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

Committee Members

Secretary: Vince Simmonds
Joint Treasurers: Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Adrian Hole
Caving Secretary: Greg Brock
Tackle Master: Mike Alderton
Hut Engineer: Neil Usher
Hut Warden: Roger Haskett
BEC Web Page Editor: Greg Brock
Librarian: Graham Johnson
Hut Bookings: Fiona Sandford

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


Welcome to my first Belfry Bulletin as Editor.  Before I set out my plans for the future of the Journal, I would first like to thank Martin for his efforts and the quality of the BB’s that he produced - and hope that I can continue his high standards.

Firstly, I plan to make the BB a Quarterly Journal with a seasonal issue.  This will both ensure a regularity of publication and allow me to take advantage of school holidays to produce them.

Secondly, I plan (as far as possible) to shift the emphasis of the content towards a focus on exploration - and especially exploration under Mendip.  The strength of the club lies in exploration - digging, diving, surveying etc and its journal should reflect these preoccupations.

Finally, each issue will not only summarise the main events of the preceding season but also have a clear theme on a single cave or area of the Hill.  It is thus with complete bias and not one jot of apology that this issue has an Eastwater slant.  This is in order to record events, speculate on areas for further progress and most importantly to stimulate interest in exploration - the whole point of the BEC!

NB        The summer issue will be going to press in June - articles are needed now, especially on Swildon's, Cuthbert's, or the Charterhouse area.


Digging and Diving News.

Eastwater Cavern.

The Morton's dig (see Phil Rowsell's article) is predictably beneath several metres of water - however, there does not seem to have been any great infilling of the shaft and tidying up should prevent a repetition of the mid 1990s disaster.  The stream has been noted to have changed direction through the boulders (the right hand dam is only taking water in flood, this usually takes most of the water).  The cause seems to be the movement of a boulder at the base of the entrance. It has rolled out from the right hand wall exposing a loose slope of gravel.  The offending rock now lies in the middle of the first short crawl.  The reason? Someone seems to have removed the prop that was holding this rock in place.  Stealing props from the entrance of Eastwater frankly beggars belief - is this the action of a new extreme sports club or simply that of a git?

Halloween Rift.

Renewed interest in this site has been scuppered by the Wookey Management who currently are refusing access.   On the few trips that were possible it was found that the entrance crawls to the extensive bedding at the base of the rift had been backfilled.  The clearing of these alerted the owners who have denied any further work on the grounds of liability (interesting to note that crawling around with a few skips is deemed more dangerous than diving to Wookey 25!)

Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink.

See Tony's article for recent news.

Rhino Rift.

Trips over the Christmas break saw some progress along the terminal crawl at the base of the scaffolded shaft through the boulders.  Digging was slowed by the tendency of the crawl to fill with water - the first trips down Rhino by wetsuit clad diggers seems on the cards this spring.

St. Cuthbert's Swallet.

Work continues in the dig near Sump Two.

Swildon's Hole.

Greg Brock and Mike Alderton have been looking at the possible leads at the end of the cave and contribute this report of a trip in early February:

"A thoroughly remote trip to Sump 12 in Swildon's to re-climb Victoria Aven and get into Desolation Row.  Both divers in zero visibility made it safely to sump 12, where upon the easy rift climb to the ledge was ascended.  MA after failing to kill GB with boulders (not without trying) placed a bolt and entered the extremely tight tube leading to Desolation Row.  MA was unable to belay or unattach himself from the rope so GB proceeded to climb up the rope securely anchored to MA who was not going to easily be pulled out of the constricted tube.  Slow progress was made up the committing tube before we both decided to head for home and do some research as to where the tube was leading.  An uneventful return was made; fortunately meeting a group of WCC members who helped carry gear out for us - Cheers Lads".


Life, the Universe and Eastwater Cavern.

By Phil Rowsell (alias Madphil)

My fascination with Eastwater Cavern can be attributed (or blamed dependant on who you are!) to Tony Jarratt (J-Rat).  After the break through at Stock's House Shaft, I was looking for a new project to keep myself occupied over the summer.  Tony introduced to me to Adrian Hole (now my digging partner in crime) who was also intending to spend the summer digging.  Adrian had originally intended to push a few leads in Swildon's but with its closure due to foot and mouth, this was obviously a non starter.  Eastwater Cavern was the next option, Morton's Pot and the illusive connection to Lambeth Walk.

Morton's Pot/A Drian Hole Dig

I had been down Eastwater many a time before, but never down to Morton's Pot.  I always remember the first trip.  I learnt on the way down that Adrian had been one of the digging team that had pushed Morton's Pot 5 years ago.  They had found another vertical pitch below Morton's Pot named A Drain Hole (an obvious name connection).  They had dug down to a depth of approx. 5m before weather closed the dig for the winter. Disaster took place when the surface stream bed was cleared by the farmer and over a short period of time, the diggers watched the dig filling back up with silt to the top of the pitch. Man, it must have been a demoralising sight.  Since then no one had been back to dig.

We spent most of the time clearing the silt traps in the top of the 380ft Way and dumping the spoil in the rift before finally heading down to look at the dig.  The trip down was a bit tight and narrow but not too bad. The dig site itself was now filled up to a small chamber above the pitch, so we had no idea where A Drain Hole was.  It looked easy digging, mainly sand, but I just kept thinking about the problem of getting rid of the spoil.  Hauling it back to the Lower Traverse was going to be a real ball ache.  A couple of seilbahns had been put in place to assist hauling, but these were in pieces.  Everything would have to be replaced and a few modifications may improve things.  Being an engineer, this was right up my street.  The dig was a good challenge, I was sold.

Over the next week or so, equipment was salvaged and the seilbahns reinstalled.  Several modifications were also made to reduce the number of people required to move spoil.  It was highly unlikely that we would ever have the luxury of 10-15 people to haul bags that the previous attempt had had.  The mere mention of helping to dig Morton's Pot, often led to a rapid exodus from the Hunters, leaving you sat in playing Billy no-mates! Progress was also made at the dig site, the chamber was excavated and the bagged up spoil used to line the bedding plane heading up to the base of Morton's.  This would hopefully help future bag hauling up to Morton's Pot. On our 6th trip down, we finally discovered the ladder bolt over the top of A Drain Hole, a great boost as at least we knew where we were and had to go, down!

Despite lining the bedding plane, hauling sacks up the bottom of Morton's Pot still proved difficult. A 3rd seilbahn was installed down the bedding plane which sorted the problem.  The base of Morton's Pot rapidly filled up with sacks and our supply of empty sacks was exhausted again.  We had no option now but to transport the sacks out and empty them in the Lower Traverse. I guess we had to check out the hauling system sometime.

The lack of volunteers meant we had to do the hauling in stages.  The most awkward stage was to move sacks from the base of Morton's Pot to the bottom of the 380ft Way.  Fortunately we developed a method to do this with only 3 people.  From here, Adrian and I could move the sacks up the 380ft Way and dump them in the Traverse on our own.  A slow process but we had no other option if we were to keep the dig going. The first batch we emptied (50-60 sacks) we found we had a high mortality rate as almost two thirds of the sacks were badly holed.  Examination of the hauling system revealed the 380ft way seilbahn to be the culprit. The system was modified to a skip slung between two pulleys.  This was a great improvement, reducing the effort required to haul as well as dramatically improving bag life.

The dig and hauling continued on its slow painful progress, generally one digging trip to four or five hauling trips.  Occasionally the hauling would get a boost with the addition of press ganged volunteers. Our highlight came one Wednesday evening when we managed to hijack the Wednesday night digging team and had a total of 6 people (the most we ever had) hauling bags.  The complete system got a good test, moving bags from the base of Morton's Pot up to the top of the 380ft Way.  Some 60 sacks were moved in the space of 2 hours.  Great to see, the bags flying out of the place!  Unfortunately this only happened once, but it proved the system.  It also showed us that this would be possible to do with only 4 people but at a reduced rate. If only we could have found a couple more regular volunteers.  Frustration or what?


Ivan Sandford hauling in the 380 Foot Way - during the last Morton's campaign in the mid 1990s

Each time we moved bags from Morton's Pot and emptied sacks, it gave us the chance to dig again. Initial progress was slow, due to the awkwardness of digging at the top of A Drain Hole.  Once sufficient room to kneel up was made we took off and rapid progress was made.  Each dig session was measured by the number of rungs we had exposed, generally 2-3 rungs a session.  At rung 12 we found the old platform with a number of tools, among them Tony's prize miner's pick.  At rung 14.5 (4m from the ladder bolt) we dug into water which was a big surprise as the weather had been dry for the past few weeks.  As digging continued, it was evident that the water was draining back from the undisturbed fill on the sides. It was as if we had hit some kind of water level.  To make matters worse, it was now early September and time for the schools to go back. I now lost my digging partner who had to return to teaching kids once again.

Obsessed, digging continued solitary.  Thankfully Trevor Hughes came up with a massive supply of new sacks which helped delay the necessity to haul and empty until I could press gang anybody into helping. The conditions at the dig site didn't improve and I continued with the dig partially in water until nearly waist deep where it became impracticable.  Nightmare, needed a solution.  The idea of taking some drums down to bail the water into seemed feasible but they wouldn't fit through the rift at the bottom of the 380ft Way.  I eventually hit on the idea of walling off half the dig site with sacks, and bailing the water into survival bags, creating a sort of dam.  I could then dig the exposed half down a metre or so, dump the water, rebuild the dam on the other side and dig the other half.  With the total dig area only about 0.7 x2.5 m wide, it was pretty cramped work.  The system worked pretty well, and I even had the dig totally dry at times but it proved a very labour intensive and time consuming method.  I was still digging though.  To create more digging/damming room, I dug back into the rift toward Morton's Pot, forward progress being barred by a large rib of rock.  I was surprised to see the well developed rift continue rather than pinch down as expected.  With more room, I continued digging on down and eventually hit hard and "original" fill.  We had finally passed the previous effort.

The solving of the water problem had in itself created another, getting rid of sacks out of A Drain Hole.  It was impossible to do it on my own.  I installed a 2nd platform on which to stack bags, and this also served as a staging post to lift the sacks up to the first platform.  By triple or quadruple handling the bags I could get both platforms full of bags.

This was stacking room for about 50 sacks, but it still didn't get them out of the pitch. Occasionally I would manage to persuade someone to help me haul bags out of A Drain Hole into the little chamber and allow me to keep digging.  Progress was really slow as much of the time was spent man handling bags around and moving the dam etc, but digging continued.  The dig got down to a depth of 6m (from the bolt).

There was good encouragement at the dig face too in the fact that a rib of rock that was blocking forward progress (as opposed to down) was moving back to the right resulting in the rift opening to full size below it (Figure I - Section along AB).  With luck if forward progress was made, a drain point for the pot might be intercepted.

Disaster however stuck on the 3rd October when heavy rain resulted in the dig being flooded to a depth of 2m (4m from the bolt).  There was no way of damming this amount of water!  I guess I had been digging on borrowed time for some time as the weather had been remarkably dry for September.  Nightmare, my number was finally up and I had no option but to clear and put it to bed for the winter.  I monitored the dig for several trips keeping myself occupied surveying and tidying up. The water fluctuated in depth; after very heavy rain it would be flooded up to the bolt and in drier times it would have drained back down to 4m from the bolt.  It never however drained past the 4m mark.  This was also the water level initial intercept when digging down in dry conditions.  Figure 1 shows the survey of the dig site.

Dig Observations

The drain off point of the pot seems to be at the 4m mark, below which it is terminally choked. This level also corresponds to the base of a small calcite curtain that has flowed onto the top of the rock rib (see Figure 1).  This may have protected the fill below it, preventing compaction and hence the believed drain path.  The base of this curtain was poked with a bar to approx. 1.5m, and loose fill found, but rapid draining was not achieved.  With the pitch now being clear of fill to well past this point, it will be interesting to see whether this will clear itself over the winter.

The rate at which the pot drained also posed an odd question.  In high flow, the drain rate observed would not be sufficient to remove all the water, but there was little evidence of water backing up further than the little chamber (foam on roof).  This mystery is believed to have been solved when on one monitoring trip, a plastic digging sack was found to have been washed to some depth into a small (3") worm hole near the bolt.  This hole was originally believed to be an inlet as it headed upwards toward the Upper Traverse.  It appears that in high water, the pot backs up until water 'U' tubes up this worm hole to flow off to an unknown point.  This may be of great significance as it provides a possible place where water from the bottom of A Drain Hole may be pumped away.  This has not been investigated.

In Figure 1, the Section along AB shows that approximately 4m below the bolt, the rift opens out in a forward direction but forward progress is barred by a rib of rock sandwiched in between the rift.  As previously mentioned on top of the rib is a small calcite curtain, under which the pot is believed to drain.  Consideration was given to removing this rock rib, but the dig flooded before this was undertaken.  If removed, it may provide access to an open drain point.  It is also possible that the removal of this rock may prove unnecessary as at the 6m point, this rib of rock had cut back to the right face opening to a full size rift once again.  This will only be determined in dry weather when digging is resumed.

When digging back towards Morton's Pot to enlarge the dig site, it was a great surprise to find that the rift continued to be well developed rather than pinch down.  Only a metre or so was dug in this direction and probably connects to a small pot which was dug and subsequently back filled in the little chamber.  It does however have some interest to the Soho Dig (explained later in the article) the potential continuation of the wide rift development is of great significance.

A computer model of Eastwater Cavern

Conflicting rumours were abound in the Hunters as to where the "Morton's Pot" dig would eventually break through.  Some said Snotrom Aven, others Lambeth Walk where bang wire and pieces of digging sacks had been found, allegedly washed in from Morton's Pot.  After all the pain hauling those sacks out, would I be mad if we just broke in to Snotrom Aven!?  The only way to really tell and explore the possibilities was to generate a computer model of Eastwater Cavern.  This would enable easy viewing and more importantly, to be able to rotate the views around and obtain a good understanding of the relational orientation of the various passages.

The only survey commercially available was that done in the 1950's by Warburton & Surrall.  The survey was known to be of high accuracy, but it had some problems that could affect the tying in of subsequent surveys; the entrance to the cave was now in a different place and Dolphin Pot has also partially collapsed. 

The major problem however was that none of the West End Series was on it.  This had been partly surveyed and drawn up in the late 1980's but the data never published.  I felt sorry for the boys in the Hunters again, as if I wasn't badgering people for digging sacks it was survey data!!  I have to thank Trevor Hughes particularly, Tav and Tony, who supplied me with data.

Converting the Warburton survey back to readings to enter into the computer package, was painstakingly slow, involving much computation.  This process had also to be conducted on the Southbank as the only data available for this was a map produced by the Moodys in a WWC log book, and Morton's Pot data produced in a BB article (Vol 48 No 6).  Thankfully most of the other data supplied still had the original or transposed survey readings.  As the accuracy of Morton's Pot was fairly critical, it was resurveyed from surface, both the new data and that lifted from the map were in fairly close agreement.  Figure 2 shows a plan and Figure 3 shows an elevation through the complete Eastwater system.

The plots show that there are some discrepancies in the data, particularly in the West End data.  Where surveys overlap, or two data sets are available the discrepancies seen are not huge +/- 5 metres.  The West End series, however is an open loop system and thus with no closure it is difficult to assess true positional errors at the lower reaches of the cave.  Furthermore, the Southbank map is believed to be only Grade 2. Despite these inaccuracies, it does give an idea of relative positions to a reasonable degree.  The system begs however, to be accurately re-surveyed.

Points of Interest from the Survey

In Figure 3, the cross section, it can be seen that the majority of the cave is made up of a number of washed out bedding planes that are generally interconnected by rifts and vertical pitches.  The bedding plane has an approximate dip of 32 deg and strike of 168 deg.  This seems to be true of the West End series including Southbank and Lambeth Walk.  What is not apparent and was highlighted by T. Hughes's work, was that most of the big pitches (Primrose, Cenotaph and Gladman's) in the cave line upon an approximate bearing of 243 degrees, possibly indicating a joint or fault plane.  What is of great interest is that A Drain Hole also falls on this line, possibly indicating the presence of another large pitch. In addition, it can be seen that the position of A Drain Hole is not in the vicinity of Snotrom Aven, and it is not thought that this will form a connection as has been previously suggested.

The Southbank data wasn't added until A Drain Hole was flooded. Its significance to A Drain Hole is apparent as shown by the conjecture lines on both the plan and cross section.  The data seems to indicate a straight line connection between Soho and Lambeth Walk, i.e. both seem to be on the bedding plane. This also passes directly beneath A Drain Hole.  This is very interesting as it may well support the theory that the bang wire and sacks found at Lambeth Walk may have indeed washed in from the Morton's Pot dig area.  Furthermore, if a vertical pitch is dropped from the bolt in A Drain Hole down to the assumed Soho Lambeth Walk bedding plane (a vertical distance of 35m) the base of the pitch is 83m from Lambeth Walk, but more significantly only 45m from the Ifold's tunnel in Soho.  This definitely warranted investigation.

The Soho Dig

Fuelled with what the computer model was indicating I was keen to have a look around in the Soho area.   The chance came on a trip to rig the ladder pitches in the West End with Andy Heath.  We were in no rush so I said I would like to spend a bit of time looking around Soho, to see if I could find any possible lead at the base of Soho shown by the survey.  The original survey notes of Soho showed that two passages had been looked at but choked or were too tight.

There was a stream running out of the Ifold's tunnel heading down the bedding plane, so I decided to try and follow that, the thought being it could possibly be part of the Lambeth Walk stream.  It was quite open to start with but gradually got tighter, having to kick boulders out of the way.  I was pretty sure with the distance I had gone, I was past previous attempts.  I could hear the stream gurgling over what sounded like a small waterfall.  Driven by this and the dream of finding the connection to the base of A Drain Hole and more hopefully Lambeth Walk, I pushed on past a very tight 'S' bend squeeze, to finally sit up in a tiny rift chamber, somewhat relieved!  The chamber was shoulder width and approximately 2m long. An abrupt corner at the end of the chamber prevented further progress, but the passage opened up into a well developed 5m plus high rift, which continued along on approximately the same bearing.  It had a good stream running in the base, but looked fairly narrow in places.  A few bangs and we should be able to get a better look and pass the corner.  Well promising and what the survey was indicating.  Thankfully the squeeze turned out to be easier on the way out. I was buzzing!!  I think I floated down to Blackwall Tunnel and back!!

Five further trips to drill and widen the passage were accomplished.  My various companions had varying degrees of success negotiating the squeeze.  After the first bang, blown from Ifold's, J-Rat and myself were surprised to be chased out of Ifold's by the bang fumes!!  Big draught, very encouraging.  The bang widened the chamber, but still did not gain access to the comer.  It did however give a much better view of the rift.  The rift seemed to be narrow for 2m, before opening out to body sized passage. Encouraged, the passage was measured and found to be some 16m from the Ifold's tunnel, only 29m from the projected base of A Drain Hole.  The 2nd bang was blown from the Strand so that we could wait about for a bit and then see the results.  This time no quick extraction took place and I sat with J-Rat for over an hour in the Strand before the fumes finally cleared enough to go and have a look.  The bang had done a great job.  It had widened the passage right down to the comer and given enough room to potentially squeeze through the narrow part of the rift hopefully into the body sized rift.  The bang debris was quickly cleared, and I made an attempt.  Man was this tight!!  No go.  More kicking debris out of the floor and on the second attempt I eased through and stood up in rift passage.

The author returning through the second of the squeezes

The way ahead in the Soho Dig.

Jubilation, but it was only short lived.  The rift continued on for as far as the eye could see, but after approximately 2m closed down to 20cm wide and looked like it was a fairly constant width.  It also didn't look as though there were any high level routes either, but difficult to tell with the place still shrouded in fumes. We headed on out.  I was bitterly disappointed that I didn't get to solve the riddle of Morton's Pot, JRat was jubilant that he was going to get a pint after all and that he probably wouldn't have to go down to that desperate place again!!  His classic quote was "you have to kiss a lot of toads to find a princess"!

The rift still looked well encouraging; well developed, at least 5m high heading off into the distance and survey wise tying in with that above Jepson's Dig and heading straight for Morton's/A Drain Hole.  Not willing to admit defeat, I headed down another time to survey the dig properly and have a proper look around, hopefully able to see a bit more being clear of bang fumes!  Andy Heath again came to the call for help and another trip down to Soho.  Thankfully he made it through the squeeze into Thank-god Chamber.  I pushed on through the 2nd squeeze, but found it really awkward this time.  At one point I thought I wasn't going to make it through!  I eventually stood up in the rift with a clear view.

No doubt about it narrowing down to about 20cm for the majority of its height.  There was however encouragement at stream level. Further down (3-4m) it looked like it opened out to passable passage, but the immediate section looked very tight. I had a go at squeezing along the floor, but this was well out of my and most people's league!  No chance of digging out the floor as it was solid rock! Bummer.  It would need a number of bangs to pass this section to hopefully get to wider passage.  Where I could stand up the rift continued on up as a body sized rift, so I chimneyed up to 4m, but found I couldn't pass an awkward narrow part.  The rift did seem to continue on up at this width, and this needs to be checked again to make sure a high level by-pass is not missed.  The view from this height also confirmed that the passage did seem to open out at stream level further along, but it would need some widening to get to this point.  Resigned, we surveyed back out.  Figure 4 shows a survey of the Soho Dig:

Dig Observations

In Figure 5 - a survey plan of the Soho area, it can be seen that the found passage (rift) lies almost directly beneath the rift connecting the 380ft Way to Morton's Pot.  This rift was originally a deep narrow development but was back filled by previous digs.  It is suggested that this is the same rift development as the Soho Rift found. Further support is taken from A Drain Hole which is again a rift development that also follows the same trend line as the 380ft Way - Morton's Pot rift, the Soho rift and a conjectured connection to Lambeth Walk.  This could possibly indicate the possibility of a fault plane or a joint which has been eroded to the rifts presently seen.  The Lambeth Walk connection is pure speculation, but it seems to fit the evidence well and is supported by the digging debris which is found there.  Much less speculative is the probability that the Soho Rift will connect with the base of A Drain Hole, the rift following the same trend and only being 27m away. In the near future, it is hoped that some form of water tracing will be undertaken to determine this, or whether this water appears at Lolly Pot as has been previously suggested.

The Soho rift is accessed by two fairly awkward squeezes the 2nd being particularly tight, yielding a 2m section of body size passage, before narrowing to 20cm preventing further progress.  It does seem that the rift does open out at stream level after 4-5m. To access this however, selective widening will be required, involving a number of trips (and drop hammer techniques rather than bang).  It may also be necessary to widen the squeezes, particularly the 2nd to allow "normal sized" cavers (fat bastards!) access.

Unfortunately with my departure to Tasmania to cave for 6 months, it is unlikely that this will be pushed until next summer.


First and foremost, I have to thank J-Rat for his support and advice, the supplying of articles, surveying data, digging bags and equipment etc.  In addition, the trips to A Drain Hole to help pull out bags and lately, the trips to widen the Soho Dig.  Much appreciated.

A big thanks to my digging partner Adrian Hole, again for his support, time and ideas, both with A Drain Hole and the Soho Dig, and lately for his help in writing this article. A big thanks also goes to Andy Heath for his help digging and sack hauling in Morton's and his help with the Soho Dig.

A thanks also to Ben Barnett who has spent many hours pulling sacks through the rift at Jepson's Dig, despite the rift being too narrow for him to get down to the dig site; Bob Smith who has also done several trips pulling bags out of Morton's Pot, almost the only times he had been underground this year; and Trevor Hughes for the supply of invaluable survey data, and a massive supply of digging sacks.

Finally, a thank you to all the people who came down to help dig or pull bags at both sites.  I hope to see you there again next summer!!


Jarratt A.R. "History of Morton's Pot Dig" ,Belfry Bulletin Vol 48 No 6.


Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink - The Latest News.

By Tony Jarratt

"Even a large flow, several million gallons per day, easily traverses passages impenetrable to man" - Willie Stanton, "Digging for Mendip Caves.”

Since the initial digging report in BB 511 work has continued here at a steady pace - a total of 70 banging trips being recorded to date.  The steeply dipping natural rift which takes the flood stream was joined after some 40ft (12m) from the base of the entrance shaft by a very low bedding plane passage at ceiling height on the western side.  Being more open than the rift this was followed by blasting out the floor to "Ben and Bev sized" dimensions for a distance of c.15ft (5m).  It has an attractively eroded ceiling with many tiny straws and curtains - most of which are proving to be surprisingly impervious to blast damage.  It is some 5ft (1.5m) wide and continues on into the distance with many more small but attractive formations visible ahead. Some fine fossils can be seen in the pleasantly water worn floor of "Pub Crawl", particularly at the first RH bend.

On the 15th of November Mad Phil surveyed the cave to a length of 59ft (l8m) and a depth of 29ft. (8.9m). This has since been increased to c.95ft (29m) length and c,39ft (l2m) depth. The current end is approximately 30ft (9m) south of the car park/field wall.

A minor breakthrough occurred on the 16th January when a 3ft (lm) deep rift in the floor of the bedding plane was forced down into some 7ft (2.1 m) of relatively open lower bedding plane passage with narrow open rifts below - one of which sucked in Adrian's lump hammer from a distance of 15ft away (sorry mate). (Ed. I was wondering where it was).  This passage has brought us back onto the line of Pub Crawl and if necessary the intervening rock could be blasted away to ease skip dragging.  Visitors should be warned that in the event of a rapid flash flood this lower bedding plane would not be a nice place to be - as was found out during a clearing trip on the 23rd January.  The bench between the shove ha'penny board and the fireplace being a far better alternative (depending on the time of day of course).

Work continues at this extremely promising site where a c.10ft deep rift in the floor is being enlarged to gain access to the Master Cave below.  In very cold surface conditions plumes of mist can be seen rising from the entrance shaft and the strong, and occasionally intermittent draught, has given rise to the theory that this is caused by the guides at Wookey Hole opening and closing the show cave door!

Spoil hauling in the entrance shaft has been made much easier thanks to the donation of a magnificent lightweight tripod by Paul Brock.  A variety of both mains and battery drills have been used underground and our favourite so far is the 110v.  Makita, unknowingly loaned by a discharged seaman's employers.  The cost so far of drill hire and explosives is about 490 pounds - just over 5 pound a foot.  This figure will obviously reduce drastically when the extensive system below is entered!

In advance of the future exploration party we have sent ahead a bit of Frank Jones to do the first through trip (and he thought his caving days were over!).


Jacquie Dors was delighted to report the comment of an elderly lady customer speaking to her husband in the car park - "Yer, I just seen someone climb out of the barbecue!”

More Diggers and Helpers

Phil Massey, Jake Johnson, Ben Wills, Fergus Taylor, Ray Deasy, Rich and James Witcombe, Phil Collett (SMCC), Ivan Hollis (SMCC), Stuart Sale, Malcolm Davies, Mike Willett, Andy Heath (CSS), Pete Hellier, Ian Matthews, Guy Munnings, Ben Holden, Roy Wyncoll, Mark "Shaggy"Howden, Helen Hunt, John Walsh, Rich Blake, Jake Baynes, Davey Lennard, Barry Hulatt, Bill Chadwick (Bracknell & District C.C.), and Frank Jones (part of, deceased).


Pumacocha 2001

Edited By Rob Harper, BVM&S, MRCVS, FRGS

The Team

Back row: Les, Nick, Mark, Ian, Matt and Rob.  Front row: Juan.


