GSG Newsletter 139
18 July 2009
Scotland's Finest Bear Skull Found in Claonaite
During the early diving trips into Claonaite Seven, soon after it was discovered in 1995, we found a small chamber off the NW side of the Great Northern Time Machine We followed the draught until the scenery became so unstable that we turned back, surveyed it and then mostly left it alone until this May. Little did we suspect what we'd missed!
On Sunday 17th May 2009 Bob Mehew, leading a trip for the Craven Pothole Club and slightly off-route, discovered it again. They had just entered it when one of the Craven spotted the end of a reindeer antler protruding from the floor. Bob realised that where there was one there could be more, and after letting everyone see the find he ushered them out and reported it to me. A final sweep of the bear bone site in Portobello Promenade was already planned for the following weekend so we added a 'quick' trip to the antler in Antler Chamber to the agenda.
The next Saturday saw Steve Birch, Tim Lawson, John Crae and me crawling into Antler Chamber where we soon found the antler. Against the pebble covered floor it was not easily seen and I forgave myself for not seeing it in 1995. Turning to my right I found something much harder to forgive. Only three metres away and completely exposed on the floor was a large bone - a humerus from, we think, an adult bear. While I started photo-graphing the finds the others roamed the chamber and soon made two more finds of buried bones or antlers. Joking that we could be quickly assembling the bits for another bear Tim and Steve said that all we needed was a skull. At that point John who'd climbed over some breakdown quietly announced he'd found one. After the inevitable "pull the other one" response we realised that John had really found one. It was tucked down behind a slab against the chamber wall, was from a large adult bear, measured 35cm long and appeared almost completely undamaged.
We'd no permission to remove anything from that area so left the finds untouched as we returned to our original task with Steve sieving the Portobello Promenade bear bone site while Tim did more investigating of the sediments in various parts of the cave. After the skull it was a bit of an anti-climax for Steve to find a few rib fragments and a metacarpal, and Tim a rib and a vertebra along Legless Highway.
The skull was in a very easily reached position and could have been extremely delicate. We didn't dare touch it, and left it until we could return with a) permission to remove it and b) a case to carry it - or the bits it might crumble into - out safely. We also decided not to announce the find because of the caver traffic it might attract. The skull of the 'other' bear had suffered between its discovery and its extraction, we didn't want the same to happen to this one however unintentionally.
Permission from the landowner George Vestey, SNH, and Historic Scotland were all granted within a few days. We returned on the 20th June to recover the antler and any other bits we found lying around. This time the team was Steve Birch, Martin Hayes, me and John Crowsley who made several finds including what is probably the first piece of horse ever found in the area - a lower mandible.
All the bones and antlers were photographed and surveyed to death before being extracted, re-photographed and carried very carefully out of the cave. After display at the GSG Midsummer BBQ that afternoon they were ferried south and are now with Dr Andrew Kitchener in the National Museums Scotland for conservation. He was very pleased with the skull and amazed at its state of preservation. It has to be the best preserved Scottish bear skull found in Scotland. He also tentatively confirmed the jawbone as a young horse and is eager to get that dated as very few horse remains of its likely age have been discovered in Scotland.
Designing the new exhibitions for the reconstructed Chambers Street museum is occupying most of Andrew's time, and last year's finds have still not - despite what I thought earlier this month - been sent for dating. It is now equally important to date the latest finds. That multiplies the number of sample that we'd like dated and at £290 + VAT per sample is an unbudgeted and probably unwelcome surprise to Andrew Kitchener. The GSG are therefore applying for a grant from SNH to help pay for the carbon dating.
I had thought that all our finds would turn out to be pre-glacial since any entrances below the Bone Caves were probably sealed during the last glaciation. The latest bear remains are in such good condition, and so much better than the original finds, that they must be post-glacial. If that is confirmed then there has to have been an entrance somewhere under the Bone Caves leading into Antler Chamber until comparatively recently ie only a few thousand years ago. At the NE end of Antler Chamber is a steeply ascending slope of scree that lies immediately under the entrance to Bone Cave. I wonder if the digging debris flung out of the caves in 1926-77 now hides signs of what might have been the way in. It would be interesting to see what any pre-dig photographs show - if they exist.
These finds underline the importance of all the caves under Creag nan Uamh to palaeontology, not just the Bone Caves. The GSG has been taping off large areas in the GNTM and nearby passages and we should do more to preserve the flow markings and sediment layering. We have used red/white striped tape laid on the surface. Bob Mehew says this tape suffers from two problems. Over time it fragments and the colour can run and mark the underlying surfaces. The BCA Conservation & Access Officer, Elsie Little, recommended high visibility nylon Constructor Glo-Tape and has supplied us with 'posts' made from 3mm stainless steel. We now have both and will be installing them in a few trial areas when we have time.
