Committee Members

Hon. Secretary: Nigel Taylor (772)
Hon. Treasurer: Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary: Brenda Wilton (568)
Caving Secretary: Rob Lavington (1306)
Hut Warden / Hut Bookings: Roger Haskett (1234)
Tackle Officer: Tyrone Bevan (1276)

Non-Committee Posts
Bulletin Editor: Nick Harding (1289)
BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian: Graham Johnson (aka- Jake) (1111)

Club Trustees:
Martin Grass (790), Dave Irwin (540), Nigel Taylor (772) and Barrie Wilton (559)

Ave Cavers!

Fellow associates of the Ancient and Loyal Order of the Bat.

Due to the fact that trawling together an archive of images has proved to be a somewhat greater task to achieve all round than was at first assumed and with the AGM rolling swiftly into view, I have, after consultation with certain esteemed colleagues decided to rattle this out and then publish a photographic history of the BEC over forthcoming Bulletins.

Moving on:

There have been rumours floating about that yours truly was going to pack in the BB editor’s role. (Where do these rumours begin?) At present and for the foreseeable future this isn’t going to happen. Certain work related projects are destined to take me abroad (at an as yet unspecified date) but with the application of broadband and other modern brass- bound contrivances I can still go about my editorial duties undaunted. 

I must bend over and take six of the best trousers down for leaving Bertie off the cover of 525. Not intentional of course. As Jrat was quick to point out he was lurking in one of the caves on the cover. A fine display of legerdemain on that man’s behalf!

It is with great regret that I must inform fellow members that the digging barrel is under serious threat this year as 500 metres plus has been pushed at Upper Flood Swallet by certain members of a certain club.

The cover shows a Stalagmite of ice in the Beilstein Ice Cave in 1881.


BEC Website Report

The BEC website was overhauled a year or so ago. The objectives of the new design were to:

  • - Project a more updated image to the public,
  • - Increase communication to our members,
  • - Provide access to the BEC’s wealth of legacy information.



If volume speaks for itself then we have roughly increased our reach by 1000% compared to 2004. At the time of writing we are getting over a million hits a year, by over 50,000 visitors. The site is hosted on my own hosting package at no cost to the BEC, using a number of open source (read free) software solutions which are frameworked around Joomla, a powerful content management system.

To entice visitors to a website you need to combine a number of factors, which are often listed as breadth, volume and dynamic content. The main source of content that the BEC owns is the entire back issue of the Belfry Bulletin. Sales of back issues of the BB have been zero for many years so we had nothing to loose by publishing them. But how do you get virtually 50 years of printed material into HTML? In a Herculean effort, which was to take 4 years, Andy MacGregor (BEC no 550) converted every single issue into Microsoft Word. All I had to do was convert this into HTML and sort out all the images which contrary to my initial thought proved to be non-trivial. By March every single issue was available on line.

We now also include the ability for current members to download a PDF or HTML version of the latest BB when it is first published. While this isn’t extensively used to date, a number of members have download copies and in the long term this could be used to substantially reduce our printing and distribution costs. I don’t see this as replacing the BB as there will always be members who want to feel the paper in their hands.

The front page of the site has been constantly updated to include news of events and items of interest to our membership. With a static content site when you’ve seen it you’ve seen it. A full -featured photo gallery is online which empowers members to create their own albums and upload their own pictures. We now have a large collection of historical and current images of the club, it’s members and activities.

The only constant these days is change. Back in the days the BB was published every month and our members all knew what was going on. In recent years the BB editor struggles to deliver enough content to warrant publishing more than 3 copies a year. I saw a need to improve communication to our club members and the obvious way forward was to do a monthly email newsletter. The mechanism for achieving this was available early in the year but there was little impetus to use it. Over the summer I had many conversations along the lines of “I’d have been there if I’d know it was going on”. Now that there is a database of users email addresses and a software tool it is a trivial exercise to send a regular email out by email. The first of these was sent out to publicise the highly successful Belfry BBQ and it is hoped that this is adopted as the communication method of choice to compliment the BB.

While most of the content is available to non-members only fully paid up members of the BEC can register and see protected content. To date we have just under 40 members registered online which I believe is a reasonable start. There is considerable scope to enhance the usability and features if demand warrants it. Other current features include a forum, Google maps of selected cave locations, an online address book, a strippable model of what cavers wear and more! Security is one of the key elements of the site and members’ personal details are protected from the general public. The BCA also have plans to develop tools for the caving community including an online membership database system.

As an example of how the BEC is not just a caving club but also a community. Earlier this year I received emails from a Ray Gladman in the States and also his brother Ken in Australia who were trying to track down their other brother Keith who they’d last heard from in 1961. I could see that he was a BEC member from 1960 to 1986 but nobody knew of him anymore. By pure coincidence in July he emailed me about the website and all three were overwhelmed to be reunited.

It’s your club, use it!


Henry Bennett

BB Editor’s Report

Having kept this post now for 3 issues there is not much to add that has not already been mentioned in the editorial intro’s and Hollow Hills.

I have no plans to throw in the towel. I would like to thank Henry B and the Wig for their advice and support.


Agenda For The 2006 Annual General Meeting

To be held at 10.30 am, Saturday 7th.October 2006,at  "The Belfry".

1.       Collection of outstanding Ballot forms (IF AN ELECTION HAS BEEN CALLED).

2.       Election of the AGM Chairman.

3.       Election of Three Tellers. (IF AN ELECTION HAS BEEN CALLED)

4.       Apologies for Absence.

5.       Minutes of the 2005Annual General Meeting.

6.       Matters arising from the 2005 AGM.

7.       Hon. Secretary's Report.

8.       Hon. Treasurers Report.

9.       Hon. Auditors Report.

10.     Caving Secretary's Report.

11.     Membership Secretary's Report.

12.     Hut Wardens Report.

13.     Hut Engineers Report.

14.     Tackle-masters Report.

15.     B.B Editors Report.

16.     Librarians Report.

17.     Ian Dear Memorial Fund Report.

18.     Report of the BEC Trustees 2006.

19.     Result of the Committee Ballot, (If an Election has been held).

20.     Election of Officer's for the 2006 / 2007 Committee.

21.     Destruction of Ballot forms, (If an election has been held).

22.     Members’ Resolutions.

23.     Details regarding the Annual Dinner Tonight.

24.     Any other Business.

25.     Date of the 2007 AGM: Saturday 6th. October 2007

Nigel Taylor,
Hon. Secretary 2005 / 2006.


BEC Membership Secretary’s Report for the Club Year 2005-006

I took over the position as membership secretary after the start of the current year due to the resignation of the previous post holder.

The club currently has 160 members; this includes 27 who have life membership, 14 new members and 5 members who have rejoined.

