Grampian Speleological Group Newsletter
Number 128, September 2006

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Edinburgh Pub Change for GSG

The GSG has met for many years (since 1975 with only short breaks) in Young Street at what was the Zodiac which then became Peppers and lately the Cambridge Bar. For many years it was a quiet spot where we could gather and mull over the previous weekend's caves and plan the next in relative solitude. A steady succession of ownership changes failed to make it successful so we remained. The latest owner has now succeeded in making it more popular. This has been, for us, at the expense of large crowds and noisy football matches on the projection and LCD TV screens. Several members have abandoned the Tuesday evening meeting as a result.

Dedicated members have been tramping the surrounding streets searching for a better venue and, at last, we think we have found one. It is the Cumberland Bar in Cumberland Street:- (

It is about 500 yards north of St Andrew Square and slightly closer to Waverley Station than the Cambridge - though part of that is uphill. It has plenty of seating with some outside, and an enclosed beer garden. And it doesn't have a projection TV! There are some smaller TVs, but when we tested the facilities the volume was low and they weren't obtrusive.

The Cumberland has four resident ales - Deuchars IPA, Caley 80/, Landlord and the Caledonian Brewery beer of the month plus several guest beers. They also boast of a large range of wine and whisky - blends and single malts.

To allow this information to disseminate through the membership we'll make the change on the 26th of September, though some may well start on the 19th and we may organise an overlap or a week or two to redirect those members who never seem to read their GSG Newsletters!

Annual Dinner 2006

November the 4th is fast approaching and if you haven't yet booked your place at the 2006 GSG Annual Dinner now is the time to do it. There are still places available for the meal, but all bunks and beds at the Pwll Du Centre and the Rifleman's Arms are fully booked. Some members are planning to camp and I believe that camping is available at the Lamb and Fox next door to the Centre.

Some advice has been received from members:-

Malcolm Stewart suggests "Try searching for B&B or whatever in the Abergavenny, Gilwern or Llanfoist areas. These will need driving (10 mins from Riflemans) being the other side of the Blorenge, but are much more touristy than Blaenavon"

Malcolm McConville reports "B&B in Blaenavon (central) is available at Oakfield B&B, tel 01495 792829. One family room will sleep 2 or 3 at L25 per person per night, 20min walk or 2 minutes drive from the Riflemans."




The meets list might have looked bare recently, but Mark Lonnen has arranged several day trips to Yorkshire. The last was to the Chapel-le-Dale area when the main objectives of a Great Douk Cave through trip and an SRT descent of Sunset Hole were supplemented by every other entrance found in-between. Afterwards we studied Northern Caves and decided we been in P97a, Knacker Trapper Hole, P98a and High Douk Holes.

MCG Breakthrough in Upper Flood

The MCG dig at the end of Upper Flood Cave in Mendip was passed by MCG members Tim Francis and Julie Hesketh on 10th September into what is conservatively estimated as 300m of large passage ending at a tight rift. This is the largest discovery on Mendip for some time, but don't rush to visit. There are two problems. First the way there is through some extremely well decorated passage which the diggers have been taking great care to preserve and throngs of sightseers wouldn't be welcome at present. Second the way in has constricted sections so it is half an hour of crawls and ducks to the dig site - if you can reach it. On this last successful trip the third putative digger was busy enlarging squeezes and didn't manage to reach the breakthrough point. And a third point is that the breakthrough point is a very serious squeeze that Tim and Julie took some time to navigate.

When Tim and Julie squeezed through they found that the passage enlarged spectacularly to chamber-sized proportions with heights and widths up to and beyond 15m in places. The discoverers were too excited and had too little time to do more than quickly explore to the end and back so we'll have to wait for more visits to confirm the dimensions. The passage is reportedly very well decorated with lots of simple scrambling en route to the downstream end at a narrow jagged rift. There is a possible surface dig that would break into the cave bypassing the present well-decorated entrance series, and it is possible that this might be opened to protect the formations. A good account of past exploration can be found on the MCG web site:- I expect it'll be quickly updated. The news has already been published in MCG Newsletter 336, September 2006 NOTE:- Upper Flood is controlled access and Julie (who is a GSG member) is a Leader for it. So if you'd like a trip you can always try asking her.

To Staffa with Ladder

A slightly slimmed down team of Tony Boycott, Duncan Butler, John Crae, Lucas Goehring (a post graduate student from Canada interested in columnar basalt) and Bob Mehew met in Oban on Tuesday afternoon 8th August to wait for the ferry to Mull. (The two absent members were Tony Jarratt who was looking after his shop and Vern Freeman who was awaiting the arrival of his son who didn't appear until September!) After a meal on the ferry, a fast drive across Mull saw us camped at Fidden and thence back into Fionnphort to sup a few ales in the Keel Row pub and discuss plans.