The visible bones may now all have been removed, but there have to be many more lying buried. Antler Chamber shows there could be some just lying around waiting for someone to spot them. A notice has been left at the main bear bone site asking cavers to watch out for bones. If any are spotted they are asked to mark the position with some tape (left by the notice) and send me a report.
So far the GSG have not actively gone looking for more bones. We have only removed those at the main bear bone site and any other exposed remains. The last dig of any consequence was in 1926/7 when the Bone Caves were excavated by Callander, Cree and Ritchie. While this removed most of the fill that contained remains, some is still in situ and recent conversations have revolved around whether it would be appropriate to do another dig using modern techniques. It would also be worthwhile digging test pits in Claonaite Seven to investigate the sediment layering and better understand the very complex history of the cave system.
GSG Annual Dinner 2009
The 2009 Annual Dinner will be held in the Bath Arms Hotel, Cheddar on Saturday 24th October. Dinner will be £17 per head.
The Bath Arms still have a few rooms left so book now! Contact them on 01934 742425 or look at their web site.
We are reserving places in Mendip caving huts. It will be first come first reserved for those. I'll allocate bunk space in order of arrival of booking forms. Don't pay the GSG the hut fees, but pay at the hut after your stay.
Caving - Assynt
This year's Migration concentrated its caving activity on the Allt nan Uamh area, though there were visits to the Traligill caves. Exploration and digging efforts were divided (or should that be dissipated?) between half a dozen sites. The main protagonists were Robin (Tav) Taviner, Tony Boycott, Estelle Sandford, Paul Brock, Derrick Guy and Stuart Lindsay. Norman Flux had arrived planning major excavations in Campbell's Cave, but found himself soloing. He completed some jobs on the scaffold digging platform and rearranged some of the boulders at the bottom, but didn't manage to get a team together to start digging.
In ANUSC the tight rock tube heading SW from 2nd Stream Chamber was enlarged and is now penetrable for about four body lengths. I don't know whose body was being used. At the end there is a crack leading up to the surface, but the rock tube continues in a straight line, appears to get bigger and might pass under the surface stream channel. A cautionary note is that sounds of digging could be heard when standing in the stream channel and as with other digs inside ANUSC heading in that direction there is a risk of opening up another sink for the stream. In the past we've halted at least one dig because of that danger.
Peter Glanvill returned with Derrick Guy to his 2007 dig just after the Sphincter in ANUSC. He soon managed to wriggle far enough to see what lay beyond, decided it needed serious shoring, and left it for someone braver than he. Only a metre or so away a low cobble-filled phreatic tube was dug for a bit, but soon petered out. It seems to be a network of phreatic mini-tubes.
The main activity was at what is now being called Toll Radain (see later) a blocked rift found a few metres from Poll Damoclean where you could slither down under some hanging death for a few metres. Once this had been 'turned into footholds' and more boulders moved a second entrance opened up. The remaining large boulder was secured in place with scaffolding and digging commenced. Over 100 skip loads of peat were removed and the entrance left covered with a wire grid. Robin (Tav) Taviner reports that 'interesting holes are appearing straight down in the floor and a noticeable undercut is appearing below one wall.'
Poll Damoclean was descended for the first time in many years by digging through silt and gravel to get to 'a depressing and dodgy end.' It hasn't changed then! Titian Pot was descended for the 2nd and 3rd times. Now we've a good grid reference for it, more of us will be able to find it - NC 274 169.
The Scottish contingent arrived for the first weekend in May and met up with Norman to deepen the Skye-way. Tony Boycott very effectively dismantled the boulders in it for us, and Mark Tringham, back on holiday from Egypt, managed to start the siphon and make access and digging more pleasant. This leaves a narrow sediment-filled rift to be emptied. There's not much volume of material to be removed: the difficulty is reaching it! An ice axe could be the best solution being smaller and easier to wield than a pickaxe.
The wanderings of a Rat
The first announcement of Toll Radain (Rat Hole) was by Jim Campbell in the November 1975 GSG Bulletin. This placed it 100m from the unnamed at the time Poll Damoclean in the Uamh an Claonaite direction. By the time the 1988 edition of Caves of Assynt was published it had moved to 'about 250 metres south-west' of Poll Damoclean. In its latest manifestation it is very much closer. Since it is improbable that the same hole has moved position we possibly have three Rat Holes in the area, two of which despite searching have not been relocated.
