|MATIENZO CAVES PROJECT
Matienzo Expedition Caving - background information
Updated March 2019
The main Matienzo Expeditions occur around Easter and from the last
week of July to the middle of August. Visits occur at other times, e.g. October
/ November, Christmas/New Year, February and Whit week.
New cavers to Matienzo are welcome: you may be expedition-experienced or not, but you will have your own personal clothing and equipment, insurance and will have a reasonable knowledge of caving techniques.
and enthusiasm often leads to new cave discoveries!
This page gives a flavour of what happens above and below Matienzo
and the surrounding area.
Permissions, Grants and Donations
Camping and Catering
The 26km2 enclosed depression of Matienzo has taken some 2
to 3 million years to form. The imperviously-floored valley is surrounded
by limestone hills containing hundreds of kilometres of cave. Water resurges into the basin at a number of points and
most of it leaves at the northern end.
A major Spanish expedition took place in the summer of 1964.
British-led caving expeditions to Matienzo (and surrounding areas) have been occuring up to 3 or
4 times a year since the late 60s and the amount of known cave passage
has risen from some five or six km to hundreds (over 392km, March 2019, see a summary sheet). About
five to eight kilometres of cave are found each year, although in 1989 over 15km was surveyed, in 2004 some 10.7km and in 2008 over 13km. Collaboration with Spanish
caving groups often results in new cave exploration. An area map shows the major caves.
Permissions, Grants and Donations
Permission to cave is given by Spanish speleological authorities within
both geographical (about 96km2) and time limits. (The permit area can be seen here.) We were refused
permission to cave during 1990 because caving occurred outside our designated
area in the previous year. Although we do not have official permission to cave beyond the current permit boundaries, Spanish groups in adjacent areas may allow exploration in systems that we have previously explored.
If in doubt, consult with Phil or Juan. The permit runs for the full year.
One of the permit requirements is a report of the speleological activities over the year. For this reason and because the permit is given to the Matienzo Caves Project, all people contemplating a caving trip to the Matienzo area outside of the usual expedition periods should ensure they are included in the permit by contacting Phil Papard or Juan Corrin (see the Contacts page). Full documentation of any new exploration(s) is required, ie logbook account, passage description, photographs and, if appropriate, a survey.
Good relations are kept with the villagers, the caving authorities (including the Cantabrian Caving Federation), other
Spanish caving groups and the Guardia. We have had the support of the Ghar Parau
Foundation. The grants recently awarded can be seen here.
To supplement any award, the expedition asks for an annual donation from cavers over 25 of £3.50 a day to a limit of £35, i.e. a maximum payment for 10 days. Younger cavers (25 and under) are charged £2.50 a day to a limit of £25. Sterling donations are preferred. Donations in euros will depend on the exchange rate.
This covers all group equipment
(ladders, rope, bolts, rescue equipment, GPS, etc), surveying and some publication and IT costs. As well as paying during an expedition, there is also the preferred facility to pay caving donations up-front. (Contact the expedition treasurer for details).
A proportion of the donations is paid to Pablo for the use of the restaurant at Casa Germán as a survey / drawing up area. The cost of any approved group equipment bought by individuals will be reimbursed. (There is also a charge for camping - see below).
Camping and Catering
Tents can be erected on the field behind the bar. (Location map is a pdf with note attached.) Only the eastern half
of the field should be used and, as it is used for grass crop, vehicles should
only drive on when the ground is dry and hard. 'Domestic' refuse should be
disposed of in the wheelie bins found on the roadside.
There is a toilet block in the middle of the campsite which has showers,
wash basins and toilets: an outside tap is for drinking / cooking water and
washing small items of personal gear and equipment. There may be a rota for giving the facilities
a quick wipe over. This water has to be paid for and should not be wasted. Therefore group tackle (ropes, ladders, etc) must be washed in
A room in the block acts as a tackle store and is used for charging electric
cells. Pablo at the bar charges 4€ per adult per night for camping,
up to a maximum of 80€ per stay. This will be collected by the expedition treasurer and
paid to Pablo in a lump sum at the end.
Everyone looks after themselves for catering, although alternative food
arrangements can be made when long trips are likely. The tackle store has
a microwave and fridge with small freezer compartment. There
are supermarkets on the way to the beach or at Ramales, the nearest large
town where travellers cheques can be cashed or cash cards used. Many oldtimers
find a cool box and ice packs (re-frozen in the deep freeze at the bar or
in the tackle store) a necessity to keep meat and veg edible. The restaurant,
at the edge of the campsite, opened in 1994, has altered some eating
habits, as have the meals at Bar Tomas and other restaurants. There is often an expedition meal
(or two!) at the height of the caving frenzy.
