Grampian Speleological Group Newsletter
Number 133, December 2007

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The Rana Breakthroughs

The extra page mailed out with the last Newsletter told the story of two successive breakthroughs in Rana Hole. The first on Monday October 30, just after the Annual Dinner weekend, found the first section of passage since digging started in 1995 - on October 7th if my records are accurate. This 30m extension was reduced to comparative insignificance by the discovery of the following day.

On Tuesday with everyone else returned home only Julian Walford and Bob Mehew were left. After surveying the new passage - the Skye-way - they dug near its end where a draught issued from between boulders in the floor. After about 45 minutes it was possible to squeeze down into a chamber and continue enlarging the hole from below. The next two hours were spent exploring what is one of the largest chambers in Sutherland. They estimated it at 50m long and up to 20m wide. A fine crop of stalactites at the western end urgently needed taping off to protect them, and there were several prime digging sites. A distant stream could be heard far below at several holes along the northern side of the chamber. A very cautious slither beneath vulnerable stal led Julian through a small grotto to the noise of perhaps another stream at the far western end. The walls closed in and it was too tight for progress.

The return trip found the hose taking water from the dam spouting forth more enthusiastically than when they entered. With slight forebodings they returned to the dig, and were relieved to find the water level unchanged. As they reached the dam, however, they found it on the verge of overflowing. Heavy rain aloft had resulted in a small waterfall down the entrance pitch and more water than the small diameter hose draining the dam could take. They returned well satisfied with their superb find and relieved at a narrow escape from an enforced lengthy stay. Julian has named their discovery Two A's Chamber after clAonAite and rAnA - Peter Glanvill and other misspellers of Scottish cave names take note.

The following Sunday, Julian and Carol, Bob and Rosemary Jones, Peter Reynolds and Robin Forest returned to Rana expecting a long baling session. The water was unexpectedly only knee deep leading to the first suspicion that it might slowly drain away. They taped off the vulnerable formations while Bob took many photographs of them. Julian also washed clean the formation he'd muddied when he'd investigated the far end of the grotto. This is now taped off. The plan is to remove the rock barrier Julian had to slide over to allow entry without endangering the stalactites. Until then - keep out!

Before leaving, the yellow hose draining the dam was replaced by 32mm water pipe. This should take about four times the flow and there was hope that that might be enough to keep the dig dry.

The next visit was a solo effort by Chris Warwick on Wednesday 7th November. He found the dig almost full of water with the level about 8' below the blue drainage pipe. Foam on the walls showed that the passage must have been very comprehensively sumped with the water level well above the roof of the passage. Baling is not a single person job and with the water so high he abandoned thoughts of visiting the extensions.

Not to be defeated Chris returned with daughter Shona on the 10th and found the water level in the dig had dropped a bit - confirmation that it does slowly drain. Baling started and after dropping the water level by 10' they 'half walked half bobbed' their way through. They took a quick look being well impressed with the prospects for further extensions and returned to the dig site after only 16 minutes. Like Julian and Bob they found the level in the dig unchanged, but the dam had just begun to overflow!

On the surface rain had started and water was flowing down the hillside, across the shakehole and down the entrance shaft. This shows that we need a still larger diameter pipe to stop the dam overflowing, though I suspect in really heavy rain even extending the 4' corrugated drain would be inadequate.

There were more visits on the weekend of the DIY curry evening. On Friday 23rd November Roger Galloway and Annie Audsley found the water only welly deep in the dig so went exploring. Over the weekend a mass assault saw Fraser Simpson with camcorder and Graham Marshall and Anna Ermakova with lights filming Goon and others as they explored the Skye-way and Two A's Chamber. Ivan first digitally snapped his way around the chamber then with Roger's help used the SCRO's Heyphones to 'radiolocate' a couple of positions in the extensions on the surface. John Crae took a laser level and a tape measure around the west end of the chamber and Goon and Fraser started extracting boulders from one promising hole. It was too tight for even Ross to squeeze down so we knew we needed more serious rock breaking technology.

The weekend of the GSG Xmas Dinner dawned bright, cold and dry with a fine display of the Geminid meteor shower for those who froze for long enough outside the hut. On Saturday eleven members enjoyed an almost dry descent of Rana and the water in the dig was less than welly deep for most folk.