In June 200 I six cavers from Britain, Canada and Peru undertook a short reconnaissance expedition to the Yauyos District of southern Peru where there is a large area of karst with numerous cave entrances.

As far as could be ascertained by a review of the available references none of this area had been examined in detail.  Both the geology and topography suggested that there was considerable potential for both deep and long cave development.

The primary target of this expedition was the large open shaft taking the waters flowing out of Lake Pumacocha which had originally been noted by Les Oldham a British geologist and caver living and working in Peru.  Subsequently Nick Hawkes had descended the first part of the entrance shaft and discovered that the cave continued beyond the daylight zone.

After a few initial promoting sessions by Nick amongst cavers in his home region (the Mendip Hills in the UK) news of an exciting new caving prospect deep in Peru slowly became public knowledge among the local caving community.  In early 200 I Rob Harper took the bait and contacted Nick with a view to a reconnaissance trip. After emailing around their acquaintances an experienced technical caving team was put together.






Rob Harper




Mark Hassell




Nick Hawkes




Ian McKenzie




Matt Tuck




Juan Castro




(Les Oldham




Note 1   A.S.S. = Alberta Speleological Society

Note 2   Due to personal circumstances Les was unable to take a part in the active exploration of the cave.

Location and Topography

Satellite photograph indicating the cave location.


The cave is located within the 100,000 scale Yauyos map sheet number 25-L which was mapped in 1996 by the Instituto Geologico Minero y Metalurgico (INGEMMET).  The entire mapsheet covers a half degree quadrangle which equates to just over 3000km2.  Several areas within the mapsheet including the area directly over the Pumacocha cave have been mapped in detail by Les Oldham while exploring for base and precious metals.  During the course of his mapping Les first recognised the potential for major cave development in this area.

Geological controls are the primary elements which dictate a cave's location and form.  Caves form in limestone, and the best caves are developed in massive limestone with little or no interbedded silts, shales or other non-carbonate dominated lithological horizons.  Within the country of Peru the best limestone for cave development is the Upper Cretaceous Formation known as the Jumasha Limestone.

The Jumasha limestones are dominantly a massive thickly bedded sequence of dolomites and limestones. Within the Yauyos mapsheet approximately 700km2 of Jumasha limestones outcrop, making the area highly attractive for speleological exploration and karstic studies. In the region of study this lithological unit has been estimated at approximately 400m thickness (Megard et al., 1996).  Directly overlying the Jumasha.  Formation is another limestone unit known as the Celendin Formation which was also deposited in the Upper Cretaceous and has also been estimated as having a thickness of 400m.  The Celendin Limestones are not as favourable for cave development due to common interbedded layers of gypsum, red-brown shales and some sandstones. Nevertheless caves can and do occur in this formation.  Below the Jumasha limetones lie two further Cretaceous limestone bearing formations, namely the Pariatambo and Chulec formations which together form an estimated 330m of potential cave bearing stratigraphy.  Jurassic age limestones also occur to the northeast of the principal area of study yet still within the Yauyos mapsheet.  These are the Lower Jurassic Condorsinga unit of approximately 1000m thickness and the middle Jurassic Chaucha Formation of an estimated 300m thickness.  In total therefore the region has over 2400m of limestone stratigraphy which has subsequently been thrusted and folded during a sequence of orogenic events. The deformation is likely to be closely associated to a period of intrusive activity during the Paleogene and Neogene epochs, which has left the limestones commonly tightly folded, and in many areas standing near vertical.  During this period of deformation it is likely that many of the predominantly limestone hosted mineral deposits for which this area is famous for were formed.  The principal mineral deposits of the region all have strong magmatic associations suggesting direct association with the Cenozoic intrusive activity.

Topographical map of the cave and immediate area.

Geology at Pumacocha.

The Pumacocha cave system lies between two active mining camps.  To the south is the San Valentin polymetallic mine and to the north lies the larger mineral district of Yauricocha known for its rich copper bearing limestone and shale hosted deposits.

The cave is located within the Jumasha Limestones adjacent to the contact with a large Miocene granodiorite intrusive.  The entrance to the cave is formed very close to the contact between the granodiorite and the limestones.  The presence of considerable cherty horizons which were located underground suggest that the mapped cave to date lies close to the lower contact with the underlying Lower Cretaceous Pariatambo Formation.

All limestones where the cave sinks are vertically bedded and this clearly explains the extreme vertical nature of the cave development.

The valley wall above the cave entrance showing the vertical bedding.

Geomorphological Controls.

Previous speleological expeditions to the Andes have commented on the lack of deep and well developed caves and have attributed this in part to an effect of the excessive altitude (Imperial College, 1975).  The argument proposed is that rainwater falling at such altitudes is less acidic since less CO2 has been absorbed during the descent.  As to whether this argument is valid or not is not here disputed, indeed the presence of acidic waters is clearly a pre-requisite for large scale cave development.  It is of particular significance that at the Pumacocha system all water draining into the cave, which drains a catchment area of approximately 30km2 is also draining over the granodiorite intrusive which in turn is rich in small sulphide veinlets and disseminations.  Oxidised sulphides are an excellent source of acidic fluids and would therefore enhance considerably any cave development in this area.

Cave Exploration and Cave Description

On arrival in the area we examined the main sink and adjacent entrances which appeared to be part of a single cave complex.  In the absence of a local name, we designated the system as Sima Pumacocha, (SP), and the active entrance as SPI.  Two other dry entrances were noted in the small gorge downstream of the main river sink (SP2 and SP3).  Later yet another small entrance was found between SPI and SP2 which was then called SP1.5.

Due to the large volume of water flowing into SP I as well as a large quantity of dumped explosives in the main entrance it was decided to start by exploring SP2 and SP3.

Diagramatic section from Pumacocha to the presumed resurgence at Alis Springs

A view of the river - looking toward the entrance.

NB: All left/right descriptions below are "true", i.e. from the point of view of someone facing downstream.


Sima Pumacocha 1

Location: - E424208 N8630500 – local datum PSAD1956.

The first pitch was descended to a ledge at about -15m but not pursued further for the reasons outlined above.

Mark ascends the first pitch of SP1.  Note the rolls of explosives on the ledge!

Sima Pumacocha 1.5

Two small passages leading left from the entrance chamber in SP2 were followed to a stage where a connection could be confirmed with an entrance in a small depression about four metres from the entrance of SP2.

Sima Pumacocha 2

Location:-E424208 N8630500 -local datum PSAD1956

A strongly draughting entrance about 30m down valley from SPI in the left wall of a small gorge.

First a steeply descending rift passage led after 11 m to an 8m pitch (40m rope to natural belay at entrance) to the floor of a chamber.  From here two side passages on the left were pushed back to the surface at SP 1.5.  However the main way forward was a rift passage with two short (c3m) free climbs to the head of a 31 m pitch (40m rope, natural belay to boulder, deviation, 2 spits, 1 deflection and 1 natural thread belay).  This pitch ended at a large ledge/small chamber where a large aven could be seen entering on the far side at about five metres height that was not investigated.

From the floor of the ledge/chamber the next pitch ("Ammonite Shaft" 113m, 1 natural belay, 1 natural rebelay, 6 spits, 2 deviations) dropped down a large (c 20m x8m) rift to land on another ledge, "Blitzkrieg Bridge", so called because of the periodic rain of small stones from above.

To the left at the base of "Ammonite Shaft" a short horizontal rift passage at "Blitzkrieg Bridge" was followed for c 50-60m to an, as yet, undescended pot which will probably just come into the roof of "Huanca Gorge" - see below.

Ian assess the draught while Rob kits up at the entrance of SP2

The next pitch ("Cages on Highway Nine") was a free hanging 20m (2 spits) pitch immediately to the right of the landing point at the bottom of" Ammonite Shaft". This pitch ended at the head of a very large (c 10 x 15m) passage ("The Huanca Gorge") which descended steeply via a series of ramps and short drops passing an intriguing cruciform calcite decoration en route to a boulder blockage after c75m.  A short section of crawling and a two metre handline pitch was followed to regain the main passage now smaller in dimension (c 3x3m) still sloping at the same average angle which steepened to become a broken 40m pitch to a very high narrow (c 1m) vertical rift with a small inlet stream.  Downstream was blocked by a boulder fall after a few metres but a 2m climb gained a more spacious higher level. Then a short steeply descending passage (handline) led to a ledge about six to seven metres above a large active streamway ("The Shining Path" - c 4m x 15m) which is almost certainly the water sinking at SP 1.

On the left hand side immediately below the boulder ruckle was a window into a parallel stream passage sloping down to the head of a pitch.  This was not descended but from the noise almost certainly links back above the Shining Path streamway.

From the ledge above the streamway a short abseil (3m from natural belay) allowed access to a sloping ledge on the left of the passage about 3m above the river.  Upstream the water came down a pitch of unknown height and flowed off down a series of steep cascades.  The ledge was traversed to gain a short high-level oxbow on the left. Approximately ten metres of passage with two short,(c2m) free-climbable drops led to a small resurgence and pool followed immediately by a 25m wet pitch (2 spits, 2 rebelays) where several small streams entered and at the foot of the pitch the main streamway was regained at a large pool.

Rob surveying with Matt just above the "X-Files" ledge

At the far side of the pool a steep and powerful cascade of about eight metres ended at a large pitch of unknown depth.  This cascade was avoided by a sloping abseil on the left side to a large ledge ("The X-files Ledge") but the force of water precluded further progress at this level without a significant amount of upward artificial climbing.  However it was found to be possible to cross the cascade at the lip of the pitch and from this point a three to four metre free-climb of the right wall gained good natural belays.  Abseiling from these belays to further natural belays it was found to be possible to descend the pitch avoiding the water.  A spit was placed; the pitch was descended for 30-40m to the end of the rope.

At this point the caver was once again coming under the main water flow. This and the fact that there was no floor in sight for at least another 15-20m prompted the decision to return rather than tie on the separate short length of rope in the tackle sack.

Sima Pumacocha 3

Location:-E4241 07 N8630438 -local datum PSAD 1956

Following the gorge downstream from SP2 across a large depression allows access to a small vadose trench ending in a large (c 20x5m, open rift aligned in a North/South direction with a noticeable outward draught.  From the lip of this rift a daylight pitch (c 120m) ends in a large (c 20 x 50m) chamber floored with boulders through which the draught rises.

SIMA PUMACOCHA 3 (Grade 1 Survey)

Survey Notes

1.                  For the Grade 4 sections of the survey all measurements were taken using either a 30 or 25m fibron tape read to the nearest centimetre, a Suunto Compass and a Suunto clinometer, both read to approximately half a degree.  The resulting data was recorded immediately.

2.                  For the Grade 2 sections of the survey distances were estimated from rope lengths and angles assumed because of the vertical nature of the passage.  This data was recorded immediately after exiting the cave.

3.                  The raw data was processed on a laptop computer within 24 hours using "COMP ASS" software to produce a centre-line and a computer generated passage outline. This was then imported into CorelDraw and the final survey drawn.

4.                  GPS readings were taken with a handheld Garmin 12 GPS receiver using local datum PSAD 1956. Unfortunately neither the exact time of the readings or the degree of confidence were recorded.


The vertical and steep sections of the cave were traversed using SRT (Single Rope Techniques) and "Alpine Style" rigging (rebelays as needed to avoid rope/rock contact) was used as far as possible.  The principal rope used was a 9mm static rope from Sterling Ropes. Initially this was a comfortable rope to use for both abseil and ascent.  However despite careful rigging the abrasion resistance of this rope was not good.  There were problems with slipping of the sheath over the core that might have been avoided by washing the rope before use.  Also after only a short period of use flattened sections of rope were discovered. Although these sections were probably as strong as the more conventional rounded rope they caused a marked change in the friction characteristics for descenders (both racks and Petzl Stops) and gave rise to some worrying moments.

Wherever possible natural features or rock climbing protection devices - such as nuts and "friends" - were used as belays.  When this was not possible either pitons or self-drilling 13mm rock anchors (Petzl) were inserted using a hand held driver.  The members of the team provided their own personal equipment for rope work.  Everyone used a "Frog" system.

Travel and Accommodation

All team members assembled in Lima and then travelled to the area of the cave by road.  Accommodation was generously provided free of charge at an "executive workman's" hut belonging to the Llapay hydroelectric station, kindly provided by SIMMSA, approximately 15km from the cave.  This was at an altitude of only about 3000m as distinct from the altitude of the cave entrance, (c 4400m), which greatly facilitated altitude acclimatization.  The excellent free food, clean beds, warm showers, daily room cleaning and access to electrical power were also much appreciated.  By common consensus this was the most comfortable expedition in which any of the team members had participated.

Medical Report

All members of the expedition suffered to a greater or lesser extent from mild Acute Mountain Sickness caused by low oxygen levels due to the high altitude of the cave entrance. Fortunately the clinical signs were restricted to breathlessness and feelings of faintness on exertion, nausea and headaches.  Those suffering from headaches were easily able to control them with simple non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin and ibuprofen) and within four to five days everyone had acclimatized well.  This was helped greatly by being able to sleep at a much lower altitude. Oxygen and appropriate medications for treating the more serious forms of AMS (pulmonary and cerebral oedema) were included in the medical kit but were not required.

Because of the increased water loss through panting particular care was taken to avoid dehydration including the establishment of depots of water and electrolyte solutions within the cave. Apart from the above and a slightly infected small wound on a digit, which responded rapidly to topical medication, there were no medical problems


(a) Geological References

Megard, F., Caldas, 1., Paredes, J.& De La Cruz, N., 1996, Geologia de Los Cuadrangulos de Tarma, La Oroya y Yauyos. INGEMMET, Bo1etin 69, Lima, Peru.

(b) Speleological References

No direct references to cave exploration at or near Pumacocha could be found.  Below is a list of general caving references relating to Peru.

Bowser, R.J. et aI., 1973, "Imperial College Expedition to the Karst of Peru." Cave Science: Journal of British Speleological Association. No.52.

Di Mauricio, T., 1979, "Pedizione Peleo-Alpinistica in Peru" Speleologia 2, 28-29

Gilbert, A., 1989, Le Karst de Cochapata irma Grande. Spelunca  36 pll-17.

Hartmann, H. "Eine Hohle in der Kultstatte Kenko bei Cuzco ( Peru

Imperial College, 1984. "Imperial College Expedition report"

Maire, R., 1986 Une classique de la cordillere des Andes: La Sima de Milpo (-402m), Perou

Spelunca 5 (23) 28-31

Martinez, A. Romero, D., Romero, M., et C.Ribera, 1983, "EI carst del nord del peru expedicions HIRCA-76 I MILLPU-77" Speleon, 26-27, p147-180.

Martinez, D., 1977, "Expedition Speleologique "cordillera Peruvienne" Rapport de expedicion"

Bibliotheque de la F.F.S.14p.

Masriera, A., 1973, "Nota sobre la Expedicion Espeleologica esanola alas regiones karsticas del Peru"

Espe1eo1e.G 18 979-981.

Morales Amao (Cesar), 1970, "Primera expedicion cientifica de espeleologia. Caverna de Huagapo(Tarma)" Revista Peruana Andina Glacio1ogia, Lima V.8 p173.

Orville, M. 1977, "Recherches Speleologiques au Perou"

Spelunca 3, p98-102.

Ribera,C. & Belles X., "Perou" Dept Bio1ogia Animal, Universitat de Barcelona.

Romero, D., 1979, "MILLPU". Espe1eo1eg, 28, 539-541.

Rossell, G., 1965, "Cavernas, Grutas y cuevas del Peru" Lima, 54pp.

Sammartino, Y., 1982, "Perou 82 - Expedition en Foret Amazonienne D 'Altitude" Club Bagno1ais d'investigations souterraines.

Sammartino, Y., 1984 "Perou 82" Spe1unca 14.

Sammartino, Y., 1987, "Expeditions au Perou 1802-1986" Fed Fr Spe1eoi.

Sammartino, Y., Staccio1i, G., & K1ien, J.D., 1981, "Perou 79, expedition du groupe Speleo Bagnols Marcoule." Bagno1s/Ceze -Rapport d'expedition,183p.

Ullastre Martorell, J., 1973, "Aportacion al conocimiento geoespeleologico de algunas regiones karsticas del Peru." Pe1eon, 20, p167-224.

Ullastre Martorell, J., 1983, "Cuevas Exoticas" Ediciones Grijelbo, S.A. Barcelona. pp 47-96.

Wilson, J.M. et aI., 1982, " Peru 82, Southampton University Exploration Society Peru Expedition"

Southampton University.

1987, "Perou". Spelunca 28, 10-11.

Unknown 1977, "Espeleologia a HIRCA -76" Muntanya 86, (690) p339-347.


The team would like to express their thanks for the hospitality shown towards them by the people of Laraos, the workers and management of the San Valentin Mine and above all the extreme generosity of the mine and hyro-electric station owner, Don Jesus Arias, who most generously provided both food and secure lodging for us during our stay.  In addition we wish to thank Jenny the cook and all the security personnel at the hydro-electric station for making our stay so enjoyable.

Our thanks must also go to Sterling Ropes for providing a generous discount on five hundred metres of rope.


The speleological potential of this area is immense - as shown by the results of just one small reconnaissance expedition.  At -430m Sima Pumacocha is the deepest limestone cave and the second deepest natural underground cavity yet explored in South America and, so far, has shown no sign of ending.  The presumed resurgence is approximately 16km distant from the entrance and almost 1000m lower in altitude thus there is great potential for a very extensive cave system.  There is also the exciting possibility that some of the shafts noted by expedition members near the Yauricocha mine may be higher entrances to Sima Pumacocha.  If a connection exists then Sima Pumacocha could be one of the deepest known caves in the world.

A full colour version of this expedition report is available.  Contact Rob for details.


John Stafford's Memoirs.

By Chris Castle

The March '97 batch of new guides at Cheddar included one whom we thought to be the famous actor Patrick Stewart, fallen onto bad times.  This was not the case; it was in fact John Stafford.  He had moved down from Northants, having previously lived in many parts of the British Isles, and had taken a job at the Caves for a quiet life until he retired.  He had to put up with cries of "Make it so" and "Belay that order, Mr. Worf'-indeed, he joined in with the fun and told visitors that he used to be a Starship captain.  Fortunately we have since become bored with the joke.

He enthusiastically accepted an invitation to join a trip around the Adventure Caving Route in Gough's Cave, and because there were three Johns he told us to call him Staff as that was what everyone, including his wife Anita, always called him.  I soon found out that he had been a keen caver in his youth, had been a member of the BEC, and had taken part in many of the early explorations of St. Cuthbert's.  "Are you the Stafford of Stafford's Boulder Problem?" I asked, and of course, he was.

Staff started helping out with the abseiling, but his activity duties increased after I had a slight climbing mishap in July '98 and put myself out of action for a few months with various broken legs and things.  Staff continues to do this work at Cheddar.

His caving enthusiasm re-kindled, he has been on many Mendip caving trips with me, including many sherparing trips to Lloyd Hall for the CDG, and joined NHASA (Junior Section). In October of this year he visited Cuthbert's II for the first time, accompanied by myself and Rich Long, and I afterwards asked him if he would write up his Memoirs of his early teenage years exploring the cave.  This he agreed to do, provided I typed them up for him, which I have done with, I must say, great labour as I am a lousy typist.  However, I was helped by the fact that Staff, being of the older generation, can spell and string coherent sentences together.

A few explanations may be helpful.

"Knobbly Dog" - a hand climbing aid, consisting of a single length of ladder wire with short lengths of aluminium tubing swaged every 0.3 metres or so. One survives near the end of Cerberus Rift in St. Cuthbert's.

Pemmican - "A North American Indian preparation of lean flesh-meat, dried, pounded, and mixed with fat and other ingredients." (Chambers Dictionary).

The Shunt - a constriction in the old Cuthbert's entrance (abandoned in 1964).

Staffs Memoirs

The earliest trips in Cuthbert's could probably be best recounted by Chris Falshaw as my first visit did not occur until the "long trip" of the 20th/21st March 1954.

This party was particularly honoured by the presence of Bob Bagshawe Secretary and Treasurer of the BEC. Requests for vast expenditure on tackle for exploration of this new system had caused Bob some concern - he had to see if there really was a big cave so close to the Belfry.

The trip was absolutely amazing.  A fair amount of water was pounding through the cave, no fixed tackle, only rather primitive wire and wood ladders and heavy lifelines.  The main streamway from Pulpit Pitch was the normal route at that time which meant you were pretty wet throughout the trip.  Four hours was about normal to reach the Dining Room and each "outing" was about the same length so we had hot food and drink at about four-hourly intervals.

We newcomers - Bagshaw, Knibbs and myself - were conducted to the marvels of the Gours and on to the Sump. In many places throughout the trip one or other of the party would have a quick look into holes / passages not yet explored.  The main exploration involved the continuation of Cerberus Series into Mud Ball Chamber and the discovery of the Lake Chamber.

It so happened that the Lake was at a level where parts of the ceiling touched the water and gave an impression that the Lake might continue further than we could see. This, as you know, has proved to be a false hope.

Coase confidently stated that a vertical passage from above the Rat Run would lead to a particular hole in Everest Passage so he was told to get up there and prove it, which he did. I think Bennett went next, then it was my turn.  The others had gone up using a handy hold half way up.  That hold, and the rest of the boulder attached, came away in my hand. I was not far enough up the tube to push it to the top and it was too big to drop past me.  Instead of descending, getting rid of it, and starting again I was stupid enough to try pushing it up as far as I could, letting go and trying to wriggle up an inch or two before it landed on my head and then repeating the operation.  Again and again and again.  In true BEC fashion no-one helped at all, just rolled on their bellies laughing their socks off.  All except Bagshaw who had dozed off in the Dining Room while all this was going on, as far as I can recall.

Someone put that boulder carefully aside and, for at least a year, I had to check whichever load I was handed to carry out of the cave to make sure that it did not contain that bloody boulder.  Those good friends of mine did their best to trick me into carrying it out so they could present it to me at a Club dinner.  The phrase "boulder problem" they thought was most apt as I was then, or became soon after, the Club Climbing Secretary.

On this, my first, trip I probably also saw a sight that became synonymous with Cuthbert's trips. Norman Petty wore a stout all wool fireman's jacket under his boilersuit.  Whenever we were waiting at the top or bottom of ladders Norman would undo his overalls, produce a damp rag from his tunic pocket and carefully polish the uniform buttons whilst singing quietly to himself about Pretty Little Polly Perkins of Paddington Green.

More trips followed; many were concerned with more detailed examination of passages and chambers only briefly looked at in the earliest trips.  Not much remains in my memory of the details apart from being sent up for a good look round what became known as Pyrolusite Series.

On July 3rd with Waddon, Petty and Falshaw a real find was made when we pushed a simple squeeze into Rabbit Warren Extension.  The going was easy and new routes were in abundance.  Each of us must have had the thrill on several occasions of being first into a new chamber or passage that day.

Two sightings of Plantation Stream were found and possible continuations of routes located.  One of those was what I believe is now known as T-Junction Chamber.  A very short length of exit passage was partially blocked with good stal.  The passage appeared to continue beyond this stal but not with any certainty so we did not touch.  Years later, following the discovery of September Series, the explorers (King & Co?) pushed Cross Legged Squeeze then were stopped by a stal formation.  As they could see a chamber beyond the stal they broke through to where we had been in July 54.

Apart from the actual caving we were also working on a scheme to rig fixed tackle so that more caving time could be devoted to exploration.  Coase, Bennett and I all worked at the Avonmouth Smelting Works. Don found that a load of steel ladders had been stripped out of the site by a demolition contractor with a yard in Shirehampton.  Don, Roy and I then spent many lunch hours dashing to the yard in Don's car, unbolting ladders into moveable lengths, then a hurried return to work.  By trial and error with wooden mock-ups it was found that the maximum length of ladder we could introduce into the cave was (I think) 5 l/2 feet.  On Thursday nights the ladders were sawn, drilled and fish plates prepared in Clive Seward's garage which was handy for the Wagon and Horses, the Club Thursday night boozer, near St.Mary Redcliffe- no longer in existence.  (The pub, not the church).

The Sandhurst club had been asking to see our new discovery so they were invited to assist in the installation of the fixed tackle.  This must have been quite a trip.  I managed to avoid it!  Get Kangy to tell you, it was his first time in the cave (Feb.55). On this general topic, the Knobbly Dogs used at that time were far better handline aids than the chains and ropes now in the cave.  You could grip the KDs much better despite cold, wet hands.

The fixed tackle made a considerable difference to the time and effort of getting in and out of the cave. Conditions had previously been so severe that Jack Waddon wrote to the firm which had supplied pemmican to the '53 Everest expedition, explaining our problems and asking if we could purchase any old stock.  They kindly sent us the last two tins as a gift.  The parcel arrived just as Jack was leaving for Mendip so he brought them along and added them to a couple of tins of bully beef in a Cuthbert's surprise stew.  I am still grateful that I was not on that trip as various people became ill on the way out and none was at work on the Monday except for Jack whose cast iron stomach was unaffected.  Concerned about the state of his friends he looked at the manufacturer's notes enclosed with the letter.  It seemed that everyone had eaten at least a twelve man-days ration in that single meal. The pemmican really was concentrated!

Our apres- caving meals took a turn for the better when the owner of the Miners' Arms (cafe, not pub) began offering cavers suppers, as much as you could eat for 3/6d (17 1/2p) at any time of night or day by prior arrangement.  The meal comprised of a bowl of soup, meat and three veg followed by bread and marmalade till you gave in.  He really did serve us at 3.30 am when asked on more than one occasion.

A trip I recall from later that year was the start of a high standard survey.  To begin with, all the tackle had to go to the Duck. Coase, Petty, Collins and myself dealt with this rather awkward job, passing numerous items from hand to hand whenever we could not get along carrying the gear.  Alfie, of course, started composing a song to go with the shouted checks on items being passed along.  The chorus was something like:

First tripod forward
Second tripod back
Third astro compass
UP Fourth man's crack!

The kit eventually reached the Duck and the first leg of the survey made back to the Gours.  We then had to push on in order to get out by closing time.  All went well until we were up the Entrance Rift and Petty, who was in front, decided to try a different way of getting through the Shunt into the bottom of the Entrance Shaft.  For the benefit of those who never met him I should mention that Norman was over 6 feet tall.  How he managed it I do not know but he seemed to get himself doubled up the wrong way round and was jammed in there for Gawd knows how long. When we eventually surfaced closing time was horribly close.  Without changing out of our filthy wet overalls we put a cleanish sack on the driving seat of Don's car and he drove to the Hunters with the other three of us hanging onto the outside of the car.  We passed money in and the hilarious mob within passed mugs of beer out through the windows to us.

Mention of the Entrance Shaft reminds me that part of the shoring was a large board stating that:

Climbing is Dangerous
and is Prohibited
by order
G. Robinson Manager Gough's Cave

As I am now employed by Cheddar Caves I find this memory rather amusing.  I had originally taken a sign from the other side of the road.  Older, more responsible, members told me to take it back because it must be National Trust property.  This I did the following Saturday after closing time and took the Gough's Cave sign instead which was deemed to be perfectly O.K.

