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BB532 04A goodbye from Nick Harding – your editor in Residence since 2006

Well my tenure as BB editor has come to an end. Although it was an enjoyable experience I’m afraid I just have too much on my plate at the moment. I will be handing over the position to the redoubtable Hannah Bell and I wish her all the best and good luck in hounding down articles from reluctant scribes.    

This edition contains Jrat’s last articles expertly prized (split infinitive?) from his laptop by the Audsley whose tenacious hammering sounds and swearing could be heard as far away as the coast. 

Yer Ed, Nick

For the last couple of years I’d been helping Nick with the formatting of the BB and had stepped aside after the last issue. The BB is a reflection not only of the Editor but also of the membership’s activities and dedication to put pen to paper. Once again this year we’ve had just two copies of the BB for the third year running.  Ultimately it is up to our members to invigorate the BB by putting pen to paper to empower the Editor to deliver more issues.  I know that many of our members have been on expeditions and been pushing in the UK. Let’s hear more about it!

A big thank you goes to Hannah Bell who has provided a great deal of assistance in getting this issue out the door.  

Henry Bennett

Forty Odd Years Well Spent

By Tony Jarratt

"I shall be gone and live, or stay and die."

Shakespeare.

It seemed a good idea at present to knock up an article on my caving and digging experiences over the last forty-four years.  This would hopefully illustrate the changing nature of our way of life to complement the current series of Descent articles on a similar theme.  Any of the characters mentioned herein could have written an almost identical tale involving a whole host of different personalities and events in the karstlands of Britain, but I just happened to be anorak enough to write it down!   The classic books on this subject are those written by my old mate and top raconteur Jim Eyre, which should be read and enjoyed by all up and coming cavers and Alan "Goon" Jeffreys has also penned some classic articles in Descent.  Dave "Pooh" Yeandle's autobiography covers much the same period and people but with a greater emphasis on diving and the Dales.

I started off as a 14 year old, naive Brummie school kid who cycled with his mates to the dangerously unstable but very impressive limestone mines in the Black Country town of Dudley.  Most of these are now fallen in, destroyed or otherwise inaccessible - doubtless a good thing for the health of the local kids.  I remember that our lighting was primitive - torches and hurricane lamps - but at least I had a pressed-fibre miner's helmet given to me by my collier "uncle" Glyn Thomas from Tredegar.  My inspiration came from "How Underground Britain is Explored" (Showell Styles), which I unearthed in Saltley Grammar School library, and also from watching dramatic cave rescues on black and white TV.  My mother regularly stated that I would not have a motorbike or go potholing!   She was wrong on both counts.

Very soon after this we moved to Congresbury, Somerset and I attended Nailsea Grammar School where, after a couple of years, I found a like-minded soul in the person of the adventurous Steve Shepstone.  Thus commenced my real caving career with endless visits to Burrington Combe and even the Ystradfellte area - reached then by car ferry and very remote compared to today.  We both joined the Exploration Group of North Somerset [EGONS] and added Eastwater, Stoke Lane and Swildon's to our trophies.  I had laddered the Forty Foot Pot by 3rd July 1966 and was now committed to a cold, wet, muddy and totally absorbing future in the world's entrails in company with some of the craziest characters on the planet.  On the 4th February 1967 things got even worse when I commenced my first dig in the Water Chamber of Goatchurch Cavern and was able to see into a small stream passage with a decorated 2m diameter chamber above.  This was eventually reached on the 2nd July and though only tiny, its exploration proved to be the final nail in the coffin of normality and the beginning of a life now dedicated to digging grotty holes in unpromising and obscure places throughout the land.

Devon and Yorkshire also were visited at this time and Steve and I then graduated to membership of the Axbridge Caving Group and Archaeological Society along with Stu McManus, Dave Yeandle, etc.  Here we met older and more experienced Mendip cavers such as the still active John Chapman (Tom's dad), Dr. Bob and Ann Everton, Mike "Fish" Jeanmaire and James Cobbett (these latter two my lifelong heroes), Dr. Stan Cannicott and many others.  Social contacts from other clubs included Zot, Jok Orr, Bob Lewis, Malcolm Cotter, Tony Knibbs, Simon Knight and eventually just about everyone in our newly discovered "Centre of the Universe" the Hunters' Lodge Inn.  Here we learnt to sing both caving and foul songs and to destroy our few brain cells with cheap cider and ale.  The five-mile walk from the Axbridge hut often doubled on the way back!  I was overawed by the hard men in the pub and was particularly wary of the rude and crude B.E.C. - a club that I swore to avoid joining at all costs!

Our caving gear at this time was essentially "wool next to the skin", long johns, string vests, boiler suits together with army gaiters and a hemp waist line and hobnailed boots.  Wellies were frowned upon and wetsuits were just about to appear to revolutionise caving, though the French sharkskin neoprene was very expensive and only for the truly dedicated.  To get mine I sold my golf clubs!   Nylon ropes were coming into use but the occasional rope and wood ladder was sometimes seen - I did Centipede Pitch in Bar Pot on one.  Cycles, motorbikes, scooters and sometimes illicitly borrowed vehicles got us about if it was too far to walk.  Cardboard miners' and plastic construction helmets held "stinky" carbide lamps, crappy battery cycle lamps or bloody great heavy NiFe Cells for the real "Tigers".  Old batteries and carbide dumps littered the depths of Eastwater and Swildon's along with boot soles and bits of flesh burnt off by alkali!  All trips were acetylene scented.

Our next dig started in the abandoned Nettle Hole, Nordrach on the 10th September 1967 and was soon to move to the adjacent "Foot and Crutch" depression where we were allowed to continue work during that year's foot and mouth outbreak.  I also got dragged through my first sump in Stoke Lane so that I could sherpa bottles for my heroes - another prelude to future misery as a not very dedicated cave diver.  This was to be a tool to get me to the parts that other diggers couldn't reach.  Chris Richards, Clive North, John Cornwell and team had now discovered Sludge Pit Hole and we were recruited to dig here at the sump bypass.  1968 saw the discovery of Ubley Warren Pot via the "Foot and Crutch" entrance, the discovery of the initial section of Tynings Barrows Swallet and the washing away of the floor of the Forty Foot Pot - and an illegal re-entry of Pen Park Hole in Bristol. 

Digging at Netherwood Swallet, Nordrach, started early the following year but was not to last.  Seeing what lies below it now maybe we should have persevered!   Working trips to St. Cuthbert's Swallet in the company of Dave "Wig" Irwin, Bob Cross, Butch, Crange, John Riley, Martin Bishop, Brian Woodward and Dick Wickens may have indicated the shape of things to come and work, in the form of a surveying course at the Ordnance Survey H.Q. in Southampton, definitely did.  The next 19 years was to see my horizons much expanded and whole droves of new characters discovered.  A drunken weekend dig at the flood-blocked Eastwater Cavern saw a bunch of young reprobates from the Axbridge, Severn Valley, B.E.C. and E.G.O.N.S. re-entering the system, much to the surprise and annoyance of the older and wiser Hunters' bar-proppers such as Mike Dewdney-York!

