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Hallowe'en Rift, Mendip Hills

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, then 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, leading to An Unexpected Development in August 2018, with Graham Johnson in December 1991. 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, Duncan Price, Mike Moxon and Matt Tuck. There has been occasional help from others including Caroline Allen, Mike Willett, 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.

1st February

digging 2020 Posted on Sun, February 02, 2020 08:01:15

Report by Vince

Vince, Jake, Jon, Brockers, Nick, Tav, Duncan and Alex.

A strong team today. I went ahead to reel in the wire and check that all was as it should be. Everything was fine and I scraped the resulting debris from the IRS back to Brockers who had a bit more space to bag it up. The filled bags were passed back to Tav who was shuttling to and fro between the rift and the aven. The spoil was on a journey to the Junction, not sure where each of the other team members had positioned themselves.

Frustratingly, although the IRS had created plenty of gravel, further access along the narrow rift is still not possible. A clear sight of whatever lies beyond obscured by more flowstone, I was a little bit disappointed really. Never mind, we’ll just have to keep chipping away at it, metre by metre, until we come to s conclusion, satisfactory or not.

The end all cleared ready for the next application of IRS, we all moved back to clear the cave of spoil. About 30 bags and a few skip loads of rock were added to the spoil heap and some rock was added to the wall too.

28th January

digging 2020 Posted on Wed, January 29, 2020 06:28:40

Report by Vince


Decided to collect supplies and go directly to the farm for an earlier start into Hallowe’en Rift. Material prepped and packed, I was all kitted up, everything ready to go, and then I realised…no drill bit tube! So, into the van and back over the hill to retrieve the tube from my tackle store. Half-hour wasted…no matter.

Eventually arrived at the current end of the Cold Gnarly North, sorted the kit out and got to work. The small trench in the floor along the narrow rift now has a puddle in it. 4no. pilot holes, c.250 x 16mm drilled in the required spots then the holes were extended to c.500 x 10mm and filled. A little bit of tamping just to seal the holes, all wired-up, kit packed away, and retreated to a safe distance to bring the task to a noisy conclusion. Rock was heard re-locating, should be stuff to clear next session. Might be able to get a better glimpse of whatever lies beyond too.

25th January

digging 2020 Posted on Sun, January 26, 2020 06:41:39

Report by Vince

Vince, Brockers, Jake, Jon and Nick.

The application of IRS had the desired effect and there was a pile of rubble waiting to be removed. I passed the larger lumps behind and scraped the gravel back to Jake, who had a bit more space to bag up the debris and down the line the spoil moved. It’s quite a long way along the rift now so the team was fully employed. The bags and rocks joined last weeks stockpile on the north side of the “spa”. When the loose stuff had been cleared from the end, the hammer and chisel were used to remove fractured stuff from the wall, all clean and tidy for the application of the next phase in the coming week. Hopefully, next weekend we’ll get a better look at the way forward.

The end all tidy it was time to move back and clear the filled bags and rock from the cave. Brockers had been suffering from a cold so it was suggested a spell in the healing waters of the “spa” would do him good, at least that was the plan. Once a few teething problems, such as a missing skip, were ironed out the hauling process worked smoothly, and the spoil was delivered to the bottom of the entrance.

The last task of the session was to haul the spoil out to the surface; 50+ bags and a dozen or so skip-loads of rock were added to the heap. Some walling was also achieved. All cleared, the cave was secured and we departed.

21st January

digging 2020 Posted on Wed, January 22, 2020 06:33:28

Report by Vince


Materials collected, prepared and delivered to the Cold Gnarly North. Another set of holes drilled, filled and fired. A bit awkward in the narrow rift but job done. It was loud. Something more for the weekend!

I shone my torch along the narrow rift ahead, another 3 or 4 metres, it looks interesting, there’s still the fine echo. I’m enthusiastic, as ever.

Jogged back down to the farm to warm-up a bit.

18th January

digging 2020 Posted on Sun, January 19, 2020 21:22:33

I was busy elsewhere this weekend attending a BCRA Special Interest Explosives Users Group (EUG) training event being held at Westbury Quarry. Others were left to clean up my mess.

Report by Jon

“Four of the usual suspects (Jon, Tav, Jake and Nick) assembled at the appointed hour.  It was a cold morning with fog lying across the levels.  Above the fog, the sun shone from a cloudless sky.  At the farm, the team encountered the odd combination of warm winter sunshine and smog.

With a small team, expectations on progress were relatively low.  More than a few minutes were spent passing the time of day with the farmer.  Eventually the team started up the hill, remembering to take the key despite the distraction of also taking a new lock.

Underground, Jon took the lead position, supported by Tav, with Nick stacking spoil.  All bang debris was bagged, stacked and subsequently restacked at the first corner beyond the spa.

Jake spent some time in the spa, trying to create a drain hole using a long steel rod.  He later joined the others. 

There was no significant change at the dig face; progress continues as before. 

On the way out, Nick went down to the lower passage to look for evidence of drainage from Jake’s efforts.  No evidence was seen and attempts at voice communication from the spa also failed.

