Some years ago, a bloke got up at an Annual General Meeting to complain about the existing state of the B.B.  He said that the B.B. needed a face lift, that it was not regular enough, and that the chronic shortages of articles could be overcome by a bit of keenness and thumping all round.  The current editor rather doubted whether all this would have any effect, and the upshot was that the complainer was told to damn well go ahead and do it.

Now – some 120 issues; 1,300 odd pages, nearly half a million words and over half a ton of paper later – the complainer now finds himself in much the same position as the one he originally criticised and so, with this Christmas issue of the B.B., he is bowing out to make room for a new editor.

The fact is that, from time to time, nothing short of a complete change of direction is sufficient to inject a new shot of enthusiasm into a magazine like the B.B.  With the best of intentions, one gets stale and fails to take the extra trouble of breathing life into what otherwise becomes a humdrum monthly exercise.  Looking through older issues of the B.B., it is obvious that this sort of care was once taken.  The whole thing was set out in a readable form and strung together where necessary by suitable comments leading the reader from one feature to the next rather than presenting him with an indigestible mass of print.  More care was taken in getting articles of good standard and printing them speedily.  The record for this, in fact, occurred when a lecture which was held on a Wednesday night at the University was reviewed in the middle of the B.B. which appeared at club the next day.

Of later years, the only thing which could still be said of the B.B. was at least it came out regularly. This year, even this has only just been maintained.  In the last eleven years, the B.B. has missed only two issues.  This is six times as good as the regularity previously but of late it has been only just maintained.  It is high time that somebody else took over!

It is with pleasure that we welcome the new Editor – Dave Irwin – well know to you all as the “wig” – who will be your Editor from next month onwards.  I know you will join with me in wishing him a long and successful career. On second thoughts, it is not probably fair to wish him as long a career as I have had, as this has been rather too long, both for me and the B.B. readers.  It has been longer, in fact, than all the previous editorships combined. On the other hand, we can all wish him a much more successful career, and what is more to the point, resolve to help him make it so.  I don’t suppose he will want much from me, as you all have got rather too much of this in the past, but he will certainly want help from you.  He will have a lot to do as it is, without having the additional worry of where the next article is coming from.  No doubt he will be more methodical than I was, so even if I lost your article, don’t be dismayed, try again with Dave.  Remember…

A B.B. that is thin and small
Is not a lot of use at all
So rally round, and help the Wig
To make it good, and thick, and big.

At this stage, and after that outburst, it should be recorded with thanks that Alan Thomas also volunteered to take on the job of producing the B.B. should this have become necessary. Alan (Mayor of Priddy) Thomas is equally well known to all club members and has since taken over the even more onerous job of being Club Secretary.  A club which can produce two volunteers of this standard to do a job like the B.B. is in a happy position, and we should all be thankful that it is so.

As you know, it has been the policy for many years to attempt to produce the B.B. according to three ‘rules’ which the present editor formulated some time ago and which have guided him (not always successfully) ever since.  These ‘rules’ are as follows: -

  1. The B.B. should have its own distinct personality.  There is little point in attempting to make any caving magazine a copy of some other caving magazine.  One might as well try to make a club exactly like some other club, in which case the sensible thing would to join the club concerned.  Club magazines, like clubs, should be different.  The B.E.C. is a club – or at any rate used to be – which does a lot of good and useful work underground whilst avoiding the too serious approach to life.  Its magazine should thus reflect this point of view.  The danger in attempting to make a club magazine into a pukka scientific periodical is that, inevitably, the material offered will fall short of this aim, and the result will always be worse than the declared ‘image’.  On the other hand, a magazine which does not declare a high standard can usually manage to exceed its targets.
  2. The main function of the B.B. is to keep members in touch with the club’s activities.  Thus, the B.B. should not be aimed at the Belfry or Waggon regular so much as the member who lives in distant parts, but who is keen to be kept up with all that is currently going on in the club and elsewhere on Mendip.  This is best carried out by frequent and regular appearance of the B.B. and the selection of material.
  3. The B.B. should reflect all aspects of club activities.  We are primarily a caving club, but we also climb; walk; visit foreign countries (in addition to Wiltshire, Devon and Gloucestershire); hold dinners; crack jokes etc.  Ideally, each issue of the B.B. should reflect all these activities.  This is not possible, but an attempt has been made to try to make each issue appeal to the member who prefers any one activity at least in part.  Occasionally the importance of a specialist article may interfere with this aim but in general, it has been kept in mind.  The aim here is to include a mixed bag of good quality articles of all types.

I am sure that your new Editor wished to se a continuance of these basic principles, but he will have his own ideas as to how this can best be carried out.  Thus we can expect to see some basic continuity, but with refreshing changes.  I am sure that the innovations which he will introduce will strengthen and rejuvenate the B.B.

Under the present regime (for the last time!) a tradition has grown up whereby the Christmas issue has contained much material of a lighter variety – without sacrificing the more serious article.  I hope that this last issue will continue this tradition – and that it will be a record for the size of the B.B.  On this note, I will wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year and thank you all for putting up with me for so long.


He tossed the boy a ….

……or to be more exact, twelve wrappers.  This is by way of introducing – in an eye catching form – the new scheme for the distribution of the B.B. for 1968.  Phil Townsend will be sending twelve wrappers to each recipient of the B.B. and you are all asked to fill in each wrapper in with you name and address and to post the completed wrappers back to Phil at 154 Sylvia Avenue, Lower Knowle, Bristol 4.  These wrappers will then be used to send out YOUR B.B.’s throughout the coming year.  If you move, it is up to you to send some suitable wrappers to cover the remaining months to Phil.

