Owert Kilns- the saga continues





Over a few years Iíd visited Jimís dig up in the field next but one to the farm and marvelled at the industry that both he and Lionel had put into the ground. However, I did notice that they tended to throw stuff out of the shakehole only to have it run back in and undo all their hard work. When they had eventually given up the ghost Andy Walsh visited the site and did his best to make it stock-proof and left.

Having exhausted all the possibilities in Avon Pot, Sam and I were looking for a new project and I remembered Owert Kilns, so thatís how it all began, again. Not wishing to have the whole shakehole descend upon us we opted for scaffold, clamps and solid boarding as we carefully remove a litany of fibre glass sheeting, aluminum bars, plastic buckets, hardboard and chipboard almost all in various stages of decay.

Water constantly poured into the dig from a tiny waterfall just at the west side of the shakehole and made digging unpleasant, although Sam seemed to like having his right hand glove constantly filling up with cold water, numpty! I decided this was not necessary and fashioned a tub as a collector and fed the water down a pipe so we could direct most of the unpleasantness somewhere out of the way. Digging was easy and stuff flew out of the hole and carried up the slope to our walled depository at the top of the shakehole, for later return when weíd finished. The removal of waste was helped on occasion by Andy Whitney and Andy Hall but the majority was removed by just Sam and I.


Down we went and eventually a hole appeared and we were soon at a small passage heading roughly south-ish. The slope down to this needed stabilising so Samís skill as a Waller was brought into action and we had a nice entrance. The small passage sloped steeply downward and needed a little enlarging and stepping. Digging out the steps led to a small but noisy collapse of some of our wall leaving one edge hanging in space so Sam had to slide through the small gap in our little passage and into the small chamber below the entrance to shore everything up. A tiny bit of persuasion was needed to make the slide through Duffy-sized but we were now at the top of a narrow rift. Below we could see a drop but it was partially blocked by very large boulders and a very big cobble.

We needed more scaffolding to shore up one side of the drop as although one wall was solid the other was undetermined. Sam did a good job of rearranging some of the rocks into place to strengthen the loose wall but the scaffold made fairly sure it would all just squash anyone below. By this time weíd been joined by the excellent Philip Withnall who climbed to the surface and sawed the tubes to length, brilliant. The next visit our nemesis, the big black cobble was dispatched by Sam thanks to Mr Hilti and down he went to push the bottom of the rift, returning a little whiter-faced with tales of a small Chamber of Horrors but also a small clean-washed passage. This passage needed work to get into but looked promising.


The surveying trip saw me attempt to get down to the very end, quite entertaining with one useless arm but I confirmed the existence of the Chamber of Horrors and Samís enthusiasm for the small passage. However, in the intervening week our surface scaffold had moved downward at one side lending credence to our belief that the whole north side of the shakehole was on the move, also cracks were appearing in the turfs on the slope, worrying is it not. We were forced to try and wall right up to the top of the scaffold to prevent a major collapse, too late. I started to continue our lower wall further up the side of the scaffold but was finally thwarted by two huge plastic palettes one inside the other. Hauling them out didnít work as they were pinned under tonnes of earth so while Sam was on his Norwegian Holiday, Philip assisted by myself managed to drill and saw enough away to build the wall to a higher level.Just as we were leaving for the night that side of the shakehole refused to defy gravity and slumped. Fortunately, we had built a staging across the hole with scaffold bars and wood to stop anything blocking the entrance should something untoward should happen and it just had.

I spent three days in very wet weather trying to beat the shakehole but it was winning as huge turfs, boulders and earth rained down as I struggled to build a wall with continuous gravelanches and the occasional boulder slumped into the hole.


Ray Duffy


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