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Digging Behind the Belfry – the Discovery of Rose Cottage Cave

by Tony Jarratt

"The estimated time of breakthrough is constant at six months for the first year up to the abandonment of the dig"   -  Alfie's Digging Law

Preliminary survey of Rose Cottage Cave


     Many years ago Geoff Selway of Rose Cottage - our neighbour at the end of the Belfry drive - excavated a large, doughnut-shaped pit in the field behind the Shed, and on the line of the Priddy Pot Water leat, with the intention of creating a scenic pond complete with central island. The water for this was derived from the leat, having come from Fair Lady Well via the Belfry washing pond. For about three years the pond was a success and contained about 1.5m of water and a selection of ducks until, following a night of heavy rain, the lot disappeared down a hole in the NW corner - ducks excluded. It then remained generally dry until the rescue of November 13th 2002 after Vern Freeman peeled off in Maypole Series, St. Cuthbert's Swallet. In atrociously wet conditions the Wells unit of Somerset Fire Brigade, using two Coventry "Godiva" pumps, raised 2,500 litres of water per minute from Cuthbert's depression into the pond - now briefly resurrected! The pumping continued for over four hours  so at least 600,000 litres (132,000 gallons) were shifted and your scribe was very worried about possible flooding in the village. This didn't happen as all the water sank away, not to be seen again until its presumed reappearance at Wookey Hole.


The St. Cuthbert's Swallet report (Irwin 1991) states on p65 that the Coral Chamber stream is likely to be derived from the marshy ground to the west of the Belfry. A recent visit to Coral Chamber by Vern failed to find any evidence of the pumping operation so it is possible that there is some stream divergence in this area which only direct exploration will prove. Could the sinking water be the supply for the enigmatic Lake Chamber, either as the Coral stream or in a discrete conduit? If this cave is an ancient inlet to Cuthbert's it is likely to intercept the NW-SE Gour Lake fault, which forms the SW boundary of the cave, at around 60-70m depth and over 30m upstream from known passage. Vern, Pete Hellier, Paul Brock and Sean Howe are checking leads in Cuthbert's which head in this direction. A connection with Cuthbert's would add at least 300m to give the system a length of around 7,100m and an extra 8m or so depth making it some 153m deep. It would also provide a problem-free entrance for adventure centres, management training operatives, mineral collectors and frustrated Sump 2 diggers!

A further point of interest is the existence of a Roman lead mining settlement immediately to the north of the site (Williams 1998). It appears that some waste water from this operation would have sunk in this area.

Finally, the recent Unlucky Strike extensions in Eastwater Cavern (Rowsell 2004, Long 2005 and Rowsell 2005) reveal that this part of the system is trending towards the series of shallow depressions located between that cave and the dig. Could we have a potential Eastwater-Cuthbert's link or is it a separate, parallel system?

Digging Operations  10/10/04 - 10/1/05

With three of the Club digging projects finished or in abeyance it was time to look for a new project and thanks to Ivan Sandford permission was gained from Geoff to excavate this site.

Work commenced on the 10th October with some three tonnes of earth, clay and stones excavated by hand and bagged up. Two "rabbit holes" were followed down to bedrock at c. 2m depth. A further c. 3 tonnes were removed next day and a waterworn rift was followed down the dip of the pavement-like limestone floor. Tea was provided on site at this very civilized dig and has since been delivered from both the Belfry by Rob "Bobble" Lavington and from Glenview by Fiona Sandford. The 13th saw a Wednesday night team digging beneath powerful overhead lighting provided by Ivan and yet another c. 3 tonnes out. Two days later work continued and on the 18th a more interesting section of the floor rift was reached by tunnelling beneath the clay overburden. Unfortunately, a couple of days later, a major collapse was found to have occurred and it was realised how potentially dangerous the dig was. After much of this collapse was cleared a "board meeting" was held and a decision taken to backfill the hole and try again some 4m to the SW. Being fed up with manual labour we requested Nigel Taylor to have a go with his mini-digger, "Sampsone".

Nigel, and a large crowd of onlookers, turned up on the 7th November and with great finesse he excavated a 2m x 2m x 3m deep hole through the clay overburden to the bedrock. The following day he finished the job and tidied up. Our grateful thanks for this excellent piece of work. The clay sides were desperately in need of shoring and this was partly accomplished on the 10th by Gwilym Evans, Ben Ogbourne and helpers who used three old wooden doors and some wriggly tin to construct what appeared to be a sunken outside bog. Despite its rickety appearance it did the job and hand digging continued to reveal the top of a possible rift in the bedrock.

