GSG Newsletter 138
6 April 2009
GSG Membership 2009 BCA CARD!!
Thanks to everyone who renewed their membership at the beginning of the year, and even to those who waited till almost the last minute. The former group will find their BCA membership cards enclosed with this Newsletter. Those paying in the last month will have to wait as I am only now about to send their renewal fees to the BCA. I'll send their cards out with the next Newsletter or earlier if asked.
Of the 151 members with us at the end of 208, 134 have renewed, 15 have resigned and 5 haven't made their intentions clear so have been deleted - perhaps only temporarily. There are also five new members bringing the current membership total to 139.
Annual General Meeting 2009
The 2009 GSG AGM was held in Elizabeth and Derek's house in Winchburgh on Saturday 31st January and was attended by 18 members. Below is a summary of the main points:
Office Bearers Reports:
- The Chairman reported that the year was greatly marred by the deaths of Peter Ireson and Tony Jarratt.
- The Hon Recorder reported that activities had remained strong, with some good publicity for the club. However, the diversity of Yorkshire trips had decreased this year.
- The Treasurer presented the accounts and reported that the bank balance was very healthy. Membership on 31st December stood at 151 members.
- The Tackle Master had recently taken over and had carried out a survey of equipment. Charging for equipment was discussed and it was considered appropriate to charge for personal equipment such as lamps. Details to follow.
- The Hon Secretary reported that there was a lot of interest in the Club via the Web-site.
- The Hut Warden urged members to continue to contribute to the Hut maintenance programme.
Election of Office Bearers
Existing office bearers were all willing to stand and were reelected unopposed:
Recorder - Alan Jeffreys
Caving Secretary - Ross Davidson
Secretary - Elizabeth Ellis
Treasurer - Ivan Young
Hut Warden - Peter Dowswell
Chairman - Peter Dowswell
Andy Peggie was formally elected as Tackle Master and Rebecca Carter was elected as an Ordinary Member
Votes were counted as follows (including email and postal votes): Mendip 10, Argyll 2, Northumberland 3, Yorkshire 2, Abstentions 3
Mendip was therefore declared the winner. Preliminary details follow this report.
Several publications were discussed. Caves of Assynt is in preparation and will hopefully be published soon and Caves of Raasay is currently being printed.
Everyone was invited to send in suggestions for meets for the coming year.
Several members are going to Meghalaya, and there are planned trips to Mexico, the Lebanon and possibly the Dolomites.
This is planned for 2011, to include a dinner event in Edinburgh in June, an exhibition and a publication. AJ requested articles from members for this special publication.
Any other business
Several other issues were discussed, including a suggestion to move the date of the AGM to the Annual Dinner weekend. This wasn't agreed, but members are encouraged to send in their views on this.
If anyone would like to see a full copy of the minutes, just email me and I can email them out to you. If you have Internet access you can read them on the GSG private web server
GSG Annual Dinner 2009
The 2009 annual dinner will be held on Saturday 24th October in the Bath Arms Hotel, Cheddar. It comes highly recommended by Snab, has held numerous caving dinners, and has accommodation for 18 to 20. Dinner will be about £17 per head. The booking form will be included with the next Newsletter. This early warning of the date and venue should give you all plenty of time to reserve that weekend for the GSG Dinner.
The Bath Arms tell me that there will be a discount of 20% off their standard room rates if you book accommodation with them for the dinner weekend and mention the GSG. Contact them on 01934 742425 or look at their web site
Information about accommodation in caving huts and campsites et cetera will be distributed with the next GSG Newsletter.
Caving - Assynt
Rana / Claonaite - The main activity has been the lowering of the floor in the Skyeway. On December 30th Norman Flux started at the Two A's end and found a narrow rift in the floor. Joined by Roger Galloway, Martin Hayes and Bob Sommerville on the 31st this was deepened by over half a metre with at least the same again looking possible at the high point in the passage. New Year's Day saw Derek Pettiglio joining in the fun. He returned for a spot of solo digging on the 2nd. When Martin appeared they took a line of sight through the dig and it appeared that it would no longer sump: there would be usable airspace no matter how much water was entering Rana, and we should eventually be able to remove the dam.
On January 24th Martin, Julian, Ivan, Derek and John Crae continued digging out the slot in the floor. The main obstacle was the set of large boulders half way along, but we managed to dig our way under the first and largest of them. Julian carried up a 50m length of 32mm water pipe on the Saturday that we fed down Rana and through to Two A's Chamber. On Sunday he connected it to the dam and inserted a T-junction fitted with a non-return valve at the bottom of the flooded dig. This was intended to act as a self-starting siphon and did do some good at first. Then with the digging we think the mud stopped the non-return part of the valve non-returning and the feed from the dam started to fill the dig instead of starting the siphon.