Alan (Goon) Jeffreys and Johann Fleury started work on one of the most promising holes with a pinch bar brought by Goon. While they managed to remove quite a bit of rubble one boulder defeated them, as did the slot that could be seen heading tantalisingly down into a small chamber with more openings leading on and further down. Ivan meantime was testing Roger's latest Hilti capping gear on a rock bulge in the dig, but the driver broke at the third cap. This was (quite fairly) to the considerable annoyance of Goon who felt that the first priority should have been to enlarge his dig.

Ivan then joined John Crae and his laser level to hold the end of the tape as John recorded the eastern section of Two A's Chamber. This'll result in another redrawing of the survey. Martin was there as well, attempting to enlarge the gap between some boulders with a sledgehammer to gain access to a crawl beneath them. This was going well until the shaft snapped and the head fell down between boulders with no hope of recovery.

Julian positioned a few laminated notices in the chamber warning folk to keep out of the far western grotto and to take care both of vulnerable formations and of unstable boulders. He then started to enlarge the entrance crawl. Initially he was helped by Jackie Yuill and Malika Friche, but the workforce grew as more and more members arrived wanting to return to the surface. After the first half had been deepened Julian finally allowed us all to leave.

On Sunday the workforce was much reduced as Ivan, John and Preston White took the Hilti hammer drill to the hole in Two A's Chamber. The loose boulder was ignored and a 15' deep shot-hole drilled into the sloping ledge that obstructs the way down. This was charged with a Snapper (a preassembled explosive charge) and well tamped with newspaper. We had enough wire to fire it from The Skye-way using the drill battery. There was a reassuringly muffled 'Crump!' which should mean that the energy has gone into breaking rock and not eardrums. With surface temperatures at -4o C Rana was draughting strongly and we only just beat the bang fumes to the surface. If the bang has done its work we should be able to drop straight into some new passage on our next visit.

When John overlays his survey on the Claonaite survey this shows that the hole I blasted in Two A's Chamber is about 20m above the stream passage in Claonaite Seven and 10m horizontally from Belh Aven. Since we can see down more than 5m and along for perhaps the same we are very near to making the connection. We have to hope that the territory proves to be stable enough for safe easy passage.


GSG Annual Dinner

On the weekend of 27th/28th October, a record 69 people convened at Saucy Mary's Lodge in Kyleakin to celebrate the 39th GSG Annual Dinner. In addition to the current crop of young cavers, members from the early days (you know who you are) had come from afar, and on walking into the bar on Friday evening, I was delighted to see a sizeable contingent of old friends from Mendip busy sampling the local real ales.

Saucy Mary's proved an excellent venue, with self-catering bunkhouse-style accommodation and a B&B option for those who didn't fancy cooking their own breakfast. For those of us who wanted a DIY breakfast, it was just as well the rest of you chose to eat in the bar, as the upstairs kitchen facilities couldn't cope with more than half a dozen at a time!

Saturday dawned as Saturdays usually do on Skye - wet and windy. Still, some good caving was done. A couple of parties chose to visit Spar Cave, though we did have to wait for the tide to go down a bit before we could get to the entrance. It was well worth the wait, though, as the cave is extremely pretty. John Heathcote stripped for the cameras, to wade chest-deep through the final pool, but the rest of us were content with the formations on the near side of the pool.

Saucy Mary's management began preparations for the dinner at the end of the afternoon by throwing the locals out of the bar. One lad, who already had a skinful, took some time to shift, but went willingly enough in the end. The rest of us then had to move temporarily out of the bar to allow the dining tables to be set up. This was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle - every table and chair had to go into the right place in order to fit them in. Our host had obviously spent some time planning this in advance.

The meal was good enough for people to talk about a future return to the venue, though it was clear that the numbers in attendance had stretched the kitchen and waiting staff to their limits. My own menu choices (Cullen Skink and Venison Steak) were entirely acceptable. When we were all replete, the usual after dinner ceremonies were conducted. (Ed's note - Carol asked me for the details - but my aging memory is probably worse than hers especially after marinating in Skye ale all evening. So here goes. Any faults in the next paragraph are mine)

Peter Dowswell gave the toast to absent friends and special guest Chris Harvey (Zot) first toasted the GSG then gave a most profound and eloquent dissertation on - something of real significant and extremely appropriate to the hushed(?) audience. This year's Golden Gnome award was presented with the customary recitation of a specially crafted ode to Norman Flux, who was applauded as a very worthy recipient. A special presentation was made to Jim Salvona - see below - who also got into the swing of things by offering a scintillating speech about something or someone or.. Whatever they said, they were all much appreciated and the boozy crew applauded them all enthusiastically. Anyway, back to Carol.

