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Rose Cottage Cave – Working on Three Fronts

Tony Jarratt

“Excavation is hard work, and to make a place for oneself underground is no trivial enterprise. Most children are bewitched by the mystery of caves and want a small one of their own to be a private place away from the house, which is not truly their own territory. A natural cave to hand is unlikely, so many start to dig. Few persevere.”

Barbara Jones, Subterranean Britain, 1979

Continued from BBs 522-525.

 Further Digging 30/5/06 - 11/9/06

(To reduce tedium the diggers are represented by their initials and a list of those present during this period is appended. New diggers are introduced in the text. Refer to previous articles for the full team).

Walling of the prospective new entrance shaft continued on the 30th and next day a four-man team installed 110v cables as far as the “Halfway Dig” in the main cave and continued excavating this passage (shown on the sketch survey in BB 524 at the most southerly point and labelled as “possible dig site”). T.J, assisted by T.W. and D.G, dug and broke up rocks in the “Surface Shaft Dig” (alias Rose Cottage II) on June 2nd while P.C. and J.B. returned to Halfway Dig, reporting it to be developing into a rift. Next day the floor of the Surface Shaft Dig was found to drop as an inlet passage came in from the left. The water having drained away this became a pleasant and easy site requiring only the clearing out of clay, gravel and cobbles in a body-sized passage. Monday 5th June saw about 80 loads of spoil and rocks out during an all day session by H.B, T.A. and T.J. with R.W. continuing walling in the evening. A solo trip on the 6th saw 2 loads to surface and another dozen being stacked underground. The passage was now narrow but of standing height.

On the 7th a seven-person team dragged the trusty but heavy submersible pump to the bottom of Prancer’s Pot and after the usual slow start drained the pool to confirm that the way on is not encouraging. Some more work was done at Halfway Dig. Another solo trip to the Surface Shaft Dig next day saw nine bags filled and 3 to surface and on the 9th H.B. and T.J. dug downwards in the floor, removed a couple of large water-worn slabs and, aided by B.S, hauled 33 loads to surface. T.A. and R.W. continued walling on the 12th and two days later T.J. and I.G. shifted another 13 loads while H.D. and H.B, accompanied by B.S. and Hannah Bell, once again pumped out the Prancer’s Pot pool and dug frenziedly to confirm the site as a heavily crystal-coated blind rift with few prospects. It was abandoned and plans made to bang the drain hole instead – “Plan B Dig”.

T.J. was back down the Surface Shaft Dig on the 16th June when a three shot-hole charge was fired to give more working space in the water-worn rift and two days later 22 loads of bang debris were removed when J.N, P.B. and P.C. joined him. Bad air stopped play. Air conditions were still foul next day when he returned with H.B. but 8 loads came out and another three shot-hole charge was fired. On the 21st the air problems were sorted out with the aid of a vacuum cleaner and a strong team of F.C, B.O, S.H, A.L. and T.J. got 23 skip-loads and a huge boulder to the surface. Meanwhile P.B, J.N, P.C. and P.H. retrieved the pump from Prancer’s Pot while J.B, H.D. and Charlotte Harris cleared 13 loads of spoil from Halfway Dig. This was a busy night all round with another five onlookers on the surface making the best of the longest day of the year.

J.C. and T.J. cleared 8 loads and a toad from the Surface Shaft Dig on the 25th. The former removed 4 more, and another toad, next day and the latter unearthed lots more rock two days later from the rapidly deepening floor. R.W. and T.A. continued walling on the 27th and 28th but bent the sheer-legs in their enthusiasm! H.B. also briefly worked at the face and joined P.H, P.C. and J.B. at Halfway Dig. 6 loads came out of the Surface Shaft Dig on the 29th and another 4, one toad and one lizard on 3rd July. Some work was also done at Halfway Dig and walling continued, as it did next day – despite voracious horseflies and a heavy thunderstorm.