Round about this time we started to break through the Bank Grill in Gour Rift.  King and I were there one day thumping away with hammer and chisel and were, we thought, about to succeed.  Both of us were nearly out of carbide but as there was a small stock in the Dining Chamber, went on hammering away.  We eventually gave up when our lights were seriously low and sped to the Dining Chamber to re-fill. The whitewashed wall on which messages were left said that Don's party were on their way out and were very sorry but had used all the spare carbide supply.  The other spare carbide supply was in Pillar Chamber and it is probable that the time Kangy and I took to get there has never been bettered.

On the following weekend Tony Dunn and I eventually opened the Bank Grill and Tony went through. He came back to say that it did not appear to be worth pursuing.  As far as I know this is still true.

That autumn (55) was really the end of my "early" Cuthbert's.  I had failed my exams which finished my deferment from National Service. In the November my call-up papers arrived, but I was not aware of them.  I had crashed my motorbike the night before and have no knowledge of the next four days.  It could have been worse but I was wearing an ex- WD crash helmet purchased from Roy Bennett three hours previously.  After two more medicals the Army still wanted me.  Due to argumentative skills learned in the Hunters' and the Belfry I persuaded the Army to leave things long enough for me to have another go at the Great Traverse of the Black Cuillin of Skye in May 56.  This I managed with John Attwood and returned to find that the Glosters wanted me next Thursday.

Thank you for asking for the stories of caving with the wonderful characters concerned.  I am glad to say that last week I had my first visit to Cuthbert's II - many thanks to Chris Castle and Richard Long who acted as guides and minders.  In another few days I shall be at Alfie's Geriatric Dinner - 50 years after my first club dinner which I regret to say was the Wessex.


Club News

Firstly, for those who have not already heard, I have some sad news.  Frank Jones passed away at the end of last year.  An obituary can be found below.  I am sure that I am not alone in saying that his seat by the fire in the Hunters' seems strangely empty - although Quackers is doing his best as a stand in for Frank.

Tony and others are soon due to return from their Meghalaya Expedition and news of their exploration will be in the next issue of the BB.

Phil Rowsell has sent brief news of his six months digging in Tasmania - he has mentioned something about a new shaft in a system on Mt. Anne and the possibility of a new Australian depth record. Somewhere in Tasmania there are some poor knackered cavers gazing at a calendar and thinking of the rest that they will have when he returns to Mendip!

Work has begun at the Belfry on clearing the ground for the new extension.  Contact the Hut Engineer for details of future working weekends as this issue will be too late for the early March one.

A new computer has been installed in the Library courtesy of Becca Campbell and Bristol Waterworks.

Finally, although there has been a fair deal of trips by club members in recent months the Logbook reveals only a fraction of this activity.  There are two good reasons to fill it in.  Firstly, it is an historical record for the use of future cavers. Secondly, if it is not used more, the extracts from the Logbook section of your BB is going to read like a personal log for the few that bother regularly to write up trips.


VALE: Francis (Frank) John Jones.


Frank joined the BEC in the early 1960s whilst he was living at his parent’s home in Clifton.  At the time he was working as a draughtsman.  He caved through the mid 1960s, frequently in St. Cuthbert's (which seems to have been his favourite Mendip cave system).  He then joined the Merchant Navy - his departure from which launched the countless jokes about a "discharged seaman".  Moving to Priddy at the end of the decade he remained in the village until his death from a heart attack while at home in mid December 2001.

Frank near Quarry Corner in St. Cuthbert's Swallet on the 5th of January 1964.

Photograph by Roger Stenner.  Also present on the trip were: Dave Irwin, Joyce Rowlands (now Franklin), Brenda Plummer ( Wilton), Joy Steadman, and Kevin Abbey.  Other sites visited on this photographic trip included Mud Hall, Pillar, Boulder and Upper Traverse Chambers.  For a more recent (albeit posthumous) caving trip by Frank see Tony's article on Hunter's Lodge Inn Sink.

His well attended funeral, with well over eighty mourners, reflected his popularity and his ashes were scattered in a number of places locally - indeed there are now plans afoot for a lasting memorial to one of Mendip's (and the BEC's) true characters.

If you have more information or stories about Frank, and particularly about his caving years, please send them to the Editor for publication in the next issue.


Extracts From The Logbook.

14/11/01: Eastwater Cavern ( Soho Dig): Madphil and Andy Heath (C.S.S.)

Went down to survey dig and check possible leads with no bang fumes.  Andy made it into '"Thank God" Chamber, which was good. Squeezed through into rift and had good look around. Rift continues on, generally pretty narrow (5 inches), but seems to be wider at bottom.  Narrow part for next 2-3 metres, needs to be widened.  Tried to squeeze through, but well tight!  Not the mega nightmare previously thought, but definitely a project. Climbed up rift, but no way on. Surveyed our way out. Good trip. Not all is lost, but guess this will be next year's/summer's project!

17/11/01: Priddy Green SinkiSwildon's: Mike Alderton, Rich Bayfield (S.U.C.C.) and Chris (S.U.C.C.)

Priddy Green Sink through trip (not bad for Chris's 5th trip) had a look at possibilities for blasting drainage from Mud Sump from this side, but nothing looks promising.  No ladder on Twenty, despite hundreds of cars when we left, so set up hauling line for Rich and Chris.

28/11/01: Welsh's Green Swallet: Madphil and Andy Heath (C.S.S.)

Tourist trip to have a look at dig etc.  Not as muddy as expected.  Now off to "Tassy" ( Tasmania) for six months.  See you in June!

5/1/02: Rhino Rift: Ivan Sandford, Rob Harper, and Adrian Hole

Typically disorganised trip in - left keys in Land Rover, rope too short etc.  Dug passage to Stal to a workable size.  Cold, wet, squalid - but made good progress until water became a problem.  Skip needed. Ivan of the opinion that no breakthrough imminent, but still a good site - must go back with wetsuits.  Rob found squeeze easy.  Ivan did not - mainly due to having to have RH stand on his shoulders to get through.

12/1/02: G.B: Mike Wilson, Tom, and Ben

Steady trip to the Ladder Dig. Looked at the RH dig and took some photos of same.  Out via standard route.

Dollimore's Series: good digging to get connection!  Headed south downstream to choke, where we had a prod at a couple of likely spots before turning our attention to the choke.  Climbed up and removed several rocks before being halted by a precariously balanced slab (above head) and several of its pals - will go back with another type of persuasion!  Onto Yellow Van Passage where the connecting duck was more than that, but did find likely spot in the roof tube to wait for fumes to clear.  Turned and made way out.  Around nine hours.

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

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor
Joint Treasurers: Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Adrian Hole
Caving Secretary: Greg Brock
Tackle Master: Mike Alderton
Hut Engineer: Neil Usher
Hut Warden: Roger Haskett
BEC Web Page Editor: Greg Brock
Librarian: Graham Johnson
Hut Bookings: Fiona Sandford

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

Editors bit.

First an apology to the bright eyed who spotted that there wasn't an article about Veb by Tony Setterington.  I apologise to Tony for not putting same in.

I should like to thank all those stalwart members who have sent in articles, pictures and other material. I would like to apologise once again for all the lost credits to pictures, articles not published and so on. Your magazine is to be edited by a much more active caver than myself, Adrian Hole, who will doubtless put his own stamp on the thing.  He will still need stuff from you so, keep on sending it in.  If you want to e-mail it to me, I have agreed to pass on any bits.

See you in the pub, Martin

I received a letter of commendation from a member with regard to the last year's secretary's report. I have transcribed it and include it here.

Dear Martin,

As the last of the "Original Five" who founded the B.E.C.  I would like to endorse Nigel's comment at the end of his report in BB 511.  It was never anticipated that, in those early days, the fledgling B.E.C. would become one of the countries leading Speleo organisations.  I feel justly proud to have been associated with the club for so long.

Keep up the good work.  All the best to all members. Harry Stanbury (No 1)


A picture of this year's Priddy Bonfire for all of those who missed it!


Vale: Simon Knight

On the 5th of October a large crowd of relatives, friends, musicians and cavers gathered at the Hunters' to celebrate the life of this superb melodeon player, shove ha'penny expert and long time caving song exponent. Simon was a staunch Mendip Caving Group member in the 60s and 70s and I am sure would have been very satisfied with his "send off" and the amount of ale consumed!

Yet another great Mendip character will no longer enliven "that fine old flagstoned bar" with his presence.  For a full obituary see the Pub notice board.


Hunters Lodge Inn Sink

by Tony Jarratt

Work continues on drilling and blasting along the immature rift at the end of the dig, following the route taken by the wet weather stream.  We are now some 10m from the base of the entrance shaft and are just inside the field south of the Pub.

The surface walls, lid and fixed ladders have been completed and a superb ceramic "Bertie" plaque sculpted by Ben Holden and generously donated to the dig - has been cemented in position inside the wall at the top of the shaft.

Our thanks once again to Roger Dors for his forbearance, interest in the project and unstinting generosity.


Report Of The Hon. Secretary 2000/2001

It probably ranks as one of the worst years in the history of the Bristol Exploration Club.  A sweeping statement some may think, however I refer to the direct and devastating effects of Foot and Mouth disease (FMD) which has swept the United Kingdom this year.  FMD also had a major effect on both the Club as well as the financial security of several members.  It further prevented any of the active caving element from getting underground on Mendip from February until June, and at the time of writing, "Swildons Hole" still remains closed.

To show a responsible attitude to local Landowners - upon whom Mendip cavers rely for goodwill and access permission - The Club Committee made a difficult decision to initially close the Belfry to all Guests on the 20th February, this was followed by Government action to close most footpaths on the 21st February.  The Belfry was subsequently closed and sealed off to all but a few local residents who were to keep an eye on its security.

The Committee moved all monthly meetings to the Hunters Lodge, and the Club should be grateful for Roger and Jackie's permission to hold several meetings there.

The closure was reviewed on a fortnightly basis, with much advice sought from both locals, Langford House Vet College and the now defunct "M.A.F.F".  Whilst several members including Tony Jarratt at Bat Products, and Roger and Jackie Dors suffered an overnight drop-off in visitors, and thereby income, most members were left looking longingly around their caving bookshelf.

The Club also has suffered in two major ways, a massive downturn in Hut Bed nights and sadly a non existent income in new membership applications.  It may take several years for both factors to recuperate. Unusually, I have received virtually no email enquiries at all this year, and, it is the first year ever that I have not received any BEC membership enquiries by letter.

I suspect that partly this is explained by the existence of the excellent BEC Web-site produced by Greg Brock and his team.  I imagine that this has caused much interest amongst prospective members, and answers most of their queries.  I feel the club owes Greg a big vote of thanks for his work online.

The Closure of the Belfry, also has meant that little or no maintenance works or working weekends could be held at the site, this must sadly be the first time in many years.

Yet again, the BEC also owes a great big "Vote of Thanks" To Fiona Sandford (Nee Lewis) who steadfastly and efficiently carries out the role of Hut Bookings Officer, but now at last is deservedly on the Committee!  Again as last year, but more restricted by the "FMD" Both Vince Simmonds and Bob Smith have been energetic in their roles as joint Hut Wardens, and Roz Bateman has worked hard in chasing-up late payers and bringing out another Members Handbook

Those of you who attended the Annual Dinner in October will recall one of the few Highlights of the Year, when it gave me great pleasure to present on behalf of the BEC, Honorary Life Membership to Tony Jarratt.  He also has had further success this year in the discovery of several hundred feet of passage, primarily at one of his two digging sites at Stock Hill Woods.

The FMD prevented the Committees stated intention last year to make a start in 2000 / 2001 on the proposed extension to the Belfry as a start in construction must be made under granted planning permissions within a five year period.  It is hoped that this will be very much on the cards in the year ahead- 2001/2001.

Despite the ravages of "FMD", The BEC remains united in a healthy position, in this it's 66th Year, but please support as many Club fund raising events as you can, in order that we can revitalise our finances, and strengthen our membership with new members in the year ahead.

Nigel Taylor
Member 772.
Hon. Secretary Bristol Exploration Club, 2000/2001
Sunday 19th August 2001.


Editors report (not given at the AGM) 2000/01

Thanks once again to all who have contributed and have enabled the magazine to go to press when there might otherwise have been a shortage of material; please keep articles coming in for the new Editor (see address on front of cover).   I shall still be around and about on Mendip and happy to accept articles which I shall pass on to the new Editor.  See you at the Hunters? 


Treasurers Report 2000 /20001

This has been a very unusual year for this club mainly due to foot and mouth disease forcing people to make very difficult choices regarding caving, climbing, walking etc. I feel that all B E C members have managed remarkably well to keep the peace with local farmers and not get into conflict with their fellow club members.  Financially we "the committee" have tried to keep expenditure down to a minimum this was agreed earlier on when foot and mouth was just beginning to look like being an epidemic.  The fact that we now do not have to pay rates.  (Mega thanks to Blitz the outgoing treasurer) has helped tremendously.  Also we have received a modest income both from members and guests who have stayed at the shed in the periods when it was open.  These factors combined with a membership who have paid their dues and stayed loyal to the club have all combined to ensure that this financial year will not be a loss.  Whilst I do not have a final figure at the moment of writing, the annual accounts will show a strike even / modest profit result.  All the committee members are looking forward to a healthy year 2002

With the club moving on financially and actively, I will do my utmost to improve the financial base of the club and build up both the Cuthbert’s Account and the Ian Dear Memorial fund. I wish to take this opportunity to thank Blitz for his help this year especially with the phone bills - also Vince and Roz who have kept excellent records thus making my task very easy.  Finally, my floating assistant Hilary who has sifted through all the various bills and statements in my absence.

Mike and Hilary Wilson


Cave Diving Adventures in the Dordogne.

By Greg Brock

After joining the CDG Foot & Mouth on Mendip prevented any diving training taking place so weekends were spent cave diving at Dan-Yr-Ogof and other sites still open in Wales.  It was then that Martin Groves (SWCC) was planning a trip to the Dordogne region of France.  When asked I immediately said yes to the chance of going cave diving in one of the world's best regions for such a sport.  All I had to do now was beg and borrow as much equipment as people would let me have but most importantly obtain some vague diving skills.  Thanks must go to Sean Parker (BEC/CDG) for helping me out on both these very important points.

The few weekends left before we departed for France were spent with Martin and Krisha at open water sites across the country, namely Stoney Cove, practising with bigger cylinders and buoyancy control.

The date soon arrived and we were soon heading off to France in a car rather overloaded with diving kit. The journey went smoothly and we eventually arrived to excellent weather, which was to continue for the rest of the week.

The first days diving was at the Trou Madame, which didn't quite go as planned, as like most of the things I do.  High water levels meant the lakes/airbells between the sumps had flooded.  If only I had known this before I started the dive. 800m of diving later I still hadn't surfaced and had reached thirds on both cylinders so decided to turn back. After a 71 minute dive Martin was very relieved to see my exhaust bubbles as I exited the cave.  By far the longest dive I had ever done but at least I was in excellent surroundings.

A more gentle day was had the day after.  The Fontaine du Truffe was embarked upon and excellent visibility was had.  Martin and I dived to the end of sump 3 after noticing a pressurised airbell at -6m depth.  After a relaxing tourist dive in the Truffe it was clear this wasn't going to last for long and the next day we had an adventurous day in a rather intimidating place, the Emergence Du Ressel.  We dived here with 2 x l5Ltr and 1 x I2Ltr cylinders.  We dropped the 12Ltr stage tank at the start of the loop (150m from base) and continued to the top of the outstanding 50m shaft with twin 15's.  We then completed the loop by going out on the shallow route, I was just hitting 1/3s on the 15's as I reached my stage tank!!!  Martin indicated we should look for the airbell, off the deep route, but I was not convinced as I was becoming over powered by the size of this place (boulders similar to the Time Machine in Darren) so we headed out rather relieved to see daylight and air.  Later that week we returned, laid a line off the main route and located the airbell.

Other dives included a 600m dive at -20m in the Source de Landenouse, after kitting up in the water in the bottom of a well 10m down.  We also had to squeeze in some caving while here, unfortunately the Goufrre L'oule was chosen.  The 1km walk down the side of the valley with diving kit proved extremely hardwork. After so many hours of caving / diving we then had the task of walking back up the valley with cylinders, wetsuits, caving kit, SRT & rigging kit, bolting kit as well as all the other bits of diving stuff needed.  Once back at the car we were very dehydrated and tired.

An excellent week was had overall, with lots of new skills learnt and experienced gained.  A bit of a jump from using single sets down Swildons as was the case a couple of months ago.


Caving in Crete by Emma Porter

Crete has a very agreeable Mediterranean climate with a flourishing agricultural economy, several thriving towns and a wealth of history.  It is the largest of the Greek islands with the majority of Crete being limestone and hosting about 3000 caves. There are three distinct mountain ranges, in the west is the Lefka Ori (or the White Mountains) in the central region is the highest peak in Crete, Psiloritis (or Mount Ida) at 2456m situated in the Idhi Ori and to the east, Dikti Ori (or Lassithi Mountains).

Crete can be a fairly cheap holiday, particularly if you choose a package holiday rather than just a flight. Mike Clayton and myself went out there for a week in mid October 2000 with big plans to explore the mountainous limestone terrain.  We flew from Manchester to Heraklion and had pre-booked a hire car (which are notoriously expensive, insurance excludes the underside and tyres) and to our horror, we were faced yet again with those two dreaded words 'petrol strike' - suddenly, all our plans had gone to pot!

We had carefully chosen our base (within the package holiday restrictions) on the north coast of the island between the White Mountains and the Psiloritis massif so that we had easy access to both mountain ranges.  Driving to our base of Rethimnon, which sprawls for miles, we were constantly watching the petrol gauge. We had just half a tank of petrol, every petrol station we passed had redundant pumps and we had only just left a petrol crisis at home!

Sunday was our first full day and in order to conserve the little petrol we had, we made a fairly late start and opted to take a taxi from the centre of Rethimnon, heading to some nearby caves.  We suffered first hand experience of the Cretan driving (it has one of the highest accident rates in Europe) as our taxi driver dashed through winding country lanes so that we could reach out destination, Kournas Cave.  We got out the taxi, sorted our belongings out and as the driver disappeared into the distance we realised that our first caving destination was five kilometres from Kournas Lake, the tourist spot we had just arrived at!

Not to be defeated, we headed up the hillside in the midday sun and after a fair uphill trek, the map indicated that the cave should be on our right.  We continued heading up, unable to see it and arrived at a bar which had a large sign outside which read 'The famous deep cave of Kournas'.  We immediately went inside and attempted to find out where the cave was, but the woman in there spoke no English and proudly produced cave photographs for us to see.  In the end, we thought we would try and find it ourselves and set off using the map we had. About ten minutes later, we heard the same woman shouting at us and waving her arms.  Not understanding a word, we started heading back and two tourists who had been drinking in the bar met us.  Speaking in broken English, they explained that we had to pay the equivalent of £1 to enter and that the lady's husband would take us into the cave.  Her husband appeared and on seeing our helmets, nodded and said 'speleo'.  We were led down a rickety wooden ladder, descended an easy climb during which I received a lot of unwanted attention.  Every foothold I took down, the heavily perspiring Cretan man had his hands all over my legs - a problem women travellers are warned about. Fortunately, he left us once down the climb to explore what was only a large chamber with a few old stal.  We had a quick look around and conscious of the time, we headed on out with what was to be an epic walk.

We walked from village to village, enjoying the sun and the scenery but not covering any substantial distance on the map.  Four o'clock came and went, then 5, then 6 and still we were walking.  As we passed a sign with Rethimnon 20km, there was only one thing for it, to hitch.  But of course, we saw very few vehicles and the ones we saw were either full of people or sheep and did not stop.  We were becoming very demoralised and were wondering what we could do for the night when a car stopped and a big, friendly German got out, who spoke English and offered us a lift and yes, he was going to our town!  He left us on the very outskirts of our destination and we hobbled our way back along the 4km of coastline to our accommodation.

The next day, there was no rest for our feet.  We left our accommodation at 6am as we had pre-booked a coach trip costing about £20 to take us to the most popular destination in Crete, the Samaria Gorge.  The gorge begins in the Omalos plateau which nestles in the Lefka Ori ( White Mountains) and it is in this area that the French have discovered deep caves, one being over 1000m in depth.

It was extremely cold when we arrived at Omalos, we had breakfast and the coach took us to the start of the 18km gorge which is the longest in Europe.  The walk starts zig zagging down, plunging 1000m in the first 2km.  The abandoned village of Samaria lies about halfway along the walk, a ghost town now as its inhabitants were relocated when the Samaria Gorge National Park was established in 1962.  The path levels, the walls of the gorge close in, passing a huge area strewn in cairns, occasionally crossing the stream until the Iron Gates are reached where two rock walls rise sheer for a thousand feet. Once through this the gates widen, the valley broadens and you arrive in the village of Ayia Roumeli for a cold beer and to cool your feet in the sea.  Every hour or so, a ferry arrives at the village to take the tourists to their waiting coaches at Hori Sfakion.

On the Tuesday, we opted for a lazy day deciding to look for petrol and Gerani Spilia, finding neither.  The cave of Gerani is sign posted in the village of the same name supposedly near the bridge on the main road. Like many of the caves here, it has been a place for archaeological finds with local cavers exploring caves searching for bones or Minoan artefacts.

As there was still no petrol to be found by Wednesday and the White Mountains were just too far away to chance, we were up at 5.30am, heading for the closest mountain range, Idhi Ori which contains the highest peak in Crete. We had come prepared for staying out in the mountains with a tent and sleeping bags (but unfortunately a brand new petrol stove!) and our destination was Psiloritis taking in one or two caves on the way if we could.  We started from the village of Kamares which like a lot of Cretan villages is very traditional, with all the women we saw dressed in black and the most popular mode of transport being the donkey.

We followed what started off as a well signposted route (the signs looking like they were bus stops) and red paint marking the path.  The scenery was fantastic as we ascended up the limestone.  The side of the mountain range we were using, was reported in a SUSS expedition report to be 'almost devoid of caves except for the known showcave Kamares'.  We too saw no other caves.  As we reached the plateau and the shepherds' cottages of Alm Kotila our map did not seem to coincide with what we saw.  Guidebooks warn of the inaccuracy of maps and as Geoff Newton states in his article this is due to the fact that 'Good scale maps are considered to have a security value by the Greeks who are still nervous that the Turks or Libyans will invade'. This was no help to us.

We spent about two hours wandering on the plateau between the rough dry stone walled mitatos or shepherds' huts trying to establish the way on.  We had seen no one all day and almost on the brink of turning around and heading back down, we met an old shepherd.  With none of us understanding the other's language, we eventually determined which way the mountain was by gesturing and drawing in the dusty ground.

We reached the summit at about 7.30pm just as night was drawing in.  On the summit is a small chapel called Timios Stavros (which is the local name for the peak).  We did not stay long, it was quite cold and we needed to lose as much height as possible. We headed down in the moonlight for as long as we could before switching to electric light.  We backtracked our route on the GPS, passing the points we had inputted in.  We passed one of our potential bivy sites but chose to aim for the second which was lower down still.  We put our little mountain tent up in the shadow of a huge rock and what seemed to be a goat or sheep hangout.  All night, we could hear gnawings, and I convinced myself, that we would wake up with no tent left!

After a restless night, we rose again at 5.30am, rationing our water out as we had passed only one watering spot.  As we descended the peaceful mountainside, we passed the shepherd and his three dogs once more.  On the way down, we diverted to Kameres Cave which the SUSS report described as 'a huge boulder ramp followed by two chambers with all ways on blocked'.  Of apparent archaeological significance due to a huge cache of elaborate pottery being discovered, from a speleological point of view, it was not worth the hour or so lost in the mist and the diversion.

We arrived back in the village of Kameres, with aching feet and that wonderful exhausted feeling.  On our journey back, I left Mike in the car whilst I aimed to explore a large gash in the landscape not far off the road.  However, my journey was cut short as I met a drunk Cretan man and his donkey. He had introduced himself to Mike and came up to me and grabbed me by the face and kissed me on my cheeks three times.  As he attempted to do this again, I jumped in the car and shouted to Mike to 'go' as I very angrily fought him off my legs trying to shut the car door.  This was the only aspect of Crete I did not like - the so called 'liberated' image the local men have of Western women.

During our drive back on the Thursday evening, we managed to obtain that scarce commodity, petrol.  As it was our last day, there was only one thing for it but to see how many showcaves we could cram in during the day. The first one we headed for was Melidoni Cave, near Perama.  We followed the track up to some impressive gates and walked up to the buildings.  We paid a small entrance fee, were given a leaflet and left to our devices.  The entrance is past a small white church and in a depression.  This cave is home of the mythical bronze guard of Crete, Talo but is more remembered for one of the most horrific atrocities in the struggle for Cretan independence.  In 1824, 370 local inhabitants mainly women and children, took refuge in the cave from the advancing army.  The army demanded that they come out and when they did not, an attempt was made to suffocate them by blocking the cave entrance.  As this did not work, they piled combustible materials in the entrance and set them alight, asphyxiating all. Inside the cave is a tomb to commemorate the dead.

Our next destination was Sfendoni Cave which was only in its third season of opening and a lot of work had gone into making a raised platform to walk around the cave and to be able to see as much as possible.  Like many other caves, it is of archaeological significance with many skeletons discovered, in particular one of a young boy.  We spoke to the guide afterwards, asking him about other nearby caves, chatting about our different attitudes to caving and he found it extremely amusing when I referred to caving as a 'sport'.

In the afternoon, we headed to Hania and to the Katholiko Monastery aiming for the Katholikou and Gouverneto Caves.  The Rough Guide states that 'The few visitors here and the stark surroundings, help to give a real sense of isolation that the remaining monks must face for most of the year'.  With this description in mind, we were extremely surprised to see hordes of people bumbling around dressed in their Sunday best suits and black dresses. We left the monastery as we followed the path down leading to the craggy shores, hoping to escape the crowds.  Our hopes did not last long as also heading in our direction were the crowds, from babies to the elderly.  We headed for the cave in which St John the Hermit was said to have lived and died and so did the crowds.  We wandered bewilderedly into the cave which was lit with candles and heavily scented with incense, passing a white altar.

Mystified, we headed further down near the ruins of the Katholiko Monastery, following a parade of people.  We followed them into another cave, each had a candle and were struggling up and down climbs between stals in their black dresses or suits, their posh shoes, the very old and the very young.  It took us about 40 minutes to reach the end of the cave due to the sheer number of people in there.  At the end of the cave, prayers were being chanted and each person who had just arrived would kneel down and kiss a picture of the Virgin Mary.  We did not stay long, not wanting to impose.  Once outside, we tried to find out what was going on, but no one spoke English.  We can only guess that it was the saint's day Anna Petrocheilou refers to in her book.

That incredibly bizarre caving trip signified the end of our holiday which did not go quite according to plan but was extremely enjoyable.  One piece of advice, don't go there during a petrol strike!

A big thanks must go to Don Mellor and Ric Halliwell for finding us so much information.


