THE TRUTH ABOUT THE COLONNADES By Dave Pickup
In January 1965 it was reported to the Council of Northern Caving Clubs that the tallest of the Colonnades in Lancaster Hole, had been smashed by vandals. People have asked. “But how does one smash a six inch diameter piece of calcite?“ The answer is, they tried to climb up it. The sides of the Colonnade were scored by tricouni's.
The Club decided, reluctantly, as they do any act of labour, to repair this fallen pillar. A meeting was called to suggest ideas for repairing the column. Amidst such witticisms as jam, or scrape out the inside of Oggies sleeping bag, we decided on recruiting the help of CIBA Ltd., who manufacture the Araldite range of Epoxy resins CIBA were approached and recommended Araldite GY252 resin and X85/144 hardener and a filler of marble flour, this combination being devised specially for low temperature work. We were very pleased to receive free samples from CIBA Ltd...
We arrived at Bull Pot Farm early one February morning to find Derek Brandon of the Royal College of Advanced Technology waiting there for us, anxious to get started. The entrance pitch was soon laddered and all the tackle transported to Colonnade Chamber. A couple of the lads commenced matching the five broken pieces, laying them on polythene sheets and cleaning them. Everybody else generally supervised that. It was obvious that when the top sections of the column were to be placed in position, some form of hoist would be needed. Anybody who has trekked through the hole must have seen there the untypical cave decorations, in the form of iron ladders. One of these uprooted and leant against the wall made a perfect gantry.
The resin and hardener had been pre-packed and weighed in polythene sachets. The reason is simple. It's bad enough to try to weigh accurately, Araldite and pour it into sachets in the middle of our hostel with the rest of the Club around. In a cave with mud and water for everyone to play in, it would be impossible!
The mixture was spread onto the corresponding pieces, which were manoeuvred into position. After amusing ourselves for half an hour or so, to give the Araldite time to bond, the next piece was placed in position. By now the column was some eight feet high, so safety precaution splints were fixed on the joints. Not so much because the column was top heavy, much to the contrary, we found it in perfect equilibrium, but to safeguard against any accidents occurring. After some nine hours of hard work, stopping only to devour a
rather doubtful looking stew which had been carried all the way in lovingly by Derek Brandon of RCAT-CPC and brewed on a stove in the inlet passage. The column was complete except for the three inch long straw which was reputed to join the column on the ceiling. Because none of our Club is experienced in the handling of delicate straws, it was decided unanimously to insert Kenny Taylor in the space. However he didn‘t want to go, so we had to make do with a piece of fallen stalagmite about one inch in diameter which was chipped to length. I climbed the ladder, posing for photographs every foot, and placed it expertly in position. On my return to the ground, this piece of calcite heeled over and struck one of the lads below. But we were not to be put off by this, it was placed in position again and to my knowledge is there to this day.
I, at first had nightmares of a big exposure in the Speleologist about the hoax we were trying to pull on the caving world, but after the first six months my worst fears appeared to be groundless. It seems the entire caving world was up in arms about the theft of some drainpipe in Swildons.
To you lads down South a moral can be learned from this story. If the Swildons pipe had been fixed with Araldite, there would have been no theft and hence no space was needed in a good magazine! But seriously, great satisfaction was gained from repairing the Colonnade — it was over a year ago when I returned to Lancaster Hole to inspect our work and I must admit I felt very proud to have helped to rebuild it. With the co-operation and technology of industry coupled with hard work on the lads part we have renovated surely Britain's most spectacular cave formation, and we are proud of it.
Incidentally, another interesting point is that CIBA Ltd, asked us to photograph the repair. This was done by Jim Cunningham and the photographs‘ were used by CIBA for advertisement purposes. In payment for these they sent £5 to the Cave Rescue Organisation, as well as paying Jim's expenses, so the repair also helped the C.R.O.