OUCC Proceedings 13 (1991)
|Proc. 13 Contents.
Top; Dallimores (Description); Brown Hill (Description); Tooth Cave; Dry Gill; Cuckoo Cleeves; Short Gill Rising; S.Wales digging; Knacker Trapper; Rift Pot.
Small discoveries on Mendip: a personal account of the discoveries in Dallimores.
Few in the club took serious notice when Dirge Gardiner (perhaps best known for his musical talents) and Tony Seddon (best known for his lack of them) first suggested that OUCC should try to dig its way to discovery on the Mendip, where only the hard men of Eastwater and a handful of desperate divers had made significant progress in recent years. An interesting sporting region yes, and great for novice day-trips from Oxford, but Mendip hardly seemed ripe for exploration. And when Dirge and Tony proclaimed that Dallimores (or was it Dillywobbles?) had the hallmarks of a prematurely neglected system, sceptical eyebrows were raised further. Many of us thought that the uninspiring Dallimores had been pinpointed more for its proximity to the Hunters than for its potential as a going cave. Doubters we.
Nevertheless Dirge and Tony convinced us that Dallimores might have a few hidden qualities. It was, after all, directly on a line to Wookey Hole from Hillgrove, with its fast dye trace, and the surface line of shakeholes did suggest hidden passage. But a master cave under Penn Hill...?
Digging started in Dallimores in April 1989. An initial visit had located several possible leads, most notably an abandoned MNRC/Wessex dig at the deepest most Wookey-wards position in the cave. A mud-choked passage clearly led on to a corner some 15ft beyond reach. Many people dug over the winter of 1989-90 but most were eventually put off by the unbearably muddy conditions and the painfully slow progress. As more mud was passed back up the rift passage the approach to the dig became more and more unpleasant. Duck boards were brought in. Gavin and Tony started looking for a nicer alternative. What they found was a steep tube (quite characteristic of Dallimores) ending in a puddle at the start of a quickly too tight, unsurveyed rift. Nevertheless a slight draught drew Gavin and Tony back a second time when, to their surprise, the going seemed to be much easier. At this stage the exploration was done with those delicate sensory feelers, the wellies. Because of its steep entry and constriction the crawl had to be entered backwards and was too narrow to get much of a look beyond. Gavin and Tony pushed two moderate squeezes (now hardly noticeable) to drop into a tiny chamber with a tube continuing from the floor. Feet-first again, the tube was explored to a further tightening before the sheer awkwardness of the place stopped further progress.
These first few feet of new cave didn't seem like the start of any real discovery - tight, awkward, going the wrong way, towards Hillgrove rather than Wookey. Interest in Dallimores was at a low ebb. But one thing seemed to keep Gavin and Tony's manic eyes alight: the terminal tube really was draughting. It was now, in the spring of 1990, that they persuaded me to join them. Perhaps they thought my smaller size would make me a useful cave canary.
Everyone's first trip to Dallimores is memorable. Not because it is usually their last, though it is, but because of the extraordinary sensation of flat-out crawling in liquified ploughed field (preceded by a stupid duck), the stench of dead mice, and the total lack of formations. My first trip was with Gavin to the terminal tube, where we took turns to push a little further feet-first into the squeeze. At one point I managed to push just far enough to get a glimpse down beyond my wedged body into a darkness disappearing beneath my legs. Excited and slightly scared (I hadn't done this sort of thing before) I shouted back at Gavin that beyond the squeeze was a rift, and somehow we had to get into it. Mine was a memorable trip too.
The problem was that the tube led into a seemingly impassable squeeze, so we had to find a way to get in head-first with a hammer. Yet the steepness of the tiny chamber made the prospect of reversing the head-first entry unrealistic. Eventually we decided to return to try and enlarge the chamber sufficiently to allow a turn. Gavin went in first and hammered a chest-high rib of rock until he was just able to make a cartwheel move head-first into the floor. When confident he could reverse the turn, Gavin pushed on into the tube and took the first clear look into the rift beyond. In my earlier enthusiasm I had exaggerated, for the rift was hardly a rift at all, and not obviously large enough for Gavin, let alone a human. But the cold feeling of air passing over mud-wet cheeks kept us excited, and for the remainder of this and another visit we hammered at the squeeze with the frustrating weakness of an arm at full stretch. On the third attempt Gavin returned with Tony again. This time he pushed through the squeeze out over the narrow rift to face a second obstacle in an ill-placed nose of rock jutting directly into the only section potentially wide enough to pass. Determined, Gavin broke the nose and pushed forward up into a recess until his body was far enough through the squeeze to drop vertically down into the rift below. Getting back turned out to be even harder and Gavin soon learned that the Broken Nose squeeze has to be done in reverse by pressing the face high up into the recess, hoisting the legs up through the narrow slot in the top of the rift, and edging backwards through the squeeze. Gavin rarely uses expletives, but it was clear later that he hadn't enjoyed it.
Still, we went back just a few days later to attempt to descend the rift with a team of four that now included Dave Lacey and Dave Bell. With the now virtually obligatory Dallimores gear of balaclava and headtorch we pushed through Broken Nose and down into a narrow 15ft rift, made more awkward still by sharp constricting cross ribs of rock. I followed Gavin down into a mud-wallow, requiring a tight somersault, and on up another classic Dallimores tube into a REAL chamber with only one potential way on: another tight squeeze. Behind us Dave Bell had got into trouble at Broken Nose, and Dave Lacey, after following us down the rift, eventually returned to join him at the start of what became to be known as the "nasties" (so much for Gavin and Tony's "nice alternative').
The next squeeze was through what seemed to be an unfeasibly tight bedding plane. But the route clearly widened beyond, and Gavin and I were not going to give up now. I moved in on my back to hammer constrictions on the roof. When I tried to get out, I found myself stuck. The awkwardness of the approach meant that Gavin's only option to help was to grab me by the crutch and pull. I escaped but Tim's Testicle Tug still held us back. Gavin went in and after considerable hammering said quietly, "I've got to go'. He did. Once on the other side he stated matter of factly that he didn't think it would be possible for him to return, and I agreed, so we hammered like fuck. Eventually the rock shifted enough for me to feel confident in pushing through, and we were in unexplored cave again. This time, to our sheer delight, the next tube led not to another squeeze, but to open passage. We walked for about 80m in all. Through the first large chamber (with a loose climb up to the right that on a later trip revealed a large rift chamber with another of those Dallimores tubes half way up one wall, connecting to a second chamber with mercilessly sharp climbs up towards the surface), then under a low roof into a well decorated chamber with a side passage containing strange hedgehog-like formations. From here a climb led down to a small pot, clearly stream-worn; a long high passage to a huge fallen block (The Menhir); and eventually over a muddy climb to a terminal chamber, beautifully decorated by deeply coloured flowstone on one side. From here a tiny slot through a calcite blockage looked down into darkness.
