OUCC Proceedings 13 (1991)
Dallimores Cave : History
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Small discoveries on Mendip: a personal account of the discoveries in Dallimores.
Few in the club took serious notice when Dirge Gardiner (perhaps best known for his musical talents) and Tony Seddon (best known for his lack of them) first suggested that OUCC should try to dig its way to discovery on the Mendip, where only the hard men of Eastwater and a handful of desperate divers had made significant progress in recent years. An interesting sporting region yes, and great for novice day-trips from Oxford, but Mendip hardly seemed ripe for exploration. And when Dirge and Tony proclaimed that Dallimores (or was it Dillywobbles?) had the hallmarks of a prematurely neglected system, sceptical eyebrows were raised further. Many of us thought that the uninspiring Dallimores had been pinpointed more for its proximity to the Hunters than for its potential as a going cave. Doubters we.
Nevertheless Dirge and Tony convinced us that Dallimores might have a few hidden qualities. It was, after all, directly on a line to Wookey Hole from Hillgrove, with its fast dye trace, and the surface line of shakeholes did suggest hidden passage. But a master cave under Penn Hill...?
Digging started in Dallimores in April 1989. An initial visit had located several possible leads, most notably an abandoned MNRC/Wessex dig at the deepest most Wookey-wards position in the cave. A mud-choked passage clearly led on to a corner some 15ft beyond reach. Many people dug over the winter of 1989-90 but most were eventually put off by the unbearably muddy conditions and the painfully slow progress. As more mud was passed back up the rift passage the approach to the dig became more and more unpleasant. Duck boards were brought in. Gavin and Tony started looking for a nicer alternative. What they found was a steep tube (quite characteristic of Dallimores) ending in a puddle at the start of a quickly too tight, unsurveyed rift. Nevertheless a slight draught drew Gavin and Tony back a second time when, to their surprise, the going seemed to be much easier. At this stage the exploration was done with those delicate sensory feelers, the wellies. Because of its steep entry and constriction the crawl had to be entered backwards and was too narrow to get much of a look beyond. Gavin and Tony pushed two moderate squeezes (now hardly noticeable) to drop into a tiny chamber with a tube continuing from the floor. Feet-first again, the tube was explored to a further tightening before the sheer awkwardness of the place stopped further progress.
These first few feet of new cave didn't seem like the start of any real discovery - tight, awkward, going the wrong way, towards Hillgrove rather than Wookey. Interest in Dallimores was at a low ebb. But one thing seemed to keep Gavin and Tony's manic eyes alight: the terminal tube really was draughting. It was now, in the spring of 1990, that they persuaded me to join them. Perhaps they thought my smaller size would make me a useful cave canary.
Everyone's first trip to Dallimores is memorable. Not because it is usually their last, though it is, but because of the extraordinary sensation of flat-out crawling in liquified ploughed field (preceded by a stupid duck), the stench of dead mice, and the total lack of formations. My first trip was with Gavin to the terminal tube, where we took turns to push a little further feet-first into the squeeze. At one point I managed to push just far enough to get a glimpse down beyond my wedged body into a darkness disappearing beneath my legs. Excited and slightly scared (I hadn't done this sort of thing before) I shouted back at Gavin that beyond the squeeze was a rift, and somehow we had to get into it. Mine was a memorable trip too.
The problem was that the tube led into a seemingly impassable squeeze, so we had to find a way to get in head-first with a hammer. Yet the steepness of the tiny chamber made the prospect of reversing the head-first entry unrealistic. Eventually we decided to return to try and enlarge the chamber sufficiently to allow a turn. Gavin went in first and hammered a chest-high rib of rock until he was just able to make a cartwheel move head-first into the floor. When confident he could reverse the turn, Gavin pushed on into the tube and took the first clear look into the rift beyond. In my earlier enthusiasm I had exaggerated, for the rift was hardly a rift at all, and not obviously large enough for Gavin, let alone a human. But the cold feeling of air passing over mud-wet cheeks kept us excited, and for the remainder of this and another visit we hammered at the squeeze with the frustrating weakness of an arm at full stretch. On the third attempt Gavin returned with Tony again. This time he pushed through the squeeze out over the narrow rift to face a second obstacle in an ill-placed nose of rock jutting directly into the only section potentially wide enough to pass. Determined, Gavin broke the nose and pushed forward up into a recess until his body was far enough through the squeeze to drop vertically down into the rift below. Getting back turned out to be even harder and Gavin soon learned that the Broken Nose squeeze has to be done in reverse by pressing the face high up into the recess, hoisting the legs up through the narrow slot in the top of the rift, and edging backwards through the squeeze. Gavin rarely uses expletives, but it was clear later that he hadn't enjoyed it.
