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KEYS for the Belfry are now available from the Hut Warden or his deputy.  These keys are serial numbered and members are reminded that they remain the property of the B.E.C. and should be returned when no longer required. A deposit of 20p is required for new keys, but old keys can be swapped for a new one.

The Publications Officer wishes to inform members that the printing work is being tackled now by Doug Stuckey.

The Tacklemaster asks members who have any difficulty in finding the right tackle for their purposes - in particular digging ropes - to contact him.  His address is in the front of this B.B.

MATTRESSES are urgently required for the Belfry.  Single size preferred.  If you have an old mattress but no way of getting it up to Mendip - let the Hut Warden or the deputy H.W. know and they will organise something.  Remember, it's much easier to let the Belfry have an old mattress than to try burning it in the garden!

Open Air Caving

KANGY writes

It was Alfie I think who first wrote in the B. B. about open air caving and it's not a bad description of the feeling that gorges give.

Fascinating and precious things are gorges, and I don't regret badgering friends and relations to record their experiences in this series.

The gorges written about are amongst the great gorges of the world.  It's strange, but the feelings of the writers are similar even though they are respectively an historian; a translator; an engineer and an eight year old lad.  I suppose it's because we're all explorers.

The Gorge Of Samaria – Crete

by MARK JAMES

The guidebook to the Gorge of Samaria has now been published in all tourist maps of Crete and proves, inevitably, to be remarkably inaccurate. However, an attempt will be made here to recapitulate an enjoyable if odd expedition.

Probably the best of the Gorge (qua gorge) is the magically romantic approach to the top and the dizzy strait.  After an extremely cultured/hedonistic period in Crete with wife and mother; eating, drinking and mopping up about half a dozen oranges a day, the spectacle of the top of he gorge from the refuge at Xiloskalo is breathtaking.

From Khania - the old capital of Crete - one drives South towards the White Mountains and, after going through the richly endless orange graves, snakes up increasingly open hillside from which the oranges, olives and vines gradually disappear until one comes to the plain of Omalos.  These Cretan plains sound romantic - a flat bowl in the midst of fairly sparse mountains but, in fact, I found them rather dull, enlivened only by the wild tulips that flower there.  The inhabitants can grow little but potatoes and, like most Cretans, are a little haughty especially if there are women in evidence.

Up from the plain one follows a barren valley and the road leads up the right hand side of the pass to the refuge of Xiloskalo.  This refuge has a wide balcony facing South though, even on a brilliant April morning, it was very cold at 9.30 when we arrived.  As we stood and looked down the apparently sheer drop on the South side of the pass into which we were to descend, an enormous bird floated effortless beneath us.  To the right and left were shapely, if not dramatic, snow-clad peaks.  Before us the bottom valley was darkly, mistily indistinct. I can imagine no more marvellous setting in which to see my first eagle.  He gave us two demonstration circular glides at a pace that would have seemed slow had one not realised the scale, then disappeared towards the mountains high on our left.

The Greek's principal tourist selling point seems to be woollen bags woven in traditional patterns and in bright colours, to be suspended from the shoulder by a thickly plaited cord.  Roger, who, when not enjoying holidays in traditionally cultured parts of the world, is an administrative Officer for the Ministry of Defence, was slung about with two of these.  I had one and a haversack of my mother's - the net effect of the two of us was somewhat dangling.  We had, however, brought our boots.

The track was obviously designed for mules, and for the first thousand feet zigzagged down very steeply indeed though perfectly comfortably.  The pines grew thickly on the slopes and one could often lean out from the path and rest on a tree whose roots were fifteen or twenty feet below. There were fascinating glimpses back to the blue, white and black of the peaks.

After the first sheer section, the track kept fairly close to the stream which was clear in the main though sometimes cloudy with melt water.  Flowers increased; trees thinned and we came out at the first habitation - the little church of St. Nicholas standing in a small grassy alp with a couple of now deserted buildings alongside it.  The sun was now higher and it was pleasurably hot.  Beside the path I found the wild white peony - the flower we had been looking for throughout the Cretan holiday.  I was the only one lucky enough to find it.  If anything, it looked better than I had expected.

The day was gorgeous (let us hope that the pun was an accident! - Ed.) and we carried on easily to the waters meet, a mile or so below, and thence to the first olive trees we had seen this side of the mountains which heralded our arrival at the village of Samaria.  My memory does not show me clearly what the bridge was like, but I know that crossing from West to East of the river, we looked down from forty to fifty feet into deep, still pools with occasional enormous boulders.

Samaria itself was deserted, though it seemed from the condition of one or two of the houses that there is still some seasonal occupation - possibly pastoral.  Certainly there are enough olive trees to merit a harvest.  After an idyllic lunch Roger, ever the scholar gypsy, was settling down to his book of poetry, but I drove him to his feet and we set off for the gorge proper.

