• Out now!!

    'Descent issue 292 has a publication date of 3 June and should be with subscribers soon.'.

    New Descent board here:

Wookey Hole - Trip Report for Scurion 700


The Shoulders of Giants

IrnBru points a heavily laden dive wagon South once again. This time he heads to deepest, darkest Somerset in order to pay his respects (and dive in) the spiritual home of cave diving - the world famous Wookey Hole.

Note: Sorry to everyone who has read a trip report to here before. It was my first dive here and was excellent!

I've been compelled to write about a few trips in the past, each time it was something of significance - but only to me. This time however, post event, getting something down on paper feels slightly bizarre. I've dived (and caved) in a place I never dreamed I ever would, a place I've read a lot about over the years and had at the back of my mind more often than not.

I'd never heard of Wookey Hole prieviously and it was only from reading, "The Darkness Beckons" (soon to be republished) that the most incredible stories of human endeavor spanning the last 70 years came to light. Stories of how men would use the ever improving diving technology of their time (everything from bicycle pumps, bottom walking with hard hats and WWII oxygen rebreathers through to SCUBA and modern day mixed-gas rebreathers) and couple it with the constant of their own will to overcome the challenge presented by this incredible cave system. Perseverance would sometimes meet with success, sometimes with failure and sometimes with tragedy.

Why? Because it is there, because they had to. That is why I have to.

These same men went on to form the CDG (Cave Diving Group) and were incredibly forward thinking for their time (1930s), many of the tools and techniques divers now take for granted, what we now call ?technical diving? was either developed or perfected here. The fact that one of the principal explorers (using Siebe Gorman hard hat gear) was a woman (Penelope "Mossy" Powell) gives you an indication into their mentality and it's one I greatly admire.

If you can do it, do it.

I want to be clear up front before you read further and make a distinction between these men (and women) and myself - I am not them. For this trip I am effectively nothing more than a tourist who got to pay his respects to the efforts of others.

I'm also not going to fill in all the blanks (there?s just not enough room on this post to cover 70 years of diving innovation) - if you?re curious, you'll find out more.

Wookey Hole - ?20

Wookey Exposed DVD - ?11.99

The Darkness Beckons - ?40

OK - here we go...

11am and I'm already standing on the shoulders of giants. Our trip starts in the hallowed ground of Chamber 9 (first reached in 1948) and has since been accessible via a man-made tunnel directly outside the show cave. Prior to the construction of the tunnel, exploratory divers had to make a dive from Chamber 3 and journey to the same point ? so we really do have it much easier these days! Chamber 9 itself is known to cave divers around the world, for this marked the terminus of man?s abilities until the comparatively new technologies of SCUBA enabled further exploration. This would be our dive base and we would be setting off from here to break the surface again once in Chamber 22. We?d then revert back to dry caving and repeat the process twice more to arrive at our ultimate goal ? the end of Chamber 24.

My equipment for these dives is very similar to that which divers have used here for the last 30-40 years and has its roots firmly wedged in the world of British caving...wellies on your feet (standard caving fair), a 5mm wetsuit, neoprene wet socks, gloves, hood, sidemount harness (which itself derived from the use of single strap caving belts - please visit Duncan Price's excellent sump4.com for more information - http://www.sump4.com/sidemount/) A helmet with four lights on, a set of tools, an extra torch mounted on my forearm, my angry eyes and a dive computer. Last but not least, two seven litre bottles and one three litre bottle. Everything was configurable to allow us to adapt and move from environment to environment easily. Nature finds the best solution over time, depending upon the conditions of a given environment and it's the same with the people that dive here. Despite there being subtle differences in each person's configuration, they're all variations on a species, and that's one that?s born through necessity (and not wanting to have to carry some bloody thing more that you have to).

All of the gear has been brought into the cave, we climb the railing and descend the short ladder into the pit with the pool of water at the bottom of Chamber 9 - dive base. Despite diving with another TD (CDG Trainee Diver) and two QDs (CDG Qualified Diver) everyone is responsible for their own setup and checking that everything works as they want it - and although we are in a group, everyone is diving "solo" there is no buddy check, we have no buddies and this is correct for this type of diving in this environment.

