Newsletter @ g-s-g.demon.co.uk
"Moan, grumble, whine. 'B****y cave.' Grunt. 'B****y bags.' Grumble. 'B****y stream.' Bang. 'Ouch! B****y Robinson!'
After a freezing age, we got back to the entrance. Pete started derigging the pitch just inside the entrance, while I crawled out onto the hill, wondering if Pete would ever cave with me again. I can still remember Pete's dulcet tones wafting out - 'At least we're out of this freezing s**t hole'.
It broke my heart to tell him it was snowing."
It's hard to believe that Pete is gone. One Tuesday he was in the pub making us laugh; the next, he wasn't, and never would be again. It's just not right that such a good person can be taken away so suddenly; so quickly. Pete was one of those rare people who lived his life to the full, and I suppose we should take some solace from the fact that he was doing what he loved at the end ? dangling on a bit of string.
Pete has been a major part of the club for the last 10 years - a fact that was brought home with the many messages for Pete and his family, the turnout at his funeral, and the stories then told. Pete was a tackle master, rope supplier, photographer, web master, chauffeur, wood collector, p-hanger installer, story teller, rope rigger, computer fixer, SRT trainer, LED lighting maniac, odd job man, friend and general all round great guy. He was so important to us all, that one attractive female club member was prepared to go to extreme lengths for him: "Please tell Pete that I can't believe that the offer of me coming over to sit on him n***d didn't cheer him up. Can you tell him that I'm therefore sending Goon over to sit on him n***d. That should get a reaction!"
Sadly, even that wasn't enough.
On Sunday the 20th of July, 2008, three days after his accident, Pete's family made the hard decision to switch off his ventilator and other machines, and he died peacefully with his family at his bedside only a few minutes later. He had been in the company of friends since Friday morning, and on the Sunday in particular, where 6 friends and his father sat with him and swapped many happy memories. Poor Pete wasn't able to get a word in edgeways! Regrettably the number of visitors was strictly limited, as many more friends would have liked to have spent some time with Pete.
On Monday the 28th of July, 2008, Pete was cremated at a beautiful humanist ceremony at Mortonhall crematorium in Edinburgh. Under strict orders from his dad to make this a happy celebration of Pete's life, we penned a speech more akin to a best man's speech than a eulogy, and told the tale of man who brightened the lives of everyone he met (and that was without taking his LEDs into account). Around 150 of Pete's family, friends, work colleagues and GSG members laughed as we let Pete tell his own tale of his approach to caving: we had to include his own Simpson's pot trip report, as it was better than anything we could have written about him.
Because this was a celebration of Pete's life, there was barely a black tie in sight. As we left the ceremony, a joint collection was held for the Firefighters' Charity and the Scottish Cave Rescue Organisation, and everyone received a "thumbs up" sticker to help us remember Pete and the fun times we had together.
Pete's celebration continued at the Balm Well pub, and then at a BBQ hosted at Dan and Fiona's place, which was still suitably busy late into the evening. The general conclusion from friends and family was that Pete would have approved. As Pete's dad later said: "We said we wanted to give Pete a good send off on Monday and we certainly did that. A great success of a sad occasion."
It hasn't all been tears though. Pete's death has caused us to recall many happy memories of our time with him. A trip with Pete was guaranteed fun, no matter how tight and scrotty the cave was, or how much weather we encountered. He knew how to pack fun in, and we have stories about him involving trips down the motorway, his eating habits in Inglesport, his caving prowess (or, on occasion, lack of it), trips from the cave back to the car, in the pub, and even the overnight accommodation. There wasn't a part of a trip that he couldn't make fun.
We'll miss Pete dearly, but with so many happy memories, it will be hard to remain sad. For now, the whole club mourns the fact that Pete only lives in happy memories, but soon, we'll just be happy that Pete lived, and that we were able to be a part of his life.
Davie Robinson & Mark Lonnen PS. We need your stories. We're planning a special edition of the GSG Newsletter dedicated to Pete, and we want to include:
Mark Lonnen has a few thumbs up stickers left and will happily post one to anyone who wasn't able to attend the ceremony. Just contact Mark or Ivan if you'd like one.
