In 1968, I was a student in Dublin, and obtained a job in the ‘Cave Man’ in Cheddar for the summer. The ‘Cave Man’ was a restaurant/snack bar/lounge/bar complex. I travelled there on my motorbike [a Yamaha 80cc].
On arrival I was assigned the job of running the Snack Bar at the exit to the Gough Caves [it is the first floor block in the photo below – Pic 11].
There were a few Irish there that summer, and one of them [Peter Pilkington] features in the story.
July 10th, 1968
On the morning of the 10th, it was a hot and heavy day. By midday, it started to rain. It was the heaviest rain I have ever seen and within minutes, the pavements were overflowing and the road had become a minor river. As the afternoon progressed, the water on the road became deeper, and stones started to be washed down.
As the ground floor entrance to the Cave Man Bar faced up the Gorge, we became concerned. They were steel doors, and were locked with a bar, but Peter and I decided to try to place an old door across the outside to buffer the rocks that were now being washed down the road. In the attempt, Peter was washed away by a wave and managed to grab a building further down the road and clamber back over the roofs. The attempt to barricade the door was abandoned.
At this stage, large boulders were being washed down from the Gorge and the building was taking quite a battering. The water on the road would have been a couple of feet deep at that stage, and with the slope on the road, it was flowing very swiftly.
I was in the downstairs bar when the steel door finally gave way. I managed to fling myself through the kitchens and I reached the back stairs just as the water arrived.
The Cave Man was bounded on one side by a river, on another by the sheer overhanging cliff and by the road, which was now a raging torrent of mud, boulders and water. We were trapped.
We spent that night in darkness, apart from the lightning hitting the cliffs. That was almost continuous, and was the worst I have seen [and I’ve seen quite a few lightning storms!]. Downstairs was flooded to a depth of several feet, and there was a constant crash of rocks falling off the cliff onto the roof. Our main concern was for the structure of the building as it was receiving a bad battering. My overriding memory of the night was the noise of the boulders grinding around downstairs, the rocks bouncing off the roof, and of course the constant thunder. It was not a happy night.
By morning, the rain had stopped, and the water had more or less stopped flowing down the Gorge. However, the underground river in Geogh’s Cave had overflowed and was pouring out the cave entrance, so we were still surrounded by water, and the ground floor was still several feet deep. We managed to escape by making our way up, over the entrance to the cave and down to the village by clambering over the hillside on the far side of the torrent.
When the cascade had subsided a bit from the cave mouth, Peter and I roped ourselves together and entered the caves [I had quite a bit of caving experience], as there was some concern that people may have been trapped inside. Fortunately, everyone got out in time. We then explored up the Gorge. The devastation was incredible. Huge boulders blocked the road and great swathes of road were entirely missing. As the Cave Man had acted as a buffer for the rest of the village, it sustained the worst damage, but the sheer volume of flooding was incredible.
We thought our summer jobs were over, but we were kept on to work on the clearance. It was hard work, and I’ll never forget that smell. My motor bike, incidentally was completely buried under water and rubble. I found it because of the wing mirror sticking up out of a pile. I dug it out, and it worked on the second kick!. That must say something for Japanese motorbike technology of the day.
View down the main road
After the worst had passed. This shot shows why the Caveman got hit so badly
Further down towards the town
The day after the storm
Cleaning up. This is Peter Pilkington [of the acting family]. He ran the bar at the time of the floods. [He also put up the ‘Bar Open’ sign!]
Note the damage to the wall caused by the boulders during the flood.
Normally a quiet trickle of water
What was left of the road up the Gorge
Another view of the damage to the road
The damage inside the Cave Man Bar
The cave entrance [with my Snack Bar on top]
Note that all photos are original with the exception of the last two, which I ‘borrowed’.