Ten caves in ten weeks …

Ejected from Dartmoor early due to the snow I sat down to update logbooks and reflect on the performance of our young men.

There is some uncertainty about our trip this Monday but whilst looking back and to the bucket list I realised that we had passed ten trips. This has crept up on me, Monday nights we have a great little crew and by committing to a weekly meet the to do list is quickly dissolving.

This weeks offering was Sludge Pit. Tim had commented that there are bits and pieces off of side passages but we did not imagine that we would do so much.

There was too much faff at the beginning, my fault. We changed with our normal directed certainty and utilised the club facilities fully but having reorganised my bag I left out battery cassette and then picked up flats – note to self; replace rechargeable cells.

We had James on board,a boon as it both enabled a quick rig but also his knowledge was good; this sped things up.

From the entrance overhanging pitch a tube provides a sporting access to Strike chamber and from there Back Passage was bottomed. From Aragonite rift a turn back on yourself accessed the Main rift and the eventual sump. A blue sling hangs on the left but this makes more sense on the return.

This main drag, rift and a side passage would probably have been our normal Monday night fill but we were quickly back up in Fault Passage and again turning back on ourselves.

Our minds turned to Skeletons. James knew of one but not in Skeleton Passage.

We headed towards Triple Arch turning into Four pots rift and unusual way which fazed Tim a little. The skeleton lies along here on the right but this is classic rifted grade 3 territory. The clamber back up to the Arch is the main reason I guess this is normally contoured the other way around, and probably where the name Sludge Pit comes from. This is a sporting flat out slope, great fun.

The next challenge was to head along Tributary passage towards the T shaped chamber and Skeleton passage. Ben pursued this towards the end whilst we chilled and planned a return route.

From the four way junction the climb up into the Shale Series is unique and with post-work energy flagging the chamber was greeted enthusiastically.

Wading across the main stream way pool towards the entrance ladder this felt a little like a trip in reverse but having last visited this in the eighties with Neil my subconscious memory was poor.

Sitting and doing some basic maths – poorly – I realised that since the foundation of the Clearwater Crew we had completed about ten trips in about ten weeks … this involved a good deal of poetic licence.

With 13 caves still on the list I wonder if 50 caves were possible in a year? Time will tell.


A goat and a cuckoo

Cuckoo Cleeves boasts a lake.  An exclusive place as the final approach is a tiny place.  Goatchurch has some Dexion, not quite the same attraction but the final chamber has a different exclusivity.

Our last trip was to the Lake in Cuckoo, I didn’t get there but it didn’t matter because simply being in the cave was enough, especially midweek.  The weather was cold, very.  We met at the Mineries, changed, parked, hopped wire and stooped below trees until the entrance bar was opened and short tether attached.

In the description you are encouraged to take a handline, I am not sure but this is a worthwhile cave whether you make it into the squeeze or not.  Beyond the Frome dig the Giants Steps provide the key.  I had given blood and so from the outset had been sensible, my friends were ready for a push.  From a distance I could hear their gradual progression.  Their commentary and advice gave me a good feel for the shape of the passage and eventually Ben was limited by his hips.  Tim came back exhausted by the challenge but determined for another year … Why not sooner?  Well it had to be sooner if it was a reality, high CO2 is much better in the cooler months.  We sat in the Hunters andI listened to frustrations and future plans; how about the Dexion extensions and then Pierres and then back.

Next week we were in Goatchurch …

It is a long time since I had been beyond the drainpipe, indeed two recent trips with novices had not got that far.  Beyond that, a simple squeeze into a chamber beyond was all that used to exist; now it goes further.

Descending Giants Stairs and the coal shute, – Ben had pre-placed a landline – we were very quickly heading along the rift towards Jacob’s ladder.  From the end of the drainpipe the route twists rightwards and your weight gradually drops onto your right shoulder.  This is where the committing left hand bend appears, onto your side and then sidewards along the rift.  At the end, back down into the water, before a squeeze under and stand up into the Dexion. The difficult climb up is slippery but worth it as it reveals the final chamber, now being dug.

I was there, the return was doable, especially as Ben had remembered a tube to the left that enabled a turn around.  In control of mind, in control of breathing, the lake felt closer.

We returned via the coffin lid, broke out amongst the snow drifts to less rain but as the Arms were open finished with Butcombe, this is a good location for a great pint.

Solo in Swildons

Working Saturday mornings complicates home meets at the caving club. Unperturbed I changed slowly, packed the car and headed to the Mineries for tea. Two groups were already underground but I wanted to explore the oxbows and lowbows in Swildons and so this became my target.

This is a great solo trip because of its proximity to busyness and as the hut was being used a call out was easy to book.

