Caves In English Bicknor by Paul Taylor

Caves in English Bicknor with Paul Taylor

Meeting of 9th June 2011

Paul got hooked on caves at the age of 13, when a weekend at Bracelands required ‘bring spare clothes, you will get dirty’ and they were taken down an iron mine. Caving has taken him around the world, but he keeps coming back to the Forest of Dean, which – as he revealed to us - has some world class caves.

In the 1950s only seven caves were known in the Forest, and the area was described as ‘disappointing’. But some initial digging on Dryslade Farm was followed by the 1956 establishment of the Gloucester Speleological Society, then, in 1964, the Royal Forest of Dean Caving Club. It was clear that the streams seen disappearing into the ground would emerge somewhere having tunnelled through the rock, but where and could you cave it? Dyes were used (the trout farm at Hewelsfield was turned green!) and a number of streams across the English Bicknor area were found to emerge at ‘Slaughter Resurgence’ on the River Wye near the Biblins. Unhappily, years of digging by Sparky (Dave Parker) and others got no further.

In 1974 Otter Hole Cave near Chepstow was discovered after a chat in a pub with a couple of salmon poachers who were using the cold cave to store their catch. At 4km long with stunning stalactites and stalagmites it put the Forest of Dean on the caving map.

1991 finally saw the breakthrough at Dryslade, with 14km of cave passage opening up from Wet Sink, including ‘The Chunnel’ section which runs straight and wide 300 feet under Bicknor Street. Remains of prehistoric animals that had lived in our area before us were found, including auroch (huge cattle), beaver, hippo and mammoth. Also found at times is evidence from the overflow of Joyford Pumping Station, leading one cave section to be named ‘Condom Passage’. This is the 10th longest cave in the UK and caving is as good as anywhere.

Next, work started at Redhouse Lane Swallet where two streams went underground. After major work to open up and stabilise the entrance, the team found 2km of caves. Our third major cave is Big Sink near Symonds Yat at 1km long, which includes ‘Formations Passage’ (with great rock formations) and ‘Yorkshire Pot’ – a chamber almost 100 ft high.

Paul finished with a video taken whilst caving from Wet Sink. We saw unique footage of trout living in the caves, and were told he had found bat guano so ancient that the insects in it no longer live here. We’re looking forward to his next film: Otter Hole Cave.