Volume 36 Number 3 Article 6
The Penyghent Saga of 1956
Early in 1956 the club, due mainly to the efforts of Ray Barker, had equipped itself with a fine set of electron ladders. Also, from a large influx of young members about a year earlier several had survived and become useful potholers. It was therefore decided by the club's elders that this was a good time to make the club's first descent of Penyghent Pot.
At that time Penyghent had an awesome reputation. The two big "Leakey rescues" were still fresh in the minds of those who had been around at the time. (For more information see Race Against Time, Eyre & Frankland, page 41.) Those were the days of boilersuits and woollies and until then, rope ladders. Not many descents had been made.
It was decided to make it our Easter trip allowing us plenty of time. On the Friday evening two weeks before Easter it was announced at our weekly meet in the Moorlands pub that the guys with motor bikes were going to nip up on Sunday and take some tackle to the end of the canal, lessening the work of the laddering party. This turned out not to be a good idea. Jim Eyre wore his knees out, Tom Sykes got cramp in his hands that lasted for three days, we were told, and Mick Bateson and Mick Booth were sufficiently demoralised that neither of them went near the hole at Easter. Added to this Ray couldn't make the trip either. This knocked out almost all of the old guard.
Nevertheless, on Good Friday a great horde made their way to Horton and set up camp at Brackenbottom. Cripples, wives, girl friends, camp followers and a few surviving potholers. Two teams were selected, one to ladder and bottom on Saturday, the other to deladder on Sunday and we would all triumphantly make our way home on Monday!
The "A" team led by Ron Bliss comprised Ron Penhale, Alan Rodriguez, Dave Bryden, Barry Metcalfe, Frank Maugham, the author, (I've always wanted to write that), and Len Dawes a guest from the Westminster S.G. On the Saturday morning we started to get changed and retired to our tents to smother ourselves in thick axle grease that somebody had supplied. If it worked for channel swimmers why not us?
There then occurred an incident that Jim Eyre in his book, Cave Adventurers, wrongly attributes to Jack German. At that time I had never met Jack, but more of him later. Piercing screams were heard and Rodriguez was observed heading for the stream at speed. He leapt in and sat splashing water on his genitals. Axle grease not being good enough for him, he had used capsicum ointment which apparently is fiery stuff when applied to the wrong places.
He recovered and we set off for the entrance. Barry and Frank went in first and set off down the crawl to the canal. More screams were heard and Barry eventually appeared clutching his eyes. He had applied some of Roddy's ointment to his forehead and on starting to sweat, it had run down. This unnerved him somewhat and he decided not to continue. When this news filtered through to Frank he managed to drop his bell battery in the canal and decided he had better retire also.
The remainder of us negotiated the canal and the first two pitches and arrived at the big pitch. Dave announced he thought he was getting cramp in his fingers and mindful of Tom thought he should go out. Roddy, his mate, volunteered to go with him. Then there were four; with a great pile of ladders, ropes and Ron's big ammo box. We negotiated a lot of the rift by making a chain, passing things forward then moving through. It made for slow progress. We had laddered nine pitches and arrived in a chamber with a big deep pool when Len said his lamp was fading. My lamp, actually borrowed from Arthur Woodhall, another non-combatant, had faded quite a long time before and was being nursed along on the pilot light, so it was reluctantly decided we should head out.
We marched back into camp about twelve hours after leaving, to be met by an incredulous Eyre. "You haven't bottomed it after all that time?" What made it worse, we had missed closing time and nobody had thought to get us a take-away.
The "B" team lacked a definite leader. Those I remember were Baz and Ray, two Fleetwood members, Dave Raynes, Esky Hall, Pauline one of the longer serving members who delayed the descent by insisting on being driven to church for early morning mass(!!!) and a non member, Bill Jackson, who could talk a good trip on Saturday night in the Wheatsheaf but was rarely seen underground.
They departed for the hole and we settled down for a long wait. At about three o'clock they were observed in the distance descending the hill. I was shattered. Ignominy! They had done in a few hours what we had failed to do in twelve. However, as they drew nearer it became noticeable that nobody was carrying any tackle. Explanations were a bit vague but seemed to centre on Bill Jackson having eaten a full box of dates and then soon after having regurgitated them.
We had thus become virtually a tackleless club. A quick discussion between Jim and Ron and it was decided not to do anything on the Monday but to leave it until the following week when Jim would be back in action. There had been a brisk trade in knee pads after his first experience.
The following week was very wet so the Friday meeting postponed the trip for a further week. On that next Friday a noisy little bloke appeared "What's on this week?" "Penyghent" "Oh good I'll be theer", "It's a hard hole Jack", "It'll be reet." My first meeting with Jack German senior. Jack had been missing from the club for some time, hence Jim's note of caution.
The plan for the week-end was for the motor bike crowd to meet at Lancaster baths at 6 a.m. (Ha!Ha!) on Sunday and be up at the hole for an early start. Only Esky, Dave Raynes and I were camping. At opening time on Saturday, with the tents already up, we were outside the Golden Lion waiting for the doors to open. At closing time we staggered out and caught the bus, specially laid on, to the Settle Saturday night hop. Completely pointless, no girl in her right mind was going to go anywhere near us. Woodhall had appeared in the pub for a while and insisted on plying us with whisky which hadn't helped.
