2 0 1 2     S U M M A R Y

  • Initial Depth: 17 metres
  • Final Depth: 27.44 metres
  • Working Sessions: 81
  • Unfortunately, the latter half of the year was marred by unpleasantness, which necessitated a complete shut-down of the dig from 1st October until 23rd December. Now, having restarted with slight change of personnel, we can look forward to a more harmonious 2013.

2012.081: Sun 23rd Dec. (1100 - 1645)

Alice Audsley, Annie Audsley, Andy Morton, Chris Batstone, Mike Wilson, Roger Galloway, Tony Audsley


Bags: 16

The 'atmosphere' at the dig has cleared and digging has restarted.

Digging would have started somewhat earlier but for the fact that members of the Old Gang took it in turns to fall ill with winter ailments and devoted all their energies to coughing, spluttering and generally feeling sorry for themselves.

So, better late than never and after some preliminary surface faffing Andy and Tony went to the bottom for an inspection. All was clean-washed and at the dig face the floor level seemed to have dropped a small amount, say about 20 cm.

After the inspection Andy, Annie and Roger started clearing the backlog of bags that had been left at the bottom of P3. Andy stayed at the bottom to load bags while Annie and Roger cleared them; occasionally swapping places - one on the windlass and the other at the bottom of Tollens. Meanwhile, Tony started chiselling away at the walls at the terminal junction, then drilled a series of neat and useful little holes....

On the surface Alice, Chris and Mike set up a double purchase hauling system and started hauling bags to grass by hand as the winch engine was still languishing in Cheddar in intensive care.

Lunch was eaten round the shaft (photo), then Annie and Roger went down to start surveying and Andy loaded bags at the bottom while on the surface Alice, Mike and Chris took turns in hauling.

Survey results showed a Vertical Range of 27.44m (90.03ft) and a Horizontal Range of 11.47m (37.63ft)

23DEC12: Survey Plan

2012.069 - 2012.080: (Various times in December)

The winch engine was dismantled and given a thorough going over. This included re-cutting the exhaust valve seat, then grinding in both valves, resetting clearances, dismantling the carburettor then cleaning and resetting it. Not a long list but time consuming as hours were spent searching for small but vital bits, like valve retaining collets, which kept leaping onto the floor and hiding there.

2012.068: Mon 1stOct. (1100 - 1245 ish)

Alice Audsley, Jeff Price, Mike Wilson, Tony Audsley

A morning pre-Hunters' trip for a final tidy-up and fettle. Mike went down to the windlass and Tony went below to extend the ventilation pipe to the bottom of the dig. Once the pipe had been installed and the ventilation was working, Tony cleared the tools from the bottom of the dig and Mike hauled them up to RDR.

The tools were then sent up to the surface, along with the surprising amount of scrap timber and junk that had accumulated below ground.

Alice and Jeff finished tidying the surface and collected up all the worn-out digging bags.

The dig is now shut down until further notice.

2012.067: Sat 29th Sep.

Alice Audsley, Chris Batstone, Mike Wilson, Tony Audsley

[Round about June, we began having 'labour problems' at Home Close. Because of the continuing nature of the difficulties, the old guard of core Home Close diggers (Alice, Chris, Ian, Jeff, Mike and Tony) have reluctantly decided to shut down the dig for a while.]

In preparation for the shut-down, we spent an afternoon tidying up the surface workings and removing personal kit from the huts. Then Mike and Tony removed the winch engine in order to take it back to Cheddar. Tony can then work on it and fix the lumpy running while it is not required at the dig.

2012.061: Wed 5th Sep. (1915 - 2130)

Clive North, Tony Audsley

An evening trip to enlarge the entrance to the third pitch. We had the ventilation system running and the air quality was acceptable, although not completely free of CO2.

It looks like we may need to seal the joints of the ventilation pipe more effectively.

2012.060: Sat 1st Sep (1045 - 1615)

Alice Audsley, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 1

After an initial round of teas, Tony went to the bottom of Tollens and Stuart Lindsay went to the ledge at the halfway point. Tony drilled and fixed the aforementioned (11th August) plastic plugs and attached the vent-pipe and the two cables. The phone cable is being kept carefully some distance apart from the other one to avoid any chance of the dreaded induced electric currents causing outbursts of woe and misery.

The next length of flexible vent-pipe was sent down, connected up and then dangled down to the bottom. The entrance hole at the top of the third pitch still needs enlarging to ensure that passing bags do not damage the rather fragile flexible pipe. (During this first session, we were quite badly affected by high levels of CO2.

Out to the surface for lunch and Mike came hobbling across the field supported on a walking pole as he had a problem with his ankle (or possibly Achilles tendon?)

In the afternoon, we started up the ventilation system and Tony went down to drill some pretty little holes round the entrance hole to the third pitch. The air quality was noticeably better with the improved ventilation and breathing was not a problem. On the surface Alice, Mike and Stuart did some grading on the spoil heap.

We hauled out (by hand) the three bags of spoil that had been cleared off the floor of the grill room. This is being counted as the equivalent of a single kibble.

2012.058: Sat 11th Aug (1200 - 1715)

Alice Audsley, Chris Batstone, Mike Wilson, Tony Audsley

A maintenance session. To start with, we fitted three 2.5 metre lengths of rainwater downpipe in the shaft to replace the blue flexible pipe which had been moved further down into the cave.

Having done this and had some lunch, Chris and Tony went below and drilled and fitted 'cable tie masonry mounts' (Screwfix 72199) which seemed ideal for securing the vent-pipe, the telephone cable and that other necessary cable. Not altogether straightforward as the blue flexible pipe was anything but flexible and kept trying to wind itself up like a clock spring.

However, we got down Tollens as far as the ledge and fixed the cables and vent pipe to the rear (NW) wall away from the bag-hauling route.

On the surface, Alice and Mike spent the afternoon re-arranging the spoilheap and introducing a measure of decent order to it.

Work over, we nattered, had tea, etc.

2012.056: Wed 8th Aug (1915 - 2120)

Duncan Price, Jeff Price, Naomi Sharp, Tony Audsley

Another evening session with the welcome addition of ATLAS members Duncan and Naomi who had responded to our request for help in view of our current labour problems. They started clearing the cross rift at the end of the dig and filled ten bags of spoil, which they stacked at the base of the builder's ladder.

Meanwhile, Jeff and Tony removed the conveyor belting slide from the ladder and then tried to push it out of the way so that they could work on enlarging the entrance hole. (This is so that we can get the ventilation pipe through the entrance as well as being able to haul bags out). Unfortunately, the belting didn't like where we put it and it kept sliding down and landing in a heap on top of us, much fun.

Duncan and Naomi reported bad air at the bottom and Duncan, who had taken a lighter down to test the air, had great difficulty in getting it to light.

Duncan and Jeff went out while Tony removed the builder's ladder from the bottom and passed it to Naomi who fixed it up on the ledge in Tollens where it will be useful when we come back to fix the vent pipe and cables.

Tony then did some final fiddling round the entrance hole and by the end was breathing very heavily because of the high level of CO2.

2012.055: Sat 4th Aug (1100 - 1715)

Alice Audsley, Chris Batstone, Mike Wilson, Tony Audsley

Kibbles 14

Tony went down to the Grill Room at the base of the entrance shaft and dragged the bags from last Wednesday, which had been stacked at the base of the grills, up to the bottom of the shaft, while Alice, Chris and Mike hauled them to grass and tipped them. Tony then filled another four bags with rock that had been tipped at the base of the grills. THEN, with the aid of a rope from the top of the shaft and much heaving from above we moved the large rock that had come out of the roof above the windlass stance when that area was being enlarged. So, with a lot of hauling from above on the hand-line and a bit of shoving and fiddling from below, it was loaded into the kibble and hauled out.

Break for lunch.

