Hon. Sec: A.R. Thomas. Allens House, Townsend, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Hon. Editor: - S.J. Collins, Lavender Cottage, Bishop Sutton, Bristol

Editorial

Staying Power

The annual preparation of the list of member’s names and addresses which is part of the November B.B. is a task which generates a certain amount of regret for the absence of more and more well-known names with each succeeding year.

Since the B.E.C. has been in existence for a large number of years now, and well over seven hundred people have, at one time or another, been club members, to do a bit of analysis on the figures and to see what came out.

In fact, over the last thirty years, the figures show a very good degree of consistency.  Thus, it can be stated with reasonably accuracy that, at any period of time, about 16% of the total membership will have joined the club within the last two years.  About 40% will have been members for less than four years – and the club’s “half life” or the period of time where half the members will be of less and half of more membership length – is five and a half years.  40% of those present will have been members for more than 7½ years while just over a quarter will have been in the club for over 12½ years.

Those are some of the figures for the total membership at any one time, but what are your chances: If you have just joined, there is less than an even chance that you will still be with us in three years time – only 47% of those joining today will reach this stage.  After this, if you survive the first three years with us, the picture begins to brighten.  A quarter of those joining today should be able to put on a barrel in 1980 to celebrate their ten years of caving – or decadence as it is known in the club. One in every eight should be able to celebrate their double decadence and over half of those will one day, in the year 2010, be able to claim that they have been associated with the B.E.C. for no less than forty years!

It was mentioned earlier that the figures for the B.E.C. show a very good degree of consistency, but obviously, there must be odd ‘bumps’ in the curves.  These ‘bumps’ are not sufficient to make general conclusions invalid, but they do exist.  If for example, your membership lies between 50 and 100 or between 300 and 400, you belong to groups which have better than average records for length of club membership. On the other hand, if your number lies between 100 and 200, you may congratulate yourself as not being typical of your contemporaries, who mainly left the club before their ‘natural’ lifeline was up.

If anyone is interested in the actual figures, these can be made available on application to the editor.

Next Year’s B.B.

Although the editorial matter for the Christmas B.B. has to be written before it is known how large the B.B. will be, it looks very doubtful that it will be a particularly large one by Christmas standards, and will be certainly a long way behind Dave Irwin’s record breaker of last year.

This time next year will see the end of volume 25 of the B.B. and it is hoped that the start of the B.B.’s second quarter of a century might be the occasion to bring it out in better form.  To this end, a scheme has just been put into operation to make sure that the regular features are produced regularly, so that the 1971 B.B. can come out more on time than did this year’s.  Whether it will be possible to make further improvements must, as always, depend on YOU. Some people have responded very well to the appeal for articles BUT NOT ENOUGH.  A few more people contributing perhaps three or four times during 1971 will make all the difference.  How about it?

“Alfie”

 


 

Monthly Notes Number 37

By “Ben.”

Away Trips.  Although more ambitious things had been planned, the recent B.E.C. and S.M.C.C. trip to Yorkshire ended up as an amble down Bar Pot to the more accessible parts of Gaping Gill, where some photographs were taken.  The next trips should prove more interesting and are:- JAN 9TH – BIRKS FELL CAVE and JAN 3RD – MARBLE SINK POT.

St. Cuthbert’s News.  The weekend diggers (C. Priddle, G. Phippen and T. Large) have dug through the original end of the unusually dry stream passage below Cone Chamber and reached a constricted flooded rift which is thought to be fairly close to Continuation Chamber.  Sump I is still fighting back.  Martin Webster had had to dive it with air for the for the second time so that it could be bailed and the pipes refurbished.  A week later, the sump was again flooded, and the Tuesday night diggers are considering leaving it that way until the drier summer weather arrives. As a diversion, the choke downstream from Traverse Chamber has been dug through by the Tuesday team.  This now offers a quick, wet and thixatropic alternative to Bypass Passage.  It is hoped to enlarge it to make a feasible rescue route from the bottom of the cave. As such, it will probably always be rather wet but could save a considerable amount of time.

Stoke Lane Practice Rescue.  The recent C.D.G. practice rescue through Sump I was quite successful and three people found it quite easy to guide the victim through the relative spacious underwater extensions of the sump, avoiding the awkward upstream exit used by cavers.

St. Cuthbert’s Practice Rescue.  As there were only sufficient people for two teams, it was decided to test the advantages that would be gained by using a rescue route via the Main Steam choke.  The first party carried from below Stalagmite Pitch to the Choke where the victim disembarked from the carrying sheet and went round Bypass Passage.  Both the haul up the pitch, via the outside route, and the subsequent carry were found to be quite easy and the whole section took about an hour.  The victim was then taken from Traverse Chamber to the top of Pulpit Pitch by the second party.  This also ran well at about an hour and a half.  Pulpit Pitch was rigged for hauling from the bottom.  There was a little difficulty at the top because of insufficient numbers, as at least three people are required to take the victim up the last few feet which are above the effective height of the pulley.  The cast was as follows: - Victim: Tom Gage. First Party; Colin Clark, Dick Wickens, Martin Huaun, Pete Stobart, Colin Dooley, Roy Bennett (Leader). Second Party; Tim Large, Gerald Phippen, Bob Gander, Dave Turner, Steve Summerhayes, Martin Mills, Bob Craig (Leader). It was confirmed that it was a good route provided that the problems of the choke itself can be sorted out.

St. Cuthbert’s Leader’s Meeting.  The most important decisions to emerge from this meeting were to re-open Maypole Series and to remove five chains and the four rung ladder from the sixteen items of fixed tackle in the cave.  The B.E.C. committee accepted the Maypole decision but deferred the tackle because of the limited attendance of leaders at the leaders meeting. The question will be discussed again at the next leaders meeting on May 23rd.  A full report of the recent leaders meeting will follow.


 

Annual Report of the B.B.L.H. & S.R.G.

Introduction to the Report:

Once a year, readers of the B.B. are only too well aware, it is the custom of the Belfry Bulletin Literary; Historical and Scientific Research Group to present its latest findings to an astonished world.

It is therefore not without pride that we are able this year to announce a happy blend of scientific and historical research.  (It’s a pity we couldn’t somehow drag literature in but, as our research leader says in his highly erudite fashion ‘you can’t not expect a ruddy miracle, cock!).

