Mendips - Phil Wolstenholme

Saturday, 1 September, 2012

Present: Pete Burns, Jess Eades, Pete Grey, Martyn Grayson, Phil Wolstenholme

This weekend away was partly a present to the two Petes, who rarely get to go caving, and who need relatively easygoing trips, and also a chance for me to get a few photos of non-Derbyshire cave, as I've never been to the Mendips before - apart from legendary Glastonbury diversions in the mid-80's, but getting underground wasn't the primary consideration then! We stayed at the BEC Belfry, which seemed to be sniffed at a bit from the other caving clubhouses in the district (there's like, three in a mile - takes some beating), but we had the place to ourselves, which was perfect. When I saw how many were crammed in down the road, I felt positively spoiled. Friday evening was spent getting food and drink nearby, and chilling out and a relatively early night.

Saturday was GB Cave, as it's large and very pretty and a good spot to get some photos.  I was really gobsmacked at both the size of the chambers and the volume of decorations, and the relatively easy way you can descend very deep without really noticing. Can't remember the names of all the places on the way, but we followed the streamway apart from following the big oxbow from The Bridge/Balcony on the way down, and then rigged a ladder up to Ladder Dig. As it was a dubious wet confined crawl, most of us bailed, leaving Pete Burns and Jess to bravely venture forth, whilst Martyn, Pete Grey and I chatted in the relative comfort of the chamber.

They returned just as Pete and I got to the bottom of the ladder, and we set off back upstream, this time following the water all the way. Halfway up, there's a huge cascade, maybe 20m in total height, at a 45° angle, luckily not too wet this time. The rock is quite spiky and fractured, meaning it's pretty easy to climb straight up it, and we admired the view at the top whilst Pete got his breath back. The rest of the trip was uneventful uphill climbing, but beautiful all the way, and we exited into brilliant sunshine for a slow change and then the drive back to the hut for food and yet more relaxing. We also found the entrance to St. Cuthbert's Swallet in the next field, and having now seen the survey of that, I think there might be a return visit planned. We popped down the pub in the evening and bumped into Les Williams, who was in fine form with his West Country comedy routine, tankard in hand.

Sunday was a brief trip into Swildons, to get a feel for the place, which was a bit like a more dramatic version of P8, to me anyway. Pete bailed after the first few dropdowns predictably, and Jess waited with him whilst we bombed downstream to the first proper ladder pitch. As we had no ladder and not much time, we elected to stop there and have a steady stroll back up, taking plenty of time to admire the formations and the peculiar limestone bedding down there, which is bent and folded like toffee in places. Very odd. Climbing back up the cascades was great fun, and the two squeezes against the flow of the water were bracing, to say the least.

After that we had to get back to the hut to pay up and pack up, as we had a four-hour drive ahead, so not a long visit relative to travel, but well worth it all the same. I've got some more photos from GB Cave that I'll post somewhere soon.