………...   WRAPPER


Ahnenschacht 1967

Of late, the B.E.C. has been setting a fine tradition for expeditions to foreign caving areas.  This year, the highlight was the expedition to the Ahnenschacht, which is described in the article which follows…..

by Alan Thomas

The Ahnenschacht was discovered in 1956 by Dr. Franz Schernhuber, who spoke of two stone figures there as ancestral heads.  In 1961, a point 350m deep was reached by a small party led by Ottokar Kai.  Here they broke into the side of a huge vertical shaft.  The deepest point measured (and the bottom was not reached) was 436m below the entrance.

In August this year, a party of B.E.C. attempted to bottom it.  That we were not successful is common knowledge.  A few months previously as we had been advises that our chances of success was slender, as the depth of snow in the Tobes Gebirge was greater (by metres) than in previous years.  But as time went on the snow melted, and the luggage-only cable car to the Ebenseer Hochboge Hutte was repaired.  We had intended to manage without this luxury, and would have done so, but we realised how much more difficult it would have been had the repairs not been carried out in time.  The weather when we began our expedition was splendid and we were in high hopes.

Mike Luckwill, Steve Grime, Chris and Colin Dooley and Kevin Barnes arrived at the hut on the 20th of August and bean the monumental task of carrying the forty odd grot sacks of gear to the hole.  They were joined next by Roger Stenner and Dick Wickens.  Each trip to the hole took about an hour and a half in great heat over very rugged terrain.  When I arrived on Tuesday, with Pete McNab, hereinafter referred to as Snab, having had some difficulty with the car (actually the bottom ripped out of the petrol tank) we could only admire the initiative and drive of the advance party, who had all but completed this carry.

We carried five gallons of water each to the hole and learned what had been going on.  Steve, Mike Collin and Kevin had spent two hours in the Ahnenschacht in the morning, and got the bulk of the gear to the bottom of the first pitch.  The first three hundred feet had been laddered for us by a party of the Landesverein fur Hohlenkinde, comprising Helmuth, Frisch, Otto and Hans.  Hans had unfortunately been injured, but had managed to take himself back to civilisation under his own steam.  A further five hour trip was carried out by Steve’s party in the afternoon.  This brought the tackle to the bottom of the fourth pitch.

Dick, Kevin and myself went down in the evening and were very excited to see such a magnificent hole. The part we were in was supposed to be small, yet already the shafts were huge compared with the average Yorkshire pot.  Besides, it was so clean and dry – no need to change – our kind of caving!

On Wednesday, 23rd August, whilst those of us who had been down in the night rested, a party consisting of Mike, Colin, Chris, Steve and Snab spent seven hours getting the gear top appoint about two hundred feet down.  They rigged the first of several aerial ropeways to accomplish this. Photographs and water samples were taken.  In the evening, Snab and Steve returned to the hut for more gear and beer for Roger. We were soon to realise the value of Roger’s arrangements on the surface – in a sense we were never alone.

Roger and I had an interesting trip to a nearby Eishole.  I, unfortunately, had no shirt on and got rather cold while Roger in caving gear, took pictures.

Dick, Kevin and myself went down early in the evening on Wednesday and after we had reached Sinterterrasse Tropfwasser about 490 feet down, we camped for the night.  The ledge was not large, but the luggage made a good insulating layer between ourselves and the rock.  It should be noted that Kevin, having given Dick and myself soup in bed, spilt his own over his feet.  We had been taking altimeter readings at the top and bottom of each pitch. At Sinterterrasse, before we went to bed at 11.15pm on Wednesday, we recorded 405 feet from the surface.  At 9,00am on Thursday when we arose, the altimeter showed 455 feet from the surface.  This should have told us something.  In fact, a tremendous thunderstorm had driven Roger, Colin and Chris off the mountain.  However, in our blissful ignorance, we continued to move our bundles further down the Ahneneschacht.  This proved to be very difficult, and when we eventually reached Sicherungsstufe about 600 feet down, we were very tired and prepared to camp on a small wet ledge. It was now rather wet.  Kevin, Dick and myself squeezed into a tiny shelter. Dick had cramp in his feet and every time he moved, we had as well.

About the time we settled down, the other party arrived, consisting of every one except Roger. They intended to go on laddering past us but by the time they had had their supper (or breakfast or something) on the ledge above us, they decided to turn in as well.  They had laid a telephone line from the surface and were in better touch with Roger than they were with us.  They spent a very wet night on their ledge and, had they known, would have done better to return to Sinterterrasse.  They kept dropping things on us, including a full grot sack, and every time Steve came down to parley, he stepped off the ladder on to Kevin.  When we got up in the morning, we were surprised to find Colin Dooley sleeping on the very edge of our ledge.

Steve rang Roger.  It was now Friday morning.  We learned that it had been raining hard all night and looked like getting worse.  Our sleeping gear was soaked.  At this point, we decided on a strategic withdrawal – lesser men would have cracked. Dick and Kevin joined those on the ledge above and I stayed to tie on the kit so that it could be hauled up. When I joined the others they were cooking, but I went to a higher point without eating in order to start getting the gear up.  This was a mistake, because before long I began to feel somewhat despondent.

However, we reached Sinterterrasse without incident or the gear, and two of the other accompanied me to the surface.  The others made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to get the gear up to Sinterterrasse and joined us on the surface two hours later.

I was greatly heartened by Steve’s and Snab’s assurance that getting the gear up at a later date would be a piece of cake.  We slept in the hut on Friday night and subsequently as we had no sleeping gear – is was still somewhere in the Ahnenschacht.