During the last year, an astounding scientific discovery by the B.B.L.B. & S.R.G. has revealed that certain rock crystals posses the property of being able to store sound – not unlike a magnetic tape recorder.  These crystals, however, soon become saturated and a result, only those sounds which were first heard on Mendip have been thus preserved as a unique record of prehistoric times.  It took many hours or patient work to sort out human speech from the roaring of lions and the howling of hyenas. – there not being a great deal of difference between them in those days – but the job was finally done, and it is with pride that we present this reconstruction of life at the time will require drastic revision in the light of what follows……

The Report

Lit by the smoky fire, the small band of cave dwellers sat around their evening meal in the Witches’ Kitchen of Wookey.  Only their leader, Oll, was not squatting with them and enjoying a meal of roast bos. Oll was standing (a trick first demonstrated by his great-great-grandfather to an admiring audience and since copied by one and all) band gazing at the water.  He was thinking.  (A trick his great-great-grandfather had never got around to).  He chewed absentmindedly on an old lion bone.

“Come and eat with us!” growled one of the young men.  “This roast is good!”

“I’m thinking., “Oll replied. “Where does all this water come from?  It must run right through the hill before it comes out here.”

“So what?  The water’s drinkable and it never dries up.  What more do we want to know about it?”

Oll turned on the young man. “Where’s your spirit of adventure, boy? Where’s your insatiably curiosity that will one day enable our descendants to do things like flying to the moon and inventing the cave surveying head?  If you spent more time thinking about things like cave exploration and invention and less time leering at those young cave girls up in Ebbor, we should make some worthwhile progress!”

“If you want us to invent things, you should encourage us more.  You wouldn’t listen to our latest invention!  We stamp about on a whole lot of apples and let the juices run into a lion skin that we cleaned and sewn up.  Then we hang it up for a long time before we drink it.”

“Pah!  Anyone can drink fruit juice!”

“Yes, but we give it to the girls in Ebbor and it makes them less fierce.  It’s much less tiring than chasing them; hitting them over the head with a club and dragging them all the way back here.  After they’ve finished being sick, they get quite docile.”

“H’mm.  It sounds and interesting invention, but our main job is to get down exploring this cave, and that means being able to breathe underwater. Now, if we take a hyena’s windpipe and sew it up to a lion’s stomach….”

_______________________

Meanwhile, another small group of cave men were huddled round a fire in the dark at the top of No Barrows Hill art Priddy.  They had finished their meal and were talking.

“Why is it called No Barrows Hill anyway?” asked one of the men.  “Because there aren’t any barrows on it, fool!” replied their leader, Wig. “The barrows will come much later on and you won’t live to see them.  In fact, you won’t live much longer of you don’t run away from lions faster than you did today.”

“Why don’t we find a cave to live in, Wig?”  If we had a cave, we would have a place to stamp about on apples and leave the juice to stand for a few months.  Then we could feed it to those girl’s down in Wookey.”

“There’s a hole in the ground quite near here,” said another.  “If we climb down it, we could live in the cave below.”

“Who ever heard of cave men living in a swallet cave,” said a third.  “It just isn’t done.”

An argument broke out, in which fists, lion bones and clubs figured prominently.  Wig ignored this and thought.  At last he spoke.

“It’s not a bad idea at that!  Nor! You’re an ingenious sort of bloke!  Try to think of some sort of portable fire so that we can see what we’re doing when we get underground!  If we can do that, we shan’t have to spend all day running away from lions.  Maybe we’ll have enough time to start some kind of civilisation around these parts.  We could certainly do with some…”

______________________

“It’ll never work!” said one cave man to another, as the odd contraption of animal’s entrails which were tied by means of various parts of Oll, disappeared below the still waters of Wookey.  His companion continued to sit on the tree branch he had brought with him without speaking – watching the water where Oll had disappeared.

“What’s the matter?” asked the first man.  “And why are you sitting on that branch?”

“Oll said that I must keep a log all the time he is underwater.  He said it would be part of the procedure.”

Faced with this sort of bad joke, the first man went off in search of some apple juice.  His companion watched him go.  ‘No sense of humour!’ he muttered to himself.

_____________________

“Well, Nor?” said Wig, as they once more met on the top of No Barrows Hill, “What’s that thing you’ve got there?”

“I call it a ladder. Its made of two long vines.”

“I can see that!  What are all those sticks doing in between them? I suppose you’re going to tell me that you call them rungs?”

“Actually, I do. They’ve got holes bored across each end, and the vines go through the holes.”

“Yes, I can see – but what stops these rungs of yours from slipping when you put all your weight on them?”

“Ah!  I’ve bored a hole I from one end of each rung to meet the hole where the vine goes through.  I’ve wedged a hyena tooth into each hole an that stops the rung from slipping.”

“H’mm.”

“Then I’ve taken some blueberries and made a dye and soaked the vines in it.”

“What for?”

“To show the ladder is ours, of course!  We don’t want other people borrowing our tackle and claiming it’s theirs, do we?”

“No I suppose not. It’s not all that bad Nor!  Given steel wire and dural, the same principle would make a damn strong ladder, but I suppose that’ll have to wait.  You had better make a few more and keep some sort of record.  Bash some marks on a rock, or something.  You could give us a report once a year on how much of this tackle we had.”

Wig turned to the next man of the tribe.  “What have you come up with, Ben?”

“It’s a thing I’ve called a candle.  You take apiece of bamboo and put a bit of dry vine down the middle.  Then you stuff up the bottom with clay and pour lion fat in. When it’s set, you split the bamboo away and light the top of the vine.  Look!  I’ll demonstrate!”

“Not bad at all! It cast no treacherous shadows!”

“Can we start to explore the cave now, Wig?”

“Well, we’ve got all the stuff we need, so we must wait and hour then we can go in.”

“Why can’t we go in right away?”

“Because we’ve got to start off all the traditions properly.  Whoever heard of a Mendip caving trip starting on time?”

Two hours later, the small band made its way to the depression and Nor slung his ladder down the hole.  Swallet caving had begun.

____________________________

Of course we believe you, Oll!” said one of the young Wookey men who had clustered around him as he emerged, wet but triumphant from the water.  “But how are we to explore these new parts of the cave you have discovered without some sort of fire that we can take through with us?”