In February Preston White, Julian, John, Roger, Annie Audsley and Ivan worked hard with most of the spoil stacked at the end of the Skyeway with the rest tipped into the dig not doing the non-return valve any favours. The March trip on the 21st saw a large team concentrating on the area around the large boulders. The dig was full and this proved that there was now easily enough air space to pass it, and even stay dry above the waist with a little effort put into traversing in the roof. Next on the agenda is to demolish a couple of the larger boulders so we can deepen the floor slot all the way. Once we've done that we'll jam boulders near the bottom of the passage to provide an elevated walk/crawl way where it is a bit wider. It's now more difficult to pass than it was before we started, because it is so narrow low down.
Digging hasn't completely dominated activity. During his New Year visit Derek went solo digging in Nipple Chamber (NL 135, p4) and eventually broke through into the 30m long Tibesti Chamber (March 2009 GSG Bulletin). This whole area is beginning to resemble a lump of Swiss cheese with Two A's, Concretehead, Duelling Pianos, Nipple and Tibesti Chambers all stacking up. There hardly seems room for anything else. A high grade survey and resurvey of the entire area is badly need to see just how all these chambers relate to one another and to the Claonaite streamway with sumps 4 to 6 running somewhere below them all. This reawakens the possibility - perhaps remote - of bypassing sumps 4 to 6 and entering Claonaite Three.
Not Quite a Novice Caving Trip
On the 21st March there were enough diggers that Ivan and Preston took Colin Coventry on a conducted tour to the Great Northern Time Machine. We looked carefully at the extreme northern part of this which is closest to the talus slope below the Bone Caves. The continuation looks to be choked with something closer to frost-shattered rock from Creag nan Uamh than river-washed gravels. If it wasn't a Scheduled Ancient Monument I'd be tempted to dig, but would we really want to make access that easy into Claonaite Seven? I must take a Heyphone there and radiolocate the position accurately from the surface. I think it is the most probable route for the bear to have taken into the cave, and locating it more precisely with respect to the surface would help test that hypothesis.
After our downstream saunter we headed upstream from Belh Aven so Colin - clad in a new wet suit - could cool down in sump 6. We also had a wander around Concretehead and along one short passage found a slot in the floor with a wider passage or chamber visible below. Preston tried moving the boulders preventing a descent but they were too heavy. A return is planned.
Satisfied with results we carried on out removing the Black Rift ladders as we went. When we reached the Skyeway, Roger asked where John Crae and his party were. John had taken novice Sue Campbell from Aviemore, new member Allan Sutherland and his friend Graham through ANUSC then after lunch in the Bone Caves had descended Rana and entered Two A's Chamber. We hadn't seen them so they'd obviously descended Black Rift and headed downstream while we were upstream. Preston and I quickly returned and rehung the ladders. When Roger and Martin learned we hadn't seen John's party they expressed some concern and went looking for them as the rest of us exited Rana and walked down to the car park for 5:30pm thinking of the Bavarian meal that was only an hour away. It was not to be.
Sue had been slow heading down Rana, but determined to carry on. John had guided the party as far as Legless Highway when it became clear that Sue was wilting and he turned back. As all cavers know climbing out of a cave is much more difficult than sliding down it, so Sue was very slow on the exit and even slower on the walk down the valley assisted by Roger and Martin. I was warned by John and updated later on progress when Allan and Graham arrived. Later they went back up the valley and Allan gave Sue a piggy-back down the last few hundred metres as by that time - about 8pm - she could hardly stand. I'd kept my car warn and whisked her back to Taigh nam Famh where a hot shower rapidly revived her. Though starting the Bavarian meal as the rest of us were finishing she made a valiant effort to catch up and finished the evening by making the mistake of chatting to Colin in the company of a steadily emptying bottle of Laphroaig.
Sue's account of her day follows later as does Goon's take on lessons to be learned. Most novices can be relied upon to turn back early. Sue was exceptional in wanting to push herself to her limits. That could have resulted in a full-scale rescue, but because John had turned back early and the help given by the rest of her party it didn't. It was a close run thing and something for us all to beware of in future.
A Flying trip to Assynt
We were contacted early this year by Jenny Crook of the East of Scotland Universities Air Squadron (http://www.esuas.co.uk/). They are students receiving support and training from the RAF while they study at university. Jenny wanted to arrange a caving trip so we selected the weekend of March 28th and my request for members to help saw eight of us turn up for the weekend. Here is Annie's report on the event:-
Caving with the Rif RAF
On the weekend of 28th March 13 members of the East of Scotland University Air Squadron were taken caving in Assynt by a team of GSG guides. All appeared to have a thoroughly good time despite wintry conditions and the lack of a local shop to buy supplies on Saturday morning. After a trip to Ullapool for beer and breakfast supplies, Saturday saw three teams in Cnockers making short work of the trip to the Static Sump, where some people made a bit of a meal out of the worms (literally.. Worm eating has now been added to the list of things that have been done in Cnockers). By this time they were asking to be taken to "bits where we have to squeeze and wriggle to get through" so they were shown out via the Rabbit Warren.
