A Major Discovery
CU 1973 Contents Page Next:
Minor Discoveries

Cambridge Underground 1973 pp 30-33


or "Athens, Venice, Paris, London and Agen Allwedd -
three days of sunsoaked boulders for £10"

CUCC's involvement in some of the sillier trips in Aggie have a long history, started by that doyen of the Fourth Choke, Clive Westlake: Gareth Jones, John Lees, Noel Williams and Joe Duxbury have all on occasions struggled with radio location gear, blown whistles, banged rocks, shouted and heated up tins of sardine and apricot soup for the Great Man whenever he was unable to twist enough arms within the Eldon.

The connection with Bisa Passage was finally made on 20th May, and now that the way was open, it had to be used, so five weeks later the traditional team of thin and experienced CUCC potholers slid, like muscular eels, through the 3" gap above the entrance grating. A block of ice fell from the roof with a crash and the team turned into Joe and me, still hung over from the day before. We signed in at the Visitors Book, observed that no-one else had set his alien paws near the Fourth Choke in the interval and trudged off towards the Main Chamber. We were in fact the only cavers in there that day - it isn't often you can have 6½ miles of cave each. Or are silly enough to use it all!

By the time we had emerged from the First Choke we had decided to go down Southern Stream Passage and then up through the Fourth Choke, with a pause for further thought at North West Junction. Our total knowledge of the route was Joe's four trips to the Fifth Choke and one, in the opposite direction to our trip, round the Outer Circle: my contribution was nil, as I hadn't even done Southern Stream before and had to explain away Gareth Jones' horrible descriptions by thinking of some of the incompetent ninnies I knew who had done it.

Fortunately the passage is immeasurably easier if you only have to do it one way and seen for the first time, it is as pleasant as you can decently expect three quarters of a mile of crawling or stooping to be. The mental difficulty is that there are virtually no landmarks, but Joe and I grovelled along at such a pace that we were at the eight-foot climb before we thought we'd covered half the distance. There was a little time wasted in the rift just before the Main Streamway, where Joe muttered something about traversing twenty feet up for vast distances, though this gets very boring if like me you keep falling off, and it's only necessary to get over an awkward boulder in the last thirty feet.

Soon we popped out on the mudbank and set off, minus the noshbag, downstream to the Terminal Sump. It's well worth the trip just to see this section of streamway - a high; arched phreatic tunnel with water from wall to wall, ankle deep over a floor of sand, instead of the interminable boulder-hopping elsewhere in the cave. You can even run along it, except that you can't corner quickly and find that the water is at least Nichols-deep in places. The passage also possesses a superb echo, exceptionally clear and with a six-second life: it was officially tested on a later CUCC trip by Jont Leach with his 'Seventeen Identical Variations on a One-Note Theme', which it reproduced fortissino with great fidelity, proving that the intermittent drone heard in all CUCC Minibuses is not a gearbox about to seize: it's the sound of this inimitable artist rehearsing for the occasions when he is sobered up and the Gauloise taken out of his mouth.

All too soon Joe and I reached the sump, a vast black lake of scummy water. Gandalf had ouiged out of this trip, so we returned upstream without disturbing its surface. Then a quick nosh, a look at the watch - had we really only taken 2 hours 20 minutes from the entrance? - and we headed off for Bisa Passage.

The first impressive section of the main streamway gives way after some 1500' to wet boulder hopping and we were glad to get to the Second Cascade (another of Noel's Nasty Places) and the start of Bisa. There the seven-year old bit of rope on the climb up gave half of this crack team a certain amount of bother. Joe just gripped it in his teeth and swarmed up.

Bisa is a curious passage, all phreatic, with roughly scallopped walls and the old sump levels clearly etched. By the time you get to the end it's also a very tedious passage. Leaches of all sizes and intellects have been known to froth at the shoulder and collapse halfway along from migraine - if you want to claim it as an excuse, the symptoms are blackness in front of the eyes with searing flashes of light whenever someone passes you.

Route-finding is complex towards the end, the secret being to keep at roof level as long as possible. We luckily avoided any wrong turns and eventually came across the white plastic-covered ship's hawsers Clive seems to use for bang wire now, which after three miles or so led to a crawl under a frighteningly unstable roof to a hole in the floor. This was the connection itself, a dog-legged climb of twenty feet in a tube a good yard wide at the top, narrowing to body width. Although the connection isn't actually through the Boulder Choke, all the rock has been shattered by the associated collapse. Joe disappeared downwards and a few minutes later shouted that, thank God, we wouldn't have to go back up Southern Stream. There was a boulder halfway down which croaked "Hullo, sailor. Want a horrible time?" and wobbled out of the wall as I passed, but I fended it off and it has since been taken away and painlessly destroyed by Chelsea.

