Saturday, 7 September 2019

Down and dirty in the Forest!

Team: Bill Buxton, John Cliffe, Duncan Hornby, Ollie Jones, Sanita Lustika, Sally Richards, Richard Sore, Anna Stickland, Claire Vivian

Dates: 6-8th September 2019.

Last weekend saw a trip to the Forest of Dean with two teams: one visiting Big Sink the other Otter Hole. Some of us stayed at the Beeches farm campsite, a convenient base for accessing the caves and Saturday nights curry in Chepstow.

Otter Hole - Photo by Sanita


Big Sink

This is a cave that has been on our caving radar for some time and this weekend was our first trip into this seldom visited system. John kindly offered to lead it. Alarm bells should have gone off; in an email exchange with Paul Taylor he referred to it as a tough trip and John said last time he entered it his caving friend vowed never to return … How bad can it be?

John unlocking the entrance to Big Sink.

Duncan post trip rating - delete as applicable:

  • This is an arduous trip with serious implications for a rescue
  • Just shoot me now you’ll be doing me a favour
  • Hell will freeze over before I ever go back in that cave
  • It was a nice relaxing bimble of trip with no stress.

Duncan when he was still smiling before he met the 200m rift.
The entrance is another one of those amazing scaffolded sections which leaves you seriously impressed by the amount of effort the diggers had done to open it up. It was also extremely rusty, wooden planks rotted out and loose boulders held back by nothing more than our collective will power.

The entrance shaft...
The time-honoured road sign in any dug out section...
A short crawling section leads to the top of a 14m pitch. Bolts are a bit rusty but it gave a nice clean hang, ideal for people wanting to learn SRT. We had a 27m rope backed up to several other rusting bolts and had length to spare. Suggest you use a maillon on the main hang. The pitch descends into the impressive first chamber.

John at the pitch head.
Claire descending the pitch.
With all down and SRT kits removed we walked about 5m around the corner to discover it closes down into a tight gnarly rift…

This rift is the show piece of the system, 200m long, impossible to follow at a constant height, it required 200m of thrutching at multiple levels in severely restricted space. Anything that could snag did, it’s also a suit shredder! I (Duncan) am about 1.7m tall and of average build (and a little bit overweight). This was right on the limits of what I could physically fit in, anyone larger than me would find this even more difficult if not impossible. With committing horizontal moves over 3-4m drops it was frankly constant fear all the way until we finally exited it.

Duncan in a section of the 200m rift (such an innocuous name…). Here he is having to thrutch along at roof level the only space large enough.
Duncan moving horizontally through rift whilst not trying to slip down further into the rift.
Claire’s hand for scale, it’s going to be tight!
Duncan in a section of the rift where he can actually stand vertically!
Sometimes the only space large enough is at the bottom of the rift.
Claire says if there are people out there who do not like the Daren Cilau entrance series, then don't come here, because the Rift is more awkward and technical than the Daren entrance series, especially with tackle sacks.

Duncan half way through the rift and exhausted. It's a dry cave, so that's pure sweat.
Of course, John and Claire seemed not to be phased by the experience. Not impressed! (Claire says give the smallest person the bag to carry).

The exit out of the rift is awkward and requires a 5m rope as it is over hanging. An in situ rope was there but this cannot be assumed to always be there. While the rift is great for short people, this climb is not a friendly one at all and Claire was not keen on this.

We visited Yorkshire Pot, an aven that apparently does not lead anywhere and then onto Formation Passage via a set of flat out crawls.

Mud formations at Yorkshire Pot.
After admiring a set of straws, the sort you past and give no acknowledgement in say OFD, we headed out.

There are formations, but all Duncan can think of is the return trip through the 200m rift...
Claire in Formations Passage. Not a bead of sweat on her!
With adrenaline fuelled fear I entered the rift for 200m of straight up misery, weirdly it felt quicker getting out. Man was I glad to see the pitch!

We retraced our steps out, exited the cave and found Bill chillin’ out next to the cars.

For route finding the cave is essentially a Y shape so you can’t get lost, get stuck maybe but not lost!

Duncan suffered, several days after knees were still sore and a horrible rash appeared on his elbows! A recent visit to the Doctors suggested it was some sort of contact dermatitis.

Duncan's arm - itchy rash on both elbows. Doctor says it's contact dermatitis.
We survived!

Trip time: 5 hours

Otter Hole - Over the tide trip

Trip time: 9-12 hours
Group size: 7 people
Report and photos by Sanita

We started about an hour later than we originally thought due to one of the group being stuck in traffic. So our way to the cave was at a brisk pace and then a full speed to the sump to make sure we get there before it closed. This involved a lot of sliding in the mud. The very slight downwards angle helped to slide, but you don’t really notice it until you are coming up and it suddenly feels way more difficult than what you remember. After all the crawly bits we got to the sump. There was way less water than what our group leader, Henry, had expected. This made getting through it a way more pleasant experience (as much as getting stuck in the mud can be.) After the sump we got to the area with a river and brushes, indicating it’s time for cleaning up! This marked the point past which the pretties began and, oh boy, they were well worth every bit of mud we accumulated on the way in and out. We took our time to make sure we don’t have to spend a lot of time waiting for the sump to open in the end. Possibly too much time as we reached the end of the cave at around 5pm. Our callout time was 8pm and at a speed, it takes 2.5 hours to get back out. At this point, we split into two groups and the race to get back out began. While coming in, I was shining my light on every pretty I spotted and trying to capture as many as I can, going out I only ever remember muddy rocks, a lot of them!

The following photos were taken on the way in and speak for themselves, a cave full of amazing formations.

Anna and Sally taking photos
Sally taking photos in a comfortable spot.

Anna showing the muddy side of Otter Hole!


With everyone feeling too trashed from their Saturday adventures everyone elected for a nice stroll at Symonds Yat as the weather was nice and sunny. We walked to the spectacular view point, had tea and cake then Richard showed us various climbing spots. These were all trad-climbs (no bolts in place) and were hidden away in a wooded section.

The view point at Symonds Yat.
The gang (Duncan, Claire, Sanita & Richard).
Eventually we had to go our separate ways and Claire was yet again let down by our wonderful modern rail system so rather than leaving her stranded in Chepstow I dropped her off with Sanita at Bristol Parkway for what I can only assume was an epic journey home…

We even managed to do a short through trip near the climbing walls!

1 comment:

  1. I would love to do otter hole .absolutely stunning formations.brilliant write up Aswel Duncan. And i love the pics