Lunch over, Mike and Tony started removing the flexible blue ventilation pipe from the Engine shaft with the intention of replacing it with rainwater down-pipe. (The logic behind this was that the flexible pipe would be more useful further into the dig).

One length of downpipe was fitted. but we need to install at least two more. In the Grill Room (GR) and RDR, the bang wire and telephone wire were fixed separately and the blue flexible vent pipe was mounted more securely in the GR and RDR. The end of the vent pipe was dropped down Tollens but not secured.

On the surface, Mike levelled the spoil heap a bit.

We finished the day with tea and fruit cake provided by Chris Batstone.

2012.054: Wed 1st August (1915 - 2115)

Clive North, Duncan Price, Mike Richardson, Rich Witcombe, Tony Audsley

A mid-week evening trip for a change with very welcome help from some other ATLAS members. Clive and Mike dug at the bottom, Duncan hand hauled at the bottom of Tollens, helping the bags up the conveyor belting slide and manoeuvring them through the entrance hole. Tony first fixed a displaced bearing on the windlass then hauled bags for the rest of the session.

Rich arrived about halfway through and unclipped bags and ferried them back along RDR to stack them in the Grill Room at the bottom of the entrance shaft. Altogether, 22 bags were hauled from the bottom.

Come 9 pm, the two diggers and Duncan were all reporting the effects of high levels of CO2, Duncan seriously so. We need to improve the ventilation.

Some more enlargement is required at the end of the dig, but we need to concentrate on improving the air quality first.

2012.050: Sun 22nd Jul (1030 - 1730)

Alice Audsley, Jeff Price, Mike Wilson, Phil Hendy, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 7

Bags: 20

Alan Gray, Rich Witcombe

We got over to the site quite early, but the actual start of digging was delayed by the arrival of a gentleman of the press in the form of Phil Hendy, the caving correspondent for the "Mendip Times". There was the inevitable wittering session outlining the history and wonders of the dig, before we actually got down to do anything as squalid as going underground - anyway it was a sunny day and very pleasant on the surface.

Eventually, Jeff, Phil and Tony went down, Jeff stayed at the bottom of Tollens while Phil was pushed on to the bitter end. He declined to take a photograph of the way on, possibly because he did not have a macro lens with him.

When Phil had seen enough of the digging face, we all made our way out and he took photographs of the windlass and suchlike.

We then started up the winch and sent up some dummy bags of 'spoil' in the kibble(†) so that Phil could see what went on at the surface.

It was then lunch time and we had a visit from a pair of ragged itinerant book-sellers (Rich Witcombe and Alan Gray), hawking copies of 'Earth Colours' and they even managed to sell TWO copies. That over, Alan, Phil & Rich left, followed shortly by Jeff, who was suffering from another bout of back trouble.

So, Alice, Mike and Tony went below again. We attached a tail rope to the crab on the windlass, so that it could be dragged all the way to the bottom and Tony went to the bottom to dig, Mike took over the windlass and Alice cleared bags and stacked them at the base of the Engine Shaft.

Hauling from the bottom without having a digger in Tollens' shaft to guide the rope and help with hauling was relatively straight forward, although there is some room for improvement. The conveyor belting slide needs some support at the lip of the shaft and the bundle of dead digging sacks that Tony fitted there for this purpose kept slipping out. The principle is good, it's just the details that need a bit of stamping on.

Altogether we hauled out 20 bags, then Alice and Mike went to the surface and together we hauled the 20 bags to grass, a total of 7 kibbles-worth.

(†) The two 'dummy' bags of spoil are NOT included in the bag total! Shame, it would have made a nice round number.

2012.049: Sat 14th Jul (1030 - 1715)

Duncan Butler, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 24

Bags: 47

Stuart and Tony met up at the Belfry and collected a short length of conveyor belting to lay in the bottom of RDR and make it easier to drag the bags along the passage. Then over to the daily unit, where we met up with Tim. Once over at the hole, all three went to the bottom to inspect our latest breakthrough and the caverns measureless that lay beyond.

Well, that was the plan anyway.

The end of the passage was much wider, but whatever was beyond the original constriction point was buried beneath a heap of rubble. Stuart started digging into heap and Tim bagged the debris that was sent back. After a short while, Tim took over the digging and Stuart and Tony fitted a [different] length of conveyor belting over the builder's ladder and through the entrance hole at the top of the shaft. This means that bags can be dragged up and out of the pot much more easily and has the added advantage of forming a slide to get down the pitch, which is fun if not a little silly.

Once the belting was in position, Tim continued digging, Stuart bagged and Tony hauled the bags up the new slide and stacked them on the growing heap at the bottom of Tollens.

About mid-day, Mike arrived and manned the windlass, so we were able to haul bags from the bottom and straight up Tollens. As the digging rate at the bottom slowed down, it was also possible to clear some of the backlog of bags from the heap. Especially as a bit later, Duncan Butler arrived, so he and Mike took turns on the windlass and bag clearing and stacking.

When Tim had cleared most of the debris from the end of the dig, he came out and started sending the residue of bags from the dump at the bottom of Tollens.

Meanwhile Stuart and I went down to take some photographs and have a look at the way on. The passage had lost its point of constriction but what was beyond did not apparently go anywhere. At the end, it was possible to look round and back at an acute angle to the right into a very short section of narrow open rift.

The floor of this rift is choked with digging debris. It is possible that there is a small choked continuation forward and also possibly to the right, but the way on (ha-ha) is likely to straight down in the floor at the junction of the passages. Much desolation all round, but the one saving grace is that the cold draught is still with us. So all is not lost, but we are unlikely to get our own entry in the new edition of Mendip Underground when it goes to the press later this year. (Need more than 60 metres of passage or pitch).

We came out for a late lunch at about 1500 hrs, then afterwards, Duncan went down to have a look at the bitter end and Tony went to the bottom of Engine Shaft, Mike drove the winch and Stuart and Tim handled the spoil dispersal. Duncan soon returned from the depths and then moved bags from RDR to the bottom of the Engine Shaft. We hauled out 24 kibbles, or a total of 47 bags if you prefer.

Then tea with chocolate fudge cake.

There were three eggs in the second swallow's nest when we arrived and four when we left, so somebody had a good day.

Plan diagram of the base of the shaft

plan of base of shaft

The diagram above is a plan of the base of the third pitch. It is NOT intended as a survey, merely to give an impression of what is happening down there. At the bottom, the entrance to the pitch is on the right with the ladder / conveyor belt slide leading down to the floor of the pitch. The recently enlarged passage leads off at floor level heading more or less north and it intersects a rift at an acute angle, where the likely way on is in the floor. The best (compass less) guesstimate is that the cross rift is heading more or less NW/SE which brings it back in line with the other tear structures in the cave.

2012.048: Mon 9th Jul (1245 - 1715)

Alice Audsley, Annie Audsley, Roger Galloway, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 12

Bags: 36

Digga the dog.

To start with, Roger went to the bottom of Tollens' Shaft and Annie and Tony went to the bottom of the third pitch. Then Annie and Roger started clearing the bags from the bottom of the third pitch and added them to the stack at the bottom of Tollens' Shaft. Meanwhile, Tony started a drilling session on the constricted corner which blocked our view of 'caverns measureless'.

After clearing most of the bags from the bottom of the pot, Roger went up to the windlass at the top of Tollens' Shaft and Annie to the bottom and they started work on clearing the large number of bags stacked at the bottom of Tollens' shaft.

Having cleared most of the bags from the bottom of Tollens, we all went to the surface to have some lunch, while the vacuum cleaner ventilation system cleared the air for us.

Lunch over, Roger went to the bottom of the Engine Shaft, to load the kibble. On the surface, Tony drove the winch while Alice and Annie took turns on the bank and the barrow. Altogether we hauled out 12 Kibbles containing 36 bags of spoil.

Digga celebrated by covering himself in cowsh.

