Local Services

Search Our Site

BB548 cover

Front cover image: Robin Gray in Toothache Pot by Martin Grass




October 2013 Number 548 VOLUME 59 NUMBER 3

The Bristol Exploration Club. Wells Road, Priddy, nr. Wells, Somerset, BA5 3AU
01749 672 126 Website: www.bec-cave.org.uk


Editorial October 2013

Well, here we are with another BB. It’s a pretty full issue this time and if you are bored with reading the stuff I have written then contribute some of your own work!

I’d like to start by congratulating Stuart and Hels Gardiner on their recent marriage. I gather a fine time was had by all the wedding and I hope they enjoy New Zealand as much as we did—just hope they like the camper van company we recommended.

The AGM and dinner have now passed so I hope everybody got their subs in in time and if not this is a reminder. The AGM was fairly well attended and I would like to say that Bob Cork did a superb job of chairing the meeting — one of the best I have ever seen. You can do it again next year Bob—if you want to.

Without going into detail it was good to hear club members airing their feelings and I hope their views will be respected in the coming year. We have a really good mix of individuals on the committee from old hands to new young bloods and they would like your support. At the end of the BB Bill Comlbey kicks off with a potted biography.

As you know we are an exploration club. I would dearly like more features on the digs that club members are involved with even if its only a few lines. I am thinking of Toothache, Home Close, and Halloween in particular but know of several other sites. Photos are always welcome of course. I know some people keep blogs and logs but a Journal record is quite nice for posterity.

I might as well mention the Jrat Digging award evening on 16th November this year as this BB should reach you by then. As some of you will know the venue has been switched back to the Hunters after being planned for Priddy Village Hall. One reason was the organizers were unsure how much attendance there would be this year. Having got involved in the proceedings I think this year’s format may encourage more participation and if it does then we might have a case for moving to a larger venue. The plan is to invited diggers to give a brief presentation on their particular site so that an audience can get an idea as to what is happening across the whole of Mendip. Teams that would like assistance can then also promote their dig and advertise their favoured day or evening. It should make the evening far more interesting and more in keeping with Tony’s enthusiasm for digs in general—not just his own.

This month you can learn how to get your digging spoil out, what happens in Assynt every April/May and something about the history of a well know Devon show cave amongst other things. Read on.

BB548 055 

Bob lays down the law
BB548 058
AGM attendees—what a happy bunch

The BCA AGM Working Weekend Event and Cavers’ Party

by Ian Gregory

The weekend of 14th to 16th June 2013 saw the inaugural British Caving Association Annual General Meeting Weekend Event and Cavers Party.

“Why a Weekend Event/Party?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s simple….hardly anyone, outside of the Committee and Council ever bothers to turn up, leading in turn to allegations that British Caving is run by a “bunch of old farts” who are out of touch with the “grass roots” of our chosen activity. That sentiment may well be true, but we’re all to blame for that, because nobody turns up…..a circular argument if ever there was one.

To try to change this state of affairs, it was decided, by the BCA to make the AGM something that cavers, especially the younger generation, would actually want to attend, hence the Party Weekend. It was, though, much more than just a party, as there were also Caving Trips, Scientific Field Trips and Seminars on the programme.

Although it was a BCA event, a lot of the organizing was done by the Hidden Earth team, mostly Les and Wendy Williams (WCC), and some of the CHECC committee personnel, most notably Hellie Brooke (BEC). I was approached by Les to do the breakfast catering, with a Hog Roast on the Saturday evening.

The venue chosen to host this first attempt was the excellently equipped Rotary Centre in Castleton, Derbyshire, which boasts not only some very good bunkrooms, but also a “party room” and a well equipped kitchen and dining room…..with the all important built in Bar! Who could ask for more?

Friday was the meet and greet evening, where those attending were booked in, set up their tents or bagged a bunk, then retired to the Bar, which, as it was organized and run by Les Williams, with help from Martin Grayson (TSG) was serving Cheddar Ales Potholer (what else at a caver’s party) and Somerset Cider…..rumour had it that they were also serving soft drinks (whatever they are). Andy Eavis also provided a roast chicken supper.

Saturday morning was started with a 9 item Full English Breakfast, + toast & marmalade, and tea or coffee with a vegetarian option, at a very reasonable £4. That, I figured, would be enough to set them up for a good days caving. Following breakfast the cavers all departed to whatever trip or lecture that they had booked, and us “staff” were able to get a few hours rest, before the evening’s frivolities commenced.

Saturday evening was taken up with a Hog Roast and a Stomp. The Hog Roast, courtesy of Andy Eavis, was cooked by Henry Rockliffe, and the Stomp with a very good live Rock Band, was followed by a Disco supplied by Basher and Martel Baines from the BPC…..oh, and large amounts of beer.

According to Les, “If there ain’t no pictures, then it never happened!”, so, he was not chased around the site, cornered in the bar and disrobed by a dozen or so half naked young ladies….

Sunday started again with a damn good fry up, and then the serious business of the A.G.M. and Council meeting commenced. Due to the amount of cleaning and tidying in the kitchens I was unable to attend the meetings, however some of the other Belfyites present did, and a few of them were even appointed (conned?) into taking various positions. These individuals were Ben Heaney, who now holds the post of BCA Newsletter Editor, and Ruth Allen who is now an Individual Rep. on the council, whilst Chris Jewell continues in the post of Media Liaison Officer, and Dave Cooke heads up the I.T. Working Group.

As this was the first event of it’s type, a lot of lessons were learned by the organizers, and, though it wasn’t perfect first time round, the input from some of us, such as Les and Wendy, Hellie and myself, having been involved in the running of Hidden Earth and CHECC, certainly helped it to run a lot better than it might have, as a lot of the common mistakes and pitfalls had already been met and overcome by us before.The

Lecture and Field Trip Programm e for Saturday 15 th June 2013

  • The Hydrology of Speedwell Cavern, led by Nigel Ball.
  • Introduction to Cave Ecology, led by Dr. Paul Wood.
  • Introduction to Cave Archaeology, led by Prof. Andrew Chamberlain,
  • Introduction to Limestone Hydrology and Geomorphology, led by Dr. Paul Hardwick,
  • The Castleton Springs, led by Prof. John Gunn,

And, in addition to these, the British Caving Library also held an Open Day, and the day was finished off with a Slideshow and Presentation on the year’s Major Overseas Expeditions.

There are plans to continue this event in the future, and, whilst, at the time of writing this, nothing definite has been confirmed, there is the intention to hold next years (2014) at the Dalesbridge Centre in Yorkshire, and, as it can only get better, I would urge you all to consider attending.


How to move your spoil

By Stu Lindsay

The bags

Usually plastic, they come from a number of sources and the quality varies a lot. Good old fashioned fertilizer or animal feed bags are amongst the strongest but not always the easiest to empty. Yes, some bags do need to be emptied as cave digs do not always have masses of free space where they can be stored and, more importantly, hidden. Hand in hand with the plastic bag often goes the strop, a mini 60cms loop sling; this gives an easy grip for dragging, pulling about or hauling up pitches. It hooks straight on and most importantly it keeps the spoil contained. Used in conjunction with a drag tray they can make spoil removal much easier. In the past few years the plastic “hessian weave” type bag has become available as the more we drink the more the brewery’s use! They are easier to empty being less rigid and do not tend to grip muddy spoil with a near perfect vacuum-like resistance, as do fertilizer bags. They are also relatively safe moving boulders; we have done rocks to 40kgs in a well stropped bag…and one of over 50kgs in a double bag!

The drag tray

BB548 001

There is a vast array of “models” in this category and they are mostly modified plastic drums of 25 to 40 litre capacity. The drag tray is a simple thing; you can get 2 from each drum. You cut it in half from top to bottom; each drum can yield slightly different trays if you cut it off centre. Using the handle as a guide you cut it so that the whole handle stays on one section; this gives a deeper tray and something to grab hold of if you need it to be tipped. The thinner section is great if you are merely using it to drag bags between points that are reasonably flat and in a straight passage, or up slopes. The most important thing with a drag tray is not to fall into the trap of “great, a nice convenient handle to tie the rope to” and then suffer with awkward moments if the tray is unstable or travels badly. Why should you avoid tying to the handle? Because you will find the pull is often above the centre of gravity. In all trays I have made the drag rope attachment points are as low as possible, wide apart and the leading/ pulling end always rein forced, using a sturdy thick rope with a thinner one on the return side if you


The kibble (bucket, skip)

BB548 003Again there are loads of models; the primary source is the 25—40 litre plastic drum. Preference and construction is usually down to the hands of the maker and the conditions in the dig. Most kibbles will operate in most digs, but for that awkward or odd point in the digging chain you can usually make something to suit.

Example 1: In Cainehill we have a rift 8m deep which is narrow and stuff needs to be got up it. Rocks in a bag would last no time at all so a simple solution was to cut the handle section from the top of a drum, attach an old bit of seat belt around it, reinforce the plastic one side and the webbing on the other with washers and use rivets to hold it in place down the sides and on the bottom. A maillon or old krab then joins 2 end loops together at the top and a sturdy flexible rock hauling vessel that is easily tippable in a cramped space is the result.

Example 2: Cut the bottom from a 25 litre drum then using 1” wide tape wrap around the handle twice, keeping the tape centrally placed, 2 equal lengths then go up the side, melt 2 slits (stronger than cutting) in each side above halfway and feed tape in and out, tie loops on the ends to affix a permanent maillon and you have a flexible kibble with a handle on the bottom for easier tipping. As in all instances a piece of chain tied to the handle also helps in muddy conditions.

BB548 002

Example 3 & 4: A 25 litre drum holds probably more than 25kgs of solid stuff; that would be especially true if it was mud, and more so very wet mud. The metal framed kibble is useful in a variety of aspects; the frame of the kibble can be used as an integral lifting and tipping part. The metal frame is constructed around the top of the cut off drum using fairly wide metal, 20mm then 1 or 2 bands are affixed to this going down around the bottom then back up, these can be narrower metal, 10mm. The handle is fixed to the wider rim, it can be central or offset by an inch or so; offsets can make for easier tipping by hand or from a fixed rig. The handle framework also means there is a firm point for attaching to guide wires etc.


These metal framed kibble type buckets do not like to be bashed on the top edge, especially when moving claggy clay as the clay takes the shape of the bucket, the bucket is bashed more and more to get it to come out, the shape of the top changes with more banging, the clay is rather stubborn, preferring to stay as a squarer lump in the bottom and refusing to pass the modified exit.

True of most kibbles, when digging claggy clay a half sized kibble avoids overfilling, reduces weight and provides fewer surfaces to stick to. For rocky, dryish spoil or gravel use a three quarter drum. Handles to attach can be made from solid metal, rope, tape or chain. Always cut off the bottom as the top becomes a ready made handle on the bottom for tipping!

The rock kibble (varying sizes)

Used in Assynt and manufactured by those famous SUSS engineers (F & B) is the rock kibble, cut from the bottom of a round barrel, 40 – 200 litres depending on your fancy. It has four sturdy attachment points for chains. These are basically 2 flat metal bars (2” wide) which go at 90 degrees to each other under the bowl and are bolted into place; the chains come together at a maillon for a permanent attachment point, and are long enough to get a rock in and out when spread. They should easily be able to handle 60+kg rocks hauled to the surface up a pitch! The rocks are merely rolled in and rolled out! 80kg can be no problem.

BB548 007

The enclosed kibble or cut away kibble

BB548 008An awkward looking bit of kit, this is usually attached by the existing handle. These are useful if there is a pull along a bit of flat passage with a section of vertical lifting ; depending on the spoil type they can prove difficult to tip as the cut out hole tends to govern the mass of the contents. The less viscous the spoil (slurry!) then the bigger the volume can be. If A is a 1/3rd of the kibbles depth the hole to extract or tip the contents from the loaded end by way of tipping and shaking is by virtue of the open diagonal, d to e, allowing just more than a 1/3rd of the volume to be tipped easiest. The load, clay or similar, in the bottom section below B should therefore be no more than 1/3rd of the kibble volume. A mistake often made is to fill them to the top, line A, with fairly thick claggy spoil that binds together, shaking causing it to lump up even more, so its true, little but often works best. Wet slurry type spoil, when being pulled flat can be filled to the point of over flowing, as when raised it should be below line A.

To make one simply catch hold of the handle, cut away the top corners/edge of one side, attach a strop or something similar to aid attaching to a krab or maillon, add a rope or bit of chain to the bottom and hey presto a few seconds later and you have a kibble. The main disadvantage is by using the handle for lifting there is a higher centre of gravity when dragging, resulting in stability being a negative point, but usually containers are “oblong” with the handle favouring the cut.

In the late 1970’s a converted beer barrel was commissioned to extract spoil at 50kg a time from Wigmore Swallet. Like all good plans it had to evolve. The second part of the plan was hatched as we went along on that first day; an aerial ropeway with 2 perfectly placed trees and masses of space for spoil. It just had to be! The concept was simple, as was the offsetting of the centre of gravity horizontally and vertically of the barrel and the krab release so it would tip itself. The barrel part worked excellently but getting it to the tipping point was a completely different story…another day perhaps.

Operation was simplicity itself a krab on the handle slipped over a fixed pillar on one side of the barrel. When lifted the barrel tipped upside down; the hardest part on the tip operator’s part was swinging the empty barrel back up and putting the krab back in place.
BB548 009    BB548 011
It is not all about the receptacle in removing your spoil and performing a relatively simple lift up a vertical shaft. Inclined areas coupled with rough floors in a relatively cramped passage or crossing a void often needs a bit of thought. With the Tyrolean or zip wire in the armoury we can see that pretty much all aspects of spoil removal in most situations can be sorted using vessels, pulleys, (ropes) wires, poles, guides, maillons, krabs and anchors. Always start with KISS and if it doesn’t work then build up on it.

Providing there is something solid to attach to at both ends using a zip wire (preferred) or rope can be a godsend. The best operation is of course with a down hill slant, but providing the passage is straight a rope on either end of the vessel will work. Materials needed are a couple of anchor bolts, the spoil vessel, old rope for pulling to and fro and a maillon or krab or two. For a simple short term operation an old maillon sliding on the wire should suffice. For longer term use or maybe heavier loads a bogey as in Diagram 7 would be beneficial.

However, from the outset simple might be how you build a 3 wheel rig. It is basically 2 modified triangles of metal to form cheeks, 2 pulley wheels affixed to top 2 corners, a third lower and centrally positioned and 3 hanging points on the “sharper” end with spacers in the middle for rigidity and /or draw ropes or load points as necessary. The above system can go up/down quite steep slopes, across voids indeed anywhere where the vessel is mostly clear of the floor. Diagram 7 shows the bogey used in Locke’s Hole where the entrance shaft is near vertical but has many protrusions, especially the steps! I managed to get a guide that worked perfectly on the 3rd attempt. First task in setting up is to
get a piece of string attached to the centre of a head frame/ top anchor point then find a suitable line to a robust sturdy lower anchor point.

BB548 012Locke’s problem was that a mere guide did not suit as the weight of the load needed to be “suspended” on the wire, and opposing forces (pull, hang and sideways motion) seemed to negate the effort and readily wore through steel krabs/maillons, My offering for lifts greater than about 20 degrees from vertical must be the three wheeled bogey / pulley with attaching points to allow for 25+ kgs going up, and a free running zero load, or controlled 40+ kgs down. It works and I offer no technical info on how or why it does such a good job, whereas its immediate similar predecessors didn’t; it’s like most digging i.e. “suck it and see”.

In construction there must be adequate solid points to keep the plates apart and allow the wheels to revolve. In diagram 7 (the top plate is removed for clarity) there are 3 fixed points, good for attaching krabs and it is set up for pulling up a 20+ degree incline, if used more horizontally then the load could be put on the spare rigid fixing point.

In a vertical scenario, maybe a shaft with a reasonable dog leg and protrusion, a zip wire or guide wire may be needed to guide rather than support a vessel which should always hang vertically. The simplest guide is a krab/maillon between kibble and wire/ rope, great if minimum load is put directly on to it, but metal against metal (or rope) doesn’t last long. A guide wire will probably work without too much friction up to about 10 degrees.

Rigid rails

These can be in exceptional cases mono but are mostly double, and fixed to the floor, possibly turning gentle corners and able to tackle inclines and varying distances. If a long term project over a long hauling distance is planned then the time and labour may be well spent. We all know how a railway line works so that covers floor mounted aspects of rigid rail, so how about suspended ones:-

The short rail, attached at both ends above ground with its length dependant on the amount of sag that can be tolerated, has a block, usually like the triangular offering in diagram 7 but with a much larger wheel(s) ( 7-10 cms dia. and maybe 3-5 cms wide) with the end to end movement probably no more than 9-10 metres, supporting about 25 - 40 kgs.

In construction there are a couple of options; the block may have 1 or 2 running wheels, the equilibrium being based on the hanging load keeping the block up straight. Attaching a kibble or bag to the load point and walking it to the other end along a rail of 2” scaffold or similar pole is the simplest way as it allows for moving larger weights. Whilst 20kgs is fairly comfortable for most diggers to lug around, this rail could allow for loads of 35-40kg. If incorporated with a simple human influenced lift from the dig haul line onto the mono rail, and a method of semi automatically tipping at the other end, you get more load for less energy.

BB548 013

This idea derives from the system in use in Assynt (see photos)

The 2 highlighted areas show a pulley with single wheel, and the end stop which the kibble hits and is displaced from the transporting hook under the pulley wheel by the impact so that through the wonders of science it lands upside down in the wheel barrow. A handle on the bottom is used to pick up the kibble which has usually disposed of its contents. The rig shown, with 7 people on site and about 5 hours working, raised 280 kibbles, each weighing close to 30 kgs…that’s over 1500 kgs an hour.

BB548 014   BB548 017
Above Close up of pulley and tipping bar

BB548 028 

The author in action in Assynt
The BEC has been blessed with the rat haus a gift from Matt Clarke; what Jrat always wanted! It has a really sturdy bench, a massive vice, a grinding wheel, and will welcome any useable old tools! You can make your own stuff, so then there is no reason not to have the tools to go digging. How’s the song go…Oh yes, “We are the Exploration Club we………………………”

Reservoir Hole 13th update

by Peter Glanvill

Things have gone a bit quiet in the cave for the time being with few working trips being made during August and September owing to the absence of Nick (Old Ruminator) Chipchase. However a fair number of tourists have been in, marvelled, taken photos and gone away. We keep a log in the chamber of all visitors.

The Silo and Jill’s Slither have remained unvisited apart from spoil clearance from the Silo dig back to Grand Gallery with some re excavation of the approaches. Contrary to what some individuals might think we are not averse to offers of help. Some of the core team are retired and chose to dig in the day time simply because they live more than an hour’s drive from the hill. However the Silo would make an ideal evening dig for a small team of 3 or 4 and is only 20 minutes caving from the entrance. If any leaders from the club are interested they should make themselves known to Martin Grass. I know Estelle seemed quite positive and Henry Dawson was keen at one stage. The Silo has had the blessing of Mendip’s own cave geomorphologist Andy Farrant so there is everything to play for.

In the Frozen Deep Nick and Nigel have methodically worked round the walls spraying ‘smoke’ from a canister of Magican (available from Maplins). This pleasantly scented mist is cool so neutral in a draught and is ideal for detecting draughts. They found that there was really only one place where the draught was highly apparent and this was some way to the east of the entrance of Pickwick Passage on the southern wall. A dig (Magic Smoke Dig) was there fore started between the boulders and the wall, conveniently right beside the taped path. It has so far dropped 3 metres to a mud floor and a cool draught blows down the diggers necks. Unfortunately the floor currently consists of fine silt so we suspect some zig zagging downwards will be required to reach the cave that must exist below and beyond.

Skyfall may also receive attention at some stage. It draughts well but there are issues with digging upwards!


I have now received 2 letters (emails actually but any communication with the editor will do). Here they are:

From Vince Simmonds


Having read the latest BB I am more than a little pi**** off that you take it on yourself to suggest that we might need assis tance at Hallowe'en Rift. Let me make it clear that, if and when we require any help then we will ask for it ourselves, until then we are more than happy to continue with the team we have. I don't recall that we have interfered with your teams antics at Reservoir Hole, and have the decency to spell my name correctly!

Vince Simmonds

(For those who read the last BB it’s clearly not worth contacting the Halloween diggers! The latest Reservoir update deals wi th
Vince’s second comment. Sorry about the typo, Vince, you lost a ‘d’ and I usually gain an ‘e’! I have also discussed these
issues with Vince more recently - Ed. )

From Liz Jeanmaire

Picture on last page is Wooding, Dave Savage, Martin Grass, Fish & I don't know the 5th person.

It was in the marquee put up inside the Mill at Wookey hole for the Anniversary dinner in I can't remember what year late
1990s, perhaps? and I can't get at stuff to look it up because of the builders.

(She is absolutely right—its 1996 and if anybody knows the name of the fifth man perhaps they can tell me—Ed.)

A History of Kents Cavern

Part 1: 19TH Century Visitors and Guides

By Pete Rose

Following early visits to Kent’s Cavern in the late 18th century by John Swete, Richard Polwhele and William Maton the visits by J. Feltham in 1803 and W. Hyett (1805) appeared in print (1): “Having augmented our guides we entered the chafin, with each a candle and cautiously proceeded, after a short descent it opened out into a fort of a hall.” This trip describes the rescue of a party of naval officers who had entered with portfires (slow burning fuses) and one candle which went out!

In 1812 ‘A description of Kent’s Hole’ (2) stated: “A curious cavern amongst the rock to the east of Teignmouth. It is situated at the bottom of a rock and has 2 entrances. The largest and left entrance is about 4 feet high and continuing 12 feet, terminates in a chamber, with a descent leading into other vaults, sometimes the passage being only high enough for a person to creep along, suddenly leading into an apartment spacious enough to contain a hundred persons.There are 5 of these, but the largest is at the end of an entrance two hundred feet along, which barely admits a person going through. This is called the Oven, and here we meet with a lake of water which prevents further progress……. It is necessary that everyone who visits should take a light to prevent accidents by foul air etc. Attempts have been made to work the bones and spars, but they do not prove ornamental!”

In 1818 E. Croydon published ‘A Guide to the watering places on the coast between the Exe and the Dart’ (3). The land under which Kent’s is situated was owned by Sir Lawrence Palk (The Haldon Estate): “The approach to this awful retreat is by a path which winds through a thicket. The entrance, which is situated to the south, is through a narrow passage, in some parts not 5 feet in height. The passage gradually widens as you proceed, and takes a north easterly direction till you are introduced into a spacious hall.” Torches were used to light this trip, but there is no mention of a guide.

The first name connected with Kent’s Cavern in modern times is that of Thomas Northmore (4) of Cleve, near Exeter, who sought to establish that Mithras had been worshipped in early times in British caverns.

He entered the cave on Sept 21st 1824, with the dual objective of verifying his own theory and of discovering organic remains. With two assistants, Ferris and Rossiter, together with a draughtsman Gendall (sketches for the engravings) entered the cavern. “There were no bars, locks or bolts on the cave”. He declared that he was ‘‘successful in both objects’’ (5) but his theory was disproved quickly His interest caused him to write to Dean Buckland, who had been exploring caverns in Yorkshire. The latter urged him to proceed with his investigations, which he carried out with Sir W.C. Trevelyan.

Northmore was accompanied in his researches by Dr Greville, Capt. Sartorius, Mr Scudamore, Mr Barker, Mr Henderson, Dr Matthews, Rev Mr Daniel and Mr Edward Cary, Prof. of Oxford.

In 1825 he was accompanied by a party including John MacEnery, a priest. He had archaeological tastes and resolved to commence researches which would shed light on man’s early history. He was inspired by Dr. Buckland’s book ’Reliquaie Diluvianae’(6) which had appeared in 1823 with .the current theory of the deluge or a great flood, depositing bones into caves.

“Captain Welby , the coast guard , with Mr Northmore, and MacEnery entered in files , each bearing a light in one hand and a pick-axe in the other headed by a guide carrying a lantern before the chief of the party. Assembling in the vestibule Mr Northmore ascended a rock from which he issued instructions. He then distributed the guard through the chambers. The party were consoled by the discovery in the black mould of oak pieces and finally some teeth. 5 species on Mr Trevelyan’s plate were supplemented by deer, hare, rabbit, cat, birds, and an upper jaw of a hyena!’’ (24),Buckland visited in 1825 and was struck with the discoveries.

MacEnery found, below the recent deposits and a thick sheet of stalagmite, the bones and teeth of extinct animals and non native ones, together with flint implements of early man. This proved an antiquity of deposition over long periods of time, rather than just in a flood. When John MacEnery submitted his report to the British Association he was greeted with disbelief and ridicule, for few scientists then believed these flints to be genuine products of primitive man.

In 1829 in searching the surface mould(23) MacEnery turned over a stone and discovered pieces of pottery, charcoal ,human teeth ,flint relics, spear heads, copper, tin mouldings etc., and, near the entrance, human bones. Near the same spot a few days later a cranium and bones of another body were found plus mammoth, rhino, horse, ox, deer, wolf, fox, hyena, and reindeer remains. Further excavations were carried out over a period of about 15 years, but the results were meagre and misunderstood.

The ‘Panorama of Torquay’(1832) by Octavian Blewitt was quite controversial “The labours of the Rev .J.M. MacEnery have enabled him to form a cabinet of great value, and to enrich with the fossil treasures of Torquay the institutions of Plymouth , Bristol and other provincial towns and the splendid Museum of the Geological Society. But while hundreds have engaged in these investigation it is curious that few Geological works have condescended to notice the Torquay cave, although much space has been given to others, both foreign and British of far inferior interest.We have great pleasure in introducing two letters by Thos. Northmore.’’ (Pp110-138) (7)

He states that: “the guides were J.Heggery, mineralist on the quay, and Geo. Pearce at Tor to whom the keys are entrusted. Permission to dig is from Sir L.V. Palk”. The entrance is shown in an engraving.

BB548 027

South entrance 1848
BB548 019
North Entrance 1841

This north entrance was in general use from 1824 to 1865. There were 5 entrances the triangular entrance (north),the arched entrance(south),the first low level entrance, the second low level entrance and the oven entrance . Only the above two are now open,and 50 feet apart in the face of the same cliff. The other entrances were blocked to keep out stray animals. MacEnery used the north entrance which opened into the vestibule.

In 1840 Godwin Austen read a paper on ‘The bone caves of Devonshire’ before the Geological Society describing his own investigations.

Croydon’s Guide (henceforth referred to as Croydon) 1841(25) noted that George Pearce of Tor, Torquay dealt with applications for visits.

In 1841 ‘The Guide to Torquay’ by Cockrem and Elliott (9) has a new engraving of the North Entrance. “The entrance is now closed in order to prevent persons from carrying off the bones for sale, or incautiously losing themselves in the cave. It is more than probable that the skeleton which was found there had taken refuge in the cave and had been unable to retrace her steps!”

“When the fleet was stationed in Torbay during the late war, two midshipmen ventured to explore the cavern without a guide, and having extinguished their lights were so completely lost in its intricate windings that it was not until they had been missed and search made for them that they were discovered on the following day, by the tenant of Ilsam Farm .They were seated in the far recesses, without hope of making their escape. Determined to show his gratitude, and to terminate their adventure in the true spirit of romance, one of them resolved upon marrying the daughter of their deliverer and actually maintained a correspondence with her family for nearly 10 years, when all tidings of him suddenly ceased”

BB548 036

Tor Churchyard

“The only guide who is now trusted with the key is George Pearce, of Tor, who will provide lights and everything necessary for visiting the interior.

