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Committee Members

Hon. Secretary: Nigel Taylor (772)
Hon. Treasurer: Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary: Henry Bennett (1079)
Caving Secretary: Toby Maddocks (1310)
Hut Warden Jane Clarke (983)
Tacklemaster: Bob Smith (1203)
Hut Engineer Henry Dawson (1313)
Bulletin Editor: Nick Harding (1289)
Floating Fiona Crozier (1305), Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275)

Non-Committee Posts
BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian: Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275)
Auditor Chris Smart
Club Archivist Sue Dukes

Club Trustees:
Martin Grass (790), Phil Romford (985), Nigel Taylor (772) and Mike Wilson (1130)

Cover Photo:    Exit to Peilklieng Pouk, Meghalaya, India. Taken by Henry Dawson who assures me that the entrance is around 70m high.

The Belfry Bulletin is the official journal of the Bristol Exploration Club.  It is available to distribution via printed media, html or pdf. The BEC website offers the full archive of every single BB every published. The last years BBs are only available online to subscribed members of the club.

Ave Cavers!

Welcome to a packed issue of the BB.

Well firstly I would like to thank everyone who, through their prestigious use of tactical voting kept me in the position of BB editor. Once again I offer my apologies to the committee for not attending the 2007 AGM due in part to circumstances beyond my control. 

I must pause here to thank the BB editorial team i.e. Jrat and Henry B for polishing up this (e)steamed organ before it goes to press. Their skill enables most of my mistakes to be ironed out making me look better than I am… 

Although some do slip by, namely:

Master Audsley has asked me to point out to fellow followers of the bat that there is an error in BB528 in the Caine Hill article, I quote, ‘the photo of a bod at the bottom of the shaft is named as Dudley Herbert, it should be Mike Thompson.’

The editorial team have been delicately chastised, six of the best trousers down. Me included.

Lastly, here’s wishing everyone a splendidly fine Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Yer Ed.

Look out! It’s…. The Committee

To bring everyone up to speed here’s how the new committee looks.

Hon Secretary                           Nigel Taylor
Treasurer                                   Mike Wilson
Caving Secretary                      Toby Maddocks
Tacklemaster                            Bob Smith
Hut Warden                               Jane Clarke
Hut Engineer                             Henry Dawson (see below)
Editor                                          Nick Harding
Membership Secretary            Henry Bennett
Floating                                      Fiona Crozier,
                                                    MadPhil Rowsell,

Non-committee posts:

Librarian                                    MadPhil Rowsell
Hon. Auditor                             Chris Smart
Club Archivist                           Sue Dukes

The Hut Engineer will be Henry Dawson but due to the mechanisms of the constitution we could only appoint an existing committee member. Toby Maddocks was placed here but will not function in this role.

Tribute to "Alfie" - Stanley John Collins

Stanley John Collins, known to all his friends as "Alfie", passed away at his home in Litton, near Chewton Mendip, on 16 October 2007 aged 83. He had been a member of the Bristol Exploration Club for sixty years.

In his eulogy at the funeral in Litton Parish Church, Tony "Sett" Setterington explained how Stanley became "Alfie" - At the start of the Second World War, Stanley Collins was a pupil at a school in Maidstone, Kent, which for safety reasons was evacuated to Dorchester. While there he joined the Junior Training Corps, a precursor of the Army Cadets, and he found that he had to conform to Regular Army rules and wear a greatcoat in winter. Wartime rules required that brass buttons were clean but not shiny, a difficult condition to achieve, especially so if the buttons were not a matching set, which was true in "Alfie’s" case. At the time there was a film entitled "Alf’s Button", which told the fictional tale of a soldier, named Alf, whose greatcoat had one button made when Aladdin’s lamp was melted down and which retained magical properties when it was rubbed. "Alfie’s" odd button didn’t have any magical properties but it did earn him his nickname!

From school, "Alfie" progressed to the University of Bristol where he studied radio science, or in today's terms, electronics. He became an active member of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, demonstrating his fitness by cycling 100 miles in a day and posting cards en route as proof.

In due course he was directed to work at Kolster Brands in Sidcup, Kent, where he was a member of the team designing the first, post-war, 12 inch, black and white television set.

During his stay in Kent "Alfie" regularly travelled to Mendip on long weekends, and when wartime restrictions on jobs were lifted he moved to Bristol to work in the aircraft industry. When he was living in Clifton he married Jean and they had a daughter Sue, now living in North America. Unfortunately Jean became unwell and had to move into a care home where she eventually died.

"Alfie" joined the Bristol Exploration Club in 1947 and was soon actively caving and digging, especially on Eastern Mendip where he was involved with Pat Browne and his father in work in Stoke Lane Slocker and Brownes' Hole. He gave his name to Alfie's Room in the latter cave. After trial excavations in the late 1940s, he became a key member of the digging team which eventually opened up St. Cuthbert's Swallet in July 1953, but the tightness of the original Entrance Rift restricted access at first to only the smallest members of the BEC. The Rift was progressively enlarged and "Alfie" was able to join the exploratory trips and later assisted Don Coase with a preliminary survey of the cave.

On Saturday evenings the BEC would enjoy another of "Alfie’s" talents, playing the piano for sing songs in the Hunters’. At this time, he began composing his "Spelaeodes", lengthy comical recitations describing the travails of such fictional caving characters as Percy Pound, Dennis Drain and Kenneth Lyle. With cartoon illustrations by fellow BEC member Jock Orr, a collection of them were published as "Reflections" in 1971.

"Alfie" was a very capable DIY builder and, assisted by Jill Rollason, he erected the stone tackle shed at the Belfry. He also bought a pair of miners' cottages in Bishop Sutton near Mendip and, with some help from friends, converted them into a single house. For some years "Alfie" edited the Belfry Bulletin and when relieved of this duty following a Committee dispute he edited an alternative newsletter "The Bulletin", publishing it twice yearly for some 30 more years. He also continued to organise annual dinners for the older section of Mendip cavers.

With his second wife, Sally, and children, Jacqueline and Deborah, he moved to Long Roof Barn in Litton, but later "downsized" to a smaller cottage in the village when Jacqueline left home and Deborah sadly died.

A subsequent decision to build an extension for Jacqueline, her husband, Steve, and their family ended in disaster when a mistake by a builder caused a fire which burnt down the house, taking with it furniture and contents including computers, archives and musical instruments. A much-enlarged house was eventually rebuilt and both families moved in, but tragically Sally contracted septicaemia from which she never recovered. This was a terrible blow to "Alfie", who was already suffering with breathing problems and deteriorating health and he never really recovered. Although he planned to attend the recent "Veterans" dinner he didn’t manage it and died at home on Tuesday 16 October.

"Alfie" was a man of many talents, and any caver who was fortunate enough to hear him recite one of his famous Spelaeodes in the Belfry or the Hunters' will vouch for his wonderful command of the English language and his sense of humour and fun.

Based on the original eulogy read out during the funeral service by Tony "Sett" Setterington, amended and enlarged by Rich Witcombe

Membership News

In the last few months we’ve had a number of new members. Please join me in welcoming the following: Mark Stephens, Kate Humphries, Jo Hardy, Maxine Bateman, Jinni King, Sissel Balomatis.

Meghalaya - International Expeditions From a First Timer's Perspective

by Henry Dawson

I'm sure you have all read through expedition reports and have been adequately informed about the various different caves found, their lengths, locations and general characteristics, so for this article I would like to give a bit more of a first hand, human perspective of an expedition.

This was my first expedition. I had most generously been invited by Tony Jarratt. I thought about it for about half a second and accepted, then drove home figuring out how I would explain to the missus and my boss that I wanted to vanish for a month to go down holes in the ground.

I managed to get time off work and my girlfriend was disturbingly eager for me to go away for so long so all I had to sort out was the monetary side of things. I had plenty of warning and advice on good airlines to use from J'rat so booked tickets to places I had never heard of and counted up what I had left. This was disappointingly little but I got by for most things by extending the overdraft (and being a true Yorkshireman). I came unstuck with my insurance and jabs. Prior to the trip I got an e-mail from the organiser giving details of some companies. Being inexperienced I got the BCA all singing all dancing insurance and in retrospect I could happily have got away with the German equivalent of the RAC (The ADAC) who do a travel medical insurance that covers you for accidents and medical repatriation in the event of an accident and does not exclude caving. To gain this cover you need to join the ADAC (22 Euro) and pay an additional charge (11.70 Euro) for the medical cover.  The ADAC Website has further information (most of it in German with some English).  If you take this option you will need an additional travel insurance to cover delays and loss of baggage etc.  A normal travel policy that is likely to cost between £50 to £60 will cover this. I would recommend this to anyone going to remote locations where your friends will pull you out of the cave, as there is no rescue team.

Starting to panic a bit about the costs involved I was informed of what the Ian Dear Memorial Fund was. Once more I thanked myself for joining the BEC and made an application. Those controlling the fund were flexible and extremely helpful when considering my application. All I needed to do to apply was write a letter explaining who I was, what I was doing and why I needed the money. I gave this to a member of the committee and the application was dealt with expeditiously. The fund was very generous and made a substantial difference for me. To the fund and those looking after it I am very grateful and would recommend that all young members of the BEC consider applying for this help when going on expeditions.

The time came and I picked up Tony who insisted on going to the Hunter's before we did anything. We later climbed on the plane and Tony promptly set about harassing the stewards to get a supply of gin and tonics going. Numerous hours later we landed in Kolkata (Calcutta) and walked over to the domestic terminal fighting off taxi drivers and hawkers.  Here we met a few of the others and sat down for a seemingly interminable time period in an airport where everything closed overnight.

The next flight to Guwahati was quick and then we were in a Sumo 4x4 and settled in for a 4-hour journey through some really pretty hills covered with jungle. Feeling shattered I was reluctant to drop off as there was so much to see. We got into Shillong and I was glad of Tony's company as he navigated the cab to Brian's house. A lovely little compound right in the middle of town.

The next day we went for a wander around the market. This maze of tiny stalls had everything we needed so we stocked up on digging gear and blankets and I set about trying to get some warm clothes to replace the coat I had left at Kolkata airport. Indian airways seemingly indiscriminately confiscate whisky (fluids) and batteries from hand baggage. Its worth going with just a book in your hands on internal flights. I found Tony and Neil in the Centrepoint's Bar. The two of them had been going at it since before lunch and were not interested in leaving for such distractions as an evening meal. Having chosen the strangely ubiquitous Chinese food for tea I returned to find Tony and Neil in quite a state chattering away to some rich locals who had paid for their tab. Must have been rich! It got late and Tony fell over and whacked his head. We got him and Neil back to Brian's and crashed out. A fairly disturbed night followed and I was woken at one point as J'rat tried to get into Neil's sleeping bag by mistake!

The next day we piled into an old bus (the Meghalaya expedition is very organised) and settled in for 5 hours of driving past piles of coal and chatting to Phillippa Glanvill to get out to a patch of large tents on the side of a hill in the middle of nowhere. I wandered into what I would come to call the 'Bamboo Belfry' feeling like a novice amongst experts and feeling not a little trepidation. I had been to such remote places plenty of times before but never had I been amongst such a collection of cavers, for a whole month. The ice soon broke as we complained about the tea made for us by the cook (his name was Swer). Base camp was quite a luxurious place with long-drop toilets, people cooking and washing for you, warm water for bathing and an infinite supply of beer. Apparently we got through about 1000, 1 litre bottles!

Next day and I was put with Mark Brown and a few others. A great chap who did a brilliant job of managing the expedition for the majority of the time we were there. It was Simon Brooks who started the expedition and headed it up each year but after several years of attendance Mark had taken over a lot of the management. Most of the Meghalayan caves around base camp drop down 90-100m of pitches and then get into enormous trunk passages. It is hard to wrap your head around the volumes of water that flow through some of the passages. Photos do not really do them justice, as I was to find out.

My first cave had a 9 pitch SRT section followed by some level passage then we were straight into surveying. This surprised me as I am used to the idea of there only being a minority that get to push caves whilst the majority 'entrance bash' and carry out support roles. Not in Meghalaya. There is such as wealth of passage and such easy access that everyone on the expedition got to survey a reasonable amount of virgin cave.

We left the cave and were pressed into playing hula-hoop with a big gang of cheering village kids. I was pretty happy to find that those on the expedition were of a similar level to me and not the mega-cavers I was expecting. I also had a great opportunity to learn new skills such as surveying and setting bolts. Apart from a few SWCC courses this opportunity is sadly unavailable in the UK.

On my return to camp I found out that Tony's injured head had become worse and one of our expedition's four doctors had carted him off to Shillong for a brain scan. Thankfully this showed that he did indeed have a brain and that there was no lasting damage.

The days progressed and I was surprised to find that I woke every day really happy to go caving. Although rather wet, Meghalayan caves are warm and usually spacious. A set of thermals and a lightweight oversuit will do any caver in this type of climate. A shorty was enough for most wet caves and a Petzl Duo or similar AA battery run light will do in even very remote areas. Make sure you get good batteries though as fakes and local brands tend to be dreadful.

Just as I was getting used to everything at base camp I found out I was being sent away with some Germans to a little village in the jungle called Sielkan. Rather concerned at leaving all the people I knew I put my kit together and set about introducing myself to these new people. Then disaster struck! The Meghalaya Adventurers' Association had been pursuing an action in the high court to get better control of the illegal mining on the ridge. Lafarge was trying to turn the mountain into cement and some small-scale coal miners had got caught in the crossfire. These turned up en-masse looking rather menacing and ordered us off the ridge. Having found several dead people allegedly due to a squabble between the miners we took them seriously. Tempted to face it out, our minds were made up when they started threatening the villagers. We pulled all our gear out of the caves and sat in base camp looked over by a load of coppers armed with machine guns. Meanwhile Simon did some clever negotiating with the miners and after a few days sitting out some pretty persistent rain we got the go ahead and set off for Sielkan.

Sielkan consisted of about twenty bamboo huts two hours walk from the nearest 'road.' The village's water supply was from a huge doline through which a river flowed. This cave required life jackets and Henry Rockcliff generously lent me a wetsuit. I have to say that whilst I thought the caves on the ridge were beautifully decorated, nothing had prepared me for this! The main passage was a huge 40m by 30m river passage 3km long with a bat colony part way through numbering about 1 million bats. The side passages were various but the main one, appropriately called Perfect Passage (again large) was both varied and intensely decorated. This wonderland of gypsum, sandstone, limestone and every type of formation you could think of all in a plethora of ways, shapes and forms left me gaping. We netted about 3km of newly surveyed passage and exchanged a few anxious glances when we found both bear and big cat footprints down there with us!

On later trips we used the Bamboo Maypole to access high-level passages. For this technique you asked the village chief for the largest piece of bamboo he could lay his hands on and dragged it underground. The bamboo had to be fresh and green as it lost strength quickly once cut. Underground you tied a ladder to it with slings and had two ropes to steady it if necessary, then propped it against the aven and climbed up the ladder. It was all rather wobbly but worked brilliantly and saved many hours of bolt climbing.

Caving in new areas seems mostly to involve going and seeing the village head-man and asking permission to go down their caves. Then local kids are recruited to find entrances for some small remuneration, these are logged with GPS and many notes taken due to the lack of satellites then quickly checked to see if they go, a machete was essential.

The next few weeks passed with some good progress and quite a few comments made about J'rat's remarkable fortune at finding connections (although he puts it down to 40 years of caving and several years of thought). I learnt how to do survey book and got started on bolt placements. I was really enjoying myself and all too soon the expedition ended. We returned to Shillong for more drinking and shopping, then to Calcutta from where we flew home.

I would have found it very difficult to do this expedition had it not been for the generous support of the Bristol Exploration Club. To them and those on the expedition I would like to extend my profound and sincere gratitude.


Apologies to Jrat but the map below was left out of BB528.

Please cut this out and staple it, in a slapdash and crude manner into BB528.

Hutton Update: New Pit Opened…then closed again

Nicks Harding and Richards have opened up another pit on Hutton Hill. What at first seemed to be a rather uninspiring depression turned out to be a striking bedding feature. After a series of digging sessions including one with the antipodean Ray Deasy they have cleared this feature out.

But exposing the back wall and emptying out more material has revealed that the pit, one in a line of three, is in fact a dead end. Initial excitement, as is often the way, has now turned to disappointment. The pit is being closed down and their attentions are shifting to another collection of holes nearer to the entrance of Bleadon Cavern. 

Attempts are being made to open one of the two shafts in Upper Canada Cave. Both were blocked from above, which suggests upper passages somewhere between May Tree and UCC. 

Your Flexible Friend ... the Ladder

by the late Dave Irwin, in his memory

The use of wooden rigid ladders in cave exploration, including cane ladders of the Far East, is probably as old as The Mists of Time, but the use of the flexible ladder is another story. Whilst looking for references relating to this subject Ray Mansfield mentioned to me that he believed that the Chinese were using such ladders in caves during the 14th - 15th centuries but he could not relate to any particular source. Published accounts of exploration have stated that the first use of a flexible ladder was during the exploration of the Macocha Chasm in the late 18th century.   So it .may come as a surprise when it will be shown that a Mendip caver can claim the honour some 105 years earlier!

John Beaumont [c.1650 - 1731]

Details of the early exploration of Lamb Leer Cavern are well known to most Mendip cavers based upon four letters sent by John Beaumont to the Royal Society between 1676 and 1683. Due to the misleading Lowthorpe abridged reprint in 1705, together with several later editions of this work, the included errors were perpetrated by many later authors including Herbert Balch. Very few later researchers consulted the original documents; investigative work by Trevor Shaw resolved the problem correctly identifying the original documents. The references given here will relate to the original sources, namely the Royal Society Transactions and Collections to which Beaumont sent four letters, two in 1676; the others in 1681 and 1683. The topics were wide ranging but included details of 'rock plants' [Crinoids] he had investigated; an account of the ailments afflicting both miners and cattle, and he also submitted detailed descriptions of some of the Mendip caves he knew at Wookey Hole and Cheddar. His descriptions of the caves were based upon first hand knowledge the largest of which was located on Harptree Hill above the village of West Harptree. The exploratory trips into this cave were carried out by Beaumont accompanied by local miners and the published account of its exploration is a revelation. It is factual and, allowing for the presentational style of the time, his account would be readily accepted as an exploratory report in modern caving publications. The cave - Lamb Leer Cavern.

The then entrance shaft, now known as the Beaumont Shaft, was passed without comment implying that this was done using the miners’ techniques of the day, fixed wooden ladders or stemples or a combination of both. However, on reaching the head of the 20m pitch into Main Chamber he describes the descent in great detail- This is important for it implies that the technique was not commonly used by the miners. Beaumont wrote that:

... a vast Cavern opens it self, so that by the light of our Candles we could not fully discern the roof, floor, nor sides of it; I encouraged the Miners by offer of a double Salary to any that would go down in to it, they all refusing, I fastened a cord about me, and ordered them to let me down gently after the Rocks, but being down about two Fathom  I found the Rocks to bear away from me, so that I could touch nothing to guide my self by, and the rope began to turn round very fast, whereupon I ordered the Miners to let me down as quick as they could, and upon the descent of 12 Fathom I came to the bottom, where untying my cord I went about to search the Cavern ... This Cavern is about 60 Fathom in the circumference, above 20 Fathom in height, and about 15 in length, it runs along after the Rakes, and not crossing them as the leading Vault does. At the breast of this Cavern, which terminates it to the West, I discovered some good Lead-Ore, and all other kindly sorts of Earth and Stones which usually lie with it...

Not wanting to repeat the discomfiture experienced on the first descent and wishing to get his miners down into the chamber to work for ore and Bole earths , Beaumont

... got a Ladder of Ropes to be made for an easy descent into this great Cavern, and caused Miners to sinck ten Fathom deep in the bottom of it, just before this breast, and we had always some leading of Ore in our working, but finding often little Caverns in our work, which are not so kindly for one as firm ground, we at length desisted. ...

The discomfort referred to by Beaumont during the descent was also experienced by McMurtrie when he made the same descent by rope soon after its re-opening in 1880.

The 18th and 19th centuries

Though the publications of the Royal Society were widely read throughout Europe the use of ladders in cave exploration was not common practice for some time. Absolon relates that rope ladders were used to explore the Macocha Chasm or Abyss near Brno in southern Moravia in the Czech Republic during the 18th century .  Shaw refers to a 'proto-ladder' devised by Lazarus Schopper in his attempt to descend the chasm in 1723. The hair-raising design was that '... he drove pegs through his rope to serve as footholds.'

A rope ladder proper was used to descend into the main chamber of Grotte des Demoiselles in France in 1780. However, from the mid 19th century the flexible ladder was in common usage for cave exploration in Europe. Edward Hanke von Hankenstein devised a “folding ladder to aid his exploration of the Macocha Chasm in the 1860s”. Shaw notes that the 

... earlier use of ropes followed the then established mining procedures but Hankenstcin used folding ladders. Each was approximately 5 m long and could be assembled to a length of up to 60 m. The contraption weighed some 100 lbs.

How it was constructed and from what it was made is not stated.

Meanwhile in Britain ...

During the first quarter of the 19th century a large number of caves had been or were being explored. On Mendip the Banwell caves were accessible to the public during 1824-25; in 1837 Cox's Cave was accidentally found and opened for the public a year later. In the north some fifty caves were explored during this period including Goyden Pot [1832] and Ingleborough [Clapham] Cave in 1837.

It was not until the 1840s that the two best known shafts in the Dales, namely Gaping Gill [Ghyll] and Alum Pot received the attention of the 'curious'.  To explore these required a very different technique to that already used to explore the 'easier' caves. The first attempt at Gaping Gill was made about 1842  when John Birkbeck [1817-1890] was lowered down the shaft on a rope. How he clung to the rope is not known but it is possible that the end of the rope was lashed to a wooden bar upon which Birkbeck sat. Be that as it may, it was a hairy escapade.  William Howson, a local schoolmaster, was to later write that:

... this chasm has been descended to a depth of one hundred and ninety feet and there is no landing place until this depth is reached.  ..

According to Beck, Birkbeck made another attempt in the following year when, though not proceeding beyond the ledge, now known as the Birkbeck Ledge, he was able to plum the lower section of the shaft determining that the depth to the floor of the shaft was a further 150 ft.

Slightly earlier, through the 1830s and 1840s, Alum Pot created some local interest for guides could be hired for a descent into Long Churn Cave. The trip ended beyond Dr. Bannister's Handbasin at the head of the 12m Dolly Tubs, which had yet to be descended. On their return, the visitors climbed a short wooden ladder to avoid a wetting in the Handbasin.

Intrigued as to what lay at the foot of the Alum Pot shaft, Birkbeck and William Metcalfe [1815-1888] led a party of 10 including Howson into Long Churn with the intention of descending Dolly Tubs. For the trip they brought with them ropes, pulleys and a fire-escape belt. Ropes were used to descend Dolly Tubs and from The Bridge Howson was strapped into the fire-escape belt and lowered to the floor some 18m below but due to lack of adequate tackle to explore beyond this point the trip was called off.

Another attempt by the same group was made a year later but this time the descent would be by means of a winch slung from beams placed across the top of the main shaft. Of these attempts Howson recorded that the first down to the rock bridge was unsuccessful for fatigue

... and wet prevented the party from doing more than reaching the bottom, but next year the same adventurous spirits descended from the summit of the Pot by means of a windlass fixed on two baulks of timber laid across the chasm. ...

The timber beams were left in place until 1893 when they were declared to be rotten.  On the second occasion the final sump was reached. The situation remained thus until 1870 when Birkbeck and Metcalfe were joined by William Boyd Dawkins and three ladies. In all 10 persons went down making a successful descent to the bottom.  Short lengths of ladder and ropes was lowered enabling the shorter pitches below The Bridge to be tackled.  What type of ladder is unclear, some believe that they were rigid structures, lashed together for the longer pitches.

By the 1890s the exploration of caves in the Yorkshire Dales became a regular activity of the members of the Yorkshire Ramblers Club [YRC] and many of the entrances were by then well known though the caves were not explored until the early years of the 20th century. To undertake the exploration of Meregill, Juniper and other notable classics rope ladders were regularly used.

The YRC was formed in 1892 and one of the earliest projects was another attempt to bottom the Gaping Ghyll main shaft; the first since Clibbon's unsuccessful descent in 1882, though he too reached Birkbeck's Ledge.  In 1895 one of YRC founding members, Edward Calvert, investigated the top of the shaft determining that rope ladders would be the right choice of equipment in order to make the descent. Knowing that the measured depth of the shaft was about 360 ft he and others set-to and commenced building manilla rope and wooden rung ladders.   For various reasons the planned trip was delayed and, as Beck commented this was to cost Calvert “ ... the honour of the first descent, ...”

Meanwhile Eduard Martel [1859-1938] had planned a visit to Great Britain to address the 6th Geographical Congress in London, in August 1895. He took full advantage of the invitation and transformed his visit into a tour of various caving regions in order to collect information that was later published in his Irlande et caverns anglaises. This included a tour of the northern caves and investigations of the deep potholes that were known to exist not far from Enniskillen in Ireland. The site of special interest was the as yet un-descended Gaping Ghyll. Consequently he communicated with James Farrar, the landowner and obtained permission to make another attempt. Martel brought with him some 300 ft of ladder and some length of rope.  The ladder by itself would not reach the floor of the shaft some 360 ft below. This was achieved by lowering the whole ladder 60 ft down the shaft. To reach the ladder Martel had to first climb down the holding rope complete with telephone and its cable and lifeline. That day, 1st August 1895, made caving history by bottoming the shaft and recording initial details of the great chamber.

Though bitterly disappointed at being 'pipped to the post’ Calvert and his companions finally made the first British descent in the following year on the 9th May 1896 using a Bosun's Chair.  YRC also used ladders for the exploration of Long Kin West during October 1896 and for the exploration of Rowten Pot in July 1897.

Ladders used by the cave explorers at the end of the 19th century were of mixed design. Some explorers were using rope sides with a combination of wood and rope rungs. The wooden rung being introduced to stabilise the ladder during the climb preventing the awful closing of the rope sides making it very difficult to climb unless they were belayed separately. Others preferred to pay the weight penalty by having their ladders made up of rope sides and all wooden rungs.  In 1898 the 1st edition of Encyclopaedia of Sport included a section on cave exploration. 

... As the sport of cave exploration and the descent of potholes is a comparatively new one, and as little is known about it in England outside those districts where it is practised, a few words on its evolution are necessary to the understanding of its methods.....

This section was written by John Green, Edward Calvert, Frank Ellet and Thomas Gray; all 'first wave' YRC potholers. By 1910 YRC had 480 ft [146m] stock of ladder, which was probably a mixture of metal/rope rung combination as well as the accepted design of wooden rung/rope ladder.

So by the 1890s flexible ladders were in common use by cave explorers. But what of the design? A ladder with sides and rungs of rope would be extremely difficult to climb and not least tiring. Furthermore the rope would stretch and the sides collapse together so that the rungs hung in loops. A nightmare to say the least. To overcome the problem each side rope would require a separate belay point. The well known lifeline signals were introduced to caving about this time.

However ladder design had progressed by this time and two basic designs were regularly used; the pros and cons of each were obviously the subject of much discussion. The most rigid - stable of these designs was the rope sides and wooden rung configuration but they were heavy and extremely bulky. Martel used this design for his Gaping Ghyll descent.

In order to reduce both weight and bulk a compromise design between the true rope ladder and the wooden rung configuration was developed. It took the form of a ladder comprising rope sides but a mixture of rope and wood rungs thus keeping the ladder stable for the climber. It is well described in the Encyclopaedia of Sport, 1898:

ROPE-LADDERS — The ladders used are made with sides of half-inch rope, and rope rungs of slightly smaller material spliced in.   A wooden rung in every four or five may be added to keep the sides apart, but to have all the rungs of wood is too great an increase in weight and the bulk to be recommended, though some explorers prefer them. The ladders are most useful in lengths of 40 or 50 feet, made to join either by spring hooks or by lashing. One of the ladders should have its top bar made of wrought-iron and provided with three rings or eyes, the use for which will be seen later. ... Another method of descent is by rope-ladders. This is suitable for places which descend in a series of drops or "pitches," where there are ledges of varying widths. With a total length of 150 feet of ladder much may be done.

Having plumbed a depth of, say, 100 feet from the surface, the ladder is tied to two ropes (or to both ends of one rope) of not less than ½ inch diameter, one at each end ring of its top bar.  If possible, a plank should be fixed across the mouth of the shaft, over which the ropes attached to the ladder may hang, in order to avoid knocking down any loose earth or rock. The ropes carrying the ladder should be made fast to a couple of stakes driven into the ground a little distance from the lip of the "pot," and then, secured by a safety rope, paid out by hand over a pulley fixed into the plank, the exploring party will in turn descend. It may be found that the place the party have reached is not the bottom, and that the plumb-line is again required. Assuming it reveals another considerable drop, the ladder will have to be lowered until its head is level with the ledge occupied by the party, and then either be made fast there or, preferably, above.

The raising and lowering of the ladder will be facilitated by a length of sash cord being tied to the middle ring of the top bar of the ladder, passed through a pulley on the beam, and allowed to hang down the hole. Then the men on the first landing place will be able to help, by steadying and holding it while the ropes on the surface are being secured. This procedure may be repeated until the actual bottom is reached.

It must be remembered that the descent and ascent by rope-ladders is a very toilsome proceeding, and that practically no rest can be taken while on the ladder itself beyond getting breath, as the ladder swings away from the vertical line, which throws the man's weight almost entirely on his hands and arms.

For this reason, if for no other, a windlass is to be preferred for a deep descent which cannot be negotiated by a series of drops where rests may be taken. ...

Though the above was written by YRC members,  the first journal published by that club in 1899 contained a review of the caving section written by one 'L.M.'   The reviewer noting that the authors of the article called caving "mountaineering reversed" took issue with this and also on the matter of ladder design. 

... Frankly describing it as a sport, its writers make no apologies for pursuing it, regardless of public opinion, which always condemns climbing more or less, and cannot too utterly abhor the more apparent futility of its allied sport. ... The technical side is dealt with at some length, and the article gives a careful explanation of the most successful methods of exploring caves and descending potholes ... If there is a point upon which it is possible to join issue with the authors it is upon the form of rope-ladder best adapted for this work. In spite of its extra weight, a ladder with alternate rungs of wood and rope, or at least every third rung of wood, is to be preferred to the ladder with one wooden rung in every four of five recommended. Climbing a rope-ladder for even a short distance is exceedingly arduous, and the stiffness and rigidity imparted by the additional wooden rungs more than balance the increased difficulty of getting the ladder to its point of usefulness. ...

By the time of the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia of Sport the section relating to ladder design had been completely rewritten stating that:

... ladders used are made with sides of half-inch diameter rope with hardwood rungs. Experience shows that it is very important that the rungs should not be more than eight or nine inches apart - a longer step becomes excessively fatiguing on a long ascent. ...

The article included several interesting photographs including the work of Cuthbert Hastings. How many editions of the encyclopaedia was published is unknown.

Noon's Hole in the north of Ireland

YRC visited northern Ireland to explore one of the two famous shafts, the 80m Noon's Hole entrance shaft at Whitsun, 1907. Only armed with 20m of ladder the YRC team

... turned their attention to Noon's Hole or Sumera,  a deep pot-hole with a grisly reputation due to the fate of an informer who was thrown down about a century ago.  ... Our rope ladder was only 70 feet long, and as we could hardly make up more than 200 feet of life line, Mr. Lemon ... kindly lent us two 120 feet ropes, which we need to raise and lower the 70 feet ladder. It was the lot of our London member to make the first and only descent...

The London member was none other than Ernest A. Baker who reached a depth of 44 m [143 ft] before the return climb to the surface. A magnificent achievement.

Martel made his famous descent down the Gaping Ghyll [Gill] Main Shaft, excepting the first 70 ft which he climbed down on the rope holding the ladder, by climbing the rest in much the same way as he did when descending the great shaft at Padirac. The same shaft was bottomed by YRC in the following year.

A Novel Design

In 1894, Harold Dawson of Bradford, who “... possesses a complete apparatus for the descent of these pot-holes ...” made a descent of Alum Pot via Long Churn using 

... a wire-rope ladder, 42 feet long, divided into three sections (of 14 feet), fastened and unfastened by means of 'dog -clasps', so that in bearing a great weight it was utterly impossible for the clasps to come unloosened. This ladder was invaluable, it was flexible, and each one of the party of three had a section wound round his body, (immediately under the armpits) the ladder being of such width that it rested on the hips, and required no fastening over the arms, thus leaving them quite free; it was carried this way, and when any depth of a drop was encountered, one, two, or three sections were unbound and clasped together as the occasion required ...

The use of wire-rope is significant for this is the first mention of any deviation from the standard rope sides in common use at this time. How the rungs were constructed is not stated, it is probable that Dawson used wooden rungs but he could have used metal rungs which, if so, would probably have been made of steel. The structurally sound duralumin was not in common usage in large scale manufacture until metal aircraft structures became commonplace during the 1930s. It was, however, a significant advance in ladder design that was, for a time, a ‘one-off’ and not followed up by his contemporaries.

...and on Mendip

The early Mendip pioneers have often been criticised for not using ladders when descending the pitches in Lamb Leer Cavern, Swildon's Hole and Eastwater Cavern. Balch in particular came in for severe criticism for seemingly staring progress in the face. It must be pointed out, without going into detail, that the rope technique adopted by the Mendip pioneers, in particular in Eastwater Cavern was similar to that used by Mendip miners. Baker, who was a well respected alpinist would never have agreed to work with Balch under these conditions had he not thought it safe; however this is another story and is the subject of another paper.  Ropes were not completely replaced by ladders for some time. An account of a descent of Eastwater, in 1942, clearly illustrates the manner by which some cavers explored this cave.

Visiting Mendip from the north one Simpson and his friend joined up with two cavers from Bristol including one Fisher [the leader]. Ready for the descent they  

had ... a good long rope, which Fisher said we would use on the verticals. ... The only thing I remember after this was a continual scramble along narrow passages and down vertical rifts with the rope getting in the way most of the time. Eventually we came to a series of verticals down which the rope was necessary. Fisher belayed on a convenient boulder and proceeded to climb down, using the rope as a hand rail. We followed one by one and found ourselves at the head of another short pitch. Down we went again still cling[ing] to the rope, only to find another steep pitch following. This time we had to abseil down, and what a laugh Fisher and I had. We had safely reached the foot of the pitch and Holt [Simpson's friend] prepared to follow. Somehow or other he got the rope around his knee about halfway down and finish[ed] the latter half of the pitch almost head first. The last man fared better, as he wound the [rope] twice around his waist, presumably for safety's sake, only to find himself securely hung up about 6 ft. from the floor with the rope getting ever tighter around his waist. Fortunately we were able to ease him up whilst he extracted himself from the coils of rope, his only injury being his pride. We had now finished with the rope and continued on our scramble down to the sump, which we reached safely.

The return route was vastly different up a series of short water-worn verticals, which we climbed with ease. This brought us out at the bottom of the second rope pitch which we now had to climb. Fisher led the way and we followed one by one with little delay. We were now at the bottom of the first pitch and it looked a very tricky climb. Fisher made a very determined effort, and after a terrific hand over hand scramble on the last few feet, safely reached the head of the pitch. With Fisher at the top, we used the rope as a lifeline and after much panting and cursing reached the top without mishap.

Suffice to say that the party returned to daylight all in one piece!

Balch first used ladders in 1903 during his exploration of the upper series and opening up of the western extensions in Wookey Hole.

In 1914 Baker, made an attempt to bottom the Swildon's Hole Forty Foot Pot. Using a rope ladder he reached the bottom and progressed a further 60m before reaching another wet pitch, the Twenty Foot Pot. Lack of tackle prevented further exploration of the cave. Wet conditions foiled Baker's second attempt in 1915 and the weather intervened again in the exceptionally wet years of 1919-1920. Even so a number of groups attempted to reach the Twenty Foot Pot but the volume of water flowing down the Forty Foot Pot was again too great to enable a safe descent to be made. British weather can often be one of extremes. The wet conditions of the two previous years gave way to one with the longest drought of the 20th century during 1921. Breaking his journey to Europe for an Alpine holiday, Baker accompanied by his son, Gerard and cousin, Alan Baker, met Chandler and travelled to Mendip. Taking full advantage of the dry weather the party descended the cave and it was not long before they stood at the top of the Twenty Foot Pot.  The way on was clear and eventually a “... curious double fall, ... “ was reached. The party, ready to beat a retreat remained at the top of the pots whilst Baker continued   down the passage stopping just short of Barnes' Loop. After building a cairn he returned and the party left the cave. It was only after the event that Baker informed Balch of what had been found.   The furious Balch sprang into action and organised a large party which descended the cave on the 1st August.  Baker's cairn was reached and a section of the party continued down to the sump, known to them as The Trap. The weather remained dry well into late Autumn enabling a series of trips to be arranged principally to survey and photograph the new passages. Instead of the leisurely approach to caving on Mendip, perhaps three or four trips a year, Balch organised at least eight trips during that period. Rope and wooden rung ladders were borrowed from the small stock that had been built up by the recently formed UBSS enabling several of their members, including E.K. Tratman, to join the Balch teams.

Rope ladders in the 20th century

Ladders as described in the Encyclopaedia of Sport were widely used by YRC and the Yorkshire Speleological Association (YSA). The latter was formed in 1906 by Eli Simpson and others, and by about 1910 both clubs had accumulated sizeable stocks of ladder sufficient to undertake all the known northern caves. However, though all ladders were built from rope and wooden rungs there was no standardised width of rung.

Inspecting early photographic material taken between c. 1908 and 1921 a variety of rung widths were used. As early as 1889 Martel used a wide rung ladder to descend the Padirac shaft. However, by 1910 photographs taken at this time of Gaping Ghyll [Gill] show a narrow flat rung with a side rope pitch of about 7 inches. Even in the early 1920s UBSS were using ladders with 30 cm wide rungs.  This can be clearly seen in the Savory photograph of Edgar Tratman at the bottom of the Swildon's Forty Foot Pot. Another photograph of the Twenty Foot Pot, c. 1922, from the Molly Hall collection at Wells and Mendip Museum also shows a similar width of rung in use. The wide rung ladder design remained in use for some considerable time and was part of the ladder stock during the early years of the Bristol Exploration Club, 1935- c. 1940. A photograph of BEC members, including Harry Stanbury outside Lamb Leer Cavern, c. 1938, in his photographic collection clearly shows how bulky this equipment really was. During the post 2nd World War years rung width was reduced to a standardised length of about 20 cm. Quite apart from the rung width the wooden rung design took on two forms: a circular or rectangular section. They were made from seasoned straight grained hard wood. Round rungs were frequently used, the rung end being pushed through the rope strands which locked into a shallow groove close to the rung ends. The rung was then permanently locked to the rope sides by whipping above and below the rung. Though this design was widely used it was acknowledged that the rope was extremely vulnerable to severe chafeing when hung close to the rock face. Another problem caused several climbers moments of discomfort. The round rungs would rotate and unless the boot was well located on the rung the climber would find himself coming off the ladder!

The rectangular rung overcame the two basic disadvantages of the circular rung. As for the circular design the rectangular rungs were frequently located by whipping or lashing and in other cases a wooden peg was driven through the rung and rope, a method much favoured by CPC during the 1950s. In the north most were built in lengths of 20 or 25 feet to minimise the problems of transportation, bulk and weight; the 25 ft ladder weighing in at about 10 lb. (dry) and about 13 lb. (wet). For long pitches the ladders were linked by knotting or eye-thimbles were threaded into the rope ends and clipped together by karabiners among other techniques.

In the post 2nd WW years many designs emerged as a result of clubs developing their own designs and build standards. The Cave Research Group published details of the more commonly used methods of ladder construction in its various editions of British Caving and in the 1962 Some Technical Aids for Cave Exploration.     Clubs too published articles discussing the merits of various designs typified by one written by Plowes of the Orpheus Caving Club.   Their ladders were built in 15 ft and 30 ft length and were built from 1¾" manilla rope (approx. ½" diameter) and the rungs were made of oak or beech measuring 7½" x 1½" x ½"

... though the thickness, if the wood is not such good quality, might be increased to 5/8". Choose from straight grained pieces, avoid the 'sap wood" which is softer & be wary of possible splitting.

Half inch diameter holes, drilled in the rungs at 6" centres, carry the ropes. The rung protects the rope from damage by abrasion ... The rungs are secured by a method of lashing. The effect of this method is to thicken the rope ... Over riding of [the] rungs being practically impossible. ...

The ‘Electron’ Ladder

By the start of the 1930s French caving had emerged as a significant force in the speleological world and many cavers and there came about a major reassessment of caving equipment generally being used. Much of it was bulky, heavy and required large parties to transport the gear to its point of use. During the late 1920s the famous French caver R. de Joly began constructing a number of specialised tools as aids to cave exploration. Among these 'inventions' was a device known as the 'Galet', a folding frame in the form of a triple trestle, that allowed ladders to be kept away from sloping surfaces reducing abrasion to the ropes and rungs.    About this time another innovation was a major redesign of caving ladders where he replaced natural fibre rope with wire rope. The life of the ladder was considerably improved and the concept was quickly adopted by many cavers not only in France but throughout the rest of Europe and remained in general use up to the early 1960s.

De Joly's major breakthrough came in 1930 when he introduced the 'Electron' ladder which was an all metal construction.   This was revolutionary for it eliminated nearly all the disadvantages of the rope-wooden rung combination at a stroke. The ladder was constructed using flexible wire rope to which were attached duralumin tubes.   The whole assembly was some 75% lighter than the conventional rope ladder and much less bulky enabling smaller parties to work as a team. Being of metal it was much less susceptible to abrasive damage and, though it still required regular inspection, corrosion was a relatively minor problem.

During the pre 2nd WW years cavers were fully aware of the de Joly design but still clung to the wood rung ladders. In fact the debate relating to the various ladder designs continued into the 1950s. In the event it was not until the 1960s that the Electron ladder was in regular use. The difficulty of climbing the ladder was a reason but the root cause of cavers shunning the structure was simply perception. The slightness of the design gave little encouragement to those used to climbing the seemingly more substantial outlines of the rope ladder. Secondly, it was generally acknowledged that rope ladders were easier to climb. Their extra bulk held it in a vertical position enabling the climber to move up and down on the same face of the ladder whilst holding the side ropes which meant that the centre of gravity of the climber was close to the ladder. Attempting to climb an Electron ladder in the same manner causes the climber to lean back, placing the body weight onto the arms and hands. To bring the centre of gravity position of the climber closer to the ladder a new climbing technique was devised where each boot is on different sides of the ladder - popularly known as 'making love to the ladder’! Basically the technique is still used today.

Writing in the Craven Pothole Club Journal Smith reviewed methods of manufacturing caving ladder and at the end made some comment on the Electron ladders built by a fellow club member, Brindle.

... At this stage I ought to say something about the de Joly / Brindle type metal ladders. But words fail me! We tried out this ladder on the open pitch at Rift Pot and after this experience I would recommend that it should not be used on any pitch greater than 25 feet. To give them their due, they are light, fairly strong (although I have some reservations on this score) and they are easy to handle in confined spaces. But in my view they tend to put the whole weight of your body on the wrists and particularly so when you have been used to climbing wooden ladders where the weight of the body is taken by the upper part of one's arms. ...

However, after much discussion and debate the rope ladder eventually lost out to the lightweight Electron structure. By the 1960s cavers had broken away from the regular formal club meet and were now caving more frequently and in smaller groups. The increase in personal transport; the extensions to the motorway system saw cavers' habits changing dramatically. The increased freedom of mobility saw groups caving in most caving regions in the country on a regular basis, whereas previously it had only been possible on Bank Holidays or during their Annual Holiday. As a consequence of this change, the lightweight ladder and light synthetic ropes then coming onto the market swept the old equipment aside enabling small teams to undertake quite extreme caving trips.

In Britain the idea of building an Electron ladder was first taken up by Harry Stanbury of the Bristol Exploration Club about the time of its reformation in 1943. Scrounging materials from all manner of sources, remember it was during the middle of the 2nd World War, he built an 'electron' ladder using 5/8 inch [1.6 cm] diameter 20 SWG [0.9mm] duralumin tubing. The 0.08 inch [2 mm] diameter wire rope was passed through holes drilled close to the tube ends, round a 2 BA bolt [approx 4.5 mm dia] shank and looped through an aluminium spacer and out of the other hole [see photo]. Together with C. Drummond and Dan Hasell the trio tried the ladder out on Swildon's Forty Foot Pot on 3rd April 1943. Harry wrote in the BEC log book that the “ …ladder exceeded all expectations.”   The ladder still exists and was given to the Club a few years ago for safe keeping. It is an important piece of caving history and is now kept in the Club library.

In 1946, UBSS members, John Pitts and Charles Barker, co-discoverer of G.B. Cave in 1939, spent a holiday in Ireland with the intention of exploring Dunmore and Mitchelstown Caves. In a speech given in 1998, Pitts talked of their wanderings and of the caves they explored. Travelling around the countryside on Barker's motor-cycle, caving kit had to be kept to an absolute minimum and so instead of taking a standard rope ladder with them they constructed a light-weight ladder

... of wire and duralumin tube tailored for the pitch in the Old Cave at Mitchelstone (sic). We spaced the rungs as far apart as we dared in order to reduce the weight and took the minimum amount of rope that we hoped would be enough for tethers. Rope in those days of course was hemp.

A couple of years later Luke Devenish of the MNRC and WCC attempted to developed his own lightweight ladder. The problem was that Luke, who was always brimming over with enthusiasm, was no engineer. His first efforts used one or two duralumin plates for the rung between which a 3/16 in diameter wire rope was sandwiched, all of which was held in place by a bolt passing through the plates and strands of the wire rope. The weight of this was 10lb. for 25 ft of ladder. He made a variant which reduced weight further by omitting the second plate, the nut being clamped against the wire rope separated by a washer.

None of these trials made it into club 'production' but Devenish persisted. He next devised a tubular rung configuration using ½ inch diameter, 18 SWG duralumin tube and 3 mm diameter galvanised steel wire rope which was passed through holes drilled at the ends of each rung. To fix the wire to the tube each tube end was plugged with Plaster of Paris just beyond the drilled holes - the reason will soon become clear. The wire rope was then passed through the tube at which point the strands exposed inside the tube were separated using a screwdriver then was poured molten solder to fill up the void between the Plaster of Paris and the outer edge of the rung in order to prevent the cable slipping. Unbelievable! Even Devenish commented that it “... proved unsatisfactory.”

Don Coase of the BEC, an engineer, improved on the Stanbury design during the late 1940s by evolving a system whereby two plugs were inserted into both rung ends, the outer being a tapped hole for a 2 BA Allen screw which, when in place pinched the wire rope to form a locking device. This worked well but had the disadvantage of damaging several strands of the wire rope.

About 1951-52 a simple construction was devised by Ralph Lewis of the Westminster Spelaeological Group and remained in common use for the next two decades. The construction was simple in that a taper pin, specially ground at its smaller end, enabled it to be passed through the gap between the wire rope and one side of the duralumin rung trapping the wire against the opposite side of the rung wall. The design was first described in detail by Bryan Ellis in January 1957 , another appearing in 1967 by Cedric Green.   An in-depth article on ladder construction published in 1963 outlined the technology as it was at that time.

By the late 1960s two popular designs of ladder construction had been established once cavers had realised the disciplines associated with each type. The first used “Talurits” that were swaged above and below the dural rung and were extremely effective providing the right dies were used. The other being a combination of plugs, steel pins and epoxy resins.   The methods are still in use today

For some time there was no accepted rung pitch except that it was somewhere between 25cm and 30cm but the larger rung pitch made climbing tiring. In 1959 a caver was trapped in a narrow vertical tube in Peak Cavern. Although a ladder was being used it became impossible for the man to climb back up as the rung pitch was 12", too far apart to allow him to place his boot on the rung above and so start the climb out and free himself. From that time it became an accepted rule that rung pitching should be 25 cm. Today the commercial ladders have the rung pitch set at 25 or 30 cm.

Colour coding of ropes and ladders

During 1962 the Mendip clubs agreed a colour coding system for club equipment. Problems had occurred following a number of cave rescues where considerable trouble had to be taken sorting out which piece of equipment belonged to which club. During 1961 BEC circulated the other major Mendip clubs suggesting a colour coding scheme. Though one or two clubs used the same colour it was eventually sorted and the following system adopted : ACG -Yellow ; BEC - Blue ; Cerberus SS - Grey ; MCG - Pink ; MNRC - Green ; SMCC - Black ; UBSS - Orange ; WCC - Red and WSG - Brown.

When this article was started it was thought that it would be just a couple of pages of notes but in the end it became a semi-major undertaking to check as many references as possible. A discussion on the rope techniques used by the Mendip pioneers is an article just about completed that runs in parallel with this on ladders. Where it will be published is at the moment undecided.

Dave Irwin, Priddy. December, 2003


My thanks to Ric Halliwell [CPC], Ray Mansfield [UBSS], Don Mellor [CPC], Martin Mills [SMCC] and Graham Mullan [UBSS] for help obtaining details and copies of notable articles and books relevant to the topic.

Ed’s note:         This article was provided on paper and had to be scanned in. Further Optical Character Recognition work was undertaken to convert it to text. 

News from the Belfry

Work on the extension has proceeded at a furious pace over the last few months. Considering that the planning application went in back in June 1999 it will be good to get it finished.

The downstairs will be a new tackle store and workshop befitting for a club that prides itself in exploration. Upstairs will be a members’ bunk room.

Work is also underway on a feasibility study to extend into the roof space to create a Wig Memorial Library. Clearly this would be another massive undertaking and we are carefully reviewing the possibilities.

As most of you will be aware the Mendip Farmers Hunt has purchased Underbarrow Farm behind the Belfry. The Committee and Trustees are hard at work looking at the implications of this.

Ravens Well

A Collectors Evening Trip With Jeff Price

By Mike Wilson.

One evening, the first of October 1997 to be precise. Jeff kindly asked me if I fancied a trip into Ravens Well, he just said it is a bit of a collector’s piece. I readily agreed to join him and we met up at the Three Lamps junction where the Bath and Wells road meet.

Very roughly the entrance is situated down a winding lane opposite the three lamps finger post [see photos] and then over a wall into a concealed entrance slot. Ravens Well, I have subsequently found out, is also called the Temple Pipe. The system is basically a maze of underground man made tunnels arched in local stone linking several underground springs, designed to feed water to the Friary at Temple Gate. The Conduit was laid in 1366 and worked right up to the advent of the Railway at Temple Meads in the late 1800’s.

Whilst constructing the railway line the pipe was severed and then dried up .We spent a very interesting few hours in the system and at one time stood directly under the Three Lamps themselves. Since then I have discovered that there are several such systems under Bristol, One of them being the Redcliffe Pipe which runs from Knowle all the way to Redcliffe Church.

The outlet for this conduit still exists in Colston Parade close to the church. This ceased to work when it was struck by a German bomb during the war.

There are many more documented in the Central library, and the publication Underground Bristol. Zot and I have already taken canoes into part of the old Bristol Castle Moat and are hoping, to round trip the whole system in the near future. 


My thanks to Jeff for showing me this interesting little gem.


Forest of Dean Meet May 2007

By Emma Porter

A grand total of 65 adults, 4 kids and 1 dog ...................................

From BEC:        Emma Porter, Mike and Hilary Wilson, John Christie, Nick Gymer, Peter Hellier, Sean Howe, Tim Ball, Faye Litherland, Phil Coles, John Noble, Ruth Allen, Rich Smith and friend.

From Craven Pothole Club: Mike Clayton, Mike Bertenshaw, Arthur Champion, Gordon Coldwell, Graham Coates, Neville Lucus, Simon Parker, Perce Lister, Rob and Linda Scott, Tom Thompson, Andrew Wallis and Mike Whitehouse.

From Dudley Caving Club: Pete Anstey, Keith Edwards, Andy Grimes, Brendan Marris, Carole and Ellie Northall, Mel Wakeman and Dea Wilkins.

From Shepton Mallet Caving Club: Keith, Amanda, Tom and Poppy Batten, James Begley, Anthony and Cassie Butcher, Marian Challis, Hayley Clark, Phil Collett, Sarah Crofts, Andy and Kirsty Davey, Ivan Hollis, Chris Molyneux, Neil Walmsley, Ed Waters and Richard Webber.

Others: Chris “Zot” Harvey, Richard Dearden (WMCEG), Tibor “Dino” Dianovszki (Hungary), Bill Griffiths (WMCEG), Lisa and Brooke Hall, Iain Heald, John and Laura Haynes (ULSA), Amina Kasar, Heather Simpson (NWCC) and Rachel White (WMCEG).

Forest cavers: Dave Appleing, John “Mole” Hine, Gareth Jones and Paul Taylor.

In 2003, Mike Clayton and I organised a meet in the Forest of Dean primarily for Craven Pothole Club, in 2005 cavers from BEC, Dudley CC and SMCC joined the CPC for a long weekend in the Forest and this year, we were joined by even more cavers.  I have to admit; I started to get a little nervous receiving a barrage of emails advising me who would be there for the weekend! 

Friday 4 May 2007

The troops started to arrive on Friday night to Rushmere Farm Campsite near Coleford where we took over half the field, complete with sign advertising “Cavers’ Event” provided by Dea Wilkins.  John Christie arrived in good time with two barrels of excellent beer, so excellent that the second barrel of beer was started on the Friday evening!  A great evening was had by all, sipping beer around the fire till the early hours.

Saturday 5 May 2007

Saturday saw 6 underground trips to Miss Graces Lane (MGL), Wet Sink (Slaughter Stream), Big Sink, Otter Hole, Redhouse Lane and Westbury Brook Iron Mine. Paul Taylor led a mixed team of BEC/CPC/DCC for a “warm” trip in MGL (not recommended for hangovers!). Meanwhile, two teams consisting of CPC/BEC/SMCC headed down Wet Sink, a team of two SMCC/ two ULSA ventured down Big Sink (and seemed very happy when they were out!), and a team of DCC/BEC tried not to get lost in Westbury Brook Iron Mine (getting further than last time!) with the benefit of some local knowledge provided by Gareth Jones.  The Redhouse Lane Swallet team had a delayed start, after some location problems, which was not a bad thing as Jan Karvik and Andy Harp, both from Royal Forest of Dean Caving Club, had hoped they had timed it right and the entrance would be dug out for them – instead they were there first and had to dig it out for our team! Despite the open passage newly dug out once again, Arthur Champion still decided that the trip was a “once in a lifetime experience”.

Meanwhile, above ground (although perhaps not above water), Zot and Mike Clayton were having fun canoeing on the River Wye, which runs through Symonds Yat, and others were off exploring the Forest by bike and on foot.

We eventually all got back to the campsite to meet Dino from Hungary who had heard about the meet through some Hungarian friends of mine and once the Otter Hole team were back we settled down for a large Chinese takeaway, arranged thanks to Hilary and Mike Wilson. The weather held off as we socialised into the earlier hours once again.

Sunday 6 May 2007

Only three underground locations were explored on the Sunday, with three mixed club teams including a caver joining us from Chesterfield CC as they happened to be staying at the campsite, with trips into Wet Sink, Wigpool Iron Mine and the long descent into Robin Hood Iron Mine.

Due to the numbers interested in the Robin Hood Iron Mine trip and the time required for the entrance pitch, Mike Clayton and I decided to have some peace and quiet from all of the organising and enjoy the sun, relax (so we thought) and be surface support.

In recent years, Mike and I have been surveying this mine with some of the Forest cavers.  The entrance is a brick-lined shaft with a 65m free hang.  In order to safely rig the rope and as members of GCRG, we were kindly lent the GCRG tripod and Land Rover on which to transport it.  The tripod was rigged, only to discover that we did not have the right key.  A few calls later and a trip back to the GCRG depot and the lock was opened and the team descended.  The team went off to explore the mine, whilst I decided to avoid meeting the wild boar and went back to the campsite to sort camping fees and Mike went off canoeing with Mike Wilson and Zot.  I went back to meet the team a few hours later with some alcoholic refreshments and discovered that the entrance speed record had been beaten!

Once all were back from the day’s above and below ground activities, we spent the evening in the Kings Head, sampling the real ales.

Monday 7 May 2007

Monday was wind-down day with some threatening black clouds but which were fortunately just threatening. Several lost or unfortunate key incidents occurred and Mike Wilson had the group at the campsite putting into practice search techniques, although two calls to the AA had to be made anyway!

Meanwhile, a small group of DCC and WMCEG day-trippers headed to Wet Sink for some photography. However, the main trip of the day was to Wigpool Iron Mine, once again led enthusiastically by Mole.  It was an excellent trip and a real surprise at just how pretty it is (see Pete Hellier’s report in the previous BB).

The Forest multi-club weekend was a real success, with a large number of underground and above ground activities taking place and a great social event.  We raised through donations and beer profits, over £75 for GCRG which has been used to pay for two sleeping bags and thermo rests for a Surface Comms Kit, so thank you all!

Thanks to: Everyone that attended and who made the weekend such a success!  John Christie for collecting the beer, Mike Whitehouse and Dea Wilkins for selling raffle tickets and pouring pints, Mike and Hilary Wilson for meeting Mike Clayton and I to check suitable campsites, sorting the Chinese takeaway and helping with camping fees.  A big thank you must go to the Forest cavers who went out of their way to help us; Paul Taylor and Steve Tomalin for checking pubs in advance for real ale, Paul Taylor for lending us keys (and forgiving us when a key was lost!), permit assistance and a great trip into MGL, Gareth Jones for ensuring that the team got a little further on than last time in Westbury Brook, Mole for providing two entertaining trips into Wigpool which were one of the highlights of the weekend, Dave Appleing for sorting and leading the trip into Otter, Jan Karvik for access to MGL, Dave Tuffley for sorting the permits, Andy Clarke for permits for Wetsink and GCRG for lending us the tripod and Land Rover. 

Hope to see you in the Forest in 2009!

Emma Porter

Martian Caves

Caves have been discovered on Mars near the Arisa Mons Volcano. NASA believe the caves, named The Seven Sisters may contain ice and / or water. Some of the openings are said to be the size of football pitches. Rumours of a BEC expedition have yet to be quashed.

            “The bars are crap though

                        , no atmosphere”  JRat

A BEC sticker on the next Beagle expedition might be a start. Er…then again, maybe not. Ed.

Caine Hill Shaft - One of Britain’s Deepest Caves?

By Tony Jarratt

       “To some, digging is a fairly tedious chore, and they are only sustained by the hope of triumphs to come. To others the digging operation itself is fascinating. It is seldom simple.”

       Digging for Mendip Caves – W. I. Stanton – Studies in Speleology, Vol IV, 1983

Continued from BB 528. Photos by Sean Howe.

Further Digging 20/5/07 – 27/10/07

     Errata: The photo of “Dudley Herbert” on page 21 of BB 528 is actually of Mike Thompson.

     Robin Main of Priddy has confirmed that Caine Hill is the name of the steeply sloping field behind Manor Farm but has no idea of its derivation. A character met in the Queen Victoria Inn claims to have dug the foundations for the adjacent house and stated that the open hole found was not as big as we were led to believe.

     On the 20th May Trevor Hughes, Jane Clarke and the writer, assisted on the surface by Tim Andrews, Darryl Instrell and Bob Smith removed 64 loads of spoil and loaded Tim’s truck with over 1½ tons for disposal. Tim also donated another section of alloy ladder, which your scribe used next day to replace that on the entrance shaft – fixed to a shorter section. This was done as he had deepened this shaft and cleared clay from the ledges below to make a better bag stacking area. He hauled out 16 loads from here and then continued digging in Root 66. Tim later went to the end for a look and was suitably impressed. He was delighted that he now owns an actual cave as well as a mineshaft! 27 more loads came out on the 23rd when Jake Baynes, Paul Brock and the writer attended. The second pitch was re-rigged with an alloy builders’ ladder to ease bag hauling and digging was continued at Root 66. More work was done here, by your scribe on the 25th but the poor quality of the air drove him out after an hour. Conditions had improved on the following evening, possibly due to a change in atmospheric pressure, when he carried on with this project. On the 27th, despite atrocious weather, 55 loads were hauled out by Bob, Jane and the writer – all from Root 66 – and next day Jane, Bob and Hannah Bell stacked lots of clay on a convenient ledge ready for bagging and hauled 1 token load out. This clay was bagged on the 30th when digging continued at the end and 35 loads reached daylight; Henry Dawson, Bob and the writer making up the team. Several more small airspaces were revealed. Further digging and bag-filling was done here by your scribe on the 1st June and on the following day he concentrated on the dig in the main rift below Boxwork Passage where a tiny airspace was revealed on the NE side. A return was made next day when he cleared the remaining clay and a large rock step from the entrance shaft. 18 loads were hauled out. Another solo trip on the 4th June resulted in re-positioned entrance ladders, a scaffold bar and pulley on the second pitch, more digging below Boxwork Passage and 20 loads out – warm work in the prevailing fine weather. 50 more came out on the 6th when Hannah, Helen Stalker, Pete Hellier and your scribe cleared the cave – temporarily!

     Jake and the writer were back at the Boxwork dig on the 8th June when 19 bags were filled and hauled out and an arm-sized phreatic tube opened up on the SW side of the main rift. Next day the latter dug and filled bags at both sites. He returned on the 10th with Bob, Trev and Hannah to haul out 50 loads, some of these being freshly dug from both sites – where the diggers both got surprisingly cold. 1 token load came out on the 11th June when the writer concentrated on the Boxwork dig. A palm-sized slab of galena (lead sulphide PbS) 1-2 cms thick and weighing 800 grammes (1½ lbs) was disinterred from the clay floor indicating that the Old Men could well have been prospecting for this as well as ochre. Derived from a primary   hydrothermal vein deposit located many metres above the present land surface or from limestone dissolution around a minor “stringer” of ore, this residual, secondary galena has been smoothed and rounded during its downward progression from its original position – indicating the extreme age of the in-filled cave passage in which it was found (Barrington and Stanton, 1977, Stanton, 1991). A whitish coating may be cerrussite (lead carbonate PbCO3). Thick “veins” of sandstone-like rock in the walls of the rift here may be red-brown, silty mudstone, Triassic neptunian dykes formed from either seafloor or desert deposits which were washed or blown into open joints and fissures in the underlying bed rock and often associated on Mendip with primary mineralisation. Another airspace was revealed on the NE side with a void visible a couple of metres away but inaccessible without banging or chiselling. The airspace opened on the 2nd June connects with this so further removal of the clay floor was planned in the hope of entering it from below. Lots of bags were filled and stacked and even more added to the pile on the 12th ready for the Wednesday night team on the morrow. This turned out to be limited to Bob, Hannah and the writer but being of tough stuff they managed to load Tim’s truck two thirds full and haul out another 50 loads. 14 more came out on the 15th when Bob and your scribe continued digging in the floor. Further digging was done by the writer next day and on the 17th a strong team comprising Bob, Fiona Crozier, Trev, Duncan Butler and your scribe worked at both sites until poor air conditions drove them out after 55 loads had been removed. Bob came up with a name for the second drop – Son of a Pitch! A solo digging session by the writer next day was soon halted by the atrocious lack of oxygen but several bags were filled at the base of Son of a Pitch and 2 reached the surface. A walk around the field to the north on a quest for other mine workings revealed little of interest.

     New digger (and New Inn barman) Keith Creagh joined Jake and the writer on the 20th when the air was improved by the use of the vacuum cleaner to allow further digging in the pitch floor and the removal of 23 loads. Two days later the vacuum cleaner pipe was replaced with a longer length of greater diameter giving plenty of spare at Root 66. Here Fiona filled nine bags and used a valve and 1.5 litre bottle of compressed air to avoid the unpleasantly claustrophobic effects of the poor air conditions. The bag supply was kindly donated by interested villager Mark Glover. Meanwhile the writer filled lots more bags at the base of the ever-descending Son of a Pitch – having no bad air problems. The duo returned to their respective digs on the 24th in relatively excellent air conditions. Thanks to the timely arrival on the surface of Steve Woolven and Gary Cullen the total hauled out today was 47 loads. The atmosphere was much poorer next day when your scribe dug at both sites and removed 4 loads but when he returned with Fiona on the 26th conditions had dramatically improved and both sites were dug further. 1 load came out – the rock on which the first section of the entrance ladder was perched and erroneously thought to have been holding up the ginging! On the 27th the air was again poor but Hannah, Bob, Jake, Keith and your scribe dug a little at Son of a Pitch and removed 50 loads. Tim helped load up his truck with a ton or so of clay and the team accompanied him to the, as yet unseen, spoil dump where they were relieved to find that there is ample space for another 1,000+ tons. Unfortunately, in the fullness of time it will all get washed down Swildon’s!

     Solo digging becoming popular, Fiona did a stint at Root 66 on the 28th June and stacked about ten bags. She filled   another six on the following evening while the writer dug and drilled at Son of a Pitch.  A small, fragile lump of mineral weighing 340 grammes (12 ounces) was recovered from the clay floor. This was identified by Nick Richards as goethite (brown hematite – Fe3+O), an iron oxide associated with limonite (yellow ochre) and derived from the degradation of iron pyrites. Like the galena this is a residual deposit that has worked its way downwards from the primary veins way above. He also explained that the, sometimes powdery surface of the cave walls indicates that some of the limestone has been transformed to dolomite. More digging was done here by the writer on the 30th June and next day he returned with Fiona, Duncan, Trev, Bob, Helen Brook (S.W.C.C. – now also B.E.C.), Jinni King (Cardiff U.C.C.) and Kate Humphries (C.U.C.C.) to haul out 56 loads and continue digging at both sites. A passable route was dug to connect the bottom of Son of a Pitch with the continuation of the main rift and a small cord charge was fired in an attempt to gain access to the void in the NE wall near the base of the pitch. On a solo trip next day the writer was delighted to find that the bang had done a surprisingly good job and produced a vast amount of broken rock. Another bang was required to reach the void but air conditions did not encourage a lengthy stay today. Wednesday 4th July saw 7 bags out, mainly filled with bang debris. Hannah and Bob both put up with unpleasant fumes lingering at the top of Son of a Pitch while below, in more pleasant conditions, your scribe laid another charge. This was ready just as Sean Howe arrived – for a very short trip – before the bang was fired.

     The writer returned on the 6th intending to fire up the vacuum but Tim was at Priddy Folk Fayre so he nipped down to check the air and was amazed to find it good. More bang spoil was removed and another two shot-hole charge fired. The novelty tonight was the sound of live folk music heard from the dig face! Assisted by Bob your scribe cleared the spoil on the following evening and placed yet another two shot-hole charge. After firing, the duo savoured the delights of the appropriately named Potholer bitter at a very conveniently located marquee. The air was then left to clear for a few days and on the 11th July the writer filled and stacked bags at the banged bedding where it was now possible to crawl in and look down a small rift to the north. Suffering from a cold and with the air tasting unpleasantly metallic he clambered out to meet latecomers John Noble and Paul. The former went for a brief look around while the latter hurled obscenities from above. Not a particularly productive Wednesday evening!

     The next visit was on the 14th when your scribe drilled one shot-hole at Son of a Pitch and filled bags at Root 66. Next day he and Trev continued work here and on the 16th he was back with John. More bags were filled and stacked and another two shot-holes drilled but the air was atrocious so they persevered and hauled 24 loads to surface before retiring – leaving the vacuum cleaner running to refresh the place. This worked well and on the 18th July Fiona and your scribe enjoyed the conditions while filling bags at both sites. A charge was fired at Son of a Pitch and a token 2 loads reached the surface. A brief visit was made by the writer on the 21st when the air was found to be good enough to clear some of the bang-debris and next day Trev continued with this while Fiona dug at Root 66 and Duncan enlarged the connecting rift between the two sites. Your scribe acted as bag hauler for the three diggers. The worsening air quality and bang fumes released from the mud eventually stopped play but not before 50 loads went out. Another 30 reached the surface next day when John finally cleared the blasted rock and the writer dug at the other two sites. This was only possible because of the use of the vacuum cleaner and it was actually far more pleasant underground than on the monsoon-drenched surface. Another 23 loads came out on the 25th when all three sites were dug by your scribe and Henry D. arrived in time to struggle with the full bags after pioneering the use of the vacuum hose as a speaking tube! 1 load – a phreatically sculpted rock flake – came out on the 28th when the writer filled bags at Root 66, partly with vivid orange ochre. 34 loads came out next day when Paul and Fiona dug at Root 66, Jane and your scribe continued clearing the connecting rift and Nicks Harding and Richards hauled from the surface with the latter briefly studying the geology of the cave in preparation for another visit on a less hectic occasion. Bob assisted on the surface due to alcohol-induced cracked ribs – the second team member whose underground exploits were curtailed by over zealous cycling!

