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The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Martin Torbett

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor
Joint Treasurers: Chris Smart, Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Martin Torbett
Caving Secretary: Rich Long
Tackle Master: Mike Willett
Hut Engineer: Toby Limmer
Hut Wardens: Vince Simmonds, 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

Club members should note: There is now a digital keypad as well as the key lock on the Belfry door.  Please do not compromise club security and members privileges by giving this number to non-members especially those who may already have a key!!

Editors Plea

I would ideally like someone to assist with the compilation of articles, collection of same from authors and help with the rolling calendar.  Also all of you out there, it is your magazine - thank you to all regular contributors but I need more from you.  A small read through the log shows that many trips take place but few get to my in tray!  If you can write, please send it in!  No articles, no magazine.  It's up to you!

Editors Page

Like all editors in the entire world, I have been extremely busy and have had little contact with the world of caving recently other than to take youngsters down Goatchurch as part of my work at the Charterhouse Centre.  I can often be contacted there during the day on 01761 xxxxxx.  I do have an e-mail address though and a lot of things come to me through that medium.  First a message from GREG BROCK, who has been hard at work on the club website.  Greg writes the following.  The new BEC website is now fully up and running.  Please Log on and give your comments on it so that it can be improved. Also please sign the visitors book. The address is 

You can contact Greg at the address below.  Greg@[removed]


Pete Rose has sent me a picture of the new entrance to Withyhill Cave before it has been fully covered over and profiled.  This seems worthy of a caption competition to go with the photograph.  Best entries either suggested in the Hunters Lodge or sent to me with judging by a totally partial panel.

From an e-mail received from Rob Harper.  As you may, or may not, know, there was a trip by several BEC members to Chile during February.  I was just discussing this with J’Rat in Bat Products.  Between us we worked out that we were in the Atacama Desert while he was in Cherrapunji.  Thus the BEC had the distinction of having club members at both the driest and the wettest places in the world at the same time!

Also on a sad note, I publish three obituaries

Arnold (Sago) Rice died on Thursday 25th May - Full obituary to follow next issue.  Ed


Graham Balcombe

Francis Graham Balcombe was born 8th March 1907 and died 19th March 2000.

Graham as he preferred to be called, was an engineer with the Post Office, and spent a lot of time installing aerial systems around the country.  He teamed up with a fellow engineer, Jack Sheppard, the CDG surviving President, and they formed a formidable climbing team.  They pioneered and improved many climbing routes in the Lake District and Wales.  Graham was credited with a number of unorthodox solo climbs, church steeples, office corridors etc., not always appreciated by officialdom.  As their prowess increased, their climbing activities were practised whenever they could; and when working at the Daventry site on the AS, in good weather they would climb a radio mast to eat their lunch on the top.  There is a story of a handstand being done on the flat top of a mast.  While climbing in the North, they met members of the Northern Cavern and Fell Club who were on Great Gable.  In discussion they were invited to try potholing (1932).  They liked it and now spent weekends down potholes instead of up mountains.

Eventually they were sent to work on radio stations in Somerset.  There they contacted the local caving expert, Herbert Balch who introduced them to the leading caver of the area, "Digger" Harris.  He was a respected solicitor in Wells, but he broke out at intervals to drive the town fire engine!  He introduced them to many local caves, including Swildons Hole which soon became important to them.  This had been explored as far as a sump by 1920.  This sump they tackled by conventional means, looking for a by-pass; but eventually they resorted to explosives.  This was not entirely appreciated by the locals as one charge had to be re-primed due to a misfire and went off a bit late on a Sunday morning during the service in the church - vertically above the sump, the congregation "felt the earth move" and the vicar was not amused.

By 1934 they had decided to try diving and Graham constructed a sort of snorkel part of which incorporated part of a ladies bicycle frame. It had non return valves and was connected to a piece of garden hose.  This was not successful firstly by reason of physics and secondly by the attachment of the hose coming undone underwater!!

On these first attempts they wore the caving gear of the time--old clothes!


Graham balcombe photographed recently in Bat products

Cold was a vital factor. Jack went on to produce a complete dry suit fed by a football inflator, and he used this to pass the sump. 1000ft further on he met a second sump but could go no further as he lacked a pump operator.  Spurred on by this Graham later attached a small oxygen cylinder to his device, and on a solo trip, passed both the 1st. sump and most of the 2nd sump.  He used synchronised breathing with opening the valve on the cylinder, and the gas ran out as he got back.  He nearly died of hypothermia on the way out.  The sherpa party found him shivering over a candle part way out of the cave.  In 1935 they were loaned and taught to use Siebe Gorman standard diving gear.  Due to its weight and bulk they explored Wookey Hole as far as they could drag their hoses.  During and after the war Graham built an oxygen re-breather and used it in various Yorkshire caves.  His transport was a tandem and trailer that his wife helped him to pedal push from Harrogate and other railheads.  By 1946 his diving equipment had been supplemented by some commercial sets and a number of enthusiasts met in S. Wales in an attempt to tackle a resurgence called Ffynnon Ddu. While there they decided to form a group.  The Cave Diving Group was born!  For several years Graham was Chief Diver, Trainer, Secretary and Treasurer--and he was what one would call a benevolent despot!  (Some were heard to refer to him as the Fuhrer behind his back)

Eventually the strain got too much and a more conventional committee took his place, and he was kicked upstairs as President, more or less his words.

I first met Graham as a comparatively raw recruit, and I was somewhat in awe of him, but found like a lot of rather abrupt people, his bark was worse than his bite!  He must have approved of me because we were diving partners on two dives before he handed in his gear and "retired".  On one of these we found an air filled chamber and a lot of passage underwater.  Although retired he was always pleased to see visitors and talk shop.  My wife was amazed by the wide range of his interests and his persistently enquiring mind.  I kept in irregular contact with him and took him to diving functions and AGMs etc. until his recent illness.  He will be sadly missed by his friends and leaves a large legacy of books, reports and articles that will take a lot of sorting and cataloguing.  He is survived by his stepson.

John Buxton



On 25th February this year Richard Websell committed suicide.  He was not a member of the BEC but he was well known to many of the members.

Richard was born and raised in Salisbury and started caving while at school.  Together with Andy Sparrow, Dave Walker and others he founded the Salisbury Caving Group whose members eventually joined mainstream Mendip Clubs. His academic years in London brought him into contact with SWETCC in the heyday of such characters as Aubrey Newport, Trevor Faulkner and the unforgettable Brian Quillam.  This as much as anything influenced his move into the Wessex.

I first met him in the late 70's.  Our views on caving and its ethics were identical and together with Paul Hadfield we formed a very active caving partnership during the exciting, and occasionally fraught days, of the development of SRT.  We both joined the CDG.  With Al Mills loaning equipment and giving advice ("Don't go below thirty feet those bottles are filled with welding oxygen") embarked on a series of "learning" trips - also quite fraught on occasion.  When I defected to the BEC we still carried on caving together on a regular basis.

His short stature and reserved manner tended to obscure the fact that he was a very hard caver. Although primarily a tourist caver both in Britain and Europe he did take part in original exploration - most notably in the pushing of Gough's cave in Cheddar and in Norway.  No underground hazard or problem seemed to bother him and his sense of humour never seemed to fail however grim the situation.  I remember one occasion in Mangle when it appeared that we would both be trapped by my inability to get back through the squeeze out of Aldermaston Chamber even after stripping off my wet-suit.  Eyeing my pink body apparently irrevocable wedged, Rich was heard to comment that it was like stuffing a marshmallow into a piggy bank.

In his youth he had been a bit "wild" and his life had not been without its problems. However we all thought that was behind him since he met Anne twelve years ago.  He seemed settled and thus the news of his death was a terrible shock. At his funeral the chapel was crowded and overflowing.  A testament to his popularity and not solely within the caving world.

On a personal note. He was my close friend; a kind, funny and totally dependable man who was always good company.  I still cannot believe that he has gone.

Rob Harper


"New Beer Warnings"

Club members may have problems relating to this compilation of beer warnings-Ed

From an e-mail received from the former editor Estelle

Due to increasing products liability litigation, beer manufacturers have accepted the Medical Association's suggestion that the following warning labels be placed immediately on all beer containers:

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may make you think you are whispering when you are not.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol is a major factor in dancing like a Wan*er.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may cause you to tell the same boring story over and over again until your friends want to smash your head in.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may cause you to thay shings like thish.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may lead you to believe that ex-lovers are really dying for you to telephone them at 4 in the morning.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may leave you wondering what the hell happened to your trousers.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may make you think you can logically converse with other members of the opposite sex without spitting.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may make you think you have mystical Kung Fu powers.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may cause you to roll over in the morning and see something really scary (whose name and/or species you can't remember).

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol is the leading cause of inexplicable rug burns on the forehead.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may create the illusion that you are tougher, more attractive, and smarter than some really, really big guy named Franz.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may lead you to believe you are invisible.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may lead you to think people are laughing with you.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may cause a flux in the time-space continuum, whereby small (and sometimes large) gaps of time may seem to literally disappear.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may actually cause pregnancy.

Skittles Night

Craven Pothole Club joined Wessex and BEC members for a skittles match at the New Inn, Priddy on 27m May 2000.  I was a late arrival, but found the members and guests in great form, both skittles and beer going down well.  On the scene reporter Greg Brock managed to preserve the final outcome on his arm!  A fun and enjoyable night was had by all. No formal competition was set up just a social event with prizes for the highest scoring participants.  A £1 entry fee was taken from each person and the profit of the event will be donated to Sarah Blick to help her get to the Advanced base camp of K2 on the 26.07.00.  In amongst all the social drinking the winners of the event were: -

Cliff - Highest male scorer.

Judy Clark - Highest female scorer.

Judie - 2nd highest scoring female who won the boobie prize.

Don Mellar - 2nd highest scoring male who won the other boobie prize


Stock's House Shaft - The Spring Offensive

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BBs nos. 502, 504-506.

February 2000 commenced with the escorting of an MCG Wednesday night tourist party around Five BuddIes Sink and the Shaft.  Needless to say they were then conned into assisting with the dig and 50 bags were hauled out while, in the depths, vast amounts of rock was being moved along the level.  Some of them even threatened to come again - but haven't yet!  During the rest of the month and early March another 160 loads reached the surface and four more new diggers were recruited.  Much of the work involved transporting full bags and rocks from Heinous Hall to the Shaft.

On the 13th March the last two boulders from the Heinous Hall collapse were banged and on 15th another 46 loads were hauled out.  Analysis of water samples by Roger Stenner seemed to indicate that the Upstream Level inlet is fed by water from Waldegrave Pool - as is the flow from the Treasury of Aeops.  As these levels went in different directions this seemed odd.  Further water samples were taken on the 19th, both underground and on the surface.

During the rest of March another 214 loads were laboriously hauled out on the man winch but life improved considerably on 2nd April when Ivan arrived with the newly fettled, trailer mounted hydraulic winch and painlessly removed another 74.  The following day, with the assistance of two press-ganged Grampian men, down from Inverness, another 74 came out on the hand winch - in a rapidly worsening snow blizzard.  Work continued on clearing the Upstream Level on the 4th and the terminal inlet sump was drained to enable an airspace to be felt beyond.  This was investigated further the following day and found to be the continuation of the Level.  With high water conditions it was left for the stream to excavate for us.  Another 75 bags reached the surface.

On 6th April the writer, digging in the floor of the Upstream Level on a solo trip, was fortunate to find an almost complete and nicely decorated clay pipe buried in the silt on the RH side of the passage just upstream of the 5m aven (now named Pipe Aven).  Its fine state of preservation may be due to its having been protected by wooden shoring along the Level wall - now rotted away.  Being still intact and useable it is postulated that the pipe may have been put down by its owner and fallen behind the timbers.  The cherry-like designs on the bowl are stylised tobacco plants and on one side is what appears to be a church window or bishop's mitre with a star below.  The circled W on the other side may be the initial of the pipe maker.  Further research is being done on the date and origin of this minor treasure and the current "guesstimate" is late 1700s - possibly from the Oakhill area.  It will eventually be displayed in Wells Museum. A small piece of clay roof tile was also found.


On this trip the now drained sump was further enlarged to gain access to another 20ft of level, bearing to the WNW under the road and towards the ruined Stock's House.  This now added weight to Roger's drainage theory. It was pushed further on 9th by the writer and Greg Brock who demolished a small roof collapse to continue for another 15ft to a choke. Next day the backfilled naturale (?) passage on the SE side of Pipe Aven was partially excavated.

Another 46 loads came out on the hydraulic winch on 12th April and a set back occurred next day when a fairly major roof fall just beyond Pipe Aven luckily happened while the writer was having a fag break at the Shaft.  The 16th saw 74 loads out, more water samples taken and the new collapse banged.  A follow up blasting project the next day was curtailed by more raining boulders.

This is another example of the roof of the level coming down when the supporting infill is removed. Bits of rotten timber and black staining show that all these dodgy areas were previously timbered up by the Old Men who were fully aware of the consequences of leaving them unsupported.

On 26th April Trev and team cleared most of this fall, despite having to dodge more rocks, and hauled 30 loads out.  May started with 87 bags out on the 3rd and the next few days were spent in lowering the floor of the Upstream Level to gain access to the visible continuation. This was entered on the 8th May in high water conditions and found to be aloft long section of apparently modified natural streamway with an attractive section of scalloped grey limestone at the start.  51 more bags came out two days later. Three clearing sessions were then done in the Level during which some natural/mined alcoves were revealed directly under the road. These will be fully excavated at a later date.  The arrival of summer and associated problems was heralded by the stealing of our modified wheelbarrow and the throwing of a full bag of cement down the Shaft by some pathetic pratt.

The hydraulic winch was in operation again on the17th when 66 loads came out after considerable experimentation with tying-on techniques.  Eventually a system was devised whereby ten loads could be hauled up in one go.

The Scene on 3rd April at Stock Hill (you can just sees the winch)

Andy Elson emerging from the "natural" section of the Upstream Level.  Photo by John Williams, 22nd April

Visitors from Kent Underground Research Group were shown the workings on 20th May (and persuaded to shift a few bags) and the next day a mere 3 loads were hauled out by Rich Witcombe who was excavating a trench across the flat ground behind the winch to see if it could have been a horse whim circle.  He found no evidence for this so this ground can now be used to extend the spoil heap.  Down below work was continuing on clearing the Upstream Level and on the 22nd the collapse at the end was poked with a long crowbar to bring down another supply for our regular rockery customers. Caveable passage could be seen above the collapse but it was deemed prudent to leave it to settle - the healthy water flow continuously washing out the fine silt and gravel.

An exciting evening was had on 25th when 87 loads came out, generally a dozen at a time, on the hydraulic winch.  The weight caused the scaffold tripod to slip - heavy bits of metal narrowly missing the unloading team.  At the Shaft bottom a couple of head sized boulders had the same effect on the loading team as they ricochetted into the two different levels where they were sheltering.  Valuable lessons were learnt for future winching as having two thirds of the digging team wiped out in one go would be counter-productive!  The last rock out to surface contained a superb shothole section, 23mm in diameter and 116mm long to the bottom of the hole - which still contained a greasy black deposit.  This was collected for possible analysis as it is likely to be the residue of the burnt gunpowder charge.  The spring session ended with 104 bags to surface on 31st May.  Hopes are now on the weather drying up (some hope!) for a late summer push downstream.

This section will be walking sized when the floor spoil is removed ..

Additions to the Digging Team

Wayne Hiscox, Arthur Spain, Greg Smith, Roger Wallington, Mick Lovell, Brian Pittman, Viv Beedle (all MCG), Dave Boon (Frome CC), Barry Hewlett, Danny Burnett, Steve Windsor, Fergus Taylor (ex Camborne SMCC), Mark Denning, Estelle Sandford, Martin Parsons, Ken Ansty (Blackmore CG), John Moorhouse (Soton DCC), Jim Conway (Grampian SG), Dave Hodgson (GSG), Mike Merritt (SMCC), Chris Franklin, Ian Butler, Dave Morgan, Phil Spice, Nick Smith, Peter Burton (Kent Dnd. Res. Group), Mark "Gonzo" Lumley.

Additional Assistance and Photography

Graham Mullan (UBSS), Lou Maurice (DBSS), Marek Lewcun ( Bath Arch.Trust), Maurice Hewins (WCC).

Diggers always welcome to J’rat's Digs (or the many others!) Especially welcome, thick arms and a natural propensity for grovelling in waist deep mud!  Contact the diggers at the Hunters Lodge Inn, Priddy any Wednesday evening.  Ed


Tales of a lesser known caver Part 2

by the Editor.

As no doubt many of you know, there are lots of cavers who go climbing or walking up mountains.  I know of quite a few.  Perhaps it is some of the yearning to visit beautiful places, perhaps it's the thrill. Whatever it is, I was a relative newcomer to the climbing part of this scenario until quite recently.  As part of my work, I needed to attend a course in first aid and since others at the centre where I work wanted similar training, a group of four instructors drove to North Wales last year and booked up the Climbers Club cottage at Helyg near Llyn Ogwen, Snowdonia.  On arrival late on Friday evening, we were greeted by a terrible smell; similar to one that used to lurk at the Belfry some weekends after a group had visited.  We fumbled around for light switches and got the place warm by lighting the fire - coal supplied, and the smell gradually faded.  Further unpacking took place and then a fridge was opened and the smell came out and seized me by the throat or was it via the nose.  Yes cavers, you have guessed, it was a very former piece of chicken, still in its wrapper that had been left in the icebox.  Later, after gagging and cleaning the suppurating mess out of the fridge, I looked up the date of the last group.  Two weeks ago!  They had dutifully turned off all the power and complied with the plethora of little notices, forgetting to empty the icebox, but remembering to open the fridge door!  Nature had taken its course, but had been frozen once again when we arrived and powered up the place. Appropriate notes were left in the log!  Anyway, back to the point of the tale.

Snowdon from Plas y Brenin (many mines, few caves)

By now it is nearly 11pm and my comrades suggest a freshen up outside.  Packing two full ropes and a rucsac of bits, we are rapidly off up the road to stop at a blurry shape in the dark.  "Milestone Buttress," Chris exclaimed, Off you go Torbs, it's just like caving as it's so bloody dark you can't see anything.  So, Petzl on, up we go!  After about three pitches, I arrive at something akin to the entrance of a cave. In I go only to find I am snuggling up against a large boulder and a wall.  Well it felt safe, so on we go. More ropy things, a traverse across into nothing and a haul up and I can see a glow below.  F**k me it's a bloody great lake!  I am miles up!  Faint tremors of the legs are followed by turning the light out.  Can't see anything so nothing to worry about. "Off you go Torbs", so off upwards I go, finally reaching somewhere called the top.  By now I cannot see the bottom or the top so it is most cave like.  I can see I am on a ledge and there are a couple of other lights, one above, one below, and then we are all together.  "OK, time to get off and to bed", says Chris.  It's now 1.30 a.m. and I am tired.  A long icy, wet gully descends at a steep slope angle, far to slippery to do without a rope, so tie on and down we go, good cave practice this! Soon I am on a flat bit, then on a path, then I see the road and we are back, hot, sweaty and happy, just like a caving trip but in reverse (you go down to get out).  Well that was all fine and we are still alive so home we go.

About a year later, I am in Snowdon again doing some training and drive past Milestone Buttress.  I stop and go up to find the climb but cannot.  Just like a cave you visit in the dark with friends in foreign places, you can never find the entrance!


Extract from the Sherborne Mercury 1816. 

Sent in by Sett.


On Tuesday the 12th day of November, 1816, on the premises, at Priddy Minery, in the parish of Chew-ton-Mendip, in lots:

Lot 1. A STEAM-ENGINE, with a 16-inch Cylinder, Air Pump, and Condenser, standing in a wood frame, with a wrought iron boiler, cast iron round top, 6 feet and a half diameter, nearly new, with a grate thereunto belonging.

Lot 2.  A STEAM-ENGINE, with a 12-inch Cylinder, a wrought iron boiler, six feet diameter, cast iron flat top, with steam pipes, brass cock, and piston.

Lot 3.  Two 8 inch PUMPS, that lift about 30 fathoms with buckets, clacks, and iron rods to the same.

Lot 4.  A LIFTING CAPSTAN, with cogs and nut, standing in a wood frame.

Lot 5.  A STEAM-ENGINE, 6-inch Cylinder, worked with a flywheel & crank, and a 4 feet wrought iron boiler.

Lot 6.  A 6-inch PUMP, that lifts about 15 fathoms, with buckets, clacks, and iron rods to the same.

Lot 7. Sixty yards of INCH-ROPE, nearly new.

Lot 8. Sixty yards of Ditto,          ditto.

Lot 9. Sixty yards of Ditto,          ditto.

Lot 10. A quantity of Hods.

Lot 11. Shovels, Sledges, Mattocks, &c. Lot 12. Iron Screws, Nuts, and Pins.

Lot 13. A quantity of Iron.

Lot 14. Sundry Windlasses.

Lot 15. A quantity of Timber.

Several Servants Beds, Bedsteads, and Bedding, in lots.

Sale to begin precisely at eleven o'clock in the fore-Noon.



By: Ted Howard, manufacturing adviser and R.S. King C.Eng. Aerospace structural specialist.
January 1999

This summary presents facts about the design of karabiners


It is worth reminding ourselves about the function of karabiners used with ropes.

A karabiner is a much used link in a chain of components intended to provide a life support system either potential, to guard against inadvertent fall, or direct employed in a rigged system intended for rescue, access or industrial use.

The potential life support system is only intended to be used in case of a fall. The gear and its placement is more of a hindrance than a benefit apart from its moral support once placed.  Some risk is accepted.

The direct life support system is gear used dynamically for support as a controlled method with full knowledge of its characteristics.  Risk is not acceptable.

The acceptance of risk is the reason that recreational users are content with less robust and lighter gear than the industrial user.

Fitness for Purpose

The choice of a karabiner in a given situation must be its fitness for purpose.  When it is needed it must work.  It must have adequate strength and stiffness and continue to provide these in the working environment.

It is not the purpose of this summary to give the statistical results of tests readily available through the U.I.A.A., nor to arouse the wrath of manufacturers, but some salient points are given in the hope that they will aid selection of karabiners for specific purposes.


1.                  Many karabiners are made of aluminium alloy by user demand in the pursuit of lightness and also to gain a competitive retailing edge.  They have become lighter and lighter.  Advances in manufacturing and materials technology allow this but gradually the load carrying ability of specific karabiners has decreased.

2.                  Given their working conditions, aluminium alloy is probably one of the worst materials that karabiners could be made from.  Weight advantage has been gained by using increasingly higher strength alloys. These alloys are one of the strongest materials on a weight to strength basis that can be utilised currently for their manufacture.  However in the compromise required to achieve higher strengths these alloys also have reduced ductility and tend to crack more readily, with higher crack propagation rates.  This has the consequence that once a small crack appears then because of the concentration of stress and the nature of the material then the high tech. alloys can rupture easily, even under working loads.

3.                  All aluminium alloys have approximately the same low modulus of elasticity so that improvements to stiffness can only be made by careful detail design of the overall shape and the shape of the local cross-section.  Low stiffness means that the gate can deform requiring a screwed gate to restore some strength by providing a load path.  The size of the pins limits the magnitude of the load that can be carried.

4.                  Aluminium alloys are highly prone to corrosion which has given rise to a huge amount of effort devoted to the problem.  Aircraft in particular use these high tech. alloys and are sometimes grounded for weeks while corroded parts are repaired or replaced.  This means being aware of the various types of corrosion.  These are many.  Only three main types are considered here;

a.                  Surface, is caused by an impurity exposed at the surface making a small electrical cell in the presence of water.  The aluminium becomes an anode and corrodes.  The appearance is a flaky white powder.  The repair is to remove this mechanically and polish the exposed surface until no black pitting shows.  Restore the protective finish.

b.                  Sub-surface is caused by corrosion along the grain boundaries, starting at an edge or a hole. Sometimes called exfoliation corrosion, because the metal flakes, it is hard to detect in the early stages when a simple repair might be possible. The undetected corrosion represents a loss of strength.  Usually the repair is to throw the affected item away.

c.                  Galvanic corrosion is caused by dissimilar metals in contact in the presence of water. For example steel hinge pins in aluminium, unless they are coated with cadmium, will cause corrosion. Unfortunately aluminium will be the anode and will corrode.  It then becomes another throwaway job.  Water, particularly with salts, is damaging.  The simplest repair is to remove all corrosion but please note that both strength and stiffness are reduced by material removal!


5.                  Weight.

Design is usually a compromise between a number of conflicting requirements. The best link might be a closed steel loop tested safely at 100kN.  Anything less is a compromise but we are obliged to compromise.  A gate is required, that adds weight and reduces strength.  Weight is always a consideration if someone has to carry it, but how light should we go? Constructional rigging and rescue work recognises more readily that the strength of the links is paramount and in such situations weight can be tolerated if adequate personnel are available. After all, lightness is of no benefit if it leads to failure!

In climbing or caving the choice becomes blurred, with the decision being biased towards lightness in the interest of success.  How often do we contemplate falling off!  Remember too that a direct belay or an abseil point where one or more lives are at risk can be considered to be a direct life support system which needs higher security.

It is a useful exercise for a climber to weigh a rack of twenty lightweight karabiners say 20kN rated, and compare the difference in weight with a rack of twenty 28kN rated.  With due consideration it may be decided to leave a bar of chocolate behind and take the stronger rack - unless chocolate drives you on!

6.                  Material.

Steel is a much more robust and reliable material than the high tech, aluminium alloys and the red rust of corrosion is more easily spotted with less damaging effects.  Stiffness is a function of the material and also of the detail design.  If we assume that an aluminium and a steel karabiner have the same shape (or volume) the following comparisons can be made. The steel unit will be about twice as strong and three times more stiff but three times more heavy than aluminium.  So, for the same strength the steel karabiner would be about 50% heavier.  You'd get about 18 of these aluminium karabiners to the kilogram or 12 steel ones.  Steel is harder than aluminium and better resists abrasion and impact damage.  It's your choice.

7.                  Detail Design.

Since the advent of competition sports climbing, the availability of longer nosed karabiners, to aid fast clipping of protection points, has increased. This may be why they feature prominently in shops and that there are so many of them.  Are they fit for your purpose?

Karabiners are essentially like crane hooks.  The load is intended to be carried through the back which is shaped for maximum strength.  It is also designed for stiffness so that the hook will not deform and allow the load to slip out.  A karabiner has to have a gate and modem design makes it part of the strength but it is also a weakness.  It should not deform so much under static load that it cannot be opened intentionally, in an emergency.

The loaded rope is reacted by transferring a direct tension force across the link.  The sketch (fig. 1) illustrates this.  Any offset from the line between where the load is applied and where it is reacted will cause additional, weakening, bending forces.  The highest strength is achieved by keeping the line of action of the load as close as possible to the back of the karabiner.  This will give the lowest offset bending.

Pull or tension tests to destruction, are done with a karabiner mounted under ideal conditions.  Tests are done with the karabiner mounted with twelve millimetre rods tucked tight into the corners of the back.  This gives the least offset and consequently, the highest strength.  In practice extra offset bending can arise because the loading geometry is different.  If the same test is done with a twenty-millimetre tape in place of the rod then the point of application of the load is displaced from the ideal position and has an extra offset which significantly reduces the breaking strength (fig.2).  If the karabiner is jammed against something so that it can react force sideways then the rope or tape can slip towards the gate.  The offset is now far more than it was designed to be.  In these circumstances there is a danger of premature failure, (fig.3).

The figures illustrate the fact that the greater the offset from the line of action of the load the less the potential strength of the karabiner because extra bending forces arise from leverage.

8.                  Dynamic Performance of the Gate

A good 'open-gate' strength is difficult to achieve.

Consider the gate design.  It is made so that the latching end of the gate (as opposed to the hinge end) has its latching pin in a design distance clearance to the receiving slot in the nose (fig A ).  This allows the back to build up resistance as it comes under load.  The deflection of the back then allows the gate to engage and start to offload the back.  This device delays the build up of strain in the gate so that this weaker component can add its strength just before the back starts to yield (or permanently deform) on its way to failure.  This gate feature greatly improves the resistance of the karabiner.  However because of the reduced stiffness of aluminium alloy with the resulting deflection, avoid screwing up the gate when under load.  It may be impossible to unscrew it without loading it again.

Dynamic testing, involving a given load dropped through a specific distance, fastened to a rope running through a karabiner gave some very interesting results.  These were analysed in slow motion and it could be seen that as a result of the vibration set up in the karabiner the gate oscillated open with increasing amplitude. This sympathetic response would significantly reduce the unit's strength should the impact occur with the gate open. It might also allow the rope to escape. Without a gate to help, the integrity of the unit can be compromised making a sort of Russian roulette.  This should be enough to encourage the use of screw gates, twistlocks or any other gate locking device.  Again, more fuss but a reduced risk.


9.                  Care in Use

Where karabiners are made for a specific purpose they are not necessarily fit for multi-purpose use.

Avoid linking karabiners together.  They have a way of twisting against each other, especially when on a ledge, getting a back against a gate and opening it.  They can then slip apart.  This has been recorded many times.  It is a very real danger.

Lock the gate - against the rope slipping out - against vibration and to improve strength.

A lot of thought and experience has gone into the design and manufacture of karabiners.  They are made more and more for specialist purposes which may not be compatible with your requirements.

Different features often arise not as a technical improvement but as need to produce a new product and stay commercially ahead. "A karabiner is a karabiner" is not necessarily true.


10.              Will they last forever?

No, they do not last forever.  It is essential that any safety equipment, including karabiners, be treated with respect.  Karabiners need cleaning regularly.

·        After use, especially near salt water, wash in warm water with detergent, rinse in demineralised water, dry and lubricate with a water repellent including the gate hinge pin. Remember that soft waxes (WD 40) evaporate and need regular replacement.

·        Check for distortion, bent gate pins, fractured noses, surface damage such as indentations or cracks.

·        Check that there is a take-up clearance (fig A) at the nose latch, particularly if the karabiner has had a shock load.  Lack of clearance may indicate that the unit has permanently deformed and has a reduced strength.

·        Don't forget that one long abseil on a rope which is wet and dirty or covered in mud can scour a groove so deep that it puts an alloy karabiner beyond safe use. Cut it in two and throw it away.

·        Guard against sympathetic vibration by checking the spring resistance against the gate opening in comparison with a good quality new one.  If in doubt contact your supplier to have a new spring fitted. It is a simple job.

·        Karabiners are like any other mechanical device.  They are prone to failure, need maintenance and eventually are unsafe to use.

Choose your equipment carefully with its purpose in mind.  If it is to be part of a direct life support system where weight is not a problem then it is safer to use properly maintained steel.


Meghalaya 2000

by Tony Jarratt

Tom Chapman and the writer were the BEC's representatives on this year's expedition (Brian Johnson and John Whitely being the Club's agents on a separate Devon/Yorkshire trip to the south of the country which I am sure they will write up for the BB!)  The rest of the team consisted of our leader, Simon Brooks (Orpheus & Grampian), Fraser Simpson, Dr. Kate Janossy, Roger Galloway, Pete Dowswell (Grampian), Mark Brown, Dr. Kirsten McCullough (Sheffield Uni.), Kevin Garwood (Canada) and Dr. Mandy Edgemont (S.W.C.C.)  The Meghalayan Adventurers contingent were Brian Karpran Daly (leader), Donbokwell Syiemlieh (organizer), Ronie Mawlong (token small boy), Bokstarland Franklin (organizer/guitarist), George Nongkhlaw, Spindro Dkhar, Betty Chhakchhuak, Neil Sootinck, Lindsay Diengdoh, Andy Tyler, Adora Thaba, Myrkasim Swer (chef), Larsing Suklain (guide, caver and bigamist) and a host of cooks, assistants, drivers, guides etc. Hospitality and entertainment were once again provided by the ever popular Ladies of Shillong.

This trip had two primary aims: - 1) Continuation of the work done by Wells Cathedral School C.C. (1999) in the Sutnga area, Jaintia Hills, east Meghalaya (recced. by us in 1998 and 1999).

2) Recce. in the Garo Hills, west Meghalaya, following on from work done by earlier expeditions.

Aim one was accomplished very successfully, despite a total lack of surveys or information from the Wells team but aim two had to be cancelled due to insurgency problems in the area.

The BEC contingent left Mendip on 9th Feb. after getting a lift to Heathrow with Tony Boycott (who we had exchanged this year for three young and attractive lady doctors - good swap eh?)  Here we met Simon, Kate, Kirsten, Mark and Fraser and flew on to Meghalaya via Amman ( Jordan) Calcutta and Guwahati ( Assam).  A luxury coach then took us on the four hour drive to the capital, Shillong, where we met Pete, Roger and the local lads at the Embassy Hotel.

11th Feb. was a shopping and equipment sorting day followed by party number one at Brian and Maureen’s house.

12th Feb. hangover number one was suffered on the coach to Cherrapunjee (Sohra) where we went for a day trip to a proposed holiday resort owned by Brian's friend Denis Rayen.  Its spectacular location near the village of Laitkynsew gave views of the towering escarpment cliffs of Meghalaya which were as impressive as looking at one wall of the Grand Canyon - greatly enhanced by the endless flat plains of Bangladesh below.  The nearby sandstone cave of Krem Wah Sang was explored and surveyed by Simon, Tom and Mark to a length of 106m and depth of 32m.  Meanwhile, above, the rest of us sat around a bonfire drinking and listening to Roger playing Irish and Scottish folk tunes on his tin whistle as dusk fell over the plains below - we'd arrived!

Next day we left by coach for the five hour journey to Sutnga taking with us Betty (of the unpronounceable surname!) and Kevin - a travelling Canadian who expressed an interest in caving and, more importantly, was a computer programmer (we had two lap-tops with us).  On arrival we established HQ at the village Inspection Bungalow, some 3/4 hours drive from the main limestone block of the Nongkhlieh ridge.

The 14th saw the whole team pushing leads left by the Wells students though the lack of information from them was to frustrate us throughout our time in this area.  Near the village of Lelad, on the north side of the ridge, the horrific boulder maze of Krem Sniang was surveyed for 90m length and 47m depth to the head of a probable 10m+ "pitch".  Any attempt to descend this would have meant dislodging keystones holding up the 47m of boulders above!  It was abandoned in disgust as the strong draught indicated a big cave below.  The name, " Pig Cave", relates to an aberrant porker rescued from the entrance pit before providing sustenance for a village feast.

The nearby Krem Umsohtung was also visited and a pitch descended and surveyed to the head of a second pitch.  We later discovered that this had already been done more lack of information.

Today's best find was Krem Mawshun where a split 20m pitch (left un-descended by Wells C.S.C.C.) led to an extensive horizontal system - see later.

The 51.5m deep Krem Kdong Moomair was bottomed in one pitch by Tom, Mandy, Kirsten and Fraser to a choke. The long snake skin at the top of the shaft caused the explorers, especially Fraser, some concern as to whether its previous occupant was awaiting them below!

On the following day, after a long drive in our Mahindra 4WD pick-up, we arrived at Litien village where a couple of local lads were found to guide us to Krem Wah Sarang ( Rusty Water Cave).  A dry entrance above a small resurgence led to a fine 200m long, 3m wide and 4m high stream passage to another entrance on the far side of a ridge, near the sink. Other small caves nearby were investigated but found to be choked or sumped.  As our pick-up had gone back to HQ we were forced to hitch a lift home in the diesel soaked back of a monstrous 4WD Shaktiman truck - driven by a lunatic who was obviously late for his tea.  This was the most exciting part of the day!

Continuing our recce of this area next day, we went in search of Kut Sutiang - a hill fort with stone-barricaded caves which was stormed by the British in 1862 to eradicate the last of the Jaintia "rebels".  With the hill in sight we made a courtesy stop in Shnongrim village and had tea with the headman. Unfortunately he had previously been approached by the Jaintia Adventurers Assn. - a breakaway group from the Meghalayan Adventurers - and they had requested that the area be reserved for them only. Having experienced India's first case of "caving politics" we beat a diplomatic retreat after bribing the headman with Polaroid photographs of his family.  This short sighted action by the Jaintia cavers will do little to further serious exploration as they have practically no equipment, no vertical experience, no survey kit and very little intention of actually doing any serious caving. They do have a great interest in seeing their names in the papers and encouraging sponsorship though!  This problem will be resolved by next year as we have "friends in high places"

On February 17th-18th survey teams worked in Krem Mawshun to map several hundred metres of impressive streamway and a maze of wet tubes and boulder chokes leading to a large flood resurgence entrance in jungle covered pinnacle karst.  This system's total length was 3.3km.

The 19th was a rest day and we were invited to the village church/school fete very like a typical English one with folk dancing, hoop-la, tea and cakes etc. but with the exciting addition of a couple of fighting bulls let loose in the crowd and no safety fences!! Fortunately no-one got gored and the local bull was champion of the day so the villagers were in fine form, especially after celebrating with the traditional rice beer.  That night another party and sing-song developed.

Scenery above Krem Wah Ryngo

Next morning, late, the whole hung over team travelled by bone shaking Shaktiman for two hours to the remote village of Umteh.  Here we were shown the dry flood resurgence of Krem ah Ryngo ( Charcoal Cave).  With a name like that it was just begging for passage names with a Beatles theme.  On this first trip about 1km of impressive, walking size and up to 10m wide tunnels were surveyed and at least eight main ways on left unexplored.

We returned the next day replete with camping gear and cooks and established ourselves in a deserted coal miner’s settlement consisting of several bamboo framed huts devoid of roofs or walls. While the cooks rebuilt the place we returned to "Ryngo" and split into two teams to survey a further km or so including a huge, well decorated and sparkling chamber, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, and an attractive Gothic-arched phreatic tunnel-Abbey Road.

That night the jungle resounded to the joyful sounds of yet another party - this time with a roaring camp fire.  The departed coal miners would have been impressed as their ghost town sprang back into life for a brief period.

The morning of the 22nd saw the team breakfasting off baked beans, rice and bananas to the accompaniment of monkeys howling in the forest.  Another km was surveyed in "Ryngo" and a short but impressive shaft to surface climbed by Tom.  This was the dry main sink entrance, situated on the south side of the Nongklieh ridge above the camp.  In a plantation here we met three local rice planters who gave us tea, betel nut and biris (Indian fags).  In return we gave them Wills cigarettes and demonstrated the joys of lighting lumps of carbide.  Luckily we had George, a Meghalayan caver with us, who spoke to them in Khasi as they admitted that they were ready to run off and hide on first seeing the strange white men appear from nowhere!  We returned to the camp through the cave and completed a long closed loop to Abbey Road en route.

That evening four of us and the two cooks opted to stay for another night while the others returned to Sutnga.  A huge bonfire and limited rum and fag supply kept us going as we fondly thought of the body-destroying Shaktiman ride our colleagues were suffering.

Corned beef hash, noodles, oranges and bananas set us up for the day and while George and the cooks decamped Tom, Roger and I mapped another 300m of fine passages, loops and a large chamber - The Magical Mystery Tour - which fortunately led back to known cave after a committing climb down in its floor.  A low and wet route upstream from Lucy in the Sky was left unsurveyed due to lack of time and we came out via the top entrance to walk on up the ridge to the dirt road above.  Here we met George and the cooks who had built a roadside fire and prepared tea and biscuits.  As night fell and the strains of Roger's whistle soothed the savage beasts in the surrounding jungle we saw the welcome sight of the pick-up's lights in the distance. Bung, our faithful off-road driver arrived bearing fags and beer and took us back to Sutnga - tired but happy!

Meanwhile big things were happening at the nearby Krem Shrieh ( Monkey Cave).

Mark had rigged the gobsmacking 97m deep entrance shaft to enter a huge stream passage with lots of fossil galleries leading off.  In the adjacent Krem Um Sngad Fraser, Larsing and team had found over a km of streamway, fossil passages and a large downstream sump.  This cave eventually yielded 2.4km.

On 25th four of us drove for, surprisingly, only one hour to our old stomping ground of Lumshnong village. Here a fruitless recce. was done to try and find the resurgence of India's longest cave - Krem KotsatilUmlawan.  A shaft reported by local caver Spindro Dkhar was also not found.  The lower altitude here resulted in tropical temperatures and clouds of multi-coloured butterflies which made up for our lack of discoveries.  The plateau above Krem MaTom (Mf. Tom's Cave) was also looked at and the top of the impressive 30m+ Yorkshire Pot aven (found last year) was located on the surface - shown to us by immigrant colliers.  After tea with the villagers in Thangskai, where we had to arrange guides for the next day, we returned to Sutnga to find that Krem Shrieh had now grown to 1.6km with no sign of an end.

Back to Thangskai the next day for a long recce. in the forest with local guide Moon Dkhar (who we decided got his name due to his arse hanging out of his trousers) about 1 1/2 hours walk from the main road.  The first, Krem Pui Pui (pic above) was found by following a dry river bed downstream to what the non-English speaking Moon seemed to indicate was a small hole

Simon going over the edge at Krem Pui Pui

As we stood, suffering from vertigo, on the edge of an awe inspiring shaft, 34m deep by some 40-50m in diameter we realised that our interpretation was not correct!  With only 10m of ladder and a short length of rope we left it for another day and went to look at the second cave, Krem Thloo Mawriah.  At a mere 13m deep by 25m diameter this was a baby but still too much for our feeble amount of equipment, despite valorous attempts to lasso the top of a tree growing up from the base of the shaft in an attempt to shin down it to the floor. The third cave, Krem Khlien Wah Shyrtong, was reached after a long trek through dense undergrowth.  A small entrance in a cliff led to a 10m+ pitch which Simon found to be capped with loose debris and again needing more tackle than we had with us.  These three pots were formed by breaching of the thick sandstone cover and being in a previously unvisited area held great promise for potentially large cave systems filling in the gap between the Lumshnong and Sutnga karsts.

With the arrival that night of the party-loving Ladies of Shillong, plus a few more Adventurers, the inevitable happened.  Gorged on beer, betel nut and Beatles songs a few hardy souls were suddenly surprised to find that it was daylight.  After staggering off to bed at 6am it was not long before we were up again and on the road to Lumshnong where Brian and I visited the extension in my dig in Krem Umkhang/Kharasniang.  This was to confirm Tony Boycott's report of last year that it was too tight to push further without more banging or awkward hammer and chisel work.  Four other party survivors managed a Krem Kotsati tourist trip.

On 28th Simon, Fraser and I were back at Krem Pui Pui with plenty of rope, SRT kit and a video camera. Simon abseiled first into this mini "Lost World" followed by Fraser, our cameraman.  I joined them to find that the only way on was a sink passage almost completely choked with trees, boulders and bamboo.  I managed to dig through some of this to reach a blind 4m aven and then down through the floor into a most unpleasant section of draughting, spider-infested crawls over rotting vegetation which would need a considerable amount of digging to progress further.  A similar result occurred at Krem Mawriah where the pitch was laddered to reach a boulder choked draughting hole in the floor of the main shaft which would be a suicidal dig.  We had no time left to descend the third cave and our hopes for the potential of this area now having been drastically reduced we headed back to Sutnga to find that the others had had more success, Krem Shrieh now being over 5km.

29th February -St. Alactite's Day.  To celebrate this rare event I joined the Krem Shrieh team on a survey trip.  As my last SRT trip had been a year previously in Synrang Pamiang I was a bit rusty on the changeovers on the 97m entrance pitch so had plenty of time to admire the view and ridiculous amount of exposure!

At the pitch bottom we first mapped 120m of low inlet passage containing a couple of small animal skulls.  Tom then noticed a complete and very dead racoon-like creature curled up in a nest of leaves and still with all it's fur intact.  How did it get here?

On downstream to survey a series of large oxbows and smaller inlets for another 1.5km leaving several huge upper levels unlooked at.  These were in the Orang Utan Series, the cave having a "monkey" theme.  The prusik out in the dark was even more of a "ring clencher" than the descent as tiny spots of light signified colleagues on the chamber floor and lower ropes.

The next day Kate, Fraser, Tom and Mark continued with the survey - three of them opting to stay in overnight to make the most of the time available.  Another 2km was added to bring the final total to 8.66km and the title of India's fourth longest cave, a just reward for the effort and enthusiasm put in by them.  There is still potential for a few hundred metres here by surveying various small inlets.

Brian, Simon, Kirsten and I, led by Larsing, had taken the easy option and returned to Litien village to continue the survey of the impressive Krem Iawe - a river cave partly explored and mapped by the Wells team.  Our only information was a good thumbnail sketch by Kate and a write up in Caves & Caving.  A search by Simon and co. the previous day had failed to reveal the cave and it had become a matter of honour to finish the job.

The redoubtable Larsing took us straight to it and, resisting the temptation to go off looking for another wife to add to his collection, accompanied us underground in dry grots.  We had read the poor description provided and wore life jackets and wet suits!

The deep entrance pot was entered halfway down by a crawl from the surface and a steep slope then followed to a short climb and huge river passage.  On the LH side, facing upstream, we surveyed over 200m of labyrinthine, dry, phreatic passages ignored by the Wells explorers.  Leaving Larsing and the fag supply on a bit of dry ground we then commenced surveying upstream in a waist deep canal.  As we progressed the canal passages multiplied to become a fantastic flooded maze with the chilly water held up by a series of bright orange rimstone dams.  A very large black bat insisted on sharing the same airspace as ourselves and at one point missed the tip of my nose by the thickness of an After Eight mint. With 188m in the bag the maze became even more complicated, time was running out and we were all cold so we left the place with scores of ways on in an underground reflection of the street-like grykes in the pinnacle karst on the surface above.  There will be a few more kms in this place yet and we haven't even looked downstream! The shivering Larsing was collected on the way out and in true form had a bonfire raging at the entrance within seconds.  It’s a wonder that there is any forest left in Meghalaya with the amount of fires visible at night from any high ground.  A surreal walk back across the flat paddy fields in the dark was followed by tea and shortbreads at the local chai shop and the usual Polaroid donation.

March 2nd was our last day in Sutnga and Fraser wanted some video footage of local coal miners. Adora accompanied us to one of the nearest workings to the LB. to act as translator - the miners being immigrant Nepalese. They were delighted to be filmed and much of the medieaval methods of mining such as hauling coal carts, filling baskets etc. was recorded.  We then crawled underground with them to film a collier hand picking a shallow coal seam.  In return they were given Polaroid snaps and lent our Petzl helmets - probably the first head protection they had ever worn!

Later that day we returned to Shillong via the hundreds of impressive, ancient monoliths at Nartiang village.

On 3rd March a day trip to Cherrapunjee (now once again officially the wettest place on Earth) was made to tidy up the survey of the Krem Lumshlan/Rong Umsoh/Soh Pang Bniat system. In three teams we mapped over 700m of ongoing passage in the two main arms of this complicated cave network. Some fine, superbly decorated streamway was found leading to yet another maze of low passages.  Mark had a nasty fall when a bamboo maypole we had persuaded him to slide down snapped under his weight.  We later realised that it had been used as a canopy support over an active limekiln and had subsequently been baked brittle!  Moral - always use green bamboo.

The weekend was booked for a coach ride, ferry trip and beach party to the Ranikor River, near the Bangladesh border.  With the Ladies of Shillong in charge and several crates of beer on board it promised to be a memorable occasion!  We took the scenic road via Mawsynram and eventually reached the river at dusk. This was just enough time to board the ferry for a short voyage to the nearest upriver sandbank where camp was established, huge bonfire built, chef put to work, chicken sledge hammered, food eaten and beer drunk.  The usual sing-song was dampened by heavy showers which necessitated crowded tents of revellers and the omnipresent, whistle playing Ronie.

We awoke to a fine, hot day and chicken curry for breakfast.  A Garo fisherman was hired to take some of us across the river to look at an impressive rock shelter, Lieng U Blei (Gods' Boat), the legend being that the gods were building a vessel but were interrupted by a cock crowing and left it unfinished, upside down -which is exactly what it looks like.

Gods' Boat

Two wooden canoes and their Garo oarsmen were then hired to take us 1 1/2 hours upriver to the first river junction.  It was here that we found out that the caves and limestone were actually at the second river junction, two days paddling upstream!  Making the best of it we spent the day festering, swimming, drinking and admiring a couple of working elephants which appeared from the side valley dragging huge tree trunks.  One also carried Mark and the dreaded Ronie as the mahout had offered them a lift. One of the boats had returned downriver and on to the Bangladesh border post to buy more beer at double the usual price as it was a Sunday.