Permission to dig for bones can only be obtained from Sir L.V. Palk, who is naturally averse to giving leave, except for scientific purposes. The extent of the cavern is estimated at three quarters of a mile. The effect on the stalagmites by lighting with blue lights is very striking. The other entrance, higher in the wood, which appears larger, is now nearly filled with earth.’’
MacEnery died in 1841.His gravestone is in the Tor Churchyard (poorly maintained). His work resulted in the foundation of the Torquay Natural History Society in 1844, and this Society, in 1846, appointed a committee to obtain specimens for their new museum.

BB548 037
Rev. J. MacEnery

BB548 043

Cavern Researches 1859
Vivian, W. Pengelly, Dr. Battersby and others undertook exploration of the cavern. Their results were embodied in a paper read to the Geological Society. These new ideas of ‘antiquity of man and beast’ were contra to the idea of a great deluge or flood, bringing into caves all those bones. This was incompatible with the story of creation as told in the Book of Genesis. In fact in the ‘Caves of South Devon’ by Howard (8), post 1879, Mr Howard was still arguing for the deluge.

In the 1848 Croydon (10) it is stated: “the entrance is closed. Apply to George Pearce of Tor for the keys, lights and a guide. Persons not allowed to dig for bones unless they have permission from Sir Lawrence Palk” (born1766).

The Palk family owned much of Torquay, and the old manor house was pulled down in 1843. Prior to 1857 Sir L.V. Palk lived abroad and returned to Haldon House .he died in 1860 and was succeeded by his son Lawrence. The 2nd Lord Haldon was L.H. born 1846 and the third was L.W, born 1869. This estate was heavily mortgaged developing Torquay and much land with the harbour sold off post 1855. The 2nd Lord Haldon died in 1903 and by 1914 the rest of Haldon property in Torquay had been sold off.

Croydon, post 1851(11) has the entrance closed by a door and: “visitors who wish to explore the interior must procure a key from John Underhay, Queen St, Pimlico, Torquay”.

By 1852 Croydon (12) has visitors procuring a key from Mr Ardley, Curator of the Museum.

The 1854 Cockrem Guide (13) states: ‘‘through the Curator of the Museum may be obtained permission to visit. It will be necessary to provide lights and a guide”, whilst in the same year Croydon (14) writes: “the entrance is closed by a door and visitors must procure a key from Mr Ardley, the Curator of the Museum in Park Lane”.

In the next Croydon, post 1854(15) visitors were procuring a key from John Underhay: “its extent throughout its windings is estimated at about ¾ of a mile. The effect, when illuminated by blue lights, is very striking”.

Meanwhile work was going on in other parts of the country, and in 1859 Darwin published his ‘Origin of Species’. Great interest was aroused, whereupon Sir L. Palk decided to revert to the larger ‘South Entrance’ (arched) which opens into the Great Chamber. Here the doorway was built, the usual entrance today now inside. John Underhay, whose name appears on the notice board, had been Sir L. Palk’s guide for many years. Philp’s Cavern was discovered in 1858 in Windmill Hill, Brixham and spurred on interest in Kent’s Cavern.

By 1864 the Cockrem Guide (16) has the cave closed. “Permission from Sir L Palk , guides and candles necessary . The cavern may be examined by applying at the Manor Office, near the Baths.”

In 1865 a committee was formed by the British Association to organise the excavations. It consisted of Sir Charles Lyell, Professor Phillips, Sir John Lubbock, John Evans, E. Vivian and William Pengelly. Nearly £2000 was spent during the next 15 years. The work was carried out under the direction of W. Pengelly. Each year a report was made and presented to the British Association (16 reports in total). Superintendents oversaw the work and kept keys. Visits to the digs by ordinary travellers were only made with workmen present.

MacEnery had previously found four distinctive deposits, with contents of charcoal, shells, ornaments, teeth of lion, bear etc and beneath these the fifth deposit was crystalline stalagmite,12 feet thick in one place(23) and the sixth layer of cave earth or breccia. The 5th deposit had only bear bones, the sixth- lion, bear, fox and man. “Man existed in Devonshire at a remote time uncalculated”.

BB548 049

South Entrance in the 1860’s 

Charles Keeping, whose brother was a well known fossil collector, and George Smerdon, were hired in March1865. “Tuesday March 28th. The workmen had broken ground outside the cavern for the purpose of cutting a roadway through a talus of earth and stones, which almost closed the southern (arched) entrance, which for the present is to be the entrance used exclusively by the superintendents and the workmen the visitors and guide being confined to the northern entrance.”(27). This access was changed to the Southern Entrance (by Sir L Palk).

W. Pengelly spent 5 hours a day at the cavern, and the workmen employed were George Smerdon and John Farr. In the 6th Report to the Committee (1870) the workmen were excited! “A pound of candles (16 to the pound) were hung in their usual places. By 3’o clock 12 were missing, cutting marks rather than a gnawing of the wicks was noticed (rats were a problem). Before they left all the candles had disappeared!”

BB548 051

William Pengelly

BB548 052

South Entrance 1869t5 1925

The whole of the cavern was divided into cubic yards (3x1x1feet). To each cubic yard a box was devoted, and all the finds placed within. There were 4000 by Dec. 1866 and 7340 by 1880! Thus a scientific analysis of the cavern was carried out. (There is now a survey of these boxes, showing their location in the cavern).

“After a party had been taken through the cavern a lady said to Pengelly.’’ Do you think Mr Pengelly that this is more than 4000 years old?” “Yes madam. I think you may add another nought to that number and still another. In fact you can make it as noughty as you like”. (26).

The TNHS needed new premises and by 1873 had agreed on a site in Torwood Road , completed in 1875 and moved into by 1876.

Post 1871 Besley’s Handbook (17) indicates permission must be obtained from the agents of Sir L. Palk or of the committee of the Torquay Natural History Society.

Editions of John Murray’s Handbook for travellers in Devon and Cornwall appeared in 1872 (or earlier) (18). “Permission from No.1. Victoria Cottages, Abbey Road- a guide with a torch required. Charge 3/- and visitors who desire a good light should provide their own.” John Clinnick, a workman, discovered a chamber in 1875,and this was named after him. Nicholas Luscombe, employed at this time, became ill and William Matthews took his place. Matthew’s Passage was found 1876.
W. Pengelly gave many lectures, and one at Glasgow in 1875 described his thoughts on the antiquity of man. “I have gone to Kent’s Cavern every day of my life from the 28th March 1865, up to the present day, excepting those rare instances when I am home. I have had the pleasure of taking into Kent’s Cavern a great many distinguished men, amongst them my distinguished friend Sir William Thomson. There is a malicious story current about Torquay, to the effect that one day I was unable to go to the cavern, and my boots were met walking out of their own accord!” (28).His story continues, “We are careful not to give orders for any person to see the cavern, except with a guide, but not to where the work is in progress .The reason is we once did give an order to two young men, and they foolishly put a Roman coin into the deposits, and our workmen dug it out. I came by appointment to meet my young friends, when the foreman came aside to me and said “This is very disagreeable to us. These gentlemen must have put this coin in the deposit. It is quite bright.” I looked at it, and handing it to the gentlemen said “Will you be so good as to take your coin. It has done all the work you intended” From that time we have passed a self-denying ordinance, never again to give anyone an order to see the cavern.” I hold that scientific investigation should not be undertaken with any theological bias ,but that it must and should be undertaken with a religious regard for truth and accuracy, and hence the care we bestow and the restrictions we make”.

In 1880 the excavations were ceased by Pengelly, and George Smerdon eked out a living for the next 7 years showing around visitors. Smerdon received a small pension and was the custodian of the cavern, together with his son-inlaw Francis Powe. The South Entrance had a door, wall and bench and Topsy the donkey (seen in postcards by 1900). The North Entrance still showed as a wooden grill in paintings. When George was ill his son-in-law Francis Powe took over duties .George died in 1889, and Francis Powe then rented the cave from the Haldon Estate.

Westley 1882(19) only stated “guides and candles being absolutely necessary. It is well to ascertain, at the museum, in passing, what time anyone is in attendance”

Murray’s later edition 1887(20), indicates “A guide will be found 10 am - 5pm daily, with a charge of 3/-.” W. Pengelly died in 1894.

By 1895(21) the guide, from 10am - 5pm, was charging “1/6d for a party not exceeding 3, and the time taken is half an hour”.

Between these dates (1887 and 1895) Beatrix Potter visited and had indicated there were excellent booklets (none known).

1897 saw the Ward Lock guides(22) describing “There is an attendant,who shows the cave, and provides candles for visitors at a charge of 1/6d for 3 persons or less, larger parties 6d each.” About this time the cave was used as a carpenter’s workshop, making wooden bathing huts for the local beaches.

The Haldon Estate was still in financial difficulties and in June 1902 the Town Clerk reported to the committee a letter from Messrs Walker and Son, dated the 5th instant, offering to sell lot 121 (Kent’s Cavern) containing 8 acres for 800 pounds, and part lot 129 adjoining Lincombe Drive, containing 16 acres for 1600 pounds. The committee could not see their way to entertain the purchase of either lot. On the 1st Sept. the Roads Committee considered the question of purchase again, but no offer was made. The offer was modified and sent to Francis Powe, who negotiated a very good deal and signed for the purchase on 23rd April 1903. For the purchase the letter in Feb. indicated part of the lot had been sold and the reduced lot was offered. A 30 pound deposit was paid, and the remainder, totalling 300 pounds, in April. From now on the Powe family were in control. The first adverts for visits were placed in the Torquay Times on Friday 10th July 1903.


There had been 80 plus years of continuous discovery in Kent’s Cavern .The early years were marked by a free for all. Bones were sold to collections. There was digging and exploration. Sir L. V. Palk had good sense to control access and let the TNHS complete the early discoveries by Northmore and MacEnery through the very able W. Pengelly. The religious establishments took a long time to be convinced of’ ‘The antiquity of Man’; it was not in their interests.This history is in 4 parts as listed below and will be continued in future BB’s:

Pt 1. Visitors and Guides. Pt 2. J. MacEnery.
Pt 3. W.Pengelly.

Pt 4. The Show Cave years


1. Hyett .W. 1805. Exeter. ‘A description of the watering places on the South East coast of Devon, from the river Exe to the Dart inclusive’ . Pp 90-93

2. Encyclopedia Londonensis. 1812. ’ Kent’s Hole’.vol. x1. P. 674.

3. Croydon. E. Teignmouth 1818. ‘A Guide to the watering places on the coast between the Exe and the Dart etc’. Pp . 23-31.

4. Ellis. A. 1930. Torquay. An Historical survey of Torquay. Chapter 1.

5. Baring-Gould. Book of the West .Vol 1 .Chapt xv1

6. Rev. Buckland W. Reliquiae Diluvianae .1823.John Murray. London. Kent’s Cavern mentioned p 69.

7.Blewitt.Octavian.1832. pub. E.Cockrem, Torquay. Pp107-138

8. Howard J. post 1879. Torquay. ‘The Caves of South Devon and their teachings’

9. Cockrem. E. and Elliot. W. 1841. Torquay. ‘A Guide to Torquay’ .Pp 13-15 plus engraving

10. Croydon E. 1848.Teignmouth. Handbook for Torquay and its Neighbourhood Pp29

11. Croydon. 1851 Torquay. p 55

12. Croydon. 1852.Torquay.

13. Croydon. 1854. p 202

14. Croydon post 54. p 55 (mentions this present summer of 54)

15. Croydon post 55.p 56

16. Cockrem .1864.Torquay. p6

17. Besley and son. post 1871. Handbook of South Devon and Dartmoor. p72

18. John Murray.1872. Handbook for travellers in Devon and Cornwall. Pp169-171

19. A Westley.1882. Tourist guide to Torquay . Pp74

20. John Murray 1887.Pp159-160

21. John Murray.1895.Pp156-158

22. Ward, Lock.1897. ‘A new pictorial and descriptive guide to Torquay’, Paignton Dartmouth, Totnes . p41

23. J.T. White .1878 Torquay. .History of Torquay Pp 361-368

24. J. MacEnery. Cavern Researches 1859.Torquay. Pub. E. Cockrem. Dedicated by E. Vivian. P6

25. Croydon. 1841.

26. Ellis. A. An Historical Survey of Torquay .1930.Torquay. p10

27. H. Pengelly .A Memoir of William Pengelly. 1897 London. p 161. ‘from the Journal of William Pengelly.’ Pub. J. Murray. Entrance to Kent’s Hole p162

28. W. Pengelly. ‘Kent’s Cavern’. Its Testimony to the Antiquity of Man. A lecture Dec 1875 Pp16, 17.

General references

These include letters and papers read to societies and published by W.Pengelly. The Literature of Kents Cavern prior to 1859 (part1), Parts 2&3 .

The whole of the Rev. J. MacEnery ‘s manuscript (1869)

16 reports of The Committees for Exploring Kent’s Cavern (British Association from 1865) can be accessed at Torquay Library and the T.N.H.S.


St Cuthbert's Cave

by Kangy

I'm a bit of a St Cuthbert fan. He might even be my patron saint. My wife Janet has made a good recovery from two new knees and as a Munroist and ex skiing instructor she ensured I got the message that we were to walk the St. Cuthbert's Way. Once it had clicked that she was serious and that not only was St Cuthbert involved but there was a St Cuthbert’s Cave to visit on the way I was sold on the idea.

Being Old and Decrepit we took advantage of ‘Contours’ a walking outfit which takes your request and organises B&B’s and delivers your bags for you to the B&B ready to be used that evening. No more sniffy shirts, disgusting drawers and having to put up with wet clothing — nice.

The Way follows an imaginary route which connects two important influences in St Cuthbert's life, Melrose Abbey and Lindisfarne on Holy Island. We walked the 60 miles from Melrose to Holy Island in an easy(ish) 6 days and had reasonable weather particularly on the highest point "Wideopen Hill" with good views and on the Cheviots where we had sunshine, mountain views and a 14 hour day which we hardly noticed in such spectacular surroundings.

The eagerly awaited St Cuthbert's Cave did not disappoint. Seeing it from the approach it is impressive.
It is really a shelter under an overhanging sandstone roof. I liked the red earth - St Cuthbert's red. It has graffiti scratched into the back wall, some of which are in copperplate and ancient which is a bit like ruins everywhere. St Cuthbert (635 - 687)) was carted about the place to keep his body safe from the Viking raiding parties (C 875) and his cave or rock shelter was one of the places where they likely rested overnight.

BB548 056
On the hills

BB548 057

St. Cuthbert’s Cave

BB548 060

Inside the cave

BB548 030

Then on to Holy Island. Worth a visit in its own right. The causeway is fun because it is underwater for 6 hour periods (the tide you know) .We just about made it with a quarter of an hour to spare. Tension, incentive to walk at top speed and exhilaration when we made it to Lindisfarne Priory. For the rest of the visit we loved walking the island from beach to beach. For info go to http://stcuthbertsway.info/

Meghalaya – “Abode of the Clouds 2013” (Pt. 2)

by Peter Glanvill

On the final descent some Goon show like pings and clatters caused the driver to stop as a fairly significant bit of steel dropped from the truck undercarriage. This turned out to be part of the cab suspension. The driver shook his head and said ‘Problem’. Angie and I went back up the track looking for the missing part whilst Pete Ludwig, Nick Tringham and Oana carried on down the hill. We returned to find the driver hard at work cobbling together a repair and within half an hour he had turned a crisis into a minor hitch. The truck rocked and lurched its way down to the 2011 camp site and we clambered out to meet the others. To reach Kseh is a 10 minute thrash through dense waist high vegetation consisting of various tall weeds and vines but Pete had his trusty machete and we soon had a serviceable path. The plan was for part of the group to climb into a high level inlet part way up what is a huge active resurgence cave. The entrance is about 15 metres high and wide and retains these dimensions for a considerable distance. The locals have, in the past, trapped bats for food here and one can see the constructions needed to support the nets across the entrance. The cave has also been used as a water source and there are bits of ironmongery, pipes and dams in a couple of places (some submerged to trap the unwary). There is a also a tatty electricity cable running along the wall! Progress is wading then swimming – the water is reasonably warm but thin wetsuits and buoyancy aids were needed.

BB548 021

Angie and a dug out canoe in Kseh entrance

BB548 022

Gour in the river passage

The project left Angie and I free to do some tourism and photog- raphy so we headed off upstream leaving the others to explore their lead. At one point during a swim there seemed to be a heavy drip from the roof. I looked up (you only do it once) to see we were under a very large bat colony. Eeeeugh! Spitting frequently with heads down we vigorously paddled past the bombing range. After passing a couple of large gour dams we stopped at another realizing that if I was going to get any photos I would have to get cracking. After a successful shot we made our way back to the entrance catching the others en route (their ‘inlet’ was an alcove.) Soon changed we made our way back to the truck and after picking up the ‘Khung Back Door’ team whose cave was still going albeit horizontally headed back to camp and some welcome beer. Robin Sheen and Ralph Doyle arrived in some style on a hired Enfield motorcycle having done some recce work at the other end of the Shnongrim ridge. They stayed for a few days before chugging off back to civilisation.

After an earlier start the next day we admired Oana’s recently captured small fruit bat and a spectacular drongo trapped by the parasitologists. The drongo is a fine looking bird with a distinctive long plumed tail. Whilst the Khung Back Door team planned to continue work, a large group comprising Thomas, Angie, myself, Ralph and Brian were to recce a cave called Tiger Cave by the locals. It was a newish area relatively close to camp and reached by a steep trail through the pine forest. Thomas had announced that light weight gear and no wellies were the order of the day so, after a long downhill trek through forest, scrub and paddy fields we were slightly miffed to arrive at a river bed complete with river – requiring wellies. Not willing to get our surface walking kit wet Angie and I decided to go walkabout and waved the others off. They had gone upstream, so we headed downstream following the bank and, after just overshooting our homeward route were rewarded for our error by a cold draught blowing down a dry stream bed from a small side valley.

We quickly tramped up the valley to a scramble over and between boulders ending in a large cave entrance. Putting on our kit we scuttled into the low entrance passage. This soon developed into walking cave with ancient stalagmite flows on the walls. However after 80 metres we were back in daylight confronted by a pool. As our original reason for not following the others was to not get our walking boots wet this was a problem, quickly circumvented by hurling boulders into the pool to create stepping stones. Once across another passage segment emptied into a ‘lost world’ doline about 50 metres across, full of vegetation including a large Ficus (rubber tree family) and evidence on the sides that this might have been a partial chamber collapse. By clambering over the plants we could reach an open rift running along one wall and re-enter more relict passage that eventually terminated in a choke up to the surface bound together by some really stout tree roots forming a natural grille. The cave was latter dubbed Krem Lyer (lyer = wind).

Feeling quite chuffed over our little find we spent some time on photography but could do little else lacking surveying kit. Checking the time we decided to wander downstream further and examined another side valley. This time there no caves but it terminated in a pleasant little gorge and pool.

We then slowly made our way back up to the paddy fields and, en route, took the opportunity to inspect another doline at a dip in the track. This had a local name, Poh Lakhar, and initially seemed to consist of a network of mud choked rifts until at one end I found a climb down into what appeared to be a clean washed canyon passage. We returned to the track and met Thomas’ team further up the hill. They had explored and surveyed several segments of cave passage in the side of the gorge the river had run into but there was still work to be done. A long slow plod back up the hill got us back to the track back to camp and we ambled slowly back to a supper with chips!

The next day it was decided that Mark Tringham, Angie and me would survey Krem Lyer but en route recce Poh Lakhar. Back at the cave the climb looked a little tricky so a hand line was placed and a 3 metre scramble entered the canyon passage seen the previous day. It looked promising, so after a crash course in Distox surveying for Angie we started working our way in. The passage, about a metre wide and 3 metres high meandered along past a low silty section to a narrow drop past a large stal bank. It continued, steadily enlarging to something like 3 metres across with a boulder floor to a chamber with a daylight shaft and another drop negotiated by a traverse and climb over stal.
We passed through a chamber with an obvious high level passage after which the cave degenerated into a crawl over silt then mud and ended in a duck or sump with another daylight entrance. I decided to call this The Yuck. Feeling a little under dressed for this we headed out, taking photos, whilst Mark surveyed a short side passage on his own. He also briefly visited the high level stuff and pronounced it going cave that was nicely decorated. Noticing the time we made a rapid exit and ended up walking most of the hill in the dark on the way back.

After a slightly damp night the next day dawned warm and sunny and a large team set off to blitz the Tiger, Poh Lakhar and Krem Lyer systems. Our little Poh Lakhar team was augmented with Nick and Oana who was up for catching all the wildlife she could. I got brownie points for a couple of ‘prawns’ and Oana plucked a bat from the walls like an apple from a tree and then nonchalantly left it wriggling in a linen bag on a boulder to be collected later. She later insisted on a photo or two with the local spiders – not creatures a confirmed arachnophobe really wants to approach but I bravely did so though stood well back when she decided to catch one by pursuing it around the roof with a BDH container! Angie and Mark were meanwhile surveying a side passage – uncompleted to Angie’s frustration after Mark had decided after some metres that he had had enough of the low meandering crawl.

BB548 025

Nick Tringham with cave pearls

BB548 024

Oana and a heteropoda spider

BB548 023
Angie Glanvill in the main passage of Poh Lakhar

The high level passage proved to be very nicely decorated in places with crystal pools and cave pearls but ended in a low airless humid bedding plane full of snot gobbler webs. Arriving at The Yuck I decide on some J Rat style digging and wormed my way into a low wet bedding parallel to the duck and floored by disgusting grey mud. After several minutes shifting brushwood and boulders I could wriggle up into a small boulder chamber and was surprised to see daylight ahead. It then became clear that the others could bypass the Yuck to one side so arrived substantially cleaner than I was! After a few metres we emerged from a large resurgence entrance high up on the side of a gorge (presumably that containing Tiger Cave). The blocks on the cliff were so large it was impossible to find a quick and easy way to the stream bed so after some more photos we started out back through the cave.

Unfortunately during the trip Angie slipped twisting and injuring her foot so on exit we made a slow and painful journey back to the truck rendezvous in the woods. Two months later back in the UK she had an X-ray to reveal a fracture of her 5th metatarsal (long bones in the foot)! Back at camp an excellent meal of cauliflower pakoras then beef and pumpkin was washed down with lashings of local beer.

Angie with a sore foot remained confined to camp but caving continued and it was decided to visit some other leads not far from Poh Lakhar. Ralph, Urs and me were dropped off at the rendezvous point and headed to the area that Ralph had visited once before on a recce. After about 45 minutes thrashing through the bush we emerged in some paddy fields that bordered a rocky tree filled dry valley. More prolonged searching eventually located Krem Myntlang that began as an overhung cleft in the side of the valley. Fighting off the burr like and prickly vegetation we changed and scrambled down the initial entrance rift. This ran both ways but the more likely route went as a crawl in the base to a chamber and a curious eroded steeply angled descending tube from which came the sound of a small stream. We had been surveying as we went in but as point man it was my job to determine the main route. Upstream got wetter and narrower so downstream it was. This proved to be even wetter as it became a hands and knees crawl into a canal, albeit with plenty of airspace. En passant I managed to capture another prawn for the biologists. After 10 metres of wallowing I was back in inverted keyhole passage very much like the caves of County Clare so I thought Ralph ought to be at home! It continued in this vein as a narrow rift zigzagging between joints with standing stooping and crawling sections. As spotter for the team, carrying my little bottle of cerise nail polish, I had the pleasure of encountering all the spiders first so occasionally the sound of the stream gently trickling would be interrupted by a girly scream as one burst from cover.

There was a good draught and the passage was widening a bit so hopes were high. Occasionally the passage would be partially obstructed by some chunky sparkling speleothems. Unfortunately just as we were beginning to run out of time we also met a short cascade into what looked like much bigger passage. Although it was a short drop it was overhung and without tackle we had no means to descend safely so packed up, beetled out of the cave and back to the truck taking only an hour to do it.

The entertainment back at camp was the arrival of a huge lemon yellow leaf-like Lunar Moth that fluttered manically around the biology tent before being released into what became a very chilly night. Angie was getting increasingly fed up with her enforced stay in camp but felt her foot was improving. The rest of the team had been either Khung bashing or pushing the potential back door. Rob Eavis had arrived by then for a short stay and was snapping away enthusiastically. He took a wonderful picture of the camp at night with the star filled sky above. Krem Khung was a big fossil system found the previous year. After more than a kilometre of giant boulder hopping it had branched, one end terminating in a pitch into a lake for which the team had had high hopes. Unfortunately once down the pitch this year’s group found that there was no obvious route on and came to the conclusion that it was an enormous terminal sump. However several other leads needed pursuing and explorers were kept busy for the rest of the expedition pushing into boulder mazes and watery canals but to no avail as far as getting a really significant extension.

On the 11th February Krem Myntlang received a return visit from me, Bhushan Poshe (a new caver from Delhi) and Urs. We found a much shorter route to the cave, which was just as well as I was lugging a drill in an Ortlieb bag plus some tackle for the pitch. Bhushan was not impressed with the canal and took some time to pass it! At the final survey point the Distox decided to pack up, I found a natural belay and on further inspection felt we could have done the pitch with a couple of belts tied together! It got worse; after a duck under a stal flow the passage turned abruptly left into a flooded zone. Above what appeared to be a very low duck or sump the draught blew over a thick calcite floor that had formed above it. Determined not to be beaten I grabbed the bolt hammer to enlarge the approach and slid feet first into the pool, much to Urs’ alarm. Pleas to come out were ignored until my lips were sucking air from gaps amongst the stalactites and I could feel no airspace or decent widening beyond my probing wellies. Anywhere else this cave would have been earmarked for further attention – it had a flowing stream and draughted and clearly was destined to go places. We had to abandon it for perhaps a future generation of Meghalaya cave pushers and we made our way out. At the entrance we pushed Bhushan down the rift going the opposite way where running water could be heard. I now think it was another route into the streamway. We then visited the next cave up the valley – only a few metres away really and by combined tactics Urs and I clambered down a spider infested rift into a ‘new’ streamway that we soon realised was an inlet to Krem Myntlang. We surprised Bhushan by doing the loop and coming back out by the original entrance.

On our return we were intrigued to encounter a JCB working on the edge of the paddy fields. No pick up being available we slogged all the way back to camp and a meal with delicious deep fried aubergine as a starter.

No mention has been made of the camp fire. That’s because there was very little action around it because of the small numbers there. Rob Eavis and Nick Tringham amused themselves one evening by spending the time manoeuvring a large trunk around that was currently forming the centre piece for it. This was when they weren’t involved in farting competitions. Angie (the only woman about) was unimpressed!

On the 12th a new area was visited. This had been recced by Brian K. Daly in previous years but the caves located had not been fully explored or surveyed. To get there involved a longish drive. We travelled there in style, that first time, in a Scorpio SUV with air conditioning and music no less, probably because Brian was going. He took along me with Bhushan. The track led initially along the ridge and then steeply downhill through the busy village of Moo Knor or Mawknor. After winding through low scrubby woods we emerged onto a bare spur with a fine view back to the ridge and onward into the distance. We left the Scorpio and strolled down a bare grassy hillside through a field of grazing cattle into a tree girt rocky area. At the base of some low cliffs were Krem Sahiong 1 and, 50 metres or so away, Krem Sahiong 2. We started on KS 1 which lay in the corner of the depression and had a man sized entrance bounded by limestone blocks. I had been delegated to keep the book and a pig’s ear I made of it too! Fortunately the Distox Peter Ludwig had given to Brian failed to work properly and got more and more recalcitrant as the trip continued. Brian’s refined language got progressively coarser and I was impressed at how many western swear words he had acquired. I then committed the cardinal sin of removing the batteries (which were pretty flat) and replacing them not realizing that recalibration is needed if you do this.