On a trip to Derbyshire, Eldon Hole chamber was entered after a very long time by laddering down the side of an underground snow crevasse, thus proving that winters were indeed harsher then.  I was very taken with the Peak District and vowed to spend more time there with its tough Eldon and Pegasus cavers.  Back on the Hill I undertook my first cave dive on Boxing Day under the tutorship of Alan "Satanic" Mills.  This presented a minor problem due to the cold water and the fact that I had just had most of my teeth removed and couldn't grip the gag properly!  I also couldn't swim.  My kit consisted of a brand new and expensive Deepstar valve, a pressure gauge and a side-mounted ex-WD "Tadpole" bottle with pillar valve.  These were off Mosquito bombers and cost 2/6d.  After hours spent unwinding the bullet-proof wire wrapping and emptying out the rust they were ready for (hopeful) filling by some unsuspecting compressor owner (Midland Diving were reputed to fill a brown paper bag for a price) and they saw sterling service throughout Britain.  Mike Boon's had a unique bayonet fitting and now hangs in the Wessex hut, having been retrieved from Swildon's Nine by Pete Moody and I.  Usually over pressurised they were best kept out of the sun and not dropped.  I once fell off my motorbike with mine strapped on the back - exciting!

1970 and I was now resident in Shrewsbury, Shropshire and commuting regularly at weekends to Derbyshire, where I joined the Pegasus Club along with Mac and James Cobbett and gained many new friends such as Paul and Jud Thomson, Cheg Chester, one-armed Dave Lucas, Pete Watkinson, Barrie Parker and Vic "the Wop" Holland.  Eldon mates included Clive Westlake, George Cooper, Paul Deakin, Bobs Toogood and Dearman, Dave "Grotty" Gill, Bill Whitehouse, etc.  Here, and in Shropshire and mid and north Wales, my continued interest in old mines was rekindled and a major digging project commenced in the fabulous and deep Hollandtwine Mine above Castleton in the search for the lost "Great Swallow".  Shropshire also generated an interest in other subterranea in the form of the artificial Hawkstone Caves, Nesscliff Cave and others.

This same year, the next caving apprenticeship took place when I joined the Nottingham University Caving Club expedition to the Picos D'Europa in Northern Spain where a good amount of exploration and diving took place in a very mellow spot between the mountains and coast.  Spanish cider, lakes of cheap booze, hot sun and warm caves had rapidly converted us to the idea of foreign expeditions - which was later brusquely altered in the depths of Austria!   The only British discovery this year was the entering of Rum Aven, Swildon's with Satanic and Al Thompson.

The new year saw me briefly diving in Pont Newydd Rising, Cilcain, Flintshire, several training dives in White Lady / Cwm Pwll-y-Rhyd and Porth-yr-Ogof, P8, Redhurst Swallet, Bagshawe Cavern and Swildon's - where the sump 6 bypass was opened up.  My most novel "dive" was for some 500m in the dry but gas-filled Leigh Level, Minsterley, Shropshire to reach the foot of the blocked Blue Barn Shaft.  Supposedly with an atmosphere of methane, sulphur dioxide and sulphuretted hydrogen, this may not have been a good idea at the time - especially as I had left a work colleague at 600m in to await my return!  An interesting free-diving trip in Bridge Cave, Ystradfellte yielded some good new passage which was written up in a Westminster S.G. rag but the arsehole who wrote it forgot to mention that I was in front of him (or even that I was there at all!) and a dive in Ogof Fechan frightened me shitless when I blundered into big, open passage which was way beyond my capabilities.  A tourist dive to Little Neath River Cave 5 with Dick Pike was another epic when we came out on a single light.

Digging at last paid off in Hollandtwine Mine with the discovery of several hundred feet of attractive natural passages leading off from the 360ft level but not, alas, the Great Swallow.  Keith "Mad Ben" Bentham, famed digging eccentric, also a character and Jerry Wooldridge failed to find it some years later but the current diving team of Jim Lister and friends are trying to get there from beyond Ink Sump in Peak Cavern and I wish them the best of luck. According to the Old Man's sketch section this apparently undescended natural shaft is on a par with Titan Shaft!   One of our digging team was the newly recruited Sulo Sulonen - a travelling, erudite Finn with a German registered sports car, an Irish girlfriend and heaps of charisma.  We soon got completely used to his broken accent as he worked his way up to club secretary, got regularly paralytic, became a cave diver and was submerged in the caving ethos.  More on Sulo later.  He was instrumental in organizing our Christmas visit to the truly magic land of County Clare where I discovered fantastic, clean-washed river caves, traditional Irish music and endless supplies of Guinness at the famous O'Connor's Bar, the world's most hospitable people and even romance.  Since then, Clare and I believe Ireland in general, has been ruined by European handouts and lost much of its character - though I am sure that the locals prefer their new lifestyle.  My memories remain happily frozen in time.

Back home 1972 was spent caving and mine exploring throughout England and Wales with notable dives in Pridhamsleigh Cavern and Swildon's Hole. The latter involved the free-climbing of the, to me, awesome Victoria Aven in company with the redoubtable Pete Moody (I was now a Wessex member).  This was particularly satisfying as it had been my ambition since I had heard of the place and a major reason for learning to dive before some other bugger scaled it!  A fascination with Bob Dylan picked up from John Norris of the Axbridge inspired the name Desolation Row for the appropriately grim extensions at the top.  U.B.S.S. divers Tony Boycott, Bob Churcher, Aldwyn Cooper and Julian Walford later assisted here and joined my growing band of cronies.  At this time we were all under the fairly rigid control of the superbly eccentric Dr. Oliver Cromwell Lloyd - of whom there will never be the like again - and whose birthday parties in Swildon's Old Grotto were truly memorable with sherry, cake and bods in evening dress, playing banjos or, in Roger Dors case, carrying a tray of booze and with a dog on a lead! 

In the Peak District, Ray Mansfield, Bob Mehew, other Shepton men and I joined Paul Deakin, Dave Draper, P.B. Smith (another "over the top" character), Mick Durdey (yet another, but more volatile!) and a host of E.P.C, B.S.A. and B.S.G. enthusiasts at a pumping session at Knotlow Mine, where an ancient and complete rag and chain pump was discovered.  This was a major find in the world of mining artefacts so even more satisfying as it was the Mendippers who identified it!  It now resides at Matlock Mining Museum.  

In North Wales, Pont Newydd Rising came back in favour and I passed my first virgin sump.  Only 23m long and with a mere 12m extension beyond but all mine.  In the extensive, aquatic and bloody dangerous Hillcarr Sough, Derbyshire, our Pegasus team joined Nottingham Mines Research Group members Lawrence Hurt and Dave Epton on the rediscovery of some 4-500m of neck deep canal over 3km into the level, the atmosphere of which was essentially composed of methane, carbon dioxide and sulphuretted hydrogen (familiar?) and which necessitated the use of a canoe full of air bottles to keep us alive.  Oh, the folly of youth - but what an adrenalin buzz!  (On missing Vic the Wop before leaving, we providentially found him lying on the floor, underwater and without air.  He still owes us a pint).