On the way back to Shillong that night Fraser, Mark and I got dragged into a "shebeen" in Mawsynram to sample the delights of rice beer.  This is sold in a poly bag and looks like a fairground prize without the goldfish!  It was apparently good stuff as none of us went blind.

On 6th March the last caving trip was made to Cherrapunjee where Simon, Kirsten and Mark added 100m to the Umsoh system survey and the rest of us recced the hills above the cave. Some small but interesting sites were found for further investigation next year.

Once again a magnificent time was had and some world class cave explored and surveyed - 20.34 km in all which was well up to standard considering that there were fewer cavers than last year, much more travelling to the caves was done and there were several unprofitable but necessary recce days.  With the 3.8km (snigger, snigger) found by the Devon/Yorkshire team the Meghalayan total is now well over 150km.  Who said there are no significant caves in India?

Our undying thanks must go to the Meghalayan Adventurers - especially Brian and Maureen, the Boks, Rose, Swer, Neil and Betty, Barri and all the cooks, drivers, assistants, Ladies, chai shop owners and beer suppliers (in the words of Fraser "swally wallahs").

REFS:- Edmunds P. "Earthquakes, cobras and marsala tea" Caves & Caving no 85 (Autumn 1999) pp21-23.

Various expedition reports, articles in the BB and International Caver and MSS Logs (A. Jarratt)


New Scientist Radon

A recent article in New Scientist (5th April) warns about the exposure to Radon that cavers could be subjecting themselves to.

"Researchers from University College Northampton and Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon measured Radon in a popular system of caves in the Mendip Hills in Somerset. They found that cavers who spent just 40 hours a year underground could receive a radiation dose of as much as 4 millisieverts - four times the annual safety limit for members of the public recommended by the UN ..... Guides and instructors spending 800 hours a year underground could receive as much as 120 millisieverts five times the safety limit for radiation workers"  (Journal of Environmental Radioactivity vol 49, p235).  Worried cavers should read the article!

White Pit

A new entrance lock has been fitted to the cave as the intellectually challenged have been dropping stones down the entrance shaft.  If you were a previous keyholder either call on Tony Jarratt at Bat Products or contact Rich Long (the caving secretary).

Waterwheel Cave.

Following an act of vandalism in this cave, the access controller, Charterhouse Centre, Near Blagdon, BS40 7XR on behalf of Somerset County Council the landowner, have further restricted access to the cave.  The lock has been changed and the key will only be available via Charterhouse Centre as before.  In future, all visitors will be asked to fill in a log.  Further work on strengthening the lid, retaping sensitive areas and recording formations will take place.  This work will be carried out by Cheddar Caving Club under the guidance of CSCC/Charterhouse.  No novice groups, leader plus six members only.


West Australia 2000

by Mr. Wilson

Rich Long and myself, plus our respective wives decided to visit W Australia in March 2000.  The plan was to visit the various relatives, go walking and fit some caving in.  Rich was going to stay somewhere near Rockingham (south of Perth) and we were staying with Hillary's sister at Yanchep (north of Perth).  As it worked out I never did find out where Rich and his wife managed to stay but I am sure that they really enjoyed themselves!  Hilary and I plus Pat and Neville went down to the Stirling Ranges and camped at the only site there.  I managed to fall foul of "JOYCE" the idiot site owner who seemed to think that customers were there to be patronised.  This was a shame because the site was in a good location in a National Park (hence the monopoly).  Her name was not Joyce but she reminded us of Joyce Grenfell of St Trinians fame.

Hilary, Neville (the brother in law) Pat (the sister in law) and myself managed to ascend two of the major peaks.  Neville did really well - he just took two of his live longer pills and then proceeded to climb (Bluff Knoll 1073m and Tolbrunnup 1052m) Tolbrunnup was the hardest of the two.  These mountains are very much like the Snowdonia range in Wales, but they have their own eco system which is totally opposite to British mountains.  The approach walks are fairly dry and featureless but as you get to the 500m mark the undergrowth starts to sprout, getting more and more lush until the top is reached.  This is due to the cooler temperatures and cloud and rain around the top of the range. It is possible to have difficulty pushing through the thick lush growth on some of the lesser-walked peaks!  This range stands alone in the south west of OZ as the highest points, but 60k south of the Stirlings lie the Porongorups which resemble the Malvern hills, these hills have many more roads leading to the start of the routes and have several camping and caravan sites on or nearby. The region is basically a farming area, mostly cattle on a grand scale probably like the small American ranches.

We liked this area and would have been happy to spend a couple of days more exploring the soft and accessible hills, in the end we managed to ascend two routes here, Castle Rock a super route with a boulder finish and good views, and a short Karri Tree walk through the forest towards Devils Slide.  For those who have an interest in forests the Karri tree walk in Walpole is a must, you walk 30m up on a walkway high in the treetops, we really enjoyed our afternoon there.

Having toured the south coast a little, Hilary and I visited Jewel Cave on a private tourist trip.  This is a stunning cave, very well decorated and well worth a visit.  There are many caves nearby which I visited later. North of Perth in a National Park is Yanchep, a caving area (mostly small caves similar to Burrington). Hilary and I went on a very good walk in the National Park which encompassed most of the caving area (we also found a really superb bunkhouse in the middle of the bush, which would make a good base for cave exploration, see photo).  The major caves in the region are for the tourists, that is Crystal and Cabaret Cave, not overly long.  There are 500 caves in all, mostly numbered.  The principal explorer of the region, Lex Bastian told me that it would be impossible to name all the sites and caves, so you have this quaint situation where someone says we are going to visit no. 54 today, meaningless to anyone else, but very practical!  For example Carabooda Cave (yn 485, the largest cave in the area to date from my map would be 260m 027deg magnetic from yn 484.  This cave is a short distance out from the western foot of a fairly steep ridge, the entrance being the largest solution pipe in the centre of a solution doline with several exposed pinnacles.

The Western Australia Speleo Society were very helpful to me and I managed to spend a busy long weekend with them at Margaret River, the principal caving area at the moment with 300 caves listed at this time!  Their shed is big and roomy but has no water or sanitation plus no lighting, this means every thing has to be brought with you (it also has these quaint tree squirrels that run up and down the tin roof at night - very noisy)!  The toilet consisted of a spade and a beer crate with a toilet seat attached to the top, the plan being to walk as far away as possible, dig a large hole, place the crate on top, sit on the seat and perform, backfill hole and return to shed with crate under your arm.  "No one would possibly know where you have been." The club took me to the flat roof extensions in Jewel Cave, a totally wonderful place with floor to ceiling pretties everywhere.  The cave itself is a fairly easy trip but the high humidity and CO2 levels can make it seem hard going, the series is about 40m deep and in total 3k long.  The water table has been dropping for about 12 years now and there is a great deal of discussion as to what is the cause (it is now a good metre lower).  Our next visit was Moondyne which is an "adventure cave".  It was also well decorated and contained some extremely good cave coral, it used to be called Coronation Cave for many years but has now reverted back to its original name. The cave would not put anybody to the test but is worth a visit.  It has fairly high CO2 levels and is only approx. 400 m long.  The next day I visited Easter Cave. This was the highlight of my trip (I have subsequently discovered that this is the most well decorated cave in Australia).  We spent some time wandering in the bush trying to find the entrance.  This is not surprising as the cave is only open 4 times a year to parties of 4 (very tight access).  I was privileged to get a trip on this visit many thanks to WASS.  It is a superb cave, stunningly decorated, 2k long and about 40m running depth.  There were some small lakes and ducks, but the steady drop in the water table has made the trip easier and dry with a lovely draught.  We have nothing like this in Great Britain, 15 to 16 degrees temp and 80% humidity. There is more beauty lying on the floor than in the whole of GB cave on Mendip; the crowning glory being the LEMON, a wonderful rounded stalagmite with a reddish coloured base.  Apart from the 10m entrance ladder pitch and several dry crawls the trip was not hard as we know it.  I sincerely hope that the tight access arrangements keep this cave safe from mindless idiots.  Deepdene was my next cave which involved a walk in the bush but we found it first time. WASS have been doing access checks with little trigger machines powered by batteries.  This was basically a trip to help them retrieve the kit.  The person who is conducting this survey is a WILLET CLONE right down to beer pot smile and general build, I couldn't believe my eyes so I head butted him and got a Willet result "GRUNT GIGGLE hit me again."  This guy John is Willet's doppelganger!


Hilary Wilson in the hut at Yanchep

We had a look at the cave which at one time must have had some really superb gours they have now all dried up.  The whole system was only 160m long.  Years ago people used to light fires to illuminate the formations (in the 1890s it was common practice to illuminate the King's Chamber with burning rushes. They would then retire from the cave and watch the smoke drifting lazily from the entrance!).  Luckily this practice has died out now!

My last cave visit was Brides, a 50m deep hole doline with a small cave at the bottom right hand side. There used to be a wooden ladder / staging which served as access, but it burnt down in a bush fire (probably the same fire that demolished the first WASS hut).  Perhaps this was the same fire that burnt the BEC hut down!  The access is now a 50m abseil via some bollards - quite pleasant.  This concluded our tour of West Australia and I drove back to Perth in the borrowed 4 - wheel drive Nissan Patrol. (Thanks Neville I could not have managed without transport).  We intend to return in the near future and go north where there are even more caves and good walking.  I cannot thank all the Western Australia Speleo Society cavers enough for their efforts and the Retirement Rellies who we sponged off for four weeks (so they say!).

Mike Wilson.

NB I am going to buy some of the brother in law's livelong pills just in case they work.

Ross (WASS member) in Easter cave

Mike Wilson’s Map of the area visited in Western Australia

 (Apologies for the quality – Ed.)


Male Pin-ups?

Some Pin-ups for the female club members – all in St. George’s Cave in Assynt. 

Photos by Peter Glanville.



by Peter Glanvill

The following comments were prompted by features in the last 2 BB's.  First of all with regard to Wig's article on lost caves (BB Dec. 99 Vol. 50 No 12) I would suggest that the cave Trevor Knief found on Cothelstone Hill which was subsequently dug at and photographed by myself and Tony Boycott is that mentioned in 19th century writings.  The cave we found consists of a large chamber about 10 metres long and 2 metres wide the entrance of which had been obscured by a cliff fall which has now slumped into it forming a scree slope which obscures the natural height of the chamber - probably 2 metres plus.  When we dug at the end we found the remains of a clay pipe.  I know this doesn't prove habitation but does suggest the cave has been open in the past.  The size of the cave suggests extensions may be possible and there are choked side passages but they would need quite a bit of digging.

Elsewhere on the Quantocks we have Dodington House Cave.  I have visited the area and you can see the engine house in a field - a little piece of Cornish landscape on the Quantocks.  Of more interest is that Nick Chipchase's research revealed that the mine was closed but mothballed and the shafts capped.  The adits remained but have all slumped in except for one.  This opens into a lane in the Dodington area and is invisible to the casual eye.  Unfortunately this low drainage adit was bisected by a brick lined water extraction shaft.  This presented an obstacle to exploration up the adit until local cavers chiselled away a course of bricks either side of the shaft to enable progress upstream. Unfortunately when the site was visited in 1987 the diggers were chagrined to find after another 5 metres that some of the stone lintels roofing the adit where it ran under the field above had collapsed blocking the way on.  Further digging just produced more collapse.  This would be an ideal site for a Hymac dig at the point in the field where the adit enters solid rock and would allow access to a perfectly preserved mine (and the cave of course).  Nobody has visited the site for 13 years.  If you want to know more contact me or Nick Chipchase.

See - Men and Mining on the Quantocks by J.R. Hamilton and J.F. Lawrence 1970

Beer Caves

Rob is to be congratulated on re-inventing the wheel with regard to the caves at Beer.  These were originally mapped, listed and surveyed and the descriptions published by Chris Proctor in The Caves of East Devon. The cover has a nice drawing by the author of the largest cave.  I have got photos of some of them but cannot find them at present!  I did try to match up all the names but Chris has listed more than Rob and the grid refs are more detailed.  He lists over 40 caves, the longest of which is known as the Hall and runs through the point north of Beer Head.  Another cave nearer Beer Beach is known as Tooth Cave and has about 67 metres of passage with several levels.  I strongly recommend visitors check tide times before having a look here.  It is possible to traverse the entire distance from Beer Beach to the Hooken Beach (the beach below the Hooken Landslip) on a low spring tide and then walk back over the top of the cliffs.  Visit on a falling tide for obvious reasons.

Finally, on the next page, for those looking for curiosities take a look at the adit running off the beach just to the east of Sidmouth.  It lies about 100 metres along the beach from the river mouth and may be obscured by cliff falls.  The tunnel was driven from somewhere inland reasons unknown.  The entrance to the adit was visited in February 98 and at that time there was an easily negotiable grille over it.  You will probably find notices telling you not to use the beach if you go there.  I haven't been down the adit - the fact that it is in red marl is just a teensy off putting but it is down for a 'nothing to do on a wet day' visit some time.

Sidmouth Adit

Looking out of Sidmouth Adit


From a Belgian magazine given to J’rat detailing articles on Priddy Green Sink.

Het beste uit andere tijdschriften

Doorsteek Priddy Green – Swildons Hole.

Vincent Coessens vertaaide voor u dit artikel met de ‘officielle’ versie van deze doorsteekm vorsachen in de ”Belfry Bulletin”  Het is zowat het meest scabbreuze dat ooit ib Spelerpes vewrscheen.  Lees ouk het virige artikel en heb medelijen met de Belgische speleo’s die zich lieten meeslepan.

The best from other magazines

Through trip Priddy green – Swildons Hole

Vincent Coessens translated the official version of the explorations that led to the through trip from BEC’s  Belfry Bulletin.  One of the darkest tales Sperliepes ever published .  Have a look at the previous article and feel sorry for everyone who has ever been there!

Flash sur les autres revues

Traversee Priddy green – Swildons Hole.

Vincent Coessens a traduit pour vous cet article qui est la version officielle de cette traverse.  C’est vle texto le plus scabreux ayant jamias paru dans la Spelerpes.  Lisez aussi l’article precedent et ayez pitie de ces pauvres speleos beiges qui vse sont fait savoir.



Pages From The Belfry Log

15/4/00             Swildons 2

John Williams and Andy Smith

Down to sump two and back: Met a party on the 20 whose lifelining technique was similar to fly fishing!

16/4/00             Swildons 2

Down to sump, in via the wet way with high level detour to avoid a large group.  Once through the sump we left our tackle bags at the turning for the Black Hole and continued down towards sump 2.  We climbed up to the Landing and continued on up to the Troubles.  We ducked through quite a few ducks until we got to the one which appeared to be the last of them all, and certainly the worst of them all.  JW sumped it, but me - no way!  After a quick baling session on the other side, JW returned then we went to what appeared to be Vicarage Pot.  On the way back passed what seemed to be the descent to NW stream passage? Got back to the bottom of the landing and looked at some very muddy passage that didn't go far - thankfully, then back to the tackle sacks where both our batteries ran out!

After changing to fresh lights we went up Approach Passage and then came back and went up Howard's Dig crawl instead!  At the T junction we turned left down Mayday Passage and then headed back up towards the Black Hole.  My battery turned out to be not so fresh, and so the Black Hole remained black (for me) and we turned around and headed back out, never having used any of the tackle we'd brought with us!  A cool trip, which finished off even nicer when Taylor produced some hot food for us. Cheers!

16/4/00             Wigmore

Vince and Greg

An excellent sporting trip down to the upstream and downstream sumps.  My first time in the cave and I was impressed.  I'm sure I will do it again (Greg Brock)


Mike and Tim’s silly Northern Adventure

We did playing on string and other silly games in:


Cowpot (Easegill),

Gaping Ghyll,(dihedral route)

Tatham + Vin (Northern Bird 1)

Bore Hole and Split Sinks + other silly hole in Easegill Beck

Juniper Gulf + Liz (Northern Bird II)

County Pot + Liz

Marble Steps + Liz

Alum Pot + Liz

Had a top time even though most of the entrances took many hours to find.  Best trips were Dihedral route - amazing exposure and great views; once Mike ran back to Clapham to get his helmet! and Juniper Gulf (we found it at 7.30 pm!)

22/4/00             Ogof Draenen

Vince, Bob Smith, Mr.Smith, Dave Fear, James Adie

Down to Megadrive for a bimble!


Rolling Calendar

Date                          Details -  Contact

June 10-11                 Cavers Fayre Priddy

16-18                         BCRA Conference

18                              Pwll Du CMG meet: 10.30 Gwesty Bach, Brynmawr

July 7-9                      NCA Cavers Fair, Pindale Farm, Derbyshire

14-18                         1st NAMHO International Conference, Truro School

August 1                    BCRA research fund deadline

25-28                         ISSA Workshop, Yorkshire Dales – Robin Gray

27                              Columns Open Day, OFD

31                              Ghar Parau foundation grant application deadline

Sept 15-17                 Hidden Earth 2000, NCC Bristol

Oct 20-22                   Issa Workshop, North wales


January 1                   Columns Open Day OFD

12-14                         ISSA Workshop and AGM, Mendip

New members

Welcome to the club and meet soon in the "Hunters"

Ian Matthews, Frome, Helen Hunt, Glastonbury, Philip Middleton, Nailsea James Weir, Wells, Dave Fear, Wookey.


The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Martin Torbett

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor
Joint Treasurers: Chris Smart, Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Martin Torbett
Caving Secretary: Rich Long
Tackle Master: Mike Willett
Hut Engineer: Toby Limmer
Hut Wardens: Vince Simmonds, 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


First apologies to all anoraks who noticed the error in the last BB, which was wrongly numbered.  It should read as follows: June 2000 Vol.51 No 2. Number 507.   My mistake entirely.  A prize will be winging it's way to the eagle eyed member who spotted this terrible gaffe!.  Please alter your copy accordingly.

Other editorial gibberish is that your Editor might see you a little more often on a Wednesday evening at the "Hunters" from now on. I found out what was causing the problem .....

Do keep the articles coming please.  A quick look in the club hut log is enough to convince me that BEC members actually do go caving - despite rumours from other tea drinking clubs and so on.  These short notes can easily be…….nuff said, it's your magazine!!  Also, pictures and articles are BEST sent to me on disc or e-mail, pictures as jpeg files and articles as Microsoft word for windows format.  I can deal with Corel, but files written in notepad (er Pete Rose please note and thanks for the last one) take a lot of editing.  In fact, I have rejected one or two recent articles due to their being excellent but computer written paper copies that I haven't the patience or time to copy out again!!  Send me the bl***dy disc!!  Short articles accompanied by a photograph and totalling LESS than a page are quite acceptable if you have no access to a computer (thank you Roger Haskett). Please keep them coming.

Last copy date for articles and pictures for the December issue is 15th of that month.  Electronic preferred!- Ed


E-mails and other Snippets

Priddy Mineries Reserve

Richard Witcombe and Tony Jarratt have recently been appointed as joint managers of this Somerset Wildlife Trust reserve.  They will be looking for volunteers in the summer months for various projects such as repairing the Minery Pool dam, weed clearing from Waldegrave Pool, etc. These will be excellent public relations opportunities that need your support.  The fact that Stocks House Shaft Upstream Level may soon pop out in the Reserve had absolutely nothing to do with their appointment!

Sad news is the reported death of one of the cavers known to anyone who visited the Philippines as a caver.  The report I received is short and to the point.

Hey Mike,

I would just like to inform you that Erwin "Ugadz" Ginson of the Philippines died from neck injury while rafting.


"Its either you live with it or you can eat your heart out"

This E-mail came to me from Dave Irwin.  It refers to Simpson's Pot, Kingsdale

Hi guys, please spread this around to anyone who might need to know the place is a bit scary right now, and is an accident waiting to trap the unwary or inexperienced or unlucky.  If anyone can put up notes in club huts, web-sites etc, please do.  If some wally goes getting clumsy in there, it'll take a long time to dig them out!

The area below the Great Aven in Simpsons Pot, Kingsdale is dangerously unstable.

A number of large boulders and a quantity of mud has fallen from beneath the huge jammed boulder which forms the 'floor' which you land on descending the Great Aven pitch, threatening to block the way down into KMC.  One very large boulder (-3 cu M ) is perched just above the squeeze down at the base of Simpsons/Swinsto final pitches and seems likely to be knocked further by any more falls, effectively cutting off this way on.  Philosophers crawl may remain open, but if the huge boulder comes down this will also likely be blocked.  Looking up, it is difficult to work out what is holding the rest up, and further collapse seems likely.  For the time being it seems sensible to avoid descending the Great Aven, and potential through trippers should be aware that Simpsons/Swinsto through trips may well be impossible, and should bear this in mind if contemplating one way trips. I've sent this to Descent, but that's not out for a bit, so we printed some notices at Bernies and put them at the entrances and on the gate and in Bernies and Inglesport.  Difficult to know what to do, apart from a very big bomb to sort things out one way or another.  Any Ideas?

It's the BPC Presidents meet this weekend (in Kingsdale) so a couple of us might go have a look see, if anyone wants to join in, get in touch.  Dave.

Also from Dave Irwin, a short note about the library.  He writes; Several missing copies of B.S.A. Speleo Abstracts have been replaced by Jim Smart - very many thanks.

Dave has donated a photocopy of "Cave Illustrations before 1900" by Trevor Shaw - an essential reference work for antique cave print collectors.

Hidden Earth conference September 15-17th John Williams and Joel Corrigan will be giving a lecture on their exploits in the Dachstein.  This will be on Sat 16th in the evening


"Sago" and "Tich"

By Jan Setterington

As reported in the last BB, Sago Rice died recently and I also have news of the death of Tich Setterington.  This obituary is for both of these two "giants" of The BEC.

I'm going to live forever ... you will remember my name!

Words from the song that are a fitting description of both Sago Rice and Tich Setterington who both died earlier this year.  They were both "giants" of the B.E.C. and just as well known and well loved in many areas where their numerous interests lay - they will both be long remembered and stories will long be told of their many exploits, achievements and disasters!  Each one of us will have our own particular memories - let us share them.

Tich was the archetypal "laid back Englishman".  Never rushed or harried, he always gave the impression of calm serenity (although paddling like Hell under the water - like the proverbial duck) happy in any situation or climate, conversing ably with the natives in their own language- often in accents and dialects they couldn’t make head or tail of - but getting his point across anyway: as happy and at home in Spain, Africa, Russia or Germany as he was in England.  Some people might say he was happier in Spain, especially when he had a seat in the shade for the corrida: how excited he was the first time he saw Manuel Benitez - El Cordobes - in the early sixties. Tich recognised that this man would change the face of Bull- fighting and re-instate it as an art form that matched a newly emerging modem Spain.  Whether or not you approve of the corrida, Tich was an aficionado - he understood bulls, recognised the bravery and artistry of bull and man, and followed the careers of matadors, picadors, banderilleros and bull breeders through Spanish publications, building an extensive library on the subject.

Although he took to driving late in life and never understood the workings of the internal combustion engine, Tich was an accomplished navigator of elderly motor cars. With his friend Alan Hancock he regularly took part in the London to Brighton Veteran Run and travelled to rallies around Europe in Alan’s 1901 Rolls Royce.  Tich once assured me that Alan had allowed him to drive his old Elmore (an electric car of great age) because he naturally abused gear boxes and could "bang the thing into drive".  I can testify to this inability to come to terms with a manual box when "sitting in the hot seat" while he was learning to drive .... Maybe it was better that he always settled for an automatic ...

Tich was a microscope man - working for Beck and then for Zeiss - if you wanted to wind him up you whispered "Hilgar and Watts" and he exploded: it worked every time to any child's delight!

Tich was a bachelor and "uncle" to many adoring children, especially Julian and Nessy "Sett".  He treated them as little adults and never doubted their intelligence or appreciation of any given situation.  This respect was returned and uncle Tich was more popular than Father Christmas in many households!  Because of his rare blood grouping, the antibodies it produced and the fact that he was a blue baby, Tich had a link to thousands of children around Britain, he saved their lives by manufacturing life saving plasma in his blood system - hence his frequent visits to be wired up at the blood donor centre.

Spending most of his working life in London and living for many years in a flat overlooking the "Poly" ground, Tich was first and foremost a Rugby player - playing way beyond the time most blokes hang up their boots.  When he finally retired from the game he took up golf and spent many happy days trying out various courses around the country then sampling the local food and beer!

Tich came home to Somerset a few years ago and had latterly been working on his family history from a flat situated very conveniently, just behind the Somerset County Cricket ground in Taunton. Whether caving, playing rugby or squash or golf, navigating those old cars or managing the "pits" for his friend Alan during a brief motor racing career (a pit manager - he didn't know what a spanner was for!) Tich was always a sportsman and as age and general wear and tear took its toll he became an informed supporter.  It was but a short stroll to a seat in the stands to watch his team take on the country and the world!  And that, I suppose, is the abiding memory that I will carry of Tich - a man strolling through life, happy and secure in his station, without prejudice and offering friendship to all he met.

Sago exhibited many of Tich's traits, especially in his ability to accept all men on their own terms. He appreciated the other fellow's point of view whilst maintaining his own, but his opinions could be swayed if a logical enough argument was produced.  Sago's Mendip activities, caving, climbing and motor cycling exploits are well known, often embellished a little by the man himself!

But how many people on the "Hill" know of his extensive knowledge of geology and the respect accorded him by university staff in Bristol and Aberdeen. His geological education started late in life with a University of Bristol extra - mural class and progressed through "O" levels to University Certificate standard.  He could have taken his degree, but said he was not dedicated enough to keep up the work - then set out to make some quite exceptional geological slides and concentrate on sedimentary rocks and was never happier than splashing about in contemporary water courses pointing out newly forming structures replicating those lower down the sequence.

Sago travelled extensively in Britain, Ireland, Europe and the USA in pursuit of his geological hobby, and the high point of these exploits must have been his visit to the Grand Canyon.  He took a very bumpy flight through the Canyon and produced some brilliant photographs.

Photography was one of Sago's many interests and for a number of years he and Graham Robinson belonged to various societies and could be seen lurking around Bristol, waiting for the perfect shot.  Some of the best pictures that he took were of English churches and cathedrals giving life to his love of architecture and history. A trip to a castle or other old building with "Uncle" Sago was a lesson in history and he enthused many youngsters (and oldsters) with his graphic stories of long ago battles and intrigues.  He had the knack of making history come alive, although he was always a little bit biased towards the English! Historical discourse with Sago was always a pleasure - especially when one was arguing against him from a socialist stance!!

Ancient man and archaeology figured highly amongst Sago's interests and for a number of years he was involved with Peter Reynolds on the Butser Experiment in Sussex.  Latterly he had been working on pollen samples from the site.  He shared an interest in ancient astronomy with "Sett" and Aubrey Burle and he was enthusiastic about and confident in ancient man’s ability to erect accurate observatories and "calculators". I remember how thrilled he was when Sett took him to see the Menec stone rows in Brittany - their exact purpose provided many hours of, eventually, fruitless speculation!

For an essentially outdoor man - caving, climbing, motorcycling, the T.A. (following a period in the Army) and geology - Sago had three other passions - music, books and art. I remember accompanying him around galleries in Paris and his delight in the brilliant colours of the Impressionists and of his visible pleasure when holding a rare book - his own library was extensive and included many treasured volumes - especial favourites were a limited edition of T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom and The Washing of the Spears, Donald Morris's story of the rise and fall of the Zulu nation.  Sago's taste in music was catholic, Bruckner to Brubeck and all stations in between!! There is a story, true, not apocryphal, that many years ago a young man walked into the Hunters and said "I've just heard the best record ever made".  Another young man replied " Summit Ridge Drive on one side and Special Delivery Stomp on the other".  Sago said "How did you know that"?  Sett replied" You stated a fact"!  It has to be said that Sett was the mathematician and statistician and Sago was the romantic, but that was how a lifelong friendship began - a friendship that led, ultimately, to Sett selling Sago his old Matchless. Years after the accident that cost Sago a leg and the demise of the Matchbox, he was in a pub in Cornwall talking to some modern bikers about the machines he had owned and, pointing out his missing limb explained to reason - the bikers nodded in sympathy - not for the loss of the leg but for the wrecking of a beautiful vehicle, an attitude Sago understood.  He never dwelt on his disability but faced each day as a challenge - many are the slightly timorous geology students who, faced with a steep climb down a cliff path would much rather have stayed put at the top but were forced to descend in the wake of a trail blazing Sago who sat down, pushed off and slid down to the beach below.

Sago had many friends all round the world - it didn't matter where he went there was always someone who would pop up and say "Hallo Sago, Fancy seeing you here!" he was gregarious, good natured and generous.  A friend.  My favourite memory of Sago is sitting on a rock on a beach on the Dingle Peninsula surrounded by extra - mural students happily identifying the rock samples they brought to him.  He was a natural teacher and took time to explain always appreciating that students needed to learn at their own pace.

Tich and Sago.  Two friends with many friends and beliefs in common.  Neither was a Christian and neither believed in an existence on another plane after death. This formed the basis for philosophical discussion between us - I am a Catholic and believe that there is a life after death and that our thought process goes on (possibly this is why the Universe is expanding).  Two friends who died within a couple of weeks of each other.  Both strolled through life, confident and accepting.  How fitting then that Sago should be the first to take the next step - he will have been waiting and when Tich arrived he would say, quite naturally, "Hello Sago, fancy seeing you here."

Jan - Wiveliscombe


Do all Cavers Have Beards?

asks Adrian Thomas
(first published in Cavers Digest)

Here in Ireland we have a relatively small caving population and cavers from across the country come together from time to time to practice rescue techniques.  Not so long ago a small group gathered at the appointed place and time on a dull wet day with mist blowing across the bleak karst landscape that is known as the Burren. We headed into a small shake hole in the forest and as we dropped the 3m (10ft) into a small canyon carrying a stream one diligent lad counted us in - EIGHT cavers.  After a few hours of wrestling with simulated injuries and manipulating stretchers round tight comers and through flat out crawls in the water, we emerged into a slightly brighter dull day.  The same diligent lad counted us out and got NINE !!  After a few moments he exclaimed that we appeared to have gained a caver but very quickly went on to identify which one!  His task was made easier by the fact that the caver who had arrived late and found his own way into the cave was clean-shaven. In fact eight bearded cavers had gone into the cave and the late comer was the only one without a beard.  I wonder if anyone has ever done any serious research on beards in caving.  Quite a lot of (male) Irish cavers are either bearded or were at one time.  But the question arises - is it a fashion - are cavers copying one another?  To some extent this might be an attempt to be "macho imago" and maybe many cavers are actually insecure wimps who just want to look tough??  I have had a beard since I was a student (almost 30 years ago) and although I have always loved caves, I only started caving properly about 10 years ago.  Is the fact that I always had a beard significant?  Maybe I was always a caver and just didn't realise it??  I know that I would have great difficulty parting with it even though my wife would love to see it go.  It can't be that I'm lazy although the thought of shaving every day does frighten me.  Perhaps I need psychiatric help?  I'd be most interested to hear what other cavers, and particularly the ladies, think on this subject and whether any of them have ever wished they could grow a beard so that they'd be proper cavers like the rest of us bearded ones?  If this is an inappropriate subject for the cavers page then I apologise.  I have been reading the digest for many years and don't recall this fascinating and deeply personal subject being dealt with.  It would help my research enormously if those males submitting to this digest would not alone indicate where they are from but also their bearded status - maybe just for the next few months?? (eg Bearded, non- bearded, was-bearded).  Females could be excused this ritual at their discretion?  Rude and insulting replies can be directed to me at adrian.thomas@[removed] Interesting replies to the Cavers Digest!

Adrian ( Ireland, Europe, bearded )



"How Not to Go Caving in Northern Spain"

by Pete Rose

"Donde es les Cuevas?" (to the tune of 'West of Santander, down ole Picos way') a famous cowboy song.

Sue, my wife, had always wanted to go to northern Spain and had convinced me that 24 hours on the Plymouth - Santander ferry was good for my health.  Our sons, Martin and James wanted a free holiday after finishing Uni, and having a negative bank balance, I was forced therefore to embark with only a copy of "The Caves of France and Northern Spain" by Sieveking, and "Beneath the Mountains" by Rose (no relative) and Gregson, plus several torches.  This was too much of a contrast to result in any success in finding suitable Fairy cave type situations .... as it turned out.  The ferry contained various members of a biker group from the North strolling around, flexing tattoos etc.  I had been listening in on one conversation that started with how they were motoring down to southern Spain and one had got lost on the way somewhere near Accrington!  (IMPORTANT FERRY TIP.  Do not have a cabin with a low number, like 200 to 300.  These are way down below the car decks and this only results in one contemplating the escape route all night.. .. If something catches fire etc.) We met some friends in Santander, and decided to camp near them for the first week and then go to our farm cottage in the mountains for the 2nd week. We duly drove off to Llanes on the coast west of Santander and set up in a luxury campsite next to some New Zealanders on a world tour (lonely types).  Martin and James had two tents and one set of pegs, so one tent secure or two tents half-done?  I had read the exploits of Oxford Uni. down the Sistema del Xitu by now and thought it highly unlikely I was capable of this sort of stuff with torches and a Petzl headpiece so we offed to Ribadesella, west of Llanes, to see some cave paintings in the Tito Bustillo cave early one morning, but not early enough!  Our friends had missed the cave last year as there was a queue and a quota on numbers (don't breathe over cave paintings or they disappear or get fungal growths or something) this year there was a 100yd queue at 9.30am.  The 250 per day had gone, and I guess everyone buys tickets for groups etc. The Dave Irwin "get us a postcard" factor clicked in but no cards, no nothing.  Eventually found a few at 50 pesetas each in the town and drove off into the mountains nearby looking for caves.  The signpost said Cuevas, 5km ... so we followed it. A large overhang swallowed the car, 100ft high.  A drive in cave!  The road disappeared into 250 metres of high stream passage.  We stopped and climbed up a steep rock slope to look at huge stal, we scrambled around gour pools next to the car!  This was a well-known route for tourists and various Spanish cars came in and tooted.  We drove out into the next valley and the village called Cuevas.  A days caving eh lads!  Next day we started out even earlier allowing for the quota factor, and together with the Jonathan Woods family drove to Cangas and the Cueva del Buxu (pg. 224 in the book, Northern Spain etc).  The road from Llanes meets the Arenas de Cabrales to Cangas road and a few km before the town of Cangas, turns right into the hills.  We zoomed up the hill for miles until it petered out and zoomed down again until someone spotted the word Buxu on a small sign in a small hamlet. We walked up the track for a km passing a Spaniard on the way down.  It was midday by now and this was the guide going for lunch.  This was a maximum 30 per day quota, and his maximum was up! We saw the entrance however, a steel door in a bluff, and retired to a restaurant.  I found a few postcards of Altamira Cave in Cangas, but nothing else.  This town has a nice Roman bridge.  The road to Covadonga nearby was the route to the top of the Picos and the Xitu etc but. .. the wine/beer had got to us.  We drove off to Arenas de Cabrales and passed a Sherborne school bus and on to Panes, where we turned south along the Rio Deva towards Potes.  We got to our converted farmhouse/barn complex beyond Potes at a place called Lerones along an unmade road.  Anyone know any caves around here?  Next day we foolishly followed another sign that said cueva nearby. It was a village, not a cave.  So, we did our up the cable car bit at Fuente De, to the west of Potes, followed by our friends and the New Zealanders (lonely types) this cable car goes straight up a cliff for 800 metres to 1800 metres. Very Impressive!  Any caves up here?  We walked down again carrying rucksacks full of water to drink, in a clockwise direction to Espinama in 3 hours and contemplated caves again.  Our lift back to the cars at Fuente had missed us by minutes so we hid in a bar again.  The Cares gorge walk was next day and is really spectacular!  Three hours along a track carved out of the gorge, with a canal next to you carrying water for a hydroelectric scheme.  From Puente Poncebos (near Arenas de Cabrales) to Cain and 3 hours back again.  The track rises 250 metres at first and then meanders along the wall of the gorge to emerge at the village of Cain.  Along the way one can see resurgences below and above.  Halfway along, the Culiembro is the resurgence for the Xitu, and here was a cave above the resurgence if we could find it.  We lunched at Cain and on the way back (there's even a bar halfway along the gorge) we climbed up to look for the cave.  The map showed a stream - the Culiembro, surely a cave up there! We didn't try hard as we were late for the return drive. (Determination and drive at a low level).  We watched a spectacular rockfall across the gorge along with hundreds of other tourists and it was 3 hours back from Cain to the car and to Sue (who had looked dehydrated and had returned back earlier).  We waved to the Sherborne school bus again.  Still no caving!  Later in the week we tried again ... off to la Hermida, a village in the gorge between Potes and Panes.  A bar owner in la Hermida tried to be helpful and explain about the Cueva de Cuenda?  We set forth again looking for a track across the river and up the hill near Rumenes. Jamie led the way until the path petered out and acquired various ticks. Anyone know this cave?  It wasn't where we were!  Next day the final effort was to be the Cueva del Indal showcave.  This was in the book.  On the coast at Pimiango, 4km from Unquera, 24 km from Llanes. We set off down the road from Potes to the coast, and Unquera is where the road joins the coast road to Santander (there is another show cave at El Mazo, 2km from Panes, called Cueva de la Loja, and we drove slowly through El Mazo, on route for Unquera and the Pindal without seeing any signs).  We had set off late - a mistake let's face it!  The Spanish are up and at 'em early, and in the restaurants for lunch.  The cave is on the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Biscay, in a narrow valley.  Several bars are located here.  The entrance sign mentioned its quota of 20 or 30 as usual - no postcards, no nothing!  No pretty cave paintings again.  We gave up and retired to a local beach.  That was it really ... and we drove slowly through El Mazo on the way back looking for 'la loja' but I had the leaflet which stated 'cupo maximo diario de 30 personas', so I wasn't hopeful at all!  We did the beaches after that, plenty of sea caves of course!  We returned on a Thursday/Friday via Santander and the new Hypercor supermarket.  This is near the ferry port and had 2 caving books. I bought both, 'los colores de la oscuriadad' by Ortega is superb, and was 5500 pesetas.  It has descriptions and magic photies - all too late, of course, but I can sit in my armchair and translate the Spanish slowly - 'the colours of obscurity'? It's all perfectly clear.  (The bikers were on the ferry on the way back, don't get lost looking for Accrington lads!)  It was a holiday and we didn't waste the batteries.

Cheers, Pete Rose


Nostalgic Wanderings

by Roger Haskett

Doolin, Ireland circa 1967.

This was my first ever trip to Ireland.  Accompanied by Alan Butcher, Bob Craig, Pete Bowler and Dave (The Piggy Wig) Irwin. We flew Aer Lingus from Bristol to Cork.  We knew we were on the right plane because when they took the boarding ladder away, the plane fell over!  One of the (clever buggers) had hired us a tiny Vauxhall Viva to take five hairy cavers from Cork to Lisdoonvarna.  We made it with no tread on the back tyres, and no dirt or dust on the fronts, they never touched the ground!

We stayed at McCarthey's Cottage, which in itself wasn't too bad in those days.  However we did have some problems with an old Toppy who lived up the road.  He broke into the place and stole lots of bits and pieces, including The Wig's camera. This is probably why there is not a lot of photo evidence of the trip.  Of course, we only discovered this after we had returned from O'Connor's Bar, say at around 12.30 am.  Pissed as puddings, but nary a daunt, we collected our few remaining lights and, intrepidly, set off across the Clints in hot pursuit.  After falling down a few times, and expending lots of bad language, we eventually sobered up enough to go home.  I might add that we did not find any of the gear, although the Cops did recover some of the stuff at a later stage - knackered of course!

Apparently the old man that did the job was an anti - British and used to write allover the road, "Go home Black and Tans", but as we didn't mind drinking the stout without the brown ale, we stayed!

We did actually do some caving whilst we were there.  Sort of in between the drinking, fishing and fishing and drinking.  We did Catherines, Doolin, Coolagh River, Catherines Two and one of the finest trips I have been on, Aille River Cave.  I can only remember swimming the canals, but it sticks out in my mind as a really memorable jaunt.  Last but not least, there is always the story of one member of the party, who spent an evening trying to shove sharpened sticks up a certain crustacean's private orifice, after one of the fishermen had told us that it would stop the meat from going mushy when it was boiled!

Feanor Strand

Left: Doolin circa 1967
Right: The author showering outside the pub in


65 Years Of Cave Diving At Wookey Hole And Graham Balcombe's Wake

By Tony Jarratt

The evening of Friday 14th July saw some seventy people gathered in the 3rd Chamber of Wookey for the unveiling of a brass plaque mounted on a limestone plinth to commemorate the first dive here on 14th July 1935 by hard-hat divers Graham Balcombe and Penelope "Mossy" Powell.  It was also an opportunity for some of Graham's ashes to be spread on the sump pool of the 9th Chamber - the rest going to Swildon's and Keld Head.

The event started with a champagne and canapes reception in the 3rd Chamber with a steady trickle of vintage and modern cave divers and others appearing throughout the evening. Characters included Ann - Graham's fiancé, the BEC's own Sybil and John - the son of Gordon Ingram-Marriot (one of only two divers who have drowned here in the last 65 years).

Peter Hayling, one of the Cave's directors, then gave a short introductory speech followed by a longer historical account given by Jim Hanwell - much appreciated by those present. The plaque was then unveiled by long retired cave diver Sett.  Everyone then got stuck into the beer, wine and buffet while members of the Historical Diving Society re-enacted Balcombe's dive by sending a brass helmeted, bottom walking diver through to the 4th Chamber (and back!).  He was fed air from a heavy hand pump similar to that used on the original dive when Balcombe made BBC broadcasting history (and instant removal from the airwaves) by shouting back to base "Pump you bastards, pump!"  This re-enactment was very atmospheric, especially with the surpisingly clear water conditions.

Many of the assembled went on to the Hunters to continue the evening in traditional style and a well attended wake was held there, in the back room, on the Saturday night complete with a last minute singsong.  A dedicated few finished the night off at the Belfry - some to drown their sorrows after losing the annual cricket match to the Wessex!

Many thanks to the management of Wookey Hole Caves, the Cave Diving Group (Somerset Section) and the Historical Diving Society for their hard work.

See also "Jade Green Water", Descent 155, Aug/Sept 2000, p35

Attendees at the PlaQue Unveiling! Ceremony - Wookev Hole Cave

Ann Turner, Terry Dickenson & Maureen, Sybil Bowden-Lyle, John Ingram-Marriot, Tony Setterington, Dany Bradshaw, Angus Innes, Dave Irwin, Peter Stewart, Clive Westlake, Tony Jarratt, Jim Hanwell, Clive Gardner, John & Audrey Buxton, Rich West, Chris Howes, Judith Calford, Clive Stell, Jonathon Roberts, Fish & Liz Jeanmaire, Dave & Rich Warman, James Cobbett, Tim Chapman, Tom Chapman, Malc Foyle, Mike Thomas, Nick Mitchell, Roger Haskett, Willy Stanton, Mike McDonald, Keith Savory, Carol Tapley, Bob Cork, John Williams, Kev Jones, Sean Parker, Pete Mullholland, Ben Holden, Pete Bolt & family, Martin & Sue Bishop, Chris Batstone, Nigel & Viv Taylor, Amanda Edgemont, Margaret Chapman, Mike Merrit, Roz Lunn and others - (Graham's family, friends, cavers and cave divers). Peter & Cheryl Wingett, Adrian Barak, John Smillie - (Historical Diving Society).  Peter Hayling, Barney & Mrs. Butter ( Wookey Hole Caves directors) and the guides and staff.

Scanned article from the Wells Journal of 20th July 2000, page12.

The article and picture have suffered as a result of scanning a photocopy of the original! Ed

Plaque unveiled paying tribute to cave dive pioneers


Dreadful ditties

by REG

Where is this beautiful cave scene, photographed by Robin Gray?

In Cuthbert's Chas had quite enough
At the rift he'd run out of puff
But the reason was clear
He'd drunk too much beer
And stuffed up his snitch box with snuff!

Caving is not for the masses
And there's often a shortage of lassies
The reason is clear
They drink gallons of beer
Which results in some horrible gases

In past days cave painters were found
In secret grots far underground
For paint they used mud
Saliva and blood
Small wonder their work is ever found!-Ed

There once was a caver called Dave
Who went to the pub on his bike
And on the way home
He damaged his knee
When he missed the right hander in Priddy!

A poetical painter called Gonzo
Did pictures of the Matienzo
His pictures were fine
And they sold every time
But his poetry just didn't quite sound right.


Travels in America Part 2

by Rich Long

Well, as you may remember, I was in New Mexico, with new chums who were going to deliver me into the Guadalupe Mountains, for camping, hiking and contemplation, brought on by not having loads of money to stay in large hotel complexes, not that there were any about.

My friends were true outdoor types, not content to pay the extortionate $5 to park at Sitting Bull Falls, we exited the three 4x4's we were distributed in and seven adults, three children one pit bull terrier and all our caving gear piled into Gus's pick-up. If ever a bunch looked like a cross between the Beverly Hillbillies and the Manson family, it was us, hungover and still covered with yesterdays cave dust and bar-b-que grease.  Caring parents were seen to clutch their small children to their bosoms when we rolled into the car park.  However, the car park attendant never turned a hair, he was about 5' 2", around 65, clothed in jeans, a brown windcheater, zipped to the neck, mirror sunglasses and wispy grey hair sticking out from an old faded baseball cap.

"Five bucks for parking friend." he said to Gus.

"Good Morning, Sir," said Gus, the politest man I've ever met "I have a yearly pre-paid sticker to the Falls."  Pointing at the front windscreen of the truck, cracked all the way across, which seems to be an obligatory feature in this part of America.

"God-damn it, you durned city slickers, ooh, O.K. Park up."  He did seem somewhat peeved for a second or two, but soon cheered up when Gus asked Warren, which was the gentleman's name, if he would keep an eye on the truck as all my worldly possessions was in it. "No problem, I've got a .357 Magnum in the truck, if anyone tries anything ... why I'll give them so much grief." said Warren.  We thanked him and walked off to see the falls and splendid they were.

Time raced by and it was time to bid my chums farewell and I hiked off into the sunset carrying my pack up the cliff path past some excellent climbing spots.  I walked towards the Last Chance Trailhead until it was getting dark and found a very pleasant bit of flat land close to the river, set camp and listened to the canyon start to wake up in the coming dusk.

There were still a few bats about, some as big as Jack Russells, so, I kept my hat on, I didn't want any of them getting tangled up in my luscious, flowing locks.  It was awe inspiring laying out on the rock looking at the night sky, it was still warm in the early evening and you could still taste the warm trail dust and then catch the sweet scent of the trees overhanging the gently flowing river.  Every now and then as the earth cooled I could see the breeze coming up the canyon ruffling the tops of the trees and moving on, just like a huge invisible hand stroking through the leaves.

Jeeesus Christ, I've got to stop drinking so much, I'm turning into Ernest Hemingway.  Still, perhaps I'm not drinking enough!

Well, for the next several days I hiked, trying to do all the trails into the mountains, picking up on the old sites of interest, going to all the viewpoints I could make within a days travel.  It was excellent, unfortunately, as I was drinking river water cleaned by chemicals, not the most pleasant.  Then, one day I didn't drink enough and as you know dehydration, doesn't do you a lot of good, especially as you are about 50 miles from the nearest known habitation. So, I decided to hike back down to Sitting Bull Falls, where I knew there was water at the picnic site.  Head aching, I reached the top of the cliff walk above the falls and looked down.  I knew it had been the last weekend of the season when I had been dropped off, so I didn't expect to see anyone.  Rightly so, no one there, except, in the distance I could see a white pick-up truck, with a guy leaning on the back of it, it had to be old Warren!

I reached the tap after the climb down, had a tentative few sips and filled up my five gallon container, then, walked over to say Hi to Warren.

Warren was dressed the same as the day I'd left the falls several days before, elbows resting on the back of the truck he watched me approach.  "Hi, Warren, how are you today?"  "Fine and yourself?" he replied.  "Pretty good, thanks.  I filled up with water if that's O.K.?  Not too many people around now the seasons over, I guess." I said.

