Swildon’s Nine
Saturday, 22 March 2008

Another late night and plenty of beer resulted in waking up feeling rather grim again. Mendip beer doesn’t seem to agree with me!
Today we planned to go to sump 9, a trip I’d fancied doing since getting a copy of the excellent swildons book. The usual late start plus breakfast in Wells saw us at the entrance to Swildons at around 12.30pm. Steady progress was made down to sump 1, where John and Neville were able to try out their diving masks.

A few minutes later tom, neville and john left the streamway to go through blue pencil while I carried on downstream to the 8m sump 2. The water in sump 2 looked fairly clear when I arrived and I went to the bucket of weights to sort out my weight belt. Returning to sump 2, the vis had reduced markedly.

After a few moments getting accustomed to the water, I dived through. As expected, the sump was very straightforward and vis not too bad. As usual, I dived the flat-roofed sump on my back facing the roof (this also allowed one to avoid hitting a bulge at the downstream end). A few metres of canal then led to a low-airspace duck into a chamber at the start of sump 3. I followed the line across the muddy-floored chamber to where it disappeared down into the gloom.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous now. Sump 3 is around 11m long and 2.5m deep at the lowest point – the most technical free-dive I’d attempted. A good deep breath and I dived in. A fairly steep descent down, under an arch and then a gradual ascent soon saw me in swildons 4. Again the vis wasn’t too bad, and the dive pretty straightforward as I was correctly weighted.
I ditched my weight belt a few metres downstream for my return later and carried on down to the chain at the end of blue pencil to wait for the others. After around 25mins they arrived and we proceeded to sump 4.

The 4-5m Sump 4 looked the least inviting of the sumps and involved lying flat-out in the fast-flowing and by now, murky looking stream before diving through. The first bit is also quite low, but it soon enlarges and I was quickly through to swildons five. Tom came through next, and then we waited for john and neville. Unfortunetly, neville had a bit of a grim time trying to get through the sump after colliding with something, dislodging his mask and having to reverse it. He decided to wait or go out while tom, john and myself continued on.

Swildon’s five is pretty aqueous and gloomy with plenty of ducks leading to sump 5, which is around 10m long but is a series of low airspace ducks separated by small airbells. I went through first and managed to find the most desperate way through with water flowing over my eyes, before shining my light back through the obvious less-desperate bit for tom.
Once past sump 5, we soon arrived at the climb up into the sump 6 bypass. This was mostly crawling sized with a short wet squeeze towards the end. The bypass popped out into the large boulder-filled passage of swildons seven. This was a pretty impressive and large section of passage with a few steep handline climbs and a high chamber where the vertically-dipping beds could be easily seen (eek…..geology…sorry!)

A short, smelly and grovelly bypass allowed access to swildons eight. At the end of this, a climb up and round the corner led to swildons nine, where a bit more boulder hopping led to the impressive sump 9 – our final destination.

Very pleased to have made it here we set off out, passing a couple of divers in swildons seven on the way. Quick progress was made back to sump 4, and swildons four where we found neville waiting. At the chain up into blue pencil, I set off alone to sump 3, which was now sporting soup-like visibility. After attaching my weight belt and giving a few tugs and waiting to ensure the divers had passed I dived in. This time, I could barely see my hands on the guideline, and so took it a little steadier. A gradual descent and then sudden and steep ascent upwards brought me back to beautiful, life-supporting air.

The vis in sump 2 wasn’t quite as bad and as I was looking at the roof, i noticed plenty of bubbles shimmering on the roof due to the divers passing through. After dropping the weights back in the bucket, I set off out, leaving my mask at sump 1 so that the others knew I’d passed by. Soon later, I passed the divers struggling with their cylinders who were a little suprised to see me so soon. Arrived at the surface to a sunny evening after a 5hr trip. The others arrived around an hour later and we returned to the hut for muchos beer.
A fantastic, exciting and varied trip with around 50m of free-diving in total! Definitely one to do again!