     Root 66 was dug again on the 30th July by enthusiastic new digger, Sissel Balomatis (Cheddar C.C.) and the writer. 21 loads were hauled out and a two shot-hole charge was fired in the dig just above the floor of Son of a Pitch. Much of the bang-debris was cleared by Siss and Paul on the 1st August when they also assisted Jake, John and your scribe to load over three tons of spoil into Tim’s truck which he took away to the dump. On the 3rd the writer filled thirteen bags at Root 66. He was back on the 5th with Fiona when much digging took place here and 18 loads came out. A solo visit next day saw more digging and rock removal at the same site. Mike Willett joined the team on the 8th and dug at Root 66 while Helen S. and your scribe shifted bags, 48 coming out in total. A power cut stopped the vacuum cleaner for a while and later, in the Hunters’ the culprit was revealed as a local who had chain-sawed a tree branch which, dropping on to the cable severed the village electric supply. He wishes to remain anonymous so we will call him “J.C.B”.

     On the 9th Tony Audsley commenced work on pointing the entrance ginging in preparation for the replacement of the rusting Acro-prop with a permanent lintel. He noted possible traces of original lime mortar. Some token digging was done by your scribe in Root 66 on the 11th and next day he returned with Duncan and Ray Deasy (on his annual visit from Australia) to continue with this until stopped by an apparent rock pillar in the middle of the passage. Duncan concentrated on enlarging the bottom of the main rift. On the 13th Tony continued fettling the entrance shaft while the writer laid a five shot-hole charge in Root 66. After firing this the duo retired for lunch then returned to continue with their projects. The morning’s bang had done a good job so a two shot-hole charge was fired to enlarge the squeeze from the main rift into Root 66. A total of 6 bags of spoil came out today. The spoil from the banged squeeze was cleared on the 15th  by Mike, Helen, Jeff Price and the writer when a total of 34 bags and skips reached the surface. The bang had brought down a vast amount of rock - far more than it should have - indicating that the roof here was potentially unstable and

that blowing it down had been a wise move! Two days later the writer bagged up much of the spoil from the bang at the end and this was hauled halfway out on the 20th, when he was joined by Jeff. 12 loads came out today, mainly rock and clay cleared from the banged squeeze. Tony measured up the entrance shaft. On the 22nd August the banged squeeze was finally cleared by your scribe when a possible way on behind clay infill was revealed to close down. Mike continued digging at the end of Root 66 and Bob took CO2 samples with an expensive electronic gadget. He recorded percentages of 0.5 at the bottom  of the entrance shaft, 1.3 – 1.6 near the banged squeeze and 2.34 at the Root 66 dig. A flame safety lamp used in conjunction dimmed as he descended the cave and expired at the banged squeeze. He was only able to re-light it on the surface. 16 loads were hauled out and many more left for future removal.

      2 loads of spoil from Tony’s ginging repair project came out on the 27th August when he prepared the entrance shaft for the casting of the concrete lintel. Meanwhile the writer cleared the terminal Root 66 dig and laid a four shot-hole charge. Unfortunately this misfired so was left for a day as a precaution. Being a bank holiday there was a plentiful surface support team of Rich Witcombe, Paul Weston and the two Nicks. The charge was rewired on the 28th but again failed to fire – as it did twice more next day when all connections were changed and the firing cable tested. Even Tim’s lawnmower battery was tried in vain and your scribe, baffled, gave up the attempt preferring to return on the 30th with a fresh detonator and length of cord to join the two sets of double shot-holes. This thankfully did the business and on the 2nd September Trev and the writer bagged up lots of spoil and moved full bags towards the entrance. 1 load came out. Tony continued with his entrance fettling next day and drilled the “solid” walls while your scribe got rid of much of the blasted rock dumped on the surface by adding it to the drystone wall across the road and bringing it up towards its original height. Root 66 saw action again on the 5th when Mike and the writer filled bags at the end and, aided by Jeff, hauled 35 out. A clay-filled and easily diggable phreatic tube was opened up beyond the banged section and hope was restored. On the 8th September the writer filled and stacked lots of bags here until the air went stale. Digging did not reveal the ceiling of the tube thus ensuring that it was pleasantly spacious. “Free diving” was almost necessary to regain the surface through the hordes of mosquitoes now infesting the main rift! Next day he returned with John to continue digging and hauling. 53 loads came out. Bob and Jane briefly assisted on the surface. The two returned next morning and pushed on into the phreatic passage – now almost of kneeling height. John poked upwards with a crowbar to reveal a phreatic ceiling and your scribe then went in for a look. A lip of ochreous clay was pulled down to reveal a lengthy and (allegedly) draughting airspace. Jane arrived to fill more bags and confirm the draught. Tony, assisted by Paul, continued with lintel preparations and Rich professionally repaired more of Robin Main’s drystone wall opposite Tim’s house – an excellent PR job. They continued with these projects in the afternoon whilst the writer filled more bags at the end and decided that the dig now looked more promising than ever before and almost certain to yield significant cave.

     Tony spent six hours working in the entrance shaft on the 11th September, assisted from the surface by Alice Audsley. He constructed a timber former, intending to install this at a future date. On the 12th Mike and your scribe continued with the magnificently easy dig at the end and, assisted by Jeff, Pete, and Tim Ball on the surface, hauled out a total of 60 loads. Mike was perplexed by the disembodied voice of Tim issuing from the vacuum pipe, as it appeared to emanate from a blank rock wall! More bag-filling was done by the writer next day and on the 14th  Tony continued fettling the shaft while Tim Andrews went almost to the end to check on progress. The following day Mike moved all the full bags to Son of a Pitch and filled another eleven before poor air stopped play. In the evening the writer, Henry D. and Barry Lawton filled a few more bags at the working face and then hauled out 74 loads, clearing the cave. Life was much improved by the use of an electric leaf blower provided by Tim A. to blast fresh air down the vacuum hose. The 16th saw your scribe, Duncan, Barry and Bob removing 26 loads – all freshly dug from the end. Two shot-holes were drilled in the side passage just above the floor of Son of a Pitch. Two more were drilled next day when the writer and Henry Bennett dug at the end and brought out 4 loads. Tony laboured in the entrance shaft and on the surface to complete the lintel framework and could be heard, as if above, from the end of Root 66. Mike, Jane and your scribe were back at the working face on the 19th to dig and haul bags and the following evening the latter banged the four outstanding shot-holes, Judy Andrews actually firing the charge. He returned to clear these on the 24th but was not encouraged by the tiny way on so continued digging at the end. The almost 2m high passage here transpired to be a choked roof joint with the main phreatic tube continuing at the same level below – good news. He was joined on the surface by Tony whose open-topped Land Rover was commissioned to deliver a rigid steel ladder from the Belfry.

On the morning of 26th September Tony washed down the entrance shaft walls, getting soaked in the process and later Mike and the writer hauled 22 loads out, moved full bags towards the entrance and filled many more at Root 66. Phil Coles arrived providentially at knocking off time and was impressed with the progress made since his last visit. Three shot-holes were drilled in the walls of the main rift as the commencement of a project to create a skipway between Root 66 and Son of a Pitch. Study of the geological map indicated that the cave is south of the Priddy Fault and running parallel in the direction of Cowsh Aven Series in Swildon’s Hole to the east. The estimated depth puts the current end of the cave almost at the level of Swildon’s / Priddy Green Sink entrances - indicating that a connection with this system is more likely than the hoped for breakthrough into ancient fossil passages heading towards Cheddar. Rich has suggested that the phreatic Tubledown dig on the western side of the Swildon’s Five streamway may be a possible contender. A link would add 15 metres to Swildon’s current depth resulting in a system 169 m (554.49 ft) deep and a connection to Wookey Hole would make the total depth, at the present state of exploration, some 279 m (915.39 ft)  – one of the deepest in Britain; the Wigmore Swallet – Gough’s Cave potential being 296.4 m (972.4 ft) . Time and hard work will tell but it’s nice to know that B.E.C. explorers are heavily involved with both! Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, incidentally, is at least 308 m (1010.55 ft) and will probably forever be Number One. At least one cave in northern England has similar potential to the Mendip systems but the writer has no information on this to hand.

     More digging took place at the end on the 30th when Trev and your scribe also moved full bags towards the surface. Tony and Pierre Abastado (Marseilles via Estonia) then arrived and the rest of the afternoon was devoted to transporting all the full bags on the surface to the spoil dump, utilising both available Land Rovers – an estimated six tons! On the following day your scribe filled more bags at the end and drilled three more shot-holes in the main rift, which were later charged with cord and fired by Pierre (as a recompense for Waterloo). Tony, assisted by Pierre and Alice and Rosie Audsley laboured to install the lintel shuttering in the entrance shaft. Further work was aborted due to a duff cement mixer. Weather conditions were atrocious but 10 loads came out today. The writer also surveyed the cave resulting in a current length of 22.90 metres and depth of 12.41 metres. Tony and his team returned next day in better conditions and with a working cement mixer and successfully constructed the lintel with a bag of cement and five bags of ½” to dust. He was back on the 5th to reduce the shuttering. On the 7th October 33 loads came out courtesy of Trev, Carole White and the writer. One detonator from the last bang had misfired but the problem was resolved by Trev. Lots of B.E.C. dinner survivors visited but failed to dirty their hands! Your scribe and Carole were back next day to take a Land Rover load of bags to the dump, clear the latest bang spoil and drag bags around the cave until driven out by residual fumes. More lintel work was done by Tony next day - a magnificent construction bearing the inscription BEC 2007, above which is a Scandinavian runic carving doubtless intended to curry favour with the gods of the cave (or it could be a sort of mason’s mark!). A drag tray was installed in the widened main rift on the 10th and Carole, Mike, Jake, Phil and the writer hauled 60 loads to surface, most of which were dumped by Land Rover on the following evening. On the 12th your scribe returned to widen the skip-way, shift bags and dig at the end but was a little dismayed to find the terminal passage trending to the right (south east) and indicating that the way on may be in the floor. On the 14th, accompanied by Trev, he moved bags throughout the cave.43 loads reached the surface. 2 more came out on the 15th when the writer filled lots more at the end and took a Land Rover load to the dump. The 17th October saw Mike, Siss, Paul, Sean, Pete and your scribe moving bags throughout the cave and Phil and Jake hauling 90 loads to the surface in a magnificent team effort. Some digging was done at the end. Jane and your scribe filled more bags here on the19th and reached a smooth limestone floor. All full bags on the surface were dumped. The writer returned next day to fill many bags and reveal much more of the floor. When finally cleared this will give the passage a superb cross section. 

     On the 21st October Trev (as a birthday treat) and the writer hauled bags throughout the cave and attempted to break up a large rock obstructing the south-easterly way on but decided that bang was needed. This was done by your scribe next day after lots more bags had been filled. More bag-hauling was done on the 24th by Mike and the writer. 22 loads came out and the bang debris was cleared to reveal the passage seeming to turn to the left beyond the site of the late rock and following the general trend east-north-east. The latter filled more bags here next day and on the 26th and 27th he was back continuing this work. Vast amounts of ochreous clay need to come out but plenty of small airspaces are encouraging and there is no shortage of room in this stunningly pleasant and easy dig.

Thanks are due to Henry Bennett and Madphil Rowsell for computing the survey figures.


     BARRINGTON, N. and STANTON, W. I.    1977.  Mendip, the Complete Caves and a View of the Hills. Pp. 228-229.

     STANTON, W. I.      1991.  The habitat and origin of lead ore in Grebe Swallet Mine, Charterhouse-on-Mendip, Somerset     Proc. Univ. Bristol Spelaeol. Soc., 19 (1), pp 43-65.

To be continued in BB 530.

Vale:  Mervyn Hannam

Mervyn Hannam passed away at 4 am, 2nd.January 2008, at the Royal United Hospital, Bath. Mervyn was a long standing BEC member, and the proud holder of BEC membership number 104.

On behalf of the BEC , we extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Dorothy and his family. Further to all those who caved and knew him with him over the years.

At his funeral the following Eulogy was delived:

I speak on behalf of the BEC, especially the older members. Mervyn joined the club in the late 1940's and has remained a life member ever since; although he gave up active caving when hobby time became in short supply due to work, including working in Canada, and family pressures.

During his active period he was especially involved in opening up and exploring Cuthbert’s Swallet. It was during this period that Mervyn was allocated the initials T.B.C.O.M. , ‘the best caver on Mendip’ from his habit of ensuring that every new member of the club recognised his, self appointed, status.

Some special meetings come to mind.

When Mervyn reached retirement age he found time to organise a lunch at the White Hart in Trudoxhill, which has its own brewery, thereby proving that he could organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery.

Mervyn missed a visit to the air museum at Kemble when he was North Africa lecturing on oil and gas pipe-line protection but he did help by finding information on the internet, for a visit to Woodhenge. Regretfully plans for future visits to sites will have to be reconsidered.

Mervyn had an infectious laugh, was a great friend and will be sadly missed.

Tony Sett

Rose Cottage Cave - Despondency Sets In

By Tony Jarratt

         “Blessed are they who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed”

                                                                   Kate Fox, Watching the English.

Continued from BBs 522-528.

Further Digging 28/5/07 – 26/9/07

     On the 28th May Jake Baynes, John Noble and Phil Coles took down extra scaffolding for the spoil rift and continued clearing and wall building at Halfway Dig in preparation for the last, desperate push at this site.

      Plan B Dig was partly cleared on the 6th June by Henry Dawson and Henry Bennett but another session was needed to bang a large, peeled-off boulder and to remove the last of the spoil blocking the rift and cutting off the draught. Henry B. and Barry Lawton (Aberystwyth U.C.C.) attempted this on the 10th but a broken power cable near Halfway Dig defeated them. They were not amused. The cable was replaced on the 13th June when an eleven-hole charge was fired at Plan B Dig and a one-hole charge on a rock at Halfway Dig. Tonight’s operatives were the brace of Henries and Helen Stalker. John N. and Phil C. inspected the results on the 16th and reported that it “Will be a close run thing between entering open space and running out of stacking room”.

     On the 4th July Henry D. and Tim Ball continued clearing Plan B Dig to get a better view of the potential but were not over enthusiastic and didn’t like the air conditions. Above, at Halfway Dig Henry B. joined Jake B, Phil C. and later Sean Howe for another clearing session but this team also became despondent at the prospect of dragging spoil all the way out to the surface.

Things were not looking good in Rose Cottage Cave! There was an improvement a week later when Henry B, Hannah Bell and Helen S. cleared more spoil at Plan B Dig and were enthusiastic after investigating possibilities for following the elusive lost draught in the upper part of the cave. On the 18th Henry D, Sean H. and Pete Hellier finished clearing Plan B Dig before drilling five shot-holes and firing a cord charge. 

     The submersible pump and lots of redundant tools were recovered from the new entrance by the writer on the 30th August when it was noted that the pitches had been thoroughly cleaned by this year’s excess of rain water. Hannah and the Henries were back clearing at Plan B Dig on the 5th September when they decided that another charge was needed before they gave up. This was laid as an eight shot-hole charge by the duo on the 12th September and left for a couple of weeks for the fumes to clear.

     As an alternative project the Henries took a draught testing device down the cave on the 19th September with the intention of finding the best place to dig in the boulder ruckle but were defeated by a distinct lack of airflow. They returned to Plan B Dig on the 26th and, despite lingering fumes were able to drill and fire a nine shot-hole charge in the rift as a third person was now needed to allow spoil clearing.

Continued in BB 530.

Rose Cottage Cave – Plan B dig abandoned

By Henry Bennett

When Prancers Pot was first found in March 2006 the bottom of the cave ended in a muddy pool back underneath the final descending rift.  A quick investigation of this looked like it might go with a concerted digging effort. In order to dig it we need to bail the pool and it was noticed that a flood rim mark around the passage was at the same level, about 6 ft up, as a small tube entering the rift at the opposite end of the rift passage.

Several trips took place when we established that we could bail all the water down this hole but it was slow work. A manual pump wasn’t much faster (and broke) but running 110v down to the pool and using an electric pump did the job in minutes. Work then began on removing the fine clay from the blocked passage. However it soon became clear that the pool pinched in on all sides with a solid floor. But since the water disappeared down the drain hole and didn’t reappear we decided to give the drain hole a go.

We started this knowing it would be a long term drill and persuade operation.  After approximately a body length horizontally we met a narrow rift going down.  The thinking was that we could follow this rift down and see if it opened out into anything more interesting. Henry Dawson and myself, plus a hoard of eager diggers, started a concerted effort in early summer 2006 to reach the bottom of the rift which always seemed tantalisingly close but too tight to reach. Details of these trips are in the previous BBs to date, but suffice to say that we started off digging every week and in the last few months have had to shift to every other week due to the quality of air.

When we eventually reached the bottom of the rift it was unsurprisingly blocked by debris that had been brought down during our operations. Several feet of this was cleared and a larger section of rift (but still small) was entered with some enthusiasm. Work continued on down, removing the spoil in the rift and expanding the wall dimensions, but it was not exactly fast. Plus the absence of a draught was not encouraging.

Finally after we’d pushed down about 20ft (guestimate from memory) we decided to call it a day. While future diggers may decide that it is worth another look we felt it important to document why we stopped.

Rose Cottage with its close proximity to St Cuthberts could provide substantial passage. The draught at the entrance indicates there is something down there. But the main draught does not go down into the main cave proper. Most of it filters though the massive boulder pile between Mount Hindrance Lane and the top of the Corkscrew. At the other side of this trauma something must be heading off.  Identifying a route through this area is a daunting task and needs some thought, someone very brave or very stupid. Looks interesting…

Down and Out in Paris

By Faye Litherland

It started as most things do with several beers at the pub and a discussion about limestone quarrying techniques.  Having only visited the Wiltshire Limestone quarries up to that point I was very interested in the stone used for other famous cities and that is how the trip to the Paris Catacombs was born.  Tim Ball had wanted to go for ages, but lack of time and planning had put it on the back burner.  I had a mission………

The Paris Catacombs were quarried to provide the stone to build Paris.  Initially Paris was in the centre around Notre Dame, and the catacombs were on the edge of the city.  As Paris grew it eventually started to expand over the catacombs and the government became concerned about the potential for collapses in the area.  Therefore in 1777 a program of consolidation and inspection was started.  Before an area was built over, the area below was filled in and strengthened to support the structure above and passages left for access and ongoing inspection.  This support structure was then marked with a unique designation, which is still visible today.  An example of one of these designations is 29T 1877.  29 is the wall number, T is the designation letter of the inspector for that wall and 1877 is the year of inspection. Therefore we can tell that this particular wall was built in 1877 and was the 29th wall that Inspector Designation Letter T inspected in that year.  We could go even further and look back through the records to find out who held that letter in that year and find out more about them.  This consolidation continued until Paris grew to the point where even its graveyards on the edge of the city were needed for building land.  At this point some bright spark in the city government decided to remove all of the bodies from the cemeteries and transfer them to the catacombs.  This would free up the cemeteries for building.  The lower levels of the catacombs were filled with the bones of the dead and still are.  Opportunities for dramatic poses and proclamations of “Alas poor Yoric, I knew him Horatio - a fellow of infinite jest” abound.  There is a section of the Paris Catacombs which has been converted into a tourist attraction, but that wasn’t what we wanted to see.  We wanted the wild untamed Catacombs experience, not the sanitised for the masses, glass walled tourist trip version.

There are a couple of problems with visiting the non-tourist parts of the Paris Catacombs.  The major one being that it is illegal and getting caught will land you in hot water with the gendarmerie and in receipt of a fine. The other problem is finding an open entrance.  The entrances get located by the Gendarmerie and closed up, and then another one gets opened etc.  Hence it is essential to have someone with local knowledge.

So, the question is, how does one find people involved with illegal and clandestine activities in the French capital?  Obviously they don’t advertise in the Paris equivalent of the yellow pages.  There was only one place to go I sent a message to “Root” who runs the website and he put me in touch with someone called “Paulo” who put me in touch with a Frenchman who goes by the name of “Oxs” (a nickname from the Asterix cartoons).  After many emails the date for our catacombs visit was fixed and then all Tim & I had to do was get to Paris and wait on a street corner, on a certain date, at a certain time, dressed in old clothes and wellies and with no underground equipment visible.  He would find us.

Tim & I had no idea what to expect, but had been warned to take a few beers to share, but nothing in a glass bottle.  So there we were, on a street corner on the outskirts of Paris, looking like we had crawled out of the gutter with my tatty old rucksack containing our caving helmets, lamps, six beers and my photography equipment.

True to his word, at the agreed time, Oxs arrived accompanied by a large bottle of unidentified spirits, which he insisted on sharing with us as it was in a glass bottle and had to be finished before we went underground.  As you can imagine, we strenuously resisted for all of a few seconds. We then had to wait for his friend “Source” to arrive as he was struggling to park.  Eventually we were all gathered and ready to make our way to the entry point.  There was no messing about for this part.  We were told that we would walk casually towards the entrance and then go down as fast as possible and seal it behind us.  I had expected the entry point to be down a back alley somewhere, but as we were crossing a busy roundabout opposite a bus station, Oxs pointed down and said “we are here”.  I was stunned; we were about to effect an illegal entry into the bowels of Paris in full view of lots and lots of witnesses.  Oh well, I had left a call out for someone to find me and bail me out of jail if I didn’t get into work by the following Wednesday.  Down we went and Source secured the hatch above us.

We made our way down a series of ladders for about forty metres passing through the newer sewer and cable run levels until we reached the catacombs level.  We were standing around sorting ourselves out when we heard someone else coming down the ladder.  I saw a look of amusement in Source’s eyes and then we witnessed the French sense of humour at first hand.  They waited until the other people were on the ladder and committed to the descent.  Then Source blew his whistle as loud as possible and yelled the equivalent of “Stop, Police” in French.  The descending stopped and turned into rapid ascent at which point our French guides burst out laughing and the poor frightened victims made their way down to join us. 

This is the spirit of the Catacombs.  With the exception of a few pairs of explorer friends (they call themselves Cataphiles), none of us had met each other previously, but within minutes we were all sharing beer, wine, food, cigarettes, experiences and other things. There is no language barrier underground.

I had expected the Catacombs to be tunnels full of bones and not much else, but there are open areas too where the first consolidations were made using arches rather than infill. Some of these areas have been beautifully decorated to make “rooms” where the walls are decorated with murals of original art and copies of works by Dali and Botticelli to name but a few. Artists from the surrealists, cubists and renaissance are all represented.  These rooms are where the party happens.  We moved from room to room during the night, joining and leaving various groups as we went, drinking, smoking and partying to the ever present music supplied by someone’s stereo, as our guides Oxs and Source became more and more incoherent and unsteady.

Eventually the party crowd thinned out and soon it was just Tim & I, Oxs, Source and a guy called Oxalite who we had collected at one of the parties.  We made our way to another room where there were stone benches built into the walls.  Candles were lit and lights were turned off.  It was time to sleep.  I was so exhausted that I did manage to sleep quite well on the cold stone although Oxs noticed me shivering in my sleep at one point and put a space blanket over me.

We slept for probably four hours and then we were off again.  Our guides were considerably more sober by this time and I was starting to have some confidence that we would get out alive.

With the night’s party over it was time for sightseeing.  As well as having visited the bone deposits during the night we had also seen the wall inscriptions from the consolidations.  We then visited an area which was used by the Paris School of Mines. Each year the students had painted murals on the walls and these could be traced back through several decades. Unfortunately this practice has now been stopped due to health and safety concerns.  We also visited the site where a body was discovered, now called the Tomb.  A man had become lost in the catacombs about two hundred years ago and was only found twenty years later.  He was identified by his clothes and a key, which was found on the body.  He died only metres from an exit.  His body was removed, but an inscription was placed at the site as a stark reminder of the perils of wandering around without a map and enough light.  During the Second World War part of the catacombs was used by the Nazis and we visited one of the old bunkers, which is still mostly intact.  We also visited the sales room for the quarries and saw the “Bancs de Pierre de Cette Carriere”.  This is a set of display steps, which has the different types of available stone displayed, a bit like a colour swatch but for limestone.

Tired, dirty and happy we decided it was time to leave the catacombs after over twelve hours underground. Here again normal safety practices went out of the window.  We all huddled forty metres above the ground on a ladder of questionable vintage, while Source opened the manhole to the street level above.  Our instructions were clear.  Get out, walk away and take the next right into a side street and then wait. Don’t look back and don’t run.  We managed to exit without being chased by the Gendarmerie, falling off the ladder or dropping any of the good citizens of Paris down our open manhole.  Tim & I said our goodbyes in the safety of the side street and then made our way back to our hotel followed by an interesting smell and a lot of curious stares.

Several nights later we found ourselves on a train bound for Nemours.  We had been accepted into Oxs confidence and he wanted to show us a site, which is unique to Europe, an old underground sand quarry with sand of such purity that it was used for telescope lenses.  Still not sure what to expect, we arrived on the platform in Nemours to wait for Oxs.

He had said he would cook us dinner so we had assumed we would be going to his house before the quarry visit.  How wrong can you be?  I found myself in charge of carrying two baguettes through a sand crawl with the strict instruction not to get sand over them.  Tim was in charge of the cheese.

The sand quarry was truly amazing.  The sand vein was located between two rock bedding planes which meant that there was no contamination from vegetation or soil unlike other open cast sand quarries.  I was amazed by how extensive the workings were. There were very few artefacts in the quarry although areas of pit props were evident and there was one section of railway track.  It was not long before we were tired of walking through the deep sand on the floor and decided to have dinner.  This was cheese fondue with copious quantities of wine.  Oxs had been steadily making his way through the wine all evening and yet, to our amusement, declined some of the beer Tim & I had brought because he was driving!

We got a few hours sleep that night at Oxs’ apartment and he very kindly dropped us off at the edge of Paris the next morning on his way to work.  We made our way back across Paris to our hotel to be stared at yet again by the clean, non-sandy Parisians.

So is Paris the most romantic city in the world?  I am not sure, but it is definitely good for a dirty weekend!


Poetry Corner


Picture a shed on the edge of the Mendips

with lunatic cavers and a dig by the side.

Suddenly someone builds an extension,

with loads of help from mates who abide.

Colourful timbers of varying sizes a wonderful construction to see.

brickie and labourers beavering away,

plus Dany the chippie and me.

I wonder how long it will take to finish,

so we feel the benefits me and you

Visualise the fun, we can have in it!!

our colourful psychedelic room with a view.

Full of suggestions the committee pondered,

on how to make use of this space.

Franks’ view is that it should be a vibrant, colourful

calm and ambient chill out place!!!!

Kaleidoscope murals covering the walls,

with white rugs and cushions on the floor.

Using feng shui for the total space,

thereby ensuring an ambient décor.

Imagine the setting as you lounge on your cushions!

Coolly moonbathing in this heavenly womb.

all the decisions that no one will make,

in the BEC psychedelic room.

Viva the committee.


(Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds anyone? Ed.)




1.          Tony Bamber

2.         Cambell McKee

3.         Dizzie (nee Akers)

4.         Alfie Collins

5.         Frank Seward

6.         Johnny Shorthose

7.         Betty Shorthose

            8.         ?

9.         Possibly Eddie Cole

10.        Jack Brown11. Don Coase

12.        Looks like Pete Stewart       But is probably not

13.        Freda Huchinson

14.        Can’t tell, face obscured

Many thanks to Tony Sett for identifications.

Memories of Mendip in the Forties

I happily slept on the hay in the barn,

with Postle and Don and the rest.

We drank and we swore, and the clothes that we wore

were far from our cleanest and best.

For we went down the caves that ran under our feet

and many a squeeze came my way;

with old carbide lamps and thick ladders of rope,

whilst the darkness chased terror away.

There were chimneys we climbed; there were boulders we scaled;

and the streams that ran swift after rain.

There were times we were lost, when I felt rather scared

‘til we’d sussed out our trail once again.

We’d a car boasting sidescreens, and running boards too,

with a windscreen that folded down flat.

And a neat dickey seat, tucked away in the rear.

There were many who envied us that.

While the others had motorbikes, battered and old,

but lovingly tended with care,

for petrol was scarce, and money was short,

but somehow we always got there.

In the evenings we’d roar down the road to the pub,

where Alfie played tunes that we knew.

And there we heard tell of one “Eskimo Nell”

as we drank our host’s excellent brew.

All too soon, time to go, and we’d climb on our bikes

or crowd in our Lea Francis car.

Then once more we’d roar to the Belfry and bed

and be grateful it wasn’t too far.

For a Club had been formed, with a bat as its badge,

and a hut was soon bought for a song.

To start with we slept on the old wooden floor

but I’m glad to say, not for too long.

Now we’ve benches and bunkhouses, showers and loos,

and places to dry out wet clothes.

I haven’t been caving for twenty-odd years

and I won’t go again, I suppose.

But Alfie plays host to us “oldies” each year

at a Dinner, both happy and sad,

while we think of those missing, who ought to be there,

and talk of the Good Times we had.

Dizzie Tompsett-Clark        21 February 2001


Our Message to Wig

Hello Dave aka Wig

it’s all your pals down here

we’ve trogged down to Cerberus Hall

to serenade you, friend dear

There is no need to say

how sad is this time

but all of us remember you

in your youthful prime.

Full of energy, wit,

and a character to boot

always a warm welcome

and sound advice to suit.

The Cerberus Chamber is yours

for just as long as you want,

like the long shadows of Priddy

and all the trees we plant.

Sadly missed is a phrase

that always sounds quite trite

so we will all raise our glasses

to a great mate goodnight.

vaya con dios Dave

Everything to Excess.

Mike Wilson


We all Likes Bloodywell Caving

When I were a youngster I were good as can be

With me nine to five job and home for me tea

Till a devil with horns and a beer gut or three

Took me caving, bloodywell caving

Caving, caving just you and I

Caving, caving when we are dry

Some does it open and some on the sly

But we all likes bloodywell caving

He said it’s a doddle, a countryside stroll

And I took it for gospel till we entered Cow Hole

I think he mistook me for some kind of mole

Going caving, bloody well caving

Then I did Goatchurch, all covered in mud

And then I did Swildon’s when it was in flood

Manor Farm was the place where I first spilled me blood

Going caving, bloodywell caving

Now Cuthbert’s is dry, I was told it’s a cinch

But the liar who told me that I’d like to lynch

Cos the entrance shaft surely could do with a winch

Going caving, bloodywell caving

Now Otter is fine if you’re watching the tide

And Neath is a squeeze, but it’s pretty inside

You get sodden and wrinkled and do it with pride

Gong caving, bloodywell caving

But the best time of day is when caving is done

And we go to the Hunters’ and drink down the sun

It’s then we tell weegies that caving is fun

Going caving, bloodywell caving


The Shaves Of The Mendip Hills

                 Yer Ed makes some surprising discoveries about caves and beards.


One of the most frequently asked questions by those who do not occupy the underground realm of caving is why are there so many beards? Today, beards and caving are almost synonymous and indeed one only has to frequent the various watering holes populated by those who indulge in that passion to see that beards are far from dying out – as some have wrongly claimed (see Haver’s The Shaved Men of Caving for a description of such misconceptions). It seems there is a long tradition of not shaving in the pursuits of a subterranean nature. Indeed, one may even consider it an act of freethought rebellion to indulge in wanton facial hair expression and rightly so. There is nothing more liberating than being one of the few who venture where the many fear to squeeze bedecked in enough facial hair to startle itinerant spinsters. 

The tradition is thought to have started with Gough whose magnificent facial hair was the talk of Cheddar. Scholars of this subject though rightly claim that beard wearing predates the great man by at least a century. Antiquarian and bon viveur John Pilsbury sported an enormous beard; one that was often reported as being ‘like the sail of a mighty galleon as she battled the storms of the Cape of Good Hope’. Pilsbury was fond of exploring the region in all weathers and a brisk southwester whipping across the Mendips was hardly likely to deter him. While regaling rude mechanicals of his adventures in inns of the area he often claimed that when caught out at night such was the enormity of his whiskers that he could curl up beneath them and sleep soundly, safe in the knowledge that…‘the rain could nought but penetrate the resplendent outpourings of my chin.’ 

Of course it soon became clear to Pilsbury that crawling through the tunnels and orifices of the Mendips was becoming an arduous task hampered as he was by the size of his mat. Although on one occasion he was deeply thankful that he had ignored his wife’s protestations to remove the wretched beast. In short he owed his life to it. While negotiating a squeeze he popped out ten fathoms above a deep abyss (which cave this is in no one is absolutely sure) but was saved from falling after his beard snagged on a knobbly protuberance of stal.

In his diary of 1756 he wrote:

I fell out, evacuated from the perilous opening, to what I deemed was my certain doom. Had I not been in possession of the fibres of my chin I would have that day met my maker. The knobbulous rockform had halted thereon my plummet and to it I made vigorous blessings as well as to my follicles…

Pilsbury spent three long days suspended over the deep pitch, turning lazily at the end of his beard until “certaine men of Priddy” rescued him. While waiting, he occupied his time in the long hours conjuring up caving techniques centred on the use of the beard. Predominant of which was SBT or the Single Beard Technique.  On paper and from his brief experience of it SBT seemed a novel and workable exploring tool but it was to prove, in reality, an untenable idea. Pilsbury finally met his doom during a test run swing off a steeple of rock in The Trousers of the Saint passage in Ball’s Opening just north of Wells. His beardless body was found wedged in the Bishop’s Nuisance Thrutch, now renamed, in his honour, Pilsbury’s Rip.   

His rescued beard, until quite recently, used to hang in the back of a cupboard in Wells museum. The identity of precisely which cupboard though has now been completely forgotten and the item lost to history.  

Another famous Mendip beard was Ezekiel ‘Thatch’ Whackery who facial hair reminded many of a map of Africa. Not only it must be mentioned due to its likeness of that continent but to its sheer size. Thatch had started his career as something of a cur of low moral fibre working near the coast, not far from present day Weston super Mare, smuggling barrels of brandy and other fancy goods in his whiskers. He even, if what was famously reported is true, carried two gentlemen avoiding a gambling debt, to Swindon without once letting them tumble from his face. It can only be assumed they clung tenaciously to his chin throughout the entire journey hidden from the authorities under his voluminous beard. 

Thatch, who incidentally was the first to explore Dripping Hole near West Harptree, had the ability to roll his beard into something that resembled a thick rope from which he could suspend other fellow explorers – in essence a human belay, or use it to scale certain rock formations in the various caves he ventured into. Beard historians (Or Barb-arians to give them their proper name) have rightly noted that Thatch had inadvertently stumbled upon the SBT independently.  Some have disputed this. Although Thatch came along some twenty years after Pilsbury, there is no evidence the men ever met, Thatch spent long hours talking about caves to elderly men of the area – some of whom had rescued Pilsbury’s body from the Bishop’s Nuisance Thrutch. So it is not without historical veracity that Thatch knew something of SBT.

Either way he became the most famous exemplar of SBT. Scandal dogged his later years when it was claimed that Thatch had returned to his old smuggling ways. In June of 1791 he was apprehended leaving a tobacconists with a hundredweight of rough shag lodged under his chin. He was incarcerated in the local stocks for a week and his beard was cut off in punishment. (It later appeared in an auction house in London where it sold for thirty guineas)

Further scandal would shock the caving world, in the early part of the 19th century, when a series of accidents revealed an underground market of fake beards. Explorers, usually from beyond the borders of Somerset, would purchase chin adornments in the mistaken belief they would aid them in their subterranean quests. It turned out that a shipment of substandard glue from the Far East had rendered the items useless as well as potentially dangerous. The Sheriff of Somerset launched an inquiry and formed a group of facial hair police called The Fuzz to track down and punish purveyors of pseudobarbafollicae.  It was due to his overwhelming success that even genuine caving beards fell into obsolescence - even those distributed to women - without which they were unable to explore the netherworld of Mendip. Thankfully that dogmatically sexist period was brief.

                                                ‘Beard madam?’

                                                            Monty Python’s Life of Brian       

Wetheral Fudge who caved once then retired unmoving to his bed for the remaining sixty years of his life was the last of the Great Beards of the Golden Age. Incidentally it was said that when he died rigor vigorous set in such was his lack of activity over that long period. His beard was the last of the greats to venture beneath the fields of the Mendips albeit on a once in a lifetime excursion. For a while, after his demise his beard hung in a Wells public house above a dartboard. Eventually the wretched thing began to stink up the place due to an inordinate amount of discarded ale and foodstuffs lodged in its hairs. It was laid to rest next to Fudge, beard and one time caver united once more.  

In the early and mid part of the 20th Century the beard in caving circles went into decline due in part to the shaves of the Mendip Hills but thankfully in more recent times the association of caving with facial hair has once more been re-affirmed. Balch sported a fine moustache but never went for the complete Monty.

Anyone interested in beard fieldwork can do worse than visit the Hunters Lodge Inn wherein any number of beards can be espied. One beard watcher (known as a whisker) went undiscovered for a whole month having taken up residence in a hide in the corner of the pub.

It seems that caves and beards are synonymous and who would have it any other way.

Long may they grow.  

See Celia Canth’s By A Whisker for further reading.

One famous Banwell caver, William Beard, actually changed his surname by deed poll in honour of facial hair. His original name was Stubble. – Jrat

Stop – Press  -  Breakthroughs at  Rana  Hole, Assynt,  Scotland

Tony Jarratt

     Over the Christmas – Hogmanay period a minor Mendip Invasion of Assynt took place with Paul Brock, Siss Balomatis, Duncan Butler, the writer and Robin “Tav” Taviner (GSG/WCC) in attendance. Norman Flux, Mark Brown and Anwen Burrows represented both GSG and SUSS and a host of Grampian members, including old Rana lags Julian Walford, Ivan Young, Martin Hayes, Andy Peggie, Roger Galloway, Annie Audsley, Kate Janossy and Derek Pettiglio appeared. Fraser Simpson luckily made a brief appearance armed with his video camera.

On Boxing Day Paul, Siss and your scribe visited Skye-way and the impressive Two A’s Chamber before squeezing down into some 70m of rift and bedding passages found earlier in the week by GSG local Chris Warwick and daughter Shona. A new stream entered on the north side as a 5m waterfall and sank in a boulder choke in the floor of Way On Chamber. A passage above was blasted after a couple of minor extensions were added to the cave.

Next day your scribe, Paul and Siss squeezed into c.20m of choked phreatic passage (Santa’s Grotthole) then joined Julian and sons who were digging in vain at the floor choke. To aid access a charge was fired in the rock wall on the S side of the choke. On the 28th Tav and the writer cleared the spoil and started shifting the choke when black voids appeared below and part of the floor collapsed into a short pitch – much to your scribe’s distress! Leaving it to settle they banged their way into 6m of passage nearby – Misfire Rift. Having optimistically brought SRT kit and a rope they were duty bound to garden and push the pitch so Tav acted as safety man while the writer descended the steeply angled and well decorated Black Rift for some 8m to a c.6m vertical drop into Black Cuillin Chamber where two ways led off. Mark, Anwen and Duncan visited next day and thoroughly emptied the rift of tons of “hanging death”.

A large team were back on the 30th and after Mark rigged Black Rift he pushed into some 50m of narrow, dry phreatic passage into Blue Chamber – named after its resident sump pool and in memory of Paul’s late lamented Border Terrier. Others dug in a boulder blockage in the northerly trending stream sink a few metres from the pitch but decided bang was needed so your scribe was inserted to drill three obstructive sandstone boulders. Drill and rock quality problems prevented this but after a half hour’s work with a crowbar the writer pushed the furthest rock forwards and followed it through into a 2m high stream passage. Mark, Paul, Siss, Fraser and Duncan (a perfect mix of GSG, SUSS and BEC) joined him to traverse over the shallow Flake Rift on a massive and dodgy looking rock flake, ascend a short and muddy climb and squeeze through a low section to the head of a steep flowstone slope in the side of a mighty chamber after a total of around 20m of new passage. Your scribe worriedly free-climbed this as he expected another deep pitch into Belh Aven in Uamh an Claonaite below. To the north a massive and unstable boulder slope (Raigmore Steps as it turned out) led to a wide breakdown passage with a roaring streamway and plenty of scuff-marks and footprints to prove that after 12 years of digging they had made the connection – into the base of Belh Aven and not the top as predicted! For the writer it was almost 32 years since he first dug here! Thoroughly elated they visited the stunning Great Northern Time Machine, inspected the bear bones nearby, posed for Fraser’s video and returned to Two A’s Chamber to imbibe the “Champagne” providentially left therein (and a second bottle with the rest of the team on the freezing surface!). Many tourist trips then followed and on the 1st January, Mark bolted up Belh Aven for some 60m to a horrific boulder choke (Belh End) with the green-dyed Rana stream entering. A magnificent week’s digging and exploration with, luckily, all the right tools and dedicated company for the job. Norman now has to find a new project! The combined system is around 2868m long and 111m deep – Scotland’s longest and deepest by far. Slainte.

Keys and leaders

By Toby Maddocks

A plea from your Caving Sec…

After numerous calls and emails from club members and after checking the members’ key box for quite a few weekends many of the keys are missing in action.

If you have used a key from the members’ box recently, or even not so recently and not yet put it back, please can you do it as soon as possible. Our Hut Warden and other committee members have found it quite embarrassing when keys are missing from the members’ box and members have not been able to the cave of their choice. I will publish a list and put it up by the box shortly so that we know what should be there. If you do use keys from the members’ box, please can you sign them out as well – the book is now pinned to the wall by the front door (left hand side as you come in). Many thanks to the members that have been doing this.

On a lighter note, though I would like to ask if anyone who might be interested in being a Cuthbert’s leader please email me. I’m currently training up myself with a couple of other BEC members so that we can share the load of trips into our cave with the current leaders. At present to become a leader you need to:

Have completed a minimum of 15 trips with current leaders

Be able to have sufficient knowledge of the cave so that you are able to protect the cave formations.

Have completed your training / validation trips with a wide range of current leaders and have gained secure knowledge of the main tourist trips.

If you would like to know more then please email me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..   Happy caving!!


Another  Cave  Theme Beer  Label  and Associated  Ephemera

By Tony Jarratt

      In keeping with the fine traditions of the B.E.C. every now and then the Belfry Bulletin features a short article on “speleobooze” ephemera (see BBs 505 and 506 – Armchair Caving for the Alcoholic). The latest British item to come to the writer’s notice is from a very fine bottle-conditioned golden ale brewed locally by Cheddar Ales and rejoicing in the name “Potholer”. Many members will already be familiar with the excellent draught version (4.3%) frequently available in the Hunters’ and New Inn, Priddy and which recently won a silver award at the Tuckers Maltings Beer Festival in Newton Abbot.

Having been generously given bottles by Mike Hearn and Milche your scribe duly sampled it (Simply Gorgeous) and attempted to remove the label for his collection, being totally defeated by the quality of the glue. Mike, now part of the brewing team, then arranged with owner and head brewer Jem Ham for a small supply of labels, one of which is reproduced here. Its colouring is yellow ochre darkening to brown for the cave walls. The name of the cave illustrated is unknown, as it apparently originated in a photo library, but somewhere in S.E. Asia seems a good bet – it certainly isn’t on Mendip! For a Mendip brew the name “Potholer” may seem inappropriate though it was meant to be “…synonymous with Cheddar and the local area.”  Perhaps in the future we will see “Cave Digger” brown ale or a watery, gaseous brew called “Cave Diver”!

     Another local brewery is producing “Cave Bear” draught ale but this has been neither seen nor sampled and it is doubtful if there is a bottle label to collect.

     To accompany the ale Ford Farms of Ashley Chase Estate, Dorset are making a very acceptable Cheddar cheese, which is matured in the artificial tunnels in Wookey Hole Cave (as illustrated) and recently a similar operation has been set up in Gough’s Cave, Cheddar. Alas, the latter does not have a collectable, cave ephemera label.   

Ed’s note: Cheddar Ales are in the process of brewing a new beer called Totty Pot.  (see next BB --- JRat)


Vale Mark Jones

Once again we have to report the sad loss of one of our members, Mark Jones.

Mark joined the BEC in 2000 (membership number 1272) and was also a leader of the Midsomer Norton Scout Group. He was a talented IT teacher and about a year ago he moved to Bahrain in the Middle East to teach at an English school there. He was originally booked to stay at the Belfry for a week before Christmas but changed his plans after being offered a place with one of his local caving friends.  Sadly it was on his way back to the airport on 4th January when he was involved in an accident.

The funeral was at St Crust Church, Llanrwst, North Wales on Monday 14th January. Many of his friends and family convened in the the Eagle Hotel, Llanrwt Market Place, afterwards to celebrate his life.

A local Memorial Service for his Mendip friends is due to take place as this BB goes to press at Somervale School.

Donations to the MRO please.

On behalf of the BEC, we extend our deepest sympathy to his family.


Dave “Wig” Irwin’s Plaque Unveiling.

By Martin Grass.

On Saturday 10th November a large team in assorted caving kit assembled at the Belfry to descend St. Cuthbert’s Swallet for the unveiling of the memorial plaque to Dave Irwin in recognition of the work he had carried out in the cave over the years and specifically the survey of the cave.

However the event goes back some months to when Dave passed away and a few of us along with the BEC committee thought it would be a great idea to place one final plaque in Cerberus Hall to commemorate Dave’s life. Already plaques to the cave’s main discoverers, Don Coase and Roy Bennett are in the hall and it was felt this would be a fitting tribute to a caver who had done in excess of 750 trips into the cave, mainly for surveying and digging purposes.

Initially we decided to have a plaque the same size as Roy’s so it could sit on the other side of Don’s and balance everything out. This should have been 12 inches by 12 inches but as we added Cave and Surveyor to the original wording of Dave Irwin and his year of birth and death Wells Stone masons changed the size to 17 inches by 17 inches without telling us. Thus when I collected it I did think it was slightly larger than what we had ordered! It was also on the slightly heavy side and when Mac weighted it we found it was 30 kilos, Dave was still giving us headaches from beyond the grave!

Mac put it in a wooden frame and it was padded out with carpet and tape slings were secured to the frame for hauling. Now all we had to do was get it down the cave in one piece. So a cunning plan was hatched, Mac, Dany, J’Rat and myself would go in and drill the holes, tidy the wall and direct operations while Greg Brock and a team of young fit cavers would carry it down the cave with us giving encouragement! As it turned out Greg carried it most of the way with it slung over one shoulder and his whole body bent over and leaning to one side. He looked like Christ carrying the cross!

Still, we had our problems. Despite Mac making a wooden frame with pre-drilled holes and Dany’s expertise in drilling straight holes, on our second visit to put the plaque on the wall the holes did not quite line up and then one bolt sheared off! Now to plan B. So on the third visit Mac and Dany drilled bigger holes and very carefully drilled holes all the way through the stone. Everything was then set in epoxy resin and Dany held the whole lot on the wall while it set as it kept slipping forward even though it was on a metal bracket that Mac had made.

On the last trip we removed the bracket and Dany cemented in the gaps and it was at last complete. Big thanks to all the cavers who helped on the various trips into the cave over a very short period of time. On the 10th November we assembled a motley crew of 49 cavers in Cerberus Hall. These ranged from old stalwarts like Pete Franklin and Mike Palmer now in his 68th year down to young Helen who is 20. It was a truly representative bunch. John Irwin, Dave’s nephew, unveiled the plaque and we toasted Dave with his favourite tipple of lager and lime. We did have a bit of a wait as Pete Glanvill, who entered the cave last, had come along with a friend of his daughter Sally, a violinist called Bridget. Pete told her that as she had been down Bakers Pit she would not have a problem with Cuthbert’s! Terrified as she was we did eventually get her to Cerberus Hall with her violin and she played a few tunes for Dave before the damp air made all the strings on her bow come off! Finally Dave’s ashes were placed in the stream and a slow exit was made. This quickened considerably once Mr Nigel had popped like a cork out of the entrance rift!

On the surface a great team had produced hot soup, Indian snacks and of course a barrel of Potholer. An excellent day was had by all and in true BEC style it was “to excess”. Big thanks to all those that made it possible, by putting up the plaque, cooking food and sending hot soup down the cave (how did you get it past Nigel in the rift?). Those in attending the unveiling underground were:- 

John Irwin, Bob Cork, Barry Lawton, Alex Jones, Alison Ball, Pete Glanvill, Sally Glanvill, Bridget and the violin, Greg Brock, Helen Brock, Martin Faulkner, Martin Webster, Pete Hellier, Phil Coles, Jake Baynes, Greg Villis, Justin Emery, Mike Palmer, Mac, Martin Grass, Cheg Chester, Darrell Insterell, Phil Romford, Pete Franklin, Alison Moody, Jamie Wonnacott, Pete Hann, Graham Price, Chrissie Price, Nigel Taylor, Butch, Andy Chamberlain, Sean Howe, Steve Neads, Estelle Sandford, Mike Wilson, Crispin Floyd, Robin Gray, Damian Butler, Trevor Hughes, Bob Smith, Chris Smart, Mary Damson, Helen Brown, Stu Gardiner, Robin Lewando, Sue Dukes, Nick Gymer

Dave Irwin, in memoriam


The unveiling of the plaque

By Sue Dukes.

On Saturday 10th November nearly 50 cavers kitted up to slither down the entrance rift of St Cuthbert’s Swallet to pay homage to their old friend, and unveil the plaque which had been placed there earlier by some stalwart club members, including the honourable hut warden (who took a nasty tumble in the Wire Rift, and as a consequence of which was unable to join the wake).  I won’t list the names of the worthy at this time, but she has a list, which will no doubt go into the BEC annals for all time.

I met Wig, who was never called Dave, many years ago, when I was 23.  We frequently jaunted down Cuthbert’s to take measurements or draw profiles of passage for his long-term project to produce a book on the cave. We also shared a love of music. Those who knew Wig will recall he was an avid aficionado of classical music; a pianist himself, he also had an awe-inspiring collection of classical vinyl records (which I hope are going to a good home). At that time we also made a monthly trip into the Old Vic in Bristol to get some culcher (and the odd beer or two).  He had a kind nature, an amusing take on life, and modestly referred to the part of Concorde he designed as “that fussy little bit which fitted somewhere under the wing”.

Cavers, according to Wig, come in three types: troglobites (cave dwellers), troglophiles (surface dwellers who venture into the dark), and accidental visitors (washed in by water). On this momentous of trips to commemorate Wig’s life and his dedication to the exploration of Cuthbert’s there was an abundance of all three.  There were a few surviving troglobites long past breeding age; many surface dwellers gasping their way through almost-familiar passage (don’t I remember that from some otherwhen?); and a couple of accidental visitors.  Although there is a strict rule that no novice cavers should attempt this potentially dangerous cave, exceptions were made, notably for Wig’s nephew John, who made some of us experienced older cavers look like geriatrics (shoot the bloke who said, ‘we are’), and for Glanvill’s young fiddle-playing friend who was pressed-ganged into service to play the Last Post or something at the unveiling of the plaque.  She bravely made her way, with some help, through a cave he had blithely told her was like Goatchurch with a few ladders.

Safety rules were adhered to in a loose fashion, the diverse adventurers being divided into groups with leaders.  Some stout souls also volunteered to man the entrance, taking names of all who went down and eventually, with much struggling and cursing, came up again, according to the laws of nature.  We managed not to lose or damage a single trog, so well done to the organisers and leaders – talking of which, never have so many Cuthbert’s leaders been spotted together at the same time, leading rise to the supposition that they are not a dying breed as previously suspected, but simply shy.  Had there been a problem a complement of MRO personnel, of course, were on hand, but I have to mention they all scarpered out fast after the ceremony, to get to the barrel… by the time the last weary souls stumbled into the Belfry gasping for a drink in the late afternoon the barrel was empty and the food gobbled.

A reporting team from Mendip TV was also on hand.  Their cameraman gamely got his civvies wet and muddy in true reporting fashion, wedging himself above the entrance rift to catch the flavour of cavers slithering into the dark.  Some fairly tasteful footage of the event can be seen on   I took my camera down, and managed to snatch a few passable shots of the ageing fauna in its various guises.  I did notice other cavers flashing here and there, so there might be a few more interesting shots in the offing.

Everyone gathered in Cerberus Hall where Wig’s plaque joined that of Roy Bennett and Don Coase, apparently the last, which will do so.  While we waited and waited and waited for the fiddler to arrive, we did good justice to the BEC song, which echoed around Cuthbert’s in a remarkably church-like fashion. (It’s a shame the only time caving songs seem to be sung these days is at the BEC dinner or funerals.  Remember those Saturday nights:  Biddle on the piano or Simon on the box, and Ben’s perpetual moan about ‘they words, they ’orrible words?’)

Eventually Pete and the bone-weary fiddler arrived.  Exhausted and hot, she slid the top of her boiler suit down, and Alison, to the annoyance of certain older male members, lent her a belt to preserve modesty as the garment succumbed instantly to the pull of gravity.  The fiddle emerged from its cocoon of bubble wrap, and the last of the lager and lime, being Wig’s choice of drink (he wasn’t perfect), was handed around.  Eulogies were spoken, personal silences were observed, and then as the fiddle began to echo melodiously around the hall we raised a toast to Wig:  caver, friend, and Cuthberts’ leading authority.  At which point the fiddle bow immediately began to disintegrate, to our great amusement.  It was Wig having a last laugh.

The trip back out took a long time as the logistics of 50 people in varying stages of fitness did justice to the entrance rift.  My small party didn’t hurry back, but took a leisurely detour via Quarry Corner, to High Chamber and the cave pearls.  We still arrived at the foot of ladder chamber behind a queue of rapidly chilling bodies, and tucked ourselves into Pulpit to wait it out.  Eventually we, the last five, clambered back into dusk to be greeted by some very merry bodies who were surprised to see us, having assumed everyone was out half an hour previously.

Thereafter, everyone repaired to the village hall for beer, the auction, nosh, stomp (good job most of us are already deaf), and more beer.

Sue Dukes

Wig’s Book Auction

On November 19th Priddy Village Hall played host to an auction of books from Wig’s library. The whole affair was well attended and as they say everything had to go. Most of the more valuable books, the heart of the auction sold below their reserve prices although one or two did sell for a handsome price.

Hot on the heels of the prints were some of Wig’s prints and pictures, although I understand one patron did end up paying £25 for a photocopy.

Along the side of the hall the bulk of Wig’s books had been split into tables with prices for each. Whereas the rare books were snapped up, on the whole, by the same people, these tables offered the majority a crack at owning some of the great man’s library. There was something of a mad rush after the prints were sold as everyone rushed to bag the books they had chosen during the perusal period.

 One thing should be mentioned, the rare books had had their lot numbers stuck directly onto the covers with scotch tape. Unfortunately this meant that a number of covers were ruined when an attempt was made to remove the labels. In future it is the opinion of the editor that any books sold are placed in clear plastic bags to avoid damage and depreciation in value. 

Post auction guests were invited to groove the night away at a stomp.

The Statistics of the Post Auction Stomp

By Ian “Slug” Gregory.

I can report that whilst everyone who wanted it was offered "seconds", there was one particular "Greedy Bastard" who came back not only for said "seconds", but also thirds, then fourths, and finally…FIFTHS. (I suppose that had we not run out of food, he would have come back for sixths.), and the name of that person ....Henry Dawson...making up for the "Club Dinner e-mail incident" no doubt.

If you are interested, we fed 117 in the evening (121 if you count Henry's four extra portions: -D ), and prior to that 60 odd had soup and snacks at the Belfry after exiting St Cuthberts.

Afternoon: 3 gallons each of mushroom, tomato, and oxtail soup,120 mini indian snacks, 4 lbs. of butter, 6 loaves of bread. Prepared by Brenda Prewer, and myself. Evening: 120 jumbo sausages, 100 beef burgers, 56 lb's of potatoes, 24 lbs garden peas, another 4 lbs of butter, and 2½ gallons of Dany Bradshaw’s own recipe onion gravy.

Yep, as Wig liked to point out, the whole club motto is "If Something Is Worth Doing, It’s worth Doing To EXCESS"

I think We Did.

BEC T-Shirt Design Competition

Since we have now completely sold out of all of our clothing stock we are going to run a competition for the redesign. Previously we have printed T-shirts, rugby shirts, car stickers, “BEC get everywhere” stickers, jackets, ties, and other random stuff. Clearly we’ll be producing the popular items and we’ll also look at doing hoodies.

There are very few guidelines to this brief except these: (1) T-shirt designs should be full print (even two sided) while rugby tops would be restricted to a simple logo. (2) Artwork should be final or capable of being produced to a print standard. (3) You may enter for a single item or a range of styles. (4) No dates are to be printed

The club will judge the result for themselves via an online poll on the BEC website. This will be used by the committee for determining which design to go with. All entries to be in by end of January 2008.

The winner will get a free t-shirt and a warm feeling that they’ve done good.

Henry Bennett

Letter to the Club

By Martin Grass.and Stuart McManus

Dear Committee,

As you are now aware Dave Irwin’s book auction raised £6,884.86 after deducting the hall hire, band and other sundry items, which less the beer purchased by the BEC (£414.99) means Wig’s family have donated £6,469.87 to the BEC.

Firstly thanks to all those who helped at the event and during the day with the plaque unveiling in Saint Cuthbert’s. It was great to see so many members from across the generations!

Mike, Dave’s brother, had originally intended for some of the proceeds of the auction to go to the Priddy church fund but he was so moved by the day that he has requested the full amount go to the BEC.

Although there are no stipulations on how the money is to be used we believe that some of it should be put to a lasting memorial to Dave (I know we have the plaque).

In addition the club has been given all of Dave’s original surveys, drawings and note books. We are aware that at the last AGM a suggestion was made that these go to Bristol library but we do feel they would never be seen there.

The final decision has to be yours but as “unofficial” trustees of the money we would like to see, as a very minimum, a suitable set of cabinets for the storage of the note books along with a survey Plan chest or similar piece of furniture purchased for these very valuable achieves. We can then advise Mike and his family of this legacy.

We are aware that at the last committee meeting your new and enthusiastic librarian suggested that perhaps part of the new Belfry extension could become a larger and better library dedicated to Dave’s memory and we would certainly endorse this. It is in fact a credit to those that have built it that the standards and finish are of such a high quality that it would seem a shame to turn it into a dirty old work shop!

On the above we are in your hands however we would like to be kept informed/ consulted if possible by the committee so we can advise Mike to what use some of the money will be put.

Finally there were two boxes of books left from the sale and these we have placed in the library. If the club does not have copies of the contents then please use them, the remainder is for you to do as you wish. One suggestion was for the club to take a stand at next year’s Hidden Earth and sell the books along with copies of the St. Cuthbert’s report. As it is “up North” next year you may find that some of the books will go quite quickly for a reasonable sum. Alternatively Tony Jarratt has said he would purchase the lot from the club. The decision is yours.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Everything to excess,


Martin Grass & Stuart McManus.

22nd November 2007.

Hollow Hills

As you are well aware we have new neighbours at the Belfry. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming months. Due to the nature of the beast or ‘beasts’ in this case, a certain level of concern is unavoidable. Let’s hope that the issues are resolved to the satisfaction of all.   

Just a quick reminder: Documents for the BB should be sent or emailed in Word or RTF Format. Pictures – you’re still doing it! – should be either gently placed on a CD Rom or whipped through a photo software package to get them down to a workable size – preferably in black and white as that’s how they’re going to be printed. Other than that keep sending me your articles!

Yer Ed.  




Committee Members

Hon. Secretary: Nigel Taylor (772)
Hon. Treasurer: Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary: Henry Bennett (1079)
Caving Secretary: Toby Maddocks (1310)
Hut Warden: Jane Clarke (983)
Tackle Officer: Chris Jewell (1302)

Non-Committee Posts
Bulletin Editor: Nick Harding (1289)
BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian: Nick Richards (1290)

Club Trustees:
Martin Grass (790) and Nigel Taylor (772)


Ave Cavers!

As everyone will now know weÙve lost two more. Wig and Barrie W. 

Strange indeed. One moment youÙre talking to someone on the phone (or indeed sharing several pints) and the next theyÙve shuffled off this mortal coil.  I for one will miss the verbal dressing down after the publication of each BB.

Apologies to the loyal readers of this esteemed organ for the late arrival of said journal. This is due in part to the sad departure of the Wig whose second part of the history of the BEC will have to remain unfinished (as far as I know) until such time as someone else is willing to become club historian. This lengthy screed would have taken up a large chunk of this BB. This meant I had to round up some more dispatches from around the caving globe. There were also some personal writing projects that also fell in the way (deadlines and all that). But anyway, itÙs here now.

Well as per usual an error slipped through. On the cover of 527 I made Harry Stanbury 10 years older than he was. So, mea culpa and six of the best trousers down for your editor who was not tired and emotional at the time – no sir… 

The cover photo shows Jrat in probably the best fluffy anyone has ever seen. If you get the chance see the original colour image – itÙs bright enough to startle blind spinsters. 

Nick Harding

BEC Summer of Excess 2007

11th – 12th August – BEC BBQ (Mendip)
Getty messy on Mendip at the annual BBQ complete with disco!

25th – 27th – August – Yorkshire long weekend @ YSS
3 days of top class caving, BBQÙs in the summer evenings and drinking in the Helwith Bridge. Contact Chris Jewell to book places.

22nd – 23rd Sept – Hidden Earth@Tewksbury – Summer Excess reunion!!
Listen to tales of expedition caving during the day and party the night away at the national caving conference.

6th October – BEC AGM and Annual Dinner


Vale: Dave “Wig” Irwin. 1935 – 2007.

Dave sadly passed away in April this year. I had the honour of being asked to read a eulogy to him at his funeral and write an obituary to him for the BB. I spent a lot of time researching his life and writing and rewriting his eulogy until I felt it reflected what Dave had achieved in his 71 years. I have therefore printed below, in full, the transcript of the eulogy as my obituary of Dave.

He will be sorely missed not only for his knowledge of caves, caving politics and bibliography but also for his vast musical knowledge. As well as by cycling friends and post card collecting enthusiasts. With the committeeÙs permission we plan to erect a memorial tablet to Dave in Cerberus Hall in St. CuthbertÙs in recognition of his enormous contribution to the cave and particularly to the survey of the system. It is hoped that the official unveiling will be followed by a few drinks at the Belfry as a celebration of DaveÙs life.

Martin Grass.

A Tribute to Dave “Wig” Irwin.

I am told that there is a guide to eulogies that recommends that you concentrate on one subject of the deceasedÙs life, but in the case of Dave that is not possible as whatever he did he did it with passion, conviction and dedication. He was a member of the Somer Valley Cycling Club for about 16 years and was honored with life membership several years ago for his services to the club. He was also obsessed with his classical music collection and undoubtedly his favorite composer was Mozart. I remember fondly one incident when as teenagers Chris Hannam and I had convinced him he should widen his musical remit and he reluctantly let us play some heavy metal LPÙs on his beloved and very expensive sound system. He was not impressed with the music but was surprised how his windows rattled!

However I knew him best from caving and that I believe was the strongest of all his passions.

In fact in an email he sent to an old caving friend in Canada shortly before his death he actually wrote that he was “completely married to caving” and often said he was not interested in it, “just obsessed”.

Dave started caving in 1953 and in the early years was a member of the Westminster Speleological Group. However he soon joined the BEC and on the 10th.June 1963 became member number 540. Within three years he had become a life member of the club and over the years held many posts including librarian and Belfry Bulletin editor. 

Dave was a team member of the 1960Ùs trips the BEC made to the deep pits of Austria and was an inspiration and a source of much knowledge to the many trips that followed right up to the present day. In June 1967 he and his great caving friend Roy Bennett explored the Aille River Cave in Co. Mayo Ireland just before a team from the Craven were due out to look at it. I know when we went there twenty years later, and I went to him for information, he delighted in explaining that he and Roy had not bothered with boats or fins (as the Craven planned to) to explore around 3000 feet of swimming passage! 

St. CuthbertÙs Swallet was DaveÙs favorite Mendip cave and all those interested in the system would go to the “Wig” for information. He knew every part of the cave and was always willing to direct you to possible new dig sites or suggest passages that needed looking at. He was the driving force behind the high-grade survey of the system and with so many complicated and interconnecting passages he became famous for his “closed traverses”. These were never more than a degree or two out, quite a feat in pre computer days. After his first heart attack in 1995 he never went back down the cave but I know on speaking to him he had completed in excess of 750 trips into the cave and at the height of the surveying and digging in the Dining Room during the late 60Ùs and early 70Ùs he would clock up over a dozen trips a month.

Dave wrote many articles on numerous subjects for the Belfry Bulletin over the years as well as a number of Caving Reports. The long awaited publication of the St. CuthbertÙs Report in 1991 along with the very detailed survey was the culmination of many years hard work and will remain as a testimony of his dedication and love of the cave.

As well as his membership of the BEC Dave was a founder member of BCRA and contributed many items to them for publication including most recently “Cave Studies Series” on “SwildonÙs 2 & 3”. Articles were also regularly published in the Shepton Mallet CC journal and as a member of the University of Bristol SS he was a contributor of numerous articles, many on obscure caving related subjects, to their proceedings.

Dave was also an Honorary Vice President of the Wessex CC and had been editing their long awaited “History of SwildonÙs”. The final copy of which he had just sent out for proof reading.

He was also a warden for the Mendip Rescue Organization from 1966 to 1982.

He co-authored four editions of “Mendip Underground”, the first two with Tony Knibbs and the later ones with Tony Jarratt. We all remember the phone calls and scraps of paper asking for final confirmation of a passage description or details on access. I even went underground at a very late stage in the completion of one copy to confirm some detail or other and to take a particular photograph that he wanted.

Like many of us Dave collected caving books new and old but his main passion in caving collectables was post cards. He literally had hundreds, we all bought them back for him from all around the world and he always wanted at least four copies of each one. The collection had a great number of Cheddar Caves and he even published a very large bibliography of them. I am sure he never knew how many he had but he did tell me once he thought it was around 50,000!

He chaired the Mendip Cave registry and in 1997 and again in 2005 compiled and published the two volumes of the Mendip Cave Bibliography

Over the last couple of years he also contributed monthly articles on Mendip Caving to the Mendip Times.

That is just a brief history of accomplishments for a man who did so much. I did not touch on his work life, but I do know he worked for a year in Los Angeles on the thrust reverses for ConcordeÙs Olympus engines. On his return in 1972 he purchased Townsend Cottage in Priddy where he remained until his death. He loved Townsend and had an open door for cavers old and young. Everyone went to him for information and 9 times out of 10 he knew the answer without looking it up. He was a mine of information and helped all who asked. You even got a cup of coffee if you could find a clean cup.

Being a youngster I did not know Dave as long as many of you here, only a mere 35 years, but as a fellow trustee of the BEC along with Nigel Taylor and the recently departed Barry Wilton, I know he always had the ClubÙs best interests at heart. He took me all those years ago on my first trip to sump one in SwildonÙs and we surveyed Wigmore together as well as a few other trips. We all have our own special memories of time with Dave and we will cherish these, and if there is a heaven, I am sure it will not be long before we see a high grade survey of it and all start receiving a collectorÙs pack of postcards from on high.

In true BEC style Dave throughout his life did EVERYTHING TO EXCESS, we will all miss him.

Farewell old friend.

An Ode to Wig on the Occasion of his Birthday (Opus 70)

to the tune of Brighton Camp, an 18th Century melody commonly known as “The Girl I left behind Me”

Words by Snab

(As sung at the great manÙs wake!)

