GSG Newsletter 128
17 September 2006
Edinburgh Pub Change for GSG
The GSG has met for many years (since 1975 with only short breaks) in
Young Street at what was the Zodiac which then became Peppers and lately
the Cambridge Bar. For many years it was a quiet spot where we could
gather and mull over the previous weekend's caves and plan the next in
relative solitude. A steady succession of ownership changes failed to
make it successful so we remained. The latest owner has now succeeded in
making it more popular. This has been, for us, at the expense of large
crowds and noisy football matches on the projection and LCD TV screens.
Several members have abandoned the Tuesday evening meeting as a result.
Dedicated members have been tramping the surrounding streets
searching for a better venue and, at last, we think we have found one.
It is the Cumberland Bar in Cumberland Street:-
It is about 500 yards north of St Andrew Square and slightly closer
to Waverley Station than the Cambridge - though part of that is uphill.
It has plenty of seating with some outside, and an enclosed beer garden.
And it doesn't have a projection TV! There are some smaller TVs, but
when we tested the facilities the volume was low and they weren't
The Cumberland has four resident ales - Deuchars IPA, Caley 80/,
Landlord and the Caledonian Brewery beer of the month plus several guest
beers. They also boast of a large range of wine and whisky - blends and
To allow this information to disseminate through the membership we'll
make the change on the 26th of September, though some may well start on
the 19th and we may organise an overlap or a week or two to redirect
those members who never seem to read their GSG Newsletters!
Annual Dinner 2006
November the 4th is fast approaching and if you haven't yet booked
your place at the 2006 GSG Annual Dinner now is the time to do it. There
are still places available for the meal, but all bunks and beds at the
Pwll Du Centre and the Rifleman's Arms are fully booked. Some members
are planning to camp and I believe that camping is available at the Lamb
and Fox next door to the Centre.
Some advice has been received from members:-
Malcolm Stewart suggests "Try searching for B&B or whatever in the
Abergavenny, Gilwern or Llanfoist areas. These will need driving (10
mins from Riflemans) being the other side of the Blorenge, but are much
more touristy than Blaenavon"
Malcolm McConville reports "B&B in Blaenavon (central) is available
at Oakfield B&B, tel 01495 792829. One family room will sleep 2 or 3 at
L25 per person per night, 20min walk or 2 minutes drive from the
- Rana Hole - On the weekend of 5/6th August a new record was set for
the number of loads removed over a weekend. A team of seven raised 211
loads to the surface on Saturday with another 148 on Sunday. And these
are the new heavier loads that are possible with Norman's cycle winch,
so in terms of weight this was by far the more productive weekend ever.
We are using a counterbalance system on the lower pitch where someone
in a full body harness with a pulley on their chest allows themselves to
'fall' down the ladder. This hauls the skip up two metres for every
metre they descend. At least that is the intention. It does require the
caver to be over twice the weight of the load to get it moving, and that
wasn't always the case. Some enthusiastic skip loading found me (about
80kg with gear) suspended in mid-air and not going anywhere until I
helped matters by hauling on the rope. This means that some loads were
at least 40kg and the average must have been well over 30. We probably
removed 11 tonnes over the weekend almost all from the bottom.
The dig site did pond up a bit, but it was still draining. Digging is
easy with not too many boulders to smash and none requiring more than a
sledgehammer to make them fit the skips. We can average about 50 loads
per hour and with a strong team working in shifts we could possibly hit
300 on a good day (Mark Brown wants 500!). J'Rat's plan for a week-long
assault in October by Mendip and other southern members should have the
numbers and commitment to attain or exceed that, especially if
reinforced from Scotland. The next digging trip is tentatively scheduled
for the weekend of the 23rd or 30th September depending on which weekend
will attract the most diggers. Diggers wanting to volunteer for either
of these dates should let Ivan know.
- Cnoc nan Uamh - As reported in the last Newsletter we have been in
contact with Mr George Vestey the landowner of the estate containing all
the Traligill and Allt nan Uamh caves. This resulted in a Sunday morning
invitation to Stronchrubie Lodge to talk about caving in general and the
Assynt caves in particular over coffee. Afterwards we took George, his
wife Rachael and their three sons plus two of their son's friends on a
tour of Cnockers. We all went to the Static Sump and back. Two of the
older boys finished with near total immersions as they were guided out
via the Wet Way to the Waterslide entrance.
George said that they had all enjoyed the experience and would like
to see more. So there is a strong possibility that we'll be hearing from
them next time they are in the area. The cave guides for the day were
Peter Dowswell, Julian Walford, Bob Jones and Ivan.