“We’ll find some way! Perhaps we can wrap up a flint and some tinder in a hyena’s stomach and light a fire.”

“But the smoke will fill the cave!”

“Well then, somebody will have to up go to Priddy.  I hear that some cave men there have got things that they call candles.  I read about them in one of those stone tablets that Old keeps bringing round – the Mendip Caveman I think it’s called.  See what the Priddy lot want in exchange for some candles.”

A runner was sent off, while Oll divested himself of his gear and the whole tribe went off to celebrate his feat by drinking a large quantity of apple juice.  It was very late that night when the runner returned.

“They say they want two lions’ skin of apple juice!”

“Two lion’s skins! But there aren’t very many of them, are there?”

“No.  But they keep saying that they never have enough drink laid on at their dinners.”

_________________________

Up at Priddy, Nor and two helpers were carting the day’s rubbish out of the cave.  They had got as far as the Vine Rift – where a vine had been strung to help get tackle along it.  Nor was grumbling.

“I wish Wig wouldn’t insist that we take all the rubbish out every day.  Why can’t we dump it all down the Rocky Boulder Series?”

“Wig says that we must practise conservation.  He says that all this rubbish could play merry hell with the ecological balance if we left it here.”

“I wish he wouldn’t keep on inventing all these new words!”

“He says it’s all part of our becoming civilised.  Anyway, he says that if we left remains in the cave, it would baffle future archaeologists – whatever they are!”

“I suppose he’s right. Give me a hand with this detailer bucket.”

___________________________

Down in the Dining Room, Wig was examining a device which Bry had made.  “It’s downright ingenious!  Just the kind of thing we need to help get a civilization going! What does it do, Bry?”

“It’s for surveying. You look down this bamboo tube and swivel…” Wig shook his head.

“No, Bry.  Let’s forget it for now.  Once we start this surveying stunt, we’ll spend all our time arguing about traverse closures and never get anything done.  It’s best left for the future.”

____________________________

Meanwhile in Wookey, Oll was laying down the law to a somewhat rebellious lot of cave dwellers.

“I say that we shall get in a hopeless muddle with all the sumps we have discovered unless we learn to count.  Now let’s try it once again – and I’ll mind you that nobody gets any of that sirloin of lion until we all got it right!  Now say again – after me…

Wookey 3, Wookey 4, Wookey 5, Wookey 6….”

____________________________

“Wig!” said Ben, “We’ve discovered a sump!”

“Well kill it and give it to the girls to cook!”

“It’s not alive.”

“Then take it out of the cave!  How many times do I have to remind you lot about the importance of cave preservation?”

“It’s part of the cave. It’s where the water goes through a passage and fills it completely with no airspace.”

“Ah!” said Wig, thoughtfully.  “They have places like that in Wookey so I’ve heard (from the Mendip Caveman – Ed.)  We must be getting close.  See if you can get Nor to come up with some method of digging it out.”

__________________________

“All right!” said Oll peevishly.  “So it’s enormous and it goes on and on and on and on!  Just because you youngsters have invented this new lightweight breathing gear, you think you’ve opened up the whole cave!  You may think us older cavers were pretty slow lot, but let me remind you that we pioneered this sport!  We never had all the advantages that you lot have got.  All these fancy sphincter valves and that!  I hope you can clean them out properly first!”

“Yes we do, Oll.  We have to.  Hyenas have a pretty potent digestive system.  But the passage does really go on and on. We call it a master cave.”

“Master cave?  Why?”

“Well, why not? Someone has to invent new words. Anyway, that’s not the point.  We went right to the end of this passage, and it finishes in a sump.”

“Of course it finishes in a sump!  All passages in Wookey finish in sumps.  Everybody knows that!”

“Yes, but this sump is being dug from the other side.  While we watched, an artefact kept appearing and disappearing, and it was moving mud out of the way.”

“An artefact?”

“Sorry.  It’s another of those new words.  I should have said a tool.”

“Now I know what you mean. Everybody knows what a tool is!  I do wish that you youngsters would I learn to call a spade a spade?”

Oll thought.

“It could be that lot from Priddy, I suppose.  We must have a grand expedition to this spot.  We’ll take the whole tribe and three lion skins of apple juice.  It’ll take a lot of organising so we’d better all get cracking…”

__________________________

“I think,” said Ben to Wig, “that this new sump will soon go.  These spade things of Nor’s are shifting it pretty well.”

Wig nodded.  A lot had happened since the day when, as a young man, he had first led the tribe into this cave.  Besides the new spades, there was the permanent tackle on the arête and ledge pitches which made journeys to the surface easier for the older folk. Rumour had it that Nor was working on a thing called a Maypole.

“I suggest,” said Wig, “that when we’ve passed this sump, we have a grand celebration on the other side. We can drink up all the apple juice we got from the Wookey lot in exchange for candles.  Let’s see if we can get through as soon as possible!”

_____________________________

Even Oll had to admit that the new passage was impressive.  The whole tribe were dwarfed by the vast halls through which they travelled. Even the lion skins of apple juice carried on the men’s backs looked small.  Every so often, Oll called a halt – and it was during one of these rests that they noticed the lights in the distance.  Soon, the lights got nearer, and the men put down their loads and clutched their clubs menacingly.  They could see the strangers now – cave dwellers like themselves and a rough looking lot into the bargain.  The men growled.  Oll appealed to them.

“Relax, men!”  It’s only another lot of cavers!  Put down your clubs at once!  If cavers fight whenever they meet, it’ll be a poor example to set for future generations.  These people are probably as human as we are.  Let me go and speak to them.”

____________________________

As Oll approached, Wig picked up a large stone but realised that they were fellow cavers and put is down again.  The two men faced each other and shook hands.  “This,” said Oll, “is a historic moment.”

“An historic moment, “corrected Wig.

“Ah!” said Oll, “I see you’ve discovered grammar!  Between us, we have just made the first through connection on Mendip.”

“Yes,” said Wig, “and it’ll be a long time before they manage to do it again.”

“We planned a celebration,” said Oll, “and we’ve brought three skins of apple juice along.”

“So did we.”

“Then let us,” said Oll, “celebrate!”

Wig nodded his agreement.

“Let us make a joint announcement,” he said.

