Mendips I


Arun Paul, Ben Honan, Ben Richards, Clewin Griffith, David Wilson, James Perry, James Wilson, Jim Evans, Ben Whatley, Gavin Hayman, Chris Backhouse, Mark Evans, Dave Mountain, Chris Birkhead, Ellie Pizey, Chris Hayes, Jan Kożuszek, Wojtek Sowinski, Bronwen Ley, Julien Jean, Valery Kirenskis, Erica Keung, Kevin Sohn, Paul Wilcox, Kathryn Atherton, Davin Sheikholeslami, Salwa Ahmad, Thurston Blount, Kar Jan Chan, Ruairi Shannon, Luke Pugsley, Jade Lo


It's nice to be in a functioning minibus once again. As we pulled away from the union at half past 6 discussion was split between Ellie being crushed by the enormous mountain of kit beside her in the back of the bus and the pure luxury of having a bus that's this shiny. Amazing.

Ellie and the mountain of kit.

One quick stop in an Asda later and we arrived in the Shepton. I spent the time editing the Slov 2024 email and hit send just as the bus came to a halt. Once inside we were greeted by a whole room of friendly faces with about a dozen old lags as well as the Davey and Arun cars who arrived separately. After catching up with everyone we immediately started squeezing through the table with others quickly figuring out that you can poke those within with a broom through the sides. Two cider barn ciders were naturally on offer, a dry and a sweet cider. Both were very good.

Ben R

What is Salwa's life?? After videocall with the union about our disastrous attempt for a trip two weeks prior, a bizzare rampage through the colleges backrooms with Leo, and rushing to catch some trains, I finally found myself in the car with James, Davey, and Salwa. It was here I learnt that Salwa, who was meant to be running two conferences this weekend, had bailed under the cover of a 'family emergency' after an all nighter, to join this trip with 2 hours notice!! (her mother is furious) We beat the bus to the hut, said hello to some lags, and started on some cider.

Chris H

Context/ Background: So, I initially agreed to come ( I knew I would get the place because let's face it, my response time to caving society emails is alarmingly fast, proving where my priorities lie), then suddenly felt guilty about ditching two conferences I was helping to organise on the same weekend, so I backed out. And now I'm kicking myself for turning down a chance to go horizontal caving. Friday: Spent the entire day in Abdus Salam library, probably wasting more than half of it wishing I never dropped out of Mendips (talk about productivity). And when I had lost all hope a miracle occurred! An email from caving society at around 4.30pm. Someone had dropped out! (Dan, you absolute legend!). I had been given a second chance. Time to redeem myself. Shot off an email confirming I could make it to Rickmansworth for Mendips and in less than a minute, I was packed and sprinting to South Kensington station. Already doing mental maths on the time to get home (35 min), pack (10 min), shower and change (10 min), and make it to Rickmansworth (35 min) to catch a ride with Davey, James, and Chris. Yep, that's right, I'm that committed. Call it Stockholm syndrome at its finest. Along the way, I learned what a pastie is, discovered that M&S prices are criminally high, and mentally prepared myself for what I thought would be a silent and awkward 2 hrs journey (or so I thought). What started out as a conversation about our collection of pets somehow morphed into a deep dive about Hinge. Chris’s hinge profile is chefs kiss nothing less than perfection. Single and ready to mingle, he is ;) The ultimate shocker? Finding out even James is on it…


I got to sit in the front seat of the minibus which was very nice. Julien’s navigation got off to a good start when he told Kevin to take an illegal right turn mere minutes after departing from the union. Later, when we tried to stop at a service station, we missed the correct turn only to discover there was no way to loop back around, and we were spat back onto the motorway. Instead we eventually stopped at the Asda in Andover, which turned out to have a very rich selection of discounted baked goods, all going for 10p per pack. We’d be having donuts for the rest of the weekend.


The Shepton has a very good caving table.

An old lags trip to GB.


GB Cave: Arun Paul, Ben Honan, James Perry, Wojtek Sowinski, Davin Sheikholeslami, Jade Lo, Jim Evans, Ben Whatley, Gavin Hayman, Mark Evans, Dave Mountain, Chris Birkhead, Bronwen Ley, Paul Wilcox, Kathryn Atherton

After an embarrassing amount of time wandering aimlessly we found the cave entrance due to Paul's ability to look at a map. Got down to the climb to the extensions where we met the student group on their way out. Faffed around a bit more and then came out ourselves.

Mark Evans

Eastwater: James Wilson, Chris Hayes, Jan Kożuszek, Kevin Sohn, Salwa Ahmad, Thurston Blount

Feeling not too hung over, I was up for a "good trip" and opted for eastwater. With a horde of descriptions, alongside James and Thurstons infallible memories we headed for the cave. Things took a turn immediately at the entrance as it was very wet. After half an hours debate, and a few tentative tests we went for it! crawling through a waterfall, and climbing through a sopping wet boulder choke for half an hour we arrived cold and wet at the 'dining table' or something like that. Here the routefinding fell apart. The kindly string which had guided us through the choke had ended, and thurstons memory didn't line up with the now somehow incomplete route descriptions. We followed our best guess and attempted to traverse a long sloping rifty bedding chamber, through a gentle squeeze, and out the other side. James and kevin ran off to try and suss out the route, and I stayed to try and help with the crossing. Salwa, though a good climber, was too small to effectively wedge, and Jan, and excellent wedger, could not fit through the constriction. A good hour or so was spent here with several slings, some rope, and a few human footholds, but eventiually Salwa got through, and followed Kevin and James (who had found another route)to meet Jan and Thurston on the other side.

Quite tired, we almost turned to leave, but Thurston found the correct way ahead, just above where the string had ended, and we thought we may as well go and do "the brave step". Through a grabby, but spaceous squeeze, we descended a large chamber, and through a small hole in the bottom right (where I din't accidentally hoof the tackle sack down a dig). Entering a seperate part of the cursed bedding plane, we climbed down to the crossroads, and rigged the handline. We dropped down, and after 30mins of faffing turned around and left.

Chris H

Eastwater Cavern had been advertised by Ellie as dry, nice and pleasant, except possibly at the entrance. Any concerns I could have harboured about the potential squeezes were dispelled by Thurston, the only other caver of comparable stature present, who’d done the cave before and said it’d be fine. It would also be my first time trying out contact lenses while caving, which turned out to work very well.

After the obligatory extended faff period we set off on the lovely little walk up to the cave entrance. On the way, someone was driving what looked like a single-horse chariot down the road at an impressive speed. Not sure what to think of it, we continued on our merry way. The entrance turned out to be in a shake hole, where a small stream disappeared below ground. It was quickly discovered that to enter the cave proper, one had to crawl directly under the waterfall created by this process. A few people went down to check how bad it was, before coming out completely soaked and very grumpy. For a while we even entertained the possibility of bailing and going to Swildon’s but eventually I lowered myself into the entrance, only to discover that, while annoying, the waterfall wasn’t even that bad (provided one wears a pvc).

