GSG Newsletter 135
10 August 2008
Vale: Peter Ireson - 1971-2008
"Moan, grumble, whine. 'B****y cave.' Grunt. 'B****y bags.' Grumble.
'B****y stream.' Bang. 'Ouch! B****y Robinson!'
After a freezing age, we got back to the entrance. Pete started derigging the pitch just inside the entrance, while I crawled out onto the hill, wondering if Pete would ever cave with me again. I can still remember Pete's dulcet tones wafting out - 'At least we're out of this freezing s**t hole'.
It broke my heart to tell him it was snowing."
It's hard to believe that Pete is gone. One Tuesday he was in the pub making us laugh; the next, he wasn't, and never would be again. It's just not right that such a good person can be taken away so suddenly; so quickly. Pete was one of those rare people who lived his life to the full, and I suppose we should take some solace from the fact that he was doing what he loved at the end ? dangling on a bit of string.
Pete has been a major part of the club for the last 10 years - a fact that was brought home with the many messages for Pete and his family, the turnout at his funeral, and the stories then told. Pete was a tackle master, rope supplier, photographer, web master, chauffeur, wood collector, p-hanger installer, story teller, rope rigger, computer fixer, SRT trainer, LED lighting maniac, odd job man, friend and general all round great guy. He was so important to us all, that one attractive female club member was prepared to go to extreme lengths for him:
"Please tell Pete that I can't believe that the offer of me coming over to sit on him n***d didn't cheer him up. Can you tell him that I'm therefore sending Goon over to sit on him n***d. That should get a reaction!"
Sadly, even that wasn't enough.
On Sunday the 20th of July, 2008, three days after his accident, Pete's family made the hard decision to switch off his ventilator and other machines, and he died peacefully with his family at his bedside only a few minutes later. He had been in the company of friends since Friday morning, and on the Sunday in particular, where 6 friends and his father sat with him and swapped many happy memories. Poor Pete wasn't able to get a word in edgeways! Regrettably the number of visitors was strictly limited, as many more friends would have liked to have spent some time with Pete.
On Monday the 28th of July, 2008, Pete was cremated at a beautiful humanist ceremony at Mortonhall crematorium in Edinburgh. Under strict orders from his dad to make this a happy celebration of Pete's life, we penned a speech more akin to a best man's speech than a eulogy, and told the tale of man who brightened the lives of everyone he met (and that was without taking his LEDs into account). Around 150 of Pete's family, friends, work colleagues and GSG members laughed as we let Pete tell his own tale of his approach to caving: we had to include his own Simpson's pot trip report, as it was better than anything we could have written about him.
Because this was a celebration of Pete's life, there was barely a black tie in sight. As we left the ceremony, a joint collection was held for the Firefighters' Charity and the Scottish Cave Rescue Organisation, and everyone received a "thumbs up" sticker to help us remember Pete and the fun times we had together.
Pete's celebration continued at the Balm Well pub, and then at a BBQ hosted at Dan and Fiona's place, which was still suitably busy late into the evening. The general conclusion from friends and family was that Pete would have approved. As Pete's dad later said:
"We said we wanted to give Pete a good send off on Monday and we certainly did that. A great success of a sad occasion."
It hasn't all been tears though. Pete's death has caused us to recall many happy memories of our time with him. A trip with Pete was guaranteed fun, no matter how tight and scrotty the cave was, or how much weather we encountered. He knew how to pack fun in, and we have stories about him involving trips down the motorway, his eating habits in Inglesport, his caving prowess (or, on occasion, lack of it), trips from the cave back to the car, in the pub, and even the overnight accommodation. There wasn't a part of a trip that he couldn't make fun.
We'll miss Pete dearly, but with so many happy memories, it will be hard to remain sad. For now, the whole club mourns the fact that Pete only lives in happy memories, but soon, we'll just be happy that Pete lived, and that we were able to be a part of his life.
Davie Robinson & Mark Lonnen
PS. We need your stories. We're planning a special edition of the GSG Newsletter dedicated to Pete, and we want to include:
- the best stories about Pete
- the best photos of Pete
- the best stories Pete told
- the best trip reports involving Pete
and anything else Pete-related you think is worthwhile. Let's capture what we can to help keep the memories from fading. Please send anything you have to Davie at email@example.com and we'll include what we can.
Mark Lonnen has a few thumbs up stickers left and will happily post one to anyone who wasn't able to attend the ceremony. Just contact Mark or Ivan if you'd like one.
Rana & Claonaite Extensions
Since Rana was joined to Claonaite it has grown. In the list of Scotland's longest caves it would be placed at number four with an estimated total length of about 650m: comfortably above Applecross's Cave of the Liar in next place with 515m. It is, however, connected to Claonaite, and together they give Scotland its first 2 mile or 3.2km system. In fact it is probably longer as Claonaite has several areas that hadn't been surveyed when the 1997 survey was drawn and more has been found since.
