Forest of Dean Caving Symposium

Club members present: Chris Fry, Chris Crowley, Andy Todd.

At the 1993 BCRA conference in Bristol I was intrigued by the short talk on Slaughter Stream Cave, and other work going on in the Forest of Dean. It was explained that there was really too much to present in a short talk, and that a symposium was in the planning stages for 1994. The Gloucester SS had a stand and were taking names of anyone interested. They also had a preliminary large scale survey of Slaughter Stream Cave on display. It appeared that only a few short sections of passage had been surveyed to grade 5. A length of thread stretched from the furthest extent of the survey halfway across the roof of the hall to illustrate the extent of the cave yet to be surveyed! I was intrigued and impressed and put my name down there and then!

In practice what had initially been assumed to be a smallish and informal event proved to be so popular that it turned into virtually a mini-conference but specifically about the Forest of Dean caves and active dig sites!

I stayed at Chris Crowley's in Chiswick on the Friday evening - uneventful except that we had to arise at 6am in order to stand a good chance of getting on the trips that we wanted - quite a feat after several pints of Youngs Bitter.

The event was actually staged at the English Bicknor sport and social club, which proved to be an ideal venue for an event of this scale. In excess of 100 people attended the event during the course of the weekend. Many more were turned away! The camping area, if anything, was a little small but all other facilities were more than adequate. The overall cost of the event was £12 for BCRA members including allfood. Tea and coffee were continuously available for a 10p donation. I will try to give a brief resume of the events I attended - there was really so much going on that it was not possible to cover everything:-

Paul Taylor as overall event co-ordinator made the initial introduction and covered a few domestic issues. It seemed that everything had been covered - there was even a doctor present at all times! The first talk was by Maurice Febry on the history of forest caving. This included some very good (and rarely seen, I suspect) material. The talk was divided into decades of activity denoted by the musical aspirations of the youth of the period. Exploration commenced in "The Fifties" with the Hereford CC digging at wetsink and the discovery of Diggers Hole in Lady Park Wood - also in 1952.

The potted history continued through the "Rock and Roll Years", The Swinging Sixties" and on into the "Punk Era". At this point Chris - who had been dozing quietly due to the early morning drive - woke up and announced "Er - that's me in that picture" - and sure enough there he was in the company of his old college caving pals attempting to divert a surface stream through a long polythene tube! Old habits die hard! We were reliably informed that this was in 1974.

The talk continued through "The New Romantics" and finally into "The Rave Years" - bringing us bang up to date with the opening up of Wetsink (Slaughter Stream Cave) and Redhouse Swallet.

After a brief break "A hitchhikers guide to the geology of the Forest of Dean" was presented. This was a lighthearted look at the geological processes that have led to the current geography of the forest area. The presenter was well informed and really rather humorous - witness "of course these fossils were laid down millions of years ago - butwould have been in focus then". What I liked about this presentation was the use of phenomena currently observable elsewhere on the planet to explain processes that were taking place here in the distant past.

Following lunch Chris and Andy prepared for a trip into the further reaches of Redhouse Swallet. I felt more inclined to take advantage of the afternoons lectures and field trips. Bill Gasgoine gave a highly amusing and well illustrated talk on general watertracing principals followed by a short practical session. The use of fleuroscene and rhodamine dyes was covered and compared with the use of stained lycopodium spores. Rather than take us into the field Bill demonstrated that the laboratory techniques he employed consisted of little more than a gas heater, some beakers, a microscope and an ultraviolet light - not to mention a pair of his wife's tights. It was clear that with a little care simple water tracing techniques can be employed safely by almost any competent caver.

A slight lull in activity gave me the opportunity to have a really good ferret around the dragon stall and I found to my amazement a caving light of Russian origin that was pure genius. It consists of a small stainless steel box about the size of a matchbox - with both acetylene gas and electric connectors. In general use light is provided by carbide generated acetylene gas - but as we have all (?) experienced - the flame is liable to blow out or be extinguished for many varied reasons. At this point a tiny photo-cell detects this and immediately an electric bulb comes on and a spark generator attempts to re-ignite the flame - which once relit results in the electrics re-setting to the monitor state! Brilliant - if not yet perfected for the more hostile cave environments.

During the course of the evening there were several further short talks on the work of the NCA, first-aid underground, etc. The bar was open until midnight and was as popular as usual at any caving event.

The first thing that we learned on the Sunday was the true meaning of "Symposium" - (1) Drinking party esp. of ancient Greek with conversation etc. after banquet (2) Philosophical or other friendly discussion or set of contributions on one subject from various authors and points of view at a meeting or in a magazine. Looking around the room it was not too difficult to see which delegates believed to be the most appropriate!

Paul Taylor then gave a detailed talk on the Redhouse Swallet project - full constructional details of the entrance shaft were presented as a prelude to a photographic tour of this new and rather nasty cave - witness Chris and Andy. Of particular note is a long duck which sumps up in wet weather and bars access to the cave for the Winter months.

Various other talks followed discussing the other various digs that are being pursued in the Forest. I must confess I was very impressed by the efforts that have been put in by the Clubs that are active in the area.

At this point the program became a little disjointed and there was considerable confusion over who was leading which field trips. I had opted for a surface tour of the swallets and dig sites overlying the Redhouse Swallet system. This adequately demonstrated the potential of the area and I even found myself getting half-keen to participate!

In conclusion this was a most worthwhile and well organised event. It was particularly poignant to me as I had participated in a Club trip into Slaughter Stream Cave just a few weeks earlier. The indication are that a similar symposium will be organised for 1996 in order to bring interested parties bang up to date. Be there!

Chris Fry