Still, we went back just a few days later to attempt to descend the rift with a team of four that now included Dave Lacey and Dave Bell. With the now virtually obligatory Dallimores gear of balaclava and headtorch we pushed through Broken Nose and down into a narrow 15ft rift, made more awkward still by sharp constricting cross ribs of rock. I followed Gavin down into a mud-wallow, requiring a tight somersault, and on up another classic Dallimores tube into a REAL chamber with only one potential way on: another tight squeeze. Behind us Dave Bell had got into trouble at Broken Nose, and Dave Lacey, after following us down the rift, eventually returned to join him at the start of what became to be known as the "nasties" (so much for Gavin and Tony's "nice alternative').
The next squeeze was through what seemed to be an unfeasibly tight bedding plane. But the route clearly widened beyond, and Gavin and I were not going to give up now. I moved in on my back to hammer constrictions on the roof. When I tried to get out, I found myself stuck. The awkwardness of the approach meant that Gavin's only option to help was to grab me by the crutch and pull. I escaped but Tim's Testicle Tug still held us back. Gavin went in and after considerable hammering said quietly, "I've got to go'. He did. Once on the other side he stated matter of factly that he didn't think it would be possible for him to return, and I agreed, so we hammered like fuck. Eventually the rock shifted enough for me to feel confident in pushing through, and we were in unexplored cave again. This time, to our sheer delight, the next tube led not to another squeeze, but to open passage. We walked for about 80m in all. Through the first large chamber (with a loose climb up to the right that on a later trip revealed a large rift chamber with another of those Dallimores tubes half way up one wall, connecting to a second chamber with mercilessly sharp climbs up towards the surface), then under a low roof into a well decorated chamber with a side passage containing strange hedgehog-like formations. From here a climb led down to a small pot, clearly stream-worn; a long high passage to a huge fallen block (The Menhir); and eventually over a muddy climb to a terminal chamber, beautifully decorated by deeply coloured flowstone on one side. From here a tiny slot through a calcite blockage looked down into darkness.
Dave Bell was not to be the last person for whom Broken Nose proved to be too narrow, or the turning chamber too awkward. Difficulties, particularly on the way out, became a regular feature of subsequent trips into the extensions. Nevertheless in the following weeks quite a number of club members made it through and Dallimores began to acquire its new reputation as a hard cave on Mendip. Work also started on hammering the new terminal squeeze (later christened the Ant-lion). Phil Rose and I spent several hours with hammer and chisel, but the break was made after return from expedition to Spain. Gavin and I returned to chisel in 10min bouts, trying the squeeze every so often with slightly over-ambitious enthusiasm. Progress was fast, and eventually I slipped into the squeeze, emptied my lungs and dropped gracelessly into the passage 6 feet below. Here were the best formations I had seen yet, but I curbed my desire to explore to help Gavin through. It was still too tight for his larger chest, so I continued to work at the squeeze from below until Gavin could bear it no longer and forced himself into the slot. He got stuck, but rather than ask me to push him out from below, he shouted for me to pull him through. Then for the second time, we both stood looking at each other on the far side of a squeeze we weren't sure we could reverse.
The passage continued on and down a long high rift, now with the character much more of an old stream passage, until after some 100 metres or so, it eventually narrowed to sections of rubbley crawl. The final crawl led on into a tight rift from a more spacious area. I moved into the crawl, and negotiated two upright squeezes before reaching a squeeze at floor level choked with stream debris. It was impassable, but still seemed to draught slightly, and could obviously, but painfully, be dug. Here, then, was Dallimore's ultimate reward. We were back to digging in mud.
On August 28th 1990, Gavin and I discovered Curious Love and it is surely some bizarre thrill that keeps us, and other psychopaths like Jenny Vernon, Katya Reimann, Jonathon Cooper and Sherry Mayo, still going back. Tony, Gavin and I have now all got through the most awkward part of the crawl, after a series of strenuous and deeply unpleasant digging trips, though all of us have had an unpleasant time backing out at one point or another. And with a new hauling system it looked at the end of October as if we were about to move the dig on into more spacious (though still mud filled) passage. But then on the 30th October Gavin, Jenny and I returned for a full day's digging after spending the night at the Belfry to find that recent rain (the first serious fall for months) had transformed the passage beyond the Ant-lion into a small stream. Water still flowed on through Curious Love but the crawl was dangerously flooded. Dallimores had got its own back.
On the 13th of December 1990, Sherry, Paul and Gavin returned to Curious Love to find that that water level had fallen enough to allow the tight section to be passed, and for the dam that had been holding the water back to be demolished. Ahead, the passage continues as a 15cm high bedding plane with a mud floor. Exploration continues ...
"Speaking as a rescue warden, I can honestly say that if someone were injured here, we just wouldn't bother" Tony Jarret
"This cave had me beat. As I was walking home through the city centre afterwards at about midnight a beggar curled up in a doorway called out to me... "Ere love, you look like you need a good cup of tea. Have some of mine!" " Ukey Mead