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The Editor and publishers join in wishing all of our readers a very happy Xmas and a good year’s caving in 1954


Redcliffe Caves Survey 1953

By Alfie

Towards the end of 1952 it was decided to approach the Bristol Corporation to see if the Club could obtain permission to survey the caves under Redcliffe Hill.  These caves were cut into the sandstone of Redcliffe Hill several centuries ago and have been used at one time or another for storing almost anything from slaves to old Corporation wheelbarrows.

There were two reasons for undertaking this survey.  One being that a complete survey no longer exists (although the Corporation posses one of the caves lying under their land) and the other to give members of the club an opportunity to uses cave surveying equipment and methods under something approaching caving conditions.

Permission having been granted, various bods presented themselves at the caves on Wednesday 7th January and we all spent about an hour going around in circles and getting lost generally.  Don Coase then organised a competition for reading an astrocompass with a pint of beer as the prize.  Soon after this we adjourned to the pub.

The next four weeks were spent in getting a line survey of the Corporation’s part of the cave.  We hoped to get two teams working, but owing to Coase’s accident, which put him out of action for quite a time this was rarely possible, and during the two months after this, a team started detailing by means of a plane table constructed for the occasion.

By the beginning of May about half of the cave belonging to the Corporation had been plane-tabled and it was decided to stop work during the summer months.  Since then a large new fall in the part not belonging to the Corporation has caused this part to be closed and it will no longer be possible to survey it.  In addition to this, the members who undertook most of the work are now at a stage where actual surveying down a cave amongst more difficult conditions could be undertaken and so it looks as if further work in Redcliffe has lost most of its point.

However, useful results have been obtained.  As a result of the work in Redcliffe, a plane table has been used on a cave survey (Browne’s Hole) and proved surprisingly useful, adaptable and accurate. And plans are under way for the construction of an automatic plane table, which, if it works, will permit one-man surveying to be carried out.

The most useful result of this surveying exercise will be apparent, however, if it leads to members coming forward to assist in any new caves which might require surveying in the near future.  There is a distressing lack of decent cave surveys on Mendip at the moment, and our own Club’s Stoke Lane survey is still unfinished owing to a shortage of bods willing to take part.  Surveying needs lots of patience and is deuced uncomfortable, but a good survey of any new major cave system the club might discover will help to put the B.E.C. literally ‘on the map’.



Book Review

A Pongo Book Review

Caves of Adventure

By Haroun Tazieff

(Hamish Hamilton, 18/6)

I think everyone will remember the accounts in the papers last summer of the accident in the Grotte Pierre St. Martin in which Marcel Loubers was killed.  This book is written by one of the members of the party who was in the cave when the accident happened.

The cave is the deepest in the world, and may well be imagined from the fact that the entrance shaft is just 1,000 feet, in which there is one small sloping shelf about 250 feet down.  That is quite a start for a cave, but it then proceeds to blossom out into a series of three vast caverns.  The end of these has not been reached, but when the party had to start back they were about a mile from the bottom of the shaft and still going strong.

The accident was due to the failure of the bottom clamps on the winch cable, and Loubens fell about 30 feet.  With a great deal of effort they managed to get the doctor down the shaft but the winch then packed up and 24 hours were needed for repairs.  Lobens died just as they were ready to start hauling him up and he is buried in the cave.  While the winch was being repaired the shaft was laddered to a depth of 800 feet – which was no mean achievement in itself.

As a final episode the winch broke down again with Tazieff about 250 up from the bottom and he hung there for 4½ hours under a young waterfall.

Tazieff was the photographer of the expedition, so there are a number of good pictures illustrating the book.

Please don’t get killed in the rush when Ifold announces that he’s bought it.


Britain Underground

(Dalesman Pub. Co. 7/6)

The successor to Pennine Underground, the scope has been widened to include Somerset, Devon, South and North Wales, Derbyshire and Scotland.  Some of the smaller Yorkshire caves have had to be left out to make room but none of these are important.

The inclusion of a National Grid Reference is very good as the descriptions of how to find the caves were sometimes rather lacking and the stiff cover of the new version should make for durability.



I am looking forward to Pongo’s review of ‘British Caving’ by ‘members of the Cave Research Group’ at 35/- which has been seen recently in a local shop.  The dust-cover carries a picture of Queen Victoria in Stoke Lane.



Photographic Competition

Owing to the lack of interest shown in the Photographic Competition, the closing date has been altered to Jan. 15th. 1954.  Judging by the number of entries to date, it would seem that members with cameras keep them in a glass case and are afraid to take them out in case it is found that they can’t take a good picture with them, despite all that is heard to the contrary.



One Rope Ladder on the edge of Dolphin Pot, Eastwater.  Said ladder standard type, wooden rungs rope sides two lowest rungs close together. The owner can have same by descending Eastwater and bring it up.  My party was much too involved with their own gear to manage it.  Incidentally, ladders left on the edge of drops tend to tempt inexperienced parties to do foolish things, the average ‘amateur’ party having sufficient rope to use as tether.  That crowds of bods can be visualised on rotten ladders without lifelines. A ladder left as this one was is very likely to cause a call out of the M.R.O.



The editor would like to thank all those members whose hard work has made this double number of the BB possible.


Overheard in the Hunters on cold, wet, November evening: -

Hidden enquired, “Where are Tom Fletcher and Fay?”

Dennis Kemp, “Cooking their supper in their tent”.

Chorus of raucous laughter.

Sybil B-L, “Aren’t they awful?”

Dennis Kemp. “I know, but it’s fun when you’re young”.



A report, is a loud noise, e.g. a rifle shot!!

A report is ALSO what we don’t get from cavers.  I am told that a climbing report of 15 words, or thereabouts has been recently received. Good show, lets have plenty more.



The Fish Of Fynnon Ddu

By Tony J.

Being an account of a fishing trip to the ninth chamber of O.F.D.

Owing to the surrounding waters, the inveterate anglers involved were perforce waterborne in a vessel that continually reproduced the motions associated with the average Channel crossing.  Their quarry was the British Standard Fish, Mark 4 (ace cunning drawing by the Fishmongers Guild).

B.B. Fish Mark 4 (subterranean fish)

As a compromise ‘twixt caver and fisher the party were nattily attired in sea boots and jerseys topped off with a

Being B.E.C. types, the idea of chucking their bomb, lure or what have you was too much fatiguing………………so the whole shower rested in ‘quiet meditation’ to await the fish’s pleasure.

Presently they surprisingly found some fish more dim-witted than themselves, and after dragging….

 ….the lure smartly away a number of times  

…. To antagonise the brutes….

….a smart jerk ensured the certain and correct ensnaring of ditto.

Note: A jerk that is too smart will only pull its head off.

As the captive was hardly large or powerful enough to upset the boat, it was left to its own devices while a Belfrian argument on the relative merits of lending net and gaff (see further most expensive drgs.) continued for its normal futile span after which the fish by now thoroughly bored with the proceedings, was hauled in by hand. 


To celebrate this epic feat in true B.E.C. style the party adjourned at once if not sooner for refreshment and good cheer.  This took the form of either many noggins at the bar ……

                                                                           …..or a crafty Guinness in the kitchen depending on day and/or temperament.

Important Footnote:

    Irate water-bailiffs are almost non-existent in the average cave.



The B.E.C. Thrutching Song.

with apologies to The Eton Boating Song.

Submitted by Tony Johnson.

Ed’s. Note.        Tony has been collecting ‘Club’ songs for some time, and in response to my suggestion of several months back, sent in a number for publication.

Squeezed in like sardines together,
Motoring up to North Wales
We’re sure to have horrible weather,
With cloudbursts and blizzards and gales.

Chorus: -
So we’ll all thrutch together
With never a pause or a stop,
So we’ll all thrutch together
And hope we get to the top.

Early next morn we awaken,
At the crack of a watery dawn;
We all feel consistently shaken
We scratch in our fug-bags and yawn.


We crawl out of bed feeling groggy
With mouths like a lavatory drain.
The breakfast is sordid and soggy,
We stagger out into the rain.


Squelching though bogs and the marshes
Pounding up thrutch-worthy scree.
Suffering from fallen arches,
Footrot and housemaids’ knee.


Then up to the climbing we go thrutching,
Over the tottering blocks,
Scrabbling and frantically clutching,
Bombarded by falling rocks.


The rock is slimy and dripping,
We garden in grassy grooves.
Skating and sliding and slipping
Dicing on dangerous moves.


Hanging out over the scree slopes,
Dangling on rotten rock,
Screaming out for top-ropes
Sweating with fear and with shock.


And that’s how we thrutch up together,
With never a pause or a stop.
We thrutch up regardless of weather
And eventually get to the top.



Why go to Iceland

By Thomas E Fletcher.

I am delighted to print the following article and would welcome more of a similar nature.  Ed.

I was invited to join a party of there Cambridge undergraduates going to Iceland this summer.  The aim of the expedition was primarily scientific – studying aquatic insects and making a botanical collection in the northern part of the island bordering on the central desert, for which we gratefully received a grant from the University.  However each member was keen to explore and learn about the country as much as possible and a great deal of time was devoted to this end.  We spent some four and a half weeks there and really got to know the limited area around Lake Myvatn and around Askja, Europe’s largest volcano, some fifty miles to the south.

Everyone knows Iceland is a volcanic island, but did you know it still has active volcanoes – Hekla last erupting in 1947-48?  Volcanic country has to be seen to be believed.  It is a land off great contrast – a land of barren lava deserts and lush green valleys, a land of majestic snow and ice capped mountains and gushing hot springs, a land of magnificent waterfalls and of shimmering calm lakes, and to crown it all, a land of 24 hours daylight in midsummer.  We spent three of our weeks around Myvatn with our base camp in the crater of a small ash volcano.  Myvatnssveit, as the area is called, contains practically every sample of volcanic action, cinder cones 50 feet high and no larger that half an acre in extent to great volcanoes long since eroded into mountains 3,000 ft. high.  Spouts of steam some 50 feet high with boiling and mud pools nearby were not far away over the ridge of a red burnt-out looking mountain with great patches of sulphur occurring on its slopes.  Great lava fields extend to the south west, sometimes with smooth expanse like boiler plates called stratified lava, and sometimes with block lava the other extreme, where it is twisted into all sorts of weird shapes like rock seracs, and impedes progress so that 2 miles an hour is extremely good going.  Often great rock crevasses occur anything up to 30 yards across and 100 feet deep though generally not so spectacular.  Lake Myvatn is quite shallow and has many attractive islets and abounds in trout and ducks.  It is the breeding ground of tens of thousands of wild duck of probably some 20 or more species of which some are North American, and attracts such people as Ludwig Koch and Peter Scott, and is in fact an ornithologist’s paradise.

We took all our food with us and lived on Arctic regions pemmican, porridge oats, margarine, sugar, biscuits, chocolate, etc., to the extent of 1½ lbs. each per day.  This was essential when we went to Askja 50 miles away across uninhabited and often waterless desert.  We were interested in the fauna of the crater lake to see if life had started again since the last eruption in 1922.  We found the water still sulphurous and without insect life. The crater lake is 9sq. miles in extent surrounded in part by 150 foot basalt cliffs and is in places over 1,500 feet deep.  The crater itself is 25sq. miles in extent and is surrounded by mountains and is extremely seldom visited.

In a country practically devoid of sedimentary rocks there are of course no caves of the limestone variety.  However, I spent some few hours caving in the lava.  When there has been a vast outpouring of lava it slowly cools and crusts over and then sometimes the reservoir is broken and the lava starts to flow out leaving an air space up to 3 feet beneath the crust.  Solidification of the newly formed surface starts anew and the process sometimes repeats.  Where the crust is too thin it collapses and then one finds the entry to a magnificent system with several floors.  Around Myvatn there are several acres of such formations and partly filled with water – an ideal place for a speleaologist searching for aquatic insects.

However there are other good reasons for going to Iceland. A delightful 2½ day sea voyage of over 1,000 miles each way for £17 return accompanied by some of the finest food I have ever eaten.  What an advantage it is to have a rest period on board after all the mad rush of finishing off work, organising and packing before the vigorous weeks ahead. Similarly on the return, a rest before the everyday routine starts again is ideal.  The mountains are good from the snow mountaineering aspect, but being made up of layers of basaltic lava, they are very rotten and are not suitable for rock climbing.  I shall go back again sometime taking a vehicle like a Land Rover for the extremely rough roads, and spend some time in the mountains around Akureyil, crossing one of the smaller ice-caps such as Myradalsjokull in the south or Hofsjokull in the centre, and climbing their most beautiful mountain Herdubreid as well as looking at the magnificent fjords of the east coast.

So instead ‘Why go to Iceland?’  I say, ‘Why not go to Iceland yourselves and experience the contrasts of scenery, enjoy weather as hot as Northern Italy with magnificent sunsets and surprises rolled into one and meet some of the most kind and hospitable people in the world?’

Thomas Fletcher.


Song: The Mountaineer’s Duet

Submitted by Tony Johnson.

We’re mountaineers most Disingenuous,
And of ourselves we take great care;
We never climb up mountains strenuous,
When danger looms we’re never there.

But if we see some moderate mountain,
Not too severe, nor yet too far,
We’ll do it in, We’ll do it in,
To show that mountaineers we are.
We’ll do it in, We’ll do it in,
To show that mountaineers we are

We often boast of peaks ascended,
We never mention when we fall,
Our invitation is extended
To all who follow in our trail.

But if some very clever person
Should ever try to call our bluff
We’ll do him in, We’ll do him in,
To show that mountaineers are tough.
We’ll do him in, We’ll do him in,
To show that mountaineers are tough.

We place great emphasis on nutriment,
Our feeble frames we need to feed.
The guide to carry our accoutrement
Must hence proceed at moderate speed.

But when to Ogwen we’re returning
And there are ham and eggs for tea
We’ll do them in, We’ll do them in,
To show that mountaineers are we.
We’ll do them in, We’ll do them in,
To show that mountaineers are we.



The following X-word puzzle has been ‘compiled’ by a bod who hides his glory under the descriptive nom-de-plume ‘Coprolie’.  No prizes are offered and the solution will be published next month.




1. Agen Silaceous Communist (3,3,9)

7. Pops off and on the stage (5,4,6)

10. A short Welshman (2)

11. If you take this you may get a sentence but you won’t get the cake. (7)

14. Superlative of 5, down (7)

15. A pea was a Darwinian subject (3)

16. Jumps to get a cake in a ship (6)

17. Pipes are made from this (5)

19. Traditionally slippery (2)

20. There is one at Glastonbury & several on Dartmoor (3)

22. Logical outcome of getting older (5)

23. 20 across and swim backwards cause one to become inactive (6)

25. This organisation runs Monmouth Hall (3)

26. The ‘Hunters’ engine does this (7)

28. The supply of this was largely frozen during the war, but has recently become more plentiful (7)

29. Pronoun (2)

31. This is not a replacement for a pit-prop, but it does hold up the arch (7,8)

32. A particularly potent liqueur distilled near the ‘Dent de Crolles’ (5,10)


1. Nota missionary work in India.  It’s more like mining (8,7)

2. This cave is not in the Timor Sea; it’s really quite near the Belfry (9,6)

3. Where to find the Hut Warden when tea is served in the morning (4)

4. Lifers are usually this (4,2,9)

5. Caving is virtually banned to these people (5)

6. Say edit shore ore, Sago’s quest after he cracked his elbow (4,2,4,5)

8. Put you 11 across not here (7)

9. Reputedly give a reliable light for caving (4)

12. A vaulted access (4)

13. If there had not been a badly written this would have been the (2)

18. Egoistical boast of the Devil?  No, just his mark (7)

21. Toot a German (4)

24. The Thames (4)

25. In France this may be a squatty or a potty (2)

27. This gets you nowhere caving (5)

30. Calcium carbonate re-deposited in an unsaturated atmosphere (4)


Speleological Research Laboratories Reports

It is intended that reports shall be written from time to time by any club members to publicise any technical information concerned with caving, climbing, etc., for the benefit of all. Each report will deal with a single specific subject, item of equipment or technique and should included details of the evolution and development of the project, together with snags and pitfalls to be avoided; it should also include any lines of approach which have led to no successful conclusion. A report may also take the form of a critical survey of present items, with suggestions for their improvement.

Naturally some of these reports will be of a highly technical nature backed by scientific tests, whist others will more of a service of recommendations and suggestions; this will largely depend on the experimental and testing facilities available to the person involved.  All technical arguments involved should be presented in full, but in a manner that it can be understood by any intelligent person.  To this end it is suggested that authors should get a second person unconnected with their particular interest to read the proof.  (This applies especially to the Boffin types).

A permanent record of these reports will be kept, and the reports of abstracts from then will appear at intervals in the Belfry Bulletin.  It is also hoped that reports of a general interest will be offered for outside publication in the Cave Research Group’s Proceedings or even in publication of our own if the responses is sufficient.  Before any step towards external publication is made, the author’s permission will be sought in every case.

The permanent record will be kept by the undersigned and all contributions should be forwarded to the address given below, where copies of the reports will be passed to the Hon. Editor as required.  It is hoped that in the future all equipment used by the club will be backed by reports on its design, use and serviceability for reference.

Any members requiring information are cordially invited to write in as very probably the information they require is available in some quarter.

A,C, Johnson
46, The Crescent

The following reports are in preparation: -

‘C’ ladder shackles; Fixing of Ladder Rungs; Assembly of Wire Ladders; Tethering; Speleobathometers; Flashbombs; Nife Batteries; Etc.;  What can you add to these.



Focus on  - - -  The New Club Stretchers

By Ken Dobbs

It was decided at a committee meeting held a couple of years back that a stretcher should be included in the club tackle.  This stretcher would have to be suitable for cave rescue of Mendip.  Many existing types were discussed at length, but none of the known types seem to fill our requirements, if it was strong enough, it was too rigid, and rigid stretchers don’t go round corners easily; and so on & so forth; committee meeting followed committee meeting, and the question was discussed, chewed over, deferred till the next meeting, as only a B.E.C. Committee can, until it became obvious we should have to produce something ourselves if we were to incorporate something of all our ideas.

Firstly we approached Joseph Bryant & Co. with the idea that we could get our plans transferred to something practical, but although they were most helpful the initial cost was much higher than we had expected so there’re was nothing else for it – if we wanted a stretcher we should have to produce it ourselves.  There followed further months of discussion regarding materials etc.  Finally a length of canvas was produced and the sewing started; altogether there was about 50 hours of it – on the face of it perhaps it doesn’t sound much, buy anyone who has tried sewing canvas to rope and leather by hand will know that there’s more to it than that.

Then yet another hold up occurred.  It became obvious as the stretcher neared completion that lifting up drop of perhaps 70 feet would not altogether be safe if the lift was to be taken on the side handling ropes.  The only way round this snag was to take a direct lift from the occupant of the stretcher, and undoubtedly this would be best accomplished with a parachute harness. As the main users of such harnesses, the R.A.F. were contacted, and were helpful in putting us in contact with a firm dealing in such contrivances.  After more delay the long awaited harness arrived and was duly fitted.

Half way through August the first tests were carried out at Redcliffe Community Centre.  These were for handling only and went quite well. The following Sunday further tests were carried out on Mendip and handling tests were successfully on rough ground near the Belfry.  As the earlier test had been o.k. it was decided to press straight on with underground tests in Bog Hole.  Bog was chosen because of its convenience and also because it supplies the worst possible rescue condition i.e. a tight cave with and extremely low roof.  The only person to be mentioned in connection with these tests is Pat Ifold who volunteered to be the guinea-pig for our first underground tests, a most unpleasant job.  To move the stretcher and its ‘tenant’ 36 feet took 45 minutes and a team of 4 were just the flakers in that time.  Unfortunately during these tests the canvas showed signs of giving around the handholds, and would certainly not stand prolonged use.  Apart from the weakness of the canvas the design had been a success and a good deal has been learned about the underground handling already.  The damage to the canvas was such that the stretcher would require complete rebuilding and this was more than anyone was prepared to take on, Joseph Bryant’s were again contacted and thee experimental work being already done a lower figure than the original one was quoted and accepted.

The stretcher is now complete and it is to be kept at the Belfry.  It is hoped that it will never have to be used.


The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Nick  Harding

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor (722)
Joint 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

Acting 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

Cover image: The cover shows a cross section and a description (as published in Rutter and Phelps) of various points of interest in the Lost Cave of Hutton. In Catcott’s Treatise on the Deluge, he states that he, with a few friends, descended into a cavern 90 feet deep. Due to the profusion of bones he described the place as being like a charnel house. 



A Hearty Hello From Your New Editor.

Sitting quietly in the Hunters one afternoon, near the groat-sliding* board (or is it slide-groat? I was told but swiftly forgot), observing a game being played by a group of freshly spelunked Belgians, I lifted my near empty pot to see, through its smeary glass bottom the press-gang, a swarthy looking bunch at the best of times, lurking in the corner of the tavern. It was clear there was only one thing on their collective minds – they were after an editor. I had been earlier warned (or is that warned earlier? – and they wanted me to do this job!), along with the speculative use of crude emotional blackmail, by a certain individual (Rowsell! for it was he) that members of her majesty’s Belfry militia had already singled me out for the role, due in part to my reckless historical pamphleteering. While trying to flee I was unable to avoid their rough manner and was hit rudely about the skull and shackled to the duty. The following morning I awoke with a thick head and a freshly sharpened quill crudely stapled to my right hand. One day the law may change and writers will be able to go about their business freely and in good spirits but until then I take it as a signal honour to become the new master of words at the BEC…or so it says here.

The Belfry Militia in action.

If you have articles or anything that might be remotely of interest to the caving world for inclusion in this esteemed organ please send to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Your Editor.

* Goat-sliding would be more fun, surely…



By James Cobbett, Helen Harper, Rob Harper and Stuart McManus


In late February and early March of 2005 a group of three cavers from Britain and one British caver based in Panama spent approximately two weeks exploring the caves on the Bocas del Toro islands on the Caribbean coast in the north west of the Republic of Panama.

Although there is a lot of limestone in Panama much of which is cave-bearing there is very little recorded cave exploration.





James Cobbett

Panama City, Panama

Wessex Cave Club

Stuart McManus

Priddy, Somerset, UK


Helen Harper

Wells, Somerset, UK

Bristol Exploration Club

Rob Harper

Wells, Somerset, UK

Bristol Exploration Club


As none of the party would admit to either geological or geographical training a subjective description only is given.

On both Bastimentos and Colόn the centres of the islands rise to about 50-70m of elevation and are surrounded by wide areas of level ground only a few metres above sea level. The central portions are mainly covered with rainforest and much of the low-lying area is marsh and mangrove swamp. Around areas of habitation the land is cleared for farming and there is considerable evidence of increasing development for the tourist industry.

All of the caves explored were developed in horizontally bedded bands of “caliza” a coralline limestone that is present over large areas and used by the locals to make cement and possibly as aggregate. This is a very friable stone and seems to be interspersed with layers of petrified mud/clay which is extremely slippery: both of these rocks are very fragile.

There is a high annual rainfall in the area and cave development is very common; most of the cave passages are only a few metres below ground level. At higher elevations there is evidence of massive older collapsed systems with short lengths of very large dry passages often choked with mud or stalagmite formations. The caves at a lower level are usually horizontal active streamways with frequent collapses from the surface. The presence of numerous cenotes and large inactive, at least at the time of our visit in the dry season, resurgence pools would suggest the presence of extensive sub-water table development.


Isla Colόn

A.         La Gruta and associated caves

1.  La Gruta  – this is a well-known “show” cave on the island and the upstream, and probably downstream sections are well known to local cavers.

Access – A short taxi ride from Bocas to a sign for “La Gruta” and then a 300m walk along a paved trail to a stream marked by religious icons, a lectern and a series of banked pews. Upstream from here the water resurges from a large cave entrance and following the stream downriver over a small dam leads to a further large entrance after approximately 100m.


Upstream – This has been adequately described previously by Keith Christenson to wit…“The cave consists of a horizontal active stream passage, divided up into four separate parts.  The main entrance is large and of walking height, and opens into the largest known passage in Bocas.  However, this passage is only 94m long, coming out into a karst window.  The next cave section is just 7m long, and then the final section is 204m of mostly walking height stream cave with occasional pools.”

Downstream – the cave consists of walking and wading in the streamway through three cave sections to emerge in a small valley. The stream from the cave is a tributary to the stream flowing down this valley, (see below). The first of the downstream sections was surveyed by Maurice Thomas and Jorge Pino in 2002.

2.  Cenotes, “Mac & Cobbett’s” Cave, “Rob & Helen’s” Cave

Once out of downstream La Gruta the valley can be followed upwards to multiple sites - as the locals seemed unaware of these egos were given full rein when naming the entrances.

Access – the valley can be accessed by following the road beyond the sign to La Gruta for approximately 500m to a series of culverts carrying a stream under the road and then river-walking upstream for about 500m but by far the easiest access is to go through downstream La Gruta.

a.       Cenotes – Just upstream of the lower entrance of La Gruta the valley divides and several cenotes, (open water-filled pits), up to 5m diameter and short low sections of crawling cave, (up to 15m in active streamways with upstream and downstream sumps), can be found. These are almost certainly part of the same system and there may be a large sub-water table cave.

b.       “Mac & Cobbett’s” Cave – In the right fork of the valley 60m from the downstream entrance of La Gruta on a bearing of 022.5 deg, (UTM: 17P 0360148 1038857). 80m of straight passage just under the surface with several skylights ending in rising passage with a “rabbit –sized” exit hole to the surface.

c.       “Rob & Helen’s” Cave – The resurgence for the stream in the right fork of the valley. Located by following the stream to a large patch of dense undergrowth, (UTM: 17P 0360215 1039057). From the entrance above the active resurgence a short section of muddy walking rift passage leads to 100m of alternating flood overflow and active streamway with an area of roof collapse at about the halfway point. The passage varies from hands-and-knees crawling to walking passage and ends at a junction. To the left 20m of crawling in water in the active streamway leads to a lowish, (1m high 2m wide) passage not pushed to a conclusion and to the right leads to a similar sized flood overflow passage ending at a stal blockage beyond which the passage could be seen to continue.

d.       Tree Cave – 50m from the lower entrance of La Gruta on a bearing of approximately 028.0deg is an obvious large tree on the slope just below the crest of the ridge. A small entrance between the roots leads into a muddy chamber with a steep mud slope below. This was not pushed to a conclusion but probably links with the top end of “Mac & Cobbett’s Cave”

e.       Purgatory Cave – Downstream from the bottom end of La Gruta the valley can be followed to the main road. Approximately 500m downstream of the road the stream sinks and just beyond this a small cave, (position not fixed), on the left bank was pushed as a flat out crawl in water, sharp rocks and flood debris for at least 15m by an heroic individual egged on by the cries of his companion at the entrance. The passage continued beyond in a similar fashion.

3. Other sites : -

a.       Cenotes - By following the road beyond the La Gruta turn-off for about 1km another dry valley enters on the right hand side. In the floor of this are a number of cenotes 1-2m in diameter. (UTM:  17P 0357966 1039752).

b.       Un-named Cave – On the opposite side of road from the track to the other cenotes is a small cave. (UTM: 17P 0357857 1039698).

B.         Wysiwyg and associated caves

A series of caves which were probably once part of a very large system.

Access – From the roadside sign for La Gruta a poorly defined track, the old military road, can be followed almost due north through cleared fields with occasional patches of deep mud for approximately 3km of hard walking to the edge of the jungle. A local guide and/or a GPS locator would be advisable.

1.  Wysiwyg, (“What you see is what you get”), Cave

An impressive entrance chamber in the wall of a small doline is sand and mud-floored with a deep blind pit in the floor. Contouring around the edge of the pit allows access to a low slot to leading to a ledge on the wall of a second large and well-decorated steeply sloping chamber with no ways on.

2.    Doline Caves

a.       Doline 1- approximately 80m due west of Wysiwyg Cave is a large doline with four cave entrances

(i)                  East Wall – small rift leads after a few metres to a short narrow canal sumped at both ends.

(ii)                 North West wall – low entrance leads to a muddy slope down to a static sump.

(iii)               West Wall – low crawl leads to a junction after approximately 2m. To the left low passages soon become too tight and to the right the passage enlarges to a large deep pool. Swimming across the pool and under an arch allows access to a chamber completely floored with deep water at the far side of which the passage continues underwater and almost certainly connects with the sump in the North West wall cave.

(iv)               South West Wall – about 60m of large mud-floored walking passage with two avens to daylight leads to Doline 2

b.       Doline 2- approximately 60m south west of Doline 1 is a second doline with 2 entrances.

(v)                 East Wall – other end of the South West Wall cave in Doline 1.

(vi)               West Wall – From the large entrance, approximately 5x3m, a large muddy passage slopes steeply down to the left to end at after about 15m. 5m before the end of the chamber on the left side a 4m crawl in thick mud leads to another large chamber with several blind pits in floor which contain bad air. Straight ahead at the entrance a steep climb for 3 to 4m over a large boulder leads to a third doline.

3.   Cayman Caves

a.      Upper Cayman Cave

From the west side of the third doline a large entrance leads to a boulder floored steep slope down to a large, (30 x 8 x 6m), flat sand and mud-floored chamber with archaeological artifacts. Along the north wall of the chamber is a narrow trench containing an active stream. Upstream leads via walking and stooping passage to two sumps after approximately 60m. At the west end of the entrance chamber is a steep slope up to an entrance in a fourth doline and downstream from here a high rift passage with a clean rock and gravel floor leads to a lower entrance after about 150m. A small passage in the left wall at a widening of the passage quickly becomes too tight. A small cayman, (2m long), was seen in one of the pools in this cave.

b.      Lower Cayman Cave

From the lower entrance of Upper Cayman Cave the stream follows a ravine for about 100m and then enters a short section of large clean washed rift passage. After 20m another entrance is reached and the stream joins the Rio Mimitimbi which is the main river draining the interior of Isla Colόn and runs due North from its resurgence,(see below), to the sea.

D.         Rio Mimitimbi Caves + Resurgence and Flood Overflow

Access – although the river could be accessed via the Cayman Caves it is easier to follow the main road beyond the La Gruta turnoff towards Drago for about 5km to where a track is seen on the right opposite a small farm. From here 45 minutes of walking reaches the river at a small ford, (UTM: 17P 0359497 1042534). A local guide is advisable.

Upstream an hour of walking, wading and swimming is needed to reach the bottom entrance of Lower Cayman Cave.

1. Mimitimbi Beach Caves

A short walk downstream from the ford leads to the beach where two short caves were noted.

2. River Caves

Downstream of the ford and at several points on the upstream walk the river passes through short sections of very large, 10x10m, cave passage up to 30m in length.

3. Resurgence pool

At about the halfway point between the ford and the entrance to Lower Cayman Cave there is a large tributary entering on the true right hand side of the stream. At the time of this trip this was a dry streambed leading after 10m to a large, 8x8m, static sump pool from which a large passage could be seen continuing underwater.

4. Flood Inlet Cave

Approximately 90m upstream of the entrance to Lower Cayman Cave is an 80m section of cave passage leading to a classic karst pavement floored valley which obviously takes a lot of water in times of flood.

5. Main Resurgence

A further 110m above the Flood Inlet Cave the Rio Mimitimbi resurges through boulders at one point via a 5m diameter pool. A brief reconnaissance failed to reveal any negotiable cave passage.

Isla Bastimentos

A.         Nibidá and associated caves.

Previous exploration of the area around the head of a small creek at the top of the Bahía Honda by Keith Christenson and Matt Lachniet aided by local cavers in 2002 had revealed three reasonably sizeable active cave systems – Nibidá, Cueva Domingo and Ol’ Bank Underworld of which Nibidá and OBU had not been pushed to a conclusion.

Access: The caves are located in a National Park and it is possible that a permit may be required to visit although nothing seemed to be required during this visit. From Bastimentos town a boat trip of about half-an-hour across the Bahía Honda and then up a narrow tidal creek through the mangrove swamps reaches a very small jetty. Because of the confusing nature and, to an untrained eye, the identical nature of all the small creeks a local guide is advisable. Once at the jetty 150m of walking along an obvious track leads to a clearing with the house of the “warden” one Domingo Villagra, (pronounced Viagra and therefore the source of much amusement!). Leaving the clearing, 100 to 150m of easy walking along a muddy track gains a footbridge over a small stream, the stream from Nibidá, following this upstream for 40m leads to the large resurgence entrance of Nibidá at the base of a small cliff.

1. Nibidá

UTM 17P 374660 1028661- Datum NAD87 – Christenson 2002

The cave was originally explored in 2002 was well described by Keith Christenson…

“The cave consists of a horizontal active stream passage.  The upstream ends at a divable sump which should provide a way on to connect with Ol' Bank Underworld.  The downstream end is a resurgence, and the main entrance. The only major side lead is an infeeder, which enters the cave after coming down a series of waterfalls and pools (swimming required).  The cave continues upstream unexplored beyond an unclimbable waterfall a mere 2m high (but you must start the climb while swimming in a 4m deep pool).”

The 2005 trip was able to extend the cave…

a.       Upstream end – the diveable sump mentioned above was found to be a low airspace section approximately 2m in length into a high rift carrying the stream passage varying between 2 and 6m in width and up to 8m in height, which could be followed for about 750m passing at least one skylight en route. At the upstream end the cave emerged into daylight at a section of collapsed passage/doline at the far side of which it could be followed through several other sections of collapse as a slightly smaller passage to end at a large doline with multiple cave entrances none of which were pushed to a conclusion.

b.       “Wham Bamboo Inlet” – the terminal waterfall of the infeeder passage mentioned above was climbed using artificial aids, a bamboo pole and ladder across the pool after attempts to climb it had it had failed miserably and aqueously, to gain 130m of small rifts and short climbs to an upper entrance. Another short through cave was found by following the water upstream.

Subsequent calculations have shown that this is currently the longest surveyed cave in Panama.

2. Cueva Domingo

UTM 17P 374635 1028643 - Datum NAD87 – Christenson 2002

Named after Domingo Villagra this cave is situated the base of the cliff approximately 50m to the South West of Nibidá. The 2002 part examined the bulk of this system …

“The cave consists of a horizontal active stream passage.  The upstream ends at a divable sump, which should provide a way on to considerable passage.  The downstream end is a resurgence, and the main entrance.”

The 2005 trip passed an intimidating duck at the upstream end only to be stopped by a true sump just beyond.

3. Ol’ Bank Underworld

UTM 17P 375098 1028335 - Datum NAD87 – Christenson 2002

By climbing the cliff above Nibidá and walking approximately 500-600m to the south-east a rift entrance is found in the jungle – a local guide is strongly advised.

The 2002 description of the cave is…

“The cave consists of a winding, active stream passage with mostly solid, scoured limestone walls, ceiling and floor.  Downstream ends at a divable sump, which should connect to the upstream sump in Nibidá after some 200m of expected walking passage between the sumps.  The upstream end of the cave exploration ends with streams coming in from several directions, none of which were followed to an end, and all are open and going.  The general character in the upstream area is lower and muddier. From the main passage, two large side passages take off. Both are roughly 3m higher than the floor of the main passage.  The passage further upstream is an infeeder during high-water events, and goes several hundred meters to a sinkhole entrance.  This sinkhole can be passed and the cave continues as a muddy belly crawl which was not explored to an end.  The further downstream passage pirates water during high-water events, and goes a couple hundred meters to a groundwater sump/pool.  This pool is divable, and could possibly provide a way to connect to Domingo's Cave.  The water appears to have no flow, and zero visibility could be a problem for diving here.”

During a brief visit the 2005 party found no further extensions but it is obvious from the finds in Nibidá that the downstream sump in OBU does not connect with this cave and but may instead may connect to the upstream sump in Domingo’s.

Note: “Ol’ Bank” is the name given by the locals to Isla Bastimentos

4. Un-named shaft

A short shaft entrance was noted by two members of the party, SM & JC, near Cueva Domingo with passage leading off from the bottom but was not entered owing to lack of time and tackle.

B.         Cedar Creek etc

Some time was spent investigating the area around Cedar Creek, (UTM 17P 0377311 1027000), on the southern coast of Isla Bastimentos but only very short sections of passage between collapses were found.

Isla Popa

Intriguingly the marine charts for this island and the local inhabitants mention a coal mine, which would suggest the possibility of limestone as well, but no caves appear to be known to the locals and nothing was found on a short reconnaissance trip by James Cobbett.

Peninsula Valiente

Two members of the party, JC and SM, spent about half a day exploring this area on the south east border of the Bocas area. However no limestone could be found and none of the locals knew of any caves in the area.


1.       Grade 3 sections: all measurements were taken using a 30m fibron tape read to the nearest centimetre, a Suunto Compass read to approximately one degree and a Suunto clinometer read to the nearest percent. The resulting data was recorded immediately.

2.       Grade 1 sections: distances and angles were estimated whilst in the cave and sketches recorded immediately after exiting the cave.

The raw data was processed on a computer using “COMPASS” software to produce a centre-line and a computer generated passage outline. This was then imported into CorelDraw and the final survey drawn.

3.       GPS readings were taken with a handheld Garmin E-trex Vista GPS receiver and, unless otherwise stated, the local datum NAD27 ( Canal Zone) was used. Unfortunately neither the exact time of the readings or the degree of confidence were recorded in every case.



All of the members of the party had considerable experience of tropical caving and the problems involved and made their individual choices accordingly. Clothing consisted of either T-shirt and light tracksuit trousers, (Ron Hill Tracksters), or underwear covered with a light oversuit. Owing to the nature of the rock and the vicissitudes of jungle-walking heavy gloves were deemed essential.

Petzl helmets of varying vintages were worn underground and illumination provided by a variety of Petzl LED/halogen combinations of which the “Duo” seemed to prove the most reliable.


Group equipment consisted of a 10m electron ladder, two sets of SRT equipment and a 30m static rope and some slings.

The ladder and slings were used in conjunction with an ad-hoc bamboo maypole to scale a 2m cascade and the rope was used once for security on a longish swim and to descend a steep-sided doline.


UK to Panama

The UK based members of the team flew to Panama on Delta Airlines via a short stopover in Atlanta. The total journey time was about 16 hours and the cost approximately £565:00 pp.

Panama City to Bocas

After an overnight stay in JC’s house in Panama City the party traveled onto Bocas del Toro.

Although the roads in Panama are relatively good by the standards of the region they are also few in number. Furthermore driving to Bocas del Toro, which takes about 10 hours of driving, involves a ferry crossing the logistics of which might have entailed an overnight stop. Therefore the party flew from Panama City to Bocas del Toro. The flights go approximately three times daily and take about an hour. The flight cost was US$ 61.00pp but carrying caving gear incurred an excess baggage charge of US$ 0.50/lb, (note the baggage allowance on these flights is only 20 pounds NOT kilos).

Bocas to Caves

Accommodation in Bocas was on a yacht moored in the marina; there are many cheap water taxis for travel to the individual islands and then standard four-wheel drive taxis were hired to get around on land.

For journeys to the caves on Bastimentos and reconnaissance trips around the island a fast boat and driver were hired for the day. The cost varying between US$30.00 and US$90.00 depending on the distance, the number of drivers/guides and the amount of beer carried/consumed.


Medical Kit

A small medical kit was taken to cope with minor incidents. Since none of the caves were remote and Panama has a reasonable health service it was not felt necessary to take extensive medical supplies.

Those members of the party already on medication were expected to provide for themselves.


  • Small wounds – the sharp and slippery nature of the rock in the caves meant that several members of the party had abrasions and cuts from minor falls which were treated with local hygiene and on one occasion topical antibacterial ointment, (Fucidin).
  • Strains/sprains – muscular and joint pains were managed with oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, (diclofenac and ibuprofen).
  • Diffenbachia – the Diffenbachia plant grows extensively in the forest and direct contact with naked skin causes a marked irritation. A peculiar hazard for cavers is mud that contains high levels of remnants of these plants at a microscopic or near-microscopic level and impregnation of clothing with this mud can lead to a severe burning sensation. Fortunately this is not a long-term phenomenon and can be alleviated by stripping off and washing both clothing and body in clean water.
  • Insect bites/stings – all of the party suffered from these although none necessitated specific treatment.
  • Seasickness – one member of the party, (HH), suffered from seasickness, which was quickly ameliorated with oral Dramamine









Malarial Prophylaxis

Most of Panama is considered to be free of malaria however there is a risk in the Bocas del Toro and those members of the party from UK elected to use doxycline, (100mg. / person / day), as a prophylactic measure.


James & Marilyn Cobbett – for their hospitality and Marilyn in particular for her tremendous forbearance and good humour when we turned her home and the beautiful yacht into makeshift caving huts.

Keith Christenson – for his unselfish generosity in sharing his data with us.

Oscar and Alvaro Powell – for help with guiding and arranging transport on Isla Bastimentos

Gordon and Loreen MacMillan – on Isla Colόn for help with guiding plus permission to tramp all over their land.


This trip explored and surveyed over a mile of cave with little difficulty. The cave passages themselves were spectacular being large, aquatic and well-decorated if, unfortunately, not of any great length. Although it is unlikely that a “world ranking” cave will be found in the area there is potential for more similar systems to be found either by river-walking or jungle-bashing ideally with local guidance.

The horizontal nature of all these caves allied to their proximity to the water-table and termination in large sumps might suggest the existence of extensive flooded systems and there are anecdotal reports of “blue holes” off the coast of Isla Colόn and a further expedition involving cave-divers is planned in early 2006

Appendix 1 – Cave Lengths





La Gruta




“Mac & Cobbett’s” Cave


80m (est)


“Rob & Helen’s” Cave


120m (est)


Wysiwyg Cave


25m (est)


Doline 1 (i)


6m (est)


Doline 1 (ii)


20m (est)


Doline 1 (iii)


35m (est)


Doline 1 (iv)


60m (est)


Doline 2 (ii)


70m (est)


Cayman caves




Flood Inlet Cave


80m (est)






Cueva Domingo


10m (est)


Ol’ Bank Underworld




Appendix 2 – Surveys



Rose Cottage Cave - Discoveries in Fi’s ‘Ole and A1 Digs
and the Exploration of Prancer’s Pride

By Tony Jarratt

Continuing the saga from BBs 522 and 523.

“First you must conceive that the Earth … is everywhere full of windy caves, and bears in its bosom a multitude of fissures and gulfs and beetling, precipitous crags. You must also picture that under the Earth’s back, many buried rivers with torrential force roll their waters mingled with sunken rocks.”

Lucretius; The Nature of the Universe.    

Further Digging 9/10/05 – 26/1/06

Six digging trips between the 9th and 16th October resulted in many bags of clay, gravel and sandstone cobbles being removed from the Fi’s ‘Ole dig – resulting in a gently descending phreatic passage running above the decorated chamber of Aglarond 2. The writer, fearing mutiny in the team, was much relieved that his theory of ongoing passage beyond the “blank wall” in this dig had been verified. The 10th was noted as the 1st Anniversary of digging at Rose Cottage but the lure of the laid down bottle of Champagne in Aglarond 1 was resisted.

Unseasonal warm weather on the 17th gave an excuse for Rich W. and the writer to lay a floodwater pipe below the spoil heap and generally tidy up on the surface. 31 loads came out to the heap between the 19th and 26th when three sessions of dig enlargement took place. This continued on the 30th and 31st October and 2nd November. Anne Pugh (ITV West) and caving cameraman Gavin Newman visited to assess the site for a projected “Secret Underground” TV documentary.

A major bag-hauling session occurred on 6th November with a solo digging trip next day when the writer broke into a low airspace some five metres into the dig as predicted. Squalor was now the order of the day following heavy autumn rains causing annoying drips and trickles throughout the cave and once again proving that the BEC curse of the “Reverse Midas Touch” is still operative! The 9th also saw a good attendance with seven good men and true removing almost all of the full bags from the depths and stacking them in Mt. Hindrance Lane. 30 heavy skiploads even reached the surface! The Obscene Publications Act forbids the writer to record in print Jake B.’s comments on his hauling stance in the Corkscrew. Work continued on the 13th with many bags filled and much more spoil backfilled into the original Fi’s ‘Ole. A four shothole charge was fired at the end and the resulting large amount of broken rock cleared next day – the nearby dump being completely filled. Much of the annoying puddle was bailed into plastic drums but enough was left to make the wet-suited Fi and John N. thankful for their choice of apparel! The writer, in dry grots, opted to pull skips before venturing to the chamber at the end of the A1 Dig above (first entered by John on 27th July) where visual contact was made with John who was immersed in the slime below and who later pioneered yet another “round trip” in this sporting little cave. While tidying up the A1 terminal chamber the writer noticed a void in the boulders ahead and after much awkward digging and rearrangement of unwieldy rocks was able to squeeze through into some 5m of unstable “passage” continuing the line of the dig and above the presumed route of Fi’s ‘Ole Dig. A dodgy looking hole at the end will almost certainly give access to the lower passage (Prancer’s Pride – see later) at a future date. All of the cave beyond Mt. Hindrance Lane would appear to be one great, sloping fault plane with the upper part composed of an enormous and lengthy boulder choke on the SW side. The lowest levels are washed free of infill and well decorated and the middle level still choked by ancient stream debris but the safest and least damaging option for extending the cave. Ben O. braved the now much deeper puddle on the 16th and filled a dozen skips with wet spoil which Pete H, Sean H. and Henry B. bagged up and hauled out to Aglarond 1. In drier but freezing conditions above Phil C. and the writer hauled 23 loads to surface.

