Solo trip to clear the end and continue the passage enlargement. There is a lot of debris to be cleared from the end of the tube. Once the end is clear might be able to get to grips with the slab or at least get a better look at it, still we are getting ever closer – just a question of time – patience is required!
Saturday: with Alex.
Went along to the end of the tube to clear some of the debris and to see if I could get a better hand-hold on the offending slab – no chance! Back to Alex who was erecting the tripod and shifted more spoil back to the surface.
Sunday: a solo trip.
In the above image the BDH is about 125mm in diameter and the left side of the slab barring progress is visible – not so clear is the open space beyond.
A better view of the slab with space beyond on either side and where the draught seems to emanate. Slab is about 750mm in width, passage height is around 300mm at this point, the depth of the slab is unclear. The image doesn’t do justice to the colour of dolomitic conglomerate that ranges from red to purple with white, grey, yellow and black pockets throughout – a fascinating rock. The enlargement work continues and soon the slab will succumb and the tantalising space beyond will be revealed – hopefully!
Following some refreshment at my favourite hostelry went back to the Belfry to wash my kit. Met up with Tangent and we walked over to Eastwater Lane where Jodie Lewis and co. from the University of Worcester are carrying out an archaeological investigation of a Bronze Age barrow site. A very interesting and informative discussion with David and later Jodie, will revisit the site to keep up with the progress. Even the weather was reasonably pleasant, a bit on the breezy side but dry.
Solo trip. After recent persistent rain the usual drips in the cave are now mostly continuous trickles. Took the BEC drill for a trip along to the right hand side of the tube to continue the enlargement – it worked successfully – becoming quite spacious approaching the slab now. Funny how when working alone the mind drifts back to past digging trips and old mates – J’rat, Gobshite – Wigmore, Welsh’s Green, Draenen – happy days!
With Alex. Continued the task of enlarging the tube to access the slab barring progress. Nothing of note happened and a fairly brief in and out – job done. Probably take 4 – 6 trips to work up to the slab giving the required room to remove it. After a rather wet month it’s squalid throughout the cave, it seems the days of dry, comfortable digging are over – at least for the time being.
Mid-week trip into Hallowe’en Rift for a change. One of my best digging mates from the past has come from Columbia to the UK for a couple weeks with his family before heading to France on holiday. Decided to take Pete [Bolty] to enjoy the delights of HR, being on the tall side he really appreciates low muddy crawls. Cleared Sunday’s spoil from the end of the tube back the base of Witches Cauldron and then to the bottom of the entrance before heading to the Hunter’s for refreshments and reminisences of some epic caving trips and discoveries of the past such as Coventosa pull-through trip, Lechiguilla, Daren Cilau and, of course Ogof Draenen.
PB seemed to be suitably impressed by the prospects in Hallowe’en Rift and requested photos from beyond the slab!
Saturday: with Alex.
Seeing Alex in some recently purchased very garish lime green running tights is a sight to behold but not one to remember. We decided to have a clearout of the spoil so set up the tripod on the surface. We made a start with the slop at the bottom of the pot – Witches Cauldron – very glutinous! Cleared this to the base of the entrance and then set about clearing out to the surface. The hauling rope became impregnated with mud and was difficult to grip, particularly if the skip was a bit on the weighty side, however we persevered for a good two and a half hours before calling it a day. As usual refreshments at the Hunter’s.
Sunday: with Callum.
An afternoon shift. The intended morning start was a non-event due to imbibing too much Addlestone’s at Priddy Sheep Racing yesterday evening, a gloriously wet affair with some spectacular rain. Today’s mission was to start enlarging the tube to enable removal of the slab of flowstone barring progress. This was to be my second attempt at using the club drill, I made sure it was fully charged but it was still an ordeal, real struggle to get the hammer action to function initially and the drill bit would not lock in. There isn’t enough room along the tube to sort out any problems but eventually managed to complete the task although Callum was, by now, very cold so I sent him back up to the surface to warm up. The dig is very squalid at the moment.
