Newsletter @ g-s-g.demon.co.uk
The GSG Jubilee publication 'Decades in the Dark' has won the Tratman Award for 2011. This is presented to the author of the best caving-related publication of the year. It was judged by three independent cavers who make their recommendation to the Ghar Parau Foundation which funds the award. The 2011 judges were Ric Halliwell, Chris Howes and Martin Mills. Opinion was also sought from a wider readership.
Books and club journals were considered for the award and from a shortlist of five the judges unanimously decided on Decades in the Dark. In reaching their decision, the judges noted that it contains a high volume of material written specifically for the publication rather than only reprinting past articles, it is liberally scattered with photographs, the text is interesting and readable, and the publication is far more than a chronology.
Congratulations therefore go to Alan 'Goon' Jeffreys and his team from the GSG. All entries in the shortlist should note the prestige that is conferred here, though there can be only one winner. The award itself is a piece of original artwork by Mark 'Gonzo' Lumley, which will be presented at Hidden Earth 2012. (Extracted from the announcement by Chris Howes on behalf of the Judges)
So a hearty "Well Done!" to Alan and the other 26 GSG members who contributed to the text and the 50 or more who took the photographs. It is not possible to be precise for the latter count as the photographers for several of the images are unknown.
Copies of Decades in the Dark are still available at £20 plus £2 postage from Alan or Ivan. There are no plans to print any more, so if you haven't bought one yet you had better do it now before news of the award spreads.
Julian Walford's dig down through boulders in Concretehead, Claonaite Seven (GSG NL 149 p7) has succeeded. A trip in February demolished another boulder and the debris was removed on Saturday 24th March. This almost allowed entry into a large void. Another Snapper was used and all returned to the hut for the evening's Curry-fest. The following morning a reduced team of four descended Rana. Julian and Preston went first followed by John Crae and me. By the time the second pair reached the dig there was neither sight nor sound of the others. They had obviously been there, so we took their absence as a sign that the Snapper of Saturday afternoon had done its job and they were through into... somewhere. John climbed down the dig, looked at the hole through into somewhere and decided it would be too tight for him and possibly unstable. I then tried and managed to squirm through into what looked like a stretch of recently wet clean-washed stream channel about six metres below the start of the dig.
I didn't recognise it at first, but the downstream direction looked familiar with a squeeze down past a boulder to flowing water. In the other direction a short crawl entered a larger passage at roof level and downstream from there I met a rock before a sump that was festooned with multi-coloured remnants of dive lines. Returning upstream, voices and lights revealed Julian and Preston crawling through a low wet pool. Julian confirmed that it was a low Sump 5 and they'd just returned from visiting Sump 3.
After a quick photograph of Preston - the first non-diver into Claonaites Four to Six - we returned to the Treen Scene, for that was where Julian's dig had entered Claonaite Six. I took another photo as Preston pushed his way back through the dig and hoped than it didn't collapse before I got out. I didn't really want to have to free-dive out through Sump 3! As Julian wrote in the hut log the connection 'needs careful enlarging in due course.' He also has a plan to radiolocate a promising dig that had been started in Claonaite Five to aim for a bypass to Sump5 as well.
So no great gain of passage, but we now have the opportunity to really look round Claonaites Four, Five and Six and perhaps even find a link through to Claonaite Three.
Verdict has to be that the location was an inspired choice by Julian and I'll have to order some more Snappers for his next project.
The 2012 AGM was held on Saturday 5th February in Winchburgh. Eighteen members attended in person and one member (that we know of!) viewed proceedings online. This was an experiment to see whether a web-cast would work - and also to find out what demand was ie whether it would be useful for members who couldn't attend the AGM due to distance or other commitments.
Below follows a brief summary of highlights for the benefit of those who couldn't attend or watch online:
In addition, it was agreed by the Management Committee present that Becki Carter be co-opted onto the Management Committee with responsibility for Training. Similarly, it was agreed that Andrew Morgan be co-opted on to the Management Committee as an Ordinary Member.
A full set of minutes will be available on the members' server.