This rift began to take shape on the 17th when lumps of laminated calcite and large sandstone cobbles came out with the spoil. This gave cause for some enthusiasm as it was obvious that a large stream had once transported these cobbles to the site. Two days later this pleasant site was cursed, as usual, with the "Reverse Midas Touch" and digging became somewhat squalid. The Sunday afternoon of the 21st was spent by a team of four digging ankle deep in "baby shite" but very excited by the development of the rift into an obvious, steeply descending cave passage. The next week saw diggers on site every day and several metres of passage cleared of infill. A small airspace with a stalagmite coated

wall was revealed at one point but work became difficult due to the narrowness of the passage. This problem was resolved on the 29th when a five shothole charge was fired to enlarge the working space . It also resulted in a text message from an irate Fiona Sandford who was convinced that her kitchen would collapse! This could be a good indication of the direction of the potential passage. Rich Witcombe and Jake Baynes commenced work on the drystone base in readiness for concrete pipes being organized and delivered by Dave Speed.

December 1st; Fiona's kitchen was still in one piece but not so the rift walls. A large amount of broken rock was cleared and some surface tidying was done with more next day and a brief but energetic burst of work on the evening of the 3rd in preparation for the arrival of the pipes on the morrow.

Dave arrived promptly on the 4th with the three pipes on his tractor trailer and together with Rich, Jake B. and Phil Coles worked extremely hard on clearing the entrance and building up the drystone base upon which the pipes were emplaced by Alan Quantrill with the aid of a massive JCB. This was a magnificent, professional job which only took about three hours and was much admired by the onlookers (for the record it cost the Club £255 - a bargain).  Phil recorded the event on camera and some digging was later done underground.  (The great contribution of the A.T.L.A.S. digging team must be acknowledged at this point or we will never make Descent again...).

More photos were taken on the following day by Pete Glanvill. Some twenty loads of spoil came out including a large boulder hefted by MNRC caving sec. Darryl Instrum who was on his first dig. A two shothole charge was fired.

A strong Monday team on the 6th hauled out over thirty loads of broken rock and clay and yet more snaps were taken by Tony Audsley. The project instigator, Vern, arrived to assist and most of the surface spoil heaps were tidied up.

It was by now pretty obvious that we had an ongoing cave so the provisional name "Belfry Dig" was dropped and the site named after the adjacent cottage. Some considered this name to be a bit "twee" but the Two Nicks pointed out that "Rose Cottage" is apparently Weston General Hospital speak for mortuary and Chris Batstone assured us that it is also naval slang for pox clinic so we all felt better about it.

Banging and clearing trips continued daily from the 7th - 13th December, the last of these being a five shothole sequence charge laid by Charlie Adcock, the staggered acoustic effects of which much impressed the onlookers. Ambrose Buchanan operated a seismometer to measure the amount of noise - effectively zero. Thirty one skiploads of the resulting spoil were hauled out on the 15th and another charge fired in the LH wall/floor.

The clay and cobble filled sloping rift became more horizontal but was a bugger to dig due to the compacted nature of the fill. Banging and clearing trips continued on the 17th, 18th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd in a range of interesting weather conditions including very heavy rain (when the pond partially re-filled) and thick snow with frozen ground. On the last visit the writer and Charlie laid and fired an eight shothole charge which rippled the bathwater that Ivan was lying in at the time!

Work continued daily over the festive season with much spoil hauled out and one more bang until, on the 28th, the writer and Darryl opened up a small hole which draughted so strongly that it sounded like the wind on the surface above - indeed it may well be affected by the weather as was the draught in Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink. On looking into the hole a low but superbly decorated grotto was revealed and we now definitely had a new Mendip cave. Excavation of possible by-passes to this grotto continued daily over the holiday. Having won the 2004 Digging Barrel competition we were in no rush to break in but, just to rub it in, a discovery on New Year's Day was hoped for. The surface was also tidied up and a drystone wall built SW of the entrance. Some of the leat water was diverted undergound in an effort to clean the place up. The final bang of the year took place on the 30th but, alas, January 1st came and went without the hoped for discovery.