On Saturday night the students arrived at the Allt in cave-man and woman fancy dress and helped the GSG teams win 1st and 2nd prize in the pub quiz, after which all returned to the hut for some classic caving hut games. The students roundly beat the GSG at table wrestling and bottle walking, but couldn't quite match our prowess at the pan-and-sling game.
On Sunday most of them were still raring to go and had a trip into ANUS, exploring most of the cave. A couple of people even did Parallel Crawl, commenting "now I definitely know that I'm not claustrophobic. but I still really want to get out of here!"
After this brief introduction to the delights of the underworld, some of the students seemed already to be hooked and were promising to return. All to the good as they were a great bunch - good fun and good cavers.
Lost & Found
Julian Walford found a rechargeable battery pack in Cave of the Liar when in Applecross in March. If the owner cares to identify it - make, type, colour, markings, serial number, date of manufacture, where it was left, identifying features - he will be happy to return it
Malcolm's Myth Demystified
A recent discovery near Loch Urigill proved elusive, but has now been tracked down. Malcolm McConville starts the tale:-
"On a bright but cold day I walked from the hut to Loch Urigill following the southern shoreline until reaching a point about halfway down the loch where a small rock sits in the water about 50 metres offshore. At this point I turned right and made my way uphill through a thin line of trees which sit in and around a number of shakeholes. Skirting the edge of these I continued via a dry streambed to a further thicker band of trees about 200 metres or so uphill. After looking in not more than 3 or 4 shakeholes I found one containing a single tree and a 1 metre square hole halfway up one end. On poking my head inside I was very surprised to see a reasonably large clean elliptical shaft some 10-12ft deep with an obvious dry streambed at the bottom running in the direction of the loch. Without access it was impossible to determine whether there is navigable passage however the dimensions of the pot were encouragingly impressive.
On return to the hut I got kitted up, grabbed a ladder and accompanied by Duncan Butler (BEC) made my way back to the loch. By this time however it was dark and despite our best efforts we were unable to relocate the hole. This is probably not surprising with hindsight as it lay in a wood with little in the way of distinguishing features."
This encouraged a visit by Goon in mid-January, but it was not found. Later Jamie Yuill and Lindsay Moss did a sweep search and successfully located it, took photographs to prove it, and descended it by ladder belayed to a tree. There is no navigable passage at the bottom, but the sound of running water and what appears to be easy digging could encourage GSG diggers to visit. Later with their description of the location Goon walked straight to it on his next visit in March.
GLEN ERROCHTY - Roger Galloway and Jamie (Boab) Yuill have taken on the task of passing the blockage at the upstream end of Trinafour Rising Cave hoping for a connection to Lower Trinafour Cave. Here is Roger's story:-
Boab had been for a tourist trip into Trinafour Rising and realised that it could be extended. Our first trip late last year was a bit of a recce after work one evening. The first bit of the cave is 50m of narrow chest deep canal. Boab found that going neck deep through the tighter section made the going much easier. After a short dry section the active stream comes out of the right hand wall with a boulder choked low passage going straight ahead. This is the furthest point of the original exploration. We dug for about an hour moving the rocks back to be stacked in the dry section and gaining a couple of metres until the cold chased us out. The name Fools Gold Dig came from Boab finding a bit of rock which really looked like gold. The fine lump of mica-schist now sits proudly on his mantelpiece.
The second trip was on the way down from Sutherland at New Year. Again we dug a couple of metres, but now the rocks could be stacked to the left hand side. With the roof closing in helmets were no longer required and Boab had to widen the dig to fit through. Again the cold got the better of us. On our third trip on 28th March, after a couple more metres, we broke though to find that the passage uncharacteristically doglegs several metres back on itself. After 20m the passage is blocked by an unstable boulder choke. There is a possibility of an oxbow but only digging will reveal. Oh what joy.
SKYE - Richard Simpson and David Morrison continue finding more caves and passage on Skye and the mainland as far afield as Trinafour. Several of these finds are reported in the March 2009 Bulletin. In addition they found an extension to Breakish Cave. Here is Richard's report:-
"From the choke shown at the end of the narrow passage heading east near the end of the cave, a helmet width squeeze up a slot takes you to a more comfortable chamber approx. 3 m x 2m. This was first reached by David Morrison and Toby Speight where some excavating was started towards what looked like more passage. It was at this point on a return trip by David and myself that I managed the feet first, flat out wriggle on my back (which is easier than it looks!) to reach the passage which forms a T-junction. Following it to the left for about 3m it becomes lower but the floor is silt so could be dug. Also, water can be heard close by. To the right the passage is an easier hands and knees crawl passing a dried up gour pool before turning left where the silt floor, which is covered in limpet, winkle and oyster shells with bones scattered between, rises to form a bank where a tube shaped passage is seen to continue. A conservative estimate of this extension is 15 metres. There is an inlet which comes in from the east next to the end of the cave, which is not marked on the original survey. David made a wet crawl up this streamway for about 5 metres to a small sump which needs to be looked at again. This could be the water which can be heard from the first extension."
