I spent Easter 2009 in Northern Spain in Matienzo which is fifteen miles south east of Santander, mainly as:- 1). There was space in a car and 2). It was only for five days so was “do able”. – so I seized EASTER!!


What a place, yet “not” on the tourist guides! Almost alpine but with a Spanish feel, eagles, vultures, (a colony of fifty) cows with bells, goats with smaller twinkly bells, ageless villages plus bars, huge limestone hills and valleys, huge numerous hollows – one with houses and farms that could fit Wembley Stadium and all ‘invaded’ by the “MATIENZO.ORG.UK” expedition of some ninety people!


The trip started at 6am with the very fine peel of Burton-in-Lonsdale church bell delicately chiming out before my alarm went off. Bill Sherrington and I set off to pick up Simon at Clapham and, he was ready!! We did a quick check of passports, boarding passes  and cash and we were off, Bill driving us to Stansted, our luggage having gone ahead via someone going by van and ferry. Well on time we were going into checkout slightly delayed by me who had only the return boarding pass and Bill who had two. I shouted across the terminal  and returned him!!


On the plane when it was getting ready for take off Bill came out with the philosophy that this was a moment when you had no control of your life. Simon who had had one or two lagers (one left by me) said ‘rubbish’ plus he was going for a pee – this then being refused by the crew. Not only had he no control of his life but for the next ten minutes he had hardly just control of his bladder! All this for the proving of a philosophical idea!


At Santander we quickly got our pre-booked hire car and rejoined Ed who we were giving a lift to whilst in Spain. We had arranged to meet in Stansted – he was described as young and in a Wales rugby shirt and us as three thin youthful people. We had spotted him but had kept him waiting until boarding. He looked familiar, then it struck – well he looked like Harry Potter including glasses and thus the name stuck especially when at the first bar on the way he studied the potions and then rapidly became overcome by the cloaked drunkenness.


Matienzo is a T shaped valley with rivers and small villages but entirely enclosed, no exit to the valley. ie: a giant hollow only accessible by  highish’ 1000-2000ft. passes. All the water drains underground at various levels. The main bar and restaurant is the hub of the place, the end of it having a computer and library corner where people mill about to see new bits of cave put on the survey, pour over maps, plan the day ahead which starts from 11 onwards! A highly organised do going back fifty years. People B+B’ed, camped or stopped in apartments.


Tuesday: Set off with Bill and Pringle to ‘Ennerdale’ to find a new cave at two points, Bill tried ‘Slum Dog’ and IHeysham Rift’. I got through first to be able to stand and grab Bill’s feet in new cave. As we entered via. ‘Slum Dog’  it was  nice walking but a short maze was found. Later in the day tea was rather poor as the nice stew I’d ordered turned out to be tripe!


Wednesday: Sleeping under the stairs worked well – out of direct light and noise of the later returners plus a £1 lilo and memory foam square which worked well. Today we went back to Patterdale Hole surveying etc. followed by a trip out in the sun to see a hollow bigger than Wembley Stadium and a fine view point up a long Zig Zag road.


Thursday:  Bill and I had a tourist trip c/o. Jane Curton as guide to South Vega System. The farmer let us into a field that he was not muck spraying in a pleasant Dentdale like meadow. The 1m2 hole had a wind blowing out that was felt fifteen foot away, quickly changing to walking in a large cavernous passage, up and down calcite flows to The Blowhole, a short crawl with a 30 mph wind rippling the pool at it’s foot. The place got bigger up forty foot calcite cascades on fixed ropes and down countless cascades to a huge passage and formations. We took a rope for the more exposed climbs arriving via huge scooped out hollows you could stand in to Castle Hall a vast blackness. As route finding was difficult, plus the time wasting and the end not being far off, I convinced them of a pm trip to Ason Gorge.


A quick change at a non muck sprayed car and we were off to Ason Gorge - a must see. Well if you have a picture of steam trains in the Rocky mountains, this was it. Something like 1000 ft. deep huge cliffs, goats with bells and an awesome waterfall out of a cave at its head, which we had an impressive walk amongst the small boulders at its foot which turned out to be house size! - with trees on top of them.


That night was the Expedition Dinner (50th.). Eighty six people plus entertainment as per a caving club dinner.  Andy Pringle did some jokes as  per the last twenty years with the punch line first, with great enthusiasm. - It worked, You had to be there! This was followed by ‘Harry Potter’ doing magic and music. A good do. Thanks Andy.


Friday: I eventually got to Cow Pot, a four mile system found last year. I was on a

Tourist trip of the entrance maze. This is an incredible place going into a dry dusty network under a bed of sandstone with incredible rock shapes like wax that had been melted to pinnacles and other shapes. I thought we were very slow even for sightseeing. Andy said “It was like herding slugs”


That evening I was invited to a Spanish food do of Paella by Jane which was great, then followed by another invite by Bill and the Earby at a restaurant five miles away. A starter of garlic sauce and potatoes followed by fish stew and ice cream for afters. Jude did not want her vegetarian meal so I ate that as well. We retreated to the Matienzo bar, “Bar Herman” - Germans Bar at 11ish and sat by the computer  where a rather worried man who had a list of names with apparently his son on who had not returned from the South Vega System. Phil Pappard gave him reassurances but quickly organised a search team of six, someone who knew the place, myself, Bill and three others.


Well at least I won’t starve, I thought as I got into wet gear in the blackness having mistaken valley lights for returning cavers. Oh dear the water levels were quite rushing after the early morning rain. Up and down we went at a much quicker pace than yesterday. What’s a silly old sod like me doing this for at my age, but to my surprise I was only just behind Bill at the front, him being twenty years younger. I was quite enjoying this, but around now telepathy told me and Bill that I only usually get to go on rescues that involve fatalities!! Oh dear! The mood drew sombre when down a climb at a low bit we saw a light there. OK, the person who knew the cave well rushed back with the news to Phil Pappard on his mobile. Meanwhile Bill lunges into the low air pace, hands and knees crawl. It went something like this Bill: “Come through on your back”  “No”  “Come here then!”. There was a pull and a push and one after another they came, stood up, and instantly had  Mars bars popped into their mouths and were then wrapped in a silver space blanket and/or jumper. Quite a fast but careful exit to find the bar with the locals, still smoking and drinking at 3am.


We got treated to a drink by an extremely grateful dad and we got home to bed under the stairs at 4am.  We were then interrupted by Johnny Dingle returning from a long pushing trip in Cow Pot, returning to a vegetarian tea from his partner.  I was becoming nocturnal.  As expected, he and another had had to free dive out of the cave.


Saturday: Last day. Last sleep under the stairs for peace and darkness. Hire car running on zero petrol, ah well should get to the airport OK.  On the last day a walk at 10ish, surprisingly refreshed.  Went for walk after washing our gear, (Dingle took some of it home).  Went to see a nearby hole, a bit like Goyden.  Magnificent eagles and vultures soaring, and not too high up. The river ran into an large cave entrance with an old mill race.  The sun shone down the hole, lighting it up magnificently so you could go a long way in light-less.


We said our goodbyes to everyone. I must say everyone gets a huge welcome here and are encouraged by unrestricted access to the maps, plans and information. Everyone helps, even unconnected farmers.  Our car drove on empty but most of the trip home is downhill so we risked going past a petrol station 3 miles from the airport on the gamble that we had time to get a can full plus a McDonalds. (Big Mac essential for Simon as he’d been in a vegetarian house.  He had extreme withdrawal symptoms).  A great trip, thanks lads.


Andy Walsh.