Saturday, 18 November 2017

August 2017 - Isle of Man

Living in Lancaster, the signs pointing the way to Heysham with their ferry symbol, seem to disappear into the background. To enjoy adventures with amazing wildlife and crystal clear waters, it was the blue M6 sign that you wanted, the gateway to the West Coast of Scotland or North Wales.
Once again though, Jim Krowieke's paddling guide to the North of England provided inspiration. He'd been so right about the waters around Barrow and he made this sound even better.

So it was Dick and I found ourselves heading the wrong way for an adventure on roads I normally associate with going to Asda or Screwfix. Flashes in the sky which we initially thought to be the death throws of Heysham nuclear power station,  turned out to be an incredible thunder storm. It might be an interesting crossing. 

We parked in the car park next to the ferry port and carried our boats the short distance to the terminal building.


A note on logistics. The car park is very close to the terminal but is very expensive. The cheap ferry is also in the middle of the night so we parked the van for Dick's wife to collect at a more reasonable time in the morning. The process was then repeated on the return.  This allowed us to travel as foot passengers with our kayak 'hand luggage', going free. It's worth mailing the Steam packet company with your intentions as they're very helpful. A trolley would make portaging the boats easier, but these obviously take up valuable space or look very unaesthetic on the rear deck.

Having checked in we began chatting to a fellow passenger and began learning of the inexorable link between our destination and motorcycling. We also learnt that we had timed our visit with the build up to the Classic TT, with practice starting in a few days time.

Doing things on the cheap, often requires a little more effort and it was now time for us to pay our dues. While the distance from the car park to the terminal had been a relatively easy carry, from the terminal to the ferry felt like miles and the narrow walkway to the side of the car ramp awkward, even one boat at a time. We slotted our kayaks in the shadow of an arctic trailer and went to find our seats which were to be our beds for the remainder of the night.


Dawn saw us carrying our boats once again, but this time even further from the ferry port to Douglas's outer harbour. At least with this portage we could stop for coffee part way through.


Shopping completed, we loaded our boats and Dick radioed the exceptionally polite harbour control to ask permission to leave, you don't want to be mixing it up with the ferries or larger ships.


With permission granted and just a short weather window before stronger winds, we headed north across Douglas bay past the Tower of Refuge, built by the founder of the RNLI,  who came to live on the island.


Once across the bay we were paddling beneath stunning cliffs. While they make for superb scenery, landing is nigh on impossible and we were looking for any breach in them to make camp.

Just before Laxey we were escorted to our home for the next couple of nights by a few locals, swimming effortlessly around and under us, snorting with derision at our cumbersome craft. Ever present seals and the birdlife on the island make this a very special place.


With high winds forecast it was time to be a tourist for the day and we paddled the short distance to Laxey to visit its famous water wheel and enjoy a pint of locally brewed beer. On returning to our boats in the harbour, we were once again carrying, the dock drying at low tide.


While sheltered from the main force of the south westerlies, a gap in the hills made paddling against the funnelled wind a surprising struggle and we were relieved to make it back to our camp and one of the finest beach BBQs I've had.


The morning brought calmer weather and we decided to see how far we could get in the brief weather window.  We set off from our beach and headed South, retracing our steps.


Carried by the tide we were soon south of Douglas and marvelling at the Victorian engineering of the Marine Drive, a road that hugged the cliff edge. Unfortunately sections have not faired well and some of the bridges can now be found crumpled at the bottom of the cliffs they once proudly stood at the top of.


We'd spied a couple of potential spots on Google Earth that seemed to offer good camping for the night and the second we came to turned out to be a beautifully secluded bay.


With stormy weather on it's way once more, we decided to see how far southwest could push, very aware that we had to get ourselves back for our ferry.  We knew the day would hold at least a couple of tidal races and we planned our day to try and arrive as close to slack water as possible at key points. Rounding the northern tip of Langness my ability to be rather slow on the uptake soon proved to be an issue. I really need to stop thinking, "Oh that's a big wave, I wonder where that came from" and instead need to think, "BRACE!!". As they say though, experience is something you gain just after you need it. Still the inverted sight of big, black, jaggedy rocks racing towards me sharpened my instinct to roll and I was quickly following Dick into calmer waters.

I'm sure the next stretch of coast was beautiful, but all the way I was thinking, the Northern point was meant to be the warm up, it's the southern point that has the proper race.  As it was though, it proved to be pleasantly exciting rather than intimidating and with whoops of joy we passed the most southerly point on the Manx mainland and glided round into Castletown bay.


