I arrived in stores at 5:00 expecting much faffing to be found but finding only Jennifer tidying some kit. Once told that it would just be her, Diss, Ana, Lucie and I on this trip, I realised it would be a very relaxed trip, and that the 15-seater minibus would be incredibly empty. I double checked my own kit, then tidied random bits of kit I found on the floor before getting myself dinner. When Diss arrived, we loaded the bus and set off. Despite not having a meal plan we didn’t go crazy buying food, but did get some nice popcorn and a little fewer milk than was required for the copious amounts of tea that would be consumed. Arriving at the SMCC at about 12:30, we found only a few sleeping humans on the top floor.
Humans were situated in stores and I appeared at 7.20 ish after a very smooth tube journey involving a slightly annoying empty milk bottle that I couldn’t find a bin for. I was the only driver and we stopped at Asda and saw many adorable hats and mugs and I suppose also did that important food shopping thing. Jennifer may have misplaced her phone briefly…on the floor of the car park?
We discovered that taking the A roads (plus leaving late) make the journey well quick and easy. There were also supposedly good views of Stonehenge (I looked at the road thing instead) and I became very disconcerted by its existence. There was no drama and we arrived at the hut to a few sleeping humans but had the bunkroom mainly to ourselves.
Diss ft. Ana
Manor Farm Swallet: Jennifer Ryder, Rebecca Diss, Ana Teck, Lucie Studena, Matti Mitropoulos
The day began very slowly as everyone was determined to have a relaxed weekend. Jennifer and I awoke at about 8:30 and began preparing pancake batter for breakfast, but the other trip members were all still asleep and showed signs of rising soon, so we went for a walk through the mineries. At around 10:00 Diss, Ana and Lucie awoke so we made breakfast, halfway through which Janet poked her head through the window and asked for the code to get in. We granted her access and she helped finish the pancakes and tea.
Breakfast preceded a lengthy discussion of which cave to do. Our options were somewhat limited due to access restrictions on many caves, so after a few hours we were left with the choice of Manor Farm Swallet or Sidcot Swallet. Manor Farm was renowned for having a river of manure running through it and is somewhat lengthier than most Mendip caves, and Sidcot was a shorter, less adventurous, but still enjoyable cave. Lucie and I were keen on doing a more substantial trip so tried to convince Diss and Ana that they could turn around at the shit-river if they didn’t want to continue. They eventually agreed.
There was some debate about whether to use ladders or ropes, since ladders would be more suited to the bolting style, but we’re much more comfortable using SRT. Eventually it was decided ropes would be used, and I was tasked with getting the tackle sack ready. Unfortunately, it rapidly became clear that we had only brought two lonely ropes– a 16m and a 12m - we needed a 20m and 15m. We decided to raid the rescue rope instead of packing ladders. At 2:00 we finally set off. After a not-so-quick change by the roadside, Diss confused a plastic cow for a real one due to a lack of spectacles, while I tried and failed to befriend some chickens. Jennifer took some photos of us descending after Lucie had rigged the entrance pitch, and at around 4:00, as the sun was beginning to dip behind the hill, we were finally in the cave.
After a little stooped walking and crawling, the second, slightly tighter pitch greeted us, which we descended with ease. The free climbs were very enjoyable – difficult enough to make you feel very skilled when doing them but not challenging enough to make them problematic for someone as unfit as me. There was a slight squeeze where we had to lie in a hand-deep puddle and get half-wet, straight into a light waterfall. Eventually though, the smell and flies warned us of the approaching delight.
Having heard horror stories of Davey’s adventures in the shit-river two years ago from Jennifer, we were hoping we wouldn’t get completely covered, and fortunately it never surpassed welly-level, but there was a wall coated in excrement which we were forced to lean against to pass so we had to cross our eyes to check the viscous, dripping sludge inches from our faces didn’t reach out to swallow us whole. Fortunately, we did not miss the climb out so a ridge saved us from the river and we followed a boulder choke to some nicer passages.
Several minutes later the shit-river returned, appearing to suck to passage into a crawl. Despite the survey advertising the ‘Best Day of my Life’ just beyond the crawl, we doubted the legitimacy of that claim, deciding the best day of our lives could wait, turning back. The light waterfall was still present upon our return, so we cleaned off some of the manure we had accumulated on our oversuits. I was offered the role of derigging since we had time, so got some practice undoing knots and maillons. A bat got quite annoyed at me as I accidentally startled it on the way up the final pitch.
Back at the hut, Jennifer left to visit her family, and we began preparing dinner. We utilised the squeeze machine table to voluntarily injure ourselves while the vegetable bake was baking, and practised traversing a narrow table. I was unsuccessful at traversing but vowed to return when rejuvenated to conquer the challenge.
An exceedingly leisurely morning was had, involving some briefly loud other humans. We did not get up until past 9. A wild janet appeared by the kitchen window and we made excellent pancakes with a variety of toppings, my two favourites being garlicy mushrooms and pancakes cooked with raspberries in them (plus lemon ofc). During the pancakes we discovered the largest sugar bag known to humanity. Ana made glorious lemonade from the surviving lemons and we consumed this while discussing caves for a fairly long amount of time. Eventually Manor Farm was decided (I thought this was perhaps a shitty idea…). We drove to Cheddar on the way to the farm to get cashola (for cave payment – horrific!!) and milk. Eventually we reached the farm and parked to the left of it in front of some static caravan-type homes. Changing is pretty good because we can stand up in this monstrosity of a blue bus split between only 5 measly humans. Jennifer + Matti venture into the wilderness to pay the farmer (are you the farmer? Of course he’s the fucking farmer!!). We walk through a v small section of trees with a cute bridge over a thing that probably sometimes involves liquid water. A cute horse is briefly terrified by us and we are ambushed by clucking beasts (chickens?). The cave entrance looks like a dungeon and Lucie rigs off the glorious metal gate and a very stationary pole above the pitch which definitely does not roll ever. Some amusing photos occur and we eventually all descend down a nice green cylindrical shaft (v squeaky rope) into a horrifically dust filled crawl. We get out of the area where daylight would be visible before the daylight disappears – huzzah! A fairly narrow pitch then occurs. Me and Ana sit in the dark for some time – my rock is quite pointy and hers is apparently exceptionally comfortable, I am not at all jealous.
