Grampian Speleological Group Newsletter
Number 132, October 2007

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


Potholing on Mars! - the Seven Sisters

The NASA Odyssey spacecraft currently orbiting Mars has found evidence of caverns on the red planet. It has photographed what appear to be circular openings in the Martian surface on the northern slopes of the volcano Arsia Mons at 121 west longitude 9 south latitude. The thermal imager on Odyssey found that these spots are cooler than the surrounding surface in the day and warmer during the night. This is what would be expected if they were deep holes or openings into underground caverns. Comparable cavities on earth include Mexico's El Sotano a 410m deep pit with a 450 x 200m entrance.

"The features have been given informal names to aid comparative discussion. They range in diameter from about 100 meters (328 feet) to about 225 meters (738 feet). The candidate cave skylights are (A) "Dena," (B) "Chloe," (C) "Wendy," (D) "Annie," (E) "Abby" (left) and "Nikki," and (F) "Jeanne." Arrows signify north and the direction of illumination" (image and words from NASA press release, courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA reports that some of the holes "are in line with strings of bowl-shaped pits where surface material has apparently collapsed to fill the gap created by a linear fault". Would we call them shakeholes? Despite any similarities to limestone shafts on Earth, these holes must be formed in bedded lava flows. The initial report hypothesises that underground stresses caused by volcanism led to linear faults and sub-surface cavities. Another explanation might involve lava tubes. There has been discussion for many years on how the lower Marian gravity (0.4 Earth gravity) would affect cavern formation with the predicted maximum passage sizes being much larger than anything possible here.

The only way to gather the data necessary to determine the origin of the Seven Sisters is to mount an expedition. This needs to be a caving expedition so with GSG members collectively possessing all the necessary skills we are the ideal group. We'll be contacting Wallace and Gromit to borrow their spacecraft (single owner, low mileage (500,000)see "A Grand Day Out").

Applicants should be skilled in SRT, surveying and holding their breath for lengthy periods.


Smugglers' Cave to be Re-opened

In September 2006 GSG member Norman Murphy sent us an article from East Lothian Life describing the search for a long lost smugglers' cave on the shore at Aberlady. The best account of it is in a letter written in 1940 by a Thomas Murray who visited it in the 1890's not long before it was filled in. It appears to have been a souterrain rather than a cave as most of the walls were of masonry. It was 50 yards long with at least nine recesses of varying lengths on either side. Recently a low section of mortared stonework projecting onto the beach has been identified as the likely entrance. The article mentioned that the Aberlady Conservation Society planned to reopen the cave as part of a larger scheme of archaeological investigation of the area, so we waited for developments. Meanwhile Jim Salvona took a walk along the shore, but somehow resisted the temptation to start excavating.

In September Alison Fuller-Shapcott joined a tour of Aberlady including a visit to the site of the cave. This was given by Ian Malcolm, secretary of the ACS. He talked about the problems involved in opening the entrance and Alison offered the GSG's assistance. The following weekend Peter Ireson and Ivan joined Alison and son Alexander to visit the entrance with Ian and another ACS member. Photographs were taken and it proved possible to poke a handy nearby branch about two metres into a hole beside the wall. It does look as though excavation will be easy, but the 2m cube of concrete tank trap peeking out of the bank above the probable entrance does give some concerns about the state of that section of cave.

ACS are submitting a grant application that includes ground penetrating radar over the area above the cave to determine its depth and dimensions, and excavation of the entrance area to give a first look at its construction and stability. That application doesn't include any work in the cave as just how much is possible won't be known until completion of the other work. As a result of our discussions with Ian the GSG has volunteered to explore and survey the passage assuming that it is safe to do so.


Caving

ASSYNT

Rana Hole - Since the July Newsletter progress measured in number of kibbles of spoil lifted to the surface has been negative. In August Chris Warwick and his daughter Shona, Preston White and Ivan spent a day completely demolishing the collapsed dam between Hole 1 and Hole 2 and rebuilding it to a much improved design. This has two walls of sandbags held in place by posts driven into the floor with wire grids inside them. The gap between the sandbag walls is then filled with compacted spoil and provides the real barrier again water penetration. At the bottom we built in a length of flexible 4" diameter plastic corrugated ducting to act as a drain. Lengths of cord tied through the grids and round the posts on either side of the dam hold it together. This made a good solid construction and by baling from one side to the other we did manage to get Hole 1 dry. On the Sunday we all returned and built the dam higher using more sandbags and fill sent down from the surface.

