Grampian Speleological Group Newsletter
Number 127, July 2006

Newsletter @ g-s-g.demon.co.uk


Annual Dinner 2006

After intensive research Graham (Jake) Johnson has found what sounds to be an ideal venue for this year's GSG Annual Dinner in South Wales. This will be held on Saturday 4th November in the Rifleman's Arms, Blaenavon. They have a large function room where we eat and drink with a screen for showing videos and DVDs. There is a late licence till 2am with a good selection of beers.

We apologise now for breaking the normal tradition of holding it on the last day of British Summer Time chosen to give an extra hour to recover on the Sunday morning. The change was so we could book the nearby Pwll Du Centre for that weekend. Some rooms are available in the Rifleman's Arms at £60.00 for a double, £30.00 for a single, £80.00 for a family and £90.00 for the bridal suite! Phone Jackie and Gary Griffiths direct at 01495 792297 if you want to book one.

The Pwll Du centre has been extensively renovated since we used it for the 2000 dinner. The bunks are now split between six smaller rooms sleeping between 1 and 6 in each for a total of 21 (it was 28 last time). Cost will be £11.00 for the Friday plus Saturday nights and the first 21 to pay their £11.00 will be allocated bunks. Smokers will have to light up outside the Centre and you need to bring sleeping bags and pillowcases. Jake has paced it out at 1.7 miles from the Rifleman's, so it is within staggering distance after the dinner provided you are good at staggering uphill: there is a 100m hill between the two.

The Centre is ideally sited with the entrance to Ogof Draenen's 70+km of passage to one side and the Lamb and Fox on the other - camping is said to be available there.

Other accommodation is available in the area though the Internet is surprisingly quiet about anything in or near Blaenavon (or Blaenafon as insisted upon by some sites). If members can recommend any B&Bs or other places to stay in the area please let Ivan know and he'll pass the information on.

Fiona Ware, GSG Caving Secretary, will be arranging caving trips and any offers of assistance in gaining access or guiding parties will be most welcome and should be made to her. Ogof Draenen must be on the agenda and other major Welsh caves are within easy commuting distance. If you would like to see a particular cave or caves on the list for the weekend please do let Fiona know.

Wales is a long drive from Scotland, and several members have already booked their flights and hire car to minimise travelling time and maximise time in the caves and inns of South Wales. If you are able to offer lifts or are in need of one send a message to Ivan and he'll distribute them around the membership by email.

Numbers are limited in the Pwll Du Centre. To maximize your chance of a bunk fill the dinner booking form in and sent it to Ivan with your cheque NOW


Caving

ASSYNT

APPIN

J'Rat's Howff - and other surface work at Rana

Over the course of the Mendip Invasion Tony Jarratt started to build a shelter by the tip at Rana Hole. Here are his thoughts on what to do next:-

The drystone midge and weather shelter is almost complete. The spoil heap should be banked around all of the walls for both camouflage and support (the stones not being well keyed in due to a lack of long ones). Another foot of height will be sufficient for sitting in (Peter Ireson excepted!) and a roof of scaffold bars, grids and other assorted junk on site built across and old tarpaulins and plastic sheets draped over - also available on site. The whole lot should be turfed over and discretely fenced to avoid being walked upon (I wonder if the deer will obey? - Ed.). A lintel and low doorway need sorting out, but keep it stooping size to keep out deer. The brass doorknob is in the tool chest.

I also suggest that the sides of the shakehole are cleared of as much peat as possible to try and reveal the extent of the rock walls of the shaft for possible complete excavation at a future date. Another stone shelter could then be built in the back of the shakehole with the next load of rock to come out. All the peat should be dumped on the spoil heap to aid with camouflage.

J.Rat

Tony's comments raise several issues concerning what we do with the surrounds of Rana Hole while digging continues, and what we do after the breakthrough has been achieved. What we do should be agreed with the estate and with SNH. At present Peter MacGregor, the keeper, and Alex Scott for SNH are content - I believe. Alex even sees the tip as providing more habitat variety and niches for some of the rarer plants. Once digging finishes we will remove all digging gear and probably build some form of gate over the entrance which if the estate require could be locked. Landscaping the tip is something that we'll discuss with Peter and Alex. The future of the shelter would be decided then as well.