The AGM vote choosing Durness for the 2012 Annual Dinner delighted local member Colin Coventry who immediately started organising. This will be the first GSG Annual Dinner to be held in Durness. The area probably suffers from its closeness to Assynt with few cavers travelling the extra miles to its caves. Smoo Cave is the best known and lies at the northern end of about 2.5 square miles of 'limestone', or dolostone to be more precise. There are many sea caves in the area including Balnakeil Gloup Cave with its underwater calcite formations. Inland, there are the Ach a'Chorrain Caves, Web Cave, and Colin's Egg-Timer Cave dig. There are also a host of potential dig sites, some of them listed by Iain Greig in his GSG Bulletin article (4th series, vol 3 no 4 March 2008)
The dinner will be held in the Smoo Cave Hotel on Saturday 27th October, This is a small hotel, but can cope with over 50 for a dinner. It only has a few bedrooms, but the B&B next door (run by the same folk) has more. We have booked exclusive use of Durness Youth Hostel which is opening especially for us over the weekend. Cost will be £24 per person for the Friday plus Saturday nights. Other accommodation is available and a longer list will appear in the next edition of this Newsletter.
It would be helpful if members could tell me now if they are planning to attend and stay in the hostel.
We finished 2011 with 160 members and at publication time for this Newsletter 148 have renewed, four have left and I am still awaiting a financial response from eight, of whom three have written positive emails, but no cheques. We have also signed on five new members which must be a record for so early in the year. We only signed on nine in the whole of 2011.
The company reopening the Tyndrum gold mining operation, Scotgold Resources, has announced the finding of platinum and gold group metals as well as nickel, copper and cobalt at a site north of Tyndrum. The find is on the north east ridge of Beinn Bheag, the mountain to the west of the A82 and about 3km north of Tyndrum. They also found platinum further west in Beinn Udlaidh but at a much lower level. The find is outside the Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park unlike the gold mine which took months of negotiation to get agreement.
Planning permission for the gold mine was granted in February and work is expected to start this summer. Scotgold plans to extract more then £50M worth of gold and silver over the next decade. It is the recent surge in metal prices that make it worth exploiting the mine. It has been 500 years since there was a successful gold mine in Scotland.
The SCM report for the Bone Caves and Bear Cave has been delivered to SNH and payment has been received. A copy of the reports, though not all the photographs that accompany them, will be placed on the GSG private web server.
When I replaced the entrance shaft ropes I hadn't planned on replacing the karabiners. When I looked, all those on the traverse between the two ladders sported grooves worn into them by the anchors. I condemned them all, not just the one at the top of the first ladder that needed a hacksaw to open it. The steel maillons I used will be replaced by steel krabs once I get hold of some more.
The NHBN report concludes "that it is likely that Assynt Caves are used by low numbers of bats, giving particular caves (i.e. Bone Caves (4), Cnoc Nan Uamh (upper) [ie Uamh Cailliche Peireag] and Uamh An Tartair (Knockan)) a Grade 2 status of importance as underground sites for bats. Further bat survey work could be undertaken at Rana Hole when full access is possible for bats." It also expresses concern at our proposed gate at Rana Hole if it completely blocked airflow and hence bat access.
The evidence for bat use is scanty with only two confirmed sightings during the emergence counts at the Bone Caves. All other detections could represent foraging activity and not cave use. While there have never been any reports of bats being seen in Assynt caves, that doesn't mean they don't use them. What is needed is more data and the GSG will be volunteering to help the Bat Group place detectors inside the caves and supply them with more information about the conditions underground.
We discussed the report and its conclusions with Sue Agnew at SNH's Ullapool office. She welcomed our offer of assistance and we'll see what comes of it. More work is needed and members are urged to report any bat sightings in caves and mines in Scotland to me for forwarding to SNH, NHBN or other appropriate body. Reports should include location, date and time, what the bat was doing, and while identifying the species would be ideal, a rough description including estimated size could prove useful. Note that bats are protected and you should not disturb them. Even taking flash photographs or shining bright lights at them is frowned upon. A copy of the bat code is included in the report which is now on the GSG private web server. It is in the Miscellaneous Information section of the Document Archive.