We wanted to visit Castletown and pulled up on the shingle beach next to the road and enjoyed fantastic coffee and great fish and chips. The welcoming and helpful nature of the Manx also saw us with full gas cylinders and petrol bottles.

On returning to our boats though we were met with hundreds of metres of sea weed covered limestone. The boats had just been restocked too and were far from light. Leap frogging one boat at a time, we would go back for the second boat to find on returning the tide even further out.  The never ending tasks of Greek myths came to mind, but either we speeded up or more likely, the time's recession decreased and we were water borne once more.

We wanted to push on, to camp near Port St Mary, but we found ourselves in a much more populas region and having been spoiled the last few nights, we were once again looking for an idyllic campsite. It just wasn't going to happen though and leaving further fantastic coastline to be explored, we turned our boats and started paddling back the way we had come. Keeping close to the shore we kept surveying the coast for a potential campsite and finally found a spot between the sea and a golf course. It wasn't in the same league as previous nights, but at least we could wander into town and the belled buoy in the bay gave the feeling of remoteness as I drifted to sleep.


Mannanan had dropped his cloke the following morning and rather than risk rounding Langness in limited visibility, we employed a classic viking trick and portaged the narrow isthmus.  Setting off into the fog was an eerie experience, not helped by knowing that none of the planes at the airport next to us, with all their high tech navigational aids, were grounded by the conditions. As we paddled the visibility increased and as ever when paddling with Dick when we could finally see where we were going, we were headed straight towards our destination. 


It felt like returning home when we pulled into the bay in which we had camped a couple of nights previously and we soon had the tents pitched with the very same stones of our previous visit holding down the guy points.


We were now a couple of nights closer to a big spring tide and both of us had a few sleepless hours as the water seemed to get ever closer, reaching a high point just over a boat length from our tents.


Though our trip had been planned by high winds, we had had nothing but blue skies and the following morning dawned the same. We had hoped to keep close to the shore on our way back to Douglas, enjoying the fantastic rock gardening but a healthy swell, reflecting from the cliffs, kept us further out to sea.



I feel that I can cope well with wild places, but needing to camp close to Douglas for our ferry the following day had me feeling quite stressed. I needn't have worried though, as once again the laid back attitude of the islanders found us with our tents pitched on what must be one of the most prime pieces of real estate in the town.

I'm not a biker and if flicking TV channels I came across bike racing, I would keep flicking. Standing just metres away though from the classic bikes doing their laps is an utterly visceral experience. All your senses are bombarded, you feel the sound as well as hearing it and the smell of the two stroke engines is one I'll never forget. If these were modern super bikes I would have been awe struck, but some of these bikes were older than me and their skinny tyres made their speed utterly ludicrous to me.



Our experience in carrying the boats from the ferry to the harbour me us determined to find an alternative landing spot. Closer reading of Jim's book yielded a better landing spot, a stone's throw away from the ferry and more importantly a quiet place to dry and sort gear as well as reflect on the trip.



A final meal, courtesy of a biker's caf, saw us replete before our ferry arrived to return us to the UK.  The Steam Packet staff were exceptionally helpful and there was no messing with funny walkways, the traffic being held while we used the main ramp.


Huge thanks to Em and Sharon for looking after the boys and saving us a fortune in parking charges by picking up and dropping off the van. Thanks to to the Steam Packet staff who made loading and unloading of the boats as simple as possible. Finally massive thanks to the people we met on the island for making us feel so welcome, we'll definitely be back.


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

10th April 2017 - Team effort

















Sunday, 2 April 2017

30th March 2017 - Aquamole Aven




Friday, 10 March 2017

9th March 2017 - Pippikin Pot

After a couple of weeks exploring from Mistral and looking down into the Pippikin streamway, along with thoughts of trying the Ease gill traverse, the time had come for a trip down 'Pip'. Most of the trip reports we'd read involved a through trip, in Pip and out of Mistral. We wanted to see though what it would be like coming back up too, so we planned a return trip, to the Hall of the Ten and back.

Having watched the fantastic Sid Perou film on YouTube and done a bit of reading, I shared with Tony as we crossed the moor, that I was feeling quite nervous. Tony too let me know his thoughts and we agreed that we'd take it step by step (or squeeze by squeeze), each of us having the power of veto.

The first thing I'd been worried about was finding the entrance, but helped by the longer evenings, in the end we almost tripped over it. A rope anchored to a rock leading into the dark taking away any doubt as to which hole we needed to be heading down.

I can't remember the last two wee trip I'd been on, but just as I was putting my harness on, I needed to go again. Definitely nervous then! Clipping onto the traverse line brought me back to the task at hand.

Here we go.

