Note that this is a re-print of the original publication, based on a scanned copy. During the process of converting the original paper copy to this electronic version, the original formatting, page layout and page numbers have been lost. All diagrams and surveys have been scanned from the original and are consequently of poor quality.
Dowber Gill Passage
A Caving (?) Holiday in Ireland
Published by the Shepton Mallet Caving Club
The Mineries, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset, BA5 3AU
Once again we have to apologise for the delay in publication and we regret we have not yet found a satisfactory solution to the printing problem. No doubt this will be one of the matters discussed at the 1957 AGM In April.
May we remind members that Annual Subs were due on 1st January last. If you have already paid - thank you! If not, may we bring this to your notice.
The construction of a new ladder for Club use is now complete except for the splicing of the ends. This work is in hand and will be completed shortly.
BEC Annual Dinner
Our secretary was Guest of Honour at the above and he wishes to express his thanks to our very near neighbours for a thundering good evening.
The Club Hut
During 1956 many varied installations have been made. Electric light, running water and Calor gas cooking are the main achievements. Shelves and a meat safe for storing food are now fitted and a start has been made on insulating the roof.
It is essential if members using the Hut will carry out the following drill before leaving the Hut:
Fill in the Hut Log. If the Hut Warden is not in residence please leave your Hut Fees and note of names, dates and amounts in the Log.
Clean up the Hut.
Turn off the Calor gas at the cylinder under the sink.
Switch off the electricity at the mains by the door.
Remove reservoir from the oil cooker.
Turn off the water at the tap in the stable behind the Hut.
Dowber Gill Passage
Upon making contact with some fellow cavers temporarily incarcerated in the Royal Signals one of the first things I was told of, mainly by Steve Warren, a Craven Pothole Club member who had been associated with work in its discovery, was the Dowber Gill Passage.
This, which carries a stream from Providence Pot (MR 44/991729 not mentioned in Britain Underground) to Dow (or Douk) Cave (MR 44/984744 under the name Douk Cave in BU) has developed along a fault and traverses the distance in a single straight line. This passage was discussed over innumerable cups of Naafi tea and general opinion held that the Dales Club of Catterick Camp should make an attempt at traversing this passage.
Accordingly during the afternoon of Saturday 22nd April an ancient Ford 10 carried a party of six and their associated gear to a point on the road at West Scale Park and from there we carried the gear to Dow Cave entrance. This is a large resurgence coming from under Great Whernside with a wide impressive mouth, the stream coming from among a huge pile of boulders. Having eaten a meal and changed into caving clothes we walked over the hill, past Hay Dike, to Providence Pot.
This party, so gaily setting about this trip did not include a single man who had even seen the entrance to Providence Pot and only one had ever been in Dow Cave before. Steve Warren was not with us, having been posted to Germany, but Johnny Squire of UBSS and Denis Worth of Stockport Pothole & Climbing Club had studied the CPC Journals on the subject.
At six we entered what we hoped was the Providence Pot entrance. A small stream ran in a narrow vee-shaped valley. At one point it had been diverted and a narrow shaft with a cement rim was to be found among the boulders of its original bed. This proved very sporting with an entrance complex, somewhat reminiscent of Longwood, leading to large chamber with boulder floor. From here we for some time did not progress but finally a climb over boulders to the right led us into the foot of an aven, from here a low crawl led into dry meandering stream passage which finally brought us to a narrow rift where it was obvious that the rapid chemical process had been used on the rock. Obviously the squeeze CPC had found necessary to blast and we were now certain that we were on the right track. Denis Worth found it necessary to abandon two pairs of trousers before passing this squeeze.
Beyond we found a crawl, almost of Goatchurch Drainpipe dimensions, over a dry sandy floor, and which continued, with a little variation by way of an awkward climb, for what seemed an eternity. Finally however, we emerged from among some boulders into a large chamber, perhaps 40 feet high and 60 feet across with a boulder floor. An exit, directly opposite our entrance, was found down through the boulders into a large meandering, dry streamway, but from ahead now came the sounds of running water.
