GSG Newsletter 126
28 March 2006
Vale: Eric Ferguson
All caving clubs have their adopted 'local' and for the GSG it used
to entail a ten mile drive down to the Inchnadamph Hotel and Willie
Morrison's laconic 'Is that so?' for scintillating conversation.
Subsequently an attractive little bar rose, phoenix-like, from the ruins
of the Altnacealgach Hotel a mere three miles or so from base - much
When the founder, Bruce Ward, sold up in March 1995, everyone
wondered what the future would hold for the Alt. Happily a couple from
Edinburgh, Eric Ferguson and Christine Robertson, set up house and home
there, welcoming Grampian members like family (not surprising when one
considers the annual Mendip invasions consumed legendary gallonages of
To see the diminutive, moustachioed figure of Eric behind the bar,
listen to his dry humour and generally enjoy the 'craik' became habit
forming. Thanks to Christine's tireless support, the Alt soon gained an
enviable reputation for cuisine, so much so that by summer 1996, a
spacious lean-to dining area had been constructed along the front of the
building - just in time for the GSG Annual Dinner.
Eric took a keen interest in all our activities, and acted as a
surrogate hut warden, encouraging many backpackers and visitors to stay
at Taigh nam Famh, for which he held a key. On at least one memorable
occasion he and close friend Raymond Hoy actually went caving with the
club, down Cnoc nan Uamh and the Waterslide.
Memories of happy nights at the Alt flood in - firework displays;
crazy golf drives off the loch pier; van-loads of tipsy residents from
Ullapool's 'Rest' Home; hazy, crowded New Year celebrations; boring
postcard competitions and mouth-watering dinners that seduced us from
DIY cooking at Elphin.
Yet now, after a decade, the sun has set over a lasting, mutual
friendship, for Eric succumbed to heart failure in March. His love for
Assynt and its residents made him a principal figure in the district. As
a purveyor of alcohol he provided a welcome service and his work has
finally seen him out. The emptiness that is left makes Assynt a touch
more barren: the Grampian has seen another local friend leave for ever.
"Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take."
For Christine we grieve. For Eric we throw a call of farewell down
that long corridor to misty eternity where just maybe he waits for old
pals to join him.
Alan L. Jeffreys
The AGM this year was held in Winchburgh on January 28th. Sixteen
members attended. Here are the highlights of what went on:
- The Club's finances are in good order, and there was no need to
increase subscriptions this year.
- Membership stands at around 140.
- The Hut is being well-used, with an increase in advanced bookings.
Some maintenance work is required - volunteers please!
- Many Caving meets have been well-attended this year.
Election of Office Bearers
The existing committee was re-elected:
Recorder - Alan Jeffreys, Caving Secretary - Fiona Ware,
Secretary - Elizabeth Ellis, Treasurer - Ivan Young,
Hut Warden - Peter Dowswell, Chairman - Peter Dowswell,
Tackle Master - Peter Ireson
Votes were counted as follows:
Skye 0; Derbyshire 0; Assynt 7; South Wales 9;
South Wales is therefore the winner!
Meets and Expeditions
The meets list is in preparation. Please send any suggestions for
meets to the Caving Secretary. Expeditions this year include Meghalaya
and Canada. Suggestions for next year included Kamchatka and the
GSG 50th Anniversary 2011
Several plans to mark the occasion were discussed including a
function/dinner, an exhibition and a book. A subcommittee has been
formed - contact Alan Jeffreys for further details.
Full minutes are available from the Secretary (secretary #gsg.org.uk)
and copies of reports and the unaudited accounts are included with this
Annual Dinner 2006
South Wales won the vote for this year's dinner after a gap of six
years. We will be aiming for the usual date of the last Saturday in
October to coincide it with the end of British Summer Time. Graham
(Jake) Johnson has selflessly volunteered to do the necessary research
before deciding on a venue. Full details and a booking form will appear
in the next GSG Newsletter.