The team then retired to a local hostelry for light refreshment.”

14th January

digging 2020 Posted on Wed, January 15, 2020 08:58:09

Report by Vince


Another set of 5no. holes drilled, filled and fired. Continuing the expansion of the north west passage at the current end of the Cold Gnarly North. Awkward drilling position in the narrow rift. The echo from beyond is, as ever, intriguing.

11th January

digging 2020 Posted on Sun, January 12, 2020 06:52:27

Report by Vince

Vince, Nick, Jon, Brockers, Jake and Tav.

Nick, Jon, Brockers and me set off to the Cold Gnarly North laden with new skips and trays, hauling ropes and empty bags. Reeled in the wire along the way too. Jake and Tav opted to clear the accumulation of rocks from the bottom of the entrance and join us later, when required.

Beyond the “spa”, a new skip run was put into place at the current end, the worn-out skip was replaced, although separating the rope from the skip proved not to be straight-forward and took a bit of time to sort out. Nick had gone to the end of the rift to clear the debris created by Tuesday evening’s expansion. The loose gravel and cobble-sized stuff into bags, larger lumps were passed back. Then Nick got to work with a hammer and chisel, some substantial flakes were removed enabling a better glimpse beyond. There is still the echo and the air fresh, it always appears to widen just a bit further ahead. Until it does, the expansion work will need to be continued. All the loose debris had been cleared and the fractured rock removed, the end was ready for the next phase to be carried out during the coming week. We moved back, Jake and Tav joined us and the spoil was removed from the cave to the surface, including a large boulder that had been strapped into a drag-tray for the journey out.

Today’s tally: Jake and Tav had hauled out 36 skip-loads of rock, these had been added to the wall along with others from the stockpile. From the Cold Gnarly North the count was 23 bags and 9 skip-loads of rock including the big boulder. A good session!

7th January

digging 2020 Posted on Wed, January 08, 2020 06:22:37

Report by Vince


Continuing the expansion of the narrow rift leading circa north-west at the current end of the Cold Gnarly North. Another half-dozen holes, drilled, filled and fired. Should be something for the weekend!

4th January

digging 2020 Posted on Sun, January 05, 2020 07:41:07

Report by Vince

Vince, Brockers, Jake, Jon, Duncan and Tav.

During the coming year, 2020, the team at Hallowe’en Rift are embracing a new approach to health and well-being. We are not opposed to jumping on any bandwagon should the fancy take us. The whole digging experience is to be re-branded, the ‘lake’ once thought a place of foreboding now considered to offer ‘cold mineral water therapy’ an aid to focusing mind and body. The mineral rich sediments are recognized as having exfoliation qualities that unlock the secrets of soft, glowing skin. A digging session can provide an excellent full body work-out, no need for expensive gym membership, the provision of beer will be deemed appropriate. Remember, exercise isn’t just good for your body – it works wonders for the mind as well!

There now follows an update of the latest activities from the Hallowe’en Rift Spa:

When returning to the dig following another application of IRS, there is a sense of anticipation wondering, how has it gone, what, if anything, has been revealed? It’s usually a case of ‘just a little more is needed’ and today wasn’t going to be an exception. Still there was plenty of debris to be moved, in addition to the spoil already bagged up on Wednesday, so everyone was kept busy. As usual the spoil was dragged back to the north side of the ‘spa pool’ where it was neatly stacked awaiting removal later in the morning. The dig cleared ready for the next phase of expansion, it was time to move back and clear the backlog of spoil. Brockers was first in line to experience ‘cold mineral water therapy’ and took up his position in the ‘spa pool.’ Unfortunately, he didn’t really emerge as a ‘new man’ probably due to not being immersed in the waters for a long enough period, he was still talking afterwards. 54 bags were hauled out and emptied on the spoil heap and 6no. skip loads of rock joined the wall building supply. There is another estimated 30 loads or so of rock awaiting removal at the bottom of the entrance, but the consensus had decided it was pub time.

Jon had met Hugh Tucker who had provided six 25-litre containers ready to cut-up into skips, that’s a job for me later today after kit washing.

1st January

digging 2020 Posted on Wed, January 01, 2020 16:38:13

Report by Vince

Vince, Jake and Brockers.

There was a bit of a moment when Jake tipped out his caving kit to find he had left his helmet at home, a detour to Dinder was required. We returned to the farm where we met a rather confused/concerned Brockers, who being late had arrived at the farm to find our kit and no sign of us. However, distractions over, we changed and made our way up the hill to the cave.

Once underground we were soon at the dig where Jake and Brockers cleared the debris. I retrieved another bag of kit ready for later in the morning and then stashed filled bags at the base of the aven, rocks were just moved aside and left in a tidy pile. The IRS had worked well and there was plenty to shift. Loose debris gone some work with hammer and chisel produced some substantial flakes of rock and calcite. Bang debris cleared, we swapped places and I was able to get a look. One more bang might enable a squeeze into the narrow rift and get a better glimpse of what lies beyond, or not. It will be interesting to see on Saturday. Back to the job in hand, more holes were drilled and filled while Jake and Brockers set about improving the skip routes by removing quite a lot of rock along the approach passage. By the end of the session a considerable pile of spoil had been amassed. It had been an enjoyable and productive session, brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

It was busy in the pub but, thankfully, not too busy to deter us from refreshment!