Apart from all this normal(?) caving activity there was usually a good sprinkling of rescues throughout the year.  One in Giant's Hole stands out as a classic.  Two of our lads were reported overdue, so three of us went for a look and found the cave rapidly flooding.  Halfway down The Crabwalk we met Al Steans who shouted, "Leave me and get to Chuck."   Our man was wedged horizontally in The Vice with only his head above water and as we reached him this backed up then flowed right over him.  I pushed him and he was swept away downstream, luckily to stop on the edge of a pitch from where Andy "Honker" Sutton and I dragged him to an alcove.  He and I were to spend some hours here while Andy left for help and a knife to cut Chuck's waterlogged heavy duty Goon Suit open.  Chuck was too exhausted to move.  Disembodied voices beyond The Vice proved to be Daves Draper and Allsop.  The former provided coffee and aid and the later an utterly useless NiFe cell - far too blunt!  To cut a long story short, I retreated amongst a crowd of incompetents with my (actually Pete "Ratarse" Webb's) wet suit trousers being partly washed away and the glorious sight of a hard Eldon team traversing in above.  These lads took 16 hours to get Chuck out on this minor epic.  The finest sight I saw on my retreat was the sudden, rapid and unplanned descent of Dr. Hugh Kidd from the ceiling amongst a cloud of whisky fumes.  Where are such heroes in today's land of health and safety? 

The year was concluded with a relaxing (read drunken) County  Clare session, but a Doolin Cave through trip earlier in the year is worth recording to illustrate the charms of the place.  Jim Shannon, my girlfriend Peggy Faughnan and I laddered Fisherstreet Pot with a borrowed 20m Coastguard ladder taken to the entrance by motorbike.  In dry grots and with bike lamps and quarrymens' helmets, we waded upstream to emerge in glorious sunshine and hitch a lift back to O'Connor's Bar on a donkey cart.  The E.U. provided none of this.

Pont Newydd Rising featured again early in 1973, when another 21m of dry stuff was found and the second sump of 12m passed to a black space.  This became blacker when "light pox" set in.  At Thistle Pot dig in Derbyshire, some 20m of pretty but loose rift was found with a 4m deep, blocked pitch below.  In World's End Cave No.4, Llangollen, I was forced to drag my drowning staffholder, the infamous Gordon "Poison Dwarf" Parkin (Eldon P.C.) from a low duck as we were supposed to be at work at the time.  Some of his other claims to fame were being left down Giant's Hole for three days with a Mars Bar until he was surprisingly missed and of pebble-dashing his own arse in a dig when his tiny bit of scrounged slow burning fuse detonated as he tripped running back down the passage and dropping his stinky. His kind offer to assist some Welsh farmers rescue a terrier from a slate fissure near Trawsfynydd resulted in another day skiving off mapmaking, many soggy and distressed press operatives, the top half of a mountain blown off and, unsurprisingly, a decidedly dead dog.  Surveying at night by torchlight rounded off this novel day.  He did join me at a new dig at Ogof Rhewl near Ruthin, where I was now stationed, but this promising site still awaits a good push.  

After a brief spell in the Shropshire Mining Club I was now involved in the formation of the North Wales Caving Club - a conglomeration of independent groups who still exist but were once again fragmented to a degree by the dreaded club politics.  Crispin Ebbs, Graham Woolley, Jerry Dobby, Phil Hunter, Mel Davies, Pete Appleton, Alan Hawkins, Phil the Miner, Derek Brandon and a host of witty Scousers provided much amusement and some good digging trips with not a little passage found in this remarkably unexplored and promising area.  On the evening of the 8th June I just happened to be at the club dig in the dry river bed at Cilcain where I had done only one previous shift.  Pete arrived and after an hour or so of boulder shifting, I was able to squeeze down into a surprisingly large passage.  Pete joined me and, passing a duck in our clean clothes, we proceeded to explore one of the largest caves in North Wales - Ogof Hesp Alyn.  Within two days we had over 2km of superb phreatic tunnels, chambers and pitches and lots of leads including a static sump.  North Wales was suddenly in the news and is now in its rightful place as one of Britain's top caving areas with a magnificent variety of caves and mines opened up by the N.W.C.C. and Grosvenor Caving Group amongst others. 

A choice mining treat this year was a visit along with twenty two other Mendip cavers, mainly B.E.C, to Somerset's last working colliery, Writhlington.  The 1,461 feet deep downcast shaft was descended and a mile or so of "gates" and workings inspected before got a ride back on the conveyor belt.  Oh, the heady pre health and safety days were in another world.  A surface geological visit to the Avoca Mines in Wicklow with my Welsh "cousin" Jeff Thomas and an introduction to the Blaenau Ffestiniog slate quarries also took place.

This year's expedition was the surreal "Amazin' Raisin Show" to the Reseau de la Pierre St. Martin in the French and Spanish Pyrenees in the company of Eldon, B.S.A, B.E.C,  D.C.C,  L.U.S.S,  A.C.G,  W.S.G,  French and Polish cavers. Ladders, abseiling and self-lining were our preferred techniques as S.R.T. had yet to make a real impact (though James Cobbett and I had experimented with dreaded Heibler jammers in Spain in 1970) and this was to make rigging hard work but classically satisfying for  our mainly north Midlands heroes.  Here we met Max Cosyns, maker of the infamous winch from which Marcel Loubens fell, got filmed by a Bulgarian T.V. crew in the Salle Verna, attempted to rescue five Poles doing an illegal through trip, burnt off Rubin "Gonads" Gomez (self professed top Frog caver), got sunburnt and stuck without passports in no man's land, de-rigged a 1300 ft pitch with ledges and came out by the light of a Camping Gaz stove (Ken James and I), set off across the lapiaz to call out a rescue at 2.00 am (Nigel Taylor and I), arrived to find the Speleo Club de Paris lying in pools of vomit outside their wine-soaked tents, pissed off Max, drank far too much and had a thoroughly excellent time.  To round it off, I got beaten up by an irate Polish road-hog in North Wales on the way home.  I think we may also have found some new passage.

Back in Wales, the Tan-yr-Ogof Caves near Abergele became my new dig as they may have provided a tourist attraction for the adjacent Gwrych Castle, a medieval banqueting site, resulting in endless free beer.

On the 29th September, the fun (but certainly not the surrealism) ceased when our Pegasus team went to look for a lost calf at Eldon Hole.  Sulo volunteered to abseil down but stupidly neither he nor I used lifelines to reach the ledge at some 40m from the floor.  As I climbed out he passed me, then fell to the ledge. Before we could react, he had rolled over to his death.  Endless repercussions then started as it was soon realised that Sulo Sulonen was only one of many names used by professional London con-man Paul Wynne or Frost (the latter following his theft of a very fine Rover car from the Russian Embassy).  A great friend to us all, if he walked in the Hunters' tomorrow no-one who knew him would be surprised!  We upset the local coppers again in November when a mighty, drunken firework display down Oxlow Caverns caused at least one rescue and the heady sight of linked chains of revellers emerging in puffs of smoke, running off and then returning soberly from a different direction as responsible D.C.R.O. members.  Sulo would have loved it.