Two groups occupied the entrance chamber but quick thinking ensured I was quickly ahead and following the wet way. I accessed the upper oxbow from here.

Phil had warned me it was snug and the first tight focussed my mind. Calm down, edge, breathe. Ahead lay Butcombe Chamber and the muddy face down swoop into the chamber reveals a moderate rift. I was tempted to climb higher but looking loose thought it was not a good idea alone.

Towards the right the passage headed down towards Oxbow junction; I had a look and the returned upslope. (Green)

The upper oxbow proper presents the second ‘tight’; this is awkward in as much as you need to drop vertically part way through to access the lower passage. This is harder uphill, apparently. I popped my head out into the Wet Way before returning to the four way junction.

Downhill is the lower oxbow and once you can sight some polished stals it becomes obvious that the way on is across the top of the key hole cross section. This comes to a junction. To the right the wet way again whilst down to the left it closes and divides.

The lower lowbow was first but after a wet crawl into the initial junction it smelt of bad air, not a good idea alone.

Up to the left another face down crawl and then an uphill ramp leads up to the bouldery top of the upper lowbow. There was plenty of soil around and it was much fresher.

I returned via the Short Dry Way and the zig zags, emerging to cross the two fields back up to the church.

Seventh Heaven – back to the moor

Valentines day had a heavy rain forecast and with complications over cars I headed across to the north east without my bicycle; as originally planned.  Base was to be Trusham but before then I had some squares to collect.


It was already wet when I arrived at Wiersmeet, JH’s sketch was done at a time when access to the river was easier and as I peered through the trees the level of the Teign was high.  I watched out for obstacles as I headed up towards Dunsford, I would love to paddle this part of the river but forewarned is forearmed.  This village has a cycling cafe which opens annually on Valentines day; my destination.  It was closed, as was the pub. I had preempted this frustration with a post to the Facebook group about accommodation, especially in the colder months.

After a pasty in the village shop – I always use local facilities – I wandered around before dropping back to the road and the stepping stones at E22.


I had visited Steps bridge before but wanted to explore the leat and remains of the steps below, and then up to Doccombe where the pheasants are no more.  It was raining hard and I nipped from the car out to take my shot before returning to its shelter.


The headless stone at Mardon Down was blowy and it did little to entice me from the car.  The giants grave will have to wait.  From there the drive through to Willingstone rock was saturated and the poorly kept road flooded.  I climbed up to the trig point at Cranbrook Castle before climbing further by foot up to the fort.  At least the rain had stopped.  It was not going to be a day for photography though.

Crossing the main road I was heading for the Drewstons.  The parts on private land are increasingly protected but the circular press still sits beside the road unlike the Wood Avens at Sloncombe.

Soon I would be in Mortonhampstead but I made the mistake of free parking, 30 minutes meant I felt rushed through my latte and carrot cake. It was worth it though and the wander around found all sorts of curios, but again the hostel was shut up tight.


Out to the east again I drove the road up past Hingston rock, twice trying to find the parking space and as the rain started again, left this for another day.  Heltor rock would have to do but by now the night was closing in and light failing.  Two more stops before landing at my accommodation; Bridford and then down to Wheal Exmouth, now a swanky home but not as good a company as my friends in Trusham.


Thursday dawned bright and early.  The beers from the night before ensured a slower start than planned but I caught up on my admin and had a good look at the accommodation details added by the group.  Forward planning essential.

I headed towards Christow, a nice church but feelings of an accommodation centre.  The shop was active, pub alive and there was plenty of coming and going.


I headed south to Hill before revisiting two of the reservoirs and then beginning the search for Great Rock Mine.  I followed the instructions, found the grid mark on the map but still no mine.  It is good to leave something to do for another day and late exploration of the map revelled a mine and adits marked some way away, maybe…


The hay troughs and farm machinery at Bullaton Farm are well worth the walk down the hill.


Lustleigh has a great pub, another shop and a rock with throne atop.


More importantly it is access to the Cleave and this was my biggest draw with forts and bridges to find.  I headed up over the ridge and past the hut circles.  As I descended to the bridge I was aghast that I was in the wrong place; a monstrosity has replaced the iconic crossing.  This barren addition by the National Park now out shadows the original and historical landmark and the fine crossing has been paled to insignificance with some planning aberration; probably in the name of heath and safety.  So poor is the construction that at one end it is a mire; honey potting meets soil erosion.


I needed to escape and so took JH’s advice to wander up the Bovey’s left bank.  Initially you follow permitted path way marks but these soon decay to leave a real wildness.  I cut up towards Raven’s Tor [one of the Ollis 80] before skirting back around around to the right and onto Sharpitor.

