Fiona Hartley, James Perry, James Wilson, Jennifer R, Ana Teck, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Jan Kozuszek, Astrid Rao, Leon Staresinic, Kevin Sohn, Branden Spitzer, Fan Wan, Darcy Du
Friday, Friday. Sometimes Fridays are simple. I drove to a place, honked my horn, and Perry got into the car. We drove to the Wessex and sat in front of the fire until the minibus crew arrived. Then it was bedtime.
I had very little reason or motivation to hurry so floated around telling people what to do for a while, eventually sidling over to the bus to do the checks and drive it to Beit. Loaded up, we triple checked that we really weren’t missing anyone, and set off. A swift shop and a couple hours later we rocked up to the surprisingly empty Wessex car park. Once we were all unloaded and I had had some tea I chatted to some Nottingham people for a while, and later a few of us walked over to the Belfry to see what was going on. There was a small group dancing semi-naked on the table in the living room which was entertaining for a while, but I mostly chatted to the Nucclings.
St Cuthbert's Swallet: James Wilson, Ana Teck
Bath Swallet to Rod's Pot: Fiona Hartley, Jennifer R, Leon Staresinic, Fan Wan, Darcy Du
I resisted the Doom of Swildon's and persuaded Jennifer to lead a Bath-Rod's through trip. I don't actually know how this occurred because I do recall she said sod Burrington at least three times. This was after we'd resisted the offer of Louise and Alex's St Cuthbert's Swallet trip instead, reckoning it would be too cruel for me AND Jennifer AND Ana to tart off. Oh well, another time. Burrington it is.
The Doom of Faff occurred, inevitably. To counter it Jennifer and I did not change at the Wessex but it is debatable if this had any real effect.
Up a narrow lane to the UBSS hut for Bath Swallet parking. Jennifer said is this road not awful. I said Leck is worse, mostly to be contrarian, but it didn't feel quite like the worst road I've ever driven up for caving. It's no Alum Pot Lane. Then again, I have a plush car now so everything feels cushioned.
Some people were setting fire to things and roasting a leg of lamb in tin foil at UBSS. Two other cars appeared, oh fuck let's go I said.
Bit of plunging into wet undergrowth to find the correct cave, then in. It was a cave, I think a climb followed by a short crawl and then Shower Pot. Jennifer lifelined me down to rig the first ladder. Keiran appeared above us. After he'd been convinced to take his Kent group the other way, I clambered down the ladder and spent many eons rigging the next ladder and lifeline. I don't think I did this effectively yet somehow Darcy, Fan and Leon all got to the bottom easily despite the ladder being a metre off the floor.
Jennifer joins me by Italian hitch, we continue to the bottom, she offers me exploration to the right and I decline so we go left to the connection. Something connection-like happens: mud, crawl, getting briefly stuck because the bag and me don't fit side by side in the same small space.
Purple Pot aka Mud tube. Jennifer climbs up, very pro, rigs a confidence lifeline. Darcy makes her way up and then Kent arrive at the top. Fan protests but Jennifer sends them down. I say hello many times. After Fan and Leon have climbed, I head up and am pleased I make it without assistance, though Jennifer gives me a hand line at the top because why does the fixed line start/end where it does? I then cannot immediately find the correct limb to foothold orientation to get into a boulder choke and crouch under it for a little time wondering what I've missed. Smacking my shoulder against a sharp edge makes me wince and I get through as Jennifer returns to check on me.
We find ourselves in a chamber with a stal. There are a couple of slots that lead downwards through a bit of cave that feels like a less slanted eastwater to a sump. We switch off our lights in the chamber and look at the glowing bat on Jennifer's helmet. I move us onwards when I feel a chill. The next bit of cave feels like a combination of eastwater and GB and then there is a muddy puddle and then daylight!
There was enthusiasm for more caving at the car, but of course, as soon as I had my undersuit off I knew I would not be putting it back on. Everyone else agreed.
I lay by the fire after warming dinner for some hours in a haze. Fomo got the better of me so I went with everyone to the Belfry. The fun promised at 9pm actually started twenty minutes late and like a true sober killjoy, this annoyed me. It was not all late bonfires and assault by fireworks though. I was amused by a mostly naked man catching sight of the bonfire from afar. His body was steaming in the night air due to his recent time in the belfry hot tub. He raised his arms triumphantly into the air and shouted, "Fire!" then whooped with wild joy and ran inside.
I left early, shortly after a box of fireworks was thrown into the bonfire but before any ritual furniture/people burning. I appreciated the relative solitude and silence of the bunk room before falling asleep.
Swildon's Hole: Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Jan Kozuszek, Astrid Rao, Kevin Sohn, Branden Spitzer
Swildon’s of course. Crack team - underway before 12. Ellie was once again 100% confident that she knew the whole way past the sump and to the slide so she led on the way in. We were moving at a pretty rapid pace for most of it, handling the 8ft climb and others with ease. At the 20 we got super lucky, not seeing anyone queuing at all; Ellie showed me several times how to tie an Italian hitch, and I committed it perfectly to memory and we were down in no time. Onwards and downwards, we clambered over boulders to make it to the sump. Straight through, no issues – except Kevin lost his glasses, but they were found by Astrid within minutes. I think we hyped up the disease-riddled water a bit too much: Kevin was using clean water to wash out his eyes every time he got splashed. Bile’s disease isn’t that common…
Once at the slide, everyone had a go sliding down, Branden and I had a piss, Kevin poked his head into some extremely muddy holes, and we turned around. Just before the sump we poked our heads into the Black Hole series – it starts off with a bit of a grim crawl, but mellows out into stooping passage fairly soon. We didn’t look too far in but it has some fun climbs and wet mud, but ultimately nothing super exciting. Nothing to suggest why it was called the Black Hole series either – aren’t all caves black holes?