After the hop I discovered that the six penny fare to Settle was doubled on the way back. No way! While Esky and Dave waited for the bus I set off to run back. I get these mad urges when I've had a few. Fortunately, the very first car that came along stopped and offered me a lift. Saint somebody or other I think he said his name was. I was tucked up in my sleeping bag well before Esky arrived and long before Raynes arrived. He had managed to find in the bus the one who was out of her mind - the daughter of the landlord of the Golden Lion.
After what seemed like a very short time I was awakened by somebody playing a drum outside my tent. Struggling to open my eyes and with a thumping head I peered out and discovered a very large, very red faced gentleman knocking Hell out of their tent with a walking stick. "Get off my land you're keeping the lambs from the stream." "But we've got permission." "No you haven't." This, strictly speaking was true. We had permission for the previous week. This very unreasonable gent would not allow us time to pack but drove us up the field with soggy wet tents and previously dry sleeping bags draped around our necks, a rucksack in one hand and an assortment of hastily gathered items in the other.
At this very inopportune moment we heard the roar of motor bikes in the lane, the six o'clock meet had happened, and as the farmer continued to rant and rave and wave his stick, the heads of Eyre, Bliss, German et al appeared over the wall and cheered and jeered us all the way up the field.
While the others changed, Dave, Esky and I lay on the ground close to death. A party of five disappeared down the entrance; Jim, Ron, Jack, Barry and Ron Penhale and that would have been it as far as we were concerned but for an unexpected arrival. It was quite a long time later when a figure appeared over the horizon. A big guy strode up with his shirt open to the waist and his rucksack casually over one shoulder. "Are you Red Rose?" "Yes." "I'm Ken Pearce, I wrote to your secretary asking if I could go down with you. Have they gone?" "Yes." "Are you going?" Esky and I looked at each other, I felt slightly better, Esky must have too, he nodded. "Yes." Raynes had earlier played his trump card. According to him, Penhale was supposed to collect his gear and bring it up with him. Ron denied any knowledge of this.
There then commenced what must have been and probably still is the fastest ever descent of Penyghent Pot. With all the ladders stretched out before him and no wasting time with life-lines Pearce went and we followed. He got ahead of us and we wasted a couple of minutes looking for a ladder in the rift which I expected to find but which had been removed in favour of chimneying. We passed our previous low point, waded through the chamber of deep water and entered a big round passage. We heard voices ahead and caught up with Barry and Jack. "Leave me here Barry and collect me on the way back. I'm knackered." "I can't do that Jack." We joined in on Barry's side and persuaded Jack to the top of the next pitch where Esky decided he was knackered too and would stay with Jack. Not surprising as apart from his bad Saturday night he had worked a night shift on Friday before catching a bus from Manchester to Morecambe to meet Raynes.
Barry and I carried on and arrived at the last pitch just as Ron Bliss was asking if anybody else was going down. "Yes me." "Have you seen the water?" I hadn't, but if somebody else had gone down I was going. Penhale waited a couple of seconds while I was washed down the pitch then we set off down to the sump. Jim and Pearce approached on their way back. "Who's this?" Jim shone his light in Ron's face and then mine, whereupon he rolled up and let rip with his infamous laugh. I felt quite hurt, having completely forgotten the state I was in when he last saw me not long before.
I was hauled back up the pitch and we set off out. The exit was made in very good time. Jim told us later that Pearce picked him up under one arm, six ladders under the other and just walked out. (And Jim's not one to exaggerate!!) We left a bit of tackle at the start of the canal and were out on the surface drying out in the sunshine in the early afternoon.
And that would have been the end of an excellent trip but for Raynes. He had met a couple of lads wandering around looking for a hole to go down and having "discovered" or borrowed some gear he volunteered to take them through the canal and bring back the remaining tackle. They disappeared into the entrance.
Penhale was taking Raynes, Esky and myself home in his, borrowed from Daddy, Land Rover. We sat on the grass and waited as first the rest of the club disappeared, then the pubs opened, the sun disappeared, the pubs closed and finally they surfaced. It remains a mystery to this day why it took so long. They must have laddered back to the big pitch at least but even that wouldn't explain it. Perhaps he couldn't find the little climb up out of the canal and kept going backwards and forwards looking for it. Now there's a thought! It would explain his reticence to admit anything.
We eventually got back to Lancaster at 1a.m. Raynes couldn't live with the disgrace this brought upon him and not long after left and joined that rest home for failed Red Rose men known as the N.P.C. The saga finally ended on the following Saturday when Woodhall finally decided it was safe to go down and he and I brought out the remaining tackle which Raynes' party had left.
The observant amongst you will have observed that nowhere in this story is there a mention of James Henry. This is because he is a bit of a newcomer to the Club. It must have been '57 or '58 before he decided he'd had enough of the Rock and Pot and Dunald Mill Hole and he'd find a club with some ladders. I hasten to add that in any one year since then he has done more than I have in any twenty years. My next trip down Penyghent was in fact with Jim, after I left the R.A.F. in 1959, as guests of the Bradford P.C. I wore a borrowed goon suit. Big Frank Croll banned guests from carrying tackle and we strolled in and out and had a great trip. What a difference some waterproofing made! Now it's wetsuits and oversuits and S.R.T. Throw them all away lads and get 'ard!