Buttered Badger Potholing Club
A+ A A-
  • Hits: 573

Badgers defeat Scotland's deepest cave (Photos)

Uamh Nan Claig-Ionn (Cave of the Skulls) – Scotland

Christoph Adams and Thomas Hughes
14/07/11

 

Oc aye laddy, BBPC rocks into Scotland, destination, its deepest cave.

 

After 7 hours driving and covering an impressive 400 miles across 3 countries finds the great explorers (the aforementioned C and T dawg) within some miles of Scotland’s deepest cave. Armed with the knowledge that the cave is in a fenced off area, by some trees in Duror (just North of Oban) we began our search of the rather large area of Scotland. We first asked for help at a hotel, their help consisted of telling us where Oban was, and where we were, but nothing even remotely cave related. Our next port of call was a campsite. The lady at the campsite was very enthusiastic but had no idea where the cave was other than sort of in that direction. As we helplessly drove up and down Scotland we spotted a small 4x4 with “Mongol Rally” stickers all over it. With a quick demonstration of an emergency stop we were able to talk with the very well spoken Mongol rallyist and determine where the cave was to within 2 miles or so of our current location. Quipped this new knowledge, we headed for a guest house which was supposedly within a stone’s throw of the cave and hoped beyond reason that the proprietors happened to know anything about caves or their local geophysical landscape. 

After 7 hours driving and covering an impressive 400 miles across 3 countries finds the great explorers (the aforementioned C and T dawg) within some miles of Scotland’s deepest cave. Armed with the knowledge that the cave is in a fenced off area, by some trees in Duror (just North of Oban) we began our search of the rather large area of Scotland. We first asked for help at a hotel, their help consisted of telling us where Oban was, and where we were, but nothing even remotely cave related. Our next port of call was a campsite. The lady at the campsite was very enthusiastic but had no idea where the cave was other than sort of in that direction. As we helplessly drove up and down Scotland we spotted a small 4x4 with “Mongol Rally” stickers all over it. With a quick demonstration of an emergency stop we were able to talk with the very well spoken Mongol rallyist and determine where the cave was to within 2 miles or so of our current location. Quipped this new knowledge, we headed for a guest house which was supposedly within a stone’s throw of the cave and hoped beyond reason that the proprietors happened to know anything about caves or their local geophysical landscape.

The guest house was at the end of a mahooosive dirt track which lasted several miles, but was in a very pretty area of the world. We fumbled up to the gate with our toons blazin' and were greeted by a very kind gentleman, who we discovered went by the name of Jim, and was as sharp in thought as his name was short, as he reasoned very quickly (without either of us having been able to say much by this point, at the start of our blossoming friendship) that we were looking for the Cave of the Skulls, a conclusion he drew solely on the knowledge that we were not one of his guests, spoke English and wore BBPC polo shirts – very impressive. He knew the existence of the cave and his kind wife Hillary was even more useful as she had stumbled upon it herself when she was learning the lay of the land around the time they set the guesthouse up, so was able to describe to us with keen detail where it resided, using OS maps loaded through her computer to guide us. Hillary and Jim were also obligingenough to agree to be our safety call out when we attempted the cave tomorrow, which meant we would have local knowledge on our side if something went horrifically sideways in Scotland’s deepest cave. Further to the local guidance Hillary and Jim were able to provide in locating the cave, it transpired their accountant was a member of the cave rescue team which covered the Appin region of Scotland, so we felt assured that we would be fine, come metaphorical rain or shine.

With blind optimism we entered the forest convinced we’d find the cave opening in minutes, after all we had be told the cave was only a short distance into the forest....... One and a half hours later and half beaten to death by pine trees we had still not found the cave. To make matters worse the sun was rapidly diving towards the horizon. We had all but given up on the hunt and resigned to the fact that it wasn’t going to happen as we needed to start looking for a scenic setting for our tent by the loch, when T-Dawg stumbled upon some welly tracks in the mud. After a quick bit of woodcraft, we were led to a grassy knoll free from trees. The fenced off area housing Scotland’s deepest cave was finally unearthed and suddenly it was back on the cards!

The day of the cave

After a slow start we emerged from our tent full of optimism for the day of caving. Breakfast consisted of cold sausage sandwiches and Yorkshire tea which provided ample preparation for what lay ahead. We packed up camp and took the short drive back up to the guest house to finalise our call out with Hillary and Jim. Upon arrival at the guest house Jim and Hillary had become even more helpful by printing off a photocopy of a guide book which gave a description of the cave, which luckily matched our rigging guide fairly well. John was driven to the locked gate again and we got changed and packed our tackle bags with the required gear. The walk up to the cave in caving gear was toasty (the reason for only caving in winter perhaps?), but mercifully short. As we reached the cave and put on our SRT kit we where viciously attacked by midges, literally 12 trillion of them where all trying to land on your face at once. So after the quickest gear up in history we dived for the cave with C-Dawg rigging the 5m hand line needed to get into the slippy entrance. Fortunately the bottom of this small pitch was away from the midges and much cooler than the surface, bliss! The fairly open almost free climbable entrance led to an ever tightening squeeze which unusually for caves wasn’t full of water.