"No, that's just how I like it!" he said, he seemed to be sweating a little "It allows me to do my own thing.  In fact, I'll show you!" then he stood back from the truck and pulled down the zip on his beat up old windcheater and there, stood in a car park in New Mexico, 50 miles from town, I see my first transvestite!  Well, that's what the big boys told me they were called.  He's wearing a red Basque with black lace trimming. He leans towards me and glances round furtively and says, "I've got black lace panties on too!"  It would have been pretty damned attractive on a woman, but with half a dozen grizzled old hairs poking out from his skinny little chest, somehow it didn't do a thing for me!

Now, being brought up in Farrington Gurney, you don't get a lot of cross dressers and if you did they'd damn well keep quiet about it.  We did get one guy transported to Australia years ago for doing something to a sheep, but, I think he married it later and it was all sorted out amicably.

I honestly can't remember what I said but I think it was something feeble like " .. As long as it doesn't do anyone any harm etc."

I quickly took my leave and headed back up the cliff trail, thanking God that I didn't tell him where I was camping.  I looked back from the trail head and far below he was still leaning on the truck, windcheater now zipped up.  I hurried on thinking about the film Pulp Fiction, before I left for America my youngest son would think it highly amusing to play the CD featuring the track "Bring on the Gimp", the part where Marcellus Wallis has very unpleasant things done to his bottom area!  I in turn started to think about Deliverance another film about the great outdoors and equally unpleasant things.  Reaching my camp at a canter, not an easy feat with five gallons of water strapped to your back, I settled down for the night with my brand new Spider co knife attached to my wrist, cuts a tin in half, no problem!  Just what I need tonight!  Still, I can handle Warren, but what if he has pals, Oh dear!!!

The night passes, no visits from anyone except the usual snuffly animals, which I only assume wasn't Warren, swift hysterical kicks to the side of the tent and a lot of screaming soon got rid of them, so everything was fine, as soon as I had stopped crying.

I kept on with my hiking, one day seeing a mountain lion from close quarters and I wouldn't have seen that if it hadn't made so much noise running away, it had obviously heard that us BEC members get everywhere!!  No bears though, shame!

Time came for me to leave and I had to go back to the falls where Gus had arranged to pick me up. No Warren though.

When I told Gus he thought it was hilarious and quickly stated that it had been the first time he had ever met the man!!

We stopped to look at Apache petroglyphys on the way back to town and eventually ended up in Lucy's Mexican restaurant.  Gus suggested the platter, which was a bit of everything and we would have medium strength, well, we downed a couple of Mexican beers with slices of lime stuffed down the neck of the bottle, pretty nice, and proceeded to tuck into the meal. After a few mouthfuls, my nose started to run and I casually wiped it with my serviette, ever the gentleman. Now my head started to sweat, profusely, I now wished I hadn't wiped my nose, sweat and mucus across the top of my shaved swede, not a pretty sight in a restaurant.  More beer!  It turned into a vicious circle, fortunately by now I had plucked up courage to actually look up and Gus was suffering the same fate as me, sweating and nose running. My, what a pleasant sight for the rest of the clientele, fortunately the more beer consumed the less we worried. Still come the end of the meal, we didn't dare move for at least half an hour.  A couple of days later I met one of the greatest guys.  I was doing my washing on a Sunday morning, the nearest thing I get to organised religion, when I got a phone call from Michelle, "Would you like to come climbing?"  Now, let me see, doing the washing or going climbing?

Hmmmmmm!!!! Tough decision! I'm ready!!!!

Curtis picks me up and once again we head off up into the High Guadalupes where we meet a gentleman called Danny Moore, he lives in an Apache Hogan, all on his own.  His Hogan is filled with chess and climbing books, there are skis hanging on the wall, bows and arrows, one bow he has made himself, a black powder musket, "The same kind we chased you British out with!" he said.  "Well, we didn't want it any way!"  I lied.

"O.K. lets go!  I got some great bouldering I want you to try!"

Danny said "Who's coming in my truck?" in the absolute silence and the rest of the group drawing pictures in the dirt with their toes, I in my absolute naivety volunteered.  Danny all this time was walking around in bare feet, mainly because he only had one pair of boots and they were being fixed.

"Only need one pair Bub!" he assured me.

Well, we set off and it soon became apparent why I was the only passenger in Danny's truck, whereupon normal people approach a rock step of approximately 18" on a dirt road, they slow down, fix 4 wheel drive and crawl up over it, Danny floors the pedal and we gun it as fast as the truck will allow.  My head hit the cab like a scud missile, fortunately it didn't explode, but I got a hell of a bruise.  So I learned swiftly and jammed myself in and held on!  My pals were easily amused at the lump already growing on the side of my head, fortunately it didn't spoil my good looks, as it kind of balanced up the lump I already had on the other side of my head, you know, the one where I had the steel plate put in.  Ahhhh, the memories, I knew I shouldn't have camped at Rorke's Drift.  Mr Haskett did warn me!!

Oh yes, the story.  We climbed and sadly I climbed like a caver and ended up with bleeding knees, they were really good about it and only ridiculed me greatly!

Well after I'd lost about three pints of blood we settled down and watched the sun go down from Ridge Road, Curtis broke out cold beers and believe it or not the coyotes started to howl.  Wow, this was everything I had dreamed of.

This was magnificent, me, I'm easily pleased, give me beer, good company, a beautiful sunset and a pack of coyotes and that was heaven!  Look, I know we are cavers and this should be about caving, but, next time I'll tell you about Big Manhole and the hundred mile an hour descent!!

Rich Long


Glanvill’s Photos

Two pictures from the camera of Peter Glanvill of a lighter humour.


Song: The Young Mendip Caver

Tune: German Musicianeer
Author: P. MacNab
Source: Belfry Bulletin Vol 32 No 2 February 1978

Well I'll sing you the song of a young Mendip caver
And of the adventures that overfell ' e.
Though he'd led a good life, he was hardly a raver
Until he went caving with a girl called Betsy.

Sing fal da ra lal de ra lal de la laddy
All kinds of holes this young caver'd been through
But the ones he preferred, they were both wet and hairy
And his favourite trip was to do Swildon's Two.

Now these two went down Swildon's, the boy and young Betsy
The bike of the Belfry, invariably free.
They slipped on their wet suits and went down together
There was no-one else with ' em, there was just he and she.

Now he'd charged his nife cell and she took her stinky
As down to the dark this young couple did go.
He thought he was hard and she thought he was kinky
And they both hoped the other one wouldn't be slow.

When the Forty was passed he led over the Twenty
Down to the streamway past ruckle and squeeze
But he found the sump wider than he had expected
And very soon after he was down on his knees.

Then it's "Oh!" she did cry, "Well me lamp it has failed me.
Have you got a pricker to bring back the flame?"
So he pulled out his wire and tackled her stinky
And very soon after, 'twas working again.

But this trip down below, it got wetter and wetter
And time after time she cried "Do it again!"
Till he'd tried every way and he could do no better
And then she did say "Try the first way again."

Now when they came out, they were both tired and weary
And the charge in his cell, well it almost was through.
And there's only the moral to tell of my story
Wet stinky's need pricking down in Swildon's Two


Minutes of the 1999 B.E.C Annual General Meeting.  Saturday 2nd.October.

The meeting was started almost on time, at 10.40 am, by the Hon. Secretary (Nigel Taylor).  He advised the AGM that insufficient persons had responded to the Request for nominations for the 1999/2000 Committee, and therefore 8 of the outgoing Committee are automatically re-nominated. However he had received three late nominations in the last 48 hours (Mike & Hilary Wilson - seen by the Committee as prospective replacement Treasurers, and Rich Long - interested in the Post of Caving Secretary).  He explained that now presented twelve candidates for election.  He asked the AGM to consider having all twelve candidates. Vince Simmonds (VS) Spoke in support of this idea, and it was accepted 'On the nod' by all present.

The Hon. Secretary noting that 35 members were present, called for nominations for a Chairman, Martin Grass was the only nominee, and was dually accepted.  P:Mike Wilson (MS) s:Roger Haskett (RR).

Angie Dooley (AD) then successfully proposed and Brenda Wilton (BrW) Seconded that " .. .it should be a 'Smoke Free' AGM" Voting: 14 For, 8 Against, 8 Abst

The Secretary had received apologies from: Rob & Helan Harper, apologies were given from the floor for: Fiona Lewis, Ivan Sandford, John Buxton, Kevin Gurner, Dave Glover, Bob Cork, John Freeman and Jeremy Henley.

The following members signed the BEC AGM Attendance Sheet: Colin Dooley, Angie Dooley, Brenda Wilton, Barrie Wilton, Nick Gymer, Dany Bradshaw, Trevor Hughes, Emma Porter, Mike Wilson, Hilary Wilson, Jim Smart, Graham Johnston, Mike Willett, Greg Brock, Mike Alderton, Stuart Sale, Brian Prewer, Bob Smith, Toby Limmer, Martin Selfe, Helan Skelton, Dave Ball, Ruth Baxter, Roger Haskett, Chis Smart, Ron Wyncoll, Nigel Taylor, Vince Simmonds, Roz Bateman, Estelle Sandford, Chas Wethered, Martin Grass, Rich Long, Roger Stenner, Dave Turner.

Item 4, Minutes of the 1998 AGM:- The Secretary pointed out that these had been printed in the BB just after the AGM .. these were P:BrW, Seconded Trevor Hughes(TH), Carried nem.con.

Item 5,Matters arising from the Minutes:- There being no matters arising, these were P:Mike Wilson (MW) & S: Ron Wyncoll (RW) and carried unan.

Item 6 Hon Secretary's Report:- Nigel Taylor had published this in the B.B.  There was surprisingly no debate upon this, and the report was carried nem.con. with one abstention, P: Graham Johnston @ 'Jake' (GJ) S: Angie Dooley (AD).

Item 7, Hon Treasurer’s Report: Chris Smart (CS) apologised for his missed attendances and asked the meeting to accept that there was a valid reason for this.  He then told the meeting that he had won an 80% rates rebate, and were not due any Inland Revenue taxation.  He added his concerns as to the High cost of the BB.  TH queried if we received any monies back from the BB, the Treasurer said no. NT pointed out that the recently renegotiated St. Cuthbert’s lease may have some extra legal cost implications but he awaited invoicing from the Club Solicitors.  However he was pleased to inform the meeting that he had negotiated with the Landowner, Messrs; Inveresk Group not to pay their costs, a generous consideration by them.

Item 7 Continued: Stu Sale (SS) Asked why the phone was on Business rate, but our rates were Domestic.  Both CS & NT explained.  TH asked about Heating Oil, NT advised that there had been no purchases and he monitored this.  The treasurer thanked Roz Bateman for her fundraising and membership money collecting. P: Estelle Sandford (ES) S:TH All in Favour, 2 Abstn.

Item 8, Hon. Auditors Report: Barry Wilton then discussed this with the meeting.  Voting then was P: RH, & S:Brian Prewer (BEP): Unan, 3 Abst.

Item 9, Caving Secretary's Report: No Report given or attendance.

Item 10,Membership Secretary's Report: This was then read to the floor by Roz Bateman.  She advised that there were 170 Members in total, 132 Paid-up members, 38.  Life She spoke on the availability and usefulness of Membership Cards and the Members Handbook.  She particularly thanked younger members for their suggestions. P: AD, S: Martin Torbett (MS) Carried Unam.

Item 11, Hut Wardens Report: The Hut Warden (Vince Simmonds - VS) then gave a verbal report to the meeting based on his joint six month tenure of the post. P:Dave Ball (DB), S:Helen Skelton (HS), Carried Unan.

Item 12, Hut Engineers Report.  No report and No appearance.

Ron Wyncoll asked that the movers of the Fire Extinguishers replace them from where he had positioned them ASAP!  ( Battery charger relocation!).

Item 13, Tackle Masters Report: Mike Willett (MWt) gave a verbal report to the meeting.  He thanked Jake (GJ) for his assistance this year.  Jim Smart (JS) Asked why there was no 'Booking out' Book maintained, MWt said that it was a new system.  RW stated that he thought the system had improved.  The report was voted: P:MT, S: SS. and carried Unan.

Item 14, B.B Editors Report: Estelle Sandford gave a verbal report to the meeting.  BEP Proposed Estelle a vote of thanks for the excellent Club Journal, P:bep S:CS carried Unan.  The report was then taken: P:Toby Limmer (TL) , S:VS. Voting: Unan.

Item 15, Librarians Report:  No Report or appearance.

Item 16, Ian Dear Memorial Fund Report:  No Report or appearance.

NT asked the AGM if it was happy with the levels of payments.  BEP suggested that the Committee liaise with Mike Palmer and Tony Setterington (With the Caving Sec, these are the three man IDMF Committee). VS suggested that many new and younger members were joining the club, and they should be encouraged to claim whatever they can.

Item 17, Election of Officers 1999/2000: The Floor accepted the following: Roz Bateman, Chris Smart, Vince Simmonds, Mike Wilson, Hilary Wilson, Rich Long, Martin Torbett, Toby Limmer, Mike Willet, Bob Smith, Nigel Taylor.

Item 17, Election of Officers Continued: As is customary, this was done from the floor of the meeting, and Nigel Taylor again declared a possible 'conflict of interests' to the meeting prior to any vote; He reminded them that his explosives business was working in Limestone areas, he was aware that it could be a conflict of interest.  The AGM declared this laudable, and agreed that they did not see it as a conflict of interest.  He further advised that he would shortly be working away in the Falklands and should miss both the November and December meetings, again the AGM accepted this.

Voting for the posts then followed:

Hon. Secretary: Nigel Taylor.P: CD, S: Dany Bradshaw (DB) Carried Unan, 1 Abstn.
Hon. Treasurer: Chris Smart.P:RH, S:RW , Carried Unan, 1 Abstn.
Caving Secretary: Rich Long P:MW, S: NT, Carried Unan.
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman. P:CS, S:MW Carried Unan.
Hut Warden: Vince Simmonds, P:N/K,S:GC, Carried Unan.
Hut Engineer: Toby Limmer P:NT, S: GC, Carried Unan
Tacklemaster: Mike Willet, P: VS, S:ES, Carried Unan.
B.B Editor: Martin Torbett, P:ES, S: Bob Smith(BS).

Non -Committee Posts Confirmed:

Hon.Auditor: Barrie Wilton. was also reaffirmed as Auditor, P:NT, S: RH, nem.con
Librarian (Not filled, Committee to oversee until volunteer came forward).
Hut Bookings Officer: Fiona Lambert.
BEC Web Page Editor: Greg Brock

A Vote of Thanks was proposed by CS FOR Dave Irwin for his Unofficial Librarian role over the last twelve months, this was seconded by BEP, Carried Unan.

The Hon. Secretary then excused himself from minute taking in order to prepare the AGM lunch, and Chris Smart stepped into the minute takers position:

Item 18, Members Resolutions: Much discussion re removing the whole of Section 'D' from Paragraph Section 5. The floor debated whether some jobs were ‘... more important than others?...’ TH felt that ‘We need one person accountable…such as Secretary or Treasurer…’  After lengthy discussion, the proposal was P:CD, and S: GJ, voting 4 For, 24 Against, 1 Abstn, this failed.

A further proposal to delete the single sentence from the Constitution: "Change of Office….General Meeting" From 5D, Was P: Roger Stenner(RS) S:ES, Voted 28 For, 1 Against, 1 Abstn.  This is therefore a Constitutional Amendment to be raised at the next AGM on the 7th October 2000.

Chris Smart (Member 915) Proposed, and Nigel Taylor (Member 772) Placed a Members Resolution forward as follows:  (See also 1998 AGM Minutes Item 21)

"That the Constitution be amended as follows: Section 3a) Classification of Membership to include an additional group 'G - Temporary Members'.  This group to have membership limited to a maximum of one period in 15 days in anyone calendar year, and to have no voting rights whatsoever and to pay normal guest Hut rates.  The Temporary Member to pay a fee to cover this expense." Both CS and NT outlined their concern and reasons for this proposal (Effectively to cover an Insurance position when prospective members cave with Members -NT).  The Proposal was put to the AGM and Carried Unan. This is also a Constitutional Amendment and must be raised at the 1999 AGM

The meeting then adjourned for Refreshments for half an hour, and on resumption 31 members were present:

Item 19, Details regarding the Annual Dinner, the AGM was told that all tickets had been sold.

Item 20, Any Other Business:

TH proposed A £1 increase in Club Subscriptions as a guard against inflation supported by NT, 12 For, 19 Against 3 Abstn.  Motion Failed.

TH then expressed his worries about the Cost of building an Extension.  NT presented the meeting with the Approved Plans, reminding TH that this had been discussed and approved at the last two AGM's, and further that a full costing would be undertaken before any main part of the Construction started (This does not include minor ground preparation! footings work).  DB was asked to comment by NT on the MRO Position respective the Old Stone Belfry Lease, and other club's attitudes.

TH was concerned about the 'Public Perception that the BEC was having a new extension built at the cost of the MRO - NT (Himself an MRO Warden) was outraged at this "ill informed and perverse attitude"  He added that the BEC at cost only to itself had welcomed the MRO in the Old Stone Belfry for more years than most could remember, and had never charged the MRO a penny for rates, rent, electricity or anything else in that time. Now MRO had a requirement to as it were ‘Take over the whole of the Old Stone Belfry’ and therefore the BEC would lose its only Tackle Store and Workshop space, then The BEC would build its own extension at its own cost. However, in return for an all encompassing 21 Year Lease on the Old Stone Belfry it was only fair that MRO, and indirectly now, other Mendip Clubs should pay towards that MRO lease. Further this fee, which had yet to be agreed, was to the BEC as Lease dues.  What the BEC chose to do with those funds was at the BEC's own discretion.

RH suggested that the BEC thought about obtaining lottery funding for a new extension.  BEP, Dave Turner (DT), TH, AD, also expressed similar views on the subject.  NT commented that he would explore the situation and report to the AGM.

CS Thanked Ron Wyncoll yet again for his 'at cost' Servicing of the BEC Fire Control systems.

NT asked the AGM to confirm the proper appointment of Martin Grass (Committee appointed Acting Trustee). As one of the Four Club Trustees, this was seconded by Chris Smart and carried unanimously.

Nigel Taylor as Hon. Secretary, announced the details and date of the 2000 AGM, as 10.30 am, Saturday 7th. October 1998 at the Belfry.  Martin Grass as Chairman then declared the AGM closed at 2.00 pm.

Minutes recorded by Nigel Taylor and Chris Smart, and later typed:

Nigel Taylor, Hon. Secretary, Sunday 3rd. September 1999.


Tackle Masters Report

2"" October 1999 AGM

Hello all and welcome another AGM.  First of all I would like to start this brief report with a big thank you to Graham Johnson ('Jake') for all of his hard work in the tackle store; Repairing damaged tackle, and making more replacement ladder for the surplus store.  The new system for obtaining tackle, set up by the previous tackle master Richard Blake, bas been successful, as no ladders seem to be disappearing.  In the main tackle store (the old MRO carbide store) which all BEC members have full access to there is: -

  • 2 ten meter ladders.
  • 1 five metre ladder.
  • 2 spreaders.
  • 2 wire belays.
  • 2 Lifeline.
  • 1 tackle bag.





The St. Cuthbert’s ladder, which is tagged, is also still kept here and must only be used in St. Cuthbert’s.

In the surplus store we have: -

  • 12 ladders, between 5 and 10 metres in length.
  • 7 spreaders.
  • 11 belays of various lengths.
  • 4 life lines.




Jake is also in the process of making three ten-metre ladders, which are almost finished and will be added to this surplus store.

For people with digging propjets, there are also various lengths of digging rope which may prove useful, if so, then any committee member on site with the key will gladly let you have access to the digging rope basket.  Failing that, contact the Tackle Master and arrange access.

This is the current status of the tackle store at the time of this AGM.

See you at the pub!

Mike Willett


Report Of The Hon. Secretary 1998/9

Those of you who were interested enough in your club to attend last year's AGM, will no doubt recall that I stated my intention to stand aside this year should any member want to take on the role of Hon. Secretary.  This was not because I was fed-up with a post that I actually enjoy, but rather as an expression of my concern for the best interests of the Club as a whole, and to enable the BEC to have a fresh face for the new Millennium should it so wish.

Unfortunately, we could not even raise any interest in getting nominations for the Committee this year.  On the evening of 'close for nominations' there remained two vacant positions, the seven existing committee members being automatically re-nominated as is the custom of the BEC.

Estelle Sandford encouraged Toby Limmer to stand in the Hunters that night, and Martin Torbett's nomination arrived in the post the next day.

Thus miraculously, we had a Nine person committee with no requirement for an election to be held. However, and this is a point that I will already have addressed the 1999 AGM upon - I have in the last week been advised of three persons who are prepared to stand.  These are Rich Long, and Michael and Hilary Wilson.

Now if you consider that on most Committee meetings this year, we only had three or if lucky four elected committee members attend, much business was transacted on behalf of the many, by the few!  This caused great difficulty in actually effecting the efficient running of the club, and also ensuring that any decisions taken were democratic.

I suggest that if we now have more than the statutory Nine candidates prepared - albeit at a late stage - the AGM might care to adopt them all, in order to ensure that if last years disgraceful situation reoccurs then at least the club should not suffer the indignity of such committee support.

Last year's AGM directed that committee members attendances should be recorded and passed to the club's AGM, these appear as an addendum to this report.  I make no further comment upon them, except to point out that members are volunteers, and they are entitled to their private lives and associated commitments, some of which unfortunately may not have been apparent to them when they stood for election last year.

Rebecca Campbell unexpectedly had to resign her Hut Warden's post in mid turn due to a relocation in Scotland, and I believe that the BEC owes a great big "Vote of Thanks" to Fiona Lewis, who stepped into the role of Hut Bookings Officer both efficiently and without portfolio!

In a similar vein, both Vince Simmonds and Bob Smith were co-opted onto the committee and have been stalwart in their roles as joint "Hut Wardens".

I have this year finally renegotiated the completion of a new Ten Year lease upon St. Cuthbert’s Swallet with Inveresk.

Martin Grass was offered and accepted the vacant position of a Trustee of the BEC, and I trust this AGM will endorse this action.

Clive Stell and Alan Butcher (SMCC and Ex-BEC) should also receive the AGM's thanks for their efforts in preparing architectural drawings and obtaining planning permission for the proposed extension to the Belfry (New Tackle Store, to replace the Old Stone Belfry being possibly taken over under an MRO/BEC lease still under negotiation.)

Please, please remember it is your Club try to do your bit however small that may be, to ensure that the BEC goes from strength to strength in the 2000's !!!!!!!

Nigel Taylor Member 772.
Hon. Secretary Bristol Exploration Club,
1998/9 Saturday 2nd. October 1999.


Stock's House Shaft - Summer Madness

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BB’s nos. 502, 504-507.

"Day after day the hole grew deeper - which is the right direction for holes"
The Goon Show (The Evils of Bushey Spon) 1958

The last trip of the Spring (by official Hunters Fireplace Time) was made on 31 st May when 104 bags came out on the hydraulic winch.  Some fun was had in the concrete entrance pipes when an errant boulder which had forsaken its bag threatened to return to the bottom and had to be recaptured.

The Summer season began, literally with a bang, next day when the collapse at the end of the Upstream Level was attacked.  The debris was cleared by the writer and Jonathan Davies (ex Camborne School of Mines c.c.) on the 4th June.  Ahead seemed to be a major choke with the stream issuing at high level through huge boulders.  It was decided to leave this to settle but on reversing out a huge slab of apparently solid rock ceiling dropped without warning onto the writer's head and upper back - with a stupefyingly crushing weight.  Luckily Jonathan was immediately behind and was able to dig away floor gravel with the long crowbar.  This took several minutes, during which time the stream backed up over the writer's nose and mouth giving him more concern as to being drowned before getting slowly squashed!  In shouting, or rather gurgling, panicky instructions back to Jon he drank a fair amount of Mineries water - not his preferred beverage.  Being wedged in a tiny space under one side of the slowly descending boulder the pain from his wedged Oldham cell was adding to the misery but just before the pressure and water became overpowering Jon shifted enough gravel to allow him to desperately thrutch backwards to safety and a much needed fag.  This was a closer call than the "Rat Trap Incident" and the writer is exceedingly grateful for Jonathan's clear-headed action - apparently this is a regular occurrence in C.S.M.C.C. digs!  In this instance there had been no time for an M.R.O. callout. It cannot be stressed too much how unstable the local dolomitic conglomerate can become once the supporting debris or stempling is removed and that it comes down noiselessly with no prior warning.  Thin beds of lubricative clay do not help matters.

Work was now concentrated on clearing the Shaft area and the Downstream Level and on 7th June 75 loads were winched out.

The 11th was devoted to photography and Pete Glanvill took record shots of all the workings, including the dropped roof slab in the Upstream Level.  A faulty flashgun ruined some of these.  Some tidying up was done underground on the following day and on the 14th eleven diggers, including four Wessex visitors, moved a vast amount of spoil along the Downstream Level and back to the Shaft.

The next few trips were dedicated to deepening the floor between the sumped end and the Rat Trap so as to gain maximum reservoir capacity for the forthcoming "big push".

98 more loads came out on the 19th June when the team was honoured by the presence of it's most vintage member, Sett - smartly attired following a lunchtime gathering of lots more Vintage Belfryites at the Hunters.  More bags would have been removed but for yet another unfortunate accident which stopped play and resulted in the writer (who else?) being carted off to Wells Cottage Hospital, by Tangent, to get five stitches in his eyebrow.  The wound was caused by the snapping of a cord loop attached to a Clog jammer used to clamp full bags to the hauling rope.  Due to greed and over enthusiasm each Clog bore two bags - giving a maximum winch load of fourteen!  One pair had jammed in the entrance pipe and were being cleared when the cord broke, the Clog shot upwards into the writer's head and the bags returned to join Vince at the bottom - along with a liberal quantity of blood.  Another lesson had been painfully learnt and future loads were reduced by half.

Over the next two days another 72 loads came out and then a week was spent in further deepening of the Downstream Level floor and removing the main dam.  A rock floor was eventually reached with an apparent, possibly natural, stream gully on the NW side.  A strong Sunday team on 2nd July winched out 135 loads with a further 42 coming out next day - a breakage of the winch starting cord suspending operations. The Wednesday Nighters were thus forced below to move another vast amount of bags back to the Shaft.

The winch was repaired on the 6th July by Trev and the writer and used to remove 105 more loads from the Shaft.  A local walker, Les Watts and his wife kindly delivered several plastic containers to the site for modification to digging skips.  Over the next few days further clearing took place until, from the Rat Trap to beyond Heinous Hall more solid rock floor was revealed.  Lots of old timbers were found in this area including one with a finger-sized drill hole in one end - presumably to take a wooden pin. Wednesday 12th saw another 100 loads out and the completion of the Loop Level "through trip" by Tangent. The next day, while on another clearing trip, the writer used a long crowbar to easily dislodge the 3ft long by 2ft square roof slab which hung over the Shaft loading area like a Sword of Damocles.  This was banged, together with a large rock buried in the floor on the 17th.  With a small stream still flowing work at the end was temporarily abandoned and a project of clearing the Downstream Level, to the rock floor, from the Rat Trap back to the Shaft was initiated.

124 more bags came out on the 19th July when passing North Wales caver John Robinson was collared to drive the winch.  Further clearing operations took place over the next few days with the rock floor being exposed almost all of the way back to the Shaft and on Monday 24th July another 104 loads reached the surface.  Two days later 117 more came out and lots of full bags were moved along the Level.

Whilst clearing the Shaft bottom on 27th July a wooden plank floor was revealed and this was further exposed over the next four days.  Where it abutted into the Downstream Level two hand made red bricks (8 1/4" x 2 1/2" x 3314") were found edging the planking. 64 loads reached the surface on solo digging trips over the next three days and the UBSS hand winch was dismantled and taken to the Belfry for storage.

August began with 109 bags out in the first two days and the disinterment by Trev of the handpump - buried in silt near the end.  After the removal of a small stone this was put back into action and, with the new Heinous Hall dam in place, the residual pool was pumped back and a few bags filled. All was now ready for a concerted attack on the terminal blockage.

Further clearing of the Shaft bottom on the 3rd August led to the finding of a 6 3/8" (162mm) long section of clay pipe stem above a distinct bed of blue/green clay in the undercut north comer.  This clay was later used to puddle the leaking Heinous Hall dam.  The hydraulic winch was removed to the Belfry and padlocked as Jake J. had spotted "Three scum bags in a pick-up truck" taking an interest in it.  This reminded us of the imminence of Priddy Fair and the resultant spate of petty thefts.

A surprisingly large team, including new boys Gary Seaman, Chris Connors and ex-MNRC member Ray Deasy (now resident in Australia), turned out on Sunday 6th and dragged all the bags stored downstream back to the Shaft.  Further clearing of the plank floor here was later done by Alex and the writer - three hands being better than one!  Two visiting, hungover Grampian men (Fraser Simpson and Graham Marshall) helped out the following morning when the dam was plugged and several bags filled at the end. It was certainly novel to hear the lilt of Fife accents in subterrenean Somerset!  The dam was found to work perfectly and water ponds up all the way back to the Shaft.

A three man team removed 105 loads on Wednesday 9th August and during the following week water was pumped back several times to enable a considerable amount of silt to be bagged up at the current end.  This was stacked in the level to displace water when the dam was broken.  Further clearing of the Shaft bottom took place and another pipe stem 4 1/2" (109mm) long was found.  Greg's Level was also dug to give more reservoir capacity. 117 bags were hauled out on the 15th.

The next day work started in earnest on clearing the last of the in-washed winter silt behind the terminal choke.  The capacity of the reservoir gave over two hours of digging time and good progress was made in atrociously slimy conditions by Gwilym and Neil.  Plans were laid to hire a submersible pump to make life easier but a very favourable deal from Brown's Tool Hire enabled the writer to purchase a new one along with an extra 50m of cable.  This was put to good use on the 20th August when a B.E.C./Crewe C.P.C. team eventually pumped the end of the level "dry" after a few teething problems.  About twenty bags were filled and stacked and last year's terminus was within sight.

The same team continued on the 21st and after winching out 149 loads repeated the pumping exercise. Another twenty or so bags were filled before a stray boot unfortunately knocked the bung off the dam outlet resulting in a rapid evacuation to the Hunters'!  Operational hiccups with the winch and pump caused some delays but were eventually (hopefully) sorted out.

A solo Shaft clearing trip by Alex next day revealed several more bricks laid alongside the floor timber and apparently acting as a barrier to deflect the stream from the planking. Better even than this was his unearthing of a broken iron shovel blade wedged vertically behind a boulder.  It had probably been used to prise out the rock but had been snapped off in the attempt and left in situ. It was hammered out from a single sheet of iron and may have been a long handled, Cornish-style, tailings shovel - used to clear sediment from the wooden floor (picture next page).

On 23rd August a strong team avoided the fleshpots of Priddy Fair, pumped out the Downstream Level and filled about fifty bags with chocolate mousse-like slurry until the collapse reached last year was again within their grasp.  A distinct draught encouraged the diggers.  Four days later the operation was repeated and a fair amount of rock was removed from the choke, as was a short length of very sturdy wooden stemple put in by the Old Men as a roof support.  There are at least two more of these beams in place which will be replaced with scaffold shoring if necessary.  It is planned to clear out the whole working face to standing height to allow us to dig in comfort and safety.  Much of this was accomplished on the 30th when much more rock was removed from the choke - which appears to be at the base of a shaft, natural rift or roof fall, time will tell - following the hauling of another 106 bags to surface the previous day.  These pumping extravaganzas have cost several hundred pounds so far - any donations to the "Digging Fund" would be gratefully received!

Work has also continued in emptying the Upstream Level of infill, around ten feet having been done so far. A plan of the Shaft bottom and updated survey of the workings will hopefully appear in the next BB.

Additions to the Digging Team

Jonathan Davies (ex C.S.M.C.C.), Tony Littler (M.N.RC.), Nick "Mushroom" Powell (M.N.RC.), Matt Cook (Cheddar Cliff Rescue Team), Kate Lawrence (Somerset Wildlife Trust), Dr. Peter Glanvill, Sean Briscombe, Neil Wooldridge (W.C.C.), Simon Richardson (W.C.C.), Emma Heron (W.C.C.), Kathy Glenton (W.C.C.), Tony "Sett" Setterington, Ray Martin (S.M.C.C.), Crispin Lloyd (So'ton U.C.C.), Helen Hunt, John Robinson (Grosvenor C.C.), Neil Usher, Ray Deasy (ex-M.N.RC.), Gary Seaman (Cheddar C.C.), Chris Connors, Fraser Simpson (Grampian S.G.), Graham Marshall (G.S.G.), Richard Wright, Chris Binding (Cheddar C.C.), Glynn Rowland (C.C.C.), Alan Allsop (Crewe C.P.C.), Kate Hughes.

Additional Assistance

Wells Cottage Hospital staff, Jane Jarratt, Mr & Mrs Les Watts, Ray Mansfield, David Gilson, Jane Allwood (Archaeology Officer, N. Somerset Museum Service), Les Good (Curator, Medieval & Post Medieval Archaeology, Bristol Museum), Adrian Sharman (Brown & Partners Ltd), Dave Walker (Curator, Somerset Rural Life Museum), Heather Coleman (Clay Pipe Research Society / Dawnmist Studio).

The Clay Pipes

Enquiries as to the age and origin of these have been made to several museums and individuals and have elicited a good response - unfortunately, so far, without any positive result. It is generally agreed that both pipes date from the late 1700s - 1800.

Tony Jarratt
Priddy 1/9/00

The pipe found at the bottom of the dig – date circa 1790 – photo P. Glanvill

Tony Jarratt examines the shot-hole – photo P. Glanvill


Scratchings from the Club diary

Compiled by Ed- any mistakes in names etc, entirely mine!

6-7-00 Dan yr Ogof

Vince, Trebor, Rich Long, Sean Howe, James Weir.

Excellent trip to the Risings via Flabbergasm Oxbow, Grand Canyon, Cloud Chamber.  The canal was a pleasant puddle.  Out via the Lower Stream, Bakerloo etc.  The Lakes were one lake and very damp and deep; water had risen during the trip by approx 9 inches.  Great way to spend a wet Sunday morning in West Wales.  Cheers to our leader Trebor!  VS

11-7-00 Thrupe Lane Swallet

John (Tangent) Williams, Paul Brock, Pete Hillier.

An SRT trip on Mendip! Planned in the Hunter's, that actually happened!  We had an excellent time down this cave, descending Slit Pot, Atlas Pot (from Marble Streamway to one side) and then Slither Pot.  This was quite muddy, the water obviously backing up a way during floods. Despite a roaring draught, none of us felt inclined to squeeze through a wet slot into the streamway.  Back on the ropes our exit went smoothly, Paul doing all the de-rigging, and my glasses steaming up which caused me a few route finding problems.  Overall a great evening, a little hurried at the end as we got out just before midnight! JW

15-7-00 Eastwater

Mike A and John W

Nice trip in Upper Series, climbing Rift Chambers and looking for climb to Dark Cars ... completed round trip, coming out for some beer and cricket!!  MA .. Absolutely, the way on to Dark Cars remains elusive, and rather dark as the Speleo Technics lamp I'd borrowed was even worse than mine! (Sorry Bob) so as usual my trusty LED lit the way.  A great trip  JW

15-7-00 Tynings Barrow Swallet

Vince and Roz

Steady trip downstream. Had a poke up into muddy passages above streamway and up Drunken Horse Inlet did NOT go into Mountbatten Chamber. Air quality not 100%.  Pleasant enough trip.

As for the annual cricket match the BEC gallantly managed to lose again.  Too many potential players decided to go caving only returning to drink beer!!!  VS

11-8-00 Swildons Hole

Rich Long, James Wear

Went to sump 1 as MRO (Bryan Prewer) asked us to change pull through rope, it certainly needed it!! Replaced with nice black SAS rope, we used full camouflage face paint while handling it and spoke in tough manly voices.  Swildons was dryish and formations below Tratmans' were drying out - the coffee coloured crystals were spectacular.  RL

28-8-00 Swildons Hole

John Williams ,Chris Holmes

A splash down the wet way, pausing along the way to admire Barnes Loop.  A little persuasion! description of sump 1 was all that was needed to encourage CH to try diving through it. .. An excellent trip, complete with the usual light hassles  (Speleo - Technics related - Princeton lee saved the day again!)   JW


Dachstein Caving Expedition 2000 Eistumen Hohle (G5)

- An interim report and some ramblings from Tangent -
(photos by Joel Corrigan)

Over the first three weeks this August 17 cavers returned to the wonderful wooden Weisberhaus (a bit like the Hunter's except at 1883m).  The main objective of the trip was to continue pushing G5 towards the Sudwestern Series of Hirlatzhohle, in the hope of making a connection.  This year pushing trip were going to be staged from an underground 4-person camp located at -300m. With the comfort (?) of a cosy campsite to return to, it seemed that the expedition was destined for success.

The Cast of Characters (in no particular order)

Pete 'Snablet' MacNab (the one responsible for this gathering) Mike Alderton, Annette Brecher, Greg Brock, Joel Corrigan, Chris Densham, Tim Francis, Rob Garrett, Rich Gerrish, Lev?, Pete Hall, Peter Hubner, Rich Hudson, Tim Lamberton, Mike 'Quackers' Duck (as surface support 'cos TSA don't make oversuits big enough anymore), Paul Windle, and John 'Tangent' Williams.


The expedition had received generous sponsorship and support from numerous sources: -

A grant from the BCRA purchased the underground camping equipment

Total Access supplied 1000m of rope at very reasonable rates

Various members of the B.E.C. were recipients of money from the Ian Deer Memorial Fund to help with transport costs.

A big thank you to our host Wolfgang & Alfi of the Weisbergahus for their kindness, hospitality, and support.

Thank you to anyone else involved in the preparation, planning or execution of this expedition..

Tangent at the entrance ofG5 (IC)

Deep, Dark, Dachstein ..

By John 'Tangent' Williams

Only for good reasons did the cavers travel along the roads and invisible footpaths within the stonewalls of the cave.  The cavers were like moving shadows.  Exploring, bolting, rigging, and digging.  Scattered dots of yellow-orange light cast by the caver’s carbide lamps were the only signal of their presence.  The occasional bolt and rope, the only sign of their passing.  The caver’s lamps were like small islands separated from one another by an enveloping sea of dark and empty cave.  The caver’s lights were soon swallowed by the blackness of their surroundings.  For them, what existed beyond the beam of their lights could only be imagined. Here was the familiar darkness of a cave; but on an incomprehensible scale.  After their passing, the cave could then return to its original icy silence once more; as it had always been in the time before men came to explore. Their activities were insignificant and soon vanished in the width of the eternal night of that cave.

During the expedition we were able to study the Dachstein from a distance, from up close, and -unique to cavers- from beneath.  Like the Poles and desert regions, the underground environment is one of the few places on Earth where on first acquaintance the landscape is truly desolate, barren, and seemingly devoid of life.  A much closer look shows this impression to be utterly wrong.  On the surface the karst is swathed in forest, only the larch trees are barely 12 inches high, being forced to the ground variously by crushing snow pack or fierce unrelenting winds, their growth stunted further by the aridity of the karst during the short summer growing season. Hidden and small are the well camouflaged animals that occupy the landscape, the occasional droppings or hoof prints just hinting at their presence.

Everything on the mountain requires intense study if it is to be understood at all.  This is very true of the rock, especially if you're trying to follow a new cave system beneath the mountain.  The place both above and below ground is one of extreme diversity and richness; it is also a harsh and unforgiving place, which demands the utmost respect.  The landscape here has far more meaning than that which can just be described through geology, geography and ecology.  Through our little explorations deep under Dachstein, I have gained a better appreciation of this place and its landscape.  Over the past years, through our mapping of the caves, we have made our own invisible contribution to this landscape, and in some small way maybe we have become a part of it also.

In the Dachstein Daze ...

By John F. Williams

After hours of sleep deprivation, combined with a ceaseless tide of Boris Yeltsin-like consumption, my mind was in a fog.  This was due to a night of righteous partying that had been triggered by returning to the sanctuary of the wonderful wooden Weisberghaus after a 3 day long pushing trip in G5.  Later on feeling wasted, distant voices filtered through the fog.  They suggested preparing to push other leads and of the impending demands of the de-rigging trips.  Our retreat from the cave was like the Americans' evacuation of Saigon but without the helicopters, and with even less glory!

Charlotte Bronte once wrote; "Life is so constructed that the event does not, cannot, and will not match the expectation ... " However I don't think she ever had the opportunity to drop into the depths of one of nature's subterranean skyscrapers whilst in the grip of the attendant intense gravitational forces!  On occasions one's expectations are entirely overwhelmed, such moments tend to hit you when you're unsuspecting, and thankfully, only very occasionally.  One such occasion happened to me whilst leaving camp at the end of a pushing trip in G5.

Rich had gone on the ropes ahead leaving me to replenish the water supplies at the camp and fettle my carbide lamp by which time he would be finished ascending the big pitch out of the Hall of the Mountain Numpty.  There was just one slight problem; I couldn't locate the rope that would provide my passage up and out of the place!   A lot of aimless wandering around I sat down on a large boulder in the centre of the chamber and thought about my predicament some more.  Deciding to renew the batteries in my spare torch I then methodically shone its bright beam around the vast cavernous room until the slim silhouette of the rope appeared at the top of a debris slope, hanging within metres of where I had searched several times already.  Keeping its location firmly transfixed in my vision, to the exclusion of everything else, I moved speedily across to it and attached my jammers to the rope in readiness for the climbing.  My mind is now on autopilot.  My nerves are calmed by the prospect of the repetitive routine of ascent. Especially after the uncertainty and isolation of the past half-hour, whilst searching for the way out.

I slide my top jammer up as far as it will go.


Weight foot loop.

Pull with right arm.

Stand up ...

OH ...

... FUCK!

The words are instinctively ejected from my mouth.  They are nearly my last.

My surroundings accelerate past me.  The silence of the cave is shattered.  My cry is soon drowned out as tons of rocks begin to fall, the chamber echoes with the sound of crashing, crushing rocks.  My mind barely registered the frenetic sequence of events that brought me back to my resting-place, looking upward.  My immediate landscape appeared to have taken on a radically new orientation, as if torn by some cataclysmic tectonic force.

Ah ... yes.

The Hall of the Mountain Numpty ...

The Mendip Numpty ...

My mind slowly registering my whereabouts, new thoughts keeping time with the gentle bounce of the rope, hanging there just inches above the ground.  From above Rich's voice boomed down.

'Tangent are you okay?'

'I'm okay ... I'm safe!'

The veteran French speleologist Robert De Joly captured the mood of the situation well when he wrote:

"Life is decidedly precarious in these fateful depths." De Joly (1975: 17)

I began the ascent once again, this time with a lot more caution.  During the long climb, my mind played and replayed the events that had just happened at the base of the pitch, haunting my every motion upward.  It would seem that just as I stood up in my foot loop to leave the deck, I lost my footing on the slope and pendulumed across the slope only inches above the ground, but completely at the mercy of gravity and inertia.  Above me, the sudden movement on the rope must have dislodged tons of precariously poised rock from the chamber walls.  What was it Snablet had written about this place last year?

"It is at this point that the walls turn to sugar and the boulders are held up by plasticine."

I vividly recall a T.V. sized rock glancing off my shin as the tempest of falling rocks commenced. By good fortune the rope must have come taut at that moment and I pendulumed back out of the way just as the falling rocks were in full flood ... Phew.

Later on that day Rich and I eventually reached the surface.  By the time we emerged from the confines of the entrance the darkness had extended from the cave to regain a foothold over ground.  The sun having long since slipped silently away over the horizon.  It was also time for us to slip away in the direction of the Weisberghaus where our friends would surely be awaiting our return with bottles of beer at the ready ...

Pushing at the limits of explanation

You are 300m deep inside Eisturnen Hohle, a cave of severe character buried beneath the Dachstein mountains of Austria.  In front of you at the bottom of a slope of broken boulders is the camp.  Behind you lies the Hall of the Mountain Numpty, a massive black void that you have just abseiled through to arrive at camp. According to your companions, once you get through the passage called Only fit for insane worms and gecko's, you've done the hardest part and there's no good excuse to turn back from the trip - a rest at camp followed by pushing at the current limit of exploration awaits you. On the surface the mountain climate generates a seemingly endless torrent of thunderstorms.  The weather, your caving friends tell you has no impact on the lower portion of the cave, unlike nearer the surface where normally dry pitches can transform themselves into cold cataracts of wild water.  Some have been there; trapped at the base of pitches, pinned down until the flooding subsides, or else have fought for air and ascent against the floodwater.  Your confused:  It's cold and damp, and the view in every direction disappears into waves of blackness beyond the glow of your torch, but something inside you is relishing every moment, part you is actually enjoying it!

You soon begin to question your sense of time and space.  Rebelay's that appear close take half an hour of repetitive motion to reach. You quietly question your own significance in this underworld.  Why you choose to spend your entire summers' holiday away on a caving expedition. Just you and your deluded caving friends and the darkness.  The American climbing writer Michael Bianchi describes a similar situation:

"You mentally compare the void outside to the one inside"

Down in the Birth Canal you look ahead and realise that there is nothing to focus on anymore. Only blackness and varying shades of brown from the all-pervasive mud. In this place the rock recedes and is replaced by layer upon layer of thixotropic mud.  Pausing for a moment to recover from a particularly savage series of manoeuvres amongst the mud, you take a 'look' around.  Above you the rift twists and turns, mirroring that below, a signature to the waters power.  Ahead is more of the same, two sheer walls separated by a strip of black.  In cave exploration there is no horizon to strive for, only a icy draught to chase and sometimes water to follow.  Eventually you stop relying on your eyes, amongst the mud and darkness, other senses take priority.  What you feel: soft mud, sticky mud, dry mud, wet mud, and cold dictate your next move.  What you sense is a feeling of being at the edge of something far bigger than you are. This time you have pushed the 'current limit of exploration' a little further forward, but in doing so the 'limit of explanation' has been exceeded.

Extract from the log 9/8/00: Rich Hudson & Tangent go pushing G5.

"Our descent passed by fairly smoothly, until we reached the heinous Birth Canal.  I'd been labouring with the misapprehension that it was a long vaguely phreatic walking passage named in honour of the Vertical Guru's daughter (born in '99 on the day the passage was discovered).  It certainly is not.  The walls are coated in thick sticky mud, some parts are narrow, some high and exposed, all of it is desperately gruelling.  Some distance in, feeling decidedly unnerved and intimidated, I told Rich that maybe I should call it a day.  After a little discussion (and a song from Rich) we agreed to carry on a bit further.  Soon we were at a pitch head, and once more on rope, dropping down some 50m into a vast chamber.  At the base of the pitch a short drop was descended.  Rich went first followed by some scary flying rocks knocked by a careless Tangent stumbling around in the 'daylight' glow of his Princeton Tec L.E.D. lamp.  From the base of the pitch a steeply descending 1-2m wide rift, about 40ft high, carrying a small stream, led off into the unknown - or as Peter Hubner says' ... "To the final frontier ... "Unfortunately this was G5 not Hirlatz, so the 'final (fucking) frontier' was a gruesome collection of awkward birth canal esque rift, coated with a hefty dollop of mud. This mud was not your average friendly cave mud ... It was more like some slobbering Jabba the Hut manifestation, consisting of hideous plastic clay which could easily conceal or consume two cavers and all their gear without effort or trace.

The work of 'pushing' began.  Rich started rigging a high level traverse line.  His work was hampered by a very badly packed tackle bag, the aforementioned mud, and trying to stay in place perched amidst the mud.  (Did I mention the mud?).  After organising the gear between us the 'Traverse of a 1000 spits' was made and a short pitch (35') dropped.  Much, much, more of the same awaited.  The only redeeming features were some mini mud formations created by flakes of rock protecting their tops allowing the development of little cones beneath.  These were mostly squashed by Tangent whilst explaining how they'd formed to Rich. The return journey awaited.  The second time around the Birth Canal didn't seem so bad (I'd gone 'off route' on the way in by the ladder).  Back at camp we ate and then slept." J.W.

