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Destruction and Discovery in Fairy Cave Quarry

For many years Fairy cave Quarry has been a centre of cave discovery from the armchair but it goes without saying it has contained, and still does, among the most beautiful of Mendip caves.  The following article sums up the present position.

By “Prew”

During recent quarrying operations at Fairy Cave Quarry certain parts of Balch’s Hole have been destroyed, these include Cascade Chamber, Maypole Chamber and crystal Chamber. At present the way to the Stream Series has been blocked at quarry floor level and the way on to the final chambers has not yet been reopened.  This entrance lies some 20ft. above the quarry floor level  in a pile of extremely unstable boulders.  Of the remains of Balch’s some parts such as erratic Passage and Pool Passage have been damaged and little of their former beauty remains.  Other parts such as Bulrush way and Gour End still remain in reasonable condition. The cave at present has three entrances, one of which is extremely dangerous, another is only accessible by rope from the top of the quarry and the third is at floor level and is safe. The third entrance is the end of Pool Passage where it entered Maypole Chamber.  It is therefore possible to enter Pool Passage and reach Bulrush Way and Gour End. It is also possible to climb up from the end of Pool Passage and arrive at the quarry face at the entrance of what used to be Cascade Chamber.  This entrance is the dangerous one.  Higher up the quarry face it is possible to enter Erratic Passage but for anyone who saw it in its original condition I would recommend that they stay away; at least the photographs remains.  I recently went into Pool Passage and Bulrush way and found the whole length of the passage dried out and covered in a layer of grey quarry dust.  This is probably due to the through draught caused by having two entrances.  The survey shows the areas of Balch’s that may be entered.  The hatched areas are blocked but not quarried away.   (see page 65).

The problem of dust extraction at the quarry was solved recently by mixing it with water which formed a slurry similar in consistency to that of ‘Magicote’, the slurry was then fed down Hilliers Cave with the effect that over a period of a few years the cave gradually filled with slurry until the 20ft. crawl just near the entrance became completely filled to the roof.  It is hoped to dig the crawl out soon when enough mud loving diggers can be found.  When the blockage is removed it is not known whether Tar Hall Boulder Choke has collapsed or not due to the recent blasting in the vicinity.

Most of the other caves in the quarry have now been lost or blocked.  Fernhill lies under a waste tip along with Duck’s Hole.  It is possible that these two caves cloud be entered from Fairy Cave but a lot of work would be needed.  Fairy Cave itself is still open although care is necessary at the entrance and for the first 50ft. or so.  This again has been caused by blasting nearby.  Finally Christmas Hole is blocked at the entrance and could probably be cleared fairly easily.

That deals with the destruction that has occurred in the Quarry over the last few years.  During the later part of 1967 a few new interesting discoveries were made.  The one known as Conning Tower Hole consists of a hole in the quarry floor 15 feet deep, at the bottom of which there are two ways on.  The first ends in a muddy pot, the second is at present blocked by a large boulder that has peeled away from the wall.  It is far too dangerous to proceed until the slab has been removed by a little chemistry.  The hole has been temporarily covered with an oil drum – hence the name given to the hole. Would be explorers should equip themselves with a heavy duty tin opener.

Shortly after the discovery of Conning Tower Hole, a small hole in the quarry face at floor level was cleared out to reveal a new cave – Balch’s Extension.  This cave is 250ft. long and contains many fine and unusual formations.  Some photographs of these are included in this article.  The floor formations are exceptional and great care is needed not to damage some of the crystal pools.  The colour photographer has vast scope in this cave for the contrast of colour is quite outstanding.  Near the end of the cave a 40ft. drop down a muddy rift gives rise to a deep pool of water, to date no outlet has been found.  This short section of cave is in complete contrast to the rest and because it is so muddy it is best left as mud removed from the series would certainly spoil the rest of the cave.  The final chamber of the cave is a rift like feature, about 40ft. high, with some stalagmite flows.  Recently some high level passages in this chamber were maypoled but without success, all the inlets are blocked with stalagmite.

The small annex chamber to the right, Red Pool Chamber, contains some fine formations including pink and white ‘candy – like’ crystals and most of the walls are covered in ‘flow’; in fact one might observe that there is very little limestone showing at all.

 

Survey of BALCH CAVE (Traced from survey by D. Warburton et. al. 1962 with their permission)

This article was written for the B.B. and published with the kind permission of the Cerberus Spel. Society.

 

LILY PADS IN BALCH EXTENSION

 

CRYSTAL COLUMN IN BALCH EXTENSION

 

FERNHILL CURTAINS

On January 1st 1968 a new cave was entered in the quarry after several hours of ‘gardening’.  It proved to be a short but high rift containing some mud formations and one gigantic stalactite that has fallen and partially blocked the rift.  No further passages were found and New Year Hole was left to the mercy of the quarry owners.  A fortnight later another hole was entered which although at first sight showed great promise was found to be blocked some 20ft. down.  It consisted of a large hole on a ledge near the top of the quarry. Unfortunately due to blasting, about 300 tons of rubble has fallen into the hole and completely blocked it.

 

The day after its discovery many tons of rock had slipped into the hole.  This hole was probably one of the largest that had ever appeared in the quarry.

 

As to the future, well the few lines of a well known hunters “ballad” sums up the situation:  “Caves are discovered for us, from digging we can shirk”.