The sequence of operations when starting to dig is to bail Hole 1 into Hole 2. All this bailed water runs away down the passage towards Belh Aven. Bailing Hole 2 back into Hole 1 then gives a 'dry' dig site with enough storage volume unused behind the dam to cope with the inflow down the pot.

This method worked but suffered from a couple of problems. The bottom half metre of dam had to be built underwater so the sealing wasn't as good as it might have been, and it tapered at the end with the pipe so the width of fill there was much reduced. This led to a steadily worsening leak around the pipe probably exacerbated by bending it up and down to start and stop the flow through it. The result of this was that the next weekend at the end of August found us spending more time bailing than digging. Julian Walford successfully placed a lined Jewsons bag (the 1 ton variety used to deliver sand or gravel) on the lower platform and used for additional water storage. We then decided the main dam needed serious remedial work and started dismantling it to make a smaller dam at the outflow end of Hole 2.

The next visit in mid-September saw Julian, John Crae, Ivan and Norman Flux arrive on a Friday morning with more wooden posts, 4" and 32mm pipe and some 'stocks'. We started by bailing out Hole 1 then moved all the bags and some of the fill to finish the small dam at the end of Hole 2. Quite a few minutes of intensive effort saw all the water from Holes 1 and 2 bailed beyond this dam to give a dry foundation for us to completely rebuild the main dam. This was made wider. As well as a 4" pipe to act as a drain we included a 32mm water pipe with a valve on the downstream end. These were held captive in 'stocks' to stop them moving about under load and possibly leading to leakage. Another improvement was a builder's prop across the downstream side of the dam and near the top. This reinforces the dam's edge and the confidence of diggers burrowing into the passage with several tons of dam and water looming over them.

The following day and joined by Peter Reynolds we continued dam building. Unfortunately Rana was the wettest it had been all summer and the dam was almost overflowing before digging could start. We'd exhausted supplies of fill at the bottom the previous day so had to resort to sending down more sandbags and fill from the surface. This raised the dam by another foot.

On Sunday, Roger Galloway, Annie Audsley and Jamie (Boab) Yuill joined us for a very crowded session at the bottom. It was an early start with the first squad away by 9am! Hole 1 was bailed dry and dug to increase the dam's capacity. Then after Hole 2 was bailed back into Hole 1, digging started in earnest. Four large sandbags were filled and left on the downstream side of the dam. This leaves the volume of water in Hole 2 unchanged. We also filled more sandbags and raised the top of the dam by another layer. By now the flow down Rana was about to overflow the dam so we finished for the weekend, opened up the drain and left.

The last visit was just before the rescue exercise in early October. Four of us - Julian and Carol Walford, Annie and Ivan - arrived a day early and spent Friday digging. And this time it really was digging. It had been a dry week and only the lower risings were flowing as we walked up the Allt nan Uamh valley. Rana was so much drier that after the usual bailing sequence I estimate it would have taken perhaps 12 to 18 hours for the water to overtop the dam. With only four of us it wasn't possible to haul spoil to the surface so we redistributed it three ways:-

  1. We filled more sandbags and built up the dam
  2. Several more large sandbags were filled and left below the dam in Hole 2.
  3. A one ton Jewson bag was sat on top of the dam and filled. When hauling starts next time this can be easily transferred into kibbles and extracted.

We started by lowering the floor about a metre from the bottom of the dam: we didn't want to undermine it! From there we dug horizontally, deepening the passage into the soft fill and making it about one metre high. In cross-section it is about 0.6m wide between solid rock walls with a narrow rift in the roof. It is full of sediment up to the level of the rift. The water usually runs away on top of this fill. Digging proved to be very easy. There were a few small boulders in the first metre, but from then on it was sand, gravel and silt all the way. Just place a bucket at the bottom of the dig face, stick a spade in and the bucket is full (over full according to some) within seconds.