__________________________

On the floor of the immense hall, a scene of utter debauchery existed.  Cave dwellers lay in heaps beside empty lion skins.  Apple juice ran everywhere.  It was not unlike the Shepton Dinner after a boat race.  On a stal bank slightly above the mass of revelry, as befitted their station, sat Oll and Wig.

“We’d better combine,” said Oll.  “After this lot, it’s going to be damn nigh impossible to sort our tribes out again.”

“Yes, I agree.  Our young men seem to have got hold of all your young girls.”

“And vice versa.  I didn’t see you down there amongst them?!

“Well no.  Actually, as leader, I found it necessary to drink more of that apple juice than any of my men.  Matter of prestige, you understand.”

I felt that I had to do as well.  Did it have any effect on you?”

“Yes, it did as a matter of fact.  Most odd!”

“I was the same.  What do you plan to do now that we are about to merge, Wig?”

“I think I’ll retire from leadership.  I’m planning to bring out a series of definitive reports on this cave system. It’s going to take and awful lot of blocks of stone!  What will you do, Oll?”

“I’m planning to retire too. I’ve got a scheme for taking a hollow log and putting a sot of handle on one end.  Then I’m going to get six strings made out of wildcat gut and stretch them along the log.  I think I might be able to get some sort of tune out of it with any luck.”

They smiled happily at each other as they slowly collapsed to the floor.

“Alfie”

_____________________

P.S.  Anyone who finds that they like this type of humour might try reading a book called ‘The Evolution of Man’ (Penguins) where they will find it done a damn sight better.


 

Climbing Meet

By Roy Marshall

The Climbing Section had a meet in North Wales on the weekend 16th – 18th October and the following spiel is roughly what happened.

The party – consisting of Derek Targett, Sandie and baby, Nigel Jago, Nigel Rich, Pete and Maggie Sutton, Abb-Sell, Ina, Penny, Gerry (official photographer) Fred Atwell and myself – to name but a few; left Bristol separately and converged, as is our habit, on the HOP POLE at LEOMINSTER where we are almost regulars.  After resting and suitable refreshment, we carried on to the campsite in “the pass.”  We moved from our normal site beneath the Grochan to a more even site on the opposite side of the road beneath the Wasted.

Fortunately, there was a bright moon on Friday night, otherwise I don’t think many would have made the campsite.  To reach it, one has to cross a very dubious bridge across the stream and then launch one’s car on to a track-cum-scree slope leading to flat ground.  Anyway, after risking our suspensions, we all arrived finally at about midnight.

Saturday morning was very sunny but cold, and the married couples were left huddling over the camping gaz, while the rest made for Pen-y-Pass.  The Pen-y-pass is a new Youth Hostel being built at the head of the Snowdon Horseshoe and makes a welcome change from the squalor and overcrowding of Wendy’s  The meals are subsidised by the Y.H.A., so you get a really good breakfast – cheep.  At present you do not have to belong to the Y.H.A. to use the café.

After breakfast, Brant direct repulsed a number of intrepid B.E.C. climbers, who convinced themselves that they didn’t want to do it anyway.  They moved into Craig Dhu where Nigel Jago, Derek and Fred did Petit Fleur and Yellow Groove (VS).  Ian and Pete practiced abseiling from the second pitch of Anthropology (VS).  The baby, with the rest of the ladies, attempted the Pyg Track.  Nigel, Rich and myself also went on the Pyg Track, Nigel going to Snowdon and back.  I made it to the lake, but I was breaking in new boots.

It is always difficult gathering information about Saturday evenings from any B.E.C. member.  It will have to suffice that everyone had a happy time, thanks to a benevolent landlord in the Vaynel Arms in Nant Peris.  Fred, Dick and Gerry had some amusing stories about Saturday night, but they are too funny to be true.  After breakfast on Sunday, the group again split.  Derek, Nigel Jago and Gerry going to the Garreg Wasted to climb Trilon (VS).  Pete and myself hauled our gear up to the Cromlech.  As if this wasn’t enough, Pete, after a half hearted attempt by me, led Cobweb Crack (VS).  While this climbing was going on, the ladies were left to amuse themselves in the pass. Graham and Fred had driven on to Pembrokeshire and Nigel had decided to walk home.  Pete and myself were the last to arrive back from our climb.  Meeting the others in the pass, we all made for home, picking up Nigel rich on the way.  All arrived safely except Graham and Fred who had a seized wheel bearing on the way back from Pembrokeshire.

Editor’s Note:    It never rains but it pours!  We asked for articles and indeed, the only reason for the lateness of this Christmas B.B. is due to the fact that we did not have enough to print until yesterday. We also asked for humorous articles – although we did ask for more serious stuff as well.  On our doorstep yesterday, in answer to all this, arrived a massive document.  It turned out to be another of ‘Jok’ Orr’s masterpieces.  He says that he enjoyed writing it, and we think you will enjoy reading it over Christmas, so settle down – sorry, doon – with a wee dram or three and get on with…….


 

On Seutra Hill

On the last bleak day of a particular miserable Scottish November, the North Wind came snarling out of the high wilderness of snow and ice and pounced on the frozen slopes of Seutra hill.  It drove its sharp sleety teeth through the lashings branches of a straggling plantation of gnarled spruce and cypresses upon the solid wall of Seutra Monastery. Fretting and whirring over the rough stone surface, it probed for cracks and gnawed at the moss-covered roof slabs, seeking a way in through the impregnable masonry for its rheumatic draughts.

Ensconced within a sheltering niche overlooking the monastery entrance, the effigy of Saint MacSoolis gazed blandly out upon this view of streaming wet desolation with benevolent visage, his right arm extended and two fingers pointing derisively upward in perpetual benediction.  A discrete plaque attached to the plinth whereon the statue stood, bore the inscription ‘BLACK MacSOOLIS.  REFORMED CATTLE RUSTLER: VILLAGE PLUNDERER AND OUTLAW.  CHIEF OF THE CHEVIOTLAND REIVERS, LATTERLY BARON OF HERMITAGE CASTLE.  REPENTING OF THIS LIFE OF SIN AND LECHERY, HE DID FOUND THIS MONASTERY AND DECLARED HIMSELF OUR PATRON SAINT.’