The roof suddenly lowered, an awkward crawl and climb down over a boulder and we were in small circular chamber with a stream entering on the left. The roof was well decorated with straws of pure white calcite but not stopping to admire them we followed the water through a hands and knees crawl to its junction with a much larger stream. This, we knew, must be the main Dowber Gill and so we splashed downstream in ankle deep water ignoring the beauty of formations around us.
The passage, obviously fault determined, continued in the same straight line but the stream soon disappeared amongst a boulder floor over which we scrambled without difficulty. Reaching an enlargement of the passage we stopped in order to eat such chocolate, mint cake and other food as we had with us. Johnny Squire recognised it, from having seen CPC photographs, as Brew Chamber and he reckoned it to be some 2/3rd of the way from Providence Pot to Dow Cave. Since we had now only been underground for 3½ hours it looked as though we would soon be getting out into Dow Cave.
However, when we started again we found the character of the passage altered enormously. It now continued as a very narrow rift with smooth sides. So narrow that in places we could not pass along it and had to move up or down to find a wide enough portion. There were rarely ledges upon which to place ones feet and so progress was made while staying at the same level by a chimney climbing technique. This was very fatiguing. At times we must have been 60 feet above the bottom of the rift for dislodged mud and stones took an awful long time before landing with a sudden splash in the now almost stagnant stream.
At one point Dick Dight was unable to maintain enough pressure and he just quietly slid some 15 feet to land waist deep in ice cold water. Four of us struggled for 15 minutes to haul him back to our level on the end of a rope. Denis Worth's strength was no longer available to us for the minute we stopped moving he fell asleep.
Sometimes it was possible to move over floors of precariously jambed boulders and we were moving in this way when all possible hope of continuing seemed gone until someone noticed a crack in the floor that it might be possible to drop through. It could be seen to be a tight crack for about a yard until it opened out in the roof of a fair sized chamber, the floor of which was black water.
A rope was fed through the crack and once out of the crack one, in theory, climbed down it. In practice, it was so wet and greasy that it did no more than ensure that you landed feet first in the knee deep water. As soon as the rope had been recovered we set off downstream. Positive that the end was near, for the stream, which for so long had been almost stagnant, was once more flowing freely, we continued down the two foot wide passage until curving to the left, first corner since leaving Providence Pot, we were faced by a stalagmite wall. However, to the left was an airspace of some ten inches and through this we crept in turn. Beyond the passage again continued straight, the wall decorated with many fine helictites, until the stream now disappeared down a small hole on the left, which we found our way, at 30 degrees upwards, through a 20 inch diameter tube to a large passage some 10 feet high and 30 feet wide, with a large stream trundling away to the left.
Dickie recognised this as Dow Cave and assured us that all difficulties were now behind us. He was right for the 1100 feet of stream passage to daylight did not take us more than ten minutes.
We emerged exactly eleven hours after entering Providence Pot and immediately the car had to rush two tired unwashed cavers back to camp in time for military duties. One was too late, but his absence was covered up and so suffered no consequences.
Such was my first introduction to Wharfedale as a caving area and Dow Cave and Providence Pot in particular. It is an area often overlooked by the visitor from other areas but it contains may interesting holes that do not require large quantities of tackle.
A Caving (?) Holiday in Ireland
Twenty five minutes past eleven in the evening of 29th July saw four members of the Club engrossed in a game of liar dice aboard the boat train from Euston to Holyhead. The four, Brian Snedden, Eric Towler, John Pogram and Bryan Ellis, were starting what was intended to be a 50% touring, 50% caving holiday in Eire. The only plans that we had made in advance were that we would hire a car in Dun Laoghaire (this had been booked long before we left), camp, cook for ourselves most of the time and to travel in an anti-clockwise direction as time and desire permitted. We hoped to visit the caving areas of Sligo and North Clare - having a hired car, customs regulations prevented us from entering Northern Ireland.
The end of this first day, therefore, found us just short of the border in the Ballysadare road, but as it did nothing but rain all evening, night and next morning we decided to leave straight away, comforting ourselves with the thought that we still had the County Clare caves to come and that it was this area on which we had the most information.
