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A Caving Review of the Coastal Area around Bude, Cornwall

By T.H Stanbury

It is proposed in this brief survey, to give of a short account of places of interest to Cavers in the immediate vicinity of Bude.

It will be found that, although the area is not one of either limestone, or of the massive slate deposits around Trevena (Tintagel) there are a considerable number of places where caves can be found, although most of these are very small.

I propose to start at the North, and work my way down the coast. It must be remembered that throughout the entire area the cliffs are open to all, and that if for no other reason than the enjoyment of the scenery, a walk along the cliff paths is well repaid.

The first place of real caving interest is at Northcott Mouth, where there are situated two caves. The first, No 1 on the sketch plan, situated under Menachurch Point, has the remains of the wreck of a coaster as a sign-post. This wreck although about 1½ miles from Bude, can easily be identified from there on the ebb of the spring tides. The cave, situated in the point of the headland directly to the rear of the wreck is not extensive, but has a comparatively grand entrance. It runs straight for about 60 ft., and then terminates abruptly. There is a large pool just inside the entrance that is full of seaweed and looks shallow but woe betide the unwary explorer who ventures to step into it, as there is a considerable depth of water under the masking weed.

Making our way across the sandy cove of Northcott Mouth for about ½ mile we see in front of us another headland. In contrast to the cliffs around Menachurch which are crumbling and broken, Maer Cliff stands out as a sheer face of rock running out to sea.

Almost at the point where the headland joins the main cliff is “Smugglers’ Hole”, No.2 on the sketch. This cave has already been described by the writer in “British Caver” Vol.12. , and a survey was published in BB 4, A weekend trip was run to Bude in August last to excavate “Smugglers Hole”, and a further penetration of six feet was achieved The perfect weather and sea contributing in no small measure to the small amount of progress made and the excessive amount of swimming etc. indulged in.

Just south of Maer Cliff is “Earthquake”. Here the cliff is shattered and large crevasses extend parallel to the cliff face up the considerable slope up the beach to the cliff top. The impression is that the existed under Earthquake a very considerable cave, the roof of which has collapsed, causing the whole level cliff top to subside. That the subsidence is not recent is shown by the fact that there once existed on the hilltop a monastery or other religious foundation, all traces of which have long since vanished.

From this point the best way is to follow the cliff base. This is much more strenuous than either the cliff top or the sands, but the added interest makes up the extra energy expended.

Along the base of the cliff from Earthquake to Wrangle Point, a distance of about ½ a mile, there are a number of small caves, the entrance of which, at certain states of the shingle, are completely hidden. Most of these are insignificant, but a couple of them are worthy of the trouble needed to find them. As well as the caves, there are here some very interesting climbs, due to the protusion of vertical rock faces from the general line of cliff. If the route along the sands is taken instead of following the cliff face, there are one or two interesting rock arches to be seen, with deep pools beneath them.

From Earthquake to Bude the strata are vertical but beyond Wrangle Point it becomes almost horizontal until Efford Downs are reached.

From Wrangle Point to Bude Harbour there is nothing of interest to the caver except a small hole looking like a cave in embryo on Summerleaze Beach between the Bathing Pool and Mentone. This is purely artificial and I have no reliable information as to why it was made. I presume that it was for work in connection with the drainage system.

Crossing to the Breakwater, chapel Rock, so called from the Chapel that used to adorn it, used to boast of a smugglers’ cave according to the old guide books. No trace now remains of either the chapel or the cave, and I fail to see what good to a smuggler such an isolated hideout would have been, as before the Breakwater was built Chapel Rook stood. isolated on the sands of the Haven.

Under Compass Point are three caves. The first of these, No. 3., is small and is on the north side of the headland. The second and third, Nos. 4 & 5, are parallel to each other and. look west at the point of the headland. No. 4. is the larger, and has recently become partly unroofed by rock falls. A large pool on the floor at the entrance adds to the fun of penetrating to the end, about 90 feet in all. The entrance is about 5 feet wide and 30 - 40 feet high, with vertical or slightly overhanging sides. To enter, the explorer has to manoeuvre along a ledge about five inches wide and great fun is had in the return journey as this necessitates a climb up over a rock face overhanging the pool.

