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Caving: Manor Farm Swallet

Cave
Manor Farm Swallet
Date
December 2000
Speleologists:
Martin Beale

Dave Grosvenor
Mathias Willerup

Style:
mainly stream passage. Some SRT and ladder work
Grade
VDC
Equipment
20m, 10m rope, 10m ladder + lifeline, 2 slings, 2 bolts, a few maillons
Cave time
3h
Approach time :
5m from car
Quality: **

We all met up at Priddy Green. It was somewhere that we knew. We then followed Dave at breakneck speed along muddy country lanes to Manor Farm. We paid our dues and then went back to the cars to get changed. I realised when I opened the boot that I had left my helmet in Bristol. On closer inspection, I realised that I had left *all* of my caving kit in Bristol. This was looking like a bit of a disaster. In the best case scenario, I'd sit it out in the car as Dave and Mathias did the cave. In the worst case scenario, we'd all return grumpily to Bristol, my reputation in tatters.

Dave had a flash of inspiration and said we should hire some kit off Andy Sparrow. Andy only lives in Priddy (which was just down some muddy lanes where we'd been half an hour ago). Actually being able to go caving was the best possible scenario!

Dave knocked on Andy's door loudly and persuaded Andy's partner to hire us out some kit. We basically had our choice of kit from Andy's shed for the sum of 10 pounds. I was fully clothed for caving now. Back at Manor Farm, Mathias pulled out Fred's SRT kit from the massive Willerup equipment collection. We were off.

Entrance shaft
There is a muddy little walk to Manor Farm Swallet. There were grumpy looking cows around trudging the field into a glutinous soup. We trudged happily to a circular concrete wall in the middle of the field. The wall has a bar on the top of it and an open shaft inside. This is the entrance to Manor Farm Swallet. Dave and Mathias rigged the bar and we were down. It is a drop of about 50ft down a narrow circular shaft. It is wide enough to rap down or ascend up, but it is narrow enough to climb out of by bridging (if you are any good at bridging up slimy green rock that is).

There was a little twisting tunnel going downhill from the entrance shaft. This seemed like it had once been dug. It was a dry passage that soon ended at a wide 45 degree slope. Dave went down the slope and started to rig the second pitch. The rigging was on an iron bar and some of those screw in bolts. What exactly is wrong with eco anchors? These bars just seem like an unnecessary mess to me. This second pitch is a moderately tight little rift. It is simple enough to get down if you choose the widest portion.

There was a little stream at the bottom of the rift. We took the SRT kit off here. The stream went down into Curtain Chamber. There were some nice formations in here, but I wouldn't describe it as magnificent. We took photos as Dave rigged the ladder pitch over the waterfall. This pitch proved pretty wet. I was glad to have the use of the ladder in the conditions, though it is almost certainly free climbable on the true left.

Further along the passage was one of the more sporting sections of the cave. There is a wet little squeeze called Albert's Eye. It didn't really offer any resistance, but was a good little feature - if only there was more of this sort of work.

I thought the best decorations in the cave were in a side passage off from below Albert's Eye. The passage to Fleet Street has really good flowstone walls. This passage ends at an aven covered in flowstone. There are scaffolding poles lying around here allowing you to effect an entry into Fleet Street proper via a maypole. This is what Mathias did some time ago. It looked like it would be really good to climb this flowstone wall. The bottom half certainly looked like it would be free climbable. It might be worth going down there with some old climbing gear next time.

The main stream passage became more interesting below Albert's Eye. It seems like a real stream down there. There are several cascades and an interesting false floor in places. The passage sometimes gets quite tight as it twists downwards.

Dave was at the back looking for the entrance to the NHASA Gallery. He once thought that he had found it - there was a little waterfall emanating from the left wall up a little ramp. He dived into the hole from where the water was coming. He had a squirm around, but wasn't really getting anywhere. It sounded quite unpleasant up there - wet and tight. In retrospect, we decided that Dave was probably unwittingly trying to get into Sarum Inlet. Dave found the entrance to NHASA Gallery a bit further down the stream way. It is really quite strange how such a little entrance leads to such a big chamber. We seemed to pop out of a little slot between boulders into something quite massive.

The large NHASA Gallery dropped downwards for some way. There are occasional good speleoforms, though there are mud banks hereabouts too (they were pretty slippery as I can testify!). The roof lowers continuously until you stoop around a bend at the bottom and are once more in the stream way. This stream way seems like the end of the cave.

There are a couple of side passages at the bottom. Mathias appeared keen in Brian's Inlet. This tight little water filled tube seemed to lead off somewhere pretty unfriendly. Dave was fired up for Florence's Bathtub. Below a waterfall, a passage drops down and then to the left. The waterfall gets you wet, but this doesn't really matter since as you drop down left, you get well and truly immersed. I was following Dave until he started shouting "it sumps, it sumps". Dave didn't look too impressed by the bathtub. I decided it wasn't worth a look (at this stage in my caving career anyway).

To the right of these aqueous features, we found a dry continuation passage. This passage clearly sumps at times. After a descent through the sumping area, we ascended drier mud to a bifurcation. The right hand branch looked like a dig. It had a wire going along the muddy floor of what was apparently a mined passage. The left hand branch went uphill. Dave set off up this. As I waited for Dave in the left hand branch, I looked around at what was supporting the boulder ruckle that Dave was squirming through. It was unclear to me that any of it was supported. Despite Dave's protestations that things were OK, I decided to engage reverse gear to the bifurcation. After Dave returned, Mathias went up. We lost audible contact with Mathias - he had clearly made quite a bit of progress through the ruckle. When he returned, he said that he'd climbed through the ruckle and could just see a massive chamber going off into the distance without end. I was somewhat sceptical (there is only one way for me to find out!).

The right hand branch (the mined passage) was an uninspiring feature. I followed it to it's end. The wire just sank below a small boulder that looked like it had fallen from the roof. It didn't look good. It was time to head out. Time for pints.

We'd got really muddy in the lower reaches of Manor Farm - really, really muddy. It didn't bother me too much - I had rented kit. It still wasn't very pleasant. Albert's Eye and the subsequent pitch up the ladder cleaned us up and cooled us down.

The hardest bit of the cave was probably the little rift pitch going up. Constricted rifts seem really difficult to SRT up. It isn't clear to me whether the ascenders and footloops are helping upward progress. I also seem to get the feeling that the rope will often pull you into the wrong part of the shaft - you'd go up differently if you were free climbing. After some strenuous work, I was up. Neither Dave not Mathias made it look any easier.

Dave and Mathias sorted out the rope and belay as I continued up the passage to ascend the entrance shaft. We thought that we'd have to move if we were going to make it to the Hunters in time. It was nice to be on a proper SRT pitch again. This isn't exactly like Yorkshire - you bang into the walls a couple of times. It seemed a lot freer than anything else we'd done in this hole.

After Mathias exited the entrance shaft (he made the final moves more festive than they strictly needed to be), we attempted to coil the rope without getting it covered in dung. We were only partially successful. I think it was Dave's rope!

At last we were back at the car and thinking of the pub. Dave looked at his watch. It was midnight. It looked like we weren't going to be going to the pub after all - just Andy Sparrow's to drop my hired kit off. It had all been my fault. It was a good trip, I was just a bit miffed at having left my kit in Bristol.

All that remained was to drive the car through the muddy Mendip lane for the fourth time. My car looked a complete disgrace the next morning!

Martin


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