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Balch's Hole

by Jill Rollason.

A cave was discovered on Mendip on the 3rd of November 1961, by a workman inspecting the rock face of a quarry, and the hole was first entered by members of the Cerberus Club who made arrangements for some-members of the B.E.C. to see and photograph this very beautiful system the following week.

The party made one abortive visit to the cave entrance on the 12th November, working for four hours to get the entrance sufficiently stable without success.  'Gardening', in this case meant touching rocks of many hundredweight with a twelve foot crowbar which then fell out of the roof and crashed terrifyingly to the floor about fifty feet below.  The quarry owners kindly blasted away some of the worst rock for us during the week, and a further three hours gardening on the 19th of November enabled us to face the roof hopefully if not optimistically.  Morale was not improved by the comments of the quarry foreman who said very definitely that we were crazy to risk it; that fifty tons of rock at least had fallen in the day before, and finally went off muttering "Tha's bad rock, mister' - tha's baaaaaaaad rock".

The party, consisting of Gordon Selby, Brian Prewer, Jim Giles, Mike Thompson, Alfie Collins and myself, decided to risk it.  Entry is made by an awkward rope climb up to the entrance, which opens immediately to the Main Chamber which is of almost G.B. proportions except for length and can hardly be more than ten feet below ground level in places.  A fifty foot ladder climb down a steep slope, exposed all the way to any falling rocks, leads to the bottom which is piled up with large newly detached boulders.  A traverse round a pitch in the floor and a scramble over boulders leads into stable cave beginning with a wide, level passage; wonderfully decorated with pure white and transparent stalactites.  Straws, fantastic helictites and fine pillars are abundant and the floor is crystalline with some rimstone pools.  At this point Messrs Giles and Collins decided simultaneously that this was it, and began to set up photographic gear.

The passage ends abruptly in a twenty-foot ladder climb into a small chamber with two exits, one disappearing in a pool of water after about twenty five feet, and the other leading into the further reaches of the cave.  A short scramble up a stalagmite bank brings you to a T-junction and an old stream passage which contains dead water at most times.  The water was motionless and knee deep on this occasion, but must have risen over eighteen inches over the last fortnight, as Brian Prewer said that the Cerberus party he had been on had originally found the passage dry at this point.

The stream passage to the left leads through a series of decorated rifts, mainly of sparkling flowstone, but there is a fine grotto fillet with pure white stalactites and pillars and a magnificent set of organ pipes - also white - about ten feet wide and fifteen feet high.  The main rift in this passage may lead up into another passage but it was not possible to explore without spoiling the formations.  Voice connection was made between the next rift and the photographer's paradise above the twenty foot pitch.  There is at least one bypass and the route ends where the roof meets a stalagmite floor, where a good set of gours can be seen.  A particular feature of the whole cave is the crystal on walls, roof and floor which sparkles in every beam of light.

The stream passage to the right is often only eighteen inches high, but is again a series of rifts richly decorated with, curtains and flowstone, very white.  After a while a large, chamber is entered, about four times as large as the Old Grotto in Swildons - very attractive - with two passages leading off.  One is nearly filled with water and the other is the route down via a mud slide to the true stream passage and the sump.

Mike Thompson made the trip especially to dive the sump and passed it successfully.  Unfortunately, he then encountered a second sump about ten feet beyond which has temporarily halted progress, but this second sump does not appear to be a difficult one and may well be dived in the near future.

Anyone wishing to visit the cave should get in touch with our Cerberus representative, Brian Prewer. Unauthorised visitors to the cave - which is named in honour of "Herby" Balch - will antagonise the quarry owners, who have been more than obliging, and also expose themselves to some danger from loose rocks.

Editor¬ís Note:    It has been pointed out to me that Balch's Hole is very similar to Stoke Lane Slocker in some respects.  If the entrance to Stoke was at the other end of the cave, and one went through the large chambers to the stream passage and thence to the sump, you would have a state of affairs very much like that in Balch's Hole.