Excursions [and other notes] involved in the exploration of Hallowe'en Rift; a cave, so far, formed within Triassic Dolomitic Conglomerate.
The exploration of Hallowe'en Rift was started in 1982 by Trevor Hughes with other members of the Bristol Exploration Club, their interest waned by the late 80s. During the early 1990's Vince Simmonds and other, mostly, local diggers were active at a number of locations within the cave, including the start of the dig to the 'east' side of the entrance with Graham Johnson in December 1991. This led to the discovery of An Unexpected Development in August 2018. The current phase of exploration was commenced in 2009, with the majority of the early work being carried out by Vince Simmonds and Alex Gee, now the regular team also includes Rob 'Tav' Taviner, Graham 'Jake' Johnson, Nick Hawkes, Jonathon Riley, Paul 'Brockers' Brock, Roz Simmonds, and Duncan Price. There has been occasional help from others including Phil Coles, Caroline Allen, Mike Willett, Mike Moxon, Matt Tuck, John 'Tangent' Williams, Pete Bolt, Bob Smith, Callum and Hazel Simmonds, and several appearances by that well-known antipodean, Ray Deasey.
There have been visits from some notable experts in their various fields including: Charlie Self, Andy Farrant, Christopher Smith, Derek Ford, Joyce Lundberg, Don MacFarlane, Marc Luetscher and Gina Moseley. All have added to a better understanding of Hallowe'en Rift.
Down in the ‘pot’ in the deep Soft South, at the current extent of the ‘passage’ heading in a north-easterly direction. Not digging as such but making a record of some interesting sediment deposits (photographs and scaled drawings, etc.) before they get dug away tomorrow. Also took some sand samples – want to see if they are wind- or water transported. It took quite a long time and could easily have spent longer at it.
A break from tradition as last weekend was disrupted by annual winter festivities, at least that nonsense is out of the way.
Down in the deep Soft South, Nick and I were digging, although Nick hauled the spoil away leaving me to get on with digging, he, of course, managed to do some digging as well. Jake was on the slippery ledge catching the bucket, there were several occasions when he though he might join us in the pot, good job he was attached to the safety line. Tav at the junction and Duncan at the entrance were appreciative of their comfy seats. Brockers on the surface hauled up the filled bags and rocks, even found time to empty the bags, a sterling effort.
It never ceases to amaze just how much spoil has been removed over the past 12 months or so!
At the farm, Duncan stopped by briefly to drop of some fresh bags and to recount yesterday’s trip into Wookey Hole with Max. Sounded interesting.
Wasn’t too sure how many were going to turn up today as only Jon and Duncan replied to my earlier email. Eventually, a team of five assembled, changed, and walked up across the fields to the cave. A short discussion about ‘who was doing what’ ensued culminating in Jon and Brockers heading off to the deep Soft South to dig, Nick took up position on the ledge, I was at the junction and Jake, stacking stuff at the bottom of the entrance.
I went a short distance towards the Cold Gnarly North to retrieve a neoprene mat from ‘Duncan’s corner’ and collected a few more empty bags too. In was noted that there was plenty of water in the spa just ahead. The neoprene mat (now in two halves) was fashioned into comfy seats by upcycling old skips and bags foe me and Jake. All available bags, c.100, were filled, hauled, and stored in the entrance, the end of the digging activity signalled by the ceremonial filling of the ‘hessian’ bag. It was time to move up to the surface and clear out the cave, top up the spoil heap and add more stones to the terrace wall, thus creating more spoil space. It had been a very pleasant session.
Jake and Tav digging in the deep Soft South, Jon on the ledge, Brockers at the junction and Duncan at the bottom on the entrance, at least I think that was the order. Me and Nick were on the surface. We hauled bags and rocks up out of the cave, added more rocks to level up the terrace wall and create space for spoil, Nick dug some steps and, in general, it was a chilled-out session for us.
93 filled bags were emptied onto the spoil heap and all rocks incorporated into the terrace walling. There was some question as to where the other pack of bags had gone as we were expecting 100+ to arrive on the surface. It turned out that someone had a comfy seat and was not prepared to offer it forward when the diggers had run out of empties!
An estimated value for the volume of the ‘pot’ in the Soft South.
Using the equation: V = πr2 h, and estimated values, 4 metres diameter (2m radius) and 5m height, an estimated volume = 62.83185m3 is calculated:
π = 3.14
3.14 x (2×2) x 5 = 62.83185
Assuming the density of limestone is about 2.6 – 2.7 tonnes/m3 and the density of clay soil about 2.0 – 2.3 tonnes/m3 and using the estimated volume of 62.83m3, a range for the quantity of sediment removed can be deduced.
Using the lower density values above, for limestone 2.6 x 62.83 = 163.4 and for clay soil 2 x 62.83 = 125.7, a range between 125 tonnes and 163 tonnes of sediment has been removed from the pot in the Soft South since December 2020. This is likely to be an underestimation.
Nick was left to do the digging, he seemed very pleased with the latest acquisition from a local car-boot, I hauled up the filled bags and sporadic dislodged rock or chunk of flowstone. Jake was catching the hauling bucket on the ledge, Jon at the junction with Brockers stacking everything in the entrance to be cleared out later in the morning.