Mr Vestey was very interested in what we had been doing in the area
and had no objections to our continuing activities provided we talked to
Peter MacGregor before roaming the hills during the stalking season. He
was genuinely interested in what lay under his ground and we promised to
keep him informed of progress and escort him down into Claonaite 7 after
we make the breakthrough in Rana Hole. Perhaps we should have warned him
on just how long term some digs can be. We've only been digging there
since 1995. It took MCG 17 years to their first breakthrough in Upper
Flood and 38 to this month's massive extension (see below)!
- Strath Kanaird Pot - A July trip to this area by Mark Lonnen, Derek
Pettiglio, Peter Ireson and Ivan searched more of the surrounding
shakeholes for entrances, but didn't find more than a few metres of
passage. Mark descended the Pot finding the 1998 survey reasonably
accurate. We looked for the resurgence reported in the 1998 article, but
in the dry conditions didn't find anything showing any promise.
The meets list might have looked bare recently, but Mark Lonnen has
arranged several day trips to Yorkshire. The last was to the
Chapel-le-Dale area when the main objectives of a Great Douk Cave
through trip and an SRT descent of Sunset Hole were supplemented by
every other entrance found in-between. Afterwards we studied Northern
Caves and decided we been in P97a, Knacker Trapper Hole, P98a and High
MCG Breakthrough in Upper Flood
The MCG dig at the end of Upper Flood Cave in Mendip was passed by
MCG members Tim Francis and Julie Hesketh on 10th September into what is
conservatively estimated as 300m of large passage ending at a tight
rift. This is the largest discovery on Mendip for some time, but don't
rush to visit. There are two problems. First the way there is through
some extremely well decorated passage which the diggers have been taking
great care to preserve and throngs of sightseers wouldn't be welcome at
present. Second the way in has constricted sections so it is half an
hour of crawls and ducks to the dig site - if you can reach it. On this
last successful trip the third putative digger was busy enlarging
squeezes and didn't manage to reach the breakthrough point. And a third
point is that the breakthrough point is a very serious squeeze that Tim
and Julie took some time to navigate.
When Tim and Julie squeezed through they found that the passage
enlarged spectacularly to chamber-sized proportions with heights and
widths up to and beyond 15m in places. The discoverers were too excited
and had too little time to do more than quickly explore to the end and
back so we'll have to wait for more visits to confirm the dimensions.
The passage is reportedly very well decorated with lots of simple
scrambling en route to the downstream end at a narrow jagged rift. There
is a possible surface dig that would break into the cave bypassing the
present well-decorated entrance series, and it is possible that this
might be opened to protect the formations. A good account of past
exploration can be found on the MCG web site:-
I expect it'll be quickly updated. The news has already been published
in MCG Newsletter 336, September 2006
NOTE:- Upper Flood is controlled access and Julie (who is a GSG member)
is a Leader for it. So if you'd like a trip you can always try asking
To Staffa with Ladder
A slightly slimmed down team of Tony Boycott, Duncan Butler, John
Crae, Lucas Goehring (a post graduate student from Canada interested in
columnar basalt) and Bob Mehew met in Oban on Tuesday afternoon 8th
August to wait for the ferry to Mull. (The two absent members were Tony
Jarratt who was looking after his shop and Vern Freeman who was awaiting
the arrival of his son who didn't appear until September!) After a meal
on the ferry, a fast drive across Mull saw us camped at Fidden and
thence back into Fionnphort to sup a few ales in the Keel Row pub and
The following morning revealed a rather rough sea beyond Iona and a
worried skipper, concerned about not being able to land at Staffa.
Having accepted the risk, along with some 20 other passengers, we set
off into heavy seas. As we came up to the South Face of Staffa, the
northerly winds reduced in its lea and the sea became much calmer so
landing was no problem at all. A swift off-load from the boat and carry
up the steps then saw us onto the more arduous carry across the island
to the old camp site. By this time the curiosity of several of the
passengers had increased to the point where they asked the inevitable
question "Why do you need a ladder on Staffa?" Why indeed. It was part
of a cunning plan hatched to avoid bolting up the wall of MacKinnon's
Cave to get to the roof and the rear high level passage. But more of
After setting up camp taking into account the strong wind which was
blowing across the island; the party split up. John and Lucas walked up
the east side of the island from above Clamshell Cave to see what other
caves might be lurking in the cliffs. Tony and Bob went over to Gunna
Mor to work out access beyond the cave. Later we all met up and visited
Fingal's Cave, just as the last tourists were leaving. Although it was
only two hours after low tide, the winds and swell had sufficient force
to create a sea of white water within the cave. Retreating back to our
tents we planned our assault along the shore line north of Gunna Mor for
the following day.