Recent Rescue in Yorkshire
During a recent visit to Yorkshire we heard tell of a Scottish club
(not the GSG though alphabetically close) who took a poor innocent down
the Dollytubs in Lower Long Churn. This so overwhelmed him that he was
unable to ascend despite the efforts of the rest of the group. After an
hour they resorted to the ignominy of calling out the CRO who rapidly
put all things right. And before you criticize, if it happened to you,
would you know how to effect an efficient rescue? This incident serves
to highlight that problems can arise during the simplest of trips, and
all cavers should in their own interest have some knowledge of rescue
techniques. It also brings back memories of a GSG member who was unable to
climb the ladders in Bar Pot, so it isn't an unusual occurrence. However
we did have the equipment to set up a Z-rig and hauled our 'casualty'
up the pitches and out of the cave.
- Rana Hole - The last Newsletter told of the installation of a B&Q
extending ladder on the BBC pitch. On 21st January Martin Hayes, Peter
Dennis, Mike O'Driscoll and John Heathcote were first on the scene to
install and test Roger Galloway's Mark 1 Bag Filler. This is a vertical
length of large diameter pipe with an arrangement to hold a sandbag wide
open inside it making it very easy to fill if not overfill them.
Andy Peggie and Ivan then arrived and rearranged the hauling rope on
the BBC pitch. Instead of a 3:1 ratio hauled by hand from the bottom it
is now a 1:2 using a human counter-weight. The rope goes from the bucket
over a pulley at the top of the pitch, down to a pulley on the waist of
said counter-weight waiting at the top of the B&Q ladder and is tied off
at the top of that ladder. To haul a load up the pitch the counterweight
allows himself to slide down the ladder. For each foot he descends the
bucket ascends two. With the bucket at the top and being unloaded he can
then make his way back up the ladder waiting for the next load. This
means that almost all the effort is being done by leg muscles instead of
arms, and hauling which was a two person job can now be done by one
person much more easily.
On this first trial of the bag filler and counterweight system we
hauled over 100 loads to the foot of the entrance pitch and finished the
day by hauling 52 of them up to the surface.
In February the next visit saw us testing the Galloway Mk 1 digging
bucket (two Irish mayonnaise containers with 1" climbing tape as a
handle. This proved to be somewhat brittle but did manage to last long
enough to extract 70 of the 82 loads waiting at the bottom of the pitch
before so many cracks had appeared we retired it. All then went below to
shelter from the cold and filled and hauled another mountain of bags and
rocks up the BBC pitch with Peter Reynolds acting as the mobile
counterweight. Some extra scaffolding was added near the bottom of the
entrance pitch to almost complete the shoring there.
On March 18th Julian Walford, Preston White, Ian Midgley, John
Heathcote and Martin Hayes arrived in the shakehole to find a snow bank
almost covering the entrance. By the time Roger and Ivan appeared the
others had dug their way in and were almost ready to start hauling. The
waiting 106 loads were extracted before lunch. Afterwards all went down
and more than restocked the store at the foot of the entrance shaft.
With two digging, one loading the bucket, one hauling and two unloading
and stacking everyone was kept busy and the bags and boulders were
fairly flying up the pitch. One also flew down and managed to hit the
bag filler and break an essential component though not quite enough to
prevent it working.
The following day most of the team returned to haul out 105 loads
leaving about 30 for the next visit. Digging is now easy with small
voids opening up down the left hand wall and the water running freely
away. It may also be opening up. Another couple of days digging should
tell us if it is.
For our February meet we were joined by the EUG, a small
Borders-based caving club. Bull Pot - our proposed Saturday trip - was
already occupied so instead we did our Sunday trip of Jingling Pot by
the Cleft Route. That was so enjoyable and completed so efficiently we
went and did the entrance pitches of a completely dry Aquamole to fill
in time before a couple of pints and a blowout meal at the Marton Arms.
On a slightly wetter Sunday a damp Bull Pot was descended to the final
Later in February three of us - Peter Ireson, David Warren and Ivan -
attended a BCA Anchor Placement and Regional Anchor Co-ordinators Course
given by Les Sykes of CNCC. This taught the approved method for
installing the P-hangers or eco-anchors as used all over Yorkshire. The
GSG will buy a few anchors and tubes of resin and start installing a few
in Scotland, but only where they are needed. Uamh an Claig-ionn will
probably be the first cave to be treated.
