The Cave Surveyors (Hitchhikers) Guide to the Beautifully Decorated Shit Hole.




Surveying Team: Sam Lieberman & Andy Whitney

To qualify as a ‘beautifully decorated shit hole’ a cave, or section of cave, must meet certain strict criteria. Passages come in many varied shapes and sizes, some adorned with formations, some not, it is very important to make oneself familiar with the early warning signs presented by ‘shit holes’ so as to avoid potential disappointment and displeasure.

The Cave Surveyors Guide states that:  “To qualify as a ‘beautifully decorated shit hole’ progress through the cave or passage in question must be mainly unpleasant. It must be either of crawling size, or flat out crawling size, for the average caving adult. This is a fundamental requirement. Cave of this size does not, however, automatically qualify on this one criterion alone – others must be present. The second essential element to be present is mud and a source of water to enable the mud to reach the required consistency, which is one not dissimilar to human excrement.

The third requirement is a squeeze, or section of cave narrower than the average caving adult. This allows the caver in question to be liberally coated with the diarrhoea-like mud and emerge from the ‘beautifully decorated shit hole’ looking like you had recently been passed through the rectum of the Devil’s Arse - not the well known cavern in the Peak District – the actual Devil’s Arse.

Once all of the aforementioned criteria have been met, all that is needed are some delicate calcite formations to entice the unwary explorer and leave them wondering how such beauty and squalor can coexist in such a small space. For the unwary explorer, it is also vitally important to realise that the presence of beautiful calcite formations is often used to lure the said person into the cave in the first place, often with promises of unrivalled crystalline beauty.

These promises are always lies in ‘beautifully decorated shit holes’”

With this in mind Sam and I set off on a Thursday evening to survey a ‘never before surveyed’ passage in Lancaster Hole, inspirationally named ‘Wilf Taylor’s 1.5’, located in ‘Wilf Taylor’s Passage’ on a high shelf  just downstream of where ‘Cross Passage’ enters. Following the theme, a passage called ‘Wilf Taylor’s 2’ runs parallel to ‘Wilf Taylor’s’ and the upstream end of this passage can be seen below ‘Wilf Taylor’s 1.5’ through a slot in the floor.


Sam had visited this passage on a previous occasion and had regaled me with stories of fantastic formations, and this was backed up by Ray, who had also had a brief look a number of years ago. I suspected that this was more than likely a conspiracy and that I was been conned, but against my better judgement I agreed to go with Sam while Ray was away visiting his mother.

 The walk across the fell was under a clear, starlit sky with the temperature just above freezing. It was quite pleasant to be greeted by the relative warmth of Lancaster Hole, but this was to be a short lived pleasure as we sweated our way along Montagu West, eventually taking an enforced ‘cool down stop’ at ‘Portcullis Passage’. We continued at a more sedate pace from here and soon arrived at the upstream end of ‘Wilf Taylor’s not quite so boiled-in-the-bag. Upon climbing up to the ledge from the superbly scalloped and clean washed ‘Wilf Taylor’s’ I immediately resigned myself to an evening of poo-ferreting when I was greeted by a crystal clear pool barring the way ahead in the hands and knees sized bedding.

Sam joined me on the ledge and then set off ahead with the note book while I did the instruments. The first leg was a healthy ten metres and as Sam had estimated the entire passage length as “about thirty metres”, I figured we were in for an early visit to the pub. Wrong! Sam quickly revised his original estimate. It was now looking likely that shock-horror, we might not even make the pub. Our pace hastened nearly as quickly as the passage proportions and conditions deteriorated. We were now flat out on a dry mud floor with some exquisite and pristine white Helictites and Stals just inches above our heads – the passage deteriorated proportionally to our forward movement.

Dry mud quickly gave way to slimy mud, and then to the inevitable poo monster. I asked Sam if Paul Windle had been here at some point – It was that muddy. After passing a couple of squeezes, one of which cheekily grabbed your arse and didn’t want to let go, we arrived at the definitive end of the passage. Luckily there was enough room to turn around here and we beat a hasty retreat, now liberally covered from head to toe in slime. Safe in the knowledge that our pint of Wainright and Mini Cheddars was a certainty, our spirits lifted, and after a quick wash in ‘Wilf Taylor’s’ we headed out for a reward. Wilf Taylor’s 1.5 , you are officially a ‘beautifully decorated shit hole’

Andy Whitney

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