The next day the weather was splendid.  It was a rest day.  I went down the mountain for more food.  Snab and Steve climbed the Schonberg.  We decided that if the weather held, Steve and Snab – our two hard men – would life me down the next pitch of about 250’ so that I could at least see the top of the big shaft.  However, Sunday morning found the weather bad again, and we all agreed that the first priority was the removing of the gear.  I think this took approximately three trips of ten hours.  It was an anticlimax and very hard work.  Two full days were spent in getting the gear back to the hut, so it was as well that we had delayed no longer.  To make the trip even more memorable, the entrance began to collapse and our last trip had to be conducted with the greatest care.  At times it was not possible to move without sending rather loose rocks on to those below.  One of the Austrian ladders was broken by a falling boulder.  However, we suffered no damage beyond a few bruises and the loss of two helmets, which we shall recover next year as we need them for Proventina!

I was amazed when I checked the gear – two thousand feet of ladder and rope; winch; telephones etc., that we had lost virtually nothing.

I am sorry that this has been such a square account of what in fact was tremendous fun.  The people at the hut treated us royally.  Although we worked all but a few of our waking hours each day, we still had a terrific time.  Mike said that we hadn’t been caving till we went down there.  Dick said, “We must be mad – we enjoy it.” The Hut Warden said, “Why don’t you come here to live?  You don’t need much money.”

I should like to record grateful thanks to Hans Siegl, who made many arrangements for us – the Austrian cavers, without whose help etc. - all the people and organisations who loaned, gave us or made us gear including W.C.C., W.S.G, the Grampian, Barry Lane, George Pointing, Ken Kelly, Fred Davies, Wally Wilcox, Mike York, Steve Tuck, Pete Turner and a host of others who would fill a whole page of the B.B.

Alan Thomas


Apologies & Clangers Dept.

At this point a diagram of the Ahnenschacht was supposed to follow but the Editor has unfortunately mislaid it.  Perhaps at could be included in a later B.B. 

In addition, readers will find many notces be written rather than typed in their B.B.  This is because the Editor has lent his typewriter to help the Caving Publications department.  Just a thought you might like to know why there is all this writing type writing.


While you are paying your ANNUAL SUB promptly (as you always do) on 31st January, why not sign a Banker’s Order for £1 per month for the new hut?  (think of Bob’s surprise)

Gilbert Weeks

Readers will be sorry to near that Gilbert Weeks died on the Saturday before Christmas.  Another piece of old Mendip has gone with Gilbert and we should to convey our sympathy to his family.


Dan–yr–Ogof and the Riddle of the Sands

If Alan Thomas thinks that his interesting account of the Club’s doings in Austria is somewhat ‘square’ – here, by the way of contrast, is an account that must presumably be described as ‘round’…

by Kangy

And it did come to pass that, arising in the watches of the night, and supping an egg and a piece of bread, Kan did take his great wagon into the place of the Kingston: even unto the place where Kingston dwells, and there did meet him and the Priddle.

After two and a quarters hours of great hazard – The Passage of the Ice, the Trotting of the Sheep and the Loading of the Way – he did carry them safely unto the Ogof of the Dan and there did meet with the MacGregor and sundry others of like mind.

And there they clothed themselves in skins of rubber.  (All except the Kingston, who clothed himself in a skin likened unto a muddy colander) and placed upon their heads caps of great hardness (All save the Kingston who, being unable to find his cap, placed upon his head a cap of the hair of the sheep) and, taking lanterns of great light, placed them upon their caps (All save the Kingston who placed his lantern in his mouth and there gripped it with his teeth, so being unable to Cry Out).

Now the Ogof of the Dan had, since time of old, been strung with lanterns – some of this colour and some of that colour.  And men had come many miles to the halls of this mighty cavity wrought by nature (and by man) in the bottom of the Mountain so that each might say to his neighbour “Oo” and “Ah”.

But the managers of the Ogof of the Dan had from time to time been sorely tried by the Rising of the Waters which had put out the lights and blocked the passages with plenteous sand.

And no man knew whence it had come.

And so, passing the Iron Door, they entered into the darkness.  And, passing the Halls well known to men, they came upon the Lakes, which were not a sump, and they swam them – the Kingston being unable to Cry Out.

And they entered into the Long Crawl, which may be likened unto the interior of a viper, and their elbows were sorely tried.

And they climbed down a ladder wrought of great chains and marvelled at the mighty construction of it, and it did please them, for it was safe.

And they saw the place which is called Flabbergasm Chasm and were displeased at the name and yet were astonished at the profusion and length of the slender rods wrought in calcium carbonate.

And they went upon their way up the stream seeing many beauteous sights and saw the waterfall, which men have said is an hundred feet and passed the abode of the Monk who is Red and came to the awesome halls of the Hanger thereby to contemplate the waters of the Canal that is Green.

And in all these places there was no sand.

And the sadness of them was nothing compared to the sadness of the Priddle who could think of naught save bacon and eggs.

And the Kingston was flung into the waters of the canal which was green and was then brown, and he could not Cry Out.

And again they swam and the waters of the canal which was green and then brown enveloped them in the coldness, and they cried out, all save the Kingston – for he could not.

And they avoided the Abyss and entered the Highway and came to the place where there was no way save by ascending a ladder made of Lesser Chains.  And entering into a high place with diverse climbing, entry was made into the uttermost heights of the place.

The, by subtle sinuosities, a way was made to a new place where a man might fall and not be seen again, and yet they passed and then they could go no further.

