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Swildon's Round Trip questions


Have been down in Bath this weekend and me and my mate Geoff decided to have a crack at the round trip despite feeling very apathetic and hungover. Got down to sump 1 and then had ridiculous difficulty finding Tratman's Temple but after many nasty bits of climbing eventually found it (yes, I know it's obvious.....now :roll: ).

Got up to the mud-sump but as the airspace was only about 2 inches and we didn't fancy an extended bailing session we headed out again. Anyway, is the mud sump just the duck you can see or is there more to it than that? Also, I've read about the troubles - they don't sound too bad, but what's the Birthday Squeeze like?
I've read tales of people stripping off, cracking ribs, etc, etc - is it a no-no for a big lad (like me), or is it not too bad really? I wouldn't want to get that far and have to turn back again....

cap n chris

Well-known member
So, you know the way to Mud sump. Good.

Mud sump can be done with a few inches airspace, slowly!, helmet off, on your back, head first, nose scraping the rock roof - don't make any waves, however!.... It's no longer than the airspace you can see but because it is a bit of a U-tube and also awkwardly shaped, it cannot be free dived in the "usual" fashion (i.e. as with sump 1). Bailing it doesn't take too long if there's more than two of you (two people can bail it in 30+ minutes) - but don't leave any bailed water in the lower dam since it will damage it by slowly leaking back out. [There are lots of signs explaining how the system works].

The troubles can usually be bailed by setting up the siphon system in situ (if you can work out how to get it going...) and having a quick nose around down in Swildon's 4 (a bit tight down Blue Pencil but I can do it and my chest measurement is "Johnny Pies, XXL FB") while the level drops. The troubles can be done in a similar fashion to Mud sump (helmet off, on your back etc.). You will meet further ducks which can be more quickly bailed if they require it before getting to my nemesis.... birthday squeeze (approached by taking the obvious left turn, up a v. short climb/step, into a downhill passage where the choked stal obstacle is to be found). I always strip off my belt, oversuit and helmet to do the squeeze and although I'm only in my furry + pads and boots with a Petzl tikka to see the way, even with my chest flattened and forcing myself through by sheer leg power it's easy to crack your ribs doing this. I hate it. I have managed it four times and the last time did my ribs (again) so have not returned since. If you are a big lad (i.e. 50"+ chest) you may not get through and this would mean a return out the way you came.

An option is to go through sump 1 down to the landing and up towards Vicarage passage and then start doing the round trip in reverse; get through the nice flat "duck" and up to the birthday squeeze; strip your gear down and have a go and pushing yourself up through the obstacle - if you can do it from this side you can definitely do it from the other; this quick test can be done on a recce trip which shouldn't take you more than an hour (or so) all in - it beats having to do the round trip from the "correct" direction only to have to beat a retreat upon failing to negotiate the B'day squeeze if you're a large person.... a journey which is considerably longer than doing the round trip!

Possibly the best plan is to expect to get to the B'day squeeze but have to return back the way you came; this way, if you DO have to retreat you will only be doing what you expected anyway and it will not seem like a defeat (if there's two of you, allow at least a couple of hours for the journey - depending on your speed, perhaps 3 might be more realistic). The Round Trip can be done at a leisurely pace and encompass a visit to Swildon's 4 streamway in 4-5hours if you're in a group of 2; there are some famous claims that the R Trip has been completed in under an hour (probably true) by cave sprinters - they do exist!... I've seen some - but you're going to be enjoying the journey so it's best to allow LOADS of time to do it. If you're in a large group (i.e. 7-8 students) then perhaps you'd better set aside a whole day! (I bumped into a group last year who were trying to find Tratman's Temple and had already been underground 4 hours! - after giving them directions I saw them the next day and I recall they said it'd taken them a further four hours to complete the trip).

For the record, I wear an XL warmbac suit so if you're larger than that you probably will be unable to get through. Also, the problem isn't your gut/belly (perhaps you've got a well defined six pack, perhaps not; mine's more of a party barrel) - it's your shoulders/ribcage; the obstacle is a smooth, small, inclined oval so as you breathe out you slide downhill and towards the right... this makes breathing in again v. difficult and can add to the sense of claustrophobia which you'll be experiencing. Just thinking about it and writing this makes me re-live it. Good luck.

P.S. Don't go up the approach to Candy's Calamity instead of the Greasy Chimney and don't confuse sumps 3 & 2 for sump 1! The way on at Blue Pencil is over the top of the smooth-sided trench and up towards the troubles - the "path" for the round trip is so well worn it's pretty obvious, really. Also, after getting through B'day squeeze (well done, that man!) and doing the final flat duck (puddle) you'll be heading downhill in a nice round passage, approaching Vicarage passage etc.. - don't miss the way on down to the streamway at the bottom of the slope (on the left through boulders) and then drop down to the top of the landing - don't fall off the ledge, use the handline rope to guide your descent.

You're an experienced caver.. you should be able to work out the trip from all the clues/smooth routes anyway. This advice of mine is probably definitive and you might want to ask around a bit from others who have done the trip - let them "eye you up" and see whether they reckon you'll make it through....

Just one final thing... sump 1 has become a bit "narrow" recently with pebbles getting washed in; it might be a good plan to drag some out with your leg before going through.

cap n chris

Well-known member
This advice of mine is probably definitive and you might want to ask around a bit from others who have done the trip

Oops! :oops:

I didn't proof read my reply vewwy well, did I? I meant "This advice of mine is probably NOT definitive etc.."


