Tuesday, 31 October 2017

SWCC trip to Sicily October 2017


Allan Richardson, Malcolm Craik, Lel Davies, Iain Miller, Barbara Lane and Harvey Lomas
A cocktail of caves, lava tubes, a bat cave and an active volcano walk.

We all arrived at Allan’s house on Saturday evening. A few drinks, a sleep and a minibus later, we boarded our flight from Manchester airport to Sicily and left the bad UK weather behind for 9 days.

Sicily’s roads are not the best we’ve travelled, so, along with the local’s terrible driving, they made our car journeys feel much longer that they actually were.


We kicked off the week with four of us visiting the Necropolis of Pantalica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a collection of cemeteries with around 4000 rock-cut chamber tombs dating from the 7th to the 13th centuries BC.

A deep gorge formed by the Anapo and Calcinara rivers, it is an important nature reserve, with a variety of local flora and fauna and natural caves (notably the Grotta dei Pipistrelli (Bat Cave)).

We split up at the bottom of the gorge, Harvey and Malcolm worked their way towards Grotta Dei Pipistrelli entrance whilst Allan and myself (Barbara) followed the river in the opposite direction.

Allan overlooking the entrance to Grotta Dei Pipistrelli which the others visited

After the climb back up the gorge, we saw this sign for another cave:

Down a very steep path, we eventually got to the entrance. The entrance was a short crawl which opened up to a relatively large chamber. Sadly, the ease of access has encouraged some vandalism just inside the entrance. There were a few pretty formations further on where the public don’t venture.

Harvey coming out of Grotta Trovata


We all visited The Roman amphitheatre of Syracuse.

Harvey doing a spot of climbing


The day was filled with lava tube hunting, a dubious game of croquet and a nice evening barbecue.

Lel aiming for a gap in the wall


Allan, Malcolm and myself visited Piazza Armerina to see the world famous Villa Romana Del Casale mosaics. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, it has one of the richest, largest and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world

A small part of the largest Villa Romana Del Casale mosaic


Full day on the Circumetnea train around Etna

Lel, Malcolm and Barbara

We caught the rural train in Catania Borgo. A charming little route which circles around the base of Etna and passes through the small villages dotted on her slopes and through the lava fields. We had lunch during a 3.5hr wait between trains in Randazzo. Walking around, the time passed quickly and we stopped for an ice cream on the way back to the train station. Carried on to Giarre where we walked to the metro line station and caught a high-speed train back to Catania.

Malcolm and Lel enjoying the mountain scenery

While we were riding trains, Iain, Allan, Harvey visited Tre Livelli lava tube.

There is a 6m pitch near the entrance, so they took a ladder and rope for access.

Iain at the bottom of the pitch

Allan descending the ladder

After descending the pitch, a little further on and they came across another, unexpected pitch. After using all their gear descending the last one, they had to turn around and come back out.


A day up on Etna

A cable car ride and bus up to the top of Etna gave us plenty of time to explore the lower craters from previous eruptions.

Allan and Malcolm photographing Etna’s SE active summit crater

Walking on the crater

Back down the mountain to the car, we then set off to get a quick lava tube trip in before we met up with Harvey for coffee at the cable car station.


Last day in Sicily. We split into two groups. Iain, Lel and Harvey went lava tube hunting while Allan, Malcolm and myself went to the Messina straights.

Lunch on the beach followed by a paddle in the sea.

Working our way back towards the airport and our evening flight, we stopped to visit Taormina, which is a very old and beautiful town perched on a rock.

Then, from Taormina to the airport, to fly back home.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Alton Towers doesn't disappoint!

Lucy Archer, Barbara Lane, Angie Peacock, Claire Vivian

A small group of us thought we would scare ourselves silly by visiting Alton Towers for Scarefest on the weekend before Halloween. There were dancing zombies and witches a-plenty, plus the odd ghost and spooky clown, without mentioning the fantastic rides. Some of the rides were in the dark, and passing through holes in the ground. Does this count as caving?

