Irish caves book wins Tratman award


A guidebook on Irish caves has won the prestigious Tratman Award for 2019.

The Caves of Mid-West Ireland, edited by Graham Mullan on behalf of UBSS, was the unanimous choice of the judges for the award in memory of EK Tratman, an influential figure in British and Irish caving, who died in 1978. The SWCC newsletter was also a strong contender among the commended titles.

The award is handed out annually for a caving-related, paper-based publication to recognise excellence and encourage future improvement. The current award covers 2019 publications and was judged by Joe Duxbury, Ric Halliwell, Chris Howes, Alan Jeffreys and Martin Mills. Ric, who has helped to judge the award on 12 occasions, has stepped down following the conclusion of the 2019 round.

The judges also mentioned Graham’s involvement with the UBSS Proceedings, which they described as a long-term, highly praised and superbly produced academic title devoted to caves and their archaeology and exploration, which itself might have otherwise challenged the other commendations.

“It is a pleasure to see that the award for 2019, judged solely on the merits of the publication that was edited by Graham and published by UBSS, by coincidence of timing has gone to the society in its anniversary year. And Tratman himself would surely have been proud to see the award that is made in his name going to the society with which he was so closely associated,” said Chris.

The award, first given out for the publications of 1979, was originally administered by the Ghar Parau Foundation when the foundation was a sub-charity of BCRA, but since 2019 (presenting the 2018 awards) when the foundation became an independent charity it has been directly awarded by BCRA. The judges are independent of the association and not only look for a high standard of writing and information content, but also factors such as the publication’s layout, print quality, binding and availability.

The judges produced a long list which was then whittled down to those receiving a commendation. This finally produced the following titles in order of author or editor, together with comments from the judges:

The Archaeology of Underground Mines and Quarries in England

“Covering a specialist subject, John Barnatt’s work – published by Historic England – offers very thorough explanations of how, why, when and where underground minerals and stone were extracted. The lists of references are comprehensive, and the production values and information content remain high on every page.”

Irish Speleology (24)

“Appearing in the commended listing yet again, Irish Speleology, under the editorship of Peter Barry and Alasdair Kennedy, has continued to maintain its outstanding level of excellence in issue 24. The blend of exploration, overviews, archaeology, geology and other sciences ensures that the content will appeal to a wide readership, with the design, reproduction and binding all high quality.”

The Earth Beneath My Feet

“An exquisitely unusual publication by artist and writer Annie Farrer with cave diver John Cordingley, The Earth Beneath My Feet was published within the Stories in Stone community project with a donation from each copy going to cave rescue. This is primarily an art-based presentation that is intended to encourage readers to see details in the land that they might otherwise have passed over.”

SWCC Newsletter (136)

“The newsletter from South Wales CC is more akin to a perfect-bound journal and is well presented. It covers a wide range of subject matter, from home-turf explorations to expeditions plus intelligible science, all liberally spread with photos and surveys that are printed and displayed to great effect. This title has gone from strength to strength under the editorship of Elaine and Bob Hall and is a credit to the authors, editors and club, demonstrating what is attainable by a focused group.”


“Robert Macfarlane’s Underland is an unusual offering, with thoughtful writing and imaginative descriptions of his explorations, which are many and varied. Cavers will readily recognise character types and are able to follow up Macfarlane’s ideas using useful chapter notes and a bibliography. While not being written for cavers, it is nevertheless very suitable for a caving readership.”

Caves of Mid-West Ireland

“In this latest guidebook to Irish caves – expanded by reason of area as well as sites – editor Graham Mullan, on behalf of the University of Bristol SS, has taken the publication to an extremely high level of presentation and quality of content. The amount of work involved must have been extreme, and it shows.”

The Caves of Northumberland

“That a new caving guide is produced is excellent, but Chris Scaife has gone one step further in researching and publishing a guide to a ‘new’ area, documenting the sites within it in fine detail, making them more readily accessible to other cavers.”

Bumbling in the Dark

“Bryan ‘Scoff’ Schofield’s posthumous collection of reminiscences, brought to the printed page after editing by Dave Ryall and financed by his club, the Bradford PC, forms not only a tribute to this noted cave diver but also reflects his quirky sense of humour. Bumbling in the Dark offers a superb read and will be an inspiration to future cavers.”

A wide range of material was considered, including club newsletters and journals (and articles within them) as well as books. The judges noted that many club publications have morphed into high-class productions at what seems to be an accelerating pace. In future years, although this has always been within the judging criteria, additional attention will be paid to improvements in periodicals – that is, maintaining a high standard is important but increasing the quality of the writing, layout and production will come under additional scrutiny.

Alan Jeffreys, one of the judges, noted the steadily increasing production values of club journals and newsletters.

He said: “Access to desktop publishing software has permitted huge strides away from the old smudgy, duplicated newssheets of yesteryear, and is the reason some club publications are included in the shortlist.  I could mention several others of equal quality.

“Future years seem to promise the judges immense amounts of angst and grief since new books are appearing in exponential numbers, all of a high enough standard to be considered for Tratman. It’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry – but keep them coming!”

The award is also recognised with a hand-crafted trophy made annually by artist Ceris Jones. In a normal year the Tratman Award announcement and presentation would take place during the Hidden Earth conference, which has been cancelled because of restrictions imposed by the pandemic. The presentation will now happen at a future date.

A review of the winning book may be found here.