Dave Bell was not to be the last person for whom Broken Nose proved to be too narrow, or the turning chamber too awkward. Difficulties, particularly on the way out, became a regular feature of subsequent trips into the extensions. Nevertheless in the following weeks quite a number of club members made it through and Dallimores began to acquire its new reputation as a hard cave on Mendip. Work also started on hammering the new terminal squeeze (later christened the Ant-lion). Phil Rose and I spent several hours with hammer and chisel, but the break was made after return from expedition to Spain. Gavin and I returned to chisel in 10min bouts, trying the squeeze every so often with slightly over-ambitious enthusiasm. Progress was fast, and eventually I slipped into the squeeze, emptied my lungs and dropped gracelessly into the passage 6 feet below. Here were the best formations I had seen yet, but I curbed my desire to explore to help Gavin through. It was still too tight for his larger chest, so I continued to work at the squeeze from below until Gavin could bear it no longer and forced himself into the slot. He got stuck, but rather than ask me to push him out from below, he shouted for me to pull him through. Then for the second time, we both stood looking at each other on the far side of a squeeze we weren't sure we could reverse.
The passage continued on and down a long high rift, now with the character much more of an old stream passage, until after some 100 metres or so, it eventually narrowed to sections of rubbley crawl. The final crawl led on into a tight rift from a more spacious area. I moved into the crawl, and negotiated two upright squeezes before reaching a squeeze at floor level choked with stream debris. It was impassable, but still seemed to draught slightly, and could obviously, but painfully, be dug. Here, then, was Dallimore's ultimate reward. We were back to digging in mud.
On August 28th 1990, Gavin and I discovered Curious Love and it is surely some bizarre thrill that keeps us, and other psychopaths like Jenny Vernon, Katya Reimann, Jonathon Cooper and Sherry Mayo, still going back. Tony, Gavin and I have now all got through the most awkward part of the crawl, after a series of strenuous and deeply unpleasant digging trips, though all of us have had an unpleasant time backing out at one point or another. And with a new hauling system it looked at the end of October as if we were about to move the dig on into more spacious (though still mud filled) passage. But then on the 30th October Gavin, Jenny and I returned for a full day's digging after spending the night at the Belfry to find that recent rain (the first serious fall for months) had transformed the passage beyond the Ant-lion into a small stream. Water still flowed on through Curious Love but the crawl was dangerously flooded. Dallimores had got its own back.
On the 13th of December 1990, Sherry, Paul and Gavin returned to Curious Love to find that that water level had fallen enough to allow the tight section to be passed, and for the dam that had been holding the water back to be demolished. Ahead, the passage continues as a 15cm high bedding plane with a mud floor. Exploration continues ...
"Speaking as a rescue warden, I can honestly say that if someone were injured here, we just wouldn't bother" Tony Jarret
"This cave had me beat. As I was walking home through the city centre afterwards at about midnight a beggar curled up in a doorway called out to me... "Ere love, you look like you need a good cup of tea. Have some of mine!" " Ukey Mead
Top; Dallimores (Description); Brown Hill (Description); Tooth Cave; Dry Gill; Cuckoo Cleeves; Short Gill Rising; S.Wales digging; Knacker Trapper; Rift Pot.
The cave is located 50m west of the Bath-Wells road, near the road to Priddy, in a depression 300m east of Ores Close Farm. The 6m entrance pitch (ladder and medium wire required) drops into a short descending crawl leading to an annoying puddle. Beyond this the passage descends steeply to Aven Chamber. Continuing down, the passage chokes with mud. From Aven Chamber a short crawl under boulders leads to a flat-out bedding plane crawl to a parallel rift. At the bottom of the rift is a previously abandoned dig (WCC and MNRC), currently being worked by OUCC.
The route to the extensions is a short crawl to the left, 3m below the bedding plane. This leads to 10m of rift passage to a choke. At head height, a small tube leads down on the right, through stal; this soon leads to a short drop into a tiny chamber, The Turning Chamber. A body sized-tube, which must be entered headfirst, continues at floor level; this manoeuvre is more awkward on the way out, requiring a body-pivoting turn up into the Turning Chamber. The tube continues as a tight crawl, before opening out slightly at the top of a rift. This can be descended by squeezing past the nose of rock on the left wall at high level (the Broken Nose), and sticking your head into a small alcove, before reversing down the rift. This sequence is done in reverse on the way out. The rift is descended for about 5m (strenuous on the way up), to a mud wallow. A short, muddy tube continues before opening out into a short section of larger passage. Relief is short-lived, however, as this soon closes down to a tight bedding plane squeeze, Tim's Testicle Tug. This first section of the extensions is extremely serious, and is best tackled using a head torch, and without a helmet.
Beyond, is a short crawl along a muddy tube, the start of which sumps in wet weather. The tube leads to a drop into a larger rift passage, well decorated in places. A small stream flows in wet weather. To the right a series of climbs ascends to a crawl on the right, leading up into a large rift chamber. Halfway up this is a tube leading to a second chamber; this ascends to a point just below the surface. The main passage descends a short pot, and continues to a small chamber where the way appears to be blocked by calcite. The way on is a 3m drop down a very narrow, hammered slot, the Ant-Lion. A ladder is rigged to provide a foothold for the ascent. Some fine curtains are located just below the squeeze, and care should be taked to avoid kicking them.
The passage continues as an abandoned streamway, along a fine rift, descending a 3m pot and passing a muddy climb over a fallen block, for a total distance of about 60m. A crawl under a couple of chocked boulders reaches the start of Curious Love; a short crawl enters a narrower rift. After a squeeze, it is neccessary to crawl at floor level, along a short dug section, leading to some curtains. Squeezing under these one enters a chamber, just large enough to turn round in. Ahead the passage lowers to a bedding plane, about 15cm high by 60cm wide, with a mud floor which is currently being dug.