Books: FISHER, John and Garvey, Geoff 1995 Crete - the Rough Guide

PETROCHEILOU Anna The Greek Caves 1984

WILSON, Lorraine Crete - The White Mountains 2000 Cicerone

Journals: FAULKNER, Trevor March 1988 Kera Spiliotsa, Vryses W Crete The Grampian Speleological Group Bulletin Second Series Vo15 No 4

FELL, John Western Crete - Omalos to Askifou High Magazine October 1999

GRAHAM Nigel Crete 1991 - or how not to go caving in karst country Craven Pothole Club Record No 25 January 1992

GRUNDY Steve, Sheffield University Speleological Society Expedition to Crete BCRA Bulletin Caves and Caving No 15 (February) 1982

HITCHEN, David May Sheffield University Speleological Society Central Crete Expedition BCRA Bulletin Caves and Caving No 28 1985

JARRATT Tony The BEC Get Everywhere - Crete The Journal of the Bristol Exploration Club Belfry Bulletin Vol 39 No 6 (No 432) December 1985

JEFFREYS Alan L Caving in Crete The Grampian Speleological Group Bulletin Vo15 No3 (March 1973)

NEWTON Geoff Speleological Reconnaissance in Eastern Crete Part One Wessex Cave Club Journal Vol 21 (No 232) February 1992

NEWTON Geoff Speleological Reconnaissance in Eastern Crete Part Two Wessex Cave Club Vol 21 (No 233) April1992

OLDHAM JEA Melidoni Cave The British Caver Vol 59 July 1972

WEBSTER Martin Omalos Cave Journal of the Bristol Exploration Club Belfry Bulletin Vol XXVI No 2 (No 292) February 1972

WHALLEY, JC 1979 Wanderings in Crete Journal of the Craven Pothole Club Vol 6 No1

WORTHINGTON Steve SUSS Expedition to Crete 1981 SUSS Journal Vo13 No 2

Expedition Speleologique en Crete Spilia 94 Groupe Speleologique Scientifique et Sportif

Speleologique en Crete Spilia 92 Groupe Speleo Scientifique et Sportif

Visite dans l' antre du Minotaure ... Speleo No 28 October -December 1997

Maps: Freytag and Berndt Crete Hiking Map 1 :50 000

Harms IC Verlag Crete Touring Map (Western and Eastern) 1: 100 000

A copy of this article has appeared in the Craven Record.

Emma Porter 2001

Emma Porter at the Entrance to Katho/icos Cave

Massive stalactite formation in Kournas Cave


Going to the Caves!

By Vince Simmonds.

2nd to 9th July 2001

Andy and Ange Cave have been settled into their home in Rigal, about 1 km from the Gouffre de Padirac, for nearly 2 years and we decided it was about time that we visited them.

Caught an early ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre and, on a very hot day had a very leisurely drive south arriving at the Caves house at 01:30 the following morning. Andy and Ange greeted us with some very welcome cold beers and food.  The following day was a do-diddley day although in the late afternoon we strolled down to the local open-air pool for a dip.

The next day Ange volunteered to look after Callum so that Andy, Roz and myself could go caving. This was to be a gentle trip to prepare for a longer trip later in the week.

Grotte du Jonauille (Causse de Correze. north of Cressensac)

Jonquille - from Narcissus jonquil/a, a bulbous plant with small clusters of yellow flowers.   A difficult cave to find without local knowledge, the entrance is a manhole cover out in scrub oak woodland, luckily Andy had been here before.

A narrow drop lined with oil-drums leads to the restricted top of a 35m pitch, which opened up after about 5m and drops into a dry fossil passage.  Up-dip, leads to the loose, original entrance and has some fairly decent formations, if a little mucky.  Down-dip the passage continued over some large gour pools, passing lots of black-stained flowstones and formations before a 3m climb down to an active stream passage.  Downstream was immediately sumped, the way on is upstream.  Initially progress is made by traversing the stream past some rather deep pools and fast flowing water for about 200m, eventually the passage shape becomes more elliptical with the stream flowing gently past sand and pebble banks - very mellow!  The stream length is approximately 1 km and the return is by the same route, the trip lasted a steady 4 hours.

That evening we all decided to go down the road to a local restaurant to eat.  As we were enjoying our meal it started to rain - very hard! The owners lent us a table umbrella to get back to Andy and Ange's place, the rain continued through the night and through the tent, in fifteen hours 250mm of rain fell.  The next day we went over to the Gouffre de Padirac, which was now closed, peering over the edge of the 10m chasm the water could be seen, swirling around and disappearing like water down an enormous plughole, down the steps that lead into the cave.  The extreme water conditions meant that our caving plans were binned and the day was spent diverting streams of water away from the house.

By the next day the rain was more constant drizzle, Andy and Ange kindly looked after Callum so Roz and myself could go caving.

Grotte du Fennett (Assier - Lot) 563.68(x) 263.04(v) Series Bleue 2237 O

Situated in a doline just a short walk down a track off the road and with a map not difficult to find. A low entrance leads almost immediately to a walking size fossil passage.  After a short distance a small climb up over some flowstone leads to a 10m drop over a large calcited flow into a decorated chamber (the lead up to the 10m drop is quite slippery so a traverse line from the top of the climb is a good idea).  From the chamber another 10m drop leads into a large decorated chamber with a calcited, bouldery floor with a couple of digs.  Halfway back up the 10m drop a climb around the chamber wall leads to a continuation of the passage which unfortunately was rather short (take care-muddy and slippery on the traverse around the wall).

Roz and I then went in search of a sink marked on the map Perte D' Abois 564.910(x) 263.900(y) which turned out to be a short walking size entrance with muddy walls and a fair amount of debris and closed down after about 10m.  There is a river cave just a couple of fields away, which we did not look for, where the water from here re-appears.

As a consequence of all the flooding a farmer just along the road from the Caves reported losing a horse in a hole that had opened up in his field and which took a lot of water. Local cavers were soon on the scene and further investigation and some digging revealed space amongst rocks and a stream could be heard and the farmer was quite happy for them to continue digging.

We left the Caves and made our way north but made a detour to look at some grottes marked on the map near to Saumur in the Loire valley, and of course the weather had improved. We found a campsite next to the Loire river at Montsoreau and I ventured off in search of grottes while Roz was tending to Callum.  These grottes turned out to be wine cellars tunnelled into the valley walls and were rather impressive.  There were several old horse-carts at various places in the tunnels and some evidence of major collapses.  Along the front small houses were carved into the stone and were still inhabited although some of them were being held up by lots of pinning - good views of the river though!  The following morning we all returned to have a couple of hours wandering around before setting off to the ferry port at Caen.

Top:  The Wine Cellars, Montsoreau, near Saumir, Loire valley
Bottom L and R:  The entrance to Jonquille


Stock's House Shaft - The Breakthrough and Latest Developments

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BBs nos. 502, 504 - 511.

On the 15th of July 55 more loads were hauled out on a double pulley system by "human winch" Mike Willet.  Next day saw "Mad" Phil Rowsell and visiting novice Canadian caver Jeff Harding, on his second ever trip (!) digging at the end following a pumping session. Phil was tentatively poking at the horrendous choke in Rake Chamber when the bar suddenly burst through into open space. Jeff was despatched to summon the writer from the surface where he was sunbathing, spoil dumping and generator guarding.  After about half an hour of clearing spoil and propping up the worst boulders he was magnanimously allowed to be first into the thirty feet or so of walking sized level which could be seen ahead while the others stood by in case of collapse.

A rapid but extremely careful crawl and slide down a wedged boulder pile was made into the level where another, partly silt filled tunnel was immediately found on the LH side (Silt Level).  Above the entrance to this passage an area of Old Men’s hand picking was noticed in the roof of a lead vein crossing the level at right angles possible evidence of earlier workings intercepted by the drainage level.  These are the first recognisable signs of ore mining found so far. He then went to the first bend in the passage before retreating to allow the others some fun - but not before the well chilled Champagne, kept underground for over a year, was fervently polished off!

Phil and Jeff explored a further two hundred feet or so of atrociously muddy, partly silt filled levels, leaving at least four ways on for the Wednesday night team.  This included the main Downstream Level which regained a reasonable height and bored off round a comer to regions unknown.  Well chuffed, our heroes spent the rest of the day imbibing suitable alcoholic beverages.

A rough survey trip on the 17th saw 227.54 feet (69.35m) mapped from the end of "Exploration Level" back to the breakthrough point after Phil had dug through a silt choke c.40 feet before the end.  This level stops abruptly at a solid wall with descending shothole sections from the Old Men’s final gunpowder charge.  It was named partly to honour the B.E.C. but mainly as it appears to be an exploratory level driven forward from the drainage adit to test the lead veins at depth. The other possibility is that, having made a drainage tunnel, this level was being pursued towards Broad Rake in order to de-water the rich and flooded workings there.  Unfortunately no graffiti or artefacts were found but these may be buried in the ubiquitous mud.

Wednesday 18th saw the long hoped for night of the "Big Push" with ten diggers turning up, doing a brief bit of bag hauling in the Downstream Level then heading excitedly into the unknown.  Various injuries and afflictions such as a badly cut foot, sore back, the squits and general mental instability were not to stop these men but later resulted in the naming of the extension!

At the Exploration Level junction a presumed collapsed shaft meant that a squeeze in the muddy streamway was necessary and the previous day it had been enlarged to Chris Castle size. Just beyond it a crawl over fallen boulders gained the way on and here Phil spotted a bent iron bar buried in the rubble.  This is the handle of a kibble or bucket used to haul in the shaft and was photographed in situ.  The kibble itself may be of wood or iron and will be carefully excavated and removed in the future.

Some thirty feet further the level split - straight ahead, after twenty feet another shothole riddled blank wall, or forefield, showed where the Old Men had again abandoned their drive.  To the left about fifteen feet of level ended in a heavily silted sink with assorted bits of inwashed wood blocking a view into a partly flooded and immature natural stream way below.  Amongst the wood an iron bound rectangular section was revealed as one side of a small skip or tub.  It was cleaned off, photographed and carefully moved to a safe place to allow the passage to be examined.  It is too fragile to recover and will be left underground.  In the walls and ceiling nearby a distinct dolomitic conglomerate / limestone boundary was noted.

The very narrow streamway in dol. cong appears to have been followed from the surface by the Old Men who eventually ran out of money or enthusiasm.  It now seems likely that these are the 1774 workings of the Bristol adventurers, messrs Underwood, Riddle and Shapland - with possible later extensions - and have no connection with the century earlier adits of Thomas Bushell.  This leaves the question of just where is Bushell's adit and cave? After almost exactly five years of regular digging in Five Buddies and Stock's House we can at least state where it is not!

The breakthrough team after consuming the cooled Champagne

Meanwhile Pete, investigating Exploration Level and various side passages, unearthed a rusted iron object which was later identified as a wedge.

A tourist trip on the 22nd saw Nigel Bums photographing the workings and artefacts.  The kibble handle was further exposed and the "skip" measured.  Pat Cronin dug into a c.30ft length of hand-picked vein workings opposite Silt Level which are assumed to pre-date the adit.  Silt Level itself was the focus of attention next day when Phil, Alex and the writer spent three disgustingly muddy hours dragging rocks and tailings from its western and southern branches.  The first became apparently blind after c.15ft and the second ended in a collapse of clay and boulders which, if dug further, may provide a by-pass to the breakthrough choke.  The draught issuing from this level was found to come from a narrow and waterworn natural rift in the ceiling which may have some connection with the tiny, draughting natural passages in the adjacent Five Buddies Sink.  The southern branch was again dug, by the Newcastle University lads, on the 30th July while the writer moled his way towards the same area from the west side of Rake Chamber, just before the breakthrough point.

The Morwellham Quay Wheelbarrow – photo A. Jarratt

Meanwhile, on the 25th, Prew and some of the redundant N.H.A.S.A. digging team arrived to undertake a radio location exercise with Phil and Adrian dragging the loop transmitter underground while the Cornish and Clevedon contingents dragged full bags in the opposite direction.  Five separate points were located despite having to battle with the undergrowth and midge population.  A surface survey was later done to tie in these positions with the underground survey.

During the rest of the month further work was done in Rake Chamber and the Downstream Level where the floor was deepened.  Everything downstream of the shaft was resurveyed and lots of redundant digging gear was removed to the Belfry.  The kibble handle was disinterred and taken out for cleaning and measuring (see illustrations) leaving the supposed wooden bucket presumably still buried in the floor. It will be excavated once the immediate area is made safe but this may not be for some time.  Some work was also done below the Cornish Shaft in Five Buddies Sink.

The Geevor Mine Wheelbarrow Pic. A. Livingstone

Ben, Bob and the writer took the opportunity to visit Morwellham Quay industrial museum near Tavistock to examine and photograph the miners' wheelbarrow which was found to differ little from our reconstruction - mainly in the angle of the sideboards (see photographs).

Alex and family also visited Geevor Mine museum in Cornwall where yet another original wheelbarrow was examined and photographed.  This differs slightly from our reconstruction and appears to have been used in the surface dressing operations.

Winching recommenced on August 27th but only 32 bags were hauled out when operations were curtailed by problems with the rope snagging in the machinery.  The reconstructed wheelbarrow was lowered down the shaft for future experimentation which briefly occurred two days later when a few bags and rocks were moved with it.  It fitted well in the Downstream Level and three full bags was found to be a reasonable weight to move if loaded towards the front.  It was found that if a 'barrow had been used in these workings it would have been shorter than our reconstruction.  This trip also saw the collapsed boulders in Pipe Aven, Upstream Level banged.  Much of the resulting debris was removed with the barrow on the 3rd of September when access was once more regained to the further reaches of the Upstream Level where little change had occurred over the last few months.  Another 79 loads were winched out on September 5th when a new static rope donated by Lyon Equipment was rigged in the shaft and on the 10th another charge was fired on fallen boulders as well as further clearing of the Downstream Level.  Two days later the spoil was cleared from the last, excellent bang and many full bags were moved from both Up and Downstream Levels to the shaft.  A Wessex team took several photos for the forthcoming BCRA Conference.

The Treasury and Upstream Level were re-surveyed by Phil and the writer on the 14th when the "Rupert II" boulder at the end of the latter was blown up in a fit of vengeance. 65 bags were hauled out on the 19th of September and on the 30th, 4th and 15th of October the stubborn "Rupert II" was again banged - (told you it was a big bastard!).  An even larger boulder apparently floating in mid-air just beyond was also strategically bombed - twice.  Much general tidying up has been done throughout the workings in preparation for the wet season.

The 24th of October saw Mad Phil, Friendship and Andy Heath successfully making the connection between Rake Chamber and Silt Level so those working in the further reaches will feel safer in future. Restoration operations are planned to continue over the winter months.



The handle is from a presumably iron-hooped wooden bucket (elm?).  The word "kibble" is derived from 16th century German. " ..... secondhand kibbles varied from 7d to 2/6d each at mines near Eyam in 1746." (J.H.Rieuwerts - Glossary of Derbyshire Lead Mining Terms).

This example was made from forged iron bar, flattened, pointed and perforated at the ends and bent from the horizontal at the 380mm point.  Unlike many contemporary kibbles there is no extra bend in the centre of the handle to prevent rope slippage.  It was obviously knocked up by the local (mine?) blacksmith for a specific purpose in these workings.  A nineteenth century kibble would probably have had a sheet iron bucket like the one used in Lamb Leer and now displayed in Wells Museum, and illustrated here. It is smaller than our example, with a sturdier handle 400mm wide by 365mm high and has the extra bend for rope location.  The bucket is made from four bent iron sheets and is 380mm in diameter by 370mm deep.

The square headed, square section iron nail was found in a stemple in the Exploration Level.

Pete's iron wedge was at first thought to be a "hack" or hammer/pick due to the shape but on cleaning there was found to be no hole for a wooden handle. It would have been used for hammering into cracks in the rock following blasting in order to clear the loose walls.

Additions to the Digging Team

Pat Cronin (Pegasus C.c.), Nigel Bums (P.C.C.), Jim Smart, Ewan Maxwell ( Newcastle .C.C.), Katie Livingstone ( Canada), Andy Shaw, Nick Mitchell, Phil Collett (S.M.C.C.), Ron Wyncoll, Tyrone "Bev" Bevan, Mark Friendship, Andy Heath (Cerberus S.S.).

Radio Location Team

Brian Prewer, Phil Hendy, John Miell, Brian Sneddon (N.H.A.S.A.).

Photographic Team

Mark Helmore (WCC), Vem Freeman (WCC), Mark "Bean" Easterling (WCC).

End view of reconstruction diagram of wooden skip


Dimensions of the reconstructed skip:  diagram by A. Jarratt


Tony Jarratt in Cripples Canyon examining the mud choked natural sink.  Photo “Mad Phil”

Looking upstream to the collapsing base of the blocked Kibble Shaft.  The kibble handle is at bottom left.  .  Photo “Mad Phil”

Trevor Hughes recovering the wooden skip.  Photo “Mad Phil”


A Commercial Cavers View

by your retiring Editor

I had been working freelance at the Charterhouse Centre, taking groups around the nature reserve and introducing young people to the local ecology.  The Head of Centre, John Baker, knew that I was a keen caver, and had asked if I would like to do my "cavers ticket."  I remember being in J.Rat's shop and posing the question to him, "What good would it do me?"  His reply, sensible and immediate was, "If you can earn money doing it, then do it!"  So shortly afterwards I enquired into how to go about registering with the NCA and started training in earnest.  Actually, I asked Butch and Sparrow, then logged my 25 years previous experience, and started accompanying groups down Goatchurch.  The first thing I learnt was that my experience as a teacher was very useful to me in how to talk to children of differing ages.  Put simply says it all - do not get too technical and assume they know nuffin (I blame the teachers you know).  This was certainly an important part of my training that I didn't get from a course.  After passing my technical and group training days, and with the experience logged at Charterhouse, I began as an officially approved LCLMA part 1.  It took 2½ years to get the paperwork through though!  Now don't go thinking that this is a passport to work, it is still possible to make a huge cock up taking adults or children caving and blow the whole thing.  Yes, it has been done before.  It's easy. Here's how!  Terrify the teachers, get them stuck in a squeeze, intimidate the kids or adults by spending 3 hours down Swildons etc, and you won't get much work. "Why not," you ask. Well, the basic employment in the area is a small number of companies, all of whom are in close touch with one another.  On any particular day during the season of work - April to October, if you are lounging around at home, the phone is likely to go, and it is (usually) someone DESPERATE for a caver.  Ah, you think, I can do as I want with the clients!  Well yes, but don't piss them off, frighten them, get them lost, wet or terrified or you won't get another call.  Now the easiest way to do all these things is to take the group on one of "your" trips.  Basically, if you are still having to do trips for yourself whilst with clients, forget about being a cave leader.  Also, forget about doing a different cave, it's nearly always the same one- Goatthingy. Wear on the inside of your boiler suit a large clear message as follows "it may be your thousandth trip - it's their first.  Don't louse it up for them!"  Bearing in mind these simple rules, I have probably done 1000 trips there, but every one has been different and I have learned something each time.  Here are some tips for aspiring cave leader LCLMA part 1.  (muggins)

1.                  Get to know Goatthingy well, and believe me, there are parts of the cave that are COMPLETELY unsuitable for novices unless very closely supervised.  There is a whole range of different variants to the basic trip, usually in the main entrance, down the Giants stairs, along the dig past Bloody Tight, round the Maze, down the mini stairs to the Boulder chamber via the Dining room etc.  It is rare to take primary groups down below the Coffin Lid, although one often encounters lost scout groups wandering around below this point looking for the way out.  Older groups and fit adults sometimes get as far as the drainpipe, but in reality, an excellent trip can be had without going down this "classic".  I am always amazed at the (poor) level of fitness of youth today (and not so youth).  Many of them seem to have no idea what power there is in their legs (or might be, in many cases).  Still, things can go wrong even on the simplest trip and it is always worth taking careful note of the physical well being of groups before they get to the cave. Asthma, wooden leg, half- wit etc.

2.                  The walk up to the cave is the usual sorter.  It is very easy to spot a FLUB (fat, lazy useless bastard) but not so easy to spot a blubber.  The flub is simply going to get stuck everywhere and have to be hauled out of one of the entrances in a state of lardiness, covered in slings, ropes, krabs and being pushed, pulled etc to remove them.  What is best described as "a hatpin job."  It's a shame no - one uses carbide lamps today, they ALWAYS effect a removal!  Not so the blubber!  These lose all ability to propel themselves once 5 metres into the Tradesman's and totally Xuck up the trip for all!  The blubber will lose all limb co-ordination and body control until you drag them to the Giant's stairs.  Usually once down these they miraculously recover and may even enjoy it.  Ignore all pleas from anyone who says they are claustrophobic, this is just plain ball tightening fear, blue funk or call it what you will.  Explain to the group it is normal for humans to fear the dark- survival in the deep unconscious mind of the pre-man - (some run close to this condition today) and you might get away with it, otherwise get them close to you and pretend your light won't work.

3.                  Adults are far worse than kids.  You only need one completely phased out adult to effect all the kids in a virus like manner - shoot them first or hit them with a rock and bury them just inside the entrance so you can use them next week as an exhibit.

4.                  NEVER offer to take "special needs groups" without at least one staff member per child, especially those naughty ones who are training for a course at HMP.  These ones invariably run away as the prospect of being lost/rescued appeals to their sick minds and they are just trying to Xuck you up.  Best policy here is again to bury them - a rock fall in the water chamber is probably the best spot, followed by a hasty retreat.  Tell the staff who blanked off the trip and who are waiting at the surface that you will have to call the rescue and they will go and get them for you rather than suffer the ignominy of a newspaper report.  (you won't get any more work after this, but you will feel good).

5.                  Final tip. Don't tell any of the cavers you drink with what you do to earn money.  Likelihood is that one of them will berate what you do since you are destroying caves etc.

Anyway, to continue, if at the end of 5 trips in a day down Goatthingy, you still fancy a caving trip at the weekend you are bloody fit or stupid or just plain caving mad and I cannot help you.

Now, although Goatthingy is sneered at and avoided by the elite of the clubs etc in the same way as no climbers ever do grades below E10 8c when they deign to talk at you, a surprising number of cavers DO NOT KNOW WHERE THE BLOODY ENTRANCE IS!!!  Worse, it is likely that many of them, having not been near the cave for years (or probably never, or struck it from their student log or had electroshock therapy to forget its presence) will not know where they are once in the entrance!  These same cavers are probably the ones who sneer mightily behind their pints when us commercial cavers enter the pub!  So, next time someone is called to do a rescue from the "smartie tube" or the "worm hole" or even worse "the cracks of doom", call the commercial caver!

There follows a series of pictures of the nether regions of Goatthingy, but where?  Answers next issue- thanks, Martin.

Somewhere in the roof of Goatchurch

Dropping into?

Emerging from a squeeze in?


Mammoth Cave National Park Airport - USA

I received an email recently regarding a proposal by business and Government to build a 4000 acre Airport and industrial park on top of the Mammoth Cave eco system.

For those who do not know the system [and I have never visited Kentucky] the Mammoth cave national park contains the world's most extensive cave system with approx 300 miles of known passages with probably more not found yet!  The lower system of passageways are still being formed by streams and rivers.

This huge system is already being threatened by river borne pollutants and the 50 species of cave creatures are also under threat.

Above ground, there is an extensive system of graded trails for hiking and walking and I presume that a fair number - if not all of these routes - will fall foul of the development. The underground guided tours are numerous and seem to cater for almost everyone, requirements even listing rest rooms on some routes.  These tours run from 50 minutes in length up to 6 hours for which you pay the princely sum of $35.00.  No doubt this includes the rest room!

I personally cannot believe that anyone in their right senses would even consider throwing away this natural resource, once lost never to return.  On a smaller scale imagine building an airport on the Mendip hills with all the accompanying infrastructure. ( Bristol? - Ed).  We can only hope that the population of Kentucky and the lobbyists manage to persuade the authorities to build on one of the alternative sites.

If anyone wishes to express their views on this subject they can email

Mike Wilson


New EEC Regulations On Climbing

As we all know due to the recent outbreak of foot and mouth caving has taken a big knock on effect due to the closures of most of the caves, so instead a lot of cavers have dusted off their rock boots and headed to any available open piece of rock. This act has increased the population now climbing to a level, which has attracted the attention of the Eurocrats. The upshot of this was a hastily formed subcommittee (who's expenses no doubt exceeded their budget) coming forward with a new regulation (section 42 subparagraph 6 of the safety in sports act) "All climbers undertaking a climb that is to exceed 6 metres on a gradient of greater than 1: 1.235 must now equip themselves with a parachute (BS 5926)".

This is due to be put forward to the European Parliament on 01/04/2002, anyone wishing to object to this ridiculous infringement of our personal freedom should write to their local MEP.  This is quite important as they might start to regulate caving next.

Dave Ball


Caving Vet Safely back from Peru

Article and photographs courtesy of The Wells Journal



In the News

Tony Jarratt in the news again, although despite the recent discovery of new passage, his "ultimate Goal" wasn't there!  Diggers are always welcome at any of the club digs. Contact the diggers at The Hunters' Lodge or call at Bat Products in Wells.


A still picture from a film being made by Andy Sparrow of the discovery of Fairy Caves. B.E.C. member (your Ed) was part of the "props" dressed here as an "Edwardian Caver"


Your members get everywhere!


Cartoons by Chas.


Well folks that's it for me. Any comments and articles to the new Editor please.  I have enjoyed producing the magazine although as any past Editor will know it isn't all easy.  The magazine is your magazine you go caving the members are out there and get this magazine.  It should reflect what you are doing. Please keep the articles coming especially the ones with photographs.  All the best for the coming year of "disease free caving"  Martin


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

Committee Members

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

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

Club and Caving News

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

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

Signed Ivan, Fi and Jack

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

Deep Cave, Deep Cave, Deep Cave

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

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

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

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

The Expedition members were as follows:

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

Address Change

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

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


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



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

Graham Price
Conservation Officer
National Caving Association  

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


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


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

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

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

Please be patient during this troubled time,

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

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


Cheddar Cave Club find Skeleton

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

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

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

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

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


Reservoir Hole Meet

by Kangy King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kangy 28th November 2000


Travels in America Part III

By Rich Long

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All to soon 15 minutes raced by.

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

"Rich come out!" called Dave.

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

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

Common sense prevailed!

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

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

Ah well, it had been a good day.

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


Danger Brock's May Fall At Anytime!!

Greg Brock & Mike Alderton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Western Australia Spelio Group Conservation Appeal 2000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Caving Down Under

by Wendy Short

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Wilson


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

By Mike Alderton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Dachstein - Austria 2000 (The Overall Picture)

By Greg Brock

"I Cave Mostly in Somerset you know " Tangent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg and Mike on the glacier - picture Greg Brock

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

Moving gear through G5

Tim Lamberton in "insane worms" - Greg Brock


Two Combes Walk


by Vince Simmonds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


East Harptree: Times Remembered Times Forgotten, Jon Budd.

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


Stock's House Shaft - Towards the Hundredth Ton.

by Tony Jarratt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additions to the Digging Team

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pant -y- Crac, Cheddar



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

by Tony Jarratt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor
Joint Treasurers: Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Martin Torbett
Caving Secretary: Rich Long
Tackle Master: Mike Willett
Hut Engineer: Bob Smith
Hut Wardens: Vince Simmonds
Hut Bookings: Fiona Sandford

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

Editors bit.

Well, thank you all out there for sending articles during a serious non caving event which is hopefully now all over.  I expect that as I type this up there are people dusting off their oversuits and charging up their cells for a trip somewhere on the Hill.  The club, like all clubs goes on and so does the magazine, although for how long in my hands is not sure at the moment as permanent work may cause me to have to give up the editorship.  Stay posted.