The first section of the cave was a scramble down some boulders, in and out of the streamway, following an old rope that marked the correct way. The rope, however, quickly ended, and we were left to rely on two seemingly contradictory sources: a route description with a missing page and Thurston’s imperfect memory. Eventually we decided the way forward was along a steep and narrow bedding plane. Moving across it was a challenge, as the rock was so smooth one constantly had to fight not to slide down into the grim-looking tightness below. With some wedging I made it past the first bit, following Salwa who was not having a great time. In addition to being a bit too small to wedge effectively, she was slowly losing one of her wellies. I tried to put it back on, but that turns out to be hard to do when the concerned parties are suspended in a tight space at a 45 degree angle, and eventually the wellie had to be fully removed and passed forward to Chris. All this only to discover a squeeze that despite my best efforts I could not manage to get through. I tried different angles, I tried rearranging my kit, I tried being pulled on a rope by Chis: nothing could propel me forward. I scrambled back and began to slide down again, this time barely able to wedge myself to stop it. I’d breathe out, lose a bit of body volume, slide down half an inch, then breathe in and wriggle to get up again. Saved eventually by a security sling thrown around a rock protrusion, I called it a day and decided to get out of the accursed place. Thurston, saved by this from having to attempt the squeeze himself, did not object. He could not remember whether this was meant to be part of the route or not.

Making it out back to the main passage was no small feat, but when we eventually managed, Thurston found the actual correct route almost immediately. It was even marked by a sign, we had just neglected to look behind us before the guiding rope had ended. Ah well. We went down this new squeeze, which was far more comfortable, and discovered a few pretty nice chambers and another part of the bedding plane from before, except this time without the horrific squeeze. We made it down one short pitch and then, having found a bigger one, decided it was time to head back. Upon returning to the hut we discovered that the Swildon’s groups had returned much earlier, as the cave had been too wet. Good thing we hadn’t bailed on Eastwater! What followed was an evening of squeezing, bending, birthday-cake having and cider drinking. Good times were had, and, following the incredible final battle between Davey, Chris and the triumphant Salwa, I headed for a good night’s sleep.


I figured it was time to put my meticulously crafted caving workout plan to the test (Monday: rest, Tuesday: running, Wednesday: legs, Thursday: rowing, Friday: rest, Saturday: arms, Sunday: climbing). So, naturally, I opted for the most challenging one: Eastwater Cave; Me, James, Kevin, Thurston, Chris and Jan. And let me tell you, Mendips had already won me over by sparing us the ordeal of scaling treacherous hills like in Yorkshire. We reached the entrance in a mere 15 minutes. Victory! Now a lot happened on this trip and if I narrate the entire journey we will be here forever.

  1. We get to the entrance and James goes in to check how wet the entrance which states to be the only wet part of the cave is. What a great place to get wet. Couldn't they have relocated that delightful wetness to the cosy depths of the cave instead of right at the entrance? And then James, poor soul, emerged in his fabric oversuit absolutely soaking wet. Uhmmmm that wet part might as well be called a mini waterfall if you ask me. Decisions- Do we stick with Eastwater or go to Swildon instead. Verdict: We stick with Eastwater
  2. Ah, the perpetual state of bewilderment regarding our route. Not a single soul among us has a clue where we're supposed to be heading, and the description might as well be written in hieroglyphics for all the help it provides. Naturally, this delightful situation culminates in us stumbling upon a charming 45-degree rift
  3. Of course James being James and Kevin being Kevin make it look like a piece of cake and decide to desert the rest of us whilst they venture into the abyss. Now what followed was nothing less than a comedy show if you ask me. My petite stature turned that 45- degree rift into a veritable obstacle course, complete with frequent slips and slides. And that’s where Chris comes in. Despite his deceptively slim appearance, he possesses the Herculean strength of 5 bodybuilders, albeit with a slight deficiency in flexibility :). Oh, and let's not forget the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of wellies - they seem to have a knack for slipping off my feet at the most inconvenient moments ever since Wales 1. Perhaps I should consider caving in flip flops instead. I am sure they will do a better job at staying on my feet! But back to the main event: Chris, with his newfound superhero status, practically lifted me out of the rift single-handedly. And as for Jan, well, his towering stature posed its own set of challenges as he found himself wedged in the tight confines of the cave. Leave it to Chris, the unsung saviour, to come to the rescue, his valiant efforts immortalised in the memory of those present. If only we had Astrid and her trusty smartphone to capture the hilarity of the moment!
  4. After continuing the journey with Kevin and James whilst Chris was tirelessly helping Jan out of the rift, my body dimensions were tested. I may not be as fat as I think I am, which was nice to know!
  5. And lo and behold, we stumble upon the actual route. Someone needs to update the description of this cave. Anyway we made our way down to dolphin pitch before making our way back out. Heading back, I was just thrilled at the thought of facing that charming waterfall again. And let me tell you, the return trip was an absolute delight. I mean, who doesn't love getting drenched head to toe in freezing water? It was like a rapid-fire assault on all my layers - PVC, fur, thermal, even down to the bra and undies. Talk about a full-body immersion experience! What's next, a snorkel? And let's not even talk about Chris, James, and Kevin, bravely rocking their fabric oversuits. I shudder to think. Despite me painting a picture of a less-than-stellar cave, it might just be my favourite caving trip yet. Well, except maybe for Chris - pretty sure he'll be feeling it tomorrow. I think the biggest accomplishment however since the start of my caving journey was that I was able to hold a conversation with James which lasted more than 10 seconds. What a triumph! Who knew there was more to him than meets the eye? Oh and also I think my workout regime may be working but I need to dedicate one day a week to strengthen my Quadriceps. And who better to ask for advice than Davey :) (Have you seen his Vastus Lateralis? But then again, considering he only ever wears shorts, who hasn't!)

A shower was a must after this hypothermic inducing cave trip. And then food and games... Now, as an introvert whose social battery drains faster than a sinking ship (unless you are a selected few), today's non-stop chatter took its toll. I ended up with the mother of all headaches. God I need to just keep my mouth shut and not say whatever is on my mind. And I am sure Davey would most definitely agree!! But at least I got to know him on a VERY personal level ;)

Alright, time for some games. I always thought I was somewhat flexible, but today was an eye- opener. Turns out, my right femur excels at external rotation. So, after a fiercely competitive game, it boiled down to me, Chris, and Davey. Now, I wasn't sweating bullets over Davey, but Chris... Well, I've witnessed him pulling off complex yoga poses. Could I possibly outdo him at his own game? You bet I did! Take that, Chris!!! They say no pain, no gain (except I didn't feel any sort of pain). I guess I am just a natural


Salwa's prize winning round, from the ridiculously high bolognese pots.

All I can think of for this place is dear god do not endlessly follow the rope. About 2 years ago I came here for my second trip and I was lucky then to be lead down by someone who had been there before, but for it to be just me and James as the only people going down and 1 time each was very brave on our parts, especially when the cave survey was the most confusing map I’d ever read.

The entrance to Eastwater itself is just a small little depression in a large field owned by some nearby farmers – not too impressive, but stands out a little bit from the surrounding area. Now, the last time I approached Eastwater was in a drought, however today it had rained. A lot. As we approached we saw a gushing stream pushing its way across the floor and directly into the mineshaft-esque archway into the cavern. James was first to approach the entrance, and initially deemed it too wet to go further with, so Chris eagerly stated he wished to travel to Swildons, as to not get too wet today, which I thought could be a good idea but decided I might as well stick my head in and have a look around at what it looked like anyway. Deeming it to also be too wet for a Saturday (an initial crawl through a gushing waterfall), I came back up to give my opinions and let Chris have a look himself. It was at this point that he came up and informed us all of an SRT bag that somehow seemed to have fallen off one of our harnesses, maybe because they clipped it onto a knot and didn’t think that it would undo itself, but to this day maybe we’ll never find out why it really fell off. Anyway, this lead to Chris informing us that we now actually had to go into the cave because this bag had to be retrieved, so using the method of blowing a whistle once you had waterboarded yourself so that no one above kicked you in the face, we entered the boulder chamber.

