potzsch of the Basque caving club Ziloko Gizonak.  All the removed rock is now being taken to the Mineries Pool for future repair work on the dam and the bagged tailings and mud are being used to build a temporary barrage in the gully behind the main sink.  By this means we have diverted most of the Treasury of Aeops water into Five Buddles Sink but the source of the Upstream Level water needs to be found before that too can be diverted.  The Treasury water did one good thing by washing away debris obscuring two borer holes driven towards the Shaft and indicating that the Old Men had mined inwards to here from the surface sink, probably following a natural streamway.

The temporary surface dam was commenced by Alex Livingstone and Pete Hellier on October 4th - with Lindsay Diengdoh doing sterling service wheelbarrowing spoil across the road from the Shaft.  Another 104 loads were hauled out and the in-washed silt behind the temporary Upstream Level dam was removed and bagged.  Further visits on the 6th, 8th and 9th continued this work in ongoing wet conditions.  A small section of clay pipe stem and a tiny piece of china decorated with blue spots were found.

Another major session occurred here on the 11th with activities being videoed by Neil Wooldridge (W.C.C.) who has been conned into producing a film of the dig.  It has been decided to call the huge boulder presently blocking the Upstream Level "Rupert Jnr."  A historical precedent had been set by the late Graham Ba1combe who named a two ton boulder, in his dig at the nearby Waldegrave Swallet, Rupert.  See the article by Dave Irwin in this BB and the forthcoming Speleo History Bulletin - copies available from him - essential reading for Stockhill and cave digging enthusiasts.

A considerable amount of trenching and banking was done on the surface by Trevor, resulting in a good flow of water into Five BuddIes Sink and a reduction of that entering the Treasury of Aeops.  Half a small bronze horizontal bearing liner was found near the excavated buddle pit - doubtless part of the ore washing machinery.  It bears evidence of "load lines" due to excessive wear (see appendix).

Over the next two days about a hundred bags of spoil were filled in the Upstream Level and a large amount of rock was dragged back from beyond "Rupert Jnr." by careful manipulation of the long crowbar. Another tiny fragment of grey and blue decorated china was found.  By inserting drain testing dye (fluorescein) into the surface stream we were able to prove that the Upstream Level sink must lie south east of the old tramway to the Waldegrave Works - the water on the north west side only entering the workings via the Treasury of Aeops.  Further testing in this area has so far failed to reveal the actual sink.

121 bags came out on the 18th and about fifty bags were filled from the silt traps in the streamway. Next day a shallow shaft-like feature about forty feet south of Stock's House ruins was excavated to a depth of six feet.  Probing in all directions with a crowbar failed to hit any solid rock or ginging so this site was abandoned as a possible alternative entrance to the Upstream Level.  106 more loads came out on the 25th when Neil W. was kept busy dragging them to the Shaft, hooking them on and videoing the operation at the same time!  Further clearing was undertaken over the next two days and on the 30th - when the writer, digging out the floor of Pipe Aven, was distressed to find lumps of wet clay sporadically dropping from the ceiling. The drone of a Forestry J.E.B. grading the car park somewhere above did not help his composure and so a retreat was made to H.Q.  A mighty waterfall was found to be thundering down the "wheel pit" entrance to Five BuddIes Sink.

On the 2nd November, following an hour spent vainly trying to keep the winch running properly, hauling plans were abandoned and Neil U. set off below.  He returned fifteen minutes later in a state of depressed shock to report that a large roof fall had occurred at Pipe Aven and that the rest of the Upstream Level was now inaccessible.  All went down to view this tragedy and note the ominous series of cracks in the SE wall of the Level which gave warning of further, imminent and catastrophic collapse!  The accessible tools were rescued leaving three spades and two crowbars interred beyond the fall and the place was left to sort itself out.  A large quantity of fallen clay had added to the silt problems in the streamway and so work commenced on bagging this up - a project which will keep us going over the next few weeks.  We were fortunate that no-one had been crushed by, or trapped beyond this fall.

Bob Smith's birthday was on the 6th November so, as a special treat, he was allowed to hook on 100 bags for removal to the surface.  Another 117 came out two days later - courtesy of Alex, whose birthday it wasn't.  Further work on clearing the Pipe Aven collapse was done on the 13th when the writer, supported by Alex, also dived for some 15-20ft downstream to reach the flooded terminal choke but did not feel confident enough to squeeze up past the stemples into the assumed limited airspace above.  With lower water conditions this is still a feasible diving/digging proposition but the great amount of silt creates zero visibility and makes things generally unpleasant.

During a major silt bagging session on the 15th November more of the Pipe Aven collapse was gingerly removed and shoring was commenced with the placement of a long Acro-prop. Two days later a couple of short Acros were installed, more rock cleared and the choke gingerly passed beneath in order to rescue the tools from beyond.  A major shoring project is now required here.

To be continued; (Due to the current high water levels the ground plan of the Shaft bottom cannot be done and will be left for a future article.)

Appendix - A Timewaster in Five Buddles Sink and more on the clay pipe saga.

On 9/2/98, at the base of the Cornish Shaft in Five Buddles Sink, a wooden spatula-like tool was disinterred. It was assumed to be a scraper for cleaning mining equipment. The recently published "The Copper & Lead Mines around the Manifold Valley, North Staffordshire" by Lindsey Porter and John Robey has a photograph of an almost identical artefact on p.141.  This was found in the Royledge Mine and probably dates from the 1850s.  It is described as a" .... 'timewaster', a tool for removing clay from boots." It's Mendip cousin and the bearing liner found on the surface are shown below - drawn to full scale.  Both are destined for Wells Museum.

Bob Smith, via David Cooper (a clay pipe maker at Amberley Chalk Pits Museum, West Sussex) has contacted David Higgins of the Society for Clay Pipe Research.  He was very excited by the drawings of the decorated pipe and writes as follows:-

"Many thanks for your letter and most interesting enclosure which arrived this morning.  I have had a look through various publications for the area and cannot find any good matches for this unusual pipe.  The bowl form and style of the leaf-decorated seams suggest a date of around 1740-90 for this piece, but the other decorative elements are very hard to match.  Most of the Bristol area products were plain until towards the end of the C18th and so this looks like an early example.  There does not seem to be anything quite like it known to date!  The W in a circle looks like a typical cartouche mark as used in the Bristol region, but extending up as far as Gloucestershire and down into Devon and Cornwall.  It is slightly unusual to have a single letter rather than a two letter mark. Marks with dotted borders like this occur on pipes of c 1700-50 in Cornwall.  Given the combination of form, mark and decoration a date of somewhere around c1750-75 would seem most likely for this piece.

Given the rarity of this design it would be useful to get a note of it published.  Would your contact be prepared to write a covering note describing the pipe and saying where it was found to go in the SCPR Newsletter?"  (This has been done.)

Additions to the Digging Team

Brian Kharpran Daly (Meghalayan Adventurers, N.E.India), Lindsay Diengdoh (M.A.), Gregory Diengdoh (M.A.), Mark "Shaggy" Howden, Brian Johnson, Liz Kitts (Southampton U.C.C.), Michele Potzsch (Ziloko Gizonak), Mick Barker ( Lincoln Scouts C.C.), Adrian Burrows, Matthew Higgins.

Additional Assistance

Dave Carter (Show Power), Dany Bradshaw, Mike Wilson, David Cooper (clay pipe maker), David Higgins (S.C.P.R.).