Friday 25 November 2016

24th November 2016 - Kerplunking

The well landscaped entrance 

The scaffolding section of the entrance pitch

Spout above Kleine Scheidegg

Beautiful curtains in Estonia 

The curtains continue up into the aven

Stalagmites and curtains in Estonia 

Tony making his way along Curry Inlet

Emerging from the entrance

Huge thanks to Dick and Tony for standing around while I messed with flash guns, especially as it wasn't really happening today.

Friday 18 November 2016

17th November 2016 - Welcome to my world

With heavy rain falling, plans for the evening needed changing and driving up the Lune valley, the flooding reaffirmed we'd made the right decision. As we climbed up to Bull Pot Farm, the rain changed, first to sleat, then to snow. It was going to be a chilly one!

I set off rigging down the entrance tube and was quickly followed to the well watered base of the pitch by Tony, international guest star David and finally Dick.

Rigging the Lancaster Hole entrance pitch

Tony leaving the ledge and heading down the main pitch

Dick arriving at the bottom of the main pitch
Normally the words, "Welcome to my world." hold fairly negative connotations.  If however your name is Slug, I'd be a pretty chuffed person uttering them. Slug's World is a grand little place!  There are some lovely little features including some pretty big helectites.

Quick break at the end of Slug's World

Helectites in Slug's World

Another view of the helectites
From Slug World we retraced our steps back past the pitch before following the well trodden route to Bridge Hall and the obligatory trip up to see the Colonnades. Mention has to be made of the fantastic work done here and elsewhere in the Dales, by the likes of Ray Duffy, painstakingly cleaning formations and trying to return them to their former glory. It's massively appreciated.

Back down in Bridge Hall, we slithered into Kath's way, stomped along Bill Taylor's passage and stepped gingerly across into Montagu Cavern. Whether it's a trick of the memory, or the action of water after last year's floods, it seems that some of the holes in the floor in these parts are bigger than they ever used to be!

We followed the climbs down into the vastness of Fall Pot, before climbing back up into the high level series and Montagu East, finally making the traverse of the areas that allows passage across Stake Pot.  We had decided that our turn around point would be the Painter's Pallete, but again our collective memories seemed to be playing tricks on us as we remembered it being much closer to Bob's Boss than it actually is.  Just short as it turns out,  we began our return journey.

The foot of the pitch was fairly damp and unfortunately I was wearing my leaky suit which just seemed to collect and funnel water to places that generally prefere being warm and dry.

Time to head back up the pitch
Tony's speedy ascent and de rig allowed a collective trudge back across the slowly becoming snow covered moor and the shelter of the van.  For those that grade changes, this must have rated quite highly, the sleaty snow stinging briefly bared flesh.
Closing the lid

At first I was concerned about trying to reach the Barbon Inn, the van's wheels spinning on the freshly fallen snow as we climbed up from Bull Pot Farm. As we descended the valley though it soon turned to rain and we arrived just before the bar man shut up shop. A grand pint and a warm fire were a fitting end to the evening.

Friday 11 November 2016

10th November 2016 - Changes

When all is going mad on the surface, it's great to be able to retreat to the subterranean world where everything feels constant, where changes normally take thousands or tens of thousands of years.  It is easy to forget that sometimes dramatic events can take place in our caves too, caused by events such as the catastrophic flooding that hit the north of England and Scotland at the end of 2015.

While the moon light picked out beautifully the dusting of snow on the fells, unfortunately it washed out most of the stars. There was nothing it could do though to diminish the stunning views of a number of planets, lying low on the horizon. So it was, invigorated by the chill in the air, we made our way over the moor to the cave entrance.

Preparing to head undergound
Dick quickly set off rigging down the opening pitch and we followed, admiring the engineering of the entrance.  The initial climbs soon opened out to where the main pitch descends into a large chamber, one of the rebelays airily positioned on a nose of rock.

Rebelay on the "last" pitch

Descending the "last" pitch

The landing of the pitch was on a slope that showed definite signs of movement, but provided an easy walk down to the sump which in the past we had had to access by rigging first a traverse and then a short pitch.

The difference in the sump from our last visit was incredible. Where once a thin rock bridge had arched metres above a sump and the air echoed to the sound of the waterfall feeding it, there now lay an eerily silent and foreboding pool.

Dick and Sharon at the sump pool in 2012

Dick at the same spot, but taken from the opposite direction (due to my inability to swim with a camera) in 2016
Another view of Dick standing on the "bridge"
How much debris had come down the slope to cause the backing up of this pool can only be guessed at, but it must have been an incredible sight to witness.  Returning up the slope we visited some of the other areas of the cave, before returning up the pitches.
Returning up the main pitch
The air was crisp as we emerged once more into the moonlight and retraced our steps across the moor. 

Emerging into the moonlight
While we would normally have headed back to Kirby for a pint in the Snooty Fox, a bit of quick thinking from Tony saw us in the Whoop Hall which offered a pretty decent pint.

Sunday 6 November 2016

3rd November 2016 - Dorset delight

With a family holiday once again taking us down to the stunning Jurassic coast of Dorset, I hoped I'd be able to fulfil a dream of doing some exploration of the coastline in my sea kayak.  Incredibly as the departure date came closer, the stunning autumn weather we've been having looked like it might just hold too.

Had we had one good paddling day that would have been great, but the weather was absolutely superb and not only did I get a morning paddling with my wife (thanks Tom and Annabelle for looking after the boys), who has made all this paddling business possible by buying me a boat, but I was also able to have a great day paddling from Wareham to Swanage.