The following 'day' Chris Densham and Pete Whitaker continued pushing from where we had finished. Their logbook entry reads:

10th Aug-

"Set off for the bottom at 2.30pm.  With no great enthusiasm we pushed beyond Rich and Tangent's limit.  But first to put off the evil moment, Chris pendulumed across to a floor c.10m from the top of Total Access.  After 10m proved to be a blind alcove.  So we had to go to the bottom.  Foul walls of slime.  Pathetic immature streamway at the bottom of rift, slimy mud higher up.  Continued about 30-40m beyond Rich and Tangent's limit with a further couple of sections of traverse line.  Pete was most determined, and reported the streamway to cut its way down steeply and narrowly.  The traverse level also appeared to pinch out shortly after an area of collapse.  We decided the cave was concluded so derigged out .... " C.D.

The limit of exploration / explanation had been reached in G5, the depth being somewhere around the -600m mark.  The passage seemed poorly developed, and the mud severely hampered progress in an already desperate piece of cave.  Attention was now focused on pushing possible phreatic leads higher in the cave between -300 and - 400m.

Some ideas on the hydrology of G5 and its relationship to the Hirlatzhohle drainage system.

The Hirlatzhohle system has three distinct levels of phreas.  Each of these developed in conjunction with the prevailing hydrological and topographical conditions of each glacial / interglacial cycle.  For example during the earliest phase of cave development ('level 3') the altitude of which is between 1300-1500m in the east (rising to the west with the hydraulic gradient) the surrounding topography would have been quite different.

During each of the subsequent interglacial periods a new lower phreatic level evolved.  This was in response to changes in base level and hydraulic gradient as the land surface, cave passages, and hydrological regime were modified by the effects of glaciation and the associated climate change.

The relevance of these phreatic levels to G5 and its potential for connecting with the Hirlatz system, is that the altitude of the 'level 3' phreas in the west could be intercepted by the much younger G5 development anywhere below -300m.  For example the phreatic passage met at the head of 'Only One Can Hold Me'.  With this knowledge pushing various phreatic leads that appear in the cave became a priority. It also has the advantage of expanding the cave laterally as the G5 passages at present have occupied a very narrow vertical column within the rockmass by spiralling around on themselves.

On a final note Peter Hubner pointed out that if nothing else, establishing that the water in G5 is flowing away to the N.W. refines our understanding of where the watershed / catchment for Hirlatz lies.  It would seem that the present water in G5 drains to the hydrological connection that is known to exist between the Gosausee and Waldbach Ursprung. Following a flowpath beneath the Hosswand AIm area, where it could collect further water on its way to the resurgence (Waldbach) which is at an altitude of 910m and seems to be fairly young having only been established at the close of the last glacial maximum (c.15-20ka.).  During winter conditions the resurgence is dry and has been explored to a depth of -40m terminating in a low (O.5m high) bedding some 20m or so wide.  These observations lend support to the idea that the conduits behind the resurgence are young and poorly developed, which corresponds to the active passage encountered at the present limit of exploration in G5.

Levels of Phreatic development in Hirlatzhohle:

'Level 3': Highest, oldest, 1300-1500m altitude (in the E. rising in the W.)

'Level 2': Middle, main level, 1100-1300m (in the E. rising in the W.)

'Level 1': Lowest, modern level- completely flooded and still evolving (poorly developed) *

*The fact that in time of peak flow during times of thaw/flood, the water levels rise dramatically by at least 100-200m to completely fill the Western part of Hirlatz (level 2) suggesting that the modem phreas has a small storage capacity and is still immature.

Key to schematic diagram of the levels in the Hirlatzhohle:

•••        Large fossil passages with significant mud fill

////////    Large fossil passages which are still active (no mud fill)

_____   Large passages of probably younger origin

………. Passages with high gradients connecting different levels Mainly rift dominated.

John (Tangent) Williams

Pete Hall (Red Rose), Snablet (BEC), Quackers, Greg Brock (BEC) at the Weisberghaus ( photo JC)


65th Annual Dinner

The Market Place Hotel, Market Place, Wells.
Saturday, 7th October 2000, 7.30 for 8.00 pm.

I produce below a sample ticket with actual menu on the night, sent from Mr Nigel- Ed

To reply to this dinner offer, you must return the tear off form- this will give you a BB with half a page missing!




Breast of CHICKEN on a Cream of Mushroom Sauce  or  Braised Blade of BEEF In a Red wine & Shallot Sauce

Iced LEMON PARFAIT with Mulled Black Cherries  or   BREAD & BUTTER PUDDING


We are Limited to 100 Persons for Comfort, so PLEASE BOOK Straight away, First Come First successful!

Please enclose a stamped address envelope with your form as there will be no tickets on the night.  I want to enjoy my meal as well! (SORRY, NO Phone Bookings OR e-mails)   A Coach will leave the Hunters Lodge Inn at 7.15 pm PROMPT!!......Please book names only, with the Booking Form Below. please note:- Bookings CLOSE By Saturday 30th. SEPTEMBER

Rolling Calendar

Date                          Details -  Contact

Sept 15-17                 Hidden Earth 2000, NCC Bristol

Oct 7                         AGM and annual dinner

Oct 20-22                   ISSA Workshop, North wales


January 1                   Columns Open Day OFD

12-14                         ISSA Workshop and AGM, Mendip



The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Martin Torbett

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor
Joint Treasurers: Chris Smart, Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Martin Torbett
Caving Secretary: Rich Long
Tackle Master: Mike Willett
Hut Engineer: Toby Limmer
Hut Wardens: Vince Simmonds, 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

Club and Caving News

I have received a letter from Jack Lambert reading as follows:

Mummy (Fi) and Ivan Sandford are getting married on Saturday 24th March in a private family ceremony, but everybody is invited to join us in the backroom of the Hunter's from 7.30 pm onwards to help us celebrate!

Signed Ivan, Fi and Jack

This week saw a general re-think for active people who cave, climb or mountain walk in the countryside. An outbreak of foot and mouth disease has led to measures restricting access to many areas.  The NCA sent the following message:

Deep Cave, Deep Cave, Deep Cave

The following information was recently received from UAYCEF member Daniel Filippovsky of Kiev, Ukraine:

Now ... Voroniya Cave (Arabika, Abhazia, West Caucasus) - is the deepest cave in the World!!!!!!!!

Denis Provalov came up to the surface from camp -1200m on 6 January 2001 to tell the world of the news:

The Expedition of Ukarinian Speleological Association (leader - Kasian) achieved a new world record depth of 1680 meters in Voronia Cave!!!!!  There is one more pit (approximately 50 meters) and work is ongoing.

The Expedition members were as follows:

Yuri Kasian (Poltava) Nikolay Solovey (Kiev) Julia Timoshevskaya (Poltava) Oleg Klimchouk (Kiev) Denis Provalov (Moscow) Konstantin Moohin (Moscow) Sergei Zoobkov (Kiev) Vitaly Galas (Vzhgorod) Anatoly Poviakalo (Poltava) Dmitry Sklyarenko (Moskow) llya Zharkov (Sverdlovsk - Pensilvania)

Address Change

A late message from James Smart with a member address change re: Ron Wycoll

Hi Mr Editor the above named asks me to tell you his new address is: EXMOUTH,  Devon


A big thank you once again to all contributors.  I struggle less each time!  Please keep the articles coming in and keep sending them by email if you can.  Ed.



The situation has deteriorated rapidly during the past few days with twelve cases now confirmed in various parts of the country.  In view of this very grave situation, everyone is requested to immediately stop all caving and associated activities until the crisis is over.  Indeed all unnecessary visits to the countryside should be avoided.  Many clubs have closed their headquarters to visitors and have cancelled bookings.

Graham Price
Conservation Officer
National Caving Association  

Your committee has decided that the Belfry will be closed in line with this advice.


2001 Foot & Mouth Disease and BEC Policy to comply with prevention.


We regret taking these measures, but hope that you will all agree that in order to be both seen to act responsibly, and to show support and solidarity to local farmers upon whom we all rely on their goodwill for cave access - and, also to other caving clubs who are also taking similar action, we have closed the BELFRY and site as detailed above.

The Belfry Drive/Car park will be physically closed on Monday 5th March to ensure that no one visits the site until further notice.  The Committee have agreed to liase on a regular basis to review this action. No further BEC Committee meetings will be held at the Belfry until further notice.  It was also agreed that the point of contact for any queries should be through the Hon. Secretary - Nigel Taylor on either 01934 xxxxxx or 07860-xxxxxx.

You are strongly requested to comply with this action, and should be aware that the local Authority has indicated that breaches of Footpath Closure orders will result in legal action with £5,000 fines mentioned as penalties.

Please be patient during this troubled time,

Kind regards to all, Nigel Taylor Hon. Secretary. 
On Behalf of the BEC Committee Saturday 3rd. March 2001

Stock's House Shaft View during the week of 9th March. "so near and yet so far .... " See main article on page 20


Cheddar Cave Club find Skeleton

A group of cavers from Cheddar Cave club have recently unearthed the skeleton of an ancient race of Mankind, thought to be extinct.  The skeleton, that of a male, with a severe leg injury and a small brain has mystified archaeologists.

Local expert Chris Binding is reported to have been amazed as to how the severely crippled man could have got to the site at the top of the Gorge, above Goff’s Cave. Chris said, the finding of this fossil, along with many other artefacts dating from the culture associated with Homo touristensis, is strong evidence that this type of human roamed the gorge centuries ago.

The skeleton was found alongside a number of contemporary cultural artefacts.  One of these, an old crisp packet yielded enough material for carbon dating, showing the skull and the site to be 3500 years old making this one of the oldest Homo touristensis finds in Europe.

Local trader, Huge Cornfield said "This amazing find lends strong support to the idea of a chair lift to the top of the Gorge.  If we can re - introduce this sub species of humans to the area above Goffs caves, they will create their own ecological habitat, thus saving millions of pounds in conversation measures."

The find is sure to fuel the controversy as to how long ago it was that people first came to Cheddar as tourists.


Reservoir Hole Meet

by Kangy King

If you travel in the Orkneys you can visit marvellous prehistoric chambers constructed by man; some say over a long period of time.  The sides are tidily made of stones neatly fitted together, the roofs are corbelled and finished with great slabs.

Why, you might ask, go to Orkney when with little effort you can visit Reservoir Hole in the Cheddar Gorge? This had been entered in 1951 by Wessex party and in 1965 Willy Stanton created more cave with chemical persuasion and devoted many hours underground extending it.

I was there because Rich Long was kind to me and lent me a rollerblade elbow pad for my bursitis and when my old NiFe cells went dim, a smart modern cigarette packet sized lighting set.  The Irwin and Jarratt Guide gives their usual precise factual account of this cave with a little star indicating restricted access.  Martin Grass was the answer to that.  We met him by the reservoir.

We started promisingly enough with Martin leading us on up the muddy bank above the reservoir. 'Ah, sorry, we need to go back.'  'Ah, sorry, we seem to be too high.'  'Ah, sorry, I'm sure it was here last time but they've cut the trees down.'  'Ah sorry - Oh here it is!'  Low on the ground, out of sight behind a rib of rock, was a tiny crevice.  It was blocked with a star shaped plate gate and was secured by the usual gritty lock which was difficult of access.  Martin applied the magic penetrating oil spray and we were in.

It was a head down job through the spiders until the tunnel steepened past the horseshoe bat dangling from the ceiling.  The passage became steeper and seemed totally man made with neatly stacked deads. Martin said that Willy Stanton had spent years digging this out.  Original passage was not obvious but the climb down, through stones lining a spiralling shaft stabilised by stemples and perhaps concrete, was cave like and interesting.  The passage we were following entered a much bigger rift at right angles which must have been an exciting find for the digging man.  Following this through small chambers linked by tunnels through infill, led to a 'final' enlargement in the rift.  With so many alternatives it was not obvious that the way on was through a small dug passage at the lowest point.

The extent of this speleological masterpiece began to dawn upon us.  What a hero!  Willy Stanton had dug this cave for years.  He must have lived in it.

When we finished going down - we started going up.  Neat walls of stones lined the way.  Steps had been constructed up the steep bits and were contained between these walls. It was hard to see where the small spoil was hidden.  Everything was so neat.  It reminded me of the tidiness of a show cave. And more.  I began to have the feeling that I had been here before. Orkney I thought.  There is an amazing new find about 10 miles south of Kirwall in the Orkneys.  A farmer had broken into a most unusual underground prehistoric man-made chamber.  From the entry point at the top of a mound he had entered into a substantial stone staircase spiralling down.  After two turns of descent, it stopped on a flat stone slab.  That was it.  A monumental staircase in stone.

Willy Stanton's steps continued up through the magnificent rift feature of the cave.  It had that big cave feeling.  Higher still I thought I saw steps cut into solid rock. Perfectly possible if you are removing rock split along the bedding plane but amazing to see in an open passage where rock need not have been removed.  Everything had been done to facilitate the safe passage of the cave visitor.  Rope handrails eased our way. Neatly arranged tapes mounted on little cement pyramids protected vulnerable formations.  On each side imposing vertical slabs formed the rift.  There was perhaps evidence of silken sides on one of the walls and in the same area there was damage caused by boulders dropping out of the stunningly high roof and impacting with glancing blows on the walls below.

Eventually the rift ended as the floor steepened into a wall and a ladder invited us to climb to a higher level.  A fixed rope eased the considerable exposure.  The party assembled on a balcony and climbed around the back to find a wide path.  We walked back towards the rift which, even though we had climbed high into it, still soared above us.  Wider at the top, the black walls of the rift plunged for a couple of hundred feet into the gloom below.  We savoured the extensive view in silence then turned back to examine the path more closely.  It had been built up out of excavated material.  The disturbing thought was that this implied hard work; the need to shift many tons rock from one place to another.  Many of us might regard this as the unattractive face of exploration. Here however, it became an aesthetic way and created a naturalistic feature; an interesting part of the scenery.

An anthropologist would also have recognised the site as showing signs of lengthy human habitation. Water management was the main preoccupation with various gauge tubing, cans, tanks and cement channels guiding water to its appointed quarter.  A small rock basin, with a curious sediment and a thin polythene tube supplying water from a higher reservoir, was identified as a cement mixer.  A rusty spade stood patiently by.

At the end of Reservoir Hole only a muddy pit remained.

Or is it the end? Perhaps Willy Stanton is planning more banging digging, stacking?  When are you coming back to finish this Very Good Cave, Willy Stanton (hero)

Meet participants; Martin Grass, Rich Long, Stuart Sale, James Weir, Zot, Kangy,

Kangy 28th November 2000


Travels in America Part III

By Rich Long

I'd been in a New Mexico a few weeks by now and was getting to know various people and how things worked. Firstly, we may have bit of a moan about getting a key for a cave or having to arrange a leader, but to get a permit in the States you have to have a degree to be able to fill out all the paperwork.  Even then you may only get in to clean a bit of stal. with a toothbrush for four hours. Fortunately for me, not being blessed with either good looks or intelligence, God has made me rather lucky, as Mr. Wilson will bear out by my getting into Glover Chamber in Gaping Gill, purely by accident.

Well, as my luck would have it Stan Allison of Carlsbad Cavern and Lehuguilla got me fixed up on a dig in Big Man Hole, along with my new pals Aaron and Gus, both extremely bad influences on a poor Englishman, I'm glad to say.

We arrived up at the meeting place in the Guadalupe's at about 9.30.  Already there was lots of activity with about 15 people strolling around on this already very hot morning.

Jim Goodbar with whom we had already caved greeted us.  Jim was the co-ordinator of today’s dig.  In typical cowboy politeness he took us around the group, introducing us to people I had seen on the Discovery Channel and read about in books.  Firstly there was Dr. Mike Queen, he was the guy who helped Ronal Kerbo fix up the parachute line and kiddy's helium filled balloons to snag stalagmites in the Big Room in Carlsbad and then ropewalk up into the Spirit World, some 230' up.  Now anyone who goes up that height on an unknown rigging point deserves a pat on the back and an appointment with a psychiatrist as soon as possible.  Next guy was Dave Belski, as we approached he was talking to a group of people and his wife, "Get off this Goddamned mountain woman and take that goddamned dog with you!"  I don't think Dave and Germaine Greer would have got on too well.

So, introductions over we trekked to the cave mouth, it is very similar to the entrance to Lechuguilla, a small slot on the anti-cline of the mountain.  It is situated not to far from Lech's entrance.  While in Jim's office he had shown me a Geophysics report and illustration of the cave system.  Where we were to dig today there was about 30' between us and a 300-metre void.  The trouble was the geo. plan shows the voids but it can't show you relative depths, so this huge area could have been on the same level or as easily 300' down.  Still we just wanted in and the excitement was growing.

Dave Belski rigged while we made friends throughout the group and while we were waiting to rappel in, Mike Queen invited us on another trip later in the week.

Well, it was Gus's turn to go in, the abseil was about 80' through the slot, when you went in you were actually right in the middle of the roof of a big egg shaped chamber about 60mtrs by 35mtrs.

In the midst of these top-notch cavers you didn't want to appear twerps, unfortunately Gus and I both failed.  Gus was on a borrowed rack instead of his usual figure of eight and miscalculating took out a bar instead of adding one, so while we watched from the top he began a very swift rappel and to compensate he whipped his rope down and behind him, i.e. Fig. of 8 style.  As you can imagine this didn't help and he proceeded to descend at about a hundred miles an hour, yelping like a ten year old girl, whilst contracting a severe case of abseiler's hand.  He corrected about 10 feet off the ground to much applause and cowboy hollering of "Rock and Roll!"

Unfortunately as some of you are well aware, any cave with a nice straight down abseil is not only frequented by cavers but by non abseiling animals and this one was no exception.

Big Man Hole had porcupine, rabbits, calves, etc., the latest acquisition was a ring tailed cat and a big one as it had tended to puff up a bit while it had been lying there, waiting for Gus to abseil right into it.  Whew, did that cat stink!

It was now my turn and I wasn't going to make a fool of myself, famous last words.  Rigged on with my cows tails, then check my trusty Fig of 8, no problem, Jim was the last in behind me, "See you in there Jim." Down I go. About 2 feet, then nothing, jump up and down on the rope, nothing.  Check I'm not hooked up, no, clear, just dangling with Jim watching and chuckling.

"I should unhook your long cows tail Rich." Smiled Jim, helpfully. "Christ!!!"

O.K. down I went red faced and England totally embarrassed.

We soon split into two teams, one filling a previous shaft and one digging towards the void.  I knew which one I wanted and scuttled off with my new friend Dave Belski.  The rule was you did 15 minutes and no more, digger goes to the end of the line and wait to dig again.

I was third in line, the first guy did his dig, second, after about 10 minutes, hit through and there was the most enormous blast of air.  It kicked up dust out of that hole like it was the Intercity 125 blasting through.

Now it was my turn, I never really knew what Gold Fever must have been like until that minute.  I dropped into that small shaft and I went at it like a man possessed.  Dust, rock, wind blasting, I had only been this excited on the outside of a cave before!

All to soon 15 minutes raced by.

"O.K. Rich, times up!" Dave called.  I chose to pretend I didn't hear him and continued frantically as I could now get my hand and most of my forearm into a cubby hole I had made.

"Rich come out!" called Dave.

"Carry on Richie boy!" I thought, this is it.

"Goddamned Limey B*****d!  Come out, NOW!  Or you won't go in again!" Dave bellowed.

Common sense prevailed!

We dug all day and the wind continued to howl, sometimes sucking and then blowing.  We made about four feet and we were getting to the point of whole arms being thrust up the tunnel and being able to move them and loose rocks around, it was definitely going.

We all got out around 6.00pm.  Said our good-byes and went home, Jim told me that even if we had broken through we wouldn't have been allowed in.  Apparently NASA has first shout, as they believe there could be organisms, fossilized or otherwise that may be similar to life on Mars or Titan, one of Saturn's moons.

Ah well, it had been a good day.

I guess that will do for now, time for my medication!  Oh, Nurse!


Danger Brock's May Fall At Anytime!!

Greg Brock & Mike Alderton

I will start by apologising for the disjointed nature of this report, as we are writing this after a Friday night at the Hunters.

Our Christmas time adventure started on the 22nd of December, when I arrived in Essex to meet a disorganised and hungover Greg, slowly getting ready for a couple of weeks of camping and walking in Scotland.  After a hearty meal, we packed up the car and headed north through the night.

The drive went very quickly for me as I spent most of it hungover in the passenger seat while Mike drove most of the way to Scotland.  Arriving early on the Saturday morning we pitched the tent just outside Glencoe after travelling through the night from Essex.  We pitched our tent by the side of the road and had a well-deserved sleep before travelling the rest of the distance to Fort William the next day.

The Saturday was spent wandering around Fort William, spending too much money and finding out information about routes and weather, and then setting up camp in the woods. We got up early the next morning, and after packing our rucksacs, we were on the tourist path up Ben Nevis before sunrise.  All was going well and soon we were up at the CIC hut at the foot of the crags on the rear of the mountain.

We consulted the guide book for the last time before heading up towards Tower Gully.  After crossing all the boulders and rocks at the bottom we were soon on snow and ice where we were able to try out our crampons for the first time.  Slow progress was made up the gully as we were carrying quite a lot of stuff and our feet were hurting from new fully stiffened mountaineering boots.  After a while Mike, who was leading at the time, stopped at a conveniently placed boulder.

I was just stopping for a quick drink from my frozen water flask while Greg climbed up to join me. I turned to speak to him, when instantly he disappeared from sight.  'Flip!' I thought as I watched him vanish from view over drop-offs and round comers, 'he's dead and I'm stuck half way up a mountain, this is not good.'  I rapidly learnt to down climb, desperately trying not to go the same way as Greg.

As soon as I felt my feet slip away and I started sliding I did an ice axe break which as soon as I hit the ice the axe was ripped out of my hands and down I went in my uncontrolled descent.  People keep asking me what was going through my mind but everything went so quickly that the only thing I can remember is landing in boulders at the bottom realising I wasn't dead.  Then doing the automatic check of seeing if I had broken any bones.

Thank God for mobile phones eh?  Greg managed to phone me on my descent to say he was still alive which was quite relieving, so I carefully continued down and soon was helping Greg back round the mountain to the CIC hut where we were kindly allowed in to enjoy warmth and a cup of tea.

We struggled back to the car and finally ended up at Fort William Youth Hostel, where we stayed for the night.  The following day we decided mountaineering was no longer the way forward as I couldn't walk so we headed down to Yorkshire for some caving and for New Year.  The first couple of days I spent mincing around the RRCPC hut while mike went caving but after couple of days of recovery I headed down Meregill and the following day down Dihedral.

We had some superb trips in Yorkshire, and plenty of hard-core bar room mountaineering all the way to new years day, where a heroic Greg drove back to Essex with me suffering (not very) silently in the passenger seat mincing.

The caving in Yorkshire was good and New Year was quite memorable (Or not as the case may be).  After our mountaineering epic, we are going to do something safe now like cave diving.



Western Australia Spelio Group Conservation Appeal 2000.

This article has been published in Descent, but I felt that many people do not buy Descent on a regular basis and would therefore miss this serious conservation issue.  I would like to add that this is not the only issue in Western Australia at this moment in time.  There is also a development company in the north Perth area that is digging up caves to build a new housing estate.  Sadly, the WASG can only afford to concentrate on the larger and more serious issue in the Cape range, as the costs are crippling. PLEASE READ ON.  I have recently been in contact with the WASG who have informed me that they have a serious conservation problem in Western Australia.  The club is relatively small, but has to police (if that is the right word) a huge area from Margaret River in the south western comer of Western Australia up through to Perth where there are caves in the Yanchep National Park, then on up to Exmouth and the Cape Range.  Also, beyond into the North West Territories!  This is an almost impossible task with the financial resources they have, so they do the best they can, relying on the park Wardens, local people, and conservationists to help them.

At this moment in time, a Mining Corporation LEARMONT LIMESTONE is applying for licences to mine 82 sq. KM of the Cape Range.  This will devastate the karst area around Exmouth and the Cape! There are 600 known caves in this region with another 50 approx being found annually.  (I quote from the official report THE CAPE RANGE KARST IS A VISUALLY STUNNING LANDFORM THAT WOULD BE PERMANENTLY SCARRED BY THE PLACEMENT OF A MINE ON THE PROPOSED MINING LEASE. KARST LANDFORMS ARE RELATIVELY RARE IN AUSTRALIA OCCUPYING ONLY ABOUT 3% OF THE TOTAL LAND MASS).  There is also a report on the impact to the flora and fauna in the region and underground.

WASG and other organisations are trying to oppose the lease using Court Action; "the hearing opened on the 3rd August 2000" but this will be crippling financially to the club and others involved.

The Lawyers are advising a softly, softly approach to the problem and WASG do not want this to become a blazing issue until the sensible method has been tried.  At the moment an alternative site for mining has been proposed by the conservationists.  However, the caving club and all the groups are desperate for financial help and I appeal to all the clubs in Great Britain to make some kind of contribution, however small, every little helps!

At the moment the information I have is that cheques should be made out to CAVCARE which is the WA cave conservation fund set up for this purpose . You can send the cheques to my home address and I will forward them on to CAVCARE or they can go direct to WA at CAVCARE 27 BECKENHAM ST, BECKENHAM WESTERN AUSTRALIA.

My address is Keynsham, Somerset. Email mwi1co@[removed].

Please help fellow Conservationists in their struggle to keep the Cape Range flora and fauna, caves, and landscape intact!  Mike Wilson.

To illustrate this appeal, Mr. Wilson has sent me an article written some while ago which describes some of the delights of caving in this threatened area- Ed  (see next section)


Caving Down Under

by Wendy Short

Taking a deep breath, I crouched in silence.  My powerful light beam cut a white arc across the cave ceiling dripping with pure crystalline soda straws.  The air had a different smell underground here than the caves on the top side of the world.  I was totally fixated as the four of us paused to admire the beauty of Jewel Cave and set up camera equipment for a photo.  I smiled to myself, feeling lucky and blessed to participate in this experience.  I was caving with the Western Australia Speleological Group (WASG) President, Jay Anderson, her husband Ross Anderson, and a gentleman from the UK, Mike Wilson (BEC).  Only four trips a year are allowed in these caves in the Margaret River area of Western Australia (WA), no more than four people per trip.  Many local cavers from the Perth area had not ever visited these caves.  Since I was a "foreigner", I felt lucky and privileged indeed.

When I was planning my trip to Australia, I wanted to see what the caves were like Down Under, the differences and similarities, as compared to American caves.  I looked through the NSS members manual and found one person listed in the area I would be visiting, Rauleigh Webb.  After emailing my interest to him, he forwarded my letter to members of the caving group.  It wasn't long before I heard back from several members offering their assistance and support, Fran Head and Ian Colette being my initial contacts.  Fran was very helpful and accommodating in making arrangements and was willing to lend me all her gear.  That was very necessary since I did not have room to pack my own gear, and was only bringing my boots!

I was under the impression that Australia was a karst-poor continent.  But after spending two months traveling most of the country, I found caves and karst features almost everywhere I went.  The Southwestern comer of WA is well known for some of it's beautiful show caves, Jewel Cave, the largest show cave in WA, being one of them.

After kitting up in the parking lot of Jewel Cave in the early morning, we were ready to embark on our 4 hour trip into the "wild" section of Jewel Cave.  The rocks in this area are some of the oldest in the world.  At one time the cave was exposed sand dunes, worn away by wind and erosion.  Falling in behind the tour group, we walked through a heavy well-constructed vapour lock door.  The door was impressive, protecting the cave air and environment, or so I thought. Then I smelled the heavy perfume on the visitor in front of me.

As we came upon the first chamber we saw pair of pure white calcite straws of extraordinary length, one of which is the largest straw found in any show cave in the world at 5.5 meters in length.  It has grown 3.5 cm since the cave opened, Boxing Day 1959.  For the majority of tourists, the most memorable section is the jewel cask cavern.  The size of a small room, the walls and ceiling are profusely decorated with intertwining stalactites, straws and helictites.  It's so intricate and extensive that it is hard to find the tiniest space not covered.  The jewel casket is a sparkling cluster of cave crystals.

We followed the tour for a bit, then nicked off (headed off) down a crawlway away from the artificial lights.  The wild section of the cave is called the Flat Reef Extension.  Each room was full of soda straws, cave coral and helictites of varying length and thickness'.  I was just awed by the beauty, which rivals any cave in North America I had seen.  The cave was well mapped, and we followed a well-marked path of reflective arrows.  We were now on a private tour.  I felt Mike and I were being tested a bit as well; our skills, techniques and conservation attitudes.  Down Under is one place where you must "cave softly".

Jewel Cave is about 700 meters in length, with many beautiful large rooms. Every section was decorated except one crawl at the terminal end.  There was one place that had Tasmanian tiger bones covered in calcite, 25,000 years old. We spent the morning in Jewel, which is an easy, manageable, mostly walking cave.  Still, we got winded at times due to the high carbon dioxide levels we all felt.

The next cave we visited was Moondyne, located in the same park as Jewel.  We just happened to time the end of our lunch with the beginning of a wild cave tour, and my hosts convinced the guide to let us tag along. Moondyne is only about 300 meters long, basically just two large rooms. The main feature is walls and walls of stunning white cave coral.  I was not real impressed with the "wild cave" tour and glad we were not asked to pay for it.  It was just too easy.  Walking and constant stopping as the guide explained and showed points of interest proved somewhat anti-climatic.  The two hour trip could have been done in a leisurely 45 minutes.

We had time to explore another short cave, and met up with others from the caving group, including Fran Head and Ian Colette.  The cave was located a short walk through the bush.  About 10 of us entered Deepdyne through a broken entrance gate.  This used to be a tourist cave in the 1920's my hosts thought.  I wasn't too impressed now; the entire cave was only about 150 meters long and 20 meters high.  The formations were very old, dried and dead looking.  I could see in its prime it must have been stunning, as it had the same formations as the other caves I had just been in, with the addition of huge old rimstone dams.  It was apparent that the water levels in this entire area have been dropping.  I asked around .... does anyone know why?  Not really, only a stray theory or guess, none of which bode well for the future of these caves.

By the time we left this third cave it was getting late, a swim in the Indian Ocean was in order at Hamlin Bay before heading back to camp in the Leeuwin National Park.  WASG had a nice base camp and "hut", a semi-permanent set up there that slept several dozen people, and the campsite was quiet in a remote section of the bush.  Mike and I were on a very natural high and still in awe of what we had experienced, with promises of the best cave saved for the following day.  There was great camaraderie and kidding around the campfire that night.  It was similar to cavers getting together in America after a long day of caving, except some of the Aussie jokes went over my head.

The next morning Jay, Ross, Mike and I got an early start and headed back to the park where Jewel Cave is.  We were going to Easter Cave; highly restricted, vastly beautiful, and quite long and challenging.  After kitting up in the parking lot, we all headed off in different directions in the bush looking for the entrance. Jay and Ross had not been there in years and the path was no longer discernable.  I carried the belay rope.  The forest was thick with peppermint and eucalyptus trees.  We searched and searched.  Regrouped, spread out, and looked some more.  It was getting later and hotter.  I was getting really thirsty but I wanted to save my water for the long trip in the cave.  We were looking for a small depression in the ground.  Suddenly I saw a small rock in front of me, then a doline. I almost stumbled into the pit it came up so unexpectedly.  "I found it!" I yelled out.  I was glad to feel useful and like I contributed something.

There was no entrance gate at Easter, the entrance being a 10 meter drop through a hole in the ceiling of the cave.  A cable ladder and belay were rigged and we each descended one by one.  I climbed down carefully, not having been on a cable ladder in over ten years.  Rappelling sure seems easier.  Easter Cave is about 18 kilometres long.  My hosts had no map ..... something political.  Only a handful of people had been here.  We started on our six hour journey that covered about 3 kilometres of the cave.  We stuck tightly to the track, which was marked with reflective tape, very visible and easy to follow and stay on the designated path.  The cave looked virgin to me it was so pristine.  The lack of permits given to visit this cave really showed.  We slowly travelled through room after room of highly decorated passage.  This cave was more dynamic than the others I had seen. Some of the floor was damp and had calcite rafts still growing.  I was just in awe that so much could be so decorated.  The cave had a variety of crawls, squeezes, and walking passage. It was very dry.  Still, the formations were alive and stunning, catching our light beams wherever we shined them.

Our destination was a formation called "The Question", which Ross wanted to photograph.  I relaxed and listened to the echoing drip drip drip of a live formation as the shot was set up.  The trip out did not seem to take as long as going in as we did not stop for pictures on the way out.  Still, because you have to be so careful not to touch anything, it was pretty slow going. I did not mind, it gave me time to memorize all the beautiful things I was seeing.  And I believe that my presence left no impact on the cave that day.

I would like to thank Jay and Ross Anderson, and the WASG for making it possible for me to experience some of the finest caves in Western Australia.

Mike Wilson


I Don't Want To Push It - It Might Go!
The exploration of C33

By Mike Alderton

I had just returned from a three day trip in G5 and settling down with a few beers started looking forward to a couple of days of rest and recovery - but Joel C and Tim F had other ideas.  Waiting until I was well lubricated with wine and beers they proceeded to tell tales of a promising cave left at the head of a 15m pitch, bound to drop into Hirlatz and only ¼ of an hours walk from the Wiesberghaus!  This is how their log book write up actually went. ...

Anyway I had been convinced it was going to break through and persuaded Tim L and Peter Hubner to join me on this exploration.

Armed with survey kit, rigging gear, SRT kit and Sam of discarded climbing rope we reached the present survey limit.  Peter was not impressed by the tortuous passage we had now entered and headed back to the surface just before Buffalo Breech.

From this point the passage started to get quite committing, with desperately tight squeezes, sharp corners and no possibility of tuning around for about an hour - a real delight for us Mendip cavers.

We reached the pitch found by Joel and Tim and I soon descended it, dropping into a steeply sloping chamber in beautiful white limestone with fluted cascades in the floor - Awesome, virgin passage to explore!

Within no time, Tim was down the pitch and off we headed along a typical Dachstein meander, but easy going and peppered with easily climbable cascades.  We threw ourselves along the passage, barely able to take it all in, until instead of breaking out over an unfathomable pitch the cave deteriorated to more desperately tight twisting passage.  With our hearts rapidly sinking we followed this for a while until leaving the remainder of the climbing rope we headed back out.  Our progress was speeded up after noting the clean washed nature of the floor, wall and roof - this place must flood like a beast when it rains ...

The return was uneventful, cold and slow, but when we had passed Buffalo Breech, smiles returned to our faces - we were finally going to escape from this incredible cave. Climbing up the 40' pitch, through the entrance meanders, up the entrance climb and we were out, heading back to the Weisberghaus where our companions were waiting with a crate of Zipfers.

After a few of these, Tim wrote in the logbook ...

The Hirlatz survey shows that C33 has all chances of dropping straight into the master system, so for next years expedition we are looking for young, flexible, skinny young cavers with a limitless supply of oversuits.  Are you interested?



Dachstein - Austria 2000 (The Overall Picture)

By Greg Brock

"I Cave Mostly in Somerset you know " Tangent

Our Austrian expedition started the week before in Yorkshire where myself, Mike Alderton and John 'Tangent' Williams arrived at this small wooden hut in Braida Garth, the NCC Hut.  It was here we was going to meet Snablet for the first time and sort out last minute arrangements for Austria.  In the morning, after the usual large quantity of alcohol the night before we headed into Ingleton where we met Snablet in a cafe.  We also bought extra expedition kit from Bernies.

The following week passed quite quickly and before I knew it I was meeting up with Snablet, Annette and Pete Whitaker (WRCPC) at Munich airport.  The travelling to Halstat was amazingly simple but this was helped by the fact Annette could speak German.  Once at Halstat we met up with the others who had driven out and prepared ourselves for the 3 hour walk up to the Wiesberghaus.

"G5 – It’s a classic!............A real fu**ing classic!.............
Not sure if I like it though………..”
Rich Hudson

G5 - Einsturner Hahle (Ice Gymnast Hole) was my first Austrian cave.  The rock was extremely sharp, hard on gear and as the name suggests very cold.  This was to be the place of three weeks worth of continuous pushing & exploration. The first couple of trips were quite easy going but soon turned into 24 hour trips, and when the camp was set up they turned into 3 day trips.  It soon got to the stage where rest days were needed between trips.  On one particular rest day it was decided to do a Dachstein pub crawl, but this turned out to be a bit more adventurous than planned and was summed up by Tangent once back at the Wiesberghaus…….

"Now I need a rest day to recover from my rest day. " Tangent

Eventually last years limit of exploration (explanation) was reached and new cave was starting to be explored, albeit very slowly.  The rift was getting harder to traverse along and in places traverse lines were rigged because of the walls being covered in a horrendously slimy mud.  After pushing trips being hindered by bad weather the higher level fossil stuff was decided to be our only hope of finding a significant amount of passage.

"Only One Can Hold Me - You're our only hope." Rob Garrett

In the remaining week before de-rigging, "only one can hold me" and another passage by High Flyers were looked at but neither were fully pushed.  "Only one can hold me" was seen to continue but realistically who wants to go back and push it?

"Is there a carnival like atmosphere on the glacier" Tangent

Apart from G5 which was where the majority of the expedition's resources and efforts were focused there were other sites to push and other things to do.  The glacier, surrounding cliffs and the other mountain huts provided things to do on rest days from G5.  Some excellent climbing was had not only up by the glacier but also on bolted routes by the Wiesberghaus.  When resources like food and gas ran low there was always the reluctant option of walking back down to Halstat and collecting provisions.

Greg and Mike on the glacier - picture Greg Brock

After this years' exploits in Austria I think G5 has been concluded but there is lots more to push and lots more places to prospect both on top of the mountain and down in the valley near Hirlatz (The main master system).  Lets look forward to next year!!!!

Moving gear through G5

Tim Lamberton in "insane worms" - Greg Brock


Two Combes Walk


by Vince Simmonds

Start from West Harptree village and follow Ridge Lane, found next to the village stores, uphill and just beyond the last house take a footpath on the right (west) waymarked for the 'Limestone Link'.  Head west across fields to Cowleaze Lane, which can be rather over grown, take care at the end of the lane where you will meet the road that goes up Harptree Hill. Go up the hill for a short distance and another path is met on the right proceed west towards Compton Martin. From the fields good views can be seen of both Chew Valley and Blagdon lakes.  The path soon drops into Highfield Lane and you turn to head uphill for about 250 metres to reach a path on the right leading through a field gate.  Through this gate and then drop down hill to some cottages following the lane down (north) for a short distance before taking a path to your left which after crossing a couple of fields takes you to the bottom of Compton Martin combe.

On passing the cottages almost immediately on the left is the path leading up to Compton Martin Ochre Mine NGR ST55/5419.  5670 which if you have picked up the key from the Belfry and brought with you a helmet, lamp and some caving grots is well worth the visit.  Even if you don't feel the desire to venture underground there are some interesting surface features and relics of a bygone age to keep you amused for a while.  Take care on the slope if it's wet it can be extremely slippery.

For a full description and survey of the mine refer to Mendip Underground, D.J. Irwin & A.R. Jarratt.

Follow the path up through the combe past the disused quarries, the combe has some interesting karst features but they are rather small.  In the spring it can be an amazingly green place.  At the top of the combe the path leads along the drive of Whitegate Lodge to reach another lane.  Turning left (south east) here takes you to a crossroads, go straight over into Western Lane, all along the ridge excellent views of Chew Valley and surrounding hills are seen.  Follow Western Lane for 1½ km down to the bottom of a steep descent from here is a choice depending on the time of year.  If its late spring turn right (south-west) up Garrow Bottom after about 500m you will be rewarded with the most fantastic display of bluebells. From Western Lane turning left (north east) follow the path across a field into Harptree combe where you have the company of a small stream all the way to the bottom.  About halfway down you come across some small mines which are worth a little poke around.

For a full description and survey of these mines refer to Belfry Bulletin March 2000 Vol. 51 No.1 "An excursion to Harptree combe and mines" by Vince Simmonds.

You may also wish to have a good look around Richmont Castle which is also found here.  A Norman lord known as Azelin was the possible builder of the castle sometime post-1066 he died 1120 leaving the manor of Harptree to his son John, the manor then became known as Harptree.  After John's death the manor then passed on to his son William de Harptree.  The political situation around this time was very unsettled and after the death of Henry I the throne was left to Matilda, who was also known as Maud.  The throne was contested by her cousin Stephen with the backing of some of the more powerful lords while William de Harptree and others in the West of England formed an alliance supporting Matilda and they garrisoned Richmont Castle in 1138.  Stephen laid siege to Bristol and then in 1139 led an army to Harptree and took possession of Richmont Castle.

The castle stayed in the hands of the de Harptree family, but around the time of Henry III, Sir Robert de Harptree assumed his mothers name of Gournay. Sometime between the 12 and 15 century the two Harptrees split the Gournay family took control of West Harptree while the Newtons took East Harptree.

By 1540 Richmont Castle was a ruin and it's stone had gone to several possible local sites, Eastwood Manor being just one of them.

There was also the belief that the castle walls covered valuable mineral deposits, it was around this time that a strong brass industry flourished in Bristol.  Several pits in the castle site may be the result of some later working of the area.

The presence of shot-holes in some of the mines would suggest working of a later date possibly late 1600's or the 1700's.  An interesting fact is that in 1728 Sir John Newton, who owned the biggest part of East Harptree, also owned several coal mines in Kingswood ( Bristol) where the coal was used to supply his brass smelting works at Warmley ( Bristol).

When reaching the bottom of the combe turn right (west) to cross the stream and stile and crossing fields will lead back to Ridge Lane and West Harptree.

Allow 3 hours for the walk more if you plan to explore the mines and the castle.


East Harptree: Times Remembered Times Forgotten, Jon Budd.

Worle, Woodspring and Wallop: The Calamine Connection, Nick Corcos; Somerset Archaeology and Natural History, 1988 pp 193-208.


Stock's House Shaft - Towards the Hundredth Ton.

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BB’s nos. 502, 504-509.

BB 508 article - correction: The drawings of the bronze bearing liner and "timewaster" were not, as stated, reproduced at the correct scale but had been reduced in size by the printers.  The length of the latter is 154mm, width of blade is 60mm.  The bearing is 60mm x 39mm x 27mm.

For a couple of weeks in November only Alex visited the Upstream Level on one occasion, 'flu, work and idleness having wreaked havoc on the rest of the team.  On the 3rd of December the deep rake near the tumulus c.110m north of the Shaft was investigated for possible dig sites in the hope of by-passing the flooded terminal choke.  The floor of the rake is composed of loose boulders but major excavations would be necessary to open up any underground workings.

Back at the Shaft work continued on clearing the Upstream Level and the bag pile in the Rat Trap and Greg's Level.  51 loads were winched out on the 8th.  The Treasury of Aeops stream diversion was still working well - to the extent that Five BuddIes Sink was found to be almost sumped just before the initial choke breakthrough point.  With this Autumn being the wettest on record this was hardly surprising but at least the stream in the Shaft, though sumping up the terminal choke, was not backing up to any degree.  This bodes well for open passage beyond.

On December 11th a visit to Pipe Aven revealed another roof fall which had again luckily occurred during our absence.  The large spur of rock supposedly held in place by the long Acro-prop had come down, prop and all.  Just beyond it the hanging death once supported by Old Men’s deads had also come down and the Level was again partially blocked.  This was actually very good news as these Damoclean "Henries" had been a continual source of worry to diggers passing warily beneath them.  The enormous boulders hanging in the now spacious void above will also undoubtedly come down in the near future and should hopefully wedge across above the Level to provide a relatively stable ceiling.

A map of all known cave and mine passages along the road between the Hunters and the Miners was given to the civil engineers putting in roadside trenches for fibre optic communications cables.  They were very grateful as no-one had informed them of possible dangers and one of their planned sites for an underground junction box was exactly on the site of an "old trial shaft" - now lost and not marked on recent O.S. maps!  (Incidentally this road is referred to in Gough's Mines of Mendip as Harptree Way).

The 13th saw a three man team clearing all bags and rocks from the Upstream Level and then leaving it severely alone as further extensive roof falls in the Pipe Aven area appeared imminent.  113 loads came out on the 17th and many of these were wheelbarrowed onto the Reserve where they were used the following day to construct a temporary dam at the head of the flowing stream behind Stock's House.  It is hoped that this will divert the water from the Upstream Level and into Five BuddIes Sink.  The remainder of the spoil was used to level the ground between the Shaft and Forestry car park in order to make winch access easier.  Another 124 loads came out on the 20th making a total since the start of this dig on the 25th August 1998, of c.7,6S0.  At an average, probably under-estimated weight of 251bs this works out at 78 tons brought to surface so far!!!

The surface drainage trench into Five BuddIes Sink revealed another interesting relic of the 19th century washing operations on the 22nd of November when a rusty iron bolt was spotted in its floor.  A few minutes work with a spade showed it to be just a tiny part of a section of cast pipe with a "flow diverter", broken but otherwise identical to one previously found in the wheel pit, rusted solidly onto one end.  The total length being 1.148m - see drawings appended.

The Christmas week saw very few diggers, lots of hangovers, much clearing of the Loop Level, Treasury of Aeops and the deposited silt in the start of the Upstream Level.  By the end of the year another 105 loads had reached the now frozen and snow covered surface.  At last the continuous rain seemed to have stopped (or at least turned lumpy) and it was hoped that a good freeze would dry up the inflowing streams. A note in The Pew (Priddy, Easton and Westbury parish magazine) states that the rainfall in Priddy during 2000 amounted to over 1270mm (50").  The standard average rainfall in the Chew Valley being 1100mm (43").

On the last visit of 2000 a short length of rigid aluminium ladder was erected in the Treasury in an attempt to avoid climbing over the huge and unstable boulder partway along. Suddenly it proved to be very unstable as it slid towards the ladder during tidying up operations.  The digger was prepared for this and rapidly retreated to the Shaft to plan a future banging project! In the meantime this level should not be entered.

New Year celebrations took their usual toll and it was not until the 3rd of January that a return was made to bring out 101 bags of spoil.  A return was also made to the awful, depressing wet weather.  11 more bags came out on the 8th when the Upstream Level collapse was utilised as the base of a dam for future water retention. A 6" plastic pipe was installed here on the 14th and the dam further built up the following day. Another 85 loads emerged on the 17th when surface and underground water levels were noted to have dropped considerably.

A banging trip on the morning of the 22nd of January disintegrated two boulders in the U/Level collapse, two at the Shaft bottom and obliterated the front of the huge "Henry" in the Treasury.  In the afternoon much of the resulting debris was bagged up by Alex.  The rest was cleared on the 24th when Trevor poked the looming remains of the "Henry" with a long bar then left it to hopefully slump down to floor level.  On this occasion the standing water level in the Downstream Level was found to have dropped over a foot.

On the 28th another 71 bags came out and the winch was removed to the Belfry.  All the rock dumped at the roadside was transported to the Mineries dam for repair work.  This continued on the following day when Stock's House Shaft was tidied up on the surface as the writer was off to Meghalaya to find some REAL cave. During the next three weeks only Alex could be bothered to turn up on six solo clearing trips in the Downstream Level.  The current foot and mouth scare has now curtailed all work on the site for the foreseeable future.  Total amount of loads out to date is c.8023 about 82 tons!

Additions to the Digging Team

Clare Thomas ( Cardiff Univ. C.C.), Ben Barnett. Bill Cooper.


