Lancaster - Wilf Taylors - Wretched Rabbit

October2011 ††††††Paul & Claire Wilkinson

For the second time in two years, Paul and I have managed to arrange a caving trip. Our last trip was a pleasant potter around County; a gentle re-introduction into caving for me after a break of some years.

This time Paul has set his sights higher. ĎI donít get underground very often so Iím not going on a bimbly trip to Nowheresvilleí he asserts. ĎHow about Dow-Providence?í Fortunately I persuade him that this isnít a two person trip, especially when one of those people is vastly out of practice, so we settle on Lancaster to Maracaibo via Wilf Taylorís.

On what turns out to be the final day of the October heat wave, we trek across the fell to Lancaster Hole. I donít know whether its advancing age, motherhood or lack of practice, but my normal apprehension when faced with a drop of more than a few metres has increased a hundredfold to a sick dread of the pitch ahead, and I wish there were more than the pair of us so I wont be on my own at the top. As Iím putting my SRT kit on Iím cheered to see a party of cavers coming over the brow of the hill, which turns out to be a large group from Kendal CC. Paul isnít quite as happy because he now has an audience watch him wrestle with the rigging in the heat, which he does with as much speed as possible and lowers himself over the edge. Iím not quite sure what Kendal CC make of why this clearly terrified person is going caving at all, but they humour me and all assure me that yes my harness is done up all over, yes my mallion is definitely closed, my stop is threaded correctly and cowsí tails are definitely, definitely clipped in before waving me off with much amusement. Once abseiling I feel a lot better, but Iím grateful to be using Heatherís SRT kit rather than resurrecting my harness from where itís been gently rotting in the garage for a decade.

I arrive at the bottom of the pitch much happier than I was at the top, and we load both SRT kits and lots of food and drink into one enormously heavy bag and set off on our adventure. Our first attempts at route finding donít go terribly well as what we think is the way to the Collonades takes us up a blind ramp, but we are quickly back on track and are soon admiring these great icons of Lancaster Hole and the painstaking conservation work which has uncovered long forgotten crystal beds from the mud.

From here we plan to loop round Montagu West and Wilf Taylorís passage which I think must be one of the most beautiful parts of the whole system. A short step up ladder from Fall Pot takes us through a series of friendly, sandy, hobbity tunnels; perfectly arched and dished with huge scallops, then across some impressive fossil beds to the Bull Pot of the Witches sump. The flood debris wrapped around boulders and adorning the roof gives us food for thought and I can only imagine what a different place it must be in such conditions. After spending a few minutes peering down the dive line we head in the opposite direction, off down Wilf Taylorís passage. For anyone who hasnít been here, it really is a fabulously enjoyable section of cave. The clean washed, teardrop shaped passage makes it way down to main drain level in a series of graceful steps and pools. Knife edges of rock hold back the peaty water and sculpted arÍtes make the descent both elegant and exhilarating. Caving at its best, in other words.

We join the main Lancaster Hole streamway close to the downstream sump. Frankly, I find this quite a sinister place. The massive, brooding sump has sheer sides, and shifting banks of gravel at the waters edge crumble under our feet, sliding steeply into the deep, dark water. Not a place to linger. Turning our backs to the sump we retreat upstream, splashing up the glorious canyon that is the main drain. Its flowing curves, water slides and perfectly circular pools make for an enjoyably splashy stomp although Paul manages to skirt most of the pools while I end up waist deep. After edging round some interesting milled holes in the floor, each with its nest of cobbles, the way on ends in Oxbow cornerís boulder choke. Expecting a well worn trade route through, Iím a bit surprised when all ways on come to dead ends. A rope hanging down in the choke seems to lead up to nasty chossy hanging boulders and despite extensive ferreting we find no way on. Eventually, just as weíre starting to doubt that weíre actually where we think we are, Paul finds a rather aqueous way through at stream level. Several boulders show signs of recent scarring and I wonder if some movement has taken place 1. (Later consultations with Easegill gurus Ray and Sam reveal this to be the Oxbow corner choke after all and we just managed to miss the obvious way through). A point of interest inside the choke was a large fossil, four or five inches in diameter, looking like an ammonite but without the segments. Maybe itís some sort of coiled worm or just a fluke of geology (no pun intended), but if anyone else has spotted it and knows what it is then Iíd be interested in finding out.