Where's Wallace? - It might make an intriguing project for a GSG member to visit and record all the Wallace's Caves in Scotland. There is good location information for some and very sparse for others. One in Glen Farg, Fife was destroyed in 1890 when the railway was built. Another near Pitroddie east of Perth seems to have been mislaid with wildly varying grid references being quoted. John found a description in Chambers' Edinburgh Journal for 5th September 1840 which is reproduced here. It is a first hand account and doesn't match any of the grid references.
"While skulking under the protection of his uncle, he is said to have concealed himself occasionally in a cave within the glen of Pitroddie near Kilspindy. We had lately the curiosity to visit this glen, and to inspect the cave. The glen is wild and lonely, with steep furzy slopes, and a little rill trickling at the bottom. In the face of a porphyritic rock overhanging the rivulet, there is a long slit, which was probably at one time masked with brush- wood. On entering this opening, we find that from the rock hanging over in a screen-like fashion in front, there is room both to stand and to lie in the interior."
Any member with a couple of spare hours could probably walk the length of Pitroddie Glen, or Den as it is named on the OS map, and see if the cave is still there. There are a lot of old quarries thereabouts so perhaps it is another Wallace's cave that is no more.
I found that Google had scanned the Journal as part of their ambition to scan everything. It can be found at:- http://www.archive.org/stream/chamberssedinbu08chamgoog#page/n270/mode/2up
There was also a text version. I assumed that it has been processed through optical character recognition software and it might be interesting to search for 'cave' and 'cavern' and similar terms. However the OCR hadn't had much success and it was useless.
Two Skulls was described in GSG Bull 4th Series Vol. 4 No.2 p15 (Oct 2009) and is at NGR NG 63025 13593. This should now be taken as the location for Mossy Cave and the Two Skulls name retired.
A very well attended and successful meet was held in late January. Numbers were such that accommodation was changed to Bull Pot Farm to find enough space for 16 members. Calf Holes on the Saturday provided a suitable venue for new members to be introduced to caving gear and techniques, while on Sunday some joined a SMCC member and permit to descend Shuttleworth Pot. This is a comparatively recent discovery with exceptional formations. The rest of the group did Bull Pot of the Witches.
GSG members Fraser Simpson, Graham Marshall, Ross Davidson, Thomas Arbenz, Mark Tringham, Sharry Ghazy, Simon Brooks and Brian Kharpran Daly were all in attendance for this year's 20th Anniversary Caving in the Abode of the Clouds expedition to Meghalaya, NE India.
The 2012 Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Expedition took place from the 5th to 25th February 2012. This year's event was of particular significance in that it marked the 20th Anniversary of the project's exploration activities in Meghalaya that began in 1992. The 24 strong 2012 Expedition Team had good representation from the GSG. Fraser Simpson, Graham Marshall, Ross Davidson, Thomas Arbenz, Mark Tringham, Shary Ghazy and Simon Brooks were all in attendance as was Brian Kharpran Daly. The expedition focused on two separate areas, the first being in the areas of Kseh, Larket and Khahnar in the Jaintia Hills and the second in Mawsynram and Balat areas of the East Khasi Hills.
In the East Khasi Hills the main achievements from the 10 strong expedition team were the further exploration and extension of the large river cave known as Krem Mawpun, from 1,694m to 2,541m to become India's 2nd longest sandstone cave. In the nearby village of Plangwangbro Krem Lymbit was extended from 826m to 1659m and Krem Loit was explored for 685m. Krem Jynnaiw 1, 2 and 3, partially explored in 1992 were all extended. Whilst hidden deep within the forest the impressively sized Krem Mawjudock, a relic cave with a huge bat colony disappointingly only yielded 423m. For the last two weeks the expedition team in the East Khasi Hills was joined by an Iranian film crew of four who worked alongside the team making a documentary about the Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Project and cave exploration in Meghalaya in general. The East Khasi Hills team surveyed a total of 6.1km of new passage.