A decision has recently been made by the committee that in future, members who have not paid their subscription by the 31st December for the current year, will cease to be members of the club and consequently will no longer be covered by the club insurance and will not be eligible to receive the BB. 

We are currently carrying out an exercise to collect club members e-mail addresses that can be used in the future for circulating publications/information to club members. I would ask that all members ensure we have their current e-mail address as we hope in the not too distant future to be contacting as many members as possible by this method. 

Brenda Wilton


Minutes of the 2005 Bristol Exploration Club Annual General Meeting

Annual General Meeting, held on Saturday 1st October at The Belfry, Priddy.

The meeting was opened at 10:35 am.

Item 1: Vince Simmonds (VS) as Hon. Secretary addressed the meeting. Nominations for election to the committee for the club year 2005 – 2006 had been posted earlier in the year and no nominations in the prescribed manner had been received.  There was then handed to the Secretary a nomination from the floor for Nigel Taylor (NT) proposed by Mike Wilson (MW) and seconded Dave Irwin (DI). From the 2004 - 2005 committee – Mike Wilson, Fiona Sandford (FS), Tyrone Bevan (TB), Roger Haskett (RH) and Rob Lavington (RL) – were willing to stand again.

Item 2: Nominations for Chairman were asked for and Trevor Hughes was proposed but refused to stand.  A second proposal by Barrie Wilton (BW) for Bob Cork (BC) and seconded byTB was accepted by BC, the vote was carried unanimously.

The AGM at this time was not quorate and a vote was made to carry on with the meeting.

Item 3: Apologies for absence: Emma Porter, Fiona Sandford, Rob Harper, Tony Jarratt, Mike Baker, Dave Irwin, Ruth Baxter and Tony Audsley.

The following members signed the BEC AGM attendance sheet: Vince Simmonds (VS), Sean Howe (SH), Mike Wilson, Tyrone Bevan, Greg Brock (GB), Crispin Lloyd (CL), Nick Gymer (NG), Nigel Taylor, Dave Glover (DG), Dave Ball (DB), Bob Cork (BC), Vern Freeman (VF), Rich Long (RL), Graham Johnson (GJ), Pete Hellier (PH), Trevor Hughes (TH), Ron Wyncoll (RW), Kevin Gurner (KG), Martin Grass (MG), Rob Lavington, Ian Gregory (IG), Dany Bradshaw (DBr), Roger Haskett (RH), Carole White (CW), Bill Cooper (BCo), Gwillym Evans (GE), Stuart Sale (SS), Helen Scarratt (HS), Chris Smart (CS), Helen Slatter (HSr), Roz Bateman (RB), Barrie Wilton, Colin Dooley (CD) and one illegible signature.

Item 4: Minutes of the 2004 AGM: These had been posted to all paid-up members of the BEC and taken as read.

Acceptance of the minutes was proposed by NT and seconded GJ and carried unam.

Item 5: Matters arising from the 2004 minutes: No matters arising.

Item 6: The Hon. Secretary’s report had been posted with the minutes prior to the AGM.

The report was taken as read and acceptance was proposed by GJ and seconded by TH and carried unam.

Item 7: The Hon. Treasurer’s report was read from the floor and account sheets were circulated at the meeting.  RW asked a question about interest on the Ian Dear Fund and MW replied that he had been unable to follow this up yet but the issue was in hand.  TH asked about sales, MW replied that TB had a separate record for sales.  A remark was made by the Chairman regarding the club assets being unreported to AGM; this should be addressed by the trustee’s.  Expenditure on the BB was questioned by CS i.e. they were high but there had been a lack of bulletins.  This was being dealt with in a separate report by DI/MW.

(The Treasurer’s report was not made available for these records and will need to be published separately)

Acceptance of the report was proposed by RW and seconded by DBr. 

2 abstentions – carried.

Note: Late arrivals made the meeting quorate.

Some discussion followed regarding new KAST proposal (Sports Council initiative?) – to volunteer to council for reduced rates but this may allow other groups open access to the Belfry facilities – which, in turn would mean conforming to certain rules concerning for instance, disabled access.

Proposal: (DBr) directing the new committee to look into this issue and report their findings to the 2006 AGM, this was seconded NT and carried unam.

Item 8: Hon. Auditors Report: The accounts for 2003 – 2004 are fine and have been professionally audited. 

Acceptance of report proposed by GJ seconded by GE.  2 abstentions – carried.

Item 9: The Caving Secretary read his report from the floor.  Some discussion followed regarding the change of title from St. Cuthbert’s ‘leader’ to ‘conservation warden’ and it was suggested it is time for a meeting for those with an interest in St. Cuthbert’s.  TH remarked on the condition of the leat and that some work may be required.  MG stated that the OFD Top permits need to be renewed.

Acceptance of the report was proposed by Sean Howe (SH) and seconded by MW. 

1 abstention - carried.

Item 10: The Membership Secretary’s report and Hut Bookings report were read from the floor by the Secretary.

“It has been a very quiet year with regard to bookings which have come through The Hut Booking System.  The vast majority of people staying at The Belfry are either university clubs of which a good number are also already club members or are groups which just turn up on spec. I did receive one complaint from a group who said that we were difficult to get hold of, this seems a little far fetched when we are accessible by phone, with an answer machine if we are unavailable, fax, email and there is also ‘snail mail’.  We do get back to people as soon as we receive a booking request. We do seem to have a growing trend by “some” university groups in particular of sending emails to a selection of clubs in the area requesting a booking in case they cannot get their booking of choice!  On the whole though, as Roger Haskett will no doubt agree in his “Hut Wardens Report”, The Belfry continues to be relatively well used by a regular group of members and guest clubs.

For the statistically minded amongst you who are fascinated by charts and graphs sadly you are to be disappointed this year – I don’t do them! This being our 70th year has seen a number of old but very familiar faces rejoining the club.  We have also had the passing of Sybil Bowden-Lyle a Life Member for many years who in her younger days was well known for her motorbike antics as well as her caving exploits. Most recently we have lost Joan Bennett a Life Member and former Trustee who was known and admired by many of us as well as being a regular at club social events and also Steve Tuck. Mendip has also been “rocked” by the sudden deaths of Martin Bishop and Mike “Quackers” Duck, both former BEC members. 

The Club Membership as of 1st July 2005 stands at 150 of which we have 24 Life Members (4 Honorary) and 20 joint members (10 couples).  Of the remaining 106, we have 9 who are former members rejoined along with 4 probationary members. 

Overall this has been a quiet year for new members with no previous connections to the club. The membership base of the club remains strong and we have a very active nucleus of members both old and young who either stay at The Belfry and/or are actively caving or digging. 

