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The Belfry is the home of the Bristol Exploration Club based in Priddy Village on the Mendip Hills.

We offer extensive facilities to visiting clubs for a mere £4.00 per night.

 

History of the Bristol Exploration Club

The Bristol Exploration Club (BEC) is one of the major caving clubs based on the Mendip Hills and has had its headquarters in an area east of the village of Priddy since 1947. It currently has a membership of a little under 200 members who are nationally based and in 2000 the club celebrated the 65th anniversary of its formation in Bristol. In 1935 member No. 1, Harry Stanbury, wished to join one of the caving clubs in the area - the Wessex Cave Club (WCC) - but was told in no uncertain terms that the WCC did not have people like him in their ranks! Harry, furious, went away and formed a club of his own, which was the formation of the BEC.

Before the war the Club prospered and its membership reached about 15 active members but at the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 the membership fell to levels that left the club in a dormant state. It was reformed with a new constitution in March 1943 and, merging with a number of smaller clubs, its membership reached about 100 in the late 1940's.

In the immediate post-war years, members were actively involved with the Cave Diving Group operations at Wookey Hole and elsewhere; in 1947 Club members extended Stoke Lane Slocker and explored the beautiful chambers of Stoke Lane II. In 1953 the club discovered one of the longest and most beautifully decorated caves on Mendip - St. Cuthbert's Swallet, access which is strictly controlled by the Club, via a leader system. Since that time the Club been responsible for the discovery of a number of Mendip caves including Hunter's Hole, Wigmore Swallet and White Pit Hole. Major discoveries have also been made in other British and foreign caving areas.

In its early years the club had a number of sections including one for those that were interested in climbing and hill walking and another covering archaeology. Today the Club is primarily a caving club and its members have been involved with many important expeditions organised by the Club or other National organisations. Members have explored new caves in Mexico, India, Ireland, Austria, France, China and in several important areas in South-east Asia and the Philippines.

Throughout the week members of the club are involved with a number of varied activities including rescue, surveying, hydrology, digging (for new caves). Some members are involved with the administration of the regional council of caving clubs which is associated with the British governing body for caving - National Caving Association - all members are welcome to join-in. Their efforts are recorded in the caving logbooks which commenced in 1943.

The Club has published a regular journal, currently called The Belfry Bulletin,  since 1947 and has also published over 20 occasional publications "Caving Reports" including in-depth reports on St. Cuthbert's Swallet and Wigmore Swallet.

In keeping with the Club motto, "Everything to Excess", all logbooks and early journals have been published on a professional produced CD-ROM - the first club to undertake such a task.

In days gone by it was tradition to sing caving songs and other tunes for entertainment. The back bar in Hunters Lodge used to reverberate to the sound of piano playing and raucous singing. Times have changedbut the songs still survive.

The BECs club song is still sung at the dinner every year and stands the testament of time.

Select a news topic from the list below, then select a news article to read.
The latest news from the the Bristol Exploration Club
From the list below choose one of our FAQs topics, then select an FAQ to read. If you have a question which is not in this section, please contact us.
Here you will find an example set of FAQs.

The BEC welcomes cavers to join the club. There are numerous benefits including:

  • Use of the club hut - the Belfry
  • Access to the club's tackle store
  • Access to keys for many locked caves on Mendip
  • A free yearly permit for the Charterhouse Caves
  • Regular issues of our publication The Belfry Bulletin
  • Use of the extensive library in the Belfry
  • Use of the members' bunk room in the Belfry
  • Preferential service at the Hunters (in your dreams)
  • Reciprocal rates at many other club huts
  • Joining a group of like minded cavers

Contact our membership secretary by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or see further information about membership costs and printable application forms.

You are advised to make yourself known to at LEAST TWO members of the committee BEFORE submitting this application. You may attend in person to the committee meeting at which the application is made together with either your proposer or seconder, if you desire.

You must be able to pay your pro-rata subscription at the time your application is accepted. Please refer to the membership rates document from the list below.

Your full membership will have to be ratified at an ordinary meeting after one year.

To book caving trips which require leaders or for information on caving trips, please contact Rob Lavington (aka Bobble) on 01179 082 238



The BEC's series of caving reports cover a wealth of knowledge and experience.Most of these were written many years ago but still contain very pertinent information covering many aspects of the clubs activities.

 

Been down St Cuthberts? Buy the report and get a free survey!

Less well-known than many of Mendip's other major cave systems, St. Cuthbert's Swallet offers much to those whose interest extends beyond mere sporting activity. Not only does it contain fine pitches and streamways but it has numerous large chambers, some beautifully decorated, intricate phreatic mazes and up to seven distinct levels. It is without doubt Mendip's most complex cave system and, not generally realised, it contains perhaps the finest and greatest variety of formations in the area. Among its displays are found magnificent calcite groups such as the 'Curtains', 'Cascade', Gour Hall with its 20ft high gour, 'The Beehive', Canyon Series and the 'Balcony' formations in September Chamber, all of which are without peer in the country. There are also superb mini-formations including floating calcite crystals, over twenty nests of cave pearls, and delicate fern-like crystals less than four millimetres long; a variety that few other caves can boast.

Access is strictly controlled by the Bristol Exploration Club. Conservation was the prime reason for wishing to control access to the cave. To achieve this aim it was decided by the BEC at their 1955 Annual General Meeting to introduce a leader system. St. Cuthbert's Swallet was one of the first caves in the country to be so protected. This action has often been the centre of controversy. However, the fact remains that, after thirty years, the cave is essentially still in pristine condition and proven justification for the leader system.

The St Cuthberts report was written and compiled by D.J. “Wig”  Irwin with additional material by Dr. D.C. Ford, P.J. Romford, C.M. Smart and Dr. J.M. Wilson. Running to 82 pages and containing a vast array of photos and a wealth of information this doesn’t just deserve to be on every cavers bookshelf, you should get one for all your friends too (well maybe).

Copies can be purchased from the Belfry or Bat Products for a very reasonable sum.


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The Belfry Bulletin is the journal of the Bristol Exploration Club.

The current editor, always welcomes articles and pictures as this journal is what the members make it by sending in contributions. As well as his postal address published in the Belfry Bulletin, he can also now receive articles by e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

The entire archive of back issues is available here entirely due to Andy Mac-Gregor. Over a period of four years Andy has scanned and converted to text via OCR every single issue. When you consider that most of these were printed on a Gestetner duplicator you'll appreciate the scale of this achievement.

 

 

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