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Life After Reynolds?

I'd heard it described, of course.  And shivered disinterestedly in the way that you do when you hear a horror story that's exclusively someone else’s.  A comparative novice is safe from that sort of thing.  No one would dream of asking you even if you wanted to go.  It didn't occur to me to want to want to.

A bright spring day, a mini bus bouncing along the lane Charterhouse, and I'm hugely looking forward to the famed extremity.  Andy Sparrow, two chaps from Swansea and myself to survey Upper Reynolds and then Andy and I intending to follow Pete and Alison Moody and Richie Websall as they survey Lower Reynolds to the end.  Apart from hopefully establishing 'the deepest on Mendip' there's also a chance that the end, banged the previous weekend, might be wide open into the oft-imagined 'caverns measureless'.  Despite Richie's modest description of "the hardest trip I've ever done •••• I felt the bones creak ••• " I'm completely sumped with unwary enthusiasm.

My first visit to Longwood. Straight down to the bottom end of the streamway with P and A long invisible in front.  We arrive there so quickly that parts of my mind are still up on the surface with the sheep and the clouds and the sunshine.  Start to survey next to a sign saying 'DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DIVERT THE STREAM OR YOU MAY DROWN PARTIES BEYOND'.  Upper Reynolds is naturally awkward and I've hardly settled down before our clyno packs up.  Andy and I are perfectly happy to leave surveying and go after the other three. A few feet above the vertical slot known as Fanny's rift (the end of the cave before P and A's four year effort. Before that there was only the famous story about the Portsmouth midget.  What a fine imagination someone has) the Swansea types decide that this isn't their particular brand of masochism and leave to seek the rest of their party elsewhere in the cave.

Leaving our survey gear and the traditional Mars bars at the top Andy and I slide briskly down the few feet into the larger space below.  Vague surprise to see two helmets left at the bottom but press on keenly; head first, right hand side into a slot a foot or so wide at the bottom and two or three high.  Slightly downhill and narrowing from the top so we're soon lying down; quite easy progress despite the bang debris.  In the widest places it's just possible to lie flat.  Overall getting steadily tighter but friendly surveying voices are not far beyond.  Harder to turn my head to see the Sparrow wellies a couple of feet in front and it's beginning to feel like a serious undertaking.  The sunshine well forgotten by now but just another caving trip; after all, I expected it to be tight.  Andy’s taking off his cell; do the same when I’m in a wider bit.

Up with the others and Richie says he thinks he'll give the end a miss this week.  (Afterwards I'm to wonder, quite seriously, how on earth he managed it the first time.)  We pass Richie by wriggling over him as he lies out flat in one of the 'wider' stretches. Anywhere else it would be funny as our noses meet but nobody laughs.  Richie smiles but then he faces towards out.  When he's clear from under me I take off ~~ helmet and put my cell in it; it's unlikely that my head will go into the next stretch otherwise.  In the narrowing crack above the mud covered bang wire mutely reminds the imagination that the whole passage floods to the roof.

Fifteen feet away Andy is just reaching the first duck and beyond Alison’s voice offers cheerful suggestions.  As far as I am concerned she could be on another planet.  To turn my head and look back would be impossible.  Confidence is evaporating and determination is being forced to work hard.  Four inches is a good pull and I suddenly realise that I'm panting stertoriously through hard gritted teeth.  It's not important.  Moving about a foot a minute.

Not really a duck at all but enough water to remember the mud in the roof.  Nonetheless an almost comfortingly large space; on through and into the slot in front.  Arm aching from pushing that cell along and I'm wishing fervently that I'd left the helmet back with Pete and Alison's that we so casually passed by.  The cell keeps falling out frustratingly and I’d leave the helmet here and now if I'd then be able to pass it.  Impossible to reach back and put it behind me.  Continuous squeezing for up to twenty feet at a stretch and the wider spaces between would pass for a squeeze anywhere else.  I'm pressed on both sides like the fly between the two sheets of glass and fighting down the panicky feeling that I can't move, that I'm trapped, and I keep telling myself that I can move, I am moving; I wriggled in there and I can wiggle out.  Panic rises again and I force it back firmly.  Andy's a little further ahead of me now and I do not want to be left behind.  Andy's voice carries genuine anguish and he obviously feels much like I do. "Bloody cell.  Bloody cell!"

