Belfry Bulletin

Search Our Site

Article Index


Hunters Lodge Inn Sink Part II - Pushing the Bar Steward and the Filming of an Epic!

by Tony Jarratt

The saga continues from the previous article.  Refer also to BB515 Following the streams in H.L.I.S.

Work on following the streamway at the bottom of Cellar Dig, below the boulder floor of Happy Hour Highway, continued throughout December with many bangs being necessary to remove obstructing rocks and ledges - both at floor level and in the ceiling.  By the 11th we had progressed some 9 metres with another 5 metres in view giving a total dug length of some 18 metres.  An estimated gap of around 4 metres exists between the upstream end of the new stuff and the downstream end of the previously explored Bar Steward Passage and so this name has been extended to cover all of the streamway - and very appropriate it is too!  A vocal connection has been established but there is little enthusiasm for a physical one due to the horrendous nature of the intervening boulder choke.  This may be a job for the future.  With the onset of wet weather a visit to Bar Steward can be a refreshing and cleansing experience on a rainy day and the base of the entrance shaft makes a handy, free laundrette for one’s spare oversuit.  On a dry day the ample Mendip mud found in the first part of the dig makes the use of this facility very necessary.

On December 14th, following a rubble clearing session, the writer demolished a calcite false floor and was able to descend a 4m deep sloping rift in the floor to see the streamway continuing in a similar fashion.  Large slabs of rock vaguely attached to the walls prevented access. More clearing the next day made the climb easier and also gave a view of a possible decorated void beyond a partially flowstone coated boulder choke above the streamway.  The 17th, 18th, 21st and 22nd saw further blasting and clearing trips as we progressed along the rift. Spoil disposal became no problem as broken rock could be dropped into the narrow floor of the rift or stacked in gaps in the choke.  Stones thrown ahead rattled on downwards and the occasional one went a long way.  Trev Hughes estimated the depth of this forthcoming pitch as possibly 15 metres.  Our optimism and enthusiasm increased immeasurably!

Tim Large installed a thermometer at the entrance to Cellar Dig, initially to check the temperature of the adjacent bottle of Champagne but now regularly inspected to record the temperature of the cave itself.  Between the 8th and 11th of December this varied from 10.6-12.8 degrees Celsius.

The next Wednesday night session fell on Christmas Eve but we just couldn’t miss it.  The writer descended early to clear the bang debris and after an hour of rock hauling and manipulation opened a squeeze into a muddy alcove above a large, superbly water worn and steeply descending rift with a further drop visible beyond.  Mark Ireland then arrived to assist with gardening a couple of huge slabs forming the floor of the breakthrough squeeze and these were shifted just as Jeff Price and Tim turned up for their unexpected extra Christmas present.

A careful free-climb, with more gardening en route, was made down the Eastwater-style potholed rift for 10m to reach a 5m vertical section where a ladder was used to reach the roomy area below.  Here the cave once more went horizontal and, unfortunately, small.  A low phreatic tube was pushed for 8m to where it became too tight.  A steeply ascending phreatic tube on the west side could not quite be entered and this area needed chemical persuasion.  This 25m long extension is 50m below the surface and 20m below the entrance to Cellar Dig at its deepest point.  The length to this point from Cellar Dig is around 43 metres.  It is heading on a bearing of 172 degrees and may well pass beneath Drip Tray Sump.  There are many spectacular fossils and chert ledges throughout and the place has a totally different character to the rest of the system which it complements nicely. It is in itself a taxing little trip and indeed will be a Bar Steward in flood conditions.  With our usual appropriateness we named it Rocking Rudolph Rift after Roger’s latest festive brew - alliteration and reindeer being also relevant to this cave.  The whole 15m depth is free-climable with care but a rope or ladder would certainly be necessary for the vertical section on a wet day and, until all the friable ledges are booted off, it needs some caution.  Amongst the many superb fossils in the walls of the rift is a probable Orthoceras (Nautiloid); white, smooth, slightly conical and a little larger than a king-sized cigarette.


On the way out the 12.5 degree Champagne was quaffed and suitable celebrations continued in the bar.  Merry Christmas!

