One Man and his Dog

(or in this case – Shetland Attack Pony)


How did this start and why? I don’t remember now but I do know when, 18th October 1992, or at least that’s the date on the survey that has my name on it. Actually, I’d already been involved in a bit of surveying earlier in the year but only as a body to be moved along the passage or left behind as in County Pot to allow the surveyors to find their way back. On that trip with Anne Hodgson, Andy Hall and Alan Richardson I’d been there just to take some photos and finished up getting very cold and worried until their return, because I didn’t know where we were.


I guess you could say I kind of drifted into the survey and was left holding the poison chalice after a succession of disasters and ‘bottled-it’ people had done their bit.

The original complete Ease Gill survey by Pete Ashmead was beginning to look a bit of a ‘hotchpotch’ on Bull Pot Farm boiler room wall with all the additions added on. Frank Addis took on the challenge with his partner in crime, Julie Mundy, and set about County Pot with gusto. The main stations were recorded using a camera but as the flash was on camera some of the shots were muddy fingers pointing at muddy rock, in muddy chambers, a problem for us following in his footsteps. At about the same time Slug and Phil Pappard et al were charting their way through the High Level passages from Lancaster Hole toward Stop Pot.


The data that was collected was being fed to Anne Hodgson and filed in various folders and recorded in exercise books. Sooner or later this was going to have to be dealt with and it was decided to give a program called SMAPS a chance. The idea was to feed in the distance, bearing and clinometer readings to the software and it produced the straight line of the survey. Until then the coordinates were worked out by slide rule, logarithms or the newly acquired calculators all very laborious methods and then drawn to scale on graph paper. With SMAPS it was easy until the data started to add up, then the program couldn’t handle the loops which created masses of mathematical juggling, the whole thing ground to a halt. The same thing happened to the newer SMAPS II and by now people were really getting annoyed with having to input all the data only to have the thing crash.


The solution came in the form of the saviors from SURVEX, those clever people designed a system that allowed as much input as we could get and even added some of our requests, brilliant! Now we could produce a straight-line survey and see where everything connected with ease.

Peter Grant (RRCPC) started to input the data into his computer while at work for White Scar Cave(s) when we were slack. I worked there with him for a short time; some of you know why I’m now persona non grata at White Scar, so I was able to shout the numbers while he typed. This is where it all fell apart. Pete fell out of favour in the Dales and moved overnight to pastures new leaving me with all the data, floppy disks, photos and his survey instruments, well they weren’t really his anyway, what a surprise!


The general consensus among those involved was that we needed to get the straight line between Lancaster Hole to Top Sink surveyed first then the inlets. As most of this had been surveyed it didn’t seem a problem but when we started adding known loops like Wretched Rabbit and County Pot things began to fall apart. The loop errors were quite high and the junctions just didn’t seem to be in the correct places in all three planes, so began the re-re-surveys. Wretched Rabbit had been completed from entrance to the County Pot junction in 1989, on an epic fourteen hour trip by me, Christine Bleakley and Pete Grant and so we put County Pot first on the list. Up until then this obvious starting place had been made up of several survey trips joined together, but we were going to attack it in one go, straight through at least. So it was that on the 13th July 1996 Sue Smith, Dave Ryall, Jim Stevenson and I set off from the entrance to Eureka Junction. In retrospect this was an unwise decision as we didn’t draw anything, well it had already been done, and after all the original survey wasn’t bad. This led to a re-re-re-survey at a later date as we decided to publish our efforts from the surveys and had to draw all the passages from the surveys done, oops! This relatively simple bit of surveying took almost eight hours and the group were very cold at the end even in fairly dry conditions.