Another lifetime and another twenty foot squeeze.  Inch by inch sharp edges tiny fossiles just in front of my eyes.  Having a helmet with me seems utterly ridiculous; I couldn't move my head enough to bang it even if I could get the thing on.  Sheep, clouds; even our Mas bars have ceased to exist except as a dim memory.  My whole being taken up with the next six inches.

All nightmares come to an end eventually and from somewhere in front I can hear Andy reaching the larger section at the end.  I'm downright angry with him for getting there first and leaving me still stuck in here. Except that I’m not stuck of course and finally at last I'm up to the squirt where a neat spout of water pours down on my head as I drag myself out of the horrible into the huge.  It's far from huge; twenty feet high and at the most about eighteen inches wide.  The stream foams away along the floor and would indeed carry off my cell if I let it. I've dropped my belt somewhere but I couldn't care less.  A few feet of semi-crawl under some jammed boulders to the angled constriction known as the Slot.  Andy's standing up on the far side but despite my determination to be stood next to him the slot proves very awkward and even more narrow.  (Here Richie heard his bones creak; Pete and Alison had to pull him through.)  For me breathing out does the trick and I'm finally standing next to Andy, the rock still very black, very sharp and very muddy right up to the roof.  He looks pale but his eyes are bright; he has to raise his voice above the noise of the stream. "If it goes anywhere after this they ought to call it 'Life after Death Series'.

The rift is still too narrow for us to pass one another.  There doesn't much point in crouching down and being climbed over so we shunt along to the end, Alison leading.  A very sharp left hand turn and there's Pete banging about with a lump hammer. Below, a sump pool in the width of the rift; above, a broken edged hole blocked by rocks and gravel beyond.  Any attempt to dig would bring the whole lot down on the digger so we shunt back round the corner to catch our breath before the return.  Upper Reynolds is two hundred feet and over an hour away.

I'd just through the slot when P and A decide that they'd like to go back first to survey the bit we missed and establish a depth.  They ask us if we'd take the lump hammer back with us but we politely refuse.  They don't press the point.  The next moment they're through the Slot and overtaking me by going above the jammed boulders through a hole I've just discounted as being too small.  They're so relaxed that the place ceases to look awkward even in my eyes; I feel much happier about it all now anyway having done it all once.  Even so, I take a deep breath to 'gain composure' and the hole I have to force myself into hasn't actually got any wider.  Pete and Alison are disappearing into the distance at a pace that's difficult to believe.  At that moment Andy calls out from behind that his cell has failed, and a few moments later that he's suddenly realised how ill he feels.  No wonder he looked so pale just now.  I wriggle on to a point where I can hold my light up and shine it back towards him, and then rest happily until he's almost up to me; moving on each time so that he can rest in the 'wider' bit. After seventy feet or so like this I can actually look back towards him when I'm holding my light up.  Despite the problems things are far better than they were on the way in; one interesting moment when I drop my cell into the duck pool and it disappears completely.  It's easily found again by feel and the retreat goes on.

The wide open spaces of Fanny's rift and the sound of Pete, Alison and Richie surveying comes from above. Our mars bars are the immediate target; it's over two and a half hours since we left them and we've moved a total of about four hundred feet.  We spent about ten minutes at the far end.

Slowly behind the others as they survey back to the stream, and then the rest of the cave just like part of the walk back to the car except that by the time we reach the surface I'm flailing away like a man asleep.  In the back of Richie's mini-van Andy and I are virtual zombies.  Good hot shower followed by food; I'm still exhausted but completely on top of the world.  I might even want to go again.  If asked.

This article was written by Andy Cave .... quite some years ago.  As I recall it was about his third proper caving trip or something similar. Talk about a baptism by fire.

The lad evidently hasn't learnt the lesson yet as he still insists on jetting off to parts foreign in search of ever more life threatening situations.  Still I guess it beats the hell out of growing old gracefully.  Why bother when you can do it disgracefully.