Tratman Award for 2021: Rick Stanton takes the prize.

Rick Stanton at Hidden Earth 2018
Rick Stanton at Hidden Earth.


The publications of 2021 were particularly fine, both in quality and quantity, causing the shortlist for the Tratman Award to be much longer than usual. The award is made annually to the author or editor of the best caving book, journal or article in a journal, the criteria including not only the quality of writing but also factors such as binding, presentation, entertainment value and worth to the caving community by reason of content, availability and – in the case of a journal – improvement on prior editions.

To be considered for the award, publications must have a specific association with Britain or Ireland, for example by reason of nationality or country of publication, and for 2021 one title lying outside these provisos was singled out as deserving a special mention given its links with British cavers and clubs. Congratulations go to Thomas Arbenz for his editorship and production values for the third volume in the Cave Pearls of Meghalaya series.

The independent judges (Joe Duxbury, Chris Howes, Alan L. Jeffreys, Martin Mills and Linda Wilson), having come to a decision, report this to the award’s sponsors – BCRA – which funds the trophy. This is made by Ceris Jones as an original piece of artwork representing the winning title and is retained by the author.

For 2021 the long shortlist was reduced to the following, all of which receive a commendation:

Peter Burgess for Penwyllt, a self-published record of research into the area and industries surrounding the headquarters for South Wales CC and Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, now in its second edition. Praise for this work has arisen from several different directions.

Dave Gill for More Journeys Beneath the Earth, the continuing and extraordinary autobiographical story of one of Britain’s most experienced cave explorers, much of which relates to his work and influences in Malaysia including the Buda and Mulu national parks. The first volume of the set was equally commended in 2020.

Peter Kokelaar for All Our Own Water, another example of a self-published work and a hugely impressive one with a broad scope encompassing the caves and karst of the Gower peninsula in South Wales. Peter details not only recent and historical explorations, but much original research and theories of the area’s hydrology.

SWCC 75th Anniversary Publication edited by Andrea, Beth and Tim Lewingdon. The SWCC Newsletter was also commended in 2019 and 2020; this latest production has taken the presentation a step further by appearing in three volumes of very high standard, covering a wide range of both specific and general subjects.

The cave rescue in Thailand involving so many British cave divers resulted in two of those in the lead, Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, writing their stories in the form of Aquanaut and Thirteen Lessons that Saved Thirteen Lives respectively. As one judge commented, the first offers a compelling story that would inspire new adventurers while the second would help them to avoid ending in a coroner’s court. Incredibly impressive titles, both.

BCRA Review 2021, edited by Phil Wolstenholme, is a quality production that contains much of value to cavers whether or not they are members of the association (it is published on paper, but can also be downloaded from

And finally, two articles that appeared in Descent (280) and (283): Alison Moody for ‘The Bagpit Depression’(with added science content by Danielle Schreve and Paul Töchterle) and Andy Freem (aided by Antonia Freem and Peter Kokelaar) for ‘The Llethrid Saga’. In both cases the articles went well beyond a simple story, offering in-depth data, a survey and fine photographs that would both entertain and inform.

Such was the overall standard that many of the commended titles might have won in a different year, and yet more might have made the listing. Inevitably, a decision had to be taken and for 2021 the Tratman Award goes to Rick Stanton for the hugely popular Aquanaut. Congratulations go to Rick and all the other authors and editors who, especially this year, should be proud to have attained a commended status.

Chris Howes, for the judges