Belfry Bulletin

Search Our Site

Article Index

For Caine Hill

Continued from BB 529.

*Inspirational title conceived by Tangent at Mike Thompson’s funeral. Say it fast for the full effect!

Further digging 29/10/07 - 30/1/08

On the 29th October the writer, accompanied by a plethora of annoying bluebottle flies, filled and stacked bags at the end of Root 66. He was back again on the 31st, following “Alfie’s” funeral, to haul 8 loads to surface before digging and stacking at the end of Root 66. Here he was joined by a newly – mended, scantily dressed (and impressed) John “Tangent” Williams and the duo then concentrated on dragging bags throughout the cave. 91 loads were hauled out on the 3rd November by Mike Willett, Fiona Crozier and Duncan Butler and next day Trevor Hughes, Duncan, Barry Lawton, Richard Llewellyn Smith and the writer, assisted on the surface by Nigel Jackson (WCC & Kent UCC) and Marian Byram, removed another 77. About seventy bags were dragged from the end and stacked in Son of a Pitch by Tangent, Carole White, Martin “Billy Whiz” Smith (BPC) and your scribe on the following day. Some digging and removal of rock slabs from the floor was also done. On the 7th Sean Howe photographed the cave with Phil Coles as his model. They then assisted Paul Brock, Siss Balomatis, Mike, Fiona and the writer to drag full bags throughout the cave and haul 93 loads to the surface. Some token digging was accomplished. Lots of proper digging was done next day when the writer excavated at the lowest point in Root 66 and at the face. One large rock slab was disinterred and broken up but a larger one above it was left for a future hammering or banging session. Unable to leave it alone the obsessed one was back next day but the slab defeated him, though it was undermined and partially dropped. More bags were filled and digging to the left of the slab revealed a tiny phreatic tube with an airspace. The (possibly) main way on to the right of the slab was further cleared and also boasted an airspace. The slab was eventually reduced to gravel by Duncan on the 11th November. Also present were Fiona, Ian “Slug” Gregory, the writer, Barry Lawton and three Aberystwyth U.C.C. members – Alison Ball, Alex Jones and Josh Lasson. Thanks to their assistance 80 loads reached the surface. More digging was done at the end and further excavation was indulged in, next day by your scribe. He also took three Land Rover loads of bags to the dump. Assisted by Jane Clarke, Tony Audsley and Millie the dog these were emptied in the afternoon – around two hundred in all!

With a mended knee Alex Livingston returned to the fray on the 14th in the company of Mike, Tangent and your scribe. He was impressed with the progress since his last visit in late April. At the Root 66 working face more bags were filled and Mike dug at the end to find the floor and ceiling coming together in a solid rock, mud-choked constriction. This was unexpected but not novel. Tangent, lacking caving gear, arrived in time to haul out 60 loads and keep warm in the freezing conditions above. A litre of red drain dye was poured into the dig near the bottom of Son of a Pitch in the hope of a trace to the wet weather inlet trickle in Root 66. A calculation of the amount of loads hauled out by the team since the 19th March (2,530) plus an estimated minimum of those removed by the original diggers (170) but excluding the Old Men’s efforts gives a total of 2,700. At an average weight of 10 kilos the result is 27,000 kilos or 24.3 tons. No wonder the spoil heap looks impressive!     

Desperately in search of the way on the writer returned on the 16th November and dug out the floor and the alcove with airspace near the end but both routes were too small. He then poked about at the end until a sweep of the crowbar brought down a heap of spoil from a small phreatic tube on the left. This revealed a roomy airspace above and heading NW but needing bang to make accessible. Two long shotholes were drilled in the left wall in preparation for this. He returned next day to fill a few bags, drill a third shothole, extend the vacuum hose, take a survey leg and fire a mixed cord charge. A Land Rover load of bags was delivered to the dump. The bang was found to have done the job when your scribe returned on the 18th. After a digging session the airspace was reached via a classic phreatic S-bend some 2m in length. Here the infill reached the ceiling but more excavation revealed a second airspace beyond. This was almost reached next day when the writer, Tangent and Paul all dug at the end until poor air stopped play and diverted them to hauling bags back to Son of a Pitch. On the 21st Jane emptied bags at the dump during the day and in the evening Mike, Tangent and the writer (as a 58th birthday treat) were back at the face after a minor delay recovering Mr. Willett’s car keys from the inside of his locked vehicle. Lots of bags were filled and many were hauled back to the bend. 21 reached the surface. At the face a third, and much larger airspace was opened up at the last minute but not properly examined due to the proximity of closing time. This was resolved next day when the writer dug up into it to find that it again ended after a metre or so but has regained the north-easterly trend of Root 66. He was back on the 25th when more digging took place and the ceiling at the end was found to be loose. He repeated the exercise next day and also managed to drop a large split section of the left wall of the S-bend. Removal of this was planned by micro-blasting. On arrival at the Hunters’ the sad news of the death of Mike Thompson, the instigator of this dig and renowned Mendip caver and cave diver, was received. The team are now under an obligation to push this cave in his memory.

