Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Forest of Dean Caving

SWCC Team - Jill Brunsdon, Bill and Doreen Buxton, John Cliffe, David Eason, Mark Hampton, Duncan Hornby, Andy Jones, Barbara Lane, George Linnane,Darren Mackenzie, David Mullin, Angie Peacock,Claire Vivian, & Tarquin Wilton-Jones

Otter Hole Leader - Paul Taylor

Trip Dates - 17th - 19th August 2018

Base of operations was the Beeches Farm Campsite. A fully featured campsite with a great view of the Wye valley...when it’s not raining…

Sunday morning breakfast in the rain… Photo by Angie Peacock.

Cavers were split across two teams on Saturday with team A having a very early start for Otter Hole lead by Paul Taylor whilst team B had a leisurely start visiting Miss Graces Lane down the road.

On the Sunday various people left leaving a core team of 5 joined by John and Tarquin allowing us to split into two teams for Wet Sink. John lead the faster team as Andy and Darren had a long return trip North whilst Tarquin thrashed the hell out of the rest of us taking us on a flat out crawling, chest crushing, high traverse knee shaking tour of the system!


Otter Hole

A team of four from SWCC (Andy, Darren, David and George) lead by Paul Taylor were gone by 6am to ensure they were at the entrance as it opened. Andy and Darren pushed through to the bitter end whilst the others were content with getting as far as Long Straw Chamber. If you don’t fancy slogging through slippery mud for hours and tight squeezes then you can watch from the comfort of your armchair a short video on the making of a film of Otter Hole by Paul himself.

Miss Graces Lane

David arrived at the campsite and patiently waited for us to stop faffing. We then drove down the lane, parked and changed, the cave entrance being only 30m away in a depression.

After my rigging was made safer we abseiled into the cave down the 28m concrete shaft.

Team at entrance of Miss Grace’s Lane
All the way down were spiders galore, so an arachnophobic nightmare!

One of the many spiders guarding the entrance…
Only 3 of us had visited the system before but none of us were confident in knowing the way. Thankfully we had printed off the map and guide and were able to navigate the system reasonably well. We visited Dog tooth chamber, passed through Dome Chamber, Nurden Hall, Canyons Hall,Phreatic causeway, Phreatic drop, Satanic Traverses and as far as Fin Pillar Junction.

Angie in Dogtooth Chamber
Phreatic drop had a tricky drop, easy to get down but without a sling awkward to return, Angie and Jill decided against continuing. Duncan dropped out at the Satanic Traverses (the clues in the name) and only the brave continued to Fin Pillar Junction.

Dome Hall

On the return we decided to pop into the Winter Storm series, which turned out not to be some squalid failed dig but a surprisingly long section with Jill and Duncan pushing to the bitter end of some dig, well worth a poke around.

Meanwhile on the surface Barbara went on a circular walk taking in the local scenery.

Trip time was about 5 hours.

After freshening up back at the campsite, 5 of us visited the Devil’s Pulpit, a stone outcrop with a spectacular view of Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley.

Devil’s Pulpit
At the end of the day we all reconvened at the campsite, then headed off for an excellent curry at the Sitar Balti in Chepstow.

Team enjoying the Saturday night meal.


Wet Sink

John Cliffe arrived at the campsite, the rain set in and breakfast was consumed standing up. After tents were packed up we split into walkers and cavers.

Today needed to be a shorter caving day for some as two needed to return to Yorkshire that evening. Consequently, we split in to 2 groups. One did the standard round trip in Wet Sink (John, Andy and Darren) and the other group added extensions on to the trip such as Flow Choke and the Snow Gardens (Tarquin, Duncan, Mark and Claire). This part of the blog records the longer trip.

Tarquin’s memory for caves knows no bounds. Despite this being only his third visit to the cave, he still had the survey and place names virtually perfectly in his head. Don't know how he does it!