BB548 004
Brian Karpran Daly and formations in Krem Sahiong
BB548 010
Bhushan Poshe on gour dams in Krem Sahiong

BB548 016
‘Should have gone to Specsavers’

Before we gave up surveying we had worked our way in down a heavily stalled up boulder pile into a dry stream passage blocked by the collapse at the entrance in one direction but wide open and draughting in the other. Brian had apparently been to the end of the cave and said it ended in a choke with a possible crawl onwards. Soon after we entered the cave there was an obvious T-junction. The right hand turn seemed larger although the main route went straight on but into a crawl under formations. A high level route later turned out to be an oxbow. Bhushan, as the smallest, was despatched to inspect the crawl. After some minutes he returned to say that the passage beyond got extremely low and so it was left for the nice walking passage. However you will read a lot more about it later! The walking passage continued roomy and joint controlled varying from a rift, to minaret passage shaped to a tube and, after some distance, passed some glistening gour banks into a side chamber. After a brief look we continued to the muddy final bedding chamber where there was a route down through boulders but it dwindled to a low humid airless flat out narrowing uninspiring crawl. We headed out taking photos including a side chamber near the entrance
where 7 horseshoe bats were hanging right beside a small stream trickling out of the ceiling.

After leaving we went over to Sahiong 2 and I scrambled down into an attractive walking sized stream passage full of wildlife including bats and rats. This ended in a slot from which the sound of a stream could be heard – this was heading for Sahiong 1. In the other direction the cave led to another entrance and a deep pool where I stopped and returned. Then it was back to the Scorpio and camp picking up Pete Ludwig who seemed to be out on a ramble. Camp was quiet and occupied only by the kitchen staff and Angie for the Krem Khung team were on a major surveying trip and didn’t make it back until 9 pm.

Another visit to Krem Sahiong and Krem Tin (on the opposite of the spur to KS) was on the cards for the next day. This time the KS 1 team consisted of me, Simon, Oana and Adi. I was designated spotter and we made rapid progress surveying to the terminal choke and back to the chamber where the glistening gours were. I explained to Simon that we hadn’t examined the rather grotty looking side passages here so, of course, they had to be surveyed. Squeezing through into a narrow rift past an unpleasantly rocky side tube I found an interesting aven with a slot in the wall beside it. The aven seemed to close down but then Simon forced the slot. A voice came echoing back asking me about the big chamber the other side. ‘What big chamber?’ I asked. It had looked to Simon as though somebody had been there already. Adi joined him and after deciding the slot looked a bit narrow I reasoned that the unpleasant rocky tube would go to the same place. It did, and I joined the others in the biggest passage in the system all of 6 metres wide and 15 metres high with a heavy drip from the roof. One end terminated in a boulder area and a bat colony. At the other after a relative constriction the cave enlarged again and sloped down to some strange draughting tubes. Simon insisted on calling the chamber ’Should have gone to SpecSavers’. The first photographs I tried here were badly affected by condensation so after realising the time we rushed out scooping up Oana en route so to speak. Back at camp it was a cold quiet evening until the Krem Khung team returned.
On St. Valentine’s Day a large team minus Angie and Urs went to Krem Khung. One group were to go the end of the cave whilst Bhushan, Thomas, Adi and myself were going to inspect a possible lead just before the cave got unpleasantly bouldery. The drive was the same as to Krem Lymke the first cave we had visited on the trip but on this occasion we took a route that led straight down a spur off the ridge on a rocky well worn path through woods. The valley below was dotted with small abandoned coal pits and paddy fields and we wended our way towards a line of low cliffs a kilometre away. The entrance to Krem Khung is a low stoop into walking passage at the base of a cliff by a pool. A large crowd of us slowly dispersed leaving Bhushan, Adi, Thomas and myself as tail enders. After a scramble through some ancient massive stalagmite formations cementing even bigger boulders we entered the main fossil passage – it was huge! Often 30 metres wide and high it stretched into the distance. The streamway followed one wall initially and after some stomping passage we were forced to climb down and wade through some neck deep water to make reasonable progress. The cave’s dimensions reduced to just ‘large’ and there were some attractive gour dams and stal banks to be seen. We stopped at a point where a large side passage entered and Thomas headed up it over a floor of calcited mud and drip pits. One end of it was dominated by a massive and, as I found out, loose choke whilst the other dwindled to a rift passage that Thomas and Adi commenced surveying whilst Bhushan and I attempted to take photographs. I took the pictures and Bhushan was the model. I was disappointed later to find that the autofocus failed to cope with the size of the chamber and many shots had just lost their edge. Adi and Thomas returned and we slowly made our way out Adi and me taking photos. Adi used an open flash technique with a tripod and his results were extremely impressive making most of my images look like snapshots! Back near the entrance he decided to remain in the cave doing some solo photography whilst the rest of us carried on out and slowly plodded back to the waiting truck about 45 minutes away. Simon, Rob, Mark Nick and Cookie returned some hours later having found and surveyed yet more passage.

BB548 020

Side passage in Krem Khung

BB548 026

Krem Kung Streamway

BB548 029

Decorated area Krem Khung

BB548 033
Biologist at work
BB548 038
Walking to Krem Khung
BB548 035
Looking for parasites
The following day Angie deemed her foot just about OK for a caving trip so joined a party consisting of Oana, Khlur ( a local cave biologist), Simon and myself to ‘finish off’ Krem Sahiong. Anticipating a brief trip I wore shorts under my over suit. We were soon at ‘Should have gone to Specsavers’ by Simon and surveyed both ways. Despite some grovelling under boulders in the floor no way on could be found so we headed back to the entrance area prepared to run a couple of legs down Bhushan’s too tight passage, pack up and leave. Angie, on point, scuttled away giving a running commentary on the lines of “ It’s a sandy crawl, there’s a draught, it’s getting bigger, it’s walking passage – still going!” We all wormed through a very comfortable flat out wriggle in sand to a well decorated rift where progress was to made by traversing. At a junction it continued with the floor slowly dropping away until Simon pointed out that we could probably proceed at floor level. Backtracking slightly a wriggle to the base of the rift was found and we headed off downstream surveying as fast as we could. We were now in a 4 metre high half a metre wide joint controlled stream passage minus the stream at present. After 200 metres and with no sign of an end we had to turn back , picking up the biologists en route. Back at camp we found a threatened beer drought had been averted by a trip to town (probably something like 2 hours drive away – at least).

BB548 039

The ‘very low’ crawl

Although keen to return to Sahiong Simon had other fish to fry and most people were working either in Krem Khung or on remaining leads in Krem Kseh so I had a day off in camp with Mark and Angie. Boredom rapidly ensued so Mark and I went for a stroll. A small stream crossed the lower end of the camp site then meandered down a small sandstone gorge before pitching over a 20 metre cliff. After some unpleasant thrashing in the bushes we located a scramble down to the base of the massively bedded golden sandstone cliffs. We worked our way along the base twixt bamboo clumps and bananas to reach the base of the cascade where enormous roots spread out into a rather uninviting pool. Mark returned and I explored further crossing the stream bed onto a very obvious path that led downhill through abandoned fields to a track and another dry valley. At this point the sound of crackling and the smell of smoke prompted me to make my way back as the locals seemed to have decided to do some scrub clearance in the area.

The next day began overcast. We planned to knock off the Sahiongs so a team consisting of Simon, Cookie, Angie, Thomas and me set off for Moo Knor. Thomas and Cookie were to survey Sahiong 2 and we were to work on S1. We were soon surveying down a stooping height passage with a gravel floor when Angie started to grumble about the smell. Around the next bend were piles of rotting fish, abandoned when the cave drained after the last wet spell. We hurried past them and got very excited when we reached a junction with an echo. The passage enlarged to about 1.5 metres wide but never more than 2 metres high although its shape varied considerably. Very joint controlled it allowed us to get several survey legs of over 30 metres. Occasional oxbows provided light relief although we had to ignore some inlets. Suddenly Angie’s voice really started to echo and we popped up under a strange shale band into a large trench like tunnel ending in a void. This turned out to be a 10 metre drop into a 25 metre long 7 metre wide terminal sump or lake full of white fish – The Lake of Terminal Gloom. A slippery side passage allowed me down to lake level and, to be honest, I almost shot into the lake which looked deep. A sweaty thrutch back out to a supportive Simon followed.

BB548 040
Simon Brooks keeping the book, Krem Sahiong
BB548 048
Typical canyon passage, Krem Sahiong
Back at the T junction Angie and Simon surveyed a short distance upstream before we realised time was against us. We made our way out well pleased with the day’s effort (something like 700 metres of passage surveyed) but knowing that we still hadn’t finished. It was now late afternoon and on emerging we found a grey twilight and a steady downpour. Trudging up to the truck rendezvous we met Thomas and Cookie who had managed to complete a survey of Sahiong 2. We stood dripping noticing an absence of truck very quickly. Deciding that starting to walk was preferable to standing like Clidders* preparing for dissolution we set off up the hill. Angie was limping badly on her bad foot and after a while her other foot developed a blister. The gloom intensified and every so often locals would splash past us in bare feet. The haul up through the village was interminable and we hoped to meet the truck at the top – no such luck. Strung out along the track we plodded through mist and rain completely disorientated with Angie going more and more slowly. At last I recognised the turn off for camp and we staggered down the track into camp. Apparently the truck driver had decided the rain would render the track impassable and hadn’t even attempted it! Large quantities of beer and food helped revive us and we crawled off for an early night.

The next morning Simon Adi and Cookie decided to ‘finish off’ Sahiong 1 (again) much to Angie’s frustration as she was pretty crippled after the previous day’s adventures. I was invited to join Mark Tringham and Urs (one of the Swiss members of the team) to look for a Krem Rasin. This turned out to be a country ramble on the opposite side of the ridge to our camp. The ground had dried well from the previous days rain and after walking past a farm and banana plantation we sauntered downhill through some pleasant pine forest to emerge among fields above a deep valley. I was despatched to the nearest house to get directions. This consisted of me saying ‘Kubhlei’ (the all purpose greeting/thank you word) then saying ‘Krem Rasin’ in an interrogatory tone and waving my arm vaguely. The farmer, continuing to strip bamboo with one hand, responded similarly by waving his free hand vaguely in the direction of the valley so off we went through the scrub, meandering downhill through trees and cycads following the barest hint of a path. Mark became increasingly despondent as we lost altitude and declared we were moving out of the limestone (if there was any in this area to start with).

We emerged onto paddy fields crossed by a large stream meandering across the valley floor. The odd cow mooched about. To our left some 30 metre high richly coloured sandstone cliffs came into view and in them were a couple of cave entrances. It looked like we might have found Krem Rasin. We continued downstream just for completeness until it was deemed that we were well below the limestone horizon and sat in the shade on the river bank for lunch. The river babbled past over moss and fern covered boulders. It was a really pleasant spot and very unlike others I had visited in Meghlaya.

After lunch we took a more direct route back to camp, inspecting the two caves on the way. Both were fissure rifts but clearly one was big enough to have a name so we are assuming that was Krem Rasin.

Back at camp the Sahiong team had tied up some loose ends but it was, apparently, still going! The evening’s entertainment was provided by Mark and Nick Tringham using the camp fire as a funeral pyre for their trusty old family tent, aided and abetted by Peter Ludwig.

The expedition was drawing to a close but Sahiong still beckoned. Angie, Brian and I launched the final assault and after taking some time to find the final survey station from the previous day’s efforts started work. The passage, which seemed to be an upstream continuation of the system, rapidly degenerated into a series of low muddy wallows until eventually we decided that it sumped (or if it didn’t none of us were going to face completed immersion to find out). There was certainly no draught. Sahiong had been finished off and, for what originally seemed like a cave needing only one survey trip, turned out to have 1.8 Km of passage—one of the longest new caves surveyed on the trip.

Some tidying up of the Kung survey was done by the team the following day whilst some us started cleaning kit and preparing to pack. Mark and Nick had an open air SRT session on the sandstone cliff below the camp where one could follow the line of a waterfall whilst dodging the massive tree roots at the base of the climb.

The next day after packing the kit the team started the long journey back to Shillong. This was enlivened by our encountering a number of election rallies en route before finally pulling into Brian’s compound well after dark. Shortly after this we realized that if we didn’t get out of town the next day we would be stuck there until after the election so the usual post expedition party never really took place and there was a mass dispersal the next morning .

For those of you who would like to go on one of these trips the dates for next year have already been set—basically
February 2014 when a different area will be visited.

Finally if you want to know more about caving in Meghalaya (and the Kopili area specifically) then get hold of a copy of Cave Pearls of Meghalaya Volume 1 —it has already won a prestigious award and is well worth the price.

BB548 054
Brian K. Daly in upstream Sahiong 1

BB548 005

SRT practice

BB548 006
Krem Rasin


*Clidders were gelatinous creatures that were lost in the Flood. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Log_of_the_Ark

Of Mice, Scallops, Stags and Cavers – The Mendip Migration 2013

By Stu Lindsay

This year’s migration was a busy affair with no less than 33 people (over 150 bed nights) making an appearance for a few days or more with at least half a dozen regular faces for various reasons failing to show. Lucky them! It had to come; a run of bad weather well bad to the point that it was not blue skies and sunshine until all had gone home except for Duncan and Stu. (The last day is always traditionally the best – Ed)

As always one of the main attractions was Campbell’s. This giant of a dig, up valley from Claonaite, had seen another wet damaging winter with large chunks of the peat overlying the lip being washed into the hole. For most of his time Stu L along with help from various members of the migration endeavoured to build up the final section at the top of the entrance slope retaining wall and pave the area of the stream bed immediately above it.

Meanwhile below ground some of last year’s efforts had been buried and another route appeared to have been partially washed out; this would be the focus of the 2013 effort. However as mentioned the elements were against us, with snow wind rain and cold all randomly available at any time of the day. To say conditions were unpleasant was an understatement until that is Jo Meldner, on her first migration, and Liz Wire stepped in and engineered Ye Hotel Comfy Depression in the larger (2 -3m wide) of the 2 storage depressions, with seats a shelf and even a mini roof! A pole driven into the floor soon found a space below the peat and the water puddling in the bottom drained away. We now had some respite to nibble our sarnies and drink our tea from the oft evil wind blown snow! Note that in the past five migrations 3 have been tee shirt and shorts weather, one has been 4/5 days from 12 when the weather was damp with the odd snow flurry but this year it certainly bucked the trend . Although 27 people and Digger the dog helped out at the dig the kibble count was down. The previous year saw 286 kibbles retrieved in about 5 hours but in the whole of the 2013 migration we only just came close to doubling it. Water on day one was measured at just over 20 litres a minute, (or 1.5 tonnes an hour!) running into the dig from the stream; there were days when it was double that, so no wonder progress was slow. It was cold wet muddy digging below and freezing cold on the surface. Progress was maybe a few metres.

The hole in the wall, just up from the stream which has received periodic attention from Mark Brown and Stu L over the past years was again not forgotten and on the final day all debris generated by a couple of visits in the week, (Jo M Barry and Stu L) was cleared into the stream to be slowly washed away. At the same time Stu spent the time clearing out a spring that had seemingly reversed itself in the old raised river bed. Simon Brooks declined the opportunity to investigate the metre by metre by over a metre and a half long passage because “The roof is only a few feet thick, and the grassed over boulders we are standing on are most of it”. Upon retelling the tale back at the Belfry (Stu’s ‘rivers of blood speech’, someone called it) about the digging exploits, procurement of the venison and other events I suggested in reverence to the departed and partly consumed stag (see text later) I ought to call it Oh Deer but it was promptly stated that I should have called it Venison Stu……..so be it.

BB548 032 

View from the south of Campbell’s dig

BB548 034

The walled stream bed
Normally Assynt has a pattern; people arrive and go digging, walking or caving, then the pub then there is a day off. It’s usually the curry evening on the Thursday night. Digging and walking forays usually end up at the Inch or the Alt for a couple of pints or a meal before returning to the hut where those that have fed start to drink and those that need to be fed cook. Around 22.30 most people are drinking chatting swapping yarns and joking around the little wood stove till the wee small hours. But often there is a diversion……enter the scallop shell, a bit of science and a cremation……

The little wood burner generates quite a concentrated heat; about a tenth of the Belfry stove on a bad day but it needs feeding regularly. Duncan wondered if a scallop shell would burn and as there’s plenty of these lying around he deftly placed one amongst the glowing embers. However, far from actually burning it changed colour and almost glowed. It was readily removed with the help of barbeque tongs for a closer inspection, and was now a pure white shell devoid of markings. Now earlier in the day a routine check of the mouse traps in the attic resulted in a mummified mouse being extricated and binned. One and one makes – you’ve guessed it! Somehow the poor thing was retrieved from the bin. “How sad,” said Duncan “A poor mouse binned. Let’s give him a decent funeral - a cremation.” So the fire was re-fuelled and another bed of embers sat there patiently glowing. The mouse, on its cremation vessel, was duly inserted, and a few more bottles of ale were consumed as the mouse gradually glowed to extinction and the shell was removed.

Some time later Stu happened to mention to Duncan that years ago they used to cook limestone boulders for 24 hours then immerse them in cold water and next day they had mortar or a form of quicklime. Back into the dying embers went the shell; again it glowed and was then removed to be immersed in a randomly selected cereal bowl of cold water. “Sssssssssssssssssssszzzzzzzzzzzzzzz bubble bubble!” - and although the shell reappeared from the departing steam almost intact, the process had started and the now cold shell in cold water started to crumble aided by the odd poke of a finger At the same time the dish began to warm, (chemical reaction). It got warmer and warmer and warmer. “Blimey!” said Duncan, “We have created Plaster of Paris with essence of mouse!” Next day it was quite impressive. Anyone with a broken bone needing a splint?

May Day was truly a “Mayday! Mayday!” moment. Everybody was driving back from the Inch when a young suicidal stag decided to end it all by hurling itself across the road impacting the front of Stu’s van and staggering 20m to its final resting place - well almost final. With Liz having appeared looking for Matt as he was late all successfully made it back to the hut including Rambo, the one horned stag. Enter the butcher Mr Knief and with his willing apprentices Rambo was duly carved up with a couple of kitchen knives and a wood saw. “Beware yellow snow?” No, “Beware pink snow!” The GSG car park is on a slope and the tell tale signs of the impromptu carnage had dribbled down the lane and like invisible ink reappeared through the dustings of snow over the next few days. Fried venison, stewed venison, grilled venison (we would have had venison burgers if we had a mincer) was the primary source of protein for the rest of the week.

It is with many thanks Stu has to be grateful to Barry Lawton and to Bob Mehew. Bob for going into Inverness to collect spare parts and Barry for expertly fitting them. Duncan and I finally made it back to Mendip, thanks to a few bits of string and a roll of parcel tape (yep that’s the truth parcel tape) and string holding the front together in the absence of bodywork to attach the bonnet and light to.

On inspection the van was written off twice before the power of the community of the caving world and TLC took a hand. Who would have thought that (and most people know what a Tardis Stu’s van can be) a simple comment like “What am I going to do with all my caving kit?” would provoke an almost complete turnaround? “Oh, you’re a caver? I have a friend who is a caver - dives all over the world, usually has a pony tail, his name is Simon.” The TLC is a certain practice I employ with all my vehicles which is to never use tap water in the cooling system. Simon was Simon Brooks present at the feasting on poor old Rambo!

Two final well attended sessions took place at Campbell’s the second, on probably the best day weather-wise was a hectic digging session followed by the lowering of the tower. The weather this year was certainly the over riding influence, snow on 3 or 4 days with flurries on others, and nothing like the warm weather experienced over the past few years, but that is what makes it so much better in the majority of years when the sun shines the wind blows warm and the eagles feel free to soar. With the tower down, most went their separate ways, save Duncan and Stu for whom a fun day was still in store. Below two photographs of Barry Lawton in the dig

BB548 041   BB548 044
The last day was spent with Duncan diving in the loch at Knockan. During the course of it a concerned visitor, Sue from Scottish Heritage appeared. However, after explaining who we were and what we were doing she relaxed as she was aux fait with the GSG and indeed had been to the GNTM. Sue was very to thankful to Duncan for not only removing a load of old and illegal fishing tackle but also his info on the shape of the loch edge; a series of steps and transit van sized boulders. There were small green or white sponges and finger sized sharp pointed green plants which grow on the 6inch layer of peat. No fish were seen. “Feel free to dive again and try to put a report into the GSG publications of your findings,” Sue said as she departed.

After dinner and with the sun blazing down a trip up from Stromcubie (sic) was made to follow up a lead found a couple days before. Duncan and Stu in tee shirts and shorts spent a few hours in the warm sun kissed hummocks of peat without successfully re finding the hole. They split up and Duncan found a bit of an anomaly in the upper river bed which he commenced to exploit. Stu found a number of active little sinks taking water before in a depression he found one with 2 streams entering. After building a couple of dams, easy with the peat, he built up a head of water whilst he cleared out the entrance way, With no tools it was limited but water did seem to go down a bit. Breaking the dams a surge of water entered, and after, the flood pulse gurgled away for a count of 15 seconds before it was quiet again.

After he joined Duncan the next hour was spent enlarging holes and peering into voids. The water flowing down the surface stream was less than the water appearing at the first point Duncan explored. After our efforts and some upstream efforts by Duncan, the water on the surface was reduced by half, however clearing out a number of small apparently unrelated resurgences in a radius of 3m or so trebled the water flowing onwards downstream to a water fall. There are some small cave passages there, and some intertwining springs, but what we achieved was more for the fun aspect in doing it than true research. All the way down to the water fall water appeared and disappeared, and high on the bank some 15m/20m higher and 20m or so from the edge three body size sinks were noted. At 8pm in glorious sunshine we called it a day and, a big mistake, went to the hut had food changed and went back to the Inch. It was closed - at 930pm it was closed! So we went to the Alt and spent a cheerful hour with some of the locals. The Mendip Migration may be a long way but it is really good fun with good beer good food great walks interesting caving and of course digging - if you like it.

BB548 046
Foul Weather

BB548 063

The author breakfasting

BB548 047

Trevor the butcher

BB548 061
Cul Mhor viewed from the GSG hut

BB548 059
Barry Lawton by 3 G’s dig in high water conditions

Tale Piece

The Tale Piece is for anecdotes, people profiles, or any other interesting item that you like and, of course - tales. Ideas and suggestions are always welcome.


Bill Combley’s Bio

Groucho Marx once said "I would never join a club that would have me as a member!", and for many years this held true for me.

I have been exploring mines, quarries and latterly caves since the age of about 10 when my father took myself and one of my older brothers on a walking holiday in North Wales and the Lake District, where we explored Rhosydd Quarry and some of T'owd Man's levels around Coniston by candle light. I was hooked! Every holiday I begged to go back to Wales and explore more and, to that end, over the intervening 30 odd years I have managed to do so.

I had a break from exploring during the 1990s to the mid 2000s as I moved to the very south of England, got married and raised a family, but then a chance e-mail from one of my brothers (who lives in Australia) led me into the murky world of urban exploration which led to me joining the Dark Places forum in 2004 and to exploring Box Quarry and other Bathstone Quarries. Whilst living in the south, my nephew asked me if I had a boiler suit he could borrow as he was off caving with a friend of his. I lent him my spare "decorating" boiler suit and off he went. A few months later I was invited by the same nephew to come on a day trip to Mendip to go caving. We had a poke in Rod's Pot and some of the other Burrington caves.

That was it. I was hooked again and I started spending more and more of my free weekends on Mendip, getting to know the caves and more importantly some of the local characters. I first started to stay at the Wessex, and most weekends I'd drop into Wells and spend money on shiny kit in Jrat's shop (I'd always ask Tony if he would like me to leave the money in his pot at the Hunters, but he wanted it in the till). I think it was Slug who suggested I stay at the Belfry rather than the Wessex; well that happened and I enjoyed my visits. In 2008 I moved into the heart of Priddy and joined the B.E.C. At first I was a bit "off the wall" to say the least (!) and underwent a period of extra probation - lesson learned there. Here we are in 2013 and I'm now part of the club committee with the post of Tackle Warden.

My "grand plan" for the coming year is to maintain the club equipment that the previous Tackle Wardens have left me, I shall investigate the age and suitability of the club's tackle and replace if it is deemed necessary. Please continue to use the tackle log to record where you're taking the kit, and, don't forget to wash it after use before returning it to the store!

Toodle pip, see you all at the Belfry, in a cave, or in the Hunters!

BB548 062

Who can name this famous Mendip caver?


Back cover image: Locke’s Hole by Peter Glanvill

BB548 053

We are currently in the process of uploading the latest Belfry Bulletins.  Most are already there but there are about 2% missing.  Each one takes well over an hour to wrangle from it's desktop format and publish. You may find one or two in mid edit.


Please check back in a week or two to see progress.

The Belfry Bulletin

The Journal of the Bristol Exploration Club
December 2011 NUMBER 542 VOLUME 58 Issue 5


BB542-02Sadly, there are three obituaries in this issue: Bobbie Bagshaw, Ron Gollin & Barry Lane.

MadPhil is advertising the Ghar Parau Foundation, a charity that funds expeditions, please help support this excellent foundation by buying the set of cards.

I am as usual, looking for more material for the next issue, so if you have an interesting tale to tell, write it up!



Cover Photo’s:

Gornergletscher, in the glacier's moulins. Monte Rosa Massif, Switzerland.  

From: Henry Patton

Belfry Bulletin Number 542 Page_01

 Committee Members

Secretary Faye Litherland (1331)
Treasurer  Rob Harper (999)
Membership Secretary Hels Warren (1354)
Hut Warden Ian “Slug” Gregory (1123)
Hut Engineer Stu Lindsay (930)
Caving Secretary Stuart Gardiner (1347)
Tackle Master Henry Bennett (1079)
Editor Phil Romford (985)
Floating StuartMcManus (725)

Non-Committee Posts 

Librarians Tim Large & Rich Smith
Auditor Chris Smart
BEC Web Page Editors Henry Bennett and Rich Smith
Club Archivist John “Tangent" Williams
Club Trustees Bob Cork, Martin Grass, Nigel Taylor, Mike Wilson

Ghar Parau Foundation

(UK Registered Charity no. 267828-1)

Funding British Cave Exploration and Cave Science

We need your support!

The Ghar Parau Foundaton is a Charity that manages an investment fund to provide grant aid to assist caving expeditions from Britain to all parts of the world. The fund focuses on those expeditions which include an element of innovative exploration or scientific study. We are also particularly keen to encourage young cavers into expedition caving (as well as sport caving) to maintain an active caving community in years to come. 

The charity itself works by investing the capital within the fund and distributing the interest in the form of grants to caving expeditions who apply and fit the foundations criteria. As a result the fund only grows by direct donations, bequests or fund raising activities. Over last twenty years, the fund has not increased in capital value to any appreciable extent, which in real terms less money is available to distribute to caving expeditions.

As part of a new drive to increase the fund, a set of 10 high quality blank A5 colour gift cards with envelopes (shown opposite in black and white) have been produced to sell to raise money for the foundation. We are selling them for £8 per pack (0.80p per card) which we think is good value. The profits from the sale of these cards, goes solely to the Ghar Parau Foundation.

Please BUY them and support the Ghar Parau Foundation, and help support our British Caving Expeditions and our younger generation of cavers.