After the dinner Fraser amused us with his 'Big Brother' Megalaya film, and Julie showed us the recent discoveries in Upper Flood. And of course we talked, and drank, and talked, and drank some more, and drained the barrels of real ale one by one.

Sunday morning dawned better than Saturday, and Julian, John Heathcote and I bagged a Red Coullin before the next weather front swept in. Then Julian and I drove to Elphin, where (as you all know) the twelve-year dig at Rana finally produced a breakthrough.

Carol Walford

Lines On Seeing A Fluxcavator in Spring

A frog it was whose domicile
Was rudely cleared away
By shovelling out the peat so vile
That in a pothole lay.

And so successfully was this done
That pothole grew quite deep,
As muck was hauled out, ton by ton
And stacked up in a heap.

In fact it got so deep we found
It hard to pull the bucket
From the dig face underground;
We almost said, 'Well.. Let's stop!'

But this is the age of technical skill
And scientific machinery.
So lots of scaff came up the hill
To accessorize the scenery.

Flumes were fitted down BBC pitch;
The waters reduced to a dribble.
And spoil came skywards with ne'er a hitch
In a new-fangled bucket - no, kibble.

Success down our Rana home from home,
Through boulders, rubble and ducks
We owe to the winner of this Golden Gnome:
A genius called Norman Flux.

Alan Jeffreys

Half a Century Underground

This is an auspicious occasion for various reasons - not the least being that this is the largest dinner crowd we have attracted for many years.

Many members will be aware that the 21st Century has witnessed a fair number of 50 year anniversaries of caving clubs due to the great explosion of caving activity following the 2nd World War. Indeed it will only be 3 years until the Grampian celebrate theirs. But tonight, possibly a little tardily, we wish to recognise another anniversary - or milestone, or indeed, two milestones. I say tardily because we are probably a year or so out with the first, but use the second as an excuse.

'Way back in the very, very early days of the GSG I had occasion to write to the late Gerald Platten, who single-handedly edited, printed and published the journal 'British Caver', in those days a wonderful compendium of cave-related features, news items and literature extracts from all over the UK and abroad. In replying to my letter, in the spidery handwriting which resulted from severe arthritis, Gerald gave a footnote which said:

'You have a very keen and able caver living near you' - and gave the name and address of Jim Salvona who at that time lived in Mountcastle Drive North, not a million miles from my family home in Mountcastle Terrace.

So began an association which as lasted over forty years, with a short antipodean break, during which Jim has pursued his interests in all things underground with a dedication that would put most of us to shame. It is no exaggeration to say that his knowledge of Scottish caves and mines is so tremendous - and still retrievable from a young mind in an ageing body - that everybody refers to him as a 'walking encyclopaedia'.

We think his caving career spans 52 years, although we stand ready to be corrected - it might be longer! He is also teetering on the venerable age of 80 years, but still active, still caving, and still pursuing his vast roll-call of references noted on OS maps! I venture to think there will be very, very few, if any, other cavers of that age in the UK still active in the field.

We would therefore like to recognise his many achievements tonight and I call upon Pete Dowswell to deliver the oration.

Alan Jeffreys


SKYE - The weekend of the GSG Annual Dinner was wet, but we didn't let that stop our caving activities. As mentioned in the dinner notes, Spar Cave was visited by several parties. So was High Pasture Cave. On the Saturday only the earliest group ventured through the duck to the bottom as by the time they returned water levels were rising. Water was flowing over the ground and down the entrance, and airspace through the duck was steadily reducing. The end of Iris Cave was 'radiolocated' on the surface and a short dig gave a voice connection into the higher level of the passage near the end. Other caves visited include Camus Malag, Boulder Pot, Vampire Cave and Vampire Pot.

YORKSHIRE - A descent of Rift Pot in October was followed by two trips into Gavel Pot during November where the formations in Glasfurd's Chamber and Passage were the reason for the second visit and much photography. Also in November John Glover took wife Gill through the novice-infested Long Churn Caves and found handlines had been rigged past all the pools. Early December saw Lancaster Hole descended and the columns in Colonnade Chamber admired.

LOTHIANS - A trip into Hillhouse Limestone Mine found it to have grown 'Dangerous Cave' warning notices at its entrances though it all seemed to be as stable as it ever was. A later traverse of Middleton Limestone Mine was the excuse for Anna Ermakova to start contributing to the photo gallery on the GSG's private web server. Photographs from many of the caving trips mentioned in this and previous Newsletters appear there. There are also images of the various Rana Hole surveys in the photo albums for the new discoveries.

