Legend claims that Augustus Toplady was inspired to write the famous hymn Rock of Ages after sheltering at Burrington Combe from a thunderstorm. The Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) organised a brand new walking tour. It set off near the famous rock. The ground was wet (or to be more correct absolutely sodden) from the previous day’s relentless downpours. The conditions did not deter our keen group of ten walkers and volunteer guides.
The new walk is entitled Black Holes of Burrington Combe. It takes in many of the 39 caves, swallets, holes and mine entrances in a 5km walk without venturing into the depths. Our guides shared underground maps to help us visualise each black hole.
Our tour began with a geological explanation. Caves are formed between the junction of impermeable sandstone and permeable limestone rock. The first of our black holes was Plumley’s Hole. It has a huge drop, but was filled in for safety reasons after Joseph Plumley died there in 1874.
Next, we came to Aveline’s Hole. It was found to contain various animal bones, including hyenas, bears and wolves. Archaeological evidence showed that the cave was used as a Mesolithic burial site with a large number of human skeletons.
As we continued our walk, we heard more about local history, including the Iron Age Fort. More recent history conjured up visions of Dad’s Army as the Home Guard camped out in a cave during World War II. The bunks are still there. Named black holes were Goon’s Hole, Lionel’s Hole and Fox’s Hole (Plumley’s Den).
As we climbed to higher ground, we discovered that the footpath had turned into a stream. There are two streams known as the West Twin Brook and East Twin Brook. The West Twin Brook dries up almost completely in summer. We joked that it had turned into a river.
Water disappears underground at East Twin Swallet. The cave seemed full and the surrounding area was swollen with the gushing water. Generally, it takes 6-7 hours for water to travel underground to Rickford and 16 hours to Langford (outside flood conditions).
We continued on to Sidcot Swallet, where there was an old siphon previously used by Bristol Waterworks.
Thank goodness for waterproof boots and trousers. The going was pretty heavy-going through slippery mud at times. It simply added to the fun.
Eventually, after a steep climb up deep, muddy steps, we reached Goatchurch Cavern. This is Burrington’s most popular cave for novice cavers. There were even cavers in the cave during our visit. The main entrance was just around the corner. There had been an attempt to make a show cave out of it in 1903 to rival Cheddar caves. Ladies in crinolines were apparently not keen on the route.
The autumn colours and views were well worth the climb. The earlier mists and gloom had disappeared. We emerged to blue sky and sunshine. Even the bracken looked colourful.
Next stop was at Read’s Cavern, a popular spot with Duke of Edinburgh Scheme campers and Charterhouse visitors. Mendip AONB’s Volunteer Manager turned up with refreshments, biscuits and Cheddar Cheese in a wheelbarrow.
The return journey stopped off at a number of hollows. The end of our walk was rewarded with a clear view across to Wales. The sky was blue on our return to Burrington Combe. My boots and trousers were voted the muddiest. My app said that I had walked 11,106 steps and climbed the equivalent of 23 floors. A good Sunday walk.
© Karen Netto (Andrews) 2018-19.
All the above photos were taken simply with my iPhone (and not the latest version at that) without any changes using PhotoShop.
These pages illustrate my love of plants, botany, nature, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. I love sharing. This blog is a showcase for my own photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics.
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