To order or of more information about donations, gift aid, etc, contact:

Madphil Rowsell 07929 572 177

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Thank you for supporting the Ghar Parau Foundation

Obituary – Barry Lane

From Martin (Milche) Mills



Older members will be saddened to learn of Barry’s passing on 23rd June 2011 in Pembrokeshire.  He was a SMCC member from 1965 – 1969, and also a BEC member (No. 475) from 1961-70.  It would appear he may have been ill for some time as Roger and Jackie Dors exchanged Christmas cards with him and none was received in 2009.

My recollections of him are an impish grin and golden hair.  He once gave me a lift back from The Hunters’ to the hut.  We “roared” down the road in his ancient car and he had just made it into third gear when we were passed by a chasing dog before we slowed down for the hut track.

As this was my only initial recollection of him I am grateful to others who have provided other anecdotes.  He was in the 1st Whitchurch Boy Scouts band, and later a GPO/BT Telecoms Manager.

Bill Tolfree recalls a Yorkshire trip (pre-motorway days) when Barry travelled the whole journey with  his feet out of the car window as they smelt, and for which he gained the nickname “Footnic”.  On an Irish caving trip, Barry was in O’Connors Bar in Doolin and noticed a young girl dancing while her father drank.  He later married that girl, Teresa O’Driscoll, and they had a daughter.  As one person remarked he was always on Mendip, and then he was gone and we never saw him again.

The hut log for 1964 – 67 reveals mention of him on over 30 trips, predominately on Mendip, but also Yorkshire, Devon and South Wales.  He was a very competent caver and many were hard pushing trips: Blue Pencil Aven and First Mud Sump in Swildon’s, and to the top of High Chamber in St Cuthbert’s.  Even his tourist trips were challenging: an early Damp Link and Swildon’s figure of Eight trips.  Many appear to have been in the company of Steve Wynne-Roberts.  This possibly influenced him to take up cave diving, including in South Wales, Wookey Hole and Swildon’s.  He and Steve W-R dived to the bottom (105 ft depth) of The Lake in Pridhamsleigh Cavern on 3 June 1967 but omitted to notice the opening to Prid II due to the amount of silt stirred up.  He is probably best remembered for, with Phil Kingston and Colin Priddle (both BEC) and others, laying siege (at least a dozen recorded trips) by digging underwater the then terminal sump (now Sump 1) in St Cuthbert’s in 1966 – 67, making an estimated 21 feet of progress.

One day Barry went climbing with Steve W-R in the Avon Gorge.  Steve was sat belaying on a ledge facing outwards.  Barry set off up the next pitch which unfortunately led out to one side, crossed over Steve’s head and continued on the other side.  As Steve was changing the rope round to feed out to his other side, Barry fell off.  Steve grabbed the rope with both hands in front of him and held Barry’s fall but cutting great grooves in his hands and fingers.  When he went to work on Monday, he was an Engineer at Westinghouse, he found he couldn’t hold a pencil.  The first aid person took one look and despatched him to hospital.

Barry broke his left arm and spent many weeks convalescing at The Hunters’ playing shove halfpenny and became so proficient nobody could beat him!

That Barry Lane was a hard caver is evidenced by his being accorded his own song (few achieve this status) of a legendary race around Swildon’s, written by Snab with obvious Scottish overtones, to the traditional tune of “Johnny Cope”, and it seems very appropriate to end with this…………………

O send a letter tae Priddy Green
Saying Barry meet us if yer keen,
We’re the fastest cavers Mendip’s seen,
And we’ll race you in the morning.

CHORUS (after each verse)
Hey Barry Lane are ye walking yet
And is the record broken yet?
If ye were walking I would wait
Tae do the Round Trip in the morning.
When Barry looked the letter upon
He took his boots the cupboard from,
Saying “Come with me my Shepton men,
And we’ll do the Round Trip in the morning”.
When Snab and Goon read the meets list
They said “Oh on this we canne miss”.
And charged their lamps in readiness
For the Round Trip in the morning.
Next morning at the barn of Maine
Were Snab and Goon and Barry Lane.
“Aha” they said, “We meet again
To do the Round Trip in the morning”.
O Barry set off at a run
To beat the fastest time he’d done.
He went so fast he did a ton
In Swildon’s in the morning.
But Snab and Goon did not delay
They swore that they’d be first that day.
And they’d go round the other way
To beat Barry Lane in the morning.
The Double Troubles found all three
Ploughing through a muddy sea,
“Did you bale” said Barry. “No” said we,
As we passed each other in the morning.
The streamway was a flat out race
And everyone stepped up the pace.
No one wanted to lose face
And be last out in the morning.
At the Wet Way Barry Lane he led
So the Scotsmen round the Dry Way fled
And they beat him out by a very short head
And it only took an hour in the morning.
This story has a moral to tell,
It matters not if you can move like hell,
So long as you get out fit and well
For opening time in the morning.
Hey Barry Lane are ye walking yet
And is the record broken yet?
If ye were walking I would wait
Tae do the Round Trip in the morning.

Obituary  – Ron Gollin

by Tony Setterington


Ron Gollin who was an early member of the BEC having joined from the Bridgwater Caving Club (Club No 103).

I first met Ron during Easter 1945. We were staying in Main's barn and I Don Coase and Pat Woodroffe. Although we were late to bed;  which meant burying ourselves in the hay, a group from Bridgwater arrived after us and piled in nearer the stairs. I got up the next morning and on the way down trod on Ron; he was not well pleased.

Ron was a graduate chemist and together with many others had been directed to work at the ROF in Puriton. He spent some time caving with the BCC and the BEC but was eventually released to work for Boots in Nottingham as a biochemist. From which he finally retired. During this time he frequently climbed in the Peak and in N. Wales. Once or twice a year the Boots CC would hire a coach and spend a bank holiday weekend at the Belfry when Ron could return to caving with the BEC. He was forced to give up active sports with a rheumatic ankle. Many years later, Ron's wife Sheila had to be placed in a care home and Ron was moved to another in Cheddar. He had a final pint, in The Hunters on Easter Monday this year and died the following day.

Ron is remembered as a good and kindly man who will be seriously missed and well remembered.

A Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Ronald Arthur Gollin 29th May 1916 - 31st May 2011Monday 13th June 2011

Obituary – Bobbie Bagshaw

By Shirley Hill



Robert Bagshaw, known as Bob or Bobbie by BEC members died on Monday 7 November 2011. Membership number 20L, he was one of the original members of the BEC involved from the early days of its inception. Not known as a caver, climber or diver, he contributed a great deal to its organisation as a serving member of the committee for 23 years between 1951 and 1973, the longest serving member in the history of the BEC. He became known for his persistence in collecting sixpences at the Wagon and Horses on Redcliffe Hill (now demolished) at the regular Thursday night meet.

Jim is not sure what these were for, this was not questioned and Jim was young and foolish at the time! Perhaps somebody can enlighten him. In honour of this Bob was awarded a wooden block inset with sixpences, which I am sure will bring fond memories to his wife Coral.


Bobbie during a caving conference in France in the early 1950’s.

He received two further awards from the BEC, his silver beer tankard in 1966 from which he was regularly seen imbibing in The Hunters and at his home. In Autumn 2007 Bob was touched to be presented with “A Certificate of Honorary Life Membership”.

“On his retirement in 1973, it was reported in the Belfry Bulletin “The calm and unflustered way by which Bob produced £3,000 out of the hat in what must be record time for a club such as ours, in order to finance the building of the present Belfry must surely be the highlight of his long term of office, which started before many of the younger members of the BEC were born.”

There is at least one record of Bob caving reported in the Belfry Bulletin: After a trip down St Cuthberts, Bob wrote “After many months (or should this be years?) I was persuaded to go down Cuthberts, but if ever I am again asked my reply will either be a derisive laugh or “Not B****y Likely”.

In his report, he writes “I rather feared that I should become a liability to the party, and I knew that certain members (especially those who have not yet paid their annual subs.) would rejoice if I were left down the cave.  My weight would, of course, defy all efforts to hoist me out.  In view of this, I did not go on one of the exploration trips, but remained behind and had about two hours sleep.  I woke up rather cold but soon warmed up in the scrambling exertions of the next trip.”

He was a lifelong member of CAMRA an important aspect of which was sampling ale in the various hostelries to check standards. He enjoyed visits to various breweries, one of which was a BEC visit to Ashvine in 1993 also attended by wife Coral and many of the current vintagers.

After his stroke he was nursed by his wife Coral and was regularly seen at The Hunters on Bank Holidays or at the Vintagers’ luncheons until his condition deteriorated and he was cared for until his death in a Bristol nursing home.


I am sure all with have fond memories of him

The Belfry 1947 to 1980 - Part 3

by Andy Macgregor

Eds note: The following is the 3rd and final part of Andy’s article. It’s a pity that Andy could find no record of Belfry work since 1980. Can anyone put together a history from 1980 onwards?


The burning of the ruined Belfry: - Norman Petty, Garth Dell, Jock Orr, Alan Thomas, Hilary Thomas and taking the picture Andy Macgregor.


A final farewell. Norman Petty on right.

The builder was given the go ahead on Tuesday 11th November and work began on the 12th, to build the new Belfry. The reason for the delay was because they could not go ahead until they had a definite answer from the Pearl Insurance Co. regarding the claim on the old Belfry.

The fact that work had begun did not mean that they raised all the money needed, but the difference was guaranteed in the form of loans from certain members.


The outside of the new Belfry after the shell was completed.


Inside the main room of the new Belfry at time of the shell being completed.

Visitors to the Belfry site by February 1970, found a splendid looking new Belfry standing proudly on the site. That they should be in a position to start occupying the new Belfry within six months of that tragic day, when the blackened shell of the Belfry seemed to mark the lowest ebb of the club, is an achievement of which everyone took some pride.

The job of fitting out then proceeded. Norman Petty built the kitchen unit. Most of the old bunk frames were repaired and repainted.

On the ninth of May the new Belfry had been officially opened in reasonable B.E.C. fashion, for which event thanks are particularly due to the organisers, Pete and Joyce Franklin.

On Monday, the 15th of September 1969, the club was faced with the destruction of the Belfry and the necessity of finding a sum in excess of £3,000 very rapidly. The alternatives would have been to abandon a Mendip headquarters for some time, or to put up some new temporary building, and thus push the problem of getting the club properly established on Mendip, back for a long while.

By the ninth of May, two hundred and thirty six days after the fire, the club formally took possession of its new hut, and the formidable sum of money was raised.

In 1977, a proposal was made to make some changes to the Belfry, as outline below: -

Main Changing Room

  1. Move the library into the main room in strong lockers. The library is no longer large enough.
  2. Block existing door from library into main room.
  3. Build low wall as shown, install two shower heads and tile throughout.
  4. Remove part of wall between library and existing changing room. Install 2 metre concrete lintel.
  5. Build wall between existing changing room and existing shower unit.


Unliberated Persons Changing Room

  1. Remove wall at the back of individual shower unit.
  2. Build low wall as shown, install two shower heads and tile throughout.

In 1980, more proposals were put forward and publicised in the BB:-

  1. The Library is a room which can be used as a proper Library with space for tables and chairs, it will have adequate and proper storage space for books, maps etc. Ventilation will be much improved providing a better environment for the books etc.
  2. It was felt that a self-contained kitchen would improve hygiene and release much space in the main room for lockers etc.
  3. The Showers and Changing Rooms both male and female will be better sited for ventilation and provide more room. The main changing room will incorporate a dirty area entering the Belfry via the present women’s room external door. Once caving kit has been removed members can go to a cleaner changing area which will include washbasins, toilet and showers. A similar system will exist in the women’s changing area as can be seen on the plan. Ventilation will be aided by extractor fans and floor to ceiling tiling and better drains are to be provided so that the area can be hosed down and kept to the necessary hygienic standards.
  4. The provision of a drying room leading off the main changing area was decided to be of utmost importance. Ventilation will be provided by an extractor fan ducted to the outside wall. Heating could be provided by under floor electric elements linked to the off peak meter. This system is used at the Bradford Pothole Club and works very well.
  5. The new female bunkroom will still only cater for 6. The space on the plan is at present shown to be flexible, but once a suitable size has been decided for the room, a stud wall partition will be erected and any space left will be used for storage for the time being. The vacant space will give us room to expand should the need arise. One possibility for the vacant space would be an extension to the Library.

Any further changes have not been documented in the BB.


The Belfry at the St. Cuthberts celebrations with some oldies in 2003. From left to right, Zot, Barry Wilton, Dave Irwin, Joan Bennett, unknown, Sett. unknown, Kangy, Andy Macgregor and Brian Prewer.



The 1980 Plan


Caine Hill Moves into 2011

By Stu Lindsay

January 7th, 2011’s first visit saw TrevH, NigelTnT and StuL blow up the two ends. A quick visitation on the 9th by Trev and Stu found fume filled air and quickly checked all explosive material had detonated. Moved all bags to First chamber. 12th saw DaveB and StuL clear most of the End of Dig debris, 20 bags and some large lumps of rock, probably a metre of progress, so is that it for 2011? January 19th StuL and TrevH a quick clear up operation getting EOD debris to Third Chamber when DaveB turned up so we hauled to Son of a Pitch

Again on the 26th DaveB joined Trev and Stu to haul to Son of a Pitch, the total bags here now approaching 200. The final hauling session for the month saw JakeB join  Trev and Stu on the 26th,  the 2 hour session saw the surface temperature dropping  from chilly to bloody freezing,  even the effort of 132 bags to the surface failing to ward off the approaching zero temperature. It was a quiet month, but progress achieved after the stagnation of December.

February’s first visit of the month, the 2nd  saw just Trev and Stu,  all  “stray bags ” from End of Dig  were amassed in First Chamber,  before 30 bags were shunted up to  Son of a Pitch.  Trying to guess the stored bags at Son of a Pitch on the 6th failed, the hundred plus was actually only 79. Jake on the surface, Stu at half way and Trev at the bottom had them out in just over the hour. The 9th saw a solo from TrevH, when he cleared the bang debris from the base of the rift, and is now ready for more shotholes, there does seem to be some improvement in passage size but still a lot to do. The two large rocks in the Third Chamber were also rendered into baggable bits.

13TH   A 3 ¼ hour session, before Trev and Jake arrived , saw Stu capping and P& Feathering the way on at End of Dig heading downward in a passage, as opposed to a Rift, it looks to be maybe a metre high and wide. Jake and Trevor arrived concentrated on the rift getting everything back to First Chamber. Its back to Stu and Trev on the 16th, the original extension to the End of Dig after tonight’s clearance operation  is now almost big enough for two, there is the original higher level “tube”, uncovered in January, heading off pretty much northward. But the likely way on is probably down under the now quickly diminishing archway, chip chip, cap cap.  Saving the best to last, the final visit of the month was a good turnout with Ian Cedegy, Paul’s mate joining StuL, TrevH, JakeB, PhilC and JohnN to make 7 willing souls. Jake whizzed off to the end of Dig followed by Phil and were joined by the late arriving John.  The rest of us hauled to Son of a Pitch, the grand finale being to get the largest of the specimen rocks up to Son of a Pitch…a mere 30kgs or so

March, Stu, Trev and Dave kicked off the 2nd day of the month; Trev went down the rift to drill holes whilst Dave and Stu continued to loosen up the End of Dig. At the End of Dig progress was slowly beginning to reveal a possible way on down to the right, after a dozen bags and 5 or 6 rocks had been removed it made it clearer where Stu would drill some shot holes, initially just three at 500mm long but in the end six were drilled, with drill entry points in 2 groups of 3.  March 9TH was bang night, Trev, NigelTnT StuL and DaveB descended, Trev loaded the Rift and Stu and Dave marked time before the End of Dig also received a length or two. After 2 successful crumps, CHAPS was allowed to run for 15 mins, the strength of the fumes growing fainter as the pub beckoned.

An early start on Sunday 13th by Stu saw the CHAPS switched on for an hour. Below, in End of Dig fumes were mere occasional wisps, whilst the rift was not so clear and duly left for another day. Trev and Stu on this 3 hour session saw 40 bags dug, and moved back to First Chamber. The current rock bridge is almost history and working space has doubled.  2 again became 3 on the 16th Trev and Stu, joined latterly by Dave.  Stu in a 2 hour or so session before Trev arrived had almost made as much debris as the previous bang! This area, End of Dig seems to be quite wacky! Its like a boulder pile that has been modified, it does not seem to follow a basic conformity, and it is also quite damp, making the spoil claggy.  Dave joining the throng was an opportunity not to be missed, he was poked into the hole, whilst Trev departed for the rift to bag all the debris.  Finally about 40 bags were eventually hauled to the First Chamber.  March 20th weather was very good so with just 2 of us in 3 sessions, Stu doing surface haul first and last, Trev at Son of a Pitch we managed 77 bags out.  23rd, with Paul, PeteH and Phil digging Trev and Stu maintained the supply at Son of a Pitch by shunting 50 plus bags up. 27TH saw Jake join Stu, Jake filled another 5 bags in rift, before a concerted effort in the End of Dig, which is looking tight again. Last session was 30th of March 2011, when StuL, JakeB, TrevH and DaveB were joined by Henry Rockcliff from Derby area. Trevor drilled in the rift with Henry, whilst the size of the End of Dig allowed me to drill whilst Dave and Jake dug around me.

April 6th commenced with a bang, or should I say BANG. Nigel duly turned up with the bang and Trev and Stu descended to End of Dig. With 2 of us on the job detracted from our usual practice and increased the number of holes to 6 all went well with a pleasing crump that just about rattled Tims windows.  13TH saw JakeB, DaveB and StuL clear some quite large lumps and gain access to some more of the delightful Cainehill spoil, clearing all to Third Chamber the End of Dig was left as confusing as ever. 2 possibly 3 ways forward, the likely 2 being to the NW or the North.  With Stu migrating north the 20th saw Dave B and Trevor lengthen the Rift shotholes to 550 long and drill an additional one. Whilst Dave laboured away the evening digging at EOD, producing a good pile of bags of rock and mud. But most importantly, cleared away down dip to reveal an archway with soft mud infill and to prove that the flat bedding floor is not connected to most, if not all, of the obstructing rocks ahead. Last visit of April the 27th saw a good crew, Dave B, Phil C, Pete H, John N and Trevor and a warm evening so it seemed like a good idea to surface haul: the base of SOP was emptied of the 58 loads and the huge ‘specimen’ rock which took the combined strengths of John, Pete and self to get up the first part of the shaft. This rock is not the striped rock which has been so carefully guarded from assault by hammer wielding fanatics, and to get that out we will have to repeat the exercise all over again  but these rocks will do fine at the base of the Belfry Stone. By the close of play John had managed to loose or leave behind his helmet, light, gloves, changing mat and caving belt: there can’t be much of his kit left – if anybody finds a naked caver with a Charles 1st beard wandering wantonly on Priddy Green please return him to the Caine Hill diggers.

MAN HOURS SPENT OVER THE PAST 4 MONTHS TOTAL AROUND 143. With a further 346 bags reaching the surface it took the total  to 5 figures, yep, that’s 10,089 or over 150 tonnes. .Work continues, hopefully NOW with more pace.


St. Cuthbert’s Swallet:

The Curtains

From Kangy King

A Rescue in Swildon’s

By Bill Combley

Do not involve yourself in the affairs of Dragons!

(Or how the just how wrong the Swildon’s Short Round trip can go)

We were without our regular caving partner Steve as he was off “doing other things” on this particular Wednesday, so it was just the 2 of us (Tony and myself) – we had many plans in place, depending on just who turned up at the Belfry, but by 7pm it was still just the 2 of us, so we decided to venture into Swildon’s and have a go at the short round trip. I knew the route pretty well (but not well enough as events will tell).

We arrived at Priddy Green and rapidly kitted up, leaving an estimated time out (ETO) with my beloved down on the Isle of Wight. A.N. Other body turned up from S.B.S.S.  he asked us where we were going to which we replied “A Scrot about!” and duly set off across the fields.

Entering the cave was as usual, uneventful, as the water levels were particularly low. We rapidly made our way to the 20’ and set about rigging the ladder and descending. Continuing down the stream way, I found the turn off to the Short round trip (Tratman’s Temple). We burrowed our way through the mud sump – about 6 inches of water (I did explain to Tony how it’s not possible to back bail because of the nature of the cave) we meandered around finding the Double Troubles (no need to bail or set the siphons).

Its surprising that considering you’re away from the main stream way just how cold one can get passing the Double troubles, Tony and I have differing methods of passing water obstacles and I must grudgingly admit that his “laying flat on your back” method is far superior to my “scrabble through on my belly” one!

Passing the double troubles, we made our way to Birthday squeeze (best attempted on your back with helmet off) and shuffled through that, Tony managed it with a good deal of huffing, puffing and a fair bit of cussing!

Some-how at this point I got a bit stymied on the route and ended up towards Vicarage passage, We came to Vicarage pot, and I decided that this was obviously not the way on, I’d spotted a hole in the floor that looked as if it went down to the landing a little way back from Vicarage pot, and, as time was inexorably ticking away towards pub time we decided to use it to gain the Landing and stream way in Swildon’s 2.

I began to carefully descend said pot and was doing ok for the first few meters, gently easing my way down, with my back pressed against the wall and my feet and arms moving slowly, when all of a sudden Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity took a hold, net result I landed on the Landing with a crunch, “OH bugger, that’s broken my collarbone!” (I’m understating the pain and language used here), I sort of half slithered/fell into the stream way and took a few seconds to realise just where I was. Tony meanwhile had seen my fall and had gingerly followed me onto the landing.

Realising that we were now in a rescue situation we made a decision to get as far out of the cave as possible, I got Tony to re-rig my belt as a makeshift strap around my collarbone. Pain and adrenalin took over as we made our way upstream to sump 1. I had to get Tony to push my legs as I went through sump 1 and again he was a tower of strength aiding me over the rocks as we slowly made our way out of the cave.

Having gained Swildon’s 1, I knew what lay ahead in terms of obstacles, and was thinking to myself “Right, if we get above Tratman’s, MRO won’t have to search the short round!” – well, we achieved that aim and came to rest at the Inclined Rift. I parked myself out of the water and took off my elbow pads to sit on to insulate my bum and put on my hood to keep my inner core temperature up and stave off hypothermia. We did discuss the possibility of Tony returning to surface to raise the alarm, but, as Tony said, “I never bug out on my wingman!” so he stayed put.

I’d expected lights to appear from in front of us (the arrival of recue!) but we were both surprised to see lights coming from behind us, a party of 3 (SBSS) had also been on the short round, they stopped and we explained our situation, they then headed out to raise the alarm as well (by this time we were way beyond ETO, and were hoping that best beloved had done the right thing, apparently she thought we were in the pub enjoying a post caving pint), a second party of SBSS then appeared from behind us and stopped, fortunately one of the members of this party is a paramedic and had some basic 1st aid kit, namely painkillers and a space blanket. Dosed up with painkillers and wrapped in a space blanket we 5 sat and waited for the now inevitable rescue to arrive.

Lights appeared at the top of Barnes loop, Whoop! the cavalry, in the form of Mark Helmore, Rich Marlow and Sarah Payne, closely followed by Dany and Bob (Cork?). Rich gave me a quick once over whilst Dany and Sarah got the Heyphone set up. There was talk of what the 1st aid kits used to contain, as by this point both Tony and I were gasping for a fag (no longer in the first aid kit! -along with the medicinal brandy!) – Dany made some quip about “How’s about each time you want a fag, I smack you in the face.” To which my reply was “Ok then, I’ll wait until we’re out!” having ascertained the extent of my injuries and what pain relief had already been administered, Rich the team and myself decided that the stretcher was not an option “You’re not a time critical injury” seems to stick in my mind, Some Morphine was administered to me and my now useless arm was immobilised in a sling and we waited for that to take effect.

Caving on a cloud of morphine is wonderful, it takes away the pain, whilst leaving one with faculties enough to deal with the rest of the cave, I was put on a “donkey dick” rope and with assistance all round, got up the stal boss and through Barnes loop, actually the climb back into the stream way was relatively (or so it seemed to me by my now fuzzy mind) straight forward, a step here, a hand there, and down we go. Next a quick traverse round the double pots (I normally wade into the pots and climb straight up) and onto the twenty. At this point the full body harness was made available and with a few strong bods (cheers Stu and Mark) I flew up and was quickly out of the harness and onto the 8-foot waterfall, a few tugs and heaves and that was dealt with, before long we arrived at the penultimate obstacle – Jacobs Ladder, again soon disposed of and only the entrance to deal with. Normally I enter and exit the cave via the little rift to the right hand side of the entrance, but this time I went under that huge slab of hanging doom above the new hole in the floor that takes all the water.

We then trudged our way back across the fields to Priddy Green to rescue control, and for some at least, hot drinks and biscuits courtesy of the Prewers, I got a slurp of much welcome coffee, but alas no more “Oy, no more for you!” and cadged a fag off one of the rescue team, that was well earned; thanks young lad. By now the rest of the rescue team were emerging and depositing all the kit that had been taken over to aid me out (fortunately the “Little Dragon” and dreaded stretcher had not been used) and the troops made their weary ways home leaving me with Rich and Ali Moody to await the arrival of the ambulance.

The ambulance had been delayed on another call and when it did turn up, the crew were a little incredulous as to the events that had led them to Priddy Green in the early hours of the morning, even more so when I began to strip out of my caving grots, “Ere fellah, grab that sleeve and give it a tug will you?” even stopping to towel my feet off and change into civilised dry clothes, as Rich did his casualty hand over. Another dose of Morphine and a quick discussion about the best way to get to Weston General “Its your call Bath or Weston.”, “Well we’re pointing to Weston, Down the Gorge and I expect your sat nav will take you the rest of the way!” and off we went.

My heartfelt thanks to all who came to my rescue, there WILL be beer for all involved when I see you at the Hunters! I’ll close just there and not bore you all with what went on in the Casualty department.

Net result and lessons learned:

One broken right collarbone and no caving for a while.

Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons because you are crunchy and go well with ketchup.

Only your true friends will help you out of the pooh and will mercilessly take the mick whilst so doing.

ALWAYS leave a call out.


Renewed Digging Effort In St Cuthbert’s 

by Estelle Sandford

About 2 years ago I started actively looking for a new dig site in St Cuthbert’s. This had been driven by me noticing that some of the hydrology of the cave seemed to have been naturally changing over the last 10-15 years (I had been involved in collecting water samples for the hydrology article Roger Stenner had written in the 90s, so had been pretty intimate with this particular cave's water course and levels!). With many discussions over a few beers, a few of us had never been totally convinced the 'original' way on for the water in St Cuthbert’s was via sump 2. It had been noted the geology of the cave passage changes between sumps 1 and 2 and doesn't seem to look as 'old', plus, we had also been convinced that the area around Cerberus to Lake Chamber areas may hold some secrets. This was fuelled by the Lake seeming lower than I remembered it on several visits to the place in early 2009, before the sump actually opened (don’t remember it doing that at all in the 90s), and also the stream-way was sinking in two places above Stal Pitch, meaning there is little to no flow from there until Plantation Junction during the drier summer months.


Estelle in Lower Rocky Boulder

I had taken a break from active caving for a few years due to injuries and other life stuff and, it had been a while since I’d last actively dug and caved in St Cuthbert’s, but it has always been somewhere that holds a lot of intrigue. I have always been convinced the cave has more to offer, plus not many people have actively dug in there for quite a few years, and ‘things change’, plus I love caving in that place! Two changes I initially noticed was that the stream-way was flowing consistently in an old dig site on the right hand wall on the bends above Stal Pitch, where historically it had sumped and, at this point, it was taking much of the main stream-way, rather than it going down the main stream passage where it should go, plus, some of the stream-way water was disappearing just below where Everest Passage joins the main stream. After encouraging it back down its traditional route, Mark Denning and myself decided to go and have a dig there initially and, soon decided it was best attacked from the other side in what is marked on the survey as Cerberus Pool, although these days it is more of a mud bath! Instructing Mark to stay somewhere safe as a just in case measure, I went underneath some very dodgy looking boulders and through a squeeze, and then we had a voice connection to a smallish hole just below the plaques in Cerberus Hall. We dug this out enough for me to exit that way and, for Mark to also have a look; this inspired us to have a go at the dig site below.

