BABYSITTERS DIG - Easter / May Day 2000

by Chris Grimmett

Our shelter from the stormy blast .....

The new shelter, now bolted up and properly installed

The unusual proximity of Easter and the May Day bank holiday weekends just one week apart, provided a good opportunity for some sustained progress. This was the latest Easter for 57 years and so the combination is unlikely to happen again very soon, but bearing in mind the time scale of the dig so far, we should at some point in the future be staggering up the hill on our zimmer frames for another two successive bank holiday Mondays.

The wettest April since the early 1800s had saturated the ground to an even greater extent than usual and it was not possible to get the vehicles up to the dig with the heavy kit. Instead, the winch, generator and pump had to be manhandled up the last section. Interestingly, the dig had continued to drain and held only 800mm depth of water, which was pumped out in under an hour.

The shelter, seemingly sold on by the government after the war as a sheep shelter, had previously been installed in only a temporary fashion. It was now bolted up and set into its final position, necessitating some dismantling of one of the spoil heap walls to increase the available width. This exercise usefully released some large stones for further wall building.

Over Easter, some downwards progress was made, following the same line as before, but now in a vertical shaft of about 4m2 area and trending straight down. The digging point now lies directly under the woodwork installed above to prevent the massive hanging death in the rift on the far wall of the shaft from an untimely descent onto the diggers. The material in the floor is still the infill of mud and small stones that we have been digging through for the last few metres.

Winch modifications

The winch that had been providing sterling service for a long time with minimal maintenance finally decided that it needed some attention. During the week between Easter and May Day, the cable, which had become damaged, was replaced with a stouter non-twisting type which was a relic from the SWCC expedition to the Balinka Pit many years before.

In an attempt to discharge the exhaust fumes away from the lungs of the winch operator, the exhaust system was modified (see picture) and a computer designed tuned extension fitted. On the dynamometer, this was found to increase the engine power output by at least 0.0005 b.h.p.

Further work was done to correct one or two other faults and the winch returned up the hill in readiness for the second weekend's work.

..... and our eternal home

Before the next digging session, the last remains of the shelter were brought up the hill and the original structure extended at both ends to provide more space inside. A quantity of fairly liquid spoil was poured into the gap between the shelter and the adjacent spoil heap walls to cement it firmly into place, not that it was likely to blow away.

Even as the final pieces were bolted into place, the weather gave us a sharp reminder of why we were erecting a shelter in the first place.


Winch, showing advanced exhaust system

Deeper still, and deeper .....

Simon's tool being inspected for damage

The next digging sessions made excellent progress, aided by Simon's tool. This new weapon in the armoury is best described as being like a pogo stick without the spring, but is in fact a modified earthing spike with a hardened tip. It has proved to be very effective at breaking up the small stones/mud fill that is so difficult to dig with shovels and increased output considerably.

Once again, Sam Moore was set to work installing more wood to hold back the loose material in the rift which constantly threatens to fall in and cause trouble. The increasing depth meant that the previously adequate access ladder was now well short and the spare ladder had to be used in order to get in and out of the dig.

Altogether, the digging over this period dropped the shaft base by about 1 metre, to a depth from datum of 15.5 metres. For those not already impressed by the size of the undertaking, it was pointed out that the Babysitters shaft is now deeper than the entrance pitch into Pant Mawr pot.

The project is now taking on the scale of a major undertaking. Up to now, the removal of spoil has been made easy by the verticality of the main shaft. Now that the digging point is trending gently away into the rift, the bucket lift is a diagonal one and the loads are fouling on their way up. This can be temporarily overcome by the use of a tailing rope to guide the buckets at the start of each lift, but in the future, something more sophisticated will be needed.

Similarly, communications between the diggers and the banksman/winch operator are now more difficult and we will be looking into a signalling system to complement the new digital bucket counter.

The area at the top of the shaft is also seeing considerable wear, and some of the original timber dating from 6 years previous, is beginning to rot. Plans are getting under way to concrete the unstable areas and materials are being obtained.

The next digging is scheduled for the end of May holiday weekend.


The shelter will ultimately be covered in
Surprisingly, and despite considerable rainfall during the preceding week, the water level in the bottom of the dig was very low at about 400mm. This was soon pumped out and with just four people, another 500mm of depth was gained. Overnight, incoming water built up to about 300mm and on the second day's work this had to be baled out before digging could commence.

The rapid increase in depth had once again exposed a loose face on the West side of the shaft and John Lister was called in to work magic with pieces of wood and stabilise the situation so that we could progress with a higher degree of safety than previously.

Sufficient material was extracted to cover most of the shelter so that we could begin to make it less obtrusive and have it blend in with the rest of the spoil heaps. The shaft itself continues to drop vertically, and interestingly the infill now contains a larger proportion of bigger rocks, which is making it easier to dig.

We hope for more progress now that the dig is draining water to this degree, even if it is not yet gurgling out through the bottom.