Grampian Speleological Group Newsletter
Number 126, March 2006

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Vale: Eric Ferguson

All caving clubs have their adopted 'local' and for the GSG it used to entail a ten mile drive down to the Inchnadamph Hotel and Willie Morrison's laconic 'Is that so?' for scintillating conversation. Subsequently an attractive little bar rose, phoenix-like, from the ruins of the Altnacealgach Hotel a mere three miles or so from base - much more acceptable.

When the founder, Bruce Ward, sold up in March 1995, everyone wondered what the future would hold for the Alt. Happily a couple from Edinburgh, Eric Ferguson and Christine Robertson, set up house and home there, welcoming Grampian members like family (not surprising when one considers the annual Mendip invasions consumed legendary gallonages of beer!)

To see the diminutive, moustachioed figure of Eric behind the bar, listen to his dry humour and generally enjoy the 'craik' became habit forming. Thanks to Christine's tireless support, the Alt soon gained an enviable reputation for cuisine, so much so that by summer 1996, a spacious lean-to dining area had been constructed along the front of the building - just in time for the GSG Annual Dinner.

Eric took a keen interest in all our activities, and acted as a surrogate hut warden, encouraging many backpackers and visitors to stay at Taigh nam Famh, for which he held a key. On at least one memorable occasion he and close friend Raymond Hoy actually went caving with the club, down Cnoc nan Uamh and the Waterslide.

Memories of happy nights at the Alt flood in - firework displays; crazy golf drives off the loch pier; van-loads of tipsy residents from Ullapool's 'Rest' Home; hazy, crowded New Year celebrations; boring postcard competitions and mouth-watering dinners that seduced us from DIY cooking at Elphin.

Yet now, after a decade, the sun has set over a lasting, mutual friendship, for Eric succumbed to heart failure in March. His love for Assynt and its residents made him a principal figure in the district. As a purveyor of alcohol he provided a welcome service and his work has finally seen him out. The emptiness that is left makes Assynt a touch more barren: the Grampian has seen another local friend leave for ever.

"Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take."

For Christine we grieve. For Eric we throw a call of farewell down that long corridor to misty eternity where just maybe he waits for old pals to join him.

Alan L. Jeffreys

AGM 2006

The AGM this year was held in Winchburgh on January 28th. Sixteen members attended. Here are the highlights of what went on:

Officer-bearers' reports

Election of Office Bearers

The existing committee was re-elected: Recorder - Alan Jeffreys, Caving Secretary - Fiona Ware, Secretary - Elizabeth Ellis, Treasurer - Ivan Young, Hut Warden - Peter Dowswell, Chairman - Peter Dowswell, Tackle Master - Peter Ireson

Annual Dinner

Votes were counted as follows: Skye 0; Derbyshire 0; Assynt 7; South Wales 9; South Wales is therefore the winner!

Meets and Expeditions

The meets list is in preparation. Please send any suggestions for meets to the Caving Secretary. Expeditions this year include Meghalaya and Canada. Suggestions for next year included Kamchatka and the Lebanon.

GSG 50th Anniversary 2011

Several plans to mark the occasion were discussed including a function/dinner, an exhibition and a book. A subcommittee has been formed - contact Alan Jeffreys for further details.

Full minutes are available from the Secretary (secretary and copies of reports and the unaudited accounts are included with this Newsletter.


Annual Dinner 2006

South Wales won the vote for this year's dinner after a gap of six years. We will be aiming for the usual date of the last Saturday in October to coincide it with the end of British Summer Time. Graham (Jake) Johnson has selflessly volunteered to do the necessary research before deciding on a venue. Full details and a booking form will appear in the next GSG Newsletter.