Further up the frost-blasted hill, at some distance removed, the tumbled remains of a crumbling, roofless byre housed the monastery’s collection of neglected farm animals.  At the back of this byre, where it had been tacked onto the hillside, the wild mountain goats had annexed the cave entrance from whence the stone to build the byre had been excavated, for their winter quarters. The ram, made angry by the damp and cold in his matted coat – a wicked beast of uncommonly large stature – butted and bullied the other goats out of his way and slouched into the dark interior of the shelter in search of his favourite dry spot which lay situated some way down a narrow passage he had discovered last winter.  The rest of the goats followed him with some hesitation, uncertain of their footing and wary of the darkness.  The solitary, disgruntled sow who existed in a state of permanent dispute with the goats concerning their proprietorial attitude over the matter of the rock shelter, stared balefully a their departing rumps; and the cows shifted their hooves in the mire, for t’was near twilight and long past milking time and there was still no sign of Brother Walt.

Far out on the right flank of the hill, overlooking the monastery and its surroundings, a picket of recoats crouched in a sodden bothy swearing at each other; the weather; the Scottish heathens; the smoking fire; the sleet; the wind; the wet; the maggot-ridden rations and the English governor basking like a well-fed warm shark in the comfort of Edinburgh Castle.  The sergeant of redcoats in charge of the picket stood outside the bothy, a cape slung round his shoulders.  There was an implacable patience in his stance as if had stood there for many months and would continue to stand there for as long as it need be.  He was the army.  And the army could afford to wait.  And wait he would until the renegade MacPhail thought it safe to emerge from the sanctuary of the monastery.  Then, back to Edinburgh with his prisoner, and no doubt a reward of a few golden guineas from the governor and a spell of well-earned rest for himself and his lads.

Close within the monastery dining hall, the jovial smoke of Seutra didn’t give a jot for the north wind or anything else in the outside world.  They sat before the huge open fireplace, enjoying the warmth from its blazing logs, exchanging banter, quip and jest and making merry din.  For this day, and indeed the last day of every month, the Fraternal Communion Day when all penances were suspended, scourges put away, and hair shirts hung up to air.  Most welcome privilege of all was permission to break silence from rising time in the morning until midnight.  Indeed, the atmosphere was more than usually relaxed because of the absence of the Abbot and his prior who had departed on horseback three days ago on an ecclesiastical visit to Jedburg convent.

However, Fraternal Communion Day was no excuse for the general hilarity and excess of cordiality that was evinced in the monks’ behaviour.  The good Abbot and his observant priors would have viewed the proceedings with scandalised astonishment and called for immediate retribution.  The order was based on strict compliance to chastity; serous decorum, discipline and frugality in all things.  Conversation and discussion on this day of the month was supposed to provide an opportunity for an uplifting of the spirit, not a garrulous uproar of humour and ribaldry.

Perhaps it was just as well that the Abbot and his priors had no inkling of what was going on behind their backs.  Half of the monks were secretly drunk and the other half were near to it as makes no difference.  Not only were they breaking on of their strictest vows, insomuch as it was a mortal sin to even think about the word ‘drink’, but they were doing it with such deceit and cunning that it amounted to nothing less than a mutiny against the order of MacSoolis.  It was well known that more than one unhappy wretch had undergone severe penance for daring to venture a nostalgic word or two about his past fondness for some essential brew of malt and barley, and it was whispered that one of the brothers who had smuggled a flagon of mead into the monastery was still paying the penalty to this day, walled up in the vaults and fed twice a week by the cruel hand of a grim-jawed prior.  How else to explain the muffled thuds and faint cries of lamentation from under the flagstones?

Back to get back to the secretly drunken monks.  What was even worse than the deceit and cunning of it all was the way went on at it. They had developed tippling to a fine art.  Not a glimpse was to be seen of the crafty dram tucked away inside the folds of the draped sleeve.  The casual lift of the arm and the furtive twist of the wrist and the surreptitious sip behind the droop of the cowl might easily be mistaken for as a simple gesture of wiping the dripping nose with the forefinger.

The audacious perpetrator of this subterfuge was no less person than the renegade, Brother Hamish MacPhail – a wolf in sheep’s clothing if there ever was one.  It was entirely the fault of his natural talent for creating trouble, and the weakness for the drink that had cost him his last job as a torturer in the grim dungeons of Edinburgh castle and had brought the redcoats to wait for him like vultures on the hillside.

To his credit, he was thorough in whatever he set his mind to, and had been acknowledged in the castle as an expert with the ironmongery and a skilled craftsman at the intricacy of the rack; knowing just how far to stretch a joint in order to entertain the governor’s mistress who was usually hanging about watching his performance. The lady was so intrigued with some of his subtle variations that one day she entreated him to give her a personal demonstration on the rack with herself as the willing victim.  Being drunk at the time, he was in no condition to resist her suggestion and soon had her strapped down on proceeded to stretch her to the accompaniment of her delighted squeals.  The governor completely misunderstood the version reported to him by a spy and went ranting and storming through the castle, livid with rage, to give MacPhail a taste of lingering death in his own torture chamber.

Receiving warnings of the governor’s intentions, Hamish MacPhail had fled the castle and had made his escape to the sanctuary of the Seutra Monastery.  Incarcerated within its walls and denied access to liquor, MacPhail realised that the necessity of quenching his alcoholic thirst would result in certain capture by the redcoats if he so much as attempted to sneak out in search of a drink.  Somehow, he managed to drag himself through the unendurable anguish of the long days and nights of total abstinence, but his protesting nerves began twitching and quivering like fine hairs growing under his skin and his expression became drawn and haggard with worry.  He went about his monastic duties with trembling lips and darting eyes – his hands shaking and his body twitching in uncontrollable spasms.  An outsider would have been shocked at his appearance, but it aroused little comment within the monastic community except for nods of approval and acceptance from the dour and uncommunicative monks who thought that he was surely adjusting himself to the austerity and hardship of their existence.

MacPhail decided in the middle of a particularly bad night of restless tossing and turning on his hard bed that he would manufacture his own brew.  He got up and ripped the pitch pine planks out of his bed and, scraped off the beads of resin, hurried to the scullery and boiled them up into a bitter but satisfying brew.  Once started, there was no halting the ingenious flow of ideas.  Recruiting the aid of certain other blackguards sheltering at Seutra, he dug out a chamber beneath the floor of his cell and installed a small but highly efficient still.