When we ran out of places to store spoil we tried our plan of losing water by piping it ahead of us along the passage. We attached a hose to the 32mm pipe running through the base of the dam. This had another length of 32mm MDPE pipe at its far end. We poked it ahead of us in the rift above the dig face and turned the valve on. For a while we thought we'd succeeded as the water started flowing and could be heard falling into a pool. However, after a couple of minutes, water started flowing back into the dig. There must be a hollow in the top of the sediments just ahead of us and the overflow level down into Belh Aven is set by a hump further along the passage. We need to dig a bit further or use a longer pipe to reach the point where our scheme will work. Once we do we should be able to work even with much higher flow rates at the bottom of Rana.

We left well pleased, but intensely frustrated that we wouldn't be able to get a team in that weekend to make what we felt sure would have been rapid progress. Saturday was fully occupied with the rescue exercise, and the SCRO AGM on Sunday morning reduced what is normally a short digging day into one where there wasn't enough time before everyone started driving south. Provided we can collect a full team and choose a dry weekend we are now poised to make major progress.

Ivan

New Discovery in Traligill

While on the rescue exercise on 6th October Malcolm McConville discovered two possible cave entrances on the North side of the Traligill valley, to which Malcolm, Ross Davidson, Derek Pettiglio, Mark Lonnen, Bob Sommerville and Carol Dickson returned on Sunday. The first entrance was choked with several boulders, which were removed, leaving a rather constricted entrance of debatable stability. Gingerly passing this a steep, greasy downward slope was found which descended about 9 feet, at the foot of which a tight tube led off to the left. After removing a few rocks this was entered to a distance of a couple of body lengths before becoming tighter still. ( NGR:- NC 27029 21245)

A second cave entered, further uphill, seems on subsequent reading to be a rediscovery of Pol Eighe, albeit at slightly different co-ordinates to those in Caves of Assynt. It was felt by the group that it was highly likely that the new find received its water from Pol Eighe, and that a revisit with some dye would be worthwhile. (NGR:- NC 27016 21289)

A third entrance was located, where a hand-to-wellie connection was made through an eyehole at the base of the entrance. A steady flow of water disappeared down a second eyehole, currently too small to enter but again worthy of dye testing for connection to the other two. (NGR:- NC 27014 21403)

Ross Davidson


SKYE

Over the last few weekends David Morrison and I have managed to extend Vampire Pot. First we found a short passage at the previous end of the cave leading to more water-worn passage and a chamber with a low rift passage leading on. We also widened and hammered our way upstream of the extension to another chamber. We then dye tested Vampire Cave and a connection was made between the two caves. Some hammer work has seen more metres gained as the passage heads steeply up towards Vampire Cave.

A hole was found downhill of these caves at approximately 583 211. This was dug into and about 5m was found with a chamber large enough to stand in. It has large hanging blocks on one side and in keeping with the theme of the area it was named Van Helsing's Hole.

Richard Simpson

YORKSHIRE

Recent Yorkshire trips have included Diccan Pot, Sell Gill Holes, and Ireby Fell Cavern via the new Bubbles Route. Latest reports tell of a short ladder installed in the sloping concrete entrance pipe of Ireby. At long last! Many cavers have found climbing out through the pipe to be the crux of the trip.


High Pasture Cave - 2007 Report

Excavations have finished at High Pasture Cave for 2007. We have had a very successful year, both with the archaeology and in the number of visitors to the site. In August, we sometimes had up to 80 people per day turning up, due in part to our new site leaflet, adverts put out by 'Highland 2007' and an article in the Scotsman Magazine. We also had several primary schools visiting the site, who were generally well behaved, although it would have been quite easy to have put some in the cavers' entrance and padlocked the entrance cover!

