This year has seen a concerted effort to pass the choke at the foot of John Walsh's shaft. Until May, spoil had to be taken down to the dump at the end of Pool Passage, an awkward chore given the tight and twisting nature of the link passage and the tendency of the lower section to half-fill with water. In all, 876 bags of spoil were dumped in Pool Passage.
Skip guides were installed in the steep bedding plane between Erratic and J.W. Passage and it became possible to remove spoil from the face to the surface on the same evening. Steady progress was made following a meandering phreatic passage at a downwards angle varying between thirty and forty five degrees. The floor was not seen and the passage was merely enlarged to working proportions. After some 12m, a zone of massive phreatic pendants was reached and the way on became less clear. Roof tubes seemed to hint at a levelling out of the passage, but solid walls or masses of detached bedrock kept appearing and may yet force the diggers to go much deeper.
To dispose of the broken rock, a stone retaining wall was built at the bottom of the shaft, replacing the dumpy bag and John Walsh's hessian sacks. By the end of this reporting year, 140 bags of spoil had been dumped behind this wall, but unfortunately some very wet spoil and a heavy overhead drip have threatened to wash out the wall's foundations. Urgent repair work will be needed but, if this unsuccessful, both wall and spoil may have to be removed from the cave. Since May, a total of 1517 bags of spoil have been removed from the cave creating a mud "patio" outside the Erratic Passage entrance. At the present end of the dig, some 14m from the bottom of the shaft, there has been an occasional incursion of water from the south eastern side. It is probably associated with the often flooded link passage and perhaps the small shaft at the bottom end of J.W. Passage.
Diggers (Those in capitals have completed
thirty or more sessions):
Tony Audsley, Sissel Balomatis, Hannah Bell, Matt Blount, Tony Boycott, Paul Brock, Fiona Burchell, Phil Coles, Pat Cronin, Fiona Crozier, Ray Deasey, Pete Flanagan, ALAN GRAY, Doug Harris, Pete Hellier, Sean Howe, Tony Jarratt, DAVE KING, Faye Litherland, Tony Littler, MARK LUMLEY, Alison Moody, John Noble, CLIVE NORTH, Steve Sharp, Steve Shipston, Paul Stillman, ROB TAVINER, MANDY VOYSEY, Matt Voysey, Richard Warman, RICHARD WITCOMBE
Five diggers visited the cave on 5th December to inspect the rock-choked ascending rift leading off from the high-level grotto on the left hand side halfway down the cave, with a view to a winter dig. At the top of the rift CN started clearing rocks and dried mud, all of which were "chained" down to the main passage chamber. Work continues.
SM-K has started a trial surface dig in an attempt to locate the junction between the Thrupe Fault and the major joint along which Butts' Chamber, Perseverance Pot and Avalanche Pot formed. There may be an ancient buried sink at this point.
During the year ATLAS members have carried out shaft and shoring work at Rose Cottage Cave and Caine Hill Shaft and have also helped at the Templeton Pot project.
The Balch Cave dig has entered a rather uncertain phase. We may be meandering about in the roof of a sand-filled chamber, or we could be approaching a cross-rift or breakdown zone - 2008 will be the decisive year. The Fairy Cave dig could yet yield some high-level passage, and if all else fails, we have been invited to dig on some interesting land a little further east! The old ATLAS motto still applies - Full of Eastern Promise!
At the end of 2005, hopes were high of a significant breakthrough at the top of Bone Aven at the far end of the Old Wells Road. After a "gardening" session on 20 December 2005, a return was made on 28 December when Mark Lumley, Clive North and Dave King took turns to scale the higher reaches of the aven. It was full of dangerously poised, gravity defying slabs and great care had to be exercised to avoid touching them. Mark located a man-sized passage leading off to the left at a height of about 10m above the floor, but although it could be seen continuing past boulders for about 6m, the hanging deaths overhead prevented entry. Dave, climbing past this point for another 3m, entered a void below a flat ceiling from which large blocks had fallen into the shaft. There were a few straws and other formations, but no other way on. All agreed that despite the open passage and very cool air in the upper half, the aven was just too dangerous for further work.
In January and February 2006, various trial digs took place in the Archway and Great Western Rift area to determine if any other buried way on existed. Nothing of interest was revealed, and all digging gear was removed from the cave.