Since Rana was joined to Claonaite it has grown. In the list of Scotland's longest caves it would be placed at number four with an estimated total length of about 650m: comfortably above Applecross's Cave of the Liar in next place with 515m. It is, however, connected to Claonaite, and together they give Scotland its first 2 mile or 3.2km system. In fact it is probably longer as Claonaite has several areas that hadn't been surveyed when the 1997 survey was drawn and more has been found since.
The first addition to Rana was on 12th April by Julian Walford and Martin Hayes when they dug at the upper end of Blue Chamber to extend it by 20 to 30m through a flat-out crawl. It ended at walking height and still about 10m wide with several possible places to dig. They returned to Black Cuillin Chamber to meet John Crae who hadn't been able to force himself along the rift to Blue Chamber. Almost simultaneously Ivan, John Heathcote, Andrew Brooks and Preston White returned from visiting the bear bones, the GNTM and sump six. They'd been proving it possible to take a large Pelicase through to Belh Aven. This was in preparation for removing the bear bones and had required some hammering at the top of the Black Rift.
The Mendip Migration started on the 27th April when J.Rat and Paul Brock visited the Blue Chamber extension, dug for about an hour and a half and entered a 50m long chamber they called Two B's Chamber because it is Bigger and Better then Two A's!! It's not as high as the Great Northern Time Machine so the latter still retains its title as the most impressive chamber in Scotland. Meanwhile Dave (Yorkshire) Hodgson, James Alderton and Fraser Simpson made the first through trip from Claonaite to Rana, diving the sumps and moving most of the lead that was at sump 3 to sump 6b in Claonaite Seven. The next through dive will need to be in the opposite direction.
On the 28th April J.Rat and Paul were joined by Annie Audsley, Roger Galloway and Ivan to survey from Black Cuillin Chamber through to their new discoveries. Ivan lasted till Blue Chamber where he knackered his back and slowly retreated leaving the others to survey a total of 261m. A 45m leg was run out in Two B's Chamber and by its southern end the passage has climbed almost 40m back towards the surface. This fine discovery has been a major inlet to the system and takes Claonaite under new territory. We have walked the terrain above in the past and jumped up and down into the shakeholes there without finding anything. Perhaps a fresh look will find something, or digging in the passage beyond Two B's Chamber will find the ongoing passage promised by such a long extension. If you have an OS map of Assynt the furthest point reached is at grid reference NC 2680 1662.
Two days later Richard - landlord of the Inch - with a Dutch friend and his son were escorted by J.Rat, Roger and Annie as far as the Black Rift. He's keen to return and see more. Roger and Annie had a poke at a hole at the top end of Two A's Chamber. They returned the next day and pushed into it a few metres but it would definitely be a long term project. Paul on a solo trip to Two B's found a couple of leads all requiring hard work.
On 2nd May Simon Brooks dived into the pool in Blue Chamber but found a total silt blockage after 5m. Afterwards Robin Taviner and Paul dug away at a possible sump 6b bypass round to the east of the exit pool. After half an hour they had a tight almost vertical squeeze up into a large though low breakdown chamber. The only easy continuation was by tipping a couple of grand piano sized boulders down into a large crater with more black spaces visible beyond. Pausing only to make the climb down reasonably safe and name the new discovery Duelling Pianos Chamber, they entered a very large continuation - and started finding survey cairns. They'd circumnavigated the sump 4 to sump 6b area at a higher altitude and reached The Palatial Abode of Edward Concrete Head. See sketch survey below.
Simon dived sumps 7 and 8 on 4th May while Mark Tringham and Mark Brown started surveying Claonaite 8. Simon found some limited airspace at the end of Sump 8 and a too tight descending tube but neither offers much prospect for a continuation. Though Simon didn't notice, it is no longer necessary to leave the streamway to reach Sump 7. When we first entered Claonaite Seven the streamway was blocked by boulders which could be bypassed by a tube leading to a short climb back to the stream. At some time in the intervening 13 years a flood has moved the blockage and it is now possible to follow the stream all the way to the sump.
Mark B and Anwen surveyed their way down Rana across Two A's and down into Belh Aven. They left some survey stations marked with Typex, cairns and bits of waterproof paper. Please watch out for them and do try not to disturb them. Mark later climbed up into the roof before Black Rift Chamber leaving a rope dangling behind for the surveyors (hint!). He managed to pass the top of the waterfall into Elven Highway: about 15m of very pretty passage well decorated with straws before it pinches in. The waterfall issues from a bedding plane that becomes too tight after 5m.