On the 28th November Tangent and Sean winched out 100 loads while Mike, Jake, Phil, your scribe and new team members Justine Emery and Malcolm Austin laboured below. A micro-blasting attempt was made to split the obstructing rock using a single detonator but this failed to work and “stitch drilling” was resorted to. One chunk was hammered off and then Mike was sent into action resulting in removal of the remaining lumps to a wider section of passage where they could be further reduced. Jake found another airspace on the west side of the S-bend, which the writer proved on the 30th to be the expected connection with the alcove dug on the 16th. He also smashed up Mike’s boulders whilst contemplating on how the hell he managed to drag them out in the first place! More bags were filled and stacked and Duncan continued with this on the 1st December.

The 2nd December saw Duncan and your scribe desperately trying to reduce the back-log of full bags! Though none reached the surface a goodly amount were dragged back towards it. They then ruined the good work by filling lots more at the dig face. On the 5th Mike, the writer, Keith Creagh and Mark “Buddy” Williams (SMCC) hauled bags at various points throughout the cave and managed to get 78 out. Another 42 came out on the 10th courtesy of Darrell Insterell and your scribe. Thanks to the timely assistance of visitors from Moles C.C. – Jim Lee, Rob Norcross and Alan Richards - the cave was emptied of full bags on the 12th. 85 loads came out under the supervision of Mike and the writer and Siss filled five more at the end while Rob took some digital images. Two days later your scribe filled another thirty with spoil from the floor at the S-bend and the largest part of Root 66. He repeated the exercise next day and also removed a large section of the LH wall at the end. It being the festive season the position of the dig could now easily be seen from all over Priddy as Tim had decorated the tall tree above the entrance with Christmas lights. On the 16th a Land Rover load of spoil was dumped and all the full bags in the cave were dragged back to Son of a Pitch. 10 loads reached the surface before potential frostbite stopped play. Tony Boycott, Darrell and your scribe then headed for some warmth while passing Grampian S.G. member Pete Dennis mounted his motorbike for a decidedly chilly journey to Aberystwyth. Next day, after taking three Land Rover loads to the dump, Siss dug at the end, the writer continued clearing the S-bend and Mike cleared the bags. About forty-five loads reached Son of a Pitch. On the 19th December Phil and Jake dug at the end while Mike and the writer excavated an interesting hole in the floor of the largest section of Root 66. The others also had a later look and pronounced it to be “promising”. 93 loads reached the surface and over thirty freshly filled ones got to Son of a Pitch. One very large rock was left on the lintel for future ginging use. Jake did a solo-digging trip on the morning of the 21st and filled twenty-nine bags with spoil from the floor of Root 66. He found that the hole in the floor closed up but after excavation enabled a digger to stand upright without touching the ceiling! In the evening your scribe filled another seventeen, mainly from the terminal dig. On the 23rd, after delivering a Land Rover load of bags to the dump, Darrell and the writer dug upwards in the rift crossing the largest part of Root 66 and hauled bags to Son of a Pitch. They returned next day to haul out 60 loads - aided by Rich Witcombe. Four of the regulars then departed for some glory in the far north leaving Mike and Tangent to finish off the year by digging at the end on the 29th and hauling all the full bags to Son of a Pitch.

Trev and your scribe commenced the 2008 session on the 6th January when the former removed much of the loose LH wall at the end of Root 66 while the latter continued with the rift dig. Conditions had become decidedly sticky heralding the onset of the “Reverse Midas Touch” with which the Club diggers are cursed. On the 9th Mike heaved out a large rock from the end while the writer cleared spoil from around the remaining slabs to reveal that this “wall” was actually a pillar with clay-filled voids behind and above. A possible way on to the left was revealed but the remaining rocks were too big to shift without being reduced by bang or caps. Lots of bags were hauled up to Son of a Pitch. More were dragged up to here on the 14th when Siss dug at the end and your scribe gradually reduced a large rock before going to the face to crowbar down the remains of the pillar. Four potential ways on were revealed – up in the ceiling, straight ahead and to both sides. Two days later Mike hauled out 77 loads to surface, aided by your lightweight scribe. Trev returned on the 20th to drill and break up most of the toppled pillar using his home made plug and feathers and the writer bagged up the resulting debris next day. A shothole was drilled in the loose slab remaining in preparation for banging and this was lengthened on the 23rd when Mike and your scribe hauled bags and dug at the end. This hole was made redundant by Trev on the 26th when he managed to plug and feather the slab using shorter holes drilled vertically. 