On 22 February 2006, Mark Lumley, after a long hard look, decided to push the unexplored horizontal passage at the top of Bone Aven, with Dave King "standing by". Just beyond the jammed boulders, the passage closed down completely. In all it is about 4m long. This concluded the dig.
Diggers (20/12/05 to 22/2/06):
Dave Everett, Dave King, Mark Lumley, Clive North, James Witcombe, Rich Witcombe
Number of Trips: 8
On Saturday 19 August, a localised torrential downpour in the Croscombe and Wells area caused major problems at Thrupe Lane Swallet as well as drowning over 5,000 chickens at nearby Chilcote Manor Farm. Water flowing down the lane at Thrupe burst the roadside wall in two places, adding to a huge stream which quickly filled the cave entrance adit with debris. The water then bored under the cliff-face five metres north of the adit and pushed masses of rock and sand out from the bottom of the entrance shaft, completely blocking the narrow start of the Ferret Run. The stream turned right at this point into the Railway Series, probably filling all of these small passages to the roof at least as far as the start of the Old Wells Road. Only the highest point of Bamboo Aven remained above water judging by the scouring of stream and bang debris which has occurred. The main route to Bleak Hall is now twice the height in many places, with the rocks and silt ending up in the dig below Bleak Hall which is now considerably shorter as a result.
The team spent three Wednesday evenings bringing all the debris at the bottom of the entrance shaft up to the surface where it was dumped in the adjacent depression. The main route down to Perseverance Pot is now open again, but further flash floods have occurred regularly since September resulting in the full stream flowing down this route.
The team decided to leave the Thrupe area for the time being and try their hand in Fairy Cave Quarry. The first project was an attempt to regain access to Fernhill Cave, a 100m well decorated fragment of the Fairy Cave Quarry System. The cave was uncovered by quarrying operations in 1960, but by 1965 the entrance, a 12m deep steeply inclined rift, had become buried by tipped material. While the cave was open a strong aural connection was established between a boulder choke at the end of Fernhill's Curtain Passage and a very similar choke near the bottom of neighbouring Fairy Cave, with the two points estimated to be no more than 5m apart.
There are at least four access points to the choke from the Fairy Cave passage, and several attempts have been made over the years to find a way through. The most determined assault came in 1979 when Cerberus SS members, Graham and Liz Price, banged a route 5-6m upwards from the first access point, following a solid roof, and forced their way through boulders to enter a chamber 3-4m wide, 8m long and 10m high on top of the choke. Disappointment Chamber did not match any known part of Fernhill Cave, nor did it offer any easy digging options, and interest in the site gradually waned.
ATLAS re-examined Disappointment Chamber but ruled it out as a potential access route to Fernhill. Instead the team probed the two middle access points to the choke, but were forced to withdraw after 2 or 3m by rockslides of small stones and precariously perched slabs. Nothing in the area was solid enough to form a base for shoring. Attention shifted to the lowest access point, where a narrow draughting rift in relatively solid rock was noted running eastwards and roughly parallel to Curtain Passage in Fernhill. This passage had to be chemically enlarged, and as the broken rock had to be taken to dumps further up in the cave, progress was slow. After a hard-won 3m, the rift degenerated into a miserable slot with little evidence of the draught, and proceedings were brought to a close.
Diggers (1/3/06 to 12/7/06):
Mathew Amner, Tony Boycott, Niall Finshie, Lee Hawkeswell, Dave King, Mark Lumley, Clive North, Simon Tanner, Rob Taviner, Mandy Voysey, Matt Voysey, Rich Witcombe
Number of Trips: 21
Attention switched to the opposite side of the quarry where large fragments of Balch Cave still survive, albeit in a blast damaged state. It is likely that most of Balch Cave drained to Fernhill/Fairy Caves via largely destroyed fragments such as Christmas Hole, Plummer's Hole, Garlick's Rift and Duck's Pot, but there is a view that the Pool Passage section of Balch might have forged an independent route to the St. Dunstan's Well rising which could still exist under the floor of the north eastern arm of the quarry.