Like many of you, I have wandered off the scene a bit and gone climbing in various parts of the country whilst the caves were closed.  Perfectly acceptable for BEC members to do so; look at the old club logs. If anyone wants to send me articles about climbing, they will refresh some memories, I am sure.  Thanks to all regular contributors once again.  So don't forget, keep the stuff coming or no magazine.


Club News and Views

from Jane Jarratt in Oz.
Subject: I've found the Rileys!!!

Tracked down John and Sue at last.  They haven't changed their names and had plastic surgery as I'd suspected.  Sue's had tuberculosis and they've both had business troubles.  They're now renovating a house in Quenbeyan in Canberra.  John's "in pest control" (bit like when he was at the Hill Inn but with insects!). Sue's setting up a business selling gourmet foods.  Ella is managing 5 cafes up in the Northern Beaches (near Palm Beach, Jen) Jeremy works for Fujitsu in Canberra and Alistair (not allowed to call him Bubs anymore as he is an 18 year old blond beach bum) is not working at anything and has smashed his wrist up skate boarding!  Sue met me and took me to a Thai restaurant followed by several bottles of wine and a gossip.  Sue's email issuer@[removed] and she'd loved to hear from anyone who remembers them from the old days.

From the Sandfords's

Ivan and Fi would like to thank everyone who turned up at the Hunters on 24th March to help them celebrate their marriage and for all the gifts they were given.

Everyone has now recovered, although some people who took too much drink, were unfit the following day, as this photograph below shows.


Tony Jarratt exploring Fair Lady Well picture Fi Sandford


Sat, 23 Jun 2001 16:43:41 -0700

From: "rob harper" <cavervet@[removed]>

Just back from the High Andes so greetings from downtown Lima Joint BEC/Canadian exped explored Sima Pumacocha 2 to -430m, (and still going in huge wet shaft), on 21/01/01. This breaks previous S. American depth record.  A Continental record for the club!!

Just as I go to press, news from Stocks House Shaft is the discovery of 300 feet of passage going on from the downstream end of the dig, details and a picture to follow if before deadline. -  see back page -  Ed


The Perils of Drinking to Excess

by Fiona Sandford

All names have been altered to protect the identity of the innocent.

Drinking is second to caving, something all good BEC members excel at and what better thing to do on a Saturday afternoon with the caves closed due to foot and mouth.  Enjoy a quiet pint or two of Exmoor Gold at the Queen Vic.  Ivan Sandford and Graham Johnson thought this.  The only problem was - Ivan had no house keys.  Not a problem!  Contact Fi and get her to leave a set somewhere safe.  This duly achieved, the hours were merrily drunk away.

About 7 pm, time to go home for a sleep before continuing the evening's drinking at the Hunters' Lodge. Once home, where were the keys? No where to be seen!  Well, not if Ivan is to be believed, so next step, break into the house.  Easy, thought Ivan, I'll kick the front door open.  So off he went, took aim, and of course, missed.  Instead of the door opening, there was glass everywhere and blood gushing from a quite substantial cut on the back of his leg.  Suddenly, rather sober, and quickly gathering his thoughts, he hobbled round to the Belfry where Jake, having had a look, said HOSPITAL!, hastily arranged transport with Roger who took Ivan and leg - now wrapped in a plastic bag down to the Casualty in Wells.  Meanwhile, Fi having gone to work, had been trying to contact Ivan, finally ringing the Hunters to be told he was at the hospital.  She arrived at the hospital to find one very sheepish Ivan, with 10 stitches in his leg.  He became even more sheepish when told that the keys were where they should be!! ... Of course, Fi had to bring him back up to the Hunters on their way home. Alas, due to the effects of the anaesthetic, Ivan was unable to drink, even though he did try a sneaky one. Apparently this is not a way to achieve sympathy off your wife, especially as she happens to be a member of the nursing fraternity.


The Final Word on F and bloody M

By Mike Wilson: cartoons Rich Long

We have all been suffering in one way or another from withdrawal symptoms due to the F word. Everyone I have spoken to has not found it easy to sit back and suffer the consequences of the outbreak.  There have been reports of a huge bullish run on mountain bike manufacturer shares, and the shops that have been selling accessories such as funny clown shoes, strange yellow jerseys, and vasectomy packs that you strap on your back, have been doing exceptionally well.  Of course us normal sub terra people would never stoop to things like that and have been staving off withdrawal symptoms with large doses of Roger's valium or hiding under tables wearing Petzls (Sean Howe). Abseiling from the 10ft space at night worked for 2 days, and there have been reports of people hiding under the bedclothes with a torch reading Mendip Underground.  Well, I never!  At the last count, Rogers's pub is slowly filling with noisy outsiders again and hopefully so is Tony's shop. Personally, I don't think the carnival is over yet and I have a great deal of sympathy for the lads and farmers up in Yorkshire - they probably will not be out of the wood until much later in the year.  Thank you all you BEC members who have quietly stood by the difficult committee decisions.  I am sure all of the other committee members are grateful for your silent but solid support. In case any of you do not know, the Shed is now open to members and small numbers of guests (not large groups). Cuthbert’s is open at the moment and so are some of the Mendip caves.  Not Swildon's, I may add, and Eastwater is very unsure.  So I think we may start caving again as a club in a gentle way.  Perhaps someone may have a suggestion for a club gathering - a skittles match may be appropriate!  Below is the official list of caves that are open on Mendip at the time of writing. Brian Prewer has compiled this.


All Burrington Caves

Singing River Mine


Rhino Rift and Longwood - approach from Cheddar Gorge

St. Cuthbert's

Eastwater - care please


Thrupe Lane Swallet

Swildons Hole

All others NOT mentioned are SHUT unless you have further information to the contrary, not hearsay but proof.

Foot and Mouth Undergrounders


Hunters Lodge Inn Sink

by Tony Jarratt

With no access allowed to Stock's House Shaft the team were forced to sit and mope in the Hunters where their whingeing eventually drove Roger Dors to distraction and pity - so much so that he generously suggested that we start a dig in the pub car park! Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink (ST 5494.5012) had previously been recorded by the writer in BB 448 (Feb. 1989) as a flood sink located at the south end of the "function room" building which took a good sized stream of road and car park run-off in heavy rain.  It had once been the drain for the pub stables and a stone arched culvert fed into it - now blocked off with concrete.  It had been excavated in the past by Roger, "John-john" Hildick and Nigel Taylor to a depth of about 8ft through silt and shattered rock to improve the drainage.  The water sinking here is not seen again in the adjacent Hunters Hole and was also not seen in the 35ft deep Alfie's Hole, close by but now filled in. It is assumed to resurge at Wookey Hole.

Before Roger had a chance to reflect on his offer the dig was commenced on 9th April and a large amount of inwashed silt and rubbish removed and dumped in his tractor trailer for relocation elsewhere.  A narrow, clean washed and very shattered water worn rift was revealed in steeply dipping limestone.  The walls of the rift were easily detached with wrecking bars and later chemical persuasion and the resulting rock pile transformed into a drystone wall on the west side of the dig. Roger Marsh's Attborough Swallet tripod was retrieved from the Belfry "plant store" and erected over the, now rather impressive, 6ft square by 17ft deep hole.  It was a perfect fit.  The tractor also comes in useful to attach a second pulley to when hauling out large rocks by Landrover power.

The dig has caused some amusement over the past few weeks and has certainly brightened up the otherwise maudlin atmosphere.  Envious NHASA and Wessex men with dig withdrawal symptoms visit regularly on their way to the bar.  Noteworthy is the vast number of experts suddenly available to advise and direct the toiling diggers especially when the Pub shuts!  Where are these knowledgeable and experienced characters at other times, one asks?  (Answer:- IN the Pub!).  The site has also developed into a valuable tourist attraction in these times of limited access.  It may even be a wise move to erect a "wishing well" over the hole with a bucket below for "well-wishers'" donations!

At the time of writing there is some 20ft of dipping bedding plane passage from the base of the entrance climb.  The sides of the dig have been stone-walled and reinforced concrete lintels have been provided by Roger.  A stone wall has been built around the hole and a steel grid gate welded and fitted by Quackers, who also welded a long section of permanent iron ladder which was installed in the shaft.  Blasting operations are continuing at the end.  The site has even been photographed by Andy Chamberlain for inclusion in a forthcoming Wells Journal article on "extreme sports"!

Work continues and all are welcome. Once again the BEC have both "got everywhere" and "done it to excess."

The Team: Roger Dors, Nigel Taylor, Tony Jarratt, Gwilym Evans, Alex Livingstone, Robin Gray, Annie Audsley, Neil Usher, Dave "Tusker" Morrison (W.C.C.), Mike "Quackers" Duck, John "Tangent" Williams, Paul Brock, Dudley Herbert, Ivan Sandford, Roger Haskett, Ben Barnett (Cheddar C.C.), Bob Smith, Trevor Hughes, Chris "Zot" Harvey, Mark Ireland (C.C.C./Axbridge C.G.), Chas Wethered, Jesse Brock, Tyrone Bevan (Frome C.C.), Laurence Elton (F.C.C.), Trevor & Martin Moor (F.C.C.), Tony Keegan (F.C.C.), Dave Barnett (F.C.C.), Chris Haywood (F.C.C.), Phil Rawsell, Tim Francis (Mendip C.G.), Andy Chamberlain (Wells Journal), Jack Lambert, Dave Carter.

Boulder Winching by Land Rover picture J’rat

Blowing up the Hunters car park by Dudley Herbert


Wells Museum Well

By Tony Jarratt

The F &M epidemic seems to be creating more work for the diggers than has been lost.  Chris Hawkes of Wells Museum is in the process of excavating a mediaeval well located immediately behind the Museum buildings (ST 5508.4594) and, needing a submersible pump to dry it out while digging took place, contacted the writer.  The Stock's House pump and transformer were soon installed and plugged into the Museum mains.  With most of the water pumped out digging can take place through the infill of silt, bricks, stones and slates tipped down the well - possibly in Victorian times.  A depth of over 15ft has been reached to date but two sections of missing steining (stone walling) are giving cause for concern and may have to be infilled or shored up.  Planned as an archaeological dig it suddenly became obvious that the well is located almost at the level of the great St. Andrew's Well resurgence and only about 550ft away.  The continuously in flowing water may be associated with the subterranean river conduit hypothesised by Willie Stanton and the site is thus a potential cave dig! It may even lead to the flooded downstream section of Welsh's Green Swallet - now there's a horrific possibility!!!!

Once again, work continues. Prospective visitors should contact Chris at the Museum (which is well worth a visit anyway).  Phone 01749 xxxxxx.


Draenan Access

From Rich Long -Caving See

Sue Mabbett, Permit Secretary SWCC, asked me to inform our members, Pwll Ddu Cave Management Group who look after Ogof Draenan, they have had a report from the landowner (F eb 2001). He found three Cavers (?) nothing to do with the BEC, wandering around the hillside looking for the Draenan entrance, they had been given the combination by an outdoor shop.  They had no idea of the access procedures, code of conduct or location of the logbook, i.e. not bona fide cavers.

This means the code has been changed to stop abuse of the system.

The members can get the access number from me, Rich Long, Caving Sec, and or Vince Simmonds, but it is not to be advertised to all and sundry as this may mean a return to lock and key system and this will cause problems for all.

The logbook is now located in a box on the side of the Lamb and Fox.  The following details about any club trip must be entered in the Logbook:

  • names, including surnames of all members of the party
  • names of the Club/clubs of those in the party
  • date
  • planned destination
  • time in
  • estimated time out





That is all on Draenan, but a tiny bit about OFD as well.

Party size limit can still be occasionally up to seven instead of the usual six.  However, please fill in the tickets correctly, Joe Bloggs + 4 is not acceptable and is making people twitchy.  Lastly, if you intend to visit the Columns on the open days please inform the columns warden and make arrangements, which are suitable to all, to avoid disappointment.

Sorry this has been a "Miserable Bugger" sort of piece, but it had to be done.

Lets hope the F & M, that name which shall not be uttered, is soon stamped out and complete silliness, much cheerful alcohol consuming, lots of caving and the wonderful outdoors be given back to us!!


A Glossary of Caving-related Words in French

by Andy and Ange Cave

This will hopefully be of some use!  It is by no means an exhaustive list and we would be delighted if anyone would care to point out any glaring omissions.

We have assumed that you know some basic French (GCSE perhaps) and that you're trying to read cave information, or to talk with cavers.  Many of the words have other meanings which are not related to caving and most of which we've left out for the sake of simplicity.  Many technical terms, as in English, will be misleading or incomprehensible to non-cavers.

Verbs have not been defined as 'transitive' or 'intransitive' because colloquial usage often differs from the strict dictionary definition.  It's worth noting that in French many actions don't have a verb form (eg. 'to survey'): one 'does' the noun; thus 'to survey' is 'faire une topo', 'to cave' is 'faire le speleo' etc.

For tips on pronunciation you could contact us, or (far better), someone French.

abime (n.m)


boue (n.t)


abimer (vb)


bouffe (n.t)(fam.)

food /

damage / spoil




accu (abbr.)(n.m)


boulon (n.m)

bolt (see

rechargeable battery




affluent (n.m)


bourre (slang)




(litt: crammed full)


amarrage (n.m)


boyau (n.m)(fam.)

tube (litt:

amont (n.m)


animal's intestine)


ampoule (n.t)

bulb /

briquet (n.m)






argile (n.t)


burin (n.m)


arroser (v)

to water /





caillou (n.m)




calcaire (n.m)


out !





aval (n.m)


carbure (~de calcium)(n.m)




carrefour (n.m)


aven (n.m)

pot hole



(see note below)


cartouche Hilti (n.t)


barrette (n.t)






cascade (n.t)


bas, basse (adj.)


casque (n.m)


baudrier (n.m)


cave (n.t)

cellar /

bec (n.m)


wine shop


(carbide )(litt: beak, spout)


ceinture (n.t)


bidon (n.m)

drum /

chatiere (n.t)




squeeze (litt: catflap)


bloquer (n.m)


chaussette (n.t)


botte (n.t)


(~neoprene = wetsuit sock)


wellington boot


chausson (n.m)

boot (not

boucle (n.t)

buckle /



round trip


chauve-souris (n.t)


cheville (n.t)


anchor (litt: rawlplug)(see 'spit')

cheminee (n.t)


doline (n.t)


/ aven


drapeau (n.m)


clef (n.t)

spanner /





eboulis (nom)


clope (n.t)(slang)


pile / ruckle




echelle (n.t)


coincer (v)

to stick /

effondrement (n.m)




emprunter (v)


collecteur (n.m)






entree (n.t)


coller (v)

to stick /

equiper (v)

to rig



escalade (not)


colonne (n.t)


escalader (v)

to climb

combinaison (not)


etanche (adj.)


(sous~=undersuit:~neoprene : ~neoprene =






etroit (adj.)


concretion (n.t)


etroiture (not)




facile (adj.)


connerie (slang)(not)


faille (n.t)


corde (n.t)


fil (electrique)(n.m)


cordelette (n.t)

ropeless than

( electrical)


8mm diameter


flotte (slang)(n.t)


couche (n.t)

bed /

fond (n.m)




(ie. lowest point)


couler (v)

to flow

foret (n.m)

drill bit

coupe (n.t)


(see 'meche')




fossile (n.m/adj.)


creuser (v)

to dig




crue (not)


(abor. fractionnment)


culottes (n.t)


frottement (nom)

rub point

/ shorts


galerie (n.t)


debrouiller (se) (v)

to sort





gant (nom)


deconner (slang)( v)

to cock-

glisser (se) (v)

to slip



gouffre (n.m)


degueulasse (slang)( adj.)


gour (nom)


dirty / disgusting


gratuit (adj.)

free (ie.

descendre (se) (v)

to lower



/ descend


grimper (v)

to climb

descendeur huit (n.m)

figure of



eight descender


grimpeur (n.m)


desequiper (v)

to de-rig



desob (nom)


grotte (n.t)


(abbr. desobstruction)

cave dig

igue (n.t)

pot hole

desober (v)


(see note below)


(fam. of desobstruer)

to dig (a

inter (n.m)




(abbr. interrupter)


deviation (n.t)




diaclase (n.t)


joint (n.m)


kit (n.m)


nickel (slang)(adj.)



(abbr. nickel chrome)                      well


lacher (v)

to let go

sorted (ie. perfectly designed / rigged

laminoir (n.m)




bedding plane


niveau (n.m1adj./adv.)


lampe (n.t)


noeud (n.m)


lampe aceto (n.t)


noye (adj.)







libre (adj.)

free (ie.

noyer (se) (v)

to drown



ouais (slang)


longe (n.t)

cows tail

palier (n.m)


louper (slang)(v)

to mess /

paroi (n.t)


screw up


surface of wall / side


lumiere (n.t)


passage (n.m)


maillon (n.m)


cave passage


maillot (~de bain) (n.m)


pedale (n.t)




pendre (v)

to hang /

main courante (n.t)

traverse /



hand line


pendule (n.m)


marmite (n.t)

small pot



hole in floor


penible (adj.)


marteau (n.m)


pente (n.t)


mas sette (n.t)


perdre (v)

to lose





matlos (slang)(n.m)


perfo (n.m)


equipment including rope


(abbr. perforateur)


meandre (n.m)


percussion drill


meche (n.t)


permeable (adj.)


explosive fuse / (slang) drill bit

permeable (im~ =


metier (se) (v)

to be





perte (n.t)


meteo (n.t)






pertuis (n.m)


monter (se) (v)

to go / come up,

cave passage (litt: narrow straits)

to increase, to raise


petard (n.m)


mou (n.m)


explosive charge / (slang) fart /

mouiller (v)




dampen / make wet


peter (v)


mousqueton (n.m)


explode / (slang) to fart


(~a vis = screwgate carabiner)

pierre (n.t)

rock (ie.

mousse (n.t)

foam /



head on beer


pile (n.t)


neoprene (n.t)


rechargeable battery


(see 'combinaison', 'chaussette')

plafond (n.m)


plan (n.m)


plongeur /euse (n.m/t) diver




pluie (n.t)


plancher (n.m)


poignee (n.t)

handle /

plaquette (n.t)


handle jammer


pleuvoir (v)

to rain

poulie (n.t)


plonger (v)

to dive

preter (v)

to lend


profond (adj./adv.)

puits (n.m)


ramping (n.m)

randonnee (n.f)

/ trek

rappel (n.m)

(descendre en ~ = to abseil)

rechaud (n.m)


remonter (v)

go back up

reseau (n.m)


ressort (n.m) (ie. metal)

resurgence (n.f)


reussir (v)


riviere (n.f)

big stream

roche (n.t)

massive, bedrock)

ruisseau (n.m)

sable (n.m)  

sac de couchage (n.m)

sleeping bag

sac ados (n.m)

salle (n.f)          chamber

/ room

sangle (n.f)

scialet (n.m)

(see note below)

seau (n.m)

sec, seche (adj.)

securite (n.f)

sortir (v)

come out

source (n.f)

(ie. water)

souterrain (n.m/adj.)


speleo (n.m/t)

(abbr. speleologue)

speleologie (n.f)

spit (fam.)(n.m)


siphon (n.m)

stalactite (n.f)


pitch /



hill walk






to come /


system /







river /


rock (ie.










pot hole





to go /













stalagmite (n.f)


surplomb (n.m)

/ undercut

taille (n.f)

tamponnoir (n.m)


toboggan (n.m)

topo (n.f) (abbr.)

tremie (n.f)

funnel-shaped pile of rocks

tremper (v)

tromper (se) (v)

confuse (oneselt)

vasque (n.f)


vire (n.f)

voute (n.f)

cave (litt: vault)


Note: 'igue', 'scialet' and 'aven' are regional words; thus maps of the Vercors are studded with scialets, those of the Lot are inundated with igues, whilst in the Grands Causses there are any number of avens. Doubtless there are different words in other areas.


A Few Useful Phrases :

secours !


secours  rescue practice



pay attention



just 'libre!')







(litt: to make fall)


fusible /

peter Ie

plomb   to have a sense of

humour failure !


mouillante a duck (low


Je suis casse

J'en ai marre

J' ai trop bu












to soak






roof of


















to watch out /



rope free! (or




en forme

fit / feeling well


to knock off


peter une


vas y!

(you) go for it!

allez y!

(let's) go for it!



I'm totally knackered

I'm fed up

I've drunk too much


Strictly speaking, of course, 'allez y' means 'you (plural) go for it' ('vas y' is the singular) and 'allons y' means 'let's go for it' or just 'let's go', but that's not how she is usually spoke.




by Rich Long

The Ashes 2001

The Annual cricket challenge between the BEC and the WCC is to be held on Sat 4th August at 3.00 pm (usual venue) with a barbecue to follow at Upper Pitts Farm (bring your own food)


Start at Calais

By Cave and Cave

It doesn't demand any great thought to realise that if the current state of affairs continues, this summer may well see quite a number of you crossing the channel in search of sun, cheap booze and caving that isn't 'interdit'.  Lots of British cavers come to France regularly, they may already know some French cavers and are generally familiar with the scene; these remarks are intended for those who are relative novices in this respect.

The southern half of France is blessed with huge areas of limestone and thus there's no shortage of holes to go down.  Most (but not all) areas are covered by one of the 'Speleo Sportif guide books (available from Bat Products!  Not always easy to find off the shelf in France) which describe a selection of the best trips, of all levels of difficulty.  They include information on pitch and rope lengths which, in my experience, is not always entirely accurate but which certainly gives a fair idea of what to expect. I'd recommend taking ropes which are a bit longer than suggested, on the principle that it's better to have ten metres too much than three metres too little.

At least one area can boast a guide book in English (also available from Bat Products).  I have used this book in anger, as it were; especially when it became repeatedly apparent that the author, despite good (obviously first hand) descriptions of the routes, had simply copied the pitch and rope lengths from the 'Speleo Sportif guide, complete with errors.  'Nuff said.

Some areas, I believe, are slowly being re-equipped with permanent P-anchors as in Britain, but in the vast majority of caves you will need a full set of the good old detachable hangers; similarly it's worth carrying a few more than suggested in the above mentioned guide books.  There are nearly always plenty of anchors but don't trust any other equipment you may find.

Many areas are actually covered by much more comprehensive and detailed tomes; these can be very difficult to find (even in Bat Products!  But its worth asking - I got one for the Dordogne there) as they are almost invariably out of print.  For a first visit to an area the 'Speleo Sportif or similar guide will have quite enough to keep you amused; if you're thinking of repeated trips to the same area then you might consider getting in touch with a local club.  The 'Syndicat d'lnitiative' (tourist information bureau) in a nearby town will probably have a contact number.  As far as actually finding the caves is concerned it may also be useful to buy the French equivalent of an OS map; the 'Serie Bleu' (1:25000) have most cave entrances marked, although you may need more than one sheet (currently 46FF each).

Most French cavers use carbide as their primary light source.  It's forbidden to take carbide on cross channel ferries but it can be bought from most hardware shops ('quincailleries') or if not they'll know where to find it.  If you have rechargeable electric lights the voltage here (220V 50hz) is compatible but you will need an appropriate plug adaptor which will be easier to find in the UK. 'Flat pack' type batteries for Petzl Zoom etc can be bought in almost any supermarket.

If you're looking for somewhere to stay, apart from hotels (which may be ill-equipped to deal with large piles of muddy caving kit) you could rent a 'gite' (self catering, self contained, vary enormously in other respects) the 'Syndicat d'lnitiative' will be able to provide a list and may be able to suggest some which will suit your particular requirements.  Don't be shy of telling people that you're cavers; the attitude here to adventure sports is much more positive than in the UK and to be 'speleologues' is considered socially normal.  The same applies to climbers, bikers etc.

For those who are camping; almost all towns, and most villages of any size, have a 'camping municipal' which will be civilized, well equipped (hot showers that work etc) and cheap. There are also any number of excellent private sites.  Given this, it is not normal to just camp anywhere (unless exceptionally wild) although people do picnic in the most surprising places without apparently causing any offence - perhaps this is because they are invariably scrupulous in tidying up afterwards.

Shopping in France is as pleasant, or otherwise, as it is elsewhere, but note that almost all shops except for large supermarkets are closed for at least two hours at lunchtime (12.00 - 2.00 being the most common).  This is because they take lunch very seriously - so would you if your breakfast consisted of coffee and a croissant.  Nearly everything (except supermarkets and some bakeries, butchers and petrol stations) is closed on Sunday and Monday.  We had a fair number of wasted trips to town before we got used to this.  Note: petrol stations keep the same hours as shops - 24 hour /7 day stations are almost always only operable with a French bank card.

So, fully organised and well equipped, you set out to find the cave.  Most caves, as in Britain, are on someone's, land, although very few are locked or otherwise restricted.  By and large the French farmer is noticeably friendlier towards cavers than his British counterpart; often he is proud of the cave (or caves) on his land and may, even if not himself a caver, be very well informed as to what's down there. He will almost certainly expect to pass the time of day even if your French is extremely limited.  The French are proud of their language and culture (and why not?) and resent the inevitable Anglicisation / Americanisation which commercial interests are inexorably spreading.  At the same time they are practical people who know full well that English is an international language; it has been a mandatory subject in all French schools for many years and in an emergency someone who speaks good English will probably appear in nothing flat.  Don't ever assume that people won't understand what you're saying but even more importantly never automatically assume that someone speaks English.  I suggest that no matter how much of a fool you may feel you are making of yourself and no matter how small your French vocabulary, that you exhaust it first. This may well only take seconds, but you'll have shown respect for the fact that it's their country and then, when they see you floundering, they'll probably enjoy trying out their English on you. If they haven't got any then 'pas grave' (not serious) as they say, and you'll have done your bit for international relations.  Anyway, your caving equipment will almost certainly speak for itself, as will your manners, and much can be achieved with gestures and a map to point at.  If you're in the middle of nowhere there's no need to seek out the landowner, but if you do find yourself walking (or driving) through his farmyard it would be most impolite not to knock on his door.  Don't worry if you're immediately surrounded by loud and scruffy dogs of all shapes and sizes; they're just saying 'bonjour' and won't bite chickens, sheep, or even cavers.

"Pardon monsieur / madame s'il vous ne derange pas nous voudrions descendre dans votre grotte." (Pardon Sir / Madam, if it doesn't disturb you we would like to go down your cave.)  After that you can happily stick with wry smiles and "Pardon, je ne comprends pas. Je suis Anglais."  (Sorry, I don't understand. I am English.)  Don't worry; forty nine times out of fifty you won't have to use any of this - it depends on the area - but it's worth being equipped.  The one thing I have never come across is the aggressive type whose only interest is to show you the shortest route off their land; that experience is one I've only had in good old Blighty.

Anyone caving in France must be properly insured; should you need to be rescued you may well receive some hefty bills afterwards.  Fortunately, as far as holiday caving in the EU is concerned, all BEC members are covered by the club's BCRA insurance.  This only covers you for the actual rescue and not for subsequent medical expenses.  Before your trip go to the Post Office and ask for form E 111; this is free and enables you to claim on the National Health against any medical expenses incurred whilst on holiday in an EU country.  You may not have to pay the French doctor / hospital - show them the form first, but either way you should be able to claim it back afterwards. WARNING: this information was correct last time I enquired but that was three years ago.  Best to check! - phone John Cooper in Wells 01749670568

TO CALL THE RESCUE - ring the Gendarmes; dial 17 (it's free, of course).  If you speak no French say "Accident sous terre - dans une grotte." (ack-see-don sue tairdons oon grot) and the name of the cave.  No doubt the word "Anglais" (on-glay) will get an English speaker fast enough.  (For just an ambulance, dial 15. For the fire service, dial 18.)