The Smiler gets the thumbs up

Despite some large queues, a total of 10 different rides were visited over the weekend by us, and favourites were visited several times. Excellent fun all round, plus some great Autumn sunshine! Our top tips are arrive early and join all the single rider queues to ensure you fit in as much rollercoaster action as possible.
Lucy and Claire on Oblivion

Still smiling in a queue

Barbara and Lucy getting ready to ride

Caged cavers

Riding Rita

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Chunky and Caver Keith Wow The Wessex

After dinner speakers R us

Only 9 days before the event Les Williams contacted Mark and asked if he was free on 21st October as he needed an after dinner speaker for the 83rd Wessex Cave Club Annual Dinner. Having not been able to find a suitable excuse Mark then contacted me and asked if I would be one half of a double act.

The slot was scheduled to last for 15 to 20 minutes. Mark's idea was basically for us to trade insults between short compilations of Caver Keith videos. It seemed a half decent idea so for the next 8 days we honed the script and assembled the videos. However neither of us were really confident that it would work with a large unfamiliar audience of about 90 people.

Les said that he could provide a large screen, projector, amplifier and speakers as the Hidden Earth equipment is held in the Wessex stores. All we had to provide was ourselves and a laptop loaded with the presentation and videos.

What could possibly go wrong?

Suitably suited and booted we arrived early at the venue but had to run across the carpark through a cloudburst courtesy of storm Brian. The equipment was already in place so we fired up the laptop, connected the video cable and plugged in the amplifier. The projector worked fine but the audio stubbornly refused to work. With the clock ticking relentlessly to the start of the meal it seemed that our 'well-rehearsed' presentation was doomed to failure. With only minutes to spare we diagnosed the problem. The 3.5mm jack plug was not going into the socket on the laptop far enough to make contact and there wasn't a spare lead! Fortunately I had bought a bluetooth speaker so we connected it up and placed a microphone in front of it. The sound wasn't perfect but it looked like the show was back on. Phew!

Pre-show Nerves

When I said 'well-rehearsed' presentation I may have been slightly embroidering the truth. Cobbled together might have been a more accurate description. During the meal we found out that over the years the great and the good of the caving world had addressed this long established club. The names that every ever knows - The Clive Westlakes, The Martin Farrs, The Sid Perous, The Gavin Newmans and alike, and who are we? Did anyone know us from Adam? To emphasise the point the person to Mark's right during the meal said, "Who is Caver Keith?" - enough said. So to say that we were a little nervous would be an understatement.

At the end of the meal were a number of toasts and then it was down to us.

The Presentation

Mark started with, "During the history of the Wessex Cave Club we understand that you have been addressed by all of the big names in caving."

I replied, "But unfortunately tonight we've got us." It got a small titter from a couple of the audience.

We then played the Potholer Sketch. It's one of my favourite videos and I know that Mark rates it highly too. The odd smile played on a few faces but there were no laughs. It wasn't going well!!!

I then said, "I was introduced to Mark about 8 years ago. I can remember the day vividly. He walked into the windmill like he owned the place and my first impressions were … ". I left a suitable pause and continued with, "What a fat bastard." The place erupted with laughter. Perhaps we were going to be able to pull it off after all.

The exchange of insults continued with Mark slagging off my videos and me slagging off his acting ability. We then played a compilation of video clips entitled "Nah ... He Can't Act" showcasing Mark's acting, starting with the famous Corset video and concluding with the title, A Star Is Born. Having broken the ice with my 'Fat Bastard' remark the bonhomie from the audience continued.

After another exchange of insults we played the third and final video clip compilation entitled "Highlights from the Video Vault" which featured humorous clips of both of us, including Brendan being blown up on the firing range, me stuck in the Lobster Pot, my return to caving following my accident and crashing my drone down Eldon Hole. This elicited laughs in all the right places.

The conclusion revolved around Mark suggesting that it was about time I gave up making videos and me storming off saying that if that was his attitude I was off to find my next 'big star' and shouting, "Les, Les come and be in my videos."

We did get applause, thanks and some very nice comments prompting Mark to post on Facebook, "After dinner presentation with Keith Edwards done and we didn't get lynched or nuffink!"