Everyone has stopped talking bollocks (a sure sign that there is some very careful final checking going on) and we are finally ready. I feel some apprehension, "Good, I am still human" I think to myself...everybody ready and we head down. The apprehension lifts the minute I hit the water and is replaced with relaxed paranoia, it's wrong to call it autopilot because it's not, you are paying very careful attention to the line, the surroundings but perhaps it's part of the training, number of dives and experience accrued to date that allows you to move through in a less heightened state than you'd expect. This initial part of the dive (progressing through "The Deep" section) is fairly mechanical - although the diver in me loved looking at the reflections in the water from the show cave, the light beams in the other divers' torches and the geological aspects of this part of the cave (passing from Conglomerate into Limestone).

We slowly descended past the oxygen rebreather limits of the bottom walking divers of the late 40s and 50s and pass directly below Chambers 12 and 13 - Bob Davies' famous phrase, "The Devil is a gentleman." floats through my head. I briefly think of him sitting above me in the air bell with his feet dangling in the water deciding what to do...

We pass through a ?rattly? diagonal rift (where dive bottles scrape against floor and roof) then through a large downward sloping passage probably 7 metres wide and 4 metres high with a rippled sandy floor, before slowly ascending up the other side to arrive in Chamber 22, we would return here (but exit via the "Shallow" route). One seven litre deposited and it was back on with the job of caving, climbing over boulders and the odd bit of crawling. There are quite a few ladders that have been carried here over the years to help with the transportation of equipment (be it for filming of pushing the limits beyond Chamber 25, "The Lake of Gloom"). We climb up and over a very large boulder to arrive at our next diving destination ? a deep flooded rift. The parallel walls tower above us into the blackness and plunge down below the water line out of sight. A platform of scaffolding and planks of wood has been constructed between the walls allowing you to kit up and jump in. This is a static sump and the conditions (on the way in) are excellent. Polyprop located by the side of the exit ladder, I sink below the surface, follow the sloping line down to a depth of 15m and back up the slope at the other side quickly arriving in Chamber 23.

I was now in for a proper treat - mud and lots of it. Two steps forward, slide back three ? all with dive gear on. Another ladder climb and another cylinder drop off, this time leaving fins behind as well, just one more static sump (which is just as glamourous as crawling through liquid mud with a regulator in as it sounds) and we emerge into Chamber 24.

It was here that the QDs allowed the TDs to go first, with the only proviso that we shut up and listened. It was a special moment, this is what is was like for Geoff and ?Bear? back in 1976 - all those years before?and to the cave but a fleeting moment. The sand floor, the giant expanse of the passage ? this direct connection with history was almost palpable, this IS what it was like. Torches on full, I slowly gaze around, hardly daring to breath...and then in the distance I could hear a low rumbling roar just as the original explorers had described it. The underground River Axe?it was long and deep, and without saying anything we all quickened pace - I can only imagine at the excitement those original young men must have felt.

More boulders, more ladders and more rifts, were the order of the day punctuated with some nice vertical wall climbs and the odd thoughtfully placed rope. The river was now directly below us and I moved ahead placing a foot on either side of the rift, to arrive at Sting Corner. The water here was very low allowing us to jump in and wade through the chest deep water channel once round the corner.

We arrive at another milestone, "The Camp"- used for the 1982 and 1985 explorations, and acted as a forward base to push the limits of Chamber 25, this is where it happened, this is where mixed gas diving was pioneered and it was great to see it in real life. During the filming of the aforementioned ?Wookey Exposed? by Gavin Newman it was footage from the 1985 limit which revealed a possible way on and thus the most recent assault was launched in 2005 and saw John Volanthen and Rick Stanton obtaining the current terminus of Wookey Hole and a UK depth record of just over 90 metres at the same time. Depth however, is of no consequence?it is the lure of an as yet, unseen Chamber 26 quietly lying in wait for the next generation of pioneers that is the next goal, and even then, the people who dive here will keep going until a physical link with Swildon?s Hole can be established ? but I doubt that will be in my lifetime!

So that is pretty much it, we've all read tales of diving in absolute zero viz and I experienced that first hand exiting chamber 24 and 23 which I won't bore anybody with here - and despite them not being a good experience, they were good experience.

There is a short video of some of the activities filmed on the day, it doesn't really capture the scale of 24 or the wonderful noise of the River Axe, but it's what I have to remind me of a truly unforgettable experience.


There's a big long line of people to thank, but I've not included their names as I don't have permission  :mad: . They know who they are - so thank you!


Thanks - I'll hopefully have some PC cables for the Suunto this week, so will be able to get those dive profiles for you (I've not forgotten!)


Not been able to edit my post - was just to add this image...