The digging effort was concentrated at the eastern side of the pot (Soft South) where we are at least one metre into what appears to be a substantial choked “passage”. There is some interesting and intriguing sediment deposition ranging from fine compacted silt, loosely compacted medium to coarse sand, shattered calcite flowstone blocks, and cobbles/boulders of dolomitic conglomerate. Layering is clearly visible with evidence of high energy flow and static water, and ice damage.
All the bags filled including the hessian sack, it was time to clear out the cave and add some more spoil to the heap!
I was on a trip to the Peak District attend the BCRA Cave Science Symposium being held at Hulland Ward, near Ashbourne. Decided to stay at the Orpheus Caving Club hut. The passing of Storm Arwen sort of changed our plans and we spent nearly 5 hours digging snow off the track leading up the hill, back to the A515. The image below was snapped by Andy Farrant during a brief rest from digging!
However, a reduced team of stalwarts did turn-out at Hallowe’en Rift to continue the excavation in the Soft South. The following report was penned by Jon:
“Three of the team (Brockers, Jake and Jon) arrived in stormy conditions. The strong wind overnight had not completely died down and the rain had turned to sleet.
With only a small team, the approach taken to digging was different to usual. Sixty bags were sent underground and all three of the team went to the bottom and proceeded to dig.
Jon dug in the North-West corner where Nick’s boulder used to be. The apparent bedding closed down to the North; any development in that part of the pot can only be to the West (or down!).
Brockers and Jake dug under the arch in the North-East corner where Jake’s boulder used to be. This remains the obvious place to dig.
Having filled all sixty bags and replaced the rope on the bottom skip, hauling proceeded in a very efficient and industrious fashion. Spoil was initially stacked at the junction and then hauled to the surface in conditions of bright sunshine. The few rocks dug out today were left underground.
The team then retired to a local hostelry for well-earned refreshments.”
Earlier start for me, some large boulders to start reduction to more manageable pieces. Underground about 09:00am. The largest of the boulders was much thicker than expected and only achieved in trimming off the edges. So, concentrated my efforts on the slightly smaller rock and almost finished when Brockers turned up. Paul installed a safety rung at the edge of the ledge to provide a foothold for the bucket catcher.
The rest of the team had arrived, Jon joined me down in the pot, Brockers on the ledge, Jake at the junction with Nick temporarily storing the spoil at the bottom of the entrance.
As digging progressed the feature revealed last weekend on the east side of the pot became more interesting. An arched roof with remnants of fractured calcite formations showing up. It looks intriguing.
Met Brockers at the farm, 09:30, an early start to finish off installing the rungs in the pot, I had a new drill (18v) and a couple of boulders to break-up. The drill was okay and managed to reduce the rocks, or most of them to manageable pieces. The rung climb in and out of the pot done too. These tasks were ceased when the rest of the team arrived.
Jake and Nick digging, Jon on the ledge, I was at the junction, Duncan at the bottom of the entrance, Brockers up on the surface. Digging proceeded at a steady rate with a good flow of filled bags and rocks hauled out of the cave. There came a loud ‘yelp’ from below in the pot as an exceptionally large boulder decided it was time to make a bid for freedom narrowly missing Jake on the way. This boulder was eventually joined by another of equal proportion but in a more ‘controlled’ manner. They will require some effort to break-up. Now the boulders are out of the way, there appears to be an intriguing development to the east-side of the pot.
All available bags had been filled and hauled up to the surface, it was time to exit the cave and empty them and add the rocks to the wall.
Back at the farm, assistance was required to free my van from the field, an error of judgement parking in that spot!
Met up with Brockers at 09:30 so that the installation of fixed rungs would be completed or, at least, well underway by the time the others arrived at the cave.
The lower- to mid-section rungs were placed enabling the ladder to be removed. Unfortunately, lack of battery power prevented the installation of the upper rungs, they will have to wait for another day. Jake, Jon, and Nick had arrived, so digging could commence.
Me and Brockers were down in the pot filling bags and moving rocks (Brockers had a long wrestle with an especially large rock the was well jammed into a crevice). Jake was on the now rather slippery ledge, Nick was at the junction, Jon temporarily storing the spoil at the bottom of the entrance. When all the available bags were filled, and a pile of rocks accumulated it was time to clear out the cave and we all moved back.
It was disappointing to see that ‘someone’ had been up to his usual antics, the mindless and exceedingly pointless erosion of cave passage!
Just the one session again this weekend, did not bother going to the Hunter’s.
I arrived early so that I could photograph the sediment section, that I tidied and cleaned up last Saturday, before the digging activities got underway, and it became too steamy. Recorded a few video clips as well and was just about done as Jon and Nick arrived. After a brief discussion they climbed down into the pot to start digging and I went to ledge and clipped into the safety line. After some recent heavy rainfall, there was abundant and constant drips of water today and the potential for slippery conditions. Brockers came along the aqueous junction, Jake was at the bottom of the entrance. Digging began in earnest and the flow of filled bags (and some rocks) out to the entrance progressed at a steady rate. When all the bags available had been filled, hauled, and temporarily stacked at the entrance it was time to go and clear out the spoil.
All bags pulled out, emptied, and hung up on the line, the rocks added to the wall, it was decided that was enough for today and we returned to the farm. Just for a change, we made our way up the hill to the Hunter’s Lodge Inn for refreshments.
No-one else showed up, no matter. Spent the morning squaring and repairing the reference section, very peaceful it was too. Took my packed lunch underground with me and enjoyed my break sat on the ledge pondering the sediment layering I could see before me. Took the time to tidy up a couple of other things that were looking a bit scruffy too. Unfortunately, when it came to making a digital record my camera battery was flat, which was more than a bit annoying.