I recruited a few keen BEC diggers and we attacked the dig site from the newly widened hole just below where the plaques are. This was dug downwards through what appeared to be a mud filled dodgy boulder ruckle to about 30ft. deep, before the winter rains made digging impossible. All the spoil was brought up into Cerberus Hall and deposited in the top of where Cerberus Pool was. Historically with the hole below the plaques, I had remembered looking down to water not far below, and while in the winter there was still a water level in there, this was a lot lower than I remembered. This dig was resurrected briefly in 2010, but after the winter rains had given the site a good soaking, some of the boulders were looking seriously undermined and we decided that other sites had more potential, so we picked up our digging kit and relocated it elsewhere!

We had also been keeping an eye on Lake Chamber over the summer months with regular visits and finally, in early September 2009, we noticed that the sump to Lake Chamber Extensions was open. A dive line that had been in there for probably about 15 years (put in by Jingles mid 90s) was climbed out of the water the other side (the tibloc is a wonderful invention!) into a quite muddy section of cave (Lake Chamber Extensions), which is rarely visited because of the Lake Chamber sump. We explored, and then for about a month until the sump closed again, we worked on two sites – one which was a beautifully scalloped mud filled phreatic tube and another widening a heavily draughting rift. The rift was probably the most inspiring dig we had seen for a long time, but without taking up diving to continue working on it, there was no choice but to wait and hope for the water levels to drop far enough for us to be able to pass the sump again during 2010.

Another area of interest is where during the drier summer months of the last two years, all of the main stream sinks into the gravel floor below where Everest Passage joins main stream passage leaving the main stream route dry until Plantation Junction where Plantation stream joins the main passage. While not proven as yet, we think there is a link between this and Lake Chamber, but we felt that when the entire main stream sinks here, if all the water was running to Lake Chamber, that Lake Chamber ought to be a lot higher than it tends to be – the Lake Chamber sump opening in the summer months seems to be a more recent phenomenon, as while it was reported to have done so in the past, it certainly wasn’t a regular event. We had a go at digging this stream sink briefly, but the call of Lake Chamber Extensions kept us away, so this is another dig in progress as well, which hopefully we’ll return to in 2011 including once it starts sinking here again, to conduct a dye (or spores) trace to see if any of this water appears again before sump 2 and Lake Chamber.


Estelle In Lake Chamber Extension

Spring 2010; with all our other dig sites in Cuthbert’s full of water, we started looking again for a new site; a tight rift between Cerberus Hall and Mud Hall Chamber was observed – nicknamed Project Pebble. This draughts very well, and widening of the passage was required to make it passable, but it is at least an all-weather dig even though initially it was only a 2 person dig! After a couple of months of widening the initial rift passage, Stu and I managed to squeeze past the first constriction and into a very muddy dig and finally turn it into a 3 person dig – so Sally joined us for a few digging sessions as we needed a small skinny person! Initially this followed a phreatic tube, but with continued digging out the mud, it seems to now be going downwards again in rift type passage and is still draughting well and, heading into blank space on the survey, but needs widening with plug and feathers. Fingers crossed, this will be a case of watch this space at some stage…

By July 2010, the sump was low enough for digging in Lake Chamber Extensions to resume and, in August on Henry’s birthday, the rift was finally widened enough using plug & feathers to be able to pass through. By now the mud tube tunnelling dig had split into two directions, and the left hand of the two digs was approximately 10ft long – it was a great way of keeping warm as widening the rift was a 1 person job, although the air was often nothing special in these tubes! After Stu had successfully widened the rift to get into a small chamber with a couple of potentially going leads, Mark and Stu relocated a couple of dodgy looking boulders, and this exposed a narrow slope, which we followed into a large chamber. Henry and I joined them and the four diggers were briefly elated on finding a large chamber with what looked like lots of ways on, until finding some footprints on the other side of the chamber, and then also some initials (which looked like they possibly spelt WIG!). It wasn’t immediately apparent which bit of the cave had been dug into, as the survey had not indicated to us, to be that close to anything. So the following week, we sent a team around the slabs/long chamber/rocky boulder side of the cave and, another team through the breakthrough, all armed with whistles and we soon bumped into each other at chockstone rift, confirming we had found our way into Lower Rocky Boulder Chamber.

We have since surveyed this loop, and with the assistance of Mad Phil who already has quite a lot of Cuthbert’s survey data recorded electronically, we have added it into his survey information. What it showed, is that the original survey of Lower Rocky Boulder series appears to be out by around 5m or so, which does make us feel a bit better, as from the survey, we didn’t feel we ought to have been that close to Rocky Boulder series! What it also proves is that it would be good to continue with resurveying Cuthbert’s to have the whole cave as a digital survey which is a project Mad Phil already had been working on, so if you’re keen to do some surveying in there, contact Mad Phil!

While making the connection wasn’t what we had wanted, it does open up opportunities to investigate Lake Chamber Extensions, once Lake Chamber has filled with water as there are a couple of possibilities there, and we intend to visit this part of the cave in wet conditions over the winter months, to see how much water Lake Chamber Extensions and the floor rifts hold. We also have a couple of other dig sites of interest to keep us going, so watch this space!

Core digging team: Estelle Sandford, Stu Gardiner, Mark Denning and Henry Dawson.

Additional diggers: Pete Hellier, Vern Freeman, Sally White, Paul Brock, Bill Combley, Mad Fi, Faye Litherland, Jo Hardy, Jake Baines, Mark Stephens, Rich Bayfield, Rich Smith, Ben O’Leary, Kangy King, Gary Kiely, Annie Audsley, Roger Galloway.


Don Coase. St Cuthbert’s original entrance. Photo: Kangy King



Lex Bastian (W A S S )

From Mike Wilson

Tony Jarratts double.                                                                                

BB542-24When I visited Western Australia in 2000 I had the good fortune to meet a quiet Australian caver called Lex Bastian ,sadly I did not manage to spend a great deal of time with him, and even more unfortunate was the fact that I ran out of time before I could go caving with him. Having said that, he is a fascinating man who has spent the last 50 years caving in Western Australia  mostly in the Yanchep and Margaret River areas.

His family emigrated to Australia 130 years ago from Cornwall. He said it was a big group decision, so I guess the whole family came over en mass and settled in WA. As far as I know there are no relatives in Great Britain. He now lives to the North of Perth in a town called Beldon. There was a gap in his caving activities when he spent 8 years in Canberra during the 1970s, he didn’t tell me what he was doing there!

In the 1950s Lex, his mate Ross and a guy called Lloyd Robinson were the mainstay of caving in WA. He used to travel to the caves on a pushbike (shades of Norbert Casteret in France ) The majority of caves in the Yanchep region have been discovered by Lex,  there are approximately 400 to date. The inventory was started in 1988, and the original list contained approximately 100 caves, all numbered. To quote Lex, ‘it would be impossible to name every cave discovered’ (all of the caves open to tourists are named) .A 1967 Ford Falcon station wagon became the mainstay of transport for Lex during his travels, by all accounts a very reliable vehicle, this enabled him to travel to the South more often and practise his Aussie method of cave discovery, (it differs from Tony Jarratts theory of cave trees in the middle of a Yorkshire Moor)  this is called the Hairy Leg method, whereby you wear shorts and walk around the bush waiting for a draught on the thigh, according to Lex it is extremely effective !!! The other method is to wait for bush fires, ”quite common“ and go and look for the holes, this sounds like a good technique on the Yorkshire moors !  Their underground cooking methods involved a compound called “Scroggle,” a typical Lex type recipe, you mix cocoa, raisins, nuts, and cooking chocolate. This concoction is then heated over a carbide lamp, I intend to try this recipe some time. Naturally, they also drank cheap wine and told tall stories ,nothing changes!!.                                                                                

  Geoff  Robinson, a fellow caver was renowned for kicking at dangerous Aussie snakes whilst wearing sandals, not to be  recommended!!! Lex and Lloyd met up and found Easter cave in 1958, the entrance being a dug tunnel, what a stunning find that must have been,!!!!!! It still rates as one of the best decorated caves in Australia, I have had the privilege of entering this cave and it is literally wall to wall formations! While I was talking to Lex one evening he drew a little map of the entrance section of this cave and while I did not realise the significance at the time, it shows a small left turn and a shawl formation with writing on it, “Jamey Donovan-Jesse Ward 1884”, this indicates that the cave had been visited and then possibly forgotten, luckily.!

The Western Australia Speleo Society was formed by Naturists (not to be confused with naturalists) in the 1960s. The aim was to educate and promote awareness of the natural world to the public, some of the cavers were honorary fauna wardens of the Margaret River area, including the Naturaliste National Park, this involved wearing a little badge, and writing a quarterly report listing people warned, animals seen and approximate location. This does not equate with their tales of throwing boomerangs across the road to see if it would miss the traffic and return!! Hut 1 burned down in one of the frequent bush fires, so hut 2 was born. A band practice hut from Freemantle was donated to the club, so the lads went down to Freo and literally cut it up with a chainsaw, then transported it down to Margaret River in 1971. They hot-wired a nearby front loader and pulled up some spare railway sleepers from the local sawmill, these formed the outer base for the hut, water from a local cave was used for cement mixing (a slow process), there are some photos showing the builders Ian Martin, Alex Jar, Bob Crowe, and Ric Orissa. There were two ends to the hut; boys and girls. I have it on good authority that this situation lasted about 1 hour!! there was never any water supply or sanitation, and this situation still applies in hut 3, year 2000.  Hut 2 burnt down in another bush fire in the1980s,”       I WONDER IF IT HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH LEX BASTIANS BURNING BUSH THEORIES”, but  the new metal structure hut 3 still stands, a trifle noisy at night when the local fauna decide to run up and down the roof with hobnail boots on!! WASS are at the present trying to negotiate a new site for the hut,  just outside the National Park, which will make their tenancy in the area more stable (and not subject to the tricky park regulations). I wish them well in their endeavours, and hope that the new venture includes water and sanitation. If they require any help I will be happy to go over for a month or two and lend a hand!!                    

Some of the problems with the water table dropping in the region have been attributed by Lex Bastian, to be caused by the fact that there is no annual bush burns, apparently the ridges used to burn every summer (an aborigine method to clear the bush), but colonisation has now opened the forests for cattle allowing higher vegetation growth, this draws more underground water thus lowering the water table!!! This has had the permanent effect of opening up more routes underground, but also some of the gour pools are drying out and may never be beautiful again. It is quite apparent where the original water table level was by just observing the staining of the formations at the now new floor level; the difference is substantial !!



Articles Wanted

New material is always needed for the next Journal:

Articles on trips or expeditions

Cave science: geology, geomorphology

Cave archaeology

Historical work

Your future project descriptions

High quality photographs for the front and back covers

Please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

What kind of topic would you like to see in your BB? Please send your ideas to the editor for consideration. If you know of someone who can write an article on exploration or science, ask him or her to put pen to paper and get writing! Remember this: we are an exploration club, not just a caving club.

The editor is willing to consider articles from guest writers too. If you know someone who can write a learned article on cave science, it could be published.

Please, please send me something amusing for the Tale Piece.

Reservoir Hole

by Pete Glanvill

Since the most recent update there have been developments. At Potter’s Heaven, Tangent and Andrew Atkinson found the Hollow virtually sumped whilst on a survey trip (Andrew is still trying to get mud out of his Disto and PDA), so we have crossed it off our dig list for the winter. Up at Topless Aven more boulders have been removed but the pool obstinately refuses to drain. Meanwhile Nigel and Nick’s team (‘We’ll be in in 2 weeks’) have made a breakthrough this week (November 15th ) after 6 months effort at the Silo. A guest appearance by Martin Grass and a lack of cameras to record the event might have been the lucky charms required for it to happen.  An audible echo could be heard the previous week but some large and obstinate boulders and massive amounts of gravel slurry needed removing before the team managed to wriggle up into the void beyond.  Ali and I returned from Topless Aven to meet a mildly despondent team who thought it was a dead end. However it transpired they had just squinted through.

I followed Alison up and she (bravely or insanely) climbed into the void bracing herself on the few remaining boulders. As I was under said boulders I didn’t stay long and, as it was, she got clocked on the shoulder by a falling pebble. What we saw, and this is a conflation of our opinions was an elliptical rift about 2 metres across with  pronounced water horizontal nick marks on the walls plus scalloping. The roof at the near end seems fairly solid but there is some hanging death at the far end. The height of the rift is probably around 8 metres. At the north end (ie into the opposite side of the gorge) fill seems to be occupying a ceiling to floor continuation that must be wider at its base (still obscured by fill). Some water drips from the roof but most is coming out of the fill low down suggesting it comes from the rift beyond. The place is very airy – not so say scary.  We think the far end is now across the road – thank god!

It didn’t stay open for long as attempts by Nigel to bring down the remaining boulders blocked the opening again but next week should allow them to be removed. The plan then,  is to use scaffolding already imported into the cave to build a 2 metre high cage at the entrance to the silo to, we hope, protect the diggers whilst we advance across the rift.

Peter Glanvill  November 17th 2011


Pete Goes Down Upper Flood

By Pete Hellier

After not being free for the club trip, a number of emails saw me at the MCG hut on an icy Novembers day.

A brisk walk over was followed by an interesting time getting the bolt under the lid to undo in the freezing conditions. The inside was quite balmy, not least because I had added an extra layer of underwear beneath my furry suit and normal base layer. By the time we had got to the static duck we were all rather hot, and I realised I had forgotten how small the cave passage was and all the obstacles. The duck was not too high (glasses stayed well out of the water), and the stream not in full winter flow yet. Hoods were removed at the red room, and drinks taken before we dived into the boulder ruckle to Golden Chamber, with not-to-be-missed crystals immediately inside the chamber. A drop and narrow rift rejoins the streamway, but not for long as the main boulder choke and succession of squeezes and manoeuvres are encountered.

BB542-25I can’t remember the sequence or which ones need to have a head or foot first approach, as this can be important. The worse pinch-points have been enlarged since the early trips, and now accommodate ‘most’ cavers. I didn’t find them particularly tight, but they were awkward, particularly on the return. The helpful hints I had could be most welcome. I only had one rock collapse on me on the return, and it wasn’t really as big as it felt.

After all that it was good to get into proper passage – must have been mind-blowing for the original explorers. Even after seeing all the photos it was a bit of a shock. The Departure Lounge narrows to stream passage, and this is probably the nicest passage down to Walk The Plank with the present stream running under or beside a lot of stalled up boulders. At the unusual stalled up rock formation known as Walk The Plank what appears as fossil passage is reached in a dark chamber. The dark colouring is thought to come from the lead tailings, and the area is the favoured connection point for Stainsby's shaft.

Plenty more stream passage with the odd short crawl in the water until the stream is lost. This length of passage was all explored in the first trip which must be one of the longest stretches of open Mendip cave explored in one go. (There’s a theme for the Belfryites to discuss!)

After a very short traverse and little scramble the cave suddenly changes with a number of routes in different directions. East passage is like South Wales fossil phreatic passage without formations where we took a mini-circuit to see Zebra Aven, and then return. Ahead and up a few feet over stal is more stal to look at, and the entrance to South Passage which is a crawl. To the right there is (You’ve guessed) West Passage. An odd move over a stal covered block and we were in an area of lovely clean stal with superb little formations. I guessed quickly that the stal and crystal covered passage to our left was the no-go zone heading for the fabulous pork pie formations - Neverland. I guess I would have liked to take oversuit and boots off and been given the chance to see them - no point having them if you can’t see them! But the idea is to find another way into Neverland, so that they can then be viewed from the other side. Maybe.

West Passage has a different character again, being essentially a straight passage with a dog-leg to the left and back, about halfway. The first feature is Chuckle Choke, which having been dug (and the site of one of J’rat’s last bangs) drops to a loud but totally impassable stream. At least the crawling here was easy over fine silt and clay. We played games feeling a good draught in some places, and not others. The end lies at a boulder choke so anything is possible. We had a token removal of boulders-that-were-in-the-way session as a precursor to planned large banging session. There are quite a number of dig sites, but none are looking easy.

By the time we got back to the Boulder Choke I had already forgotten how many awkward moves there were, and I finished with dead arms. Given the shallow gradient and lack of any pitches, that’s quite an achievement which I put down in part to fighting against all the clothing on my arms, like a when you have a full wetsuit. There did seem to be an awful lot of crawling in the old cave (aka ‘the entrance series’), and I still have sore knees days later.

Just to round the trip off nicely engineering tactics were again needed on the entrance, and we had a rather chilly walk back in minus something. Splendid trip of course, but not to be taken lightly, and I was glad of my snacks. As for kit, I was not over-dressed, and once soaked never overheated. The others wore neofleeces with the leader having a fleece on top including balaclava - he should know!

Whitcombe's Hole

By Vince Simmonds

An archaeological investigation of Whitcombe’s Hole, Burrington Combe: a summary report of the 2011 field work.


The excavation at Whitcombe’s Hole involves an investigation of the cave sediments for evidence of any possible human use of Whitcombe’s Hole and whether any indicators of past environmental conditions occurring in the Burrington Combe area can be found at the site.

Permission to dig at the site was granted by the landowner, Sir David Wills on 29th March 2011, subject to a number of conditions, the present permission is to extend to the end of November 2011.

Whitcombe’s Hole is located in Burrington Combe at NGR ST 47635827.  The site has previously been excavated in c.1860 by William Boyd-Dawkins who recovered an unornamented blackware urn that was attributed to the Early Iron Age along with various bones and teeth attributed ox, deer, goat, wolf, fox, badger, rabbit, hare and birds (Sanford and Boyd-Dawkins, 1864, p.169).  A recent visit to the cave appears to indicate that there has been little disturbance of the cave sediments since that time. 

Balch (1937) in his publication – Mendip: Its Swallet Caves and Rock Shelters described Whitcombe’s Hole as an old outlet cave or as a passage that once fed into Aveline’s Hole.  He makes reference to the excavation work at the site by Boyd-Dawkins stating that very little debris was removed and that a complete excavation was not carried out.  Balch adds “there is some deposit on the floor, which will repay excavation” (p.89).

Whitcombe’s Hole is situated at the northern end of a ridge of high ground formed by three valleys; West Twin Brook and East Twin Brook are on either side of the ridge and the cave overlooks Burrington Combe on the northern side.  Both the West and East Twin Brook valley’s run south onto the higher ground of Blackdown, the lower reaches of Burrington Combe have a north-south alignment before heading sharply to the east at the promontory where Whitcombe’s Hole is located.  All of these valleys may have been used as corridors to gain access to the higher Mendip Plateau perhaps to hunt grazing herds at particular seasons. 

To the southwest of Whitcombe’s Hole is found Goatchurch Cavern at a similar altitude overlooking West Twin Brook, north of Whitcombe’s Hole is Aveline’s Hole at the valley bottom of Burrington Combe.


According to the geological map (BGS: Sheet 280) of the area the site is within the Black Rock Limestone of Carboniferous Age, the strata here has an inclination dipping 60O to the north-northeast.  To the south the strata comprises Lower Limestone Shale, to the north is a small outcrop of Dolomite then Burrington Oolite, these strata are also of Carboniferous Age.  These limestone strata together represent the lower part of the Dinantian sequence.  To the west of the site is an outcrop of Dolomitic Conglomerate of Triassic Age, this particular rock type features as interdigitations along both the northern and southern flanks of the Mendip Hills.


Figure 1.  Looking into the ‘daylight’ zone of Whitcombe’s Hole, Burrington Combe

Excavation of the ‘daylight’ zone.

Work at the site commenced during April 2011 when a survey of the cave was conducted and photographs of the site were taken.  Following this it was decided that the first task was to investigate the entrance chamber, the ‘daylight’ zone. 


Figure 2. Cave survey with the approximate areas of excavation conducted within the ‘daylight’ zone shown.

Trench 1: initially the area was thoroughly brushed clean of surface material that comprised mostly moss, leaves, sticks and frequent coarse angular to sub-angular gravel and cobbles of limestone with very rare slate.  There were some fragments of glass and an empty bottle [flagon] that possibly once contained cider and has been attributed to circa 1960s – 1970s.  Some recent animal bones had been noted on the surface during a previous site visit.  As the excavation proceeded the soil removed is described as fairly dry, non-cohesive/non-plastic brown silt/clay with high organic content including abundant root growth and earthworms.  The few finds in these early stages included bone fragments, acorn shells and black decayed wood.  With increasing depth the soil became slightly more cohesive and moist, there appeared pockets of lighter orangey-brown to brown-red clay and yellow-brown, possibly ochreous material (cave earth).  The organic content did not diminish and the extensive root growth and movement of earthworms appeared to have caused considerable mixing of the sediments.  Clearance of the soils revealed limestone bedrock forming the cave floor.


Figure 3. Trenches 1 and 2 of the 'daylight' zone after excavation.

Trench 3: is located to the rear of the ‘daylight’ zone and could be said to lie within a transitional area between light and increasingly dark zones. Trench 2: was a forward extension of Trench 1 and the soil, similarly, comprised of dry, non-cohesive/non-plastic brown silt/clay with coarse angular to sub-angular gravel and cobbles of mainly limestone with occasional sandstone, also abundant organic content (roots and rootlets) and earthworms.  It has a thickness of 25mm to 100mm and overlies the continuation the limestone bedrock floor.  There were no finds of note and it is likely that these sediments represent more recent, probably wind-borne material as they are relatively close to the cave entrance/exit.

The surface layer of this Trench consisted loose coarse angular to sub-rounded gravel and cobbles of mainly limestone with occasional red sandstone and some now degraded flowstone material.  Below this a red-brown silt/clay with fine to coarse angular to rounded gravel of mainly limestone and occasional sandstone.  There was a pocket of blackened coarse rounded gravel with a number of blackened bone fragments and teeth.  The black coating is possibly due to manganese.  

The organic content remained high and included root growth up to 15mm in diameter and much bioturbation caused by earthworms.


Figure 4. Some of the blackened bones and teeth from the rear of the ‘daylight’ zone.

The soil became a mixture of brown organic soil and pockets of light red-brown silt/clay with frequent fine to coarse angular to sub-rounded gravel of limestone, sandstone, calcite and quartz pebbles.  The brown organic soil is non-cohesive/non-plastic.  There were more faunal remains recovered mostly bone fragments and teeth, rather disappointingly broken glass was also uncovered, it was from this location that a single flint flake was found.

The soil continued to be a mix of brown organic soil and red-brown silt/clay with gravel and cobbles as described above.  Throughout this Trench were frequent finds of black decayed wood with rare small lumps of charcoal.  With depth the light red-brown silt/clay became more frequent and this material has been described as ‘cave earth’.  Even with increasing depth shards of broken glass were still appearing among the other finds that consisted mostly of small mammal bones.  These mixed soils were found to be overlying yellow (ochreous) sandy clay with abundant medium and coarse sub-rounded to rounded gravel of mostly red sandstone with some infrequent quartz and limestone.



Figure 5. The single flint flake recovered from the rear of the ‘daylight’ zone.


The single flint flake (pictured above) has been compared to a collection of flint on public display in the Balch room at Wells Museum and bears some similarities to those flint flakes attributed to the Mesolithic period.  It should be noted that a single flake recovered from Whitcombe’s Hole might be a residual find and does not, at this stage represent any evidence of occupation.  It is hoped that further excavation within the cave might reveal more finds of this type and provide more information leading to a better interpretation of the site.

     The faunal remains recovered mostly consisted of bone fragments and teeth that initially appear to fall into two categories, those stained black (possibly due to manganese, as mentioned previously) and paler bones.  The blackened bones and teeth appear to be from a pocket that had rounded gravel (pebbles) and included a relatively large canine tooth from badger or fox and teeth might originate from domesticates perhaps sheep/goat.  On average the blackened bones appear to slightly larger than the paler bones.  Some initial identification of the bones and teeth has been carried out and more work is required on further identification of the bones and species types.

There are some anomalies, for example, in all trenches a black material was found, as yet unidentified that adhered to the bedrock and cobbles and also present as lumps.  In a flotation experiment this material sank, whereas carbonized wood/charcoal floated.  This material requires further consideration before an interpretation is possible.

There has been a quantity of broken glass found during the excavation of the ‘daylight’ zone and this is most likely due to prolific root growth, bioturbation and the result of other mechanical means most likely excavation.  When the disturbed mixed layers were excavated to reveal the cave sediment layer it was apparent that passing through the cave sediment layer was a ‘cut’ line and this is has been interpreted by the author as representing the line of a previous excavation possibly that of Boyd-Dawkins original 1860s dig . 


Figure 6. Some of the paler bones recovered from the rear of the ‘daylight’ zone, mostly of small mammals.

This report presents a preliminary summary of the field work; the evidence collected to date remains inconclusive and further work will be required.  The disturbed sediments are unlikely to provide any tangible evidence so sieving is not believed to be warranted at this stage.  It is thought that the further investigation of the site might reveal undisturbed sediments that will provide some context and possibly the recovery of more diagnostic artefacts and other evidence and enable an interpretation of Whitcombe’s Hole.

Brown organic soil withgravel

Line of previous excavation

Yellow (ochreous) cave earth

Figure 7. The finished excavation showing the boundary between the organic soil and cave earth. The line of previous excavation is also evident.

Throughout the excavation in addition to field notes and sketches, a photographic record has been maintained.  In addition to the images used in this report there is a gallery containing more photographs of the excavation that can be accessed via the website: www.mendipgeoarch.net


Balch, H.E.  1937.  Mendip – Its Swallet Caves and Rock Shelters.  Second Edition 1948.  p 89.  John Wright and Sons Ltd. Bristol.

Boyd-Dawkins, W. 1874.  Cave Hunting. pp 140-141

Barrington, N. and Stanton, W.  1977.  Mendip: the complete caves and a view of the hills.  Cheddar Valley Press.

British Geological Survey, 1978.  Geological Maps of England and Wales, 1: 50 000 Series, Wells, Sheet 280 – Solid and Drift Edition.  Natural Environment Research Council.

Ordnance Survey, 2004.  Explorer Map, 1:25 000, Cheddar Gorge & Mendip Hills West: Wells and Glastonbury, Sheet 141.  Ordnance Survey, Southampton.

Sanford, W.A. and Boyd Dawkins, W.  On the Caverns of Burrington Combe in Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society Proceedings, Volume 12 (1863 – 1864) pp.161-176.


Last of the Summer Ale – The Sequel                                            

by Paul Christie

As promised in the last tale of the Last of the Summer Ale (LotSA) the identities of the people in the photograph are from left to right Steve Woolven (Foggy), Gary Cullen (Compo), Paul Christie (Clegg), Paul Stokes, Bruce Glockling, Karen Lumley and Graham Nye. Although a few of this group are still active cavers they were all active at some point in the 70’s & 80’s. The photo was taken in Weardale on Royal Wedding weekend.

The trip to Weardale was planned to coincide with Paul Stokes 60th birthday. We tried to include all of the original team on this weekend but the two notable missing people are Ross White and Jerry Crick who were otherwise engaged. The reason for choosing Weardale was that it is close to where Paul now lives. After years of indulging in dangerous sports of several types, he is now disabled, so it seemed an appropriate location. It was also an area that most of us hadn’t previously explored. We travelled on the Friday and some of us met up at High Force (Teesdale), where one or two people passed themselves off as senior citizens to see the waterfall for free. We then drove over the hills to Weardale and our accommodation in Frosterley. By early evening we were all settled and ready for the first excursion to the Pub so we crossed the river to The Black Bull that only weeks before had been featured on ITV’s Countrywise.