Assisted by three able Sheffield Uni. cavers, Henry Rockliff and Rob Eavis being in the current forefront of Derbyshire digging, the writer fired a three shothole charge in obstructing slabs on 19th November. Two days later he celebrated his 56th birthday by clearing the vast amount of bang debris and gaining a view into open, descending passage ahead – once again as prophesied to be running below and to one side of the A1 Dig extension. One loose rock prevented access. This was easily removed with the aid of a sling on the 23rd but access to the passage beyond was denied due to previously unseen rock slabs beyond. Gwilym, Jake B, Phil C. and Toby later shifted some of these but the passage remained inviolate.

This was also the day when Gavin Newman, assisted by Tom Chapman and Sarah Payne, filmed Aglarond 2 (aided by Sean): Fi’s ‘Ole digging operations (starring Henry and Alex): the puddle (yours truly-damn it) and skip hauling in Mt. Hindrance Lane. A surface film team simultaneously recorded the writer being interviewed by Chris Serle as the latter effortlessly winched up about a dozen loads – 44 reaching the surface in all and giving a total of 2566 recorded since the start of the dig! Chris was grateful that his presence underground was not insisted upon as, being 6ft 9ins tall he is not over fond of the average Mendip cave. The ITV team seemed pleased with the results of their efforts and Ivan’s flood lighting combined with the swirling Mendip mist to give some good atmospheric effects. Food and pints at the Hunters’ were gratefully received by the thespian diggers on this bitterly cold night.   

More clearing was done on the 26th by Carole White and Martin Smith (BPC), the latter also taking photos, and the following day they returned with the writer, John N. and Jane Clarke for further work at the face when lots more rock slabs were dragged out and some two metres of progress made into the new passage before previously hidden slabs stopped play. A flat drill battery amused the Bradford diggers but meant that Henry B. and the writer had to return on the 28th to bang the breakthrough squeeze and clear more spoil. Trenching of the floor commenced in order to drain the puddle forwards and this was continued on the 30th when partial success transformed the “lake” into a mere “slough of despond”. Lots more clearing was done throughout the cave and more slabs banged at the end where the only encouraging feature was the strong draught.

Monday 5th December saw Henry B, John N. and your scribe clearing a goodly amount of spoil from the end. An uninspired Henry was bemoaning the lack of a way on when, on moving a rock on the left, he suddenly gained a view into open passage. Much encouraged the diggers worked hard to gain access but were defeated by more large slabs and were forced to retire to H.Q. for liquid refreshment before returning in the afternoon armed with the drill and a bunch of detonators, the bang having run out. Three sessions of “micro-blasting” using a total of seven dets was just enough to break up the slabs and allow the writer to enter the new stuff feet first and kicking a large boulder forwards. Alas the way on was a calcite and boulder choked hole in the floor but in recompense a standing-sized inlet passage with a couple of rift avens and some fine formations, including a partly dried out crystal pool, yielded about 8m of cave. On later draining the “slough of despond” into the extension some entertaining gurgling noises resulted as the water sank in the hole in the floor. The totally knackered diggers then gratefully headed out, once again leaving the Champagne unopened. At least we now had plenty of stacking space and bag-hauling to the surface will thankfully be a thing of the past.

The film epic continued on the 7th when B.C.R.A. Chairman and physicist John Wilcock rushed around the paddock with his battered dowsing rods accompanied by the writer and both being interviewed by Chris. John is convinced that the cave extends SE to the junction of the Wells Road and Belfry track and from here swings round to the south to connect to St. Cuthbert’s. He predicts that a passage nearer the surface than the known St. Cuthbert’s system passes over the main passage NW-SE then joins the cave to the south, as stated earlier – time will tell if he is correct. His results appeared to delineate the general boundaries of the known Rose Cottage passages and were later partially repeated by Tony Audsley who also recorded the whole circus on camera for his web site. That evening more of the team visited the new stuff and dragged most of the remaining full bags up to the top of the Corkscrew. They also hauled rocks from Fi’s ‘Ole and commenced the dig in the floor at the end. Henry Dawson made his first appearance and became the third digger of that apparently rare caving forename to join the team. This makes the use of  “a passage full of loose Henries” no longer useable in the cave description.

The 11th December saw Fi and the writer attacking the calcite blockage and the former becoming joyously enthused on discovering the quagmire of porridge-like mud below it. Stitch drilling and a misfired two detonator charge left the stubborn calcite still in place. 1 load reached the surface and next day another 16 joined it when the two returned with Jake B. While more rock was hauled back to Aglarond 1 the dets were rewired and fired but with little effect. Excavation continued in the squalid floor dig and the nearby crystal pool was bailed to reveal no passable way on but a couple of fine, crystal covered stalactites. A drystone wall was constructed above the pool to provide a spoil dump in the rift behind it and any shortage of rock was soon solved after Jake pointed out the dangerous state of the adjacent ceiling. To prove his fears groundless your scribe poked it with his finger resulting in a mass movement, an abject apology and some deft crowbar work resulting in about half a ton of good building stone. Some digging was done in the rift above the new spoil dump but banging was needed here to reach a wider section ahead.

Excavation of the hole in the floor continued on the 14th when it was reported to be widening out below the calcite. The very last full spoil bags (touch wood!) were removed to the surface in 69 skiploads to give a total of 2,652 recorded as being dragged out over the last 14 months. At a minimum weight of 8 kilos each this totals 21,216 kilos (19.09 tons). This does not include the initial spoil removed with the mini-digger. Bloody good effort, team!


The next session at the end, on 19th December, saw a considerable amount of digging and dumping and the opening of a tiny, decorated airspace in the floor dig. A faulty drill prevented banging of the rift above. Work continued two days later when a vast amount of spoil was bagged and stored in and above the crystal pool – the only available space.

Another dangerous roof slab was brought down before it decimated the digging team (seximated actually as there were but six tonight and only the digger at the face was in mortal peril). Reports from the end indicated little promise but as Pub time loomed Paul B. opened up a clean washed, arm-sized hole in the floor and enthusiasm was once again restored. So much restored that on the following evening Paul, John N. and your scribe were back at the face frantically digging, hauling and stacking like three automatons. Worn out and gritty-eyed Paul came up for a spell allowing John to inspect the dig. On pulling out a few stones he was rewarded with an open and apparently deep hole from which emanated the strong draught. With closing time drawing ever closer the writer took a turn at the front and opened the hole to almost passable size – but not quite. A steeply sloping calcite floor dropped away into a black void with many fine formations visible but un-enterable without bang or another hours work. Well past 10pm the ecstatic diggers broke all records to reach the Hunters’ where festive pints of “Prancer’s Pride” provided both sustenance and a suitable name for the forthcoming and barrel-winning extension! The diggers were certain that the prophesied continuation of Aglarond 2 had finally been reached after five and a half months hard labour excavating their way along the A1 and Fi’s ‘Ole Digs (see later for proof of this). To ensure easy access the window into Prancer’s Pride was banged by Madphil on the following evening while Henry B. and the writer tidied up the spoil heap. It was very noticeable that the bang sounded particularly loud all the way back in Aglarond 1.

The Christmas Day team of assorted hangover sufferers Jake B, Paul B, Jeff Price and the writer took down a 5m ladder as an aid on the stalagmite slope and your scribe was just able to squeeze in and enlarge the breakthrough point for his larger colleagues. As is normal on these occasions the huge passage had shrunk somewhat and only c.4m of progress was made to a choke in the floor of the steeply descending bedding plane below. An inlet above this was briefly examined but was thought too pretty to push. Not despondent we headed for the Pub and festivities leaving the Champagne still unmolested but Paul’s brandy miniature sipped as a gesture. Next day the writer cleared rocks and banged the boulders.

He returned on the 27th with Fiona and a strangely uncoordinated Henry B. for a very intensive clearing session. The inlet grotto was sacrificed as a spoil dump and this passage pushed for some 5m to the base of a strongly draughting rift which needed committed squeezing to gain access. This beautifully decorated feature was suspected to connect with the more easily reached spoil dump rift in the chamber some 10m above. More rocks in the floor of the bedding plane were banged as an enlargement could be seen beyond. The writer, Bobble and a slightly less uncoordinated Henry cleared the result on the morning of the 28th and fired another charge to allow access into an elliptical and well decorated passage with a howling outward draught. On this trip your scribe pushed the inlet into a stunningly beautiful chamber where exploration would have been almost sacrilegious but was suddenly found to be unnecessary when some 8m away through the formations he espied the orange conservation tape in Aglarond 2! This explained why the bang was so noisy when fired from Aglarond 1, not that far above. At least the diggers now knew where they were and were convinced that the phreatic passage some 7-8m below was the way on. A return was made in the evening by five of the team who removed a large amount of rock from the morning’s bang enabling access to be gained to the elliptical passage which John N. pushed to a constriction with a view into a possible way on to the right. While Pete H, Jake B, Phil C. and John continued with enlarging the breakthrough point the writer, armed with a lump hammer, removed the obstacle and smashed his way through assorted formations to reach a climb down over flowstone in an exceptionally attractive junction of phreatic passages. Superb curtains, straws, flowstone and small helictites adorned this area but many had to go before it could be fully explored. This was thought to be justified after all the effort made to avoid desecrating Aglarond 2 but the noise of tinkling calcite was heart rending. Seeing large passage below the explorer shouted back the traditional and immortal “We’re in!” and clambered down the climb to reach a muddy streamway which immediately closed down below the flowstone slope. A gap over a calcited boulder above this was briefly examined but needed banging to enlarge. John came in for a look then the pair retreated to allow Jake and Pete their well deserved turn – the latter luckily having an instant camera to record the occasion. It was estimated that we had explored some 10m of quite stunning cave but the lack of a feasible way on was a great disappointment. The gods of the cave, angry at the despoliation, saw to it that the desecrator’s fingers suffered a painful squashing as he climbed out to at last open the long-standing bottle of Champagne. This was enjoyed by all – including Phil who was suffering from a Christmas headache – then the long grind out to the surface got underway and celebrations and theorising continued in the bar.

On the 30th December the writer, in Aglarond 2, established clear vocal contact with Trev Hughes and Jane C. who were in Prancer’s Pride. This indicated that the muddy streamway in the latter possibly flowed to Aglarond 3. Evaluation of the digging prospects here showed that the only feasible site was the partially calcite-filled rift above the impassable streamway and a careful banging project was thought to be acceptable. Some justification for this was gleaned from the fact that about three digging sessions in the beautiful Aglarond 2 would have gained us access to Prancer’s Pride in a lot less than five and a half months but conservation had overruled this!

Work on the calcited rift commenced next day when Tangent and the writer put three long shotholes in the flowstone coated rock on the right hand side, loaded them with 40gm cord and loudly fired the charge from Aglarond 1 above. Being a wet day the pair were treated to an amazing drumming noise emanating from beyond the dig site and put this down to water dripping onto a calcite false floor. Returning on the 2nd January with Jeff P. your scribe carefully cleared the debris and laid a two shothole charge, again fired from 1. Jeff drilled a hole in the floor of the entrance squeeze to 2 for possible future enlargement. The drumming noise was absent today, as was any sense of co-ordination in the diggers following the excesses of New Year!

Wednesday 4th January saw two separate teams working in the cave. Paul B. and the writer cleared the bang spoil in Aglarond 3 and tidied the place up. The calcite blockage was removed enough to give a view into, not the huge gallery expected, but a dried out, flowstone-lined pool decorated with scores of fine helictites which has effectively closed down this site. A rethink is needed here. A painful “housemaid’s elbow” (your scribe) and several triple hammered fingers (Paul) enlivened the trip. Pete, Fi, Henry B, John, Alex and later Paul returned to Prancer’s Pride to commence digging the RH side of the crawl. They removed a large amount of spoil in unpleasantly damp conditions.  

The 7th and 8th January saw bouts of surface work with Henry B, Chris B, Ivan, and the writer clearing out the Priddy Pot Water leat from the Belfry to the “pond” and diverting much of the stream down the cave entrance. On the 9th green drain dye (fluorescein) was put in this stream and later observed to flow along Bored of the Rings to sink in the Connection Dig. A trickle flowing down Mt. Hindrance Lane joined it. It then reappeared about a third of the way down the Corkscrew and flowed down the flowstone slope in Aglarond 1, through the impassable slot and into Aglarond 3 from where it disappeared into the distance. The surface stream was also diverted into the slumped sink adjacent to the entrance and the site of the initial dig. Purple dye (Rhodamine derived?) was introduced but this water was not observed anywhere in the known cave! Two other tiny inlet streams in A1 Dig and above Prancer’s Pride were flowing clear and may derive from water sinking in the “pond” (one of these doesn’t – see later). Some digging was done in the unpleasantly damp RH passage in Prancer’s Pride and the squeeze between Aglarond 2 and 3 was enlarged with explosives. Today’s cold and damp operatives were Henry B, Jeff P. and your scribe. The significance of the slumped sink had now increased dramatically.

The bang spoil was cleared on the 11th and the squeeze found to be easier but still a challenge. Paul B. and the writer then used plugs and feathers to widen the banged calcite flow in Aglarond 3 to gain a better view of the stunning helictites and beautiful aven above. There is no way that any further work can be done here and the aven was seen to close down anyway. Some tidying up was done and several pieces of broken calcite were removed for scientific examination by Lisa Thomas. Meanwhile Ben O, Sean H, Pete H, Henry D, Phil C, Toby M. and John N. cleared much clag from the downstream crawl in Prancer’s Pride in order to make the RH dig more user friendly. All the spoil reached the higher dump thanks to the number of diggers. Pete’s draught-testing joss sticks made the whole cave stink like a Siamese brothel on cheap night! Green dye introduced into the “pond” was not seen in this area as expected but may not have had time to filter through. There was still no trace of the purple dye.

On the 16th January Henry B, Tony A. and the writer commenced work on re-excavating the slumped sink (the original “Belfry Dig”) and after hauling out many bucket loads of mud and inwashed sediment regained the shattered limestone floor at some 2m depth. Lots of rock slabs were prised out and used to wall yet another spoil dump. The lightweight A-frame used to support the floodlight was moved over to the new dig and braced with scaffold poles following a couple of minor hauling disasters and a wooden ladder was acquired to gain access to the rapidly deepening working face. At the end of the day the Priddy Pot Water stream was directed into the hole and backed up to around a metre deep. The following morning it was found to have dropped to about half a metre with surprisingly no slumping occurring overnight. Rich W. spent some time walling the spoil dump while Tony A. continued his dowsing project and detected both the fault line and a much stronger reaction running from the cave, under the tackle / M.R.O. store and across the Belfry car park. Jane C. did a fine job of checking out the cave twice with the stream entering the dig and once with it diverted. Much to our chagrin this revealed that part or all of the water re-appeared from a tiny inlet at the bottom of Paul’s Personal Project before flowing on down Bored of the Rings. On the earlier dye test this passage was not visited and if any purple dye had got through the mud infill and into the cave it would have been overpowered by the much brighter green dye poured in from the entrance above.

Despite this setback work continued with the surface dig on the 18th when many buckets of slumped clay and several rock slabs were removed and temporary shoring installed. Sean H. photographed operations for the record. Meanwhile, below, a large team cleared another dozen skips of spoil from the RH dig in Prancer’s Pride.

With the stream diverted into the “pond” a wet trip resulted on the 20th when the spoil rift at the end of Fi’s ‘Ole and the calcited boulder blocking the streamway in Prancer’s Pride were banged resulting in Henry B. and the writer being chased out by the fumes.

Scaffold shoring of the resurrected surface dig took place next day with Duncan Butler and Henry B. spending most of the day on site with assistance from Henry D. Henry B. and Rich W. continued with this on the 22nd when more digging revealed a pretty solid limestone floor with the stream soaking away through small fissures.

Meanwhile Fi, Duncan and the writer introduced yet another Henry (Patton – Reading U.C.C.) to the delights of spoil hauling 7 ½ skips from Prancer’s Pride to the rift above. The two banged sites were also cleared. Probably due to the results of Madphil’s birthday barrels the supposedly charged drill battery was decidedly flat so next day a solo trip was made to drill and bang the terminal streamway. All went well until a presumed broken bang wire resulted in a misfire, which needed another visit to rectify. Today green water from the surface dig definitely entered the cave via a tiny choked bedding in the “skip store” alcove in P.P.P. to then partly flood Connection Dig before reappearing at the bottom of the Corkscrew and also in Pete’s Baby. The inlet at the start of A1 Dig also flowed green and it seems likely that the Pete’s Baby water reaches it via a boulder choked route above Aglarond 1. This water was diverted into the decorated virgin floor rift in Aglarond 2 and found to enter Prancer’s Pride down the main flowstone slope on the NW side. The other inlet entering this area flowed clear. The misfire was sorted out on the 24th when the spoil rift was also drilled and banged. With the stream diverted into the St. Cuthbert’s depression the cave was pleasantly dry. The debris from the two bangs was cleared next day by a five-man team and on the 26th a charge was fired in the floor of the surface dig. 

“…leave the dark cave of sin, come into the light…”


Additional Diggers and Enthusiasts

Ben Noble, Emma Heron (W.C.C.), Steve Sparham, Chris Falshaw (donation to digging fund), Anne Pugh, Chris Serle, Mary ?, John ? and colleague (director, presenter, sound woman, surface cameraman and sound man – ITV West), John Wilcock (B.C.R.A.), Gavin Newman, Tom Chapman, Sarah Payne (underground film team), Henry Rockliff, Rob Eavis, Eszter Horvath (Sheffield U.S.S.), Martin “Billy Whizz” Smith (B.P.C.), Jane Clarke, Andy Chamberlain, Henry Dawson (Reading U.C.C.), Trevor Hughes, Lisa Thomas (calcite studies), Henry Patton (Reading U.C.C.).

To be continued in your next exciting Belfry Bulletin.


The Search For Hutton Cavern

Nick Richards and Nick Harding

“Caves are where you find them…”


It seems somewhat odd and disturbing that it was November 2003 that Loxton Cavern was discovered. Where did the time go? Well, actually a large percentage of that time has been spent looking for another famous lost cave and one visited and described by our old chum Alexander Catcott. The following is just a summation of the activities of the West Mendip chapter of the BEC as they set about attempting to rediscover Hutton Cavern.  

Hutton Cavern cross section from the Rutter family copy. (1829)

Chronological history of the cavern.


1.       Cavern opened by William Glisson and his ochre miners.

2.       1756 Catcott became aware of the bone cavern. (A letter published in Gentleman’s magazine).(Gentleman’s Magazine 1757 vol. xxvii)

3.       1757 Diaries of tours mentions visit to the cavern.(Diaries of tours made in England and Wales. MSS Bris Ref Lib)

4.       1757 Catcott and two others visit the cavern. (In letter to friend) at William Glisson’s ochre pits. (Letter-Description of Loxton Cavern MSS 1761. Transcribed by CJ Harford. MS Bris Ref Lib)

5.       1768 Catcott publishes further description in ‘Supplement to a book entitled Treatise on the Deluge.’ 1828 Cavern rediscovered by David Williams and William Beard (with two labourers).

6.       7. Visited by prominent local dignitaries. (Williams’ diaries). Wrote letter to William Patterson (published in Delineation’s of North West Somerset  (Rutter 1829). Section/map in book.

7.       Mid 19c location mentioned by Gideon Mantell (in Diary).(C Richards-pers comm)

8.       Cavern lost.

9.       1970s Attempts at rediscovery by various caving clubs.

10.    2005 Attempt at rediscovery by Harding/Richards of the BEC.

The references:

Ochre miners (employed by William Glisson) discovered the cave in 1756 and a number of bones sent to Catcott  (by a Mr Turner of Loxton). Catcott wrote a letter to Peter Collinson in Oct 1756, which was subsequently published in the Gentleman’s magazine….

“….A gentleman who was digging, upon a high hill near Mendip, for ochre and ore, found at a depth of 52 fathom, or 315 and a half feet (as he measured himself by a direct line) four teeth, not tusks, of a large elephant (which I think is the whole number the creature has) and two thigh bones, with part of the head; all extremely well preserved; for they lay in a bed of ochre, which I could easily wash off. When they brought to me, every crevice was filled with the ochre, and as I washed it off from the outside, a most beautiful white appeared; and they make a fine shew in my cabinet. I propose going down into the pit myself soon; for the men have left several small pieces behind, which they did not think worth bringing up, and I make no doubt, if that be the case, but I shall procure the whole, or great part of the animal….”

On May 20th 1757. Catcott was in the area looking for signs of the Deluge, he writes in his Diaries of Tours…

“Beneath N. end of Bleyden lye Hutton hill, wherein the oaker pitts are from whence the bones and teeth were dug; lesser and lower Hill than Bleadon Hill adjoining to it: first opened by Glisson 20 years ago, no pit before on the hill: the bones lay about 7 fathom deep, in a bed of yellowish ochre: first occurred regular bed of limestone 2 fathom; next bed of ochre, a fathom, then limestone 2 fathom, then a leer or opening a fathom that in which lay bones and ochre”

In June 10 1757 Catcott explores the cavern and gives description in his Diaries of Tours…

“Went with Mr Gore to see the pit, whence the elephants teeth and bones were dug which were sent me by Mr Turner. We entered it with a man who dug out the first teeth and boned etc; and found several others very large, and especially two great teeth; one uncommonly curved; & 2 or 3 pieces of large horn & the tip of a lesser; several pieces of bones, seemingly of horses; many small rib bones and vertebrae & teeth etc etc. They lay in a brownish rubbly sludge or ochreous matter mixed with many loose stones of - fragments that had been worn by agitation: & to one of the vertebrae I found 2 fragments of stone with entrochi, plainly worn by water, affixed. They lay at the mouth of a swallet: See letter to Mr Price for the rest & Gent Mag for May1757.

The first pit on the hill opened by one Glisson about 18 years ago. The whole hill is full of swallet holes. The following acct of this pit where the bones were found given to me by Glisson. Veg. Mould about 18inc: rubbly ochre about 4 feet: then the rock opened in fissure about 18 inc: broad, & 4 feet long: this fissure filled with good yellow ochre (but no bones) to a depth of 8 yds: then the rocks opened to a cavern about 20 ft square & 4 feet high: the bottom of which cavern consisted of ochre, on the surface of which and also in the inside were multitudes of white bone. In the centre of the roof of this cavern was a large Stalactite, about 2 feet long & as thick as a mans leg & directly under it was a stalagmitical protuberance about 18 inches high, so nearly touching the stalactite. In the side of this cavern was a hole, about 3 feet square, leading down? through a passage of 18 yds to another cavern, 20 yds long and 5 broad, both passage and cavern filled with bones and ochre (all the passage and chamber upon a deep descent). In this cavern another passage about 4 yds downwards, & about 6 feet square, filled with rubble, ochre large bones, calk stones and lead-ore, confusedly mixed together, pointing towards the Village of Hutton, nearly on a level, for 18 yds. Hence I dug the larger teeth & bones of the Elephant: the pit was opened from the surface to fall on this cavern or side hole & all the way appeared nothing but rubble, ochre, bones, & loose stones: so that these last bones lay in more rubble. Before you entered this last described side hole there opened just before you a large deep opening, tending perpendicularly downwards, which before had been filled with rubble, bad ochre & bones; but was certainly at the mouth of a large swallet: they followed it about 6 yds deep but finding no good ochre they left the pursuit. From the surface of the earth to the bottom of this last hole about 30 yds & all the leading passage on a deep descent almost perpendicular: the side of the Rock worn, as in Swallets.”

“About 40 yds West from the last hole was opened another, of a similar nature with ochre, bones etc, & about as deep.” From this was dug a large long head of an animal; about 3 or 4 feet long: 14 inches broad at the top or hind part & 3 inches at the snout shaped like a crocodile! (Sea horse). He had also the teeth perfect & 4 tusks, the larger tusks about 4 inches long out of the head & the teeth about 3 inches long.

In 1757 the cavern is mentioned again in a letter to friend transcribed by Harford.

“Having satisfied myself concerning the origin and nature of Loxton Cavern I next went to examine the pit from which the bones and teeth of the elephant were dug out of which I have given a so imperfect an account some little time since; but now propose to be more particular and satisfactory. The pit whence these bones yet were dug was opened on the north side of Loxton Hill or that part of it which is above the Parish of Hutton and therefore called Hutton Hill but as it is the same in nature I shall not observe the Parochial distinction. As William Glisson (who discovered Loxton Cavern) was digging for ochre; about three hundred paces south of the gate of a field called Down Acres in the parish of Hutton. at a depth of eight yards he broke into a small cave about 20 feet square and four high the bottom of this consisted of a yellowish brown ochre on the surface of which intermixed with the whole mass were a multitude of small white bones. In the centre of the roof of this cave was a large stalactite of spar with its stalagmite under it. On one side of this cave was a hole three feet square leading obliquely downwards for eighteen yards which opened into another cave about ten yards long and five broad the passage leading into this and the cave itself containing more of less of ochre and bones. On the side of this cave was also a small hole leading obliquely down for about four yards which opened into the cavity whence the larger bones and teeth (of which I give you a brief account) were dug. This cavity extended sideways or horizontally for about eighteen yards, it was six feet high had been dug out and was then digging for more ochre. Having descended in company with two or three friends through the several passages just described, we came to the last or horizontal cavity And here I must own I was struck with some awe and concern for myself and fellow travellers. What I considered the depth we were at from the surface; the weight of the superincumbent earth and that nothing appeared around us but loose ochre and dead bones projecting from the top, sides and bottom of this horizontal cavity; so that the whole exhibited an appearance not much like the inside of a charnel house. We staid in this place two hours and being well supplied with supplements dug out a vast number and a great variety of bones and teeth of different species of Land animals, but finding the roof began to yield and the sides much weakened we thought it not advisable to continue any longer but proceeded to return by the way we came in returning I observed at the mouth of the horizontal cavity a small hole descending perpendicularly, enquiring of Glisson whither it led he told me he had pursued it four or five yards deep, that he had dug from thence ochre and bones but that the natural hollow still continued and went probably to a great depth in the Earth. But that nothing material was now observable therein. On this we ascended: but with full intent to revisit the place as soon as it could be secured and propped up with woodwork. Before this was effected the whole fell in and the cavity rendered inaccessible however Glisson still continued to work on this hill for ochre and having opened several lesser pits near this large one he came into several similar cavities and hollows like the forgoing partly filled with ochre and bones (of?) as the first of these bones and teeth he brought he many curious specimens: and having now all I have hopes of receiving (?) I shall give you a particular account of the most remarkable according to the drawing I have herewith sent you.”

At the bottom of the manuscript is a note written by the transcriber.

Here Mr Catcott’s MS ends it is not written by himself but appears to have been written out for the purpose of publishing it but this he probably relinquished on writing. His History of the Deluge fastened to the last page 71 is the following paper written by himself. For the names of the bones, teeth etc see the catalogue of my fossils from page 86 begin either with the great tooth found in the jaw or else the whole skeleton of the Lemur Maccauso (?) page 75. Conclusions. North side of Loxton hill full of swallets as well as these bones sunk in here by the Deluge Waters as they lay in loose fragments of rock. In a rubbly matter worn and torn by these waters (all the animals might have been natives of elsewhere) see Treatise on the Deluge page 361 note see Mr. Jeffries account of an elephant found at Sandford Hill in his letter Jan 8th 1770. And also my catalogue of Col. P 78. See journal for June 10th 1757 (and end of journal for May 20th 1757. For elephant dug up in England: see also de skeleto Elephantino terrae effosso and all with.

A further note is a letter to Catcott by Mr John Price, he explains that Peter Collinson approached him for an account of the cave. Collinson publishes the letter as if it was sent to him. (Gentleman’s Magazine Oct 1756 see above) John Price also mentions another letter sent to him by Catcott. (June 27th 1757)…

“I have since visited the place and dug out (by the assistance of a gentleman and a man who entered the cave with me) two other teeth almost as large as the largest I had before but most surprisingly curved or crooked and of a different animal (if the common observation that Elephant’s teeth have only twelve parallel lines or indentures be true) I found one of them sticking in the jaw but it parted from the jaw (in which the Indentures of the fangs were most beautifully impressed) on lifting it from the ground and this part of the jaw was so very tender I could not preserve it whole: afterwards with great labour and care we dug out the Os Femeris of an animal quite perfect and as big as the two bones I had before and soon after we found the Tibia and many other bones, I found the several large fragments and the tip of a horn of some animal very large and porous or rather canaliculous and the tip of another horn that had plainly been worn or whetted against a stone or tree and I believe belonged to a Rhinocerous. I found also part of a branched horn or Deer very flat and two or three long thin rib bones of some animal. One of the longest and tender and high, for safety reasons I brought away fastened to my hat…”

In 1768 Catcott mentions the cave again in his ‘A supplement to a book, entitled a Treatise on the Deluge’.      (PP 44-46)

“…A few years since I have received, as a present, from a gentleman in Somersetshire, four teeth (dentes morales) two thigh-bones, and part of the head of an elephant, that were dug out of Hutton-Hill (which is a branch or a lateral continuation of the high ridge of Mendip-Hills) in Somersetshire. Upon the reception of this present, and the information that there were still some other bones left behind, I went down to the place, and in company with three or four other persons, entered the pit from whence they were dug; and found two other dentes morales, or grinders, one of them lying in the jaw, three rib bones, two thigh bones, part of a tusk, with a multitude of lesser bones belonging, in all probability, to the same animal. Besides these we picked up part of a large Deer’s horn, very flat, and the slough of a horn (or the spongy porous substance that occupies the inside of the horns of oxen, etc) of an extraordinary size, together with a great variety of teeth and small bones, belonging to different species of land animals. One of the men, that had been at work in these pits, brought me a collection of small bones that he had found in a pit adjoining, lying by themselves, and no extraneous body near them. Upon putting these bones together at my leisure, I found they composed almost the entire skeleton of an animal, about the size of a fox; but the teeth, jaw, and several of the bones did not answer to any European animal I was acquainted with. The same person assured me, that before I came down, he had found in digging the same place the head of a strange animal, that he believed was near three feet in length, a foot broad in the hinder part, and three or four inches at the extremity, from whence issued four tusks, two from each jaw. The teeth were large, and all well preserved in the jaw. From this description it seems to have been the head of the hippopotamus, or sea, or river horse. (The nearest river to us in which this animal is bred, is the Nile.) He had concealed this head in a wood adjoining, but so carefully, that neither he nor myself could ever after find it. All these bones lay in a dark yellowish ochreous kind of matter, from fifty to a hundred feet deep. The largest and greatest number lay about seventy feet deep in a horizontal cavity (that had been dug for the ochre) eighteen yards long, and six feet square. The bones and teeth were extremely well preserved, all retaining their native whiteness, as they projected from the sides and top of this cavity, exhibited an appearance not much unlike the inside of a charnel house. We staid in this place two hours, digging out all the bodies we could find, until the roof in two or three places began to fall in, and we thought it too dangerous to continue any longer. Upon my second intention of visiting it, I was informed; the whole had fallen in. There were no marks nor the least sign of any pit having been opened on this hill besides those dug for ochre, and the person who opened the first pit assured me, he believed the hill had never been dug into before. Which consideration, together with the number of strange bones and teeth, belonging to different animals, of countries far distant from England, and the depth in which they were found (without mentioning other circumstances, that cannot be enlarged upon in such a note as this) may serve as a sufficient proof that they were left there by the Deluge.”

The cave remained lost until 1828 when the Rector of Bleadon, David Williams, and William Beard of Banwell, (both local geologists) decided to reopen the cave. In 1829 David Williams wrote to William Patteson, (Vicar of Shaftsbury) describing this endeavour. This letter was published in J Rutter’s ‘Delineation’s of North West Somerset’ 1829. A William Barnes also prepared a woodcut section of the cavern, which appeared in the same book.

“THE CAVERN is situated on the Mendip Range, south of the village of Hutton, where the hill rises to an elevation of three to four hundred feet above the sea. In the city library of Bristol, are preserved a collection of bones, which were presented by the Rev. Dr Catcott, who was instrumental to their discovery in this cavern, about seventy years since. The miners having opened an ochre pit, came to a fissure in the limestone rock, filled with good ochre, which being continued to a depth of eight yards, opened into a cavern, the floor of which consisted also of ochre; and strewed on its surface, were large quantities of white bones, which were found dispersed through the ochreous mass. In the centre of the chamber, a large stalactite depended from the roof; beneath which, a corresponding pillar of stalagmite rose from the floor. In Dr Catcott’s learned and ingenious ‘Treatise on the Deluge,’ he mentions this circumstance, and states, that in the company with two or three friends, he descended into a cavern about ninety feet deep, around whose sides, and from the roof, the bones projected, so as to represent the inside of a charnel house; that they extracted a great many bones of different land animals, until the roof and sides beginning to yield, they ascended, purposing to return when it should be properly secured by woodwork. That on his expressing his intention, a few weeks after, of visiting it again, he was informed the whole had fallen in, and was inaccessible.

These remarks first directed the attention of the Rev David Williams of Bleadon to the discovery of elephants’ and other animal bones on Hutton Hill; but, as the occurrence happened 70 years since, he despaired of recovering the fissure, especially as the number of ochre pits on the hill, all nearly in the same state, made the chances great against opening the right one. Mr Williams was at length encouraged to make the attempt, from having discovered fragments of ancient bone, amongst the rubbish near one of the old pits; and from the information of an old miner, who told him that his father had pointed out this as the spot. At this crisis of hope and uncertainty, Mr Williams received from his friend, the Rev. Mr. Richardson of Farley, a copy of an unpublished manuscript by Dr Catcott, which further assisted him in identifying the place. Mr Good, the Lord of the Manor, having readily granted permission, Mr Williams began the work, in conjunction with Mr Beard, whose zeal and ardour in such pursuits every one knows and respects, who has visited Banwell Cave, where he is the ‘genius loci.’”

Mr Williams states, that the men opened into what may be termed three chambers in the fissure, the floor of the one above, forming the roof of the one below, and consisting of huge fragments of rock, which have sunk away and jammed themselves between the strata; their intersections being filled with ochreous rubble and bones. The strata on each side, dip about north, with a variation of about ten degrees in their inclination; the south cliff dipping at an angle of about 75 degrees, and the northern about 65 degrees. Though in the shaft first drawn, which is not more than 10 yards distant, and in other places near, still more irregularly. The whole of this part of the hill, appears more like the tremendous ecroulement of an adjacent mountain, than the conformable super-position of stratified rocks. It is difficult to imagine a scene evincing greater disturbances; the whole region appears to have been displaced and shattered by the convulsing efforts of some mighty agent, elevating some strata, and depressing others, thereby creating chasms and fissures through the whole.

These rocks are mainly filled with ochre and ochreous rubble, throughout which, the bones are generally disposed; the principal of these are, elephant, tiger, hyaena, boar, wolf, horse, hare, fox, rat, mouse, and bird. There has been found no more trace of the ox tribe here, than there is of the horse in Banwell; although the ox is as abundant there, as the horse is here.

Among the many curious and interesting specimens, which have been discovered, the following deserve particular notice; viz. The milk teeth and bones of a calf elephant; the molares and bones of another young one, about a size larger; of a full grown animal are two humeri, two femora, two tusks,* and five molares; so that independent of the young ones, we have the principal remains of at least one animal of this class. Dr Catcott obtained from this hill, six molares, four femora, one head, three ribs, and a tusk; making altogether, found here, eleven molares, six femora, two humeri, one head, three ribs, and three tusks. Thus, the number of molares and femora, prove that three large animals were deposited here.

There are also specimens of two hyaenas of the extinct species, with the jaw and bones of a young tiger, which was just shedding his teeth, when fate arrested him. The young tusks may now be seen in the act of replacing the milk teeth. There is no appearance of gnawed bone, and only two specimens have been discovered of album graecum.

There are the remains of several wolves, and of the horse of different ages and sizes, from the little Shetland, up to the great London dray-horse. Also of the fox, hare, rabbit, rat and mouse. Besides these there are also the furculae of two birds of a large species, probably of the pelican tribe; judging from the knobs on each side, to which some very strong tendons had been attached, it appears to have been provided with great powers of running, or of sustaining itself on the wing.”

* Dr Catcott says, he found a great many bones in the ochre; hitherto none have been found in the recent research, though it has, as yet, been but imperfectly examined. The bones hitherto procured have been extracted at different depths, varying from 15 to 50 feet; the elephant and tiger lay about 18 feet deep. There are some good specimens of bony brecchia, but no pebbles have yet been discovered.”

These tusks are much curved, and have suffered a very extensive fracture, probably from the collision of two rocks. Of the fragments which are preserved, one is two feet four inches long, and sixteen inches in circumference; the other is four feet and a half long. One of the molar teeth is three inches across, and five inches deep, from the grinding surface to the fang. It is broken and several of the laminae are gone, but its proportions are altogether much larger than a full sized molar tooth, in possession of Mr. Beard, taken from a recent animal. - D.W.

In one of the (Vol. 5, Mar-Aug 1834) David Williams diaries is a small section of Hutton Hill with a plan of the bone pits superimposed.

From notebook Vol. 5 Mar-Aug 1834

Rev. David Williams MS.

About 1830 Gideon Mantell (Surgeon and naturalist) in his diaries writes that Bleadon cavern lay 2 miles from Banwell Caves and that Hutton Cavern was a quarter of a mile further on.

Sketch of dig sites along line of pits

Subsequent excavation by various caving clubs have revealed Bleadon Cavern and two other caves which (after some confusion) have not proven to be the lost cave of Hutton including the cave mentioned as being 40 yds west.

Certain clues to the caverns location can be extracted from the manuscripts above…

Maps show Hutton Cavern as lying in the trees near the top of Canada Combe in an area of old ochre pits. However this is wrong as this has proved to be Bleadon Cavern, a cave unrelated to the real Hutton Cavern. Many writers including Knight (1902 Seaboard of Mendip) and Bucknell (1925) have assumed the same.

1.         “About 40 yds west of the last hole”.

Catcott mentions another bone cave here where the ‘; head’ was found. (see 3) This could be any of the pits in the east-west line here. It is possible that excavation may reveal this cave first, therefore giving a clue to the entrance of Hutton Cavern itself.

2.         The cave lay, “about three hundred paces south of the gate into Down Acres.”

The large field, which lies on the North side of the track which leads up from Upper Canada, is marked on old maps (Tithe map 1837) as ‘Downacre’. At the bottom of the field is a gate with an old path that ascends from Hutton village. We have walked the 300 paces approximately south several times with different strides and we came to the area of an east-west line of old ochre pits.

3.         “He had concealed this head in a wood adjoining”.

On old maps most of Hutton Hill is shown as rough pasture. The boundary of the ancient Hutton wood passes roughly north-south up the side of ‘downacres’ before following its sinuous path to the south-west before straightening again along an east-west line. The boundary is marked by a bank and ditch. This boundary passes very close to the line of east-west pits, therefore we can summise that the ‘head’ which was secreted in the wood-must have been nearby.

4.         “Scraps of bone found in the rubbish of one of the old pits.”

It would be relatively easy to dig test pits in all the dumps to see if there were any bones. We have not done this (yet).

5.         “the strata on each side, dip about north, with a variation of about ten degrees in their inclination; the south cliff dipping at an angle of about 75 degrees, and the northern about 65 degrees. Though in the shaft first drawn, which is not more than 10 yards distant, still more irregularly”.

This would imply that the cave (which is essentially an east-west fissure) lies on a fault plane. The 6” geological map shows an outlier of rhaetic strata at Upper Canada bounded by a fault. Extrapolating west, the fault is marked by a prominent scarp. This attenuates in the area of pits (see above). The inference is that the line of pits are actually situated on the fault and digging may reveal the fault plane itself.

6.         The William Barnes woodcut.

The section illustrated in ‘The Delineations of NW Somerset’ is viewed from the south and shows a well-developed hillock or promontary with three pits. The first pit (the most easterly) is denoted as being ten yards from the next pits, which must be close together. In the target area are two north-south promontaries bounded by shallow valleys. The line of pits passes over both of these. Although the section does not quite fit the pit configuration it must be realised that The Barnes section may only give a sense of the topography, rather than an exact reflection of the land surface.  

7.         The David Williams map

This is in fact a section of Bleadon Hill, with a plan of the pits superimposed upon it.  The caption itself suggests that Hutton cavern lies to the west of Bleadon Cavern, unfortunately there is no scale.

8.         A quarter of a mile further on

The location of Bleadon Cavern is of course, known. The above statement suggests that Hutton Cavern lies roughly a quarter of a mile further to the West. This could mean any of the groups of pits here-but taken with the other clues the group of pits mentioned above seems to be the most likely.

The clues above point to an area of pits as mentioned (6 above).

Map of the general area of the Dig.

Dig summary: March 05 – March 06

Dig 1.

Commenced in March 2005 in what appeared to be one of the largest pits in the area not far from the main path with a large down slope spoil heap. Over the year the whole pit was excavated in three shafts to reveal an east-west phreatic hollow on the fault plane (marked by fault breccia), emptied of its ochre and back filled with rubble. Some galena also found. In the western end of the pit, the point at which the greatest depth was reached a clay pipe was discovered dated to the period 1820 – 1840, evidence of the previous expedition to relocate Hutton Cavern.

Dig 1

The pit totally lacked any potential ways on and was subsequently refilled.

Dig 2

Moving 40 yards west a second pit was opened in an obvious ground feature and emptied. Immediately cave was discovered from which a large amount of ochre had once been removed. Stal was also found and two shot holes where a narrowing in the floor had been widened by the Old Men. Material was emptied to a depth of 5 ms with ample evidence of phreatic development all around. Numerous stal fragments were found within the spoil.  At 5ms depth a horizontal phreatic tube some 10ms long was discovered heading west in the direction of the next pit along.   The tube, some .60ms high and .05ms wide, appears to be a dead end (at this stage). Near the entrance the floor has been trenched out and the stal, much in evidence, is coated with ochre perhaps from the clothes of the Old Men.

Rough cross section of Dig 2.

Dig 3

A brief trial dig in the next pit west has revealed a natural rock wall on the north side of the depression.


Drawing on the evidence from the various sources, whether anecdotal or geological, it is safe to say that the general location for Hutton Cavern is not in doubt. At the very least a thorough survey of the pits and hence the discovery of new caves will add to a greater understanding of the geological and historical nature of the environs.  If the lost Hutton Cavern is not found then at least recent work will narrow the focus for its re-discovery.


Pete Glanville’s 55th Birthday!

Venue: G.B. Cave. Champers in the Gorge.




The Prehistoric Elephant Tooth from St. Cuthbert's Swallet

By Tony Jarratt

On July 4th 1954 the late Jack Waddon and friends discovered a handsome prehistoric herbivore tooth lying amongst Old Red Sandstone pebbles at the top of Rocky Boulder Passage (known to them as Extension, Mud Hall). It was thought to be from Elephas primigenius and a "derived fossil" transported to the site from a washed-out gravel deposit. Recently, thanks to Tim Large, Sett, Margaret Chapman and particularly Mrs. Dorothy Waddon it has been re-examined by Drs. Roger Jacobi and Andy Currant of the Natural History Dept, British Museum. They have identified it as a fragment of the unerrupted part of an upper molar of the straight-tusked elephant Palaeoloxodon antiquus. Mrs. Waddon has very generously donated it to the growing collection of important Mendip cave finds at Wells Museum.

Bennett R.H., Coase D.A., Falshaw C., & Waddon J.  1956 A preliminary report on St. Cuthbert's Swallet.  BEC Cav Rep (2) 23pp

Irwin D.J. et al.  1991  St. Cuthbert's Swallet.  BEC 82pp p69

Hatley Rock Holes

By Nick Richards and Nick Harding

After an initial dig and survey back in 2000/1 the Two Nicks returned to this site on the north side of Worlebury Hill beneath the golf course. Excavation began then abandoned for the Loxton Site but a revisit late 2005 produced some interesting developments. They continued to empty a tunnel 10 metres long – an old mine working with a good number of shot holes at various intervals along the passage until earlier this year they broke upwards, via a squeeze into a chamber with what looked like further delights ahead. They are returning, with Mad Phil to attempt a banging session to see if anything of merit does indeed exist ahead. Hatley Rock Holes consists of three tunnels – one above the other and one to the side running into the hill on a bearing of 227 degrees. The nature of the geology there, i.e. a fault line and a basalt bed up against the limestone should produce some interesting results! Interestingly enough, a Sexton Blake story from the 60’s entitled Such Men Are Dangerous, describes subterranean systems beneath Worlebury Hill. Should the Two Nicks wild imaginings prove correct then parts of the Hatley Rocks system will be named after the tale. A fuller report will appear in the next edition of this esteemed organ. (STOP PRESS: Banging in the tunnel proved inconclusive at this stage).

