So what would make two grown men jump into an obscure hole in the ground, get 80 metres beneath the surface and spend 6 and a half hours exploring a caving system in search of Sump 1 at Swildons Hole.
Sounds random and for some people or just stupid right? But that’s exactly what myself and Stefan from Berkeley Square Barbarians did one day this summer.
How Did It Come About
So let’s rewind…. Early in 2022 after enjoying a few posts from the Baekeley square Barbarians on a few caving trips they had taken, part of me was intrigued. Something totally new I never really heard of. Well I heard of caves obviously but not to this extreme.
After a few comments on these posts I had mentioned to Stefan a few times we should give it a go. In all honesty I wasn’t sure if I would but the adventurous side of me kept coming back to it. After a few further comments I took the plunge and said to Stefan should we arrange it.
After a few back and forth messages and maybe a bit of sizing up Stefan had suggested a trip to Somerset to Swildon’s Hole a cave Stefan had previously visited on a previous trip on the Mendips in the west of England. Stefan had previous experience of a company called Somerset Adventures who he had trusted very much and regarded their professionalism. Reading Stefan’s previous posts he was always in for the adventure but he was always one to mention safety first I felt like we would be in good hands.
Mentioning The Swildons Hole Sump
We mentioned a trip to the first sump. Ever keen I said that would be amazing before quickly scurrying off to Google sump 1 Swildon’s Hole, just to make sure I actually knew what I was doing. Oh right that’s a bit scary oh well I’m committed now.
Planning The Trip
All along the planning journey, and which I would like to take the time to thank Stefan as he did most of the planning with Robin but i was always there to assist on decisions, and we made the decisions together.
We had decided and rightly so that there would be no pressure on the sump we would take it in our stride if we made it we made it. If not we would have a great day caving. However every time we mentioned this we ended the message with but it would be great to hit it. Undoubtedly we were going to Swildons to hit the sump.
It is at this point I must mention Robin from Somerset Adventures had categorically tried to discourage us from this as it was a feat met mainly for the experienced caver. Although Stefan has caved before he himself would call himself a beginner.
Unbelievably I was never to worried or had any fears with this trip even at the point where Robin the owner of Somerset Adventures suggested a shorter 3 hour taster session in the caves might be a better choice for beginners I felt confident and fit and in my mind thought if I loved this I wouldn’t want to turn back after 3 hours. And I always knew if it was too much for me there would be no shame in turning back.
Off We Go
Fast forward…. to early August I was packed and ready to go. I flew out of Dublin and into London the day before the trip and settled in. In hindsight the 35,000 steps wandering around London the day before a 6 hour caving trip I wouldn’t recommend but I was in bed early and raring to go.
Wake Up Call 5am
Up at 5 am the morning of the trip, final packing checks. Packed in as much caffeine as I possibly could for the day and trundled off to Paddington station to meet Stefan.
We took the 1 ½ train ride from Paddington to Taunton in the west country where we met Robin the owner of Somerset Adventures. (ill tell you a bit more about Robin and his company later). We hopped in the van and headed off for another journey an hours drive to Priddy just past Chedder Gorge.
Chedder Gorge is a huge limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills, near the village of Cheddar, Somerset, England. The gorge is the site of the Cheddar show caves, one of the UK’s most loved tourist caves. Where we were heading though there were no show caves and certainly no tourists.
Arrival Priddy Green
We arrived at Priddy Green, a tiny little village green just 10 minute walk into the entrance of Swildon’s Hole. Time to suit up and get going. At this stage all was quiet albeit a few questions from ourselves regarding the trip but game faces on we were about to go caving.
After the short walk we arrived at the entrance to Swildon’s Hole. As you can see below it’s quite the daunting entrance. It had been pretty dry leading up to the day and looking in, the water flow was slow. I had seen videos of fast flowing water upon entry into the caves which would have been really off putting.
Lamps on and we climbed in……. and were off.
Feet First We Are In
The first part of the cave we flew through a bit of crouching and crawling but we were covering distance quickly. We were going deep fast. With close walls I found it easier to maneuver and kind of leverage myself. The cave opened up a bit. It was here where I really took note of where we were, pitch black with nothing more than a headlight for direction. It was a great spot for reflection though. I showed my light around and any sense of thinking where I was was gone as I was mesmerized by the formation of these caves and how beautiful they were.
