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Introduction

The intention of the following report is to examine in soma detail the Caves of Western Mendip.

These Caves are all quite small, the longest, Loxton Cave, having about 300 feet of passages.  Most of these have been known for many years and have been much used by cavers and spoiled by vandals.  Never the less they are all worth a visit and most of them have many interest­ing features which are not apparent from the few terse sentences in the well known cave gazetteer, "The Caves of Mendip".

Denny's Hole and Loxton Cave are excellent 'beginners caves' and there is just a chance that there is still something to be discovered in them.

Coral Cave and Banwell Bone Cave have controlled access by the Axbridge Caving Group and Archaeological Society and are, therefore, not well known to many cavers.

Biddlecombo Mine and Rift Cave, although not situated in the Western Mendip region, are in an area about which little is known and have, therefore, been, included for general interest.

It is hoped that the Report will stimulate some of the veteran cavers to examine these caves once again and encourage newcomers to see for themselves what they have to offer.

The references to "The Caves of Mendip" are to the second edition (1962), and to "The Mendip Caves" to the second edition (1948) of the third book - "Mendip, its Swallet Caves and Rock Shelters'.

Banwell Bone Cave – BAKER EXTENSION

Length:    150 feet.     Depth:    30 feet.     N.G.R.    383588.

THE GALLERIES, BAKER EXTENSION, BANWELL BONE CAVE

NOTE:  There was no photograph on the copy that this electronic version was derived from.

Most of the formations in the photograph have been cracked by natural agencies.  The large stalagmite in the foreground was found lying on its side and has been replaced on its base.  The short column in the background is cracked at both top and bottom.

Dimensions given are those below the old Bone Cave; this is approx­imately 100 foot long, and at the connection with the Baker Extension is 20 foot deep.  This new series in the Banwell Bone Cave was discovered by members of the Axbridge Caving Croup in 1952.

A short excavated passage from the 'West End' of the Bone Cave leads to an excavated shaft about ten feet deep which has boon fitted with a permanent iron ladder.  At the bottom another short passage enters Ruby Chamber, the floor of which is covered with small angular boulders.  The roof is smooth washed and is stained in places with mineral deposit which makes it deep red, hence the chamber's name.  A passage in the southern wall of Ruby Chamber, known as Mud Passage, leads to Gas Chamber.  It was found that the mud fill of this small chamber gave off large quant­ities of carbon dioxide and this was so dangerous that the chamber was sealed off.  It is believed that the .carbon dioxide is derived from rotting vegetable matter in the mud.  Ruby Chamber is 40 feet long, 15 feet wide and 10 - 12 feet high.

A low opening at the bottom of this chamber leads to the 'Galleries' the second and larger chamber, though it is not so high.  It is about 50 feet long, 20 feet wide and 5-6 feet high.  Again the floor is covered with angular boulders except for a flow of mud to the right of the ent­rance passage.  At the eastern end of the chamber a crawl among boulders leads to a squeeze and a little domed chamber, of phreatic origin, known as the 'Pilgrim's Pause'.  A recess in the south western wall of the Galleries denotes the entrance to a short climb and the 'Frozen River Grotto' which contains some fine splash deposit.

The cave throughout seems to be phreatic in origin, the roof exhib­iting large clean washed areas with domed surfaces.  There is also the impressive wide rock span in the Galleries.  The smaller angular boulder which cover most of the floor appear to be an intrusive feature.

One of the most curious features of the system is the fact that nearly all of the stalagmite formations have been broken from their bases or at least cracked and left in position.  The clay fill in some of the choked passages contains broken stalactites and stalagmites but these are usually quite small and are considerably decayed, probably by chemical action.  Some of the formations in the open cave, however, are quite robust and are made of hard calcite.  These, too, have been broken from their bases, notable examples being a column in the Galleries about 2-3 inches thick broken at top and bottom, a largo stalagmite 4 or 5 inches thick in the same chamber broken end toppled from its base, and a short stumpy stalagmite in the Frozen River Grotto, very strong, about 2 inches thick and only 3 or 4 inches high, broken from its attachment point.  There are also examples of collapsed stalagmite flooring at the beginning of the approach passage to the Frozen River Grotto.

As the cave was sealed off in prehistoric times no human agency can account for this destruction.  It is possible that a local earth tremor may have caused it, or the cave may have become flooded and whirling boulders in the flood water may have wrought havoc among the formations.

