Croydon Caving Club - First Trip 9th - 11th October 1964

To celebrate the publication of this the fiftieth issue of Pelobates we are pleased to include the following three articles which reflect on the Club's past achievements. The first, recording the Club's seminal caving trip was first published in issues 10 and 25, any changes are purely editorial. The second is a belated obituary to one of the Club's great characters - the ambulance that commonly provided a means of transport in the early days. This article was also previously published in Pelobates No 25. The third and last article is an andecdotal personal history by one of the Club's early members and is now published for the first time.

Dramatis Personae

Chris Dawes
Dave Perrin
Robin Richards
Jean Edmonston ( later Grange )
"Soaps" Serff
Cohn Grange
Allan Sidaway
Dick Ockenden
Ron Smith

Ten intrepid individuals set out from Croydon in two vehicles; 'Snowdrop' ( an ex-ambulance ) and Dick's car. They arrived at Burrington Coombe at 2 a.m. after driving through blizzards, thunderstorms, and mist accompanied by horrible screams from 'Snowdrop'. It was Allan's first caving trip. There was one disappointment on the way down; a monstrous fair had been set up in Marlborough but had closed down for the night, so we decided to invade it on the way back.

Seven hardy campers decided to put their tents up in the pouring rain whilst the more civilised, ( Allan, Chris and Ron ) slept in the ambulance. The next morning the sun rose and the sky was a wonderful blue. Later the weather changed, so when we emerged later in the day we were met by heavy rain. Breakfast was a very lengthy process and it was sometime after 12 p.m. when we decided that some caving was to be done. So, on with the caving kit which consisted of any old clothes available, held in place by a rather 00tatty boiler suit. Then we piled into 'Snowdrop' and set off down Burrington Coombe, parked, split into two parties of five and went to our respective caves.

One team did Reads Cavern, a dry cave with a depth of 200 ft. The description in guide book is as follows

"Steep inclined 40 ft. passage into main chamber 170 ft. long. From boulder strewn floor many boulder mazes lead off including a 'z alley'. At the eastern end of the chamber are several small waterfalls. Unsafe boulders."

The general opinion was that the cave was very interesting, especially the fossils, with many of the rocks encrusted with shells. It was rather tight in places but fairly dry. This party then came out and went into another dry cave called 'Rod's Pot', depth 200 ft. which is described as follows

"Right angle squeeze leads to small chamber from which tight bedding plane and two parallel passages descend to main chamber. More westerly of the two has two 60 ft. avens decending from the floor. Main chamber has good formations, some of which have been broken off. Descending steeply from boulder strewn floor of chamber is a small passage which contains lovely curtains over 6 ft. long. Cave terminates in a choked rift."

The party (which had consisted of Duds as leader, Jean, Cohn, Allan and Soaps) crawled back to 'Snowdrop', changed, and went down the road for a welcome cuppa in the café. They had been down for approximately 6 hours.

The other party consisted of Robin (leader), Dave and, much to Robin's horror, Dick, Chris and Ron as photographic party. So, pick up thy ammo box and join us down the hole, Sidcot Swallet

"A severe cave, depth 100ft. Two tight bedding planes and rift chamber lead to a fair sized pretty grotto and 30 ft. drop through tight squeeze. Fairly large extension - Purgatory - leads off after mud slide 50 ft. from the entrance. Complicated and interesting system but very tight."

Back underground - tight it- it was living hell but it went. So did a lot of film and flash bulbs and many a poor caver had to keep completely still in very awkward situations whilst the photographers did their stuff. The last part proved too tight for us, and we had to crawl back out again, back to blue skies, trees, birds and Kendal Mint Cake.

Someone, unknown, suggested another cave. So off we trogged up the road looking rather funny specimens all covered in mud. We then had a rather embarrassing situation; no water for the carbide lamps, but then it started to rain, we gathered the drops together, filled up the carbide lamps and ran hell for leather up the hill to the cave. Robin dropped the hint that the cave was not photogenic so, reluctantly, we left the ammo boxes near the cave entrance. The cave was called Goatchurch Cavern, depth 180 ft., described as follows:-

"Cave has two entrances both meet and lead down to main chamber via a "coal chute" and a large boulder chamber. Several other chambers lead off from bottom of the lower chamber from which 12 ft. drop descends to an impassable strewn passage. Boulder maze leads off before the boulder chamber."

