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by D. J. Irwin

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!irw (1) 2010 (1) caving (1) field guide (1) GRB (1) history (1) map (1) non-fiction (1) ultb (1) use (1) wrong cover (1) ~ (1)



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Wikipedia defines a swallet as "A sinkhole, also known as a sink, shake hole, swallow hole, swallet, doline or cenote, is a natural depression or hole in the surface topography caused by the removal of soil or bedrock, often both, by water. ... . These terms are often used interchangeably though many will distinguish between those features into which a surface stream flows and those which have no such input. Only the former would be described as sinks, swallow holes or swallets." The cave in question is situated in what was once St Cutherbert's parish, hence the name. I was fortunate enough to able to visit the superb mendip cave late in 2008. ( trip report).

This is the definitive guide to the cave, it's history and the geological processes involved in it's formation. It is printed in an A4 binding rather than a traditional book format, with black and white photos, and a long list of references at the back. These unfortunately aren't footnoted to the text. The photographs really don't show the true beauty of the cave formations. Cave photography has come on leaps and bounds but remains a very difficult subject. However even 20 years ago I'd have expected slightly more impressive photos.

The opening section is perhaps of limited interest many other than those with a personal connection to the cave. It describes the history of it's discovery and the exploration of it's convoluted passages. The excerpts of personal trip diaries go to show just how difficult caving in the 50s was, compared to the easy life with modern technology we have today.

The next section is a presentation of the survey and descriptions of the various passages; a cave guide. In a cave this complicated - at times 10 passages may overlay an elevation! - this is never going ot be an easy task. However I think it would have been clearer for the reader if the relevant survey portion for each described passage was extracted and placed close to the text. The layout of survey portions sometimes pages away from the description sometimes makes understanding the connections quite tricky. However it should be noted that St Cutherberts is a leader only cave, hence no 'tourist' caver will be using this as their sole route-finding guide.

Following the comprehensive description are some thoughts on the hydrology and geology on the cave, mainly based on 60s studies by the initial explorers and the author. Although "the evidence was omitted for clarity" it would have been nice to read a few examples rather than none at all. Of limited interest to the lay reader, this section does explain very clearly why this cave is so complex. The book closes with a few brief paragraphs regarding biology and specimens found in the cave. The appendices detail a lot of references, some of the rescue callouts and the access and leader provisions.

Overall it's a fascinating read for anyone who has been there. It will be of use to someone intending to visit the cave, and interesting reading for all cavers. However given it's specific nature it is probably not an ideal volume for non-cavers. ( )
2 vote reading_fox | Mar 24, 2010 |
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