We set a good pace and sped through the earlier sections of the cave. It was not long before we were up Zurree Aven, through the Graveyard and Gnome Garden then onto the Three Deserts where a mix of stooping and crawling was required, finally slowing us down. We first visited Flow Choke before heading back to look at the Dog’s Grave.

Mark in a taped section of system.
Tarquin some how knew of a short cut to the Dog skeleton, involving a vertical squeeze that you "simply" drop through to end up a matter of metres away from the skeleton. Whilst the other slithered through I breathed out and completely wedged. That horrible feeling of dread set in that induces instant panic and I desperately moved myself as I could not physically breath. Thankfully gravity won over size and my chest passed through. Anyone large should not attempt this squeeze.

Tarquin helping Duncan through the squeeze
Norman the dog
The trek up to Snow Gardens starts beyond Dog's Grave. Be prepared for exposed traversing and some splendid formations! Duncan got only so far along the high traverses before the fear kicked in and he dropped out whilst the rest pushed onwards.

The spectacular Snow garden formation
Mark at the Snow Garden

With Duncan de-rigging the entrance and Tarquin bringing a frog to the surface we exited the system around 6pm.

A successful team (Tarquin, Duncan and Claire, Mark taking the photo)

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Peak District caving

Team: Derek Cousins, Duncan Hornby, George Linnane, Lesley Markie, Ariana Preston, Lee Smith, Richard Sore, Claire Vivian, Neil Weymouth.

Dates: 18th -20th May 2018

This club meet saw new and old club members travelling from far and wide to descend upon the TSG in castleton. With excellent weather forcasted the sensible thing would have been long walks in the Peaks but instead we all headed underground to be cold and wet!


Richard and Duncan arrived a day earlier as Richard was keen to refresh his SRT skills in preparation for his summer visit to the Berger. We decided to do two caves near Monyash: lathkill head cave and knotlow cavern.

Lathkill Head Cave, top entrance was located with the GPS and the entrance is locked with a nut so you need an adjustable spanner to open it.

Richard at the entrance of Lathkill Head Cave - Upper Entrance
The entrance leads straight into a pitch (rigging guide is here) which is a fairly pleasant descent.

Richard rigging the upper entrance pitch in Lathkill cave
The rest of the cave was bl**dy miserable! Flat out crawls one after another made for a gruelling trip taking far longer than expected. The guide did not make sense with respect to distances but we end up in a reasonably large and decorated chamber, which we believed to be the Dream Time chamber. At this point we simply gave up and headed out with much talk about lunch!

One of the more spacious crawls…
Definitely a collectors piece of caving! I think the log book which was hanging on a piece of string in a daren drum at the entrance said it all, 5 trips into the system in 8 months…

After a spot of late lunch in a cafe in Monyash we drove to the nearby knotlow cavern. This has two entrances, a monster 70m pitch and a less intimidating 2 pitch entrance which I pushed for. Rigging guide can be found here.

Richard rigging the Climbing Shaft entrance to Knotlow Cavern.

Climbing shaft entrance is also locked with a nut (so don’t forget your adjustable spanner!). The first pitch is fairly easy going and was quickly descended.

The second pitch is much more technical starting with a traverse line leading to a Y-hang to avoid the waterfall. Richard spent more time on this pitch head and wisely put in a long leg loop in just before the Y-hang to aid getting on/off it. He eventually descended.

Richard rigging the second pitch in Knotlow.
There is something about watching someone rig that induces a certainly level of concern. I subsequently put in an extra sling at the Y-hang to help with getting off it. The actual descent went rather well and I met Richard at the base of the pitch. Feel smug with myself I said “right let's go!”, he walked 2m and announced that was the end of the trip! What? Well it turns out that it pays dividends in actually reading the description! Knotlow is usually done as an exchange trip via the 70m Engine shaft pitch…

So we turned around walked the 2m back to the rope and then ascended popping out into a glorious evening.