Near the end of May after several times of trying, Goon managed to find a dry weekend and get beyond Two A's Chamber with CJ. He toured Seven, found and marked another bear bone, and left the ladder in place on Black Rift as he left. Incidentally this pitch is ideal for ladders: one short one hanging off the second bolt and another for the final 6m vertical drop. There are two suitable ladders in the hut. One week later after a tourist trip around Duelling Pianos, Derek Pettiglio, and Martin Hayes pushed a 15m crawl to the right of sump 6 through a low silt-filled chamber with one spot where they could stand - hence Nipple Chamber - and a good draught. This must lie under Duelling Pianos but above Sump 5. That area is starting to look very multistoried indeed since Two A's Chamber lies over the top of them all. It all points to the need for a good survey to be produced of the whole area. Volunteers?
Digging in Rana - In mid-April Peter Reynolds joined Julian to successfully fit a 4" pipe all the way from the dam through to the Skye-Way. This has a far greater flow capacity than the blue 32mm pipe and should keep the dig open most of the time - we hope. The intake for the 4" pipe has been adjusted to be higher than that for the 32mm so it'll only operate when flow levels are high. Please take care not to disturb it when passing through. So far it must be operating as the dig hasn't been more than knee deep when we've been there since then.
On the 3rd May Norman Flux with Simon, Roger and Annie dug away in Rana forming a stockpile by the dam. The next digging trip on the 5th saw Kate Janossy, Hugh Penney, Mark Tringham, Mark Brown and Anwen helping Norman move 50 loads to the surface.
The 21st June saw the ladies cycling team of Carol, Mary and Rosemary extracting 20 kibbles worth of spoil. They'd been tempted out of retirement by the prospect of appearing in a Christmas documentary on Sutherland - see later. They hope they don't end up on the cutting room floor.
Norman was back with Julian on Friday 27th June to prepare the dig for some serious excavation. Sections of cable tray were laid from the dam to the dig to allow kibbles to be pulled from one to the other. On Saturday, the day of the GSG Midsummer BBQ, it was wet, but several more helpers appeared and moved 45 loads to the surface. A smaller team on Sunday continued digging and left it all piled on top of and below the dam. There are also several large boulders that require Hilti-capping.
This has converted the dig face from a vertical ladder climb to an easy slope. The water still isn't draining away any better, but we should persevere.
Trinafour Upper Cave is low though wide and only prevented from being a 15m through trip by a boulder at its exit in a collapse depression. The stream runs around this and promptly enters Trinafour Lower Cave. This quickly becomes a 2m high canyon passage and initially flows in the reverse direction to the upper cave before turning left twice to become a hading rift leading after a total of about 15m to a junction. To the right is a high level but impassable oxbow while ahead a low crawl enters more walking passage after a few metres. The wetsuit clad Goon crawled through uttering a sequence of grunts and groans that completely discouraged Ivan from following. He quickly covered another 35m or so to a slight blockage, but being solo didn't press on.
Back on the surface we walked to the resurgence where the stream oozes out of the ground. A few metres back up the slope a blocked hole was soon emptied of rocks and sheep skulls to reveal a drop into knee-deep water. A narrow walking height rift passage led for about 80m to where a roof fall formed a partial barrier that looked passable with a little effort. We left that for another day but have high hopes of completing a through trip. If possible this will give a 200m cave, the longest in the area and in the top 20 for Scotland.
Ireby Fell Cavern - Several members took part in the latest "Grand Day Out" weekend organised by Earby Pothole Club. This entails pumping the sump dry then digging both ends of Skyway Passage with the aim of bypassing the sump. They may not have got through this last time, but more "Grand Day Outs" are planned.
And a report from Richard Simpson:- Just a quick line to let you know that at the end of July myself and David Morrison drove our bikes down to Bullpot farm and met up with Toby Speight of the Red Rose for a few days of caving. Trips done were a pull through of Simpsons Pot (my first SRT trip), a descent of Top Tip which is an ongoing dig close to the farm and a trip to Lower Long Churn Cave with a descent of Dolly Tubs. Unfortunately I was bitten by some sort of fly after the first day of caving and soon my hand and arm had swollen to resemble Popeye after taking his spinach, which meant the trip had to cut short after just two days. It was still a great trip and a real eye opener. Can't wait to go back.
