Speleology in North Wales by L.J. Thompson

One of the lesser known carboniferous limestone districts of the country is that extending from the Great Orme, North Wales, down to the vicinity of Oswestry. Lead mining has been carried on in this area from Roman times and at the present day the Halkyn Mine near Flint is one of the most productive mines in the country.

Derelict workings abound, but unfortunately for the caver access is usually by a shaft, and that, almost invariably, a very deep one. There are, however, some workings that it is possible to explore, and due to the violently contorted nature of the rock, features of more than usual interest are frequently present. One such feature I have in mind is in the Belgrave Line, near Mold - a small area of calcite undulating and striated, but nevertheless; polished like glass due to faulting.

An indication of the rate at which stalactites may be formed is to be seen in a four foot straw in the Holway Boat Level Holywell. This level would be called a Sough in Derbyshire – was driven for drainage purposes in 1774.  There are in the same mine red, green and blue flowstone deposits and a quite unique sub-aqueous growth of coralline calcite.

Mining records tell of large caves, known as ‘vughs’ being broken into during the course of driving this and many other similar levels. The Geological memoirs describe numerous springs and swallets also.

The foregoing may well lead one to expect something out of the ordinary in the way of caves, too, but, unfortunately, from bone-hunter’s, discoveries have been disappointing.  All the same, since the territory is almost virgin to the pot-holer (to coin a phrase) hope will keep springing, despite a strongly developed propensity for saying authoritatively and whilst still dry and un-clayed’ It won’t go’.

The only cave that has made anything of a name is the Ceriog Cave near Oswestry, described first by Baker, with a subsequent account by P. Wild and R. Wallis in the B.C.  The first reasonably accurate survey was made in 1960 by T. Capper and L. Davies and the total length fixed at just over 600 feet.  The other caves (passages, is a more accurate description of most) are the Maeshafn Cave, near Mold; 800 feet, dry. Old foundations, with a small stream, Roman trinkets & human bones at the end after a 100 foot 30 degree downhill wriggle.  Afou y Meirchion, near Denbigh; a cave of debauchment, accessible only in very dry weather – euphemistically sporting.  The Gop Cave, Prestatyn, about 250 feet, was described years ago in the B.C. – again a dry cave.  The are innumerable smaller caves of varying degrees of interest, many of them discovered and entered in the last ten years or so by a small group of speleological exiles supported by local aspirants to that masochistic art.

Blasting, digging and damming have been carried out with a zeal that can only be compared with that displayed by the mediaeval monks of Bangor-ys-Coed, who bred their celebrated hock-haired horses thereby to manufacturers their incomparable horse-hair shirts.  To date, only one pot-hole has been discovered near Holywell – a vertical of about 45 feet between narrow walls of crinoidal limestone to a clay choked sump at 60 feet below the surface.  This hole achieved notoriety by de-bagging, on the ascent, the first lady speleologist to explore the cave.

In order to correlate and organise activities and also for the purpose of keeping proper records, it has been decided to form the North Wales Caving Group with headquarters probably at Holywell or Prestatyn.  Any further information will be supplied gladly by the author or the N.W.C.G. Secretary: - Mr P. Wild, Tunstead, St. Asaph Road, Byserth, Flintshire.

M.J. Thompson.

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The Belfry Bulletin is still, as always, in urgent need of material suitable for publication.  Don’t be discouraged if the article that you have slaved over doesn’t appear at once.  I have to try to aim at a ‘balance’ in each issue and have to try to build a reservoir of material to carry the B.B. over ‘lean years’.  Therefore a certain number of articles are selected as being suitable for future issues and are put to one side for that purpose.  Send in your articles to Hon. Editor, B.B., 74, Woodleigh Gardens, Whitchurch, Bristol. 4., or pass them on to Bob Bagshaw or Ken Dobbs who will see that I eventually receive them.

T.H.S.

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Although of a very different type to that which normally we expect from Merv, the following article, will, I am sure, appeal to quite a large percentage of our members.  If you like this type of article let me know and we will have more.

Belfry Birds

By Mervyn Hannam.

The following article has no relation to caving, but might interest those speleos who occasionally leave Orpheus in his lair and take a jaunt over the surface of Mendip.

Birds can be roughly divided into four grouped: -

  • Permanent Residents;
  • Summer Residents;
  • Winter Visitors;
  • Passage Migrants.

The Passage Migrants pass through the country in the spring and autumn, but do not stay for than a few weeks.

Some interesting resident birds can be found in the vicinity of the Belfry and the Mineries Pool.  Coots, which are black, duck-like birds with a white patch of the forehead, can often be seen swimming across the pool in company with the moorhens that live there. The harsh quacking call of both these birds is probably familiar to all visitors to the pool. Occasionally some wild duck may be flushed from the surrounding reed beds, but two well known water loving birds, the heron and kingfisher have not yet been seen by the writer in this area. Amongst the smaller birds to be seen in a walk around the hut or pool is the stonechat, a rather uncommon but strikingly marked bird that nests in the gorse bushes on North hill.