Other notable features of the calcite formations are the splash de­posits in the Frozen River Grotto and the colour of the flowstone cascade known as the Tapestry in the Galleries.  This exhibits wonderful pinks and reds, the darkest being almost magenta in colour.

In contrast to the numerous fairly large stalagmites there are few stalactites and none of any size.

References:

Delineations on 1IW Somerset (Sutter, 1829)   pp 1-46-8.

Cave Hunting (Dawkins, 1374)   p 293.

Netherworld of Mendip (Baker & Balch, 1907)   pp 22, 28.

The Mendip Caves  pp5, 102, 129, 144.

The Caves of Mendip  pp12.

U.B.S.S. Proceedings Vol2, No. 3  pp 261-273;  Vol 6, No. 3  p222.

Wessex Club Journal No. 80  p237.

Axbridge Group Caving Journal Vol 1, No. 4  p29;  Vol 2, No. 3  p20;  Vol 2, No. 4  p35

Note:   A very comprehensive bibliography, with special ref­erence to archaeology, is given in Vol 7, No 1 (pp 23-34) of the University of Bristol Speleological Society Proceedings.

Survey (CRG Grade &):   Axbridge Caving Group Journal Vol 2, No 4, facing page 21.  This is reprinted as the Frontispiece of British Caver, Vol 27.

Ludwell Cave

Lengths 110 feet.      Depth: 15 feet.      N.G.R.    358592.

CR9-1 

This cave, situated close to the track to Ludwell Farm, is one of the few resurgences that have been penetrated for more than a few feet.  It was first entered by members of the Wessex Cave Club in 1951 who dived a tight and dangerous sump.

The stream emerges from a very low cave which is completely flooded after a few feet during wet weather.  However a large entrance in a nearby cliff face loads to a small descending passage which gives access to the stream inside the cave.

Just inside the entrance there is a short side passage leading off to the right.  Lower down on the left a tight passage leads back to­wards the surface.  At a depth of fifteen feet the stream is encountered and in wet weather the inner end of the sump is here to the left.  It is possible to lower oneself into a pool about two feet deep end enter a duck with a couple of inches of air space which sumps completely after three or four feet.  The passage appears to be low and wide.

On the right a short length of boulder filled passage leads to the first chamber, twenty feet long, ten feet wide and six feet high.  The stream rises from stalagmited boulders on the left at the top of this chamber.  An iron bar could be pushed between these boulders without meeting any obstruction for several feet.  A dig at the end of this chamber leads to a second which is fifteen feet long, twelve wide and four feet high.  This must come very near the surface as there are tree roots at its upper end.

There are very few calcite formations in the cave, just a few tiny straws and a little flowstone where the stream rises.  Splash deposits however are abundant on numerous boulders and in the sump.  These are of the simple variety, none of the branched type occurring.  There are also a few recesses lined with dog-tooth spar and several calcite veins which include a little galena.

References: The Caves of Mendip   p 37,

Wessex Cave Club Journal No 29,   p

Denny's Hole

Depth: 25 feet.     Length: 250 feet.     Altitude 160 feet.    N.G. R.  397550.

CR9-2 

This cave is the largest of a group of five caves in the S.E. spur of Crook Peak and was first mentioned by Rutter in 1829.  The large open entrance is situated right on the ridge of the spur about 200 yards from the road.

A short climb loads to a long muddy slope that widens into the main chamber which is about thirty feet wide and ten foot high.  In the south­ern corner of this chamber three small passages lead off but these soon combine to form a single passage with several tight squeezes, ending in a hole which drops into an even tighter passage which is impassable.  Just before this there is a small branch passage.

On the northern side of the main chamber a fairly tight and awkward hole in the floor gives access to a tight squeeze into another chamber.  The passage continues parallel to this chamber.  The chamber is divided into two; the left hand section (from the entry squeeze) ascends rapidly over a boulder floor and ends with a domed phreatic roof at its upper end.  The right hand section ascends a step of about five feet and then descends gradually to a small pool at the end of the chamber.  The height here is about five feet, as is the width.