You will meet further ducks which can be more quickly bailed if they require it before getting to my nemesis.... birthday squeeze (approached by taking the obvious left turn, up a v. short climb/step, into a downhill passage where the choked stal obstacle is to be found). I always strip off my belt, oversuit and helmet to do the squeeze and although I'm only in my furry + pads and boots with a Petzl tikka to see the way, even with my chest flattened and forcing myself through by sheer leg power it's easy to crack your ribs doing this.

Brings back memories of having to strip off my wetsuit jacket (old 2 piece 4mm job) to get through Birthday Squeeze... Oh, the scratched nipples! :eek:


Wow :D Thanks for that huge reply CapnChris - I'm about a 42" chest (exhaled, but not fully emptied if you know what I mean) and my warmbac is a "Large +" so maybe I'd be ok with a bit of a squeeze - your idea of checking it out from the downstream end first is a good one. Sump 1 almost looked inviting this time, nice clear water! I must say though that squeezes where you have to fully exhale and then can't breathe in again do get me panicing a bit, but that's after a scarey incident in the Dynamite Series in Carlswark where I was jammed stuck for about 15 minutes and has put me off tight stuff quite a lot.

Should have pressed on through mud-sump really but we thought it needed bailing a lot and were a bit knacked by then anyway. Also, it was only Geoff's second ever caving trip and he was finding the narrow passages between Tratman's and the Mud Sump a bit intimidating, so reckon he might not have enjoyed the rest of the stuff. We're determined to give it a good old go next time though, now we know where we're going!

Amazingly, there was only one other person in Swildon's on a bank hol which was very surprising. Saw the note about the loose p-bolt - nice one. Both bolts were loose but the top one wasn't too bad and the backup one behind the pitchhead is solid.

It was weird taking so long to find Tratmans and some scary climbing above the streamway but good in that I saw some bits of Swildon's I'd never normally see.


SamT said:
Bogs done bub, so B'day squeeze cant be that bad.
True, but then Bog's quite thin these days!

And anyway Sam, I tend to ignore anything you say about squeezes coz you're in a different world to me in that respect - Hypothermia Passage in Rowtor defeated me a decade ago when I was a lot skinnier than I am now!! :wink: :p


Another thing about Swildon's - I find the guidebook descriptions of all the different ways in at the start a bit of a mystery - I think this time we took the "Pretty Way" and last time the "Short Wet Way" but it's a bit of a maze there innit? On the way out we took a wrong turn and ended up in a chaotic area of breakdown really close to the entrance - it was a right little rabbit warren.

Also noticed those little yellow dots of paint somebody has put in - they're pretty unobtrusive but it's a bit naughty that.


Cap'n Chris said:
and don't confuse sumps 3 & 2 for sump 1!
It's ok, my name's not Johnny :p

Been through Sump 1 before and seen the way down from the landing so no worries there...

cap n chris

Well-known member
The mazey section near the entrance is the cause of many a "lost caver"; the guidebook doesn't really get to grips with it since it assumes you will be following either of the three main routes into the cave proper, rather than poncing around in the "optional" side routes. This complex area of the cave is usually the cause of people having trouble finding their way out of the cave rather than in... the reason for this is simple - people tend to follow the water on the way back out and it leads you up into the boulder ruckle which it sounds like you've already discovered.

A worthwhile exercise if you have the time is to simply follow all the various options within 15m of the entrance and see how they all link up - some are tight as hell with sharp fossils protruding, others are smooth... guess which ones are the main routes?

It is worth bearing in mind, too, that the whole area is liable to movement; don't forget it is an active cave, after all, and if something looks like it might be a bit dodgy just assume it probably is.

cap n chris

Well-known member
Thought it best to actually check what the guidebook has to say about the entrance series (maze) rather than just rely on my sieve-like memory. The book does have a good stab at it and admittedly it is slightly confusing since there's a lot of "left and right" in it.

On to the Round Trip description in the book:-

...It is very interesting to note that the Birthday Squeeze mentioned in the book is not the feature I'm calling by the same name - the BS in the book is the flat out crawl "almost a duck". This is beyond the obstacle (the one we've/I've been referring to as Birthday Squeeze) which is simply referred to as "a squeeze"; it doesn't even rate a mention as being difficult - the book must have been written back in the days when chocolate, lard, chips, takeaway curries and kebabs hadn't been invented ... either that or everyone had worms or dysentry or wasting illnesses.

However, I don't suppose it makes a HUGE difference - we know the feature we mean by Birthday Squeeze - it's the narrow bit where you feel like it'd be easier if someone ahead of you had a large pair of forceps clamped round your head and a z-rig attached to the end of them.


did the squeeze with some difficulty
(dont tell dave cowley)
had to be pushed through from behind
when i got wedged
in the immortal words of JT

cap n chris

Well-known member
Had another go at the Round Trip on Saturday and found going through the squeeze VERY hard so had a quick think (as I was solo there was no hurry and I had the option of going back the way I'd come); then thought about going through head first lying on my back - a piece of cake! This way you're not crushing ribs.

Went again on Sunday with my buddy Martin and did it in slightly over two hours - this time we simply slid through in a few seconds with no hassle; so that's it... go on your back and it becomes a "non event" obstacle for larger people. The Round Trip is now made easy.

P.S. Why didn't I do this ages ago? You live and learn, I suppose.


New member
Maybe I'm just a skinny lanky caver but I've never had a problem with Birthday squeeze.
Normally use my leg to push myself further up the flowstone so I'm in the widest bit.
Rib cracking - Now that's commitment to a caving trip