Some men win fame and great acclaim, like Brunel or Charles Darwin
and their names grow big, for example Wig was once plain Dave Irwin.
Then he said one day, having lost his way, ‘IÙm off to the caversÙ purvey
IÙll get all the gear, my aim is clear; IÙll do the Cuthberts survey.

So with compass, clino and with tape, as far as I remember,
he mapped the underground landscape, from Whitsun to September.
For years and years and years and years, every crack and squeeze and streamway
and potential dig was checked by Wig, while doing the Cuthberts survey.

Now, for months on end, he would descend, to check, recheck or discard
until some friends driven round the bend would communicate by postcard.
He made an inventory of them till he got one from Chris Harvey,
saying, ‘this is Zot, Have you lost the plot? Have you finished the Cuthbert survey?

A curse did smite this Belfryite; he just had to list each item,
so locating nibs he began to write Mendip Underground despite ‘em.
The postcards then came flooding in, from Mulu, France and Torbay,
with queries from the Hunters Inn, ‘Have you finished the Cuthberts survey?Ù

The contents of his house did grow; he was trapped by books and postcards,
but was rescued by the MRO with the help of local coastguards.
The same age as the BEC he blamed, they blamed his failing memÙry,
as they pulled him out he was heard to shout ‘IÙve lost the Cuthberts survey!Ù

They searched WigÙs house all through the day, round Mendelssohn and Schubert,
while Swildons just got in the way, there was no sign of St Cuthberts.
Then a smile appeared across WigÙs face, and they cheered as he said ‘DonÙt worry,
ItÙs down at Tony JarrattÙs place, IÙve finished the Cuthberts survey!Ù


From the Belfry Table

Well greetings again from the Belfry Table!  Much is happening, both underground and atop the Hill.

It was a particularly sad start to the year with the passing of Harry Stanbury, Barrie Wilton and Dave Irwin, amongst several other long standing members.

Also though not members, but close friends of many in the B.E.C, Roger DorsÙ brother in law and ValÙs husband Phil, and Nigel Fraynes mother, Di Frayne. Both were particularly friendly people whose time had come all too early, and we extend the ClubÙs sympathies to their respective families.

There have also been a spate of both marriages and births amongst the younger members and this serves to demonstrate lifeÙs rich cycle – “Bobble” to Bob Whites daughter Roz “Rose” White, and a child to Rosie and Vern Freeman.

The event planned for HarryÙs Tree Planting was postponed due to planning problems and this will be held later in the year, probably in the Autumn, as will a retirement “Do” to mark the retirement as MRO Wardens of Tony Jarratt and Alan Butcher after many years of stalwart service!

Dave Irwin will be remembered again in the Autumn,  - though the date is yet to be confirmed, by way of a “Stomp” in memory of the Wig, which will follow on after an earlier in the day event - when a plaque erecting ceremony in St.Cuthberts will be held. It is intended that a memorial stone will be added in memory of all the incredible work Dave had undertaken in St.CuthbertÙs during his lifetime and the end result of his production of the impressive survey of the system. Further details will follow as arrangements are set in place.

Tony Jarratt et al are well at work on their “Caine Hill” Dig atop the Batch in Priddy. My informants advise that he has unearthed about a pound and a half slab of pure galena recently ….!

The MRO/ St CuthbertÙs Mock Rescue was held on Saturday 23rd.June and common consensus was that it was deemed a great success with various techniques being applied and tested in various regions of the cave. Many BEC members took part, and hopefully much useful experience was gained by younger members.

Mike Wilson and co, held a very successful weekend in the Forest of Dean, and a wide cross section of members attended with varied activities undertaken.

COMMITTEE 2008: Have you thought of playing a part in your Club? This is the first call to encourage anyone interested, to think of standing, to speak to me or any Committee member and make their presence felt, though traditionally as Secretary, I should call for nominations in August, the frequency of the BB might not match this date, so PLEASE… act soon if you are interested. All you need is to nominate yourself and be seconded by a ratified (full) member in writing and send it to the Hon. Secretary.

OFFICERS REPORTS are also now called for, in order that they can be published in time prior to the AGM, on Saturday 6th. October 2007.

The ANNUAL DINNER will be again at the Bath Arms, 7.30 for 8.00, Saturday 6th. October, MAKE A NOTE NOW!!!

Bob Smith is soon to build a “clay oven” at the Belfry, so if we are not careful, it may be the Shepton for T, the BEC for pizza and the WCC can still 4 coffee!!.

Time to get down from the Table!,     Have a Good Summer,

Nigel T,
Hon. Secretary, 24th. June 2007


Vale: John “Jingles” Williams 1956-2007

Henry Bennett

Back in 1987 John burst onto the Mendip caving scene.  For those of you who remember, those were heady days when the BEC regularly had a whip round for a barrel when the Hunters closed.  John was often at the forefront, pushing back the limits and taking the club motto to heart. Eventually he moved from London to live on Mendip to become more involved with the club. As well as a caver, he was also one half of the Belfry Boys who entertained many with their singing for several years in the 90s. Eventually after eleven years in the club he left to pursue other interests and was no longer seen much on Mendip.

After a long period of illness he finally succumbed and died on 20th March 2007.  His funeral was well represented by BEC members past and present. The following eulogy was given by his sister, Babs.


“The element potassium is a metal which, when dropped into water, dances fast and furious across the surface. Then quite suddenly it bursts onto the most exquisitely beautiful pink light. The light burns so brightly that it hurts you eyes. It is a really magnificent sight. So it was with John. He arrived in this world and danced, always trying to live life to the full. He was a very intelligent man who explored life in every way possible.

He explored the earth physically, both on land and at sea, through his passion for caving and scuba diving and in later years by combining the two when he took up the very challenging sport of cave diving. In all of these pursuits he was fearless and a great leader. For those of you who enjoyed these sports with him, you will know that he was enthusiastic and great fun to be with, always bringing a little bit of magic to any trip.

John also explored the world creatively. He had a great love of music and his tastes knew no bounds, as he loved rock, pop, folk and classical music equally. He was a very competent guitar player and enjoyed many years of singing and performing folk music. His creativity also expressed itself in the form of writing and he has written several short stories and poems and was actually in the process of writing his first novel.

John explored the world of technology and was a gifted computer whiz. He always astounded us with his ability to understand the latest cyber gadget to come on the market and I donÙt think he ever needed to read any instruction manuals!

John explored the world spiritually and had an in depth knowledge of most religions and beliefs. It was this side of him that made him a kind and caring person who was very generous with his spirit.

But for me he was the most wonderful brother. I could not have wished for better. He was always there for me through thick or thin and I will miss him dreadfully.

He was the light that burnt so very bright.

I will now read an anonymous poem, which I believe, conveys a message that John would want to leave you with.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there I do not sleep
I am a thousand wings that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain
When you waken in the morningÙs hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there”

Babs Williams


Hirlatz Expedition, 3rd-11th February 2007

Expedition Organiser: Madphil Rowsell
Report by: Andy Kuszyk

Participants: Peter Seethaler, Madphil Rowsell, Rich Hudson, Chris Jewell and Andy Kuszyk.

Apparently, according to Rich Hudson and Madphil Rowsell, the way to pack socks and your SRT kit is to pack your socks in your SRT kit, as well as fitting Snickers bars down those little gaps left at either end of your sleeping bag when itÙs wedged in a bag, and pilling as much as possible into your mug before trying to squeeze it in the billy can. It was only the first morning of the expedition, we hadnÙt even left for the cave, and already I was realising that I had much to learn about mostly everything.

To be fair to the guys, packing our bags well was definitely a priority. We all needed to fit as much gear in as possible to prepare for our seven-day camp in the Hirlatz cave, Dachstein, Austria. Madphil and Rich had done a carry into the cave (about half way to the end) the previous day but, even so, a significant amount of kit was still left to be taken in. Having arrived late the night before, I was frantically trying to fit everything in my bag on the morning of the trip.

With our bags weighing in at 17kg and my rucksack for the walk up to the cave standing at a blistering 24kg, we eventually set off up the snowy mountain side. Peter Seethaler picked out a route up the tricky slope towards the cave. After about 45 minutes slogging up the snow, feeling very glad I had pointy walking poles, we were trudging across a shelf of snow, pearly white, approaching the base of a towering Alpine cliff. Greeting me was the sight of the metre-wide entrance to what I was sure was the longest cave I would have ever been in.

I wasnÙt really sure what to expect from the cave, having heard bits and pieces from various people, but my overriding impression was that it was going to be big, with various Indiana Jones-style fixed aids. Having passed the entrance series, filled with icy pools and various ice formations, the cave did not disappoint. Ladder after ladder seemed to lead up enormous slopes only to deliver you at the head of yet more ladders leading down a similar distance. After a few hours we reached an awe-inspiring metal bridge spanning a 60m canyon that really serves as a tribute to the amount of work put in by Austrian cavers to make the journey in as efficient as possible (and very much reminded me of a scene from the Lord of the Rings!). Very soon, however, the cave started getting big(ger) and we began wandering through huge galleries and passages. Many were larger than any I have seen in Britain, making the Time Machine in Daren Cilau look like a small tube. Not only is the Hirlatz long, but it is also impressively sized, presumably due to its ancient lifespan.

After about 6 or 7 hours on our first day, we finally reached the first camp that we were to be staying at, Grunkogel Biwak. We brewed some dinner (dehydrated Indonesian rice!) and whilst the others headed back to retrieve the gear carried in the previous day, Rich and I retired to our bags to keep warm – a necessary activity since, by our best guesses, the ambient temperature was between 3 and 5oC.

The next day saw us make a swift Ready-brek breakfast before packing our bags and heading off. Strapping roll-mats to the side of our heaving bags, we still left 2-3 loads behind when we set off for the far west. We were to return for this extra gear later so that we could fully establish a camp in the west. By about 2pm we had reached Sahara. This was the site for our camp and is an impressively sized chamber, immediately before the final sump. Sahara was something else, filled with copious amounts of desert-like sand, stretching out around me beyond the limit of my faint LED light.

We established our camp in Sahara on a shelf of sand by one wall, quite close to the first aven we were to climb. Having dumped our bags and unpacked, Madphil and Chris prepared to start bolting using the petrol drill we had borrowed from the Austrians, whilst Peter, Rich and I headed back to the previous camp to collect the rest of the gear. After a couple of hours, we were all reunited back in Sahara and I was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly the guys had managed to start bolting – after only about 2 hours they had managed to bolt about 15-20m up and across the wall of the chamber towards the aven itself. Rich and I continued to climb after Madphil and Chris had finished and by the end of the day we had managed to begin the ascent into the aven proper – not bad after a few hours on the job!

The third morning dawned cold and black. After someone had finally volunteered to get out of their sleeping bag to put on a brew, we enjoyed a hot cup of tea and some porridge before setting off to work. Madphil and Chris immediately began to continue climbing the first aven. Peter, Rich and I moved over to the second aven that weÙd come to look at, nearer to the entrance to Sahara. This aven had a long slope running up to vertical walls, so we began by bolting a traverse in order to reach the slope. Free climbing the slope lead us to the base of the chamber wall which Peter and Rich began to climb. In the afternoon, Peter took Madphil and Chris to look at other leads nearby, whilst Rich and I returned to finish the job with the first aven. MadphilÙs account of the top didnÙt sound encouraging and we soon found that the aven ended around 60m off the deck. At the top were a couple of tight, muddy rifts that led off, far too tight to squeeze into with no large amounts of space beyond. After having de-rigged the aven, Rich and I brewed some dinner, ready for the guys to return from their scouting trip.

Upon the return of the others, we shared the news of the close-down and started making plans for the next day. Madphil and Rich were going continue bolting the second aven, whilst Chris and I were to go with Peter to look at a lead further away.

The next day Peter led Chris and I to another large chamber a couple of hours away called Untertisch-Kathedrale (Under-table Cathedral). We took PhilÙs battery drill as well as the usual climbing gear and plenty of rope with the hope of starting to climb a large aven that had been spotted in previous years. Having crawled through large amounts of thick, sticky mud to reach the chamber, we began climbing up the loose and slippery slopes to the base of the aven, which was extremely muddy. In fact, the bottom of the aven (which was massive) reminded us of the bottom of any number of larger pitches at the top of the mountain – exciting stuff! We began the ascent and after a couple of hours fighting against many mud slopes and loose climbs we finally found ourselves facing another sheer cliff face that led up into the dark abyss above. We could do no more that day, not only had we run out of rope, but it was also getting late, so we decided to start heading back. We left our rigging in place, because next year the aven definitely deserves some serious attention.

Returning to camp we found that Madphil and Rich had already hit the sack having had another hard day in their harnesses. TheyÙd made significant progress, rigging about 70m off the deck with the aven showing no signs of stopping. Chris and I brewed up our dehydrated HunterÙs Stew and called it a night.

The next morning I allowed myself a lie-in, being pretty knackered from the late finish the day before, and when I awoke was greeted by an awesome sight. I could hear the distant sound of a petrol engine whirring and upon sitting up (presumably with perfect night vision from my 8 hours) saw the whole aven illuminated by the caving lamps of Rich and Madphil. The shaft was immense, with an enormous bridge stretching across its span part way up. The guys had climbed a long way but the shaft was still far from complete, tunnelling straight up into the unknown. It was a fantastic sight.

Chris and I spent the remainder of the day resting and cleaning our SRT kits (which were completely covered in thick, gloopy amounts of sticky mud) and some ropes, whilst Peter headed out of the cave alone. Madphil and Rich came down half way through the day before returning to the mammoth task of climbing what was definitely becoming a monster aven, at least in my eyes.

That evening, the remaining four of us headed over to a small inlet nearby so that Chris could practice a bit of bolt-climbing. The climb didnÙt lead anywhere in the end, but it was a good exercise and worth completing.

Thursday, our sixth day underground and last day in Sahara, dawned with a slightly urgent air to it. Chris and I were busy packing up the camp all morning, trying to sort out as much gear as we could, whilst the guys were making a last, desperate effort to reach so much as a ledge in the aven. However, after a few hours, their efforts were not wasted and we managed to gather from the echoing yelps that a discovery had been made. Although the aven was far from over and the roof was still completely out of sight, Madphil and Rich had reached a slope leading off from the aven that led into a chamber. From here, a passage led off but this was left for the Austrians to explore since the aven had been discovered by the Austrians around 10 years previously.

And thatÙs how we left it. Rich and Madphil came down, we packed our bags to bursting level, stowed what camping gear was remaining out of the reach of the spring floods and left Sahara. A few hours later we reached Hal Des Staynens (HDS) Biwak, a camp about 4 hours from the surface where we stopped for the evening. We had a leisurely dinner, treating ourselves to copious amounts of custard for dessert and began to discuss the prospects for next yearÙs expedition, a thought that we were all very keen on.

Four hours after setting off the next day, I found myself crawling through the low entrance. There was a howling draught rushing past me into a passage ending in a blazing slot that opened onto a stunning mountainside. The sky was a brilliant deep blue; the trees a thousand shades of green and the valley itself took up an incredible amount of space! Spending a week in the Hirlatz hadnÙt felt at all strange, but the sight of open hillside was certainly a beautiful one.

We donned walking boots and descended the entrance ladder onto the snowy slope that awaited us, spending the next hour or so slipping down the slope towards the bottom of the mountain. Arriving at the car park I felt both hungry and tired, but I also felt that weÙd definitely achieved something in the cave. WeÙd completed all of our objectives and confirmed a couple of very interesting leads, leaving plenty to be explored on future expeditions – a privilege that I hope IÙll be able to undertake in future.

My thanks go to Madphil for organising the expedition. RichÙs help was also invaluable, not least for sorting out some surprisingly tasty dehydrated meals. Peter Hubner deserves a special mention for, although he was ill and couldnÙt join us underground, he still picked Chris and I up from the airport and drove us all the way to Obertraun. Finally Peter Seethaler and the Austrian cavers deserve a thank you for allowing us the opportunity to explore the Hirlatz on what I can only describe as a first-class expedition. I would also like to thank the BEC for making the trip possible via access to the Ian Dear Memorial Fund. 



To see a full size  image of the above map click here.


Caine Hill Shaft - Priddy

By Tony Jarratt
Photos Tony Audsley

“Our Miners in digging dayly meet with these caverns, which are of different widenesses, some of them being very large;” – J. Beaumont, 1681

NGR ST55/5248.5103 Alt. 253m

Digging Operations 2003 – 16/5/2007

Desperately needing a change of scenery from the squalid conditions of Rose Cottage Cave a few of the team have recommenced work at this interesting site situated in the front drive of Caine Hill Cottage, Coxton End Lane, The Batch, Priddy. Beneath a manhole cover a 5m deep ginged shaft leads to a waterworn and steeply descending natural rift partly enlarged by the Old Men as they followed a calcite vein in search of workable lead or ochre. The shaft was uncovered by Priddy tree surgeon Tim Andrews whilst enlarging the entrance to his drive in 2003. It was covered with a metal sheet and below a now demolished dry-stone wall but it is now entered via a manhole frame fitted by Alan Butcher (SMCC) and the late Barrie Wilton (BEC). Mike Thompson (WCC) heard about it in the New Inn and in 2003 commenced digging with John Walsh (BEC), Dudley Herbert (BEC), Tony Audsley (BEC), Rich Dolby (BEC), Mark “Shaggy” Howden (BEC), Tim Andrews and others but they dropped out for various reasons after a couple of years and the place came up for grabs. Tim was very happy to see it dug again and is an essential team member as he gets the spoil disposal job. Research into the name Caine Hill has failed to yield much information as to its origin though it may refer to the hill on which The Batch group of cottages is situated. A workman at St. CuthbertÙs lead works, Silas Vincent, once inhabited the nearby Windy Ridge ( ? ) Cottage (now demolished) but there is no evidence to connect him with its excavation. The discovery of a possibly nineteenth century clay pipe bowl, some domestic rubbish and scattered animal bones – later identified as deer by Hannah Bell - may be derived from an earlier cottager with a taste for ‘baccyÙ and venison.

The writer had previously dug there on 16th August 2004 in company with John Walsh, Jeff Price and Matt Butcher (SMCC) when 51 bags of sandy clay and a few rocks were brought out and loaded onto TimÙs pick-up truck. Further work was out of the question, all the breathable air having been used up by the diggers. He returned on 19th March 2007 with Trevor Hughes to find an alloy rigid ladder in the shaft, a second one partway down and many full bags awaiting removal. Lots more were filled and a total of 50 were hauled out with a few more left for the next session. Trevor was overjoyed with the dryness of the place and the ease of digging. The writer returned on the 21st along with Phil Coles, Sean Howe, Hannah B, Bob Smith and Henry Bennett. Another 35 bags were hauled out and tipped into TimÙs truck, which he had parked alongside in anticipation. Passing Templeton diggers were astonished to see the BEC working on an obscure, unknown and apparently secret dig! On the 25th he was back along with Trev H, Bob S. and Tangent (surface operative) and another 31 loads came out. It was now obvious that we had gone beyond the Old MensÙ trial and were in completely natural, and very old, cave passage with probably glacial infill. Small phreatic solution pockets containing calcite boxwork emphasised this. Next day Trev and your scribe continued digging and after the timely arrival of Tony Audsley and Rich Witcombe a total of 39 loads came out – much to RichÙs delight as he quickly claimed most of them for infilling at Rose Cottage Cave. Tony also brought up some photos of the site taken before August 2003, some of which are reproduced here along with others taken this year. A chat with Tim revealed the fascinating information that when his new cottage foundations were dug over seven years ago the builders opened up a large, deep hole down which stones dropped for some time and which was apparently trending in the direction of the car parking area in front of Manor Farm on Priddy Green. This may have been natural or mined. The writer was once shown a very strongly draughting hole under the kitchen window of Tree Tops, The Batch – only a couple of houses away from Caine Hill Cottage and apparently the drainage from the septic tank in front of this house flowed freely into another hole so there is obviously something reasonably sized in this area (albeit malodorous!).

On the 27th March Trev H, on a solo trip, filled another ten bags and reported that the LH wall seemed to be undercut enough to allow further downwards progress though the narrowness of the passage was not encouraging. It became even narrower on the 28th when Phil C, Sean H, Jake Baynes and the writer filled another twenty-one bags. The total of 31 (and one frog) were hauled out by Bob S. and Hannah B. Next day your scribe returned to fill another twenty bags and prove that the rift was not pinching out, though digging in the constricted space was awkward.

April FoolsÙ Day saw some of the finest back at the working face. Trev H, the writer, Henry Dawson, Jane Clarke, Tim Ball and Fiona Crozier removed 54 spoil bags and did some tentative digging in the higher level of the rift as the bottom was beginning to narrow down. This problem was solved on the following day when your scribe, assisted by Tony A. drilled and banged the constriction to give more working space and used the vacuum cleaner to clear the fumes. They were later joined by Rich W, Paul Weston and Mike Hearn (the latter two “pressed” from the HuntersÙ) and 24 bags of clay and bang debris were hauled out for infilling at Rose Cottage Cave. Passing walkers thought that we were either mining (true!) or cleaning out a sewer. Another 22 loads came out on the 4th with Jake B. clearing the rift below the second alloy ladder, Pete Hellier and the writer working at the bottom and Phil C. and Darrel Insterell hauling. Seven bags were filled at the bottom on the 6th when your scribe drilled one shot-hole and the following day he drilled a second, charged the two with mixed diameter cord and gave Tim the chance to blow up his own cave! The fumes were again sucked out to pollute the pure Priddy air. The spoil from this bang was cleared on the 9th when Tony A, Bob S, Paul W. and the writer laboured underground while Mike H, Rich W. and Nicks Harding and Richards provided afternoon surface support. A total of 42 loads came out and the diggers were greatly encouraged by the opening up of a draughting hole on the right hand side just beyond the banged section - 13 metres from the entrance. Most of the spoil was taken away and dumped by Tim during the lunch break. Rich did a useful PR job by rebuilding the drystone wall opposite the driveway and Tony took more record images underground.

On the 11th April both the bottom and part way down digs were worked by Jake B, Sean H, John Noble, Paul Brock, Phil C. and your scribe with Bob S. as surface operative. 40 loads came out. Hannah B. took away bones unearthed by the previous diggers for identification at Wells Museum. Another 17 loads came out on the following evening when Jake B, the writer, Andy Norman and Ernie White (the Barnsley Boys) continued with both digs. Andy suggested that the crystallization is of hydrothermal origin and he collected a lump of dogtooth spar for further study. On the 15th Chris Batstone, Faye Lillington, Tim B. and the writer dug at both sites and Martin “Milche” Mills (SMCC), Bob S. and John “Tangent” Williams hauled 25 loads out (and one frog) with another 12 loads from the bottom dig coming out next day courtesy of your scribe and Paul W. 31 loads came out on the 18th with Jake B, Hannah B. and your scribe digging and John N, Phil C, Pete H. and Sean H. hauling. Jake and the writer returned to their respective favourite digs on the 20th when the former opened up a passage on the RH side of the upper dig with limited airspace and the usual soft clay floor. 11 loads from here were hauled out. Another 53 loads, mainly from the upper dig, came out on the 22nd when Trev H, Paul B. and the writer took turns at the face where the excellent calcite boxwork on the phreatic-pocketed ceiling was admired. On a solo trip next day your scribe continued digging here and was able to squeeze in some two metres. Further work here would require the removal of a layer of the solid rock floor and the lack of airflow is not encouraging. It is suggested that this short but attractive feature is called Boxwork Passage. Further excavation was continued at the lower dig where it is now possible to work beyond the entrance squeeze and bag up the multicoloured ochreous infill. The second aluminium ladder was replaced with a wire ladder to give more working space.

The two enthusiasts were back at their respective digs on the 25th April, accompanied by Alex Livingston and Sean H, the latter recording progress with his digital camera. A record 61 bags were hauled out in very poor air conditions. Many more bags were filled from both digs on the 27th – Jake B. concentrating on Boxwork Passage and your scribe on the lower site. 1 load came out but dire air conditions discouraged further work. On the 2nd May Bob S. and Hannah B. hauled out these full bags, 27 in all and two days later Jake B. filled up lots more at Boxwork Passage and the main rift below it. Bob S. returned on the 7th May and he continued here while the writer pressed on at the end where the sudden opening up of a tiny, draughting hole made air conditions far more pleasant and enthusiasm was re-kindled. 54 loads came out on the 9th May when Bob S, Hannah B, Jake B, Pete H, John N. and the writer turned up in inclement weather when the best place to be was underground; as it was the following evening when the latter filled several “Tesco” bags and removed a large rock at the end. He suggests that this passage is called Root 66 due to the enormous amount of said growths sprouting from the infill. More work was done at both sites, next day by their respective enthusiasts and on the 13th and 14th May the writer continued clearing sticky clay from Root 66. He carried on disinterring a large rock here on the 16th, aided by Phil C. who also dug below Boxwork Passage. The short scaffold tripod left by the original diggers was replaced with the trusty, telescopic alloy one recovered from a long sojourn at West Horrington Shaft but due to a lack of personnel only 2 loads came out.

The current length is c.19m.and the depth is c.12m. Work continues.

To be continued in BB 529. 

Upper Canada Cave

By Harding and Richards.
Bad Photos by Yer Ed. Good ones by Sean Howe.

In the ongoing quest to track down the Lost Hutton Cavern to add to the Catcott collection the Two Nicks reopened May Tree Cave that was last looked into in the 70Ùs by Chris Richards who suspected there might have been a way on at the end of a small chamber stacked with deads. In his quest Chris had found the initials DW candle marked on a wall down an apparent dead end. With this as a spur, David Williams a local man of the cloth had visited Hutton Cavern, the boys ploughed on.

Rather than wrestle with little stacking space in May Tree the Two Nicks deciding it would be easier to empty boulders upwards rather than struggle below, it was back to the surface. Digging down they found a small tight bedding chamber (after 5 months of toil) and an ochreous slope under which they found the other end of the boulder filled chamber. An old stemple (presumed) was found in the rubble over which it was concluded buckets were hauled up from below. At least for this section of the cave.

This was cleared (the nearest stacking space sadly was the connection to May Tree Cave) and a shaft was found, complete with large blocking stone, descending steeply but easily free climbable, its right-hand wall comprising of a huge pile of well stacked deads. This shaft descended into a series of low ochreous chambers that snaked back under and beneath the entrance shaft (as well as being below May Tree). A two hundred year old spade head was found at the base of the entrance shaft as well as a small number of Pleistocene bones (these have been given to Weston Museum), which were found amongst the boulders. Further evidence that perhaps this is generally the right area for the lost Hutton Cavern.

The last small chamber appeared to be a dead end but was merely a blocked squeeze. This was soon cleared with prestigious use of a lump hammer, and a tight, gently angled descending passage called Clay Pipe Passage, complete naturally enough with clay pipe, was followed for 10m or so to a 2 m drop into a chamber. In the ceiling of this chamber was a shaft that probably connects with something above – just where this connects is a mystery, as there appears to be no ‘downÙ connection in May Tree above. it will need banging of course. Looking gingerly up one can see several large boulders wedged into it, but quite what popping it will bring down is anyoneÙs guess.)

Through a narrow slot on the other side of this room both gained access to a chamber known now as Watership Down, after the unwelcome discovery of a rotting corpse of marooned rabbit. The walls here were relatively clean and ochre free. In the floor of this chamber was a narrow opening, which led into a long steeply descending rift The Combe – down which the miners had lobbed rubble the removal of which, in certain sections along the sides may reveal something interesting. The whole rift felt deeper than it appeared. The section is very airy but as yet from wither this air comes is anyoneÙs guess.

At the end of this rift stal covered boulders had blocked the way on, although void could be seen beyond – a half hour dig and the Two Nicks slipped through into a very large bedding chamber 15m+ long and 6m+ wide now known as The Field. Disappointingly this fizzled out or at least appeared to but at the far end there exist two or three possible digs into tunnels. This chamber was more than expected but less than hoped for but still a good find. It appears as though no one had been in there before as there were no scuff marks etc to suggest miners. The chamber was airy which suggested further connections.  Both Jrat and Jane C  - second and third pairs of eyes to visit Upper Canada Cave, busied themselves in the further extremities of the chamber and decided that perhaps it does go on. 

As can be seen from the survey the length is 77m but this leaves out the May Tree Cave the connection of which is now choked with boulder spoil.

ItÙs not Hutton Cavern but will add something towards the barrel!

We are of course rapidly running out of pits to open – this will either bring us closer or more disappointingly away from the lost Hutton Cavern. Either way weÙll know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. 

Thanks to Jrat, Jane Clarke, Madphil and Richard Marlow and to Dave and Bernard Cole, the landowners for their patience and generosity. 

NB. The cave entrance is on private land so visits have to be arranged through the Two Nicks.

In the diagram of the pits below – the entrance to Upper Canada Cave is the pit adjacent to Blind Pit.

The dynamic duo at the western end of ‘the FieldÙ

The surface entrance to Upper Canada Cave

The 200 year old spade head      Pleistocene bones from Upper Canada Cave


Meghalaya 2007 - Extending India's Longest and Creating its Third Longest Caves

By Tony Jarratt and Henry Dawson

“Hundreds and thousands of feet below the earthÙs crust, far from human view, lies meandering passages, waterways, spectacular sights in the form of stalagmites and stalactites, and rumbling waterfalls. Those who have explored the innermost depths of Meghalaya marvelled at the sights which greet them while exploring the caves that are abundantly found in different parts of the state.”

E.D. Marak, Minister, Information and Public Relations, Meghalaya.

“Natures Exotic Gift The Caves of Meghalaya” – Brian Kharpran Daly, 2006

The Team:-

India: Brian Kharpran Daly (M.A.A./G.S.G.), Shelley (nee Diengdoh) Syien (M.A.A.), Maxwell Syien (M.A.A.), Duohi Jeet, Com Mo Dias, Arki, Sngap Bha (Tongseng village).

Germany: Heidrun Andre (H.F.G.N.), Georg Baumler (H.H.V.L.), Rainer Hoss (H.F.G.N.), Herbert Janschke (H.F.G.O.K.).

Austria: Peter Ludwig (L.V.H.O.O.).

Switzerland: Thomas Arbenz (S.N.T.).

U.S.A: Barbara am Ende (N.S.S.).

Canada: Ian McKenzie (A.S.S.).

Ireland: Des McNally (U.D.C.P.C.), Brian Cullen (D.U.P.C.), Quentin Cooper (B.C.), Robin Sheen (B.C.).

U.K: Simon Brooks (O.C.C./G.S.S.), Mark Brown (S.U.S.S./G.S.G.), Tony Boycott (U.B.S.S./B.E.C./G.S.G.), Kate Janossy (G.S.G.), Tony Jarratt (B.E.C./G.S.G.), Neil Pacey (R.R.C.P.C.), Henry Rockliff (S.U.S.S.), Fraser Simpson (G.S.G.), Jayne Stead (G.S.G.), Peter Glanvill (B.E.C.), Phillippa Glanvill, Henry Dawson (B.E.C./R.U.C.C.), Joe Duxbury (G.S.S.), Amanda Edgeworth (S.W.C.C.), Mark Tringham (G.S.G.), Rhys Williams (S.W.C.C.).

Zoological Survey of India (Eastern Region Station):

Ilono Kharkongor (scientist), Silbaster Swell (collection tender), Madhar Soonar (lab. attendant), Gerald Japang (driver), Shinoti Kharkongor.

The Support Team:

Bung Diengdoh, Adison “Adi” Thabah (camp Gods), David Kimberley Pakyntein (driver/organizer), S.D.Diengdoh (bus driver), Jonathon Wanniang (driverÙs mate), Myrkassim Swer (chef), Munni Lyngdoh (Mrs. Swer), Vinod Sunar, Robin Gurung, Raja Paul, Champa Thapa, Radha Rawat (indispensable helpers), Bod Kharkongor (driver), Khraw Mylliem (driver).

Guides, Informants and Old Friends:

Evermore Sukhlain (Shnongrim), Larsing Sukhlain (Sutnga), Shor “Pa Heh” Pajuh, Kores, Gripbymon Dkhar (Semassi), Raplang Shangpliang (Shnongrim), Prusly Tangliang (headman, Semassi), Ramhouplien Tuolor (headman, Sielkan), Carlyn Phyrngap (were-tiger), Menda Syih, Na-U-Sukhlain (doloi, Nongkhlieh Elaka), Bill Richmond Marbaniang and the Meghalaya Police, the people of Sielkan, Semassi and the Ridge, Maureen Diengdoh, Robin Laloo and our friends in Shillong – and the staff of the Nazareth Hospital, Shillong.


Brian Kharpran Daly and the Meghalaya AdventurersÙ Association, the Government of India Tourist Office (East and North East India) – Kolkata, the Meghalaya State Tourism Dept, officials and government depts. within Meghalaya.        

Compiled from the Expedition diary, a G.S.G. newsletter article by Simon Brooks and Mark Brown and the writersÙ log books.

By 3rd February a team of five had assembled on the Shnongrim Ridge where our bamboo base camp was located and last yearÙs ultra-promising cave, Krem Labbit (Moolasngi) 3, was rigged by Henry R. He was joined by Robin and Brian C. and underground sites of interest were noted. Next day they were joined by Tony B. when they rigged Krem Wah Sning entrance pot to reach a 60m crawl and second pitch. Meanwhile more of us had gathered in Shillong and a select two hit the local beer to excess resulting in your scribe admiring the marble floor of the Cloud Nine bar from extremely close quarters! On the 5th two more pitches were dropped in Wah Sning and a complex series of walking and crawling passages entered, three of which were left unexplored. Henry R. and Quentin surveyed upstream through deep water in K.L.(M).3 to reach a sump – almost certainly the downstream end of the sump at the end of Video Passage in the 22km long Krem Liat Prah system ( IndiaÙs longest cave).

A stream sink, Krem Wah Sarok 2, was descended by Mark B, Robin and Brian C. on the 6th when a strongly draughting canal, almost blocked by flowstone, was reached after a series of classic pitches. More of the team arrived at the camp. On the 7th Mark B. rigged Krem Umsohtung in Lelad village (cleaner this year and losing its nickname of “Toilet Cave”) and, joined by Pete G, Phillippa, Barbara and Henry D, surveyed the remaining lead in the first upstream side passage. Due to Barbara being tired and dehydrated a slow, assisted and very late exit was made. Back at camp there was more excitement as your scribe was found unconscious as a result of his head-banging activities and was unceremoniously transported to the Nazareth Hospital in Shillong for a CT scan and a night under observation. He is very grateful to Dr.B, Jayne and Shelley for their concern and company and would like to state that the scan proved that he does have a brain! Meanwhile Des, Joe and Peter L. rigged two pitches in Krem Wah Sarok 3 and Henry R, aided by Brian C, climbed into high level passages in K.L.(M).3. One of these was surveyed by Neil and Quentin to a point very close to the attractive resurgence cave of Krem Rubong 1. Next day they returned with Mark B, Henry D. and Robin and continued the survey to a boulder choke where they fortuitously heard Pete G, Phillippa, Thomas, Barbara and Brian K.D. who were on a photographic trip in Rubong 1. The removal of a boulder allowed the ExpeditionÙs first major link to be made and the surveys to be connected. Much of the K.L.(M).3 streamway was also surveyed. In Wah Sarok 3 Joe, Des and Peter L. explored and surveyed.

They returned with Brian C. next day and pushed on down to make the second important connection when they popped out in Video Passage, Krem Liat Prah. A large team in K.L. (M). 3 surveyed and photographed and pushed a couple of unpleasant crawls. Others recced on the surface and the invalid and his minders returned to the Ridge to join in the fun. Much more surveying was done in K.L.(M).3 on the 10th with teams going in from both entrances. Some odd problems were found with loops failing to close and after discounting ghostly activity (the local spirit inhabits the adjacent Krem Wah Shikar) they were blamed on local magnetic anomalies. Further up the Ridge Brian C, Thomas and Peter L, guided by Raplang, found Krem Dngiem 1 (Bear Cave) and also, as a bonus, Krem Dngiem 2, Niang Ju and Toss Rock Pot.  200m of fossil passage was surveyed in Dngiem 1.

Sunday 11th saw Peter L, Brian C. and Quentin finishing the Wah Sarok 3 survey while Henry R, Joe and Peter G. dropped into the impressive jungle doline of Krem Moo Sata 1 to swing into an ongoing upstream passage 15m off the floor. The hope in this area was to find a link between the Liat Prah (“northern” Ridge system) and Krem Synrang Ngap (part of the “central” Ridge system). The writer and Des, meanwhile, abseiled into Liat Prah via SnowmanÙs Pot but failed to find the route to Video Passage. The survey of Dngiem 1 was continued by Tony B, Thomas and Phillippa resulting in 250m more in the bag while Mark B. rigged the End of the World traverses to reach a big pot. A c.40m pitch before this reached big passage. At K.L.(M).3 Neil, Robin and Henry D. completed the streamway survey and located a large, ongoing inlet. Barbara and Jayne continued the surface recce.

The K.L.(M).3 inlet was pushed next day by Neil, Phillippa and Quentin along 120m of flat out crawl to an aven. At Moo Sata 1 Joe, Henry D. and Peter G. rigged the opposite side of the great doline to find a downstream passage. The undescended pot in Dngiem 1 was dropped for 42m into Liat Prah at the junction of No Draught Passage and the Aircraft Hangar to give the third connection of the Expedition while nearby Barbara and Robin recced in the area of the Knee Wrecker Pots finding six new shafts. Tony B. and Jayne photographed bones and rescued a calf at the nearby Knee Wrecker 2. At Wah Sarok 3 Henry R. and the writer checked out Video Passage in the hope of connecting with K.L. (M). 3 but were confused by the old survey which bore little resemblance to the passages entered. Back at camp things were hotting up with first the welcome arrival of our German colleagues and later the decidedly unwelcome arrival of a delegation of twenty eight threatening coal miners demanding that we leave the area or our safety could not be guaranteed! The team discussed options and our friend Bill Richmond Marbaniang, chief of the Meghalaya police, was phoned. The next arrivals were a team of five biologists from NE India University and a well-armed squad of camouflage-uniformed para-military policemen who had been sent by Bill to guard us. All this fuss was due to forthcoming    environmental problems which will adversely affect the Ridge, its stunning and important cave systems, the biology and hydrology of the area and the lifestyle of the local villagers - though our worries are more about the rapidly developing quarrying industry than the less threatening coal mining, destructive though it has been to the once idyllic countryside to the north west. A Public Interest Litigation had been filed by the Meghalayan AdventurersÙ Association to the Indian Supreme Court in a bid to protect the Ridge and the mine owners were concerned that this would threaten their livelihoods.

On the 13th belongings were packed and caves de-rigged as the team prepared to leave while Simon arranged a meeting for the following day with Brian K.D, the police, mining representatives and a lawyer. Tony B. took the biologists into Krem Rubong 1 to take samples and photographs and Fraser managed to get some video footage during the de-rigging so the day wasnÙt completely wasted. Torrential rain heralded the day of the meeting and resulted in the police truck having to be towed up to the road. Biological work continued in Krem Wah Shikar where the two Peters and Barbara accompanied the scientists. Simon and Brian K.D. returned in the afternoon to announce that a favourable outcome had been reached with the miners and the Expedition could continue. Sighs of relief and celebrations all round!

Krem Dngiem 1 was revisited on the 15th when photography (Des and Mark B.) and videoing (Fraser) took place with the writer acting as reluctant model on the exposed End of the World traverses. Mark dropped the superbly decorated pot at the end into Trafalgar Square in Liat Prah then dropped the pitch below the End of the World into another part of the same cave – our fourth and fifth connections. In K.L.(M).3 Henry R, Ian, Brian C, Quentin, Phillippa and Neil continued surveying inlets both up and downstream. Joe, Barbara and Peter G. finished the Krem Moo Sata 1 survey and Pete photographed the cave. This was not to be the hoped for missing link. Robin and Peter L. bottomed Krem Moo Sata 2 (?) at 17m – another possible link written off. An eight strong Anglo-German team left camp for the Sielkan area where they would stay for several days in a bamboo hut on a less exotic diet but with no shortage of rice! The recent rain meant that the last 3.5 kms of road had to be walked carrying full kit to reach the path back to the village. Navigation problems caused the team to walk to the base of the hill and back twice before being rescued by a bizarrely equipped local with a digital camcorder who showed them a video of Georg! Eventually they gratefully collapsed in the headmanÙs hut with a brew of tea. 

Sielkan Pouk

On the 16th Peter G, Barbara and Thomas surveyed the connections from Liat Prah to Krem Dngiem 1 where Joe, Brian C, Fraser and Peter L. were surveying the traverse and Trafalgar Square Pitch. More photography and videoing was done and the cave de-rigged. Des and Robin descended the large collapse doline of Krem Umthymme and dropped a 5m pitch into a boulder choke which was dug to open up a squeeze and route through boulders to the head of a 15m pitch. At the ever popular K.L.(M).3 Quentin, Henry R. and Neil continued tidying up the survey. Mark B, Ian and your scribe returned to Krem Umsohtung to finish the downstream survey when a flowstone blockage halted all further progress. In the stunning river cave of Sielkan Pouk Georg, Kate, Herbert and Henry D. surveyed 620m of inlet at the end of Perfect Passage while Simon, Heidi, Rainer and Mark T. took photos. All then had a communal “cave bathe”. Perfect Passage was heralded as the most beautifully and extensively decorated passage yet seen in Meghalaya – and for many of the team it was the finest ever seen! Several branches of the system were explored but only the high level fossil passage and an inlet “went”. The main passage was left ongoing as time ran out.

At last, on the 17th, the spectacular Krem Labbit (Khaidong) system (the upstream part of Liat Prah) was revisited by Brian C. and Henry R. who examined several outstanding possible leads. Des, Fraser and Joe videoed and de-rigged Umsohtung while Neil, Robin and Mark B. rigged Krem Um Im 1 which needed resurveying. A fresh sump stopped progress after a couple of hundred metres so they de-rigged the cave and set off back to camp. Today the Gods were with them as a plume of warm air was noticed rising from a nearby doline – probably caused by the cold temperature following heavy rain. A draughting walking-sized passage was found and named Dragon Hole. It looked good. Not too far away a surface recce team of Quentin, Phillipa and the writer checked the Krem Waipong area and found three steaming and draughting caves roughly above the western end of K.L.(M).3. Peter L. and Thomas recced and mapped in the rarely visited area around Krem Umsngad at the opposite end of the Ridge. Others recced and found that Krem Wah Sarok 2 was correctly called Krem Heh U Reh. At Sielkan Pouk about 660m was surveyed by Georg, Mark T, Herbert and Henry D. in the fossil passage. This large and geologically interesting gallery followed the contact between the limestone and sandstone above. It was carpeted with gypsum needles but unfortunately choked, though there may be potential for digging. (Good man Henry!). Meanwhile Simon, Heidi, Rainer and Kate went bamboo maypoling downstream but with little result.

Sunday the18th saw Robin, Henry R. and Phillippa bolting up a wall at the side of the boulder choke at the end of Disto in Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and entering a continuing, large fossil passage. At Dragon Hole Fraser, Peter G, Barbara and Brian K.D. surveyed 149m to a 20m pitch. Videoing and photography was also done. Neil, Quentin and your scribe, back down K.L.(M).3, removed a boulder in the promising but low and exceedingly grotty “All Bound for Moomooland”. Beyond, more squalor led to a view through an impassable rift into bigger stuff beyond but without bang or caps there was no way of getting through into what was assumed to be part of  Liat Prah. The hoped for major link was thus left for a determined siege next year. A crowbar and reflector were left in the rift in case it could be found from the far side. Joe and Brian C. descended two pitches in Krem Dngiem 2 and got the ExpeditionÙs sixth connection by arriving in an aven just off No Draught Passage in Liat Prah. They surveyed the link. Mark B. and Peter L. rigged the old favourite, Krem Synrang Ngap, in preparation for a big push. At Sielkan Zuala Pouk was explored and surveyed for 36.39m by Simon and Henry D. but dense jungle obscured the whereabouts of Bak Pouk.

Bats – Sielkan Pouk

Despite the resolved problem with the coal miners it was around 3.15am sometime this week that Peter L, awake at the time, heard a shotgun being fired over the camp by a passing well-wisher and the pellets landing on the tents.

Next day Ian and Brian C. surveyed the new fossil passage in Krem Labbit (Khaidong) for over 200m to a choke. Robin and the writer took the supposedly easy option of Krem Wah Lukor 1, located within walking distance of the camp. This turned out to be a 9m deep blind pot with a narrow shaft to one side which has yet to be dropped and will connect with the adjacent Krem Wah Lukor 2 where a 30m pot was dropped into a series of horizontal passages intersecting a deep daylight shaft, Krem Wah Lukor 3, 17m above the floor. The cave had a good feeling about it.

Peter L, Des, Fraser, Barbara and Peter G. returned to Dragon Hole. A 23m pitch, canyon, traverse and 45m pitch led to a large passage or chamber. Photos and video were taken. Way down the Ridge Thomas and Brian K.D. followed the dry Um Sngad riverbed through a gorge to reach two flood-prone cave entrances below a cliff with a 5m climb down into a large passage. The big push in Krem Synrang Labbit involved Mark B, Henry R, Phillippa and Quentin who reached the impressive M.A.A. Chamber in 3 hours. They pushed on through draughting passage heading NE, the Kit Kat Trail, but ran out of time and emerged at 2.30am after a 14-hour trip. Imagine their delight when the planned radio contact failed and they had to walk home. Four more cavers arrived in camp today. At Sielkan a spectacular through trip was made from Sielkan Pouk to Pielklieng Pouk with 60m of new, high-level passage bagged on the way. This was found with the aid of the bamboo maypole but was only an oxbow.

Stal – Sielkan Pouk

On 20th February local stars Pa Heh and Kores, accompanied by Henry R, joined Robin, Mandy, Rhys, Joe and the writer at Krem Wah Lukor 2 in order to identify the daylight shaft located in a patch of jungle. In the cave more rigging and surveying was done until the rope ran out at a 10m pitch into a large passage at right angles. At Sngad River Sink Peter L, Thomas, Max, Shelley, Fraser and Brian K.D. explored and videoed. Large washed in trees were a hazard! The Dragon Hole team of Neil, Des, Brian C. and Pete G. dropped the 50m pitch into the ceiling of the Grand Trunk Road in the Krem Um Im 6 section of, guess where, Liat Prah to get the seventh connection of the Expedition. Another 600m was surveyed by Georg, Herbert, Mark T. and Rainer in Sielkan Pouk along Footprint Inlet before running out of time.

Simon, Kate, Heidi and Henry D. were guided to a blind 50.5m deep shaft through sandstone into limestone and because of the localsÙ tales called it Ongoing Cave. It dropped down to a rift with climbs that tapered down in size – not going! The villagers called it the “hole with no end” and it was described by the headmanÙs wife as “the hole, which, if a stone is dropped down, it will fall for five minutes”. (ThatÙs deep!).

The 21st was the occasion of the Moolasngi village fete which most of the camp dwellers attended. Sadly there were no fighting bulls at the event. Six of them then changed places with the Sielkan team. At K.L.(M).3 Quentin, Henry R. and Brian C. tidied up the survey while Neil, who had forgotten his helmet, located a rift passage and three shafts on the walk back to camp. The latter may have been Krem Skap 1,2 and 3. Joe, Barbara and Peter G. went to Krem Iap Ksew ( Dead Dog Cave) and a nearby steaming rift, which they named Dog Breath Cave. In one of these Joe dropped a 10m pitch into some 50m of ongoing canyon passage. Robin, Peter L. and your scribe were back at Krem Wah Lukor 2 and the final pitch was dropped into the farthest upstream end of the superb, 14km long Krem Umthloo – the writerÙs baby!

This was Expedition connection number eight and particularly satisfying as it was likely to herald further exploration in this very fine, and far from finished, system. The Sielkan Pouk team of Simon, Georg and Heidi had a photographic trip before heading back to camp. With the others they hiked out to find no waiting jeeps and wondered if the miners had had their way. These turned up three hours late and without beer (!)  but the relief was such that the drivers  were forgiven.

DogBreathCave or Krem Iap Ksew 2 was revisited on the 22nd by Quentin, Pete G. and Barbara who surveyed 70m to the top of a 24m pitch. Peter L. and Simon surveyed in Sngad River Sink and reached a sump. Robin, Mark T. and Joe were in the same area. The writer, Ian and Neil revisited Video Passage in Krem Liat Prah via Krem Wah Sarok 3 - fully intent on sorting out the fictional survey but were gobsmacked when they realised that survey stations found were of very recent origin and that they had unwittingly connected with Krem Wah Sning – link number nine of this very lucky Expedition! Not trusting a rope protector on the big pitch they left Liat Prah by the main entrance having completed the first through-Ridge trip in the lower part of the system. Heidi, the two Henries and Brian C. surveyed 144m in Krem Dngiem 2. Mark B, Phillippa, Mandy, Rhys and Fraser videoed and photographed in Pielklieng Pouk then most did the through trip.

On the 23rd Quentin, Peter L. and Mark T. dropped a pot and pushed a squeeze in Krem Iap Ksew 2 then followed a streamway to more deep pitches which Peter bolted while the others surveyed 3 Rats Passage – complete with itÙs particularly active and apparently “cuddly” residents! Mark B, Phillippa, Mandy, Rhys and Fraser photographed and videod in Pielklieng Pouk before returning to camp. Robin, Des, Ian and Neil descended Krem Wah Sarok 3 to survey and confirm the link to Krem Wah Sning from Video Passage in Krem Liat Prah. In Krem Labbit (Khaidong) Brian C, Kate, the Henries and your scribe checked all possible leads near the Krem Chuni entrance including a high level passage which the Henries bolted up to (amongst a spray of vomit from one of them!). The only one of interest led to a dodgy vertical boulder choke with an open, stepped aven above which either needs bolting for safety or dropping into from the surface. Eight of the team set off for Semassi village where Peter G, Georg, Joe, Simon, Rainer and Heidi took a bamboo maypole into Krem Tyngheng to check high level leads in this fascinating and labyrinthine river cave.  

Next day Mark B, Quentin and Phillippa recced in the Dukan Sha and Lumthari areas finding a blind 30m shaft (which may have been Krem Kacha and some entrances in the base of the escarpment NE of the chai shop. At K.L.(M).3 Kate, Henry R, Mark T. and Rhys pushed three climbs, which led to short lengths of passage. Krem Wah Sning was visited by Robin, Ian and Brian C. to survey a couple of passages and check out an aven for a possible link to K.L.(M). - in vain. The writer, Neil and Mandy took the chance to carry on a project attempted last year but foiled by poor route finding. Krem Myrliat 1 was dropped (after confusing it with the undescended and adjacent Krem Myrliat 2) into the far reaches of the 14km long Krem Umthloo (part of the Southern System) and a couple of inlets leading north from one of the main upstream feeders were checked. Your scribe had noticed the proximity of these inlets to the 4km long stream cave of Krem Synrang Labbit (part of the Central System theoretically feeding the Krem Iawe resurgence at the far eastern edge of the Ridge and with a potential length of over 20kms) and had a wild idea that they may be connected. After a couple of blind passages we reached Letter C Gallery, explored and surveyed to an apparently too low crawl by Thomas Matthalm and team some years ago. A strong outward draught was followed through a roomy but muddy low section to reach two fine avens, which were not on TomÙs survey and with a dearth of survey stations. Beyond these, and at a total distance of only 134m from known passage a sluggish streamway was met flowing from left to right in a rather complicated area of chambers, chokes and low, muddy passages. Here an obviously differently marked survey station was found and tied into. Confusion then reigned as the explorers argued as to where the Hell they were! After a snack of Britannia coconut biscuits they headed out – filthy, wet and tired but keen to compute the survey figures. Mandy got this job and all were soon admiring the perfect fit of the ExpeditionÙs tenth and most important link. Umthloo and Synrang Labbit were now IndiaÙs 3rd longest cave at 18kms and part of the revised Southern System – the Central System now being redundant! A link with the Northern System of Krem Liat Prah and its satellites is now the project for next year and would be well on the way towards the creation of a 100km + Meghasystem. As German Tom and Austrian Peter L. had failed to push low passages from both sides this new link was named (with tongue in cheek) after our biscuits – the Britannia Connection! Suitable celebrations were held that evening. In Krem Tyngheng Georg, Heidi, Rainer and Peter G. surveyed 483m of maze passage while Simon, Barbara, Herbert and Joe pushed and surveyed passages in the Fossil River Series.

On Sunday 25th February Mark B. rigged a series of pitches in Peaceful Cave, Lelad, whilst Rhys and Brian C. surveyed. At base level small and decidedly unpleasant draughting ducks drove them back out. Krem Wah Shikar was visited on a tourist trip for Tongseng village lads Duohi Jeet, Com Mo Dias, Arki and Sngap Bha, led by Robin, Fraser and Des. They thoroughly enjoyed it and were duly photographed and videod. At Dukan Sha chai shop Henry D, Peter L, Mandy and Phillippa explored and surveyed 350m of spider-infested small passages, a larger fossil passage and a streamway / canal in a low level cave apparently called Krem Son Pow 2 and nicknamed “Drunken Goldfish Cave” when it was realised that “son pow” was their guideÙs request for “more money”! It later became Krem Kdong Thloo. Neil, Henry R. and Kate bottomed Krem Mih Dohtli 2 at 20m after two short pitches and Krem Mih Dohtli 1 after a 25m-drop to boulders. Quentin, Ian and Mark T. went to Krem Iap Ksew 2 and failed to descend the last shaft “due to blind shafts within the shaft, before locating a 15m draughting shaft”. At Krem Tyngheng a total of 533m was surveyed by the same teams as the previous day to the NW and SW of the main passage.

Krem Iap Ksew 2 was revisited next day by the same team who finally bottomed and surveyed the pitches and got the ExpeditionÙs eleventh connection when they tied into survey station 105 in Krem Shyien Khlieh just north of the camp. Fraser, Des and the writer descended Krem Wah Lukor 2 to the ledge with a stunning view of the Pinetree Pot daylight shaft, Krem Wah Lukor 3, in order to video Henry R. and Peter L. abseiling in from the open shaft in the jungle where a 1.5m long snake had earlier been seen. After almost two hours of waiting and listening to Henry drilling and whistling somewhere above the cameramen got fed up and mutinied. The writer descended the next pitch to suddenly see Henry appear high in the ceiling of a towering aven offset from the daylight shaft. The “Snake Shaft” was not the correct one but had also connected (Expedition link number twelve) via a window reached by a desperately exposed traverse above a blind, 40m deep shaft. It thus became Krem Wah Lukor 4. With some very imaginative rigging Henry reached the floor, followed by Peter who de-rigged Krem Wah Lukor 2 while Henry and your scribe surveyed out and de-rigged 4, at one point pausing to admire a small, black and deadly-looking scorpion resting on the cave wall. The aven became “Tubular Bells Pot” after the tunes played on the superb formations decorating its walls, and the views from the window – 40m above the floor and with a 40m-drop only some 4m away on the other side – were spectacular. Crossing the traverse scared the shit out of one particular old Mendip git with a headache! Robin, Neil and Kate went to a supposedly new pot named B6 but found it to have been previously bolted. 45m and a 25m pots were dropped to a lot of awkward, draughting cave ending in a small streamway. They were informed that it was Krem Syrnum – partially explored in 2002 but positioned incorrectly on the map. Phillippa, Henry D, Mandy and Rhys continued surveying for 175m in Krem Kdong Thloo, mainly in upstream walking-sized passage whilst Mark B. and the Brians surveyed 635m downstream and through a duck to an entrance shown to Mark two days earlier. Simon, Heidi, Herbert and Peter G. surveyed some 200m in a maze of wet, downstream passages in Krem Tyngheng then walked back to camp, feeling somewhat vulnerable as they trekked through the mining settlements! Tyngheng, the never ending cave, was left with 30 unexplored passages!

Nice Passage!!

February 27th and the last caving day of the Expedition. Krem Synrang Ngap saw the Marks, Henry D. and Brian C. pushing several grotty side passages in the far reaches and failing to find the major connection to Krem Synrang Labbit while Henry R, Heidi and the writer went for the soft option at the much closer downstream choke – two boulders were blocking the way to black space beyond. They were lucky to get there as Heidi sustained a badly twisted ankle en route but insisted on continuing. Here Henry produced his not very secret weapon – three “snappers” made from shotgun cartridge black powder scrounged from Pa Heh, inserted in drilled holes, tamped with cornflour and water paste and electrically fired one at a time. The first failed and the others produced smoke and noise but little else. It was a good effort though. A calcite rib on the wall was then chiselled off just enough to allow the skinnier Mendip member of the team to squeeze through and enlarge the place from the far side so that Henry could join him. They explored some 160m of huge and splendidly decorated high-level passage ending in a proper boulder choke with several ways on down in the floor. It was named “Adventurous Hobby ExplorersÙ Hall” following a derisory comment from one of our Germanic colleagues! Lack of time prevented surveying or pushing but it will be a great start to next yearÙs trip. There is a good chance of connecting with Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo and / or Krem Bir 1 or even of bypassing these altogether and heading for Krem Iawe. Robin, Joe and Kate pushed on in Krem Syrnum and got the thirteenth and final connection of the Expedition when they appropriately dropped into the old favourite Krem Liat Prah to bump up the length of IndiaÙs longest cave to 26kms. Great stuff! A large Sngad River Sink team clocked up a lot more metres in this seemingly endless maze cave.

The following day all packed up, bid a fond farewell to the Ridge and its amazing cave systems and returned to Shillong where Daniel Gebauer, Sebastian Breitenbach and Norbert (?) had arrived – too late to join us but intent on doing their own thing. Andre Abele had been with Daniel in another part of India and he was met later in Calcutta on his way home.

Mark Tringham post dump?

The evening of 1st March was spent at the lakeside residence of Robin Laloo where many partied the night away before leaving for Guwahati and Calcutta on the 2nd. The 3rd was Holi festival and many of the team, particularly Phillippa, got plastered in the traditional coloured powder or liquid dispersed on this occasion. Cold beers at the Fairlawn finished the day and by 2.15 on the afternoon of the 4th Dr. B. and your scribe were supping proper ale in the HuntersÙ after a very successful, if somewhat traumatic, Expedition with 16kms surveyed and 13 important connections established. Apart from the above lots of people spent days recceing, rope washing, computing data and drawing up surveys. Fraser and Phillippa introduced a novelty item with a spoof video of “Big Brother Meets Father Ted” – essential viewing at this yearÙs Hidden Earth Conference! The usual thanks go to all those who worked hard in many ways to accomplish this and particularly Maureen and Brian for again letting us turn their house into a transit camp and caving hut.    

Some facts and figures

24 caves, 16 of which were previously unexplored, were surveyed and photographed resulting in almost 16 kms of passage, 11.8 kms of this being on the Ridge where there is now 138 kms – the greatest concentration of cave passage in one area on the Indian sub-continent. The total length of passage found by these Meghalayan Expeditions is now over 310 kms in 653 caves with another 450 yet to be explored! The Krem Liat Prah system was extended from 22.202 kms to 25.225 kms and the almost connected Krem Labbit (Moolasngi) 3 from 649 metres to 3.775 kms. Its connection with Krem Rubong 1 gave a final length of 4.590 kms. The Krem Umthloo / Krem Synrang Labbit system has jumped into third place at 18 kms. Krem Tyngheng went from 7.752 kms to 9.221 kms and the Pielklieng Pouk / Sielkan Pouk system from 10.428 kms to 12.434 kms. Two promising caves for next year are the Sngad River Sink at 1.265 kms and Krem Kdong Thloo at 1.185kms. Much of the Ridge exploration was greatly helped by Thomas ArbenzÙs magnificent map to which he has dedicated most of his limited holidays. A reduced and simplified version appears with this article. 

The Longest and Deepest Limestone Caves in the Indian Sub-continent – March 2007-04-17

1.         Krem Liat Prah System – 25.225 km.
2.         Krem Kotsati / Um Lawan – 21.53 km.
3.         Krem Umthloo / Synrang Labbit18.091 km.
4.         Synrang Pamiang – 14.157 km.
5.         Pielklieng Pouk / Sielkan Pouk – 12.434 km.
6.         Krem Tyngheng – 9.221 km.
7.         Krem Shrieh – 8.862 km.
8.         Krem Mawkhyrdop – 7.194 km.
9.         Krem Lymput – 6.641 km.
10.        Mondel Kol – 5.831 km.

1.         Synrang Pamiang – 317m.
2.         Krem Kotsati / Um Lawan – 215m.
3.         Krem Umjasew – 197m.
4.         Krem Umthloo / Synrang Labbit – 188m.
5.         Pielklieng Pouk / Sielkan Pouk – 180m.
6.         Pakaw Pouk – 170m.
7.         Krem Shrieh - 169m.
8.         Krem Risang – 154m.
9.         Krem Wah Ser - 145m.
10.        Krem Shyien Khlieh – 143m.

All are located in Meghalaya state.

Selected references

Belfry Bulletins 516, 519, 522, 525, 527 (This diary article was published in error, all information therein being included in the article in 525).

Grampian S. G. Bulletins 3rd Series, Vol. 5 Nos. 4, 5.  4th Series, Vol. 1 Nos.2, 5.  Vol. 2 Nos. 2, 4.  Vol. 3 No. 1.


Rana  Hole,  Assynt -  the  Saga Continues.

By Tony Jarratt
Photos by Paul Brock

The article on page 36 of BB 527 (not listed in the contents!), having failed to lure any new diggers to this epic project, it was a very limited “Mendip Invasion” that headed the 625 miles north at the end of February. From the Hill; Paul Brock and your scribe, from Chard; Peter and Philippa Glanvill and, later in the week, the Bristol contingent of Tony Boycott and Jayne Stead. Mark Brown and Norman Flux had travelled up from Sheffield a few days earlier in the trusty “big van full of more digging technology”. Perfectionist Norman had designed a winch with three cycles in parallel to replace the tandem version and had thought up various improvements to the hauling system. They were joined by Edinburgh digger Roger Galloway. Derek Guy drove up from Stirling and arrived with the Mendip team to find that the lads had, thankfully, already transported the new winch up the mountain and were in the process of fettling it.

Mark fettling the headgear while Norman adjusts

the ‘Fluxcavator Mk 5Ù cycle winch

On the 29th February seven diggers set off up the Allt nan Uamh valley in glorious weather but with extremely strong wind. Your scribe, dressed in green wellies and a pale blue and pink tartan fleece suit and carrying two conspicuous road signs provided much amusement and curiosity to several walkers visiting the Bone Caves. Trying to explain what he was doing was not easy and the road signs were much regretted when he rounded “windy corner”, just beyond the Bone Caves, and was blown off his feet by a strong gust. With an almost vertical drop down to the valley floor he got away lightly but practically crawled the rest of the way. At Rana Hole he joined Paul to fill bags with spoil while the engineers continued the good work. 17 kibble-loads of spoil were hauled out, mainly from the now collapsed pile of mud and rock to the rear of the floor of the shaft. Much junk was also pulled out and a huge perched boulder was drilled and banged. Red dye was dumped into the trickle of water sinking at the bottom but was not detected in the underlying Uamh an Claonaite when visited by Simon Brooks later in the week. Does this mean that Rana goes somewhere else? Time will tell. While all this was going on Pete, Philippa and Derek, after a tourist trip in Claonaite, had found a possible new cave near the main stream sink. This was tentatively called Three GÙs Cave for lack of a local name and was later dug and banged before the team headed down for libations at the Inch.

Next day there was no support for Rana so Paul and the writer drove north to Durness and Smoo Cave. Here they abseiled the 24m deep Falais Smoo (Chimney of Smoo) directly into G.S.G. member Colin CoventryÙs inflatable dinghy which he had paddled across the lake chamber below: he runs short tourist trips in the cave. After inspecting his dig above the flowstone barrier at the end of the large inlet stream passage they were ferried out to the landing stage at the Starrsach (cave threshold) before heading to the Smoo Cave Hotel for replacement of lost body fluids. Earlier in the day a salmon sandwich had been purchased here for ColinÙs lunch and delivered to him by the simple expedient of chucking it down a skylight in the roof of the cave – “fast food” indeed! The extremely dry conditions had made todayÙs abseil a pleasure as usually the whole of the Allt Smoo stream accompanies one down the pot making the descent spectacular, noisy and bloody wet.

Overall view of the dig

Back at Rana on May Day, after a diversion to clear some 3m of spoil from Three GÙs Cave, Paul and the writer continued digging, rock breaking and bag filling at the bottom while the engineers fettled away above them. The three GÙs themselves later assisted and, watched by a Golden Eagle, 70 kibble-loads of spoil were winched out. The Mendip duo walked back down via the ridge of Beinn an Fhuarain surrounded by spectacular vistas and feeling too warm in T-shirts at 7.30pm! They were so impressed that they mobile-phoned the absent Jane Clarke to describe the view and inform her what she was missing. Photos were taken as evidence.

The walk up the valley was almost too hot next day and it was good to get underground. Another 70 loads of spoil and one toad came out courtesy of the new winch – the “Fluxcavator Mk. 5”. Tony Boycott, Jayne Stead and Julian Walford assisted Norman, Paul and the writer today and the others went walking or climbing in the continuing heatwave. Sunburn was suffered by several of the team!

Julian, Mark and your scribe returned on the 3rd to fettle, bail and dig. There were too few people to winch, as A.N.U.S. Cave and Three GÙs Cave were being visited, photographed and dug.

A thirsty man but nattily dressed!

(The colour scheme is spectacular. Ed)  

A large team made up for this on the 4th with Ivan Young, Norman and Paul below and Mark, Julian, Philippa, Tony and the writer on cycle duty. 120 loads came out including a large, netted boulder and several drums of water. The rather obvious spoil heap was pretty much levelled at the request of George Vestey, the landowner. He is happy with the dig as long as his deer are not molested. As if…

Another 70 loads came out on the 5th when Norman, newcomer Caroline Stubbs and your scribe went below and Mark, Paul, Ivan, Philippa and Julian put up with the gradually changing weather conditions on the surface. This was the last day and with a total of 347 loads out and the eventual perfection of the new hauling system all were satisfied. The site was “put to bed” and the redundant tandem winch painfully wheeled back down to the road before celebrations took place at the Inch. Richard, the landlord, was not well today after having overdone it with hotel residents and Jamaican reggae band the Skatalites * until 5.30 am.

During the week Simon Brooks and the Glanvills dived in Claonaite with Fraser Simpson videoing and Simon also dived and dug underwater in the Cnoc nan Uamh System upstream sump. A few other minor caves were visited and Hugh Penney, Marco?, Carol Walford and Kate Janossy got some climbing in. A magnificent week - and not a midgie in sight!

Brockers in A.N.U.S Cave

* ‘The Skatalites meet at King TubbyÙsÙ is a particularly good album featuring the fine drumwork of Leroy ‘HorsemouthÙ Wallace.  Ed. Iree!


Rose Cottage Cave  - Connecting the Entrances and Other News

By Tony Jarratt

“Well, if you know of a better ‘ole, go to it.“  -  C. B. Bairnsfather

Continued from BBs 522-527.

Further Digging: - 15/12/06 – 30/12/06 and the connection.

On 15th December J.C. and T.J. pumped out the pool in the Inlet Tube of the Surface Shaft and filled around eighteen bags with sloppy, gravelly mud. Two days later these two were joined by T.H. and 43 loads were hauled out. Another thirteen bags were filled by T.J. on the 18th and stacked ready for removal. R.W. and T.A. continued with the ginging project. On the freezing cold night of the 20th, after the team had hauled out 15 loads, P.B. and T.J. dug and stacked over a dozen full bags of squalor from the Inlet Tube while H.B, P.C, S.H. and P.H. established further hammering contact from PaulÙs Personal Project in the main cave but were still baffled by the direction in which to dig. The annoying puddle here was drained and 12 skip-loads were hauled out. J.C. filled six bags in the Inlet Tube on the 22nd during a session of “soggy digging” and later that day T.J. filled eleven skips at P.P.P. where he attacked a new site about half a metre above the dig by the drained puddle. This seemed to be a steeply ascending phreatic bedding plane with a stringer of grey organic mud – identical to the Inlet Tube and a good contender for the connection. Masses of heavily calcited breccia blocked the route and were almost impossible to hammer off so next day T.J. and J.C. returned armed with the Hilti drill and detonators. An experimental session of  “micro-blasting” resulted in the removal of two skip-loads of breccia and rock and considerable confusion on the wisdom of wiring detonators in series and using a flat firing battery. The resulting supposed misfire was checked by T.J. and J.C. on Christmas Eve and they were relieved to find that the detonator had actually gone off and was intact enough to provide the latter with an interesting festive pendant. Some token digging was done but the warmth of the Belfry soon lured them away.

