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This Caving

By Oldtimer

A few years ago, in the early thirties and before, the term ‘Caver’, ‘Potholer’, ‘Speleologist’ or ‘Spelunker’ meant little of nothing to the man in the street. Today the vast majority of the public are familiar with certain types of cave and have formed ideas about the persons who explore them.

The picture that they mentally form is a composite one; a mixture of memories of visits to ‘show’ caves, and the photographs that from time to time appear in the popular press. Usually no existing cave remotely resembles their brain child, and the same probably applies to the type of people whom they imagine spend their life in ‘Cavernous’ exploration.

The spate of accidents earlier in the year about which so much was written by journalists, complete with little sketches, has enabled the public to imagine either (a) parties of boys from youth organisations crawling through holes unfit for rabbits, or (b) highly organised parties of supermen equipped with every device known to science, descending tremendous gulfs down which waterfalls thunder and rocks fall. In both cases the efforts seemed to be ‘useless’ in so far that Mr. & Mrs, Public could derive no benefit from them, and that lives were being lost and people worried for no good reason whatsoever.

This picture, although ‘attractive’ from the point of view of the sensationalist, is so far from the truth that cavers are often unable to recognise incidents in which they themselves had taken part when hearing or reading of the incident at a later date.

Accidents do happen, as we all realise, even in an organisation that takes every precaution against them, but there are thousands of cavers, potholers, speleos, call them what you will, who have enjoyed their sport for many years in safety by using common sense whilst underground.

Well, what IS it like then? It’s dark; wet; cold; often muddy; sometimes smelly; some chambers are large, some are small; there are sharp rocks that tear clothes and flesh; one dangles in space from ropes and ladders, gets burnt by carbide lamps and usually regains the surface feeling a wreck both physically and mentally and vowing never to go underground again, only to repeat the process the following weekend. It is just this unpleasant list plus a number of other factors that accounts for the enormous increase in popularity of the sport in recent years. It is ADVENTURE! That love of the unknown that today has so little outlet and which finds satisfaction in the depths of the earth. There is a comradeship amongst cavers that is rarely met elsewhere; to a great extent you ‘depend on your friends’ and they depend on you. There is sometimes the thrill of a new discovery – the opening of a new passage in which ‘the hand of man has never set foot’ – of knowing that your footprints are the first ever to be impressed on that mud bank and that your eyes were the first ever to see this particular passage! The physicall effort, too, gives satisfaction, and there is a great feeling of contentment, when, after a strenuous day underground, one is able to relax in a friendly pub or café.

Oh, yes, there is danger; that of falling rocks in 1ong-opened caves is inconsiderable unless the place is obviously unsafe, and then of course the place should either be avoided or great care taken; the danger of a rope or ladder breaking can be minimised by testing each article before a descent; adequate lighting arrangements should be taken by all those who venture underground.

Danger arises from simple things – the exhaustion which creeps upon one unawares, when one’s limbs and brain rebel against common sense and one just wants to sit down and stay there; from the simple slip or mis-step that sprains or fractures and ankles; from weather conditions that can change a dry passage into a raging torrent, and from the very small percentage of impossible people who ‘couldn’t care less’ underground, and cause trouble to all who come in contact with them. Not withstanding all theses factors, caving is still no more dangerous than the vast majority of other sports providing adequate care is taken, and it would be interesting to check on the number of accidents amongst members of caving clubs as opposed to those amongst free-lances, always remembering that a large number of those interested are members of one or more of the various caving organisations.

So far I have dealt solely with the sport of caving. The science of Speleology attracts large numbers to the nether regions each year – biologists; botanists; archaeologists; palaeontologists; geologists; ethnologists; all can reap a rich harvest, discoveries of scientific nature are constantly being made.

‘So what?’ say Mr. & Mrs. Public, ‘That’s all very interesting, but how does it affect us? We haven’t any scientific friends or anyone sporting who would be interested’. Well, I can’t recite rows of startling inventions that have had their beginnings underground, but I can say that a study of caves has helped in the clearing up of many problems of water pollution and distribution and has greatly increased our knowledge of both geological and anthropological history. In the sporting side it can be said that clubs are doing a grand work with the younger generation by developing self-reliance, leadership and comradeship, and this alone should justify caving in the eyes of the general public, because it is the youth of today on whom depends our safety tomorrow.

OLDTIMER

Report on a Week in the Lakes

By Sett, Chief of the S.I.G.H.T.S.
(Scientific Investigation Group, Highly Technical Subjects)

The object of the trip was to discover whether bar-room mountaineering was rife as had been led to believe, and the places and methods utilised in this pastime.

METHODS

1. Preliminaries

Friends and relations were informed months in advance that a week’s holiday was to be spent climbing in the Lakes. This serves the dual purpose of allaying the fears of fond parents that their eldest sons are off on another glorious booze-up and in addition frightens off any drinking types who may think of coming along. In the unlikely event of a real climbing type wishing to join the party, it is only necessary to tell him the true purpose of the trip to frighten him away.

2. Visit every hostelry which is in, or near, a climbing area and observe the clothing and habits of the inhabitants.

EQUIPMENT

Climbing clothing and boots together with ropes and ice axes are carried to complete the bluff outlined in para. 1, but at least one pannier, or equivalent space, should be stuffed with assorted bottles of wine, spirits and liqueurs, with a Christmas cake or two thrown in. The quality of the climbing equipment is irrelevant since it is only to be used for show. The quality of the drink and food is highly important since it has to form the staple diet of the party for a whole week and will only be supplemented by numerous pints of the local brew and an odd Youth Hostel meal thrown in for good measure.