Alex unable to make it today so another solo trip. Tried to shift the slab utilising the excellent tape strops given to me by Trev Hughes – but the slab ain’t moving. Digging is often a very frustrating process and things don’t always go to plan and a great deal of patience is required. Decided to clear all the spoil dumped at the end of the tube back to the bottom of the pot, by the time I had finished there was easily enough space to turn around and quite a novelty to come back down the tube head first rather than backing out dragging a skip full of spoil.
The best thing about being underground on a solo trip is the peace and solitude, the only sounds you can hear are your own – breathing, heartbeat, movement – and the dripping of water in the cave. Just an excellent place to be!
A spoil clearance session was the plan for today and a fine effort by Alex and myself to clear the spoil from the base of Witches Cauldron back to the bottom of the entrance. There was a considerable amount of spoil to shift and it will require another good effort to clear the spoil now at the base of the entrance up the shaft to the surface next session (?). After a period of extremely wet [and windy] weather there was a strong drip of water in the cave and very soon both of us had got very damp and had a good coating of mud. We even had time to pop into the Hunter’s for refreshments. Unfortunately the refreshment break was cut short when a phone call was received by the landlady and passed on to me – cave rescue in Cheddar Gough’s Cave. I ended up abandoning half my drink, heading to the Belfry, rousing a fine team, grabbing some kit from the rescue store and set off for Cheddar. Others were already present in Cheddar including paramedics and cave rescue wardens and it was a quick carry out of the cave for the female patient, who had fallen and injured her knee, she was then taken by ambulance for further treatment at a local hospital.
In the evening went with the family up to the Hunter’s for supper and to attend a BCRC lecture presented by Tony Rich that gave an overview of cave rescue and the law. Cheddar Caves had very kindly put on a barrel of beer as a thank you to the rescue teams that had attended todays incident – marvellous!
Another solo trip and a return to try and persuade the slab of flowstone to succumb to my efforts. Alas, to no avail the slab appears rather larger than at first estimated, although I did just about manage to raise it a fraction. It is apparent that we will have to resort to a rather more robust advanced speleological technology to shift the slab. Frustrating because the prospects beyond the blockage look so very good!
It is worth adding a cautionary note, long experience in cave exploration has shown that when viewing open space through small gaps, particularly in restricted passage then first appearances can sometimes be deceptive and things ain’t always as they seem!
I retired to the Hunter’s for refreshment and some contemplation. Then off to a very wet Priddy Friendly Society Day on the village green and quaffed rather too many glasses of Addlestones (cider). Some excellent live music was provided by The Drystones.
Slight change of plans deciding on a solo digging trip in Hallowe’en Rift. Took a few snaps, not all that successfully.
The above image is looking into the left tube from where the rib of rock used to be.
Dragged a couple of skips full of sediment down the tube before deciding to leave the spoil to one side to be removed at a later date. Pushed ahead for just over a metre, it’s a rather snug fit along the tube and pretty cool in the draught. On the right hand side there was open space, albeit small, and the roof appears to rise sharply. Worked along the left side where there was slightly more height, from where I moved some more sediment with the occasional rock opening more air space, again the roof appears to rise sharply after a metre. Unfortunately further progress was barred by a large slab of flowstone that resisted initial attempts to move it, dug around it for a while then decided to call it a day and will return when fresh. It’s now looking very, very interesting!
Glorious weather and a warm walk up the hill, underground it was rather cooler. While Alex hammered away ot the top of the pot I set about removing the large pile of rock debris along the tube. The more skip-loads that I dragged along the tube the stickier it became, all the water being absorbed into my fleece undersuit. It took about two hours to clear all the rock debris and I also removed a bit of the sediment along the right hand side. The draught was pretty strong today – cool and fresh. There just has to be something significant ahead – but how far and what? – only more digging will reveal that! I was going to take some photos but became so caked in mud I decided not to bother and will take some next visit before digging.
Meanwhile, Alex had battered the top of the pot into submission with trusty lump hammer and chisel making it significantly larger, skip should be easier to haul out now. On exiting the cave the difference in temperature was very noticeable, from breathing cool, fresh cave air to the warm, humid surface air.
Next session will require more spoil clearance from the base of Witches Cauldron back to the surface before we can continue along the tube.
Continued with the task of removing the rock obstruction. Today’s session will probably be enough and the next session will involve removal of a quite considerable pile of rock debris. After this clear out is complete we should be in a position to dig along the right hand tube following the draught and where airspace can be seen. A couple of metres progress might prove to be very interesting.