I actually forgot the exact stage but we were climbing down a long canyon and Robin said “Now this part I cant really help you with so take care here” That real made this all the more real.
We wandered through the caves and I remember thinking this isn’t too bad at all. And then we came to the 40ft Pot……….
The 40ft Pot
The 40ft pot is as you can imagine a deep drop into the caving system. A vertical hole around 12m deep and 5 metres in diameter. A little waterfall which wasn’t too strong . Whether or not it’s normally more powerful I’m not sure. The UK was in a serious drought at the time.
Robin set up the belaying station and we were harnessed up and one by one lowered down. At first I was worried but the child within me took over. This was so much fun. In my head I was thinking again. Stefan followed and then Robin lowered himself. The rope was left in place for the return.
Hitting 20ft Pot
We continued on our way when we arrived at what was called a 20ft pot. This pool had a waterfall slightly bigger than the last but again wasn’t too powerful. This time we had to scramble around the rocks over a pool of water which was 1 metre deep. Physiologically the task was harder knowing of this at the time but in hindsight falling into a pool of water was also going to be better than falling onto rocks.
I remember Stefan saying there was a loose rock about half way round. Good job he went off first.
This part was actually very tough and took a bit of thought but luckily we all made it round unscathed and were ready to proceed.
Approaching Sump 1
Carrying on I remember things getting a bit tougher not so much climbing and that but a lot of crouching, crawling etc. At this point I’d like to add I’m 6ft 4 and Stefan is 6ft 7. This made this part hard in itself, maybe we should have joined a basketball team.
We took a 5 minute break for some water and energy bars. To be honest fatigue was setting in fast. Then out of nowhere Robin told us something that lifted the spirits. “Well done lads, so Sump 1 is just around the corner”. WHAT ??? We are only 2 and a half hours in.
Reaching Swildons Hole Sump 1
A bit of congratulating a fist pump or two not over the top as we knew we still had the daunting prospect of going under the sump.
A good and descriptive briefing from Robin and a bit of working out the best way these full grown men are going to squeeze under this tiny hole and we were ready. Robin had told us it will be cold so don’t hang around.
What is a sump
Those of you who are not aware of a sump here is a brief description
Sumps are where the ceiling of the passage is. drops below the surface of the water. All sumps are different, some are short and shallow and can be a few meters. Others could be tens of meters and once passed brings you back up into an air-filled passage.
Stefan went first. You’re probably thinking poor man. I sent him off first last time. It wasn’t my intention but it certainly helped to have more of an insight into things. But then all of a sudden I realised I’m alone in the cave with no communication other than a tug on a rope to say whenever you’re ready. I wasted no time I dived in, the impact of the cold hit me straight away. Grab that rope and off I go. I popped out the other side and yes we had achieved Sump 1 now the sense of excitement had hit us and the adrenaline was pumping.
Let’s Go On?
The adrenaline had certainly kicked in and I think Robin would have been keen to turn us back at this stage. But a new lease of life and a brief discussion with Stefan we decided to just go on a bit. A few passage ways were passed and we entered a watering hole.
It was here we saw a rope which apparently takes you off on a different loop around the cave. And in front was a passageway to sump 2.
The eager beavers in us wanted to head down that passageway to sump 2. We could tell Robin was not keen on the idea. We said will we go in a bit?”
Sump 2 is only 100 metres but this passageway is very low and we would be crouching the whole time. I remember thinking about what we had said in trusting our instructor decisions. I could tell Robin was uncomfortable with continuing after a brief discussion with Stefan we decided it was best to turn and rightly so.
But don’t you worry I’ll be back for you Sump 2.
The long journey back
We headed back to Sump 1. Oh yeah we had to pass this again. We passed this much quicker a few photos and that. That adrenaline must have been wearing off. It felt much colder this time. Thank god for the fleece suits Robin had supplied us with.