The ground penetrating radar survey above the likely location of Smuggler's Cave (probably an Iron Age souterrain) was done in late June. Aberlady Conservation Society has the report and sent a copy to the GSG. Unfortunately, though it claims the survey indicates voids, the diagrams are totally incomprehensible and no voids are marked. ACS have asked for a better interpretation, but it might be quicker to just go there with our buckets and spades and start digging.
One of the reasons for digging Rana Hole was to allow us to recover the bear bones found lying on the floor of Portobello Promenade in Claonaite Seven in 1995. A lower mandible was removed some time ago during a dive by Simon Brooks but full recovery and a detailed study of the site has only been possible since Rana was connected to Claonaite Seven.
During the 12 years of the Rana project we found that the bones lie within the boundary of the Bone Caves Scheduled Ancient Monument area and since SAMS are considered by Historic Scotland to extend to the centre of the earth we required their permission to move the bones. Steven Birch as a recognized archaeologist and familiar with the process produced a 25 page project description and applied for Scheduled Monument Consent. This was granted and we planned the extraction for the weekend of the GSG Midsummer BBQ - 28/29 June.
The weekend before the BBQ, Tim Lawson, and I visited the site so that Tim could examine it and I could photograph it. Tim and I were delayed a bit as we gently ambled up the glen with Cameron McNeish and a film crew. They are making a documentary on Sutherland to be shown at Christmas and wanted to include the story of the bear bones and Rana. The result was a rather hurried trip but we achieved the objectives. A 1m string grid was laid over the main bone site and a set of overlapping photographs taken to be stitched together later. This allows a drawing to be made from the stitched image rather than in situ. Tim taped off some interesting erosional features and isolated groups of bones.
On the BBQ weekend a select few carried Pelicases, LED floodlighting, heavy batteries, survey, videoing and camera gear to the bone site. While Steve and Goon measured the positions of the bones, bagged them and stowed them in the large Pelicases, Ivan started surveying the site and took video clips of the collection process. Two Pelicases full of bones were removed. On Sunday further searching by Steve and Annie Audsley found a few more bones while Andy Peggie and Ivan completed the survey work. The third large Pelicase was filled and Roger Galloway made a welcome appearance to help extract all the gear.
All visible bones were removed over the weekend including those down Legless Highway. Steve wasn't content, however, and we returned on 19th July for another look with Bob Jones, Julian Walford and Ross Davidson. The protective wall around the bone site was removed and the whole area given another close examination turning over the smaller slabs to see what lay beneath. This found about another 20 bones. Most were small bones from the paws, but the prize was a tibia found down a deep crack and only recovered using a 'helping hand' bought by Julian.
The bones were taken to the Granton workshops of the Museum of Scotland where they were cleaned and then freeze dried. Some will be sampled for carbon dating then they'll all be immersed in a solution of plastic that'll harden and help preserve them when the solvent evaporates. Close examination of the jaws will then, we hope, tell us whether we've recovered a brown or a polar bear. Dating will provide some insight into the history of the cave system. There has been no access for anything the size of a bear to Claonaite Seven for many thousand years. We could hypothesise that entrances were sealed during a recent glaciation - but which? if it was the Loch Lomond Stadial then the bear could be 12,000 years old; if the Late Devensian then it could be 26,000 years old.
We have removed all the bones we could find, but others may well turn up as cavers traverse the passages and disturb the sand. If you do find a bone please mark its position and report it to us - there is some red/white tape at the main bone site. If it is likely to get damaged just move it to the side of the passage then mark its position. Don't take it upon yourself to start excavating for more. That shouldn't be done without the prior approval of Historic Scotland, SNH and especially Steve.
It may be Scotland's most complete bear skeleton, but we probably only have about 40% of the bones. The four paws contain 108 bones - over half of those in the full skeleton (about 206ish) - and we are missing over 75% of them. These small bones are likely to have been swept some distance along Legless Highway or towards the Great Northern Time Machine. So watch your steps - carefully! The second tibia is also missing if you want to keep your eyes open for larger prey.