Pablo and Anna at the bar have been very amenable about supplying late butties,
up to about midnight, but this depends on the supply of bread and cannot
be relied upon. The bar opens at about 10-30am (depending on the previous
night's activities) and will serve an English breakfast or egg butties, etc.
Bread is delivered to the bar around 10-30am. People can buy straight from
the van and pay for it individually. The Bar Panadería also provides food.
In recent years, self-catering accommodation has become available in the village,
eg at Cubillas (opposite the Bar Panadería) and bed and breakfast is available at the Anjana near Ramales and Bar Tomás in Ogarrio. Accommodation is also available further afield, eg at Solórzano, Lierganes and La Cavada. (See the Travel, Accommodation and Weather page).
(If this is your first time in Matienzo, you should consider printing out and filling in the personal information sheet before you arrive.)
Many of the cavers who come to Matienzo are not here primarily for the
sport - they are people fascinated by the potential of the area and who pit
their speleological wits against the draughting holes, deep shafts and tight
crawls which could lead to 'caverns measureless'.
Caving trips occur because a number of people see the need for them and they are one of the expedition objectives. There
are not many organised 'tourist trips' - the best way to see the caves is to get
involved in a series of working trips - pushing, surveying, photographing
etc. Anyone can organise a trip and, apart from the specialised (e.g. diving)
ventures, all trips should be open to everyone. Obviously, each team on a
major push/survey will have at least one person who has been in the system
before and might well be the 'system expert'. Because systems tend to be
pushed over a number of years, it is better that as many people as possible
get to know a cave, rather than just one team. British caving clubs count
for little in Matienzo - we are the "Matienzo Caving Club"; everyone should
feel part of a whole expedition and be prepared to cave with anyone of similar
Trip Sheets can be used to aid the organisation of the various parties that
are likely to set off each day. The initial details of cave, objectives,
date and number of cavers required are filled in by the trip leader(s) and
cavers can then sign up for whatever takes their fancy.
Every caving team pushing a new system is likely to explore new passage. Each group should survey
the passages as they leave the system so that the survey can be computer-drawn
later that evening, allowing the next team to concentrate on the best leads.
Each team therefore has the responsibility of ensuring that the survey data
is converted to co-ordinates the same day and a survey drawn over the computer
centre-line print out as soon as possible. An account of the new explorations
should be written in the log book immediately and a description of
the passage(s) should also be recorded (written or, preferably, typed).
Generally, information about new passages and sites becomes public as soon
as they are found, and shared amongst the expedition members (and eventually
on the web site). Anyone can then decide if they want to become involved
in the exploration: the person or group that makes the find may invite people
onto the next trip or you can ask!. There are some very rare instances where
this process may not happen. For example, cavers who found
Torca la Vaca near the end of the Easter 2008
expedition were sailing from Santander the next day. Other cavers explored
1.7km in the following days but did not finish the system, deliberating leaving
leads for the original finders to push in the summer. The location of this
site was not made public until the summer explorations had started.
Surface prospecting and digging are also vital parts of the expedition but they need to be
researched before hand and should be tied in to the expedition objectives. Maps, digital cameras and GPS should be taken into
the field. (See Publications and
Cave Marking below). The Matienzo Caves Project and a number of individuals have GPS equipment for positioning
entrances. The GPS coordinates database of entrances can be uploaded into (at least)
Garmin and Magellan units but you may need your serial or USB lead. (GPS units must be set to ETRS89 or WGS84 and UTM/UPS). Digital
photos (through a card reader) and video can be downloaded onto the network-attached storage via the expedition
laptops (or your own) for future web publication and/or presentations.
There is also a digital map of the area maintained with positions of entrances
and cave centre lines. It is perfectly feasible, time permitting, to enter cave centre line
data, add extra entrances and print the composite map out for underground
or surface activity the next day. Large paper maps have been phased out
and print outs from the digital maps are now the norm.
Many cave surveys are also on the Project's computers and can be printed out before heading underground. Printed surveys can be scanned.
Android tablets and phones are used (with the Orux Maps application and downloaded Matienzo maps) to aid cave finding and identification. See the Orux Maps page.