A VERY PERSONAL CHALLENGE
Yesterday I returned home fatigued and covered in bruises, but feeling incredibly proud of myself. The previous day I had pushed myself to the very limit of physical exhaustion and borderline hypothermia, but thanks to the unconditional support of my fellow cavers I successfully realised one of my life's ambitions.
Seven years ago, whilst living in Ullapool I was invited up to Assynt, but my mind was occupied by other more pressing matters at the time. I did keep in touch with the GSG, though and have recently reviewed their website. I duly noted that there was a meet on 21st March and telephoned Alan Jeffreys who kindly offered me a lift. So, the date was set for my first taste of caving - I had only ever visited show caverns before - and despite a certain degree of apprehension during the preceding week, not helped by the fact that the actress Natasha Richardson suffered a fatal accident as a novice of her chosen sport I found myself at the club hut in Elphin late on Friday evening. Now bearing in mind that it has been many years since I have stayed overnight in any accommodation below the level of a three or four star hotel, I was rather shocked at the sleeping arrangements and that first night my peace was somewhat disturbed by the snoring and flatulent productions of several of my room mates! The following evening I was sat up until the wee small hours sharing a bottle of Islay's finest whisky with two of the members so by bedtime I was rather oblivious to those masculine sounds!
Before retiring I felt obliged to walk a mile in the pitch dark to locate a mobile telephone signal so that I could let my girlfriend know that I was safe, but on returning to the hut plans were made for the following day and John turned out to be an absolute delight as our cave guide and mentor so my initial feelings of isolation were dispelling nicely.
Saturday arrived and by the time I was togged up in the appropriate kit and about to embark on the 1.5 mile walk from the car park at Inchnadamph to the first cave, all my initial apprehensions were quashed and I was really looking forward to the challenge. I must admit I did not find the club members very friendly at first, but chatting to Ivan along the way made me feel very welcome and by the time I left Sutherland on Sunday morning I had made friends with several members. My only regret about the entire weekend was that it was not recorded photographically, but hopefully this article will be colourful enough to compensate for that!
Allt nan Uamh Stream Cave was our first point of call. I particularly enjoyed squeezing through the rather narrow entrance and emerging after an hour from an equally narrow exit hole, but the interior was not dissimilar to a show cave with little real adventure to be had. It did prove to me though that any fears I might have had regarding claustrophobia were a mere fallacy and I knew my trip to Assynt was going to be a good one! The six of us then walked the short distance to the Bone Caves and under the expert guidance of our leader John (what a shame that he snores otherwise.!) we had a quick look around Reindeer Cave. The remnants of animal/human bones have obviously been long removed, but I felt really privileged to have had the opportunity to visit one of Scotland's oldest historical sites.
Unfortunately, I had not realised that we would not be returning back to the car park for lunch and so my carefully packed meal was left unconsumed in my rucksack nestling in one of the vehicles, but my companions did kindly offer to share their sandwiches and drinks with me. I think that this is one of the things that I was most impressed with - the way that the members cared and supported each other. In my case this attitude was to be put to the test later that day but more about that on the next page!
So, I had completed the novice part of the excursion and I was now looking forward to undertaking some real caving! After another short hike we reached the mouth of Rana Hole ('Rana' is Latin for 'frog', so this cave was of a particular significance as my ex-husband's nickname for me was 'Bedfrog'. I shall let your imagination run with that one!) and peered into its inky blackness (a little poetic licence here, methinks!) with a feeling of awe and excitement. By the time we crawled out again a whole five hours had past so I guess this was the most memorable part of the whole weekend: well, apart from getting totally sloshed on single malt on Saturday evening, of course!!
The five of us (Mary's damaged Achilles tendon forced her to return to the hut and listen to Scotland playing rugby on the radio!) made our way the hundred feet or so down into the hole using various ladders and this marked the start of our very own adventure playground underground. The plan was to progress into Claonaite and visit the Great Northern Time Machine, but unfortunately there were three parallel passages leading from the bear cave and we ventured along the two wrong ones! Nevertheless, the various activities that we undertook en route were quite thrilling in themselves. These included descending/ascending an electron ladder or two, wading in water up to one's waist and the crawling - well, to be honest, I never thought that since passing toddlerhood I would need to spend so much time on my hands and knees again! Thank God, John lent me his knee pads! It was wonderful to observe the stalactites hanging from the ceiling of the cave and the flowstone. I have always had the belief that Mother Nature outshines the best of human artists every time. I shall leave the technical descriptions to the more knowledgeable but from a personal point of view the experiences to be had in these two caves were extraordinary!
We passed one or two of the members on our travels who were drilling and digging the rock to allow exploration of Claonaite in the future without one having to don a wetsuit and dive into the chilly water. Like many of the extreme sports, speleology certainly develops one's skills of teamwork, resilience and personal courage and I would strongly recommend anyone with a decent level of basic fitness (and not of an obese body shape - imagine becoming wedged in a tight space!) to take up the challenge as I did and 'give caving a go'.