Mark Lonnen and Ivan recently attended a BCA eco-anchor installers' revalidation workshop in Ingleton. There they received their 'Accredited Anchor Installer' cards and enough eco-anchors (also known as P-hangers) and resin for the pitches in Rana Hole. Over the 27th to 29th June the entrance pitches and Black Rift were both eco-anchored. The fixed ladders are still in the entrance shaft so there is no change yet in its descent, but the anchors are there ready for use when the ladders are removed. A few extra anchors were installed for rescue purposes and enough are now there for ladders and lifeliners to use different anchors. There are still a few places where we may fit more anchors such as the drop into Belh Aven, and some shield anchors are still to be replaced. It is too early to fit anything at the top of the entrance shaft as that'll change when the gate is built over the entrance. At present you can use a Y-hang from the scaffolding walkway above the entrance - except the ladders are still there, so there is no need.
Rigging guides for all eco-anchored Scottish caves, and information about the BCA's eco-anchoring programme will appear on the GSG web site when we've got the information ready.
The Rana Gate
We promised George Vestey that Rana will be gated once we've extracted all the digging equipment and dismantled the scaffolding. This is to prevent passing quadrupeds and walkers from falling down the shaft. It won't be completely airtight, but by cutting down the through draught it'll return the air flows inside to something closer to their original state.
Tony Jarratt set up a fund before he died to support digging both in Mendip and in Scotland. From the money raised at the RatFest, Jeff Price, who is spending many days sorting out J'Rat's collections and bequests, has sent £300 for a GSG digging fund to be used primarily to build the Rana Gate. We will include a plaque commemorating J'Rat as the original discoverer, one of the most avid diggers and a member of the team that broke through into Claonaite Seven.
Andy Peggie is designing the gate, but we can't start building it until all the digging equipment has been hauled out and the tri-cycle winch and scaffolding have been removed. Volunteers are needed for this over the next few months and for gate construction afterwards.
Enlarging Rana for Rescue
The last weekend in June saw a determined attempt to prepare the narrower sections of Rana for the rescue exercise planned for October. Ivan, Mark Lonnen, Roger and Annie plus John Glover drove to Assynt on Saturday 27th May laden with drills and other means for demolishing boulders. Mark had acquired sets of plugs and feathers and Ivan brought some Snappers. When we arrived at the hut we tested the plugs and feathers on the rock face near the BBQ. Those found by Mark needed either 22mm or 25mm holes so we wanted to be sure they would work before taking them underground and drilling such lager holes. They both worked, but we decided to use the 25mm set as drilling the 25mm holes with a core drill seemed just as fast as using a normal 22mm masonry drill. At about 5pm we set off for Rana arriving there at 6pm.
While Mark and Ivan started installed eco-anchors helped by John Glover, Roger and Annie used the plugs and feathers to good effect on Rudolph's Drop. That is the blasted squeeze that leads onwards from Two A's Chamber. Later we managed quite easily to manoeuvre Annie in a stretcher up from the lower chambers into Two A's. One problem solved. After two hours and with exhausted drill batteries we returned to the car and managed a swift pint and a bowl of chips at the Alt before returning to the hut for food and an extended musical evening.
On Sunday a slightly late start saw us underground at midday after another sweltering walk up the valley. Battery power for drilling holes for the plugs and feathers ran out on the entrance to Black Rift. Instead a Snapper was installed in the large boulder above the rift and a large chunk blown off its side. On Monday this and a further boulder were further fragmented by Snappers and after clearing up, the way down now looks large enough for a stretcher to pass. Before and after photos of this are now on the GSG private website as are photos of our tests with the plugs and feathers at the hut and what they managed underground.
Also on Monday we were joined by Julian Walford and while waiting for fumes to disperse more of the dam was dismantled, the dig was siphoned almost dry and Roger and Annie knocked some lumps off its side. Annie them removed the rock bridge at the start of the Skye-way. This proved easier than expected being not much more than a slab stuck in place mostly by mud.
Overall it was a very successful three days with two major constrictions in Rana removed and other difficulties reduced. There'll probably be another visit to check the reminder of the route and to test that a stretcher will pass though the sections we've enlarged.
We left the top of Black Rift in a stable condition - as far as we know. Before you descend please check the boulders there for any signs of instability. If there are any, we leave it to you to decide whether to do any work there or not, and whether to continue or not, but please tell us of your findings.
David Morrison with Ritchie Simpson and friends continues to find more passage on Skye. Here are his latest reports.
- Strollamus - A new extension has been found to Cyclone Cave (Survey GSG Bull Oct 08 p21). From Mud Cairn Junction a climb up the smooth ramp leads to a squeeze into a tiny chamber. From here a flattish crawl leads to a good sized (Skye) pot where one can stand and move about. A hole in the floor connects back to the original passage, where it turns sharp right for the second time, but this is too tight to pass. The new passage is about 8-10m the pot dimensions are roughly 2m in circumference and 2.5m high. There are other small passages visible throughout this complex little system. It is well worth a visit and may well give more passage.