Top; Dallimores (Description); Brown Hill (Description); Tooth Cave; Dry Gill; Cuckoo Cleeves; Short Gill Rising; S.Wales digging; Knacker Trapper; Rift Pot.
The Story So Far
The whole saga arose out of an obsession of Paul Brennan's that this was a "good cave" to go and do. He persisted in this view despite one, if not more, moderately abortive attempt to descend it, leaving a drunken scrawl in the logbook matching an earlier description of John Singleton's as "like an octopus screwing a pair of bagpipes" which purported to show the route through the rifts. Actually I have it in front of me now; it does make sense, but only if read right to left. The trip took them 10 hours.
Some time later Paul became interested in cave diving, in a strictly vicarious sense... "so when are you going to do some proper diving then, eh, explore something, eh ??" - this after I'd done about five dives, some of them less successful than others and none of them distinguished. Dave and I tried to fight him off by doing Tooth Cave and Dry Gill and a rather silly dive on Mendip (q.v.), but all to no avail. He had decided that Brown Hill Pot was going to be IT. He managed to persuade me and Dave to have a look at the sump, at least.
The first visit was on 25th May 1989. We packed a 21cu ft. bottle and various bits and pieces in a rucksack, so as not to appear "conspicuous', asked permission at Braida Garth, and had the traditional wander about all over East Kingsdale tops looking for it. Only Paul had been there before. Finally, the oil drum; Paul ceremoniously took off the lid and slid in. To about waist deep. "Urm, the entrance appears to be full of rocks." For some inexplicable reason we did not, this once, regard this as a good excuse to go to the Marton. In our defence, I can only say that the day was quite sunny and it seemed like a good idea.
It seemed rather less of a good idea when I was at the bottom of the oil drums about an hour later, standing on tip toe trying to steady a rather large rock in its slings as Dave, Tony and Paul heaved it up. The way in looked rather improbable, a small slit just under the lip of the bottom of the drums. We have not managed to enlarge it. Non-small people, particularly non-small people in wetsuits , are apt to get stuck in it, an ignominious beginning to pushing back the frontiers.
If the entrance was bad, the crawls were worse. I couldn't believe the awfulness was something I was voluntarily undergoing to put someone else, Dave, in the sump. Shame, shame on me, a potential sump pirate from the word go. The s-bends were really vile. Rocks piled up in front of everything, reducing me to one-armed lift and nose shove operations at full length. Many words of encouragement were spoken. For potential visitors: the head of the first pitch is the worst bit. After that you can't feel anything any more.
Finding the third pitch was the worst bit of the cave too. After this, it's a very fine place indeed. Unfortunately one member of the party who shall remain nameless got severely stuck in the rifts and made a sensible decision. So Dave nobly escorted him out (with the diving gear) while Paul and I carried on down. The sump looked promising, as advertised. I waded over to the far end and felt about under the lip with my feet. It felt like there was a gap there. Recklessly and full of misplaced bravado I told Paul I'd come back to give it a go.
In December Gavin, William and Tony portered the usual collection of junk down to the sump. I took twin 21 cu.ft. bottles. These caused a few problems in the crawl, but I found I was able to wear them for most of the rest of the cave. I had borrowed a plastic line reel from Mike, and with this in hand, with Tony acting as a human belay perched above the sump pool I edged my way to the action end of the sump. I had been having mild nightmares about this moment. The official description said the sump ended in a "constriction after ten feet'. For some reason, my vision of this was of my coming up against a lot of jammed boulders, pushing the line reel through and then wondering if I would be brave or stupid enough to follow it through.
This didn't happen at all. I gingerly pulled at the lip of the sump wall, watching the brown rock drift gently upwards. I pulled myself in a bit more; the visibility got worse momentarily and then I was in clear water, kicking my way along a scalloped roof as the line reel span out and my mind started making "HEY WOW" kind of noises. I seemed to trundle on for quite a while, until the reel ran out. Mike had said there was about 25m of line on it. I think it was only at this point that I realised that there simply hadn't been any constriction at all, and I had my own sump.
There was nothing to belay onto, so I reeled the line back in. Then I found the constriction. The line took me into a region where a big mud bank rose up to the roof. No amount of swodging myself into it allowed me to get through. I backed off, and tried again, a bit to the right; no go again. Getting a bit worried now - how could I have missed this on the way in? - I backed well off. In slightly clearer vis the bank seemed to slope down from the left, with the roof rising there too. I gave it a go, and with much shoving, broke through straight into the sump pool. "Constriction ? CONSTRICTION ?? - I just ran all the bloody line out". Loud cheers and much bullshit resulted.
The next go was more than a bit of a disaster. The word had got around, and Dave Hetherington, who had (he said) been eyeing up this particular sump for a while, was anxious to lend a hand. We gathered on New Year's Eve to make the best finish to the year we could. The day started to go wrong almost immediately. I knew I had to survey, so I had got my survey slate all nice and ready. Halfway up the hill I realised I hadn't attached the pencil to it; back to the car. Twenty sweaty minutes later I was back at the cave. Tip the bottles out of the rucksack. Oh shit... no o-ring in one of them. "Didn't you check it before packing it, Steve?". "Haven't you got a spare?". No and no; I am a cretin and walk back to the car again.
Meanwhile mean team Gavin and Dave go to rig in, the special Hetherington way. Some time later we catch them up. At the head of Puits Ian Plant I can hear shivering and shouting below. "MURBLE MURBLE URG URG WOOORFLE!"....
"MURBLE MURBLE URG URG WOOORFLE!"...
Obviously something is wrong; I'd better go down and find out what. What was wrong proved to be a knot changeover halfway down the last hang.
We arrive at the sump to find Hetherington looking dumbfoundedly at the tacklebag that so recently contained a lot of lead (I was going to belay the line good and proper this time) but now contained mostly a large hole. He went off to look for it while I kitted up. "Haven't you got any fins, Steve?", Urs asked. "Oh no," I said, "the passage was quite low last time, so I just booted my way along the ceiling. Reckon I should be O.K. this time. Didn't want to go to all the hassle of carrying them down, anyway."
