Journal Series 3 Number 3

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.



Water Tracing with Rhodamine 'B' by BM Ellis

Aughaheeran Pot by JM Boon

McGovern's Boulder Cave by JM Boon

Obituary Prof LS Palmer BSc; PhD

Cave Diving in Co. Fermanagh by MM Thompson

Sump Three, Swildons Hole by JM Boon


Published by the Shepton Mallet Caving Club

The Mineries, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset, BA5 3AU



This is the spring number, when thoughts are supposed to turn to lighter pursuits than underground exploration.

The minds of most of our active members are however concentrating on the lower reaches of Swildons Hole. Will Sump Six be passed in strength, and how far is it to the, as yet hypothetical, Sump Seven?

Already the first part of the provisional plan suggested by Mike Boon in his article on Sump Three has been completed. There is now a solid guide line from Swildons II to Swildons III for the divers use.

It is to be hoped that this summer will be no less successful than last year.


Water Tracing With Rhodamine 'B'

A short time ago members of the Bradford Pothole Club devised a new method of water tracing. Brief details were given in Volume Three, Number Three of the BPC "Bulletin" and on reading these it was realised that this method removed most of the objections to using older methods such as fluorescein.

The method consists of adding a dyestuff, Rhodamine B, to the water at the sink, and collecting it from the water again at the resurgence by using cotton. To make the cotton more susceptible to the dye it must be treated before use. The treatment used is known as "tanning" and is performed by heating the cotton in a 5% solution of tannic acid for one hour and then allowing to cool. After removing the excess liquor the cotton is stood for several hours in a 4% solution of antimony potassium tartrate. (This substance is a "Schedule One" poison and care must be taken not to allow the solution to enter any open wound). Finally the cotton is removed from the solution, washed with cold water and dried. One slight disadvantage of the method is that iron salts form a very dark blue colouration with tannic acid and, therefore, if there is any iron present in the water where the test is being carried out the cotton becomes stained. Luckily this can be removed easily without affecting the dose. The dyed and stained hank of cotton is placed in a solution of ethylene diamene tetra-acetic acid (EDTA) and allowed to stand for several minutes; this removes the iron as a colourless, soluble compound. The BPC "Bulletin" mentions that a 30% solution of EDTA was used for this purpose but when the author attempted to prepare such a solution it was found that the maximum solubility was approximately 12%. A few laboratory tests showed that a 3% solution would remove all the stain from a sample of cotton that had been left standing in a saturated iron solution. Personal communication with Terry Marston, the author of the B.P.C. article, gave the information that they had found afterwards that the EDTA they had been using contained a proportion of free sodium hydroxide, thus enabling them to prepare a 30% solution. For the tests described in this article a 3% solution of pure EDTA (di-sodium salt) was used and found completely satisfactory.

The advantages of this method are numerous. First of all the test is accumulative that is the result can be "built up" to a detectable size by the repeated addition of very small amounts of dyestuff, thus ensuring that at no time is there sufficient dye in the water to produce visible colouration at the resurgence. It is possible to dye the cotton from a colourless solution of Rhodamine B (and the dye is easily visible in a concentration of one in four million) provided that it is left there long enough. As the water does not have to be coloured, in fact the non-colouration is itself an advantage because it removes the objection of people and animals having coloured drinking water, less dye can be used with a resulting saving in cost. Rhodamine B is slightly more expensive than fluorescein but the amount of the former used is so small compared with the latter that there is a considerable saving. The dye has been investigated by the Cave Research Group and found not to affect any naturally occurring bacteria with the result that the method has been given the blessing of the bug-hunter. Although a few chemicals are required the method is very easy and does not require any expensive or cumbersome equipment. Finally, in common with a few other methods that have been devised, it is not necessary to watch all the possible resurgences for an unknown length of time, nor to take samples of water for later analysis by either chemical or physical means. The hanks of treated cotton are first placed in all the possible resurgences, a small quantity of dye is added at the swallet, and then some time later the hanks are collected again. Examination of the cotton visually, perhaps after very simple treatment, gives the result immediately. It is the author's opinion that this method is by far the best of all those developed so far.