Ord - Two Skull cave is at grid ref 630 135 and was found and explored by Toby Speight on his first visit to this area. It gives a 4-5m crawl to a choke that may be worth digging.
Slot Cave grid ref 637 146 is a site that I have dug previously but didn't push because I was alone. After we dug a small trench to drain the pool at the entrance, Toby forced his way into the 'Slot' and through a pool to more comfortable passage. This goes for a few meters to a narrowing where some chipping is needed to gain continuing passage. The total passage length is 10m so far. Looks like I'll have to write another report for the Bulletin!
Coille Gaireallach - The entrance to Ivy Hole has been stabilized and the cave is open again for exploration. There was a possible lead at the end as mentioned in the guide. After some chiseling by me, Toby Speight managed (just) to squeeze through to explore 12m more passage ending at another constriction with more visible beyond. He then had to chisel some more to get himself back out!
A small rift cave was found nearby and gives 5m of tight passage which needs digging. It has been called TSR cave (Typical Skye Rift).
And to show that Dave and Ritchie do venture further afield have a look at their video clip starring Toby Speight in the Cheese Press, Lower Long Churn
Founder's Day - Ireby Fell Cavern by Rope Ladder
After last year's very successful rope ladder descent of Alum Pot, an annual Founder's Day meet was proposed and this year's chosen venue was Ireby Fell Cavern on Saturday July 11th. Eight members attended with Nigel Marsh bringing son Roger. After a steaming walk in the heat I found the descent to the entrance improved since my last visit in 2007 with a zigzag paved stair-case and a fixed ladder installed inside the concrete entrance tube. Once past the first pitch we had a dry cave pretty much to ourselves as the other group in the cave went SRTing their way along a different route. Goon, suffering badly from knackered knees, turned back shortly after Well pitch with Andy Peggie assisting. This proves that even a mega-being can have an off-day, or perhaps it was the pints of water gradually filling the legs of his Goon suit that should be blamed?. The rest of us visited the sump and viewed the rope hanging from the entrance to the newly dug sump bypass but with no means of ascending it. We were all out of the cave after about five hours. Some of the SRT party returned at the same time and videoed several members climbing the rope ladder on the first pitch.
Stuart Lindsay, one of our newest members, reports on a dig that J'Rat was very actively involved in digging prior to his illness:-
Three of us southern GSG members, Paul Brock, Estelle Sandford and I, are still actively pursuing Caine Hill Shaft, along with others of the BEC. It is extremely slow going, When you talk about digging out a choked passage, this is digging out a choked CAVE and all spoil is moved out to a tip site a few miles away. Trevor Hughes is a master Plug and Feathers exponent and together with about 10 battery charges we removed about a half a cubic meter of rock, to gain a body-sized access to the north/south vertical rift we are currently digging. This rift extension was opened up by Jake Baines through a very small hole in the floor. It was the last place in Caines that J'Rat dug. Prior to this we had been following another way on some 7 m away. This remains on hold at present. The Hole in the Floor Extension is now about 4 m deeper than the start point, and at the end of a once extremely tight 2m crawl of about 15/20 cm height. This has been expanded to 40 cm high using P& F and a bit of chemical persuasion We use P&F quite a lot. My set is 10 mm diameter, 25/30mm long and okay for small pendants etc. The "Trevorizers" are 14 mm diameter, 50mm long and good for major work like taking off bigger than breeze block sized lumps. Both sets are home made from earth rod. Capping is an option, but the rock in places is striated with mineral deposits, and small cavities so not suitable for caps.
The cave is circa 20 m deep and has about 20m of fairly flat body-sized passage, including "a round trip", interesting fine box work ceilings, and various mineral-stained pockets and mini-avens. We are currently heading for the Priddy fault some 60 m away. Since J'Rat's funeral we have removed in excess of 1700 bags with an estimated weight of 27 tonnes.
We are keeping up the "traditions" how many bags tonight? (record is 177 to surface). Tony would be proud of that, and "KEEP ON DIGGING"
AN OFFER FOR BUSY MEMBERS
GOON TOURS TO THE DALES
Have you been restrained from Yorkshire trips by reason of family or work commitments? Are you anxious to sample the delights of the Dales but never seem to have the time? Are your weekends all accounted for before caving is even considered?
Then consider this. Goon Tours offers short, rapid Yorkshire trips without interfering with any weekend arrangements you may have. It is possible to take in a reasonable descent down a not-too-demanding cave or pothole and still fulfil your home life obligations.
This is how it works: We leave Edinburgh at 5pm or 5.30pm on a Friday night. By 8.30pm we could be changed and outside the entrance to, say, Kingsdale Master Cave. Allow a couple of hours for the trip and we could be changed and driving back to Edinburgh by 11pm. You would be back at home by 2-2.30am and still get six hours sleep before rising at 8.30am!