It had been another brilliant break with some 20 squares covered and some definite challenges left in-between.  I met plenty of people who asked what I was going, kept moving and enjoyed the journey.  Next time I can begin to fill in some of the gaps along row G and H.

FOOTNOTE – Darmoor 365 was written by John Hayward in 1991.  365 mile squares each contain something of interest and the grid is coded with letters and numbers.  Buy the book from a TIC or local bookshop.

Wednesday – F23, D21 E22 E21 F20 E19 E18 E17 E16 F17 F18 + F21 F22 G22 H23

Thursday – G23 H22* H21*[I22] I20 I1*

* = repeat

THANKS to D+D for the veggie; alcohol free break …

Keltic cavern, more commonly known as Reads

As a school child at Beechen Cliff many pairings or trips were memorable. The stone mines of Box and Hampton Down were most accessible but the first trips undertaken on the Mendip Hills were from the north.

Goatchurch and Sidcot, Rods and Reads, before progressing onto wet trips, adding in ladder work and then you were allowed to attempt the sump. Our zenith was the round trip but we were young and once we owned cars the world became our oyster.

I remember driving in a Leyland DAF minibus up the hill to Rods, or Reads and then parking up on the open land beside the depressions; or perhaps it was my first car, the shiny blue Astra.

Reads was therefore associated with the easier novice trip. Rods, which we had visited last week was likewise one for the first timers.

This is not the case. Zed Alley was ticked off in my book but towards the lower reaches good solid grade three decision making is required.

The Burrington Inn was darkened when we met Ben. He had changed car, I had changed driver and with damage to my AV suit still un-repaired the yellow over-suit was on.

The wander up the hill was cooler without the extra thermal layer. The track needed perseverance to find the turning, identify the cross path and then the stile before transiting Hunter’s Brook.

The entrance is obvious at the base of a cliff face but the stream had been excavated open since my last visit in the 80s.

In the main chamber the limestone is nicely marbled but this is clearly a cavern visited by the local youth too – fires on the surface indicate a counter culture.

At the far end Zed Alley descends. Although this is tortuous Ben did a great job of following Tim’s instructions and again MU5 came through superbly. Key elements were identified; the guide line, the T junction and although annoying a trail of old glow bands was useful.

At the head of Splash Pot Ben backed up the loose hanger with sling and karabiners. The access to the swaged rings at the top of my ladder is tight but a snap link filled the void.

Climbing this would be difficult but the step down beyond this was far more problematic for me. My baggy yellow suit caught up on a protuberance and as I backed off face down and feet first I simply jammed increasingly. My mind fluttered, panic set in … breathe, rationalise, revisit. Tim offered good advice from below and I reversed, flattened out and then dropped legs to de-catch my bundle of suit.

The yellow suits are definitely more sticky than a cordura alternative and the unsettling spoilt the next part; the windpipe.

Although shown on the survey in the book as a slender tube there is now plenty of body space, indeed the T shaped passage beyond is more awkward. We emerged into the stream way.

Excited by this junction Ben galloped off downstream until it eventually closed down to the sump. I was right behind him and unable to turn around and so he took a dousing before return upslope.

From here Chattering slope is the way on, loose but sharp. At the end of the phreatic tube Ben climbed up again into more boulder material, the way on involved another drenching and our enthusiasm waned. Talk of the summer and Baker theory persuaded us to turn and head for beer.

For me, the out was more enjoyable. I took time in the windpipe, thought through the 3m drop, ensuring I was near horizontal before exit. Splash pot was carefully de rigged before following Tim and Ben skywards.

The Burrington Inn was closed on our return and so we headed up to the Castle of Comfort. Roaring fires were most appreciated on this chilly night.

Images – the survey snapshots are from UBSS and available as a pdf. The image above is from MCRA, the local research association; thank you.

Geography; an integrated approach …

My job is all encompassing. It is difficult to walk away from my subject because Geography surrounds us. Brexit, drought in Cape Town or global plastic gyres all remind me of my place of work.

I also teach outdoor education, my refuge when I am out of work. So how do I keep the two separate and therefore a healthy work life balance?

I have made a concerted decision to leave my phone at home. It was damaged on a school outdoor trip and so the replacement now stays at home. I haven’t set it up for school emails and use Twitter for pleasure.

The period without a phone was revolutionary, I read far more and although I felt ‘lost’ in the outdoors, returned to paper maps. Thinking about your location related to space and time is why I became a geographer.

I also feel good about leaving my desk. There are times when I am off load and it is too easy in teaching to fill these with tightening planning. Set a time to go, leave, and park your mark.

Emails are done once daily. I begin teaching at 0830 and so ensure I am at my desk at 8. Thirty minutes should be plenty, indeed I try to start registration at twenty minutes.