Should the Club Membership desire then I am prepared to carry on as Membership Secretary for the next club year.  Unfortunately I/We will not be at the AGM normally this is due to work commitments, but this year we have to attend a wedding”

Some discussion followed concerning the term ‘non–caving’ member issued on insurance cards.  A suggestion came forward that a better term may be ‘club member’.

Proposal: (RB) that the committee ask Nick Williams whether the term ‘club member’ could be adopted, seconded by CW and carried unam.

Acceptance of the report was proposed by NT and seconded by TB and carried unam.

Item 11: The Hut Warden’s report was read from the floor.

“Takings are slightly up this year by some £400.  Visitor bed-nights are well up by 112 although member bed-nights are down somewhat by 56.

The main expense was gas at £45.  Some beer came and went as at the 70th BBQ and at last years AGM.  But in general the Belfry covered its expenses.

Thanks due to lots of people for doing work around especially Paul Brock, ‘Bobble’ Mad Phil, Bob Smith and Hannah.  A special thanks to Tyrone and his friend Mick, who have kick started the building of the extension again.”

Acceptance of the report was proposed by TB and seconded by CL. Voting was 28 for and 2 abstentions - carried.

Item 12: The Hut Engineer’s report was read from the floor by Tyrone Bevan.

“The year started by replacing the old water heater in the kitchen with a second hand heater supplied and fitted by Gwilym Evans.  Then due to numerous problems and failures of the main boiler the committee decided time for a new one.  Again Gwilym came to the rescue getting a new Combi Boiler at a good discount.

So with the boiler decided a number of members spent the weekend removing the old system and fitting the new combi system.  Ivan took this opportunity to inspect the wiring in the loft space and duly started cutting and removing old cables and rewiring.  This is the start of an ongoing programme with Ivan planning on inspecting and updating the electrics at the Belfry.  The new heating system has received a good response from members with positive feedback.  The intention is to convert the showers to instant hot water and reintroduce the old stand, alone shower back.

We have also succeeded in getting the footings laid and the slab down special thanks to Dany Bradshaw for time spent laying bricks and all the other members who gave up their time to shovel mud, mix cement and generally move blocks and bricks. In September we have proceeded with the building getting the inner and outer walls up to roof level. The next stage is to put the roof trusses in place so we can build on. I am endeavouring to have the roof on before the bad weather sets in. So we are looking for any members with timber and carpenter experience however small who can volunteer their time to assist in this. An experienced carpenter/ roofer willing to act as foreman and take control of this would also be helpful. We have a replacement door also to fit. We have met our planning regulations but the committee is keen not to loose the momentum.

Although a large amount of materials have been supplied by Trevor Hughes and other members, we still had to authorise the purchase of materials. With cost in mind any donations of timber for the roof or plasterboard would also be gratefully received.

The porch was repaired during the September working weekend this was a joint operation with Vince undertaking to replace the underside and Mike the top felt with Mrs. H on the paint roller. Nigel Taylor brought up his scaffold and with the assistance of Bob Smith and Mr. Haskett (without to much complaining will supply lads with ear protectors next time,” sorry Roger”) erected Scaffold around extension so the builder could carry on to roof level.

The committee also authorised the purchase of three new mattresses this year under the ongoing mattress replacement started two years ago. We have also been kindly donated thirty new mattresses so all the old bedding in the bunkroom has been replaced.

Although I only took on the role as a temporary measure after Paul had to drop out of the position hopefully the Belfry is in good order for the AGM, and end this report on a hopeful note.  I would like to say that with work and busy lives it is not always possible to offer help and assistance with repairs and upkeep of the Belfry but it would be nice to see a new face now and again.”

There was some discussion about the type of roof for the extension – ‘trusses’ or ‘cut’ DBr offered his experience and advice for free when the time comes.  TB will order a skip for a clear up of the Belfry grounds during October.  Regarding the new fire regulations RW seems to think that the club is probably ok.

Proposal: (RW) that the committee look into building a document/file on all aspects of hut safety administration, seconded by TH and carried unam. 

Acceptance of the report was proposed by TH and seconded by DBr. Voting was 28 for – carried.

Acceptance of the Hut Engineer’s report was proposed by GJ and seconded by NT.   

1 abstention – carried.

Item 13: The Tacklemasters report was also read from the floor by TB.

“This year in line with directions from the floor at the last AGM we have purchased two commercial ladders.  Both ladders had new spreaders and karabiners attached to them

The club has condemned a number of old ladders and they have currently been destroyed. The plan is to replace all the ladders removed from service with self made ladders when the extension is finished.  During the last two years we have replaced three ladders and three, life line ropes and the committee has had lengthy discussions in how we can make the equipment more assessable to members. The main consensus is that the equipment should be made easily available, but a need for control (one of the new krabs for the ladders has gone missing already). Any ideas would be appreciated.  With regard to equipment the two club survey kits are pass their sell by date. The club is known for exploration and survey work and this kit is well used both home and abroad. The approximate cost of replacement is £250 per kit and I ask for a proposal from the floor to replace both kits in this coming year.

With this year being the 70th anniversary of the club T shirts have been purchased and anybody still not purchased one I have a number left they can see me after the AGM cost a mere £8.

With regards to the equipment remember the kit is for to use of members and if they require the kit or think of any new kit we need just contact myself or any other committee member.”

Proposal: (TB) to purchase 2 new survey kits up to a cost of £500, seconded by CS and carried unam.

Acceptance of the Tacklemasters report was proposed by GJ and seconded by VF.

1 abstention – carried.

Item14: The Editors report was read from the floor.

“I’m very grateful to everyone who has sent me articles/photos for inclusion within the past BB’s.  Please remember it is a club journal and we need everyone’s input to give a wide range of views and opinions of the BEC.

Due to other commitments and especially my part-time degree course I am very grateful to Dave Irwin who published the last BB.  Due to these commitments I will be unable to stand for BB editor next year.  Although I would still like to encourage everyone to send your articles to the forthcoming BB editor”

A report by DI showed that printing costs were high at Expedite circa £520 while 220 copies printed at St. Andrews Press would cost £180 an annual saving of £1500.

Slug asked the question whether selling advertising space had been considered. The meeting felt that the income raised might be limited.

Acceptance of the Editors report was proposed by GJ and seconded by TB and carried unam.

Item 15: The Librarians report was read from the floor by GJ.

“Not a lot to report, purchased a couple of books.  Received donations from members past and present (see the list circulating) nothing missing/lost this year.  Grande Travesias the Spanish guide book thought to be lost was found by R. Dors on the top shelf in the bar.  Thanks to Dave Irwin for his help throughout the year.  If no one else wants the job I don’t mind doing it for another year”

Acceptance of the Librarians report was proposed by PH and seconded by SH and carried unam.

Item 16: Ian Dear Memorial Fund Report: There was no report and no applications for funding.

Proposal: (CS) that no money be put into the fund, seconded by MW and carried unam.