BB542-30Saturday morning started with the usual hearty breakfast and a debate about what walk we were going to do. Clegg had spent weeks planning a number of routes and conveniently the map and compass brigade had turned up with two entirely different maps of the area showing two variations of the Weardale Way. It’s one thing organising a walk when there are three of you, it’s an entirely different matter when there are 14, especially with this crew. Our first stop became the tourist information centre at Stanhope to establish the current Weardale Way route.

Now we knew where we were going, we headed for Rookhope where a pub would be the ideal stop for lunch. The early part of the walk is along the river bank so we’re all happily walking at different speeds. At the first sign of uphill walking there is the usual disquiet over Clegg’s skill with a satnav but we eventually made it to the pub. After a few pints the group headed back down the river to Easthope and on to Stanhope. As Foggy entered the car park in Stanhope, Compo whispered in Clegg’s ear to ask Foggy where his map was. This he did, and stood expecting the map to appear magically from Foggy’s rucksack. There followed an embarrassing silence and an admission by Foggy that he’d mislaid it on the route from the pub, probably in the river.

Saturday evening was spent in the Black Bull as you’d expect, and Sunday morning dawned with everyone fit for another days walking. Foggy, having lost his map, was in no position to debate what walk to do and  what Clegg had planned had something to suit everyone. Stanhope to Wolsingham (14 miles for the fit ones) with an optional get out at 8 miles back to Frosterley for everyone else. Clegg had even worked out that those that completed the walk could get the train back from Wolsingham so there was no need to put a car there. Read on there’s a ‘gotcha’ coming up.

The route heads east along the river for a while and then climbs away from the river and round some old quarry workings. We then drop down to the river level again and according to the OS map there are some caves in this area. If Foggy hadn’t lost his map I expect he would have tried to find them. Once back close to the river those opting for the short walk headed back into Frosterley with the intention of finding a pub. They found a pub without a problem, what they didn’t find was any beer, unless you count Guinness. Undeterred by the lack of Real Ale they managed to while away a fair amount of time.

Meanwhile, an intrepid group of five had gained height on the side of the valley and had passed close to a feature known locally as Elephant Trees. It’s a group of trees together on the top of the hill that in silhouette look like an elephant. Clegg struggled up this hill but once at the top he sprouted a new set of legs and headed off at speed towards Wolsingham. The railway station was easily located and the train timetable examined. The last train of the day apparently doesn’t stop at all stations. Which significant one does it not stop at? Wolsingham, I told you there was a ‘gotcha’ coming. It was too far to road walk so a quick phone call to the others was made and this was when we discovered exactly how much time they had spent either drinking Guinness or finding an alternative pub. Two cars duly arrived and we were returned to Frosterley.

The Black Bull is closed on Sunday so we had a barbecue that everyone helped to prepare. Monday morning would normally have seen us packing up and heading home as early as we could but there was one last treat in store. Because it was a Bank Holiday the landlord of the Black Bull was opening the pub and his group the Charwaller’s set up in the car park to entertain us with some fine Rhythm & Blues. A fitting end to a fantastic weekend with no sign of what some might regard as normal bank holiday weather.


Cartoon and map are the work of Rich Saunders as was the case in the last article. I’m sure he’d be open to other commissions and he can be contacted via Paul Christie.



Back cover


Gornergletscher, in the glacier's moulins. Monte Rosa Massif, Switzerland.   From: Henry Patton


Castleguard, Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park by Matt Tuck 2012 


This issue a little thin again, using all the material that has been submitted to date.

This is issue is my last one of the year, however, there will be a special report published before the AGM hopefully. That report is Roger Stenners set of papers and descriptive material of cave chemistry. This is work he started in 1970, and is only now being completed. You should find it absorbing, especially if you have chemistry knowledge.

Most of this issue is reporting on Mendip digs, plus a retrospective on Buckett Tilbury, and some interesting material and photo's from Kangy. I had hoped for some material on foreign expeditions; perhaps that will be the job of the new editor to chase up.

It has been an interesting experience, and thank you all for submitting your valuable work.

Andrew (Mo) Marriot

Ed's note: You are probably aware that Mo Marriot passed away earlier this year. There has been no obituary forthcoming, however, Kangy has submitted this photograph of him:



Caine Hill May 2011 to January 2012

By Stu Lindsay


With the Mendip Migration now behind us for 2011 , May 4th  saw Paul, Phil, Dave and Stu haul 70 bags up to Son of a Pitch while Trevor drilled holes in the End of Dig, The same team a week later was rather disappointed when the bang was called off. So Paul and Dave descended into the bowels to clear rock, whilst the rest got 82 bags to the surface. NigelTnT presented himself with the makings on the afternoon of the 15th. 14 lengths of cord were pre cut and Trev and Stu proceeded to the 2 dig faces. 2 pleasing booms, the rift one much louder, and a 30 min session of CHAPS, will hopefully provide plenty of work  for the next descent. Third week, 18th May, on the trot for the same team plus John, (available 1 week in 3) who joined Paul and Phil to sort out End of Dig debris. Trevor Dave and Stu hauled from First chamber to Son of a Pitch. With the year flying by,  25th saw Stu an hour or so early improving the End of Dig with caps. The End of Dig still follows the dip, about 20 degrees,  with a nicely water worn floor and the usual infil floor to ceiling which we get on any passage with a downward trend, horizontal has an air space above. Numerous swirl pockets dot progress, these pockets in the floors,walls and the roof are probably all that remains of isolated washed out mineral deposits. The usual evenings work was hauling by Trev and Stu whilst Paul and Phil dug the debris created earlier.

BB544-caines2Jake made his first visit for quite a while, June 1st when encouraged by Stu they dug solidly adding to the 20 bags dug previously and getting all to the First chamber. There now seems to be 2 ways forward, down to the left and in to the right. The right hand side is just body sized and leaves little room to dig, the “pit” to the left likewise, if not tighter….more bang!  5th of June saw DuncanB join Trev and Stu for a very energetic assault on the rock shelf. First Trev was bombarded with shrapnel as he dug below, then Stu had the odd kilo size lump land on him as he lay sideways underneath drilling the next shot holes. 12TH  June,  JakeB TrevH and Stu on a horribly wet and windy day cleared the rift, and the upper reaches were quite wet, usually May to October THE CAVE IS DRY !

15th June in accompaniment with NigelTnT Stu, along with Trev  set up the End of Dig with 5 length’s of 40g, even though plugged the holes were found to be filled with water…self tamping! Paul and Phil spent the evening filling bags at SoaP and getting 6 out. A very pleasing booooom !

Again on the 15th Stu just managed to persuade JakeB  to do a stint, his reluctance was due to a 15mile run the day before. The 2 hour session did manage to bag up most of the debris and left some choice exposed areas to be attacked by the crowbar next visit on the 22nd by Trev and Dave. On the 29th Trevor on his 212th visit, Stu on his 202nd   with a very pleasant evening saw Paul and Dave complete the  team and haul out 112 bags.

7th July saw a visit by PeteH, joining Trev and Stu the evening combined hole drilling and getting bags to Son of a Pitch. The central part of the End of Dig now needs to be modified as the Pit is proving difficult to negotiate! The roof solution hole seems to go in and drop, this would put it behind the central area! Being up to 30cms across, this tube is horizontal whilst the lower water worn floor is dipping and spreading out slightly to the pit and the right handside.13TH and Stu, drilling shot holes was joined by Jake after a couple of hours. Trev did likewise in the rift and when holes completed went into hauling mode. The grand finale was when Stu sent up a couple of “rockery stones”..circa 30kgs. 19TH  with little to do,  all the usual suspects totalling 6 turned up, so hauled the 2 big ones out then cleared the cave with 49 bags to the surface. The following evening saw NigelTnT join Trev and Stu now both newly licenced,  bang both ends with pleasing crumps, Lucy, Tim’s daughter doing the honours with her finger on the button.

Again August was quiet TrevH, JakeB, PhilC, JohnN and StuL appearing on the 31st when Rift clearing was the order of the day.

September and holidays done and dusted, the 7th saw Jake do a good job clearing up the cave of oddments and had a tidy up on the surface whilst Trev and Stu yet again drilled the Rift and End of Dig. 14TH collected the makings for the twin bangs, Stu EOD, Trev the Rift, which in the acompanyment of Jake were duly set,  and the sweet crumps sealed yet another successful venture. 4 days later Trev and Stu found the entrance to have a faint smell of the fumes, rewinding the firing wire they didn’t seem to get worse as we descended, in End of Dig the floor as expected had not reacted to well,  but the rest had done its stuff, a dozen bags and as many rocks the reward so far. The pit is bigger but not digger sized! However if the way on was clear it would be big enough even for me to progress. An early start on the 21st before being joined by Trevor saw capping the floor demoralising, like the bridge now some 6/7 metres back,  it just absorbs the shock or the hole finishes in mud or soft calcite/mineral. In the meantime Trev had cleared a lot of his bang debris and also had stuff still in situ that would need more effort, maybe next time more than just cord.. Trev did a solo on the 25th and the planned bang on the 28th was postponed so Jake Trev and StuL had a hauling session.

5th of October saw Ivan Elliot make his first visit, and was put to good use by helping Trev and Jake clear all the bags from the rift to First Chamber whilst Stu drilled holes in EOD. Using perinite for a change  the 9th saw Trev, Stu and a rather “nervous” Ivan fill the holes at EOD before Trev departed to do the rift whilst Stu finished off the EOD. C H A P S was employed for an hour on the 11th (first time the cave had NG fumes residing  for so long). The next day  would see a safe environment for JohnN, Trev, StuL and Ivan to clear the debris but instead they decided to   haul 64 loads out to the surface. The 19th was a disaster with Trev being late went to Lockes, so Trev went down and cleared EOD…..Bad news on the 26th Tim the landowner had been the victim of a heart attack, but was reported to be OK. Ivan and Jake did the rift whilst Trev and Stu assessed the EOD, looking grim, way on seems to have fizzled to a number of small tubes so will drill it and hit it hard with a couple sticks of Perinite, if this doesn’t open it up then the likihood is The Rift will once again be our main target..

Start of November saw JohN drilling a couple of the shot holes in E O D along with StuL, 6 in total should sort out the annoying little tubes one way or the other, Meanwhile Trev pulled down a lot of loose rock before his drilling concluded the session. The 13th was Stu and Ivan at EOD, Stu filling the holes with NG based chemical persuasion. It became apparent that the slowing down of the hole priming was due to the tamping rod sharpening into a point! However, the 6 holes were duly primed. Joined by Trev, who had done a similar operation in the rift bottom, all was tidied up and the 2 wires taken to the surface where boom boom heralded a successful venture. 23RD saw PaulB attend for a rare visit and assisted the clearance of the EOD with StuL…IT LOOKS BLEAK! Mean while TrevH and Ivan E managed to sort out the rift bottom and around 50 loads from both sites found their way to First Chamber, a good night and 2 ½ hours labour! Last day of the month and JakeB clearing the rift now a real live prospect, whilst StuL tidied up the last of the debris in EOD..now looking to be a daunting prospect with micro holes seemingly the way on!!!!

3rd of December and another year almost gone. Trevor and Jake went down the rift and continued with progress whilst Stu did a capping session in a vain hope of expanding the EOD potential..a lost cause…I think so at the moment. Leaving an extremely dry cave into a real blowy night, the coldest so far was quite invigorating. 2 weeks later in the first snow of winter Trev and Stu  gave the last rights to the EOD, amazingly the sloping water worn floor just stops, minute cracks and tiny holes seemingly the only way out of the small pit. All nooks and crannies checked, maybe a couple little tubes in the middle might succumb to desperate measures …the Rift rules!

2012 ONE WAY TO GO NOW….down the rift, the small tube/s that have had periodic chemical attention,  whilst the main effort centred on the End of Dig,  is our main hope now. First thing to change with the  prospect of large amounts of debris and mud was the rift hauling system. This was done with a new rope and hauling from the bottom by Trev and Stu at top on the 4th January. In no time at all we had 34 bags up and deposited at the growing stack in First chamber.11th was a busy session, bags were moved up to base of entrance shaft, Trev pulling,  also we moved bags from first chamber to Corner, Corner to SoaP, and as a finale before Stu’s birthday bash the 2 of us,  then got out the bags at base of entrance adding  16 to the pile. Hauling on the 18th saw Trev and Stu get 45-50 up from the First chamber. Double  our number on the 25th when joined by PhilC and JohnN who stacked at the SoaP before whizzing down to do a quick recce with Trevor into the rift bottom and were notably impressed!

First day of leap year February saw temp at -4 degrees or less,  it was nice to get below ground, Trev attacked the way on whilst Stu moved 20 -25 loads back from Rift to first chamber. A short trip on the 15th tidied up all the loose ends and Trev made final  preparations for chemical persuasives in the holes he drilled on the 12th. The 29th of February and just Trev and Stu to haul a few bags from First chamber to S oa P also noted a break in the C H A P S  pipe, this type of thing could have dire consequences if we descended after a pumping session assuming C H A P S had removed al the toxins!!

Pics… by StuL…. DaveB digging hard: Shot holes drilled and plugged ready:

The aftermath: Stats: Man hours……169 approx………bags ……. 315 poor!.......... Distance gained 5metres

Two Hundred and One Years in Swildon's Hole

By Graham (Bassett) Wilton-Jones

BB544-swildons1Buckett was 70 in February.  For those of you who don’t know Buckett, he was member no. 699  (and his wife Ann no. 700).  His membership only lapsed because the BEC membership secretary never reminded him to pay his subs, that and he took up windsurfing, racing at top level in national events most weekends. But he never lost interest in caving, so when he retired this year he decided he fancied a nostalagic trip to Mendip.  Where better to go than Swildons, where he’d spent many a mud-soaked day exploring in the pre-wetsuit era.

Right: Buckett in his grots and fibre helmet; the shopping bag holds the ladder!

Having caved with Buckett since the early 70’s, I was asked to go along.  We also invited Colin Shabter (Wessex) who caved with Buckett in the 60’s, with High Wycombe scouts.  Ashford Spelaelogical Society (there’s a few of us still active), one of the oldest caving clubs in the UK, still had some bits of tackle stored in Buckett’s garage.  Years ago, when we constructed our own ladders, we had two twenty foot bits of wire for the last ladder, but there were only twelve rungs left, so we made it with 18 inch rung spacing; we were younger and fitter, and much more flexible then; this ladder would be ideal for the Swildon’s Twenty.  We could use that today, along with our “travelling line”, a length of 1960s hawser-laid nylon.  With the three of us having a combined age of 201 years, a lifeline on the Twenty seemed wise.

It was a fine April day as we walked across the fields from Upper Pitts.  The thunderstorms, which developed considerably during the day, were tracking further north, missing Mendip altogether.  We remarked on the size of the trees by the entrance: whilst the old ash tree already looks old in the 1898 photo of the entrance, we remembered the rest as mere saplings.  Now there are the beginnings of a wood! 

BB544-swildons1Buckett was intrigued by the massive rock movement underground, between the entrance and Showerbath; clearly there is a lot of change still to take place in the not too distant future.  It has become difficult to know what to touch, in case it all starts moving while you are on it, or under it; and when is the ash tree finally going to succumb to the depths?  These trees only live for about 200 years.

At the Twenty, someone had rigged the pitch in exemplary style: double belayed traverse-line of new-looking static rope leading to both pitch-head bolts; pulley and double life-line from the top bolt; shiny new ladder hung from the lower bolt.  We left our shopping bag of ancient tackle on the shelf in case it was needed, and wondered what any potential rigger might think of it.....            or whether they would even bother to put it on the pitch for us.

BB544-swildons3After the flood (of 1968, not Noah’s deluge; we are none of us quite that old) the Double Pots were scoured out to considerable depth.  We noted that, should you fall in now, you would be more likely to break a leg than get totally drenched.  In essence, Swildon’s is just the same trip that it has always been, but there are so many little, and not so little, changes, not least at the end of Swildon’s 1.

After a gentle, uneventful amble we stopped at the sump for Easter eggs, and decided that none of us was prepared for a complete soaking, so Swildon’s 2 could wait for another visit (ten years time?).  Voices came and lamp glow appeared through the air-space, then someone emerged, crawling through the sump, preceded by tackle bag.  Three more figures came through, young ladies clad in identical yellow plasticized coveralls, their faces beaming smiles; clearly all this new gear makes sumps and ducks a pleasurable experience.  Whatever next?  

We reminisced about “proper” caving gear: we used to wear whatever we could find that would not matter if it got dirty or torn, or what could be thrown away afterwards.  I recalled that my first proper caving trip, in Ogof Pen Eryr, was in old army boots and anorak, with second-hand scooter helmet and a rubber torch.  I had previously explored the caves of Dovedale in cycling plimsoles, shorts and a bicycle lamp, but that wasn’t real caving.  Today, the nearest thing of Buckett’s apparel to “caving” equipment was his coal-miner’s helmet.  He had trainers on his feet, he was wearing his carpenter’s trousers (with obligatory paint splatters), and he had a ten-quid head torch from his local builders’ merchant. 

After a brief diversion into Tratman’s Temple we were soon back at the Twenty.  Our ladder had been rigged, but was into the groove in the stal.  At least the lifeline was there, after a fashion.  Buckett was first up.  He happens to have an artificial hip, and there is less flexibility in these than in the real thing.  Perhaps 18” rung spacing is not such a good idea.  Buckett and I found the climb “challenging”; Colin maintained that it turned a pleasant little trip into one of the most dangerous he had undertaken.  I think it was a joke but maybe he was serious.

We emerged, unscathed and like happy little boys after a morning’s mischief.  On the surface we met Mrs Sparrow, who was about to take a small party underground.  We advised her against it, as it was still such a lovely day, but they all went down anyway.  Such is the lure of caves. 

Buckett will be back.

Bassett  April 2012

Toothache Pot, Longwood Valley, Mendip

By Robin Gray

Very brief History. The site was discovered by David (Tuska ) Morrison and Chris Bradshaw early in the 1980s. It was a shallow depression with some rock surrounding it. It looked like an old mine shaft. Three other sites were noted nearby. It got the name Toothache, because Tuska’s wisdom tooth was coming through.

It was originally dug by Robin Gray and Tony Atkinson with help from MNRC members and the BEC but always remained under the control of Dave Morrison. Stu Lindsay remembers well, digging through bucket loads of hazel nut shells. It had a winch in place then and diggers were plentiful. It was pleasant working in the summer sunshine.

It was dug to about 20 ft and interest waned somewhat. The MNRC went off to build their new hut, the BEC were into other digs and Robin’s mate, Nigel Mogg was away at sea. 

Permission was given to Unit2 who had a hut at the end of the valley to take over. In fact Tuska sold it to Unit 2 for a couple of pints one night in the Hunters. They dug it for a few months without making much progress and then abandoned it. Robin Gray and friends dug it occasionally until about 1989.

It was examined again in 2011 by Robin Gray and Barry Hulatt who decided it was worth another go. Permission was sought and obtained.

Access.  Access is now from above. From Black Rock Gate: The track is followed to the left of the entrance to Longwood Valley and the field fence is scaled using a portable style. This protects the farmer’s fence and also our caving suits. From just below the inner fence which is low enough to step over, a hand line is in place. This leads directly to the dig. The hand line makes getting to and from the site easier, especially in wet weather, and also restricts diggers from moving sideways where there are many interesting plants that need to be conserved. These are Blue-bells, Herb Paris, Tooth Wort, and the usual woodland species found in the valley.

The dig site is fenced with warning signs.

Progress. Progress has been downward and the shaft is now 60feet deep. There are signs of mining activity but there are also signs of natural cave formation. It would appear that the miners were following a calcite vein which can be seen in the shaft. At the bottom of the shaft, water flows away freely and a corner discloses a tantalising air space. However it would be unwise to create a wormhole just to follow the way down and it has been decided to remove the entire fill in order to progress safely and to understand what is going on. It is possible that diggers will use lifelines in case of a collapse.

Hauling systems have continuously been improved and it is hoped to have some sort of winch in place before too long. We also expect to install fixed iron ladders for the length of the shaft already excavated. Our plans to get the metal ladders to the site, have been thwarted by the weather, but once the ground up from Black Rock Gate dries up again, Martin Grass will be able to drive them up in his Land Rover. We have enough ladder to reach the current digging depth and beyond, so once in place, life will get easier, and even those who do not relish the thought of the 60ft climb on wire ladder after a half hour hike, will be able to go down.

The black space below increases weekly and its position makes the prospect of great discoveries, very exciting. Sadly we are usually only a team of three or four and could use help with work on the surface. Anyone interested in going down would be welcome but that is usually left to Robin, or Steve Pointon and Barry Hulatt from the CCC  


The new buckets. Stu hauling.


Looking up the shaft which is very square until the bottom is reached  

Reservoir Hole - 7th Update

By Peter Glanvill

There was mutiny shortly after the discovery of the Silo. Nick and Nigel declared that Topless Aven was the place to dig but not with the pool in place and that the roof needed bringing down into it. Have stacked what felt like tons of rubble up there I was not so keen but eventually it was ‘be it on their own heads’ hopefully not too literally. Around the same time I took some interest in the roof and wall of the passage that leads into Grand Gallery noting that the flat roof was heavily scalloped and that the true passage height was obscured by fallen slabs. Digging commenced here and has continued intermittently helped by Tony Boycott’s dynamic contributions. However it may still prove to be a deep undercut although it does emit a faint air current. I named it Gluhwein Passage as first efforts were made after our pre-Christmas mulled wine and Stollen cake banquet in the cave.

The Silo has not been abandoned.  As the roof consists of cemented boulders and lies only 20 metres below the road an attempt to go up was deemed inadvisable on several grounds so after shuttering in the remaining spoil on one side we are attempting to reach the presumed phreatic passage that should exist about 3 metres below its base. Progress is slow and we are thinking along the lines of another ‘Stanton’s drive’ to intercept said passage and avoid much excavation of mud and cobbles.

Meanwhile Nick and Nigel achieved the impossible by removing the roof in TA dig above the pool and created stable diggable passage. They have progressed another 3 or 4 metres using a combination of cement, walling and strategically placed scaffold bars to stabilise the route. They have also removed a couple of irritating constrictions in the earlier parts of the passage to enable spoil removal to proceed more smoothly. Stacking space is at a premium so Stanton type walling has been required along with the installation of a mini-winch to haul spoil up to Alison’s Alcove, a space 3 metres up the Climbing Shafts on the way to Golgotha. The current limit reached on 17th April is a point where the floor drops slightly and the roof visible through gaps seems to be clear of fill. The draught continues to tantalise.

Active diggers over the last few months were  Nick Chipchase, Nigel Cox (the pair being referred to as NC2), Peter Glanvill, Alison Moody,Tony Boycott, Rob Harper, Mike Moxon, Andrew Atkinson,  and Linda Wilson, and there have been 15-17 digging trips since the last report.

Peter Glanvill April 2012

Tale Piece

The Tale Piece is for anecdotes, people profiles, or any other interesting item that you like and, of course - tales. Ideas and suggestions are always welcome.


RSK BSA Belfry 1950's


Do you know where this cave is? I went again after 38 years! Photo:Phil Romford

BB544-NWales1954 2

North  Wales 1954. The team

BB544-NWales1954 1

North  Wales 1954. Dave Radmore. Notice nailed boots!


Roger and Jackie Dors proudly hold the Olympic torch.

Committee Members

Secretary Faye Litherland (1331).
Treasurer Rob Harper (999)
Membership Secretary   Hels Warren (1354)
Hut Warden Phil Rowsell (1275)
Hut Engineer Stu Lindsay (930)
Caving Secretary Stuart Gardiner (1347)
Tackle Master Henry Bennett (1079)
Editor Phil Romford (985)
Floating Stuart McManus (725)

Non-Committee Posts

Librarians Tim Large & Rich Smith
Auditor Chris Smart
BEC Web Page Editors   Henry Bennett and Rich Smith
Club Archivist John “Tangent” Williams
Club Trustees Bob Cork, Martin Grass, Nigel Taylor, Mike Wilson

Castleguard, Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park by Matt Tuck 2012




Happy New Year to all our members. I wish to introduce myself as your new Editor. There are a number of changes in how editorial is presented; news items, calendar items, short digging news etc. will now be published in a separate monthly newsletter – Estelle Sandford is now doing this. I will be concentrating on full articles for this journal and other material too big for the newsletter. The point being that club internal affairs are not broadcast to the World. Having a polished journal could mean potential sales, thus raising revenue for the club.

This issue has a broad range of articles: local digging, philosophy, a practice rescue and foreign trips. Something I would like to see is a retrospective in each issue to show our younger membership what was done before they joined. There is now a letters page; please use it and, there's a page for a bit of humour – The Tale Piece. 


Letters To The Editor

Dear Editor

May I compliment Andy Mac-Gregor on the excellent job he did on a Statistical History of the BEC (1943 to 2005)?  I’m guessing it took him ages but, in my humble opinion, was well worth the effort.  Well done!  However, may I make (pedantically) a couple of minor corrections/additions?

From memory, with reference to the position of Honorary Treasurer I had the honour of this position from the AGM in Oct 1989 through to Oct 2000 rather than the dates given.  Mike Wilson could clarify this very easily by checking the Accounts Book.

When I stood down as Treasurer, Barry Wilton also stood down as Auditor and I took over that position from him in Oct 2000.  I have held that position continuously through to the current day so giving me an unbroken record of more than 20 years of service as Treasurer and Auditor.  I’m told that this is BEC record i.e. everything done to excess …but is it?

Andy is correct that the AGM was not recorded in the BB in the late 1990s and early 2000s but the AGM minutes were then published and kept as a separate file in the Library.  I am assuming that this folder/file still exists.

Keep on caving!


Reply form Andy Macgregor:

All I had to go on was the BB's, so any other source of information is welcome.

Not a record of continuous service.  Bob Bagshaw was Treasurer for 22 years.  Three more years and he will have the record.

If you find any other errors, could you let me know please.

Obituaries - Mike “Fish” Jeanmaire

Mike Jeanmaire was born in Bristol on 20th December 1945, and brought up by his mother, in the villages around Mendip. When at school, it was due to his liking for fishing, and not as many thought because of his free diving of sumps, he was given the nickname “Fish”,  a name that was to stick with him for the rest of his life.

In the early 1960’s, Fish started caving on Mendip, and under the influence of Mike Wooding, Oliver Lloyd, Mike Boon and other legends of the time, he soon became one of the leading cavers and divers of the time. Following the example of some cavers who had inadvertently free-dived Sump II thinking it was Sump 1, Fish set about preparing himself to free dive both Sump II and the deeper Sump III.  Fish was the first person to routinely free dive down the Swildon’s streamway to Sump 6. Whereas in 1965, it was considered impossible, or suicidal at best. A couple of years later this trip was to become routine.

In late 1966 Fish had the idea of the “Long Round Trip” in Swildons, free diving down the streamway to Six, and then out through Damp Link and Shatter Series. In January 1967 Fish led Brian Quilliam and James Cobbett on the first “Long Round Trip”, which remains one of the hardest trips on Mendip, and one that is not often repeated.

