Waterways Swallet - Alan Brentnall
This week saw eight cavers squeezing vehicles into the steadily overgrowing cavers' car park in Waterings Wood, near Blore. Tonight's destination was Waterways Swallet, the spectacular downward spiral of passages and chokes which was engineered by Pete Dell and the other Keyhole Cavers earlier this century. After some fairly heavy showers over the weekend, we were all wondering if the pond might be up, and whether the trip would need to be called off, but a walk down the field revealed everything dry. We were good to go. Tonight we were lucky to have Dave Ottewell along with us. Dave was part of the push which was master-minded by Keyhole and he kept us amused with interesting stories of what went on in those days. Exploration is still ongoing, Dave told us, with Rob Middleton attempting to push recent gains in the Wotno Sump dive this coming weekend.
In terms of technical crawling, squeezing and general buggeration factors, the entrance series, which has been part of the known cave since the mid-20th century, is probably the toughest stretch of the whole trip. Never too tight, but always awkward, you can easily imagine the amazement on the faces of the original explorers when they popped out into the very impressive Main Chamber for the first time back in the 1950s. The Main Chamber is very well decorated with many fossils - but we were saddened to see that somebody had decided to add decorations in the form of painted graffiti. Dave said he would try to remove some of that while supporting the dive on Saturday. (He began making mental notes of things he needed to bring.)
As Keyhole's Waterways project had been such an "industrial" dig, there is still a lot of "evidence" kicking around in the system - tools, wires etc - and, when I've been into Waterways Swallet with Dave before, we've usually tried to removed some of the unnecessary bits on our way out. Tonight was to be no different and, as we approached the start of the Keyhole Series, Dave started removing lengths of wire and stashing them for later removal. In the end, these were left for the Saturday trip, as a wire cutter would be needed. Instead, we all agreed to remove some of the Scaffold Clips from Toad Haul, where they were slowly rusting away.
We made our way down through the scaffolding and re-grouped at the point where the crawl down to Room 101 goes off. We decided to stick to the Blore Street route on the way down, and look at Room 101 on our way back, so we carried on down to the yellow ladder, and the steeply descending passage over black fossilised wood to the breakthrough point which marks the route through Richard's Kennel up to Room 101. Just below this junction, we once again re-grouped before tackling the low crawl through to the knotted rope climb down into Toad Haul, so named because the Keyhole lads rescued a Toad from here, apparently.
Once down the climb, we squeezed down into Wotno Streamway, and payed a visit to Saturday's dive base at Wotno Sump before gather the scaff clips and retreating back up the rope, some of us opting for an alternative, route through dodgy boulders. Here Dave decided to take Pete Dell's original tight passage, the original route, while the rest of us used the bigger stuff which is the usual route these days. At the split, I went left through Richard's Kennel (another dodgy boulder choke) and Katie, Dave, Clive and Andy followed. Room 101 was impressive, as it always is, but the little hand line hanging from the exit climb had vanished, and the climb had to be done without it. This isn't too difficult, depending upon how many scaff clips you have stuffed down your over suit, and in fact I found the end of the pink rope higher up - somebody had tied foot loops in it at a higher point, shortening it somewhat.
When we crawled out into the main drag above Blore Street we weren't too sure whether the other three (Chris, Kenny and Oleg) were behind us in Room 101 or if they had taken the Blore Street route and were ahead of us. I went back to the split by Richard's Kennel to check, but could not hear anything and, when I returned, Andy and Katie were sure that they were ahead and that, as Oleg had left a hand lamp he was carrying up in the scaffolded section, we would know when we got to that point whether they were ahead or not - and, sure enough, it had gone. So we slowly made our way back up through all the obstacles to the little mesh lid which covers the entrance, and retreated to the Yew Tree at Cauldon Low to discuss an enjoyable and interesting trip underground.