Otter Hole.

The Team: JimBirchall, Randy Allsop, Chris Naylor, Frank Hardy, Carl Atkinson, John Tessyman.

The Guides: Steve Fluker- Hades, and Nick Barnsbury ACA.


We eventually arrived at about midnight to find three erected tents. We carefully unzipped the tents and found Allsop and Co. asleep - in beds! The next tent was empty - ours, the next tent suddenly burst open and Frank Hardy emerged for a piss on the race course.
Eventually we got the message to Frank Hardy that we wanted a brew and it was sorted out.
Then heads dawn. Four and a half hours later the Allsop and Co. human alarm clock got us out of our tents. (Have a good breakfast its all you are going to get for about sixteen hours.)
A ten minute drive takes you to the car park in the forest. There we met up with a Bristol University group - it seems to have been a double booking. Then the guides arrive. A quick chat and its off, down through the forest for a 7.30 meet at the entrance. Our guide is Scottish so its six English cavers led by a Scottish guide into a Welsh cave - could this be an international caving trip?

We follow a long, footpath into and down through the forest. Eventually, we arrive at the bottom of a short cliff face - its very similar to Foxholes in Clapham. Before the trip photograph of the clean eager. team about to enter Otter Hole is taken.

Into the Hole. .

The entrance series is fairly arduous and extremely muddy. Through the iron gate and up into a tight bedding plane following a black 3m. diameter pvc pipe (the overflow pipe?) into a series similar to the muddy wallows and the wet wallows in Link - Pip with various mud plastered climbs. The mud thickens as the tidal sump is approached. If you have got it right then the water is at a low level. The approach is down a steep slope of knee deep mud and into a knee deep pool all of which wants to suck your wellies off, and under the arch with the famous eyehole above it. Over more muddy boulders to the foot of a l5ft. flimsey meccano ladder. Up the ladder to the first boulder choke with squeezes. (There is an emergency food dump here.) A scramble leads to a stream and an interesting mud traverse. (Bum and back on one side, 4eet on the other.) More muddy boulders lead to the second boulder choke. Up through an awkward tight chimney to the top of a boulder strewn rift and the ladder pitch. Belay is around a huge boulder, and down to the stream again. Upstream towards sump 2. Before sump 2 is a draughting turn to the right. Up an ascending rift through a very confusing region of climbs, squeezes and rifts to eventually pop up into the extension.

All the twisting, muddy twisting caving now becomes worthwhile
down an ordinary passage to a crystal pool, then the passage enlarges to contain massive beautiful? bosses and stalactites of the Hall of Thirty (literature cannot convey a description of this hail). A taped path leads through all this incredible area.
Eventually camp one is reached. Just past camp one there are two buckets collecting (drinkable) water and a number of old cups.

Further passage work and rifting leads to Long Straw Chamber which is even more awesome, looking like a field where four inches of snow have fallen, and high above 10ft. straws dangle down. Awed and awed we eventually decide to get to the end of the cave more varied caving past giant gour pools leads to tunnels junction. The tunnel to the left is the route to the end of the cave. This is an obvious phreatic tunnel about 12ft. diameter, with one section looking just like the Minarets in Lancaster.

There is a good sandy floor and very easy going to a sudden cross joint and down to the end cross stream with boulders at each end. Paddle the feet and phew. The guide keeps taking his helmet off to check the time with the watch in his helmet - we have to be back at the sump again at a given time in order to get through.
Take your time coming back and get a good look at the formations, have a long pause at Long Straw Chamber and on to camp one for a rest and a drink and a Mars bar. Then on through the tapes and down to the hard bits.

The cave fades into a forever series of squeezes, climbs, slithers and mud. Suddenly its the Meccano ladder and a thought that it sumps up to the top of this ladder twice a day. Down into even fresher mud. At the sump getting a grip takes on a whole new meaning and easy slides down when coming in now become tactfully interesting.
Jim Birchall has a very hard time at an eight foot mud climb (dont end up last here as there is nobody to give your bum a push up). Steve and Randy both offer their mud covered boots as a climb up how do you hang on to a mud covered boot? - Frank kicks a giant stal down that just misses Jim. With the thought of the incoming tide Jim claws his way up and out of the mud pool.

At last we are in the bedding planes, a 3ft. drop and the metal door and - daylight. At increasing intervals the rest of the party emerge for an end of the trip group photograph.
Count the group - all here - then back to the gate, arid into the forest for the walk back to the car park with a stop off at the cast iron bath and a scrub down

Question; how many muddy cavers can you fit into a bath?

Clean and wet we carry on only to meet a very narked, very dirty John Tessyman storming down the hill - nobody f ing told me there was a fing bath in this f ing place. Im f ing dirty and your +f ing clean, f the lot of you

To the cars, get changed - thank the guide - on our way to the camp. Chris and Randy are driving overnight to get back to Blackpool for a cycling meet the next day. The rest fade away.

Randy Allsop.



Otter Hole. Notes and Trip Guide.
You remember two things about Otter Hole, mud and formations, with adjectives; its incredible mud and incredible formations.

1. One 25ft. ladder and 20ft. belay and lifeline. . . . . (When you are covered in mud the 25ft. ladder becomes potentially lethal )
2. Duration of trip is about 12 hours.
3. Lights One Speleo FX3 (fully charged) will do the trip if you use the pilot bulb in . the crawls and switch it off at the viewing stops
4. Absolutely NO Carbide allowed.
5. Dont take an ammunition box its extremely unwieldy.
6. Two Mars bars and some sweets seem enough.
7. There is drinking water at camp one.
8. Dont drink the cave water (lots of people get Otter Hole tum the day after.) 9. Dont get taken short, its embarrassing. 10. There is a cast iron bath with piped water in the back to the car park where you can . , get cleaned off, scrubbing brush with you 11. You need a permit and you get a guide he has a gate key and knows the tide . , , ,, tables.
12. Only six to a party.
13. When. you get back tell the tackle master where the ladder has been as it has been in .. ,, salt water.
14. Go all the way to the end its worth it.
15. Camp at the Chepstow race course camp site.
16. Otter Hole is reviewed in BCRA Transactions Vol.6. No.4. Dec 1979.
17. Location is in South Wales nearly opposite Bristol and beneath Chepstow race course.
18. Be prepared to go in at a strange time say 2.30 in the morning.

Trip Guide.
1. Entrance.
2. Bedding plane crawl.
3. Sandy chamber.
4. Rough going.
5. Tidal sump 1 through the arch over muddy boulders.
6. Up fixed ladder.
7. Choke 1 and squeezes (past emergency food dump) back to rift and stream.
8. Traverse and boulders.
9. Choke 2 and an awkward tight chimney.
10. Pitch 20ft.
11. Stream;
12. Sump 2.
13. So back a bit and climb up and crawl and climb up.
14. Easy going. 15. Hall of Thirty.
16. Easy going.
17. Camp 1 and drinking
18. Easy going via a boulder choke.
19. Fault Chamber.
20. Sour Passage.
21. Long Straw Chamber crystal pools, flowstone and straws.
22. Easy going.
23. Coral Passage.
24. Tunnels Junction.
25. Tunnels Left phreatic tunnel.
26. Calcite flows.
27. Mud Rose Chamber.
25. End Chamber.

Jim Birchall.


Back to Contents Page