The excavations in the cave have proceeded well and by the end of next year we will have removed the remaining archaeological deposits. Beyond the narrowing in Bone Passage, the archaeological deposits changed considerably when compared to those at the base of the stairwell/entrance. The deposits here comprise medium to large boulder clasts (limestone and granite), washed gravels and cobbles, and a gritty matrix. Beyond the narrowing in the passage we have only recovered one small find - a bone point or awl - a few fragments of splintered animal bone, burnt bone fragments and fire-cracked stones. It appears that the initial chamber at the base of the stairwell was where the main deposition of materials was taking place, while further into the cave we find the deposition of butchered animal carcasses - up to now two cows, with a possible third cow embedded in the calcite grotto at the far end of Bone Passage. However, although finds have been few and far between from Bone Passage this year, we did recover a socketed iron axe. This is a very rare find, one of only around 16 recovered from the British Isles. The axe appears to be in the same form as the earlier socketed axes cast in copper-alloy, although being manufactured from iron we are witnessing a real technological advance. The axe is now at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh for x-ray analysis and conservation measures.

Surface excavations have revealed some interesting finds. In Trench 14, initially established to examine one of the post-medieval shielings, we have continued down into deep deposits comprising burnt stones and re-deposited silts. We uncovered part of a large hearth setting and a deep pit feature. Small finds here have been few - a few pieces of worked flint, a roughed out shale bangle, and a spiky-looking iron concretion, also in conservation. We plan to open a larger area here next year.

The most interesting and testing archaeology of the year has been in Trench 15, investigating the deep archaeological deposits immediately outside the stairwell/cave entrance. The trench has uncovered a complex of walls, small ephemeral structures and deposits of ash and charcoal. Two of the walls arc around, the excavated 'cavers entrance' to High Pasture Cave, and it is possible that these revetment walls represent some form of water management system - to inhibit the flow of water into Bone Passage and the area outside the stairwell during flash-flooding episodes.

Excavations finished in this trench for the year when we uncovered a well-built wall, of quite large proportions, that most likely enclosed the area outside the stairwell/cave entrance where activities were taking place during prehistory. We have only uncovered between two and three courses of the wall due to the threat of collapse! Subsidence has occurred somewhere below the wall in the backfill of stone and ash/midden layers, resulted in the wall tilting at an alarming angle. Therefore, we have left the clay capping over the wall and some of the supporting material to the front of this feature, so that it hopefully survives the winter. We can then address the excavation of this feature next year.

On the stairwell side of the wall face, we excavated a complex sequence of midden and ash layers rich in charcoal, burnt hazelnut shells and burnt grain. We recovered several pebble tools from these deposits, quite a few sherds of Iron Age pottery, fragments of broken crucible (complete with molten copper-alloy deposits), and a very unusual green cylindrical glass bead. We await Fraser Hunter's word on this one at the National Museums of Scotland. At first glance he thought it may be Roman! It may also be La Tene, from Northern Europe.

We now await the outcome of our funding bid to Historic Scotland for the 2008/09 fieldwork season and what should be a very busy year on site. Hopefully, we will be successful in attracting funding for another two years, by which time we will have spent enough time attempting to unravel the function of the High Pasture Cave site and how it fits into the wider prehistoric landscapes of Skye. It will then be time to complete the post-excavation analysis and bring together our data for publication sometime around 2012.

Steven Birch


A Spanish Holiday

At the end of September, Carol and Julian Walford, Pete Ireson, Derek Pettiglio, Chris Warwick and Chris's friends John & Fiona and Gareth & Aileen went off to Ronda (about 90 minutes drive from Malaga) for a week's caving holiday. This was the trip that had been planned by the late Mark Campbell. The primary purpose of the trip was to complete the 4.5 km through trip of the Hundidero-Gato river cave, but there were several other small horizontal and vertical caves in the area to visit. Our accommodation on the outskirts of Ronda was a villa in an orchard with figs and walnuts ripe for the picking and a swimming pool and barbecue area to lounge round in the evenings (and a garage to keep the caving gear in). A very comfortable place and we raised a congratulatory glass (or several) to Mark for having found it.

On Day One, we visited two small caves, located within 100 metres of each other and only 20 minutes walk from the road, though it took us well over an hour to find them, due to use of the wrong GPS datum. The second cave, in particular, was worth a visit, with a final shallow lake chamber festooned with pretties. On Day Two, all nine of the party (including Fiona who doesn't like being underground) successfully completed the Hundidero-Gato through trip. The system is HUGE, with a few short drops into deep pools at the start, followed by lots of walking and long swims in deep water. Some of the party had buoyancy aids, others (who hadn't) nearly drowned under the weight of their tackle bags. But we all popped out into sunshine at the far end after just over four and a half hours. It was agreed by all except by Fiona to have been a superb trip. Chris and Derek did it again on the last day of the holiday, this time with no tackle since you can jump or slide down fixed ropes into all the pools, and this cut the transit time down to two and a half hours, though the record for the through trip currently stands at 57 minutes!! Other vertical and horizontal caves were visited later in the week, but were disappointingly short albeit well-decorated.

