Belfry Bulletin

Search Our Site

Article Index


Hunters Lodge Inn Sink Part 1 - Pushing the Streamway and a Sign of the Times.

by Tony Jarratt

The history of this dig has involved all sorts of surprises and coincidences and not a small amount of amusement.  One of the best of these was the apparently unrelated project of Roger and Jacquie to reinstate the hanging inn sign at the Priddy Road end of the building.  Originally painted by John Lovelace in the early 70s it soon flaked and was taken down.  It had an owl on one side and a badger on the other.  Several months ago, before the latest discoveries, the plan to make a new one was put into motion and eventually a professional firm took over the task.  It was finished on 30th September and gleefully shown to the writer who was amazed and delighted to see that the new Hunters Lodge Inn sign bore a series of cave painting replicas of bison, reindeer, mammoth and prehistoric hunters copied from the old Pub wallpaper!  It is now installed and is probably the only one in the world with this motif.  It could not be more appropriate.  On the same day the writer received a call from Maggie Matthews of the BBC s Inside Out documentary series.  She was hoping to film a short human interest programme on the discoveries and no doubt the inn sign would have featured strongly in this.  This project later developed into a potential pilot documentary in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit and the Open University to be produced by Bethan Waite and introduced by Alan Titchmarsh!  The sign also featured in an article on the Pub and cave in the Fosse Way Magazine (No.4 72, 28/11/03).  The discovery was reported in Descent (No. 174, October/November 2003) with some excellent accompanying photos by Estelle Sandford.

I also received an Email from Bill Tolfree stating that the BCRA had approved a research grant of 390 pounds towards carbon dating a bone sample at the Oxford Laboratory.  A nomination for the Bryan Ellis Award (for innovation or enterprise in one of Bryan’s fields of interest) was proposed by Bill Tolfree (who preferred to think of it as for sheer stubborn bastardness).  I was gratified to win this at the BCRA Conference but was unable to attend to state that it was really won by the whole team who have grafted on this project over the last 2½ years.  One hundred pounds goes into the digging fund and I know that Bryan would have been delighted to have contributed to the exploration of a system so closely linked with his favourite watering hole and a cave he himself surveyed - Hunters Hole.

Work at John Walsh’s dig in Dear’s Ideal, Hunters Hole has recommenced in the hope of intersecting the master cave beyond Drip Tray Sump.  At this latter site the submersible pump has been installed and a lot of energy has been expended on emptying the pool and digging at the end. Conditions here are particularly unpleasant with poor air and deep, clinging mud.  The drained water is next seen in Pewter Pot where it is swallowed by the Slop 3 dig.  The adjacent Hair of the Dog Sump drained away naturally during the dry weather to reveal no open ways on and to save Rich Dolby from a second miserable dive! On a solo visit on 22nd October Alex did some token digging at the lowest point after hearing running water below the floor.  Slop 3 also dried up and became reinstated as a promising site. Trev, Vern, John Walsh and others have done some good work here and on 26th October Trev mutilated an obstructing boulder to gain a view into some 3m of squalid canal passage with a solid, calcited ceiling.  A visit by John on 3rd November revealed this dig to have flooded and become inaccessible, probably until next summer.

Walling up operations have continued at the Inn-let climb with Bev, Gwilym, Jeff Price and the writer in the multiple roles of architects, foremen and most of the labour force.  This job is now completed and the climb is hopefully safe.

Dr. Pete Smart and Dr. David Richards (UBSS) have commenced stal dating experiments as part of the current Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project which ties in with the palaeontological remains.  A very tentative result from this indicates that the bones may be considerably older than previously thought but more sampling will need to be done to confirm this. Lots more bones have been removed for identification by Dr. Jacobi and a trial dig will be conducted at the site. Tangent has opened up a passage near the terminal choke which is heading SE towards B.A.B. and Tony Boycott has attacked this with drill and assorted rock buggering devices.  November 6th saw Tangent and the writer enter 2m of open passage with a view down into a low, calcited mud floored phreatic crawl. Above this two bison (1) molars and a bone calcited to the limestone wall provide evidence of previously higher sediment levels now washed away and eminently justify this dig.  A bison right scapula and associated sediment, lots of assorted large animal bones, mainly reindeer, and the broken jawbone of a northern vole have been dispatched to the British Museum.