Rob Taviner suggested an examination of the terminal rift in Pool Passage which ends in a blast shattered choke no more than 4m or 5m below the quarry floor. Careful excavation started here on 26 July but the diggers were also intrigued by a tiny hole, 20cm by 30cm, at floor level on the northern side of the rift, some 5m back from the choke. This "mousehole", floored with stal, emitted a very strong, very cold draught. Over successive weeks, the dodgy choke was left alone in favour of breaking up the stal floor of the draughting hole. Beneath a 10-15cm layer of crystalline pool calcite, was a loose sand and gravel deposit, easily excavated and dumped behind a dry stone retaining wall.
In four digging sessions the passage had been extended for 2m to a stal barrier over which could be seen open, man-sized passage. The full digging team reconvened on Wednesday 30 August and after three quarters of an hour's hammering and chiselling, Mandy Voysey was able to squeeze through, followed by Rob Taviner. They reported a roomy ascending phreatic tunnel with the remains of good stal. While Clive North was making the access even larger, ominous reports of previous visitors to the passage came back - impressions in the mud and stacks of rock. When the whole digging team began to wend its way up the passage, more sad evidence came to light - first a plastic bucket with a bar code on the bottom, then a hoe and finally a knotted rope down a steeply inclined passage to the right. At this junction "Tav" noticed a passage on the left leading steeply upwards and recognised the "find" as a discovery made in 1999 by John Walsh and others of the BEC who had dug open a tight slot on the left hand side of Erratic Passage - another fragment of Balch Cave.
To John's 50m find, ATLAS have added another three, but have also created an interesting round trip of some 150m with some very fine phreatic sculptured scenery.
After this entertaining interlude, work resumed on the main choke at the end of Pool Passage. Overhead gardening was necessary to improve safety, and several large blocks were brought down using a 3m length of ash pole carried in for the purpose. Sadly, further excavation revealed that the roof and walls of the passage were badly fractured by blasting, and it was deemed too risky to proceed any further.
Attention switched to John Walsh's passage and in particular the very steeply inclined 12m deep and 3m diameter phreatic tunnel on the right. Contact with John Walsh himself revealed that he had only spent one session excavating the sandy choke at the bottom, and his bagged fill remained there in a small stack. Although spoil removal was going to be a problem, it was decided to try to clear this choke. Tony Audsley, with assistance from the more engineering minded diggers, rigged up a steel cable haulage way which became operational on 8 November. A spoil retaining wall was constructed in the small "junction" chamber in John Walsh's passage, but by 29 November this dump was full - 152 skips.
The winter sees a very large number of bats hibernating in Erratic Passage, ruling out any use of this route for spoil removal, so until the spring, it was decided to bag up the spoil and take it down to the Pool Passage dumps. By the close of this report, 48 bags of sandy fill had been disposed of in these dumps. The passage ahead is still totally choked but the phreatic roof is showing signs of levelling off and the air quality remains surprisingly good.
Diggers (26/7/06 to 13/12/06):
Jackie Ackerman, Tony Audsley, Ray Deasey, Lee Hawkeswell, Alan Gray, Andy Heath, Darryl Inslett, Tony James, Dave King, Mark Lumley, Clive North, Rob Taviner, Mandy Voysey, Matt Voysey, Rich Witcombe
Number of Trips: 20
During the year ATLAS members repaired the entrances to Viaduct Sink and Longwood Valley Sink, the latter on behalf of the Somerset Wildlife Trust and Charterhouse Caving Company Ltd.
Two members are also in the process of constructing a mortared stone walled entrance shaft at Rose Cottage Cave (Second Entrance) on behalf of the BEC, while our bang man has been chemically modifying the Templeton Pot shaft for the Templeton digging consortium .
Bob Cottle, a former member of the now defunct West London Caving Club and an ATLAS digger for nearly three decades, died on 4 June aged 65 at his home in Peasedown St. John.
Born in Bath, Bob first became associated with the ATLAS digging team during the Viaduct Sink dig in the mid 1970s, and went on to help at many sites including Thrupe Lane Swallet, Midway Slocker, Little Crapnell Swallet, Honeymead Hole, Dave Mitchell's Dig and Frog Pot. It was Bob who broke into the Old Wells Road in Thrupe Lane Swallet, but light failure prevented him from exploring it. He finished off his digging days at Thrupe Swallet. As befits an engineer, Bob was methodical and dependable in all that he did, and he would go out of his way to help others. The well constructed gate on Thrupe Lane Swallet has now sadly outlasted him.
