As well as our digging efforts on Portland recently, there's been a few other goals:
1. Visit the caves I've never been to.
2. Re-establish paths / clear entrances to caves which were no longer accessible.
3. Document & Photograph these for the website.
With that in mind, an update on some of these activities:
Back in June myself and Richard spent a day at The Grove re-establishing footpaths. Those to the first three entrances of Grove Cliff Caves (allotment dig, Guano & Flagpole) are general kept usable simply by traffic. The route to Skittle Alley needed a little clearing (as per normal) as this is used less. Our first job was to garden the steep route down to Coffin Hole which is roughly below Allotment Dig. Coffin Hole is a 10m phreatic tunnel which breaks into roughly 10m of rift. A long standing goal of many generations of Portland caver has been to connect this to the main network of caves in this area. We couldn't see an obvious place to start moving things but may add this to the future poking list to see if we have more joy. If you intend to visit, the cave entrance is now accessible again and a 20 m handline is advisable to aid descent down the slope.
The second job was to continue the path beyond Skittle Alley to regain access to Grove Cliff Fissure (somewhere I've never been). Certainly in the 20 years I've been caving on Portland this route beyond Skittle Alley has always been overgrown. A couple of hours and a lot of extreme weeding later we'd got to the foot of the climb up to the cave. This was where the day in June ended.
Back to the present. Yesterday we had a free day, so myself, Richard and Sas headed to Portland to continue the above ground caving. First job was to tackle the climb up to Grove Cliff Fissure. This was reasonably straight forward but is rather exposed, loose and earthy. No one had clearly been up there for years. Not a lot to belay from so I simply wedged myself and hoped for the best as Richard came up. First job was to place a couple of bolts to rig a belay from - these have been installed as per the tried and tested method used by the local climbers. 316 grade Stainless + resin. A third bolt is also present to protect the leader on the worst part of the climb. Ideally there needs to be one more between this and the belay - I'll add it to the list! Next was to bring Sas up, who was by now moaning about being the target for the stones, mud, weeds and poo myself and Richard kept dislodging.
Then onto the cave. Turns out this is a very worthwhile little rift. I've put a description on the Portland Caves website so I won't repeat that here. There is even some creamy white calcite, rather than the usual Portland orange, a very nice area of moon milk and plenty of 'gold and silver' on the ceiling. A trip to the end and back is reasonably sporting too, if you include the loop possible by traversing at two levels in the rift (i.e. above and below a false floor). A few photos:
The Verne Ditch:
A few months ago I offered to show Richard the location of the 3 short caves in Verne Ditch (I also wanted to photograph them for the website). Unfortunately when we got there we found the path completely overgrown and full of brambles so didn't bother, simply noting a return trip with gardening equipment was necessary. Having completed our mission at The Grove, yesterday afternoon seemed a good time to reestablish a route to these. I have visited them once before and couldn't really remember much other than once was sufficient. It took 3 hours of myself and Richard gardening our way through thick brambles to regain access to the three entrances, whilst Sas undertook the vital and extremely difficult job of guarding the bags. If you have a desire to visit these caves, I'd would suggest doing it over the next 9 months. It won't be long before the paths overgrow again.
Onto the caves...
1. The first entrance is Admiralty Rift. This is the 'best' of the three. Approx. 20m long and wide enough to make the caving easy going. Not a lot to look at and ends in a choke. A little digging here might yield an extension.
2. Second entrance is The Heads. Its roughly 2m long and pointless. Myself and Richard both in the cave:
3. Third Entrance is Magazine Rift. This is about 20m long, greasy, narrow and best traversed at half height level with the entrance. Basically its bloody hard work and has no redeeming features. Richard managed a few metres before deciding he's had enough. Sas said she's done it before and I decided to go to the end! After 2/3rd of the cave I decided I'd been to the end before and lost interest.
All in all access to 3 caves reestablished, it took a huge effort, lots of bramble rash and definitely not worth it. At least they're now recorded on the Website.