Having read of this method in the BPC "Bulletin" certain members of the club decided that this was what was needed to attempt to solve some of the water tracing problems of Mendip. A programme was drawn up but it must be admitted that apart from the preliminary experiments it has not been started; those who announced themselves as interested, including the author, have found themselves too busy with other projects. However it is felt that the preliminary experiments themselves have produced some interesting results, hence this article. When the laboratory experiments had been completed it was decided to carry out two simple tests to familiarise ourselves with the technique. Accordingly in March 1961, cotton detectors were placed in Swildon's Hole in the Long Dry Way, in the main stream below Barnes Loop and in the Black Hole (or Priddy Green) Stream. As a start, 2.5 grams of dye were added to the stream that sinks at the side of the road near the Mendip Hunt Kennels (NGR 551525) and a week later the detectors were examined. At the time it was thought that the cotton in the Black Hole stream was dyed. A further 2.5 grams of dye were added to the swallet a week after the first and at the same time a detector was placed where the Swildons surface stream resurges at NGR 530524. A fortnight later the first quantity of dye had been added to the swallet the cotton hanks were removed. The hanks placed at the resurgence showed a positive result, but it was found that those placed in the cave were heavily stained with iron, especially the one nearest to the surface which was a very dark purple. After removal of the staining with EDTA it was found that none of showed any sign of dyeing and it is thought that the suspected positive result in the Black Hole stream was due to faint iron staining appearing as dyeing when viewed in the light of a carbide lamp. As the course of the stream is known, the negative result must have been due to our using too little dye

The next test was again in Swildon's Hole. With the help of a number of club members detectors were placed in the Water Rift above the Forty Foot, and in the main stream at Sump l and in Swildon's IV. On this occasion thirty-five grams of dye were added to the stream at the cave entrance and on removing the hanks a week later all showed a positive result. Thus we proved for the first time, since repeated by Mike Boon with a very different method, that the stream in Swildon's IV was the same as that in Swildon's I and II. Much more important was the fact that we had gained valuable experience in using the new technique. One interesting point noted was that although the colouration was very strong when the cotton was still damp after bringing it out of the cave the colour faded appreciably when the hanks were dried in the sun. Learning from this experience; in later tests the hanks have not been dried completely and the colour has not faded.

As other club members were too busy working in Swildon's Hole to carry out any further tests in the immediate future the author decided to try and gain further experience by tackling an old problem in St. Cuthbert's Swallet. When the cave was first opened the explorers found a tributary joining the main stream at the eastern end of Sewer Passage, in fact a tributary that carried more water than the main stream. With some misgiving they named this tributary "Plantation Stream" because Plantation Swallet was the only one known in the locality taking sufficient water. It was clearly stated in the agreement signed between the Bristol Exploration Club and the landowner that the water was not to be polluted. For this reason no attempt was made to prove the connection by fluorescein. An interesting theory was put forward by two members of the BEC, their "proof" being based on the results of a series of water temperature readings made in the cave. Readings of the temperature of water in the cave at various times of the year had shown the ambient cave temperature to be 48.5°F. They took temperature readings one day in December just after the surface air temperature had risen considerably and obtained these figures:

Stream sinking in Plantation Swallet 45.0°F

Stream sinking near entrance to cave 46.5°F

Plantation Stream in the cave 47.5°F

Main Stream in cave just before junction with Plantation Stream 48.5°F

From these facts, and owing that the stream sinking near the cave entrance was the course of the Main Stream in the cave, they put forward this theory. The stream sinking near the entrance, St. Cuthbert's Stream, is known to be slower flowing than the Plantation Swallet Stream and therefore had approached nearer to the new air temperature. Now the Main Stream in the cave, the continuation of St. Cuthbert's stream, had risen even further to reach the ambient cave temperature, but Plantation Stream - although it had risen - had not reached this cave temperature. Now if the source of Plantation Stream is not Plantation Swallet, then it must be seepage water because there is nothing else available. But seepage water would be even slower moving than St. Cuthbert's stream and should have reached cave temperature by the time that it reached Plantation Junction. But it is colder and therefore Plantation Stream cannot be seepage water but must be from Plantation Swallet. This theory seems very plausible and is repeated not only because of its part in the present article but because possibly it could be usefully applied to a similar problem in another cave.

