Monday, 20 March 2017

Provisional Members do their thing

In recent weeks we have had many enquiries from people who would either like to try caving for the first time, or established cavers who would like to join SWCC. As ever, we are keen to introduce people to caving and the club and show them around the spectacular underground world that we as a club all love to explore. This is a sport that is open to all ages and abilities.

The past 6 weeks have seen us introduce 5 new club members to caving on a variety of different trips within the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu system. It is incredibly satisfying to show people around, see how they react to the cave and then watch them progress from beginners to becoming experienced cavers in their own right. The smiles say it all. Once the caving bug bites, it stays with you! 

If you would like to come and join us then please do get in touch. We are a friendly bunch and always welcome new people who are interested in discovering what caving and SWCC can offer them.

Our next organised Provisional Members'/ beginners weekends are: 3-4 June and 4-5 November. Email Claire to join in:    We can also arrange trips outside of those dates, so if you are interested in caving, just get in contact. 

Paul, Adrian and Steve introduce Dave to SWCC and OFD

Jenny and Jamie enjoying their first visit to OFD1

Jamie in a bedding plane

Jenny traversing high above the streamway
Getting up close and personal with a stalagmite

A few weeks later we were also joined by Glenys, Tom and Ian who were introduced to Top Entrance (OFD2) and some very pretty formations.

Ian, Tom and Glenys raring to go.

Tom at the Wedding Cake

Ian sampling a crawl

Tom in Swamp Creek

Glenys having fun learning to traverse

All of our new members then joined a number of our local members at a curry night. There were 20 cavers at the meal, so they all had plenty of chances to meet people and make more caving plans. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Hardcore at Hardraw….

Trip Date: 3rd - 5th February 2017

Most of the team arrived on Thursday evening to stay in the very comfortable Old School Bunkhouse at Hardraw, just north of Hawes. As the one and only pub didn’t open until Saturday evening the team happily started on their stash of wine and beer, catching up with club news and gossip well into the small hours.

There was a good mix of cavers with a wide range of SRT experience, from the beginner and intermediate through to the very hardcore experienced SRT rigger. This meant there plenty of options for everyone.

Day One - Friday 3rd February 2017

Lost Johns Cave, Leck Fell, Lancashire.

Friday 3rd February 2017. A long drive from Hardraw, giving plenty of time for the car heater to warm us all up nicely before we had to step out, onto the arctic tundra of Leck Fell, and take all our clothes off. Nothing like a bit of exposure, shivering and hypothermia to get the morning off to a bracing start.

All changed and wrapped up in SRT kit the ‘Dome Route’ team (Helen, Jill & Malcolm) plunged underground to enjoy the fabulous entrance series; the high traversing above the streamway makes this one of my favourite northern caves.

Jill descending the Dome route

The ‘Centipede Team’ (Andy, Brian & Dave) came powering past at the head of the initial Dome route pitch, down the first pot in the fossil passageway. This pitch used up one of the two slings we’d planned to use.

We rigged Vestry and Cathedral together, using one 50m rope. This pitch used a sling we hadn’t planned to use, for the narrow thread round the back of a flake at the top of Cathedral. There was a bit of tat in place, but it looked as if it had been left by the original explorers and didn’t inspire confidence, so a sling was used as well. This meant that by the time we reached the deviation part way down Cathedral the team was clean out of slings; the donkey’s dick off the bag was therefore pressed into service. Officially the next pitch, ‘Dome’, needed a further sling for a deviation, however we rigged this as a rebelay, thus avoiding the need to knit a sling on site.

Malcolm and Jill at the base of Centipede

The teams re-united at Candle and Shistol, which Brian rigged, and then we were at Battle-axe. Malcolm ended up rigging this, very slowly, and the traverse to the y-hang used up all our remaining rigging hardware. The topo indicates 9 bolts along here; somehow we managed to use 15 assorted krabs and maillons. Time was ticking on as well, so after everyone had had a look at the y-hang we beat an orderly retreat, with the teams swapping routes for the de-rig. Time underground over five hours.

After more naked hopping around in the dark, with the polar breezes of Leck Fell whistling round our goose-bumps, we discovered that the Station Inn at Ribblehead does a nice pint and has a warming open fire…

Long Kin East <> Rift Pot exchange, Allotment, Yorkshire.

