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A Weekend in the Chilterns

By Graham Wilton-Jones and Bucket

Our weekend's entertainment was set in motion by a telephone call to me from a Farmer who, after the usual pleasantries said "I have been told that you are a Potholer". I answered in my best non-committal way and owned to a passing interest in the sport so the Farmer went on to say that "I have a dead dog in my Well which I would like you to remove - can you do it?  My reply was well, yes, how deep is your well? - 330 feet with a 20 ft depth of water. Slightly staggered by this I replied that I would 'have a go' the next evening - I put down the phone and headed for a drink.

After some reflection I came to the conclusion (inevitably) that there was only one person who could take charge of this venture so I picked up the phone again and called up Scrag (Wilton-Jones) the great Cave Explorer and SRT expert after all he possessed all the rope which would be needed.

Saturday morning saw our arrival at the Farm with the car fully loaded down with tackle, SRT gear and Acrow Screw Jacks, a few hammers and chisels and all the other caving type gear. Whilst we were entertained to coffee by the Fanner we learned that the dog was a Golden Retriever and the W-J (who is something of an animal expert) informed us that it would probably weigh somewhere around the 50-60 lb mark.

When we arrived at the Well we found that it was surrounded by a 6 ft iron fence and to me this seemed to be the ideal time to leave the SRT expert to it but, typically Scrag immediately started issuing orders about the belays and ropes.  An iron pipe was placed over the Well and I was given 100m of rope to lower down the pitch.  I managed to get half of the rope lowered before the inevitable tangle appeared. Naturally the expert instantly noticed this and moaned about it as though the end of the world had arrived or as if I’d left club tackle, in an unwashed condition.  Laying the rope on the grass would have avoided a tangle he said - XX off! and sort out the other ropes whilst I sort this out.  Having solved that, there were then metres and metres of rope laid out on the grass just in time for the spectators to arrive to walk and jump all over (he's a clever lad that way)

Eventually, the Well was rigged with its 100m rope, hopefully to the bottom, and a 40m rope. We were intending to place Screw Jacks across the Well at approx 30m stages to form extra belays for the ropes and to act as work platforms.  The top ten feet of the Well turned out to be a confusion of metal supports where part of the old pump equipment was fixed.  From the top the Well was brickwork to a depth of 41 ft and from there down it was in rock chalk.  The average diameter was 5 - 6 ft and about 1/3 of the area was taken up by the water pipes and pump linkage running down into the water.  These pipes and linkage are supported (1) on wooden leaves let into the chalk - many of them now rotted away at the ends and the metal work was not in its prime condition.

Scrag was kitted up first and decided to go and have a look into the Well so with various comments from the weeg he disappeared into its maw.  When he reached the position decided for the first jack he found a suitable point, locked off and asked me for the tools.  Conversation from this depth to the surface was normal but below the first 30m it became more difficult.  I sent down the tackle bag and whilst Scrag proceeded to cut holes in the Well side and I chatted with the spectators in the sun.  After a suitable time of grunts and groans Scrag suggested that I now send down a jack on the hauling line and then come down myself to cut the second hole.  I carefully lowered the jack such that it would only strike him a light blow and then with trembling legs I connected my shiny new rack to the 40m line and thought of the nice kind practice pitches at Split Rock and Local tree - I launched myself into the shaft trying hard not to think of the 330 ft below.

I met up with Scrag - rather unavoidable really as the Space tended to be a bit limited and after removing his boots from my ears I obtained the tools (not his) and hacked out the second hole for the screw jack.  The screw jack was then fixed in place and to the tune of a couple of choruses of 'Rock Bottom' we both climbed back to the top to sup some ale and listen to the Boat Race.

Soon Scrag felt the need to exercise his leadership with, "You go on down, pick up the tool bag at the first jack, carry on down and start cutting out the holes for the second jack."  Whilst all this was going on Scrag would fix the some rope to the first jack, lower the second jack and see that we had twin ropes at the bottom.  I left him tut-tutting and descended to a lock off at approx 220ft and started to cut out the jack holes.  Whilst I was busy cutting the jack appeared beside me and the 80m rope tangled itself around my gear.  Scrag was only trying to help as usual.

