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Reservoir Hole Meet

by Kangy King

If you travel in the Orkneys you can visit marvellous prehistoric chambers constructed by man; some say over a long period of time.  The sides are tidily made of stones neatly fitted together, the roofs are corbelled and finished with great slabs.

Why, you might ask, go to Orkney when with little effort you can visit Reservoir Hole in the Cheddar Gorge? This had been entered in 1951 by Wessex party and in 1965 Willy Stanton created more cave with chemical persuasion and devoted many hours underground extending it.

I was there because Rich Long was kind to me and lent me a rollerblade elbow pad for my bursitis and when my old NiFe cells went dim, a smart modern cigarette packet sized lighting set.  The Irwin and Jarratt Guide gives their usual precise factual account of this cave with a little star indicating restricted access.  Martin Grass was the answer to that.  We met him by the reservoir.

We started promisingly enough with Martin leading us on up the muddy bank above the reservoir. 'Ah, sorry, we need to go back.'  'Ah, sorry, we seem to be too high.'  'Ah, sorry, I'm sure it was here last time but they've cut the trees down.'  'Ah sorry - Oh here it is!'  Low on the ground, out of sight behind a rib of rock, was a tiny crevice.  It was blocked with a star shaped plate gate and was secured by the usual gritty lock which was difficult of access.  Martin applied the magic penetrating oil spray and we were in.

It was a head down job through the spiders until the tunnel steepened past the horseshoe bat dangling from the ceiling.  The passage became steeper and seemed totally man made with neatly stacked deads. Martin said that Willy Stanton had spent years digging this out.  Original passage was not obvious but the climb down, through stones lining a spiralling shaft stabilised by stemples and perhaps concrete, was cave like and interesting.  The passage we were following entered a much bigger rift at right angles which must have been an exciting find for the digging man.  Following this through small chambers linked by tunnels through infill, led to a 'final' enlargement in the rift.  With so many alternatives it was not obvious that the way on was through a small dug passage at the lowest point.

The extent of this speleological masterpiece began to dawn upon us.  What a hero!  Willy Stanton had dug this cave for years.  He must have lived in it.

When we finished going down - we started going up.  Neat walls of stones lined the way.  Steps had been constructed up the steep bits and were contained between these walls. It was hard to see where the small spoil was hidden.  Everything was so neat.  It reminded me of the tidiness of a show cave. And more.  I began to have the feeling that I had been here before. Orkney I thought.  There is an amazing new find about 10 miles south of Kirwall in the Orkneys.  A farmer had broken into a most unusual underground prehistoric man-made chamber.  From the entry point at the top of a mound he had entered into a substantial stone staircase spiralling down.  After two turns of descent, it stopped on a flat stone slab.  That was it.  A monumental staircase in stone.

Willy Stanton's steps continued up through the magnificent rift feature of the cave.  It had that big cave feeling.  Higher still I thought I saw steps cut into solid rock. Perfectly possible if you are removing rock split along the bedding plane but amazing to see in an open passage where rock need not have been removed.  Everything had been done to facilitate the safe passage of the cave visitor.  Rope handrails eased our way. Neatly arranged tapes mounted on little cement pyramids protected vulnerable formations.  On each side imposing vertical slabs formed the rift.  There was perhaps evidence of silken sides on one of the walls and in the same area there was damage caused by boulders dropping out of the stunningly high roof and impacting with glancing blows on the walls below.

Eventually the rift ended as the floor steepened into a wall and a ladder invited us to climb to a higher level.  A fixed rope eased the considerable exposure.  The party assembled on a balcony and climbed around the back to find a wide path.  We walked back towards the rift which, even though we had climbed high into it, still soared above us.  Wider at the top, the black walls of the rift plunged for a couple of hundred feet into the gloom below.  We savoured the extensive view in silence then turned back to examine the path more closely.  It had been built up out of excavated material.  The disturbing thought was that this implied hard work; the need to shift many tons rock from one place to another.  Many of us might regard this as the unattractive face of exploration. Here however, it became an aesthetic way and created a naturalistic feature; an interesting part of the scenery.

An anthropologist would also have recognised the site as showing signs of lengthy human habitation. Water management was the main preoccupation with various gauge tubing, cans, tanks and cement channels guiding water to its appointed quarter.  A small rock basin, with a curious sediment and a thin polythene tube supplying water from a higher reservoir, was identified as a cement mixer.  A rusty spade stood patiently by.

At the end of Reservoir Hole only a muddy pit remained.

Or is it the end? Perhaps Willy Stanton is planning more banging digging, stacking?  When are you coming back to finish this Very Good Cave, Willy Stanton (hero)

Meet participants; Martin Grass, Rich Long, Stuart Sale, James Weir, Zot, Kangy,

Kangy 28th November 2000