I increasingly find myself booked up for weekends and unable to spend long periods of time potholing in what is the best caving region in the UK and see the above as an ideal solution.
The Red Traligill - An Assynt Mystery
In April, just after the start of this year's Mendip Migration, Chris Rix of Inchnadamph Lodge noticed the Traligill River had gone a reddish brown - all from a tiny spring just below the concrete ford, but turning the whole river red as it flowed down past his house and the hotel. He emailed me with some photographs wondering if any of us had been dye testing. Well the colour wasn't right, but I asked and nobody knew anything about it - though they were very interested in what could have caused it. Chris collected a sample and it cleared overnight with a very fine reddish silt at the bottom.
This may not be the first time this phenomenon has been noticed in Assynt. Roger Galloway remembers somebody at the Allt nan Uamh fish farm blaming cavers for a similar discolouration of the stream there, but Roger knew there'd been nobody caving there that weekend, and it would be hard to imagine how cavers could generate the effect even if they wanted to.
We do not know what caused the effect. We can guess that a bank of sediment somewhere underground became undermined, collapsed into a streamway, and by blocking it caused enough turbulence to lift the material into suspension. A little research found that terra rossa type soils rich in iron hydroxides (ie rust) can form in limestone areas, but I've never noticed any in Assynt. Tim Lawson has seen some but they are more pink-grey in colour and unlikely to produce the effect seen. He thought that "it might be ochre - an iron oxide that can form in peaty environments, and used by ancient man for cave paintings, etc. However, it would need a huge pocket of the deposit to cause so much staining of the burns." So no real conclusion yet. Perhaps if Chris still has that sample we can see if we can get it analysed.
A final thought is that another source of fine red particles is. blood!
Fishing for Caves in West Assynt
On a recent sea-fishing weekend to Clashnessie Bay, Assynt, I became bored as the fish weren't biting and so went off exploring the local geology. Heading north along the rocky bay the first thing I found was a small sea cave (tube/blowhole type) about 2m wide by 1m high. The tide was coming in so it couldn't be explored further, but was fairly short. Adjacent to this was a much larger impressive sea cave with multiple entrances. I climbed into the lower entrance first but was again stopped by the rising tide just inside by seawater about a metre deep. At this point I could see that the cave had several holes in the roof and another smaller entrance into its main chamber higher up on the rock face. The internal chamber area is about eight metres tall by five metres square and the small passage about three metres long and I think worth seeing with the tide out. There are no formations of any sort, but interesting all the same.
A much more interesting find though was a small "real" cave a short distance further north in an enclosed area of obvious ancient cliff collapse, at the very rear of a small shingle beach. Among a large heap of boulders a hole 0.5m x 0.7m could be clearly seen in the remaining headland. I didn't have a torch or caving gear with me, so gingerly entered using the "Autofocus" LED on my camera to see the best I could. The cave is roughly 2.5m x 2.5m and 1.2 m high with an approx 45 degree roof sloping down from left to right when viewed from the entrance. It has a mixed mud\boulder floor, but not overly wet. On the right hand side the sloping wall is decorated with curtain formations and to the rear of the cave near to the ground a few sections of thick stal joined the roof to the floor. My thoughts at the time were that there were small spaces at floor level continuing behind the area where the stal was and also possibly on the left. (I didn't pay enough attention with my Autofocus light) In the absence of any evidence of it being known I have called it "Uamh Crom Mullach" (Sloping roof cave?). The only reference I can give to its location is a grid reference from my old 1959 "inch to a mile" map of the area Sheet 13 - NC 055318. The sea cave is situated at approx Sheet 13 NC057316 and is situated on the prominent headland just North of Clashnessie Bay.
This Live Earth Internet link shows where Uamh Crom Mullach is located.
I wish I had paid more attention to the area towards the back of the cave as I now wonder if it goes any further or has possibilities of extension. The Geology of West Assynt is stated to be "Grey Gneiss" so I'm left wondering what formed those curtains on the right wall?
Editor's note:- There isn't any limestone in the Clashnessie area. That part of the bay has both the Diabeg and Applecross (further west) groups of Torridonian Sandstone. The Diabeg contains 'calcerous lenticles' and the Torridonian at Stoer contains stromatolites preserved as centimetre-thick bundles of very fine wavy laminations, preserved in calcium carbonate (ref Hutton's Arse p15). So the sandstone must contain calcium carbonate in enough quantity to produce the stal seen.
An Artificial Cave for Scotland
The club was recently contacted by a consortium, The Glasgow Canal Regeneration Group, who propose some radical developments along Glasgow's share of the Forth-Clyde Canal, mainly to provide landscaping and facilities for paddlesports (canoes, kayaks etc).
