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Last updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004 12:51

Can You Dig It?

By Royston Sellman
Cave date: Wednesday 19 May | Cave Photos | Interactive Map
Cavers: Mathias Willerup, Martin Beale. Royston Sellman
Time: 10h40m

A glorious sunny morning, a day off work and speeding across the Severn Bridge - clearly an opportunity to climb the routes we'd been dreaming of all winter. But no, dedicated to the cause, we passed the Wye Valley turn off and headed over to Llangattock for another push at the end of Agen Allwedd. The fleshpots of Crickhowell, in the form of the bakery and the hardware store, delayed us as usual. Fully caked up we set off up the hill to Whitewalls and quickly got changed.

It seemed strange to be strolling along the old tramway in hot sunshine. We should have been heading *onto* rock, not *into* it. But the Grolsch Passage dig was still drawing us in. Once again Martin had the bag, I had our second hoe (the first had been such a success we decided to get another in there) and Mathias was carrying the massive Gorilla Bar - the king of crowbars. We got into the cave just before noon. The lads were setting a cracking pace and I was puffing a bit so I sneaked to the front somewhere down the interminable Southern Stream Passage so that I could control (i.e slow) the pace a bit. But somewhere in Priory Road Martin overtook me again and was off like a rocket. I trailed behind in a blur of wriggly sandcrawl punctuated with curses directed towards hoe2.

We all met for lunch at Severn Beach and found ourselves comfortable seats in the four foot clearance. Out came the cakes, the pitta bread and hummus and the choccy bars, and a can of Grolsch for luck. All that was missing was a table but a large flat boulder was winking at Martin...

Apparently I took an "anti-social" portion of the lager so as penance I went first into the dig with hoe2 and squirmed down to the dig face. Clearly the social thing to do now was to widen and deepen the work area, so instead I started to push further forwards into what looked like might be a widening. I went into a dreamlike state, ripping sand, gravel and rock back towards me with the hoe, then pushing it all past my waist and finally "swimming" the stuff back with my legs to where Mathias could reach it and fill the tray. Back at the start of Grolsch Martin was pulling out the trays and moving the spoil to the dump. From experience I knew his was the really tough job...

I became machine-like, just digging, pushing, swimming mindlessly, but it was slowly dawning on me that there was an impasse ahead. The widening was only small, it wasn't a breakthrough, there was a boulder choke of some sort, though with a hand-sized hole at its bottom right. It was a bit disappointing. An altruistic instinct kicked in and I switched to improving the work area, widening and deepening the passage. I was sure I could feel a draught at times but I also noticed that I was getting a headache and breathing rapidly. In retrospect I think this was just psychological, but I started to weaken mentally. My head had been lower than my waist for too long, depriving my thinking apparatus of blood and I decided to move out. First though I downed hoe2 and wriggled right to the end and put my hand in through the hole in the choke. It felt like it might be opening up beyond... perhaps... I resolved not to communicate any disappointment to M & M when I got out.

Mathias and I climbed out of the dig to find Martin attacking the large boulder that was making spoil (spoilheap photo) clearing a pain. With a bit of help from us on the rope he soon had this out and installed as the Severn Beach picnic table. We hope to add the deck chairs on a future trip. Soon Mathias was heading back down to the sharp end, followed by Martin on clearance duty while I got ready to do the spoil lift-and-clear at the drop to the dig. When my first tray arrived I quickly tipped it into the big drum and sent the tray back. Almost immediately the tray re-appeared full again. I tipped it in the drum and prepared to lift but I seemed to be paralysed. On my previous trip with Martin I'd just hoiked the drum up, scurried around it and dragged it to the tip. It seemed impossible this time, and another full tray soon appeared. I was replaced by Martin and went to lighter duties down in Grolsch Passage, shuttling the tray. This system worked smoothly. Mathias was hitting something with the Gorilla Bar, sand was appearing and then disappearing to Martin. Mathias stopped hitting and a large half-boulder appeared - the first dent in the choke? This went on for ages, but the middleman in the dig gets lots of rests and I was recovering.

Eventually, Mathias got the headache too and decided to come out. He said that the choke was pretty solid. I went the now spacious passage to the end for another look and pushed my hand down the hole again. Definitely some voidishness beyond. When I got out I said I thought we needed to get the experts in. Martin headed off down to the end to get photos and have a look for himself. When he came out we sat around the picnic table and ate and drank and talked about what to do. It felt a bit flat. I think we had all dreamed of easy breakthroughs that hadn't materialised. Our thoughts turned to getting out. Mathias and I assumed all chance of making the pub was gone but Martin had different ideas. At 8:10pm we began a charge out, Martin with the bag. Priory Road was a mad speed-grovel and we popped out into SSP in 24 minutes. "We'd really have to fuck it up now to miss the pub" said Martin. I sighed to myself, knowing we were on for a run. SSP went in 64 minutes (I can't imagine how people do this in 40 minutes, but apparently they do...) and we rushed on. I took the lead at Choke 1 and sped on. I signed us out of the log book and squirmed through the gate. It was 10:14. We were in the Horseshoe for 10:50 and two pints each were taken, although one of Martin's was lime and lemonade - the driver's friend.

Royston Sellman, Sheffield, 20 May 2004


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