The search for Pant - y - Crac or Fun adventures up the gorge

About 5 years ago, I decided to have a good look at the plant life in Cheddar gorge that grew in all the places inaccessible to the usual plant recorders.  My reason for this was because of a faint grumbling in the air about tree cutting and rock damage caused by tree roots penetrating rock and levering them off (onto the heads of unsuspecting passers by).  Well, I began at the top end of Cheddar Gorge by Black Rock Gate and gradually worked my way down (and up) the gorge so to speak. At the time of my investigations, the flock of Soay sheep would retire each night to a series of ledges on both sides of the upper gorge.  These ledges were protected from view by dense tree growth.  As most if not all of the caves or cave entrances in the Gorge had been used at some time by sheep, goat or man, I felt it a necessary part of my investigations to check these out at the same time.  It was whilst on one of these forays that I came across a deep cleft in the rock face high up from the road on the Showcaves side.  Many a strange sight has greeted me on these excursions, sleepy sheep, bottles filled with dead mice and piles of rubbish in most unlikely places.  This one, however, was one of the strangest finds to date, for there wedged in the crevice was a collection of women's clothing.  Most of the items seemed to be old, although one or two were obviously recent. My first reaction was to look around for the body or what was left of it- remembering a similar "lost person" incident not that long ago that was discovered by a club member .... Anyway, to my great relief, there was no visible body and as I made my way across the narrow ridge of rock, a few more items appeared, mainly of the ladies under dress type of garment.  Well, shortly after this I discovered a superb specimen of a once magnificent male Soay sheep, complete with curved horns.  This I eagerly dragged down to a safe spot where I managed to cram the skull into my rock bag, and promptly completely forgot about the earlier strange find.  The skull now graces my front room and has been used on many a talk about the Gorge. Now, I am getting off the track a bit but, some 5 years or so later, which takes us up to last December, I happened to be talking to a Cheddar Cave club group about adventures in the Gorge.  One of them asked, had I ever found Pant -y -Crac?  At this, I became interested and he told me of his own ventures and discovery some ten years ago.  We decided then, that we must both have discovered the same crag, and decided that come the warmer weather, we would both try to remember the location of the site. What follows is an account of the excursions into a part of the gorge that offer a superb alternative trip through the area, yet one that has only been done by very few people.  We started our first trip in early January, working upslope from the bend below Bone Hole (see map).  The scree slopes in this area are loose, most of the tree stumps are dead and many of the small bluffs offer excellent short climbs of a somewhat dubious nature.  Many of the buttresses that we passed across from the top have flat tops where you can rig an abseil and get down fast.  Others are connected by deep loose and dangerous bottomless hanging gullies, which a slip down would end in death- if the occasional shrubs didn't stop your progress!  It took an hour and a half to progress some 400 metres horizontal distance.

This was about 800 metres vertically, looping up and down, often using a rope for support, often stopping on a ledge to look in and never discovering our original site.  We finally made the road by descending the scree slope to the left (uphill) of Sow Hole.  Disappointed but exhilarated by the dangers, we agreed to meet again later the following week, with an aim to explore the upper section of the area.

Our second trip began from the path that rises from Black Rock Gate to meet the top tourist route from the pinnacles.  As the path bears right near the top there is a series of buttresses running to left and right of the path.  Our route was to the right, working along the steep slope above the road.  There are about twenty or so of these small climbable rock faces.  Many of them are deeply fissured, covered in trees, moss and so on.  A few are bare enough to boulder climb, but the rock is pretty loose in some sections, deeply cracked by ice heave and plant erosion. This trip took us on a diagonal path down to the road in an area that we both felt from our earlier memories was "about the right place."  Nothing! We finished off by descending a 50-metre scree slope - using a rope to add to the fun - down to the bend in the road opposite to and just below Bone Hole.  By this time, doubt was creeping in - although we were having a great time in the Gorge, discovering all sorts of fun adventure routes for the fun adventure types - maybe the place had been tidied up by the benevolent workers of Lord Bath's Estate!  Undaunted, we returned to my house for tea, cream, jam and scones (or is it scones?) and had another think.  We agreed to meet again the following afternoon, and to fit the trip in with a check on the lid to Bone Hole which was rumoured to have been "banged.

Below: - An old map of the area, showing our routes

Below: an unknown (to me) phreatic tube some 15 metres from the top of the Gorge, left (facing downslope) of the Pinnacles.

Trip three picked up from where two finished, for we felt it sensible to cover the ground thoroughly (looking for holes).  This was the trip above the buttresses that run up from road level, rising some 30 metres as the road nears the final bend before Reservoir hole.  The going here was very tough - mainly vertical, and often crossing the previously mentioned bottomless gullies.  My companion on this trip (son Edward) was not quite as intrepid as he thought, and we covered the ground slowly in some regions, using the (now essential) rope on some sections.  Disappointed again, we descended Shoot gully to the road.

A change of plan was called for as we were getting nowhere and it was looking like the wrong area was being searched.  Our next and most ambitious trip took us right to the top of the Pinnacles, starting at road level at the bottom of Shoot Gully.  This is the steep scramble just beside the "Showcaves bus turning circle".  For cavers, just below White Spot cave!  I won't bore readers with details of the climb up, suffice it to say, at the last section about 40 metres below the top, a sheep path goes right and left from the gully.  Right facing (downslope in the gorge) the path leads to a magnificent viewpoint but no caves and no way down or up except on a very long rope!  Left along the sheep path however, leads soon to the caves shown in the photos.  Doubtless, these have all been seen and recorded before, but new to us, it was fascinating to find phreatic tubes at such a high level in the Gorge.  It must have been very wet once.  Some idea of the age of the caves can also be gauged from their height.  Perhaps one or two might just lead down to ..... great site for a dig .... !  The trip ended with a superb sunset as we came down - certainly for me a great buzz coming off the hill at dusk - so no disappointments and we had discovered some caves.

Looking back at our trips, we decided to leave things for a while.  We were obviously trying too hard.  A bit of lateral thinking as to what we were looking for and how it might have formed led us to think that Pant -y -Crac might be quite easy to get to, but well hidden. Whoever had or had not been there before us probably wasn't a caver, although he might be a diver looking into tight places!

Anyway, rain for a week or so and then work, more work then suddenly one Friday afternoon an excited phone message on the machine from Chris.  "I've found it!  Details in the White Hart tonight, we visit tomorrow".

Saturday came, my hangover was cheered by the lack of rain, and Chris called at 12.30 that day and up we went.  Our second trip along the path from Black Rock Gate had passed very close to the spot that Chris now took me to.  We had dropped down too quickly, or started too far to the right, however, suddenly there it was.  Chris had carefully marked his way back to the path with small piles of stones and (with difficulty for there are many stones in this area!)  I followed his trail and there on the ground, a spotted mouldering half buried dress?  Further on and there it is at last, Pant -y -Crac, complete with at least five bras, three sets of tights, another dress and then as we slid down the slope after recording the crag, more dishevelled remains.  It was difficult to know what to think as I skidded down the scree slope to the road.  The remains certainly spanned a number of years, five? ten? Had the den more than one visitor?  Was it where I had imagined?  Anyway, the outcome of the search was that we had discovered some brilliant scrambles and hairy walks in the Gorge.  We had systematically familiarised ourselves with a huge section of largely un-peopled terrain and into the bargain had a bloody good time.  Anyone know of a better way to have some fun!

Martin Torbett and Christopher Binding Photos by the writers.  February 2001

Pant -y- Crac, Cheddar



Meghalava 2001 - Exploration in the Jaintia Hills and the Discovery of India's 3rd Longest Cave

by Tony Jarratt

PARTICIPANTS; Austria; Peter Ludwig, Switzerland; Yvo Wiedmann, Germany; Christian Fischer, Daniel Gebauer, Herbert and Christine Jantschke, Thomas Matthalm, Anja Renner, Harald Kirsamer, En~land; Julie Hesketh, Tony Jarratt, Mark Brown, Simon Brooks, Tom Chapman, Tony Boycott, Rob and Helen Harper, Stuart MacManus, Scotland; Alan Jeffreys, Roger Galloway, Fiona Ware, Dan Harries, Fraser Simpson, Wales; Rhys Williams, Paul Edmonds, Amanda Edgeworth, Meghalaya; Brian Kharpran Daly, Lindsay Diengdoh, Gregory Diengdoh, Neil Sootinck, Betsy Chhakchhuak, Allard Harris Diengdoh, Sanjay Choudhary, Tiewlin Kharsati, Sasha Nongsiej, Vivien Warjri, Gerard Khonglah, Larsing Sukhlain, Shelley Diengdoh.

STAFF, GUIDES, PARTYGOERS, ETC; Myrkasim Swer, Asif Khan, Almas Laloo, Amzad Khan, Ngait Bareh, Marlon Blien, Bung Diengdoh, Sunny Diengdoh, Bobby Moore Paswat, Dominic Sawdong, James Fancon, Karlin Pyrngap, Nonkin Dkhar, Dilbhadur Subedi, Kunga Darna, Churchill Sukhlain, Rud Sukhlain, Elias Bareh, Forestar Pajah, Pyntyngen Bamon, Wesley Rupon, Holding Bamon, T. Mannar, Jonah Dichan, Pyubha Suja, Mulda Rupon, Condrick Dkhar, Spindro Dkhar, Co!. Fairweather Mylliemngap, Maureen Diengdoh and the Khasi Ladies, the Gentlemen of Shillong, the villagers of Sutnga, Tong Seng, Shnongrim, Sakhain, Lakadong, etc. And last, but by no means least, Ronie Mawlong.

This year's expedition to Meghalaya, N.E. India was swelled by the unexpected addition of Rob Harper's Assam team - having decided to abort their exploration in this state due to insurgency problems.  They concentrated on the Cherrapunjee area in the Khasi Hills where about 5kms were explored. A separate article is being prepared by Rob.

The main team arrived in Shillong on the 2nd February and split into two groups.  Simon led a recce. party to Borsora in the Garo Hills where they were to survey some 6kms of impressive caves and later join the rest of us at Sutnga in the Jaintia Hills.

Here we had established ourselves at last year's base - the Inspection Bungalow about an hour's bone jarring drive from the main caving area on the Nongkhlieh Ridge.  On arrival we found that the Meghalayan Adventurers had done a fine job of preparation in making the place comfortable and secure with a huge meal bubbling away in the outside, tented kitchen - courtesy of Master Chef Swer and his assistants.  To wash it down there was a seemingly unlimited supply of bottled beer and rum. Its hell in the jungle ....

Daniel had failed to arrive which was very worrying as he was known to have been prospecting in the Gujarat area at the time of the horrific earthquake. Thankfully he turned up unharmed. He was apparently sitting on the bog when the 'quake struck and blamed it all on the curry!  A few tremors were felt in Sutnga during our stay, it being in the same 'quake fault zone though many hundreds of miles to the east.

On the 5th caving started in earnest with parties tidying up leads in Krem Wah Ryngo and Krem Kermit.  I joined an optimistic group who were hoping to resolve the access problem at Shnongrim village so that we could extend our explorations into this area which the Jaintia Adventurers were trying to keep for themselves - a misguided policy as they do little caving and no surveying or recording of data.  After lots of tea, biscuits, fags and betel nut with the headman and his cronies we had got nowhere so, leaving Brian to continue the discussion the rest of us walked back along the ridge recceing areas that we had permission for on the way.  This almost instantly paid off with the discovery of two new caves - Krem Risang ( Squirrel Cave) and Krem Shynrong Labbit ( Bat Skull Cave) - both named by us due to a lack of local names.  The first consisted of an impressive 25m shaft leading to a couple of routes through boulders into a scalloped streamway which soon ended on the brink of a 70m pitch - Black Bat Pot.  Over the next couple of weeks this cave was pushed, mainly by Mark, Yvo, Lindsay and Rhys, to a total length of 4.5km of varied, sporting streamway.  There are still a few leads to survey.  The second began as an extensive and well decorated, horizontal fossil system adjacent to the previously recorded Krem Labbit (Shnongrim).  A series of pitches in the floor were descended to reach a huge bore passage carrying the main stream and with lots of inlets, avens and side passages.  Most of the team worked in this stunning cave at one time or another to eventually bring its length up to 5.71km.  There are still climbs to be looked at here and there is a chance of a link with Krem Labbit (where Thomas, Anja and Harry persevered to establish a connection but didn't quite make it).  The cave is notable for the large amount of bat skulls, bones and ears (!) found on the floor.  It has a good sized blind fish population and at least one resident toad and was the highlight of the expedition until a small group of "old gits" went to look for a horizontal cave of their own.

When leaving Krem Risang one day we were accosted by an old chap, Churchill Sukhlain, who presented us with sweet potato and betel nut before proceeding to show us the easy scramble down which avoided 20m of the 25m entrance pitch!  Roger was best pleased as he could, in return, proffer one of his American fags with the classic phrase "Care for a Winston, Churchill?"  He also took a team over the ridge to the hidden Tong Seng village where they were shown a plethora of huge, undescended pots and told of many more.  The locals were very friendly and helpful and soon most of the expedition work was taking place in this attractive area.

On the 10th the 81m deep Krem Khlaw Lakhar (Lakhar Forest Cave) was bottomed by Tom, Mandy and Fraser, the incredibly strongly draughting Hairdryer Hole looked at (and left for next year) and a 20m+ deep pot, Krern Urn Thloo (1) also visited by Goon, Brian, Daniel and myself.

Our superbly efficient guide, Pyntyngen, had indicated that this was easily accessible but we found it to be an SRT job for which we were not equipped that day, being in a decidedly horizontal frame of mind.  It was left for the younger "tigers" and the old gits continued their walk through the forest for a couple of hundred metres to be shown an Eastwater type entrance almost totally choked with rotting bamboo.  This was an obvious flood sink and was also known as Krern Urn Thloo (2) (Water Hole Cave).  A short climb down led to a reasonably well decorated, spider infested series of chambers with a horrific looking vertical boulder ruckle in the floor.  With a chance of bagging 100m or so surveying commenced while the writer, being spare man, attempted to find the way on.  At a depth of c43m a solid walled phreatic passage was found which soon closed down but was at least horizontal and safe. This was surveyed and feeling reasonably pleased with ourselves we started out, pausing briefly to insert Allard, our token small boy, into a grotty little dry sink in the floor. This soon opened up and we followed him through into slightly bigger passage which now had to be mapped.  The whole cave was hot and draught free and held little promise until I suddenly found my feet in a metre of slowly flowing water with a howling draught disappearing through a low duck on the left. Things were now looking up and we continued downstream in walking sized wet, then dry phreatic galleries.  With time running out we were about to stop surveying when Allard pointed out the sound of falling water ahead.  On rounding a comer from our already impressive passage we were stunned to walk into a 6m diameter " Master Cave" bore tube crossing from left to right with a healthy stream cascading into another large passage straight ahead.  It was now very obvious that the old gits had hit the jackpot and found a nice horizontal system to fester in - by the end of the expedition totalling over 12.2kms with scores of leads for next year.  By the 22nd it had overtaken Krern Shrieh, found last year, as the third longest cave on the Indian Subcontinent.

The main upstream passage was later pushed for a couple of kms to a high aven with a possible high level passage part way up and climbable with aid.  Several kms of wet and dry passages lead off from this, generally in a northerly direction and towards the crest of the ridge, beyond which lies Krem Shynrong Labbit, Krem Labbit and Krem Risang.  Daniel informs me that the limestone goes right through the ridge so there may be potential here for connections and the longest cave in India.

Downstream was surveyed through lots of spectacular passage (which I never got a chance to see) and a side entrance found by Goon and team in a jungle filled doline.  They were found by us sitting on an obscure path in the pitch black early evening, completely lost.  We were on our way back from Krem Ticha (Tea Cave) located at the edge of the flood plain a long way below Tong Seng village and luckily guided by the redoubtable Larsing - caver, guide, ladies' man, Caroom champion, etc.  The cave behind their lower entrance was apparently of continental show cave grandeur and proportions and ended in a boulder choke where they thought they had heard voices.  Our resurgence cave had started as a magnificent tunnel but had deteriorated into flooded maze pas ages with boulder chokes above.  If we had climbed up instead of staying in horizontal mode we would probably have met them and connected the two caves.  This was to happen the following day.

Other caves later connected to the system via surface potholes were Krern Urn Thloo (1) - where Tom had halted his survey at a low, draughting duck unaware that one of our stations was a mere 1.5m away on the other side, Krem Lyngkshaid, Krem Moolale and Krem Myrlait.  The latter dropped some 50m straight into a small chamber previously reached by Tom and Rhys by digging out a crawl from the main system.  They had only found this because of the strong draught issuing from a tiny hole in the floor.  Once they had both squeezed into the chamber they realised that they were not alone - a small but wide awake snake was beginning to take an interest in them. Alas, that was the last interest it ever took as they could not afford to let it get into the crawl behind them.

By now Pyntyngen and his fellow guides had established a fine tradition of building a raging bamboo bonfire for our return from the depths.  Not content with that, and with an increasing amount of time on their hands, they also built bamboo clothes drying racks, a rain shelter for our kitbags and on one memorable occasion a complete shed with a banana leaf roof, indoor bonfire and signpost stating (in Jaintia) "Krem Myrlait - very deep cave".  We repaid them with fags, biscuits and beer.

The Krem Urn Thloo System was also remarkable for its wildlife, much to the joy of our speleobiologists Dan, Fiona and Christian.  Thousands of blind fish, crayfish, shrimps and freshwater crabs live in the streamways and pools.  One large crab got its own back on Roger when he foolishly picked it up.  If he hadn't been wearing thick gloves his tin whistle playing would have been severely curtailed!

Dan also became a speleoarchaeologist when he surveyed up an inlet deep in the system.  About 100m before the foot of a 30m aven he came across masses of broken pottery water vessels which he assumed had been swept in from the surface.  They have been left in Shillong for possible dating but may only be 50 or so years old. Even so, their presence indicates a habitation site on the ridge above which may be traceable.  There are many other unclimbed avens in the system awaiting exploration next year, either from below or by descending the virgin potholes from the surface.  At the bottom of one of these Dan also found the grotesque skull of a Hanuman monkey - a baboon like creature, sacred to Hindus and now absent from this area.

To sum it up - a superb system with a great variety of passage, spectacular caving, lots more potential and bonfires at every entrance!  We will return.

The other main triumph of this part of the expedition was continued exploration in the equally spectacular Krem Iawe - situated in the next spur to the north east and probably the lower section of a similarly sized system draining the Shnongrim area.  Partly explored last year it consists of a massive stream passage ending in a choke but with an amazing labyrinth of canal passages rising gently to another section of now fossil bore tube.  There are many fantastic formations including foot high mud stalagmites and bright orange gours.  Its current length is over 1.7km with plenty of leads.  The only problem is either finding it or, conversely, finding one's way back again over flat paddy fields in the dark.  A GPS is a very useful item in these circumstances but a Simon or Daniel are definitely not!

Other notable caves surveyed in the area were Krem Churchill - 302m, Krem Pakse -716m, Krem Ka Tham Thyrsin ( Crab Claw Cave) - 359m and Krem Labon - 687m.  Lots of other small caves and extensions of old ones were found and any amount of unvisited sites recorded from many informants from all of the villages visited - including Shnongrim where we were eventually allowed to cave and were personally guided by the headman himself.  He was obviously unhappy when he couldn't find any open caves for us but a better look next year should reveal this area to be equally productive.  One problem this year was the great amount of time spent travelling to the caves and so satellite camps near the entrances are planned for the future.  The very remote Lakadong area was visited and has great potential with several deep pots. A small, new ill here will make life easier but the presence of illicit "shebeens" may limit the amount of exploration done!

Other useful expedition work included photography (Yvo, Simon and Fraser) video (Fraser and Paul) collecting cave legends (Brian, Larsing and me) PR (everyone), international joke telling in an Austrian accent by a one-eyed caver wearing edelweiss braces (Peter) and mooning unintentionally for the camera (Herbert).  The conservation minded Ronie thoughtfully collected over 500 beer bottle tops (!) which we found very commendable - until we realised that the little sod got 1/2 a rupee each for them!

Great trip, caves, company, food, booze, Khasi Ladies, guides, weather (until the last day) and, despite a few minor illnesses, I believe that a good time was had by all. Yet again our thanks must go to the stalwarts of the Meghalayan Adventurers and all the local people who helped us in so many ways.

Surveys and photographs will hopefully appear in a future BB. A report covering the last few expeditions is intended to be produced this year and Simon's slides, together with Fraser's videos will be shown at this year's BCRA Conference in Buxton.  We are planning to provide the Meghalayans with a Sked rescue stretcher so a slide show may be arranged on Mendip to help with funding. Any donations will be gratefully received!


The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Martin Torbett

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor
Joint Treasurers: Chris Smart, Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Martin Torbett
Caving Secretary: Rich Long
Tackle Master: Mike Willett
Hut Engineer: Toby Limmer
Hut Wardens: Vince Simmonds, 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

Editors Ramblings

and gleanings from the comers of the Hunters Lodge

Congratulations to Rich and Leslie Blake (nee Sibley) on their wedding at Shepton Registry Office on Sat 11th November.

Christmas is nearly upon us and all that goes with it; caving trips with hangovers, caving trips wearing tinsel, the lunch at the Belfry and a whole day of drinking (hopefully) in good or bad company.  As the years pass there is only one thing that you can rely on and that is the caving. Whether caving abroad or in the heart of the Mendip Hills, I hope that you all enjoy the festive season and the caving that you are now free to do in the short break before the return to work-don't forget to write the articles!  All the best to all Belfryites – Ed

Recent news from the AGM was that Tony Jarratt has been elected as an honorary life member for services to the club.  See picture.

The BEC nearly get into space!  Ben Ogbourne of Westbury sub Mendip is currently training as part of a team of three people who have won a place in a European Space Agency project.  Just think where will members get to next!

Thanks to Dizzie Thompsett - Clarke for the recent donation of several Mendip maps to the club library.


Tony Jarratt with life membership and a large cider mug from Chas.

A big thankyou to all who sent articles in for publication.  Once again, I am indebted to the few regulars, so all readers out there, pick up your electronic pens and write something.  I would PREFER articles in Word format as the easiest for ME to deal with.  If you are working in other formats, changes to your article are very likely!!

I am happy to type out non-word processed pieces of interest so long as they are about a page - with pics even better.  So, get writing, next issue out around April time. Ed


The Bildon's Mole Project

by Dave Yeandle (Pooh)

In 1978 I was living in Yorkshire and rather low on funds.  I had been trying to get a job in oil exploration but had been rejected on the fairly reasonable grounds of having no qualifications or relevant experience.  Perhaps it would be possible to make some money out of caving?  After some thought, I came up with a scheme.  I would survey Swildons Hole on the Mendips.  Then I would publish it and sell copies at a profit. I reasoned that the only available survey of Swildons was out of date and as this was such a popular cave, then my survey would sell very well.  I needed an assistant for this project and started to scout around for somebody suitable.

To my delight Geoff Yeadon agreed to come along.  I stressed to Geoff that this was a serious business venture.  I further explained that I had calculated that if we went down Swildons two days out of three and averaged trips of ten hours then we could expect to have the survey completed in two weeks.  Of course we would have to make sure that we stayed out of the pub as drinking would result in a loss of motivation and seriously jeopardise the project. Geoff agreed to all this and made a suggestion.  "There is a need for secrecy here D.W" he said with a perfectly straight face.  "Why don't we code name this excellent plan of yours "The Bildons Mole Project"

Why not indeed!  We slipped away from the Dales and headed south. We stopped off at Buxton and purchased a compass and clinometer from Caving Supplies.  This cost me £55.00, so my scheme was already running at a substantial loss.  I told myself that this was actually a very sound investment.  We later heard that our appearance in Caving Supplies had started several rumours in the Derbyshire Caving world.

When we arrived on Mendip we immediately set off down Swildons.  I had decided that this first trip should be a long one in order to make a good start.  I reckoned that we should survey Black Hole Series, Saint Pauls and as much of the streamway out from sump one as we could all in one go.

We made rapid progress to the end of Black Hole and started to survey out.

Now it all went rather slowly and I started to remember that there are quite a few rather unpleasant side passages in Swildons and all these would have to be included in the survey. We had surveyed about half of Black Hole Series when I noticed a side passage, about the third one already. The previous ones had been horrid. I pretended not to notice this uninviting hole and carried on down the main route.  Geoff was not letting me get away with this.

"D.W. Yeandle, get up that passage immediately".

"I'm sorry Geoff, what side passage are you talking about?" I replied dishonestly.

Laughter, "You know as well as I do, get along it at once!"  Groans, as I disappear along a squalid tube.

After a while we emerge from the side passage.  My wetsuit was in shreds and I'm bruised, muddy, cold and rather pissed off.  I was having second thoughts about "The Bildons Mole Project".  I really didn't want to continue but also did not want to admit this to Geoff.

"I'm really enjoying this Geoff I lie, "How about you?"  "Never been so happy, D.W. old chap"

"I think this is going to take us longer than I thought" I ventured.

"As long as you are happy to continue, I will not let you down"

Typical!  "Geoff, I don't want to do this"  Laughter, "Thank goodness for that" said Geoff jovially.  "I expected you to give up this mad plan long before this!  I was wondering how much more I had to put up with".

We headed rapidly out of the cave. "Bildons Mole" was over.

So there we were on Mendip and neither of us had a job, we had no real plans for the future.  For several days we hung around Mendip, spending rather too much time in the Hunters Lodge.  After a conversation with Martin Grass, we regained some sort of direction.  Martin, along with Martin Bishop was diving the coming Saturday in Wookey Hole. "Would we like to join them." Good idea, I also suggested that Geoff and myself survey Wookey 20.  It had not been surveyed accurately and I felt I should at least put my new surveying equipment to some good use.

We had an enjoyable dive to 20 in superb visibility; the only slight mishap being a large slab being dislodged when one of the divers was climbing out of the sump pool in Wookey 20. This unfortunately resulted in the last section of the shallow route line being buried.  After a quick look around the two Martins set off out leaving Geoff and myself to do our survey.  It all went rather smoothly with only one small argument temporarily spoiling the proceedings.  This occurred when Geoff insisted that I grovel into some disgusting passage in order that the survey would be complete.

"This passage is horribly tight, and half full of muddy water,"I protested.

"D.W don't be such a poof!  You have recently navigated 500 foot of underwater passage and I'm quite sure you can manage this".

Geoff as usual was right, and muttering I entered the offending passage.

Once we had finished our survey we set off back out through the sump.  It was by now evening and the show cave was closed.  This was not a problem until we had exited the cave and found ourselves confronted with a large metal gate, with spikes on the top, barring our exit from the show cave grounds.  I climbed up to the top of the gate and while precariously perched, Geoff started to pass diving gear up to me.  This operation was interrupted by the arrival of the manager of Wookey Hole Caves.

Suspecting burglars he shone a torch at me and demanded an explanation.

I started to try to explain, but fortunately the gentleman now recognised Geoff from a TV film that had been made at Wookey.  He was now very friendly and kindly opened the gate for us, after I had climbed down.

We then attended a very enjoyable bad taste party at the Priddy Village Hall.

Martin Bishop turned up wearing only a jock strap.  Phil Colette turned up as me.  One lady dressed in tight black leather and brandishing a whip, insisted on chasing Geoff and myself around the dance floor.  A Rolling Stones record was being played loudly (Sympathy for the Devil) and when Geoff wasn't jumping out of the way of the whip, did his rather realistic Mick Jagger impersonation.

The next day we went back to Yorkshire.  Geoff started work on the Keld Head film, The Underground Eiger.  I continued to look for a means to make some money. Christmas week 1978: I'm back on Mendip for the festive season and decided to do a pushing dive in Swildons sump 12.  What follows is an extract from the Martin Grass's log book.

Swildons Hole. 30. 12. 78           Self and Dave Yeandle

Aim: Yeandle to dive sump twelve with 40 cu. ft. bottle and 150ft. of line reel.  I was to be support diver.

After spending four hours trying to find carriers, two lads from the M.E.G. gave us a hand to take gear down to sump two via the Wet Way.  The water was high and very cold.  At this point Dave decided not to do a pushing trip and to leave some of the gear, fins, line reel etc.  Then his main bulb blew so he continued on Aqua -Flashes. We dived sumps two and three and continued to my first dive of sump four, which was a lot easier than I had thought.  Once through we met two lads on their way back from free diving to sump nine.  When we reached sump five we could not find the airspace (water level rather high).  Dave following the line but it led to an underwater mud bank.  At this point my light started fading so we decided to abandon the trip and make our way out on two Aqua-Flashes.  When we reached sump one the two lads who had gone to nine plus some friends helped get our gear out.

When we were at last out there was a hailing snow blizzard and everything iced up (hair, ladder etc.).  A pleasant, but frustrating trip to sump five.

After a really huge session in the Hunters on New Years Eve (I am trying to remember if this was the year that Fish and myself collapsed in a ditch on our way back to the Belfry and had to be rescued by Liz, but no, those brain cells seem to be gone) I returned to Yorkshire and finally got a job.

Dave Yeandle


Alaska 2000

By Rob Harper

It's true confessions time. Many years ago when the earth was young and we still called SRT "abseiling and prusiking" (and other people called it a suicidal cult that would never replace ladders) I was a Wessex member.  Yes, I know, it's hard to believe but I was.  I still occasionally go to Wessex Anonymous meetings.  However I digress.  In those days I caved with a fellow by the name of Paul Hadfield who left Britain in 1980 to take up residence in British Columbia and become, eventually, an avalanche technician.  He got married to Dooley Walsh (also Wessex) and over the years we kept up an intermittent flow of correspondence about two rungs above the once-a-year-Christmas-card level.  His caving days seemed to be over by the end of the 80's.  All his letters and telephone calls kept urging us to "get our arses" over there to do some "serious ski touring". Certainly when we visited him in the early 90's he confirmed our worst suspicions.  There was apparently too much fishing/canoeing/climbing/skiing to do.

The first inkling that this situation had changed came not from Paul himself but from J’rat who casually remarked to me in the Hunters one day that Paul had telephoned with an order for caving equipment.  My curiosity was aroused and at our next contact I asked about it.  Apparently he had been bitten by the bug again after hearing of cave discoveries on Prince of Wales Island in the Tongass National Park in Alaska. This island is only about 100 miles, as the crow flies, from his abode (at that time) in Stewart.  By the standards of caving in that region that's closer than Cuthbert’s is to the Belfry.  He went across one year and has been going back for about a month each summer ever since.  Eventually we succumbed to his tales of misty forests and virgin cave on every trip (and his lies about no bears!) and this summer Helen and I plus Keith Sanderson from the Wessex travelled over to meet him and Dooley on the Island.

Time now for a bit of background on the area and the caving politics.  Prince of Wales Island is one of an archipelago of karst islands that lie a few miles off the coast of British Columbia but actually belong to Alaska. Together with a small area of the mainland they make up the Tongass National Park.  The whole area is densely covered with temperate rainforest.  POWI itself is the third largest Island in the USA at about 120 miles long and a maximum of 50 miles wide and aligned in a NW-SE direction (see map).  Currently caves are have been located in small clusters at locations all over the island.  The caves are almost certainly far more widespread.  However due to the immense difficulty of moving through the forest once a cave is located there tends to be fairly intensive investigation in the immediate vicinity.  Hence the clusters.

The forest is potentially a source of enormous income for the local people most of whom are ethnically Native Americans/First Nation - it's not very PC to call them Indians these days.  So they want to log it.  Before they can log it the Forestry Service need to produce an environmental impact assessment.  Are you with me so far?  Concentrate because it starts to get even more complex in a moment.  Also, in the USA, they have something called the Cave Protection Act, which as the name implies confers a degree of protection on any cave system. In order to assess the importance of a cave system and thus its level of protection it needs to be explored and surveyed.  To comply with these regulations the US Forestry Service has funded an exploration programme each summer in which they provide free accommodation, food, transport and group equipment in return for exploration and survey work by any cavers who turn up.  However conservation groups (AKA "tree-huggers") are convinced that the Forestry Service survey programme is not good enough in a number of respects.  Therefore they have banded together and obtained grants to fund an independent exploration and survey project known as the Tongass Cave Project - henceforward referred to as the TCP.  The main agenda of the TCP is not exploration of caves but collection of information to use to try and preserve the primary forest in the region.  We were caving with the TCP rather than the Forestry group. According to Paul they are slightly less regimented.  Also we were told that the newly appointed liaison officer with the Forestry Service had not managed to organise a schedule this year and thus there was no official exploration programme.

That's enough of that - now back to the narrative.

Continental Airlines (not quite the cheapest but it felt like it) got us to Seattle via Newark in 18 hours; arriving at 11:35pm local time.  The 11-hour wait until our onward flight to Alaska was passed by scouring the airport for somewhere quiet and deserted to kip down.  A couple of hints - go to the mezzanine floor, as it's quiet but don't sleep on the baggage trolleys as someone turns up at 5 am to claim them. A 90 minute hop with the world's most amusing airline, Alaska Airways, and we were in Ketchikan in time for a couple of pints (Alaskan Amber - excellent) lunch and a long dozy afternoon before catching the 11pm ferry for POWLI.  This utilitarian vessel dropped us at POWI ferry terminal at Hollis (two huts and a car park) at about 1:00am and after a quick search for something better it was out with the mats, sleeping bags and bivibags and off to the land of Nod.  Helen claims that a crowd of people turned up for a 6:00am sailing but we only have her word for it as Keith and I slept through.  We awoke to a bright and sunny mid-morning - in fact for the bulk of our stay POWI had a freakish spell of warm dry weather.  Two brews of tea later our transport arrived in the form of Val White the partner of Pete Smith (they are a local caving couple who are one of the mainstays of the TCP).  We piled into the old pickup and headed towards Whale Pass a small community in the North of the island stopping en route to do food shopping at the last supermarket and to view some old totem poles.

Map of Northern USA to show the location of  Prince of Wales island

POWI is a bit like being in a mega-version of Stock Hill Plantation.  Miles and miles of dirt roads through rolling hills covered by trees, trees, more trees and yet more trees punctuated by the occasional lake brought us to a sign hanging over the road saying, "Welcome to Deliverance".  Thus we came to Whale Pass a scattering of forestry tracks, dwellings and abandoned vehicles in the forest tucked at the end of a long inlet from the sea. Val took us for a tour of the sights, both of them, the shop (a locked Portacabin) and the post office (a wooden bus shelter with shelves).  Then it was back to our accommodation a half built wooden house - even half built it was vastly better than a lot of caving huts.  This house belonged to Kevin Alldred who has been the major figure behind all the cave exploration in this region.  We dropped off our kit then headed around the corner to Pete and Val's for food.

Pete and Vas' place was a self built wooden house - two living rooms over a large workshop with a spare room downstairs and an outside toilet.  An aerial wooden walkway led to a second workshop just big enough for three or four lorries.  Pete and Val had designed and built this all themselves starting by selecting and felling the trees!  They are fairly heavily into self sufficiency so we also admired the solar panels, hydroelectric generator etc.  Besides trapping, killing and preserving the local wildlife Pete also makes fuel for the lorries from leftover cooking oil!  We were left feeling a bit lazy and inadequate.

Back in the house there was fresh salmon for tea. I only mention this in passing.  It sounds great but I do have to say that at this time of year in North Western America you can get a bit fed up with fresh salmon.

After an extremely short session of small talk Pete sat back, fixed us with a gimlet eye and asked, "Can you sketch?"  It took a few questions to sort out exactly what he meant.  I had to translate for Keith, as his Essex accent, unsullied by quarter of a century of living in the Dales, was unintelligible to the Alaskans.  Apparently in the States the person on a survey team that we know as the "recorder" is known as the "sketcher" and there was a serious sketcher shortage in the TCP.  Because Helen (the obvious choice) was not going underground at all, Keith had never done any surveying and Hadfield was still on his way to POWI.  I became, by default, the new sketcher on the block.  Which meant that Keith had to learn to be the tape/compass/clino man.  Next we were handed a printed sheet of detailed instructions for producing a survey to the satisfaction of the TCP and sent back to our accommodation to learn it ready for a test in the morning.

Next morning Pete drove us about three miles into the woods and en route we had our first bear sighting. While on POWI we were to average one bear encounter per day (thanks Hadfield) but these all consisted of the bear running away at high speed.  Pete's first lesson was tree identification followed by emphasizing to us the dangers of this area.  Unlike tropical rainforest the fallen trees in temperate rainforest take decades to decay. Therefore the "ground" is often a layer of dead and rotting wood up to three metres in depth. Combine this with the dense new growth of conifers which restrict visibility to about a metre or so and it means that you can easily walk over the edge of a shaft without noticing it for the few nanoseconds before gravity kicks in.  Suitably impressed with the couple of examples he showed us we were then rounded up, loaded back into the vehicle and taken off for some cave surveying practice.

The chosen cave, Whispering Canyon Cave, was only about 70m from the track where we parked.  Carrying full kit we thrashed through the undergrowth, teetered along fallen tree trunks and traversed past an intimidating eyehole into the 50m entrance shaft of the next-door cave ( Thunder Falls Cave).  Whispering Canyon was a short winding vadose passage that led after 80m or so to a sump. Keith and I blundered through our first few survey legs ("shots" in American cave-speak) and slowly built up a reasonable rhythm.

Pete, Rob and Keith at entrance to Whispering cave

 At least we thought it was reasonable.  Since Pete is one of those people who habitually wears an expression that suggests that a close member of his family had recently died it was difficult to tell what he thought.  Several points were discussed at length including the metric vs. imperial argument, which had already been thrashed through the night before. However it was re-opened when, all prepared to work in feet and inches; we were presented with a tape marked out in tenths of a foot!

We must have done something right because next day we were allowed to go solo on a survey of Starlight Cave.  This cave was much more spectacular.  A 20m abseil over poised logs down one wall of a 50m-diameter collapse shaft ended on a floor of logs and scree ("talus" or "breakdown" in American cave-speak).  Left was a spectacular 20m x 20m x10m chamber leading to a short scramble over ice blocks and up a scree slope into a canyon passage varying from 15m x 10m to 4 x 4m and ending in 2 daylight avens after about 100m.  A short side passage ended in a silt choke.

Rob Harper at the entrance of Starlight Cave

Right from the bottom of the entrance led to a boulder choke where we stopped at a squeeze due to lack of time.  Back at base Pete scrutinised our efforts and announced, with the air of a man who obviously felt that beggars could not be choosers, that we had done sufficiently well to be allowed to do some real surveying.  Suitably pleased with ourselves and fortified by yet more fresh salmon we stumbled back to our accommodation only to be awoken by the Hadfields arriving in the middle of the night complete with dog and cat.

Next day the weather was still fine and, so far.  There was dearth of seriously biting insects - even the locals felt that this was all a bit spooky.  After a leisurely breakfast, several brews and a catching up on Mendip gossip we headed around to Pete's place.  There were cavers everywhere.  As well as Keith, Paul and myself we were joined by Dave Lodge (TCP caver) Pete Smith and Pete's two sons (Jedediah and Kina - yes those are their real names, they're that sort of family).  We all piled into Pete's cooking-oil-fuelled ex-US Army truck, threw the caving kit and dog in the back, plugged in our ear defenders and headed off up into the hills.  Six or seven miles of ear battering and bum-numbing travel along forestry tracks and we pulled off in the bottom of a steep-sided valley.  All out, packs on and quarter of an hour of sweaty thrutching through dense undergrowth and up steep gullies got us to a large gully cum small gorge ("solution trench" in American cave-speak) at the bottom of which was the entrance to "Kamano Cave".  Here we left Keith, Dave and Paul who had been instructed to reclimb and rerig an aven that Pete had bolted the year before.

Pete and I and his sons then spent another happy twenty minutes searching for another cave entrance ("Snow on the Ground Cave") which the boys had discovered while out ski-ing but which had not yet been descended.  Eventually this was found.


Descending into Starlight cave

Yet another gully/gorge this time with a small stream in the floor which sank into an entrance at the bottom of a small doline type collapse.  A rope was slung around a convenient tree and Pete descended into the doline.  After clearing the loose logs and rock he disappeared from view amidst much crashing. The boys were next and then myself. The 3m-diameter entrance shaft dropped about 8m to a ledge and then on down a further 4m or so to a cobbled boulder floor in a 1m x 15m descending rift.  The limestone was originally very light almost white but had been heavily stained by tannins from the undergrowth above.  The rift soon entered a muddy bedding plane with a vadose trench in the floor, which meandered around to a 'T' junction.  To the right the bedding plus trench ended in a 10m aven and left the bedding disappeared and the trench could be followed to a small stream passage, which still continued.  All this was surveyed.  A small passage that appeared to be a stream overflow at the downstream end was pushed for a short distance with no conclusion.  Probably no more than 50m in total and all fairly small.

Out and down to Kamano Cave to wait for the others and then back down to Pete's place for large helpings of lasagne (made using the last of the bear meat!).

Once again next day was bright and sunny.  I felt that I ought to complain.  This really was not good enough. We had been promised miserable rainy weather. However we just bore it with typical British fortitude, daft hats and masses of insect repellent.  Today's objective was the survey of the inlet in Kamano Cave that the others had re-entered the day before after an epic of bout of climbing and falling and climbing again. This time it was just Paul, Keith, Dave Lodge and myself (plus Paul's dog "Vlu").

Kamano Cave turned out to be very pleasant.  A short crawl led to a winding vadose rift very reminiscent of many of the Yorkshire entrances, which dropped in 3m steps to a short bedding plane passage with a slot in the floor.  After about 40m we arrived at a 10m-diameter chamber with a Swildon's sized stream falling from a passage high on the left and disappearing down rift on the right.  The streamway was accessed via a series of bolts on the wall of the chamber, which did not give the best of hangs.  However everyone managed to struggle to the top to reach a spectacular little streamway with deep pools and cascade climbs to a cobble floored rift passage.  Paul and I surveyed from the floor of the chamber and Keith and Dave went to the "end" (or at least were it got down to a low crawl in the water but still going) and started back and we met in the middle.  This came to about 80m in total.  Going back down the waterfall we were supposed to put on another rope as the original had nearly frayed through - don't believe anyone who tells you that Bluewater is totally indestructible.  I led off and managed to find a deflection that at least meant we were not in the full force of the water but at the rebelay I found that the existing rope was tied into a screwgate krab that couldn't be opened. So I cut the rope off it.  Much grumbling from Pete when we got back!

Next day was a lazy sort of day.  I spent a lot of the morning expanding my survey notes and drawing some extended plans and profiles to try and help the person who would actually be drawing them up. The others packed up the vehicles in preparation for a move to a camp up in the forest where we would be based for exploring a cave known as Zina Cave.  The camping party consisted of the three UK based cavers plus the Hadfields plus Bruce White (a TCP caver).

Now ALL Alaskans are a bit odd but even they thought Bruce was a bit weird.  He was a science teacher, part-time radio religious broadcaster who had an obsession with Barbie dolls (right down to having a caving Barbie complete with her own helmet, light, sit-harness and full set of SRT kit) as well as having a dozen machine guns with ammunition buried at various locations in the USA/Canada/Alaska "just in case".  He says he is coming to England in a few years - we suggested that he stay at Braida Garth and give a Caving-Barbie lecture at BCRA Congress.

Rob "sketching" at Whispering Canyon Cave

Packed tightly into two large 4WD Tesco-shopping type vehicles ("sports utility vehicles" in American-speak) we drove for fifty miles or so.  En route we stopped for essential supplies at a small store. Having bought several boxes of beer and some crisps we left civilisation behind and ground slowly up into the hills. A fallen tree across the track posed a problem for a while which, after several ingenious engineering solutions were proposed tried and rejected, was eventually solved by the simple expedient of unloading Paul's SUV and taking the obstacle at speed.  Thus we arrived at the campsite, which was a small clearing in the forest at a fork between two tracks.  Tents were pitched.  A dining shelter was erected.  Wood was collected for a fire.  Food was made and eaten.  A few beers were drunk.  Bruce showed us his handgun, (10mm stainless steel Smith and Wesson revolver for those who might be interested).  Then we went to bed and lay there waiting for a bear attack. Paul's dog brushed past the tent sniffing loudly which was enough to send our pulses up to about 300/min. Convinced that we were about to be savaged by a large black bear we set about making ourselves safe by pulling the sleeping bag over our heads!  No attack came and over the next few days we became inured to the nightly canine ritual.

Paul is an early riser so he brought us tea at 5:30am next morning.  He felt that this would ensure that we into the cave at an early hour but the rest of us interpreted it as the cue for an extremely leisurely breakfast.

After Pete had arrived we ambled over to the entrance shaft (approx. 50m away) at around 10:30am. Zina Cave apparently needed to be resurveyed as the original was not good enough so Keith and Bruce became one party, Paul and I another while Pete set off with a drill and some ropes to rig a traverse line to the head of one of the pitches in the cave.  From the lip of the 8m diameter entrance shaft a 17m steep slope cum pitch over mud, rock and fallen trees drops to the floor of a chamber.  From here right leads to a series of steeply sloping muddy tubes, which Keith and Bruce started to survey, and left to a steeply sloping narrow high rift.  Paul and I followed this rift until it became too tight after about 10m.  A large passage 3m up on the left wall led to a 10m roped traverse to a single bolt at the head of a 13m pitch.  The rope on down the pitch from this bolt was not joined in any way to the rope on the traverse nor was there any attempt to protect it from any abrasion.  I stopped for a moment or two to join the ropes together which at least gave us some chance if the bolt were to fail and then headed down trying to ignore the rub.  From the bottom of the pitch a dry vadose canyon led after 70m to a slot in the floor and just before this the other series of passages from the bottom of the entrance shaft entered on the right.  Paul and I slowly surveyed our way through to this point and stopped. Pete had been worried that this "squeeze" or another just beyond it would prevent me going any further into the cave.  So just before we left I had a go at it and found that I hardly touched the sides! Confident that it would be no problem we headed on out for beers and food.

Another crack of dawn tea round from Paul and then he and I spent the next day tidying up loose ends of our survey in the cave while Bruce and Keith procrastinated long enough to put off caving for the day.  Paul and I also re-rigged the 13m pitch with a rebelay, which did not entirely eliminate all the rubs but made it considerably safer.  Out to find Dooley waiting at the lip of the entrance shaft with a couple of bottles of beer.

That evening we are joined by Kevin Casey a Forestry Service employee who is in charge of the only show cave on the island and has been invited up by Pete to help with exploration of Zina.  When Pete arrives next morning he and Kevin head off down and the rest of us follow half-an-hour later.  At the pitch we find that Pete has put it all back to the old less safe situation including belaying to a single manky bolt without joining it to the traverse rope (also using the same bolt) as a back-up.  We catch up with him at the slot where he is drilling some shot-holes to enlarge it and Pete and I have a full and frank discussion about his rigging. Once the air has been cleared Pete used Hilti type charges to blow some of the lip off the slot and we all follow him down.  A 3m pot leads to a 10m "T -section" crawl to another 3m pot. The Alaskans think that this is tight but I find that it is easier than say the Devil's Elbow route into GB. From the bottom of this second pot an 8m-boulder slope led to the head of a 20m pitch.  A deflection at the top of the pitch gives a free-hang down the middle of a spectacular vadose canyon between 3m and 4m wide.  At the bottom Paul and I follow the stream for about 200m at various levels to another short pitch where we stop.  Pete is somewhere ahead of us but is stopped at a sump a short way beyond.  Upstream from the big pitch leads to a free-climbable waterfall about 6m high to a small active streamway that continues unexplored.  All out without too much trouble although it is noticeable that the Europeans with a "frog-type" rig have much less hassle than the locals who are using 3-point rope-walking rigs when it comes to deflections and awkward manoeuvres.  Pete and Kevin go straight home that night.

At last the next day is cold and misty and raining.  This is more like it.  Helen and I elect for a rest day in camp and the others all go off to do a tourist trip in a cave about an hours drive away.  I fester and read all day.  H goes berry picking in company with a bear.  When the others arrive back they come bearing a grouse that Bruce has shot - it took only three 10mm rounds to bag it and this is a gun that he told us would stop a bear in its tracks!  A pleasant evening is spent under the dripping awning covering the dining area.  As the booze goes down taller and taller tales are told, old jokes brought out and dusted off and we finish by grilling the grouse over the fire.

Another cold and misty day dawned.  Enthusiasm for going underground is noticeably absent.  Eventually Bruce persuades me to help him finish his section of the survey. Since we have to move out that day anyway I figure this will get me out of packing up so I agree.  We spend a miserable four hours but at last we get his survey tied into a known station on mine.  As predicted just about everything is packed away by the time I get out so it's out of the kit, into the vehicle and back to our home- from-home in Whale Pass not forgetting to pick up some more beers on the way.

