Team: Stuart Bennett, James Hallihan, Piers Hallihan,Duncan Hornby, Jo Myburgh,Helen Stewart, Malcolm Stewart, Phill Thomas, Claire Vivian
The team arrived on the Mendips Friday evening around 9.30pm. Abandoning Piers and James at the Shepton the rest went for the obligatory drink at the Hunters Lodge only to return and find Piers fully immersed in Southsea CC shenanigans.
Most of the team had either never visited Swildons or had not been in it for many years. After discussion it was decided that Swildons was to be the Saturday trip.
|Shepton Mallet Caving Club hut, Sunday afternoon with sunset and mist providing an atmospheric backdrop.|
A lazy start gave Duncan the opportunity to pop over to the MCG hut and pick up the Pine Tree Pot key for Sunday’s trip. We then all headed off for Swildon’s Hole.
It was going well so far. We were on time, had a callout sorted (thanks Toby!), were the first caving party to arrive at the barn in Priddy and were prepared to either visit Sump 1 (James and Piers), or complete the Swildon’s short round trip (everyone else).
Within minutes this all changed. Mike and Jann from CSS/GSS turned up and explained that they had been told one of the sumps on the Short Round trip was un-bailable. Hmm. Major sticking point for our group… We had a quick group chat and decided to stick with the main plan of going in to Swildon’s and just seeing how far we could get on the trip. It was Helen and James’ first visit to Swildon’s, so all of it would be new cave for them.
|The SWCC team at Swildons Hole entrance.|
The team all headed off downstream to enjoy the Twenty, Double Pots and Barnes Loop together, before breaking off into two parties at Tratmans temple.
|Piers at Tratman’s temple, it was this point that the team split into two.|
As it turned out, this was a very good decision. Although over 20 minutes of bailing saw no noticeable change in the water level in Mud Sump - despite Stewart and Claire’s overly optimistic sighting of a tiny gap.
|Claire and Stewart valiantly bail the Mud Sump without reward.|
|Malcolm pouring water into the contraption that syphons off the water away from the sump.|
This was a bit disappointing, yes, but we still had good fun. We retraced our steps to Tratman’s Temple and then continued down to Sump 2. James got to try out his first caving ladder (on the Twenty) and Helen dived through her first sump, so altogether, an interesting day. As the pace was more gradual than expected, we had more time to actually stop and look around at the cave, admiring the formations. And, of course, no-one managed to fall in near the Double Pots on the way out…
|Helen’s reward for passing through Sump 1!|
James’ take on the trip
|Jo and James|
On Saturday it was my first ever trip into Swildons Hole - actually my first trip outside South Wales. Although a very good and interesting one it was a very wet and tiring one full of new experiences. One of the first was doing a twenty foot ladder climb under ground. Afterwards we thought that although it would make the other ladder climbs easier, perhaps starting on a calcite flow in a waterfall wasn't the best place to learn how to climb a ladder. Another new experience for me was getting properly wet in a cave. For all of the nine years of my caving experience (being only 12 that is all I could sensibly do) I tried to avoid water in a cave. Swildons wasn't the easiest place to do that. The first giveaway that it was a wet trip was the fact that I had to put on a wetsuit. If my dad had his way I would have got even wetter and gone through sump 1. No way! Being used to caving in the Brecon Beacons, I was used to seeing straight 15 degree rock strata so it was a shock to see the beds at Swildons were all wave shaped. I was glad that I had gone on that trip but slightly more glad that I went from the entrance to sump 1 and back instead of the round trip.
Eventually everyone exited the system and returned to the Shepton for a cup of tea and freshness up before heading out for a meal.
|Relaxing in the Shepton.|
|James make short work of the Caving Table, the centerpiece of the Shepton Common room.|
|Team enjoying a drink and meal at the Queen vic, along with Southsea and Dudley caving club!|
Sunday’s trip into Goatchurch was another significant event. Not only did it mark James’ 50th logged trip underground, it was also Lizzy’s first trip since the arrival of baby Aurelia 6 weeks earlier and Jo reminded us it was almost a recreation of her first trip with SWCC in 2009 when Lizzy and I led a team of new cavers, including Jo and Claire around OFD2.
Goatchurch is a fun little cave - there’s a few sporty squeezes and interesting traverses. There’s enough to keep you on your toes but it’s still a relatively safe cave for beginners too.
With this in mind, we put gave James a survey and put him in charge of route finding.
By the time we left SMCC after a leisurely breakfast, James had a round trip all planned out, taking in most of the cave, including both entrances. Packing all our kit to head for off I found that the SMCC drying room is largely ineffective and was very relieved at my decision to pack a spare undersuit!