The current Balch Cave dig could well provide access to an unknown section of the Balch streamway (last seen in Conning Tower Cave) and might lead into Duck's Pot and thence into Fernhill Cave and Fairy Cave (via the choke). Alternatively, the passage could be part of a new route heading northwards under the quarry floor, perhaps closing the gap between the eastern quarry caves and the St. Dunstan's Well resurgence. Either way, steady growth in passage length can be predicted, with an unexpected bonus always on the cards.
Only three working trips took place during this reporting year (in February and March), with four holes being drilled, etc at the end of the constricted streamway. The stal obstructed way on is up to 5' high but only 6" wide, descending in small cascades. Simon Richards has been working in Swildon's Hole for most of the year, and has now commenced a three year course of study at the Camborne School of Mines. Further work in this cave must await the availability of a young, fit, and capable digger.
On 22 December 2004, just after the publication of the last Annual Report, the team made a small breakthrough in the Archway Dig at the end of the Old Wells Road. A 10' long airspace ascending at 45 degrees under a solid roof was enlarged to give access to a few feet of open passage. Ahead the floor dropped away in a narrowing rift, while to the left a small aven entered, almost totally choked with boulders but with air spaces visible up to a height of about six feet. The descending rift, stal coated in places, was judged to be about 20' long and 15' deep but it was just less than man-sized. A continuation overhead was similarly too small to enter.
It was decided to enlarge what was later to be named Great Western Rift, and this work started on 5 January 2005. By the end of a four month campaign, a depth of 18' had been reached, but disappointingly the options degenerated into very narrow slots and a tiny mud-filled void beneath a stal bank. A man-sized alcove in the north wall proved to be no more than that.
Attention was switched to the boulder-filled aven, christened Bone Aven after the discovery of small fragment of animal scapula near the bottom. Work started here on 18 May 2005 removing the well jammed rocks near the bottom of the aven. As height was gained, the boulders became more dangerously poised overhead. By July, the aven was open to a height of 10', and working there was not without risk. In August Clive sustained a cut over the eye from a sliding rock.
On the 13 October, spirits rose when a climb to the top revealed a view upwards into an open, man-sized continuation extending upwards for at least 20', but immediate exploration was prevented by scattered rocks and loose mud banks. Work continued upwards until by 6 November, it was possible to peer up an inverted T shaped, steeply inclined rift to a height of nearly 40' above the floor. One large block became wedged in the lower part of the aven, dropping in stages as it was gradually demolished. It was finally removed on 30 November, leaving one last jammed boulder which attacked two weeks later. The way on should now be open but time has run out on this year's report!
Diggers & Visitors (* 25 trips or
Martin Beale, Tony Boycott, Pat Cronin, Dave Everett, Dave King*, Mark Lumley*, Clive North*, Simon Richards, Rob Taviner, James Witcombe & Richard Witcombe*.
Bone Aven, at the westernmost extremity of the cave and over 200' above the lower streamway, may be no more than another inlet to this complex cave. However, it could give access to a significant high level fossil series, and perhaps a new route towards St Andrew's Well. Shareholders who cannot wait for next year's annual report should "tune in" to the ATLAS public website - Thrupe Lite - for the next interesting instalment.
On 23 November 2003, after many years toiling at Thrupe Swallet, ATLAS diggers opened up a second front in nearby Thrupe Lane Swallet, scene of earlier triumphs dating back to the 1970s. This was in recognition of the increasingly arduous nature of the Thrupe Swallet dig and the age and infirmity of some of the original ATLAS team.
So it came to pass that during 2004, the younger members of the group - the A Team - continued to push the lower streamway of Thrupe Swallet, while the older members (often assisted by the younger members) formed a B Team to probe various nooks and crannies in Thrupe Lane Swallet.
Work resumed on 24/3/04 and over the next nine months a [...] campaign, conducted by [...] Simon "Nik Nak" Richards with occasional back up from Tony Boycott, pushed the narrow streamway a further 100' from Quality Street. A number of small drops - the most sporting of which is the 8' Droplet - added another 35' to the depth. The passage, much of which is coated with flowstone, can be seen continuing but is showing no signs of growing in stature.
The cave is now approximately 750' long and 235' deep.
