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‘True Tales from History’

A Reminiscence sent in by Jill Tuck.

Editor’s Note:  Although I was far too junior a member to be on the Committee in those days, I can remember this tale being told with great glee at the time.

Once upon a time, a B.E.C. caving party headed for the inoffensive environs of Bath to have a look at some of the stone mines.  We changed in an adjacent school and descended an old shaft actually in the children's playground to the immense interest of the local schoolchildren.

These mines lie only a small distance below the surface the main routes being large enough to walk through in comfort although many of the side passages are low and constricted. We took compass bearings, as some guide to finding the return route, as parts of the mines are fairly involved. As we walked through the passages, our lamps sometimes picked up a distant white pillar which appeared ghost-like as the shadows changed.  I found the atmosphere rather eerie because of this, and the effect was increased by the occasional miners stool which still lay just where the worker had abandoned it.

Along a stretch of wall, for twelve feet or more, a huge colony of bats was hanging, some under a thin stream of water which ran down their legs, soaked their furry bodies, and dripped off their heads.  Why they chose to sleep there, instead of in a dry patch was a mystery.  Presumably even the animal kingdom has its masochists. The sight of hundred of bats doing a comical knees bend act with different timings as we passed, stays in my memory. The whole wall appeared to be in motion.

Eventually, it was time to return, but the compass was no help.  None of the passages went the way we needed to go.  We spread out down various side passages looking for daylight.

At last, a small semi-blocked passage to the surface was found, and we gardened enough rocks away to make egress possible.  George squirmed through on his stomach, stuck his head out into the open air, and told us that he was in a grassy depression, which restricted his view.  He wriggled out further, and then pulled back hastily. He had found that he was in a private garden and that a woman was just coming down the path.  As bad luck would have it, his hasty move loosened some rocks and the woman, curious about the noise, changed course towards the depression. George backed again, as he did not want to alarm her with the sight of his body less head, resting on her garden like some grotesque; cabbage or John the Baptist's on the usual platter.  More stones dropped with his movement.  Really curious now, the housewife stepped into the depression and peered into the new hole now revealed.  George, a gentleman born, raised his caving helmet politely and said "Good afternoon, Madam!"

There was a shriek, nearly audible in Bath, which was followed by a torrent of unladylike rhetoric, interlarded with assertions about our intentions of stealing her raspberries and vegetables.

We did get our bearings and arrived back at the entrance eventually, but it had to be by an underground route.  And the raspberries were just ripe!