Work resumed on the morning of the 27th with the firing cable and tools being moved forwards, more gardening of the pitch being done and three long shotholes drilled at the face. In the afternoon Trev and Tangent surveyed the extension while the writer prepared the charges.  Detonation took place from Cellar Dig.  The results were examined by the writer and Tangent next day.  The rock rib and phreatic ceiling at the face had been enlarged enough for access to be gained for 1.5 metres into the base of the steeply ascending phreatic tube. This closed down as did the continuation of the fault line at all levels.  The stream pooled up in a very narrow rift which would need intensive banging. As the passage has obviously sumped up to a high level the site was abandoned until drier weather and all equipment cleared for use elsewhere.  This was a bitter end to our Christmas expectations.  On the way out the wedged boulders at the top of the pitch were banged and their remains cleared by Alex Livingston the following evening.  He also noted four leeches near the base of the pitch.

On 14th January, having studied Trev’s survey and resigned ourselves to the squalor, we were back. Three holes were drilled and another charge fired at the base of the steep tube to give us some working space.  Rock and fossil samples, Caninia and Zaphrentis, were collected.  The spoil was partly cleared on the 18th with assistance from a Shepton team and next day another bang was fired in the rift some 3m above the terminal sump.  Yet another bang on the 21st brings this phase of the project up to date. There seems to be open passage not far ahead and the rift draughts well.  Watch this space (or read the following article!)

Some 2.5m down from Cellar Dig entrance a low, up-dip bedding passage can be seen to extend for at least 5m.  Shotholes were drilled here in preparation for a future bang.

Roger Jacobi phoned from the British Museum to report that one of the last batch of bones may possibly be the radius from a Brown Bear - Ursus arctos.  A bison scapula has been taken to Oxford for carbon 14 dating.  In B.B. Dr David Richards of Bristol University took stalagmite samples for dating purposes.

The BBC decided that the difficult access to the cave precluded it from starring in the pilot programme of their forthcoming archaeological series but that it would feature on the local Inside Out documentary on 2nd February.  A date was arranged to introduce the lady director, Maggie Matthews, and lady researcher, Bethan Waite, to the delights of caving. Their cameraman, Steve Holland, already had experience.  They turned up on 5th January, as did several gentlemen diggers, keen to offer the ladies a helping hand.  Maggie unfortunately had a cold so decided to undertake research in the Pub while Bethan took over for underground action.  After an initial attack of worry and doubt in Pub Crawl she overcame this and very competently completed a trip to the bone deposit and back, though there was some doubt if she enjoyed it!  Steve used a small video camera to do some preliminary filming in H.H.H. and B.B. but being 6’ 4’’ tall and having an old shoulder injury was unable to pass the squeeze above Pewter Pot.  He did enjoy the cave though and seemed happy enough to allow Bethan to film the rest on her next visit - if her bruises had healed by then!  It later transpired that a thin caving cameraman, Graham MacFarlane, had been rooted out for the next attempt and that hands on presenter Tessa Dunlop was keen to go underground.  Palaentologists Andy Currant and Roger Jacobi offered to turn up on the surface to explain the importance of the bones.  Maggie decided that a good human interest sequence could be filmed at the Belfry so it was pointed out to her that suitable amounts of traditional refreshment would inspire the would-be film stars to greater thespian achievements.

On Monday 12th January the epic production commenced after almost being cancelled due to this being the wettest day for months.  With the entrance waterfall contained behind polythene sheeting and most of the stream diverted down the rift in the floor conditions were not too bad.  Both H.H.H. and B.B. were filmed, a long sequence was recorded with Estelle and Tangent at the bone deposit and Jake Baynes starred in a digging role at the Inn-let.  Trev’s hand drawn survey and MadPhil’s computerised version made the silver screen and some excellent footage was recorded in the bar where our palaeontologists made some very favourable comments on the finds and examined 16 bones, antler fragments and another bison horn cone brought out for the occasion (HLIS 24-39).  This was a long day with six hours underground and as many in the Pub (courtesy of the Beeb).  The girls were superb - dedicated and professional and very capable cavers. Graham, assisted with the lighting by Alex, did a magnificent job and is keen to cave with us again.  Thanks to all those who turned up to help and especially to Roger and Jacquie for their patience and hospitality.  Surface sequences were later filmed by Steve Wagstaff at Bat Products (where unsuspecting customer Clive North - who the Beeb could not afford to film this programme, ironically became an unpaid extra!) Estelle’s house and Tangent’s place of work.  A booze-up at the Belfry was also recorded.  Fuelled by a BBC donated barrel of Butcombe a selection of Mendip’s finest topers entertained the viewers at home with atrociously sung ditties accompanied by Snab’s folk ensemble – Hen’s Teeth.  The maestro also gave a rendering of his rapidly composed song about the cave entitled Beneath the Boozer.