Through to Oxbow Corner, we stop for a refreshment break then dump the tackle bag before locating the entrance to Maracaibo, discovered when Paul was born. Mum remembers everyone trooping into hospital, elated and muddy, to visit her in the maternity wing straight from one of the early exploration trips. The initial wriggly thrutches give way to a tall narrow slot of a passage and I find keeping high in the greasy rift quite strenuous. Paul disappears ahead with promises of Ďjust around this bendí. Many bends later we decide to turn around. There are some nice almost bluish white flowstone and straws, but donít find the prettiest pretties. We do see quite a few (dead) moths and I wonder just how close to the surface we are at this point. ††

Back at oxbow corner it is time to leave the water and climb up out of the streamway. I quite like the high level series. I know they can be a sweaty slog but they have their own particular stillness and sense of peace. After skirting through Oakes and Comes caverns we stop for a breather by the Halberdiers and lie out on the mud bank, savoring the ancient chamberís immense quiet. I was extremely disappointed in my memory from this point. I had thought that places and routes would, if not click back into place, then at least look vaguely familiar but I could only remember odd things like distinctive rocks and particular formations, not useful route finding markers like the huge great iron ladder in Stop Pot, although Paul assures me that itís always been there.

At Stop Pot its decision time. Out or onward? Neither of us has brought a watch but it doesnít feel like weíve been going too long so we take a quick detour up to Easter grotto. Although still a beautiful place you can imagine what it used to be before any damage, which is saddening. We slide through the smooth flat out crawl and pop out into Gypsum cavern, its flat roof sparkling with straws. Rather than retracing our steps the plan is to push on and regain the stream nearer Holbeck junction. Much clambering over greasy boulders later, we arrive in a large cavern. ĎAh, here were areí says Paul Ďwe should be able to hear the streamway any minuteí. Errmmm a flat roof sparkling with white straws, walls that glitter with crystals, an awkward climb up into a flat out crawl ó we have somehow come full circle and are back where we started in Gypsum cavern. There follows some sort of hail of mirrors experience with an endless series of muddy boulders confronting me wherever I look. I havenít done any real exercise since well before Sophie was born nine months earlier and Iím starting to feel it. I laboriously clamber over every obstacle in a lumpen fashion and I seem to have no flow or energy. Eventually we are back on track and into the stream, and more importantly back to the tackle bag where I revive after a drink and snack.

From here we head back to Eureka junction and then out of Wretched Rabbit passage. Itís supposed to be my turn to carry the tackle bag but after watching me flail about for a few minutes Paul wordlessly takes it back. Relieved of this burden I can enjoy the way out with its pleasant cockled walls and interesting twists and turns. The numerous pieces of tatty rope in the big rift have been replaced by one big fat hairy rope that even I can hand over hand and we arrive at the entrance without further ado.

Estimating thatís itís probably between 5pm and 6pm, we are surprised to find that the heat of the afternoon has long since given way to a still, balmy evening. An autumn new moon hangs large and low over Leck Fell and the last glow of sunset has all but disappeared over Morecambe Bay. In the twilight we pick our way down the gill, accompanied by columns of dancing midges and the occasional soft chirr of a bird flying low over the heather. By the time weíve walked back over to Lancaster and de-rigged it is properly dark and the stars are out. We trudge back the farm, stumbling with tiredness, but elated by an excellent trip. My thanks go to Paul for rigging, navigating, carrying the hugely heavy bag for most of the way and generally making it all happen. We have Dowbergill in our sights for next time!

1 Posts on UK caving forum a week later reported some movement in the upper part of the choke, but not by the stream.

Claire Wilkinson


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