Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Black Hole's and Bear Pits

Mendips Meet, 17-18 Nov

Team: Bill Buxton, Celestine Crabbe, Andy Freem, Antonia Freem, Duncan Hornby, Stephen Johnson, George Linnane, Sanita Lustika, Phill Thomas, Claire Vivian, Clive Westlake. With Miri and Duncan Simey in support.

This was the last official club away meet of the year and with over 10 members taking part, it was well-attended. It also meant we needed to run caving trips side-by-side as there were too many people for one group. Friday saw the obligatory visit to the Hunters for a quick pint and catch-up.


The team getting ready to enter Swildon's Hole
George showing his love of caving ladders

Saturday saw all members pass through Sump 1 in Swildons. This was particularly exciting for Sanita and Stephen as it was the first time they had come across a free-divable sump. Both passed through with varying degrees of enjoyment.

Sanita and Stephen shortly before Sump 1

From there one party moved on to explore the Black Hole Series and the other went to Sump 2 and an explore of many side passages including Barne's Loop on the return.

The way up to Black Hole Series involved an acrobatic manoeuvre up a climb and then a bold step across, you guessed it, a black hole.

Antonia showing how the climb should be done.
Clive and George at the Black Hole.

Then very soon we were at the Black Hole itself. Clive went first across this and made it look easy. The rest of us were then ably belayed across from both sides by both Clive and Phill. It was an intimidating step, but everyone felt safe on the rope.

The bold step.
We reconvened on the far side of the Black Hole and set about some exploring. There were some lovely formations there. A trip is very much recommended to this area of Swildon's!

Antonia in a well decorated section.

Phill admiring the formations.
As ever, Sump 1 seemed pretty chilly on the way back out. But we made fast progress and exited before sunset. It had been a great energetic trip for all involved.

Trip time: 5 hours.

The team emerging successfully.
It was off to the Queen Vic for food that evening where we caught up with Miri and Duncan.

Enjoying a meal at the Vic.


Once again two different trips evolved today. Trip 1 was a visit to Sandford Levy and trip 2 was a Bath Swallet-Rod's Pot through trip.

The Sandford Levy team.
We explored the dig in Bath Swallet before heading off on the through-trip. The entrance abseil is a nice and friendly one. Apparently it's free-climbable, but I wouldn't fancy doing that. The rest of the trip is fun, sporty in places and muddy. Only downside is it is fairly short - but ideal for a Sunday, especially when you add in extra bits and pieces, such as the Bear Pit.

Duncan climbing out of the Bear Pit in Rod's Pot.
Trip time (Bath to Rod's Pot): 3 hours.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Provisionals'/Beginners' weekend November 2018

This was the biggest Provisionals' Weekend I have been involved with. We had 34 people come caving with us over the course of the two days and over 20 current club members helped out to make sure everyone had a great experience. Some were current SWCC provisional members, others had never been caving before, whilst yet more had some caving experience, but were new to SWCC itself. Well, they couldn't have asked for a better weekend to visit the club! It was a fantastic turnout with a great atmosphere and the age range was from 9 years old up to early 60s. The club was as busy as I have ever seen it, with people filling up the last available bunks on Saturday morning. But we all fitted and had a good time - despite the weather trying to upset matters!

Saturday dawned with the usual running around to get people in to groups and going underground. They all put up with me remarkably well as I ran around like a headless chicken trying to make sure all people had the kit they needed and were in a group suitable for their abilities. There were 9 groups going underground on Saturday (Sorry I missed grabbing a photo of Chris, and Phil's group). We all got underground by 11.30am and there were trips in OFD1, Cwm Dwr and OFD2 that day. Sunday saw slightly fewer people go caving, but we still sent 5 full groups underground.

The Long Common Room on Saturday morning.

 Brendan, Lee, Ciaran, George and Colin about to go in search of the Pom Pom
 Alex, Alex, Andy, Jo, James and Jen ready for Cwm Dwr

Alex, Nick, Sue, Helen, Rita, Celestine and This almost good to go.
 Sally, Malcolm, Fred, Bill, Lewis and Josh

 Edd, Roger, Neil, Pete and Inga

 Antonia, Duncan, Stephen, Mark, Tenzin, Judy

Alex, James, Valentina, John, Ian and Inma 

Claire, Emily, Jane, Emily, Guy and Andy

All groups had a great time underground and came back to the club hut tired, but smiling, and ready for a hot shower. Here are some photos showing what they got up to underground:

Judy, Stephen, Mark, Tenzin at the Trident.

Stephen, Duncan, Judy,  Mark, Tenzin at the Shatter pillar.

 Jane near the Mini Columns

 Bolt Traverse, OFD1- high above the river!