The boulder chamber is one of the nicer parts of Eastwater, having an old rope to guide you through some narrow gaps between boulders, and constantly twisting and turning back on yourself. Not very hard to get through, however it was directly after this that everything hit the fan. You see, the survey itself tries to take you through an area called the “Upper Traverse”, and does not actually explain what you will come across nor how to know where to go. Previously, I had been through a slight sideways squeeze that appears if you turn almost completely around when the rope ends and climb back up the other side of the wall, being marked by a sign that used to say “do not enter” or something similar, however, I had forgotten this, and had decided to follow the survey down towards an unnamed place that was essentially a 45-degree bedding plane with a squeeze at its upper far corner, leading into more 45-degree bedding plane. WARNING!! DO NOT GO THIS WAY! It is so much easier to turn around and go through the rotational squeeze, especially with any 6’2”+ cavers, as Jan could not fit through here, and I was waiting for a while, completely dreading my fate whilst trying not to slip down the plane, appreciating the bivalves, and constantly (for some random reason I do not know) accidentally getting myself into squeezes that just hurt my chest. After many attempts to get through the squeeze (with lots of help from Chris thank god, along with many cries for help as he began to slide into what I can only describe as the void), we decided to turn around as Kevin and James had found a way around to get back to the beginning of the 45-degree bedding plane. I shall never know what was up there although I did hear there was a way to get further through the cave but I was not willing to risk it at that point, and was happy to discuss leaving the cave. It was at this point, 3 hours after entering, that we climbed up the wrong side of the wall to get to the boulder chamber and I recognised the sign to the rotational squeeze (I think I read that this area may have been previously uncovered in a cave collapse although I am not willing to fact check this so do what you want with this information it may be completely false). I will also note that just before we entered the 45-degree bedding plane, we decided to follow the streamway all the way down, and I think it may be here that the “380 feet way” begins to another completely different section of the cave – a place that has pictures in the book of hundreds of metres of squeeze, and a place that even the entrance looked uninviting. Another funny thing I do remember is watching Salwa enter the squeeze and seeing her disappear, then all I could here was her begging Jan to take one of her wellies off.

Once past the rotational squeeze (not really that squeezy but when I first came here I thought it was one and it was absolutely terrifying to me), the rest of the day was actually fairly chill, and we pondered through the rest of the cave without much hastle – the only things really of note were that dolphin chimney was a lot easier when you have SRT to use to go down the rope and aren’t forced to freeclimb with a handline and 3 other people also using the handline at the same time (very dangerous but in some ways fun although I would never opt to do that again), and also that I have no clue where we were meant to go when you get to the lower traverse, as we almost got to the bold step (an area where there is 1-2 metres of air between 2 boulders, a 5 metre drop below you, no handline, and no walls to grab onto, very much living up to its name), but found what we thought to be a 35ft climb or something, but I only remembered dolphin chimney as having rope before 13 pots, so no clue on that aspect. Regardless, the climb back up to the surface was very nice with no issues, and sunlight was a great reward (along with the multiple pints of cider that the other group had bought from Rich’s cider farm).


Off to Swildons we go.

Swildons: Ben Richards, Ellie Pizey, Kar Jan Chan, Ruairi Shannon, David Wilson, Julien Jean, Valery Kirenskis, Erica Keung, Luke Pugsley

Had an interesting night's sleep squashed between Erica and Thurston on tiny mattresses. Awaking with bleary eyes I staggered downstairs to fine Chris already breakfasting and many people being productive in many ways. Amazing!

Ben Honan recruited me to fetch keys for the necessary caves. Driving over to the Belfry, I finally saw the strip pole and bar. Very impressive. We found some random person there who had keys and we got one for Rhino Rift and GB. The guy then mumbled about not wasting our time with the normal permits we'd just spent much time filling out online and to tell people we'd left them in the hut. Glad to hear they don't take these things too seriously I guess??

I enthusiastically put my name down for Swildon's having somehow never done it before, and soon we were already two minutes down the road at Priddy Green, changing in the Manor farm barn having put on our wetsuits in the hut. Good weather, easy change. Fun having a wetsuit on again for the first time in a while.

Water levels were quite high but still far below the entrance floor. Inserting ourselves into the hole we slid down the various water features, another group of seemingly a guided tour following shortly behind us. At this point our two groups split, with Davey's heading straight onwards towards the wet route and Ellie and I turning right above a hole in the floor and heading into the hole directly above it, the long dry route. Both team shortly reunited since both routes turned out to be impassable.

Ellie headed on up into the hole in the wall, soon finding the zig zags and crawling on past them until we heard water up ahead. Pushing on further we realised we'd just come straight back to the entrance and thus had gone nowhere. We'd definitely gone the wrong way. Heading back we bumped into the guided tour group and I asked the way to the long dry route. The guide replied that he'd been doing this for 20 years and still doesn't know the way, but thought it was down the hole in the floor. This turned out to be wrong but at least we were now heading in the right direction. Ellie headed on down and just as I was following up at the back about to follow I saw a light in the distance down the direction of the wet route. Erica had returned - "are you okay?" I asked, "too wet, impassable" she replied. They then followed us down the lower route down and to the right and we quickly realised this was in fact the short dry route. Never mind, now we know.

We popped out in a fairly large chamber and noted that we should take a nice photo there on our way back. Continuing onwards we got to another chamber a short way down the stream where Davey, Ellie and Erica went to investigate the waterfall climb down to the ladder pitch. It looked incredibly wet from the top and in the mean time we took some photos with just head torch light at the top. Eventually the others returned from their watery escapades and confirmed that it was far too wet to go down safely with freshers. We had a quick poke at the oxbow but it needed a climb so we retreated and decided to take a photo in the pretty chamber and head back via the long dry route.

Swildons, Old Grotto

Heading out took no time at all, and Ellie had many "mmmmh, ah yess" moments as she remembered the previous time she'd been through the long dry route. It was indeed very fun. Popping back out at the entrance in no time at all we headed back up the waterfall entrance climb and out into glorious sunlight. Wandering back to the minibus in a daze we couldn't quite believe it was only 3pm given we'd headed into the cave at about midday.

Different propositions were floated - wild swimming? A trip to the seaside? Burrington Combe? Pub? We carried on walking only for a head torch to have been forgotten on the way, so some of us lay down in the lovely green grass to watch the clouds while a small search party returned to locate it. After this had been located we then passed by a farm selling eggs. Ellie: "mmmmmmmmmmmm, eeeeeeeeggs???????" me: "mmmm, yessss". And so it was agreed that Julien would dig up the last two pound coins from his pocket left over from paying the Swildon's fee from underneath his personal stash of chocolate bars in his oversuit pocket, and eggs were procured. Erica caught up with us and was shocked to see Ellie carrying a box of eggs. I successfully maintained a straight face in asking why she hadn't spotted Ellie carrying them in the cave. Erica seemed stumped by this; on the one hand it's impossible to buy eggs in a cave, on the other hand Ellie has eggs and where else would she have gotten them from. Later in the evening she approached us and asked again how on earth Ellie had been carrying eggs through the whole cave, which when we enlightened her about buying them from the end of someone's driveway gave everyone a good laugh.

