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Toothache Pot, Longwood Valley, Mendip

By Robin Gray

Very brief History. The site was discovered by David (Tuska ) Morrison and Chris Bradshaw early in the 1980s. It was a shallow depression with some rock surrounding it. It looked like an old mine shaft. Three other sites were noted nearby. It got the name Toothache, because Tuska’s wisdom tooth was coming through.

It was originally dug by Robin Gray and Tony Atkinson with help from MNRC members and the BEC but always remained under the control of Dave Morrison. Stu Lindsay remembers well, digging through bucket loads of hazel nut shells. It had a winch in place then and diggers were plentiful. It was pleasant working in the summer sunshine.

It was dug to about 20 ft and interest waned somewhat. The MNRC went off to build their new hut, the BEC were into other digs and Robin’s mate, Nigel Mogg was away at sea. 

Permission was given to Unit2 who had a hut at the end of the valley to take over. In fact Tuska sold it to Unit 2 for a couple of pints one night in the Hunters. They dug it for a few months without making much progress and then abandoned it. Robin Gray and friends dug it occasionally until about 1989.

It was examined again in 2011 by Robin Gray and Barry Hulatt who decided it was worth another go. Permission was sought and obtained.

Access.  Access is now from above. From Black Rock Gate: The track is followed to the left of the entrance to Longwood Valley and the field fence is scaled using a portable style. This protects the farmer’s fence and also our caving suits. From just below the inner fence which is low enough to step over, a hand line is in place. This leads directly to the dig. The hand line makes getting to and from the site easier, especially in wet weather, and also restricts diggers from moving sideways where there are many interesting plants that need to be conserved. These are Blue-bells, Herb Paris, Tooth Wort, and the usual woodland species found in the valley.

The dig site is fenced with warning signs.

Progress. Progress has been downward and the shaft is now 60feet deep. There are signs of mining activity but there are also signs of natural cave formation. It would appear that the miners were following a calcite vein which can be seen in the shaft. At the bottom of the shaft, water flows away freely and a corner discloses a tantalising air space. However it would be unwise to create a wormhole just to follow the way down and it has been decided to remove the entire fill in order to progress safely and to understand what is going on. It is possible that diggers will use lifelines in case of a collapse.

Hauling systems have continuously been improved and it is hoped to have some sort of winch in place before too long. We also expect to install fixed iron ladders for the length of the shaft already excavated. Our plans to get the metal ladders to the site, have been thwarted by the weather, but once the ground up from Black Rock Gate dries up again, Martin Grass will be able to drive them up in his Land Rover. We have enough ladder to reach the current digging depth and beyond, so once in place, life will get easier, and even those who do not relish the thought of the 60ft climb on wire ladder after a half hour hike, will be able to go down.

The black space below increases weekly and its position makes the prospect of great discoveries, very exciting. Sadly we are usually only a team of three or four and could use help with work on the surface. Anyone interested in going down would be welcome but that is usually left to Robin, or Steve Pointon and Barry Hulatt from the CCC  

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The new buckets. Stu hauling.

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Looking up the shaft which is very square until the bottom is reached