We met Lizzy and family at Burrington Coombe car park - Mat was left in charge of looking after car keys and babysitting Seb and Aurelia and we set off on the stroll up the Coombe towards Goatchurch, seeing some significant signs of recent flood damage to the paths on the way.
|Footpath to Goatchurch|
We poked around the chamber beyond and decided that none of us (not even James) fancied what the survey described as a “Very Tight Final Rift”, especially as the guidebook adds “very difficult to reverse” to that description. Strangely, nobody fancied the “Hellish Tight” bypass either so we retraced our steps, climbing up over the Slide (or Coffin Lid, depending on which version of the survey you have) and into a maze of rifts of various sizes leading, eventually, to the Tradesmans Entrance to complete the round trip. James did have a bit of a surprise when he popped his head out of the flat crawl, almost into the mouth of a rather large dog which was looking into the cave!
|Lizzy exiting Goatchurch via the lower entrance|
|The team out and alive!|
James’ take on the trip
Goatchurch was a very fun cave despite being very small and full of precarious rifts and climbs. At the entrance I was told that I had to navigate around the cave. After walking in through the main entrance we walked down a slippery calcite flow named the giants staircase, aptly named as some of the foot holds down it were very hard to reach. After we had gone giants staircase, we had to go down ‘bloody tight’ which as the name suggests should have been quite tight, it really wasn’t. After negotiating a very large step across the bottom of ‘bloody tight’ we were in boulder chamber. There wasn’t much to see and we were soon talking to some others staying at SMCC at the top of the slide. As there were three others yet to come over the actual slide we decided to climb down under the slide. After looking round the fairly unimpressive grotto we headed down to water chamber and down the drainpipe to nearly the end of the cave. We didn’t see the actual end of the cave as some members weren’t the right size to fit so we retraced our steps to the bottom of ‘bloody tight’ and to the other end of the cave by the coal chute. Whilst looking around to find the coal chute we noticed a single bat hibernating in the cave. After looking at the coal chute we decided that we wouldn’t climb up it without a handline (that we left in the bag in the car) and went around it. After slowly sliding up a calcite flow, we had a scary dog encounter where a dog appeared from nowhere and starting smelling my face. After we returned home, my dad pointed out to me that since our records began in 2011, I had done 50 caving trips, more than likely qualifying me for my cavers+ badge in scouts.
A short walk across the fields (hopping over electric fences and high gates) got us to the right shakehole and the entrance blockhouse. Helen and Phill then made friends with the local ponies for twenty minutes while Malcolm went back to the van to get the cave key out of his trouser pocket…
Once in the cave we descended the steep entrance passage, adorned with various bats, and took the first left and generally headed downwards to enter the iconic impressive Gorge and then arrive at the Bridge. Further down we had a quick look at the view from the dizzying height of the waterfall and, after taking some photos, returned upstream and made our way over the Bridge and up towards the White Passage, where there are lots of fine calcite formations.
|Malcolm on the Bridge in GB|
White Passage ascends steeply via at least one tricky climb to a boulder choke, with a similar steep dead-end passage reached through a short crawl near the top (West Extension).
Back at the foot of White Passage we found the hole going down towards Rift Passage and followed this to traverse across the top of Rift Chamber. We were trying to find our way round the oxbow, working from Duncan’s half-remembered verbal description and a poor and increasingly muddy photocopy of an old survey. Rather than finding the way on we diverted off the main route up the narrow, and in places tight Rhumba Alley, oh what fun we had…. More bruises.
Error realised we returned to Rift Chamber and took the obvious easy route from the base of this, following the water. The Loop and Oxbow are fine sections of passage, with excellent stalactites visible in the roof and a couple of interesting down-climbs, which finally drop you out of Oxbow Inlet into the main passage, some distance downstream from the waterfall. Whilst posing for photos we could see the chain, at the top of the ladder dig climb, in the roof downstream of us.
|Malcolm and Phill looking at the rigging points for the Ladder Dig in GB|
Malcolm passing the ladder dig squeeze
On our way back we exited by climbing up the waterfall in the main passage, which wasn’t as difficult as expected, and found most of Dudley Caving Club taking photos at The Bridge.
An excellent trip, to a similar level of difficulty as yesterday’s Swildon’s trip.
We had parked at the MCG and walked to the cave and I impressed Stuart and Claire with my uncanny ability to walk straight to the cave entrance. This had nothing to do with me previously looking at Google Earth…
|Lifting the lid to Pine Tree Pot!|
|Duncan abseiling the entrance pitch (5m)|
3m on into the cave is the main pitch. This was quite awkward as you had to post yourself almost over the edge to get access to the hangers, so in the photo below my feet are over nothing!
With a much appreciated double check from Stuart (who has more experience in rigging than I) and 12m later I was at the bottom of the main pitch.
|Duncan rigging the top of Pine Tree Pitch with Stuart ensuring quality control!|
We headed back and looked for Moonlight grotto, joking about the huge number of formations that were not there. We found the way into Moonlight Grotto and to our surprise it had lots of pure white calcite, a sharp contrast to the rest of the cave.
|Claire and Stuart in Moonlight Grotto|
|Claire admiring formations in Moonlight Grotto.|
Trip time: 2.5 hours