By the time John decided that we needed to 'about turn' and make our way out I was starting to feel physically drained and we took several rest breaks and consumed a few Mars bars to replenish our energy! I am aware that there are some GSG members who felt that I took on too much for my first trip (the most any novice has done, I was informed on the Sunday morning!) but I really must protest at this. I wanted to push myself to the very limit of my capabilities and I never felt scared or 'out of my depth'. If I had experienced any less than I did, then I would have felt cheated and 'sold short': so that is 'one in the eye' for John's and my critics!!
Eventually with the use of ropes and much pushing and pulling (of me!) we emerged back into the daylight. We learnt afterwards that the wire ladders had been removed and then replaced once it was realised that we were still underground. It was the hike back to the car park that I was most dreading, and it took us an hour and forty minutes to complete the journey. Along the way I was literally supported for most of the time by Martin and Roger to prevent me falling into the heather, unable to rise again(!), and for the last few hundred feet I rode on Allan Sutherland's back as I used to do with my father many years ago - that was an unforgettable moment in itself! Thoughts of my girlfriend kept me going and also standing under a hot shower and then donning warm clean clothes. Next time I shall buy myself a pair of decent gloves and locate a safety helmet that fits rather better than my one did!
Ivan gave me a most welcome lift back to the hut (I was shivering quite violently by this time!), and eventually I was sat down in the conservatory enjoying the first course of the Bavarian meal cooked and delightfully served by Peter, Ginny and Jenny Dowswell. Everyone else was on their dessert by this time, but no bother as the feeling of well-being was fantastic and despite rarely eating meat the sausages looked so tasty that I managed four of them! I must express my appreciation for the quality of the meal - it was wonderful - and to all the assistance given to me by the members. The reader is already aware of how I spent the rest of my evening so no need to elaborate here!
Sunday morning I packed, and with a cracker of a hangover (my first in seven years!) I made my way back to Aviemore. I would certainly love to explore some more caves in the near future and I look forward to catching up with the friends I made in Assynt. Like myself, the majority of the members seemed to be intelligent professional people of the mature genre. Thank-you for giving me the opportunity to conquer 'a very personal challenge'!
BEGINNER'S INTRODUCTORY TRIPS - A NOTE
This may seem like teaching members to suck eggs, but even so it is worth re-iterating, following a recent experience in Sutherland.
Most will be aware that the GSG require all newcomers (excepting already experienced cavers) to participate in a meet as a non-member first, to allow them to see whether they truly want to cave, and for us to note any reason why they shouldn't (at least not with us!)
The guiding principles for the leader of such a trip should be that a cave is chosen which is well within virtually anyone's reasonable capability, that the newcomer is adequately fed and dressed, and most importantly, that the trip is planned - and that plan adhered to - so as to provide an enjoyable experience without epics of any kind. Whether or not the newcomer tries to insist they are up for more than originally planned, most do not appreciate that coming out (ie up) caves is infinitely more tiring than going in, and it is no part of a 'taster' trip to bring said newcomer to a state of exhaustion or near hypothermia. Such people trust the club to look after them, and it does not reflect well on us if they are reduced to rubble on their first descent!
The above should be easy to do because the newcomer will probably have no prior knowledge of the cave in question, and will not be in position to realise just how much more of a particular system there is that they are missing out on. The leader should explain, if necessary, that going further demands technical stamina that only comes with experience and stand firm with that decision. God forbid that anything should go wrong, but in an ultimate case, imagine a coroner's remarks if a newcomer succumbed while on an introductory trip which could reasonably be classed as beyond their capability. Exhaustion and hypothermia can creep up unexpectedly with frightening speed and there could be legal implications for the leader of the party (and the club) if the worst happens.
Always aim to leave prospective members having undertaken an athletic but completely manageable experience, happy and, if possible, ready for more of the like.
The Claonaite Bear Bones
Not much progress to report. I visited the Scottish Museums Collection Centre in Granton in early March and with Dr Andrew Kitchener laid out the bones and took some photographs. There wasn't time to add the ribs and most of them are still a jigsaw puzzle. The bones are now all nicely cleaned and impregnated with plastic making them much stronger. Where possible some broken bits have been glued back together. Andrew had the complete skeleton of a female brown bear from a wild life park and it was very noticeable just how much larger 'our' bear was and also how much was missing from bones like the scapula (shoulder blade): all the thinner plate like areas have been eroded away.
BCRA Cave Science Symposium
GSG members Steven Birch and Ivan Young gave talks at the recent BCRA Cave Science Symposium in Sheffield on the 7th March. It was themed on archaeology / palaeontology so Steve's investigations at High Pasture Cave and our recovery of the bear skeleton from Claonaite Seven were suitable topics. It was a popular meeting with 20 speakers and consequently the major challenge of covering our topics in 15 minutes each with three of those reserved for questions. The event was very well organised by Trevor Faulkner - also a GSG member - who managed to keep the meeting running smoothly with only a modest overrun at the end of the day.