Acceptance of the report was proposed by NT and seconded by RW and carried unam.

Item 17: Election of Officers for the 2005 – 2006 Committee:

Nominees: Nigel Taylor (proposed MW, seconded DI – 3 abstentions; carried), Mike Wilson, Roger Haskett, Fiona Sandford,Tyrone Bevan, Rob Lavington.

This fell short of the minimum requirement of eight officers.

Voting for committee posts then followed:

Hon. Sec: Nigel Taylor; proposed CS, seconded MG – 2 abstentions; carried.

Treasurer: Mike Wilson.

Caving Sec: Rob Lavington.

Tacklemaster: Unfilled.

Hut Warden: Roger Haskett.

Hut Engineer: Tyrone Bevan; proposed RH, seconded GE – 1 abstention; carried.

Editor: Unfilled.

Membership Secretary: Fiona Sandford

Two posts are unfilled and the remaining committee were elected en bloc proposed DB, seconded DBr and carried unam.

The 2005 – 2006 Committee is as follows:

Hon Secretary………….. Nigel Taylor

Treasurer…………………Mike Wilson

Caving Secretary………. Rob Lavington

Tacklemaster…………… None

Hut Warden………………Roger Haskett

Hut Engineer…………….Tyrone Bevan

Editor…………………….. None

Membership Secretary…Fiona Sandford

If possible the new committee will co-opt members to fill empty posts.

Item 18: There were no Members Resolutions.

Item 19: Nigel Taylor gave details of the Dinner and transport to and from the venue.

Item 20: There was no ballot so no destruction of papers was necessary.

Item 21: Any other business:

Proposal: (DI) that Bobby Bagshaw be made Honorary Life Member for his years of service to the Club, seconded by the 2004 - 2005 committee and carried unam.

NT proposed a vote of thanks for the outgoing secretary seconded by MG and carried unam.

MW announced there was no need to raise subscriptions for the coming year.

CS commented on a lack of communication; it was suggested that he try looking at the web site.

GJ pointed out that we had overlooked voting in the non-committee posts.  A vote then took place.

Non-committee posts:

Librarian: Graham Johnson; proposed GJ, seconded MG – unam.

Hon. Auditor: Chris Smart; proposed MG, seconded DBr – 2 abstentions.

Item 22: The date of the 2006 AGM will be Saturday 7th, 10:30 at the Belfry.

The meeting was then closed at 12:49.

The minutes were recorded and later typed by V J Simmonds

Outgoing Hon. Secretary 2004 – 2005.

(Reports have seen formatted and a spellchecker used consequently they may differ slightly from those presented to the AGM)


BEC Hut Wardens Report 2005-06

The takings are down this year by £98.00, which I suppose is not too bad considering there appears to be a lack of activity on Mendip.

The major expense this year was £120.00 for a skip for one of the working weekends.

Also Gas costs were around £48.00.

I have not been around as much this year, due to the fact that I am no longer living on Mendip and so unfortunately the general state and cleanliness of the hut seems to have suffered as a result. I am hoping that someone will volunteer to take on the job for the next year and so I will be able to retire.

Roger Haskett
Hut Warden

For Your Diary

November 18TH 2006: Slideshow At The Belfry.

Mad Phil will be hosting a slideshow entitled The Last Five Years of Dachstein Exploration.

Venue: The Belfry. Food available (a ha’peth of chips and some Tizer probably).

Be there or have a bloody good excuse! 


Patently Obvious

Apologies for the very bad pun! Once in a while we have to be reminded of how bad some puns really are. Anyway the following is just a small selection of patents that have been submitted in connection with activities underground.  I asked a chum who works in the patent office in Newport if he had anything connected to said activity and he produced a good number, a select few of which I have chosen for this article. So if you have any ideas of your own that can earn the club or yourself a fortune you know where to take your idea.

The patent office, as you can imagine, is swamped with a vast array of silly, foolish and downright bizarre submissions for patents – including, and I kid you not, plastic twigs for dogs, a method of printing using a baby’s bottom and my favourite, a machine for detecting mythical entities such as Father Christmas.   One fellow even tried to patent ‘walking’ so that any living creature that stood upright owed him money.

I have included the last patent as an example of how silly things can get in the heady world of inventing. It is only loosely connected to underground activities. No copyright has been breached in the reprinting of the these articles (before anyone asks!)



I am quite interested to see how a conversation would be carried out between the deceased and their family.  Ed.


The Invisible Sheath Urinal



Hilary and I have discovered the most amazing piece of caving kit that must rate highly on all cavers list of must haves!! We are sure everyone has experienced that dreadful stirring in the pit of the stomach after having consumed 6 pints of Butcombe and then decided to go underground.

There is nothing worse than trying to cave with a full bladder [whether you are male or female] knowing full well that a decision will have to be made eventually.

Some club members openly admit to urinating in their wetsuits stating that it prevents the onset of hypothermia, and by pressing the suit in certain ways can warm up virtually the entire body area [depending on the volume of urine]. But it is not the done thing to urinate in a borrowed suit even if you are desperate!!!!!!!!

The more fastidious cavers I am sure would much rather use a more discreet and definitely less smelly method when it comes to urinating underground.

We are hoping that the BEC will be allowed to conduct some field tests on the MK1 version and I believe that Zot will be only too pleased to volunteer [the intention is to fill him up to eye level with Butcombe first].

The advert only shows the Male version of this device, but the manufacturers assure us that a Female version is being tested at this very moment!!! [The mind boggles] can we assume there will be a Female volunteer also??????? bearing in mind that Butcombe will be supplier free.

I have approached Bat Products and asked Tony to make up an advanced order list. If you wish to remain anonymous he will post it to you in a plain brown parcel to a post box number of your choosing.

Please order quickly as we are anticipating a rush amongst the senior active members of the club.

The Wessex Caving Club has asked if the device can be modified to include a shorter pipe and a 10-oz collector bag. They have not specified any modifications for their female members!!!!!! We have decided to offer a discreet free fitting service to all club members to ensure a snug fit.

Mr. Wilson.

Editors note. Obviously the drawback (a whiff of a pun intended) to this system is that the whole device becomes potentially disastrous on engaging with a squeeze.  Perhaps Mad Phil will have a go with one in Eastwater to test its suitability! 


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.


Hutton Discoveries

Nick Harding and Nick Richards

Gallery Pit Cave

NGR  36035816

During perhaps the hottest week on record the seaside representatives of the BEC made a breakthrough into a small cave, Gallery Pit Cave. Back in the early 70’s Chris Richards and his dig team opened a number of pits in the area on their quest for the lost Hutton Cavern. One of the pits they named but did not open was titled Gallery Pit as the assumption was made that it connected below ground with a gallery they had discovered. The aim was to re-open one of the most likely pits and begin where the previous digs had stopped. On checking this all out with Chris Richards Esq.’ it turned out that this cave was new to everyone.