A vast amount of work had been done though by many Club members and friends. Jake Baynes had opened up a mud and rock filled rift to the right of the grotto - now very dangerous due to poised boulders and to be strictly avoided. Duncan Butler learnt this having nearly received a broken neck from a fallen lump of heavy clay. There is a good chance that this collapse will "crown " through to the surface to reveal that this may be the original main entrance.

John "Tangent" Williams and others favoured engineering a route below the grotto while Paul Brock commenced a rival dig just below the entrance shaft. Bob Smith and Duncan did much useful surface work in clearing out the leat, damming the stream and constructing a breeze block bridge and stile. Several hundreds of skiploads of rock and mud were hauled out, John Noble, Nick Richards and Nick Harding working particularly hard at this onerous task. Ivan and Graham "Jake" Johnson made life easier by collecting the Barrow Rake Swallet dig tripod and winch and replacing the man-hauling system.

The 2nd and 3rd January saw charges fired at the end of Mt. Hindrance Lane (the entrance passage - named from a liberated Chard road sign left at the Belfry by a well-wisher) in an attempt to get under the grotto. The well-wisher was later revealed as 80 year old but eternally youthful Tony "Sett" Setterington. Paul's Personal Project also got a dose of 40 gramme cord.

The Club interest over the holiday period was so great that even Nigel Taylor and Pete Rose were seen underground and both Stuart McManus and Dave Irwin threatened to don their caving gear!!! Duncan, though, managed a drunken, pre-dawn trip without gear and got thoroughly soaked in the process as the introduced stream had flooded the cave to within 2m of the entrance shaft. He returned some twenty minutes later to find it had drained away. Delayed tsunami effects? This did indicate that the main way on was at a high level.  The convenience of the cave's location was emphasised when mugs of tea were again delivered to the diggers - this time by Jeff Price and underground!

It was noted that if the stream was piped into the NE end of the original dig it didn't appear in the known cave. If piped into the SW end it rapidly entered below the concrete pipes. Water sinking in the current shallow pond to the S of the entrance was also not met with but almost certainly will be (it was - see later). The general direction of the cave so far is 250 degrees - towards Fairlady Well Cottage.

Normality soon returned and on Wednesday 5th the bang spoil was cleared to reveal two narrow open rifts ahead. Another 100 or so skiploads were hauled out. Next day the rock barrier between these rifts was banged and Paul continued with his Project. The 7th, 8th and 9th were also clearing and banging days with Fiona Crozier starring as lead groveller and using up some of her boundless enthusiasm and limitless supply of "Wicked"s. During this weekend a view had been gained into open, man-sized passage some 2m below the grotto and hurling a powerful wind into the diggers' faces.

The First Breakthrough 10/1/05 - 18/1/05

The "Monday Club" team - today comprising Fiona, Jake B, Phil, Vern, Rich W, Ivan and the writer, with observers John Noble and Tony Audsley - assembled for the guaranteed breakthrough on the morning of the 10th January.

While 15 loads of spoil headed for the surface Fiona and your scribe cleared the bang debris and crept through into a small chamber formed in a heavily calcited boulder choke situated behind the grotto. In one place what at first appeared to be a curiously regular line of helictites is actually the remains of an eroded stal. curtain. To the south a less calcited section of the choke was entered to reach a boulder blocked rift in the floor. The stream was diverted into the cave and observed to sink in gravel below the grotto but could then be heard flowing away in the depths of the rift. After everyone had visited the 10m or so of new passage a three shothole charge was fired on the largest boulder blocking this rift. The explorers retired to the Hunters' to both celebrate and drown their disappointment at the meagreness of today's find but being Mendip diggers should have known better anyway! Later that day Paul and Bobble found the banged boulder in pieces but now blocking the rift further down. A brief visit next day by Ivan and the writer confirmed their findings and provided an opportunity to plan the next operation.

An eleven strong Wednesday night team removed some 70 loads on 12th January and cleared out much of the entrance passage. Two rocks in the choked terminal "rift" were drilled and banged in order to gain access to a draughting and calcited hole in the floor visible beyond. One of the slabs of rock brought out from this area was observed by Tangent to

be scored by slickensides and this may indicate that we have reached the north-westerly extension of the Gour Lake Fault. The heavily waterworn and overhanging NE side of the ongoing passage is opposed by equally waterworn massive boulders with much evidence of plentiful ancient stream deposits in the form of rounded sandstone cobbles and pea gravel. An original swallet entrance to the NW is postulated - perhaps taking the forerunner of the Eastwater stream long before the present Eastwater Cavern was developed.