Taking advantage of a spell of very fine weather Tangent and the writer spent the afternoon of the 27th emptying bags at the dump. The latter continued with this next day and also delivered a Land Rover load of recently filled ones. If left to “dry out” for a few weeks they are very much easier to empty. On the 30th January Mike, Sean, Alex and your scribe hauled bags to Son of a Pitch from where Phil, Siss and Paul hauled out 41 to the surface. Siss also emptied bags at the dump and another Land Rover load was taken over to dry out.

A reliable informant has pointed out that Caine Hill is also the name of a noted Australian lunatic asylum. If the cap fits …     

Further digging: - 2/2/08 – 16/6/08.

Tangent reported that the name Caine Hill dates from at least Tudor times as it appears in a document of that date describing the course of a boundary. More research is needed on this. Westbury-sub-Mendip historian Barry Lane is on the case.

The 2nd February saw Trev breaking rocks with his plugs and feathers and digging in the “2nd chamber” where he got the first view of open voids above (see plan) and this was continued by Henry Bennett and Henry Dawson on the 13th when they reported an increase in the draught due to the interception of a higher level phreatic tube with airspace which runs both up and down-dip (later named Pastel Passage). Quote: “There was at least 6-8” airspace if not more which you can see down for about 12-15 foot and then it just seems to continue the same. Wow! Looks funky.” – Henry B. On the 15th Trev and Henry B. did more rock splitting, digging and bag filling and used an electronic draught tester – in vain. The Henries returned on the 20th with Mike, Pete Hellier and Sean and got 72 loads to surface with all full bags underground being dragged up to Son of a Pitch. On the 25th Tony A. Land Rovered two loads to the dump and two days later Mike and Phil filled twenty-five bags at the end, enjoying the novel fresh air. Trev was back on the 2nd March to dig, break rocks and fill another twenty-five bags. On the 5th the writer, impressed with the progress made in his absence, filled fifteen bags and dragged out enough spoil to make a couple of metres of progress in the up-dip phreatic tube. Some work was also done on the equally promising down-dip tube. He returned on the 9th to fill another fourteen bags and dig both the up-dip and down-dip passages. Another two metres were gained. Next day he filled thirty-three bags and opened up a second up-dip passage running parallel to the original one and almost certainly connected. A further two metres of progress was made here. The 12th saw Mike, Paul and your scribe shifting full bags up to Son of a Pitch and the bend. A few bags were filled at the end and the first section of air hose was removed from the cave, as the use of the vacuum cleaner was no longer necessary. More bags were hauled up to the bend on the 16th when Trev and your scribe dug in the down-dip and RH up-dip passages, filled lots more bags and stacked them ready for removal. Next day the writer dug in the down-dip and LH up-dip passages and added many more to the rapidly growing bag pile. This intersected, and important, phreatic tube was named Pastel Passage due to the attractive multi-coloured ceiling pockets. A large boulder embedded in the floor was eventually loosened ready for extraction. This was attempted in vain on the 18th and so your scribe contented himself with enlarging the passage around the boulder and filling lots more bags. One result of this was the revelation of the true size of Pastel Passage – over 1m high and 1.5m wide.


Bag hauling was now desperately needed and so on the 19th March 40 loads reached the surface courtesy of Mike, Tim Andrews (the cave owner), Paul, Phil, John Noble and the writer. Many others were moved upwards throughout the cave and yet another failed attempt was made to remove the loose boulder. More spoil was bagged up from the down-dip passage. This was Tim’s first visit to the current end and he was impressed with both his cave and the effort being expended to push it further. Compass bearings in down-dip Pastel Passage revealed it to now be heading away from the Sump IV area of Swildon’s Hole and towards the Priddy Fault and the sink near Dale Lane – a big blank space on the map! This brings up the possibility of a connection with a completely different area of Swildon’s! To quote Andy Farrant in “Swildon’s Hole 100 Years of Exploration” – “…lumps of ochre seen deep in the cave at Heaven and Hell Aven in the North West Stream Passage are derived from weathered iron-rich deposits somewhere above.” This point is some 370m horizontally and about 100m vertically from the current end of Caine Hill and sounds particularly unpleasant.  Incidentally this was the first anniversary, to the day, of the present team’s involvement at the site. Taking advantage of the Good Friday holiday Trev was back on the 21st with a mission to break up the loose boulder. This he did admirably and also removed another large rock beneath it and about eight bags of spoil. Later that day Barry Lawton and your scribe bagged up the broken rock and continued digging and bag hauling throughout the cave.