Annual General Meeting 2008

The 2008 GSG AGM will be held in Elizabeth and Derek's house in Winchburgh on Saturday 19 January 2008 starting at 10:30 am. We need 10% of the membership to attend for the meeting to be quorate. Please enter it into your diary now and make a New Year resolution to attend. Please tell Elizabeth in advance if you will be there.

The Management Committee is elected at our AGM. While the present incumbents are probably prepared to continue to serve, new blood is always welcome. A member wanting to be nominated for any post should find a proposer and seconder within the Group and then contact the Secretary.

Resolutions other than those affecting the constitution may be accepted by the Chairman at the meeting. If you want to propose a resolution, or there are issues you want to raise at the AGM please let Elizabeth know in advance of the meeting, though it will still be possible to raise them on the day.

2008 Annual Dinner

The location of the next GSG Annual Dinner will be decided by vote at the AGM. The list will appear on the AGM notice that will be distributed in early January. There are three entries on the list - Sutherland, Argyll (eg Appin) and Yorkshire. If you'd like to propose a fourth entry or can suggest a venue for any of the locations then please do so.

GSG Annual Subscriptions for 2008

Next year's annual subscriptions are due on the 1st January 2008. All GSG members are automatically enrolled in the British Caving Association and a major part of your annual fee is to pay the BCA's annual charge. This has increased this year to £16 (from £15) for caving members, but remains unchanged at £5 for non-caving members.

Caving membership of BCA includes public liability insurance while you are caving, and is required for access to many caves and mines. If you only ever cave by yourself in Scotland there isn't any advantage in having it except for the warm glow it will give you because you are helping to support UK caving's national body. If you are a direct individual member of BCA (a DIM) or a member of BCA through another caving club you don't need to pay twice. You only pay the GSG part.

The GSG part of the annual subscription is again being kept unchanged at £12 for full members and £14 for joint. Members in full time education, who are unemployed or have retired and are over state retirement age qualify for a 50% discount and Life members get a 100% discount on this part. These amounts could be reviewed at the AGM on 19th January so get your payment in now!

If you do not pay by the end of January your membership of the BCA will lapse as will the insurance cover it brings. The GSG constitution is more generous and allows until the end of March for you to pay, but if you want uninterrupted access to caves nation-wide you shouldn't. If you do not pay by the end of March your membership of the GSG will automatically be terminated whatever class of membership you have - even Life. You have been warned!

To calculate your payment, decide whether you want to be a caving (£16) or a non-caving (£5) member of BCA or whether you are already a member (£0). Add on the GSG portion (£12) reduced by 50% (to £6) if a student, unemployed or retired.

Joint members must decide independently if they want caving or non-caving status and add on either £14 or £7 if BOTH qualify for a reduction.

Examples:- A caving member pays £28, a non-caving member £17, a student pays either £22 (caving) or £11 (non-caving). Joint members pay £46 if both cave, £35 if only one caves and £24 if neither cave.

NOTE:- Please let me know your BCA membership number if you are claiming exemption from the BCA membership fee. This helps BCA identify you in their records.

Make your cheque payable to 'GSG' and send it now to Ivan Young


NAMHO 2008

Further to the notice in the previous newsletter, here are some details for your diary:

The conference will be held at the Scottish Mining Museum on Saturday-Sunday, 12-13th July 2008. While this is running, it is intended to offer local field trips in the morning (11am) and afternoon (2pm) of both days. The mines etc so far nominated are:

  1. Birkhill Fireclay Mine No.2 (small working on this side of the river, opposite the bridge)
  2. Leven Seat Limestone Mine
  3. Cults Limestone Mine
  4. Bowden Hill Limestone Mine
  5. Hilderston 'Silver' Mine
  6. Alva Silver Mines
  7. Linhouse Water Shale Mine
  8. Whitequarries and Philpstoun Shale Mines
  9. Tarbrax open cast quarry (?)

Apart from No.8, all these are suggested for delegates over the weekend. Short trips (such as Birkhill and Leven Seat) may be combined in one half day trip. The main shale mines will be restricted to one visit by a small team (no more than 8) on one day only.