I think really that I enjoyed the morning, with its wonderful lights and sunshine, more than the gorge itself impressive though it was.  The walls close in South of Samaria and are often overwhelmingly tall above one, though I question whether they are really the 3,000 feet that the guidebook mentions - perhaps a thousand feet would be nearer the mark for much of the way.  The walls are full of orange brown colours and there are many folds and contortions.  At intervals, small caves mark the cliff with black openings.  The path stays on the East side, much smaller now than the mule track down to Samaria though still marked, in bizarre fashion, by green litter bins at quarter mile intervals.  (This in spite of the fact that we saw not a soul between Xiloskados and Ayia Roumeli!)  The length of the gorge where one feels really tightly enclosed is not really more than about a mile, and culminates dramatically in the Portes or gates.

Though the immediate stretch of cliff here is probably not above three or four hundred feet, the gap narrows to some thirty feet.  There is no path, so it was off with the boots and trousers and hope for the best. In fact, the water never went above our knees and, though swift, was not as pushing as many a Welsh or Scottish stream. Some fifty yards downstream, we came out of the water and hopped about to warm ourselves up.

From here on, the gorge gradually opens.  Strange flat sheets of puddingstone conglomerate afforded amusing walking. In places, the river had cut through it in such a narrow channel that it was possible to leap from one side to the other, and before we had realised how far we had gone, we were surprised to hear voices.  The small hamlet, which is improperly marked on the map, was in fact on the West side of the stream and boasted an inn - if that is the word for it - perhaps a shelter for selling wine to travellers.  The two old crones who served us had a great thrill in uncorking the retsina, whose smooth yet tart flavour we were longing for, and were delighted to discover our nationality.  Memories of 1941 are still very much alive, and it is better to be British than German in those parts.

So on, somewhat headily, to the sea at Ayia Romeli.  The place itself was seedily attractive.  The inevitable police station (police always seem to make up about a quarter of the visible population in rural Crete) a small tavern, a few cottages and a building site of what looked as if it could in the future be chalets for wealthy tourists.  We had heard that one could get boats out, but had decided to walk out next day along the coast to Khora Sjakion.

The inn was prepared to put us up - though I am at a loss to know where - and we then sat for a long time appreciating the boredom that seems to be a hallmark of rural Crete.  Twiddling beads and desultory bursts of polite conversation we endured for an hour and then, leaving our things, we set out to look at the ancient site of Tara (very unexciting) and for a swim in the Mediterranean (cold but-superb on this bleak and empty coast.)

We returned to find a German party that had followed us down the gorge had arrived and were hoping to get a boat out (there is, of course, no motor road.)  This was a great occasion and produced prodigious police activity.  When it was over, they returned to their H.Q. and had a parade!

Supper was an omelette - excellent - and stale bread over which our host sprinkled water liberally to freshen it up.  Diet in Ayia Romeli was dependant on the weekly boat.  The boat came and went after supper.  The policemen eventually finished their latest game of cards and, at last, the mystery of our sleeping place was revealed.  Two cot beds were brought in and we bedded down in the bar (lounge, dining room) of the inn.  I think there were only two rooms altogether, but there might have been three.

Relieving myself in the middle of the night, the stars were shining, but the moon was brighter and the one impressive thing in that seedy little village - the Venetian fort that towered five hundred feet above it - was clearly picked out amongst the eroded gullies of the hillside.

The walk out to Khora Sjakion next day was much longer and harder than the descent of the gorge.  It took us ten hours with only brief stops for food, a swim and wine at the attractively set village of Lautron which took us seven hours to reach.  It was not a beautiful walk.  The vegetation is low coarse scrub with scarcely a tree till the olives of Lautron. Naked, eroded slopes are every where and though we kept close to the coast, we wondered sometimes whether we were mistaken, as the only creatures we met were goats.  There were a few highlights.  The church of St. Paul was a perfect little Byzantine shrine just above high water, excellently kept up, we guessed, by the handsome priest in Ayia Romeli.  We approached it over yet larger sheets of the strange conglomerate.  Our swimming place was superb, a small enclosed rocky bay we climbed down to, and which gave us fine sand and smooth rocks on which to dry our nakedness.  Finally, the last section of walk gave us one giddily dramatic stretch of path where it traversed a ledge with a sheer face above and plunged two hundred feet below into a deep turquoise sea.

It’s a wonderful walk. Do it when you can!  Perhaps it will whet your appetite for summer action!

Shooting the Grand Canyon

by Mlle. Nicole Malagutti.

If you have ever dreamed of spending some time away from the most overrunning aspects of our civilization, such as T.V., cars, etc., I would advise you to take a trip down the Colorado River on a rubber raft.