As it was over the course of numerous sessions of digging we opened up what we thought was a previous dig location but it turned out to be nothing of the sort. We came down on a small bedding chamber with a dip of 55 degrees but round a corner we opened up a steep shaft blocked with boulders from which a strong cool draught was issuing. Realising this was not what we were after we left that location, blocked the entrance (we’re going back there to empty the shaft at some point in the future) and moved on.


Entrance to Gallery Pit Cave

In the passing of the long years memories had faded a bit and opening what we though was the original shaft into the most comprehensive of the systems that C. Richards esq. had discovered and re-directed us to proved once more not to be what we were after. But the cave gods smiled upon us. Several digging sessions later we found ourselves looking into a void. Slipping down a steep slope beneath a perilous slab of creaking rock we found ourselves in a cave complete with walls of deads. We had assumed that this was the ‘gallery’ that the previous diggers had named and that we had re-entered the system described by Richards senior. As it happened it proved to be a new hole with bedding dipping to the west.

On recently re-opening what we thought to be another one of Chris Richards’ digs from the early 70’s some ten yards from Gallery Pit Cave i.e. Blind Pit, we have discovered that the bedding is now dipping more to the south – some interesting geology. Blind Pit has been shut down and the actual location of May Tree Pit – the entrance we were actually looking for has been verified by the landowner who was orbiting the original digs back in the 70’s. We are now in the process of opening that one which will take a while as a large amount of building waste has been dumped in the pit mouth.  The aim being to get back into the system and push a choke.   On September the 24th we re-opened the May Tree Pit Cave – a report in the next BB.

Nick R looking a little possessed in the entrance to Gallery Pit.

Richards in the easy squeeze in the floor.

For safety the cave entrance has been closed up. We may very well return at a later date to examine this cave a little more as the draught issuing from somewhere was cool and fairly strong. Piles of deads and miner’s walls may block a passage or two.

Survey of Gallery Pit Cave. The entrance is upper left.

A plan of the general area – For Hutton Ochre Cave read   Hutton Wood Mine.

Above is a general plan of the pits themselves.



Hatley Rocks - update

Nick Richards and Nick Harding

Below is a survey of what we have so far in Hatley Rock Holes.  When we return to the dig at some unspecified time in the future we will remove the choke between passage 1 and 2 following that with the unblocking of tunnel 3.



Some Mines Of Broadfield Down

Nick Richards and Nick Harding

Cleeve Hill Iron Mines

Cleeve Hill Road, Cleeve, near Backwell NGR 4628 6524

These mines are located in woods just north of the road as it ascends Cleeve Hill. See figure.

Two main open rifts trending roughly east west are intersected by shorter north south cross rifts. There are short underground extensions. They have suffered from considerable tipping and the rifts are now less than 2m deep. The underground passages are probably more extensive.

The mines lie in limestone in an area of fairly intensive 19c iron workings, indeed on the hillside to the south are several groups of deep excavations (Kings Wood Iron Mines). The ore consisted of massive metallic heamatite and its weathered product, red ochre.

Rift 1.  L 58m VR 2m includes 8m underground. A pit 17m to the south and 2.5m deep lies along the same trend as a north south cross rift of rift 1

Rift 2.  L 15m VR 2.5m with 6.5m underground. A completely infilled section some 15m long lies immediately to the east.

To the east the nature of the local ore deposits can be examined at a small vein exposed in the excavations for a new barn. NGR 4643 6520

An east west vein in the limestone <30cm wide contains 4 cm of columnar calcite on either side of the fissure with a central core of massive hard black heamatite. This is streaked with veins and larger cavities lined with quartz. This siliceous content of the ore made it more difficult to smelt into iron.

Littler Plantation Iron Mines

North west side of Littler plantation, Wrington Hill. NGR 4738 6370

Numerous shallow linear trenches trending c west north west mark the sites of infilled iron mines in limestone. One shallow pit contains a festering pile of foxes. Another pit is partly open and is about L 7m

VR 3m, 1m wide. There is much rubbish and this is the home of, by far, the largest rat in the world.

Ball Wood Iron Mine

Ball Wood, Congresbury. NGR 45926410

Shallow north south trench L 9m and 1m deep leads to very short underground section 1.5m long. The small spoil heaps suggests very limited underground work was done.

Corporation Woods Iron Mine

Corporation woods, Congresbury. NGR 4605 6426

In area of extensive iron mining rifts and pits-all filled in.

Head sized hole in bed of track (dangerous for horses). Passage 3m long (?) and 1.5m deep heading north to old infilled mining trench.



Urban Tunnels

By Nick Harding.


The Catacombs of Rome.


When the Nazis were ballistically spanking the crap out of London instead of running away to some mountain retreat a defiant Churchill, the War Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff headed underground. In 1938, on Churchill’s insistence, 3 acres of underground complex with the ability to house over 500 people had been created between King Charles Street and Parliament Square. Though someone, in a display of bureaucratic brilliance forgot to install a decent thunder box, which created its own stink within the hallowed halls of Westminster. From 65A, his war room, Churchill made several wartime speeches and numerous complaints about the facilities. “Give me the tools and I will finish the job.”   

The precedent was set and from that complex numerous tunnels now provide easy access to an unknown number of other Government buildings in a honeycomb of passages beneath the capital. Only a privileged few know exactly their full extent.

The Post Office (Pre Maureen Lipman BT etc) constructed an extensive tunnel system, 16 feet in diameter to provide a bombproof telephone link during the Cold War.  Out of a building near Waterloo Station one tunnel heads to Trafalgar Square and another to Faraday House in the City with a connection from Shoreditch to Shepherds Bush and another to the Kingsway telephone exchange a 100 feet below High Holborn. The Post Office also built tunnels to transport and lose letters in. 

Rumours persist of tunnels under 10 Downing Street enabling the PM and the cabinet to repair to the nearest pub or political fall out shelter. Buckingham Palace is also rumoured to have a tunnel so that the Royal Family in a state of emergency (aren’t they always) can get to Charing Cross for a train instead of thumbing for a lift on the Mall.

The Paris Catacombs

Where do Parisian revolutionaries and members of the French Resistance hide? Under the streets in the famous Catacombs of course. The entrance to these grim subterranean passages, can be found on the eastern side of the Avenue du Géneral Leclerc with a sign that declares ‘Here begins the empire of the dead’. They are approximately two kilometres in length although tales are told of them going further and deeper, as the actress said to l’archdeacon, alors!