30th December 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Mon, December 30, 2019 15:39:26


Supplies collected, drove to Wells where I briefly stopped at Morrison’s and Halfords for some odds and ends, then to the farm. Materials were prepped and packed before setting off across the field, into the woods to the cave entrance. Gate opened, clambered down the entrance and headed to the Cold Gnarly North, dragging one bag behind and pushing the drill bag ahead. Took extra care across the lake to keep the drill bag out of the water. On arrival at the north west leading rift, unpacked the kit and got to work drilling and filling the required number of holes. All done, stuffed some packs of empty bags into the bottom of the rift, that had been so diligently cleaned on Saturday, to prevent in filling back up with debris. Holes well stemmed, all loose ends taped, moved back to connect the wires and start out of the cave. Stopped at a safe distance to bring the morning’s task to a satisfactory conclusion. The results will be seen on Wednesday when it is planned to return and clear the rift.

A quick stop at the Hunter’s before heading home to spend an hour or so cleaning and washing kit ready for next time.

28th December 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Sun, December 29, 2019 07:35:32

Vince, Duncan, Jon, Brockers, Jake and Matt (on the surface)

After reeling in the wire and a quick inspection to check all was as it should have been, Duncan went upfront and cleared back the loose debris. Vince was next in line filling bags and moving fractured rock back to Jon. A skip was loaded and hauled away by Brockers to Jake at the [temporary] end of the line. The spoil removed from the skip and stashed neatly into every available nook and cranny on the north side of the lake. When all the debris had been cleared, a quick look to formulate the next plan of action for the coming week, we all moved back to get the filled bags and rocks out of the cave.

Neither Duncan nor Jon were wearing wetsuits or neo-fleece, so Vince took the lake position again. Duncan loaded the skip on the north side of the lake, Jon in position at the corner, Brockers and Jake at the junction/entrance. Mostly things moved along okay there was the occasional spillage as an unbalanced skip load turned over and required reloading. The difficulty then was finding the right hauling rope that had sunk into the murky water.

Eventually, all the bags and rock were cleared, we made our way back to the entrance. We were all thankful that Matt had made a very timely appearance and hauled todays quota of 50 bags to the surface. It had been decided that the rocks at the bottom of the entrance could wait for another day as it was pub time. There wasn’t any argument about that.

26th December 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Fri, December 27, 2019 08:16:58


The task for today was to widen the approach into the rift. This will facilitate an easier skip route and improve access for further drilling along the narrow rift. Before this plan was put into action, I unpacked my camera and took a few snaps of the features along the rift. The constricted passage made it a bit awkward to get a decent shot, took some anyway and will try again after the widening process has been completed.

Fractured and damaged speleothems, more evidence for freeze/thaw processes (?).

Then back to the job in hand, 5no. pilot holes were drilled in each location, c.250mm length x 16mm diameter, each hole extended to c.400mm length x 12mm diameter. The holes, spaced to remove several lumps and bumps, were filled, well stemmed and all wired up. Kit was repacked and all was moved back to a safe location and the morning’s session brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Rock could be heard re-positioning, there should be plenty to do on Saturday morning. Job done it was time to leave the cave.

24th December 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Tue, December 24, 2019 21:25:36


The holes that had been drilled and filled along the rift had been effective and had carved some sizeable slabs of rock from the cave wall. They needed a bit of effort to remove them, i.e. they required some reduction in size. Before this could be done the “bridged” constriction needed some attention. Some hammering, chiselling and levering with the bar the constriction was gone (mostly). Once the bulk of material had been cleared, I managed a couple of metres of forward progress to gain a better look ahead. The upshot…still more work required! At least another 2m or so of passage to be widened, not really a surprise. The narrow rift ahead is covered with calcite flowstone and there’s further evidence for the effects of frost and/or ice freeze/thaw processes. This needs a photographic record.

Did as much clearing as I thought necessary then had a look around to plan the next phase of action. After some consideration maybe it’s time for consolidation and expansion rather than struggling to push too far ahead in the restricted rift. All sorted, time to leave and go to the pub for some lunch.

23rd December 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Tue, December 24, 2019 06:36:47


Back to the Cold Gnarly North for the next application of IRS (Induced Rapid Speleogenesis). Holes drilled and filled in the constriction and along the narrow rift that leads north west beyond the aven. It was a slow process today mostly due to awkward drilling and variable rock; it goes like that sometimes. The late afternoon/evening’s task brought to a satisfactory conclusion with a loud bang and the clatter of mobile rock.

The lake wasn’t quite as deep as it was on Saturday but still deep enough for a soaking. Planning to return tomorrow and clear ready for the next phase. Didn’t stop at the Hunter’s, wanted to get home and sort out kit ready for the next session.