A cheeky bimble around Cheddar gorge.

As we got out of our wetsuits in the barn we rapidly agglomerated around the idea of not putting caving kit back on which narrowed things down to a hike or a pub. Being a local I realised that many people hadn't seen the actually-quite-impressive Cheddar gorge and so drummed up enthusiasm for a tourist bimble around the area.

Davey then drove us past the Deer Leap viewpoint which was very underwhelming given all the drizzle around and we then headed on to Cheddar, which, as is traditional, was filled with yobs driving loud cars up and down ridiculously quickly and the car parking spaces were still dotted with anti-donutting concrete boxes. People seemed impressed by the gorge nonetheless and we walked around it for a bit in the on and off drizzle before jumping back in the van and heading to the cider barn, where we bumped into Ben H and the GB gang who were watching the rugby. I then took a ridiculous number of overly-fancy looking photos with my mirrorless camera before we took our cider orders back to the hut.

An unreasonably good photo of Chris showing Ellie his wrist

We found food had already started being prepared, with Chris also cooking some eggs in a large amount of oil, all of which he flipped onto the floor without burning himself rather impressively. I put on some new eggs to cook and we had them together with ridiculously badly cooked toast. James then improved Chris's toast with a blow torch.

Food finished the caving games began, with a brief interlude for Jan's birthday with an apple cake cooked by Ellie going down very well with the crowd. Impressively the candles turned out to be wooden skewers dipped in oil - Chris never ceases to amaze me with his ingenuity. A variety of interesting caving games then took place. First we had the breathalyser high score competition with Ben Honan's breathalyser from when he's driving in Europe. Next up was spot the correct Julien on the Swildon's photo but with everyone's faces replaced by Julien's face. After that was Cock-a-leekie, a legacy game the old lags showed us where two people lie on their backs, holding each other's shoulders, next to each other head to toe. Then someone shouts "Cock" and they tap the shins of the legs next to the other together above them with straightened legs. Once again someone shouts "Cock" and shins are tapped before "Cock-a-leekieeee" after which they then both try to hook the other's leg behind their own and arm wrestle the other's leg to the ground, usually flipping the other over in some horrifying manner.

Chris in the table

The squeezing table got some more action, with a variety of configurations thanks to the configurable holes, after which we got started on the pickup the paper from the floor with your mouth game. Salwa had apparently been practicing for it and my god did it show. I've never seen Chris beaten at this game and Salwa, Chris and Davey all sailed through the regular rounds, right down to floor level and then beyond, first on baking trays then small pans. Davey made it this far in his tight shorts, an incredible feat in itself, but when the enormous bolognese bucket pans came out then it was only really a competition between Chris and Salwa. Chris put in a valiant effort and so far had flawlessly swooped down to any desired height with his Mech Soc yoga skills. The bolognese pans turned out to be quite a match for him though and he gave it many attempts before his hip was hurting him far too much to carry on. Multiple times he'd commented that he may not be able to walk the next day, so bad was the pain. Salwa flew through this round as well, first completing it with her hands slightly touching the pan, just enough to give Chris some hope, only to effortlessly scoop the paper a second time with her hands on her leg only, meaning the almighty Chris had been defeated. It is highly likely that at this very moment he is practicing for the rematch. Salwa's record was measured on a piece of paper, photographed (and uploaded to the website) for all posterity. After this many of us headed off to bed.

Ben R

Julien outside Swildons

Swildon's: Julien, Julien, Julien, Julien, Julien, Julien, Julien, Julien

Julien and I wanted to go to Swildons and so we joined forces with Julien and Julien to form a crack team. Julien also wanted to tag along, bringing Julien along as well. We successfully convinced Julien, the only person who can drive the bus, to take us over there and Julien volunteered as first leader. Outside the entrance we got Julien to take a photo of us all, before Julien headed in first, shortly followed by Julien. Sliding down the miniature cascade, Julien's voice rang out, "Hey Julien, are you with Julien?" A prompt reply came from Julien, "No, I'm here with Julien. I assumed Julien was with you, Julien" Amidst the roaring cascade, Julien's shouts merged with Julien's, creating a cacophony of voices. Julien had to act as an intermediary, conveying messages that were lost in the tumultuous noise. It soon became clear that Julien had been inadvertently left behind at the bus, engrossed in faff, despite Julien's specific instructions not to depart without Julien. Consequently, Julien was dispatched to guide Julien back to the group.

Julien's voice echoed with concern from a side passage, 'What if Julien loses his way?' In a calming tone, Julien reassured, 'Fear not, Julien is well-versed in Swildons.' 'But isn't this Julien's inaugural journey here?' 'Precisely, and that's why I've entrusted Julien to guide him,' Julien replied confidently. Abruptly, the cave's silence was shattered by a piercing sound. A high-pitched and aerated 'HEEEEEEEEEE' emanated from the entrance, Julien's traditional method of long-distance communication, a legacy of the ancient Chamois people. In respectful turn, each Julien responded with their own 'HEEEEEEEEEE', adhering to the time-honoured custom of polite reciprocation.

Julien jubilantly joined in, jamming a jagged jewel-like rock justly juggled from the pocket of his joie-de-vivre PVC gilet. Joyfully, he jetted it towards the junction's jutting wall, jamming it jarringly in a jumpy jot, like a juvenile jackdaw. The jarring jingle jolted off, jetting back to jostle Julien's juxtaposed joints. Jovially, Julien jested the same, joking that the juncture for jubilation had justly arrived. Jovially, we all joined in a jolly jamboree, joyously chanting the juncture's jingle: "Julien, Julien, Julien, Julien". Julien, jadedly jittering, jauntily jotted juxtaposing jumbled jargon. Justly judged as jarringly jejune, Julien's jeering jejunum jerkily jettisoned jellied jam, jeopardising joviality. Joyfulness jinxed, Julien's jungle of jigsawed jibber-jabber juddered, jousting with bad juju. Given this, Julien let out one last piercing Chamois scream, and we headed back to the hut to cook dinner.

Not Julien

Hunter's Hole.


Hunter's Hole: James Wilson, Chris Hayes, Valery Kirenskis, Ruairi Shannon

We had a loto of fresshers who hadn't learnt SRT, and thought Hunters hole would be an excellent chance to teach them. As it turns out, only one (techincally a) fresher came for the trip. A good 3 hours of faff ensued rigging a tree in the carpark and badly coprehending and copying a route discription, before we set off at 1pm. The entrance is a nice ladder to a gentle pitch, short crawl, then lovely hang off a sitting ledge. In a corkscrew, the RH route took us down to the floor, where we spent some time exploring before turning around and leaving. Lovely little short trip!

Chris H

Swildon's Hole: Clewin Griffith, Jim Evans, Ben Whatley, Gavin Hayman, Chris Backhouse, Mark Evans, Dave Mountain, Chris Birkhead, Bronwen Ley

Most of us were in dry gear so it was always going to be a quick trip. Plenty of water in the entrance sections and quite a few large groups of kids. We got a bit split up due to the other large groups and I had to go back in when we realized that Chris Backhouse wasn't with us (he'd gone ahead down to the twenty to have a look). I met him in the water chamber and we exited together. A great fun, if very easy, trip.

