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Hunters Lodge Inn Sink Part III - Hangover Hall and Stillage Sump.

by Tony Jarratt

It may safely be said that all this great series of inlets send their water to the subterranean Axe, forming a labyrinth of cave passage, which may trend to concentrate into a larger stream-way, along the line of the southerly dip of the faulted-down limestone north of Pen Hill.

HE. Balch - Mendip, Its Swallet Caves and Rock Shelters, 2nd edn. (1948) p.136.

On the 23rd January 2004 some of the debris from the last bang below RRR was cleared by Doug Harris and Simon Moth (A.C.G.)  Jake Baynes and a Birmingham D.S.S. party tidied up the bone inlet dig the next day and the following morning saw more clearing in the streamway.  On this trip a view was gained into roomy, flowstone covered passage.  On the 26th the rest of the spoil was removed and another charge fired.  Tim Large recovered a fine Michelinia fossil.  The 28th saw Tim, Jeff Price and the writer desperately shifting the spoil and gazing longingly into the tantalising streamway ahead.  Having run out of cord a desperate attempt was made to enter this by using a hired Kango hammer powered from the mains and to this effect Jake B. and the writer spent three murderous hours laying cables, steel-driving and lugging the bloody heavy hammer back out again in disgust having only succeeded in chipping off a tiny amount of rock!  In the evening some cord was scrounged from Clive North and we got our own back, incidentally being totally unaware of the Somerset earth tremor which happened at the same time.

The last day of January saw the debris cleared but still no access so a large team blithely descended on the 1st of February, after a lunchtime session, with intentions of banging again.  Chiselling was in progress when a sudden roar from above heralded the arrival of a considerable flood pulse forcing those at the bottom of R.R.R to cram themselves into various nooks and crannies to avoid a soaking.  The pitch soon became a maelstrom of cascading water - very impressive and quite frightening at the time.  Taking a chance on the final crawl not sumping the writer managed to drill seven shotholes before fleeing to the surface with the others - Jeff having his spectacles washed off on the climb and being pelted by in washed rocks.  By the time we got out it had stopped raining and Pub Crawl was almost dry but we had gained an insight into how potentially dangerous the cave could be.

Next morning, following a brief interview on BBC Radio Bristol, the writer and Tony Boycott laid the charge, returning after lunch with Jake, Tim and Jeff to pass the terminal rift, foggy with bang fumes, and enter some 4 metres of passage ending in a sump on the left.  Bugger. A flowstone coated rift/aven above was climbed for 10 metres but closed down.  After poking about the stream was found to sink below the RH wall and this was destined to be dug in drier weather.  Disappointed we headed out after imbibing yet another bottle of Champagne.  Hangover Hall seemed a suitable name for the extension.

In the evening the BBC Inside Out documentary was screened and it was pleasing to see what an excellent and professional job has been done.  It was informative, amusing, risque in parts and not too embarrassing - except for Tim whose well packed underpants are now famous throughout the nation!  Favourable comments were heard from cavers and non-cavers alike and hopefully this programme redressed the balance a little for the utter crap shown on the recent Casualty series.

On February 4th digging commenced in Hangover Hall where several large sacks were filled with mud and clay and left in situ.  The sump on the left was found to be an inlet with more water flowing from it than was in the main stream   The combined streams sank on the right hand side of the fault and this, as previously stated, was to become the focus of our next campaign.

Work here continued throughout February and March and was not without the odd trauma.  On one occasion Jake B. was almost squashed by a boulder but the quick thinking of his observant companion, Justine, saved his bacon. With no access to bang the team resorted to plugs and feathers in an attempt to break up a large boulder - a slow job.  On 10th March the writer returned to reality and the offending boulder was reduced instantaneously to gravel.  It was noted that the strong inward draught whistled up into the rift above H.H. and that the bang fumes did not reappear in H.H.H. or the Inn-let Dig; where did they go?  The spoil was cleared on the 14th and another charge fired the next day.  This was cleared on the 17th when Gwilym Evans did the squalid bit at the face and was rewarded for his efforts by a sudden breakthrough into a continuation of Hangover Hall some 2.5m high, 2m wide and 4m long.  An unattractive sump at the end may drain in drier weather and was named Stillage Sump in honour of the assorted flotsam and jetsam therein.  Another choke had been vanquished and we were a little bit closer to the crux of this cave.  Coincidentally, on the same night the BBC repeated their documentary nationwide and with a few alterations from the original.  This caught the eye of Simon de Bruxelles of The Times who wrote a short article which was published on the 19th.  A similar article was published next day in the Western Daily Press.  It also, unfortunately, caught the eyes of at least two nutters who saw fit to write to the Hunters with their lunatic theories. One of these concerned totally jumbled archaeological nonsense and the other; several pages of A4 paper covered in numerals, references to the bible and newspaper cuttings - apparently compiled by a schizophrenic psychopath from Newport, Monmouthshire!  The paper is sadly just too stiff and shiny for use elsewhere!

On 21st and 22nd more spoil was cleared from the approach to Stillage Sump to make access easier. Snablet had been in this up to his neck but it was decided that a diver was required for a safer and more hygienic push.  The entrance to the unexplored inlet passage a couple of metres below the drop into Cellar Dig was also banged and partly cleared by Tim and Justine on the 24th. Work continued on these two sites throughout March and both tourist and tidying up trips took place in conjunction.

On April 2nd (a lost opportunity by one day!) cave divers Rich Dolby and Jon Beal, supported by John Walsh and Tangent, made their weary way to Stillage Sump.  Unfortunately this became totally mud and rock-choked some 2m in at a depth of around 1m - just body-sized!  It will now be left to drain naturally or at worst pumped out to enable digging to proceed.  On April 5th the sump chamber and approach were enlarged and the ceiling blasted to give direct access to the airbell.  Two days later the now roomy sump pool received another bang on the end wall and both Jake B. and Eddy Hill were convinced that the sump shelved deeply away on the RH side and was probably diveable.

With blasting discontinued at Stillage Sump the Cellar Dig inlet captured our attention and another charge was fired on the 14th April.

To be continued.

Additions to the team and acknowledgements.

The Mendip Caving Group for a donation of 130 pounds to the bang fund following an auction at their 50th Anniversary bash, Andy Thorpe (OSCG), Doug Harris (ACG), Gavin Davidge and Nigel Gray (BUSS), Justine Emery (CSS), Eddy Hill (UBSS), Jon Beal (FCC), Kevin Welch and Amy Finnie (CSCA).

(Ed. Photographs of these new extensions should appear in the next BB).