Oxford University Cave Club
It is my duty to try to sum up the activities of the club during the last 12 months, and to assess the amount of progress that has been made. It is as well to bear in mind the aims of the club, which, in addition to the official phrase, "the futherence of all aspects of caving", originally included an unwritten clause about concentration on original exploration. At the last AGM, the then Secretary was able to give an impressive record of such exploration in Swildon's hole, Mendip, and Giants hole, Derbyshire, and of the discovery of Black Reef Cave, in Ribblesdale.
Our progress during the last year has been much the same. Soon after the last AGM, a dig in the ace of spades chamber in Agen Allwedd brought John Simnett, Ken Mills and Chris Haynes into a small chamber, but unfortunately the way on soon became too tight. During the Easter vacation meet, held at Clapham, John Simnett, Russell Sunderland, and I investigated some passages beyond the Graveyard in Lancaster hole which are not marked on the surveys, and John Simnett found a passage which had obviously not been descended before and which ended at a pitch. As we had no tackle in the Graveyard section, and time was running out, we reluctantly left this for next time. On the following day, John and I dug a small hole in the bottom of a shakehole near Gaping Gill, and located a draught, but again this had to be left.
Attention shifted to Derbyshire at Whitsuntide, and Russell Sunderland, backed up by a very reluctant and imprecating half dozen, pushed a very tight tube passage leading off the poached egg passage crawl; those who made his trip should be congratulated if only on the feat of getting through the crawl. On the same trip, John Simnett, Tony Drapkin, and I tried to make some progress in one of the minor swallets along the peak fault, but the cave ended in a vertical fissure which was too tight for even the smallest of us (which wasn't me).
The summer vac. meet took us back to Yorkshire, with the intention of following up the work of the Easter meet. We were, however, blessed (or cursed) with very heavy rain, and had to be content with enlarging the dig near Gaping Gill, and with the discovery of a narrow fissure close by which might well repay attention with a large hammer, or with explosives.
Attempts to continue the dig in Swildon's have been beset by both natural and un-natural disasters, in the first case floods and in the second the breaking of a ladder. Meanwhile the Shepton Mallet caving club have tackled the job, and have sent us a survey of the result, on which it is gratifying to find named Oxford chamber, marking the limit of our earlier work.
Though the club's progress along these lines has been considerable, we cannot, I am afraid, claim by it that we are a healthy club. An analysis of attendances at evening meetings and, the more practical trips, whilst often quite gratifying, sometimes makes us wonder whether a Cave Club is needed in the University. To deal with the caving trips first; the first meet of Trinity term was attended by eleven people, who looked rather lost in the 38 seater bus - this was for reasons obvious the last time we hired the coach. The second trip of that term was planned on a small scale, but the minibus which was hired cost £2/5/0 per head, and we were lucky to be able to stay at Whitelee, where the charge for accommodation was ridiculously low. These two trips convinced us that something ought to be done about transport, and the result was the ambulance, purchased by subscription at the end of the term. This seems to have put an end to our transport troubles, as we no longer have to rely on a minimum number to make the trip possible. Since then attendances have ranged from 13 to 8, which is quite a suitable size for the van and for a caving party.
As very few of our members were not involved in Schools in Trinity term, only one evening meeting was held, and the turn-up of 12 indicated that another was unnecessary. The Freshers' Fair at the beginning of Michaelmas term was very successful - and I would like to thank again all those who helped make it so - and the first evening meeting was attended by 25 members, an outstanding number and I believe a record. Since then, unfortunately, the decline has set in, and the last two meetings were attended by eleven and nine people respectively, which cannot be very encouraging either to the speakers who give up the time to travel to Oxford or to those who organise the meetings. Most disappointing has been the attendance at vacation meets; there were three members at Clapham last Easter, and in summer the same three were joined by one more member and a guest towards the end of the meet. Our plans for Christmas had to be cancelled for want of support. It is a pity that these trips, which offer the greatest scope for the satisfaction of our aims, are not better supported, though the coming week at Lancaster hole promises to be very well attended.
It would be wrong for me to leave this subject without attempting to suggest a remedy. The most obvious suggestion is that we increase our membership, and to this and we hope to advertise our programme in Vade Mecum and Cherwell next term, and perhaps an occasional report in the latter will bring the fact of our existence before more people in the University. You can all help greatly here by talking about the club and by encouraging your friends to join us. If it is hoped to start publication of a series of "occasional papers", describing our original work; the frequency of these will of course depend on the amount of work done. The Expedition to northern Spain which is being sponsored by the club should, if successful, also improve the standing of the club both within the University and with other clubs. It is noticeable that caving has a bad reputation in the eyes of the University authorities, and it should be one of our aims to improve this position, perhaps by spending some of our energies on the more scientific aspects of speleology in addition to water sampling and bug-hunting, which we should be able to do without any trouble, I would suggest that the new method of determining carbon dioxide content in water now being developed by members of the expedition with the help of senior members of the University as a fruitful line of research, as it is a problem which has not yet been successfully solved.
In concluding my report for 1960 - 1961, I would like to pay tribute to our Chairman, John Simnett, who has put in a lot of hard work for the club, and whose enthusiasm has made my term of office a happy one. I would also like to thank the treasurer and committee members for the work they have done, and all of you for your support, and I wish your new officers and committee every success during the year ahead.
W. John Crompton.
March 2nd, 1961