Grampian Speleological Group Newsletter
Number 149, January 2012

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Farewell to Freddie

The GSG's senior member Freddie Brandon died at home on Saturday 3rd December 2011 aged 86. He had been ill for some time and in and out of hospital. His funeral on Friday 9th December was very well attended and many of his GSG friends were there to wish him farewell. He leaves behind his son Roger, who flew in from Australia with his father-in-law for the funeral, his daughter Gillian and his partner of the last decade, Sheila Bedet.

Freddie joined the GSG in 1979 three years after Roger. He didn't go caving much, but was an enthusiastic supplier of BBQs at his Duddingston home, and a regular attendee at Annual Dinners. Members will remember one Skye dinner. As he drove his bug-eyed Austin Healey Sprite along the zig-zag road back to his B&B he zigged when the road zagged and needed more than a little help to regain the tarmac. When the new hut was being built in Elphin he was there with his sleeves rolled up helping when he could. He was also the one to cut the ribbon to open it 1994. He was responsible during that weekend for causing not a few hangovers as he plied members young and old with undiluted continental rocket fuel. A teacher of more than just academic knowledge!!

He maintained his interest in the GSG to the end, and this short note is far too rushed to be a true appreciation of all he meant to those members who knew him. A fuller account will, I hope, appear in a later edition.


A Memory of Freddie

My everlasting memory of Freddie Brandon dates back to when I was resident in Edinburgh (1978-83). One Tuesday night in the pub somebody must have enquired into my well-being. I replied, undoubtedly brashly and probably louder than normal, that life was 'tough' and I was thinking of joining the French Foreign Legion, but couldn't find the phone number in the Yellow Pages.

Freddie, who was nearby, said quietly, as if a voice off, that he would not recommend it. Upon enquiry it transpired that he, with others, had joined in his native Czechoslovakia as part of the enrolment package was a large number of cigarettes which had a significant value on the black market. They had been taken by lorry to Marseilles en route to North Africa. He and a few others jumped ship and made their way back across country to Czechoslovakia. Freddie and some of them enrolled again for more cigarettes... but Freddie was the only one to escape a second time!

Needless to say I was much humbled - such was the life experience and nature of the man. He will be much missed.

Martin Mills

Knockan Hut Takes Flight

As GSG members drove through Knockan on their way to the hut on Friday 9th December they noticed something had changed. It was dark, but we all agreed that the Knockan Field Hut used by the GSG from 1965 to the mid-90's seemed to have changed. A walk along the road in the morning found it converted to worse than a flat-pack. Only the concrete block extension we added in 1976 was standing along with that part of the back wall of the hut attached to it.

A van from Ullapool Construction drew up. The driver was there to visit his barn below the road, not because he was after repair work! He said that a window had blown in and some other damage had been done a couple of weeks before. The exceptional winds on Thursday 8th had then completed the destruction.

We handed the hut back to Dick MacLeod in 2007 after using it rent-free since 1965*. At the time he was intending to do it up, but wasn't very well. According to our informant he recently got married so perhaps that too diverted his attention from restoration. What happens next is not our responsibility, but next time we're in Assynt perhaps we'll visit Dick and offer a hand clearing the wreckage.


Toby Takes a Tumble

GSG member Toby Speight is presently (28 December) in Lancaster Infirmary after a tussle with a boulder in Molluscan Hall, Ease Gill on Christmas Day. He came off worst with an incomplete fracture of the femur just above the knee. The good news is that it doesn't require surgery, but he will be out of caving action for a month or two. Despite his injury he was able to self-rescue most of the way out with some help from the rest of the party before they called the CRO. To quote one experienced in such matters, i.e. Goon, "Who needs CROs?  Even sub-megabeings can get themselves out with a little assistance!!"

Molluscan Hall is about 400m from the County Pot entrance to the Ease Gill System. Evidently the rest of Toby's party had already passed the offending boulder when it decided to move. It was a large one weighing several tonnes and had probably been passed by many cavers over the years without incident. A wee reminder that though caves can be at their most dangerous when first discovered they can rarely be considered totally safe.

We wish Toby a rapid recovery from a serious injury that could so easily have been far worse.

Latest news is that Toby is now in Edinburgh with his right leg in plaster for perhaps the next three months.