Emma exploring the caves near Old Harry rocks

For our quick trip to Old Harry we set off from the National Trust car park at Knoll beach which gave a short carry to the water, with only a barrier wall of seaweed making launching slightly trickier than it otherwise might have been.

Setting off just before the 'stand' between the two high tides they have in these parts we hoped at worst the tide wouldn't impede us and at best may actually help on both the outbound and return journeys.

Hugging the shore the cliffs get bigger and bigger as you approach the headland and the stacks and arches of the rocks themselves make for absolutely superb paddling and far too soon we had to start our return journey.

A couple of days later the family dropped me off at the Quay car park in Wareham at local tide. Parking here is a bit of a bargain compared to some of the coastal car parks and offers incredibly easy access to the water. There are even free public toilets with the best taps ever which kept the kids entertained for a bit (we really know how to live it up in our family!).

The first part of the journey is down the River Frome. Walls of towering reeds on each bank limit the view slightly, but there is plenty of interest in the hundreds of leisure craft that use the river as a mooring. Around a final bend though and the vista widens massively as the estuary opens out to great Poole Harbour.

Lots of small boats were scurrying around on the flooded part of the estuary, though remaining in the buoyed channel I didn't get close enough to find out what they were gathering. On the opposite bank a group of stand up paddle boarders were enjoying the tranquillity of the bay, escorted by the noisiest safety RIB I've ever heard.

The Harbour narrows again briefly before opening out into an island studded expanse of water, it's entrance still kilometres away. I chose to try and take the quietest route along the southern side, accompanied by hundreds of wading birds, but sadly no seals.

Ahead now lay the bit of the day that I had least been looking forward to, leaving the mouth of the Harbour.  The 300m wide entrance is guarded by a chain ferry that regularly shuttles between Sandbanks and Studland. Not only do you need to avoid the ferry which can do nothing to change its course, but I was also worried about the chain fore and aft of it to. Fortunately I was able to time my passage 'behind' the ferry, just as it docked at Studland and maintained eye contact with a member of the crew so he knew I was there.  It's worth noting the black ball that is raised on the 'front' of the ferry just before it departs.

The clapotis from the swell reflecting from the ferry did little to diminish my relief at having passed this obstacle and I landed on the stunning beach to report my progress before heading once again out towards Old Harry.

There was lots going on in the bay. First the Poole all weather lifeboat passed me returning to Poole on what must have been one of its final outings. Its patch is shortly to be covered by the new Swanage boat. Then a large military plane which had passed overhead a number of times while I was in the harbour flew very low before dispatching something on a number of parachutes out the back and into the water. A very militaristic RIB then flew by, blue lights flashing (I later learnt this was the Dorset Police RIB).  Finally a coastguard helicopter that had been hovering by the rocks set off in pursuit of a RIB towards Knoll beach before landing.

Heading across Studland bay towards Old Harry
Arriving at the rocks the water level was lower than on our previous visit and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to utilise the gap we'd used previously.  Going to have a closer look there was suddenly no real choice as I was whooshed through a gap that fortunately did exist by the ebbing tide.

Might need a bit more water
Old Harry isn't the only bit of interest on this section as not only do the impressive cliffs continue, but there are also further stacks known as The Pinnacles. I felt very small at the foot of the cliffs and it was quite reassuring when the Swanage inshore lifeboat sped past, crew waving.

The Pinnacles with Swanage bay just visible in the distance 
Entering Swanage bay the cliffs fall back to be replaced by familiar sites in the bay. As I neared the shore I thought I spied an extremely familiar site and stopped to ring my wife. Sure enough, she confirmed that it was our van I could see and that she'd drag the lads out of the penny arcade and be there to meet me, a fantastic end to a superb trip.

Huge thanks to Mark Rainsly and his South West Sea Kayaking guide, without which I would never have thought of starting at Wareham and would have then missed this contrasting part of the trip. Thanks too to Em for looking after the boys while I had the day paddling. 

27th October 2016 - A County round

At the entrance to Whirlpool passage
With finishing for half term on a Thursday, it seemed a good excuse to make an early start on the caving season. So it was that Dick, guest star Tony and I met up at Devil's bridge and then made our way up to Bull Pot Farm.

Whether we slipped through a temporal portal on the way up onto the moor I don't know, but there ahead of us was the Farm with Vango Force 10s pitched in the garden and myriad caving suits drying over the walls, just like old photos I've seen. The Forest School Camps group though they belonged to though were a new generation of cavers, rather than the old. Many thanks to this group too for lending us a helmet and lamp and making our trip possible.

It was then off over the moor, with Dick giving me a helpful nudge in the right direction as I absent mindedly walked past the junction to the footpath that takes you to the gill. Down through the trap door and the first pitch, closely followed by the climb down to Broadway.  Right now into Showerbath passage, before dropping the bag at the entrance to Battle of Britain Hall and a quick diversion to Spout Hall and the bottom of the Poetic Justice climb.

Back in Battle of Britain I was comforted by Dick's memory of the route as it was at this point that things got a little hazy for me. The haze soon became a fog as he led us down through the Trident series and to the other side of Poetic Justice.  Finally I knew where we were again and once again dropping the bag, this time at the entrance to Wretched Rabbit, we made the quick trip down to Eureka junction before retracing our steps.

For once I didn't feel too bad as we made our way out, normally I'm shattered by this point and the final climbs require every last ounce of my energy, but soon we could smell the damp earth of the surface and we were out into the murky night.

A newly refurbished Snooty Fox provided post trip refreshment and cheers to Dick and Tony for a great opening trip of the season.