This time on the way into the sump I felt carefully for the highest bit and anchored the line with my first bit of lead. Then the passage opened out and suddenly I wished I had fins on. I don't know what was different from the first time but I seemed to be completely out of control. Head down one second, floating up almost on my back the next; breathing badly only made it worse. Somehow I struggled along till I got to the slight leftwards bend over bare rock where the line had run out last time. I put another lead on the line and edged forwards. "BLOODY HELL". A foot further on was a hole in the floor that I plummeted down. Thrashing and hauling on the line pulled the lead over the edge; as I maniacally made my way back up what seemed to be a sheer drop I let go of the reel which promptly floated up to the roof and dropped most of its line.
Back on the lip of the pot I got my breathing back down and "assessed the situation". I hadn't got the line reel but I had got the line, quite a lot of it. Around my leg, around my back, around my nice survey slate, under my knife (how?), around my leg again and in a large floating cloud. O.K. get the reel, wind it back on. No, FIND the reel. Looking up I can see it bumping on the roof not too far away. A few delicate minutes later and I am definitely ready to call it a day. The reel is tied up and I feel my way back along the line... which (muted "Bloody Hell") goes straight into the mud bank. At least I know this time that if I shove enough I can get through.
The excited sherpas gather round. "Well, what did you find?" "errrr, well...."
The very next weekend we drove back to the Dales. We admired the waterspout coming out of Joint Hole, the lakes all over the fields, etc. We did not go down Brown Hill. A long way for a pub lunch in The Sun. It stayed wet for quite a long time.
It wasn't till the first of April 1990 that we returned. I hadn't done any diving in the intervening months. When we got to the sump, one of the aquaflashes I'd left tucked into a rift at the changing spot had mysteriously vanished, the other one, and the rather tatty neoprene vest (a remnant of my very first wetsuit), were still there. I persuaded the porters (Tony, Gavin and Mark Bown) to paddle around in the sump pool to look for it, but no luck. It didn't seem quite bad enough to warrant not diving - especially as, after the long gap, I wanted to wipe the slate of the last attempt clean.
With fins on, I got to the edge of the pot very quickly, after carefully leading the line in the centre of the low bit. The line carried on down the shaft. The roof level went nowhere. I carefully went down the pot headfirst - and came to a dead halt as one of my fins snagged the line. Hanging head down over a pot (visions of the big shaft in Gavel) did not appeal, so the second time I descended upright, and was very relieved to see the floor almost immediately. The line had been washed into a two foot high, six foot wide bedding with a silty floor.
About 20 feet further in, I caught up with the line reel - nice when you can get floods to lay the line for you! - and heard what seemed to be my bubbles breaking surface. However, a swim up just reached a slightly higher and narrower section of roof, with bubbles lodged against it. I went back down and swam on between the silt banks for about another 30 feet, when I felt rather too far beyond the last belay for comfort. 50 metres in - how much further?
The next dive added 30m to the line. The worst part of this trip was getting started. The weather was vile, and even a solid couple of hours festering in Bernies failed to lift our (especially my) spirits. At the parking spot, drive failed completely, and I went back to the Helwith to get the yellow van so that I wouldn't have to get wet! I took in with me the mega line reel that I'd made a year or so before in a fit of enthusiasm, with about 180m of line on it. Some of the line is still on as I write!
We went back again in May. The usual team of Tony, Mark and Gavin was reinforced by the two Daves for the arduous task of getting forties to the sump. In fact this proved to be no real problem (apart from my forgetting my SRT kit, and having to go back to the car for it). I took in stacks of lead to belay the line - no naturals had been seen so far in the silty-floored smooth tunnel. Just after I picked up the reel, the silt receded, and the rocky passage sprouted spiky bits galore, making my trailing danglies like a diving Buster Gonad somewhat pointless.
60 metres on I was getting close to thirds. The passage had stayed more or less the same up to here - about 1 metre high, 2 metres wide as far as I could tell (visibility was typically about two feet, four feet in the good patches). Now a particularly big silt bank seemed to fill the passage, heaped up on the left side; there looked to be a fairly narrow gap over the top. If I was going to come back I didn't want to find it closing off straight away; and, more to the point, I didn't want to come back with the first new bit being something nasty. So I scraped over the top - not difficult after all - and was relieved to land on rocky floor in the usual tube beyond.
This had stirred up the crap so much that I couldn't survey on the first bit of the way out. Well, to be honest, I didn't want to hang about; as I turned round I got one of those "Jesus, it's a long way home, let's just GET ON WITH IT" feelings, and it wasn't till I was well clear of the bad vis that I felt like stopping, let alone taking bearings. On the way back I started feeling colder and colder; I was actually afraid of dropping the mouthpiece and made the ascent of the pot (now mentally labelled the Well of Loneliness) with one hand holding the gag firmly between my teeth.
As soon as I got out of the water I started shivering quite violently - the base team gave me a mug of hot soup but I had to give it back between sips because I kept shaking it out of the cup! The prusik out was quite slow - I thought that it would warm me up but all I got was tired. The weather outside was still glorious - Kingsdale at its early summer, early evening best - and I'd left a bottle of elderberry wine and a hip flask of scotch in my rucksack at the entrance.
The next - and to date, latest - visit was a month later. I'd borrowed a pair of 55 cubic foot bottles from the Somerset section, as I didn't think I'd get much further on my forties. I hope Dave Pike never goes down Brownhill, because I wouldn't like him to see what his bottles were subjected to. Considering that less than a year before, just getting to the sump seemed pretty epic, and that we had doubts about getting even mini-bottles there, the trip in was pretty painless. This was particularly so as I'd decided to take (OK, have taken) my thick wetsuit down in a tacklebag, go down in furry suit, and change at the sump. I think the suit must have shrunk. It was very difficult to get on, and I got bloody cold before I even got in the water. However, there are means of warming up a wetsuit*.
I had to fiddle with the Manta valve quite a bit to get it to work properly before entering the water, and it wasn't long in the sump before it started to free-flow gently. I loosened off the fitting to the hose a bit and it more or less stopped losing air, so I decided to carry on. Then I found that the heavy CDG bottles balanced rather differently from my floating forties, and kept crawling under my knees. All of this conspired to make me feel less than happy, so I pottered along stirring up the silt and rebelaying the line nicely with snoopies to make me feel that I was doing something useful.