Back through the sump, we reached the 20 again, only to find that whoever had gone up before us hadn’t thrown the end of the rope down, and had tied the Italian right through the krab on the top – there was no way for us to get both ends of the rope. So I chained all the krabs we had together to make one shit cows tail and climbed the ladder, reclipping it as I went. Not the safest method, but the chance of someone coming down at this time who could bring the rope down with them was negligible so it was probably the best we could do. Once at the top I tried about 20 times to tie the Italian around my braking krab, failing every time. At some point Ellie must have gotten fed up and shouted ‘Fold it! Like a book!’ from the bottom. First try.
Back at the hut dinner was well under way, so we were well fed at a perfectly reasonable hour. At 9:00 or so we walked over to the Belfry to watch the fireworks. There was an enormous pile of pallet wood which someone poured diesel over and lit, which gradually grew into a comfortably warming fire. We were chatting away when I heard a cheeky giggle from behind me; a man holding a large assortment of fireworks scampered past us and threw it straight onto the fire, scarpering off again. Everyone backed up, and the firework blew up between the flames. Over the next 30 minutes or so people would be setting off fireworks randomly, sometimes normally into the sky, or sometimes stuck into the ground so they exploded on the ground, at a variety of distances from groups of people. Occasionally someone would throw a huge collection box into the bonfire and see what happens – usually they went off in some random direction. At some point people climbed onto the roof of a container and lit fireworks from there. Then someone found a large drainpipe and started firing them at people like a cannon.Inevitably, someone did get hit by one, who proceeded to stalk the crowd with a frying pan, intending to whack whoever hit him on the arse. Then people ran out of fireworks and started burning things, starting with a large picnic table; one end was in the fire and the other was used to sit on. Then people started sliding on their stomach across the slimy wood, but at some point the fire dried out the wood in the middle, so one man slid gracefully towards the flames and ground to a halt right above the fire, scurrying hurriedly off the end. We left shortly after, but I heard a sofa was sacrificed next.
Sidcot Swallet: Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Jan Kozuszek, Astrid Rao, Kevin Sohn, Branden Spitzer
I woke up at 8:30 to make breakfast but couldn’t quite get myself up, so fell back asleep until half 10, by which point breakfast was just about ready. Deciding caves was somewhat complex but groups were decided after some time – I had been absolutely completely sure that I wouldn’t be caving that day when I was eating breakfast, but of course I couldn’t help myself, so put myself down for the chill trip in Sidcot Swallet. I drove the team to the Burrington Combe car park, where we very slowly got changed and walked up to the entrance. Unfortunately we met an enormous group just entering the main chamber so had to wait some time for them to pass through, but eventually made it through to the famed Lobster Pot, where Ellie could finally prove that she didn’t have to stand on someone’s head to get out. She rigged the handline while I slid down and called to the others to follow - It was astonishingly smooth and gave the impression that it would be challenging to climb up, but we all slid down anyway. We found a small collection of rubber ducks at the bottom hidden in various cracks in the walls and ceiling, but swiftly turned around. As we were coming up Lobster pot again I gave those ahead of me a shoulder up, but I was last so there was no-one to give me a shoulder up… So Kevin and Astrid straight up pulled me out, and we were out of the cave in no time.
Swildon's Hole: Fiona Hartley, James Wilson, Ana Teck, Leon Staresinic, Fan Wan, Darcy Du
Much like everyone else but for dissimilar reasons, I got up late on Sunday. Ana and I had decided to immerse ourselves in Swildon's. I needed to wash Burrington off my oversuit. My novice trio from Saturday joined us, and so did James because he couldn't be bothered to go anywhere else.
All the team were embraced by neoprene except myself, so I went the short dry way to stay a little bit drier for a little bit longer while they went the wet way. No issues at the Twenty except forgetting a rope three times the length of the pitch to enable bottom belaying. Ana just Italian-hitched down instead. James and the freshers engaged in a mass welly-emptying session just before the Sump. Nobody even screamed on going through Sump 1; in fact Fan didn't even hesitate. I did penguin-jumps to keep myself warm while they were on the other side.
After many minutes the team returned, bloop bloop bloop. Three guys dove through straight after and we let them speed off upstream, following at our own pace. We reached the Twenty just before another team that appeared behind us, sucks for them. I managed to climb back up the 8ft climb by myself, having failed the last few times. In the entrance series we were horrified to hear children's voices all around us, but swiftly escaped the queuing traffic and returned to the surface with all freshers present and accounted for (after briefly losing Darcy and Leon back down the wet way).
I didn't think it was possible to get to Sump 1 on a Sunday novice trip. I think it's entirely dependent on how much queuing you need to do at the ladder. Swildon's is always delightful though and I've decided I do enjoy introducing people to it. There for you in all weather and able to provide whatever you want from your trip (except dryness). Truly the best cave on Mendip.