The first addition to Rana was on 12th April by Julian Walford and Martin Hayes when they dug at the upper end of Blue Chamber to extend it by 20 to 30m through a flat-out crawl. It ended at walking height and still about 10m wide with several possible places to dig. They returned to Black Cuillin Chamber to meet John Crae who hadn't been able to force himself along the rift to Blue Chamber. Almost simultaneously Ivan, John Heathcote, Andrew Brooks and Preston White returned from visiting the bear bones, the GNTM and sump six. They'd been proving it possible to take a large Pelicase through to Belh Aven. This was in preparation for removing the bear bones and had required some hammering at the top of the Black Rift.
The Mendip Migration started on the 27th April when J.Rat and Paul Brock visited the Blue Chamber extension, dug for about an hour and a half and entered a 50m long chamber they called Two B's Chamber because it is Bigger and Better then Two A's!! It's not as high as the Great Northern Time Machine so the latter still retains its title as the most impressive chamber in Scotland. Meanwhile Dave (Yorkshire) Hodgson, James Alderton and Fraser Simpson made the first through trip from Claonaite to Rana, diving the sumps and moving most of the lead that was at sump 3 to sump 6b in Claonaite Seven. The next through dive will need to be in the opposite direction.
On the 28th April J.Rat and Paul were joined by Annie Audsley, Roger Galloway and Ivan to survey from Black Cuillin Chamber through to their new discoveries. Ivan lasted till Blue Chamber where he knackered his back and slowly retreated leaving the others to survey a total of 261m. A 45m leg was run out in Two B's Chamber and by its southern end the passage has climbed almost 40m back towards the surface. This fine discovery has been a major inlet to the system and takes Claonaite under new territory. We have walked the terrain above in the past and jumped up and down into the shakeholes there without finding anything. Perhaps a fresh look will find something, or digging in the passage beyond Two B's Chamber will find the ongoing passage promised by such a long extension. If you have an OS map of Assynt the furthest point reached is at grid reference NC 2680 1662.
Two days later Richard - landlord of the Inch - with a Dutch friend and his son were escorted by J.Rat, Roger and Annie as far as the Black Rift. He's keen to return and see more. Roger and Annie had a poke at a hole at the top end of Two A's Chamber. They returned the next day and pushed into it a few metres but it would definitely be a long term project. Paul on a solo trip to Two B's found a couple of leads all requiring hard work.
On 2nd May Simon Brooks dived into the pool in Blue Chamber but found a total silt blockage after 5m. Afterwards Robin Taviner and Paul dug away at a possible sump 6b bypass round to the east of the exit pool. After half an hour they had a tight almost vertical squeeze up into a large though low breakdown chamber. The only easy continuation was by tipping a couple of grand piano sized boulders down into a large crater with more black spaces visible beyond. Pausing only to make the climb down reasonably safe and name the new discovery Duelling Pianos Chamber, they entered a very large continuation - and started finding survey cairns. They'd circumnavigated the sump 4 to sump 6b area at a higher altitude and reached The Palatial Abode of Edward Concrete Head. See sketch survey below.
Simon dived sumps 7 and 8 on 4th May while Mark Tringham and Mark Brown started surveying Claonaite 8. Simon found some limited airspace at the end of Sump 8 and a too tight descending tube but neither offers much prospect for a continuation. Though Simon didn't notice, it is no longer necessary to leave the streamway to reach Sump 7. When we first entered Claonaite Seven the streamway was blocked by boulders which could be bypassed by a tube leading to a short climb back to the stream. At some time in the intervening 13 years a flood has moved the blockage and it is now possible to follow the stream all the way to the sump.
Mark B and Anwen surveyed their way down Rana across Two A's and down into Belh Aven. They left some survey stations marked with Typex, cairns and bits of waterproof paper. Please watch out for them and do try not to disturb them. Mark later climbed up into the roof before Black Rift Chamber leaving a rope dangling behind for the surveyors (hint!). He managed to pass the top of the waterfall into Elven Highway: about 15m of very pretty passage well decorated with straws before it pinches in. The waterfall issues from a bedding plane that becomes too tight after 5m.
Near the end of May after several times of trying, Goon managed to find a dry weekend and get beyond Two A's Chamber with CJ. He toured Seven, found and marked another bear bone, and left the ladder in place on Black Rift as he left. Incidentally this pitch is ideal for ladders: one short one hanging off the second bolt and another for the final 6m vertical drop. There are two suitable ladders in the hut. One week later after a tourist trip around Duelling Pianos, Derek Pettiglio, and Martin Hayes pushed a 15m crawl to the right of sump 6 through a low silt-filled chamber with one spot where they could stand - hence Nipple Chamber - and a good draught. This must lie under Duelling Pianos but above Sump 5. That area is starting to look very multistoried indeed since Two A's Chamber lies over the top of them all. It all points to the need for a good survey to be produced of the whole area. Volunteers?
Digging in Rana - In mid-April Peter Reynolds joined Julian to successfully fit a 4" pipe all the way from the dam through to the Skye-Way. This has a far greater flow capacity than the blue 32mm pipe and should keep the dig open most of the time - we hope. The intake for the 4" pipe has been adjusted to be higher than that for the 32mm so it'll only operate when flow levels are high. Please take care not to disturb it when passing through. So far it must be operating as the dig hasn't been more than knee deep when we've been there since then.