Three days later after having travelled through Sligo and Connemara we made a circuit, or nearly so, around Galway Bay and arrived in County Clare. Our navigation was being done with a sixteen miles to the inch map provided free by the AA and travelling northwards from Lisdoonvarna we were wondering how on earth we were going to find the caves when we saw a signpost which read, "Pollnagollum Cave Entrance, 2½ miles". This made life easier. We followed the track and eventually pitched camp a short distance from the cave entrance. In the evening we went into Lisdoonvarna, which is Ireland's premier spa but it does not compare at all favourably with any of the English Spas. Entering the "Greyhound Bar", we asked if they had any draught beer and the answer came back "Yes"; so being stout and mild addicts in the absence of decent cider, we asked for a stout and beer apiece. (Stout and mild is a preferable name to "Black and Tan" when ordering drinks in Eire!) The barman looked somewhat startled at our order but in the end we got them, then we realised why he had been so surprised, beer in Ireland is 'Guinness' so we had ordered draught and bottled Guinness! That was the trouble in Ireland, while the town bars were open from ten 'til ten and the country ones as long as anyone wanted a drink, it was very difficult to find one that stocked anything other than draught and bottled Guinness and bottled Smithwicks. This is a bottled ale which contains more gas than a bottle of lemonade - the limit was reached when on one occasion, and one only, someone ordered a Smithwicks shandy.
Anyway, we returned safely to our campsite and went out for a walk to try and locate the numerous entrances to Pollnagollum with the aid of a plan that we had; we accomplished this satisfactorily but as we walked back to our tents it began to rain. Soon it was coming down in bucketfuls and we found it necessary to dig a most elaborate system of drainage channels around the tent to keep it out, and it continued to come down for most of the night. When we woke up the following morning it was still coming down so as we did not know the caves but knew that they were liable to flooding we turned over and went back to sleep. By the time that we did get out of bed it still hadn't stopped but we decided to spend the day in the same place in the hope that it would and we would be able to get underground. The time was spent in cooking, eating, drying out our wet clobber as best we could over a primus and in reading caving literature in lieu of doing the real thing. A time was reached when we could cook no longer as we had run out of food so partly to restock and partly because the "Greyhound" would be drier than our tent, we again journeyed into Lisdoonvarna. Needless to say the rain continued to tumble down and when we returned to Pollnagollum we found many of the fields and the road flooded but our driver got the car through safely. Although we had only been up for eleven hours there was nothing else to do but go back to bed, so we did just this. The next morning was, surprisingly enough, dry but overcast and a conference was called. After an awful amount of discussion it was agreed that we would have to wait at least a day in all probability for the water level to fall and in this time there was still the likelihood of more rain falling, also we had already spent one day here doing nothing and if we were to see as much of Ireland as we hoped, time was none too plentiful. We therefore decided to motor on and it seemed that in making this decision we were most likely saying goodbye to the caving side of our holiday as we now had information only on the Dunmore Caves in Kilkenny and knowledge of the existence of two more caves near Mitchelstown in County Tipperary. (In case any irate Irishman wishes to descend heavily on my neck let me hasten to point out that while the town of Mitchelstown is in County Cork, the caves of that name are in Tipperary.)
The next seven days were spent touring. We travelled down the west coast, visited the Cliffs of Moher, Shannon hydroelectric power station (which we were shown over) and the Dingle Peninsular. It was here that we decided to climb Brandon Mountain but again agreed that discretion was the better part of valour when we reached the clouds at just over a thousand feet and came down again. We also camped in the MacGillycuddy's Reeks and were lucky in choosing a very fine day to climb Carrantuohill, which at 3414 feet is the highest mountain in Ireland. Other things included taking the car through the Gap of Dunloe which is a mountain pass normally done on horseback and a visit to the site of the ambush at Kilmichael where the IRA made a "mess" of the Black and Tans, an occurrence often referred to in song at the Hunters' Lodge.