A short crawl at the bottom of the first pitch and a traverse over a blind pot, aided magnificently by an in situ scaffolding bar, brought us to our first obstacle.

Squeeze one:

Lying on my right side I timidly began udging into the polished tube. On the upside, I could almost immediately see the end of the squeeze.  On the downside I couldn't see a floor and the only holds seemed a long way away on the other side of the chamber. At full stretch now, I was hoping the squeeze would be long enough to allow my body to bridge across the void. With not an inch to spare, my hands made contact and I could extract my legs. In what was to become a general theme of the evening, Tony then completed the same manoeuvre, but in about half the time and with genuine style.


We checked that we were both happy carrying on and then popped through a perfectly sized window and down a short climb to a small chamber.


Squeeze two:


Laying on my side again I began wriggling my body into the gap. My head was in a bit of a funny position and with my helmet on, I couldn't change it. I eased back out and with my helmet off, my second attempt felt much easier.  Tony too went for the helmet off approach and, once body was properly aligned, was through.


We were getting into a rhythm now: pitch, gear off, rifty bit, squeeze, check we’re both happy, pitch…


The second pitch and it's associated rift were both short, but that of course meant we were soon at…


Squeeze three:

With feeling much happier in the last squeeze without my helmet, I took it off before even trying this one and we were soon both through and putting our gear back on above the third pitch.

All the pitches so far we had found rigged and we had been leaving our ropes at the top of each pitch head. The temptation now, to dump the rest of the ropes, was becoming ever stronger.  The thought of having to go back unnecessarily through any of the squeezes though and also the satisfaction of knowing we could do the trip carrying our own gear just tipped it, but only just.

With pitch three we felt we were back in a 'normal' cave, abseiling down a typical Yorkshire aven. Normality however was to be short lived.

Squeeze four:

This was it, the main event, Stemple Rift. Slightly longer than the previous squeezes and once again with an awkward drop beyond. Helmet off and once again on my side, I began the wriggle, trying as hard as I could to stay as high as possible.  Soon the stemple across the drop ahead was visible and once perched on it, we man handled the bags through. I'd only just started taking my SRT gear out of a sack, before Tony was through and hand over handing down the knotted tape to join me.

The fourth pitch seemed fairly unique in that, rather than being followed by a rift and a squeeze, only a short piece of streamway intervened before the short fifth pitch. Though I didn't say anything at the time, in my head I was quietly pleased to have made it here, with no more obstacles before the Hall of the Ten. I'd missed an 'awkward' in the text though and when the 'awkward 2m drop into a pool' arrived, I suddenly found myself unstuck, or more to the point, stuck. With legs waving in the air, the only thing I had to be thankful for was that Tony was still further back in the rift and not able to see my flailing efforts.

With order restored we dropped down into the pool before climbing back up into the continuation of the rift, keeping high to avoid its narrower lower reaches. Fortunately our sacks were now light and didn't impede us too much as we made our way along the strenuous traverse. After a few minutes we dropped down into a decorated chamber. Here we left our last rope and dropped down yet another narrow rift to the final pitch. Seeing the final rope, I headed directly for it and once again had a bit of a moment.  In extricating myself I happened to look up and see a far easier route to the pitch head.

Down the last pitch, we abandoned our SRT and began what felt, comparatively speaking, like a stomp along a main drain. Only interrupted by a short slither over some slabs, the streamway took us to somewhere we finally recognised and I scampered up the boulder choke into the vast silence of the Hall of the Ten. I wanted to shake Tony's hand, but I knew our journey wasn't over yet.  I also had to stop myself from draining the water bottle he proffered. Now it was decision time. We knew we could gain the surface easily through Mistral, but it was this return journey that we had come for.

We'd better get a move on.

Rift by rift, pitch by pitch, squeeze by squeeze. Gear on, gear off. Packing tackle sacks with the previously abandoned ropes. Obstacles passed, but harder obstacles becoming ever closer, the bags becoming more and more cumbersome.

On the stemple once more, Tony clipped the bags onto the end of the tape and once I'd pulled them up, threw them as far as I could into the rift. Trying to urge them forward and make progress myself definitely wasn't the easiest thing I've done in a while and in the end I moved over the bags and extricated myself from the squeeze.  Turning round, the bags lay just out of easy reach, Tony giving them the final required push before coming up effortlessly through the rift as though on a travelator.


Friday, 24 February 2017

23rd February 2017 - Return to Gour Hall


With storm Doris on her way, I wasn't even sure if we'd get a trip in. A midday mail though from Tony confirmed that things weren't quite as bad as forecast and he was happy to make his way over from the Lakes. A lot of rain had come down though and so an all weather trip was needed. There was something about Mistral that was calling me back and I was pleased when Tony too was happy to return.

