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British cavers meet on Mendip
BRITISH cavers are controlled (if that is the word) by the British Caving Association and its scientific arm the British Cave Research Association. Since 1947, when its predecessor, the Cave Research Group, organised the first national caving conference, such an event is generally held annually, rotating With PHILIP around the main UK caving areas. HENDY Last year was an exception, as we hosted the International Caving Conference based in Yorkshire. These conferences give foreign cavers an opportunity to explore caves in the host country and, as well as in Yorkshire, Mendip held a preconference event, with many of our best caves available for exploration. The British meeting, called Hidden Earth since 1987, is a forum for talks and discussions, showcasing films and videos, as well as giving cavers the opportunity to examine the latest equipment, and examples of art and photography in the commercial hall. The event was last held on Mendip in 2015, but due to difficulties with the planned venue at Monmouth, it returned to us at the end of September. It was held at the tried and tested Churchill Academy, and largely organised by members of the Wessex Cave Club. A lot of technology is involved these days, but all went smoothly, and the weekend was filled with lectures and workshop sessions covering surveying, noxious gases in caves, bats and cave climate. Foreign caving was not forgotten and presentations were given on expeditions to India, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and the Philippines, amongst others. The art and photography salons were crowded with exhibits, all of high quality, and some of the latest cave surveys were on display. Years ago these were painstakingly hand-drawn and annotated and produced as dyeline copies, but today laser surveying allows much greater accuracy and the use of colour, all digitally printed. Cavers could try the latest rope-climbing techniques and equipment and the hardy few were able to experience cave diving, albeit in the warm safety of the academy pool. The BCA president, Andy Eavis, welcomed everyone at the start of the session and handed over to Professor John Gunn, who made the case for increased research into caves and highlighted the availability of grants for this purpose. One incentive is the search for British caves affected in the past by the Ice Ages. Apparently, when a cave is affected by permafrost, the water turns to ice, precipitating minute crystals of calcite. Such crystals have recently been found in Wookey Hole, so the challenge is to find similar caves. The opening session concluded with a quirky video produced by Dudley Caving Club, showing some of the mad antics they get up to when not involved in serious caving. Two films deserve special mention. Andy and Antonia Freem of the South Wales Caving Club have produced a film highlighting the Dan yr Ogof showcave in the Brecon Beacons. The public only see a fraction of this long and beautiful cave and the film shows what can only be seen by cavers and divers, as well as describing the early exploration by the Morgan brothers, who were
The trade hall
so unsure of what they might find that they took a revolver with them! The Beautiful Adventure is available from SWCC and at the showcave. On a local issue, Gavin Newman was invited by Wookey Hole Caves to record the process of blasting into Chamber Twenty, until 2016 only accessible to cave divers. With professional miners relying on a group of amateur cave divers and a ton of explosives, what could possibly go wrong! The divers invented underwater laser ping-pong and there is some spectacular footage of explosions – and the collateral damage. The Tunnel is a good hour’s entertainment, for caver and non-caver alike. For us local cavers, Mark Helmore’s Mendip Roundup was not to be missed, bringing us up-to-date with the latest discoveries on Mendip. At Sandford, Pearl Mine has been re-opened after being closed for 46 years. Already, another 300 metres of mined passage has been discovered and there is an aural connection with the shafts rising from Sandford Levvy at the foot of the hill and prospects for further discoveries look good. A new cave has been opened between Bleadon and Canada Caves at Hutton, but it is very unstable. Several leads are being followed, but no connection with the other caves is imminent. At Charterhouse, Grebe Swallet has yielded some tight passage beyond a very wet and squalid crawl, but the diggers are, as ever, optimistic. At Red Quar, digging above the rift which led down to Wigmore Swallet has revealed two extensions, The Bath and Far Side Gallery. Near the aptly-named Soggy Bottom, a narrow tube has been enlarged, and is being slowly extended. In Wigmore Swallet itself, Sump 10 has been passed to the inevitable Sump 11, but a possible bypass, Play Your Cards Right, is being pushed. Digging has recommenced in Gough’s Cave, in the Adventure Cave at the Far Rift Dig, otherwise known as Nathan’s Dungeon. Interest waned some years ago when a digger had to be rescued from thick mud in a constricted crawl, but the roof has now been raised so a hands-and-knees crawl allows access to a tight ascending rift with a small chamber at the top. Details of all of these digs are sparse, but we expect to learn more of them and others at the annual J-Rat Digging Award ceremony in November. Hidden Earth 2017 was, as usual, a very popular event, and cavers from across the country renewed old friendships and made new ones. Caving is not a sport much in the public eye, but its participants are a social and co-operative crowd and the conference is a great opportunity to meet and enjoy a beer served by cavers to cavers.
Phil has been caving for more than 50 years and is a member of the Wessex Cave Club. He has been involved in producing several caving publications and until his retirement was a caving instructor at Cheddar. His main interest is digging for new caves.
MENDIP TIMES • NOVEMBER 2017 • PAGE 107
Celebrating life on the Mendips and surrounding areas