I first met Fish when I joined the Axbridge Caving Club in 1967, where  Fish was already a 60’s cult figure. He had moved out of the Axbridge hut by then and had joined the BEC (membership No: 669)  and was living at the famous or some might say “infamous” 375 Fishponds Road in Bristol with other members of the BEC. Fish however was still a regular at the Axbridge Hut, who along with James Cobbett and the other members of the Exeter University Speleological Society (EUSS) which included Liz (nee Heather) used the Hut as the base for caving on Mendip. Fish was spending a lot of time diving in Swildons, Stoke Lane, St. Cuthberts and various other caves on Mendip, South Wales and Yorkshire.     

For us young Axbridge cavers, which included Tony Jarratt and Dave Yeandle,  Fish was not only one of the hard men of the day, with his daring cave exploits, but he was quite often dressed in a denim jacket and jeans, and was to us really quite hip, as like Fish and Liz we were all mad keen Bob Dylan fans.

Frequently after returning to the Axbridge Hut from the Hunters’ on a Saturday night,  we would visit the newly opened Charterhouse Country Club (the old Nordrach Sanatorium), right opposite the hut and it was after one late evening there, with Fish dressed in his “denim suit”, sang “With Lloyd On Our Side”;  his version about the political struggles going on in the CDG, based on the Bob Dylan classic “With God On Our Side” I must say Fish’s version  brought the house down.       

After a short spell in Leicester, Fish and Liz moved down to live in Plymouth, where Fish regularly explored the local caves with the Plymouth Caving Group. Fish and Liz were married in April 1970.

Tony Jarratt and I used to travel down to meet them and James Cobbett and the rest of the EUSS crowd and experienced the delights of the Exeter University Speleological Society dinners – but that’s another story. 

In 1975, whilst living in Nottingham,  I organised the Pegasus Caving Club’s Expedition to the Grotte de La Cigalere, where Fish and Cobbett dived the terminal sump, our expedition being only the third to reach the end, and the first to dive the terminal sump.

Fish and Liz  moved to Derbyshire in 1975, initially to Buxton and then to Peak Forest, just a short walk from Eldon Hole. Fish and Liz spent a lot of time doing up their cottage to which friends and guests were always warmly welcomed.

Whilst  living in Derbyshire, Fish worked for some ten years as a miner, in the underground Sallet Hole and Ladywash fluorspar mines, where he lost the end of three fingers due to an industrial accident. Once invalided out due to a bad back in 1988, he started a two year full-time, HND course in Mineral Surveying at Pontypridd in south Wales. However, by the time he had completed this the UK mining industry had reached such a low point that he was never to work in mining again.

Fish held the post of Chairmen of the Cave Diving Group for thirty years until his health started to fail him, he resigned in 2007.

As Brian, “Scoff”, Schofield, the current Chairmen of the CDG said,  it was Fish’s honesty and his ability to both respect tradition whilst allowing frontiers to be pushed back that made him such a good Chairman of the CDG. CDG meetings at Fish and Liz’s were always very popular and resulted on many occasions with a very crowded cottage in Peak Forest. Scoff thinks that much of this might be put down to the numerous  coffee and cake breaks which preceded a slap up lunch with fine foods and wine. Though this was more to do with Liz’s hard work whilst Fish played the perfect host.

In addition to caving, Fish’s other interest was motor bikes, more specifically Ducati’s, of which he owned seventeen over the years. He was a prominent member of the Ducati Owners Club Great Britain. Whose meetings Fish and Liz attended all over Europe for many years, on the bike, including several Ducati Members’ Gatherings at the Ducati headquarters in Bologna, Italy. One year, Fish’s Ducati 350 won a “Best in Class” trophy of the British Ducati Owners Club, though breaking down on the way back to Derbyshire. Another one of Fish’s bikes was the fastest in class in the UK in a time trial, albeit with a younger, lighter and more foolish rider. Fish’s enthusiasm for Ducati’s never left him, and he continued riding these Italian exotic bikes for some time after he became seriously unwell.

Even though Fish’s health was deteriorating and he was eventually forced to use a mobility scooter to get around, it didn’t stop him and Liz going on the 2007 Wessex Cave Club expedition to the Pierre St Martin in France. Where  Fish, with Liz, entered the “Salle de Verna” on his scooter.  As he entered the large chamber, the scooter stopped with a complete electrical failure, this also resulted in the scooter, now having no brakes, not good with Fish on the scooter pointing up hill at the time! It took Keith Fielder and Brian Hansworth quite some time using a rope to pull Fish on his scooter out through the EDF tunnel,  much to the amusement of both Fish and Liz.  Fish eventually burnt out the motor of his scooter whilst exploring the GR10 routes around the PSM. 

With Fish’s health deteriorating, they had made the decision to move back to Mendip and in 2008 after Liz had retired they left Peak Forest to live on the Somerset levels, with views of the Mendip Hills from their bungalow.

I remember visiting Fish at St. Margaret’s Hospice in Yeovil after he was recuperating from one of his now increasing number of lung infections and, without any emotion telling me that his lungs were stuffed, there was not going to be a lung transplant, and it wouldn’t be long before he died. But typical of Fish he continued, “and what about you,  how are you doing, what have you got planned next?  I found this very humbling, and typical of Fish. 

Fish finally succumbed to lung failure on 2nd November 2010.

Stuart (Mac) McManus

January 2011

Obituaries - Chas Wethered

1939 – 2011

It is with great sadness that we have to inform Chas’s many friends that he died on Monday 24th January. He had just bought a large supply of snuff in the Bath snuff shop and was off to sink a couple of pints in the Old Green Tree before returning to his local in Axbridge for a couple more.

Everything to Excess!

From Robin Gray

Articles Wanted!

New material is now needed for the next Journal:

  • Articles on trips or expeditions
  • Cave science: geology, gemorphology
  • Cave archaeology
  • Historical work
  • Your future project descriptions
  • High quality photographs for the front and back covers

Please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

From the Archives. By Mike Wheadon

The BEC is now about half way through its 75th year.  The first Belfry Bulletin was circulated in 1947 and contains some information about the club’s new headquarters, a cricket (or tennis) pavilion that had been acquired and re erected on mendip, Harry Stanbury (member No 1) the BB editor writes that the HQ is “at The Beeches, which is at the entrance to the old St. Cuthbert's Lead Mine, about half a mile from the Hunter's Lodge Inn on the right hand side of the road to Priddy”.

“The accommodation comprises a wooden hut in three sections, each about 12’x 8’, and a small stone hut as a tackle store. A great deal of work had to be done to make it really habitable, and anyone who can help during weekends would be more than welcome, please note the fire is in going order to thaw out frozen digits. Contributions of cutlery, crockery, cooking gear, blankets, etc., will be gladly accepted”.

1947 was a particularly severe winter with heavy snow but obviously work on the new headquarters continued . . . 

“The last two months of inclement weather has, surprisingly, seen some work put in on “the Belfry” by the Hon. Secretary and the Hut Warden, who risked life and limb to plough through innumerable snowdrifts. On one occasion, a shovel had to be used to dig the Hon. Secretary’s car (Ford – Ed) out of a drift to enable the party to return to Bristol.

The work has mainly been felting the walls which are now complete. The nameplate made by Tony Johnson and Johnnie Morris has been put in place, and looks very resplendent. Lining boards for the interior have been delivered, and a start made on the lining.

On Saturday, 1st February, the Hut Warden spent the whole weekend at “The Belfry”, and thus officially opened it for occupation.

At present, we have at “The Belfry”, 4 mattresses, 5 pillows, 5 sleeping bags and 9 blankets. For sleeping there are 6 bunks and a camp bed. (one bunk is already reserved for the Hut Warden)”

Belfry Regulations

CHARGES. For use of Belfry for feeding and changing:- 3d. Members sleeping;- l/- per night. For non-members;- 2/- per night.  These charges to include fuel for cooking, and lighting.

PAYMENT. All money to be paid to the Hut Warden, or his deputy, before the person(s) leaves the Belfry.

NOISE. Unnecessary noise after 10 p.m. is PROHIBITED. The Hut Wardens decision as to what noise is unnecessary will be final, and if any member(s) does not accept it, a posse will be enrolled forthwith, and said member(s) will be dumped in Mineries Pool.

GENERATOR. The petrol-electric Generator must-not be touched by any person, other than the Hon. Engineer.

CLEANLINESS. Members using the Belfry are responsible for keeping the place clean, and parties will be detailed by the Hut Warden for this purpose.

KEY.  The key is obtainable from the Hon. Sec. or any committee member. Keys are also available on loan, upon payment of a deposit of 1/6, to any member who, in special circumstances, may require one.

The committee reserve the right to make any alterations to these rules at any time, without notice. Any such alterations will be published in the BB.

Note for younger members : £1 = 20 shillings; 1 shilling = 12 pence (denari)



BEC Rescue Practice – St Cuthbert’s Swallet – 22nd January 2011.  By Estelle Sandford


MCR Wardens

Stu Gardiner(casualty), Dany Bradshaw, Richard Marlow, Mark Kellaway, Paul Wakeling, Nigel Taylor, Adrian Vanderplank, Jude Vanderplank, Rich West,


Hels Warren, Beth Dent, Estelle Sandford, Faye Litherland, Pete Hellier, Toby Maddocks, Greg Brock, Mark Denning, Rob Harper, Bill Combley, Lou Kiveal, Henry Dawson, Gary Kiely, Rich Smith, Ruth Allan, Stephen Newton, Ben O'Leary, Steve Gaunt, Tom Elliot, Neil Walmsley (underground photography), Sarah Payne

Surface assistance

Dave Turner, Stu Lindsay, Slug, Jo Hardy, Claire Havard, Ali Lee, Hannah Bell, Jo Meldner, Rob Bruce, Barry Lawton, Phil Romford (surface photography), Stuart MacManus

Rescue Practice Overview

As the newly appointed BEC rescue reps, Hels Warren and I set about arranging our first rescue practice. I was keen to try and make the scenario as realistic as possible so wanted to keep the exact details of the planned incident a secret from most people until the events unravelled during the day!

A typically drunken BEC party night preceded the event, but as several people had said, it made it more realistic! The morning started with Hels awakening the entire Belfry looking for Tangent, who was actually sleeping on a sofa, and had forgotten the promised oversuit for Hels to borrow; so good job I brought a spare for her! Hels, Stu G and Beth then arrived at the SMCC hut to sneak into St Cuthbert’s in preparation for the scenario. I arrived at a surprisingly lively Belfry with breakfast being cooked and headache tablets being popped in large quantities.

By 10am pretty much everyone who had put their name down to help had arrived, so I put the ‘overdue’ trip on the board to start the scenario. It gave the information of St Cuthbert’s ‘standard tourist trip’ with 3 people with a callout of 10am. The assembled crowd were told that for the purpose of this exercise, Pulpit didn’t exist, the end of the exercise was either 15:00 or Upper Mud Hall and, that the first thing we needed to do was search the cave for our overdue party.

Toby and Pete were to be the two leaders conducting the search and, would go opposite directions around the typical tourist trip to search for the missing party. As part of the search parties we sent Henry, Rob, Ruth and Steve, plus Mark and Bill to take the HeyPhone and first aid kit to Upper Mud Hall. Initially, Jo and Jo were set up at the entrance with a radio and notepad to log cavers into the cave, while Stu L and Claire were given the task of setting up the surface HeyPhone to communicate with underground. MCR warden, Paul, drifted between the surface teams ensuring that the comms had been set up correctly and that correct radio language was being used. Dany and Richard M from the MCR set themselves up inside the Belfry as the central communications base. They used a method of ‘T’ cards on a board to check people and kit in and out of the cave.

The search teams and comms were underground by 10:30am, which was running perfectly to plan! The next underground teams were selected, and at 11am started getting kitted up awaiting the response from underground of what had been found. At about 11:15, the first news from below was relayed. An injured male, Stu G, (simulating being the leader) had fallen about 6m from Fingers Traverse to the streamway below, suspected broken leg and arm, and potential of back and head injuries (although the back and head injuries weren’t part of the ‘plan’ so in this case ignored as it would have complicated the rescue practice with the additional kit and treatment required!). The other two in the party were female, one cold and tired (Beth) but basically OK and one showing symptoms of hypothermia (Hels).

The next teams underground were led by Faye and myself and consisted of Mark from MCR, Gary, Stephen, Ben, Rich, Tom, Sarah, Lou and Neil. Ben, Rich and Tom were given the lovely job of bringing in the stretcher, Neil and Lou were our underground photography team and the rest of us were carrying the Little Dragon (hot air device) and ropes, etc. We soon arrived with the little dragon and set about warming up Hels and Stu and evacuating Beth from the cave (although in reality Beth just joined in with helping with the rescue). By the time the stretcher arrived, Hels had warmed up and recovered and like Beth, for the purpose of reality would have been evacuated, but because it was a rescue practice, she changed sides from casualty to helper. Beth then went up to Upper Mud Hall with Ruth: Beth and Sarah to relieve Bill and Mark from the HeyPhone (as we wanted their muscles for hauling!).

Splints were applied to Stu’s broken arm and leg, and he was placed into the drag-sheet and then onto the metal frame of the stretcher. Henry was given the role as casualty care and to communicate all that was going on to Stu, due to his position in the stretcher and, since he was wearing safety goggles he had limited to no visibility. The stretcher was fairly easily manoeuvred and carried from the streamway and through Everest Passage. The narrow connection into Boulder Chamber was a little more awkward, but was soon achieved. Ascending Boulder Chamber was quite steep, so a lifeline was deployed for safety and the stretcher moved up through the chamber. It was very apparent that more ‘thinking ahead’ was needed to find suitable belay points for life-lining so Faye went ahead to help with this. Initially, there seemed

to be a lot of people assuming ‘control’ – bit of a case of ‘too many chiefs, not enough indians’ but as things became more complex, whoever was at the head of the stretcher or haul rope assumed the role of ‘controller’ and, it seemed to run a lot more smoothly from there on.

We were soon up at Kanchenjunga and heading up towards Pillar Chamber. The narrower passages with drops and climbs meant a lot of good coordination was required, and this was culminated with the final vertical climb up through the slot into Pillar Chamber. Toby assumed the role of chief controller at this point and, the stretcher was finally raised into Pillar Chamber. As it was now 14:30, and the exit out of Pillar Chamber wasn’t the easiest to manoeuvre, we decided that the exercise had already been a great success and to end it there and head out. Stu made a miraculous recovery as soon as released from the stretcher, and even carried part of it out! A couple of additional cavers had come in to help carry kit, and the rest of us shared the kit between us and exited the cave in record time – 20ish loaded up cavers from Upper Mud Hall to the surface in 35mins! – all were out of the cave by 15:20.

After changing and washing kit, we assembled just after 16:00 for a debrief and, while there were a few minor criticisms, the general consensus was that the rescue practice was a great success and achieved exactly what we set out to achieve. From the organisers’ point of view, we felt that all those present worked fantastically as a team and, it was a really enjoyable day. The day was completed with one of Slug’s lovely feasts and more beer! Everything to Excess!

Casualty 1 Perspective – by Stu Gardiner

As a ‘casualty’ I was a little unsure of what to expect, so decided to prepare for most eventualities so packed plenty of warm clothes and food. Then sat 'injured' just off the St. Cuthbert’s steamway with my virtual broken lower leg and broken arm, waiting for the BEC rescue team.

The decision was made not to move into position until we could hear the rescue team approaching, otherwise the cold would have got to us far too soon. However after being sat on the mud floor in the drafting steamway with plenty of layers on, it was not long until I was genuinely cold and shivering .  The little dragon although physiologically warms you up, as soon as you stop inhaling the warm air the cold comes instantly back to get you.

The team carrying the stretcher seemed to take forever to get to me, although in real terms they were very quick. Time seemed to drag on and on, due to just lying there staring at the brown damp walls. Then what seemed like a hundred rescuers lights looking down at me, asked the odd question here and there, such as “Stu – are you still with us” and “Stu – from 1 to 10 how cold are you”, to which I would have to try and make up an answer, so as to make the rescue more realistic.

With the stretcher team on site my broken limbs were quickly strapped with splints and, I was manoeuvred into the drag sheet and then lifted into the aluminium stretcher. My personal caving helmet was removed and I was given a naked helmet (no light), and a pair of goggles which instantly fogged up. This, combined with no light left me virtually blind and all I had to go on was voices.

I was now totally in the hands of the rescuers who were all friends;  I trusted them all with my life, it sounds corny but I honestly did. For the next couple of hours, as I was transported towards lower mud hall, which was ‘an experience’. Everyone around me was now working like a well-oiled machine with orders and ideas being fired around, and all obstacles and problems being overcome in a calm and collective manner.

Henry Dawson was appointed as my point of contact and, he was constantly asking how I was and what was coming, up in terms of transporting me, this was very comforting as due to my lack of vision I could now try and picture the section of cave, which gave me some sense of direction.

Memorable points were Rob Harper checking my teeth like I was a rabbit, Faye Litherland telling me the Octopus joke (it’s a classic), and the best was being told that Mark Denning had told the surface that I was suffering from 'Gingeritus' (I will remember that one mate).

I felt the whole day was a huge success on many levels, mistakes were made but more importantly lessons were learnt from these, and that is why rescue practices are in my eyes vital.  My hypothetical injury was dealt with in a calm and professional manner and, I feel proud in the knowledge that the BEC have the skills and drive to pull off such huge feats of damn right hard work in order to save one of their own.

Casualty 2 Perspective – by Hels Warren (Apparently 34 years old!!!)

From a casualties perspective, it made me realise that even waiting 1 hour and 30 minutes to be found, is enough time to start getting quite cold (even though I had extra thermal layers to normal). I was very glad when I heard Henry’s shouting out to find us. When they arrived at the site of the accident, the search party had no idea what the scenario was, which was great because it was, therefore, more realistic and, that our acting skills had been quite good. I had advanced hypothermia, and after they had understood what had happened to Stu and, had finally noticed me being very quiet and not talking sense (very different to my usual behaviour), I was well looked after by Steve and Toby. They were trying to do their best with limited kit while the rescue kit was being brought down the cave, including Toby running off to the dining room to get me a foil blanket from the Cuthbert’s rescue dump! The only point I got rather scared was when Toby started to unwrap a Mars bar; I had to quickly come out of character and say, “I’m allergic to Mars bars!” as I hate them and it would not have been good to give me one.  After a while I had a dedicated casualty team including Toby (to sit on and raise me off the floor), Ruth (chief nurse and glucose giver) and Henry (little dragon holder and extra warmth).  As a casualty I felt very safe and, that I was being very well looked after, and that if I actually had hypothermia that I would have warmed up and managed to get out of  the cave myself.

MRC Report – by Mark Kellaway

The scenario commenced at 10:00 at the Belfry with an overdue party of three.

Two teams were despatched to search, carrying a first aid kit and HeyPhone to establish underground communications.

The casualties were located just after 11:00 in the stream-way below five fingers traverse, and reports had the male caver with injuries to lower left arm and lower right leg, both females cavers were reported as cold and possibly in early stages of hypothermia.

Further teams were despatched underground with the stretcher and drag sheet, and the little dragon. Once reached, the first female caver was escorted out – as far as mud hall to report via the HeyPhone and then came back as a member of the rescue team.

The remaining female caver was treated with the little dragon, and also ended up joining the team after reporting via mud hall.

The male casualty was splinted and packaged and then carried/dragged/passed out to just short of mud hall, when the exercise ended at 15:00 and all cavers and kit exited the cave, with last caver out at 1520hrs, operations ceased at 1545hrs.

Good teamwork was evident after the team settled into the process of extraction, with lifeline rigged ahead of the casualty and, progress was steady without many stops. Underground team consisted of 21 cavers with 2 on comms and 2 dedicated photographers

On the surface, a team of ten helped set up communications in three main areas. The first area was the main control point, which we set-up inside the Belfry. This would be where all the major operations will be run from. The second post was just outside the Belfry in the lane by the style. This was where we set the surface control Heyphone. Stu L and Claire manned this and, they were responsible for communicating with the Heyphone underground at Mud Hall, then relaying messages to Hunter control, manned by Rich  Marlow and Dany Bradshaw, inside the Belfry.

The third place was set at the entrance to St Cuthbert's. This was put there to monitor anyone going into the cave or coming out. Jo, Jo and Ali manned this post and, they also found themselves monitoring the water levels in both top and bottom dams.

Communications carried on throughout the rescue until all 3 casualties were found packaged, and brought back to the surface, and all cavers were out of the cave.

A debrief was held shortly afterwards, and a number of useful lessons and suggestions were captured and will be circulated around the wardens and raised at the next MCR meeting.

We hope that the people that got involved learned something from the day. It was extremely useful for the MCR to have a practice where we can run full surface control, full comms, and still have enough people to participate in the underground rescue.


On Behalf of MRC– by Paul Wakeling

Please give our thanks for a great rescue practice last Saturday.

The MCR need club practices like last Saturday where we can also practice to our full potential. The turnout was good, and everyone was well up for helping and getting stuck in. There was a great atmosphere and I think the day was a great success.

I hope that everyone got something out of the day and that we have been able to share some of our knowledge with the BEC members.

Next Issue

The next issue of the BB is scheduled for May or early June. The editor is now looking for material for that issue.

The committee would like to gently remind those members that have received an Ian Dear Memorial Fund grant, that they should write up their expedition experiences for this journal.

Write up that article you always intended doing, but never got around to. It doesn't matter how long ago this was. Our new membership would like to know what you did!

Caine Hill, THE STORY CONTINUES. By Stu Lindsay

July 7th, arrives with early-bird StuL continuing the pipework for C H A P S, (Caine Hill Air Purging System) to the rift bottom. Now some 40m below the entrance at a depth of about 22m, the pipe here dangles a metre or so above the rift bottom. In the Quicklink passage Stu utilized a handy phreatic pocket to make up a joint to branch off toward the End of Dig, this 10m spur can be isolated to allow maximum air displacement in the rift bottom if necessary. Stu exited to meet the others only to find he had a puncture, so a very late start after all present had mucked in to sort it,  still allowed  41 loads to reach  the surface. Using the “single rope method”, that is from the entrance to Son of a Pitch, did not get the approval of Trev at the top, Stu in the middle or John at the bottom. Another lesson learned at this visit was the pipework severely interferes with hauling so will need to be rerouted and fixed tightly.

July 14th, digging wise was a bit of a disaster and only Trev performed at the hole extracting one bag. Jake, Phil and Stu (who was a bit under the weather) choosing to go on a walk to Stock Hill woods to see the Nightjars, as the light rapidly faded, and a light drizzle descended this nocturnal bird made a few flights to the delight of all.

Sunday the 18th and, with a tackle bag crammed with drill, spare batteries and pipe work accessories StuL descended on his own. 'Root 66' has a steep incline, at the bottom it levels out before the left turn into Quicklink. Sliding merrily head first down this slippery tight slope, Stu suddenly came to an abrupt stop, the tackle bag would move no further; it had come up against the proverbial immovable object, a mass of rocks and bags, the result of Trev’s endeavours on Wednesday!  A gap of about 25cms had been left under the roof, but it was some 60cms above the floor level creating a very sharp upside down “V tube” After struggling to inch backwards a foot or so up the slippery 45 degree slope Stu managed to push his bag to one side, and manoeuvre a few of the rocks back in the direction from whence they had come, thus allowing him to squeeeeeeeeze through. The rest of the  4 hour plus visit, was spent venting anger and caps on  the calcite bridge, that was holding up progress for so long  in this cramped area, the End of Dig chipping off fist size lumps with caps and chisels, till eventually it began to look vulnerable. Caine's is a massive learning curve, another lesson learned, “when sitting legs outstretched in front under the object you are attacking, in this case the calcite bridge, especially when a spare rubber debris mat is available USE IT, bigger lumps bite your shins….hard!

A reasonable turn out on the 21st DaveB was at the bottom when Jake and Stu turned up, a while later Trev appeared, and by 1945 there were 6, as Phil on the surface was joined for a short while by a scantily clad Hel's out for a jog. The last 25 bags from S o a P were then hauled out, before Phil went bird watching. Hel's had gone, having done one bag then the quartet descended to refill S o a P from the rock pile at the bottom of slide.

Wed 28th was quite a busy night with 8 bodies on duty. Glyn Roberts and Hel's did a tourist trip before joining Jake at the rift, and assisted in   emptying it. Stu meanwhile, drilled 5 holes in the End of Dig passage to see if finally that annoyingly resistant, but now weakened bridge could finally be encouraged to surrender to a few metres of 40g, especially after the effort of a 4 hour attack with caps. Trev and Dave having arrived a bit later stacked bags back to the base of the slide. With the arrival of Paul and John, Trev went off down to the rift bottom to drill 6 holes.  The rest of the team regrouped and managed to haul 80 loads to the surface. Forward progress this month was unmeasurable, the mineralized/ calcite veins proving to be a real pain.


7th   StuL, JohnN, TrevH, DaveB…..Stu doing pipework, then with others hauled 41 loads..3 ½ hrs 1 hr

14th TrevH..solo trip fettling and removing 1 bag …  1 ½ hrs

18th StuL..solo trip of interesting proportions extracting capping and getting bruised … 4 ¼ hrs

21st JakeB, TrevH, DaveB, PhilC, Hels (jogging)…Hauling out on one rope…2 hrs

28th PaulB, JohnN, StuL, TrevH, JakeB, DaveB, Glyn Roberts, Hels.. shot holes and hauling…2 ¼ hrs







Photo.  Calcite bridge after 4 hours of capping by StuL. About 3 bags of debris generated.





August is never a good month…..


August is never a good month for digging, what with holidays and fine sunny weather, could this year prove to be different?  Work really has stagnated, progress constantly being hampered by the nature of the impure limestone, multiple calcite and mineral veins being a massive hindrance.  If you hit a solid bit of rock with a lump hammer, use Plug and Feathers, caps or 40g cord; it breaks up easily. Hit a mineralized or calcareous lump with any of the above and the result can be disappointing at the very least.


Wed 4 Aug

Just the usual suspects tonight including Mr T (NT) himself

A vast amount of shothole furgling was carried out and by the end of the evening, two successful sounding detonations were made.

Sun 8 Aug

Stu, Jake and I visited the two sites – the rift site was not a success but the EOD area was liberally covered in bang debris. More work needed at the Rift base.

This will be done on Wednesday.

Watch this space!  Trevor.


The laying of the bang on the 4th was using some new spec 56grm. With approaching 15m of mixed cords, we descended to fill about 10 of the holes previously drilled or modified on the night. Two successful crumps were heard and CHAPS was activated, but no smell wafted into the fresh Mendip air, after a minute or so, and amid all the excitement of the moment came the cry “Blimey, the pipe has not been connected”, within seconds a rich toxic aroma spilled into the lane. (less than 10secs to suck from 40 metres) The follow up visit of the 8th proved to be more disastrous as the month unfurled. On closer inspection the rift was hardly damaged, it was good rock but the explosives had failed to do their work, the amount of debris almost non existent. In the End of Dig it looked to be good news, a fair amount of shattered rock liberally spread around awaiting removal and hopefully exposing “the way on”? maybe this time!



Photo.  showing the result of the bang on the 4th. At last the calcite bridge is almost destroyed. It later succumbed to hammer chisel and crowbar on the 8th after absorbing 3 separate attacks with explosives, P & F, caps and a session by Duncan! who stated:

 “that’s @=#@ blah blah hard bloody stuff “


11th   August 2010 saw Jake and Trevor fill about 20 bags in the End of Dig, a very good number as in recent months the tally has been well down, in single figures at times, we were now back into light loamy spoil and the atmosphere was once again tinged with joviality.

The 12th saw Jake and Stu continue enlarging the new area behind the remnants of the demolished bridge. 15 or so bags filled by Jake as Stu capped off odd lumps on the side of the passage. The obligatory “have a look at the end after my efforts” resulting in a 30 minute addition to our stay as Stu found a couple cracks to fit the crowbar into, Jake finished them off and a couple serious lumps joined the heap. We now appear to have a false floor where the hole under the old bridge was. With “inlets” or passages seemingly blocked by boulders all around this new exposed area its looking promising again.