Even though we set off an hour later than last week, it was still light as we headed across the moor, the big difference being that Easegill was in full flow as we crossed it by Link pot. After the initial climb, Tony took over route finding duties and we were soon crossing through the Hobbit chamber on the way to Dusty junction.  Having to concentrate less on route finding allowed us to take in more of our surroundings and notice more of the lovely features that we had unwittingly passed by last week.

At the Hall of the Ten we briefly dropped down into the Pippikin streamway, but it definitely wasn't the place to be on this evening. At Gour Hall we dropped down to its end and tried taking a couple of pictures of the pools themselves.  Released from modelling duties and free to move again, Tony disappeared into the terminal digs, following the bang wire up a narrow tube. Once through we made only the briefest of forays along the two possible ways on. Tony quickly declared his option too tight, where as mine was too wet.

The gour pools in their eponymous Hall.

One of the pools.
Back in the main Hall I poked my head into what I thought was the way into Extreme Ways (reading up later it was), marvelling at the number of caps that had been required to gain just the first few initial feet of passage.  It was then back to the reps of stoop a bit, crawl a bit, all the time noting beautiful features, tucked away in inaccessible alcoves.

We've given up with the child lock on the gate and just climbed over, it's definitely beyond both of us.  We might not be able to cope with gate furniture, but we could definitely appreciate the now cleared skies. A myriad of stars shining down on snow dusted hills.  Every day's a learning day and it was great to be able to add another constellation to my limited knowledge courtesy of a sky map app. As a Leo, I'm not into things like astrology, but it's nice to be able to find the constellation.

Approaching the Barbon Inn our hearts sank as a gentleman in the doorway announced they were closed. We were just turning away when the air was filled with deep laughter and we were ushered into the warmth of the pub. There are some nights when it's a real pity we're driving, but even on lemonade the chat was superb. We reluctantly left the pub, both a little wiser, having been regaled with tales of race horse training, boxing and piglet suckling women.

Thanks to Tony for sharing the trip and John and the bar lady for rounding off the evening perfectly.

Friday, 17 February 2017

16th February 2016 - Mistral to Gour Hall

Formations in Gour Hall
With the days starting to draw out and a slightly earlier start, we stomped across the moor in daylight, passing Lancaster Hole before heading up and over again.  The final gate leading to Easegill had been equipped with a child lock, but having figured this out we were granted access to the dry river bed.  Directly in front of us we noted the position of Link pot, knowing that this may serve as a useful waypoint on our return in the dark. Turning downstream we followed the true left bank of the gill until we came to the beautifully dry stoned enclosure around Mistral, a real improvement on the pile of planks that used to mark the entrance.
The description says to carefully down climb the 6m pitch and it is worth noting that the bar belaying the knotted rope that can assist the climb will take a downward pull, but definitely not a horizontal one.  Having regained my composure for a brief moment a wobbly hold saw me wobbling again too. Then into the blasted rift with its 90 degree bends, past the fallen block, over the boulders, enjoying just moving through the passageway. Little squirms were always followed by stand up and stretch chambers and before long we were in much larger chamber that I recognised, The Hobbit, distinctive with its large, flat roof.
Crossing the Hobbit, the detailed RRCPC route description constantly reassured as we picked up features, rope on the left, rope on the right, squirm over calcite, until we arrived at our next major landmark, Dusty Junction.  Here I'd pieced together two descriptions, one coming from the Hobbit and the other coming from Pip.  By putting the two together we were pretty sure our right turn was the right direction, though there was still some uncertainty.  The draught, mentioned in the description, that should have been coming down the crawl leading to Link was entirely absent.  This was not too disconcerting as I distinctly remembered a huge draft blowing along Mistral on my last visit, the name of the entrance unquestionable and this too was now non existent.  More worrying was the lack of an obvious cairn mentioned in the description.  I know there has been a lot of tidying up done in caves of late, but to remove a cairn?
Our description now became a little less detailed, follow "sandy tunnels" to Hall of Ten.  Taking the most well worn way on at each possible junction payed off though and despite encountering more smooth mud than sand, we soon entered the huge darkness of the Hall.  Enthusiasm to enter its vastness had to be curbed as a convex, muddy slope lay directly between us and its bottom, a good way below and a more indirect, but pleasantly slower route down was taken.  No sooner had we reached the base of the chamber but we had to climb back out on the other side, once again on smooth mud.  Turning right from our balcony we once again found ourselves alternating between low squirms and much larger pieces of passageway.  These larger sections being filled with beautiful formations.