We had dinner in the popular Bull Inn in Monyash then headed over to Sheffield to pick Claire up at the station. We returned to Castleton and thinking the others may have settled in for the night we went for a last orders pint at the Peak Hotel. Claire sent a text and to our delight Ariana, Lee, Neil and Lesley turned up and a few more drinks were sunk.


Much to Duncan's horror, we needed to be ready and changed in time for 9.30am, ready to walk over to Peak Cavern for 10am. No lie-in for anyone this weekend!

We quickly split into 2 groups. One was to be an SRT epic to the White River Series and the the other would be a tourist trip around Peak taking in the streamed, Galena Circuit and Moss Chamber.

The tourist trip

Duncan, Derek, Lesley, George and Claire opted for the non-SRT trip. It was Lesley and George's first visit to the cave. As Richard was the only member of the other group to have visited Peak before, and that was in the opposite direction on a trip from Titan, we went with the others until the start of the Trenches. 

Then we motored down to Surprise View and went for a splash around in the spectacular streamway.

Derek traversing just before Surprise View.

The water was incredibly low, but I still couldn't resist taking a picture or two there. No-one managed to fall in, but wet feet still abounded.

George, Derek and Lesley in The Tube.

We went to the bitter end, Buxton Water sump and then turned around to go to the bitter end upstream (Far Sump). En route we managed to lose Les and George as their enthusiasm for exploration took over and they disappeared up a side passage. We waited a while for them, but got fed up and after looking at the map and seeing the passage they disappeared down re-entered the stream further down, we headed that way. No sign of them when we got there, but barely 2 mins later there were shouts behind us. They'd noticed we weren't behind them and had retraced their steps. We then all continued to the sump.

Derek, Claire, George, Lesley and Duncan at Far Sump.

A knotted rope had been spotted on the left on the way down. Claire and Duncan explored this to the bitter end (a dig face) via a series of crawls, then caught up with the rest. Following this, it was straight in to the Galena Circuit. Several short and fun rope climbs ensued, along with a miserable section of flat out crawling through mud. We emerged back at Surprise View somewhat muddied than we left off.

George and Lesley in Peak Cavern Main Stream (a corner in the The Tube).

I'd promised there would be some formations today. So our next stop was Pickering’s Passage and a trip to Moss Chamber. Lots of crawling ensued. Much more than I remembered from my last visit here, so I’d obviously blanked out a section of that. But it was good fun- George even said that it made the trip for him! 

It is a fairly strenuous trip up to Moss. Derek’s knees were hurting and so we left him at the entrance to the passage and estimated we'd be back in about 40 mins. How wrong we were! We more than doubled that time and returned to find a cold friend (though he didn't hold it against us. Thanks Derek!)

The initial crawling is replaced by some scrambly moves up mud slopes with steps cut in them and slightly awkward climbs. I enjoy this sort of thing. It’s a good challenge. It was George and Lesley’s first go at the Eye-Hole and they stepped up to the challenge excellently.

George looking determined in the Eye-hole.

A couple of easy rope climbs followed the eye-hole and then a short crawl brings you out in to the pool at the bottom of Moss Chamber. This was definitely deeper, and colder, than I remembered. Though being the first to arrive at it I was amazed at how clear the water was. As you can see from the photo, this did not last long.

Claire in the pool in Moss Chamber.

The SRT trip

We split into two groups at the start of The Trenches, with Richard, Neil, Ariana and Lee heading into The Trenches as the other group made their way to the main Peak Cavern streamway. The Trenches were certainly aptly named, with lots of thick clay underfoot attempting to steal wellies! The sludge continued as we entered Colostomy Crawl, which left us completely covered in a nice layer of sloppy mud.

After all that crawling, it was certainly a welcome sight to see the ladders heading down Egnaro Aven. After descending these we set off along the streamway, taking the bypass route crawl to get to the bottom of Block Hall.