Eventually I got to the reel; once I started laying out line I began to feel a lot happier. Keeps the mind occupied I suppose. The passage continued more or less as before, level, lowish and wideish, until after about 15 metres it seemed to widen out a lot. I swept from side to side looking for the walls. They must be 6m or so apart here. Unfortunately (or, as I felt at the time, relievedly), thirds were reached at this point - the inefficient and nervous journey in had taken its toll of my air - and so the mystery remains until the next dive.
Total line laid out is now 180m. Depth at the end - and all the way in after the Well - is 6m. It's possible the wider bit at the current end is the joining of water from Crescent, Growling, or whatever. The survey shows that there is still about 300m (agh!) to go before the upstream (diving) extensions to King Pot, so there's still a lot to go at.
* Danilewicz' Dictum - "There are two sorts of divers; those who pee in their wetsuits and liars'.
The sump pool is about 6m long by 3m across, with a silt and gravel floor. The line is belayed to a bolt on the left wall. The water deepens from about 2 feet deep to 5 feet deep as the action end is approached. Here a low arch 3-4 feet under water gives access to the continuation. The first 2m or so are usually low, over a silt floor constricting the passage. The line is belayed to a lead block halfway through in the highest part. Care must be taken on the return to find the easiest route back as the passage widens to 3m just beyond the constriction.
The passage continues as an open 2m high, 3m wide tunnel with a rocky floor for 12m. Here there is a slight turn to the left, with some horizontal flakes in the floor (line belayed), just as the lip of The Well of Loneliness is reached. This is a 4m deep pot, about 4m long by 2.5m wide at the top and rather wider and longer at the bottom, where the line is belayed to a lead weight at the 20m mark.
The passage at the base continues as a lowish bedding (about 0.6m high by 2-3m wide) with a silty floor. It is necessary to dodge over silt banks to gain the highest part of the passage. Two roof rifts (aligned along the main passage direction) have been ascended in this part of the sump, but both became tight and wiggly and did not reach airspace.
At the 50m mark, the passage becomes rather higher and silt free. Rock flakes are used as belays. The passage is about 2-3m wide and about 1-1.5m high. At the 110m mark, a silt bank on the left partially obstructs the passage, and beyond this point the height is again restricted by silt on the floor. At about 170m in, the passage appears to widen abruptly to possibly 4-5m wide, though still only about 1.5m high. 10m further on is the current limit of exploration. The configuration of the passage was difficult to determine at this point, due to poor visibility, though the roof level remained constant.
The sump initially follows the eastward direction established at the sump pool, curving gradually leftwards to the north and then west. The final heading measured is 310° (at 140m in). Depth at this point is ~6m, constant since the base of the Well. The last 40m continued in the same manner, though bad vis and nerves prevented any decent shot at surveying here.
Brownhill - Update
June 2nd. After a long break due to the bad weather a return was made. A swift and efficient descent saw us at the sump in an hour and a half. The plastic sheet had mysteriously vanished.
Kitting up was a pain. Then a steady trip to the end of the line. The passage ahead proved to be floored with very loose fine silt, not a spike or boulder anywhere; snoopy loops useless and no lead carried. I trundled out 70m of line in a uniform 2-3m wide, 1-1.5m high tube, feeling a bit uncomfortable about the line floating behind. I hadn't seen any trapping narrow bits, but...
Nearly on thirds, I decided to go to the next tag on the line and then call it a day. Surveyed the bearings at each 10m tag on the way out. Total length so far is 275m. A pleasure, as ever, to get to the bottom of the Well and rise up the line on a long breath.
A good trip, and then to the Marton, where the NCC gave us the update on King Pot. The plastic sheet wasn't found at all, so if the King divers come out ready-wrapped, we'll know why.
Thanks again to everybody who has been stupid enough to carry for me and to OUCC for their tolerance.
This appeared a fine prospect according to the Welsh Sump Index. Three sumps at the end of the cave, only one of which had been looked at! These were described as: "At the extreme termination of the cave the passage splits up ending in three separate sumps. The furthest of these has been dived in a tight vertical rift to about 3m depth. At this point the passage turns through a right angle to enter a bedding plane, less than 0.3m high. The second sump is also a tight fissure - undived - while the third requires a ladder (8m) to reach the pool. This appears most promising, a comfortable sized tube."
We were filled with enthusiasm, especially about the "comfortable" tube, and set off (28/10/88) to Gower with high hopes, a large team (six) and a lot of gear. In fact, I think we took twin forties, twin 21's, two ammo cans, a ladder and rope, a small line reel and probably some other stuff as well. A lot of effort and bruised knees later (surely there couldn't be that much crawling???) we emerged from the rather unpleasant entrance series into the main stream passage. This didn't appear to go anywhere, at least according to the two responsible and very experienced cavers who went and looked. There was, however, a SUMP more or less right in front of us.
The approach was very uninspiring, a traverse on very muddy ledges to a muddy climb / fall down into a nasty little pool - which nonetheless appeared to go under the lip. Kit was passed down and I fitted myself up with twin 21's, all the gear, etc. One of our ropes was then tied around my wrist and I set off. This involved standing more or less on my head and grovelling in the muck at the bottom of the pool. In my defence, I can only say that I hadn't done very much of this kind of thing before.
I don't know why I thought this could possibly be a way on, it bore no relation at all to the description in the guide book. The sump was very small and very full of gritty mud. I forced and dug my way through, to emerge after 4 or 5 feet into dry passage, all of 6 feet of it. (Dive log reads - 5min, 0m depth, vis 1mm.)I thought about my situation for a bit. There was a way on, a dive glopping and glooping away under the far wall. I tied off the rope and went back for Mike.
We went back with one bottle each. Each of us then had a go at the end sump. It didn't go, though I managed to persuade myself that the silt was diggable out.
We returned, not without effort in the first short sump, and took all the gear out again. For some reason that I find hard to fathom, even after this complete abortion of a trip we were still keen to go back again, and find the true route on.
The return did not happen 'till May 1989. Showing a bit more sense this time, we took with us three 21cu.ft. bottles and only three of us (me, Tony Seddon and Dave Horsley). We got to the main passage quite quickly and found that the way on beyond our daft dive site of the last visit was perfectly obviously straight down a bloody great phreatic tube!
The Big Sump was quickly found. I dived first, following the existing line, followed by Dave. For some reason, he came through, touched my leg where I was standing up in the pool on the far side, and went back again! "I thought you might be in some kind of trouble" he said. Who needs friends, eh?