That was the last of the caving for this trip.  We whiled away a day or so on POWI fishing and a few more days in Washington/Oregon sightseeing, drinking and eating before flying home.

To sum up - my feelings about this trip are very mixed.  On a personal level it was great to see Paul again and as always when you travel in good company we had a lot of fun.  However on the caving side the caves were small, short and cold.  Despite the fact that there is a lot of potential virgin cave out there it is likely that most of it will be the same and we certainly had the impression that we were being steered away from anything really interesting. The local cavers were fairly welcoming but they are very parochial in their outlook.  Like the Mendip cavers of the sixties and early seventies they give the impression that they feel that their own little patch is a major caving area in global terms.  Possibly because, like their Mendip counterparts of thirty and forty years ago, they are mostly home grown and have done little if any caving elsewhere.

Would we go back? Well certainly not to POWI. However Hadfield has list of other sites in remote locations that need looking at both in Alaska and BC which sound more appealing.  So watch this space.

Apologies to Rob if some of the picture captions are incorrect - Ed



by Chas



A Treatise On Subterraneous Rex

by Mr. Wilson

During my time as a caver I have had occasion to notice that there is a strange species of animal (not listed in the Guinness Book of Records) called Subterraneous Rex.  If anyone wishes to observe this species in their natural Karst Habitat, first you have to track them down "as they tend to congregate in dark obscure places", the best method is to follow the trails of curious white heaps (carbide) placed at random underground. These are usually interspersed with debris such as old boot soles, bits of rubber wet suit, batteries, flash bulbs, and marigold gloves!

If you can get really close to them, strange cries will be heard (these are not to be confused with mating calls!) or birthing grunts when the species are climbing rifts!  Closer observation will reveal that these calls are designed to maintain the morale of the group and boost the team spirit. Call the MRO, and my light has failed, are by far the most common.  Other calls tend to be interspersed with the occasional swear word.  This Species started life underground in Yorkshire and Mendip later spreading to Scotland, Wales and Ireland.  Their habits have changed over the years, in the early days dress tended to be grots, worn hobnail boots, and Miners bathgate helmets with wee bubbies (carbide lamps).  Clothing then progressed to overalls and wet suits, it is now not uncommon to have 3 types of clothing all-purpose made, such is progress!  Brand name purchasing is now the norm and no doubt in the future sponsorship and personal advertising will step in.  I cannot wait to see cavers with Marlboro Lights on their wet suits or may be Durex stencilled on their helmets, some will welcome the Butcombe Brewery sponsoring their efforts, and will no doubt will have to test the product thoroughly!  Please help me find the ultimate S. Rex, you never know they may include caving in the next Olympics.



Shrimpbones, Mongooses & Porcupines

(What could possibly go wrong)?

Matienzo Valley

Over Christmas/New Year of 1989/90, a well-known village within the Cantabrian mountains of Spain was witness to a small group of BEC cavers intent on exploration and merry making.

The aforementioned foray into Spanish caving became infamous and is now firmly engraved in Cantabrian and Belfry folklore.  This was mainly due to a small incident involving a few San Miguels, half a pint of Anise & Brandy, a couple of "empty looking" houses, a few cars and the Santander Civil Guard's riot squad.  However, a lesser known aspect of the 89/90 expedition was the exploration of Shrimpbone Inlet, situated deep within Los Hoyecka (Uzueka), Systema Los Cuatro Valles.  The trip extended Shrimpbone Inlet a further 700m, finishing in a chamber with a ten foot waterfall coming out of the roof.

Easter 2000, Matienzo was yet again the scene of an invasion of cavers.  The annual cave and drinkfest started early this year.  A small noisy encampment of tents was located in the marsh behind Casa German (Bar).  A large collection of MUSS, NCC, Bolton, Liverpool, TSG, CUCC, CDG, RRCPC, and of course BEC, were responsible for this camp.  The BEC contingent consisted of Rich Blake and Tony Jarratt, who had arrived by "Talking Terry's (I don't do time) magical mystery tours" and myself, who had arrived by the aid of a drunken taxi driver.  Our objective was to carry out some unfinished business in Uzueka, namely to climb the aven at the end of Shrimpbone Inlet.

However, as a starter we were invited, along with Andy Pringle (RRCPC) Liam Wright (TSG) and Sam? (CUCC) to a new find at the top of a 30m aven to help with surveys and detackling. This was to be carried out via an undescended surface shaft that Mark Wright & Martin Holroyd (NCC) had spotted from within their discovery.  With the surface shaft quickly located, two 10m ladders were swiftly dispatched into the hole.  RB descended the shaft to find that we needed a third ladder.  Unfortunately, the third ladder had been inadvertently left in the boot of the jeep.  This posed a small problem, as not everyone had SRT kit with them.  The descent was an entertaining abseil on the lifeline to a knot, to ladder change over, via a small ledge.  After the inevitable faff, the survey, exploration and photography took place without a hitch.  Unfortunately, the remaining leads fizzled out, and the new passage was surveyed at around 150m long.  The team split into two with four having fun and games detackling the 30m aid climb and the new entrance shaft by combined tactics and one completing SRT kit, whilst L Wand myself (PM) detackled Abono's original entrance, thus a pleasant through trip.

We decided to carry out a gear carrying recce trip into U zueka as far as the 'Astrodome', a huge missile silo type aven, 120m high, which is about a third of the way in.  A simple trip, we thought, to refresh our memory - what could possibly go wrong!  A strong team consisting of RB, TJ, MW, Sam, PM, (three of which had been in the cave several times before) were unexpectedly side tracked by the Riano bar.  This resulted in a devastating failure of internal compasses and route finding abilities. Many hours were spent wandering up dead-end passages and exploring series we were not intending to visit. All in all, it took seven hours to find our way to the Astrodome and two hours to get out.

The next trip into Uzueka was an overnighter, destined for the end of Shrimp bone.  Heavily laden, Sam, RB and PM proceeded through the first third of Uzueka in good time.  The additional gear was collected from the Astrodome.  Our next obstacle was the massive 'Armageddon' choke.  Luckily, we managed to locate the road works bunting that marks the route through the complicated choke.  The only problem we had was locating the pitch at the end of the choke.  The 1975 ladder was exchanged for a slightly newer one, then we continued down the extensive stream passage, interspersed with the occasional boulder piles. Eventually, the next potential obstacle 'Duckhams sump' was reached at about two thirds of the way in.

The roof of the 10m wide streamway lowers and the water deepens to neck deep with a couple of inches airspace (if you're lucky).  Although you can avoid the swimming and most of the neck deep water by a sneaky right hand wall route, you can't avoid the final 10m duck/dive, in which you head for the sound of falling water.  Once found, you search for a hole in the roof next to the waterfall and struggle in the deep water to climb into the passage above.

A guide line was rigged through the duck and left in situ, just in case.  A thrutchy rift led to the start of the 'Rocky Horror Series'.  At this point, Shrimpbone Inlet enters from the right.  Shrimpbone Inlet is about 1.2 km long and starts as an impressive small stream passage. After 200m, it degenerates into misery and hard work.  Alzheimer's must have set in over the preceding decade, because memories of formations, sculptured passages and delicate false floors were quickly replaced by sharp jagged spikes, awkward rifts and endless crawling.

However, the chert false floors were still there, albeit pockmarked by caver’s feet crashing through them with shin-numbing regularity, and a body-sized hole with a slight resemblance to the shape of a certain Mendip caver.  The Alzheimer's didn't stop there.  When we reached the final chamber, we were dismayed to discover that the ten foot waterfall had increased in height to nearer forty feet.  A brew station was established, while we took turns over the next nine hours to aid-climb up the overhanging waterfall. The waterfall issued from a letterbox, 10m above the deck, which was eventually reached by RB, only to find that a stal rib prevented access into the visible stream passage beyond.  Time for a quick exit.  The majority of the gear was abandoned and a fast five hour retreat was made.  We surfaced after a 21 hour trip just in time to catch last orders at the Riano bar.

After a suitable period of rest (mostly spent prospecting and sampling the occasional ale) a plan for a third trip into Uzueka was formulated.  This time, the same team armed with a lump hammer and chisel set off for another long trip.  The stal rib was swiftly dispensed with, allowing entry into a decorated chamber. We surveyed up into the chamber and assessed the ways on.  Above led up through boulders towards tantalising black voids.  This route would require further bolting.  Straight on, the stream cascaded 3m out of the roof over a delicate chert false floor.  A passage could be seen beyond.  The walls of the chamber were completely shattered, and we initially thought we would have to return with a maypole (a daunting prospect).  However, after a short consultation and some precarious balancing, we managed to hammer a hole up through the false floor, allowing access via a human pyramid.  With the ladder belayed to a convenient stal pillar, we continued with the survey along stooping stream passage.  The passage eventually reached a fork, and we decided to explore the left branch, as it issued the larger stream (both draught strongly).  The passage degenerated into a crawl and eventually reached a rifty squeeze, covered in sharp crystal spikes - 'The Porcupine'. The slot led through to a walking-sized rift, which in turn led to a chamber at the base of four large avens. The avens disappear into blackness, and any further progress will require a drill and a bivi.  A small plastic mongoose (acquired from a local bar the previous evening) was left to mark the permanent survey station. Carbide and time were running out, so an exit was made, leaving the other two leads unexplored and still going. The two waterfalls out of Shrimp bone Inlet into the 'Mongoose Extensions' were left rigged; a short ladder on the 3m waterfall and an old climbing rope on the 10m waterfall with a rebelay to keep it away from the water (The rope will need replacing by whoever visits next).  We exited the cave around 9 am, heavily laden after a 19 hour trip, and promptly knocked up the Riano bar.  AJ accompanied by Talking Terry and Brian Davis arrived a couple of hours later, to kindly give us a lift back to Matienzo, via a Santander Blanco run.

Recovery from the latest Uzueka trip was again spent prospecting with AJ, TT, BD.  Several interesting holes were dug along the hillside on the road up to the Smoos Bar.  The most interesting was a small hole in the road cutting above Cueva Volvo. After a couple of hours of hammering, chiselling and collapsing boulders on to the road, we eventually managed to break into a small decorated cave - 'Cueva Roadshow' - about 70m long, with a hopeful dig at the end.  A call for help came from a couple of local farmers.  Firstly, a gate was needed on a surface shaft, to prevent cattle from falling in.  Secondly, we were called out to rescue a foal from the bottom of a 20 m shaft. Unfortunately, the foal had not survived its fall, but it did help to further good public relations with the locals in Matienzo.  All in all, we had a superb time back in the happy valley where time is never called.

by Peter 'Snablet' MacNab


Caver in campsite


Strange rituals involving caver and animal




Let Sleeping Bats Be!

By Vince Simmonds

As the winter months draw in we may find that we have to share caves and mines with several other kinds of creatures, in cave entrances we may see cave spiders and possibly another species of spider, Nesticus cellulanus. Deeper into the caves common gnats and Herald moths may be found to hibernate along with other species of invertebrates (having no backbone such as insects etc.) and vertebrates (with a spinal column such as mammals etc.).  One of the most notable of these vertebrate species are Bats.

Out of the top ten species of British bats we could possibly come across eight species in caves or mines in the Southwest and Wales.  It should be noted that all species of Bat are fully protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  The conservation status of most bats is vulnerable and the Greater and Lesser Horseshoe are on the endangered species list.  We have already lost the largest of cave-roosting species, the Mouse-eared Bat (Myotis myotis) and some other species are close to extinction on the British Isles.  This is mainly the result of over-use of pesticides in agriculture and the subsequent loss of insect prey, however, we should do what we can to protect the species still remaining.

The Greater Horseshoe (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) and Lesser Horseshoe (Rhinolophus hipposideros) can be recognized by their horseshoe shaped nose-leaf which are fleshy lobes around the nostrils.  They are distinguished from each other by size the Greater Horseshoe can be 55-75mm in length (excluding tail) and weigh up to 35g, the Lesser Horseshoe is around 35-45mm in length (excluding tail) and weighs between 3 and 9g.  These bats are likely to be present in caves and mines all year round moving deeper in during the winter where temperature is even and constant and it is frost-free.  They can be seen either as individuals which are usually older adults, or in groups which tend to be younger bats and can vary in number depending on conditions.

The Brown Long-eared Bat (Plecotus auritus) is immediately identified by, you've guessed, its long ears. It is 40-55mm in length (which doesn't include its tail) and can weigh about 15g.  They may also choose winter sites close to the cave entrance and have been found with a body temperature as low as 0oC.

Daubenton's Bat (Myotis daubentonii) is a smaller bat with rather large feet and velvety fur like a mole. Excluding its tail it is 45-55mm long and weighs up to 15g. Natterer's Bat (Myotis nattereri) has a fringe of short, stiff bristles along the edge of the tail membrane and they also have longish ears, 40-55mm long (excluding tail) and weigh 5-12g.

The Whiskered Bat (Myotis mystacinus) and Brandt's Bat (Myotis brandtii) are both small bats with dark skin and small ears.  They are not easily distinguished from one another although the Brandt's Bat may be redder in colour.  They are about 35-50mm in length, not including the tail, and weigh possibly up to 109.

The Serotine (Eptesicus serotinus) can be recognized by its large size possibly being 85mm long excluding its tail and weighing up to 35g.

Horseshoe Bats hang by their feet from projections on the roof and walls and wrap their wings tightly around the body like a cloak.  Most of the other species of cave bats will choose to crawl into narrow cracks and crevices and in amongst piles of rocks and boulders possibly for several metres because of this they may not be easily visible.

Try to avoid sites where bats are known to be hibernating and if you do happen to come across any bats make every effort not to disturb them, for example don't all stand around with lamps gawking at them.  Remember none of us likes to be rudely awakened from deep, drunken slumber at the Belfry.


Cave Conservation Handbook; National Caving Association 9.4, Bats underground, 9-9

Caves and Cave Life; Philip Chapman (New Naturalist series)

British Caving, An introduction to speleology; Cave Research Group, x. Cave-dwelling bats, w.M. Hooper and J.H.D. Hooper pp 396-415

Complete British Wildlife; Paul Sterry (Collins)

Book of the British Countryside; AA

The Postcode Plants Database; The Natural History Museum


Waldegrave Swallet

(ST/5473.5155) - also known as Balcombe's Hole (note 1)

a brief history by Dave Irwin

1 - Wheel (or Wheal) Pit after the loss of water, undated.  Photo. HE. Balch [ Wells Museum Library}

The sites associated with the west side of Stockhill interested cavers throughout the 20th century and continue to this day.  That streams were sinking in the area was already well known from old mining records and this fact was first recorded in caving literature by Herbert Balch.

Balch formed the opinion that the water sinking hereabouts resurged at Rodney Stoke from a single observation following a flood early in the 20th century.  On a dry summers day the water at the Rodney Stoke Rising [Springhead Rising or Well Head as it is also known] became polluted with' ... suspended sediments ... , (note 2) Shortly after this event Balch heard that a deep pond  (note 3) whose depth had been artificially increased by the miners had suddenly emptied on the very same day.  The pressure on the bottom of the pond, Wheel or Wheal Pit, had increased due to the greater head of water and caused the floor to collapse allowing the water to drain away leaving an open hole. Today, hydrologists doubt that there is any subterranean connection between the sink and the Rodney Stoke rising and believe that the water travels underfound to one or other of the two main Cheddar risings some six miles to the west. (note 4)

Waldegrave Swallet has been dug on at least three occasions over a 55 year period, 1925-1926 and 1935-1936 by MNRC, and during 1975-1977 the workers were members of BEC and WCC but none achieved more than the MNRC attempt in 1935.

MNRC Dig, 1925-1926

During the early 1920s water commenced flowing into the depression known as Waldegrave Swallet and soon the site took a sizeable stream under all conditions.  Cavers of the day noted this change and in the summer of 1925 three MNRC members, J. Harry Savory, Clement Richardson and Eric L. Bird on holiday at Priddy, decided that the site looked sufficiently promising to merit an excavation.  Although the dig looked extremely promising and a considerable quantity of infill was removed a collapse occurred effectively fillin~ the excavated hole. The site was abandoned for the rest of that year.  Balch recorded  (note 5) :

During the summer holidays, Mr. Savory, Mr. Richardson and Mr. [E.L.] Bird, (note 6) whilst staying at Priddy, took the opportunity to make an examination, so far as was possible, of a new swallet close to the big pond near Miners Arms. The water has here commenced to develop several new cavities on and near the eastern end of the pond and one of these appears to be so extensive that an entrance seemed possible. A considerable quantity of debris was removed by them and an open aperture appeared in the rocks.  Towards the close of the work however, a considerable fall of the side occurred and the effort was abandoned for the time.

John Savory records that two photographs of the three diggers exist and that they may have been taken at that time. (note 7)

2 - General view of the 1935 dig site. Photo.- F. Graham Balcombe [CDG Library} [The bare hillsides are now thickly pine forested, see photo. 7}

Digging was continued by Richardson and Savory in 1926 but not to the extent that had been done the previous year though they succeeded in reaching a depth of 20 ft. (note 8) Balcombe records that it was rumoured that another party ventured into the dig and recorded a depth of 40 ft. He added' ... that the validity of this report is questioned.'  Balcombe was more forthcoming in his report written on the 13th February 1935  (note 9)

Information has come to hand that an excavation was undertaken on the identical spot some 20 years ago, by a gang of navvies working for a fortnight, and that no "sizeable passage" will be met with until 40 ft down.  It is almost certain, however, that no excavation has been done on this identical spot, for apart from any other indications (e.g. the nature of the material removed during the present work) there is no trace of any timber whatsoever, and an excavation without it would be frankly impossible.  Further, it is not considered possible to get down 40 ft in twelve working days or so. The source of the information has not yet been examined ....

Though Balch in his 1926 Annual Report to MNRC was enthusiastic about the work and added that' ... there is great hope of results being attained .... '  (note 10) no further progress reports were given and it can be fairly assumed to have been abandoned.  However, because of the 'promising situation' Balch convinced the Street Council Engineer, Mr. T. Jones, to carry out a water trace at the swallet by pouring nearly 250,000 gallons of water into the sink and arranging a careful watch at all the main risings .

... Though there was great discoloration at the swallet and chemical tests were employed, and day and night watch was kept at each possible outlet, no trace of this great volume of water was to be found anywhere .... '

None of the resurgences showed any sign of discoloration of their waters to which Balch assumed that there was a great deal of dilution and settling between the sink and the rising.

2nd MNRC Dig, 1935

Following his work in Swildon's Hole, Balcombe turned his attention to Waldegrave Swallet.  There appears no reason given why he should have chosen this site but in January 1935 digging with other members of MNRC commenced. Before seriously commencing to work at the site he invited a Westbury-sub-Mendip water diviner, Mr. H. H. Dennis to investigate the site.  Balcombe recorded that the  (note 11)

... line of action now being pursued is excavation from the swalIet back towards the Pond, a shaft then to be sunk into the boulders and a heading driven as necessary along the stream course.

Fig1 : H.H. Dennis’ dowsing map, c. January 1935.  Original 25cm x 17.5cm.  Copy drawn by Balcombe 29th November 1935.  (BRCA Library)

The course of the stream has been approximately traced through the favour of H. H. Dennis Esq [sic] of Westbury- sub-Men dip, by the method of water-divination. Five points have thus been obtained and should work at the swallet prove fruitless, it is proposed to sink a shaft at the fifth point ...

Helped by Bufton, C. (Digger) Harris and Baker, a new shaft was commenced which lay in the location of the diverted streamway carried out by Savory during the excavation a decade earlier.  Because of the potential damage to the earth sides of the shaft opened by the Balcombe party it was thus decided to divert the stream back to its original route - in doing so it  (note 12)

... will not have any undesirable effect, but in any case wilI provide interesting and perhaps valuable information .... '

Balcombe added that if the diverted water created difficulties then it would be piped into the swallet.  It was one, though not the first, of the digs to employ the use of explosives as a major digging tool.  During January 1935 the diggers used over 21 lb. of explosives in the form of 2 oz shots; 'Rupert', a 2 ton boulder, was removed with the help of equipped sledgehammers' ... '  (note 13)

By the end of January, sometimes digging under the light of a paraffin flare, the dig had reached a depth of 32 ft.  Two features were uncovered but led nowhere : a narrow creep, heading ESE, and a 10 - 15 ft. long rift, heading NNE.  Though the rift became too narrow for further exploration several diggers aired the view that

... 15' to 20' was visible, opinions differing on the final direction assumed

A variety of side passages were investigated including the rift but though

... various obstructions were blasted away, and the passage-ways cleared [it was found] that this also peters out in a small basin of about 18 inches diameter, and 12 inches deep, in boulders again, but unworkable and in any case without prospect. ... The acquisition of a rock-drill and compressor for such work is being considered.

Shoring the dig now became a necessity and by the 4th February the job had been accomplished. By this time Balcombe and his fellow excavators had come to the conclusion that the shaft was but a section of a large rift which peters out in the ESE Creep but as it widened considerably towards the NE wall it was concluded that it was the way forward even though it comprised a very unconsolidated infill of loose boulders and as Ba1combe succinctly put it

... and further more the excavation under this wall will present a problem of some delicacy

Small cavities appeared as they lowered the shaft floor but none gave any new passage though they were encouraged when they found that the rock in the lower sections of the shaft was in limestone though  (note 14)

... the Geological Survey indicates that the Limestone does not occur within a quarter of a mile of the swallet, it is gratifying to meet it at a depth of only 10 to 20 ft below the surface.


Fig. 2 : Sketch survey of dig site produced by Salcombe, 4th February, 1935. Original: 25 em x 18 em. [BCRA Library]

The deeper the shaft was driven the greater the instability of the shaft sides.  This gave much concern but gradually the shaft was shuttered.

The greater interest of diving at Wookey Hole Cave caused the diggers to abandon the site until later that year. Ba1combe was not too enthusiastic about the possibilities of digging for large caves in the central Mendip area and, further, because of the heat of the summer sun

' ... and surrounded by hordes of excursionists, the work was markedly distasteful…..'

However, returning to the site after the Wookey diving activity the diggers had to spend a great deal of time repairing the damage done by weathering and by interference from the general sightseer including damage to the lifting tackle.

... Of the former, the principle is the wrecking of the counter-weight which, falling down the shaft, knocked out some of the timbering and resulted in minor falls from the walls; burial of the accumulation of beer bottles and other trippers rubbish thereby will call for careful work when re-excavating ....

Work continued during the Autumn of 1935 but was dogged by slippages and general instability of certain sections of the shaft.  To ease the extraction of the rubbish from the site the hoisting gear pulley system was improved enabling a man to lift about half a ton single-handedly and ' ... work is possible with quite a small party.'  (note 15)  A diagram of the arrangement was published with Balcombe's Report No. 11. (note 16) A second, lower section of shuttering was installed and by the middle of November it had been completed between the -10ft to -20ft levels to enable work to resume at the bottom of the shaft.

Fig. 3: Sketch survey by Salcombe, dated 29th October, 1935, carried out before shoring of the upper sections of the shaft was undertaken. (BCRA Library)

Eventually by mid-December 1935 the dig was to reach a depth of 50-55 ft revealing only small cavities under the upper rift feature  (note 17)

... which here had dwindled to a small crack, and the sound of falling water was audible.  The work of  driving  a heading through to this was absorbingly interesting but was doomed to disappointment, the cavity was small, only a few cubic feet; the water was a mere trickle running in from the wall and disappearing again under a floor of fine detritus ....

Digging results were far from encouraging and by the 24th December 1935 the site was backfilled. Balcombe wrote that though the rigging had been a good exercise in removing material towards the end of the dig the equipment was of little use but

... undoubtedly added to the interest of the task.  The efforts below proved unsuccessful; the hole was closed down, the excavated material discharged round the timber core, and the surrounding fence closed up to complete the protection of the site.  The hole is accessible to anyone sufficiently interested to remove the nailed-down lid, but although everything was sound and safe when left, please remember the notice on the fence :  "Persons entering do so at their own risk," and also remember to fix the lid again securely.

3 - [left) Starting to shore the 1935 shaft.

4 - [right) - Shoring the upper ection of the shaft.

Both photos. : F. G. Balcombe (Album B1 in CDG collection) CDG Library)

The site received little more attention until the 1970s consequently the shaft and its shoring fell into disrepair and became a danger to the casual visitor.  C. Howard Kenney reported that during 1950 they had to fill the dig site. (note 18)

Owing to the large number of the public visiting this spot and the unsafe nature of the entrance shaft, the Estate agents considered its protection or closing essential.

A days work with spades, explosive and Mr. Devenish's jeep with bulldozer blade completed the task.  A full report was made on the excavation by F.G. BaIcombe in 1936 on behalf of the Society,. and it may be examined on request.

Digging Teams

Getting a regular digging team together is generally a struggle today but it was no different during the 1920s and 1930s.  During the time that Balcombe was enthusiastically working the Waldegrave site he often nudged fellow members of MNRC to help out with the heavy hauling work. To ensure that his helpers knew of the digging arrangements he printed headed note paper for correspondence and circulars and produced cards which gave the times of the forthcoming digging sessions.  Balcombe circulated a letter dated 25th November 1935 to MNRC members bemoaning the fact that support from 'clubmen' is 'practically negligible.'  He continued:

... caves in the Mendip area are not to be found by turning up a stone, and walking in.  The broken nature of the strata, and the wide covering of Mesozoic [sic] deposits make their discovery a matter of hard and continuous labour.

Waldegrave Swallet is a hole of great promise, but the goal will not be won without much hard labour .... The job is elegantly equipped with tackle, no pains spared to assist the work of excavation.  The job has cost on £200 in workers time and in hard cash.

... What are the club-men doing?  Hibernating.  With a sleep so deep that even the spring or the summer will not wake them.

Wake up! ... At Waldegrave, where even bucket hauling is a fine art requiring many weeks of practice, bucket hauling is not the only thing to do.

Can you shore up a face, or prop an awkward boulder?  Can you say just where a face will slip?  Can you place a shot and say this and this will go, say that and that will not be touched?  Can you recognise the fossils, or say just how the new met phenomenon occurred?  Can you tell a good prop from a dud?  Do you even know the quickest way to fill a bucket?

I reckon not!  Take a load from the men who do not need a club to lean on!  Do a bit of work, get tough and let your fellow club-men lean on you!

Those that did attend more or less regularly form a list of many of the best known cavers from this period. Their names have become almost immortal in Mendip caving circles: Atkins, Baker, Douglas Bovertson, Joe Bowsher, Braithwaite [of Weston- super-Mare] Bufton, Frost, Gibbons, Harris, Humphries, Murrell, Needham, Robertson, Sheppard, Taunton, Tucknott and not least Penelope Powell.

Although Balcombe seemed to have great enthusiasm for the dig he considered the Central Mendip area to be a barren zone for the discovery of new cave passage.  He identified the main problem that diggers would encounter - limestone interbedded within the limestone shales which would enable small bedding development which would be subsequently choked with the disintegrated shale.  That coupled with the fact that the catchment area associated with each site was small would yield little or no cave passage.  History has shown that several large caves were to be revealed in the area in future decades which included Mendip's second longest cave system, St. Cuthbert's Swallet; the only cave in the area that could be associated with Balcombe's thesis would be Welsh's Green Swallet opened during the 1980s.  Balcombe philosophically summed up their efforts at the site in a report published by MNRC in 1930. (note 19)

 ... The odds against success in this venture had been realised for some time and this realisation has helped in no small measure to soften the final blow. Waldegrave has been a great task, and has given much joy and satisfaction to those sharing in it. Though no cavern has been found it has served as a training school of no mean severity and for this alone it has been well worth while ....

Fig. 4: Hauling systems used at Waldegrave Swallet, 1935. (CDG Library)

Fig. 5: Letter headed notepaper. (BCRA Library). Size: Quarto

Fig. 6 : A digging invitation card produced by Ba/combe for digging sessions on the th and 8th December, 1935. Dimensions: 14cm x 9 em. (BCRA Library)

Mossy Powell's Poem

The famous expression 'Pump, you buggers, pump' that caused the plug to be pulled during the BBC Broadcast in July 1935 of one of the Wookey Hole diving 'expeditions' was immortalised in a little known poem by Penelope Powell (Mossy) during the Autumn of that year.  Obviously she wasn't going to let Balcombe forget that he couldn't dive at Waldegrave Swallet and his faux-pas! (note 20)

Waldegrave Swallet

By Mrs Powell.

Oh, Graham as you know by now,
Is seized with notions queer,
He's diving on the Mendips,
And there ain’t no Water there.
Ah called his troops together on
The Waldegrave Dump,
And announced his new intentions,
Pump, you boogars, Pump.

He covered up his box of tricks
With canvas pure and pale,
Then tootled down to Cheddar,
And got Mossy out on bail,
"Now you and Ting must guard my store,
Or you’ll have cause to jump,
So keep the frogs and lizards
Out of
Pump, you boogars, Pump.

He won a lovely diving suit,
From distant London Town,
And tried to catch the tadpoles
As they wriggled up and down.
Then he moved off to Wookey Hole,
Where Captain got the hump,
for Graham bust the telephone,
Pump, you boogars, Pump.

Some fat men came to B.B.B.,
What Graham meant to do,
And brought their wire entanglements,
And left them there on view.
The gang produced the diving gear,
And stacked it in a lump,
Then Graham promptly shattered mike,
Pump, you boogars, Pump.

Continued interest

In the first volume of the Shepton Mallet Caving Club Log Book, Fred Davies entered (5th April 1955) that the excavated shaft had' ... run in, some ofthe shoring still visible. Also found swallet at the SE comer that showed evidence of having been shored up but no accessible opening there now .... ' The latter site could possibly be one of the swallets that were opened by the slaggers during the 1850s and 1860s to drain the overflowing ponds. Ten years later Paul Allen (SMCC and SVCC) and Peter B. Smith (SMCC) visited the site after reading Davies' log note. An entry in Allen's logbook records that [April 11th] (note 21)

.. , Only one stake of the original shoring is visible and the entrance is well and truly filled in.  Pete Smith returned to the hut [SMCC] for digging tools whilst Roger [Biddle] and myself damned [sic] the stream. Once Pete returned we set to work clearing rubble. Almost immediately Roger nearly lost the crow-bar [sic] down a hole which opened up!  A little more scratching and the hole could be seen to continue for a few feet. Roger and myself were all for putting a couple of sticks in the boulders and having a big bang - Pete, unfortunately, was loathe to part with the jelly, and so we retired.

The swallet is quite impressive, and its chances of "going" must be rated pretty high.  It takes all the drainage of Walde grave Pool (when the pool contains enough water) which in turn takes the drainage of the hills near Priddy Nine Barrows by a well defined stream valley.  Now that some of us are showing a definite dislike for Priddy Green we could do far worse than transfer our attention to this sight [sic].

No further activity followed this visit.  Reopening the site 1975 - 1977

Re-opening the site 1975 – 1977

During 1975 several BEC and WCC members decided that another attempt at Waldegrave Swallet was on the cards.        To establish the acronym for the digging teams' name, as was then the habit of other inter-club groups, e.g. ATLAS, the team became known as the Priddy Institute for Scientific Speleology.  This becomes a vulgar acronym!  However, the team projected their energies into relocating the Balcombe shaft.  Initially large chunks of limestone were removed and several large boulders had to be manhandled.  Some weighty lumps of limestone were described as being of 'hernia' size and the larger blocks were known as, succinctly described by Phil Hendy, ' ... a two hernia boulder was a fearsome lift indeed .... , (note 22)

Work began on the 27th April 1975 and was spearheaded by Chris Batstone, Martin Bishop and Richard Stevenson of the BEC and Phil Hendy and Adrian Vanderplank of the WCC.  After a few weeks of toil pieces of rotten wood began to appear and the team knew that they were now in the Balcombe shaft. However, the broken nature of the side walls made the process extremely dangerous and shoring was once again installed in the shaft. Hendy wrote  (note 23)

... All this while, the stream sank well but indeterminately; digging was easy, being mainly a matter of lifting boulders of varying sizes, and carefully rescuing the newts and dragonfly larvae from the mud ... progress was fast, and a depth of about six feet was rapidly achieved.  By June 1st, wooden shoring became necessary ... While fixing this, the top of a rift was uncovered, with limestone on the left, and conglomerate on the right. ...

5 - The site before the wooden shoring was installed, 1975. Photo. Phil Hendy

Though the rift was about eight feet deep the whole area was unstable' ... being roofed with loose infill, so the cavity was closed with shoring.  Later that same day a hole opened having an estimated depth of about 20 ft. (note 24) - this was the rift noted in 1934 by the Balcombe team.  With that discovery the diggers established a permanent entrance and introduced the use of explosives to remove the larger boulders.  Good progress was made in the next few weeks and the dig face was progressing eastwards. Work stopped for the summer expeditions to the Pyrenees and Picos and digging was slow to restart. A visit by Hendy in October of that year found that a massive collapse had occurred' ... resulting in a jam of boulders, wood and scaffold poles in the floor of the depression.'  Later that month, cementing the walls enabled the diggers to have a roof of sorts and have sufficient room at the shaft floor to manoeuvre the excavated infill.  (note 25) On one such trip Hendy recorded that though stone walling had been successful and a few feet of infill removed from the shaft floor' ... More diggers and concreting needed.'  Enthusiasm waned and an ill located charge destabilised the roof and the site was subsequently abandoned.  The spoil heap was transferred back into the shaft to make the whole site safe.

6 - Adrian Vander plank (WCC) working on the installation of the shoring, 1975. Photo. Phil Hendy

Following the success of the BEC at extending a cave in conglomerate at Wigmore Farm - Wigmore Swallet, the WCC felt that there was sufficient justification to reopen the Waldegrave Swallet again but little came of their efforts except to install a strong, lockable gate.  Digging commenced just after the Easter holiday and continued regularly until the end of May when activities were abruptly brought to a halt due to heavy rain. Hendy commented that  (note 26)

, ... The following day I had a look at the site to find a heavy stream flowing out of the pond.  It was too voluminous for the normal stream channel, and flowed as a sheet over the old spoil heap ... and directly into the shaft.  I am not looking forward to our next digging trip, as it is likely that the underground scene will not be a pretty sight. ... '

No further work was done at the site and a year later repairs had to be made to the entrance gate when it was noted that though the gate was well repaired by Glyn Bolt, the' ... same ... cannot be said for the sides of the dig!'  (note 27) By 1986 the site was' ... much collapsed ... ' since when the site has been backfilled. (note 28)


My thanks to Tony Jarratt for reading the manuscript and the Trustees of Wells Museum for the use of Photo. No. I from the Balch photo. albums; Martin Grass, Librarian of CDG for use of Photos 2 - 4 from the Balcombe collection in the CDG Library; Phil Hendy for access to his photographic collection and the PISS logbook; Roy Paulson, Librarian of BCRA Library. for permission to reproduce sketch surveys and illustrations from Balcombe's Waldegrave reports Nos. I -12, formerly part of the BSA Collection.

Dave Irwin, Priddy. Somerset. 28th September 2000

7 - The fern filled depression [foreground) of Walde grave Swallet in 1997 (looking east). digital photo. Dave Irwin


Price, Graham, 1980, Caving News, Mendip. Cer SS Jnl 10(2)67(Mar/Apr)

Mine found at East Harptree; New MCG Hut destroyed; Lamb Leer Cavern, Manor Farm Swallet




On the hills interesting work has been done.  Mr. Harry Savory and Mr. Richardson have carried on the attempt to open the new swallet by the big pond on Earl Waldegrave's estate on the old British road near Miner's Arms, and there is great hope of results being attained.

An indication that this group of swallets feeds the stream at Rodney Stoke led to a great experiment carried out by the Street Council Engineer, Mr. T. Jones, on my initiative, when nearly a quarter of a million gallons of water were discharged into this swallet in twenty-four hours, and a careful watch kept for results.  Though there was great discoloration at the swallet and chemical tests were employed, and day and night watch was kept at each possible outlet, no trace of this great volume of water was to be found anywhere.

These experiments were repeated, and in no case has a test material put down a Mendip Swallet been traceable at either of the risings of Wells, Wookey Hole, Rodney Stoke or Cheddar. The dilution of course is very great and this accounts in some measure for the difficulty experienced.

References :

Jarratt log books: 20-21 Apr. 1976 - Digging and removing boulders

Tony states that one BEC member, Pete Lord descended the dig and was promptly buried by a collapse. He was dug out and the site abandoned


1.                  Oldham, Anthony D. et ai, 1963, Not in Barrington - or Oldham. WCC Jnl 7(90)199-207(June)

2.                  Balch, Herbert E., 1937, Mendip, its Swallet Caves and Rock Shelters. Wells: Clare, Son & Co., 211pp, iIIus .. figs, surveys [po 174} and 1947, Mendip - its swallet caves and rock shelters. London: Simpkin, Marshall (1941) Ltd., [vi] + 156pp, surveys, iIIus. [p.137-8]

3.                  Possibly Wheal [Wheel] Pit (ST/5477.5 143).

4.                  A new trace is planned to be carried out in the near future.

5.                  Balch, H.E., 1926, Mendip Nature Research Committee Report for 1925. MNRC Rep (18) in WNHAS Report for 1925, p.44-46

6.                  Possibly Eric Bird that was associated with Tratman in the UBSS and accompanied him on the Balch trips into Swildon's Hole during the last half of 1921.

7.                  Savory, John led], 1989, A man deep in Mendip. The Caving Diaries of Harry Savory 1910-1921. Gloucester Alan Sutton, xviii + 150pp, maps, illus., figs, surveys. [po 142]

8.                  Balcombe, F. Graham, 1936, Waldegrave Swallet, Somerset. Lon. 2 degrees 38' 55" Lat. 51 degrees 15' 35" Wells: WNHAS & MNRC, i + 5pp, fig (17-6-1936) [po 2]; reprinted in WCC Jn 114 (168) 125-127 (1977)

9.                  Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No.6, 13th February 1935 [in] Reports Nos. 1-12.  Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, illus. [BCRA Library]

10.              Balch, H.E., 1927, Mendip Nature Research Committee Report for 1926. MNRC Rep (19) in WNHAS Report for 1926, p. 27-30, illus

11.              Salcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No. I, 9th January 1935 [in] Reports Nos. 1 - 12. Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, illus. [BCRA Library]

12.              Salcombe, F.G. 1935, Report No.2 17th January 1935 [in] Reports Nos. 1 - 12. Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, illus. [BCRA Library]

13.              Balcombe, F. Graham, 1936, [as above]

14.              Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No.2, [as above]

15.              Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No. 10, [undated but written after 29th October 1935 and before 26th November 1935 [in I Reports Nos. I - 12. Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, iIIus. [BCRA Library]

16.              Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No. II , [undated but written after 29th October 1935 and before 26th November 1935 [in] Reports Nos. I - 12. Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, ill us. [BCRA Library]

17.              Balcombe, F. Graham, 1936, [as above]

18.              Kenney, C. Howard, 1950, Summary of work, 1950. MNRC Rep (43) in WNHAS Report for 1950, p.7-8

19.              Balcombe, F. Graham, 1936 [as above] [p, 4]

20.              Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No, II [as above]

21.              Allen, Paul, 1965, Caving Diary, 1965. Vol. 3" 26-27, map

22.              Hendy, Philip G., 1977, Waldegrave Swallet - thirty years on. WCC JnI14(170)169-l70(Nov), illus.

23.              Hendy, Philip G., 1977, [as above]

24.              Jarratt, Anthony R., 1974-1981, Manuscript Caving Log, Vol. II [photocopies in BEC Library and Wells Museum Library]: T he entry given in this log book is dated 1st June 1974 where Jarratt found: ' ... that M[artin] B[ishop] & Co. had opened up the top of the open rift - some 20-30 feet deep.'

25.              Anon, 1976, From the Log WCC JnI14(l63)2(Feb)

26.              Hendy, Philip G., 1979, Waldegrave Swallet - another chapter in the saga. WCC Jnl 15(l77)156

27.              Anon, 1980, Council of South em Caving Clubs AGM Report. WCC Jnl 16(l81)33(May)

28.              Anon, 1986, From the Log WCC Jnl 19(211) 17(Dec)

29.              Balch, H.E., 1927, Mendip Nature Research Committee Report for 1926. MNRC Rep (19) in WNHAS Report for 1926, p. 27-30, illus.


Cave Divers From Somerset Establish New Record in the Dordogne

sent in by Clive Stell


Clive Stell of Bath

A team of British cave divers have beaten the depth record for Dordogne caving at the Grand Souci in the Commune of St. Vincent sur I' isle.

The team consisted of divers Tim CHAPMAN, Sean PARKER and Clive STELL, all of the Bristol Exploration Club and the British Cave Diving Group, with Andrew KAY of the Speleo-Club de Perigueux and the Wessex Cave Club acting as logistics and surface Controller. The record breaking descent went to 107 metres below ground level, and the bottom of the cavity has not yet been found!

This was not cave exploration as visitors to the underground tourist sites of the departement probably imagine it, for 102.5 metres of the site are under water.  Obviously in these circumstances not only does progress require a quantity of expensive equipment and meticulous planning, but also nerves of steel.  The reward for the cave diver is knowing that he has been to a place where no one has gone before. As a favourite expression goes, "more people have been to the moon"!

The Grand Souci is a geological enigma for the region.  Most caves in the Dordogne are predominantly horizontal, and until now, the deepest known was the Trou du Vent in Bouzic, at the extreme southern border of the departement.  Only further probes into the Grand Souci will help to explain its origins: at present it is considered to be a "relic" of a massive and ancient under ground system formed millions of years ago, before the verdant hills and valleys in the area even existed.

For the technically minded - the 'point' dive, made by Clive Stell of Bath, took 2 hours and 47 minutes, of which only 18 minutes were for the descent and exploration, the remainder the ascent and respecting the previously scheduled 'decompression stops'. Special computer programs had been used to calculate the mix of gasses to be breathed by the diver, because at such depths pure oxygen or even compressed air, become fatally toxic. The mixture used is known as 'Trimix', comprising oxygen, helium and nitrogen all mixed into the dive cylinders in precise quantities with different mixes used at different depths.  It is not cheap: each cave dive to these depths costs £100 in gas alone, not to mention the equipment to use it.

Clive decided to be prudent and turned around two minutes earlier than his maximum scheduled dive time permitted.  In the dark, hostile world of a flooded cave, it is better to play it safe.  At a depth of 94 metres the visibility dropped to a point where Clive could not seen his gauges despite bright dive lights but he continued on laying the dive line linking him with the world above until any situation became too dangerous.  In these conditions, it is easy for a diver to become disoriented.  His mission was accomplished: the deepest cave in the Dordogne at 107metres!

By Andrew Kay - La Chassenie, 24390 Chervieux-Cubas, Dordogne, France.  Note: The official deepest cave dive in Britain is 67.5 metres at Wookey Hole in Somerset.


What! More Armchair Caving for the Alcoholic?

by Ray Mansfield

I was delighted when the Chief Bat gave me a copy of the Belfry Bulletin which included his article on bottle labels and associated ephemera.  There was a catch in this kind-hearted gesture as it was followed by the comment "I expect you can add to this and produce something for the next BB".  Well here goes:-


I can only add one beer label to Tony's list but it is probably the finest cave related beer label I have ever seen.

Pabst Brewing Co.  An early 1900's coloured label showing a group of tourists in Mammoth Cave enjoying a glass of beer.  This was one of a series of 8 topical labels produced by this Milwaukee Brewery, which were also published in booklet form for advertising.


Krugman, Attendorner Hohlentropfchen from Sauerland is not a beer as Tony suggests in his list but a 32% Schnapps advertising the show cave Attendorn Tropfsteinhohle.  This item was on sale at a number of Sauerland show caves in the early 1970's.

Zmajeve solze, Dragon's tears homemade plum brandy (Slivovka).  Once upon a time there lived a frightful dragon in the Postojna Caves.  In fear of the roaring monster, the people of the region used to throw their sheep, goats and even calves into the caves.  The insatiable monster represented an ever-growing danger to the local people.  A clever herdsman called Jacob happened to live nearby.  When the inhabitants of Postojna asked him for help, Jacob hit upon a very good idea.  He told the people to throw the dragon a calf stuffed with quick lime.  They did as they were told.  The greedy monster devoured the bait instantaneously and afterwards drank water.  The lime began boiling and the dragon started roaring, raving and raging with pain. Finally it threw itself on its back, cut at a cave wall with its mighty claws so strongly that its traces can still be seen, - and it was done for.  According to their good old custom, the locals drank to this great event, toasting each other with homemade plum brandy.

This slivovka could certainly be bought at concession stalls outside Postojna Jama in the early 1990' s but I do not know if it is still available.

Bacardi rum.  The bat trademark of Barcardi & Company Ltd is claimed to be the most famous bat in the world.  A 16pp booklet published in 1984 will tell you why.

Dew of the Western Isles, Old Highland Whisky.  An early 1900 bottle label reproduced on a postcard in 1986.  The whisky was produced by Train & McIntyre Ltd of Glasgow and the label shows Fingal's Cave.

Mammoth Cave Brand straight bourbon whiskey.  Tony records the 1940's label from the Stitzel-Weller Distillery but there are others. Probably the earliest is a late 1800' s or very early 1900' s bottle with a multi-coloured enamel picture of the historic entrance to Mammoth Cave with white enamel lettering Mammoth Cave Whiskey.  One of these rare items recently sold for well in excess of $200.00 in a recent auction.  A half pint label dating from 1916 shows a similar picture to that used in the 1940's, but the distillery was then solely owned by W.L.Weller & Sons.  This 1916 bottle is of considerable interest as it has another label which is a caution notice about mis-using the bottle and its contents, and the neck tax stamps have a bottling date of 1916 and a made date of spring 1911.  It claims to be 100 proof.

Jack Daniel's Whiskey. The California Caver of June 1980 carried a copy of an advertisement for this famous bourbon.  It shows three people at the entrance of the cave and carries the following text.  Of the 2,531 caves in Tennessee, this one in Moore County is particularly prized.  It's fed, you see, by an underground, iron-free spring flowing at 56 degrees Fahrenheit year round.  Mr Jack Daniel, a native of these parts, laid claim to the cave in 1866 and from that year forward, its water has been used to make Jack Daniel Whiskey.

A full description of this cave and a survey can be found in:- Thomas Barr - Caves of Tennessee. 1961. pp.334-337.  I visited this distillery on 18th June 1974 with Martin Webster, Martin Mills and Bob Mehew to find that the water from the cave was really used to make the whiskey but we did not get a free sample as the distillery is in a dry county, most disappointing.


Tony suggests that serious students should consult the Belgian published bulletin collections (now defunct).  He is quite right in saying consult it, but it is not defunct.  It stopped at number 40 in December 1994 but Guy de Block must have relented and started again with number 41 in September 1999 and the last issue number 43 came out in May 2000.  Numerous labels (mostly wine) have been described and illustrated and check lists have been produced by Philippe Drouin in the following issues:-

Number 29 pp.12-13 (February 1991).  Number 31 pp.13-16 (December 1991).  Number 40 pp.11-23 (December 1994) and Number 41 pp.3-10 (September 1999).

Quitapenas Malaga.  A sweet wine purchased in the last five years with a label showing some cave formations in the Cueva de Nerja, Spain.

Cueva del Granero 1987. From La Mancha region of Spain does not have any cave illustration, just in the name.

Tautavel.  Cotes du Roussillon Villages 1995.  Label shows three Palaeolithic hunters from the site Caune de l' Arago, Pyrenees-Orientales, an archaeological site renowned for the discovery of Tautavel Man.  Some details on this site and this wine appeared in the Oddbins winelist for Winter 1995.

Grottes des Tunnels Merlot 1992.  From a show cave in the Ardeche visited by Martin Mills and family in 1994, this label shows a stylised cave entrance.  His comment was that the wine was undoubtedly better than the cave.

Moc Chau 989, Speleo Vietnam.  A 1996 Cotes du Rhone showing a caver either prussiking or abseiling off a map of Vietnam.

Renski Reisling. Produced for Postojnska Jama 1818-2000. The label is taken from a Schaffenrath print of 1825.

Valvasor penece vino. Similar to champagne produced in Ljubljana in the early 1990's.  The neck label is a portrait of J.W.Valvasor, explorer of caves and underground sources in the latter part of the 17ih century.  The bottle cork also carries his name.