Just one final point - if the shelter qualifies as an enclosed public space will we need to erect No Smoking notices in it?

Ivan

YORKSHIRE

Visits to Ireby Fell Caverns and the Long Churn Caves were well attended in April. After navigating our way through a people ruckle in Lower Long Churn, new member Rachael Huggins was introduced to her first ladder on the Dollytubs pitch. Other trips included a Hurnel Moss descent by Peter Ireson and Mark Lonnan in July.

Equipment Colour Codes

The GSG web site now includes a list where members can add the colour code they use to identify their gear. Log on to check what codes are already in use and then add your own. Remember that red-green is exactly the same as green-red, so please don't duplicate existing codes. Since there are not many listed yet, I suggest anyone about to invent their own code waits a month for other members to register their existing codes.


Access

WEST LOTHIAN

Park Farm Tunnels - In early 2005 the Scottish media - newspapers and television - reported the discovery of ancient tunnels below a soon to be opened Bistro at Park Farm near Linlithgow. Reported to be 1m wide and 1.5m high and possibly over a mile long, this arched tunnel was said to be monastic in origin. Months passed and early this year I was at the Bistro for lunch. I enquired about the tunnels and was told by the farmer that they still hadn't been fully explored. Offering our services we arranged to visit one Saturday morning in April. Roger Galloway, Alan (Goon) Jeffreys, Jim Salvona and Ivan entered the tunnel through a new manhole in the car park while John Crae suffering from some minor ailment provided comments from above.

Downstream we found the arched tunnel smaller than described at about 1m high. After a total of 75m it was blocked and the water continued on into a glazed 45cm diameter pipe. Upstream the tunnel was rectangular, 60cm wide and 90cm high. After a bend it slowly descended and the water level rose. Goon (the only one of us in a wetsuit) stopped when the airspace dropped to less than a foot and could be seen to continue reducing. This point was directly under the Union Canal. We could hear running water in the distance so with a spot of baling in dry weather it would be possible to continue onwards and under the field beyond the canal.

The tunnel was surveyed and its probable outflow 400m away visited. It doesn't appear to be much more than a field drain probably realigned in about 1820 when the Union Canal was built. While it is possible it might have a more interesting past, tales of monastic escape tunnels stretching to nearby villages and manor house are likely to remain just that.

Alva

The silver mines at Silver Glen, Alva have not had more than sketch surveys published of them. Alan Jeffreys decide that producing grade 5 surveys would be a worthwhile task for the GSG. Wanting to do things properly, there followed protracted negotiations with the Woodland Trust who are responsible for that area. Eventually, with permission gained, five of us turned up in late April. Of the ten entrances listed in Mines and Minerals of the Ochils (Clackmannanshire Field Studies Society 1974) only two are open, seven are walled up or gated and the tenth has either collapsed or been filled in. We did manage to squeeze into two of the gated entrances, surveyed all the passage we could reach and GPS'd all the entrances. This immediately showed the location map in the book to be inaccurate with one entrance misplaced by 50m. A full report and survey will appear in the GSG Bulletin.

SKYE

During a family holiday on Skye Simon Brooks joined David Morrison and Richard Simpson on a trip to the sump at the end of Meekons Cave (NG 66650 19440). A comfortable 15m dive passed sump 1 and reached sump 2 after another 16m. A second dive passed this after 5m to another 5m of passage leading into sump 3. Lack of air then required a return after a quick look at the first two meters of this. sump. This dive has doubled the length of the cave, the way on is open and a return later this year is planned.

The sump in the nearby Strawberry Cave (NG 66260 20018) was next. This found six metres of underwater passage with little chance of finding more.

A couple of days later Simon's fellow Orpheus members then invited him into the sump in Uamh an T-Sill (Cave of the Seeds, NG 602197). It appeared inviting but was a flooded 5.5m deep rift pot with another 1m of narrowing passage at the bottom heading north with not much chance of further extension.