With T.J. off to Sutherland for a weekÙs digging at Rana Hole this left J.C. to continue alone at the Surface Shaft side and on the 28th she filled several bags with slop and frustratedly wrote in the log book “How much further can it be?” She was  joined next day by T.H. when the misery of the Inlet Tube drove them to P.P.P. A suggestion that an iron fence rod should be thrust into the dig face just above the micro-blasted site led to J.C. returning to the Inlet Tube where she almost got her eye poked out when the eternally over-enthusiastic T.H. applied this technique! Another hour or so of digging enabled the connection to be made and the first exchange trip done. H.B. and Doug Harris (MCG) did the second one following a drilling session at Plan B Dig on the 30th. This was the last trip of the year.

Halfway and Plan B Digs:- 3/1/07 - 9/5/07.

A major clear up at the Inlet tube and P.P.P. took place on the 3rd January when over 70 loads were hauled out via both entrances and much of the digging gear removed. The tidying team was M.S, H.D, H.B, B.S, Hannah B, S.H, T.J, A.V. and P.H. Halfway Dig was visited by J.B, J.N. and P.C. who continued clearing spoil from the site and gave thanks that the connection dig was over so that they could recruit the staff. R.W continued with the entrance walling on the following day.

Plan B Dig was banged by H.B. and T.H. on the 7th while J.C. and T.J. cleared rocks from Halfway Dig and dumped them further down the cave in any convenient space available. On the following day R.W. continued drystone walling while T.A. extended the length of the steel ladder in preparation for its permanent emplacement in the Surface Shaft entrance. More clearing of both digs took place on the 10th by H.B, H.D, T.J, P.C, B.O, A.L. and Hannah B. On the 14th January T.J. and J.C. continued removing rocks from Halfway Dig and also pumped out the pool in the lower Surface Shaft dig in order to flush out the connection crawl. The Surface Shaft steel ladder was finally bolted and cemented in position by T.A. and R.W. on the 15th. Two days later H.D. and H.B. drilled 13 shot-holes at Plan B Dig and fired a mighty charge while at Halfway Dig J.N, P.C. and A.L. continued clearing while P.B. gave them the benefit of his recently perfected dig engineering knowledge. Four other regulars succeeded in escaping the mayhem to visit other clubsÙ digs – J.C. and T.J. to bang the West Passage chokes in Upper Flood and S.H. and P.H. to assist the Shepton in Gibbets Brow Shaft. More digging and clearing at Halfway took place on the 22nd January when J.B. and T.J. shifted a large amount of mud and rock and measured the spoil rift for future scaffolding. Two short lengths of this were taken down on the 24th by J.B, T.J. and Rob Harper. More clearing was done at Halfway and a three shot-hole cord charge was laid in two boulders to give future working space. H.B. and H.D. continued clearing at Plan B Dig and fired the Halfway charge on their way out. The Henries were back at Plan B on the 28th but due to damage of the electric cable caused by rocks thrown down from Halfway Dig no drilling could be done so they assisted T.H. and T.J. with disposal of said rocks. The bang debris was cleared from Halfway and another charge fired on the half-boulder remaining.

The 29th January saw R.W. and T.A, briefly assisted by T.J, continuing with the shaft walling, spoil heap walling and general tidying up of the site. Two days later H.B. and T.J. fitted the scaffold bars in the Halfway Dig spoil rift. H.B. then drilled thirteen shot-holes at Plan B Dig while T.J. and P.C. continued clearing Halfway. The former then joined H.B. below to assist in charging the holes with mixed cord before firing on the way out. The spoil was cleared on February 11th by H.B. and Rich Bayfield who then “drilled for England”. Three days later H.B. and S.H. laid and fired a 14 shot-hole charge here.

The 17th and 18th February saw T.A. at the Surface Shaft where he “Sneaked in some concrete blocks … while Richard wasnÙt there. (Fixed the foundations for the gate).” He and R.W. continued walling next day and on the 20th R.W. fixed the spoil heap wall and steps.

Halfway Dig was visited by J.B, P.C. and P.H. on the 21st when photos were taken and two scaffold poles inserted as shoring. No digging took place due to lack of dumping space.

On the 26th February H.B. and Hannah B. returned to Plan B Dig (after an abortive trip on the 18th when bad air stopped play) and did some clearing in more breathable conditions. The same area was visited by J.C. on 3rd March when she led a tourist trip for Dominic Gane, Steve and Claire Footitt and Peet Stracey. The problem today was exceptionally wet conditions, which soon drove them back to the Belfry. Allegedly the inflowing stream had been coerced to go down the new entrance by T.H.

R.W. and T.A. continued walling on the 5th in equally unpleasant conditions and on the 7th T.A. bolted on the steel grid gate. Later that day T.J, B.S. and J.C. descended this shaft with intent to dig a side passage but they were defeated by a 3m+ deep pool. A quick trip to Bored of the Rings in the old cave and a grovel through the link gained a view of the pool from the far side. The noise of falling and flowing water made the whole cave feel more “alive”. By the 12th March the weather was much improved and R.W. and T.A. continued walling, briefly assisted by T.J. All admired the colourful addition to the landscape in the form of an ancient and decrepit JCB – severely bogged down in its self-made swamp between the Belfry and the cave and bearing recently added “L” plates. Anyone requiring further information should not ask Ben “Driver of the Year” Selway as a smack in the gob often offends!  In its favour it came in useful as an extra prop in a short documentary film commenced on the 14th March by Alistair Koliasnikoff and Predrag “Pedja” Nikolic of Thames Valley University. H.D, S.H, P.B, P,H, J.C. and T.J. were filmed and interviewed either coming out of the original entrance shaft or hauling skips, four of which, full of rocks for R.W.Ùs wall, reached the surface. Some filming was also done in the HuntersÙ but the underground shots failed due to humidity affecting AlistairÙs camera. H.D. and P.B. checked the state of the drill left at Plan B Dig (it was in good condition despite the recent flooding) then helped J.C. dump six bags of poo, which she had filled in the utterly squalid Halfway Dig. The consensus of opinion tonight was that everyone needed a change of digging scenery!

The next bang at Plan B Dig took place on 21st March when H.D, assisted by M.B. fired a six shot-hole charge while many of the team paid heed to the above and escaped to the relative comfort of Caine Hill Shaft (see separate article). A brief visit was paid on the 26th when R.W, T.A, T.J. and T.H. used 38 bags of clay from this shaft to help infill around the new entrance.

The spoil from the Plan B Dig bang was cleared by H.B. and H.D. on the 28th and seven more shot-holes were drilled.

Another 24 loads of Caine Hill Shaft spoil were dumped on the 2nd April by R.W, T.A, T.J, Paul Weston and Mike Hearn. The seven shot-holes were charged and fired by H.D and H.B. on the 4th and cleared on the 11th. Meanwhile, on the surface Ben S. used his resurrected JCB to improve the Priddy Pot water leat. The Henries returned on the 18th to fire an eleven-hole charge, which they cleared on the 25th before repeating the process. Sometime at the end of April Jake B. continued clearing spoil at the Halfway Dig. On the 9th May the Henries were back at Plan B Dig where they cleared more bang spoil and fired a ten-hole charge.

Landscaping of the spoil heaps has been continued by Rich W, Tony A. and the writer using soil and turf resulting from Ben SelwayÙs JCB operations.

To be continued in a future BB.

New and Resurrected Diggers

Doug Harris (MCG), Bob Smith, Hannah Bell, Rob Harper, Rich Bayfield, Matt Blount, Paul Weston, Mike Hearn.

The Old Brigade

Jane Clarke, Tony Jarratt, Trevor Hughes, Pete Hellier, Paul Brock, Phil Coles, Sean Howe, Henry Bennett, Tony Audsley, Rich Witcombe, Martin Smith (OSCG), Henry Dawson, John Noble, Anne Vanderplank, Jake Baynes, Ben Ogbourne, Alex Livingston, Ben Selway.

The Film Team

Alistair Koliasnikoff, Predrag “Pedja” Nikolic, Mario Michalidis, ( Thames Valley University).   


Charlie Adcock (Event Horizon Pyrotechnics).


Website and mailing list updates

Henry Bennett

Since the last BB was published, a private email mailing list has been set up. So what the heck is a mailing list? In short it is a tool for broadcasting a single email to every member of the club who we have an email address for. Any mail sent to the list from a certified address will be sent to all club members with BCA active caving insurance directly and via digest to other members. Since it is a private list it is not possible for spammers to abuse.

IÙve implemented this to empower all members of the club to communicate more effectively.  Previously to broadcast a notice of an upcoming event meant doing it before the BB went to print. This has meant that in the past many members were not aware of events as it didnÙt appear on their radar.

IÙve also implemented tools to enable you to update your personal details online, in case you have moved house. This has been as part of an effort to consolidate membership records and any payments you have made. For those of you with concerns about the Data Protection Act, donÙt worry, we are fully compliant.

Bob Smith has moved the weather station from the Belfry roof to the Wessex where it is now accessible online via the web. Want to know how much rain has fallen before you plan a trip down West End? Simply look up weather on or go direct to



By Harding and Richards

NGR 40675884. Banwell.

Length: 6.5 ms   VR 5ms

Alco-hole is a previously missed ochre cave in the woods that crown the hill not far from a ruined cottage. It is a rift with an ochre vein in ceiling and it has been used as a dump for numerous bottles; gin in the main, hence the name. The floor is choked with material and it appears that the mine goes deeper. Bats have taken up residence.

There are other filled in workings in the same woods that lie south east of Alco-hole at around 100 ms distance. There are also badger holes in an ochre cave 100ms south west of this location. 

The Adventures of Zot 2

‘Zot goes to Thrupe Lane SwalletÙ

By Mike Wilson

As I was involved in this venture, with Rich Long, and others I have noted their comments and then filled in the gaps accordingly.

So here we go, one year, many moons ago Zot and I decided on a trip to Thrupe so he and ZotÙs Dog got themselves ready for the off by having a last drink or six in the Hunters the night before!!

Sadly as had happened many times before, ZotÙs Dog didnÙt make it any further than the pub because Zot wandered off and left him there. Still I guess this avoided any complications at Somerset Customs regarding rabies [not that I am in any way saying that either Zot or his dog were Rabid!!] Just in case you are all wondering what happened to the dog left in the Pub, his friends would either take it home for him or look after it until we saw him again. It wasnÙt just dogs he used to leave in the Pub it was girl friends as well!! H and I once had to take a young lady home from a pub in Mells when he decided to go home and leave her there. ItÙs a long walk from Mells to Paulton in high heels!!!!!!! [I canÙt be doing with this!!]

I digress; we arrived at Thrupe Lane Rich Long Mark, myself and eventually Zot, with the intention of going to Atlas Pot via the EagleÙs Nest route. We changed in Mrs ButtsÙ garage entrance and politely declined a glass of their cider [deciding that later was safer than sooner].

Zot opened his screw top drum and this wonderful aroma of rotting clothing and damp wet earth wafted out. It doesnÙt pay to wash or dry caving grots too often he said, its bad luck!! Actually the smell was a little like compost when wet. Or a recent grave dig!!

Next question, “hey team has anyone got a spare oversuit!!” Obviously the answer was no, not many people carry two suits except for Shepton Sean who has three in case the conditions change. “Well” said Zot, “I will just have to use this one that I found by the side of the road!!” He held up an emaciated heap of tattered road workers yellow waterproof overalls that had obviously been thrown away in a dirty ditch and left to rot. The zip was useless so he tied the waist and sleeve cuffs with baler twine [very effective stuff in the wet], poured washing up liquid into his wellies [he always did this to hide the smell and help him prise the boots on]!!!!

And so on down the cave. As you all know beyond the entrance pitch is a rift, which is quite sharp, spikey and not at all water worn. ZotÙs suit was soon shedding yellow bits everywhere and making tearing noises. This continued all the way down through to Butts chamber, down the streamway to the top of the waterfall. Mark, Rich and myself abseiled down the pitch while Zot guarded the rope, at least that was his excuse. When we were prussiking up, Rich was heard to say that we would have no problem finding our way back just follow the yellow markers. This proved to be the case. There were chunks of ZotÙs suit all the way back to the entrance. !!!! Having filled 2 gallon containers with Mrs ButtsÙ excellent homemade cider we retired to the Belfry to share it amongst our mates.

NB the other effect of filling your wellie boots with washing up liquid is that they foam at the mouth as soon as you encounter any water much to the amusement of your mates, just another route in the life of a caver.


Multi-Club meet to Forest of Dean Fri 4th May to Mon 7th May

By Peter Hellier

Because of all the other things in oneÙs life, I decided to pop over on Saturday morning and return Sunday evening. This maximised time caving and face-showing on the domestic front, as well as a bit of socialising on Saturday night.

Worried that some keenos may have been setting off at 9:30, I arrived at about 9:15 and looked for the BEC contingent. Mike Wilson was still/again doing battle with his knees, and not going underground. I decided that Chris (Zot) Harvey was probably not caving as no caves had streams big enough for his kayak, but knew Sean Howe was up for something. So, I found myself heading for Slaughter Stream Cave after the key had arrived at 10:30. In the meantime I experienced EmmaÙs wonderful organisation by completing the Camping Register, the Going Down a Cave log, and the What I Want from the Chinese tonight order.

To be honest, my presence turned an 11 man SMCC trip into a 12 man multi-club trip, and I somewhat relied on their tackle, but at least they need not worry about being ‘the slow oneÙ with me around. Based on a laminated A4 survey (thanks again to Emma), and a little bit of ancient memory, we had a cracking trip.

This was my first Forest of Dean caving trip so I did not have a great deal of pre-conceptions. The entrance consisted of an impressive series of fixed ladders against endless stacked, shored and cemented-in boulders, and a final fixed ladder out of daylight. The first pitch to rig was just a few metres, but we rigged it properly with ladder and line, though really it was only needed for one small part. The main pitch was a rather nice 11m freehang. The breakthrough crawl led quickly to a streamway which we followed downstream. By then we had split the party up, and I was in a group of 5.

The plan was to do a round trip as referenced in the guides, with a bit on the side to see the famous dog skeleton and prints. Having left the stream just above Sump 1 , we regained it and followed down towards Sump 2 before returning to The Coal Seam and the circular trip. Generally we were on a fairly well beaten track most of the time, but without the A4 survey we would have needed a copy of descriptions from somewhere. I was very surprised at just how much fossil cave there was, of good caveable proportions – I think I was expecting something less mature. The dead dog had travelled (when it wasnÙt dead) a considerable distance judging by the footprints in the now dried up mud, quite apart from the mystery of how it got there. Now, even its bones appeared powdery, though its collar, bowl, teething ring and lead seemed to be in very good condition.

On returning from there we met the other party of 5 (2 had returned earlier), who had done the same trip as us. I still canÙt work out how we did not meet them on our return from the lower streamway earlier…

The connection back to the breakthrough crawl was down a climb that was a bit splashy even after the very dry weather we had in April, but a nice end before the climb back up to the late afternoon heat. We spent 4 - 4.5 hrs at a sensible pace with quite a number of social stops. There was not much very technical or demanding, though my knees and back found the Sand Deserts hard work, and we all got a bit warm in some of the very dry areas. The sand in this cave being, I believe from the limestone itself, which is largely a brown sugary textured and coloured dolomite, and not any nearby sandstones. 

A superb trip overall, and suitably celebrated at the pub on the way back, courtesy largely of ‘Butty BachÙ a local brew.

Sunday, and a trip to Wigpool Mine. On the upside, this was a lead trip with fine formations, so not to be missed, but on the downside was the fact that it was a mine, and ‘smallÙ. When our guide turned up on a motorcycle combo, and changed into shorts and sweatshirt, I think I was not the only one to fear for the worth of the trip. Our leader, ‘MoleÙ obviously lived and breathed mines like this, and was a wealth of information about the mines in the area. Unfortunately he forgot the key to our exit, so we had a half hour to enjoy the bluebell woods before pacing off to the entrance.

The trip started in what was more badger hole than mine, and very red and ochreous. The theory is that the upper levels had all been dug out as miners extracted the ore, traces of which could be seen at times, though it was clear that at least some of the surfaces were fully natural. In fact the upper series felt more of a cave than a mine.

It has to be said that this was a photo trip, which lent a relaxed air to the proceedings, and normally there were formations to be viewed while the photographers did their stuff ahead. The formations in the cave were generally pure white, which was particularly stunning against the very dark reddish rock. And they were good. They were also very fresh, and small in size, though not extent, which supports the idea that the passage did not exist before the voids were mined out.

We then dropped to the mid levels of the mine, which were very mine-like, and one could march off along the 2m square section passages, and we were shown where the different shaft would have entered. There was little hardware remaining other than a few timbers.

The plan was to do a circuit into the lower levels, but water levels prevented us from completing the loop. This meant we had to head back up which certainly generated some heat, first back to the main haul-ways, then on up to the highlight of the trip, some more formations.

This involved a climb up the dip of the rocks which here were very steep, and caused a few slippages. The main body of the formations were on a deep shelf of rock, so could be viewed as it were from the side. The highlight being a small pool containing some pom-poms under the water, and worth the trip for those alone. It was not far from there to the exit, for which we were glad Mole had obtained the key.

One of the main mysteries was how Mole had managed to avoided getting his knees filthy, and seemed to have avoided sitting on a wet rock for the whole 4 hr trip. Presumably he was more agile than the party, which was half his age (writer excluded).

WhatÙs happening at the Belfry

By Henry Bennett

Since the beginning of the club year a huge amount of work has gone on at the Belfry. This has been achieved through working weekends and a few members putting in time when they get a chance. One of the main driving forces has been our Hut Warden, Jane Clarke, who has input a huge amount of effort and time. Numerous maintenance jobs have been undertaken including repainting the main room, hallway, loos, doors, outside walls, providing more visitor storage in the bunkroom and mattress covers, new seating and better storage in the changing room, taps replaced, automatic lights fitted…the list goes on. As well as this, a massive effort to clean up the Belfry, inside and out, has been undertaken and several loads of rubbish have been dispatched to the council recycling centre. Many thanks to all involved, you know who you are.

Recently we identified that the gas cooker was a serious hazard and need urgent replacement. Fortunately, Ian “Slug” Gregory had some contacts in the kitchen equipment auction market and managed to provide us with a fantastic commercial oven and hob to replace it. After the initial problem of it not fitting through the door (amazing what an angle grinder will do) we got it in. Chris “Batspiss” Batstone also pulled out all the stops to getting it plumbed in. Many thanks to both of you!!

Work on the extension is progressing steadily. While many might not see any material progress a huge amount of effort has been made on arranging quotes for work and getting key things ordered. The stairs are due to be delivered later this month and we expect a rush of progress after they are installed. Once again we need skilled bodies (or people who can work under instruction) to move things forward. Contact Henry Dawson if you can help.

HungaryBudapest Caving

By Zot and Mr Wilson.

Some months ago Zot and I were invited on a trip to Hungary, starting in Budapest doing some caving there and then on to Aggtalek for the rescue conference. We decided to go to Budapest for a very long weekend and then return to England for various reasons.

There were other BEC members on the trip Emma Porter and John Christie plus various members of the CPC .In fact it was a fairly international occasion with 2 cavers from the Lebanon and of course several Hungarians who were a great help.

We decided to travel to Luton Airport as the fare was only £50 return from there [the drawback being that the flight left at 7.00am. The plan was to all meet at the airport and travel together. Thanks to Slug we stayed overnight at his flat in Bedford and travelled down to Luton early in the morning. Arriving at Luton car park Zot says, “here Wils IÙve left my wallet at Slugs!!!” No chance of going back to Bedford so we decided that I would sub him for the trip.

We had forgotten what a dump Luton airport is!! The baggage wait was huge and disorientating and the security check was worse. Zot was stopped because he had a tube of toothpaste in his hand luggage, not in a clear plastic bag !!And everyone had to take their shoes off [this did not include Zot as he was wearing wellie boots to save baggage weight!!]

Budapest airport was a complete contrast, clean and tidy with no delay; Emma had laid a bus to take us to the caving hut. Thanks Emma!! [Called the JÓSEPH-HEGYI] it was situated on the edge of a hill with a wonderful view of the Danube and the City a really peaceful spot. See photo.

There was a little co-op type shop nearby which sold food and beer. Dino, one of the local cavers kindly negotiated a price per crate [3 per day].

The main cave in this region is situated in the cellar of the hut and is called Jóseph-Hegyi-barlang. It was found while excavating the foundations for a house on the site and is a geothermal cave. The entrance is a concrete tube with a fixed ladder [of the window cleaner type] approx 10m long. This is followed by a fairly small twisting route down to an awkward 14m vertical free climb with a hand line. After another series of crawls the cave opens up into a series of chambers. These are extremely beautiful with gypsum crystals, and a wonderful floor that resembles a collapsed wedding cake [this was a lake that had dried up and collapsed leaving layers of icing like sections on the cave floor]. There were also gypsum and aragonite flowers in various sections of the chambers. All in all a fantastic place to be!! We managed a fairly lengthy photo trip thanks to the local cavers who provided access and a leader.

Out in time for a sausage barbecue, kindly put on by the local cavers, slightly marred by one of the Hungarian group who seemed to think that green leaves are a good thing on a fire, not true!!! ItÙs oh so hard to be happy when you are engulfed in choking green smoke, but the cheap beer helped no end. There was also a very yappy sausage dog, which was extremely lucky to escape the barbecue!!

Day 2 saw us walking to the next cave, which was about 1km away. This cave was called Pál-völgyi-barlang. A round trip was planned with a bonus [a bar at the end]. Quite a large group that day so we split into 2 groups. I believe the cave was about 2 km long. Tourist entrance and then a lot of tortuous crawling passages, some tight, interspersed with several small chambers. The cave itself was formed by geothermal activity so it was warm and fairly dry. The best kit is grots and overalls and plenty of liquid. Just a small anecdote, Zot was following a Hungarian girl, and got stuck in a tight twisting tube. Three of us were following behind and heard him say, “Here love I think I am stuck can you pull on this, harder, harder!!” The imagination ran riot at this moment and we all fell about laughing. Luckily he got through only to find a tight spot further on.

We also had a contingent from Guantanamo Bay with us, all wearing orange overalls I donÙt know how they managed to escape the regime!! Its tricky caving with chains around your ankles and a blindfold!!

This was a 4-hour trip in what was in places very soft rock, which is a kind of marl [not red]. Very interesting cave and bar.

The last day for us was spent in Budapest R and R; Dino took us to a Gothic spa where there were several pools some warm and sulphurous and some cool. There was also an outside pool with a wave machine [great fun]. To cap it all 2 scantily clad young ladies in thongs took ZotÙs eye, while I pointed out that there were a large number of East European ladies with blue floral swim hats and oceans of cellulite [he wasnÙt interested in those].

We finished the trip off in a restaurant, which did eat and drink all you can for 2,400.00 florints about £10.00 in sterling. Many thanks to Mr Dyson, Dino, Emma and all the other Hungarian cavers who helped to make this trip a success.

I Forgot More Than YouÙll Ever Know (About Wigs)

Music:  Don & Phil Everley
Lyrics:  N Harding and D Irwin

For those of you who have yet to visit HuntersÙ Lodge Inn Sink a myriad of delights await the visitor. The strenuous exertions of negotiating the 45-degree incline of Pub Crawl is amply rewarded by emerging into Happy Hour Highway with its splendid vistas.  Beyond that a fine, well mud-padded crawl through a phreatic tube leads to the wonderful formations and colours of the BarmaidsÙ Bedroom, with the bones yet to come, and below a fine descent on the stal flowed Pewter Pot leads to the awesome connection into Bron Ale Boulevard.  However the cave does have its Siberian section.  On entering Happy Hour Highway one can levitate under a menacing boulder and enter an unpleasant descending crawl, which is guaranteed to rip holes in all new oversuits.  A rope assisted descent of Rocking Rudolph leads to a tight crawl, which in turn becomes a strenuous contorted wriggle and we emerge gasping into the Stygian gloom of Hangover Hall, a truly unpleasant place of oppressive menace.  From there we dug a further 20 feet into Stillage Sump chamber.  For six months we attempted to penetrate further by bailing said sump.  This involved the construction of an elaborate dam system by which we blocked the stream, which backed up Rocking Rudolph whilst in our self-inflicted tomb we attempted to dig and pump the sump. However, like St Genevieve and King Cnut before us, we failed to hold back the water and eventually with winter storms coming on we abandoned the dig and adjourned to the relative comforts of the new dig at Rose Cottage. 

Jake Baynes was convinced though that further extensions of HuntersÙ Lodge Inn Sink were not to be found at the bottom of Slop 3, at the bottom of Pewter Pot which seems to be the general consensus, but by trying to achieve a high level bypass of Stillage Sump.  Fine in theory, but the actuality is that above Stillage Sump there is a fearsomely unstable looking boulder ruckle.  For some months Jake has been asking me to accompany him down to inspect said ruckle and I had been able to fob him off with a series of well-constructed excuses.  Finally though, Jake resorted to emotional blackmail and said that he was going come what may and if I refused to go with him he would make a solo trip.  So, on a fine Wednesday evening in August when all sensible folks were frolicking in the warm embrace of Rose Cottage, I reluctantly returned to the dig.  It was worse than we remembered, the detritus of the abandoned dig lay everywhere like a failed gold rush claim. Everything was covered in inches of black silt, a clear sign of the winter ravages.  Surprisingly a large toad had survived and as on our previous trips we frequently extracted small toads, this time we rescued one fat toad, which at least gave some point to the trip.  Jake meanwhile had ascended into the ruckle and urged me to take a look for myself, which I did with some reluctance and it looked just as dangerous and hostile as remembered.  Jake urged me to imagine this potential digging site when safely shored and with proper shoring he is convinced that we can then move horizontally above the sump. This idea, danced just over the horizon of my imagination, failed and all I could achieve were visions of the whole lot crashing into the sump.  So I made a hasty descent whilst Jake pushed and prodded at the boulders, several of which made ominous rumblings.  I decided it was foolish to remain below on the downward side of the ruckle and so moved upstream listening to the alarming crashes and bangs coming from above, thinking that at least from an upside position I could retreat for help should the whole lot collapse. To take my mind off the situation l looked again at the leaking dam and wondered if in CattcotsÙ day the remedy would have been simply to block the holes with some fine weasel hair, horsehair and wildebeest hair wigs as per Nick HardingÙs excellent articles on The Wig In Caving.  Eventually the foul air, which was giving us headaches, was made worse by JakeÙs noisy injections of methane gas so we called it a day and retired to meet the Rose Cottage crew in the HuntersÙ.

Being intrigued by NickÙs article I had begun doing some research into both The World of Wigs and Samuel Butler of “Fleas are not Lobsters, dash my wig” quote.  Relieved as I was to get out of H L I S, I began spewing Samuel Butler quotes all over the digging crew until Tony, desperate to escape my word hoard said “why not put them in a BB article Phil” and so for those of you who would like to know more about Samuel Butler here are some more of his quotes.   Its was surprising to find that many of them are in every day common parlance including “spare the rod and spoil the child” which because of change in usage of words became twisted by the Victorians as an excuse for adults to inflict violence on children, whereas originally it was to protect against such activities, spoiling at that time having beneficial not detrimental connotations.

There are lots of others such as “it is better to have loved and lost” etc. etc. but here are a few less well-known ones that seem apt to BEC.

 “You can do very little with faith, but you can do nothing without it.”

 “ Independence is essential for permanent but fatal to immediate success”.

 “Though analogy is often misleading, it is the least misleading thing we have”.

 “Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises”.

 “Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on”.

 “Any fool can tell the truth but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well”.

 “The advantage of doing oneÙs praising for oneself is that one can lay it on so thickly and exactly in the right places”.

 “The public buys its opinions as it buys it meat, or takes its milk on the principal that it is cheaper to do this than keep a cow.  So it is, but the milk is more likely to be watered”.

 “Morality turns on whether the pleasure precedes or follows the pain.  Thus it is immoral to get drunk because a headache comes after the drinking, but if the headache came first and the drunkenness after it would be moral to get drunk”.

 “It is the function of vice to keep virtue within reasonable bounds”.

 “Civilisation rests on two prerequisites.  The first being the knowledge that fermentation produces alcohol and the second being the voluntary inhibition of defecation”.

(Imagine the BEC dinner without either of the above.)

 “And shall I unlock my word horde?  Nay for I do fear it much.”

(This when cornered by a rampant bore in the HuntersÙ.)

As for wigs themselves, the custom of wig wearing is of great antiquity.  If, as seems probable the curious head covering of a prehistoric ivory carving of a female head found by M. Piette in the cave of Brassempouy in Landes represents a wig (see Ray Lankester, Science From An Easy Chair, fig 7) the fashion is certainly some 100,000 years old.  Wigs were known amongst ancient Egyptian, Greek and Chinese cultures either as an adornment or to supply the defects of nature.  They were also used theatrically and in second century Greece various comic and tragic masks had hair suited to the character represented.  A. E. Haigh, (Ancient Theatre page 221, 239) refers to the black hair and beard of the tyrant, the fair curls of the youthful hero and the red hair characteristic of the dishonest slave of comedy.

Both Romans and Carthaginian Empires were major centres of wigness.  Polybius (iii, 78) says that Hannibal used wigs as a means of disguise.  The fashionable ladies of Rome were much addicted to false hair and we learned from Ovid that the golden hair imported from Germany was most favoured.  Juvenal (vi, 120) shows us Messalina assuming a yellow wig for her visits to places of ill fame, and the scholiast on the passage says that the yellow wig was characteristic of courtesans. 

In more recent times the wearing of false hair was prevalent amongst the ladies of Europe.  Queen Elizabeth I had 80 attires of false hair and, interesting for a virgin Queen, one merkin.  For those of you not familiar with the merkin, it is a pubic wig initially first documented in the 14th Century and later used by ladies of the night as a means of disguising the ravages of syphilis.  During the American War of Independence and War of 1812, a merkin, because of the similarity of pronunciation, was used as a pejorative term by the English for an American.  I understand that such use has recently reoccurred on the Internet.  I am also told by my researchers that merkins are now widely used in erotic films where the elder viewer dislikes the modern tendency for a shaved pubis.  Mary Queen of Scots also had numerous wigs.  When her fratricidal relationship with Elizabeth culminated in her beheading, the High Executioner, being drunk on Malmsey, botched the job taking three wildly inaccurate swipes before severing MaryÙs head.  As tradition demanded he then held the severed head aloft for the traditional round of applause.  Consternation ensued when he found he was in fact clutching a wig and MaryÙs bald head bounced to the ground and rolled towards the less than pleased audience.

It was not until the 17th Century that the wig, or peruke, was worn as a distinctive feature of costume. The fashion started in France at the court of Louis XIII who was prematurely bald and wore a wig imitating natural hair.  The fashion gradually spread through Europe and as most folks were plagued by lice (creeping dandruff) the advantage of taking the wig off and not having to scratch was much appreciated. Wigs became larger and under Queen Anne obtained maximum development, covering the back and shoulders and floating down over the chest.  It was at this time that their shape and forms altered and began to denote rank and occupation with the wonderful names and descriptions in NickÙs previous articles. The fashion began to fade in the reign of William IV and now only remains in the judiciary and parliament. Hats and for certain occupations helmets took precedence.  In caving the practice had more or less died out before the 2nd World War except for the occasional ceremonial use.  Older members will no doubt recall the famous BEC powder blue wigs worn by committee members right up until the late 60s when they were consumed in the fire, which destroyed the Belfry Mark II.  If any older member has any of the famous colour slides of the committee members in full regalia, perhaps they could submit to HenryÙs excellent web site.

EdÙs note: This article had been lurking at the bottom of Phil CÙs cupboard of curiosities and having been rejected by the Wig on a previous occasion it was high time it went in.

A Caving Anecdote

Phil Coles

For reasons I don't pretend to understand - rugged individuality?-cavers generally don't like organised team sports especially spectator sports like football. However there are a few cavers that buck the trend....

Paul Brock phones the Noble household to see if John can come out to play i.e. go caving. John's good lady wife Julie answers the phone and tells Paul that John has gone to watch a football match with Phil Coles.

Paul, disappointed that John is not available, tells Julie that he would quite like to see a football match but he is put off by all the fighting/swearing/drinking and general unruliness that he might encounter.

Julie retorts, "Well Paul, you don't HAVE to go with John and Phil"

Boom boom

Reciprocal Rights with Other Clubs

Henry Bennett

The BEC maintains a reciprocal rights scheme with a number of clubs around the country and weÙve recently been confirming and reviewing the list.  At present this is the list of clubs who we have rights with:

  • Bradford Pothole Club
  • Craven Pothole Club
  • Grampian Speleological Group
  • South Wales Caving Club
  • Yorkshire Subterranean Society

If you are planning on staying at one of these clubs you should ensure that you book in advance of your visit and avoid members only weekends. Most clubs now have online diaries and booking systems which you should take advantage of.

These arrangements enable you to pay members rates for use of facilities.  No other rights or privileges are conferred by these arrangements. In particular, we remind you that reciprocal rights do not bring any access to caves managed by these clubs. The normal permit systems have to be followed.  Additionally, you should check in advance about access to hut keys if required.

Hollow Hills

Make Hay!

So little time – so many caves.

The one certainty in life is that we are here for a short time then itÙs off into that great darkness where no caverÙs lamp will illuminate. With more recent losses in the club it should remind us that it is ever more important to keep caving. All the trivialities of day-to-day existence amount to nothing in the end and it is not so much how we live but what we leave behind. So the more caves you find the more you will be immortalised in speleological history and the more glasses will be raised on your passing.

There are no excuses! Keep digging.

Just a reminder about submitting articles: Text files are fine, preferably as a word document. Photos: BLACK and WHITE JPEGS – and make sure the image sizes are reasonable – no 1000cms x1000cms please! I think most, if not all photo packages will convert colour snaps into B and W.  Photoshop will get good images down to and below 100kb or so. 

If you are able please could you also email a copy of the images to Henry for the web version of the BB. Full color and hi-res is what we need here!



Committee Members

Hon. Secretary: Nigel Taylor (772)
Hon. Treasurer: Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary: Brenda Wilton (568)
Caving Secretary: Rob Lavington (1306)
Hut Warden / Hut Bookings: Roger Haskett (1234)
Tackle Officer: Tyrone Bevan (1276)

Non-Committee Posts
Bulletin Editor: Nick Harding (1289)
BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian: Graham Johnson (aka- Jake) (1111)

Club Trustees:
Martin Grass (790), Dave Irwin (540), Nigel Taylor (772) and Barrie Wilton (559)

Ave Cavers!

Fellow associates of the Ancient and Loyal Order of the Bat.

Due to the fact that trawling together an archive of images has proved to be a somewhat greater task to achieve all round than was at first assumed and with the AGM rolling swiftly into view, I have, after consultation with certain esteemed colleagues decided to rattle this out and then publish a photographic history of the BEC over forthcoming Bulletins.

Moving on:

There have been rumours floating about that yours truly was going to pack in the BB editor’s role. (Where do these rumours begin?) At present and for the foreseeable future this isn’t going to happen. Certain work related projects are destined to take me abroad (at an as yet unspecified date) but with the application of broadband and other modern brass- bound contrivances I can still go about my editorial duties undaunted. 

I must bend over and take six of the best trousers down for leaving Bertie off the cover of 525. Not intentional of course. As Jrat was quick to point out he was lurking in one of the caves on the cover. A fine display of legerdemain on that man’s behalf!

It is with great regret that I must inform fellow members that the digging barrel is under serious threat this year as 500 metres plus has been pushed at Upper Flood Swallet by certain members of a certain club.

The cover shows a Stalagmite of ice in the Beilstein Ice Cave in 1881.


BEC Website Report

The BEC website was overhauled a year or so ago. The objectives of the new design were to:

  • - Project a more updated image to the public,
  • - Increase communication to our members,
  • - Provide access to the BEC’s wealth of legacy information.



If volume speaks for itself then we have roughly increased our reach by 1000% compared to 2004. At the time of writing we are getting over a million hits a year, by over 50,000 visitors. The site is hosted on my own hosting package at no cost to the BEC, using a number of open source (read free) software solutions which are frameworked around Joomla, a powerful content management system.

To entice visitors to a website you need to combine a number of factors, which are often listed as breadth, volume and dynamic content. The main source of content that the BEC owns is the entire back issue of the Belfry Bulletin. Sales of back issues of the BB have been zero for many years so we had nothing to loose by publishing them. But how do you get virtually 50 years of printed material into HTML? In a Herculean effort, which was to take 4 years, Andy MacGregor (BEC no 550) converted every single issue into Microsoft Word. All I had to do was convert this into HTML and sort out all the images which contrary to my initial thought proved to be non-trivial. By March every single issue was available on line.

We now also include the ability for current members to download a PDF or HTML version of the latest BB when it is first published. While this isn’t extensively used to date, a number of members have download copies and in the long term this could be used to substantially reduce our printing and distribution costs. I don’t see this as replacing the BB as there will always be members who want to feel the paper in their hands.

The front page of the site has been constantly updated to include news of events and items of interest to our membership. With a static content site when you’ve seen it you’ve seen it. A full -featured photo gallery is online which empowers members to create their own albums and upload their own pictures. We now have a large collection of historical and current images of the club, it’s members and activities.

The only constant these days is change. Back in the days the BB was published every month and our members all knew what was going on. In recent years the BB editor struggles to deliver enough content to warrant publishing more than 3 copies a year. I saw a need to improve communication to our club members and the obvious way forward was to do a monthly email newsletter. The mechanism for achieving this was available early in the year but there was little impetus to use it. Over the summer I had many conversations along the lines of “I’d have been there if I’d know it was going on”. Now that there is a database of users email addresses and a software tool it is a trivial exercise to send a regular email out by email. The first of these was sent out to publicise the highly successful Belfry BBQ and it is hoped that this is adopted as the communication method of choice to compliment the BB.

While most of the content is available to non-members only fully paid up members of the BEC can register and see protected content. To date we have just under 40 members registered online which I believe is a reasonable start. There is considerable scope to enhance the usability and features if demand warrants it. Other current features include a forum, Google maps of selected cave locations, an online address book, a strippable model of what cavers wear and more! Security is one of the key elements of the site and members’ personal details are protected from the general public. The BCA also have plans to develop tools for the caving community including an online membership database system.

As an example of how the BEC is not just a caving club but also a community. Earlier this year I received emails from a Ray Gladman in the States and also his brother Ken in Australia who were trying to track down their other brother Keith who they’d last heard from in 1961. I could see that he was a BEC member from 1960 to 1986 but nobody knew of him anymore. By pure coincidence in July he emailed me about the website and all three were overwhelmed to be reunited.

It’s your club, use it!


Henry Bennett

BB Editor’s Report

Having kept this post now for 3 issues there is not much to add that has not already been mentioned in the editorial intro’s and Hollow Hills.

I have no plans to throw in the towel. I would like to thank Henry B and the Wig for their advice and support.


Agenda For The 2006 Annual General Meeting

To be held at 10.30 am, Saturday 7th.October 2006,at  "The Belfry".

1.       Collection of outstanding Ballot forms (IF AN ELECTION HAS BEEN CALLED).

2.       Election of the AGM Chairman.

3.       Election of Three Tellers. (IF AN ELECTION HAS BEEN CALLED)

4.       Apologies for Absence.

5.       Minutes of the 2005Annual General Meeting.

6.       Matters arising from the 2005 AGM.

7.       Hon. Secretary's Report.

8.       Hon. Treasurers Report.

9.       Hon. Auditors Report.

10.     Caving Secretary's Report.

11.     Membership Secretary's Report.

12.     Hut Wardens Report.

13.     Hut Engineers Report.

14.     Tackle-masters Report.

15.     B.B Editors Report.

16.     Librarians Report.

17.     Ian Dear Memorial Fund Report.

18.     Report of the BEC Trustees 2006.

19.     Result of the Committee Ballot, (If an Election has been held).

20.     Election of Officer's for the 2006 / 2007 Committee.

21.     Destruction of Ballot forms, (If an election has been held).

22.     Members’ Resolutions.

23.     Details regarding the Annual Dinner Tonight.

24.     Any other Business.

25.     Date of the 2007 AGM: Saturday 6th. October 2007

Nigel Taylor,
Hon. Secretary 2005 / 2006.


BEC Membership Secretary’s Report for the Club Year 2005-006

I took over the position as membership secretary after the start of the current year due to the resignation of the previous post holder.

The club currently has 160 members; this includes 27 who have life membership, 14 new members and 5 members who have rejoined.

A decision has recently been made by the committee that in future, members who have not paid their subscription by the 31st December for the current year, will cease to be members of the club and consequently will no longer be covered by the club insurance and will not be eligible to receive the BB. 

We are currently carrying out an exercise to collect club members e-mail addresses that can be used in the future for circulating publications/information to club members. I would ask that all members ensure we have their current e-mail address as we hope in the not too distant future to be contacting as many members as possible by this method. 

Brenda Wilton


Minutes of the 2005 Bristol Exploration Club Annual General Meeting

Annual General Meeting, held on Saturday 1st October at The Belfry, Priddy.

The meeting was opened at 10:35 am.

Item 1: Vince Simmonds (VS) as Hon. Secretary addressed the meeting. Nominations for election to the committee for the club year 2005 – 2006 had been posted earlier in the year and no nominations in the prescribed manner had been received.  There was then handed to the Secretary a nomination from the floor for Nigel Taylor (NT) proposed by Mike Wilson (MW) and seconded Dave Irwin (DI). From the 2004 - 2005 committee – Mike Wilson, Fiona Sandford (FS), Tyrone Bevan (TB), Roger Haskett (RH) and Rob Lavington (RL) – were willing to stand again.

Item 2: Nominations for Chairman were asked for and Trevor Hughes was proposed but refused to stand.  A second proposal by Barrie Wilton (BW) for Bob Cork (BC) and seconded byTB was accepted by BC, the vote was carried unanimously.

The AGM at this time was not quorate and a vote was made to carry on with the meeting.

Item 3: Apologies for absence: Emma Porter, Fiona Sandford, Rob Harper, Tony Jarratt, Mike Baker, Dave Irwin, Ruth Baxter and Tony Audsley.

The following members signed the BEC AGM attendance sheet: Vince Simmonds (VS), Sean Howe (SH), Mike Wilson, Tyrone Bevan, Greg Brock (GB), Crispin Lloyd (CL), Nick Gymer (NG), Nigel Taylor, Dave Glover (DG), Dave Ball (DB), Bob Cork (BC), Vern Freeman (VF), Rich Long (RL), Graham Johnson (GJ), Pete Hellier (PH), Trevor Hughes (TH), Ron Wyncoll (RW), Kevin Gurner (KG), Martin Grass (MG), Rob Lavington, Ian Gregory (IG), Dany Bradshaw (DBr), Roger Haskett (RH), Carole White (CW), Bill Cooper (BCo), Gwillym Evans (GE), Stuart Sale (SS), Helen Scarratt (HS), Chris Smart (CS), Helen Slatter (HSr), Roz Bateman (RB), Barrie Wilton, Colin Dooley (CD) and one illegible signature.

Item 4: Minutes of the 2004 AGM: These had been posted to all paid-up members of the BEC and taken as read.

Acceptance of the minutes was proposed by NT and seconded GJ and carried unam.

Item 5: Matters arising from the 2004 minutes: No matters arising.

Item 6: The Hon. Secretary’s report had been posted with the minutes prior to the AGM.

The report was taken as read and acceptance was proposed by GJ and seconded by TH and carried unam.

Item 7: The Hon. Treasurer’s report was read from the floor and account sheets were circulated at the meeting.  RW asked a question about interest on the Ian Dear Fund and MW replied that he had been unable to follow this up yet but the issue was in hand.  TH asked about sales, MW replied that TB had a separate record for sales.  A remark was made by the Chairman regarding the club assets being unreported to AGM; this should be addressed by the trustee’s.  Expenditure on the BB was questioned by CS i.e. they were high but there had been a lack of bulletins.  This was being dealt with in a separate report by DI/MW.

(The Treasurer’s report was not made available for these records and will need to be published separately)

Acceptance of the report was proposed by RW and seconded by DBr. 

2 abstentions – carried.

Note: Late arrivals made the meeting quorate.

Some discussion followed regarding new KAST proposal (Sports Council initiative?) – to volunteer to council for reduced rates but this may allow other groups open access to the Belfry facilities – which, in turn would mean conforming to certain rules concerning for instance, disabled access.

Proposal: (DBr) directing the new committee to look into this issue and report their findings to the 2006 AGM, this was seconded NT and carried unam.

Item 8: Hon. Auditors Report: The accounts for 2003 – 2004 are fine and have been professionally audited. 

Acceptance of report proposed by GJ seconded by GE.  2 abstentions – carried.

Item 9: The Caving Secretary read his report from the floor.  Some discussion followed regarding the change of title from St. Cuthbert’s ‘leader’ to ‘conservation warden’ and it was suggested it is time for a meeting for those with an interest in St. Cuthbert’s.  TH remarked on the condition of the leat and that some work may be required.  MG stated that the OFD Top permits need to be renewed.

Acceptance of the report was proposed by Sean Howe (SH) and seconded by MW. 

1 abstention - carried.

Item 10: The Membership Secretary’s report and Hut Bookings report were read from the floor by the Secretary.

“It has been a very quiet year with regard to bookings which have come through The Hut Booking System.  The vast majority of people staying at The Belfry are either university clubs of which a good number are also already club members or are groups which just turn up on spec. I did receive one complaint from a group who said that we were difficult to get hold of, this seems a little far fetched when we are accessible by phone, with an answer machine if we are unavailable, fax, email and there is also ‘snail mail’.  We do get back to people as soon as we receive a booking request. We do seem to have a growing trend by “some” university groups in particular of sending emails to a selection of clubs in the area requesting a booking in case they cannot get their booking of choice!  On the whole though, as Roger Haskett will no doubt agree in his “Hut Wardens Report”, The Belfry continues to be relatively well used by a regular group of members and guest clubs.

For the statistically minded amongst you who are fascinated by charts and graphs sadly you are to be disappointed this year – I don’t do them! This being our 70th year has seen a number of old but very familiar faces rejoining the club.  We have also had the passing of Sybil Bowden-Lyle a Life Member for many years who in her younger days was well known for her motorbike antics as well as her caving exploits. Most recently we have lost Joan Bennett a Life Member and former Trustee who was known and admired by many of us as well as being a regular at club social events and also Steve Tuck. Mendip has also been “rocked” by the sudden deaths of Martin Bishop and Mike “Quackers” Duck, both former BEC members. 

The Club Membership as of 1st July 2005 stands at 150 of which we have 24 Life Members (4 Honorary) and 20 joint members (10 couples).  Of the remaining 106, we have 9 who are former members rejoined along with 4 probationary members. 

Overall this has been a quiet year for new members with no previous connections to the club. The membership base of the club remains strong and we have a very active nucleus of members both old and young who either stay at The Belfry and/or are actively caving or digging. 

Should the Club Membership desire then I am prepared to carry on as Membership Secretary for the next club year.  Unfortunately I/We will not be at the AGM normally this is due to work commitments, but this year we have to attend a wedding”

Some discussion followed concerning the term ‘non–caving’ member issued on insurance cards.  A suggestion came forward that a better term may be ‘club member’.

Proposal: (RB) that the committee ask Nick Williams whether the term ‘club member’ could be adopted, seconded by CW and carried unam.

Acceptance of the report was proposed by NT and seconded by TB and carried unam.

Item 11: The Hut Warden’s report was read from the floor.

“Takings are slightly up this year by some £400.  Visitor bed-nights are well up by 112 although member bed-nights are down somewhat by 56.

The main expense was gas at £45.  Some beer came and went as at the 70th BBQ and at last years AGM.  But in general the Belfry covered its expenses.

Thanks due to lots of people for doing work around especially Paul Brock, ‘Bobble’ Mad Phil, Bob Smith and Hannah.  A special thanks to Tyrone and his friend Mick, who have kick started the building of the extension again.”

Acceptance of the report was proposed by TB and seconded by CL. Voting was 28 for and 2 abstentions - carried.

Item 12: The Hut Engineer’s report was read from the floor by Tyrone Bevan.

“The year started by replacing the old water heater in the kitchen with a second hand heater supplied and fitted by Gwilym Evans.  Then due to numerous problems and failures of the main boiler the committee decided time for a new one.  Again Gwilym came to the rescue getting a new Combi Boiler at a good discount.

So with the boiler decided a number of members spent the weekend removing the old system and fitting the new combi system.  Ivan took this opportunity to inspect the wiring in the loft space and duly started cutting and removing old cables and rewiring.  This is the start of an ongoing programme with Ivan planning on inspecting and updating the electrics at the Belfry.  The new heating system has received a good response from members with positive feedback.  The intention is to convert the showers to instant hot water and reintroduce the old stand, alone shower back.

We have also succeeded in getting the footings laid and the slab down special thanks to Dany Bradshaw for time spent laying bricks and all the other members who gave up their time to shovel mud, mix cement and generally move blocks and bricks. In September we have proceeded with the building getting the inner and outer walls up to roof level. The next stage is to put the roof trusses in place so we can build on. I am endeavouring to have the roof on before the bad weather sets in. So we are looking for any members with timber and carpenter experience however small who can volunteer their time to assist in this. An experienced carpenter/ roofer willing to act as foreman and take control of this would also be helpful. We have a replacement door also to fit. We have met our planning regulations but the committee is keen not to loose the momentum.

Although a large amount of materials have been supplied by Trevor Hughes and other members, we still had to authorise the purchase of materials. With cost in mind any donations of timber for the roof or plasterboard would also be gratefully received.

The porch was repaired during the September working weekend this was a joint operation with Vince undertaking to replace the underside and Mike the top felt with Mrs. H on the paint roller. Nigel Taylor brought up his scaffold and with the assistance of Bob Smith and Mr. Haskett (without to much complaining will supply lads with ear protectors next time,” sorry Roger”) erected Scaffold around extension so the builder could carry on to roof level.

The committee also authorised the purchase of three new mattresses this year under the ongoing mattress replacement started two years ago. We have also been kindly donated thirty new mattresses so all the old bedding in the bunkroom has been replaced.

Although I only took on the role as a temporary measure after Paul had to drop out of the position hopefully the Belfry is in good order for the AGM, and end this report on a hopeful note.  I would like to say that with work and busy lives it is not always possible to offer help and assistance with repairs and upkeep of the Belfry but it would be nice to see a new face now and again.”

There was some discussion about the type of roof for the extension – ‘trusses’ or ‘cut’ DBr offered his experience and advice for free when the time comes.  TB will order a skip for a clear up of the Belfry grounds during October.  Regarding the new fire regulations RW seems to think that the club is probably ok.

Proposal: (RW) that the committee look into building a document/file on all aspects of hut safety administration, seconded by TH and carried unam. 

Acceptance of the report was proposed by TH and seconded by DBr. Voting was 28 for – carried.

Acceptance of the Hut Engineer’s report was proposed by GJ and seconded by NT.   

1 abstention – carried.

Item 13: The Tacklemasters report was also read from the floor by TB.

“This year in line with directions from the floor at the last AGM we have purchased two commercial ladders.  Both ladders had new spreaders and karabiners attached to them

The club has condemned a number of old ladders and they have currently been destroyed. The plan is to replace all the ladders removed from service with self made ladders when the extension is finished.  During the last two years we have replaced three ladders and three, life line ropes and the committee has had lengthy discussions in how we can make the equipment more assessable to members. The main consensus is that the equipment should be made easily available, but a need for control (one of the new krabs for the ladders has gone missing already). Any ideas would be appreciated.  With regard to equipment the two club survey kits are pass their sell by date. The club is known for exploration and survey work and this kit is well used both home and abroad. The approximate cost of replacement is £250 per kit and I ask for a proposal from the floor to replace both kits in this coming year.

With this year being the 70th anniversary of the club T shirts have been purchased and anybody still not purchased one I have a number left they can see me after the AGM cost a mere £8.

With regards to the equipment remember the kit is for to use of members and if they require the kit or think of any new kit we need just contact myself or any other committee member.”

Proposal: (TB) to purchase 2 new survey kits up to a cost of £500, seconded by CS and carried unam.

Acceptance of the Tacklemasters report was proposed by GJ and seconded by VF.

1 abstention – carried.

Item14: The Editors report was read from the floor.

“I’m very grateful to everyone who has sent me articles/photos for inclusion within the past BB’s.  Please remember it is a club journal and we need everyone’s input to give a wide range of views and opinions of the BEC.

Due to other commitments and especially my part-time degree course I am very grateful to Dave Irwin who published the last BB.  Due to these commitments I will be unable to stand for BB editor next year.  Although I would still like to encourage everyone to send your articles to the forthcoming BB editor”

A report by DI showed that printing costs were high at Expedite circa £520 while 220 copies printed at St. Andrews Press would cost £180 an annual saving of £1500.

Slug asked the question whether selling advertising space had been considered. The meeting felt that the income raised might be limited.

Acceptance of the Editors report was proposed by GJ and seconded by TB and carried unam.

Item 15: The Librarians report was read from the floor by GJ.

“Not a lot to report, purchased a couple of books.  Received donations from members past and present (see the list circulating) nothing missing/lost this year.  Grande Travesias the Spanish guide book thought to be lost was found by R. Dors on the top shelf in the bar.  Thanks to Dave Irwin for his help throughout the year.  If no one else wants the job I don’t mind doing it for another year”

Acceptance of the Librarians report was proposed by PH and seconded by SH and carried unam.

Item 16: Ian Dear Memorial Fund Report: There was no report and no applications for funding.

Proposal: (CS) that no money be put into the fund, seconded by MW and carried unam.

Acceptance of the report was proposed by NT and seconded by RW and carried unam.

Item 17: Election of Officers for the 2005 – 2006 Committee:

Nominees: Nigel Taylor (proposed MW, seconded DI – 3 abstentions; carried), Mike Wilson, Roger Haskett, Fiona Sandford,Tyrone Bevan, Rob Lavington.

This fell short of the minimum requirement of eight officers.

Voting for committee posts then followed:

Hon. Sec: Nigel Taylor; proposed CS, seconded MG – 2 abstentions; carried.

Treasurer: Mike Wilson.

Caving Sec: Rob Lavington.

Tacklemaster: Unfilled.

Hut Warden: Roger Haskett.

Hut Engineer: Tyrone Bevan; proposed RH, seconded GE – 1 abstention; carried.

Editor: Unfilled.

Membership Secretary: Fiona Sandford

Two posts are unfilled and the remaining committee were elected en bloc proposed DB, seconded DBr and carried unam.

The 2005 – 2006 Committee is as follows:

Hon Secretary………….. Nigel Taylor

Treasurer…………………Mike Wilson

Caving Secretary………. Rob Lavington

Tacklemaster…………… None

Hut Warden………………Roger Haskett

Hut Engineer…………….Tyrone Bevan

Editor…………………….. None

Membership Secretary…Fiona Sandford

If possible the new committee will co-opt members to fill empty posts.

Item 18: There were no Members Resolutions.

Item 19: Nigel Taylor gave details of the Dinner and transport to and from the venue.

Item 20: There was no ballot so no destruction of papers was necessary.

Item 21: Any other business:

Proposal: (DI) that Bobby Bagshaw be made Honorary Life Member for his years of service to the Club, seconded by the 2004 - 2005 committee and carried unam.

NT proposed a vote of thanks for the outgoing secretary seconded by MG and carried unam.

MW announced there was no need to raise subscriptions for the coming year.

CS commented on a lack of communication; it was suggested that he try looking at the web site.

GJ pointed out that we had overlooked voting in the non-committee posts.  A vote then took place.

Non-committee posts:

Librarian: Graham Johnson; proposed GJ, seconded MG – unam.

Hon. Auditor: Chris Smart; proposed MG, seconded DBr – 2 abstentions.

Item 22: The date of the 2006 AGM will be Saturday 7th, 10:30 at the Belfry.

The meeting was then closed at 12:49.

The minutes were recorded and later typed by V J Simmonds

Outgoing Hon. Secretary 2004 – 2005.

(Reports have seen formatted and a spellchecker used consequently they may differ slightly from those presented to the AGM)


BEC Hut Wardens Report 2005-06

The takings are down this year by £98.00, which I suppose is not too bad considering there appears to be a lack of activity on Mendip.

The major expense this year was £120.00 for a skip for one of the working weekends.

Also Gas costs were around £48.00.

I have not been around as much this year, due to the fact that I am no longer living on Mendip and so unfortunately the general state and cleanliness of the hut seems to have suffered as a result. I am hoping that someone will volunteer to take on the job for the next year and so I will be able to retire.

Roger Haskett
Hut Warden

For Your Diary

November 18TH 2006: Slideshow At The Belfry.

Mad Phil will be hosting a slideshow entitled The Last Five Years of Dachstein Exploration.

Venue: The Belfry. Food available (a ha’peth of chips and some Tizer probably).

Be there or have a bloody good excuse! 


Patently Obvious

Apologies for the very bad pun! Once in a while we have to be reminded of how bad some puns really are. Anyway the following is just a small selection of patents that have been submitted in connection with activities underground.  I asked a chum who works in the patent office in Newport if he had anything connected to said activity and he produced a good number, a select few of which I have chosen for this article. So if you have any ideas of your own that can earn the club or yourself a fortune you know where to take your idea.

The patent office, as you can imagine, is swamped with a vast array of silly, foolish and downright bizarre submissions for patents – including, and I kid you not, plastic twigs for dogs, a method of printing using a baby’s bottom and my favourite, a machine for detecting mythical entities such as Father Christmas.   One fellow even tried to patent ‘walking’ so that any living creature that stood upright owed him money.

I have included the last patent as an example of how silly things can get in the heady world of inventing. It is only loosely connected to underground activities. No copyright has been breached in the reprinting of the these articles (before anyone asks!)



I am quite interested to see how a conversation would be carried out between the deceased and their family.  Ed.


The Invisible Sheath Urinal



Hilary and I have discovered the most amazing piece of caving kit that must rate highly on all cavers list of must haves!! We are sure everyone has experienced that dreadful stirring in the pit of the stomach after having consumed 6 pints of Butcombe and then decided to go underground.

There is nothing worse than trying to cave with a full bladder [whether you are male or female] knowing full well that a decision will have to be made eventually.

Some club members openly admit to urinating in their wetsuits stating that it prevents the onset of hypothermia, and by pressing the suit in certain ways can warm up virtually the entire body area [depending on the volume of urine]. But it is not the done thing to urinate in a borrowed suit even if you are desperate!!!!!!!!

The more fastidious cavers I am sure would much rather use a more discreet and definitely less smelly method when it comes to urinating underground.

We are hoping that the BEC will be allowed to conduct some field tests on the MK1 version and I believe that Zot will be only too pleased to volunteer [the intention is to fill him up to eye level with Butcombe first].

The advert only shows the Male version of this device, but the manufacturers assure us that a Female version is being tested at this very moment!!! [The mind boggles] can we assume there will be a Female volunteer also??????? bearing in mind that Butcombe will be supplier free.

I have approached Bat Products and asked Tony to make up an advanced order list. If you wish to remain anonymous he will post it to you in a plain brown parcel to a post box number of your choosing.

Please order quickly as we are anticipating a rush amongst the senior active members of the club.

The Wessex Caving Club has asked if the device can be modified to include a shorter pipe and a 10-oz collector bag. They have not specified any modifications for their female members!!!!!! We have decided to offer a discreet free fitting service to all club members to ensure a snug fit.

Mr. Wilson.

Editors note. Obviously the drawback (a whiff of a pun intended) to this system is that the whole device becomes potentially disastrous on engaging with a squeeze.  Perhaps Mad Phil will have a go with one in Eastwater to test its suitability! 


Rose Cottage Cave – Working on Three Fronts

Tony Jarratt

“Excavation is hard work, and to make a place for oneself underground is no trivial enterprise. Most children are bewitched by the mystery of caves and want a small one of their own to be a private place away from the house, which is not truly their own territory. A natural cave to hand is unlikely, so many start to dig. Few persevere.”

Barbara Jones, Subterranean Britain, 1979

Continued from BBs 522-525.

 Further Digging 30/5/06 - 11/9/06

(To reduce tedium the diggers are represented by their initials and a list of those present during this period is appended. New diggers are introduced in the text. Refer to previous articles for the full team).

Walling of the prospective new entrance shaft continued on the 30th and next day a four-man team installed 110v cables as far as the “Halfway Dig” in the main cave and continued excavating this passage (shown on the sketch survey in BB 524 at the most southerly point and labelled as “possible dig site”). T.J, assisted by T.W. and D.G, dug and broke up rocks in the “Surface Shaft Dig” (alias Rose Cottage II) on June 2nd while P.C. and J.B. returned to Halfway Dig, reporting it to be developing into a rift. Next day the floor of the Surface Shaft Dig was found to drop as an inlet passage came in from the left. The water having drained away this became a pleasant and easy site requiring only the clearing out of clay, gravel and cobbles in a body-sized passage. Monday 5th June saw about 80 loads of spoil and rocks out during an all day session by H.B, T.A. and T.J. with R.W. continuing walling in the evening. A solo trip on the 6th saw 2 loads to surface and another dozen being stacked underground. The passage was now narrow but of standing height.

On the 7th a seven-person team dragged the trusty but heavy submersible pump to the bottom of Prancer’s Pot and after the usual slow start drained the pool to confirm that the way on is not encouraging. Some more work was done at Halfway Dig. Another solo trip to the Surface Shaft Dig next day saw nine bags filled and 3 to surface and on the 9th H.B. and T.J. dug downwards in the floor, removed a couple of large water-worn slabs and, aided by B.S, hauled 33 loads to surface. T.A. and R.W. continued walling on the 12th and two days later T.J. and I.G. shifted another 13 loads while H.D. and H.B, accompanied by B.S. and Hannah Bell, once again pumped out the Prancer’s Pot pool and dug frenziedly to confirm the site as a heavily crystal-coated blind rift with few prospects. It was abandoned and plans made to bang the drain hole instead – “Plan B Dig”.

T.J. was back down the Surface Shaft Dig on the 16th June when a three shot-hole charge was fired to give more working space in the water-worn rift and two days later 22 loads of bang debris were removed when J.N, P.B. and P.C. joined him. Bad air stopped play. Air conditions were still foul next day when he returned with H.B. but 8 loads came out and another three shot-hole charge was fired. On the 21st the air problems were sorted out with the aid of a vacuum cleaner and a strong team of F.C, B.O, S.H, A.L. and T.J. got 23 skip-loads and a huge boulder to the surface. Meanwhile P.B, J.N, P.C. and P.H. retrieved the pump from Prancer’s Pot while J.B, H.D. and Charlotte Harris cleared 13 loads of spoil from Halfway Dig. This was a busy night all round with another five onlookers on the surface making the best of the longest day of the year.

J.C. and T.J. cleared 8 loads and a toad from the Surface Shaft Dig on the 25th. The former removed 4 more, and another toad, next day and the latter unearthed lots more rock two days later from the rapidly deepening floor. R.W. and T.A. continued walling on the 27th and 28th but bent the sheer-legs in their enthusiasm! H.B. also briefly worked at the face and joined P.H, P.C. and J.B. at Halfway Dig. 6 loads came out of the Surface Shaft Dig on the 29th and another 4, one toad and one lizard on 3rd July. Some work was also done at Halfway Dig and walling continued, as it did next day – despite voracious horseflies and a heavy thunderstorm.

Halfway Dig was worked briefly on the 4th by J.B. and new girl Rachel Payne and was the target for the 5th when P.H, T.J. and new boy Matt Blount dug, filled bags and emptied 12 loads in the spoil rift. The passage was now a distinct, roomy phreatic tube and gradually rising. With the limited amount of dumping space available the possibility of heading up into an airspace was welcoming and so on the 7th J.B, P.C, J.C. and T.J. removed 30 loads from the dig leaving the working face sounding decidedly hollow. A solo trip next day saw T.J. bag filling and digging up-dip to a point where the tube ceiling became a gravel and cobble choke. The draught emanating from Prancer’s Pride was today strong and chilling. Sunday 9th July saw P.C, F.C, J.N, T.H, P.B. and T.J. back at the face. 30 full bags went up to the spoil rift and 15 went down for dumping in the now blocked connection passage to Aglarond 2. The dig now presented four options – left, right, up or down! Surface shaft walling operations continued on the 11th when more solo bag filling was also done at Halfway Dig. Here a small airspace was opened up to the right to prove this to be an inlet phreatic tube with a vocal connection to a small hole behind the hauling stance in the rift above. The most promising route was to the left. Next day, Wednesday 12th July 42 more loads reached the dump including probably the largest sandstone cobble yet found in the cave. The six regular diggers tonight were almost joined by Ben Barnett but lamp pox and the Corkscrew put a stop to this. 20 more loads were dumped on the 16th and another 20 on the 19th – all by the usual crowd. The 18th saw the “ATLAS Two” putting in another three hours work on the surface shaft wall in sweltering conditions. J.C. and T.J. dug, filled a few bags and lost lots of cobbles downstream of Halfway Dig on the 21st. P.B. and P.C. filled bags two days later and walling continued on the 25th.

The 27th saw J.B. and A.V. filling twenty bags at the Halfway Dig while H.B. played with his new, metre long drill bit at the Plan B Dig. More walling of the surface shaft was done on the 31st July when the shoring on the south side was at last removed. This work continued on the 8th August.

On 4th August J.C, P.B. and T.J. hauled 31 loads from Halfway Dig and decanted them into permanent spoil bags in the spoil dump above. Next day J.C, on a solo trip, filled nine bags - which were emptied by F.C. and T.J. on the 7th, completely filling the dump below the dig. Five more bags were filled and a large amount of rocks and sandstone cobbles were thrown forwards and downwards for dumping in the last available space before Prancer’s Pot. 20 loads reached the upper dump on the 9th (fifteen more being dug by P.C, H.B. and J.N.) and were painstakingly packed in by H.D. T.J. commenced a concreted wall below the dump using slabs brought up from the dig while P.B, hauling them up, provided a huge and unexpected bonus of building material when the large boulder at the edge of the climb came adrift and had to be dropped down the hole, sealing off access to Prancer’s Pride. It was deemed lucky that no one had been killed or injured previously as all had used this rock as a hand or foothold for several months! A couple of other large slabs were retrieved from the same area and hauled out to make access to the climb much easier.

Our man from Oz, Ray Deasy, hauled the stray rock back into Halfway Dig during a solo trip on the 11th and later that day J.C. and T.J fired off a five shot-hole charge at Plan B Dig.  The evenings of the 12th and 13th saw three shot-holes drilled in the Surface Shaft Dig and a 12gm cord charge fired giving R.W. and T.A. something to inhale when they removed the remaining shoring and continued walling on the 14th. The spoil from the bang was removed two days later (10 loads) and another four shot-hole charge fired by T.J. while, in the main cave P.C, J.C. and J.N. filled sixteen bags at Halfway Dig (12 dumped) and in the depths of Prancer’s Pot H.B. and B.O. cleared bang debris from Plan B Dig, drilled five long shot-holes and nearly croaked from an excess of bad air on this draught-free evening.

The Surface Shaft Dig was re-worked on the 20th August by F.C, Carol McNamara, Barry Lawton, Wally Ufimzew and T.J. when some 20 loads of bang spoil and in-fallen clay came out. A three shot-hole charge was fired and the latter four returned next morning to clear another 17 skip-loads. Lina Ufimzew provided tea and charm. This being the weekend of the excellent Belfry barbecue many visitors arrived on site and a few toured the cave. A return was made to this site on the 23rd when another three shot-hole charge was fired. On the same evening a five shot-hole charge was fired at Plan B Dig and another dozen loads were bagged in Halfway Dig by H.D. and P.H.