But, Lo!  One of their number possessed a ladder of gossamer construction made of hairs of the finest iron and gripped to these hairs were cross rods of exceedingly lightness with the joints thereof seized by mighty pressures which were amazing and this was lowered into the terrible darkness of the Long Hole.

And then this man, shutting his eyes and making various sounds, climbed down and came to the bottom and so did they all.

And in this place there was no sand.

And the way was straight and they followed it through water and over rocky places until they would fain rest and Priddle soothed them with much talk of Bacon and Eggs.

And they went on until they came to another place.

And in this place was sand and they rejoiced and gave thanks and raised mighty castles and dug many holes until it was time.

And they returned and their hearts were light and they heeded not the gossamer ladder nor the steepness nor the waters nor the crawls nor their elbows, for they had seen the sands and knew from whence they had come.

(The actual trip took place on 18.11.67. – Ed.)


The Return of the Natives

by Chris Falshaw

During November, a party of aged enthusiast (John Stafford, Chris Falshaw and Kangy) toured St. Cuthbert’s. The first few hundred feet of cave was covered at an alarming speed but fortunately this was not maintained and, in Upper Traverse Chamber they sank to their knees and regained normal body temperature.  They reached the top of Catgut without event, and the rest of the trip went as follows.

Catgut SqueezeStafford’s years of unbridled boozing led to three interesting attempts.  The first, solo, failed.  The second, with gallant leader pulling on legs, failed.  The third, after removal of traditional ex –W.D. clothing and adjustment of “the finest child bearing hips in the regiment”, was successful.

Cross Legs Squeeze.  Very exciting with Nife cell between legs.

Vertical Vice.  Half Price. How nice.

Duck/Sump Area.  Pause to admire the results of recent Herculean efforts and swim.

The Lake.  Falshaw swam.  Stafford reminisced.  Kangy threw stones at one or the other.

Everest Passage.  Met Dave (‘No F-ing cigarettes’) Irwin and Alan Thomas who waved tapes and tripods and pretended to survey.  A Leaders’ Meeting was held which decided that the resolutions passed by the unofficial meeting the previous weekend were authorised.

Upper Long Chamber.  An attack of Mountain Fever compelled a visit followed by groans of ‘No more, no more, we want out!’

Canyon Series.  The formations were protected by not visiting them.

The Thoughts of Chairman Sid

Older readers may remember the poetic work of Sid Hobbs, which we understood he wrote in those days in between emptying the Detailer Bucket (How times have changed!).  We have persuaded him to have another go – in spite of the fact that his source of inspiration has been replaced by a modern flush arrangement.

A phallic symbol on Pen Hill
Will irk the fates and bring us ill
A poor show which the true art mocks
Pouring forth from goggle box.

‘This planned, approved and does proceed
To our poor cry they’ll pay no heed.
We do not want their rotten mast
Why don’t they stick it somewhere else?

But hark, my heroes, let’s be bold
And emulate those men of old
Who rose and struggled for their rights
Like valiant souls and true-born wights.

So up the pub with beer and gin
And solid thinking will begin
And if all plot a little while
We’ll come up with an outrage vile.

What was it?  Did I hear alright?
A little voice said ‘gelignite’
Oh! What a dreadful thing to think!
Please buy that friend a pint to drink.

It’s good to know, that when we pray,
Some help will; come from M.R.A.
Or Viet Mendip – modern mane –
The land shall sing of their just fame.

From famous clubs come volunteers
Cavers, boozers, mountaineers,
With lots of band and saws and rope
And crates of beer for every bloke.

We’ll read a book by Mao Tse Tung
Which tells how these things should be done
And notes by Fidel Castro’s mate
How sad indeed Guevara’s fate.

Across the fields, one winter’s night
We’ll sally forth to building site
And lay our charge and tamp it down
They’ll hear the crunch in Bristol town.

A thousand feet of wire and tin
Should crash with an amusing din.
Alf light the fuse and rush away
To plan for yet another day.

The editor, of course, takes no responsibility for the course of action suggested in Sid’s epic above!


Sell’s Baptism

Climbing articles have not appeared as often as we might always wish, but we have this one at least for our Christmas number this year.  It has been submitted by Kangy, who has been one of the stoutest supporters of the B.B. throughout the past many years, and who has been responsible for most of the climbing articles over a very long period of time……

by Kangy

This time, we read the guidebook thoroughly.  It’s all there.  “Cwm Silyn can be reached by road.  When coming from the Rhyd Ddu direction, take the road to Llanllyfni branching off the main Pen-y-Groes Road…”  And when we tried it, it worked very well, and when we got to the Greta Slab, we sat and marvelled that we hadn’t read the guidebook thoroughly before previous visits. It was so effortless, with only an easy angled track between the road and the cliff, and contrasted with those earlier approaches that involved long, grass bound slogs which varied only in their compass bearings.

Our day was wild and inclined to squalls.  Our vehicle was the James’ motor caravan, a van with windows and doors and seats that weren’t seats but beds and a cooker and a roof which went up and down – sometimes unexpectedly.  This impressively useful vehicle for a climber was parked off the road by the last gate “PRIVATE.  NO CARS PAST HERE.”

As we stopped a particularly violently squall hit us, and we waited until the slightly surprising calm followed.  Two keen, two reluctant and two don’t knows got out and kitted up.  Plenty of sweaters, a few scarves, a positive check that we all had gloves, and then struggling thickened arms through stiff rucksacks, we passed the gate marked “NO CARS.”

Wonderful weather, big torn clouds racing by, blue sky showing through, and the wild wind hustling us.