16th October 2021
Took a break from digging and decided on a bike ride, Devon Coast to Coast. Set off from Ilfracombe to Plymouth along National Cycle Network (NCN) route 27. Got to Plymouth, turned around and cycled back to Ilfracombe. 310km, 3300m ascent, 21hrs 50mins ride time. There were a lot of hills!
9th October 2021
With Brockers, Jake, Jon, Nick, Duncan, and Tav
The day started with a positive vibe. Underground by 09:15 and set about reducing the boulders in the deep Soft South to more manageable pieces. I was soon joined by Brockers who installed a backup to the pulley anchor. The boulders broken up, the backup installed, Brockers decided to head out to the surface to fetch some empty bags so that we could start clearing up the loose debris. He was absent for quite some time having met the later arrivals.
Next to appear in the deep Soft South was Duncan who was adamant that he was digging and joined me in the pot. Tav showed up and took a position on the ledge, the loose rocks were hauled up followed by the bags that Duncan had been filling. He thought the ‘cut-off’ cone was very useful for filling the bags with sand. At c.12:30 we decided to break for lunch as is the norm.
I spent the afternoon on the surface with Jake, he hauled the spoil out of the cave, while I emptied bags and added rocks to the terrace wall. It was very pleasant in the unseasonably warm sunshine. Unfortunately, the positive vibes were not going to last. Earlier, and mistakenly in hindsight, I had agreed to split a small boulder on the ledge that jutted out from my reference section. I had pointed out that the boulder formed an integral and important part of the section and should not be completely removed. The rock was split, and I made certain that the remaining portion was secure and tidy. I was very pissed off (and still am) when I recognised the last rock to come to the surface as the very rock I had asked not to be removed, the reference section will now be prone to erosion/collapse and I will need to spend more time on sorting it out!
Nick and Jon digging, I was on the ledge, Duncan at the junction/corner, Tav at the bottom of the entrance, leaving Jake on the surface to haul out the spoil and the weather wasn’t great, it didn’t improve either!
Digging progressed at a steady rate although there was a moment of alarm when a very large slab of rock detached from the wall and landed on Nick’s head, thankfully, Nick was okay. Jon then attacked the offending rock with the sledgehammer until deciding that plugs and feathers might be a better way of size reduction. The morning progressed without any further incident. However, it was noticed that the approach passages were becoming rather wet, a small stream now flowing down the entrance. The available bags were all filled, and we thought it time to exit the cave and empty the accumulated bags up on the surface.
Due to the inclement weather and the forecast was that it would get wetter we made a group decision to call it a day and head back down to the farm and make our ways to our respective homes.
Vince, Brockers, Jon, Jake, Duncan, Nick, and [French] Matt (?)
As planned, I got to the farm early, changed, kit sorted and walked up across the fields to the cave. Underground by 0900hrs. Set to work with the plugs & feathers reducing the sizeable boulders at the bottom of the pot in the deep Soft South to more manageable sizes, at least so that they would fit into the skip. I was soon joined by Brockers, who was keen to get some overtime in, he started to bag-up the loose sediment. Jon and Jake arrived, Duncan too, and the spoil was moved along the passage to be stashed at the bottom of the entrance. I continued to break up boulders. When Nick and Matt arrived around midday (they had cycled from Draycott with Nicole, who decided not to stay) the spoil temporarily stored at the bottom of the entrance was hauled out of the cave to be distributed onto the spoil heap. There is now another pile of rocks ready to be used for wall building at a later time. Down in the pot, the boulders were gone, and Jon was filling bags while I hauled them up to Brockers on the ledge. At around 1230hrs we decided it was time to stop for lunch and made our way to the surface.
In the afternoon session, Jake and Matt were digging (first time guests get to go digging!), Brockers resumed his position, as Project Director (no filming today), on the ledge, Jon and Nick were hauling the spoil back to the entrance while me and Duncan were on surface duties. Filled bags were hauled out and emptied, rocks were added to the pile, even found some time for a little bit of terrace walling. It was warm and humid, some mizzle arrived mid-afternoon. When all the bags had been filled (and emptied) the today’s digging was ended. Time to go wherever!
Jon had picked up some 25 litre drums from Hugh Tucker (thanks Hugh) and I took a couple home to convert into hauling skips as the current ones are starting to look a little worse for wear.
Me and Jake were down in the deep Soft South to start the days proceedings, Duncan was on the edge, Brockers and Tav cleared the spoil along to the bottom of the entrance, Nick and Jon hauling the bags and rocks out of the cave and redistributing it onto the ever-burgeoning spoil heap.
Down in the pot, a decision had been made to remove a considerable quantity of fractured calcite and rock from the wall of the pot prior to further downward progression. And the area of interest that appeared last weekend was below it too. Jake got to work with the bar, I was putting the loose material into bags and hauling away. Then lots of stuff came crashing down so I got out of the way, the end product was a large pile of debris. Bags were filled and hauled away, along with smaller skip-size rocks, the larger boulders put aside to be attended to at a later date (probably an early start for me next weekend armed with a drill and plugs & feathers).
By lunchtime most of the debris had been disposed of, and we needed a break.