Recent Rescue in Yorkshire

During a recent visit to Yorkshire we heard tell of a Scottish club (not the GSG though alphabetically close) who took a poor innocent down the Dollytubs in Lower Long Churn. This so overwhelmed him that he was unable to ascend despite the efforts of the rest of the group. After an hour they resorted to the ignominy of calling out the CRO who rapidly put all things right. And before you criticize, if it happened to you, would you know how to effect an efficient rescue? This incident serves to highlight that problems can arise during the simplest of trips, and all cavers should in their own interest have some knowledge of rescue techniques. It also brings back memories of a GSG member who was unable to climb the ladders in Bar Pot, so it isn't an unusual occurrence. However we did have the equipment to set up a Z-rig and hauled our 'casualty' up the pitches and out of the cave.




For our February meet we were joined by the EUG, a small Borders-based caving club. Bull Pot - our proposed Saturday trip - was already occupied so instead we did our Sunday trip of Jingling Pot by the Cleft Route. That was so enjoyable and completed so efficiently we went and did the entrance pitches of a completely dry Aquamole to fill in time before a couple of pints and a blowout meal at the Marton Arms. On a slightly wetter Sunday a damp Bull Pot was descended to the final pitch.

Later in February three of us - Peter Ireson, David Warren and Ivan - attended a BCA Anchor Placement and Regional Anchor Co-ordinators Course given by Les Sykes of CNCC. This taught the approved method for installing the P-hangers or eco-anchors as used all over Yorkshire. The GSG will buy a few anchors and tubes of resin and start installing a few in Scotland, but only where they are needed. Uamh an Claig-ionn will probably be the first cave to be treated.

On the day after the course Mark Lonnen appeared with a friend - one of the captains on the Cairnryan/Larne ferry - and we introduced him to caves and SRT with a trip through the Long Churn caves and down the Dollytubs pitch to Alum Pot. He and Mark were then encouraged to make the trip through Wilson's Cave. That was after all except Mark failed to get through what we thought was the Cheese Press squeeze, but was probably the tighter Letter Box instead. At least that's our story!

The March trip to Marble Steps and Illusion Pot looked as though it might be affected by the blizzards sweeping other parts of the country, but they didn't cause any problems and no bailing was required in Illusion.

Manse Barn threatened with Closure! - but now saved - perhaps

The Manse Barn is the Lomond Mountaineering Club's 'climbing hut' next to the Onich Hotel and well placed for Appin trips. We've used it several times. The LMC have had it for many (30?) years, but in November the Hotel were unwilling to extend the lease and gave two months notice to quit. The situation has, however, improved. First the lease was extended to April '06 and then to November '06. Now after a meeting with the owner there is talk of a 12 month rolling lease with 12 months notice and even the possibility of the LMC buying the hut. The LMC hut custodian is Russell Salisbury, a GSG member, and we've offered our support as a satisfied past, and hopefully future, user of the hut.

Overview - Caving in the Abode of the Clouds - 2006

International Team of up to 28 Cavers (comprising of 1 from Austria, 17 from the UK, 1 from Ireland, 1 from Switzerland, 2 from Denmark and 5 from India) spent three and a half weeks (7th Feb to 1st March 2006) in the Jaintia Hills District of Meghalaya focusing on the caving areas of Shnongrim Ridge near to Shnongrim Village in the Nongkhlieh Elaka, Daistong on the south side of the Letein Valley and in the Semasi Area.

During this time a total of 39 caves were explored, mapped and photographed to discover 15,498 metres of new cave passage. Of the 39 caves mapped 36 of these were entirely new caves with only 3 being caves systems that were partially explored in previous years. Key finding from this years exploration include.

To date the whereabouts of over 1060 caves are known, of which 629 have been explored to yield in excess of 295 kilometres of surveyed cave passage, with much more still waiting to be discovered. Much of the cave that has been found to date is impressive river cave mixed with huge fossil passage that creates cave systems equal in size and beauty to any found elsewhere in the world, putting Meghalaya firmly on the world-caving map as a significant caving region.

In the achievement of the above the Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Project is indebted to the help and support it has received from; the Meghalaya Adventurers Association, the Government of India Tourist Office (East and North East India) Kolkata; the Meghalaya State Tourism Department; Officials and Government Departments within Meghalaya; and, very importantly, the People of Meghalaya.

