David Wilson, Fiona Hartley, James Perry, James Wilson, Jennifer R, Ana Teck, Lucie Studena, Shiva Pingle, Leo Antwis, Luke Matthew, Filip Maron, Oxmi Kelruc
I don't often write up the fridays (or even write up many trips - whoops) but this one became an epic. I met up with Fiona at the hut and then we went off to go do the shopping, basically requiring me to drive all the way back home again. Shortly after pulling away Fiona went damn, I’ve forgot my card, no worries says I, I’ve got mine and we can sort it later. Shopping in small groups definitely makes me miss the minibuses, its very hard to not end up doing laps around the supermarket when its only two. We go to pay and as I pull my card out the horrible thought of I've forgotten my PIN hits. In order I put in: the old barrel fund PIN, the keycode for my weekend pony and the correct PIN with two digits swapped. Three attempts, card locked. After staring in a crisis at Fiona we were told to come back when we can and pay it then.
Back to the Wessex, my general state of irritation making me drive considerably faster. Timed it perfectly to let Lucie and Oxmi into the hut, Fiona grabbed her card and we went back to Shepton. Whereupon they couldn’t find the shopping as someone had thoughtfully hidden it in the freezer on account of the hash browns. Too done with it all to spend the time replacing the items damaged by freezing (the potatoes were the greatest casualty) we left to return to the warm common room.
After some time marianting in the warmth by the fire, more people arrived, I left to go pick some humans up and the proper full hut trip vibe was there. We briefly swung by the belfry to say hi to nottingham but me and Ana like sleep too much to stay long.
GB Cave: David Wilson, Fiona Hartley, Leo Antwis, Luke Matthew, Filip Maron, James Wilson, Jennifer R, Ana Teck, Lucie Studena, Shiva Pingle, Oxmi Kelruc
Perhaps Perry had sensed the faff that would undoubtedly occur and that’s why he’d chosen to help out as a leader with OUCC’s trip down Swildon’s Hole. In the end we reneged on our "two groups in Longwood Swallet" plan due to the amount of water at the entrance. We had a key for GB and the Charterhouse permits also apply there, so we walked from the Longwood parking (long walk but at least largely flat and on a road) to GB in two groups, with Jennifer and I splitting into each to provide navigational knowledge.
Leo and Luke led our group via the normal route (left through the puddle at the first junction) to the Main Chamber. We went first up White Passage (I deliberately did not tell them to look for a passage on the left leading to Rift Chamber lol), then backtracked. We went down Rhumba Alley, then down the Loop to the Hall (I think) and the window overlooking the main chamber. Here we saw six lights above us - our other group slinking around the side of Main Chamber, from the entry to White Passage down to us at the Hall. We figured we'd take this route back ourselves to make our trip a bit less linear.
Our fellows had been up the fixed ladder to the Devil's Elbow route near the entrance and were rather more muddy than us. We followed them down the Oxbow to the Ladder Dig climb, chatting briefly to some Mendip Natural Resource Committee guys coming out of the series. (Or was it the MCG? One of the two.) The passage down to the sump beyond the climb gave off major “I have recently been flooded” vibes thanks to oodles of fresh, soft, slippery mud.
The other group went off to the Loop and White Passage etc while we headed out. Loads of NUCC and Reading cavers appeared around us as we exited. I enjoyed Leo and Luke asking each other, “Did we come this way?” and, “Was it this?” as they successfully navigated out. We did look up the fixed ladder at the Devil’s Elbow route and I laughed at David’s wellies wriggling through a puddle into a small hole. The two of us also saw a bat flying around, watching it out of the corner of our eyes.
Gloom turned to full darkness as we walked back to the cars. I changed quickly with the aim of driving back to the cave to lock up. Fortunately the other group arrived before I had to do this. We congregated back at the Wessex to make dinner. I drank quite a bit of a free bottle of yellow tail rosé wine in preparation for party shenanigans. Ana tasted it and said it was “not horrible”, which is quite a review from Ana.
I think we went over to the Belfry at about 9pm. In the meantime we’d heard about a major rescue that had just kicked off in Cwm Dwr which sobered the party a bit. Nevertheless there were loads of people and sparklers and many, many fireworks and a huge bonfire to lift our spirits. I crept around the Belfry investigating the rooms because I'd forgotten the entire layout. We then all stood around the fire in the drizzle watching steam rise off our wet coats. Jennifer stole Perry’s flat cap, I drank some of Perry’s red wine and called him a pal, Ana ate very delicious hummus bites. When we eventually went back to the Wessex, we remembered how to be civilised and had hot chocolate with cheese on toast before bed.
Poked Oxford to give us some hob space, started breakfast, Oxford helpfully woke the everyone else up by setting off the smoke alarm. This is actually impressive as it’s normally the heat alarm in the kitchen that goes off (I can confirm settings have been changed so opening the oven door no longer sets off the alarm). Breakfast was happily consumed, Perry loaned out to Oxford and the rest of us set off to be two groups in Longwood swallet.
After a decent walk to the cave it turned out not to be as there was water coming down the entrance. Six of us individually went down, looked at it and left - just enough to get completely soaked. We turned around and left, thankful that we had held onto a GB key. Later conversations confirmed that if the entrance is taking water, laughing and leaving was the correct response.