A fine spring day day after some very wet weather. Dropped into Wells for a number of required items before a return to the quest. Not quite as wet in the cave as anticipated, if the dry weather continues it might even become reasonably comfortable again. Continued with the task of removing of the ‘rib of rock’ that is already looking successful. Very strong draught today noticed immediately on entry to the cave especially when approaching Witches Cauldron and the tube.
Another satisfying session and as usual we dropped into the Hunter’s for some refreshments. At the Hunters we joined up with Tangent, who had been caving in Swildon’s with Goon, and a fine fine discussion ensued regarding Mendip geology and geomorphology.
A fine morning indeed!
Turned out to be a rather disappointing session. Slight misunderstanding resulted in Alex not bringing his drill so we dragged the BEC drill to the end to carry on the good work to remove the ‘rib’ of rock only to find both batteries were flat. We were probably a little naive not to have checked the kit or to assume that the last people to use it would leave it ‘ready for use’. Never mind though better luck next time.
After a break for Easter and family type things, including a caving trip with the kids to Brownes’ Hole, Stoke St. Michael, a return to the delights of Hallowe’en Rift.
Pictured above is one of the young’uns exiting Brownes’ Grotto, Stoke St. Michael on east Mendip.
After some discussion we have decided to modify the tube by removing the ‘rib’ of rock in the floor at the point where the left tube diverges from the right. This will eventually enable work to continue along the right side where the strongest draught emanates. I can get through the squeeze but cannot get into a position where I can work effectively. Removal of the the ‘rock rib’ also means that Alex will be able to get to the end. We have also modified the top of Witches Cauldron to make it easier for hauling the skip when clearing spoil.
Following a conversation with the farmer, the gates were locked because some young livestock were being turned out onto the hill and they can be a little bit frisky for a while until they get used to the great outdoors.
A trip with John ‘Tangent’ Williams who had expressed a desire to experience the delights of Hallowe’en Rift after listening to Alex and myself discussing the digging prospects on many occasions. A reasonably comprehensive tour around the original dig sites of the 1980s and 1990s before heading up to ‘Merlins’ and finally along the ‘tube’. Tangent appeared to be suitably impressed and enjoyed the trip. Haven’t been to the Hunter’s on a Wednesday evening, traditionally digger’s night, for quite a while, I was struck by how quiet it was, it used to get a little raucous at times in the past.
1st April 2012. A busmans holiday to look at someone elses digsites. Willie Stanton originally dug at these sites but permission has recently been given to Stu Lindsay, Trever Hughes, et. al. (BEC) to continue the excavation.
Interesting closed basin development seems in places to follow washed out mineral vein. Colourful rocks comprising greys, red, white, yellow, orange (see below) and calcite with gravel and clay infill.
Spent a while in conversation with Stu Lindsay who suggested that there is some historical confusion about which site is which. Barrington and Stanton (1977) descriptions are as follows:
“Brimble Pit Swallet ST 5081 5075 alternative names Westbury Hill Swallet, Frog Hole.
50 yards east of Priddy-Westbury road at Brimble Pit Pool, in a depression by a wall taking the overflow from a small covered reservoir in the next field. Tight vertical rift dug by MNRC 1957-58, blocked by a boulder 50 feet down. Entrance collapsed about 1960. MNRC flood-tested the stream to Rodney Stoke rising in 1956. The Brimble Pit closed basin and overflow channel, and those of Cross Swallet nearby are scheduled as an SSSI; taken together they show all the geomorphic features of Mendip closed basins.
Locke’s Hole ST 5088 5072 alternative name Westbury Hill Swallet.
100 yards east of Priddy-Westbury road at Brimble Pit Pool, in a depression taking the natural overflow of the pool. Entrance shaft dug open by MNRC, 1955-56, entered sloping passage ending in sand-choked chamber. Digging stoppedwhen entrance shaft collapsed. A cow is said to have died in the entrance shaft about 1964, when the farmer half-filled the depression with rubble.”
Reference: Barrington, N. and Stanton, W. 1977 (third revised edition). Mendip: The Complete Caves and a view of the hills. Barton Productions in conjunction with Cheddar Valley Press.