The bang fumes were vacuumed out of the Surface Shaft Dig on the 24th and some clearing was done next day when T.J. decided that the best way on had been missed. This was located on the 27th when 27 skips of mainly clay were dug out of the floor below the 2m climb by P.C, J.N, W.U, Neil Usher and T.J. and another three shot-hole charge fired to enlarge the rift. The fumes were sucked out next day but no clearing was done and the shaft was left to the attentions of T.A. and R.W. Clearing took place on the 30th when W.U, N.U. and T.J. got 26 loads out and H.B. drilled two holes. On the same evening T.M. and F.C. cleared most of the debris from Plan B Dig before bad air stopped play and H.D, P.C, B.O, J.N, A.V. and P.H. removed 16 loads from Halfway Dig to the almost full spoil rift. They reported the infill to have changed to wet, loose rocks. Two more holes were drilled in the Surface Shaft Dig on the 31st and another 12gm charge was fired – the spoil being cleared on 1st September by N.U. and T.J. who removed 16 skip-loads of mainly broken rock.

The same duo repeated the exercise next day with another 16 loads removed. On the 3rd 10 more came out, most of these following a mid-day bang and vacuum session. F.C, T.J, P.C. and J.N. were the team. H.B, R.D. and T.J. arrived next day to drag out another 13 and the latter spent time on the 5th prising out and stacking broken rock slabs. Wednesday 6th saw work at Surface Shaft (20 loads out), Halfway Dig (20 loads out) and Plan B Dig where the remaining bang debris was cleared and a view gained into a narrow descending rift. Ten of the regulars were involved and Ben Sellway got to visit the bottom of the family cave – and bash some rocks. T.J. removed 3 loads from the Surface Shaft Dig next day and filled and stacked more bags and skips. In company with N.U. he returned on the 8th when another 20 loads, mainly bags of fine clay, were dug and hauled out. A permanent ring-bolt was installed at the head of the underground climb and this came into use on the 10th when H.D. dug at the bottom while T.H and T.J. hauled out 30 loads, briefly assisted at surface by G.M. and M.W. The way on was now revealed as a passable, clay-filled rift, which had obviously once carried a fair sized stream. Next day T.J. dug, hauled another 2 loads to the surface and stacked twenty more underground. In the afternoon he assisted R.W. with the shaft-walling project with much of the spoil being used as back-fill. News of the magnificent 500m+ breakthrough by the Mendip Caving Group in Upper Flood Swallet boded ill for winning the Digging Barrel but inspired the team to press on with the three digs in an attempt to catch up!

(To be continued in B.B. 527).

New (and resurrected) Diggers      

Charlotte Harris, Rachel Payne (Cheddar C.C.), Matt Blount (C.C.C.), Ben Barnett, Hannah Bell, Ray Deasy, Carol McNamara (Southampton U.C.C.), Barry Lawton (Aberystwyth U.C.C.), Waley “Wally” and Lina Ufimzew, Neil Usher, Ben Sellway, Guy Munnings, Mike Willet.

The Old Brigade

Tom Wilson, Dan Griffin, Phil Coles, Jake Baynes, Tony Jarratt, Henry Bennett, Tony Audsley, Rich Witcombe, Bob Smith, Ian “Slug” Gregory, Henry Dawson, John Noble, Paul Brock, Fiona Crozier, Ben Ogbourne, Sean Howe, Alex Livingston, Pete Hellier, Jane Clarke, Trevor Hughes, Anne Vanderplank, Toby Maddocks.


Hutton Discoveries

Nick Harding and Nick Richards

Gallery Pit Cave

NGR  36035816

During perhaps the hottest week on record the seaside representatives of the BEC made a breakthrough into a small cave, Gallery Pit Cave. Back in the early 70’s Chris Richards and his dig team opened a number of pits in the area on their quest for the lost Hutton Cavern. One of the pits they named but did not open was titled Gallery Pit as the assumption was made that it connected below ground with a gallery they had discovered. The aim was to re-open one of the most likely pits and begin where the previous digs had stopped. On checking this all out with Chris Richards Esq.’ it turned out that this cave was new to everyone.

As it was over the course of numerous sessions of digging we opened up what we thought was a previous dig location but it turned out to be nothing of the sort. We came down on a small bedding chamber with a dip of 55 degrees but round a corner we opened up a steep shaft blocked with boulders from which a strong cool draught was issuing. Realising this was not what we were after we left that location, blocked the entrance (we’re going back there to empty the shaft at some point in the future) and moved on.


Entrance to Gallery Pit Cave

In the passing of the long years memories had faded a bit and opening what we though was the original shaft into the most comprehensive of the systems that C. Richards esq. had discovered and re-directed us to proved once more not to be what we were after. But the cave gods smiled upon us. Several digging sessions later we found ourselves looking into a void. Slipping down a steep slope beneath a perilous slab of creaking rock we found ourselves in a cave complete with walls of deads. We had assumed that this was the ‘gallery’ that the previous diggers had named and that we had re-entered the system described by Richards senior. As it happened it proved to be a new hole with bedding dipping to the west.

On recently re-opening what we thought to be another one of Chris Richards’ digs from the early 70’s some ten yards from Gallery Pit Cave i.e. Blind Pit, we have discovered that the bedding is now dipping more to the south – some interesting geology. Blind Pit has been shut down and the actual location of May Tree Pit – the entrance we were actually looking for has been verified by the landowner who was orbiting the original digs back in the 70’s. We are now in the process of opening that one which will take a while as a large amount of building waste has been dumped in the pit mouth.  The aim being to get back into the system and push a choke.   On September the 24th we re-opened the May Tree Pit Cave – a report in the next BB.

Nick R looking a little possessed in the entrance to Gallery Pit.

Richards in the easy squeeze in the floor.

For safety the cave entrance has been closed up. We may very well return at a later date to examine this cave a little more as the draught issuing from somewhere was cool and fairly strong. Piles of deads and miner’s walls may block a passage or two.

Survey of Gallery Pit Cave. The entrance is upper left.

A plan of the general area – For Hutton Ochre Cave read   Hutton Wood Mine.

Above is a general plan of the pits themselves.



Hatley Rocks - update

Nick Richards and Nick Harding

Below is a survey of what we have so far in Hatley Rock Holes.  When we return to the dig at some unspecified time in the future we will remove the choke between passage 1 and 2 following that with the unblocking of tunnel 3.



Some Mines Of Broadfield Down

Nick Richards and Nick Harding

Cleeve Hill Iron Mines

Cleeve Hill Road, Cleeve, near Backwell NGR 4628 6524

These mines are located in woods just north of the road as it ascends Cleeve Hill. See figure.

Two main open rifts trending roughly east west are intersected by shorter north south cross rifts. There are short underground extensions. They have suffered from considerable tipping and the rifts are now less than 2m deep. The underground passages are probably more extensive.

The mines lie in limestone in an area of fairly intensive 19c iron workings, indeed on the hillside to the south are several groups of deep excavations (Kings Wood Iron Mines). The ore consisted of massive metallic heamatite and its weathered product, red ochre.

Rift 1.  L 58m VR 2m includes 8m underground. A pit 17m to the south and 2.5m deep lies along the same trend as a north south cross rift of rift 1

Rift 2.  L 15m VR 2.5m with 6.5m underground. A completely infilled section some 15m long lies immediately to the east.

To the east the nature of the local ore deposits can be examined at a small vein exposed in the excavations for a new barn. NGR 4643 6520

An east west vein in the limestone <30cm wide contains 4 cm of columnar calcite on either side of the fissure with a central core of massive hard black heamatite. This is streaked with veins and larger cavities lined with quartz. This siliceous content of the ore made it more difficult to smelt into iron.

Littler Plantation Iron Mines

North west side of Littler plantation, Wrington Hill. NGR 4738 6370

Numerous shallow linear trenches trending c west north west mark the sites of infilled iron mines in limestone. One shallow pit contains a festering pile of foxes. Another pit is partly open and is about L 7m

VR 3m, 1m wide. There is much rubbish and this is the home of, by far, the largest rat in the world.

Ball Wood Iron Mine

Ball Wood, Congresbury. NGR 45926410

Shallow north south trench L 9m and 1m deep leads to very short underground section 1.5m long. The small spoil heaps suggests very limited underground work was done.

Corporation Woods Iron Mine

Corporation woods, Congresbury. NGR 4605 6426

In area of extensive iron mining rifts and pits-all filled in.

Head sized hole in bed of track (dangerous for horses). Passage 3m long (?) and 1.5m deep heading north to old infilled mining trench.



Urban Tunnels

By Nick Harding.


The Catacombs of Rome.


When the Nazis were ballistically spanking the crap out of London instead of running away to some mountain retreat a defiant Churchill, the War Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff headed underground. In 1938, on Churchill’s insistence, 3 acres of underground complex with the ability to house over 500 people had been created between King Charles Street and Parliament Square. Though someone, in a display of bureaucratic brilliance forgot to install a decent thunder box, which created its own stink within the hallowed halls of Westminster. From 65A, his war room, Churchill made several wartime speeches and numerous complaints about the facilities. “Give me the tools and I will finish the job.”   

The precedent was set and from that complex numerous tunnels now provide easy access to an unknown number of other Government buildings in a honeycomb of passages beneath the capital. Only a privileged few know exactly their full extent.

The Post Office (Pre Maureen Lipman BT etc) constructed an extensive tunnel system, 16 feet in diameter to provide a bombproof telephone link during the Cold War.  Out of a building near Waterloo Station one tunnel heads to Trafalgar Square and another to Faraday House in the City with a connection from Shoreditch to Shepherds Bush and another to the Kingsway telephone exchange a 100 feet below High Holborn. The Post Office also built tunnels to transport and lose letters in. 

Rumours persist of tunnels under 10 Downing Street enabling the PM and the cabinet to repair to the nearest pub or political fall out shelter. Buckingham Palace is also rumoured to have a tunnel so that the Royal Family in a state of emergency (aren’t they always) can get to Charing Cross for a train instead of thumbing for a lift on the Mall.

The Paris Catacombs

Where do Parisian revolutionaries and members of the French Resistance hide? Under the streets in the famous Catacombs of course. The entrance to these grim subterranean passages, can be found on the eastern side of the Avenue du Géneral Leclerc with a sign that declares ‘Here begins the empire of the dead’. They are approximately two kilometres in length although tales are told of them going further and deeper, as the actress said to l’archdeacon, alors!

What makes these tunnels more bowel squeezing is that a vast number of the City’s previous inhabitants are buried there, or rather unceremoniously stacked up in the walls. In 1785(Dix-sept-quatre-vingt-cinq, Je pense) the dead were literally piling up in the cemeteries so the authorities with their usual universal aplomb decided to dig up the dearly departed and rack ‘em up in the tunnels. The job took a year and a half. Contrary to popular belief the Catacombs are not the dead centre of Paris (bad joke but left in for reference purposes) 

The Count of Artois, later Charles X, thought it would be a blistering wheeze to have lavish parties for his brandy soaked aristo chums in the tunnels.  

The Catacombs have even inspired Blair Witch style videos but with less snot along with urban legends that tell of a society of underclass who live down there in illegal garlic sniffing dens.

Quick fact: Catacomb from the Greek kata, blended with the Latin word accubitorium both meaning tomb remixed with another Greek word kumbe, a hollow.


Our old conspiracy theorists and Dan Brown favourites the Knights Templar spent years digging under this city. What were they after? Apparently the treasure (a few rusty spoons and pyramid souvenirs from Cairo) from the Temple of Solomon. When the Romans were in their ‘not weleasing Woderick’ period – many residents could escape in times of siege or get up to ‘underground’ activities in a network of passages and tunnels. In recent years archaeological expeditions have spent numerous hours trying to get lost in them but have ended up narrowly avoiding international incidents by stumbling into the Muslim quarter and only being alerted to their mistake by the swearing and the banging of broom handles on the ground above them.

A lot of work was done by the Palestine Exploration Fund in the 19th century where numerous explorers spent time trying to work out where everything went. Jerusalem, built on limestone, is in fact honeycombed with natural caves, cisterns called ‘Beers’, (but sadly not full of the stuff) - some dating to 1500 years BC, subterranean passages, pools, aqueducts and quarries.

One of the best examples is the Siloam or Hezekiah’s Tunnel, mentioned in the Bible, which is a tight passage that connects the ‘Spring of Gihon’ to the ‘Pool of Siloam’. It was re-found and explored in 1838 by two Americans on their hands and knees dressed only in wide pairs of Arab drawers, that’s the clothing not an item of furniture. They measured the tunnel to 1750 ft in length. 


Putting aside the possibility that Washington DC was designed by Freemasons (it was in fact a Frenchman named L’Enfant. Ironic n’est ce pas? Freedom baguettes anyone?) around an enormous celestial calendar there are rumours that tunnels permeate the city particularly in the light of recent events like September the 11th and certain overblown salute ridden movies like Independence Day.

Tunnels exist beneath the Whitehouse to allow the Prez (That’s Bush not Elvis) to leave the building the moment anything remotely dodgy hoves into view (national disasters mostly) so he can head off to some remote mountain underground retreat to choke himself on pretzels. There are also fall out shelters and bunkers beneath the Pentagon along with a myriad of tunnels and underground passages that connect, it is said, to all the major government buildings in the city.

Recently the FBI and the National Security Agency were thoroughly embarrassed when it was revealed that there was a tunnel, used for espionage, beneath the city’s Russian embassy. A multi million-dollar secret had been blown open by the FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen.       

Not far from Washington is the ‘secret’ underground base called Mount Weather where the major arms of the government can plot the takeover of the world without interference from conspiracy nuts.   


Scotland’s capital, Auld Reekie has a series of secret tunnels that lead down from the castle to the Royal Mile and on to Holyrood. These tunnels had been lost – (“ ‘What again dear?’ ‘Aye, I must’ve left ‘em on the bus’…”) until they were rediscovered a few hundred years ago whereupon a fellow who troubled the bagpipes was sent down to find out where they went. As those on the surface listened, the sounds of his skirling suddenly stopped and in the best clichéd tradition he was never seen again.    

In a dank and forgotten realm, thousands of people once lived in the grim warren of forgotten subterranean vaults under the city’s Old Town and South Bridge area. Here they spent their entire lives eating rats and drinking piss (now the average Saturday night out all over Britain). It was also the hangout (in a manner of speaking) of ladies of the night, illegal distillers, body snatchers Burke and Hare, who got bored digging things up so started snatching the living, as well as the forgotten citizens who never once saw the sunlight. A whole way of life went on beneath the oblivious feet of the ‘heather-mixtured-ladies-who-lunched’ way above.

Dolphin huggers who haunt ‘Psychic Fairs’ sporting tons of make up and super-Bling claim the vaults are haunted. Well they would wouldn’t they? 


Desperate to get some cash for bootlegged liquor Al Capone, when he wasn’t bashing heads in with baseball bats and dodging the Taxman headed over the border into Canada and up into the prairies of Saskatchewan to avoid prohibition. His destination? The rough sounding shoot-em –up-yeehaw-style town of Moosejaw or as it as it was soon to be known, Little Chicago, which gives you a hint as to the kind of characters that used to waltz around up there.

Old Scarface made use of the tunnels under the streets as the ideal location to hide his home brew. Chinese immigrants who lived and worked out of sight of the long but cold arm of law i.e. the Mounties, beneath the streets of the town had dug out these secret passages in the late 1800’s. Constructed under the business district the tunnels allowed free movement between the shops and stores, kitchens and sweatshops. They ran from the railway station – there was a direct rail link to the Windy City – to downtown Moosejaw. Around the station numerous breweries sprung up and the place was soon a thriving hot spot of gamblers, gangsters, bootleggers and other gentlemen of equally low moral fibre.

Most of the tunnels are now blocked or lost but like a lot of places there’s a thriving tourist trade and where once one could purchase a smashing bourbon nouveau from a foul mouthed cut-throat brandishing a rusty blade one can now buy souvenirs like Al Capone key rings or a refreshing cup of tea. 


Rome like Paris has its Catacombs, in this case those of St Agnes, patron saint of virgins as well as the underground cemetery of St Sebastian near the Via Appia where old St Pete and St Paul are buried. When the early Christians were being thumped about in the late 3rd century they hid underground in their own burial places. The church later turned them into a lucrative way of making a bit of cash on the side, as they became places of pilgrimage.

There are also a great number of underground passages; tunnels and rooms left over from ancient Rome. Not far from the Colosseum, there is the basilica of San Clemente with its underground levels. There are also Nero's famous Domus Aurea (Golden House) with its huge underground rooms still covered with ornate paintings (nothing saucy apparently) and the two-levelled Mamertine prison. 

There are also the numerous passageways beneath the Vatican one of which leads to the Castel Sant Angelo and one under St Peter’s Basilica and many others that go to who knows where. These have recently resurfaced (as it were) in Dan Brown’s magnificently daft yarn Angels and Demons. 

In 2002 American security experts found a suspicious hole in a service tunnel beneath their embassy (sounds familiar) and blamed it on Islamic extremists engaged in some plot to blow the place up. On a raid on the suspects flat the Italian and US Intel bods found a map of tunnels beneath the city.   

Quick fact: It is claimed that there are hundreds of miles of passages, tunnels and catacombs beneath Rome. Some say three hundred and fifty while others claim nearly eight hundred!


120ft beneath the mad-for-it streets a tunnel called ‘Telephone Exchange’ runs 300 yards up St Peter's Square to the Manchester City centre’s Piccadilly Plaza Hotel along with nuclear bunkers and a network of tunnels that spread out under the city. The tunnels have been off the Official Secrets Act since the 70s but most people don’t know about them. Polish immigrants, unable to speak English (but probably Russian) and therefore unable to blab about what they were doing in the pub after a day’s tunnelling, were used to build them in the 1950s during the big ‘Reds under the beds’ paranoia of the Cold War.

In the event of the city being reduced to a crisp by the pesky Rooskies, the tunnels would have be used to maintain links with other cities across the UK. BT owns them now and wants to rent them out. There is talk that they should be opened to the public who can spend an hour or two taking in the heady atmosphere of a bit of cold war asbestos rich ‘archaeology’.

This article (an edited version) originally appeared in ICE magazine, a lad’s mag of dubious repute. Earlier this year it folded still owing me money so I have no qualms about re-printing it here. Ed.



The Hirlatz Hohle edges towards the magic 100km mark

By Madphil Rowsell

This article is about a recent 6 day trip (Feb 06) into the far east of Hirlatz Hohle to continue exploration of leads found during the previous winter trip. The trip comprising a 2 day journey to the pushing front (a distance of some 11 km), two days of pushing, followed by a nightmare 2 day return with all the team falling ill! Approximately 1.5 km of passage was discovered pushing the total known passage in the Hirlatz to 95 km, edging closer to the magical 100km mark.


The Hirlatz Hohle is a large fossil phreatic cave system situated underneath the Hohle Dachstein plateau. Its has been explored since 1927 and is currently some 93.5 km long (prior to this trip), and has a height range of 1077m. During this time, many fixed aids have been carried into the cave to aid exploration, comprising from simple things such as foot rungs, to fixed aluminium ladders, to the audacious Pendler (a hanging bridge and ladder arrangement suspended over a 60m deep canyon). As a result, the “tourist” part of the cave tends to resemble a film set out of an Indiana Jones movie!  It is also well known to British cavers who have for many years tried to find (unsuccessfully) a higher vertical entrance from the plateau into the system, making it one of the deepest caves in the world (upwards of 1800m deep). Figure. 1 shows the complete Map of the Hirlatz Hohle.

During recent years a combined group of Austrian and German cavers have focused their attention to the far eastern part of the Hirlatz. In this time, they have found over 2.5 km passage and last year one of them (Ulrich Meyer) dived a sump more than 11 km from the entrance and found some 400m of passage, surfacing in air space but unable to climb out of the water.  A side passage was also found during this expedition, just before this sump, which was followed for some distance to a potential bolt traverse with possible passage heading off.  This side passage was to be the main focus of this expedition; to complete this bolt traverse and hopefully find a by pass to the sump.  The team comprised of Gottfried Buchegger, Ulrich Meyer, Marcas Preissner, Johann Westhauser and myself (Madphil Rowsell). A reschedule of the trip due to bad weather meant that Joel Corrigan was sadly unable to participate.

Figure 1. Map of the Hirlatz Hohle.

The Trip

Day 1: The trip started with a two-hour slog through snow up to the entrance. From here the trip to the first camp (Säulenhallenbiwak) was reasonably arduous, made more difficult with the 16-20 kg Hirlatz bag on your back. Thankfully the fixed aids in the cave made progress reasonably straightforward. Once we left the “tourist” part of the cave however, the Indiana Jones props started to disappear and things began to take a somewhat more interesting nature. All to often you would be traversing over 30m drops on muddy climbs with no aids or protection. To start with this felt pretty hairy but the deeper in the cave you progressed, the more blasé you became. Finally after 8.5 hours, a 70m pitch down yielded the Säulenhallenbiwak. I have to say I was glad to reach the camp being pretty stuffed with the days trip and the heavy bag.

Day 2: Ulrich and Marcus stayed behind to look at potential shortcut which could greatly reducing the journey time heading out of the cave on the last day. Gottfried Johann and myself continued to head onto the final sump and set up a camp there (Sinterfahnen Biwak). The lads would catch us up the following day. The nature of the cave changed significantly from the 1st camp, having initially to cross numerous lakes on wire traverse lines, then into a series of large vertical bolder ruckles on various levels requiring SRT work, making progress more slow. Finally we broke out into pleasant stream passage which we followed upstream for some distance to the final sump. I was so glad to get here as I wouldn’t have to carry my heavy pack for the next two days!

The 2nd camp (Sinterfahnen Biwak) was in a nice sandy Oxbow just back from the sump – a fantastic spot but one of the first times I have had a real sense of remoteness in a cave. I kept thinking that Ulrich had dived here in 4 degree water and in a wet suit too, truly mad!!! It didn’t take long to set up camp, and then our minds focused on preparation for the following days exploration.

The lead we had come to look at was a small low wet side passage on the far side of a 20m lake, just prior to the sump. An inflatable boat would help to ferry people and gear across the lake to an island just at the start of the side passage. From here the gear would have to be man handled down the side passage (water waist deep) as the boat wouldn’t fit! By evening time, we had a game plan for getting across the lake, the boat inflated, the necessary climbing gear and ropes packed and sorted.

Day 3: The three of us got up early eager with anticipation. Ulrich and Marcus would join us later, haven obviously chosen to camp at one of the earlier camps rather than make it all the way up to our camp yesterday. For the boat crossing, a variety of gear was worn. Gottfried had pontonieres, Johann had a long john wet suit, I had kacks and a cagoule - great! What’s more I ended up being the ferryman transporting all the kit across the lake to the island. In the end it turned out to be great fun once the fears of puncturing the boat and wallowing in 4 degree water had abated. From the lake, down the side passage was pretty grim waste deep in cold water.

With all the gear the other side of the water, a change back into caving gear and we were off down immature stream way, more reminiscent of the Dachstein. Finally we got to the climb and the bolt traverse, an easy 10m climb up and a short traverse over to a big ledge where it looked like passage leading off.  I was really surprised when Gottfried asked if I wanted to do the technical work. Not a problem!! The  climb up and traverse itself pretty straight forward only requiring about 6 bolts to make the ledge, the best thing was that there was indeed passage heading off. While I stripped the traverse and rigged the pitch properly, Gottfried and Johann went off exploring. They still hadn’t returned by the time I had re-jigged things, so it must have been looking good. I caught the guys up to much jubilation as from an initially small grovelly passage, it had broken out into more Hirlatz sized passage. We progressed along surveying as we went. What a find!!

We continued along this passage to a climb down intercepting another large bore passage. A quick initial recce showed that to the left of the climb down it headed down to water with passage heading off, and to the right of the climb down, the passage headed down to a small active stream, but with a climb up leading to more big bore tube. We halted for lunch, and finally Marcus and Ulrich appeared. The climb that they had been looking at the previous day had crapped out and provided no short cut for the way out, but they were obviously excited by this new find. We tackled the left had section first, quite a complicated section of passage which kept dropping down to or having windows looking out to lakes terminating in sumps. In one of these windows, we looked down onto Ulrich’s dive line from last year! A great shame for Ulrich as if he had dived one more short sump he would have been able to have walked out of the sump into the passage we had just found!! For the rest of us however,  I think we were glad that a by pass had been found!!

With the left hand section finished, we turned out attention to the right and the climb up into the big bore passage. After a short while the main bore passage headed down to a large sump pool and disappointedly terminated. Being reasonably late in the day, Ulrich and Marcus decided to head back as their campsite was some two hours the other side of the sump!! I was really glad I didn’t have to make this journey back with them as they would have to do it all again tomorrow!! Gottfried was keen to do some more surveying, so we did another hour or so of tidying up small leads etc, leaving a few more exciting leads for tomorrow, prior to returning to camp. A great day but again pretty tiring.

Day 4: We were all excited and keen to continue exploring, but we waited for Ulrich and Marcus to appear before setting off across the lake and off to the sharp end. The main lead we had was a small passage that took you down into a phreatic zone, close to sump level.  This area obviously flooded regular and stayed that way for sometime as most of the passage had a thick layering/banks of black sump mud. It also turned out to be a maze of passages (most of which disappointingly ended up at sump pools) which was very complicated to understand until the final survey was drawn up. In this zone however, some passage was found heading up out of this sump zone into a series of large chambers above, but no obvious continuation was found. As the day drew to a close so did the obvious leads. Ulrich had been looking at a couple of bolt climbs and while none were drawn to a complete conclusion due to running out of bolts and battery power, none looked really exciting.

Again Ulrich and Marcus headed off early to get back to camp while we remained to do some tidy up surveying, before finally heading back to camp. It was a mix of feelings returning to camp, one of jubilation at the passage we had found, but also sadness that the remaining leads for next year were not wide open passage; some bolt climbs and a very tight, but strongly drafting passage that really needed blasting. Once the survey was drawn up, it might give us some indication where to head back to for a more detailed look to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.

During this night, one of your worst fears when camping underground started – we became ill. It started when I threw up during the night. Great, guess I should have cleaned my pans a bit more rigorously, but when Gottfried and Johann started puking and shitting in the morning, we came to the conclusion it must have been our water supply. The other really bad thing about it was that not only had it given us the shits, it was a bit like flu with no cold symptoms as it completely zapped all of your energy! This was really not what you wanted when you had a 2 day trip to get out of the cave! Still there was only one way to get out of the cave - mind over matter, so we slowly packed up camp and headed out.

When we arrived at Marcus and Ulrich’s camp they were still in bed, also with the lurgy!! The verdict was that we must have all drank some pretty stagnant water from the far end somewhere. We battled on back to Säulenhallenbiwak (the 1st camp), all glad we had made it this far. Thankfully for me, I think I was beginning to turn the corner, but rest still seemed to be pretty stuffed with the lurgy.

Day 6: People had stopped shitting in the morning, but we were all still pretty weak. Each step forward was one more closer to the entrance. Finally after about 10 hours we arrived back at the entrance.

It had snowed quite a bit while we had been in the cave, leaving 3” covering of powdered snow on top of hard packed ice. Not the best for walking down. I had arrived with Gottfried ahead of the others. He headed on first snow ploughing the soft snow out of the way using it as a breaking mechanism. When it came to my turn, I was left basically with a ice floored Cresta Bob run. I tried using my walking poles to slow my descent but they were practically useless and soon found myself flying down the steep slope out of control. All I could do was roll on my front spread-eagled and pray that I came out of this alive!! Thankfully I hit a snow bank before the drops halfway down. I had just finished negotiating these when off I went again screaming my way down again crashing into snow at the bottom off the slope. I was so glad I was still breathing and not off to hospital. Ice axe and crampons next time!! How the others following me got down safely is bamboozling! That brought the trip to a pretty exhilarating end.

The Team: Marcus,Johann,Gottfried,Madphil, Ulrich Photo by: Gottfried Buchegger

One of the fixed aids – a 60ft aluminium ladder climb

Another fixed aid – The Pendler. Photo by: Jogi

Battling the snow up to the Hirlatz entrance Photo by: Flo Blider

The climb up to the Hirlatz entrance. Photo by: Gottfried Buchegger

Gottfried and Johann at Säulenhallenbiwak. Photo by: Gottfried Buchegger

Ice formations at the start of the Hirlatz Hohle. Photo by: Gottfried Buchegger

Madphil cooking at Sinterfahnen Biwak (the 2nd camp) Photo by: Madphil

Heading down the 70m Pitch to Säulenhallenbiwak

The ferryman! Photo by: Johann Westhauser

Exiting from the by pass tunnel to more dry passage. Photo by: Johann  Westhauser

Gottfried doing book. Photo by: Madphil

Madphil bolting across to the window. Photo by: Gottfried Buchegger

Gottfried near the entrance still feeling distinctly un-well: Photo by: Madphil

Ulrich reunited with his dive line. Photo by: Gottfried Buchegger



In summary, the trip in to the far East of the Hirlatz is one of the best trips I have done, pretty hard especially when you are not used to caving with a 16 – 20kg sack on your back. One has only admiration to the team for the passage they have pushed over the recent years in the far East, and even more so for Ulrich’s dive last year – truly amazing. I was exceedingly lucky to have gone on this expedition where we found nearly 1.5km of new passage, finding Ulrich’s dive line, and have several leads to go back this winter (2006/2007). They may not be the wide open passage that one would always hope for, but it is certainly worth a trip back to this pretty awesome remote spot.  Many thanks to the guy’s for letting me have the opportunity to join the expedition.


Hollow Hills

In the last edition I made mention of the point about having just 3 BB’s a year this was a suggestion only and I must emphasise was not meant to be taken as the new Editor’s policy. I threw it out there for feedback. There has also been some debate about club news and its appearance in the BB and that news is only forthcoming when the BB appears.  It has been suggested that club news is delivered as an email-shot or as pages on the website only accessible by club members. To those without email a copy can be sent through the post keeping postage costs down. Personally I am in favour of this method but I must emphasise that it is up to the club as a whole to make this decision.  But this is certainly a quicker way of keeping up with what’s happening!

Finally: Many thanks to the tutors on the EUG Bang weekend who put some of us through our first exam paper in a hundred years! 



Harry ‘ NO: 1’ Stanbury 1906 – 2006

Committee Members

Hon. Secretary: Nigel Taylor (772)
Hon. Treasurer: Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary: Henry Bennett (1079)
Caving Secretary: Toby Maddocks (1310)
Hut Warden: Jane Clarke (983)
Tackle Officer: Chris Jewell (1302)

Non-Committee Posts
Bulletin Editor: Nick Harding (1289)
BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian: Nick Richards (1290)

Club Trustees:
Martin Grass (790), Dave Irwin (540), Nigel Taylor (772) and Barrie Wilton (559)

Ave Cavers!

As they don’t say in France, ‘Happy New Year’.

Ah a new year full of cave shaped possibilities.

But I must start on a sad note by mentioning the death of Harry Stanbury. With his passing the BEC has lost its founding father. I never met ‘No 1’, a regret I will have for the rest of my days but his influence will live on, not least in the form of the Belfry Bulletin, which he also helped to create. At times like this, it is a signal honour to be holding the post of Editor. 


Just to show that the fame of the BEC spreads ever further I included a mention of our esteemed club in the final paragraph of an article I penned for the Daily Express (Egad! I know – I won’t make a habit of it, I promise but they pay well) in December last year as a bit of publicity for my latest tome – in which, I should say, the BEC gets a mention or two as well. 


Daily Express, December 18th 2006

I’ve been led to believe that the paper is ‘read’ by 900,000 a day – so that’s nearly a million more people have heard of us now. The editor of that rag even went to look up who we were on the Web.  If there were a yearly barrel for fame then we’d win hands down!


Vale - Harry Stanbury, 1916 – 2006.


Harry Stanbury, c.1946

The BEC has lost not only a great friend but also the personality who created the Bristol Exploration Club all those years ago in 1935.  Harry died on the 16th December, 2006 at his home in Bude, Cornwall. He was 90 years old.

Harry Stanbury is a legend in the caving world, none less so than on the Mendip Hills. It was here that Harry learnt his caving skills.  Born in Bude, in the same house in which he lived until his death, he moved to Bristol in his 'teens and it was then that he undertook his earliest caving trips on Mendip albeit he had already whetted his appetite by exploring the numerous sea caves that are found on the north Cornish coastline in his formative years.

Following a number of trips to Burrington and other small caves on Mendip Harry and his mates decided to form themselves into a club, which was to be known as the Bristol Exploration Club.  However, there was a problem. How could they get into the larger and deeper Mendip caves, which were controlled by the larger clubs? They decided that they would disband their group, and join the newly formed Wessex Cave Club comprising mainly members from the professional and middle classes.  Harry, having approached a Bristol member of the Wessex, was told that he and his friends were not suitable for membership of that club, as Harry was later to write ' … because we were just working class lads.'

Harry, amazed and annoyed, went away and together with his mates continued to develop the Bristol Exploration Club, with a bat as its logo.  This small group, with a membership of never more than 15 remained active right up to the outbreak of the 2nd World War.  These pioneering members gradually gained their practical experience and joined other caving club members for trips into the larger caves.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 all young men under the age of 30 were called for military service unless they were working on essential war effort at the home front.  This reduced the club to a skeleton membership.

Harry, never one to give up, with the existing members and a few new friends, including Dan Hasell and Roy 'Pongo' Wallace, reformed the then dormant BEC in 1943 and slowly managed to get a few caving trips in during their spare time. By the end of the war the club membership began to expand dramatically and within a short space of time reached about 100.

During the first 21 years of the Club's existence Harry, steered the club as Hon Secretary and helped create the Club Journal, the Belfry Bulletin, with Dan Hasell and Don Coase. With others he located and built the early Club headquarters which contained sleeping and cooking accommodation.

On the caving scene he was involved in the exploration of Stoke Lane II and was an early member of CDG working in Wookey Hole during 1947-1948 either involved with the Operation Muckment series of dives or acting as surface controller.  In the late 1950s he was involved with the re-opening of Pen Park Hole.

Harry let go of the reins in the middle 1950s but kept a watchful eye on the activities of the Club and was always interested to know of the latest discoveries made by members.

One of the reforms brought about in 1943 included a membership numbering system.  Harry was member No. 1, a fact that is well-known to members today. Many of the younger members, though having not met him, are well aware that Harry Stanbury was the founding father of the BEC.  We have lost a great friend.

The Club sends their very sincere condolences to Glenys and the family.



Diver Harry Stanbury being dressed by Don Coase
and Stan Herman at the Mineries Pool, 1946.


From the Belfry Table

There can be only one item this time.

As you should all know by now, “Number 1” as Harry Stanbury was affectionately known by me and many other members has passed away after an illness.

I was fortunate to have spoken to Harry on the morning of our Oct 2006 AGM, in my customary call to him on such club occasion, and though unwell- as he had recently suffered from a bad fall, - he came to the telephone with all his usual good grace and cheerfulness. He gave me his best wishes for the forthcoming Dinner and year which he wished me to pass on to all members at that evenings festivities, and we joked that I should be dragging him away from his beloved home in Bude in three years time for the Seventy Fifth Club years Dinner celebrations.

Sadly, this was not to be. In a Christmas card from his wife Glenys just days prior to Christmas, she told me that Harry certainly was not very well, and she was worried about his health. Just days later she telephoned me, sadly “Number 1” was no more.

I emailed or telephoned as many members as I could with the sad news, and again later with the funeral arrangements.

On Wednesday 3rd. January, Mike Wilson (Hon.Treasurer), Chris Hervey (Zot- a long standing, but sadly now an ex-member) Tony Setterington (Sett) and myself, ventured down to a cloudy, grey and windswept Cornwall.

In the Little parish Church, just yards from Harry’s home, we joined a small congregation of some twenty-two persons, this included us four and six Lifeboat men who came to add their respects.

“Sett” read out a Eulogy- prepared by Dave Irwin (Wig), which should hopefully appear in this BB.

I had luckily managed to arrange over the Christmas new year break one florist, who made up a superb board or white carnations and black sprayed “Bertie” Bat emblem with a “No.1” logo. At the internment, Mike and I placed this upon Harrys’ grave.

I hope the attached photo shows the Club tribute to our founding father.

After the ceremony and wake, Mike, Zot and I, had been invited back to Harry and Glenys home at 7 Falcon Terrace. There, His bereaved wife handed us Harry’s presention Club Badge, a Car Badge, and the 60th.Anniversary Tankard with which he had been presented at the Bath & West Showground Dinner all those years ago. She instructed us to deal with these items as we thought best.

I have conferred with both Roger Dors, who kindly has agreed in principal to my thoughts, and the BEC committee, and all are in agreement that I shall place this on a long term loan, into the display cabinet at the Hunters Lodge bar, so all can see the Tankard, which will in effect be a further testimony to Harry’s legacy, that being the Bristol Exploration Club.         



Founder of the Bristol Exploration Club,

St.Michaels Parish Church, Bude, Cornwall, Wednesday 3rd.January 2007


Rest in Peace Harry old friend.


The club also extends sympathies to Alfie Collins, on his tragic loss of Sally. Several members attended Litton Church and on behalf of the BEC we placed a bouquet of White Orchids in the Cemetery. Sally was a warm and vibrant Lady, and her passing leaves all of us poorer.

The MCG have had a tremendous breakthrough at Upper Flood Swallet this September. Several Hundred metres of cave have been found, and all signs indicate that this could well be the “ Master Cave”,…though on a note of caution, I and the rest of the NASA team thought that when we broke into Manor Farm Swallet all those years ago.  To the MCG and the relatives of Malcolm Cotter, WELL DONE!

Mike Wilson and I, visited Bobby Bagshaw at his home in Bristol, and presented him with a “Certificate of Honorary Life Membership” On behalf of the BEC. Bobby Bagshaw has given much help and advice and service over many years to the Club. Bob was most touched, and asked that his warmest greetings be passed to all those who know

The last Dinner was poorly supported by the General Membership; at Close of Bookings date (Hotels not mine) we only had 61 bookings.

Harris & Harris our Solicitors have completed the “Deed of Trustees” and this has now been placed with the Club’s Deeds.

The Belfry Extension has been felted and should be tiled by the AGM!!! (Presumably the last one – Ed.)

Time to get down from the Table, regards to all,

Nigel Taylor, Hon.Secretary BEC.

Report of the Hon. Secretary, 2005/2006

A strong and healthy Club isn’t just conjured out of thin air. It is embodied by the activity of its members both new and old, by forward thinking of its officers, by a willingness to commit oneself to club projects, be they Cave exploration and discovery, club activities, fund raising, working on the club structure etc, etc.

To this end, YOU the membership have been well rewarded by those whom you elected to serve on the Committee last year and by the dedicated actions of several members both young and old. Some say it is invidious to name names…to hell with that…I will name names: Your Hon. Treasurer Mike Wilson has again done Stirling work and in talks with Mendip District Council regarding rates payable, has succeeded in negotiating a “zero” charge. Mike together with Tyrone Bevan (Hut Engineer) Dany Bradshaw and others have toiled well upon the new Extension, all being generous in their time. Chris Jewell, a new member-who incidentally also is standing for the first time for committee- Ivan Sandford, and Henry Bennett plus others, also set up and ran a brilliant “Mid-Summer” Barbeque and disco at the Belfry, complete with Mega aerial-wired giant Bertie, clutching a Wee Wessex Dragon in its claws. Henry has also spent much time in up-marketing and establishing an Up-to-date BEC Website, which you should all visit on a regular occasions to keep yourself abreast of club news. Roger Haskett has kept the Belfry Accounts and Hut Warden duties firmly in control. Brenda Wilton valiantly took on the onerous role of Membership Secretary, which sadly had been relinquished after many years hard work and care by Fiona Sandford to whom this Club should be very grateful. “Bobble” aka Rob Lavington worked hard to sort out the St.Cuthberts Leaders system and set up a Meeting which hadn’t occurred for several years, he also spent much time re-keying various cave systems, sadly due to pressure of work, though remaining on the Committee, he has passed over his Caving Secretaries duties to an ultra keen new member Toby Maddox. Other Committee members Phil Rowsell (Tackle-master) and Fiona Crozier (Floating Member and Understudy Hut Warden!), Barry Wilton (Floating) Have all worked hard despite heavy private and personal commitments both at home, and in Phil’s case on the World caving scene. Rony Wyncoll is owed a big vote of thanks for continuing to maintain the Belfry Fire Extinguishers, and for producing the “Belfry Maintenance Folder” Which it is intended will keep records of Fire Equipment, Electrical and Pat Testing records, subject to our legal requirements.

The retiring 2005 /2006 Hon. Secretary Vince Simmonds did good work negotiating with the Club Solicitors to ensure the newly appointed Trustees positions were fully legalised. I have completed this task, and a finalised “Deed of Appointment” has this year been concluded.

As suggested at last years AGM, The Four Club Trustees held a meeting at the Belfry, and their report should be available at the AGM. It is envisaged that such meetings will be at least twice a year in future.

Enough of the Laurels….On to The Belfry…well much work remains to be done upon the extension. I have heard some members complain that the hut looks like a building site….all I can add is “Yes, aren’t you proud of that. It is a Building Site, and it will be tided up when all is finished”.  

One Major looming problem is to replace the Window Frames at the back of the Belfry, these are so rotten that they may soon fall out, and at worst allow damp into the fabric of the building, but fear not, all of this is in the minds of the Committee and it will be effected shortly.

May I thank again, on behalf of the BEC, all of those mentioned above, and also to those as yet unnamed workers and members who have also committed themselves both above and below ground to the running of Your Club.

I intend to stand again for Committee for 2006/ 2007 and am willing to serve in whatever post I am elected to, though I naturally should like if allowed, to continue to serve as your Hon. Secretary.

Nigel Taylor,
Hon. Secretary B.E.C 2005 / 2006.

Report Of The BEC Trustees.

The Trustees, Martin Grass, Dave Irwin, Nigel Taylor and Barrie Wilton, met at the Belfry on Friday 1st September in order to inspect the site and prepare a report to be submitted to the Club’s Annual General Meeting on the 6th October 2006.  It is hoped that the meeting of the Trustees to inspect the site and prepare a report for the AGM should be an annual event.

It was felt that the site as a whole was in a reasonably tidy state but the Belfry itself is in need of a number of urgent repairs. These are listed below:

The exterior:

  1. The window sills on the west side of the Men’s bunkroom are badly rotted and are in urgent need of replacement.  The end (south) window in the bunkroom is cracked and should be replaced.
  2. The bricks below the damp course at the base of the south-facing wall are crumbling and will require replacing.
  3. Though repairs have been made to the entrance porch roof there is a need to replace the gutters.

The interior:

  1. The living room is dark and requires a new coat of light coloured paint.  The ceiling has been damaged and should be repaired as soon as possible.  Ideally it requires a new window set into the west wall by the bar.
  2. The dormitory ceiling has been badly damaged, seemingly by water and should be given some priority.
  3. There are a number of faulty electric switches.
  4. The fire alarms should be repaired / replaced.
  5. In the drying room there is a strong smell of fuel oil. The committee should ensure that this is inspected by a qualified engineer.

Some of the repairs are of such a nature that in the event of an insurance claim the insurance company could prove difficult.

Dave Irwin
On behalf of the BEC Trustees,
16th September 2006

Hut Engineers Report

The belfry is in general good order. The main project this year has been the extension, but the roof on the entrance porch has been re-felted with a new access light fitted during the early working weekend.

With the main focus of activity being the extension various weekends have been spent working on this. I would like to thank the regular helpers in this, always the same faces I sorry to report.

The block work and roof are now finished. With the next stage being rendering of the walls and erecting the door early in the New Year. Anybody who can give assistance with this would be appreciated, hopefully some new faces will appear.

I would like to end this short report by informing members that Mike the builder who built the walls and was always willing to listen to members opinions and advice while he was working on the project (Giving his time for free) was recently seriously injured while working on the Salt ford road closure resulting in a stay in intensive care at the RUH. He is home now and making good progress.

And finally I am willing to stand for committee in any designated roll the floor proposes for the coming year.

Tyrone Bevan

BEC Hut Wardens Report 2005-06

The takings are down this year by £98.00, which I suppose is not too bad considering there appears to be a lack of activity on Mendip.

The major expense this year was £120.00 for a skip for one of the working weekends. Also Gas costs were around £48.00.

I have not been around as much this year, due to the fact that I am no longer living on Mendip and so unfortunately the general state and cleanliness of the hut seems to have suffered as a result. I am hoping that someone will volunteer to take on the job for the next year and so I will be able to retire.

Roger Haskett
Hut Warden

Are you getting the BEC email Newsletter?

Most of you will know that we are sending out a monthly email newsletter to keep you up to speed with what’s happening and about to happen on the hill. However, I understand that some of you have not seen it, which is no doubt due to your spam filters. To get around this add the domain to you safe senders list.


Caving in the Abode of the Clouds – Meghalaya 2006


Krem Labbit Pitch

Caving Team

Austria: Peter Ludwig (PL),

UK: Annie Audsley (AA), Simon Brooks (SJB), Mark Brown (MWB),Tony Boycott (ATB), Imogen Furlong (IF), Roger Galloway (RG), Dave Hodgson (DH), Kate Janossy (KJ), Tony “J.Rat” Jarratt (AJR) Neil Pacey NP, Hugh Penney (HP), Derek Pettiglio (DP), Henry Rockcliff (HR), Fraser Simpson (FS), Jayne Stead (JS), Fiona Ware (FW), Terence Whitaker (TMW)

Ireland: Des McNally (DMc)

Switzerland: Thomas Arbenz (TA),

Denmark: Louise Korsgaard (LK), Torben Redder (TR)

India: Brian Kharpran Daly (BKD), Shelley Diengdoh (SD), Lindsay Diengdoh (LD), Dale Mawlong (DM), Raplang Shangpliang (RS).

Support Team

David Kimberly Patkyntein, (Driver/Organiser), Alam (Munna) Khan (Cook),

S.D. Diengdoh (bus driver), Jonathon Wanniang (drivers mate), Shemborlang Lyndoh (drivers mate). Myrkassim Swer (cook), Vinod Sunor, Adison Thabah, Bung Diengdoh, Zobeda Khatoon, Roma Sutradhar, Sansun Lyngdoh, Raju Sunar, Teiborlang Khongwir.


Evermore Sukhlain, Moonlight Patlong, Carlyn Phyrngap, Shor “Pa Heh” Pajuh, Menda Syih, Kores, Gripbymon Dkhar (Semassi), Ekna Sukhlain (Moolasgni).


David Laitphlang, Andrew Kharpor, Deimaia L. Siangshai, Markin Marbaniang, Marlon Blein.



Sunday 5th February

Mark, Annie, J.Rat, Peter, Thomas, Des, Imogen, Jayne and Henry arrived in Shillong via Gauhati. Some of the group stayed at Brian and Maureens’, others at the Centrepoint hotel.

Monday 6th February

Neil arrived at 10am from Gauhati.

Gear was organized at Brian and Maureens’ house, shopping carried out and preparations made in Shillong. The Centrepoint bar provided an acclimatisation venue until the early hours.

Tuesday 7th February

Terry arrived at 1.30am from Gauhati.

After a prompt start (bus departed at 11am!) the team travelled from Shillong to the ridge camp in the school bus. A briefing was carried out and the team settled in around the fire.

Wednesday 8th February

Thomas carried out a survey workshop in the morning.

J.Rat, Des, Neil and Henry went to Lum Manar hill fort, then dropped five shafts nearby; (Krem Kya 1, 2 and 3, Krem Siat Kriah 1 and 2) each ending in tight rifts after ca. 15m depth. A sixth shaft, Krem Shnong Moo was left ongoing.

Thomas, Jayne, Brian, Terry and Raplang went to the crest of the ridge and walked along towards the SW, past Lelad and Tagnub, to the watershed at the end of the ridge. Sixty one GPS readings were taken for the map, including the road from beyond Leilad. Two potential areas for recce were spotted. 5.6km were walked.

Mark, Annie and Peter successfully relocated Krem Shyein Khlieh (formerly Shynrong Labbit 2001) from the registry details. They failed to find the main underground pitch, but in the process dropped and surveyed a series of undescended pitches ending at a too tight crawl.

Imogen was ill and remained in camp.

Thursday 9th February

Mark and Annie returned to Krem Shyein Khlieh rigged a high level traverse and found that it had been surveyed. They then found and rigged the pitch to the main streamway. They investigated J.Rat’s duck, near the base of the pitch. It was left ongoing with low airspace and light draught (towards the main stream passage). They also looked at couple of potential side passage leads. Cave left rigged.

Henry and Terry went back to Krem Shnong Moo, where the boulder was removed and the cave was explored through three short pitches to a boulder choke. All leads ended too tight.

Imogen, Des and Peter remained on the surface (through illness) and constructed a sauna.

Thomas, Brian and Jayne returned to the crest of the ridge, to continue surface surveying. They walked along towards the NE, past Nongthymme then Moolasngi then Lumthari, to the Litein teashop at the end of the ridge. 62 GPS readings were taken for the map. No new potential areas for recce were spotted. 6km were walked.

J.Rat and Neil followed Evermore around Lum Manar hill fort. Located 10 cave entrances and one possible blocked entrance. One shaft was guessed to be 50m. GPS and digital photos taken for all locations. They then went to Krem Shnong Moo to survey 35.5m.

Friday 10th February

Imogen, Henry, Neil, Des, Annie, J.Rat, Terry, Jayne and Peter returned to the Lum Manar hill fort area to drop the cave entrances located the day before.

Imogen, Annie and Peter dropped Krem Kya 4 to an approximate depth of 40m. Shaft ends in mud floor. Krem Um Manong 2 was dropped to a depth of 35m, where Imogen explored a low tight and wet passage at the bottom until it became too tight. The water was full of cave shrimp, both white and coloured and there was a light draught out.

Neil, Des and Henry went to Krem Tyrtong Warim, which dropped to depth of 23m completed. Then they went to Krem Pastor 6, a 6m climb down to blind alcoves at the bottom. Next they went to Krem Pastor 5, which was 10m deep completed. Krem Pastor was dropped 35m, bones were observed at the bottom of a side shaft, no way on was found.

J.Rat, Terry and Jayne went with Evermore to Krem Poh Um Manong 1,2,3; all completed after short pitches. They then went to a new cave entrance Krem Um Manong 1. This is an ongoing perennial stream cave in boulder pitches.

Mark went to Lelad village and approximately traversed the upper limestone boundary on the west side of the ridge. He relocated Krem Paulus, Lelad cave, Krem Umsohtung, and Krem Niakrong and identified seven other sites of speleological interest. Krem Umsohtung was found to have a strong outward moist warm draught, as did Moonrise cave (Krem Mihbnai).

Thomas and Brian walked down from Tagnub to the valley floor. They GPS surveyed the  road from Krem Umsngad to Tagnub and the southwest end of the Litein valley and walked back to camp. They were also informed of Krem Lyngtah in the area.

Saturday 11th February

Mark, Peter and Imogen went to Krem Labbit (Khaidong), which Imogen rigged until she ran out of drill battery power and rope.

Jayne, Henry, Annie, Des remained in camp with illness, Annie processed some data during the day.

J.Rat, Terry and Neil returned to Krem Um Manong 1, continued rigging down short boulder pitches and reached a ten-metre pitch onto a boulder bridge with large drops continuing. 26m was surveyed.

Thomas, Brian and Raplang made an early start, drove down to the Litein river, beyond the tea shop. Then they walked along the base of the ridge slope, GPSing and noted a number of new resurgences. They followed the Shaktiman track coming down from Shnongrim and walked back to camp (7 hours). Another cave was pointed out by Raplang, one third of the way up from the valley, called Krem Sohsylle (previously explored).

Sunday 12th February

Imogen and Henry completed rigging Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and dropped into a chamber at the bottom. They surveyed along the main stream passage at the bottom. Stream passage ongoing. 253m surveyed.

Mark, Des and Annie surveyed Krem Labbit (Kaidong) from the entrance to the chamber at the bottom. Des found a large fossil passage leading out of the chamber. Passage ongoing. 279m surveyed.

J.Rat, Terry and Neil returned to Krem Um Manong 1 and completed rigging down to a canyon passage, via a broken 30m pitch. High level passages were observed which need bolting up to. The cave currently ends with choked rifts in floor, needs digging, which is possible. Draughting out. Cave derigged. 81m surveyed.

Torben and Louise arrived in camp.

Jayne and Peter stayed in camp through illness. Jayne mended some team member’s clothing.

Thomas stayed in camp and worked on the area map.

Monday 13th February

Mark and Annie went to Krem Mihbnai, near Lelad village. They rigged an entrance pitch and then a 70m pitch and found the bottom choked with boulders. No way on could be found despite a strong draft. The cave was derigged. 87m surveyed.

Terry, J.Rat and Jayne went back to Krem Um Manong 1 and retrieved tackle. They then went to Krem Bir 2.The rift entrance could not be fully descended by ladders. A drill battery was lost down the pitch. They then went to Krem Warkhla 2 where J.Rat squeezed through a short laddered rift into a boulder chamber with a massive shaft in the floor. Ongoing lead. They then went to Krem Warkhla 3. Jayne descended a tight rift of 12m, which led to a small pretty chamber with no way on.

Thomas and Peter drove from Shnongrim to the Litein Valley and followed the ridge for 20km. They looked at a valley resurgence Krem Lyngtah, which started as a small 1.5m high passage and progressed to a passage with waist deep water. Probably going.

Imogen, Torben and Henry returned to Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and continued surveying downstream in a NE direction. Many bats were observed. There were also lots of fish of various sizes, including white fish (up to 20 cm). The lead was ongoing. 648m surveyed.

Louise, Neil and Des remained in camp ill.

The rest of the team arrived at 7pm from Shillong and another briefing was held.

Tuesday 14th February

Thomas held another surveying workshop in the morning.

Mark, Fraser and Derek went to Krem Umsohtung at Lelad and rigged a series of short pitches down to a narrow winding rift. Two more short drops led to the head of a canyon where they ran out of rope. 228m were surveyed back to the entrance.

Imogen, Simon, Roger, Torben, Dave, Annie and Lyndsay went to Krem Labbit (Khaidong).

Imogen, Simon, Roger and Lyndsay continued to push and survey downstream to a boulder choke. They found two ongoing leads; a fossil passage leading off at the top of the choke and the stream passage at the bottom going small but strongly draughting. The team also took photographs going in and out. 105m surveyed.

Torben, Dave and Annie went to Krem Labbit (Khaidong)  and surveyed the fossil series from the bottom of “Down with the Thloo”. This was a good size passage continuing with one side passage lead. The main passage intersected a streamway via a steep mud bank. There were three main ways on. A large colony of bats was observed.890m surveyed.

Peter, Kate and Matt went to Krem Lyngtah and surveyed 193m in a resurgence cave involving chest deep wading. Still ongoing.

Hugh, Jayne and Tony B. went to Krem Khuiang and surveyed 256m in a through trip.

J.Rat, Neil, Terry and Henry went to Krem Bir 2, where Henry rigged 35m to a mud filled rift. Neil and Terry were shown Krem Um Manong 3, which choked after a 15m drop and short passage. They then failed to find J.Rat and Henry so returned to camp.

J.Rat and Henry went on to Krem Warkhla 2 where they dug an easier entrance and examined the top of a large shaft. Suspect boulders drove them to the adjacent Krem Warkhla 1 where Henry dropped a 19m pitch into a calcited chamber with no leads.

Thomas, Brian and Shelley walked approx 20km around the North West side of the ridge base. They observed many new coalmines and quarrying operations in the area. Krem Bam Khnai (a protected site) was seen to be in the process of being destroyed by five new coal shafts.

Des, Fiona and Louise remained in camp recovering from illness.

Wednesday 15th February

Mark, Shelley and Hugh went to Krem Umsohtung where Mark continued rigging down several pitches and Hugh and Shelley surveyed behind. They finally intersected what appears to be a horizontal small streamway with upstream and downstream leads and a good draught. 152m surveyed

Neil and J.Rat went back to Krem Warkhla 2 and descended 14m to a 30m blind pot. They then went to Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo where Neil descended down through a tight rift 50m. The cave is ongoing with a good draught.

Three teams returned to Krem Labbit (Khaidong). Annie, Derek and Lyndsay went back to the new streamway and surveyed up and downstream to constrictions in both directions. 335m surveyed.

Imogen, Roger and Dave continued surveying downstream to a sump pool and then up an inlet, which ended in a rift climb requiring bolting. 292m surveyed.

Terry, Torben and Louise continued in the fossil passage to a large boulder choke, which appeared promising and could be pushed. They then pushed an active inlet off the fossil passage, which is ongoing. 790m surveyed.

Fraser, Raplan, Peter and Des went to the Krang area down from the camp and identified pots that had already been dropped. They then finished off the sauna.

Henry and Simon went to Krem Pol Lumthymme and descended the pot to a depth of around 14m where a too-tight constriction was met. 18m of passage surveyed. They then went spot-holing and took GPS readings on two nearby sites, Pol Lumthymme Doline and Lyntan Thiew both of which offered limited prospects.

Tony B and Jayne went to Lost World doline and confirmed that there is no passable underground connection between Um Im 5 and Um Im 6 and also that the Um Im 6 entrance is the lowest point in the doline.

Thomas stayed in camp and worked on the surface map. Brian stayed in camp to work on his report.

Kate, Matt and Fiona returned to Krem Lyngtah and surveyed to a boulder collapse/aven(?), there is a possible way on but they considered it too dangerous. 186m surveyed.

Thursday 16th February

After a night of extremely heavy rain (4 or 5”) during which the camp roof proved to be not totally watertight (!) everyone and everything was wet; the day was spent huddling in the dining area and adding tarpaulins to the roof. The sauna tarps also had to be redeployed.  The rain continued throughout the day but spirits remained high, while beer stocks fell dramatically.

Friday 17th February

There was more rain, lightning and even hail on Thursday night but the reinforced camp fared much better and Friday dawned dry and reasonably bright.  Gear was laid out to dry and teams left on the following trips:

Brian and Fraser started from Litein teashop and walked round to the base of the ridge documenting the destruction of Shnongrim Karst areas by indiscriminate illegal mining. At the request of Brian, Fraser took film and still photos of the devastation.

Kate, Derek and Hugh went partway down Krem Umsohtung on a photo trip.

J.Rat and Neil went to Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo, over the ridge from Krem Bir.  They GPS’d the entrance and marked it on the map.  They continued rigging past the previous limit and down two more pitches to a wet boulder choke and a squeeze through boulders to the head of a 30m pitch.

Terry, Torben and Louise went on a surface recce around Krem Pohjingtep and located a small subsidiary sink. They searched various closed depressions and found Field Pot, an open shaft. They followed a stream downhill and noted some minor karst features. A fissure cave was noted halfway up the escarpment on their return.

Annie, Mark and Henry went down Shyien Khlieh and Henry bolted up an aven at the end of Use Dipper at Night; he reached a big ledge about 10m up but the aven carried on up at least 40m.  They took some photos in the main passage, and then rigged the connection to the parallel streamway; once there they investigated the downstream sump/boulder choke, but found no way on.

Roger, Tom and Peter went round from the cement factory on a surface survey covering about 5km, continuing Tom’s survey of the ridge.

Imogen remained in camp with tiredness.

Semassi - Simon, Dave, Fiona, Matt, Tony B, Jayne and Lyndsay set off Semasi to stay in the IB for a few days and continue the exploration of Krem Tyngheng.  Late afternoon all went into Nummalite Boulevard where passage details were drawn in and photos taken. In the evening the group were accommodated at IB with food arranged in the village.

Saturday 18th February

Mark, Annie, Peter and Henry went down Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and investigated the mother and father of all boulder chokes. No way through could be found, although they pushed approximately 30m into it. They then returned to the entrance, taking photos along the way.

Roger, Imogen and Derek went to Kneewrecker 2, some small passages that broke into a canyon and series of short pitches. They dropped into the lovin’ it, labbit passage and surveyed out. 163m surveyed.

Torben, Louise, Hugh and Kate went to the upstream passage in Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and continued surveying the upstream inlet. They were stopped by a muddy climb and calcite blockage. 352m surveyed.

Des, J.Rat and Neil went into Liat Prah to the end of video passage. They bolted and climbed about 5m into a 60m draughting sandy crawl, ending at a solid boulder choke. Dye was put in the stream.

Terry remained in camp drawing surveys. Fraser remained in camp ill. 

Semassi; Simon Lyndsay and Matt went into downstream wet series where they drew passage detail along old survey and surveyed 68m of new passage.

Tony B, Dave and Fiona went to chocolate passage to explore un-pushed leads and surveyed 228m.

Raplang remained in Semassi securing beer supplies, transport opportunities and locations of previously unknown caves.

Jayne returned to camp not feeling well.

Sunday 19th February


Peter, Annie, and Hugh went looking for a reported sinkhole in the Wah Sapoh area and ended up bashing through thick jungle lapiaz eventually finding a 20m deep pot with a stream crossing the bottom: Krem Gerald Hubmayr. They also found a sink once out of the jungle, Parrot Sink.

Mark and Des spent the day in camp entering a spectacular amount of data and drawing up surveys.

Tom and Brian completed their survey of the base of the ridge with the section around Umthe.

Henry, Roger, Imogen, Torben, Louise and Derek went to Krem Labbit (Khaidong).

Henry and Roger pushed the back of the choke below the big pitch, looking for upstream passage, but the choke was impassable. Henry then went to downstream, where he bolted into two high level passages.  One didn’t go and the other went into a bat-filled boulder choke (Labbit choke), which remains unpushed.  He then met up with Roger and Imogen. 101m surveyed.

Torben, Louise and Derek went to the fossil passage in and looked at two side passages on the left (as you go in), pushing one near the big stal column 350m from the pitch; this yielded 265m which was surveyed, and is still going.  The other is about 200m further on and still needs pushing (a wet crawl!)

Terry, Kate and Shelley went to Krem Umsohtung and pushed upstream as far as a wet 5m climb. then they went from a small chamber in the streamway up a boulder slope through a mud crawl to a chamber with a draughting aven just round the corner; another possible lead goes off here but is not brilliant.  401m surveyed.

J.Rat, Neil and Fraser continued rigging and surveying Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo to intersect a huge active stream passage at about 100m depth. They surveyed a couple of hundred metres upstream and were delighted not to have to kiss any more frogs!

Semassi; Simon, Lyndsay and Matt returned to the leads in the downstream wet section of Krem Tyngeng where they surveyed 430m with many leads remaining.

Tony B, Dave, Jayne and Fiona returned to chocolate passage where they finished remaining leads before going to dry section to continue surveying 184m.

Lyndsay, Dave and Simon videoed the main streamway.

Monday 20th February

Torben, Louise and Peter went to Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and pushed the crawl near the big stal in the fossil passage, surveyed c250m, still going.

Roger, Henry and Imogen went back to Kneewrecker 2 to bolt into the daylight shaft, where locals accidentally started dropping trees down on them. The shaft had a flat gravel bottom with no leads (c40m deep). They continued to the downstream boulder choke and found no way on.

Tom remained in camp and continued work on the area map and surveys.

Kate, Hugh and Des spent the day organizing all the first aid kits for underground and camps.

J.Rat, Neil and Shelley went to Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo and surveyed upstream for 223m. On the way out Shelley suffered back problems, which delayed their exit.

Terry, Brian and Derek and Fraser were dropped off at the Letein teashop and walked to Sumer. They were given information on the location of several caves. They recce’d the area and Derek spotted one resurgence.

Mark and Annie went to Krem Shyein Khlieh and explored the limit of the parallel upstream passage (Yvo’s boring passage). The end was found to be a too tight rift. A nearby side passage was pushed through a duck into ca. 200m of interesting inlet, ending at an impressive aven with Cappadoccian style mud pillars. They derigged the cave.

Semassi; Tony B, Matt, Jayne and Fiona remained on the surface and failed to relocated entrance to Krem Kdong Semassi

Simon, Lyndsay and Dave collected a bamboo maypole from the cave entrance and went to the high level passage nearby, where access was gained to 240m of fine passage. This led to a new entrance. The maypole was carried to another high level passage where 40m was surveyed.

That afternoon all returned to the Shnongrim camp.

Krem Shyein Khlieh

Tuesday 21st February

Mark, Thomas, Peter and Torben went to Wah Shikar area. They looked for a cave nearby reported by Raplang, without finding anything other than a rising stream. A local man showing them to another flooded rift in the Iawe direction. They then went up the climb in Wah Shikar to the 2005 extensions but found the short wet section sumped. Mark dug through boulders above to get through but they were stopped by extra mud fill at the former flat out mud crawl. They therefore excited, helping Torben with video en route.

Hugh, Des, and Fiona went to Wah Sapoh area. Whilst looking around for a sink entrance, they followed a dry streambed upstream and some locals showed them to an entrance – Krem Wah Um Bloh. They then hitched back from Lelad in a “pimped up” Maruti.

Jrat, Neil, Fraser and Imogen went down Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo and surveyed downstream. A boulder choke in a large boulder filled chamber was passed into a swimming phreatic passage continuing.

Simon, Dave, Louise, Terry, Matt and Derek went to Krem Umsohtung. Simon, Dave, and Louise investigated the climb at the upstream end of the cave.  This was free climbed to reach a larger and very muddy passage (named the ‘Village Shitter Passage’) where 79m of passage were surveyed to reach a calcite impasse. They then went to the aven at the end of the Boulder Chamber side passage, which was climbed using bolts by Dave to reach a short inlet passage ending in a high aven. 26m of passage surveyed. Terry, Matt and Derek pushed downstream and after lots of crawling reached main stream ( Master Cave!) passage/main drain. 206m surveyed.

Kate, Annie and Henry went to the crawl in Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and after c30m they found survey stations and connected with Krem Umim 6, via the previously explored Shnongrim Subway (dug open from above in 2004).

Tony B and Jayne remained in camp kit fettling.

Wednesday 22nd February

Tony B and Jayne went to re-GPS Krem Ticha, the resurgence for Umthloo, and we now have an accurate GPS position.  It took them three hours to get there through the jungle but only an hour and a quarter to get back on the Shaktiman track.

Des, Fiona and Hugh went back to Krem Wah Um Bloh, rigging down the wet ‘Pimp my Maruti’ pitch and gained a dry parallel shaft. The water in the already very wet entrance rose during the trip and they came out before getting to the bottom of the pitch. Today’s hitchhike back was on two Shaktimans.

Imogen, Annie and Louise had a girly trip in the entrance series of Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and found another pitch which probably drops into the main chamber. They also surveyed an inlet, which led to another entrance, approximately 20m from the original one; 156m were surveyed in all. On emerging, Annie was surprised to find herself being filmed for TV by the press who had come up from Shillong with Brian for the night; but she has settled into stardom quite well.

Terry drew up surveys in camp and then took the film crew and newspaper reporters to Krem Labbit (Khaidong).

Simon, Dave and Torben descended Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and, working from the base of the main pitch, explored and surveyed several unpushed leads along the fossil passage.  513m were surveyed, including a new streamway

Mark, Roger and Matt went to Krem Umsohtung and surveyed upstream in the main passage, to a choke where a calcite climb may yield a way on. They then surveyed a side passage loop, took some photos and exited the cave 660m surveyed.  They were invited into a house in Lelad for tea and betelnut before returning to camp.

Peter and Kate went down Snowman’s Pot into Krem Liat Prah; Peter bolted up a climb next to some beautiful red flowstone into a small tube decorated with calcite but only 11m long.

Jrat, Neil and Henry went down Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo and surveyed the downstream continuation for 250m into a very large boulder choke; this was pushed for 50m or so.  Another trip is needed to complete the survey and investigate the choke further.

A bottle of whisky was given to Thomas for his hard work on the data and a party went on late into to the night with the whole team and press.

Thursday 23rd February 2006

The Semassi team departed. Tony B, Simon, Dave and Kate went to Krem Tngheng and using the bamboo maypole left in the cave, they explored the remaining high level side passages in the main river passage. These all proved very short. They then went to the fossil river series where Tony B, Dave and Kate surveyed 69m in the high rift passage and Simon added passage detail to the previous years survey skeleton.

