Swildon's Hole: Rhys, Tanguy, Ben, Bhavik, Liam, Zoe, Yan Jin, Krishma
This one off day trip to the Mendips showed great promise: we met on the Friday night, packing the minimal amount of gear quite efficiently, and agreeing to meet again at 7am on the Saturday to pick up the kit bags, dump them in the back of 9 seater minibus, and driving off onto the M4 before the traffic picked up.
The streets of London were pretty much deserted in the cold, crisp morning and in no time the bus was storming across the sleepy countryside. The trees were still clad in their rich autumn colours and the frost covered much of the fields on either side of the M4. Stopping mid-way to change drivers, we then navigated through the back streets of Bristol as the weather turned for worse. After a three hour drive, we reached the Wessex cottage, whose carpark was rammed packed.
This didn’t deter the keen novices, nor us and we changed outside the bus, as caver after caver emerged from the changing room in brand new shining kit, assembling on the lawn before setting off in the direction of Eastwater cavern. Soon, all eight of us were ready to make a start so we turned towards Swildon’s after leaving our callout on the board.
There was little more water than usual at the entrance sink, so Rhys led the way inside, with Ben in the middle of the group while I brought up the rear of our party. We got wet from the first, sliding down the watery slab into the small chamber at the entrance, but the wetsuits kept us nice and cosy. This was only my second time caving in one, the first time in the Mendips, and it did make a big difference throughout. No shivering after the ducks or Sump!
Rhys knew the short dry way, which I’d managed to miss the last time I went down. It was all fun climbing down the rift, rejoining the streamway at the Water Chamber, and climbing down further to the ladder pitch. On the way, two parties of cavers overtook us, but there being local, competent cavers meant there was little waiting around. I belayed our novices down, and we carried on to the Christening baths, where Yan Jin unfortunately took the description too literally and ended up pushing herself of the walls into the deep pools. Krishma descended into the first, and attempted the second but in doing so lost both her wellies.
After a short discussion, Rhys and Bavhik agreed to turn around here and escort her out of the cave, while Ben, Yan Jin, Zoe, Liam and I carried on further into the cave. Another group of cavers, mostly kids overtook us after the inclined rift as they were headed to Swildon’s Two. Yan Jin lost a welly in the rift, I mentally cursed this trip, then she lost another before the sump.
There I’d started to plan our turnaround, but Ben had not experienced Sump I, and the description didn’t put off any of our novices. I gave everyone a quick brief on how it was done, what to do on the other side, etc… and went ahead to demonstrate. Everyone else acquitted themselves very well, so we stomped down to the Landing, where Ben and I had some fun time sliding down.
We turned around then, Yan Jin found her welly in Sump I, and we climbed back up at a much brisker pace than on the way in. We found the 20’ rerigged with our own ladder and again, everyone overcame the obstacle, though most remarked that it was quite tiring, as a part of the climb brought the ladder near the full force of the water. Still, Yan Jin had enough energy to carry one of the tackle sacks out, while Liam took one of the other kit bags.
We were out by five, back the hut shortly after, where a few of us opted for a quick shower before dumping our sodden kit at the back of the van. By six o’ clock, we were ready for the drive home. This did not go without hurdles, as Ben navigated us onto a very-enclosed-narrow-leaf-covered-not-quite—genuine-tarmac-definitely-not-the-westway road on the outskirts of Bath.
The rest went smoothly, with the rain coming and going, never quite letting up. Back in stores, ten minutes of extra work by everyone meant most of the kit was sorted, and put to dry for the next trip. In time, who knows the same keen novices will return to pack it for a future outing.
Up at 5.30am. Grim. Going caving. Grim. In Mendip. Triple grim.
Cycling through the crisp morning air woke up me and by the time I arrived at stores I was very excited. Tanguy was already there, gathering the kit. At 7am people began trickling in. I went to get the bus and we packed it. It looked disturbingly empty. A 9 seater with just 8 persons caving kit and no overnighting/cooking etc stuff.
We took advantage of the light bus and light morning traffic and were very quickly out of London (it barely takes half an hour with no traffic!). With no shopping to do we arrived at the Wessex barely 3 hours later, having been pumped up by classics such as Scooter's "Harder, Faster, Scooter" and "How Much is the Fish".
The Wessex was rammed and as we changed in the car park (no room in the changing room), a couple of guided groups of teenagers and children left, heading in the direction of Swildon's. Clad in neoprene, the fetishists amongst us were very happy, everyone else seemed unconvinced that they'd be warm enough. We walked across the muddy fields to Swildon's.
I led first, taking the short dry route (I'm not sure I've ever been a different way). We quickly found ourselves behind one of the aforementioned guided groups. They let us pass in one of the large chambers near the entrance and we followed the stream down. At the little climb down, with the waterfall, I installed the handline. There's a few chockstones in the wall to choose from. Down the climb, I stood in the spray and guided a few wandering feet towards that one good foothold. Tanguy then took the lead, taking us to the ladder where we once again found ourselves in a queue.
Our turn came, and Tanguy belayed us down, one by one. I was first and managed to pretty much fall off the last bit of the ladder so I was glad of the rope. I tried to hold the ladder straight for the other but this turns out to be very hard so I gave up and again just guided feet onto the ladder when people struggled, blinded by the spray. Tanguy abbed down and led off again.
We arrived at the two tricky climbs, with hilarious deep pools. I wondered if anyone would fall in this time. I wasn't there long before Krishma, attempting the second of the climbs lost both her wellies in the second deep pool. Tanguy had a look for them but couldn't find them. Krishma was already a little bit tired and cold so we decided the best thing for it was for her to exit the cave as quickly as possible. Bhavik and I volunteered and we began out.
At the ladder, we waited for two girls to get belayed down. They were followed by a man who told them that they were leaving immediately, so we waited for them to climb back up again. By this point a guided group was queuing behind us. Once it was our turn I prussicked up, not wanting to bother with self-belaying up the ladder or anything tricky like that. I started belaying Krishma up. She attempted for a minute or two to get on the first few steps of the ladder but was finding it tricky without any wellies. One of the guides of the group behind us shouted that he'd come up and help haul her up. He ran up the ladder, and competently set up a z-rig. In my head I made sure I could remember how to release a z-rig, vaguely remembering some story about a group leaving their friend dangling in the waterfall with unpleasant results.
With minimal help from me, he hauled Krishma up. He then belayed Bhavik. Reunited we set off again. I gave Krishma my wellies for a bit and whilst she felt a lot warmer they were a massive hindrance as on anything other than level ground they'd just slip straight off her feet. Slowly we made our way out. A slightly traumatic climb up the handline and the worst was over. The entrance chamber was full of children for some reason but breaking out onto the surface we were alone. I gave Krishma my wellies for the walk back, expecting the ground to be cold. In fact my feet felt quite warm in just socks, so maybe this is something to consider in future.
Back at the bus, we changed. The changing room and showers were still full of children so I decided to forego a shower. Bhavik and Krishma disappeared into the hut in the warm. I donned mine and Ben's down jackets, cranked the drivers seat back and listened to some Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. About an hour later, I saw a light from the direction of Swildons. Then another. And then a couple more. They bobbed their way over, eventually resolving into Ben and Tanguy and the others.
They changed, we exchanged baked goods and other food. And began the short drive back. Ben has interesting idea's about what routes are appropriate for a minibus ("but it was google" he'd say. Yeh, yeh, whatever Ben). I think more day trips is definitely an idea worth exploring (can we get to Wales?).
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