If you have a 'Speleo Sportive' guide for the area there is an alternative, possibly faster, method of callout.  Near the beginning of the book there is a section headed 'Speleo Secours'which lists the names and 'phone numbers of the local 'Conseillers Techniques' (Rescue Wardens) whom you can call directly but be warned that depending on the age of your edition this information may well be out of date, and that there is no guarantee that any of them speak English.

The French are one of the best caving nations in the world and they have a similar number of cavers to us. The main difference is that there's far more limestone and that distances are greater, so that cosy little scenes like the Hunters on a Saturday night don't normally exist. Nonetheless, you may well meet other parties of cavers at some of the more popular holes, and they are generally as sociable as their British counterparts.  Should you be invited to cave with them there are certain things worth remembering.  Firstly, they're not always very quick but they're thorough - it takes as long as it takes and no one's in any hurry to get out to the bar / husband / wife / dubious rendezvous.  They are very team orientated and will wait for each other (and us) as a matter of course. At the bottom of a pitch they will always hold the rope taut for the person before them.  Secondly, their idea of lunch underground doesn't normally include Mars bars.  They are more likely to produce bread, cheese, dried sausage, salads, home-made cakes, nuts etc and possibly a modest wine as well.  One trip I was on, a training trip for the club concerned, a bottle of Mouton Cadet 1994 was passed around at the bottom of the entrance pitch. They will always freely share what they have, so it's good to have something worthwhile to offer in your turn. Quite probably someone will whip out a little stove and brew up coffee afterwards.  In most respects, given the obvious language problem you could put them in the Hunters and there would be no difference whatsoever; each with their own strongly held theories, enjoying the company and a drink or three.  I don't know what they'd think of British beer but no doubt they'd be up for some serious exploration.

If you speak no French at all there are two things that you must learn before going underground with them. Firstly, 'rope free!' is 'corde libre!' (cord leebr) or just 'libre', and secondly, when we would shout 'below!' they will cry 'caillou!' (kye-oo).  Until fairly recently it used to be ' pierre!' (meaning 'rock') and once, a few years ago at the bottom of a 50m pitch, I watched in horrified amusement when the cry 'pierre!' caused one hapless caver to step forward, look up and respond 'oui?' The television sized rock missed him by about a metre and shattered by his feet.  Fragments whined about my ears and he was very quiet for the rest of the day. No prizes for guessing his name, and yes, this is exactly why they've changed it.

Various BB’s have included articles on visits to different parts of France.  The only one I could immediately find was written by Vince Simmonds (May 1990 No.454) and details several trips in our particular area - if you plan to come here you're welcome to camp in our field (no hot showers though!)  For that or any other queries give us a call.

Ange and Andy Cave, P ADlRAC, France


Jack Shepard

Brief Obituary notice wed 18th July

Jack Sheppard died on Saturday morning July 14th. 2001

John S Buxton Hon See COG

Committee Nominations

Nominations for committee members for 2001/2002 will be accepted by the secretary from now onwards. Please submit your nominations to the current secretary for the election of the 2001/2002 BEC committee for the AGM on Saturday 6th October.

Nominations must be in writing and be seconded by another BEC member. Only paid up members are eligible, probationary members are eligible to stand.

Nominations must be received by the secretary by Friday 7th September.



BEC Assam / Meghalaya Trip 2001 - Synopsis

At the end of January 2001 four members of the BEC (Stuart MacManus, Tony Boycott, Helen & Rob Harper) flew out to India.  Our intention was to spend five to six weeks reconnoitring the known limestone areas of Assam for their cave potential.  Although references to actual caves in Assam are limited it was considered that some areas should have considerable potential for cave development.


Despite communication prior to our trip with the Assam authorities and the Assam and Indian Tourist Boards and meetings with both tourist authorities in Calcutta and Guwahati we were unaware of the gravity of the insurgency problem or the level of associated hazards.

We flew from Calcutta to Guwahati and then on by road via Shillong to the North East Electric Power Corporation Inspection Bungalow (a compound with armed guards) at Umrongso in the Kopili Valley. For our safety the police also provided us with armed guards both day and night and we were restricted to short periods of caving within a few hundred metres of the road.  Because of this we only explored two caves (Gufa Pachkilo [~200m] and Gufa Ka1imundi [244M], and decided to cut short our visit to Assam after only a few days.

We were given information regarding several other known caves both in the immediate area and in other parts of Assam.  It is obvious that there is potential there for further exploration when the political situation is more settled.


Khasi Hills….

Back in Megha1aya we cast around for alternative projects.  After consultation with Bryan Kharpran-Daly back at Shillong we headed for Laitkynsew in the West Khasi Hills which was used as base for cave exploration at Mawlong, Ichimati and Shella over the next few weeks.  During this time we explored and surveyed a number of systems (see table below).  Although there are a lot of caves at low level in this area the potential for lengthy development is poor because of the very close proximity of the water table even at the driest time of year.  The caves at higher levels had greater potential although only one, Krem Rumdan/Soh Shympi, still continues beyond the current limit of exploration.

Much time and effort was spent talking to local people about caves and their locations and we have probably examined all the entrances/caves that are generally known and easily accessible in these areas.  A short day of walking in the hills between Ichimati and Shella revealed many choked sinks and two short (c20m) do1ine caves.  There will probably be significant cave development in this area but the problems of access and movement are almost overwhelming.  In addition there is little or no local knowledge of the high level karst since there is no economic/recreational incentive for local people to go there.  So, apart from Krem Rumdan/Soh Shympi, it is unlikely that this area examined by this party will yield more large discoveries without a lot of effort ..

Garo Hills ...

Five days were spent travelling to and from the Balpakram National Park as there was reason to believe that more caves had been located. However the Forest Rangers reported to us that no new cave entrances had been found.  This area should be ignored by future expeditions.


Christmas in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

As we transcended from the beautiful sunlight into the deep, dark silent blue it felt like we were entering into another world.  We were enveloped in a wonderful calm, gently drifting along the coral canyon and then we saw him, gracefully gliding towards us, inquisitively examining us as we watched motionless in amazement, suspended weightlessly.  I felt in a dream like state, as if I was watching a film with time standing still. He circled around us curiously staring at six pairs of wide-opened eyes staring back.  He came close enough to touch, seemingly as intrigued as we were and several minutes passed whilst he performed a final lap around us before smoothly gliding upwards into the streaming sunlight to break the surface of the world that we had left and then he took a breath, turned and disappeared into the far distance.  I almost had to pinch myself to realise that this was real, this was diving in Jordan and this was Christmas day.

Jordan has always intrigued me - a land of contrast with its rose-coloured mountains and wadis, its dramatic red sands and proud desert nomads, its rich history and culture, the warm waters of the Red Sea and its spectacular coral reefs.  With both sea and mountains, we could combine a scuba diving and climbing holiday plus soak up some sun rays during what would be a snowy December 2000 at home.

As we (John and Jude Christie, Mike Clayton and Emma Porter) landed in the Queen Alia International Airport at Amman, we were immediately struck by the fascinating types of culture and dress. Men on their way to Mecca solely dressed in two white sheets and flip flops (including one that could have been J'Rat's twin!)  Muslim women with black head dresses without even a slit for their eyes, people praying in each comer, such a variety, living harmoniously together, unlike the warring Middle East countries we hear so much about in the news.

We were met by a local Jordanian to help us with our visa arrangements and were then taken by a slightly uncomfortable (due to fuel fumes) flight to Aqaba.  Aqaba is at the southern tip of Jordan on the Saudi border, guarded by low mountains, resting on the shores of the Red Sea but overshadowed by its Israeli neighbour Eilat.  The once sleepy fishing village, referred to in the Bible as Elot now derives a major part of its income from tourism, as well as its port facilities, phosphates industry and potash mmes.

Our first three days were spent scuba diving at the Royal Diving Centre which was relatively quiet due to the recent neighbouring tensions.  Each morning we were collected from our base, the Oryx Suites at 9am sharp and if you were not there on the dot, the driver would not wait.  A 17km journey south of Aqaba took us to the diving centre which is part of the Red Sea Marine Peace Park.  The centre runs courses for beginners and trips for experienced scuba divers, offering snorkelling and a private beach.  As it is a marine nature reserve aiming to protect marine flora and fauna, divers are accompanied by an instructor even if you are qualified.

There are 13 dive sites along this coast, though our first day was spent just off the jetty at the centre. The Aquarium dive took us along the shoreline in the pleasant 22C water, surrounded by beautiful corals and angelfish, parrotfish, moray eels, clown fish - the list was endless.  In the afternoon, due to a power cut, we snorkelled over the reefs, amazed by the diverse life we could see in the clear blue waters below.

On our second day of diving which was Christmas Day, we were taken to the 26m deep wreck, the Cedar Pride, 4km north of the diving centre.  This Lebanese Cargo ship was purposely sunk in 1986 to create an artificial reef and is covered in coral.  This was a fantastic dive, with plenty of life including barracuda. However, the afternoon can only be described as magical as we ventured into 'The Canyon', following a shallow slope between a canyon of coral.  As we left the Canyon, which slopes down to over 100m, we drifted parallel to the shore and then we saw him, our turtle ....  We could not have asked for a better Christmas present, and our instructor summarised the trip by saying it was the dive of his career.

Our last day of diving, saw us on the Saudi Border dive, 300m north of the international frontier and in the afternoon on Moon Valley, an undulating reef framed by sandy beds.  We could have dived there all week, had it not been for the mountains waiting to be climbed ....

On the Wednesday, we sorted out a hire car and headed out into the desert.  Wadi Rum is one of a sequence of parallel valleys in the desert south of the Shara Mountains with giant granite, basalt and sandstone jebels (mountains) rising up to 800m sheer from the sandy desert floor.  Wadi Rum is famous for being the starting point for TE Lawrence's attack on Aqaba and in his book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom he declares 'Rum the magnificent - vast, echoing, Godlike - a processional way greater than imagination'.

Heading up dune -Rum

We headed for the village of Rum which guards the way into the desert, with Jebel Rum on the right and Jebel Umm Ashreen on the left.  The first building you arrive at is the government run but privately owned Resthouse with its own campsite.  Here you pay the equivalent to £1 as your entrance fee for the year which goes to a cooperative which organises the tourism, established by the Bedouin tribesmen. The proceeds have so far enabled the building of breeze block houses, a school at Rum and bought buses to link with Aqaba and Wadi Musa.  The Resthouse serves a fantastic and not to be missed chicken and chips, as well as acting as a base for jeep rides.

A ride into the desert by jeep is a great way of seeing the desert in a limited space of time.  At JD45 (£45) for the jeep for the day, shared between the group, it is great value.  You are not allowed to drive yourself due to the ease of becoming disorientated, so young lads, 12-16 years skilfully drive you into the desert to view canyons, climb rock bridges, see hieroglyphics and most amazing sights. Together with a tea and coffee stop at our driver's family Bedouin settlement, it was a truly memorable and unforgettable experience.

Amazing natural arch near Wadi Rum

Of course, a trip to the rose-red city, Petra is no doubt on most people's list and is the most popular tourist spot in Jordan and only two hours north of Aqaba.  To reach the city (once you have paid your £20) there is one route in, winding through the awesome 'Siq', to face El Khazneh, or the Treasury, like Indiana Jones did. This massive tomb was carved into the mountainside and you are taken back in time as you explore the refuge of the once 30,000 nomadic Nabataeans. At the far end of the city, is the Monastery, another amazing building sporting fantastic views of the surrounding mountains.

On our last day, we followed a traditional Bedouin route described in 'Walks and Scrambles in Wadi Rum', near the Resthouse which leads up to Jebel EI Mayeen at 1100m.  It was a beautiful, easy scramble in 70F made so atmospheric with the wailings and singing down beneath us in the village on their religious day.  The day ended on a camel ride, up to a nearby ruined temple and terrifyingly trotting back to the Resthouse.

We found Jordan an extremely friendly country and for an Islamic state it is relaxed.

It is very westernised, with delicious food served in restaurants (we used the recommended ones in the guide books) and wonderful kebabs.  Obtaining alcohol was not a problem even during Ramadam, though in restaurants during this time we had to have beer served in a plastic jug and drink out of plastic mugs to hide it!  The shops selling alcohol had newspaper in the windows and the alcohol section curtained off, but the people were still more than willing to send us behind the curtain and recommend the good wines.  The shops contained everything you are likely to need together with a vast selection of sweets.  With obvious cultural differences, there is the need to respect their ways and if you do so, Jordan offers a magnetic insight into the Middle East.  It is a total adventure with its mountains, coral reefs and even caves in the north and as quickly as our turtle disappeared into the clear blue sea, our holiday had gone ... until the next time.

Emma Porter


BOURBON Fabio_ Petra - Art, History and Itineraries in the Nabatean Capital 1999 White Star Publishers

DIAMANT! Carla Wadi Rum - The Desert of the Bedouin 1996 Plurigraf

HOWARD Tony Treks and Climbs in Wadi Rum Jordan 1997 Cicerone Guide

HOWARD Tony and TAYLOR Di Jordan - Walks, Treks, Caves, Climbs, Canyons 1999 Cicerone Guide

HOWARD Tony and TAYLOR Di Walks and Scrambles in Wadi Rum 1999 Jordan Distribution Agency

TELLER Matthew Jordan - The Rough Guide 2000 Jordan - Lonely Planets


The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan - The Tourist Map of Ram 1:38500

A similar article appeared in the Craven Record

Apologies to Emma for pic titles- Ed


Systema Cueto-Coventosa-Cuvera

Systema Cueto-Coventosa-Cuvera is one of the classic through trips in the world. It is located in the Cantabrian mountains, northern Spain.  The system contains the fifth deepest traverse in the world at 805m.  The cave is 815m deep and contains over 27km of passage. I am planning to book the cave for a week in spring 2002.  The plan is to rig the top and bottom entrances, then do the through trip with Snab, to celebrate his birthday, then derig the cave a couple of days latter. Anyone interested in coming along must be competent in SRT, as the shaft series down to the river is 600m deep and contains a 370m pitch.  Thick wetsuits and lifejackets are essential, as there are a few lakes to swim across. It is possible to do the trip as a pull through, the cave is bolted for both methods of descent.  Anyone interested contact me, Snablet. Dates to be arranged later, once the permit is obtained.

Tim Allen's Stag Weekend.
Tanne du Bel Espoir -Diau.

The Place

Tanne du Bel Espoir-Diau, Thorens-Glieres, Haute Savoie, French Alps.  A classic traverse at 701m deep (8th deepest).  The cave contains the Diau river, and has around l5km of passage.

The Revellers:

Tim "Stag" Allen, Mark "Best Man" Wright, John "Big Nose" Palmer, Liam "Thats my Boy" Wright, Dick Ellis, Richard "Terry Fxckwit" Greenslade, Richard Blakely, Adam ?, Simon ?, Martin Holroyd, Pete Hall, Pete "Grabber" O’Neil, Pete "Snablet" MacNab.

The Journey

A complete nightmare for those in the minibus due to a ferry blockade by French farmers protesting about their fuel prices.  However, the time spent in the ferry queues was kept to a minimum by the minibus conveniently breaking down in Coventry.  (Not all bad, though: The minibus company paid for a hotel, which kept its bar open all night).  It took from Thursday morning to Saturday morning to get to Thorens-Glieres. Martin and myself flew to Geneva on Friday night due to time restraints imposed by work.

The Trip

Martin and myself were awoken early, by a jaded crew in the minibus.  They had driven all night from Calais and were looking the worst for wear.  The owner of the municipal campsite took one look at us all, then told us to leave.  So we moved camp to a caver friendly campsite, on top of the hill.  A great spot, with a Braida-sized outhouse available for use if it gets too wet or if you want a night-cap after the pub.  Some of the lads grabbed a couple of hours kip before we set off for the cave.  Around ten-ish, we drove the minibus up a forestry road on to the Parmlan plateau. A pleasant mountain bar guards the end of the road.  So time was found for a quick sample of the chilled local brew, whilst kitting up in the warm sunshine.  An hour or so's walk across a sparsely pine covered limestone pavement saw us at the edge of a well marked shaft.  The general consensus among the team was that this had to be the right entrance; after all it was even "P" hangered with pull through chains attached. However, when Mark arrived whilst we were preparing to rig the first pitch, he didn't recognise the entrance. A quick consultation of the map and description confirmed Mark's doubts.  We were, in fact, about to pull through the Tanne du Tordu-Diau, which contains an 80m pitch.  Our longest rope was only 50m.  Near disaster averted, we continued our search for the Tanne du Bel Espoir.  The entrance is about 50m down a steep valley wall, with a large sign saying caving in the Diau river cave is dangerous in snow melt floods (No shit).  Unlike the Tordu, the Bel Espoir belay points were slightly more character building. We placed our own sling around a tree, ignoring the museum specimens of tat, and made a mental note not to study any of the bolts too closely (they turned out to be alright).  The pitches come thick and fast, interspersed with convenient ledges for waiting whist pulling down ropes (there is only one pitch where five of you have to clip into the same bolt, very cosy).

We split into two teams of six entering the cave one hour apart, each with 50m, 30m, & 20m ropes, whilst Dick stayed on the surface and took the minibus to the Diau entrance. The first few pitches are great 20-30m Yorkshire-ish pots.  We had two persons rigging, two carrying gear and two derigging, it was working well, we were getting carried away, flying through the cave.  Unfortunately it worked too well, on reaching a series of short pitches, known as the Chocolate Crawl, the tackle bags were already way on down the cave.  The 50m rope had to be hand-balled through squalid liquid mud; this led to a very nerve racking 40m descent; Slime and 9mm rope don't mix too well.  The pitch lands in a large chamber, strewn with the remains of a rescue camp. The chamber is also where Tanne du Tordu enters the system and marks a change in the cave character.  A strong draught guided us into a rift, a couple of short pitches led to Puit de Echo. This is a huge and impressive 50m pitch into a large chamber. At the base of the pitch, a date and initials written on the wall indicate the connection point between Tanne Du Bel Espoir & Le Diau.  Shortly after the chamber, the passage drops down into a stream way, this leads via some short shafts to an entertaining traverse to the head of a wet and spectacular 45m pitch.  The stream cascades down over multiple ledges, spray everywhere, a great pitch. The passage follows along a rift down a series of short 5 to 10m pitches, which land in beautiful blue pools. I thought that this part of the cave was extremely pleasant and entertaining caving, the best part of the system.  The stream eventually intersects the Diau main river, whereupon the cave changes character again.  The passage is huge and decorated; the caving involves wading down the river.  After a fair distance the river becomes deep (swimming).  The swims and ducks can be (and were) completely avoided, by taking a side passage on the right.  The side passage is a series of phreatic tubes (walking).  These lead for 300m to an 8m pitch back down to the river.  By now the river passage has grown in stature. Wire traverses have been installed to avoid deep swims and raging torrents. Eventually the fun has to end, the river sumps. After a bit of confusion and a short search, we found the sump by-pass.  There was no doubt whether we were on the right route or not, the inclined rift ahead was rigged with a stemple every two foot (We can't have the fee-paying outdoor pursuit tourists thrutching now, can we!).  The rest of the cave had every obstacle removed by means of iron ladders, chains, wire traverses and stemples. Although the remaining passage to the lower entrance is very spectacular, the fixed aids do detract from it, making the caving become a bit pedestrian (a similar feeling to caving in St Cuthbert’s).  On reaching the final chamber, Martin produced a bottle of Champagne from his tackle bag.  After a Formula One-style opening aimed at Tim, the bottle was quickly consumed, and we then proceeded to get lost.  After circumnavigating the chamber's walls for the second time, we made our way out of the entrance safe in the knowledge that we had made it through with virtually no navigational mishaps.

It was 10.15pm, a 2km walk to the minibus and the pub was calling.  There was no obvious path we could see, so we followed the river. After half an hour of scrambling down a boulder strewn river bed, we found ourselves above a 30m waterfall, in a 100m high steepsided gorge - time to backtrack!  We found a spot where we could scramble/climb out of the gorge, at the top we found a path and followed it somewhere?  We eventually spotted the lights of Thorens-Glieres, and were able to orientate ourselves in the right direction.  12.30 saw us back at the minibus, to find that disaster had struck! The crate of beers that Dick had stashed in the river for cooling, had floated away.  A major search and rescue operation was instigated, the outcome was successful.  Dick drove us into town, but we were too late, the bars were shut (luckily we had provisions for just such an eventuality).  So we went back to the river to await the other team, and cool down another crate or so.  The second team arrived shortly, so we proceeded to party till dawn.  A great weekend had by all.



New Mexico - The Land of Enchantment

20 May to 5 June 2000

Laventana Natural arch- El Mapais National Park, New Mexico

New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment is one of the poorest states in America, bordering Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Mexico.  It feels like a land set apart from the rest of the USA and is often described as an anomaly as it has its own cuisine, culture, architecture and unique landscape with the Rocky Mountain range running from north to south providing a sharp contrast to the low desert plains.

After a long flight, Mike Clayton and myself arrived in Albuquerque airport with mountains in the background, providing a stunning location.  The warm evening air hit us as we stepped outside, loaded all our kit into the rather large, economy hire car and headed off to find a motel.  After a night in the Luna Motel at $28 for the two of us including breakfast in a rather dubious looking cafe next to the motel, we headed off to the home of a local caver for some information.

Armed with plenty of useful tips, we were pointed in the direction of a local outdoor shop in the Old Town, to stock up on meths (white gas or denatured alcohol) and a snake bite kit.  A stroll around the Old Town was a must, a quaint Mexican style quarter with bunches of chiles adorning each building, musicians on every comer and a lively, vibrant atmosphere.

Our first caving area was to be 75 miles west of Albuquerque, in the El Malpais National Monument and Conservation Area, EI Malpais being Spanish for 'the bad land'. EI Malpais consists of some 600 square miles of volcanic features - miles of lava tubes, jagged spatter cones, basalt craters and lies between the elevations of 6,200 and 8,400 feet. We were informed by local cavers that there are about 200 lava tubes/caves in the area but very little appears to have been published.

Our first destination was a tourist trip to the privately owned Bandera Crater and the Ice Cave which costs $7 each.  On the way up to Bandera Crater, you pass the Bandera tube which can be followed on topographical maps for at least 16 miles. The tube was formed when the crater erupted some 11,000 years ago and is the longest of the 15 major lava tubes in the area.  The tourist Ice Cave, known to the Pueblo Indians as the Winter Lake, was a disappointment as you could not enter it (though it appeared not to be much more than a hollow anyway).  It did however, provide some welcome relief from the intense heat of the afternoon sun.

Start of Lavatubes, EI Mapais N. P.

We had planned to spend our second night in the El Malpais Park, with overnight camping being free as long as you obtain a backcountry permit from the Ranger's office. There were just two snags, where you are asked to camp really requires a 4x4 and secondly, our water supplies were not great and being a Sunday in the middle of nowhere, we had passed no open shops.  Instead, we headed back to the small town of Grants and camped at Lavalands R V site ($12 + tax for two of us).

Like a lot of 'campsites', it is predominantly for RV's (Recreational Vehicles) and the camping ground consisted of just sand which meant tent pegs do not stay in. Fortunately, there was some big lumps of lava lying around, so we managed to improvise.  A trip to a 24 hour Walmart saw us with about 8 gallons of water, a huge steak meal at 4B's ($6.95 each), a good sleep, a shower and we were ready for some proper caving.

We jumped on the 140 at J85 from Grants and left it again at Exit 81, onto SR53.  We passed the Ranger Office, and the Bandera Crater and Ice Cave and took a rough track, CR42 on the next left. All the literature we had, informed us that a 4x4 or high clearance vehicle was required to visit this remote area. Unfortunately, we had neither but it was a hire car, and this hire car was going where it had not been before (and this was tame compared to later in the holiday!).  It is worth noting that it is a place to avoid in wet weather, even in 4x4s.

When we arrived at the deserted car park it was getting hot.  Feeling keen, we both headed off carrying a gallon of water each (as recommended) caving helmets, we wore caving clothes i.e. T-shirts and trousers and took a trekking pole (to warn off rattle snakes!).  We followed a set route, which involved spotting cairns, and we were glad we did.  Because it is all volcanic, compass use is not reliable, a GPS would have been great if we had one with us but we did not.  As we started on the trails, it became hotter and hotter, we followed cairn after cairn, almost completely reliable on them. The area felt quite intimidating and hostile - it all looked the same with nothing distinguishable.  As described in an NSS article, , one pressure ridge or a lava looks very much like another ... the thick trees restrict the view ... Not infrequently, cavers will waste an entire afternoon either completely lost or futilely searching for a specific cave'.  To top it all, there was not a drop of water, there was a severe fire risk, we saw no other people, there were rattle snakes lurking and we were surrounded by a bewildering display of cacti.  If only we had a GPS with us!

We cooled off in Four Windows Cave, with the sun dramatically shining into the tube by four windows and had a good explore, taking photos along the way.  We finished the tourist walk, deciding not even to attempt to find the other caves that we had been given locations for - it was hard enough following a path, let alone going cross country.  We headed for another part of the Park for a photo opportunity at the impressive La Ventana Natural Arch, one of the largest in New Mexico and then to the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, which provides a fantastic view of the surrounding lava fields.  We jumped in the car, back to Albuquerque, through Socorro and camped the night ($5 between us) in the Valley of Fire (near Carrizozo). The Valley of Fire is yet another lava strewn area with lava tubes, though we did not manage to locate these. Instead, we completed the tourist walk and headed for the free International UFO Museum and Research Centre, at Roswell to decide if aliens really did land there.  A trip into Artesia to go to La Fonda, what was to become our favourite restaurant of the holiday (Mexican and very cheap) and we were back on the road to Carlsbad.

Arriving at the Guadalupe Mountain Outfitters in Carlsbad and the heat hit us, all 43 degrees C of it and this was May, it was supposed to be like an English summer day at this time of year!  We met the owner Curtis Perry who provided us with useful information on the caving and climbing scene, another trip to Walmart to stock up on water and we completed the last leg of our journey onto the Texan border.  On our left were miles of hills containing unsurveyed gypsum caves and a couple of families of javelina hog (wild pigs).  As we approached the Guadalupe Mountains, they looked stunning as they stretched along the skyline.  The mountains were once an ancient marine fossil reef and were part of the 400 mile Capitan Reef.  They were formed about 250 million years ago when Texas and New Mexico were covered in a tropical ocean, and the reef began to form from algae, sponges and lime from the seawater.  When the sea evaporated, the reef had become buried in sediments and mineral salts and was not exposed until it was uplifted and tilted by massive earth movements.

We pitched our tent in the National Park at Pine Springs Campsite, at the foothills of the Guads.  There are only 21 pitches on a first come, first serve basis and at $8 for your pitch (and you are allowed up to 6 persons per pitch) was great value.  All pitches had a picnic bench, a tree for shade and a stunning view, there was a toilet block but no showers.  The only significant problem are the skunks who have even been known to unzip tents to steal food - fortunately, we only saw one.  With the fires raging in Los Alamos and notices everywhere, the National Parks were on a severe fire risk.  It felt such a responsibility just cooking your food, as New Mexico had not seen rain for a year, one spark and it would not stop.