Imogen, Annie, Louise, Torben, Derek and Lyndsay went back to Krem Labbit (Khaidong). A voice connection was made from the pitchhead found the previous day (above the main pitch) and the main chamber. A new rift passage was also discovered but not explored. The team then went to the far end of the cave. Imogen Annie and Louise spent 45mins digging a muddy crawl that was heading towards Krem Shreih. The crawl, however, was too difficult to dig and less than 1m progress was made, before being abandoned. Imogen, Annie and Derek then went to push downstream in the new streamway. This was pushed 74m through two collapses and a duck to a third collapse which was unstable and could not be pushed.

Louise, Torban and Lyndsay hammered the far end of QuickMud passage into a passage, which choked again in calcite. This was draughting strongly and would require chiseling. The passage was heading towards the undescended shaft of Krem Chuni.

Mark, Roger and Terry went downstream in Krem Umsohtung, which choked after 200m. They then climbed the calcite above the upstream main passage choke, but found no way on. They then completed some side passage loops. 380m surveyed.

Jrat and Neil remained in camp, drawing up and resting.

Matt, Jayne and Des remained in camp recovering from various ailments.

Hugh, Fiona and Peter went to Krem Gerald Hubmayr, which descended 17m to around 30m of well-decorated passage, ending at a choke. 65m surveyed. 

Fraser accompanied the Shillong film crew to Shnongrim, where they met the headman and went to the Durba. They then collected Henry and Brian from the camp and went to Krem Labbit for some filming. The filmcrew then returned to Shillong in the late afternoon with Thomas.

Friday 24th February

Jrat, Neil, Roger and Mark pushed and surveyed downstream in Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo into a small chamber with four ways on. The first followed the streamway to a choke. The second led to a large chamber ending in breakdown. Both the third and fourth choked. They surveyed 450m.

Hugh, Des, Peter and Terry went down Krem Wah Um Bloh and finished rigging the parallel shaft, now wet (named Shaktiman surfing). At the bottom the stream sinks through a boulder choke which was followed for 30m until no way on could be found. The cave was then derigged. 64m surveyed.

Henry and Annie went to Kneewrecker2 and derigged. Annie then spent the afternoon drawing up survey, while Henry washed ropes.

Fraser, Fiona Brian and Jayne went first to Ladrymbai to drop off Torban and Louise, who were leaving. They then went to Lumshnong to document the Limestone Quarrying and the caves Krem Kharasniang, Krem Um Lawan and Krem Um Kseh at risk from this activity. They then returned to Ladrymbai to collect David and the food.

Imogen and Derek returned to Krem Labbit (Khaidong). They surveyed Henry’s high level bat chamber phreatic tube to a boulder collapse with no way on; they then derigged the bolt climb. They then went and pushed a crawl off Disto Inferno, which went for 60m to breakdown. After this, they pushed an upstream inlet, which ended in a 10m duck, which Imogen went through into a boulder choke which draughts. This was not pushed further and is potentially ongoing. 120m surveyed in total.

Semassi, (Krem Tngheng): Simon, Tony B, Dave, Dale and Kate surveyed 522m in the complex wet series named the TipeeToe Canals. Two major swimming leads were left open. Matt walked down from the ridge, left his gear at the I.B. and joined the teams in the cave. He then spent the afternoon bug collecting.

Saturday 25th February

Mark, Terry, Henry, Roger and Fraser did some photography in Krem Labbit (Khaidong). They investigated the last remaining side passage in the upstream, which went to a very small duck after less than 40m.

Peter, Annie and Derek rigged Krem Chuni near Khaidong and after an interesting 50m calcite lined pitch, enlarged a calcite squeeze to connect with Krem Labbit (Khaidong).

Brian, Des, Fiona and Hugh went to the Letein teashop and were shown two new sites to the north. They arranged a guide from Moulasgni for the following day.

Jrat, Imogen and Neil went into Umthloo and pushed a low crawl to gain some walking passage. 79m surveyed.

Jayne remained in camp resting her back injury.

Semassi, (Krem Tngheng): Simon, Kate and Dale surveyed some drier leads off the TipeeToe Canals after which they moved to the fossil river series, where passage detail was added to the old skeletons. They then surveyed some of the leads in the fossil river series before running out of time. 379m surveyed with over 30 unpushed leads remaining.

Tony B, Dave and Matt pushed the swimming leads in the TipeeToe Canals until coldness forced a retreat. 276m surveyed.

Sunday 26th February

Mark, Fraser, Roger and Henry went upstream in Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo where they pushed the boulder choke without finding any way through. Henry enlarged some calcite squeezes with a similar lack of success. The team then took some photos on the way out.

Jrat and Imogen descended Krem Chuni and went through the connection to Krem Labbit (Khaidong) where they collected some biological samples and derigged the main pitch in Labbit on the way out.

Peter, Annie and Derek descended Krem Chuni and surveyed from the Krem Labbit (Khaidong) connection up a blind calcite climb. They left a crawling passage ongoing and surveyed the pitch. 131m surveyed.

Brian, Hugh, Des and Terry went to Moolasgni on the eastern flank of the ridge, north of the tea shop. With their guide, Ekna, they went past a circle of monoliths/fort to a valley to the north, where they located ten sites, including another Krem Labbit. The third shaft to Labbit was c50m deep with mist blowing out. They then took some photos at Krem Labbit (Shnongrim) for Brian’s report.

Jayne and Fiona remained in camp.

Semassi: The team managed to borrow a Shaktiman from the 2004 headman, Bgind Paslein, and accompanied by the Semassi guide Gripbymon Dkhar drove to the villages of Pala and Kseh on reconnaissance. The impressive entrance of Krem Labbit (for a change) was visited along with Krem Bliat, both look to have excellent prospects. They returned to Semassi and then walked back up to the ridge to the waiting jeep.

Monday 27th February

Mark and Neil took some photos in the entrance series of Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo then derigged the cave.

Matt, Henry, Terry, Simon, Hugh, Peter, Kate and Fiona went down Krem Umsohtung.

Matt, Henry and Terry surveyed the cross rift in the crab passage, upstream led beyond a wet section to ongoing inlet, downstream was also left ongoing. 230m surveyed.

Simon, Hugh and Peter took photographs in the crab passage and downstream main passage.

Kate and Fiona pushed an upstream side passage left ongoing in walking size. 191m surveyed.

The cave was derigged.

Jrat, Fraser, Brian, Imogen and Dave went to Krem Ksar and Krem Khangbru, where they played with the boat, did some video and surveyed 172m.

Annie, Derek and Roger went down Krem Chuni and finished the crawl. They surveyed 66m and derigged the cave.

Tony, Des and Jayne remained in camp.

Tuesday 28th February

Mark, Simon, Annie, Roger, Imogen, Peter, Fiona, Tony B, Jayne, Brian and Dale returned to Shillong in two sumos. Despite some traffic jams they were back in time for Shelley and Maxwell’s engagement ceremony and the following party.

Jrat, Terry and Henry went to Krem Labbit 3 (Moolasgni) and dropped a 90m open shaft into a large streamway. They surveyed 650m leaving ten open leads. They also identified the green dye thought to be coming from video passage in Liat Prah. The cave is thought to head for Krem Rubong.

Terry returned to camp to delay the pickup, giving the surveyors extra time.

Des and Dave derigged Krem Labbit (Khaidong).

Hugh and Raplang went to a new shaft near the camp and GPS’d it.

Matt, Neil, Kate, Derek remained in camp washing ropes and packing up.

Wednesday 1st March

Peter, Annie, Roger and Fiona went on a sightseeing tour to Cherrapunjee and Laitkynsew whilst the other people in Shillong sorted gear and data.

The remaining team on the ridge broke camp and travelled back to Shillong, via the Nartiang monuments.

Thursday 2nd March

The team sorted and catalogued equipment, and bought souvenirs in Shillong. There followed a party hosted by the Tourist board at the Pinewood Hotel, with beer sponsored by Mohan Meakins. An afterparty at Robin Laloo’s house continued until the early hours.

Friday 3rd March

Terry left for Cherrapunjee with Dennis.

The main team travelled to Gauhati by Sumo, where Imogen, Neil and Henry left for further traveling and the main group flew to Calcutta.

Fermanagh 2006

Chris Jewell

Rich Bayfield, Andy Kuzyk, Charlotte Harris, Rich Beer and myself (some of the BEC youth) went to Fermanagh in Northern Ireland for a long weekend of caving.

A couple of years earlier I’d been to Mallorca on a caving and canyoning trip with a large contingent of Irish cavers and when I met one of them in the Hunters in September I thought it was about time I went and did some caving over there.

So I emailed the group (the yahoo mailing list was still working) and Stephen McCullagh got straight back to me with an invite to come caving in Fermanagh. He also told us about staying in Agnahoo if we felt brave. As it was going to be a BEC trip I thought an old stone cottage in the middle of the countryside with no electricity and no running water was perfect!!

The others got flights from Bristol whilst I flew from Luton on Thursday night and we all met in Belfast Airport at about 10.30pm. After a quick food pit stop we headed for the countryside of Fermanagh. Finding the way turning to Agnahoo in the rain in the middle of the night was a bit tricky but finally we were sat in front of warm fire drinking baileys (from duty free) and eating flap jacks (provided by Rich Bayfield’s girlfriend). We all then bedded down in the front room after deciding that at 0 degrees it was too cold to sleep upstairs.

Friday morning dawned bright but cold and we headed off to Enniskillen to do our shopping for the week. After stocking up on wood coal, Tea lights, plenty of food and booze we had a late breakfast and packed up for Prods Pot. Charlotte was trying to find creative ways of avoiding caving and suggested various ‘warmer’ alternatives but I was having no dissention in the ranks and we headed off to get underground at about 3pm.

Whilst we kitted up Charlotte made lots of jokey remarks about forgetting kit and not having to go underground as she got changed. But when we were finally ready she was actually looking forward to the trip which made it somewhat ironic when at the entrance to the cave she assembled her SRT kit to discover she’d left her Croll at Agnahoo! We did actually feel sorry for her but I also hope she’s learnt not to tempt fate!

Prods, with its narrow pitches was an excellent introduction to Irish caving and the final pitch complete with boulder squeeze is a good bit of fun. At the bottom the four of us ditched our kits and headed off down stream, checking out several very muddy side passages on the way. We finally turned around above a narrow foam filled canal before heading quickly out.

Back at Agnahoo team slick got into action – whilst I improvised kit storage and ‘drying’ facilities, Andy and Rich Beer started on dinner, Charlotte lit a fire and Rich Bayfield de-knotted ropes. Soon we were all sat in front of the fire sipping beer, shovelling down a delicious curry and feeling pretty good about ourselves. Not long after one of our hosts – Steve Macnamara arrived and the six of us had a cosy night around the fire swapping caving stories. Poor Steve has to be commended for his patience with Charlotte, who was so fascinated by his Irish accent she imitated it badly several times – with the rest of us glaring at her and me poking her in the ribs.

The next day Steve had arranged to take us caving and we packed for Noon’s Hole. However knowing how wet it was we were prepared for an alternative which Steve knew about. The water pouring down Noon’s was orange with mud so we made the smart decision to go to Pollaraftara instead. Steve chatted to the Farmer to get permission whilst we kept back and stayed quiet (he doesn’t like English people) then we trekked through a boggy field over the entrance. This was an excellent river cave and we enjoyed ourselves for over an hour or so before we reached a deep canal. Rich Bayfield volunteered to see how far he could get but after 30m or so he was out of his depth and had to struggle against the flow back to us. This cut our trip short but what we did see was excellent and I’d love to go back and do some more of the cave.

Steve left us that night but back in Enniskillen we met the other Steve - Stephen McCullagh in the pub for our first Guinness of the trip. Back in Agnahoo after dinner more booze was consumed and the conversation became seriously weird with a discussion of favourite S.I. units led by Rich Beer and Andy (who wasn’t drinking!!).

The following day a trip was arranged for Rich Bayfield, Andy and myself (the others went walking) to Shannon cave - which has an interesting history: In 1980 the Reyfad Group opened up the Shannon entrance and explored downstream, passing George’s Choke in 1990. Beyond the choke they discovered several hundred metres of cave terminating in an un-dived sump. Only half a dozen groups have ever seen this section of cave as George’s Choke was extremely unstable (frequently falling in) and the entrance to Shannon finally collapsed in the mid 90’s. In 2005 both Steve’s, Les Brown and a team of diggers finally broke into Shannon from a previously unconnected cave – Polltullyard.

More recently they have been working on getting back through George’s choke and have carried a great deal of scaffold bar to stabilise the route through. We went down with Steve to have a look at the work done and have a look at some of his other leads.

A fine pitch in Polltullyard leads to some low crawling and then the connection tube/squeeze. Beyond here the cave opens up, firstly to some traversing, then to a pleasant stroll past fine formations before reaching the streamway. The cave continues in fine style and proportions – occasionally being interrupted by small squeezes or boulder chokes. We reached George’s choke without incident and had a look at the team’s work – which is very impressive – before going to do a bit of exploring of our own. Steve showed us to Agnahoo chamber where they have started to set up a campsite. We were very impressed with all of this, it seemed that not many people had been here and there were lots of possibilities. After a bit of poking around Andy K and Rich Bayfield went up a climb and through a squeeze, which the more recent explorers hadn’t seen. This led to a short crawl and a chamber, which doesn’t appear on the survey so Steve was pretty pleased. Whilst we were having a bit of a dig in one of the leads Rich and Andy went to get some tools from Georges choke. They hadn’t been gone long when they came quickly back with the news that the water (which was ankle deep when we went in) was now waist deep!

We quickly shot out of the dig and back up the stream way. There are several places where you need to stoop down in the streamway to pass by boulders and these all played on our minds as we headed our – the last thing we wanted was to spend the night underground! Fortunately we got out with just a couple of ducks to pass and were soon on the surface in the cold evening air. Shannon really hit a note with all of us – it felt like Daren Cilau must of when they started to camp – full of potential! And we all talked excitedly about doing long weekend trips to Ireland to help with exploration.

On our last night we sat round a roaring hot fire in t-shirts feeling great about our four days in Ireland and planning a return. I thoroughly recommend going caving in this excellent region.    

Bloody Students !!!!, or  THE C.H.E.C.C. SEMINAR and PARTY 2006.

Part 1 the build up

The day after the A.G.M., I saw a poster on the Belfry notice board announcing the C.H.E.C.C. annual Seminar and Party, the latter of which was to be a Barbie held at the Belfry, organised by Our newly appointed Tackle Master, Chris Jewell. I decided to let Him know that,” I have a contact at a catering supply company”, and, if required, I would be able to supply the majority of the food needed for the Barbie at trade price. After all, one way or another, it would be of benefit to the B.E.C.  He, on behalf of the C.H.E.C.C., accepted……………Thus; the Can of Worms was opened.

A few weeks passed, e-mails whizzed between Chris and myself, (and, I presume between Chris and the C.H.E.C.C. Committee), a shopping list was agreed on, and the preliminary figure of 200 odd Students was revised down to around 150. (Hmmmm, I’d been told “At least 200”, that Can of worms just may be turning into a Bucket!!).

“ Was there anything else you want me to sort out”, I foolishly asked. “Well”, came the reply, “There’s the Bread rolls and Baps, and the Charcoal”, (Charcoal!!!!, where the bloody hell am I going to get charcoal from at this time of the year, Yep, definitely a Bucket!),

As it turned out, the charcoal was easy to get, Halloween and Nov.5th having just passed, and, having asked Henry Bennett about the amount used at the summer party, I decided to buy a lot.

Next, the bread. I ordered those through My Brother in Law, a Manager at the local Sainsbury’s…….(Cool, back to a can again!).

Then the Barbeque Stuff. The order was duly phoned through to My suppliers, but, the new secretary, God bless Her Cotton Brain, could not process the order, because, She Said, (a)“ Cash Customer” wasn’t recognised by the Computer, and, (b) She couldn’t give me a total price for the order anyway, because….See point (a).

Therefore, I could not have anything,  “Sorry”.

(The can then bypassed the bucket stage, and went directly to “45 Gallon Drum, brim full of the wriggling little Buggers).

Just then, the owner of the company (My Contact) joined into the conversation, and, realising who it was that was just about to get the shaft, sorted the whole thing out. (back to a can, again, and a small one at that). 

On the Thursday, 23rd picked up the rolls, on Friday 24th, left work, went to my suppliers, picked up the food, drove down to Mendip. Left the Can in Northampton

Part 2. The Party.

The weekend kicked off on a miserable, wet, Friday night, with a Fancy dress Party at The Hunters, that saw hoards of students in the back room, looking like refugees from The Rocky Horror Show. After that everyone adjourned to the Belfry for a few more beers………….well, the best part of two barrels actually.

On arrival at the Belfry, a grinning J-Rat, agog at the scenes of drunken revelry proclaimed, “Ahhhhh, this is what the Belfry used to be like on a Friday Night.

No argument from me there.

Saturday saw the much-threatened rain and high winds happily fail to materialise, The Caving God’s it seemed were smiling on Us. Preparations went along smoothly. The Marquee’s went up, Ivan’s giant Barbeque arrived, along with His giant Speakers, the sound and lighting systems were set up without a hitch, and, that food that needed any preparation was duly prepared (note: the best way to peel and chop a net full of Onions is to arm 3 students with knives, and point them at said onions and tell them to get too it…Oh, its good to be the king!), Dany “Chef” Bradshaw also started to cook up the B.B.Q. Beans, and then, with a little “encouragement” from Mad Phil. the fire was lit.

About 9 p.m. the food was served. Over the next hour or so, the cooks did sterling work. Hannah Bell, Henry Bennett, Dany Bradshaw, and Ian Gregory, cooked and served nearly 200 portions, in conditions that varied between freezing cold to scorching heat. With the masses all fed, the catering staff adjourned to the party tent.

The sounds were great, the light show too, the beer flowed freely and everyone had a great time in the tent, until 12:30, when, due to noise restrictions, the throng migrated inside.

Inside the Belfry was a sight to behold. There was drinking, singing, dancing, on the floor and on “The” Table. There was a great mass of happy, half naked, yes that’s right, half naked people who’s only concern was to have a damn good time, They all seemed to have succeeded…….and all TO EXCESS. 

Part 3, some “Excessive statistics”.

For the Anoraks amongst You, here are some statistics.

Over the course of the weekend the following was consumed.

 56 Kg. of Lumpwood Charcoal. (& 5 pints of “Encouragement”)
 192 ¼ lb. Burgers.
 50 Veggie Burgers.
 160 12” Jumbo Sausages.
 1.4 kg. of  Cheese Burger slices. (not nearly enough)
 5.4 kg. of Bakes Beans.
 4 kg. of Coleslaw.
 4 kg. of Potato Salad.
 1.5 litres of Barbeque Sauce.
 4.5 litres of Tomato Ketchup.
 ½ litre of Chilli Sauce.
 ¼ litre Garlic Sauce
 320 Bread Rolls. (160 each Burger Baps & Jumbo Hot Dog Rolls.)
 10 kg. of  Onions.
 10 kg. of Mixed Green Salad.
 7 Barrels of Butcombe (504 pints !!!!)
 an Unknown amount of Spirits.

 And, last, but not least…….….. 36 Toilet Rolls.

The opinion of all those present that night was that everything went well. Great even.

Both the students and, those Belfry-ites that were there all had a good time.

Thanks go out to all those who pulled together to produce a great party.

Mad Phil Roswell, Hannah Bell, Dany Bradshaw, Chris Jewell, Henry Bennett, Jane Clarke our Illustrious Hut warden, The Trustees of the B.E.C. for allowing it all to take place, The Butcombe Brewery, and the C.H.E.C.C. for choosing the Belfry as their venue this year

Yes, in the best traditions of the B.E.C.


Ian “Slug” Gregory.

Rose Cottage Cave - Three Months Hard Labour

Tony Jarratt

“Digging in caves needs considerable dedication, an utter disregard for discomfort, and nerves of steel.”

Bruce L. Bedford, Challenge Underground, 1975.

Continued from B.B.s 522-526. (These articles are penned in order to provide a historical record of the work put into the exploration of Rose Cottage Cave and to illustrate the repetitive and generally unexciting effort expended by the team - not as considered literary efforts!).

Further Digging 12/9/06 - 13/12/06

At the Surface Shaft Dig T.J. filled ten bags with gravelly clay on the 12th September and hauled 1 to surface. Digging continued next day when T.J, S.H. and W.U. removed 50 loads. Meanwhile, somewhere below them, P.H, J.B, H.D, P.C. and A.V. worked frantically in the Halfway Dig to open up a series of tiny but promising voids and even further towards the Earth’s centre laboured H.B. and B.S. as they smashed up a rock pillar and drilled three shot-holes at Plan B Dig. A view into the ongoing rift and the presence of a strong outward draught provided encouragement tonight. A solo trip in the Surface Shaft on the 15th saw another thirteen bags filled with 1 hauled out. The calcite false floor in the ceiling was removed to reveal more mud and the conglomerate-like calcited gravel at the face was found to be akin to rock in its consistency and a sod to dig out. Next day N.U, T.J. and T.H. (the manly hunks) cleared 50 loads from the Surface Shaft Dig, briefly assisted by J.C, A.V. and F.C. (the girlies) on their return from Halfway Dig where they had filled fifteen bags. On the 17th our token Australian digger was ex-BEC member Steve Milner – now a C.E.G.S.A. man. He joined T.J, A.V. and H.B. to liberate another 36 bags of spoil from the Surface Shaft Dig. In the afternoon the team admired R.W. and T.A.’s efforts on the continuing ginging operations. Work at both sites continued on the 20th when S.H, B.O, T.J, H.B. and A.V. dug and hauled out 60 loads from the Surface Shaft Dig – now very roomy and phenomenally easy to excavate - while J.B, J.N, P.C. and T.M. dug and dumped 10 loads from Halfway Dig before becoming uninspired by its potential and frustrated by the lack of stacking space.

Inspired by the comfort of the Surface Shaft Dig T.J. returned on the 21st September to fill twenty bags in an hour and the following evening he was joined by H.B, A.V. and N.U. who continued digging and eventually hauled another 60 loads to the surface. The nature of the passage had now changed from a narrow, steeply dipping rift to a phreatic bedding plane with the in-filled rift above but still descending at the same angle. An apparent floor of calcited cobbles and slabs on top of bedrock provided an attractive feature, which will be washed off at some future point. H.B. and N.U, now firmly hooked, were back the following morning to dig and haul out 32 loads and report that they had unearthed several large rock slabs that needed breaking up. Next day, the 24th September, T.J. did an early morning trip to fill eleven bags and haul 1 out, returning in the afternoon with T.H, P.B. and J.N. to shift another 34 while J.B. and P.C. dug 8 loads from the Halfway Dig, which again looked promising. A one shot-hole charge was fired in a slab in the Surface Shaft Dig and the resulting debris, 11 skip loads, came out next day when the morning shift was A.V, T.J. and T.A. The latter also took photos and measured the underground rift climb at 5 metres. Another one shot-hole charge was fired in a second boulder. After lunch the walling team continued with their project and put up with the post-Hunters’ audience on this fine, warm day.

N.U, on a solo visit to Surface Shaft dig on the 26th September, filled five bags and found that there was considerable bedding-plane development to the NW below the rift climb. This was enlarged next day when he returned with T.J. and S.H. to remove 36 loads. The latter took lots of record images of the dig. At Halfway Dig J.B, P.C, A.V, J.C. and T.M. dug and (miraculously) dumped another 21 loads, finding the going easy in loose, clean rocks and the way on apparently downwards. H.B. and H.D, fresh from their explosives users’ course, laid a four shot-hole 12gm cord charge at Plan B Dig, which was later fired by the Halfway team as they left the cave. J.B. was back at Halfway Dig on the 28th when he filled a dozen bags and he did more work the following day in company with P.C. and J.C. while T.J. and A.V. removed 12 loads from the Surface Shaft Dig and installed improved vacuum piping. Hammering in this dig could be, unsurprisingly, distinctly heard in Mt. Hindrance Lane – the entrance passage of Rose Cottage Cave proper.

October 1st saw T.H. and T.J. removing 17 loads of mainly broken rock and a one shot-hole 12gm cord charge fired in the Surface Shaft Dig while J.C, J.B. and P.C. continued burrowing away at Halfway Dig. Next day the bang was found to have been ineffectual so J.C. and T.J. spent some time hammering at rocks and calcited gravel in an attempt to establish the way on in the Surface Shaft Dig. The more easily dig-able “Inlet Tube” on the right seemed to be the best bet, though a trifle cosy. Halfway Dig was visited by J.B. on the 7th when six bags were filled and lots of cobbles removed until light pox stopped play. Next day B.E.C. dinner survivors T.H. and Nick Gymer removed 5 loads from the Surface Shaft Dig and walling here was continued by the latter, T.A. and R.W. on the 9th.

H.B, H.D. and J.C. cleared and drilled eight shot-holes at Plan B Dig on the 11th and were pleased to report that stones thrown forwards into the rift dropped for an estimated 3 metres. Their colleagues, P.H, J.N, J.B. and P.C. meanwhile worked at Halfway Dig until bad air surprisingly drove them to the Pub. (Five other regulars had been dragged northwards for an intensive week’s holiday digging in Rana Hole, Assynt, Scotland). Two of these, T.J. and P.B. were back on site with J.C. and T.H. on the 16th when five of the Plan B Dig shot-holes were charged and fired, Halfway Dig inspected and another, three hole charge fired in the Surface Shaft Dig. 6 loads were hauled out from here by J.W. using his good arm and glad to be back in the swing of things after smashing his collar bone up in a cycling accident. The spoil from this bang was cleared next day by T.J. and J.N. when about fifteen loads were filled and stacked. In the afternoon R.W. and T.A. brought the wall up to surface level and debated on how to finish it off; concrete pipe or stonework?

The 18th October saw another three teams at work. 10 loads came out from the Surface Shaft Dig where F.C, N.U. and T.J. dug in the Inlet Tube and laid a three shot-hole charge at the face. At Halfway Dig P.B. and P.C. dug onwards in a sandier infill until poor air drove them out. H.B, H.D. and P.H. descended to Plan B Dig to drill and fire a seven shot-hole charge after finding that three of the last holes had been ineffective, having blown out. P.B. and T.J. continued with both digs in the Surface Shaft on the 22nd when 17 loads reached the surface and much more was left bagged below. A monstrous rock kept P.B. occupied for a while but he triumphed eventually. Pete Eckford assisted with hauling. J.N, P.C. and J.B. meanwhile struggled on in the airless conditions of Halfway Dig. More work took place in the Surface Shaft Dig next day when J.N. opened up an encouraging small airspace in the floor dig and T. J. fired a two shot-hole charge to gain easier access to this. The Inlet Tube was found to be issuing a trickle of water, hinting at its possible origin in Bored of the Rings. Many more bags were filled. In the afternoon the dedicated wallers pressed on before the weather broke. The bang debris in Surface Shaft Dig was cleared by T.J. on the 25th while H.B. and P.H. cleared much of that from Plan B Dig in poor air conditions. Two days later the air was better and H.B. and Ernie White continued clearing before drilling a four shot-hole charge, which they fired on the way out. At the same time J.B. dug at Halfway and also reported better air conditions after opening up an area of airspaces and large boulders in the floor. Up in the Surface Shaft Dig T.J. and Andy Norman moved lots of full bags up to the top ledge, broke up rocks and drilled one shot-hole. A second shot-hole was drilled by T.J. on the 29th while J.C. and F.C. filled all available empty bags with spoil from the Inlet Tube. Another 12gm cord charge was fired. The broken rock was partly cleared next day by D.I. while T.J. took top cave photographer John Forder and his wife Miranda to Aglarond 3  (their trip report and pictures can be found in a recent M.N.R.C. journal) Some clearing was done at Plan B Dig in fumey conditions and Halfway Dig inspected. A single shot-hole charge was then laid and fired in the Surface Shaft Dig. In the afternoon he joined R.W. and T.A. on the walling epic.

November 1st saw the onset of winter at last with much colder weather and a lack of desire for surface hauling. The spoil from the last Surface Shaft Dig bang was cleared by T.J. and lots of bags filled from the Inlet Tube Dig. S.H. arrived later to haul 15 loads to surface where they were emptied behind the new ginging. Previous to this he had assisted J.B, J.N. and P.C. at Halfway Dig where large boulders embedded in the floor presented removal difficulties. H.B. and H.D. cleared most of the remaining spoil from the Plan B Dig bang and drilled eight shot-holes. Despite the dramatic weather change bad air conditions were still prevalent throughout the cave. J.C. and T.J. hauled out 15 loads from the Surface Shaft Dig on the 3rd November and shifted and filled many others. J.B. dug alone at Halfway next day and was encouraged enough to return on the 5th with P.C. and open up various draughting voids between boulders. Meanwhile T.J. and D.B, assisted by H.D. on the surface, removed 27 loads of spoil from the Surface Shaft Dig and another 15 loads were dragged out later that day by T.J, T.H. and P.B. who also filled many more bags from both dig sites. T.J. was back here next day with a hungover H.D. and Robin Sheen of the Burren Crawlers. After hauling out 36 loads they were joined by explosives technician Charlie Adcock, his assistant Ambrose Buchanan and a couple of his northern mining enthusiast mates, Karl Fearn (Cumbria Ore Mines Rescue Unit) and Paul Cheetham. T.J drilled three shot-holes in the roof and floor of the lower dig and A.B. charged them with malleable plastic explosive (actually a commercial bomb filler!) and three detonators wired in series. C.A. used his state-of-the-art exploder to fire this impressive charge and the team retired to the Hunters’ for well-deserved libations. C.A, K.F. and A.B. returned in the afternoon to clear 16 skips of shattered bang debris, which T.J. hauled out while P.Ch. cleaned the drill and R.W. re-arranged the adjacent spoil heaps as part of the walling project.

P.B, H.D, J.C. and Martin Smith were back down the Surface Shaft Dig on the 8th when the rest of the bang spoil was cleared – 25 loads being hauled out by A.V, T.J. and C.A. Two shot-holes were then drilled and another charge of “Charlie’s Special” prepared for future use. H.B, K.F. and A.B. drilled one more shot-hole in Plan B Dig then charged the total of nine holes with more of this powerful explosive connected to “non-el” detonators, firing on the way out after P.C, P.H. and J.N. had completed their shift in Halfway Dig - having revealed a too narrow, descending open rift which itself was begging for the next application of “chemical hammer”. Much of that evening’s pub conversation revolved around the latest choice of “guest ales” which inspired C.A. to propose a regular “guest explosive” at the dig. Those who had seen him in action on TV’s Inside Out documentary two days previously were well aware that this was not merely pub talk! The Halfway Dig rift had not long to wait as next day H.B. and H.D. descended upon it to drill a couple of shot-holes and fire a 40gm cord charge. T.J. also fired that laid the previous day in the Surface Shaft Dig. 

Henry B. returned to Plan B Dig on Armistice Day in company with Martin Beal (Chelsea S.S.). The last bang had turned the rift walls to a heap of dust but the pair had no time to clear it as the apparent lack of fumes had deceived them and in making a hasty retreat M.B. actually blacked out for about twenty seconds giving H.B. great cause for concern as his addled brain despaired on the thoughts of trying to pull his 6ft+ mate up Prancer’s Pot alone and without flaking out himself. Luckily they made it out and yet again a valuable lesson had been learnt – a process common to all trainee bang enthusiasts! Discussions with doctors Boycott and Glanvill suggested that CO2 was the problem - possibly heightened by the fact that non-smoking, ultra-fit, high altitude mountaineer M.B. was more susceptible to this than his somewhat less healthy life-styled colleague! Later that day J.B. and P.C. cleared some of the spoil from the fume-free Halfway Dig and reported that more widening was required. This was done on the 12th by H.B. and M.B. who only got in a single shot-hole charge due to an excess of un-cleared spoil while T.J. and P.B. cleared the spoil from the last Surface Shaft Dig bang and laid another two hole, 40gm cord charge. 4 skip-loads and a frog were hauled out. 1 more load came out on the 13th when T.J. bagged up the resultant bang debris and fired another two shot-hole charge. In the afternoon he assisted R.W. and T.A. with their entrance walling.

November 15th saw two teams hard at work in the Surface Shaft and Halfway Digs. In the former T.J, P.B, P.H. and A.L. cleared the debris from the last bang at the bottom, dug in the Inlet Tube and raised 50 loads to surface. In the latter J.B, P.C. and J.C. also cleared bang spoil and had a general tidy-up. Two draughting ways on could be seen, both requiring chemical persuasion. This was provided on the 17th when T.J. fired a one shot-hole, 12gm cord-wrapped charge on two large boulders located between these holes. A huge and suspect slab in the ceiling was noted so an old miners’ trick was used to check its stability. The narrow bedding-plane crack above it was filled with smoothed off clay so that any movement would be made evident by its disturbance – a “tell tale”.  J.B, J.C. and Ian Matthews cleared and stacked more spoil in the meantime. J.B. and P.C, desperate for glory, went down next day to explore the miles of passage beyond but the Law of Sod came into play when they noticed that the “tell tale” had indeed opened up to prove the instability of the hanging death above. Wisely they called it a day. Over a dozen bags of spoil were filled by T.J. from the Inlet Tube Dig in the Surface Shaft on the morning of the 20th and in the afternoon R.W, T.A. and T.J. continued with the walling project. A section of plastic drainpipe was emplaced at ground level. To keep the grafters happy J.C. made the tea.

The next burst of enthusiasm was on the 22nd November when digging and hauling in the Surface Shaft Dig resulted in 43 loads out. A.L, P.C, B.O, J.C, J.N, P.H. and T.J. were to blame. J.N. and P.H. also attempted a joss-stick scent connection between A1 and Halfway Digs, alas in vain. In the surprisingly bad-air free depths H.B. and H.D. cleared much of the spoil from the last Plan B Dig bang and reported a slight draught. On their way out they drilled and banged the hanging death at Halfway Dig. Some of the spoil from this bang was cleared by J.B. and P.C. on the 25th and R.W. re-arranged the Surface Shaft spoil heap next day. On the 27th he was joined by T.A. and T.J. for more walling in between heavy showers – these deterring F.C. and J.C. from a proposed Morton’s Pot trip and encouraging them to clear more bang spoil in Plan B Dig.  This was followed up on the 29th when H.B. and H.D. drilled and fired a four shot-hole charge while J.B. tidied up at Halfway and T.J. filled six skips with slop at the flooded Inlet Tube Dig in the Surface Shaft. A look at Paul’s Personal Project in the main cave convinced him of the imminent connection with this. He filled another seven bags here on 3rd December when purple drain dye was put into the pool in the lower dig. More work was undertaken at this site on the 4th when T.J. continued digging in the Inlet Tube while H.B, Carole White and Martin “Billy Whizz” Smith (B.P.C.) hauled out 31 loads. Martin rightly pointed out that skips made with the handle at the bottom are a lot easier to empty – a good point. Another 32 loads came out on the 6th when P.B. and T.J. bailed and dug the Tube while J.N, P.C. and I.M. got the thankless hauling jobs. T.J. bailed and dug here again on the 8th while H.B. and A.V. dug in the same bedding plane but straight ahead and above the lower dig. A hammering and voice contact was established between these digs and P.P.P. in the main cave.

To establish the distance left to dig both the Bored of the Rings loop in the main cave and all of the Surface Shaft were surveyed on the 10th by H.B, Chris Smith and Doug Harris (M.C.G.) and a gap of some 4-5m computed by H.B. – thus ensuring that he could claim a pint from T.J. who was insistent that it was less than 3m! Meanwhile T.H, J.C. and T.J. dug, hauled and stacked bags in the Surface Shaft, 6 loads reaching daylight. The following morning the site was tidied up before A.V. and T.J. went to Paul’s Personal Project in the main cave where they attempted to dig towards the Inlet Tube but were somewhat stymied by the lack of decent sized passage. Nevertheless several skips were filled and parked ready for removal. In the afternoon R.W. continued drystone walling the spoil heap.

Plan B Dig at last got a revisit on the 13th December when H.B. and H.D. cleared the spoil from the last bang enabling them to get a clear view down an open but too narrow rift estimated at some 5m deep. They were much enthused. Not quite so enthused were P.C, P.B. and T.J. – immersed in squalor many metres above in the Inlet Tube after having used the submersible pump and best Belfry saucepan to drain it. Lots of muddy gravel was dug out, bagged and stacked and 9 loads reached the surface.

With the Digging Barrel deservedly going to the Mendip Caving Group the team were able to relax and save the huge breakthroughs for 2007!       

Continued in B.B. 528.

New (and resurrected) Diggers

Steve Milner (C.E.G.S.A.), Tim Large, Nick Gymer, Pete Eckford, Andy Norman, Ernie White, John and Miranda Forder (M.N.R.C. – photography), Charles Adcock, Ambrose Buchanan, Karl Fearn (C.O.M.R.U.), Paul Cheetham, Robin Sheen (Burren Crawlers), Martin Smith (O.S.C.C.), Martin Beal (C.S.S.), Ian Matthews (Frome C.C.), Chris Smith, Dog Harris (M.C.G.)   

The Old Brigade

Tony Jarratt, Sean Howe, Walery “Wally” Ufimzew, Pete Hellier, Jake Baynes, Henry Dawson, Phil Coles, Anne Vanderplank, Henry Bennett, Ben Selway, Neil Usher, Jane Clarke, Fiona Crozier, Rich Witcombe, Tony Audsley, John Noble, Trevor Hughes, Paul Brock, Toby Maddocks, John “Tangent” Williams, Darrel Instrell, Duncan Butler, Alex Livingston, Carole White, Martin Smith (B.P.C.)

Grateful acknowledgements to all those who have contributed to the bang fund and thereby kept this important project going and to Nigel Taylor, Aubrey Newport and Charlie Adcock and his Event Horizon team for their pyrotechnic input.

Cave Trivia


I couldn’t resist this. The following are the episodes in which caves appeared – sometimes ever so briefly…And by caves I mean bad Styrofoam and plaster sets.

The Cage
What Are Little Girls Made Off?
The Menagerie parts I and II
The Devil in the Dark
Return to Tomorrow
Bread and Circuses
Spock’s Brain
And The Children Shall Lead
The Cloud Minders
All our Yesterdays

The Dig at Rana Hole, Assynt, Sutherland

Tony Jarratt

“All visitors to Assynt who are hungry for caves will find their appetite honed by a keen wind blowing down glens possessed of an atmosphere hardened by mist and storms. Nowhere else in Britain, not even in the most obscure corners of the Yorkshire Dales, can such wild and unspoilt karst scenery be found. So fresh is the landscape that it might have been but a generation ago that the ice sheets retreated from the area. Cavers, at least, will experience no difficulty in finding an affinity with Assynt.”

Alan “Goon“ Jeffreys  –  Caves of Assynt

For those members curious as to why a small proportion of the club diggers travel 625 miles north at every available opportunity I decided to write a brief history and description of this ongoing Grampian Speleological Group dig which has had a great deal of input from B.E.C. and Sheffield U.S.S. members. It has, in fact, become a joint project but the G.S.G.’s very good relationships with George Vestey - the landowner, Scottish Natural Heritage - who run the adjacent S.S.S.I. reserve and their efficiency in publishing information on Scottish caving in general make them the natural body responsible for the dig.

Situated on the NE flank of Beinn an Fhuarain, in Durness Limestone, at an altitude of 352 metres the dig almost overlies the 2465+-metre long cave system of Uamh an Claonaite. A possibly 40m high aven, Belh Aven (named after a fine Scottish ale!) soars up from between sumps 6 and 7 in this cave. It has not been climbed due to apparent “hanging death” at the top and the remoteness of the site. Many possible digging sites in the far reaches of this superb system have not been properly investigated by the few cave divers who have been there and the brown bear skeletal remains found in Legless Highway have not been scientifically examined. The Great Northern Time Machine, one of the largest cave passages in Scotland would be made accessible if a connection were made so a dry way in would be a major benefit and a cracking vertical trip in its own right. It is also located directly behind the archaeologically important Creag nan Uamh Bone Caves where human and animal remains have been excavated and which, though not physically connected to the main system, may represent a fossil phreatic level of development which the dig may intersect. It is reached by a pleasant 40 minute walk (depending on how much heavy digging gear one is carrying) up the Allt nan Uamh valley, via the Fuaran Allt nan Uamh (the main rising for the caves of this area at 190m) and the Bone Caves. The interestingly varied weather and, in the summer the desperately annoying midges can turn this stroll into purgatory.

The 5m diameter, 4m deep shakehole had almost certainly been noted before the 4th April 1976 when the writer (GSG, BEC), Bob Mehew (GSG, SMCC) and Jim Smart (BEC) “pushed through a vile peaty squeeze into some 5m of 2m high passage, the floor of which is totally peat choked (at least 2m deep). Probably a fully choked pitch.” If we only knew then what we know now! On the 5th June 1978 GSG members Ivan Young and Pete Dowswell  “Find 6m cave – Rana Hole – in shake above Bone caves on way to Claonaite”. Nothing of interest happened here for another seventeen years until the discovery of Belh Aven indicated a possible route into the Uamh an Claonaite diving extensions from the surface.

GSG Bulletin 3rd Series Vol.5 No.3 records 51 visits to this site and the now filled Mole Hole dig nearby between 28th October 1995 and 18th March 2000. Of the first digging trip it was stated that,  “…there is much hope for a possible breakthrough here tomorrow.” During these five years much sweat and explosives were expended by many Scottish and Mendip digging enthusiasts and vast amounts of scaffolding, Acro props and steel shoring grids were painfully carried up to the dig. Hundreds of bag and bucket loads of mud, peat, gravel and broken rock were man-hauled out of the gradually deepening shaft but digging was frequently interrupted by water ponding at the bottom. By 2000 the entrance shaft had reached a depth of some 12-13m.


Work continued sporadically, mainly by the GSG Edinburgh, Inverness and Thurso contingents with Roger Galloway, Martin Hayes and Julian Walford keeping up the enthusiasm and in October 2002 even managing to persuade the pilot of the Stornoway Coastguard rescue helicopter to drop half a ton of sand and gravel at the site! In April 2003 a major slump of the bottom section of shoring resulted in a vertical advance of 6m and a rubble slope heading away from the shaft. Luckily this coincided with a “Mendip Invasion” when a massive amount of digging and blasting was done followed by the excavation of many hundreds of skip-loads of spoil by the Scots and consolidation of the remaining 12m of shoring. The slope had by now become a pitch (where Madphil and the writer once hung in mid-air on a luckily emplaced lifeline after the floor collapsed!) and this was equipped with an aluminium stepladder abandoned by the BBC in the Bone Caves following filming of a documentary – hence the title “BBC Pitch”. On a GSG session Colin Coventry, being videod digging by Fraser Simpson, was struck up the backside by a boulder fallen from above. Alas the camera was not on him at the time but his choice vocal outpourings were recorded for posterity! In mid December “14 members (!) assembled at a very wet Rana to remove a record 245 skips. …Another 35 skips were hauled out the next day.”

In 2004 ponding of water continued to plague the dig. In June the Scottish CRO practiced a rescue of an injured digger from the hole using full bags of spoil to replace the victim, Bob Jones, on the vertical sections. Removal of the debris from the now some 20m deep dig using man-hauling methods was now becoming, like the results of Colin’s accident, a pain in the arse.

On 26th February 2005 a record number of bags in one day, 280 were hauled out. It was now very obvious that the complete glacial infilling of the shaft would have to be done and that this would be a very long-term mission. A new record of 281 bags was achieved in five hours on the 30th July. On 31st December yet another fixed alloy ladder was installed – this one purchased from B&Q.

The cycle winch in operation

To speed up digging Roger Galloway invented and installed the Mk.1 Bag Filler on 21st January 2006. This was designed to make the filling of a standard sandbag easier. A human counterweight system was set up on BBC Pitch to haul the full bags up to the ledge at the foot of the entrance pitch. Norman Flux (SUSS, now also GSG) and Mark Brown (GSG, SUSS) then appeared on the scene to revolutionise the dig by installing a purposely-built tandem bicycle winch on the surface and erecting a magnificent staged headgear from scaffolding and emptying platform. This coincided with another Mendip Invasion so manpower was no problem. Filled sandbags weighing 18 kilos were now replaced by specially constructed “kibbles” that would take up to 50 kilos and presented no problems for the cycle winch. The average weight was 36 kilos and it took about one minute to bring a full kibble up from the ledge. The writer built a dry-stone “howff” nearby to act as a shelter and kit store. The new system resulted in a weekend record on 5th/6th August when 359 of these heavy loads came out – about 11.5 tons!

View of site on 2nd January 2007

Taking advantage of these improvements, and also of the new cheap flights from Bristol to Inverness, a BEC team of Paul Brock, Fiona Crozier, Neil Usher, Anne Vanderplank (WCC) and the writer - joined by Tony Boycott (GSG, BEC) and Jayne Stead (GSG) who travelled up by car with the bang – arrived on site in early October. From Sheffield came Mark in a big van full of more digging technology including a kibble-unloading and tipping system. Norman arrived by motorcycle to perfect it and GSG members not involved with a SCRO exercise also turned up. With the dig face partly flooded work concentrated on clearing all the spoil and shoring from the main ledge. Once done a “flume” or chute was installed here to guide the kibbles from the dig face all the way to the surface and a fixed steel ladder installed on the entrance pitch. A strong local team made full use of the “Rana Outdoor Gym” and an even stronger Jamie “Bob” Yuill became famous by single-handedly carrying TWO 7m scaffold poles up to the dig in one hit. Unfortunately he didn’t know exactly where it was and covered an extra half-mile over moorland and peat bog. 505 loads (about 16.5 tons) came out during the week – a tribute to Norman’s magnificent engineering. The usual selection of “ranas” (toads) also came out – without a word of thanks.

Norman Flux installing fixed ladder on entrance pitch
Photo: Roger Galloway

Only a couple of visits were made by the locals before Christmas when the third Mendip Invasion of the year took place with Paul and the writer and Ben Selway and Carley Payne driving north in two white vans and meeting Mark, Hugh Penney, Seb Ryder, Ivan Young, Alan “Goon” Jeffreys, Norman, Martin Hayes, Bob Yuill, Derek Pettiglio and others. Another week’s engineering and digging resulted in a second section of flume being fitted together with an ingenious roller constructed from two galvanized buckets fitted with children’s bicycle spokes and a total of 456 loads out (about 14.5 tons). Some banging and Hilti-capping was also done and a good time had by all. Although the dig face ponded up at one point it suddenly drained and the water rushed off down a narrow rift. The eleven years of effort expended on this remote dig has resulted in hundreds of tons of spoil being hauled out and some very dedicated work being put in by the team. The current depth is about 33m and this is the level of the postulated top of Belh Aven as depicted on the GSG survey produced for Scottish Natural Heritage. It is also the same level as the Bone Caves and halfway to the Claonaite stream-way so even if we have to dig all the way it will only take another 11 years!

We are planning to return in late April on another Mendip Invasion so book now to avoid disappointment. There are several quality caving trips in this spectacularly scenic area and fringe benefits are the hill walking, coastal scenery, best chip shop in the world, best pie shop in the universe, the Inchnadamph Hotel and the An Teallach ales therein, the luxurious GSG bothy and world class sea diving. The whisky isn’t bad either. See you there.

Mindblown in Upper Flood Swallet

Tony Jarratt

“…That cave is one of the wonders of the universe… A monstrous fine cave indeed!”

Patrick O’Brian, Treason’s Harbour

Most B.E.C. members, especially those attending the Annual Dinner, will by now know of the magnificent extensions to this cave, which were discovered initially on 10th September by members of the Mendip Caving Group (see Descent 193, pp 20-22). On this date Tim Francis pushed the final of many desperate squeezes amongst horrendously loose boulders to enter a huge boulder chamber, The Departure Lounge, with a finely decorated and walking-sized stream passage leading off into the distance. Julie Hesketh joined him and they explored some 500m of passage, initially 12m square and with magnificent flowstones, stalactites, curtains, straws and mud formations in abundance. At around 400m the draughting Charnel Inlet may provide a future easier entrance. Unbelievably it took 25 minutes of mainly walking in occasionally 10m high streamway to reach their terminal point and they were very understandably “gobsmacked”. On 30th September a second major breakthrough occurred when a loose section in the roof above the terminal stream sink was passed upwards into large fossil passage and the beautiful Royal Icing Junction. Here the undecorated but extensive phreatic East Passage was followed for several hundred metres to an airless tube and further on an ascent and descent of calcited boulders led past a superbly decorated and immediately taped-off side passage (see later) and down to a low arch with a muddy crawl leading to the Gothic-arched phreatic tunnel of West Passage. After around 150m of heading due west in practically a straight line they reached a dangerously loose but strongly draughting boulder choke. Partway along this tunnel a couple of calcited boulders in a side passage concealed a possible way into a stream passage below, from which emanated the roar of water – Chuckle Choke. The team of Tim, Julie, Mike Richardson, Bill Chadwick, Doug Harris, Mark Ward, Peat Bennett, Ben Cooper, Brian Snell and Korean caver Dangwoo Park had explored, by the end of October, about 1.4km of stunning new cave system which, added to the old cave, gave a total length of some 2km. This was a tremendous result and a suitable reward for their tenacious digging efforts over the last two years – and that of their fellow club members, particularly the late Malcolm Cotter, over the last thirty-eight years! The “ Blackmoor Master Cave” – as predicted by Malcolm – was now a reality and well on its way towards linking up with the Cheddar River Cave, picking up the great swallet caves of the Charterhouse and Tynings areas en route.

The team had had a couple of close calls in both the breakthrough choke and that in the terminal West End Chamber and decided that they needed advice from an expendable old git as to the best way of making them safe and on how best to get through the latter choke. Your scribe was delighted to be invited along in this capacity and had the special job requirements of being skinny as a rake and armed to the teeth with drill and bang. Thus, on 1st December he joined Julie, Bill and Mike for an 8½ hour trip. Having last visited this cave as photographic assistant to Paul Deakin on 7th May 1988 all memories of the nastier bits had been erased. Following recent heavy rain the Canal in the old cave and the streamway in the extension were higher than usual necessitating the wearing of thermals and Neofleece. Most of the regular diggers prefer to wear two fleece suits due to the cold and draughty conditions.

Once past Golden Chamber the series of tight, awkward and loose squeezes amongst boulders was negotiated with occasional pauses to shore up the more dodgy ones with convenient rocks. The tongue-in-cheek “Easysqueeze” was struggled down through and the magnificent stream passage beyond entered after about 1½ hours of generally grim caving. From then on we shouldered our by now detested tackle bags and basically strolled along the ample and highly scenic main drain admiring massive bridges of calcited stream debris and flowstone overhead. The odd boulder climb or low, wet bit merely emphasised the ease of the rest of the passage. At Charnel Inlet we paused for the writer to undertake a scientific draught test (fag break) resulting in the airflow being noted as heading towards the surface – possibly via the old M.C.G. discovery of the mined natural rift at Charnel Shaft. If permission is granted this will be dug in the hope of providing an easier entrance and essential rescue route as at present any fairly serious injury would, in the writer’s opinion, prove fatal without the use of a drilling rig to drop a shaft directly into the extension. An exit via the breakthrough choke is simply not an option. With the amount of loose rock in this practically virgin cave, both underfoot and on ledges or overhead, the chances of broken bones are high and the team have already got away lightly.

At the point 550m from the breakthrough squeeze, where the main stream is lost in an impassable tube, we climbed up into the higher levels and followed more superb passage to the beautifully decorated Royal Icing Junction where the plan was for Julie and Bill to survey East Passage while Mike and your scribe went West. Julie then remembered the taped-off, formation encrusted crawl, Neverland, to the left of the slope down to West Passage and decided to have a quick look after doffing her oversuit, wellies and gloves. We left them to it and pressed on to West End Chamber where the large fallen slab that had failed to squash the diggers received two long shot-holes and a dose of 40gm cord with a no.4 detonator attached. This was fired from back down West Passage, which acted like a giant gun barrel. Mike was most impressed with the ear-shattering detonation and distinct shock wave. Highly satisfied we dragged the bang wire back to the diminutive Chuckle Choke where we were surprised to meet the others – twitching with excitement and impatient to drag us off to inspect the 150m or so of mind-boggling passage discovered by Julie. We were not going to complain so a hasty charge of 12 and 40gm cord was wrapped around and between the two offending boulders (the drill battery having run out of power) and fired by Julie from the base of the calcited slope. She, also, was impressed when the earth moved for her but desperate to discover more wonders so minutes later we were all minus wellies and oversuits and creeping carefully between pure white pristine formations into a low, crystal-lined canal. Julie had already cut her unprotected hands on the floor crystals so this time we all wore gloves after swilling them in a nearby pool. Much of the next 100m had once been a much deeper pool with the result that inverted, crystalline “bullrush” formations proliferated and the walls below the ancient water level were a veritable jewel box. Straws, stalactites and helictites in profusion decorated the ceiling throughout and necessitated extreme care. I truly believe that Julie has discovered one of the most beautiful continuously decorated sections of cave passage in Britain – if not THE best. Passing through this lot was a slow-motion nightmare and bloody (literally) sharp on the hands, knees and un-booted feet.

Eventually we emerged into a magnificently adorned and very high junction chamber with the way on down to the left and a superb flowstone slope pouring down from a major inlet up to the right. While the others poked about below I gingerly climbed this in my wetsocks and with a clear conscience as the fantastic triangular crystals in the floor had a curious black, speckled staining in places on which one could walk with care. They are similar to those in Happy Hour Highway, Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink (but here in their thousands) and in the Grotte du Grand Roc and Gouffre de Proumeyssac, Perigord. After some 30-40m of steeply ascending phreatic tunnel I reached an awesome pool with dinner plate diameter, pure white calcite bosses in its centre. This was later named Pork Pie Pool for the shape of the bosses and in thanks for Bill’s tasty caving snacks. The others joined me here but the magnificent pool was not crossed as the passage beyond seemed to be solidly blocked with flowstone. There may be high level leads in this area as it was obviously once a main route in from the surface.

We all then continued “downstream”, Mike exploring a muddy phreatic tube on the left which soon ended in a static sump. Just beyond this I scrambled down into a lower canal passage ending in a calcite choke. The main passage continued overhead and this was where Julie had stopped due to a large hole in the floor, which she considered needed protection to surmount. Finding myself in the lead, and blessed with longer legs, I got the job of traversing over the c.6m pit down to the lower passage. This got me to another c.6m drop beyond where an almost vertical flowstone cascade was free-climbed down into a high canal passage with the usual masses of pretties. Further along the continuing bore tube a couple of descending tubes on the left intersected sections of a lower, muddy and relatively small stream passage with a trickle of water. This probably originates in Mike’s static sump and was left unexplored in all directions. My recollection of how far I followed the main phreatic tunnel are blurred by the adrenalin rush of the moment but I realised I was alone and in someone else’s cave so I left a marker and returned to the others. About 3-400m was found in this series today and it was left wide open and 3-4m in diameter for Julie and a different team to return next day.

Feeling highly pleased with ourselves we began the long slog out. I had a struggle pushing my heavily laden tackle bag up through the breakthrough choke squeezes and was glad to see the entrance. My arm and leg muscles ached for days afterwards. Too many soft-option digging trips in Rose Cottage Cave! As usual the best bit was the smug gobbing-off in the Hunters’ afterwards. My overall impression of the system was of being in a Welsh cave misplaced beneath Mendip and at times the trip felt exactly like being on a push in Meghalaya. I’m sure that Julie would agree with this having sampled the delights of Indian cave exploration.

On the following day Julie, Tim, Doug, Brian and Dongwoo carried on from my last point to reach a free-climbable c.6m pitch to reach further sections of the muddy streamway and a climb up to some huge boulder chambers. Another 200m or so was added to this magnificent system to give a total current length (5/12/06) of around 2.6km and making Upper Flood the fifth longest cave on Mendip. I am convinced that this is only the beginning but trips to the various ends of the cave will inevitably become longer and more arduous. To sum it up in Julie’s own words I include a quote from Grampian S.G. newsletter No.129, December 2006: - “I went down Flood on Friday (having taken a day off work to push the place)… We went down “Neverland” – so called because it was soooo pretty we were never going to push it… Erm, ach well. It WENT!!!! For 500m!!!! To the most unbelievably fantastic formations I have ever seen. And we only dug for about 10 minutes with our bare hands moving rocks aside… Wake me up someone; I think I am dreaming…”

Access for non-M.C.G. members will gradually improve as the explorers very rightly mop up the open passages. Several of the club’s Upper Flood leaders have yet to see the extensions but sub-normal body size, experience and stamina are a must for this exacting cave. Alternatively get stuck into a dig in Manor Farm Swallet or join the “Klondikers” anywhere between Charterhouse and Cheddar. There’s plenty more to be found and the lower it gets the bigger it must be.

My grateful thanks to my M.C.G. colleagues for the invitation and for one of the “best trips ever” and my congratulations to them on their discovery of this magnificent Mendip cave system. Keep on diggin’!  

A question for vintage members. In Velvet Bottom, between Upper Flood and Manor Farm and near the old buddle pits on the south side, west of the bend, I have marked on a map a potential cave – Trat’s Site. I suspect that this was a flood sink noticed just after the Great Flood of 1968 but I have forgotten from where I got the information. The grid ref. is ST 5020 5535. Does anyone have any information on this site?

An Adventure with Pat Ifold

When John Stafford suggested that we join the BEC to climb Pat Ifold took us under his wing.

One of his typical outings with us was to load Dave Radmore and me into his old banger and head for the Brecon Beacons. Pat was an ingenious fellow and kept bangers alive although on one occasion a floorboard collapsed under his seat, which left him with little vision, trailing sparks from the metal bits of the seat down Park Street Bristol.

It was 1953. We had bought ex-WD ice axes from Thomas Bests of Bath and we were itching to use them. I couldn't think what we did about crampons and then I remembered that were no vibrams available, we climbed in nails. Pat almost certainly had clinker nailed boots whereas Radmore and I had a species of tricounis which were sharper and could be used on ice. They played hell with the local limestone so there, conscious of conservation, we used plimsoles. We met at the 'Waggon and Horses' St Mary Redcliff Bristol on Thursday evening to plan the weekend and because we worked Saturday mornings and we couldn't go far decided to head for the nearest high hills in South Wales.

We got to a snowy Brecon and sang in a pub until closing time being very careful not to offend the feisty young soldiers from the local barracks, then went of to find somewhere to bivouac. Dave and I found a road-mender's hut built like a gypsy caravan. Pat took one look and slept in his car with a seat removed. We slept well but when we woke we were covered in fleabites. Pat was amused in kindly way!

Breakfast was taken making porridge with melting snow over a primus stove because that's what explorers did. Then we went for the steepest way to the summit of Pen y Fan that we could find. Our nail boots were fine. Our ice axe technique benefited from Pat's teaching so that he ensured we could carry them without transfixing each other; stop or brake if we slipped on a steep slope and fashion steps in ice using pick and blade. And he showed us the several ways of using the axe as a walking stick, ice axe belay or hand hold to help balance on steep snow climbing up - or down. He was keen on being able to descend safely. I suppose he'd been there. Even today I catch myself on the hills remembering Pat's instruction with the long axe, all given in high humour with the Ifold grin.


The route we took was straight up from the base of the east face to a line of cliffs below the summit. You have to imagine the snow. The last part, up a wide vertical crack for about twenty feet, was a memorable way to finish a great experience.

Kangy, October 2006

The Adventures of Zot .1

Over many years we have all been touched by Zot in one way or another [perhaps certain young ladies would like to comment on this!!]also this could be an ongoing corner of the BB where people can recall anecdotes on club members [hopefully discreet ones]!!!!!

Just to clear up a question that many young people ask, Zot got his nickname due to a toy mounted on the inside of the windscreen of his car [I think it was a dice or a devil] he used to pull the elastic down and then let go, making a noise that sounded like ZOT!!!!!!!! So there you all have it.

My first encounter with Zot was a Swildons trip in the 60s when the forty foot pot was still an obstacle to be overcome before exploring the rest of the Cave.[bearing in mind that most people performed in Grots in those days!!] Barry Wilton, Myself, Graham and Zot decided to go to sump 1 and possibly onto Sump 2. I was a relative stranger to the cave at the time having only gone as far as the 2nd water chamber. So off we set with our trusty stinkies and any old kit we could lay our hands on .Zot had an old 2-piece wet suit tied together with baler twine of course. Footwear tended to be government surplus army boots or any old boots that came to hand.[my preference were the ex German Army paratrooper boots part worn of course ,very cheap and tough!!] Having said that these boots would rot away at an alarming rate stitching wise in the dreaded Mendip Water and Mud!!!

We proceeded to the 40 and then onto the 20 ft pitch where Zot directed the flow of water with his foot onto the ladder much to the annoyance of Barry and myself, he then disappeared off into the murky distance with us bumbling on behind.

We then found ourselves being urinated on from a great height accompanied by peals of manic laughter, apparently it was commonplace for him to hide in the upper route and urinate on anyone who passed.

Needless to say when we reached the double pots he knelt in them and gave the impression that they were twice as deep, and then encouraging me to jump!! Come on Mr. Wilson he cried, I did so and nearly dislocated both Hips.

Just before sump 1, he said listen team, has anyone got a spare boot?  [As if we would carry a boot in our helmets!!] mine is broke, holding up his foot showing us the sole, which has become detached from the upper as far as the heel.

The solution was to use half a bootlace and tie the sole up from underneath through the lace holes and hope for the best. We decide that it was time to turn round and make our way back .The 40 ft pitch was interesting, as Zot climbed it with one boot [the sole kept getting tangled in the rungs] I struggled having become completely waterlogged [I was wearing 2 pullovers and 2 pairs of old trousers ] one pullover was a mohair one that really holds the water !!, plus the fact that my stinky had gone out of course !!Thanks to Graham on the lifeline I finally made it. I think he did more pulling than I did climbing.

Graham was also prone to bouts of manic laughter and shouts of Kia Ora, which was a popular orange drink in those days. Why it wasn’t Tizer Corona or Lucozade I will never know. I think that there were a string of crazy animals walking in a line in various positions!! Perhaps someone in the club has a better memory than me and can clarify what the Kia Ora ad was!

Ah well back to the Hunters for beer and boast with a bit of singing flung in [this hasn’t changed!!] looking back I think that myself and Barry were the only sane people on the trip [relatively speaking!!]

Little did we know that these idiosyncrasies would get worse as Zot got older.

PS the cave was really beautiful in those days as the 40 ft pot was a real obstacle to be overcome, not a place for novices or leader groups. So from the 40 onward there was little or no vandalism, its sad to see the extent of the damage today.


Seventy Years of the BEC in Pictures – Part One – 1935 – 1950

Complied and written by Dave Irwin


The final selection of photographs reflecting upon the activities of the BEC over the seven decades since the Club was formed has been made extremely difficult as a result of the tremendous response by members who have submitted a large number of prints, slides, scans and a miscellany of other images. The archives of several older members have been raided to form the basis of the first fifteen years of the Club's activities in pictures forming Part One of this series.  They include an important photographic album left by a great friend of the BEC, the late Sybil Bowden-Lyle.  For the series as a whole contributors include Andrew 'Mo' Marriott, Chris Batstone, Chris 'Blitz' Smart, Tony 'Sett' Setterington, Nigel Taylor, Peter Glanvill, Mike Baker, Brian Britton, Roger Stenner, Angus Innes, Andy Mac-Gregor, Graham Wilton-Jones, Tim Large, Tony 'J-Rat' Jarratt and John Buxton. A few photos have come from the Balcombe Collection in the CDG Library, a further group of photographs are from the Wells Museum collection and for these I thank the Museum Trustees for permission to reproduce them.  And, finally, a few photos have come from my own collection.

In many collections there are pictures that were not taken by the owner and in a few cases the photographer is not known. These images have been listed under the current owner's name. The source/photographer is given as initials at the end of the caption inside square brackets [ ]; e.g. [JR] = Tony Jarratt's collection. Please, if you have any photos that you think important to the activities of the club then send them to me for scanning or send me your scans on CD/DVD at a minimum of 300 dpi. Eventually the photos will be put on CD/DVD and lodged in the Club library.

I am further indebted to Angus Innes and 'Sett' for the help given me by answering my seemingly endless stream of questions. There will be others to be grilled in a similar manner for the later parts of the series.

The notes that follow to introduce this overview of seventy years of the BEC have been largely drawn from Harry Stanbury's early histories of the Club in particular his 'Early Days' published in BB No. 429 and scribbles that I made when visiting Harry at Bude on a number of occasions during the past ten years. The Caving Logbook for this period and the Annual General Meeting Minute Book, which has recently been returned to the Club library, after an absence of many years, has revealed many interesting facets relating to the running of the Club, the people involved and its links to other caving clubs and organisations.

1935 – 1950

The Club was formed in June 1935 by T. Harry Stanbury [member no. 1] together with group of work colleagues. Knowing that Harry had been on a number of caving trips a few of his work mates asked him to take them caving. Although not entirely enthusiastic to the idea he finally agreed. Cycling from Bristol to Burrington Combe, Goatchurch Cavern was their first port of call, which turned out to be a great success. The group formed itself into a small club by the name of the Bristol Exploration Club. Not long after the next problem was how to gain access to the 'deep' caves and obtain the necessary items of equipment.  The solution was simple, or so it seemed – contact an existing caving club in the area and sink the identity of the BEC into it. Contact was made with a member of the newly formed Wessex Cave Club who lived nearby in a slightly more salubrious part of Bristol. The story that follows has reached legendary status, which was that the WCC after a lengthy discussion declined Harry's and the other members' applications to join. In our Jubilee year, 1985, Harry wrote that as the WCC were not interested for the ' … fact that we were a group of working class men and that there were a number of points in the existing societies we did not care about, that we should not associate ourselves with any existing body.'

So having been rejected by the Wessex, as Harry and his friends were not of their kind, they set off and did the obvious. They concentrated their energies into the organisation of the BEC. (note 1) A formal meeting was held in June 1935 and a simple set of rules drawn up, which is basically the same as those used today. Subscriptions paid for the necessary tackle such as rope, ladders and shortly after the 'official' launch' the Club had its official headed notepaper. Our founder members were Harry Stanbury, Tommy Bartlett, Cecil Drummond, Ron Colbourn and Charlie Fauckes. By the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the membership had reached about 15 with Dick Bellamy being the Hon. Treasurer who had to withdraw from club activities resulting from a serious problem with his eyes. His last caving trip with the Club was to Lamb Leer Cavern in the company of Harry Stanbury, Bert Allan and Chris Fauckes, under the UBSS leaders Alan Rogers and Francis Goddard of G.B. Cave fame.  Although still small it had been considered by the members that as they were, at first, '… regarded with suspicion and justifiable wariness, which persisted for several years, but once this obstacle had been surmounted we progressed in leaps and bounds and have been doing so ever since.'

Having survived various problems, not least a large fall in the membership due to those who had been called into the armed forces, leaving a skeleton group of two, Harry and Cecil Drummond.  The Club may have disappeared into eternity had it not been for the fortuitous absorption of the Emplex Caving Club whose members worked at the local labour exchange or Manpower in modern terminology. In 1942 things changed for the worse again when membership again plummeted to about six and for a time club activity continued at a very low level although they managed a series of digging sessions at Timber Hole at Charterhouse. However, two men already with a fair amount of caving experience joined the BEC both of whom were to have a positive impact upon the fortunes of the Club not only at that time but for many years to follow. They were Roy 'Pongo' Wallace and Dan Hasell.

No records exist of this important period in the story of the BEC.  A member living at Keynsham was intent on writing a history of the Club obtained all the known records from Harry. When he had finished he bundled the archive and posted them back to Harry. They never arrived. Harry was convinced that they were destroyed along with all the other local mail for at that time 'Jerry' had bombed the mail train between Keynsham and Bristol.


Club trip to Lamb Leer Cavern, c.1940, with [l-r] Harry Stanbury, Alan Rogers [UBSS],
Bert Allan, Francis Goddard [UBSS] and Chris Fauckes. Note the 'lightweight' tackle.
Photo. By Richard G. Bellamy the then BEC Hon. Treasurer.

