Moving times

I’ve had a bit of a sort out and my caving posts will continue on the Cave and Canyon blog – formerly West Cumbria Canyoning.

Link here


Short round Swildons

It’s been a while since I’ve completed this classic trip. It was suggested that Swildons is one of the best caves in the UK. I am biased as my teeth were cut in this cavern but the round trip is the best.

Inspired by the visit of CPC, twelve of us headed underground but only eight climbed at Tratman’s Temple. Progress was quick, we were worried the group may be too big but with experience on our side we barrelled along.

The mud sump was low, it has been bailed to within an inch of its life in preparation for Cavefest. I almost felt cheated as the level was so low.

After Shatter, Gordon headed up to set the siphon for the first two of the doubles. Downhill from here Blue Pencil has a notorious right angled bend which I gladly led and felt achievement. It pops out high above Swildons three and a wander downstream is always s treat.

The climb back was smooth and the troubles had plenty of air in them. I clearly recall edging forwards back down and nose pressed to the ceiling, a crawl with head turned was far more agreeable.

After the second troubles the ‘not the birthday squeeze’ is tight but an enjoyable challenge. We dropped to the stream down the landing and soon Jen was at the sump; a first timer. I dived in and then waited whilst she talked herself into this straightforward challenge.

We returned via the Long Dry Way, getting lost in the final chamber. It was glorious on the surface.

Into the quarry

I remember Fairy Cave quarry from four years ago when we visited Wessex Cave Club from Yorkshire. Ric ran a trip to Shatter, probably, and we needed keys, guides and arrangements.

With Dave from MNRC it was far more straightforward. The dedicated cavers car park has a shiny new CSCC key and there are plenty around whilst the code was passed on.

We viewed the quarry from a veranda, spying the Fernhill entrance, before locating the Hilliers gate. The magic key was used again and a steep descent accesses the old streamway. Daryl left a ladder as he would be returning this way solo.

Upstream the connection through to Withyhill is blocked with quarry waste, once part of a much larger system.

The main passage is sizeable, with some crawling and walking, before it starts to climb and a tricky route up to the right is the link to Fairy Cave. The Red Room lies ahead but with the majority on their second trip of the day that was for the future.

Ahead lay a constriction, a duck and a keyhole. All quite doable and providing some interest in a cave with few other pretties. The route finding was generalised and the entrance has been left open so that opportunists can enter rather than break in elsewhere.

This puts my total since the start of the Clearwater project on 15 caves, sixteen with Swildons on Sunday and we are week 19. I’ve missed two caves due to illness but target 50 is still in sight.

Hilliers Bos & the round Fairy

A clutch of caves I have recently visited but due to impending exams have not revisited on my blog.

I’ve had a few weeks off in which the Crew have visited Spider and Attborough but I’ve tried to sort out my blood.

Considering it’s close proximity to Drunkards Hole and similar shape Bos has a very different feel. Mud overwhelms you from the start and with a new member onboard – Jason – and two ladders we slipped quickly towards disappointment chamber. The steep entrance passage constricts very quickly and Mark had worked out that the return uphill was going to be difficult.

The first pitch lies below the chamber but by this time you are moving horizontally and will be rewarded with one nice stal.

Pitch 1 is on a rawl bolt. The predrilled hole is clean and rarely used. Both heads are awkward and following a bridge the second pitch is more constricted. We couldn’t find another placement but spanned boulder and thread manages two points for ladder and line.

At the bottom a rift heads down to a dig or up to a loose overhead chamber. Consolidation is needed.

The return uphill was straightforward pulling ladders as we went and I knew the muddy tight tube would be an effort. I returned my efforts to my legs but the bag between my feet caught several times. Bugger.

Eventually I was able to kick it free and we emerged to the green damp smell of a vernal evening.

Kings in the Forest

The most important thing today was that Harry and Maverick got around.

We began early, making a good start despite a bumpy beginning.

The going was good and the first lap (32km) involved three crew points; very quickly we were into a routine and the first vet halt came around.

After some minor issues with the saddle we set off on the blue loop, more crewing but essentially a similar distance and destination.

The technology available is now far more advanced with pulses above vet gates and tracking for the horses in the woods.

Final vetting went well and eventually Harry achieved a fifth place whilst Kirsty on Maverick also passed; a successful day all round.

Patterjack tales

Four o’clock is a ghastly hour, especially when the stable clock is set to GMT. The usual routine of bandaging, feeding and loading is well practiced and so with Evie ahoy and coffee mug on standby we headed north.

The journey from Jurassic Coast to Suffolk would be a lengthy one but I had Carcassonne and my Kindle, once the sun was up!

The motorway trudge was soon over especially as I returned to slumberland. At the venue we set up a bright blue vet gate, loaded stables with Polly and Maverick before seeking Travel Lodge and Thetford. First impression not good; this town is a soulless place.

The vetting went well. I held the rug for Harry and Polly whilst the Euro vets scanned chips and checked passports. With transponders fitted to the horses it was going to be a slick affair tomorrow.

We now need food before tomorrow’s early start.

Back to crewing

I never thought that I might miss crewing but given the opportunity again I have been reflecting on the aspects I enjoyed the most.

For those of you who don’t know this involves following a horse over distance and providing it – and the rider – with feed, water and often data, such as positions or speed.

I enjoyed the exploration involved; the way in which I was pulled into new environments and the tripartite teamwork of horse rider and crew. We even won an award so must have been quite good.

Our horse is quite old now and whilst Zeus is sound he no longer races. Sarah has had the opportunity to ride Kirsty’s horse, from the Yawl Hill Stud and more recently Harry too.

This has left them short of a crew this weekend and so I have stepped into the breech …

So what am I looking forward to?

1. New environments, on this occasion Kings Forest, north of Thetford in Suffolk.

2. An opportunity for navigation and exploration.

3. A chance to get our routine right again, crewing is an art form – many would disagree.

4. An opportunity to see Harry in action. He has recently been awarded an accolade, more later.

It does of course pose the question “what frustrates you about crewing?” But again, you will need to keep reading this weekend.