Nick Mitchell and Tangent have not yet continued with their climbing project in Broon Ale Boulevard but the first aven was free-climbed by the writer for 18m to where it closed down. This muddy, decorated phreatic rift was left rigged until a survey leg can be done.

On October 11th Dr. Peter Glanvill and acting nurse Ken Passant attempted surgery on the broken stalactite in H.H.H. but the operation was not a success and the patient remained detached, fractured and prone.  On the benefit side some photos were taken in B.A.B. Pete returned on the 19th with matronly pharmacist Pete Rose to restore the invalid to a vertical, though heavily splinted, position.

Next day sprightly 69 year old Malcolm Cotter (MCG) videoed most of the cave during a tourist trip to the end of B.A.B. Having a reputation as one of Mendip s most dedicated diggers it was a privilege to show him around.

Blasting operations have recommenced at the Cellar Dig in H.H.H. in the hope of discovering the stream passage below.  On 15th November, following separate digging sessions by Trev and the writer, a draughting hole was opened up heading out under the boulder floor of H.H.H. Obstructing boulders were banged next day and on 17th Jeff Price, Tim Large, John Walsh, Alex Livingston and the writer removed many bags of mud and lots of rocks to reveal a solid, calcited vertical rift over 2m deep but boulder choked.  Halfway through the digging session a heavy downpour sent a large flood pulse into the cave and the roaring of the stream could be heard below as it passed under the dig.  Much encouraged we banged a couple of boulders and retired to the bar.  Further work during the week saw the rift chemically enlarged and several boulders reduced to scree.  On 25th November a hole was opened up into another rift at right angles above the virgin stream passage where, due to heavy rain, rushing water could be heard not far away but could not be seen due to the traditional obstinate boulder blocking access.  This was banged the next day and on the 27th your scribe cleared the rubble to gain a view down a narrow slot into the streamway proper.  Once again access was denied by loose boulders so these were banged and this wet and filthy dig gratefully evacuated.  The lure of open passage was too much and so 24 hours later a return was made to clear the debris for a better view of the scalloped and clean washed vadose streamway below, alas still inaccessible due to razor sharp rock ledges protruding from the walls of the rift. Not having the drill today it was left for the 29th for the next bang and on 30th the stream was at last reached in a c. 6m section of caveable passage but still not passable due to fallen slabs. Trev and John hauled huge amounts of rock up to H.H.H. and were impressed by the progress and potential of this dig.  The story of further exploration here will be continued in the next article.

Our opening up of this cave has appropriately provided an opportunity for at least one bat to either take up residence or use the entrance shaft as an insect hunting ground. This is not the first time that Mendip diggers have actually provided a bat habitat - bat enthusiasts take note.

Bone identification - updated

1.Bison priscus.

Right dentary with MI-M3 with gnawing marks, possibly wolf (Canus lupus).

2. Bison priscus.

Distal right humerus.

3. Rangifer tarandus.

(Reindeer). Fragment of left dentary with M2 and M3.

4. Bison priscus.

Thoracic vertebra.

5. Rangifer tarandus.

Part of antler from young animal.

6. Bison priscus.

Right metacarpal.

7. Rangifer tarandus.

Left humerus.

8. Bison priscus.

Sub-adult.  Left metatarsal lacking unfused distal epiphysis.

9. Bison priscus.

Rib fragment.

10. Bison priscus.

Fragment of horn cone from large animal.

11. Bison priscus.


12. Rangifer tarandus.

Lumbar vertebra.

13. Rangifer tarandus.

Part of antler from young animal.

14. Rangifer tarandus.

Part of antler from young animal.

15. Rangifer tarandus.

Distal right tibia?  Gnawed at distal articulation.

16. Bison priscus.

Juvenile distal right humerus lacking proximal epiphysis.

17. Bison priscus.

(The much photographed, partly stalagmite encrusted long bone).  Left radius lacking distal extremity.

18. Rangifer tarandus.

Nine pieces of female or juvenile antler including two bases.

cf. Rangifer tarandus.

Rib fragment.

     Rangifer tarandus.

Shaft of juvenile left humerus.


Juvenile distal right radius lacking epiphysis.


Mid-shaft fragment of juvenile radius.


Anterior mid-shaft fragment of left metacarpal.


Right metacarpal lacking distal extremity.