Would we do it again? Possibly if our egos were massaged enough.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Mud, Water and Zombies...

Team: Gian Ameri, Stuart Bennett, Derek Cousins, Duncan Hornby, Kevin Munn, Pam Munn, Phill Thomas, Morgan Specht, Helen Stewart, Claire Vivian, Jo White, Tarquin Wilton-Jones

Dates: 14th -15th October 2017


Staying at the TSG in Castleton is extremely convenient. Not only are you within walking distance of the great Peak Cavern, but you are also incredibly close to a large number of pubs and eating out options. The downside is the lack of parking. But the feel of being literally right in the centre of the town is great!

Saturday began with rough plans being made of trips into Peak Cavern.

Last minute preparations.

Almost Ready, getting changed at the TSG “chapel”.

We decided on 2 groups, one which would go and have a look at the fantastic Main Streamway and Lake Passage including Buxton Water, Far and Ink sumps and the other team would do a slightly longer trip including the main stream, the Galena Circuit and a visit to Moss Chamber. Some of us had been to Peak before, but none had visited Moss Chamber or done the Galena round trip

The two teams at the entrance of Peak Cavern.

The two teams at the Treasury Passage junction.

A little further on is Surprise View, a simple fixed ladder leading down to the Main Stream way, at this point the groups went their separate ways and only bumped into each other once.

The photos below are a mixture of each group's adventures taken by various people.

Claire in the Tube (photo by Morgan).

Duncan at the Lake Sump with a multitude of steel beams, scaffolding bars, and divers tanks! (photo by Morgan).
Tarquin puzzling over the many water pipes in the Main Stream inlet passage.
One group visited Moss Chamber, an hours diversion off the Upper Gallery passage, mostly hands and knees crawling, a squeeze through an eye hole and a final refreshing dunk in water right at the end. This chamber is famous for where an accident lead to the body of Neil Moss, being cemented into a too tight rift that he had become trapped in. Despite the sombre feel to this location it also has some of the nicest flowstone formations in the system.

Claire in Moss chamber.

Different angle (by Morgan).
Derek at the Far Sump.

Derek in the Main Stream way.

Helen in ‘The Tube’.
Duncan passing under the low arch at the Muddy Ducks (on the way out).
We all had to be out before 4:30pm as the show cave was running some sort of spooky tour in the evening. The show cave had some rather amusing ghosts and ghouls in odd locations...

Claire admiring a formation in the ceiling...

In the evening Jo White and Stuart Bennett joined us for some pub grub, on the Sunday Jo went to a BCRA meeting and Stuart joined the P8 trip.


Due to time constraints the group split into two teams: one for P8, the other for Giant’s Hole.


Derek had previously visited P8 some years ago and had enough equipment to descend P8 on ladders. Neither Claire, Duncan, Helen or Stuart had visited P8 before and with limited time we opted for P8. The entrance is a sinkhole taking a small stream and we were soaked from the moment we entered!

The team at the entrance of P8.
P8 has a Yorkshire pot feel to it as we followed the stream to the first pitch. With the ladder rigged we got a proper soaking as we descended! The second pitch was much nicer as the ladder was out of the waterfall.

Helen descending the second pitch and this was the dry one!

Stuart showed off by finding an alternative route down which he free climbed and avoided any soaking!

We then explored downstream and reached a sump after a flat out crawl in a pebble bed. Derek thought there was more to the system so we had not found the other sump which is as far as non-divers can go. Unfortunately time was against us so we decided to exit the system.

So there is definitely more to see and if tackled as an SRT trip I suspect much drier! The topo guide that was lying around at the TSG hut indicates there are several alternative high level routes that can be followed to avoid a soaking.

Giant’s Hole- The Round Trip: Tarquin, Gian, and Morgan

All photos in this section by Morgan

We found the description of the guide book more than a little tricky to decipher. So we sought advice from several TSG members and this was the sketch of the round trip in Giants they came up with!

The sketch for Giants Hole.

What an easy start to the trip, less than 10 minutes drive from TSG and a five minute walk to the entrance. £5 per person though!