We are extremely fortunate in having the use of an area in the restaurant at Bar Germán which acts as the expedition base / headquarters / office. This houses computers, part of the Matienzo Caves Project library and archive, and survey drawing-up area. The restaurant should not be seen as
a general extension to the bar as Spaniards (and English) are paying to dine
Some members of the expedition have a general responsibility for overseeing
certain major aspects. However, individuals should still see themselves as
being responsible for the tackle theyve used, writing up, survey drawing
- Phil Papard: Expeditions organiser, permissions
Pete Smith), main expedition reports
- Steve Martin: Expeditions tackle master
- Susan Martin: Expeditions treasurer
- Juan Corrin: General coordination of the Matienzo Caves Project (with Phil, Steve and Pete): IT systems, surface maps,
computer/cave surveys, library, archive,
- Pete Smith: Permissions, Spanish group liaison and archaeology
The people above can advise on areas and/or caves to push as can (at the risk of leaving many people out) Peter Eagan and Lank Mills. Many members of
the expedition have expertise in all matters speleological. A number have
been around Matienzo for years and will give advice and bull shit! Contact emails are listed here.
Personal caving equipment is obviously the responsibility of each caver.
Carbide is not now provided nor used. Cells
and batteries can be charged in the tackle store on the camp site. Group
equipment is the responsiblity of the team using it. If a system is detackled,
the detackling group should normally clean the equipment removed at the river.
More often than not, digging is required to enter new cave. The expedition has a good supply of digging equipment but it must be noted that a number of caves around Matienzo are important as
archaeological sites and that digging may disturb prehistoric levels. Pete Smith has carried out
research and excavations, working with Spanish archaeologists, and has catalogued various
artifacts and paintings, and authored and co-authored many papers and books about the archaeology around Matienzo and beyond. Please keep your eyes peeled, looking at the walls
and floor in any site that may have been inhabited. Pottery is especially
easy to miss and tread on. The most common prehistoric pottery is black or
black and red when fired (Bronze Age, 2000BC - 500BC). The expedition does not have permission to disturb archaeological remains. Any discoveries found should be left in situ and reported to Juan, Phil or Peter who will inform the appropriate authorities.
Everyone should remember that cave formations and deposits are to be enjoyed by all. Hence, thought must be given to minimising damage to caves and the decorations when exploring. If possible, volunteer for any conservation or restoration activities that may be taking place.
Each individual on underground ventures is responsible for his / her own
safety and should have a blanket, spare light, etc. Sensible caving procedures
should be adopted, e.g. lifelines on most ladder pitches, remembering that rescue
is likely to be a protracted and costly affair. Rescue call-out should be
via the bar and to the Guardia. A number of the expedition are current or
ex-CRO members and would organise (at least initial) rescue procedures. Except for the simplest of rescues, it is likely that Spanish rescue teams would provide the expertise and man-power. It should be noted that rescued individuals extracted from a weather-related incident by a Spanish rescue team would be asked to pay if no regard has been paid to the weather forecast.
Taking out BCRA Insurance,
SnowCard, Dog Tag or a similar scheme is vital for peace of mind and pocket.
People without caving insurance are not permitted to cave.
of next of kin, insurance policy number, etc. are filled in on a data collection sheet, which you may find more convenient to print out and fill in before arriving in Matienzo. Otherwise you will be asked to complete the form in Matienzo before caving.
Procedures for storing, using and destroying data complies with the General Data Protection Regulation which came into force 25th May 2018.
Within our 94km2 there are caves and shafts of all sizes. The
major cave networks are the 4 Valleys System and the South
Vega System. Current system lengths and depths are shown on the Summary Statistics page. We have collaborated with Catalan
cavers in pushing Cueva Vallina near Arredondo to the south.
Pushing these systems is a priority, as is finding new caves from the surface.
The area does not have a great depth potential: the maximum is about 680m.
The area map shows the main caves, roads and rivers.
The following thumbnail descriptions aim to give a general feel of the area.
The South Vega System
Azpilicueta (333) and
Coteron (264) are the high level entrances
which drop down to valley level and emerge at
Reñada (48). Cueva-Cubio de la Reñada
contains a river which resurges into the depression to flow across La Vega;
some of this water could come from Hoyon (567).
Potential lies to the south (with Cueva Vallina already hydrologically connected)
and to the west. It has been postulated that the Tejuelo system, to the south of Arredondo, could link with Vallina / South Vega.
Torcon de la Calleja Rebollo (Toad in the
Hole - 258) is an expanding system which could go anywhere: northeast
to link with Mostajo (71), north and west
into the unknown or even south to link with
Mostajo (71) could go northwest to emerge
in cave 415, or north into the unknown. The caves
are mainly dry but have large quantities of mud in the lower sections.
The Cubija / North Vega System (Cubio-Morenuca-Regaton-Mostajo) is in a prime position for extension, and is still wide-open
The area of Cobadal may also connect through
Sumidero de Cobadal into the North Vega System.