Block Hall provided some top SRT practice, with lots of technical ropework to refresh with. We weren't sure how long the pre-rigged pitches actually were as we set off - there's about 80 metres to get to the top.

Ariana passing a rebelay near the top of Block Hall.

Prussiking up a bit more...

From the top of Block Hall, a rather unassuming looking crawl takes you to the start of the White River series, which Neil and Richard headed into whilst Ariana and Lee began to negotiate their way back down the rebelays of Block Hall.

Neil descending on the way back from White River series.

Richard making his way back down Block Hall (note the mud, that oversuit is actually red!)

After regrouping following our descent, we made our way to where the streamway meets the end of the Speedwell boat canal to see The Bung. This is a choke point where nearly all the water from Speedwell flows into Peak Cavern - although water levels were low today and there wasn't much of a waterfall.

We then stomped on back down the streamway, up the Egnaro Aven ladders and back into Colostomy Crawl for some more writhing through the mud. It seemed somewhat longer the second time around!

As we made our way back down to the entrance, luck would have it that we intersected with the rest of our party as they emerged from the entrance to Moss Chamber! Perfect timing.

We started to make our way back out to the Cavern entrance - this time the cold water of Muddy Ducks was quite welcome in order to rid ourselves of some of our muddy coating. However, we still needed to give ourselves a good scrubbing down before making our way back through the show cave! It was lovely to emerge into a beautifully warm and sunny May afternoon - and even better to hit the hot showers of the TSG hut!


Richard was tempted by the sunny weather and went for a walk whilst the rest of us took on the challenge of doing the round trip in Giants Hole. Neil had not been in it for over 10 years, whilst it was their first time for Lesley and George. We knew it was only going to be a shorter trip as we all intended to finish early today to go home or, in Neil’s case, paragliding.

The team at Giants Hole Entrance.
After pausing for a quick photo at the entrance, we were on our way. It took hardly any time at all to reach Garland’s Pot. This was then ably rigged with a ladder by Duncan and Neil.

Lesley descending Garland's Pot.
Then on we sped down the Crab Walk. What a fun bit of cave! For those familiar with OFD, it is just like Maypole Inlet but goes on for a lot longer, i.e. a slot canyon. We tackled this with gusto as we went further into the system and avoided falling into potholes and getting unnecessarily cut up on Razor Cascade.

Lesley in the Crab Walk.
Leaving the Crab Walk (and a couple of frogs behind - sorry Tarquin!) we entered the Upper Series and began a series crawls and walking passage interspersed with a couple of fun short climbs with handlines. All was going well. We made a couple of wrong turns but got back on track quickly and were soon at the notorious Giant’s Windpipe. I'd done this before and knew what to expect, Les and George were new to it, so of course they went first to trail blaze through for us today. The groans and occasional choking noises gave away their enjoyment as they crawled through a tube partially filled with water, with flat-out crawling in places and turning into a duck further on.

George at the Giant’s Windpipe.
Then it was on to the grand finale of the trip. The 45 foot abseil back down to the bottom of the Crab Walk. Duncan rigged the abseil ring for a pull-through and then went first. George was up next, he learnt how to tie his first Italian Hitch and then breezed through it. Neil was the last down. He re-rigged slightly as he wasn't sure if the ring would allow the rope to pull-through easily and then abseiled on a double rope.

George about to abseil as Neil looks on.

Looking directly down the Crab Walk- route of the abseil.
The point you re-enter the Crab Walk is very near Garland’s Pot, so it was only a few minutes before we were climbing back up the ladder and de-rigging.

Duncan helping George with his knots.
It was still gloriously sunny when we reached the surface. We had also made very good time as it had taken us only just over 2.5 hours to complete the trip. We were pleased with this as none of us was very familiar with the cave. Good job everyone!

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Ogof Marros video update

Three years of digging and the second choke has still yet to yield. It's not for want of trying, as you'll discover in the video below. Lots of time spent lying in squalid mud, the main stream and way too many scary moments to be comfortable with!