New Providence Mine

By Nick Richards and Nick Harding

The Two Nicks have also made a discovery in Long Ashton a few hundred yards south east of Providence Mine. The cave called New Providence Mine has an overall length of 30ms. After consultation with Chris Richards at Weston Museum he was happy to confirm that there is no record of it in any documentation.   The entrance is not a great distance from Providence Lane in Long Ashton and is almost at the boundary where the woods end and the gardens of the adjoining houses begin. The narrow entrance, partially blocked leads into a small chamber with a low roof. There is a small stack of deads on the right through which a chamber can be seen. Heading east, crawling under a lower section of ceiling the chamber heads down at a very gentle angle. There are stal formations on the walls and floor, including a red stained flowstone floor and numerous micro-gours, stal-ed up sticks and serrated ceiling ribbons. There is even an old pit prop beneath a large block of perilous looking ceiling. This chamber dog legs to the south and after several metres comes to a squeeze. Through this the now 3metre high rift chamber, ‘The Red Rift’ heads down to a pool choked by small red stained boulders – (a sump perhaps?) There is a bedding chamber on the right that leads back up to the stack of deads in entrance chamber and beneath that a tighter bedding chamber. Everything is stained bright red except for higher parts of the cave, which keep their natural limestone grey.

There will be a fuller report in the next BB.

Can anyone get scaffold clips?

By Henry Bennett

 The Belfry shoring store looks pretty well stocked with scaffold tubes and clips but it is not a true reflection. The large blue plastic drums next to the tackle shed contain an assortment of “speciality” clips, which are, no doubt, great for fixing planks to towers but not much use for shoring. There are two types of clips that are useful. Rightangle clips and swivels.

  • Swivel Clips are useful for cross bracing and in areas where you just can’t get the shoring to be square.
  • Right Angles are great for locking together rigid boxes without cross bracing.



We’ve actually got quite a few right angle clamps but they are all pretty stuffed. All the serviceable ones have been used and most of what is left is just a pile of rust. If anyone has “access” to either large or small numbers then please could you leave them round the Belfry. Don’t wait for someone else…act now…before Mr. Nigel’s scaff on the extension gets it!


Letter(s) to the Editor…

Just one letter to deal with in this issue. This from a fairly (obviously) intoxicated Sir Joseph Bazooka who has something to say about the cheese formation process. Perhaps straight to bed from The Hunters in future for Mr Bazooka instead of lurching inexpertly through tumbled furniture to the word processor…


I have just received My latest B.B., and have just read the article "Digging For Cheese". I must register My disgust at this riddiculous and ill informed piece of lierary drivvel. You Sir have failed in Your duty as Editor (albeit tempoary), by not properly reading the article through, and spotting the obvious mistake. The author too, has failed in His duty to properly acertain the true nature of the subject. Anyone, with even half a brain will know that, by the very nature or its own existance, Cheese is quite obviously, a METAMORPHIC substance, and NOT as stated in this article Sedimentary. Please take the required steps to rectify this glaring mistake.


Sir Joseph Bazooka, (A.C / D.C., VD & Scar)

New Editor responds.

As this was addressed to the previous editor I have nevertheless taken upon myself to respond to this outburst. The very drunk Sir Joseph Bazooka is indeed correct. Cheese is indeed a metamorphic rock but must be laid down as a ‘sedimentary’ in warm, open, often briny pools, in which the particulates settle. There is often, after deposition and hardening have occurred, a period of metamorphoses as seen in the rind aureoles found around ‘truckles’ of cheese that have been mined out of the Cheddar limestone matrix.   In the best tradition of British fair play I suggest that both geological positions are correct.  

Both the author of the cheese article (BB 523) and Sir Joseph Bazooka would be wise to read Pierre Piatto del Formaggioa’s Fromage in Situ, A Study of the Geological Processes found in the Formation of Cheese, or Laplace’s Cheese In The Service Of Man.  Both men argued vociferously about this very issue and it was only after, oddly enough, a visit to Cheddar that both men were able to conclude that cheese is a metamorphically altered sedimentary, albeit after a rough game of Tiddley Winks and several gallons of rude ale.

For everyone’s benefit I have included the following diagram of the major period of cheese formation was taken from the Brooke Bond Tea Card series, Cheeses of the Cosmos, 1966.

The Major Cheese Epochs.

I will consider the formation of cheese debate now closed. Ed.

Please feel free to submit any correspondence concerning any article published in the BB, where it will be dutifully read then used to light the fire in the Belfry.


From The Belfry Table

March 2006

Welcome to a New Year from the Belfry Table! A little snow fell on Mendip but like money, it didn’t hang around for very long. The Hunters was comfortable on New Years Eve, and a warm evening was rounded off by Roger and Jackie’s kind and generous hospitality yet again.

CAVE LEADERS: The Committee is seeking YOUR HELP on updating just who is a Cave Leader, and to which caves so PLEASE can you email me as soon as possible so we can issue a clear and concise list of contacts for access and leaders to not only Mendip Caves, but other regions as well.

BELFRY LOCKERS: Do you use a Belfry Locker?  Again the Committee must know just who owns which locker, we do not want to find something unpleasant residing in these lockers, and it is apparent that no-one knows just who uses what. If you do not identify your locker to the Hut Warden by the March Committee meeting, any unclaimed lockers will be opened, and the locker emptied and re-allocated to any member with a just requirement for one.

PERSONAL & OFFICIAL MAIL: Must not be addressed to the Belfry. The reason is simple, the Club cannot risk being exposed to the possibility of being placed on any Bad Debt list, or Inland Revenue problem address or similar should any member incur such a problem.

St. CUTHBERTS LEADERS MEETING, This will now be held on the 25th. March at the Hunters Lodge Inn, by Kind permission of Roger and Jackie Dors, time to be finalised through details from the Caving Sec or myself by phone.

The Hon.Treasurer has advised the Committee that members have been overpriced this year for their Insurance, however before you attempt to obtain a refund…the Club actually covered you at a cost of £3 for each of the last two years without you being charged…so all is now even!!!

The Committee is seeking to improve communication with members, to this end we will attempt to issue a brief activity list and news within a week of each Committee meeting, and we are hoping with Henry Bennett’s’ assistance to make this available via the Web on a members-only access and also by an email mailing list.

A Questionnaire is soon going to be issued to all members seeking their views on various subjects, for example: on what they would like from their membership, The style and location of the Annual Dinner, their willingness to provide their contact details for use by MRO in the event of serious call-outs etc, etc PLEASE If you have any burning issues contact me ASAP to include your Question in this venture.

The BELFRY extension is at Roof Timber state!  Come and visit, better still, come and help the team!!!

Best Wishes, time to get down from the Table!   Nig.T


From The Web:

Sub-continent's longest cave system discovered


The longest cave system in the Indian subcontinent has been discovered in Meghalaya's Jaintia Hills district by an international team of speleologists.

The team found a cave system over 22.20 km long, which surpasses the previous known record of 21.55 km of another system existing in the same district.

''The linking of the Krem um im-Liat Prah cave system to Krem labbit (Khaidong) to create a single cave system of 22,202.65 m in length is the longest cave known to date in the Indian sub-continent,'' the team members told a press conference today.

The team comprising 17 members from the UK, two each from Switzerland and Denmark, one each from Austria and Ireland and five from India spent three and half weeks in the district focussing on the cave areas of Shnongrim Ridge near Nongkhlieh area.

This finding surpassed the previous record of the longest cave system in the sub-continent - the Kotsati Umlawam measuring 21.55 km, said B D Kharpran Dally, a reputed speleologist in Meghalaya, Between February 7 to March 1 the team explored 39 caves, mapped and photographed to discover 15,498 metres of new cave passage. Of the 39 caves mapped 36 were entirely new with only three being cave systems that were partially explored in previous years, he said.

Terence M Whitaker, a research biologist from the UK and a team member, said Jaintia Hills district has the highest concentration of caves in the sub-continent. Exploration of these would reveal new species of aqua animals.


BEC Website and Newsletter

Henry Bennett

Some of you may have noticed that over the past few months the BEC website has been revamped. There is now a wealth of information on the site including every single BB since the first one was published back in January 1947. You can now research anything the club has published without all that mucking about with bits of paper. We’ve also now got a forum where you can post message and comments.

Registration is only available to fully subscribed BEC members. This means that we can now do a number of things that can only be viewed by ourselves:

  • Latest BBs online. By default we will not publish BBs to the public for one year however members can get access to all of them including the very latest copy.
  • Online address book and the ability to send emails securely to other members without exposing your email address. Clearly some of you may have concerns about an online address book but by making the site only open to registered members it has a layer of security.
  • A regular Newsletter.




Since the excellent Belfry Bulletin has not been a monthly publication for many years there have been comments from some members that they haven’t been aware of some things that are happening with the Club or on the hill. The committee has been concerned about this for a while and now plan to send out a regular newsletter to anyone BEC member who wants to subscribe to it. This is not intended to replace the Belfry Bulletin, which is the official journal of the club but to complement it.

So a call to action! If you want to be kept in touch with the BEC’s activities register on the website and check the box to sign up for the newsletter.


How Your Belfry Bulletin Is Put Together

The editor (seated) looks on woefully annoyed as his ‘Printer’s imp’
deals with the late arrival of yet another caving article.

Well for those of you not in the know the new editor reveals the many secrets of how a BB is put together.

Usually, and not long before the BB reaches your hands there is a flurry of panicked activity to the accompaniment of waves of frenetic bashing of numerous heads on walls and boisterous swearing. Sometimes documents appear not long before the deadline, as illustrated above, and these are swiftly added into the publication with the use of several nine inch nails, bouts of vigorous and liberal banging (of the nails that is) and yards of thirty year old sticky-tape.

With gallons of paste, badly framed photographs, and other sundry supporting material, such as tiny feint surveys, grim illustrations and humorous anecdotes, are glued into position in a slapdash manner.

The whole is then thrown into the bin where, if luck shines on a following wind the whole casual ensemble magically appears at the printers.  

The BB in history: Jacob Jordaens’ Four Early Cavers reading the BB


Hollow Hills

Last word

While in conversation with Andy MacGregor using Alexander Graham Bell’s marvellous device, he was swift to remind me that the BB issue after the next is in fact the 500 edition – and here was I thinking it was going to be 526…It’s a good job someone’s keeping tabs!   (Do I detect a hint of the subtle blend of alcohol and previous editors here?)

Anyhoo, with that in mind I think perhaps something special should be done. If you have any ideas suitable for such a milestone or would like to see a relevant article or indeed articles then email me with your suggestions. Yes I know it’s some way off but a big fat reminder never hurts. I don’t want to get out the infamous editor’s sharp stick (yes, I now have the keys to the cupboard that holds that), and start brandishing it at anyone who chirps ‘I didn’t know’… Ed.

A Medieval woodcut showing the inhabitants of the Hollow Hills.

The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Greg Brock

Committee Members

Secretary: Vince Simmonds
Joint Treasurers: Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Fiona Sandford
Editor: Greg Brock
Caving Secretary: Rob Lavington (aka – Bobble)
Tackle Master: Tyrone Bevan
Hut Engineer: Paul Brock
Hut Warden: Roger Haskett
Floating Member: Bob Smith

Non-Committee Posts

BEC Web Page Editor: Estelle Sandford
Librarian: Graham Johnson
Hut Bookings: Fiona Sandford

Club Trustees: Martin Grass, Dave Irwin, Nigel Taylor and Barrie Wilton

Letters and articles published in the club magazine do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor the Committee or the club in general

Because of other commitments, Greg Brock has not been able to produce this BB.  Wig has stepped in and assembled this edition and will also be producing the next issue, A Celebration of the BEC, containing a photographic record of the Club during the last 70 years. The material has come from a number of sources.


A brief round-up of some committee decisions and general club doings

from Vince Simmonds. Hon Secretary

In this year of our 70th celebration the club is very fortunate to have been donated items of memorabilia from a well known Mendip and, in particular, records of club business during the late 40’s - early 50’s.. The documents include minutes of early Committee and AGM meetings and some original cartoons. This material is being scanned before binding and placement in the library takes place.  At this time the family have requested privacy.

The resignation of Joan Bennett and the passing away of Alan Thomas meant that two new Trustees of the club were needed.  Dave Irwin and Nigel Taylor have ably filled these positions, the other club Trustees are Barry Wilton and Martin Grass.  The Secretary is in the process of sorting out the Deeds of Appointment with the club solicitors, Harris & Harris in Wells.

The work on the extension has been slowed down this year mainly due to the purchase and installation of a new boiler.  Tyrone has a builder/brickie who owes him a favour and he is going to do some of the building work.  Some materials need to be purchased before work can be continued.

Nigel Taylor has been busy organizing the Annual Dinner for this year.   It is to be a celebration of the Club’s 70th year.

One interesting item the committee had to deal with was an electricity bill in excess of £39,000 (this is not a typing error). Thankfully the bill was revised to a more realistic £267 - both Mike Wilson and Fiona Sandford had prolonged conversations with the electricity company.

I will take this opportunity to remind people that consideration towards next years committee is essential for the smooth running of the Bristol Exploration Club both now and for the future.  As has been said on many occasions it is the membership that make a club.  Members input into the club and its running is paramount to its survival.

The base of the Belfry Extension - Photo: Wig

The reappearance of the original Bertie Bat

Recently Vince has received a batch of archival material from well known Mendip caver. Among the items is the Club’s first committee minute book dating from 1943-1946, a 1950-1952 expedition card and a booklet of cartoons by JAD which it is hoped to reproduce in a later BB.

Of immediate interest during the Club’s 70th Anniversary is the original drawing of Bettie Bat, the club insignia which has mutated somewhat during the 60 years since it was first conceived.

The reappearance of this ink drawing could not have come at a better time for I’ve adapted the 70th anniversary logo incorporating this version of ‘Bettie’. It has been  used throughout this issue as well as being on the front cover. Perhaps the Club will consider adopting this version again as its official logo.  We wait to know the answer …  [Wig]


Morton’s Pot – The Final Solution

By ‘MadPhil’ Rowsell

March 04 saw Jake and myself return to the end of Pointless Pots to evaluate the prospects of continuing the dig. On our last trip down there the previous winter, we had been chased out by rising water just after breaking into the 2nd Pointless Pot (Ref:- Belfry Bulletin 519 – “The Trials and Tribulations of Eastwater”). From memory the way on didn’t look too inspiring. The memory wasn’t wrong.  It did look pretty grim but we decided to blast along the rift a little way in hope that the passage would open out a bit. After a relatively short distance of awkward blasting the rift broke into very immature canyon passage 1.5m deep, and too narrow to pass. Only by selective blasting could progress be made.

Progress was painfully slow, Jake had started work so it was pretty much a solo project with the odd guest appearance by Tony Jarratt to boost morale and observe the progress. Humping up and down the club’s aged drill and Clansman batteries proved particularly awkward and frustrating. To make matters worse the batteries started randomly playing up, whereby one would often get down to the dig site with one not working or only allowing several seconds of drilling before cutting out for a period of time. Nightmare.

Salvation suddenly came on two fronts, one from Charlie Adcock who came up with a supply of free bang (saving me personally a huge expense on bang) and the other from Jeff Price who supplied a 36V Hilti drill. What sanctuary!! Compact, effective and a delight to use. Couple these together with a newly attained Hilti bar (courtesy of Gadget - Nick Williams) and good progress was made. By using a combination of first Hilti-ing to gain some sort of access, followed by retro-blasting to make the passage workable, more passage could be yielded per blast. 

With new enthusiasm I continued the painful task. Just when morale was waning again, a small chamber was intercepted. Just beyond this chamber a low “round window” gave access to a very narrow immature passage. Things didn’t look too good again. Why wouldn’t the place roll over and give up!!. There was somewhat astonishment when the following trip revealed that the blast had broken into negotiable passage and some 22 metres were jubilantly pushed to a too tight corner, with open passage the other side.  The subsequent trip gained another 15m or so to a 4m pot. Exploration was halted here to give Kev Hilton and Emma Heron some reward for their efforts surveying down in Southbank. The following trip, we managed to push through a very awkward and entertaining rift passage for another 15m to an impassable squeeze, again open passage beyond. The survey showed the passage was 60m distance from Lambeth walk.  A nice reward before the dig was shut down for Austria.

On my return,  I was desperate to push this passage through to Lambeth walk  before going away again to Peru in two weeks time. Initially progress was good, rapid progress with Hilti-ing, but after a series of short pots, the passage degenerated to immature and it was back to blasting once again. It was quite demoralising returning to the slow progress through a particularly nasty section, the trips being even more gruelling having to take the drill through what was now called the “Technical Masterpiece”! Weekends were always good as Kev and Emma would be around to help, greatly boosting morale. Despite a relentless effort involving many trips no break through was made. The last trip however did give some hope as after passing a very awkward and tight squeeze “Hells Gate”,  the rift height increased again giving  more hope of passable passage.

After the joys of Peru it was back to reality once again and painful drill and blast. The surveys showed the distance to be around 25-30m to Lambeth Walk. As each trip yielded more tight rift, I began to wonder how much survey error there would be. You would head down each time with high hopes of recognising the Lambeth Walk window, only to be totally demoralised with another tight rift. A subsequent survey indicated the passage to be only 10m or so from Lambeth. With the passage seemingly heading off into the distance, we even took a trip down the old route and up Lambeth Walk to see if this would shed any light.  Sadly this gave no clues away either. Morale was at an all time low!

It was with some relief when after another 4 blasts I surprisingly recognised the window into Lambeth walk. It would need one more blast to get in, but the ordeal was over. The following night I sat alone in the top of Lambeth Walk for almost half an hour, partly elated but partly dumb struck with wondering what was I going to do now? The obsession was finally over!!

The break through had been on a Friday night. Kev and Emsy weren’t around until Saturday and then Tony refused to close his shop on Sunday, so I had to wait the whole weekend until Sunday afternoon (17/10/04) before the inaugural round trip could be completed. A great trip.  (Ref - Journal of the Wessex Cave Club, Vol 28 No  294 April 2005 “Eastwater – Backwards and Feet First” by Kev Hilton)

Figure 1 shows the general layout of Eastwater and the position of the new passage and its connection into Lambeth Walk. The survey is a compilation of both some old survey drawings supplied by Trevor Hughes (grey dotted lines) and recent re-surveying work by the team.

Credits Due

A big thanks has to go to both Kev Hilton and Emma Heron, who towards the end came on trips to help whenever possible, greatly boosting morale. Furthermore, they were often subjected to my frustration paddies when Hilti’s were failing or drilling conditions very awkward and cramped. I am glad I have some good friends. A big thanks also has to go to Tony Jarratt, who also came to the call for help when needed, sacrificed his need for bang at his dig when times were short and helped with much of the surveying.  Both Charlie Adcock and Jeff Price provided services without which this passage would have never been completed. Graham Johnson who helped push much of “A Drain Hole” and the upper end in Pointless Pots. I hope one day he will find the enthusiasm to see what he has helped create.

Finally while being thanked in previous articles, all those who have helped in the digging of Morton’s Pot & “A Drain Hole”, both during  both the two attempts I was involved in and those in previous attempts, as without these people’s help in the relentless hauling out of sacks, the Drain Hole would have never been cracked. It’s the end of a 100 year plus saga, including the Jepson/Morton’s dig. Long may it rest in peace!

Warning: While being a classic bit of cave passage, most of the passage is a very immature stream canyon, being both tight and awkward. It is only really suited to slim experienced cavers. Once in the Technical Masterpiece, rescue is not an option. The passage also takes the whole of the Eastwater stream.  While the majority of the passage is unlikely to flood to the roof, certain sections (particularly some of the squeezes e.g. Hell’s Gate) would not be the place to be caught in a flood pulse. It does happen, I have been caught twice now.

The Aftermath and  The Dawning of a New Era

The hope of the dig was that some fossil passage may be intercepted, but alas this was not the case. The passage was a direct but awkward connection to Lambeth Walk and Southbank. It did however give a slightly shorter, but dry access to Southbank meaning digging here will be less of a chore.

With the addition of “the Apprentice” (Andy Smith) to the team (a superb con job by J-rat) led to the formation of the Eastwater syndicate (alias The Eastwater Appreciation Society), who’s goal was to push the depths of Eastwater further. A short break from the continual body battering gave renewed enthusiasm and it was decided that the Pea Gravel dig would be  first priority as it was thought it could  possibly yield a by pass to the Terminal Sump. Several trips were made down to dig this, however water tended to plague the dig. Interestingly in wet weather water flows into the dig from a hole on the left further along Tooting Broadway but the dig however stays at the same level i.e. flows off somewhere. 

Previous work we had conducted at the terminal sump (Ref - Journal of the Wessex Cave Club, Vol 28 No 293 Feb 2005 “Eastwater – Southbank Work on the terminal sump by Emma Heron) had shown the Terminal Sump level could be dropped 1.5m or so by bailing. In hope that this might also cause the Pea Gravel dig to drain, (the two being only 4m or less away) , the Terminal Sump was bailed. Despite being able to hear digging activity and tapping at the Terminal Sump from the Pea Gravel Dig, surprisingly no change in the water level was seen. The Pea Gravel Dig was eventually pushed under a lip to a small chamber, but with no further obvious digging prospects. The dig was abandoned. No obvious drain off point was found.


Attention was turned once again to the terminal sump.  Several attempts were made here in late Nov 2004, but were plagued by a leaking dam and stream volumes too high for the dam capacity. The dig was abandoned for the winter and a foray to warmer climates - Tasmania. With my return in April, the dig has been resumed with a more serious nature. Since water volume was a problem in the last attempts, a plan was devised to wall off  ¾ of the sump and back fill it to reduce the amount of water in the sump. It would require a lot of material etc to be brought down through the Technical Masterpiece, but the reduction in water volume required to bail would have great benefits. After a number of carry trips, the wall and back filling construction proved surprisingly easy and was completed in one session. The following weekend the sump was bailed virtually dry  to approximately 1.6m  vertically. It revealed a small, well washed 10cm dia tube heading off parallel to the sump. 2m further along this tube it seemed to constrict further. With the dam at full capacity any further evaluation had to be curtailed.

While the 10cm dia tube is not the most encouraging find, the bailing of the sump dry does indicate that it must be relatively short, with possible open passage (air space at least!) the other side. As shown by Figure 2, the relationship between the Terminal Sump and Pea Gravel dig is even more confusing, being so close and similar height but are not hydrologically connected. Plans are afoot to return to the Terminal Sump and dig along the wall to ensure this tube is the only exit point (current or fossil). This will only be achievable in very dry conditions with the stream virtually dry, so that once bailed a reasonable time period is available for work.


Credits Due

A big thanks has to be extended to both Emma Heron and Andy Smith (the Apprentice) both who have spent many long sessions, both carrying down kit and spending hours doing engineering work and bailing. Kev Hilton also needs a special mention, who has sadly been missed recently due to injury – hopefully he will be back to full strength soon. A thanks also to Duncan Butler and Tim Ball who have also rallied at times to the call for help.


Early broadcasts from Mendip Caves

By Dave Irwin

Activities of Mendip cavers are sometimes thought important, or sensational, enough to warrant time on the airwaves. During the past half century broadcasting of caving events has mostly concentrated on cave rescue reports and the special interest programmes including those made by leading BBC reporters including Hugh Scully and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas. In more recent times broadcasting has widened to include reporting of relatively minor discoveries.  General programmes relating to the pastime have also attracted producers to make films of individual caves.  During the autumn of 2004 a series of six programmes relating to caves in the Bristol region were broadcast by HTV; some the caves featured include Otter Hole, Swildon's Hole and the Banwell caves.

Earliest recorded broadcasts

Almost from its inception in 1922 the BBC (note 1) divided the country into zones for local interest broadcasting and for the innovative outdoor broadcasts from the Mendip caves were usually limited to one or two regions. The writer is indebted to Dr. Steven Craven for information relating to broadcasts from caves in the north of England. The records shows that a broadcast related to Gaping Ghyll was relayed on the 13th October 1927. Jack Puttrell, the Peak District pioneer, was interviewed in the studio.  Another studio broadcast occurred on the 15th June 1929, again with Puttrell supplying the information. The Craven Pothole Club, Gritstone Club and the Leeds Cave Club were also involved with regional broadcasts during the 1930s.  See the appendix for Steve's list.

Wookey Hole

The earliest known broadcast from a Mendip cave took place as a 20 minute live transmission from the Third Chamber [or Witches’ Parlour]  in Wookey Hole on the 9th September 1930.  The event may be the first live broadcast from within any cave in the British Isles. Before the planned date a trial broadcast was carried out a month before on Wednesday, 5th of August.. A short report of this appeared in the Wells Journal which was published on the following Friday and was entitled ‘Radio from the depths’ and detailed the elaborate arrangements necessary for such a venture. 

... Elaborate test were carried out  ... in Wookey Hole Caves, near Wells, in preparation for the broadcast which is proposed to take place there early next month, when it will be relayed to all stations.

The Wookey Hole Male Voice Choir, which is to give a varied selection over the microphone, sang for thirty minutes, and the effect was both astonishing and tuneful.

B.B.C. Engineers present expressed great wonder at the acoustic properties of the Caves, the voices being lent a charming mellowness.

Mr. H.E. Balch, F.S.A., M.A., of Wells, and Capt. Hodgkinson, the owner of the Caves rowed to the extreme end of the river which flows through the caves and then slowly proceeded back.

The object was to record the splashing of the oars against the water while the choir sang, growing gradually in volume.

It is hoped to broadcast this novelty.  Mr. H.E. Balch then spoke into the microphone the speech he intends to broadcast.  Altogether the broadcast will occupy twenty minutes.  ...  (note 2)

Unlike today's broadcasting where much of it is 'canned' until a suitable slot can be found for its transmission, programmes were broadcast live to the growing numbers of listeners to the 'wireless.'  The only medium for ‘canning’ material was to cut a 78 rpm gramophone record on a 24” dia. disc giving some 8 minutes of recorded sound.  Clearly to take the bulky electrical paraphernalia into a cave was hardly a practical solution.  These fragile shellac discs were used in the cinemas as the sound source for the early ‘talkies.’   Later an optical sound track was added one side of the 35 mm film adjacent to the photographic images.  As with the cinema, broadcasting soon became an relatively cheap influential information-entertainment source.

The first Mendip cave broadcast took place on Tuesday, 9th September 1930, the choir, conducted by Conrad Eden and Balch’s oration went well.  ' Wookey Hole speaks to the World ... ' was the headline to the report that appeared in the Wells Journal on the 12th September 1930.  A joint coupling with the studio in Cardiff and live effects from the cave itself illustrates the complexity of external broadcasting at this time. (note 3)

... My first impression on entering the Witch's Chamber was of a voice, in cultured tones, calling on Cardiff on the telephone. Then a confused jargon of technicalities in connection with broadcasting - "How is No. 1 mike doing ?" "Fade in and out when I tell you."  "Better alter that earth, I think " - and so on.

Then a sound as of monks chanting in the distance - silence - and a well known voice - Mr. Balch unfolding the story of the Great Cave of Wookey Hole - but this was a rehearsal.

Finally the zero hour came and a dead silence.  One of the B.B.C. Men took up a conductor's position and controlled his forces with a wave of the hand.  I am told that the "Green Hills of Somerset" was played from Cardiff; then the splashing of oars from a boat in the Cave.

Mr. Balch, M.A.., F.S.A., the greatest living authority on Mendip and its caves, commenced to speak into the microphone.  He told of the construction of the Cave, of the mass of rock with the river breaking out at its base.  Then the conductor with another wave of his hand introduced the sound of the water rushing out of the Cave, picked up by a microphone near the water's edge.  Mr. Balch was "faded in" again and referred to the miles of unknown caves which the eye of man had never seen.

At this point in the proceedings the choir sang a musical arrangement of Metcalfe's poem 'The Song of Wookey Hole.'  The 'enchanting melody' was composed by the choir's conductor, Conrad Eden of Wells Cathedral. The reporter continued his romantic description of the event and was obviously overwhelmed by the magic of broadcasting.

...  [The] story resumed with the history of the finds in the Cave and the industry of the ancient Britons, in silver, iron, bronze, and in agriculture. ... The choir took up the theme by rendering an old Somerset Folk song, "A Farmer's Son so sweet." which was most tuneful, but in a lighter vein.

Mr. Balch spoke of the known existence of cannibals; of the Witch of Wookey; and the Hyaena Den, one of the earliest homes of primitive man of some thirty thousand years ago.

In conclusion he referred to the growth of man and the struggles and triumphs of our ancesters [sic].  The Choir brought the story to a fitting close by the singing of that all-inspiring "How sleep the brave," by Bantock.  That was the end, as far as Wookey Hole was concerned.

I had what was, perhaps, a unique experience in hearing the actual broadcast for half of the programme in the Cave, and then hurrying down to the village of Wookey Hole and hearing the remainder from a loud-speaker. I am afraid I dashed into a home with very little ceremony to hear how the broadcast "came over." I found the members of the family and friends grouped around the loud-speaker to hear the voices of their friends from the Cave.

It is several years since I last heard the Wookey Hole Male Voice Choir, and I want to hear it again. Will they come to Wells and give a concert ?  Mr. Eden has undoubtedly taken great pains to bring the choir up to such a pitch of perfection, and I can definitely say that it has lost none of its old skill and gunning-cunning, I should have written ! There were twenty-six members singing in the Cave, and it was a pity that the official programme led listeners to believe that a Welsh Choir would render the songs.

The whole broadcast was a great success, and the British Broadcasting Company are to be congratulated on their efforts.  Capt. G. Hodgkinson, who was present, and Mr. P. King, his manager, are to be commended on the very excellent arrangements made for the broadcast in the Cave.

We cannot say too much about Mr. Balch, whose life has been given up to the development of Wookey Hole and other Caves on Mendip, and his inspiring address through the microphone deserves the highest praise.

Abundant congratulations have been received from all quarters by letter, telegraph and telephone.

So successful was the event that the BBC planned another on the May 15th 1931.  The Wells Journal announced that (note 4)  

... west Regional listeners who heard the singing relayed from Wookey Hole Calves [sic] last September will look forward to another broadcast from the caves on Friday, May 22nd, when several songs will be contributed by the Wookey Hole Male Voice Choir during a West Country Variety programme at 9.35 p.m.

The BBC technicians and producers setup their paraphernalia in the Third Chamber and a reminder and outline of the broadcast was published in the Wells Journal on the day of the broadcast itself. (note 5) As before the choir was conducted by Conrad Eden. (note 6)

In 1933 the choir made their third broadcast programme from the same chamber. The event was considered of sufficient interest that editors of local newspapers considered it to be front page news. The prominent headline announced of the Wells Journal for the 16th June read:

Broadcast from Wookey Hole Caves
Male Voice Choir's programme to be relayed.

The report stated that the broadcast would take place on the 7th July commencing at 8.30 p.m., that the choir and its conductor would be located in Wookey Hole Cave some 500 ft below '... the earth's surface. ' Conrad Eden would again conduct the choir and (note 7)

... visitors to Wookey Hole will be reminded of the grandeur of these Caves when they listen to the singing of the Choir in extraordinary surroundings. This is the third occasion on which a programme of part songs etc., by the choir has been relayed in the cave.

On the day of the broadcast the Wells Journal, then published on Friday of each week,  reminded their readers of the transmission that evening - now given at 8 p.m. - a time change from the original announcement. (note 8)

Local News. Cave Broadcast.

Many no doubt will tune into the West Regional Station this [Friday] evening at 8 p.m. when the Wookey Hole Male Voice Choir will give a broadcast from the Wookey Hole Cave. The choir will be conducted by Mr. Conrad Eden, and a boy soloist, Leslie Stear, of Clifton, will sing with male voice choir accompaniment. ...

The thirty minute transmission went out as planned on the West Regional Station of the BBC. The Wells Journal gave a lengthy report on the broadcast for the benefit of its readers who did not yet own a wireless set. (note 9) To open and close the programme Captain (later Wing Commander) Gerald Hodgkinson opened and closed the programme by playing on the hunting horn. At the start of the programme Hodgkinson played 'Gone Away' and closed it with 'Going Home.'

In addition to the choral works, two accompanied solos were sung by the 12 year old boy treble, Leslie Stear of Clifton, Bristol.  One of the solos was his father’s own arrangement of  'Ye Banks and Braes' where the choir sang a humming accompaniment. This seemed to have pleased the reviewer who commented that it ' ... sounded well over the wireless.'

Herbert Balch broadcasts, 1933 and 1939

Early in 1933 the BBC West Regional Station broadcast a series of programmes entitled 'Unexplored England'. The third of this series, broadcast on the 8th February 1933, was entitled 'The Caves of Mendip' during which Herbert Balch gave a twenty minute lecture. The Wells Journal reported that Balch had  (note 10)

... many vivid stories of adventures to tell of the exploration of Mendip.  He has been digging in the Caves for 45 years and knows more about Mendip than any other living man.  He spoke for twenty minutes and referred to the baffling difficulties at Swildon's Hole and at Wookey Hole.

In January 1939 a regular BBC feature programme 'Western Magazine' invited Balch to take part, a report of which was featured in the Wells Journal shortly after. It seems that ' ... Mr. Balch told many stories of his explorations in the Mendip underworld. ... '   (note 11)  

Wookey Hole, 1935

Perhaps the most famous of the radio broadcasts from within British caves was that from Wookey Hole on the 17th August, 1935.  The Wells Journal announced that there will be a   (note 12)


Once again the B.B.C. has chosen Wookey Hole Cave for a novelty broadcast, and this time their relay will be one of the most thrilling and daring ever attempted.

On the night of August 17th a man in diving suit and helmet, will walk along the hidden bed of the underground river Axe for the first time in history, in an attempt to find the great subterranean cave believed to exist many feet below the level of the river. ... The search is due to commence at 10.30 p.m. and will be broadcast over the National wavelengths. ...

Following the failed attempt by Graham Balcombe to pass Sump I in Swildon’s Hole it became Jack Sheppard’s turn to think up a method of getting through this obstacle that had prevented further exploration of the cave since 1935. 

It had become apparent that the snorkeling design devised by Balcombe was never going to work and was potentially lethal so it was agreed that Sheppard should have a go at devising some sort of breathing apparatus that would enable the obstacle to be passed.

At that time Sheppard was living in London, studying for his engineering degree, where he became aware of the internationally famed manufacturer of diving and rescue apparatus, Siebe, Gorman and Co. Ltd. It was to them that he made an approach for information relating to underwater breathing.  Sir Robert Davis, the managing director of the company took an immediate interest in the young man’s ideas - not least because it might just lead to ideas that could be adopted by the company!  Having been made aware of the challenge Sir Robert promised that he would consider the plans that Sheppard had submitted which was a pump operated one piece submersible suit.  In the event Sir Robert considered the matter but he did not fully understanding the nature of the passageways through which the gear would have to be transported.  However, he offered Sheppard the use of their standard hard hat bottom walking gear used in mine and tunnel rescue. The deal included tuition by Charles Burwood, the company’s chief instructor.

It was immediately obvious to Balcombe and Sheppard that though it was not practical for use in Swildon’s Hole, the equipment would be well suited for work in the large flooded passages beyond the Third Chamber of Wookey Hole.  Balch and Frank Brown [Wookey Hole caves company secretary] were approached and they negotiated a programme of events with Gerald Hodgkinson, owner of the Wookey Hole show cave. However, though he gave his permission to allow diving activity in the cave it was conditional that their activities should not interfere with the running of the showcave business. It was agreed that the operations should take place during the closed hours. For several reasons, not least the complaints from the villagers that their domestic water supply was always cloudy on successive Sunday mornings, the series of operations was brought to a close by the 5th September.

The way was now clear for a breakthrough in caving exploration techniques.  As Balcombe noted that the idea of exploring Wookey Hole was agreed upon but (note 13)

... work elsewhere, and a certain diffidence about working in a commercially operated cavern, have all combined to defer until 1934, the decision to start an expedition. ...

The programme of dives, extending over an eight week period, located and reached the surface of Wookey Seven. 

The day of the broadcast had arrived and the Third Chamber was full of technicians setting up the equipment for the transmission which was due to be relayed at 10.30 p.m. but this was left fluid so that the broadcast would be made when Balcombe, the man of the moment, was actually progressing with the dive.  Penelope [Mossy] Powell described the scene in the chamber in the Log of the Wookey Hole Divers. (note 14)

... We arrived about 9 o’clock at our destination , the Third Chamber of the Home of the Witch; where the B.B.C. Was in attendance with coils and coils and coils of wire everywhere, myriads of microphones, wreaths of cigar smoke, a wealth of gents’ natty suitings, fortunes in cuff-links, in fact the only thing missing was adhesive tape, which Mossy provided off an Oxo tin, and a sock to put into a loudspeaker.

A public address system was installed for the

... benefit of the general mob.

Through the smoke, one caught occasional glimpses of the ample stern-piece of the B.B.C., more coils of wire pipe and rope, sometimes even a diver, and on rare occasions, the River Axe itself.

Teething troubles overcome it was time for Balcombe to enter the water.  Progress was monitored by telephone communication with the intention of relaying it through the public address system.  This failed miserably even though it had been claimed that the acoustics of the Third Chamber were perfect.

A single event that was to happen later that evening is virtually all that is remembered today by most cavers eclipsing the real achievement of the whole series of diving operations.  The back-up diver accompanying Balcombe was 'Mossy' Powell and both progressed into Chamber Six. Communication with base control was via the telephone linkup. The broadcast began at 10.30 p.m. when Balcombe and Powell entered the water at which time a background commentary was being given by the BBC announcer, Francis Worsley, sited in his own box at the side of the chamber.  A Wells Journal reporter noted that Worsley [editorial notes are given in square brackets] (note 15)

... started to speak to the many thousands who were listening to what must have been the most thrilling outside broadcast ever arranged.

To describe what took place next can best be done by using his words.

He said, " Here we are, 600 feet underground in the famous Wookey Hole caves.  The sounds you hear going on mean that the exploration party is getting ready to try out this daring feat of exploration. Where we are standing now is the third chamber. You enter the caves at the foot of a big cliff, pass along an up-and-down passage in the rocks which widens out in high chambers full of pools and stalactites and on the right is the River Axe, which is of great importance as this is the river the divers are going to follow.

"This is as far as the public can go, but the caves and river go on for a long way beyond. In one corner is a very low arch, which is either just above or below the water level according to the state of the river. When the water has been low people have been through on a raft to a fourth chamber and then on through another arch to a fifth. Beyond that on [sic] one has never been and only divers can get there.  That is the object of this exploration.

"I am not going to try to give you any details of this as I hope to get Mr. Balcombe to talk to you before he descends." continued Mr. Worsley.

"Diving is not a simple matter and a very large number of assistants are required to work the air pumps which I expect you can hear already, and to let out the lines the divers use for air, safety, telephone, etc.

"The two divers are going down and an interesting thing is that the second one is a woman, Mrs. Powell.

"In the second part of the broadcast we hope that Mr. Balcombe will speak direct to us from under the water when he reaches territory where no one has ever been before.  He has a special microphone in his helmet and will communicate with a telephonist on the shore, telling of his needs.  The telephonist can reply to him and I expect we shall hear some of the conversation.

"It is rather a strange sight, all these people working busily in the glare of the arc-lamps in this ancient cave," he said.

"One doesn't expect to see diving gear right under the earth ! A contrast is the domestic touch in one corner where a lady of the party is making coffee on a spirit stove.  Yes, it is very cold here, the temperature of the water being 52 degrees all the year round, and the mud is cold to the feet. I'll get into touch with Balcombe before he enters the water."

"Hullo, Balcombe," he calls.

"Yes," came back the voice of the leading diver.

"Tell everyone about your 'gang.'  They have been working very hard."

There was a little difficulty in hearing Mr. Balcombe, at first, but when he did come through he told of what his assistants would be doing and of the difficulty of making his way through the underwater passages.

Mr. Worsley asked why he need two divers and Mr. Balcombe replied that there might be some difficulty in getting his air pipe and lines round the corners so the second diver would come down after him and assist him through.


The fifth chamber, he told us, is floored  by a great sandbank, and seemed to be a great expanse of green water.

"We want to get to the surface through the green water. Having done that we get as far as we possibly can."

"Well good luck to you, Balcombe.  I hope you won't meet any brontosauri."

"That is hardly possible as no man has ever been here before and no animal could possibly get here."

This ended the first part of the broadcast and the second part was transmitted when Balcombe and Powell reached the sixth chamber. This was at 23.09 hrs.  Worsley commented that the two divers were still safe and that Balcombe had reached a point 168 feet [50 m. Approx] from base. The commentary continued thus:

"...Balcombe has got to the entrance to the sixth chamber and hopes to find that it is a real chamber, that is one that has air space above the water, but we shall not know anything until we hear from him. We are going to try to get through to him now and get him to tell us from the actual site what he has found. You will probably find there is a bit of bubble owing to the air pump. He can only stop the pumps for about 20 seconds. You will hear people getting instructions to change over the pumps.

Balcombe described the scene from the sixth chamber and then after a short interval put out a running commentary with the telephonist. Balcombe continued

"... We have passed through the sixth, which has a large water space but only a small water surface.  Ahead of me I can see a further air surface which looks promising. We had arranged a form of trapeze to get to the surface in the sixth chamber but we have been unable to get it tried so far. Perhaps we can make better use of it here.  Heave hard on the pumps !"

A second or two later came an S.O.S.  "Heave faster on the pumps, " we heard.  And then "May I speak to the officer in charge, please ?"

"Well you can see what sort of thing is going on, " breaks in the commentator, and the broadcast was brought to a conclusion.

This has to be the polite form of what Balcombe actually said. Legend has it, together with Mossy Powell's poem related to the Waldegrave Swallet excavation, (note 16) that Balcombe yelled 'Pump you buggers, pump !'  This was strong language for the BBC standards of the day and so the plug was pulled on the broadcast.

An hour later the two divers returned to base where Balcombe commented that they were on the borders of great things but could not add to what he had described from the limit of the dive. He then thanked the pump operators.  Herbert Balch was present during the dive and was full of praise for the operation with a particular note regarding 'Mossy' Powell.

... "Mrs. Powell's willingness to make the journey was the pluckiest adventure I have ever seen undertaken by a woman," he said to me as we watched them rise from the water. ...

Gough's Cave, 1936

The first broadcast from Gough’s Cave was made on the 2nd March 1936 and was entitled “ A Cave Tour” in which Lord Weymouth, owner of the caves, Thomas B. Gill, the cave manager and Mr. W. R. Pavey all contributed to the general broadcast.  Lord Weymouth outlined the history of the cave whilst the others described the more outstanding features. Gill made special mention of the plans to reconstruct the ‘Cheddar Man’ skeleton, a task undertaken by Professor M. Rix of Oxford University under the watchful eye of Sir Arthur Keith.

Between 1927 and 1935 the development of the amenities at Wookey Hole and a series of radio broadcasts from the cave brought the owner considerable publicity. At Gough’s Cave following the transfer of control of the cave from Arthur

G.H. Gough to the owner, Lord Weymouth, in 1933 a considerable investment was made at the cave entrance building an office, museum and restaurant complex that was opened to the public on the 23rd June 1934. 

C.H. Hayes had completed a new survey of the showcave during April 1935. On it Hayes had suggested that there appeared to be a connection between Pixie Forest and St. Paul’s Chamber. This would not have been too difficult to confirm for the passage from the St. Paul’s end would have been open and ready for a simply exploratory trip. With this knowledge, Thomas B. Gill, manager of the cave from 1935-c.1950, employed workmen to clear the sandy deposit at the foot of Pixie Forest. By the autumn, having cleared some 6,000 tons of spoil, the workmen located the lower entrance to the passage. Lord Weymouth, Gill and the head guide, Victor Painter, crawled 216 feet from the new entrance to visit the chamber at the upper end that contains a group of formations, Aladdin’s Grotto, adjacent to St. Paul’s Chamber. Gill announced that other formations in this chamber were so beautiful as to eclipse anything else to be seen in the cave.  It was the intention of the management to open this chamber to the public by Easter 1936 connecting it with St. Paul’s Chamber.

To combat the ‘free’ publicity generated by the Wookey Hole management, the authority at Gough’s Cave continued their widespread publicity campaign well into the early months of 1936. All this peaked with a radio broadcast from Gough’s Cave on the 2nd March 1936. During the run-up to the event regular news items appeared in the national daily, regional and local newspapers creating the widest publicity possible.

As the broadcast drew near a number of reports announcing when and how it was taking place were published in various newspapers. On the 22nd February, 1936, the News Chronicle, headlined its report :

Skeleton in Cave Broadcast
He lived 10,000 year ago
Cheddar Carols to be sung underground

Beside a skeleton over 10,000 years old, by an underground river in caves occupied by man from the Palaeolithic age, a broadcast is to be made here during the West Regional programme on Monday evening, March 2.

It will be a tour of Gough’s Caves, Cheddar, during which guides will talk through eight microphones installed at regular points in the cave.

The programme will be introduced by Lord Weymouth, owner of the caves, and atmosphere will be provided by a party of local singers.

From the immense chamber known as “ St. Paul’s,” where the sides are coated with beautifully coloured stalagmite, they will broadcast Cheddar carols.

Listeners will hear the history of the caves and of recent explorations from Mr. T. Gill, the manager. They will hear how the skeleton known as “The Cheddar Man,” more than 10,000 years old, was discovered in a fissure leading to the underground river.

The Western Daily Press announced  (note 17)

“Cheddar Man” may get lost on the ether

Secrets of the Earthly Home of a Ghost

The Bristol Evening World reported on the 28th February, 1936 that 

Cave Explorers Rewarded

Two new Wonder Chambers at Cheddar

... Which surpasses any of the caves the public can see at Cheddar today. ... Telling the story of the discovery of the new caverns to an “Evening World! Reporter, Mr. Thomas B. Gill, manager of Gough’s caves [sic], said : “The party consisted of Lord Weymouth, the head guide, and myself. We set out to crawl through a passage that was only two feet six inches or three feet wide.