When the first potent brew trickled through this contraption, MacPhail and his cronies excused themselves to solitary meditation and went on a three day bender underneath the flagstones.  In another week or so, they were wandering about the precincts of the monastery carrying bottles of the stuff hanging from belts around their waists, and distributing the supplies under cover of their voluminous habits.  One had only to mention the password, ‘WHIT THE PRIORS ’EEN DINNA SEEN; THE ABBOT’S LUGHOLE WILLNA KEEN’

And on the occasion the Abbot rebuked the assembled monks for overindulging their appetite for garlic, and complained about the odour of onions hanging about the monastery, he had to threaten to cut the bread ration if the sniggering did not cease immediately. The sniggering ceased all right, but the demand for MacPhail’s brew doubled within the next couple of days.

Leaving Hamish MacPhail to carry on towards his inescapable reckoning with destiny, and returning to the dining hall, we find that it is now supper time.  The merry brotherhood move unsteadily away from the warmth of the fire and sit themselves down at the long table in anticipation of their meal. One or two of them beat out a tattoo on their food bowls causing Brother Jamie McLean of Perth to lift his habit round hits knees and rotate his portly figure in a travesty of a highland fling.  Out in the chilly scullery where he was preparing supper, Brother Ignatius de Quincey, a Sassenach from over the border, adamant teetotaller and probably the only monk in the entire monastery remaining true to his vocation, frowned disapprovingly at the howls of tipsy merriment issuing from the dinning hall.  Deservedly unpopular for the reasons already stated, it was his unhappy lot to be at the beck and call of whosoever required his services.  He heaved the huge cauldron of steaming porridge from the kitchen range and staggered into the dinning hall where he dished it up for the rumbustuous monks.

There was a brief recession of noise for a few perfunctory words of grace to be gabbled, then they continued the uproar again and went at the porridge with lusty appetites. Exclamations of horror and disgust broke out among the eaters.  Expectorated porridge flew in all directions.  Several monks fell over backwards from the table, recoiling from the vile and terrible taste in their mouths.

 “Ye bliddy Sassenach!” roared Hamish MacPhail. “Whit ur ye trying tae do?  Pizen us all?”  De Quincey gaped at the writhing monks in consternation, too taken aback by the reception his porridge had received to think of escaping  from the terrible MacPhail.  “Whit,” roared MacPhail again, “did ye mak this mizzerable skilly oot o’? Soor mulk and tatty peelins? Taste it!  Taste it, ye mizzerable wee wretch!”

At this juncture, one of the monks who had rushed off to the scullery to swill his mouth out with water entered the dining hall with a pitcher in his arms.  “Nivver mind the parritch noo!” he yelled.  “The wee Sassenach has used yesterdays bath water tae mak it wuth!”  He proffered the pitcher to MacPhail who sipped from it fastidiously.  “By Saint MacSoolis!” he roared.  “Yur right!”  He grabbed hold of the unhappy de Quincey.  “What d’ye mean by makin the parritch oot o’ oor auld bath watter?  Eh O.”  De Quincey wriggled in his grasp.  “It’s not true! He protested.  “I drew the water from the well only half an hour ago.  It must be fresh!  It must be!”

Brother Eustace Smith, a lowlander of mild disposition, spoke up on behalf of de Quincey. “Gintlemum!  Gintlemum!  We must obsairve the proprieties, ye ken, just because he doesny jine in the festiveeties!  Chuck the bliddy wee teetotaller doon the bliddy well and let’s get on with the bliddy drinkin!”

The rest of the monks roar a unanimous chorus of approval; laid hold of the struggling de Quincey and frog-marched him back to the scullery.  But another voice of authority blared above the clamour.  “Wait!”  It was Brother Inglis of Hawick – noted for his piety until the whiskey got at him. “Wait the noo!  Accordin to the taste o’ the watter, yon Sassenach has been tipping the rubbish doon the well instead of o’ carrying it outside.  I think we should lower him doon and mak him clean it oot.  Otherwise hoo ur we goin tae get fresh watter?”  “Aye!” yelled the monks.  “Lower him doon the well and mak him clean iy oot!”

Forthwith, they sat de Quincey in the well bucket, gave him a burning pitch pine form the fire for a light, and lowered him down with admonishments to send up the ‘rubbitch’ or else he would stay down there for the rest of the night.

At the bottom of the well, de Quincey stepped out of the bucket and considered his situation.  The well, he recognised by the light of his torch, was not a well at all.  It was, in fact, a deep pool of water fed by a stream which flowed along the bed of a fair sized natural passage similar to many such underground places he had explored in his native Somerset. A voice bellowed from above, “Whur’s the rubbitch, then?”  De Quincey did some rapid thinking.  If he said there was no rubbish to send up, they would pull up the bucket and leave him down the well all night.  On the other hand, there could be another way out since there must be and entrance to the cave upstream.  Light, however, was the problem.  “I’m looking for the rubbish” he shouted back, “But its all dark down here and I can’t see very well.”  There was some muttering from above and then another bellow.  “Mind yer heid!” and a bundle of faggots thumped on to the rock on which he was standing.

Tearing strips from his habit, de Quincey tied the precious sticks together, the more conveniently to carry them through the cave, he shouted up the well shaft, “Hang on a minute! I’ve got the lights going now I’m going up a passageway that I have found to look for the rubbish.”  With this reassurance to the impatient monks, he set of in search of a way out.

The echoes of this last exchange of shouting preceded his progress by some minutes, since sound travels faster than a caving monk, and awoke the irate ram from his sleep on the soft but uncomfortable cold patch of sand further up the cave.  The ram got to his feet and kicked the nearest recumbent ewe goat to get rid of the cramp in his haunches.  He listened intently.  Yes, there was definitely something moving down there.  Probably that wall-eyed sow.  The thought infuriated him.  That pig had no right to be in his shelter.  No common pig had any right to a dry place to lie in.  Especially that pig.  A pig’s place was out in the wind and cold.  He would go down there and butt that damned impudent pig back to where it belonged.

It was thus that Brother Ignacious de Quincey, on rounding a corner, was surprised to finds a fair sized ram barring his advance.  The ram, equally surprised at seeing the steadily brightening gleam of light followed by the sudden appearance of the monk instead of the expected pig, jumped backwards in a reflex leap coincident with de Quincey’s own backward somersault and, turning in mid air, galloped a short distance up the cave where he halted on the shadows, and looked back.