Discoveries in 1974 were some 150m of workings in Pant y Buarth (Mold) Mine with local expert Chris Williams, a 15m, decorated extension at Tan-yr-Ogof, 20m of high level stuff in Ogof Hesp Alyn and 200m at Allt Wen Mine, Llanrwst with Shon Scheltinga, Neil "Bardic Nonsense" Weston (B.E.C.) and Arwel Roberts (the only man ever brave enough to give a speech in Welsh at the Pegasus dinner!).

Two grim rescues marked out this year.  The first, at Lamb Leer, involved "Black Wal" Willcocks' and young Rich Bainbridge.  A fantastic turn-out saw them both to the surface within two hours.  A month later in Merlin's Cave, Derbyshire, John "Shag" Smith of the B.S.A. - another great character - died on an exploratory dive.  I assisted the legendary Tom Brown to remove his body - which actually involved a lot of sitting on it and telling bad taste jokes.  Tom had been worried when the police arrived to collect him as he had spent most of the night in a drunken poaching spree and rescuing a mate had not been in his uppermost thoughts!

Back in North Wales, my mining enthusiast mate Shon had a plan to remove a 1905 Thomas Evans steam sinking pump from the depths of Cyffty Mine 45m entrance shaft.  With the help of mine explorers from Derbyshire, Mendip, Mid- and North-Wales and power from Cheg's Land Rover, this hefty iron monster was eventually stripped down and winched out for future display at the Llywernog Silver Lead Mine Museum near Aberystwyth.  Not before time either as just as we had finished the estate agent turned up to throw us off the land!  The bugger had nearly killed me at one point when the hauling rope snapped - luckily just after I had untwisted a guide rope from around my wrist.  The descending cast iron section ripped out 10m of stempling and the hauling rope stood 45m vertically in the air, Indian style.  Another interesting and particularly hairy bit of mine exploration was my ascent of 20 odd metres of compressed air pipes in a shaft at the end of Coed Mawr / Pool Mine's kilometre long and truly monotonous Level Fawr, Betws-y-Coed to an unreachable level and waterfall shaft beyond, wherein were said to be abandoned rock drills.  I don't know if anyone ever followed this up.

On rapidly to 1975 and a minor epic in March at Raddle Pits on Moss Rake, Bradwell Moor, Derbyshire.  This involved the rediscovery of lots of both cave and mine passage and an entertaining rescue starring the Peak's latest raving looney Derek "T-Pot" Staples, almost certainly the only man ever to eat my snot - and live.  As I pottered along one of the lower levels of this artefact filled ancient lead mine a mighty rumble from a ginged climbing shaft above announced the arrival of several hundredweight of deads and a severely bruised T-Pot.  The little sod was packaged and hauled 90m up the engine shaft and off we went to celebrate at the Three Stags' Heads, our favourite traditional Derbyshire hostelry.  Unfortunately, our plans to push on next day were thwarted by an enormous and irascible sparman who denied all knowledge of giving our mate Paul "Torchy" Foster permission to explore and threw us off the land.  Back in those days access at least was not as easily obtained as today and much "pirating" was necessary. Soon after, during a Pegasus trip down Disappointment Pot, we were accosted by Vic, shouting "Bill McGuinness has fallen down Bar Pot".  With thoughts of a paper bag job, we arrived to find that he had considerately only peeled off on the 10m first pitch, so we left the C.R.O. to fish him out and went on an alcoholic tour of Craven with Bob Cross and Jim Abbot instead.

As an interlude, a tale of the Stags springs to mind. Al Steans, a furniture remover, parked his van outside the pub en route to a delivery job in Manchester and had the foresight to lay out the customer's mattress at the back as a mighty P.U. was in the offing that night.  In the early hours he staggered from the boozer suitably refreshed and eventually forced his way into his pre-arranged pit.  Later that morning he awoke in discomfort to find his sleeping bag unoccupied and himself firmly ensconced among the springs of the mattress into which he had ripped his way in his emotional state.

The Gouffre Berger was this year's Great Irish / Welsh / English / Australian Expedition with guest appearances by such household names as Rich Stephenson, Martins Bishop and Farr, John Parker, Paddy O'Reilly, Mike Orr, Hywel Ball, Phil Collet, Dave Drew, Pete Lord, Sue Jordan, Dave Tringham, Jeff Phillips, Julia James and Neil Montgomery amongst many others.  A fantastic cave bottomed in magnificent company.  Paddy's superb reflexes were demonstrated as a rucsack fell down Aldo's Shaft while we gazed upwards and he leapt 5m sideways at the shout of "below" to receive the bag full on his head.  We were now into both ladders and rope-walking and I had been lent a home made, supposedly self-stopping descender made in Frome by Glyn Bolt of the Wessex.  The design for this was not quite perfected and I returned up Aldo's with peculiarly sore and short legs, but on showing the device to a certain local entrepreneur, by name Fernand Petzl, I received a big smile and my only ever sight of a Frenchman's eyes revolving with Franc symbols.  The "Buggery Box", invented in the famed Mendip Hills, is actually the proud father of untold numbers of the far more catchy sounding "Stop"!  The finale of this fine trip involved lots of drinking, "football" and welly-throwing sessions with N.C.C. stalwarts John "Lugger" Thorpe, Bob Cockeram, Derek Crossland and mates who were to feature prominently in the future.

Back to Britain, and a Land Rover drive north for not far off the same distance, took me to my next field post - the stunning county of Sutherland in the Northern Highlands of Scotland.  The gods were really on my side and this is still my (almost) favourite caving area and to my mind scenically unrivalled in the U.K.  Here I met Pete Dowswell, Chick Calder, Jim Campbell (who had caved with Neil Armstrong [the astronaut] in Ecuador), Bill Ritchie and other old mates exiled in the north, the G.S.G. having a long-standing contingent of Mendip members.  I soon joined the Grampian Speleological Group and got stuck into the digging.  Within a few weeks Chick and I had a short, loose and dangerous extension in the squalid Otter Hole but I was hooked on the previously unrealised potential of these remote limestone glens and have never looked back. 

In 1976 I even started a dig at Smoo Cave, on the north coast at Durness, but it never went far.  Bob Mehew, Julian Walford, Andy Parkes and Bill Ritchie (crofters' hero) joined me at a major dig at Uamh Cailliche Peireag, another unfinished project and on the 4th April Bob, Jim Smart and I dug into what later became known as Rana Hole.  At least I don't have to write that epic up now!  Lots of other caves and caving areas throughout Scotland were visited at this time and all were found to be fascinating and virtually unknown in the overcrowded south of Britain.