On the 3rd May Norman Flux with Simon, Roger and Annie dug away in Rana forming a stockpile by the dam. The next digging trip on the 5th saw Kate Janossy, Hugh Penney, Mark Tringham, Mark Brown and Anwen helping Norman move 50 loads to the surface.
The 21st June saw the ladies cycling team of Carol, Mary and Rosemary extracting 20 kibbles worth of spoil. They'd been tempted out of retirement by the prospect of appearing in a Christmas documentary on Sutherland - see later. They hope they don't end up on the cutting room floor.
Norman was back with Julian on Friday 27th June to prepare the dig for some serious excavation. Sections of cable tray were laid from the dam to the dig to allow kibbles to be pulled from one to the other. On Saturday, the day of the GSG Midsummer BBQ, it was wet, but several more helpers appeared and moved 45 loads to the surface. A smaller team on Sunday continued digging and left it all piled on top of and below the dam. There are also several large boulders that require Hilti-capping.
This has converted the dig face from a vertical ladder climb to an easy slope. The water still isn't draining away any better, but we should persevere.
- Campbell's Cave - During the Mendip Migration one day was spent moving boulders from the dig and building dry stone walls. The next week Norman 'borrowed' scaffold poles from Rana to set up a hauling system and moved a seriously large boulder into position on the retaining wall.
- Easter Bunny Cave - J.Rat, the original discoverer in 1980, relocated this 'lost' Knockan cave and dug his way back in. For an encore another half an hour of digging extended it by 2m for a grand total of 10m. There is no possibility of any more passage and J.Rat partially filled in the entrance before leaving. He writes "It is not worth anyone visiting again - ever!"
- LOTHIANS - Before the NAMHO conference in July we made another visit to the Whitequarries mines to check their condition. We decided not to use Philpstoun 1 because of the time it would take descending and ascending the entrance slopes. The condition of the roof also led us to hesitate taking folk down it who we didn't know. Luckily for the planned field trip the water level in Philpstoun 6 had fallen by about a metre since March and it was possible - just - to reach the haulage way without the water filling your wellies.
- SKYE - David Morrison and Ritchie Simpson have been busy. At Strollamus, Worm Hole is a body size opening going down dip and getting too tight after 4m. Carnivore Cave gives 9m of flat out crawl ending in a 3.5m x 1.5m chamber where you can nearly sit up. The way on needs digging. Cyclone cave is 35m of twisting passage with a couple of small chambers. It is quite sporting and ends at an ongoing dig. In the Beinn na Caillich area Scapula Resurgence Cave is a 10m wriggle and squeeze along a tight stream passage heading toward Scapula cave, but it becomes too tight. Silty Dig is 3.5m of low dug out passage just across the burn from Scapula Resurgence. At Kilchrist there are one or two digs near the granite contact but nothing enterable yet and they have a small dig in Sconser - a new area with lots of fossils in the lower Jurassic limestones.
- ERROCHTY - Following reports of disappearing streams north of Trinafour, Goon investigated and found three caves in the Blair Atholl Limestones. He returned with Ivan in July to survey them. We ignored one that Goon found particularly fetid with no prospect of extension, and concentrated on the others that form a coherent system from sink to resurgence.
Trinafour Upper Cave is low though wide and only prevented from being a 15m through trip by a boulder at its exit in a collapse depression. The stream runs around this and promptly enters Trinafour Lower Cave. This quickly becomes a 2m high canyon passage and initially flows in the reverse direction to the upper cave before turning left twice to become a hading rift leading after a total of about 15m to a junction. To the right is a high level but impassable oxbow while ahead a low crawl enters more walking passage after a few metres. The wetsuit clad Goon crawled through uttering a sequence of grunts and groans that completely discouraged Ivan from following. He quickly covered another 35m or so to a slight blockage, but being solo didn't press on.
Back on the surface we walked to the resurgence where the stream
oozes out of the ground. A few metres back up the slope a blocked hole
was soon emptied of rocks and sheep skulls to reveal a drop into
knee-deep water. A narrow walking height rift passage led for about 80m
to where a roof fall formed a partial barrier that looked passable with
a little effort. We left that for another day but have high hopes of
completing a through trip. If possible this will give a 200m cave, the
longest in the area and in the top 20 for Scotland.
the EUG (Elysium Underground Group). Notts II has seen several visits
with photographic proof apparent on the GSG's private web server. Long
Churn provided an entertaining venue for a duck race one day and
Lancaster Hole, County Pot and Wretched Rabbit all appeared on the meets
Ireby Fell Cavern - Several members took part in the latest "Grand
Day Out" weekend organised by Earby Pothole Club. This entails pumping
the sump dry then digging both ends of Skyway Passage with the aim of
bypassing the sump. They may not have got through this last time, but
more "Grand Day Outs" are planned.
And a report from Richard Simpson:- Just a quick line to let you know
that at the end of July myself and David Morrison drove our bikes down
to Bullpot farm and met up with Toby Speight of the Red Rose for a few
days of caving. Trips done were a pull through of Simpsons Pot (my first
SRT trip), a descent of Top Tip which is an ongoing dig close to the
farm and a trip to Lower Long Churn Cave with a descent of Dolly Tubs.