The following morning revealed a rather rough sea beyond Iona and a worried skipper, concerned about not being able to land at Staffa. Having accepted the risk, along with some 20 other passengers, we set off into heavy seas. As we came up to the South Face of Staffa, the northerly winds reduced in its lea and the sea became much calmer so landing was no problem at all. A swift off-load from the boat and carry up the steps then saw us onto the more arduous carry across the island to the old camp site. By this time the curiosity of several of the passengers had increased to the point where they asked the inevitable question "Why do you need a ladder on Staffa?" Why indeed. It was part of a cunning plan hatched to avoid bolting up the wall of MacKinnon's Cave to get to the roof and the rear high level passage. But more of that later.

After setting up camp taking into account the strong wind which was blowing across the island; the party split up. John and Lucas walked up the east side of the island from above Clamshell Cave to see what other caves might be lurking in the cliffs. Tony and Bob went over to Gunna Mor to work out access beyond the cave. Later we all met up and visited Fingal's Cave, just as the last tourists were leaving. Although it was only two hours after low tide, the winds and swell had sufficient force to create a sea of white water within the cave. Retreating back to our tents we planned our assault along the shore line north of Gunna Mor for the following day.

Milche and Kirsty having arrived back from Iceland on Wednesday, arrived on Staffa on Thursday, just in time to join up with the second group making their way up the shore line. The first group comprising Duncan, John & Toby took a light-weight ladder to overcome the obstacle which had stalled us last year; a 3 metre high ledge jutting out over a small overhang. In fact it was easy enough to by-pass the overhang by swimming, but the ladder provided an easy alternative to those not in wet suits. Having overcome the overhang, the way proved open along almost all of the west coast as far as Gunshot Cave. Tony, Duncan and John carried out a sweep of the shore line and recorded 4 new caves in this stretch of coast or more correctly rock shelters, since they had hardly any depth. Lucas and Bob spent much of the time beyond Gunna Mor discussing the geology exposed in the cliff and concluded that it probably did expose the full depth of the Fingal's Cave flow, although of a shallower depth.

Thursday was concluded with Tony surveying one of the eastern side sea caves which was only accessible in a wet suit whilst Lucas and Bob started collecting data on striae exposed in the columnar basalt by Fingal's Cave. It is generally accepted that columns form by a stop and start mechanism which leaves a set of characteristic marks on the walls of the columns, rather than just peeling apart. Lucas's PhD is focused on deducing a relationship between the distance between these marks and their location with respect to the top or bottom of the flow.

On Friday Tony and Duncan planned to take the 5 metre long house ladder through the connecting rift between Cormorants Cave and MacKinnon's Cave if possible, or else float it round the outside and back into the mouth of MacKinnon's Cave. Luck was on our side and the ladder easily went through the rift. Having delivered the ladder, Tony and Duncan then went and entered Gunshot Cave and the smaller cave by its side. They also noted a couple of rock shelters along the way. Following a survey of both caves, it was decided to name this smaller cave as Pistol Shot cave. Lucas went with Tony and Duncan, but stopped at the cliff to the north of Gunna Mor to record some more striae data.

Meanwhile, John, Milche, Kirsty and Bob set up the ladder in MacKinnon's cave. After rigging safety ropes to the top plus a rope to help extend it, the ladder was first put up the wall just by a rock ledge. It quickly became apparent from the noise created by this action that the ledge was occupied by a juvenile shag so the ladder was relocated to leave the poor bird in peace. The ladder revealed the possible high level passage at the back of the cave was closing down. The ladder was then placed directly onto the rock underneath the ledge but the close inspection provided by this location of guano, feathers, water and slime on a 60 degree slope convinced everyone that climbing it was not a good idea. A further attempt with a larger extension enabled us to get 8.4 metre off the floor but still 6.5 metre short of the roof and tantalisingly short of being able to see the end of the high level passage. Whilst we are confident the passage does not penetrate through into Cormorants Cave, we can't say this definitively.

Whilst at the top of the ladder, photographs were taken to get an idea of the size and nature of the ridges which appear in the roof. One complication not planned for was the need for long exposure times, so a small tripod was literally pressed into service holding the camera on the wall and providing some stability while the photos were taken. Fortune smiled on us in that some of the images are reasonably clear and point to grooves in what was the surface of one of the ash layers being some centimetres in depth. The hypothesis is that the grooves were caused by either a pyroclastic flow of the subsequent ash fall which is now showing up in relief or perhaps a stream or other weathering phenomena grooving the old ash surface before the next fall of ash.