GSG Annual General Meeting 2012

The GSG AGM is being held on Saturday 4th February at Derek and Elizabeth's house in Winchburgh starting at 10:30 am. If you have any business for discussion at the meeting please send details to The Secretary, Elizabeth Ellis. All the posts in the Management Committee are up for election and nominations for them are encouraged. Too many of the existing committee have been there since the last century and new faces would be very welcome.

GSG Annual Dinner 2011

Some time ago it was decided that the most appropriate place to hold the October dinner this year was in Assynt to further celebrate the Jubilee Year and contrast with the Jubilee Dinner in Edinburgh back in June, an altogether splendid but much more formal occasion. Rosemary Jones was given the invidious task of finding somewhere suitable - you'll have to learn to duck, Rosemary - no longer easy as the range of places available is rapidly diminishing. The Alt is not big enough and neither really is the Inch - remember the overflow dinner last time we were there three years ago? And in any case the Inch closes for the winter in mid-October.

After toying with the idea of having it at Inchnadamph Lodge with outside caterers, something which might have worked well if Rosemary had been able to get a response from the caterers, she settled on the Caledonian Hotel in Ullapool. This too sounded less than ideal as "they had to feed the coach party first and we might have to share the room with some lingerers", but was one of the few places about which could cater for the numbers.

Our (Milche's and mine) weekend began on the Thursday morning, after we had been walking in the Peak District on the Wednesday and then attended a concert in Liverpool on the way home, arriving home around midnight. However we were fairly well packed and ready to go and got on our way in good time. After stopping to grab a sandwich for lunch in the car park of what used to be Caithness Glass in Perth but now appears to be Graham Tiso, we reached Inverness just after 3pm where we stopped for a break and a visit to Leakey's bookshop and some provisioning and the last cheap fuel we would see until our return to Inverness on the Sunday.

We got to the Hut at about 6.30 and after persuading people to allow us to park our campervan in the only fairly level space at the front of the Hut, managed to get ourselves completely blocked so had to scrounge a lift to the Alt where Mike had kindly put on a curry night especially for the cavers. Approximately 18 of us made our way down and a good night was had by all.

Friday saw people going caving, walking, and for us, general festering - Ullapool Bookshop (expensive visit - too many good books!) Achiltibuie Smokehouse (nice smoked salmon, etc), Achin's Bookshop (closed) and Lochinver for the Pie Shop. I have to say driving the Inverpolly road in the van is quite exciting!

Saturday again was spent in a variety of ways, caving, walking, filming, talking, and so on and in the evening we were all dressed up and ready to go for the coach to take us to Ullapool at 6.00 pm. £5.00 per head for the return trip was, I thought, very good value for money. Arriving at the dinner venue so early gave us plenty of time to catch up with friends who were slumming it in the Hotel and other places in Ullapool. We were told we could have access to the dining room after 7.30 which gave Fraser time to set up his projector and screen for the after-dinner entertainment.

By the time we were called through to dinner, the dining room had been completely reorganised from individual tables into a large U-shape and all the other guests had cleared the room. The meal was good and was quickly and efficiently served. Ivan with his usual forethought had provided everyone with their personal menu to be left at their place so that the waiting staff could put the correct meal down if by chance people had wandered off to talk to others or off to the bar.

After the meal coffee was self-service so you could have as much or as little as you wanted. People then returned to the dining room for Goon's eloquent toast to the club which was followed by Ivan's toast to Absent Friends who had come up with such various excuses as 60th, 70th and even 80th birthday parties which clashed. Then came the presentation of the Golden Gnome to Ritchie Simpson and Toby Speight representing the discoverers of the new cave in Applecross.

After this Milche reminded people that it was 40 years since he had first attended a GSG dinner (Hill Inn, Chapel-le-Dale) and asked who else had been there.

Next came Fraser's Claonaite the Movie, played to great acclaim. Milche and I then again hijacked the proceedings and showed our presentation on Smoo Cave. After this we made a presentation to Colin Coventry of a copy of our presentation and a copy of one of the Colin the Coastguard books - Colin Rescues Slippy.

It was a great pleasure that everyone stayed in the dining room after the meal and there were lots of opportunities for talking to friends old and new.

At midnight the Cinderella coach arrived to take us back to the hut where the festivities continued well into the night. This is the point at which we are grateful that we can retire to our van in peace - not that I am admitting to getting old!