David then persuaded Simon with replenished tanks to visit Uamh an Righ (Cave of the Kings, NG 85446, 43755) in Kishorn. The downstream sump in Khufu Chamber was forced into steadily diminishing passage over deep sediments for 8m when one of Simon's demand valves started to object to the load of mud in its first stage. The upstream sump in Khafre Chamber was even more constricted and required digging to enter. Simon penetrated feet first on a single cylinder for about 3m to where it appeared to be getting larger. He thinks that this sump is the more promising of the two, but the mud banks at the start need to be dug away to open it up before another dive.

Assistance Required in Applecross and Kishorn

David Morrison has been in Applecross recently checking sites - some of which appear to be well decorated caves and is looking for photographs for a forthcoming publication on the area. If you have any please contact him. He is also looking for people to visit and help with further photos and other field work.

Richard Simpson reports the entrance to Midge Cave (Caves of Skye p 66) has collapsed completely blocking access to this 5m long cave.

A 3.7m deep pot was found near Valley Head Cave but it goes nowhere. A new cave has been dug into just above CG 35 (Caves of Skye p46). It is about 5-6m long and needs more digging as it seems to continue. False Willow Cave has been surveyed and gives 28m of passage. Some hammering might give a little more.

EAST LOTHIAN

SRT Loanhead - To allow new members to start learning SRT and older members to derust their techniques eight members visited the disused railway bridge at Loanhead in June. On a fine sunny evening we hung several ropes from and through the girders and abseiled and ascended to the blaring music and shrieking coming from the nearby fairground. This is a good site with drops ranging from 10 to 40m with plenty of opportunities for rebelays and deviations.


CANADA

Four members returned to the west of Canada this spring. After a 27 hour trip from Glasgow to Tahsis they finally arrived at Canadian host Martin's house at 2am.

The first few days were spent investigating leads in the Weymer system. No major breakthroughs but quite a few missing pieces were added to the overall survey of the system, connecting known passages together. During this time Dan managed a couple of dives in the inlet.

Next was a boat trip to Nootka Island to stay in a fine surf shack on a nearby uninhabited island. Some serious off-roading was needed to reach a different part of Nootka island. An entrance that had been spotted previously was explored, but it turned out to be a single cavern rather than going passage. A search for more entrances failed due to heavy undergrowth and logging debris.

They returned to Martin's for a day and after a look at Cape Scot Provincial Park headed south to Hornby Island to visit Dale Chase. A few known cave entrances were collected en route. During the few days they spent with Dale activities included more diving by Dan, log splitting by Pete I and concrete plinth construction by Dale, Dan, Pete D and Martin.

The trip finished with tourist activities in Vancouver visiting the local gear shop, museums and the 'interesting' night life of China Town. They claim not to have stayed long! Perhaps the Bulletin article will be more informative on why. And a final note - this year's record daily bear count was 12.

Present:- Peter Dowswell, Pete Ireson, Dan Harries, Martin Hayes.


High Pasture Cave - Iron Age Entrance Reopened

On 5th April 2006 the remaining deposits in the stairwell were excavated and the archaeologists entered the cave this way for the first time in over 2000 years. The stairwell is in remarkably good condition with one wall showing evidence of rebuilding after a collapse. The stairs are steep and you need to duck down to enter Bone Passage. All the deposits were sieved and pottery; animal bones; antler, bone and stone tools; a fragment of a vitrified stone crucible with adhering copper/bronze deposits and a decorated stone palette were amongst the finds.

and back to the Bronze Age

Excavations in Bone Passage have revealed many small finds especially at the foot of the stairwell. Steve Birch is appreciating both the easy access of the old entrance and the lighting installed last year. They can actually see what they are doing! To quote the 2nd July 2006 report on the website:-

"Artefacts associated with this layer included pebble tools, a fine bone point, pottery sherds, glass beads, a stone palette, perforated antler plates and a large granite saddle quern. Virtually all of these items had been deposited at the transitional point where the man-made stairwell meets the natural cave, indicating that this was a very special place within the High Pasture's site. The wet-sieving residues also produced charred cereal grains (mainly barley) and burnt hazelnut shell."
"Two rows of stone, some of which are small paving slabs, are aligned down the length of the trench (and passage) around 0.7 metres apart and appear to correspond with the highest section of the passage roof. Therefore, the rows of stone may have provided a form of kerbed walk-way through the passage, allowing the maximum amount of headroom for people accessing the cave."

