Team:  Jim T, Sam P, Jon P

A busy couple of weeks had caused me to miss the recent exploration of Victory Level so I was excited to get down there and see what the gang had uncovered. Quick meet in the Miner’s to discuss leads and so on and we headed down to the shaft in an evening so warm that only the darkness of the early hour gave a clue that it’s November.

Jon had already opened the lid of Cliffstile and was on the rope so it wasn’t long until I was sitting on the edge trying to haul up enough of the rather economically rigged rope to load my rack. An airy dangle off the edge later I was creeping down the rope. A bit of up-and-down with the right hand speeded things up nicely, the rebelays were no trouble, and I began to hear the distant rumble of the sough.  

Victory Level is a branch off Moorwood Sough just downstream from the entry point. Very different to the sough, being a tall, uncapped rift, with a deep layer of clay in the bottom, no turbulence and some very deep water. Initially the going was a bit challenging as I sank into the clay, all the while feeling like it would be quite easy to get stuck or lose a welly, so as cold as the water was, it was a relief to get deeper and begin to float, enabling big strides. I’d come armed with a neoprene hood and expecting a duck, and before long an arched roof appeared, reducing the height to not much more than the surface of the water. Miners have helpfully left a bar sticking out of the wall just here so it’s a perfect place to hang a helmet whilst pulling on a hood. Jon headed through to the other side and I followed, trying to keep my head to one side and out of the water but finding that it was far nicer and easier to stick my face in and keep moving for the few seconds it took to reach the other side.

Beyond this point the roof lowers significantly and presents the option of a quick duck, or a slightly awkward climb/squeeze off to the side, which Sam had already opted for, and still feeling quite warm and not ready for a wet back yet I followed him to the last bit of the level where the water rises silently from the floor.

Into the workings, I waited while Jon and Sam dug out a boulder from the initial squeeze, slightly disappointed I wouldn’t be able to try it as-was but not protesting. With stuff going off in all directions I just blindly followed Jon as Sam headed off to dig elsewhere, and joined him atop a sporting climb and watched his wellies as muck tumbled down the way we came.

In short order he announced the familiar disappointment cry of ‘boulders’ and we climbed back down to hear Sam making his way back with the same story.

With that we head into the impressively sized ‘pipe caverns’ and onward to the room at the end. In here is amazing. The shell bed is like nothing I’ve seen before, massive crinoids hang in the roof and are so precisely, deeply ribbed as to look like bits of plastic pipe rather than ancient plant fossils. Pockets of sharp dog tooth spar adorn the spots where fossils don’t, and it’s all great to see.

The floor in here is also like nothing I’ve ever seen. Underneath the mud is a layer of pure white, soft and very fine ‘fudge’ that I can only assume is the result of whatever came down the road from the lagoon breach that ran down Farnsley Lane and through Stoney… the presence of calcified, and fairly recent, plant roots and an intermittent noise that can only be traffic on the road above, suggest that we’re very close to surface here.

Back to the pipe cavern, Jon is keen to get some decent photos and immediately assumes a severe diva role, directing Sam with the flash whilst I pose heroically… Fortunately the tension is broken as conversation turns to the choice of crispy treat Sam has waiting for us back the the truck… at which point he asks ‘do you remember Puffs?’…. a lengthy and serious debate / argument ensues as Sam describes this mythical snack… I suggest that they sound rather like Piglets but no, definitely not Piglets they were called Puffs…. By this point I’m almost crying with laughter and Jon isn’t impressed… even less so when he discovers that the best set of photo he’s ever taken is ruined by Sam’s legs being visible in every frame… all this standing around after the period of laying on the floor in the shell chamber has suddenly made us very cold, but we must bravely get ready for another series of posing and ‘just one more’ as Sam gets bollocked for not holding the flash in the right place. Eventually, either Jon has had enough or we’re all worried about hypothermia so we make a rapid exit… Back in the level the flow has rendered the water crystal clear and I go first to enjoy the spectacle… Jon does the duck and I shoot off, keen to get on the rope and back to the crisps and warmth of the van.

The prusik back up Cliffstile seems interminable. The steam filling the shaft means it’s impossible to see the distance to the rebelay and my legs feel tired… I have to stop after the first one as I feel really desensitised and my ears are boiling as I never bothered to remove my neoprene hood…. Senses restored and a bit of fresh air round my head makes me feel better and the second rebelay passes with ease… eventually the air freshens up and I reach the lid… a far easier climb out than the precarious dangle in, and it’s a lovely breezy night, pleasantly warm, so I lay down on the grass with my lamp off and just enjoy being outside feeling almost like summer again.

As a faintly lit plume of steam rises out of the shaft, Sam isn’t far behind and we leave Jon to it and head back to the village to see what treats are in store and answer life’s most pressing question.

The answer is ‘Potato Puffs’ and we know we can sleep now that’s settled.

Sam’s ‘Hot Wings Blaze’ crisps are far less benign than I assume Potato Puffs to be, and know Piglets to be, and in spite of burning lips and choking we demolish the whole bag in seconds….

Team A: JonP, SamP, JoeB

Team B: DylanK, RobE

I was away last week so was keen to see what they had found down in Victory. Luke and Neptune joined us for pre-beers in the Miners, especially as it was supposed to be a monthly meet but we knew us cavers wouldn't be out in time.

Team A descended Cliffstile first and were gone by the time I got to the bottom. Their plan was to go rig some handlines and get some photos of last week's discoveries, whilst me n Dylan began the long and cold(!) job of surveying all of Victory Level, starting from Moorwood Sough. This was made all the more tricky as there was lots of rain a couple days ago, leaving only 4 inches of airspace in the lowest sections. We eventually got to the end and i was glad to be out of the water. My 2mm wetsuit is ok for Cussey but for sustained wet periods like that it was not enough.

Joe Buck in the breakthrough dig, by JonP

As we start surveying the dry workings i'm impressed with the size of the worked stope here, over 3m wide in places. Dylan does a good job of survey station finding and we quickly arrive at their dig. It's snug still but easily passable. Beyond the passage opens up again and heads in all directions, stuff going off everywhere. Dylan lights up with enthusiasm as he recounts discovering this last week. A few survey stations later and I light up too, this place is mega! The mined passage breaks out into a phreatic, walking-sized passage, adorned with a deeply cracked mud floor. A very cool discovery. It's hard to be sure but I think this is actually a pipe vein, maybe.