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Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink - The Good and Bad News.

by Tony Jarratt and Rich Dolby

Work has continued on the lower Happy Hour Highway dig where at a depth of c.5 metres the ceiling became briefly horizontal before beginning to ascend at a shallow angle in what appeared to be one side of a phreatic tube - the left wall being composed of inwashed boulders, clay and sand with spectacular multicoloured sediment layers which will be left in situ for possible scientific evaluation at some future date.  As the dig lengthened air conditions became steadily worse.

The writer, Jake Baynes and Roger Dors became famous for a few minutes on the 27th of November when Radio Bristol broadcast an interview about the dig, cave and Pub. The interviewer was Kate Salisbury who had heard of the project from Rich Dolby and tied it in with the 30 years of Mendip A.O.N.B. celebrations.  Points West, the local TV news programme, then expressed an interest in filming the cave but on having the entrance passage described to them fortunately have so far failed to materialise.

Trevor, after putting in a lot of hard work on the upper H.H.H. dig, eventually hit solid rock at a depth of 1.8 metres and allowed it to be used as a handy spoil dump for the lower dig.  Andrew Moon, on a tourist trip, was unaware of this and started to clear it out again!


Our new Joint Hut Engineer making room for digging spoil in Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink.  

While the writer favoured following this dig upwards towards a hoped for airspace Mark Ireland decided to dig downwards at the lowest point so work continued at these two sites in conjunction.  On the 15th of December the ascending dig had reached a length of some 5 metres from the base of the drop and the sand/clay infill now contained buried rocks which gave a hollow sound when hammered.

Next day these were removed in about ten minutes and an airspace providentially reached. Breathing conditions at the face now rapidly improved as the bad air was dispersed - despite the lack of a "howling gale".  A superb, pure white 0.3 metre high stal. column could be seen ahead with open space beyond.  Jake B. arrived and over 60 bags of spoil were removed to make the new passage accessible.  Beyond the column the ceiling sloped steeply down for c.5 metres to a wide archway with either a pool, calcite floor or black hole beneath.  The good news was that we had obviously entered the continuation of Happy Hour Highway beyond the terminal choke, the "half phreatic tube" being actually a step down in the ceiling at precisely the depth expected. To avoid destroying the column we commenced digging through soft sediment and sand on the RH side.  With this year's Digging Barrel already in the bag we didn't really need more cave until New Year's Day!  (Not that we've seen the last three .... )  This excellent morning's fun ended on a macabre note when the writer came across a pile of white ash at the base of the entrance shaft and several grinning D.B.S.S. members on the surface.  The ash turned out to be the remains of the late Dr. Rodney Pearce who discovered Rod's Pot in 1944.  He was a D.B.S.S. and ex-B.E.C. member and great character who is now keeping Frank Jones company on the long through trip to Wookey Hole.

Three clearing trips took place on the 18th/19th and 20th of December and on one of these the writer was digging alone when four festive Moles members turned up bearing a flask of mulled wine and some mince pies for his delectation!

The 22nd, 23rd and 26th of December saw four more clearing trips to open up the passage for access to what now was revealed as a relatively roomy static sump with the underwater passage descending steeply and enlarging on the LH side.  Mud cracks and drip pockets on the floor of the sump indicated that the water level may drop considerably and it did indeed fluctuate some 0.4 metres in a few days.  A set of diving gear was also carried in ready for a push by Rich Dolby on the 27th of December.  Due to Christmas excess this degenerated into another clearing session mainly in the sump pool itself - but next day Rich spent some 15 minutes underwater in zero visibility probing in vain for an outlet, all ways on being blocked by sediment banks reaching the ceiling.  This was the bad news.  Keeping to the cave theme the sump was named Drip Tray Sump.  The line and diving gear were removed.  Our only hope now is to wait for very dry weather in case the sump drains and possibly bail or pump it back into a holding pond at the end of H.H.H. above.  In the meantime work will be concentrated on gaining access to the continuation of the streamway.  The cave depth is now 50m (l50ft) the same as the bottom of the Railway Tunnel in Hunters' Hole, which now needs re-assessing in the light of these developments.

The Dive - Rich Dolby

Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink, Priddy, Somerset ST5494 5012
28.12.02 DIVER: R.J. Dolby (BEC) SUPPORT: A.R. Jarratt, M. Willett (BEC)

The aim was to dive the recently discovered, static Drip Tray Sump located beyond the excavated choke at the end of the cave.  Observations made during a previous trip (26.12.02) revealed crystal clear water with a steeply descending bedding trending east, appearing to close down north and south.  Depth of visible area guesstimated at that time to be approx. six feet.

Returned to dive on 28.12.02.  Awkward entry into the sump pool (approx. three feet by four feet) necessitated some de-kitting.  Once in the water A.R.J. assisted R.J.D., passing him his bottle and line reel. The diver then descended sloping bedding to reach compacted mud floor at approx. depth of seven feet.  He belayed to a large boulder and proceeded to explore in zero visibility.  Moving in an easterly direction the diver soon felt the low roof descending to meet the mud floor.  He then moved north following the roof/floor for a short distance, the route became too tight and the diver sensing that he was very near the surface. Reversing past the belay he continued to probe the roof/floor junction in a southerly direction. Eventually his feet broke the surface thus terminating the initial search.  He returned to the belay and surfaced to swap observations and jokes with A.R.J and M.W.  Entertaining banter did little to conceal the disappointment of all present.  A second dive to investigate the area above the roof/floor junction revealed no possible ways on.

Dive time: 15 minutes. Line removed after dive.

Many thanks to A.RJ. and M.W. for assistance and Roger Dors back at the Centre of the Universe (Hunters' Lodge Inn) for some excellent post-dive Hook Norton!

There are indications that this sump may be lower or even drain completely in dry weather to enable digging to take place.

More diggers, visitors and assistants

Tom Clayton (West Midlands e.E.G.), Kate Salisbury (Radio Bristol), John Wilson, Steve Stean, Jim Lee, Mark Edwards, Neville Roberts, Alan Richards and Dave Bradeley (all Moles e.G.), Norman Wright, Dave Warman, Tom Stem, Richard Crane, Andrew Moon and Steve Turner (all Wells/Glastonbury Tuesday nighters), Estelle Sandford, the late Rod Pearce (U.B.S.S. and ex-B.E.C.), Kyle Otton, Julie Bevan (Frome C.e.), Vince Simmonds.