Ever since we visited the Bath Stone quarries in June for the Below Above series of Geocaches I’ve been slightly obsessed with underground caching. It was really just the most magical experience, and after failing to complete the series having only managed to find 2 out of 5 of the caches I was desperate to return to complete the set. The CO, Bareclawz, had kindly offered to be our guide for the visit. I asked quite a few cachers we knew if they wanted to join us on our adventure, but unfortunately most Geocachers were at the UK MEGA in the Lake District that weekend. We were however very fortunate to have the company of Foxscout and The Black Rabbit for our second underground journey in to the quarries, which proved to be a great adventure for everyone. Many thanks to Foxscout for letting me use a few of her photos for this blog entry. She managed to capture a lot more “group” shots than I did. I’ve noted on the photographs which ones are hers. Over the weekend we found 4 geocaches and spent close to 10 hours underground…
Saturday 11th August
The Fallen Monarch/The White Bird
We left home early on the Saturday morning and arrived in the area around mid day just in time to meet the CO and to stop at The Swan pub near by. As the pub is in the area near the quarries the inside was impressively decorated with old tools which hung from the walls.
As Foxscout and The Black Rabbit hadn’t done underground caching before, we started with the two caches that Andy and I had visited on our previous trip, The White Bird and The Fallen Monarch. I’d consider these the easiest ones to start off with. It was a pleasure to revisit the quarries even though we had already found the caches. This time around however, I had my DSLR camera rather than a point and shoot which meant the photos I took were illuminated a lot better. It was in fact our previous trip down into the quarries that had inspired me to get a bit more serious about my photography and upgrade my camera so I was hoping for a good opportunity to test my new skills. We were also joined by “Brian”, a chap who spends a lot of time looking after the quarries by tidying them and cleaning graffiti off of the walls (With a spoon!) He knew the quarries very well so he was able to point out artifacts and parts of the quarries that we hadn’t noticed before.
Soon we had navigated through the the tighter crawling sections of the quarry and were into the heart of it. Having 5 head torches on the go helped illuminate the area so that we could spot the treasures better.
I was also able to get a bit closer to some of the beautiful puddles of cave pearls that covered parts of the floor. The cave pearls in these puddles are formed when a small grain of sand gets rotated in the water (The drips from the ceiling) it spins around getting coated evenly with other grains and slowly turns into a pearl. Beautiful!
Although a couple of sections of the quarry include tight crawls, on the whole it’s a massive area to walk around. It’s unbelievable how much of the stone has been cut away and how many man hours it would have cost to achieve something on this scale!
After our first part of the exploration, we were treated to another look at the old crane that’s still left in this quarry. Still an amazing sight!
We continued our journey from there and very soon Foxscout and The Black Rabbit were able to claim their first Geocache find on The Fallen Monarch.
And then it was time for the real fun to begin! Bareclawz said he’d take us off route to experience “The letterbox” which was a tiny slot which was the entrance to the world’s best slide… A mud slide!!! Bareclawz went first and told us to come down head first. I couldn’t resist and there were many screams of joy and much giggling from me! It was brilliant and possibly my favorite moment of the weekend!!! We emerged through a tiny narrow slot which I was convinced I wouldn’t fit through, but I tried and it was fine after a little bit of wiggling!
Andy had passed on the slot and went another way around to meet us at The White Bird cache to reward Foxscout and The Black Rabbit with their second find for the day!!!
We emerged from the quarry and were immediately hit by an explosion of hot air. It was so beautifully cool inside the quarry that we looked forward to getting into the next one for another cool down! For the time being, however we took a break at the pub in the sunshine and had a chance to review just how muddy we managed to get! Lol! Can you spot the dirtiest girl?!?!?!