What makes these tunnels more bowel squeezing is that a vast number of the City’s previous inhabitants are buried there, or rather unceremoniously stacked up in the walls. In 1785(Dix-sept-quatre-vingt-cinq, Je pense) the dead were literally piling up in the cemeteries so the authorities with their usual universal aplomb decided to dig up the dearly departed and rack ‘em up in the tunnels. The job took a year and a half. Contrary to popular belief the Catacombs are not the dead centre of Paris (bad joke but left in for reference purposes) 

The Count of Artois, later Charles X, thought it would be a blistering wheeze to have lavish parties for his brandy soaked aristo chums in the tunnels.  

The Catacombs have even inspired Blair Witch style videos but with less snot along with urban legends that tell of a society of underclass who live down there in illegal garlic sniffing dens.

Quick fact: Catacomb from the Greek kata, blended with the Latin word accubitorium both meaning tomb remixed with another Greek word kumbe, a hollow.


Our old conspiracy theorists and Dan Brown favourites the Knights Templar spent years digging under this city. What were they after? Apparently the treasure (a few rusty spoons and pyramid souvenirs from Cairo) from the Temple of Solomon. When the Romans were in their ‘not weleasing Woderick’ period – many residents could escape in times of siege or get up to ‘underground’ activities in a network of passages and tunnels. In recent years archaeological expeditions have spent numerous hours trying to get lost in them but have ended up narrowly avoiding international incidents by stumbling into the Muslim quarter and only being alerted to their mistake by the swearing and the banging of broom handles on the ground above them.

A lot of work was done by the Palestine Exploration Fund in the 19th century where numerous explorers spent time trying to work out where everything went. Jerusalem, built on limestone, is in fact honeycombed with natural caves, cisterns called ‘Beers’, (but sadly not full of the stuff) - some dating to 1500 years BC, subterranean passages, pools, aqueducts and quarries.

One of the best examples is the Siloam or Hezekiah’s Tunnel, mentioned in the Bible, which is a tight passage that connects the ‘Spring of Gihon’ to the ‘Pool of Siloam’. It was re-found and explored in 1838 by two Americans on their hands and knees dressed only in wide pairs of Arab drawers, that’s the clothing not an item of furniture. They measured the tunnel to 1750 ft in length. 


Putting aside the possibility that Washington DC was designed by Freemasons (it was in fact a Frenchman named L’Enfant. Ironic n’est ce pas? Freedom baguettes anyone?) around an enormous celestial calendar there are rumours that tunnels permeate the city particularly in the light of recent events like September the 11th and certain overblown salute ridden movies like Independence Day.

Tunnels exist beneath the Whitehouse to allow the Prez (That’s Bush not Elvis) to leave the building the moment anything remotely dodgy hoves into view (national disasters mostly) so he can head off to some remote mountain underground retreat to choke himself on pretzels. There are also fall out shelters and bunkers beneath the Pentagon along with a myriad of tunnels and underground passages that connect, it is said, to all the major government buildings in the city.

Recently the FBI and the National Security Agency were thoroughly embarrassed when it was revealed that there was a tunnel, used for espionage, beneath the city’s Russian embassy. A multi million-dollar secret had been blown open by the FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen.       

Not far from Washington is the ‘secret’ underground base called Mount Weather where the major arms of the government can plot the takeover of the world without interference from conspiracy nuts.   


Scotland’s capital, Auld Reekie has a series of secret tunnels that lead down from the castle to the Royal Mile and on to Holyrood. These tunnels had been lost – (“ ‘What again dear?’ ‘Aye, I must’ve left ‘em on the bus’…”) until they were rediscovered a few hundred years ago whereupon a fellow who troubled the bagpipes was sent down to find out where they went. As those on the surface listened, the sounds of his skirling suddenly stopped and in the best clichéd tradition he was never seen again.    

In a dank and forgotten realm, thousands of people once lived in the grim warren of forgotten subterranean vaults under the city’s Old Town and South Bridge area. Here they spent their entire lives eating rats and drinking piss (now the average Saturday night out all over Britain). It was also the hangout (in a manner of speaking) of ladies of the night, illegal distillers, body snatchers Burke and Hare, who got bored digging things up so started snatching the living, as well as the forgotten citizens who never once saw the sunlight. A whole way of life went on beneath the oblivious feet of the ‘heather-mixtured-ladies-who-lunched’ way above.

Dolphin huggers who haunt ‘Psychic Fairs’ sporting tons of make up and super-Bling claim the vaults are haunted. Well they would wouldn’t they? 


Desperate to get some cash for bootlegged liquor Al Capone, when he wasn’t bashing heads in with baseball bats and dodging the Taxman headed over the border into Canada and up into the prairies of Saskatchewan to avoid prohibition. His destination? The rough sounding shoot-em –up-yeehaw-style town of Moosejaw or as it as it was soon to be known, Little Chicago, which gives you a hint as to the kind of characters that used to waltz around up there.

Old Scarface made use of the tunnels under the streets as the ideal location to hide his home brew. Chinese immigrants who lived and worked out of sight of the long but cold arm of law i.e. the Mounties, beneath the streets of the town had dug out these secret passages in the late 1800’s. Constructed under the business district the tunnels allowed free movement between the shops and stores, kitchens and sweatshops. They ran from the railway station – there was a direct rail link to the Windy City – to downtown Moosejaw. Around the station numerous breweries sprung up and the place was soon a thriving hot spot of gamblers, gangsters, bootleggers and other gentlemen of equally low moral fibre.

Most of the tunnels are now blocked or lost but like a lot of places there’s a thriving tourist trade and where once one could purchase a smashing bourbon nouveau from a foul mouthed cut-throat brandishing a rusty blade one can now buy souvenirs like Al Capone key rings or a refreshing cup of tea. 


Rome like Paris has its Catacombs, in this case those of St Agnes, patron saint of virgins as well as the underground cemetery of St Sebastian near the Via Appia where old St Pete and St Paul are buried. When the early Christians were being thumped about in the late 3rd century they hid underground in their own burial places. The church later turned them into a lucrative way of making a bit of cash on the side, as they became places of pilgrimage.

There are also a great number of underground passages; tunnels and rooms left over from ancient Rome. Not far from the Colosseum, there is the basilica of San Clemente with its underground levels. There are also Nero's famous Domus Aurea (Golden House) with its huge underground rooms still covered with ornate paintings (nothing saucy apparently) and the two-levelled Mamertine prison. 

There are also the numerous passageways beneath the Vatican one of which leads to the Castel Sant Angelo and one under St Peter’s Basilica and many others that go to who knows where. These have recently resurfaced (as it were) in Dan Brown’s magnificently daft yarn Angels and Demons. 

In 2002 American security experts found a suspicious hole in a service tunnel beneath their embassy (sounds familiar) and blamed it on Islamic extremists engaged in some plot to blow the place up. On a raid on the suspects flat the Italian and US Intel bods found a map of tunnels beneath the city.   