The Kopili team was lucky enough to discover a major collector, Krem Khung (Wolverine Cave) on the third day of the expedition. This was pushed to 5.2km over the course of the expedition. The cave featured some very large passages, with lots of wet sections, boulder passages and chokes to negotiate. The current end has several undescended pots and a window looking out over a chamber containing a lake almost 40m long with a substantial inlet flowing at the far end, the first significant amount of flowing water seen in the cave, as well as large fish, clearly visible from the top of the 12m pitch! Several photographic trips were done, as well as extensions of previous caves such as Krem Man Krem and Krem Labit Kseh. Two biologists present on the Kopili team collected a substantial number of troglobytic animals. This team also had an injury, when Rich Hudson slipped and managed to find a razor sharp edge of rock, which sliced open his wrist deep enough to reveal tendons. A quick patch up with steri strips, gaffer tape and neoprene and a swift exit saw him off to Jowai for some hospital treatment with rather questionable hygiene standards.
On return via Meghalaya's state capital Shillong, a party was held in order to commemorate the twentieth anniversary, with a good number of friends and supporters from Shillong and further afield turning out to help us celebrate and admire our photos. Overall the expedition managed to survey 12.9km of new passage, as well as locating lots of new entrances, leaving us all eagerly awaiting our next visit.
To date (February 2012) the whereabouts of over 1,300 caves and cave locations are known in Meghalaya of which 825 have been explored or partially explored to yield in excess of 376.9 kilometres of surveyed cave passage, with much more still waiting to be discovered.
The FSE (Fédération Spéléologique Européenne) have just accepted the BCA's offer to host the 2016 European Speleological Congress in the UK. It is scheduled for the 6th to 13th August 2016 and is to be held in Ingleton. Congress's are held every eight years and this will be the fifth. The last was in Vercors in 2008. Other European events such as the EuroSpeleo Image'In Film Festival may also be rolled into the programme. Definitely an event to add to your diary - either to attend the talks or avoid the crowds!
GSG members are club individual members of the BCA and can attend and vote at the BCA AGM. They just need to take their BCA membership card with them to the Baptist Church Hall in Alvechurch on Saturday 9th June at 10:30am. More information on the meeting and PDF files with the minutes of the previous meeting, and agenda, reports and accounts for the 2012 meeting will be available on the BCA website - http://www.british-caving.org.uk/?page=151
Recent reports on the UKcaving forum revealed that the Marton Arms (just west of Ingleton and en route for Kingsdale) had closed in February. Latest reports have it reopening under new management on 12th March. The only review contributed so far comments that the new guys are very friendly, working hard and offering a good food menu.
If anyone is willing to organise a club caving trip, tell me and I can send off for any permits required. Also let me know of any caves you'd like to visit. Contact me with your suggestions.
The influx of new enthusiastic members continues. Five were announced in the last issue - Katie and Rob are now full members, and there are another three to welcome to the Group:-
Originally scheduled in January when many of the likely participants were out of the country or otherwise engaged, the Scottish Evening repast was moved to February. The weather was less than kind being of the horizontal variety. We saw a lot of it blowing past from rain to sleet to snow to hail. Despite that there was caving on both days and Peter Dowswell and his helpers served up a superb meal and a half for nineteen - only four of the six roast chickens were eaten at the time. The cost was the by now standard fiver per head, and the surplus after paying for the food - £36, was donated to ELKCAL (Elphin Ledmore and Knockan Community Association Ltd.).
In March a smaller group met for a curry evening in considerably better weather. Streams were lower, there was no precipitation, the sun shone and there were no midges! Carol and Rosemary served up carnivore curries while Martyn Elwell produced a fine banana and courgette curry. There was a modest surplus which we'll donate to ELKCAL.
The next planned culinary event at the hut is the Midsummer BBQ then there is a gap until the Xmas party.
Sutherland regulars were saddened by the recent death of Murdo Mackenzie aged 85 on 10th January. Although not a club member, Murdo was a regular at the Alt particularly in the early years, and was well known to many of us. He had rather a liking for a dram and was a great character, entertaining company and renowned for his mischievous grin.
A time served carpenter to trade, Murdo had worked all over Scotland before finally returning to the family croft at Elphin. After a good few years there he finally retired to Ullapool about ten years ago where he made many more friends.