“Instead of crawling, however, we could only wriggle, and it was with relief that we found ourselves at the end of the passage.

“Here our lamps revealed a cavern which is superior to anything the public can see at the moment.

“The most striking feature was a wonderful curtain 12 feet long .  This is one of nature’s masterpieces. It was gleaming in wonderful colours, a sight of incredible beauty.”

To open the way to these wonderful caverns 6,000 tons of silt have had to be removed. ... The subterranean river holds secrets which may never be revealed, so deep are the dark waters. Soundings have been taken, but every time the line has been dropped to 70 feet the swift underground currents have snapped it off, to disappear into the unknown. ...

The opening of the ‘two chambers,’ of course, never happened.  But the discovery of the passage and chamber was only one part of the publicity notes issued by the cave management. Late in 1935 plans were announced that the skeleton of ‘Cheddar Man’ was to be rebuilt by Professor M. Rix of Oxford University under the general direction of Sir Arthur Keith. (note 18)  It was claimed that the skeleton was now complete following a further excavation in the Skeleton Pit. The mystery of the underground stream route too was highlighted by Gill.  He stated that it was impossible to determine the depth of the water flowing under the cave in the Skeleton Pit.  It had been found that the force of the water was so great that it snapped the string and so losing the plumb-bob ! 

So, on at 7.30 p.m. On Monday, 2nd March 1936 the first broadcast from this cave took place. The News Chronicle’s report of the event commented that one of the (note 19)

... wonders of modern science was being used amid stalactites and stalagmites which had been accumulating for centuries. ... The listening public heard for the first time of the recent extensions.

The caves now extend for a distance of two miles.

The commentary was broadcast on the West and Scottish Regional wavelengths.

The Western Daily Press account was minimal but included two large photographs as did both the Bristol evening papers. (note 20,21,22)


Swildon's Hole, 1937

The issue of Radio Times, for 23rd April 1937, announced that a live twenty minute broadcast was to be made from Swildon’s Hole at 9.00 p.m. on Saturday the 1st May. (note 23)  The programme was entitled ‘Mendip Cave Crawl‘ which also served as the title of an introductory article in the same issue of the weekly paper by Herbert Balch. (note 24) The transmission was to be relayed on the airwaves to the BBC southern and western regions. The Wells Journal deemed this information to be worthy of front page headlines for their 30th April issue.  (note 25) As the weekly paper was then published on Friday it was to act as a reminder to the Wells citizens to tune in to the Wireless or news to the many nonreaders of Radio Times. Such magazines were luxuries that many people were unable to afford.

The programme was subcontracted to a local company to setup the broadcast and on Monday, 26th April, their engineers descended the cave to install electric cables, microphones and illumination to and from the Old Grotto. It would seem that the technicians were led through the cave by Jack Duck and his caving associate, Austin Wadsworth; the pair operating under the auspices of MNRC and Herbert Balch. The fact that Balch had written a preface to the broadcast clearly shows he was involved in some way with the programme. From the Gerard Platten letter reproduced in Hendy’s notes from Bill Weaver’s Logbook in WCC Journal No. 288 it would seem that he, Platten, was also associated with the broadcast in association with Duck and Wadsworth. Fortunately two photographs taken by Wadsworth of the technicians in the Old Grotto have survived and are in the author’s photographic collection.  Jack Duck is certainly in one of these pictures.  Two other photographs of the event are to be found among the Luke Devenish collection of glass lantern slides now housed in the WCC Library.  Both glass mounts have been badly damaged but the images, though out of focus, have been restored by the writer using computer enhancement techniques.

The identity of the company who arranged and produced the broadcast is unknown and no record exists except for details of various payments made by BBC. (note 26) The commentary was by one H. Gordon Bird for which he was paid the handsome sum of £15 - 15 - 0. (note 27) It is possible that this was the same man, who as a member of UBSS, assisted Balch during the exploration of Swildon’s One in 1921.

No follow-up article has been found in the local newspapers of the broadcast itself but from photographic evidence, the Radio Times and the content of Platten’s letter there is no doubt that the event went ahead.  There is a very good reason why the relay was not reported in any of the local papers that I have checked. An important national event took place during the following week and because of this the various editors of local papers took the view that  ‘there’s too much of this event to publish rather than wasting valuable space reporting the cave broadcast.’

The event, of course, was the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth [the late Queen mum] on the 6th May 1937. Coronation fever swept the country; special events and concerts, street parties and beacons were lit giving both the national and local newspapers plenty to write about.  The Wells Journal and the Weston-super-Mare Gazette and Mercury were full of reports of all the events taking place in this region.

The WCC Committee responded to the announcement of the broadcast in a short statement in the April, 1937 Circular. (note 28)

'B.B.C. Broadcast May 1st. The Committee wish it to be made quite clear that this Club has nothing whatever to do with this event.

Publicity was considered undesirable and release of information to the Press about caving activities was frowned upon for   (note 29) is an understood thing amongst all decent cave men that reports of cave activities are not given to the press nor is the Club's name to be mentioned except with the Committee's approval.  Members who desire to give publicity to their activities are advised to consult the Hon. Secretary.'

This introverted view was in vogue well into the 1960s and one held by most of the major Mendip clubs. Publicity regarding caving was considered extremely poor taste. Further it was likely to increase the numbers of cavers and introduce the 'undesirable' element. It was also argued that caving required a certain quality - initiative. Thus if a person wanted to go caving it was assumed that he would find the necessary contacts himself. How things have changed!  Finally, Platten refers to the possibility of a further broadcast beyond the Forty Foot Pot, possibly recording someone [‘Bill’ Weaver] free diving the sump.  It is thought that this never took place for no evidence has been found in the local newspapers published during 1938 and 1939. The Radio Times has not been checked - any volunteers?

Overcrowding of the popular caves has resulted in major destruction of the finer details and in some cases the rock has been worn so smooth that at times the conditions are quite dangerous. At the time of writing there has to be a strenuous effort made to preserve much of what remains - and in places not much - before the desecration is total.

G.B. Cave, 1941

During the early days of exploration in G.B. Cave the cave received considerable publicity. Rodney Pearce [of Rod’s Pot fame] and Francis Goddard [the ‘G’ of G.B. Cave] spent some time preparing a manuscript accompanied by a sketch survey for publication in Illustrated London News (note 30) and, later that year, in Nature. (note 31) During this work a couple of broadcasts (note 32) were made for the BBC relating to the cave, one of which was a recording made on site.  Goddard detailed this trip in the UBSS Logbook entry for the 9th July 1941. (note 33)

... Met Jean Bussell of B.B.C. With 1 recording car at 2.45 (only 15 mins late). ... [obtained] Farmer Young’s permission to  go into field with car  I then started down cave. Made a recording at the entrance, in first grotto, in double passage and just before the entrance - where the cable ran out. Bussell was thrilled with the cave.

The 'canning' technique was the cutting of a 78 rpm shellac disc up to 24 inches in diameter though during the latter stages of the Second World War, wire tape recorders were being developed.

Trevor Shaw’s complete, but unpublished history of UBSS gives very brief details of these events which were later edited out of the published version. (note 34) BBC recorded sound effects in the cave on the 20th February 1968 - BBC copy tape in UBSS Library, included sounds of typical caving activity - laddering a pitch, stream - close, medium and far distance, water drips, group of cavers walking, climbing, tired cavers, tired caver, whistle blasts, hauling up ladder etc. 23 bands of varying sounds were made.

Wookey Hole, 1946

Not long after the formation of CDG plans were laid to broadcast part of their activity from Wookey Hole. The producer, Desmond Hawkins intending to produce a feature programme on the cave gave a provisional date of the broadcast as being 29th May 1946. CDG's contribution was to be the 'Climax' of the Programme. (note 35) However, this appears not to have been broadcast for it was announced in Radio Times that the programme was postponed because of the producers' other commitments in the Channel Islands. (note 36)

The broadcast from Wookey Hole Caves by "frogmen" some 600 feet below the ground, which should have taken place last week, had to be postponed. Mr. Desmond Hawkins, the B.B.C. producer had to go to the Channel Isles. Further technical research will be carried out before the actual broadcast

The author has not found any reference to an actual broadcast.

Axbridge Caving Group

During 1952, the group’s secretary, Major D.C. McKearn was contacted by the BBC with an idea of producing a short item on caving. This was to have been included in the popular Saturday evening radio show "In Town Tonight" that was hosted by Brian Johnston and transmitted on the Home Service [now Radio 4]. However, the programme never went further than the outline planning stage. (note 37)

Later in 1954 and 1955 ACG were again involved with the BBC for their "Under Twenties" programme. On Easter Monday, 19th April, 1954 the technicians recorded the sounds of    (note 38)

 ... blasting in the [Banwell] Stalactite Cave ... Pat Knights and Gordon Griffiths (with Bob Price giving technical advice) were 'on the air'.

The ACG crew must have impressed the BBC producers for a year later, in 1955 and again during the Easter weekend, and for the same programme, they were 'on the air'. This was a twelve minute edited version of a recording made in Axbridge Ochre Cavern some eight months before. (note 39)

Swildon's Hole - 1949-1952

Another broadcast from Swildon's Hole took place during 1949 but the date has yet to be investigated. A report is said to have appeared in the Wells Journal at the time.

An 'internal broadcast' was made by the BBC in 1952 in which BEC members were involved. A full report was given in BB No. 58.  The programme was made for the Light Programme [now Radio 2] in a slot called 'Summer Parade' and it was first announced in the Radio Times published on the 20th June 1952. The commentary was to be given by Hugh Falkus. (note 40)

The BEC Belfry Bulletin under its then editor, Harry Stanbury, received a full report from three members who had assisted in the underground activity on the 15th June. Mike Jones, Merv. Hannam and Dave England

 ... were inveigled into making a broadcast in Swildon's Hole, in company with some members of Woking Youth Club. The story of this epic event started when one Hugh [Fatso] Falkus arrived in a dilapidated Ford V8, followed by Jack [Slim] Singleton in a three ton truck with an army of Teenagers, all with a pronounced (and disturbing) London accent. (note 41)

A short note of the broadcast was published by the Wells Journal in its Local News Section. (note 42)

A further broadcast was recorded by Trevor Shaw in his unpublished history of UBSS that took place on 1st June 1955.  It is stated to have been live broadcast, programmed as 'A Hole in the Hill’ and the commentary given by Raymond Baxter. (note 43,44)

1954 - Stoke Lane Slocker

In 1954 James Kirkup joined members of UBSS on two caving trips on Mendip on the 29th and 30th May. Kirkup, a literary man, composed a lengthy poem of his experiences underground titled : The Descent into the Cave being an account of an underground journey in the Mendip Hills of Somerset. (note 45) The work was dedicated to the members of the UBSS. Trevor Shaw noted that the work, a free verse narrative poem, was based upon a visit to Stoke Lane Slocker where the author’s experience of diving a sump is given some prominence.

At that time John Morris [not the entertainer, Johnny Morris] was Controller of the BBC Third Programme [now Radio 3] and it was he that compiled an anthology which included the first publication of Kirkup’s poem. The poem was broadcast on the Third Programme on the 26th September 1954, animated with vocal contributions by well-known broadcasters, Robert Reitty, Felix Felton, Peter Cloughton and John Stockbridge. The broadcast was repeated twice more on the same channel in 1955 and 1956.

Kirkup's own anthology was published by OUP in 1957 (note 46) when the title of the caving poem was reduced to The descent into the Cave but still with the dedication to the members of UBSS.

Though not relating to Mendip caves in 1963 the Third Programme planners requested a play from Louis MacNeice.  MacNeice had considerable experience in writing radio plays and produced a script entitled Persons from Porlock in which the hero, a failed artist, ends his life in a pothole. To gain the atmosphere of the underground MacNeice joined the BBC engineer who was recording various sound-effects in a Yorkshire pothole. He caught a chill that developed into pneumonia from which he died on the 3rd September 1963 a few days after the play had been broadcast. (note 47) The Victorian melodrama still lives ! 

Another curio was the announcement by Harry Ashworth of the MNRC in the 1957 newsletter of a field event relating to dowsing being organised by Peter Stewart and at which the BBC were going to make a programme which was to be broadcast sometime during August of that year. (note 48)

Since that time innumerable broadcasts and reports of caving activities have been transmitted. The latest being the discovery of bones in Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink and a new series of six programmes that was televised during the 2004 Autumn; one being devoted to Swildon's Hole with footage taken by Gavin Newman.


The writer would like to acknowledge the assistance of the archivist at the BBC Archives, Reading ; to Dr. Steven Craven (CPC) for details of early broadcasts from the Yorkshire Dales and High Peak caves ; to Phil Hendy, WCC librarian, for use of photographs from the Devenish collection, Alan Gray (ACG), Ray Mansfield, for drawing my attention to the MacNeice play, and Tony Jarratt for proof reading the paper.

Dave Irwin, Priddy.  20 February 2005


Compiled by S. A. Craven

DATE:                        13 Oct. 1927; 1900 hours

SUBJECT:                  Gaping Gill

BROADCASTER:        James W. Puttrell

CLUB:                        Yorkshire Ramblers’ Club et al.

STUDIO / FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              Radio Times 07 Oct. 1927.

                                 Sheffield Daily Telegraph 14 Oct. 1927.


DATE:                        15 June 1929

SUBJECT:                  Caves of Yorkshire; recent discoveries at Ingleton (i.e. probably White Scar)

BROADCASTER:        James W. Puttrell

CLUB:                        Yorkshire Ramblers’ Club et al.

STUDIO / FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              Radio Times 31 May 1929.


DATE:                        29 March 1934

SUBJECT:                  Potholing

BROADCASTER:        Ernest Edward Roberts

CLUB:                        Yorkshire Ramblers’ Club

STUDIO / FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              Craven Herald 30 Mar. 1934 p. 6.


DATE:                        30 March 1935

SUBJECT:                  Potholing

BROADCASTER:        Arnold C. Waterfall

CLUB:                        Craven Pothole Club

STUDIO / FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              West Yorkshire Pioneer 05 Apr. 1935 p. 4.

                                 Craven Herald 05 Apr. 1935 p. 8.               


DATE:                        18 June 1936

SUBJECT:                  Weathercote Cave and Gaping Gill

BROADCASTER:        Reg Hainsworth

CLUB:                        Gritstone Club

STUDIO / FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              West Yorkshire Pioneer 19 June 1936 p. 2.


DATE:                        25 June 1936

SUBJECT:                  Caves and Waterfalls of Ingleton

BROADCASTER:        Reg Hainsworth, H. Wilson Midgley

CLUB:                        Gritstone Club

STUDIO / FIELD:        Field – at Weathercote Cave

AUTHORITY:              Leeds Mercury 12 June 1936 p. 8.

                                 Lancaster Guardian 26 June 1936 p. 10.


DATE:                        02 July 1936; 0910 – 0924 hours

SUBJECT:                  Potholing – a descriptive tour of Lost John’s Cave in Yorkshire

BROADCASTER:        Robert M. Brench

CLUB:                        Leeds Cave Club

STUDIO / FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              Leeds Mercury 12 June 1936 p. 8.

                                 Radio Times 26 June 1936 p. 55.

                                 Manchester Guardian 02 July 1936.

                                 Yorkshire Post 04 July 1936 p. 7.

                                 The Listener 15 July 1936 pp. 112 – 113, 182.

                                 The Listener 12 Aug. 1936 pp. 317 - 318.

                                 The Listener 19 Aug. 1936 p. 361.


DATE:                        02 April 1938; 1905 hours

SUBJECT:                  Alum Pot

BROADCASTER:        Robert M. Brench

CLUB:                        Leeds Cave Club

STUDIO / FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              Radio Times 20 – 26 Mar. 1938 pp. 14, 86.

                                 Hull Mail (date not stated).


DATE:                        08 April 1938; 1400 hours (repeat of 02 April 1938)

SUBJECT:                  Alum Pot

BROADCASTER:        Robert M. Brench

CLUB:                        Leeds Cave Club

STUDIO / FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              Radio Times 01 Apr. 1938 p. 63.

                                 Daily Express 08 Apr. 1938.


ADDITIONAL NOTE : (Scott H.J.) (1940) Yorkshire Dalesman 2(1)4 tells us that:  "Mr. (Norman) Thornber is secretary of the Cave Rescue Organisation and has broadcast several times on potholing in Yorkshire."


1.                  As the privately owned British Broadcasting Company.  It received its Charter in 1927 when it became the British Broadcasting Corporation

2.                  Wells Journal, 8th August 1930, p5, c5 : Radio from the depths.

3.                  Wells Journal, 12th September 1930,  p4, c.6 : Wookey Hole Speaks to the World. 

4.                  Wells Journal, 15th May 1931, p.5, c.1, Local News. Another Wookey Hole Broadcast.

5.                  Anon, 1931, Wookey Hole Cave [broadcast reminder] Wells Journal 22nd May, p3,c3

6.                  Anon, 1931, Broadcast from Wookey Hole Caves.  Wells Journal 29th May, p4,c6

7.                  Wells Journal, 16th June 1933, p.1 : Broadcast from Wookey Hole Caves.

8.                  Wells Journal, 7th July 1933, p.5, c.5 : Local News. Cave Broadcast.

9.                  Wells Journal, 14th July 1933, p.1, c.1 :  Broadcast from Wookey Hole Cave. Clifton Boy’s Solos. 

10.              Wells Journal, 10th February 1933, p.1 c.3 :  The Caves of Mendip. Broadcast  by Mr. H.E. Balch. 

11.              Wells Journal, 20th January 1939, p.5, c.1, [Broadcast]

12.              Wells Journal, 2nd August 1935, p.1, c.1-2 :  Thrilling Broadcast from Wookey Hole Caves.

13.              Balcombe, F. Graham and Powell, Penelope M, 1935, The log of the Wookey Hole exploration expedition 1935.   Ascot : F.G. Balcombe   [p.3]

14.              Balcombe, F. Graham and Powell, Penelope M, 1935, [as above], p.76

15.              Wells Journal, 23rd August 1935, p.3 c.2-3 : Thrilling Adventure in Wookey Hole Caves.  Divers Brave The Depths of Hidden Waters.  New Caverns Discovered. Successful Broadcast by B.B.C. 

16.              Irwin, David J., 2000, Waldegrave Swallet ... a brief history.    BEC Bel Bul 51(509)25-39(Dec), illus, surveys, figs OR BCRA SHG Jnl (6)9-22(Aut), illus, surveys, figs

17.              Western Daily Press,  25th February 1936, “Cheddar Man” may get lost in the Ether.

18.              The skeleton rebuild was completed early in 1937.

19.              News Chronicle, 3rd March 1936, Broadcast from Underground Cave. [illus]

20.              Western Daily Press, 3rd March 1936, p.9, c.1-5 : Last night's broadcast from Cheddar's famous caves. [illus]

21.              Bristol Evening World, 3rd March 1936, Microphone "Tour"  [illus]

22.              Bristol Evening Post,  3rd March 1936, Wonders of the Cheddar Caves explained to visitors during the radio tour.  [illus]

23.              Radio Times, 23rd April 1937, Regional Programme. [p.75]

24.              Balch, Herbert E., 1937, Mendip Cave Crawl.  Radio Times, 23rd April, p.8, illus

25.              Wells Journal, 30th April 1937, p.1 c.5 : A Broadcast from Swildon's Hole

26.              Anon, 1937, Programme as Broadcast from the West of England Region. Saturday, 1st May, 1937. Sheet 1. [from BBC Archive, 1996]

27.              For those not familiar with the old LSD [pound, shillings and pence] system this sum equals £15.75.

28.              Anon, 1937, B.B.C. Broadcast May 1st.   WCC Circ. (23)1

29.              Anon, 1937, Publicity.  WCC Circ (27)1

30.              Goddard, F.J. and Pearce, R.A.J., 1941, Romantic Discovery ...    The Illustrated London News, 9 Aug., p.185-188, illus, survey

31.              Goddard, F.J. and Pearce, R.A.J., 1941, G.B. Cave, Charterhouse on Mendip.  Nature, 4 Oct.,  148(3753)394-396, illus

32.              Pearce, R.A.J., 1968, The Wartime Years. Some Reminiscences   MSS, typed, 4f [held in UBSS Library]

33.              UBSS Camp Log Nov. 1939 to June 1943.   MS 91 pp , surveys.  UBSS Library, Bristol University, Bristol [p.41]

34.              Shaw, T.R., 1968, History of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society.    Bristol : UBSS, Typed MS  61 + vpp [p.40]

35.               Bristol  Evening Post, 1946, 19th March, Divers' plan in Broadcast from caves. [Wookey Hole]

36.              Radio Times, 1946, (7 Jun) p.5, c.1 : Local News Caves Broadcast.

37.              Sec [pseudo : D.C.  McKeand], 1952, Group News. B.B.C.   ACG Jnl 1(2)8-9

38.              Anon, 1954, Report on Excavations in the Banwell Bone Cave   ACG Jnl 2(2)7-8(Sep)

39.               McKeand, D.C., 1955,  Group News. Caves.      ACG Jnl 2(4)3-5(Sep)

40.              Radio Times, 1952 (20th Jun);  Going Down [no other details recorded]

41.              Jones-, M., Hannam, M., and England, D., 1952, Actually Caving.  BEC Bel Bul 6(58)5-6(Jun)

42.              Wells Journal, 1952 (27 Jun), p.5, c.3 : Local News

43.              Shaw, T.R., 1968, [as above] [p.40]

44.              Wells Journal, 1955 (10 Jun), p.2, c.4-5 : BBC broadcast from Mendip - A Hole in a Hill.

45.              Morris, John [ed], From the Third Programme a ten years' anthology imagination argument   London: Nonesuch Press, x + 339pp

46.              Kirkup, James, 1957, The Descent into the Cave and other poems.  London: Oxford University Press, viii + 109pp 

47.              47 Carpenter, Humphrey, 1996, The Envy of the World.  London: Pheonix Giant, 431pp, illus [p.213]

48.              Ashworth, H.W.W., 1957, MNRC. Field Programme.  MNRC Ntr [2](May)


The Wig in Caving

By N. Harding Esq.
With certain reminders by N. Richards, both residents of the Parish of Weston

During a conversation at Townsend Cottage on Sunday May 15th 2005, Messrs Irwin, Richards and Harding in attendance, the subject of the history of caving wigs was brought up due to the reference in Ye Somerset Life Magazine of Catcott removing his wig while entering the fabled Loxton Cavern. What follows is a brief history of said apparatus in respect to that reference. 

 “Fleas are not lobsters, Dash my wig!”   Butler, Hudibras

Wig:     A shortened form of periwig, from Fr. Perruque. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

In the early days of cave exploration the development of special forms of wig became a staple of any subterranean investigator’s equipment. Limited as that burgeoning kit was; a few candles, muslin bags of boiled sweets, and a sturdy pair of pantaloons, the cave wig became essential dress for the gentleman explorer. 

The Bath wig makers Messrs Absolom and Loftus Racketts of Protozoan Road became the cavers’ emporium of choice. Within its wainscoted boudoirs a voluminous collection of assorted caving paraphernalia could be found, albeit mostly of the false hair variety.

It is known that local cave aficionado Dr Catcott often frequented the shop on his way to swap tales of derring-do with other local men of an exploratory nature in the region’s coffeehouses. Catcott himself preferred the Dorset Fancy for walks but opted for the heavier, indeed sturdier Pentland Thunderer (not to be confused with the whistle of the same name) for subterranean activities. With its thicker inner weave it afforded a certain higher level of protection than the Frobisher Light, a wig often used for inspecting holes in the Mendip region. For at least two generations the Frobisher had been de rigueur in Somerset for men out inspecting cavities, natural or suspiciously man made alike. Its blend of horsehair, weasel and Haart’s Wildebeest allowed the wearer to keep his head warm and reasonably waterproof in a brisk squall. But, as the user’s manual suggested in the most adamant of terms, the wearer should seek shelter at the first opportunity. A side effect of a sudden downpour was to shrink the wig to embarrassing dimensions, forcing the owner, unless he himself was lacking in the hair department into offering the headgear to friends and fellows with less atop. In many respects and at that stage it mirrored the ‘scratch wig’; one whose sole purpose was to cover bald spots.  

A similar side effect could be seen with the ‘Dorset Fancy’, a light summer wig mostly used for those seeking Marsh Fritillaries, and indeed other members of the Lepidoptera family, for their gentlemen’s collections. The wig itself was even issued with its own collecting jar while the hair piece itself, due to its gossamer construction, was delicate enough to be used for catching all kinds of ephemeral insects. But because of its lightness it could easily be forgotten that the wearer was sporting such apparel. As the Hon. Sir Hugh Bending-Slow wrote in his ‘The Wig, It’s Uses, Non Uses and General Abuse of Said Hairpiece Usually in the Manner of Whipping Servants, Book Four’: 

“It beist unseemly for a man to wear his Dorset Fancy for anything other than the most convivial of summer excursions. It beist a moral outrage and devilish invidious behavior if said headular investment be espied on evening occasions.”

It was not uncommon for ladies to swoon and or duels to be fought over such insidious social faux pas, the results of which were that many a cobbled street beyond the doors of inns, taverns and lodges were littered with trampled and crumpled insubstantial head adornments, the fall out, in a manner of speaking, of bellicose activities. The Dorset Fancy thus assisted (some say the sole contributor, see Albert Lamellibranch’s The Revolutionary Wigs of Britain) to the illegal wig trade that was common throughout the period, producing such fabled characters as Dave the Wigger, Headpiece Jack, or Wigboy John, gentlemen of the shadows who would lurk in side alleys until enough battered wigs had collected on the streets. They would then spend the following hours collecting as many of the fallen items as darkness would allow. It was also around this time that Burke and Hair became famous for digging up the corpses of unsuspecting members of the aristocracy and relieving them of their head wear. The recently freed hairpieces were hastily smuggled to the backrooms of numerous rival wig-making facilities so that their intricate weaves could be studied and analysed.  

But it was not until the introduction of the ‘Devon Loafa’ that certain characters interested in underground activities, other than those of a revolutionary nature, realised they could push further into the recesses of dark vaults as a direct result of the sturdy weave of the new kid on the head block. The Loafa had a thicker, more voluminous appearance and had been created by Abraham Snapcock whose shop was situated near the Inns of Court in London. From his premises he had observed that judges and their kind had taken to a peculiar sport, one that ‘took the form of fancy and elaborate gesticulations and head butting’ (Chap 874 of Snapcock’s Diary). He had initially mistaken these peculiar activities as the recognition rituals of a new secret society but having seen heavy wagers laid down on the cobbles he cottoned on to the fact that it was more a series of sporting events and had nothing to do, at least superficially, with the clandestine machinations of some back room anti-Catholic movement.

With an almost limitless number of wigs on sale none were sturdy enough to support such ‘uncivil behaviour’ so Snapcock decided to remedy the situation. After several minutes study he produced the test version of the wig that would eventually evolve into the ‘Thunderer’. At this stage it was simply called ‘Old heavy’ until it was christened the Devon Loafa by an itinerant Vicar from Barnstaple who narrowly escaped death when a weather vane, ‘struck me rudely about the head as if a vagabond were attempting to rummage in my vestments’, and missed braining the man of the cloth by a whisker.  

With caving not a pursuit to be seen in and around the streets of the capital the heavier wigs were adopted by those pursuing criminals. Footpads, cutpurses and those with equally low moral fibre often fell victim to a well-aimed wig launched from the hand of a practiced member of the King’s militia. During the Riot of Idioblastic Street many a miscreant Londoner was brought to book with the use of a ‘fair volley of head pieces thusly followed by explosive detonations of wig powder that besmirched the walls of the parish.’ (Quoted in Lamellibranch’s The Revolutionary Wigs of Britain, chapter 2).

William Eggy-Belch, a gentleman from Wells was a frequent visitor to London and on one such journey fell unceremoniously into Snapcock’s wig merchants after one too many libations in the Gasometer Arms a few doors down from the purveyor of flamboyant head gear. This in itself was a fortuitous happenstance because Eggy-Belch had earlier that day suffered at the hands of some jobbing actors who had ruffled his ‘Boston Hose Pipe’ in a badly executed rendition of Samuel Johnson’s The Metamorphic Aureole.   In need of a new wig Eggy-Belch had somehow found himself in the right place at roughly the right time.  Snapcock ushered his wig boy out into the storeroom to retrieve the latest fashions, one of which being of course, the Devon Loafa. Eggy-Belch took to the item with ‘ unreserved and unashamed gusto!’ He promptly bought eight on the spot.

Returning to Somerset Eggy-Belch handed out five of the wigs to his estate labourers who often complained of thick headaches after long sessions repairing the roof beams of sheds and barns. Headaches due in part to the ‘lack of a well sought ability in these rude mechanicals to avoid falling timbers thus loosed from the rafters of the buildings I had sent them to repair’. (Isaiah Titty, Memoirs of A Somerset Git, 1848).

It was in the Bulbous Whim, a now demolished Inn in Tucker Street, Wells, the site of which is interestingly enough now occupied by a purveyor of caving and camping equipment, that Eggy-Belch fell into derisory conversation with one Dr Catcott who was hobbling around the city after an unceremonious accident caused by a vigorous bout of country dancing in the parlour of his lodgings.  Catcott was abroad in the area investigating various orifices, cavities and caverns in the Mendip Hills for a book he was writing called ‘I Like Holes’. The Bristol Reverend was also having unending trouble with his own wig which as he said ‘ afforded me no comfort in any shape or form, being troublesome and nefarious to the point that I assumed it to be possessed by one of Satan’s noisome imps.’ The Dorset Fancy was soon to be cast aside by the wandering scholar in favour of the Devon Loafa, a welcome gift from Eggy-Belch.

Back in Bristol Catcott had the Loafa further enhanced by his favourite Wig merchants, Jonah Deleterious and Sons, (a site now occupied by a waste bin in Broadmead), who set about tightening up the weave and adding additional layers to the hair to give it extra protection. There was also a retractable thick wire pin on which a candle could be mounted allowing the explorer hands free illumination while the whole hair-piece itself was coated in a velveteen lacquer to keep it from ‘becoming bedecked with ferrous soils and fudgy particulates’. The ochreous wig was now a thing of the past.  The Loafa had become the Thunderer and it would be this overdeveloped wig that would take Catcott into the heart of the Mendips. 

During his descent of Loxton Cavern Catcott had further redesigned the Thunderer to accommodate a team of rescue marmosets, something he had read about in an Austrian Tabloid called ‘Der Richtig Flugel Knauf’ In the article rescuers in the Dachstein had used small primates, sporting a bag of boiled sweets around their necks, to search for lost explorers.  Catcott, ever at the cutting edge of exploring technology opted to utilise this system.  In ‘I Love Holes’ he describes having to remove his enormous wig due to heat and the constant chatter of tiny primates, ‘an irritant beyond the strength and fortitude of mortal ears’.

Other caving wigs of the period: The Utter Bastard, Overblown, The Nonsense, Fatty’s Nuisance, Rowsell’s Scaffold, The Priddy Monster, Dandruff Talus, The Doline, The Beer Soaked Flatulent, The Sump, Johnny Absorbent and the Nasty. 

Ref: Further popular wig names of the period (non caving, all genuine): The Artichoke, bag, barrister’s, bishop’s, brush, buckle, busby, bush (buzz), woodsman’s favourite, chain, chancellor’s, corded, Count Saxe’s mode, the crutch, the cut bob, the Dalmahoy (a bob wig worn by tradesmen), the detached buckle, the drop, the Dutch, the full, the half natural, the Jansenist bob, the Judge’s, the ladder, the long bob, the Louis, the pigeon’s wing, the rhinoceros, the rose, the scratch, the she-dragon, the small back, the spinach seed, the staircase, the Welsh, the wild boar’s back, the wolf’s paw.   

Annual Dinner

Arrangements by Nigel Taylor

1st October 2005

Venue to be announced

200 tickets available at about £22

Two coaches will leave the Belfry at 19.00 hrs

Further details later by circular to all members


Digging Behind the Belfry – the Discovery of Rose Cottage Cave

by Tony Jarratt

"The estimated time of breakthrough is constant at six months for the first year up to the abandonment of the dig"   -  Alfie's Digging Law

Preliminary survey of Rose Cottage Cave


     Many years ago Geoff Selway of Rose Cottage - our neighbour at the end of the Belfry drive - excavated a large, doughnut-shaped pit in the field behind the Shed, and on the line of the Priddy Pot Water leat, with the intention of creating a scenic pond complete with central island. The water for this was derived from the leat, having come from Fair Lady Well via the Belfry washing pond. For about three years the pond was a success and contained about 1.5m of water and a selection of ducks until, following a night of heavy rain, the lot disappeared down a hole in the NW corner - ducks excluded. It then remained generally dry until the rescue of November 13th 2002 after Vern Freeman peeled off in Maypole Series, St. Cuthbert's Swallet. In atrociously wet conditions the Wells unit of Somerset Fire Brigade, using two Coventry "Godiva" pumps, raised 2,500 litres of water per minute from Cuthbert's depression into the pond - now briefly resurrected! The pumping continued for over four hours  so at least 600,000 litres (132,000 gallons) were shifted and your scribe was very worried about possible flooding in the village. This didn't happen as all the water sank away, not to be seen again until its presumed reappearance at Wookey Hole.


The St. Cuthbert's Swallet report (Irwin 1991) states on p65 that the Coral Chamber stream is likely to be derived from the marshy ground to the west of the Belfry. A recent visit to Coral Chamber by Vern failed to find any evidence of the pumping operation so it is possible that there is some stream divergence in this area which only direct exploration will prove. Could the sinking water be the supply for the enigmatic Lake Chamber, either as the Coral stream or in a discrete conduit? If this cave is an ancient inlet to Cuthbert's it is likely to intercept the NW-SE Gour Lake fault, which forms the SW boundary of the cave, at around 60-70m depth and over 30m upstream from known passage. Vern, Pete Hellier, Paul Brock and Sean Howe are checking leads in Cuthbert's which head in this direction. A connection with Cuthbert's would add at least 300m to give the system a length of around 7,100m and an extra 8m or so depth making it some 153m deep. It would also provide a problem-free entrance for adventure centres, management training operatives, mineral collectors and frustrated Sump 2 diggers!

A further point of interest is the existence of a Roman lead mining settlement immediately to the north of the site (Williams 1998). It appears that some waste water from this operation would have sunk in this area.

Finally, the recent Unlucky Strike extensions in Eastwater Cavern (Rowsell 2004, Long 2005 and Rowsell 2005) reveal that this part of the system is trending towards the series of shallow depressions located between that cave and the dig. Could we have a potential Eastwater-Cuthbert's link or is it a separate, parallel system?

Digging Operations  10/10/04 - 10/1/05

With three of the Club digging projects finished or in abeyance it was time to look for a new project and thanks to Ivan Sandford permission was gained from Geoff to excavate this site.

Work commenced on the 10th October with some three tonnes of earth, clay and stones excavated by hand and bagged up. Two "rabbit holes" were followed down to bedrock at c. 2m depth. A further c. 3 tonnes were removed next day and a waterworn rift was followed down the dip of the pavement-like limestone floor. Tea was provided on site at this very civilized dig and has since been delivered from both the Belfry by Rob "Bobble" Lavington and from Glenview by Fiona Sandford. The 13th saw a Wednesday night team digging beneath powerful overhead lighting provided by Ivan and yet another c. 3 tonnes out. Two days later work continued and on the 18th a more interesting section of the floor rift was reached by tunnelling beneath the clay overburden. Unfortunately, a couple of days later, a major collapse was found to have occurred and it was realised how potentially dangerous the dig was. After much of this collapse was cleared a "board meeting" was held and a decision taken to backfill the hole and try again some 4m to the SW. Being fed up with manual labour we requested Nigel Taylor to have a go with his mini-digger, "Sampsone".

Nigel, and a large crowd of onlookers, turned up on the 7th November and with great finesse he excavated a 2m x 2m x 3m deep hole through the clay overburden to the bedrock. The following day he finished the job and tidied up. Our grateful thanks for this excellent piece of work. The clay sides were desperately in need of shoring and this was partly accomplished on the 10th by Gwilym Evans, Ben Ogbourne and helpers who used three old wooden doors and some wriggly tin to construct what appeared to be a sunken outside bog. Despite its rickety appearance it did the job and hand digging continued to reveal the top of a possible rift in the bedrock.

This rift began to take shape on the 17th when lumps of laminated calcite and large sandstone cobbles came out with the spoil. This gave cause for some enthusiasm as it was obvious that a large stream had once transported these cobbles to the site. Two days later this pleasant site was cursed, as usual, with the "Reverse Midas Touch" and digging became somewhat squalid. The Sunday afternoon of the 21st was spent by a team of four digging ankle deep in "baby shite" but very excited by the development of the rift into an obvious, steeply descending cave passage. The next week saw diggers on site every day and several metres of passage cleared of infill. A small airspace with a stalagmite coated

wall was revealed at one point but work became difficult due to the narrowness of the passage. This problem was resolved on the 29th when a five shothole charge was fired to enlarge the working space . It also resulted in a text message from an irate Fiona Sandford who was convinced that her kitchen would collapse! This could be a good indication of the direction of the potential passage. Rich Witcombe and Jake Baynes commenced work on the drystone base in readiness for concrete pipes being organized and delivered by Dave Speed.

December 1st; Fiona's kitchen was still in one piece but not so the rift walls. A large amount of broken rock was cleared and some surface tidying was done with more next day and a brief but energetic burst of work on the evening of the 3rd in preparation for the arrival of the pipes on the morrow.

Dave arrived promptly on the 4th with the three pipes on his tractor trailer and together with Rich, Jake B. and Phil Coles worked extremely hard on clearing the entrance and building up the drystone base upon which the pipes were emplaced by Alan Quantrill with the aid of a massive JCB. This was a magnificent, professional job which only took about three hours and was much admired by the onlookers (for the record it cost the Club £255 - a bargain).  Phil recorded the event on camera and some digging was later done underground.  (The great contribution of the A.T.L.A.S. digging team must be acknowledged at this point or we will never make Descent again...).

More photos were taken on the following day by Pete Glanvill. Some twenty loads of spoil came out including a large boulder hefted by MNRC caving sec. Darryl Instrum who was on his first dig. A two shothole charge was fired.

A strong Monday team on the 6th hauled out over thirty loads of broken rock and clay and yet more snaps were taken by Tony Audsley. The project instigator, Vern, arrived to assist and most of the surface spoil heaps were tidied up.

It was by now pretty obvious that we had an ongoing cave so the provisional name "Belfry Dig" was dropped and the site named after the adjacent cottage. Some considered this name to be a bit "twee" but the Two Nicks pointed out that "Rose Cottage" is apparently Weston General Hospital speak for mortuary and Chris Batstone assured us that it is also naval slang for pox clinic so we all felt better about it.

Banging and clearing trips continued daily from the 7th - 13th December, the last of these being a five shothole sequence charge laid by Charlie Adcock, the staggered acoustic effects of which much impressed the onlookers. Ambrose Buchanan operated a seismometer to measure the amount of noise - effectively zero. Thirty one skiploads of the resulting spoil were hauled out on the 15th and another charge fired in the LH wall/floor.

The clay and cobble filled sloping rift became more horizontal but was a bugger to dig due to the compacted nature of the fill. Banging and clearing trips continued on the 17th, 18th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd in a range of interesting weather conditions including very heavy rain (when the pond partially re-filled) and thick snow with frozen ground. On the last visit the writer and Charlie laid and fired an eight shothole charge which rippled the bathwater that Ivan was lying in at the time!

Work continued daily over the festive season with much spoil hauled out and one more bang until, on the 28th, the writer and Darryl opened up a small hole which draughted so strongly that it sounded like the wind on the surface above - indeed it may well be affected by the weather as was the draught in Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink. On looking into the hole a low but superbly decorated grotto was revealed and we now definitely had a new Mendip cave. Excavation of possible by-passes to this grotto continued daily over the holiday. Having won the 2004 Digging Barrel competition we were in no rush to break in but, just to rub it in, a discovery on New Year's Day was hoped for. The surface was also tidied up and a drystone wall built SW of the entrance. Some of the leat water was diverted undergound in an effort to clean the place up. The final bang of the year took place on the 30th but, alas, January 1st came and went without the hoped for discovery.

A vast amount of work had been done though by many Club members and friends. Jake Baynes had opened up a mud and rock filled rift to the right of the grotto - now very dangerous due to poised boulders and to be strictly avoided. Duncan Butler learnt this having nearly received a broken neck from a fallen lump of heavy clay. There is a good chance that this collapse will "crown " through to the surface to reveal that this may be the original main entrance.

John "Tangent" Williams and others favoured engineering a route below the grotto while Paul Brock commenced a rival dig just below the entrance shaft. Bob Smith and Duncan did much useful surface work in clearing out the leat, damming the stream and constructing a breeze block bridge and stile. Several hundreds of skiploads of rock and mud were hauled out, John Noble, Nick Richards and Nick Harding working particularly hard at this onerous task. Ivan and Graham "Jake" Johnson made life easier by collecting the Barrow Rake Swallet dig tripod and winch and replacing the man-hauling system.

The 2nd and 3rd January saw charges fired at the end of Mt. Hindrance Lane (the entrance passage - named from a liberated Chard road sign left at the Belfry by a well-wisher) in an attempt to get under the grotto. The well-wisher was later revealed as 80 year old but eternally youthful Tony "Sett" Setterington. Paul's Personal Project also got a dose of 40 gramme cord.

The Club interest over the holiday period was so great that even Nigel Taylor and Pete Rose were seen underground and both Stuart McManus and Dave Irwin threatened to don their caving gear!!! Duncan, though, managed a drunken, pre-dawn trip without gear and got thoroughly soaked in the process as the introduced stream had flooded the cave to within 2m of the entrance shaft. He returned some twenty minutes later to find it had drained away. Delayed tsunami effects? This did indicate that the main way on was at a high level.  The convenience of the cave's location was emphasised when mugs of tea were again delivered to the diggers - this time by Jeff Price and underground!

It was noted that if the stream was piped into the NE end of the original dig it didn't appear in the known cave. If piped into the SW end it rapidly entered below the concrete pipes. Water sinking in the current shallow pond to the S of the entrance was also not met with but almost certainly will be (it was - see later). The general direction of the cave so far is 250 degrees - towards Fairlady Well Cottage.

Normality soon returned and on Wednesday 5th the bang spoil was cleared to reveal two narrow open rifts ahead. Another 100 or so skiploads were hauled out. Next day the rock barrier between these rifts was banged and Paul continued with his Project. The 7th, 8th and 9th were also clearing and banging days with Fiona Crozier starring as lead groveller and using up some of her boundless enthusiasm and limitless supply of "Wicked"s. During this weekend a view had been gained into open, man-sized passage some 2m below the grotto and hurling a powerful wind into the diggers' faces.

The First Breakthrough 10/1/05 - 18/1/05

The "Monday Club" team - today comprising Fiona, Jake B, Phil, Vern, Rich W, Ivan and the writer, with observers John Noble and Tony Audsley - assembled for the guaranteed breakthrough on the morning of the 10th January.

While 15 loads of spoil headed for the surface Fiona and your scribe cleared the bang debris and crept through into a small chamber formed in a heavily calcited boulder choke situated behind the grotto. In one place what at first appeared to be a curiously regular line of helictites is actually the remains of an eroded stal. curtain. To the south a less calcited section of the choke was entered to reach a boulder blocked rift in the floor. The stream was diverted into the cave and observed to sink in gravel below the grotto but could then be heard flowing away in the depths of the rift. After everyone had visited the 10m or so of new passage a three shothole charge was fired on the largest boulder blocking this rift. The explorers retired to the Hunters' to both celebrate and drown their disappointment at the meagreness of today's find but being Mendip diggers should have known better anyway! Later that day Paul and Bobble found the banged boulder in pieces but now blocking the rift further down. A brief visit next day by Ivan and the writer confirmed their findings and provided an opportunity to plan the next operation.

An eleven strong Wednesday night team removed some 70 loads on 12th January and cleared out much of the entrance passage. Two rocks in the choked terminal "rift" were drilled and banged in order to gain access to a draughting and calcited hole in the floor visible beyond. One of the slabs of rock brought out from this area was observed by Tangent to

be scored by slickensides and this may indicate that we have reached the north-westerly extension of the Gour Lake Fault. The heavily waterworn and overhanging NE side of the ongoing passage is opposed by equally waterworn massive boulders with much evidence of plentiful ancient stream deposits in the form of rounded sandstone cobbles and pea gravel. An original swallet entrance to the NW is postulated - perhaps taking the forerunner of the Eastwater stream long before the present Eastwater Cavern was developed.

The 14th saw Jake B. and Paul competing to make the entrance passage into an Eastwater Traverse lookalike by excavating the floor of the rift while your scribe blew up more boulders at the end. The floor of Paul's dig was also modified to give more working space.

Lots of spoil was shifted from the end on the 15th and a short length of open passage entered - unfortunately completely choked and not large enough to turn round in. A head-sized sandstone cobble was recovered from this area for display in the Belfry. Fluorescein, put into the stream sinking at the original dig, was not seen in Lake Chamber, St. Cuthbert's by either Vince Simmonds (three hours later) or Graham Johnson (one day later).