21st December 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Sun, December 22, 2019 07:50:31

Vince, Tav, Brockers, Jake, Jon, Nick, surface support was provided by Matt.

I went to the farm to see Mark and family to hand over a small offering of thanks for their support during the past year. We might even get Mark underground in 2020 to have a look in Hallowe’en Rift.

At the current end of the Cold Gnarly North, the latest application of IRS had created a satisfying quantity of debris, although a rather annoying bridge of rock/calcite remained. This impeded forward progress somewhat and got in the way of a good look ahead. It wouldn’t succumb to vigorous attention from hammer and chisel, it will be dealt with later. All the loose rocks and gravel were bagged and dragged to be stacked, very neatly, on the dry north side of the lake. When the loose debris had been cleared, Tav and Jake came forward to inspect the prospects ahead, a plan was formulated for the next phase of IRS then, it was time to clear the spoil from the cave.

Brockers looking into the chamber ahead.

It was my turn to occupy the damp spot in the lake. I sat in a central position, the muddy water, c.300mm deep lapping around my waist. I hauled the skip, loaded with bags and/or rocks by Jake, it arrived from the darkness of the low passage, slid down into the murky water, partially submerged and approached like a ‘menacing crocodilian’. The load was transferred to the next skip to be hauled away by Tav and Brockers. After a while the cold began to seep in and I was glad to hear “last bag” called. Jake then decided that we should wrestle a large and heavy boulder that barely went through the lower sections, out to the surface. We, of course, embraced the challenge. It was good to find out that Matt had turned up to assist in surface duties and the bags had been emptied, 45 of them plus about 10 skip loads of rock or equivalent thereof.

It was a bit surreal to exit the cave to the sounds of carol singers and fluttering tinsel. Roz, Rebecca and Rachael had decided to turn up with a festive surprise, mince pies, sausage rolls and a stocking for each of us hung in the trees.

The festive spirit (l to r: Vince, Matt, Jon, Rachael, Brockers, Tav, Nick).
Photograph by Rebecca Johnson.

17th December 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Wed, December 18, 2019 06:26:29


Finished work, collected supplies, then home to prepare and pack everything for this evening’s trip into Hallowe’en Rift. Soon it was time to drive over the hill to the farm, got changed and walked across the field, into the woods to the cave entrance.

Underground, the lake wasn’t any drier, cold too! Plan is to continue the good works at the current end of the Cold Gnarly North, beyond the aven, following the northwest passage. Almost 7no. holes drilled and filled, up to 500mm length x 12mm dia., the 7th hole only 350mm length as battery power faded. A slight change in material and a 2nd det. made a loud bang this evening. Should be plenty to clear next digging session.

Got home after a quick stop at the Hunter’s, then the task of unpacking the kit to let it dry out before the next session/instalment. Washing machine loaded with wet, muddy under-garments and into the bath for me.

10th December 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Tue, December 10, 2019 21:14:02


Continuing the north-west quest, beyond the aven, next phase of IRS duly applied. Hopefully the calcited constriction will be removed and a better look into what lies beyond might be possible. Hope it’s more effective than the last attempt, a certain amount of flying rock could be heard.

The calcite constriction. Scale 0.2m

7th December 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Sat, December 07, 2019 16:14:47

Vince, Jake, Brockers, Jon, Nick and Tav

Vince set-off to the current end of the Cold Gnarly North with Jake and Brockers to clear the debris from Wednesday evenings application of IRS. Nick, Jon and Tav cleared the rocks still at the Junction/entrance area. There were rather more there than estimated – 46 skip loads out to the surface.

Unfortunately, the IRS didn’t really have the desired effect probably due to the calcite blockage and softer ‘marly’ rock. Even so, there was enough fractured rock that just required loosening some more with bar and hammer. Plenty to occupy three diggers for a while, the result a roomier chamber and an improved ‘skip-run’ for the future. Nick came to find out how we were progressing just as we were deciding to start clearing out the spoil. It didn’t take too long to remove c.25 filled bags and another 8 skip loads of rock out to the surface. A satisfying morning’s work.

A plan has been formulated for the next phase of IRS to be progressed mid-week.

4th December 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Thu, December 05, 2019 06:16:21


Continuing the quest for the north-west passage beyond the aven. Next phase of IRS duly applied. Finished with a flourish as the re-positioning of rock could be heard in the distance.

30th November 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Sun, December 01, 2019 08:06:18

With Jon, Jake, Tav, Duncan, Nick and his son, Chris.

Reeled in the wire and went up to the dig face to clear the debris from the last application of IRS. A bit disappointed that it hadn’t been quite as effective as hoped for. A combination of calcite, tiny voids and ‘marly’ conglomerate. Anyway, cleared the rubble that had been produced, aided by Chris. Hammered off some calcited cobbles and ‘knobbly’ flowstone enabling a squeeze up into the rift, just about possible to stand up. This gave a better view of what lies beyond.

A glimpse of what lies beyond!