On non-caving days, there was plenty to do. We did some excellent local walking, including bagging the highest local peak from which we saw the Moroccan High Atlas and Gibraltar. This walk took us through some excellent karst scenery and allowed us to pay our respects at the entrance to the biggest vertical system in the area (the 1100m deep Sima GESM). And we got eyed up by griffon vultures, who come to check whether you're ready to eat if you sit down for any length of time. We did a "canyon" (actually a V-sided valley with a muddy stream in the bottom, only classed as a canyon trip because it starts down a 51 metre waterfall). Real canyoning would be fun, but there are probably better streamway descents than this one to be found in Assynt! And we spent a day exploring the historic town of Ronda with its Roman and Moorish walls and ancient bridges over the gorge. Eating out was interesting and the large local supermarket had plenty of things for Julian to incinerate in the evenings.

We had a very good holiday, but this is not the place to go if you want a hard caving trip every day. Having said that, the Hundidero-Gato through trip was superb, and if you're into the serious vertical stuff the Sima GESM would be a suitable challenge (but has to be booked).

Carol Walford


A Mammoth Carving

Two GSG members have been making the headlines recently. Graham Mullan and Linda Wilson found a carving of mammoth in Gough's Cave, Cheddar. It is thought to be 13,000 years old as mammoth ivory of that age had previously been found in the cave. It is in a shallow alcove near to the usual tourist route and has now been lit by the show cave to make the carving more obvious. Erosion made the markings easy to overlook, though once they have been pointed out they are plain to see.

After Cheswell Crags in 2003 and Long Hole, Cheddar Gorge in 2005 this is only the third time prehistoric cave art has been found in the UK. Now cavers are aware of the possibility there could be more to find, though looking at the examples so far they won't be easy to spot. Now who wants to examine the Bone Caves for a freehand sketch of a polar bear chasing a reindeer?


A French Holiday

Bob & Rosemary Jones and Bristol members Graham Mullan and Linda Wilson spent a fortnight in the Perigord area of France where Graham & Linda are currently building a house. In between house building and general touristing they managed a few caving trips including La Reille (familiar to several GSG members from previous visits)

A visit was also made to Grotte de Roffy, a very pretty cave which has been known for over 300 years. Hint : if trying to locate the entrance to this cave (marked clearly on the IGN map) read the Perigueux Speleo Club description first. It tells you that the entrance is not at the position marked on the map.......

Bob Jones


Hidden Earth (2008)

For 44 years there has been a national caving conference in Britain, held in the early autumn in England - ideally somewhere geographically central. Since the 1980s, the GSG has consistently had a small presence there, on several occasions providing a club stand (winning the stand competition twice), and intermittently delivering lectures on Scottish caving progress.

I myself have been going to the conference since 1963 and I nowadays feel something of a loner. Despite a respectable member-presence, thanks to our English `branch', and the important technical support provided by Fraser Simpson, Scotland has been poorly represented. Having been asked to host the final plenary session again this year I took the opportunity to make a stern plea for more active cavers to attend, more clubs to be represented with stands, and more UK input (there were only three British lecture subjects this year if one disregards AVs and DVD shows). All this because it is very evident that the regulars are getting noticeably older.

Everyone can benefit from Hidden Earth, but we need cavers to turn up regardless of whether they are fresh back from the latest `wow factor' expedition or not, to swell the numbers, make the whole thing more economically viable, and generally to network and socialise.

Can I make a plea therefore, that next year and on into the future, we organise a healthy Scottish contingent. It is strongly rumoured that the conference will be coming to the north of England in 2008, thus cutting down travelling time. One weekend out of 52 should not be an imposition and you will enjoy it. There are SRT and ladder races, photographic competitions, cheap bar prices on site, hosts of talks, traders' stands and much more. Let's do it!