Antonia and Andy have created a new video with never seen before footage, we hope you'll enjoy it.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Ogof Craig A Ffynnon filming

Team: Antonia Freem, Duncan Hornby, Ollie Jone, Sally Richards, Alan Walsh & Tarquin Wilton-Jones

Trip date: 24/2/18

“Team Freem” had been wanting to film the furthest parts of Ogof Craig A Ffynnon for some time and last weekend had been a trip in the planning for several months. Unfortunately Andy had to drop out last minute so Antonia stepped up to the challenge of filming for two! No pressure then…

What made this trip extra special was that it was to be supported by new club members, Alan, Ollie and Sally, whilst veteran caver Tarquin provided route finding and what turned out to be rather excellent set of photos. I've pinched a few of his for this blog!

The usual suspects… Sally, Alan, Antonia, Tarquin, Ollie and Duncan. The glorious sunshine belies the freezing temperatures, so was glad to get into the cave.

We filmed our way going into the system stopping at key locations to capture the experience of caving and many of the splendid formations.

Photo by Tarquin.

After the second boulder choke we were overtaken by another group (Gwent CC) who were moving at a much faster pace.

Photo by Tarquin. Filming the gour pools.
Whilst filming at the Hall of the mountain king the Gwent club passed us again on their way out, providing an opportunity for some excellent lighting.

Photo by Tarquin. The Hall of the Mountain King as you have never seen it!

At this point only Tarquin and Antonia had been beyond the impressive Hall of the mountain king chamber so for the rest of us it was new territory. An initial tight squeeze leads to an awkward crawl then into hands a knees crawl for approximately 250m.

Photo by Tarquin. Alan passing through the Hurricane Highway Squeeze, a tight calcited bedding.
The cave then expands into some very impressively sized passages.

Photo by Tarquin, what is remarkable about this photo was that it was taken on his phone!
Antonia filmed key locations. Beyond this is a bit of blur to me but we finally made it to some huge passage ending in the fifth choke. Both Antonia and Tarquin excitedly film and photoed this impressive section.

Photo by Tarquin.
This is also the point where one can visit helectite passage (which must be only visited by two at any one time due to the highly delicate nature of the formations).

Whilst Antonia and Ollie were filming Tarquin offered to show the nearby Pagoda formation.

With everything filmed the crew turned round and headed out.

We eventually exited the cave just after 7pm into the brutal cold night. Needless to say no one was keen to hang around!

Tarquin has written his own blog which has a comprehensive set of photos, so well worth a visit.

Trip time: 8 hours

Click on the link below to see the film created by Andy and Antonia Freem.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Draenen - The Geryon

Team: Claire Vivian and Tarquin Wilton-Jones
Time: 12 hours. (Saturday 6th January)

It all started off so well! Wake up a 5.30am. Yes. Taxi to train station at 6am. Yes. Catch train to Cardiff at 6.30am. Yes. Then things started to go wrong. Leave Neath. No. Arrive at Cardiff at 7.23am. No. Train broke down and got delayed by over an hour. Yes.

But then things started to go right again. I met Tarquin in Cardiff just after 8.30am and we headed over to pick up a key for Draenen. All went well and we were changed and ready to go underground for 10.30am. Considering it was barely 2 degrees celsius at this point, we were pretty keen to get underground as it would be warmer there. I had one literal slip up on the way to the cave after going flying on a patch of ice on the road. Hmm. 'Things come in threes', I thought, and this is the second thing already. What next??