Saturday saw Milche and Kirsty leave for home on the morning boat whilst Bob, Lucas and Tony took the ladder across the mouth of Fingal's Cave for Lucas to record some more data on the left hand side of the cave. John remained on The Causeway to record the dimensions of column cross sections for Lucas. As Duncan was suffering from a stomach problem, he wisely decided to not support Tony who went off to survey Boat and Horses Caves. We had left safety lines across the mouth of Fingal's Cave which upset one skipper when he tried to take his boat into the cave. He was not at all pleased as it seems he had promised his customers to take them into the cave. I suppose it must have been galling for all of the day trippers to see the wonderful South Face 'blighted' by a house ladder propped up against the face with one person up the ladder and the other footing it, both in highly visible life jackets. This work did allow Lucas to complete a set of striae data for the whole length of the column.

A review on Saturday evening showed that all our objectives had been achieved. As Duncan was feeling better, he and Tony undertook the first complete coasteering tour of Staffa which they achieved in about 3 hours. Bob, John and Lucas spent Sunday recording more column cross section dimensions. John's work expertise showed up clearly. He managed to cover more columns than Bob and Lucas could working together. John reported on Sunday evening that he thought some bits of the left hand wall had fallen off since last year. The Baseline Report was checked to identify the bits in question. A revisit on Monday morning showed they were still there and that John's memory was playing up. It was pleasing to see that the report did enable one to quickly work out whether things had changed or not.

Having achieved our objectives we returned to Mull on Monday morning and managed to get the ferry back to Oban in the afternoon. Lucas and Bob went to visit more columnar basalt exposures on Skye whilst Tony, Duncan and John went home. All in all, a successful trip to complete the work to produce an authoritative Baseline Report on the Sea caves of Staffa. Now all that is needed is to do the writing up, sort out the photos and so on. Plans were discussed for producing a glossy booklet on Staffa sea caves for the club to sell but this will probably take until the end of 2007 to get together. When asked by our ferry skipper if we would be coming back next year, our cautious reply was probably not, we thought we had all the information we needed.

Bob Mehew

2006 Meets and Events

See the events page for details.

Please send your requests and suggestions for other meets to me. I can be contacted at home or at work

Fiona Ware - GSG Caving Secretary

Membership News

This month's new member is:- Miles Roberts - who has been a GUPA member for some time and is now living in Edinburgh.

New Members

Miles Roberts

New Addresses

Nathan Critchlow Russell Salisbury

New Email Addresses

Walter Fairnie, John Glover, Anne Robertson, Nigel Robertson

Posting Newsletters

The new size and weight bands for postage mean that the GSG saves L0.14 per Newsletter by folding them in half and posting in a smaller envelope. It is extra hassle for me, but will save over L12 per Newsletter. This won't apply to the Bulletin. Even if we managed to fold them cleanly in half, they'd be more than the maximum 5mm thickness allowed for a letter.

Elphin Caving Centre

Peter has announced a series of theme evenings for the next few months. The first is to be 'Bring Your Own Curry' and will be on Saturday 7th October to coincide with the 2nd Mendip Migration and the SCRO exercise. Come along, cook your favourite curry (or starter or desert), share it with others, and taste their creations. Do let Peter know in advance what you are planning so he can offer advice if there are too many Tikka Masalas, and can plan for someone to supplement it if there isn't the expected level of overcatering.

The hut's stock of fuel for the stove has increased yet again thanks to Preston White. A donation of off-cuts of timber from his work should keep the fire burning for quite some time. What is even better is that the vast majority of the wood arrives in pieces sized nicely to fit into the fire without any extra sawing or splitting.

And now that I've mentioned splitting - please note the damage already done to the concrete floor in front of the fire and don't add to it. If pieces of wood need to be split or sawn please do it outside the hut.!!!

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.

Hut Maintenance

Ivan replaced the left hand shower tray, tiled round it and replaced some of the tiles on the wall that were coming unstuck. Peter D finished the job with some sealant and the shower is now back in operation. During this time the extractor fan was found to have failed and a new one was installed.

The hut is coming up for the 12th anniversary of its opening and several areas could do with more than a fresh lick of paint. Peter is arranging a couple of hut maintenance weekends. The first is on the 23/24th September and if you want to help keep your hut the best in the country, volunteer now and let Peter know you'll be there. Note that one night's hut fees are cancelled for each day you spend working on the hut. Peter also promises free chilli con carni for volunteers on Saturday evening.

Most of the work planned involves applying paint to walls, ceilings, window frames, and floors. Also planned is clearing out accumulated rubbish, starting work on an extension to the shed, and some gardening. If you can think of other things that you'd like to see done and want to volunteer, contact Peter, let him know your plans and then come along and do it.

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