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On Digging to Wigmore Ten in Style

By Tony Jarratt and Dave Morrison

On August 4th, the two writers were both suffering from life’s problems and decided to talk digging instead – the cure for all ills.  Tuska was desperate to start a new excavator dig and Jrat knew of a good place to do it so the game was afoot.  Within a few days, equipment and permission was obtained – the former thanks to Dave Gibbons and Dave Speed and the latter to Nigel Perkins, Penny Wiseman and Arthur Bound of the Waldegrave Estate.  A successful outcome would be the discovery of a probably fairly vertical route down some 50m to the area of the too-tight head of the Young Blood's Inlet aven, recently discovered by Chris Jewell and team.  This would enable mere ordinary, non-waterproof cavers and diggers to reach the boulder choked current terminus of the system beyond Sump 10.  It would also ease the divers’ minds knowing that they no longer had to face the almost truly horrific possibilities of a rescue from this remote and awkward spot and, indeed, those of the M.C.R. personnel who would have to leave their beer for a very long time!

At 8.30 am on the 21st August, a very smart Hitachi Zaxis 130 LCN excavator rolled onto Home Close field east of the Wigmore track.  Bloodied at Fernhill Cave, this almost brand-new orange monster was capable of shifting about 5,000 tons of spoil in four days.  Driven by Mark Crook and with Tuska directing operations, it set about the most easterly of the central group of three depressions, 3-5m deep in dolomitic conglomerate (angular fragments of limestone and sandstone, locally cemented by silica and / or iron), furthest towards Eaker Hill.  Of this group of depressions, the other two are in a different unit of the Mercia Mudstone Group, composed of red sandstones, siltstones and sandstones with occasional gypsum and celestite deposits.  They are all located at 265m – as is Wigmore. 

Mark cleared off the surprisingly dry top layer of soil and prepared the depression floor for deeper investigation at the northwest end, where he eventually sank a roomy pit down to about 10m.  By knocking off time at 6 p.m., a solid, vertical and apparently water-worn cliff was revealed with a ledge and further drop below.   Mark also collected a load of concrete pipes from Mells and returned with them and Dave Speed - dig master of the finest.  Lots of people turned up to take photos and be thoroughly entertained, including Lord Waldegrave of Northill - William Waldegrave and his wife Caroline (he was impressed), Tony Audsley (who did a G.P.S. survey of the field and depressions), Nigel Perkins (who ringed the dig with an electric fence) and the estate’s agricultural agent Penny Wiseman, who gave the dig her blessing and commented on how tidy it was.  Even the weather turned out nice!

Meanwhile, below, Duncan Price and John Maneely were on their way to Wigmore Ten, where they cleared "snapper spoil and worked their way down through various bouldery voids until they were an estimated 3m from the noise of the main stream – beyond the choke.  Not having visited Young Blood's Inlet, they didn’t hear the digger above, of which they were well aware, but they did notice that the previously clear inlet stream was now black and stinking of cowsh.  Six weeks previously, the whole farm had been sprayed with this elixir and only one week ago a patch of ground just to the east of the dig had the treatment.  It seems to lie on a direct line with it and is almost certainly the cause of this localised pollution.   Jane Clarke reported a shallow, flooded depression in this area.

Next day Mark, Tuska, Jim Young and Tony and Alice Audsley were on site early.  More benching and deepening of the pit took place throughout the day and more rock walls were exposed to gain almost a circular pot.  J. Rat and Jane arrived at midday and were soon joined by Stuart McManus and Peter “Ratarse” Webb – all the way from Perth, Australia.  A suggestion from Mac that we should try to photograph the dig from the air led to a swift lunch followed by the three of us taking off from Bristol Airport at 4 pm and soon circling the place in the sunshine with R.A. operating his new camera to full effect!  We have all the necessary tools when it comes to it.  The dig resembled a deep opencast quarry from above, with the Dinky toy excavator pecking away below and a string of onlookers alongside.  Magnificent – thanks Mac, and R.A. for the excellent snaps.