Diggers & Visitors (* 15 trips or
Tony Boycott, Charles Bailey, Geoff Ballard, Greg Brock, Ray Deasy, Rob Delacour, Bob Hardiman, Alex Hannam, Pete Hellier, Sean Howe, Dave King*, Tony Littler, Mark Lumley, Simon Meade-King, Alison Moody, Simon Richards*, Steve Shipston, Jane Stead, Paul Stillman, Rob Taviner*, Adrian Vanderplank, Ann Vanderplank and Jude Vanderplank
The Winter Dig - 23/11/03 to
An attempt to link Plaster Passage with the up dip rift of Bamboo Aven was abandoned after 10' when the continuation degenerated into tiny choked cracks. The dig has been partly backfilled.
Bleak Hall Extension - 11/2/04 to
The down dip continuation of Bleak Hall, a choked passage passage up to 4' high and 3' wide, has been an intermittent solo dig of Simon Meade- King since 1998. The B Team pushed on for a further 8' (giving a total dig length of 20') before the ponding of autumn heavy drip forced a temporary abandonment.
Old Wells Road Dig - 1/9/04 to
The original Old Wells Road passage terminated in a mud blockage at the end of a steeply descending rift passage. Simon Meade-King dug a narrow slot on the left and enlarged a tiny passage around two right angled bends for a distance of about 30', abandoning the effort in the early 1990s because of the logistics of spoil disposal. The B Team decided to investigate a narrow ascending rift on the right and have now pushed a choked meandering phreatic passage for 15', uncovering occasional small air spaces amongst the hard packed silt, gravel and cobbles.
Diggers & Visitors (* 15 trips or
Charles Bailey, Pat Cronin, Dave Everett, Pete Hellier, Dave King*, Mark Lumley*, Simon Meade-King, Alys Mendus, Clive North*, Simon Richards*, Rob Taviner, James Witcombe & Richard Witcombe*.
For good yields, the Thrupe Swallet streamway needs to meet a tributary passage or one of the Thrupe Fault joints. A link up with Thrupe Lane Swallet beyond the end of the known cave cannot be ruled out, which would reward shareholders with a round trip to rival anything on Mendip.
The Old Wells Road dig in Thrupe Lane Swallet is at the westernmost extremity of the cave and over 200' above the lower streamway. Breakthrough into a high level fossil series here could see shareholders significantly closing the gap with St. Andrew's Well.
All in all - not without interest.
|Depth at start of year - 117'||Depth at end of year - 200'|
|Length at start of year - 300'||Length at end of year - 650'|
|Number of digging trips - 82||Number of man/hours - 744|
List of diggers & visitors:
Tony Audsley, Tony Boycott, Bob Cottle, Dave Cushing, Dave Everett, Roz Fielder, Emma Heron, Gordon Kaye, Dave King, Tony Littler, Mark Lumley, Simon Meade-King, Dave Meredith, Alison Moody, Dave Morrison, Pete Mulholland, Clive North, Simon Richards, Colin Rogers, Phil Rowsell, Steve Shipston, Allen Sinclair, Dave Speed, Rob Taviner, John Williams, James Witcombe & Richard Witcombe
This year has seen a significant breakthrough into open cave passage, including a small streamway which is trending steadily south westwards towards the resurgence at St. Andrew's Well.
The key find was a small horizontal phreatic tube hiding behind a rock flake at the bottom of Rubicon Pot which after much chemical enlargement took the diggers to the head of a fine elliptical 46' pitch - Persistence Pot - first bottomed on 30 March.
At the bottom two small streams entered and disappeared under a low choked arch. Digging and blasting has opened up a further 150' of winding streamway, much of it well decorated including an orange-brown stal coated chamber, Tango Rift. The farthest point reached is a descending rift just too narrow to pass.
Persistence Pot boasts fine formations in its various alcoves and has a roomy inlet ascending through unstable boulder chokes towards the level of Maglite Grotto.