Simon Brooks/Mark Brown 3rd March 2006

Meghalaya 2006 Calendar and 2005 DVD

For the fourth year running, as part of the GSG's contribution towards the Meghalaya expeditions, we produced a full colour calendar illustrated by stunning views of Meghalayan caves. Sixty were donated to the expedition, mostly for distribution in Meghalaya.

You can order one now. They are A4 with a wire binding and as well as a cave photo per month the final page has a short history of exploration with a photograph of the 2005 team. The calendars sent to India ran from 1st February 2006, but any ordered now will run for a year from 1st April so you will get your full 12 months! Cost is L4.00 or L4.50 with postage.

Meghalaya 2005 DVD

The video record of the 2005 expedition produced by Fraser Simpson is now available on DVD. It comprise half an hour of underground and surface locations. Copies are L5 or L5.50 with postage. Order both calendar and DVD for a combined total of L9. Send your order to Ivan now and make your cheque payable to "GSG".

2006 Meets and Events

See events page.

Please send your requests and suggestions for other meets to me. I can be contacted at f.ware #

Fiona Ware - GSG Caving Secretary


I think the time is well overdue for a sensible system of recording and preserving cave survey data to be established, in the light of Harry Pearman's talk at BCRA on the same subject. Loss of, or hard to get, original data makes reproduction and/or drawing up of surveys impossible.

I propose that the club adopts a methodology similar to that used in Meghalaya, ie we purchase a supply of suitable hardcover notebooks and ALL survey work in future be recorded in them, both in the field and subsequently as 'neat' copy. These filled books will be stored with the library AFTER surveys have been drawn up. Whether or not a drawn survey meets requirements, loss of this seminal data cannot be sustained if we are to maintain credible records.

We need someone to identify a suitable notebook as soon as possible so such a scheme can be implemented without further delay.


Membership News

One not so new recruit this time - Laura Mitchell - not quite a new member since Laura was a member from 1987 to 1990 along with her friend Dawn.

New Members

Laura Mitchell

New Addresses

Alice Dowswell, Stephan Hoenig, Matthew Hutson

Other Changes

Freddie Brandon email, Estelle Sandford email, Richard Simpson telephone and email, Julian & Carol Walford telephone.

Gair Dunlop reports that another address change will soon be on the way since he had just been made a senior lecturer at the art school in Dundee.

John Crae has been anonymously making headlines this month. He was one of the unidentified Historic Scotland employees who found a clothed male skeleton next to a boundary wall near Duddingston Loch on March 6th. Boggy ground and scrub make this a site that only the determined would want to reach and the body is thought to have been there between three and ten years. When John phoned the police to report the discovery there was initial skepticism, and it was over an hour before the police arrived and radioed back that yes there really was a body there.

Hiba Aboulhosn is leaving the GSG as she'll be away for most of the year, but might return later. In her last message, from her native Lebanon I believe, she writes:- this is the website of our Caving club here (Speleo Club du Liban) and if anyone is interested you can check all the details of the Middle-East Speleo Symposium (April 2006) at A big helloooo to all. >From my crazy lively land !!


Membership Renewals

At the end of 2005 we had 138 members. So far 126 have renewed for 2006 plus two new members have joined, six have resigned and another six have one week to go before they are assumed to have left the Group. This is a slight improvement on last year when I was still chasing nine members for their subscriptions at the end of March.


Elphin Caving Centre

The Tartan Tremor and South East Collation theme meals were well attended and great successes. Both tested the linguistic abilities of those attending with Partan Bree, Skirlie and Rumbledethumps not much intelligible than Tom Yang Koong, Guey Teuw Nah Sub and Mamuan Kuo Nieo. For the South East Collation Peter produced some superb dishes, interesting tastes and textures with help from a 15 kg delivery from

The next scheduled event is the Mendip Invasion now scheduled to happen from about the 1st May for a week. Thereafter the Midsummer BBQ will be on June 24 with (I hope) volunteers staying on to help with hut maintenance, Rana Hole and escorting Ullapool High School pupils and teachers on their annual caving trips.

