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Explorations of the Great Caverns of Somerset,
Yorkshire, Derbyshire and elsewhere.

By Ernest Baker and Herbert Balch - 1907.

Sample text :-


"A LAND of caves, whose palaces of fantastic beauty still adorn the mysterious underworld where murmuring rivers first see the light." In these words an imaginative writer describes Somerset, which shares with Derbyshire and Yorkshire the title of a land of caverns. Across it the range of the Mendips, a region of Old Red Sandstone ind Carboniferous Limestone, 1000 feet above tide-level, stretches in a huge, flat-topped rampart for nearly 50 miles, from the town of Frome to the sea. No piece of country in the kingdom offers so much to explore. An abundant harvest is there waiting to be reaped; for on every side are obvious indications of half-buried gateways to the dark and secret pathways to the netherworld, and everywhere upon the surface of the Mendip tableland lie the open pits and hollows which the local speech calls " swallets," that is to say, swallow holes, some of them dry, some actively engulfing streams, but all testifying to untold ages of water action.

This Limestone district lies far from the busy hives of industry, remote and secluded in the very heart of lovely Somerset. Only on the darkest of nights, with the cihe sky, can the glare of the lights of Bristol be seen reflected far to the northward. One main line of railway, the Great Western from Bristol to Kxcter, passes near it, and even thai does not intrude beyond the margin of this Caveland. The rendezvous for tin: cave explorers of the district is usually the quiet little city of Wells, lying calm and secluded under the southern slopes of Mendip, in close' proximity to all the principal caverns. A mile to the south east rises the bold and picturesque Dulcote Hill, a fragment of the most southerly anticline of Mountain Limestone in the kingdom. From this point, rolling northward in a great fivefold anticline, Old Red Sandstone, Lower Limestone Shales, and Mountain Limestone form the great mass of the worn-down stump of the once mighty Mendip range. The extent of the denudation which has taken place indicates that this range was originally at least 5000 feet high, yet now in but a few places is the height of 1000 feet attained, and this is reached only by the Old Red Sandstone ridges laid bare in the prolonged course of that denudation. The first of these high ridges rises boldly to the north of Wells, and a steep climb of 900 feet in two and a half miles brings us to the summit of Ten 11 ill, or Kookham, from which a grand southward view is to be obtained. Immediately below, the three cathedral towers pierce the blue mist hanging over the little < ily we have just left. Beyond, the peat moors of the lime and the Axe stretch away to the Isle of Avalon, sacred as the birthplace of our Christian faith in Kngland. Here below us is that

"Island Valley of Avilion,
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor even wind blows loudly, but it lies
Deep meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard lawns,
And bowery hollows crowned wilh summer seas,"

Here, where Arthur's bones are said to have been found, and where traditions associated with him abound, his memory is kept green in tin: names of many well- known spots; and yonder rises Cadbury Camp, looked upon by many as the Camelot of romance. On the low ridge which intervenes between the valleys of the Axe and the Brue lies Wed more, where King Alfred gained in the Peace of Wedmore such temporary respite from his foes as allowed him to gather strength for the great operations that resulted at last in the conquest and unity of the whole kingdom. Yonder, too, are the marshes of the Parrett and the Tone, around which cluster tales familiar to every schoolchild. In the marshes between the Mendips and Glastonbury, exploration has unearthed a most interesting example of a swamp or lake village, with great store of antiquarian material, throwing a flood of light upon a period of which little was known. Beyond lies Sedgemoor, where in 1685 took place the last battle ever fought on English soil; and throughout this neighbourhood the infamous Jeffreys worked his will in the judicial slaughter of countless Somerset men. In the far distance the sunshine glints on the waters of the Bristol Channel, where, 60 miles away, the bold promontory of the Foreland rises sheer from the sea; to the south, upon the farthest limits of our vision, Pilsdon and Lewsdon mark the descent of our southern counties to the English Channel; whilst, on a clear day, between them is seen the summit of Golden Cap, the base of which is washed by our southern sea. Surely here is as fair a scene as eye could wish to see. Only a pleasant walk away, the great chasms of Ebbor and Cheddar have rent the rocks asunder, forming two of the loveliest ravines in the kingdom. Northward across the intervening syncline of Mountain Limestone, pitted with swallets marking the entrances to many an unknown subterranean labyrinth, are seen the Old Red Sandstone summits of North Hill, crowned with its seventeen Neolithic barrows, and of Blackdown beyond.... '

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