The next few days we tried to do some walks around the Guads exploring the Foothills, venturing up the narrow canyon of Devil’s Hall but it was too hot.  The sky was so blue with not a cloud in sight.  Its sounds heavenly but when its 43 degrees C, and there is so much to do around you but you can not due to the heat, it becomes a bit frustrating.  We took to starting walks at 7 am, getting back at 10am, then having breakfast and going for a drive or a siesta.  We found that it took us quite a while to get used to walking in a desert with the intensity of the heat and the lack of water.  It is recommended that you carry at least a gallon of water each and this is vital.  The desert was very beautiful in its own way, with the most amazing variety of cacti and creatures that have adapted to live there.  Something we were warned about but fortunately, did not meet in the wild, was the rattlesnake and the mountain lion.  The latter was descending down from the mountains in a 'stressed' state due to the heat, and attacks on humans were occurring in Texas.  In particular, we were warned about this at the popular McKittrick Canyon as it accommodates a permanent desert stream and ample shade.

Natural entrance to Carlsbad Caverns

One cool place was Carlsbad Cavern, used as a shelter by prehistoric Indians but it was a local cowboy, Jim White, who noticed what appeared to be 'smoke' coming out of a hole in the ground and on closer investigation, found it to be millions of bats that were leaving the cave at dusk to hunt for food. White returned with ladders and began to explore down the large entrance.  At about the same time, a second entrance was discovered by Abijah Long and on seeing the almost 90 foot high guano deposits filed a mining claim and work began.

The Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Centre is very well organised, showing videos of Lechuguilla and the bat flight, 3D models of the cave, interesting displays with trails around the park and even has dog kennels.  The choice of trips provided covers ranger-led trips to self-guided trips to more 'wild' caving adventures.  We chose the self-guided tour at $6 each which took us via the Natural Entrance and eventually to the Big Room which is equivalent to 14 football pitches.  The beauty of this trip was that you could spend however long you wanted - we took about 3 hours.  Once above ground, we completed the short tourist trail and eagerly waited for the evening Bat Flight, hoping to see our two newly adopted bats.  A purpose built amphitheatre around the natural entrance, sees a couple of hundred visitors each night listening to a free talk by a ranger whilst waiting for the bat flight.  Unfortunately, due to the increase in insecticides, the effects of guano mining and some of the bats not having yet migrated back from Mexico, there were not as many bats as we were expecting.  All the same, it was fascinating to sit and watch these Mexican freetails spiral out of the cave to hunt for moths and insects.

Our middle weekend saw us heading off for the Lincoln National Forest to meet a group of cavers who were working on the High Guads Restoration Project (HGRP).  The drive up was about 3 hours from Carlsbad, with a considerable proportion of this being on rough tracks.  We had been advised that it was accessible in a car with high clearance (our hire car had very low clearance).  It must have been an amusing sight when we travelled up in the dark and I could be seen running ahead of the car, shifting stones out of the way, riding in it when the track was reasonable and jumping out at every pothole in the road.  The journey seemed never ending and it was a relief to arrive at Texas Camp and meet some cavers, set up camp and have a good sleep.

There were about 20 cavers camping up in the mountains and unbelievably, one of the first people we spoke to was English.  (I was wearing my BEC t-shirt and his very first comment was that that 'the BEC do really get everywhere'!)  In true American style, we had to have a group meeting before we went caving, and had to have a risk assessment/hazard analysis read out to us.  We were told to 'take a helmet as you might hit your head, to take a rope if there was a pitch, to stay still if you met a rattlesnake and then move slowly away' - the list was endless.  The reason for this, was the strict conditions that the National Park place on you if you are caving.  The HGRP arrange these weekend meets to 'clean' the caves and in that way, they have access to the caves which is sometimes, otherwise denied.  With the caves being bone dry, over time the formations become lost under sand and dirt, with no natural means to clean them unlike our caves the cavers step in and help nature.

We spent an interesting few days caving in this area, descending into Three Fingers Cave, Hidden Cave, doing a bat count in Cottonwood Cave and the highlight for me, being Pink Panther Cave.  This involved walking about 4 miles in the mid day sun, carrying SRT kit, camera equipment, water and getting seriously lost as we scrambled over cliffs until we eventually found it.  This was a leader led trip with only about five trips a year and like a lot of these caves, is easy by English standards.  A slightly awkward climb led us down into a chamber called Speleogasm, full of bizarrely twisted helictites.  The icing on the cake was a bear skeleton, laid as it had fallen, its spine twisted with all bones in tact.

Our time with the HGRP project was soon over, we retreated safely down the dirt tracks and after 7 days without a shower in unpleasant heat, a motel with a shower and a good feed were our priorities.  Before heading to New Mexico, we had arranged permits for some of the other caves in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Unfortunately, out of the 90 or so caves in the Park, cavers are only allowed into about 10 of these.  The Rangers at the Park were very helpful though, giving us surveys of the caves and even opened a road on our way to Chimney Cave especially for us that was closed at the time to tourists because of fire risks.  The other two caves we visited in the Park, Christmas Tree and Corkscrew Cave (photo opposite) involved long, uphill walks for not much cave.  Two longer caves available as ranger tours - Spider and Slaughter Canyon Cave were recommended to us but we ran out of time.

Climbing wise, we did very little due not only to the heat but all the climbs were graded very highly. Sitting Bull Falls, an attractive oasis provides some climbing but climbing with the locals was by far the best way.  Our holiday was concluded with a visit to White Sands National Monument 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo. Glistening white waves of gypsum sands cover 275 square miles, breaking up the 4000 square mile missile range which surrounds it.

As we headed back to the airport, the first rain in 12 months began in style.  Shortly after we had passed through the town of Cloudcroft, reading notices that the national Park was closed because of the fire risk, the airport television showed pictures of the devastation caused by huge mud slides only minutes after our passing through.

New Mexico really is a Land of Enchantment, and we only scraped the surface of this fascinating and intriguing landscape.  The mountains and caves are endless, the land is vast, the people friendly and welcoming and we will definitely be going back.

Useful Information

Gear Shops:

REI, 1905 Mountain Road NW, Albuquerque

Guadalupe Mountain Outfitters, 216 S. Canal, Carlsbad

Good restaurants:

4B's, Grants

La Fonda, 210 W. Main St., Artesia

Sirloin Stockade, 710 S. Canal, Carlsbad

Red Chimney, 817 N. Canal, Carlsbad


Lavalands RV site, off 140, Grants

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, off Dog Canyon Road, near Alamogordo

Pine Springs Campsite, Guadalupe National Park, off US 62/180

To avoid at all costs - Park Entrance R V Park and Campsite, 17 Carlsbad Caverns Hwy, White's City

Useful Maps:

New Mexico Atlas & Gazetteer, 1998,

DeLorme US Geological Survey - Ice Caves,

Gunsight Canyon,

Carlsbad Caverns and EI Paso Gap Quadrangle.

National Geographic Maps - Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Further information:

Fodor's New Mexico 2000

Crane, Candace: Carlsbad Caverns National Park Worlds of Wonder 2000

Jackson, Dennis; Rock Climbing New Mexico and Texas 1996 Falcon Guide

Marinakis, Harry; The Lava Tube Cave Systems of New Mexico's EI Malpais NSS News June 1997

Nymeyer, Robert: Carlsbad, Caves, and a Camera 1978 Zephyrus Press

Nymeyer, Robert and Halliday, William; Carlsbad Cavern The Early Years

Schneider, Bill; Hiking Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks 1996 Falcon Guide

White, Jim; The Discovery and History of Carlsbad Caverns 1998 Reprinted by the Carlsbad Caverns Guadalupe Mountains Association


Thanks to Rich Long, Curtis Perry and family (Guadalupe Mountain Outfitters), Stan Allison, Dale Pate and Paul Burger (rangers from Carlsbad National Park), Allen Laman and Susan Herpin (High Guadalupe Restoration Project), Hazel Barton, Aaron Birenboim and Simeon Warner.

Emma Porter  A similar report has appeared in the Craven Record.


Stock's House Shaft;- Digging Into History.

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BBs nos 502, 504-510.

Photographs attributed to JRat-Ed

A Sixteenth Century Wheelbarrow Reconstructed

With the dreaded Foot and Mouth crisis effectively putting paid to any ongoing work in Stock's House Shaft the writer took the opportunity to undertake an experimental archaeology project which had been in the offing for some time.  The levels in both the Shaft and Five Buddles Sink had been found to have been equipped with plank flooring to aid removal of spoil and tailings from their depths.  The means of transporting these was unknown apart from the wooden sledge found in Five Buddles and now resident in the Hunters'.  A search of the literature revealed that a fairly standard wooden wheelbarrow had been used throughout Europe from at least the sixteenth century up to the nineteenth - essentially unchanged.  To test the theory that these were possibly used in the Shaft it was decided to reconstruct one and try it out, following instructions provided by Georgius Agricola in his authoritative mining volume of 1556 - De Re Metallica:-  "That which we call a cistum is a vehicle with one wheel, not with two, such as horses draw.  When filled with excavated material it is pushed by a workman out of tunnels or sheds.  It is made as follows: two planks are chosen about five feet long, one foot wide and two digits thick; of each of these the lower side is cut away at the front for a length of one foot, and at the back for a length of two feet, while the middle is left whole.  Then in the front parts are bored circular holes, in order that the ends of an axle may revolve in them.  The intermediate parts of the planks are perforated twice near the bottom, so as to receive the heads of two little cleats on which the planks are fixed; and they are also perforated in the middle, so as to receive the heads of two end-boards, while keys fixed in these projecting heads strengthen the whole structure.  The handles are made out of the extreme ends of the long planks, and they turn downward at the ends that they may be grasped more firmly in the hands.  The small wheel, of which there is only one, neither has a nave nor does it revolve around the axle, but turns around with it. From the felloe, two transverse spokes fixed into it pass through the middle of the axle toward the opposite felloe; the axle is square, with the exception of the ends, each of which is rounded so as to turn in the opening.  A workman draws out this barrow full of earth and rock and draws it back empty."  (see illustrations - from the alter piece of St. Annen Kirche, Annaberg, Saxony, Germany.

A search for a suitable wheel was the first priority as the writer's woodworking skills were non-existent. With incredible luck, one was found almost immediately lurking on the second floor of Wells Trading Post, an old mill full of assorted junk, tools, furniture, etc.  It was steel tyred, 16" diameter, and painted bright red!  It was acquired for a discounted price of £20 and the paint tediously removed.  All attempts to scrounge the wood for the bodywork having failed a visit was then made to Interesting Timbers at Emborough where two elm planks of suitable size were purchased for £36.66 and later, two more for £34.00. Six beer barrel spiles were kindly donated by Roger Dors to be used as the "projecting head keys." Work commenced on the 26th March when the writer and Bob Smith sawed and drilled the side boards to shape and pondered on the fact that Agricola had not indicated if the barrow had a floor or just V -shaped sides.  By studying several ancient representations of these vehicles it was decided that their seemingly box-like shapes suggested that a flat floorboard was used and another search through the woodcuts in Agricola proved this - after the barrow had been built! Because of their narrowness and length they were apparently side-tipped (see illustrations).  The width of the barrow was estimated after reading the following descriptions of contemporary mine level dimensions: -

"A tunnel is a subterranean ditch driven lengthwise, and is nearly twice as high as it is broad, and wide enough that workmen and others may be able to pass and carry their loads.  It is usually one and a quarter fathoms high (7ft 6") while its width is about three and three-quarters feet " - Agricola, De Re Metallica (1556). .

"Thefe Adits are commonly fix feet high and about two feet and a half wide, fo that there may be room enough both in height and breadth to work in them; and alfo room to roll back the broken deads in a wheel-barrow ... " William Pryce, Mineralogia Cornubiensis (1778).

These dimensions agree favourably with those in the Upstream and Downstream Levels of Stock's House Shaft. The average height of a man at this time was 5ft 4".

By the 7th April the wooden body of the barrow had been completed and given a coat of dark oak stain. Work was in hand to modify the axle to fit Agricola's description using a couple of cold chisels cut to shape by Ivan Sandford but this became too much of a chore and the barrow was taken to the Somerset Forge at Easton where a magnificent new axle and two frontal supporting bands were made.  Four superb, "distressed" steel floorboard support brackets were made by Paul Brock's workmate, Mark Steeds, and fitted to the sides/base of the barrow with coach bolts.  Once completed and the Shaft reopened it will be tried out underground when the durability of the diggers' knuckles will also be tested!

N.B. Since the writing of this report Bob has discovered that there is a genuine example of a miners' barrow at Morwellham Quay - George and Charlotte Copper Mine, an industrial archaeology tourist centre near Tavistock, Devon.  It appears to have a V -shaped cross section but a visit will be made to check this and compare it with our reproduction.

Illustrations below from 1556 - De Re Metallica : Georgius Agricola

A Seventeenth Century Mining Map Unearthed

Further research into the history of Chewton Minery recently revealed item no.501 in Trevor Shaw's " Mendip Cave Bibliography Part II - CR.G Transactions vol. 14, no. 3, July 1972."  Entitled "Mendip This Plot Lyeth in the bofome of the foreft of Mendyp or Mine-deepe in Sometfett shire. the great Bed of Ledd Dare" it is a folded manuscript plan held at the British Library and dated approximately 1657.

This item was not recorded by Gough in "Mines of Mendip" and it seems incredible that it has not been previously studied by Mendip cavers as it clearly shows three unknown (or unidentifiable) swallets (The Swallow, Pit Swallow and Golgo Swallow) and names a presumed resurgence - Skye Hole.  Mining historians also get a bonus with the identification of Golgo Rake, Boate Rake, Broad Rake and Gold Rake - the latter possibly being the lost "Golden Rake" referred to by Moses Stringer in "Opera Mineralia Explicata" 1713 p. 9 - "Gold hath been and now may be found in the hills of Mendip, in Somerset-shire, called the Golden Rake; ... " and also noted in "The Gold Rocks of Great Britain and Ireland" (J. Calvert. Goldpanners Association ­date unknown.)

This map has been shown to many local cavers so that as many theories as possible may be collected and compared as to the locations of the features mentioned.  At first sight it looks like a simple plan of a " Lake", road, two roadside swallets and the rakes in Rowpits - corresponding to Waldegrave Pool and Swallet and Five Buddles Sink area.  Confusion arises when the lake is seen to be "1000 fadom long & 100 fadom broad" - 6,000ft by 600ft!  The old word "lake" could also mean stream or marshy ground so may refer to the whole valley as far south as St. Cuthbert's Swallet - in which case the dimensions would be roughly correct and "Priddy Minery" is correctly located but the rest of the map would be at a larger scale.

The oblique line across the map may be the ancient (prehistoric?) footpath across Chewton Minery from Stock's House to Red Quarr/Wigmore area, but what is the double line running vertically down the map from south to north (south being at the top)?

Thomas Bushell is mentioned as intending to explore The Swallow to discover it's issue so that he could "undermyne the Lake".  We may assume that he had yet to start his search for the " .. natural swallow twenty fathom (120ft) deep .. "  This may have been Golgo Swallow which is stated as being "..20 fad lower than Pit Swallow."  The latter would seem to be a surface sink and the former possibly entered underground from the adjacent Golgo Rake.  The Old Men obviously knew that the water from this resurged at Skye Hole but where is this cave(?) and how did they know?  As Bushell's plan was to dewater the deepest part of Rowpits, which was the forefield of Broad Rake why had the local miners not done this earlier by driving a level southeast along Golgo Rake from Golgo Swallow?  Could this cave have been lost or blocked off by 1657 and thus the objective of Bushell's search and could the name be a shortened version of Golgotha - the biblical "place of skulls"?

Why is Boate Rake so named?  It is highly unlikely that a boat was used underground but could there have been an entrance near the " Lake" where a boat was kept?  Perhaps there was a boat shaped rock in the rake or maybe the word is actually "Boale".  A "bole hill" was a prominent site used for smelting purposes at the time ­especially in the Derbyshire mining field.

A comparison with 1940s aerial photographs has been made and what may be Broad Rake has been identified as the only obvious working running NE-SW as opposed to the main body of veins which run NW -SE.

The writer would be pleased to hear from anyone who has any thoughts on these queries - ideally through the pages of the BB.  A visit to the British Library would be useful to ascertain if there is any other relevant documentation associated with this manuscript.  Perhaps when **(if !) we break through in Stock's House Shaft some of these problems will be solved.  Roll on a virus-free, dry summer!!!

If nothing else the existence of this map proves that our six years of digging in this area have not been in vain as Bushell's lost cave is definitely in the vicinity.  SEE STOP PRESS


On Monday 16th July, "Mad" Phil Rowsell and Canadian novice caver Jeff Harding were poking about at the end with a long crowbar when it suddenly went through into the top of a 6 foot high continuing level.  The writer- summoned from the surface where he was sunbathing - was very generously given the privilege of being first in.  A short crawl under an horrific collapse led to about 200 feet of mine level with at least four possible ways on.  Needless to say the "well" chilled " Champagne" which had been stored underground for over a year was enthusiastically quaffed!  See next BB for the full, exciting exploration article.

The map appended is British Library manuscript no;- Add Ms 5027 A, art, 49.f.776-78a and is reproduced here by permission of The British Library - with thanks for their helpful assistance.

Latest Developments

On the 18th May the main footpath across the Mineries Reserve and Stockhill Forest was re-opened and access to the Shaft regained.  The following morning the writer found part of a rusted shovel blade lying on the spoil heap, washed free of mud by recent rain. It may be part of the shovel recovered on 22/8/00 (see BB 508) but a small missing section needs to be found to prove this.  A sketch is appended for the records.

On the 22nd May the huge "hanging death" boulder in the Treasury was banged and some bagging of silt accomplished in the surprisingly clear Downstream Level.  All the full bags in this level were transported to the shaft bottom on the following evening when the banged boulder was inspected and found to be split and now drillable in safety.  May 27th saw a strong team bagging more silt in the level and transporting it to the shaft and on the 28th the brand new generator was put into action to operate the submersible pump to allow further clearing .. Next day the hydraulic winch was fettled at the Belfry, transported to the Shaft and installed in preparation for the following evening's session when 184 bags were hauled out - a record (but the previous record of 183 was set by Mike Willet who hand winched every one!!)  The wheelbarrow (minus wheel) was partly lowered into the shaft on the 2nd of June just to make sure it would fit - luckily it did.  A good tidy up then took place and the leaking downstream dam was repaired with the use of expanding polystyrene foam. 63 more bags came out next day and many more were filled at the end in very "soupy" conditions.  Ben Barnett became the latest dig casualty when he dropped a rock on his previously broken foot and re-bent it!  Another 70 loads came out on the 6th June when heavy rain caused a swift increase in the stream level and the following evening saw the eventual complete destruction of the Treasury "hanging death" boulder.

The terminal "chamber" was eventually regained on the 11th June when much clearing of the approach took place.  Bags of silt were stacked on the Old Men’s timbers here and a couple of feet of progress was made into the presumed continuation of the level.  On the 13th another 132 bags came out with the hauling team suffering from the usual summer excess of midges.  Julie Hesketh, Tim Francis and Pete Bennett, digging out the Loop Level on the 17th, found a superb 18 3/4" (475mm) long wrought iron pricker, or needle which was unfortunately broken during removal.  The snapped off tip was identical to the supposed rake tine found by Paul Brock in 1999 which must now be considered as part of another pricker.  The pricker was used to leave a hole in the stemmed end of a black powder-filled shothole in which to insert a fuse, generally a powder filled straw.  The use of iron was soon abandoned due to its potential to create a spark and later prickers were made of copper or wood, though some were still in use in the 19th century.  It is almost identical to the shorter, broken one found in Stock Hill Mine Cave and illustrated in BB 467 (April 1993).  This example is considerably longer than the 15" ones generally used in Cornwall. A small piece of shovel blade recovered by Alex was found not to be part of that discovered previously but from a different tool.  Another 63 bags were winched out the next day.

Another push at the end took place on the 20th June when the water level was lowered by excavating the floor of the terminal chamber and revealing a clean-washed airspace ahead. This may be the main way on but is in a dodgy collapsing area and will have to be dug with care.  More work was done here on the 25th and on the 26th it was possible to reach the end without pumping.  Two suspect boulders in the ceiling above the Old Men’s timbers were banged, as was a huge boulder in the Treasury on the way out.  The strange, pulsating "waterfall noise" was again heard at the downstream end.

The surface dam in the Five Buddles Sink gully was removed at the request of Somerset Wildlife Trust, it now being redundant.

Further work in Loop Level indicates that it was driven along an immature natural streamway before being abandoned.  The Treasury of Aeops / Loop Level passage appears to have been the first level driven (from the surface), being later intersected by the entrance shaft and Upstream / Downstream Levels.

On the 27th June 73 loads were winched out and the banged boulder in the Treasury removed in pieces to give open access to this level, which will in future be restored to its former glory.  A start was made on demolishing the terminal choke.  Much of the broken rock was bagged up on the 29th and a large, flat slab brought back from the downstream end which, when cleaned, was found to be limestone.  It appeared to have been partly worked and seems to have been brought into the workings for some specific purpose.  Mark also found a partly fired shothole with the top section still full of stemming - this will be studied at a future date and the results compared with those gained by Willy Stanton in Grebe Swallet Mine, Charterhouse.  102 loads came out next day and on the 1st and 2nd of July about half of the full bags stacked at the terminal choke were dragged out and another charge fired to bring down loose boulders.  The Old Men’s timbers were also removed.

The 4th of July saw a large team suffering various disasters from attack by millions of midges on the surface, failure of the pump or cable, hanging death at the end and the snapping of the winch rope with eight full bags on it.  Luckily only Trevor was below (he's used to this kind of thing) but he was impressed - as opposed to being just pressed!  Despite all this another twenty odd loads were cleared from the end, more of the Treasury spoil was bagged up, all full bags were dragged to the shaft and one even reached the surface!  Richard Chaddock and Hugh Tucker did a working tourist trip following a talk given to Cheddar C.C. by Tangent and the writer the previous Sunday night.  The broken rope was kindly replaced by Ian Matthews.

Another 136 bags came out on the 8th of July when the hanging death was banged and an enthusiastic Adrian Hole was introduced to the dig.  The large amount of broken rock resulting from this bang was dragged back to the dam next day when Chris Castle joined the team.  It seems evident that this collapse area is in fact a mined out rake intercepted by the level and shored up by the Old Men.  The 11th saw all this spoil dragged to the shaft and 40 loads winched out.  It was noticed that the winch had been tampered with ready for removal by some of the summer low-life that plagues the countryside so it was dismantled and removed from site.  Ray Deasy arrived from Australia for his annual digging trip!  The total amount of bags out so far is about 8785 - c.88 tons.

Looking up the Level photo by Ray Deasey

Additions to the Digging Team.

Nigel Denmeade (W.C.C.), Mark Ireland (Axbridge C.G./Cheddar C.C.), Tim Francis (Mendip C.G.), Phil Rawsell, Tony Audsley (A.T.L.A.S.), Pete Bennett (M.C.G.), Julie Hesketh (M.C.G/G.S.G.), Elaine Johnson (A.C.G.), Richard Chaddock (A.C.G.), Hugh Tucker (A.C.G.), Adrian Hole, Chris Castle, Jeff Harding (Ontario, Canada.)

Additional Assistance

The British Library, The National Library of Wales, Simon J.S. Hughes (North Cardiganshire Mining Club).

A.R. Jarratt, Priddy. 12/7/01


Club AGM 2000

Reports of the various committee members and officers follow


Believe it or not, and without an election, we had a eleven person committee this last year.  Strange therefore we only ever seemed to have five or six committee members attend any monthly meeting, members are volunteers, and they are entitled to their private lives and associated commitments, some of which unfortunately may not have been apparent to them when they stood for Committee, - and regardless, the Club still functions.  As I expressed in last year's report, this can cause difficulty in actually effecting the efficient running of the club, and also ensuring that any decisions taken were democratic.

The 1998 AGM directed that committee members attendances should be recorded and passed to the club's AGM, these will be available at the AGM only, as an addendum to this report, and I make no further comment upon them.

Once again, the BEC owes a great big "Vote of Thanks" To Fiona Lewis, who steadfastly carries out the role of Hut Bookings Officer both efficiently and without portfolio!  It is sad to hear that recently she received verbal abuse from a non-member who called uninvited at her home, when he demanded some cave keys from her.  We are unable to identify this person who I feel is in need of some practical advice!

Both Vince Simmonds and Bob Smith have been energetic in their roles as joint "Hut Wardens". Rich Long has been active as Caving Secretary, and Roz Bateman has worked hard in chasing-up late payers and bringing out another Members Handbook.  I shall not steal her thunder in talking about membership, except to say that it is heart warming to see a regular amount of new, and young members coming into the club.  Many of these are being introduced as a direct result of Tony Jarratt and his stalwart digging activities.

The Committee hope to make a start in 2000 / 2001 on the proposed extension to the Belfry as a start in construction must be made under granted planning permissions within a five year period.

As I seem to constantly bleat, Please, please remember it is your Club try to do your bit however small that may be, this ensures that BEC continues to flourish in a shrinking Caving world.

The BEC is I feel in a healthy and strong position, in this it's 65th Year, I am sure it would make its' original founders pleased to see it thriving and keeping true to its' traditions.

Nigel  Taylor
Member 772.
Hon. Secretary Bristol Exploration Club, 1999/2000
Tuesday 5th September 2000.


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

Committee Members

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

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

Editors Ramblings

and gleanings from the comers of the Hunters Lodge

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


The Bildon's Mole Project

by Dave Yeandle (Pooh)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Yeandle


Alaska 2000

By Rob Harper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete, Rob and Keith at entrance to Whispering cave

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

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

Rob Harper at the entrance of Starlight Cave

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

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

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


Descending into Starlight cave

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob "sketching" at Whispering Canyon Cave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



by Chas



A Treatise On Subterraneous Rex

by Mr. Wilson

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

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



Shrimpbones, Mongooses & Porcupines

(What could possibly go wrong)?

Matienzo Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Peter 'Snablet' MacNab


Caver in campsite


Strange rituals involving caver and animal




Let Sleeping Bats Be!

By Vince Simmonds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Complete British Wildlife; Paul Sterry (Collins)

Book of the British Countryside; AA

The Postcode Plants Database; The Natural History Museum


Waldegrave Swallet

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

a brief history by Dave Irwin

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

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

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

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

MNRC Dig, 1925-1926

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2nd MNRC Dig, 1935

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digging Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mossy Powell's Poem

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

Waldegrave Swallet

By Mrs Powell.

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

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

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

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

Continued interest

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

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

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

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

Re-opening the site 1975 – 1977

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

, ... The following day I had a look at the site to find a heavy stream flowing out of the pond.  It was too voluminous for the normal stream channel, and flowed as a sheet over the old spoil heap ... and directly into the shaft.  I am not looking forward to our next digging trip, as it is likely that the underground scene will not be a pretty sight. ... '

No further work was done at the site and a year later repairs had to be made to the entrance gate when it was noted that though the gate was well repaired by Glyn Bolt, the' ... same ... cannot be said for the sides of the dig!'  (note 27) By 1986 the site was' ... much collapsed ... ' since when the site has been backfilled. (note 28)


My thanks to Tony Jarratt for reading the manuscript and the Trustees of Wells Museum for the use of Photo. No. I from the Balch photo. albums; Martin Grass, Librarian of CDG for use of Photos 2 - 4 from the Balcombe collection in the CDG Library; Phil Hendy for access to his photographic collection and the PISS logbook; Roy Paulson, Librarian of BCRA Library. for permission to reproduce sketch surveys and illustrations from Balcombe's Waldegrave reports Nos. I -12, formerly part of the BSA Collection.