One section of waste land at Maryhill, adjacent to four large historic locks, has been designated for an innovative development embracing a testing kayak course, a canyoneering course, and an artificial cave complete with optional water flow.
I attended the inaugural meeting of the users group in Glasgow on 16th June. Most of the evening was devoted to arrangements for 'resident' canoe and kayak clubs and how participation in these water sports would be promoted but there was an opportunity to learn about the cave. It is based on a comparable system in Belfast, designed by Colin Boothroyd (of P5 rescue fame!). Constructed of carefully sculpted concrete (as are all the river features), with discrete escape hatches out of sight from the main passages, the 'cave' will feature short vertical scrambles, crawls, squeezes, a sump and a mini-choke. Passages will conform to typical British cave outlines. Flowing water (maximum flow about welly boot depth) can be controlled - sourced from a closed circuit, filtered reservoir - and the cave can be locked by doors which are still openable from inside.
As a sporting facility, it would be of very limited use to the club. Apart from a one-off fun visit I suspect interest would speedily pall, but it may very well be that some SCRO training could be undertaken in terms of stretcher carrying and so forth. Vertical work could be arranged on the canyoneering course. There was talk of encouraging Fire and Rescue units to practice rescue from submerged motor vehicles in the water polo pitches at Pinkston Basin so this type of usage is obviously welcome. On the debit side, we would need exclusive access for several hours and peak times, such as weekends, may militate against this. Cafes, changing facilities, retail outlets and night-time illumination are also planned for the site.
The developments are imaginative and appear cost-effective (power derives from in-house hydro-electric generation) but funding for construction has yet to be realized. The GSG will maintain a presence as the project progresses. There is no opening date as yet, but clearly 2010-11 seems to be a target.
The Allt Bealach Choinnich Outcrop - A Preliminary Visit
Perusing the 2007 geology map of Assynt revealed a larger area of limestone than appears on the earlier map, probably because its makers in attempting to produce a Bedrock (as opposed to Surface & Drift) map have guessed a bit more.
Anyway using the new Google Map imagery it looked as though this area had the odd karst feature, namely shake-holes visible from the air, so it was worth a walk in. And it was on a slope with good catchment, and small streams visible.
There is a choice of three ways to walk in: 1) over bog from the south starting at the Alt Bar, 2) through forest from the south-east from the Strathseasgaich track, 3) from Lyne up the Ledbeg River from the west.
Friday 19th June 2009 was supposed to be dry from midday, but a leisurely lunch was enjoyed at the hut while the rain poured down. It did clear by 15:00 hrs and Carol & I set off from Lyne in dry and good windy conditions (so no midges). This route is pretty rough and wet once one leaves the Lyne pastures. I've been in from the south before when the ground was frozen - fine then - but I noted it would be dire otherwise.
It would be worth seeing if the estate allows one to take a car to Strathseasgaich (settlement also appears as Strathskeaskich). It might be an easier walk-in, or cycle then walk.
Anyway we got there eventually and had some difficulty crossing the major burn - the Allt Bealach Choinnich which flows down from the obvious bealach in the hill - the southern leg of Breabag, between Meall Diamhain and Meall a Braghaid. This burn forms the pre-1974 boundary between Ross & Cromarty and Sutherland, shown as black dots on the 1-inch map.
In the wet conditions of the day we found all the marked burns flowing across the limestone with little evidence of sinking, though it is not easy to detect loss of volume. We know that streams to the east of Claonaite will flow overground in wet weather but sink in dryer conditions.
Three small sinks were noted at: A) NC 296 132 B) NC 292 135 C) NC 291 135 None of these showed any signs of earlier investigation, and it was clear that rocks could be pulled out. It may be worth going there with gear, but it is not very hopeful.
Photos of (B) and (C) are on the GSG members' website.
Hunger forced a retreat.
2009 Meets and Events
See the events page.
Request for requests
If there is a particular cave you'd like to visit please let me know - preferably with one or two dates when you might be able to make it. Contact me with your suggestions - Ross Davidson.
World's Largest Cave Passage
Deer Cave, Mulu has lost its claim to be the world's largest cave passage. That title now belongs to Hang Son Doong in Vietnam. Explored by a joint British-Vietnamese expedition the cave is currently 6.5km long with the main passage 200m high and up to 150m wide. The team included ex-GSG member Snablet (son of Peter (Snab) McNab) and they are returning later this year to continue exploration and survey work.
Rob Lawson, Stuart Lindsay.
Rebecca & Greg Carter.
John Crae, mobile; John Crowsley, email; Stephen Elwell-Sutton, mobile; Iain Greig, mobile; Peter Hardyman, work email.