Not written up.

Day Two - Saturday 4th February 2017

Cow Pot - County Pot

Team: Ali, Jules, Malcolm, Josh and Lilo

SWCC had a Saturday permit for Cow Pot. It's got to be the most spectacular entrances into the Easegill system, emerging out of the roof in the cavernous Fall Pot. A party of 7, comprising 4 ageing SWCC members and 3 youthful York Uni students, who we acquired at Ribblehead Station, headed over to Bull Pot Farm. The plan was to explore the western end of the system, entering and exiting via Cow Pot. Like all good plans, that went out of the window when we bumped into Fleur and a few Irish cavers at the farm. They were doing a County to Lancaster through trip, so we joined forces to do a more exciting and challenging Cow Pot to County Pot exchange.

Malcolm in the Manchester Bypass
By the time we'd reach the bottom of the final pitch in Cow Pot, we'd lost a student who managed to painfully insert his thumb through an eco-hanger during a crazy dive across the surface pitch and a nameless SWCC member who turned back at the notorious Cow Pot slot. The magnificent 7, I mean 5, set off to traverse the Easegill system making good progress through the high level passages above the main drain.

ali county.jpg
Ali in Minarets Passage, Ease Gill
We all had different levels of knowledge of the system, but none of us had done a through trip in the past 20 years. Which incidentally happened to be the average age of the two York students!! The lack of knowledge added a certain edge to the trip. Fine passages were traversed, based on nose following and an aborted through trip that Gareth Davies and I had attempted last October. The not so fine, Manchester Bypass, was not one of Malcolm's highlights. Reaching the end point where Gareth and I crashed and burned last time, Fleur's quality directions and a bit of student Josh's local knowledge, got us to the bottom of Fleur's County Pot rope and we were out. Another excellent trip (5hrs) on an excellent weekend.

Boxhead Pot

Team: Gary, Richard, Helen, Jill, Martyn, John, Brian, Dave and Andy

After a very successful caving day on Friday, followed by a curry in the evening with a drink or three...we started to make a plan for the following day’s activities. Various routes were discussed, CNCC guides read, and referred to again, until Gary made the final move to the white board and entered Notts Pot 2 and Boxhead Pot onto it; for the people who had not added their names to Simpson or Cow Pot.
Another look at the Rigging Guide, and descriptions and yet more wine, I still couldn’t decide which to do, so my name was added on the board in-between the two of them, and left to ponder over; along with a couple of other people's indecision until the following morning.
Morning tea was much needed, along with the normal ‘faff now – cave later’ syndrome until the plan was hatched.

The group had formed, ropes were packed, transport organised and reorganised and finally we were off. The Sun had begun to shine and we were on our way to Boxhead Pot and towards a dark and ominous cloud on the horizon.

The team kitting up at the layby 
We arrived at the car park, and with perfect timing, started to change just as the wind was picking up with a light shower of rain coming down on us...brrrrrrrr it was cold. No messing, SRT kit on, and we were on our way to find the small shake hole with a plastic tube coming out of it, just off from Lost Johns.

I stayed above the shake hole, while Gary rigged, (well volunteered Gary..... thank you!!!), to wait for John. Thankfully I had my thick yellow suit on, it was bitter cold.
Gary disappeared along with Richard; whilst Helen and I were left peering down the plastic tubing to the lights below; Martyn became the official photographer.
The rope for the 1st pitch starts at the top of the pipe, which then opens directly onto an impressive 26m descent down the middle of a large chamber. At the end of the pipe, on a shelf, a Y Hang re-belay starts the abseil, followed by a deviation and a hanging re-belay. Not my favourite move, why aren’t my legs longer, I thought. A short scramble down a boulder slope reaches the main Boxhead pitch, to a stunning 70m deep shaft.

Richard almost ready to abseil down the first pitch
Here, the order of descent was finalised, Martyn and John being perfect gentlemen to let the girls go first, and then me being kindest to let Helen go next.. (shhh...more dutch courage required by me). It had been a long time since zipping around on ropes during ‘Speleo’ whilst the previous day having a tangle up on a hanging re-belay.