2012.047: Sat 7th Jul

Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay

[Account based on Stuart Lindsay's Log]

A wet day with just Mike and I. We put the plugs in the blue drain pipes on the surface, then got to the bottom and in a haze I took a couple of photos of the debris from last week. Bad news - the passage is still not big enough to get round the corner.

We filled about 8-9 bags and shifted 5-6 large lumps of rock. The draught is intermittent but the water flow increased at bottom of the third pitch during the first 90 minutes of our visit. We then called a halt to digging and spent spent the next 30 mins sorting the conveyor belting to aid hauling bags up the pitch. Our conclusion was it needs to have about 4 to 5 lump hammer lengths cut off, and a sharp Stanley knife available to make a couple of well placed slits and then it should work.

Leaving the increasingly wet pitch, we climbed out and I waited at top of Tollens' Shaft while Mike went to the surface and pulled the plugs on the blue drain pipes. An impressive jet force came from the 2 spouts, hit the bottom of RDR and went down through the floor. In less than 10 secs some part of the flow was running over the ledge, so quite a bit has found another way down.

After dinner we bagged up the remains of the aggregate pile to keep it separate from the spoil-heap which was starting to bury it.

2012.046: Sat 30th Jun (1015 - 1745)

Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large

Nick Harding, Nick Richards

Excused digging: Tony and Alice - (STILL on holiday on Bryher)

[Account based on Stuart Lindsay's Log]

Stuart got on site early (1015) and was on his own for most of the first hour, so he tipped the remainder of last week's bags, bagged the empty sacks together and sent them down, then cut and prepared a 10 ft length of conveyor belting for use at the top of the third pitch. With Tim's arrival we made tea, of course, pointed out the NEW swallow's nest, then both descended.

Stuart commenced filling bags with the spoil from last week's efforts. The debris had almost obscured the miserable gap with the inviting black space beyond. After ten bags, Stuart and Tim changed places and Tim filled the next twenty. With the bottom more or less cleared, Stuart went up to the base of Tollens and hauled out bags passed to him by Tim who was standing on the aluminium ladder.

On the surface, Mike had arrived and had tea on, oak smoked brew! Then the two Nicks arrived, in the guise of wandering book-sellers hawking copies of the newly-published 'Earth Colours'

Dinner over, Stuart headed down to try to get some pics of the newly-cleared mini-rift, then Mike, Stuart and Tim worked on enlarging the rift some more, finally exiting to strawberries and raspberry-jam cake.

2012.045: Sat 23rd Jun (1030 - 1915)

Chris Batstone, Mike Wilson, Ray Deasey, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large

Kibbles: 8

Hilary Wilson, Suki

Excused digging: Tony and Alice - (holiday on Bryher)

[Account based on Stuart Lindsay's log]

Bit of a stop start day with a few lessons learned. Stuart, Chris and Tim turned up in that order and found that the dig was short of petrol, so phoned Mike to ask him to bring some with him. Stuart, Tim and Chris went below and started work on enlarging the lip of the third pitch (to improve hauling) and the passage at the bottom (to allow access). Tim's idea to put the aluminium builder's ladder down the pitch worked well, both for access and as a hauling aid. All three came out to the surface at 1400 ish to be met with Mike, Hilary, Suki (black Labrador) and Ray Deasey (the latter all the way from down under).

After lunch, the winch was fed with some petrol and 23 bags were hauled out in 8 kibbles. After six kibbles, Stuart noticed that the 'crystal clear' air below his feet was subject to a creeping blue mist, it was like Bridgwater flats on a misty morn. The ventilation system was still running but the pipes had parted. When the break was reconnected, the air started to clear again.

All out for tea, then Mike, Hilary, Suki and Ray departed leaving Tim, Stuart and Chris to go below once again and continue working to enlarge the passage at the bottom. Exited late to rain and Swiss roll.

The swallows' nest had apparently been visited by small furry creatures as the eggs were destroyed and the parents appear to have abandoned it.

2012.043: Sat 16th Jun (1030 - 1730)

Alice Audsley, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Pair of swallows

Tony arrived a little late to find Tim and Stuart ensconced in the tea room, which was a bit of a surprise as we had agreed to avoid using it as far as possible because of the swallows nesting in there. On Tony's arrival, Tim and Stuart went to the bottom of Tollens and started digging. Tony worked on setting up the windlass and its bearings, then fitted a rope to it.

Having got the windlass more or less in order, Tony hauled bags from the bottom of Tollens and Alice, who had just arrived, stacked them at and around the base of the engine shaft. A lot came out, but we didn't count them and won't know the total until they are cleared next weekend.

After the debris had been cleared, Tim went to the bottom of the pot to have a good look round. He took a bearing on the continuation passage, which is heading north (ca 11 degrees). He also probed the floor, which seems to be solid, rather than the rock and mud fill which we had originally thought. This is a pity, as it means we won't be able to dig out the floor to get along the passage. The walls will need a bit of re-arranging instead.

We spent some time enlarging the area around the top of the third pitch to make bag hauling easier, then we all went up to have a late lunch, swallows permitting.

After lunch, Stuart and Tony went to the bottom of Tollens, Tim manned the windlass and we had a series of trials to test the possibility of bag hauling from the very bottom. This worked in principle, but some details need fixing and it may be necessary to fix an apron of conveyor belting over the lip of the pitch.

We exited then had tea and cake while sitting round the shaft, watching the circling swallows.

2012.042: Wed 13th Jun (1430 - 1700)

Jeff Price, Tony Audsley

We removed a large pile of broken rock from the grill and stacked it in the chamber. Thankfully, sufficient rock had peeled off the right hand wall and there was enough space on the right to sit down in comfort and operate a windlass.

So, "we" refitted the front and rear supports for the windlass, then the windlass itself was mounted on top and fixed. I say "we", but must confess that Jeff did most of the work of fixing (but then he dropped my scaff spanner down the shaft, so we're quits).

A very enjoyable afternoon's digging.

2012.041: Sun 10th Jun (1415 - 1700)

Alice Audsley, Tony Audsley

Just the two of us. We went down and removed the scaffolding from the top of Tollens' shaft. We then fixed a builder's ladder cantilevered out over the shaft and set a metal grill on top to prevent stuff from falling down the shaft. Finally we enlarged the area to the right of the shaft head.

This is to create a working position for a windlass operator on the right of the shaft. Hopefully this will be more successful than our previous attempts to operate the windlass from the left of the shaft.

On the surface, the swallows were still flying in and out of the tea room and we avoided it as much as possible. However, one had the nerve to fly in through the open window of the engine house, so we promptly closed it - enough is enough.

2012.040: Wed 6th Jun (1100 - 1500)

Jeff Price, Stuart Lindsay, Tony Audsley

A quick trip to enlarge the area at the top of the pitch.

Jeff placed a bolt just above the ledge in Tollens, then went down the new pitch to have a look at the bottom. He is convinced that there is another drop at the end of the small passage down there.

Swallows flew happily in and out of their tea-room. We have agreed to avoiding using it for now.

That's about it - more at the weekend.

2012.039: Sat 2nd Jun (1000 - 1700)

Alice Audsley, Chris Batstone, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Jeff Price, Paul Newman

Kibbles: 3

Stuart and Tim went underground first and started clearing round the black hole. It was still not possible to get down it and much cursing and a certain amount of hammering and chiselling ensued. Chris and Tony went to the top of Tollens and hauled out a miserable total of six bags of rock and stacked them at the base of the engine shaft.

All back to the surface, where we were visited by Jeff and Paul Newman. After showing Paul the delights of the surface works, Stuart and Tony went back down. They paused briefly to send up the three kibbles worth of bags, then continued to the bottom, where Stuart started capping to enlarge the entrance area and Tony stacked rubble, took photographs and twiddled thumbs.