The 14th saw Jake B. and Paul competing to make the entrance passage into an Eastwater Traverse lookalike by excavating the floor of the rift while your scribe blew up more boulders at the end. The floor of Paul's dig was also modified to give more working space.

Lots of spoil was shifted from the end on the 15th and a short length of open passage entered - unfortunately completely choked and not large enough to turn round in. A head-sized sandstone cobble was recovered from this area for display in the Belfry. Fluorescein, put into the stream sinking at the original dig, was not seen in Lake Chamber, St. Cuthbert's by either Vince Simmonds (three hours later) or Graham Johnson (one day later).

The 16th saw a strong team getting about 80 loads to surface and clearing out most of the cave and this work continued the following day when a great deal of rock was removed from the boulder choke. 27 loads were hauled out by Tony A. and Ray Deasy got his annual "nip over from Queensland" digging trip in!. Both Jake B. and the writer opened up side passages on the RH side which gave views into the same open passage - both being blocked by immoveable slabs. A tiny stream entered from a passage on the LH side and the noise of a larger stream below indicated that we were about to regain the water from the original dig on its way to regions unknown. A higher level route through the choke could also be seen but again was boulder-blocked. A return was made in the afternoon to drill and bang a total of six obstructive "Henrys".

The Second Breakthrough  18/1/05 - 30/1/05

Desperate to see the results of this bang your scribe returned after work on the 18th and after an hour spent clearing broken rock from the two RH digs was able to wriggle between boulders in the furthest one and enter a roomy section of passage. His impression was of being at the head of a large and steeply dipping, seriously waterworn canyon but well choked with precarious and very spiky boulders. The similarity to Eastwater is marked but the stability seems far worse! Some rearranging of the ruckle was done before a tactical retreat was made for a celebratory pint, clutching a sandstone cobble with a very fine fossil imprint. This extension was only some 5m but the potential of the cave had now increased enormously - as had the problems of exploring it... Several of the team visited the extension on the following evening but despite a good poking about were unable to get much further. Digging continued in P.P.P. and another 47 loads were hauled out.  The fossil-bearing cobble caused much bemusement in the Pub as it seems it should not exist! Luckily Jim Hanwell thought otherwise and tentatively identified the cobble as being a fine grained sandstone from the upper end of the Old Red Sandstone (near the contact with the Carboniferous limestone) and the fossil as a possible strophomenid (Brachiopod).  This is a rare and relatively important find. Dr. Willy Stanton thought otherwise and suggested it was weathered chert from the Jurassic Harptree beds with a variety of "cockle". Geologists from the Shepton Mallet C.C. favour the sandstone theory.

Ivan and the writer were back at the choke on the 21st and after a couple of hours of very selective boulder bashing were able to gain a view into ongoing passage. The relatively stable LH wall was banged the next day and the spoil cleared on the 23rd when the way on was entered but found to rapidly choke and will need more bang. A rare underground sighting of Chris Batstone was the highlight of the day!

Interest was then transferred to the stream sink below the grotto with 40 loads coming out on the 24th and various draughting holes appearing in the floor. Digging was curtailed when a very large rock slab, unknowingly undermined by the writer, slid onto him (like they do) necessitating removal by Jake B. and Tony Boycott. He was miraculously unharmed and got his own back by blowing the rock to bits and returning in the afternoon with the late Martin Bishop and Phil Romford to clear it. The latter also studied the cave geomorphology and removed cobble samples for identification. Work continued here and at Paul's Personal Project on the 26th when 53 loads came out and more boulders were banged with another 14 loads out two days later. The crawl below the grotto became awkward for skip hauling so was blasted on the 30th when another 56 loads came out.

Further  Digging  1/2/05 - 4/3/05

Throughout February the team worked hard on both Paul's Personal Project and the Grotto dig. Well over 212 loads of spoil were hauled out as, apparently, was Phil Coles - though in the Belfry Log Book he fervently denies this! Paul almost  had to be regularly hauled out as his steeply dipping dig went vertical. He has started a "J.Rat's Pump Fan Club". Sean recorded all this with his digital camera and the excellent results can be seen on his web page. A slump of the infill around the concrete pipes caused a few problems but was later made good.