C-Dawg was first though the squeeze and his first words where along the lines oh “Oh, I see”. The squeeze was somewhat tight but he powered though and soon cleared to the other size which was a vast 5ft by 4ft chamber with a passage doubling back underneath itself . T-Dawg was next though and obviously had to pose for a standard in-a-tight-squeeze long exposure picture. Once we where both through C-Dawg moved through to the next squeeze to start rigging. Attached to only 1 p-bolt and edging towards a black opening space he had to wedge himself in the opening and rig the Y-hang. After several minutes of being wedged and rigging, the pitch was ready for a descent. As C-Dawg tested and lowered himself down he came across a ledge 6 inches down that he could have comfortably stood on to rig the pitch, ball-cocks. This second pitch was probably only 6-7 metres and ended in a well sized passage. This passage led to a mahoosive 2m pitch, with the combination of the two pitches rigged with a 15m rope. Once C-Dawg had completed the pathetic pitch he went up a stream to explore whilst T-Dawg took on the long descent. After some light exploring the way seemed to be getting wetter so our attentions returned to the rest of the cave. The next pitch promised to be a real size and to make it more interesting the bolts had been put in by stretch Armstrong. Again with only one bolt rigged C-Dawg had to move over the blackness of open space. Having got his long cows tail into the next bolt he was kind of stuck on a corner. After some jigging and general abuse he was safely in a position to rig the cavers friend, the Y-hang. T-Dawg would have taken a picture but he left his camera at the entrance for safe keeping. Once C-Dawg was at the bottom of the damp sounding 20m-ish pitch it was T-Dawg’s turn. Getting onto the rope was much easier than it looked so soon both badgers where at the bottom of the pitch and discussing ghetto toons and alloys (probably). As we approached the next pitch the sound of water got louder, yay! The passage to the next pitch was one of those fun ones, you know, the kind where you lie sideways in a stream and shuffle forward with a tackle sack, it was great. The pitch itself looked fairly easy for C-Dawg to rig as it could be rigged without hanging over any sort of drop. The pitch did however become one with a waterfall half way down and ended in a pool of unknown depth. Once C-Dawg was at the bottom he made a swing to avoid the pool and was happily met by a P bolt for the final pitch. The final pitch had the unusual characteristic of being rigged up hill. Having rigged a short traverse up a 1:1 ledge C-Dawg arrived at the place for Mr y-hang. The y-hang dropped down into a very tight gap and then slowly opened into a final 10m or so of openness. Using the full extent of gravity's might and some wriggling, C-dawg was soon on the floor off the deepest cave in Scotland. T-Dawg followed down the last two pitches and too had fun trying to operate a descender without being able to see it or really reach it.

The bottom of the Cave of the Skulls was surprisingly pleasant, it was dry, warm and soft under foot. There was a small wooden plaque at the bottom of the cave for Bobby Fairlie and Jim Newton, a very real reminder of the environment we where currently in. We spent 15 minutes at the bottom posing for pictures and eating ASDA mars bars before we decided to head out to the glorious sunshine and midges. T-Dawg decided to get involved in the de-rigging so C-Dawg went up the final pitch first, enjoying the prusik in a gap approximately 1cm more narrow than C-Dawg himself. Once he was up T-Dawg followed and using C-Dawg’s cows tail as a deviation managed to get through a slightly wider part of the pitch. The de-rigging was fairly simple for the two bottom pitches as they could both be done standing on a ledge and such, so we where soon back at the sideways crawl through water. Once at the main pitch C-Dawg took over de-rigging, leaving T-Dawg to climb up the pitch and then hang at the top so more long exposure pictures could be taken. With T-Dawg’s legs slowly dying it was time to get off the rope. A quick traverse using the traverse line as a leg up had T-Dawg of the pitch and sitting down comfortably. Once C-Dawg was up the pitch himself he briskly de-rigged and scooted round the corner back to something to stand on, we were already most of the way out of the cave. Next up was the epic 2m pitch, which we posed for to show that being on the rope didn’t really get you much higher than standing up. In fact it took C-Dawg just two prusik to reach the top. As T-Dawg climbed the last real pitch which ended pretty awkwardly with a sideways prusik to get off the rope and into the crawl C-Dawg shouted instructions of welly placement. A final bit of cave de-rigging was completed by C-Dawg and we both squeezed through the ... squeeze. T-Dawg collected his camera which he obviously left in the entrance and made his way up the hand line pitch and into fresh air. In fairness it took the midgies a good 20 seconds before they swarmed around him, but a pvc caving suit is good protection against midges. Once both dawgs where out of the cave they made a quick retreat from the entrance and to the midge free forest path.

 
After the short walk back to the car the standard end of trip pictures were taken and we changed into clothes which weren’t onesies. We left our gear drying and went to tell Hillary and Jim that we were alive. After a quick chat it was time to go retrieve our gear and pack it into the car. Scotland’s deepest cave conquered by the badgers.

Toodle pip,

TomTom (dawg)
Chris A (dawg)
xxx