Therefore we need members to be guides to each of the mines listed, all day for both days. Of course, it may be that some of the mines are not picked up and I would expect to be informed on the Friday evening about which trips are 'on'. Bowden Hill and Hilderston are offered as more committing trips. Guides will be expected to know where the mines are; have a working knowledge of how to get out of the pillar and stall workings and, if possible, have some background knowledge to impart to visitors.

Following the conference, long distance trips will be offered, to be run on Monday - Wednesday. Sites suggested are: Craiglea Slate Quarry, Perthshire; Tyndrum Lead Mines and the Leadhills/Wanlockhead area (where they hope to negotiate visits beyond the show mine associated with the museum, and get to the bottom of the Pump Engine shaft). Guides would be required for these outings as well - assuming there are any takers of course.

Could I ask therefore, that Edinburgh area members make a special effort to make themselves available for these jobs. Seven months warning should allow you to participate IF you diary the dates now.

Alan Jeffreys

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.

Lamb & Fox Closes

The Lamb and Fox pub so conveniently placed for the Pwll-Du Centre and Ogof Draenen is closing at Christmas. It is reverting to a private residence and cavers now have that much further to travel for food and drink. We wish Brian and Carol Lewis all the best, thank them for their hospitality, and are disappointed we won't be able to travel down to join in their year end celebrations.

Membership News

New Members

Anna Ermakova, Matthew Harpham, Chris Leighton.

Other Changes

Graham (Jake) Johnson email, Paul Williams email, Stephen Elwell-Sutton, Tel mobile, work and fax

Elphin Caving Centre

The winter months bring a series of theme evenings. We've already had the DIY curry evening in November and the Christmas Dinner in December. Next on the menu are a Scottish Evening in January and one dedicated to the High Savoy in March. Book your place at the table and your bunk now with Peter. I've shown suggested dates for the 2008 Mendip Migration. If you plan to come, please get word to us soon. If you don't, than when other clubs want to book the hut on those weekends we'll be sorely tempted to take their deposits.

The Xmas Dinner was attended by 21 and left Ivan totally gob-smacked when it morphed into an early 60th birthday celebration for him including the unexpected arrival of two friends from East Lothian, a musical birthday card, a special Carol Walford baked birthday cake and an ode written and proclaimed by Goon.

It took Ivan completely by surprise and combined with Peter Dowswell's accustomed superb catering lubricated with mulled wine then bottles of bubbly made for a memorable evening.

Please help the Hut Warden by telling him if you plan to attend any of the theme evenings, the Mendip Migration (dates please!) or plan to stay in the hut at any other time. Avoids the problem of arriving to find there is no space left!

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.

Assynt News

The Alt at Christmas & New Year

Saturday 22nd - Traditional music with The Occasionals - 8pm start

Wednesday 26th - Boxing Day Charity Quiz supporting CHAS - Children's Hospice Association Scotland - teams of 4 start 7pm. Free post-quiz snacks

Saturday 29th - Live music with Mike Darren - musical entertainer & funny man - 8pm start

Bar opening - Christmas Eve from 12 noon, Christmas Day & Boxing Day from 1pm, Hogmanay from 12 noon, January 1st - Closed.

Meals - Christmas Day - fully booked. Kitchen closed on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day, New Years Eve and New Years Day. Otherwise Monday to Saturday 6pm to 8pm. Sunday lunch 1pm to 3pm.

Prior bookings recommended - 01854 666260.

The usual winter opening times are 5pm from Monday to Friday and 12:30 pm at weekends

The Inch at New Year

Last year the Inchnadamph Hotel arranged a New Year party and this is being repeated. There will be music and a free buffet with fireworks to follow. The Inch will be open from the 28th December at 5pm for drinks - no food available to non-residents - except on New Years Day when it might be open for an hour or so.

Internet Caving

Fraser MacKenzie responded to the last Newsletter (NL 132) by telling us of a weather station maintained by Peter Fraser at the Ardmair Point campsite. It has far more information available on the weather than the Met Office's station at Loch Glascarnoch. It's also closer to Assynt. Check it out at:-

Dick Grindley responding to NL 131 points out that as well as buying BGS publications on-line, that the Geology Shop in the Reception Area of BGS Headquarters, Murchison House, West Mains Road, Edinburgh stocks a complete range of BGS geological maps, geological publications, equipment & handbooks, mineral specimens & fossils etc. Seems to be open normal office hours Mon-Fri & is located on West Mains Road between the EdiUni King's Building site entrance and golf course/road up to Blackford Hill. The shop is open between 9am and 5pm weekdays, closed between 12.30 and 1.30pm.

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