 Mark Evans

Salwa with our trusty caving bible for the day.

Burrington Combe: Ben Richards, David Wilson, Ellie Pizey, Jan Kożuszek, Wojtek Sowinski, Julien Jean, Erica Keung, Kevin Sohn, Salwa Ahmad, Thurston Blount, Luke Pugsley

I got considerably more sleep this night after Thurston had moved his mattress to help minimise crushing, meaning only Erica rolled into me in the night. I wandered downstairs to find some surprisingly good porridge (not sure who made this but they have my seal of approval) followed by the crushing realisation that we couldn't go to waterwheel after all. This sounded like an amazing cave, but requires phoning to get the keys a while beforehand which we were not aware of.

Therefore I signed up to go to Burrington Combe, as I'd wanted to go visit Goatchurch again given it was my first ever cave back when I was a year 7 in Wells just down the road. I sat down next to Salwa and found out that she had been researching the best caves in the area and was scheming to visit as many as we could in the day. Rapidly we put together a plan to research all the caves and see how many we could visit in a morning, with the growing realisation that it might be quite a lot. Plan in place we threw out kit in the car and waited an eternity for Davey and Kevin to destroy the hut toilets.

Initially the plan was to have Ellie lead a fresher's trip somewhere simple, perhaps Goatchurch, while the rest of us tarted off on the Burrington speed run. However Davey defected from our plan, instead realising that if he joined forces with Ellie that they alone knew where all the entrances were. Not to be outdone, I realised that my dry bag was big enough to fit the entirety of Mendip underground and so I decided to take the entire thing in my oversuit.

Aveline's Hole

Cave No. 1: Aveline's Hole Armed and ready myself, Salwa, Julien Thurston and Kevin raced off to Avaline's Hole, a Powell's Cave-esque cave right beside the road that's very short and quite large, ending in a big gate protecting a mesolithic cave drawing apparently. It was big enough to require us turning on our headlights, so we felt happy to count this as a cave, but given it's right next to the car park it should probably be included in the "once in a lifetime" series of caves, along with Powell's cave, Rowten Cave, Jinglling Cave etc.

Heading back to the bus we saw the others were still there, and that the time was only just gone 12. Having to be back at the bus by 3:30 gave us ample time to tick off a large number of the others.

Cave No. 2: Sidcot Swallet We walked along the side of the road and up what we thought was the rightmost path we could find, only for it to not be Bath Swallet but instead Sidcot. No problem, we would return to the others afterwards. Kevin had been there before and quickly lead us down to some squeezy horrible bits past spiders of ungodly large proportions. He decided to bail before it got any tighter and we turned around to head out for the next one. Pretty muddy and horrible, not one of my favourite. However this meant we must have missed Pierre's Pot on the path here, noting to look hard for it on the way back.

Thurston emerging from the tradesman's entrance to Goatchurch

Cave No. 3: Goatchurch Cavern This cave has a special place in my heart as the first cave I ever went in as a year 7 on a school trip, and therefore must have been where the cave fungus first infected me. Looking at the survey it seemed possible to do the through trip and so we headed in the main entrance, walking down along the old showcave sections before dropping down the Giant's staircase past all the pretty flowstone formations and then heading back up the climb at the end out of the tradesman's entrance. Although biased I greatly enjoyed this cave and it's much prettier than I remembered from when I was last there over a decade ago.

Cave No. 4: Pierre's Pot Having missed this on the way in we were paranoid not to miss it again on the way back. We rummaged around the side of the path but there was no sign of it until I spotted yellow PVCs in the distance, turning off a small side path and disappearing into the undergrowth. Following them eagerly I spotted Erica's helmet disappearing out of sight as she dropped into a cave. Running up to the entrance I read the plaque as Pierre's Pot and called the others over - we'd stolen all that lag knowledge from Davey and successfully pirated along on their trip.

Obviously we followed them into the cave immediately - if they were going to try and turn around immediately then they'd have to wait for us, giving us a crucial time advantage and if they were going to do the round trip then we could follow them and not get lost. Win win. They were indeed doing the round trip and it was considerably shorter than I had realised from the survey, as they were already near finished by the time we got down there. We exchanged highly competitive comments with each other, with Salwa reprimanding Kevin for telling them how many caves we'd been in, and we parted ways with them heading out the cave and us continuing onto the round trip. After two corners we were once again reunited as they were exceedingly slow getting out of the cave and the round trip was exceedingly short. There was a cool slide thing which we had fun on while waiting, and then we got the book out of my oversuit in the bottom of the cave and crowded around, strategising about our next moves.

Salwa, the mastermind of the whole operation, commented that we should gamble big on west Burrington. Going all in on this high risk strategy carried high reward - five holes rather than the measly three of Burrington, where rumour had it the other team had just come from. The map had no footpaths on it so we could either follow the road or just climb the big hill directly. Before we could make a decision the others seemed to have finally unblocked the entrance and we headed out to find they'd already headed off to their next target.

Topping out of the gorge, by the direct route.

Cave No. 5: Bath Swallet

We (foolishly in retrospect) decided to try climbing out of the gorge directly. This took an absolute age but we finally made it to the top, where we popped out of the woods in a large bracken covered moorland with no discernible landmarks. I scouted around while looking for the way on, asking some hikers where the hut mentioned in the description was, which they seemed rather confused about, but pointed me roughly in the direction of a ramshackle old shed behind some trees. Kevin caught up and we felt confident that it was indeed the hut so turned back to show the others the way. After returning we followed the book's directions - a very odd experience holding a pristine clean book while being covered head to toe in mud while also wandering the surface past dog walkers and hikers.

Some large shake holes just behind the hut proved to the correct ones and we found the name plate of Bath Swallet at the bottom of one next to a little stream. Kevin and Salwa poked their heads down the bottom of the climb to find that it was completely flooded and impassable. The rest of us headed down to see it as well for the cave count, heading back out complaining how terrible a cave it was. This is perhaps the weakest of our claims of "caving" today, but we did have to turn our headlights on at the bottom in a small chamber large enough for Thurston, Julien and I to all stand somewhat awkwardly in the flood water.

Cave No. 6: Rod's Pot

The Bath Swallet to Rod's Pot through trip was therefore off the cards, but definitely one I might return to one day as it looked quite fun. It also seems to need ropes from the description I read. Rod's Pot is the next shake hole over, and we headed down this one to see what secrets it held. This cave turned out to be really cool, with a small chamber at the top with a free climb to get into it followed by a series of continuing downward passages, with Kevin reporting back that it got bigger as he carried on deeper into the cave. We poked our heads in a window into this chamber to see him disappear off into the distance. I'd definitely like to return to this one, very nice. Salwa kept us all on track with timings and we promptly headed out to see the next one.

Julien striking a pose after Rod's Pot

Cave No. 7: Drunkard's Hole

This was significantly more terrible than the last two. Heading down another rocky climb lead to an incredibly muddy crawl which I slipped over in on both the way in and the way out, making everyone very muddy in the process. Julien headed down first, making it past the small chamber to a unpleasant looking crawl, with two bats in it. Given the lack of time, he turned around there to find Salwa had gotten her foot stuck in a crack in the rock, which he pulled her out of. Thurston and I took a photo and spotted a few more bats higher up, before we all headed out after Kevin joined us. Kevin then yolo'd his way down the cave after we left him behind. A decently bad cave, with many bats we were desperately trying to avoid. Might return but unlikely. Kevin had met Davey and the gang at Rod's Pot and told us they were going to try do the cave more thoroughly than we had, which was fair.

