Mendips I

David Wilson, Jack Halliday, James Wilson, Jennifer Ryder, Rebecca Diss, Zaeem Najeeb, Ana Teck, Alan Deacon, Luca Mehl

Friday

This weekend was the first proper club trip in what felt like years. We were all extremely excited, and perhaps a little stressed. A few of us arrived in stores fairly early and sluggishly found kit for everyone. It was excessively warm so we were all dying a bit. I had spent the afternoon printing and laminating descriptions for caves on Burrington Combe from a vintage (1993?) edition of Mendip Underground which involved dashing around campus, so I felt a bit like a puddle. Thanks to union madness, there shall be no buses this year (they are selling them!) so our transportation was Davey and Jimmy in a 7 and 5 seater car respectively. At about 5 we moved all the stuff to Prince Consort Road and awaited the arrival of the Dubz. Naturally they were late but it didn’t matter, it was still much earlier than we usually leave. Everything was efficiently packed into the vehicles after some faff trying to find the club tent, which was in the green bucket , confusingly labelled as a box in the inventory. We may or may not have left all the club rechargeable batteries in the cave house.

Zaeem, Ana and I were in the Jimmy-mobile, an excellently blue Corsa with some slightly vision-impairing marks on the windscreen. Zaeem was the designated navigator and this only lead to a few incidents. We agreed to meet at the Basingstoke Morrisons for shopping purposes. There wasn’t much traffic and we got there fairly swiftly, remaining on the correct side of the road at all times.

Caving huts don’t currently allow many humans to stay (and none at all if not members which is infuriating) so we had booked a campsite not far from Priddy. With the lack of kitchen, we opted to all sort out our own food and eat at a pub for dinner. This meant shopping was shockingly un-chaotic. Ana and I obtained a rather obscene amount of snacks because we were very hungry when shopping, which is always dangerous. We headed off again, via Shepton Mallet to obtain Jennifer, and only had to do a slightly obscene detour because we missed the turning to the campsite. We definitely went the scenic route; mendip country lanes are entertaining.

The campsite was very nice and spacious, with gloriously flat and soft ground, which made pitching tents a breeze. It did briefly rain but it was mainly just refreshing. Sleep soon occurred.

Diss

Saturday

Lionel's Hole: David Wilson, James Wilson, Zaeem Najeeb, Luca Mehl, Jack Halliday, Rebecca Diss, Ana Teck, Alan Deacon

Goatchurch Cavern: David Wilson, James Wilson, Jennifer Ryder, Zaeem Najeeb, Luca Mehl, Jack Halliday, Jennifer Ryder, Rebecca Diss, Ana Teck, Alan Deacon

We were all slowly awoken by the painfully hot sun and a relaxed morning of shade hunting and gas stove tea commenced. The caving plans were so far vague, but we knew we would like to go to Burrington Combe. In the end it was decided that one group would do Lionel’s and then Goatchurch whilst the other did Goatchurch followed by Lionels. It was a fairly long drive to the caves (40 ish minutes) and we parked low in the combe at a car park with toilets, what luxury. It was extremely hot so some semi changing occurred before walking to the caves.

Jennifer, Ana, Jack, Alan and I were destined for Goatchurch, whilst James, David, Zaeem and Luca headed to Lionels. We only had one description for Lionels so decided we should all meet outside Lionels after we switched caves. The walk to Goatchurch was warm but swift and we encountered several small groups of cavers emerging in fairly quick succession from what I now know is the Tradesman's entrance. All the caves in the area have convenient signs so you know you’ve actually found the correct cave.

Our plan was to do the through trip, which we soon realised would take approximately 3 seconds, as well as having an explore of the extensions. The guide book suggested that three 10m ropes are required for handlines in different parts of the cave so we had these with us. The entrance felt a little weird and we later realised that this is one of the places that a handline is suggested, but it definitely isn’t necessary unless you have some very scared novices. At some point Ana inserted herself into a small tube which promised pretty things. Jack and I sang Lead of Mine and other classics whilst we waited for the verdict. Jennifer also inserted herself in and they both eventually emerged. The vague consensus was that this was not worth it for the small stals but Jack and I went in anyway. It felt like the first proper bit of caving of the day so I’m glad I did it. The number of stals/straws present in the tube seemed to increase with each person who visited. Photos were taken at several points, with Jennifer carefully positioning every light we had. After not much caving at all, we saw daylight. It was at this point we realised we had actually gone in the wrong entrance and were doing it all backwards. We decided to go outside to complete the round trip and then go back in to explore the extensions.

Ana lead the way and we ventured to water chamber or possibly boulder chamber, or both. I wasn’t paying much attention to the route. We inserted ourselves into many small spaces in search of Hellish tight or some other small thing. Eventually we tried to connect with the main loop via a new route. Jack found the climb and went up before deciding it was actually quite sketchy, and carefully turning back. We had left the rope in the main loop because it seemed unnecessary but it might have been good to have here. There is a second way (which seems easier) to get back to the loop but we forgot this at the time, so went back out the way we had come in.

We exited via the Tradesman's entrance. I started to go up first but found it quite awkward and was then spooked by the sudden appearance of a rather large spider (Meta menardi?) so other humans went first. I decided that the spider had probably been removed by the presence of others and slowly climbed up. Well, climb is too elegant a word, it was more of a wedge-flail-beached whale type scenario but it worked eventually. Emerging outside was quite horrific as we were hit with thick warm air. Yuck.