The rift continues, it is possible to see about 5m ahead, the maximum width is c.0.25m, both sides of the rift are covered in calcite and there is more evidence for the effects of frost and/or ice, the vertical range is about 2m. Couldn’t really see what was going on at the lower part of the rift where it appears to intersect the bedding. This is where the way ahead is still blocked by about 0.5m of rock and calcite. Removal of the blockage should give access (or a better view) to a continuation of the rift/bedding. Just need to persevere, Hallowe’en Rift won’t give up its secrets easily. I got out of the way and Chris squeezed in to have a peek.

All clean and tidy, ready for the next phase of IRS in the mid-week, it was time to re-join the others and get the spoil out of the cave. 59 bags were hauled out to the surface, the rocks remain underground at the junction and some at the bottom of the entrance. The bags were emptied and some attention to wall construction got underway. This was curtailed when today’s ‘lake dweller’ started to feel cold and headed off to the farm, it was quite chilly in the easterly breeze, especially when soaking wet!

The cave secured, we all headed back through the wood, across the field to the farm.

28th November 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Fri, November 29, 2019 06:20:45


It’s so much better in a caving oversuit that fits well and isn’t more hole than cover – the newly purchased oversuit had arrived from the Irish suppliers, Over the Ground.

5no. holes drilled and filled; all went off with a satisfying clatter. More debris to clear for the weekend!

26th November 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Wed, November 27, 2019 07:46:57

With Mike, Nick and Jake

Another oversuit had succumbed to the rigours of digging and was binned. Sadly, the temporary replacement was next to useless, very ill-fitting, it won’t be worn underground by me again.

We cleared the debris that resulted from last evening’s application of IRS, the filled bags and fractured rock all stacked along the passage on the north side of the lake. Everything clean and tidy ready for the next phase, probably on Thursday evening. Frustratingly, still not quite able to get a clear view along the rift. A tantalizing glimpse is all that is possible, there’s an echo and good air movement, so near and yet…

It was noticeable that there were no fumes at the dig tonight.

If nothing else, we have created a comfortable chamber, roomy enough for four, a space for a moment’s contemplation and chat between friends about old times. Probably more importantly there is ample space for the temporary storage of spoil as the dig progresses.

25th November 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Tue, November 26, 2019 06:30:37


The quest for the north-west passage continues, expanding the [current] end of the Cold Gnarly North, beyond the aven. A slow trip this evening, lots of stuff to drag, the wire needed trimming, drilling was slow at times – harder clasts within the conglomerate, didn’t feel great either. Still, got the job done. A good resounding bang with the satisfying sound of re-positioning rock! Should be something to keep us busy for the next session(s).

23rd November 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Sat, November 23, 2019 16:57:28

Vince, Nick, Brockers, Jake, and Tav.

The Lake

Nick and Brockers were digging, ensuring it was clean and tidy ready for the next application of IRS. Jake and Tav were along the passages hauling the loaded skip along to me at the corner on the north side of the lake (where it was dry). The filled bags were stashed ready for hauling out later. There was a slight delay to the start of hauling while Jake sorted out a replacement skip.

When the available space was just about filled and there wasn’t any loose material left at the dig, it was time shift positions and start to clear the spoil out of the cave. Had a quick peek at the end with Jake before heading out, clearing bags on the way.

A very neat stack of bags in the entrance was dismantled as the bags were cleared out to the surface. 55 bags and 1 rock added to the spoil heap, good session.

21st November 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Fri, November 22, 2019 06:32:48

Report by Vince

Vince, Tav, Jon, Jake, Nick, Duncan, Mike and Leonie (? MCG)

The bang did good! Lots of lovely shattered rock and gravel to shift. Initially, we concentrated on moving the larger lumps to give a bit more room to work, there was plenty of them. Some of the lumps required reduction to skip size which Nick seemed happy to oblige. Towards the end of the session we moved back a couple of positions to ease the movement of spoil out of the cave. About 20 filled bags were left at the end and there’s plenty more to bag up on Saturday. Then the levering and hammering of fractured rock can be progressed. All needs to be cleared ready for the next application of IRS.

About 20 skip loads of rock made it all the way out of the cave ready for integration into the wall. Lots of people and another good productive effort!

Took the camera but, didn’t take any photos!

19th November 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Wed, November 20, 2019 06:32:42


Continued the expansion of the passage north-west at the current end of the Cold Gnarly North, beyond the aven. 5no. holes drilled into bedrock, c.550mm x 12mm dia., plus 1no. hole drilled into the large boulder, c.350mm x 12mm dia. Drilled, filled and fired. I could hear fractured rock being re-positioned. Should be plenty to clear for the next couple of digging sessions.

16th November 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Sat, November 16, 2019 17:19:29

Report by Vince.

With Brockers, Jake, Jon and Nick.

The main objective of the morning was to clear out the accumulation of spoil left in the cave after the last couple of digging sessions. Once we got over the “Who’s wearing what?” and Who’s going where?” debate, we made it underground. I went up to the end to make sure it was ready for the next application of IRS, the rest of the team got on with moving filled bags and loose rocks back to the Junction.