France was graced by our presence again this year and the Reseau Felix Trombe received the doubtful benefits of scores of assorted Derbyshire types drinking to excess and finding virtually nothing, even with sub-aquatic messrs Cobbett and Fish. We did get caught breaking into the important archaeological site of the Grotte de Montespan where Norbert Casteret did his famous free-dive to reach the "oldest statues in the world".  Torchy and I were blissfully unaware of the two car loads of irate Frogs berating James at the entrance as we were already inside, Torchy having previously intensively studied the insecure lock.  A small, elderly gentleman shouted up at our 2m high leader who replied in his own inimitable style, "My good man, we are the British Expedition to the Reseau Felix Trombe".  With a confused Gallic shrug the old chap replied, "But, I am Felix Trombe!"  At the end of the day all went well.  We drank wine and cooled bitter with our new chums, I spent a fine trip following  Monsieur Trombe's niece's derrière throughout the cave and Torchy's bag was found to be remarkably free of 20,00 year old clay bison statues!  A visit to the spectacular Grotte Casteret ice cave was also made and a thoroughly good time had overall in the Bar Centrale (St. Girons) and the cavers' bar at Arbas.  Perhaps our greatest triumph was in being evicted from the campsite at Prat by armed gendarmerie.

Around this time my long-suffering girlfriend Peggy got very understandably fed up with my selfish and totally obsessive lifestyle and went her own way.  She had been dragged down caves and mines throughout the British Isles and to not a few club dinners and P.U.s.  We once even took loads of people in wheelchairs down Gough's Cave and found it to be bloody hard work.  She still keeps an eye on me via our Irish émigrés Cheg Chester and Pat Cronin and if she ever reads this, I thank her for some cracking years.

While our Mendip contingent slaved away in Assynt, Pete "Snab" Macnab was bribing Farmer Mac Payton of Tyning's Farm with Scottish sheepdogs and pipe music to regain access to Tyning's Barrows Cave.  It worked – read on.

On the 13th February 1977, I passed a squeeze in this dig, hotly pursued by Ross White, John Dukes, Andy Sparrow and Graham Wilton-Jones.  Taking turns to lead we pushed a kilometre of roomy passage in under 6 hours and running out of light, decided to stop and "call it a day".  The end has been called "A Day" ever since!  This was almost a unique occurrence in a Mendip dig and the only one who moaned was Snab, who was absent at the time (but gracious enough to write a song about it).

In May, I fell out of the top bunk in the Belfry at 7 am and broke my femur, so prepared myself for some enforced leisure.  This was not to be and the results roll on to this very day.  The 24th June saw Bob Cross, Bill Combs (European Grotto, N.S.S,) and your cripple touring some of the old mines and digs of Mendip.  One of these was recorded as "a very interesting site in dolomitic conglomerate" and bore the name Wigmore Swallet.  We must have found it particularly interesting as next day we had permission from another Scot, farm manager Frank Booth, to dig it and Nigel Taylor, Bob, Stuart Lindsey (Cotham C.G.), Ross White, "Father" Sid Hobbs and your crutch-balancing scribe were hard at work with a bucket and pulley system which soon materialised in the improbably gorgeous summer weather of those days.  Fresh enthusiasts and the S.V.C.C. winch from Hillgrove Swallet arrived next day to bash on with our latest project as it was obvious that we would soon be in!  It had been dug and abandoned by the M.N.R.C. in 1934-7 and by the W.C.C. in 1938 but now the B.E.C. had arrived.  To cut a very long story short, there now followed some fourteen years of sometimes hectic and intense and sometimes sporadic digging by hundreds of cavers from across the planet resulting in (a) egg on the faces of the experts who said it would never go and (b) one of Mendip's finest stream caves.  The potential for many more kilometres of the Cheddar Rising system is obvious, especially since the brilliant discoveries of Chris Jewell, Stu Gardiner, John Maneely, Duncan Price and team, following in the bold fin-steps of Mike "Trebor" McDonald and Ross White.  Read all about it in old and new B.B.s, the Wigmore Swallet report and Descent and watch this space as a mighty Dave "Tuska" Morrison digging epic takes place to get normal diggers dry and direct to the end.

In Derbyshire, we cleared artefacts and digging gear from Hollandtwine before the sparmen filled in the engine shaft and we then took over the old Stockport Caving Club dig at Duce Hole, Foolow.  For light relief, a trip to the Castle Hill Mines / Canal Tunnel at Dudley ended hilariously with us floating along the tunnel on a fortuitously discovered polystyrene settee - and why not?

The first three months of 1978 seems to have been spent in either Wigmore or Uamh Cailliche Peireag  (some 630 miles apart).  My Assynt drinking partner and I split up the year with a quick evening trip down the short and damp Glenbain Hole between "swallies" but due to carbide lamp failure and general alcoholic incompetence, we emerged under the guidance of the Assynt Mountain Rescue Team some 18 hours later (after I had failed to turn up for work).  A dour, frugal and thoughtful Willy Morrison, mine host at the Inchnadamph Hotel, kindly offered us hot soup, much to our grateful thanks.  He only spoiled it by saying "That'll be 36 pence".  Our whisky bill was well worth it and the Team managed to acquire status and radios because of this shout but Alan "Goon" Jeffreys, Ivan Young and Dave Warren never forgave the rescue team for fishing us out before their free helicopter ride to The Inch from Edinburgh was over! 

Europe was again our summer destination but Austria bore the brunt this year and was the start of an ongoing tradition kept up to this day.  Stunned by the magic scenery and the whole aura of the Dachstein Massif we did lots of recce and discovered the deep (for us), cold, tight and wet Maulwurfhohle.  At Christmas we were off again but this time to do a tourist trip in the Holloch, Switzerland, an incredibly long phreatic system with super-efficient Swiss organization making life below the surface a pleasure.  Here we were privileged to meet Prof. Dr. Alfred Bogli, doyen of the system and a really nice bloke.

1979 and a return visit to Victoria Aven with Pete Moody resulted in my peeling off Triple Avens some 4m up with my new NiFe cell breaking my fall (and almost my back!)  I also had a possibly broken wrist.  Getting out was character building but easy in the sumps and was made a damn sight easier by Pete's strength and assistance as he lugged most of the kit and aided me on the up bits.  My wrist was only badly strained and I have a blurred recollection of playing sofa rugby that evening so it couldn't have been that bad!

The Dachstein featured again in July and we pressed on down in Maulwurfhohle.  Here an epic occurred when lightning struck near the entrance and knocked out Chris Smart - forever afterwards known as "Blitz".  Over 100m below I had just begun talking to him on the field telephone and also was knocked out for a few minutes.  I apparently then stood up, shouted "Oh my God" and fell over again.  Big Jim Watson (W.S.G.) rushed to my aid thinking that I had been felled by a boulder and Trev Hughes rushed up the ladder below to assist.  As many a young lady can verify, waking up with Trev gazing fondly into your eyes can ruin one's whole day.  Apart from a burnt and sore ear and paralysed finger and thumb I was okay once my memory returned and was soon out.  Staggering across the lapiaz in the dark, we scattered at the least sound of thunder. Next day was spent eating, boozing and playing crib in the relative luxury of the Weisberghaus.  A few nights later our old mate Hermann Kirchmeyer dragged us to a surprise piss-up in Hallstatt where we were "entertained" by coachloads of German old age pensioners and a local folk band playing "arse-kicking" music.  The sight of Trev on his knees dancing with a granny was rare indeed.  Some devious dealing involving a glass beer stein ended up with Hermann, Trev and I being accosted by a waitress later that morning as we lay rigid in a gutter in the town.  She suddenly recognised the Germanic member of the foul and antisocial trio and decided that discretion in this matter was the better part of valour - Austrian chiefs of police not being noted for their pleasantry upon being woken from a deep drunken sleep in a roadside drain!

