by B.Smith

My interest in Gavel Pot was first aroused on a Saturday morning in January 1968 when G.Batty arrived at Greenclose looking for a digging partner.

Leck Fell had been interesting several people so we decided to walk over the fell. We visited various sites of interest and made the usual notes to return sometime.

The Short Drop - Gavel Pot - Ash Tree Hole area seemed to be a problem worth solving. Nippikin Pot and Pippikin were also thought to be extremely interesting, a fact which has since been borne out by the HWCPC.

From the surface, Ash Tree Hole seemed to be strategically well placed but after a couple of hours scratching it was abandoned and we decided to have a look around in Gavel.

The following weekend we left Greenclose equipped with an array of spades and crowbars, and being unable to find a peg for the first belay point, we borrowed a guttering support from the cottage wall. We descended beneath the chockstone (since dislodged?) in the rift at the south end of the hole, a simple 18' ladder. After a trip to examine the Short Drop sump, we probed all the nooks and crannies in the passage on the way back to the open shaft of Gavel Pot. After a quick inspection here, we went for a look at the choked end of Gavel Pot. Here we found a beautifully built slag heap from a previous dig.

The next few trips were spent digging holes in various spots in the open shaft, and one immediately below the climb down to the choke. However, we didn't seem to be able to find a space in the boulders, the only thing we achieved was a good pile of digging gear.

A new approach was needed and G.B. came up with it. "Why not move the water from the Short Drop sump ?" he said. "What a great idea", I thought, "How ?"

Although we had heard that a dive in the sump had revealed a choked rift, we could not verify this. We had also heard many moons ago, that the sump had been known to have a small airspace; maybe if we could move the water, we could also move the choke and replace the air.

We found a blow hole in the passage connecting Short Drop to Gavel. Using hose pipes we hoped to bring the water from a point above this, well back into Short Drop. First we had to test the hole to see where the water would go to.

We poured quite a few bucketfulls of fluoresceined water down the hole and the Short Drop sump went green. The idea had to be abandoned as there was nowhere else to deposit the water. Things went quiet on the Gavel front for a few weeks as everyone avoided the crucial question of what to do next.

Working on the theory that Gavel could, at one time, have been part of the Short Drop streamway, and that a major roof fall had diverted the water to its present course, it seemed reasonable to revert our attentions to digging through the roof fall. We calculated the amount of limestone that appeared to have fallen and been channelled to half its original width, allowing for open spaces in the boulders, the choke must be approximately 70' thick in the open pot. But down the climb it could be as thin as 30', and there was a solid wall to shore against. In September 1968, we decided to attempt the dig; at least it was a comfortable spot. Equipped with shovels, buckets, crowbars, hammers, chisels, soup, primus stove and a crate of ale, we started. The hole got deeper and the slag heap became a problem. The larger boulders were arranged as barriers and the smaller stuff stored behind to form a series of steps. We were however, rather short of shoring material, and the rocks knew it. One Sunday afternoon, Eric Clarkson was to be seen running out of the hole at a great speed while the rocks returned at a greater speed. Eric seemed to be losing the race.

We started again and improved the shoring using sheet aluminium (now buried). This time we reached a depth where we could see a rift below and thus detect a draught (November 1968), but the shaft was so unsafe we could not proceed.

Cave engineer Batty was recalled and appointed Clerk of Works. Soon after the chamber took on the appearance of a timber yard and shouts such as "take off another tenth" or "cut a foot off that" were heard. After several weeks, the shaft was made safe and the digging recommenced.

The draught got stronger, then in April 1969 that magic sound, water ! All that remained was to clear a way through the rift. Unfortunately, this had to wait as the Grouse breeding season was upon us.

The first day after this frustrating three months wait we got in. A low crawl at the bottom of the rift led to a larger streamway. A few yards upstream the water emerged from a boulder ruckle, presumably the choke through which we had just dug. Downstream the passage became larger until we came to a large well-decorated chamber. Here we smoked a celebration cigarette and dreamt of long exploration.

On the right was a low inlet passage with a small stream and festooned with straws. We left that for later and pressed on. The passage became low and wet for a while until we came to a second smaller chamber. An obvious hole on the right was noted, and we followed the passage, which had now become a rift, to the head of a 10' pitch. We had no ladder so we climbed this, only to be confronted with a much longer pitch, about 80' deep, just round the corner. Here we had to stop, and so we looked for side passages.

On the left, not far from the head of the pitch, we discovered a climb up to an inlet which we followed for a considerable distance until it split, each branch becoming too narrow. Back in the main stream passage, we found a 5' climb to a low passage which suddenly popped out into the biggest chamber in the system. On our left was a low sandy crawl to a sump which looked worthy of attention. The stream emerging from this passage flowed through the chamber and disappeared in a boulder ruckle at the other end; another possible way out. Thirty or forty feet in the roof of the chamber, a stream trickled out of another passage which looked to merit a trip with scaling poles. At the far end of the chamber, up a sandy slope, was a beautiful grotto which we gingerly explored, only to pop out into a second chamber immediately behind it.

Without tackle we had seen all we could, so we retired for the day excited by the prospects of the big wet pitch. We arranged to descend the pitch on the following Wednesday evening. Duncan Glasfurd arrived on the scene so he joined us. D.Barker and G.Batty went down first and by the time I got down they had found a second pitch, about 50' deep. It was smaller than the first but just as wet with an ominous looking pool at the bottom. More tackle came down from above and we set off, only to verify what we had feared - a sump ! We returned to the surface disappointed by the sump, but exhilarated by the ladder climbs. G.Greenwood took the Friday off work and arrived to help with the photographs. We spent all day admiring the formations and happily shooting off flash bulbs. Feeling very satisfied we arrived back at Greenclose only to find that D.Glasfurd was seriously injured in County Pot. Tragically, when we got there he was dead. As a memorial, the biggest chamber we had found in Gavel was named Glasfurd chamber.

The following weekend, Trev. Reynolds, whilst grovelling at the back of the grotto in Glasfurd chamber, broke through into a second small chamber. After digging out several low crawls from chamber to chamber, he broke through into a large dry passage. This passage is a considerable length and contains some fine formations. It ends in a boulder choke suspected of being very close to Gour Hall in Pippikin Pot. Extensive digging here however only resulted in several dangerous boulder falls. One remarkable feature of this passage is a mud pavement consisting of one foot cubes of dried mud.

Explorations seemed to be complete, all the possibilities seemed to have been tried and so we returned to the surface. Back at Greenclose, three points were raised. Two streams entered Glasfurd chamber, combined and disappeared amongst a boulder ruckle. It was decided to have a trip with scaling poles to examine the stream entering from the roof.

The following weekend, half a dozen members descended and erected a 40' pole. The lightest member of the party was selected and away he went. With the pole bending alarmingly we peered anxiously upwards. Up the pole, the language deteriorated and then our lightest member descended. He had been unable to get off the ladder into the passage due to an awkward outcrop. The second lightest member ascended equipped with a lump hammer, the pole bent even more and he was still unsuccessful. The consensus of opinion was that it didn't look too hopeful anyway and so we decided not to bend the pole anymore as we had borrowed most of it.

The boulder ruckle where the stream disappeared was examined by D.Barker who withdrew quickly when a large rock almost got him - we called it a day.

The only passage we hadn't really pushed was the inlet into the first chamber. After crawling along it for a little way, we became tired of breaking straws, so we left it for the Craven.

All that remained to do now was to survey and write up the exploration. That took even longer than the dig.

> More info on the Gavel exploration: "The Leck Fell Affair" by Mike Thornton
> Out of print publications list
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