After a long session of capping, Tony went out and Mike came down with a bolt for a belay and some more ladder. After much thrutching and some more chiselling and capping, Mike made the first descent of the pitch. This was some 3½ metres deep to a roughly circular mud and rubble debris floor, about 2 metres in diameter. At the northern end a small triangular section passage about 60cm high and 30 cm wide at the base continued for an estimated 3 to 4 metres. As the bottom of the pitch seems solidly plugged with clay, this 'passage' must be the source of our intermittent draught - more digging required.

All back to the surface, where we broke open our emergency breakthrough supply of red fizz, which we drank while sitting round the shaft watching the swallows happily fly in and out of their tea-room.

2012.038: Fri 1st Jun (1400 - 1630)

Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Tim and Tony spent an afternoon enlarging the football sized black hole so that we can have fun and games tomorrow. I have got nothing more to say about what went on, so have a look at some pictures.

The first photograph shows the north western end of the 'rift' at the bottom of Tollens and the mineral vein. The floor has been lowered some 60cm and the way on is under the left wall.

The photograph above is looking left towards the small black hole and THE WAY ON! If you look at the enlarged version of this, you will see my foot which gives some idea of scale.

2012.037: Sat 26th May

Chris Batstone, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large, Tony Boycott

Kibbles: 13

Excused digging: Alice & Tony Audsley (family wedding in Perth)

[The following is based on Stuart's and Tim's accounts of the digging].

In the morning, Stuart and Tony Boycott went to the bottom and spent a couple of hours drilling and enlarging the hole discovered last week. This produced thirteen kibbles worth of broken rock and a small hole that Tim managed to get his head into and look down. Another rifty shaft maybe 4 metres deep blocked at the bottom with rocks and mud. This is beginning to develop into a bit of a pattern of open verticals and blocked horizontals.

The spoil was removed in the usual two stage process, Tim and Stuart at the bottom filling bags with Chris and Mike at the top of Tollens hauling and stacking. Then all move up one place and send the bags up to grass.

Tea and battenburg cake to finish consumed in the open as swallows are now nesting in the tea-room!

2012.036: Sat 19th May (1030 - 1700)

Chris Batstone, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 13

Stuart and Tony arrived first, both suffering from heavy colds. After some discussion, we decided that neither of us was capable of hand hauling bags up Tollens' shaft, so we both went to the bottom. Stuart started digging in the floor and Tony stacked bags where ever there was space. Both spent a lot of time coughing, snuffling, sneezing and wheezing.

Two largish blocks were removed from the centre of the digging area, the rest of the fill was largely gloopy mud with a spattering of gravel, yeuch! There were indications of a flat solid rock over some, at least, of the floor area, although this may be just turn out to be a large block. On the left-hand side, a small hole is beginning to open up in the floor and a glimpse of open space beyond can be seen.

Round about lunchtime, Chris, Mike and Tim (who had lost the keys to his truck) arrived. After lunch, Tim went to the bottom, Chris to the hauling seat, Mike into the chamber, where he multitasked by helping with the hauling and also passed bags back to Tony, who was perched on top of the grills at the base of the engine shaft.

When the backlog of bags had been cleared from the bottom, Tim stayed below to do some more digging and filled a further 5 bags. These were left below to be dealt with next week. Mike and Chris went to grass and hauled out a grand total of 13 kibbles of spoil, not bad considering the state of most of the diggers today.

2012.035: Sat 12th May (1100 - 1700)

Alice Audsley, Jeff Price, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tony Audsley

Duncan Price, Naomi Sharp

Kibbles: 16

To start with, Stuart and Tony turned up at the dig; the others were due to arrive rather later when we were ready to so some hauling. Stuart went to the bottom to dig and Tony sat at the top of Tollens and hauled and stacked. Stuart was rather unwell and had a racking cough, which was not helped by the dust coming off the dry digging sacks, but he continued never the less.

By mid-day, Mike, Alice and Jeff had arrived; Duncan Price and Naomi Sharp visited on their way to Wigmore Swallet itself where they planned to replace the ladder on Black Pudding Pot. We had a nattering session on the surface and then some lunch.

Lunch over, Tony went to the bottom, Mike to the hauling position and Alice to the chamber where she assisted Mike with the hauling and ferried bags to the base of the engine shaft.

At the digging face, Stuart had left a digger's seat of unexcavated fill as shown in the accompanying hyperaccurate sketch plan. As a guide to scale, the seat is a snug fit for a standard HCH digger's bum, comfortable but not roomy; with a small area for tools behind the digger. Digging in the area in front of the seat, after clearance of the remainder of the untidy mound of rubble left over from last week, revealed a mainly gravel and mud fill but with loose stone fill on the far left. Here the rift wall widens out at approximately 50° and the area is floored with loose cobbles.

sketch plan of digging face
Plan of the digging face.

Meanwhile, on the surface, Stuart laid a sheet of wriggly tin on the ground, covered it with clean digging sacks and had a lie-down and snooze for half an hour.

Later, while digging continued at the bottom, Jeff started the winch and began hauling spoil to the surface. 16 kibbles in total. Late afternoon, digging over and all above ground, Duncan and Naomi arrived back from Wigmore where they had found the entrance to the cave blocked with debris and had to spend the afternoon clearing it instead of going underground.

An excellent day's digging - for us at least.

2012.034: Sat 5th May (1100 - 1715)

Alice Audsley, Jeff Price, Mike Wilson, Nick Hawkes, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Mick Norton, Suki Sidhu, Paul Ketcher

Kibbles: 8

We had a relatively slow start, but eventually Tim went to the bottom of Tollens to fill bags, Jeff went to the ledge to help with the hauling and Tony hauled and stacked the bags at the top. We raised 17 bags of debris altogether.

While we were underground, Alice and Mike arrived, together with Nick Hawkes and at 1400 hrs we joined them on the surface for tea and lunch. While the rest of us were eating, Nick went down on a tour of inspection and reported favourably on the digging face and the draught. He did however utter the words 'very constricted' when referring to the way on, but I guess that we can fix that.

Nick also pointed out that the horizontally bedded layer of calcite which appears in both walls of the chamber and RDR does not continue beyond the cross rift. He suggested that this indicates that the cross rift lies on the line of a fault.

Lunch over, we had a hauling session and a test of a cunning device produced by Mike to aid the bag handling at the base of the shaft. This consisted of a short length of aluminium scaff bar with a crab at each end. One crab fitted over the guide cable and the other over the hauling cable. In use, the scaff bar remained vertical as it travelled down the shaft until the guide cable crab reached the knot at the bottom of the guide. The bar then pivoted outwards and into the chamber, carrying the hauling cable with it. The principal seemed good but the practice will need some refinement.

Because of this test of Mike's device we hauled bags individually so we are counting the 17 bags as being equivalent to 8 Kibbles. The bags were rather heavier than usual, so I think that this is fair.

Later in the afternoon we had a visit from three Bracknell Caving Club members, Mick Norton, Suki Sidhu and Paul Ketcher. All three inspected the surface works and then Suki went underground to inspect the bitter end.

We packed up and had a final round of tea (with battenburg cake) and left the site at 1715 (ish).

The photograph above shows the current end of the dig. The vein can be seen in the center of the photograph (thin yellowish stripes of barytes). The way on is probably a small hole in the fill which is hidden in the shadow on the left. The hole is about the size of a fist at present, but will get bigger.

2012.033: Fri 4th May (1330-1700) (May the fourth be with you)

Alice Audsley, Tony Audsley

An afternoon trip for us both to inspect the bottom and then do some drilling to enlarge the digging face. Can't say much more than that.

2012.032: Sat 28th Apr (1030 - 1530)

Alice Audsley, Mike Wilson, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

This digging session ended up being rather more theoretical than it was practical, but none the worse for that.

Three quarters of today's team were scheduled to be late for various reasons, so Tony fiddled and faffed on the surface until Tim arrived, then the two went underground to the dig face and heroically hauled ONE bag of spoil. This was followed by a general inspection of the state of the dig.