I met Helen and our team again at the top of the main pitch, and again looked down, wow...what an awe inspiring sight; we could see Richard’s light which had veered off to the right, we waited, and then a distant shout of “rope free” through the other sounds of the cave.

Helen disappeared and I waited for my turn, then heard her shout and I was on my way, heading towards Kendal Flyover and not the direct 70m single hang descent.

Such an incredible journey abseiling down, I was extremely privileged to experience the true scale of the shaft, Richard had reached the absolute depth of Boxhead Pot and was in the parallel aven to where the direct hang route enters. He was shinning his head torch up at me, down, down deeper and down I went; deviations, Y hangs, and re-belays which could be tackled while standing on rock protruding out of the shaft walls. One in particular, more exposed than the other, which both Helen and Brian tackled at the same time on the ascent. Not sure how, but they did it, and must be congratulated on; thankfully it wasn’t me in that position!! The hanging rope traversed a penultimate drop to a broad ledge. A further short abseil took me to meet both Helen and Richard who were coming up from the final pitch.

I descended thinking I’d find Gary, nope, not here, I thought; after exploring the area, to return back to the rope where I found Martyn.

Gary and Brian at the Kendal Extensions
“Where’s Gary, dunno” we both said, not realising where the start of the Kendal Extensions were, so Martyn went off to explore and locate him. I returned back up the rope to find Gary sitting opposite the Kendal Extensions, which I’d missed. It turned out, he too, had been exploring; whereupon he waited for the return of explorer Martyn.

I returned back up to the ledge above Gary, and waited for Helen’s “ropefree”call, heard it then ascended the rope on my way up to the first re-belay. Huffing and puffing somewhat due to the way the rope was traversing off to the right, eventually getting to the next re-belay only to find Brian also arriving at the same time as me from above. A well balanced manoeuvre was made by Brian, and then we were both on our way in different directions.
I can remember thinking at this point, that he must of met Helen on the next re-belay, it turned out he had; I continued ascending and arrived at the sloping boulder to the friendly faces of Dave and Andy waiting.

On the final pitch up, Gary right behind me (moving at great speed!) I reached the entrance tube with Helen announcing warmth, blue skies and sunshine; what a difference in the weather compared to the descent.
One final heave-ho out of the tube.... then finally I was out.
What a brilliant trip, we waited for Martyn to appear and then headed off, looking forward to a quick stop over in Ingleton to taste the delights of afternoon tea; teacakes, scones, and a very indulgent hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows (consumed by Richard).

Richard enjoying a hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows 
With the sorting of ropes back at the hut, and assisting Gary with his delicious supper, we ventured to the pub for a well earned beer and to reflect on a super day. A big thanks in conclusion to Brian, Dave and Andy for de-rigging the system.

Gary hard at work…….

Day Three - Sunday 5th February 2017

Sunday morning meant most of the team emerged from their bunk rooms bleary eyed having drunk copious amounts of beer at the local pub the night before. However, most were soon up and out of the door divided up into 3 parties. A caving trip to the Bull Pot of the Witches at Bullpot Farm, a group to Hagg Gill and another group to have a go at Simpson’s Pot...

Spaghetti Rope Techniques in Simpsons Pot

Sunday morning finds myself and Ali stopping off for a pull thro' trip in Simpsons hole prior to the return journey home to Cardiff. In the past I'd only ever come up Simpsons pot, and that trip was via the Great Aven Pitch not the infamous Slit Pot route. This was also proper caving trip number three in three consecutive days - a feat I hadn't managed to replicate since seriously twatting myself by falling down a big hole in France in the summer of 2014. So why does the desire to hang on ropes above big holes continue.....?

The advantage of just two of you is a reduced faff factors, and an efficient change, quick jaunt into Valley Entrance to rig the exit pitch, and stomp up the hill virtually straight to the entrance ensued. Armed with two ropes - one to rig with and one in case of a hang up - we made good progress traversing 'the pit' down a series of short pitches which quickly refreshed our minds of pull thro' techniques.