With the second screw jack in place, Scrag joined me and before he could disconnect his rack, I suggested that he carry on down to the water and see if the dog was within reach. After a further 50ft he stopped and said that he had run into a pipe ruckle and I should come down.  I slid down and joined him on a substantial platform which was supporting the old pumping gear.  This pipe work contained pipes up to 6in dia and required ¾ of the available space.  At this point a section of the wall had been hollowed out to allow more space.  The ropes were sorted out and lowered through the hole in the staging.  Below this staging the pipe work consisted of 2-6inch and 4-4inch pipes running down into the water, about 50ft below, restricting space quite considerably although the pipes were strong enough to use as supports.

Scrag descended to the water to see if the dog was visible and found that on first sight there was no sign of it.  After a bit of a search behind the pipes and under the surface he said that he could see it about 1ft below the surface - he prodded the dog and, said, "you'd better come on down, it seems to be caught up in something."  I descended to the water complete with the hauling line and after a bit of a struggle decided that it was not caught up and managed to fix the hauling line around its middle - whilst doing this, gas bubbled from its mouth which did nothing to improve the local atmosphere. At this point Scrag beat a hasty retreat muttering something about fixing up a jumer pulley.  When Scrag fixed the rope we hauled the (past tense) dog up to the pump gear platform – Scrag Sorag looked at it with loving eyes and said "that dog's in fine condition."  I thought to myself he's finally flipped and said "fine condition my left foot!  The bloody thing's got a broken neck" - besides which I was a bit fed up with the noxious fumes the thing had been exuding at me on the way up.

The sack which the Farmer had given us was not really large enough for the dog so we decided to pack up for the day and return with suitable wrapping on the morrow.  Scrag was now going to demonstrate his Gibbs Rope Walkers for the ascent so I had to hold the rope taut, for him to start off. Off he went with a big grin on his face "see you at the top old bucket in about 1 hour," he said chuckling.  Speed hog I quipped back feeling slightly despondent and as soon as he was out of the way I clipped onto the second line and started upwards.  As I approached the bottom jack, where a change of rope was called for, I heard Scrag ahead muttering "siding rope walkers". As I approached the scene I pointed out that I had not expected to see him again until the top and politely enquired if I could assist in his trouble.  The clogs which I was using have been much adapted and allowed for a high speed rope change and as I ascended Scrag reappeared from behind, his legs going like pistons, and rapidly left me behind again - these are just the things for big pitches he said.  I plodded on paying not much attention to the above until I found that there was suddenly a boot in my face - I had reached the first jack and G W-J was still there doing his high speed change over.  As his boot was at a level with my head and his face was very red I wisely (I thought) held my peace until he had once again started on the ascent.

Sunday morning found us with an extra large sack from the Farmer at the top of the Well and we quickly descended to the platform where we had left the dog the day before.  Scrag with great command fixed a jumer to the pipe work and a great debate then arose as to who should be the one to manoeuvre the dog into the sack.  After much unprintable language Scrag prevailed and it fell to me to get the dog into the sack.  Having done so, we quickly tied the dog to the hauling rope ready for its ascent. Whilst Scrag was retreating up to the screw jack I examined the wider section of the Well and found that there were a number of names and initials carved in the surface some of them had dates and the earliest of these was 1899.  I decided to carve B.E.C. 1977 but there was not enough room for the 'Gets Everywhere'.

When Scrag had rigged up the jumer as a clamp to stop the dog going down again after we had hauled it up we set about the long haul.  The system was for me to precede the dog by approx. 15 ft at a time, pull the dog up to me and then repeat the process.  After a long time and a lot of hard hauling work the dog was hauled out onto the surface.

After some liquid refreshment we both descended again and made our way out bringing all the gear as we ascended.  Apart from the ropes tangling up a couple of times this was accomplished with only a slight fuss.  After we had cleared away all the ropes into the car we paid a final visit to the Farmer who expressed his thanks by presenting us with a bottle of Whiskey to share - good spoils!