Later that morning good old Hermann's robust sense of humour was evident again as he led us an hour's vertical walk up a cliff to the Hirlatzhohle – bastard.  This vast and rambling phreatic system with its rock-hurling draught is well described by "Madphil" Rowsell in recent BBs.

1980 and Belgium featured in January this year, in the company of Pieter Staal and his Speleo Nederland colleagues.  Caving in the Ardennes was not unlike on Mendip but the spectacular range of character altering monastic beers was a real eye-opener and was to lure us back in the future.  For me, the foreign travel extended somewhat in June when I was seconded by the Ordnance Survey to a six month posting with the Lesotho Lands and Surveys Department in the unfortunately limestone-free but spectacularly scenic Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa. Here I explored many surprisingly large wind and water eroded rock shelter caves in sandstone, many being decorated with San bushman rock paintings.  On a short break in the Republic I met up with fellow B.E.C. exile Colin "Pope" Priddle and we ended up exploring and digging into a choke of dry bat guano in the wild section of Echo Cave, a show cave near Ohrigstad in the Transvaal with thousands of resident "Berties".  We drank heartily with the Afrikaans owner and his mates and illegally with Isaac the Zulu night watchman and had a great time.  Twelve days later both of us practically collapsed with headaches, nausea, lethargy and severe breathing problems.  Dehydration, fever and profuse sweating followed.  At this time I was with my Basutho surveying assistant and his trigger-happy soldier mate in the remote Sehlabathebe area of Lesotho - some two days horse ride from the nearest doctor way down below us in Natal.  After a couple of days rest, enlivened at times by my pissed but worried colleagues trying to cheer me up with sporadic rifle fire, I felt capable of driving the Land Rover back to Maseru and on to a doctor in the Orange free State.  After prompting him I got confirmation that I was suffering from Histoplasmosis – uncurable, but only a passing problem if one is fit.  The Pope, back home in Germiston, was off work and in bed for three weeks and his specialist had given him two months to live before he, likewise, put the bloke right.  We never again dug into dry bat shit!  Our next outing involved a tourist trip to the spectacular Cango Caves in Cape Province and some serious research into the South African wine industry.

Back home on Mendip another bloody epic was about to commence as on December the 30th Mike "Quackers" Duck, Dany Bradshaw and I started digging below Morton's pot in Eastwater Cavern.  Quackers and I were back on the 1st January 1981 together with Fish and Pieter Staal, our first of many foreign diggers.  In October 2004 the bloody place eventually connected to the West End Series thanks to magnificent dedication by hundreds of often "press-ganged" labourers and the later major work of Madphil, Graham "Jake" Johnson, Adrian Hole, Emma Heron and Kevin Hilton (W.C.C.). This has all been written up in a series of B.B. articles for your delectation.

This year's classic rescue took place in Agen Allwedd, Llangattock and involved the retrieval of a Croydon Caving Club member with a compound fracture of the lower leg from the far end of the notorious Southern Stream Passage. Around 250 Welsh, Mendip, Midlands and southern English rescuers were involved and after 52.5 hours our man was back on the surface and later recovered well.  I remember overhearing a local lad saying to his mate "Bloody 'ell, did you see the size of those Mendip blokes!"

Twin Titties Swallet, Priddy received the attention of Martin Bishop during the year when much of the entrance shaft was cleared using my new Suzuki jeep as a motorised winch.  N.H.A.S.A, the original diggers, later returned to the site, but digging permission was eventually rescinded and this highly promising site still awaits a push.  The noisome Haydon Drove Swallet also got some attention but coming out with used bog paper adorning one's helmet did not exactly encourage a lengthy relationship with the place.  Surprisingly this one is also awaiting further work!

Now working in the Surrey area I moved into Blitz's house in Woking and we spent many happy hours visiting the underground stone quarries in the area and floating up and down the Greywell Canal Tunnel near Basingstoke.

On to 1982 with work continuing at Wigmore and sporadic digging taking place at Castle Farm Swallet II.  In Kent I found three possible blocked adit entrances to the Snape Iron Mine, but was not in the area long enough for a dig.  It was reopened years later by the Kent Underground Research Group.  On the Hill, a small cave unintentionally dug by someone else was explored.  St. George's Cavern, alias The Hole in the Road, was broken into by Irish digger driver Peter Cosgrove beneath the centre of the Old Bristol Road.  He then bravely descended the resulting 4m deep hole on the boom of the excavator into a 7m long chamber.  Throngs of Hunters' types then swarmed to the place to survey, photograph and eventually dig their way into five more small chambers before the place was unfortunately filled in.  At least it was interesting to experience quite roomy cave development in the limestone and dolomitic conglomerate at this low altitude and so near Wells.

In the far north, I squeezed down a severe, blasted vertical squeeze in Uamh an Claonaite to enter some 30m of roomy and slanting stream passage between Sumps Two and Three.  Getting out was "interesting".  In the Dales, I assisted Howard and Debbie Limbert and Lugger with their digs in Dalebarn Cave and on Scales Moor and sherpered bottles for Geoffs Yeadon and Crossley along a 100m+ grim wallow of a crawl in Ingleborough Cave.  They got within 20m of Gaping Gill on this trip.  Under Alan "Butch" Butcher's leadership work started on dam building for the great St. Cuthbert's Swallet Sump Two drainage project and some blasting was undertaken at the end of Tyning's Barrows Swallet.  The Suzuki again went into action at Gough's Cave where it was used to bring a trailer load of spoil from Chris Bradshaw's dig halfway along the main passage - a very novel exercise.  Another novelty was an hour's digging at the 70m level in the 100m deep Beeston Castle Well, Cheshire where Peter Stewart, Angus Innes, Dave Turner (B.E.C.) and North Staffordshire Mining Club characters were searching for "gold and hidden treasure".  Needless to say they never found any but the place at least had a very nice view.  At Wookey Hole Trev Hughes started yet another long term project at Hallowe'en Rift and we explored some 30m of low, phreatic bedding passage here in dolomitic conglomerate.

This year's foreign trip took place in the winter for a change.  Bob Cork, Dany and I had been invited on the British Speleological Expedition to Mexico - essentially a Derbyshire / Yorkshire run affair filmed by Syd Perou and Guy Meauxsoone (Group Speleo Alpin de Belgique).  Initially little of interest was found but later in the trip the very providential addition of three semi-aquatic Mendip men to the team saved the day when Bob free-dived a fairly committing sump at the end of the superb resurgence cave of Veshtucoc.  The cave had also been entered by free-diving a shorter, but snake-infested, entrance sump, Dave Gill being the hero.  Several kilometres of very fine river passage resulted and this, together with the fact that half of the expedition team developed Histoplasmosis, caught in the nearby cave of Boruhuix, made for a very entertaining film.

 This trip took us well into 1983 and on returning to Mendip reality took hold in the shape of Tynings and Hallowe'en Rift.  Reality then suddenly got even starker with the discovery by Keith Gladman and Andy Lolly (B.E.C.) of 200m of passage beyond Ifold's Series in Eastwater Cavern!  Much of the year was then spent in a series of hard digging and pushing trips in this new West End Series and these are well documented so you need not relive their horrors with us!

