Defeat at Broadside NW, but new hope in Priory Road
25 November 2007 by Tom Foord
It hadÂ been 4 1/2 months since mine and Martin’sÂ last digging trip. That’s a long time.Â But for John it had been an even longer 8 months, ever since his knee operation. It was fantastic to have him back on the team though, a real morale boost. But needless to say we were all aÂ little rusty, so weÂ planned take it fairly easyÂ and limit theÂ tripÂ length to 9 or 10 hours max.Â
Aside from the obvious excitement of getting back to the dig after such a long break, I was also particularly looking forward to this trip because I would finally get to test out my new lamp, a Scurion. I’d kept this secret from the others (I didn’t think anyone else had even heard of the Scurion) and was planning on spending the whole trip showing it off and making the othersÂ incredibly jealous, so imagine my shock when John also whipped one out of his bag! Even worse we’d both managed to choose the exact same colour, blue! What were the chances?! We experimented with the different settings on the way in, and this provided the topic of conversation pretty much all the way to Broadside (sorry Martin!) TheÂ ScurionÂ turned out to be a fantastic bit of kit though, and really came intoÂ its own in Main Passage which was lit up like daylight for as far as the eye could see.Â
Once at Broadside, John and I headed to the NW digÂ (Martin went to work on his own at the south dig sinceÂ there was not really room for 3 at Broadside NW). WeÂ dugÂ across to the left at the top of the end pit until we hit the wall.Â Spoil was simply thrown into the pit, and every now and then John would jump down and compact the spoil by stamping on it.Â When we had cleared a route across to the wall there were still no obvious featuresÂ indicating a place to dig down,Â so we beganÂ to dig deeper creating a narrow trench following the wall all the way around to the left from theÂ top of the pit. We were into totalÂ fill with no airspace, and as we continued along the wall it continued to curve left, essentially parallel to the other wall of the passage (the right wall when approaching the pit). This gave the impression that we were now following the passage back the way we had originally come, but along the opposite wall. This showed that the passage width was about 1.5m-2m atÂ roof level. However the further along and the deeper we dug, the more the wall started to slope in towards us (at an angle of 45 degrees or less), almost becoming more of a floor than a wall! This gave the impression that we were in a passage about 1.5m high and wide, withÂ aÂ horizontal roof, and perhaps a trench in the floor hidden beneath the fill. There was no way there could conceivably be a way through somewhere beneath us, other than in the pit at the very end.Â The fact we had managed to dig a 3m deep pit hereÂ implies that theÂ 1.5m diameter horizontal passageÂ must suddenly plunge down vertically through a phreatic loop, and the way on is in the very bottom of that pit. However, digging had proved nigh on impossible down there on the last trip, and besides we had by now back-filled the pit more than half way! We scoured the sand strata and scalloping (or lack of!) for any kind of a clue pointing to another way on, but found nothing. It was time to admit defeat.
This was a real shame since an incredible amount of time and effort has gone into Broadside NW. Many tons ofÂ mud, sand, clay and rock have been shifted, as can be clearlyÂ seen from the various spoil heaps dotted around Broadside. However there comes a time whenÂ a digger mustÂ accept defeat and move on toÂ pastures new. Our efforts could be better spent elsewhere, and funnily enough John had somewhere in mind. WeÂ retrieved a reluctant Martin from Broadside South, where he was still happily shifting rocks, and moved out’Â¦Â Â
Back in Priory Road,Â somewhere between the very large easy walking section andÂ theÂ Cathedral, is a small side passage on the left (when heading in). It lies on the outside of a wide right-hand bend, and heads off to the north. It is a very similar situation to the start of Iles Inlet, but a much smaller passage (or maybe just a greater amount of fill?). The passage could only be followed for a few metres, becoming a flat-out crawl with a crack in the roof, to a point where a small mound in the floor meant it was impossible to squeezeÂ forward toÂ reach what looks likeÂ a slight corner to the left just ahead. However this passage has a lot going for it:Â
1. It heads intoÂ the big blank area between Aggy andÂ Daren, and somewhere in this area must be the northward continuation of Broadside, a huge trunk passage. There may be more hope of reaching this continuation from here rather than from Broadside itself.Â
2. Â John had seen what looked like bat guano on the floor of the passage, indicating that bats use this as a through route (apparently bats are presumed not to enter small dead end passages).Â
3. There seemed to be a very slight draft issuing from the passage, and air at the end stayed very fresh.Â
4. The fill was incredibly easy digging, consisting of very dry, fine grained sandy material, almost like flour in places. This itself could be indicative of a draft as the flow of air would have dried any moisture out.
In order to make digging operations as easy as possible John and I set about digging a comfortable hands and knees sized trench right back into Priory Road. Meanwhile Martin collected some extra diggign tools from the crawls in Priory Road which we had enlarged last year. Progress was fast, since spoil could simply be thrown to the side, and by the time Martin returned we were into the passage proper. A drag tray was now utilised, but progress was still fast despite a couple of large boulders which Martin removed. The trays were flying out, and by the time the clock hit 7pm (our agreed deadline for heading out) we were within sight of the end only 2.5m away. The going still looks easy and we should be there within a couple of hours next time.
The outward journey was pretty painful. It will presumably take some time to regain full cave fitness afterÂ such a long break. But hopefully this newÂ lead in Priory Road should now provide us with the incentive to get back into doing regular trips. It’s all to play for once again!