The passage beyond the sump is really very nice. Spacious, full of big chambers and apparently lots of leads going off. It had a distinct air of not having been visited very much. Our minds were firmly set on the end, however. Eventually the big stuff gave way to a complex of spiky rifts. Off to one side of was a drop with an iron bar over the top. Obviously the "8m drop" to one (or two?) going sumps. Unfortunately there seemed to be no water in the bottom at all!
We decided to leave them for the moment and go on to the end. After a bit of a wriggle and a traverse we found ourselves above a gloomy rift with water in the bottom. It didn't look very inviting, but after furtling around for a bit I found one section wide enough to lower myself into the water. Kitting up was a bit awkward. Dave held the line reel while I went under and shoved my way down with the string attached to my wrist.
The rift continuously felt like it was about to widen up - in fact there were just lots of little ledges on the walls. I had three or four goes, each time getting a bit deeper, finding confidence that I could do the left-right dodging needed to find my way back up again. Bottom was found at about 10 feet down. A wide but low passage - more like two feet high than one foot - went away under the wall. I edged into it feet first, and felt for the roof. It seemed to be going up. By this stage I was worried about finding the right bit of the rift to get back to the surface. Dave, perched above the pool, was worried because my bubbles had stopped coming back up.
I returned to the rift, and felt a strong pull on the line. Unfortunately it was pulling me back towards Dave, rather than up the rift where a chubby person like me could get through. It is difficult to have an argument about rights of way by tugging backward and forwards on a bit of string.
We gave up on that one, and returned to the pitch. A ladder was put down, and I went down to find that there really was no water, no sump, not even one, at the bottom. Unfortunately I yielded to exploration fever at this point and climbed (punch, kick, splodge) up a mud wall to what looked like a passage but wasn't. Tony had to come down the ladder so I could fall on him on my return.
So - two trips and not a lot found. (Except the watch I lost in the sump pool on the first trip, which Dave went and found in the totally dried up and hopeless "sump" on the second). However, the area beyond the Big Sump looks ripe for a good push in the dry passages, and certainly needs surveying. This is still on the books as a "sometime" project. The sump at the end needs a bolder, thinner person than me. (It proved that the previous dive was by Martyn Farr; "horrible place, isn't it?")
Tooth Cave - Update
Interest in this seemingly neglected system did not entirely wane after Steve Roberts" dives. Time dimmed the memories of gear lugging through the initial crawls sufficiently to see a return trip on May 4th 1991. Chris Densham, Sherry Mayo, Mark Bown and Tony Seddon transported two small bottles to a very full static sump. Beyond Big Sump evidence of wet weather earlier in the week was visible, with a large stream flowing along the main passage. Roughly 1000ft beyond Big Sump the stream divided part flowing into an alcove on the left with foam and flood debris on the walls. At the bottom of a six foot climb the water disappeared through a small tube. This sump "felt" short and shallow, so Tony Seddon dived through feet first into a stooping-height dry passage. This obstacle can be most easily dived or else treated as a serious duck (subsequently named The Reaper.)
The going varied between hands and knees ad flat-out crawling for about 100ft, until an active fissure sump was encountered. This is probably too tight to dive, but a small slot to the right gave a view of another deep blue pool. Nothing could be done without the necessary implements of destruction, so a rapid exit was made.
The next day Chris Densham and Tony Seddon returned and surveyed some 800ft of the main passage. Failing lights and misted instruments put an end to this, so a hammer and chisel were taken to the previous days limit. The squeeze proved difficult to work on, being situated in a small alcove at the top of a slippery mud slope above a pool, so Tony performed a handstand on another's shoulders (necessary to avoid plunging headlong into the sump) and passed the squeeze. Chris slithered into the squeeze and would probably have passed it but for dropping his remaining light in the sump pool. The party, therefore, beat a hasty retreat.
This was actually my first exploratory dive. The idea arose from a late night poring over the Northern Sump Index. There was a very attractive survey of what looked like a nice open sump with a wide open lead! Halfway along the route to the terminal boulder choke was a big hole in the floor; there was even an airbell to psych up in beforehand. I reckoned I could handle that.
Then Paul suggested I look at the entry in Northern Caves. It became obvious why no-one had really looked at the sump much - the carry in was horrible. Low bouldery bedding plane crawls, squeezes, etc. barred the way. Still, beer-enthusiastic, I mentioned the idea at an OUCC meeting and immediately all kinds of loonies expressed readiness to carry gear.
The gear was got together, and taken up on a club Yorkshire weekend. I was psyching myself and the team up in Bernies when I was told that someone had just dived it! Apparently Fred Winstanley had had the same idea, had been down the hole and found it to connect to the main passage further down. In doing so, he had cleared out a lot of old line and made the way clear. I thought I might as well go to have a look, since I'd got my mind set on this particular site, and that it would make a nice "tourist" trip.
Phil Rose, a friend of his from Liverpool called Andy, and Gavin lugged twin forties, etc, etc. through the nastiness. At first I couldn't get in at all! I was convinced that it was because of the thickness of my diving wetsuit until Gavin pointed out the correct entrance. The crawls were rendered a lot more nasty by Andy having a relapse of the bowels part way through; unfortunately he was in front, and there are limits to how far you can get out of the way in the entrance to Dry Gill.
The stream passage was reached after some effort and it was then a quick carry to the sump. Conversation dropped to zero and the atmosphere quickly grew tenser as I kitted up. At last, I thought, I was ready to go, until Phil pointed out that I was still wearing my boots and not my fins. This was quickly corrected and I dropped into the sump.
The visibility was very good and the new line easy to follow. A very nice dive emerged in the airbell. I took my bearing and a few breaths and carried on. The hole in the floor was quickly reached; yes, there was a line junction. I followed the route down the hole. On the survey it appeared that there might have been passage in both directions from the bottom, but on reaching the floor about 8 feet down, it was plain that the only route on lay with Fred's line, and that "upstream" was only an alcove.
The passage was, in contrast to the rather smooth tube in the upper route, quite jagged and spiky on the walls, though still spacious. Soon I noticed a parallel line, to which "mine" joined. I carried on, now on Statham's original line to the end. The line ran over a large boulder that mostly blocked the passage. I came to a halt and thought about it for a few seconds, checked my air and then cautiously pulled the line over into the wider section and continued round. A second similar block needed a repeat performance. The line then ended in what was a spacious passage at the floor of an ascending ramp of boulders.