Calcite formations .are few in the main chamber, consisting in the main of a few small straws on the roof at the lower end of the chamber and in several niches at ground level.  There are several patches of 'splash deposit' and other formations in the south passage but most of these have been damaged.  The best formations are in the inner chamber and seem to be of two ages.  The older consist mainly of masses of flowstone, chocolate or deep ochre in colour.  There are short stalactite pendants where an overhang occurs and short dumpy stalagmites, many of which have been destroyed.  The later formations consist almost entirely of short pure white straws, a few of which are developing into solid stalactites.  The drip from two of these straws falls on to a bank of chocolate coloured flowstone raid has dissolved small pits into the tops of two very low stalagmites.  The pits are pure white and smooth inside whereas the surrounding flowstone is rather rough.  In one case the pit is round, about an inch in diameter and almost conical in section with a tiny hole in the bottom.  The other is oval in plan, about an inch and a half along its greater axis, almost removing the top of the stalagmite completely.  In both cases there is a thin film of white stalagmite form­ing on top of the brown flowstone, radiating from the re-solution pits.  It is not clear whether this calcite comes in solution with the water from the straws or from the re-dissolved flowstone which may be white under the chocolate crust.

The cave seems to be mainly phreatic in origin as do most of the caves in this area.  The rounded roof in part of the inner chamber and the solutional features which form the squeeze into this chamber, are evidence of this.  It is also fairly obvious that the cave has little relation to the modern topography but it is merely a remnant of a larger system, long van­ished.

It may be possible to extend the present cave by work in the south passage or the inner chamber.

Archaeologically the main chamber floor may be worth investigating and there is a mass of cemented breccia in the southern corner.

References

Delineations on WR Somerset (Butter, 1329)   p 166.

Netherworld of Mendip (Baker & Balch, 1907)   p 111.

The Mendip Caves   pp 99,  111, 132.

The Caves of Mendip   p ,20..

British Caver Vol 1   pp 10, 53; Vol 3. p  25.; Vol 12   p 11.

Coral   Cave

Depth: 70 feet.     Length: 200 feet.     Altitude: 300 feet.     N.G.R.406554.

CR9-3 

Discovered in 1905 by H. E. Balch, the cave was closed in 1945 after an accident to a schoolboy.  The usual method of descent used to be by bosun’s chair but ladders have been used since the cave was re-opened in 1958.  The re-opening was undertaken by the Axbridge Caving Group who have fitted a trap door as a safety measure.  It is situated in a rooky outcrop close to a cottage on the south side of Wavering Down.

The entrance shaft is fifty feet deep and because of its smooth appearance with solutional evidence it seems to be phreatic in origin, as does the rest of the cave.  There is a ledge about half way down the shaft and this necessitates changing sides on the ladder to avoid climbing the lower section between the ladder and the wall.

Below the shaft a boulder pile descends for about twenty feet, con­sisting mainly of small angular rocks.  The domed chamber rises to a height of about forty feet.  At the bottom of the boulder pile an arch­way ten feet high gives access to a muddy chamber with large rocks on the floor.  It is here that the splash deposits, which give the cave its name, occur.  Apart from these, there are few calcite formations in this cave.  Some of these formations have four or five small branches about 74 inch long.  This part of the cave floods in wet weather and forms a lake about six feet deep and twenty feet across.  The lake appeared in 1960 (November) for the first time since the cave was re-opened in 1958.  From here the gallery extends for 100 feet rising about twenty five feet over its length and is approximately ten feet wide and six feet high.  At the end of this gallery there are some fine examples of three dimensional phreatic solution.  This forms the present end of the cave though the Axbridge Caving Group are digging in a muddy extension.

References

 Netherworld of Mendip (Baker & Balch, 1907)   p 28.

The Mendip Caves   pp 114, 132.

The Caves of Mendip   p 18.

U.B.S.S. Proceedings, 1923.

British Caver Vol 1, p 55; Vol 4, p 5

Axbridge Caving Group Newsletter, December 1960.

Equipment:      50 feet ladder and 60 feet lifeline.

FOXES HOLE  (COMPTON BISHOP)

N.G.R.  397550.

CR9-4 

This small cave opens a few yards further up the south east spur of Crook Peak than Denny's Hole.  The entrance is a tight chimney nearly ten feet deep.  This leads, round an awkward vertical bend, to a wide but very low chamber which soon becomes too low to follow.

There are no formations but usually dozens of horrible black spiders and sometimes bats.

The cave is no doubt another small piece of the large system to which Denny's Hole belonged.

References

Netherworld of Mendip (Baker & Balch, 1907) p   110.

The Mendip Caves   p 113.

The Caves of Mendip   p 26.

British Caver Vol 12,   p 11.