Unfortunately I was bitten by some sort of fly after the first day of
caving and soon my hand and arm had swollen to resemble Popeye after
taking his spinach, which meant the trip had to cut short after just two
days. It was still a great trip and a real eye opener. Can't wait to go
Giants and Gautries Holes during a Derbyshire holiday. A fly-drive to
Mendip in May found Anne Ermakova and Peter Dennis in Longwood August
while others GSG members explored Upper Flood. Eastwater Cavern was
Smugglers' Cave, Aberlady
The ground penetrating radar survey above the likely location of
Smuggler's Cave (probably an Iron Age souterrain) was done in late June.
Aberlady Conservation Society has the report and sent a copy to the GSG.
Unfortunately, though it claims the survey indicates voids, the diagrams
are totally incomprehensible and no voids are marked. ACS have asked for
a better interpretation, but it might be quicker to just go there with
our buckets and spades and start digging.
Removing the Claonaite Bear Bones
One of the reasons for digging Rana Hole was to allow us to recover
the bear bones found lying on the floor of Portobello Promenade in
Claonaite Seven in 1995. A lower mandible was removed some time ago
during a dive by Simon Brooks but full recovery and a detailed study of
the site has only been possible since Rana was connected to Claonaite
During the 12 years of the Rana project we found that the bones lie
within the boundary of the Bone Caves Scheduled Ancient Monument area
and since SAMS are considered by Historic Scotland to extend to the
centre of the earth we required their permission to move the bones.
Steven Birch as a recognized archaeologist and familiar with the process
produced a 25 page project description and applied for Scheduled
Monument Consent. This was granted and we planned the extraction for the
weekend of the GSG Midsummer BBQ - 28/29 June.
The weekend before the BBQ, Tim Lawson, and I visited the site so
that Tim could examine it and I could photograph it. Tim and I were
delayed a bit as we gently ambled up the glen with Cameron McNeish and a
film crew. They are making a documentary on Sutherland to be shown at
Christmas and wanted to include the story of the bear bones and Rana.
The result was a rather hurried trip but we achieved the objectives. A
1m string grid was laid over the main bone site and a set of overlapping
photographs taken to be stitched together later. This allows a drawing
to be made from the stitched image rather than in situ. Tim taped off
some interesting erosional features and isolated groups of bones.
On the BBQ weekend a select few carried Pelicases, LED floodlighting,
heavy batteries, survey, videoing and camera gear to the bone site.
While Steve and Goon measured the positions of the bones, bagged them
and stowed them in the large Pelicases, Ivan started surveying the site
and took video clips of the collection process. Two Pelicases full of
bones were removed. On Sunday further searching by Steve and Annie
Audsley found a few more bones while Andy Peggie and Ivan completed the
survey work. The third large Pelicase was filled and Roger Galloway made
a welcome appearance to help extract all the gear.
All visible bones were removed over the weekend including those down
Legless Highway. Steve wasn't content, however, and we returned on 19th
July for another look with Bob Jones, Julian Walford and Ross Davidson.
The protective wall around the bone site was removed and the whole area
given another close examination turning over the smaller slabs to see
what lay beneath. This found about another 20 bones. Most were small
bones from the paws, but the prize was a tibia found down a deep crack
and only recovered using a 'helping hand' bought by Julian.
The bones were taken to the Granton workshops of the Museum of
Scotland where they were cleaned and then freeze dried. Some will be
sampled for carbon dating then they'll all be immersed in a solution of
plastic that'll harden and help preserve them when the solvent
evaporates. Close examination of the jaws will then, we hope, tell us
whether we've recovered a brown or a polar bear. Dating will provide
some insight into the history of the cave system. There has been no
access for anything the size of a bear to Claonaite Seven for many
thousand years. We could hypothesise that entrances were sealed during a
recent glaciation - but which? if it was the Loch Lomond Stadial then
the bear could be 12,000 years old; if the Late Devensian then it could
be 26,000 years old.
We have removed all the bones we could find, but others may well turn
up as cavers traverse the passages and disturb the sand. If you do find
a bone please mark its position and report it to us - there is some
red/white tape at the main bone site. If it is likely to get damaged
just move it to the side of the passage then mark its position. Don't
take it upon yourself to start excavating for more. That shouldn't be
done without the prior approval of Historic Scotland, SNH and especially
It may be Scotland's most complete bear skeleton, but we probably
only have about 40% of the bones. The four paws contain 108 bones -
over half of those in the full skeleton (about 206ish) - and we are
missing over 75% of them. These small bones are likely to have been
swept some distance along Legless Highway or towards the Great Northern
Time Machine. So watch your steps - carefully! The second tibia is
also missing if you want to keep your eyes open for larger prey.
SNH sent out a press release on the bones on Monday 28th July and I
had a busy morning answering questions on the telephone, sending out
photographs, and supplying edited highlights (thanks to Fraser Simpson)
of the underground video clips to STV and the BBC. It made Monday
evening's Reporting Scotland on the BBC and the headlines on Tuesday in
the Scotsman, Daily Mail, and several other papers.
A Period Descent
Everyone entered into the spirit of the occasion for Goon's 14th June
rope ladder descent of Alum Pot to celebrate his half century of caving.