Gian and Tarquin at the entrance of Giants Hole.
There are some spectacular spaces in Giant’s- this is Tarquin looking up into Boss Aven.
The first obstacle is Garlands Pot a 9m pitch which leads immediately into the 400m long Crab walk a very a meandering and constricted rift.

Gian on his first ladder descent using his harness - which he rightly points out is far safer than wearing a belt.
Morgan with rock on both sides. It gets even tighter at the Vice, a restriction in the Crab Walk.
Occasionally the Crab Walk opens up - Gian patiently posed for me in this “S” bend.
The Round Trip offers a good variety of sporting challenges. There are a few tricky climbs in the upper series.
After the Poached Egg junction you eventually arrive at the Giants windpipe. For those who like crawling on your stomach, through water, this is your place to be! The sign is a bit intimidating but it's alright. There is a 20 foot wet section. When we went through the water was not too high, if you get your head on the right angle you can still breath with a wet cheek and chin!

Entrance to Giants Windpipe.
After the pipe you can traverse above the Crab Walk. We chose to go beyond the fixed abseil ring (as there was no rope), go through a thrutchy calcite squeeze, and over some wider section of rift passage, eventually descending back to the lower route just before reaching Garland’s.

Gian pictured carefully moving along the top of the rift.

We climbed back up the ladder at Garland’s Pot, packed up and started to exit the cave. Tarquin climbed up to explore the “Old Upper Cave” on the way out. I decided not to join him as it did require negotiating more tight meandering passages while ascending. He thought it was well worth it.

All in all a fantastic trip. Sporting, wet, clean (unlike Peak Cavern!) and took a bit less than 4 hours!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Hidden Earth 2017

The weather wasn't first class, but the atmosphere and talks were. For those of you yet to visit it, Hidden Earth is an annual conference on caving. Whilst this might sound boring, it isn't in the least. The talks range from expedition reports, to regional round-ups and videos alongside a caver-run bar, stomp and a caving and SRT obstacle course. In short, it means you can cave around the world from your seat in the auditorium and gain a good idea of where you would like to visit. Fantastic! You also get to meet up with cavers from all over the UK. Hidden Earth is always ably organised by Les and Wendy Williams along with a whole host of helpers from Mendip and other caving clubs across the UK. The conference venue alternates between being in the North and the South. This year it was the turn of the South and Hidden Earth was in Churchill.

We camped on the sports field of the school. It is always interesting to wake up on Saturday morning in a sea of tents in Mendip and then head through a throng of people to listen to a talk on a distant corner of the world such as Mexico, Mulu, the Philippines, Meghalaya or Australia. It's great. I love it.  
The campsite at Churchill Academy
SWCC was particularly well-represented there this year. There were plenty of us attending to listen to talks and meet up with friends (nice to see Barbara and Alan at their first HE). But there were also many members with a more deep involvement who helped with the organisation, gave talks, or entered the competitions.
The trade and exhibition hall.
Antonia and Claire on the SWCC club stand
 Jo White gave a talk on the Yorkshire Dales Cave Monitoring Project to an attentive audience.
Jo giving her talk to a packed room
We also had plenty of competition entrants. Arwen had 2 entries in the cartoon competition and received a merit for one of those.
Arwen with her winning cartoon - she was awarded a merit.
Jess Burkey won the cartoon competition with her poster on the joys of being a cave model.
Jess' winning entry in the cartoon competition
Jo entered the photo competition for the first time with several photos, including a portfolio of Dachstein ones. It was the photo of a delicate ice formation which won her the prize for best newcomer.
Jo's entries in to the photo competition; including her winning ice formation one
And then there was the video salon which was co-ordinated by Andy and Antonia Freem. This year's winning entry was Keith Edwards' Opening AV presentation, which you can watch here:
Not forgetting Jo White's excellent performance in the SRT events in the SpeleoOlympics. Where she was the fastest lady on the SRT obstacle course and also earned the prize for the best woman in the SRT competitions. Well done everyone! 

Thank you to all the Hidden Earth team who organised the event. Your efforts are greatly appreciated. 

Don't forget to join us there next year!