Cave No. 8: Bos Swallet

The worst cave of the lot by far. I headed in first and found the entrance completely filled with mud and sticks that had been washed in. After digging out the entrance I narrowly dodged some barbed wire which snagged Thurston behind me. Beyond this was a very steep slope with a handline that plummeted down a good 20m or perhaps more before reaching which I believe is disappointment chamber, which was completely full of bats, I spotted about a dozen before realising that they were all over the way on, and that my only way out was to heave myself out by the rope up the very slippery slope. I called to Thurston to evacuate and not follow me down the rope, as I hauled myself out of the tube with great difficulty. I was now completely covered in mud and had little to show for it. The others poke into the first chamber at the top of the rope for the cave count, but no one bothered with the dodgy hand line hole of doom. A terrible cave. I can see why nature tried to fill it in.

Thurston outside Bos Swallet

Cave No. 9: Read's Cavern

We were pushing our back at the bus time as we exited Bos Swallet but I'd read that Read's Cavern was well worth a visit so we cheekily headed over regardless. Again the lack of paths on the cave map was not helpful, and we ended up pushing through the scrub towards the sound of the water further along the same path as the other four caves up on the hill. Julien and Thurston headed off ahead as I waited around for Kevin and Salwa who were last out of Bos Swallet. The three of us then headed down towards the stream to find the others but had no replies to our eh-ohs.

There are two entrances, a wet and a dry. The descriptions said that the dry route was a scary free climb that really should be handlined and that the wet route was far easier. We headed over to the wet route to see Julien emerging, saying that it was really impressive and definitely worth a look. Heading in, the three of us were greeted by a small waterfall that we could easily traverse around, followed by a surprisingly large chamber with beautiful white, read and pink rocks all around. The cave carried on for a long way in both directions and I'd have loved to poked around further but after a quick stomp around the main passage we headed back out to return to the bus.

The white and red rocks of Read's Cavern

Hoofing it back down the path we heard Ellie and Davey emerging from Rod's Pot and so stopped our stomped down the hill to exchange stories and see if there was a nicer route than flinging ourselves off the edge of the gorge. Davey did indeed know a nicer way down, and they'd had a lovely trip down Rod's Pot to the main chamber and back, which sounded like a lot of fun.

Davey took us down the road, which opened out to lovely views towards Chew Stoke and circled back via a small footpath to the bottom of the gorge in a much more pleasant route than the one we'd taken on the way up. It also turned out that the path up beyond Goatchurch pops out on the hill as well so we were just completely lacking in knowledge all round.

After a lovely walk up the gorge we quickly changed and headed back to the hut to find the others had all already left. A supremely rapid cleaning and bus packing session masterminded by Ellie meant we were away in no time. Given the short drive we could therefore stop for a luxurious Mc Donalds feast on the way back after faffing around adding AdBlue and inflating a slightly low tyre. We zoomed back to London, at which point you find me frantically writing these last few sentences before the bus arrives back at union.

A fantastic weekend, it was great exchanging stories that really shouldn't be written here with the old lags, scheming for Slovenia plans this coming summer and with mostly lovely weather to top it all off!

Ben R

Scheming by the minibus

The Five Birthday Sallies

Prelude: the Competition

It’s my birthday! Much porridge is had, phone calls are made. Chris can be seen throwing rope onto a tree and fighting with spiny brambles. There is a cave called Waterwheel which apparently involves no squeezing whatsoever. Yes please! After yesterday’s struggle and the disaster that was Derbyshire I am due a relaxing trip.

No such luck. Waterwheel has to be booked ahead. We’re going to Burrington Combe instead. I hear Salwa plotting a way to visit the most caves possible in a day. Funny, I remember overhearing a conversation on Friday about how the caving society attracts people who are not particularly competitive. All I’ve seen this weekend is competition.

The First Sally: Lionel’s Hole, or the Fatphobia of Nature

I still delude myself that I can avoid competition and excessive effort today, so I join Ellie’s team, staying as far away as possible from what Salwa and Ben are scheming. No matter. Ellie and Davey are scheming also. The other group disappears behind the road bend. Before we’re even done locking up the minibus, they emerge again. They will later claim they visited a cave in this time. I have my suspicions.

Heading in the opposite direction, we find a small hole near the edge of the road. We go down past some large spiders with fat, orange torsos, eventually finding a squeeze at the bottom of a boulder scramble. Bad sign – will yesterday’s conundrum happen again? I insert myself into the hole and immediately find that I’d need to break a few ribs before making it through. I reverse out and wait while the others go further and admire some sort of a rift. They are back within a few minutes and soon we are back on the road.

The near vertical slide in Pierre's Pot

The Second Sally: Pierre’s Pot, or the Crowded Merry-go-round

Off a muddy side footpath we find Pierre’s pot. The way in is mostly sliding down smooth surfaces which I imagine will be very annoying on the way out. Before we even properly enter the cave, the other group joins us: they saw us go down the path and decided to overcrowd the already small space to slow down our progress.

The trip is a short loop around the smooth corridors. On the way out, the climb does in fact prove annoying and slows us down greatly. Ellie goes back to show the other group a cool place for sliding. After a couple of tries I successfully negotiate the climb and emerge back into the sunlight.

The Third Sally: Goatchurch Cavern, or the Tourist Experience

The top entrance to Goatchurch was once an unsuccessful show cave, and – pardon the pun – it shows. Large, spacious passages, the remains of steps carved into stone, metal railings long consumed by rust. At the end of the old show cave we pass a lovely flowstone formation before entering a smooth, tight passage down. The way through it resembles more sliding than climbing, and I’d hate to traverse it in the other direction. Fortunately I don’t have to: we soon find ourselves at the bottom entrance to the cave, where we meet a family on a hike. The day is still young, the caves around plentiful. How many more can we fit in the schedule?

The Fourth Sally: Sidcot Swallet, or the Great Gaslighting

Sidcot Swallet is nearby, on the opposite side of the stream marking the bottom of the little valley. I’ve been here before, and I lead the way through the first couple of squeezes. Soon I am out on top of a descending plane and holy shit is that a huge spider. Fortunately I think we are going in the opposite direction. I turn left, walk to the opposite side of the chamber, and slide down a smooth slab of stone. There is a squeeze here which feels like the right way to go, but it looks annoying and I don’t want to have to go back. I try to pass the word to Ellie, on the other side of the group: could she come here and have a look? The answer that comes is concerning: ‘Come here!’. Back to the spider it is.

Below the chad arachnid is a squeeze that looks even more annoying than the one I did not want to do. One by one everyone contorts themselves into inhuman shapes and disappears from my sight. I was first at the previous squeeze: here I am the last. I lower myself feet first and try to wriggle my body the way I’ve seen others do it. It is not going well and honestly I’ve had enough of impossible squeezes recently: I tell others to go ahead and try to push myself out.