The afternoon session, Brockers and Duncan headed off into the deep Soft South, Tav took position on the ledge to catch the bucket, Kick and Jon were hauling the skips, me and Jake were on the surface. Bags came out of the cave at a steady rate, were emptied and hung-up on the line(s) to air-dry, most of the rocks that appeared were added to the terrace wall. It was warm work. Some of the bags are beginning to look worse for wear and were assigned to the recycling pile.
It was another good productive session, apparently there is a very large boulder awaiting reduction in size, and photos/video clips were taken by Brockers (using my camera) to be edited later.
Me and Jake were on surface duties so headed up to the cave to start wall building. As the rest of the team assembled, the gate opened, Brockers and Tav set-off for the deep Soft South to commence the morning’s digging activities. Nick and Jon followed them to shuttle the spoil from the ledge back to the bottom of the entrance. Jake and I took it in turns to haul the spoil out of the cave and distribute it onto the spoil heap. In between hauling and emptying bags, wall building continued until the rock pile was used up. During the morning session about 100 bags plus rocks were added to the spoil heap (and wall).
When the afternoon session got underway, Nick and Jon took over in the deep Soft South, me and Jake shuttled back and forth moving the spoil, Brockers and Tav on the surface took care of spoil disposal. Another 60 or so bags plus quite a few rocks were added to the spoil heap. At the bottom of the pot, interesting developments might be taking place…
Jon and Tav took the first digging shift, Jake and Brockers shuttling the spoil from the ledge to the bottom of the entrance, I was on the surface. 100 filled bags were hauled out of the cave, emptied onto the spoil heaps, and even managed to add a few rocks to the terrace wall. It was warm work, and the buzzing flies were increasingly irritating. I was glad there were none of the biting flies around.
Refreshments were enjoyed in the warm late summer sunshine.
Back underground for the afternoon session. Brockers was digging with Jake but offered to swap position with me, so I ended up digging and, hauling up the spoil from the bottom of the pot. Brockers and Tav were shuttling the spoil back to the entrance, Jon was on the surface hauling out the bags and emptying them onto the spoil heap. Brockers found my camera and decided to do some filming and snap a few images. We had fun with plenty of good-humoured banter and another productive couple of digging sessions.
With Brockers, Jake, Tav, Nick, and Duncan (for the morning session).
A bit of fettling of the pulley system and hangers beforehand, some discussion about the best position for pulling up the skip, we settled on the diggers hauling the spoil from the bottom of the pot. Jake and Tav were digging for the morning session, I was on the ledge catching the skip and shuttling the bags along to Brockers at the junction. Brockers then dragged the spoil to the bottom of the entrance where he loaded the skip to Nick and Duncan on the surface. It was a busy session.
Lunch was enjoyed in the sunshine this weekend, Duncan had to leave at this point to attend more pressing matters.
For the afternoon session, me and Brockers were digging in the pot, Nick was on the ledge, Tav shuttling from the junction to the entrance, Jake was on the surface.
In the pot, Brockers uncovered several larger rocks that were too big to break-up with the sledge so will require some reduction in size (plugs and feathers) at a later date. Digging is quite easy and still progressing downwards. On the surface, Jake found time to empty the bags in between batches of spoil arriving from below. By the end of the day, quite a lot of bags were emptied onto the spoil heap and more rocks were added to the stockpile, another productive day.
Me, underground by 09:00 as planned, got the kit laid out and set to work breaking up boulders. Sometime after 10:00 Brockers turned up and made a start on bagging up the loose gravel and fine sediment. Then Jake arrived followed by Jon and a bit later, Tav. Jake pulled up a couple of skip loads of bags and rock and then swapped places with Brockers. Steadily the pile of rocks was removed to the surface while I was still reducing the large boulders to manageable pieces. When the last of the large boulders was broken up, I made my way to the surface to start hauling out the stockpile of spoil at the bottom of the entrance, Tav made his way to the surface to help out. With the majority of rocks and bags on the surface we decided to have a break for lunch, just as the sky decided to open. It was a soggy lunch.
Lunch over and it was still raining. We decided clear the remaining spoil and to fill all the available empty bags that were underground. I stayed on the surface to haul out, the rest of the team went below ground. Eventually, the rain abated, and the sun made a brief appearance.
At the end of todays sessions, c.100 bags had been filled and emptied and the equivalent of three fridge-, several microwave- and numerous electric kettle-size rocks shifted. There is plenty of wall building material for the next terrace. A fine effort from the reduced team.
Finished work at home at a reasonable time, so I decided to head over to HR and reduce the boulders there to manageable pieces rather than going over early Saturday to do it. The large boulder turned out to be a bit of a pig – it was heavily mineralised and just wouldn’t fracture easily. Lots of rolling it around and taking off lumps. Eventually, it was done but used all the battery power. It was then that I started to prod the long bar here and there and managed to bring down another substantial lump of rock and loosen another. The result of this action is that I will have to return early on Saturday to deal with these large lumps of rock.
Vince, Brockers, Tav, Nick, Duncan. Jon, and Jake.
Met with Brockers at the farm 08:30 where we got our respective bits of kit together and walked up to the cave entrance. Underground by 09:00.
I got on with the task of reducing boulders to a manageable size using plugs and feathers while Brockers sorted out the pulley system for hauling up and out of the pot. By the time the rest of the team arrived there was a pile of rocks and a pulley system operational.