On the day after the course Mark Lonnen appeared with a friend - one
of the captains on the Cairnryan/Larne ferry - and we introduced him to
caves and SRT with a trip through the Long Churn caves and down the
Dollytubs pitch to Alum Pot. He and Mark were then encouraged to make
the trip through Wilson's Cave. That was after all except Mark failed to
get through what we thought was the Cheese Press squeeze, but was
probably the tighter Letter Box instead. At least that's our story!
The March trip to Marble Steps and Illusion Pot looked as though it
might be affected by the blizzards sweeping other parts of the country,
but they didn't cause any problems and no bailing was required in
Manse Barn threatened with Closure! - but now saved - perhaps
The Manse Barn is the Lomond Mountaineering Club's 'climbing hut'
next to the Onich Hotel and well placed for Appin trips. We've used it
several times. The LMC have had it for many (30?) years, but in November
the Hotel were unwilling to extend the lease and gave two months notice
to quit. The situation has, however, improved. First the lease was
extended to April '06 and then to November '06. Now after a meeting with
the owner there is talk of a 12 month rolling lease with 12 months
notice and even the possibility of the LMC buying the hut. The LMC hut
custodian is Russell Salisbury, a GSG member, and we've offered our
support as a satisfied past, and hopefully future, user of the hut.
Overview - Caving in the Abode of the Clouds - 2006
International Team of up to 28 Cavers (comprising of 1 from Austria,
17 from the UK, 1 from Ireland, 1 from Switzerland, 2 from Denmark and 5
from India) spent three and a half weeks (7th Feb to 1st March 2006) in
the Jaintia Hills District of Meghalaya focusing on the caving areas of
Shnongrim Ridge near to Shnongrim Village in the Nongkhlieh Elaka,
Daistong on the south side of the Letein Valley and in the Semasi Area.
During this time a total of 39 caves were explored, mapped and
photographed to discover 15,498 metres of new cave passage. Of the 39
caves mapped 36 of these were entirely new caves with only 3 being caves
systems that were partially explored in previous years. Key finding from
this years exploration include.
- The linking of the Krem Um Im/Liat Prah Cave System to Krem Labbit
(Khaidong) to create a single cave system of 22,202.65m in length and
longest cave known to date in the Indian Sub-continent.
- The discovery and exploration of Krem Labbit (Khaidong) in which
6,230.99m of passage were surveyed and a large chamber (largest found to
date in Meghalaya) measuring 50m by 60m and over 30m in height - named
'Agoraphobia Chamber' in respect of its impressive size.
- The discovery and exploration of Krem Umsohtung which at 2,555.94m in
length added an important section to the overall cave map of the
- The extension of Krem Tyngheng in the Semasi area from 5319m to
7752.42m in length putting it amongst the 10 longest caves in Meghalaya.
- The discovery and exploration of several new caves that have filled in
previously blank sections of the overall cave map of the Shnongrim Ridge
to give a much clearer picture of the caves that lie within the Ridge.
These caves included Krem Labbit (Khaidong) 6,231m, Krem Umsohtung
2,556m, Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo at 1,568m and Krem Labbit (Moolasngi) at
649m in length. All of which contained huge fossil trunk passage,
remnants of incredibly ancient caves systems that predate the down
cutting of the current rivers in the area and the creation of the
Shnongrim Ridge itself.
- The discovery and exploration of new caves that have increased the
total length of cave passage explored and surveyed on the Shnongrim
Ridge from 114 kms to 127 kms in total. This being the greatest
concentration of cave passage in one place within the Indian
To date the whereabouts of over 1060 caves are known, of which 629
have been explored to yield in excess of 295 kilometres of surveyed cave
passage, with much more still waiting to be discovered. Much of the cave
that has been found to date is impressive river cave mixed with huge
fossil passage that creates cave systems equal in size and beauty to any
found elsewhere in the world, putting Meghalaya firmly on the
world-caving map as a significant caving region.
In the achievement of the above the Caving in the Abode of the Clouds
Project is indebted to the help and support it has received from; the
Meghalaya Adventurers Association, the Government of India Tourist
Office (East and North East India) Kolkata; the Meghalaya State Tourism
Department; Officials and Government Departments within Meghalaya; and,
very importantly, the People of Meghalaya.