Mind the Trains/Multi 1
After our huge success with The White Bird and The Fallen Monarch, it was time to attempt Multi 1 and Mind the Trains. Last time we headed to attempt this quarry on the first afternoon after our DNFs on the other caches. We looked at the entrance and decided that it was too much of a squeeze. Andy thought that there was no way he’d be able to get through! Well, you know what they say? If at first you don’t succeed… Bareclawz slid through the gap to inspire us with confidence so I promptly followed keeping my fingers crossed that Andy would make it, and he did! He was shortly followed by Foxscout and The Black Rabbit and the hardest part was over. The quarry opened up into its massive chambers ready for exploration!
We attempted Mind The Trains first. I guided our party with Bareclawz behind giving hints if we took the wrong turning. In comparison to the previous quarry this one was a real labyrinth. There were hundreds of old mining relics in the other quarry, but nowhere near as many as in this one. This however had its own gems and it was nice to be in unfamiliar territory discovering new treasures.
In this quarry there are also remains of the Stables where horses used to be kept. The rails that can be seen along the ground are not train tracks, but actually wagon tracks for those which the horses used to pull along.
We soon dropped down into “Devil’s Chamber”, as it’s called on the survey! A huge area with satanic graffiti on the walls and a dinosaur which had moved in recently.
We also passed by some crane remains, but nothing nearly as impressive as the crane at The Fallen Monarch.
Whilst we were passing through the quarry and stopping to admire it, Brian was busy removing graffiti from the walls using his trusty spoon! He does a great job of looking after it and preserving the way the quarry used to look for visitors to enjoy.
In this quarry we were treated to masses of stalactites hanging from the ceiling, it was quite incredible how many there were and they covered a huge portion of the roof.
There were very few tools down in the quarry, however we did spot a few nice collections lying around.
I think perhaps the most impressive thing in the quarry is the blue pool. It wasn’t on the cache route, however the CO kindly took us to see it. We couldn’t believe the colour, and floating on top were two ducks. A nice touch! It used to be full of stones, but another caver cleared it out so it’s now just clear and beautiful.
Along with all of these treasures was an ammo can! As cachers, we’re quite used to finding these around, however not quite this rusty and not often this size
It was then off for a look at the “Ferret Cage” where “Brown used to keep his ferrets in 1899″ as was written on the wall next to it.
There was one last treasure to find: The cache! Thankfully it wasn’t too much hard work and Foxscout spotted it very quickly. It was then off for one last detour to the amazing cascading troughs. Although the front trough was cloudy, the back two were clear and full of perfectly good drinking water.
Our mission was complete. It was just a case of getting up the steep slope and then through the tight hole to get out…
When we emerged from the quarry it was quite dark outside and nearly 9pm! I couldn’t believe how time had flown, we completely lost track with all of the exploring. It was then off to the campsite to quickly pitch up the tent in the dark and grab some food, before recharging our batteries for the bigger adventure the following day: The massive Box quarry!!!
Sunday 12th August
On Sunday morning it rained and there was a massive thunderstorm! Underground adventures were the perfect plan… however we first had to take a wet tent down! Eventually we managed to get everything packed away in time with a few minutes to spare to stop off at The Steps to show Foxscout the cache and have a better look at the old Ammunitions depot.
We resisted the urge to walk down the tunnel past the old conveyor belt. Apparently there is nothing down there so we heading off to another pub to meet Bareclawz for our final exploration for the weekend and our final cache, Multi 2. We suited up and off we went…
This wasn’t going to be easy. The surveyed length for the central area of Box that we would be routing around today is over 30km, and that’s just a third of it! Getting lost in here could be very dangerous and my team mates had lots to fear as I was doing the routing again. Being navigationally challenged I took everyone down the wrong route as soon as we were through the entrance. After a few hints from Bareclawz I finally got us back on track and we followed the route through the quarry. There was one particular thing in the quarry that I was looking forward: The Cathedral! This is probably the most famous feature of the quarry and as we approached we could see a glimmer of light shining through. I’d seen photos of the Cathedral online, but nothing prepared me for what it was like in real life. This unusual quarry was formed because it was worked by hand and hauled through the vertical shaft between 1830 to 1850 as the surrounding quarry owners wouldn’t allow access to the stone via their workings. This left the chamber at around 40ft wide, 200ft long, and 80-90ft high!