My approach is simple – quick scan,

Red – Any I can immediately ‘batch delete’

Amber – Any I can file away – like effort merits

Green – any I could deal with with a conversation (park until break)

The remainder can always be flagged.

People now know I check them daily, first thing and I am finding that they come to me in conversation if it is important.

Pause before reply.

I also find projects work great for me. My well being is improved with completion and so the Around Sherborne blog became a great reason to use the sun. I have completed the walks and photography but never published but that didn’t matter as it was the doing that kept me healthy. My latest project is Dartmoor 365. This is a collection of squares, each containing something to find that I visit, photograph and share with others online. I have used ArcGIS to put some skills back and related it to our TenTors training but I am choosing to integrate this with my work life not the other way.

School can be an anxious place but stress comes about from others and a lack of control. By integrating Home better with my subject I have improved my well-being and I am reading more. After all is that not what geographers really do?


Often whilst out and about I curse the minibus or scattered belongings in the car park. I have always been aware that as an outdoor educator I am partly to blame. I try to do my bit to minimise litter or noise and exaggerate my expectations but mere presence of larger group cuts through the wildness we come to experience.

Since our move from the Lakes to Dorset clubs have been a lifeline, but a new, more modern alternative has emerged.

After the initial fury of move, routines and planning I was invited by Neil to a new members weekend at the Shepton Mallet Caving club. Two trips were organised and I remember both well. A barrel was provided and the warm and welcoming atmosphere encouraged me to join.

Shepton are a great club; friendly, active and large enough to accommodate all interests. I work Saturday mornings and so the relaxed start fits my routine well. They rely, as most clubs do on Facebook, an email list and e banking.

For me the hut is a great refuge, especially so close to the Hunters, the local meets are an encouragement to cave with different people and have helped me to re-explore old haunts. Mostly of late though it has provided new contacts for mid week caving and the Monday night Clearwater Crew has been a genuine success.

Returning from the Lakes this summer I made another promise to myself. I was due to paddle the Wye with Steve in October and needed to get fit. John had often pointed out the key elements of the Dart as we whizzed past en route to the moor. I knew of the loop and wanted to paddle this iconic river. I needed to join the local club.

Twice I had journeyed across to the reservoir, initially for an explore and then later for a new members barbecue but the membership process was not straightforward. Eventually I bit the bullet, printed out all of the forms and armed with certificates and cheque headed across one Wednesday evening.

Whilst the Sutton Bingham District Canoe Club does not have a residential club hut they do have a reservoir and acres of storage.

Wednesday nights became a real refuge as the new term began and with a weekend run up to the K&A I met some canoeists (open boat) and once again Facebook came through as a last minute Loop trip was being organised. Super one on one coaching from Keith and Jim enabled the run that had been on my bucket list for so long.

The organised kayak trips; Teign, Walkham, and Geoff’s canoe coaching on the lower Dart, lower lower Dart and reservoir became of real highlight of the Christmas term.

The communal, relaxed sharing of lifts and encouragement on the river makes this also a truly great club. I have learnt new tricks in the pool, hopefully linked my place of work to a community club and will attend my first AGM tonight.

I will take my form, child protection declaration and cheque again tonight and sign up for another year as this has been excellent value.

The third vein of club life concerns a more unusual approach, a group of people I have never met. I was introduced to the idea of Dartmoor 365 by Nick who described a square mile in the centre of Dartmoor with nothing in it. I bought the book, headed west and for that night my tent was the only thing in that square; true isolation.

I took a camera with me but now (with smartphones) we have a far greater choice and so I began to question the need to carry a dSLR.

The 365 Facebook group offers an ideal showcase for your explorations but also acts as a research tool, encouraging you to plan new journeys based on the images of others. Aside of the normal craic a daily dose of Dartmoor views keep the vision alive.

Dartmoor has become my go to destination and with Tom on the periphery it is great to catch up with friends too.

Whilst caving is an insular activity you can meet hordes at popular locations, such as the Swildons pitch, club contacts have opened up Monday evenings as a very quiet time of the week. Kayaking utilises a lot of carbon but the club comradeship improves efficiency and the experience of local paddlers has helped to develop trips away from the pinch points. 365 provides the link to others but also the encouragement to work alone. I have started visiting the upper reaches of Swildons solo and canoeing on the canal has been encouraged by time in the reservoir.

I worried at one point, with an over reliance on Facebook that some would be left behind, e-mail seems to have occupied that void. I still enjoy a printed publication and I have actively moved away from my phone at work. The mindfulness that the great outdoors provides is supported by technology rather than controlled by it but it is the club and the people which it binds together that truly make these highlights.

Support your club, enjoy the AGM and I hope to offer something back again soon.