Wookey Hole, Mendip

29th December 2015: With Tom Chapman, Pete Bolt, Nick and Tav.

The start of the new mid-week project to extend Tom and Keith’s old dig.

No lights and music this week but we managed to find our way in and out okay. The purpose of this evenings jaunt was to apply some rock engineering to the constricted top of a slot down into the dig. This will ease spoil removal and, of course access up and down the slot. 4no. holes were drilled, charged and completion of task was from the top of the stal’ slope – all was good! Back next week to clear and drill.

Wookey Hole, Mendip

22nd December 2015: With Tom Chapman, Keith Savory, Nick and Nicole Hawkes and Alex Gee.

A trip into Wookey 20 to assess the prospects of Tom and Keith’s old dig there. Quite impressed by the initial size of the rift and it is well decorated in places. The rift then drops down to a narrow slot where progress becomes a little more constricted but it looks good. We will return to carry out some rock engineering to ease further passage to whatever lies beyond.

Home Close Hole, Mendip

20th December 2015: From Home Close Hole to the terminal choke at the end of Wigmore Swallet.

With Nick Hawkes, Claire Cohen and Sam Batstone.

Todays mission was to rig some aids to enable better access along the route into the terminal boulders at the end of Wigmore. I set off to rig the pitch while the others sorted out the required kit and followed me down. Had a few lighting problems but eventually managed to sort this out – lack of TLC and maintenance! An uneventful trip through the connection clearing some gravel on the way into Young Bloods, up and over the Generation Game and into the impressive Vindication Streamway. An aqueous climb down through Slime Rift and eventually the terminal boulders.

A clamber up a slippery slope using an in-situ rope, the final manoeuvre through the slot is not easy. Entered into a tiny chamber where I sorted out the ladders and rope to aid passage through the slot and down the next section. The route continued as a corkscrew climb down through boulders with a thick coating of mud through some barely body sized slots to regain the stream still in boulders but cleaner. Nick followed on while Claire and Sam waited at the rope climb, there is only room for two at this point. We had a look around and poked our noses into various spots moved some rocks before having a more concerted effort at stream level where a gap amongst boulders was noticed. It was then time to return to the others. Nick led up through the climb, a mistake on my part as he emptied his wellies all over the mud, the return up the corkscrew is a complete twat, but eventually was spat out through the slot at the top head first and sliding down the slippery slope – good job we had put a ladder there to halt progress in the boulders below.

A steady journey out of the cave, stashing the ladder and rope down Slime Rift up onto a ledge out of the water – this is an exhilarating climb! There are a number of precariously jammed boulders along the way particularly in Young Bloods and it is probably better not to spend too much time thinking about them. At the pitch the usual wait as the team climb the rope. Pitch de-rigged and out to tea, hot soup and sausage rolls – very much appreciated. Changed into dry grots and retired to the Queen Vic for the usual de-brief.

Wookey 20

10th December: with Tom Chapman, Jake, Nick, Tav and Alex.

The Hallowe’en Team beyond the show cave in Wookey Hole Chamber 20.

The decorations caught us by surprise somewhat and were the subject of some amusement.

Geologically Wookey 20 is interesting being formed mostly along the unconformity between Carboniferous limestone and Triassic dolomitic conglomerate. There are a number of fine rock formations including rillenkarst (pictured below).

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We spent a while exploring the main chamber beyond the scaffold walkway looking at the sump pools where the divers exited, up to the unconformity and other formations.

You’ll have to excuse the additional lighting of the image above.

We headed off to explore the rest of the cave accessible from Wookey 20 and we were pleasantly surprised by its quality an how much there was to it. A climb through an inclined passage of fine proportions with some good speleothems and interesting rock formations i.e. more rills, flutes and scalloping. At the end there is some considerable potential to extend the known cave and some side passages that would require some further attention. Another trip to properly assess some of the potential is planned in the not to distant future. An excellent couple of hours caving!

Tankard Mineshaft

8th December:

Got an invite by Sarah Payne to visit the recently accessed Tankard Mineshaft and offer my opinion on prospects and how best to proceed. Met up with Sarah and Duncan Simey at the Hunter’s and headed up the road to the field where the mineshaft is located, here we were joined by Tim Payne the farmer and landowner. The shaft is covered by a manhole lid and a tripod is currently in position.