The Great Slab is a sheet of rock sweeping for four hundred feet up the right side of Craig-yr-Ogof, the whole height of the cliff.  Mark James chose the outside edge route – a steep clean route following the exposed left edge.  His party was made up of Bob Sell – then new to climbing – and myself (Kangy) who came as third man.  Two ropes were selected, slings apportioned, psychological needs attended to, and them Mark led out on to the large block which formed the first stance.  The rope hung clear.  Bob joined him.

The way on was not obvious. Mark probed left and then with decision pushed right and balanced over a bulge.  The tension of the last move eased and hands automatically checked equipment with quick, subconscious actions as Mark leaned back to puzzle out the next moves.  A grey, sharp edged wall, triangulated by perspective edged by bright sky seemed to become less vertical after thirty feet and offered a route.  Mark picked his way with deliberate continuous movements until, out of sight, his shout beating the wind called for Bob.  I joined Bob who then followed Mark.  The next stance would have been crowded with three so Mark led off again.  As I joined Bob at the second stance, a sudden chill drew attention to the leaden clouds which displaced the earlier vigorous sky.  Rain seemed likely.

The belay was adjusted to mutual satisfaction and the weather became a secondary thought as concentration centred on the climb.  The roped inched out steadily round a corner after Bob as he gained height on an uncomplicated slab.  Then, with a savagery that excluded thought, the storm broke.  The world shrank to a few square feet of rock enclosed by a howling wind-driven sleet.  A six inch crack by the belay became security and I crouched braced against the rock, cramming my head into a crack.  Water poured over all.

Presently the effect became less total and reason returned.  I straightened, relieved to see the rope inch out again.  There was time to relax a little and then again, a tremendous roaring as the wind tore at me.  Once again, the crouching and cramming and hanging on, but not so desperately now.  This time, the assault was not quite so unexpected and the way in which the extra jersey, towel tucked round neck, and gloves insulated as well as protected.

At long last, vague signs suggested that Bob had completed the pitch.  Distastefully, I moved against wet clothing and apprehensively left the safe perch to go out onto the face.  Fortunately, the moves were straightforward and the pitch was climbed steadily and enjoyably with the protection of a firm rope helping me overcome the reality of icy water on the hands.

The arrival of shotgun blasts of hail laden wind was signalled by a wail of sharply increasing in intensity giving time to flatten against the watery slab, cheek to rock, gripping and waiting.  As the tearing pressure lightened, the essential climbing sequence of theory and practice continued.

Grinning James and grinning Bob were joined at a comparatively large ledge.  Home was a shallow cave round the corner.  It dripped, it offered no way on, but it knew no wind and it contained us all.  Mark, luckily had reached this haven before the storm broke and was simply wet.  Bob had been in the most exposed position on the slab and had been blown off in the final blast.  He was able to regain his holds and climb a few more feet before being blown off again. This time, he regained easier ground, giving him an anchorage to weather the brunt of the storm.  Bob was both cold and wet.  We shared chocolate, rubbed hands and hoped for a lull.  We imagined one.

Mark walked back, against wind and rain, along the ledge until it narrowed at the bottom of the last section.  Belays necessarily implied shelter.  Something vestigial was found, and Mark led off, shifting slightly between one drip and another.  Eventually the slack rope was taken in, showing that Bob was now ready.  The belay slings were awkwardly unclipped and I stepped round the corner into an icy swimming bath of a day.

Bob was business like but reluctant.  The rope stretched ahead of him up a slab, them diagonally to the left of an overhang, then to what seemed to be, to waiting eyes, a very steep edge.  Mark was now out of sight and inaudible but the rope tightened and as I crammed against the belay Bob stepped up into the small holes of the slab.  He gained height cautiously against the wind, forced to grip watery, numbing, rock firmly.

The crisis came when the overhang pushed him out on to delicate holds.  For half an hour or more, each time Bob balanced out, a heavier gust threatened to detach him.  The fight with the climbing problem, the wind buffeting, the effect of cold and the strain of maintaining position could be seen from the stance below.  His world was constricted cold and noisy, His movements limited and, as utmost effort and desire to change was frustrated again and again by the force of the wind.  I went to ease my neck and wipe my face.  Peering upwards a few moments later led to a surge of relief because Bob had now accomplished his move and slow upward progress had resumed.  He was soon out of sight, leaving only a long curve of wind whipped rope.

The wait now continued with a different purpose and I sought with impatient indications that Bob had reached what should be the last stance.  There was no real sign but a least the rope was not slack, and had stopped going out, so I hastened to join the other two.

Exuberant chat; a hurried bundling up of the precious rope, and the final coxcomb ridge was followed to the intersection with the Great Stone Shoot.  A pause to demolish Bob’s chocolate and then non-stop with the now helpful wind rushing us back down the track.

The Guidebook was annotated “Outside Edge Route, 22 May 1966.  M. James, R. Sell and R. King spent sometime there in a squall.”


1967 Dinner

The keynote of the dinner must have been culture with a high standard of photography and surveys in the exhibition which included the latest discoveries.  An opportunity to help the St. Cuthbert’s surveyors in their calculations. Historical and physiognometrical photographs of club members.  Film show and slides.  Book Review. Folk singing by Alfie with his new codnogging stick song and of course by demand, his spelaeodes.

The book review of the “History of Mendip Caving” by Johnson can perhaps be enlarged upon, consisting of a floor show with production by Keith Franklin and direction by Kangy. The book was thought to be more of a history of the U.B.S.S. Caving and various episodes were illustrated.