Club reformed and its organisation

In 1943 the small but dedicated group of members got together and reformed the Club with officers and an outline constitution.  Caving was extremely limited due to the wartime restrictions and demands upon everyone at their work places.  As a result of this a formal record of annual and committee meetings commenced fully reflecting the intent to fully record the activities of the Club.  The allocation of a Membership Number commenced at this time, Harry Stanbury being member number 1.  Cycle and the occasional bus ride to Burrington and to other areas was the normal way of getting to Mendip from Bristol. The trip to Coral Cave on the 26th May 1945 is a typical trip report of the day.  On this occasion 5 members met at Bedminster Down and made a cycle ride to Compton Bishop in just under two hours. Only one incident occurred on the outward ride. This was when ' … a road hog … ' who objected to their monopoly of the road shouted abuse which questioned their  ' … parentage. …'.  The location of the entrance was found after asking the local inhabitants for help – it was to be a few years yet before guidebooks became available.

By late 1944 the Allies victory over the Nazi regime seemed assured and so individual movement became easier and cycling trips to Mendip became more frequent. Various digs were undertaken including a site close to the Charterhouse Rakes and Cross Swallet.

It was at Cross Swallet that an act of piracy took place that was to have a profound change within the BEC. The Club had been digging at the site and when they returned intent on another session they came upon a group from Bridgewater also digging there. The Club was a little put-out but, although a letter of complaint was written to the Bridgewater CC, they all being gentlemen agreed that the dig became a joint effort between the two clubs. (note 2)

Resulting from the closure of the armourments factory at Bridgwater, into which several members of UBSS had joined or were in the process of joining, a number of their group including Sett, S.J. 'Alfie' Collins, John 'Postle' Thomsett, Don Coase, John 'Shorty' Shorthose, Margerie 'Dizzie' Thomsett and Freda Hutchinson among others decided to join forces with the BEC. One of the new intake who was to have a profound influence within the BEC until his tragically early death in 1958 was Don Coase.  His interest in digging, photographic and general exploratory work here on Mendip and in South Wales expanded when his interest extended into the realms of cave diving.  Coase, as a founder member of the Cave Diving Group at Penycae at Easter 1946 brought the BEC and CDG into a close association. It was from the BEC membership that many of the Mendip divers and supporters came, particularly helping organise the various diving operations at Wookey Hole. In addition to Don Coase other BEC divers were Dan Hasell, Harry Stanbury and George Lucy.

The original ink drawing of 'Bertie the Bat', now in the Club library.

Club membership grew by leaps and bounds and in 1946 had reached 80 and by 1948 it was just under 100. With a club of this size it was obvious that sleeping out in the rough or in the straw of Main's barn was now to be a thing of the past and that some form of permanent premises was needed. Not only would it make life more comfortable for members staying on Mendip but it would also act as a focal point for the Club. The committee had come to the conclusion that the ideal site for the Club headquarters would be in the Charterhouse area. (note 3) However, the first was built at Priddy by the side of the track that today leads past the old Shepton Mallet Caving Club hut and on to its present headquarters, The Mineries. (note 4)

The bat has been the club symbol since its formation in 1935 though no headed note paper of this period is known to have survived.  In 1946 'Pongo' Wallace designed the current club insignia, Bertie the Bat, and this has been used in a variety of forms ever since and is now instantly recognisable as the logo of the BEC.

The increased size of the Club enabled the committee to create facilities undreamt of a few years previously. A reference library in 1946, and in 1947 a monthly newsletter was launched, the indispensable Belfry Bulletin, or 'BB' as it is now affectionally known, under the editorship of Dan Hasell ably assisted by the Hon. Secretary Harry Stanbury.  An Annual Dinner was suggested in 1946 but this did not commence until 1950. Until that time members participated in an Annual Dance.  Occasional lectures were arranged and in October 1945 Stan Herman was asked by the Committee to '' approach the 'bone bloke" to determine whether he would give the BEC a talk on his work.  The 'bone bloke' was none other then Professor Edgar K Tratman!

Between 1946 and 1948 two more clubs merged with the Club – the Mendip Cave Club and in 1948 the Clifton Caving Club 1948. (note 5) About this time Don Coase moved to London and it was not long before a London Section of the Club was set up. The idea had been approved by the AGM held on 4th December 1948.  Weekly meetings were held at Harry Stanbury's home in Redcatch Road in south Bristol, but the venue became much too small to accommodate the large weekly attendance as a result of the growing membership. It was thus decided to use the Redcliff Church Hall. (note 6) This was to become the focal point of the weekly Club get-together for quite some time as did the little pub 'The Waggon and Horses' in later years. The story of the Club's fluctuating membership has been well documented in Andy Mac-Gregor's article 'The Rise and Fall of the B.E.C. Membership (1943-2004).' (note 7)

As soon as MRO was reformed at the end of the war, late in 1945, BEC commenced assembling teams or squads led by a leader and a deputy.  Harry Stanbury was the leader and S.J. 'Bozzy' Bosworth was his deputy. The remainder of the team was Dan Hasell, Tony Johnson, John Pain, Tom Bartlett, R.A. Crocker and Gordon Fenn. However, members leaving the area saw some new faces added to the list. The whole were divided into three squads. Party 1: Harry Stanbury [leader], Dan Hasell [deputy], John Pain, Tony Johnson and Les Peters.  In Party 2 the leader was Don Coase, 'Bozzy' Bosworth [deputy], George Lucy and Gordon Fenn. Lastly Team 3 was under the leadership of Pete Stewart and R. Cater [deputy]; the others being T. Pidwell, H. Arnold and J. Chapman.  Teams 1 and 2 contained cave divers – the only club to have such a luxury.

Lightweight Ladders

Photos of the ladder and a sectional view of the rung assembly

Equipment was needed to tackle cave features such as The Forty in Swildon’s Hole, Twin Verticals and, the, then, recently discovered Dolphin Pot in Eastwater Cavern and the two 20m pitches in Lamb Leer Cavern. Harry and Dan produced their own design having become familiar with the French design. Having scrounged all of the required material they set about building a ladder long enough for the Swildon's Forty. Its advantage was that it was lighter than the French concept.

New designs were introduced later but then the taper pin method of locking the rung to the cable eventually became the standard, remaining so until the resin and pin construction became the norm during the mid-1970s. The ladder completed it now had to be tested and what a better place to do it than on the Swildon's Forty Foot Pot. Harry noted the following in the caving logbook; in fact it is the second entry in Logbook No. 1

April 3rd 1943.  A Trip by cycle to Swildons Hole.  The club made its first test of wire & duralumin ladder on 40ft pot & found that the ladder exceeded all expectations. On return journey met party of 7 men & 2 girls in upper grotto & took them out as they were lost. Members Present :- 3. T.H. Stanbury, C.D. Drummond, D. Hasell

Soon after a 20ft ladder was built and that still exists in the club library at the Belfry together with a very frail early Knobbly Dog with wooden finger grips.

Belfry Mk. 1

Belfry Mk.1 in 1946. It is thought that Belfry Mk. 0 is the stone building at the left of the photo.

The 4th January 1946 Committee Meeting discussed the urgent need for a permanent Club headquarters and it was thought that the ideal location of the building should be somewhere in the Charterhouse region. This seems to make sense as nearly all the digging activity was centred on the Burrington area.  However, for reasons I cannot find out, the Belfry was eventually located by The Beeches, to the left of the track and almost opposite the old Shepton Mallet CC HQ.  The land was owned by Mr. Beacham who charged a small rent, payable in six-monthly instalments.  The building itself was located by Harry's first wife, Iris Stanbury and it came from Purdown in Bristol. It was an old derelict tennis pavilion although some believe it to be a cricket pavilion.  This was dismantled and each section taken to Mendip, erected on the site and after several months of hard word it was opened for use.  Land rental was 2/- [10p] per week and payable six months in advance. By March bunks had been installed although, as is commonly shown in later years, there's never enough labour to undertake the workload.  'Pongo' presented the club with a portable electrical generator, which was sent via train and had to be transported to Mendip from the Wells railway station. However, the Belfry went into full use when Don Coase slept in it on the 1st February 1947. Belfry Mk. 1 remained at the site until 1948 when after a few noisy events the landowner requested that the club moved lock stock and barrel to another site, the current site, which was bought by the Club in the mid-1950s.

In the July 1948 issue of the BB a map was published showing members the location of the new Belfry site and that helping hands were needed to complete the building after the move. A hint of further work was given by the fact that it was hoped in the near future that a '… really 'spiv' hut will be reared on the new site.' (note 8)

Moving home: Pam Richards driving the tractor.

Map, first published in BB No. 13, showing the new location of the Belfry

From l-r: Pongo, Pat Woodruff, Betty Shorthouse, Tim Kendrick,?, Jack Waddon
Sybil Bowden- Lylr, Dan Hasell and John Shorthouse c.1949 [Sett]

Tim Kendrick, ?, and Betty Shorthouse inside Belfry Mk 1

The Building of Belfry Mk. II

Belfry Mk. I had its limitations. As the membership grew it became totally inadequate for their needs. A new, larger building was required. During the post war years military surplus goods were coming onto the market as the Government tried to clear its shelves of unwanted material ranging from clothes to tanks. Included in this sell-off were ex-military wooden huts from military camps scattered about the country, which were coming onto the market and it was one of these that was bought through donations from members to become Belfry Mk. II.  The building came from Rame Head in Cornwall and was transported piecemeal and eventually built close to the wall forming the boundary between the Belfry site and Walt Foxwell's farmyard, then a disused quarry. To ensure that work ran smoothly the Club Committee setup a sub-committee to, hopefully, keep the plans running smoothly. An onerous job but the following were elected to undertake the task: John Ifold, George Lucy, Tony Johnson, and 'Dizzy' Thomsett. 'Sett' was elected Chairman.  Tony Johnson was so enthusiastic that he became Hon. Foreman and contributed a series of articles to the BB on his experiences during this exercise.

The foundations for Belfry Mk. II were laid during early January 1949 and on the 22nd January it was ' … Hut Building.  Big Day.' (note 9) Work continued into February 1949 (note 10) when the walls and roof had been finally erected. Lining the inside of the building commenced and felting of the roof was worked on during the last half of May. Later a porch was added.

Building Belfry Mk. II, the last being the triumphant shout “Finished” by Tony Johnson [photos: Al] 





Caving, Digging and Discoveries

The period during which the Club was consolidating its structure and establishing itself as a major Mendip club was also one of its most successful years in which new cave was opened up by members.  By the end of the war members were well aware of many of the existing caves and had undertaken a thorough search of the central Mendip region for potential digging sites.

The trips were quite different arrangements to those of the present.  During the period 1943 to the end of the war members generally went caving after an energetic bicycle ride from various parts of Bristol and in a variety of weather; all of their problems are clearly written up in the relevant logbooks of the day. It was several years yet before members arrived at the Belfry in the comfort of a motorcar or on motorcycles. (note 11)

[Trip] No. 37.  Sept 30th 1944.  Half Day trip to "Swildons Hole". A party of six set off at 14.10 a fine day & a slow trip out [from Bristol] by cycle, against a head wind.  A quart of milk between us at Mains when we changed to go underground.  H Beedle a visitor introduced to the afternoons sport by R. Wallace & making his 1st trip had to make do with the abandoned clothes in the barn as he was let down on the transport of his "Duds" by D. Hasell. A very strong threat of a storm to windward as we went below.  A jolly good look round on the trip down to the Grotto (via the long dry way) we all sat down and burst into song in the chamber & Stan brought out a tin with 6 Mars bars in (one each a peice [sic], all round,)  On to look over the 40 ft a mere trickle going over & then back by the wet way : the lavatory pan had an inch of water in & was a great disappointment but Jimmy Weeks french at the squeeze nearer the surface amused the whole party.  When we emerged in the gathering dusk it was well & truly raining, some more milk, a call at the "Castle" & a dark, wet ride home (some members in their caving clothes) reaching Bristol 22-45.  Members present : Leader R. Wallace, J. Bosworth, S. Herman, J. Weeks, K. Durham. visitor H. Beedle.

The winters of 1947 and 1949 were among the most severe of the 20th century. Snow blanketed the entire country and temperatures plummeted so much that the Thames and the sea froze close to the shoreline.  On Mendip caving continued and with the Belfry now in full use it offered a warm prospect after a good trip.  One of the popular Mendip trips was a visit to Lamb Leer Cavern. A BEC party visited the cave on Sunday 9th March 1947.  Harry Stanbury was the proud owner of a Ford 10 and so he was able to reach the Belfry in relative comfort considering that cars did not have any heating systems on board so that windscreens froze on the inside.  Car heating was a luxury some 15 years hence! Harry entered the following into the caving log:

Deep snow on Mendip did its best to cancel the trip for us but despite the fact the road from the Belfry via Miners Arms was feet deep & impassable we eventually reach LL in safety via Chewton Mendip.  Changing in the snow was a chilly process.

At the entrance the snow had filled the gully & great fun was had digging down to the Trap. - Underground a very enjoyable trip was had, although the ladder being about 8 ft  - - short ... at the bottom, where those already down enjoyed the spectacle of those whose feet seemed glued to the bottom rung. - Returning to the surface hot soup provided by PAES' dad was very acceptable.  S.C.W. Herman was thrown into a deep drift, in his scanties, & party started to break up very happily. - Stanbury, however, stripped his gearbox on the way home & and much fun & games was had pushing one Ford 10 up Horsley Hill & otherwise avoiding every gradient possible. His passengers (Dunncliff (WCC), Stewart & Herman) arriving home exhausted whilst he who was in control of said Ford was still bright & breezy.  THS

After a Lamb Leer Cavern Trip 9th March 1947 – [l-r] Angus Innes, George Lucy,
Stan Herman, Peter Stewart and Harry Stanbury

During the last years of the war several trips were spent visiting many sites at Burrington and Charterhouse and Club members kept themselves abreast of the new discoveries. They noted the 'recently' found swallets near Read's Cavern - Drunkard's Hole and Rod's Pot and the extension in East Twin Swallet where the UBSS opened up the second chamber. Rod's Pot was bottomed and on a later trip a sketch survey of the cave was drawn up by Angus Innes. The knowledge of Burrington Combe and the surrounding area bordering Mendip Lodge Wood gave members clues where to dig.

An investigation was undertaken through Velvet Bottom for potential sites.  Two features identified as 'Sites 1 and 2' were, from caving log write-up, somewhere in or close to the Charterhouse Rakes as well as some work that is said to have taken place at Timber Hole in 1942. (note 12) Site No. 3 was the well-known Cross Swallet, where an excavation had taken place in the late 1930s by the Wessex Cave Club. Brimble Pit was also inspected but not dug by Club members until the 1950s.  Plantation Swallet was worked again in 1949 and limited digs near the modern entrance to St. Cuthbert’s Swallet were undertaken in 1947 and 1949 when Collins and Rice which reached a depth of 5m. (note 13)

At Stoke Lane, the quarries at the northern end of the valley, Gilson's Quarries, were frequently showing signs of cave development and often visited by Angus Innes and others.  John Ifold was fully occupied with a dig in the Lamb Bottom area.

Sybil Bowden-Lyle, Don Coase, Dan Hasell and George Lucy at a diving meet at Wookey Hole, 1948 [LWD]

George Lucy in diving Kit

Don Coase was fully involved with CDG activities on Mendip, South Wales and in the Peak District.  CDG, formed in 1946 at Penycae, was closely associated with BEC during this period. In addition to Don Coase several members were fully involved and trained as divers including George Lucy, Dan Hasell and Harry Stanbury, helped by Sybil Bowden-Lyle and ‘Sett’.  Coase was the first to enter Llethrid Swallet and BEC members visited this on the 24th September 1949

The Forty Foot Pot in Swildon’s Hole usually sorted the ‘men from the boys’. The ‘men’ undertook a trip into the lower streamway and visited the famous Forbidden Grotto on the far side of Tratman's Temple which when passed led to what is now Blasted Boss.  The feature was visited on the 20th August 1944 on a joint trip of MNRC and BEC members.  The MNRC contingent Howard Kenney and Vincent Stimpson were joined by five members of the BEC comprising Stan Herman, 'Bossy' Bosworth, Bob Bagshaw, Len Finlay, Harry Stanbury and Dick Woodbridge.  When the grotto beyond Tratman's Temple had been reached.

... C.H. Kenney & J. Bosworth ... reported a passage at the end [of Forbidden Grotto] blocked by a stalagmited boulder around which a strong draught blew. ... Kenney removed a sample of the strange snow like formation on the floor.  The Stalactites in this grotto are absolutely transparent...

Motorcycles became the popular form of transport during the 1945-1955 period; few owned a motorcar. Caving though wasn't limited to the Mendip sites but regular trips were made to other regions notably South Wales and Yorkshire.  Don Coase also was a regular diver in Peak Cavern at Castleton.

As the membership soared after the end of the war, particularly that with Japan in 1946, digging was fairly widespread. In fact the first 10 - 15 years after the reformation in 1943 was to prove to be one of the Club's most fruitful periods for the discovery of new cave passage.

½ Pint, Ted Mason, Graham Balcombe, ‘Sett’ during the recovery of the
human remains at Wookey Hole [LWD]

Cross Swallet [aka Site No. 3]

Cross Swallet, c.1947 [AI]

On the digging front one of the earliest sites chosen was Cross Swallet with Brimble Pit kept in mind as another possible site. It had been previously dug without success by the WCC during 1937-38.   'Pongo' Wallis proposed restarting Cross Swallet as an official Club dig at the May committee meeting.  After permission was obtained from Mr Main work commenced on the 29th July.  The site was worked by the Club throughout 1944 -1946 and continued on a sporadic basis until 1949.

Swancombe Hollow Hole

Dan Hasell and others had a short-lived dig in the hill south of Blagdon - Swancombe Hollow Hole. Ralph Stride of the UBSS was contacted for permission to work the site and eventually he replied with a number of conditions on behalf of the landowners in July 1946.  However, in the event it seems that little work was ever carried out at the site although a surveying trip was undertaken.

Burrington Combe digs

After a concerted exploration of the Burrington caves a few sites were noted as potential digs. In 1946 Club members began work at two adjacent sites, Snogging Hole and Burrington Hole. They were dug for a short period but because of the close proximity of the road and the fear of boulders falling onto it they were not long after abandoned.  Today the sites are known as Goon's Hole and Lionel's Hole, named after Alan Jeffreys [SMCC & GSS] and Lionel Haines [MNRC] respectively. It has been suggested that Snogging Hole was named after Keith Hawkins, a BEC member who organised the archaeological section for a number of years.  According to Harry Stanbury Keith was also known as 'Snogger' Hawkins because he was the Club's misogynist!  A map of caving sites in Burrington Combe compiled by John 'Postle' Thomsett enabled the writer to identify the sites that were only mentioned by their contemporary names in the 1946-caving logbook in his 'The Lost Caves of Mendip' published in BB 505. (note 14)

Bog Hole

The site was located in a disused quarry but is now filled in and covered by the concrete forming part of Walt Foxwell's old farmyard. A pit was dug and a rift feature was broken into by the UBSS during the August Bank Holiday of 1944.  They also attacked Plantation Swallet, the first working session since that undertaken by MNRC during 1919-1924.  BEC inspected the site in the winter of 1947 and work commenced after it was confirmed that the UBSS [2nd April 1947] no longer had any interest in it.

Tankard Hole [Stewart's Hole]

About the same time that Bog Hole was being worked, Peter Stewart reported to the Club committee [7th May 1947] that permission has been given by Ben Dors [Roger's father] to work a site some 200m east of the Hunters' Lodge Inn, on land owned by ' ... Mr. Masters.'  Work got underway and the committee allocated Club funds cover the cost of timber to line the shaft.  However, work ceased by the new year of 1949 and the site was left ' ... to rest.'

Pat Browne [AI]

Pat Browne and Stoke Lane Slocker

A man with a nose for caves was Pat Browne from Frome. Initially he was a member of MNRC but then joined BEC. Most of his exploratory work took place on eastern Mendip and he was responsible for the opening up of Browne's Hole and Withybrook Slocker. He explored Crystal Pot with Don Coase, a site found by quarrymen in 'Sam Treasure's' Quarry at Stoke Lane.

In 1949 he was at the centre of a colossal Mendip storm involving the digging personnel of the MNRC and WCC who were in the process of pushing Primrose Path in Eastwater Cavern. Pat wrote to Balch at Wells Museum informing him that he had stepped upon a number of toes with great force.

... The true facts are that Jock Broadley and I went down to have a look at the W.C.C. dig that we thought practically finished; we had no intention of going through.  When we arrived at the site Jock had a look at the hole and decided to try it.  The unexpected happened and he happened to get through to the top of pot number one [Primrose Pot - upper section].

Our problem was what to do now, so we kept it dark until we had the chance to see if anything lay beyond; it did, and Mendip leapt into the air and landed on its head, with me underneath. For some time hence I shall be keeping to the East.  My age must be against me : - people don’t like us discovering all the caves for them. I refer to the riot over Stoke Lane and others. It is for this reason that I hope to be able to let you know of some more finds in the very near future. I shall from now on always keep you posted of my activities in this part of Mendip.

For all his caving exploits and upsets his greatest achievement will be the discovery of Browne's Passage in June 1947, which was the breakthrough that was to hurl the fame of the Club to the forefront of Mendip caving. In a letter to Balch he outlined what had been found during May 1946 in the company of a school friend, A.J. Crawford.  Pat had found a way through and opened up the floor of Corkscrew Chamber entering Pebble Crawl.  Though not revisited until the 31st May 1947, the exploration did not end for it was then that Browne's Passage was found.  Pat with two school friends, D. Sage and a J.H.H. Mead, all from Bruton School, cleared a boulder pile and the way on led past the Nutmeg Grater and ended at Cairn Chamber.

Contact was made with Tony [Sett] Setterington and Don Coase.  They both agreed that a follow-up trip would take place on the 7th June 1947 and on this occasion the passage beyond Cairn Chamber was found to lead to a sump pool.  On the 22nd June a strong party was gathered to descend the cave to locate the submerged passage off the sump pool and assess the problems of getting bulky diving gear to the site. Pat Browne was unable to attend but the party comprised Harry Stanbury, Don Coase, Freda Hutchinson, R. Woodbridge and Graham Balcombe [CDG]. 

A human skull found in Bone Chamber [TK]

The submerged passage was located and inspected by Coase who having reached into the sump, said he could feel airspace and without warning disappeared with a ‘... gurgle and a splash ...’ A few seconds later he returned reporting that he had regained the stream that sank at the start of Browne’s Passage.  With that Coase disappeared again followed by Balcombe and Stanbury and together they explored the streamway to reach the boulder ruckle adjacent to Sump II. (note 15)

Two further trips took place during the weekend of 28th & 29th July when the climb up led into Bone Chamber where human and animal bones were discovered by Coase, Fenn and Browne.  Better was to come with the discovery of the Throne Room and its beautiful formations. The entry in the caving log for this date states that they

... pushed into the new series & discovered 9 large chamber, "Willie" and son, parts of two human skeletons, piles of animal bones, smoke-blackened Stalactite & charcoal.  A truely [sic] great day...

Bones of a child brought out of Bone Chamber,
Stoke Lane Slocker [DI]

The discovery of Stoke Lane Two was an important event for Mendip caving and it also received wide coverage in the press. William Hucker of the Bristol Evening Post was to later write a major article on the discovery after a visit with Coase, Browne, Innes and Gommo on the 6th July. Hucker's report appeared in the 9th July edition titled 'Most Beautiful of all Mendip Caves // With Skeleton of Primitive Caveman.'

Don Coase and Geoff Ridyard commenced a survey soon after the discovery of Stoke Two and by June 1947 he was able to report to the committee that the task was going forward as planned.  To assist the surveyors the Club purchased a drawing board and protractors so that the presentational work could continue at the Belfry.  It was decided that the provisional plan of Stoke Lane would be available by the time that the Club submitted its exhibits for a caving exhibition to be held at Bristol Museum during the late Autumn. (note 16) 

Don Coase & Geoff Ridyard working on the Stoke Lane Slocker survey, 1948 [Photo unknown]

The Queen Victoria stalagmite in the Throne Room [DAC]

The Stoke Lane Slocker team [l-r] : ??, Don Coase, Johnny Paine, Pat Browne and Angus Innes, c.1947  [AI]

The Bones and their removal.

Soon after the discovery Balch contacted Tratman requesting him to pay a visit to the cave and assess the importance of the remains.  Tratman undertook a trip to the bone deposits and afterwards wrote to Balch that this was the most disgusting cave that he had visited and vowed never to return! (note 17)

Plans were drawn up to leave the deposit until such time that another way could be found into Bone Chamber. It was generally believed that the bones were too fragile to be moved but equally it was realised that if the bones were left in place they would eventually become damaged if not destroyed.

For whatever reason nothing was done for two years but the preparation of the survey and other activities probably added to the delay.  However in the spring of 1949, Max Unwin, the Honorary Curator of Shepton Mallet Museum and a founder member of SMCC, became aware of their existence. An exploratory meeting was held on the 8th June 1949 between Unwin and Club representatives, Harry Stanbury and Angus Innes, to discuss the possibility of removing the bones. Another meeting was held between the clubs with Hal Perry and Les Peters joining the BEC team.

This preparatory work was a build-up for a meeting with the local archaeologist and BEC member, Ted Mason. The BEC team comprised Stanbury, Innes, Mary Osborne, Dan Hasell and Max Unwin. It was arranged that the main human bones should be removed during the second week of July although Mason subsequently requested that the removal be delayed until the 16-17th July.  Unwin reported that he had talked with Mr. Perkins, owner of the land over the cave who had agreed that the bones could be removed and that a dig could take place in one of the deep depressions over Bone Chamber in order to devise a dry way into the cave.

The joint BEC-SMCC [then known as the Mendip Research Group] trip went to plan until on a climb up over boulders a 24 cwt boulder was dislodged injuring Sybil Bowden-Lyle in the back. Although extremely painful she was able to move through the cave to the entrance. Another trip was planned and this time a joint MCR and WCC trip managed to remove many of the bones packed in lever-lid tins filled with sawdust. (note 17)

Pat Browne, Johnny Paine and Don Coase somewhere in east Mendip, possibly Brownes' Hole

Photographer abbrev: AI = Angus Innes; DAC = Don Coase; DI = Dave Irwin; LWD: Luke Devenish;  'Sett' = Tony [Sett] Setterington; TK = Tim Kenderick


  1. BB 10(104)1
  2. Committee Meeting, 2nd November 1945
  3. Attendance at Committee meetings was taken very seriously and a member would have to have a cast iron excuse for not being present. On one occasion, the August 1945 Committee meeting the minutes state that '… D.H. Hasell being ill, was excused. Mr. Bosworth was absent without explanation. … ' Is there a lesson to be learnt by members of the current 2007 Committee?
  4. However, in BB No. 429, Harry remembered that the first Belfry was a rented old stone shed just large enough for six bunks in 1945-46 very close to where the Shepton Mallet CC had their first HQ.  If anyone has any further details or photos of this do please get in contact.
  5. Belfry Bulletin 2(15)4
  6. Belfry Bulletin 26(293)56-64
  7. Belfry Bulletin 54(522)36-38
  8. BB 2(13)5
  9. Angus Innes diary.
  10. BB 3(20)3
  11. Anyone interested in the Club's past should make a point of perusing these records.  Though the early logbooks and committee meeting minutes are locked away in the library for safe keeping all may be seen using the CD's of the scans undertaken by Dave Turner and the writer.
  12. The source of this fact is in Barrington & Stanton's Complete Caves of Mendip, 1977. Nothing has been found in the BEC archives - yet!
  13. Irwin, David J. et al, 1991, St. Cuthbert's Swallet.  Priddy, Somerset, Bristol Exploration Club. ii +
  14. Irwin, David J., 1999, The Lost Caves of Mendip.  BEC Bel Bul 50(12) 31-46 (Dec), fig, survey
  15. Coase, Donald A., 1947, Stoke Lane II     Brit Cav 17, 43-45
  16. Exhibition in Bristol City Museum, 24 Nov. to 11 Dec., 1948 - Harry Stanbury's report in British Caver 19,40-42
  17. Tratman, Edgar K., [letter to Balch dated 28th July, 1947] [in] H.E. Balch, Badger Hole Diaries [q.v.], mss 2p.
  18. SMCC Jnl Series 10, No. 5, p.9

To be continued…


Some Dates of Interest:

MRO Warden's meetings (open to all interested parties). All at the Hunters @ 8:00 pm:

Friday 9th February
Sun 13th May
Fri 10th August
Sun 11th November
Sat 10th March - Annual Meeting

MRO Talks - Date to be reviewed.

The History of the MRO, An illustrated talk by Jim Hanwell

Saturday March 24, First aid and improvisation for cavers! A talk by Pete Glanvil

Also a reminder that MRO training takes place on the second Thursday evening and the third Saturday morning of every month.

If you are interested in participating let me know.

Regards Mark (Gonzo) Lumley
MRO Training Officer

Hollow Hills

Drink on!

If anyone, heaven forbid, comments on the amount of beer you consume (See earlier article by Ian Gregory entitled Bloody Students) consider the following sent to me by a Canadian chum.

‘If you had purchased $1000.00 of Nortel stock one year it would now be worth $49.00. With Enron, you would have had $16.50 left of the original $1,000.00. With WorldCom, you would have had less than $5.00 left. With Lucent, you would have $3.50 left of the original $1000.00 but if you had purchased $1,000.00 worth of beer one year ago, drank all the beer, and then turned in the cans for the aluminium recycling REFUND you would have had $214.00.’

Based on the above, the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle.

Agreed - My only question would be, who the hell drinks beer out of cans? 


Just a reminder about submitting articles: Text files are fine, preferably as a word document. Photos: BLACK and WHITE JPEGS – and make sure the image sizes are reasonable – no 1000cms x1000cms please! I think most, if not all photo packages will convert colour snaps into B and W. Photoshop will get good images down to and below 100kb or so. 






The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Nick Harding

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor (722)
Hon. Treasurers: Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary: Brenda Wilton (568)
Caving Secretary: Rob Lavington (1306)
Hut Warden / Hut Bookings: Roger Haskett (1234)
Tackle Officer: Tyrone Bevan (1276)

Non-Committee Posts

Bulletin Editor: Nick Harding (1289)
BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian : Graham Johnson (aka- Jake) (1111)

Club Trustees: Martin Grass, Dave Irwin, Nigel Taylor and Barrie Wilton



Ave Cavers!

Well that wasn’t too bad. Yours truly’s first effort occupying the esteemed chair of editorship seemed to pass without major incident. But I hear cries of ‘just you wait’ somewhere off stage left…


Before I’m collared in the Hunter’s by a rugose soak: In BB 524, at the head of the Hutton article, there was the ‘Caves are where you find them’ quote attributed to Wig. Now it was a true quote from the fellow but as he was quick to inform me it was not a Wig original. In fact, and in the interests of honesty, truth and justice the cavers’ way, this expression was first used by Fred Davies.

Just a brief word on submitting articles via email. Wherever possible can the image files – i.e. photographs etc., be of a small size. In short any file more than a Meg is going to take yours truly hours to download, as he’s still operating a coal-fired computer from the age of steam. I promise to enter the 21st C as soon as the weather permits.

In this issue we have the welcome return, and indeed back by popular demand, some ‘funnies’. Having landed the editor’s position (prone and soaked with beer) through reckless pamphleteering I thought it fitting that the humour that landed yours truly with the job should be continued.


There is still some quiet debate about how many times the BB should come out a year. I, personally, am in favour of three fun packed ones a year, each a good fifty pages or so. This is not due to slackness on anyone’s behalf, most of all your Ed, but I think it’s better not to scrape around for articles for a BB every second month. But I am the servant of this esteemed organ and not its master so what do I know?

One last note. It’s looking increasingly likely that the next (anniversary) edition of the BB (526) will be a photographic history of the BEC so space may very well be limited for articles – in all likelihood these will be saved for the ‘527’. 

Meghalaya  2006

Further Exploration and a New Indian Length Record

Tony Jarratt
Photos by Mark Brown

“They wound this way and that, far down into the secret depths of the cave, made another mark, and branched off in search of novelties to tell the upper world about.”
Mark Twain – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The Caving Team

Austria: Peter Ludwig (LVHOO)

Denmark: Louise Korsgaard, Torben Redder (DSS}

Meghalaya: Brian Kharpran Daly (MAA / GSG), Shelley and Lindsay Diengdoh, Babhar Kupar “Dale” Mawlong (MAA), Raplang Shangpliang (Shnongrim)

Switzerland: Thomas Arbenz (SNT)

Ireland: Des McNally (UCDCPC)

U.K:      Annie Audsley (BEC / GSG), Simon Brooks (OCC / GSG), Mark Brown (SUSS / GSG), Tony Boycott (UBSS / BEC / GSG), Imogen Furlong (SUSS), Roger Galloway (GSG), Matt Hutson (GSG), Tony Jarratt (BEC / GSG), Kate Janossy (GSG), Neil Pacey (RRCPC), Dave Hodgson (GSG), Hugh Penney (GUPA / GSG / RRCPC), Derek Pettiglio (GSG), Henry Rockliff (SUSS), Fraser Simpson (GSG), Jayne Stead (GSG), Fiona Ware (GSG), Terry Whitaker (NCC)

The Support Team

Adison “Adi” Thaba, Bung Diengdoh (organizers), Myrkassim Swer (chef), Vinod Sunor, Alam “Munna” Khan, Zobeda Khatoon, Roma Sutradhar, Sansun Lyngdoh, Raju Sunar (cooking team and “swally wallahs”), David Kimberly Patkyntein (driver / organizer), Sharkes Kharsyntiew, Teiborlang Khongwir (Sumo and jeep drivers), S.D.Diengdoh (bus driver), Jonathon Wanniang, Shemborlang Lyngdoh (bus driver’s assistants)

The Local Guides Team

Gripbyman Dkhar (Semmasi), Evermore Sukhlain, Moonlight Patlong, Menda Syih, Carlyn Phyrngap, Shor “Pa Heh” Pajuh, Kores (all Shnongrim), Ekna Sukhlain (Moolasngi) and many other helpful locals all along the Ridge and beyond.

The Media Team

David Laitphlang (PCN presenter and party animal), Andrew Kharpor, Deimaia L. Siangshai, Markin Marbaniang, Marlon Blein (Meghalaya), Pradeep Gogoi (Assam)

The Shillong Party Team

Bill Richmond, Col. Fairweather Mylliemngap, Maureen, Dabbie, Rose and the other Ladies of Shillong, Phong Kupar “Teddy” and Ksan Kupar “Ronnie” Mawlong, Gregory Diengdoh, Gareth, Patrick, Alan, Dennis, etc.    

The Expedition

Abstracted from the official expedition diary with additions from the writer’s personal log and assorted nonsense thrown in for good luck. Apologies for the tedium but the BB and GSG Bulletin are about the only places where these trips get recorded. Earlier reports which give a background to work on the Ridge can be found in BB 516, 519 and 522 and GSG Bulletins Fourth Series Vol 1 Nos 4 and 5 and Vol 2 Nos 2 and 4. Also the Meghalaya Adventurers’ Association soft bound history and overview of Meghalayan caving – available from both BEC and GSG libraries. A separate article on the exploration of Krem Labbit (Khaidong) will hopefully be written by Annie Audsley on her return from Pakistan. 

This year’s expedition to the magnificent caving regions of the NE Indian state of Meghalaya concentrated on several systems within the Nongkhlieh Elaka (district) including some old favourites like Krem Liat Prah and Krem Umthloo and the four major new finds of Krem Umsohtung, Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo, Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and Krem Labbit (Moolasngi). Many smaller sites were explored and documented and many more remain for future visits. The main team were again based in bamboo accommodation and tents on the Shnongrim Ridge with a satellite team spending a few days at the inspection bungalow in the nearby village of Semmasi. 15.5 km of passage was explored and surveyed resulting in the creation of a new record for India’s longest cave. This honour now goes to Krem Liat Prah, at present 22km in length and just beating the 21km Krem Umlawan / Kotsati system in nearby Lumshnong. Next year this cave should easily be extended to 30-35 kms and if luck and some very necky theories are on our side a length of 100 kms may be possible. Due to increasing conservation issues a press team were already luckily on hand to record the event and it is hoped that this distinction will assist in the protection of the Ridge and its vulnerable world-class cave systems, unique underground fauna and important subterranean watercourses.

February 5th saw the first batch of expeditionaries reach the capital, Shillong, where preparations for the fieldwork got underway and on the 7th the faithful school bus delivered them to the Ridge.

Next day Des, Neil, Henry and the writer commenced a long and frustrating session of “pot bashing” in the Lum Manar area where Krem Kya 1, 2 & 3 and Krem Siat Kriah 1 & 2 all became too tight at around  –15m and the nearby Krem Shnong Moo required digging to reach open passage.

Thomas continued with his surface mapping and recce project aided by Jayne, Brian, Terry and Raplang. This was to keep him fully occupied for the next three weeks and he only managed one caving trip but his dedicated devotion to this cartographic masterpiece earned him the team’s grateful thanks and a bottle of the finest Glenlivet.

Mark, Annie and Peter surveyed previously undescended pitches in the old favourite Krem Shyien Khlieh (nee Shynrong Labbit) and did further work in this system the following day.

On the 9th the boulder dig in Shnong Moo was passed and 35.5m of cave surveyed, via a tight vertical squeeze – the Nasty Little Twat - to too tight passages and a boulder choke. This was combined with more recce in the area guided by Shnongrim cow boy, Evermore, who pointed out 11 new sites!


Evermore and the writer ponder over the day’s prospecting with the aid of a freshly cut banana (tree)


Many of these were dropped on the 10th – Krem Kya 4 to a mud floor at  -40m, Krem Um Manong 2, where Imo pushed a tight, wet passage to an impasse at -35m, Krem Tyrtong Warim to -23m, Krem Pastor 6 to  -6m, Krem Pastor 5 to  -10m and Krem Pastor 1 – the most promising – which finished at  -35m. Locals reported bottoming this vertical shaft using bamboo rope and a man-riding basket to butcher an aberrant cow, which had taken the long drop.

Krem Poh Um Manong 1, 2 and 3 all ended after short pitches but Krem Um Manong 1 was found to be ongoing.

Mark returned to the long ignored village of Lelad where he relocated several sites and found other promising areas – notably Krem Umsohtung (later to become affectionately referred to as “ Toilet Cave” due to its location in the middle of the village and the noisome effluvia therein!).

Mark, Peter and Imo were looking for a project on the 11th so your scribe gave them a “hot tip” which he had been meaning to investigate for the last three years. Krem Labbit (Khaidong) had been briefly looked at by Martin “Lump” Groves in 2002 but not pushed. A local woodcutter had once told the writer that it was a big cave but no one knew just how big it was to become. Our three heroes (well, two heroes and a heroine) were about to find out in the next few days. Today Imo rigged until she ran out of rope and battery power

Over on the other side of the Ridge the “pot bashers” carried on down a series of short pitches in Um Manong 1 until they ran out of gear at a deep pot.

Krem Labbit: Annie in the main pitch

On the12th Imo returned to Labbit (Khaidong) with Henry and the pair dropped the pitch into a large chamber from where they surveyed 253m of ongoing streamway. They were followed by the surveying team of Mark, Des and Annie who followed a large fossil tunnel from the chamber and surveyed 279m in all.

The pot in Um Manong 1 was dropped for 30m to reach a large and inspiring canyon passage but Neil, Terry and the writer were disappointed when it soon ended in choked rifts (a promising dig) and inaccessible high levels. This is one for the future.

They continued their fruitless quest for an easy way down into the fabled Krem Synrang Ngap extensions somewhere below next day, finding a couple of promising pots and sending Jayne down Krem Warkhla 3 which became too tight at  –12m.

Tom and Peter continued mapping and investigated Krem Lyngtah, a small resurgence cave.

Labbit (Khaidong) had by now become the place to be seen. Imo, Henry and newly landed Viking, Torben continued the downstream survey, being somewhat intimidated by great multitudes of surprised labbits (bats). Another 648m was added to the length of this rapidly expanding cave and on the following day another 995m was mapped in enormous, mud-floored, fossil phreatic tunnels which became even bigger as the teams progressed – stunned by what was being revealed.

Krem Labbit – The Big Choke

Krem Labbit ‘Agoraphobia’

The “Toilet Team” of Mark, Fraser and Derek surveyed 228m of Yorkshire style pitches in Umsohtung while down at flood plain level 193m was clocked up in Krem Lyngtah. Also at this altitude a through cave of 256m, Krem Khuiang, was surveyed by Hugh, Tony and Jane – mainly because it was near the only tea shop for miles!

The stolid, but rapidly becoming pissed off, “pot bashers” bottomed Krem Bir 2 at  -35m, Um Manong 3 at  -15m and Krem Warkhla 1 at  -19m but Krem Warkhla 2 still had hopes. Your scribe had squeezed down into a loose chamber with a boulder and mud floor hanging over a deep pot and today an easier entrance was dug to reach this point but the big pot was not rigged due to fear of major collapse of the floor, walls and ceiling. A Neil was called for…

Krem Umsohtung continued dropping steeply on the 15th when Mark and his team eventually intersected a small streamway.

Back at Warkhla 2 the prescribed Neil was dispatched through the horror story to rig  the big pitch. This shat out at  -30m. Thoroughly discouraged the team decided to abandon their fruitless search and rig Krem Synrang Ngap in preparation for long, sporting and possibly overnight pushing trips to the two downstream chokes. Asking directions from Moonlight Patlong, a local wood cutter, they were shown a deep, banana tree-covered pot just off the main track which your scribe knew was definitely not Ngap. It turned out to be previously unseen despite our having passed it many times over the last few years. With a heartfelt “Sod it!” Neil commenced rigging while his Mendip colleague slept in the sun, thankful not to be a hard Northerner. At  -50m he passed a very tight squeeze to another strongly draughting pot and had some entertainment reversing it. This pot was later found to be Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo. (Tyrtong – an ancient Pnar word for “summit” and Ryngkoo – a local bird that keeps silent on the approach of people.). Needless to say Ngap never got visited this year as at last the “pot bashers” had got lucky!

Tyrtong Ryngkoo – looking up the entrance pitch

Meanwhile the “Labbiters” clocked up another 627m of streamways and 790m of fossil tunnels – an incredible amount but made easier by the fortuitous possession by Torben of a Disto laser measurer.

Krem Poh Lumthymmai, NE of Labbit, was bottomed at  -14m and Krem Lyngtah pushed to a probably passable but highly dangerous choke.

With plenty of going cave in three separate major systems the frantic explorers were in for a shock that evening and for the next 48 hours as a mini-monsoon hit the camp. Bamboo huts and tents leaked copiously and streams flowed through the dining area while awesome thunderstorms and massive hailstones added to the fun. As all were soaked on the outside equilibrium was gained by getting soaked on the inside as sorrows were drowned along with sleeping bags. The kitchen tent also suffered badly but the cooks worked wonders in the atrocious conditions. The highlight of the day was when top chef Swer apologised profusely for the lack of “desert”. The rain also encouraged the abhorrent Tiger leeches, which this year had staked a claim on the campsite. Several of the team got “leeched” and the nasty little bastards were regularly evicted from tents and sleeping bags.

Luckily the morning of the 17th proved fine and the dishevelled ones dried out themselves and their kit and set off underground or on surface recces.

Neil Pacey in the squeeze

Tyrtong Ryngkoo, being too difficult to remember or pronounce, was soon bastardised to “Turtle Wrinkle”, or, as exploration progressed downwards in tight and horribly loose pitches, “Krem Grim”. Neil did a superb job of rigging this collector’s item especially as the pitches were now as wet as those of the Dales due to the storm run-off. Your scribe used his digging prowess to enlarge the squeeze while Neil dropped several pitches to run out of rope at a c.30m pot.

A photography and bolting trip to Shyien Khlieh was also done today and a team of seven set off for continuing surveying in the incredible horizontal maze of Krem Tyngheng at Semmasi. The waterproof roof of the snug I.B. had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Saturday 18th February saw four “Labbiters” pushing some 30m into the Mother and Father of all Boulder Chokes and taking photographs while another three dropped Kneewrecker Pot 2 in an attempt at a connection. Hugh, Kate and the Danes bagged another 352m of upstream inlet.

Desperate for an “easy day” Des, Neil and the writer opted for a working tourist trip in Krem Liat Prah where Neil bolted a traverse in the far SE corner of this 15km+ system in an attempt to reach a possible sump bypass. The climb was a success but the 69m long, flat out crawl (in a cave where a light aeroplane could be flown!) ended at an impassable choke. This at least partially proved your scribe’s theory of cave development to the SE and on the remote chance of confirming it some fluorescein was dumped into the surprisingly fast flowing stream below the climb.

The Krem Tyngheng team surveyed 296m and, more importantly, secured a supply of beer in Semmasi – previously thought to be a dry village. They were also informed that the locals believe the cave to extend to the Kopili River, many kilometres to the NE, on the Assam border.

Krem Labbit Fossil Passage

Next day much surface recce, mapping and data input was undertaken with the persistent Labbit enthusiasts adding 101m of fossil passage and 265m of crawling side passage to the score. The latter was to prove both very important and also to prove that it is essential to push Meghalayan crawls and squeezes, even in huge cave systems.

At Lelad, Umsohtung yielded another 401m and the “Wrinkled Turtles” at last got their just rewards as they abseiled through the ceiling of a huge, active trunk passage at 100m depth. They surveyed 200m upstream and were relieved not to have to kiss any more frogs as they had found a princess at last! (It soon dawned on them what an ugly princess they were landed with but, as was pointed out, the baby of Neil and your scribe was hardly likely to be a stunner. Cheeky bastards). At the base of the pitch the huge Moonlight Chamber was found and named in honour of our friendly wood cutter.

The Semmasi team added 614m to their exceptionally complicated survey of Tyngheng where only frustratingly short legs could be measured due to the frequency of intersections. Over their stay they lost valuable exploration time by having to re-draw over 3km of cave due to the laxity of a previous expedition member. Another problem with this system was that every lead they tried to finish off resulted in more junctions and many more ways on! The end of this system has still not been reached and it may be extremely extensive.

Torben, Louise (practicing her newly acquired English obscenities) and Peter were back in the Labbit crawl on the 20th, surveying another 250m. Nearby Roger, Henry and Imo were dodging falling trees in a daylight shaft connected to Kneewrecker Pot 2. On the surface above, and blissfully unaware of those below, the locals continued with their deforestation! This cave ended in an impassable downstream boulder choke before a connection with Labbit could be made.

Shelley, being young, slim and fit, was conned by Neil and the writer to join the “Turtle Wrinklies” as they surveyed upstream in the huge, muddy and boulder-floored Evermore Passage, named after their keen young guide. After 223m of hard going a waist deep pool was reached and a retreat made. Shelley’s little legs made it, for her, harder going still and a badly strained back acquired on the way out resulted in 100m of vertical agony as she manfully struggled up the grim pitches to freedom and a late meal. Both Shelley and Neil were actually very lucky to be getting out at all as earlier in the trip a large rock flake had peeled off the wall when your scribe used it as a handhold. Too heavy to grasp it had just begun the 20m drop to the two unsuspecting cavers directly below when it miraculously wedged itself between two tiny outcrops which halted its probably fatal trajectory. A mere pebble rattled on down to accompany the hoarse, strangled cry of “BELOW”. This was not the only close call in this very dicey pitch series as large rocks had plummeted down on earlier trips. One of the lower pitches sports a protruding rock buttress – the Mercy Seat – over which one climbs and on which one sits before the abseil. Miraculously it was still in place when we finally deserted the cave!

Neil Pacey at the Mercy Seat

In Krem Shyien Khlieh Mark and Annie passed a duck (they were told not to eat it… groan) to discover some 200m of interesting inlet ending at an aven with “Cappadocian” style mud pillars.

280m was added to the Tyngheng labyrinth where a bamboo maypole was used to gain access to two high level passages and another entrance.

On the 21st various surface recces were undertaken and some downstream surveying in Tyrtong Ryngkoo led to a large boulder choke where an inlet stream may be that from Krem Synrang Ngap 1st downstream choke. A way through the other side of this was found to reach the ongoing main stream at a deep water section in a large phreatic gallery.

Next day Des, Fiona and Hugh revisited a cave found earlier in the week, Krem Wah Um Bloh, where rising water curtailed exploration. The discoverers developed a tradition of entertaining hitch-hikes back to camp, once with local “likely lads” in a pimped up Maruti jeep where translations were made by mobile phone to the driver’s English speaking mate miles away and twice in bone-shaking Shaktiman trucks.

Another 156m was added to Labbit by Imo, Annie and Louise on a “girly” trip where they were gobsmacked on reaching the remote entrance to find themselves reluctant TV stars! Another 513m were added by Simon, Dave and Torben, including a new streamway.

“Toileteers” Mark, Roger and Matt added 660m to Umsohtung and took photographs. They were rewarded with tea and betel nut at a house in Lelad village.

In Liat Prah a new 11m bit was surveyed after a bolt climb by Peter into a well decorated but choked roof tube.

The huge decorated passage before the upstream choke.

Upstream in Tyrtong Ryngkoo things initially looked great but after 250m of immense and superbly decorated trunk passage the inevitable Meghalayan boulder choke was reached. This was pushed for some 50m but thoughts of getting lost forever and having to eat Henry prompted a retreat. If this active streamway is actually the continuation of the Synrang Labbit / Synrang Ngap combined streams then pushing a connection would be easier from the far side, though there may, in fact, be two chokes with open streamway between. Later, during a hilarious discussion on naming the cave features, a superb faceted stalagmite in the extensions was landed forever with the title of The Glitteris. On a later trip Mark was unable to find this – enough said.

The 23rd February saw the bamboo maypole in use again in Tyngheng but to little avail.

Further work in Labbit, including digging, failed to yield a link with the adjacent Krem Shrieh but 74m was found elsewhere and a strongly draughting crawl found heading towards Krem Chuni.

“Team Toilet” were back in the bowels of Krem Umsohtung where a free-climb led to the large and muddy, and 79m long, Village Shitter Passage. A bolt climb gained 26m to a high aven and 206m was surveyed downstream where Terry, Matt and Derek crawled into a larger main streamway.

Kate, Annie and Henry got what they thought to be the short straw by continuing the survey of the long crawl in Labbit, the Khaidong Metro. After 30m they were suddenly amazed to find “23” Tippexed on a rock lip. Soon after they were romping down an immense breakdown tunnel (The Grand Trunk Road) but didn’t have a clue which cave they had connected with. Back at camp the jubilant trio were informed by your scribe that it was he who had written “23” above a hole dug out from above in 2004 in the Shnongrim Subway of Krem Um Im 6, itself being one of the most westerly arms of the Krem Liat Prah system. This passage had been another “hot tip” but getting people to push a grotty, loose crawl in a remote corner of a 15km cave was not easy. If it had been pursued when found the 6km of enormous fossil galleries of Labbit would have been discovered from the inside but survey trips would have been a nightmare – and no easy climb out to surface. The dug hole would have been suicidal to excavate from below so this was a great stroke of fortune for today’s connectors who had now extended Liat Prah just enough to claim the record of India’s longest cave from Krem Umlawan / Kotsati. Celebrations continued (as usual) into the wee small hours.

Another 380m was added to Umsohtung but the main downstream passage ended in a choke.

Krem Gerald Hubmayr, named after a late friend of Peter, also ended at a choke after 65m.

Throughout all the excitement Fraser had been plugging away with his video footage and today he assisted the TV crew to film Henry and Brian in the entrance series of Krem Labbit (Lum Dait Khung) – this being the nearest accessible cave passage (and with the potential to one day become part of the Shnongrim Meghasystem!). He also spent much time documenting the destructive quarrying and mining operations at both Lumshnong and to the NW of the Ridge. This was a soul-destroying experience.

More of the huge decorated passage before the upstream choke

24th February and the “Turtled Wrinklets” were back downstream in Tyrtong Ryngkoo. After a fine but sadly short section of chest deep canal a boulder slope led to a four way chamber. The streamway was followed to the prophesied massive boulder choke and two of the other leads closed down. The fourth led up a steep mud and rock slope into a huge, flat ceilinged chamber with an awkward climb at the end to a smaller, choked chamber. 450m surveyed.

Hugh, Des, Peter and Terry surveyed 64m in Krem Wah Um Bloh to a choke and wrote the place off.

Imo and Derek got another 120m in Labbit, mainly in small stuff leading off the immense mud-floored gallery of Disto Inferno.

The Semmasi team surveyed 522m in the complex wet series of Tyngheng named Tipee Toe Canals, leaving two swimming leads.

Saturday 25th saw an important photographic team in Labbit where yet another team materialised after dropping the 50m deep Krem Chuni and pushing the calcite-lined squeeze looked at earlier from the Labbit side.

Your scribe led Imo and Neil on a working tourist trip to his “baby” – Krem Umthloo. With oncoming senility as an excuse he just got away with it when this became a major and lengthy epic involving cold swims (with one lifejacket between three!) and failure to find their goal in the most northerly corner of the system. As a consolation prize Imo did a magnificent push through a squalid, tight duck (marked as a sump on the survey) into 79m of walking passage. On reflection this was a belter of a trip and, if nothing else, inspired Imo and Neil to return to this truly fantastic system in the future where well over 100 leads remain to be explored and where the possibility with a link to the potentially huge Krem Synrang Labbit system to the north is definitely on the cards.

Over at Semmasi Simon, Kate and Dale surveyed damp leads off Tipee Toe Canals and dry leads off Fossil River Series in Krem Tyngheng. Tony, Dave and Matt got the swimming stuff until they got cold. 655m surveyed in total.

Next day a photo / choke-busting trip was undertaken in Tyrtong Ryngkoo but the choke won.

Imo and your scribe snook off to Krem Chuni where they amazingly survived Peter’s acrobatic mid-air deviation 50m above the deck and set to work chiselling the tight connection passage to enable mere mortals to pass. Imo then took the writer on a delightful four hour stroll through the roofed underground desert comprising much of this stupendous cave. He was deeply impressed. Samples of cave fauna were taken and on leaving via the entrance pitches of Krem Labbit some derigging was done. Also in Chuni were Peter, Annie and Derek who surveyed 131m.

Over in the Moolasngi village area, on the other side of the Ridge, Brian, Hugh, Des and Terry were guided by local man Ekna to ten new pots located below a large collection of ancient standing stones and burial chambers. One of these Krem Labbit (Moolasngi) 3 (confused yet?) was estimated at 50 m deep and had rising condensation wafting out.

Fed up with Tyngheng the Semmasi team borrowed a Shaktiman and went for a jolly to the remote villages of Pala and Kseh. Strangely enough they found the impressive entrance of… you guessed…Krem Labbit. Another promising cave here was Krem Bliat. They all then returned to the Ridge camp in preparation for the end of the expedition. Carlyn provided a good supply of the excellent local rice beer to spice up the celebrations.

The final, longed for trip in Tyrtong Ryngkoo took place next day when Mark and Neil took photos and derigged the cave. No tears were shed when Neil abandoned his baby.

A large team of “Toileteers” did a last trip in Umsohtung, took photos, surveyed 214m and left the place with at least three ongoing leads.

Krem Umsohtung, Upstream.

The writer, Fraser, Imo, Brian, Dave, Raplang and Sharkes (Jeep) accompanied by Menda (motorbike) travelled to Daistong village with the MAA dinghy – or to be strictly correct half of it (a long story). This was carted down to the flood plain and inserted in the flooded passage of Krem Khangbru. Thence ensued a couple of hours of atrocious seamanship and ribald hilarity as lifejacketed would-be explorers attempted to navigate the good ship Titanic under the rapidly lowering ceiling. Eventually a sump was discerned 38m in and the whole circus wandered round to the nearby sink cave, Krem Ksar 1. Here a foul, stagnant pool was jam-packed with rotten bamboo and logs and no place for the fragile vessel so Dave was inserted, as he was the only mug with a wetsuit.

More hilarity followed as he fought his way to a sump some 50m in. He was also volunteered to check out the two adjacent grotty caves of Krem Ksar 2 & 3. A total of 172m was surveyed including some unroofed cave passage.

In Krem Chuni Annie, Derek and Roger surveyed 66m of crawl and derigged the cave.

On the 28th February eleven of the team left to attend Shelley’s engagement ceremony in Shillong leaving the stragglers to derig Krem Labbit (Khaidong), wash ropes and pack up. Henry, Terry and the writer took this last chance for glory and went to drop Krem Labbit (Moolasngi) 3, the supposed 50m shaft. To make the survey easy the 50m tape was taken along. Henry set off down this impressive pot rigging as he went and communicating by walkie-talkie. At 50m down he still couldn’t see the bottom and needed more rope so asked Terry to join him. Not being a technical SRT aficionado Terry attempted the first re-belay, decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and came out. A rope was lowered and Henry soon reported that he had dropped into a major trunk passage. The writer decided to join him and Terry kindly walked back to camp to change the pick up time from 6pm to 8pm. The huge shaft turned out to be 92m deep and the passage below bored off to the NW, towards Krem Liat Prah! This superb 6m diameter phreatic tunnel, The Sound of Silence, was a surveyor’s dream, especially with the fortuitous 50m tape. The jubilant ones soon clocked up around 500m when the noise of a stream was heard ahead. Henry made a facetious comment about finding green-dyed water and clambered down a scree slope for a look. Your scribe was overjoyed to hear his spluttered and apologetic mumblings as the bright green stream lapped around his wellies! Eureka! They had proven that the Video Passage stream in Liat Prah flowed beneath the Ridge to emerge almost certainly at the beautiful resurgence cave of Krem Rubong and your scribe was well chuffed that his hitherto scorned theory was correct. With several open leads they stopped the survey and rushed back to the pitch to investigate the “downstream” borehole. This soon reached a short pitch, which was traversed over to a maze of phreatic canyons and the reappearance of the emerald stream. The presence of bats and an echo indicating huge but inaccessible passage above convinced them that they had another princess, and this one was a real beauty. Having run out of time they surveyed back up the mighty entrance shaft with Henry derigging as he went. With 650m in the bag and enough open leads to warrant three survey teams next year they were the smuggest buggers on the Ridge and only ten minutes late for their lift back to the celebratory beer supplies and congratulations of the remaining expeditionaries.

The camp was dismantled next day and all headed back to Shnongrim via the Nartiang standing stones.

On the 2nd March equipment sorting and shopping filled the day before the traditional party, this year at the Pinewood Hotel with beer sponsored by Mohan Meakin brewery, courtesy of the press. A post-party party at Robin Laloo’s house continued until the early hours and three of the “Turtle Wrinklies” ended up swigging illicitly bought whisky in the back streets of Shillong with an unknown headcase at 3.30am! A memorable occasion (if only they could remember it).

Next day it was all over and the team scattered across the world in search of more adventures or back to earn enough to return to Cave Explorers’ Valhalla in eleven months time. Once again the visitors’ grateful thanks go to Brian, Maureen and family and the redoubtable Meghalayan Adventurers for their fantastic input to this truly satisfying expedition. Kublai.

High level passage, Krem Um Im 6, Meghalaya. Part of the central section of the Krem Liat Prah system – India’s longest cave. Drawn by Jrat from a photograph by Simon Brooks.

Glanvill with an ‘E’?

From BB524

In the great tradition of finger pointing at someone else to blame for an error I must admit that it was your humble Ed who passed on the mistake in adding an erroneous ‘e’ to the name Glanvill but twas not I who originated it.

Well it happens to best of us. Errors slip through. But then it’s nothing new. In defence I offer for your consideration: In 1632, the London printers Barker and Lucas produced the famous ‘Wicked Bible’. In this edition the seventh commandment read as “Thou shalt commit adultery…”

Or how about in 1653, in which a bible was printed in Cambridge with the line, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God…”


And my favourite:

From the reign of Charles I, a Bible was printed with the text of Psalm xliv, “The fool hath said in his heart there is a god.”

The ‘Real’ Aglarond

‘There would be an endless pilgrimage of Dwarves, merely to gaze at them…None of Durin’s race would mine those caves for stones or ore, not if diamonds and gold could be got there…We would tend these glades of flowering stone, not quarry them.”

Gimli the Dwarf.

Aglarond. The Glittering Caves.

Here is a plan of the ‘real’ Aglarond made famous in the Lord of the Rings and the Rose Cottage dig.

During the battle of Helm’s Deep in the book The Two Towers, the Glittering Caves became a place of sanctuary for Theoden’s people as the forces of Saruman attacked the fortification built below the Hornburg.

The caverns were, ‘…vast and beautiful…[with] chamber after chamber…and still the winding paths lead on into the mountains’ heart’.

Gimli the Dwarf later set about trying to colonise the Glittering Caves.

The above map is taken from The Atlas of Tolkien’s Middle Earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad published by Harper Collins ISBN 026110277X.  In the book there are a number of cave and tunnel ‘surveys’ illustrating the various caverns and underground dwellings mentioned in the Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings including Nargothrond and Menegroth - ‘The Thousand Caves’, Thangorodrim and Thranduil’s Caverns.

I contacted Harper Collins to find out if it would be okay to quote this book in the BB telling them about Aglarond in Rose Cottage. They obviously mis-read my query and told me that permission to name parts of the cave after Lord of the Rings etc had to be sought from the Tolkien estate…Umm, law suits anyone?

Dent de Crolles

Report by Chris Jewell

Four of the youngest members of the BEC, including two of the most recently joined members went to the Dent de Crolles for the long Easter weekend and completed the Trou Glaz to Guiers Mort traverse. (Chris Jewell, Rich Bayfield, Rich Beer and Charlotte Harris)

Having recently become a full tax-paying member of society (i.e. not a student) I have had to face the realities of 22 days leave a year! Due to this the idea of doing long weekend pull-through trips in some of the classic European caves appealed.


I knew Easter would be a bit early for high Alpine caving because of the snow. However some people recommended the Dent de Crolles as the Trou Glaz is a ‘big yogi bear entrance near the path and won’t be snow plugged’ I did a bit of my own research and was led to believe that the snow would probably have gone so we booked our flights and crossed our fingers.

Due to the time of year none of the usual campsites were open but I managed to find a site a bit further away which also had Chalets. The “Balcon Chartreuse” is in Mirabel les Eschelles, about 40min drive away from the caving area.

We flew in to Lyon airport on Good Friday morning and picked up shopping for our stay on route to the campsite. By 1.30pm we were sat on the veranda of our chalet enjoying a proper French lunch in the beautiful sunshine. The accommodation was perfect for us, basically a large garden shed with a small upper floor for three mattresses, a small bathroom with shower and another separate bedroom. The rest of the space was for living, cooking and eating, with a dining table and all the cooking facilities we needed.

We had decided early on that we wanted indoor self-catering accommodation. It saves weight on the plane, as you don’t need tents, sleeping bags, stoves, pans etc. Also at this time of year when the weather is unpredictable coming back to a nice warm dry hut is great and finally when doing a long weekend like this it is very easy to keep unsociable hours – i.e. back too late to go to the restaurant. So coming back to a tent at midnight in the rain to start cooking didn’t appeal.

The Chalet was also pretty cheap, costing only 60E a night for everyone – so roughly £10 a head per night. Plus when you have somewhere decent to eat and drink there is less temptation to head for the nearest restaurant/bar so saving more money overall.   

On Friday afternoon we packed up our kit and headed for St. Pierre de Chartreuse, the village closest to the bottom entrance of Guiers Mort. We parked in a car park at the end of the road by the foot of the mountain and got changed in the sunshine. Although there was a lot of snow on the path the sun was hot and we all worked up a sweat on the walk. After one wrong turn we realised we had to follow the track with the large yellow cross and were soon climbing towards the entrance.

(Park in the car park, follow path until big corner/clearing) where bridge crosses river and where waterfall comes over cliff far above (you will know when you are here). Continue on the main path past here until you see a right hand turn which climbs steeply. Very obvious path and clear junction with a yellow X on a tree stump. Follow this until you reach a small stone building out of which a stream emerges. Stepping over the stream the path becomes a tiny track zigzagging up the hill. After a short distance it rejoins another larger path and 50m ahead is a sign post for the source of Guiers Mort, with a path which goes off to the left. Follow this zig zagging path up to the entrance.) 

The entrance is a massive resurgence with traverse lines coming out on both sides to reach the cliff. There was plenty of snow about but none of it prevented us getting to the cave and we were soon heading off down the entrance passage.

The stream emerges mostly from a hole on the right but the way on is down the larger dryer tunnel, which soon reaches a large chamber with the obvious way on the right. However at the back of the chamber a small draughting hole can be entered which takes you towards the bottom of Puits Pierre. Follow the small passage ahead, traversing over a pit and then afterwards climbing up to the left. If in doubt follow the worn, obvious draughting way. When the crawl emerges turn left and then take the next left to find the bottom of Puits Pierre.  

Fortunately for us the pitch was rigged and judging by the quality of rope and the fact there are several re-belays it probably always is. Up the rope the passage is large at first then turns into an uphill, slippery crawl at the end of which the way on is right (left is marked with a line of stones).

Then we followed the large obvious passages, over the impressive pitch Elizabeth, and past numerous side passages until eventually reaching the bottom of Puits Banane. Banane was also rigged and similarly to Pierre, I suspect it normally is. The navigation through this section is fairly easy once you’ve done it once but there are many passages to confuse and tempt you and we were happy to have a survey from Mad Phil and descriptions from the internet – both of which I’d laminated beforehand.

Banane leads to a high level passage, interrupted half way by a short traverse. Not long after this we reached the head of the cascade Rocheuse where we checked the pitch was rigged. Happy to see the rope the others opened our snack supply whilst I dropped part way down the pitch to check it looked ok. Satisfied with the pitch we turned around and headed out with the knowledge that everything was in place for the through trip. Most of all we were surprised at how quickly we’d reached this point in the cave. We’d crossed two and a half of the four survey sheets and it only took about and hour and a half to get out from this point. 

We were back at the hut at about 11.45 for a quick dinner and then straight into bed for a good night sleep before the big trip.

When we woke up on Saturday the rain was pouring down. We knew this wouldn’t affect the trip – which is pretty much dry the whole way but it would make the hike up to Trou Glaz miserable. Hopeful that that weather would be better closer to the caves we set off anyway and fortunately by the time we reached the car park the rain had stopped.

There are several routes to the Trou Glaz entrance. The shortest route is to drive to the Col du Coq. However as didn’t have a second car, our only option was to park by the bottom entrance and walk up. Apparently there is a short but scary route from the Guiers Mort entrance across and up the cliffs. The descriptions we read were of people doing this in the summer so given the weather conditions and the snow at this height we opted for the long way round. This means walking first to the Col des Ayes (about an hour and a half walk to the area just above the Col du Coq) then across the slopes to the entrance. This was all on a proper, heavily marked foot path so we were confident of having no problems despite expecting to be traipsing through snow most of the way.

The lower part of the path was fairly steep and over snow it was hard work. However the path was large and well protected and we were happy to trudge upwards. When we reached the Col des Ayes though things took a different turn. The path turned into a narrow and exposed ledge, which is probably quite fun in the summer. However with snow covering the mountainside this became pretty treacherous. It soon got even worse as the path completely disappeared under the snow and we had to cut steps across 45 degree snow slopes with nothing but a long drop below. It took us over two hours and forty minutes instead of about forty minutes to cover the distance to the Trou Glaz entrance and we were all relieved to reach the cave. Standing in the entrance we all knew the hardest bit of the day was finished – just a quick caving trip to do now.

The entrance splits in two after about a hundred meters. We went to the left and followed the passage until we found a 45 degree bedding plane which led to a squeeze up into a chamber. Ducking under the left-hand wall the passage rose and we walked about twenty metres until up on the right we spotted the ledge leading to the lantern pitches. This is easy to miss as there are plenty of signs pointing straight on and it looks like the obvious route. Straight ahead is actually a long bypass to the lantern pitches so perhaps gets just as much traffic as them.  