While there were some equipment anachronisms, everyone had made a
valiant attempt to recreate the gear of yesteryear with old Oldhams,
boiler suits, boots and waist-lengths in evidence. The rope ladders,
newly constructed by Goon, were a hit with several members claiming them
to be easier to climb than the wire variety - despite a couple of
slipping rungs! Realism to the nth degree!
A full descent of Alum via Long Churn and the Dollytubs was completed
by many of the party. Others less used to ladder descended as far as the
Bridge before exiting.
On the Sunday some of us helped Goon continue the theme by using the
rope ladders for a descent of Calf Holes. It made for a fine enjoyable
weekend for all, reminded some and demonstrated to the rest just how
caving used to be done and showed the progress made over the last 50
years in equipment and clothing. I leave it to the reader to decide
whether they consider it wholly positive or not.
GSG Member's Fatal Accident in Air Shaft
On Thursday 17th July, GSG member Peter Ireson tied his rope to a
tree and abseiled a short distance into an air shaft leading down into
an abandoned coal mine at the Wisp on the east side of Edinburgh. He had
a gas meter which went off indicating a low oxygen level - about 12%,
but he felt fine. Concerned that the meter may have been misbehaving he
unfortunately decided to abseil a few metres more to take another
reading. This plunged him into a layer of oxygen deficient air. He
realized his mistake, but it was too late and after calling for help
soon lost consciousness. Despite the efforts of the other GSG member
present and the help of passers-by it proved impossible to pull Pete up.
A winch was borrowed from a nearby householder, but sharp edges of rock
and brickwork severely abraded the rope and they had to stop.
The Fire and Rescue Service arrived promptly after receiving the
emergency call, entered the shaft and supplied oxygen to Peter, raising
him to the surface after about 35 minutes. He was taken to the intensive
care ward in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where he remained unconscious.
The ventilator and life support was switched off on Sunday with his
father and sister at his bedside.
We thank the Fire Brigade and the NHS for all they did to try and
save Peter, but hanging almost 45 minutes in an un-breathable atmosphere
would be almost the same as being underwater for the same time and a
full recovery was against the odds.
Lessons to Learn
This isn't the first time a caver has been caught out by gas when
abseiling a shaft. The presence of totally un-breathable air within a
few metres of the surface in an open shaft is a surprise and a lesson to
all of us. Coal mines are known to be dangerous, and rarely visited by
the club as a result. The closest we normally come are the oil shale
mines in West Lothian where we have measured oxygen levels dropping from
the normal 21% to 18.3% as we descended. In contrast the oxygen levels
down this shaft were reported to be only 5%. We don't know what other
gases were present, but carbon dioxide being a heavy gas is a likely
With hindsight and time, we will learn lessons from this tragic
accident, but for now, staying away from fossil fuel mines is probably
the best one. If you ever want to descend a shaft and suspect problems
with gas then you should, as Pete did, take a gas meter. I'd then
recommend that you lower it all the way down the shaft before you start
descending. If that isn't possible then keep it well below you as you
descend, check it frequently, and descend slowly. Give it a chance to
detect a change in air composition and ring its alarm before you reach
the bad air. You should be prepared to switch to prusik immediately, and
would also be wise to set up the pitch head to allow your companions to
haul the rope up either with a Z-rig, a counterbalance or by tying the
rope to a car and driving it away.
Note that it isn't only coal mines that have gas problems. There are
limestone caves which can have dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide
and/or low oxygen levels, though I haven't heard of any in the UK. More
information on bad air and testing for it can be found on the Internet
CO2 paper and Bad Air
On 7th August, Chris Chapman reported that a squad from the Coal
Authority had cleared the area around the top of the shaft and were
preparing to cap it. The Coal Authority issued a warning notice on 21st
July and we were sent it by NAMHO for distribution.
Shortly after entering a former coal mine on Friday 18 July 2008, a
man became unconscious due to lack of oxygen in the atmosphere.
Although the emergency services rescued him, tragically he died in
hospital on Sunday 20 July 2008.
Former coal mines with the associated shafts and adits are inherently
dangerous environments and entry to these places should be totally
Mine workings often contain atmospheres which have very little oxygen
and if encountering such, will kill people very quickly after
entering. Mines may also contain flammable gas which could explode
causing tragic consequences to anyone within the mine workings.
There are numerous other hazards associated with old mines, including
collapses of ground and the Coal Authority emphasises that these places
are extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all times.
The Coal Authority is the public body which deals with surface
hazards arising from past coal mining activities, such as ground
collapses, open mine entries, water and gas emissions from mines and
spontaneous combustion of coal. Our emergency call out service deals
with these incidents on a 24 hour basis every day of the year. Upon
receiving a report of a coal mining hazard, we will arrange for the
situation to be made safe and remediate those hazards for which we have
The Coal Authority has asked NAMHO members to report any open coal
mine entrances they may find as part of their mining research work.
The report should be made to the emergency telephone response service
given below. The line is manned 24 hours a day.
To report a surface hazard, Tel: 01623 646 333
The Coal Authority, 200 Lichfield Lane, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire,
GSG Annual Dinner 2008
I know it's August, this Newsletter is late and there should be full
details for the annual dinner and a booking form for the dinner.