A keen hauling team materialised on the 24th March to remove 105 loads from Son of a Pitch. Tony and Annie Audsley, Roger Galloway (the latter two both Grampian S.G. members), Anne Vanderplank and the writer were today’s labourers. The bag dump at the bend was cleared and Roger and Annie, both seasoned diggers, visited the working face where they were enthused with the potential. Later that day your scribe emptied bags at the spoil dump at Tim’s request and Trev continued this on the 26th. This is an ongoing task, which you, the reader, are cordially invited to assist with. On a nice day it can even be almost enjoyable! About a hundred full bags were dragged up to Son of a Pitch, later on the 26th by Mike, Paul and the writer and many more were cleared from the “2nd” to “1st chambers”. The second length of redundant air hose was removed. Next day Trev and the writer emptied most of the full bags. One Land Rover load was delivered to the dump to dry off. Another load was dumped on the 30th before Trev and your scribe re-stocked the bag pile at the bend and filled more bags in the “chambers”. Down-dip Pastel Passage was dug and found to be larger than expected, with no sign of a solid floor. Another Land Rover load of spoil and rock was dumped next day. Further clearing then took place at the face by your scribe. A narrow section of the ongoing passage was found to have a solid rock floor but by digging below this a low airspace in a wider section was surprisingly revealed, the rock floor above forming a phreatic bridge. Paul, Phil, Jake Baynes and the writer concentrated on bag hauling from Son of a Pitch on the 2nd April and got 71 loads out by using Tony’s lintel as a convenient staging post. Fifty of these, one Land Rover load, were dumped next day.

The 4th April saw Caine Hill’s first tourist trip when Tim’s Canadian cousin, Derek Andrews, went as far as the “1st    chamber” and took photos. He was a trifle stunned by the experience (“Do you actually do this for pleasure?”) and declined a visit to the end! The writer dug in down-dip Pastel Passage while Jake excavated the LH up-dip tube. Jake discovered a 2cm length of clay pipe stem at the base of the entrance shaft – another bit for Tim’s artefact collection. The 6th and 7th April saw your scribe feverishly excavating down-dip below the rock bridge and reaching the end of visible passage. At this point the passage appeared to turn left in the direction of the “1st chamber”. If a connection could be engineered this would greatly assist bag hauling operations. Tony delivered a pile of superb limestone slabs recovered from Fairy Cave Quarry to the Shaft on the 8th in preparation for ginging above the lintel as the excavated rock is not up to the high standards of A.T.L.A.S. Next day a Land Rover load of spoil reached the dump and then Mike, Paul and the writer concentrated on shifting bags throughout the cave – eventually clearing Pastel Passage and the “2nd chamber” and re-stocking Son of a Pitch. All full bags at the dump were emptied on the 11th. On the 13th and 14th your scribe continued digging in down-dip Pastel Passage and stacking bags here and in the “2nd chamber”. A superb waterworn limestone floor was revealed below the rock bridge and the northern wall of the passage found to be developed along a thick and easily removable calcite vein. When empty of spoil and bags this ancient phreatic streamway is an impressive sight! A small, continuing airspace at the end appeared to be above another bridge with the way on apparently at depth. The passage to the left was found to be a low phreatic tube and impassable at this level. Next day Jake and the writer dug here, in the RH up-dip passage and in the floor of the “2nd chamber” and hauled a few bags to the bend.

Bag hauling continued on the 16th April when Mike, Paul, Jake, and the writer hauled 110 loads to surface from Son of a Pitch. The latter two were back on the 18th to haul bags throughout the cave and continue with their adopted digs. Trev, Jake and your scribe spent the afternoon of the 20th continuing bag hauling and clearing the dig sites. One Land Rover load was taken to the dump. The writer was back next day and dug both down-dip and RH up-dip Pastel Passage. A connection with the LH passage was felt to be imminent. St. George’s Day, the 23rd, was celebrated with another massive hauling session throughout the cave. The celebrants were Mike, Paul, Jake, Phil, your scribe and guest digger Ian Peachey (SMCC). Another Land Rover load reached the dump where Tim is planning to use this ideally sticky clay as the dam for a future pond. Paul and your scribe then headed north for greater glory – see Rana Hole article – and only Trev and Jake continued the good work.