Now that ram, once it had got an idea into its head, was not lightly to be deflected from its purpose. Nothing could shift it.  It had come down here to get a pig, and a pig it was going to have.  Anything that even looked like a pig was in trouble, and there was definitely something silhouetted in the feeble light of the monk’s torch that looked like a pig. The ram put his head down, presented his horns, and charged.

De Quincey listened to the approaching clatter of hooves in profound consternation. The ram was coming to get him.  Forsooth, he hadn’t a chance.  The fall had winded him, but he struggled to his feet.  The ram, at full tilt now, saw his mistake when he was about a yard away from what he had taken to be a pig.  De Quincey watched, horrified, as the ram, veering at the last moment, smashed into an inoffensive boulder perched on four stumpy stalagmites and sent the lot scattering.

The ram, still conscious albeit slightly concussed, regarded the monk with some confusion.  A moment ago, he had been asleep with the rest of the goats.  So why was he standing here looking at a monk?  It must be some nightmare.  Slowly, as if indeed in a dream, the ram turned his back on the monk and plodded back up the cave.  De Quincey heaved a sigh of relief and muttered a fervent prayer of thanks.  He picked up the torch and looked around, wondering what to do next.  He couldn’t go on.  That was for sure.  He’d come across many unusual things in caves back home, but a ram!  A crazy ram roaming about under the ground and smashing up boulders!  That was something that was just typical of Scotland.  And the size of the beast!  Those horns! Massive!  Like great curved battering rams.  De Quincey shuddered.  Battering Rams!  He started shaking all over.  The brute must have mistaken the boulder in the dim light for himself.  It was an act of providence that had saved him from a severe mauling.  Better to return to the monastery and risk the wrath of the monks who were probably so drunk by now that they would have forgotten all about the porridge. Anyway, at least he now had the answer to the foul taste of the water.  The ram would account for that.  No wonder that the porridge was polluted.  He laughed hysterically as an idea occurred to him, and imagined the ram let loose amongst the drunken monks.  That would teach them a thing or two – the Scotch bullies!

“And why not?” he asked aloud in sudden inspiration.  “By Saint MacSoolis, why not?”  He hastened back to the well, igniting his supply of faggots on the way and leaving them at intervals to illuminate the cave.  “Are you still there?” he shouted up the well shaft.  There was no reply.  Anxiously, he gave the bucket rope a hefty shake which rattled the windlass. There was a commotion of shuffling feet from above.  “Whut d’ye want doon ther? Somebody bellowed, “makin that confounded racket on oor machinery! Have ye foond the rubbitch then?”

De Quincey felt a surge of hope at the sound of the voice.  “Send me down – I mean doon – a bottle of whiskey!”  He shouted, and listened to the mutterings from above, wondering if his scheme would work.

“What fur?” came he surprised reply.  He answered with another shout, spacing his words to make then distinct.  “Because I’ve found a passage down here, and a good way along there are some rotting chests full of metal stuff and shining stones and I want a drink to keep warm while I go and have another look.”  A babble of exited argument rose from above his head, then abruptly ceased at the crafty solicitous voice of MacPhail came wheedling down to him.  “Git yerself intae the bucket mun, and we’ll gie ye a wee dram up heer and a warm in front o’ the fire afore ye go doon again.  Ye must be nigh on perished with the cauls!”

At the top of the well, MacPhail pulled him bodily out of the bucket and dumped him gently on his feet, surrounded by a ring of attentive faces.  “Noo then, ma wee many, whit’s this aboot chests filled wi’ stuff, eh? It widna be Saint MacSoolis’s treasure noo that ye’ve foond, wid it?”  Ye widna be tryin tae cheat yer brother monks oot o’ theer share wi’ ye?” De Quincy quailed before them in mock fright.  “It’s treasure all right, Brother MacPhail.  I just wanted to make quite sure before I came up to tell you.  That’s all.”  MacPhail leered at him.  “Aye! O’course ye did ma wee many.  Noo awa and warm yeresel in front o’ the fire.  Here’s your whiskey.  We’ll gang doon the well and bring the stuff oot for ye! Awa wi ye noo!”

The monks on the outer fringe of the listening circle were already edging over to the well.  “Me first!” bellowed MacPhail.  “I’ll hae nane o’ that!  Git oot o’ ma way ye scurvy bunch o’ hypocrites!”  he shouldered through the jostling throng who were by now so drunk that they has to support one another to avoid falling flat on their faces.

No sooner than MacPhail had disappeared overt the edge of the well than there was a concerted rush for the rope.  Body crashed into body.  Skin ripped off against stone.  Hands burned on the rope.  Fist and sandal flailed into rib and groin.  Some jumped in feet first to get the press of bodies on the move, sure of a soft landing.  Others dived in head first, too drunk to know or care which way up they were.  The din of thuds yells and curses and the stench of honked up whiskey was appalling.  De Quincey waited for the sounds of departure to fade into the distance and then calmly cut the rope.

The ram woke from his already disturbed slumber in a worse temper than he could ever remember.  This row was just too intolerable.  What the hell was going on?  It was that damned pig again.  Memory of the incidents leading up to the stunning impact with the boulder returned with it, the realisation that the pig had tricked him into charging into a trap.  That monk! What was he doing down there?  He was surely in league with that pig.  That was it!  The pair of them were probably laughing their heads off now, but what kind of fool did they take him for?  He’d show them this time!

The ram’s rage was so vicious that for a moment or two all he could do was to totter around gasping for breath, stepping indiscriminately on the other goats and scattering them with savage butts as they started to their feet.  That pig!  He would deal with that pig once and for all!  Judging from the bellowing and stampeding about coming from below him, that damned pig must have taken all those mud-wallowing cows with her just to wake up decent goats and to annoy them.  Well, the whole damned lot were going to get it.  Right where it hurts most.  Hard.

Such was the ram’s fury that it communicated itself to the younger rams in the herd, who began to leap about in the dark butting and kicking each other and anything else within range including the solid walls of the cave.  Then, as if prompted by some instinctively sensed signal, the whole lot herd of goats gathered itself together and raced after the ram who had gone running off down the cave with such speed and purpose that his steel hard hooves struck sparks off the rocks.

