Wet and wild in Swildons

We have a new plan. The Clearwater crew will cave on a weekday evening. I have a problem. My only free evenings are Monday and Friday; we settled on Monday.

Any extra curricular activity butted up against the weekend must take its toll but I was determined to persevere.

We headed to Swildons two; a straightforward trip and maybe even look for the Black Hole access passage. Once we had settled on a plan wetsuits were an obvious choice and I even had a canyoning balaclava helmet I wanted to try in the sump.

Having run out of energy in the 13 pots I ate up and added a pasty, creme egg and sweets to my pack.

The changing room on the Green is still squalid. The parking was cluttered with Scouts but having settled on the short dry we were soon in the streamway and heading downhill. Levels were high, very. This was far less noticeable on the way down …

I rigged the ladder on a double offset V. Tim hadn’t seen this before. The traverse line is tight to the right and bolt and then the right hand leg of the V is hotter than the left. This swings the belay to the right. From the left hand bolt a second V is tied, this time with a shorter left leg. The ladder and sling are then moved away from the belay. Five independent links.

Barnes loop was quiet and my mind wandered to the day before when boys from school had had their first experience, in on the pretty and back out on the wet; I was still a little tired from this.

The sump was snug, the hood worked well and soon we were enjoying the 2 stream way. Andy had described this on Sunday as one of the top ten trips in the UK it is certainly towards the top of my list. A wetsuit makes such a difference although my warmbac oversuit is now tight and so I was battling it all the way.

Tim explored the two ways up to Approach passage and we poked noses into crystal passage. We will return soon.

Back at the sump friendly faces greeted us and we took ten minutes catching up. The long climb began and it quickly became evident that this would be a battle. The effort required against the watt was low and again I was tired …

We systematically picked off the obstacles, surmounted the pitch and I left the knots in the line – next time will be a quicker rig. I put my head down continued to tick of the problems and very quickly the lavatory pan appeared. This was one of those days where you needed to lift your body to enable draining.

We emerged at 2110, two hours if you discounted the chatter time. The Hunters provided a pint and a half of nectar before returning at midnight.

So; Monday night caving?

This is the second time I have been very tired but water levels were high. My old oversuit now needs retiring and possibly the extra thermal inside the wetsuit top removing. I think I also need to be realistic after a heavy weekend out and skip a trip; Tim is skiing this week so at least I get to catch up.

On the final climb up the well I heard an explosion! My pasty had escaped from its packaging it made a nice supper.


Vertical again in Mangle

Mangle Hole is difficult to find, a vertical adventure on rope or ladder but we sought it for the sport.  The instructions in Mendip Underground 5 are good, follow the path from the road bend, cross the stile and then count from the Levy.  I had taken the precaution of bringing both GPS and view ranger on my phone but the eagle eyed will spot both red tape and yellow hazard tape.

The entrance is obvious but the horizontal pole and accompanying tree both identify that you are in the right place and also provide the initial belay.

P1050643The first pitch is the worst and also the most difficult to ascend last; save something. Striking at about 45degrees is it tight and knobby conglomerate and covered with a muddy deposit.  Sliding down is less problematic than the eventual return.

Tim rigged first, turning left at the bottom and striking out along the unconformity.  Through a cat hole gains a climb down onto the second pitch proper.  This continues down the nicely striking limestone onto the balcony.  From here the main chamber can be accessed via a small final 5m pitch.  The first rope could have terminated here and would have given us better flexibility but we were carrying a 85m monster.

P1050660This gains the mangle block, with the mangle sat proud atop declaring its fame.  We had followed the left hand route but here moved towards the right hand alternative by approaching from along the top of the block.  Tim continued but we were short of rope and so retreated to an alternative.


By pulling the rope from the third pitch tight we gained three metres, with a shorter left hand alternative I assumed the rigging role and identified the three bolts on the left hand side of the mangle block.  The first pitch was an easy climb down but around the left hand side a single bolt drops to the floor; the rope just touched.  This was Mud Bank Chamber and the sound of water filled the space.

topo mangle

Mud Bank Chamber was an unusual place, it was clearly slippery, the water looked deep and the way on was not obvious.  I gingerly waded through avoiding the two places were water welled.  I spanned across the final pool to access slug crawl but with SRT kit catching, returned to wait for the rest.  Ben eventually explored to the final sump, it was wet, low on air and needed digging.  A place to turn around.



Ben de-rigged the bottom pitch up to the block and we then swapped bags and I took out the top three pitches.  I love swinging on string and I took my time enjoying the view and relishing getting it right.  The final traverse was difficult to protect properly but not unsafe and the final hanging bag was clearly going to catch as it was pulled clear.  I started the ascent, re-fettled the bag higher and then carefully worked the first pitch.  This is difficult, there is no clear position and so a continual twisting, climbing and thrutching makes slow process.

At the top Tim and Ben cleared the rope and after a longer return we stared up at the Blue super Moon.

This is a great trip and an exchange would make a good adventure.  It is muddy and not so difficult to find; just leave energy for that first pitch.

