Volume 38 Number 2 Article 4
The Slugworld Retro-Diary 1997 to 2000
Now that the dig at the bottom of Lancaster Hole has gone and the workings have essentially disappeared from public view I thought it might be a good time to review the sequence of events that led to the current state. Since it was possibly one of the most public digs ever undertaken people might be interested to reflect on the various stages Lanky Hole went through. Diaries are a good way to record events. Shame I never kept one. Still, here goes anyway.
The problems with doing a retro-diary are
June '97 (say)
I remember thoroughly enjoying the taxing climb up the original sand bank that existed just up from the bottom of the Lancaster Hole pitch. It involved a couple of crumbling handholds and some back and footing, and an undignified squirm onto the top. Probably a reason why not many people had been up there. Also, the passage (if it could be called that, more like an alcove, the old survey seemed to show just that) didn't go far and just ended in a calcite blockage.
Another visit, primarily to do the climb again but also with a crowbar from another play elsewhere, saw me vandalising the calcite flowstone. It was only a half inch layer on smooth mud which came away quite easily. Before long all the calcite had come away and I was merrily tunnelling into a mud and sand bank.
Sept '97 to Jan '97
After several roof falls, leaving me buried with just my feet sticking out, I had basically emptied the passage up to the point where the existing calcite slope had reached the roof. Inch by inch I was discovering new passage! Great! It was simple reasoning like this that kept me going. Simple! I think that sums me up. The digging was straight forward. I could stand up and dig with our coal shovel, (Marion complained about its disappearance for months,) loading the spoil into the wheelbarrow, (the neighbours are still complaining about that even today,) wheel it to the cliff-top and tip it over. It was easy digging. Abseiling down Lanky Hole with a shovel caused looks of amusement from other visitors but gliding down with a wheel-barrow dangling below me? A good job it was a quiet day!
It was getting to the stage that shifting the spoil was the hardest part of the job. Every time I pushed the wheel barrow back into the tunnel I was hitting my head on the roof. I needed to find a simpler way to do it - dig that is, not hit my head.
A read of Cullingworth's book "Digging in the Dark Ages" showed a Tippler or Flop-Jack system which apparently was a way of getting rid of "Night Soil" in 19th century houses in Bradford. A lone giant Blue Bucket sitting on the top shelf in Bernies was purchased. Bet Steve never thought he would get rid of it and when I explained what I was going to use it for he almost gave me discount! I started collecting copper pipes and bathroom fittings and fire hoses from the hospital. I only hope there is never a fire in Ward One and no-one wants a shower on Ward Four. Marion thought I was finally going to get round to properly plumbing in our own bath at long last.
I spent ages dangling around in Lanky Hole watching all the drips of water and climbing up to where they emerged into the shaft. Then I built spouts and dams and guttering and hung pipes and hoses and cleared the large ledge halfway down to put the Blue Bucket on. It was a muddy slope at first but now it's a lovely clean washed platform. It would make a lovely re-belay for half way up the shaft. I tried to hide the pipes as much as possible to discourage people from interfering with them and also in an attempt to not offend anyone. Several people said to me "It's some kind of a joke isn't it". I also wanted to make sure that I didn't leave any part of the shaft in a dangerous condition. It was amazing how many large boulders were just sitting on mud slopes ready to slide off and plummet down the shaft. Changing the water flows might have unbalanced some of them, so I unbalanced them first. An exciting day was when I shoved a five ton block off the ledge near the bottom. I could see sparks flying around when it hit. I was and still am amazed by people who stand at the bottom of big shafts watching their mates prussiking up, not thinking that anything might get dislodged. I always hide at the bottom of big pitches. I've been in the vicinity of enough pitch bottom Blitzkriegs thank you very much.
Then came the day to install the Blue Bucket. When I got it to the entrance Paul Wilkinson was there. Again, a similar reaction to Steve Rounds" when I explained what I was going to do. "It'll never fit in the top anyway" he said. I must admit I was a bit dismayed when I first tried to push it down the hole, but perhaps with a bit of persuasion it might go. I got inside it and started jumping up and down. It started to slide in. Paul left quickly, not wanting to witness a nasty accident. I thought I'd put my SRT kit on.