However, plausible as it may be, it was not proof of the connection. Some time later an attempt was made to prove the connection by adding a quantity of alum to the water entering Plantation Swallet and running some of the water from Plantation Stream through an ion-exchange column. The contents of the column were then tested for aluminium but unfortunately the results were suspect. Therefore the connection still had not been proved.

Now that the "Rhodamine B" method was available as a means of water tracing without pollution, it was decided to make another attempt at proving a connection between Plantation Swallet and Plantation Stream. Furthermore later exploration in the cave had shown that there was a stream, or streams, flowing down the eastern side of the cave. This water is met in Cone Chamber, September Series; and in Continuation Chamber and the Tin Mine in the Rabbit Warren Extension. As from the survey it appeared likely that these were all part of the Plantation Swallet - Plantation Stream system, if such existed, it was intended to place detectors in all these places. However when the detectors were being placed in position it was not found possible to visit all these sites and it was necessary to make do with others. Hanks of cotton were placed in the water in the Wire Rift, in the Maypole Series Stream; in Plantation Stream; and in the Main Stream near Everest Passage; in Sewer Passage and at the Duck. After leaving the cave twenty-five grams of dye were added to the water entering Plantation Swallet. A week later the detectors were removed from the cave and after removing the iron staining that was present it was found that those from Plantation Stream and the Duck were dyed. Therefore, for the first time, it had been proved that the source of Plantation stream was Plantation Swallet and that the stream would not have to be classified with the Priddy Green Stream of Swildon's as a misnomer. One must be extremely careful in interpreting negative results in water tracing but as both Plantation Stream and the Duck were positive and all the remainder negative, it seems fairly safe to assume that none of the water from Plantation Swallet reaches the main stream before Plantation Junction.

Although this had proved, at long last, the connection, it did not solve the other question whether the stream met in September Series and the Rabbit Warren Extension were part of the same system. Accordingly, some time later more detectors were placed in the streams in Cone Chamber, the Tin Mine and the Continuation Chamber. After leaving the cave thirty grams of dye were added to the water at Plantation Swallet but this time it had to be an interval of two weeks before the detectors could be removed. Looking through my notes on the previous experiment, I noticed that on that occasion the detectors had been left a week only and yet I had a comment that more dye would be desirable. Therefore a fortnight after adding the first quantity of dye a further twenty five grams were added. This time, due to an accident with the polythene bottle full of dye solution, the dye had to be added in the form of crystals to the water instead of adding it as a solution. The following day the detectors were collected and all showed a positive result. In other words, it had been proved that the water flowed from Plantation Swallet to Plantation Junction via Cone Chamber in September Series, Continuation Chamber and the Tin Mine. In the last two places there is both the major stream and a tributary joining it. Not only did the major streams give a positive result but also the two tributaries.

One interesting point came to light from this last experiment. In caves where only part of the detector was in the water the colouration was considerably stronger in part out of the water. Presumably much of the colouration had been washed out of that part in the water but how the higher part had been dyed is not known. Either the water level had dropped considerably (one inch approximately) soon after the addition of the dye or else the cotton had been dyed by splashes of water or spray. It would appear that in future it would be advantageous to place the detector, where possible, only partly in the water. It will be interesting to see if the same result is obtained again.

That is an account of the work done to date. It is hoped that in the future it will be possible to find more time so that the programme proper can be started. The Bristol Waterworks have given their approval to this method of water tracing providing that on no occasion is the resurgence coloured, but first they wish to see the method demonstrated. With such official backing, and providing that permission can also be obtained from St. Cuthbert's Paperworks, there should be no reason why the programme cannot be started. The only things holding back further work are time and money.