It commenced with a hell scene with two olden day cavers. Roy Bennett and Phil Townsend venturing into the depths of a cave only to be chased out by the devil (Bob Bagshaw) crying ‘On your way’.  Next we had an illustration of what we would have liked to have seen with the introduction of women cavers circa 1919 which featured the Franklin Brothers and Norman Petty dressed as fairies, singing a refrain from Iolanthe and ‘tripping hither, tripping thither’.  This was followed by what was known of the B.E.C. exploits before, during and after the war given by Bagshaw (who, of course can remember all this) complete with pint.

Next was illustrated the first attempts to pass Swildons Sump 1 nearly under Priddy Church.  The scene opened touchingly with the Rev. Townsend about to baptise an infant when Bennett appears from the font saying “I think it goes – we’ll call it Cathedral Chamber.”

This was followed by a scene which showed the innovation which early cavers showed and the difficulties experienced with early caving equipment compared with the present day stuff. Next was illustrated the attempt to determine the height of the gorge in G.G. using a hydrogen filled balloon. The Franklin’s attempt was not so successful as an air cylinder was used.

The final scene was all the cast describing post war exploration and ending with: -

“We are the B.E.C., and this we must confess,
Whatever is worth doing has been done by the U.B.S.S.”


The Early History of the B.E.C.

The next article has been written to fit in with the spirit of the season, and consists of the Editor’s swan song in this lie.  If one is going to write a History of Mendip Caving, it would appear from the book in question – just ‘reviewed’ above – that more fun can be had by the author if he ignores completely the contributions made by some of the Mendip cavers.  Alfie has taken this process one stage further  and allowed his imagination full rein with the somewhat startling results which will be seen on the following article

(An Erudite Exposition)

From time to time, accounts of the early history of the B.E.C. have appeared in these pages.  The serious student of these matters can hardly have failed to notice one sentence common to all of these so-called accounts which is of great significance.  It generally reads ‘early records were, unfortunately lost in the blitz’, and goes on to apologise for the somewhat sketchy record of the early years of the history of our club.

Since, as we all know, the origins of the B.E.C. go back to time immoral and, to give another old joke an airing, are lost – not in the blitz, but in the mists of antiquity – it seemed reasonable that no effort should be spared to reveal the fantastic saga of those early and up until now, unrecorded days.  In our ceaseless and unrewarding efforts to raise the cultural level of our readership (we gave up spelling ‘cultural’ with a ‘k’ after some research into an interesting case which occurred in Bombay involving the mate of a lugger) we are pleased to announce that our Historical Research Department has finally unearthed this missing data, and is now able to present it to a world which awaits this momentous news will ill-concealed apathy.

Scholars may care to note in passing that the research team involved was initially known as the Committee Reading Ancient Publications – until they realised that they were indeed becoming initially known.  However, we digress.  On with this ghastly tale.

The misprint in the ‘official’ accounts which gives the date of founding of the B.E.C. as the year 1935 should, of course, read 935 – for in that year the Witangmot – or committee – published the earliest known document we have.  This copy of the ‘Caunstituccion and Roules’ is signed by the club Scriverer one Rob Beaggshaugh – although whether the first word represents his name or his profession is not at all clear from the records.

Many of the ancient rules proved difficult to interpret; only by dint of much concentration and Ben’s Rough were some problems solved.  For example, the rule….

Iiij  No Hors muste be kept in ye Bellfrie.

….refers to member’s mounts - or horses.  Not, as some suggested, to the practice of gathering haws from the local hedgerows. In a similar vein, we have….

Xij  Ye cleane straw for ye beddynge of ye Hovel Warden muste not be used for ye beddynge down of pigges.

….which throws further light on conditions prevailing at the time.

Remarkable as these glimpses are of life in the B.E.C. in Saxon times, it must not be supposed that this represents the actual origin of the club.  The B.E.C. is so incredibly old a foundation that it will probably never be possible to pin down the actual date of founding.  A scheme for doing radio carbon tests on some of the older members may well improve our knowledge in future ages, but meanwhile it is interesting to note that when Bishop Usher was computing the date of the creation of the world at 4004 B.B., one of the main problems which worried him was how to reconcile this with the age of the B.E.C.

Probably the earliest evidence of the B.E.C. on Mendip which we have are the skeletal remains which were found during the B.E.C.’s rediscovery of Stoke Lane II in 1947. The presence of fire by the remains shows that they were indeed B.E.C. members – the fire being the ‘alternate means of lighting’ insisted on by the club rules for all underground trips.

By the time of the Celts, the B.E.C. was apparently well organised – a state of affairs which has only occurred at spasmodic intervals since those times.  Because of this high degree of organisation, the club prospered and many outstations were established.  At an Annual General Meeting at that time (these meetings were held at midnight on Midsummer’s Eve provided that a quorum could be found and Oliver Lloyd was available to act as Chairman) a vote of thanks was recorded form the entire Gorsedd (or committee) to the Henge Warden of the Club’s Eastern Section at Amesbury, for his efforts in organising his Long Term Planning Committee which resulted in the replacement of the old wooden henge by a stone one.

Many misconceptions of life at the time have been cleared up by our workers.  For example, the practice of making dye out of wood was not, as is popularly supposed, for personal adornment, but for the identification of caving ladders – blue still being the B.E.C. colour for this purpose. Likewise, the club’s practice of construction large underground vats for brewing and storage of mead – originally known as Priddy Nine Barrels – became later confused with the idea of burial mounds owing to the Club’s custom of retiring old committee members by ceremonially drowning them in vats of meads.  It was claimed that this practice was not a cruel one, and legend in support of this claim has it that at least one such victim was seen to climb out of the vat twice for a slash before finally drowning.  It was also claimed that the custom imparted body to the resultant drink.