At the end everything was clean and tidy ready for the mid-week visit until I decided to start tapping some exposed rock surfaces and came across an almost loose slab, it had to come out. After a bit of a wrestling match I had it mobile just as Jon arrived to see if there was anything to move back, very fortuitous. The slab of rock was out of the way and soon reduced in size. A few bags and loose rocks were hauled out of the way then Jon and I went to join the others.

Soon, all the spoil was out to the surface, 83 loads – 45 bags emptied and 38 skip loads of rock, lots of stuff for the wall some time in the future. All done in good time and we were in the pub earlier than usual!

14th November 2019

digging 2018 Posted on Fri, November 15, 2019 06:31:28

Report by Vince.

Vince, Nick, Mike and Jon.

Due to recent adverse weather conditions (heavy rain and some snow) there were some thoughts and discussion about how our time would be best spent. It was thought that Wookey Hole might be too wet and there were bags and bang to clear from Hallowe’en Rift.

The lake wasn’t any wetter than it was on Tuesday. Vince went ahead, reeling in the wire and started to clear back some of the debris. There was a good amount of gravel but most of the time was spent wrestling back some large lumps of fractured rock, one lump proved to be too large and will require some further attention. When clear there will be ample space created. Nick was next in line, filling bags and reducing the larger rocks to skip-size. Mike was hauling the skip away while Jon was stacking the spoil, very neatly, into any available space on the north side of the lake.

Time passes very quickly when you are enjoying yourself, there was no time left to clear anything out to the surface. So, there’s plenty to do on the weekend!

12th November 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Wed, November 13, 2019 06:31:07

Report by Vince.

Vince, Alex G

Alex had decided he would like to re-visit the cave after a long break and I appreciated someone to help with the bags and other stuff.

Another phase of expansion required at the [current] end of the Cold Gnarly North. 5no. holes drilled and filled, c.500mm length x 12mm diameter; pilot holes were drilled first in each location, c.300mm (L) x 14mm (dia.) 4no. holes were into conglomerate (okay) 1no. into degraded calcite (hard going). All went off successfully. Hopefully, progress towards the echoing/draughting cross-rift will be improved. Should be plenty to clear out next digging session.

9th November 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Sun, November 10, 2019 07:20:28

Report by Jon.

I attended the UBSS Centenary Symposium held at the University of Bristol. Jon supplied the following account of Saturday’s activity in Hallowe’en Rift:

“Five diggers (Jon, Jake, Tav, Paul and Nick), all of whom knew each other, assembled at the appointed place.  In a week when fireworks, metaphorical or otherwise, were a regular topic of conversation, the early arrivals were a little subdued, possible as a result of the cold and wet conditions.  Then Paul arrived, buoyed up by New Van Syndrome, and spirits were raised.

At the dig, Paul took the lead position, supported by Nick.  Jon and Jake hauled skips.  Tav again volunteered for the position in the lake.  The water was somewhat higher that during previous sessions, but over the course of the session was largely removed with the spoil.

Initially, rocks that had been stacked near the dig face during a previous session were removed to the lake.  In due course, spoil from the rift was bagged and hauled out.  Some bags were notably heavier than others.  The team, as always, were quick to blame Nick, but just as quick to forgive him.  It is just in his DNA.

Come the afternoon, the hauling team moved back and removed the spoil from the lake back to the junction.  Paul and Nick continued to dig for a while longer, making sure to leave the spoil well away from the step in the floor which now needs removing.  As lunch time approached, the team moved to the entrance where a decision was needed on whether, or not, to haul the bags out.  Paul remarked on how well the bags had been stacked; the team then departed. 

In the changing hut, the conversation returned to the topic of fireworks.  Some reminisced about their childhood experiences.  Sparklers were a common factor in many a childhood; Paul had been forced to watch the welder.

The team retired to a local hostelry for light refreshments and proceeded to put the world to rights.  Nick then went to buy a firework.”

7th November 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Fri, November 08, 2019 06:27:54

Report by Vince.

With Nick, Jake, Jon, Tav, Duncan and Mike.

Far too big a team for the current requirements in the Wookey Hole dig but perfect for clearing the bags from the [current] end of Hallowe’en, the rocks could be left for another day.

I went to the end with Nick, so he could have a quick look before we started shifting bags. Mike was just beyond the lake, Tav opted to be in the water, Duncan seemed very content at his corner station, Jake at the Junction and Jon stacking the filled bags in the entrance. Everyone was happy!

When enough bags had been cleared back from the end, I moved along the line to relieve Jon, who went to the surface and hauled the spoil out of the cave. 60+ bags and a couple of skip loads of rock to the surface. The bags were emptied at the end of the evening, re-bundled and returned below ground ready for the weekend.

A productive and enjoyable session!

5th November. I’m not interested in fireworks!!!

digging 2019 Posted on Wed, November 06, 2019 06:35:47

Report by Vince.

I had packed my UV torches (365nm and 395nm) but got distracted along the cross-rift. In hindsight, perhaps I should have packed the compass too. I had gone there to assess the next phase of IRS but started poking at some calcited cobbles comprised of fractured speleothems. I got far enough along the rift to see that it is too narrow to pass higher up, but the interesting thing is that it appears to continue lower down, maybe dropping. There is good air movement and a resounding echo. Frustrating. I’ve got a plan regarding the IRS and will try and sort it out for next week.

