Volume 46 Number 4 Article 8
Now when you're told that underground opportunities in the Forest lie on Jon & Liz's doorstep you would be well advised to take this literally... since they do indeed have a well in the driveway no more than a couple of feet from the front door! No one can claim to have enjoyed the full delights of the Forest without a trip down Jon & Liz's very own dinosaur trap. What with depleted numbers (only Ray, Tim and I were left along with the Forster clan) and Ray pleading exhaustion from his daft cycling exploits the day before, it was decided that the 2009 well digging season was overdue and excavations should begin forthwith. To fill you in on the background, when Jon & Liz moved in to their bijou residence they noticed a small depression in the tarmac outside the front door, enquiries soon revealed that this was in fact the final resting place of a now backfilled well that had served the row of miners cottages. Of course this was like a red rag to a bull and rather than patch over the dimple in the tarmac, out came the shovels and rakes and implements of destruction and digging began. Over the years tons of rock, scrap metal and other detritus has come out.
The initial walled section gave way after some 20ft to an ongoing shaft blasted into the solid rock. This must be getting on for 50ft deep now with no sign of a bottom as yet. Anyhow back to 2009, the first phase of operations involves getting the heavy welded grid off the top and setting up the well head hauling rig. Numerous pieces of scaffolding appeared and made their way down the drive and in time honoured fashion four blokes stood about and scratched their bal.. heads and discussed the best way to set up a hauling frame. Eventually two 'A' frames were knocked up and then linked parallel to each other about 3ft apart with various crosspieces to form a stable frame above the well. We'd done a good job apparently, as the previous year the only way to the front door had been through a scaffolding assault course, fun for the kids, but more problematic when the old ladies from across the way popped by for a cup of tea!
Having got the edifice set up, we stood back and admired our work whilst waiting for a brew and talk turned to the thorny question of who was going down the well to do a stint of digging... It was like that famous comedy sketch where people of decreasing size are looked down upon until 'shorty Sam McMuggins' at the end of the line gets shoved down the hole, steeped in certain peril, probably never to be seen again. So off I went to get changed whilst the pumping system was arranged. The previous year a two stage lift had been required with a staging tank that was now at the bottom of the well in 10ft of water. Whilst we were waiting for things to drain I started clearing a couple of jammed bits of wood and then abseiled to the bottom to see how the water levels were. There were still several feet of water to drain before I could do anything useful so I was let out for some air. Pumping continued, albeit slowly and some adjustments were made to stop pipes kinking and lower the head of water that the pump was struggling against, this had the added bonus of keeping the kids occupied with bits of guttering and water drainage fun.
All too soon I could see the edge of the water tank appearing at the bottom so down I went to start clearing. I hoiked the tank out and carefully tried to empty a years accumulation of sludge out whilst working out how to attach a rope to the thing. A 'G' clamp was lowered down as a possible belay hook but I figured that I could safely attach the rope to the drain pipe fitting on the bottom. "Take in" I shouted and prussiked up as the tank rose up the shaft. Approaching the walled section things got tight and I ended up under the tank, this proved to be an error as the tank knocked the wall and I was covered in fetid slime. Getting myself above the tank I emerged like the creature from the black lagoon and a few tugs later the tank was out. There being no rest for candles (the wicked), down I went again only to discover the well dragon waiting for me, lurking on the high pressure pipe at the bottom. Battling valiantly, I managed to scoop the dragon (newt) safely into a bucket for transportation to a waiting pond on the surface. They say that having newts in a well is a sign of clean water but, I wonder, do the newts get out when they want to do their doings???
Anyway, wildlife rescue aside I set to clearing out the bottom of the well. Buckets and buckets of sludge were cleared along with horse shoes, bits of old car, various sections of an old gas cooker, bits of toys that the children had posted down to appease the dragon and Liz’s car keys for a car they no longer owned that she’d dropped some years before. It was getting on time for a tea break... Unfortunately this thought had been pre-empted by my would be jailors and rather than being let out of solitary I was dismayed to see in the descending bucket a small thermos in a plastic bag. Lacking any flat surfaces I hastily constructed a shelf from an old roof tile and some mud and luxuriated in my watery prison sipping tea. Then it was back to work and I started shipping up some of the smaller lumps of rock. The larger ones I stacked ready to go another time. Apparently the normal procedure for the bigger lumps was to drill holes through them, attach a load of them to a rope and haul the lot up once the well was clear of people.
Ray was calling time, what with a long drive back to civilisation, so I cleared the last few bits of scrap and sludge leaving the place clean and tidy for the next victim. Having escaped I went to get changed and discovered a certain little Forster urchin rummaging through my caving gear… strange, I thought. A little later, when James was spotted again, head first in my barrel of gear, enquiries were made and it transpired that the day before young Eleanor had remembered I’d got a BDH pot full of sweeties in amongst my gear. Between the two young’ns they’d systematically ‘borrowed’ pocket fulls of the jellied treats which had been secreted behind the sofa for a midnight feast. The Great Viney Hill Haribo Heist had been foiled, Liz made sure the sweeties were returned with interest and no doubt the recently cleared naughty children’s hole was put to good use later on!