Brother Hamish MacPhail, lured on by the flickering light for de Quincey’s carefully placed torches, was still in the lead, but only just.  He plunged ahead of the stumbling monks. Tripping over his own lacerated feet and the tangled remnants of his tattered habit which hung in strips from his battered body.  Five monks had fallen on top of him in the well shaft, pounding him into the pool where he had nearly drowned.  His right arm hung useless – dislocated at the shoulder – and his eyes peered from slitted lids that were just about the only recognisable feature left on his trampled face.  He was still to drunk to appreciate his pitiful condition, but not yet beyond feeling bewilderment at the way the walls of the cave kept crashing into him when there was really ample room and width of passage to run through ahead of the others and get to the treasure first.

The howling mob behind him were in no better shape.  Some had thrown aside the heavy cloth garments on the way and were shambling through the cave completely naked and unprotected from the sharp rock.  Three others had climbed up into the narrow roof to traverse along overhead and now fell in a heap, frantically clutching each other as they fell.  Another beat his fists against the wall, screaming to be let out and a maudlin bunch of slack-mouthed inebriates, so drunk that they has forgotten what they were supposed to be there for, stood lurching and swaying before a large slab of stone intoning the beatitudes in solemn incoherence.

MacPhail didn’t even have time to stop his staggering run when Auld Nick appeared before him.  But he did pray, if only for a flash of frightened thought, for the first time in his life, when he saw what was coming at him – tearing straight for him out of the dark, with his horns and his beard and his cloven hooves and hairy body and terrible glaring yellow eyes.  His last thought was when the crash came and the wind whooshed out of his gaping mouth, was that he had been taken and was on his way to hell.

There was no merciful oblivion for the rest of the monks.  Those in the rear were trampled underfoot in the backwash from the shambles up in front.  Some had a chance to run, and run they did – for the sake of their very souls, never mind their lives.  The goats threw themselves upon their fleeing victims with ferocious accuracy.  If there wasn’t room on the floor of the cave to get a clear run at the waddling posteriors, they then took to the walls and their flailing hooves knocked down the flaming torches in showers of sparks to fall on the heads and shoulders of the monks, where they were promptly followed by butts and kicks.

The Abbot and his priors returned late on the night of that last day in November in the middle of a violent thunderstorm to learn that the monastery had a new tenant.  The Devil had moved in and the monks were moving out and they’d set light to the place to make their guest feel more at home. Saint MacSoolis lay in fragments on the ground, struck by a thunderbolt.  Most of the monks had already departed into the night in search of a bed to sleep in.  The few that remained were limping around in the driving rain, attending those who could not walk and getting them into improvised litters ready to face the six mile journey to the nearest cottage.  “It was the Sassenach de Quincey” explained one of the bloodstained monks to the Abbot, “in league with them doon below.  He tricked us intae the jaws o’ Hades.  All flames and fire and demented things rushing aboot an underground passage leadin doon tae hell.  We wur lucky tae get oot alive!”

The phlegmatic sergeant of redcoats sat astride his horse and watched the exodus from then blazing monastery with a sardonic smirk on his face; the nearest he had come to smiling for years.  He sniffed appreciatively at the fine smell of wood smoke, stale drink singed flesh and scorched cloth which hung in the dam air.  The prisoner MacPhail looked as if an avalanche had hit him the way he was wrapped up in bandages and splints.  Yes, he had been through the mill all right, yelling and swearing one minute and gabbling prayers the next.  Still, with luck he would recover on his way to Edinburgh and be fit enough for the tortures that awaited him there.  Meanwhile, there was nothing to hang about here for in the driving rain.  Best to be moving.  He jerked MacPhail’s chain, pulling him forward in a shuffling, slithering run across the churned-up ground, and addressed his picket of soldiers. “On your way, you scum!  On your way!  Back to Edinburgh my lucky lads, and keep your eyes on that rascal of a monk and see he doesn’t escape.”

All this happened many years ago, and there is such a place as Seutra Hill, where you can still see the ruins of the monastery.  To this day, the locals say the place is curst, and they steer away from its loneliness. In fact, the only living thing you’ll find up there are a few wild mountain goats, munching contentedly at the withered brown bracken.

‘Jok’ Orr


 

Climbing Notes

by the Climbing Sec.

Climbing Meet to the Gower Peninsular, 21st to23 rd November, 1970

Those present were N. Jago, P. Sutton, D. Targett, G. Atwell and G. Oaten.

After pitching the tents at Rhossili Bay car park in pouring rain and Gale Force winds, we all agreed that the weekend had not got off to a good start.

On Saturday, the weather still wasn’t all that good, and so we headed for the cliffs in big boots and cagoules, hoping to be able to climb some of the easier routes.  Our plans worked very well until we were hit by a hailstorm halfway up a route.  We quickly abseiled off and the rest of the day was spent on boulder problems.

Sunday brought better weather, so we headed for the cliffs of Pennard East.  Much of the day was spent trying to find the cliffs, for the guidebook wasn’t very good in describing the way.  We reached them eventually, and climbed a few short routes.

To sum up.  We were not very impressed by the cliffs, because the rock was frequently poor, but I can recommend the cliff top walks around the Gower Coast.

Christmas Puzzle

(B O)W = W I N S

 

(N W )O = W A G E S

You might find this interesting enough to while away the time when the pubs are shut over the Christmas holiday…

Where the letters stand for numbers.

For example,

             (B O)W  might be 372

From the two equations above, who is 545 5076802 ?

(He is a well known member of the club, not unconnected with the two words of the equations.  A prize of two pints of beer for the correct solution. In case of more than one solution being received, then the solution which solves the problem in the neatest and most elegant manner.)

Solution To Last Month’s Crossword


Monthly Crossword – Number 7.

1

 

2

 

 

 

 

 

3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

 

 

 

6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Across

1. Dependable to the last? (7)
4. Mendip Association has an extremely mixed title. (1,1,1,1,1)
5. Aural connections. (5)
7. ‘Ave poles for climbing these. (5)
8. O, let’s mine it on Mendip. (4)

Down:

1. Priceless formation? (4,5)
2. Lights mixed financial penalties. (5)
3. A dipper in Goatchurch. (9)
4. Northern hills minus Mendip hill leaves these numbers on Mendip hill. (5)
6. Found in O.C.L. in Old Grotto vertically measuring. (3,4)

Stencils completed 30.12.70

Happy New Year!