Wavy Walkham and Sinuous Tavy

Following heavy rain the levels were dropping and so after a Cartgate shuffle we headed to the western edge of the moor.  Bedford Bridge is situated halfway between Tavistock and Yelverton but the parking just off of the main road has a moorland feel.  We unloaded boats, set up a shuttle and I had a quick skirmish to remove the ‘fly by’ visitors’ detritus.

The river feels very lakeland in character; narrow, small genuine problems and gradually increasing in difficulty.  It was a beck to run rather than play on.

The first landmark is the coast to coast cycle ride which spans the valley in a huge concrete structure.  Just before this, trees have fallen and strainers built.  Look for Greofen bridge next with parking immediately to the left and a riverside dwelling the right.  No swimming signs indicate that the character is changing and as the river tracks southward the water obstacles build to touch on level 3.

Following a footbridge, the Slot lies ahead, along with its reputation.  We egressed on the right bank to weigh up the options.

Four separate elements create the hazard and it seems to be that the latter parts unseat paddlers rather than the slot itself.  The slide into this is straightforward and the boiling pool below moves the kayaker away from the face.  The second part allowed me to practice my roll.  The leftward moving stream accesses the narrower pinch but it is here that kayakers are spun or tipped.


A right paddle at the top, boof and left paddle were advised but the back of my RPM caught the water and I was soon upside down and searching for a roll.

Below the narrows a singular rock midstream provides a pin point before the main intermediate eddy on the river left.  We transferred from here down to the right side before gradually progressing back up the river and offering safety at three places.

After my roll I knew I had to have a second go and this proved even less successful; my mind wandered to a bigger boat with more volume.

P1050617Paddling through the narrows.

A footbridge below indicates that the two rivers are about to confluence and suddenly the narrow wavy beck opens up into a large steep fluvioglacial valley.

The Tavy is much bigger before it reaches the Walkham but swollen further by its introduction the kayaker is carried along quickly.  There are plenty of decisions to make, lots of alternatives and the much bigger water ensures the wave trains are sizeable and worth seeking out.

Below, three more weirs still need navigation.

Hatch Mill is identified by a rightwards bend, very steep vegetated left bank, with a building high on its flank.  An obvious boulder across to the left takes the full force of the river and behind this a small escape channel circumnavigates the pin.  Mid river a flat topped rock marks the left hand boundary of the rougher drop but below this a deeper left to right channel is the whitest water.

The plan was to drift river left until you could just skirt the left hand side of the flat topped rock before cutting right.  Most of us did this, there was another roll and the large boulder unseated another still.  The boat bobbed in the eddy to the left for a while before emerging for reunification.

The second weir at Ludbrook is arch shaped but the majority of it has a strong drawback.  We dropped down three salmon pools to the left but kept well across and away from the stopper.

Ludbrook gauging station is v shaped and shallow and provides a nice play wave before the final run down to the bridge.  Gauge station details are better than from the Mary Tavy gauge as they include the Walkham too.

We emerged after what felt like excellent conditions to get dry and then stopped at Starbucks in Honiton on the return.  This is becoming a regular haunt and a great place for the debrief and wash up.

A quick whizz along the Exe

After our coast to coast adventure last year we had refocused our ideas about social cycling and met up just before Christmas in Lympstone. We picked a pub on the main road with a large carpark (and visited them later).

Riding down through the village it was great to get the wind in my hair again but quite quickly it was obvious that Sarah’s bike was not well.

We followed the railway along the coast most of the way and this is almost all ready made track. Dropping into Topsham the Route 2 cafe was advertising breakfasts, we settled for large coffees before nipping next door to upgrade helmets in the bike shop.

The next stop was the double locks but not before some board walk cycling. The track has barriers with apertures so that you can look across at the wildfowl without disturbing them.

You rejoin the main road before dropping into the estate and careful selection of shared pavement keeps it safe.

After the Lower Wear (tumbling hills) estate you rejoin the main road crossing the Exe at Countess Weir. The river and canal are both in view but the table tennis was too much of a pull at the pub.

The final run into Exeter is straightforward and we sought out solids at our third stop.

By now time was running away and so after burgers and cheesy chips we began to retrace our steps.

We followed the same route as one continuous ride; apart from Harry who stopped off for more beer …

The night was against us and so we shared lights and after some delay eventually caught up at the saddlers; not the best beer in the world but a great welcome and we are very grateful they allowed us to leave our cars there.

Make a rope washer

The intention here was to utilise as many oddments as I had lying around at home.

1. Think initially about where you will hang your rope washer; it needs to be well drained and close to a water supply.

2. The key pieces are a length of drainage pipe and rectangle of artificial grass or similar.

3. Drill two holes in the pipe so you can hang up your contraption.

4. Cut the rectangle of ‘grass’ larger than needed and then gradually trim down in size so there is room for hose, rope and water.

5. Measure the length of hose within the pipe and then using a bradawl pierce seven holes. Three facing the rope and two pairs on either side.