Steve tells me that the layer now being excavated differs in composition from those above and seems to run beneath the lowest step of the stairwell. He hypothesises that this predates the stairs and could be of Bronze Age when people could walk into the cave. The stairway is essentially built up through habitation deposits - or, less delicately, a rubbish tip. Originally the surface stream would have flowed down a comparatively short incline into the cave. I imagine the ground was built up around the cave entrance to stop the stream from invading prehistoric man's sacred place.

Ivan Young

Visit the website www.high-pasture-cave.org to read about progress, see the pictures and read the specialist reports about the mammal and human remains, the pottery and other finds.


Staffa - An opportunity for a day trip

As part of the negotiations with the National Trust for Scotland over the GSG expedition to Staffa during 8 to 14 August, I have obtained permission to organise a day trip for GSG members to visit the island of Staffa and see its caves. The trip will be subject to getting agreement with a trip boat skipper and, of course, the weather. These dates are chosen because the Spring Tides coincide with the very low in height Low Tide being around lunch time. The outline plan would be for people to take the morning boat out leaving Fionnphort about 10am. You arrive on Staffa at 11am and have until 3pm to do what you like. The boat gets you back at about 4pm. Access will be available for Fingal's, Clamshell, Cormorants, MacKinnon's and Goat caves plus Gunna Mor with minimal gear (a light plus spare clothing in case of a soaking / wading into MacKinnon's). The other caves require coastering with wetsuit and buoyancy aid.

Getting to Staffa is simplest via the CalMac Oban Craignure ferry. There is a 10.30pm service on Friday night or 7.30am on Saturday morning. (calmac summer timetables). There are camp sites in Craignure or half a mile south of Fionnphort. There is a bus service operated by Bowmans from Craignure to Fionnphort. A bus runs on Saturday morning from Craignure at 8.25am which claims to link with the 7.30am ferry from Oban arriving at 8.16am and gets you to Fionnphort for 9.35am. Unfortunately the Saturday evening bus goes before the boat gets back into Fionnphort, but if you travel by car, the last Saturday ferry from Craignure is at 7pm. There is a Sunday bus leaving Fionnphort at 9.20am which connects with the ferry and gets you into Oban for 11.46am. (Fionnphort does have a pub.)

Alternatively, there are two ferries on Saturday morning at 7am and 7.45am from Lochaline to Fishnish which would enable you to drive to Fionnphort in time to get the boat. There is also a 7pm ferry back from Fishnish on Saturday. This route is cheaper than via Oban but also requires you to make the Corran ferry before 9pm on Friday or face a long drive around Loch Eil.

If any one is interested, then please get in touch with me either by phone or Email. I am on holiday from 7th to 24 July, so please contact me on my mobile

Bob Mehew


Strath Kanaird Pot

This pot was found while attempting to rescue a dog in 1998 (GSG Bull October 1998 pp 22-23). Goon wanted to relocate it for the new Caves of Assynt so after guiding a group of Ullapool High School pupils in the morning we took ourselves to Strathcanaird in the afternoon. To our surprise we found what we assume was it at NC 16407 01000. We'd been so lacking in confidence that we hadn't taken any caving gear so didn't descend it. Another shakehole at NC 16472 01035 had a meter or two of passage at the bottom and a third at NC 16028 00625 had two linked holes that would give a 2m through trip for a ferret. The first two are part of a 300+m line of shakeholes ending near a slope down to a marshy area without any obvious resurgence.


2006 Meets and Events

See the events page for details.

Please send your requests and suggestions for other meets to me.

Fiona Ware - GSG Caving Secretary


Membership News

Two keen new members to report this time:- Rachael Huggins - has just completed the first year of her neuroscience course at Edinburgh. She was a complete novice but after trips to Yorkshire, Assynt and Bowden Hill Mine she is learning fast. She also keeps ferrets. Now is that an opportunity for strapping a camera onto one and exploring many of the too tight passages we have in Scotland? Irina Erchova - is our latest recruit and is Russian /Italian with two years membership in the Gruppo Speleologico Triestino.