A dose of light relief took place in December when our Speleo Nederland and Speleo Limburg mates took us on a late night pirate trip into the Grotte de Han show cave in Belgium.  A great time was had visiting all the accessible passages but alas the underground bar was locked up.  The fun continued next day with a visit to the Café du Rocher, a pub with a cave in the back yard and an illegal trip up the working Lustin railway tunnel into the Resurgence Lucianne cave accessed via a 10m climb into the ceiling.  Once inside, we found the place to be like the League of Nations with cavers from Germany, Belgium, France and Holland milling about in seeming confusion.  Great stuff and well supported by further extensive field trials on the local ales.  Other away trips this year were to Counties Mayo (Aille River Cave), Clare and Kerry (Crag Cave) and a tourist holiday on which many French and northern Spanish show caves were visited with Jane Thomas, a very luckily gained ticket into the famous and stunning prehistoric painted Cueva de Altamira being the highlight.

"Big Pushes" at St. Cuthbert's occurred on the 21st July and the 22nd and 23rd September when some good progress was made into Sump 2 and the pumping system thoroughly tested.  Together with a Wessex team of Pete and Alison Moody, Pete Watts, Paul Whybro and Geoff Newton, Tim Large, "Quiet" John Watson and I were busily pushing new stuff in West End Series during September, October and November.    Some industrial archaeology made a refreshing change at Middle Engine Pit, Nailsea where Trev, Cheg, John Dukes and I assisted John Cornwell with coal mining investigations.

It was the 27th April 1985 and an early morning run to Sump 1 in Swildon's started off my wedding day!  It ended with a massive sing-song and P.U. in the Hunters' when my newly acquired father-in-law came back downstairs from his room as "they words" were less easier to make out in the immediate vicinity of Roger Biddle's passionate piano playing!  A few days later Jane, Phil and Lil Romford and I were in Crete.  Here a few grotty show caves, some artificial subterranea and the quite impressive Sarchos Cave near Heraklion were visited.  Phil and I had a particularly atmospheric overnight trip to a short but impressive cavern located high on the mountain of Sela Digeni.  With an entrance 60m wide by 80m high Kamares Cave held a population of choughs, swiftlets, bats and the odd goat.  The views over southern Crete and the Aegean Sea were magnificent.  Here we bivvied down following crispbread, sardines and hot whiskies and woke to watch the local goatherd at work.  A couple of hours poking about in the boulder ruckle floor of the main chamber revealed masses of Minoan pottery shards (Kamares Ware).  We then staggered back down to Kamares village to meet the ladies and have an impromptu session with the locals and a French and Dutch couple.  In this surreal, magic place the locals were not out of context!  Pub landlord Michaelis was a tin whistle playing, 80 year old ex Spitfire pilot with a distinct eye for the ladies and his mate Georgio was an equally ancient and sparkly-eyed Greek Orthodox priest who danced the afternoon away with Lil.

The St. Cuthbert's project was wound up in June after a magnificent effort and with better technology will no doubt be continued in the future.  In Swildon's, Oliver Lloyd got the last laugh on us when at his underground wake a rescue of ordinary cavers developed due to flooding.  I arrived to find the victims being escorted out by a wobbling selection of singing "mourners".  After pushing a small extension in Eastwater with Dave Nicholls and Mark Lovell, I climbed the 55ft Aven in Ifold's Series and another project, still not completed, was on the go.  A vocal connection was later established here with the Wind Tunnel / Boulder Chamber area in the upper series - see later.

It being the 50th Anniversary of the B.E.C., a big trip to the Gouffre Berger was this year's foreign outing and involved lots of assorted Mendip characters.  A great time was had by all and lots of people bottomed the cave - the eccentric Bob Lewis doing it stylishly in a furry suit!  I would still like to know why there was a kid's pram in the Great rubble Heap but Matt Tuck photographed it for proof anyway.

A truly memorable Dinner was held on the 5th October, made even better as the evening before was the 50th Anniversary Celebration of cave diving at Wookey Hole where three barrels were laid on.  It was a privilege to be in the company of such heroes as Graham Balcombe, Jack Sheppard, John Buxton, Steve Wynne-Roberts, Mike Wooding, John Savage, Eric Hensler, Willy Stanton, Dan Hasell, Bob Davies, Oliver Wells, Luke Devenish, Alan Rogers, Robs Palmer and Parker, John Parker and many others.  A double 40th birthday bash at Barrie Wilton's house on Sunday finished off this very bleary weekend.

 The attempted connection to the 55ft Aven in Eastwater started off 1986 and a dig in the floor of the Boulder Chamber itself soon led into some 7m of roomy, descending passage leading to a pitch or rift of about 5m.  Unfortunately, the unbelievably horrific boulders in which the "passage" lay made it suicidal to push so it was named Death Row and at a later date infilled after the whole lot started to collapse around me.  A smoke bomb fired by Jim Smart in the Aven revealed an alternative possibility and we were hard at work on this when Howard Price materialised to drag us off to a rescue at Longwood Swallet.  Glad to be away from dodgy boulders, we gratefully left the cave but were soon in for a shock.  In the Main Chamber a very tall 16-year old novice, Attila Kurukz, had died from chest injuries following the slippage of a large boulder.  Getting his body out was difficult and stressful in the extreme but luckily there was a great team of experienced Mendip and Derbyshire rescuers at hand and it was all over by 9.30 pm.

A rescue of a Hades Caving Club member from the Double Pots in Swildon's, into which he had fallen brought the following comment from Rich "Kermit" Warman, "If I'd known he'd had an epileptic fit I'd have taken my washing down!".

Back down Eastwater, a second front was opened up by Tim Large blasting up towards the Boulder Chamber from the top of the aven combined with working downwards in a more stable area below the Wind Tunnel.

Tourist "show caving" in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Yugoslavia revealed the spectacular systems of Postojnska Jama and Skocjanske Jama and the delights of the classic Karst.  A more serious trip to the region came with this year's Dachstein Expedition where a fine cave was quickly found after digging out a doline 4 minutes walk from the Weisberghaus in search of a supplementary water supply for barmy landlord Robert Pilz.  Unfortunately it soon bottled out but below the hut the deep Jagerhohle system kept the team amused as it headed down towards the Hirlatzhohle below.  Coming out of here totally knackered I was somewhat distressed when my harness came apart near the top of a 50m pitch as I had failed to screw up my main maillon.  Honking with fatigue and stress and nearly losing my teeth back down the pitch would not have been a problem if there had not been a large audience of South Wales Caving Club bods to hand!  This pot ended up some 600m deep after 25 pitches and was to be the target for the following year.

On Mendip, Wigmore continued to yield passage and a new dig at the aquaphobic Bowery Corner Swallet was started following abandonment by Pat Cronin's team - and never finished.