You start  from a place called Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  To get there, you can hire a mule or hike.  Having ridden the mule, I would recommend hiking, if you are prone to vertigo – as the tracks are very narrow and the bends very sharp.

The raft is waiting for you, and your seven day trip starts immediately.  It is a good start, as soon after departure you go through the first rapid. This is Horn Creek, rated 7-9 (The scale of difficulty goes from 1 to 10).  These rapids, and there are 93 of them, are a thrilling experience. "Hang on! hang on!" recommends the boatman - and here you go, grabbing at a rope as strongly as you can. At the top of the wave, you are thrown in the air, your only contact with the raft being the rope to which you cling tightly.  A second later, you go through a tall wall of water which covers the entire raft.  You do not have time to be frightened (this comes later!).  Of course, you wear a life jacket and, should you be washed away into the river, the best thing to do is to grab the first rock you meet, hang on and wait for rescue.

In between rapids, you have a more relaxed time during which you can enjoy the magnificent scenery offered by the high pink cliffs steeply rising over the dark brown river, the fantastic architecture carved by erosion, the lava fingers solidified thousands of years ago, and many other beauties.

Some time during the afternoon you stop to collect drift wood to cook the evening meal and, at about tea time, you stop by a beach, choose a place where you want to install your camping equipment which is limited in fact to a sleeping bag.

After a good meal cooked by the boatman, I guarantee you will have a wonderful evening by the fire with no noise except the chatting and singing of the 'river runners' under a wonderful collection of stars.

Next morning, after a good night's sleep (good, that is, if you are not too worried about the snakes and scorpions that might visit you) you will be up at 5.30 and after a substantial breakfast and shower under the nearby waterfall (what a massage!) you will be off again on the trail of Major Powell, who first went down the river about a hundred years ago, losing three men in the adventure.

Gorges Du Verdon, France

by Jonathan King.

We were on our summer holidays with mummy and daddy and Philip.  We set off to walk the Gorges du Verdon because daddy suggested it.  We went up the valley in the car.  It was hot.  We got to the starting place at about half past ten.  We stopped the car in the parking place in the middle of the gorge a long way down.  We got ready by putting on our, shoes and our equipment which was a bottle of lemon; cheese and other things to eat.  We put all this in the rucsacs one for me and one for daddy.  Mummy stayed behind to film us starting off and then we walked till we got to a tunnel.  We waited for daddy who had filmed us going up to the tunnel.  We started going through the tunnel.  I used torch and my brother used his.  We walked on through the tunnel until we got to another tunnel, that tunnel was the last tunnel for a long way.  When we got to the other end of the tunnel we stopped to have a rest and wait for daddy who was trying to find another path outside the tunnel but couldn’t.  Daddy joined us and we had some sweets and then went on through a deep gorge until we came to an ideal spot to stop for lunch.  It was a shelter in the rock like a cave.  It was out of the sun which was very hot.  After lunch we started walking again.

Our plan was to follow he gorge down to the end of the difficult bit and then to find the end of the big tunnel so that we could get back to our starting place without redoing the difficult bit.

We found the top end of the tunnel and the source which was he only chance for water.  We didn't fill our bottle because we thought we were going to come back to it.  We came to the difficult bit and walked along the paths with steep cliffs on one side. Some of the path had a cliff hanging over it.  There were long ladders going up a steep gully in the cliff.  Going down the other side we found another path which was a junction.  There were lots of trees so we couldn’t see the river very well (it was a long way down). We started to look for the bottom end of the tunnel but we didn’t succeed.   Daddy and I went on ahead to try to find out where we were.  We came to a standstill by a river.  We felt thirsty because there was no more clean water so we took some glasses down to the river and swilled our mouths out.  We noticed the Touring Club de France hut perched high above on the cliff side, so Daddy went back to fetch Mummy and Philip who weren’t having a nice time.

From there we went all the way back up the steep slope to the hut because we couldn’t find the tunnel to go back.  By this time everybody had had enough and they were thirsty and tired.  Daddy was red and sweating and couldn’t hardly speak. I was a bit thirsty.  Then we went up a steep ladder and walked along to the hut and had a litre of water each.  There was a nice man in the hut who drove us back to our car and one of the nice things in the walk was some of the fossils Philip had discovered.

I think we did well despite the lack of water and the heat.

Editor’s Note:    I think he did well, too.  In these days, when so few people seem to be able to write, it is heartening to see the son of one of our most regular correspondents breaking into print.  Keep it up!

Les Gorges Du Tarn

by Kangy.

The sight of the deep cut Tran Gorge from Le Rozier is very good.  The guide will tell how many thousands of years the Tarn and the Jonte have eroded their separate ways through the massive limestone beds that form the high plateau of the causes.  Only going to see can strike home the singular effect of a deep gorge powerfully incised into a horizontal plateau.