In conclusion I would like to compliment the Bradford Pothole Club on the excellent method of water tracing they have devised. Brief technical details have been given in this article a further account appears in the BPC "Bulletin' and I understand a scientific article on the method will be published by the Cave Research Group.

BM Ellis

December 1961


Aughaheeran Pot, Fermanagh, Northern Ireland

[note: unfortunately accompanying survey unreadable from scanned copy]

This pot is situated in the townland of Aughaheeran on Belmore mountain. The entrance is a small shakehole approximately 150 yards from Pollnaffin close to a small farm building. It was explored in May 1961 by members of the Wessex, Fermanagh and Shepton Mallet caving clubs.

A 50 foot pitch leads down to a junction with a bedding plane passage carrying a small stream. To the right a crawl leads upstream to a chamber where the stream enters from a roof passage. To the left the stream can be followed for 30 feet through a passage obstructed by projections of chert to a 97 foot pitch with a lip of very rotten shale rock. Much of the chert was chiselled away and access to the pitch was then easier, though still awkward.

At the foot of the big pitch the stream drops down another pitch through a fissure too tight to pass, but climbing the far wall gives access to a third pitch of 45 feet which by-passes the fissure. At the foot of the third pitch the stream flows into an impenetrable crack.

The total depth was estimated at 185 feet. With the exception of the entrance pitch the whole of the pot is formed along a bearing 120° magnetic (1961).

JM Boon

October 1961


McGovern's Boulder Cave, Fermanagh, Northern Ireland

This cave entrance was first noticed in May 1959 but was not explored on the assumption that it was Polldownlog. On the afternoon of 27th May, Mike and Liz Thompson and I visited Polldownlog and it was then evident that there was a new Fermanagh cave to explore. Mike and I partly descended the cave on separate trips and returned next morning with Steve Wynne-Roberts to complete the exploration and sketch survey.

Figure 1 – Elevation section of McGovern's Boulder Cave

Figure 1 – Elevation section of McGovern's Boulder Cave

The entrance is a deep tree-filled shakehole about 360 yards from Pollasumera on a bearing of 330°. A low entrance under the vertical cliff of the shakehole descends rapidly down a rubble floor with numerous curtains dipping down from the roof until an impressive boulder chamber is reached. The roof is out of sight and must be near the surface. Across a floor of large boulders an extension of the chamber can be reached, while to the right a descent of about 20 feet through large boulders jammed together against a solid rock wall can be made. It is doubtful is much more progress downwards is possible.

JM Boon

October 1961


Cave Diving in County Fermanagh

Those of us who visited Ireland on the 1959 Irish meet were impressed by the number of sumps which required investigation and by the possibilities that they seemed to offer. As a result a joint meet was arranged with members of the Cave Diving Group and the Wessex Cave Club. We decided to concentrate on the Fermanagh area and accordingly established our base at Florence Court at the foot of the Cuilcagh Mountain in the south west of Fermanagh. The meet lasted for a week at Whitsun 1961 and we were fortunate in being able to rent a cottage for this period. We were not exclusively concerned with diving and our other efforts are being reported in the journal. The programme which we arranged was ambitious and although we did all that we intended to do the results obtained were disappointing.

Reports of the individual dives are as follows:

1. The Ooghaboragan or Arch Cave

This magnificent cave is situated on the slopes of Belmore Mountain. It is a cave of resurgence presumably collecting water from such important swallets as Noon's Hole, Pollnafrin and Aughaheeran Pot. The entrance can be seen from the Boho to Knockmore road but is best approached by following the Noon's Hole track as far as the first group of cottages on the plateau. A pronounced dry valley on the right of the road leads down to the cave. "Caving" by EA Baker contains a photograph of the entrance which gives scant justice to its size, the main arch being 40 to 50 feet high. Baker describes the first part of the cave as far as a deep pot which prevented his party from proceeding further. It consists of a large hall with the stream emerging from the pool and flowing through tumbled heaps of boulders.