The fleece suit
Robin had supplied us with all the gear for this trip. The most impressive part was the fleece under suit. Like a wet suit which went under our overalls but this one kept us warm and they are designed for quick drying within minutes after being submerged in water. relatively quickly we felt great again.
We wandered back through the caves. Things seemed way harder now and a lot of energy was being consumed. The 20ft pot and scaling the wall around the pool of water came along and I remember actually flying through it. I wasn’t hanging around this time. Probably careless but I was tired.
The return of the 40ft Pot
We arrived back at the 40ft pot. I remember saying earlier this was so much fun coming down. Well when we arrived I had envisaged being pulled up again, but that was obviously never going to happen. Wait, that’s a rope ladder being attached. I remember this dented my confidence a bit looking at it thinking this is going to be some work pulling myself up.
I used every ounce of energy to climb up. It was made way worse with the last 3ft or so the ladder hung over the overhang on the rock face. Meaning if you grabbed the ladder at this point your hands would get stuck between rock and ladder. A final pull and burst of energy and I was over.
Now I was really feeling it. It crossed my mind that do I really have the energy to get out. I’m good in these situations and usually have the ability to push on but man this was challenging and I’d say we were a good 5 1/2 hours in at this stage.
But hey I nodded at the guys I’m good let’s go that’s the worst of it. Or was it !!!!
Can I actually get out
You know that part earlier where I said we were covering ground fast, the walls were close together and we were going deeper into the cave. Well similar to 40ft pot I hadn’t thought about getting out of those steep closed in walls.
Now I’m not sure if it was exhaustion at this stage but I found getting out at this point extremely challenging. The walls were so close together it wasn’t a matter of shuffling you literally had to pull your whole body weight up in stages whilst the body was flat because you couldn’t bend your knees.
Robin then shouted down “will I come give a hand? ” And at this point is what got me through. I hadn’t needed to ask for help for 6 hours and 20 minutes. My stubbornness pulled me up out over the wall. “Fuck me” I said to Robin I thought I was stuck.
Stefan was next and like I said exhaustion had set in. I waited to make sure Stefan got up safely and then boom I made a b line for the exit alone I needed at this time to see some light and take it some fresh air. Jumped out the obscure hole and was greeted by torrential rain but hey it was actually lovely and refreshing.
I MADE IT!!! And a few moments later Stefan and Robin appeared. We were out and we had done it.
Around 6 and a half hours we were in there with no more than a 10 minute break, an energy bar and some water.
We snapped some customary photos and headed off to get changed. Spirits were high but you could see the exhaustion in us. I can honestly say the hour drive back to Taunton Station was a very quiet one.
It’s Not For Everyone
It’s not for everyone and anybody reading this. I think you realise it’s not a walk in the park and I would recommend a starter course in caving first just like Robin said. I just knew I was capable. I’m a chef by trade and have young kids. I’m fit and always on my feet I knew I could see it through. But perhaps a little taster course would have helped a bit but we did so well I wouldn’t change a thing.
All along the build up and during Stefan had said he thought I was way fitter. I disagree this man is extremely fit and if you see the activities on his blog he never stops and was a perfect partner to cave with. To prove the point the mad bastard after this caving session waved goodbye to me at Tauntan to jump on a 2 hour train journey to Shrewsbury to start a 5 day SUP trip on the Severn the morning after. I wandered around London drinking coffee and eating pastries all day.
Robin from Somerset adventures was great, very relaxed and you always felt at ease. His experience and knowledge of caves is second to none and he was very forthcoming in answering any questions.
His company Somerset Adventures offers a wide range of adventure activities not just caving. Sup, canoeing, kayaking and many more.
I certainly see Stefan and I using Somerset adventures again and I know like I said Stefan had used them multiple times for caving and other trips.
Stay tuned this story hasn’t finished. Keep up to date on our Instagram and Twitter for further caving adventures.
For now it’s back to dad duties, but you may find me Googling caving adventures UK very soon and maybe even sump 2 at Swildon’s Hole.
Thanks for reading
Yes especially if intending to go through sump 1.
No you would a car.
It will and headlamps will be needed.
No only go as far as you know you can go back.
It is especially, the less experienced you are never attempt alone.