The entrance was in the hillside and the opening passage plunged down into the earth and the floor was very slippery. The going was fairly easy and good progress was made, we negotiated some tricky descents and eventually reached a large boulder chamber. Here it was decided to retreat as time was pressing. Of course, getting in was one problem but getting out was more difficult. After getting lost a few times we finally emerged to be greeted by the stars. We ran back to 'Snowdrop', changed and joined the others in the café - boy, did that tea taste good

Saturday evening was spent in The Castle of Comfort Inn drying out.

That night the rains came down and three hardy ambulance sleepers expected to receive the campers from their watery beds but everyone had a peaceful night, occasionally disturbed by the drumming of hailstones on 'Snowdrop's' roof. Next morning the ambulance sleepers were up with the larks and soon had a large pot of tea brewed. This was ceremoniously taken to the summit camp. When the tea party arrived the field hooked as though it was covered with soap powder, but on closer inspection it was found to be a carpet of large hailstones. Then they proceeded to thaw out the campers by pouring tea over them to bring their frozen bodies out of hibernation. Our early start looked promising. Soon breakfast was over and then that delightful task of putting on wet caving clothes began. The troops appeared, all clad and ready, at 11 a.m. Destination -Hunters Inn. . . Oops, sorry, Hunters Hole.

We arrived at the Hunters Inn and went to the middle of the nearby field and what appeared to be a well met our eyes. On closer inspection the top came off revealing a deep black hole, this was Hunters Hole. Decription:-

"Hunters Hole, a difficult pothole depth 165 ft. Loose entrance shaft descends to muddy squeeze leading into top of 80 ft. pot. Descend pot by 15 ft. ladder to ledge of jammed boulders. Traverse to left on to ledge above pot. Two rawbolts for belaying ladders (35 ft.) to bottom of pot. Route from ledge of jammed boulders to bottom of pot is very unstable and should NOT be used. Main cave consists of 250 ft. of passage. Equipment, 15 ft. ladder to ledge, 35 ft. ladder to bottom. Tether for first ladder, karabiner for second."

All ten were to go in, this meant that the going would be slow as the leaders had to go in first and rig the ladders and belays on very awkward stances. In they went, one by one, the first descent had to be made very slowly and carefully due to the fact that a slip would mean a fall of nearly 160 ft. At the first belay point one looked straight down and saw the lights of the others disappearing into the blackness. Then came the second pitch which went down a sloping, wet ledge, lowered oneself down and reached for another ladder, climbed down that and jumping the last five feet onto to the others. Gee was it hard work t The thought came to me that the only way out is up the ladder, a grim prospect. The party had split in two and the first five were then on the way out after exploring a passage. They came back wet but triumphant.

Off went the rest of us through various tight passages and found that unfortunately the others had not soaked up all the water and were they wet I Now came the problem of getting out, everyone managed it but it was very hard work. Practice climbing ladders should be next on the club programme. it was a great relief to stagger out, see the sun shining and get back to 'Snowdrop', to clean clothes and food. Some innocent motorists had somehow wandered onto our "basecamp" (a layby). They gazed vaguely as an ambulance swung in among them. 'Snowdrop' snorted to a standstill, doors swung open and ten grimy moles, three bombs and piles of gear erupted into their boring lives. Off roared six cars, alas one could not get past the vast pile of junk and he watched in horror as 'Incendiary Smith' lit the bombs.

Some of the troops went up to the summit camp to take down the tents whilst Dick, not to be outdone, did a takeover bid for the rest of the layby. More cars hurriedly left, children and dogs were rounded up, pedestrians crossed to the other side and ten moles had a peaceful meal of tea and butties.

One hour behind schedule we left; Burrington Coombe sighed with relief. The weather was glorious and good time was made to Marlborough. Disappointment - the fair had gone I Someone had warned them. But never mind, we went on to the Golden Arrow café for a welcome break. Dick, Colin and Jean soon arrived in Dick's car and this is where most of this article was jotted down. From here an uneventful trip was had back to Croydon. Phew I What a weekend, but a complete success.

Ron Smith