Loxton  Cave

Length: 400 foot.     Depths 30 feet.   Altitude: 190 feet.     N.G.R. 373560.

CR9-5 

This cave was broken into by miners about'1740 and an' account of a visit to it appeared in the Gentlemen's Magazine for 1794.  The minors were apparently responsible for the destruction of some of the calcite formations.

The gated entrance, usually left open, leads to a low passage which appears to have been excavated and was probably the work of the eight­eenth century miner.

After a low squeeze a domed chamber of about seven feet high and the same in diameter is entered.  From here two passages branch off, the largest of which, the left hand branch, ends after about twenty five feet. 
Near the end there are calcite cascades and rimstone pools.  The main passage is about, four feet six inches wide, and two and a half feet high, and after twenty five feet a low ascending bedding chamber is reached.  A small passage on the right of this leads into another bedding chamber which is very unsafe.  At its lower end there are a few tiny curtains and a little splash deposit.

An arch about four feet high on the left of the first bedding chamber leads immediately into a domed chamber about ten feet high and twenty feet across.  There are two chimneys and three rounded recesses in the roof of this chamber.  These latter seem to be the beginnings of three more chimneys.  This indicates a phreatic origin for the cave, the domed chamber arid the recesses being formed by water pressure from inside.

Formations in this chamber include one stalagmite about eighteen inches tall and nearly one foot thick, one or two simple hook type helictites and some milky flowstone on the roof.

The south west side of the chamber' descends into a wide bedding plane which soon narrows down to a small passage, triangular in section.  Then follows a squeeze through calcite cemented boulders and a right angled turn to the right into a long low bedding cave.

A six feet high step at the top of this gives access to the main chamber, the largest in the cave, about fifty feet long, twenty wide and nine feet high at its highest point.  There is a mound of earth at its upper end and above this a chimney three feet in diameter ascends twenty ­two feet, to the surface.  This can be climbed without tackle but it makes a good practice ladder pitch for beginners.

There are few calcite formations in this chamber, only a few broken stalagmite bosses and some small straws at the upper end.

A short climb on the northern side of the main chamber leads down to the last chamber and the end of the cave.  This is steeply inclined and has little of interest except for some loose slabs and some flowstone at the far end.

This completes the main cave system but in the entrance passage, just past the first big side passage, there is a very tight tunnel which leads to an oven tighter vertical squeeze which some cavers can pass.  Beyond the squeeze are the New Grottos which contain some good formations.

The cave has been formed along one bedding plane and most of the chambers are in it.  The entrance passage is formed along a joint and this forms the lower limit of the chambers.  Several of the chambers have domed roofs which indicate modification by phreatic pressure.  There is little else to indicate how this cave was formed.

The University of Bristol Speleological Society have found poor Pleistocene deposit in the cave but their report does not state the exact location of this.

The Survey:    The survey of Loxton cave was undertaken for the following reasons:-

    1. as a relatively simple exercise in cave surveying,
    2. to see if fairly simple instruments would give worthwhile results,
    3. to determine the best method of drawing the survey to illus­trate the relationship of the cave to the geological formation in which it occurs.

The instruments used consisted of a pocket compass readable in single degrees but probably not accurate to more than three to five degrees, a tape measure six feet long and a clinometer which consisted of a ruler, for sighting along, a centrally mounted protractor and a plumb line.

After the first traverse through the cave the readings obtained were drawn on one inch squared graph paper.  The plan so obtained was compared with the sketch by H. E. Balch on page 111 of his book,  "Mendip - It's Swallet Caves and Rock Shelters", and it was immediately obvious that the cave was much more compact than indicated on the earlier survey.  It also showed that some of the chambers were very near to one another and that some connection was likely.

On a subsequent trip these possible connections were looked for and two were proved, a third being nearly proved but positive results could not be obtained because of the tightness of the connections.

This close proximity of the chambers to one another also makes the distance from the entrance to the chimney shorter than it would seem from Balch's plan.  The distance on the surface was checked and found to be approximately correct, that is 106 feet.

It can be soon from this that a reasonably accurate cave survey can be made with simple instruments provided that their limitations are re­alized and that great care is used when taking readings.  It is import­ant, however, not to claim too high a Cave Research Group survey grading for the results.

References

The Mendip Caves   p  109.

The Caves of Mendip   p  37.

U.B.S. S. Proceedings    Vol 3, No. 1   p  5.