His funeral at the Ullapool Free Church was a very well attended affair, with standing room only. Many also attended his burial at the family plot in Inchnadamph graveyard. En route, we stopped at Loch Awe, apparently a traditional place of reflection, and, whilst a piper played, we enjoyed a dram, cheese and oatcakes and toasted his memory. The burial was very moving.As a piper played and the sun sank slowly down over the mountain, moor and loch he was gently lowered to his final resting place.
Finally, we gathered in his favourite pub in Ullapool for the wake, where it was good to catch up with many of the old Allt regulars, including Raymond, Janet and Christine and reflect on the 'old days'.
He will be greatly missed by all those that knew him.
From 3 to 10 October 2012, the community of Assynt will hold a festival celebrating the cultural and natural heritage of the area. During the year lots of local organisations are running events, which will culminate in the festival week. Look at the website http://www.assyntfestival.org.uk for latest news and a list of planned activities. Andy Summers of Highland Council Ranger Service in Lochinver has asked if the GSG would take part, perhaps with guided cave trips. I've suggested a talk might be more appropriate and popular given the time of year.
After bringing in the New Year in an Alt crowded with locals, the GSG met many of them again the following evening in the Elphin Community Centre. A mini-ceilidh at one end of the main room left room for more activities including eating and drinking at the other, while a pool table was being well used in one of the smaller rooms - short cues essential!
We also joined one of their 'Fridays for All' events in February. There was a good crowd there to welcome us and it has obviously become very popular. They have a full programme lined up for the year - see http://www.elkcal.co.uk/. GSG members are welcome and should BYOB.
To meet building standards for a community hall the ELKs will soon be upgrading the old school building to include three ladies toilets along with other work. Winter gales lifted flashing on the roof leading to water damage that is covered by insurance. An application has been made for an entertainments licence because the general public will attend some events. A series of Elphin Markets are scheduled from May through to September showcasing local food and crafts. There is a Dog Show planned for May, a Music Festival in July and a Chicken Day in September.
As GSG members walked up the track to Glenbain Cottage in February they found a new track heading uphill before reaching the concrete ford over the Allt Poll an Droighinn. This led to what appears to be a building site so adding one and one and getting 11 we can only assume that George Vesty has started building his lodge.
SEPA - The Scottish Environment Protection Agency have upgraded their website to include more monitoring stations. This link shows a map of the area near Elphin, with the monitoring stations shown. Of particular interest are Elphin itself (Abhainn a' Chnocain, just south of the hut), the River Canaird at Langwell Lodge, some 9km SSW of the hut, and the River Oykel at Loch Ailsh outflow, some 5 km east of the Alt Bar.
Together with the Ardmair Point weather station: http://ardmair.com/weather/Ardmair-Point.htm a fair idea of the water conditions in Assynt is possible. As well as the Norwegian forecast for Elphin, the Weather Online 'expert' charts give a good forecast in terms of detail (go to www.weatheronline.co.uk, select Expert Maps then NW Europe for the subregion, and click 'loop' above the map for over two weeks of weather prediction).
To see a map of UK weather stations:- www.weatherstations.co.uk/aws_map.htm This shows lots of stations only a few of which are in the north. Another site where you can type in your postcode to find the nearest weather station is:- www.wunderground.com
Thanks to Chris Chapman for those links.
A network of GPS monitoring stations set up by the UK government is recording an average of ten jamming incidents per month. The jamming affects all users in the vicinity and Ordnance Survey has been one of the victims. The report says "most jammers seem to be being used by truckers to stop 'spy-in-the-cab' tachographs working, preventing their journeys being tracked by their bosses, or by thieves stealing commercial vehicles." The GPS signal strength is very weak and easily jammed with a simple transmitter. Probably not a problem when surveying cave entrances far from the road,
The material for the exhibition and a selection of exhibits is now with Ullapool Museum for all of April. We've added more Assynt related images to it plus some for Uamh nam Fior Iongantais in Applecross. The museum will attach our images and captions to their own panels and show our exhibits including a selection of GSG publications in their display cases.
During the second half of May we'll erect the exhibition in the Elphin Community Centre. That'll span two of their Market Days and their Dog Show. It'll be squeezed into one of the upstairs rooms. so won't be in the way of other activities.
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