These shots were so worth carrying a tripod 2.5 miles through the quarry! (I’m saying this on behalf of Andy, the packhorse! ) and were so worth getting my expensive, shiny camera all dusty and dirty (It’s OK, it cleaned up alright!) I was delighted at how they turned out and that all of my recent photography studying had paid off! After taking some time to admire the Cathedral it was time to move on. There were quite a few sections where we had to clamber over rocks in this quarry, however very few sections that we needed to crawl through.
Box is absolutely smothered in graffiti. Many different colour arrows marking routes that people have set, along with the usual drawings you’d expect from kids that had been down there! The old graffiti, however was brilliant and a real treat to see.
Just over half way around we arrived at “Robots” so called because of the little brick characters that have been constructed in the area. I say little… actually one is pretty HUGE!!!! It’s also a good spot to stop for a picnic, which we did.
Another impressive feature were the stone steps which lead up towards an unstable ladder. We didn’t take a trip up them though!
Let’s not forget what we were down in the quarry for though, a cache! We followed our route carefully and eventually ended up in a likely location!
That was our 3rd 5d/5t for the weekend, and the 5th 5d/5t for Foxscout and The Black Rabbit. What an achievement! All that was left was to get out!!! We carried on through a section which the MoD had used. There were strong brick pillars and impressive bricked walls along this section as well as a mighty fine air shaft.
About 3 hours after we entered we finally reached the Exit. It was a welcome sight, however left me feeling quite sad that this amazing experience was over once again!
I’m trying not to think of it as the end though, but just the beginning. Sure, all of the Geocaches here are found, but our visit to these quarries opened up a whole new world of exploration to me, one that I never thought I’d be able to do. It’s not about the caches anymore, I’d happily visit these quarries a hundred more times if just to spot the things I’ve missed (And have another go on the mud slide!!!) Before I found the Below Above series we had only visited a small tin mine in Exmoor, a small quarry, a disused railway tunnel and a few ROC posts, now I have an entire Bookmark list of Underground caches to work through! There are some great underground adventures and caches that I’m really looking forward to, but after all of this there’s one thing I am pretty sure of: I will never find another Geocache nor have a Geocaching experience that is as good as this one. I’m convinced that these are the best caches in the country! I am of course open to suggestions and challenges if someone knows of some which may be better. I’ve been trying to think which of the caches and which of the quarries are my very favorite, but I don’t think I can choose. The Fallen Monarch/The White Bird are full of artifacts and feel like a real journey into the past. The quarry that’s home to Mind the Trains/Multi 1 has so many fun little gems to see: The cascading troughs, ferret cage, and the beautiful blue pool. The quarry that’s home to Multi 2 is just colossal! You could spend weeks exploring it and still not see all of the treasures. It’s definitely the quarry that I’d like to re-visit, especially as I have read that the northern area of the quarry is home to many old artifacts! All together they are the perfect set, and it was the perfect weekend. I’d like to say a massive thank you to Foxscout and The Black Rabbit for being so brave and accompanying us on this trip even though they hadn’t done underground caching before. And a huge thanks to Bareclawz, the CO, for giving up his weekend to take us around. If he hadn’t been there I think we would still be down inside Box trying to find the exit!!! Lol!
Even though we’ve dealt with the unfinished business and found the remaining 3 Below Above caches I’m still not satisfied (Typical woman!? ) and I do want to go back and look around again. I’m a lot more confident with my caving/underground exploring abilities after completing the series, and if anyone wants to go and find those caches then I’d happily come along as company, just give me a shout!
Now, it’s back to wading through nettles and brambles to find caches!!!