Halfway Dig was worked briefly on the 4th by J.B. and new girl Rachel Payne and was the target for the 5th when P.H, T.J. and new boy Matt Blount dug, filled bags and emptied 12 loads in the spoil rift. The passage was now a distinct, roomy phreatic tube and gradually rising. With the limited amount of dumping space available the possibility of heading up into an airspace was welcoming and so on the 7th J.B, P.C, J.C. and T.J. removed 30 loads from the dig leaving the working face sounding decidedly hollow. A solo trip next day saw T.J. bag filling and digging up-dip to a point where the tube ceiling became a gravel and cobble choke. The draught emanating from Prancer’s Pride was today strong and chilling. Sunday 9th July saw P.C, F.C, J.N, T.H, P.B. and T.J. back at the face. 30 full bags went up to the spoil rift and 15 went down for dumping in the now blocked connection passage to Aglarond 2. The dig now presented four options – left, right, up or down! Surface shaft walling operations continued on the 11th when more solo bag filling was also done at Halfway Dig. Here a small airspace was opened up to the right to prove this to be an inlet phreatic tube with a vocal connection to a small hole behind the hauling stance in the rift above. The most promising route was to the left. Next day, Wednesday 12th July 42 more loads reached the dump including probably the largest sandstone cobble yet found in the cave. The six regular diggers tonight were almost joined by Ben Barnett but lamp pox and the Corkscrew put a stop to this. 20 more loads were dumped on the 16th and another 20 on the 19th – all by the usual crowd. The 18th saw the “ATLAS Two” putting in another three hours work on the surface shaft wall in sweltering conditions. J.C. and T.J. dug, filled a few bags and lost lots of cobbles downstream of Halfway Dig on the 21st. P.B. and P.C. filled bags two days later and walling continued on the 25th.

The 27th saw J.B. and A.V. filling twenty bags at the Halfway Dig while H.B. played with his new, metre long drill bit at the Plan B Dig. More walling of the surface shaft was done on the 31st July when the shoring on the south side was at last removed. This work continued on the 8th August.

On 4th August J.C, P.B. and T.J. hauled 31 loads from Halfway Dig and decanted them into permanent spoil bags in the spoil dump above. Next day J.C, on a solo trip, filled nine bags - which were emptied by F.C. and T.J. on the 7th, completely filling the dump below the dig. Five more bags were filled and a large amount of rocks and sandstone cobbles were thrown forwards and downwards for dumping in the last available space before Prancer’s Pot. 20 loads reached the upper dump on the 9th (fifteen more being dug by P.C, H.B. and J.N.) and were painstakingly packed in by H.D. T.J. commenced a concreted wall below the dump using slabs brought up from the dig while P.B, hauling them up, provided a huge and unexpected bonus of building material when the large boulder at the edge of the climb came adrift and had to be dropped down the hole, sealing off access to Prancer’s Pride. It was deemed lucky that no one had been killed or injured previously as all had used this rock as a hand or foothold for several months! A couple of other large slabs were retrieved from the same area and hauled out to make access to the climb much easier.

Our man from Oz, Ray Deasy, hauled the stray rock back into Halfway Dig during a solo trip on the 11th and later that day J.C. and T.J fired off a five shot-hole charge at Plan B Dig.  The evenings of the 12th and 13th saw three shot-holes drilled in the Surface Shaft Dig and a 12gm cord charge fired giving R.W. and T.A. something to inhale when they removed the remaining shoring and continued walling on the 14th. The spoil from the bang was removed two days later (10 loads) and another four shot-hole charge fired by T.J. while, in the main cave P.C, J.C. and J.N. filled sixteen bags at Halfway Dig (12 dumped) and in the depths of Prancer’s Pot H.B. and B.O. cleared bang debris from Plan B Dig, drilled five long shot-holes and nearly croaked from an excess of bad air on this draught-free evening.