Digging in the floor of the Inn-let has commenced in the faint hope of entering the continuation of Bar Steward passage from above.

The extensions (as of 16/1/04).

Work has recommenced in Dear’s Ideal, Hunters Hole in an attempt to enter the master cave further along but, due to the wet weather, conditions here are fairly squalid and this may end up as another summer dig.  Water from the entrance shaft and Main Pitch, after sinking in the boulder floor of the Railway Tunnel, is seen again sinking behind the current spoil heap in Dear’s Ideal.  It does not reappear in the known cave and may well flow beneath the choked fossil passages in like manner to the Bar Steward stream flowing beneath H.H.H. in the Sink.  This is an area of dangerous poised boulders and a route directly downwards from the base of the Main Pitch may need to be engineered.

With our knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the underground drainage and potential of this area plans are being laid for the next surface dig.  If permission can be obtained we hope to reopen Tankard Hole (ST 5563/4994) - essentially a 60m deep and horrifically dangerous boulder choke with open, unexplored passages at the bottom.  With modern digging technology this should be a feasible objective.

Song: Beneath the Boozer

words: Snab. Tune: Brighton Camp (The Girl I Left Behind Me).

If it hadn’t been for the Foot and Mouth perhaps they never would have found it,
for the government said the land must close and the cavers all were grounded.
So they all sat in the Hunters Lodge with the tears running into their tankards
and Roger said Get out of here or you’ll turn into a load of drunkards .


What shall we do? Shall we have a pint? Shall we have a pint with you sir?
Or shall we go outside and dig, find a cave right under the boozer?

Oh where can we go? young Tony said, There’s nowhere to go caving .
Roger said When I tried to build a shed it fell in and it’s covered in paving.
Lift it up and you’ll find a hole, it’s the one just round the corner.
You can dig there to your heart s content. Stop looking like bloody mourners.

So they started to dig at the end of the Pub, it was a joyful occasion
and they sometimes made a right hubbub when the passage needed persuasion.
As they cleared each flake the bar did shake and the drunkards were astounded.
Then they all rushed in, you could tell by their grins that they’d dug for a cave and found it!

Oh when they’d passed the hanging death young Tangent went off looking.
He shouted back I’ve found some bones they must be from Jacquie’s cooking .
But, no, the bones were Ice Age ones, some covered o’er in calcite,
there was reindeer, bison and a vole so the Butcombe flowed past midnight.

Now those Belfry lads dig all the time, those diggers brave and bolder
and the bones that they found from the past have turned out so much older
than ever they had dreamed about though the cave it was a bruiser
and who’d have thought they’d have found this lot right underneath their boozer?

A new verse to Boys of the Hill by J. Rat.

In the car park, underground Ice Age mammals can be found;
bison and reindeer as time stands there still.
Sumps and squeezes, pots and crawls; leeches, mud and waterfalls
This cave has it all! say the Boys of the Hill.

The Hunters car park about 80,000 years ago by John Wilson (MOLES).

Additions to the digging team and other contributors to the saga.

Mark Gonzo Lumley, Lee Hawkswell (MCG), Jacquie Gibbons (MCG), Steve Holland (BBC), Tessa Dunlop (BBC), Graham MacFarlane (BBC), Steve Wagstaff (BBC), Ben Ogboume, Steve Windsor, Clive North (ATLAS), Pete Snab McNab, Anita McNab and Hen s Teeth, assorted drunks led by Alan Butcher (SMCC), Terry Fitch (SMCC), Kev Barlow (SMCC).