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Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink - Digging Update

By Tony Jarratt

Continued from BB 519

July 4th saw a tidying up trip to Slop 3 where recent heavy showers had raised the water level over a metre. A steep slope was created from the spoil dump at the bottom of Pewter Pot to the current pool surface.

Next day a 15 shothole charge - using 12/100gm detonating cord - was fired at Stillage Sump. It was noted that the recent rains had caused water to flow into Hangover Hall via the squeeze located some 2m above stream level - possibly due to an inwashed 25 litre plastic drum blocking the lower passage. Our next clearing trip here was on the 12th when an eight shothole charge was fired. An identical charge was fired on the 14th and cleared on the 18th when Duncan Butler and the writer came out from the sump by "braille", both of their lamps having failed at the same time. Next day a thirteen shothole charge was fired and this was partially cleared on the 21st when nine holes were drilled and the four diggers got a dose of "bang head" from residual fumes. Five of these holes were charged with 100gm cord on the 26th and noisily fired.

The previous day more clearing work was done at Slop 3 where much higher water levels prevented forward progress - by August 1st there was only a slight drop here so no digging was done. A possible high level passage above some fine formations halfway along Barmaids' Bedrooms was investigated but was found to be calcite choked.

The 28th July saw another banging/clearing session at Stillage Sump when the remaining four holes were utilised and the spoil was cleared on the 2nd August when visiting Hungarian caver and au pair Andi Vajdics worked hard in the doubtful air conditions. As a reward she was taken to see the bone deposit where a calcite coated bison molar was recovered for future scientific investigation - H.L.I.S.47. More clearing of the sump floor was done on the 4th. The water level at Slop 3 was still too high on the 9th so the writer probed the two dry dig sites beyond the bone deposit. Both were found to require banging to gain access to possible open passages beyond. This was accomplished on Wednesday the 11th August when a large team, diverted from other dig sites by heavy rain, assembled at the spot. The debris from both bangs was cleared on the 13th and the higher site found to soon close down in a massive boulder choke. The lower passage looked more promising and so another charge was fired here to knock off a corner. Escaping the horrors of Priddy Fair a small team returned on the 18th to push this to a boulder blockage where a large bison(?) vertebra was found. It was decided that due to lack of space and the size of the choke more thorough investigation of the area should be done before further banging.

August 15th saw a nine hole bang at Stillage Sump and some preliminary geomorphological investigation by Toby Maddocks (U.B.S.S.). Clearing, spoil stacking, drilling and banging continued on August 23rd with a surprisingly large Monday morning team who all got damp on the way out due to heavy rain. Three more trips this month resulted in over forty bags of spoil being dug from the sump floor and the survey of Old Peculier Aven completed. Another dozen loads were excavated on September 1st and ten more on the 6th when the sump walls were widened by blasting and the calcited ceiling choke banged on the suggestion of Vince Simmonds. The cave booze theme has transformed this into Simond's Choke after the famous, defunct brewery.

A spell of fine, dry weather caused the water level in Slop 3 to drop several feet and further work was done here on September 8th along with tidying up digs at both ends of B.B. and the discovery of a superbly preserved reindeer (?) tooth. It was noted on this trip that the long stalactite in Happy Hour Highway, painstakingly mended by Messrs Glanvill & Rose, had been once again partly smashed off by an unthinking and incompetent visitor. In this case it is known to have been broken on a Wessex tourist trip - as was its even longer companion destroyed some months ago. There are no plans to mend these formations but there are definite changes in access procedure being considered.

A large turnout on the 15th saw lots of spoil from S.S. dumped in the rapidly filling Hangover Hall and some small progress at the end. Four days later the dam was reinforced with concrete and a new wall of "deads" commenced above it. More digging was done in the choke which was left to "dig itself". This continued next day with the aid of a 2m steel rod until discretion proved the better part of valour and a retreat was made. A little more work was done here on the 22nd but it was judged to be too dangerous to continue without banging a boulder acting like a plug in a giant egg-timer. This was done two days later when a dozen tiny toads were rescued and added to the rapidly expanding community in Andy and Pams' pond. Sixteen more came out on the 27th - the day the choke was passed after some decidedly adrenalin producing digging. Unfortunately, after a couple of metres, this promising site turned into a massive choke of calcited boulders with no feasible way on. The last dig of September, on the 29th, removed all the fallen spoil from the choke and a few more loads from the sump floor. There was now not only a lack of air but also of enthusiasm. After many months of hard and exasperating work this area may now be abandoned, at least for the winter.

A tourist/conservation trip on October 1st saw yellow plastic tent pegs emplaced to emphasise the formation tape.

On the day after the club dinner an enthusiastic Fiona Crozier dived in both Hair of the Dog Sump and Slop 3 as a training exercise. Although, in the latter, she was unable to get under the "downstream" lip she was inspired to return next day with the writer as surface controller. She spent over fifteen minutes digging underwater and intends to continue this project as there is now no way that this sump will drain this year. On this trip a stream was actually flowing down Pewter Pot. Her co-diver from Leeds, Debbie Feeney, unfortunately lost a contact lens on the way down Pub Crawl and aborted her trip.

A tourist trip to Pewter Pot on October 6th found Slop 1 to be sumped and thus Hair of the Dog and Broon Ale Boulevard inaccessible and others on the 11th and 25th proved this to still be the case. On this latter trip Guy Munnings and the writer were almost caught out at RRR by the very sudden appearance of a "Swildon's-size" stream. Many of the team now turned their attentions to the new surface dig behind the Belfry with a brief session for some at Rana Hole in Sutherland. On November 3rd all the 110v cables, the bang wire and the pump were laboriously removed from the cave and the twenty-odd 25 litre drums transported from RRR to HHH as the lower levels were abandoned for the winter.

A Wessex tourist party informed the writer that BBB had become inaccessible due to a large slab having slid into the Slop 1 crawl from the RH wall. This problem will be resolved this summer.

Palaeontology.

Dr. Tom Higham of the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit reported that the Bison priscus bone sent to Oxford for radiocarbon dating had been proven to be over 55,000 years old. Dr. Roger Jacobi identified and returned HLIS 47 (Bison priscus - right M2) and HLIS 48 (Rangifer tarandus - right M1/M2). Tangent gave a short lecture on the cave at the "Mendip Hills AONB Strategy for the Historic Environment Seminar" held at Ubley on 23rd October.

More diggers and acknowledgements.

Duncan Butler (Newbury & District C.C./B.E.C.), Frome Caving Club (donation to the Bang Fund), Dr. Tom Higham (Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit), Lee Stackett, Bob "Bobble" Lavington, Andrea "Andi" Vajdics (Papp Ferenc Barlangkutato Csoport - Hungary), Toby Maddocks (U.B.S.S.), John Noble, George Cheshire (Bradford P.C.), Vanessa and Sean Hedley, Emily Davis (Helderberg Hudson Grotto, N.S.S., U.S.A.), Nick Gymer, Kev Gurner, Debbie Feeney, Mike and Ruth Merrett (SMCC).