Milche and Kirsty having arrived back from Iceland on Wednesday,
arrived on Staffa on Thursday, just in time to join up with the second
group making their way up the shore line. The first group comprising
Duncan, John & Toby took a light-weight ladder to overcome the obstacle
which had stalled us last year; a 3 metre high ledge jutting out over a
small overhang. In fact it was easy enough to by-pass the overhang by
swimming, but the ladder provided an easy alternative to those not in
wet suits. Having overcome the overhang, the way proved open along
almost all of the west coast as far as Gunshot Cave. Tony, Duncan and
John carried out a sweep of the shore line and recorded 4 new caves in
this stretch of coast or more correctly rock shelters, since they had
hardly any depth. Lucas and Bob spent much of the time beyond Gunna Mor
discussing the geology exposed in the cliff and concluded that it
probably did expose the full depth of the Fingal's Cave flow, although
of a shallower depth.
Thursday was concluded with Tony surveying one of the eastern side
sea caves which was only accessible in a wet suit whilst Lucas and Bob
started collecting data on striae exposed in the columnar basalt by
Fingal's Cave. It is generally accepted that columns form by a stop and
start mechanism which leaves a set of characteristic marks on the walls
of the columns, rather than just peeling apart. Lucas's PhD is focused
on deducing a relationship between the distance between these marks and
their location with respect to the top or bottom of the flow.
On Friday Tony and Duncan planned to take the 5 metre long house
ladder through the connecting rift between Cormorants Cave and
MacKinnon's Cave if possible, or else float it round the outside and
back into the mouth of MacKinnon's Cave. Luck was on our side and the
ladder easily went through the rift. Having delivered the ladder, Tony
and Duncan then went and entered Gunshot Cave and the smaller cave by
its side. They also noted a couple of rock shelters along the way.
Following a survey of both caves, it was decided to name this smaller
cave as Pistol Shot cave. Lucas went with Tony and Duncan, but stopped
at the cliff to the north of Gunna Mor to record some more striae data.
Meanwhile, John, Milche, Kirsty and Bob set up the ladder in
MacKinnon's cave. After rigging safety ropes to the top plus a rope to
help extend it, the ladder was first put up the wall just by a rock
ledge. It quickly became apparent from the noise created by this action
that the ledge was occupied by a juvenile shag so the ladder was
relocated to leave the poor bird in peace. The ladder revealed the
possible high level passage at the back of the cave was closing down.
The ladder was then placed directly onto the rock underneath the ledge
but the close inspection provided by this location of guano, feathers,
water and slime on a 60 degree slope convinced everyone that climbing it
was not a good idea. A further attempt with a larger extension enabled
us to get 8.4 metre off the floor but still 6.5 metre short of the roof
and tantalisingly short of being able to see the end of the high level
passage. Whilst we are confident the passage does not penetrate through
into Cormorants Cave, we can't say this definitively.
Whilst at the top of the ladder, photographs were taken to get an
idea of the size and nature of the ridges which appear in the roof. One
complication not planned for was the need for long exposure times, so a
small tripod was literally pressed into service holding the camera on
the wall and providing some stability while the photos were taken.
Fortune smiled on us in that some of the images are reasonably clear and
point to grooves in what was the surface of one of the ash layers being
some centimetres in depth. The hypothesis is that the grooves were
caused by either a pyroclastic flow of the subsequent ash fall which is
now showing up in relief or perhaps a stream or other weathering
phenomena grooving the old ash surface before the next fall of ash.
Saturday saw Milche and Kirsty leave for home on the morning boat
whilst Bob, Lucas and Tony took the ladder across the mouth of Fingal's
Cave for Lucas to record some more data on the left hand side of the
cave. John remained on The Causeway to record the dimensions of column
cross sections for Lucas. As Duncan was suffering from a stomach
problem, he wisely decided to not support Tony who went off to survey
Boat and Horses Caves. We had left safety lines across the mouth of
Fingal's Cave which upset one skipper when he tried to take his boat
into the cave. He was not at all pleased as it seems he had promised his
customers to take them into the cave. I suppose it must have been
galling for all of the day trippers to see the wonderful South Face
'blighted' by a house ladder propped up against the face with one person
up the ladder and the other footing it, both in highly visible life
jackets. This work did allow Lucas to complete a set of striae data for
the whole length of the column.
A review on Saturday evening showed that all our objectives had been
achieved. As Duncan was feeling better, he and Tony undertook the first
complete coasteering tour of Staffa which they achieved in about 3
hours. Bob, John and Lucas spent Sunday recording more column cross
section dimensions. John's work expertise showed up clearly. He managed
to cover more columns than Bob and Lucas could working together. John
reported on Sunday evening that he thought some bits of the left hand
wall had fallen off since last year. The Baseline Report was checked to
identify the bits in question. A revisit on Monday morning showed they
were still there and that John's memory was playing up. It was pleasing
to see that the report did enable one to quickly work out whether things
had changed or not.
