Thursday, 29 October 2015

Mendip Caving, 17-18 Oct. 2015

SWCC: Bill Buxton, Chloe Francis, Laurence Brown and Claire Vivian

MCG: Ben Cooper

For a change, I'll start at the end. The moral of the story is that if you haven't been to Upper Flood Swallet, you should go. But it all began because we'd been lax and hadn't visited the Mendips to go caving for a number of months as no caving was managed on the Hidden Earth weekend.

For those who haven't been there yet, the Mendips are a great place to go caving. There are loads of caves to explore. Some are shorter ones, where you can do several in a day and others are bigger systems such as Swildon's Hole, St. Cuthbert's Swallet, Charterhouse and Upper Flood where you can while a day away and only see a small section of the whole. When coupled with an excellent social scene with a mix of cavers from many different Mendip clubs mingling together, frequently at the Hunter's Inn, it makes for a good location for a caving weekend.

We stayed at Larkshall, home of Cerberus Speleological Society; a first visit there for us. We shared this with Cardiff University who proved that university caving is still going extremely strong by fielding a group of around 35 for a Fresher's caving weekend. The strong support network provided by the Cardiff alumni team was also readily apparent as were the high spirits of the new cavers who had some first visits to Swildon's, GB and Fairy Cave Quarry and came back very excited by their new experiences. They also learned some new caving games, including the broom handle one and paper picking up game and upheld some old traditions - one of their members has a cream pie in the face on every away trip (which is welcomed by everyone as all get a share of the dessert afterwards!).
Larkshall, home of the Cerberus.

Saturday was a bright and fairly early start. We had tried to have an early night to be ready for the trip but, as with most best laid plans, that hadn't happened. Nevertheless, we were up and ready in plenty of time to meet Ben at the MCG hut at 10am. The weather was looking good and it was not a long drive to get there. Having never approached the MCG from this side of the Mendips we decided to use Chloe's sat nav. When we passed the same cyclists and group of horses for the second time, there was some minor cause for concern expressed, but nothing more. When the sat nav suggested a decidedly dodgy looking track as being the quickest route there, fresh scepticism emerged. However, not enough to deter us from following the track and having to reverse around 1/2 mile back when it was discovered to be a dead end. Even after this we were only 5 mins late for our meeting, which was perfectly within the boundaries of acceptable cavers' 'faff time'.

Upper Flood is not a walk in the park. Those expecting to just head straight in and see the formations in Neverland without putting in too much effort will be sorely disappointed. The cave makes you work for it and guards it's spectacular formations well. The trip to Neverland and back takes around 5 hours at a fair pace and is a committing one. An injury beyond the choke would be an incredibly serious situation with, I'd say, zero chance of a stretcher being able to be taken back through the choke. There are 13 squeezes and innumerable contortions needed throughout - there used to be a squeeze box test at the MCG hut to see if you could fit through the tightest part. Despite being a 'dry' cave, you get fully wet within the first 30 minutes of the trip thanks to the Lavatory Trap, Canal and Puddle Lake. But it is undoubtedly worth it. This was my second visit to the cave within the past 2 years and I'd happily go back any day. It's a sporting trip coupled with some of the prettiest formations I have seen. What more could you want from your Saturday caving trip? You feel like you've done something worthwhile.
Lawrence on the way to Neverland
Chloe admires a huge curtain
There is a lot of crawling and squeezing through the choke to start with until you break out in to the Departure Lounge, so-called after one of the original diggers almost missed her flight because of the breakthrough that was made at the dig that day. From there a streamway is met and a faster pace can be sustained. But the cave is pretty throughout. Royal Icing junction is passed later on, along with Plank Chamber and Duck Under Boss (above which is the Duck Pond). The piece de resistance is Neverland. This is spectacular. Mark Burkey has some first rate photos of this area and Andy and Antonia Freem's video is also a must-watch: 
Neverland. Photo: Mark Burkey
Even more Neverland. Photo: Mark Burkey.
The Pork Pies. Photo: Mark Burkey.

Lawrence, Chloe and Claire managing to stand in descending height order.

Whilst the three of us had been having fun in Upper Swallet, Bill had been off walking around the Fairy Cave Quarry area. We all met up in the Hunter's for food, a drink and a meet-up with local member Lizzy, and Seb. 

Lizzy and Seb at the Hunters.

Sunday saw us wake up aching after our trip the previous day. Consequently, Chloe and Lawrence decided to go for a walk along Cheddar Gorge whilst Bill and I headed to Fairy Cave quarry for a trip in to Hillier's and Fairy Cave. There was an art exhibition on in the quarry, so we got plenty of stares walking in to this in full caving kit and then disappearing through the gated entrance of Hillier's! It was intended to be a through-trip, but we didn't quite make that as my knee was not happy. We did manage to get through most of Hillier's and then had a go at part of Fairy Cave before I called it a day. Bill, however, was still going strong at this time.  Trip time: 2.5 hours.
Bill trying out one of the 'upstream' crawls in Hillier's

Bill in Hillier's and at the entrance to Fairy Cave.

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