SNH sent out a press release on the bones on Monday 28th July and I had a busy morning answering questions on the telephone, sending out photographs, and supplying edited highlights (thanks to Fraser Simpson) of the underground video clips to STV and the BBC. It made Monday evening's Reporting Scotland on the BBC and the headlines on Tuesday in the Scotsman, Daily Mail, and several other papers.
Everyone entered into the spirit of the occasion for Goon's 14th June rope ladder descent of Alum Pot to celebrate his half century of caving. While there were some equipment anachronisms, everyone had made a valiant attempt to recreate the gear of yesteryear with old Oldhams, boiler suits, boots and waist-lengths in evidence. The rope ladders, newly constructed by Goon, were a hit with several members claiming them to be easier to climb than the wire variety - despite a couple of slipping rungs! Realism to the nth degree!
A full descent of Alum via Long Churn and the Dollytubs was completed by many of the party. Others less used to ladder descended as far as the Bridge before exiting.
On the Sunday some of us helped Goon continue the theme by using the rope ladders for a descent of Calf Holes. It made for a fine enjoyable weekend for all, reminded some and demonstrated to the rest just how caving used to be done and showed the progress made over the last 50 years in equipment and clothing. I leave it to the reader to decide whether they consider it wholly positive or not.
On Thursday 17th July, GSG member Peter Ireson tied his rope to a tree and abseiled a short distance into an air shaft leading down into an abandoned coal mine at the Wisp on the east side of Edinburgh. He had a gas meter which went off indicating a low oxygen level - about 12%, but he felt fine. Concerned that the meter may have been misbehaving he unfortunately decided to abseil a few metres more to take another reading. This plunged him into a layer of oxygen deficient air. He realized his mistake, but it was too late and after calling for help soon lost consciousness. Despite the efforts of the other GSG member present and the help of passers-by it proved impossible to pull Pete up. A winch was borrowed from a nearby householder, but sharp edges of rock and brickwork severely abraded the rope and they had to stop.
The Fire and Rescue Service arrived promptly after receiving the emergency call, entered the shaft and supplied oxygen to Peter, raising him to the surface after about 35 minutes. He was taken to the intensive care ward in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where he remained unconscious. The ventilator and life support was switched off on Sunday with his father and sister at his bedside.
We thank the Fire Brigade and the NHS for all they did to try and save Peter, but hanging almost 45 minutes in an un-breathable atmosphere would be almost the same as being underwater for the same time and a full recovery was against the odds.
This isn't the first time a caver has been caught out by gas when abseiling a shaft. The presence of totally un-breathable air within a few metres of the surface in an open shaft is a surprise and a lesson to all of us. Coal mines are known to be dangerous, and rarely visited by the club as a result. The closest we normally come are the oil shale mines in West Lothian where we have measured oxygen levels dropping from the normal 21% to 18.3% as we descended. In contrast the oxygen levels down this shaft were reported to be only 5%. We don't know what other gases were present, but carbon dioxide being a heavy gas is a likely candidate.
With hindsight and time, we will learn lessons from this tragic accident, but for now, staying away from fossil fuel mines is probably the best one. If you ever want to descend a shaft and suspect problems with gas then you should, as Pete did, take a gas meter. I'd then recommend that you lower it all the way down the shaft before you start descending. If that isn't possible then keep it well below you as you descend, check it frequently, and descend slowly. Give it a chance to detect a change in air composition and ring its alarm before you reach the bad air. You should be prepared to switch to prusik immediately, and would also be wise to set up the pitch head to allow your companions to haul the rope up either with a Z-rig, a counterbalance or by tying the rope to a car and driving it away.
Note that it isn't only coal mines that have gas problems. There are limestone caves which can have dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide and/or low oxygen levels, though I haven't heard of any in the UK. More information on bad air and testing for it can be found on the Internet at:- CO2 paper and Bad Air
On 7th August, Chris Chapman reported that a squad from the Coal Authority had cleared the area around the top of the shaft and were preparing to cap it. The Coal Authority issued a warning notice on 21st July and we were sent it by NAMHO for distribution.
Shortly after entering a former coal mine on Friday 18 July 2008, a man became unconscious due to lack of oxygen in the atmosphere. Although the emergency services rescued him, tragically he died in hospital on Sunday 20 July 2008.
