Rob Eavis, Luke Cafferty - 12/05/2016

In an attempt to understand better the development of the Pilgrim’s Way phreatic tubes around Oxlow Caverns, we went for a relatively leisurely wonder. Up the pull through and for the first ever time we went left, leading through a muddy dig to a junction. Straight ahead is through a tight squeeze, flame-gunned by Ben and John in 76, but left now provides an easier bypass. This area is on the vein, only a few meters above the roof of West Antichamber, and various holes in the floor prove fun to safely cross.

The other side of the vein the tube continues for 30m still in good size until it reaches the lofty Eyrie. This is a balcony overlooking West Chamber from the south side, ~25m up. Looking up from here is Oxford Aven, an impressive and alluring sight, especially knowing it was climbed for nearly 100m.

On from the Eyrie the tube continues, albeit quite a bit smaller. This has been dug, by the original discoverers and probably subsequent teams also. Oddly, upon reaching the dig face it was possible to squeeze into the airspace above the silt and see into a chamber beyond. 10 minutes of digging, the last 2 of which with a spade that Luke found, brought us access to the opening. This is in fact another balcony overlooking West Chamber, now named the Eyrie Fairy. Why previous diggers hadn’t done this last little bit is a mystery to me. Even if you know it’s going to pop into West Chamber (via voice, torch light, etc), surely you do it so you can have a good look around that section of the chamber? Certainly no one had sat on the Eyrie Fairy before! 

However for me this is a key location. It is Oxlow’s furthest upstream passage on the Pilgrim’s Way bedding, and so should be able to offer significant clues as to the origin of this stage of development, and whether there is a link onwards towards Sidetrack and Convenience? Luke sat on my legs whilst I leveraged my body out over the edge to see if anything goes off along the bedding plane to the West but this was inconclusive, it really needs a bolt or two to check around the corner. However checking the dictionary for Airy Fairy, maybe I am being “impractical and foolishly idealistic“?

We turned about and headed back, checking every hole on the way. For fun I took the old squeeze route and it is indeed pretty snug. We pulled down the pull-through and setup for stage two of the trip.

Directly opposite Pilgrim’s Way is a passage that cannot be reached by any other route. A little research brought up no information about the tube so our plan was to repeat the bolt climb. Luke needed the training for forthcoming expeditions so set about and in 30 mins and 8 bolts later he was up. Unfortunately the crawl is small so he had to dive in with all his gear attached, grunt and squirm his way along until he could de-kit and just about turn around, before returning and putting in the last bolt and rerigging to allow me to follow him up. 

It is indeed an annoying place. Half small phreatic, half meandering vadose incision, it’s not particularly small just awkward. Unexpectantly it heads left (East) straight away, suggesting you’re heading downstream at least for the phreatic’s development. There is a corresponding passage heading right at the top of the pitch (presumably the upstream contingent), but it is full of sediment. 

After maybe 20m there is a junction. Right is where the vadose has come from, but it’s too small to get up. One could easily hilti cap off each and every corner, but it’d be slow progress. Left is the direction of only the phreatic and it gets muddy and small straight away. According to the 1969 survey this continues for a short distance before getting too small, heading towards East Chamber.

However by this point Luke had had enough, and I’d had enough of his cursing, so we decided to leave it for today and to return to survey and push the last bit next time. We left the cave rigged, in preparation for the Oxlow Giants 50th celebration next weekend. 


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