Having achieved our objectives we returned to Mull on Monday morning
and managed to get the ferry back to Oban in the afternoon. Lucas and
Bob went to visit more columnar basalt exposures on Skye whilst Tony,
Duncan and John went home. All in all, a successful trip to complete the
work to produce an authoritative Baseline Report on the Sea caves of
Staffa. Now all that is needed is to do the writing up, sort out the
photos and so on. Plans were discussed for producing a glossy booklet on
Staffa sea caves for the club to sell but this will probably take until
the end of 2007 to get together. When asked by our ferry skipper if we
would be coming back next year, our cautious reply was probably not, we
thought we had all the information we needed.
2006 Meets and Events
See the events page for details.
Please send your requests and suggestions for other meets to me. I
can be contacted at home fiona#labbit.freeserve.co.uk
or at work f.ware#nms.ac.uk.
Fiona Ware - GSG Caving Secretary
This month's new member is:-
Miles Roberts - who has been a GUPA member for some time and is now
living in Edinburgh.
New Email Addresses
- John Crae - During the recent Time Team extravaganza at the three
royal palaces, John regularly 'starred' on the More4 channel when they
were showing general views of the grounds of Holyrood Palace.
- Vern & Rosie Freeman are now the proud parents of Jack born on
Tuesday 12th September weighing 7lb 13oz and stretching 53cm. Rosie and
Jack are both fine and are now home.
- Peter Dennis - is moving to Wales. He has accepted a position as a
Lecturer in Grazing Ecology at Institute of Rural Sciences, University
of Wales, Aberystwyth. The post has been created as part of the Welsh
Centre for Integrated Rural Research, and is linked with other
Institutions at Aberystwyth and Bangor. This is a partly lecturing but
mostly research post. He is living in a farmhouse belonging to the
university while he finds somewhere to buy. Ruth and the boys will then
join him for the joys of learning Welsh, paying university fees and
smoky pubs. Though we'll miss him in Scotland we could gain a guide to
the caves of NW Wales! He has already found several members of the
University who have caved in the past.
The new size and weight bands for postage mean that the GSG saves
L0.14 per Newsletter by folding them in half and posting in a smaller
envelope. It is extra hassle for me, but will save over L12 per
Newsletter. This won't apply to the Bulletin. Even if we managed to fold
them cleanly in half, they'd be more than the maximum 5mm thickness
allowed for a letter.
Elphin Caving Centre
Peter has announced a series of theme evenings for the next few
months. The first is to be 'Bring Your Own Curry' and will be on
Saturday 7th October to coincide with the 2nd Mendip Migration and the
SCRO exercise. Come along, cook your favourite curry (or starter or
desert), share it with others, and taste their creations. Do let Peter
know in advance what you are planning so he can offer advice if there
are too many Tikka Masalas, and can plan for someone to supplement it if
there isn't the expected level of overcatering.
The hut's stock of fuel for the stove has increased yet again thanks
to Preston White. A donation of off-cuts of timber from his work should
keep the fire burning for quite some time. What is even better is that
the vast majority of the wood arrives in pieces sized nicely to fit into
the fire without any extra sawing or splitting.
And now that I've mentioned splitting - please note the damage
already done to the concrete floor in front of the fire and don't add to
it. If pieces of wood need to be split or sawn please do it outside the
If you want to stay in the hut at any time please contact the Hut
Warden - Peter Dowswell - to check if there will be space (hutbookings#gsg.org.uk).
There will usually be a few bunks spare if
large groups are staying. Even if all bunks are occupied the bed-settees
by the fire are recommended and spare mattresses in the front bunk room
can be used in the conservatory.
Ivan replaced the left hand shower tray, tiled round it and replaced
some of the tiles on the wall that were coming unstuck. Peter D finished
the job with some sealant and the shower is now back in operation.
During this time the extractor fan was found to have failed and a new
one was installed.
The hut is coming up for the 12th anniversary of its opening and
several areas could do with more than a fresh lick of paint. Peter is
arranging a couple of hut maintenance weekends. The first is on the
23/24th September and if you want to help keep your hut the best in the
country, volunteer now and let Peter know you'll be there. Note that one
night's hut fees are cancelled for each day you spend working on the
hut. Peter also promises free chilli con carni for volunteers on
Most of the work planned involves applying paint to walls, ceilings,
window frames, and floors. Also planned is clearing out accumulated
rubbish, starting work on an extension to the shed, and some gardening.
If you can think of other things that you'd like to see done and want to
volunteer, contact Peter, let him know your plans and then come along
and do it.