Goon


Sid Perou - Films on DVD

While at Hidden Earth 2007 Alan bought some DVDs from Sid Perou to fill gaps in the GSG library. Many of Sid's DVDs are available in your local caving shop (if you live in Ingleton, Mendip or Derbyshire), but you can also buy them direct. Right now for special price of a tenner each you can buy any of Sid's excellent productions and that include postage and packing. Just send your cheque to Sid at 8 West lane, Embsay, Skipton, BD23 6QE with a list of the films you want. Here are a few:-

Plus more there isn't room to list on caving, climbing, and ballooning, Contact Sid for the full list.


2007 Meets and Events

See the events page for details.

The Caving Secretary, Ross Davidson, wants your help to create the meets list, especially for caves that need to be booked. Contact him with your suggestions.


NAMHO Conference 2008

The GSG is an affiliated club member of this, the National Association of Mining History Organisations so, when they operate in Scotland, we should really do our bit to assist. Every year they hold a national conference and over the weekend of 11-13th July 2008 this will be held at the Scottish Mining Museum, Newtongrange. The event will consist of lectures, seminars and field trips. It is expected that over 100 delegates will attend.

After consultation with the GSG committee, I have offered our services as guides on a variety of field trips on both Saturday and Sunday - with possible longer distance visits by keener delegates during the following week. Therefore, we need a good number of members to make themselves available over this weekend. As a taster, I listed for them a selection of mines (see below) which are accessible from Edinburgh in a reasonable time frame and which offer a spectrum of difficulties to suit all tastes. I would be grateful if members could look at this and decide which mine(s) they could help with - bearing in mind that I would expect simultaneous field trips in order to keep party numbers to a sensible level. Some of these might be surface trips only.

Please give this matter consideration and diary the dates to avoid 'double bookings'. Further details on the conference will doubtless be issued ere long and GSG members will be welcome to attend any lectures.

Alan Jeffreys

LIST OF MINES OFFERED:

Possible surface trips:

Trabrax -Shale Oil relics ; Open cast mining, Fife ; Geological Library, Kings Buildings

Possible 'Distant' Trips:

Tyndrum Lead Mines; Wanlockhead/Leadhills area; Craiglea Slate Quarry, Perthshire


Membership News

The two new members since July are:- Johann Fleury & Malika Friche - from Switzerland. Johann has caved for ten years and is a member of a Swiss rescue team. Malika has caved for three years.

New Addresses

Matthew Hutson, Julian Warren

Other Changes

Robin Forrest, email; Jerry Ingram, Tel mobile; Colin Jamieson, email; Nigel Marsh, email; Martin Mills, Tel work; Mark Tringham, email.

Elphin Caving Centre

The autumn mouse migration season is upon us. That's the time of year when the local mouse population decides that it would prefer the inside of our hut to the weather outdoors. To counter this we set traps in both lofts. Last weekend there were four corpses when we arrived, two the following day and one the day after. Please check the traps when you arrive, dispose of any bodies, and re-bait and reset them. Chocolate is recommended as bait over cheese, but it is too brittle to attach to most traps and the body count proves that cheese does work.

The first theme meal of the season was Mexican on the day of the joint SCRO/AMRT exercise. Twenty-seven sat down to dine split between the conservatory and the main room. Peter Dowswell did his usual magic in the kitchen orchestrating a band of helpers and serving up an excellent repast. Malcolm McConville arrived with a bottle of tequila, another of something greenly suspicious, some orange juice to give a veneer of healthy drinking and served up several sore heads.

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 at any time please contact the Hut Warden - Peter Dowswell - to check if there will be space (01463 229250, hutbookings # gsg.org.uk). 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.


Assynt News


Internet Caving

It is worth lurking on the ukcaving.com forum regularly as you can discover useful titbits. One recent discovery is that at http://www.bdcc.co.uk/50KViewer.htm there is a "legal, full window, 1:50K map browser for the whole of the UK. These maps have been reprojected from UKOS to Mercator (WGS84) so the grid squares are not square and the grid is not horizontal/vertical on screen. Nevertheless this gives a bigger view and less peripheral junk than any of the map viewers on the OS web site."


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