The 16th saw a strong team getting about 80 loads to surface and clearing out most of the cave and this work continued the following day when a great deal of rock was removed from the boulder choke. 27 loads were hauled out by Tony A. and Ray Deasy got his annual "nip over from Queensland" digging trip in!. Both Jake B. and the writer opened up side passages on the RH side which gave views into the same open passage - both being blocked by immoveable slabs. A tiny stream entered from a passage on the LH side and the noise of a larger stream below indicated that we were about to regain the water from the original dig on its way to regions unknown. A higher level route through the choke could also be seen but again was boulder-blocked. A return was made in the afternoon to drill and bang a total of six obstructive "Henrys".

The Second Breakthrough  18/1/05 - 30/1/05

Desperate to see the results of this bang your scribe returned after work on the 18th and after an hour spent clearing broken rock from the two RH digs was able to wriggle between boulders in the furthest one and enter a roomy section of passage. His impression was of being at the head of a large and steeply dipping, seriously waterworn canyon but well choked with precarious and very spiky boulders. The similarity to Eastwater is marked but the stability seems far worse! Some rearranging of the ruckle was done before a tactical retreat was made for a celebratory pint, clutching a sandstone cobble with a very fine fossil imprint. This extension was only some 5m but the potential of the cave had now increased enormously - as had the problems of exploring it... Several of the team visited the extension on the following evening but despite a good poking about were unable to get much further. Digging continued in P.P.P. and another 47 loads were hauled out.  The fossil-bearing cobble caused much bemusement in the Pub as it seems it should not exist! Luckily Jim Hanwell thought otherwise and tentatively identified the cobble as being a fine grained sandstone from the upper end of the Old Red Sandstone (near the contact with the Carboniferous limestone) and the fossil as a possible strophomenid (Brachiopod).  This is a rare and relatively important find. Dr. Willy Stanton thought otherwise and suggested it was weathered chert from the Jurassic Harptree beds with a variety of "cockle". Geologists from the Shepton Mallet C.C. favour the sandstone theory.

Ivan and the writer were back at the choke on the 21st and after a couple of hours of very selective boulder bashing were able to gain a view into ongoing passage. The relatively stable LH wall was banged the next day and the spoil cleared on the 23rd when the way on was entered but found to rapidly choke and will need more bang. A rare underground sighting of Chris Batstone was the highlight of the day!

Interest was then transferred to the stream sink below the grotto with 40 loads coming out on the 24th and various draughting holes appearing in the floor. Digging was curtailed when a very large rock slab, unknowingly undermined by the writer, slid onto him (like they do) necessitating removal by Jake B. and Tony Boycott. He was miraculously unharmed and got his own back by blowing the rock to bits and returning in the afternoon with the late Martin Bishop and Phil Romford to clear it. The latter also studied the cave geomorphology and removed cobble samples for identification. Work continued here and at Paul's Personal Project on the 26th when 53 loads came out and more boulders were banged with another 14 loads out two days later. The crawl below the grotto became awkward for skip hauling so was blasted on the 30th when another 56 loads came out.

Further  Digging  1/2/05 - 4/3/05

Throughout February the team worked hard on both Paul's Personal Project and the Grotto dig. Well over 212 loads of spoil were hauled out as, apparently, was Phil Coles - though in the Belfry Log Book he fervently denies this! Paul almost  had to be regularly hauled out as his steeply dipping dig went vertical. He has started a "J.Rat's Pump Fan Club". Sean recorded all this with his digital camera and the excellent results can be seen on his web page. A slump of the infill around the concrete pipes caused a few problems but was later made good.

March 1st saw Paul and his Makita breaking up stubborn rock at the bottom of his dig. 42 loads were hauled out and next day Jake B. started a new dig at the junction near the terminal choke dig. He was to hit the jackpot.....

The  Third  Breakthrough 5/3/05  - 15/3/05

On the 5th he returned with Tom Clayton (Birmingham U.S.S.) and Phil C. to continue work at what became known as Dig 2b. Some lengthy and dedicated digging brought them to open voids between dodgy boulders, one of which actually pivoted when touched (a great feature but now dropped for safety). Tom got the short stick and pushed on down into standing sized passage with superb formations in abundance. Jake joined him and they explored some 20m to a too

tight calcited slot. A large column-topped stal. boss, a very long straw and many helictites were only some of the stunning "pretties" in Aglarond (a Tolkienesque Elvish word meaning "glittering caves"). To quote Jake: "The best caving trip for me so far. Tom and I were first in ever in human history - or any history. FANTASTIC". Pete, John N. and Phil C. visited this wondrous extension next day in an attempt to pass the squeeze - knowing full well that your skinny scribe was returning from Meghalaya that day. Alas, they failed and the writer duly took up the challenge on the 7th when, honed to pushing perfection by three weeks of constant hard caving and a rice diet, he easily slid through into another 10m of even more well decorated passage (Aglarond II) ending in another impassable slot but with a bigger open void ahead from whence issued the sound of the stream. Ivan photographed Aglarond I and most of the formations were taped off.

The following evening a steel mesh was bolted in place near the squeeze to protect adjacent vulnerable formations. Unfortunately in the process the longest straw got broken but may be repairable. The squeeze was enlarged with Paul's 110 volt Makita hammer drill and the next calcite barrier attacked with same to get a good view into roomy and well decorated passage beyond. Ivan photographed Aglarond II.

On the 9th much of the cave was cleared of spoil - over 120 loads reaching the surface where Ivan built a dam to divert the sinking stream into the pond. A drystone retaining wall was built by Jake and team above  the latest breakthrough point and the writer continued chiselling at the end until the chisel bit snapped in two (sorry Paul). A return was made on the 11th March when almost three hours of "micro-blasting" - using single detonators and 3mm and 5mm detonating cord failed to fully open up the slot. Clearing took place on the 12th when several diggers visited the cave throughout the day. Red drain dye poured into the surface collapse sink at 8.15am was not seen in Coral Stream, St. Cuthberts three hours later and Vern also reported that at 1pm Lake Chamber was also uncoloured.

Water problems in the cave were hopefully solved on the 13th when Ivan and Bobble constructed a valved dam on the course of the Fair Lady Well stream and diverted it into the St. Cuthbert's depression. Alex Livingston and John N. widened the breakthrough squeeze to enable the more portly diggers  to reach the end.

Much micro-blasting experimentation was done at the end next morning and at the entrance Rich W. started walling up the rift below the concrete pipes. In the afternoon Ivan and the writer returned for another excruciating four hours of rock-breaking ending in frustration and the laying of a 40gm charge. The diggers vowed to look up the Elvish for "Bastard". Totally convinced that the squeeze was now wide open they returned the following evening for yet another two hours of cramped misery followed by a "final" bang. At least, the lower half of your scribe had been into Aglarond III but the upper half decided not to push his luck. Rich, meanwhile, continued with his walling project before a visit to the working face where he compared the formations with those in Charterhouse Warren Farm Swallet.

The Fourth Breakthrough  16/3/05 - 2/4/05.

Wednesday 16th March at last saw the squeeze passed after more chiselling. Once through the writer was able to assist from the far side with further enlargement enabling Ivan to join him an hour later. Aglarond III consists of a sloping "bedding chamber" some 5m wide, 1m high and 10m deep with a flowstone floor, hundreds of straws, helictites, curtains and many other formations. A tiny streamway at the bottom becomes too small and is blocked with straws while above it a tall, rift-like feature may be the best way on but is almost completely blocked by pure white columns and other formations. The extension was photographed and taped. The bruised and battered explorers returned to Ben "fatarse" Ogbourne in Aglarond II for celebratory, or in this case commiseratory, Champagne before heading out with the redundant drill and assorted rubbish. Meanwhile Pete, Phil and Jake hauled out 70 loads of spoil and one newt from the Grotto Dig area thereby tidying the place up ready for a renewed assault in an attempt to bypass the Aglarond chokes. The draught at this point is noticeably much stronger than at the current end.

Work recommenced here on the 19th March when a boulder in the floor was banged and cleared on the morrow allowing entry into some 4m of clean-washed boulder choke with a voice connection through to the head of the climb down to Aglarond. Further work in this part of the choke would be pointless and dangerous. Also on this trip Sean photographed Aglarond I and II using Alys and John N. as models.

The morning of Monday the 21st saw Rich W. completing one side of his cemented entrance wall and much tidying up on the surface. The return of "Madphil" Rowsell from Tasmania prompted the long delayed survey of the cave on the 23rd when the first task was to traverse from the St. Cuthbert's entrance pipe to that of Rose Cottage with the intention of continuing on to Eastwater in future. The cave itself was surveyed from Aglarond III to the entrance and a Lexica DISCO laser distance meter was used instead of a tape to take side legs in the areas of vulnerable formations. A total of 61m length and 29m depth was recorded - not as long as estimated but a good start for the next Digging Barrel! Meanwhile Paul's Personal Project kept the vociferous diggers amused and 41 loads were dug out and dumped. Two days later Paul returned to dig alone in peace and quiet while the surveyors continued the surface traverse to Eastwater Cavern. 65 loads came out during the next few days and other work included the completion of the entrance walling and digging and blasting in the Terminal Choke Dig where a couple of metres progress was made at high level. Further work here is following the dip of the waterworn limestone into the floor. Paul's dig was also enlarged with explosives to create more working space.

Further Digging 2/4/05 - 20/6/05.    

April commenced with 49 loads of spoil out over two days and lots of digging at both Paul's Personal Project and the Terminal Choke Dig. On the 4th Rich drystone walled the NE face of the Grotto Dig and most of the redundant steel shoring was removed. Further work was carried out in P.P.P. and a wire ladder installed to aid exit. The 5th and 6th saw more work here and another 53 loads out with a spate of showery weather making conditions below a trifle damp. Another 39 loads came out on the 10th and 11th, a good percentage of this being bang debris from blasted out roof pendants whose removal was necessary to create working space in the rapidly dwindling phreatic bedding plane. During the following week 55 loads came out and several blasting trips took place to remove a stubborn bed of hard limestone which bisected two of the three diggable phreatic tubes in P.P.P. Much tidying of the surface was also done. Another bang in the central phreatic tube on the 16th was later cleared of 33 loads of spoil by the able-bodied diggers while your scribe was reduced to the role of dig historian following an unfortunate incident involving tap-dancing officianado Mike Willet, several libations, a pair of steel-shod Lancashire clogs and a flagstone kitchen floor. This mix resulted in a fractured fibula and much frustration.

Thirteen more loads came out of P.P.P. on the 27th when Paul reported the phreatic tubes to be looking more promising after the limestone bridge had partially gone. A spell of wet weather and the necessity of flushing out the squalor in this dig caused some ponding problems and so, on the 4th May, Pete commenced a new dig in the small boulder chamber at the lowest accessible part of the main choke before Aglarond 1. To avoid the confusion of a numbering system "Pete's Baby" is proposed as the name for this site ("I don't know what it's called - it's Pete's baby" - Sean ). 16 loads of spoil went all the way from here to the surface due to the presence of eight keen and efficient diggers.

Thanks to the much appreciated assistance of Stu Sale the writer was able to abseil down to P.P.P. on the 9th of May to drill two long shotholes in the LH wall of the upper phreatic tube and lay a 40gm cord charge. This was later noisily fired from the surface following a delicate prusik out. SRT digging comes to Mendip. Two days later 20 loads and two newts were hauled out from this site, mainly from the two lower tubes. Paul filled ten skips on the 13th providing space for Tony Boycott to drill and bang the limestone bridge in the middle tube a couple of days later. On this trip the writer started clearing the upper tube and continued this next day while Tony Audsley bagged the middle tube bang debris. Another charge was then fired in the latter. A strong Wednesday night team cleared 64 loads from this area on the 18th May and did a modicum of work in Pete's Baby.

A week later 18 more loads were hauled out with another 40 removed on the 29th when superb bank holiday weather lured a large team of diggers and onlookers to the site. June 1st saw 19 loads (and a newt) reaching the surface following much spoil breaking by Paul and Ben in the middle tube during which they opened up a tiny airspace with some mini-formations. Pete then drilled two holes in a floor slab and the writer charged these with 40gm cord. A resounding bang heralded the removal of the slab (and the mini-formations!). Sean, alas, was the next regular digger to suffer enforced retirement having been bitten by a possibly rabid Spanish mugger while enjoying a dirty weekend in Barcelona. This resulted in a plastered arm and an even better excuse to avoid winching than the writer's! The bang spoil was removed on the 5th June when another 12 skiploads came out from the rapidly enlarging middle tube - sometimes affectionately referred to as "Bored of the Rings". The diggers were eventually driven out by headaches attributable to both bang and booze.

On June 6th the upper tube was dug separately by both the writer and Alex and more work here was done by Paul next day when he pumped out the middle tube with a smaller submersible electric pump. This allowed 40 loads of spoil to come out on the 8th when reports from the working face indicated easy digging and loading conditions. Paul dug solo again on the 11th resulting in 43 loads coming out next day when, towards the end of the session, John opened up a draughting hole with open passage visible beyond. Exultation soon turned to disappointment when it was realised that this passage had already been entered from Mt. Hindrance Lane above - Bored of the Rings having popped out in the floor below the first grotto to create a short but entertaining round trip! Fortunately there was also ongoing, diggable passage to the right of the connection where water apparently sinks. More work was done here on the 13th by Alex and the writer on separate solo trips.

The opening up of the connection continued on Wednesday 15th June with digging in B.o.t.R. and digging/rock breaking below the grotto. 40 skiploads of spoil eventually reached the surface despite a poor turnout of regulars. An obstructive rock slab on the grotto side of the link was banged next day and several skips filled. The bang debris was cleared by Paul two days later when many skips and bags were filled at both ends of the loop and the "round trip" was eventually completed by Fiona and the writer. The latter two continued digging and stacking full bags on the 19th. A healthy 80 loads were removed on the 20th June and work continues following the now vertical floor of B.o.t.R. down the side of the main choke.

The Digging Team and Acknowledgements

Just about everyone who visits the Belfry has been involved at some point. In addition to those mentioned above other stalwarts are Andy Smith, Ben Selway, Jack Lambert, Lee Stackett, Graham, Chrissie and Sam Price (CerSS), Luke Baynes, Greg Brock, Justine Emery (CSS), Martin Smith (OSCG), Rich Gulvin, Dave Sutherland, Ian Barker and Mark Craske (all MNRC), Ros White, Alys Mendus (SUSS), Mike Willet, Martin Grass, Alan Gray (ACG), Martin Peters, Steve Chitty, Jason Wilkes, John Walsh, Mark "Shaggy" Howden, Martin Ellis (SMCC), John Christie.

Our grateful thanks to Geoff and Carol Selway, Ivan and Fiona Sandford, Nigel Taylor and Dave Speed for services beyond the call of duty. Alan Quantrill for expert JCB manipulation, the BEC committee, John Sheppey (Somerset Fire Brigade), the Wig - for thought-provoking theories, Sett, Alfie Collins for his quote, Jim Hanwell, Willy Stanton and assorted geologists for cobble identification, Chris Binding (CheddarCC / CSCC) for conservation tape and the loan of a laser distancemeter.


IRWIN D.J. et al 1991 St. Cuthbert's Swallet.  Bristol Exploration Club

WILLIAMS R.J.G. 1998  The St. Cuthbert's Roman Mining Settlement, Priddy, Somerset: Aerial Photographic Recognition. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society. 21(2). p.123-132.

ROWSELL P. (Madphil) 2004 The trials and tribulations of Eastwater. Belfry Bulletin No.519, Bristol Exploration Club. 53(5). p.9-20.

LONG R.  2005  Mel-low digs and Russian Woman Hands. Belfry Bulletin No.521, Bristol Exploration Club, 54. (1).pp18-21.        

ROWSELL P. (Madphil) 2005 Morton’s Pot – the final solution. Belfry Bulletin No.522, Bristol Exploration Club, 54(2).pp18-21





The Rise and Fall of the B.E.C. Membership (1943-2004)

By Andy MacGregor

EXPANSION – 1943 to 1951

The members who existed in September 1943 numbered 14 as one might well expect in the middle of the war. In contrast, their staying power was better than average which, again, one might expect from those people who effectively started the club going again.  Much the same remained true of the 1944 (18 members) and the 1945 (17 members) batches.

Thus, by the end of the war, the total number of club members was 47 as 5 had left, but their staying power meant that losses from these groups would be low in future years, and would thus help to keep numbers up.  Members who are still seen from time to time from these batches include Harry Stanbury (Number 1) and Bob Bagshaw (Number 20).

In 1946, with the war now over, new members started to arrive in large numbers. Some were friends of B.E.C. members who had been in the forces with them and who were now demobbed. Others had been students during the war. 'Sett' (Number 78) is an example of the latter group.  Although the staying power of the 1946 batch was only average, its large number of new members, plus the low loss batches, pushed the total up.  By the end of 1946 we had 69 members, only 15 had left from the list started in 1943.

From 1947 to 1950, an even greater expansion occurred.  Very large numbers of new members joined in each of these years.  The membership by the end of 1950 was 129.  Among this ‘intake’ of new members were a number of well known personalities including Pat Ifold (number 150); Jill Tuck (number 157); Norman Petty (number 160) and Roy Bennett (number 214).  Derek Targett's father - Fred Targett - was also a member at about this time.

BAD PATCH……(1951 to 1957)

In contrast with the expansion shown above, the club actually - and steadily - DECREASED in size from 1951 to 1957.  At the start of this bad patch, the club had 129 members, while at the end of the bad patch, it had sunk to 116.  The decrease in membership was simply due to the fact that greater than average losses occurred in nearly every year.  In other words, members suddenly began to leave the club earlier than one might expect, and this did not depend on how long they had been members.  For some reason, the club had stopped keeping its members happy - old and young alike.

In 1953, the club discovered a major Mendip cave right on its own doorstep AND negotiated an access agreement which, in those days, virtually meant that any caver who wanted to explore Cuthbert’s regularly had to be a member of B.E.C.  One might reasonably expect that this would have given membership a boost, but IT HAD NOT THE SLIGHTEST EFFECT.  Indeed, the year following the discovery of Cuthbert’s was the worst of the whole period.


In the five years from 1957 to 1962, the club quite suddenly and dramatically expanded again at a rate nearly equal to its post-war growth.  From a situation in which the club seemed to have saturated at just over a hundred members it suddenly leaped into a position where it had nearly twice that number of members.  All this happened without any external factors like the ending of the war to account for the large growth.  It is thus a very remarkable occurrence.  At the end of 1962 we had 189 members.  After 1962, the increase levelled off.

What happened in 1951 which suddenly caused members to be less satisfied with the club, and what else happened (or what stopped happening) in 1957 which so dramatically reversed this trend?

In 1951, Harry Stanbury - the founder of the B.E.C. and the then current Hon. Secretary and Hon. Treasurer, resigned from the club committee and all his offices.  Dan Hassell also resigned at B.B. Editor. Reading the B.B. before this date will show that it contained a great deal of news of club members and of social and other events on Mendip as well as caving news.  In other words, the B.B. formed a strong link between the club on Mendip and in Bristol and those members who could only appear at infrequent intervals.  Members thus tended to hang on to their membership so that they could find out what their friends were doing and what was going on 'on the hill'.

After Harry's resignation, his posts as Hon. Sec. and Hon. Treasurer were ably filled by the (then) young Bob Bagshaw.  The B.B. proved more difficult to get anyone to take on and for a year or so it was actually run from London by Don Coase and John Shorthose.  Even when Harry was persuaded to come back and edit it again, it was not the same. As Secretary, he had previously run features like 'From the Hon. Sec's Postbag' - which he could no longer write. Even members addresses were not published over most of the period 1951 to 1957.

In 1957, the B.B. was handed over by the A.G.M. to a group of active club members who produced most of the 'chat' which members said they missed and also gave the B.B. a facelift.


The period of time covered by this part is that stretching from 1962 to 1985.  This is the longest stretch covered in our review.

If you look at the graph which should have appeared in the preceding BB and can be seen below, it appears to reveal a very slowly growing club until this period, when the membership numbers hovered around the 200 mark, which when all said and done, should have remained around that figure.

The sudden boost in 1989 is due to a sudden increase of 30 new members with an average decrease. Most years previously we had an increase/decrease of approximately 17 members annually.  In 1990 the annual new members dripped back to the average of 17 with hardly any members leaving.  In 1992 we see the opposite and by 1993, the membership is back to around the 200 mark.

From 1993 to the present day we see a decline to 130 members for 2004.

The drop in 2003 can be explained by the fact that all life members were contacted to see if any of them were still around, and a few were either not interested in keeping up with the club, or had vanished.

Could the drop from 2001 to the present day be the same as for the drop from 1951 to 1957, which was attributed to the lack of a regular appearance of the BB or when it did appear, there was not much news about people and any new discoveries?

The drop from the peak of 1991 to 2001 can be attributed to the steady decline in this country of people wanting to go caving, coupled with the fact that the finding of new caves has become increasingly scarce/difficult.

2001 did not help with the Foot and mouth epidemic, in which many country side sports suffered and never recovered to the previous membership numbers.

If the BEC wishes to keep at least on a steady level of membership, the BB needs to be at least issued bi-monthly in order to keep the non-Bristol area members interested. [Any comments ? – Ed]



A note from Mike Wilson,      Hon. Treasurer

As you all should know by now we [the club] have been trying to set up an insurance scheme with the BCRA and all other clubs to remedy the fact that the old insurance company just ran away from us .

Last year was a bit messy but now the system has settled down and we all anticipate that it will run for many years to come .

As far as the BEC is concerned there are no problems. The extra cost is not excessive and the coverage remains the same as before [I keep a copy of the policy if anyone wishes to check it out].

With regard to payment it is vital that everyone pays their dues before the end of January so that we can submit a list of insured members to the BCA. Anyone paying late will make it very difficult for us, as the list has to be submitted at the latest by the date above. This system is far superior to the earlier one as each member is listed  and logged to be either insured for caving activities, or insured with another club, the people who have not requested insurance are not covered  for any caves requiring permits in the UK or abroad, digging activities on private land, or operating as guides or cave leaders. THIS MEANS ALL CUTHBERT’S LEADERS MUST HAVE  THE BCA INSURANCE !!!!.

Anyone who is a probationary member or has joined in the middle of the Club year can, if they wish, pay a proportionate sum to be insured i.e. 6 months into the club year 50% of the premium.

The BCA Policy is available on the net at , for anyone who wishes to keep a copy for landowners etc.

We would like next years subs payment, [due next Oct /Jan 2006]  to include the insurance payment if required, at this moment in time the BCA state that the cost should be the same  i.e. £15.00 on top of the normal subs .This would assist Fiona and myself as we have to sort out the membership forms and pay the premium by the end of January.

Please note that you are covered for worldwide caving activities but not USA and CANADA. Also this is not a travel policy IT DOES NOT COVER MEDICAL EXPENSES OR RESCUE!!!!!!!! The indemnity limit is £2,000,000 and there is an excess for any claim. At the time of writing it is £2.500 .for normal caving incidents. I hope that this helps everyone understand fully the extent of cover which has been a bit vague in the past. 


Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink - Digging Update

By Tony Jarratt

Continued from BB 519

July 4th saw a tidying up trip to Slop 3 where recent heavy showers had raised the water level over a metre. A steep slope was created from the spoil dump at the bottom of Pewter Pot to the current pool surface.

Next day a 15 shothole charge - using 12/100gm detonating cord - was fired at Stillage Sump. It was noted that the recent rains had caused water to flow into Hangover Hall via the squeeze located some 2m above stream level - possibly due to an inwashed 25 litre plastic drum blocking the lower passage. Our next clearing trip here was on the 12th when an eight shothole charge was fired. An identical charge was fired on the 14th and cleared on the 18th when Duncan Butler and the writer came out from the sump by "braille", both of their lamps having failed at the same time. Next day a thirteen shothole charge was fired and this was partially cleared on the 21st when nine holes were drilled and the four diggers got a dose of "bang head" from residual fumes. Five of these holes were charged with 100gm cord on the 26th and noisily fired.

The previous day more clearing work was done at Slop 3 where much higher water levels prevented forward progress - by August 1st there was only a slight drop here so no digging was done. A possible high level passage above some fine formations halfway along Barmaids' Bedrooms was investigated but was found to be calcite choked.

The 28th July saw another banging/clearing session at Stillage Sump when the remaining four holes were utilised and the spoil was cleared on the 2nd August when visiting Hungarian caver and au pair Andi Vajdics worked hard in the doubtful air conditions. As a reward she was taken to see the bone deposit where a calcite coated bison molar was recovered for future scientific investigation - H.L.I.S.47. More clearing of the sump floor was done on the 4th. The water level at Slop 3 was still too high on the 9th so the writer probed the two dry dig sites beyond the bone deposit. Both were found to require banging to gain access to possible open passages beyond. This was accomplished on Wednesday the 11th August when a large team, diverted from other dig sites by heavy rain, assembled at the spot. The debris from both bangs was cleared on the 13th and the higher site found to soon close down in a massive boulder choke. The lower passage looked more promising and so another charge was fired here to knock off a corner. Escaping the horrors of Priddy Fair a small team returned on the 18th to push this to a boulder blockage where a large bison(?) vertebra was found. It was decided that due to lack of space and the size of the choke more thorough investigation of the area should be done before further banging.

August 15th saw a nine hole bang at Stillage Sump and some preliminary geomorphological investigation by Toby Maddocks (U.B.S.S.). Clearing, spoil stacking, drilling and banging continued on August 23rd with a surprisingly large Monday morning team who all got damp on the way out due to heavy rain. Three more trips this month resulted in over forty bags of spoil being dug from the sump floor and the survey of Old Peculier Aven completed. Another dozen loads were excavated on September 1st and ten more on the 6th when the sump walls were widened by blasting and the calcited ceiling choke banged on the suggestion of Vince Simmonds. The cave booze theme has transformed this into Simond's Choke after the famous, defunct brewery.

A spell of fine, dry weather caused the water level in Slop 3 to drop several feet and further work was done here on September 8th along with tidying up digs at both ends of B.B. and the discovery of a superbly preserved reindeer (?) tooth. It was noted on this trip that the long stalactite in Happy Hour Highway, painstakingly mended by Messrs Glanvill & Rose, had been once again partly smashed off by an unthinking and incompetent visitor. In this case it is known to have been broken on a Wessex tourist trip - as was its even longer companion destroyed some months ago. There are no plans to mend these formations but there are definite changes in access procedure being considered.

A large turnout on the 15th saw lots of spoil from S.S. dumped in the rapidly filling Hangover Hall and some small progress at the end. Four days later the dam was reinforced with concrete and a new wall of "deads" commenced above it. More digging was done in the choke which was left to "dig itself". This continued next day with the aid of a 2m steel rod until discretion proved the better part of valour and a retreat was made. A little more work was done here on the 22nd but it was judged to be too dangerous to continue without banging a boulder acting like a plug in a giant egg-timer. This was done two days later when a dozen tiny toads were rescued and added to the rapidly expanding community in Andy and Pams' pond. Sixteen more came out on the 27th - the day the choke was passed after some decidedly adrenalin producing digging. Unfortunately, after a couple of metres, this promising site turned into a massive choke of calcited boulders with no feasible way on. The last dig of September, on the 29th, removed all the fallen spoil from the choke and a few more loads from the sump floor. There was now not only a lack of air but also of enthusiasm. After many months of hard and exasperating work this area may now be abandoned, at least for the winter.

A tourist/conservation trip on October 1st saw yellow plastic tent pegs emplaced to emphasise the formation tape.

On the day after the club dinner an enthusiastic Fiona Crozier dived in both Hair of the Dog Sump and Slop 3 as a training exercise. Although, in the latter, she was unable to get under the "downstream" lip she was inspired to return next day with the writer as surface controller. She spent over fifteen minutes digging underwater and intends to continue this project as there is now no way that this sump will drain this year. On this trip a stream was actually flowing down Pewter Pot. Her co-diver from Leeds, Debbie Feeney, unfortunately lost a contact lens on the way down Pub Crawl and aborted her trip.

A tourist trip to Pewter Pot on October 6th found Slop 1 to be sumped and thus Hair of the Dog and Broon Ale Boulevard inaccessible and others on the 11th and 25th proved this to still be the case. On this latter trip Guy Munnings and the writer were almost caught out at RRR by the very sudden appearance of a "Swildon's-size" stream. Many of the team now turned their attentions to the new surface dig behind the Belfry with a brief session for some at Rana Hole in Sutherland. On November 3rd all the 110v cables, the bang wire and the pump were laboriously removed from the cave and the twenty-odd 25 litre drums transported from RRR to HHH as the lower levels were abandoned for the winter.

A Wessex tourist party informed the writer that BBB had become inaccessible due to a large slab having slid into the Slop 1 crawl from the RH wall. This problem will be resolved this summer.


Dr. Tom Higham of the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit reported that the Bison priscus bone sent to Oxford for radiocarbon dating had been proven to be over 55,000 years old. Dr. Roger Jacobi identified and returned HLIS 47 (Bison priscus - right M2) and HLIS 48 (Rangifer tarandus - right M1/M2). Tangent gave a short lecture on the cave at the "Mendip Hills AONB Strategy for the Historic Environment Seminar" held at Ubley on 23rd October.

More diggers and acknowledgements.

Duncan Butler (Newbury & District C.C./B.E.C.), Frome Caving Club (donation to the Bang Fund), Dr. Tom Higham (Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit), Lee Stackett, Bob "Bobble" Lavington, Andrea "Andi" Vajdics (Papp Ferenc Barlangkutato Csoport - Hungary), Toby Maddocks (U.B.S.S.), John Noble, George Cheshire (Bradford P.C.), Vanessa and Sean Hedley, Emily Davis (Helderberg Hudson Grotto, N.S.S., U.S.A.), Nick Gymer, Kev Gurner, Debbie Feeney, Mike and Ruth Merrett (SMCC).


Meghalaya 2005 - Discoveries in the Jaintia and West Khasi Hills

By : Tony Jarratt


BB 516 and 519. G.S.G. bulletins, fourth series, vol 1 nos. 4 and 5, vol 2 no. 2. Meghalaya Adventurers' Association (soft bound history of MAA and overview of Meghalayan caving available from BEC and GSG libraries)

Personnel :

UK - Simon Brooks (OCC/GSG), Tony Jarratt (BEC/GSG), Mark Brown (SUSS), Tony Boycott (BEC/GSG/UBSS), Jayne Stead (GSG), Fraser Simpson (GSG), Graham Marshall (GSG), Dan Harries (GSG), Joanne Whistler (OUCC), Lesley Yuen (OCC). Eire - Brian MacCoitir, Robin Sheen, Quentin Cooper (all BC). Austria - Peter Ludwig (LVHOO). Germany - Georg Baumler (HHVL), Christian Fischer (AHKG), Rainer Hoss (HFGN), Christine and Herbert Jantschke (HFGOK), Thilo Muller (AHKG). Switzerland - Thomas Arbenz (SNT), Julien Oppliger (SCI), India - Brian Kharpran Daly (MA/GSG), Gregory Diengdoh, Shelley Diengdoh, Dale Mawlong, Teddy Mawlong. Ronnie Mawlong, Sheppard Najier and others (all MA), Raplang Shangpliang (Shnongrim guide turned caver!), Pradeep Gogoi and his film team ( Assam).

     Adison "Adi" Thaba (camp manager/driver), Bung Diengdoh (driver/organizer), David Kimberly Marak (driver/organizer), Shamphang Lyngdoh (driver/cook/betel addict), Vinod Sunar, Alam "Munna" Khan (cook), Myrkassim Swer (head cook), Bhaikon Hazarika, Pulin Bara, Kamal Pradhan (cooking assistants), Mr. Sukhlain (Doloi or "king" of Nongkhlieh Elaka), Carlyn Phyrngap (were-tiger), Pa Heh Pajuh, Menda Syih, Shartis Dkhar, Heipormi Pajuh, Evermore Sukhlain, Moses A. Marak, Ramhouplien Tuolor, Boren G. Momin, Roilian Nampui, (village headmen, guides and local characters), Grewin R. Marak, Blaster Jana, Tobias Syiem, Mr. Roy (Meghalaya Police), Pambina A. Marak, Josbina N. Marak (cooking assistants).

     The BEC/GSG contingent - Dr.B., your scribe, Fraser and Graham - flew from Heathrow to Kolkata (nee Calcutta) on the 3rd February to meet the holiday-making Jayne at the ever popular Fairlawn Hotel where our first Indian beers were gratefully quaffed. On the following day's internal flight to Guwahati the soft southerners were upgraded to Club Class and the heathen Scots left in the back with the plebs. Obviously offended by this they mutinied in Assam and buggered off to the heavy snow and street gunfighting of Darjeeling for a relaxing few days. The Mendippers continued by taxi to Shillong to meet Brian K.D. and family and the first wave of our cosmopolitan colleagues. Beer once again featured strongly in the evening's programme.

Jaintia Hills

After a day in the city sorting equipment and shopping we all left for the Jaintia Hills on the 7th arriving at our superb bamboo camp in the late afternoon. Here we were welcomed by the locals and camp staff and settled in for a few more beers - around the campfire for a change.

With local guide-turned-caver Raplang some of us investigated several new sites on Khloo Rasong, the NW side of the Shnongrim ridge a couple of kilometres from camp, the primary aim being to gain access to the Krem Um Im 5 section of Krem Liat Prah. Of these Krem Urle 1 (cave in the mudslide area) was later to provide some painful caving in an essentially flat-out, boulder and cobble floored stream passage entered via 100m of well rigged and attractive pitches and becoming too narrow after 0.8kms. Only a considerable amount of squeezing and digging enabled us to get this far. Shelley's fondest memory of the place was her unintentionally using a large freshwater crab as a handhold! Two sections of large, dry fossil tunnel failed to yield any easier overhead routes. The general direction of the cave was towards the ever growing Krem Liat Prah system but a dye trace was not detected due to the time scales involved and the logistics of getting observers to the predicted connection points at the right time. This was to prove a problem with several other attempted traces and future work should involve detectors which could be collected and checked when convenient. Also, even in the wettest place on Earth, there are times of low water flow and February is one of them. Several other caves in this area looked promising but soon became choked or too small.

Having failed to find an easy way into the extremely promising Ratbat River in the Krem Um Im 5 section of the Liat Prah system we bit the bullet and returned to the horrors of the crawls, boulder chokes and crab-infested streamway (Shnongrim Sewer) of this cave. The long duck at the end of the Sewer had luckily dropped by a metre and Tony, Jayne and I were soon in the unexplored Ratbat River itself. Downstream was surveyed for 40m to a deep canal, later surveyed for another 137m of swimming to a probable sump. Other members of the expedition were to make some hard won advances in the stunning resurgence cave of Krem Wah Shikar and they were also stopped by a sump. The computer generated surface map, the "Big Picture", shows this to be heading towards Ratbat River and divers may be needed next year to attempt the connection and hopefully add Wah Shikar to Liat Prah to give a length of over 20kms.

Upstream Ratbat River produced some fine phreatic tunnels but after 300m and an awkward dig through boulders we were stopped by a classic Shnongrim Ridge boulder choke - huge and impassable. What we assume is the Krem Urle stream emerges from beneath but for us "cave finish".

This year there was an almost complete absence of bats as opposed to the hundreds seen in 2004. Also absent were the "Lilliputian monkey-coloured people" who Carlyn assured us frequent the cave entrances in the Um Im area (or has there been a secret Wessex expedition?).

Other work in the Um Im area involved digging, pot-bashing, re-surveying and recce. The re-survey of Krem Um Im 7 added 226m to Liat Prah but other promising sites closed down. There is still a great deal to explore in this heavily forested area but each year gets easier as the jungle is cleared for cultivation.

With our first two big caves concluded work concentrated on the amazing Krem Synrang Ngap, left fallow last year due to the pressure of other discoveries. The traditional 100m of entrance pitches were again superbly rigged by Mark and team and parties then set off through the downstream crawls and ducks and a couple of kms of scrambling over huge calcite bosses to reach a major junction. Downstream a huge boulder choke soon loomed up and a possible way through was left for a thin men team next year. This may be beneath the oppressive Krem Bir. Just back upstream from this a massive inlet tunnel became the focus of attention for those not minding a cold 5m swim. With a rope and life jacket installed we were soon harvesting the metres beyond. Brian M, Gregory and I were continuing the survey on the 19th February when the impressive draught dropped as we entered a smaller section of passage ending in too tight rifts. On heading back Brian noticed a side passage with a severe looking squeeze through hefty formations from whence the gale emerged. Being the skinniest I got the job and was soon sprinting up 100m or so of very attractive potholed galleries with cave pearl-like sandstone pebbles in the floor that were identical to the local kids' catapult pellets. This became "Thin Man's Inlet" and another, larger passage back downstream "Fat Man's Inlet".

On the 23rd, after three days of "easy" surface recce, a return was made to enlarge the squeeze and survey on upstream. Quentin, Greg and I were the most anorexically designed for this operation and were soon clocking up the metres again until a chest deep pool, twin 30m avens and a complicated series of crawling passages temporarily held us up. Greg finally hit the jackpot after crawling down the "Gravel Grovel" into a magnificent stream passage stretching into the distance - the "Great Straight". We were ecstatic but confused as we were now obviously heading downstream after having travelled upstream for several hundred metres!

Scooping 30m tape legs we marched enthusiastically onwards to intersect a fine phreatic bore tube containing impressive columns and curtains. This, in turn, broke into the side of an even larger passage which immediately sumped to the right but continued to the left as a large canyon with its higher level in the form of a wide fossil tunnel. We climbed up into this for ease of surveying and Greg, leading with the tape, scrambled up a steep mud slope into a black void above. Cries of astonishment from this normally quiet Meghalayan caver spurred us on to ditch the survey and join him in the huge, mud and sand dune floored chamber that continued to the left and ahead as 8m wide phreatic tunnels. The sound of a large stream emanated from the distance so, with time running out, we rushed off for a look at the large phreatic river passage crossing under the chamber from right to left and heading for regions unknown. We assumed that we had reached the stream from Krem Synrang Labbit and had actually left Krem Synrang Ngap to enter a completely different drainage system. In recognition of Greg's discovery the huge void was named Meghalayan Adventurers' Chamber. With a total of 455m surveyed we were more than happy to stagger back to the surface which we reached after a 9 1/2 hr trip - knackered but elated.

A couple of fruitless days were then spent trying to reach the new extensions via undescended potholes in the jungle-covered pinnacle karst above. This very difficult terrain was thoroughly scoured by Quentin and Greg and three short but sweet vertical caves discovered, unfortunately all closing down before breaking through into the "master cave" below. Peter and I spent one day on this project then diverted to Krem Synrang Labbit to put flourescein into the downstream river in the hope of proving the connection.

A large "shit or bust" team" entered Krem Synrang Ngap on the 27th February with Quentin, Greg and I being the thin men. Mark, Brian M, (less anorexically challenged), Shelley, Lesley and Jo headed for Fat Man's Inlet in an attempt to bypass the squeeze. We followed the huge M.A.Chamber to a conclusion at a mud choke above a steep, slippery and hazardous mud "mountain" with large boulder chokes below from which issued both the main stream and a healthy inlet stream with clearer water. This was particularly noticeable as we were all convinced that the larger flow had a distinct green tinge to it from the dye inserted in Krem Synrang Labbit the previous day. A couple of ways on here need to be checked next year in the hope of passing the upstream chokes. Downstream yet another huge boulder choke curtailed our progress but again there are possible routes through it. Time had run out for further pushing as it was now past 10pm. The sound of voices heralded the arrival of the more rotund team whom we assumed had bypassed the squeeze. We were suitably chastised when it was revealed that their inlet had soon fizzled out and they had followed us through the tight bit after an hour of hammer and chisel work - fair play to 'em. For one of the gentlemen (who shall remain nameless but said "feck" a lot) disrobing to his shreddies was necessary and had the secondary benefit of reducing the girlies to hysterical laughter as he cursed his way through. They were suitably impressed with the extensions so we left them brewing up and admiring the place while we headed out to our beer supplies stashed in the cave entrance where we intended to bivouac until morning. With tongues hanging out we sweated up the 100m of rope only to find that the local kids had snaffled most of the ale - bastards. Luckily Greg had extra supplies and a couple of rum filled Coke bottles were unearthed from the depths of tackle bags to quench our alcoholic thirsts. A fire was lit outside and Greg cooked soup as the others gradually emerged from the depths to the night sounds of the jungle. Honorary thin man Brian M, relieved to have escaped from the jaws of the squeeze, produced a bottle of Courvoisier and the mini-party got into full swing  before we retired for a few hours draughty kip.

Fraser, Brian K.D. and Graham woke us at 10am and helped sherpa the kit up to the road. We had been underground for 20 hours but had another 800m in the bag after a classic Meghalayan caving trip. A resurvey trip in another part of the cave later brought the total length of this sporting system up to 4.17kms with plenty more to be found. A physical connection upstream to Krem Synrang Labbit may not be easy but downstream is more promising with the sound of the river emanating from beyond the choke. The probable resurgence for both this and the original main stream is Krem Iawe, situated several kms to the WNW. Pushing trips will require underground camping to be viable unless other ways in from the jungle covered slopes of Khloo Krang south of the cave can be found. If Krem Krang Maw and/or Krem Krang Wah are the feeders to Krem Synrang Labbit then the whole system, if connections could be established, would be over 20km long. Time will tell.

My last trip of the expedition was to the awesome system of Krem Umthloo  - my "baby" - in an attempt to smash up a hanging boulder preventing access to a 10m high inlet which could be seen beyond. This lay at the end of International Schweinehund Passage and not too far from the boulder choke entrance to the cave. Unfortunately my colleagues, Quentin and Raplang, were not in the right frame of mind which made for a frustrating outing. This was probably Raplang's first proper caving trip and he had to be restrained from carving OUT, with accompanying arrows, every few metres. Quentin was pretty burnt out from three weeks of extreme caving and decided to sit it out just before the dig site was reached. Not having been able to scrounge any explosives I was armed with a hefty hammer and set to on the rock which was calcited into the ceiling of a low crawl. Suddenly the whole boulder dropped out with an earth shaking thud which roused Quentin from his lethargy. I was just able to shift it enough to squeeze past into the big stuff beyond and the others eventually followed. Sod's Law then decreed that this fine passage soon ended at a calcited aven with an unpleasant crawl to one side which became too tight. It also became too toxic after Quentin inadvertently set fire to the tape with his lamp! Raplang was by now totally mind blown by the curious antics of the Ferengis and we, in turn, were equally mind blown by the noise of what could only be described as loud snoring emanating from a low duck at the base of the aven. The source of this weird and somewhat disturbing phenomenon will have to wait another year to be discovered but is doubtless related to siphoning water or an intermittent draught. It just begged the name of Snoring Duck Aven.

Lots of other trips and projects took place during the three weeks of field work. Mark pushed his own "hot tip", Krem Wah Ser, to discover one of the finest caves on the Ridge with 3.26kms of superbly decorated passages entered via c.40m of pitches and with a resurgence exit. New girls Jo and Lesley were very impressed with the cave but took some time to get used to the monster spiders that seem to be even larger than normal in this area. An upstream sump in this cave possibly connects with the 1.8km long Krem Muid, itself being adjacent to the 13.5km+ of the Krem Umthloo system.

Robin's dedicated recce. and exploration of totally obscure sites led to the discovery of Krem Brisang and it's connection with Krem Wah Shikar, itself being greatly extended by Mark, Peter, Jo and Thomas after some inventive and entertaining aid climbing to pass dodgy boulder chokes. Tom, despite suffering bouts of illness, was keen to see his particular "baby" develop to its current length of 2.56km and also sorted out lots of survey and computer problems with typically calm Swiss efficiency. He also tidied up question marks in Krem Liat Prah and aided by Peter, taught Rainer to understand British caving eccentrics! This worked so well that Rainer became an honorary one. On Tom's return to Switzerland he slaved away over his computer to produce two superb "Big Picture" area maps of the Ridge - one with added landscape detail. The map appended is updated from these.

Georg, Rainer, Thilo, Christian, Herbert and Christine spent a few days continuing with the long standing survey of one of India's most stunning cave systems, Pielkhlieng - Sielkan Pouk, to bring it up to 10.3km with many more km left to explore in the future. This one is the "baby" of Georg who is convinced that it will be India's (if not the Earth's) longest and is already the best in the Multiverse. Photographs of this cracking system would seem to prove him correct! They also surveyed 580m in Saisi Dungkhur near Moolian village and reported the cave to be ongoing.

In the temperance zone of Semmasi Krem Tyngheng was extended from 3.75km to 5.32km by Simon, Greg, Tom, Julien, Tony B. and Jayne and many leads remain for next year in this labyrinthine system.

Mainly assisted by Graham, Fraser once again spent lots of time videoing the caves, coal mining operations and local colour. He also sub-contracted to Pradeep and his Assamese team who were making a documentary on Meghalayan caves and cave life. Dan, Christian and Julien also became briefly involved in this as they were engaged in intensive speleobiological research throughout their stay. Dan and Simon were also able to arrange a future collaboration with several eminent professors from the Dept. of Zoology at the North East Hill University, Shillong.

