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The Caver's Fair

By Andy Sparrow

The Cavers Fair has had a chequered history since the first event in the Forest of Dean a few years ago. It was intended to be a more informal and practical event than the BCRA Conference with the chance to do some caving rather than just talking about it.  The second Cavers Fair in Derbyshire was a riotous affair very well supported by local and visiting cavers with all sorts of revelry, fun and games to complement the caving trips, training sessions and special interest workshops.

The next year the event moved to Yorkshire where it proved to be a dismal flop with a very poor attendance.  Then it was off to Wales and Penwyllt for a successful event, but at a smaller scale and without some of the fun.

And so this year it was our turn, with Alan Butcher and myself organising on behalf of the NCA and CSCC.  The problem with arranging a program for this event is the impossibility of predicting what the attendance will be.  Anything from 50-250 seemed possible and cavers being cavers the fact that only 16 advanced bookings were returned was not likely to prove any indication of what to expect.  Sure enough come Friday night the cavers rolled in and the organised sessions rapidly filled up.  Time to employ plan B - recruit local cavers to run assorted caving trips.

Thanks are due to all the good people who volunteered to lead sessions throughout the weekend.

The event ran from the village hall and the marquee outside (which we borrowed from the Folk Festival). Aileen and Butch did a fine job of providing sausage butties and drinks while I attempted to shepherd people off with various instructors and trip leaders.  No real problems but I did have to explain to one lady that sadly she could not take her dog down Swildons for a ropework session.  A few people remarked that the site seemed very quiet during the day naturally, since everybody was off underground!  We had training sessions in Gough's Cave (thanks to manager Mr Hugh Cornwell) covering SRT rescue and ladder techniques, sessions in Swildons on basic ropework, SRT rigging, and cave photography.  Meanwhile caving trips were busy in several systems including Cuthbert's (thank you BEC leaders!).

Everyone was back in time for the Boot Race - well organised by Vince, Jake and Alex.  The race was all about roaming over North Hill picking up the heaviest possible weight of concrete filled wellies from various spots - including a short way down Swildons.  I didn't see the course but those returning looked wet and knackered - I assume by the lack of black eyes that Trevor must have been absent.  The Axbridge came first and picked up the £50.00 token donated by Quip-u (who had a trade stand in the marquee and even managed to sell a few things).  A barbecue organised by the MRO followed and then a truly fine stomp with an excellent band. About 120 cavers from around the country had a really wild time - a great night.

Come Sunday and things eventually began to happen around the site - so I am told.  It was an early start for me down to Split Rock for the great SRT event.  Steve Tomalin (GSS) and myself spent about 4 hours preparing the site with truly devious SRT routes including 'The Big V' and a Tyrolean across the quarry.  About 30 people came down during the afternoon to have a go - or simply watch in horror.  Take a look at the top and see what you missed - you can always go and rig it yourself!

All in all a great weekend and, as Butch put it - 'A triumph of under organisation'.  Thanks again to everybody who did his or her bit.