The shaft is c.10m depth with a ginging for the initial c.3m leading to a muddy base with plenty of dead animal bones, apparently discarded lambs from many years ago. The miners have moved a quantity of rocks and stacked them in various nooks and cranny’s, very much like walls of ‘deads’ in active mines. There is a good number of loose rocks and the base of the ginging shows some signs of collapse, there is some requirement for consolidation before too much exploration proceeds.

The prospects, there is some space visible beyond some rather precarious perched boulders, where a rift appears to lead off the shaft, this is not clear at the moment and some clearance work in the future will allow a better assessment of the way ahead. There is the possibility that the ‘floor’ is not quite as solid as it might at first appear. I would suggest attaching to a rope when digging down, just to be on the safe side. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the mineshaft was once deeper.

The location of the mine shaft suggests that there might be some relationship to the notorious Tankard Hole that was closed a number of years ago due to it’s instability. It has been postulated that the shaft was an exploratory dig by miners searching for ore and terminated when open cave was encountered and this does seem a reasonable assumption at this time.

Back to the day job!

7th December 2015: A fine ditch excavated by yours truly on a site in North Somerset. The pottery recovered from the fills would suggest a Roman/Romano-British date. There’s quite a lot going on with cuts and re-cuts. The slot measures c.4m width, c.1m length and c.0.9m depth and took a couple of days to excavate. The underlying geology is Head – Clay, Silt, Sand and Gravel, these are Superficial Deposits formed during the Quaternary Period; these deposits, in turn overlie bedrock of Mercia Mudstone Group formed during the Triassic Period. Scale: 2 x 1 metre.

Home Close Hole, Mendip Hills

Connecting Home Close with Wigmore Swallet – A personal account.

With Nick Hawkes, Paul Brock, Sam Batstone, Claire Cohen, Pete Hellier, et. al.

Went back to clear the debris from the rock engineering work carried out on 20th September (see previous entry for that date) to find that it had worked rather well. Cleared away the loose debris much of which fell through the slot into the space below. Eventually was left with a massive loose flake that was teetering above the way forward, it took a while to persuade the flake to move and it crashed down into the space beyond. A c.3m climb down into a small chamber with a boulder floor and stream flowing over a cascade, hence “Roaring Waters”.

Survey of the crawl along to the dig (Roaring Waters) by Nick Hawkes, et. al.

Upstream the stream has been explored, continuing as hands and knees crawling before becoming too low. Downstream the way on was constricted by a lowering roof to almost stream level but there appeared to be more space beyond where Nick said he could see “something blue”. Surprisingly the stream was flowing along vertical bedding comprising a large slab of limestone between marl and conglomerate.

A return was made to enlarge the constriction and on the subsequent trip after clearing the debris this had created the “something blue” was seen to be a diver’s reel that had been left at the furthest extent reached of an inlet explored from Young Bloods passage in Wigmore Swallet. Rather frustratingly the reel could not be reached yet and the further use of chemical persuasion was required. During this phase of exploration surveying work was being carried out by the rest of the team.

On the next trip set about clearing the debris from the bang, then a gravel bank was encountered and removed, the dive reel was reached and the connection into Wigmore was made. The rest of the team were busy surveying the upstream passage and when they returned we made the first trip from HCH into Wigmore and Young Bloods passage, the first non-diver’s to see it and it was good! Progress was somewhat thwarted by rotten ladders and some dodgy hangers, there was some re-rigging required and that would have to be a job for another day.

The following trip was to carry out more surveying work and some gardening work to make the connection a little more comfortable. The connection passage is wet and low in places with a couple of squeezes thrown in, there is some easier passage as well.

The team returned to Young Bloods armed with drill and hangers, ladders and ropes ready to attempt the climb up into the Generation Game and the link to Vindication Streamway.

The climb up into Generation Game was not pleasant. I climbed onto a large slab of rock wedged diagonally across the passage, held up by not very much. Everything was coated in thick mud and it was all rather committing. I attached a ladder to a jammer and pushed it up as far as I could reach and using the ladder I completed the climb, I was mighty relieved to make it. I then re-hung the ladder on one of the better but still dodgy hangers for Paul to climb up and we then set about installing new stainless steel hangers and a new rope. We were then joined by the rest of the team and we all went through the Generation Game to the climb down into Vindication Streamway. While Paul and I put in some more hangers Nick went back to retrieve the ladder from the climb up from Young Bloods so that we could access the stream below. Vindication is a fine streamway of sizeable proportions and plenty of water and cascades including a deep section where a swim is possible if you feel so inclined. The trip ended at this point when another ladder was required to make the climb down Slime Rift. This section of stream passage is one of the finest on Mendip.