On the 27th Trev dug down-dip. Jake filled bags with spoil from the “2nd chamber” on the 30th April and again on the 2nd March. He was back here on the 4th while Trev again dug down-dip. The writer continued with this dig on the 5th and unearthed the way on under the SW wall of the passage. He also removed the aluminium builders’ ladders from the entrance shaft and installed a wire ladder to make bag hauling easier. 11 loads were hauled out and taken to the dump where, next day, all full bags were emptied. A major hauling session took place on the 7th when Mike, Jake, Paul, Phil, Pete and the writer were joined by long absent original digger John Walsh, who was amazed at progress since his last visit. 80 loads reached the surface and a Land Rover load was delivered to the dump. This continued on the 10th when Jake and your scribe hauled bags throughout the cave. Next day the latter was back together with long-distance digger (in all senses of the word) Ray Deasy. More bags were filled in the down-dip dig. The writer took advantage of the superb weather on the 12th to empty all of the remaining bags at the dump. 162 loads (a record) came out on the 14th when Mike, Paul, John W, the writer and newly recruited digger Dave McBride emptied out Son of a Pitch and the rift above. Another excellent hauling session on the 18th saw S.o.a.P. almost completely filled and the “1st and 2nd chambers” briefly emptied. Trev, Paul, Phil, John N, Jake and your scribe were today’s team. Three Land Rover loads reached the dump and Tim provided valuable assistance by pressure-washing the hauling ropes. Further underground hauling by Ray and the writer next day saw the bend refilled. Digging and rock breaking in down-dip Pastel Passage revealed the way on to be probably straight down in the floor as foreseen by Trev and not down-dip as erroneously thought by your scribe. 

Bag emptying continued on the 20th and also on the 21st – when another 121 loads came out from S.o.a.P. courtesy of Mike, Paul, John W. and the writer and one Land Rover load reached the dump. The diggers were kept amused by a bevy of teenage girls with a barrage of questions like “Are there rats down there?”, “Do you make money out of this?” and “Have you found any gold yet?”. “No” was the answer to all of these! Incidentally, the total loads removed to date are c.4079 equalling 40,790 kilos or 36.71 tons. More bags were emptied by your scribe on the 25th while Trev smashed up a large rock at the dig face and filled over twenty bags. On the 28th John W, Ian and the writer re-stocked S.o.a.P. with over a hundred bags from the bend and “1st chamber”. The latter returned two days later with Jake and the pair dragged bags throughout the cave and cleared Pastel Passage.

Two Land Rover loads (eighty bags) reached the dump on the 1st June. Trev, Jake and the writer then dragged more bags throughout the cave and continued digging. More work was done here next day when your scribe established that the way on was cutting back under the floor of Pastel Passage and not straight ahead as thought. This now roomy stacking area will be referred to as the “3rd chamber” for the purpose of digging reports (see sketch survey). On the 4th Mike cleared all the full bags from here back to the “2nd chamber” while the writer festered on the surface awaiting a non-existent hauling team. Early pub night! Your scribe was back at the end on the 6th but was driven out by ill health after filling only half a dozen bags. Duncan visited next day and was enthused. Another visitor was Dr. John Wilcock (B.C.R.A.) who was attending the Cavers’ Fair and was recruited by your scribe to continue his Mendip dowsing project at Caine Hill. John got two distinct reactions in the field north of the entrance. One of these indicates a passage running from the current end of the cave towards the copse behind Manor Farm and thus towards Swildon’s Four – where contenders for a connection are High Loop Passage, Fault Passage and Priddy Green Sink / Cowsh Aven Series. The other ran back from the copse along the line of the wall running south towards Caine Hill Cottage. He got no other reactions in any direction. If he is correct this gives a third possible route for a link with Swildon’s Hole. Time, and effort, will prove him right or wrong and will be an excellent test of the dowsing phenomena. The 8th June saw Trev, Duncan, John Christie and the writer hauling 50 loads out, Land Rovering them to the dump and emptying those on site. Next day your scribe filled bags in the “3rd chamber”, revealing an attractive, waterworn floor. Hauling continued on the 11th when John W, Mike, Paul, Nick Hawkes and the writer almost cleared the “1st chamber” and the bend back to S.o.a.P. Nick, being a professional mining geologist, also closely examined the lower part of the cave and took rock and mineral samples for further study. His initial opinion is that this is a phreatic system developed along fractures in ancient hydrothermal mineral veins. The following evening Jane and your scribe emptied bags at the dump. Jake did a solo trip on the 14th when he dug and tidied up the bags at the end. Two days later the writer filled more bags here and noted several small airspaces opening up in the fill.

Continued in BB 531.

By Tony Jarratt