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Last updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004 12:49

Grolsch Passage

By Martin Beale

Cave date: 3 April 2004 | Cave Photos | Interactive Map

The statistics
Total time in cave: 9h37m
Progress made : approx 10 metres of which approx 4m is new passage
View on : more sand digging with approx 3 inches of airspace. The air seems to be good.
Passage direction : approx 220 degrees (but our main Silva compass broke on the way in)
Draught : none recorded by the testo, but there seemed to be a slight draught. Very little draught in the whole cave.

I was extremely pleased that Royston could make it down the cave: it had been an eleventh hour decision. I met him at Whitewalls in his biking gear (he had set off at 7am from Sheffield).

We went in at a moderate pace (wanting to save energy for the rigours to come at the dig face, we also travelled slower as I was carrying a full dragbag of essential supplies and Royston was dragging the hoe. Yet again, Southern Stream Passage was the most tedious section of the trip (taking 1h20m) and Priory Road was the best section: we seem to be really getting akin to some of the crawls there now. Once at Severn Beach (at about 2:10pm), we had some sandwiches and cakes (from the Criockhowell bakery: always excellent) before setting off for the dig face. The tools we amassed were a hoe (an excellent piece of digging kit), a wrecking crowbar (another fine piece of kit) and a tray with rope that had been left down there. I positioned myself in a little turning area (that became known as the Turning Circle) and reached the hoe down into the continuation passage. I was instantly pleased with this fantastic piece of kit: I could just reach down and pull out a sizeable amount of sand in one go. I dragged enough sand into the turning circle and once I had a little pile, I would then load it by hand into the tray. It felt like a relief and a coming of age when I shouted "take in" to Royston for the first time and he dragged the tray out.

My goal was to deepen the entrance to the continuation passage such that squirming inside it was less traumatic. This took quite a few tray loads. I was then able to set off horiziontally along the passage. This horizontal digging was again easy: the hoe just ate into the sand. There were only a couple of times when I had to apply the crowbar to a rock in the floor (more to make the passage more comfortable than because it was blocking the way). The problem we encountered with digging this horizontal passage was that I would have to hoe the sand for up to 10m back (at my furthest limit). This became time consuming (digging would have been facilitated with an extra person at the turning circle). We dug the horizontal passage (which we call Grolsch passage in deference to our great motivator) out to about 2 feet deep: although it would be possible to crawl along a more constricted passage, 2 feet seemed to be about the right depth as I wanted to leave the passage deep enough to make digging comfortable. Furthermore, I could see that the sand was getting closer to the roof as I progressed and there was thus little point in leaving too little headroom (an over-deep passage would always leave room for backfill).

Approaching 5pm, my mind turned inexoribly to lager. Strangely enough, Royston was also thinking about the golden throat charmer. We agreed that I would have one last do down the passage and then we would pack up for the day. I decided that on my last push, I would go as far as I could, backfilling as appropriate. This is what I did and I made another few metres of progress (the diggging is similar: just pulling out sand with the hoe, with the occasional stone getting removed to improve the floor). I filled a little side passage on the way with spoil (if needs be, this can easily be dug out again, but I do not think it is close enough to OyDC to be significant). When I had got as far as I could, I reversed out with one particularly large excavated stone (the McBride boulder).

I got out into Severn Beach to see the results of Royston's toils: he had filled a depression with spoil to create a really comfortable pile of earth (ideal for appreciating a post-digging lager). Although I wasn't there to witness Royston's efforts, it must have been hard work lugging 15 tray loads of spoil out from the dig and across Severn Beach to the sedimentation zone (no wonder lager was on his mind).

Taking in Royston's handiwork over a tin of Grolsch and some cake, we decided that Severn Beach could be made into quite a good place to camp. We would need to dig some more of the sand out of Grolsch passage and use that to create a level sleeping area. The beauty of this plan is that you don't get to sleep until you have done enough digging (how can this plan go wrong?).

Before setting off out, we both had a last look down the newly excavated passage. It was so tantalising at the end of that passage: I found it really hard to drag myself away. The digging is so straightforward, the roof seems so perfect, the passage is of fine dimensions and at last progress is being made once more in the search for the connection to OyDC. I am so pleased with the foresight of John Stevens and the efforts of John and Arthur to open this dig up. I really hope that we can do this dig justice (hopefully with John and Arthur one day).

We set off out from Severn Beach at about 6:20pm , leaving our digging gear behind (for another day: hopefully soon) and made surprisingly good progress out, exiting in well under 3 hours to a savagely wet and blustery night. We trudged back elated and buzzing through the elements to the inviting Whitewalls cottage and a celebratory tin of Grolsch and the last of the Crickhowell cake.

Martin Beale, Bristol, 3 April 2004

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