Rather surprised to find the gate chained and locked at the farm so over to School Hill and a longer walk up to the cave. Spent a while prodding and scratching away at the sediments above the rift, still doesn’t appear to be anything solid above – need to proceed with the utmost caution. The roots appear to have grown nearly 300mm since the last visit. Alex spent some time removing the lumps of calcite flow that impede the progress of the skip up Witches Cauldron. Crawled along to ‘Merlin’s’ for a reassessment of the area – there is a possible route along the right hand side that would avoid damage to the formations, but would require a good deal of effort initially.
After digging took a stroll up the valley to the east of Hallowe’en Rift to take another look at the rock exposure and to explore the head of the gully. Came across this interesting little spot. A number of holes were noted in an arc that showed some signs of previous excavation, there is a large badger site on the opposite side of the gully or this is the site that Trevor Hughes tentatively dug in the early 1980s.
We continued work at the top of the rift/pot. What appeared solid is not, and there are a lot of boulders, cobbles in a matrix of finer sediment above the opening. Managed to bring quite a bit of this down and now have a small chamber about 1m x 1m x 1m although not quite big enough to turn around in safely. The downside of this work is that a good quantity of debris has fallen into the rift/pot so there is a considerable amount of clearing to be done. We are puzzled by this passage development we did expect to see another wall to the rift – are we heading into a chamber? Only digging will reveal what lies ahead.
After a prolonged break from digging at Hallowe’en Rift due to other commitments we got back to work. Due to the conditions I decided to wear a plastic suit (rather tatty Petzl) slipped easily along the tube like a bar of soap. With my shiny new bar started to prod at the dig face, ‘that sounds hollow’ I thought. Removed some cobbles and a root to reveal a tiny gap, interesting, removed some more cobbles the gap got larger, getting very interesting, pulled out some larger cobbles and small boulders to reveal open space!The image above shows the hole in the dig face, unfortunately the photos ain’t very good! Passage height is about 0.30m and width about 1.00m.
After some more work removed a quantity of loose debris to reveal a clean washed rift/pot with abundant root growth. The top of the rift is too tight to allow entry and there is a lot of very loose boulders and sediment in the rift above – some serious gardening is required. The rift/pot appears to be about 1.0m deep to a maximum of 0.5m wide and a length 2.0 – 2.5m in length. It is possible that there is a continuation of the passage almost straight ahead, this will only be confirmed when the rift/pot is accessed. It looks very tantalising and exciting times are ahead – there are some seriously promising leads in this cave.
Looking down into the rift/pot. The main roots are about 12mm in diameter.
It’s days like this that make digging so exhilarating – it’s just such a buzz, I love it!
Of course we called in to our favourite hostelry for a little celebratory beverage.
A fine winter’s day, bit of a chill in the air and clear skies. We are interested in determining some of the rock strata characteristics in the area that surrounds Hallowe’en Rift so decided to venture up and take a few readings of the rock exposure east of the cave. The lower section (pictured above) has a very general alignment east/west 065/245 [all figures are degrees] and the upper section (pictured below) also has a east/west 070/250 alignment. We also took some preliminary readings of discontinuities recording strike and dip: upper section – strike 140/320, dip 20 southwest (sw); mid section – strike 140/320, dip 16 sw; and lower section – 125/305, dip 16 sw. We discussed the possibility of a fault(?) between the mid and lower sections [further investigation required]. As a comparison we took some readings in a small stone quarry just above Hallowe’en Rift: strike 140/320, dip 7 sw and strike 120/300, dip 10 sw.
After this brief detour we returned to the main task in hand, digging Hallowe’en Rift. Bit of a clearing session in the ‘poo’ mine, it seems to have become even more wet and muddy, and, after a while it’s rather cold. I went to the base of Witches Cauldron to fill the skips and Alex did the hauling and dumping [at the base of the entrance]. All clear after about two hours, plenty of room for digging spoil next session. Refreshments at the Hunter’s.