Wow! my chance to put out some line! I looped the line on my reel (OK, so I took a reel on a "tourist dive'; well, it's as well to be safe, etc) to the end and set off, breathing heavily and heart thumping, up the slope. The passage seemed to get bigger and bigger, and I was only at 2m depth (on a Bourdon tube gauge, not accurate in shallows) from the original 6m. By now my air was very close to thirds - enough to make me even more nervous - then I looked behind me and saw what I'd been doing to the visibility all the way in. Clouds of silt wafted about. Suddenly I felt an awfully long way from home. Christ! - if I'd gone to the end, I must be 160m from base! How did I get here? I didn't intend to do this!
I'd only put about 10-20 feet of line out, and it definitely felt like time to go, but I wanted to leave some evidence. I sawed through the line and tied it up to a rock, not very well, I thought. Then I WENT. For some reason I took the upper route back - very stupid, as I hadn't followed this line on the way in, and it could have been in any state or none. I didn't feel happy until I'd got to the junction over the hole. Then a steadier and more enjoyable dive back to base.
The team seemed quite pleased to see me back, and pleased to hear that I'd put some line out. I don't think I told them quite how little! They went off to furtle up some narrow little passage that my wetsuit didn't allow me to get in, so I grabbed the ammo can and made for out. "Funny," the woman at the farm had said when we asked permission, "not many people ask to go down that one." With good reason.
I phoned Fred Winstanley who, in a tolerant mood, offered me a place on his next dive down there. A pity that dates and porters never quite coincided, because it would have been nice to see the dry passage he found - but, on the other hand, since it's after a 300m dive, perhaps not.
In February 1990 Tony Seddon and Dave Bell paid a visit to Cuckoo Cleeves and after following the guide book description visited Lake Sump on the far side of Lake Passage. Tony later persuaded me that this was the perfect site for making a major diving extension. From the description of the first dive by Pete Moody  the site seemed very promising. The lake was described to me in glowing terms and when quizzed about the nature of Lake Passage (I knew there must be a catch somewhere) Tony described it as "a bit tight but not very long'. So a few weeks later Tony, Dave M. and I lugged two cylinders and sundry diving kit to the lake. Tony and I made it with 3/4 of the kit, but the rest and Dave M. jammed part-way along Lake Passage. No diving was done that day and I vowed never again.
Yet, less than a month later, Tony had somehow managed to persuade me that my memory was at fault and Cuckoo Cleeves was a really nice place and I was again lugging diving kit along Lake Passage and wondering if I was sane. Thanks to Gavin all my kit made it to the sump and I kitted up whilst bridging across the lake.
This was to be a recce dive with a single set. Initially the passage entering at the western end was examined. This was explored, on a base fed line, for about 15ft in a rift 1-2ft wide and 4ft high, at which point I got jammed in the passage. The silt rolled in and the visibility dropped to zero. I retreated, though the passage was seen to continue.
The rest of the lake was examined in poor visibility, but no other ways on were noticed. The maximum depth was around 12ft and any passage below water at the eastern end may have been blocked by debris from the dig above.
The set was then passed to Tony who confirmed that the only possible way on was to the west. He explored the rift passage as far as was comfortable and confirmed that the passage continued . Further exploration really requires a second set as the constricted nature of the sump makes a quick exit impossible. To date I have not been persuaded that my first impressions of Cuckoo Cleeves were wrong, though no doubt once my memory fades I'll be persuaded to make a return visit.
On the 27th January '91 Tony Seddon returned to Lake Passage with 21 and 28 cu. ft. cylinders ably assisted by Sherry Mayo and Mark Bown. The Eastward trending passage was again investigated on a base-fed line, and a constriction after 15ft passed. After a further body length a further constriction was not passable. Inspection was hampered by the low visibility, but the passage could be felt to continue dipping gently. Further progress will require chemical persuasion.
References:  CDG Newsletter 32 35.  CDG Newsletter 95 19.
Paul Brennan had mentioned to me the existence of a large resurgence in Barbondale. Having heard about this mini-Keld Head and mis-read the guide book description, thereby getting the impression of about 30m of small passage to an underwater boulder choke, a visit to this site was planned. An impressive rising was found as advertised, but unfortunately I found, on kitting up, that the boulder choke began at the entrance. Tony Seddon and I spent a happy couple of hours pulling boulders from the rising making about 1m of progress.
Two more trips saw further digging operations at Short Gill with another couple of metres of progress made and some large rocks removed. However on our last trip to Short Gill Rising Tony and Mike Mead found that all our previous progress had been lost - the passage having filled with small stones that had fallen in from the resurgence pool. Shoring will be needed to prevent this occuring in the future. Engineering of the streambed below the resurgence pool led to the water level being lowered by about 1.5ft.
A discussion with Clive Westlake and others present at the 1989 CDG AGM was discouraging as they said that the site had been dug on a number of occasions in the past with little success. They described the site as a resurging boulder choke. A return is planned in the not too distant future.
Those people who take the trouble to wander over the eastern part of Wales' Black Mountain area are probably familiar with the sight of a 4m wide river disappearing into the side of an impressive limestone cliff. The name of the river is the Giedd and the sink is, with impeccable Celtic logic, named Sinc y Giedd (NGR SN 810178). The water is next seen some three kilometres away, as the crow flies, in the Mazeways series of Dan yr Ogof cave. It must travel a further 1.5km through known passage before it once again reaches daylight at the mouth of the cave (NGR SN 834160).
Between sink and resurgence, the water falls a distance of 218m and must travel an absolute minimum of 4.5km underground - although experience tells us that the actual distance is sure to be greater than this. The river can take an appreciable amount of water in wet conditions, having a catchment area of 10 square km of very wet Welsh moorland, yet all of the water finds its way underground. Clearly, there is a lot of passage still to be found between Sinc y Giedd and Mazeways - in the so-called "Giedd Series". Dye tests have proved a positive link and indicate a flow time of around 36 hours in moderate water conditions. For those who have caved in Dan yr Ogof, the prospect of further passage of similar quality must make this system one of the most exciting areas of potential in Britain today. Yet, despite numerous attempts, the cave has been very successful at guarding its secrets.