The resurging river of Fuente Aguanaz (713)
(survey), 7km to the north is the current
(dye-tested) resurgence for Cobadal water. Torca
La Vaca is another stream and fossil cave which was found over Easter 2008 and is "still going".
A 9 sq km area centred around Ideopuerta,
may also feed into a possible Regaton, Cobadal, Fuente Aguanaz system.
The low-lying area of Hoznayo (part of the permit from 2014) has provided the Torca Cañaos-Riocueva System which still has some potential.
The Four Valleys System
Nearly all the water in the Matienzo depression leaves through
Carcavuezo (0081), passes through
Cueva Llueva (0114), with an entrance in Llueva
Valley, and resurges in Los Boyonnes (0117)
in Secadura. The cave is fed from water in Cueva
Hoyuca (Uzueka) (0107) which in turn is fed by water in
Cueva Riano (0105). The caves of Hoyuca, Riano,
Llueva and Carcavuezo have been joined to form the 4 Valleys System. Some estimates
put the potential passage at more than 100km. The Five Valleys System
is a real possibility with Cueva Torno at
Fresnedo nearly linked. Cueva-Cubío del Llanío may also connect.
This area is approximately 10 km2 of high level karst with
little horizontal development. There are more than 200 known shafts, by no
means all explored. There is plenty of surface prospecting and underground
exploration waiting to be done, although the north-eastern part of the area was removed as part of the the 2014 permit reorganisation. If an integrated drainage system exists,
the resurgence could be the one below Cobrantes
(0110). It seems more likely that local networks exist with water resurging
at various points around the mountain, e.g. at Ogarrio, and into known systems,
e.g. Llueva, Carcavuezo.
Publications and research
There are 360 references to various articles (Spanish and English)
and log books; some of these are in boxes in the back room of the bar. If
you are interested in a site:
- look in the card index where all explorations and accounts are catalogued
- read up the various references.
The books likely to be of most use for general reading are listed below in
a short bibliography. (Full bibliography).
The log books from 1974 to the present have all been scanned and a database built up of all entries. The database can be searched in the Matienzo Office to show all log book pages relating to any site. This facility is available to expedition members in the Office and on-line. See Logbook Search. Complete logbooks can also be browsed from this page.
Maps are available for the whole of our area. Sections of the computer-generated maps
can be printed out and accompany everyone who is surface prospecting. Plastic wallets
are available for weather proofing. (see Cave
Marking, below). Cave passage and known entrances are shown at any
All sites details are kept in a card index, paper archive and computer database and written up, along with logbook details, into the web site descriptions.
A paper publication (Matienzo Underground) used to circulate, based on cave
descriptions from the web site, and people added to it
or amended it. Appendices ordered the caves by length, depth and altitude. There
was also a paper list of the 'unexplored' sites, a list of digs, and sites of
archaeological and biological interest. This was occasionally updated in a paper version.
Nowadays, an on-line and download-able version of the descriptions (pdf files) is regularly updated and can be downloaded as 7 volumes. The appendices and other information can be generated when required using the Cave Search facility.
Matienzo: 50 Years of Speleology, a 320-page, full colour, dual language book (with DVD and geological map) was published in August 2010. Details can be found here. This is now out-of-print, but is available to browse as a hard copy in the Matienzo Office and is also available to browse online.
A publication to mark 60 years of speleology around the area is being prepared.
It is very difficult to permanently mark sites without disfiguring the
limestone! Before 1994 we used cow-tags which had painted and embossed numbers.
However, there is now much less need
to mark caves as personal GPS equipment (without the wobble) became useable
in 2000 and now WAAS-enabled devices allow accuracy to 3 or 4m.
The settings / datum should be UTM/UPS and ETRS89 or WGS84 to
agree with the paper and digital map grids.
There are over 4850 documented sites in the area and the
potential for finding new passage remains as high as ever. But please remember
to record your finds (describe, photograph and survey) so that documentation is as complete as possible and exploration does not have to be repeated!
A summary of the expedition aims and expectations, mainly for new expedition members, can be found here. A laminated card summarising the expectations is distributed to new members when they arrive in Matienzo.
Contacts for more information are listed here.
A spreadsheet is available for each major expedition to show when people are going to be in Matienzo. Feel free to add yourself to the sheet or email Phil Papard or Juan Corrin with the details. It helps with planning, eg expedition objectives, other people organising dates, when to set up the office in the restaurant and when to have the expedition meal, etc.
Shortened Bibliography (mainly in
There are regularly updated Matienzo Underground pdf files that can be downloaded. Hard-copy articles have not been produced in recent years, rather feedback articles for the Spanish authorities. These and other recent reports, papers and presentations can be found here.