March 1st saw Paul and his Makita breaking up stubborn rock at the bottom of his dig. 42 loads were hauled out and next day Jake B. started a new dig at the junction near the terminal choke dig. He was to hit the jackpot.....

The  Third  Breakthrough 5/3/05  - 15/3/05

On the 5th he returned with Tom Clayton (Birmingham U.S.S.) and Phil C. to continue work at what became known as Dig 2b. Some lengthy and dedicated digging brought them to open voids between dodgy boulders, one of which actually pivoted when touched (a great feature but now dropped for safety). Tom got the short stick and pushed on down into standing sized passage with superb formations in abundance. Jake joined him and they explored some 20m to a too

tight calcited slot. A large column-topped stal. boss, a very long straw and many helictites were only some of the stunning "pretties" in Aglarond (a Tolkienesque Elvish word meaning "glittering caves"). To quote Jake: "The best caving trip for me so far. Tom and I were first in ever in human history - or any history. FANTASTIC". Pete, John N. and Phil C. visited this wondrous extension next day in an attempt to pass the squeeze - knowing full well that your skinny scribe was returning from Meghalaya that day. Alas, they failed and the writer duly took up the challenge on the 7th when, honed to pushing perfection by three weeks of constant hard caving and a rice diet, he easily slid through into another 10m of even more well decorated passage (Aglarond II) ending in another impassable slot but with a bigger open void ahead from whence issued the sound of the stream. Ivan photographed Aglarond I and most of the formations were taped off.

The following evening a steel mesh was bolted in place near the squeeze to protect adjacent vulnerable formations. Unfortunately in the process the longest straw got broken but may be repairable. The squeeze was enlarged with Paul's 110 volt Makita hammer drill and the next calcite barrier attacked with same to get a good view into roomy and well decorated passage beyond. Ivan photographed Aglarond II.

On the 9th much of the cave was cleared of spoil - over 120 loads reaching the surface where Ivan built a dam to divert the sinking stream into the pond. A drystone retaining wall was built by Jake and team above  the latest breakthrough point and the writer continued chiselling at the end until the chisel bit snapped in two (sorry Paul). A return was made on the 11th March when almost three hours of "micro-blasting" - using single detonators and 3mm and 5mm detonating cord failed to fully open up the slot. Clearing took place on the 12th when several diggers visited the cave throughout the day. Red drain dye poured into the surface collapse sink at 8.15am was not seen in Coral Stream, St. Cuthberts three hours later and Vern also reported that at 1pm Lake Chamber was also uncoloured.

Water problems in the cave were hopefully solved on the 13th when Ivan and Bobble constructed a valved dam on the course of the Fair Lady Well stream and diverted it into the St. Cuthbert's depression. Alex Livingston and John N. widened the breakthrough squeeze to enable the more portly diggers  to reach the end.

Much micro-blasting experimentation was done at the end next morning and at the entrance Rich W. started walling up the rift below the concrete pipes. In the afternoon Ivan and the writer returned for another excruciating four hours of rock-breaking ending in frustration and the laying of a 40gm charge. The diggers vowed to look up the Elvish for "Bastard". Totally convinced that the squeeze was now wide open they returned the following evening for yet another two hours of cramped misery followed by a "final" bang. At least, the lower half of your scribe had been into Aglarond III but the upper half decided not to push his luck. Rich, meanwhile, continued with his walling project before a visit to the working face where he compared the formations with those in Charterhouse Warren Farm Swallet.

The Fourth Breakthrough  16/3/05 - 2/4/05.

Wednesday 16th March at last saw the squeeze passed after more chiselling. Once through the writer was able to assist from the far side with further enlargement enabling Ivan to join him an hour later. Aglarond III consists of a sloping "bedding chamber" some 5m wide, 1m high and 10m deep with a flowstone floor, hundreds of straws, helictites, curtains and many other formations. A tiny streamway at the bottom becomes too small and is blocked with straws while above it a tall, rift-like feature may be the best way on but is almost completely blocked by pure white columns and other formations. The extension was photographed and taped. The bruised and battered explorers returned to Ben "fatarse" Ogbourne in Aglarond II for celebratory, or in this case commiseratory, Champagne before heading out with the redundant drill and assorted rubbish. Meanwhile Pete, Phil and Jake hauled out 70 loads of spoil and one newt from the Grotto Dig area thereby tidying the place up ready for a renewed assault in an attempt to bypass the Aglarond chokes. The draught at this point is noticeably much stronger than at the current end.