The Roman Invasion was followed in due course by an increase in club membership.  Caesar’s much misquoted saying of ‘Veni: Vidi; Vici’ was, in fact, a mistranslation.  The last word was actually ‘vincri’, from a little known Latin verb vincrere – to apply for probationary membership.  The Romans proved excellent hut Engineers and constructed a new B.E.C. headquarters a little way up the hill at the back of the present Belfry Site – after successfully obtaining permission form the Rus at Urbs Planning Authority.  Fragments of tablets on which the Villa Warden (Custos Villas) kept his accounts were found by our research workers.  Fees ranged from two denarii for camping near the site to ten denarii for a full weekend’s stay including orgy.  Tablets from this period also use the letters B.E.C. for the first time (The Club, of course, being considerably older than the hamlet of Bridgestow). An inscription which reads ‘Bibemus Ergo Cidrum’ provides the clue to the initials of our club.  It also indicates that the club switched over to cider drinking at this time, the supply of mead (and old committee members) having presumably run out.

Turning once more to Saxon times, the intelligent reader may well wonder why the district was known as the Kingdom of Wessex.  This supposed fact caused our research Department much concern – as the Wessex Cave Club was not founded until the Twentieth Century.  Top priority was given to finding some reasonable explanation – or at least some credible explanation – or failing that, any old explanation however far fetched, to account for this strange occurrence.  It is thus with some pride that our researchers offer the following tale.  It is confidently expected that the Club Secretary will shortly announce this tale to be a dogma, and that all B.E.C. members will, after a certain date, be required to believe it.

It appears that a certain Saxon merchant ran a successful business transporting goods and people from one place to another in what is now Somerset, Wiltshire and the nearby counties.  So successful did this enterprise become that his large carts – painted red and grey – were to be seen as far east as Winchester, at which town he established his registered office on forming his business into a public company under the title Wessex Wains. The whole district thus became known jokingly as the ‘ Kingdom of Wessex’ – and the company is thought to have been the forerunner of the present Wessex Coach Co.  The rest of the story is known to all.  (See ‘The History of the Wessex Cave Club’ – B.E.C. Historical Publications No. 4).

This explanation, whilst satisfying all B.E.C. members, will still leave some people wondering why the B.E.C. obtains no mention in the history books dealing with this period. The answer is amazingly simple. The B.E.C. had gone underground.

The resulting cave discovery – now known as Cheddar Gorge, was, naturally, the largest in the country. This cavern would still be with us but for the fact that, owing to some confusion in the leader system at that time, a party of Wessex nobles, led by one Ethelred the Unsteady (owing to his habit of attempting to out drinking the B.E.C.) became embrangled in a boulder ruckle.  The consequent shifting of a strategic boulder in getting them out caused the whole cave to collapse – amid shout of “Grammercy!” and more typical Anglo-Saxon expressions.

The so-called Norman Conquest (we shall reveal why it was so-called) did not result in much increase of club membership.  This fact presumably stems from the inability of the local baron – Sir Nigel Fitzsidcot – to live up to his name.  It was at this time that the word ‘cave’ became part of the English language since the Normans, having brought over the French word for cellar (which is ‘cave;) became confused between the B.E.C.’s drinking and splaeological activities (a mistake which many have made since, and used the same word for both).

However, the main reason why the Normans and the B.E.C. failed to get on with each other (except for one of the Normans who became Tacklemaster and who, according to tradition, has held the post ever since) lay in the activities of the local rating authorities, who were compiling a Domesday Book at the time.  The B.E.C., having attempted to plead the Scientific Societies Act in order to exempt from rates, but having had this excellent defence rejected by the Normans on the flimsy grounds that Scientific Societies had not yet been thought of (another example of the forward thinking if the B.E.C.) were forced to become adept at misleading the local inspectors as to the exact whereabouts of the Belfry site.

So successful were they at this sport, that the King countered by declaring the whole area a Royal Forest, in which he and subsequent Norma monarchs attempted to hunt the B.E.C.  King John, who was fond of this sport, became known as John Lackland as a result.  The reason for this sobriquet refers to the fact that, by then, the whole of England - with the sole exception of the Belfry site – had been thoroughly mapped and assessed by the planning authorities.  It was this last bit of land the King John, in fact, lacked.  Hence the incomplete nature of the so-called Norman Conquest.

In the Middle Ages, everyone became middle-aged and the indolence set in.  By Henry VIII’s time however, the B.E.C. was again flourishing and the sound of madrigals in the hunt area on a Saturday night became a familiar feature of Mendip life.  It is rumoured that the king himself attended on occasion, although whether he actually became a member of the club or not cannot be confirmed.  Certainly, legend has it that he was fond of a game of spoof in the Hunters and was very good at it – hence his nickname of Bluff King Hal. Rumour also suggest that on one occasion when a member of the club had laid on a butt of malmsey to celebrate his wedding, the king produced the words which later became the club’s motto “Whatever is worth doing we will do it to excess.”

Tudor times also saw Queen Elizabeth in the Women’s Room of the old half timbered Belfry (the other half of its timbers had rotted away by then).  Previous to this episode, she was known as the Virgin Queen.  It was at this period of history that the part played by the B.E.C. in saving these islands from invasion and conquest occurred. This splendid, though little known episode of our club history occurred when – in preparation for the expected invasion by the Spanish Armada off the coast of Devon – a series of beacons was prepared.  The general idea was that, on sighting the armada off Devon, a beacon would be lit and watchers on the next hill, seeing this, would light theirs and so on all the way up to London.  Just what use this information would have been to the bods in London is not clear, but it might have given them a little time to brush up such useful phrases as ‘Café puro por dos con azucar’ or to knock up the old zarzuela.

