Mendips - 1st /2nd March 03

Lyndon Leggate, Tim Wright (Shed)

Lyndon describes the joint WSG/ICCC trip to the Mendips

The hardcore cavers of IC 3 left London at the insane time of 6:45am with the hope of getting to the Mendips by 9am, where we were to join a group from WSG. Despite nice empty motorways we managed to get to the hut an hour late party due to a breakfast stop, and also taking a scenic tour through Cheddar Gorge (and then back again after asking directions from a local). Thankfully we caught the WSG crowd in their car leaving the hut and after getting some permits headed off.

Ben Ogborne was due to join us from Bristol, his comments on the journey went along the lines of: 'My trip to meet up with WSG at their hut ended abruptly with a phone call from Shed to say that they were actually going to the Mendips - I was over the bridge and well into Wales at this point!!'

The plan for the day was to cave Rhino Rift - a cave that wouldn't be too out of place in Yorkshire being a 144m SRT trip. As there were a lot of us, we split in to two groups - one to rig, one to de-rig. The cave is a short 10 minute walk from where the cars are parked, and the entrance is through a padlocked gate and short crawl to the first pitch. The cave has four pitches- the first three by rope through fairly large chambers, and the last by an already rigged dodgy ladder. At the bottom of the third pitch SRT kits are dumped before heading onwards down a very loose scree slope and through a small hole into a crawl containing some very interesting tight horizontal and vertical squeezes! After visiting the dig at the end of the forth pitch we headed out de-rigging on the way. We got back to the hut at about 7:30pm and headed off to the pub for a few pints and some good food.

After a good breakfast on Sunday, it was decided we'd go and take a wander around Box Mine. The mine is dubbed the most extensive underground quarry of its type and contains over 100km of surveyed passageway where Bath Stone (Oolitic limestone) has been extracted. The mine was first commercially mined around 1841 after Brunel dug his railway tunnel through Box hill and the real extent of the stone was realised. During the wars parts of the complex were requisitioned by the War Department and were converted into bombproof stores. Apparently the stores haven't been decontrolled yet and are being used by the Royal Navy, although we didn't come across any clue to their whereabouts. In the 1990s a small group of local cavers and mine explorers spent 9 years and 150 trips to survey the mine. At 1:2500 the survey covers three A3 sheets and it would be easy to get very lost very quickly without it!

We followed a route detailed in a guide that came with the survey that took us on a 4 hour trip through the mine. Like most old mines its advisable not to look at what's holding up the roof, and Box mine is no exception. Rotting, soft wooden props - most lying on the floor - are the main source of 'support' for what's left of the mine. There were a lot of deads all over the mine, and in places they had been used to give additional support to the roof however numerous falls throughout show things aren't exactly sound!

The highlight of the trip was finding cranes that were used to lift the cut blocks onto carts to be transported via rail out of the mine. Many of these were in near perfect working condition and were still capable of lifting - as was proven with a little playing :-) Box mine is basically a big cave with big toys! All caves should be equipped with play things! Great fun.
Box Mine survey sample

As usual, a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.