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Upper Flood Swallet extensions – a road test. By Pete Glanvill

Over twenty years ago I wrote an article for the BB about the breakthrough at Upper Flood Swallet and, described the beautifully decorated stream passage discovered after much hard digging by Willie Stanton and the MCG. At the time I wrote the article, the cave terminated at a point where the stream cascaded down a waterfall into a constricted bedding plane.  The following paragraph is the final one in that piece I wrote.

‘Above the waterfall is a short climb into a small decorated chamber. A low excavated crawl leads to the current terminus – a tube filled with stal false flooring and mud. It is possible to gaze into the promised land beyond and feel the hint of a draught. The spoil heap in the chamber has been decorated with examples of cave art ranging from the obscene to the ingenious. At the end of the cave one is less than 30 metres below the entrance, with most of the depth potential of the system unrealised.’

It has  taken another twenty years for significant progress to be made but the results were worth waiting for and, in my opinion, the new extensions are even more spectacular than those one can see in Charterhouse Cave. 

The dug crawl I mentioned in the second paragraph was fairly rapidly pushed to large passage again – a 4 metre high fossil canyon section that is promising but short. This ends in an excavated descending tube that’s now  a muddy wallow cum duck known as the Lavatory Trap, beyond which a short tight crawl emerges at a T-junction into a slightly larger stream passage. This canal contains an inlet stream from Rip off Aven, soon to be augmented by the main streamway emerging from a low slot on the left. This section can be very aqueous at times, although on both my visits (one in winter and the other in summer) its been fine in a fleece and oversuit.

 

At Puddle Lake the passage  debouches in the 'Red Room’ a small boulder chamber beyond which seems to have posed a conundrum for generations of MCG members. The stream disappears into a too low passage at the side of the choke and the way on is not that obvious.  Most of the last two decades have been spent  digging a route through the next 20 metres of passage which consists of a series of tortuous crawls and the odd small chamber.  A couple of squeezes have been engineered wider since my first visit last summer so that a caver of average size can now get through comfortably. Respite is gained in the well decorated Golden Chamber (really just a grotto) and the exit in the floor drops down a narrow rift into the streamway. However, one only has a brief encounter with it before one enters the main choke. This consists of very large boulders through which a path of least resistance has been excavated. There is the odd reassuring scaffolding bar in place. It reminds me of the September ruckle in St. Cuthbert's with slightly more contortions needed in places.

After the passage of numerous constrictions – all skillfully enlarged over the last year or two one starts to descend through the choke to emerge dramatically at the Departure Lounge, a square shaped passage about 10 metres across and 6 metres high. It most resembles an enlarged NHASA Gallery but is very well decorated with flowstone along the left hand wall. The augmented stream (I am sure more water is entering somewhere near Golden Chamber) rushes into the distance.  From here to the end of the cave is mostly walking and the dimensions are more Welsh than Mendip.   Passage heights are in region of 5 or 6 metres or more and, where one does have to crawl the roof is composed of compacted cemented fill similar to that seen in the St. Cuthbert’s streamway.  Predominantly white massive flowstone formations similar to that seen in a recent Hidden Earth poster are frequently seen.  The cave is shallowly inclined, and there are no real cascades or waterfalls anywhere in the cave.


 

After several hundred metres of streamway it dramatically enlarges at Walk the Plank where a large chamber above the stream is entered. On the right of the chamber a dramatic black stalagmite slope climbs steeply to an inlet apparently close to Stainsby’s Shaft. Several high level passages leave from here including one containing some stunning mud pillars. Beyond Walk the Plank (named after an elongated slab cemented at one end, but projecting in unlikely fashion into space at the other) the passage continues taking in at least one other inlet before the stream disappears into a narrow choked rift. However, a short scramble up the left hand wall then enters a large fossil continuation that terminates in Royal Icing Chamber. Here some cooking apparatus has been deposited and, one of the pots was providing a home for an enormous colony of springtails.

From Royal Icing we turned left into the roomy East Passage, the start of a series of muddy  phreatic rifts, one branch of which ends in a static sump. The rifts provide some interesting traversing on their bulging walls and the whole area is much muddier than the rest of the cave. Back in Royal Icing Chamber, Julie Hesketh our leader then showed us the beautiful ascending stal flows of Hidden Passage. A dull boom in the distance proved one of Tony Boycott’s explosive efforts had worked – he actually attacked two chokes on this trip. Our final destination was a peek into Neverland , a  series of verboten well decorated passages  only accessible to cavers minus boots and oversuits. Neverland starts as a crawl halfway down a steeply descending well decorated stalagmite s

lope leading to West Passage. After a break for food i.e. cadging some of Lee Hawkswell’s squashed pasty, it was time to make our way out.  The choke was easier on the way out (probably psychological) but the final section back to the entrance from Midnight Chamber proved to be exceedingly tedious. We emerged on a clear frosty night about eight and a half hours after entering the cave.

The cave is well worth a visit and it’s clear the diggers are now keen to have assistance as opposed to the closed shop approach that seems to have existed in the past. I, for one, am keen to return for more photography of what is an extremely spectacular cave. 

Although the MCG are still running a leader system drawn solely from their club membership, I think changes are on the way if we all remain patient.  I have to say that the passage beyond Midnight Chamber that I was so concerned about is in state of excellent preservation, which, shows what can be done with care. This is despite the relatively small dimensions of the best decorated section of streamway here.

Peter Glanvill January 2011