Former coal mines with the associated shafts and adits are inherently dangerous environments and entry to these places should be totally avoided.
Mine workings often contain atmospheres which have very little oxygen and if encountering such, will kill people very quickly after entering. Mines may also contain flammable gas which could explode causing tragic consequences to anyone within the mine workings.
There are numerous other hazards associated with old mines, including collapses of ground and the Coal Authority emphasises that these places are extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all times.
The Coal Authority is the public body which deals with surface hazards arising from past coal mining activities, such as ground collapses, open mine entries, water and gas emissions from mines and spontaneous combustion of coal. Our emergency call out service deals with these incidents on a 24 hour basis every day of the year. Upon receiving a report of a coal mining hazard, we will arrange for the situation to be made safe and remediate those hazards for which we have responsibility.
The Coal Authority has asked NAMHO members to report any open coal mine entrances they may find as part of their mining research work. The report should be made to the emergency telephone response service given below. The line is manned 24 hours a day.
To report a surface hazard, Tel: 01623 646 333
The Coal Authority, 200 Lichfield Lane, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, NG18 4RG
I know it's August, this Newsletter is late and there should be full details for the annual dinner and a booking form for the dinner. This is now being organised by Peter Dowswell at the traditional Assynt venue of the Inch for the 25th October. When all details have been agreed I'll send an announcement and booking form out by email. I'll post details to members not on the email list or who don't respond to the email announcement. Last year's record numbers mean that this year we may have to restrict attendance at the dinner to the first 60 to respond - or do we run shifts? If we do have to impose a limit it'll be strictly by date of arrival of cheques or cash through my letterbox or into my hand. You have been warned!
This was run over the weekend of 12/13th July with field trips that weekend and the following week mostly organised by the GSG. It was held in the Mining Museum in Newtongrange and attended by about 80 delegates. Quite a few GSG members sat in on the lectures on both days when they were not leading field trips and also attended the dinner on the Saturday evening.
We met some very knowledgeable delegates including Stephen Moreton, author of "Bonanzas and Jacobites" the story of the Alva silver mines. This has a far more detailed and complete history of the workings than I'd read anywhere else and Stephen put us right on a couple of misapprehensions we'd picked up from other sources. His book includes plans of workings well below the ones we found in 2006. We found a few copies of his book available at greeensideminerals.com, but our orders have since exhausted their stock. It is, however, reported to be about to be reprinted.
The GSG has in the past published articles in the GSG Bulletin on several of the mines used for the field trips. Ivan reprinted these as slim A4 booklets for sale to delegates. Spare copies are available to GSG members - see later.
The field trips were a mixed set. Delegates obviously wanted trips where they could traverse lots of underground workings and for some sites this just isn't possible. Because of this only one trip around the Alva silver mines was run instead of three - almost all workings were sealed after our surveying visit in 2006. Philpstoun No 6 mine was also short, but we could at least show the abandonment plans and point to other sites on the surface.
Copies of the A4 booklets printed for the NAMHO Conference are available to members whose collection of Bulletins doesn't extend back to 1999. Each booklet includes descriptions of the accessible areas and a history of the workings. They are illustrated with location plans, surveys and b&w photographs plus colour covers. They are:-
I'm keen for anyone who has a particular cave they'd like to visit to let me know - all suggestions gratefully received, preferably with one or two dates when the suggestor might be able to make it, for caving trips from about November onwards. Step right up, don't be shy, requests won't be considered binding! Contact me with your suggestions at 07794 740021 (mobile), 0131 535 3119 (work).
Mark Lonnen has taken over administration of this site and is currently moving it to a different server. Pete Ireson's server is still accessible, but no additions are being made to it. When the new server is up and running we'll catch up with changes and additions to the address list and photo gallery and let you all know how to find it and log on.
Martin Mills retired earlier this year and decided to celebrate the event by walking home from work. Milche lives in Preston and worked in Bristol - a small matter of a couple of hundred miles away. Here is his story.