New Members

Irina Erchova, Rachael Huggins.

New Addresses

Iain Greig, Alison Jones, Alys Mendus, Suzanne Peggie, Paul Sowan, Mark Tringham.

Other Changes

Tony Jarratt email, Ian Midgley mobile, David Morrison email.

Elphin Caving Centre

The Midsummer BBQ had almost ideal weather this year. There were a couple of light showers early in the day, but the weather cleared and there was just enough breeze to keep the midges away both at Rana and at the hut. Nineteen members and two canines attended with the latter disgracing themselves by overfeeding and regurgitating in the middle of the assembly. Peter Dowswell again catered more than adequately and those members staying on to guide Ullapool High School pupils around Cnockers had plenty to eat on Sunday and Monday.

Hut fees are £5.00 per night for non-members and £2.50 for GSG, Bradford and BEC members. Reduced to £3.00 and £2.00 for children, students, the unemployed and OAPs. Camping is at a reduced rate of £2.00 only when the hut is full. Day fees are £1.00 for members and £2.00 for non-members.

If you want to stay in the hut at any time please contact the Hut Warden - Peter Dowswell to check if there will be space. There will usually be a few bunks spare if large groups are staying. Even if all bunks are occupied the bed-settees by the fire are recommended and spare mattresses in the front bunk room can be used in the conservatory.


GSG Meets Photographs

The GSG photo archive on the web server continues to grow. Most of the photos in this Newsletter can be found on it in full colour and many many more besides. Latest count is 1082 items in 42 folders.


Guilty until proved innocent

TV Licensing must be blitzing caving club huts. Soon after hearing of the Bradford receiving an accusatory letter, Taigh nam Famh was blessed with receiving a similarly threatening epistle. This red bordered missive demanded a reply "to avoid your details being passed on to our Enforcement Division for investigation". This appeared to be at our own expense as only a 0870 number was given.

TV Licensing have no more right to demand replies from non-customers than any other body so why should we have to reply at our own expense to tell them we don't have a TV? However a swift look at the excellent website SayNoTo0870 found an equivalent Freephone number 08003282020 so I rang them up to tell them that we were not a customer and had no intention of becoming one. The lad at the other end told me that he'd note that down but that it would only quieten them for a few months and they'd still want to inspect our premises.

Since then another slightly politer letter has arrived at the hut questioning our honesty and repeating their request for inspection. I intend to ignore this and all subsequent letters. If they want to inspect I will willingly go there to allow them access provided they pay my transport and hourly charges in advance. About £500 should do it.

If they do arrive when you are in the hut remember that they have no right of access. They cannot demand entry without a search warrant and they can only get one of those if they show sufficient cause. What should you do if they arrive when you are there? Tell them that they are welcome to use the hut provided they pay the day fee of £2 per person - in advance, in hard cash. If they insist on access try quoting the case of Guest v Laidlaw before you lock them out. This is a case where their insistence on trying to gain access without any evidence cost them a High Court case and many thousands in damages and costs to the affronted party!


Assynt News


Midge Warning!

A recent report in The Scotsman highlighted an unfortunate and unanticipated consequence of the Scottish anti-smoking legislation. Now that the atmosphere in pubs is so much clearer, midges are invading the bars! One hotel in Portree is about to buy a midge machine to attract and kill the bloodthirsty insects and several other hotels and bars have reported good results from their investment in similar machines. We did look at buying one for the hut, but it appears that to be effective they need to be used almost continuously and would have minimal effect around our BBQ area if only switched on the previous evening.


Midge Forecast

A new website midgeforecast is designed to give users a daily forecast on how badly you'll get bitten in various parts of Scotland. By selecting an area on the interactive map the midge menace at several locations in that region is graded from 1 (low) to 4 (high) to 5 (nuisance level). You can also choose one of the locations for a five day forecast. When I checked just now Ullapool was 4, 3, 3, 4, 4 over the next five days. You can also get a daily forecast by texting MIDGE to 84070.


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