Soft Drinks

Agua de Cuevas.  No cave shown on the label but from a cave spring in the Cantabrian Mountains of Spain.

Schweppes.  A German advertisement from Enzyklopadie des Schweppens lists Homo Schweppiens showing a frieze of prehistoric animals and a prehistoric hunter holding a bow in his right hand and a bottle of Schweppes to his lips with his left hand.


Just one item which is a brown cardboard box 5l¼ high x 6½ wide x 8¼ inches long.  All four sides are marked Mammoth Cave Twist Sweetened.  The box contained 2 dozen packets from the Scott Tobacco Company of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

I am deeply indebted to Tony Jarratt, Martin Mills, Trevor Shaw and Jan Paul van der Pas for awakening my interest and providing many hours of amusement.

Ray Mansfield. July 2000.


Nostalgic Wanderings (Two)

by Roger Haskett

A Fishing Interlude, Gamtoose River, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Where to start? Around 1980, I joined Pick 'n Pay supermarkets and was given their branch in Commercial Road, Port Elizabeth, as a butchery manager.  Seeing as I had come down from the Transvaal, a management meeting was called, and I was introduced to the other three managers in the area.  After a few canapes and many Castle lagers, the chat came round to the local scene and fishing in general.

Well, fishing or caving, I don't care which.  So there! I hit it off with the guys straight away, and was immediately drawn into this crazy eastern Cape angling scene.  It's mad down there.  Everybody goes; it's a way of life, everyone's hooked!   Except.

Two of the blokes, one from the Hypermarket, who shall remain nameless.  He liked to stray away from home, so the two times he came with us he brought his wife along (clever bugger he were).  He used to throw his line in with no bait on, so, obviously he never caught anything.  Well, his Misses soon got bored with that and stopped coming.  Guess what?  So did he. Dirty swine!

The other bloke, Marc Jackson, he just reckoned fishing was a waste of time.  However, myself, Ted Rogers and Colin Smith (a guy from a rival firm) palled up together and went fishing most weekends.  We used to take the families, girlfriends and the Bar Be Que and have a whale of a time.

Now Jacko, he got to thinking that he was missing out, so he started creeping around, asking silly questions.  Like; How much did a rod cost?  Etc., Well, we kept him on a string for a bit, and then one day, we asked him if he would like to come with us?  This, of course, was what he was after.

The following weekend we had organised a little competition with one of the local Angling Clubs, so we invited him along.  He was made up like a dog with the proverbial two .... !  We had arranged to meet this other club in Patensie, at 6 am where we would draw lots for where we were going to fish.  We had fished the Gamtoose up there many times before, but never in the section which we drew that day.  So, we didn't know that stretch (very profound Roger).  However, nary a daunt, we are going to give it our best shot. But first, we have got to get Jacko tackled up.  So we find him a rod and reel, tie some hooks on - you are allowed to fish with two hooks in S.A., bait him up and cast his line in the river for him.

Now think to yourself, it's 6.30 in the morning, just getting light.  There is a miasma rising from the water and it's still quite chilly. We've drawn a small swim where the four of us can only just fit along the bank.  Either side of us are banks of bulrushes and tall reeds.  Jacko's got a line in the water and the rest of us are turned away on the bank tackling up.

All of a sudden the silence is broken.  This first time bloody fisherman, Jackson, has hooked into a monster Carp.  Within minutes of being at the river, this "Groot Vis" is trekking upriver like an express train, Jackson's screaming his head off, and the fish is heading into our side of the bank about forty yards up stream.  Clever Dick Smith tells him," Hey Jacko, you are going to lose that fish in the reeds if you don't get in the river and play it!"  So Jacko jumps in!  Now here's the punch line - nobody told us that the river was eighteen feet deep here. When we looked around, all we could see was the tip of Jacko's rod and his cap floating on the surface, Ho! Ho! Ho! He could have drowned, but we couldn't help him, we were laughing too much.

What a baptism!  He eventually managed to get himself into shallower water and landed a fine 12 lb. Common Carp.  Shame, the poor blokes been hooked ever since!

Hope someone will find this story amusing, Roger Haskett

Roger Haskett with a large Common Carp


Stock's House Shaft - Winter Draws On.

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BB’s nos. 502, 504-508.

"Now we descend into oblivion or we enter the great book of history".
Journey to the Centre of the Earth (the film) - 1959

On the 6th September 2000 a distinct hint of Autumn in the air spurred the team on to drop the downstream water level before the onset of the rainy season.  In an attempt at economy Quacker’s generator was tried a couple of times to power the pump but was not "man enough" for the job. In the meantime all full bags were dragged back to the Shaft and clearing of the Upstream Level and Shaft bottom continued.  Three visiting cavers from Meghalaya assisted on the 11th and now know why we go to their country to walk into huge, open and warm river caves!

On 13th September 125 bags reached the surface with another 108 coming out on the 20th - the fuel crisis and B.C.R.A.  Conference putting an effective halt on the intermediate weekend digging.  The level of the terminal choke had been lowered enough for the standing water surface to have dropped considerably.  This enabled it to be pumped "dry" using the hand pump during generator problems.  An infestation of tiny flies added to the fun at the working face as diggers with pooh-covered hands felt them settle on their noses.

Work continued in both the Upstream and Downstream Levels and the outlet from the submersible pump hose was used to good effect to wash mud off the walls.  On the 24th 62 bags were hauled out and the following day the writer, on a solo trip, pumped out the water and succeeded in bringing down the terminal choke with the use of Trevor's long garden hoe handle - "the Chokebuster".  It made a pleasant change not to be underneath it at the time.  A stream issuing from the Treasury of Aeops heralded the onset of an early "monsoon"

The planned major assault on the 27th was defeated by continued heavy rain but despite two good sized streams entering at the Shaft bottom (where Alex had earlier that day heaped up boulders from a clearing session) the end was eventually pumped out and a few rocks removed before the sudden noise of the pipe bung being blown out of the dam caused a minor panic.  Amidst general cursing pumping was recommenced and more rocks later removed from the choke.  It was then possible to scramble up over the collapse into a standing sized, solid roofed "rift chamber".  This may be natural, mined out or created by roof collapse during the driving of the level and had been used as a convenient stacking space by the Old Men.  Despite a very strong inward draught there was no obvious outlet from this rift to indicate the way on.  It is assumed that the level continues below this rift and the excavation of the floor here would have been the next priority if the weather had not shat on us.

The 1st October saw 83 loads out and the welcome return of our German friends Helmut and Michele Potzsch of the Basque caving club Ziloko Gizonak.  All the removed rock is now being taken to the Mineries Pool for future repair work on the dam and the bagged tailings and mud are being used to build a temporary barrage in the gully behind the main sink.  By this means we have diverted most of the Treasury of Aeops water into Five Buddles Sink but the source of the Upstream Level water needs to be found before that too can be diverted.  The Treasury water did one good thing by washing away debris obscuring two borer holes driven towards the Shaft and indicating that the Old Men had mined inwards to here from the surface sink, probably following a natural streamway.

The temporary surface dam was commenced by Alex Livingstone and Pete Hellier on October 4th - with Lindsay Diengdoh doing sterling service wheelbarrowing spoil across the road from the Shaft.  Another 104 loads were hauled out and the in-washed silt behind the temporary Upstream Level dam was removed and bagged.  Further visits on the 6th, 8th and 9th continued this work in ongoing wet conditions.  A small section of clay pipe stem and a tiny piece of china decorated with blue spots were found.

Another major session occurred here on the 11th with activities being videoed by Neil Wooldridge (W.C.C.) who has been conned into producing a film of the dig.  It has been decided to call the huge boulder presently blocking the Upstream Level "Rupert Jnr."  A historical precedent had been set by the late Graham Ba1combe who named a two ton boulder, in his dig at the nearby Waldegrave Swallet, Rupert.  See the article by Dave Irwin in this BB and the forthcoming Speleo History Bulletin - copies available from him - essential reading for Stockhill and cave digging enthusiasts.

A considerable amount of trenching and banking was done on the surface by Trevor, resulting in a good flow of water into Five BuddIes Sink and a reduction of that entering the Treasury of Aeops.  Half a small bronze horizontal bearing liner was found near the excavated buddle pit - doubtless part of the ore washing machinery.  It bears evidence of "load lines" due to excessive wear (see appendix).

Over the next two days about a hundred bags of spoil were filled in the Upstream Level and a large amount of rock was dragged back from beyond "Rupert Jnr." by careful manipulation of the long crowbar. Another tiny fragment of grey and blue decorated china was found.  By inserting drain testing dye (fluorescein) into the surface stream we were able to prove that the Upstream Level sink must lie south east of the old tramway to the Waldegrave Works - the water on the north west side only entering the workings via the Treasury of Aeops.  Further testing in this area has so far failed to reveal the actual sink.

121 bags came out on the 18th and about fifty bags were filled from the silt traps in the streamway. Next day a shallow shaft-like feature about forty feet south of Stock's House ruins was excavated to a depth of six feet.  Probing in all directions with a crowbar failed to hit any solid rock or ginging so this site was abandoned as a possible alternative entrance to the Upstream Level.  106 more loads came out on the 25th when Neil W. was kept busy dragging them to the Shaft, hooking them on and videoing the operation at the same time!  Further clearing was undertaken over the next two days and on the 30th - when the writer, digging out the floor of Pipe Aven, was distressed to find lumps of wet clay sporadically dropping from the ceiling. The drone of a Forestry J.E.B. grading the car park somewhere above did not help his composure and so a retreat was made to H.Q.  A mighty waterfall was found to be thundering down the "wheel pit" entrance to Five BuddIes Sink.

On the 2nd November, following an hour spent vainly trying to keep the winch running properly, hauling plans were abandoned and Neil U. set off below.  He returned fifteen minutes later in a state of depressed shock to report that a large roof fall had occurred at Pipe Aven and that the rest of the Upstream Level was now inaccessible.  All went down to view this tragedy and note the ominous series of cracks in the SE wall of the Level which gave warning of further, imminent and catastrophic collapse!  The accessible tools were rescued leaving three spades and two crowbars interred beyond the fall and the place was left to sort itself out.  A large quantity of fallen clay had added to the silt problems in the streamway and so work commenced on bagging this up - a project which will keep us going over the next few weeks.  We were fortunate that no-one had been crushed by, or trapped beyond this fall.

Bob Smith's birthday was on the 6th November so, as a special treat, he was allowed to hook on 100 bags for removal to the surface.  Another 117 came out two days later - courtesy of Alex, whose birthday it wasn't.  Further work on clearing the Pipe Aven collapse was done on the 13th when the writer, supported by Alex, also dived for some 15-20ft downstream to reach the flooded terminal choke but did not feel confident enough to squeeze up past the stemples into the assumed limited airspace above.  With lower water conditions this is still a feasible diving/digging proposition but the great amount of silt creates zero visibility and makes things generally unpleasant.

During a major silt bagging session on the 15th November more of the Pipe Aven collapse was gingerly removed and shoring was commenced with the placement of a long Acro-prop. Two days later a couple of short Acros were installed, more rock cleared and the choke gingerly passed beneath in order to rescue the tools from beyond.  A major shoring project is now required here.

To be continued; (Due to the current high water levels the ground plan of the Shaft bottom cannot be done and will be left for a future article.)

Appendix - A Timewaster in Five Buddles Sink and more on the clay pipe saga.

On 9/2/98, at the base of the Cornish Shaft in Five Buddles Sink, a wooden spatula-like tool was disinterred. It was assumed to be a scraper for cleaning mining equipment. The recently published "The Copper & Lead Mines around the Manifold Valley, North Staffordshire" by Lindsey Porter and John Robey has a photograph of an almost identical artefact on p.141.  This was found in the Royledge Mine and probably dates from the 1850s.  It is described as a" .... 'timewaster', a tool for removing clay from boots." It's Mendip cousin and the bearing liner found on the surface are shown below - drawn to full scale.  Both are destined for Wells Museum.

Bob Smith, via David Cooper (a clay pipe maker at Amberley Chalk Pits Museum, West Sussex) has contacted David Higgins of the Society for Clay Pipe Research.  He was very excited by the drawings of the decorated pipe and writes as follows:-

"Many thanks for your letter and most interesting enclosure which arrived this morning.  I have had a look through various publications for the area and cannot find any good matches for this unusual pipe.  The bowl form and style of the leaf-decorated seams suggest a date of around 1740-90 for this piece, but the other decorative elements are very hard to match.  Most of the Bristol area products were plain until towards the end of the C18th and so this looks like an early example.  There does not seem to be anything quite like it known to date!  The W in a circle looks like a typical cartouche mark as used in the Bristol region, but extending up as far as Gloucestershire and down into Devon and Cornwall.  It is slightly unusual to have a single letter rather than a two letter mark. Marks with dotted borders like this occur on pipes of c 1700-50 in Cornwall.  Given the combination of form, mark and decoration a date of somewhere around c1750-75 would seem most likely for this piece.

Given the rarity of this design it would be useful to get a note of it published.  Would your contact be prepared to write a covering note describing the pipe and saying where it was found to go in the SCPR Newsletter?"  (This has been done.)

Additions to the Digging Team

Brian Kharpran Daly (Meghalayan Adventurers, N.E.India), Lindsay Diengdoh (M.A.), Gregory Diengdoh (M.A.), Mark "Shaggy" Howden, Brian Johnson, Liz Kitts (Southampton U.C.C.), Michele Potzsch (Ziloko Gizonak), Mick Barker ( Lincoln Scouts C.C.), Adrian Burrows, Matthew Higgins.

Additional Assistance

Dave Carter (Show Power), Dany Bradshaw, Mike Wilson, David Cooper (clay pipe maker), David Higgins (S.C.P.R.).

The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Martin Torbett

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor
Joint Treasurers: Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Martin Torbett
Caving Secretary: Rich Long
Tackle Master: Mike Willett
Hut Engineer: Bob Smith
Hut Wardens: Vince Simmonds
Hut Bookings: Fiona Sandford

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

Editors bit.

Well, thank you all out there for sending articles during a serious non caving event which is hopefully now all over.  I expect that as I type this up there are people dusting off their oversuits and charging up their cells for a trip somewhere on the Hill.  The club, like all clubs goes on and so does the magazine, although for how long in my hands is not sure at the moment as permanent work may cause me to have to give up the editorship.  Stay posted.

Like many of you, I have wandered off the scene a bit and gone climbing in various parts of the country whilst the caves were closed.  Perfectly acceptable for BEC members to do so; look at the old club logs. If anyone wants to send me articles about climbing, they will refresh some memories, I am sure.  Thanks to all regular contributors once again.  So don't forget, keep the stuff coming or no magazine.


Club News and Views

from Jane Jarratt in Oz.
Subject: I've found the Rileys!!!

Tracked down John and Sue at last.  They haven't changed their names and had plastic surgery as I'd suspected.  Sue's had tuberculosis and they've both had business troubles.  They're now renovating a house in Quenbeyan in Canberra.  John's "in pest control" (bit like when he was at the Hill Inn but with insects!). Sue's setting up a business selling gourmet foods.  Ella is managing 5 cafes up in the Northern Beaches (near Palm Beach, Jen) Jeremy works for Fujitsu in Canberra and Alistair (not allowed to call him Bubs anymore as he is an 18 year old blond beach bum) is not working at anything and has smashed his wrist up skate boarding!  Sue met me and took me to a Thai restaurant followed by several bottles of wine and a gossip.  Sue's email issuer@[removed] and she'd loved to hear from anyone who remembers them from the old days.

From the Sandfords's

Ivan and Fi would like to thank everyone who turned up at the Hunters on 24th March to help them celebrate their marriage and for all the gifts they were given.

Everyone has now recovered, although some people who took too much drink, were unfit the following day, as this photograph below shows.


Tony Jarratt exploring Fair Lady Well picture Fi Sandford


Sat, 23 Jun 2001 16:43:41 -0700

From: "rob harper" <cavervet@[removed]>

Just back from the High Andes so greetings from downtown Lima Joint BEC/Canadian exped explored Sima Pumacocha 2 to -430m, (and still going in huge wet shaft), on 21/01/01. This breaks previous S. American depth record.  A Continental record for the club!!

Just as I go to press, news from Stocks House Shaft is the discovery of 300 feet of passage going on from the downstream end of the dig, details and a picture to follow if before deadline. -  see back page -  Ed


The Perils of Drinking to Excess

by Fiona Sandford

All names have been altered to protect the identity of the innocent.

Drinking is second to caving, something all good BEC members excel at and what better thing to do on a Saturday afternoon with the caves closed due to foot and mouth.  Enjoy a quiet pint or two of Exmoor Gold at the Queen Vic.  Ivan Sandford and Graham Johnson thought this.  The only problem was - Ivan had no house keys.  Not a problem!  Contact Fi and get her to leave a set somewhere safe.  This duly achieved, the hours were merrily drunk away.

About 7 pm, time to go home for a sleep before continuing the evening's drinking at the Hunters' Lodge. Once home, where were the keys? No where to be seen!  Well, not if Ivan is to be believed, so next step, break into the house.  Easy, thought Ivan, I'll kick the front door open.  So off he went, took aim, and of course, missed.  Instead of the door opening, there was glass everywhere and blood gushing from a quite substantial cut on the back of his leg.  Suddenly, rather sober, and quickly gathering his thoughts, he hobbled round to the Belfry where Jake, having had a look, said HOSPITAL!, hastily arranged transport with Roger who took Ivan and leg - now wrapped in a plastic bag down to the Casualty in Wells.  Meanwhile, Fi having gone to work, had been trying to contact Ivan, finally ringing the Hunters to be told he was at the hospital.  She arrived at the hospital to find one very sheepish Ivan, with 10 stitches in his leg.  He became even more sheepish when told that the keys were where they should be!! ... Of course, Fi had to bring him back up to the Hunters on their way home. Alas, due to the effects of the anaesthetic, Ivan was unable to drink, even though he did try a sneaky one. Apparently this is not a way to achieve sympathy off your wife, especially as she happens to be a member of the nursing fraternity.


The Final Word on F and bloody M

By Mike Wilson: cartoons Rich Long

We have all been suffering in one way or another from withdrawal symptoms due to the F word. Everyone I have spoken to has not found it easy to sit back and suffer the consequences of the outbreak.  There have been reports of a huge bullish run on mountain bike manufacturer shares, and the shops that have been selling accessories such as funny clown shoes, strange yellow jerseys, and vasectomy packs that you strap on your back, have been doing exceptionally well.  Of course us normal sub terra people would never stoop to things like that and have been staving off withdrawal symptoms with large doses of Roger's valium or hiding under tables wearing Petzls (Sean Howe). Abseiling from the 10ft space at night worked for 2 days, and there have been reports of people hiding under the bedclothes with a torch reading Mendip Underground.  Well, I never!  At the last count, Rogers's pub is slowly filling with noisy outsiders again and hopefully so is Tony's shop. Personally, I don't think the carnival is over yet and I have a great deal of sympathy for the lads and farmers up in Yorkshire - they probably will not be out of the wood until much later in the year.  Thank you all you BEC members who have quietly stood by the difficult committee decisions.  I am sure all of the other committee members are grateful for your silent but solid support. In case any of you do not know, the Shed is now open to members and small numbers of guests (not large groups). Cuthbert’s is open at the moment and so are some of the Mendip caves.  Not Swildon's, I may add, and Eastwater is very unsure.  So I think we may start caving again as a club in a gentle way.  Perhaps someone may have a suggestion for a club gathering - a skittles match may be appropriate!  Below is the official list of caves that are open on Mendip at the time of writing. Brian Prewer has compiled this.


All Burrington Caves

Singing River Mine


Rhino Rift and Longwood - approach from Cheddar Gorge

St. Cuthbert's

Eastwater - care please


Thrupe Lane Swallet

Swildons Hole

All others NOT mentioned are SHUT unless you have further information to the contrary, not hearsay but proof.

Foot and Mouth Undergrounders


Hunters Lodge Inn Sink

by Tony Jarratt

With no access allowed to Stock's House Shaft the team were forced to sit and mope in the Hunters where their whingeing eventually drove Roger Dors to distraction and pity - so much so that he generously suggested that we start a dig in the pub car park! Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink (ST 5494.5012) had previously been recorded by the writer in BB 448 (Feb. 1989) as a flood sink located at the south end of the "function room" building which took a good sized stream of road and car park run-off in heavy rain.  It had once been the drain for the pub stables and a stone arched culvert fed into it - now blocked off with concrete.  It had been excavated in the past by Roger, "John-john" Hildick and Nigel Taylor to a depth of about 8ft through silt and shattered rock to improve the drainage.  The water sinking here is not seen again in the adjacent Hunters Hole and was also not seen in the 35ft deep Alfie's Hole, close by but now filled in. It is assumed to resurge at Wookey Hole.

Before Roger had a chance to reflect on his offer the dig was commenced on 9th April and a large amount of inwashed silt and rubbish removed and dumped in his tractor trailer for relocation elsewhere.  A narrow, clean washed and very shattered water worn rift was revealed in steeply dipping limestone.  The walls of the rift were easily detached with wrecking bars and later chemical persuasion and the resulting rock pile transformed into a drystone wall on the west side of the dig. Roger Marsh's Attborough Swallet tripod was retrieved from the Belfry "plant store" and erected over the, now rather impressive, 6ft square by 17ft deep hole.  It was a perfect fit.  The tractor also comes in useful to attach a second pulley to when hauling out large rocks by Landrover power.

The dig has caused some amusement over the past few weeks and has certainly brightened up the otherwise maudlin atmosphere.  Envious NHASA and Wessex men with dig withdrawal symptoms visit regularly on their way to the bar.  Noteworthy is the vast number of experts suddenly available to advise and direct the toiling diggers especially when the Pub shuts!  Where are these knowledgeable and experienced characters at other times, one asks?  (Answer:- IN the Pub!).  The site has also developed into a valuable tourist attraction in these times of limited access.  It may even be a wise move to erect a "wishing well" over the hole with a bucket below for "well-wishers'" donations!

At the time of writing there is some 20ft of dipping bedding plane passage from the base of the entrance climb.  The sides of the dig have been stone-walled and reinforced concrete lintels have been provided by Roger.  A stone wall has been built around the hole and a steel grid gate welded and fitted by Quackers, who also welded a long section of permanent iron ladder which was installed in the shaft.  Blasting operations are continuing at the end.  The site has even been photographed by Andy Chamberlain for inclusion in a forthcoming Wells Journal article on "extreme sports"!

Work continues and all are welcome. Once again the BEC have both "got everywhere" and "done it to excess."

The Team: Roger Dors, Nigel Taylor, Tony Jarratt, Gwilym Evans, Alex Livingstone, Robin Gray, Annie Audsley, Neil Usher, Dave "Tusker" Morrison (W.C.C.), Mike "Quackers" Duck, John "Tangent" Williams, Paul Brock, Dudley Herbert, Ivan Sandford, Roger Haskett, Ben Barnett (Cheddar C.C.), Bob Smith, Trevor Hughes, Chris "Zot" Harvey, Mark Ireland (C.C.C./Axbridge C.G.), Chas Wethered, Jesse Brock, Tyrone Bevan (Frome C.C.), Laurence Elton (F.C.C.), Trevor & Martin Moor (F.C.C.), Tony Keegan (F.C.C.), Dave Barnett (F.C.C.), Chris Haywood (F.C.C.), Phil Rawsell, Tim Francis (Mendip C.G.), Andy Chamberlain (Wells Journal), Jack Lambert, Dave Carter.

Boulder Winching by Land Rover picture J’rat

Blowing up the Hunters car park by Dudley Herbert


Wells Museum Well

By Tony Jarratt

The F &M epidemic seems to be creating more work for the diggers than has been lost.  Chris Hawkes of Wells Museum is in the process of excavating a mediaeval well located immediately behind the Museum buildings (ST 5508.4594) and, needing a submersible pump to dry it out while digging took place, contacted the writer.  The Stock's House pump and transformer were soon installed and plugged into the Museum mains.  With most of the water pumped out digging can take place through the infill of silt, bricks, stones and slates tipped down the well - possibly in Victorian times.  A depth of over 15ft has been reached to date but two sections of missing steining (stone walling) are giving cause for concern and may have to be infilled or shored up.  Planned as an archaeological dig it suddenly became obvious that the well is located almost at the level of the great St. Andrew's Well resurgence and only about 550ft away.  The continuously in flowing water may be associated with the subterranean river conduit hypothesised by Willie Stanton and the site is thus a potential cave dig! It may even lead to the flooded downstream section of Welsh's Green Swallet - now there's a horrific possibility!!!!

Once again, work continues. Prospective visitors should contact Chris at the Museum (which is well worth a visit anyway).  Phone 01749 xxxxxx.


Draenan Access

From Rich Long -Caving See

Sue Mabbett, Permit Secretary SWCC, asked me to inform our members, Pwll Ddu Cave Management Group who look after Ogof Draenan, they have had a report from the landowner (F eb 2001). He found three Cavers (?) nothing to do with the BEC, wandering around the hillside looking for the Draenan entrance, they had been given the combination by an outdoor shop.  They had no idea of the access procedures, code of conduct or location of the logbook, i.e. not bona fide cavers.

This means the code has been changed to stop abuse of the system.

The members can get the access number from me, Rich Long, Caving Sec, and or Vince Simmonds, but it is not to be advertised to all and sundry as this may mean a return to lock and key system and this will cause problems for all.

The logbook is now located in a box on the side of the Lamb and Fox.  The following details about any club trip must be entered in the Logbook:

  • names, including surnames of all members of the party
  • names of the Club/clubs of those in the party
  • date
  • planned destination
  • time in
  • estimated time out





That is all on Draenan, but a tiny bit about OFD as well.

Party size limit can still be occasionally up to seven instead of the usual six.  However, please fill in the tickets correctly, Joe Bloggs + 4 is not acceptable and is making people twitchy.  Lastly, if you intend to visit the Columns on the open days please inform the columns warden and make arrangements, which are suitable to all, to avoid disappointment.

Sorry this has been a "Miserable Bugger" sort of piece, but it had to be done.

Lets hope the F & M, that name which shall not be uttered, is soon stamped out and complete silliness, much cheerful alcohol consuming, lots of caving and the wonderful outdoors be given back to us!!


A Glossary of Caving-related Words in French

by Andy and Ange Cave

This will hopefully be of some use!  It is by no means an exhaustive list and we would be delighted if anyone would care to point out any glaring omissions.

We have assumed that you know some basic French (GCSE perhaps) and that you're trying to read cave information, or to talk with cavers.  Many of the words have other meanings which are not related to caving and most of which we've left out for the sake of simplicity.  Many technical terms, as in English, will be misleading or incomprehensible to non-cavers.

Verbs have not been defined as 'transitive' or 'intransitive' because colloquial usage often differs from the strict dictionary definition.  It's worth noting that in French many actions don't have a verb form (eg. 'to survey'): one 'does' the noun; thus 'to survey' is 'faire une topo', 'to cave' is 'faire le speleo' etc.

For tips on pronunciation you could contact us, or (far better), someone French.

abime (n.m)


boue (n.t)


abimer (vb)


bouffe (n.t)(fam.)

food /

damage / spoil




accu (abbr.)(n.m)


boulon (n.m)

bolt (see

rechargeable battery




affluent (n.m)


bourre (slang)




(litt: crammed full)


amarrage (n.m)


boyau (n.m)(fam.)

tube (litt:

amont (n.m)


animal's intestine)


ampoule (n.t)

bulb /

briquet (n.m)






argile (n.t)


burin (n.m)


arroser (v)

to water /





caillou (n.m)




calcaire (n.m)


out !





aval (n.m)


carbure (~de calcium)(n.m)




carrefour (n.m)


aven (n.m)

pot hole



(see note below)


cartouche Hilti (n.t)


barrette (n.t)






cascade (n.t)


bas, basse (adj.)


casque (n.m)


baudrier (n.m)


cave (n.t)

cellar /

bec (n.m)


wine shop


(carbide )(litt: beak, spout)


ceinture (n.t)


bidon (n.m)

drum /

chatiere (n.t)




squeeze (litt: catflap)


bloquer (n.m)


chaussette (n.t)


botte (n.t)


(~neoprene = wetsuit sock)


wellington boot


chausson (n.m)

boot (not

boucle (n.t)

buckle /



round trip


chauve-souris (n.t)


cheville (n.t)


anchor (litt: rawlplug)(see 'spit')

cheminee (n.t)


doline (n.t)


/ aven


drapeau (n.m)


clef (n.t)

spanner /





eboulis (nom)


clope (n.t)(slang)


pile / ruckle




echelle (n.t)


coincer (v)

to stick /

effondrement (n.m)




emprunter (v)


collecteur (n.m)






entree (n.t)


coller (v)

to stick /

equiper (v)

to rig



escalade (not)


colonne (n.t)


escalader (v)

to climb

combinaison (not)


etanche (adj.)


(sous~=undersuit:~neoprene : ~neoprene =






etroit (adj.)


concretion (n.t)


etroiture (not)




facile (adj.)


connerie (slang)(not)


faille (n.t)


corde (n.t)


fil (electrique)(n.m)


cordelette (n.t)

ropeless than

( electrical)


8mm diameter


flotte (slang)(n.t)


couche (n.t)

bed /

fond (n.m)




(ie. lowest point)


couler (v)

to flow

foret (n.m)

drill bit

coupe (n.t)


(see 'meche')




fossile (n.m/adj.)


creuser (v)

to dig




crue (not)


(abor. fractionnment)


culottes (n.t)


frottement (nom)

rub point

/ shorts


galerie (n.t)


debrouiller (se) (v)

to sort





gant (nom)


deconner (slang)( v)

to cock-

glisser (se) (v)

to slip



gouffre (n.m)


degueulasse (slang)( adj.)


gour (nom)


dirty / disgusting


gratuit (adj.)

free (ie.

descendre (se) (v)

to lower



/ descend


grimper (v)

to climb

descendeur huit (n.m)

figure of



eight descender


grimpeur (n.m)


desequiper (v)

to de-rig



desob (nom)


grotte (n.t)


(abbr. desobstruction)

cave dig

igue (n.t)

pot hole

desober (v)


(see note below)


(fam. of desobstruer)

to dig (a

inter (n.m)




(abbr. interrupter)


deviation (n.t)




diaclase (n.t)


joint (n.m)


kit (n.m)


nickel (slang)(adj.)



(abbr. nickel chrome)                      well


lacher (v)

to let go

sorted (ie. perfectly designed / rigged

laminoir (n.m)




bedding plane


niveau (n.m1adj./adv.)


lampe (n.t)


noeud (n.m)


lampe aceto (n.t)


noye (adj.)







libre (adj.)

free (ie.

noyer (se) (v)

to drown



ouais (slang)


longe (n.t)

cows tail

palier (n.m)


louper (slang)(v)

to mess /

paroi (n.t)


screw up


surface of wall / side


lumiere (n.t)


passage (n.m)


maillon (n.m)


cave passage


maillot (~de bain) (n.m)


pedale (n.t)




pendre (v)

to hang /

main courante (n.t)

traverse /



hand line


pendule (n.m)


marmite (n.t)

small pot



hole in floor


penible (adj.)


marteau (n.m)


pente (n.t)


mas sette (n.t)


perdre (v)

to lose





matlos (slang)(n.m)


perfo (n.m)


equipment including rope


(abbr. perforateur)


meandre (n.m)


percussion drill


meche (n.t)


permeable (adj.)


explosive fuse / (slang) drill bit

permeable (im~ =


metier (se) (v)

to be





perte (n.t)


meteo (n.t)






pertuis (n.m)


monter (se) (v)

to go / come up,

cave passage (litt: narrow straits)

to increase, to raise


petard (n.m)


mou (n.m)


explosive charge / (slang) fart /

mouiller (v)




dampen / make wet


peter (v)


mousqueton (n.m)


explode / (slang) to fart


(~a vis = screwgate carabiner)

pierre (n.t)

rock (ie.

mousse (n.t)

foam /



head on beer


pile (n.t)


neoprene (n.t)


rechargeable battery


(see 'combinaison', 'chaussette')

plafond (n.m)


plan (n.m)


plongeur /euse (n.m/t) diver




pluie (n.t)


plancher (n.m)


poignee (n.t)

handle /

plaquette (n.t)


handle jammer


pleuvoir (v)

to rain

poulie (n.t)


plonger (v)

to dive

preter (v)

to lend


profond (adj./adv.)

puits (n.m)


ramping (n.m)

randonnee (n.f)

/ trek

rappel (n.m)

(descendre en ~ = to abseil)

rechaud (n.m)


remonter (v)

go back up

reseau (n.m)


ressort (n.m) (ie. metal)

resurgence (n.f)


reussir (v)


riviere (n.f)

big stream

roche (n.t)

massive, bedrock)

ruisseau (n.m)

sable (n.m)  

sac de couchage (n.m)

sleeping bag

sac ados (n.m)

salle (n.f)          chamber

/ room

sangle (n.f)

scialet (n.m)

(see note below)

seau (n.m)

sec, seche (adj.)

securite (n.f)

sortir (v)

come out

source (n.f)

(ie. water)

souterrain (n.m/adj.)


speleo (n.m/t)

(abbr. speleologue)

speleologie (n.f)

spit (fam.)(n.m)


siphon (n.m)

stalactite (n.f)


pitch /



hill walk






to come /


system /







river /


rock (ie.










pot hole





to go /













stalagmite (n.f)


surplomb (n.m)

/ undercut

taille (n.f)

tamponnoir (n.m)


toboggan (n.m)

topo (n.f) (abbr.)

tremie (n.f)

funnel-shaped pile of rocks

tremper (v)

tromper (se) (v)

confuse (oneselt)

vasque (n.f)


vire (n.f)

voute (n.f)

cave (litt: vault)


Note: 'igue', 'scialet' and 'aven' are regional words; thus maps of the Vercors are studded with scialets, those of the Lot are inundated with igues, whilst in the Grands Causses there are any number of avens. Doubtless there are different words in other areas.


A Few Useful Phrases :

secours !


secours  rescue practice



pay attention



just 'libre!')







(litt: to make fall)


fusible /

peter Ie

plomb   to have a sense of

humour failure !


mouillante a duck (low


Je suis casse

J'en ai marre

J' ai trop bu












to soak






roof of


















to watch out /



rope free! (or




en forme

fit / feeling well


to knock off


peter une


vas y!

(you) go for it!

allez y!

(let's) go for it!



I'm totally knackered

I'm fed up

I've drunk too much


Strictly speaking, of course, 'allez y' means 'you (plural) go for it' ('vas y' is the singular) and 'allons y' means 'let's go for it' or just 'let's go', but that's not how she is usually spoke.




by Rich Long

The Ashes 2001

The Annual cricket challenge between the BEC and the WCC is to be held on Sat 4th August at 3.00 pm (usual venue) with a barbecue to follow at Upper Pitts Farm (bring your own food)


Start at Calais

By Cave and Cave

It doesn't demand any great thought to realise that if the current state of affairs continues, this summer may well see quite a number of you crossing the channel in search of sun, cheap booze and caving that isn't 'interdit'.  Lots of British cavers come to France regularly, they may already know some French cavers and are generally familiar with the scene; these remarks are intended for those who are relative novices in this respect.

The southern half of France is blessed with huge areas of limestone and thus there's no shortage of holes to go down.  Most (but not all) areas are covered by one of the 'Speleo Sportif guide books (available from Bat Products!  Not always easy to find off the shelf in France) which describe a selection of the best trips, of all levels of difficulty.  They include information on pitch and rope lengths which, in my experience, is not always entirely accurate but which certainly gives a fair idea of what to expect. I'd recommend taking ropes which are a bit longer than suggested, on the principle that it's better to have ten metres too much than three metres too little.

At least one area can boast a guide book in English (also available from Bat Products).  I have used this book in anger, as it were; especially when it became repeatedly apparent that the author, despite good (obviously first hand) descriptions of the routes, had simply copied the pitch and rope lengths from the 'Speleo Sportif guide, complete with errors.  'Nuff said.

Some areas, I believe, are slowly being re-equipped with permanent P-anchors as in Britain, but in the vast majority of caves you will need a full set of the good old detachable hangers; similarly it's worth carrying a few more than suggested in the above mentioned guide books.  There are nearly always plenty of anchors but don't trust any other equipment you may find.

Many areas are actually covered by much more comprehensive and detailed tomes; these can be very difficult to find (even in Bat Products!  But its worth asking - I got one for the Dordogne there) as they are almost invariably out of print.  For a first visit to an area the 'Speleo Sportif or similar guide will have quite enough to keep you amused; if you're thinking of repeated trips to the same area then you might consider getting in touch with a local club.  The 'Syndicat d'lnitiative' (tourist information bureau) in a nearby town will probably have a contact number.  As far as actually finding the caves is concerned it may also be useful to buy the French equivalent of an OS map; the 'Serie Bleu' (1:25000) have most cave entrances marked, although you may need more than one sheet (currently 46FF each).

Most French cavers use carbide as their primary light source.  It's forbidden to take carbide on cross channel ferries but it can be bought from most hardware shops ('quincailleries') or if not they'll know where to find it.  If you have rechargeable electric lights the voltage here (220V 50hz) is compatible but you will need an appropriate plug adaptor which will be easier to find in the UK. 'Flat pack' type batteries for Petzl Zoom etc can be bought in almost any supermarket.

If you're looking for somewhere to stay, apart from hotels (which may be ill-equipped to deal with large piles of muddy caving kit) you could rent a 'gite' (self catering, self contained, vary enormously in other respects) the 'Syndicat d'lnitiative' will be able to provide a list and may be able to suggest some which will suit your particular requirements.  Don't be shy of telling people that you're cavers; the attitude here to adventure sports is much more positive than in the UK and to be 'speleologues' is considered socially normal.  The same applies to climbers, bikers etc.

For those who are camping; almost all towns, and most villages of any size, have a 'camping municipal' which will be civilized, well equipped (hot showers that work etc) and cheap. There are also any number of excellent private sites.  Given this, it is not normal to just camp anywhere (unless exceptionally wild) although people do picnic in the most surprising places without apparently causing any offence - perhaps this is because they are invariably scrupulous in tidying up afterwards.

Shopping in France is as pleasant, or otherwise, as it is elsewhere, but note that almost all shops except for large supermarkets are closed for at least two hours at lunchtime (12.00 - 2.00 being the most common).  This is because they take lunch very seriously - so would you if your breakfast consisted of coffee and a croissant.  Nearly everything (except supermarkets and some bakeries, butchers and petrol stations) is closed on Sunday and Monday.  We had a fair number of wasted trips to town before we got used to this.  Note: petrol stations keep the same hours as shops - 24 hour /7 day stations are almost always only operable with a French bank card.

So, fully organised and well equipped, you set out to find the cave.  Most caves, as in Britain, are on someone's, land, although very few are locked or otherwise restricted.  By and large the French farmer is noticeably friendlier towards cavers than his British counterpart; often he is proud of the cave (or caves) on his land and may, even if not himself a caver, be very well informed as to what's down there. He will almost certainly expect to pass the time of day even if your French is extremely limited.  The French are proud of their language and culture (and why not?) and resent the inevitable Anglicisation / Americanisation which commercial interests are inexorably spreading.  At the same time they are practical people who know full well that English is an international language; it has been a mandatory subject in all French schools for many years and in an emergency someone who speaks good English will probably appear in nothing flat.  Don't ever assume that people won't understand what you're saying but even more importantly never automatically assume that someone speaks English.  I suggest that no matter how much of a fool you may feel you are making of yourself and no matter how small your French vocabulary, that you exhaust it first. This may well only take seconds, but you'll have shown respect for the fact that it's their country and then, when they see you floundering, they'll probably enjoy trying out their English on you. If they haven't got any then 'pas grave' (not serious) as they say, and you'll have done your bit for international relations.  Anyway, your caving equipment will almost certainly speak for itself, as will your manners, and much can be achieved with gestures and a map to point at.  If you're in the middle of nowhere there's no need to seek out the landowner, but if you do find yourself walking (or driving) through his farmyard it would be most impolite not to knock on his door.  Don't worry if you're immediately surrounded by loud and scruffy dogs of all shapes and sizes; they're just saying 'bonjour' and won't bite chickens, sheep, or even cavers.

"Pardon monsieur / madame s'il vous ne derange pas nous voudrions descendre dans votre grotte." (Pardon Sir / Madam, if it doesn't disturb you we would like to go down your cave.)  After that you can happily stick with wry smiles and "Pardon, je ne comprends pas. Je suis Anglais."  (Sorry, I don't understand. I am English.)  Don't worry; forty nine times out of fifty you won't have to use any of this - it depends on the area - but it's worth being equipped.  The one thing I have never come across is the aggressive type whose only interest is to show you the shortest route off their land; that experience is one I've only had in good old Blighty.

Anyone caving in France must be properly insured; should you need to be rescued you may well receive some hefty bills afterwards.  Fortunately, as far as holiday caving in the EU is concerned, all BEC members are covered by the club's BCRA insurance.  This only covers you for the actual rescue and not for subsequent medical expenses.  Before your trip go to the Post Office and ask for form E 111; this is free and enables you to claim on the National Health against any medical expenses incurred whilst on holiday in an EU country.  You may not have to pay the French doctor / hospital - show them the form first, but either way you should be able to claim it back afterwards. WARNING: this information was correct last time I enquired but that was three years ago.  Best to check! - phone John Cooper in Wells 01749670568

TO CALL THE RESCUE - ring the Gendarmes; dial 17 (it's free, of course).  If you speak no French say "Accident sous terre - dans une grotte." (ack-see-don sue tairdons oon grot) and the name of the cave.  No doubt the word "Anglais" (on-glay) will get an English speaker fast enough.  (For just an ambulance, dial 15. For the fire service, dial 18.)

If you have a 'Speleo Sportive' guide for the area there is an alternative, possibly faster, method of callout.  Near the beginning of the book there is a section headed 'Speleo Secours'which lists the names and 'phone numbers of the local 'Conseillers Techniques' (Rescue Wardens) whom you can call directly but be warned that depending on the age of your edition this information may well be out of date, and that there is no guarantee that any of them speak English.

The French are one of the best caving nations in the world and they have a similar number of cavers to us. The main difference is that there's far more limestone and that distances are greater, so that cosy little scenes like the Hunters on a Saturday night don't normally exist. Nonetheless, you may well meet other parties of cavers at some of the more popular holes, and they are generally as sociable as their British counterparts.  Should you be invited to cave with them there are certain things worth remembering.  Firstly, they're not always very quick but they're thorough - it takes as long as it takes and no one's in any hurry to get out to the bar / husband / wife / dubious rendezvous.  They are very team orientated and will wait for each other (and us) as a matter of course. At the bottom of a pitch they will always hold the rope taut for the person before them.  Secondly, their idea of lunch underground doesn't normally include Mars bars.  They are more likely to produce bread, cheese, dried sausage, salads, home-made cakes, nuts etc and possibly a modest wine as well.  One trip I was on, a training trip for the club concerned, a bottle of Mouton Cadet 1994 was passed around at the bottom of the entrance pitch. They will always freely share what they have, so it's good to have something worthwhile to offer in your turn. Quite probably someone will whip out a little stove and brew up coffee afterwards.  In most respects, given the obvious language problem you could put them in the Hunters and there would be no difference whatsoever; each with their own strongly held theories, enjoying the company and a drink or three.  I don't know what they'd think of British beer but no doubt they'd be up for some serious exploration.

If you speak no French at all there are two things that you must learn before going underground with them. Firstly, 'rope free!' is 'corde libre!' (cord leebr) or just 'libre', and secondly, when we would shout 'below!' they will cry 'caillou!' (kye-oo).  Until fairly recently it used to be ' pierre!' (meaning 'rock') and once, a few years ago at the bottom of a 50m pitch, I watched in horrified amusement when the cry 'pierre!' caused one hapless caver to step forward, look up and respond 'oui?' The television sized rock missed him by about a metre and shattered by his feet.  Fragments whined about my ears and he was very quiet for the rest of the day. No prizes for guessing his name, and yes, this is exactly why they've changed it.

Various BB’s have included articles on visits to different parts of France.  The only one I could immediately find was written by Vince Simmonds (May 1990 No.454) and details several trips in our particular area - if you plan to come here you're welcome to camp in our field (no hot showers though!)  For that or any other queries give us a call.

Ange and Andy Cave, P ADlRAC, France


Jack Shepard

Brief Obituary notice wed 18th July

Jack Sheppard died on Saturday morning July 14th. 2001

John S Buxton Hon See COG

Committee Nominations

Nominations for committee members for 2001/2002 will be accepted by the secretary from now onwards. Please submit your nominations to the current secretary for the election of the 2001/2002 BEC committee for the AGM on Saturday 6th October.

Nominations must be in writing and be seconded by another BEC member. Only paid up members are eligible, probationary members are eligible to stand.

Nominations must be received by the secretary by Friday 7th September.



BEC Assam / Meghalaya Trip 2001 - Synopsis

At the end of January 2001 four members of the BEC (Stuart MacManus, Tony Boycott, Helen & Rob Harper) flew out to India.  Our intention was to spend five to six weeks reconnoitring the known limestone areas of Assam for their cave potential.  Although references to actual caves in Assam are limited it was considered that some areas should have considerable potential for cave development.


Despite communication prior to our trip with the Assam authorities and the Assam and Indian Tourist Boards and meetings with both tourist authorities in Calcutta and Guwahati we were unaware of the gravity of the insurgency problem or the level of associated hazards.

We flew from Calcutta to Guwahati and then on by road via Shillong to the North East Electric Power Corporation Inspection Bungalow (a compound with armed guards) at Umrongso in the Kopili Valley. For our safety the police also provided us with armed guards both day and night and we were restricted to short periods of caving within a few hundred metres of the road.  Because of this we only explored two caves (Gufa Pachkilo [~200m] and Gufa Ka1imundi [244M], and decided to cut short our visit to Assam after only a few days.

We were given information regarding several other known caves both in the immediate area and in other parts of Assam.  It is obvious that there is potential there for further exploration when the political situation is more settled.


Khasi Hills….

Back in Megha1aya we cast around for alternative projects.  After consultation with Bryan Kharpran-Daly back at Shillong we headed for Laitkynsew in the West Khasi Hills which was used as base for cave exploration at Mawlong, Ichimati and Shella over the next few weeks.  During this time we explored and surveyed a number of systems (see table below).  Although there are a lot of caves at low level in this area the potential for lengthy development is poor because of the very close proximity of the water table even at the driest time of year.  The caves at higher levels had greater potential although only one, Krem Rumdan/Soh Shympi, still continues beyond the current limit of exploration.

Much time and effort was spent talking to local people about caves and their locations and we have probably examined all the entrances/caves that are generally known and easily accessible in these areas.  A short day of walking in the hills between Ichimati and Shella revealed many choked sinks and two short (c20m) do1ine caves.  There will probably be significant cave development in this area but the problems of access and movement are almost overwhelming.  In addition there is little or no local knowledge of the high level karst since there is no economic/recreational incentive for local people to go there.  So, apart from Krem Rumdan/Soh Shympi, it is unlikely that this area examined by this party will yield more large discoveries without a lot of effort ..

Garo Hills ...

Five days were spent travelling to and from the Balpakram National Park as there was reason to believe that more caves had been located. However the Forest Rangers reported to us that no new cave entrances had been found.  This area should be ignored by future expeditions.


Christmas in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

As we transcended from the beautiful sunlight into the deep, dark silent blue it felt like we were entering into another world.  We were enveloped in a wonderful calm, gently drifting along the coral canyon and then we saw him, gracefully gliding towards us, inquisitively examining us as we watched motionless in amazement, suspended weightlessly.  I felt in a dream like state, as if I was watching a film with time standing still. He circled around us curiously staring at six pairs of wide-opened eyes staring back.  He came close enough to touch, seemingly as intrigued as we were and several minutes passed whilst he performed a final lap around us before smoothly gliding upwards into the streaming sunlight to break the surface of the world that we had left and then he took a breath, turned and disappeared into the far distance.  I almost had to pinch myself to realise that this was real, this was diving in Jordan and this was Christmas day.