2nd November 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Mon, November 04, 2019 06:28:50

Report by Jon.

I was away digging Harry Thomas Cave on Gower this weekend; Jon supplied the following summary of events:

“Only three of the team (Jon, Jake and Duncan) were available to dig on this wet and blustery morning.  A prompt start was made.  Duncan took the lead position at the end of the Gnarly North, supported by Jake.  Jon stacked bags at the bottom of the slope.

 After the previous session, visions of simply removing the loose rocks from the floor and rapidly moving to the constriction were perhaps to be expected.  However, the digging was hard work.  The apparently loose rocks are somewhat calcited.  Progress was slow.

The floor leading up to the rift was further lowered, but a hard edge proved difficult to dig out and may need to be removed by other means.

All three of the team took a turn at digging before nature called and a departure was made.  No spoil was removed today.  A good hauling team will be required shortly.”

31st October 2019. It’s Hallowe’en!

digging 2019 Posted on Fri, November 01, 2019 08:56:49

Report by Vince.

With Jon.

No-one else was tempted by the joys of an evening in the Cold Gnarly North. No matter the two of us could get something done. The idea was that digging might be slower so we would loosen some material and fill a few bags so the weekend team would have a head-start; and the body in the lake would be occupied and too busy to think about being cold.

Jon went ahead and started digging, I cleared the filled bags and sporadic cobbles and stacked them neatly. There’s plenty of space available for temporary storage. We filled a couple of dozen or so bags then decided to have a peek at the prospects going forward.

Jon managed to wriggle on his back, into the cross-rift, to the right (~south) the rift pinches in, to the left (~north) the rift continues but a slab of calcite-coated rock obscured the view. We swapped places. I followed Jon’s lead and wriggled in on my back and with some effort was able to remove the slab and drag it back to Jon. The slab is aesthetically pleasing and can be relocated elsewhere. Then back for a better look. The cross-rift intersects the bedding and to the left (~north) continues, c.0.25m at its widest, and c.1.5m high, to a pinch-point low down. Here the rift appears to turn slightly and beyond the pinch-point widen considerably, there is an ‘echo’ and cool air movement (even Jon could detect it!). Immediately above the low pinch-point it looks passable. The prospects going forward look very enticing and we could be on the cusp of another significant development. There’s about 2 or 3m of hard digging required to gain access to whatever lies beyond. Some of you will see for yourselves on the weekend, you will be impressed, you too will be excited!

26th October 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Sun, October 27, 2019 06:49:42

Report by Vince.

Vince, Brockers, Jake, Jon and Duncan.

Some of the team came prepared for the wet conditions and getting beyond the lake, sporting a variety of neo-fleece or old surfing wetsuits. Some weren’t quite as prepared.

While I went ahead and carried on with the digging, there was a pile of filled bags and rubble leftover from last weekends endeavours. The accumulation of debris was hauled away by Jon, Duncan and Brockers to Jake in the lake where it was stored awaiting removal later. I also wanted to check if there was any requirement for the further application of chemical enhancement during the coming week. It was soon apparent that this would not be necessary. Ahead the digging comprises an accumulated layer of fractured calcite flowstone and fine sediment overlying thin bands of more competent calcite. These layers can be levered off with a bar. Below these more calcite but slightly degraded and mixed with finer sediment, although some areas are calcited and need a more sustained effort to break it up. The loose material needs to be dragged back to a position where it is easier to bag it up.

Eventually, the call came from the lake that there was a considerable pile of spoil to be hauled out to the surface. The team moved back to start the clear-out.  I stayed where I was for a short while to prise out some calcited cobbles to gain a tantalizing glimpse into whatever lay beyond. It appears that we are about to intersect a cross-rift with a bit of an echo and some air movement, interesting. To the north (?) I could see some open space, albeit rather constricted, perhaps 2 to 3m, I couldn’t quite see what was in the other direction. We’re not going to get a better look without a lot more digging yet. I moved back to take over from Brockers in the lake. A total of 62 skip loads went out to the surface; 48 filled bags and 14 loads of rock to be added to the wall at some point in the future.

Those that had not been so well prepared grumbled about being cold. No-one was too sympathetic, and we made our way back to the farm.

The prospects in the cave look interesting, that’s a good way to finish a session!

19th October 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Mon, October 21, 2019 06:27:08

Vince was attending the BCRA 30th Cave Science Symposium being at the British Geological Survey, Keyworth followed on the 20th October by a field trip to Creswell Crags. This account of the activities at Hallowe’en Rift on Saturday was provided by Jon:

“The sagest of the elders took a leave of absence and a small turnout was expected. Jon, Duncan, Jake and Nick were preparing to depart when a storm arrived in the form of the hut warden, Paul, back from his sabbatical. At the farm, Mike was a late arrival, turning up after his preferred digging session was cancelled.