This is now being organised by Peter Dowswell at the traditional Assynt venue
of the Inch for the 25th October. When all details have been agreed I'll send
an announcement and booking form out by email. I'll post details to members
not on the email list or who don't respond to the email announcement. Last
year's record numbers mean that this year we may have to restrict attendance
at the dinner to the first 60 to respond - or do we run shifts? If we do have
to impose a limit it'll be strictly by date of arrival of cheques or cash
through my letterbox or into my hand. You have been warned!
NAMHO Annual Conference 2008
This was run over the weekend of 12/13th July with field trips that
weekend and the following week mostly organised by the GSG. It was held
in the Mining Museum in Newtongrange and attended by about 80 delegates.
Quite a few GSG members sat in on the lectures on both days when they
were not leading field trips and also attended the dinner on the
We met some very knowledgeable delegates including Stephen Moreton,
author of "Bonanzas and Jacobites" the story of the Alva silver mines.
This has a far more detailed and complete history of the workings than
I'd read anywhere else and Stephen put us right on a couple of
misapprehensions we'd picked up from other sources. His book includes
plans of workings well below the ones we found in 2006. We found a few
copies of his book available at greeensideminerals.com, but our orders
have since exhausted their stock. It is, however, reported to be about
to be reprinted.
The GSG has in the past published articles in the GSG Bulletin on
several of the mines used for the field trips. Ivan reprinted these as
slim A4 booklets for sale to delegates. Spare copies are available to
GSG members - see later.
The field trips were a mixed set. Delegates obviously wanted trips
where they could traverse lots of underground workings and for some
sites this just isn't possible. Because of this only one trip around the
Alva silver mines was run instead of three - almost all workings were
sealed after our surveying visit in 2006. Philpstoun No 6 mine was also
short, but we could at least show the abandonment plans and point to
other sites on the surface.
Field Trip Booklets
Copies of the A4 booklets printed for the NAMHO Conference are
available to members whose collection of Bulletins doesn't extend back
to 1999. Each booklet includes descriptions of the accessible areas and
a history of the workings. They are illustrated with location plans,
surveys and b&w photographs plus colour covers. They are:-
- Alva Silver Mines - 12 pages
- Tyndrum Lead Mines - 12 pages
- Whitequarries (Philpstoun) Oil Shale Mines - 24 pages
Buy Alva or Tyndrum at 75p, Whitequarries at 1.50 plus postage or the
set at 3.00 post paid or 2.50 if collected. Send your order to Ivan.
Request for requests
I'm keen for anyone who has a particular cave they'd like to visit to
let me know - all suggestions gratefully received, preferably with one
or two dates when the suggestor might be able to make it, for caving
trips from about November onwards. Step right up, don't be shy, requests
won't be considered binding! Contact me with your suggestions at 07794
740021 (mobile), 0131 535 3119 (work).
GSG Private Web Server
Mark Lonnen has taken over administration of this site and is
currently moving it to a different server. Pete Ireson's server is still
accessible, but no additions are being made to it. When the new server
is up and running we'll catch up with changes and additions to the
address list and photo gallery and let you all know how to find it and
This year GSG membership is growing by leaps and bounds. Eight more
names to add to the list:-
James Alderson - is an experienced cave diver and visited the hut with
- Paul Brock - has finally joined after taking part in a series of Mendip
Migrations and helping discover both Two B's Chamber and Duelling Pianos
Chamber in Rana and Claonaite this year.
- Dennis Douglas - was introduced to us at the GSG Midsummer BBQ by Mark
Tringham and liked what he found. He's caved a few times with Mark so is
leaving his complete novice status behind.
- Thomas & Anja Matthalm - moved from Munich to Dundee on a medium term
transfer for Anja as a minister between her own church and the Church of
Scotland. We've know them for several years and members have caved with
them in Meghalaya and Germany. Thomas has 17 years caving experience in
the Alps, China and India and Anja 12.
- Sarah and Alastair Robertson - have been GUPA members for 4 to 5 years
and caved regularly in Yorkshire, Assynt Mendip and Romania.
- Mark Stanford - has been running Edinburgh Underground for five years
exploring mostly man-made mines, tunnels and culverts et cetera. Some of
the sites visited can be seen at:-
Yorkshire Dave during the Mendip Migration to take part in the first
through dive from Claonaite to Rana
David & Suzanne Robinson.
Jamie (Boab) Yuill.
Annie Audsley new email.
Bob Batty new email.
Rachael Huggins new mobile.
MARTIN'S WALK HOME
Martin Mills retired earlier this year and decided to celebrate
the event by walking home from work. Milche lives in Preston and worked
in Bristol - a small matter of a couple of hundred miles away. Here is
After a final late session at the 'Centre of the Universe' (Hunters'
Lodge Inn) where my chums wanted to wait until after midnight to sing me
happy birthday, it was up early and over the Clifton Suspension Bridge
to work to do some 'mischief'. At the back of 8.00 am on Thursday 3rd
April (my 65th birthday), I was seen off from Somerset House and I was
on my way. I set off down Bridge Valley Road crossing over the M5
motorway at Avonmouth at 10.30 am, to Chittening, where I located the
Severn Way footpath. I was met by Kirsty, stopped at Severn Beach for
lunch and then continued along the Severn Way to the old Severn Bridge
which has a (toll free) footpath and cycle track attached to it on both
sides, and hence to Chepstow, end of the first day (17 miles down).