Quick fact: It is claimed that there are hundreds of miles of passages, tunnels and catacombs beneath Rome. Some say three hundred and fifty while others claim nearly eight hundred!


120ft beneath the mad-for-it streets a tunnel called ‘Telephone Exchange’ runs 300 yards up St Peter's Square to the Manchester City centre’s Piccadilly Plaza Hotel along with nuclear bunkers and a network of tunnels that spread out under the city. The tunnels have been off the Official Secrets Act since the 70s but most people don’t know about them. Polish immigrants, unable to speak English (but probably Russian) and therefore unable to blab about what they were doing in the pub after a day’s tunnelling, were used to build them in the 1950s during the big ‘Reds under the beds’ paranoia of the Cold War.

In the event of the city being reduced to a crisp by the pesky Rooskies, the tunnels would have be used to maintain links with other cities across the UK. BT owns them now and wants to rent them out. There is talk that they should be opened to the public who can spend an hour or two taking in the heady atmosphere of a bit of cold war asbestos rich ‘archaeology’.

This article (an edited version) originally appeared in ICE magazine, a lad’s mag of dubious repute. Earlier this year it folded still owing me money so I have no qualms about re-printing it here. Ed.



The Hirlatz Hohle edges towards the magic 100km mark

By Madphil Rowsell

This article is about a recent 6 day trip (Feb 06) into the far east of Hirlatz Hohle to continue exploration of leads found during the previous winter trip. The trip comprising a 2 day journey to the pushing front (a distance of some 11 km), two days of pushing, followed by a nightmare 2 day return with all the team falling ill! Approximately 1.5 km of passage was discovered pushing the total known passage in the Hirlatz to 95 km, edging closer to the magical 100km mark.


The Hirlatz Hohle is a large fossil phreatic cave system situated underneath the Hohle Dachstein plateau. Its has been explored since 1927 and is currently some 93.5 km long (prior to this trip), and has a height range of 1077m. During this time, many fixed aids have been carried into the cave to aid exploration, comprising from simple things such as foot rungs, to fixed aluminium ladders, to the audacious Pendler (a hanging bridge and ladder arrangement suspended over a 60m deep canyon). As a result, the “tourist” part of the cave tends to resemble a film set out of an Indiana Jones movie!  It is also well known to British cavers who have for many years tried to find (unsuccessfully) a higher vertical entrance from the plateau into the system, making it one of the deepest caves in the world (upwards of 1800m deep). Figure. 1 shows the complete Map of the Hirlatz Hohle.

During recent years a combined group of Austrian and German cavers have focused their attention to the far eastern part of the Hirlatz. In this time, they have found over 2.5 km passage and last year one of them (Ulrich Meyer) dived a sump more than 11 km from the entrance and found some 400m of passage, surfacing in air space but unable to climb out of the water.  A side passage was also found during this expedition, just before this sump, which was followed for some distance to a potential bolt traverse with possible passage heading off.  This side passage was to be the main focus of this expedition; to complete this bolt traverse and hopefully find a by pass to the sump.  The team comprised of Gottfried Buchegger, Ulrich Meyer, Marcas Preissner, Johann Westhauser and myself (Madphil Rowsell). A reschedule of the trip due to bad weather meant that Joel Corrigan was sadly unable to participate.

Figure 1. Map of the Hirlatz Hohle.

The Trip

Day 1: The trip started with a two-hour slog through snow up to the entrance. From here the trip to the first camp (Säulenhallenbiwak) was reasonably arduous, made more difficult with the 16-20 kg Hirlatz bag on your back. Thankfully the fixed aids in the cave made progress reasonably straightforward. Once we left the “tourist” part of the cave however, the Indiana Jones props started to disappear and things began to take a somewhat more interesting nature. All to often you would be traversing over 30m drops on muddy climbs with no aids or protection. To start with this felt pretty hairy but the deeper in the cave you progressed, the more blasé you became. Finally after 8.5 hours, a 70m pitch down yielded the Säulenhallenbiwak. I have to say I was glad to reach the camp being pretty stuffed with the days trip and the heavy bag.

Day 2: Ulrich and Marcus stayed behind to look at potential shortcut which could greatly reducing the journey time heading out of the cave on the last day. Gottfried Johann and myself continued to head onto the final sump and set up a camp there (Sinterfahnen Biwak). The lads would catch us up the following day. The nature of the cave changed significantly from the 1st camp, having initially to cross numerous lakes on wire traverse lines, then into a series of large vertical bolder ruckles on various levels requiring SRT work, making progress more slow. Finally we broke out into pleasant stream passage which we followed upstream for some distance to the final sump. I was so glad to get here as I wouldn’t have to carry my heavy pack for the next two days!

The 2nd camp (Sinterfahnen Biwak) was in a nice sandy Oxbow just back from the sump – a fantastic spot but one of the first times I have had a real sense of remoteness in a cave. I kept thinking that Ulrich had dived here in 4 degree water and in a wet suit too, truly mad!!! It didn’t take long to set up camp, and then our minds focused on preparation for the following days exploration.

The lead we had come to look at was a small low wet side passage on the far side of a 20m lake, just prior to the sump. An inflatable boat would help to ferry people and gear across the lake to an island just at the start of the side passage. From here the gear would have to be man handled down the side passage (water waist deep) as the boat wouldn’t fit! By evening time, we had a game plan for getting across the lake, the boat inflated, the necessary climbing gear and ropes packed and sorted.

Day 3: The three of us got up early eager with anticipation. Ulrich and Marcus would join us later, haven obviously chosen to camp at one of the earlier camps rather than make it all the way up to our camp yesterday. For the boat crossing, a variety of gear was worn. Gottfried had pontonieres, Johann had a long john wet suit, I had kacks and a cagoule - great! What’s more I ended up being the ferryman transporting all the kit across the lake to the island. In the end it turned out to be great fun once the fears of puncturing the boat and wallowing in 4 degree water had abated. From the lake, down the side passage was pretty grim waste deep in cold water.

With all the gear the other side of the water, a change back into caving gear and we were off down immature stream way, more reminiscent of the Dachstein. Finally we got to the climb and the bolt traverse, an easy 10m climb up and a short traverse over to a big ledge where it looked like passage leading off.  I was really surprised when Gottfried asked if I wanted to do the technical work. Not a problem!! The  climb up and traverse itself pretty straight forward only requiring about 6 bolts to make the ledge, the best thing was that there was indeed passage heading off. While I stripped the traverse and rigged the pitch properly, Gottfried and Johann went off exploring. They still hadn’t returned by the time I had re-jigged things, so it must have been looking good. I caught the guys up to much jubilation as from an initially small grovelly passage, it had broken out into more Hirlatz sized passage. We progressed along surveying as we went. What a find!!

