Waterways Swallet - Alan Brentnall

Wednesday, 16 May, 2012

The group included Keith Joule, Lisa Wootton, Emma Key, Dave Ottewell and me and we met at the copse / car park opposite Waterways Farm for a 6:30 start - but I messed up any chance of an early start by driving into a boggy ditch and it took Emma, Dave and me pushing, Lisa driving and Keith towing to get my (just bought) car back onto terra firma. Once parking arrangements had been sorted, we changed into our caving kit and walked down to look at the point where the water normally sinks. It was flowing, but very low. Dave explained that in wet weather the sink (plural really, as there seemed to be two points where the water sank) overflowed and formed a pond which eventually flowed down the normally dry overflow route.

Going over to Waterways Swallet entrance, it was obvious that the recent wet spell had caused quite a flood here - we had to dig through flood debris to get to the bolted lid before we could release the bolts and open the entrance. The entrance series is low and scrambly, and can be quite awkward when carrying tackle, as we were to find out later. It leads to a large chamber where you often see bats. It’s a complex of abandoned streamways with several oxbows in the roof and, not too many years ago, this is as far as you could get. Not now though!

Further round the large streamway, a large pile of digging deads marked the start of a smaller draughting passage going downwards. We followed this through to a large boulder choke through which a vertical way had been engineered with scaffolding. We climbed carefully down this section and eventually arrived at a more solid piece of cave, and a series of climbs down to a yellow metal ladder - Floodgate Pot. More climbs followed leading down Blore Street to the junction where the two ways to Toad Hall divide. We opted for the left way which is through solid rock and feels a little safer than the other route which passes through yet another choke. This safe way does, however, terminate in a very airy knotted rope descent into Toad Hall.

Once everybody had managed the rope climb, we squeezed through the boulders into Wotno Streamway and followed this down to Wotno Sump, the current end of the cave - over 400ft below the entrance and quite a way still above the water table. Considering the potential in this area, it seems inevitable that this obstacle will, some day, be passed. Returning to Toad Hall, Dave opted to return up the rope to the safer passage, while the rest of us took the other route out - via the choke. One objective of the trip was to try to remove some of the digging clutter that still adorned the cave, and we gathered up as much as we could carry before heading up to Floodgate Pot.

Above Floodgate Pot, a knotted rope shows the top entrance to Room 101 and we followed this down and into the big chamber - this entrance was new to me; it’s always good to do something new on a trip. After looking at Room 101, we took the lower entrance down through the boulder ruckle and out to a point near the junction. From here we re-climbed Floodgate Pot and retrieved our loads before making our way out of the system.