Brian K.D. spent much time being interviewed by the press and we were all captured on film or caught by the papperazzi (nasty) at some point. The reason for all the press interest was the growing confrontation between environmentalists, cavers and locals and the recently much more mechanised cement industry which has begun to encroach on India's current longest cave, Krem Kot Sati / Umlawan, and other important karst / hydrological areas including the Shnongrim Ridge.

West Khasi Hills

On Sunday 20th February the West Khasi Hills team eventually left Shillong after a series of delays due to bureaucracy and arrived at the riverside village of Ranikor at 6pm. Next day, with a bodyguard of three armed policemen, they drove on to Maheshkola, encountering more delays at the Border Security Force post. A third day of delays due to tyre punctures and having to repair road bridges before using them finally saw them reach their destination - the Rong Dangi village school - where the local kids were perfectly happy to get a surprise holiday in return for accommodating the Ferengis. The caves of Panigundur and Mondil Kol were connected by Simon, Georg and Julien after a survey of 242m and another 339m added in the latter cave by Dr.B, Christian, Thilo, Herbert and Christine. The 23rd saw the team adding another 1.16km to the system. Videoing and biological studies were also undertaken here.

Rong Dangi Rongkol was extended by 680m next day and Morasora Kol by 431m. On the 25th the fine river sink of Gurmal Janggal Rongkol was descended via a series of short, free-climbable pitches and connected to the growing Mondil Kol master system.

Things took a turn for the worse the following day when a failed rock belay followed both Jayne and the rope and sling she was using to the floor 5m below, leaving the expedition doctor and a paucity of ladders at the top of the pitch! More tackle was fetched and the injured one recovered and carried piggy-back to the accommodation by the good doctor (who I gather was glad she was a featherweight). After her last broken leg epic all were relieved when a badly sprained ankle was diagnosed - though it unfortunately curtailed her caving for the rest of the expedition. Despite this accident another 470m was in the bag and more biological work was done by the scientists.

Morasora Kol was added to the system on the 27th and over 400m surveyed. Next day Morasora Bridge Pot joined in the fun with 248m of passage, an excuse to do a photographic through trip by Christine, Herbert and Thilo and a good reason to re-name the whole 5.8km system the Morasora River Cave.


To sum up: yet another enjoyable and successful expedition with great company, food, beer and superb sporting caving. Despite initially poor weather - gales, fog, wind, heavy rain and low temperatures - and a couple of earthquakes - everyone enjoyed themselves and contributed towards piecing together the fascinating undergound jigsaw puzzles of various bits of Meghalaya. Our thanks to Brian K.D. and the Meghalayan Adventurers, the Ladies of Shillong and all the helpers and locals who helped make it work so well. The overall surveyed length in all the areas visited this year was just over 19km. Not bad considering the nature of the new stuff under the Ridge and the travel logistics to reach other areas. We were unable this year to visit the "vulture cave halfway up a 1000m cliff" or the "cave with clouds in" due to insurgency problems but there's always next year. Probably more important this year was the interaction with the locals, press, scientists and environmentalists - hopefully just in time to preserve some of the planet's finest caving areas from destruction. Apart from the above major caves many smaller sites were explored and surveyed and scores of new entrances visited in both areas so there is no fear of these marvellous expeditions winding up in the foreseeable future!

As an aside, and an example of the Indian sense of humour, Dr. B. informs me that the painted advice "Use Dipper at Night", often seen on the back of lorries, has been collared by the National Aids Control Organisation for their new condom - the "Dipper". Likewise another popular slogan - "Horn Please". They should sell like hot cakes!



The Last Word

Compiled by J’Rat and Wig

The Mendip Cave Bibliography and Newspaper Catalogue. [DJI] Publication of the 2nd edition, by the Mendip Cave Registry, of this compilation by your temporary Editor [Dave Irwin] will be at Hidden Earth to be held this year at Churchill. The whole work is in two volumes, 517pp and 1.1 million words and includes all articles, books, papers, manuscripts known to me from 883 AD to 2005 – which approaches some 25,000 references to caves in the Mendip region.  It is divided into three main sections. The first covers Cave Sites; the second Cave Topics [archaeology, hydrology etc.] and the third being the writers’ catalogue of newspaper reports since 1797.  Available at about £25 in hard copy only.

Anyone wanting details of published information relating any particular cave site are advised look in this work first. For example there are nearly 1,300 references to Swildon’s Hole; 232 items for Goatchurch Cavern, 429 for Eastwater Cavern and 540 for St. Cuthbert’s Swallet.

It is eventually hoped to publish the bibliography together with the cave registers on a web page and in CD format.

10 Years in the Making ! [DJI] Another Hollywood spectacle ?  ‘fraid not.  It’s the latest edition of the Council of Southern Caving Clubs Handbook and Access Guide, February 2005. The first for ten years.  Still, it serves a very useful purpose for it not only details the multitude of access arrangements in the area but it contains notes on the organisations and accommodation on Mendip as well as a host of other useful snippets. The 36pp booklet, edited by Dave Cooke, is widely available for £2.  Those not regularly in the Mendip area can obtain a copy through ‘Cookie’, 3 Starrs Close, Axbridge, Somerset. BS26 2BZ or Bat Products for £2 + 50p p&p.

Wookey Hole. [DJI]  CDG divers have recently dived the terminal Sump 25.  A serious undertaking at any time but the extension found a little above the bottom of the flooded passage at -70m has been pushed and Rick Stanton and John Volanthen have reached a phenomenal depth of -90m.  Work at this level makes the dive a really serious undertaking.  Best of luck to them and their ‘sherpas’ on their next trip which is planned in the near future.

Two old stalwarts [DJI] have returned to the fold and are enthusiastically resurveying Ludwell Cave with Fiona Crozier.  They claim boulder movement in the submerged chamber has occurred during the past thirty years.  Pete Eckford and Ken James have found a ‘second wind’ as well as other names from the past, John Noble and Phil Coles.  Welcome to all.

Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink. [ARJ]  Alex Livingston, on a solo visit, noted that all water levels are still too high for work to recommence and that the boulder blocking Slop 1 definitely needs banging.

Gibbet’s Brow Shaft. [ARJ]  ‘Butch’ and his Shepton team are still digging this mineshaft in the hope of entering Lamb Leer Cavern.  The main shaft has reached a solid bottom at around -17m but they are following a natural side passage with the chemical assistance of MadPhil.

White Pit.  [DJI] Tony Jarratt reports that the air in the cave has a dangerously high level of CO2.

Templeton Pot. [ARJ]  The latest from Tuska’s team is that they are now down about 35m and still going in the hope of beating the divers to the glory which must await below!


The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Adrian Hole

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor (722)
Joint Treasurers: Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary / Hut Bookings : Fiona Sandford (958)
Caving Secretary: Rob Lavington (1306)
Hut Warden: Roger Haskett (1234)
Tackle Officer: Tyrone Bevan (1276)

Non-Committee Posts

Acting Editor: Dave Irwin (aka – Wig)
BEC Web Page Editor: Estelle Sandford
Librarian : Graham Johnson (aka- Jake)

Club Trustees: Martin Grass, Dave Irwin, Nigel Taylor and Barrie Wilton

Cover photo: Picture postcard of Fingal’s Cave, from the Marvels of Nature series published by Lombard Chocolate, Paris c.1900. (From Dave Irwin’s collection)


The Club urgently needs a BB Editor. Dave Irwin is currently Acting Editor. The BB not only informs members of the fine work currently being undertaken by the members it is also the medium through which the Committee can inform the membership of its actions asnd other club news.  So, where’s that budding editor?  Pay is low but the work is extremely rewarding!



Ten years ago this week I penned a “From the Belfry Table” article, gleefully explaining that we had just celebrated our Sixtieth Dinner and had been only 2 persons short of the magical 200 number. Well, ten years on and I can only comment that we were only 2 short of 150 dining members at our Seventieth Dinner.  Sadly many faces are no longer with us, however, many old friends were ‘arm twisted’ into coming, and, with little exception, a good night was enjoyed by those who did attend. 

Member Number 1, Harry Stanbury sent a personal message wishing the Club well, and stated that being only 92 years of age, he still hoped to make it to the 75th!

Members will also be concerned to hear that Roger Dors was rushed into Bath Hospital a week after he and Jackie attended the Dinner. I will not make ill informed comment on his ailment, but I am sure that everyone will wish him a speedy return to good health, and extend any support to Jackie and the family that may be needed.

Jayrat and team continue well at Rose Cottage Cave, once again he has written some excellent accounts of his endeavours in the BB for all to see.

A “Burns Night Supper” will be run at the Belfry towards the end of January 2006 to raise funds for the Extension and all are welcome, details from the Committee.

Dave Irwin has done it again, The massive “Mendip Cave Bibliography 2nd Edition” has been produced. This two volume work was a mammoth undertaking, over 520 pages, 25,000 references and 1.1 million words, is a worthy addition to all caving club libraries and any caver’s bookshelf.

Starting in the spring, we intend to run a series of “Little known Mendip Cave” visits. These will be for the benefit of enthusiasts and novices alike. The actual locations are still to be decided, more details will appear later.

Due to the absence of a regular BB, I believe that members have been kept generally in the dark about what has been happening, or was about to happen on the Hill. It is my intention therefore to work closely with the BB Editor, committee, and the general membership to produce a “From the Belfry Table” newsletter in times of BB sparsity. If this is to succeed, I shall need regular and up-to-date snippets of caving and Club info to bring before the membership, PLEASE HELP.

Those who attended the Annual Dinner will recall that Roger and Jackie Dors, together with Les Davies MBE (Senior Warden, Mendip Hills A.O.N.B),were our joint Guests of Honour. Roger and Jackie were presented with a Welsh ‘Davy’ lamp as a measure of thanks and the esteem in which the BEC hold the Dors family for present and past generations. Roger in reply, warmly thanked the Club for the gift, which they both accepted also on behalf of their family.

Les Davies has written a letter of thanks, from which I quote; “....Would you be so good as to thank everyone from the BEC for a splendid was a great pleasure to spend the evening with you all and to be able to share in your 70th. Anniversary....” He continued; “Caving and Mendip are inseparable...I do consider you all to be pioneers, whom each year make more discoveries and unlock more secrets of the Mendip Hills. Long may you all continue ”.

The Secretary has suggested  to the Committee that we pursue a pro-active approach to raising the interest in Caving locally. He put forward a plan to write not only to local papers, but to contact Young Farmers Clubs and other Youth groups to ascertain local interest. Whilst a minimum age restriction of 16 exists within the BEC, these persons will obviously be the 16 to 25 year age group worth targeting to offer an insight into caving, and what the BEC has to offer in particular.

WORKING WEEKENDS: Just so that you can plan to be away from Mendip if you want to miss the Working Weekends, the dates are: 8th/9th January, 9th/10th April, 9th/10th July, and 24th/25th September, 2006. On the other hand we need you and your skills, if you haven’t got any, well maybe you could turn up and learn some from others for free!!.

Well, for the time being, its time to get down from the table, regards to all,

Nigel T
Hon Secretary.


Vale – Steve Tuck

Some Memories of Steve Tuck:

Matthew Tuck had a father! He was Steve Tuck who joined the BEC in the late 50’s and caved and climbed and rode motor bikes and drank beer (and rough) and sang songs and was a generally all round good bloke.

Steve has just died at Plymouth leaving two lovely daughters, Beth and Jessica, his son Matthew and his second wife Lorraine.

Steve was one of the crowd who joined the BEC from the National Smelting Company. He shared a flat in Bristol with a couple of other BEC members. A feature of their flat was a large astronomical telescope set up to view - horizontally? All was revealed when it was explained that if you turned your head upside down to make sense of the inverted image you could see the nurses living opposite! 

He was an enthusiastic person and very good fun to be with on the long trips in the early exploration of Cuthberts. He came on climbing meets but became more careful after falling off a VS in the Avon Gorge. Many years later I visited him in Devon and we did a climb on The Dewerstone where he chatted happily all the way up.

I have an excellent photograph somewhere of him hurtling past the Belfry on an underpowered OEC; an antique motor bike. Steve maintained that this stood for Old English Contraption. And not just motor bikes he liked bicycles as well. Three of us, Lin. Steve and me, had a really good week bike touring along the coast of Brittany camping in tiny tents with Steve as a first class bike mechanic when things fell off. He could mend anything.

Latterly we shared long walks and interesting conversations when we could and I shall miss that.



Vale - Joan Bennett

Joan Bennett is no longer with us. She passed away on the 1st September in Axbridge after a long illness. The club has lost a member who was staunchly protective of the BEC and who undertook many tasks requested of her with total commitment.

In her ‘teens she was involved with YHA and that is how she made her connection with the BEC.  She met and married Roy Bennett, and because of their common interest in skiing, climbing and caving they slotted into the BEC’s wide ranging interests in these sports during the 1950s and 1960s.

She not only caved and climbed regularly in the UK. She climbed in The Alps and was an active member on the two Austrian caving expeditions in 1965 when she descended the Hirlatz and in 1966 joined an international expedition to the Raucherkarhohle where, with a party of BEC members, she camped underground for over two days. On the way out Roy and ‘Wig’ wanted to get photographs of the huge chamber, ‘Gigantedom’ and so they began setting up the cameras when Joan caught up with them. After two days at near freezing conditions she threw a wobbly and threatened Roy with a divorce if he didn’t make a move towards the cave entrance. So ended a great photographic trip! She and Roy were strong members of a BEC expedition to the deep potholes near Balague in the Pyrenees liaising with Kangy and Georges Jauzion in 1970.

In 1967 she was caving in Ireland and helped survey the Aille River Cave first explored by Roy and ‘Wig.’ It was a gloomy  place and one could frequently feel ‘nasties’ swimming against the wet-suited leg in the 250m Long Canal. Roy commented that he hadn’t known her to be so quiet, for so long, before! Joan was the first woman to enter St. Cuthbert’s II in1969 and she helped Wig on a number of surveying trips in the cave.

She and Roy were inseparable. They were immensely loyal and supportive of each other so much so that they were referred to as “the Bennetts”. When Roy took up pioneering hang gliding she often helped and on one occasion they carried a 70lb machine to the top of Skiddaw. Roy flew down in a few minutes while Joan trudged down resignedly hours later!

After Roy’s death in a mid-summer skiing accident near their retirement home at Newtonmore Scotland, Joan returned to Mendip inconsolable after her loss. However she built a new life in her new home at Draycott where she had a fine collection of books and, interestingly, caving paintings. Latterly she had several trips to the Antarctic which she spoke about with great enthusiasm.

 Joan had a fine mind, was a vigorous debater and held a number of posts in the club. For many years she was librarian, then auditor and lately a trustee.  Whatever the task required of her she always gave it her full attention and commitment. She leaves a large sized hole in our lives.

‘Kangy’ and ‘Wig’


Vale - Albert Francis

Another loyal friend and Life member of the BEC has passed away.  Albert joined the BEC on the 3rd. July 1958. His introduction to caving was through Mike Palmer’s dad enabling him to meet Herbert Balch at his Badger Hole excavations. He then met up with the ‘3 Mikes’, Mike Baker, Mike Palmer and Mike Wheadon at the Wells YMCA

In the early days he helped on several building projects at the Belfry site on the ‘Stone Belfry’ and the Carbide store.  For this he was elected an Honorary Life Member.  Following the destruction of the Belfry in 1969 Albert spent much time with others on the fabric of the new Belfry, notably installing the electrics.

Albert was involved with several discoveries in Fairy Cave Quarry but his main claim to fame occurred in St. Cuthbert’s Swallet and Manor Farm Swallet.  Albert was on the trip that entered the September Series in St. Cuthbert’s along with Mikes Palmer and Wheadon, Brian Prewer and Tom Neill.  He and Kangy were later to be the first team to make the connection with Rabbit Warren Extension and High Chamber, via Catgut Series and the notorious Cross-Leg Squeeze.  Wig remembers being the first non-UBSS members allowed into Bat Passage and Great Chamber with Albert and Prew to view these fine passages..

For many years Albert was one of the mainstays of the NHASA digging team, working at North Hill Swallet, Double Back, Twin T’s, Lodmore and Chancellor’s Farm Dig but he declined working at Templeton as he said ‘it wasn’t his scene!’

Nigel T remembers that in Manor Farm many happy hours were spent digging with him.  The work culminated with the hoped for breakthrough leading to NHASA Gallery. A feature in the cave was christened in his honour “Albert's Eye” for it gave him grief on the first time he tried to pass it. . Once retired from active digging he could be seen enjoying a half in the diggers company on a Wednesday night at the Hunters. Albert was a gentleman with a twinkle in his eye to the last!

Kangy, Mr. ‘N’, ‘Prew ‘and Wig


On Surveying the World’s Most Famous Cave

by Tony Jarratt

"Wait till you see Fingal's Cave properly. That's the entrance to it there," said Alistair, breathless with pulling.

Jane drew in her breath sharply. "It's magnificent! ..."

"To-morrow I'll show it you from the inside. You'll understand then why people say its like a great cathedral. That other great opening in the cliff is the Boat Cave. Just round the little headland here, is MacKinnon's Cave. ... There are more caves further up the coast."

"Gosh!" exclaimed Jane. "What fun to explore them all."

 "Do you happen to have brought provisions for a week?" Alistair teased her. " Staffa's just riddled with caves.     

Fingal's Ghost  1947

When, at the Grampian Speleological Group's annual dinner, Bob Mehew mentioned that he had a cunning plan to survey the sea caves of the isle of Staffa I was immediately captured. My last (and only) visit was on July 5th 1976 in a 12 seater RIB  which took 45 minutes to cross from Ulva Ferry on the island of Mull. Since then I had accumulated a great deal of books, postcards and pre-1900 engravings of Staffa and its caves and was itching for a return visit.

"Off the west coast of Scotland lies a lonely little island which has probably won more world-wide renown than any other natural feature of Britain. This famed islet is Staffa. Foam-girt by stormy Hebridean seas, it rises serene, presenting colonnaded cliffs and caves, amazing not only in size but in form and symmetry. Since the island was "discovered", in 1772, its most imposing rock structure, Fingal's Cave, has ranked among the foremost of the natural wonders of the world."           Staffa 1975

Once privately owned Staffa is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in the hands of the National Trust for Scotland and is looked after by Scottish Natural Heritage. Bob's well thought out proposals to them, his professional risk assessment (he is a safety inspector for Sellafield) and his general persistence persuaded them to allow a group of six of us to camp on the island for several days in order to survey the major caves and undertake scientific work on the columnar basalt pillars and marine flora and fauna.

The only published survey of Fingal's Cave found is that in the first edition of MacCulloch but this is not drawn to scale though it has many detailed measurements. All the main sites have been frequently measured over the last two hundred years but the dimensions differ as much as the enthusiasts themselves. Ours would be the first surveys done by cavers as opposed to travellers or naturalists. Our "bible" for this mini-expedition was to be " Staffa" by Donald B. MacCulloch (MacCulloch, 1975).  Earlier editions of this erudite and encyclopaedic volume were titled "The Isle of Staffa" and "The Wondrous Isle of Staffa". MacCulloch mentions the following caves of note:- Clamshell (Scallop) Cave, Fingal's (An Uamh Binn, An Uamh Bhin - Musical Cave, An Uamh Mhor - the Great Cave), Boat Cave, MacKinnon's Cave, Cormorants' (Scarts') Cave, Goat Cave, Gunna Mor (Big Gun, Gun, Thunder Cave, The Cannon) and a cave on the western coast which "hardly deserves this term". He dismisses other possible caves as of little interest. The 1:10,000 Ordnance Survey map shows five named caves (MacKinnon's being incorrectly located), seven unnamed caves and a natural arch - totalling thirteen sites. Due to lack of time not all of these sites were visited but they are almost certainly all caves from a speleological point of view and two others, Gunna Mor and Horses' Cave are not indicated on the map at all. At least one more cave in the north west of the island can be added to give a total of sixteen sites of interest to a caver. Also, Goat Cave is in fact two separate and parallel caves - but let's not push the point.

This project created surprisingly little interest in the Scottish section of the Grampian though two prospective expeditionaries unfortunately couldn't make it due to work commitments - poor Dan Harries having to earn a crust diving off the Galapagos islands - bless. Only Edinburgh based John Crae (GSG) was a true native and the rest of the team were trawled from south of the border. Bob Mehew (GSG / SMCC), Tony Boycott (GSG / BEC), Vern Freeman (GSG / BEC), Duncan Butler (BEC / RUCC) and myself (GSG / BEC). Also, a brief guest appearance by Canadian professor Stephen Morris gave us a bit more scientific credibility. Our esteemed photographic team of Descent's own Chris Howes and Judith Calford were also, alas, unable to attend but generously provided photographic equipment and advice.

For the Mendip contingent the expedition commenced, as is traditional, in the Hunters' bar on Tuesday August 16th. Next day the four Sassunaichs drove north to meet Bob and John in Auley's Bar in Oban from where the car ferry was taken to Craignure on Mull. In atrocious weather we drove across the south of the island to Fionnphort and set up camp in driving rain at Fidden Farm. To dry out we were forced to sit in the Keel Row Inn where plans were made for the next few days.

Luckily next day was dry, bright and sunny and, as arranged, we boarded the good MB "Iolaire of Iona" - deeply impressing its skipper, Chris Kirkpatrick, with the mountain of equipment piled up on the harbour side! Chris had a load of tourists on board but was very laid-back and we were soon on the high seas admiring seals, guillemots, kittiwakes and cormorants on the one hour voyage to the "wondrous isle".

Landing at the concrete jetty near Clamshell Cave was the start of the first epic as the pile of kit was unloaded and painfully dragged up the stairway to the island plateau out of the reach of the rising tide and sea spray. The caving kit was dumped and the rest ferried to the centre of this mile and a half circumference grass-covered rock where we set up camp. Outstanding views of Mull, Iona, the Treshnish Isles, Gometra and Ulva surrounded us and once the tourists departed our only companions were the birds and insects. As to the latter we initially thought that we had got away with it until the breeze stopped and the fearsome Scottish MIDGIES rose from the greensward to devour our lifeblood!

Once set up we immediately set off cave-hunting and Dr.B. quickly found the obscure entrance to Gunna Mor situated in the basalt pillars a few metres above sea level on the north side of Port an Fhasgaidh inlet. This peculiar cave, later surveyed to a solid end at a mere 5.07 metres, is somewhat of an anomaly on this basalt island. Inclined upwards at 35 degrees it resembles a 1 metre diameter phreatic tube and theories on its formation abound. A small "rockmill" pool at the entrance apparently once held a large round stone weighing 5 lbs which was violently agitated in storms to give the cave its name. A legend states that the stone was pinched before 1800 by Irish tourists.

With the island now devoid of visitors we followed the cliff top around to Fingal's Cave where the tide was rapidly rising. My Russian rubber dinghy - the Battleship Potempkin - was inflated ready for next day and Bob, John and Duncan commenced their separate tasks of measuring the basalt pillars around the entrance of this stunning cavern. After a meal at camp most then recced. the cliffs on the north and west sides of the island.

Friday 19th turned out to be another fine day with a few showers. The surveyors continued with their projects while Tony, Vern and I concentrated on crossing the sea inlet to Fingal's Cave. Tony swam across and I followed in the Potempkin with Vern hanging on behind.

"Leaping into the boat, he seized the oars and skillfully pushed out into the eddying sea; then, waiting an instant for the reflux of an enormous wave, he was carried right in front of the cave. Here the boat was nearly upset, but with a dexterous movement of the oars, Oliver succeeded in keeping her straight. Had she been caught amidships , she would inevitably have been capsized."..."A cry of horror came from the spectators, for it seemed that the boat must inevitably be dashed against the rocks to the left of the entrance."         The Green Ray  1885

120 years later and nothing has changed! All exciting stuff due to the swell and a certain inability on my part to swim. A rope was rigged across the inlet and later used as a tyrolean (even more exciting!). The NW wall of the cave was pegged and a length of handline installed for future use by photographers and surveyors.

Now feeling cocky we carried on round the base of the cliff to see if we could gain access to the permanently flooded Boat Cave before which was a very rough sea inlet with a small and horrifically floodable cave at the end - later to become labelled Horses' Cave. In crossing this we all had epics; getting smashed onto barnacle-covered rocks and almost being swept out to sea to eventually become malodorous seawrack on the shores of Newfoundland. Considerably wiser we eventually relaxed in the much calmer water of the Boat Cave inlet then took the Potempkin into the attractive and smoothly sculpted tunnel ending in a slope of huge cobbles after some 50 metres. Compass and clinometer readings were taken but the lack of a tape or laser measurer precluded the survey from being completed. Photos were taken before a hasty retreat was made to Fingal's. It was noted that Boat Cave is formed in the yellow tufaceous ash layer with the lower columnar basalt layer forming the ceiling. This was also later found to be the case with Horses', Cormorants', MacKinnon's Caves and the sea-filled lower section of Fingal's Cave.

At Fingal's we met Professor Steve who has done much work on the cooling processes of lava to form hexagonal pillars and was luckily holidaying in Scotland from his temporary base at Cambridge University. He had arranged with Bob to meet up and exchange ideas. Back at the camp he was impressed enough with our Wilkins' Cider to ask for a second mug! (Our thanks to Roger Dors for the supply of this elixir which certainly prevented scurvy amongst the team). Unfortunately the midgies were also attracted by the nectar so Vern, Tony, John and I scuttled off down the eastern cliffs to Goat Cave - actually two parallel, short sea caves - and the adjacent Natural Arch, a c.8m tunnel which Vern swam through. Rushing into Goat Cave to avoid the midgies we disturbed thousands of sand fleas which were almost as bad. Several wrens were flying around in the cave apparently feasting on these unpleasant bugs. The cave was surveyed and photographed and a short, blind cave nearby examined. These caves are located in the slaggy lava bed above the columnar zones.

The evening working trip to Fingal's was almost an overnight one as the causeway to the cave was partially flooded by the tide on the surveyors' return and the handlines inside the cave were underwater - as were Vern's only trousers!

Saturday 20th was yet another day of superb weather and having previously worked on the Hebrides I was thoroughly amazed. The noise of breakers hitting the cliffs or surging into the caverns seemed particularly noticeable today, as was the screeching of the sea-birds. At Fingal's we found a great deal of carved graffiti whilst searching for the inscription "J.B. 1772". This had been noted by a Miss Barker of Cumberland in 1928 and it was suggested that the initials were those of Sir Joseph Banks, the island's "discoverer" and populariser. Eventually I unearthed "J.B." but could not confirm the date. Many other dates, including 1776 and 1801, were found but most of the inscriptions are difficult to decipher due to sea erosion and a thin algal film. A separate visit to record many of these using brass rubbing techniques would be an interesting historical project before they completely disappear. Not being allowed to chisel proof of our visit I emplaced the ubiquitous "Bertie" sticker but suspect that it was quickly removed by the Shepton element (good job he missed the second one).

Dr.B. donned his diving gear and swam the length of the cave to report that there was no possible way on at the end - another legend de-bunked. The shingle beach noted by MacCulloch had gone and been replaced by large cobbles. Apart from a few small fish and crabs the only items of interest in the depths were sections of the old iron handrail. The depth of the cave floor was noted at several points as he swam back and out to sea. Here he swam into a shoal of mackerel but missed the nearby seal and basking shark which we had been admiring from the shore.

Bob captained the Potempkin, assisted by Vern, in order to make a photographic record from the NW wall while John and Duncan persevered with their measurements despite the growing crowd of tourists milling about. Being redundant I went off on a solo trip to Cormorants' Cave, shedding my trousers to pass the knee deep pool in the strongly draughting connecting passage to MacKinnon's Cave. Here I was amazed to see Tony and Vern silhouetted in the entrance. Tony joined me to complete a through trip whilst high on the cliff top above a couple of tourists admired my shapely legs. (They were lucky - I had intended to go for a dump!). This fine cave is almost as impressive as Fingal's and far more colourful, being decorated with pink algae, light green and orange sponges, purple sea-anemones and white dog whelks in abundance. There is an inaccessible high level passage which almost certainly connects back to Cormorants' but would need bolting equipment to reach. The cormorants in residence may not take kindly to this.

Meanwhile Vern pushed the, at that time, unnamed cave between Boat and Fingal's for some 35 metres, taking advantage of the low tide to avoid being pulverised by breakers. He reported it as still passable for another 5 metres or so but discretion proved the better part of valour and he retreated. The son of the boat owner David Kirkpatrick later told us that he knows this as Horses' Cave due to the "white horses" formed by the tidal surges. Chris Kirkpatrick knows it simply as "The Blowhole" but agreed with us that the former name is more suitable and has indeed now added it to his tourist spiel.

In the evening Bob photographed along the SE wall of Fingal's, including some of the graffiti and Duncan and Tony swam to the end of the cave, the former getting a good wave-bashing for his pains - and indeed, causing them.

Before settling down for the evening cider, wine and whisky a team planted stakes at the top of the west cliffs ready for an attempt on the unnamed cave below next day.

Sunday 21st saw normal Hebridean weather at last as a forecast front arrived with damp, overcast and breezy conditions soon turning to continuous rain but at least keeping the midgies down. 15 metres of ladder hung over the cliff gained access to a sloping, grassy ledge leading directly into the SW end of this crescent-shaped cave and Dr.B. drew the short straw. Duncan and I joined him and this pleasant but short cave was surveyed by taking 14 separate legs from a base station. Two side passages were relatively well decorated with calcite "cave coral". Huge amounts of driftwood and fishing floats lined the back wall and gave us the field name of " Float Cave" - the finding of part of a plastic doll almost resulted in "Baby's Leg Cave" but this was sadly rejected. A Meta merianae or Meta menardi (?) orb web and a large marine "woodlouse" were observed in one of the decorated passages and at the other end of the cave, just outside the drip line, three fat and fluffy gull chicks screeched at us from their nests.

While Tony and I surveyed Duncan traversed the base of the cliffs to the north to reach a triangular cave entrance which Chris later told us he knew as " Gunshot Cave" due to the noise of breakers entering when the swell is from the west. This could not be entered due to high water but an adjacent cave was partially explored by Duncan for some 40m before a bold, wet step curtailed his progress. On the O.S, map only one cave is marked at this point. Another visit using ladders from the cliff top is needed. We now had to take advantage of the tide so all set off in dribs and drabs to Cormorants' Cave where Tony and I surveyed through the strongly draughting connection passage into MacKinnon's Cave. Bob, assisted by Vern, completed a photographic record of the system.

With plenty of time left a one leg survey of Gunna Mor (five minutes) was accomplished followed by an identical operation in Clamshell Cave. Being thoroughly soaked we gave up the idea of lunch and Tony, Duncan and I pressed on to survey Fingal's starting at Duncan's EDM position and using a laser distance meter for the final leg to avoid a watery grave in the maelstrom below.

"Before them opened a spacious lofty cave, filled with a dim, mysterious light. The space between the two sides of the cave, at the level of the sea, measures about thirty-four feet; to the right and left the basaltic columns, wedged one against the other, like those in certain cathedrals of the latest Gothic period, hide the main supporting walls. From the top of these columns spring the sides of an enormous pointed arch, which at its key-stone rises fifty feet above the average water-mark."     The Green Ray, 1885

A few extremely bedraggled tourists heralded the arrival of Iolaire of Iona so the opportunity was taken for a weather check with Chris who informed us of force 9 winds forecast in two days time and suggested that we leave Staffa the following day  to avoid an extended and doubtless miserable extension of our holiday. We were happy to agree and sloshed our way back to camp to dry out and fester for the rest of the day.

We awoke on Monday 22nd to a glorious day, possibly the best yet, but were not going to be conned by the vagaries of Highland weather. Everything was dried out, the camp packed up and all our kit portered back to the jetty. Tony and I returned to Fingal's for one last trip in order to check for magnetic anomalies by taking compass back bearings. None were found. The others continued with their separate projects and Vern assisted Bob with his short photographic survey of Gunna Mor before racing back to the jetty to join Tony and I who were taking the first boat back with most of the kit. A pleasant journey o'er the sea to Mull and the joys of unloading all the equipment and packing it in various cars only added to our salt-spray induced dehydration and before long we were installed in the Keel Row and on the outside of some welcome McEwans 80/-. The others arrived at 5pm to join us in the pub for some real food and a few more swallies. The weather had now deteriorated and once again we set up our tents at Fidden Farm in the pouring rain.

We returned to Oban on the 23rd and the Mendip contingent  were back in the Hunters' that evening sampling the first decent ale in six days.

This expedition was very successful in the amount of work, some unexpected, that was achieved in such a short space of time. Unfortunately the loss of a day prevented some of the planned work being finished and coupled with the realisation that the island is more cavernous than expected will almost certainly result in a second visit next year. Bob is planning to write up various scientific reports, including one for Cave and Karst Science. The G.S.G. Bulletin and Descent will also have write-ups. I would like to express our thanks to Bob for the inordinate amount of work he put in on this project and for the privilege of becoming temporary inhabitants of the, truly, Wondrous Isle.

"To those who have set foot on Staffa on fine summer days, the friendliness of this tiny island remains with them for ever, and keeps a place in their hearts, even if they may never return."      Fingal's Cave   1961



Anon,  April/May 2005, Fatalities at Fingal's,  Descent (183), p.28.

Fidler, Kathleen, 1947, Fingal's Ghost,  John Crowther Ltd.

Jones, Rosalind, 1997, Mull in the Making,  R. Jones.

Oldham, J.E.A, July 1974, Fingal's Cave, Staffa - by Air,  British Caver,  vol. 62, pp.75-78.  A. Oldham.

Oldham, Tony,  January 2004,  The Caves of Scotland a Bibliography,  A. Oldham.

Oldham, Tony, 2004, The New Caves of Scotland,  A. Oldham.

Scott, Thea, 1961, Fingal's Cave,  Pandora Press.

MacCulloch, Donald B, 1927 (1st edn.),  The Isle of Staffa.

MacCulloch, Donald B, 1934, 1957 (2nd and 3rd edns.),  The Wondrous Isle of Staffa.

MacCulloch, Donald B, 1975 (4th edn.),  Staffa,  David & Charles.

Verne, Jules, 1885 (reprinted 2003),  The Green Ray,  Wildside Press.

de Watteville, Alastair, 1993,  The Island of Staffa - Home of the World Renowned Fingal's Cave, Romsey Fine Art.


Bob Mehew for the initial idea, thorough organization and a great deal of hard work.

BCA and DCA for the loan of the Disto laser measurer.

BCRA for a grant to assist with the hire of the Total Station.



I thought as my 70th celebrations and the BEC’s and fifty plus years in The Club nearly coincided I’d send a climbing article to cause some editorial consternation.    


My birthday was actually last year and on the 5th May last year Janet and I stayed at her Club Hut the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club “Black Rock Cottage” in Glencoe. We had the intention of climbing Buachaille Etive Mor by way of the North Buttress. We woke up to the dreary sight of clag down to roof level and the bottom of the Buttress covered on snow. So we went to the ‘Ice Factor’ the big climbing wall at Kinlochleven instead. It was warm indoors but hardly a celebration. We asked for and got an OAP discount.

This year, suddenly, we had free time and a spell of good weather and at the beginning of August had lovely sunny day climbing the 1000 ft North Buttress from the bottom to the summit.

Taking the Lagangarbh path from the road we got to the buttress easily in a half an hour. The route, my old guidebook says, was first climbed in 1895 following the line shown in the photograph.

”Start at the centre of the buttress and climb to the foot of the steep section Traverse right to the Great Gully and take the easiest line above.”

After the initial scramble through heather and rocky bits we romped up nice easy angled slabs until the buttress wall loomed.

The ledge we were on was in sunshine, it was 12.30 and so we munched lunch.    

Janet can be seen on the lower slabs silluetted against the steep section of the climb. The route tends to the right hand edge and then jags back to climb steep cracks in the centre.

Rucksacs were repacked, crumbs wiped from sticky fac

es and the intriging move to the base of the next section started. We peered into the void of the Great Gully. Lovely We moved rightwards along a narrow gangway which was beautifully exposed. Rounding a corner we found a perfect belay below the next section; the vertical chimneys. Three of them as it turned out.      

Happily it was my turn to lead and I enjoyed the good holds, the interesting position and the feeling of being on a real mountaineering route, Janet did the next slab pitch to another chimney. This one was partially blocked by a large boulder. I heave-hoed over it. Janet was subtler and found a better and more graceful way of climbing it. After that we happily wandered diagonally left until the ground became less steep and we could see the Crowberry Tower which is near the top of Stob Dearg.

Ten minutes later we had arrived on the only summit in the area free from cloud. So we decided that it was our 70th Birthday Climb and we dedicated it to my favourite Club.


Happy Birthday BEC.

From Kangy

Membership Fees are now due for RENEWAL

If you pay before 30th November 2005 the discounted rates are:

Single membership - £30;  Joint membership - £44

For those requiring caving insurance there is an additional charge of £15 per head

After 1st December 2005 the rates are:

Single membership - £35; Joint membership - £49

Caving insurance as above

All Membership Fees should be given or sent to:

The Membership Secretary :  Fiona Sandford, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.

Do not put in with the hut fees or leave in The Belfry – there is no guarantee it will get to me!


Digging for Cheese

By Prof.  Will Shrabbit, Dept of Comestibles, University of Bath [arranged via J’Rat]

I remember as a small boy, the excitement of the first lunar landings. NASA had managed to propel a tin can full of people to the moon and back using less computer power than an average modern mobile phone.  This “small step for a man” was not only a “giant leap for mankind”, but analysis of the rock samples collected enabled scientists to dispel an age-old myth. The moon, it turned out, was not made of cheese!  This of course came as no surprise to geologists.  Cheese, being of sedimentary origin, could not possibly have formed in the water-free lifeless lunar environment.

Here on earth, cheese is normally found in association with limestone rocks, Wensleydale and Gloucester are among the best known examples. The West of England is particularly well blessed with cheese, with two of the largest outcrops occurring in the Mendip hills, these being at Cheddar and in the area immediately west of Frome.  Cheese has been extensively quarried in Cheddar since the iron-age leaving the huge excavation now known as Cheddar Gorge as an impressive monument to the cheese quarrying industry.  Now silent apart from the wind and the birds, it is difficult to imagine that this was once the workplace of hundreds of “cheesemen” and the source of around sixty million tons of Cheddar cheese.

The other, less well known source of Mendip cheese was the area west of Frome around Whatley, Mells and Leigh-on-Mendip.  The large workforce who worked the quarries included a number of French immigrants whose experience of Brie borehole drilling was invaluable.  It was from this French connection that Frome received its name. “Frome”  being derived from “fromage”, (French for cheese).  All known deposits have now been worked out and the parent carboniferous limestones are now worked on a large scale.  The only permanent reminder of the cheese quarrying industry in this area is the Frome cheese show, which is now in its 128th year.

Early cheesemen were aware that the Cheddar deposit was a finite resource and would eventually become exhausted.  A great deal of effort was devoted to finding a sustainable substitute and it was eventually discovered that cheese could be produced from grass. The process makes use of cows, which eat the grass, producing milk.  The milk is then allowed to rot in controlled conditions, producing a slurry.  The aqueous component of the slurry is separated, and the retentate is stored at ground-rock temperature (often in caves to mimic natural geological conditions). The resultant material becomes cheese after a period of hardening and maturation.  Cheese produced in this manner is virtually indistinguishable from quarried cheese. Most modern cheeses are produced by this process.

Cheese quarrying probably peaked around the seventeenth century, and slowly declined until around 1840, after which, few (if any) quarries remained working.  As the quarries became exhausted, many were abandoned and the cheese barons switched to the production of cheese from grass. Other cheese barons were quick to respond to the growing demand for road-metal and limestone aggregates which occurred around the same time as the demise of cheese quarrying. They converted their quarries to limestone production and many of these quarries are still working today.

Although there is undoubtedly plenty of cheese left in the Mendip hills, there are now no working quarries.  Cheese can still occasionally be found in stalagmitic forms in Mendip caves, sometimes in the form of straw stalactites, (probably the original “cheese straws”).  Formations are now protected by law and must not be removed or defaced.   Cave-cheese would have been a magnet for hungry prehistoric animals. Banwell stalactite cave for example still contains fine examples of stalagmitic cheese, whereas the nearby Banwell bone cave was almost completely stripped of cheese by hyenas and brown bears. Many animals became lost or suffered falls underground in their quest for cheese, and the bones of these unfortunate creatures can still be found throughout the cave.  Shallow surface-deposits of cheese are occasionally found by farmers who have right of ownership by ancient charter, to any cheese found on their land.  These deposits are usually quickly quarried away for home consumption, and the news only reaches the cheese geologists long after the event!

While most of the evidence of cheese quarrying has now been obliterated, one may still occasionally find artefacts and snippets of cheese quarrying history.  Pubs in the Somerset levels often adorn their walls with what they claim to be “peat cutting” tools.  These are more often than not, the very tools that the cheesemen of Cheddar would have used all those years ago.  A few phrases in our spoken language also reflect this bygone industry:  To be “cheesed off” for example, now refers to being unhappy. This derives from the days when a cheese quarryman would be laid off for the day because of bad weather, and would therefore earn no pay. Another phrase worthy of note is “hard cheese”, meaning “bad luck”. This derived from the time when a quarryman would hit a harder patch of cheese in the quarry, and would have to work longer hours to extract it.

The phrase “as different as chalk and cheese” probably derives from one of the first skills that a cheeseman would have had to learn.  It was essential (although not difficult) to tell the two apart in a cheese and limestone quarry. (Limestone is often referred to as “chalk” by quarrymen; chalk is a variety of limestone).  While both are high in calcium, nobody likes too much limestone in their sandwiches!

The geological origin of cheese is thought to be similar to that of coal, coal being the fossilised derivative of carboniferous forests.  Cheese is of a far more recent geological origin, and would have been formed from the fossilisation of the Cretaceous grasslands.  The grass would have decayed to a viscous fluid (as in the modern cheese making process) and flowed into hollows and fissures in the country rock, where it would have hardened and matured at the ideal storage temperature.

What of the future of the cheese quarrying industry now that all the known larger outcrops have been worked out?  Extraction of the remaining deeper deposits would require large-scale overburden removal or shaft mining techniques.  Extensive pumping operations would be necessary to extract sub-aquifer cheese, which would be prohibitively expensive and environmentally unacceptable. Now that cheese making from grass is so cost effective, it is unlikely that cheese quarrying could ever again become economically competitive.  Small scale cheese prospecting has resulted in periodic attempts to open small cheese workings, but planning applications are generally refused on environmental grounds or simply not taken seriously by the planning authorities.

‘Cheddar in a Cheese’ - From an old postcard in Wig’s collection

Gaping Gill Meet - A Way Of Life.

Mike and Tobias Wilson.[VSB]This year I decided to attend the Craven meet in August.  Originally the plan was to spend a week on the Gill camping and caving on my own. To make up for spending the last 3 years struggling with knee problems and a gallstone op. this all changed when my Grandson, Hilary, and Kath said they would like to visit the cottage and do some walking as well .

Eventually Tobias decided he would like to attend the Meet for a few days to see if he liked it!! Pete Gray kindly offered me the use of his tent [to save my knees] and this made it possible for me to arrange a carry within my capabilities. Many thanks to Pete who made the trip possible; I hope you enjoyed the rental!!

Vsb and I decided to walk up to the Gill on Friday morning.  Tobias became Vsb because it has many differing interpretations, e.g. very small boy, very smart boy, very stupid boy, ad infinitum. His father had packed his rucksack and it seemed quite heavy to me, but before we got away there occurred a small mishap. I locked the car in the Craven PC car park, went to clip the keys onto my belt for safety and missed dropping them to the floor and lo and behold straight down the only drain in the area!! [as Sean would say ‘what a to do’!!]

First we used a broom handle to find the depth of the drain whilst dodging cars and motorbikes. It was very deep. Then we tried to lift the drain cover but it was glued in with tarmac. So we borrowed a crowbar from the dig store and prised the cover up. Luckily, by stripping off to the waist and diving full length into the drain, [Cath held my feet] I managed to grope in the foul sludge and find the keys.!!  Vsb was volunteered to be lowered in by his feet but he refused to co operate!!

And so onward to Clapham and upwards. Vsb struggled with his heavy pack but with a modicum of assistance from the rest of us he did very well to make it the Gill. We settled into Pete’s tent which turned out to be a trick one. If you open the wrong end you can’t get in!! A brew ensued of course and Vsb reported the following conversation across the Beck. “Neville we have got your burgers.” Neville replies “How much do I owe you?”  The answer was holding up the empty packet “Nothing, we have eaten them all!!” 

I introduced Tobias to the intricacies of meet life and signed him and myself up for disc duties that afternoon. He had great fun selling postcards to the tourists and the odd poster after we found them cunningly concealed in a tub. Just to add to the fun we had a superbly indecisive grockle who wanted to take his family of 6 down, but wasn’t sure how much time they had!! Having held the queue up for some time with ponderings over the 2 hour wait, plus the 25 min guided tour and a guesstimate wait for the return, he bought 6 tickets and was given his discs. A large queue and 1 hour or so later he came back and asked if he could possibly have a refund. We complied and breathed a sigh of relief. I used to be indecisive but I think I am ok now!!