One of the many horrifying spiders in Sidcot Swallet

Except – oops – I cannot. I push and I wriggle and I flail around with my arms but my lower half remains constricted, immobile. The huge spider is nowhere to be seen. I hope I didn’t kill it. Ellie comes back not long after and finds me still stuck, only my legs visible from her point of view. She tries to give me a few tips, as she can actually see what’s going on down there, but none help. ‘Will I actually have to wait here to be rescued?’ the thought crosses my mind briefly like a vulture in the desert sky. No! This is no way to celebrate a birthday. I find a way to rotate my right leg sideways so that the thigh becomes unstuck, and finally push myself out, back into the chamber.

I was right to begin with: the Spider Squeeze was not the right way and I should have trusted my instinct. But now nobody really wants to stay in this cave and we begin our climb back up. Wojtek, Ellie and Davey all try to convince me that the correct way is through a space that opens up behind me, but I am almost sure that it’s through a squeeze right next to Erica. The discussion goes on for a minute or two before somebody actually enters that squeeze and meets a pair of cavers just coming down from the entrance. Of course that’s the right way, and I was being gaslit. Again.

Interlude: the Hike

Out of Sidcot now. Davey asks everyone how they’re feeling. To my surprise, I’m actually feeling pretty good. Already forgetting the despair I felt only ten minutes ago. There is still time for more caving.

Sliding on the mud, we follow a path up and out of the gorge, to where several shake holes marr the landscape. The first one houses Bath Swallet. Apparently this is flooded and not even worth going into in such wet conditions, unless one were engaged in an unsportsmanlike drive to simply tick off caves with the minimum effort. But who would ever do that?

Near another hole we meet Kevin, alone, the rest of his team nowhere to be seen. Apparently he alone chose to actually go through this cave, and for this he was abandoned. Left behind. Forgotten. He seems to be having fun.

A nice muddy slide leads down to another cave entrance: Rod’s Pot.

Kevin beckoning you to Rod's Pot

The Fifth Sally: Rod’s Pot, or an Actually Nice Cave?

The entrance does not bode well: crawling through thick mud, we all make various noises of disgust. I find myself in a small chamber with a window to the right, overlooking a rift. Not the right way then. Instead we go forwards into a down-sloping squeeze which ends around two metres below the other side of that window. Then half sliding half climbing down, then a squeeze that spits me out oddly close to a rather large hole. Then a squeeze that spits me out oddly close to a rather large hole. Then a squeeze that spits me out right on top of a steep climb down some boulders. But after this – no more squeezes.

Instead we reach the main chamber, large and Very Cool, with a thick, floor-to-ceiling formation in the middle. There is a bat here also. Ellie, Erica and Davey push on, looking for the passage meant to be leading to Bath Swallet, but I cannot be bothered and simply chill in the big chamber with Wojtek while Luke follows the others. The whole time we stay within voice range and I can hear what they’re talking about. They find the Bear Pit, which sounds horrible, but apparently some cave shrimp were once found at its base. Neat.

Davey and Erica soon emerge back, but Luke is getting tired and struggles slightly. Time is getting tight for our 3.30pm planned bus rendezvous, so Wojtek, Erica and I begin our climb back out. This goes smoothly, except at one point we turn the wrong way. This ends up connecting back to the correct passage anyway, but a few minutes pass before we realise that’s what happened and all leave.

Postlude: that’s a real word?

As we exit Rod’s, we bump into the other group, also very late for the agreed meeting time at the bus below. I guess the timing works out then. They claim to have done nine caves. Davey leads us down a slightly roundabout way, leading to a pretty view all the way to the sea and South Wales, a whole lot of wild garlic, and the Rock of Ages.

Cleaning the hut goes super quickly, and soon we are all ready to leave. Julien gives up navigating and his front seat privileges, and is replaced by Ellie. She doesn’t have her phone. Fine, I’ll navigate. That actually turns out to be fun. For a while we drive directly behind Davey’s car, until he suddenly pulls off to the side and stops. I message them, concerned, but all is good: they are simply trying to figure out their Bluetooth, and catch up to us some time after.

In Andover again, we take an upsettingly long time to figure out how the air compressor on the gas station works, and then we go to Maccies. The parking spots are tiny, and the back of the bus comes to rest mere millimetres from a large happy meal ad.

Google maps really does not want us to enter London through the M3, so we do a quick trip north to end up on the M4. Ellie sounds more and more tired, and is replacing more and more words with Ellie noises™. But we make it to the union quite early and don’t even die as a result of Kevin trying to time our arrival perfectly with the end of Bella Ciao.


In Mendip Underground we trust

Ah, the joys of getting a good night's sleep! Even with the best earplugs money can buy, I still managed to have a night-long battle with the bed itself... After a whopping 2 hours of shut-eye, I was all set for another round of caving. But alas, the caves were sounding rather mundane, and I was itching for something more exhilarating.

Remembering a YouTube video where a bunch of cavers conquered 7 caves in a day, I thought, "Why not up my cave count?" I pitched the idea to Ellie who didn't seem to mind. And before you know it, Ben and I were hatching our grand scheme to tackle a whopping 13 caves! Ah, the sweet satisfaction of finding someone who shares your madness!Today was shaping up to be quite the adventure. Our plan: conquer 12 caves in a day. Now this was before Ellie wanted us back on the minibus at 3.30pm otherwise we would be disqualified. Nooooo! It wouldn’t be possible. We needed to be more strategic.

Davey decided to jump ship. What a traitor. But no worries. We had things Davey didn’t…. Determination, strategic planning skills and lest not we forget the Mendips book! Joined by Thurston, Kevin, and Julien, we set off on our quest. May the competition begin… in less than 40 min we had 4 caves in the bag. Not bad. Not bad at all. We were making very good progress. Unfortunately finding Pierre’s pot was proving difficult even with the book but Ben managed to find it by noticing Erica entering a cave. I wanted to get out before they started leaving because I knew they would take their sweet time. And they did. But it’s ok. We had 10 min to whip out the mendips book from Ben's oversuit and start planning. Verdict- Venture to the route leading to Baths Swallet and execute all 5 caves pronto! They will never beat us.

One by one we conquered them all (pictured: Bath Swallet)

But what came next was frankly barbaric. Surely not… whilst I was making haste to the steep link road, Ben shouted from behind and then started hiking the Burrington Combe gorge. You have got to be joking me! We did the unthinkable. Gosh, I love Ben. We hiked an approximate 75 degrees incline GORGE to save time! And would you believe it, he made it to the top in record time! I, on the other hand, had to summon all my ability to navigate the slippery terrain. But we did it! Next up: finding the caves. And one by one, we conquered them all. We had done it!!! Mine and Ben's plan had succeeded! Ah, what a thrill it was to cave with Ben for the first time! Beat that!!!! 9 caves in 3 hours. Regret not joining our elite group Davey?

Our mission to increase our cave count was a resounding success, all while getting in a good workout. This weekend had gone by too quickly. And it reaffirmed what I already knew. I love horizontal caving! As the day was slowly drawing to the end, I couldn't help but wish I could stay here forever, soaking in the fun. But alas, reality beckons. Hopefully, next time will be just as thrilling as this weekend.