The lower streamway will be rather sporting in winter high water conditions, and it is unlikely that much further work will be done at the end of the cave until the late spring of next year. During the winter months, the team will be switching to various dig sites in the Railway Series of Thrupe Lane Swallet. It will be surprising if shareholders do not receive a small passage dividend from this interesting area of the cave.
|Depth at start of year - 90'||Depth at end of year - 117'|
|Length at start of year - 223'||Length at end of year - 300'|
|Number of digging trips - 81||Number of man/hours - 690|
List of diggers & visitors:
Annie Audsley, Tony Audsley, Bob Cottle, Pat Cronin, Dave Everett, Dave Grosvenor, Carmen Haslett, Pete Hellier, John Hill, Elaine Johnson, Dave King, Tony Littler, Mark Lumley, Simon Meade-King, Dave Morrison, Clive North, Simon Richards, Colin Rogers, Gary Sandys, Steve Shipston, Dave Speed, Rob Taviner, Hugh Tucker, Jonathan Williams, James Witcombe & Richard Witcombe
The year started promisingly with a small breakthrough on 2 January 2002. Excavating behind a jammed boulder in the south western corner of Maglite Grotto gave access to a steep slope leading down into a low fifteen feet long bedding plane - the Rubicon - with a possible way on through stalled up boulders in the floor. Some six feet down in this "pot" the main stream emerged from a rockpile on the north only to sink a few feet away amongst the floor boulders. Before serious work could start here, it was necessary to shore up the large jammed boulder at the short drop from Maglite Grotto.
Walling and step building was in progress here when, on 13 February, an inexperienced digger stepped on a loose boulder and precipitated a serious collapse of rocks which just stopped short of two diggers below. The whole area was destabilised and it took four months of trial and error shoring before a safe route was engineered back down to the Rubicon.
The bedding plane continuation at the top of the pot was examined in June but it produced only a tiny inlet aven. Work resumed at the bottom of the pot where careful excavation in the stalled up south western corner revealed a small grotto with no obvious way on. At a depth of ten feet, the stream was then followed eastwards back under the boulder floor of the pot to a point where it entered a choked bedding plane at right angles to the main clifface. Digging in the floor uncovered a narrow slot in solid rock which happily engulfed the full stream. As the year ends, work is under way to enlarge this westward trending rift in the hope of entering a significant stream passage.
The promised passage dividend cannot be far away. If investors can maintain their confidence and commitment, ATLAS should be able to deliver the Great Saint Andrew's Well Main Drain in time for the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the consortium in 2003.
(Annie Audsley, Tony Audsley, Adrian Bowen, Bob Cottle, Dave Everett, Dave Grosvenor, Tony Littler, Simon Meade-King, Dave Morrison, Clive North, Colin Rogers, Gary Sandys, Dave Speed, Paul Stillman, Rob Taviner, James Witcombe, Richard Witcombe)
Foot & Mouth Outbreak:
There was a complete cessation of digging from 22nd February to 16th August. On 25th July, a large calf managed to break through the wooden shaft covering and dropped down the 25 ft. shaft, managing to avoid catching its legs in the fixed steel ladder. It then crawled down the tight dog leg passage, went over the 4 ft. drop and became jammed in the approach to Advent Chamber.
The tenant farmer, Bob Cowlin, and his two sons (none of whom had ever been underground before) successfully manhandled the animal back to the bottom of the shaft where some of the diggers (who had responded to the farmer’s "callout"), were able to assist with winching to the surface. Remarkably the calf survived the ordeal with no more than afew scratches. The shaft now has a steel lid.
The diggers continued to follow the main, fault-aligned, cliff-face downwards, encountering small open spaces and grottoes. Stability was achieved by walling in significant boulders and the occasional use of timber struts, wooden wedges and metal bars. In some areas it proved safer to create headroom by cutting into the cliff-face. All spoil was dumped underground, principally in a small side chamber off Advent Chamber and a blind pot near the lowest point. Ninety feet down a 15 ft by 6 ft air space - Maglite Grotto - was encountered where the cliff-face was significantly undercut and above it a small, ascending phreatic tube was followed for thirty feet to a mud choke. The main way on lies below, still following the cliff-face.
The floor of Maglite Grotto is a loose choke of boulders, and stones roll down for at least twenty feet through various small holes. Because of the steepness of the rubble slope, and the danger of collapse and slumping, a route downwards will be cut into the cliff-face in the south western corner. The directors are confident of a large passage dividend in 2002.
Three possible ways on in new chamber (two dry and one wet - active streamway,). The first two require removal of rock fill, the second demolition of a rock ridge and general enlargement The directors are confident of a large passage dividend in 2001.
Last modified: 18-Dec-2007