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Rose Cottage Cave - Prancer’s Pot, the Surface Shaft and Grotto Choke Dig

Tony Jarratt

Continuing the saga from BBs 522-524.

“I now stood ready to observe the full
Extent of the new chasm thus laid bare,
Drenched as it was in tears most miserable.”

Dante. The Descent into Hell.

Further Digging 29/1/06 – 24/3/06

The 29th January saw the writer and Jane C. checking the spoil rift and confirming that another bang was needed. In Prancer’s Pride they drilled three shotholes and fired a 40gm cord charge which was cleared next day by your scribe and Anne Vanderplank who set off another three hole charge. They also cleared much of the spoil from the base of the surface dig and the rest of this was taken out by Henry B. on the 31st.

On 1st February bang spoil was cleared from the Prancer’s Pride dig and yet another three shothole charge fired to open up a tiny, calcite-floored hole with a good echo from beyond. A new dig was started some 2.5m down the climb between Prancer’s Pride and Fi’s ‘Ole and over 30 bags of spoil were hauled up from here and dumped in the diminishing void above. The spoil rift dig was attacked by Pete H. but thought to become too small and choked. Henrys B. and D. cleared and drilled in the surface dig and this was later also banged. Henry B. cleared the resulting debris next day.

Nothing then happened until the 27th when Tony A. and Rich W. tidied up on the surface after evicting a mouse from Tony’s rarely used oversuit!

On 4th March Henry B. drilled seven shotholes at the terminal Prancer’s Pride dig in anticipation of the bang-wallah’s return from Meghalaya and on the 12th six of these were utilised by your scribe, accompanied by Duncan B. and new boy Andy Kuszyk. The writer cleared the spoil next day and charged five out of six newly drilled holes - fully expecting the bang to open up the huge, echoing chamber assumed to lie below. An enthusiastic return was made in the evening with Henry B. and after more clearing a 2m long section of muddy stream passage was entered ending too tight but with a calcited hole on the left which drained the water and required more bang. This was not what we had expected! A flat battery precluded drilling but by using up all available unused or partly blown shotholes another 40gm charge was laid and fired.

The debris was removed on the 15th and another three hole charge fired at the drain hole. Clearing took place a week later, on the 22nd, and a four hole charge fired in the hope of gaining access to what was assumed to be a c.5m drop down which Henry had cast a few stones. He was convinced that a couple of these had gone even further. Phil C. and Tangent provided useful back-up on this trip.

Tangent and the writer were back on the 24th to clear some of the shattered rock until enough space was created for the latter to get a view down an almost vertical 2m flowstone slope to a calcited ledge with a black void to the left. By going in feet first he was able to free-climb to the ledge and stand, gawping in disbelief at the 10 m deep, heavily calcited rift pitch below. A further free-climb of 2m was made but it was thought a bad idea to go deeper without tackle and with the imminence of closing time. The overjoyed duo were changed ready for the Pub exactly half an hour later!

Prancer’s Pot and other digs – 25/3/06-22/5/06

On the evening of the 25th the pair returned to enlarge the approach to the pot in order that their larger colleagues could view its wonders. They were assisted by Andy C. and Chris J. The best part of an hour was spent enlarging the squeeze then the writer belayed a short rope to convenient formations and climbed down to the ledge to rig a 10m ladder on the main pot – belayed to even more convenient formations. He reached the flat floor below and with Tangent’s inebriated aid (he had celebrated in advance) measured the pitch at 12m in total. Below this a 5m deep free-climb led to a further free-climb of 4m and extensive mud deposits on the walls. This did not bode good and soon after a dried out pool with a magnificent brown crystal lining was reached. Immediately beyond this lay the inevitable, squalid and extremely unwelcome sump – too small to dive and an unprepossessing dig site. The only saving grace was that it was a superb little trip and on a par with visiting the Slops in Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink. Andy and Chris were summoned from their squeeze enlarging duties and were suitably impressed. With a total depth of over 21m Prancer’s Pot had, with the addition of Prancer’s Pride above, almost doubled the depth of the cave, which was later confirmed at 58m. Both disappointed and enthused the weary diggers gathered up all available drilling and banging equipment and humped it out to the surface leaving the pot rigged. A re-think was now required and a major effort at tracing the source of the strong draught urgently needed.