Simon Brooks/Mark Brown 3rd March 2006
Meghalaya 2006 Calendar and 2005 DVD
For the fourth year running, as part of the GSG's contribution
towards the Meghalaya expeditions, we produced a full colour calendar
illustrated by stunning views of Meghalayan caves. Sixty were donated to
the expedition, mostly for distribution in Meghalaya.
You can order one now. They are A4 with a wire binding and as well as
a cave photo per month the final page has a short history of exploration
with a photograph of the 2005 team. The calendars sent to India ran
from 1st February 2006, but any ordered now will run for a year from 1st
April so you will get your full 12 months! Cost is L4.00 or L4.50 with
Meghalaya 2005 DVD
The video record of the 2005 expedition produced by Fraser Simpson is
now available on DVD. It comprise half an hour of underground and
surface locations. Copies are L5 or L5.50 with postage. Order both
calendar and DVD for a combined total of L9. Send your order to Ivan now
and make your cheque payable to "GSG".
2006 Meets and Events
See events page.
Please send your requests and suggestions for other meets to me. I
can be contacted at
f.ware # nms.ac.uk.
Fiona Ware - GSG Caving Secretary
CAVE SURVEY DATA
I think the time is well overdue for a sensible system of recording
and preserving cave survey data to be established, in the light of Harry
Pearman's talk at BCRA on the same subject. Loss of, or hard to get,
original data makes reproduction and/or drawing up of surveys
I propose that the club adopts a methodology similar to that used in
Meghalaya, ie we purchase a supply of suitable hardcover notebooks and
ALL survey work in future be recorded in them, both in the field and
subsequently as 'neat' copy. These filled books will be stored with the
library AFTER surveys have been drawn up. Whether or not a drawn survey
meets requirements, loss of this seminal data cannot be sustained if we
are to maintain credible records.
We need someone to identify a suitable notebook as soon as possible
so such a scheme can be implemented without further delay.
One not so new recruit this time -
Laura Mitchell - not quite a new member since Laura was a member from
1987 to 1990 along with her friend Dawn.
Freddie Brandon email,
Estelle Sandford email,
Richard Simpson telephone and email,
Julian & Carol Walford telephone.
Gair Dunlop reports that another address change will soon be on the way
since he had just been made a senior lecturer at the art school in
John Crae has been anonymously making headlines this month. He was one
of the unidentified Historic Scotland employees who found a clothed male
skeleton next to a boundary wall near Duddingston Loch on March 6th.
Boggy ground and scrub make this a site that only the determined would
want to reach and the body is thought to have been there between three
and ten years. When John phoned the police to report the discovery there
was initial skepticism, and it was over an hour before the police
arrived and radioed back that yes there really was a body there.
Hiba Aboulhosn is leaving the GSG as she'll be away for most of the
year, but might return later. In her last message, from her native
Lebanon I believe, she writes:-
this is the
website of our Caving club here (Speleo Club du Liban) and if anyone is
interested you can check all the details of the Middle-East Speleo
Symposium (April 2006) at
A big helloooo to all.
>From my crazy lively land !!
At the end of 2005 we had 138 members. So far 126 have renewed for
2006 plus two new members have joined, six have resigned and another six
have one week to go before they are assumed to have left the Group. This
is a slight improvement on last year when I was still chasing nine
members for their subscriptions at the end of March.
Elphin Caving Centre
The Tartan Tremor and South East Collation theme meals were well
attended and great successes. Both tested the linguistic abilities of
those attending with Partan Bree, Skirlie and Rumbledethumps not much
intelligible than Tom Yang Koong, Guey Teuw Nah Sub and Mamuan Kuo Nieo.
For the South East Collation Peter produced some superb dishes,
interesting tastes and textures with help from a 15 kg delivery from
The next scheduled event is the Mendip Invasion now scheduled to
happen from about the 1st May for a week. Thereafter the Midsummer BBQ
will be on June 24 with (I hope) volunteers staying on to help with hut
maintenance, Rana Hole and escorting Ullapool High School pupils and
teachers on their annual caving trips.
The wood store is looking healthier than it has done for a long time.