After a final late session at the 'Centre of the Universe' (Hunters' Lodge Inn) where my chums wanted to wait until after midnight to sing me happy birthday, it was up early and over the Clifton Suspension Bridge to work to do some 'mischief'. At the back of 8.00 am on Thursday 3rd April (my 65th birthday), I was seen off from Somerset House and I was on my way. I set off down Bridge Valley Road crossing over the M5 motorway at Avonmouth at 10.30 am, to Chittening, where I located the Severn Way footpath. I was met by Kirsty, stopped at Severn Beach for lunch and then continued along the Severn Way to the old Severn Bridge which has a (toll free) footpath and cycle track attached to it on both sides, and hence to Chepstow, end of the first day (17 miles down).
It was probably a lack of preparation, too much road, and walking too fast to 'escape', but my feet were severely blistered. As I joined Offa's Dyke path, the 2nd and 3rd days were particularly slow and painful as I headed north up the Wye Valley. Progress got better after this, but the weather degenerated to snow, hail and blizzards on Day 4. We were grateful to be able to stay with friends that night.
Day 6 was a long lonely day over the Black Mountains, accompanied by the constant sound of skylarks, from Pandy to Hay-on-Wye. "Six days shalt thou walk and the seventh shall be a rest day visiting the fleshpots / bookshops of Hay" (3 new items found in the bookshops).
Then I moved onwards north. At the end of the 12th day I had reached Buttington near Welshpool (122½ miles down). Here after 9 days walking and 422 stiles on Offa's Dyke I turned right and joined the towpath of the Montgomery Canal, only partly restored and in water. 20 miles later at Franckton Junction I joined the Llangollen Canal. It was 29 miles eastwards along this (including an 80m long canal tunnel) to Hurleston Junction where I joined the Shropshire Union Canal and walked 26 miles northwards through Chester to reach Ellesmere Port on the Mersey at the end of day 16. (197½ miles down). All this canal walking appeared very appropriate and memories of when I worked for BWB Estates Department between 1969 and 1978 came flooding back, also of a family holiday cruise on the Llangollen Canal in 1998.
We were up early on day 18 (Sunday 20th April) for me to take the only morning 'Ferry Across the Mersey' (£1.45 single) and with only one other passenger to Liverpool (European City of Culture 2008). From here it didn't take me long to locate Stanley Dock and the newly opened Canal Link. Back on the towpath of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and heading north out of city debris into open countryside and 'Welcome to Lancashire'. Thanks to Sue and Lloyd who joined me in the afternoon to push the daily tally to around 20 miles.
Day 19 (Monday 21st April) and I was back on the towpath before 9.00 am for approximately 6 miles, then the Rufford Branch northwards to Tarleton, along the River Douglas (fortunately I got the right (literally) bank) to join the Ribble Way footpath. Here Kirsty appeared to guide me over the last few stiles (I hate stiles and dogs!) and the last few miles home, arriving at 7.45 pm after 22 miles + walking that day. Here endeth the dream.
I lost 2 stones in weight (not before time) but perhaps a slightly drastic way to do it! For distance, my best calculation by a retired surveyor is 240 miles and a few detours in 18 walking days. Not bad for a pensioner, eh?
Overall memories: although it was early in the season, what magnificent countryside it is up through the Welsh Borders and I feel privileged to have wandered through it. I communed with the sheep and lambs in the fields and later the ducks, etc, on the canals. In the evening I read up on how to differentiate between Kerry Hill, Hill Radnor and Clun Forest sheep breeds!
There were two particularly hard days. Day 11: Selley Cross to Kelly Ridgeway with three ridges and valleys to cross and up to a final ridge ? like walking across a giant LP; and Day 15: Llangollen and Shropshire Union Canals, just above freezing, piercing easterly wind, no warm pub open for lunch and the support vehicle temporarily unavailable.
The weather was sunny on the first and last days, and there was relatively little rain - I only had to put on over-trousers once, but it was often cold and windy
We had an interesting evening in the Royal Oak at Gladestry ? three locals and us talking to the local funeral director about the growth of green burials! But otherwise pubs in the Borders were disappointing ? one having the kitchen redone and another with the cook ill and not many open at lunchtime.
Final thoughts: how come molehills appear 1400 feet up on Welsh hills? ? do the moles parachute in? I was beginning to think I could identify the tree species by the sound the wind made blowing through the branches.
Grateful thanks to Kirsty in the support vehicle for finding me and feeding me at lunchtimes when there was no local pub open for lunch, seeking out campsites, supplies, launderettes and bookshops and finding me at roadsides and canal bridges at the end of my day's walking.