As an important issue we were trying to fix the entrance positions of not just Ease Gill Caves but the whole Three Counties System. It seemed a fairly ambitious move but if we surveyed all the Ease Gill bit then, if others surveyed the remainder, we could look for connections and digs that would yield results, maybe! Pete Grant and me set of over the fell with compass, clino and tape and managed with a little help from our friends to create loops around Ease Gill, Leck Fell and Kingsdale. Pete Grant and I got some strange looks from motorists as we surveyed from Tow Scar down the road to Yordas. Now some of the younger of you reading this will say why didn’t they just GPS the entrances? Three reasons really, one, at that time the military had a lock on the signal and wouldn’t allow accurate readings, two, some of the entrances are under overhangs or in deep shakeholes, three, we didn’t have one.


We did try to laser sight between points but on the day we’d arranged all the equipment to arrive it was blowing a gale and so the signal bounced all over the place, frustration. The next time we used a laser theodolite it blew a gale and there was a freezing constant drizzle at least we did get some result but not the expected 1km legs more like 20 to 30 metres, hay ho! At least we’d worked out that if the above and below ground surveys all linked then that was what we really needed irrespective of whether they fitted the new Google Earth, Memory Map or not. Over several years we logged up 38km of surface survey, flogging through bogs, being eaten alive by midges in our effort to locate our caves. One evening after work Hugh St. Lawrence and I surveyed our way from Yordas Cave in Kingsdale to Leck Fell House in the gathering gloom with an increasingly cold and strengthening wind, deep joy. We finished up having to hold the tape at ground level otherwise risk taking off and ending in Dentdale. Several loops of surface survey were made on Leck and around the gill in an attempt to fix entrances. Lee York actually levelled a lot of the entrances in the gill which gave us very accurate heights to go with our more accurate positions.


Underground things were still getting cocked-up with what at first sight would seem to be rudimentary errors, but then that’s only if you think a survey team consists of highly trained and motivated individuals and not a set of mad cavers as they usually do. One of the best involved a team surveying from Oxbow Corner to Fall Pot down the streamway. After a certain number of legs, yet to be ascertained, the instrument reader realised that there were % and degree readings on the clino and started reading the correct scale, big oops! They didn’t note when they changed over so the whole lot had to be surveyed again.  I had the misfortune of trying to survey from Assembly Hall to Holbeck Junction with a well known Dr Who character. After the first half hour was wasted as he tried to get a compass bearing out of the clino I was less than sure about the accuracy of our work and the whole thing had to be repeated, as in most cases of surveying, enthusiasm needs to be tempered with common sense.


There have been some amazing trips involving great discomfort either of the wet/cold or tight/nasty or loose/dangerous variety. Some of our members have fallen foul of the misinformation trick as was the case on 17/11/2002 when Andy Whitney foolishly accompanied me down Pool Sink thinking that we were just surveying to the bottom of the pitches and not as we did to Holbeck Junction, only 10 hours, stupid boy! (Said in a Captain Mainwaring voice)


Then there was the time that Mark Savage, Ben Shaw and me surveyed through the Wallows from Link to Pip. Now that was really cold, as we were wet from the start, with a howling draught and the instruments kept misting up. We took hours while lying in cold water and got severely hypothermic, we knew this because we actually started laughing uncontrollably, not a good sign.


Or the time Hugh St.Lawrence abseiled out of Sideline Passage with our survey notes stuck down his front only to find that the last few hours notes had rubbed off on his furry suit, oh dear!


Some of the nether regions of Ease Gill have involved serious trips and then surveying so a lot of credit has to be given to those who surveyed pieces like Montagu South, Woodhouse Way, Arson Shaft, Booth-Eyre and parts of Top Sink. Some of these are a hard enough trips in their own right without spending hour glued to a compass or trying to write without getting the paper more covered with mud.


With the building of the Shetland Attack Pony and then the Mendip Karate Otter by Phil Underwood, both electronic compass/clino combinations, and the loan of a laser distance measurer form the CNCC, the rate of surveying took a leap forward. Unfortunately, this wunderkind is now broken so it’s back to compass and clino for us surveyors.


We’ve surveyed all but one passage on the Casterton side of the gill and an awful lot of the Leck side, minus the Grind, so things are still looking quite good. Roll on the next twenty years.

Ray Duffy


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