All in all it was a great weekend, a nice meal in a good venue, well served, lots of good company and friends old and new. Many thanks to Rosemary for all her organisation and to the club for a lovely weekend.

Kirsty Mills

G N O M E O D E 2 0 1 1


The Children's Encyclopaedia
Contains chapters on science and art,
Literature and technical trivia;
All you need to become very smart.

But it doesn't say that much on caving
Beyond the odd picture or two.
It says nothing about stalactite saving,
Or how to protect them when new.

It's a burdensome responsibility
And one we could well do without.
To be saddled with such liability
When really you'd be happy with nowt.

But when the discovery's made
And the caving world sings with delight,
Explorers must deal with the accolade.
Perhaps make the entrance too tight?

Of course I speak of the Cave of True Wonders
In Applecross' wilderness found.
And the finders who split rocks asunder
Just to get themselves underground.

It's too late for the Children's Encyclopaedia,
That's been out of print for some years.
However that hasn't prevented the media
From showing the way to sightseers.

We raise up a glass to the explorers,
To David, Jane, Ritchie and Toby.
For this jewel they have opened up for us
We bestow on them all the Gnome Trophy.

by Alan Jeffreys

GSG Win J'Rat Digging Award

This annual award to the club finding and surveying the most passage in Mendip or Scotland during the previous 12 months was awarded to the GSG for 500m discovered in Uamh nam Fior Iongantais, Applecross. It was close run as the competing discoveries in Charterhouse Cave and Pierre's Pot were only 20 or 30 metres behind.

The award was made during the Mendip Cave Rescue's 75th Anniversary Celebration in Priddy Village Hall on the 19th November. All four of the discovery and exploration team (David Morrison, Jane Stewart-Bollen, Ritchie Simpson and Toby Speight) were there as were many other GSG members including another three from Scotland. I counted over 20 over the course of the day. Peter Glanvill surprised us by presenting three T-shirts bearing the cave name and survey to the four discoverers. I don't know who lost out, but I saw Jane and Toby with two of them.

David, Jane and Ritchie drove down over the Friday night and, failing to find the Belfry, parked in a lay-by for a few hours kip before appearing at the Village Hall towards midday to the relief of the rest of the team. They all had a fine weekend including a descent of Hunter's Lodge Inn Sink on the Saturday before the Award ceremony. Other descents of the weekend included the digs at Home Close Hole and Templeton.

Samantha Johnson and the Cave of Ancient Artefacts

Starring Colin the Caveman as the Mysterious Guide and introducing Samantha Johnson as the Intrepid Explorer, with Rebecca Johnson in a supporting role as Mum. 'Twas a blustery day in the Northern-most extremities of the Scottish Highlands, and the Mysterious Guide decided to take young Johnson on her first proper caving trip (age 6).

The crew of three strode over hillock and tussock, with barely a single "Are we there yet?" until with shaking hands the Mysterious Guide pointed to the gated entrance of a dark foreboding cavern. This was the entrance of the Lesser Northern Eggtimer.

Having already seen the bones and teeth of unfortunate creatures who had dared risk the descent, we took time to fully prepare ourselves for the way ahead.

The Mysterious Guide took the lead and crawled, wriggled and squeezed through the difficult passageway. Samantha Johnson walked on behind, only crawling through a tight sporting section, before breaking out into the chamber.

The way ahead beckoned us on. An inviting dark patch with virgin cave beyond, but Mum wasn't too keen on carrying out Colin's evil plan of poking small child through small hole into unknown passages. Eventually Colin relented, mostly due to his fear of what Jake Johnson would do should anything happen to said small child!

Mother and child led the way back to the surface, with Colin following on. Small cavers rule and the smallest caver can't wait for more!!

Rebecca Johnson


Assynt - Site Condition Monitoring

Tim Lawson found a bird skull and some long bones in Bone Cave number 5 during the site condition monitoring project for SNH (GSG NL 148 p3). The skull has now been identified by Andrew Kitchener of National Museums Scotland as coming from a female golden eagle. Tim has therefore proposed that the cave be named 'Eagle Cave'.

Uamh an Claonaite - Several digging trips into Concretehead in Claonaite Seven have been made by Julian Walford supported by variously Martin Hayes, Bob Mehew, John Crae, and Ivan. Julian is excavating a route down through boulders at the bottom of the 'crater' under the climb up into Duelling Pianos. This is thought to be near boulder piles at the east end of the Treen Scene in Claonaite Six or possibly similar passage in Claonaite Five. A better survey of the whole area is needed.