Later that evening Vsb and I decide to go to the Trenchfoot Arms, and try the toxic daddy longlegs plus the excellent Marilyn beer. There is so much to do on the hill!  Tom asked me to spell him at the bar for an hour so Vsb learned very quickly how to pull pints, to the tune of “that’s a short pint lad.” and other kindly comments. He passed the test fairly well !!

Neville very kindly aimed his telescope at the Moon which was full and extremely bright [a fantastic sight] and then apologised for the fact that we could not see the American Flag that night. We think Osama Bin Laden has hidden it!!

All weekend the weather was very bright and sunny, with bright moonlit evenings. A wonderful sight when urinating at 3 o’clock in the morning!

Saturday dawned with the arrival of the tractor. A certain member, Nellie, was given the Bell Award - to be worn around the neck all day - for having a large cool box break on him spilling all the tins everywhere. Vsb and I had a lazy midday looking for crinoids in the Beck and then did a spell guiding in the Gill. Vsb’s first time. At the end of our shift we had to search for 2 missing tourists who had strayed from the main chamber. We checked Sand Chamber and back to Bar Pot.  That was far enough for VSB. Luckily the other group found them in the region of  Mud Hall.

That night it was back to the Trenchfoot Arms for copious amounts of beer. There was the usual sneaky filching of food served by the beer fairies; onion bargees very tasty! Brian the role model dog, the complete opposite of Eddie autobark, followed me back to my tent, whereupon he snuggled up to Vsb and fell asleep much to Vsb’s surprise the next morning when he woke up with a hairy muzzle in his face!

Just a comic note from Cath : by order of the 3rd Reich when using the toilet tent [for a big jobbie] you can only use 2 sheets of paper per person you can use both sides of the paper YUK although with permission of the leader 3 sheets can be used if you have a particular problem .[ I guess that this means the leader has to inspect your glutimus maximus before issuing you with a personal 3rd sheet .This definitely caused a fit of the Gaping Gill Giggles.!!

Having come off the hill we retired to the Crown that night. Has this pub become a repository for foreign labour? Cath went up to the bar to order a round and asked for a packet of pork scratchings. The barman said “Pork scratchings, vass ist thees?  He then looked along the shelves and asked “Is it a viskey?” much to the amusement of the few drinkers there. We spent the rest of the evening making up pork scratching jokes. In spite of only limited time underground due to my knees we had a great time with a lovely crowd of people; many thanks to them all. The pub incident was a great end to our Yorkshire trip .

This article is not intended to be a hairy blow by blow account of tough Yorkshire caving ,more an insight into the spirit of caving meets .

PS Eddie autobark is a real dog who has been adopted from a rescue centre .He is a lovely well behaved mutt but cannot resist barking at everything .Brian is a stuffed full size toy Labrador who has been adopted by Neville Lucas and most other people ,he is so lifelike that when he is sat by the tent with his drinking bowl people have been seen patting him !!


Dates for your diary, 2005-6


Club Committee Meetings : [First Friday of each month commencing at 8 pm.]

CSCC Meeting at the Hunters’ Lodge Inn – 3rd December, 10.30am

Caving Events Week. Charterhouse Field Centre, 12th – 16th December, all at 7 pm. 

Costs shown in []

12th : History of Swildon’s Hole – Dave Irwin  [£4];

13th : Film : A Rock and a Hard Place [£2] ;

14th : Mendip Rescue Organization [£4, donated to MRO] ;

15th : Cave Diving – John Volanthen [£4] and

16th : Try Caving ! [5.30 – 8.30 pm [£13.50]]


Working Weekends : 8th/9th January, 9th/10th April, 9th/10th July, and 24th/25th September, 2006


The Caves on Brean Down

By Nick Richards and Nick Harding

Brean Down is a limestone promontory jutting out into the Bristol Channel just south of Weston-S-Mare. It is some 3.5km long and no more than 0.5 km wide. The limestones dip at c 40 degrees to the north.  Apart from Reindeer Rift (Barrington and Stanton, 1977) no other caves have been described.

There are numerous sea caves – rifts and bedding planes formed in washed out Neptunean dykes and mudstone bands - averaging between 20 – 30 feet in length. They are so numerous that only two sites are of special interest. There is only one phreatic cave.

All the caves are located in the sea cliffs on the north side of the down.

1. Half Tide Rock Cave.

Length 31m, VR >6m

At the east end of the down near Half Tide Rock (NGR 30215892) Inclined bedding cave with an entrance 5m wide and 0.8m high. A fine traverse across the bedding for 31m leads to a second entrance in a cove to the west. The second part is rather restricted but some flowstone and a crab infested rock pool adds interest.

2. Battery Cave.

Length 54m, VR >15m

Located in a major embayment in the cliffs directly below the WWII gun emplacements (NGR 29655895) 

At the back of the cove is a double entrance to an extensive bedding cave, bisected by fallen blocks. (Dipping 40degrees N). The left hand section (to the east) is 19.5m long, 0.6m high and at least 6m wide before the bedding pinches in upslope. The traverse passes some extensive red flowstone slopes with ribbon formations on the roof in places. Near the end an easy squeeze over jammed footballs reaches the ‘terminal’ grotto where there is a group of small but attractive stalactites.

The right hand section is more extensive. A similar traverse westwards in a passage 10m wide and 0.6m high reaches a dead end after 25m. There is more flowstone, ribbon formations and a few small stalactites (<0.4m).

Part way along the traverse daylight enters through an 8m rift forming a third entrance. These formations came as a complete surprise to us – one does not expect to find stal grottoes in a sea cave.

3. Fiddler’s Bay Cave.

A proper phreatic cave! 15.9m long over a vertical range of 6m. (NGR 28755915)

A superb inclined circular entrance 4.5m wide leads after 8m into a 5m high chamber displaying a profusion of phreatic solution hollows. At the back of the cave and in the roof of the chamber is a rift choked with ochre and Pleistocene? gravel. The deposit must have once filled the rest of the cave and been washed out by the tides as some gravel remains welded to the back of some of the solution hollows. Note the limpet scouring marks on the entrance ‘kerb’. This cave is almost certainly more extensive and has the appearance of a fossil resurgence.

Note: Brean Down Resurgence

50m or so to the west (along the cliffs) is an interesting feature. A small patch of red brickwork blocks up a hole about a metre up the cliff face. This has been done to divert a flow of fresh water through an adjacent crack into a natural rock basin below - from which small stream flows down the beach. It fails in dry weather. This brickwork probably dates from the time when there was a short-lived attempt to build a harbour on the north side of Brean Down.

Acknowledgement : Thanks to Mark Helmore for his snaps, much appreciated!


Further Work in Rose Cottage Cave

Tony Jarratt

Continuing the saga from BB522.

Further Digging 22/6/05 – 5/10/05

       On the hot and insect-infested evening of the 22nd June Phil Coles and Ben Ogbourne did a magnificent job of hauling out 48 skiploads dug from all three phreatic tubes in Paul’s Personal Project. Pete Hellier also brought out one newt. Several gallons of brackish water poured into Bored of the Rings reappeared (at least partly) halfway down the corkscrew wriggle to Aglarond. On the morning of the 24th the writer took advantage of imminent heavy thunderstorms to insert the leat pipe into the entrance then rushed to work to flog wellies to Pilton Festival goers! Returning on the 26th with Fiona Crozier it was found that surprisingly little floodwater had entered the cave (it being realised later that the leat was blocked). A dozen or so bags were filled and stacked but further work was prevented by a large boulder in the floor. This was banged by the writer next day and Tony Audsley hauled out 23 loads which Rich Witcombe emptied. The debris was cleared by a seven man team on the 29th when about another 40 loads came out.

     July digging commenced on the 4th with Fiona excavating down through boulders while three old gits hauled back the spoil. Even more old gits hauled 51 loads of it to the surface two days later, including a few bags from Pete’s Baby and yet another grateful newt. 20 more loads emerged on the 10th and another 8 next day. It was now apparent that the dig below the connection point – henceforth known as Connection Dig – was potentially unstable and would require shoring before further work could be done. On this trip some 5m of new passage was explored by the writer, assisted by Estelle Sandford, above the most southerly point in Aglarond 1 and is probably where water sinking in the original dig site enters the cave. An interesting choked bedding plane was earmarked for future investigation. Tony A. and John Noble assessed the hanging death in Connection Dig, Rich W. constructed a new spoil heap wall and surface workers Bob Smith and Ian “Slug” Gregory cleared out the leat and washing pond to enable the stream to flow freely.

     Shoring of the Connection Dig commenced on the 13th with Tony commuting to the surface to cut timber then repeating the operation when it didn’t fit! He was assisted by Ben. On the same evening the writer, John and Gwilym Evans started work in the Aglarond 1 high level dig (A1 Dig) which seems to be at an horizon of ancient phreatic tubes and has a steady draught. A couple of hours of awkward digging gained some 2m of descending passage which desperately needed enlarging and making safe. Our impression was that it lies on the line of the main fault and heads SE, above and parallel with Aglarond 2. Two days later a charge was fired to break up three large, loose boulders in the dig and the resulting debris was cleared on the following evening when access was gained to a steeply descending tube on the north side of the dig. A vocal connection with Aglarond 2, some distance below, was established. Sunday 17th July saw three diggers hauling a large slab and many bucket loads of spoil from the dig until the cold draught drove them out to the heat-wave above. Even more came out next day when the bucket was replaced by a skip and the crawl to the dig face enlarged. Eventually Fiona was able to squeeze down into some 2m of pleasant, flat roofed bedding passage running back under the crawl and having a floor of calcited boulders. This became “Fi’s ‘Ole” after the following enthusiastic invitation was issued:- “In a minute you can all ‘ave the joy of lookin’ at my  ‘ole”! Meanwhile, somewhere above, Tony and Mike Wilson emplaced a second pit-prop in the Connection Dig. An attempt to trace the draught from A1 Dig to Connection Dig using a joss stick failed. Digging continued in A1 Dig on the 20th and on the 22nd four long shotholes were drilled in obstructing boulders and a 40gm cord charge fired, the debris from which was cleared next day when another four hole charge was fired to remove more large slabs blocking the route towards a tantalising void just visible ahead.

     This void was entered on the 25th after much clearing of rock, clay and cobbles by the Monday morning team; today Vern, Tony A, Rich W, Estelle and the writer. It proved to be another section of “passage” with a solid left wall but boulder ceiling and right wall. The novelty was that it had taken a sharp left turn. After a couple of hours enough spoil was cleared to give us some 3 metres of progress – not much but as Richard would say, “Not without interest!”. Another c.3m was gained on the 27th when John N. pushed forwards under the hanging death to enter a small boulder chamber with a relatively solid left wall and a potential dig in the floor. At least we could now turn round at the end. Many bags of spoil were hauled out by Pete H. and stacked in Aglarond 1 and these were taken to the foot of the Corkscrew climb by Andy Norman and Ernie White on the 29th. The writer and Chris Batstone cleared more spoil from the entry to the terminal chamber on the 31st and after some tentative digging at the end it was decided that the place was too unstable to push further. Indications were that drainage was back towards Fi’s ‘Ole and that this should be cleared out in an attempt to find a bedding passage below A1 Dig and above Aglarond 2.

     August 1st saw work recommence at the Connection Dig where John N. revealed the start of a low passage descending back under the floor of Bored of the Rings. Estelle and Rich W. hauled out 15 loads from here and the writer returned in the afternoon to bang the lip of this passage. He cleared the spoil next day and on the 3rd further work was done here and another charge fired to enlarge the passage entrance. Also all the spoil from the foot of the corkscrew was hauled to surface – 24 loads in total – plus the obligatory newt. Following further sessions on the 5th and 7th August it became obvious that the way on in the Connection Dig was not over large. Directly above the drop down to this dig an initially promising site was cleared of the usual clay, gravel and cobbles with 22 loads out on the 7th  and another 29 out on the 8th  when it was established that this was merely an alcove with several tiny phreatic inlets. Tony A. did some token digging in the P.P.P. upper phreatic tube but decided that the rock-breaker was needed to make life easier. In desperation a three shothole charge was fired in the floor of the Connection Dig. The resulting 12 loads of spoil came out on the 10th (along with a frog) and another three holes were drilled and fired. Digging, hauling and stacking also took place in the A1 Dig. Two days later the spoil from the last bang was bagged and stacked. Fi's 'Ole saw teams on the 17th, 21st and 31st and then regularly throughout September and into October with lots of tedious bag hauling, particularly up the Corkscrew. 98 more loads had reached the surface by the 5th October. Hannah Sarjent of Sussex University undertook CO2 testing in the cave as part of her dissertation - with negligible results. Work has also continued sporadically at the Connection Dig but this now has little promise.

Additional diggers

Andy Watson (MNRC), Ian “Slug” Gregory, Estelle Sandford, Mike Wilson, Amy Cork, Andy Norman, Ernie White, Toby Maddocks, Sam Batstone, Henry Bennett, Hannah Sarjent (Sussex University), Carole White, Nick Gymer, Kev Gurner; John Wilson, Alan Richards, Jim Lee, Rob Norcross (MOLES).


“Slopperations” :  a note on recent digging activity below Pewter Pot, Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink

By John ‘Tangent’ Williams

Since the initial major discoveries made in Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink during 2003,  potential dig sites located in the deepest parts of the cave have remained flooded. This resulted in the diggers attention turning firstly elsewhere within the cave, and ultimately  elsewhere on the Hill. The long period of dry weather experienced this year has enabled digging to be recently resumed in Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink.

Digging efforts are being focussed upon the formerly flooded Slop 3 site, located at the base of the Pewter Pot Pitch. Slop 3 was first examined in late 2003, by  Trevor Hughes who had viewed the site in low water conditions and reported a passage described as a canal continuing beneath a roof of uncertain quality. It was not pushed at the time , as the rest of the regular diggers were away in Scotland. Since that time the site has remained flooded, the only other notable visit being by Fiona who undertook a practise dive, in approximately 5-6m of water.

Recent digging trips have concentrated on bailing the site dry(ish), which takes approximately 30 minutes. The water is disposed of down Slop 1, and does not return to refill Slop 3 (at least during the duration of digging sessions). Spoil is being removed in buckets, then stored  in large bags at the base of the pitch. The occasional large rocks which are found within the slop are being used to build a wall to hold back the spoil, and also help stabilise the slope running down to the dig site.

It is intended to install a small bilge pump to make the removal of the standing water more efficient, and with the progress during recent digging sessions it should be possible to continue digging into the winter months.

Hair of the Dog Sump (now completely dry), located beyond Slop 1 enroute to Brown Ale Boulevard, has also  been investigated. Digging has been  undertaken amongst mud, gravel  and large boulders which will need banging if further progress is to be made there.

Digging sessions are taking place on Wednesdays / Sundays.

All welcome, although visitors beware that the insitu ladders are both old and a little too short!

Acknowledgements:  Thanks to Mad Phil for banging a large boulder blocking  the route through Slop 1. Thanks to all the ‘bailiffs’ & ‘sloperatives’ who have worked at this site to date.


William Eggy-Belch

The man and his orifices. Being a brief history of one of the lesser-known gentlemen of Somerset caving history of the 18th century.

(A result of half a dozen requests)

By  Nick “ Hawkins *” Harding

Ed. Note : Nick presents the last in the series.

Author’s note: William Eggy-Belch has often been mistaken for one John Aubrey of Chippenham due to their almost simultaneous altering of their nomenclatures. William Eggy-Belch was born Jonathan Aubrey while John Aubrey was born Aaron Henkels Electrometer.

Contemporary image of William Eggy-Belch complete with familiar egg mess on his left breast.

In his liberating and little known book The Sounds My Feet Make, William Eggy-Belch the one time sand yachting Epicurean vicar of Bridgwater often made it clear to his erstwhile flock that humour, particularly that of a flatulent nature, was the key to a long and richly fulfilling life. His oft quoted mantra ‘Tis a pour arse that canst nay rejoice’, has now entered into Somerset ignominy. Indeed no gentlemen’s excursion that he attended was complete without his gaseous exuberance. He could often be heard ‘letting one loose’ in Wookey Hole where his ‘boisterous reports echoed full long and hard’ sounding, as highlighted in one contemporary diary entry by his colleague and fellow caver Isiah Komputer-World, like the ‘blasted, concussive and thunderous eructions of some sulphurous goblin.’ 

Peter St John Being, his roommate at Cambridge, who remained a lifelong friend, often regaled the fellows of the high table with stories of the ‘industrious colonic machinations’ of his Somerset friend, manufacturing a reasonably faithful facsimile of his rumbustious privy noises, as punctuation, during after dinner speeches made by the Dean, who history recalls, ‘as the most persistently tedious dullard in all of Christendom’.    

After studying theology Eggy-Belch returned to his beloved Wells, via a brief detour as a man of the cloth in Bridgwater (little is known about his activities there except that he mastered the fine art of sand yachting), where he took on the task of restoring the biblical compliance of the local heathenish miscreants of that parish. Realising that a fire and brimstone attitude would push them further away from a life of pious worship Eggy-Belch introduced a humorous element in his sermons through the use of bodily gas. It was reported, although one is led to think that it is nothing more than a mythic nonsense, at least apocryphal guff (no pun intended) that he could quote Psalm 23 in one rude out-blast of air. What is not clear is which orifice he was using.

Eggy-Belch would often address his congregation sporting a varied selection of in-season fruits, stitched to his vestments while regaling his rapt audience with tales of his derring-do in the privies of the county in which he would often wait for an unsuspecting party to utilise the adjoining convenience then let slip the fogs of warmth, usually on the back of a thunderous outpouring of noise. 

While travelling in the area to administer his priestly duties he could often be seen furiously bouncing down the lanes of Somerset on his ‘font-astic’ a pogo-stick, of his own creation, fashioned from a stout ash pole with a small ewer of holy water with which he blessed anyone who happened to be passing. He always sported a smear of egg on his coat from his ‘excessive haste consuming his morning comestibles in the form of breaking his fast with the fruits of the chicken.’ (Isiah Titty, Memoirs of A Somerset Git 1848)

Sadly his clerical existence was brought up short after badly bruising the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Jeremiah Alternating-Whippet, with a desperately mistimed biff to the hooter, the result of which was a dramatic bout of public defrocking not ten feet from the walls of Wells cathedral. Despite Eggy-Belch’s skill with a mitre, soundly thrashing his opponent in under three rounds, it was not long before the Bishop saw to it that the man was swiftly frightened out of the county by a gang of hired Shipham ruffians. Half an hour later Eggy-Belch crept back into the Wells area, having spent ten minutes hiding in a cave in Burrington (which one is not known), deciding that what he really wanted to do was explore the inner world and subterranean levels of the Mendips and not tour as a member of the ecclesiastical comedy outfit the Crazy Croziers. They had been touring the area with their production of “More Tea Vicar?” (Described by the Gentleman’s Magazine as – “Two beastly hours of noxious vapours, bookended by four of ghastly anal ineptitude.”)

Fortuitously for E-B his spinster aunt Regina Stiffbits Belch passed noisily away one afternoon leaving the young man a country estate near Shepton Mallet and a handsome inheritance. For a short time he administered to the running of a large country house and the estate with its numerous staff, servants and general layabouts. But the young William was restless and in need of ‘orificular stimulation.’ He was not a businessman but was a peripatetic individual who often took to exploring the hills to escape the ‘yawning and bowel squeezing dullness of bookkeeping’. After that almost mistimed visit to Snapcock’s Wig Emporium (See The Wig in Caving, Belfry Bulletin Summer 2005, Vol.54, No. 2 Number 522), E-B came into possession of the famous Devon Loafa and never looked back. 

With no experience of such subterraneous activity E-B sought immediate council with a local old soak who had great experience digging numerous mines in the area. This fellow, whose name has slipped from history (although evidence has lately surfaced in Wells Museum that the individual might have be none other than Jedediah Fridge, inventor of the cave swing) told E-B to find the muttering waters of Trumpeter’s Chocolate Muck Hole (now lost), which sounded like ‘the drunk ramblings and frenetic utterances of a Glaswegian ne’r do well’. Why this particular hole was chosen against the easier Wookey for instance is beyond the ken of cavers to this day. Trumpeter’s Chocolate Muck Hole is, as we know, but only according to legend of course, a ‘super severe’ especially in the long pitch and all too tight muddy crawl that was its fabled entrance. Whatever the reason E-B took to it with firm enthusiasm. Knowing that this cave’s furthest reaches were as yet unplumbed and its overall length unknown he decided that his mission would be to discover all that he could about it. 

I didst find myself as if a turd in a privee outflow yet reversing said journey back into the bowels of the Earth. I was ever surrounded on all sides by malodorous and foetid doings the cause of which I dared not consider.   After an hour up to his lobes in filth E-B popped out, rather unceremoniously into the First Great Chamber, which Catcott described in I Like Holes as a ‘numinous cavern of certain cyclopean magnificence, except for the little bit at the end shaped like a job.’   Here E-B was met with his first proper view of the subterranean world. Or he would have done had he brought something to light his way. It was a rather embarrassed E-B that surfaced several hours later none the wiser for his vigorous activities underground.

Keen to put that obvious mistake behind him E-B sought further council from the Old Men who promptly pointed him the direction of Voluminous Titty, ex of the Somerset cheese police and grandfather of the famous biographer of some of Somerset’s greatest explorers Isiah Titty. (Isiah Titty would become famous for his Memoirs of A Somerset Git 1848, in which he describes various conversations with himself).  Voluminous Titty was no stranger to underground exploration but preferred the armchair variety to actual descent into the caves of the Mendips. 

In his own book Voluminous Titty describes his first meeting with E-B while experimenting with his ‘Titty’s Patent Gentleman’s Field Stilts’, ‘a brace of poles two and half fathoms in height for the execution of continuous and swift perambulations across ye levels of Somersetshire.’ A means of travel that he swiftly dispensed with after trying to walk home to his residence in Oakhill from an excess of libational behaviour at the notorious Pump and Glottis, a well known Inn on the Shepton Mallet to Wells road. Titty spent nearly two weeks hopelessly lost in a field. This hilarious incident is recorded in Underground Adventures with Dr Pleems, a children’s book from the 1930’s and also makes an appearance in the Ladybird book, What To Look For In Stupid People, 1966.   

Titty had had many conversations with Catcott about subterranean activities and was thus able to introduce E-B to a variety of illumination devices – a number of different length candles, a bag of gas and some odd device of Titty’s with which Catcott had been experimenting.  What that odd device was no two modern scholars of caving can agree on except that E-B was suitably unimpressed by it. ‘Inserting the hose is deemed unworthy of a gentleman and one is sore dashed if it is decent for one’s favoured servant to do likewise.’ But it had nonetheless planted a seed E-B’s mind. 

After vigorously thumping Titty for being a prize arse and chastising Catcott for continuing with the man’s ‘device of rude magnitude’, E-B decided that the best way was further experimentation. Keen to return to Trumpeter’s Chocolate Muck Hole E-B opted for a device of his own.

On June 14th  1761 visitors to the Wells area would have been witness to a bizarre sight. Lined up in Augustus Dildee’s top field were numerous prize heifers ‘a few short of a herd’, more than a handful of E-B’s servants and ‘several rugose gentlemen of the vicinity’.  E-B’s servants were unwinding a thick hose down the entrance of TCMH in slow deliberate movements. With ‘a system of winches, pulleys, weights and brass constructs’ the hose had been connected to three cows at a time. From these ‘bovine reservoirs much illuminatory gas was drawn to the satisfaction of all’.  E-B spent many hours exploring the system until around three in the afternoon there was a ‘loud report that issued from the depths thus causing the ground to oscillate in undulations of a rude nature.’ Shortly afterwards it is said, two cows both ‘sporting demeanours of incredulous and mistimed surprise eructed in violent detonations as if struck by several broadsides of artillery.’ E-B was never seen again and it was not long after, a week or so, that the entrance to Trumpeter’s Chocolate Muck Hole was sealed due to the collapse of the very dangerous pitch near the opening now highly unstable as a direct of the subterranean explosion.

A week later EB’s singed and muddy Devon Loafa popped out into daylight in the river Axe having obviously found a route from TCMH into Wookey.   

*Due to an inability by Richard Whitcombe Esq. to get my name right.


2005 Annual Dinner. Were you there?

- a selection of piccies from Pete Glanvill’s Memory Lane.



The Last Word

Compiled by J’Rat and Wig

ERRATUM; BB 522.   Meghalaya 2005.   Computer problems caused the deletion of the following. From the bottom of page 43 it should continue:-

“… us through the tight bit after an hour of hammer and chisel work – fair play to ‘em. For one of the gentlemen (who shall remain nameless but he said “feck” a lot) disrobing to his shreddies was necessary and had the secondary benefit of reducing the girlies to hysterical laughter as he cursed his way through. They were suitably impressed with the extensions so we left them brewing up and admiring the place while we headed out to our beer supplies stashed in the cave entrance where we intended to bivouac until morning. With tongues hanging out we sweated up the 100m of rope only to find that the local kids had snaffled most of the ale – bastards. Luckily Greg had extra supplies and a couple of rum-filled Coke bottles were unearthed from the depths of tackle bags to quench our alcoholic thirsts. A fire was lit outside and Greg cooked soup as the others gradually emerged from the depths to the night sounds of the jungle. Honorary thin man Brian M, relieved to have escaped from the jaws of the squeeze, produced a bottle of Courvoisier and the mini-party got into full swing before we retired for a few hours draughty kip.”    

Reprint of Rutter. [DJI]  Bibliophiles in the Club will be interested to know that John Rutter’s famous 1829 book, The Delineations of … N.W. Somerset, has been reprinted under the title ‘Somerset. ’  The new edition has been produced as a softback and was brought out by Nonsuch Publishing in April, 2005.  The price is £16 and is available at any bookshop; ISBN 1 84588 070 6.   For those wanting a bargain can get the book from Amazon for £6 + £2.85 p&p – this price has to be a mistake but the company accepted my money!  The original, depending upon which version, small cut, large page, various bindings, etc., can vary from £100 - £350.

Ben Barnett has been in contact with Fiona Sandford and he has told her that he is travelling around Indonesia and is currently in Bali.

70th BBQ photos. [DJI]  Several people have asked who took the photos on the back cover of the last BB. Guilty I’m afraid.

Gibbets  Brow Shaft. [ARJ]  In the summer of 2004 Alan "Butch" Butcher of the Shepton Mallet Caving Club was shown a stone-capped, 8 metre deep lead mine shaft in the field across the road from Lamb Leer entrance and located strategically between the Great Chamber and the Pond Rift aven in this currently "out of bounds" cave. Work commenced to clear the shaft and by June of this year the Shepton diggers had unfortunately bottomed out at 20m depth but with a tiny, draughting side passage at 16m. Madphil Rowsell was sub-contracted to blast this to "Butch-size" and had made some 7m of progress before leaving for Austria and handing the contract to your scribe. One further bang allowed the Shepton to explore some 17m of snug phreatic tube forming an L in plan and with potential digs at both ends. Matthew Butcher also found a too tight but open rift in the floor with larger passage visible below. Six banging sessions were necessary to allow Matt to drop into 10m of 2m diameter phreatic tunnel choked at both ends with clay. This very fine section of passage is still some 20m above the highest points in Great Chamber and Pond Rift but each end is heading towards one of these voids and digging is easy. Not so removal of spoil which is a chore. Poor air can also be a problem. We wish the Shepton team the best of luck with this important project and hope that free access will soon be regained to the fascinating underworld of Lamb Leer.

Ogof  Cwmwl Ddu   ( Black  Cloud  Cave). [ARJ]  Situated on the eastern slope of Blorenge mountain, south west of Abergavenny, this extremely promising dig was located by Henry Bennett, Pete Bolt and Rich Blake and many other B.E.C. members and friends have been dragged across the Channel to assist. It is being dug in collaboration with Charles Bailey, Chris Brady and others from the Brynmawr C.C. Chris and the writer have banged it a few times resulting in some 50m of steeply descending and well decorated passage well endowed with sticky clay. On the night of 29th September the top of a c.3m pot was opened up but not descended due to bang fumes. This cave may connect with the remote regions of Ogof Draenen but there is some 1.5km of virgin limestone between the two. It is also dead handy for the Lamb and Fox! Watch this space...

Fiona's 'Ole saw teams on the 17th, 21st and 31st and then regularly throughout September and into October with lots of tedious bag hauling, particularly up the corkscrew. 98.more loads had reached the surface by the 5th October. Hannah Sarjent of Sussex University undertook CO2 testing in the cave as part of her dissertation - with negligible results. Work has also continued sporadically at the Connection Dig but this now has little promise.


Many thanks to Tyrone and his mate Mick who have continued to work on the Belfry extension. This is the situation on 25th September. Not only have made great strides when one compares the photo in BB 522 but still manage the occasional smile when well meaning observers offer advice !

Photos Wig


The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Greg Brock

Committee Members

Secretary: Vince Simmonds
Joint Treasurers: Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Sean Howe
Editor: Greg Brock
Caving Secretary: John Williams
Tackle Master: Tyrone Bevan
Hut Engineers: John Walsh
Hut Warden: Roger Haskett
BEC Web Page Editor: Estelle Sandford
Librarian: Graham Johnson
Hut Bookings: Fiona Sandford
Floating Member: Bob Smith

Letters and articles published in the club magazine do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor the Committee or the club in general


Welcome to a somewhat brief and extremely delayed Bulletin.  Due to hectic work and personal commitments which were unforeseen at the Autumn AGM I am unable to produce regular BBs and thus have decided to hand over the post of Editor to Greg Brock - whom I am certain will do a much better job and to whom I wish the best of luck.  Please note that his address has changed since the Membership Handbook was sent out - his new address is: Cardiff [removed]

In addition, Sean Howe (the current Membership Secretary) has also let it be known that he will be leaving the post in October and thus a replacement for this important and demanding post will be required - any takers?

On the caving side of things, breakthroughs have occurred at a number of sites.  Most notably Morton’s Pot and the Rift Chambers in Eastwater, the no longer Lost Loxton Cavern, Hollybush Shaft and Helictite Well (both in Shipham) and once again in Hunters Lodge Inn Sink (see digging news page and articles).  Further afield Tony Jarratt reports another fine time in Meghalaya with over 17km surveyed. Krem Liat Prah extended from 8.9km to 15km, becoming India’s second longest and on-going, lots of beer drunk .


Hut Engineer’s Report 2003.

Many thanks to everyone who turned up for the Working Weekends this year.

I am pleased to report that it has proved a very productive year.  Apart from all of the small jobs around the Hut that are too numerous to mention, most of the interior of the Hut has had a new coat of paint.  Special thanks go to Crispin Lloyd and Jim Cochrane who were a great help earlier on in the year with the painting.  There are new tiles in the shower room and the BBQ has been completed thanks to Jake.

I would also like to thank all those people who have worked so hard and contributed so much in time and materials towards the new extension.  It could not be done without you.

I look forward to spending another year contributing in my own small way as Hut Engineer.

John Walsh

Librarian’s Report 2003.

No problems since the last AGM, only ten people have borrowed and returned books this year (if the borrowing book is to be believed).  As instructed at the last AGM the missing book list was published in BB No.516, and represents the publications that I know about.  Now that the cataloguing is completed identifying lost stuff will be easier, but getting it back will remain a headache.

A number of new books were either bought or donated this year, a full list will follow in a future BB. Journal exchanges with other clubs continue, but a few of them will be dropped from the list soon if nothing is heard from them.  Other acquisitions this year include an AO plotter and a printer from Pete Moody and a scanner from Dave Irwin.

The three new cabinets bought with the money raised from the auction of the late Dave Yeandle’s caving/climbing kit are now fitted and home to Pooh s book collection.  The only outstanding job here is the making and fitting of some suitably worded plaques for the cabinets.  Whatever money remains after this could go to part finance the binding of the Club’s BB collection, something that is long overdue.

Finally, thanks to Dave Irwin and Phil Rowsell for their help and Bob Smith for running the BEC sales stall at the BCRA regional meet where they managed to reduce the number of St. Cuthbert’s Reports by two.

Graham Johnson


Digging and Diving News.

Eastwater Cavern.

A breakthrough has finally taken place in Morton s Pot, where years of effort has seen the current team led by MadPhil Rowsell and Graham Jake Johnson past the sediment filled shaft and into a flood prone system of small passages which unfortunately need intensive chemical persuasion.  Phil has continued with his reinvestigation and resurveying of the lower West End Series and Lambeth Walk and has confirmed that the lowest point of the cave is Chamber of Horrors and thus worth reinvestigation.  Further above in the old cave he, Jake and Mike Barker have broken through into the 3rd Rift Chamber now named Unlucky Strike  Articles on all three events will follow in future BBs.

Helictite Well.

See Mark Ireland s article on his re-excavation of this well system in Shipham.

Holly Bush Shaft.

Mark Ireland, with a small amount of assistance from other club members, has put an inordinate amount of work into excavating the infill of this old calamine working to a depth of 20m. His efforts have been rewarded by the rediscovery of at least 200 metres of passage which is not yet fully explored (see article).  The mine is reported to be on the same mineralised belt as Singing River Mine. Being adjacent to a housing estate the shaft is lidded and locked.  Contact Mark for a visit.  He will appreciate any assistance with this project.

Hunters Lodge Inn Sink.

The current focus of interest is yet another sump.  This one lies at the end of Rocking Rudolph Rift which leads off from the Cellar Dig in Happy Hour Highway.  At the time of going to press Rich Dolby is preparing a second dive in the streamway sump which potentially could unlock the route through to the major breakthrough that surely lies ahead in this complex and ever growing system.

Loxton Cavern.

Nick Harding and Nick Richards have hit the jackpot with the rediscovery of over 250 metres of extremely attractive ancient phreatic passage containing much evidence of the Old Men - in this case Cornish copper miners.  A full report will follow once the delicate access situation has been resolved.


Hunters Lodge Inn Sink Part 1 - Pushing the Streamway and a Sign of the Times.

by Tony Jarratt

The history of this dig has involved all sorts of surprises and coincidences and not a small amount of amusement.  One of the best of these was the apparently unrelated project of Roger and Jacquie to reinstate the hanging inn sign at the Priddy Road end of the building.  Originally painted by John Lovelace in the early 70s it soon flaked and was taken down.  It had an owl on one side and a badger on the other.  Several months ago, before the latest discoveries, the plan to make a new one was put into motion and eventually a professional firm took over the task.  It was finished on 30th September and gleefully shown to the writer who was amazed and delighted to see that the new Hunters Lodge Inn sign bore a series of cave painting replicas of bison, reindeer, mammoth and prehistoric hunters copied from the old Pub wallpaper!  It is now installed and is probably the only one in the world with this motif.  It could not be more appropriate.  On the same day the writer received a call from Maggie Matthews of the BBC s Inside Out documentary series.  She was hoping to film a short human interest programme on the discoveries and no doubt the inn sign would have featured strongly in this.  This project later developed into a potential pilot documentary in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit and the Open University to be produced by Bethan Waite and introduced by Alan Titchmarsh!  The sign also featured in an article on the Pub and cave in the Fosse Way Magazine (No.4 72, 28/11/03).  The discovery was reported in Descent (No. 174, October/November 2003) with some excellent accompanying photos by Estelle Sandford.

I also received an Email from Bill Tolfree stating that the BCRA had approved a research grant of 390 pounds towards carbon dating a bone sample at the Oxford Laboratory.  A nomination for the Bryan Ellis Award (for innovation or enterprise in one of Bryan’s fields of interest) was proposed by Bill Tolfree (who preferred to think of it as for sheer stubborn bastardness).  I was gratified to win this at the BCRA Conference but was unable to attend to state that it was really won by the whole team who have grafted on this project over the last 2½ years.  One hundred pounds goes into the digging fund and I know that Bryan would have been delighted to have contributed to the exploration of a system so closely linked with his favourite watering hole and a cave he himself surveyed - Hunters Hole.

Work at John Walsh’s dig in Dear’s Ideal, Hunters Hole has recommenced in the hope of intersecting the master cave beyond Drip Tray Sump.  At this latter site the submersible pump has been installed and a lot of energy has been expended on emptying the pool and digging at the end. Conditions here are particularly unpleasant with poor air and deep, clinging mud.  The drained water is next seen in Pewter Pot where it is swallowed by the Slop 3 dig.  The adjacent Hair of the Dog Sump drained away naturally during the dry weather to reveal no open ways on and to save Rich Dolby from a second miserable dive! On a solo visit on 22nd October Alex did some token digging at the lowest point after hearing running water below the floor.  Slop 3 also dried up and became reinstated as a promising site. Trev, Vern, John Walsh and others have done some good work here and on 26th October Trev mutilated an obstructing boulder to gain a view into some 3m of squalid canal passage with a solid, calcited ceiling.  A visit by John on 3rd November revealed this dig to have flooded and become inaccessible, probably until next summer.

Walling up operations have continued at the Inn-let climb with Bev, Gwilym, Jeff Price and the writer in the multiple roles of architects, foremen and most of the labour force.  This job is now completed and the climb is hopefully safe.

Dr. Pete Smart and Dr. David Richards (UBSS) have commenced stal dating experiments as part of the current Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project which ties in with the palaeontological remains.  A very tentative result from this indicates that the bones may be considerably older than previously thought but more sampling will need to be done to confirm this. Lots more bones have been removed for identification by Dr. Jacobi and a trial dig will be conducted at the site. Tangent has opened up a passage near the terminal choke which is heading SE towards B.A.B. and Tony Boycott has attacked this with drill and assorted rock buggering devices.  November 6th saw Tangent and the writer enter 2m of open passage with a view down into a low, calcited mud floored phreatic crawl. Above this two bison (1) molars and a bone calcited to the limestone wall provide evidence of previously higher sediment levels now washed away and eminently justify this dig.  A bison right scapula and associated sediment, lots of assorted large animal bones, mainly reindeer, and the broken jawbone of a northern vole have been dispatched to the British Museum.

Nick Mitchell and Tangent have not yet continued with their climbing project in Broon Ale Boulevard but the first aven was free-climbed by the writer for 18m to where it closed down. This muddy, decorated phreatic rift was left rigged until a survey leg can be done.

On October 11th Dr. Peter Glanvill and acting nurse Ken Passant attempted surgery on the broken stalactite in H.H.H. but the operation was not a success and the patient remained detached, fractured and prone.  On the benefit side some photos were taken in B.A.B. Pete returned on the 19th with matronly pharmacist Pete Rose to restore the invalid to a vertical, though heavily splinted, position.

Next day sprightly 69 year old Malcolm Cotter (MCG) videoed most of the cave during a tourist trip to the end of B.A.B. Having a reputation as one of Mendip s most dedicated diggers it was a privilege to show him around.

Blasting operations have recommenced at the Cellar Dig in H.H.H. in the hope of discovering the stream passage below.  On 15th November, following separate digging sessions by Trev and the writer, a draughting hole was opened up heading out under the boulder floor of H.H.H. Obstructing boulders were banged next day and on 17th Jeff Price, Tim Large, John Walsh, Alex Livingston and the writer removed many bags of mud and lots of rocks to reveal a solid, calcited vertical rift over 2m deep but boulder choked.  Halfway through the digging session a heavy downpour sent a large flood pulse into the cave and the roaring of the stream could be heard below as it passed under the dig.  Much encouraged we banged a couple of boulders and retired to the bar.  Further work during the week saw the rift chemically enlarged and several boulders reduced to scree.  On 25th November a hole was opened up into another rift at right angles above the virgin stream passage where, due to heavy rain, rushing water could be heard not far away but could not be seen due to the traditional obstinate boulder blocking access.  This was banged the next day and on the 27th your scribe cleared the rubble to gain a view down a narrow slot into the streamway proper.  Once again access was denied by loose boulders so these were banged and this wet and filthy dig gratefully evacuated.  The lure of open passage was too much and so 24 hours later a return was made to clear the debris for a better view of the scalloped and clean washed vadose streamway below, alas still inaccessible due to razor sharp rock ledges protruding from the walls of the rift. Not having the drill today it was left for the 29th for the next bang and on 30th the stream was at last reached in a c. 6m section of caveable passage but still not passable due to fallen slabs. Trev and John hauled huge amounts of rock up to H.H.H. and were impressed by the progress and potential of this dig.  The story of further exploration here will be continued in the next article.

Our opening up of this cave has appropriately provided an opportunity for at least one bat to either take up residence or use the entrance shaft as an insect hunting ground. This is not the first time that Mendip diggers have actually provided a bat habitat - bat enthusiasts take note.

Bone identification - updated

1.Bison priscus.

Right dentary with MI-M3 with gnawing marks, possibly wolf (Canus lupus).

2. Bison priscus.

Distal right humerus.

3. Rangifer tarandus.

(Reindeer). Fragment of left dentary with M2 and M3.

4. Bison priscus.

Thoracic vertebra.

5. Rangifer tarandus.

Part of antler from young animal.

6. Bison priscus.

Right metacarpal.

7. Rangifer tarandus.

Left humerus.

8. Bison priscus.

Sub-adult.  Left metatarsal lacking unfused distal epiphysis.

9. Bison priscus.

Rib fragment.

10. Bison priscus.

Fragment of horn cone from large animal.

11. Bison priscus.


12. Rangifer tarandus.

Lumbar vertebra.

13. Rangifer tarandus.

Part of antler from young animal.

14. Rangifer tarandus.

Part of antler from young animal.

15. Rangifer tarandus.

Distal right tibia?  Gnawed at distal articulation.

16. Bison priscus.

Juvenile distal right humerus lacking proximal epiphysis.

17. Bison priscus.

(The much photographed, partly stalagmite encrusted long bone).  Left radius lacking distal extremity.

18. Rangifer tarandus.

Nine pieces of female or juvenile antler including two bases.

cf. Rangifer tarandus.

Rib fragment.

     Rangifer tarandus.

Shaft of juvenile left humerus.


Juvenile distal right radius lacking epiphysis.


Mid-shaft fragment of juvenile radius.


Anterior mid-shaft fragment of left metacarpal.


Right metacarpal lacking distal extremity.


Much damaged proximal right meatacarpal.


Partial right innominate.


Mid-shaft fragment of juvenile left femur.


Distal left femur (epiphysis incompletely fused).


Mid-shaft fragment of right femur.


Proximal right tibia.


Juvenile distal right tibia lacking epiphysis. L


Left astragalus.


Mid-shaft fragments of left metatarsal.


Mid-shaft fragment of left metatarsal.


Mid-shaft fragment of metapodial.


Two 1st phalanges Guvenile).

cf. Rangifer tarandus.

Eight rib fragments.


Part of spine of left scapula.

     Bison priscus.

Left calcanium.


Partial left calcanium (small).


Distal right astragalus.


Right naviculo-cuboid.


Proximal phalange.


Proximal phalange.


Proximal phalange.

19. Rangifer tarandus.

5 pieces of female and juvenile male antler including unshed base with small portion of frontal bone.


Neural spine of thoracic vertebra.


Rib fragment.


Portion of juvenile right scapula.


Proximal right humerus.


Distal right humerus.


Juvenile proximal right radius lacking epiphysis.


Proximal left ulna.


Fragment of proximal left ulna.


Fragment of right ulna.


Right ilium.


Mid-shaft portion of right metatarsal.


Distal left metatarsal.

      cf Bison priscus.

Rib fragments x 2.

20. Rangifer tarandus.

Distal right metatarsal.

21. Rangifer tarandus.

Juvenile thoracic vertebra.

      Rangifer tarandus.

Juvenile proximal right tibia lacking epiphysis.

22. Rangifer tarandus.

Antler tine.

      cf Bison priscus.

Two rib fragments.


Unidentified fragments.

23. Rangifer tarandus

Proximal left humerus.  Chemically weathered, not gnawed.

24. Rangifertarandus

Unshed base of juvenile antler with brow tine and portion of frontal.


Fragment of juvenile antler.


Fragment from (?juvenile) cranium retaining part of base of pedicel.


Sacrum; incompletely fused.

     cf Bison priscus.

Rib fragment.

25. Bison priscus.

Proximal left femur (?) gnawed.

26. Bison priscus

Juvenile proximal left radius lacking distal epiphysis.


Damaged at proximal end.

The above have been returned from the British Museum and have been given to Chris Hawkes for the Wells Museum collection - with the exception of HLIS 17 which, being a significant feature of the cave, has been returned to its calcite cradle in the Barmaids Bedrooms.  The following have yet to be officially identified.

27.        Bison priscus.             Right scapula and surrounding sediment (muddy gravel)
28.        Asstd. Bones.
29.        Northern vole (?).
30.        Rangifer tarandus (?).
31.        Rangifer tarandus x 2(?).
32.        Bison priscus (?) Molar.
33.        Rangifer tarandus (?) Tooth.

Roger Jacobi was pleased to inform us that probably most of the reindeer bones so far recovered are from young adult females that died around Marchi April during calving.  It is likely that they were using a sheltered snow patch where there would have been less troublesome insect life.  The males were presumably living it up elsewhere - a stag party perhaps?  Pregnant reindeer near a water supply would have been a welcome sight to a ravenous wolf pack.

The palaeontological deposits in this cave may prove to be extremely important and there is a possibility that they may be instrumental in changing the perceived sequences of the Ice Age.  The scientists involved in this project are hoping to publish their findings, once confirmed, in the relevant important publications so details of their results will be initially omitted from BB reports to avoid any academic embarrassment! It’s very satisfying, though to not only have discovered this fine system in such a perfect position but to know that this dig has actually changed the history of the world!!! Everything to Excess.

