Report by Dave Gledhill - North-West Correspondent
Cavers: Dave Gledhill (EPC), Dunka (EPC), Bob Toogood (EPC)
A relaxed start to the day saw our intrepid adventurers venturing forth along the tram-road from Whitewalls, basking in the bright winter sun and protected from the freezing chill courtesy of Dunca’s car heater. Spirits were high(ish) at the prospect of the imagined displays of formations to come, in what is widely reported as being the best-decorated cave in the country. None of our heroes had done this cave before and it had been high on Bob’s tick-list for the last 73 years. They were on their way, Dunca driving and Bob navigating – with these two seasoned stalwarts taking the lead, what could possibly stop them now?
After 500 yards they stopped. Turning the car around, a tactical retreat to Whitewalls was performed in order to seek directions to the cave entrance. The entrance via a small, heavy-duty steel door, was reminiscent of Fort Knox in its complexity to breach, it having taken nearly 10 minutes to find the padlock, and a further five minutes for ‘Houdini’ Dunca to overcome the complexities presented by Messrs. Chubb. With the crux of the cave behind them, our 3 heroes proceeded through the entrance and into the teeth of a fiercely howling draught.
At a reported eight miles in length, the cave has the potential for luring the unwary into situations of complete lostnessness. With this in mind, a cunning strategy had to be carefully drawn up to avoid entrapment in the Daedalen maze of this dark underworld; the decision was taken to follow the bright orange marker tape. The strategy worked well, walking through passages interspersed with stals, straws and more flowstone features than a stick could be shaken at, had a stick to be had. Alas, Stick was in absence, thus remained unshaken. Surmounting the first choke via steel ladders and bars, led our heroes into further large passage. The marker tape ploy was working well and the party advanced at a pace. A junction saw the first use of the survey and description and it is here, sad to say, became lost(ish).
A brief sojourn around the cave thereabouts found our heroes back where they’d been, and taking the ladder, rope and chain climb were once more unlost at the foot of the bloody obvious draughting way on. The choke known as second, was unlike the first, it requiring the use of a selection of grunts, some thrutching, a mild curse or two, and Anglo Saxon terms that appeared to relate to the child of an unwedded mother. The chambers and passage, encountered post-thrutch, were of a size that impressed our heroes, even if they were somewhat muddy at first. Each section that passed had more straws than the before and also increased in size. Climbing a slope, the roof soared away and the flowstone, which hung down was most good. “Is that it?” said young Dunca, with a fag in his hand “I thought it was meant to be better than this?”. The third choke that followed was squeezed through on the right, once again leading to emanations of a most foul kind. Hurricane highway was low and was long, but Bob said he was glad of the foresight to bring along a bag, from now on he won’t be without. Transcending the crawl to the passage beyond gave the fearless three respite for their knees. A right turn ahead lay in their path and was taken with hope in their hearts, for surely now they could not fail?
A large dry mud chamber, navigated by tape, led over the ruckle (or at least that’s what it said in the book). Approaching the fourth choke, our heroes heard the far-off dulcet tones of an approaching party, their accents being honed from best Dudley. Was that a tear in young Dunca’s eye as he was taken by memories of childhood past? Or was it simply his irritable bowel?
The fourth choke was conquered, as described by the book, start off right and then go to the left, a feature of most chokes it seems. The final navigable obstacle passed, two of the dashing young blades made their way to the foot of the final choke. They scoured its flanks for some means of access, but like others before found defeat. They retraced back through the fourth choke to find their companion much relieved; it was obviously not the childhood memories that had nearly brought a tear to his eye.
The journey now ended, our brave heroes returned, following tape Thesus-like to the cold remnants of day, whereupon they went to the pub.
Click [here] for Dave Gledhill's photos from the trip.