Our first breakthrough in 1987 was off the 55 ft Aven in Eastwater where the 10m high Aven Skavinski was climbed.  A 5m addition was also found at the top of the main aven following a bang.  Yet another dig came on stream, this time at the end of Sanctimonious Passage in Hunter's Hole.  This was to become a major banging operation resulting lots of very bad headaches!  A dig in Midnight Passage, Agen Allwedd, also took place and on this trip I assisted a slightly lost elderly gentleman from the cave.  It was only later that I was realised that I was caving with the legendary "Black" Ken Pearce - the "Iron Man of British Caving"!  He had fortunately mellowed over the years since his Berger team mutinied underground and he was very pleasant.  Once, when diving with James Cobbett in Speedwell cavern, James complained that Ken was standing on his hands as they surmounted a climb.  Without moving Ken replied, "I don't like caving with soft people".

Huntingdonshire, in the Fens, is not renowned in caving circles, but at this time I was working in the small town of Ramsey and went for a pint in the Jolly Sailor pub on the surprisingly wide main street.  On the walls were photos of the "underground river" and I realised that I had been missing out.  With workmate Roger Smith and Martin Grass in tow, a rubber dinghy trip up the 2,336 ft long brick lined tunnel running the length of the town was undertaken.  A straw decorated sluice chamber and various side passages added to the interest.  It was later surveyed and written up for a Subterranea Britannica Bulletin as I was a member of this society.  It is well worth a visit for those exiled in the far east.

Arduous digging in Bowery Corner, Hunters' Hole and Hallowe'en Rift took up most of the latter part of the year and on the very last day Trev Hughes, John Chew and I were at the end of the latter looking up into a 5m high passage and dreaming of a last minute barrel-winning extension.  After Trev had hammered out this banged viewpoint I was able to squeeze up into the passage to find it only 3m long and 1m wide but attractively decorated with splash formations.  There was no obvious way on in this rift (after five year's work!) but it was at least large enough for the three of us to sit in and open a bottle of sparkling cider in celebration / commiseration.

In January 1988, I took renowned folk singer Vin Garbutt to Swildon's as he really looked the part but he decided it was not for him and wrote an excellent song about the cave, White Pit and the Hunters' Lodge Inn instead.  In February I got an invite to Graham "Jake" Johnson's long term dig at Welsh's Green Swallet where one plaster charge was fired and another was washed away downstream.

The 16th April saw two Wessex and one B.E.C. team at work in the very depths of Eastwater.  Returning from the Jubilee Line to the Chamber of Horrors, the sound of a large stream was heard.  This had suddenly poured from an inlet passage at around 4.30 pm and was then followed by another roar from Blackwall Tunnel indicating that we were probably about to get into deep shit!  I raced off to Cenotaph Aven to warn Geoff Newton, Jake Johnson and Nick Pollard but they thought it was a B.E.C. con and were loath to leave their almost completed climb.  Eventually, everyone free-dived the almost sumped Blakwall Tunnel crawl and headed for Lolly Pot where a thundering waterfall practically filled the shaft.  A desperate struggle out revealed a diving team on standby as the cave entrance had actually sumped up at one point – not bad for a 30m boulder ruckle!  A couple of tremendous downpours in the North Hill area created the problem.

        A novel trip to Nenthead, Cumberland saw Pat Cronin and I assisting Cheg with his dig in the extensive Smallcleugh Mine and the next day pushing some 180m of neck deep adit level in Brownley Hill Mine - well, it was neck on me anyway - Pat had to swim half the time.

A bang above the First Rift Chamber in Eastwater was done for Jake and Nick Pollard in the company of Peter "Snablet" McNab, who for some unfathomable reason did part of the trip on a skateboard!  Next day they cleared the spoil and entered some 70m of quite impressive passage - Dark Cars and Sunglasses.  Banging other people's digs was obviously the answer.  Snablet was also with me on an 18m breakthrough in Hunters' Hole, which, though fairly well-decorated and roomy ended poorly and marked the termination of this difficult dig.  We didn't even bother to open the "Champagne".  The place was later adorned with a Gas Street sign pinched many years earlier from Newtown, Montgomeryshire.

In September, Jane and I flew to the United States and visited most of the fabulous show caves of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.  Luray Caverns, one of the world's greats, was particularly notable for its Great Stalacpipe Organ, invented by one Leyland W. Sprinkle to bash buggery out of the formations with lots of little rubber trip-hammers (this is The States after all).  The result as this imaginative instrument tapped out the haunting notes of "Shenandoah" was actually very eerie and moving.  Underground war memorials are also a novelty in this cave.  The treat at Massanutten Caverns was owner Brad Cobb who was crippled by a stroke and arthritis and did the whole cave on two sticks at tortoise speed continuously mumbling "Weird, weird, weird".  He was great entertainment value though as he damned cave vandals and apologized for burnt out lights.  This great, old-time caving character had two ambitions left - to see the 100th Anniversary of the discovery of the cave in 1892 and to visit the Mulu Caves. I hope he managed both.

On to West Virginia and our next cave owning character, Gordon Mothes, whose 600 acre farm holds seven of the entrances to the 47 mile long (at the time) Friar's Hole System.  I managed trips into the Snedegar's, Cruickshank, Toothpick and Rolling Stones sections of this great cave along with lots of cave crickets and a couple of "spelunking" cows.  One entrance bore a sign warning S.R.T. cavers that, "Rats may chew the rope".  We stayed in Gordon's personal timber caving hut, well known to many British and Canadian cavers who seem to have adopted the system.  The nearby tourist section of the 40 mile long Organ Cave System was also visited and was fascinating due to the saltpetre mining artefacts left over from Confederate Army operations in the Civil War.  Cave owning character no.3 had a southern drawl, was a top bullshitter and was proud of his long but grubby cave with its bare light bulbs hanging on obtrusive cables strung from rotting poles and with the occasional tatty lamp shade.  Well worth a visit.

World famous Mammoth Cave, Kentucky was next stop, always the longest on earth and at this time with 325 miles surveyed and about a mile a month being added.  A couple of tours were done here before Jane started suffering from over exposure to the underworld and the guides / rangers found to be informative, professional and thoroughly in charge. I also slipped away to Sand Cave where Floyd Collins died in 1925 and found the experience particularly eerie in the wet and misty conditions of this lonely spot, where it was almost impossible to visualise the 10,000 rowdy onlookers at the abortive rescue attempt.

Back into Virginia and possibly the most novel caving trip ever as I wandered through the impressive 850 ft long and 100 ft high Natural Tunnel river cave accompanied only by the engineman of a fifty-car freight train on the tracks of the Southern Railway which used the passage as its name suggests.  Dixie Caverns also proved to be different when the attractive lady guide, having found out that I was a caver, got me to do much of the tour!

In Tennessee, Bristol Caverns just had to be done and was well worth a visit......

Tony Jarratt
August 2008

NOTE: Tony started writing this when he was told about the terminal nature of his cancer.  He tried very hard to complete it, but in the end he got beaten.  The account is incomplete, but no one but Tony could complete it, so here it is, as it is.

The account has a refreshing immediacy about it, perhaps an indication of his rush to try to finish it.  I have edited the text only slightly, largely limited to scattering a handful of commas over it and putting in a few paragraph breaks.

Tony Audsley

11 July 2009