Looking through the slit at Ali rigging Slit Pot

Once down a wetter Storm Pot it was thro' the duck for extra refreshment, with the caving continuing in fine Yorkshire Pothole style with classic pitches and some fine awkward thrutchy rifts testing for approaching 'middle age spread' before arriving at the crux of our trip, Slit Pot. There is a bit of rigging in place that takes you up and over the top of the slit, but it looked doable, and neither myself or Ali can be described as particularly fat! Thus out came my 60m 9mm Edelrid, a veteran of the SWCC Annecy trip a few years back, which was doubled up and sent down the pitch. However a ledge and some reasonable quantities of water prevented confirmation of touch down to the bottom. I assured Ali it will be fine and off he went fitting snuggly thro' the slit.....

Touch down was not as smooth as expected as our rope was short by a few metres. Ali tagged on a spare few metres, did a knot bypass with the added refreshment of the waterfall, and shouts up something I can't make out but know means 'rope no long enough'! Thus out comes the spare rope and a re-rig of the pull down is sorted. Now my turn for the slit arrives. Various attempts are made to almost successfully jam myself in the slot as the descender keeps jamming my chest. After a few attempts it's obvious this isn't working so I put the ascender on the short cows tail to keep it clear of the chest and pop thro' the slot to joint Ali below. We'll be out in no time.......

Sadly not. The pulldown does not go to plan and a visit from the spaghetti monster ensues. Essentially my old 9mm was a bit too wiry and twisty, and we applied a little too much brute force and effort trying to retrieve. The result a well twined rope - oops! Some slightly creative rope acrobatics and we did fully retrieve the pull down rope at least, but after an hour pratting about under a waterfall we decided to abandon the rope to irritating someones elses thro' trip, through it will be very clear from the top what the problem was!

Half hour later and we are out of the cave and at the car. A fantastic trip despite the hiccup and my body well and truly thrashed by a quality weekend of caving with good company.

Hagg Gill Pot

Team: Andy, Brian, Dave, Gary, Helen, Jill, John, Josh (YUCPC), Lilo (YUCPC), Malcolm and Martyn.

Gary, Gill, John and Martyn set off early with the YUCPC students to rig the pot while Malcolm and I took it easy and had our last cup of tea. We left the bunkhouse and travelled south on narrow country lanes gingerly making our way on un-gritted roads with a light dusting of snow. Recognising Gary’s van we pulled up in a lay-by and got changed. However, finding the pot without a GPS became finding a needle in a haystack, made worse when the local farmer yelled abuse at us across the valley when we climbed over his fence! Feeling pretty guilty we made our way across and upwards trying to find a gate….. What we thought was the farmer walking up the hill towards us, to give us more verbal, thankfully turned out to be Gary! He’d forgotten his helmet and hadn’t gone into the cave with the others and luckily for us was able to point out the location of the pot. We were a long way out!

zzz Hagg Gill 0692.jpg
Josh and Lilo
Sliding across the lid to the pot we made our way down some scaffolding to a y-hang. We descended the tight squeeze to the bottom (around 15m) and removed our SRT gear.

We decided to go upstream first as this was meant to be the best bit. We followed the stream, walking and crawling passing some imposing flowstone formations along the way. We met the rigging party at a slippery boulder climb aided with a rope. We headed up a boulder slope to a narrow rift passage with helictite walls. Passing up another boulder slope and a further calcite slope, with few handholds we turned back.

Malcolm in Rift Passage
Back beneath the entrance, passing the party exiting the pot via the pitch, we headed downstream, over pretty cascades, joining a larger stream and eventually reaching the sump. Returning we headed off up the adjoining stream over and up some impressive narrow cascades for a fair distance, before making our way back to the pitch. To our surprise we met Dave, Andy and Brian at the bottom of the pitch, who had just descended and were happy to de-rig after their tour around the cave. Back at the car we changed, trying to keep an air of decorum as plenty of Sunday drivers found our attire interesting; a few were even happy to stop for a chat!

Malcolm looking happy….
It was a great weekend, everyone enjoyed themselves doing some challenging trips. Some of the other caving trips included SRT training in Bull Pot of Witches and Long Kiln East to Rift Pot. Special thanks go to Gary for organising the trip, Gary and Jill, who both cooked filling and tasty meals, Andy and Helen who provided the very comfortable accommodation.

Contributors to the blog: Malcolm - Lost Johns; Ali - Cow Pot to County; Jill - Boxhead Pot; Jules - Simpsons; Helen - Hagg Gill Pot. Photos were provided by Helen, Martyn, Jill, Jules and Malcolm

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

You have to work for these formations!