The photograph shows the mineral vein at the bottom of the shaft. The black material on the right is manganese dioxide or 'wad' (MnO2) the yellow bands either side of the calcite & clay central area are barium sulphate or barytes (BaSO4)

At the north-west end, under the mineral vein, it is now possible to get a glimpse round to the left and see a small BLACK HOLE with a slight stal coating on the left hand wall. An outbreak of 'rift barking' produced little resonance so that there does not appear to be a large open space near, but there was a distinct cool draught.

However, unanimous opinion was that the dig was too constricted and that we need to enlarge the working area before we can get much further.

As it was now well after lunch-time and as Alice and Mike had arrived, Tim and Tony had a short photography session and then came up to grass. Tim had brought some pasties so we heated them in the microwave and had hot pasties for lunch - a first.

This was followed by lots of nattering, more tea, more nattering, coffee cake, more nattering but no more digging. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves - but we're not.

Here, rather late in the day, is a photograph of the bottom half of Tollens' shaft, looking up towards the breakthrough point

2012.031: Sat 21st Apr (1200 - 1700)

Alice Audsley, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 8

Stuart went to the bottom and dug out a mixture of wet sludge and rock and Tony hauled and stacked, until by 1400 we had accumulated a large pile of bags in the chamber and Alice and Mike had turned up on the surface. We broke off for lunch.

Afterwards, Stuart and Tony went back down and chained the bags to the base of the engine shaft to be hauled up by Mike and tipped by Alice. Eight kibbles, each containing three bags were hauled out.

We decided to call an early end to the digging so we retired to the tea room for tea AND THE LAST OF THE CHOCOLATES.

Tea and chocolates over, we finished off the day by rearranging the tarpaulin shelter over the north side of the shaft. (Takes all sorts).


On Wednesday afternoon (11th April), I went over to the dig to collect an extension cable I'd left there. SURPRISE! I found a box of Belgian chocolates in a bag hanging on the winch cable. PUZZLE! Who could have left it there?

Now, I had noticed from the access logs of this website that we had a regular reader in Belgium (a Mac user), could it have been him? No, too much of a co-incidence.

However, Estelle Sandford has just told me that there is a posting on the forum ukcaving by the mystery benefactor, it is indeed he.

All I can say to our Belgian benefactor is, very many thanks. Alice, Stuart and I had most of them on Saturday, they were delicious.

Next time, let us know when you are coming, we would like to meet you.

tony, his mark

2012.029: Sat 14th April (1030 - 1700)

Alice Audsley, Stuart Lindsay, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 14

Alice was not due to arrive until just after lunchtime and there was some doubt about Tim (the exhaust had dropped off his truck) and Mike (rebuilding his Douglas Dragonfly bike), so it was a depleted (but undaunted) team that started work. We decided to try some digging at the bottom of Tollens and as there was not yet enough space to turn the handle of the windlass, we removed the drum, fixed a scaff bar in its place and attached the digging pulley to the scaff. We hoped that the part-enlarged working area would allow one person to haul and unhitch the bags. Previously it had not been possible to haul from the unhitching position at the top of the shaft and it had needed a third person hauling from the chamber.

We then removed the metal grill, the timbers and the builders ladder from the top of the shaft and stacked all these in the chamber. Finally, we produced a bag's worth of chippings by scraping the area round the top of the shaft clean.

This done, Stuart went down to the ledge and loaded up a trial bag of the stuff that had fallen down the shaft. The extra space at the top gave just enough elbow room to haul it up, so the system worked; we were away. Stuart sent up another bag from the ledge and then went down to the bottom and started digging, while Tony hauled and stacked the bags.

By the time that we had run out of empty bags, Alice had arrived and it was 1345, so we came out and had some lunch and the obligatory natter.

Thus refreshed, Stuart went down to act as onsetter, Tony was winchman and Alice was barrowgirl. After sending up 14 Kibbles (35 digging sacks), Stuart came out and we had a final session of bag emptying on the spoilheap.

2012.027: Mon 9th Apr (1100 - 1700)

Alice Audsley, Stuart Lindsay, Mike Wilson, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 4

Stuart and Tony arrived a bit before the others so went down and started clearing the debris left over from last Wednesday's session. Tony scrabbled at the face and Stuart dragged back and bagged it ready for hauling out.

When Mike and Tim arrived we tried hauling out but the winch would not run for more than a few seconds before stopping. Short on fuel? Spare can empty. Damn!

We phoned Alice to ask her to bring a can of petrol when she came out. In the meantime, Stuart and Tony continued work underground; Tony setting up the windlass and Stuart clearing out the bottom of the chamber with the intention of improving the drainage there.

Meanwhile, on the surface Mike and Tim fixed a new tarpaulin round the back of the headframe and Tim did some work to enhance the tea-room door.

Alice turned up with the petrol, so we topped up the fuel tank and tried again - same result. After a bit of head scratching we took an axe and tapped the carburettor with it; a hammer would have done but the axe was to hand so we used that. This did the trick and the winch started and ran perfectly thereafter. Those of an engineering bent decided that the float chamber needle valve had been stuck shut, but I prefer to believe that we frightened it into running properly.

We hauled out three kibbles of bagged debris and one kibble of larger rocks and then did some more work on the positioning the windlass. It is now possible to turn the handle but it does tend to make gentle contact with the winchman's nose once per turn. This could prove tedious in the long run so more working space is needed.

2012.026: Sat 7th Apr (2.5 hours)

Stuart Lindsay

Wandered over to the hole do a bit of surface work and commenced with filling a few bags with gravel which may soon be in the way of an expanding spoil heap when down came the rain. As luck would have it took advantage of the "tea room" and had black tea with biccies.

After some 30 mins the rain went off and I then commenced to extend the spoil heap wall by some 2 metres, again rain stopped play so retired to the luxury of the tearoom and watched a demented pheasant squawk, jump up flapping its wings every 3 or 4 mins. Last task was levelling the spoil heap to be able to wheel the barrow into the new tipping zone before my escort, a lucky to be alive cock pheasant walked just metres away from me all the way to gate. Upon my closing the gate he gave out a few squawks and strutted off down the field.....surely not saying goodbye????


2012.025: Wed 4th Apr (1500 - 1730)

Alice Audsley, Tony Audsley

A gentle afternoon trip to enlarge the windlass working area. A pair of curlews were heard. Can't think of anything else to say.

2012.024: Sat 31st Mar (1100 - 1700)

Alice Audsley, Chris Batstone, Ian Gregory (Slug), Mike Wilson, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 6.5

First of all, Tony and Ian arrived at the dig and Tony went down to have a look. He found that the metal grill on the top of Tollens' shaft was completely covered with a tastefully arranged pile of broken rock and the way on down was well and truly blocked once again - old habits die hard.

Ian did not have any underground kit with him, and as we needed two underground to get any digging done, Tony came back up and the lonely duo had a brew while waiting for the promised crowds of digging team to turn up. Just in time for lunch, Alice, Chris and Mike appeared; Chris making his first appearance on site since his knee operation. Tony commented that there was a pile of broken rock underground that needed shifting, only to be told by Chris and Mike that there was a pile of broken diggers on the surface who would try to shift it.

Lunch over, Tony and Mike went down and together they cleared 5 kibbles of rock. Tony then worked on the walls with lump hammer and chisels and removed some more rock, including a large block from the roof which rather unkindly fell out onto his head when he wasn't looking. This stuff we bagged and hand hauled up the shaft, a total of three bags of small bits and the malignant rock. We are counting this as being the equivalent of 1½ kibbles, hence the 6½ total.

By about 1630 hrs all the loose material had been removed, so we had a final tea break and called it a day. We packed up and left the site at about 1700, went back to the Belfry and stuffed ourselves with Ian's home-made chocolate cake (75% chocolate).