The Gorge of the Tarn has many viewpoints, from Le Rozier where its setting can be appreciated; from Pont Sublime where its grandeur can be seen, and from the course of the river which is almost inaccessible.

Commerce has solved the problem of inaccessibility by providing rapid-shooting, long, narrow barges which start at St. Enimie and land at Les Bawnes, giving a 25 kilometre excursion for about five pounds.  Having leisurely absorbed the region and become enamoured of it, the prospect of a descent of the river became more and more alluring.  Spice was added by the possibility of doing it in an inflatable dinghy and avoiding unnecessary expense.

So on the next family holiday, the inflatable was dragged along with us in the hope that, if my reconnaissance was successful, we could all make the descent.  Easy access to the river is limited to only a few places along the 25 Km of the recommended section.  We decided to start at St. Enemie and Ann would go and wait at Les Bawnes. This would give us views of the most spectacular parts and keep our driving to minimum, quite apart from the fact that the cirque at Les Baumes has a pebble beach which would greatly amuse the family while dad did his stuff.

We pumped up the inflatable by the side of the road, just downstream of the large signs exhorting the thrills of the barges and, feeling slightly criminal, carried it to the water. Ann passed me the waterproof bag with camera and din-din and, bidding me a fond farewell, pushed the boat off into the rapid running section of the river.  That bit went rather quickly what with an imprecise directional control; swift current and lack of practice.  Two oars and a round boat don’t make for a quiet life!

Suddenly the bank loomed and branches threatened the boat.  I thrust off ineffectively but got a couple of good bites with the paddles into the solid mass of swiftly moving steely-coloured water of the deep channel and, spinning wildly, found myself in the rough shallows fending off frantically at sharp, teeth-like rocks protruding from the white foam.  Furious arm work, a certain detached feeling which slowed time down, and I was once again in the dark water, in the calm before the rapid.  Quick flicks of the paddles lined me up to shoot what I hoped was the best gap.  It happened.  A smooth whoosh; an abrupt lurch; no time to think; paddle like a maniac and - - - suddenly all was calm - the first of a series of deep pools. Deep, clear water; tall, smooth limestone cliffs enclosed by a narrow strip of sky.

I allowed the inflatable to drift, and started to think about stowing the gear which had been dumped quickly into the boat in the excitement of the start.  I was reminded of my camera and took some photographs. I drifted into pebbly shallows and, by pushing down on the oars and raising myself, I scooted along trying not to worry too much about the abrasive effect on the buoyancy.  Once more into a long pool, and then I settled down into a steady rhythm of rowing, and progressed.

Pool led to rapid; rapids to shallows – all encased between the vertical, smooth walls of the gorge. Time passed.  My shoulders ached with the unexpected effort required to traverse the deep, slow sections of the Tarn.  Simply drifting would have been more pleasant and appropriate, but I still had an ambition to return with my boys and wanted to get on.

At mid-day, the sun warmed a long bank of shingle heaped against the rock wall and I made my first landfall.  Dragging the expedition vessel high enough up the bank to be sure that it would not be washed away, I got out the expedition rations and ate.  I felt very possessive.  My bank; my provisions; my river; my boat.  Especially my boat, because if that went there was no alternative but to swim until the gorge sides diminished sufficiently for me to climb out.

Advancing shadows cut short my reverie, and the reduced stores were repacked and the voyage resumed. The gorge began to open out past this point and the enclosed private feeling gave way to a more touristic one. The river still flowed between rock walls, but lower ones, topped by vegetated limestone scree slopes and completed by cirques which gave the impression of mountain peaks.  All was light white stone, dry, protruding through a cover of light green shrubs and trees.  Upstream, from where I'd come was the primal gorge, simple and sure, rising on the right to a well shaped limestone peak.

The sun rays began to redden; the regular paddling numbed the tired feeling as I crossed long wide stretches of the river.  Beaches began to appear and all was calm and peaceful.  In the distance a wide bend followed the direction of a deep and high cirque which must be Les Baumes and I started to look for my family.  A white dot of a dress became larger and I soon distinguished the energetic shapes of two small boys happily heaving stones into the water.  I made my second landfall and kissed Ann and nobody mentioned a second trip and I didn’t insist.

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The Annual Mendip Barbecue is normally held on the Saturday nearest to Midsummer Day.  This year it will be SATURDAY JUNE 23rd.  Keep this date free for the usual festivities round the bonfire if fine or festering in the Belfry if it turns out to be a typical Mendip summer day.

With any luck, there will be a more detailed announcement in the next B.B. in time for the event, but if not, please contact "Mr." NIGEL TAYLOR at the Belfry or at Whiddons, Chilcote.  Telephone number WELLS 72338.