Yet more diggers and acknowledgements.

Professor Graham Bowden (Soton.UCC/WCC), Dr. Pete Smart (UBSS), Maggie Matthews and Bethan Waite (BBC), Steve Windsor, Ben Shaw (Birmingham USS), Simon Nik-Nak Richards (WCC), Malcolm Cotter (MCG - video), Dr. David Richards (UBSS), Tim Large, Peter (Snablet) MacNab.


A formal mammalian biostratigraphy for the Late Pleistocene of Britain, Andrew Currant, Roger Jacobi. Quaternary Science Reviews 20 (2001) ppI707-1716.

Secrets of the Ice Age, Evan Hadingham (1979).


Hunters Lodge Inn Sink Part II - Pushing the Bar Steward and the Filming of an Epic!

by Tony Jarratt

The saga continues from the previous article.  Refer also to BB515 Following the streams in H.L.I.S.

Work on following the streamway at the bottom of Cellar Dig, below the boulder floor of Happy Hour Highway, continued throughout December with many bangs being necessary to remove obstructing rocks and ledges - both at floor level and in the ceiling.  By the 11th we had progressed some 9 metres with another 5 metres in view giving a total dug length of some 18 metres.  An estimated gap of around 4 metres exists between the upstream end of the new stuff and the downstream end of the previously explored Bar Steward Passage and so this name has been extended to cover all of the streamway - and very appropriate it is too!  A vocal connection has been established but there is little enthusiasm for a physical one due to the horrendous nature of the intervening boulder choke.  This may be a job for the future.  With the onset of wet weather a visit to Bar Steward can be a refreshing and cleansing experience on a rainy day and the base of the entrance shaft makes a handy, free laundrette for one’s spare oversuit.  On a dry day the ample Mendip mud found in the first part of the dig makes the use of this facility very necessary.

On December 14th, following a rubble clearing session, the writer demolished a calcite false floor and was able to descend a 4m deep sloping rift in the floor to see the streamway continuing in a similar fashion.  Large slabs of rock vaguely attached to the walls prevented access. More clearing the next day made the climb easier and also gave a view of a possible decorated void beyond a partially flowstone coated boulder choke above the streamway.  The 17th, 18th, 21st and 22nd saw further blasting and clearing trips as we progressed along the rift. Spoil disposal became no problem as broken rock could be dropped into the narrow floor of the rift or stacked in gaps in the choke.  Stones thrown ahead rattled on downwards and the occasional one went a long way.  Trev Hughes estimated the depth of this forthcoming pitch as possibly 15 metres.  Our optimism and enthusiasm increased immeasurably!

Tim Large installed a thermometer at the entrance to Cellar Dig, initially to check the temperature of the adjacent bottle of Champagne but now regularly inspected to record the temperature of the cave itself.  Between the 8th and 11th of December this varied from 10.6-12.8 degrees Celsius.

The next Wednesday night session fell on Christmas Eve but we just couldn’t miss it.  The writer descended early to clear the bang debris and after an hour of rock hauling and manipulation opened a squeeze into a muddy alcove above a large, superbly water worn and steeply descending rift with a further drop visible beyond.  Mark Ireland then arrived to assist with gardening a couple of huge slabs forming the floor of the breakthrough squeeze and these were shifted just as Jeff Price and Tim turned up for their unexpected extra Christmas present.

A careful free-climb, with more gardening en route, was made down the Eastwater-style potholed rift for 10m to reach a 5m vertical section where a ladder was used to reach the roomy area below.  Here the cave once more went horizontal and, unfortunately, small.  A low phreatic tube was pushed for 8m to where it became too tight.  A steeply ascending phreatic tube on the west side could not quite be entered and this area needed chemical persuasion.  This 25m long extension is 50m below the surface and 20m below the entrance to Cellar Dig at its deepest point.  The length to this point from Cellar Dig is around 43 metres.  It is heading on a bearing of 172 degrees and may well pass beneath Drip Tray Sump.  There are many spectacular fossils and chert ledges throughout and the place has a totally different character to the rest of the system which it complements nicely. It is in itself a taxing little trip and indeed will be a Bar Steward in flood conditions.  With our usual appropriateness we named it Rocking Rudolph Rift after Roger’s latest festive brew - alliteration and reindeer being also relevant to this cave.  The whole 15m depth is free-climable with care but a rope or ladder would certainly be necessary for the vertical section on a wet day and, until all the friable ledges are booted off, it needs some caution.  Amongst the many superb fossils in the walls of the rift is a probable Orthoceras (Nautiloid); white, smooth, slightly conical and a little larger than a king-sized cigarette.


On the way out the 12.5 degree Champagne was quaffed and suitable celebrations continued in the bar.  Merry Christmas!

Work resumed on the morning of the 27th with the firing cable and tools being moved forwards, more gardening of the pitch being done and three long shotholes drilled at the face. In the afternoon Trev and Tangent surveyed the extension while the writer prepared the charges.  Detonation took place from Cellar Dig.  The results were examined by the writer and Tangent next day.  The rock rib and phreatic ceiling at the face had been enlarged enough for access to be gained for 1.5 metres into the base of the steeply ascending phreatic tube. This closed down as did the continuation of the fault line at all levels.  The stream pooled up in a very narrow rift which would need intensive banging. As the passage has obviously sumped up to a high level the site was abandoned until drier weather and all equipment cleared for use elsewhere.  This was a bitter end to our Christmas expectations.  On the way out the wedged boulders at the top of the pitch were banged and their remains cleared by Alex Livingston the following evening.  He also noted four leeches near the base of the pitch.

On 14th January, having studied Trev’s survey and resigned ourselves to the squalor, we were back. Three holes were drilled and another charge fired at the base of the steep tube to give us some working space.  Rock and fossil samples, Caninia and Zaphrentis, were collected.  The spoil was partly cleared on the 18th with assistance from a Shepton team and next day another bang was fired in the rift some 3m above the terminal sump.  Yet another bang on the 21st brings this phase of the project up to date. There seems to be open passage not far ahead and the rift draughts well.  Watch this space (or read the following article!)

Some 2.5m down from Cellar Dig entrance a low, up-dip bedding passage can be seen to extend for at least 5m.  Shotholes were drilled here in preparation for a future bang.

Roger Jacobi phoned from the British Museum to report that one of the last batch of bones may possibly be the radius from a Brown Bear - Ursus arctos.  A bison scapula has been taken to Oxford for carbon 14 dating.  In B.B. Dr David Richards of Bristol University took stalagmite samples for dating purposes.

The BBC decided that the difficult access to the cave precluded it from starring in the pilot programme of their forthcoming archaeological series but that it would feature on the local Inside Out documentary on 2nd February.  A date was arranged to introduce the lady director, Maggie Matthews, and lady researcher, Bethan Waite, to the delights of caving. Their cameraman, Steve Holland, already had experience.  They turned up on 5th January, as did several gentlemen diggers, keen to offer the ladies a helping hand.  Maggie unfortunately had a cold so decided to undertake research in the Pub while Bethan took over for underground action.  After an initial attack of worry and doubt in Pub Crawl she overcame this and very competently completed a trip to the bone deposit and back, though there was some doubt if she enjoyed it!  Steve used a small video camera to do some preliminary filming in H.H.H. and B.B. but being 6’ 4’’ tall and having an old shoulder injury was unable to pass the squeeze above Pewter Pot.  He did enjoy the cave though and seemed happy enough to allow Bethan to film the rest on her next visit - if her bruises had healed by then!  It later transpired that a thin caving cameraman, Graham MacFarlane, had been rooted out for the next attempt and that hands on presenter Tessa Dunlop was keen to go underground.  Palaentologists Andy Currant and Roger Jacobi offered to turn up on the surface to explain the importance of the bones.  Maggie decided that a good human interest sequence could be filmed at the Belfry so it was pointed out to her that suitable amounts of traditional refreshment would inspire the would-be film stars to greater thespian achievements.

On Monday 12th January the epic production commenced after almost being cancelled due to this being the wettest day for months.  With the entrance waterfall contained behind polythene sheeting and most of the stream diverted down the rift in the floor conditions were not too bad.  Both H.H.H. and B.B. were filmed, a long sequence was recorded with Estelle and Tangent at the bone deposit and Jake Baynes starred in a digging role at the Inn-let.  Trev’s hand drawn survey and MadPhil’s computerised version made the silver screen and some excellent footage was recorded in the bar where our palaeontologists made some very favourable comments on the finds and examined 16 bones, antler fragments and another bison horn cone brought out for the occasion (HLIS 24-39).  This was a long day with six hours underground and as many in the Pub (courtesy of the Beeb).  The girls were superb - dedicated and professional and very capable cavers. Graham, assisted with the lighting by Alex, did a magnificent job and is keen to cave with us again.  Thanks to all those who turned up to help and especially to Roger and Jacquie for their patience and hospitality.  Surface sequences were later filmed by Steve Wagstaff at Bat Products (where unsuspecting customer Clive North - who the Beeb could not afford to film this programme, ironically became an unpaid extra!) Estelle’s house and Tangent’s place of work.  A booze-up at the Belfry was also recorded.  Fuelled by a BBC donated barrel of Butcombe a selection of Mendip’s finest topers entertained the viewers at home with atrociously sung ditties accompanied by Snab’s folk ensemble – Hen’s Teeth.  The maestro also gave a rendering of his rapidly composed song about the cave entitled Beneath the Boozer.

Digging in the floor of the Inn-let has commenced in the faint hope of entering the continuation of Bar Steward passage from above.

The extensions (as of 16/1/04).

Work has recommenced in Dear’s Ideal, Hunters Hole in an attempt to enter the master cave further along but, due to the wet weather, conditions here are fairly squalid and this may end up as another summer dig.  Water from the entrance shaft and Main Pitch, after sinking in the boulder floor of the Railway Tunnel, is seen again sinking behind the current spoil heap in Dear’s Ideal.  It does not reappear in the known cave and may well flow beneath the choked fossil passages in like manner to the Bar Steward stream flowing beneath H.H.H. in the Sink.  This is an area of dangerous poised boulders and a route directly downwards from the base of the Main Pitch may need to be engineered.

With our knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the underground drainage and potential of this area plans are being laid for the next surface dig.  If permission can be obtained we hope to reopen Tankard Hole (ST 5563/4994) - essentially a 60m deep and horrifically dangerous boulder choke with open, unexplored passages at the bottom.  With modern digging technology this should be a feasible objective.

Song: Beneath the Boozer

words: Snab. Tune: Brighton Camp (The Girl I Left Behind Me).

If it hadn’t been for the Foot and Mouth perhaps they never would have found it,
for the government said the land must close and the cavers all were grounded.
So they all sat in the Hunters Lodge with the tears running into their tankards
and Roger said Get out of here or you’ll turn into a load of drunkards .


What shall we do? Shall we have a pint? Shall we have a pint with you sir?
Or shall we go outside and dig, find a cave right under the boozer?

Oh where can we go? young Tony said, There’s nowhere to go caving .
Roger said When I tried to build a shed it fell in and it’s covered in paving.
Lift it up and you’ll find a hole, it’s the one just round the corner.
You can dig there to your heart s content. Stop looking like bloody mourners.

So they started to dig at the end of the Pub, it was a joyful occasion
and they sometimes made a right hubbub when the passage needed persuasion.
As they cleared each flake the bar did shake and the drunkards were astounded.
Then they all rushed in, you could tell by their grins that they’d dug for a cave and found it!

Oh when they’d passed the hanging death young Tangent went off looking.
He shouted back I’ve found some bones they must be from Jacquie’s cooking .
But, no, the bones were Ice Age ones, some covered o’er in calcite,
there was reindeer, bison and a vole so the Butcombe flowed past midnight.

Now those Belfry lads dig all the time, those diggers brave and bolder
and the bones that they found from the past have turned out so much older
than ever they had dreamed about though the cave it was a bruiser
and who’d have thought they’d have found this lot right underneath their boozer?

A new verse to Boys of the Hill by J. Rat.

In the car park, underground Ice Age mammals can be found;
bison and reindeer as time stands there still.
Sumps and squeezes, pots and crawls; leeches, mud and waterfalls
This cave has it all! say the Boys of the Hill.

The Hunters car park about 80,000 years ago by John Wilson (MOLES).

Additions to the digging team and other contributors to the saga.

Mark Gonzo Lumley, Lee Hawkswell (MCG), Jacquie Gibbons (MCG), Steve Holland (BBC), Tessa Dunlop (BBC), Graham MacFarlane (BBC), Steve Wagstaff (BBC), Ben Ogboume, Steve Windsor, Clive North (ATLAS), Pete Snab McNab, Anita McNab and Hen s Teeth, assorted drunks led by Alan Butcher (SMCC), Terry Fitch (SMCC), Kev Barlow (SMCC).


Hunters Lodge Inn Sink Part III - Hangover Hall and Stillage Sump.

by Tony Jarratt

It may safely be said that all this great series of inlets send their water to the subterranean Axe, forming a labyrinth of cave passage, which may trend to concentrate into a larger stream-way, along the line of the southerly dip of the faulted-down limestone north of Pen Hill.

HE. Balch - Mendip, Its Swallet Caves and Rock Shelters, 2nd edn. (1948) p.136.

On the 23rd January 2004 some of the debris from the last bang below RRR was cleared by Doug Harris and Simon Moth (A.C.G.)  Jake Baynes and a Birmingham D.S.S. party tidied up the bone inlet dig the next day and the following morning saw more clearing in the streamway.  On this trip a view was gained into roomy, flowstone covered passage.  On the 26th the rest of the spoil was removed and another charge fired.  Tim Large recovered a fine Michelinia fossil.  The 28th saw Tim, Jeff Price and the writer desperately shifting the spoil and gazing longingly into the tantalising streamway ahead.  Having run out of cord a desperate attempt was made to enter this by using a hired Kango hammer powered from the mains and to this effect Jake B. and the writer spent three murderous hours laying cables, steel-driving and lugging the bloody heavy hammer back out again in disgust having only succeeded in chipping off a tiny amount of rock!  In the evening some cord was scrounged from Clive North and we got our own back, incidentally being totally unaware of the Somerset earth tremor which happened at the same time.

The last day of January saw the debris cleared but still no access so a large team blithely descended on the 1st of February, after a lunchtime session, with intentions of banging again.  Chiselling was in progress when a sudden roar from above heralded the arrival of a considerable flood pulse forcing those at the bottom of R.R.R to cram themselves into various nooks and crannies to avoid a soaking.  The pitch soon became a maelstrom of cascading water - very impressive and quite frightening at the time.  Taking a chance on the final crawl not sumping the writer managed to drill seven shotholes before fleeing to the surface with the others - Jeff having his spectacles washed off on the climb and being pelted by in washed rocks.  By the time we got out it had stopped raining and Pub Crawl was almost dry but we had gained an insight into how potentially dangerous the cave could be.

Next morning, following a brief interview on BBC Radio Bristol, the writer and Tony Boycott laid the charge, returning after lunch with Jake, Tim and Jeff to pass the terminal rift, foggy with bang fumes, and enter some 4 metres of passage ending in a sump on the left.  Bugger. A flowstone coated rift/aven above was climbed for 10 metres but closed down.  After poking about the stream was found to sink below the RH wall and this was destined to be dug in drier weather.  Disappointed we headed out after imbibing yet another bottle of Champagne.  Hangover Hall seemed a suitable name for the extension.

In the evening the BBC Inside Out documentary was screened and it was pleasing to see what an excellent and professional job has been done.  It was informative, amusing, risque in parts and not too embarrassing - except for Tim whose well packed underpants are now famous throughout the nation!  Favourable comments were heard from cavers and non-cavers alike and hopefully this programme redressed the balance a little for the utter crap shown on the recent Casualty series.

On February 4th digging commenced in Hangover Hall where several large sacks were filled with mud and clay and left in situ.  The sump on the left was found to be an inlet with more water flowing from it than was in the main stream   The combined streams sank on the right hand side of the fault and this, as previously stated, was to become the focus of our next campaign.

Work here continued throughout February and March and was not without the odd trauma.  On one occasion Jake B. was almost squashed by a boulder but the quick thinking of his observant companion, Justine, saved his bacon. With no access to bang the team resorted to plugs and feathers in an attempt to break up a large boulder - a slow job.  On 10th March the writer returned to reality and the offending boulder was reduced instantaneously to gravel.  It was noted that the strong inward draught whistled up into the rift above H.H. and that the bang fumes did not reappear in H.H.H. or the Inn-let Dig; where did they go?  The spoil was cleared on the 14th and another charge fired the next day.  This was cleared on the 17th when Gwilym Evans did the squalid bit at the face and was rewarded for his efforts by a sudden breakthrough into a continuation of Hangover Hall some 2.5m high, 2m wide and 4m long.  An unattractive sump at the end may drain in drier weather and was named Stillage Sump in honour of the assorted flotsam and jetsam therein.  Another choke had been vanquished and we were a little bit closer to the crux of this cave.  Coincidentally, on the same night the BBC repeated their documentary nationwide and with a few alterations from the original.  This caught the eye of Simon de Bruxelles of The Times who wrote a short article which was published on the 19th.  A similar article was published next day in the Western Daily Press.  It also, unfortunately, caught the eyes of at least two nutters who saw fit to write to the Hunters with their lunatic theories. One of these concerned totally jumbled archaeological nonsense and the other; several pages of A4 paper covered in numerals, references to the bible and newspaper cuttings - apparently compiled by a schizophrenic psychopath from Newport, Monmouthshire!  The paper is sadly just too stiff and shiny for use elsewhere!

On 21st and 22nd more spoil was cleared from the approach to Stillage Sump to make access easier. Snablet had been in this up to his neck but it was decided that a diver was required for a safer and more hygienic push.  The entrance to the unexplored inlet passage a couple of metres below the drop into Cellar Dig was also banged and partly cleared by Tim and Justine on the 24th. Work continued on these two sites throughout March and both tourist and tidying up trips took place in conjunction.

On April 2nd (a lost opportunity by one day!) cave divers Rich Dolby and Jon Beal, supported by John Walsh and Tangent, made their weary way to Stillage Sump.  Unfortunately this became totally mud and rock-choked some 2m in at a depth of around 1m - just body-sized!  It will now be left to drain naturally or at worst pumped out to enable digging to proceed.  On April 5th the sump chamber and approach were enlarged and the ceiling blasted to give direct access to the airbell.  Two days later the now roomy sump pool received another bang on the end wall and both Jake B. and Eddy Hill were convinced that the sump shelved deeply away on the RH side and was probably diveable.

With blasting discontinued at Stillage Sump the Cellar Dig inlet captured our attention and another charge was fired on the 14th April.

To be continued.

Additions to the team and acknowledgements.

The Mendip Caving Group for a donation of 130 pounds to the bang fund following an auction at their 50th Anniversary bash, Andy Thorpe (OSCG), Doug Harris (ACG), Gavin Davidge and Nigel Gray (BUSS), Justine Emery (CSS), Eddy Hill (UBSS), Jon Beal (FCC), Kevin Welch and Amy Finnie (CSCA).

(Ed. Photographs of these new extensions should appear in the next BB).


New Discovery.  Loxton Cavern Found!

by Nick Harding and Nick Richards

Chalk another one up for the BEC - but not just yet

As many, if not all of you are aware the Two Nicks have made a very important cave discovery, or rather rediscovery in the Loxton area (turn to page 111 of Mendip the Complete Caves and a View of the Hills and cross out the word Lost before Cave of Loxton).  At present the situation is this: Loxton Parish Council have decided that until their insurance situation is sorted out the cave must remain out of bounds.  This is frustrating as there is much to share with noble fellow cavers.  As soon as the situation has been resolved to everyone’s benefit you will be able to read all about it.  But be warned this may take a long time.

This of course does not stop us from thanking Masters Tony J, Tangent, MadPhil and Mark Ireland for their sterling work and Martin Grass for the pictures.  Blessings be upon ye.


Holly Bush Shaft Shipham - Recent Explorations.

by Mark Ireland (Shipham born, depraved Cheddar resident)

Amongst the most depraved and wretched were Shipham and Rowberrow, two mining villages at the top of Mendip: the people savage and depraved even almost beyond Cheddar, brutal in their natures, and ferocious in their manners.

Martha Manners, Mendip Annals (1859)


The author’s family have lived in Shipham for many generations and were familiar with many of the mine workings.  Recent exploration and surveying has been undertaken by mainly Axbridge Caving Group, Wessex Cave Club and B.E.C.

The majority of mines were worked by individual miners, partnerships or small groups.  The work was often difficult and dangerous and the ores extracted in the simplest and quickest way possible.  More organised mining companies then began to take an interest in the area and Cornish miners worked what are currently known as Winterhead Shaft, Star Mine and the Stinking Gulf in Singing River Mine.  Following their departure from the latter site the shaft was blocked until the mid 1910’s when Messrs F.G. Clements & Co. from Easton, near Wells were contracted on behalf of Axbrige Rural District Council (ARDC) to investigate the possibility of making an underground reservoir down this shaft.  It was dug out to a platform previously installed by the Cornishmen.  Frank Clements was standing on this with George and Frank Brooks when it collapsed and Clements was left hanging by his fingertips!  He was pulled to safety by the others, who had escaped the calamity, and hoisted to the surface.  He never went down the shaft again.

Below this platform an opening led to the shaft bottom and old workings.  Clements & Co. enlarged these to form the Great Hall but not long after the project was abandoned with the arrival in Shipham of mains water.  This mine was visited in the 1940s by Sidcot School Spelaeological Society and then forgotten until revisited by ACG&AS in 1971.  Due to the efforts of Clements & Co. we cannot be sure how the workings originally looked or what artefacts were removed.  Only small pockets of the mine were left untouched and some artefacts were found.

Old miners reported that the majority of workings were 20-30 fathoms deep (120-180 feet or 36.5-55 metres). In some mines seasonal high water levels gave some problems.

The only area left unexplored by mine enthusiasts in Shipham, and probably the most important in understanding the undisturbed workings, is to the east of Singing River Mine in Jimmy Glover’s Field - also called Gruffies after the old workings or grooves.  Here there are at least three intact, infilled shafts, one of which forms the subject of this article and whose underground galleries may connect with the eastern workings of Singing River Mine.

Holly Bush Shaft.

On the 8th July 2003 my brother Shane and I investigated this 6m deep, rubbish choked shaft located at ST 4458857815 and originally reported and named by Chris Richards (ACC&AS) in 1971.  The entrance being completely overgrown with brambles, some gardening work was done to reveal a broken flagstone capping dangerously partly sunken into the shaft. Beneath this was a piece of corrugated sheeting which itself was resting on two large, loose rocks.

The flagstone - 1.2m x 0.79m x 0.1m thick - may have been originally placed by the miners.  Three drill holes on one side may have served to lift it. The other half of the broken capstone was later found in the shaft.

We lifted the flagstone, partly removed the supporting corrugated sheeting and peered down the gap into a typical 0.76m (2ft 6) Shipham shaft, at least 6m deep. Everything was put back as before and our findings were reported to the landowners who, after some discussion, agreed that the entrance should be rebuilt and that permission to dig out the shaft would be given.  We returned the next evening with a 1.5m x 0.9m steel plate, cleared the capping - replacing it with the plate - and planned a permanent, safe and secure access.

Mick Norton (ACC/B&DCC) and I descended the shaft to check its safety and need of repairs to the ginging.  Only the top section needed cementing, the depth was measured at 8m to a choke of soil and animal bones - cattle, sheep etc.  Later, over a couple of trips, Dave Holmes (ACG), stating that he wanted to provide a service to the community, helped rebuild the entrance with concrete. A new manhole cover was emplaced and the flagstone put aside.

15th September saw the writer commence removal of bones, soil and more bones!  At a depth of 8.7m a cast iron wheelbarrow wheel was discovered. On the 18th Tony Jarratt and I removed 100 skiploads of spoil.  Bones, earth and stones made this easy going.  Amongst the spoil was found an old cast iron shoemaker s last, a spade a builder s trowel and a small engine cogwheel.

The next couple of trips cleared out more spoil consisting of larger stones than previously.  A long, thick stone - first thought to be a lintel - was later revealed to be the other half of the capstone.  The surrounding spoil proved to be builder’s rubble.  On the 20th, after clearing the capstone, an old car front bumper was revealed.  On lifting this out another front spoiler was found.  I must here confess to having previously stacked the ladder and hauling rope on a ledge above in order that they did not interfere with digging.  The spoiler was half buried across the shaft and under the capstone and moving it dislodged a rock which hit the side of the shaft somewhere beneath my feet.  On hearing the noise my immediate reaction was to lunge across and wedge myself in the shaft.  At that moment, as I looked down at the floor, it collapsed, giving me a great shock - not only the sight of it going but the noise and speed of debris falling 4m further down!  I counted my lucky stars that I was not amongst it, then looked up the shaft with relief to see that none of the ginging had been dislodged.  This would have presented a serious problem.  The ladder was pulled down from the ledge but failed to reach the new floor so an exit was made and a return made later with a second 10m ladder.  A lesson had been learned - always be connected to a safety line!!

Returning with the necessary gear and a back up who waited at the entrance the writer descended to the new floor.  This was at a depth of 12m and the shaft appeared to be still going down.  More Shipham shotholes were to be seen drilled downwards into the shaft walls.  The capstone now lay on old iron car parts and building materials and the digging skips were tangled amongst this.  Whilst connected to the safety line and holding the ladder I stepped onto the capstone and rocked it to see if the choke would collapse again but for the moment it had stabilised.

On the 9th October Tony, Nick Richards, Nick Harding and I arrived at the site in the Bat Products Land Rover with the intention of using it to pull out the capstone but the plan changed when Tony produced a rope puller ratchet winch which was used instead. The capstone was successfully removed from the shaft along with two other large rocks to leave the place much enlarged at the bottom and looking more encouraging.

Nine days later the entrance was found to have been broken into and the skips and ropes thrown down the shaft.  The trusty steel plate was replaced over the hole.  A return next evening saw the plate removed and dumped nearby. Underground everything was fortunately okay so the skips etc. were recovered, the plate yet again replaced and, with great difficulty, the original capstone laid on top.

The next few trips were to make the entrance more secure.  This was achieved thanks to Ivan Sandford who gave up his time to fabricate a strong security bar.  It was so successful that now even I have difficulty gaining access!

Digging recommenced on 28th October with the angle of the shaft gradually changing from vertical to around 45 degrees, heading to the north and with the obstructing boulders becoming noticeably larger.  As I broke rocks to fit into the skips in the same way that my mining ancestors did I felt good and much encouraged. On the wall where the shaft changes angle rope rub markings were noted.  There were also many more bones appearing, some of which looked suspiciously human. After consulting Tony I reported this to the police, explaining all about the dig and the uncertainty of the identification of the bones.  (No constable would venture to arrest a Shipham man, lest he should be concealed in one of their pits and never heard of more; no uncommon case Martha Moore, Mendip Annals (1859)).  An officer arrived, looked at the bones and then down the shaft; he was most surprised at the 12m depth and after focusing his powerful torch became worried and called me over to ask what the two shining, human eye-like objects reflecting up at him were?  Was it a body down there?  I looked again and started giggling as I realised it was two small pieces of wet broken glass giving a realistic impression of eyes!  He decided to seal off the area and field footpaths while the investigation was going on, explaining that because bones were present this was a strict procedure.  The bones were removed for analysis and a later telephone call revealed them to be animal.  He gave permission for the dig to continue and thanks for reporting the find.

As the shaft deepened it became harder for me to dig on my own.  Climbing out, hauling skips, tipping spoil onto the heap then returning to the bottom to repeat the procedure became a chore.  Then Ernie White and Andy Norman, the Barnsley Boys, came down for a weekend and kindly helped out while I dug.  For four hours non-stop they hauled out 60 skips of rock, scrap iron and household rubbish and levelled it all out - all credit to them both. The shaft continued dropping at 45 degrees with more Shipham shotholes around the sides.  At 15m depth more evidence of rope marks was found on the hanging wall.

My brother later came along to stay at the entrance while I removed two large boulders.  Beneath one of these a gap appeared.  A light shone down revealed a horribly dangerous choke of clean rocks at an estimated depth of 4.5m.  By using a long bar to dislodge this choke I managed to collapse it for 1.2m until it wedged again but this time I knew what was below.  A single Cornish shotholelarger than the Shipham variety - was found driven downwards in the shaft wall.  Its diameter is 45mm and the length is 710mm as opposed to the smaller holes of 21-26mm diameter and averaging 2-300mm in length.  The presence of this much larger and probably more modem shothole may mean that an unknown prospector was investigating the older workings or could be evidence of visitation by F.G. Clements & Co.

Over the next few trips I removed the top layer of TV -sized rocks and broke them down to knuckle size. This also compacted the spoil and revealed a void below.  The larger rocks were stacked nearby and the smaller stuff was pushed into the void. On the next trip I found that half of the infill had collapsed into a horizontal gallery below.  The remainder of the choke was dislodged to leave a shaft of 20m leading into the open workings last visited over 150 years ago. The spoil from the shaft blocked off the route to the west but that to the east was wide open.

The eastern passage, which I named Branch Line (all passage names deriving from the surnames of past Shipham miners) continued over a false floor for an estimated distance of 24 m. The passage had been stoped out by the Old Men at a 70 degree angle and had many ingoing shotholes.  Marks of hand picks and a possible shovel blade in the soft wall were ample evidence of their efforts, as were black smoke marks resulting from the use of tallow candles and a sooty deposit around the shotholes resulting from the use of black powder.  A possible brand (burnt wooden torch) was also found.  On returning to Branch Line at a later date, during a wet spell, an active stream was found to be flowing from the terminal choke and running along the passage floor for some 15m to sink below the deads.

Back at the base of the entrance shaft I began to clear the infill to reveal the western gallery.  On entering the passage it enlarged with a divergence ahead.  At eye level on the left hand wall a rock was noticed purposely placed in front of an unfired shothole.  Inside this was discovered a broken flat iron scraper.  It seemed evident that the obscuring rock had been placed by a fellow miner to warn his colleagues not to load the shothole with powder lest a premature explosion occur due to sparking.

At the divergence the right hand working, Day Passage, was followed for approximately 30m over a floor of deads.  Ancient, rusted Cadbury’s Bournville Cocoa tins are evident throughout its length. Dating from the end of the nineteenth century, these have probably been dumped in the shaft and moved to their present location by flood water - possibly during the infamous deluge of 1968. More pieces of burnt wood litter the floor.  At the lowest part of the passage, on the left hand side, a mined out, curving bench is an attractive feature inspiring the name Pew Comer.  The floor is covered with large boulders.

At the end of Day Passage is another choke with a probable shaft to the surface above.  Just before the choke there is a backfilled passage having a gap of 15cm and running back to the east for c.4m to re-enter Day Passage. Halfway along Day Passage I removed a couple of rocks in the floor to reveal a drop of 1.8m with a passage beneath - actually the lower section of Day Passage but separated by a false floor of deads to make work in the higher level easier.  On a tourist trip Dave, a mining engineer, noticed two stones acting as a roof support pillar in this gallery.  Shotholes indicate that Day Passage was driven towards the east.

The passage to the left at the fork drops to a lower level with a possible choked winze on the left side at its entrance.  This passage, Wilson Way, has the appearance of being the main route but must have been worked at a later date than Day Passage as it is larger and neater.  This soon leads to a mined rift in the floor, Wilson Pit, choked in an easterly direction.  Ahead is a T-junction.  To the right a climb over a pile of deads, probably derived from mined cavities above, leads to a continuation of the level.  A possible false floor may indicate another level below.  The continuation is at present flooded but there is a high level, excavated, blind cavity above.  Shothole direction is to the west.

Back at the T-junction the 21m Lewis Level heads south-east on the left hand side.  It has an uneven floor and two mined roof cavities.  Just before the end the floor drops to a pit partly filled with deads.  A climb over this leads to the end where a small natural cavity can be seen on the left. To the right is a 20cm long window into a possible parallel passage.  Could this be an unopened connection with another company s mine?  Shothole direction in the Lewis Level is to the south-east.

As more spoil was cleared from the base of the entrance shaft another level, Tripp Gallery, appeared on the north side, running in an easterly direction.  With a similar appearance to the Wilson Way it may be a continuation of the same. The floor of deads may conceal workings below.  A slope leads to a wall of stacked deads with a short, backfilled passage above.  This was dug out to reveal the small Athay Chamber. Below the stacked wall Tripp Gallery may continue at a lower level but is flooded at present. Shotholes point to the east.

On 20th December the lower levels of the mine were flooded following heavy rain during the previous week. This is an indication of the problems that the original miners faced during wet weather.

Nick Richards examined the minerals in the workings to find cadmium-rich calamine, galena and Turkey Fat Ore or Greenockite (cadmium sulphide) amongst others.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank Shane Ireland, Tony Coles and Nigel Fowler for their generosity and assistance.

Selected references.

Jack McQueen-Foord, Mining in Shipham (in) Shipham, Rowberrow & Star Down the Ages. Pp14-25

Christopher J. Schmitz, An Account of Mendip Calamine Mining in the Early I870s, Somerset Arch. And Nat. Hist. Soc. (1976). Pp81-83

J.W. Gough, The Mines of Mendip, Oxford (1930) (reprinted David and Charles 1967). Pp 206-232

Chris Richards, Singing River Mine: a Calamine Working at Shipham, Bristol Ind. Arch. Soc. In!. IV (1971). Pp7-9

Somerset Mine Research Group publications (1980-1983).

(Ed. A further report on the workings will appear in the next BB).


Helictite Well, Shipham. (N.G.R. 440557332).

by Mark Ireland

Chris Richards and Marie Clarke explored the wells and mines in Shipham in the 1970’s.  It was recorded in the ACG Journal, No.7, 1972. The writer advises the reader to read this article in conjunction with the Journal mentioned above.

The writer discussed with Chris Richards about the open mines and wells in Shipham and why the choked shafts were not recorded.  The discussion came to Helictite Well, which was a very unusual well system.  It was agreed to find out what was below the rubbish choke in the well shaft, concerning where the pipe leads to. Chris thought it might be connected to one of the houses in the village.

After consulting the landowners and getting permission from them to explore Helictite Well, on 5th May 2003 I located the shaft, which had an old-fashioned man hole cover, which was seized up.  The writer spent some time removing it and exploring the well system and it was amazing to see the work that was put into it.

It was dry stoned all the way down the shaft (known as ginging - a Derbyshire mining term or steining - a well sinker s term) for 10.6 metres and still continuing, with an Upper Gallery and Lower Gallery built just off the bottom in a southerly direction and also built dry stone with flagstones acting as lintels.  It was a well thought out construction that must have taken some time to construct and also have been a costly project.

The Upper Gallery is 0.45m wide and 0.9m high and roughly 5.4m long, with the first part stone walled and linteled with flagstones.  This leads into the Lower Gallery through a flagstone that has been moved to the side, the flagstone was a ceiling of the Lower Gallery 1.2m high and 0.6m wide, and runs back north towards the shaft.

The water level is 5cm high. On further inspection it is a reservoir, as all along the passage, which is again stonewalled, the bottom half is mortared, possibly old lime (lime based concrete?) and the top half is dry stoned.  There is a dam at the shaft end and situated at the base of the dam is a lead pipe 5cm in diameter, which has slotted holes on top of the pipe, which acts as drainage. Around the base of the dam surrounding the lead pipe is clay which was brought into the well as a sealing compound.

Over the next few trips, especially after the rain, I observed that the water level rises up to halfway up the Lower Gallery and it works well as a reservoir.  There is a slot on the dam wall halfway up which looks into the shaft, and it once worked as an overflow.  When the heavy rain overfills the reservoir (Lower Gallery) the water rises too high.

It is amazing that the system is still operating after all these years even though the shaft has been partially filled.  I did a smoke test into the shaft to see whether there was any draught - none!

The rubbish choke was dug out of the shaft on the 18th May 2003 and over a period of 8 trips.  There was 0.6m deep of earth spoil and rubbish before reaching the rocks, which could be seen from the slot in the Lower Gallery. 

The rubbish consisted of:

  • broken Nescafe coffee jar and Nescafe lid label
  • metal strip bent over itself
  • black china top lid
  • earthenware bowl
  • flat red marl rock with iron corroded on to it




It appears that the infilling was done in the 1950s as there are no signs of previous or later infilling.

As the rocks were removed, the Lower Gallery came into view with the slot in the back of the dam 0.7m away from the shaft.  There was water in the shaft and after a period of dry weather the water level dropped enabling the removal of rocks as I went deeper.

With the rocks removed, the opening of the shaft into the Lower Gallery is 0.55m wide and narrows to the slot, which is 0.4m wide.  The flagstone lintel ceiling partially collapsed above the dam and an opening appeared which is between the Upper and Lower Galleries.  Beware when entering the Upper Gallery.  The opening is 1.2m cubed and is in old red sandstone.

The floor of the shaft is now silted with gravel and old red sandstone from the collapse; it was there that a rusted, corroded chain link was found.  After all of this was cleared there were flagstones 22cm wide across the length of the shaft from the dam.  The removal of the flagstones showed the old stone culvert 15cm wide and deep, squared.  In the centre of the stone culvert is the lead pipe, which is the same one that was seen from the Lower Gallery, and the pipe continues through the shaft.  There is a joint connection of the pipes.

Mr George Thiery told me that, as a young boy, he remembered seeing a lead tap at the back of the Court House - which he was told was connected to the well.  But on further inspection one wonders whether the stone culvert, which now is 1104 metres down from the top of the shaft, was constructed possibly all the way to the Court House.  Was it built to protect the lead pipe or was the lead pipe put into a previously constructed stone culvert?

On the 1841 tithe map the field in which the Helictite Well is situated and the field below were respectively an orchard and ruins.  The ruins may have been a cottage of an older generation and may also have had a well. The present Court House was rebuilt in the 1890’s and this could be when the lead pipe was put in.

Trips: 8 Buckets: 46

Helpers: Shane Ireland

Alison Cromwell (ACG)


VALE: Jock Orr

by Stuart Tuttlebury

I am not surprised that we had trouble with an obituary for Jock.  He was the sort of person you knew and admired but really knew very little about. There was always so much going on, and he never said much about himself.

He will always be remembered for his sense of humour, his cave photography in the late 1960s, and the wonderful drawings he produced which complemented the magnificent word craft of Alfie Collins for the book Reflections, which was also produced in the late 60s.  Jock was Hut Engineer for a spell and although I was not around then, I am sure that he put all his skills and effort into the job.

We all have our memories, but one of mine is the impish smile on his face when he showed me the slides of his fire eating episode taken one Christmas at the Belfry.  Those that were there will remember the charred remains of the decorations hanging from the ceiling, and the flames issuing forth from the mouths of Jock and his disciples.

The little that I have learned and witnessed about Jock’s life over the years has made a big impression on me.  He served in the Second World War in Italy, sustaining a severe leg wound firing field guns from a distance at the Germans as he put it, and in Yugoslavia supporting the resistance fighters.  He had a son and a daughter by his first wife, and four younger sisters, and married Judith in 1974.  I met him at work in 1966 where he was inspecting mechanical components for armaments (bomb and missile fuses).  His skills included tool making and technical drawing, and I am sure others that I knew nothing about.  The meticulous car maintenance that he carried out, included taking everything from under the car, cleaning and painting with bitumen paint before reassembling, plus much use of glass fibre for body work.  The jobs around the home that were carried out, from constructing a soak away in the drive, faultlessly tiling the bathroom (he did admit a mistake - but I could not find it) to all the wiring, plumbing, redesigning and building etc.  The 10ft became his office, just like the drawing in the back of the book Reflections - and his artistic skills were set on one side as being a complete waste of time compared to home making!

For at least the last fifteen years of his life, Jock and Judith were working on turning a plot of land on the west coast of Scotland into a home, inspired by a holiday in a croft west of Mellon Udrigle in 1985.  Jock did all the design work and drawings, they negotiated their way through all of the planning legalities, and got to levelling the site and installing electricity and water, which Jock thoroughly enjoyed helping the contractors with.  They then had to take stock and decided to sell and return to their bungalow near Lincoln for the winter.

Those of us who knew Jock I am sure will never forget him, he will live on in our memories.


Cox's Cave Cheddar -  Souvenir China.

by Dave Irwin

As a bit of a change from J Rat’s reports on his various digs and discoveries, interesting though they are, I thought, it might be appropriate to show the more unusual side of collecting cave stuff.  Most cavers collect something, if only a few guide books.  Others accumulate masses of books, surveys and general booklets published by the show caves.  Little known to most are the pieces of china and pottery that have been sold by the show cave souvenir shops over the years.  Items from the late 19th and early 20th century are now very scarce, if not rare.  From the Somerset show caves several items have been found but the most common are the decorative items sold by Cox’s Cave management before the lease with the Longleat Estate ended in March 1939.  Similar items are known made for Gough’s Cave.

The Transfer (45mm x 30mm).

The items are similar to the Crested China products manufactured by the Goss and Arcadian companies and are now fast becoming collector’s items.  The Longton, Staffordshire, based company, Grafton, also produced this type of ware some of which is of interest to a caver.  These are souvenir pieces produced specifically for Cox s Cave at Cheddar.  The company produced an enormous selection of china boxes, trays, animals, militaria and other designs including a china Cheddar cheese!  To all of these items, and there are many hundreds of designs, a crest of a city or town was placed on the side of the object and sold widely throughout the country.  For Cox s Cave Grafton produced a transfer of the Transformation Scene which was attached to the object.  Exact dates are not known but it is thought that most were produced in the 1920s. 

Fig. 1



The illustrations are all that have been recorded many of which are in the collections of J Rat, Pete Rose and the writer.

Figure details:

Fig. 1: Ivy Leaf pin box (45mm diameter)

Fig. 2: Cheddar Cheese (55mm diameter)

Fig. 3: Pouring vessel (7Smm long)

Fig. 4: Cheese Dish (60mm x 50mm)

Fig. 5: Circular pin box (45mm diameter)

Fig. 6: Fluted vase (55mm high)

Fig. 7: Oval pin box (50mm x 30mm)

Fig. 8: Fluted box (60mm x 50mm)

Fig. 9: Rectangular pin box (40mm x 30mm)

Fig. 10: Scent bottle (60mm x 80mm high)

Fig. 11: Small plate (170mm diameter)

Fig. 12: Calf (100mm x 75mm)

Fig. 13: Frog (dimensions not known)

Fig. 14: Fish (100mm x 75mm)

Fig. 15: Valentine pin box (60mm x 50mm)

Fig. 16: Basket (100mm x 75mm high)

Fig. 17: Pin tray (60mm diameter)


Notes From The Logbook.

5/11/03: Attborough Swallet.  Graham Johnson, Paul Brock and Bob Smith.

Moved loose stones in Twist & Shout area.  GJ drilled and banged at dig face, PB drilled holes in preparation to take scaffold shoring. 2 hours.

14/11/03: Eastwater Cavern, Morton’s Pot. MadPhil, Graham and Paul Brock.

Cleared bang debris, finally squeezed into small rift system (small 13 Pots). Got 3m or so, then 4 rift to chamber, good echo.  Jake drilled & banged.  Paul & I cleared dig site of bags to little chamber.

23/11/03: Eastwater Cavern, Morton’s Pot. MadPhil and Graham.

No breakthrough. Drill & banged again.  Came out for cup of tea then headed back down. Very wet now due to rain.  Drain Hole thundering down, duck back.  Good bang, descended 8 ft. pot & see very narrow rift heading off.  Not good! Major bang job.  Nightmare!  Headed out, water even higher, water pouring over lip of squeeze.  Made duck very exciting!  With water much higher you could be in trouble.  Beware!

20/12/03: Eastwater Cavern.  MadPhil, Graham and Mick Barker.

Went and dug Becky’s dig. Made some progress but hit low rock curtain & sides pinch in.  Need to blast!  Very awkward digging.  Had a wander around 2nd Rift Chamber. Climbed up near side and pushed away boulders and found 3rd Rift Chamber - 70 ft. long & nice stals.  Water drains in floor, but calcited boulders.  Pushed horrible duck, small passage but closed down. Very awkward on return, had to be pulled out by legs.  Be warned! Good find just before Digger’s Dinner. Named Unlucky Strike as taken small chunk out of huge curtain.

1/1/04: Daren Cilau.  Pete H, Dave S and Paul B.

A nice way to start the new year!  Nice and enjoyable crawl then into some nice walking passage.  A steady stroll & climb up into the Time Machine.  A quick bite to eat, then all the excitement all over again in reverse.  The entrance crawl really is a bitch being honest!!!

7/2/04: Ogof Draenen.  Vince, MadPhil, Rich Blake and Pete Bolt.

Pete & Rich dug choke at the end of Blorenge ill and made fairly good progress.  Vince and Phil started dig in Manganese Mud Inlet (Blorenge II) - looks O.K.! 9¼ hours.

11/4/04: Hunters Lodge Inn Sink. Tony J, Ian Coldwell (CPC) and Sean H.

Trip to photograph sump at bottom of Rocking Rudolph.  Very challenging to take any pictures, very cramped, muddy.  Pictures also taken of Tony up pitch and also some of the crustations protruding from the rock (and I don t mean Tony!)  With a bit of luck some may come out reasonably - and will soon be seen in a future BB and possibly Descent.


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.

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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.