Time to hop into Davey's Nissan and head back to London. Now ever since Saturday's conversation, I could sense Davey avoiding me and so this car ride would prove to be interesting. Let’s keep the conversation civil and surface level I told myself. Well, that plan went out the window in record time. Let's just say, what was said in that car is known to those inside, and will forever remain a mystery to those who missed out (unless someone spills the beans, of course) ‘What gets said in the car, stays in the car’. Car rides > Minibus any day! I hope this isn't my last stint in a car—I much prefer it to the minibus! It's amazing what kind of entertainment you can find with the right company. Also I returned with an insatiable curiosity about the inner workings of James' mind. What mysterious wonders lurk in there, I wonder? Quite the intriguing man, if I do say so myself! Never met anyone like him! I don't know how my true personality came out this weekend even though it takes forever for me to show my true self. Oh well, I guess that's how I know I made the right choice in joining the Caving Society out of the countless options presented during freshers' week.


Starting the day off strong with toast and a very mild hangover, we decided to go to Burrington Combe, as Waterwheel Swallet required advanced booking (very sad). The minibus drove us to a large gorge with some gorge(ous) 45-degree beds of limestone on the Eastern wall. Ben, Salwa, and I decided we wanted some speedy and numerous caving to get our cave counts up (although David did end up disagreeing at the end and telling us we only really did about 4-5 caves properly we did end up in the entrance of 9 caves). Dragging Kevin and Julien along, we started off with Aveline’s hole, a very small 20m long cave with a locked gate at the end, just off the main road (nothing too adventurous). Adventuring on from Aveline’s we travelled up a small little valley and found Sidcot Swallet. Entering, many a cave spider were discovered, much to Julien’s dismay, and pressed on by Kevin’s fondness for the chamber of rubber ducks, we continued to about 50m to a medium-sized chamber after a small crawl. BGS surprising calls this a beginners cave, although Kevin was describing a slight chimney climb up to the duck cave, which to me didn’t sound very beginner friendly, unless this was another cave and I am misremembering. On the way out, Julien took a slight wrong turn and ended up in a chamber of only spider (if bitten we can only imagine the kinds of spidery powers he could have gained).

Sidcot Swallet

From here, Goatchurch was next on the list, and a small climb up from the valley yielded great results of two entrances! Climbing into the upper entrance, a short walk began the through-trip, along with Ben telling us of how he once came here when he was a small little boy in year 7 and that this was once a show cave oh so long ago. After the short walk came a little slide down to the next walk and short climb out of the cave, made much more difficult by the smoothening of the climb no doubt due to the cave once being a show cave as Ben had mentioned.

Julien descending into Pierre's Pot

Pierre’s pot was next, and it was here we found the rest of the group that had travelled to Burrington. Following a small rift as the entrance, we found ourselves in a small chamber with a little crawl at the bottom to the next, only slightly hearing Ellie off in the distance, and using her voice as a guide to find our way through. It was here that we found out a queue had formed for the exit, feeling not too dissimilar from the portaloos at Glastonbury (rightly so too as I found out in a few minutes, as the traverse up across the rift in was not a fun one). Ellie gave us a nice pointer of going back and to the last chamber and climbing up a wall to slide down it to kill some time (thank you it was very fun even if I only managed to climb up half the wall). Once the initial rift traverse/climb was completed, the rest of the way out was fine, and it was now onwards to the other group of caves at the top of the Western margin of the Combe.

In hindsight, I think the path that followed the valley up the side of the Combe may have been a much easier way to get to this groupings of caves, and I believe this way may have been the way the other group went, but ah well half the fun of hiking around is the off-piste ways you end up going. Travelling towards the minibus, Salwa raced off ahead, leading to me, Ben, and Kevin shouting out as they realised we had to actually fully climb the 40 degree slope to our left – very daunting at the time and no angle I could state here can do it justice. Obviously, Ben managed to race off straight up the slope using the trees as climbing poles, leaving the rest of us in the dust slipping and sliding down the slope and slightly progressing between each slip. Julien took a much superior method of two walking sticks up the slope, whereas Salwa and I took the much less conventional method of jumping between the trees to somehow get up the slope within 30 minutes (it must have been around 100-150 metres tall and the valley definitely would have been about 10x faster than this way). Proceeding on from the top of the slope, we reached Bath Swallet, a cave that is found within a pothole South of a path, and entering it yielded very little success (much to Kevin’s dismay), as the crawl to the rest of the cave and towards Rod’s pot had flooded, turning the entrance into an area much more similar to a duck than a crawl. We left this cave pretty much instantly but at least it lived up to its name.

Further on from this cave was Rod’s pot, a small cave that had been dug to connect to Bath Swallet. The entrance was a small crawl that you go in headfirst into the darkness, leading to a small chamber with a window to a larger chamber on one wall, and a small alley to the same large chamber that takes you there without a dodgy climb onto a central boulder. I only saw this chamber from the alley, but all I could see was the walls the central boulder didn’t touch, so to me this chamber looked very similar to the wii sports resort swordfight arena, except imagine the arena was surrounded by walls 1 metre away (large extrapolation from the very small area of this chamber that I saw). Kevin ventured forth whilst we left this cave here.

Drunkard's Hole

Next up was Drunkard’s hole, another cave in a pot, except this time looks very similar to a generic wizard’s grove with the amount of moss that surrounded it. Venturing into the cave, it was mostly just one large rift that Julien then Salwa entered before me, leading into a small chamber and another rift. This second rift is where Julien descended into the depths and Salwa got her feet stuck a bit too far for me to reach, so I turned around and started talking to Ben, which is the point at which he realised how many bats were actually in the cave. To not disturb the bats, it was then that we headed out, passing Kevin on the way up as he had left the SRT bag at the previous cave after thinking that we had taken the bag he had left at the entrance so had to go back. Intrigued by the cave, Kevin pushed on despite our best pleas to go to the next cave to try and fit more in before the time was up.

Ben, Julien, and I went ahead to the next cave and left Salwa to wait for Kevin. Ben attempted entering Bos Swallet, a cave entrance in yet another pot, however found himself excavating the entrance of wood, mud, and leaves. Finally breaking through, I followed him down into the small entrance chamber as Julien left to tell the others of our findings, although it was at this point that I accidentally punched some barbed wire at the entrance to the cave (I was lucky it didn’t pierce my skin but seriously who on Earth puts barbed wire there of all places??). I watched as Ben descended down a very old and not very sturdy handline 30 metres into disappointment cavern, hearing him shout at me to not come down as he reached the bottom, apparently having found the motherlode of Mendip bats. Trying to leave the cave itself was difficult, as there were few to no footholds, the area you would keep your knees was covered in barbed wire, and the ground I was sitting on was unconsolidated mud. Stay away from this cave.

The final cave that we entered was Read’s cavern (I think). Julien and I had to veer off the path through a forested area that ended in a cliff to hike towards the stream we could hear that supposedly ended in Read’s cavern. The entrance was a very large chamber with a stream flowing into its mouth, and a slight traverse to the left. We didn’t venture too far into this cave as we entered at about 3.15, where meeting by the bus was set for 3.30. After the traverse was a small little climb down into the main chamber, where it was one of the more beautiful caverns of the day, showing two large tunnels going in opposite directions, with loose, pebble-sized rocks on the floor next to where the stream was flowing. Some pretty red-coloured rocks could also be seen. We left after this due to time, but did end up meeting the other group on the way back and walked all the way back to the minibus together, arriving back at the SMCC at a respectable 4.45.


A brief photo stop at the bottom of our Goatchurch throughtrip