Because Steve and I had travelled the furthest Trevor was confident we'd be there on time so gave us the opening slots. Afterwards we could relax and enjoy the rest of the day. The talks ranged from teasing Holocene climate data out of an Ethiopian stalagmite to several talks on the nearby Creswell Crags where the first examples of Ice Age cave art in the UK were found. This was a prelude to the following day's field trip to the caves there.
Creswell Crags and their Cave Art
On Sunday 8th March following the BCRA Symposium many of the participants drove the short distance to Creswell Crags: a large hump of limestone surrounded by flat farmland and bisected in antiquity by a river leaving cliffs to either side with many cave entrances exposed. These were inhabited, probably spasmodically, by first Neanderthals about 50000 BP then our ancestors after the last ice age around 12,500 years ago. They were excavated extremely poorly by modern standards in Victorian times with the main protagonists falling out, no records kept, and the finds distributed around the country to friends and small museums - enough to make present archaeologists weep at what was lost. Recent reworking of the spoil heap and underlying talus slope outside Church Cave has revealed another cave untouched for many thousands of years. Paul Pettit, the responsible archaeologist, has high hopes that excavation using modern techniques (not pickaxes and explosives!) will answer many of the questions the 19th century digs ignored. Also acting as a tour guide for us was Paul Bahn, one of the group who first recognized the engravings in the caves for what they were.
The site has been vastly improved by diverting the road that formerly ran through the gorge, and the upgrades continue with a new visitor centre and museum scheduled to open later this year. A very worthwhile visit and highly recommended, though normal visitors wouldn't have the benefit of such expert guides.
Smugglers' Cave, Aberlady
The investigation of the site of Aberlady's Smugglers' Cave took place over two days last month. On Thursday 19th March archaeologists Ian Suddaby and Cara Jones from CFA Archaeology stripped back several metres of the banking west of the protruding wall. When I joined them in the afternoon they'd already trenched down beside the wall finding the buried portion to be of dry stone construction with none of the lime mortar used above ground. I helped Cara dig a trench at the other end of the section finding only a bone, a neck from a broken bottle and bedrock. Ian then called us over to show a second wall he'd just found also heading into the banking. The rest of the day was occupied in cleaning up the area and making drawings.
On the Friday Alison Fuller-Shapcott joined Ian and Cara to help backfill the excavation. In the time available it wasn't possible to do any more digging, An animal burrow ran a bit further into the bank, but there was no sign of lintels, so the start of the 'cave' passage must be unroofed. Some serious shoring may be needed for any further work here.
Finding a second wall spaced about 0.5 m from the first does strongly support this being the site of the Smugglers' Cave. The 0.5m width is somewhat tight for smugglers and their contraband, but the site is far more likely to be a souterrain associated with the Iron Age fort lying overhead. Since that was built the sea has possibly eroded half of it away so the cave would originally have been within it former larger boundary. We hope that Aberlady Conservation Society decides to continue investigating the site and the GSG remains keen to assist.
Emergency Funding for Scottish Mining Museum
The Scottish Mining Museum at Newtongrange, site of lat year's NAMHO Conference, was recently facing the prospect of closure with some of its buildings needing major structural repairs. Both the local council and Historic Scotland have recently reduced their contributions to the museum and a fund-raising campaign was started. The Scottish Government announced in March that it was contributing £1.4 million of emergency funding which will go a long way to paying for the estimated £2.5 million cost of repairs. The cash will pay for repairs over the next three years, but more is needed to assure the long term future of the museum.
50 Year Celebration
We are now two and a half years away from celebrating 50 years of the GSG, in June 2011. Several years have past since this event was announced but not a lot has been achieved. I realize that some things should and will be addressed by the subcommittee set up to further various ideas now that the time is approaching for actual plans to be commenced. In this paper I wish to concentrate on one issue.
Ever since the club was founded, the greater share of administrative detail (including writing and publishing reports, organizing club business and many other 'behind the scenes' functions) has fallen to a minority of members. 2011 is an ideal opportunity for ALL members to come forward and be recognized for without its body of members, a club is nothing. As an almost unique organization in Scotland, we have rightfully a lot to feel proud of, which is why the committee feel our celebrations should perhaps be more 'politically' weighted than would be the case with English clubs, a number of whom have or are about to, reach the grand old age of 50 years.
One major aspect of a majority of caving clubs celebrating a jubilee has been the production of a special publication chronicling their history and I wish to do the same. I visualize a quality A4 soft cover book, hopefully with colour but certainly black and white photographs, with text spanning the entire era from 1961 to present. This has been announced AGM after AGM but I am still awaiting contributions from active and retired members.
Please read this carefully and act upon it. What I am looking for are writings by members of any length (but larger than one paragraph please!), giving their personal 'tale' on their involvement with the club. Anyone wishing to do a larger piece on a specific subject - say on Rana Hole, owning the club lorry, on either of the Elphin huts - you get the picture - would be made most welcome. The point is, variety is everything and I will accept more or less anything you have to offer. Photographs, particularly old photographs, are urgently required but must be of club meets and/or members. Caving before joining the GSG is not really relevant.
