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Cuthbert’s Round Up

By Dave Irwin

Although not much seems to be going on in St. Cuthbert’s at the moment, a great deal of plodding work is being carried out.  It is hoped to summarise what in fact is taking place by those mid-week cavers.

Dining Room Dig

For nearly a year the Dining Room Dig has been continually worked by a team, of up to twelve people, from the B.E.C.; S.M.C.C. and Bath University C.C. resulting in the dig being pushed to a length of 150ft.; most of it having been dug out except for a short breakthrough into open passage last October of some 30 odd feet.


FIGURE 1.  Dining Room Dig relative to the adjoining parts of the cave.

based on MSC Accurate Outline Plan (C.R.G. Grade 6D) by D.J. Irwin.

Full details of Gour Hall area and Rabbit Warren published in B.E.C. Caving Report No. 13 parts E & F.

The dig was started by ‘Mo’ Marriott and others in 1962 and this digging continued at regular intervals during the 1962/63 winter when the passage was opened up as large as could be achieved with the size of the party.  Open air space was followed for nearly 20ft. until a small chamber was entered; a chamber just large enough to accommodate three people.  It had been hoped that the passage direction would have continued in the same direction as the start of the dig, that is at right angles to the Gour-Lake fault, so as to achieve the maximum distance away from the cave boundary.  At first sight this did not appear to happen at the ‘T’ Junction (the name commonly used for the chamber) as the direction appeared to be running parallel with the main fault.  Work stopped as a result around mid-1963 largely due to the work being carried out in the Long Chamber area.  The sort out of the most complicated area of the St. Cuthbert’s - Long Chamber and Coral area – tool several years to work out and the result was published in the B.E.C. Caving Report No.11 published in 1965.

Early in 1966 an arch was located by Andy MacGregor that led to Dave Irwin and Pete Hudson to start work again the following weekend.  A short spell of digging in a tight ‘rabbit burrow’ showed in fact that the arch was the roof of quite a large passage – although completely choked – running in the right direction that had been hoped for in the earlier series of digs.  The next weekend saw a large party in the cave, practising for the International Week at the Raucherkar System in Austria where it would be necessary to sleep in the cave during the big push. A team of B.E.C. members with their camping gear set up in Cerberus Hall split up to carry out various jobs.  One team continued digging at the Dining Room site and broke through into a 10ft. long, steeply ascending passage with a high 6” high air space continuing for at least another 20ft.  At the end the passage appeared to close down or turn to the right – until a trench had been dug to the end no-one could tell what happened. Compass readings were taken at the site and it appeared that the passage was continuing in the direction that it was hoped to go; though in the final survey carried out by the writer in 1969 there was a considerable swing back to the fault; this was due to the line of the small trench passing diagonally across the true direction of the passage. Digging continued at rather infrequent intervals over the next two years but during that time the diggers had reached the point at the end of the open section and found that the air space continued although the airspace fell from about 15” to 6”.  Thus encouraged digging began in earnest in May 1968 though one or two trips has taken place during the previous March and April.  Regular digging trips followed at weekend and on Tuesday evenings.  The Tuesday evening digs are still continuing and if the reader is free on this evening they are welcome to come along to meet at the Belfry at 6.45pm for a 7.00pm descent to the dig.

The 1968-69 digging evenings have open up the existing passage to an easy working size, though the passage is rather constricted in places where the passages ‘close-in’. When the passage has been opened as far as the ‘Arch’ the writer noticed that the rock pendants showed that the water had entered the ‘Arch’ area from all directions and a determined effort, lasting several weeks, drove the floor level down for some eight feet only to find the ‘way on’ trended back towards the line of the Gour-Lake fault.  At the same time ‘spare’ diggers were pushing forwards along the top section beyond the ‘Arch’.  During October a break through was made and a 30ft. extension made to the length of the dig in the upper passage.  The new length of passage gave the necessary incentive to ‘bash’ the upper level again particularly when the water markings showed that is had travelled away from the dig at this point!  The vadose scallops indicated that in the later stages of choking the passage that the water had entered from a small hole in the roof near the ‘breakthrough’ point and had in all probability flown in two directions; one away from the cave boundary and the other towards the cave and sinking in the ‘Arch’ area.  Since this time digging has pushed forward another 30ft. or so to a point where the passage has suddenly changed shape.  It has become much wider and higher with the left hand wall swinging round to the right.  If this indicates a sudden change from the strike to the dip and then this could be the real changing point of the dig and things will now begin to look even more promising than before.

The methods employed with the dig is worth mentioning.  Previously the ‘rabbit’ burrowing technique had worked out its usefulness in that it became almost impossible to transport the material out of the dig with a small team. When the dig recommenced last year the policy was changed and the passage that was already dug would be opened up to a size that made work much more easy and the new section of the dig would be treated the same way.  At first the digging was made by a team spaced out along the passage shovelling the gravel back out to the Dining Room and when approaches to the ‘Arch’ had been cleared a sledge was brought into use.  Regular digging on a Tuesday evening encouraged cavers to come up to Mendip with the knowledge that there would be someone up and a caving (albeit working) trip ensured .  The problem of passage length has produced a need for some simple mechanisation. Plans are now being made to install an overhead cable system that will enable ‘sausage’ shaped bags to be clipped to a pulley and thus easing the problems of moving the gravel back to the Dining Room.