“Let’s have a bit of a bimble before the Auction”



“All we have to do is get back in time to get the spuds and the peas on.  The pies will be safe enough in the car, away from foraging rodents (some even with four legs).  Plenty of time for a quick trip.”

“Where do you fancy?” said Malcolm, “We’ve been down Bullpot of the Witches a lot lately”                 Head scratching ensued.  “I know “ says I, “I’ve not been down Wretched Rabbit for years.  Lets have a look down Spiral Staircase.  I’ve been reading the route on John Gardiner’s site through to Easter Grotto and back via the Wretched Rabbit Streamway.  I’ve been down that way many times with Starkers, and up to Easter Grotto, so all I need to do us to get us to the main drain and then I’ll remember the way.” In the darkness Nemesis waits for hubris. And thus, here endeth the Prologue, sayeth Frankie Howard.

Episode 1:  Friday night at the Farm

A few of us are gathered in the lounge chewing the fat over a glass of red.  “We’re off down Wretched tomorrow” says I, ”If we’re not out by 5, can you shove the spuds in to bake please.”                       Al says, “If you’re not out by then, I’ll think of calling the CRO.”  We all laugh.

Episode 2:  Saturday morning

We get up early, clear headed and leave the farm about 10, just as Sam and Ray are arriving, and, after a hot and sweaty saunter across the moor, arrive in Easegill.  A small amount of memory jogging finds us kitting up outside the entrance.  I have few illusions about my physical abilities, so I had decided to rig the drops into the big rift to make it easier on the return, which in retrospect was probably one of the few good ideas about the trip.  Anyway, we made short work of the drop and left our SRT rigs at the base of the pitch and went ahead with a single bag containing food and drink and a bit of camera gear, and the written description from John Gardiner’s website.  We could hardly miss Spiral Stairs, in fact the biggest problem would be to avoid going down it faster than desired.  This was a very easy climb down, and down onto the cobbles below.  Soon we were admiring the straws in the passage, and romping off down towards the Main Drain.  This is going to be a very easy fun trip, we thought.  We get to the junction of routes, and take the right hand narrow way to avoid the drops, ending up sideways crawling until we pop out onto a large dry stone plinth in a chamber.  Here we stop for a few minutes having a drink and a bar of chocolate.

The way down into Green and Smelly passage is obvious, so we drop into the rift by a couple of boulder chock stones, making sure that, if necessary, I can get back up it.  Now we are in Pool Sink, and this is where things start to go awry.  Well, let’s be honest, it starts to turn into a slow motion train crash.

Episode 3:  Saturday afternoon.

At this point, a sensible person would have made a careful note of the point at which they left the route back to Spiral Staircase, in order to safeguard their return.  Obvious, innit? Nope. Not planning to come back this way.  Now we are in Lower T Piece Passage and the size encourages to stomp on down, following the description.  Large boulder in pool, check. Reverse S Bend manoeuvre, check.  Elegant pinnacle, check.  Dry passage on right, check.  Emerge on traverse line to arrive above Holbeck Junction, errr...

Down a long rift passage we go, eventually leading to a short slither through a stal grille to emerge in a streamway. WTF!  I look around blankly, confused.  The passage stretches off in both directions.  I mentally toss a coin and we head upstream.  There’s that feeling growing deep within my bowels now.  After a short distance, we’re wading through pools, and crawling in the stream.  Not right.  So we turn around and retrace our steps, back up through the stal grille.  Maybe I didn’t take the correct right.  So back to the elegant pinnacle we go.  Next right is a cobble choked passage, so we continue down the main way.

We emerged on the side of a smooth large streamway.  To our left the stream vanished into a nasty looking choke, with an old digging bucket jammed in it.  This became a familiar sight to us, and probably managed to stop things getting into the realm of the apocalyptically awful.  To the right the passage stretched out into darkness.  Can’t go downstream, so must go upstream, looking for Holbeck Junction.  On we go, up the stream way until... we see a passage coming down through a stal grille on our right.  We turned around again, when we saw four lamps coming up the streamway towards us.  It was Sam and his party.  All will now be well again.

“Hi Sam”, I greeted him, “Where are we?”  “In the main drain, just a few metres up from Holbeck Junction.”