Jordan has always intrigued me - a land of contrast with its rose-coloured mountains and wadis, its dramatic red sands and proud desert nomads, its rich history and culture, the warm waters of the Red Sea and its spectacular coral reefs.  With both sea and mountains, we could combine a scuba diving and climbing holiday plus soak up some sun rays during what would be a snowy December 2000 at home.

As we (John and Jude Christie, Mike Clayton and Emma Porter) landed in the Queen Alia International Airport at Amman, we were immediately struck by the fascinating types of culture and dress. Men on their way to Mecca solely dressed in two white sheets and flip flops (including one that could have been J'Rat's twin!)  Muslim women with black head dresses without even a slit for their eyes, people praying in each comer, such a variety, living harmoniously together, unlike the warring Middle East countries we hear so much about in the news.

We were met by a local Jordanian to help us with our visa arrangements and were then taken by a slightly uncomfortable (due to fuel fumes) flight to Aqaba.  Aqaba is at the southern tip of Jordan on the Saudi border, guarded by low mountains, resting on the shores of the Red Sea but overshadowed by its Israeli neighbour Eilat.  The once sleepy fishing village, referred to in the Bible as Elot now derives a major part of its income from tourism, as well as its port facilities, phosphates industry and potash mmes.

Our first three days were spent scuba diving at the Royal Diving Centre which was relatively quiet due to the recent neighbouring tensions.  Each morning we were collected from our base, the Oryx Suites at 9am sharp and if you were not there on the dot, the driver would not wait.  A 17km journey south of Aqaba took us to the diving centre which is part of the Red Sea Marine Peace Park.  The centre runs courses for beginners and trips for experienced scuba divers, offering snorkelling and a private beach.  As it is a marine nature reserve aiming to protect marine flora and fauna, divers are accompanied by an instructor even if you are qualified.

There are 13 dive sites along this coast, though our first day was spent just off the jetty at the centre. The Aquarium dive took us along the shoreline in the pleasant 22C water, surrounded by beautiful corals and angelfish, parrotfish, moray eels, clown fish - the list was endless.  In the afternoon, due to a power cut, we snorkelled over the reefs, amazed by the diverse life we could see in the clear blue waters below.

On our second day of diving which was Christmas Day, we were taken to the 26m deep wreck, the Cedar Pride, 4km north of the diving centre.  This Lebanese Cargo ship was purposely sunk in 1986 to create an artificial reef and is covered in coral.  This was a fantastic dive, with plenty of life including barracuda. However, the afternoon can only be described as magical as we ventured into 'The Canyon', following a shallow slope between a canyon of coral.  As we left the Canyon, which slopes down to over 100m, we drifted parallel to the shore and then we saw him, our turtle ....  We could not have asked for a better Christmas present, and our instructor summarised the trip by saying it was the dive of his career.

Our last day of diving, saw us on the Saudi Border dive, 300m north of the international frontier and in the afternoon on Moon Valley, an undulating reef framed by sandy beds.  We could have dived there all week, had it not been for the mountains waiting to be climbed ....

On the Wednesday, we sorted out a hire car and headed out into the desert.  Wadi Rum is one of a sequence of parallel valleys in the desert south of the Shara Mountains with giant granite, basalt and sandstone jebels (mountains) rising up to 800m sheer from the sandy desert floor.  Wadi Rum is famous for being the starting point for TE Lawrence's attack on Aqaba and in his book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom he declares 'Rum the magnificent - vast, echoing, Godlike - a processional way greater than imagination'.

Heading up dune -Rum

We headed for the village of Rum which guards the way into the desert, with Jebel Rum on the right and Jebel Umm Ashreen on the left.  The first building you arrive at is the government run but privately owned Resthouse with its own campsite.  Here you pay the equivalent to £1 as your entrance fee for the year which goes to a cooperative which organises the tourism, established by the Bedouin tribesmen. The proceeds have so far enabled the building of breeze block houses, a school at Rum and bought buses to link with Aqaba and Wadi Musa.  The Resthouse serves a fantastic and not to be missed chicken and chips, as well as acting as a base for jeep rides.

A ride into the desert by jeep is a great way of seeing the desert in a limited space of time.  At JD45 (£45) for the jeep for the day, shared between the group, it is great value.  You are not allowed to drive yourself due to the ease of becoming disorientated, so young lads, 12-16 years skilfully drive you into the desert to view canyons, climb rock bridges, see hieroglyphics and most amazing sights. Together with a tea and coffee stop at our driver's family Bedouin settlement, it was a truly memorable and unforgettable experience.

Amazing natural arch near Wadi Rum

Of course, a trip to the rose-red city, Petra is no doubt on most people's list and is the most popular tourist spot in Jordan and only two hours north of Aqaba.  To reach the city (once you have paid your £20) there is one route in, winding through the awesome 'Siq', to face El Khazneh, or the Treasury, like Indiana Jones did. This massive tomb was carved into the mountainside and you are taken back in time as you explore the refuge of the once 30,000 nomadic Nabataeans. At the far end of the city, is the Monastery, another amazing building sporting fantastic views of the surrounding mountains.

On our last day, we followed a traditional Bedouin route described in 'Walks and Scrambles in Wadi Rum', near the Resthouse which leads up to Jebel EI Mayeen at 1100m.  It was a beautiful, easy scramble in 70F made so atmospheric with the wailings and singing down beneath us in the village on their religious day.  The day ended on a camel ride, up to a nearby ruined temple and terrifyingly trotting back to the Resthouse.

We found Jordan an extremely friendly country and for an Islamic state it is relaxed.

It is very westernised, with delicious food served in restaurants (we used the recommended ones in the guide books) and wonderful kebabs.  Obtaining alcohol was not a problem even during Ramadam, though in restaurants during this time we had to have beer served in a plastic jug and drink out of plastic mugs to hide it!  The shops selling alcohol had newspaper in the windows and the alcohol section curtained off, but the people were still more than willing to send us behind the curtain and recommend the good wines.  The shops contained everything you are likely to need together with a vast selection of sweets.  With obvious cultural differences, there is the need to respect their ways and if you do so, Jordan offers a magnetic insight into the Middle East.  It is a total adventure with its mountains, coral reefs and even caves in the north and as quickly as our turtle disappeared into the clear blue sea, our holiday had gone ... until the next time.

Emma Porter


BOURBON Fabio_ Petra - Art, History and Itineraries in the Nabatean Capital 1999 White Star Publishers

DIAMANT! Carla Wadi Rum - The Desert of the Bedouin 1996 Plurigraf

HOWARD Tony Treks and Climbs in Wadi Rum Jordan 1997 Cicerone Guide

HOWARD Tony and TAYLOR Di Jordan - Walks, Treks, Caves, Climbs, Canyons 1999 Cicerone Guide

HOWARD Tony and TAYLOR Di Walks and Scrambles in Wadi Rum 1999 Jordan Distribution Agency

TELLER Matthew Jordan - The Rough Guide 2000 Jordan - Lonely Planets


The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan - The Tourist Map of Ram 1:38500

A similar article appeared in the Craven Record

Apologies to Emma for pic titles- Ed


Systema Cueto-Coventosa-Cuvera

Systema Cueto-Coventosa-Cuvera is one of the classic through trips in the world. It is located in the Cantabrian mountains, northern Spain.  The system contains the fifth deepest traverse in the world at 805m.  The cave is 815m deep and contains over 27km of passage. I am planning to book the cave for a week in spring 2002.  The plan is to rig the top and bottom entrances, then do the through trip with Snab, to celebrate his birthday, then derig the cave a couple of days latter. Anyone interested in coming along must be competent in SRT, as the shaft series down to the river is 600m deep and contains a 370m pitch.  Thick wetsuits and lifejackets are essential, as there are a few lakes to swim across. It is possible to do the trip as a pull through, the cave is bolted for both methods of descent.  Anyone interested contact me, Snablet. Dates to be arranged later, once the permit is obtained.

Tim Allen's Stag Weekend.
Tanne du Bel Espoir -Diau.

The Place

Tanne du Bel Espoir-Diau, Thorens-Glieres, Haute Savoie, French Alps.  A classic traverse at 701m deep (8th deepest).  The cave contains the Diau river, and has around l5km of passage.

The Revellers:

Tim "Stag" Allen, Mark "Best Man" Wright, John "Big Nose" Palmer, Liam "Thats my Boy" Wright, Dick Ellis, Richard "Terry Fxckwit" Greenslade, Richard Blakely, Adam ?, Simon ?, Martin Holroyd, Pete Hall, Pete "Grabber" O’Neil, Pete "Snablet" MacNab.

The Journey

A complete nightmare for those in the minibus due to a ferry blockade by French farmers protesting about their fuel prices.  However, the time spent in the ferry queues was kept to a minimum by the minibus conveniently breaking down in Coventry.  (Not all bad, though: The minibus company paid for a hotel, which kept its bar open all night).  It took from Thursday morning to Saturday morning to get to Thorens-Glieres. Martin and myself flew to Geneva on Friday night due to time restraints imposed by work.

The Trip

Martin and myself were awoken early, by a jaded crew in the minibus.  They had driven all night from Calais and were looking the worst for wear.  The owner of the municipal campsite took one look at us all, then told us to leave.  So we moved camp to a caver friendly campsite, on top of the hill.  A great spot, with a Braida-sized outhouse available for use if it gets too wet or if you want a night-cap after the pub.  Some of the lads grabbed a couple of hours kip before we set off for the cave.  Around ten-ish, we drove the minibus up a forestry road on to the Parmlan plateau. A pleasant mountain bar guards the end of the road.  So time was found for a quick sample of the chilled local brew, whilst kitting up in the warm sunshine.  An hour or so's walk across a sparsely pine covered limestone pavement saw us at the edge of a well marked shaft.  The general consensus among the team was that this had to be the right entrance; after all it was even "P" hangered with pull through chains attached. However, when Mark arrived whilst we were preparing to rig the first pitch, he didn't recognise the entrance. A quick consultation of the map and description confirmed Mark's doubts.  We were, in fact, about to pull through the Tanne du Tordu-Diau, which contains an 80m pitch.  Our longest rope was only 50m.  Near disaster averted, we continued our search for the Tanne du Bel Espoir.  The entrance is about 50m down a steep valley wall, with a large sign saying caving in the Diau river cave is dangerous in snow melt floods (No shit).  Unlike the Tordu, the Bel Espoir belay points were slightly more character building. We placed our own sling around a tree, ignoring the museum specimens of tat, and made a mental note not to study any of the bolts too closely (they turned out to be alright).  The pitches come thick and fast, interspersed with convenient ledges for waiting whist pulling down ropes (there is only one pitch where five of you have to clip into the same bolt, very cosy).

We split into two teams of six entering the cave one hour apart, each with 50m, 30m, & 20m ropes, whilst Dick stayed on the surface and took the minibus to the Diau entrance. The first few pitches are great 20-30m Yorkshire-ish pots.  We had two persons rigging, two carrying gear and two derigging, it was working well, we were getting carried away, flying through the cave.  Unfortunately it worked too well, on reaching a series of short pitches, known as the Chocolate Crawl, the tackle bags were already way on down the cave.  The 50m rope had to be hand-balled through squalid liquid mud; this led to a very nerve racking 40m descent; Slime and 9mm rope don't mix too well.  The pitch lands in a large chamber, strewn with the remains of a rescue camp. The chamber is also where Tanne du Tordu enters the system and marks a change in the cave character.  A strong draught guided us into a rift, a couple of short pitches led to Puit de Echo. This is a huge and impressive 50m pitch into a large chamber. At the base of the pitch, a date and initials written on the wall indicate the connection point between Tanne Du Bel Espoir & Le Diau.  Shortly after the chamber, the passage drops down into a stream way, this leads via some short shafts to an entertaining traverse to the head of a wet and spectacular 45m pitch.  The stream cascades down over multiple ledges, spray everywhere, a great pitch. The passage follows along a rift down a series of short 5 to 10m pitches, which land in beautiful blue pools. I thought that this part of the cave was extremely pleasant and entertaining caving, the best part of the system.  The stream eventually intersects the Diau main river, whereupon the cave changes character again.  The passage is huge and decorated; the caving involves wading down the river.  After a fair distance the river becomes deep (swimming).  The swims and ducks can be (and were) completely avoided, by taking a side passage on the right.  The side passage is a series of phreatic tubes (walking).  These lead for 300m to an 8m pitch back down to the river.  By now the river passage has grown in stature. Wire traverses have been installed to avoid deep swims and raging torrents. Eventually the fun has to end, the river sumps. After a bit of confusion and a short search, we found the sump by-pass.  There was no doubt whether we were on the right route or not, the inclined rift ahead was rigged with a stemple every two foot (We can't have the fee-paying outdoor pursuit tourists thrutching now, can we!).  The rest of the cave had every obstacle removed by means of iron ladders, chains, wire traverses and stemples. Although the remaining passage to the lower entrance is very spectacular, the fixed aids do detract from it, making the caving become a bit pedestrian (a similar feeling to caving in St Cuthbert’s).  On reaching the final chamber, Martin produced a bottle of Champagne from his tackle bag.  After a Formula One-style opening aimed at Tim, the bottle was quickly consumed, and we then proceeded to get lost.  After circumnavigating the chamber's walls for the second time, we made our way out of the entrance safe in the knowledge that we had made it through with virtually no navigational mishaps.

It was 10.15pm, a 2km walk to the minibus and the pub was calling.  There was no obvious path we could see, so we followed the river. After half an hour of scrambling down a boulder strewn river bed, we found ourselves above a 30m waterfall, in a 100m high steepsided gorge - time to backtrack!  We found a spot where we could scramble/climb out of the gorge, at the top we found a path and followed it somewhere?  We eventually spotted the lights of Thorens-Glieres, and were able to orientate ourselves in the right direction.  12.30 saw us back at the minibus, to find that disaster had struck! The crate of beers that Dick had stashed in the river for cooling, had floated away.  A major search and rescue operation was instigated, the outcome was successful.  Dick drove us into town, but we were too late, the bars were shut (luckily we had provisions for just such an eventuality).  So we went back to the river to await the other team, and cool down another crate or so.  The second team arrived shortly, so we proceeded to party till dawn.  A great weekend had by all.



New Mexico - The Land of Enchantment

20 May to 5 June 2000

Laventana Natural arch- El Mapais National Park, New Mexico

New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment is one of the poorest states in America, bordering Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Mexico.  It feels like a land set apart from the rest of the USA and is often described as an anomaly as it has its own cuisine, culture, architecture and unique landscape with the Rocky Mountain range running from north to south providing a sharp contrast to the low desert plains.

After a long flight, Mike Clayton and myself arrived in Albuquerque airport with mountains in the background, providing a stunning location.  The warm evening air hit us as we stepped outside, loaded all our kit into the rather large, economy hire car and headed off to find a motel.  After a night in the Luna Motel at $28 for the two of us including breakfast in a rather dubious looking cafe next to the motel, we headed off to the home of a local caver for some information.

Armed with plenty of useful tips, we were pointed in the direction of a local outdoor shop in the Old Town, to stock up on meths (white gas or denatured alcohol) and a snake bite kit.  A stroll around the Old Town was a must, a quaint Mexican style quarter with bunches of chiles adorning each building, musicians on every comer and a lively, vibrant atmosphere.

Our first caving area was to be 75 miles west of Albuquerque, in the El Malpais National Monument and Conservation Area, EI Malpais being Spanish for 'the bad land'. EI Malpais consists of some 600 square miles of volcanic features - miles of lava tubes, jagged spatter cones, basalt craters and lies between the elevations of 6,200 and 8,400 feet. We were informed by local cavers that there are about 200 lava tubes/caves in the area but very little appears to have been published.

Our first destination was a tourist trip to the privately owned Bandera Crater and the Ice Cave which costs $7 each.  On the way up to Bandera Crater, you pass the Bandera tube which can be followed on topographical maps for at least 16 miles. The tube was formed when the crater erupted some 11,000 years ago and is the longest of the 15 major lava tubes in the area.  The tourist Ice Cave, known to the Pueblo Indians as the Winter Lake, was a disappointment as you could not enter it (though it appeared not to be much more than a hollow anyway).  It did however, provide some welcome relief from the intense heat of the afternoon sun.

Start of Lavatubes, EI Mapais N. P.

We had planned to spend our second night in the El Malpais Park, with overnight camping being free as long as you obtain a backcountry permit from the Ranger's office. There were just two snags, where you are asked to camp really requires a 4x4 and secondly, our water supplies were not great and being a Sunday in the middle of nowhere, we had passed no open shops.  Instead, we headed back to the small town of Grants and camped at Lavalands R V site ($12 + tax for two of us).

Like a lot of 'campsites', it is predominantly for RV's (Recreational Vehicles) and the camping ground consisted of just sand which meant tent pegs do not stay in. Fortunately, there was some big lumps of lava lying around, so we managed to improvise.  A trip to a 24 hour Walmart saw us with about 8 gallons of water, a huge steak meal at 4B's ($6.95 each), a good sleep, a shower and we were ready for some proper caving.

We jumped on the 140 at J85 from Grants and left it again at Exit 81, onto SR53.  We passed the Ranger Office, and the Bandera Crater and Ice Cave and took a rough track, CR42 on the next left. All the literature we had, informed us that a 4x4 or high clearance vehicle was required to visit this remote area. Unfortunately, we had neither but it was a hire car, and this hire car was going where it had not been before (and this was tame compared to later in the holiday!).  It is worth noting that it is a place to avoid in wet weather, even in 4x4s.

When we arrived at the deserted car park it was getting hot.  Feeling keen, we both headed off carrying a gallon of water each (as recommended) caving helmets, we wore caving clothes i.e. T-shirts and trousers and took a trekking pole (to warn off rattle snakes!).  We followed a set route, which involved spotting cairns, and we were glad we did.  Because it is all volcanic, compass use is not reliable, a GPS would have been great if we had one with us but we did not.  As we started on the trails, it became hotter and hotter, we followed cairn after cairn, almost completely reliable on them. The area felt quite intimidating and hostile - it all looked the same with nothing distinguishable.  As described in an NSS article, , one pressure ridge or a lava looks very much like another ... the thick trees restrict the view ... Not infrequently, cavers will waste an entire afternoon either completely lost or futilely searching for a specific cave'.  To top it all, there was not a drop of water, there was a severe fire risk, we saw no other people, there were rattle snakes lurking and we were surrounded by a bewildering display of cacti.  If only we had a GPS with us!

We cooled off in Four Windows Cave, with the sun dramatically shining into the tube by four windows and had a good explore, taking photos along the way.  We finished the tourist walk, deciding not even to attempt to find the other caves that we had been given locations for - it was hard enough following a path, let alone going cross country.  We headed for another part of the Park for a photo opportunity at the impressive La Ventana Natural Arch, one of the largest in New Mexico and then to the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, which provides a fantastic view of the surrounding lava fields.  We jumped in the car, back to Albuquerque, through Socorro and camped the night ($5 between us) in the Valley of Fire (near Carrizozo). The Valley of Fire is yet another lava strewn area with lava tubes, though we did not manage to locate these. Instead, we completed the tourist walk and headed for the free International UFO Museum and Research Centre, at Roswell to decide if aliens really did land there.  A trip into Artesia to go to La Fonda, what was to become our favourite restaurant of the holiday (Mexican and very cheap) and we were back on the road to Carlsbad.

Arriving at the Guadalupe Mountain Outfitters in Carlsbad and the heat hit us, all 43 degrees C of it and this was May, it was supposed to be like an English summer day at this time of year!  We met the owner Curtis Perry who provided us with useful information on the caving and climbing scene, another trip to Walmart to stock up on water and we completed the last leg of our journey onto the Texan border.  On our left were miles of hills containing unsurveyed gypsum caves and a couple of families of javelina hog (wild pigs).  As we approached the Guadalupe Mountains, they looked stunning as they stretched along the skyline.  The mountains were once an ancient marine fossil reef and were part of the 400 mile Capitan Reef.  They were formed about 250 million years ago when Texas and New Mexico were covered in a tropical ocean, and the reef began to form from algae, sponges and lime from the seawater.  When the sea evaporated, the reef had become buried in sediments and mineral salts and was not exposed until it was uplifted and tilted by massive earth movements.

We pitched our tent in the National Park at Pine Springs Campsite, at the foothills of the Guads.  There are only 21 pitches on a first come, first serve basis and at $8 for your pitch (and you are allowed up to 6 persons per pitch) was great value.  All pitches had a picnic bench, a tree for shade and a stunning view, there was a toilet block but no showers.  The only significant problem are the skunks who have even been known to unzip tents to steal food - fortunately, we only saw one.  With the fires raging in Los Alamos and notices everywhere, the National Parks were on a severe fire risk.  It felt such a responsibility just cooking your food, as New Mexico had not seen rain for a year, one spark and it would not stop.

The next few days we tried to do some walks around the Guads exploring the Foothills, venturing up the narrow canyon of Devil’s Hall but it was too hot.  The sky was so blue with not a cloud in sight.  Its sounds heavenly but when its 43 degrees C, and there is so much to do around you but you can not due to the heat, it becomes a bit frustrating.  We took to starting walks at 7 am, getting back at 10am, then having breakfast and going for a drive or a siesta.  We found that it took us quite a while to get used to walking in a desert with the intensity of the heat and the lack of water.  It is recommended that you carry at least a gallon of water each and this is vital.  The desert was very beautiful in its own way, with the most amazing variety of cacti and creatures that have adapted to live there.  Something we were warned about but fortunately, did not meet in the wild, was the rattlesnake and the mountain lion.  The latter was descending down from the mountains in a 'stressed' state due to the heat, and attacks on humans were occurring in Texas.  In particular, we were warned about this at the popular McKittrick Canyon as it accommodates a permanent desert stream and ample shade.

Natural entrance to Carlsbad Caverns

One cool place was Carlsbad Cavern, used as a shelter by prehistoric Indians but it was a local cowboy, Jim White, who noticed what appeared to be 'smoke' coming out of a hole in the ground and on closer investigation, found it to be millions of bats that were leaving the cave at dusk to hunt for food. White returned with ladders and began to explore down the large entrance.  At about the same time, a second entrance was discovered by Abijah Long and on seeing the almost 90 foot high guano deposits filed a mining claim and work began.

The Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Centre is very well organised, showing videos of Lechuguilla and the bat flight, 3D models of the cave, interesting displays with trails around the park and even has dog kennels.  The choice of trips provided covers ranger-led trips to self-guided trips to more 'wild' caving adventures.  We chose the self-guided tour at $6 each which took us via the Natural Entrance and eventually to the Big Room which is equivalent to 14 football pitches.  The beauty of this trip was that you could spend however long you wanted - we took about 3 hours.  Once above ground, we completed the short tourist trail and eagerly waited for the evening Bat Flight, hoping to see our two newly adopted bats.  A purpose built amphitheatre around the natural entrance, sees a couple of hundred visitors each night listening to a free talk by a ranger whilst waiting for the bat flight.  Unfortunately, due to the increase in insecticides, the effects of guano mining and some of the bats not having yet migrated back from Mexico, there were not as many bats as we were expecting.  All the same, it was fascinating to sit and watch these Mexican freetails spiral out of the cave to hunt for moths and insects.

Our middle weekend saw us heading off for the Lincoln National Forest to meet a group of cavers who were working on the High Guads Restoration Project (HGRP).  The drive up was about 3 hours from Carlsbad, with a considerable proportion of this being on rough tracks.  We had been advised that it was accessible in a car with high clearance (our hire car had very low clearance).  It must have been an amusing sight when we travelled up in the dark and I could be seen running ahead of the car, shifting stones out of the way, riding in it when the track was reasonable and jumping out at every pothole in the road.  The journey seemed never ending and it was a relief to arrive at Texas Camp and meet some cavers, set up camp and have a good sleep.

There were about 20 cavers camping up in the mountains and unbelievably, one of the first people we spoke to was English.  (I was wearing my BEC t-shirt and his very first comment was that that 'the BEC do really get everywhere'!)  In true American style, we had to have a group meeting before we went caving, and had to have a risk assessment/hazard analysis read out to us.  We were told to 'take a helmet as you might hit your head, to take a rope if there was a pitch, to stay still if you met a rattlesnake and then move slowly away' - the list was endless.  The reason for this, was the strict conditions that the National Park place on you if you are caving.  The HGRP arrange these weekend meets to 'clean' the caves and in that way, they have access to the caves which is sometimes, otherwise denied.  With the caves being bone dry, over time the formations become lost under sand and dirt, with no natural means to clean them unlike our caves the cavers step in and help nature.

We spent an interesting few days caving in this area, descending into Three Fingers Cave, Hidden Cave, doing a bat count in Cottonwood Cave and the highlight for me, being Pink Panther Cave.  This involved walking about 4 miles in the mid day sun, carrying SRT kit, camera equipment, water and getting seriously lost as we scrambled over cliffs until we eventually found it.  This was a leader led trip with only about five trips a year and like a lot of these caves, is easy by English standards.  A slightly awkward climb led us down into a chamber called Speleogasm, full of bizarrely twisted helictites.  The icing on the cake was a bear skeleton, laid as it had fallen, its spine twisted with all bones in tact.

Our time with the HGRP project was soon over, we retreated safely down the dirt tracks and after 7 days without a shower in unpleasant heat, a motel with a shower and a good feed were our priorities.  Before heading to New Mexico, we had arranged permits for some of the other caves in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Unfortunately, out of the 90 or so caves in the Park, cavers are only allowed into about 10 of these.  The Rangers at the Park were very helpful though, giving us surveys of the caves and even opened a road on our way to Chimney Cave especially for us that was closed at the time to tourists because of fire risks.  The other two caves we visited in the Park, Christmas Tree and Corkscrew Cave (photo opposite) involved long, uphill walks for not much cave.  Two longer caves available as ranger tours - Spider and Slaughter Canyon Cave were recommended to us but we ran out of time.

Climbing wise, we did very little due not only to the heat but all the climbs were graded very highly. Sitting Bull Falls, an attractive oasis provides some climbing but climbing with the locals was by far the best way.  Our holiday was concluded with a visit to White Sands National Monument 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo. Glistening white waves of gypsum sands cover 275 square miles, breaking up the 4000 square mile missile range which surrounds it.

As we headed back to the airport, the first rain in 12 months began in style.  Shortly after we had passed through the town of Cloudcroft, reading notices that the national Park was closed because of the fire risk, the airport television showed pictures of the devastation caused by huge mud slides only minutes after our passing through.

New Mexico really is a Land of Enchantment, and we only scraped the surface of this fascinating and intriguing landscape.  The mountains and caves are endless, the land is vast, the people friendly and welcoming and we will definitely be going back.

Useful Information

Gear Shops:

REI, 1905 Mountain Road NW, Albuquerque

Guadalupe Mountain Outfitters, 216 S. Canal, Carlsbad

Good restaurants:

4B's, Grants

La Fonda, 210 W. Main St., Artesia

Sirloin Stockade, 710 S. Canal, Carlsbad

Red Chimney, 817 N. Canal, Carlsbad


Lavalands RV site, off 140, Grants

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, off Dog Canyon Road, near Alamogordo

Pine Springs Campsite, Guadalupe National Park, off US 62/180

To avoid at all costs - Park Entrance R V Park and Campsite, 17 Carlsbad Caverns Hwy, White's City

Useful Maps:

New Mexico Atlas & Gazetteer, 1998,

DeLorme US Geological Survey - Ice Caves,

Gunsight Canyon,

Carlsbad Caverns and EI Paso Gap Quadrangle.

National Geographic Maps - Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Further information:

Fodor's New Mexico 2000

Crane, Candace: Carlsbad Caverns National Park Worlds of Wonder 2000

Jackson, Dennis; Rock Climbing New Mexico and Texas 1996 Falcon Guide

Marinakis, Harry; The Lava Tube Cave Systems of New Mexico's EI Malpais NSS News June 1997

Nymeyer, Robert: Carlsbad, Caves, and a Camera 1978 Zephyrus Press

Nymeyer, Robert and Halliday, William; Carlsbad Cavern The Early Years

Schneider, Bill; Hiking Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks 1996 Falcon Guide

White, Jim; The Discovery and History of Carlsbad Caverns 1998 Reprinted by the Carlsbad Caverns Guadalupe Mountains Association


Thanks to Rich Long, Curtis Perry and family (Guadalupe Mountain Outfitters), Stan Allison, Dale Pate and Paul Burger (rangers from Carlsbad National Park), Allen Laman and Susan Herpin (High Guadalupe Restoration Project), Hazel Barton, Aaron Birenboim and Simeon Warner.

Emma Porter  A similar report has appeared in the Craven Record.


Stock's House Shaft;- Digging Into History.

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BBs nos 502, 504-510.

Photographs attributed to JRat-Ed

A Sixteenth Century Wheelbarrow Reconstructed

With the dreaded Foot and Mouth crisis effectively putting paid to any ongoing work in Stock's House Shaft the writer took the opportunity to undertake an experimental archaeology project which had been in the offing for some time.  The levels in both the Shaft and Five Buddles Sink had been found to have been equipped with plank flooring to aid removal of spoil and tailings from their depths.  The means of transporting these was unknown apart from the wooden sledge found in Five Buddles and now resident in the Hunters'.  A search of the literature revealed that a fairly standard wooden wheelbarrow had been used throughout Europe from at least the sixteenth century up to the nineteenth - essentially unchanged.  To test the theory that these were possibly used in the Shaft it was decided to reconstruct one and try it out, following instructions provided by Georgius Agricola in his authoritative mining volume of 1556 - De Re Metallica:-  "That which we call a cistum is a vehicle with one wheel, not with two, such as horses draw.  When filled with excavated material it is pushed by a workman out of tunnels or sheds.  It is made as follows: two planks are chosen about five feet long, one foot wide and two digits thick; of each of these the lower side is cut away at the front for a length of one foot, and at the back for a length of two feet, while the middle is left whole.  Then in the front parts are bored circular holes, in order that the ends of an axle may revolve in them.  The intermediate parts of the planks are perforated twice near the bottom, so as to receive the heads of two little cleats on which the planks are fixed; and they are also perforated in the middle, so as to receive the heads of two end-boards, while keys fixed in these projecting heads strengthen the whole structure.  The handles are made out of the extreme ends of the long planks, and they turn downward at the ends that they may be grasped more firmly in the hands.  The small wheel, of which there is only one, neither has a nave nor does it revolve around the axle, but turns around with it. From the felloe, two transverse spokes fixed into it pass through the middle of the axle toward the opposite felloe; the axle is square, with the exception of the ends, each of which is rounded so as to turn in the opening.  A workman draws out this barrow full of earth and rock and draws it back empty."  (see illustrations - from the alter piece of St. Annen Kirche, Annaberg, Saxony, Germany.

A search for a suitable wheel was the first priority as the writer's woodworking skills were non-existent. With incredible luck, one was found almost immediately lurking on the second floor of Wells Trading Post, an old mill full of assorted junk, tools, furniture, etc.  It was steel tyred, 16" diameter, and painted bright red!  It was acquired for a discounted price of £20 and the paint tediously removed.  All attempts to scrounge the wood for the bodywork having failed a visit was then made to Interesting Timbers at Emborough where two elm planks of suitable size were purchased for £36.66 and later, two more for £34.00. Six beer barrel spiles were kindly donated by Roger Dors to be used as the "projecting head keys." Work commenced on the 26th March when the writer and Bob Smith sawed and drilled the side boards to shape and pondered on the fact that Agricola had not indicated if the barrow had a floor or just V -shaped sides.  By studying several ancient representations of these vehicles it was decided that their seemingly box-like shapes suggested that a flat floorboard was used and another search through the woodcuts in Agricola proved this - after the barrow had been built! Because of their narrowness and length they were apparently side-tipped (see illustrations).  The width of the barrow was estimated after reading the following descriptions of contemporary mine level dimensions: -

"A tunnel is a subterranean ditch driven lengthwise, and is nearly twice as high as it is broad, and wide enough that workmen and others may be able to pass and carry their loads.  It is usually one and a quarter fathoms high (7ft 6") while its width is about three and three-quarters feet " - Agricola, De Re Metallica (1556). .

"Thefe Adits are commonly fix feet high and about two feet and a half wide, fo that there may be room enough both in height and breadth to work in them; and alfo room to roll back the broken deads in a wheel-barrow ... " William Pryce, Mineralogia Cornubiensis (1778).

These dimensions agree favourably with those in the Upstream and Downstream Levels of Stock's House Shaft. The average height of a man at this time was 5ft 4".

By the 7th April the wooden body of the barrow had been completed and given a coat of dark oak stain. Work was in hand to modify the axle to fit Agricola's description using a couple of cold chisels cut to shape by Ivan Sandford but this became too much of a chore and the barrow was taken to the Somerset Forge at Easton where a magnificent new axle and two frontal supporting bands were made.  Four superb, "distressed" steel floorboard support brackets were made by Paul Brock's workmate, Mark Steeds, and fitted to the sides/base of the barrow with coach bolts.  Once completed and the Shaft reopened it will be tried out underground when the durability of the diggers' knuckles will also be tested!

N.B. Since the writing of this report Bob has discovered that there is a genuine example of a miners' barrow at Morwellham Quay - George and Charlotte Copper Mine, an industrial archaeology tourist centre near Tavistock, Devon.  It appears to have a V -shaped cross section but a visit will be made to check this and compare it with our reproduction.

Illustrations below from 1556 - De Re Metallica : Georgius Agricola

A Seventeenth Century Mining Map Unearthed

Further research into the history of Chewton Minery recently revealed item no.501 in Trevor Shaw's " Mendip Cave Bibliography Part II - CR.G Transactions vol. 14, no. 3, July 1972."  Entitled "Mendip This Plot Lyeth in the bofome of the foreft of Mendyp or Mine-deepe in Sometfett shire. the great Bed of Ledd Dare" it is a folded manuscript plan held at the British Library and dated approximately 1657.

This item was not recorded by Gough in "Mines of Mendip" and it seems incredible that it has not been previously studied by Mendip cavers as it clearly shows three unknown (or unidentifiable) swallets (The Swallow, Pit Swallow and Golgo Swallow) and names a presumed resurgence - Skye Hole.  Mining historians also get a bonus with the identification of Golgo Rake, Boate Rake, Broad Rake and Gold Rake - the latter possibly being the lost "Golden Rake" referred to by Moses Stringer in "Opera Mineralia Explicata" 1713 p. 9 - "Gold hath been and now may be found in the hills of Mendip, in Somerset-shire, called the Golden Rake; ... " and also noted in "The Gold Rocks of Great Britain and Ireland" (J. Calvert. Goldpanners Association ­date unknown.)

This map has been shown to many local cavers so that as many theories as possible may be collected and compared as to the locations of the features mentioned.  At first sight it looks like a simple plan of a " Lake", road, two roadside swallets and the rakes in Rowpits - corresponding to Waldegrave Pool and Swallet and Five Buddles Sink area.  Confusion arises when the lake is seen to be "1000 fadom long & 100 fadom broad" - 6,000ft by 600ft!  The old word "lake" could also mean stream or marshy ground so may refer to the whole valley as far south as St. Cuthbert's Swallet - in which case the dimensions would be roughly correct and "Priddy Minery" is correctly located but the rest of the map would be at a larger scale.

The oblique line across the map may be the ancient (prehistoric?) footpath across Chewton Minery from Stock's House to Red Quarr/Wigmore area, but what is the double line running vertically down the map from south to north (south being at the top)?

Thomas Bushell is mentioned as intending to explore The Swallow to discover it's issue so that he could "undermyne the Lake".  We may assume that he had yet to start his search for the " .. natural swallow twenty fathom (120ft) deep .. "  This may have been Golgo Swallow which is stated as being "..20 fad lower than Pit Swallow."  The latter would seem to be a surface sink and the former possibly entered underground from the adjacent Golgo Rake.  The Old Men obviously knew that the water from this resurged at Skye Hole but where is this cave(?) and how did they know?  As Bushell's plan was to dewater the deepest part of Rowpits, which was the forefield of Broad Rake why had the local miners not done this earlier by driving a level southeast along Golgo Rake from Golgo Swallow?  Could this cave have been lost or blocked off by 1657 and thus the objective of Bushell's search and could the name be a shortened version of Golgotha - the biblical "place of skulls"?

Why is Boate Rake so named?  It is highly unlikely that a boat was used underground but could there have been an entrance near the " Lake" where a boat was kept?  Perhaps there was a boat shaped rock in the rake or maybe the word is actually "Boale".  A "bole hill" was a prominent site used for smelting purposes at the time ­especially in the Derbyshire mining field.

A comparison with 1940s aerial photographs has been made and what may be Broad Rake has been identified as the only obvious working running NE-SW as opposed to the main body of veins which run NW -SE.

The writer would be pleased to hear from anyone who has any thoughts on these queries - ideally through the pages of the BB.  A visit to the British Library would be useful to ascertain if there is any other relevant documentation associated with this manuscript.  Perhaps when **(if !) we break through in Stock's House Shaft some of these problems will be solved.  Roll on a virus-free, dry summer!!!

If nothing else the existence of this map proves that our six years of digging in this area have not been in vain as Bushell's lost cave is definitely in the vicinity.  SEE STOP PRESS


On Monday 16th July, "Mad" Phil Rowsell and Canadian novice caver Jeff Harding were poking about at the end with a long crowbar when it suddenly went through into the top of a 6 foot high continuing level.  The writer- summoned from the surface where he was sunbathing - was very generously given the privilege of being first in.  A short crawl under an horrific collapse led to about 200 feet of mine level with at least four possible ways on.  Needless to say the "well" chilled " Champagne" which had been stored underground for over a year was enthusiastically quaffed!  See next BB for the full, exciting exploration article.

The map appended is British Library manuscript no;- Add Ms 5027 A, art, 49.f.776-78a and is reproduced here by permission of The British Library - with thanks for their helpful assistance.

Latest Developments

On the 18th May the main footpath across the Mineries Reserve and Stockhill Forest was re-opened and access to the Shaft regained.  The following morning the writer found part of a rusted shovel blade lying on the spoil heap, washed free of mud by recent rain. It may be part of the shovel recovered on 22/8/00 (see BB 508) but a small missing section needs to be found to prove this.  A sketch is appended for the records.

On the 22nd May the huge "hanging death" boulder in the Treasury was banged and some bagging of silt accomplished in the surprisingly clear Downstream Level.  All the full bags in this level were transported to the shaft bottom on the following evening when the banged boulder was inspected and found to be split and now drillable in safety.  May 27th saw a strong team bagging more silt in the level and transporting it to the shaft and on the 28th the brand new generator was put into action to operate the submersible pump to allow further clearing .. Next day the hydraulic winch was fettled at the Belfry, transported to the Shaft and installed in preparation for the following evening's session when 184 bags were hauled out - a record (but the previous record of 183 was set by Mike Willet who hand winched every one!!)  The wheelbarrow (minus wheel) was partly lowered into the shaft on the 2nd of June just to make sure it would fit - luckily it did.  A good tidy up then took place and the leaking downstream dam was repaired with the use of expanding polystyrene foam. 63 more bags came out next day and many more were filled at the end in very "soupy" conditions.  Ben Barnett became the latest dig casualty when he dropped a rock on his previously broken foot and re-bent it!  Another 70 loads came out on the 6th June when heavy rain caused a swift increase in the stream level and the following evening saw the eventual complete destruction of the Treasury "hanging death" boulder.

The terminal "chamber" was eventually regained on the 11th June when much clearing of the approach took place.  Bags of silt were stacked on the Old Men’s timbers here and a couple of feet of progress was made into the presumed continuation of the level.  On the 13th another 132 bags came out with the hauling team suffering from the usual summer excess of midges.  Julie Hesketh, Tim Francis and Pete Bennett, digging out the Loop Level on the 17th, found a superb 18 3/4" (475mm) long wrought iron pricker, or needle which was unfortunately broken during removal.  The snapped off tip was identical to the supposed rake tine found by Paul Brock in 1999 which must now be considered as part of another pricker.  The pricker was used to leave a hole in the stemmed end of a black powder-filled shothole in which to insert a fuse, generally a powder filled straw.  The use of iron was soon abandoned due to its potential to create a spark and later prickers were made of copper or wood, though some were still in use in the 19th century.  It is almost identical to the shorter, broken one found in Stock Hill Mine Cave and illustrated in BB 467 (April 1993).  This example is considerably longer than the 15" ones generally used in Cornwall. A small piece of shovel blade recovered by Alex was found not to be part of that discovered previously but from a different tool.  Another 63 bags were winched out the next day.

Another push at the end took place on the 20th June when the water level was lowered by excavating the floor of the terminal chamber and revealing a clean-washed airspace ahead. This may be the main way on but is in a dodgy collapsing area and will have to be dug with care.  More work was done here on the 25th and on the 26th it was possible to reach the end without pumping.  Two suspect boulders in the ceiling above the Old Men’s timbers were banged, as was a huge boulder in the Treasury on the way out.  The strange, pulsating "waterfall noise" was again heard at the downstream end.

The surface dam in the Five Buddles Sink gully was removed at the request of Somerset Wildlife Trust, it now being redundant.

Further work in Loop Level indicates that it was driven along an immature natural streamway before being abandoned.  The Treasury of Aeops / Loop Level passage appears to have been the first level driven (from the surface), being later intersected by the entrance shaft and Upstream / Downstream Levels.

On the 27th June 73 loads were winched out and the banged boulder in the Treasury removed in pieces to give open access to this level, which will in future be restored to its former glory.  A start was made on demolishing the terminal choke.  Much of the broken rock was bagged up on the 29th and a large, flat slab brought back from the downstream end which, when cleaned, was found to be limestone.  It appeared to have been partly worked and seems to have been brought into the workings for some specific purpose.  Mark also found a partly fired shothole with the top section still full of stemming - this will be studied at a future date and the results compared with those gained by Willy Stanton in Grebe Swallet Mine, Charterhouse.  102 loads came out next day and on the 1st and 2nd of July about half of the full bags stacked at the terminal choke were dragged out and another charge fired to bring down loose boulders.  The Old Men’s timbers were also removed.

The 4th of July saw a large team suffering various disasters from attack by millions of midges on the surface, failure of the pump or cable, hanging death at the end and the snapping of the winch rope with eight full bags on it.  Luckily only Trevor was below (he's used to this kind of thing) but he was impressed - as opposed to being just pressed!  Despite all this another twenty odd loads were cleared from the end, more of the Treasury spoil was bagged up, all full bags were dragged to the shaft and one even reached the surface!  Richard Chaddock and Hugh Tucker did a working tourist trip following a talk given to Cheddar C.C. by Tangent and the writer the previous Sunday night.  The broken rope was kindly replaced by Ian Matthews.

Another 136 bags came out on the 8th of July when the hanging death was banged and an enthusiastic Adrian Hole was introduced to the dig.  The large amount of broken rock resulting from this bang was dragged back to the dam next day when Chris Castle joined the team.  It seems evident that this collapse area is in fact a mined out rake intercepted by the level and shored up by the Old Men.  The 11th saw all this spoil dragged to the shaft and 40 loads winched out.  It was noticed that the winch had been tampered with ready for removal by some of the summer low-life that plagues the countryside so it was dismantled and removed from site.  Ray Deasy arrived from Australia for his annual digging trip!  The total amount of bags out so far is about 8785 - c.88 tons.

Looking up the Level photo by Ray Deasey

Additions to the Digging Team.

Nigel Denmeade (W.C.C.), Mark Ireland (Axbridge C.G./Cheddar C.C.), Tim Francis (Mendip C.G.), Phil Rawsell, Tony Audsley (A.T.L.A.S.), Pete Bennett (M.C.G.), Julie Hesketh (M.C.G/G.S.G.), Elaine Johnson (A.C.G.), Richard Chaddock (A.C.G.), Hugh Tucker (A.C.G.), Adrian Hole, Chris Castle, Jeff Harding (Ontario, Canada.)

Additional Assistance

The British Library, The National Library of Wales, Simon J.S. Hughes (North Cardiganshire Mining Club).

A.R. Jarratt, Priddy. 12/7/01


Club AGM 2000

Reports of the various committee members and officers follow


Believe it or not, and without an election, we had a eleven person committee this last year.  Strange therefore we only ever seemed to have five or six committee members attend any monthly meeting, members are volunteers, and they are entitled to their private lives and associated commitments, some of which unfortunately may not have been apparent to them when they stood for Committee, - and regardless, the Club still functions.  As I expressed in last year's report, this can cause difficulty in actually effecting the efficient running of the club, and also ensuring that any decisions taken were democratic.

The 1998 AGM directed that committee members attendances should be recorded and passed to the club's AGM, these will be available at the AGM only, as an addendum to this report, and I make no further comment upon them.

Once again, the BEC owes a great big "Vote of Thanks" To Fiona Lewis, who steadfastly carries out the role of Hut Bookings Officer both efficiently and without portfolio!  It is sad to hear that recently she received verbal abuse from a non-member who called uninvited at her home, when he demanded some cave keys from her.  We are unable to identify this person who I feel is in need of some practical advice!

Both Vince Simmonds and Bob Smith have been energetic in their roles as joint "Hut Wardens". Rich Long has been active as Caving Secretary, and Roz Bateman has worked hard in chasing-up late payers and bringing out another Members Handbook.  I shall not steal her thunder in talking about membership, except to say that it is heart warming to see a regular amount of new, and young members coming into the club.  Many of these are being introduced as a direct result of Tony Jarratt and his stalwart digging activities.

The Committee hope to make a start in 2000 / 2001 on the proposed extension to the Belfry as a start in construction must be made under granted planning permissions within a five year period.

As I seem to constantly bleat, Please, please remember it is your Club try to do your bit however small that may be, this ensures that BEC continues to flourish in a shrinking Caving world.

The BEC is I feel in a healthy and strong position, in this it's 65th Year, I am sure it would make its' original founders pleased to see it thriving and keeping true to its' traditions.

Nigel  Taylor
Member 772.
Hon. Secretary Bristol Exploration Club, 1999/2000
Tuesday 5th September 2000.



The BEC's series of caving reports cover a wealth of knowledge and experience.Most of these were written many years ago but still contain very pertinent information covering many aspects of the clubs activities.


Been down St Cuthberts? Buy the report and get a free survey!

Less well-known than many of Mendip's other major cave systems, St. Cuthbert's Swallet offers much to those whose interest extends beyond mere sporting activity. Not only does it contain fine pitches and streamways but it has numerous large chambers, some beautifully decorated, intricate phreatic mazes and up to seven distinct levels. It is without doubt Mendip's most complex cave system and, not generally realised, it contains perhaps the finest and greatest variety of formations in the area. Among its displays are found magnificent calcite groups such as the 'Curtains', 'Cascade', Gour Hall with its 20ft high gour, 'The Beehive', Canyon Series and the 'Balcony' formations in September Chamber, all of which are without peer in the country. There are also superb mini-formations including floating calcite crystals, over twenty nests of cave pearls, and delicate fern-like crystals less than four millimetres long; a variety that few other caves can boast.

Access is strictly controlled by the Bristol Exploration Club. Conservation was the prime reason for wishing to control access to the cave. To achieve this aim it was decided by the BEC at their 1955 Annual General Meeting to introduce a leader system. St. Cuthbert's Swallet was one of the first caves in the country to be so protected. This action has often been the centre of controversy. However, the fact remains that, after thirty years, the cave is essentially still in pristine condition and proven justification for the leader system.

The St Cuthberts report was written and compiled by D.J. “Wig”  Irwin with additional material by Dr. D.C. Ford, P.J. Romford, C.M. Smart and Dr. J.M. Wilson. Running to 82 pages and containing a vast array of photos and a wealth of information this doesn’t just deserve to be on every cavers bookshelf, you should get one for all your friends too (well maybe).

Copies can be purchased from the Belfry or Bat Products for a very reasonable sum.

Also Available as a PDF download from the downloads section from the publications menu

The monthly newsletter will remove ‘internal’ members items from the regular Belfry Bulletin and hopefully be able to update our members more frequently on news, BEC events, local caving related events, any internal stuff members may like to know, dig updates, gossip, etc. etc. It will also contain a rolling calendar which will list both BEC and member events and any other cavers related events on Mendip and the wider community where appropriate.

The newsletter is totally internal to BEC membership and will not be distributed outside of the club, unlike the BB which is exchanged with other clubs and  eventually published publicly on the website.

{loadmodule GoogleCalendar}

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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.