Appin - Two meets in November and December provided the opportunity for newer members to acquaint themselves with some of the longer caves in this caving area. During the first Uamh an Claig-ionn, Broken Expectations, Uamh Coire Shealach and Clear Midge Hole were amongst the caves explored. Ross pushed the bedding at the end of Broken Expectations and found new territory beyond. He dropped into a tube running across the end of the bedding and a short dig gained another larger chamber running in the same direction as the main cave. During the December meet in much wetter conditions he returned to find it well watered. He dug in the terminal rift, but it was too tight and no further progress was possible. The main cave visited that weekend was Chamber Pot: an intriguingly intricate system that deserves a photographic trip. Attempts to reach the Coire Mulrooney caves higher up the mountainside were aborted due to steep snow slopes.

In early November David Morrison and Jane Stewart-Bollen toured Glen Stockdale picking up caves such as Glen Stockdale Cave, Heifer's Outwash, Short Circuit and Roaring Waters. They also noted a few places where digging could gain new passage and one obvious site with several metres of passage visible that hasn't been noted before.

Applecross - Uamh nam Fior Iongantais has been flooded almost all the time since August. David, Ritchie and Jane did manage to enter it in early November. They pushed a hole in the roof of the lower streamway up into Fossil Chamber and dug through into a further smaller chamber beyond. This added another 20m to the cave and at an estimated 225m makes it longer than Cave of the Liar and elevates it to Scotland's fourth longest cave. It also leaves it with another unpushed lead at the end of the latest discovery.

Yorkshire - The end of November saw three simultaneous trips in Yorkshire. While one party joined an EUG meet, Ross Davidson and Imogen Furlong attempted a round trip in Ireby via Cripple Creek. This was delayed due to a slow party in front of them and then eventually aborted when they couldn't find the way through. Water conditions were such that the complete circuit probably wasn't going to be possible anyway. The third trip was Goon taking new member Philip Lawley on his first Yorkshire trip down Long Churn and into Alum Pot.


2012 Meets and Events

See the events page.

Membership News

We've had a flurry of interest in recent months with four new members and two more intending to join on 1st January provided we meet their approval when we take them on their first caving trip:-

Tony Jarrett's Log Books

J'Rat's caving log books have been available on the Mendip Cave Registry & Archive website ( for some time as page images. There are 15 of them covering the years from the start of his caving career to his death in 2008. While many of the later books covered only a single year, the first covered a decade and numbers one to five the first 30 years. Those first five have now been transcribed by Peter Burgess to electronic form and are available on the MCRA site as to JratVol5.pdf Just those five sum to 26 Mbyte and represent almost 1100 pages of Log Book entries. The great advantage over the page image version is that they are searchable. There is also a Word document to download that lists all the discoveries where Tony was involved.


Continuing my abstracts of new material lodged in the club library, the following may prove of interest to members. I would however observe that there was no reaction to my last contribution! Keeping abreast of what goes on in British (and foreign) caving, I would have thought, should be the forefront of every caver's schedule and anyway, reading about it is a pleasure to be savoured on stormy winter evenings.

Amongst the books recently acquired are the following:

David Johnson (2008) Ingleborough. Landscape and History. An attractive publication detailing the geology, landscape, archaeology and modern usage of this most popular mountain. Produced by and for the Yorkshire Dales National Park and English Heritage, this work does not major on the caves - indeed you will find them mentioned only in geological or landscape evolution contexts - but it provides a most entertaining account of Ingleborough in all its facets and is profusely illustrated with colour and black and white photographs.

Paul Bahn & Paul Pettitt (2009) Britain's Oldest Art. The Ice Age Cave Art of Cresswell Crags. Another English Heritage production which comprehensively discusses the comparatively recent identification of Palaeolithic etchings in caves along the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border.

Some fresh adult caving fiction has come along for those who like to depart from plain fact.

Marian McConnell's 1999 'Emergence' centres around Dragon's Den Cave in Virginia (I haven't been able to establish whether this is a real cave or fictional) and is illustrated with attractive line drawings. I have not read it personally yet (too many in the queue!). This is a signed copy.