The team divided in two, based on the members’ dress sense.  Jake was dressed in his pub clothes and Mike was dressed for a dig elsewhere. Nick brought a wetsuit in preparation for his expected position within his lake. The others were suitably dressed for underground activities. I won’t comment on frocks.

Initially, Paul and Nick went to the dig face and between them managed to stack bags and rocks back at the corner. The remainder of the team cleared the spoil from the previous digging session, which had been stacked at the junction. Mike and Jake then moved on to surface wall-building activities, while the others re-organised themselves underground.

Paul now took the lead, supported by Jon, and Duncan cleared the spoil at the corner. As the tide was high, wet-suited Nick gallantly stacked in the lake. Paul concentrated his digging efforts on the left-hand side, up towards the calcite feature. At close of play, this was clearly visible. Loose rocks and gravel were removed. The floor now needs to be lowered. A small entrenching tool or spade may be useful next time, but nothing more technical is needed at present.

Pub time approached and the team moved out to clear the lake of spoil. The water remains! At the dig face there are now a dozen or so bags stacked and ready for removal, along with half as much of rock.

57 bags and 25 loads of rock were removed to the surface before the team retired to a local hostelry for light refreshments.”

17th October 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Fri, October 18, 2019 07:29:37

With Duncan, Tav, Jake, Jon, Nick and Mike.

A big turn-out this evening, all eager to enjoy the benefits of a good digging session…

The last application of IRS has the desired effect and there was plenty of rock and gravel to be removed. Tav was digging, filling bags and rolling rocks behind him, where I was immediately behind loading and guiding the skip around the bend. Jon was at the next bend hauling and guiding the skip along it’s way to Mike at the corner north of the lake. The load was transferred to the next skip. Duncan has prepared for his session in the lake and had donned a wetsuit and was adamant that the water did not require bailing. The effects of the sloshing water were apparent later when the wooden ramps at either end of the lake began to float. Nick was out of harms way at the intermediate corner where he was surrounded by solid rock and had no tools. There was a steady flow of bags and rocks to keep him occupied too. Jake was at the Junction, this evening’s final destination for the spoil. All the spoil remained underground awaiting removal to the surface on the next session, Saturday.

Back at the dig, when most of the loose stuff had been cleared away along with some large slabs of fractured rock and calcite a better view of the prospects ahead was possible. It looks interesting and there are tantalising glimpses, but this is Hallowe’en and more digging is required yet. There are options to the left- and the right-sides and air movement can be detected. Another application of IRS is not immediately needed as there is plenty of loose stuff and fractured/shattered rock to be prised free. We have gained a couple of metres or so extra length to the cave this session and it won’t be too long before we’ll have to think about the next staging position, either north of the lake or in it. The problem with stacking in the lake is the water will deepen and we might not be able to find all the spoil.

Wasps nest in the beech tree near to the cave entrance. The wasps have hanging around outside for a couple of weeks now.

15th October 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Wed, October 16, 2019 06:35:35

With Roz.

A return to the Cold Gnarly North, beyond the lake to continue the quest for the northerly passage, yet to be discovered. There are high hopes. A total of five holes (3no. 550mm length, 2no. 400mm length, all 12mm diameter) drilled and filled, well tamped and fired from the middle of the lake.

A restricted glimpse into whatever lies beyond.

It was a challenge to keep the kit out of the water, especially the drill and lithium ion batteries. Should be stuff to clear on Thursday evening (Wookey Hole dig is flooded at present and I’m at the BCRA Cave Science Symposium at BGS, Keyworth on Saturday).

A quick stop at the Hunter’s Lodge Inn for some refreshments and then home.

12th October 2019

digging 2019 Posted on Sun, October 13, 2019 06:34:55

Vince, Jake, Jon, Duncan, Tav and Nick.

After the recent heavy rain, it wasn’t too surprising the ‘lake’ was no longer dry, it had filled with water to a substantial depth. Jon had drawn the short straw, it was his turn in the ‘lake chamber’ and much of his time was to be occupied with pumping/bailing the water, in between emptying and loading skips. Jake, on the other hand, was most comfortable in the dry, dusty dig. Unfortunately, Jake had worn his pub clothes underneath his caving oversuit and had to cross the lake to get to the dig. Caving kit next session! Tav was next in-line, wallowing in a recurring puddle of my creation as I emptied skip loads of water into an inclined dip in the bedding, where Tav had chosen to lie. Duncan hadn’t needed to venture beyond the lake and was comfortable (his words!) at the intermediate corner. Nick had been left to his own devices at the Junction, which turned out to result in a rather disappointing outcome. On our return from beyond the lake thoroughly soaked through we had then to wallow in the complete mess that Nick had created! And there is a large boulder right in the way of operations.

At the dig, Jake had cleared the debris, frustratingly still can’t quite see ahead, but the area is clear enough for the next application of IRS. There’s a block of conglomerate exposed so something solid to drill into, the quantity of calcite here is problematic. It will be a challenge to get the drill and equipment bags across the lake and keep them dry.

55 loads were removed from the cave to the surface, a few of those were completely un-necessary.

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