Trip date: 3rd-5th February 2017

Team: Steve Hepple, Duncan Hornby & Claire Vivian

The team arrived Friday evening, we stayed at the Shepton. An obligatory pint (or two) was consumed at the Hunters.

A curtain in Upper Flood Swallet


We drove over to the MCG hut and met up with Peter Bennett who was to be our guide into Upper Flood Swallet. I had been forewarned that this was not a trip for beginners due to the arduous nature of the trip and extensive formations. Over a cup of tea Peter declared we just might be crazy enough to do it…

Having changed we headed for the cave which was a short walk from the hut. The entrance is a gated concrete tube leading into stooping passage. It was not long before we started to see many straws and stals.

We eventually arrived at the “lavatory trap” which is about a 2 metre crawl in chest deep water. This was comparatively pleasant compared to what followed, a flat out crawl in a low lying section of streamway named the canals, now that was grim!

We then hit the choke, this did not have the polished feel of say cwm dwr choke in OFD. It was much longer with several squeezes that were not desperate but did require you to attack from specific angles. If you can get through that squeeze on the short round trip in Swildons then you should be able to do the Upper flood choke.

Eventually we popped out into significantly large passage, the landing, and were immediately rewarded with many formations. With occasional crawls and dunking in streamways we passed through passages adorned with many formations, often delicate and stunning white.

We arrived at a section of the system known as Neverland with such spectacular formations that we had to remove our oversuits and scrub ourselves spotless before we could continue. At the bitter end, a section where the unusual “pork pie” formations were, we even had to remove our boots to avoid damaging the crystal floor.

Claire admiring a pure white curtain
Upper flood was packed full of formations including delicate crystal pools, long straws and fantastic curtains all just inches away.

A crystal pool

Claire and Steve admiring yet another spectacular curtain

The limit of our trip, Steve, Claire, Duncan. Photo taken by Peter.

With Neverland behind us, back in our oversuits we visited a current dig in West passage, a grotty and some what dangerous dig up into a muddy boulder choke.

We then headed out and eventually exited the cave around 5:30pm, we had been under ground about 6 hours.

An amazing cave with amazing formations. One bit of advice is if you do visit bring decent knee pads because the crawling is going to destroy you knees!

The evening was spent at the Queen Vic pub eating and drinking cider. Steve had never been to the BEC so on the way back we popped over and needless to say a party was in full swing!


Claire and I visited GB cave with the specific intention of visiting the great chamber. After bailing out the ladder dig duck we failed to find the way on through the boulder choke. We needed Colin Hoare who had previously found it! So no photos and damn good reason to go back! Grrr….

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Evening Wanderings

Cwm Dwr - Big Shacks

Lisa Boore, Andy Lewington, Paul Tarrant, Dan Thorne, Claire Vivian

This was a first visit to Cwm Dwr for Lisa and Dan, so we took our time and explored the vast majority of side passages on the way to the Choke and Big Shacks. We found some interesting short round trips, saw some digs, took a few photos and visited Dripping Aven before heading through the choke. Only made one slight mistake on the way through this and then we were straight in to Big Shacks. A quick look around here and it was time to turn around and head out. There was just enough time to spare at the end for a quick pint in the Ancient Brit on the way home.

Trip time: 2.5 hrs

The team before the crawl (Paul Tarrant)
Dan, Lisa and Andy in Cwm Dwr Jama (Paul Tarrant)

Dan admires some flowstone (Photo: Paul Tarrant)

Paul in the crawl

The smallest section of the crawl

Dan enjoying the crawl

The ending of a good evening trip.

The Columns to assist with bolting and rigging of pitch

Vince Allkins, Lisa Boore, Richard Hill, Paul Tarrant, Dan Thorne, Claire Vivian

This was a trip to the pitch and assist carrying in kit and pitch rigging with a little photography on the side. We had a fairly early start at around 7pm and headed for the upper Columns gate. The pitch, around 10m, was soon completed and we had a good look around Column Hall and then headed back to the surface. Thanks Vince!