Ali Cooper's 2011 'Cave' is a British-based novel by a member of Devon Speleo. Society. I am only half way through this at present but it holds the attention and, being written by an active caver, has the merit of accuracy. South Wales caves are used as locations. As a mark of respect, one character, 'Simon Prat' is overtly based on the late Tony Jarratt and the book dedicated to his memory. What higher accolade could one wish for?

Belfry Bulletin No. 540. Meghalaya 2010, an historical account of the Belfry 1947-1980 and reports on various Mendip digs.

No.541. Dachstein Expedition 2010, more on the Belfry 1947-1980; John Buxton's autobiography of cave diving from 1954 to present (he still dives!) and a gear report on 'Bump caps', a construction industry head protection useful when engaged in long digging trips.

Craven Pothole Club 'Record' No. 104 (2011) A descent of Voronya (deepest cave in the world), articles on historical subjects concerning Stump Cross Caverns, and a trip down the Gouffre FĂ©lix Trombe in the Pyrenees.

Descent No.223 (2011-12) Something members should subscribe to anyway. A full colour issue with an account of the Three Counties System linkup, a photographic bonanza in the caves of the Haut-Languedoc, book and gear reviews etc.

Sheffield Univ. S.S. Journal Vol.5 Nos. 1,2 (2010-2011) Well produced, colour journals with accounts of extensions in Peak Cavern, trips to Slovenia and Matienzo and in No.2 a celebration of fifty years of SUSS, broken into decades. Some of this touches on Sutherland trips carried out in the late 1940s and early 1950s by SUSS members.

Subterranea Britannica 'Subterranea' No.28 (2011) A well-printed glossy packed with snippets about artificial and natural cavities all over the world, but majoring on disused nuclear and WW2 bunkers and command bases. There are interesting features on underground Wittstock and the Bunker Tunnel system at Obersalzberg (below Hitler's 'Eagle's Nest' retreat).

DVDs. The library has copies of the recent 'Landward' cave features: Rescue Practice at Argyll; Smoo Cave, and the carol singing at Pittenweem. Also the Gaelic programme on Uamh nam Iongantais Fior at Applecross.


GSG Xmas Dinner

Numbers were a bit down for the GSG Xmas feast in the hut on the 10th December. Fourteen members and guests enjoyed a superb feed of at least six instalments prepared by master chef Peter Dowswell and his team of helpers including Rosemary and Carol. We had expected a few more, but the weather discouraged several. In fact after a little snow at the start of the weekend the weather warmed considerably and the roads were trouble-free for the return home on Sunday. The reduced number did mean more than enough food to go round with one person going back for thirds of the excellent soup. Though Peter claimed to be disappointed with the black pudding and plum-based stuffing in his 'Glazed Pork Fillet with Piquant Stuffing', I and the others gave it full marks. Perhaps he was just angling for compliments.

Hilti Batteries & Charger

 A pair of new 12 volt sealed lead acid batteries have been purchased to power the Hilti Drill, as the existing ones had died. These are exact replacements, and hence fit in the existing yellow Pelicase.


A new charger has also been purchased which is a 24 volt charger and has been fitted with a plug like the Hilti drill. To charge the batteries, simply open the Pelicase, plug the charger to the batteries, plug in the charger to the mains, and the green light will come on. Switch the mains on and the green light changes to red. Once the batteries are charged, the red light changes back to green. The charger can be left attached overnight. Simpler than the previous system.


Julian Walford

Internet Caving

GSG Jubilee Exhibition

By October the display panels we created for the GSG Jubilee Exhibition had been seen at our reception in George Street, at Edinburgh International Climbing Arena - Ratho, and at Hidden Earth. Our objective was to display it in the main Scottish caving areas so at that time we had failed.

During the GSG Annual Dinner weekend I, with help from Kirsty and Martin Mills, installed the exhibition in Lochinver Leisure Centre. I collected it in December when I was back for the GSG Xmas Dinner. I was told that it had attracted some interest, but evidently not enough for anyone to contact us - yet.

I visited Ullapool Museum in October to see if we could leave the exhibition with them. They don't have room in the museum itself, but they do have a trailer that they take around the area. Provided they could transfer the exhibition onto their own display panels they sounded keen to take it. They are now closed for the winter so we've plenty of time to decide what they could select from our displays. In the meantime we'll contact Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh and see if we can erect it there for a few weeks.

If anyone has thoughts about other suitable venues in Scottish caving areas - Skye? Appin? - please let Ivan or Goon know.

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