It was probably a lack of preparation, too much road, and walking too
fast to 'escape', but my feet were severely blistered. As I joined
Offa's Dyke path, the 2nd and 3rd days were particularly slow and
painful as I headed north up the Wye Valley. Progress got better after
this, but the weather degenerated to snow, hail and blizzards on Day 4.
We were grateful to be able to stay with friends that night.
Day 6 was a long lonely day over the Black Mountains, accompanied by
the constant sound of skylarks, from Pandy to Hay-on-Wye. "Six days
shalt thou walk and the seventh shall be a rest day visiting the
fleshpots / bookshops of Hay" (3 new items found in the bookshops).
Then I moved onwards north. At the end of the 12th day I had reached
Buttington near Welshpool (122½ miles down). Here after 9 days walking
and 422 stiles on Offa's Dyke I turned right and joined the towpath of
the Montgomery Canal, only partly restored and in water. 20 miles later
at Franckton Junction I joined the Llangollen Canal. It was 29 miles
eastwards along this (including an 80m long canal tunnel) to Hurleston
Junction where I joined the Shropshire Union Canal and walked 26 miles
northwards through Chester to reach Ellesmere Port on the Mersey at the
end of day 16. (197½ miles down). All this canal walking appeared very
appropriate and memories of when I worked for BWB Estates Department
between 1969 and 1978 came flooding back, also of a family holiday
cruise on the Llangollen Canal in 1998.
We were up early on day 18 (Sunday 20th April) for me to take the
only morning 'Ferry Across the Mersey' (£1.45 single) and with only one
other passenger to Liverpool (European City of Culture 2008). From here
it didn't take me long to locate Stanley Dock and the newly opened Canal
Link. Back on the towpath of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and heading
north out of city debris into open countryside and 'Welcome to
Lancashire'. Thanks to Sue and Lloyd who joined me in the afternoon to
push the daily tally to around 20 miles.
Day 19 (Monday 21st April) and I was back on the towpath before 9.00
am for approximately 6 miles, then the Rufford Branch northwards to
Tarleton, along the River Douglas (fortunately I got the right
(literally) bank) to join the Ribble Way footpath. Here Kirsty appeared
to guide me over the last few stiles (I hate stiles and dogs!) and the
last few miles home, arriving at 7.45 pm after 22 miles + walking that
day. Here endeth the dream.
I lost 2 stones in weight (not before time) but perhaps a slightly
drastic way to do it! For distance, my best calculation by a retired
surveyor is 240 miles and a few detours in 18 walking days. Not bad for
a pensioner, eh?
Overall memories: although it was early in the season, what
magnificent countryside it is up through the Welsh Borders and I feel
privileged to have wandered through it. I communed with the sheep and
lambs in the fields and later the ducks, etc, on the canals. In the
evening I read up on how to differentiate between Kerry Hill, Hill
Radnor and Clun Forest sheep breeds!
There were two particularly hard days. Day 11: Selley Cross to Kelly
Ridgeway with three ridges and valleys to cross and up to a final ridge
? like walking across a giant LP; and Day 15: Llangollen and
Shropshire Union Canals, just above freezing, piercing easterly wind, no
warm pub open for lunch and the support vehicle temporarily unavailable.
The weather was sunny on the first and last days, and there was
relatively little rain - I only had to put on over-trousers once, but it
was often cold and windy
We had an interesting evening in the Royal Oak at Gladestry ? three
locals and us talking to the local funeral director about the growth of
green burials! But otherwise pubs in the Borders were disappointing ?
one having the kitchen redone and another with the cook ill and not many
open at lunchtime.
Final thoughts: how come molehills appear 1400 feet up on Welsh
hills? ? do the moles parachute in? I was beginning to think I could
identify the tree species by the sound the wind made blowing through the
Grateful thanks to Kirsty in the support vehicle for finding me and
feeding me at lunchtimes when there was no local pub open for lunch,
seeking out campsites, supplies, launderettes and bookshops and finding
me at roadsides and canal bridges at the end of my day's walking.
Beers encountered: John Smiths; Speckled Hen; Fuller's London Pride;
Dorothy Goodbody's Country Ale; Wye Valley Best; Rev James; Hobson's
Best; Ansell Mild; Black Sheep Bitter; Hanby Ales All Seasons Ale;
Wadsworth 6X; Cheshire Cat Weetwood Blonde; Cottage Brewery: Wessex
Spring; Youngs Bitter
Ciders encountered: Weston's Stowford Press Dry Cider; Black Fox
Cider; H B Hancocks; Kingstone Press; Gwatkin Golden Valley Traditional
Farmhouse Cider; Gwatkin Kingston Black; Wychwood Green Goblin Cider;
Knight's Premium Reserve; Stowford Press English Export; Bulmer's
Original; Tillington Hills Dry Cider; Knights Malvern Gold; Brothers
Original; Thatcher's Katy
- Bob & Rosemary Jones - recently visited daughter Alison and fiancé
Mark currently working in New Zealand. Wishing to visit a wild cave
unguided, but lacking any equipment other than head torches, they
identified Abbey Caves at Whangarei, North Island as a suitable target
and even found a website offering to provide maps and basic caving gear.