We made our way further up the Combe to Lionels, which is right by the road (on the left as you go up). We sat in some tall grass and consumed sweaty cheese and chocolate whilst we waited for the others to emerge. At around 4 pm they appeared and we swapped. Jennifer had a headache so decided to go back to Goatchurch with the other group. Lionels was apparently fun but the route description was atrocious. As it was so late, we knew we wouldn't do the full round trip, but planned to get to the first duck and cool ourselves down a bit. We didn't quite understand what we were getting ourselves into.

I won’t go into too much detail because we spent the best part of 1-2 hours trying to find a phreatic tube which vaguely existed but was really not very obvious. We decided the route description was definitely written by somebody that was drunk. All I can say is follow the polish and then go up in the “bedding plane” which is a slab of rock sliding up to the left(?). This cave yielded a small amount of rage but was also vaguely fun. We gave up after a fair amount of poking ourselves into all possible locations. Where is the tent? Nobody knows.

We emerged into the horrific heat once more, and saw the others as we walked down the hill. Perfect timing. A leisurely grade -3 change occurred and we set off for the cider barn. In the daylight the place looked much more fancy (from the outside at least) and they even served food. There were no karaoke singers or farmers trapped when we ventured inside. We waited awkwardly until a tall man with a thick somerset accent told us which ciders to buy.

Dinner was eaten in Wetherspoons in Wells and we eventually headed back to the campsite, saying goodbye to Jennifer as she had to do something with horses the following day.

Diss

Sunday

Swildon's Hole: David Wilson, Jack Halliday, James Wilson, Rebecca Diss, Zaeem Najeeb, Ana Teck, Alan Deacon, Luca Mehl

We all decided that we felt sufficiently competent to actually attempt a normal caving trip so opted for an all in Swildons scenario. We were all excited to submerge ourselves to escape the heat. Before this could occur, we parked in Priddy Green and changed inside somebody’s barn. Apparently residents don’t like semi-naked cavers in full view. There was a concerning sign outside the barn warning unprepared gangs of children not to enter Swildons. We couldn't tell if this referred to us, but ignored it nonetheless. I had never walked to Swildons from this location before so was pleasantly surprised when we just walked through a few fields and Swildons appeared. This way is much quicker and easier than from the SMCC. I very swiftly kitted myself up and entered the cave to cool down. It was immediately excellent. Swildons is such a fun cave.

We ended up going the wet way rather than the short dry way that I know. This was fine but does involve an annoying climb where you basically just have to slide onto a rock very far from you and hope your feet reach. Some foot holding was provided by Ana for novice humans but no drama occurred.

The fun waterfall climb that sometimes involves a handline provided a pleasant soaking and put me in an excellent mood. We soon appeared at the 20 and Davey rigged. This took a bit of time because there was another ladder there but eventually happened and we were all slowly belayed down. Davey noticed I had a proper harness on and offered to just lower me down rather than using the ladder. I declined on account of italian hitches being a bit terrifying.

There was a fair amount of waiting and I think a few of us got a bit cold. Ana and I did some ridiculous dance moves to warm up and we may have been judged. Eventually everyone was down and we pushed on. There is always an unmemorable amount of cave between the 20 and the left turn for the short round. Some confusion about which turn was correct occurred as is usual. The correct way is the one that has a climb up on the left into what I can only describe as a bowl. You then climb up further and you can see the passage below (towards sump 1). The way on is up on the left with a bit of a squeeze next to some calcite/flowstone.

Because of time restraints we decided to split into two groups at this point. Davey, Ana, Zaeem and I would attempt the short round whilst the others went on a shorter trip to sump 2. I was excited to finally maybe possibly actually succeed at the short round. Alas, it was not to be. Route finding proved fairly challenging, and if we had more time would have been fine, but meant we had to turn back so as not to miss our callout. The mud sump was completely empty and some tubes which are usually probably underwater lead to some confusion about the correct way on.

We eventually managed to find the correct way by just doing the obvious thing but were then stumped when we reached a greasy chimney. I went up first. It was so polished we figured it must be the correct way. Progress was slow but it was perfectly doable. When I got to the top (which was a small tubey space with a passage sloping downwards) I continued downwards, headfirst. As I descended I noticed that the floor below me seemed to get further and further away and I turned back, deciding that approaching this like superman was not the way to go. In the end Davey went down and made some concerned sounds before deciding this was a bit sketchy and that even if it was the way we should turn back because we didn't have enough time to get all the way round. Despite this, I had a great time. Swildons is probably one of my favourite non-SRT caves; it’s basically a water park.

We had organised a signal (clipping a red SRT bag to the ladder) so each group knew if the other had already left (for not de-rigging on people purposes). When we got there, Jack’s SRT bag was there so we had to de-rig. Davey went up first and I belayed him from the bottom. The rest of us soon followed and a faffy de-rig commenced. Somehow the ladder did fit in the tackle sack and we made our way out swiftly, this time via the short dry way. The other team were basking in the sun as we exited and we all made sure to pee before we left (no hut to return to!) but had to fight off horse flies in the process.

Back at the barn we changed and obtained ice cream from a van. Glorious.

This was an excellent weekend but I have decided that the short round is in fact a myth.

Diss