The Surface Shaft Dig was re-worked on the 20th August by F.C, Carol McNamara, Barry Lawton, Wally Ufimzew and T.J. when some 20 loads of bang spoil and in-fallen clay came out. A three shot-hole charge was fired and the latter four returned next morning to clear another 17 skip-loads. Lina Ufimzew provided tea and charm. This being the weekend of the excellent Belfry barbecue many visitors arrived on site and a few toured the cave. A return was made to this site on the 23rd when another three shot-hole charge was fired. On the same evening a five shot-hole charge was fired at Plan B Dig and another dozen loads were bagged in Halfway Dig by H.D. and P.H.

The bang fumes were vacuumed out of the Surface Shaft Dig on the 24th and some clearing was done next day when T.J. decided that the best way on had been missed. This was located on the 27th when 27 skips of mainly clay were dug out of the floor below the 2m climb by P.C, J.N, W.U, Neil Usher and T.J. and another three shot-hole charge fired to enlarge the rift. The fumes were sucked out next day but no clearing was done and the shaft was left to the attentions of T.A. and R.W. Clearing took place on the 30th when W.U, N.U. and T.J. got 26 loads out and H.B. drilled two holes. On the same evening T.M. and F.C. cleared most of the debris from Plan B Dig before bad air stopped play and H.D, P.C, B.O, J.N, A.V. and P.H. removed 16 loads from Halfway Dig to the almost full spoil rift. They reported the infill to have changed to wet, loose rocks. Two more holes were drilled in the Surface Shaft Dig on the 31st and another 12gm charge was fired – the spoil being cleared on 1st September by N.U. and T.J. who removed 16 skip-loads of mainly broken rock.

The same duo repeated the exercise next day with another 16 loads removed. On the 3rd 10 more came out, most of these following a mid-day bang and vacuum session. F.C, T.J, P.C. and J.N. were the team. H.B, R.D. and T.J. arrived next day to drag out another 13 and the latter spent time on the 5th prising out and stacking broken rock slabs. Wednesday 6th saw work at Surface Shaft (20 loads out), Halfway Dig (20 loads out) and Plan B Dig where the remaining bang debris was cleared and a view gained into a narrow descending rift. Ten of the regulars were involved and Ben Sellway got to visit the bottom of the family cave – and bash some rocks. T.J. removed 3 loads from the Surface Shaft Dig next day and filled and stacked more bags and skips. In company with N.U. he returned on the 8th when another 20 loads, mainly bags of fine clay, were dug and hauled out. A permanent ring-bolt was installed at the head of the underground climb and this came into use on the 10th when H.D. dug at the bottom while T.H and T.J. hauled out 30 loads, briefly assisted at surface by G.M. and M.W. The way on was now revealed as a passable, clay-filled rift, which had obviously once carried a fair sized stream. Next day T.J. dug, hauled another 2 loads to the surface and stacked twenty more underground. In the afternoon he assisted R.W. with the shaft-walling project with much of the spoil being used as back-fill. News of the magnificent 500m+ breakthrough by the Mendip Caving Group in Upper Flood Swallet boded ill for winning the Digging Barrel but inspired the team to press on with the three digs in an attempt to catch up!

(To be continued in B.B. 527).

New (and resurrected) Diggers      

Charlotte Harris, Rachel Payne (Cheddar C.C.), Matt Blount (C.C.C.), Ben Barnett, Hannah Bell, Ray Deasy, Carol McNamara (Southampton U.C.C.), Barry Lawton (Aberystwyth U.C.C.), Waley “Wally” and Lina Ufimzew, Neil Usher, Ben Sellway, Guy Munnings, Mike Willet.

The Old Brigade

Tom Wilson, Dan Griffin, Phil Coles, Jake Baynes, Tony Jarratt, Henry Bennett, Tony Audsley, Rich Witcombe, Bob Smith, Ian “Slug” Gregory, Henry Dawson, John Noble, Paul Brock, Fiona Crozier, Ben Ogbourne, Sean Howe, Alex Livingston, Pete Hellier, Jane Clarke, Trevor Hughes, Anne Vanderplank, Toby Maddocks.