Duncan took the ledge position opting to be first to try out the pulley system. After helping to shift the backlog of rocks (and bags), I swapped places with Nick at the junction so he could dig with Brockers (Nick’s going to miss a couple of sessions while on a first aid course). And it stops him from digging random holes the serve very little purpose. Tav was at the bottom of the entrance with Jon and Jake on the surface. There was a steady flow of filled bags and rocks from the end to the surface, a few rocks were used to backfill Nick’s “mud wallow” and make the junction position slightly more comfortable. Around 12:30 we stopped for a break.
Afternoon session: Tav and Duncan were down in the deep Soft South digging away happily, I was on the ledge pulley spot hauling away the spoil, and it is a cosy spot. Jon was at the junction, Jake at the bottom of the entrance, Nick and Brockers on the surface. Jon also backfilled Nick’s hole and reinstated a comfy seat. Once we got into the swing of things it was another good productive session. When all the empty bags were filled and rocks moved, a brief discussion in the pot, and then packed up and exited the cave.
A good digging session(s). and the pulley system is spot on!
Morning session: Tav and Jon digging in the deep (and getting deeper) Soft South, Jake on the ledge hauling the skip up out of the pit (c.100+ loads – top effort!) and transferring the contents to the next skip. I was at the junction hauling away the spoil from Jake and passing the load onto Brockers at the bottom of the entrance. Duncan and Nick were on the surface dealing with spoil redistribution. A good, steady supply of filled bags and rocks made the journey from the pot in the deep Soft South to the surface.
About 12:45 we decided to break for lunch.
Afternoon session: Me and Jake digging, our effort focused on loosening some of the larger accessible boulders at the [current] bottom of the pot so that these could be reduced into more manageable size with plugs and feathers at a later date. Brockers was on the ledge, Nick at the junction where he has dug another pond. Duncan at the entrance. On the surface, Tav and Jon, who experienced some monsoonal weather, at least it was warm(?). There was a trickle of water flowing down the entrance when we finally decided to exit the cave.
Progress downwards was clearly evident by the end of the session(s).
Vince, Brockers, Nick, Jon, Jake, Tav, and Duncan.
An earlier start for me as there was a pile of rocks waiting to be reduced to more manageable pieces. Underground by 09:00 and quickly got to work with the plugs and feathers. After one hour or so had passed there was a good supply of wall-building material awaiting removal from the cave. It was satisfyingly therapeutic sat there drilling and tapping. It was interesting to note that the method was successful in breaking-up calcite blocks too.
A barrage of packs of bags being tossed into the deep Soft South announced the arrival of Brockers and Nick. They started to move the pile of rocks as I finished splitting the last couple of boulders. The rocks cleared, Brockers set about digging and filling bags.
I climbed out of the pot and along the ledge to load the accumulated pile of rocks into the skip, the rockpile was soon supplemented by filled bags. Nick hauled the loaded skip away and transferred the contents to the next skip pulled along by Duncan, at the bottom of the entrance, the spoil on its way to the surface. Above ground, Jon and Tav hauled the spoil out of the cave while Jake was busy building walls to retain the spoil. It was a busy and productive morning session.
Afternoon session: me and Brockers were on the surface, Jake at the bottom of the entrance, Jon at the junction, Tav clearing away from the diggers, Nick and Duncan. There was some question about the number of bags so a couple more packs were tossed down the entrance. Lots of rocks and bags were added to the burgeoning spoil heap, larger rocks were kept ready for the next wall-building phase. Another productive session!
Morning session: Nick and Tav in the deep South digging, Jon and me hauling the spoil away, Brockers and Jake on the surface. The filled bags and rocks were moved smoothly from the dig-face to the surface at a good, steady rate. On the surface, in between emptying bags, Jake managed to extend the terrace walling and create more spoil dumping space. When all the available bags had been filled and hauled out of the cave it was time for lunch.
Afternoon session: Me and Jon’s turn to dig in the deep Soft South down in the pot, Brockers and Jake hauled the filled bags and rocks away, Tav and Nick were on the surface. Nick and Tav found time to redistribute the amassed rockpile to where it was needed to build the next wall. Another busy and productive Saturday. The Soft South chamber is looking impressive and there is still plenty of stuff to come out. Also, a pile of rocks awaits size reduction with plug and feathers.
I was away this weekend attending a BCRA field meeting to the Arnside and Silverdale AONB in Lancashire/Cumbria. However, the rest of the team continued with operations and the following report was written by Tav:
“Brockers, Nick, Tav, Jon and Jake.
A very hot day soon got even hotter as the team began removing the large pile of rocks produced by Vince and Callum’s midweek plug and feathers extravaganza. While Jake prepared the surface wall, Brockers moved the rocks to Nick then on to Tav and on again to Jon who stacked them below the entrance. As most of these were too large for a single hauler to pull out Jon returned to the surface to aid with the haul while Tav and Nick moved back a place. 30 odd large boulders were extracted, most of which were too big to fit in the skip and required the net. Several were described as silly in size and a select few as very silly. Meanwhile Brockers carried on digging and produced another 20 or so loads of rocks plus 50 bags. To move these, Nick and Tav shared the duties on the three underground hauling spots while Jon emptied the bags and Jake relocated the rocks to the new terrace wall. Following a well-earned lunch break, Jake and Jon took up the digging cudgels, Tav and Nick swapped places with Tav moving back down to the junction and Nick loading below the entrance. Brockers manfully hauled solo on the surface. By close of play another 50 bags were removed along with another 30 or so loads of rock including a few more which required the net. 180 odd loads extracted in total, which, if not quite our highest overall tally, must surely have merited a new weight record! Another very large boulder (the largest yet!) was exposed and requires plug and feathering.”