13th A team of 5 eventually got underground, Jake and Stu had been copiously  filling bags and capping the new End of Dig “chamber”, when DaveB advised that Trev and NigelT were on the way down to rectify the apparent lack of damage caused by the last bang. Later a pleasing crump, but then so was the last one, resonated from below. That’s more work, down the rift and still tonnes to come from End of Dig.

17th The fume removal pipe (CHAPS) , fondly referred to as “ the telepipe” works well, as down in the depths Nigel was able to contact us from the surface, audio is not great, but works. A marathon trip, anything over 4 hours, resulted in some heavy capping and digging at the End of Dig to enlarge it to an area which allows standing. From here to the Third Chamber we have the most physical of our hauling routes, at the moment no skip is able to assist due to the passage character. We left with what appears to be at least four ways on, besides the obvious downward route funnelling into another constriction. Air was breathable but foggy after 4 hours with the efforts of 2 energetic diggers, about on the limit. 

With it being holidays and all,   just a quick up date to cover August.

Complete vindication of pursuing the End of Dig has manifested itself into quite a "chamber" size area with more than one way to pursue. A full report will appear in the BB in due course. The last bang, whilst initially appearing to have "failed to a degree" has actually worked wonders. Other than Trevor soaking up Mediterranean sunshine, most members of the team have had a go in the NEWLY regained mud spoil. 3 trips (11 hours total) by Stu and Jake have re built the momentum needed to progress. A couple serious capping sessions have made things easier all round, and CHAPS has been brilliant, generating the first!?  draught in Caine Hill.

 The rift was also banged recently, a follow up to a disappointing previous bang, although another session is required, but is looking quite good. StuL.

21st With coffee and food a lengthy session was planned but in the end only went to 4 ¾ hours. Loads of capping in various places and a vast amount of spoil bagged and generated. The Third Chamber was very full with the EOD finally beginning to fulfil its enticing promise. So leaving Stu capping at EoD TomC and Jake removed all bags to the other side of the Quicklink. Approximately 200, plus rocks in First Chamber and Root66 now await hauling to Son of a Pitch. The 25th saw this operation commence as Jake, along with DaveB, Neil Usher and StuL.. achieved a hundred in even time, and thus completed the last visit of August….wow what a busy month that was, over 80 man-hours in 11 visits.


September heralds the autumn at Caine Hill

Where did it go, the summer has all but gone and September beckons the next season, autumn. From around late May to mid October Caines dries up, but in a few short weeks it will degenerate to wet sticky mud as percolation water drips from a myriad of miniature fissures throughout the known passages.. mostly, well ok 95% of them “mined” clean by the dedicated Cainehill digging team. As a reminder of progress to date, Caine Hill is an ANOMALLY. I do not think anyone yet fully understands it, it certainly seems to have major “thermal?” and/or phreatic origins, with heavy calcite and mineral veins in blackrock limestone. Analysis of the spoil seemingly points to a dissolution process, in slow moving water?  on horizontal planes leaving an enticing air gap, usually 3 to 7 cms but vertically totally infills with a non compacted deposition. The spoil when initially bagged seems to be just damp, but readily transforms into a doughy lump after being moved a few times. All spoil is removed from Caines and tipped on a site some mile or so away, it would be nigh on impossible to dig Caines if this tip site were not available. The Priddy fault lies some 100 metres or so to the North, the general direction the bottom of the rift is looking to follow, whilst the End of Dig is currently trending slightly down dip toward the WNW. The rift appears to have walls of differing rock types, the west side Blackrock Limestone, the east side??…..any proper geologists about??

Back to Septembers activities.  After an August of unprecedented activity Sept started with a solo trip. Unable to gain access to the clubs new Hilti drill, Stu bought a new Hitachi 24v and proceeded to christen it by improving conditions in the base of Son of a Pitch. With over 9000 bags and rocks removed so far it is important that major hauling points are comfortable to work in. 3 bags of debris, the spikey protrusions, were removed from the walls, with the floor also being flattened a little.

The rift, for so long the main focus of attention is now developing a worthy contender for popularity, the End of Dig. Nevertheless the rift still gives up its secrets slowly and so it was on the 5th Trev and Stu once again emptied it ready for the next bang. Hauling up 8m in a cramped muddy space is not easy, so changes will be made, more space around the west rim of the rift and a thicker rope. Air again was suspect as Trev was a little breathless when regaining the Third Chamber…although he has been soaking up the Mediterranean sunshine and sangria la for a fortnight!


Hols over so it’s back to the dig-face.

Stu L and yours truly today after a fortifying beverage at the Hunter’s.

The spoil from the blast of 13 Aug was hoisted up the terminal rift – 13 bag loads of chippings and a similar amount of larger rocks were hauled. Some deft hammer and chisel work produced a large rock flake that will need a bit more work done to it before removal and more can be produced.

The dig face has been opened up considerably but more work needs to be done to open up the on-going passage, another trip before the next set of shot hole drilling will suffice.

The End of Dig area has seen an impressive effort over the past two weeks – it starts to look like a mud filled boulder choke, plugs and feathers will come into their own here.

SoaP now needs a good evenings hauling + there is plenty of digging to do. Biffo

 8th saw Stu carrying out some of the aforesaid modifications latterly joined by DaveB who readily went to the End of Dig to fill bags. 22nd was also a solo trip for Stu spending over 3 hours in the End of dig area flattening floor and capping generally. Skip hauling along this section will be difficult. 29th PhilC joined Jake and Stu at the End of Dig and whilst Stu moved bags back to First Chamber, Jake and Phil chatted away filling a hard grafted 11 bags. AND so September proved a disappointment.



1st …StuL joined late by DaveB…enlarging and improving SoaP area… 1 ¾ hours

5th ….TrevH StuL…hauling from bottom of Rift to Third Chamber….2 ½ hours

8th ….DaveB, StuL..digging End of Dig, and modifying rim of Rift… 1 ½ hours

22nd…StuL… solo trip improving the area to and around End of Dig…3 ¼ hours

29th …PhilC, JakeB, StuL…filling bags, hauling etc etc in End of Dig ..1 ¾ hours

Gouffre Berger and the French Alps 1985 – A retrospective.           By Phil Romford

I was fired up to write this article after buying a very nice film scanner that handles my 35mm, 120 roll film slides and negatives. So, this gave the urge I needed to sort through all my old black & white negatives first; this is when it was discovered that there were a number of negatives that had never been printed, because they were so under exposed that I never bothered with them. Some fancy scanning software and Photoshop enabled me to produce some pretty good images for printing; they are reproduced here. Some of the negs are damaged by damp and consequent fungal attack, however, they depict what we saw well enough! Pity I didn't take more.To set the scene: it was 1985, the year of the 50th anniversary of the BEC. About a year before we all went, the committee had wanted ideas for a club expedition, Tim Large and I said' 'The Berger!'. The Berger it was.



Biffo and Pete Eckford

Camp 1, with John Dukes left 

 Tim Large, Stuart McManus and myself organised it on behalf of the BEC and, we invited the Wessex and others to joins if they wished; quite a lot did. During the year run up, we organised a lot of training trips to the Dales for SRT experience and, we held a lot of local SRT training days at Split Rock quarry and some Mendip caves such as Rhino Rift and Cuthberts.I took my car with Trevor (Biffo) Hughes, John Dukes and Tim Large and arrived at Sassenage to meet the town Mayor to introduce ourselves and go through the rituals required at the time. We then went up to the Molliere to set up camp. The next day my team rigged down to the bottom of Aldo's shaft. Back at home before going, we had made up tackle bags with rope lengths, bolts and anchors, karabiners and Maillons for each pitch, we had naively believed that this would work, as the scheme was based on previous expedition reports. It didn't! However, we had a grand time sorting everything out as we went. By the time we were out of the cave much later that day, most of the party had arrived. We had 52 cavers plus families. I forget now exactly how many were present, but it must have been around 90 to 100 in total. Those not doing the Berger holidayed as caver families do!The rest of the cave was rigged by other team members all the way down to the bottom of Hurricane shaft. They too had problems with pre-packed tackle bags – ah well, we tried!Every morning we held a progress meeting where we also allocated jobs to elected teams; such as © Bristol Exploration Club 2011 19 Belfry Bulletin. 538 Vol 58. No.2 Biffo & Pete Eckford Camp 1, with John Dukes left Camp 1, with my pit and camera gear provisioning, tackle checks and rope replacement. We then let people form teams of their own, so they could be caving with their peers, but we ensured that there were very experienced people in each team. My team comprised of Biffo, Tim Large, John Dukes and Fred Weeks; five was a good number. It was now our time for a bottoming trip. The objectives were to get to camp 1 on day one; camping overnight at camp1: bottom the cave on day 2, camping over night again at camp 1, then exit the cave on day 3. What a trip! We had a fantastic time.

Many of the 52 cavers had intentions of getting to the bottom of the cave at 1100 meters or so depth. Some were happy to just be there and do whatever they felt was within there personal ability. In fact, 26 people bottomed the cave, me included I'm happy to say. It was unfortunate that a number of people were unable to bottom it for various reasons.

All 26 who got to the bottom were on a great high and, what a party we had afterwards!! We had ten days of excellent caving, with no accidents and no insurmountable problems.

Camp 1, with My pit and camera gear

Hall of Thirteen


Episode 2.

From the Berger, my car full went on South to Chamonix in the French Alps, where we met up with Ross white. Ross was in the Marines at this time and could not get the time off to go to the Berger.

Our plan was to do a training route to get acclimatised, before going for the big one – Mont Blanc. However, in the 'Bar Nationale' as it was, we met up with this Canadian guy who we nick named 'Brock'; he was keen to join us. This turned out to be a good decision.

Our so called training route was this: take the funicular railway up to the snout of the Mer de Glace, then leg it up to the Requin Hut and stay the night. The hut is in a superb location on a very large lump of granite over-looking the glacier; the access to it is via a very steep via ferrata like in the Dolomites. Our route from there was to be straight up to the Midi Plan, then, follow the ridge up to the Aiguille du Midi, then back to Chamonix on the cable car – one hell of a good route it turned out to be!

 Biffo and Ross



We had got to the Requin hut in very good time, so we could relax over a beer or two. Ross said, 'what's that down there?', 'ah, a pair of short mountain skies' we said. 'ooh!' says Ross 'I'm off down to get them'. No sooner had he said this, when a helicopter comes swooping up only to land and collect said skies. Ross was not pleased.

Early to bed and the guardian was asked to call us at 0300, yes 3 a.m. Being a serious and potentially lethal place, one always asks the guardian for his recommended departure time for a given route; 0400 latest for us.

By this time we had discovered that normal people do this route in a down hill manner, i.e. from the Aiguille du Midi, DOWN to the Requin hut. Being the BEC and obeying the 'Everything To Excess' maxim, we set off - uphill. This was a full on route requiring ice axes, crampons, mountain boots, ropes and racks of nuts, wedges, and ice screws etc. Plus mountain clothing, bivi bags - just in case – and a good supply of grub and drinks. Of course, I had to take my big film camera too.

The first hurdle was a very large granite lump with only one way on, this being a near vertical climbing route; these photos' give a bit of an idea.

When we got about 2/3rds of the way up, we met a Polish party coming down. It was actually frightening watching them as they were all belayed to the same piece of manky 6mm cord, whilst life-lining others down! We were waiting for disaster to strike. Luckily for them, and us, they  got away with it, otherwise we might have been involved in a very serious mountain rescue. With sighs of relief we go on to climb a big chimney – not so easy in full on Koflach mountain boots.

 Ross at climb


The Crux 

We were now on the Midi ridge way, way above Chamonix. The next section was an easy ridge plod, but avoiding dangerous cornices, the next obstacle was another big lump of granite with no obvious climbing route, short of bolting.

We were now glad to have Brock with us, as we were able to split the group into two ropes of three, with the least experienced in the middle of each.

The first three were Ross, myself with Tim in the middle, the second three being Biffo, Brock with John in the middle.  The plan was that at each crux the leader of a rope would let the middle man catch up, then let the third man overtake to take the lead; this worked well. The way on was to front point down the snow slope - my lead – to reach a stance at the base of the granite lump. The exposure here was absolutely incredible; Chamonix being about 4,500 feet below us, the cliffs here being near vertical – fantastic; on a real high. The two least experienced were a bit anxious about this, but to their credit they did it without complaining – until afterwards.

While we were fiddling about getting ourselves ready for the last section, me getting dressed in lots of nuts, wedges, ice screws etc. A French couple literally danced along this section, un-roped, just front pointing and wielding a pair of Pterodactyls each. Pterodactyls were amongst the best ice tools at the time. Amazing to watch this, but beyond our experience, or desire come to that! From here onwards it was relatively easy  ridge walking, a bit of front pointing and, finding the best route. The last section was a long slog up the snow field to the Aiguille du Midi at around 12,00 feet. Success1 We did it without any problems and, did it in reverse direction to the norm!

We had plenty of time to wait for the cable car down to town. If you get a chance, go on that cable car, its amazing. It was now time to be thinking about doing Mont Blanc after a rest day. However, my knees were playing up, and John and Tim felt they had done enough. So it was only Biffo, Ross and Brock who did the Mont Blanc route. They did one of the standard routes, by going up the Goutier ridge, sleeping overnight in the Goutier hut, then summiting and back via the Cosmiques to the Aiguille du Midi to get the last cable car back to Chamonix. They were so knackered that they only had the energy to find a local doss under a bridge or something, before getting back to the camp at Argentierre. Biffo can tell the whole story of their climb................

While they were playing with Mont Blanc, John, Tim and I spent a day on a relatively low level all day walk, then a day on a glacier above Chamonix practicing ice climbing – very stimulating!

A brilliant few days at Chamonix for all of us, but it was now time to head off to get our ferry home. Thus, the end of a superb holiday.

There were more photographs, however, I have not yet come across them, they may have been lost in house moves perhaps. I'll keep looking though.

Camera: Mamiya 645

Lens: standard 75mm f2.8

Filter: 3x red

Film: Ilford FP4

Digging it Deeper. By John 'Tangent' Williams

Only for good reasons did dedicated and demented diggers travel along the imaginary roads and invisible foot-ways found and formed within the stonewalls of some speleoscape. Down there, those diggers' were like moving shadows. Delving and digging. Dragging and drilling. Banging and bailing. Clearing and creating. Wanting and waiting. Fantastic for a fabled breaking through. Sometimes scattered dots of noise, were the only notice to their possible presence. The occasional bag and blasted rock, the only sign of their presumed passing. Deep and distant diggers' lights seemed spaced star like amidst an enveloping sea of dark and empty cave. Soon the diggers' lights were swallowed by the blackness of their surroundings. Whatever existed beyond those beacons of starlight could only be imagined. This was the desperate darkness of a speleoscape, but on an incomprehensible scale.

There an original icy silence sings out once again. Just as it had always been in the time before diggers came to explore. Ephemeral explorations. That was all. Not registering really. Log-booked, and longed for. Vanishing suddenly like a sunset not wished for; but also nocturne no more. Firstly, digging with fury and sometimes like a jury a speleoscape of Mendip might tell a story. Secondly, and most sensationally of all some speleoscape could be found beneath a drinking hall. Unlike a lunar surface, this speleoscape seems to be a site that on first acquaintance is sternly met. Becoming beyond life.

Soon this impression is shown to be incorrect when a much closer look is made. Out there alive, perched on the plateau is a shallow soil swathed with short green turf. Only then do the closed depressions, barely basins, suggest something more subterranean. Landforms like these have been variously forced into existence by the interplay of crushing arctic snow pack, softly slumping soils, fierce frigid winds, wandering waters, and ultimately united by the unrelenting flow of time. Like landforms but liquid. Like liquid but life forms. Long lasting but lifeless. Lifelike but Limestone.

Defiantly did diggers dig. Desperately do diggers discover and discern. Sometimes subtle, but hardly hidden, are the swallets and slockers that signify a Mendip speleoscape. Only occasional subsidence, or other impressions are indicative of a possible presence here. On Mendip most things require some study to be understood at all. This is very true of the rock mass. Especially when attempting to follow neophyte, non existent, and curious cave systems beneath the old mountains of Mendip. Searching for speleoscape both above and below ground can sometimes be an enterprise of extraordinary exhilaration and enlightenment. Subsurface, certainly it can occasionally be harsh and unforgiving. Demanding the utmost respect and reverence.

On Mendip, such speleoscape searching has far more meaning than that which can be described through academic actions like geology, geography, and archaeology alone. So for these diggers beginning to believe. For those who practise exhausting, and often exasperating excavations. These occasionally lead too exciting explorations. Finding fresh appreciations of particular places, persons, and periods of time, that may be mapped. Or indeed, some speleoscape surveyed. Time then, trips on. Hardrock and human hands become patterns. It is mostly from much movement, and some mapping of the caverns, that diggers make things happen. Equally, and lyrically too. Epic tales; and musicality back in the Tavern reaffirm these indivisible interventions with those ingenious spaces of speleoscape.

Upper Flood Swallet extensions – a road test. By Pete Glanvill

Over twenty years ago I wrote an article for the BB about the breakthrough at Upper Flood Swallet and, described the beautifully decorated stream passage discovered after much hard digging by Willie Stanton and the MCG. At the time I wrote the article, the cave terminated at a point where the stream cascaded down a waterfall into a constricted bedding plane.  The following paragraph is the final one in that piece I wrote.

‘Above the waterfall is a short climb into a small decorated chamber. A low excavated crawl leads to the current terminus – a tube filled with stal false flooring and mud. It is possible to gaze into the promised land beyond and feel the hint of a draught. The spoil heap in the chamber has been decorated with examples of cave art ranging from the obscene to the ingenious. At the end of the cave one is less than 30 metres below the entrance, with most of the depth potential of the system unrealised.’

It has  taken another twenty years for significant progress to be made but the results were worth waiting for and, in my opinion, the new extensions are even more spectacular than those one can see in Charterhouse Cave. 

The dug crawl I mentioned in the second paragraph was fairly rapidly pushed to large passage again – a 4 metre high fossil canyon section that is promising but short. This ends in an excavated descending tube that’s now  a muddy wallow cum duck known as the Lavatory Trap, beyond which a short tight crawl emerges at a T-junction into a slightly larger stream passage. This canal contains an inlet stream from Rip off Aven, soon to be augmented by the main streamway emerging from a low slot on the left. This section can be very aqueous at times, although on both my visits (one in winter and the other in summer) its been fine in a fleece and oversuit.


At Puddle Lake the passage  debouches in the 'Red Room’ a small boulder chamber beyond which seems to have posed a conundrum for generations of MCG members. The stream disappears into a too low passage at the side of the choke and the way on is not that obvious.  Most of the last two decades have been spent  digging a route through the next 20 metres of passage which consists of a series of tortuous crawls and the odd small chamber.  A couple of squeezes have been engineered wider since my first visit last summer so that a caver of average size can now get through comfortably. Respite is gained in the well decorated Golden Chamber (really just a grotto) and the exit in the floor drops down a narrow rift into the streamway. However, one only has a brief encounter with it before one enters the main choke. This consists of very large boulders through which a path of least resistance has been excavated. There is the odd reassuring scaffolding bar in place. It reminds me of the September ruckle in St. Cuthbert's with slightly more contortions needed in places.

After the passage of numerous constrictions – all skillfully enlarged over the last year or two one starts to descend through the choke to emerge dramatically at the Departure Lounge, a square shaped passage about 10 metres across and 6 metres high. It most resembles an enlarged NHASA Gallery but is very well decorated with flowstone along the left hand wall. The augmented stream (I am sure more water is entering somewhere near Golden Chamber) rushes into the distance.  From here to the end of the cave is mostly walking and the dimensions are more Welsh than Mendip.   Passage heights are in region of 5 or 6 metres or more and, where one does have to crawl the roof is composed of compacted cemented fill similar to that seen in the St. Cuthbert’s streamway.  Predominantly white massive flowstone formations similar to that seen in a recent Hidden Earth poster are frequently seen.  The cave is shallowly inclined, and there are no real cascades or waterfalls anywhere in the cave.


After several hundred metres of streamway it dramatically enlarges at Walk the Plank where a large chamber above the stream is entered. On the right of the chamber a dramatic black stalagmite slope climbs steeply to an inlet apparently close to Stainsby’s Shaft. Several high level passages leave from here including one containing some stunning mud pillars. Beyond Walk the Plank (named after an elongated slab cemented at one end, but projecting in unlikely fashion into space at the other) the passage continues taking in at least one other inlet before the stream disappears into a narrow choked rift. However, a short scramble up the left hand wall then enters a large fossil continuation that terminates in Royal Icing Chamber. Here some cooking apparatus has been deposited and, one of the pots was providing a home for an enormous colony of springtails.

From Royal Icing we turned left into the roomy East Passage, the start of a series of muddy  phreatic rifts, one branch of which ends in a static sump. The rifts provide some interesting traversing on their bulging walls and the whole area is much muddier than the rest of the cave. Back in Royal Icing Chamber, Julie Hesketh our leader then showed us the beautiful ascending stal flows of Hidden Passage. A dull boom in the distance proved one of Tony Boycott’s explosive efforts had worked – he actually attacked two chokes on this trip. Our final destination was a peek into Neverland , a  series of verboten well decorated passages  only accessible to cavers minus boots and oversuits. Neverland starts as a crawl halfway down a steeply descending well decorated stalagmite s

lope leading to West Passage. After a break for food i.e. cadging some of Lee Hawkswell’s squashed pasty, it was time to make our way out.  The choke was easier on the way out (probably psychological) but the final section back to the entrance from Midnight Chamber proved to be exceedingly tedious. We emerged on a clear frosty night about eight and a half hours after entering the cave.

The cave is well worth a visit and it’s clear the diggers are now keen to have assistance as opposed to the closed shop approach that seems to have existed in the past. I, for one, am keen to return for more photography of what is an extremely spectacular cave. 

Although the MCG are still running a leader system drawn solely from their club membership, I think changes are on the way if we all remain patient.  I have to say that the passage beyond Midnight Chamber that I was so concerned about is in state of excellent preservation, which, shows what can be done with care. This is despite the relatively small dimensions of the best decorated section of streamway here.

Peter Glanvill January 2011


Gear Review.Customised Petzl Duo head light: by Estelle Sandford

This is probably the cheapest way to end up with a good bright light, ideal for most general caving and expeditions!

One thing I noticed on my return to regular caving was how much lighting had changed and improved. LED technology has made it possible to have bright lights that last for a long time and there seems to be almost an ongoing ‘willy waggling’ competition for who has the brightest lights! I still had my trusty Speleo Technics 14 LED light and that is fine for digging, but not really bright enough for general caving, (although I really am not sure I want to see the bottom of a big pitch; it seems much safer seeing very little!) so as I had 3 working Speleo batteries, I chose initially to upgrade to the Speleo Technics Nova+ headlight. That light was perfectly satisfactory until I went on a caving expedition to India and didn’t think about the magnetic switch in the Nova, until it screwed up a set of compass readings which ended up having to be redone! Quite a lot of the modern lights do have magnetic switches on the light, so its well worth considering the location of that switch if you have the need to survey caves. I started getting light-envy again and on my return from India, started looking again at what newer replacements were out there…

I kept watching the lighting market and much as I dreamed of owning a Sten, Viper, Scurion or similar, in my head I just could not justify that sort of money for something I really didn’t need for most of my caving, as I am mainly a digger, so in the end I decided that for under £50, I could upgrade my existing Petzl Duo to take much brighter modules. I wandered over to see John ‘Biff’ Biffin at Cheddar and purchased a spot module and a flood side module (flood does 3 brightness settings) and am really happy with the result. I’ve got a light that lasts for about 3-4 trips on 4x rechargeable AAAs either on the spot or mid level flood and it will be ideal for expedition use, as no magnetic switches involved, and also the convenience of using AAAs which are widely available anywhere. Petzl Duos are supposed to be waterproof and, certainly with making the effort to use silicon grease on the seals when I’ve taken it apart, it does seem to be pretty waterproof. If you need to purchase a new duo, they seem to start from about £50-60 upwards for the 5 LED one. Mine had a 5 LED cluster, so I chose to replace both sides of my Duo with Biff’s conversion, but if you’ve got the 14 LED cluster, you would probably only need to replace the other side with the spot.

For the sellers info please visit:

http://customduo.co.uk/customduo.aspx    images below from Biff's web site

!They Words!

This project will present a 'caving' song in each issue. There is a strong desire for our younger membership to learn the songs that were regularly sung in years past. We will start with the more popular ones, most of which include liberal use of Anglo Saxon! So be warned dear Belfryite. Ed

If we are able to get some good sessions going, it would be good to video record them, with sound of course. We may then publish them on YouTube and perhaps, on the club web site. Any thoughts on this would be welcome. Ed

The following song is from Roger Biddle, to whom I give grateful thanks:


Sung to the tune of Lilli Marlene I have always thought that this song might be the lament of a wife or girl friend left on the surface by herself when the caver goes underground and then ignored when he emerges!

Underneath the Forty, memories so clear,
Darling I remember the way you used to swear,
And as you murmured tenderly,
I'm blowed if I can justify,
The reason you go caving,
And why you're always there.

Wedged beneath a boulder, only got one layer,
Suddenly a rending the sacrum is laid bare,
Then as you thought you'd breathed your last,
The other bxxxxxxs cleared out fast,
And left you all the tackle,
Your blessings filled the air.

Safe behind a beer mug, warm and dry and fed,
Tales of caving prowess they go right to your head,
Then as you shoot your longest line,
Your lying swine, I can define,
The reason you go caving,
And why your always there.


Tale Piece

The Tale Piece is for anecdotes, people profiles, or any other interesting item that you like and, of course - tales. Ideas and suggestions are always welcome.



Andrew Peter Glanvill was born in Chard on the 2nd. January 1951 to somewhat surprised parents. Although his father was a doctor, to date he had not had much experience of procreation or child birth as everyone in Chard was related and births occurred in fields, under hay carts or on the pub floor. Still Andrew, who from now on wishes to be called Peter, arrived with out much effort. To the delight of the local population, he brought the chance of a small new gene pool into the town. (His mother was from Ilkley). Over the next few years he trained to be a doctor and joined his father in the practice in Chard dealing with the various complicated ailments associated with in-breeding!

Time passed and suddenly we arrived at 2011 the year of his 60th birthday and his retirement. We really wanted to do something special for him and as he had celebrated his 55th. birthday in GB and his father had also had birthday celebrations underground. Pete said he would like to do a trip with some friends and some champagne to celebrate. So Angie his wife, an absolute angel with the patience of a saint (Peter can be difficult) and I set out to arrange a birthday he would not forget. Despite always taking his camera with him everywhere, both underground and above, there were still many friends who were happy to join him in celebration.

We therefore arranged a stretched pink limo with (no expense spared) two bottles of 5% fizzy stuff to transport him to Priddy Green along with Angie and Philippa and Sally his daughters plus Pete “Grumpy” Rose. They all wore their psychedelic furry suits on the journey up from Chard. 

We had decorated the Old Grotto in Swildon’s with pink balloons that had LED lights in them and Alison Moody had made a cake with a camera on it! Better champagne was also waiting. In all around forty cavers turned out to celebrate. Pete as usual had a camera and video recorder to record the event!

Pete , very happy birthday and we look forward to many many more. You are a true caving character!

Martin Grass. 3/2/11.

Photo's: surface; Phil Romford 

underground; Nick Chipchase


Back Page Photo