Oct '97 to Oct '99
Several weeks of tinkering and tinkling and finally with the start of the wet weather the system started to work. I had the 50 gallon Blue Bucket ensconced on Blue Bucket ledge with three pipes running into it. When this filled it set off a self siphoning system which sprayed a high pressure jet onto the sand and mud face of the dig. On a wet day this was about every 30 mins. A dam on a ledge about 30 feet up Lanky Hole collected water which was fed via a hose into a smaller blue bucket which was suspended in the passage. When this filled it tipped over and dumped about 20 gallons into the sand beneath. The jet was good at releasing the mud and sand but didn't really move the coarser material. The Flop-jack was excellent at removing everything and washing it off down the passage! The dig really started to get going. The cliff disappeared between trips and a big mud slope developed. The Flop-jack knocked a huge hole in the floor which was excellent for filling on digging trips only to be emptied again in-between trips. I loved digging on wet days when the system was really going quickly. When the tippler and jet coincided there was a great crash which echoed up the shaft and a glorious tidal wave of mud washed down onto the floor of Lanky Hole. It was wonderful to hear the shrieks of terror from unaware people who were coming down the pitch and hadn't got a clue what was going on. I always laughed when people came up to me in Bernies or the pub and said "You owe me a new pair of underpants!".
Another thing that kept my interest in the project going was the thought of tidal waves of "Night Soil" gushing down Bradford streets in the same way that my dig was working.
The dig had changed character now. The ceiling to the dig had lowered and impeded progress but the tippler had dropped the floor of the passage to such a remarkable extent that I was still able to get under the roof and squirm along, but the digging face became hard calcite. An enpasse was reached only relieved briefly by a diversion into a small hole in the roof. I thought about giving up. I moved the water works forward and over the next few months the water enlarged the passage so much I was able to eventually walk in and out. All I seemed to be doing now was making the passage bigger and bigger without going forward. I got an idea of how much stuff had been shifted when Dave Edland told me that the Lanky Hole rope was shrinking with use but it didn't matter because I was filling the Shaft up faster than the rope was shrinking. The step up onto the boulder at the base of the shaft used to be shoulder high - now it's only knee high. I gave myself ten digging trips to finish off including pulling out all the water works and tidying up all the mess.
I had removed all traces of the engineering and was now left with just a simple digging face. I was removing hard sharp calcite and dragging it back on a simple digging tray but progress was hard work and slow. I had done my ten trips, taken some photos and was thinking of calling it a day when the working face changed again. The calcite finished and was replaced by soft sand which was very easy to remove. I was now able to progress about ten feet a visit. It was even getting to the stage where I might need some help! Oh no, it would have to mean talking to someone. I don't like asking people to help me dig! They don't seem to share my fascination for what lies under the next shovel-full of mud or the intricate patterns of layers of sand. I always feel I have to entertain them in some other way while they are dragging buckets around. Still I would have to ask someone. I dug out my sparkly costume and brushed up my "Slug Juggling" act and got a few people down to help. The dig soon started to advance again, but people didn't come back more than once.
I lured Matt and his brother down to give a hand. After an hour or so they let me get to the front. I knew something was happening because I didn't have to use the crowbar any more to dig the sand out. I started to shove my hands into the top of the passage and pulled out armfuls. I just shoved it all behind me burying Matt and Robbie. Then my hand went through into open space. I was getting so excited I couldn't breathe. I shone my light through and could see a wall above. I tried to persuade Matt and Robbie forward but they were going to call for an ambulance instead. I put both hands through the hole and pulled down. The roof collapsed and I stood up into the new passage.
Everyone says how nice Slugworld is, but for me it's not big enough! I wanted to run for miles in 10 by 10 metre size passage. Oh well! I suppose the dig at the far end may go further still. I'll give myself 15 digs in there in the New Year.
The nicest things for me are:
Out of all those people who were sat waiting to go back up the shaft when the tidal waves of water were crashing down the mud slope, only very few were curious enough to make the effort to climb the slope to find out what was going on. Usually I knew who they were when they met me up there and they were all people who I know go digging.
Ian Eeles and Samuel Carradice in Slug World shortly after opening