Beers encountered: John Smiths; Speckled Hen; Fuller's London Pride; Dorothy Goodbody's Country Ale; Wye Valley Best; Rev James; Hobson's Best; Ansell Mild; Black Sheep Bitter; Hanby Ales All Seasons Ale; Wadsworth 6X; Cheshire Cat Weetwood Blonde; Cottage Brewery: Wessex Spring; Youngs Bitter
Ciders encountered: Weston's Stowford Press Dry Cider; Black Fox Cider; H B Hancocks; Kingstone Press; Gwatkin Golden Valley Traditional Farmhouse Cider; Gwatkin Kingston Black; Wychwood Green Goblin Cider; Knight's Premium Reserve; Stowford Press English Export; Bulmer's Original; Tillington Hills Dry Cider; Knights Malvern Gold; Brothers Original; Thatcher's Katy
In preparation for the GSG's 50th celebration year (yes, already!), your reminiscences of the club's history are needed.
A set of two books are now available for any member to use to record anecdotes, memories, pub lore, japes - past and present, digging yarns, shaggy dog stories and tall tales. This does NOT replace the usual log book in any way and is not for the routine recording of trips. One book will be available at The Cumberland on Tuesdays and one will be sent out to members further a-field. To encourage prompt responses and to enable as many contributions as possible; use of the book will be by weekly loan, initially.
Material may be submitted in any legible format and need not be entered directly into the book. Email your contribution to Suzie63 at googlemail.com; stick your own pages into the book or submit items in the folder provided. All contributions will be copied and excerpts will be used to promote the club in 50th anniversary celebration publications and exhibitions. We have enough time to get a comprehensive and valuable collection together - so think carefully about your contribution and what it will represent for future generations of members.
This is a good opportunity for photographs, sketches, surveys, rigging guides, etc. to be submitted for copying; your originals will be promptly returned. If you have any artefacts, historical club memorabilia or any suggestions for exhibits that you would like to contribute, please attach a note of these.
Contributions to our audio records would also be very welcome; modern or historical, long or short, sincere or amusing - If you would prefer not to write your contribution: you may have a long story, several anecdotes or would like to submit additional material; this may be an ideal opportunity for you. Please contact Suzie Robinson to arrange time/place for the recording to be made or for further information.
Contact: SUZIE 0131 440 4396.
The Midsummer BBQ was not quite rained off - some hardy souls were spotted incinerating their animal protein on the outdoor BBQ. It was damp enough to persuade most of us to stay indoors and cook and eat there. Thanks to Peter Dowswell and his helpers for producing a fine feast for all 30 of us.
Some maintenance has been started on the hut with repainting of one wall in the back bunk room. Well it is a start! Owing to the key breaking in the shed door lock it had to be broken open. This brought forward the fitting of a combination lock while the door frame still awaits a more permanent repair. Ivan hopes to fit the new front door later this month with a combination lock ? provided he can find and buy a suitable lock in time. Maintenance has been delayed this year by all the other activities ? Rana, bear bones et cetera. The hut is looking a bit 'used' and anyone wishing to volunteer their assistance should contact the Hut Warden.
Excavation for the shed extension is progressing and almost complete. While I'd place this behind maintenance of the existing buildings in the priority list, it is possible to do it when the hut is full. You can't repaint the bunk rooms or the floors during a busy weekend.
Some years ago this section mentioned Gary Storrick's website. This has the most complete collection of rope access hardware I've seen. John Heathcote reminded me of it. It's worth a browse. Go to Storrick's website and select "Vertical Caving & Climbing Devices Collection". While there have a look at his "My Ten Most Wanted List". You may be able to help.
When I looked to see if all my various devices were listed I noticed that his description of how to use a Neill Box was wrong - he was using his upside down!. Evidently it arrived without instructions. He's amended his description, but still prefers his way of using it!!!
John also recommends: http://speleoclpa.free.fr/menujava/images_speleo_indexjava.htm for adults only!
I think your French needs to be to a higher standard than mine to make the most of this site. Click on "Sommaire de Souternet" at the top of the page to find links to collections of caving cartoons, puzzles, animations, images and information about all aspects of caving.
Grampian Speleological Group home page