The photograph on the left shows the head of Tollens' shaft with a ladder supporting a square of metal grill, the whole assemblage being topped off with a tasteful pile of rubble. For now, this effectively blocks off the way on, but the ladder and grill will stay in place until we have installed the windlass.

The photograph on the right may be a bit difficult to get into perspective. It is looking steeply down (ca 60°) from the bottom of the engine shaft towards the entrance to RDR with the end of the horizontal builder's ladder just visible. On the right may be seen the yellowphone and to the left, spare ventilation pipes and general digging stuff. In the bottom centre of the photograph is the 'temporary' grill mesh shoring holding back the rock and clay fill.

2012.023: Fri 29th Mar (1500 - 1745)

Alice Audsley, Tony Audsley

Spent a pleasant 2½ hours underground trying to enlarge the working area at the top of Tollens' shaft, in preparation for installing the windlass.

2012.021: Sat 24th Mar (1030 - 1645)

Alice Audsley, Les Oxborough, Stuart Lindsay, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 1

A depleted team. Someone had shunted into the back of Glenys' car on Friday while she was waiting at traffic lights and written it off, so Tim had better things to do today. Mike had been booked to go down on a GB birthday trip with Zot. As it happened, Mike went down GB and Zot stayed in the pub, such is the way of cavers.

Tony had recently made up a windlass to be installed at the top of Tollens (boring log entries 18 - 20), so we decided that Stuart should go to the bottom and continue capping, while Tony should try the windlass for size and see how much rock would need to be removed round the top of the shaft to accommodate both the windlass and the windlass worker. Alice stayed on the surface and occasionally lowered ironwork, etc.

While Tony was trying to fix the rear support for the windlass, he noticed that a section of the back wall of the shaft wasn't really attached to anything but just glued into place by the surrounding mud. Oooops, better late than never I suppose.

We decided to try to get it out if possible without dropping it to the bottom of Tollens. While Stuart and Tony were sitting and cogitating the hows, whys and wherefores, Les arrived on the surface on one of his periodical, unannounced tours of inspection.

Cogitating over, we laid a builder's ladder along RDR, with one end projecting over the shaft and the other held down by 12mm re-bar pins drilled into the walls of the rift. On top of the ladder we laid a length of ply and stuffed a metal grill on top at the pitch head. This done, Tony crawled over the top, fixed a rope around the block and with a gentle pull, it keeled over and rested on the grill.

Then, with Alice and Les hauling from the surface, Tony hauling and guiding from the base of the engine shaft and Stuart heaving on (and swearing at) the boulder, we got it to the bottom of the engine shaft from where it was hauled to the surface with the power winch. We are counting this as 1 kibble equivalent.

That was enough for the day. Les departed with a cheery "Just because I visited, don't think I am interested in the dig" and we heaved the rock into the back of the Land Rover and drove it back to the Belfry to form the basis for a rockery.

The boulder
The boulder in place
(to the left of
the dangling spanner)
ladder and grill in position
The ladder and grill
in position
the boulder
The boulder resting
on the grill

2012.016: Sat 17th Mar (1030 - 1700)

Alice Audsley, Jeff Price, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tony Audsley

Phil Romford

Kibbles: 17

Stuart and Tony were the first to arrive on site and as heavy rain had been forecast, they inserted brand-new hi-tec valves (wine corks) in the blue drain pipes to keep the dig a bit drier. They then went down, Stuart to the bottom of Tollens' Shaft (†) to start capping Tim's boulder, while Tony started excavating the clay fill from the back of the seat alcove at the top of the shaft.

A little while later they were joined by Mike and so with Stuart at the bottom loading bags, Mike in the seat alcove unhitching and Tony hauling from the chamber we cleared the remains of the boulder and stacked the bags in the chamber. When the last of the boulder had been cleared, Stuart and Mike went to the surface to haul and Tony loaded the kibble at the bottom of the engine shaft. Altogether 6 kibbles were sent to the surface. Meanwhile, Jeff turned up and Phil Romford paid a brief visit.

Lunch time, Alice arrived and Stuart provided bacon butties for all.

Thus revived, Stuart and Jeff went to the bottom, Mike sat in the seat, Tony hauled from the chamber and Alice ferried the bags and stacked them at the bottom of the engine shaft. While we were all underground it started to rain very heavily and towards the end of the session hailstones were bouncing off the bags at the bottom of the shaft.

At the bottom of Tollens Stuart and Jeff had run out of digging sacks and having cleared the passage somewhat were able to get a better look at the end. This revealed that it did not in fact turn to the left at the end as had previously thought to be the case, but probably continued straight on, but was blocked with rubble as the the roof sloped down to meet the floor.

So, having had enough excitement for one day we measured the depth of Tollens as 8.20 metres, then all except Tony went to the surface to haul and tip in the pouring rain, all very invigorating, while Tony stayed below and loaded the kibbles. Altogether, we hauled out a further 11 kibbles. We then removed the hi-tec valves from the pipes and listened to the sound of roaring water at the bottom of the shaft before retiring to the shelter of the tea-room for tea and Genoa cake.

(†) NOTE:The lower shaft has been named Tollens' Shaft in honour of the German organic chemist Bernhard Tollens (1841 - 1918), because of his early work on 'Useful Chemical Compounds'. We are very grateful to him.

2012.015: Sat 10 th Mar (1030 - 1800)

Alice Audsley, Duncan Butler, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tony Audsley

Rich Witcombe

Kibbles: 7

Initially only Stuart and Tony turned up, so they both went down and Tony started gardening the loose material from the top of the lower shaft whilst being carefully (I hope) lifelined by Stuart. Loose material was removed from the upper right (west) and a heap of jammed rocks from the small aven above. These fell to the floor with a very satisfying series of crashes. Tony then attacked the wall behind where "Tim's boulder" had been and removed an area of thin slabby rock, the remains of the south wall of the vein. A small pebble about 45 × 30 mm containing two visible spots of galena ca. 7 × 7 mm was prised out of the back of this vein. This is the first galena that we have seen.

The gardening over and as there was still only the two of us, we decided to start work on enlarging the working area at the top of the drop, with the intention of installing a windlass. Round about now, Mike, Duncan and Alice turned up, but we decided to ignore them and continue with our original plan.

Stuart started capping the alcoves at the end of RDR, while Tony took tape and clino readings to try to get a better measure of the true depth of the dig. On the surface, Mike sawed of the excess wood from the door of the tea room to allow it to open fully. Rich Witcombe turned up complete with digging gloves, willing to empty some bags of spoil, but as there was nothing for him to do before he had to leave, he gets classed as a visitor.

After a well deserved tea break, Duncan went to the bottom, Stuart to the ledge, Tony to the alcove seat and Alice to the chamber. Thus positioned we hauled and stacked until just after 1700 hrs, when Alice and Tony went to the surface to join Mike and we cleared the backlog of spoil by hauling 7 kibbles.

Mike washed up the tea mugs in the bucket of rainwater by the hut only to be told by Stuart "Hey, I used that water to wash the cowsh off my boots". Never mind. We left the site at about 1800 hrs in thick Mendip mist.

2012.013: Sat 25th Feb (1050 - 1730)

Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Ivan Sandford, Roger Marsh

Kibbles: 11.5

Stuart went down first and started capping off the bulge in the wall above the entrance to the lower rift. Ivan Sandford and Roger Marsh then turned up on a visit, so Stuart was left on his own to get on with it while the rest of us chatted on the surface.

When the visitors had left, Tony went down with the new underground yellowphone and a coil of telephone cable. This tied itself into a complex series of knots as soon as soon as he let go of it. Tony attempted to cure this by fitting pretty little plastic plugs into the rock wall and attaching the cable to them. This took a long time as follows:- 10% drilling and clipping, 45% untangling and 45% cursing. Eventually he fixed the yellowphone in position in the northern alcove at the top of the pit, then measured up for a stemple to fit over the top of the drop for a hauling pulley.