Work recommenced here on the 19th March when a boulder in the floor was banged and cleared on the morrow allowing entry into some 4m of clean-washed boulder choke with a voice connection through to the head of the climb down to Aglarond. Further work in this part of the choke would be pointless and dangerous. Also on this trip Sean photographed Aglarond I and II using Alys and John N. as models.

The morning of Monday the 21st saw Rich W. completing one side of his cemented entrance wall and much tidying up on the surface. The return of "Madphil" Rowsell from Tasmania prompted the long delayed survey of the cave on the 23rd when the first task was to traverse from the St. Cuthbert's entrance pipe to that of Rose Cottage with the intention of continuing on to Eastwater in future. The cave itself was surveyed from Aglarond III to the entrance and a Lexica DISCO laser distance meter was used instead of a tape to take side legs in the areas of vulnerable formations. A total of 61m length and 29m depth was recorded - not as long as estimated but a good start for the next Digging Barrel! Meanwhile Paul's Personal Project kept the vociferous diggers amused and 41 loads were dug out and dumped. Two days later Paul returned to dig alone in peace and quiet while the surveyors continued the surface traverse to Eastwater Cavern. 65 loads came out during the next few days and other work included the completion of the entrance walling and digging and blasting in the Terminal Choke Dig where a couple of metres progress was made at high level. Further work here is following the dip of the waterworn limestone into the floor. Paul's dig was also enlarged with explosives to create more working space.

Further Digging 2/4/05 - 20/6/05.    

April commenced with 49 loads of spoil out over two days and lots of digging at both Paul's Personal Project and the Terminal Choke Dig. On the 4th Rich drystone walled the NE face of the Grotto Dig and most of the redundant steel shoring was removed. Further work was carried out in P.P.P. and a wire ladder installed to aid exit. The 5th and 6th saw more work here and another 53 loads out with a spate of showery weather making conditions below a trifle damp. Another 39 loads came out on the 10th and 11th, a good percentage of this being bang debris from blasted out roof pendants whose removal was necessary to create working space in the rapidly dwindling phreatic bedding plane. During the following week 55 loads came out and several blasting trips took place to remove a stubborn bed of hard limestone which bisected two of the three diggable phreatic tubes in P.P.P. Much tidying of the surface was also done. Another bang in the central phreatic tube on the 16th was later cleared of 33 loads of spoil by the able-bodied diggers while your scribe was reduced to the role of dig historian following an unfortunate incident involving tap-dancing officianado Mike Willet, several libations, a pair of steel-shod Lancashire clogs and a flagstone kitchen floor. This mix resulted in a fractured fibula and much frustration.

Thirteen more loads came out of P.P.P. on the 27th when Paul reported the phreatic tubes to be looking more promising after the limestone bridge had partially gone. A spell of wet weather and the necessity of flushing out the squalor in this dig caused some ponding problems and so, on the 4th May, Pete commenced a new dig in the small boulder chamber at the lowest accessible part of the main choke before Aglarond 1. To avoid the confusion of a numbering system "Pete's Baby" is proposed as the name for this site ("I don't know what it's called - it's Pete's baby" - Sean ). 16 loads of spoil went all the way from here to the surface due to the presence of eight keen and efficient diggers.

Thanks to the much appreciated assistance of Stu Sale the writer was able to abseil down to P.P.P. on the 9th of May to drill two long shotholes in the LH wall of the upper phreatic tube and lay a 40gm cord charge. This was later noisily fired from the surface following a delicate prusik out. SRT digging comes to Mendip. Two days later 20 loads and two newts were hauled out from this site, mainly from the two lower tubes. Paul filled ten skips on the 13th providing space for Tony Boycott to drill and bang the limestone bridge in the middle tube a couple of days later. On this trip the writer started clearing the upper tube and continued this next day while Tony Audsley bagged the middle tube bang debris. Another charge was then fired in the latter. A strong Wednesday night team cleared 64 loads from this area on the 18th May and did a modicum of work in Pete's Baby.