The pitches were covered in ice, which gave me a little concern. Namely that we would find an iced up squeeze! We dropped down the first two pitches quickly and at the bottom of the second I wandered off to find the next pitch head. The entire belay was covered with ice but fortunately there was another anchor on the left hand wall. I knew that at the bottom of this pitch we would find the pitch bypass passage back up to the entrance so as long as we could get down and reach the passage it would be ok. To be safe I told the others to keep the top two pitches rigged whilst I dropped the third and checked for a way through. Fortunately there were no iced up squeezes and we pulled down and headed for the fourth lantern pitch, five minutes ahead.

The fourth pitch is an impressive drop in the floor of a train tunnel sized passage – for some reason the passage has just decided to continue 12m lower down in exactly the same vein.

Shortly after this we traversed half way over a pit and climbed round to the right to find the big 36m pitch. This sounded wet but all the water was out of the way at the bottom and we dropped down easily. From here there are two short pitches to reach the meandering stream way and another slightly longer one before the puits de l’Arche where you abseil all of about 4m to a traverse line leading straight over. This takes you immediately to the head of the 11m puits des Maichanceux, followed by another of the same (P. du Biouvac). Marching up the passage here you soon enter Les Champs Elysees, which leads to the galerie des Champignons. Full of ‘pop corn’ type formations (or mushroom like as the name suggests) this is where the end of the Rocheuse rope is found. Like Puits Pierre and Banane it appears this is always rigged – at least it is not possible to rig it as a pull through! To find the bottom of the rope climb straight up where the worn section is and a muddy rope can be found against the rock. 

Once at the top of Rocheuse it was just a matter of repeating our exit of the previous day. The only difference was the amount of water now emerging from the cave due to the rain and snow melt. We were back at car at 11.40 and soon in the chalet stuffing our faces and drinking beer, feeling suitably happy with ourselves.

To see more photos of the above trip please take a look at photos taken by both Rich’s

Rose Cottage Cave - Prancer’s Pot, the Surface Shaft and Grotto Choke Dig

Tony Jarratt

Continuing the saga from BBs 522-524.

“I now stood ready to observe the full
Extent of the new chasm thus laid bare,
Drenched as it was in tears most miserable.”

Dante. The Descent into Hell.

Further Digging 29/1/06 – 24/3/06

The 29th January saw the writer and Jane C. checking the spoil rift and confirming that another bang was needed. In Prancer’s Pride they drilled three shotholes and fired a 40gm cord charge which was cleared next day by your scribe and Anne Vanderplank who set off another three hole charge. They also cleared much of the spoil from the base of the surface dig and the rest of this was taken out by Henry B. on the 31st.

On 1st February bang spoil was cleared from the Prancer’s Pride dig and yet another three shothole charge fired to open up a tiny, calcite-floored hole with a good echo from beyond. A new dig was started some 2.5m down the climb between Prancer’s Pride and Fi’s ‘Ole and over 30 bags of spoil were hauled up from here and dumped in the diminishing void above. The spoil rift dig was attacked by Pete H. but thought to become too small and choked. Henrys B. and D. cleared and drilled in the surface dig and this was later also banged. Henry B. cleared the resulting debris next day.

Nothing then happened until the 27th when Tony A. and Rich W. tidied up on the surface after evicting a mouse from Tony’s rarely used oversuit!

On 4th March Henry B. drilled seven shotholes at the terminal Prancer’s Pride dig in anticipation of the bang-wallah’s return from Meghalaya and on the 12th six of these were utilised by your scribe, accompanied by Duncan B. and new boy Andy Kuszyk. The writer cleared the spoil next day and charged five out of six newly drilled holes - fully expecting the bang to open up the huge, echoing chamber assumed to lie below. An enthusiastic return was made in the evening with Henry B. and after more clearing a 2m long section of muddy stream passage was entered ending too tight but with a calcited hole on the left which drained the water and required more bang. This was not what we had expected! A flat battery precluded drilling but by using up all available unused or partly blown shotholes another 40gm charge was laid and fired.

The debris was removed on the 15th and another three hole charge fired at the drain hole. Clearing took place a week later, on the 22nd, and a four hole charge fired in the hope of gaining access to what was assumed to be a c.5m drop down which Henry had cast a few stones. He was convinced that a couple of these had gone even further. Phil C. and Tangent provided useful back-up on this trip.

Tangent and the writer were back on the 24th to clear some of the shattered rock until enough space was created for the latter to get a view down an almost vertical 2m flowstone slope to a calcited ledge with a black void to the left. By going in feet first he was able to free-climb to the ledge and stand, gawping in disbelief at the 10 m deep, heavily calcited rift pitch below. A further free-climb of 2m was made but it was thought a bad idea to go deeper without tackle and with the imminence of closing time. The overjoyed duo were changed ready for the Pub exactly half an hour later!

Prancer’s Pot and other digs – 25/3/06-22/5/06

On the evening of the 25th the pair returned to enlarge the approach to the pot in order that their larger colleagues could view its wonders. They were assisted by Andy C. and Chris J. The best part of an hour was spent enlarging the squeeze then the writer belayed a short rope to convenient formations and climbed down to the ledge to rig a 10m ladder on the main pot – belayed to even more convenient formations. He reached the flat floor below and with Tangent’s inebriated aid (he had celebrated in advance) measured the pitch at 12m in total. Below this a 5m deep free-climb led to a further free-climb of 4m and extensive mud deposits on the walls. This did not bode good and soon after a dried out pool with a magnificent brown crystal lining was reached. Immediately beyond this lay the inevitable, squalid and extremely unwelcome sump – too small to dive and an unprepossessing dig site. The only saving grace was that it was a superb little trip and on a par with visiting the Slops in Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink. Andy and Chris were summoned from their squeeze enlarging duties and were suitably impressed. With a total depth of over 21m Prancer’s Pot had, with the addition of Prancer’s Pride above, almost doubled the depth of the cave, which was later confirmed at 58m. Both disappointed and enthused the weary diggers gathered up all available drilling and banging equipment and humped it out to the surface leaving the pot rigged. A re-think was now required and a major effort at tracing the source of the strong draught urgently needed.

Paul B. visited the pot on the 26th and next day Henry B. and your scribe took down digging bags and thoroughly examined the place. On the way out Henry removed a couple of rock slabs from the passage heading into the main boulder choke opposite the end of Bored of the Rings and these were skipped to the surface as the diggers thought “Here we go again…”

The plan was to blast and dig a route horizontally through the choke to the so far unseen opposite wall and try to establish the source of the strong draught – seemingly lost in the rest of the cave. This has been named Grotto Choke Dig. Further digging took place here on the 29th when Henry B. banged three obstructive boulders and 2 skiploads of rock reached the surface. Meanwhile a team of six regulars visited Prancer’s Pot, which was photographed to death by Sean H. before frenzied digging commenced at the mud sump, Henry D. almost missing the Pub in his excessive enthusiasm.   

Henry B, Ian “Slug” Gregory and your scribe cleared bang debris from Grotto Choke Dig on the 31st but were soon confronted with lots of small and unstable boulders where further digging was considered too dangerous without much forethought. One skipload reached the surface.    

April Fool’s Day saw two of the finest, Henry B. and Duncan B, attempting to dig below Prancer’s Pot but they were defeated by high water levels and had to be content with re-arranging the spoil heap. A small team on the following day also accomplished little but on the surface the alternative entrance shaft was partly cleared of inwashed mud.      A large Prancer’s Pot team on the 5th filled five sacks and broke up some large rocks but were also stymied by the high water. The surface dig was finally cleared and two days later a four hole charge was very noisily fired in the floor and served the double purpose of shaking up the committee who were sitting in state in the Belfry! Clearing continued on the 9th when the diggers were provided with high octane coffee and biscuits by Ivan. Bursts of sunshine and hailstones enlivened the proceedings. The writer spent the 10th in much improved weather conditions clearing the dig and firing two separate charges to enlarge the miniscule bedding and rift at the bottom, work continuing here two days later when yet another charge was fired. Meanwhile Henry B. and Richie Blake confirmed that the Prancer’s Pot dig was still too wet but were convinced that it could be bailed into a nearby possible drain hole in the opposite wall. Work continued in the surface shaft on the 14th when the writer and Jane C. shifted lots of spoil and fired a two-hole charge. Pete Glanvill photographed the upper series next day but being alone was disinclined to descend Prancer’s Pot.

The writer continued digging and blasting in the surface shaft on the 16th and 17th and was ably assisted by Tangent, Tom Wilson and Dan Griffin. On the 18th Madphil and Ben O. continued the cave survey to establish the depth of the “mud sump” dig below Prancer’s Pot at –58m and next day Henry B, Fiona C, Tangent and Rich B. took down a length of 2” hose and a cut down skip to successfully empty the water into Henry’s drain hole. Pete H, John N, Phil C. and Alex L. arrived later to assist with digging but the choked passage was thought to be closing in. More spoil came out of the surface shaft on the 21st and another charge was fired to enlarge the working space. Clearing and banging took place again on the 24th and 26th (when Prancer’s Pot dig was visited and found to be too wet to logistically dig on an evening trip).

May Day saw Tony A. and Rich W. commencing to build a cemented stone lining in the new shaft. They continued next day. Jake B, soloing down the Corkscrew in the main cave on the 3rd, was somewhat distressed when a large boulder rolled onto his back. He was able to get back out but the rock now blocked the way into Aglarond 1. Four other diggers joined him but were unable to shift it so on the 8th Henry B, Darryl I. and the writer solved the problem with some 12gm cord before bailing and clearing in the new shaft. In the afternoon the walling team continued work here. With water levels still high on the 10th a five-man team concentrated on the phreatic tube dig partway down the climb down to Prancer’s Pride. Digging and walling continued in the surface shaft on the 15th.  

Henry B, Henry D. and new girl Helen Stalker took a hand pump and lots of hose to Prancer’s Pot on the 18th but accomplished little due to equipment failure. Three shotholes were drilled near the drain hole for a future banging project.

About 20 loads of spoil came out of the surface shaft on the 22nd when more work was done on the shoring by the A.T.L.A.S. sub-contractors.

To be continued in BB526.

“Cave diggers are the best people in the world.”

Alan Gray, Secret Underground, 2006.

Additional Diggers

Anne Vanderplank (WCC), Andy Kuszyk (Reading UCC), Chris Jewell, Andy Manners (SMCC), Richie Blake, Tom Wilson, Dan Griffin, Helen Stalker.

Spanish Adventures

Chris Jewell

At the beginning of April I went to Spain to do a scuba diving internship, this meant working in exchange for doing the my PADI instructors course. Although I enjoy diving I knew that just doing this wouldn't satisfy me for seven months. This was why I picked the Costa del Sol, because of its proximity to some caving and canyoning areas. However once there I realised the number of obstacles in my way. Firstly I didn't speak Spanish so meeting up with Spanish cavers would be difficult. I didn't have transport; I hardly knew the area and my days off were few and far between.

I began by emailing some caving groups (in English and getting no reply), ordering some maps of the surrounding area from the internet and arranging to buy a car with one of the instructors at the diving centre. Several months later we had our first car (Ford Sierra 1989) and on my first day off with the car I headed to Malaga to get some canyoning rope. I planned to have a go at a short canyon close to the diving centre on my return. However on the way back from Malaga the car developed a terminal problem and one week later we were car-less again.

After this I persuaded one of the other interns to come canyoning twice and we were able to use his car until finally we found another car and I managed to be independent again. Over this period my Spanish also improved and finally in September I met up with some Spanish cavers.

Left: “Garganta del Guadiaro” or “de Las Buitreras”

I was determined to do some decent canyoning during my time in Spain. Garganta de las Buitreras is supposed to be the cathedral of Andalucian ravines and you can do it with just one vehicle so it was the perfect objective for me. I wanted to do it together with a diving colleague of mine but at the last minute he let me down. As I didn't know if I would get the opportunity again I decided to go a head anyway. The only problem with this particular canyon is that the descriptions of it found on the internet told me I had to park my car at the bottom and walk up the train track to the top. This means walking through four tunnels, the longest of which is supposed to be about 800m. To make matters worse this is (quite sensibly) forbidden and carries a minimum fine of 600E if you are caught!

The closest village is El Colemar, not far from Gaucin. After crossing the river and driving into Colemar I took a right hand turn signed for CH Buitreras (which is actually an electricity transformer or junction station) and drove along the road towards the end of the canyon. This road runs by the side of the railway track and I figured I could get onto the track easily. At the end of the road was a set of gates with the electricity company’s logo and private property marked on them. So I parked the car a little way back down the road and had a walk around. I could see it was easy to get onto the track but unfortunately some men had just started working on the telephone lines by the track and so the issue was how to sneak up on to the track without being noticed. I walked back to the village to see if there was another route and using my bad Spanish I asked if it was possible to walk to the canyon. I was told yes, just go through the gates and up where the large pipe come down (obviously it was in Spanish and not a clear as that but this is what I understood it to mean). So I got changed by the car and headed off towards the gates and the pipe. The gates were locked for cars but a pedestrian gate on the side was open and so in I went in - confident that the guy in the village has told me this was ok. I quickly found the said tube and headed up a small but well warn path. After a short distance this intersected the railway track by means of a small gate. However as I approached the foreman of the men working on the telephone lines appeared. He had obviously been watching me walk around and knew what I was up to. I explained in bad Spanish that I wanted to walk up to the canyon and that a man in the village had told me it was ok. This didn't go down too well and a short discussion followed. This consisted of me repeatedly saying I wanted to go up and him repeatedly saying it was forbidden because of the tunnels. Just as I was about to give up he appeared to change his mind and opened the gate for me. However once I was through again he started telling me it was forbidden because of the tunnels and pointing at the tunnel to show what he meant. After another minute or two of this he finally gave up and put his hand over his eyes to say "I didn't see it" and waved me off. With just one more shout of "muchos peligrosos" from him I headed into the first tunnel.

There are three short tunnels, which didn't worry me, though it is useful to have a light. I also put my ear to the train track before going into each of them, as I seem to remember you hear trains coming this way very early. Next is a long tunnel, it is reportedly 800m and this felt about right. The first half isn't a worry as there are large arched windows in the side, which look to the canyon. This means that if a train came you could easily step through one of the arches and be out of harms way. The second half however is a proper tunnel. Although the tunnel is quite wide (wide enough to stand or lie by the side) being in the tunnel with a train rushing right past me was something I was anxious to avoid. Fortunately I didn't have to find out what this was like and made it through without any trains coming. Just before the fifth tunnel it is possible to follow a path off to the side. To reach this, continue on the track until past a small stream which the track crosses and the go behind the small concrete wall next to the track when it starts. Two meters past the start of the wall a path heads up and to the side of the tunnel. It then drops down until you are level with the track. There are more arched windows here and it would also be possible to reach this point by going inside the tunnel and out of the windows. From here you can get down into the canyon just before the track disappears back into the hillside in the tunnel.

The first section of the canyon was very dry with lots of boulder hopping, climbing and sliding. Though it wasn't long until I found the first pool which was a deep 30m long lake of green water, after that more hopping, some wading and another long pool, this time full of algae and weeds. It was after this that the canyon 'proper' started with plenty of water and the occasional pitch. It is worth noting that it might be possible to skip this less appealing beginning section by getting down into the canyon at an earlier stage just after the fourth tunnel.

Overall I counted five 'pitches' although I only rigged three of them. One had some slings to help you step over a hole so a rope wasn’t necessary and the other I should have rigged. It only looked like a short pitch but in actual fact it went round the corner so after free climbing and sliding my way down the first part I realised my mistake and that I couldn't get back up to the top and the anchors. A bit of precision jumping brought me safely down though and I continued down the canyon. There are lots of lakes and few distinct features to describe through at one point there is a smaller boulder is wedged in the canyon just above the water, leaving about a foot's air space.

Later you reach a small beach on the left and where a large boulder hangs down in the middle of the canyon. On the left, up from the beach is a small cliff you can climb up to, to get a nice jump. After this the canyon dries out for quite a while any you would be forgiven for thinking that it's over, I even stripped off my wetsuit top. However there are several more pools and the final obstacle a 300m swim. After this the canyon opens right and there is a small 'beach'. Near here you can climb up some rocks and make a final jump into the water before the end. To get back to El Colemar I just followed the course of the river, wading in the river itself, swimming very occasionally or walking on the bank where possible. Eventually I reached a point where the river twists back on itself several times and becomes a bit steeper. Here I left the river up a very obvious track next to a fence and headed towards some buildings. These turned out to belong to the electricity junction station and so I was soon back at the car.

Overall it was a excellent canyoning trip though I would have preferred it to be steeper and so have more pitches. The water level in the pools doesn't seem to drop much even in the height of summer. When I was there it had been really dry for several months and yet there were no noticeable water marks on the walls. In wet weather it does rise a lot though apparently so the general advice is don't do it in these conditions. I think the walk up took about 3/4 of an hour and the whole canyon maybe two and a half to three followed by another half-hour walk/wade along the river back to El Colemar.

After this trip I decided to see if it was possible to avoid walking through the tunnel by looking for a place to park a second car at the top. I followed the road over the hills towards Cortes de la Frontera, which is a narrow windy road, and after a short distance it is possible to turn off this down a small track. This track is marked on the map and is the turning before the last hairpin, just before the road runs straight for a while. I turned down here and drove as far as I felt comfortable in my VW Jetta from 1988. In a better car (hire car) you could certainly drive quite a long way along this road though in truth the road isn't that long really. After about 15min of walking some farms appear and it is possible to get down to canyon between them. I even checked with one of the locals who, disgusted with my bad Spanish enquired which language I spoke and answered me in perfect English. He told me that it's a very popular canyon and all weekend lots of activity groups go there and park at the top. So if you have access to two vehicles I definitely recommend this.

Excentrica and Fuentosa

By July we had another car (VW Jetta from 1988) and so on my next day off with the car I wanted to go caving. So I selected two short caves close together from my guidebook. I didn't have anyone to accompany me but this didn't bother me as both were very small caves.

I parked in the village of Igualeja and headed up the hill. There are even signs pointing to the path and everyone seems to know both the caves. I thought this would make them easy to find however I was armed only with my guidebook in Spanish and 1:50,000 map. The guidebook recommended using a GPS but unfortunately the one I’d borrowed from the dive centre turned out not to work. Without worrying about this too much I set off up the hill to find my caves. My first mistake was to go far too high and completely miss the first cave (Excentrica) which is only 10m from the path. After an hour of searching I retraced my steps down the hill and found the entrance. It was an easy, pleasant little cave, with some interest being added by the spiders in the entrance and the loud frog inside. The cave immediately splits in two and has two main passages. One is dry and one is effectively a long lake. Not having my wetsuit with me I thoroughly explored the dry section before heading out.

After finding Excentrica I mistakenly thought it would be easy to find Fuentosa but although I searched for another hour and a half I was forced to admit defeat. So my advice is take a GPS if you want to see these caves. Otherwise you risk spending a lot of time looking for the entrances. The only eventful thing was meeting a local policeman on my return to the village who seemed rather anxious that I had been caving on my own. I explained in bad Spanish that they were very small and easy caves and this seemed to keep him happy.

Spanish Cavers

In September I decided to try again to contact some Spanish cavers. This time though I tried writing my email in Spanish and was delighted when I immediately received a reply. I initially asked if I could join in their campaign to clean the Hundidero Gato system, thinking this would be a good way meet some cavers. However Juan, the president, invited me to come on some other trips before the clean up and before I knew it I was heading off to the mountains on a Sunday morning. Although my Spanish had improved over my time in Spain I had never had to communicate solely in Spanish for a whole day and so I was slightly nervous about this.

We met in Jimera de Librar at 9.00 in the morning in the village square (plaza). Whilst I waited I wondered if I would recognise this caver I was meeting. Though I need not have worried, as cavers are the same all over the world and his hiking boots and 'outdoor' trousers marked him out. After going to his house in the village and meeting the other cavers we headed off to Montejaque where there is a Centro de Interpretación de la Espeleología (a small tourist building/information centre/caving office) and a centro de exploracion (a hut for cavers to sleep in and store kit). The club were using the latter to store their equipment overnight. Two of the cavers, Maki and Nerea (a tough looking lady in army boots) went off to do the Hundidero Gato through trip whilst the rest of us went in Juan's car to do another shorter cave. This unfortunately was Cueva de las Excentricas, the only other cave I had done in this part of Spain!! Juan apologised but obviously I couldn't complain and so I just became determined to get a useful contact for the future. The reason we were doing this short easy cave turned out to be that two of our party were complete novices and the other had only been caving for four months. Plus unbelievably they were all fairly attractive females!! I commented on this remarkable fact to Juan who assured me that he had many 'chicas' in his club whilst I explained that caving women like this in were sadly rarer in the UK.

Although it was a cave I had been in before last time I didn't explore the lake section, as I didn't have my wetsuit. So this time with my wetsuit we were able to see something different and with very pretty formations. After caving we ate an excellent lunch in Igualeja and had a few beers. Juan and I were quick to agree that "cerveza es moy importante por espeleologia" so it is nice to know that Spanish cavers aren't much different from us!

After picking up the two cavers who had done the Hundidero - Gato trip we headed back to Montejaque to pick up SRT kits and rope for an afternoon of SRT practice on a rocky outcrop not far away. This gave me the opportunity to see any differences in SRT kit and technique as well as see how rusty I was after six months with no SRT. We stayed out in the dying sun around the rocks until about 7.00 when we finally parted. I gave Juan several 'BEC get everywhere' stickers and he proudly put one on his car before we said our farewells and I promised to meet them all again when I next had a free weekend.

Hundidero – Gato through trip

Two weekends later I was back in the mountains to take part in the Hundidero – Gato clean up. The plan was for five of us to make the 4.5km through trip armed with rubbish bags ad gloves to clean the interior of the cave. However when one participant dropped out our team was reduced to just four, myself, Nerae, Maki and an eccentric bloke called Pierre.

The Hundidero - Gato system is comprised of two entrances (Hundidero and Gato) which are joined by a large fossil passage through which the river Guadiaro runs. The upper entrance, Hundidero is close to the village of Montejaque in an unmissably large shake hole whilst the bottom entrance is a huge opening in the side of the hill opposite the main road and the railway track. Although the main route through the system is only 4.5km, in total almost 8km of passages are known. Over the length of the trip more than 160m m of height is lost though there are only half a dozen pitches, mostly at beginning of the trip. These are normally left pre rigged.

As an obvious feature in the countryside this cave has always attracted attention although not necessarily for the right reasons. In 1920 the electrical company of Seville attempted to dam the Guadiaro River above the Hundidero entrance. Not surprisingly the water seeped through the limestone into the cave beneath and continued to flow. Undeterred the company launched a misguided campaign to seal the interior walls of the cave. In order to do this they constructed massive hanging walkways throughout the interior of the cave, the remnants of which can still be seen today. 

We parked above Hundidero and got changed into our wetsuits in the early morning Spanish sun before walking down the steep track to the cave entrance.

The entrance is a large dry fossil passage but we soon encountered the water, which characterises the trip. The first section of the trip comprises of lots of abseils into water, this soon gives way to fewer pitches and more swimming until about a third of the way through the cave dries up and there is lots of walking and climbing. Some of the interesting features include the Plaza de Toros a large round chamber where a little bit further the Grande Estalagmita can be found. Just after this is the longest section of swimming before your feet are dry for a while. Towards the end of the cave you encounter the large dry Sala de las Dunas and finally you emerge into the bright sunshine of the mouth of Cueva del Gato. Here the rock is especially slippery due to the large quantities of guano.

Although the Spanish cavers do regard cave conservation as important the cave is used my lots of activity groups who obviously aren’t as consciences. On the route we managed to collect a considerable amount of rubbish and filled four bags. On the out side of the cave other people had been busy cleaning rubbish out of the river and in total we had quite a large pile. All of this was sorted as well so it could be recycled.

The cleaning session is an annual event, which is fairly well known in the area. However the event which takes place the weekend before is better known. If you are of an extremely strong opinion when it comes to cave conservation I suggest you stop reading now because every year they actually organise a race through the cave!

This race is held in memory of a well-known caver called Federico Ruiz Ortiz who died tragically in the system after getting caught in high water. In defence of this activity the cave has already suffered heavily thanks to the Seville electrical company so I doubt the race has a huge impact on the cave. Teams of two complete the 4.5km course as fast as possible and the winning time (and new record) this year was 57minutes.

If anyone is thinking of visiting the area it is worth noting that there is a closed season for the cave. From my memory it is closed from Nov until about the 15th of March, then open for one month until being closed until June.

Hutton Update

Nick Harding & Nick Richards.

In Britain’s land beyond the waves
are stony hills and stony caves;
the wind blows ever over hills
and hollow caves with wailing fills.

The Lay of Autrou and Itroun


Rough map of the dig sites

With something like slow progress at Hutton Dig 2, well not so much slow progress as stalled, we decided to investigate the next pit i.e. Dig 3. But this proved shallow and somewhat uninspiring, (which will mean it will be the one that goes somewhere!). Dig 2 had come to a stop while we waited on several opinions – fresh sets of eyes and all that – on our 10-metre tube, now called ‘Shatner’s Bassoon’. (It is well decorated with botryoidal stal on north wall, has an ochrous rubble floor and is on a bearing of 280 degrees. It is 4m of 0.6m high to constriction and is too tight beyond). Chris Richards and Keith ‘Action Jackson’ Jackson both agreed it was a good tube but also agreed with us that the dig would be horribly difficult, even after banging the constriction to make the far end more accessible.


Shatner’s Bassoon entrance – looking west.

As we needed to investigate the rest of the pit, the tube was closed down. We needed to back fill and as the tube is at a depth of 5 metres or so and we would be digging above that, it would have to be covered (at east we all know it’s there). After a visit by Chris Richards to inspect Shatner’s Bassoon, (the fellow even helped to haul a few buckets out of Dig 3!) it was subsequently closed up.

Returning to the dig a short time later, we struck east following the upper walls and bedrock of Dig 2 but it was not long before we realised that surface was not far away. Much to our disappointment, nothing therein lay beyond and was in essence perhaps the old entrance to the pit appearing as it were to be a trench allowing barrows to be brought close to the source of ochre.

We then turned our attentions to another group of pits some ‘80 yards’ to the south, i.e. further up the hill. A change is indeed as good as a rest! Besides, it’s all a process of elimination. With 3 being a damp squib it was time to move on.

Dig 4

About 80 yards south of the earlier digs there is clustered together, a ‘number’ of large pits – including two long trench-like structures. One pit has bedrock exposed at the surface creating a large sweeping arch. What drew our attention was the size of the spoil heap that spilled into several of the depressions as well as down slope indicating later work on at least one of the trench like pits. This one we chose to dig in.

For much of the dig it was simply a case of removing boulders and within an hour or so had made a great dent in the fill. A second session found us with walls and a bedrock floor – much to our growing disappointment. Towards the end of the dig we found a trench in the southern part of the pit that was starting to deepen. Encouraged by this we collapsed a little more of the infill wall that had built up and discovered a tiny void beyond.


The very ochrous material and walls had given way to naked rock. The low flat arch (technically inaccurate but you know what we mean!) proved to be of no consequence. It was not long after that we discovered that the pit bottomed out so it was refilled.

With all four digs closed down we moved our attentions to a new pit or Dig 5 – after about half an hour we realised that this was nothing more than a ‘scrape’, although famous last words we might very well return there. There was no spoil heap, which was similar in many respects to Dig 3. This was closed down and we turned our attentions to Dig 6 in a large depression a few yards south of 5. As soon as we broke the soil we were greeted with boulder infill allowing us to make ‘ooo’ noises every time we espied a gap. The west wall has been discovered and several examples of stal, a major hint of cave development.  

Having become thoroughly cheesed off with this line of inquiry we decided to head back 80 yards south to the major pit area but not before Dig 7 which was a minor feature next door to dig 6. Despite finding a few lumps of stal, the pit was only a metre deep at best. This was swiftly shut down vowing that we should only dig in the pits surrounded by large quantities of spoil. 

Hutton Wood Mine

Dig 8. In a double line of pits trending 280 N

We decided to open up the pit with bedrock exposed and not long after this proved to be something of a cracker. Removing the boulder fill we found two walls on a 90-degree angle made by the Old Men – a fine display of the arts of dry stonewalling.

Left: Richards in the original opening

What this proved was that the pit we had opened was not something trivial but worthwhile. Digging down the bedrock, now nicely exposed, and after removing large quantities of back fill we found ourselves in a small chamber with a draught issuing from the floor. On the way the first clay pipe was found.

With more material heading surface-wards we found just to the left a man made wall. Clearing more fill out of this chamber we discovered another wall directly opposite – both constructed by the Old Men. This was hinting at something serious. We realised that we were in fact at the base of a short shaft.

Hauling then became a big awkward and despite prestigious use of the tin sheets a la Loxton we decided to back fill the entrance and punch a hole from surface. This was duly done. Nick R then found a second clay pipe in the surface spoil then when the surface had been broached another clay pipe in a recess in one of the constructed walls. The clay pipes have an IW stamp on the side and it appears (although not confirmed) that these date to around middle of the 18th C.

After smashing up a boulder the size of Crete that had come down from the surface we emptied the shaft of infill. Earlier we had discovered a natural hollow that at this stage had turned into a sizeable and draughting recess. Yet more material was emptied until a breakthrough was made into a small boulder filled chamber beyond. Excitement was high. To our left in this chamber (approximately eastwards) was an opening through which small boulders had spilled. This was an underground entrance to the next pit. Creating a low wall of deads we sniffed around this new chamber looking for the way on. The draught was still in evidence but as the system was opened to the elements we decided it was not wise to believe it. An Ochreous stain halfway up the wall marks where original ochre deposit was-removed by miners.

Moving the boulder infill around we discovered the way on, westwards; beneath a perilous looking friable ceiling. Levering that off to make it safe Nick R discovered yet another clay pipe – as before only the tip missing from the end. Clearing our path Nick R then slipped through into a smallish passage that after about five metres came to a disappointing dead end.  The floor of this passage had boulders in great profusion with a wall of deads stacked on the south wall. There are small grottoes in the walls but nothing that could be classed as impressive.

Sadly we realised that that was that for this direction. We shifted boulders from the eastern choke and discovered that it’s another chamber stacked with boulders – one or two on an impressive size. At surface this corresponds with a major pit feature.

We attacked the major pit that lies adjacent but found it to be a vast dumping space for boulders and this was refilled and abandoned.

In need of a change we headed east and opened up another pit (Dig 9) on the other side of the footpath but this proved several sessions ill spent. It was nothing more than a trench filled with boulders. Initially it had looking interesting due to an exposed outcrop of rock.


It seems our walled entrance shaft was probably a main way into the system. We’re using, as a general rule of thumb, the idea the bigger the spoil heap the more interesting the hole. Much time was wasted in scrapes and feeble holes – we’ve learnt our lessons!  It is clear that the cave development in these various pits is relatively small scale and not as well developed as it is back towards Bleadon Cavern. Hence…

And on…

As of mid / late June we shifted emphasis to a location where Chris Richards opened up several shafts in the early 70’s. Already a promising draughting opening has revealed itself down bedding dipping at 55 degrees (WNW). Updates in a future BB. This area shows greater cave development.

 (Very)Rough map of the dig area. New dig is concentrating back in the vicinity of Chris Richards adventures in the early 70’s

The Caves Of Sand Bay

By Nick Richards and Nick Harding

A line of limestone sea cliffs forms the north side of Worlebury Hill. These are mainly developed in the Goblin Combe Oolites which dip 30 – 35 degrees S. There are a number of vertical rifts formed in neptunean dykes (and in one instance a calcite-galena vein) where the softer material has been washed out by the action of the sea. Most of these are of no importance and only two are worth mentioning. Several small phreatic caves however, do occur.

From east to west these caves are…

1.         Ochre Rift.  NGR 3177 6287 L 10m VR 1m

Unroofed phreatic rift forming a 1m deep trench over 10m long and 1m wide located above the shore on a prominent ledge. The cave has been filled with a colourful, banded ochre deposit (well seen at its eastern end). Good solution hollows can be seen on its walls.

2.         Candle Stub Cave.  NGR 3170 6283 L 9m VR 3m

Alcove 5m wide, 2m high and 3m long. Inside, on the left and 1.5m up the wall a circular horizontal tube <1m wide rapidly closes down after 6m.A candle stub in a recess is the reminder of one of the co-authors (Richards) last visit in 1978!  There is a little flowstone.

3.         Black Rock Cave.  NGR 3150 6268 L 21m  VR 6m

By far the largest phreatic cave in Sand Bay. After a 2m step up from the beach a 4.5m unroofed section of passage leads to an entrance 1.9m wide and 1.4m high. This opens into a roomy L-shaped chamber some 16m long and up to 4m high and wide to a large second entrance (5m by 3m), which is reached by a 4m climb.


Black Rock Cave

4.         Ochre Pit.  NGR 3138 6273 L 6m  VR 2m

At the top of the metal steps which lead down to the beach. The footpath passes through a pit (6m by 2m) over 2m deep. There is a prominent ochre deposit and small solution hollows can be seen in the walls.

5.         Sighing Cave. NGR 3103 6258  L 3m VR 2m

A small blowhole sea cave 3m long pinches in to a too tight second entrance in the roof.

6.         The Blowhole.  NGR 3102 6258 L 8m  VR 3m

Crawl over pebbles leads to small chamber 2.3m long, 1.3m wide and 0.9m high. On the left is a chimney 3m high to a second entrance on the prominent sloping bedding plane just west of the tea-rooms. Halfway up the chimney a frightening squeeze (now choked with pebbles) twists about 2m to a third entrance.

7.         Dripping Well.

In Spring Cove. Small sloping bedding plane displays two hand-cut basins, which fill with fresh water derived from seepages along the limestone/basalt interface.

8.         Anchor Head Cave. NGR 3083 6233  L 15m  VR 4m

A sea cave. Roomy passage 1.6m wide and 4m high (at entrance) diminishes in size to a crawl and dead end at 15m. Now choked at 10m by park bench.


A Weston-S-Mare urban legend states that this cave leads for about 2 miles to its other entrance in a quarry in Manor road (behind the locked doors of an electricity sub station). We first heard of this in school in the 1970s and has been perpetuated ever since. More recently one drunken acquaintance even described the trip through!

West Horrington Shaft

Tony Jarratt

“…underneath the surface great stretches of the hills must have been honeycombed with old workings, now lost to sight.”  J.W.Gough, The Mines of Mendip, 1930

News of a recently revealed mine shaft at West Horrington (NGR ST 5737.2  4780.3, alt. 215m) was conveyed to the writer by Adrian Coward of the Somerset Wildlife Trust and on 10th May an early evening visit was made when your scribe descended on ladder for 15m to find that an equal amount of space lay below. Unfortunately he was not the first down as an errant field vole which animal lover Adrian was attempting to shepherd away from the shaft decided to take up base jumping, much to Adrian’s embarrassment! Returning later with more ladders, a lifeline and Henry Dawson the shaft was rigged using Nigel Taylor’s Land Rover, “ Stanley”, as a belay and a depth of 28m was reached to a blockage of rocks and earth with no side passages. The battered and grubby (but surprisingly alive) vole was rescued and Henry went down for a look. The entrance is a 0.8m square hole with half of the original limestone capping slab in situ, the other half lying at the bottom of the shaft, having apparently been snapped by a somewhat surprised tractor driver! A couple of metres down the shaft widens to, on average, 1.6m x 1m and has well preserved ginging for much of its depth. There are few obvious shotholes for the first 15m but below that they are plentiful indicating a working date of possibly the mid 1700s. The shaft was sunk on a narrow vein and is slightly off vertical with the dip towards the NE and there is a tiny natural bedding passage about a third of the way down. The minerals sought were most likely lead and ochre. Its dryness suggested either more workings or a natural soakaway below. Infilling this attractive and historical vein working would have been a pity and, if nothing else, it makes a great ladder/SRT pitch with a superb view over Wells, Glastonbury Tor and the Somerset Levels – particularly on this evening with massive thunderstorms booming all around and illuminating the heavens with sheet and forked lightning. It is situated 56m SW of the wall/fence junction and 15m into the field at right angles to the wall in a SSE direction.

Few written references to mining in this immediate area have been found though the adjacent Biddlecombe workings are well documented. On page 163 of the 1965 edition of Geology of the Country around Wells and Cheddar (Mem. Geol. Surv.) is the statement “To the south of the main orefield, the Carboniferous Limestone between West Horrington and the Haydon Farms is pitted by many shallow shafts with spoil heaps containing calcite, baryte and some galena”.  The explored workings of Prew’s Pot (ST 5704  4763), a similar hole at (ST 5737 4761)  and Horrington Hill Ochre Mine alias Tim’s Retreat (ST 5763.8  4779.1) are nearby. The latter reached a depth of 29m via shafts of 17m and 12m with a total length of 76m but had very dangerous ginging just below the surface. Adrian knows of village folk tales relating to extensive underground passages in the area but these may be merely legendary though it is interesting to note that the shaft lies on the line of the supposed tunnel leading from Simond’s Mine (ST 5700  4784) towards Khyber Rift (ST 5833  4802) and is almost that depth. Nigel Taylor once heard a local tale that a shaft in this area, infilled after the Second World War, was used as a dump for phosphorous grenades, machine guns and other defunct military hardware. He was unable to locate the site but named it Durban’s Shaft after the landowner of the time (1973). It will hopefully remain lost! Tony Durston (the friendly farmer who allowed us access to Hazlenut Swallet over his ground) is the current landowner and gave permission for a child and tractor proof lid to be fitted to the shaft. It was deemed an interesting project to dig at the bottom, partly to investigate possible connections with other hidden shafts nearby.

Capping of the shaft commenced on May 28th when the writer, John “Tangent” Williams and Ron Wyncoll cleared soil from the top of the ginging and prepared a steel frame to take the manhole cover. They were refreshed in their task with tea, coffee and biscuits kindly carried up from his house in the village by Adrian. Next day the first two returned with Bob Smith, Hannah Bell, Tony Audsley, Henry Bennett and Rich Witcombe to add a concrete surround to the cover and GPS locate Horrington Hill Ochre Mine, West Horrington Shaft, a blocked shaft with an obvious spoil heap to the south of the latter (ST 5740.0 4775.2) and another potential blocked shaft nearby (ST 5739.6 4773.5). Everything went remarkably to plan on this pleasant bank holiday Monday and the team even managed to squeeze in a few pints of Bath Ales “Gem” to replace lost body fluids. The manhole cover was emplaced on the 30th and some tidying up done that evening and on the following one by Anne Vanderplank (WCC), Tangent and the writer.

Digging commenced on Sunday 4th June when the portable alloy tripod was rigged up and a steel plate lowered down the shaft to provide limited protection for the face worker. Tangent and your scribe abseiled down to assess the job before the latter selflessly returned to the sun-baked surface to act as bag hauler while the former excavated an alcove to one side of the shaft in which to hide. The providential arrival of John Noble, clutching a bag of ice lollies, was welcomed and Tangent, flagging in the depths, was revitalised by one of these unexpected treats! Man-hauling then began and twelve bags of spoil came out after great exertion despite the use of jammers to grip the slimy rope. Meanwhile, below, our hero had opened up a hole in the floor down which a rock was sent and this created a minor avalanche down an apparent slope into an open cavity. Fearing that he was perched on jammed debris Tangent hastily tied on to the SRT rope before excavating further. He disinterred a metre long stemple standing vertically in the spoil and in remarkably good condition and it is speculated that this may once have been a climbing stemple wedged across the shaft into “egg and slot” niches. Several more bags were filled and stacked before a retreat was made to discuss the project over a few jars of, appropriately enough, “Mine” beer. The shaft was now over 30 metres deep.

A return was made on the 7th June when Tangent again descended the shaft while the writer and Tony A. removed another 14 bags of spoil – this time using Stanley the Land Rover for hauling. This was a distinct improvement on man-hauling as three or four loads came up at once but detaching them from the rope ideally needed two people (plus the driver).

On 10th June the writer and Tangent, later assisted by Bob, dug at the blocked hole until Tangent was able to squeeze down into some 3m of mined, descending passage with a floor of unstable rocks, mud and large animal bones – almost certainly the original shaft spoil heap utilised as infill and explaining its absence on the surface. Some digging was done at the end but abandoned due to the imminent collapse of the shaft blockage, a great deal of which will have to be removed before further progress can be made. This will be a long term project requiring a decent winch and much patience but the B.E.C. Mining History Section are convinced of its worth.

To be continued in BB 526. (Probably 527 depending on space Ed.)

1. Wilton-Jones G.   Tim’s Retreat – an ochre mine at West Horrington. Belfry Bulletin 372/373, April/May 1979. (West Horrington Ochre Mine).    

2. Barrington N. & Stanton W.   Mendip – The Complete Caves and a View of the Hills. 3rd revised edn. 1977. ( Biddlecombe Rift Cave and Simond’s Mine, Khyber Rift, Prew’s Pot and similar hole).

3. Tucker J.H.   Some Smaller Mendip Caves  Vol. Two. B.E.C. Caving Report No.9, August 1962, pp22-24. ( Biddlecombe Rift Cave and Biddlecombe <Simond’s> Mine).

4. Taylor N. Log Books & BBs 1-99, B.E.C. CD-ROM 1999.  (Brief reference to Durban’s Shaft, 1973 Log).

5. Green G.W. & Welch F.B.A.  Geology of the Country around Wells and Cheddar.  Mem. Geol. Surv. 1965 edn. (Biddlecombe and West Horrington workings).

6. Jarratt A.R.  MSS Log Book Vol. IV, 1988-1992, p.175.  (Simond’s Mine).

7. Anon. Simond’s Mine, Biddlecombe – a Re-discovery Feb 1991. Belfry Bulletin 459, May 1991, p4. 

New Providence Mine

Nick Richards and Nick Harding

Iron Plantation, Long Ashton NGR 53707070

L 25M VR 4.5 M

There are a number of ancient caves in Iron Plantation, which provided the loci for an intense mineralization by iron oxides, both in the form of metallic heamatite and the earthy variety- red ochre. These minerals were removed by mining in the second half of the 19C. The enormous main rift NGR 53507093 bears testament to this industry.


Plan of New Providence Mine

In late 2004 we discovered a small hole in a pit located in an area of depressions behind the houses on Providence Lane. It was not until Jan 2006 that we decided to explore it.

A rather tight entrance leads to a descending gallery with ‘deads’ stacked on the right hand side. To the left is a small blind passage to a choke at the base of a shaft to surface. The main passage bends to the right where an old pit prop can be seen. Here, the cave has a heavy drip and a fine slope of micro-gours extends downslope for over 2m. In some of the small pools are cave pearls and, more unusually, large amounts of calcited twigs-looking very much like broken straws. A few small ribbon formations can be seen in the roof. These formations bear an attractive red colouration due to iron oxides.

A careful stoop over the gours leads to a squeeze into the 8m long and 4.5m high ‘red rift’, on the right at shoulder level is a small bedding chamber. This whole area is, as the name suggests, strongly red coloured. A small clear pool adds interest.

New Providence mine is a natural karstic cavity, which had become filled with red ochre. This was removed by miners about 1860-1880 as part of the Providence mine sett. There is no record of this cave in any literature and we assume that, due to its obscure location, has been completely missed by later explorers.

Iron Plantation Hole NGR 5353 7087

L 3M VR 1M

During our exploration of the above, a reconnaissance around the areas of mining in the plantation revealed a recent collapse on the mountain biking track. Removal of a few large boulders gave access to a blind 3m passage just under the surface. There is no sign of any iron ore. Bats reside at the end.

Ian Dear and The Ian Dear Memorial Fund.

Mike Wilson Hon Treasurer

Ian Dear was a BEC Member who caved with the club in the 1950s along with his friend Geoff Edbrooke, his nickname was “Woomph!!!” Apparently when a ship is going alongside it has to give 3 loud whoomphs on its klaxon, and that’s how he used to announce his arrival on his motorcycle. Great fun!!

According to Brian Prewer he was an active digger in the true BEC tradition spending a great deal of time in Hunters Hole digging [Dears Ideal and Rover pot]. In October 1956 he did a Derbyshire trip to Middleton Dale along with several other BEC Members, during this trip Jack Whaddon managed to drop a 20lb piece of Galena on his foot much to his annoyance I expect!! He also served on the committee as tacklemaster and greatly helped the club financially during his membership.

Geoff’s Wife Valerie remembers him well, as they were all great friends who had many good times together she describes him as being a very shy, clever, quirky oddball [nothing has changed in the BEC membership for the past 50 years or so it seems!!!!!!!!.] He lived in an Admiralty Hostel, The Priory on Bathwick hill with his friend Geoff, where they stored their caving kit in the loft. Eventually he managed to get a small Flat in 1951 and invited the then married Edbrokes to supper.

Quote, ‘the supper consisted of sitting on a settee while he fed his friends his favourite pickles by spoon from jam jars’. Times were hard in those days but you could have hilarious fun!!!!!!!! I am sure that some of our older members have a few stories to tell.

At the moment I am not sure what triggered Ian Dear’s decision to set up the IDMF but it may have been the BEC trip to Switzerland in 1948, or perhaps his trip with Brian Prewer to France in 1950.

Brian was a young lad then and must have found it hard to finance the trip!! [I can remember Trebor telling me how he hitched all the way to the Vercors one year because finances were tight!!] We used to walk from Knowle along the railway track to Chelwood Bridge and then by road to the Mendips on a Friday night to go caving in Burrington in the early 60s,sometimes we were lucky and got a lift partway but usually we had to walk. The Burrington Café was just a shack in those days with condensation running down the windows!!

The fund is basically a trust fund set up to help young cavers to go to the Continent, there are no restrictions, as long as you are a full member of the club, still at College or not in permanent employment and under 21 years old, you are entitled to apply for financial assistance to top up your travel expenses. This would normally be part of a BEC party organised by older members. This used to be kept down to a single Grant per year  as the fund does not accumulate a great deal of Bank interest per annum.

The Club does not ask for any repayment but does ask that you write a good report of the trip for the belfry bulletin!! It goes without saying that when the recipient is filthy rich it would be nice if they add to the fund financially to help others. Originally the maximum donation was £10.00. Obviously times have changed since then, but bear in mind £10.00 was a sizeable sum in those days.

Lately the fund has benefited greatly by elder members of the club .The late Joan Bennet recently left a donation to the IDMF and strangely another donation arrived [anonymously] within the last few weeks. These will be of huge benefit to the fund and will ensure that it will carry on for many years yet.

The original concept was to only use the interest that the fund generated, therefore keeping the capital in perpetuity. This is not possible in this modern age, where Building Societies only give a nominal interest rate for Club Accounts. If anyone has a suggestion how we can get around this problem I will be happy to listen to them!!!

At this moment in time the club committee takes a vote on the fund, re topping it up whenever necessary, this has been the case for many years now.

I hope this information is useful to the newer members, and of interest to the elders of the club, also that the fund will carry on in the spirit of friendship and camaraderie that has carried it so far. Sadly Ian Dear died in June/July 1964 his obituary is published in the BB 1967 July 64.

The IDMF accounts are open to inspection at any time and are published at the AGM. We [the committee] would welcome any comments on the IDMF from the membership including any notes on how the IDMF helped them!! 

I would like to thank all the BEC members who have helped me with various snippets from the past history of the Club.

Vale - John Cornwell 30 April 1934  - 28 January 2006

John Cornwell, Bristolian, Caver, Photographer, Industrial Archaeologist and Enthusiast died of a heart attack on 28th January 2006, he was 71. 

John was born in Hanham and grew up in the Kingswood area of Bristol.  As a child, he played on the 'Diddly Dumps' and the remains of Speedwell Colliery, early experiences, which were to have a profound influence later. John's father was a keen amateur photographer and encouraged his son when John showed an interest in photography.  This also was a significant influence on his later life.

John started work at the Co-op when he left school but soon left to join the army as a regular soldier. While in the army, he lost an argument with a 30ft cliff and smashed a femur and his pelvis.  He was fitted with an artificial hip-joint, and invalided out of the army, classed as unfit for active service!  It is a tribute to the makers and fitters of this hip-joint that it never failed or gave any trouble despite all the punishment that John managed to inflict on it.  After the army, John returned to the Co-op, ending up a manager of the Whitchurch branch before leaving to take up full time mining photography.  

John joined the Club in 1959 and was a member for just under ten years.  He moved on down to the Wessex but then to the East Somerset Caving Club.  During his time as a member of the BEC, John dug extensively in Cuthbert's, at the sump (now duck) and together with Nick Hart, opened up Chandelier Passage. Along with his digging, John also maintained and developed his interest in photography, concentrating in particular on using relatively large format cameras, 120 rollfilm and giant (PF60) flashbulbs.  He produced some spectacular photographs, particularly of Cuthbert's and GB.

After leaving the Club, John dug at Hillgrove and Nine Barrows and helped the Bridgwater College diggers with Sludge Pit.  His major digging success, however, was at Rhino Rift.  He started digging there in the summer of 1968, just after the great storm and flood.  The final breakthrough at Rhino in 1970 was nearly fatal for John; when he entered the little chamber at the head of the pitch, visibility was poor, as the air was thick with bang fumes.  As he moved forward into the chamber, it was only because he kicked a rock forward then heard the crash and reverberation as it landed 100 ft below that stopped him from walking off the edge of the pitch.

After Rhino, John dug at Charterhouse Warren Farm.   He was allowed a short time off from this dig in order to marry Jenny Murrell, a fellow digger from the days at Rhino. As the dig at Charterhouse Warren got deeper, John began to lose interest.  I suspect that he was never very happy about verticals, perhaps as a consequence of his experience in the army. 

Whatever the reason, John abandoned cave digging for many years in favour of industrial archaeology.  He spent nine years excavating the site of Fussell's Ironworks at Mells and then eight years digging and reconstructing the site of the Golden Valley coal pits at Bitton.  The high point of this latter dig was after the restoration of the colliery ventilation furnace chimney, when the bottom was filled with bales of straw and old tyres and fired to produce an awesome roaring column of flame and a most satisfying plume of dense black smoke.   

John's diet deserves a mention.  He did breakfast (although not habitually) off 35 fish fingers at a sitting and he did for a long time live off a diet which appeared to consist almost entirely of tuna "curry", sponge cakes and crisps.  John, who hated gravies and sauces, prepared his own variety of "curry" using dry ingredients heated together in a frying pan. The result looked like over-roasted sawdust.

This tuna diet was to have an odd side effect.  In the early 1970s, John became ill with rather vague but worrying neurological symptoms and it was thought that he was suffering from mercury poisoning, the tuna fish being a possible source.  Although the poisoning was never confirmed, John retired from the Co-op and cut his tuna intake to more reasonable levels.  His health improved, and needing employment, he turned his hobby of mining photography into a full time occupation.  Because of the restrictions necessary in the explosive atmospheres of gassy mines, John developed a technique of painting with light, initially using a cap lamp, later with more powerful locomotive lamps.  Using this technique, he could photograph along 100 yards of coalface and achieve an even level of illumination.  More importantly, with his minimal equipment, he was able to photograph at a coal face without stopping production, whereas the National Coal Board's official photographers had to stop the face working while they installed the necessary flame proof floodlighting.  John's photographs may be seen in his books on the Somerset, Bristol and South Wales coalfields.

John had many talents, but I believe that he deserves to be remembered for his enthusiasm, his showmanship and for his outstanding ability to gather a team and motivate it.  Ideas from John always sounded attractive and plausible, even if they were neither.  Many of us heard his "Tell you what..." and got led into doing something we would really rather not, (like digging to nearly closing time).

John's funeral at Haycombe Crematorium was notable for the singing of "Cwm Rhondda" by a contingent of his Welsh mining friends and by the playing of the 1812 Overture, complete with cannon fire in recognition of his love of loud bangs.

Our condolences go to his widow, Jenny, his daughters, Joanna and Josephine and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren (6 as of 6 May 2006).

Tony Audsley

On the Exploration of ‘Reluctant Crevice’ Hole of the Mendip Hills in the County of Somersetshire.

BEING A TRANSCRIPTION OF A RECENTLY UNEARTHED SECTION OF CATCOTT’S RARE MANUSCRIPT  “I LOVE HOLES”, The sequel to “I Like Holes” (The two are often confused. Alan Lowland-Gorilla does this in his 1974 book Catcott – The Hole Story)


Probably not a picture of Catcott at all.

 (Some words being hard to decipher have been left blank.)

“I took myself of my own personal avail to return onto the hills of Mendip where in recent years I had stumbled innumerable times in a discordant manner out over the threshold of the Derbyshire Gibbon, a fine Inn somewhere within in a ten mile radius of Frampton Camcorder, to explore the subterraneous vestibules of those fine embonpointed upwellings of moundalur limestonic strata. This village had taken upon itself to move on various occasions from said county of Somersetshire and I last heard that it had settled lately in fine resplendent visage outside the hamlet of Two Horns near Farleyford Wind. So on this occasion I facilitated myself of an easy egress from the promptostical salutations of the heavily wainscoted lavatories of the Deliberate Monster, my new Inn of choice on that particular day from which to begin my rustic peregrinations. 

Being of stout amplitude and of vigorous verisimilitudinal countenance and indeed having polished my whethers, I reasoned that in light of my recent wholesome cessation of suspended and rudimentary opines that I disencumber myself with previously held fragulations of a colestomical nature.  In that such sensibilities held, within the confines of a needless rousing, enable one to forego certain frumptotic stalations of the mind and regale the thoughts with tremulous mental aberrational singularities.      

In conversational ejaculation with certain dyspeptic and frightfully ruddy gentlemen of whom one may say that in their stature they were seldom of an upright nature due in part to the consumation of lurid quantities of heavily brewed drinkables and also in part due to their inability to remove themselves, unless to engage in the rough sport of face-aching, from the damp boudoirs of the underground, I was sorely regaled with intrigues and machinational impromptitudes as to warrant my near evacuation. Such men, I warranted were of disproportionately ignoble infamy and were known to frighten certain vaporous ladies of the parish of Wells, disporting and derobing themselves in a frockular nature beyond that which was deemed wholesome and necessarily emblematic of the county.   

Therein, within the gambrelled nook of a sturdy port of call named The Mistimed Thrutch in which I sought some solace, a certain squalidinous gentlemen (of whom, in passing I had failed to repel with such vivid fistular manipulations), awash I might say in clouds of tobacconistic cumulus, disembogued himself of certain populastic inoctitudes. I took him to be nothing more than a mountebank and rustic pettifogger, perhaps a Shipham lightweight such were his glossetings. His accidental disportments had left him with crude manifestations of his previous wayward indignities but his frasmotic emollients were nevertheless forthcoming and I purchased for him, in serried ranks a great multitude of aleous beverages of which was comprised, in the most part, of a salacious inoculent called Colonic Bedevilment.       

Soon my conversational rectitudes were not dissimilar to that of a man of lesser standing, due in part to the festitudes of the drink, and I demanded of him news of the cave in question upon which our longitudinal meanderings had happened upon and of which my return to Mendip activities had brought me. With immodest peripatetic disectitudes he uttered a deleterious barrage of dispompic gloatings but vowed thereon to disport me to the opening of this wondrous series of cavernational squintings.

Bedecking myself with certain kittage, including a Pentland Thunderer, a wig new to my horizons, he and I left the Inn, myself adopting the Gentleman’s mince and he a kind of malodorous limp, and crossed numerous yardages in a frondocular manner through certain fields belonging to volatile man of the earth. A bellicose individual who saw to it that my companion and I had to run in vigorous rombosity when he espied our perambulations.   At one point I had to point my ---- at his ---- whereupon he retorted by thrusting his ---- at my ----. Never was such a sight to be seen upon the werries of Somerset in this time or since.”

[Catcott then goes on for the following 20 pages describing a prolonged encounter with the farmer in which there appears to have been something much akin to numerous bouts of a ‘vigorous engagement of ferocious ineptitude’ and a few hours playing nude deck quoits in a vicarage in Wells. Catcott also quotes, in a seemingly random fashion, from the works of Thermos of Tee, the Greek philosopher who gave his lectures swinging from a trapeze in the gardens of his house just outside Thermopylae. Quite why Catcott does this is beyond current understanding as Thermos was a vigorous and frequent layabout. Retiring from his teaching role at the age of 26 he spent the next sixty years doing absolutely nothing to the extent that when he died, rigor-vigorous set in.]

The Geological Reverend and his guide then proceeded onto an area not far from Wookey Hole but his ‘glandulous skerrige’, assumed to be some nervous complaint, forced Catcott to rest overnight at the house of a friend. Who that friend was is lost to history.  The following morning Catcott and his guide set off to the opening of Reluctant Crevice Hole.]  

“We, that is my resplendently rugose bombostulous guide and myself, arrived full hard upon the desperately early hour not much passed nine of the morning clock and lashing my chin (ed: a kind of caver’s blinky) with its populastic amendments, to the nearest tree we descended in discanframjular fashion.”

[At this point the text becomes somewhat difficult to read as the MS was left in a gutter behind Park Street, not far from the Colston Hall, after a dire and filthy encounter with a - person or persons of low moral fibre who extracted from the caving Rev, ‘a certain number of worried dentes’.]

It seems for a while at least that Catcott was in dire trouble for the first fifty odd feet of this cave. Indeed descending into an unknown swallet would be enough trouble for the most hardened and stouthearted members of the clergy yet he braved the path before him (See Simeon Fak’s The Clergy in Difficulty, The History of Religious Men in Perilous Situations, book 15.). With a thick rope lashed around his midriff he became wedged in ‘a tremolent narrowing’ upon which, ‘Much varied cursing was levelled at Beelzebub and all his grubby minions who disported themselves like intoxicated peasants near my stockings.’  Fortunately for Catcott his companion had had the foresight to bring along a hogshead of gooselard and used the substance in great liberal hosings all over the subterraneous swot.

Catcott then descended into the void where for several hours he swung in lazy arcs above the floor of a large chamber. From this vantage point he was able to comment on what he saw while busy quilling into his notebook. ]

“The very surface of the rock was a kind of monopostic and babalacious mammalate of the kind I had observed during a pole-vaulting weekend near Rome and twas here where I had happened upon a orificular opening in an asunderous hillside, around which swarthy rude mechanicals, lacking any curtitudes, ate innoculous and emjamulated meats of an speciferous and indelicate nature.”  

At this point the MS runs out and much of what followed is lost to history as indeed is Reluctant Crevice Hole.   The last readable word in the report of Reluctant Crevice is ‘…git…’

Probably just as well…Ed.              

Mendip Underground – Appendix 1  - (Part 1)

The Hunters Inn             EP (Easy Pub)


HUNTERS INN (East Series)

Priddy. NGR: 549501.    Map 5

LENGTH - variable.     DEPTH - 3 inches

The entrance is located on the crossroads of the main Priddy road and the one heading south to Wells. There is ample parking space nearby and cavers are reminded that nudity is to be avoided, unless absolutely necessary. There are sufficient trees that can offer suitable cover for loitering. The Hunters Inn affords the caver a sporting trip with a few unsuspecting but pleasant surprises into the bargain. It is also a useful endurance builder for the nearby Hunters Inn Sink and Hunters Hole.   

Novices will need a lifeline (40ft doubled for return trip) to gain access to the first great chamber. The first great chamber on the left from the entrance is a roomy place. It’s decorations were once fine but have now suffered a bit at the hands of numerous heavy footed cavers making their way through. Just to the right a bold step affords the visitor their first look at the chamber, mostly out of bounds, called The Bar that runs parallel with this first chamber.

To the left there is a small table like feature called, naturally enough First Table, which can be traversed either by travelling over it, thrutching over a smaller structure called The Chair in the process or by the more sporting and regularly taken journey under it. The lower one is best situated to observe the stone floor of the chamber now worn smooth by the passing of numerous boots and evacuated liquids. Occasionally a surprise puddle makes the crawl a shade more interesting.

Coming up the other side one is presented by a low bench structure now somewhat worn, as it is a good place to rest. Thoughtful cavers often leave a mug here from which one can take a refreshing drink. Remember to replace what you take. A belay point over the alcove known as The Fireplace, (for obvious reasons) can be rigged, particularly for novice cavers, to afford easy traverse to the second half of the main chamber. To the left a small recess can be observed but as yet has not been pushed.  A deft one-handed swinging manoeuvre allows ingress to the second feature predominant in this chamber, Table Two, again named for obvious and indeed oblivious reasons. There is also a second recess here and that too as yet to be fully explored.

From this vantage point the second parallel chamber, The Bar can be seen with greater clarity although on particularly busy days the view is somewhat spoiled. Sadly, a heavy fall of bar room snacks has made this place inaccessible to all but the most brave or indeed foolhardy. 

Leaving Table Two is difficult as it requires a great shift in momentum to head towards The Bar. There is great danger of the caver getting lost at this point so it’s best to have one hand on the west wall for guidance, avoiding the stal curtain. This helps the disorientated caver find his or her bearings, as these are often lost at this point. It has been known for certain explorers to bypass The Bar altogether and in their confusion head towards the entrance. Tethering to Table Two also has its benefits but should be left to the discretion of the individual or team leader. Tethering works well for first timers and those of a reluctant nature. 

(Part two of this appendix may appear at a later unspecified date, Ed.)


Sandford Hill.

On the invite of the landowners of much of Sandford Hill (soon to be an adventure park), Tony J and the Two Nicks investigated two new shafts that had opened up – one by the vigorous use of a Landrover - and one from subsidence, (a third was also discovered but not investigated) on once heavily mined land now being considered as a 4x4 driving track. The shafts all possessed fine examples of ginged walls with large capping stones; the one that had opened up through subsidence had a fine and hefty example.

The various representatives of the landowners were also shown Saville Row shafts as well as the other holes up there whereupon colour swiftly drained from faces. To open this area to the public a great deal of work must be done to fence off these shafts for all the obvious reasons. It has been suggested that the various cave clubs in the area pool their knowledge as to the full extent of the shafts.

In terms of the Mendip Cave registry it should be ascertained as to whether the new shafts that opened up are genuinely new or are simply rediscoveries from earlier explorations by, for example the pupils of Sidcot School.

From the Belfry Table


Greetings from a roasting summer on the Hill!!.

I will start with some advance warnings to you all this month about upcoming events, which hopefully this will reach you through the BB in plenty of time!

MIDSUMMER BARBEQUE: Chris Jewell and other younger members have plans well advanced for a BEC Barbecue on SATURDAY 19th .AUGUST 2006, Please support this event!!!!!!!!!

The AGM will be held at 10.30 am Saturday 7th .October 2006 at the Belfry.

NOMINATIONS FOR THE BEC COMMITTEE are hereby called for, you can nominate yourself but must be seconded by a ratified i.e. Full member, you should send this to the Hon.. Secretary by the 31st August in order that the Hon. Secretary can arrange for an election in due time.

THE B.E.C DINNER 2006, will be held again at the BATH ARMS Cheddar at 7.30 pm Saturday 7th .October, sadly places due to the venue size will be on a restricted number due to their fire regulations, so book early, the tickets will sell out early.

THE BELFRY EXTENSION is moving on slowly, though recent attempts to finish the roof are slightly hampered by the availability of volunteers’ free time.

COUNCIL TAX,  Excellent news here, and down to the good works of our Hon. Treasurer, Mendip District Council have awarded us 100% relief until the year 2010.

SPIN DRYER, younger members have been pressing for this item, it has now been obtained and is the Changing room, but PLEASE try to be economical, with the present warm weather,-users,  try not to waste expensive electricity!

THE BELFRY site will be appearing on a TV program on SKY entitled “Future Weapons” Scheduled for release next July (2007). A small film crew spent a couple of hours in the BEC “Garden” Where a demonstration of cutting Wooden Blocks with Explosives cords and water was filmed, and Dr. Sidney Alford interviewed on the method. Several amused BEC members in residence during the week took their own footage, and also later in a Farm in Priddy witnessed a Hostage rescue scenario being filmed. The Hon. Secretary did obtain a small financial donation to the Club for services rendered.

ROSE COTTAGE Dig continues apace, though nothing of great significance has occurred this week,…but soon???

I am sorry that this is a short article this month, but I am off to Oban in the next hour, and in order to meet deadlines…………

Regards to all…

Nigel Taylor Hon. Secretary.
Sunday 16th. July 2006

Letter(s) to the Editor…

There aren’t any…


Hollow Hills

As mentioned in BB 524 the 500th edition of this esteemed journal is due later this year. In discussion with Wig the executive decision has been made that the best way to celebrate the occasion is to produce a photographic history of the BEC. 

Earlier in March of this year The Two Nicks and Jrat went to inspect a pit that had opened up on Sandford Hill after the heavy use of a land rover by a group of off-roaders. Their presence was requested by the owners of the Lyncombe Hotel and its environs who needed to know exactly what was happening in terms of the caves and mines situated therein. Their plan by the way, is to turn the area of Sandford Hill into an outdoor pursuits centre. When shown the openings of the pits known as Saville Row many faces turned a distinct shade of pale. Despite that there has been some suggestions that the pits and Sandford Levvy become part of the leisure activities introducing newcomers to the sport.   It will be interesting to see how all this pans out in the future in terms of access. It will also be interesting to see if this encourages new initiates to the sport of caving – actually for ‘sport’ read ‘passion’.  


‘ The underground world, the ‘eighth continent’ is one of the last great pieces of unfinished exploration…’

    The National Geographic, May 2005




The BEC's series of caving reports cover a wealth of knowledge and experience.Most of these were written many years ago but still contain very pertinent information covering many aspects of the clubs activities.


Been down St Cuthberts? Buy the report and get a free survey!

Less well-known than many of Mendip's other major cave systems, St. Cuthbert's Swallet offers much to those whose interest extends beyond mere sporting activity. Not only does it contain fine pitches and streamways but it has numerous large chambers, some beautifully decorated, intricate phreatic mazes and up to seven distinct levels. It is without doubt Mendip's most complex cave system and, not generally realised, it contains perhaps the finest and greatest variety of formations in the area. Among its displays are found magnificent calcite groups such as the 'Curtains', 'Cascade', Gour Hall with its 20ft high gour, 'The Beehive', Canyon Series and the 'Balcony' formations in September Chamber, all of which are without peer in the country. There are also superb mini-formations including floating calcite crystals, over twenty nests of cave pearls, and delicate fern-like crystals less than four millimetres long; a variety that few other caves can boast.

Access is strictly controlled by the Bristol Exploration Club. Conservation was the prime reason for wishing to control access to the cave. To achieve this aim it was decided by the BEC at their 1955 Annual General Meeting to introduce a leader system. St. Cuthbert's Swallet was one of the first caves in the country to be so protected. This action has often been the centre of controversy. However, the fact remains that, after thirty years, the cave is essentially still in pristine condition and proven justification for the leader system.

The St Cuthberts report was written and compiled by D.J. “Wig”  Irwin with additional material by Dr. D.C. Ford, P.J. Romford, C.M. Smart and Dr. J.M. Wilson. Running to 82 pages and containing a vast array of photos and a wealth of information this doesn’t just deserve to be on every cavers bookshelf, you should get one for all your friends too (well maybe).

Copies can be purchased from the Belfry or Bat Products for a very reasonable sum.

Also Available as a PDF download from the downloads section from the publications menu

The monthly newsletter will remove ‘internal’ members items from the regular Belfry Bulletin and hopefully be able to update our members more frequently on news, BEC events, local caving related events, any internal stuff members may like to know, dig updates, gossip, etc. etc. It will also contain a rolling calendar which will list both BEC and member events and any other cavers related events on Mendip and the wider community where appropriate.

The newsletter is totally internal to BEC membership and will not be distributed outside of the club, unlike the BB which is exchanged with other clubs and  eventually published publicly on the website.

{loadmodule GoogleCalendar}

{module [570]}

The Belfry Bulletin is the journal of the Bristol Exploration Club.

The current editor, always welcomes articles and pictures as this journal is what the members make it by sending in contributions. As well as his postal address published in the Belfry Bulletin, he can also now receive articles by e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The entire archive of back issues is available here entirely due to Andy Mac-Gregor. Over a period of four years Andy has scanned and converted to text via OCR every single issue. When you consider that most of these were printed on a Gestetner duplicator you'll appreciate the scale of this achievement.