Paul B. visited the pot on the 26th and next day Henry B. and your scribe took down digging bags and thoroughly examined the place. On the way out Henry removed a couple of rock slabs from the passage heading into the main boulder choke opposite the end of Bored of the Rings and these were skipped to the surface as the diggers thought “Here we go again…”

The plan was to blast and dig a route horizontally through the choke to the so far unseen opposite wall and try to establish the source of the strong draught – seemingly lost in the rest of the cave. This has been named Grotto Choke Dig. Further digging took place here on the 29th when Henry B. banged three obstructive boulders and 2 skiploads of rock reached the surface. Meanwhile a team of six regulars visited Prancer’s Pot, which was photographed to death by Sean H. before frenzied digging commenced at the mud sump, Henry D. almost missing the Pub in his excessive enthusiasm.   

Henry B, Ian “Slug” Gregory and your scribe cleared bang debris from Grotto Choke Dig on the 31st but were soon confronted with lots of small and unstable boulders where further digging was considered too dangerous without much forethought. One skipload reached the surface.    

April Fool’s Day saw two of the finest, Henry B. and Duncan B, attempting to dig below Prancer’s Pot but they were defeated by high water levels and had to be content with re-arranging the spoil heap. A small team on the following day also accomplished little but on the surface the alternative entrance shaft was partly cleared of inwashed mud.      A large Prancer’s Pot team on the 5th filled five sacks and broke up some large rocks but were also stymied by the high water. The surface dig was finally cleared and two days later a four hole charge was very noisily fired in the floor and served the double purpose of shaking up the committee who were sitting in state in the Belfry! Clearing continued on the 9th when the diggers were provided with high octane coffee and biscuits by Ivan. Bursts of sunshine and hailstones enlivened the proceedings. The writer spent the 10th in much improved weather conditions clearing the dig and firing two separate charges to enlarge the miniscule bedding and rift at the bottom, work continuing here two days later when yet another charge was fired. Meanwhile Henry B. and Richie Blake confirmed that the Prancer’s Pot dig was still too wet but were convinced that it could be bailed into a nearby possible drain hole in the opposite wall. Work continued in the surface shaft on the 14th when the writer and Jane C. shifted lots of spoil and fired a two-hole charge. Pete Glanvill photographed the upper series next day but being alone was disinclined to descend Prancer’s Pot.

The writer continued digging and blasting in the surface shaft on the 16th and 17th and was ably assisted by Tangent, Tom Wilson and Dan Griffin. On the 18th Madphil and Ben O. continued the cave survey to establish the depth of the “mud sump” dig below Prancer’s Pot at –58m and next day Henry B, Fiona C, Tangent and Rich B. took down a length of 2” hose and a cut down skip to successfully empty the water into Henry’s drain hole. Pete H, John N, Phil C. and Alex L. arrived later to assist with digging but the choked passage was thought to be closing in. More spoil came out of the surface shaft on the 21st and another charge was fired to enlarge the working space. Clearing and banging took place again on the 24th and 26th (when Prancer’s Pot dig was visited and found to be too wet to logistically dig on an evening trip).

May Day saw Tony A. and Rich W. commencing to build a cemented stone lining in the new shaft. They continued next day. Jake B, soloing down the Corkscrew in the main cave on the 3rd, was somewhat distressed when a large boulder rolled onto his back. He was able to get back out but the rock now blocked the way into Aglarond 1. Four other diggers joined him but were unable to shift it so on the 8th Henry B, Darryl I. and the writer solved the problem with some 12gm cord before bailing and clearing in the new shaft. In the afternoon the walling team continued work here. With water levels still high on the 10th a five-man team concentrated on the phreatic tube dig partway down the climb down to Prancer’s Pride. Digging and walling continued in the surface shaft on the 15th.  

Henry B, Henry D. and new girl Helen Stalker took a hand pump and lots of hose to Prancer’s Pot on the 18th but accomplished little due to equipment failure. Three shotholes were drilled near the drain hole for a future banging project.

About 20 loads of spoil came out of the surface shaft on the 22nd when more work was done on the shoring by the A.T.L.A.S. sub-contractors.

To be continued in BB526.

“Cave diggers are the best people in the world.”

Alan Gray, Secret Underground, 2006.

Additional Diggers

Anne Vanderplank (WCC), Andy Kuszyk (Reading UCC), Chris Jewell, Andy Manners (SMCC), Richie Blake, Tom Wilson, Dan Griffin, Helen Stalker.