Meanwhile Stuart had finished off a very successful capping session, which might have been less painful for him if had been wearing a cricketers' box about his person. Whatever, we both came out for lunch. After lunch, we made up stemple using a length of steam pipe with an M16 setscrew hammered into one end and an M16 nut hammered into the other end. A length of M16 studding was then screwed into the nut and fitted with a locknut. This completed, all four of us went underground, Tim to the bottom, Stuart to the ledge, then Tony drilled 16mm holes in the rock wall above the pit and fitted the stemple and hauling pulley.

We found that it was not possible to haul from the old hauling seat position and a bit awkward for Mike to haul from the chamber, so we settled on Stuart hauling from the ledge, which was OK (ish), but we we need a better system if there is much to come out.

We hauled and stacked bags at the base of the shaft until we had run out of bags. At which point Tim started on his way out. He thought that he did not like the look of some of the rock just below the entrance slot and decided to tickle it with a wrecking bar just in case. The rock proved decidedly ticklish and a 4ft × 2 ft × 2 ft (or 1.2m × 0.6m × 0.6m if you must) section detached and crashed to the bottom of the pitch. A black mark against Tony who had inspected this area on 18th Feb and declared it safe.

Mike, Tim and Tony then went to the surface. Mike drove the winch, Tim worked the bank and Tony was barrow-boy. Meanwhile, below, Stuart loaded bags into the kibble.

We hauled out 11 kibbles worth plus one bag which had attached itself by its strop to a nut on the outside of the kibble and was hauled it with it (the Klingon).

We finished the day with tea and carrot-cake in the tea-room and left just after sunset with a crescent Moon, Venus and Jupiter lighting our way. A very enjoyable day's digging.

2012.011: Sat 18th Feb (1030 - 1715)

Chris Batstone, Clive North, Duncan Butler, Ian Gregory (Slug), Jeff Price, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Ron Wyncoll, Rosie Audsley, Pierre Abastado

Kibbles: 9

First thing, Tony went down with Stuart and tried to get through the squeeze and into the lower rift, but failed on the first attempt. Having spent about 10 minutes enlarging the hole he then managed to get through and down. The walls of this lower section are solid Dolomitic Conglomerate all round, finely etched with blackened protruding silicified clasts. This was quite a relief as it had been feared that eastern end might have been a heap of rubble that would require supporting before we could continue digging at the bottom.

The floor of this lower section is some 3ft by 6ft (1m by 2m) in area, sloping gently down to the western end where there is a rift passage at floor level with a narrow vertical mineral vein above it. The floor when first entered was covered with broken rock debris, which ran down into, and largely blocked, the small passageway. To the north of the passage, near the floor is a small grotto in the solid, with a mud floor. A small black hole can be seen at the rear of this grotto.

Initially, we were tempted to start clearing the floor to gain access to the passage, but looking up, it seemed that it would be difficult to haul through the constricted entrance, particularly in view of the bulge in the wall of the upper rift, just above the entrance hole. So we called a halt, chopped off the rock bulge and enlarged the entrance hole, then retired to the tea room to shelter from the steady heavy rain to drink tea, eat Slug's home-made chocolate birthday cake (virtually solid chocolate) and natter while we waited for the vacuum cleaner ventilation system to suck the fumes away.

By the time that the air was clear (ish), it was still raining hard and, as it had been getting uncomfortably wet underground before lunch, we blocked up the two blue drainage pipes on the surface before Duncan, Jeff, Stuart and Tony went back underground. Initially, we concentrated in removing debris from the ledge. Stuart on the ledge, Jeff hauling, Tony in RDR and Duncan in the chamber. After the ledge was cleared, we all moved on one position, i.e. Stuart to the bottom, Jeff on the ledge, Tony in the hauling seat and Duncan in RDR threshold. Hauling sacks of spoil in this way worked relatively well, but if we have to do much more of it we will need a better system, or younger diggers.

At about 4pm, we persuaded Stuart to stop digging and Tony went to the base of the engine shaft and started sending up the stacked bags, with Chris on the winch, Slug on the bank and Tim as barrow man. Nine kibble loads were sent to the surface. Meanwhile, Jeff and Duncan did some more digging to improve access to the passage at the bottom. They managed to get into the passage which was about 8ft (say 1.5 m) long and could just squint one eye to the left at the end of the passage to see into part of a small chamber. Later, Duncan went in feet first and tried kicking stones to the left. He thought that he could hear some of the stones rattling down a short distance. Such is the stuff of cave digging.

On the surface, the water in the sump pit was some 6-8" (something else in metric) above the level of the pipes and we shouted up the shaft to get the surface team to pull out the plugs in the hope of catching Jeff and Duncan as they came up the rift. As it was, we were a little late but still managed to get Duncan more or less full force as he came out of RDR. The water flow from two 25mm pipes with a 45ft head of water was quite impressive as I am sure Duncan will testify.

We ended the day as ever with tea and cake in the tea room then left the site at about 1715 hrs.

2012.009: Sun 12th Feb (1045 - 1700)

Alice Audsley, Clive North, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tony Audsley

Tony went down first with the intention of drilling some holes for the next round. However, the rock shelf in the floor seemed rather loose and shattered, so he thought it would be a good idea to have a preliminary bash at it with lump hammer and points. After a few minutes work, a block was prised out, revealing a black hole underneath. After some hurried removal of more rock, it was possible to see straight down into a rift which appeared to be some 20ft (6 metres) deep.

At first it seemed that the floor of the dig was in danger of collapsing into the void below, but Stuart had a look and a furdle and pronounced it safe. Despite this, Tony placed another bolt at the top of the shaft and decided to use a lifeline while drilling just in case.

The rock was then cooked gently to tenderize it and we retired to the surface tea-room for lunch while waiting for the fumes to clear. In the afternoon, Stuart and Tony went down and enlarged the entrance to the lower rift. This was re-evaluated as being some 15 ft (4.6m) deep and somewhat under 3ft (1 m) wide. The floor was solidly choked with no apparent way on although there were faint hints of a draught.

Because of frenzied but somewhat unproductive efforts underground the surface team had a rather thin time as there was no spoil coming out of the dig. They did, however start on a much needed clean-up of the site and kept a cheerful fire burning for most of the day. We all finished off with tea and coffee cake.

Below, there is a sketch section of the new rift. As ever, this is not a survey more but more of an arrangement drawing. The rift itself is interesting because it is not immediately connected to the shaft above and entry was gained by breaking through the solid rock at the side of the upper shaft at the point marked (x) in the sketch. It is possible that, as ever, it might be connected with a continuation of the bedding feature seen in the chamber by the entrance to RDR.

The new extension

2012.008: Sat 4th Feb (1045 - 1700)

Alice Audsley, Roger Marsh, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 13

A very cold day's digging with strong winds all day and snow in the afternoon. To start with, Roger, Stuart and Tony went down into the welcome warmth of the dig. Stuart went to the face, Tony hauled and Roger dragged bags and stacked them at the base of the engine shaft. Towards the end of the morning, Tony went up and he and Alice hauled and tipped the back-log of seven kibble loads, by which time it was snowing and we stopped for lunch

In the afternoon, Roger, Stuart and Tim went down with Tim and Roger taking turns at the digging face, while Alice and Tony hauled and tipped the occasional kibble. Later in the afternoon, Alice and Roger left so the remaining three went below and Tim dug, Stuart hauled and Tony dragged and stacked bags.

Having more or less dug out all there was to remove, Tim remained below filling the kibble while Tony winched and Stuart barrowed and tipped. Altogether, we removed 13 kibbles to the surface and also stacked about two kibbles-worth of rock under the grill at the bottom of the shaft, where some of the fill had been washed out. We finished the day with tea and Bakewell Tarts.

Overall, a good session, about ¾ metre depth gained and the way on down shows some signs of enlarging, leastways to the eyes of the optimist.