Unfortunately, the source of this equipment was a backpackers hostel
managed by the only grumpy man in New Zealand, who demanded to know how
they knew about this arrangement (Answer: "from your website") and
refused to provide any equipment or information. Needless to say, the
party did go caving and spent a couple of hours enjoyably wading along
streamways exploring high rift passages and admiring the glow worms. By
the time the party had returned to Auckland that afternoon the website
had been amended. To see the effect the GSG visitation had on Mr Grumpy
have a look at:
Little Earth Lodge.
- Tony Jarratt - On a much gloomier note Tony has been ill since the
end of May and recent tests have delivered the very bad news that he has
lung cancer. With treatment and chemotherapy his condition has improved
and he was back at home when this piece was written and had been seen in
the Hunters. He is at home for visitors, but ring first as he'll be out
drinking much of the time. He will be at the BEC summer BBQ on 16 August
(unfortunately clashes with Yorkshire Dave's weekend in Swaledale for
us) and wants everyone to get in plenty of practice for the wake! He was
already in the process of closing down Bat Products - it wasn't making
any money. It will shut its door for the last time at the end of August
or even before if everything is sold. Ring first before you go: it's
being run by Mike Hearn.
50th Anniversary Celebration
In preparation for the GSG's 50th celebration year (yes, already!),
your reminiscences of the club's history are needed.
A set of two books are now available for any member to use to record
anecdotes, memories, pub lore, japes - past and present, digging yarns,
shaggy dog stories and tall tales. This does NOT replace the usual log
book in any way and is not for the routine recording of trips. One book
will be available at The Cumberland on Tuesdays and one will be sent out
to members further a-field. To encourage prompt responses and to enable
as many contributions as possible; use of the book will be by weekly
Material may be submitted in any legible format and need not be
entered directly into the book. Email your contribution to
Suzie63 at googlemail.com; stick your own pages into the book or submit
items in the folder provided. All contributions will be copied and
excerpts will be used to promote the club in 50th anniversary
celebration publications and exhibitions. We have enough time to get a
comprehensive and valuable collection together - so think carefully
about your contribution and what it will represent for future
generations of members.
This is a good opportunity for photographs, sketches, surveys,
rigging guides, etc. to be submitted for copying; your originals will be
promptly returned. If you have any artefacts, historical club
memorabilia or any suggestions for exhibits that you would like to
contribute, please attach a note of these.
Contributions to our audio records would also be very welcome;
modern or historical, long or short, sincere or amusing - If you would
prefer not to write your contribution: you may have a long story,
several anecdotes or would like to submit additional material; this may
be an ideal opportunity for you. Please contact Suzie Robinson to
arrange time/place for the recording to be made or for further
Contact: SUZIE 0131 440 4396.
Elphin Caving Centre
The Midsummer BBQ was not quite rained off - some hardy souls were
spotted incinerating their animal protein on the outdoor BBQ. It was
damp enough to persuade most of us to stay indoors and cook and eat
there. Thanks to Peter Dowswell and his helpers for producing a fine
feast for all 30 of us.
Some maintenance has been started on the hut with repainting of one
wall in the back bunk room. Well it is a start! Owing to the key
breaking in the shed door lock it had to be broken open. This brought
forward the fitting of a combination lock while the door frame still
awaits a more permanent repair. Ivan hopes to fit the new front door
later this month with a combination lock ? provided he can find and
buy a suitable lock in time. Maintenance has been delayed this year by
all the other activities ? Rana, bear bones et cetera. The hut is
looking a bit 'used' and anyone wishing to volunteer their assistance
should contact the Hut Warden.
Excavation for the shed extension is progressing and almost complete.
While I'd place this behind maintenance of the existing buildings in the
priority list, it is possible to do it when the hut is full. You can't
repaint the bunk rooms or the floors during a busy weekend.
- The Ullapool Somerfield closed in May and reopened a few weeks later
as a Tesco. Opening hours are Monday to Saturday 8am to 9pm, and on
Sundays 9am to 6pm.
- Recent work has, by chance, revealed evidence that the largest
meteorite ever to hit the UK punched a 6km diameter crater near Ullapool
1.2 billion years ago spreading ejecta over an area 50km in diameter or
as far as Assynt. This provides a better explanation for some rock
formations previously ascribed to volcanic activity.
Some years ago this section mentioned Gary Storrick's website. This
has the most complete collection of rope access hardware I've seen. John
Heathcote reminded me of it. It's worth a browse. Go to
and select "Vertical Caving & Climbing
Devices Collection". While there have a look at his "My Ten Most Wanted
List". You may be able to help.
When I looked to see if all my various devices were listed I noticed
that his description of how to use a Neill Box was wrong - he was
using his upside down!. Evidently it arrived without instructions. He's
amended his description, but still prefers his way of using it!!!
John also recommends:
for adults only!
I think your French needs to be to a higher standard than mine to
make the most of this site. Click on "Sommaire de Souternet" at the top
of the page to find links to collections of caving cartoons, puzzles,
animations, images and information about all aspects of caving.