Psilomelane Pot
(The Blasted Bedding)

Dale Head Pot having been completed, Batty cast around for some other hole to keep us occupied on Thursday nights. He remembered a narrow bedding plane he'd looked into as a lad, between Dale Head and Churn Milk Hole. So we were duly despatched there. At the end of a shallow valley was a bedding plane which was just possible to squeeze into for 15 feet before turning a right-angled corner, and then the way was blocked by a shelf on each side. There was a sizeable stream flowing and a good draught so work commenced. Progress was slow. The shelves had to be removed from both sides and the debris dragged back and round the right-angled bend. Enthusiasm waned. Excursions into the esoteric byways of subterranean Penyghent were made: Ochre Hole, Rubbish Pot and Dale Pot were explored. We had great hopes for Ochre Hole and spent a lot of time on it. We even had an overhead piped water supply and an aerial ropeway - worth a visit, Ochre, for its engineering archaeology, if you can find it!

Back to the bedding plane with a depleted team, Eddie Edmondson and Jack Pickup having gone the way of all flesh, but Rae Lonsdale came to help. It was now extremely hard work to get the debris out of the lengthening passage and round three right-angled bends. Other people came to help - once! It was a good test of resolve. Sambo came, without helmet or gear. With a box of matches for light, he was a great help, apart from being sick at the entrance. Various medical students helped: Rodger Parkinson, Chris Chester, Paul Newman; the number was legion that came and went. Eventually only Gordon Batty, Mike Warren and myself were left. It is a fact that one Thursday Batty, having been abandoned to his own company, went down alone to commune with the rock. Then during the severe drought of 1976, lying at the end of the dig, it was possible to hear water dripping into a chamber, the stream in the passage being quite dry. We resolved to carry on at least until the source of the noise was reached. New blood was brought in. Jim Birkett was dusted down and brought out of retirement and Tony Foster was inveigled away from his German classes.

At last, after further months of work, I was able to squeeze through to the source of the noise, which was a small chamber and a pitch. The pitch looked at least 50 feet, but subsequently turned out to be only 20 feet. That week-end this pitch and the following two were descended, the last one of 15 feet being preceded by an awkward squeeze down a tight rift. The pitch finished in a round circular chamber with an inlet entering straight ahead and a low bedding plane going off to the right. One glance down this was enough to confirm that it was not the way on. Apart from being tight there was only an inch of airspace with large evil bubles kissing the roof. It would have to be the inlet, so over the weeks a dam was constructed around it. When completed, the enclosed area could be baled out and work started to enlarge the entrance of the inlet, which was a tight bedding. Tony, besides being our 'thin man', has this skin complaint which seems to make him want to come into close contact with the rock, for on one trip he set off up the inlet with a length of old rope tied to one leg, and disappeared. Eventually, he reappeared and reported that the inlet closed down, becoming too tight even for him, but he had been able to turn round where another bedding plane went off to the left.

It took quite a few weeks' work before Gordon and I were able to get into the inlet at all and then we were only able to make progress by digging out the sides and breaking stalactites. Without knowing that it was possible to turn round I certainly wouldn't have gone on. The bedding plane seen by Tony was no easier, being tight, very strenuous, and long. Gradually, the roof dipped towards the water. Thankfully we turned round where we could, really glad it didn't go. Peering down the loathsome-looking bedding plane next week in the final chamber Tony once again succumbed to his thigmotatic impulses and disappeared down the bedding plane on his back, mostly under water. In fact the first few feet were the tightest and then the roof rose slightly allowing breathing to recommence and him to see that the passage continued.

Batty was now in his element. We would have to raise the level of the dam above the level of the tight bedding plane off the inlet and then bale the water out of the final chamber back into the enclosed area. Of course, we would have to pipe all the water coming down the entrance passage into this bedding plane as well. His rheumy eyes took on a glazed look as he babbled on about pressure heads of water and coefficients of water resistance. Meanwhile the navvies were set to work on the dam at the bottom of the chamber and on a new dam at the top of the first pitch, while he waited for a well known local firm to make some waste hosepipe. Soon the hole was so full of piping that one could climb down the first pitch on it. Incredibly it seemed to work. When the piping was taking all the water reaching the top of the first pitch the water level in the bottom bedding could be lowered by an inch or so by baling hard. Since I was the only person old-fashioned enough to still possess a wetsuit, I was sent down head first to do the necessary. In fact the floor was silted up with psilomelane and it was relatively easy to dig one's way along. Inevitably, it became tight and Tony was sent through first. Even with the water lowered by baling it was rather wet in the constricted space. Just as Tony reached an enlargement in the passage his light went out, so I lent him mine. Mine went out and then his went out again, so we came out.

Rather fortunately at this point, Batty was sent to America for a long vacation. Getting to the end ws becoming a very demanding physical trip, plus the thought of bulging dams to add to one's peace of mind. Also the water was incredibly cold and lying in it for any length of time soon cooled one down, even in a wetsuit. On the next trip, Tony and I both got through the previous end squeeze into a hands-and-knees passage.... we really thought we were away! But suddenly the passage closed down into another squeeze before enlarging slightly again. This happened three times. Tony just managed to reverse the last squeeze with me pulling on his legs. It took two weeks for the memory of the pain and effort to recede before the thought of another trip could be contemplated. With Mike minding the dam and Jim backing us up, we reached the previous end-point and managed to enlarge it sufficiently for me to get through. The passage again enlarged then closed down once more before suddenly opening out into a very wide bedded area. This was full of psilomelane with no obvious way on, the water from the passage trickling away between blocks. It would have taken some extensive digging to make any progress and it was taking all our time and effort just to get in and out. Since Batty was still on holiday we thankfully took the chance to find somewhere more pleasant to spend Thursday nights.

F. Walker

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