I have said before, although sadly the point has been made dramatically for me this last year, don't put this off. You could be run over by a bus tomorrow and all your accumulated memories would be lost. Also, it will be appreciated that it takes a long time to edit and produce a publication of this scope so early material is very welcome.
With thinking time included, I wrote this appeal in ten minutes. If your contribution is two or three times this length, then that is only half an hour out of your life - not a lot to ask.
Alan L. Jeffreys, Recorder
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 at 07942 985305 (mobile), 0131 535 3119 (work), or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
For those who watched and enjoyed The Descent, the sequel is due to be released on May 15th. In The Descent: part 2 the survivor from part 1 - Sarah Carter - is forced to go back into the cave with the rescue squad to find her missing companions and from there you can probably extrapolate events. The on-line review I read is of a bootleg copy of an early script and not very complimentary, but improvements could have been made. A very willing suspension of disbelief is going to be required to accept a rescue team forcing a traumatized victim back down the cave she's just escaped from.
Four more names to add to the list so far this year
- John Ireson
- Lindsay Moss
- Eva Weltermann
- Euan Maxwell
Anna Ermakova, Mark Tringham
Paul Archibald, email; John Crowsley, email; Peter Glanvill, mobile; Tim Lawson, email (home); Jonathan Meelboom, email
Request to Budding Authors
I've started writing a book of cavers' yarns - the misadventures if you like. Any profit will be directed to help fund the next Mendip Underground, which J-Rat left to the Cave Registry. With this in mind, I'd be grateful if you could pass the word around that I'm looking for humorous - even outrageous - anecdotes. I've got quite a few on J-Rat of course and I've already asked Goon, though I suspect there may be more about him than from him. All contributions would be gratefully received. I'm aiming for about 100 of the best - and it would be good to get some of these tales down before we all shuffle off this mortal coil!.
Robin (Tav) Taviner
Elphin Caving Centre
The members of the Grampian dining club have been well stuffed over the winter season. Fourteen attended the Xmas dinner in December and such were the variety and number of courses some had to lie down afterwards and their activity thereafter was somewhat muted.
In January eight sat down to the Burns Supper with poetry readings from several members including fine contributions from Jim Salvona.
In March the Bavarian meal encouraged 18 to partake of what chef Peter Dowswell assured us were authentic Bavarian dishes. There were certainly several varieties of wurst plus sauerkraut in evidence. Many thanks to Peter for organising and cooking the three meals which were thoroughly enjoyed by all. The next food event is likely to be the Midsummer BBQ on June 20th.
Mendip Migration 2009
Advance bookings for this year's annual pilgrimage promise a full hut. So far 20 members and friends are expected to arrive on or after 25th April for a week or more of digging, caving and diving. If we add on the expected number from Scotland then late arrivals would be wise to bring a tent just in case. Scottish members will be few the first weekend as there is an SCRO exercise in Strathclyde on Sunday 26th.
Bunnies Attack Again!
After the attack reported in the last Newsletter most trees had more protection added in the form of damp proof course wrapped around the bottom of their trunks. This wasn't sufficient, however, as a later cold snap laid down enough snow for our voracious neighbours to surmount the chicken wire barrier around the holly bush at the front gate. All its lower branches were comprehensively gnawed and it is now expected to expire. We won't dig it out just yet in case it sprouts afresh from the base.
There have been meetings recently in the Elphin area to discuss the possible purchase of forestry commission land around Loch Urigill and Ledmore. The GSG didn't have a representative at the latest meeting - held in the Alt, but our neighbour Bridie Pursey has been emailing details around the area and we are included in her distribution list. I understand that the land has been offered to the community, there is no competition, and the price is likely to be low. With the Assynt Crofters and Assynt Foundation as nearby buy-out examples, there should be plenty of advice available if the decision is to go ahead.
The Alt now sports a double-sided wood-burning stove installed between the bar and the conservatory where the original front door used to be before it was moved to the present position. This has noticeable lightened the interior (during daylight hours) and everyone can be found clustered around it and commenting how much warmer they feel.
The CaveMaps site was recently upgraded. It has many surveys of Yorkshire caves from the BPC, CPC, RRCPC and other clubs as well as copies of those in Northern Caves. Many of these displayed for me at far too small a size to be useful, but the site is still in development so perhaps this will improved soon. The Map option takes you to a Google Maps view of Ingleborough with superimposed cave passages. Good for giving an overall view of how the caves (unnamed!) relate to each other. You can then select an area then a cave from the menus on the left and the map centres on the entrance and a marker appears there. Already a useful site and it promises much more in the future.
Scottish Cave Rescue Organisation
There have been three callouts in the four months from December to March for the SCRO. They have all been connected with wider scale searches for missing persons with many other rescue teams involved before we were called.