A larger and well-known bird is the kestrel, which can be seen very frequently hovering over any part of the Mendips which it searches for the mice and large insects on which it lives. Other predatory birds are the sparrow-hawk and the buzzard, The latter is not often seen, although during recent years it has spread its breeding ground to the wooded slopes of Mendips. When seen, the buzzard is usually circling with motionless wings spread out and the ragged ends looking like a hand with spread fingers. The owls also come under the predatory category and although dusk is the accepted time for them a large white barn owl could frequently be seen quartering the fields near the Belfry in broad daylight although it has not been seen recently. The tawny owl, with the well known “tu-whit-tu-whoo” call, and the little owl are both quite common. Many other birds could be included in the list of residents, but space will not permit it.

Summer visitors are the next largest group and they are well represented in North Somerset. The cuckoo, chiff-chaff, swift and swallow are well known but some of the more uncommon birds can be found near the Mineries. Firstly, the Grasshopper Warbler, a small drab brown bird, recognisable by its song which is similar to the winding of a fishing reel, A number of these warblers nest in the reed beds and may be hard singing in pitch darkness as well as during the day. Another summer migrant with a peculiar purring cull is the Nightjar, a large brown bird that can frequently be seen flitting low over the gorse and grass tussocks between the pool and Stock Hill. The nightjar nests on the ground where its plumage blends perfectly with the dead sticks and leaves. During the twilight of late summer evenings the birds can be seen at their most active period.

Most of the summer migrants depart for Africa and the continent during September although a few, the chiff-chaff and blackcap stay until October.

Winter visitors are mainly Fieldfares and Redwings, two thrushlike birds which come to this country in great flocks from Scandinavia. They can often be heard “whistling” as they fly over at night during November - February.

The Passage Migrants include some very rare birds, but the only one to be seen near the Belfry is the Wheatear. This grey-backed bird is rather bigger than a sparrow and can be recognised by its white rump and black tail feathers. The Wheatear is a summer resident also in some districts.

Besides the birds mentioned in this article, many other birds live on Mendip and the reservoirs of Cheddar and Blagdon are a paradise for numbers of ducks and wading birds.

M Hannam

Have You Got The Right Equipment ? asks Pongo Wallis

These notes are written with two objects in view; 1, Because the Editor is always shouting for articles for B,B, ( Pongo is one of the good souls that can be depended upon to help fill an empty page. Ed..). and 2, as a help(?) to the Very New Caver.

Assumptions 1, There is no point in going caving if you can’t see the cave when you are there. Therefore you need a light, (my discovery of the year). But you wouldn’t guess this from many Cavers lamps, as more Heath Robinson contraptions that many people cook up have never been seen.

You can use a candle (but Don’t). It gets in the way, it dazzles you, doesn’t give much light, it drips hot wax over you, and goes out at the slightest provocation and won’t relight. Carry one as reserve by all means, (I do), but DON’T use it as your main light.

Acetylene lamps are very good and deservedly popular. They are reliable and give a good light, while carrying a small reserve of carbide enables you to stay long underground, But don’t expect it to work well without attention. How many times have I seen someone empty out the old carbide immediately before starting on a new trip! Do it as soon as the lamp is finished with. People whose lamps give trouble are a pain in the neck, and the majority of them are those who don’ t clean their lamps. EVERY time you should empty out the carbide and thoroughly wash and dry the lamp in all its recesses—it is far easier to do this outside rather than fiddle round underground.

Electrics. Some people can make dry battery lamps work well—most can’t. If you must use them remember that electricity doesn’t like bad contacts—make sure yours are good. Floppy wires are a menace as they get caught and out goes the light. If the battery gets wet you must dry it thoroughly if it is to last a second trip. Remember that torch bulbs are flimsy and always carry a spare.

A miners electric lamp is rather heavy and tend to get in the way, but they are reliability itself (they have to be), They are expensive to buy in the first instance, but cost nothing to run thereafter.

My own choice—acetylene for general purposes and a miner’s “NiFe” lamp on other occasions.

Assumption 2. Bare feet and sharp rocks were made to be kept apart. If your main object in life is to break your neck, wear gym-shoes or gum boots in a cave. Otherwise well nailed boots. And “well-nailed” doesn’t mean bags of nails. The object is not to provide an iron sole, but projections to grip the rock. Hob nails are quite good enough for most caving; climbing nails are generally not worth the extra expense. Some people go to great trouble to make their boots waterproof; others cut holes in theirs, But water can get in round the top and constantly changing water is cold. So leave your boots as they are, but oil them well or the leather will go hard and crack.

Assumption 3. A cold caver is a bad caver. Your clothes have two functions; to keep you at the right temperature and not to prevent you getting through tight places. Waiting at the top of ladders is a cold pastime so you must have sufficiently warm clothes. Conversely, crawling through tight places can be very warm work. Your clothes must combine these functions. I confess I haven’t solved this problem to my own satisfaction yet.

The outer layer must be smooth. Those capacious pockets which are so useful for all the odds and ends (which probably ought to be left outside) are there for the purpose of getting you hung up on a sharp corner. Cut them off !! Two piece garments are all very well by the sea, but in a cave they also leave the midriff bare. This is uncomfortable and the exposed trouser waist-band acts as a wonderful hanger-up. It is not widely known but the original name of the boiler suit is a Caving Comb, ( at least that’s my story; and if you have ever been in a boiler you will know that it is like a very tight cave with lots and lots of sharp projections, so the said suit is designed for the job).

Lastly, Hats (no assumptions). Hats protect the head and carry lights. If yours does both and is comfortable at the same time it’s OK.

Good equipment cost very little more than bad – but it may save your life one day and every trip is more enjoyable because of it.

R.H. Wallis