The wood store is looking healthier than it has done for a long time. One of last year's new recruits - Preston White - works for a company producing timber frame buildings. The off-cuts from this process are just the right size for our multi-fuel stove and several full bag have appeared in the wood store. Some very warm thanks to Preston from some warm hut dwellers.

Taigh nam Famh Bookings

Hut fees are L5.00 per night for non-members and L2.50 for GSG, Bradford and BEC members. Reduced to L3.00 and L2.00 for children, students, the unemployed and OAPs. Camping is at a reduced rate of L2.00 only when the hut is full. Day fees are L1.00 for members and L2.00 for non-members.

If you want to stay in the hut please contact the Hut Warden - Peter Dowswell as soon as possible to check if there will be space hutbookings #


The bottom four or five inches of the front door 'fell off' during a GUPA visit in March. We did know that it was deteriorating, but hadn't realized it was so bad. The new front door has been in the shed for the last year or two but needs some trimming, painting, and fitting of door furniture before we install it. So I quickly patched up the old door with some plywood and spare timber and resolved to fit the new one real soon now.

A second shower tray has been bought and stored at the hut ready for the left-hand shower. This too will be fitted sometime soon.

The hut now has a brand new vacuum cleaner and a stock of bags. It normally lives in the hole in the partition between the kitchen and seating area.

Another new purchase was a fan heater to replace the old one that was starting to melt its case and has been scrapped. Its replacement was installed in February and by our next visit in March it too had expired. At some time it appears to have fallen very hard onto the floor fracturing the case and leaving its guts loose. Enquiries have been made of those who stayed there in an attempt to find out if that particular model is fragile in which case we'll try to buy something more robust, or if it nothing would have survived its accident in which case I'll buy another of the same.

On a more positive note the fan heater section of the dehumidifier in the drying room appeared to be back to its normal behaviour on our last visit. Please keep monitoring it and if the drying room doesn't reach its usual tropical temperature let the Hut Warden know.

Would all members staying at the hut please report breakages and problems to the Hut Warden. Accidents do happen and we can accept them, but it is extremely irritating to arrive at the hut, find something needs attention, but not have the right tools or material to hand because nobody thought to tell us. So a pat on the back to GUPA for telling us about the front door, though perhaps not to the members who stayed there next weekend and didn't think to mention it!

Reciprocal Hut Rights with BPC

The GSG and Bradford Caving Club have agreed reciprocal rights for members staying at each others hut. So we get to stay in Brackenbottom, Horton-in-Ribblesdale at BPC members' rates and vice versa for them staying at Taigh nam Famh. For more details and a location map see the BPC website at

High Pasture Cave - 2006 excavations begin

We have started excavation of the stairwell again at the HPC site, having fitted a tarpaulin shelter over the top to keep it as dry as possible (see website update). We have now uncovered 6 steps and around 8-10 courses of stone work - the structure appearing to be quite sound at the moment, although some of the stonework looks a bit dodgy! On Friday (24th March) we made our first visual connection between the base of the excavation in the stairwell, which is currently around 1.4 metres deep and Bone Passage below. A large void between the boulder fill enabled me to see Martin's lamp in Bone Passage, some 1.2 to 1.4 metres below. Therefore, we estimate another 1.2 metres to the top/roof of Bone Passage; another metre or so down to the top of the archaeological deposits in Bone Passage; and around another 0.8 metres to 1.0 metres down to the natural bedrock floor of the cave - giving us around 3.0 metres of fill to remove before we hit the natural floor of the cave. The resulting entrance should be quite impressive when looking from the floor of the cave, with the corbelled walls of the stairwell and the steep flight of steps.

We have recovered a few more fragments of human bone and animal bone (pig) from the stairwell, along with a few sherds of pottery and other ecofacts. The human bone most likely belongs to the adult woman, the infant and foetus, indicating that when their remains were interred in the stairwell within the boulder fill there must have been significant voids, enabling the bones to trickle down when they became disarticulated.

Steve Birch

Visit the website to read about progress, see the pictures and read the specialist reports about the mammal and human remains, the pottery and other finds.

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