A history of the numerous attempts to find the way on is outside the scope of this article. The obvious leads have all been looked at but have generally posed huge problems to the would-be explorers. Exploration from inside the cave has involved diving, with all its logistical hassles, or digging in unpleasant boulder chokes with no obvious way on. Surface digs have been dominated by two major feats of civil engineering: Sinc y Giedd and Waun Fignen Felen. Of these, only Sinc y Giedd is likely to enter the main river series, with the latter probably joining the Great North Road. Unfortunately, despite a massive involvement in time and effort on the part of the South Wales Cave Club, conditions underground and repeated flooding have prevented even the thinnest of people from getting into the new system. Both digs now lie abandoned.
My real involvement with the area began back in 1985 when I received a telephone call from Gareth Jones, a SWCC member (and old CUCC lag, to boot). "Got this great new dig...near Sinc y Giedd...draughting strongly...in just the right beds...bedrock...stream sink nearby..." It was a familiar tune, and recycled with as much originality as Kylie Minogue's next hit. So, we waited for the worst possible weather and I tagged along for a noncommital look.
After an hour's walking, we arrived at an impressively large, flat-bottomed shakehole (NGR SN 808184), with a peaty stream sinking in one corner. The hole had been chosen not only because it was taking an active stream and was close to Sinc y Giedd, but also because it lay just below an outcrop of a bed of rocks which by then had acquired mythical properties in Gareth's eyes: the Honeycomb Sandstone, a sandy, decalcified limestone bed, exhibiting a distinctive Swiss cheese appearance. Gareth enthusiastically pointed out that it marked the start of the main cave-bearing beds of the area; both for Ogof Ffynnon Ddu and Dan yr Ogof. The Sinc y Giedd people had been digging in the more shattered and less massive upper beds, which had been one of the reasons for their previous failures. At least here we'd be giving ourselves a sporting chance. I figured that, since I probably had very little better to do for the next three years, I'd give it a go.
Whenever the weather was at its worst, we would go to the dig. By now, I had been informed it had a name: the Rusty Horseshoe Dig. Something to do with a bent piece of metal found nearby, I think. Often we would turn up at Penwyllt to see if anybody was interested in helping. Until then, I hadn't realised that Cwm Dwr was such an exciting place. Sometimes we would meet a visiting club who were unfamiliar with the established order of things. "Fancy a walk? Got this great new dig...near Sinc y Giedd...draughting strongly...etc." On one rare occasion, we persuaded Kev Senior to carry a whole door across the moorland, an event that Kev probably still remembers vividly if the amount of whingeing at the time is anything to go by. On the whole, however, most people had far too much sense to stand around in the middle of nowhere getting absolutely frozen.
Within a month or so, we had excavated a short horizontal piece of passage, which led into a 4m shaft. By now, the draught was becoming a wind. The only complication was that it was going "in the wrong direction'. Although situated high up on the moorland, it was draughting out in summer and in during the winter; so you always had the least pleasant underground temperature. As we reached the bottom of the shaft, the roof started to spit the odd stone down on us but, in our zeal to push on, this was ignored and additional shoring was left for another day. When the inevitable happened, I found myself standing in the shaft, while Gareth's ample frame filled the entrance crawl - and my exit - as he attempted to roll a particularly large boulder uphill. With no escape, I pressed myself hard against the rock face as the roof crashed down around me, boulders bouncing off my helmet and back. When it eventually calmed down, the whole shaft was once again filled with debris and I was buried up to my armpits in it. Where once there was a low roof, now lay a large aven full of intimidating boulders just asking to be dislodged. Although I was able to wriggle out, it was to be another six weeks before we managed to dig out my wellies.
The dig was to continue on quite a regular basis for another three years, during which time the spoil heap grew to massive proportions, half a forest and an oil drum were carried up the hillside and the "sharp end" became more and more dangerous and difficult to dig. With nowhere to stash the spoil within the cave, it became necessary to haul it all the way out to the surface. This required a team of at least six people to negotiate a heavy bucket through all the constrictions and bends - and such numbers were becoming impossible to muster. The amount of hanging death became a concern to even the most kamikase amongst us. Eventually, and with much misgiving, it became prudent to "give it a rest and let it stabilise" - a euphemism for grudgingly admitting defeat after so much effort had been put into it by so many people. It had - and probably still has - one of the best draughts I have come across, so it must be connected to something quite significant. And it's in the right beds, etc. Yet, in spite of it having been one of the longest-running and most concerted efforts in the area since the old SWCC digs of previous decades, it too lies abandoned with the rest of them. I have recently been told that the entrance has collapsed, putting the final seal on the project.
If it takes six people three years to dig a hole, how many does it take to find a cave? As recent discoveries elsewhere on the Black Mountain have shown, it can take a chance discovery and minimal effort to get into new cave. Although the eastern area has yet to give up the fight, I believe that it is getting too easy a time. Although it is only an hour's walk from the road, it might as well be on the moon for a great many people. Perhaps the lure of Ogof Ffynon Ddu right on people's doorstep is too strong to entice them away, but until significant numbers take greater advantage of the area's vast potential, little progress is likely to be made. I can't help believing that if the area were in Yorkshire, we'd already have found what is sure to be Britain's best sporting through-trip.
In November 1990 Mark Bown, Sherry Mayo and Graham Naylor investigated the unentered "Main Inlet" in Knacker Trapper cave [NCC Journal, 1989]. The aven was climbed by bolting up the left hand wall to a height of approximately 12m. It was evident that without significant work the passage at the top of the aven, from where the stream comes, was too tight to enter.
On the 15th June 1991 Mark Bown, Tim Guilford and Sherry Mayo descended Rift Pot with the intention of investigating the bedding plane outlet of the final chamber in the '68 Pitches, on the suggestion of Dave Checkley. The first pitch and gulley pitch were bypassed via a rift climb entered from the chamber below the crawl to the first pitch of the '68 Pitches. The bypass was located at the bottom of the chamber 2m up the left hand wall. This was followed downward to the terminal chamber. The bedding plane was followed for 10m to a tight corner and a pitch. This was descended with the aid of a hand line tied to stal back in the chamber. A 10ft drop was followed by a further 7ft drop to a silt floored chamber. The only exit was a tight bedding with a silt sump. There was no air circulation and no prospect of continuation. Other sites were dug in the floor on exiting, but nothing was found.