Ross Davidson - during April spent four weeks participating in the Mexpe 2009 expedition exploring the 'Sotano Tres Quimeras'. This huge sink is in the Sierra Negra region of Puebla State, around seven hours journey in a 4x4 south east of Mexico city. From a base camp at an altitude of 1450m the team, consisting of 16 cavers from Quebec, USA, Mexico, France, UK and Australia, pushed onward from the previous limit achieved by the Mexpe 2007 expedition, at -500m. The cave was eventually pushed to -815m over a horizontal distance of 5.2km, using 1940m of rope on over 30 pitches, to emerge at a resurgence on the other side of the mountain. This makes it the second deepest through trip in the Americas. Samples were collected of the light brown scorpions present in significant numbers in the cave. These were later confirmed to be a new species.
See the photos.
- Bob & Rosemary Jones - visited Ngarua show cave in New Zealand. The caves are 20 miles NW of Nelson in NZ South Island on Takaka Hill and are near (or possibly attached to) a large system called Middle Earth. Bones from several species of moa (extinct flightless birds) were found in the caves. Just like being in Sutherland!
- Fraser Simpson - writes "On the 3rd of April Derek Pettiglio and I found ourselves meeting up with a small team of cavers from England in Beirut, and over the course of ten days sampled the delights of Lebanese caves, potholes, scary driving and the excellent hospitality of Speleo Club du Liban. The visit culminated in a trip into the further reaches of Jeita Grotto Cave. A more in depth report will appear in the Bulletin."
Elphin Caving Centre
The GSG Midsummer BBQ on 20th June was attended by 16 members and friends; a reduction from the usual number. It couldn't have been the weather because that was (for a change) fine with Julian busily cooking on the outdoor BBQ. We'll blame the numbers on too many Assynt events. Almost none of the members attending the Claonaite filming trip the previous weekend and the Rana enlargement project the following weekend attended the BBQ. Those who did attend had the opportunity to see the bear skull, reindeer antlers and other finds that were collected that day from Antler Chamber in Claonaite Seven.
We arrived at the hut one recent weekend to find that a water meter had been installed. From now on our water charges will be based on consumption and not on rateable value. The change is being phased in over a couple of years, and I expect it'll eventually increase our yearly bill from £186 to over £300. Better fix that dripping tap! So will everyone please ensure that all taps are turned off when leaving the hut and tell us of any drips or leaks, or, even better, fix them!.
The Morse Squirrel multi-fuel stove lost part of its grate recently. Quite how it happened and where it went we don't know. Roger bought a new grate plus other necessary spare parts and they have now been installed.
During the BBQ weekend the windowsills were liberally soaked with Cuprinol and will soon be painted. This was none too soon as signs of rot were starting to appear in a couple of places. Thanks are due to Ivan's friend Ian Catleugh. Once again a non-member leads the way on hut maintenance.
Thanks to Julian Walford for spending the GSG's money on buying a laminated copy of the new geological map of Assynt. It has been attached to the partition in the main room of the hut. The familiar blues of Durness limestones have gone to be replaced by Dolostones!
- Bat Detection in Assynt - A group researching bat distribution in Scotland will be placing bat detectors near cave entrances in Assynt and talked of including Rana. This'll be for a month from the end of August. They'll be hidden from view, but if you do spot one please don't touch. If you have ever seen bats in any Assynt caves please tell me when and where, and I'll pass the word on.
Some information sent by our Elphin neighbour Bridie Pursey:-
Ullapool Festival If you like Celtic sounds, there is a big festival in Sept/Oct with music workshops and concerts. You should book your tickets now. It's for the Homecoming celebrations - "Tillidh Mi Dhachaidh" (I will return home) ...you can check out the website! Tickets available at the High School (01854 612078) and MacPhail Centre.
The Tillidh Mi Dhachaidh project will culminate in a three-week long celebration of local artists' work. On September 26th 2009 Ullapool's Arts venue an talla solais will host the opening of the project's Art exhibition, which will be on show not only in that venue but also in the Macphail Centre, The Ceilidh Place, and Ullapool Public Library. Musical events will be centred round the weekend of October 2nd and 3rd, when concerts will be held simultaneously in the Macphail Theatre and Ullapool Village Hall. ullapool homecoming website and the events diary
- Alt Food Costs - Be sure to replenish your wallet before eating at the Alt. The quality remains excellent and the quantities over-generous, but their food prices have recently increased. A typical main course is £15.
- Danger - falling rocks! - A recent walk up the Allt nan Uamh found warning signs well before the main rising and at either end of Creag nan Uamh. Perhaps we should set up a stall in the car park to hire out hard hats to walkers?
- House sold - The new house opposite the hut has finally been sold and our new neighbours have moved in and been seen cutting the grass.