Unfortunately, when the armada eventually hove into view off the coast of Plymouth, the bloke in charge, one Drake by name, was playing with his bowls and completely failed to see the approaching ships. What might have happened next hardly bears thinking about but, as luck would have it, the B.E.C. were holding their annual barbecue on Mendip and, owing to an excess of enthusiasm, managed to set all the tumps round the mineries alight.  The watchers on the official beacons in both directions at once lit theirs, each thinking that a signal had been sent from the other end. In turn, the next beacons were lt, and so all the way down each side of the chain.

Happily, Mendip is roughly half way between London and Plymouth, and thus the final beacons were lit simultaneously.  Drake, in Plymouth, seeing the beacon, stopped playing with his bowls and went off to rout the armada, while the bods in London were amazed at the speed with which the news had apparently travelled, and were presumably able to devote more time to leaning useful Spanish words like cojones.  The eventual defeat of the armada saw Drake knighted by the queen and granted temporary provisional membership of the B.E.C.

Under the Stuarts, the B.E.C. drank whiskey and learned auld Scottish songs like the Ball of Kirremuir to the skirl of the pipes – the quantities of whiskey having affected their pipes considerably.  During the Civil War, and subsequent stirring times, the club consolidated its position by suitable stirring in the right quarters.

Little caving occurred in Regency times, but the club dinners of that period were a great success, and the spectacle of committee members (including the Mansion Warden) – bewigged and powdered – dancing stately minuets, is one which is still talked about with bated breath in places such as Clifton, Bath and Cheltenham.

In Victorian times, the success of the B.E.C. stand at the Great Exhibition of 1851 led the club to renew its caving activities.  A word of advice to Martel, a little encouragement to the young Balch, and the scene was set for the start of modern caving.

In 1935 – but we have got into the area of ‘official’ club histories now.  Hardly as colourful, we feel, as these few glimpses from the glorious annuls of earlier B.E.C. history.




Another Christmas tradition is the Puzzle.  Here is one which is designed to stretch your mental powers to breaking point – or beyond. There will be a prize of MUCH ALE for the best solution!

The Carblimey Hills in Muckinghamshire are the home of four caving clubs.  The Muckingham Speleological Society (M.S.S.); the Muckinghamshire Exploration Club (M.E.C.); the Carblimey Ciderworks Group (C.C.G.) and the Independent Muckingham Cavers (I.M.C.).  None of these clubs have any badges, ties or other distinguishing marks and, since all are uniformly scruffy, it is damn nigh impossible to tell who belongs to which club.

The Carblimey Council of Caving clubs is attended by one representative of each of the four clubs and is chaired by an independent chairman who does not belong to any club. At one such meeting the Chairman – Bolivar Boyd – found he did not know any of the four representatives personally.

Now Boyd knew that all the Muckinghamshire clubs are noted for their obstructive attitude (Muckinghamshire folk are all like that!) and hence it was no use asking them to which club they each belonged.  After much abuse had been hurled to and fro, it was agreed that Boyd could ask one question only, but that he could ask it to who he liked, and as many times as he liked, providing that the wording was never altered.

Boyd knew that the M.S.S. members always told the truth, the only snag being that they were unable to distinguish between members of the other three clubs – whom they referred to them as ‘those b----y yobos’.

Members of the M.E.C. were also truthful, except that they thought that all members of the M.S.S. members were the C.C.G. in addition to the real members of that club.

Members of the C.C.G. claimed that all members of the M.E.C. were members of their group in addition to their own actual members, but were otherwise truthful.

Members if the I.M.C. consistently and invariably told lies about everybody and everything.

Although Boyd did not know any of the four representatives, he did know that they knew each another and what club each other belonged to.  Assuming that they answered “Yes”, “No”, or “Don’t know” to Boyd’s question, what question did Boyd ask and how many times did he have to ask it to make sure of getting all the cavers associated with their right clubs?

Note:    Whether or not any answers to this are actually published will depend on the new Editor, but in any case, Alfie will be willing to enter into correspondence with any claimants for the prize.  For the more mathematically inclined, it is believed that the problem has a unique solution, but there might be a completely different way of approaching it to that used in its compilation.


Well, there it is then. This B.B. is perhaps somewhat in line with recent issues, as it is late and did not fulfil the promise – or hope – made in the beginning of being the largest B.B. ever.  In fact, time made it necessary to cut what was going to be a 48 page issue down to the 32 you have.  We must leave this sort of record breaking to the new editor.

Apologies to those whose articles did not come out as a result.  The manuscripts will be sent to Dave Irwin and no doubt he will publish them in due course – although we suspect that he will have the January B.B. all set up by now.

Thanks also to those who have sent in replies to the surveying problem.  These will also be passed to Dave who will be well qualified to comment on them, being an active surveyor himself.

Any answers to the Puzzle can be sent to Dave or direct to me.  It will not be feasible to print the complete solution and method of arriving at it, as this takes up too much space and I don’t suppose that Dave will be as hard up for articles as I have been lately.

It had been hoped to include an article by ‘Stalagmite’ in this B.B. but he has been rather busy acting as a ‘pillar’ of society lately.  What was perhaps the best kept secret of my editorship must remain so – although he might write again – who knows?  One thing can be said on this subject – I was not the author of this particular series.

As I said, that’s it then I look forward to receiving the B.B. next year, and to the pleasure of getting my copy in my hands without knowing what it contains until I read it.

Cheers, and once again – belatedly – a Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year to all…