Much damaged proximal right meatacarpal.


Partial right innominate.


Mid-shaft fragment of juvenile left femur.


Distal left femur (epiphysis incompletely fused).


Mid-shaft fragment of right femur.


Proximal right tibia.


Juvenile distal right tibia lacking epiphysis. L


Left astragalus.


Mid-shaft fragments of left metatarsal.


Mid-shaft fragment of left metatarsal.


Mid-shaft fragment of metapodial.


Two 1st phalanges Guvenile).

cf. Rangifer tarandus.

Eight rib fragments.


Part of spine of left scapula.

     Bison priscus.

Left calcanium.


Partial left calcanium (small).


Distal right astragalus.


Right naviculo-cuboid.


Proximal phalange.


Proximal phalange.


Proximal phalange.

19. Rangifer tarandus.

5 pieces of female and juvenile male antler including unshed base with small portion of frontal bone.


Neural spine of thoracic vertebra.


Rib fragment.


Portion of juvenile right scapula.


Proximal right humerus.


Distal right humerus.


Juvenile proximal right radius lacking epiphysis.


Proximal left ulna.


Fragment of proximal left ulna.


Fragment of right ulna.


Right ilium.


Mid-shaft portion of right metatarsal.


Distal left metatarsal.

      cf Bison priscus.

Rib fragments x 2.

20. Rangifer tarandus.

Distal right metatarsal.

21. Rangifer tarandus.

Juvenile thoracic vertebra.

      Rangifer tarandus.

Juvenile proximal right tibia lacking epiphysis.

22. Rangifer tarandus.

Antler tine.

      cf Bison priscus.

Two rib fragments.


Unidentified fragments.

23. Rangifer tarandus

Proximal left humerus.  Chemically weathered, not gnawed.

24. Rangifertarandus

Unshed base of juvenile antler with brow tine and portion of frontal.


Fragment of juvenile antler.


Fragment from (?juvenile) cranium retaining part of base of pedicel.


Sacrum; incompletely fused.

     cf Bison priscus.

Rib fragment.

25. Bison priscus.

Proximal left femur (?) gnawed.

26. Bison priscus

Juvenile proximal left radius lacking distal epiphysis.


Damaged at proximal end.

The above have been returned from the British Museum and have been given to Chris Hawkes for the Wells Museum collection - with the exception of HLIS 17 which, being a significant feature of the cave, has been returned to its calcite cradle in the Barmaids Bedrooms.  The following have yet to be officially identified.

27.        Bison priscus.             Right scapula and surrounding sediment (muddy gravel)
28.        Asstd. Bones.
29.        Northern vole (?).
30.        Rangifer tarandus (?).
31.        Rangifer tarandus x 2(?).
32.        Bison priscus (?) Molar.
33.        Rangifer tarandus (?) Tooth.

Roger Jacobi was pleased to inform us that probably most of the reindeer bones so far recovered are from young adult females that died around Marchi April during calving.  It is likely that they were using a sheltered snow patch where there would have been less troublesome insect life.  The males were presumably living it up elsewhere - a stag party perhaps?  Pregnant reindeer near a water supply would have been a welcome sight to a ravenous wolf pack.

The palaeontological deposits in this cave may prove to be extremely important and there is a possibility that they may be instrumental in changing the perceived sequences of the Ice Age.  The scientists involved in this project are hoping to publish their findings, once confirmed, in the relevant important publications so details of their results will be initially omitted from BB reports to avoid any academic embarrassment! It’s very satisfying, though to not only have discovered this fine system in such a perfect position but to know that this dig has actually changed the history of the world!!! Everything to Excess.

Yet more diggers and acknowledgements.

Professor Graham Bowden (Soton.UCC/WCC), Dr. Pete Smart (UBSS), Maggie Matthews and Bethan Waite (BBC), Steve Windsor, Ben Shaw (Birmingham USS), Simon Nik-Nak Richards (WCC), Malcolm Cotter (MCG - video), Dr. David Richards (UBSS), Tim Large, Peter (Snablet) MacNab.


A formal mammalian biostratigraphy for the Late Pleistocene of Britain, Andrew Currant, Roger Jacobi. Quaternary Science Reviews 20 (2001) ppI707-1716.

Secrets of the Ice Age, Evan Hadingham (1979).