Swildon’s Hole by Ian Cummins

Swildon’s Hole: Ian and Adele (January 2019).

This place holds a lot of nostalgic memories for me, going back to my first visit back in 1979!  On a visit a few years back with Leif in tow, I managed to get down to sump 9 and with Adele making good progress with the BSAC training, a return trip was planned, carefully watching the weather after a few cold, sleety days, apparently also affecting the Mendip Hills.

A fearsome amount of gear was squeezed into my car and I contemplated the logistics of carrying it into the cave to get down to sump 12, before making the 6-hour drive down to Somerset.  With a bit of a do getting through Bristol, we felt the need for a quick drink in the Queen Vic before taking some kit down the cave, the plan being to take weights down to sump 2 and rig the ladder pitch.

Swildon’s is deep and with only one short pitch, progress to sump 1 is made via many cascades, pools and climbs – much more fun than sliding down a rope, with the crystal-clear water making the going nice and sporty.  The pitch was rigged, with the spray just lashing the last few feet, as I lined Adele down.  I contemplated free-climbing this – to my trained eye, the traverse out right on calcite holds, but how to get down the final few feet?

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The 20.

A steep, smooth, inclined rift was a familiar obstacle from my last visit, that would be a pain to move large bags through, but we were soon at sump 1.  The water was crystal clear and I suggested to Adele that although low, it was only very short – in fact once I was through, I could see a tiny airspace.  With Adele soon through, we continued on to sump 2 – further and steeper than I recalled and with time passing we decided to leave the weight belts before the sump and headed out with hunger and thirst mounting, admiring the high canyon passage of Swildon’s 2 and the formations of the entrance passages.

Enjoying the sport of the climbs out, we found a different way out of the entrance series to the way in, meeting 2 groups of…mature….cavers en-route, making our way across the fields in the mist that would be present for all of our visit, before heading off to The Vic.

Next day I felt a little unwell – the onset of a nasty cough, but we agreed to get down the cave and go as far as our energy allowed.  Carrying 2 sets of kit proved to be hard work, but we got a system going, passing and holding the bags through all the windows and cascades, before getting to sump 1, which we free-dived and shoved the bags through.

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In Swildon’s 2.

Getting to sump 2, we geared up with diving kit, the aim being for Adele to go first, diving with fins and using the line as a guide only for practice of being in murky water.  With no space in the bags for a second set of fins, I followed on, using hands and feet to make progress, as well as pulling on the line in the diminishing vis.  We continued through the air-bells to sump 3, where I advised Adele to dive past the shelf before making forward progress.  As I emerged in Swildon’s 4 to meet my companion, we had a quick discussion and with me not feeling too well, we decided to head out, fearing the effort of hauling the kit out that we had taken in on 2 trips.

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Formations in the canyon passage of Swildon’s 2.

Meeting Adele upstream of sump 2, she noticed that she had lost a fin – I went back in, slowly scanning the floor, before the offending object hit me in the face, as I flipped round to exit.  At this point I then got the shivers, feeling mildly hypothermic and obviously not in the best of health, but after a quick de-kit, the effort of moving the bags warmed me up.

We developed a routine for shifting the gear – wear the weights and carry bags on our backs whenever possible, perching them on ledges on the cascades and performing a relay with them.

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Streamway, Swildon’s One.

In one of the large chambers near the entrance I went wrong, going left up a rubbly slope for a few minutes, before realising that the despoiled grotto ahead wasn’t part of our way in.  We reversed to the chamber, recognising a note regarding some equipment present there.  I headed out to check the route without taking a bag, returning when I saw Adele’s mini-cairn marker for the climb up to the exit.

Making the final few feet over the wet blocks in the entrance chamber, we were glad to exit, feeling rather tired, but satisfied with our efforts in the circumstances.

Getting changed in the farm building again after so many years, whilst we were commenting upon the range of undies, male and female, present on the floor, I was amazed to see that the same carbide smoke graffiti I remembered was still present on the wall after 40 years.

All that was left was the long drive home, this time finding a better route past Bristol through the Avon Gorge, again wallowing in the nostalgia of my first climbing ground, with not a single soul braving the soggy rock.