We continued along this passage to a climb down intercepting another large bore passage. A quick initial recce showed that to the left of the climb down it headed down to water with passage heading off, and to the right of the climb down, the passage headed down to a small active stream, but with a climb up leading to more big bore tube. We halted for lunch, and finally Marcus and Ulrich appeared. The climb that they had been looking at the previous day had crapped out and provided no short cut for the way out, but they were obviously excited by this new find. We tackled the left had section first, quite a complicated section of passage which kept dropping down to or having windows looking out to lakes terminating in sumps. In one of these windows, we looked down onto Ulrich’s dive line from last year! A great shame for Ulrich as if he had dived one more short sump he would have been able to have walked out of the sump into the passage we had just found!! For the rest of us however,  I think we were glad that a by pass had been found!!

With the left hand section finished, we turned out attention to the right and the climb up into the big bore passage. After a short while the main bore passage headed down to a large sump pool and disappointedly terminated. Being reasonably late in the day, Ulrich and Marcus decided to head back as their campsite was some two hours the other side of the sump!! I was really glad I didn’t have to make this journey back with them as they would have to do it all again tomorrow!! Gottfried was keen to do some more surveying, so we did another hour or so of tidying up small leads etc, leaving a few more exciting leads for tomorrow, prior to returning to camp. A great day but again pretty tiring.

Day 4: We were all excited and keen to continue exploring, but we waited for Ulrich and Marcus to appear before setting off across the lake and off to the sharp end. The main lead we had was a small passage that took you down into a phreatic zone, close to sump level.  This area obviously flooded regular and stayed that way for sometime as most of the passage had a thick layering/banks of black sump mud. It also turned out to be a maze of passages (most of which disappointingly ended up at sump pools) which was very complicated to understand until the final survey was drawn up. In this zone however, some passage was found heading up out of this sump zone into a series of large chambers above, but no obvious continuation was found. As the day drew to a close so did the obvious leads. Ulrich had been looking at a couple of bolt climbs and while none were drawn to a complete conclusion due to running out of bolts and battery power, none looked really exciting.

Again Ulrich and Marcus headed off early to get back to camp while we remained to do some tidy up surveying, before finally heading back to camp. It was a mix of feelings returning to camp, one of jubilation at the passage we had found, but also sadness that the remaining leads for next year were not wide open passage; some bolt climbs and a very tight, but strongly drafting passage that really needed blasting. Once the survey was drawn up, it might give us some indication where to head back to for a more detailed look to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.

During this night, one of your worst fears when camping underground started – we became ill. It started when I threw up during the night. Great, guess I should have cleaned my pans a bit more rigorously, but when Gottfried and Johann started puking and shitting in the morning, we came to the conclusion it must have been our water supply. The other really bad thing about it was that not only had it given us the shits, it was a bit like flu with no cold symptoms as it completely zapped all of your energy! This was really not what you wanted when you had a 2 day trip to get out of the cave! Still there was only one way to get out of the cave - mind over matter, so we slowly packed up camp and headed out.

When we arrived at Marcus and Ulrich’s camp they were still in bed, also with the lurgy!! The verdict was that we must have all drank some pretty stagnant water from the far end somewhere. We battled on back to Säulenhallenbiwak (the 1st camp), all glad we had made it this far. Thankfully for me, I think I was beginning to turn the corner, but rest still seemed to be pretty stuffed with the lurgy.

Day 6: People had stopped shitting in the morning, but we were all still pretty weak. Each step forward was one more closer to the entrance. Finally after about 10 hours we arrived back at the entrance.

It had snowed quite a bit while we had been in the cave, leaving 3” covering of powdered snow on top of hard packed ice. Not the best for walking down. I had arrived with Gottfried ahead of the others. He headed on first snow ploughing the soft snow out of the way using it as a breaking mechanism. When it came to my turn, I was left basically with a ice floored Cresta Bob run. I tried using my walking poles to slow my descent but they were practically useless and soon found myself flying down the steep slope out of control. All I could do was roll on my front spread-eagled and pray that I came out of this alive!! Thankfully I hit a snow bank before the drops halfway down. I had just finished negotiating these when off I went again screaming my way down again crashing into snow at the bottom off the slope. I was so glad I was still breathing and not off to hospital. Ice axe and crampons next time!! How the others following me got down safely is bamboozling! That brought the trip to a pretty exhilarating end.

The Team: Marcus,Johann,Gottfried,Madphil, Ulrich Photo by: Gottfried Buchegger

One of the fixed aids – a 60ft aluminium ladder climb

Another fixed aid – The Pendler. Photo by: Jogi

Battling the snow up to the Hirlatz entrance Photo by: Flo Blider

The climb up to the Hirlatz entrance. Photo by: Gottfried Buchegger

Gottfried and Johann at Säulenhallenbiwak. Photo by: Gottfried Buchegger

Ice formations at the start of the Hirlatz Hohle. Photo by: Gottfried Buchegger

Madphil cooking at Sinterfahnen Biwak (the 2nd camp) Photo by: Madphil

Heading down the 70m Pitch to Säulenhallenbiwak

The ferryman! Photo by: Johann Westhauser

Exiting from the by pass tunnel to more dry passage. Photo by: Johann  Westhauser

Gottfried doing book. Photo by: Madphil

Madphil bolting across to the window. Photo by: Gottfried Buchegger

Gottfried near the entrance still feeling distinctly un-well: Photo by: Madphil

Ulrich reunited with his dive line. Photo by: Gottfried Buchegger



In summary, the trip in to the far East of the Hirlatz is one of the best trips I have done, pretty hard especially when you are not used to caving with a 16 – 20kg sack on your back. One has only admiration to the team for the passage they have pushed over the recent years in the far East, and even more so for Ulrich’s dive last year – truly amazing. I was exceedingly lucky to have gone on this expedition where we found nearly 1.5km of new passage, finding Ulrich’s dive line, and have several leads to go back this winter (2006/2007). They may not be the wide open passage that one would always hope for, but it is certainly worth a trip back to this pretty awesome remote spot.  Many thanks to the guy’s for letting me have the opportunity to join the expedition.


Hollow Hills

In the last edition I made mention of the point about having just 3 BB’s a year this was a suggestion only and I must emphasise was not meant to be taken as the new Editor’s policy. I threw it out there for feedback. There has also been some debate about club news and its appearance in the BB and that news is only forthcoming when the BB appears.  It has been suggested that club news is delivered as an email-shot or as pages on the website only accessible by club members. To those without email a copy can be sent through the post keeping postage costs down. Personally I am in favour of this method but I must emphasise that it is up to the club as a whole to make this decision.  But this is certainly a quicker way of keeping up with what’s happening!

Finally: Many thanks to the tutors on the EUG Bang weekend who put some of us through our first exam paper in a hundred years!