2012.007: Sat 28th Jan (1030 - 1930)

Alice Audsley, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 10

First thing, Stuart and Tony went down and worked on removing the rock shelf in the floor. Meanwhile, on the surface, Tim started working on a door for the tea-room to keep out the drifting snow which he is convinced is on the way at any minute.

Then followed lunch and a nattering session sitting in the winter sun on the spoil-heap, very enjoyable and surprisingly warm.

In the afternoon, Mike and Alice arrived and work continued on the tea-room door, using a sheet of ply and gate hinges donated to the cause by Tim. By 1430, the ventilation system had cleared the air sufficiently for work to start underground and so Stuart, Tony and Alice went down. Stuart and Tony alternated as digger and haulier, while Alice dragged the filled bags to the base of the shaft whence they were winched to the surface by Mike and dumped by Tim. Altogether 10 kibbles of spoil were hauled out.

By 1615, the underground party surfaced for a tea break, this time with slices of rhubarb and custard roll. Thus refreshed, Tony and Stuart went underground for a second shift and attacked the remains of the rock shelf in the floor. We surfaced at 1900 hrs to a shivering Tim, a light frost and fine starry night with a crescent Moon shining between Venus and Jupiter.

The way on is still down in the floor, we are progressing, but slowly. No photographs, too busy digging.

2012.006: Sat 21st Jan (1045 - 1700)

Alice Audsley, Chris Batstone, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 10

To start with, Tony went to the bottom of the dig, with Stuart at the top of the drop and Tim stationed in the chamber, bag hauling. On the surface, Chris drove the winch, Mike was on the bank and Alice barrowed and tipped. About ¾ of the way through the session, Tony and Stuart changed places.

By lunch time, we had shifted 7 kibbles of mixed rock and gravel and exposed something that looked horribly like solid rock covering part of the floor floor on the south east side. This rock enters from the south and slopes down to the west at a steep angle. It may well be a continuation of the bedding plane structure seen in the chamber above. Whatever it is, it is considerably in the way. At the eastern end of the dig a narrow (15cm ish) open rift has appeared, which seems to continue for at least one metre. Hopefully, this will get wider as we go deeper.

In the afternoon session, Stuart and Tony went below again and continued digging, but without much success as the the rock floor made it impossible to squat down effectively and the digging was head down and rather uncomfortable. We only managed a further three kibbles. The rock 'floor' rang flat when struck and was visibly cracked, but attempts to chisel it, hammer it or bar it to bits were fruitless, so we gave up and retired to the tea room and consumed date & walnut cake, chocolate donuts and french fancies.

An aside: Chris brought out copies of the recently published 'Subterranean Britain - Bath Stone Quarries' by Derek Hawkins (Folly Books 2011), I bought one, it's a great book - highly recommended.

2012.005: Fri 20th Jan (1100 - 1645)

Clive North, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

A mixed session, working on much needed improvements to the tea room and then a swift trip underground to fracture some rock.

Had tea and battenburg cake then left at 1645

2012.004: Various times and dates.

Tony Audsley

Working on yet another dig telephone (YADT)

2012.003: Sat 14th Jan (1040 - 1700)

Alice Audsley, Chris Batstone, Nick Hawkes, Roger Marsh, Stuart Lindsay, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 14

The session started with early birds Stuart and Tony and they wasted no time on the surface and quickly got below ground into some warmth. Tony started digging at the bottom of the pit, passing spoil up to Stuart who bagged it then periodically dragged the bags back into the chamber. After a short while Alice came down and took over the hauling and stacking in the chamber.

At mid-day, we had a hauling session with Chris as winchman. Meanwhile Tony attacked the south wall at the bottom of the pit with lump hammer and three chisel points and removed a 900 × 150 × 300 mm section of wall (sounds more impressive in millimetres). At this stage, the west end of the bottom of the pit is beginning to look more interesting as it is naturally wider than the rest (some 400 mm - almost cavernous) and the fill is loose as we are beginning to get down to the natural level. The wall on the north side also appears to be undercutting. We just hope that this continues to be the case.

Most of the afternoon digging was by Stuart and then Nick, while Tony hauled the paint tin and Roger dragged bags to the bottom of the shaft. On the surface, Chris was engineman and Alice acted as banksperson. By the end of the session, we had removed 14 kibbles of spoil and the base of the pit was just over 4 metres below the bolt belay at the the top. The spoil was still largely digging debris from the walls, but a certain amount appeared to be in-situ fill.

Finally, Chris provided cherry cake, Stuart brought an apple pie and Nick took samples of the vein-stone away for analysis.

P.S. Mike Wilson sent in a Doctor's note to excuse him from digging - he has 'flu.

2012.002: Sat 7th Jan (1045-1700)

Alice Audsley, Chris Batstone, Clive North, Stuart Lindsay, Tim Large, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 13

Stuart arrived at the dairy with a large pallet (8 × 4 ft approx) to be used as a floor for part of the shelter. This took a bit of getting over to the dig.

In the morning session we enlarged the rift at the bottom of the drop and then, while waiting for the air to clear, we mixed several loads of concrete using the "tossing it in a blanket" technique as our mixer is in use off-site. We used the concrete to secure the threshold and the door corner post of the digging shelter.

In the afternoon, Stuart, Tim and Tony went underground. Tony tried digging at the face, but his knee objected so he swapped places with Stuart. The session continued with Stuart digging at the bottom of the pit, Tony above him hauling the paint can and tipping it into bags, while Tim hauled the bags through RDR and up to the base of the engine shaft.

On the surface, Chris drove the winch and Mike used the rock debris to make gravel paths across the mud of the depression. He was helped later by Alice, who arrived in the afternoon having walked to the dig from Cheddar.

At the end of the session, we had a comfortable working space at the bottom of the pit and had lowered the floor something in the region of half a metre. There is a hint of an open space against the back wall and clean-washed blackened rocks can still be seen behind a narrow slot running back under RD Rift. We finished at about 1700 hrs with a 'snow flake' cake, provided by Tim.

2012.001: Mon 2nd Jan

Chris Batstone, Jeff Price, Mike Wilson, Stuart Lindsay, Tony Audsley

Kibbles: 7

Continuation of mucking out at the bottom of the drop. In the morning Jeff, Stuart and Tony went down, Jeff and Stuart started digging and Tony drilled and fixed re-bar pins into the rock to secure the ventilation pipe in the chamber and to the roof of RD rift. This done, the digging settled down with Jeff and Stuart alternating in the drop, using a 2.5 litre paint tin to haul the spoil out. Tony bagged the resultant and piled the bags at the base of the shaft. Chris Batstone came down (rather stiffly because of a sick knee) and pronounced that RD Rift is indeed Batstone sized.

At mid-day, we had a hauling session and shifted the six bags from the morning's digging.

In the afternoon, Chris, Jeff and Tony went down. This 'crack[ed]' team had 3½ fully functional knees between them, so perhaps one shouldn't expect too much of them.

The bottom of the drop was seen to be narrowing down again, with a mixed fill of clay and gravel. Most, if not all, of the latter was from the rock walls. The small rift that we had seen before, now appeared more clearly as some 5 inches (120mm) wide, running back under the line of RDR for some 2 ft (600mm) to end in a small void filled with blackened rocks about the size of loaves of bread. This may well be the bottom end of the 'bedding-plane' like feature seen in the floor of the chamber at the entrance to RDR. For the time being it is as well to ignore this; if we dig into it we are just going to end up doing more shoring, perish the thought.

Jeff and Tony both tried digging at the bottom of the drop, but we were working in an area only wide enough to get a boot into and it seemed a bit of a pointless exercise to continue without enlarging the digging area.

By the end of the session, we had filled three bags of spoil, so these were hauled up the shaft by hand and we are counting these as one more kibbles worth for the record. Is this cheating??

We ended up the day eating Dundee cake (from Jeff), jam doughnuts and then custard filled doughnuts (both from Chris). Good start to the year.

Created: 13 March 2012