First digging session of the year, 2012 will be 30 years of exploration in Hallowe’en Rift, hopefully we have something good to celebrate. We were surprised to note that the field from the farm on the walk up to Hallowe’en Rift had numerous daisies, buttercups and dandelions in flower, evidence of the extremely mild winter so far. In between a lot of chatting we set about clearing the last bit of spoil dumped at the base of Witches Cauldron which didn’t take too long. I went to the end of the tubes to continue to dig into the rift, Alex in the meantime settled down to clear more out from the lower part of Witches Cauldron. The rift is beginning to look very interesting and we have pulled out some quite large lumps of flowstone (about 250mm x 250mm in area and 50-60mm in thickness) there is not much evidence for this material to have been transported any great distance. Possibly this flowstone originates from a capping layer on the surface of the sediments. After 2.5 hours of digging and soaking up water and a rather cold draught today began to get cold and we had just about run out of stacking space so called it a day and returned to the surface. Excellent session and can’t wait to get back down to continue the work. Popped into the Hunter’s for quick refreshments.
One of those typical Mendip winter days – grey, damp and the forecast is for it to be very damp. Following a conversation I’d had with the farmer on christmas eve and a previous visit with the kids, before the digging session we ventured up to have a look at an interesting exposure of Triassic rocks – mostly of Dolomitic Conglomerate.
There are a number of interesting features that are worth looking at and a couple are depicted in the photographs above and below that might be evidence of some initial cave formation processes within Dolomitic Conglomerate. We will return to this area to carry out a field survey and comparison of strike/dip angles with those at Hallowe’en Rift area.
After our detour we decided to return to the prime objective – digging in Hallowe’en Rift, especially as the weather was closing in. Cleared out Witches Cauldron of last sessions digging spoil and that was enough, very claggy. I returned to the surface to emerge in some very low cloud, waited for quite some time for Alex to return. Alex had a bit of an ‘epic’ – at the bottom of Witches Cauldron where it is rather restricted for space Alex’s foot had slipped into a narrow rift filled with ‘gloop’ and while we had been working away, his foot became stuck fast and had required a considerable effort and some contortion to extract it. He arrived at the surface rather relieved not to have sacrificed his wellington boot!
My turn to be the ‘mud monster’ and soak up all the water, get’s rather cool after a couple of hours. This kit was clean at the start of the session, note the ‘natty’ caving hat.
After a chinwag with the farmer and his son we wandered up to Hallowe’en Rift in bright sunshine but a rather chill wind. The spoil was all cleared last weekend so straight into digging mode, I went to the end of the tube, Alex settled in at the base of Witches Cauldron. Very moist along the tube so decided to load spoil directly into the skip, nice drip into the ear. Continued to work under the rift and pulled out a number of small boulders which is interesting, these boulders appear to be mostly conglomerate although there is some calcite present. Need a slightly bigger bar that will be more effective in working the compacted sediments. Meanwhile, back at the Witches Cauldron, Alex was busying himself by digging out the base of the pot after hearing a trickle of water. Digging was ended when all the stacking space was filled, another clearing session next trip. Retired to the Hunter’s Lodge Inn for a pint and a cheese and pickle roll, in my opinion the greatest hostelry in the land – marvellous!
Alex emerges from Hallowe’en Rift after soaking up the puddles in his nice cotton ‘blotting paper’ overalls, damp and very muddy. I, on the other hand, was rather more comfortable in fleece suit and cordura caving oversuit.
Spoil clearance session with Alex. After getting changed at the farm and ready to go, we had to return to BEC HQ, The Belfry, to get the spanner that we had forgotten again! Eventually got up the hill to Hallowe’en Rift and set about putting up the tripod ready for hauling. Alex went down to the bottom of Witches Cauldron and cleared the spoil from there and I hauled and dragged the skips to the base of the entrance. It’s become pretty mucky along the passage, but at least the skip is suitably lubricated and slids easily. We then set about clearing the spoil from the base of the entrance back to the surface, I did the hauling up the rift while Alex was at the bottom loading the skips. Lot’s of room for dumping the digging spoil now.
An exposure of Dolomitic Conglomerate in Harptree Combe showing good sequence of wadi deposits (refer to note on dolomitic conglomerate below).