In 1960 the pool was passed by Duncan Miller of the then newly formed Fermanagh Caving Club. He crossed the pool and entered a narrow rift at water level. He traversed along for 10 feet emerging into a second pool and the continuation of the cave. The new discovery amounted to about 450 feet of major passageway blocked by a sump and it was here that we had our first dive. To save time and possible disappointment it was decided that I should carry out a preliminary reconnaissance. On this and all subsequent dives our equipment consisted of modified Seibe Gorman Amphibian Mk 2 closed circuit oxygen sets, hooded immersion suits and, depending on the caves, Aflos. The porterage of equipment to the entrance was considerably more trying than the journey through the cave itself. There are two deep pools in the main streamway and here we used an ex-RAF dinghy.

Diving on a line I was able to find the main resurgence and to ascertain that a narrow rift on the south of the pool closed in after 10 feet. The main passage descended under two pronounced rock arches and emerged into what seemed to be a considerable underwater chamber. After 40 feet I returned so that Phil Davies and Jerry Wright could be told of what to expect. On a second dive I proceeded on the same bearing due west, and climbed a steep mud bank. After approximately 30 feet the right hand wall came into view and after a further 20 feet the passage appeared to rise steeply. At this point I was halted abruptly, evidently the lifeline had run out. I later learned that Steve Wynne-Roberts had been swimming round the terminal pool trying to give me a few extra inches.

Having returned Phil and Jerry commenced to dive. They were able to follow my footprints and 30 feet beyond my furthest point they reached a large air surface. Not being equipped with fins they were unable to explore the water surface which reached away round a corner. On this dive they laid a line which was belayed in the western corner of the air space. Two days later Phil and Jerry dived again tying on their second line at the deepest point, about 10 feet. After 80 feet they emerged at the other end of the chamber having found no trace of the main waterway. From the information obtained a sketch survey was produced which shows a plan of the underwater chamber and the probable way on. Throughout this dive visibility was fair and diving conditions were good. It is certainly worth a further effort should the opportunity arise. (The survey is reproduced by permission of Phil Davies).

Figure 2 – Survey of Arch Cave Terminal Sump

Figure 2 – Survey of Arch Cave Terminal Sump

2. Monastir Cave

In 1959 Jerry and Mike Boon bypassed the terminal sump by means of a high level passage. After 50 feet a second sump was encountered (for a full description of the site and of the cave see SMCC Occasional Publication number 1 – Ireland 1959). Whilst Phil and Jerry carried out their second dive in Ooghaboragan Mike and I dived in the Monastir Sumps. A preliminary swim by Steve showed that what had appeared to be the stream exit at the northern end of the pool was blocked by a tangled mass of branches and other flood debris. Nevertheless it seems worth a dive with a breathing apparatus. Traversing round the pool I encountered an arch in 7 feet of water. After 3 feet I was faced with a blank wall but by chimneying upwards I emerged into a long and narrow rift. Its dimensions were: 30 feet in length 3 feet wide and a height of about 4 feet. The rift is parallel to the main pool i.e. on a north / south axis. At its southern end a mud bank blocked the way. Having returned to the others Mike decided to free dive into the rift. He was then able to explore the water surface and he found that the northern end was again blocked by debris. This is not surprising having regard to the vast quantities of water which will sometimes pour into the cave. A lake 40 feet deep has been known to form over the entrance and indeed to enter the cave we had to dig our way through choked leaves and branches. It may well be that the submerged chokes could be swept away by flood and that then these would be a possible dive. As a training exercise Mike Boon dived with his aqualung into the bypassed sump. After 25 feet he was halted by the inevitable debris.

3. Noon's Hole

A description of the descent of this cave will appear as a separate article. It was confirmed that there is a sump at the bottom and not merely a canal. The cave is choked by gravel and the water is presumed to go downwards, the middle of the pool being well out of depth. The total length of the pool is about 30 feet.