The following week we returned to complete the rigging, adding more hangers and stainless maillions, cutting away the old ropes and generally tidying up. While Paul and I were doing this Nick, Pete, Claire and Sam went ahead to tackle Slime Rift.

When we arrived at Slime Rift there was some confusion as Sam had seen Nick and Pete rig the ladder from a boulder only to find the ladder was no longer there. I climbed down the wet c.5m rift to enter a bigger rift where I could see the ladder had been hung down to re-enter the stream passage below, apparently Nick and Pete had returned to retrieve the ladder from it’s initial position. Paul joined me and new hangers were soon in place and we descended to the stream below. It was easier to use the ladder as a handline halfway down the rift and avoid the water. We met Nick and Pete on their way back from the end saying that more kit was needed as there were some slippery mud covered climbs ahead. Paul and I went to have a first tentative look at the boulder choke but didn’t really scrutinise it too much at this stage. That will be the next phase in this adventure – watch this space!

The connection from Home Close to Wigmore Swallet presented in Descent (No.274) as reported by Tony Audsley.


21st September 2015

Popped down Templeton’s with Dave Morrison and John Hill (Eric Dunford on the surface) to discuss a plan of action for the future. Dave explained what he required and we formulated a strategy and will proceed starting Wednesday 30th September if all goes well.

Home Close Hole, Mendip Hills

20th September 2015: A personal account of today’s trip.

With Paul Brock. Also Caroline Allen, Dave Fear and Duncan Simey.

After a trip down to Draycott, then return hame to deliver eggs and do some prep for today’s trip made my way up to Wigmore Farm. The others were already there so quickly changed and headed over the fields to the cave entrance.

Survey above as Published in the Wessex Cave Club Journal.

Paul set off to rig the pitch while I followed on, Duncan helped to carry a bag into the cave for me. While Paul and myself went on to the dig site the others went for a tour around the rest of the cave.

Survey of the crawl along to the dig (Roaring Waters) by Nick Hawkes, et. al.

Got to the end of the crawl (it hasn’t got any less squalid) and drilled 6no. holes, charged and retired laying out the wire. Back at the pitch there were still people on the rope so went for a tour around the cave with Paul to pass the time. Eventually we returned to the pitch Paul went up the rope and I completed the task in hand – a fine resounding echo! Up the pitch and out of the cave. After securing the entrance we left for refreshments and a natter at the Queen Vic.

Bell Pit

I’ve been working on an archaeological evaluation down in Dorset recently and Trench No. 28 had some interesting features – 2 linear ditches, one at each end of the trench, and a possible pit just off centre of the trench. One of the linear ditches is pictured below, a rather fine example. The underlying geology is chalk.

The pit-like feature after excavation turned out to be a ‘Bell Pit’.

‘Bell Pits’ start out as pits that have been dug out to store grain and successive clearing events then give them their distinctive shape – narrow at the top and widening towards the base, when they are no longer of use they are backfilled. This particular pit was excavated to 1.20 metres below existing ground level, unfortunately due to Health & Safety constraints the excavation was terminated at this depth. Augering at the base proved the pit to be 2.20 mbgl revealing a basal layer c.100mm thickness of mottled red, purple and grey clay that had signs of reworking and is thought to be the original capping layer that once sealed the grain store. The fill material contained some good chunky pottery sherds mostly of Black Burnished Ware but also Samian and possibly New Forest Ware. Among the sherds was this rather nice jug with coil made neck and burnished bowl (possibly wheel thrown).

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The existence of the bell pit and linear ditches might suggest that there was a settlement nearby. The finds seem to suggest Roman period date possibly 1st-2nd century AD.

Ogof Draenen

12th September 2015

With Pete Bolt and Phil Thomas

Down the main streamway to Riflemans Choke. Fairly steady trip down the fine streamway to the choke, a quick snack before the rather aqueous crawl at stream level to the dig started by Pete, Rich Blake and myself a number of years ago. It’s still an awkward scrambe from the stream up a muddy climb to gain access via a squeeze to a narrow passage between the choke and wall. We had a look around, shifted a few rocks and mud, formulated a [sort of] plan of action – return with more persuasive kit! Then decided to make our way out of the cave. An enjoyable 4.75 hours of caving.

Lamb & Fox for some refreshments and managed to catch up with Brian and Carol, our old hosts from years past.