 The team in Bridge Chamber, OFD1

 Chris and Dylan in Pi Chamber

Dylan trying out a crawl in OFD1

When everyone returned to the surface there was loads to do. Andy and Antonia had arranged to show several of their award-winning caving films, including the latest St Cuthbert's film. The room was completely packed! With standing-room only available at the back. Thanks both!

Three of our Junior members -  Ellie, Emily and James - are heading to a Scout jamboree in the USA in 2019. In order to raise funds for this they were selling handmade snowman Christmas ornaments, cakes (with specially designed posters by Thomas and Matthew) and had helped cook a communal curry. Well done all of you!

Ellie with her handmade snowmen

 James, Meghan, Dylan, Emily and Ellie sell cakes in the interval of the caving film showing.
Junior members helping each other out with the cake sale

Despite the awful weather we still managed to have some fireworks and Andy, Dave, Brian and all their helpers wowed us with a 30 minute display. As always - their efforts to keep us entertained, even in dire weather, are greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Less than 1%...

SWCC Team: Duncan Hornby, Allan Richardson & Claire Vivian

Trip Date: October 16th 2018

Following directly after the SWCC Yorkshire trip meet, Claire and I stayed up North for a few more days. On a wet and miserable Tuesday we headed over to Nenthead mines to meet up with Allan who had kindly offered to lead a trip into the system.

I had heard from others that Nenthead was impressive and was keen to visit it. On our way out of the mine system, having been underground for nearly 6 hours I casually asked Allan what percentage of the mine did he think we had visited…

… Oh probably less than 1%

We entered via an up and over gate into a level called Smallcleugh, which as it was a Horse Level was relatively large, with welly deep water in the first section, there was a reasonable draft and the temperature was cool but not cold. Allan showed us various chambers, these are horizontal mineral veins which are known in this part of the world as “Flats” some with historical artefacts, most contained a fair amount of Galena as well as other minerals in the walls.

The Entrance of SmallCleugh.

Allan in one of the many initial chambers we passed through.
Throughout the system were impressive examples of “drystone arching” built to store the “deads” above and to support the walls in areas where the walls needed some support . So you walked through these thinking “this is all very nice”... unaware of the crushing weight above it all holding it in place.

Claire looking a tad worried when realising what is above the archway…
We eventually arrived at a circular shaft, Proud's Sump, rigged for a descent. A second shaft had a tricky exit, requiring the previous person to pull the rope in so the person on the rope would not descend too far past the ledge. This took us into “Prouds Flats”, one of the later areas to be worked, here there were quite a lot of artefacts to be seen.

The pitch down from here to the Hangingshaw level, was via a fixed ladder which had been installed in a combined ore shoot and manway.

Hangingshaw is another Horse Level, and is the the lowest level which is normally visited. This is a colder and wetter level, in several sections the water was waist deep.

Claire abseiling down Proud's Sump.

Reflection of Claire in pool.
This lower level was packed with colourful mineral deposits and in places fine crystals.

Selenite crystals growing from a low roof in a chamber.

Amazing colours and patterns on low level formations.
This level too had impressive stone arched passages, now with flowing water. Throughout the trip we came across ore shoots, often in an advanced state of decay. Some of the stone arching had been reinforced by concreting, this was done by the Veille Montagne Company (Belgium) in the final phases of the working of the mine. Hangingshaw level eventually joins Rampgill level which is another horse level to the surface, this is the only level which was enlarged to take a locomotive, all the others relied on horses until they closed.

Stone arched tunnel, black stain on right hand side indicates past water level!

Allan passing collapsed ore shoot. Don't touch!
On the surface before our trip Allan had shown us an abandonment plan and explained the route to be taken. Whiskey Bottle Junction was as he said “you can’t miss that” and he was right! An impossibly unstable pillar seemingly held together by old whiskey bottles! A definite landmark, at the junction of Hangingshaw with Rampgill.

Whiskey bottle junction. The clue is in the name!
On our way out we took a detour into the Scaleburn horse level, an old level guarded by narrow passages with much mineral deposition. After going up some steps to a higher level and seeing some miners initials from the 1790’s, we carried on along the horse level and eventually popped out into a chamber with a large and fairly intact Horse Gin wheel, this is one of the best preserved underground Horse Gin’s in the country. There is a drawing shaft next to it in the chamber, the shaft is about 60 feet deep to water and had some lengths of rail line across it for safety.

Passage in Scaleburn
Scaleburn Horse Gin
Back on the final route out we were treated to crystals in the ceiling and my first ever Snottite! 

Crystal formations in Rampgill level
Snottite video, click on it to watch.

We eventually exited the mine 6 hours later, 99% short of seeing the rest of it and thankfully very near the bunkhouse where a tea was on the brew.

Thanks Allan, an amazing experience, it’s not all grim up North!