I had completely forgotten how far down the road GB was and I fear I may never be forgiven for the length of the walk. As it was the third time I had been to GB in two months I was pretty desperate to do anything different in the cave so climbed up the ladder rather than taking the normal route. Potentially with aid of a description this may have worked out, but as it was there were many crawls and some brief climbs that mostly worked to tire us out. The gaping maw of a sheep skull greeted us at the end of one crawl. Me and James left the rest of the group at the top of a climb down, going through a tight, deep pool and once again getting soaked. At the end of this awkward there was what we presume to be a handline, neither of us really fancied it as the climb looked to be very much on the overhang so we left, subjecting everyone to more crawling in order to return to the main route. After that it was a standard GB trip. It’s a very good cave; I’ve just been there a bit much lately. The main chamber is impressive, the climbs just the right difficulty to be fun. We encountered a group of MCG cavers at the bottom of the ladder dig climb, I expressed a level of regret at not having brought the tackle for it as I had been informed it would be sumped. The MCG humans laughed at my pain and merely said: reacts fast, goes down fast. They offered their ladder but I declined, fearing that remembering to pass it back at the bonfire would end in chaos.
The way out was swift, probably made swifter by my previous soakings leaving me on the edge of far too cold. Much to our joy we saw a ba-large fluffy moth near the entrance and decided it was likely a lesser horseshoe large fluffy moth due to its size.
Returned to the hut to find Perry had been productively chopping all the food. James and Davey took offense to me removing the stems from the fresh greens so kept re-adding them. Chucked them all, mostly root vegetables, together, fried them off a bit then added tomato, cider and vegetable stock. The fresh greens were also added, overflowing out of the pan and held in only by the lid in the complete faith that they would shrink. Mashed potato with an inordinate amount of butter was also made and it made a decent meal, if a touch slow to cook.
People left to the bonfire in separate groups and in the time between groups leaving Ana was encouraged to fill out a membership form and the news from OFD arrived. The bonfire therefore had a slightly strange air about it, the drinking largely reduced but the fireworks carried on. Perry offered me his flat cap in order to ward off some of the rain and I became fond of it, potentially fond enough to buy my own.
Eastwater upper series round trip: James Wilson, Ana Teck, Lucie Studena, Leo Antwis, Luke Matthew, Oxmi Kelruc
Swildons's upper series: David Wilson, Fiona Hartley, Jennifer R, Shiva Pingle, Filip Maron
Given the OFD rescue call out, it wasn’t the day to be too adventurous. Only three official MROs were left in the area. I offered to lead a couple of people around the Swildon’s upper series, without going down the Twenty, since I had learned and practised the routes within the last week!
Everybody wanted to go caving! Goodness. Clubs are very busy when full of student groups, but eventually we had our turn in the changing rooms and though there were several ‘misplaced’ items of gear we assembled enough odds and ends to get everyone kitted up. All our people left at the same time, parting ways at the car park. Being able to just walk to the caves so quickly is great. I headed down the Swildon’s entrance bunker at midday-ish, promising Shiva and Filip we would come out of the tree entrance on the way out as David had done on the way in.
David had never done the Zigzags, so we started with that. It’s a small hole in the base of the right hand wall almost as soon as you come into the first chamber of the cave (so you don’t follow the water under the block or do the free climb down the slab). These are a fun slither in the descending direction and pop one out above Jacob’s Ladder.
David had also never done the Long Dry Way so that was next. We meandered between stal and over flowstone down to Boulder Chamber, the Old Grotto (where I climbed down then went back up under the false floor to reappear at the back of the group) where the Short Dry and Long Dry join up, and then quickly to Water Chamber. I led a short excursion to the top of the Forty-foot Pot - traverse up and along the rift above the stream to an old dry streambed and through a small flowstone constriction, and don’t fall down the hole as you look over the edge at the chamber at the base of the Eight Foot Drop below.
As we climbed back down to the stream the first of many, many NUCClings wanting to go down to Sump 1 arrived and went ahead. We splish-splashed down the waterfall climb of the Eight Foot Drop and downstream to the beginnings of the traffic jam for the Twenty. Relieved to be going no further, we turned and headed back, passing several more NUCClings aiming for the ladder (Sump 1). In the pool at the top of the Eight Foot climb I was happy to see Jennifer's yellow wellies - she had returned from horse things and come to accompany us on the rest of our trip. Altogether we departed via the splashy Wet Way (with David making a brief trip down the Water Chamber dig), so we were all clean enough to get re-muddied in the tree climb.
Reading uni club were arriving as we walked away from the cave. Overall we counted twenty-six people heading for the Twenty, which is a lot. Rather them than me. We got back to the Wessex car park at the same time as the Eastwater gang.
Packing, eating and cleaning happened in quite a relaxed fashion since there was plenty of time left in the afternoon. With another successful caving weekend under the battery belt, I left at 5pm and had a relatively swift drive home apart from being led astray in Bristol by Google again.
The weekend pony had me up and out before most people were up on Sunday. Perry got up to say goodbye to me as he wouldn't be around when I returned and I only gently tapped the van parked near me when trying to wriggle out.
Ponies seen to and feeling the aches of poo picking a very muddy, slidey field I returned to the hut and debated my sanity. Finding my sanity low, I drank tea whilst changing into caving kit and threw myself down Swildons wet way. Swildons is such a good cave, it's hard to resist. I met up with Davey and Fiona’s group just below the water chamber. They informed me of the queue of people waiting for the twenty’s ladder as we headed back out, a queue that can only be laughed at and hope people don’t freeze their novices.
The wet way out was actually easier than I had expected, I had thought some of the climbs would be an issue but all was comfortable. I finally got up the slightly awkward climb just below the entrance rather than using the bypass to it, I remain uncertain as to whether I would use it on the way down. We then all decided to take the tree route out, which whilst highly enjoyable did ruin Swildons job of washing my oversuit.
Feeling no great urgency to leave we all mouched around the hut for a while. Truly content, post-caving vibes, a fantastic way to end the weekend.