One of last year's new recruits - Preston White - works for a company
producing timber frame buildings. The off-cuts from this process are
just the right size for our multi-fuel stove and several full bag have
appeared in the wood store. Some very warm thanks to Preston from some
warm hut dwellers.
Taigh nam Famh Bookings
Hut fees are L5.00 per night for non-members and L2.50 for GSG,
Bradford and BEC members. Reduced to L3.00 and L2.00 for children,
students, the unemployed and OAPs. Camping is at a reduced rate of L2.00
only when the hut is full. Day fees are L1.00 for members and L2.00 for
If you want to stay in the hut please contact the Hut Warden - Peter
Dowswell as soon as possible to check if there will be space
hutbookings # gsg.org.uk.
The bottom four or five inches of the front door 'fell off' during a
GUPA visit in March. We did know that it was deteriorating, but hadn't
realized it was so bad. The new front door has been in the shed for the
last year or two but needs some trimming, painting, and fitting of door
furniture before we install it. So I quickly patched up the old door
with some plywood and spare timber and resolved to fit the new one real
A second shower tray has been bought and stored at the hut ready for
the left-hand shower. This too will be fitted sometime soon.
The hut now has a brand new vacuum cleaner and a stock of bags. It
normally lives in the hole in the partition between the kitchen and
Another new purchase was a fan heater to replace the old one that was
starting to melt its case and has been scrapped. Its replacement was
installed in February and by our next visit in March it too had expired.
At some time it appears to have fallen very hard onto the floor
fracturing the case and leaving its guts loose. Enquiries have been made
of those who stayed there in an attempt to find out if that particular
model is fragile in which case we'll try to buy something more robust,
or if it nothing would have survived its accident in which case I'll buy
another of the same.
On a more positive note the fan heater section of the dehumidifier in
the drying room appeared to be back to its normal behaviour on our last
visit. Please keep monitoring it and if the drying room doesn't reach
its usual tropical temperature let the Hut Warden know.
Would all members staying at the hut please report breakages and
problems to the Hut Warden. Accidents do happen and we can accept them,
but it is extremely irritating to arrive at the hut, find something
needs attention, but not have the right tools or material to hand
because nobody thought to tell us. So a pat on the back to GUPA for
telling us about the front door, though perhaps not to the members who
stayed there next weekend and didn't think to mention it!
Reciprocal Hut Rights with BPC
The GSG and Bradford Caving Club have agreed reciprocal rights for
members staying at each others hut. So we get to stay in Brackenbottom,
Horton-in-Ribblesdale at BPC members' rates and vice versa for them
staying at Taigh nam Famh. For more details and a location map see the
BPC website at
High Pasture Cave - 2006 excavations begin
We have started excavation of the stairwell again at the HPC site,
having fitted a tarpaulin shelter over the top to keep it as dry as
possible (see website update). We have now uncovered 6 steps and around
8-10 courses of stone work - the structure appearing to be quite sound
at the moment, although some of the stonework looks a bit dodgy! On
Friday (24th March) we made our first visual connection between the base
of the excavation in the stairwell, which is currently around 1.4 metres
deep and Bone Passage below. A large void between the boulder fill
enabled me to see Martin's lamp in Bone Passage, some 1.2 to 1.4 metres
below. Therefore, we estimate another 1.2 metres to the top/roof of Bone
Passage; another metre or so down to the top of the archaeological
deposits in Bone Passage; and around another 0.8 metres to 1.0 metres
down to the natural bedrock floor of the cave - giving us around 3.0
metres of fill to remove before we hit the natural floor of the cave.
The resulting entrance should be quite impressive when looking from the
floor of the cave, with the corbelled walls of the stairwell and the
steep flight of steps.
We have recovered a few more fragments of human bone and animal bone
(pig) from the stairwell, along with a few sherds of pottery and other
ecofacts. The human bone most likely belongs to the adult woman, the
infant and foetus, indicating that when their remains were interred in
the stairwell within the boulder fill there must have been significant
voids, enabling the bones to trickle down when they became
Visit the website
to read about progress,
see the pictures and read the specialist reports about the mammal and
human remains, the pottery and other finds.