A successful and productive evening breaking-up boulders in the deep Soft South using plug and feathers method. After a quick lesson showing Callum how to use the kit, I drilled the holes and Callum split the boulders. There is quite a pile of rocks for the weekend team to shift out of the cave and add to the wall-building material stash.
Morning session: Jon in the deep South digging on down, I was on the ledge squaring-up a couple of sections ready for recording and loading the spoil into the skip for Tav to haul away. From the junction the filled bags and rocks were transferred to the next skip and hauled away by Brockers to the bottom of the entrance. Nick on the surface hauled the bags out of the cave and managed to find enough time to empty them too. 60 bags were filled, hauled, and emptied and several loads of rock were added to the wall material pile. I planned to photograph the section I had cleaned only to find the battery was empty, should have charged after using it yesterday.
Afternoon session: Brockers was dispatched to the deep South to fulfil his management potential under the guidance of Tav. Nick was at the junction hauling skips and “tidying”, I was at the bottom of the entrance transferring the spoil into the skip hauled up by Jon on the surface. Hauling the skip up the entrance pitch was not an easy task with the wet, claggy rope slipping through fingers and with three people filling bags, not much respite either. 50 bags were filled plus a lot of rocks shifted including 2 large boulders that we decided to leave for another day.
There are several large boulders in the Soft South that might benefit a reduction in size – a plug and feathers session is probably needed.
Morning session: Tav and Brockers did the first stint of digging, Nick and Duncan hauling the skips, me and Jon were on surface duties. 100 bags filled, hauled, and emptied onto the spoil heap, plus quite a few rocks (mostly from Nick’s illicit digging activities!)
Afternoon session: Nick and Duncan digging, me and Jon hauling the skips, Tav and Brockers on the surface. The bags had become a tad claggy during the morning session so, 50 bags were filed, hauled, and emptied onto the heap, in addition there were plenty more rocks for the wall.
A reduced team today for one reason or another, no matter, we formulated a contingency plan!
Morning session: Nick and Jake digging, Jon at the junction, I was at the bottom of the entrance. About 60 bags were filled and dragged back to be stacked in the entrance along with a few rocks. Then, all changed position and the spoil was hauled out of the cave and added to the spoil heap.
A slightly earlier lunch than usual before a return to digging.
Afternoon session: me and Jon digging, Nick at the junction and Jake at the bottom of the entrance. A bit disappointed to find the section I had wanted to keep intact had been dug into but not wholly unexpected. Me and Jon filled our 60-bag quota and removed several rocks, back at the entrance, other ‘extra’ bags had appeared, Nick, of course, had been carrying out skip run “improvements”. Anyway, it was time to clear the spoil from the cave. Today’s total, about 130 bags plus several skip loads of rock including one rather large broken, detached stalagmite (?).
As ever, the ever expanding ‘chamber’ in the Soft South remains enigmatic.
Morning session: Brockers digging, aided, and abetted by Nick; me and Jon were hauling the skips along the passage from the Soft South back to the entrance. Jake and Tav were on surface, they were joined later in the morning by Duncan. The filled bags were moved along the passage at a good, steady rate, the bags interspersed by lumps of rock, there was a lot of broken, detached calcite, Brockers said he “found it in the mud”. All the available bags filled (circa 100+) and rocks moved, it was lunchtime.
Afternoon session: me and Jon were digging, sharing the task of filling bags and clearing away. Some big boulders were broken up too. Most of our effort was spent tidying the trample and sediment from the current bottom of the ‘pot’ so we might get a better idea of whatever was going on here. Duncan and Tav were hauling away, Brockers and Nick on the surface hauling away the bags and emptying them. The rocks were dispatched towards Jake who was busy wall building around the spoil heap. Another circa 60 bags and a lot of rock removed from the ever-expanding chamber, and we are not really any clearer as to what is going on. There is, of course, still plenty of stuff to dig out! Happy days.
Morning session: I was digging, aided by Tav who cleared away the filled bags and occasionally loosened sediment and also filled some bags. Jake and Nick were hauling skips, transferring spoil to the surface, and some “tidying” was inevitably being carried out. Brockers hauled the bags out of the cave, the bags were stashed aside to be emptied later. Around 60-70 skip loads up to the surface and about midday, the underground team decided it was time to return to the surface and empty the bags. I stayed underground a bit longer to take some photos. Lunch was taken.
Afternoon session: My turn on the surface, Tav was at the bottom of the entrance, Jake, and Nick further along the passage clearing away from Brockers, who was digging. Another 60-70 skips-loads out to the surface and bags set aside to be emptied later at the end of the session. It was pleasant on the surface and the flies were not too irritating yet. The pulley system makes hauling so much easier. It was another productive digging session!
Vince, Jake, Jon, Brockers, Duncan, Nick, and Tav.
A full-strength team today and the weather was good.
Morning session: Jake and Jon digging, Brockers and Duncan clearing away, me, Nick and Tav on the surface. An extra pair of hands on the surface meant that some spoil heap re-distribution was possible. Work was concentrated on levelling the lower part of the heap to enable another terrace wall to be constructed. The filled bags from the morning session were rolled down the slope and emptied behind the existing retainer wall to further consolidate it.