The second cave, No.5 is approached around the southern wall of No.4, and is a very different place. The actual cave is at the end of a long gully with vertical walls 100 feet or more in height, and only about 8 feet wide. The gully has a floor of large boulders and at one point a large mass weighing many tons has jammed across it at a high level, the person passing underneath wondering if it is going to choose that particular moment to finish its descent. Beyond this hanging mass, the boulder pile lessens and a climb down over slippery rock brings one to a sandy floor with a few boulders sticking out of it. The cave is about 50 feet further up the gully. It is only small, with an entrance about 6 feet square, and in about 40-50 feet it peters out. Where .the boulder pile ends there is a small hole in the north wall through which a caver can squeeze. If he has enough energy to do this he finds himself back in No, 4. Although the hole looks easy I have found that there are few that are not cavers that will attempt it.

These two caves are only accessible at low water, the neaps, not allowing any entry, and the sea being too boisterous to allow swimming.

Here again the strata are vertical, but after this the most amazing contortions of rock that I have ever seen take place. The rock has been twisted and crushed so that in some places there are zig-zags and invertions that seem incredible to those who see them for the first time.

An Interesting scramble over the rocks brings us to Efford Beacon. Here a finger of rock runs out for a considerable distance. On the far side of this is cave no.6. This cave has in the last few years been almost entirely eroded away, but enough remains to see that there was once a considerable arch. The back of the cave is discoloured red and violet from the dripping of mineral impregnated water.

From here a climb down over a 40 ft. vertical rock face brings us to Efford Ditch, where there is what appears to be a cave entrance across the cove. On approaching we find that this is merely a depression in the cliff face, but upon getting nearer still we see a cave mouth close by. This cave,no,7., is much visited and has had names and initials cut into its walls for many years. The entrance is triangular and at its apex is about 7 ft. high. Running up into the cliff for about 100 ft. It gets smaller and smaller until it is too small to penetrate further.

From Efford Ditch to Upton Cliff a number of rocky points jut out, and amongst these can be found other small caves of a similar nature to those between Earthquake and Wrangle Point. These too, are extremely well hidden, and great care has to be exercised in this area as the points of rock are further out to sea than the beaches and to be caught under the vertical cliffs in the region of the Wheelbarrow, during the spring tides necessitates a particularly bad climb to safety. Many years ago the writer was caught on this beach whilst looking for firewood, and both he and his companion never wish to repeat the experience. An almost vertical shale gully 100 ft. high being the only climbable spot from the beach and at the head of the gully, the only way on being over a pile of loose overhanging boulders for another 150 ft.

These notes although very brief, will, I hope, enable the caver who is staying in the area to indulge in his favourite sport during his sojourn there,

Library

Thanks to G. Platten for two books for the library :-

Irish Cave Exploration by JC Coleman, and,

Gower Caves by  E. E. Allen & J. G. Rutter with photographs by A. G. Thompson, B.Sc and M. I. Strust.E..

Also to R.M. Wallis, “Pongo” to you, for “The Specialist” by Charles Sale. This should be read, marked, learned and inwardly digested by all detail constructors.

Editor

North Border Caving

by A.C. Johnson

Running north from Welshpool along the border to the west of the coalfield is a broken ridge of limestone between 2 and15 miles wide. Much of the land is low lying and so the prospects of large caves are confined to a few areas.

Travelling north from Welshpool, the first high ground is LLanymynech Hill. The east and south sides of the hill have been extensively quarried and in one place a quarry has been driven into the hill and covers a circular area of some 14 acres. The cliffs are anything up to 250 ft. high and provide climbs of all grades up to the impossible The quarry went out of business in 1920 and so the rock has weathered and become stable; some parts are the equivalent of natural cliffs. In all there are about 5 miles of cliffs. The strata are horizontal and in places there are some very natty ledges running along the face. The two caves are on the top of the hill which is used as a golf course. The first cave whose entrance is a fairly large chamber is in the south side of a huge amphitheatre, which might turn out to be an overgrown swallet depression.