Since we left the bus I have been fairly desperate to pee and at the bottom of this pitch is the correct time. We all remove SRT kit bc no more pitches and the others go ahead a bit and leave me in the fairly large boulder filled place with a small stream. I do the peeing thing and we definitely are not then downstream of this.
Some very attractive curtains appear at some point (I assume they only exist when people are looking at them). The way on was searched for, involving some interesting squeezing before Jennifer points out a way she thinks is correct (it is!) - You are in a chamber with curtains, climb up/on flowstone to the left (pretty obvious because tape I think) and then straight ahead is the crawl that is not the way. There is a hole in the floor on the right that turns back under where you came from and this is the way. Nothing is horrific so if you hate your life you are probs doing the wrong thing (some places are a bit damp tho so do not be afraid). There is then a shower to run through (you will be grateful for this later, honest). At some point there is a puddle which involves a slight squeeze and your life is fine even though you get a bit wet. Would recommend head first for the highest of enjoyment. Some fun climbing in waterfalls then occurred (very small and enjoyable) – one is a fairly big climb but has excellent foot and hand holds, perhaps the first person down should be fairly competent as they are not very visible from the top.
We had a lot of fun walking through streamway down cascades (not scary or strong) and eventually the place gets a bit whiffy. There is a junction, to the left is “the way on” (is it tho? Do you want this???????). Lucie explores to the right briefly and then we head to the left where everything turns to shit.
The water is quite gross looking but we are yet to meet the Shit inlet. Ana fills her welly with this delicious liquid. We know we have reached the inlet when the walls become stinky thick slime and you have to touch the walls as you go past because the passage conveniently gets narrow. A yellow leech type monstrosity is there on the way in AND NOWHERE TO BE FOUND ON THE WAY BACK. WHERE IS IT? IS IT ON US? OH GOD.
There are solid clumps of grim in the water and horrific flies. The water is never very deep (not above wellies) or you have gone too far. Do not crawl in the river of shit. I repeat DO NOT CRAWL IN THE RIVER OF SHIT (DAVEY?).
Exit the river of shit via a black rock ledge sloping down, on the left. There is then a climb into a small hole and you break out into an underwhelming chamber full of more horrific flies. The smell persists forever.
We continued to follow the route description/survey and found that to get further would involve more shit water which became thick and squelchy in one direction and drippy from above in another and decided to make a swift exit towards the pristine waterfalls instead. Jennifer whipped out a water bottle/food in the fly-filled chamber and we all were horrified that she wanted to put anything near her mouth after touching the liquid water of death.
The way out was excellent after some of the shit was removed - Ana and I kicked waterfall water onto each other. Matti lead the way out and did not get us horrifically lost. In the squeeze puddle we basically bathed because we wanted to be cleaner pls. Matti derigged with Jennifer’s guidance whilst the rest of us exited ahead. Clothing was swiftly removed when we returned to the bus and we aimed to not go near it whenever possible because ew. There was delicious lemon cake that we ate only using our mouths (we did not trust the cleanliness of our hands) – if only we had some Poppy Moor squelchy liquid…(if you haven’t seen Wild Child then sort yourself out).
Everyone showered because we like not getting Leptospirosis + Jennifer went home to see her other family.
The evening involved glorious cream covered baked veg (courtesy of Lucie) and squeezing and table traversing. There were also some (Plymouth adult) humans there who definitely judged us generally. Sleep happened fairly early and we slept for many hours.
Diss ft. Ana
Like Saturday, things moved very slowly in the morning, possibly even slower, since we had decided due to weather and tiredness we would not be caving today. I awoke at around 10:00, greeted Janet downstairs and began making pancake batter, which I finished just as the other three were rising. We fed Janet a pancake before she headed off, and sat in the kitchen eating pancakes and leftover veggie bake from yesterday and chatted for a while, when I had the idea to write a trip report for the cave yesterday so got busy with that, which seemed to inspire Ana and Diss to do the same. As promised, I returned to the traversing table and, with some expert advice from the others, managed to successfully pull myself around it. At around 2:30 Jennifer appeared, who tried getting us to do productive things like wash up and load the bus. Eventually those were done, and we set off at the astonishingly early time of 15:45, getting back to Beit Quad at approximately 20:00.
The weather was apocalyptic so there were no plans to cave today (amber warnings, we were worried about the drive back so planned to leave early). Many water molecules also fell from the sky so we figured we should not do any caving in the interest of not inducing the need for help from a group of black birds. Many pancakes were again consumed, doused in glorious things, trip reports were also written, more table traverse, and Jennifer’s brother Alex was briefly sighted. Something about a fire alarm.
We left fairly early after some drama trying to shut the fire escape door – this is hard and involved bruising!
The drive back was fairly uneventful aside from a fairly exciting puddle we had to drive through (high speed + low gear!) also a few fallen trees/misc debris. We stopped for a leisurely break at an undisclosed location and Ana and I consumed a vegan KFC burger for the first time. It was edible but in no way compares to a burgerless big mac in my (correct) opinion. We also saw a chitty chitty bang bang themed vehicle several times on the journey. Somehow arrival in London was so early we could OPEN STORES BY OURSELVES!!
This was a very chilled weekend which was much needed.