Mendips, 9-10 September 2006

An intrepid crew set off for the Mendip hills to visit a couple of the local caves. Up this time were August-Longwood Swallet and GB cave. However the weekend started as all caving weekends in the Mendips should with a Friday evening visit to the Hunters' Lodge. There Chris, myself and the Peacocks (Claire, Charlie and Sue) gathered before heading for our weekend accommodation at the Wessex.

Saturday we were up and ready to go pretty early, entering the cave around 11.00am. Steve had driven down for the day to join us. August-Longwood does present its challenges and we all had different reasons for heading down there. Claire and Charlie had never visited the cave, Chris and I wanted to complete the round trip (after an aborted attempt earlier this year due to water levels) and Steve was on a refresher course having last been down this cave in the '70s.  The entrance being somewhat difficult Steve and I were sent in first to rig the ladder just after the entrance chimney and flat out squeeze. We regrouped at the bottom of this ladder before setting off on the round trip, down the dry route and back via the wet way.

More tight rifts and a delicate traverse had to be negotiated before arriving at the head of the second pitch. I recalled from our last visit that this is known as swing pitch. When nearing the bottom of the ladder it swings `conveniently'
straight into the main water flowing down from above. Fortunately this time the water was a more pleasant temperature and did not give you a severe case of `ice cream head', allowing you to finish the ladder descent easily.

From the bottom of the pitch we descended a sloping rift with water cascading down it until we joined the main streamway. We fol owed this upstream, climbing all the time until we reached the near surface choke. We backtracked and headed off downstream a short way. We turned round when the crawling in the streamway was continuous. Later from the survey I saw that this does open out again into some oxbows and will need to be visited next time, weather permitting, as this section of the cave floods to the roof!

We returned to the ladder and ascended it to continue our round trip, which set off directly across from the head of the
pitch. This was where things started to get wet. A short flat-out crawl in water, aptly named The Drainpipe, led to The
Grotto where the water cascades in from the roof. The way on was to follow where the water was coming from, up a narrow vertical rift (the Wet Chimney). This doglegged into a tight, flat-out crawl in the stream bed. Fortunately this was not too long (tackle bags were a pain here) before finding a more spacious climb up. We were soon back at the bottom of the first ladder and the challenging exit. Charlie and Claire headed out first with Steve and I bracketing Chris. Chris got through the squeeze OK but had trouble with the sharp right, flat-out turn. Not wanting a repeat of last time (just ask Chris how he was pulled out of the cave by his feet) Chris made a determined effort to get round the corner. This paid off and shortly afterwards we were all back outside in the dappled shade of the woods.

Having set off so early there was plenty of time to head into Wells and make some purchases at Bat Products along with a well-earned tea and cake. Inevitably the evening ended up down the Hunters' Lodge again for some more drinking, though Steve missed out on this having already headed home.

Sunday saw another early start, with a planned leisurely trip down GB Cave. Having parked up somewhere different to usual (a more secure location next to a farm) it didn't take us too long to find the cave entrance. With the survey to hand we managed an extensive exploration of the cave completing a round trip via several well-decorated chambers. The terminal sump was just a sandy bank showing just how low water levels currently are. The return trip was all uphill, via the 40ft pitch which was free-climbed without difficulty (again no water helped). I did a short exploration of the alternative entrance route (something to complete next time) before heading out of the cave. We were back out by 2.30 pm ready to pack up leisurely and then head off for the drive home. All in all a good weekend.

Neil Montgomery