On the way to Gour Hall
Ascending into Gour Hall it is hard to imagine the sight that greeted the original explorers.  Tucked away in alcoves lie patches of pristine mud formations, towered over by brilliant white stalagmites.  Liquid mud has though over the years been spread over an ever larger area, it's advance only now  stemmed by conservation tape.  Fortunately Tony had admirably dragged a tripod to this point and I was glad of it to keep the camera out of mud's way.
With only one slight navigational glitch on the return, leading to a hasty backwards squirm down a crawl which thankfully Tony had't followed me down, we had worked up quite a sweat by the time we reached the surface.  Rather than emerging into a stunning star filled night though, we ascended to thick clag, our torches' range only a few feet.  Noting Link on the way payed off and Tony spotting it in the murk allowed us to find the end of the path, a helpful arrow, and our route back across the moor.
Even though we weren't as cold as last week, it was still great to have a warm welcome in the Barbon Inn and a very tasty pint.  We are definitely going to have to return to this part of Easegill and spend a little more time getting to know our way around amongst some of the most consistently well decorated passages in these parts.







Friday, 10 February 2017

9th February 2016 - Caverns measureless to man

Caverns.  Even putting aside Coleridge, forgivable for both poetic licence and the large amount of opiate coursing through his system, the word cavern is normally associated with a large, voluminous cave. Do cavers then have an over developed sense of irony, or is it that both of the caverns that I can think of in Yorkshire are still thought to have incredible potential.  Mossgill Caverns, a place I have never visited, is theorised to have much greater depth than currently explored and Aygill Caverns, is potentially the key to a missing link between the caves of Barbondale and Easegill. Cavernous is certainly not how I would describe the entrance series to Aygill, but perhaps on our brief foray we failed to reach the caverns measureless to man.

A chill was in the air as for the first time in my caving career we left the van and walked in the opposite direction to usual, away from Easegill and towards Barbondale.  Fortunately the walk in is short and there is a handily placed dig in which to exert a bit of energy and warm up, before the final 50m push up the stream to the boulder surrounded entrance.

A quick slither down and a very short crawl leads to a very polished chimney that is the way on.  A meandering, dry rift, with handily placed chock stones for foot holds then leads to a small chamber.  On the opposite side of this, behind a large boulder, lies the first pitch.  Fortunately this was rigged so Tony was able to leave one tackle sack where it was and finish the traverse unencumbered.

At the bottom of the first pitch, the description suggested that a stream would be met, but despite the sound of a stream it lay below, out of sight.  A small hole on the left though allowed a slither down into the chilly stream.  I was hoping to be able to dash ahead and see if the second pitch was rigged allowing the others could leave the second bag, but banging and crashing around with the camera box in the low and narrow passage, they soon joined me.

An old Elliot thread in the floor of the passage indicated we were near the top of a pitch and sure enough, just around the corner I could see a p-hanger.  Tony tied the rope to a choke stone a few metres back and duly protected I set up the hang from the sole bolt.

The pitch became ever more spray lashed but fortunately Dick had stuck a long sling in the bag which allowed a deviation from another natural and kept us out of most of the water.  With only a short amount of time available we headed off up stream, bridging over deep pools in the beautifully clean, water sculptured passage.  Tony explored till it became too low, while I set up a shot before a swift return to the rope.

Upstream from the bottom of the pitches
Perhaps it's because you're going the opposite way to the water, but pitches always seem wetter on the way back up and I was glad of the deviation.  While Yorkshire water is often refreshing, today it was deeply chilling.  You don't have to think for long at all to understand why they called this Cascade pitch.  Removing SRT gear made the return to the chamber at the foot of the first pitch much easier and following Dick, we went for a quick explore up a side passage, this time the water that had carved it absent, finding another route perhaps millennia ago. In places the roof looked precarious, thousands of small cobbles cemented together, defying gravity.

How's this staying up?
Back then up the short, Traverse pitch, through the small chamber and down into the entrance crawl.  Though the climb at the entrance is quite narrow, fresh snow had still found it's way to the bottom and we were soon out into the crisp night.

Back up the pitches

Out into the chilly air
Trying to park in Barbon we were unsure if there'd be standing room in the Inn, posh cars lining the road.  Fortunately the occupants of the cars must have been elsewhere (where??!) as the pub was quite and we were able to install ourselves in front of one of their fires.  It's only a small thing, but when the friendly bar staff let you feel free to throw more wood on the fire, it makes you feel very welcome.  The Old Speckled Hen was superb too.  Cheers to Dick and Tony for a grand little trip.