Dave Irwin, Priddy. Somerset. 28th September 2000

7 - The fern filled depression [foreground) of Walde grave Swallet in 1997 (looking east). digital photo. Dave Irwin


Price, Graham, 1980, Caving News, Mendip. Cer SS Jnl 10(2)67(Mar/Apr)

Mine found at East Harptree; New MCG Hut destroyed; Lamb Leer Cavern, Manor Farm Swallet




On the hills interesting work has been done.  Mr. Harry Savory and Mr. Richardson have carried on the attempt to open the new swallet by the big pond on Earl Waldegrave's estate on the old British road near Miner's Arms, and there is great hope of results being attained.

An indication that this group of swallets feeds the stream at Rodney Stoke led to a great experiment carried out by the Street Council Engineer, Mr. T. Jones, on my initiative, when nearly a quarter of a million gallons of water were discharged into this swallet in twenty-four hours, and a careful watch kept for results.  Though there was great discoloration at the swallet and chemical tests were employed, and day and night watch was kept at each possible outlet, no trace of this great volume of water was to be found anywhere.

These experiments were repeated, and in no case has a test material put down a Mendip Swallet been traceable at either of the risings of Wells, Wookey Hole, Rodney Stoke or Cheddar. The dilution of course is very great and this accounts in some measure for the difficulty experienced.

References :

Jarratt log books: 20-21 Apr. 1976 - Digging and removing boulders

Tony states that one BEC member, Pete Lord descended the dig and was promptly buried by a collapse. He was dug out and the site abandoned


1.                  Oldham, Anthony D. et ai, 1963, Not in Barrington - or Oldham. WCC Jnl 7(90)199-207(June)

2.                  Balch, Herbert E., 1937, Mendip, its Swallet Caves and Rock Shelters. Wells: Clare, Son & Co., 211pp, iIIus .. figs, surveys [po 174} and 1947, Mendip - its swallet caves and rock shelters. London: Simpkin, Marshall (1941) Ltd., [vi] + 156pp, surveys, iIIus. [p.137-8]

3.                  Possibly Wheal [Wheel] Pit (ST/5477.5 143).

4.                  A new trace is planned to be carried out in the near future.

5.                  Balch, H.E., 1926, Mendip Nature Research Committee Report for 1925. MNRC Rep (18) in WNHAS Report for 1925, p.44-46

6.                  Possibly Eric Bird that was associated with Tratman in the UBSS and accompanied him on the Balch trips into Swildon's Hole during the last half of 1921.

7.                  Savory, John led], 1989, A man deep in Mendip. The Caving Diaries of Harry Savory 1910-1921. Gloucester Alan Sutton, xviii + 150pp, maps, illus., figs, surveys. [po 142]

8.                  Balcombe, F. Graham, 1936, Waldegrave Swallet, Somerset. Lon. 2 degrees 38' 55" Lat. 51 degrees 15' 35" Wells: WNHAS & MNRC, i + 5pp, fig (17-6-1936) [po 2]; reprinted in WCC Jn 114 (168) 125-127 (1977)

9.                  Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No.6, 13th February 1935 [in] Reports Nos. 1-12.  Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, illus. [BCRA Library]

10.              Balch, H.E., 1927, Mendip Nature Research Committee Report for 1926. MNRC Rep (19) in WNHAS Report for 1926, p. 27-30, illus

11.              Salcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No. I, 9th January 1935 [in] Reports Nos. 1 - 12. Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, illus. [BCRA Library]

12.              Salcombe, F.G. 1935, Report No.2 17th January 1935 [in] Reports Nos. 1 - 12. Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, illus. [BCRA Library]

13.              Balcombe, F. Graham, 1936, [as above]

14.              Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No.2, [as above]

15.              Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No. 10, [undated but written after 29th October 1935 and before 26th November 1935 [in I Reports Nos. I - 12. Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, iIIus. [BCRA Library]

16.              Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No. II , [undated but written after 29th October 1935 and before 26th November 1935 [in] Reports Nos. I - 12. Not published. 14 pp Fcp mss, map, surveys, ill us. [BCRA Library]

17.              Balcombe, F. Graham, 1936, [as above]

18.              Kenney, C. Howard, 1950, Summary of work, 1950. MNRC Rep (43) in WNHAS Report for 1950, p.7-8

19.              Balcombe, F. Graham, 1936 [as above] [p, 4]

20.              Balcombe, F.G., 1935, Report No, II [as above]

21.              Allen, Paul, 1965, Caving Diary, 1965. Vol. 3" 26-27, map

22.              Hendy, Philip G., 1977, Waldegrave Swallet - thirty years on. WCC JnI14(170)169-l70(Nov), illus.

23.              Hendy, Philip G., 1977, [as above]

24.              Jarratt, Anthony R., 1974-1981, Manuscript Caving Log, Vol. II [photocopies in BEC Library and Wells Museum Library]: T he entry given in this log book is dated 1st June 1974 where Jarratt found: ' ... that M[artin] B[ishop] & Co. had opened up the top of the open rift - some 20-30 feet deep.'

25.              Anon, 1976, From the Log WCC JnI14(l63)2(Feb)

26.              Hendy, Philip G., 1979, Waldegrave Swallet - another chapter in the saga. WCC Jnl 15(l77)156

27.              Anon, 1980, Council of South em Caving Clubs AGM Report. WCC Jnl 16(l81)33(May)

28.              Anon, 1986, From the Log WCC Jnl 19(211) 17(Dec)

29.              Balch, H.E., 1927, Mendip Nature Research Committee Report for 1926. MNRC Rep (19) in WNHAS Report for 1926, p. 27-30, illus.


Cave Divers From Somerset Establish New Record in the Dordogne

sent in by Clive Stell


Clive Stell of Bath

A team of British cave divers have beaten the depth record for Dordogne caving at the Grand Souci in the Commune of St. Vincent sur I' isle.

The team consisted of divers Tim CHAPMAN, Sean PARKER and Clive STELL, all of the Bristol Exploration Club and the British Cave Diving Group, with Andrew KAY of the Speleo-Club de Perigueux and the Wessex Cave Club acting as logistics and surface Controller. The record breaking descent went to 107 metres below ground level, and the bottom of the cavity has not yet been found!

This was not cave exploration as visitors to the underground tourist sites of the departement probably imagine it, for 102.5 metres of the site are under water.  Obviously in these circumstances not only does progress require a quantity of expensive equipment and meticulous planning, but also nerves of steel.  The reward for the cave diver is knowing that he has been to a place where no one has gone before. As a favourite expression goes, "more people have been to the moon"!

The Grand Souci is a geological enigma for the region.  Most caves in the Dordogne are predominantly horizontal, and until now, the deepest known was the Trou du Vent in Bouzic, at the extreme southern border of the departement.  Only further probes into the Grand Souci will help to explain its origins: at present it is considered to be a "relic" of a massive and ancient under ground system formed millions of years ago, before the verdant hills and valleys in the area even existed.

For the technically minded - the 'point' dive, made by Clive Stell of Bath, took 2 hours and 47 minutes, of which only 18 minutes were for the descent and exploration, the remainder the ascent and respecting the previously scheduled 'decompression stops'. Special computer programs had been used to calculate the mix of gasses to be breathed by the diver, because at such depths pure oxygen or even compressed air, become fatally toxic. The mixture used is known as 'Trimix', comprising oxygen, helium and nitrogen all mixed into the dive cylinders in precise quantities with different mixes used at different depths.  It is not cheap: each cave dive to these depths costs £100 in gas alone, not to mention the equipment to use it.

Clive decided to be prudent and turned around two minutes earlier than his maximum scheduled dive time permitted.  In the dark, hostile world of a flooded cave, it is better to play it safe.  At a depth of 94 metres the visibility dropped to a point where Clive could not seen his gauges despite bright dive lights but he continued on laying the dive line linking him with the world above until any situation became too dangerous.  In these conditions, it is easy for a diver to become disoriented.  His mission was accomplished: the deepest cave in the Dordogne at 107metres!

By Andrew Kay - La Chassenie, 24390 Chervieux-Cubas, Dordogne, France.  Note: The official deepest cave dive in Britain is 67.5 metres at Wookey Hole in Somerset.


What! More Armchair Caving for the Alcoholic?

by Ray Mansfield

I was delighted when the Chief Bat gave me a copy of the Belfry Bulletin which included his article on bottle labels and associated ephemera.  There was a catch in this kind-hearted gesture as it was followed by the comment "I expect you can add to this and produce something for the next BB".  Well here goes:-


I can only add one beer label to Tony's list but it is probably the finest cave related beer label I have ever seen.

Pabst Brewing Co.  An early 1900's coloured label showing a group of tourists in Mammoth Cave enjoying a glass of beer.  This was one of a series of 8 topical labels produced by this Milwaukee Brewery, which were also published in booklet form for advertising.


Krugman, Attendorner Hohlentropfchen from Sauerland is not a beer as Tony suggests in his list but a 32% Schnapps advertising the show cave Attendorn Tropfsteinhohle.  This item was on sale at a number of Sauerland show caves in the early 1970's.

Zmajeve solze, Dragon's tears homemade plum brandy (Slivovka).  Once upon a time there lived a frightful dragon in the Postojna Caves.  In fear of the roaring monster, the people of the region used to throw their sheep, goats and even calves into the caves.  The insatiable monster represented an ever-growing danger to the local people.  A clever herdsman called Jacob happened to live nearby.  When the inhabitants of Postojna asked him for help, Jacob hit upon a very good idea.  He told the people to throw the dragon a calf stuffed with quick lime.  They did as they were told.  The greedy monster devoured the bait instantaneously and afterwards drank water.  The lime began boiling and the dragon started roaring, raving and raging with pain. Finally it threw itself on its back, cut at a cave wall with its mighty claws so strongly that its traces can still be seen, - and it was done for.  According to their good old custom, the locals drank to this great event, toasting each other with homemade plum brandy.

This slivovka could certainly be bought at concession stalls outside Postojna Jama in the early 1990' s but I do not know if it is still available.

Bacardi rum.  The bat trademark of Barcardi & Company Ltd is claimed to be the most famous bat in the world.  A 16pp booklet published in 1984 will tell you why.

Dew of the Western Isles, Old Highland Whisky.  An early 1900 bottle label reproduced on a postcard in 1986.  The whisky was produced by Train & McIntyre Ltd of Glasgow and the label shows Fingal's Cave.

Mammoth Cave Brand straight bourbon whiskey.  Tony records the 1940's label from the Stitzel-Weller Distillery but there are others. Probably the earliest is a late 1800' s or very early 1900' s bottle with a multi-coloured enamel picture of the historic entrance to Mammoth Cave with white enamel lettering Mammoth Cave Whiskey.  One of these rare items recently sold for well in excess of $200.00 in a recent auction.  A half pint label dating from 1916 shows a similar picture to that used in the 1940's, but the distillery was then solely owned by W.L.Weller & Sons.  This 1916 bottle is of considerable interest as it has another label which is a caution notice about mis-using the bottle and its contents, and the neck tax stamps have a bottling date of 1916 and a made date of spring 1911.  It claims to be 100 proof.

Jack Daniel's Whiskey. The California Caver of June 1980 carried a copy of an advertisement for this famous bourbon.  It shows three people at the entrance of the cave and carries the following text.  Of the 2,531 caves in Tennessee, this one in Moore County is particularly prized.  It's fed, you see, by an underground, iron-free spring flowing at 56 degrees Fahrenheit year round.  Mr Jack Daniel, a native of these parts, laid claim to the cave in 1866 and from that year forward, its water has been used to make Jack Daniel Whiskey.

A full description of this cave and a survey can be found in:- Thomas Barr - Caves of Tennessee. 1961. pp.334-337.  I visited this distillery on 18th June 1974 with Martin Webster, Martin Mills and Bob Mehew to find that the water from the cave was really used to make the whiskey but we did not get a free sample as the distillery is in a dry county, most disappointing.


Tony suggests that serious students should consult the Belgian published bulletin collections (now defunct).  He is quite right in saying consult it, but it is not defunct.  It stopped at number 40 in December 1994 but Guy de Block must have relented and started again with number 41 in September 1999 and the last issue number 43 came out in May 2000.  Numerous labels (mostly wine) have been described and illustrated and check lists have been produced by Philippe Drouin in the following issues:-

Number 29 pp.12-13 (February 1991).  Number 31 pp.13-16 (December 1991).  Number 40 pp.11-23 (December 1994) and Number 41 pp.3-10 (September 1999).

Quitapenas Malaga.  A sweet wine purchased in the last five years with a label showing some cave formations in the Cueva de Nerja, Spain.

Cueva del Granero 1987. From La Mancha region of Spain does not have any cave illustration, just in the name.

Tautavel.  Cotes du Roussillon Villages 1995.  Label shows three Palaeolithic hunters from the site Caune de l' Arago, Pyrenees-Orientales, an archaeological site renowned for the discovery of Tautavel Man.  Some details on this site and this wine appeared in the Oddbins winelist for Winter 1995.

Grottes des Tunnels Merlot 1992.  From a show cave in the Ardeche visited by Martin Mills and family in 1994, this label shows a stylised cave entrance.  His comment was that the wine was undoubtedly better than the cave.

Moc Chau 989, Speleo Vietnam.  A 1996 Cotes du Rhone showing a caver either prussiking or abseiling off a map of Vietnam.

Renski Reisling. Produced for Postojnska Jama 1818-2000. The label is taken from a Schaffenrath print of 1825.

Valvasor penece vino. Similar to champagne produced in Ljubljana in the early 1990's.  The neck label is a portrait of J.W.Valvasor, explorer of caves and underground sources in the latter part of the 17ih century.  The bottle cork also carries his name.

Soft Drinks

Agua de Cuevas.  No cave shown on the label but from a cave spring in the Cantabrian Mountains of Spain.

Schweppes.  A German advertisement from Enzyklopadie des Schweppens lists Homo Schweppiens showing a frieze of prehistoric animals and a prehistoric hunter holding a bow in his right hand and a bottle of Schweppes to his lips with his left hand.


Just one item which is a brown cardboard box 5l¼ high x 6½ wide x 8¼ inches long.  All four sides are marked Mammoth Cave Twist Sweetened.  The box contained 2 dozen packets from the Scott Tobacco Company of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

I am deeply indebted to Tony Jarratt, Martin Mills, Trevor Shaw and Jan Paul van der Pas for awakening my interest and providing many hours of amusement.

Ray Mansfield. July 2000.


Nostalgic Wanderings (Two)

by Roger Haskett

A Fishing Interlude, Gamtoose River, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Where to start? Around 1980, I joined Pick 'n Pay supermarkets and was given their branch in Commercial Road, Port Elizabeth, as a butchery manager.  Seeing as I had come down from the Transvaal, a management meeting was called, and I was introduced to the other three managers in the area.  After a few canapes and many Castle lagers, the chat came round to the local scene and fishing in general.

Well, fishing or caving, I don't care which.  So there! I hit it off with the guys straight away, and was immediately drawn into this crazy eastern Cape angling scene.  It's mad down there.  Everybody goes; it's a way of life, everyone's hooked!   Except.

Two of the blokes, one from the Hypermarket, who shall remain nameless.  He liked to stray away from home, so the two times he came with us he brought his wife along (clever bugger he were).  He used to throw his line in with no bait on, so, obviously he never caught anything.  Well, his Misses soon got bored with that and stopped coming.  Guess what?  So did he. Dirty swine!

The other bloke, Marc Jackson, he just reckoned fishing was a waste of time.  However, myself, Ted Rogers and Colin Smith (a guy from a rival firm) palled up together and went fishing most weekends.  We used to take the families, girlfriends and the Bar Be Que and have a whale of a time.

Now Jacko, he got to thinking that he was missing out, so he started creeping around, asking silly questions.  Like; How much did a rod cost?  Etc., Well, we kept him on a string for a bit, and then one day, we asked him if he would like to come with us?  This, of course, was what he was after.

The following weekend we had organised a little competition with one of the local Angling Clubs, so we invited him along.  He was made up like a dog with the proverbial two .... !  We had arranged to meet this other club in Patensie, at 6 am where we would draw lots for where we were going to fish.  We had fished the Gamtoose up there many times before, but never in the section which we drew that day.  So, we didn't know that stretch (very profound Roger).  However, nary a daunt, we are going to give it our best shot. But first, we have got to get Jacko tackled up.  So we find him a rod and reel, tie some hooks on - you are allowed to fish with two hooks in S.A., bait him up and cast his line in the river for him.

Now think to yourself, it's 6.30 in the morning, just getting light.  There is a miasma rising from the water and it's still quite chilly. We've drawn a small swim where the four of us can only just fit along the bank.  Either side of us are banks of bulrushes and tall reeds.  Jacko's got a line in the water and the rest of us are turned away on the bank tackling up.

All of a sudden the silence is broken.  This first time bloody fisherman, Jackson, has hooked into a monster Carp.  Within minutes of being at the river, this "Groot Vis" is trekking upriver like an express train, Jackson's screaming his head off, and the fish is heading into our side of the bank about forty yards up stream.  Clever Dick Smith tells him," Hey Jacko, you are going to lose that fish in the reeds if you don't get in the river and play it!"  So Jacko jumps in!  Now here's the punch line - nobody told us that the river was eighteen feet deep here. When we looked around, all we could see was the tip of Jacko's rod and his cap floating on the surface, Ho! Ho! Ho! He could have drowned, but we couldn't help him, we were laughing too much.

What a baptism!  He eventually managed to get himself into shallower water and landed a fine 12 lb. Common Carp.  Shame, the poor blokes been hooked ever since!

Hope someone will find this story amusing, Roger Haskett

Roger Haskett with a large Common Carp


Stock's House Shaft - Winter Draws On.

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BB’s nos. 502, 504-508.

"Now we descend into oblivion or we enter the great book of history".
Journey to the Centre of the Earth (the film) - 1959

On the 6th September 2000 a distinct hint of Autumn in the air spurred the team on to drop the downstream water level before the onset of the rainy season.  In an attempt at economy Quacker’s generator was tried a couple of times to power the pump but was not "man enough" for the job. In the meantime all full bags were dragged back to the Shaft and clearing of the Upstream Level and Shaft bottom continued.  Three visiting cavers from Meghalaya assisted on the 11th and now know why we go to their country to walk into huge, open and warm river caves!

On 13th September 125 bags reached the surface with another 108 coming out on the 20th - the fuel crisis and B.C.R.A.  Conference putting an effective halt on the intermediate weekend digging.  The level of the terminal choke had been lowered enough for the standing water surface to have dropped considerably.  This enabled it to be pumped "dry" using the hand pump during generator problems.  An infestation of tiny flies added to the fun at the working face as diggers with pooh-covered hands felt them settle on their noses.

Work continued in both the Upstream and Downstream Levels and the outlet from the submersible pump hose was used to good effect to wash mud off the walls.  On the 24th 62 bags were hauled out and the following day the writer, on a solo trip, pumped out the water and succeeded in bringing down the terminal choke with the use of Trevor's long garden hoe handle - "the Chokebuster".  It made a pleasant change not to be underneath it at the time.  A stream issuing from the Treasury of Aeops heralded the onset of an early "monsoon"

The planned major assault on the 27th was defeated by continued heavy rain but despite two good sized streams entering at the Shaft bottom (where Alex had earlier that day heaped up boulders from a clearing session) the end was eventually pumped out and a few rocks removed before the sudden noise of the pipe bung being blown out of the dam caused a minor panic.  Amidst general cursing pumping was recommenced and more rocks later removed from the choke.  It was then possible to scramble up over the collapse into a standing sized, solid roofed "rift chamber".  This may be natural, mined out or created by roof collapse during the driving of the level and had been used as a convenient stacking space by the Old Men.  Despite a very strong inward draught there was no obvious outlet from this rift to indicate the way on.  It is assumed that the level continues below this rift and the excavation of the floor here would have been the next priority if the weather had not shat on us.

The 1st October saw 83 loads out and the welcome return of our German friends Helmut and Michele Potzsch of the Basque caving club Ziloko Gizonak.  All the removed rock is now being taken to the Mineries Pool for future repair work on the dam and the bagged tailings and mud are being used to build a temporary barrage in the gully behind the main sink.  By this means we have diverted most of the Treasury of Aeops water into Five Buddles Sink but the source of the Upstream Level water needs to be found before that too can be diverted.  The Treasury water did one good thing by washing away debris obscuring two borer holes driven towards the Shaft and indicating that the Old Men had mined inwards to here from the surface sink, probably following a natural streamway.

The temporary surface dam was commenced by Alex Livingstone and Pete Hellier on October 4th - with Lindsay Diengdoh doing sterling service wheelbarrowing spoil across the road from the Shaft.  Another 104 loads were hauled out and the in-washed silt behind the temporary Upstream Level dam was removed and bagged.  Further visits on the 6th, 8th and 9th continued this work in ongoing wet conditions.  A small section of clay pipe stem and a tiny piece of china decorated with blue spots were found.

Another major session occurred here on the 11th with activities being videoed by Neil Wooldridge (W.C.C.) who has been conned into producing a film of the dig.  It has been decided to call the huge boulder presently blocking the Upstream Level "Rupert Jnr."  A historical precedent had been set by the late Graham Ba1combe who named a two ton boulder, in his dig at the nearby Waldegrave Swallet, Rupert.  See the article by Dave Irwin in this BB and the forthcoming Speleo History Bulletin - copies available from him - essential reading for Stockhill and cave digging enthusiasts.

A considerable amount of trenching and banking was done on the surface by Trevor, resulting in a good flow of water into Five BuddIes Sink and a reduction of that entering the Treasury of Aeops.  Half a small bronze horizontal bearing liner was found near the excavated buddle pit - doubtless part of the ore washing machinery.  It bears evidence of "load lines" due to excessive wear (see appendix).

Over the next two days about a hundred bags of spoil were filled in the Upstream Level and a large amount of rock was dragged back from beyond "Rupert Jnr." by careful manipulation of the long crowbar. Another tiny fragment of grey and blue decorated china was found.  By inserting drain testing dye (fluorescein) into the surface stream we were able to prove that the Upstream Level sink must lie south east of the old tramway to the Waldegrave Works - the water on the north west side only entering the workings via the Treasury of Aeops.  Further testing in this area has so far failed to reveal the actual sink.

121 bags came out on the 18th and about fifty bags were filled from the silt traps in the streamway. Next day a shallow shaft-like feature about forty feet south of Stock's House ruins was excavated to a depth of six feet.  Probing in all directions with a crowbar failed to hit any solid rock or ginging so this site was abandoned as a possible alternative entrance to the Upstream Level.  106 more loads came out on the 25th when Neil W. was kept busy dragging them to the Shaft, hooking them on and videoing the operation at the same time!  Further clearing was undertaken over the next two days and on the 30th - when the writer, digging out the floor of Pipe Aven, was distressed to find lumps of wet clay sporadically dropping from the ceiling. The drone of a Forestry J.E.B. grading the car park somewhere above did not help his composure and so a retreat was made to H.Q.  A mighty waterfall was found to be thundering down the "wheel pit" entrance to Five BuddIes Sink.

On the 2nd November, following an hour spent vainly trying to keep the winch running properly, hauling plans were abandoned and Neil U. set off below.  He returned fifteen minutes later in a state of depressed shock to report that a large roof fall had occurred at Pipe Aven and that the rest of the Upstream Level was now inaccessible.  All went down to view this tragedy and note the ominous series of cracks in the SE wall of the Level which gave warning of further, imminent and catastrophic collapse!  The accessible tools were rescued leaving three spades and two crowbars interred beyond the fall and the place was left to sort itself out.  A large quantity of fallen clay had added to the silt problems in the streamway and so work commenced on bagging this up - a project which will keep us going over the next few weeks.  We were fortunate that no-one had been crushed by, or trapped beyond this fall.

Bob Smith's birthday was on the 6th November so, as a special treat, he was allowed to hook on 100 bags for removal to the surface.  Another 117 came out two days later - courtesy of Alex, whose birthday it wasn't.  Further work on clearing the Pipe Aven collapse was done on the 13th when the writer, supported by Alex, also dived for some 15-20ft downstream to reach the flooded terminal choke but did not feel confident enough to squeeze up past the stemples into the assumed limited airspace above.  With lower water conditions this is still a feasible diving/digging proposition but the great amount of silt creates zero visibility and makes things generally unpleasant.

During a major silt bagging session on the 15th November more of the Pipe Aven collapse was gingerly removed and shoring was commenced with the placement of a long Acro-prop. Two days later a couple of short Acros were installed, more rock cleared and the choke gingerly passed beneath in order to rescue the tools from beyond.  A major shoring project is now required here.

To be continued; (Due to the current high water levels the ground plan of the Shaft bottom cannot be done and will be left for a future article.)

Appendix - A Timewaster in Five Buddles Sink and more on the clay pipe saga.

On 9/2/98, at the base of the Cornish Shaft in Five Buddles Sink, a wooden spatula-like tool was disinterred. It was assumed to be a scraper for cleaning mining equipment. The recently published "The Copper & Lead Mines around the Manifold Valley, North Staffordshire" by Lindsey Porter and John Robey has a photograph of an almost identical artefact on p.141.  This was found in the Royledge Mine and probably dates from the 1850s.  It is described as a" .... 'timewaster', a tool for removing clay from boots." It's Mendip cousin and the bearing liner found on the surface are shown below - drawn to full scale.  Both are destined for Wells Museum.

Bob Smith, via David Cooper (a clay pipe maker at Amberley Chalk Pits Museum, West Sussex) has contacted David Higgins of the Society for Clay Pipe Research.  He was very excited by the drawings of the decorated pipe and writes as follows:-

"Many thanks for your letter and most interesting enclosure which arrived this morning.  I have had a look through various publications for the area and cannot find any good matches for this unusual pipe.  The bowl form and style of the leaf-decorated seams suggest a date of around 1740-90 for this piece, but the other decorative elements are very hard to match.  Most of the Bristol area products were plain until towards the end of the C18th and so this looks like an early example.  There does not seem to be anything quite like it known to date!  The W in a circle looks like a typical cartouche mark as used in the Bristol region, but extending up as far as Gloucestershire and down into Devon and Cornwall.  It is slightly unusual to have a single letter rather than a two letter mark. Marks with dotted borders like this occur on pipes of c 1700-50 in Cornwall.  Given the combination of form, mark and decoration a date of somewhere around c1750-75 would seem most likely for this piece.

Given the rarity of this design it would be useful to get a note of it published.  Would your contact be prepared to write a covering note describing the pipe and saying where it was found to go in the SCPR Newsletter?"  (This has been done.)

Additions to the Digging Team

Brian Kharpran Daly (Meghalayan Adventurers, N.E.India), Lindsay Diengdoh (M.A.), Gregory Diengdoh (M.A.), Mark "Shaggy" Howden, Brian Johnson, Liz Kitts (Southampton U.C.C.), Michele Potzsch (Ziloko Gizonak), Mick Barker ( Lincoln Scouts C.C.), Adrian Burrows, Matthew Higgins.

Additional Assistance

Dave Carter (Show Power), Dany Bradshaw, Mike Wilson, David Cooper (clay pipe maker), David Higgins (S.C.P.R.).