 

Loxton Quarry Cave.

Length: 150 foot.     Altitude: 140 feet.'    N.C. R. 373560.

CR9-6 

The cave is situated in a rubbish filled quarry to the north of Loxton village.  The entrance, which is quite large opens into a wide sloping bedding chamber, the upper end of which is very damp and covered with ferns.  The floor is covered with a sandy deposit.  This is also found in the tunnel like passage which leads away at the back of the chamber.  Two more passages are to be found at the bottom of the chamber

References

The Mendip Caves   p 109.,

The Caves of Mendip   p 37

 

DEVIL’S HOLE      ( SANDY HOLE)

N.G.R.    396550.

CR9-7 

The Devil's Hole is situated in a quarry on the northern side of the south east spur of Crook Peak and has a fairly largo entrance about eight feet high which at one time was used as a donkey's stable.  It is only 100 yards from the road,

After a stop about five feet high the height is reduced to four or five feet although the cave is some twelve foot wide.  About thirty feet from the entrance a squeeze appears and this leads to a small domed chamber four feet high and ten feet across.  An even smaller squeeze leads to yet another domed chamber which has a choked passage leading off from its south west side.  It might be possible to extend this.

There are no calcite formations but the floor is covered with sand in places and there are beds of limenite  in the walls.  Numerous flies and spiders, and also two lesser horseshoe bats, were seen.  This cave also seems to be phreatic in origin.

References

The Mendip Caves   p   113,

The Caves of Mendip   p   60.

    

BIDDLECOMBE RIFT CAVE

N.G.R. 569477

CR9-8 

Biddleconbe is a deep wooded valley which lies to the north of Wells, its southern end being near to the Mendip Hospital.  Near the village of West Horrington the coombe turns north-east.  It is here, on the eastern side, just below the top of the combe, that the caves are found.

Biddlecombe gets its name from the old 'Buddie Houses', the remains of which can be found near the stream in the bottom of the valley.  No doubt these were used in connection with Biddlecombe Mine although this is so small that it seems unlikely they were erected solely for this mine.  This may indicate that there are other workings yet to be found in this district.

Biddlecombe Rift Cave is natural throughout.  The entrance is a very tight vertical rift.  It is too tight to pass at ground level, the only place wide enough being about an arms length from the ground.  After passing a chockstone the rift descends steeply for about ten feet.  It is never much more than a foot wide and only ten inches in some places.  This rift extends for about forty feet in an easterly direction then it becomes too tight to follow.  Its maximum height is about twenty feet.

About ten feet before the end of the rift there is a low passage at floor level.  This is quite difficult to see and is more easily found by feeling with the feet.

After executing an awkward bending movement, which must be imposs­ible for a tall man, a low descending passage can be entered.  This leads to a parallel rift which is entered near its roof on a 'floor' of choked boulders.  Another short passage and a muddy slope give access to the bottom of the rift.  This is too tight to follow in both direct­ions.

Biddlecombe Mine

The Mine is situated about thirty yards further down the combe than Biddlecombe Rift Cave; it consists in the main of a mined passage but there are several natural features.

For the first few feet the passage is very low, two to three feet high, but after about twenty feet it is possible to walk.  Some fifteen feet from the entrance there is a small passage on the left, the first few yards being mined but the end is natural.

The main passage is approximately eighty feet long and the floor is covered with small angular stones, probably miners'  "deads".  There are shot holes at floor level which point upwards, so in order that these could have been drilled the floor must have been lower when the mine was working.  Again, as the mine is so small it is difficult to see where this infilling has come from.  There may be further workings to be found.

The roof consists of a sandy fill in a narrow rift.  The fill con­tains some mineral ore, probably galena.  The passage ends in a natural tunnel-like passage choked, with a similar sandy fill which contains pockets of calcite crystals.

The only other feature of the mine is a climb into the roof of the main passage, to the right of the small side passage.  This may be nat­ural and leads to a small muddy chamber near the surface.

The end of the Mine heads in the direction of the Rift Cave which cannot be far from it.

Supra Sandy Hole

N.G.R,    396550.

Supra Sandy Hole lies above, and a few yards to the west of, the Devil's Hole.  It is situated in an ivy covered cliff.  The entrance en­larges to the left into a small chamber end as this is only about thirty feet long the end can be seen from the entrance.

References

 The Caves of Mendip   p   66.


J.H. Tucker.

June 1S62.