Trip time: 2 hrs

Lisa on the pitch (Photo: Paul Tarrant)

Claire on the pitch  (Paul Tarrant)

Claire and Lisa watch Dan descend (Paul Tarrant)

Lisa at the Columns (Photo: Paul Tarrant)

Vince with the rigging gear (Paul Tarrant)

Thursday, 15 December 2016

To bail or not to bail that is the question…

Trip date: 9th-11th December 2016

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.

Jo at the climb at what is known as the forty foot pot.
Piers safety lining Jo at the main pitch.
Duncan descending the main pitch.
Jo making the final climb down from Barnes Loop.

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…

Phil passing through Sump 1 only to immediately return to keep Jo company.

Claire passing Sump 1

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

Team at the upper entrance of Goatchurch

Once underground, James got to grips with the survey. The 3D cave is very different to the flat 2D map and doesn’t really prepare you for dangling over some interesting rifts with very polished handholds. We walked in the main entrance, past the remnants of a long abandoned attempt at making a show cave and, after working our way along a passage marked on the survey as “Bloody Tight” (it’s not that bad really) we made our way down to the Drainpipe, a nice, fossil lined low crawl that marks the lowest point of the cave.

Piers exiting the drain pipe.

James in the drain pipe!
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!
After checking out the entrance to nearby Sidcot Swallet, we headed back down to the Burrington Inn for a well deserved lunch round the fire. There was even an early trip to Santa’s workshop - having found out that Mr “Starless River” Seddon was staying at the Wessex, we called in on the way back to SMCC to get a new pair of James sized knee pads and to order a replacement for my very well worn oversuit (When you touch the sides more than the average caver, your suit tends to wear much quicker!)

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.

GB Cave

After a leisurely start on Sunday and a quite a bit of faffing Malcolm, Helen and Phill drove the short distance through rolling fog and mist banks and parked at the farm at Gorsay Bigbury. (For future reference note there is a £1 fee payable to the farm – apparently it goes to the childrens’ pocket money.)

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
After a quick break for a chocolate bar lunch Malcolm used an interesting method to rig a temporary ladder, so that we could explore the Ladder Dig. Once up we suddenly realised that it was much much wetter than we had been led to expect! The crawl led to a deep and freezing cold duck with only a very narrow airspace (apparently a damp crawl under normal conditions) and then within a few meters a second cold tight duck, which had us lying on our backs with our noses pressed to the roof!
Malcolm passing the ladder dig squeeze

To warm up we were met with a boulder choke with numerous routes up towards the Great Chamber. We made a concerted effort to find that chamber (almost losing the cave key down between boulders in the process), but eventually gave up as time was ticking on and decided to try and find Bat Passage instead. This was located by picking our way through the boulder choke guided by polished surfaces on the right hand wall, the only stable wall in the area. We were rewarded with a large taped passage, with some fine pure white formations lining the ceiling and walls. The passage ends at a large descending muddy dig with various tools and piping visible.

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.

Trip time 5 hours.

Pine Tree Pot

The trip into Pine Tree Pot almost did not happen as on Friday the penny dropped and I (Duncan) realised that to do the trip one required some 8mm hangers. Luckily I met a Shepton member who was able to lend us the much needed equipment. Turned out that at the top of the main pitch there were 3 very nice new and shinny hangers in place, so I decided to use those instead of the rusting spit holes...

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)
The entrance is a classic concrete tube which you can rig off to do the 5m pitch. Rules stipulated that the lid needed to be put back once in the cave but that would have been very difficult to lift off so it was dragged partially on to stop any sheep deciding to take up caving.

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!
The cave is quite small and definitely a Sunday tip, but that does not mean it’s easy as the name “Easy Street” implies! Following the obvious main way on down Rumble rift we followed Easy street which got progressively tighter. At some point Stuart had to do some strenuous reversing! If Claire says it’s tight I didn’t even bother…

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.
Took some photos then headed out via another route back to the pitch. Stuart, Claire then I ascended the pitch, I derigged and we all came out into cool and sunny weather.

As it was such a short trip we decided to pop into the Hunters for lunch, only to find it had stopped serving food, so we went to the Castle of Comfort which had also stopped serving, then Burrington which was serving and we found the others with Lizzy and Matt enjoying lunch.

Trip time: 2.5 hours