We passed through the entrance series quickly, naturally relishing the grovel in cold water and the icy waterfall down your back. Then in no time we were at the signing-in book at Cairn Junction and Tarquin was off like a whippet. White Arch Passage, Lamb and Fox Chamber, Indiana Highway, Megadrive, Perseverence II all passed by at warp speed. Though we did pause to look at the fossilised dorsal spine of a shark near the start of Raiders Passage en route. There was plenty of boulder hopping (Tarquin) and boulder slipping (me) and then we were at Sugar Cube Chamber looking up at the huge wedged rock - the Sugar Cube itself - without standing directly under it for too long, as it doesn't look to be held up there by very much! Elliptic Passage, Big Beauty Junction, Gone with the Wind and Midwinter Chambers passed in a blur and then we (I) had a quick snack and break at the Snowball before we dived in to the Last Sandwich. This is a lengthy 300m of low crawls and squeezes. The recent modifications in that area mean that someone my size doesn't come anywhere near touching the sides any more.

Soon we were popping out in to the massive MSAD (More Singing and Dancing, being the clean version of the name). What an incredible place! I first 'saw' this in 2014 with a less bright caving light. Even with a much more powerful light it is still impossible to see it all. This place is vast, and is made even more impressive considering you have just come through the Last Sandwich crawls to reach it.

Decisions, decisions! Where to go first... Head straight for the Geryon or go and look at Nicola's Grotto. I opted for the Geryon as this was the furthest away from our current position and I fancied doing that while still feeling fresh as I had wanted to see it for a long time. With Tarquin on the hunt for CCCs (cryogenic cave calcite) and me photographing every helictite in sight and having a play around with my new camera, we took our time to get there and just enjoyed being in that section of cave. It was great. Iwouldn't say I am very familar with Draenen (my trip total there is less than 10 trips) and being able to go in with Tarquin who knows the name and history behind every passage was a real treat.
Tarquin at Medusa's Children
Helictites near Medusa's Children
We headed on past Medusa's Children (amazing!) and then on to Cantankerous Surveyors' Passage.
This was not as long as I was expecting it to be. I had envisioned another very long crawl, but it was only a few feet long to get to the Geryon's Lair. The first view you get of the Geryon is spectacular. You enter the bottom of the chamber and look up at the Geryon and a fantastic domed roof of the chamber.
Tarquin and the Geryon.
The Geryon
Claire and the Geryon
I was delighted to have finally reached the Geryon and spent quite a while taking photos in the chamber. We then headed up for the end of Cantankerous' Surveyors (which ends in a dig at the moment) and then headed back to the large passages of MSAD and the Hall of the One.
Tarquin in the Hall of the One.
From here we experimented with taking some photos in the large chamber and then headed up to see Nicola's Grotto. This was excellent and well worth the visit and subsequent photos.
Nicola's Grotto
Nicola's Grotto
We turned around and headed back to the Hall of the One again. It looked incredible from this angle, so we paused for more photos.
Tarquin in Hall of the One. Additional editing by Peter Wilton-Jones.
Next on the agenda was a bit of an explore to Squealing Like a Stuck Pig and Pisspot Passage. Neither were quite as unpleasant as they sound, but then I didn't go the whole way down Pisspot Passage. I let Tarquin explore the rest of that for a few minutes while I gathered my strength for the return trip. We'd been pretty fast so far, so I wasn't sure how tired I would be on the way out. We turned around and headed back down via a slightly different route to MSAD. We then decided to have a quick look at the Snowy Christmas Tree before heading on out. This is definitely worthy of a diversion when you are in the vicinity of it.
A smaller section of MSAD
Tarquin and the Snowy Christmas Tree
We had a late lunch (around 7pm) at the entrance to the Last Sandwich and then began to head back. I feel myself getting more tired and slowing down on the way back, but we managed to exit Draenen by 10pm and then headed over to Chris and Judith's for a very welcome cup of warm tea after getting changed in the ice cold wilderness of the car park opposite the Lamb and Fox. Altogether it had been an excellent 12 hours underground and I wouldn't hesitate to go back to the Dollimore Series again - both to do more of my own routefinding and to see more of the area itself. Thanks for a great trip Tarquin!