Inchnadamph NNR De-declared on 26th June
There follows the executive summary from a SNH announcement of the de-declaration of the Inchnadamph National nature Reserve. My quick summary is that an NNR can only exist with the agreement of the landowner(s) and the needs of nature must override all other factors in making decisions about the land. The estate is running a sporting business, and while they might be willing to make compromises, a NNR doesn't allow them to do so in order to manage the deer herd in a sustainable manner. The condition of the land has improved since 2003 over the years of the deer cull. Though the NNR agreement with the estate has ended the land must not be allowed to deteriorate and if deer numbers are kept low SNH expects the condition to continue to improve.
Inchnadamph NNR Executive Summary
Inchnadamph National Nature Reserve (NNR) is part of the Inchnadamph Estate owned by the Vestey family. The NNR was first declared in October 1956.
It has been managed as an NNR under a Nature Reserve Agreement (NRA) using relevant sections of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 since that time.
In a review of NNRs between 1999 and 2003, it was identified that the Inchnadamph NNR did not fit well with the NNR policy objectives, due to concerns that the terms of the Agreement were not capable of delivering primacy of nature and best practice objectives. At that time the SNH Board expressed its willingness to authorise further consultation with the owners, which has since been undertaken.
The owners have now advised they do not wish to enter into a new Nature Reserve Agreement with SNH. In the absence of a reserve agreement, the NNR now has to be de-declared. SNH can reassure interested parties, that under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, public access is unchanged by this de-declaration, and the natural heritage interests continue to be protected as a Special Area of Conservation and part of the Ben More Assynt Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The GSG private web site. Login names and passwords are distributed to GSG members by email. If you have lost them contact Ivan. Many of the events and caving trips covered by this Newsletter appear in the photo gallery and all recent Bulletins and Newsletters can be found there though not at full print resolution.
GOOGLE EARTH - The observant amongst you will have noticed that over swathes of the North of Scotland, Google Earth have released aerial mapping at a much higher resolution than hitherto (which was dire!). The Rana spoil heap is now clearly visible, but at its 2004 size of course.
This makes spotting karst features possible. In particular the green grass and shakeholes characteristic of limestone can be clearly seen. Armed with the 'new' Assynt Geology map, it is fairly easy to locate the limestone (sorry, no limestone in Assynt anymore - dolostone), and just mouse about.
A few tricks to printing something useful:
- Put in a 'push-pin' to mark anything you might want to come back to.
- Turn on the 'grid' and set the units to decimal degrees. You can use them easily on a GPS and the grid is also printed. UTM might seem more useful, but the grid is not fine enough. British National Grid is not available.
- Turn off the vertical enhancement - set it to zero. This removes the distortion that 3D imaging implies and keeps the view looking straight down from above.
Then just print your view, and walk to the spot using your GPS.
If you use this address from a mobile you can download the mobile version of Google Maps which on satellite view gives the same imagery. With a GPS in your mobile (or connected) you can then use the imagery to find you way around as long as you have a mobile signal and a data subscription. Actually the paper map is better especially if you enhance the contrast.
It is always worth checking the opposition. One used to be called Microsoft Virtual Earth and is now called Bing. Sometimes they have higher resolution or just different.
Another is Yahoo Maps
Surveying made Easier
This year's must for cave surveyors is the DistoX. You buy a Leica A3 Disto - a hand-held laser distance measuring device - open it up and solder in an additional board designed by Beat Heeb a Swiss caver. This adds an electronic compass and inclinometer and couples its output to the display: all three essential measurements taken quickly and easily. If you have a suitable computing device, the data can be transmitted by Bluetooth radio link to a survey program where data can be stored and details added as you survey the cave. It is possible to have the survey computed, drawn and ready for printing before you leave the cave! More details.
Julian Walford investigated for us and contacted fellow GSG member Graham Mullan who was already buying some for use by Mendip members. He added two for the GSG onto the list. One problem is that the A3 Disto is an obsolete model and its replacement hasn't room to add in the extra printed circuit board. Another difficulty is that while Beat has produced extra batches of boards in response to demand, it isn't an off-the-shelf item. Graham found that both were available and has spent about £650 on two sets for us. He has even found a volunteer to assemble our DistoXs at the same time as the other units he's buying.
To make best use of the DistoX we will need a portable rugged PDA/computer and a suitable program. There's a lot of surveying to do in Claonaite and this promises to make it a whole lot easier.
Leica D3 = 2/3 of a DistoX
I have recently been using a more recent Leica disto - the D3. This has a quoted measurement range of 100m using a target and I've had no difficulty measuring 30m in Claonaite without one. Its attraction over other distos is that it contains an inclinometer with a +/- 45 degree range. This unit makes single-person surveying much quicker and easier. It can be found at £199 +VAT with a free tripod and at £179+VAT without. That does still leave me peering through the muddy lens of my Suunto compass - but I have plans for improving that!