Saturday 23rd, more of the rock walls were exposed and tidied in preparation for the insertion of the 10m of pipe.  This was unloaded on site in the prevailing dry weather by Nigel Perkins (now recruited) and the team.  

Being a Bank Holiday weekend, a good crowd appeared on the 24th including Lord Waldegrave of Northill – William Waldegrave and his wife Caroline – and Monty the deaf dog.  A valuable addition to the plant on site was a bright yellow JCB 434S AGRI earthmover driven expertly by Michael Gibbons.  Mark, after a heavy night, was back early on the Hitachi.

Early clearing work revealed much of the south wall of what seems to be a roomy rock shaft and it was very encouraging to know that one side wasn’t just a rock gully running off towards Attborough Swallet.  Eventually, the tenth ring was added to the entrance and most of the backfilling was completed just before 7 pm.  Despite an overnight downpour, conditions weren’t too bad and all went very smoothly.  The dig was called after the field name  - Home Close Hole - inoffensive and homely.  Tuska and the team were all rightfully well pleased with the outcome.

The drivers tidied up the depression, graded the topsoil and removed all the plant the following morning.  Four large boulders were left at the shaft top for future use as picnic seats or tripod rests and another ring is planned to go on in the future.   Thus ended phase one of the project.  Prospective diggers for stage two should contact the authors and any donations to the cause should be made out to the B.E.C. and given to Jrat (2). They will be gratefully received as phase one cost over £1,000.


We’re going to dig an entrance direct to Wigmore Ten.
We’ll make it big and dry and clean for normal caving men.
No nasty, shitty grovels or hundred foot long sumps,
No chokes to drop or rifts to bang or squalid pools to pump.

Our mighty digging engine eats a thousand tons a day
It mangles rocks and boulders and sand and silt and clay.
Our driver is a man of steel and tidy with it too.
If you give us a thousand quid we’ll let him dig for you.

Our Guru is great Tuska – top digger on the Hill.

The M.C.G, at Upper Flood, can set aside a key
so cavers ambling gently past can nip out for a wee
or they can hitch a lift back to the Hunters’ bar
where bullshit flows and Cheddar goes down fast in many a jar.

1:     Tony Jarratt finished this article on the Wednesday 27th August and it was found on his computer after his death on the 31st.  It has been very lightly edited (mainly punctuation changes) by Tony Audsley.
2:     Contributions towards the cost of this project are still urgently needed, please contact a member of the committee if you wish to make a donation.

This Is How To Fit A New One!
A peeping tom overheard this conversation in the GB lay-by.
We have to imagine a well-known BEC member and a female companion.
M:    Shall we strip off here my lover?
F:    Yes perhaps we should stay in the car.
M:    Can you give me some help I always find these things a bit tricky.
F:    Ok but I have never opened one of these packets before.
M:    No worries my lover, just tear off the strip and pull it out.
F:    WOW!  It’s big and black!!
M:      Yes I thought you would like it, perhaps if I hold it up you can peel it over the   tight bit?
F:    Bloody hell, I didn’t think I would need two hands for this!
M:    If you sit on my stomach and pull really hard it WILL fit.
F:    Oh god I have managed to tear it!
M:    Damn, that has ruined our fun for tonight!
And that’s how a BEC member tried on his first wet suit.

Hollow Hills
I can honestly say I’ve never been to a better attended funeral than Jrat’s. It was a mark and signal of how loved, respected and greatly missed he was and will be. On that sun-drenched afternoon outside Bath we said goodbye to a true great and even now I can’t think of this one-off character without getting a lump in the throat. Even though I’d only known him for 7 – 8 years it felt like a lifetime – the indication indeed of a genuine friendship I think. If only I’d had one more pint with him…

You all have your own memories.  
Atque in perpetuum frater, ave atque vale…
(And forever, brother, hail and farewell)
Caius Valerius Catullus.
I’ll leave the last words to the great man…