A week later 18 more loads were hauled out with another 40 removed on the 29th when superb bank holiday weather lured a large team of diggers and onlookers to the site. June 1st saw 19 loads (and a newt) reaching the surface following much spoil breaking by Paul and Ben in the middle tube during which they opened up a tiny airspace with some mini-formations. Pete then drilled two holes in a floor slab and the writer charged these with 40gm cord. A resounding bang heralded the removal of the slab (and the mini-formations!). Sean, alas, was the next regular digger to suffer enforced retirement having been bitten by a possibly rabid Spanish mugger while enjoying a dirty weekend in Barcelona. This resulted in a plastered arm and an even better excuse to avoid winching than the writer's! The bang spoil was removed on the 5th June when another 12 skiploads came out from the rapidly enlarging middle tube - sometimes affectionately referred to as "Bored of the Rings". The diggers were eventually driven out by headaches attributable to both bang and booze.

On June 6th the upper tube was dug separately by both the writer and Alex and more work here was done by Paul next day when he pumped out the middle tube with a smaller submersible electric pump. This allowed 40 loads of spoil to come out on the 8th when reports from the working face indicated easy digging and loading conditions. Paul dug solo again on the 11th resulting in 43 loads coming out next day when, towards the end of the session, John opened up a draughting hole with open passage visible beyond. Exultation soon turned to disappointment when it was realised that this passage had already been entered from Mt. Hindrance Lane above - Bored of the Rings having popped out in the floor below the first grotto to create a short but entertaining round trip! Fortunately there was also ongoing, diggable passage to the right of the connection where water apparently sinks. More work was done here on the 13th by Alex and the writer on separate solo trips.

The opening up of the connection continued on Wednesday 15th June with digging in B.o.t.R. and digging/rock breaking below the grotto. 40 skiploads of spoil eventually reached the surface despite a poor turnout of regulars. An obstructive rock slab on the grotto side of the link was banged next day and several skips filled. The bang debris was cleared by Paul two days later when many skips and bags were filled at both ends of the loop and the "round trip" was eventually completed by Fiona and the writer. The latter two continued digging and stacking full bags on the 19th. A healthy 80 loads were removed on the 20th June and work continues following the now vertical floor of B.o.t.R. down the side of the main choke.

The Digging Team and Acknowledgements

Just about everyone who visits the Belfry has been involved at some point. In addition to those mentioned above other stalwarts are Andy Smith, Ben Selway, Jack Lambert, Lee Stackett, Graham, Chrissie and Sam Price (CerSS), Luke Baynes, Greg Brock, Justine Emery (CSS), Martin Smith (OSCG), Rich Gulvin, Dave Sutherland, Ian Barker and Mark Craske (all MNRC), Ros White, Alys Mendus (SUSS), Mike Willet, Martin Grass, Alan Gray (ACG), Martin Peters, Steve Chitty, Jason Wilkes, John Walsh, Mark "Shaggy" Howden, Martin Ellis (SMCC), John Christie.

Our grateful thanks to Geoff and Carol Selway, Ivan and Fiona Sandford, Nigel Taylor and Dave Speed for services beyond the call of duty. Alan Quantrill for expert JCB manipulation, the BEC committee, John Sheppey (Somerset Fire Brigade), the Wig - for thought-provoking theories, Sett, Alfie Collins for his quote, Jim Hanwell, Willy Stanton and assorted geologists for cobble identification, Chris Binding (CheddarCC / CSCC) for conservation tape and the loan of a laser distancemeter.


IRWIN D.J. et al 1991 St. Cuthbert's Swallet.  Bristol Exploration Club

WILLIAMS R.J.G. 1998  The St. Cuthbert's Roman Mining Settlement, Priddy, Somerset: Aerial Photographic Recognition. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society. 21(2). p.123-132.

ROWSELL P. (Madphil) 2004 The trials and tribulations of Eastwater. Belfry Bulletin No.519, Bristol Exploration Club. 53(5). p.9-20.

LONG R.  2005  Mel-low digs and Russian Woman Hands. Belfry Bulletin No.521, Bristol Exploration Club, 54. (1).pp18-21.        

ROWSELL P. (Madphil) 2005 Morton’s Pot – the final solution. Belfry Bulletin No.522, Bristol Exploration Club, 54(2).pp18-21