THE TRIP

Sett and Jack set out from the Belfry one and a half hours late but in spite of ice on Mendip and fog in the Midlands managed to arrive at Pongo’s only three quarters of an hour late. Here they were treated to a sumptuous meal, their last in civilisation for a week. They departed thence accompanied by Pongo on his brother’s 2509 Triumph, registration lettering BUN, and arrived at the Coniston Youth Hostel half an hour before dinner was due. After dinner the party adjourned to the BLACK BULL to start the investigation; results negative (no climbers).

The following morning the day’s provisions were carefully packed. These consisted of two bottles of Sauterne, one pound of Christmas cake and an assortment of sweets and dates. The party were joined by a photographic type and walked via the Copper Mines Prison Band and Brim Fell to the top of The Old Man of Consiton, whence having consumed all the drink and food they walked round to the top of Dow Crag and back to Coniston. After supper at the Hostel the investigation continued at The Black Bull. Two climbing types were discovered drinking, results encouraging.

The next day the party motored back to Ambleside and having garaged the bikes set out to climb Rydall Fell; however just above Nab Scar the cloud came down and so did the climbers. A visit to the Salutation in Ambleside left us just enough time between closing time, three pm. and Hostel opening time four-thirty pm., to visit Stockhill Force. The Royal Oak was very quiet that evening, the party having previously had a good dinner in Tony’s Café, Windermere.

Next morning we were told that a local weather adage is ‘When you can see Rydal fell it is going to rain; when you can’t see it is raining’. We couldn’t! Having seen Pongo off the remainder of the party set out for Kirkstone Inn. This, we discovered, sells only bottled beer at fancy prices; however, it is open all day to travellers. The weather cleared up somewhat during the afternoon and a return trip via Coniston Beck and Scardale afforded some marvellous views. The day’s provisions were consumed whilst waiting for the Coniston bus. On the bus it was noticed the driver is confronted with a large notice stating’ This bus is eight feet wide and thirty feet long’. Other refinements noted were a pair of power operated doors, a very smooth gear change and the engine at the rear. After dinner at the Hostel and a few noggins at the Black Bull, where two more climbers were seen, we sat up until midnight to see the New Year in and had tea in the Warden’s sitting room.

We arose next morning to another rainy day, so we decided on a bus to Ambleside and a walk to Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. After a six mile walk we called in at the new hotel, Dungeon Ghyll to find the bar empty. This was a highly polished affair with several hundred varieties if liqueurs and a few bottles of beer, so after a Youngers No.3 apiece we pulled out the map and spotted another hotel about half a mile further up the road. Upon entering the Dungeon Ghyll old hotel we nearly fell over several ruc-sacs. There were three or four parties of climbers drinking decent beer, a blue football shirt was wrapped around a chimney of a slow combustion stove and one of the lads was cursing the barman roundly for being tardy with his beer. This looked more like it so we called up two pints and took a couple of seats on an upturned empty beer and cider barrels. During the conversation we learned that this was, as we already suspected THE Dungeon Ghyll; it apparently knows no closing time (opinions differed as to whether this was official or a matter of distance from civilisation) and serves beer, tea or coffee indiscriminately at quite reasonable prices to all who require them. This was borne out by several parties who strolled in whilst we were there. One of a pair of girls who referred to each other as Hag, complained of a head and when asked, said that at four am she had been standing on a table in the middle of the bar with her arms round the president of the Rock and Fell Club singing ‘I wish I was a fascinating bitch’, whilst the president’s wife looked on disapprovingly. When we left at three forty-five pm the bar showed no signs of closing, but unfortunately we had to catch the bus. Later that night, in the Royal Oak, we met one of the parties from the D.G. who had caught the 4.45 bus, and they said that officially they had been up Bow Fell. Later still in the Hostel we attempted to start a conversation with a party of six from the Bristol Explorers’ Club. However they would not be drawn. One of them caused much amusement by a remark that, when he put his foot on a slab it came off! When they had gone to bed a nasty crack about theoretical climbers started a most enlightening discussion about ropes, nails and vibrams and methods of belaying and tying knots. And so to bed; a very satisfying day.

The next day dawned bright so we caught the bus to Dunmail Rise and walked to the top of Dollywagon Pike. The going was very heavy, most of the way there was six inches of soft snow with a crust that would not quite take one’s weight; however we were rewarded with some marvellous views of most of the Lakeland mountains and the sea both to the North and South. Several other parties of walkers were seen, this being the only occasion during the week. We returned to the road just in time for the bus and so back to Ambleside to pack and make ready for the morrow.

The return journey was uneventful, cold and dry. We arrived in Bristol at 4.30pm. having left Ambleside at 9.30am.

CONCLUSIONS

Bar-room mountaineering is far more widespread and practised more often than bar-room caving although it is possible that the investigators have an opinion biased by their method of survey.

APPENDIX 1.

Full National Grid Reference of Dungeon Ghyll Old Inn is 35/286061.

APPENDIX 2

Sauterne and Christmas cake are far more efficient than Bass and Baked Beans.

Notice

A Nomination form for the 1954 committee will be enclosed with the October BB. It is in your own interest to nominate those members whom you feel will further your interests in the Club.

T.H.S.

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T.H. Stanbury, Hon. Ed. 48, Novers Park Road, Bristol. 4.