4. Cradle Hole

The dive at Cradle Hole, the plum of the expedition or so we thought was kept until the end of our stay. Once again a full description appears in 'Ireland - 1959'. We had already reached the upstream end at Monastir cave. Phil carried out a reconnaissance which was in fact the only dive except for a further training dip by Mike Boon. Guided by a line held on the bridge in sump chamber Phil dived under the bridge in 9 feet of water. He found that under the surface there is a large submerged chamber the depth varying between 10 and 12 feet. Having dived for 40 feet the walls came together in a passage approximately 10 feet wide. This passage continued for a further 4 feet where Phil ran out of lifeline. At this stage there was nothing to prevent further progress. He returned to sump chamber where he climbed up into the 'diving bridge'; a tricky climb made hazardous by the extra weight of his breathing apparatus. It seemed apparent that if we were to be able to lay a line satisfactorily we would have to start our dive from a short rope suspended from the diving bridge. Neither Jerry nor I were familiar with this technique and I at any rate did not feel up to commencing a new dive under such conditions. The position is therefore that here as at Ooghaboragan there are possibilities of further exploration although it seems probable that the greater part of the unknown cave is submerged.

The divers would like to thank the following for their help and encouragement.

Dave Causer; Pat Davies; Kath George; Mike Holland; Sheila Paul; Liz Thompson; Steve Wynne-Roberts; Wally and Judy Willcocks and Duncan Miller of the Fermanagh Caving Club.

MM Thompson

December 1961


Sump Three, Swildons Hole

On Saturday 12th October 1961 using the air kit I dived Sump Three, the upstream sump of Swildons IV, and entered St. John's Bell, one of the water-bound chambers of the Sump Two-Three complex. I was supported on this dive by Dennis Meade and Jack Mare of the Watford Underwater Club to whom I am very grateful. I was particularly glad that Dennis could be there as he had done so much of the work on design and manufacture of the kit.

Sump Three was first dived from the upstream end by Davies and Balcombe in 1954, before the discovery of Swildons IV, but they failed to find any negotiable route. When Swildons IV was opened the idea of diving it was mooted immediately (Dennis Kemp's communication to Oliver Wells: "two sumps for you to dive") and Oliver did intend to dive it on September 13 the day Swildons V was entered, but did not have time. Latterly Phil Davies intended to dive but his kit was removed from the cave by an over-eager Fred Davies.

When I dived I was working upstream and could see well. A roomy tunnel led for 20 feet to a vertical hole, some 2 feet by 3 feet, formed half in rock and half in silt. Entering this I found the roof flattened out and was aware that I was in a large underwater chamber. I ascended a steep mud bank and broke surface in St. John's Bell. Here I could stand knee deep in mud; and I noticed a wire belayed to a projection on the North wall, presumably that left by Balcombe and Davies. I dived straight back and returned to base 3-4 minutes after leaving. From the length of rope paid out we calculated the distance from base to middle of St. John's Bell as 40 feet, and air space to air space 25 feet. I estimated the depth of the passage below water surface as 8 feet.

As there is no reason to suppose that the route from Swildons II to St. John's Bell is not open the conclusion to be drawn from the dive is that we need no longer carry our kit round the long high level bypass to the sumps (St. Pauls – Paradise Regained – Blue Pencil) in future diving operations in VI and beyond. This will greatly cut out the time and effort involved. One of our first jobs in 1962 must be to put a rawlbolt in the north wall of St. John's Bell. We can then run a line right through the sump complex, but tie it into the rawl bolt, so that it runs true through both sumps and divers can operate on both sections at the same time.

Figure 3 – Survey of Sump Three, Swildons Hole

Figure 3 – Survey of Sump Three, Swildons Hole

JM Boon

December 1961


Obituary Prof LS Palmer BSc; PhD

It was with deep regret that we learnt of the death of Prof LS Palmer on 17th March 1962 at the age of seventy.

On the death of HL Balch he became the Honorary Curator of Wells Museum and in this capacity was most helpful to members of the club working on the Hansdown dig.

Our sympathy goes out to his family, and the UBSS who have lost a founder, and senior vice president.



 Journal Series 03 Number 3