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24 March 2004
Ice Age deposits below pub car park

A group of cavers from the Bristol Exploration Club have told how they discovered a vast network of caverns containing Ice Age remains when they agreed to help clear a blocked drain in the car park of the Hunters Lodge Inn at Priddy, in the Mendip Hills (Somerset, England). The cavers had become bored during the foot-and-mouth crisis, which had restricted their access to the countryside and their usual caving venues. But their offer of assistance revealed a natural two-inch fissure that was serving to drain rainwater away from the pub and car park. Team leader Tony Jarrett, 54, says: “We suspected that there was something down there; the water had to escape somewhere.”
     After digging and blasting for two years to create a 6-metre deep entrance hole, the 15-strong team found their way to a 30-metre cavern containing prehistoric bones, stalagmites and stalactites. The hundreds of bones have been identified by the British Museum as belonging to extinct animals, including ancestors of bison and deer, which roamed Britain during the last Ice Age. They are thought to have been washed into the caves nearly 10,000 years ago.
     The Mendips contain some of Britain’s best-known caves, including Wookey Hole and the complex below Cheddar Gorge. The Bristol club have been digging in the area for many years, trying to discover new caves and expand previously discovered networks. Tony Jarrett describes the new discovery as one of the most exciting finds he had come across in 40 years of caving. “We expected something a little less dramatic and were amazed. Every time we found something it was not at all what we expected. It is very rare to discover something like this and it is of huge importance. There are four passages and we know of two or three other systems which run towards the same complex.” For this reason the team believe that they may be close to breaking through into a much larger underground network.
     The caverns have been named the Pewter Pot, the Barmaid’s Bedrooms and Brown Ale Boulevard, in honour of the Hunters Lodge. Many of the bones are on display in the nearby Wells Museum.

Source: The Scotsman (19 March 2004)

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