The first in December was to Earlston, Lauderdale to search culverts under the main road and a field drain nearby. The second was in January to check culverts under railway tracks near Fauldhouse, West Lothian and the last was in March to search Linn Caves, a limestone mine, near Milngavie, Strathclyde. In all three cases nothing was found and the missing person was found dead the following day on the surface. Fuller reports on incidents are being placed in the members' area of the SCRO web site.
MRCofS Search Management Software
Four members - Ivan, Julian Walford, Mark Lonnen and John Crae recently attended an evening training session on the search management software developed for the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland. Afterwards Ivan took possession of a laptop and printer. The MRCofS have handed one out to each of their member teams. Later there will be the possibility of loading the software with all its Ordnance Survey 1:10k, 1:25k and 1:50k maps onto other team laptops, but not yet.
At present the package includes a 2007 version of the GSG's cave database. This is included both as a layer and as a gazetteer. The layer allows search managers to quickly see if there are any underground sites recorded in their search area. The gazetteer lets them instantly centre the map on a specific cave - provided they know its name. The database does allow for multiple names per site so it will not matter if, for example, a certain mine in Fife is referred to as Ninelums or Newbigging.
It is to our advantage to make the database as complete as possible both to assist other teams and to help us if we get called in. Can I ask all members with GPS receivers to please take position readings at any entrances they visit and send the results to me and/or Dick Grindley who is developing the database. We have 10 digit NGR data for most caves in the main caving areas, but there are many gaps, so don't assume the one you're visiting has been recorded. Safer to take another measurement and sent it in. Duplicates also help to check positions that are already in the database and weed out any errors. Do check that your GPS receiver is set up for British Grid and OS datum and that your reading is based on at least four satellites otherwise the result could be severely in error.
Cave Rescue Conference 2009
The conference will be based at the Nightingale Centre at Great Hucklow, Derbyshire although many activities will be in Bagshawe Cavern and Moorfurlong Mine at Bradwell and Peak Cavern at Castleton. It runs from the evening of Friday 8th May through to Sunday 10th when it finishes after lunch. There is accommodation in the centre and local camp sites. There is a full programme with workshops on pumping, diving, vertical hauling, gas and foul air, animal rescue and search management amongst others. To get the most from this event we need a good representation from the SCRO. Please let me know if you plan to attend and I'll organise booking our places and we can arrange to share transport there and back. The last cave rescue conference we attended in any numbers was in 2005 and they don't happen every year, so please make a special effort to attend.
There are several exercises planned for 2009. The first is with the Strathclyde Police team and is planned around a vertical haul out of a fissure on A'Chrois near Arrochar. The second is being planned by Julian Walford with the Torridon (and Kintail) teams for the Applecross/Kishorn area at the start of June. We'll also have our regular autumn exercise with Assynt MRT at the beginning of October.
Scottish Government Grant
For the first time, the SCRO shared at the end of last year in the annual £300,000 grant given by Holyrood to the MRCofS. At a special meeting of the MRCofS called to discuss how it should be distributed it was decided to allocated all teams a base amount of £6,000 with the remainder split according to the number of callouts each team had received in a five year period. It was further decided that 'real' mountain rescues would receive a much higher weighting than those classified as e.g.urban searches. For some unspecified reason that I don't understand the SCRO were allocated just the basic £6,000 and nothing based on callouts, though with only a couple in the chosen period we wouldn't have received much anyway. This grant is allowing us to improve our stock of equipment and reduce our dependency on using members' own tackle.
This latest grant was for one year only and at the same yearly rate as for the previous five year award. The MRCofS are making their case for a larger grant in future years and the amount, the timing and the method of dispersal are all up for negotiation again, so we cannot rely on any particular amount for our future finances.
The SCRO Equipment Officer, Roger Galloway, was allocated a large proportion of the MRCofS grant at our last committee meeting for immediate use - up to £3,000 - and has been busy spending it. So far he has bought small kit bags that will be used for individual rescue kits for members to hold and to take with them at all times. Each will include some simple first aid supplies, a sling, a couple of karabiners and perhaps more. Team equipment has received a big boost with two 200m drums of 11mm semi-static rope, rope bags, pulleys, hangers, Stops and a bolting kit with more to come.
Several members recently travelled down to Tebay to see the Larkin Rescue Frame. This is a fine construction that overhangs a shaft or a cliff and can be tilted back to swing a suspended stretcher or person away from the drop and then lower to the surface. One of these was exactly what was needed to rescue a casualty who had fallen down an old mine shaft in Strathclyde last year, but nobody in Scotland had one available. Someone should, and it needs to be held centrally where it can be deployed with minimum delay.
I recently heard from BCRC that they were going to allocate us a Cas Bag. We've been wanting to buy a couple of the new BCRC designed bags for the last year or so, but it has been a long time getting into production. I hope to learn more - and perhaps even take delivery of one - at the BCRC AGM this month. We shall see. The bag is designed to work with our new stretchers, so as soon as they are available we'll want one for Assynt as well as for Winchburgh.