After enjoying our lunch, we moved a quantity of rocks and rolled them down the slope so that the terrace wall could be started.
Afternoon session: Brockers and Duncan digging, Nick and Tav clearing away, on the surface, Jon was hauling, I was shuttling bags to the spoil heap, Jake was building the terrace wall and emptying bags.
Today’s total was somewhere around 150 bags and several rocks, no-one seemed to be counting really. The spoil heap does look much tidier now.
Some decent weather at last and surface duties were a popular option today.
Morning session: me and Jake were on the surface; Brockers and Duncan were digging with Nick and Tav clearing away. Now it had dried out a bit, some spoil heap re-distribution could be carried out. As the filled bags (and rocks) started to appear at a regular rate then emptying the bags took priority. Jake hauled up 50 bags or so, then we swapped places. Hauling is so much easier with the pulley system in place and functioning, easier on the back! About 100 filled bags rocks out to the surface and added to the spoil heap, it was time for lunch.
Afternoon session: Brockers and Duncan took over on the surface, Nick and Tav were digging, leaving me and Jake to clear away the bags and rocks. One of the drag trays died and needed replacing, making the haul a little easier. 50 bags were filled and quite a few rocks including a large, heavy boulder (probably 100kg) that was to test the branch on the way up. Thankfully, the branch was up to the job and the boulder made it to the surface.
The bag count for today: circa 150 plus an uncounted number of rocks for wall building some time in the future. Another productive session, there is a sizeable chamber in the Soft South!
Morning session: me and Jake digging, I concentrated my effort in the lower southwest section while Jake dug along the mid-level bench. Nick and Duncan clearing away (Nick, also carrying out some skip-run maintenance/improvements), Brockers and Jon were on surface duties. The spoil removal progressed at a steady rate until we decided to stop for lunch around 12:30. It was rather pleasant in the sunshine, a nice change following the persistent rain during the last couple of days.
After lunch there was some debate about who was doing what then, a plan was hatched to fix up a pulley system over the entrance, Nick had supplied a shiny new pulley. A suitable branch seemed to be in the right position, although some doubts were expressed by a few people. All we needed was someone to climb the branch and secure the tape sling, carabiner, and pulley in place, that person was me. It was soon sorted and all we needed to do now was try it out, so off we went back underground.
Afternoon session: bags were filled, cleared, and loaded into the skip and up they went, the pulley system worked better than expected. There was, of course, the usual issue of the rope being difficult to grip as it became muddier but still it worked. The argument for not setting-up a pulley system earlier, well, we had to wait for the branch to attain a suitable size.
Anyway, back to the digging, the bags to be filled were restricted to 50 for this session due to them being especially difficult to empty now they were claggy, and there were plenty of rocks on the surface to be moved to the location for another wall to be built. As the bag supply dwindled at the dig face the number of rocks being removed started to increase, this was unfortunate as the section of sediment I had spent the morning squaring up had now been destroyed, which was disappointing as I did not get to record it. Will have to start again.
Unsettled weather was forecast, a mixture of sunshine and showers. It had been raining earlier but was dry as we walked to the cave.
Morning session, Jake digging in the southwest lower section, Duncan clearing away the bags and digging along the mid-level bench extension, I was hauling and transferring the spoil from skip to skip at the junction/corner, Jon was at the bottom of the entrance. On the surface, Brockers was joined by a latecomer, Nick. We all settled into a good consistent rate of spoil removal and movement. By 12:30, about 100 skip loads (bags and rocks) had made the journey out onto the spoil heap and we decided it was time for lunch. Unfortunately, our picnic was disrupted by a shower of rain and, after some debate, we decided to return to the task in hand.
Afternoon session, me and Jake opted to take over the surface duties, Duncan at the bottom of the entrance. However, this left Jon digging in the lower south/southwest section, Brockers at the mid-level bench and Nick at the junction/corner where he was ‘side-tracked’ somewhat by his own ‘flood alleviation project’ (I have to admit to having carried out some clandestine work here myself during the morning session!). The result of this was three people were now filling bags and shifting rocks. The hauling out of the cave was relentless and the task was not made any easier as the rope became claggy as frequent showers passed over. And the midges were increasingly irritating in the humidity. Jake and I swapped around at regular intervals as the midges seemed particularly attracted to the area around the cave entrance. We started to dump the spoil in another overspill area as the regular tip needed some attention, there were some signs that a slump might occur, especially if affected by more persistent rain.
The session came to an end when all the bags had been filled and emptied then hung-up. If they do not ‘dry out’ at least they will get a good rinsing! Last job of the day was to haul out the small stockpile of rocks, useful wall building material. I did not return underground to take photographs today, next weekend.
A grey, overcast morning but it seemed that the heavy rain had passed over and would not spoil the lunchtime picnic.
Morning session, me and Nick digging, Jon and Tav clearing away, Jake and Duncan on the surface. We decided to start removing the lower bench to widen the “chamber” at current floor level, this requires that the mid-level bench be re-cut (a task to keep Nick occupied). With the so much spoil being removed and quickly too the expansion of the “chamber” in the Soft South is clearly visible, almost as you dig! There was an interesting moment as a large slump of material occurred, resulting in plenty of stuff to bag-up. Will need to be more careful when undercutting the dig-face. About 100 bags filled plus rocks, a natural pause, it was time for a break. To the surface for lunch.