With Alex. Well, the original plan was to clear out all the dumped spoil back to surface, but someone forgot a spanner to erect the tripod – so continue digging was our only option. As usual we cleared the base of Witches Cauldron before I headed off for the tube. It seemed particularly sticky today like trying to cave through ‘velcro’, there is not enough space to free your oversuit from the clag and in the more snug spots it can be a little ‘hard going’. Continued clearing the sediment at the end of the tube and did manage to get a better look at the rift but am still a little undecided about the best way to proceed – don’t want to leave myself in a position where collapse of the sediment overhead might pose an inconvenience. Air movement was not as obvious during today’s session.
A noticeable feature when describing either breccia and/or conglomerate is clast angularity, generally breccia is more angular while conglomerate is more rounded, of course it must be emphasised that the boundaries between the rock types is blurred and there may be a high degree of variability. The angularity or roundness of the clasts within breccia/conglomerate might be used as evidence of the amount of transportation that has occurred, i.e. more roundness might indicate greater transport/higher energy. Clast size might also be a factor, smaller size would require less energy to be transported a further distance.
Boulder of Dolomitic Conglomerate removed from Hallowe’en Rift, the purple-red colour is the result of high iron content and evidence of haematitization (see below).
On the Mendip Hills, the Dolomitic Conglomerate mostly comprises clasts of Carboniferous limestone cemented into a matrix of sandy marl or fine grained limestone debris, locally derived material from the Old Red Sandstone and Quartzitic Sandstone Group is also present. The rock clasts are angular to rounded and range in size from varying sized gravels to very large boulders. The Dolomitic Conglomerate forms bold crags, it might be eroded into gorges, and it can support underground drainage systems including caves and swallets and is the locus for extensive lead/zinc mineralization. The formation represents Triassic scree and outwash fans adjacent the ancient hills of Paleozoic rocks, and it fills ‘fossil’ wadis or gorges that had been cut into the hills. Recent erosion has partially re-excavated some of these gorges, as at Burrington Combe.
Exposure of surface weathered Dolomitic Conglomerate [slightly silicified] in Harptree Combe.
The conglomerate found on the Mendip Hills has, in many cases undergone considerable secondary changes, in particular silicification, haematitization and dolomitization. Haematitization is the conversion of the conglomerate into an ‘earthy’ iron ore known as ‘red ochre’. The presence of all gradations from unaltered conglomerate to impure haematite rock show that the formation of the latter is the result of metasomatic replacement of calcium carbonate by haematite.
The most widespread form of alteration is dolomitization, hence the name ‘Dolomitic Conglomerate’. All stages of dolomitization are present, both matrix and clasts showing varying degrees of alteration. Dolomitization is usually accompanied by hydration or partial hydration of the originally disseminated haematite to limonite so that macroscopically the colour has changed from red to yellow and yellow-brown. Dolomitization affects more than one level in the Dolomitic Conglomerate though it is most marked in the upper parts of the succession.
metasomatism is a metamorphic process [where rocks are changed by heat, pressure and fluids] in which the chemical composition of the rock is changed significantly, usually as a result of fluid flow.
Green, G.W. et. al. 1965. Geology of the country around Wells and Cheddar. HMSO, London.
Keary, P. 2001. The New Penguin Dictionary of Geology, 2nd Edition. Penguin.
The bar to the left of centre in the image is about 300mm in length.
Solo trip. Just a quick Sunday morning jaunt to take some photographs of the end dig in order to update the online gallery before retiring to the Hunter’s Lodge Inn.
The image above shows Alex working his way along the approach tube from the base of Witches Cauldron to the dig site – a fine spot!
With Alex. Continuing the quest for passages measureless to mice! First job was to clear the spoil dumped at the base of the Witches Cauldron before returning to digging along the left-hand tube. The pot/rift edge noticed last session can be seen (take a look at the photo taken on 20th and shown on the post for that day) but some more forward progress still required before a ‘good old prodding’ is possible – might be a good idea to wear some goggles as crap falls into your face when lying on your back and waggling a bar around in an effort to dislodge a blockage above your head. There is certainly a change occurring bur more work still required. The dig has become a little squalid over the past week or so – the result of a strong drip, or lots of drips, obviously the surface above ground has become saturated and the water is permeating into the cave, emerged rather muddy, slightly knackered, but rather satisfied after a steady 2.5 hour session.