6. Position the hose inside the tube and turn so that the unpierced side lies alongside the black tube. Fold the end over and secure with two jubilee clips. This will stop the grass sliding out of the tube.

7. Feed your rope from the top and pull down collecting in a bucket. Experiment with water pressure. I have made a shim for smaller diameter ropes.

8. A pulley at the top makes the process much easier; several light passes is much better for the rope. Dry by weaving back and forth across your garden – I have a fix for this too.

9. Remove the insert and clean occasionally, the grit and mud accumulated indicates its success as does the dirty water in the bucket.

10. Don’t become obsessive; clean rope helps sand, silt and clay leave the sheath but continuous cleaning can degrade the rope quicker. Without the hose attached the cleaner can be used horizontally below a welly boot in a streamway or bucket.

I feel a little sorry for my caving buddy who now has a rectangular hole in the middle of his artificial lawn…

13Pots; Eastwater

Eastwater used to be a regular pot to visit from school, mostly as the Beechen Series were discovered by previous members. I had visited recently having been down as far as Primrose pot and climbed Dolphin chimney and so a suggestion for a return was lapped up.

Meeting Ben at the Mineries we paid our dues and were immediately doused on entry. Some sprinkling was expected but what felt like a good deal of water was heading into the system.

We moved through the boulder choke following the line, a new addition since Bens last visit. The traverse gave us an opportunity to dangle our bags. Without a ten meter ladder we had two twenty five foot ladders to link together and a 20m and 34m rope for the pitches.

Beyond the traverse we utilised the canyon to access the crossroads and from there rigged Dolphin chimney. The was the key to the Dolphin pot and the ladder was rigged to a thread in the previous chamber. The lifeline was too long, but all I had available and another thread closer to the pitch head was backed up by the bolt.

The pitch was a good climb; rotated flat against the block but doable. Very quickly we were fathoming out the spirally descent to Harris’s passage and the key to the bold step. There are several ways to descend and accessing the first pot requires some lateral thinking.

The pots are worth a visit, above head height descent means commitment and once I realised we would not have to come back this way I was happy to drop into some blind. The continuation leads out to sand chamber and a link to the Beechen series.

We were at the lowest point and the return followed a parallel rift emerging at the bad step. A hairy exit from Harris’s passage put us below the pitch and a smooth pack up re-established our weighty bags.

Dolphin chimney went well, hauling the bags and it was decided that we would return via the S bend and Hallelujah Hole. Once on the rift we didn’t keep going horizontal enough and so hit a cul de sac.

By now I was feeling very tired and it dawned that I should probably have had a descent meal beforehand. I took it steady, caught my breath and Ben took the lions load of bag. Progress was slow but once the link to the traverse had been made and water heard again the steady upward exit was achieved.

We emerged to a dark foggy evening after about a four hour trip. After a change and shower I headed of to the gingerbread house for a pint.

Photos from Google images; sorry.


The main energy zapper for me was weight. We were however carrying 6m moe ladder than we needed and 10m more rope. The moral? Don’t link imperial ladders, sign a 10 m ladder from the store. Borrow a 25m belay line too; and even think through the handline. Could the same rope have been used for both? What about poly prop? Why not put all of the kit in one bag? Would a skinny bag have worked better?

Lots to think about on our return …

I tested my new rope cleaner on return, it worked better on the 10.5mm canyon rope and so I will design a shim for the 9mm rope.

Lionels Hole loop – the round trip.

Scooping up Tim from Wincanton as I transited north we were heading for Burrington Coombe. He had discovered the first half of the round trip previously but running out of time had returned. Today’s task was to complete this quest.

Just after the ‘wiggle’, descending the Coombe is a lay-by on the left. We changed in the Landrover and then searched the right bank. The entrance is just as the car goes out of sight.

From the entrance chamber the third left hand hole leads into the boulder chamber over a three meter climb.

Mendip Underground 5 has an excellent description of the round trip. This is over two pages long but taken literally it describes every twist and turn.

Tim identified the ‘tester’ squeeze and we were on our way into the traverse. Very soon by dot to dot descriptions we were turning into the first duck; disappointingly low but only in as much as I had psyched myself for it. Beyond this the uphill squeeze bypass for the second duck was the most arduous section but only due to its gravitational nature; I took it steady.

There are three squeezes, all snug but my pockets remained full and helmet on.

(Not me, or Tim but Jess from Dudley)

Beyond this Tim overshot to show me the sandwich boulder, a notable landmark. We were approaching new territory. We climbed up and left to the final diagonal constriction.

From here on the instructions in the book were followed precisely. We entered a passage where we were told to ignore all side passages and thence climb up left. Initially we went too far, I then misinterpreted a ridged boulder but we returned, refocused and read as we caved. By slowing down we were back in the triangular passage and discovered the phreatic tube. This entered the realm of super polish and the draft from the boulder chamber.

We had been underground for 100 minutes and could cut this to an hour, an ideal time for an evening trip. Potholer and Butcombe finished the evening nicely at the Hunters.