We swopped pleasantries, and I tell him we’re off down to Eureka Junction to come out of Wretched Rabbit Streamway.  Secure in my knowledge now, we part and head in our separate directions.  Five minutes later it occurs to me that I hadn’t asked where they we planning to come out, or more to the point, if we could tag along with them.  This time I notice the slope leading up into a huge cavity on the true right, and scrambling up, we find four harnesses left on the top.  The harnesses left, we assume, by Sam to pick up as they returned.  Confidently now we drop down the boulders on the other side and head off towards Stop Pot.

I was beginning to realise by now that my memories of Easegill were rather hazy, but my clear recollection was that Eureka Junction was at stream level, so we stayed as close to the stream way as possible, crawling below the boulders, and trying to stay to obviously trafficked routes.  Several dead ends and improbable looking diversions, Malcolm speaks up, “Why don’t we go back to Holbeck Junction where the harnesses are, and wait for them to come back, and go out with them?”  The first sensible idea all day!  Unfortunately, whilst retracing your steps sounds very easy, in this part of the system, we found it took quite a while, and a few circuits to get back to the ridge.  No harnesses there.  Ok, sensible plan no.2 is formed.  It was about 4:00 pm at this juncture, so all we had to do was to abandon the idea of a round trip and just saunter back out Spiral Staircase again, and we could see where we’d actually got to on the surveys back at the Farm.  Down to the Main Drain again we went, turned down stream, turned into the inlet by the barrel choke. We dodged the familiar obstacles in the passage, round the back of the boulder and into a chamber with a small stream in it.  Into the first inlet – chokes at a small chamber with a couple of boulders jammed across a rift – that was not the way we came down, so we went back into the passage and further up.  Several passages branched off but none of them seemed familiar.  Then it dawned on us.  We were in for an embarrassing wait.

Episode 4:            Saturday Evening

Thus we decided to settle down and wait for assistance.  Running around and dancing the headless chicken would just waste energy and end up with us lost in some obscure inlet where we would take ages to be found.  People knew where we were going, where we were last seen and when we should have got back.  So we went back to a chamber just off from Holbeck Junction where we were out of the draft and there were some dry, more or less comfortable shelves to sit on and began to wait.  We shared our last Mars Bar and sipped a bit of juice.  As the cold began inevitably to seep into us, we huddled together for body warmth and shouted out occasionally, more for something to do, to at least feel like active participants rather than passive spectators.  It was also in response to the sounds of the cave.  You get the strange feeling that there are people talking to each other just at the range of intelligibility, a low murmur you just can’t make out.  You shade your light for a second, hoping to see the dim glow of a distant lamp and yell out.  You know, of course, that it is the sound of the stream, but it might, just might, not be.

After a while, about 8 o’clock, Malcolm came up with a new idea.  There is too much “white noise” in the cave for yelling to have any effect, so he took the Darren Drum and started beating out dance rhythms on it with a crab.  This was LOUD!  By now, we hoped that we would have been well  and truly missed, and help would be on its way.

Episode 5:            Saturday Night

At about  9 o’clock, the low murmur from the stream noises changes to a definite “hello!”.  We shout back, and yes, people are responding!  Soon lights appeared, and resolved themselves into Ray Duffy, Alan, Tim and ... I’m so sorry I can’t remember who the fourth person was...  First question to Ray was “ Did you bring any fags?”.  No, but he had brought some nicotine tabs!  A cup of sweet tea and a boiled sweet later we set off to the Wretched Rabbit Streamway via Stop Pot and Four Ways Chamber.  On the way, we scrambled over the boulder falls and the mud, finding out that my wellies are f*****g s**t on Easegill Mud.  Finally at last we are climbing the streamway, admittedly I started to need some help to get up the various small climbs on the way.  At last we reach the Big Rift, and I kit up to go back up the rope, managing to get my chest ascender on back to front, and with a bit of help from our friends, we finally reach the surface at a few minutes after eleven, and met the CRO surface and comms team, who escort back across the moor to the Farm.

And back to the Farm, for tea, food, beer and the inevitable ribbing.  Grateful for the assistance of everybody from RRCPC and CRO, we are able to relax and reflect.  So now I am sat at home with my laptop, what have I learnt.  Well, that the Ease Gill system is a very confusing place to navigate if you have little prior knowledge, secondly if you’re offered an out by somebody who does know where they are, stick to their backs like glue!  Thirdly, if you do get lost, sit and wait in as prominent and comfortable place as you can and wait for somebody to find you, provided of course, that they know where you are and when you expected to get out.

And us?  Yes we are going back, you’ll recognise us, we’ll be the ones with a big ball of string and a guide dog.

Martin Fagan

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