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Past exploits of a (not very bold) caver

by your Ed.

Like many other people, my first experience of caving was at college, when 1 decided to try a taster course from one of the many sport and club activities on offer to freshers.  It was with some trepidation that I joined the hard men of Portsmouth Poly cave club and braved the journey over to the Cerberus SS cottage in East Mendip.  Along with a number of other students-long hair, old boiler suits and a pair of ex¬army boots from Sams we were shown the delights of caves such as Hillier's and Conning tower in the quarry, with a trip down Swildons Hole on the Sunday.

(See pic at end of article for definitive student wear).  My memories of the first few trips are vague, but 1 soon found myself caving with the likes of Rose, Price and others from the Poly.  It must have been 1968/9 and Eastwater was the cave to be in.  I think I did a large number of trips into the cave but cannot ever remember my way through the boulder ruckle.  I clearly recall sliding across the traverse with an old NiFe cell strapped to my waist, pursuing some incredibly slim and lithe leader who seemed to vanish into a hole. Who he was I do not recall.  My caving continued for by now I had got the bug, bought a lead acid Oldham and risen to the heights of equipment officer.  This largely involved getting your fingers all soft and gooey as you checked the alkaline cells and neutralising them when you serviced the Oldham.  It was better this way round!  I had also purchased at great (student) expense, a plan and neoprene sheet and glue to make my own wet suit.  With a fellow student, Paul Buckley (where is he now, I wonder?) we put together two suits and bootees.  I chose Paul because he was the same size as me and we could measure the cut but unglued sheets alongside each other.  I upset the landlord of my digs here, not because of the glue on the carpet but more because it had a back panel shape cut out of it where the Stanley knife bit through the neoprene and into the carpet below.  (Actually he didn't discover it for quite some while). Having constructed two grand suits, it seemed that caving took on a new (warm) dimension.  I recollect quite clearly my first time going down through sump one in Swildons.  Standard wear apart from the articles mentioned earlier was a pair of old jeans and a woolly sweater.  The trip out (and in for that matter) involved balancing on ledges above the streamway and the water at the junction above the well was always knee deep at least. The old 40 had gone just before I "arrived on the scene" so I have no recall of that but I spent at least thirty minutes at the twenty pushing a motley collection of people up the ladder.  The way out was always via the letterbox and then the zig-zags - which I was usually quite glad to see.  Although I never really suffered from a right soaking and chilling, the new wetsuit was a marvel.  My status in the club reached dizzy heights now for with a few Swildons trips logged I was now a "leader".  This largely consisted of taking the best looking birds down the streamway until they began to quake and then assisting them out with appropriate après cave gratitude and pints in the Hunters Lodge.  Yes, I had discovered the dread drink and really went to town caving weekends with Rogers roughest cider, which was about all I could afford (I drank too much).  Memories of the pub come over very strongly on the side of masses of singing and getting pissed on 8 pints of beer for a quid.  We were still resident at the decrepit Cerberus hut and it was now winter. A dreadful "genny" supplied the light in those far off days.  One of the first jobs on arrival at the hut was to set about the "genny" with spanners, bits of pipe and so on in an attempt to make the bugger start.  It usually took to its task once the carb had been stripped down, the plug warmed in the fire or someone's car.  It was started (laugh) on petrol and you had a two way or was it three way tap to change it to paraffin.  Often a "new boy" would be set the task of subduing the genny and they would spend hours trying to start it on paraffin.  It certainly warmed you up pulling the cord which ALWAYS broke and skinned your knuckles on the shed door.  Two particular experts were Trevor? (now deceased) and Tony - he was the lithe thin one.  Another great expert caver, raconteur and drinker was Tony Powell, whose father owned a pub in Portsmouth (the Volunteer?).  Perhaps someone reading this will know him.  The other way of staying warm was to gather wood locally and get the f**cking awful useless stove to light and bum.  This produced much smoke.  Had it produced even equal amounts of smoke and heat it would have been bearable, but no. Finding the axe and chopping wood was one of the other first jobs you did.  There was also trying to get the water to work but I am vague here.  Our nearest non driving pub was the Jubilee Inn - called something else then and now.  Coming home quite pissed and wobbly with a few other reprobates one afternoon and finding the stove OUT (a great sin) I recall someone took a swipe at the bloody thing with the axe.  This bounced off the stove and bit a large hole in the back wall.  On trying to remove the axe - pissed and with the usual precision of the drunkard - the bit of wood panelling got ripped out to reveal a very old, dirty but highly serviceable range which was lurking behind the panel.  Someone cleaned it up and we never saw the old stove again.  I believe I may have a photograph of same.


     Note interest in fire- desperately lacking in old one! Ed.

Back to the caving. There was always someone attempting to push a tiny slit of an entrance called St. Dunstan's Well cave, although I can comment with hindsight that even then when I was a bit slimmer could never have got into it.  I needed bigger caves.  Since they were so local, I delighted in the quarry caves.  Shatter was absolutely stunning and I suspect that it is due another trip by me soon now access has been re¬granted.  Although strictly forbidden for some unknown reason, I still have somewhere a set of slides of this very beautiful cave.  The originals were lent to someone.

There was one particular incident that I remember well-very lucky at the time.  I was down Swildons with two or three others on a trip to the Black Hole.  The water was quite high and necessitated care at the lavatory pan.  I was wearing my new wet suit so didn't mind being the bung for a while.  I passed through a ladder and two ammo boxes then moved on to negotiate the quite tricky duck that it was.  Forging forward on the held back water I was rammed through the hole and firmly wedged under water in the streamway.  My companions were a little way on and didn't immediately see my plight.  Finding myself under water wasn't too much of a problem for I was an excellent swimmer but the wedgedness of my situation demanded action which I performed in the way of actually twisting myself out of the vice like grip of the rocks.  In doing so I severely damaged my sacro iliac joint (where the back joins the pelvis I think) and widened the cave slightly.  At the time it didn't hurt and my companions helped me up and asked how I was.  I said OK and carried on.  A few minutes later, I asked them if they wouldn't mind stopping as I needed to empty the water out of my boots and proceeded to unlace one boot. Very wisely they both realised the gravity of the possible situation and helped me out back to the entrance via the short dry way.  On reaching the surface it took me nearly half an hour to walk across the fields doubled up with pain.  An evening of blurred liquid painkiller followed.  On getting back to Pompey, the doctor declared all was well and gave me pain killers which I was on for 6 months.  I only discovered the extent of my injury some 15 years later when it seriously flared up again.  It nags a bit now and then but what should I expect?  Daft bloody caver!!  I hope to bore you with more reminders of the past next time.  By the way, we used to get the key for the cottage from a Brian Prewer, I wonder if he is still around?!

      A trip down Eastwater sometime in the late 60's