Sunday 14th Jan.
Blacknor Hole, Portland - The round trip.
Not many cavers seem to bother with Portland, some don't even know there are caves but having grown up on the isle and started caving there I have an unhealthy fascination with its holes. Although I've long since left Portland it's still the closest caving region to home and better still there's no gates, keys or politics, just turn up and have fun.
A few weeks back whilst wandering around Portland I noticed some new (ish) bolts above Blacknor Hole. The previous ones having never been replaced since being chopped off. For the last 15 years access has only been from below requiring a 6c lead climb to rig an srt rope (i.e. favour from a friendly local climber) as the entrance is approx. 20m up a 30m cliff. Having discovered the new bolts it was clearly time to have a trip.
So the three of us met at the Portland caving club (aka mothers house) and set off for Blacknor. Now as you might have gathered by now, at least 50% of the fun of caving on the isle is the 'getting to the entrance' bit. Blacknor is one of the finest in this respect. Given that the abseil take off is 'unfriendly' at best and is followed by an entertaining move to get in the entrance (the cliff overhangs a little leaving you a couple of foot outside the hole) it was deemed best if I do the abseil and rig a rope for Sas and Julie to ascend from below. Sounds daft but SRT'ing up from below is a much nicer option than top down. I should add this was also to be Julie's first time at SRT.
Here's me faffing around on top the cliff:
And arriving at the entrance:
Here's julie's first ever SRT pitch, which to be honest is perfectly bolted to give a nice free hanging pitch, easy step off at the top and a brilliant view.
Finally Sas arrives and we're all in:
The first part of the cave is an annoying crawl to Piccadilly Circus, the first junction in the cave and the point to which we will return at the end of the round trip. Here we are enjoying the spacious bit having de-kitted:
The round trip consists of two connecting pheatic tunnels intersected by a number of mass movement rifts. To spice up the trip (and break up the knee torture) it's worth exploring some of these on route. During this trip our first was to descent the Grand Canyon (approx. 5m ladder pitch) and go gawp at the pretties in the rift. You'll notice in this and the other photo's below Portland's formations are often orange and despite what some may say they do exist:
Back in Ariel Tunnel the passage improves briefly:
Next is the confluence. The point at which the two tunnels meet and form the continuation to Sandy Hole, many painful and bruised knees away. At this point we turned toward the cliff and headed down Queens Tunnel having visited a nicely decorated and hidden rift on route:
Some say Portland is all crawling, well honest, you can walk (occasionally, if you are short enough):
Finally a load of thrutching back along C&A rift brings you back to the confluence:
Then to finish a repeat of the entrance crawl, and the abseil down the cliff. Other than the obvious in Wales, where else other than Portland can you get such good sea views at the end of a caving trip?
All that was left was to return to the caving club to find a cottage pie on the table and an apple pie in the oven for pudding. A mother's home really is the best type of caving club!
Well if this has interested you...
1. The caves on Portland are hot (hence the boiler suits rather than caving suits). The coldest bit will always be getting to the entrance, even in the height of the summer.
2. The caves bite - your knees will be sore and your finest oversuits will have holes.
3. Portland mud smells like cat piss, sticks like shit and never quite disappears.
4. All the caves are brilliant.
If anyone is genuinely keen to cave on Portland there's lots to do and I'd like to spark some interest in the place again. I know of some places for a thin and keen (aka stupid) person to explore. I'm told there is good digging potential (not that I do that sort of thing) and there's certainly some work to do to regain access to some existing caves.