The rest of the Main Streamway to the North West Junction is again a superb section of cave, which passed swiftly and almost without incident. A large boulder in the Third Choke became very surly when Joe caught it a foul blow with a lashing boot, and I got very cold under the circumstances when I fell off the traverse over Deep Water in the middle of a moan about the gaping lack of a zip in my wetsuit jacket.

At the Junction we noshed again and looked at the watch. Still only 4+ hours: There was now no excuse not to carry on and complete the Figure Eight, so we sadly got back on our feet and tramped off upstream. I had never done the Outer Circle, and Joe had only done it once, in reverse, so it was with some apprehension that we thrutched along Coal Cellar Passage. We needn't have worried, though; we'd have got lost anyway.

Coal Cellar Passage is another interesting item. Whatever made the Celestial caver create a systen of massive railway tunnels and then fill in the gaps with evil thrutchy little rifts? Union pressure? Leadswinging? The rising cost of labour? We struggled along for what seemed like hours, battling with boulders and both finding it much harder going than Southern Stream. There was a moment's agony in the little chamber at the end when a hasty search revealed no way on, then a longer moment of agony when we found the awkward greasy thrutch up through the roof into Midsummer Passage and flopped out onto the wide sandy floor to recover.

Roused by the thought that a minute lost in the Brit later, we pressed on northwards in a high, wide cavern which all too soon filled with sand and boulders and forced us to grovel on our bellies under the roof in a bedding plane. Silently I cursed the spirit of Norb and crawled round the left wall without finding the way on. Joe slithered away on the right, also full of evil thoughts. We met in the middle again and cursed limestone and all its properties - why hadn't we gone somewhere else: More particularly, why had we not gone down the hole in the floor a hundred feet back, marked with a carbide arrow a foot high? We did, and soon found ourselves at the junction of Easter Avenue and the slope up to First Scree, St. Paul's Passage and the circle leading around to the other end of Eastern Avenue.

We had intended to do that outer route, mistakenly thinking that that was the Outer Circle, but we were tired, thirsty, and completely ignorant of the way round, so after a discussion we turned left in disappointment and headed for Selenite Needle Tunnel. That earlier route finding error remained the only one and Eastern Avenue and Selenite Needle, though interesting passages, present no difficulty, so it was not long before we were back, thankfully, in the Turkey Streamway.

Joe took a look at the watch and we meditatively chewed through the last Mars bar before setting off on the final leg of the journey. Down to N.W.Junction and up to the Second Choke seemed to go at a tremendous speed, partly because it is easy but mainly because, mentally as well as physically, tired by now, we did most of it on the borders of sleep.

It seemed every bit as far from there to the Main Chamber, though it's only a quarter mile - I thought it would never end. It did, eventually, leaving us to the brutal struggle with greasy obstinate rock that is Aggies entrance series. Not far to go now chaps: Hands stretched out before us, eyes glazed and pub-directed nostrils twitching, we tottered out through the entrance onto the tramroad and back to White Walls.

This trip took eight and a quarter hours altogether, a remarkably good performance given our ignorance of the route round the Outer Circle (we were considerably cheered, when we checked on it later, to find out that we had indeed completed the Outer Circle and thus the first ever Figure Eight trip). In fact two Chelsea grots a week later were unable to knock more than half an hour off the time, one of them being Ian Penney, who lives in the cave and only emerges when somene shouts "Whats yours?" down the grating.

This is definitely the way to do Aggie if you're one of the current crop of CUCC Icons who want to dispose of the cave in a single trip so as to spend more time in that over-crowded, over-rated place OFD. But if you realise that Agen Allwedd was until recently the deepest cave in Britain and that it is still one of the most interesting, then there is not a lot of point in this hectic gallop, particularly now that it has been done. You'll just have to wait till Clive has excavated his way through from the Entrance Series into Wind Tunnel to produce the Round Trip to end them all. In the meantime, Nick, you can put down that Left Hand Wall Trip- it'll make you go blind!

Andrew Nichols

A Major Discovery
CU 1973 Contents Page Next:
Minor Discoveries