(A) Fernandez Gutierrez et al, 1966. La depresion cerrada
de Matienzo, Cuadernos de Espeleologia vol 2. 107pp + surveys & photos.
The account of the original Spanish explorations.
(C) Kendal Caving Club/Manchester University Speleological Society 1975.
Report of the British Expedition to Matienzo. 64pp + surveys + photos.
The account of the expedition which surveyed about 15km in 6 months.
(T2) Mills L.D.J., Waltham A.C., 1981. Geomorphology of the Matienzo
Caves. BCRA Transactions Vol 8(2), pp 63 - 84. Some speleogenesis
(T3) Smith P., 1981. Prehistoric remains and engravings discovered by
the British Speleological Expeditions to Matienzo. BCRA Transactions
Vol 8(2), pp 85 - 86.
(Y) Smith P., 1983. Iron Age Finds in Matienzo. BCRA Transactions
Vol 10(3), pp 145 - 164. More up-to-date archaeological data is found for
each cave in the Matienzo Update.
(BO) Corrin J., 1992. Matienzo '91 in Caves & Caving No. 55 ,
Spring 1992, pp 11 - 13.
(BR) Corrin J., Quin A., 1992. Matienzo '92 in Caves & Caving
No. 58 , Winter 1992, pp 2 - 6.
(BZ) Corrin J., 1994. Matienzo '93 in Caves & Caving No. 63 ,
Spring '94, pp 24 - 27.
(CS) Corrin J., 1994. Matienzo '94 in Caves & Caving No. 66 ,
Winter '94, pp 10 - 14.
Corrin J., 1995. Matienzo '95 in Caves & Caving No. 70 , Winter
'95, pp 24 - 27.
Corrin J., 1997. Matienzo ('96) in Caves & Caving No. 75 , Spring
''97, pp 16- 18.
Corrin J., 1998. Matienzo 1997 in Caves & Caving No. 79 , Spring
'98, pp 31- 32.
Corrin J., 1999. Matienzo ('98) in Caves & Caving No. 83 , Spring
'99, pp 26- 30.
Corrin J., 2000. Matienzo '99 in Caves & Caving No. 87 , Spring/Summer
2000, pp 43- 46.
Corrin Juan, 2001. Matienzo 2000. In Caves and Caving 89, Winter 2000/2001
, pp 24 - 27.
Ruiz Cobo Jesús and Smith Peter et al, 2001. The Archaeology of
the Matienzo Depression, North Spain . In BAR International Series
975 , 224 pages.
Corrin J., 2003a. Expedition Report: Matienzo, Spain 2001. In Speleology
Issue 2, May 2003, pp 17 - 19.
Corrin J., 2003b. Expedition Report: Matienzo, Spain 2002. In Speleology
Issue 3, Sept 2003, pp 14 - 17.
Corrin Juan, 2005. Expedition Report: Matienzo, Spain 2003. In
Speleology Issue 5, December 2005 BCRA, pp 10 - 14.
Corrin Juan, 2006a. Expedition Report: Matienzo, Spain 2004. In
Speleology Issue 6, April 2006 BCRA, pp 20 - 23.
Corrin Juan, 2006b. Expedition Report: Matienzo, Spain 2005. In
Speleology Issue 7, August 2006 BCRA, pp 22 - 25.
Corrin Juan, 2007. Expedition Report: Matienzo, Spain 2006. In
Speleology Issue 9, April 2007 BCRA, pp 16 - 21.
Corrin Juan, 2007a. Expedition Report: Matienzo, Spain 2007. In
Speleology Issues 10/11, December 2007 BCRA, pp 18 -24.
Corrin Juan, 2008 Expedition Report: Matienzo 2008. In Speleology Issue 13, May 2009 BCRA, pp 18 - 23.
Corrin Juan, 2010. Expedition Report: Matienzo, Spain 2009. In Speleology Issue 16, December 2010 BCRA, pp 12 - 16.
Corrin Juan and Smith Peter (editors), 2010. Matienzo: 50 Years of Speleology, 50 años de espeleología. Matienzo Caves. 320 pages.
Corrin Juan, 2011. Expedition Report: Matienzo 2010. In Speleology Issue 17, March 2011 BCRA, pp 8 - 11.
Corrin Juan, 2013. Expedition Report: Matienzo 2012. In Speleology Issue 19, December 2013 BCRA, pp 9 - 12.
Expedition Reports: Matienzo 2011 and Matienzo 2013 are with the Editor of Speleology
The Caves & Caving / Speleology references outline the
discoveries over recent years. A full bibliography
is also available.
JSC January 2019