Volume 47 Number 1 Article 4
This trip was a very long time in the planning. I haven’t been caving for probably seven or eight years now. It was just one of those things I gradually did less and less of as other things took over until one day I realised that I didn’t cave anymore.
I first got the urge for another trip underground around the time of Ron Bliss’s funeral. Dad had been sorting out some of Ron’s things, including a photograph of a 1950’s caver, crouching in a vaguely familiar looking chamber beneath a roof of pure white straws. ‘Where is that?’ I asked, puzzled. Dad replied that it was Easter Grotto and the name came back to me from a long distance. Of course! Easter Grotto, how could I have forgotten of its existence! Shocked, I groped round in the back of my mind until memories gradually swam into focus and I could remember its funny little appendix shape on the survey, and the dotted line drawn in from Gypsum cavern, the awkward climb up and the smooth, calcite crawl. Had I really forsaken such dearly familiar places for so long? For a moment I was all fired up to go caving, until reality reasserted itself. I was five months pregnant and caving just wasn’t on the agenda for the foreseeable future. Shelved for the moment, the whole idea quickly got forgotten about, as tends to happen with these things.
Fast forward nearly two years and Paul and I (second generation Wilkinsons) are kitting up in the new changing rooms on a hot and sunny July morning. First and third generation Wilkinsons have been dispatched for a day of sandcastles and ice cream on Heysham beach while we have a bimble down County Pot. As this was my first ever trip it seems a fitting choice. Tramping over the fell in the unexpected heat is extremely sweaty, and knackering enough to make me wonder if I’m fit enough for this anymore; at least the bogs have dried to hollow crusts, making for easier walking. It’s a relief to wrestle back County’s lid and retreat underground. We stop just beyond daylight while I figure out how these new lamps work (no cables!) and Paul repacks the bag. I suddenly feel like we’re kids again, with County as the best ever den, and the whole of Easegill as our playground.
Given that to me the first part of the cave was always ‘just the bit before the pitch’ I hadn’t really appreciated what a classic little bit of Easegill this is - honey coloured scalloped walls, clean rock and sinuous bends beckoning down with the promise of adventure. Paul is in his element and rattles off to rig the pitch, metal krabs clinking against stone. I reacquaint myself with those very specific movements you only really make in caving, namely thrutching, bottom wedging and elbow jamming.
I have a sticky moment at the pitch head when I somehow find myself flailing, unable even to get a foot in the ladder, but a few minutes later we are into Broadway and off down an unusually dry Showerbath passage. Paul throws out names like toadstool junction, confusion corner and razor passage until I can’t remember which bits I actually can remember and which bits I have just convinced myself I recognise. I’m thankful for a lifeline dropping over Chocolate traverse. Did I really used to just nip up and down here without a thought?
We have a detour to look at some formations up a side passage, then head onward to a somewhat gloomy Eureka junction. The dark shingle and mud banks soak up our light, and a tide line of foam and flood debris in the roof adds to the sombre atmosphere. Paddling upstream to Stop Pot, again in extremely low water, Paul tries to jog my memory of the different routes in, out and round. I am starting to suffer a little now, from overheating of all things, so we stop for a break. It’s a relief to unzip my oversuit and let the clouds of steam out.
It strikes me that other, more glamorous, sports have a preponderance of isotonic fuel drinks, bars and powders, carbohydrate loaded, scientifically developed, and nutritionally balanced for optimal absorbance and performance. Meanwhile, Paul unearths a huge bag of Haribo’s tangfastics. We lie on a boulder and debate the merits of foam crocodiles over fizzy cola bottles until my teeth start to dissolve and we decide to move again.
I somehow end up in front at this point and route finding becomes a little hazy as I take us up a ‘passage’ which turns out to be round three sides of a large boulder. Doubling back, we head for a quick jaunt up Thackeray’s passage, admiring its calcite streamers. Tempting as it is to keep going, I have to be back in Sheffield that evening so we reluctantly retrace our steps.
We are now on our way back out of the system, in a way I haven’t been before. The old survey showed Spiral staircase passage running parallel to Wretched Rabbit passage, ending as a dead end without coming to the surface in the gill. The re-surveying team confirmed a point where the two passages crossed, separated by several vertical metres of cobbles. A connection at this point would allow a direct and much shorter route out from the Holbeck junction area of the system, and was duly excavated.
I follow Paul through twisting rift passage until a short crawl opens upwards and outwards into the bottom of a large manmade shakehole. Several tons of loose cobbles have been neatly stacked to form the sides of the funnel behind me as I, somewhat gingerly, climb up the bedrock to the front. Part dry stone wall, part Andy Goldsworthy sculpture and part construction marvel, this is apparently the work of Mr Lieberman et al, and all I can say is, hats off to you, it’s an amazing feat of engineering.
The climbs up out of the big rift haven’t got any easier, despite a plethora of fixed ropes, and some rather desperate measures involving heel hooks are needed to make any progress up the polished rock. An unmistakable current of warm, peaty air heralds our exit and I emerge blinking into daylight. It has been a really enjoyable trip. Paul fails to fall into the pool outside Wretched Rabbit, but you can’t have everything. We wander back to County Pot and Paul has a quick solo expedition to retrieve the ladder while I lie on the thyme scented bank in the sun, close my eyes and listen to a thousand bees.
Walking back over the fell, watching the cloud shadows chasing up Barbondale, we reflect on a really excellent and somewhat underrated trip. Paul sums it up by saying visiting County is like a day out with an old friend, one who you know will be good company. With such delights as Wilf Taylor’s, Main Drain and Cigalere to revisit, hopefully a return trip won’t take quite so long.
My thanks go to Paul for leading the trip, and to Heather for the loan of her kit.