Afternoon session, Jon and Tav took over the digging, Jake and Duncan clearing away, leaving me and Nick on the surface. The hauling and bag emptying tasks on the surface were split, 50 bags then swap around, made it a bit easier on the back. The bags were hung-up on the lines to ‘dry’ out, some were getting quite claggy. It was another productive day and 200+ bags were filled plus a quantity of rocks to be added to the wall sometime.
Photographs were taken at the end of the session, the cave secured, and we left for our respective homes.
Following my 2nd covid vaccination jab on Tuesday I have been suffering with an ‘iffy’ shoulder, hauling stuff out to the surface and digging is off the agenda for me. I settled down at the bottom of the entrance and transferred the spoil from skip to skip, out to the surface. The surface duties were attended to by Nick and Brockers (pre-lunch) followed by Tav and Jon (post-lunch). The main diggers were Tav and Jon (early session), Jake and Duncan (later session) there was, of course, some alternative digging mostly by Nick and Brockers. At the end of the day, a lot of spoil was shifted; about 250 bags and several loads of rock, some requiring the use of the ‘rock-net’.
During the lunch break a start was made on another extension to the spoil heap; brambles were slashed and walling re-located. A task to be continued at a later date.
At the end of the session, photos were taken.
During the post-lunch session, a visit to site by Caroline and Rebecca. Caroline stayed on to have a look at the current dig in the Soft South.
Vince, Brockers, Jake, Nick, Tav, and later, Caroline.
A lovely sunny day perfect for digging, and long may it continue. Tav turned up laden with digging skips and a rope net expertly constructed by Dave Brook and kindly donated to the cause by Alison Moody. These were to be put into use as soon as digging was underway.
I was digging, Jake on the surface and the rest of the team dealt with clearance of the filled backs and sporadic rocks. About 50 skip loads out of the cave, stopped digging and up to the surface to empty the bags. All change, I stated on the surface, Brockers took over digging, the rest of the team clearing away. It was pleasant on the surface in the spring sunshine sheltered from the breeze and not too many flies about yet. Just after midday Caroline turned up with [warm] sausage rolls for our lunch, and then proceeded to empty the bags that were on the surface, top effort!
The underground team returned to the surface and we had a welcome and well-deserved break.
Back to the fray, Nick digging, Brockers on the surface, and the rest of us clearing away. Another 50 or so bags were filled and hauled out of the cave before we decided to stop digging and empty the bags. That was the end of underground activities so went to have a look at the end and take some photos.
There are some interesting developments at the business end and the progress being made with the longer sessions is noticeable. Today’s total, about 160 bags and several rocks.
A depleted team today, some have gone diving and another has vehicular and mobility problems. No matter just means we will have to stack stuff in the entrance and work in shifts.
All underground, Jake digging, Tav and Brockers clearing away the filled bags and I stacked the spoil in the entrance. After about 20 bags Brockers decided to go to the surface and haul out the bags then returned to his position on the corner to resume his original task. We kept at it until mid-day when we all exited the cave to clear-out the entrance stash. The bags were emptied onto the spoil heap. The now compressed sediment was less easy to coax from the bags. Some spoil heap management was required, and any loose stones were added to the wall.
Time for refreshment. It was very pleasant in the warm spring sunshine (no flies yet!).
Back underground, Brockers digging, me and Tav clearing away and Jake stacking the spoil in the entrance. We are not spoiled for choice with where to dig, there is just a lot of stuff to shift. About 40 or 50 bags filled we decided it was time to clear the entrance again. The total for the day, 110 bags plus several loads of rocks. Good effort from the smaller team.
As ever the more sediment that is removed then more features are revealed, more discussions, more head-scratching, it is all very interesting. Photos were taken but it was quite steamy in the digging ‘chamber’ following the day’s efforts. The first bluebottle of the year was seen!
Vince, Jake, Brockers, Nick, Tav, Jon, Duncan, and Mike.
A ‘full’ complement of participants today, we split into two groups; one group on the surface consisting of me, Jake and Brockers, the second group underground. The extra pair of hands on the surface enabled spoil heap management to be undertaken and the slope was redistributed. The use of a digging hoe was effective in moving the spoil to pack the space alongside the retaining wall. During sediment movement any stones recovered were added to wall where required.
It was a full-on effort during the morning session with Jake and Brockers rotating the hauling and emptying of bags. About 120 bags and a few skip-loads of rocks were removed from the Soft South out to the spoil heap.
Lunchtime, it was pleasant in the sheltered sunshine.
After break, Mike, Jon and Tav took on the surface duties, me and Brockers were digging, Jake, Nick and Duncan moved the filled bags and sporadic rocks along the passage to the bottom of the entrance, where the spoil was pulled out to the surface. There had been a baulk section between the two areas of digging, this was now mostly removed to allow ease of movement. This had taken-up most of the morning session and part of the afternoon too. The rest of the second session concentrated on expansion. The small fissure in the roof (south-west face) was partially cleared adding a bit more height to the expanding ‘chamber’, lower down, a ‘spread’ of boulders and fragmented calcite is being exposed. Between the boulders appear to be tiny ‘voids’ and the floor seems to be dipping downwards.
Another 120 or so bags and some large rocks were moved up to the surface, the total of loads removed today, about 270, a very productive session. No photos today.
has a long and active interest in Mendip cave exploration and research, is a Council member (2020) of the British Cave Research Association, Fellow of the Geological Society and Practitioner Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.