Wigmore's Death Throes

Trebor McDonald

From:- Belfry Bulletin No 469, September 1993

Following on from recent articles, this is a final piece on Wigmore Swallet drawing some of the threads together and describing the last bit of exploratory work.

On 23rd May, Dig Hastilow and myself had an eventful trip to the terminal boulder choke beyond Sump 9 in the end bit of Vindication Streamway. I had yet another high pressure leak in Sump 4 en route - this place really is jinxed - and had to go back to dive base to pick up one of Alex Gee's large tanks. The din fit valve on the tank had suffered a hernia on the carry in and a proper seal could not be achieved so I had to improvise a bit with lots of banging and swearing. Hand-holding my depleted tank and wearing the other two I re-joined a (im)patient Digger at Sump 5 and we wallowed on to the terminal choke with no further mishap. Digger was impressed with the scenery in Vindication Streamway and especially with the long Sump 7 which he thought worse than Sump 5 - strange fellow is Digger.

Tim Large had kindly given me a back-of-a-fag-packet bang lesson, so Dig wisely waited way back up the passage whilst I set the stuff up with shaking hands. Martin Grass's nuclear powered, ultra bang box cranked up the power something rotten so the stuff couldn't fail to go off. How glad we were; I was not looking forward to sending Digger back to check out why it hadn't gone off. An hour's wait for the fumes to disperse followed - it's amazing how the draught is directional and follows the stream, a gale at water level but as still as night 2m higher up in the choke. I then gingerly returned to the devastation, gardened a bit and then wormed through dubious boulders to get back down into the stream again. Along a bit, up into a fair sized chamber, back to the stream, on a bit and then whang, straight into a very large muddy boulder choke with the stream disappearing down a narrow rock letter box at its base, suitable only for an anorexic whippet with gills. Mud, bits of twig and cowsh 3m up the wall did not bode well; the place obviously backs up horribly in wet weather. Half an hour looking around revealed no way on. The letter box is definitely too small and anyway has the whole flow going through it. We reckoned there was no hope - some 25-30 banging and digging trips might force a way through, but work could only take place in the summer months because of the backing up and the end is not a place to make 30 trips to.

Digger had his mega-light so an examination of avens and shadows was made on the return but with no promising leads. Visibility in the sumps was quite a bit better on the return for the lead diver, the best so far but that is all relative.

A disappointing end. Thanks very much to Andy Dennis and Steve Redwood for the carry in.

Later on in the summer, in late July, I returned on a spur of the moment, ill-judged, stupid impulse to have a final look at Keith Savory's upstream Sump 3. I had been in there a few times before and Keith had said he could not find the way on. Over the spring and early summer months the slot at the bottom of the ramp in the first section of sump had silted up - a strange place for silting to occur? I suspected the vis would be very poor so I had two ridiculously overblown tanks so I didn't have to worry too much about trying to look at my contents gauges. Vis was indeed completely zilch, a little strange in an upstream sump. Water cannot flow through the slot fast enough so the water the other side doesn't clear as it should and just mills around, not helped of course by thrashing feet and groping hands. Five minutes spent gardening out the slot allowed a wriggle through to Keith's limit (as far as I could tell) - he's done a good job in there in difficult conditions. I spent a good twenty minutes feeling around all walls of the sump beyond the slot, found Keith's little air space, but could not find any way on. I reckon the place continues in a series of tight rifts, perhaps dividing the flow as I could detect no flow against my face or a glove-removed hand. Not good prospects.

Earlier in the summer, on 4th June, I had dumped an awful lot of Fluorescein in Tor Hole, some 1,800m east of Wigmore as the Aardvark trots. Tor is the main sink in the area and there was always the possibility that it would flow towards Wigmore at least, especially as Attborough Swallet had proved positive to upstream Wigmore. This trace was negative. Enough dye was inserted to make the trace pretty foolproof so I reckon it was a "true" trace. Perhaps the Tor water really does swing around behind Eaker Hill towards the north as Willie Stanton suggests, the Wigmore and Attborough water joining it much further downstream of the present Wigmore limit. This makes passing the upstream Sump 3 in Wigmore a little less important as it most likely only goes to Attborough. This upstream passage is likely to get smaller and smaller, so perhaps not too many prospects. Perhaps, as Willie suggests, the considerable Wigmore flow is indeed made up of drainage and seepage water from the large surrounding catchment together with the relatively small flow from Attborough Swallet.

I shall not be going back in a hurry; my knackered knees kneed a rest, I have to replace the diving and caving gear the place eats with relish and also enthusiasm, sherpas and money have waned. If anyone wants a few banging trips downstream, please feel free - it's still five miles to Cheddar.

A BEC Occasional Publication or Caving Report thingy is currently being produced, charting everything there is to know about the place. Since J-Rat was stupid enough to open up the place in June 1977, a lot of people have put in a huge amount of grinding work and dedicated digging so I thought it warranted a publication of some sort. We haven't produced an Occasional Publication or Report for some years. The text is mainly done and the photos are ready, I am just waiting for corrections/contributions etc. on the geology bit from Trevor Hughes et al. One thing I do not have is an accurate survey. Trevor did a good job of the survey of the dry bits, but vis has been so poor in the damp bits that I haven't been able to do an accurate survey of the downstream sumps.