The walls of the chamber are covered with a green transparent jelly which sticks to your clothes like glue and makes a hell of a mess. The place stinks of sheep, so they maybe the cause. There are several very small holes high up in the walls but there is an obvious way on through a rectangular hole about 3 ft. high at the far end of the chamber This leads to a second chamber with two or three tunnels leading off. I have explored up one of them but as I only had a baby torch I did not go very far, but to my surprise I found myself at the bottom of an aven about 3 x 2 leading up to the surface. Search on the surface revealed a wired off area containing a natural shaft which by its position should be the right one. This cave has a number of legend attached to it which are stlll current in the village. One is that the cave connects with a passage running from the River Vyrnwy under the pub and up to natural chambers under the hill where illicit drugs,etc. were stored before being distributed to the Midlands. This is not so impossible as it may seem because the cave is completely dry and as there is no high ground in the neighbourhood the cave, cannot very well be flooded. Also the line of the cave is towards the pub. So what about it blokes? There’s booze in them thar’ hills! perhaps. I might as well tell you the other legend, which originates from the people over the hill and that is that the cave is inhabited by badgers There are badgers on the hill but I don’t know if they are any In the cave. I didn’t meet any. Whilst on the subject of the cave, when the quarry was continued into the centre of the hill a large tunnel some 20 ft. square was knocked through the rock separating it from the track to the canal, to take the lines to carry the rock out. In the walls of this tunnel high up are two open ends of what appears to be natural caves, one large with a small one in the opposite wall. I think that these tunnels form part of the cave system as they are in the right line. The other cave on the hill is about 1/3 mile north of the first one under some hawthorn bushes and just inside the entrance is a stream which disappears down what looks to be a very promising tunnel. According to locals there is always water there but no one has explored it. At the base of the cliffs at the southern tip of the hill is a cave entrance which has been blocked; some 10 ft. in as the sheep use it as a shelter. In all these caves there is only a little formation that I have seen and is mostly white with slight brownish streaks.

Also on the same hill are 2 open lead mine shafts about 80 ft. deep. They are, circular about 4 ft. in diameter and the walls are built up with dry stonework. There are a lot of small depressions filled with loose stone which may be covered in mine shafts as they have the same appearance as the open ones.

At the other end of the limestone belt in Flintshire there is considerably more high ground. The lead mines there were once the chief local industry, and were operating until fairly recently. The shafts were quite as common as at any place on Mendip. Ordnance Survey maps of Halkyn Mountain show 90 shafts in an area of about 6 square miles. (There is a map in the club files which shows the Halkyn Mining area, the shafts and the veins of ore. Ed.) The method of mining in the district was to drive horizontal levels into the side of the hill and use the shafts for ventilation. An old book of the Halkyn district speaks of a level 1000 ft. long, which was flooded to a depth of 2 ft., so that punts could be used for transport, which went straight through the hill. Many entrances to these levels, could probably be found by systematic searching. There are a number of small ravines about that might have contained the entrances. Just to the north at Holywell there is a healing and petrifying well fed from the mountain. At least it used to be, but one day the supply was cut off when foundations were being dug, so the owners of the well, not to be beaten, tapped the town supply which also comes from the mountain, and the well functions to this day. Now who says Bristol water is hard? I don’t think this is generally known in the district, I found out very much by accident from some old records.

Attention all Forces Members ! ! i

FINAL WARNING !

If we do not hear from you BEFORE FEB 29th  We shall assume that you are no longer interested and discontinue your membership.

The Following Members (some since demobbed ) Have Already contacted us :-

A. Atkinson,                  R.A. Crocker.                J. Hull ,                         G.A.R.Tait

D, Bessell.                    P . Daymond .               D.W. Jones.                  J.C. Weekes .

R. Brain.                       F. A. Edwards               C.H. Kenney.                 T. White

R. Cantle,                      S. C. W.Herman..          J.V. Morris.                   P. Woodbridge.

Will the rest please note that they will receive no further information from us unless we hear from them ????