During the evening of July 11th we reached Mitchelstown. We knew that the caves lay "about seven miles east of the town of that name" so we motored towards Cahir hoping that we would find them somehow. Sure enough we found a signpost saying "To the caves, 2 miles", but after three miles we had not found the caves, only another signpost pointing back in the direction from which we had come and giving the distance as one mile. Accordingly we turned the car but this seemed to be too much for it as the silencer came adrift; anyhow after asking a half-wit, two three-quarter wits and a farmer's wife we arrived at the correct farm with the car sounding like a lovely racing car to some and an awful old tractor to the others. Asking at the farm, we were shown a campsite nearby and it was also arranged for us to be taken around the show cave the following morning; requests for us to visit the rest of the cave on our own met were with a refusal. The evening was spent trying to repair the car and the efforts, while not perfect, did make it a little quieter.
Next morning we went around the cave as arranged, but what a pathetic show cave it is. At the entrance, which is a wooden door about four hundred yards from the road, we were each given a candle while our guide had a pressure paraffin lamp, proper Balch-type caving! They had told us that the trip would take about three-quarters of an hour but it was for fifteen minutes only that we clambered, slipped and cursed over wet and muddy rocks to see as best we could, about five meagre formations. We had debated whether to wear our boiler suits and to carry our acetylene lamps and then decided that the owners might be offended - but how we wished that we had. Anyway they provided us with soap and water to wash with (very necessary after that cave) we signed the visitors' book, paid our half-crowns and left.
Now there remained the possibility of doing Dunmore Cave, and that was all. Travelling to Kilkenny the efforts of the previous evening came undone to the roar of exhaust - the silencer had come undone again, the two "mechanics" in the party each tried to put it back but to no avail so one of the "mechanical morons" decided that he would try; needless to say he got it back on first time, perfectly as well and Messrs Ryan's from whom we had borrowed the A40 need never know. We tempted Providence and we were lucky for once again it was a signpost which showed us where to turn off the main road for the cave. Either the Eireann Government likes to make it easier for cavers or also we were lucky in finding the only three in existence; there was a reason for signposting this cave though as it is scheduled as an ancient monument due to a large number of old bones that have been found there. The farmer showed us where we could pitch our tents then as we were putting them up he walked over with a pint of milk for us in case we were short. This action was typical of the friendliness of all the Irish that we met, with the exception of two and one of those was drunk.
Later that same evening we changed into caving clothing, packed some gear and walked over to the cave entrance. This entrance, although we only "saw" it in the dark, is truly impressive and is, at a guess, about fifty feet high and a hundred feet wide, caused by the collapse of the roof of a large chamber. These dimensions are typical of the cave which consists of a number of large chambers connected by big passages. We looked at the Entrance Hall, Haddon Hall and the Rabbit Warren - a bedding plane chamber - and then took some photographs of the formations in the Market Cross Chamber. All that remained for us to see was the Crystal Hall and we knew that the way into this lay through the boulders that litter the floor. After trying just about every possible and impossible looking hole we found the correct one. At the bottom of the Crystal Hall is a pool, the colour of the water in it being a lovely deep blue and when the chamber was first entered this water was thirty feet higher than it is at the present time. The second time that the chamber was entered this water level had fallen to its present level but the reason for this fall is not known. As the chamber has been under water for so long all the rock is covered with calcite in the form of "flowers" and the effect is like looking at piles of cauliflowers; these flowers, which are up to half an inch in diameter, are sometimes loose and lie in a "sand" of very fine calcite crystals. The whole chamber is white except where it has been dirtied by the passage of people and is very impressive. After looking at Crystal Hall for some little time we returned to the surface after having been underground for some three hours.
The remaining two days of our holiday were spent in motoring through the Wicklow Mountains to return the car in Dun Laoghaire in a sufficiently good state of repair for us to receive our deposit back in full.
While our 50% caving had definitely gone hay-wire it was still a very enjoyable holiday and we did manage to get underground, if only for a few hours, to justify our having brought so much equipment with us. Now that we have seen many of the surface beauties of Ireland we want to return in order to see the underworld.