Mites and Tites

Letters to the editor

Dear Pelobates,

For the last four weeks I have been working in Peterhead. Peterhead has the distinction of being on the same latitude as the Isle of Skye and of having the greatest concentration of millionaires per capita of any town in the British Isles. Built entirely on fishing, freezing and processing fish. Which is fine if your name is Captain Birds Eye. However, for those with a more cosmopolitan outlook, I would definitely not recommend the place (Pitaheeed as the locals fondly call their town by). Don't believe a trawler operator when he claims he is hard done by. There's money to be had in cod. Little wonder the Spanish are clambering for it (having depleted their own fish stocks). These days the trawler fleet is a fraction of its former size and the oil service industry predominates.

Anyway, aside from these watery delights, Scotland boasts some very fine caves. Three to be precise - Uamh an Claonite, the Cnoc Nan Uamh system and Allt Nan Uamh Stream cave (ANUS for short), all in the Assynt region (up the road from Ullapool). The others are not worth bothering with. I have larger fish to fry yet.

My first trip to Assynt with the GSG in early November included a trip down Claonite. After around 5 pints of heavy, Estelle, myself et al decided on a 'tourist cave diving' trip. The next day, 6 bleary eyed cavers, each armed with a single pony bottle made their way up to the cave. I would definitely recommend Claonite if you get the chance. Very much Little Neath in character. Half an hour of good caving saw us to Sump 3, which is an easy 20m dive to around -6m. This is followed by another 20 minutes of caving to sump 6b. After 4 minutes of thrutching, I was through 6b and in to Claonite 7, the best part of the cave. This was as far as I got. The water was bloody cold and my 5mm caving wetsuit was not up to the job. Back out and down to the pub.

It was during this trip that I met the inimitable Alan Jeffries (Goon) of 999 fame. I also met Fraser Simpson, who was looking for a willing accomplice to reline the downstream sump of Northern Lights (Cnoc Nan Uamh).

Three weeks later and I was down Northern Lights. The start of the cave is a fantastic 30O bedding plane called the 'water slide' (impassable in wet weather). This is followed for around 10 minutes to the start of the sump. Being of soft southern shite, this time round I wore my drysuit.

The sump itself is around 40m long and includes a tricky boulder choke after 25m. We were told that the line had been severed and would probably be found bunched up around the boulder choke. Fraser dived first and came back 10 minutes later with the line. It was retied and I dived next, with Fraser intending to follow 10 minutes behind me to the other side.

The diving was easy with OK viz. However, I soon found that the line had been broken just past the boulder choke. In fact there were now two lines (both of which had been cut). Rather than swim blind to the other side of the sump, I made my way back to Fraser. With his reel, I dived back in, intending to tie it to one of the loose ends. Just before the boulder choke, in the gloom, I noticed a third line leading into a bedding plane to the right. I swam over and gave it a yank. It pulled tight. Not sure if this would lead me in the right direction, I followed it. I soon found the roof closing down too low for comfort. Viz was also now down to about zero. So, I turned around to make my way to the main stream. As I did so, unbeknown to me, I swam into the two loose ends of line, with which I quickly became entangled. Trussed up like a Christmas turkey, I squeezed my way out of the bedding plane. Attempts to untangle the mess proved fruitless. Frantically sucking on my Posieden reg, I discovered how much air it can deliver. I then took out my knife and with two cuts, I was free. I made my way back out to Fraser. Fraser had used up 70 bar retrieving the line at the beginning; I had used up nearly half of mine. We decided that with our low air reserves and the risk of further entanglement, we should abort the dive. Back out and down to the pub.

On our next trip, we plan to do the job properly. This will involve ripping out all of the old line and relaying a properly belayed 8mm thick polypropylene line.

It took me 12 hours to drive up to the GSG hut from London. All three of the aforementioned caves are within easy reach of the hut. There are also a multitude of shorter trips of Speleological interest plus the possibility of further finds to be had. The GSG hut itself is luxurious by cave club standards, with good showers, drying room, lounge c/w music centre etc. Well worth a visit for a few days. However, I would avoid the place in summer due to the midges.

Penetrating the confines of Scotland's ANUS is also on my list to do.