Bracken Cave by Denis Bushell

Bracken Cave: Ian, Fay & Denis (23 March 2015).

We met at Kettlewell for a brief on the trip on a clear bright sunny day with snow capped hills and after toast and tea we set off for Bracken Cave in Langstrothdale. Only a short walk to the cave with no tackle meant we should arrive with plenty of energy.

I decided to wear a 8mm wet suit knowing the short cave would be mainly wet and flat out with ice melt water flowing through its veins. Fay and Ian opt for less neoprene. Ian had already entered the cave by the time Fay and I had changed due to a few minutes rummaging around looking for one of her wet socks.

I led Fay on hands and knees straight away and after several minutes entered an extremely cold canal to a lowering of the roof in a vadose streamway. I felt something touch my shoulder, it was Ian laid on a ledge in total darkness. Fay had noticed him, my head looking down at the stream did not. Now reunited we set off again in that order. I could not help wondering how cold Ian and Fay felt knowing their suits were a lot lighter than mine and I was not over warm myself. Within a few more minutes the roof abruptly rose up into a large aven chamber.

There was a rope on a side wall but we had no knowledge of its vintage and no SRT. The floor of the chamber had some deep grykes which were holding large pieces of crystal as prisoners. I elected to leave my SRT bag at this point knowing the cave was going to become more challenging in the form of tight low passages without relief. Several minutes on we arrived at the only other chamber in the system allowing us a welcome break.

There were lots of pretties and a cascade flowing in which was to become our exit.

I led off with Ian and Fay directly behind me into a vadose stream passage. On the ledge to my right I noticed several green stals. Being colour blind myself I asked Fay to confirm they were green which she did. The cave at this stage started to deteriorate to wide flat out bedding crawls and silt banks with occasional cobbled low stream passage. Ian came to a very wide junction and told me to investigate the passage to the left which was over silt banks and a helmet off job which I realised later was the way on. As I slipped down the far side into the cobbled stream I shouted back for them to follow and led the next section. On reaching a very tight mud slope with the low stream imminently at the bottom I knew I had to tackle this problem on my back. I elected to enter the slope head first knowing there might no be a lot of airspace when reaching the stream and if it went progress would be easier then feet first. Three metres down the slope I abruptly jammed. I could not progress. I beckoned to Fay to pull my feet and I would shuffle my shoulders. This was the answer. On looking back down I could not understand how I jammed and decided to have  a second attempt. Progress was easier but I still managed to jam a metre further on. Fay retrieved me once again. Ian said he would have a go and slid down the slope and on reaching the stream shouted back give me ten minutes which we did. He did not shout again. I was concerned because he had disregarded his helmet and had only one dive torch. I said to Fay would she mind staying at the point as a sentinel for myself and Ian. I set off looking for him knowing I was warm and comfortable and had enough surplus light to illuminate Blackpool Promenade and knew I could get through with helmet on because I realised the tight slope was only so because it had silted up. By now you could get a freight train through i.e. me and my 8mm wet suit.

This where Craven Pothole Club Bracken Cave 1970 extension survey becomes hazy. There was no duck before Ripple Tube and no canals. After climbing out of Ripple Tube I could hear Ian shuffling over the very low flat out cobbled floor of the stream. After catching him up I said there is no canal and could never have been. This section was a bedding plane with cobbled floor which left Ian and myself with plenty of bruises.

On reaching completion of the system to date it finished in a very wide flat out slightly silted bedding plane with 4-5 cm of height. Just out of reach there was a long bone. It could only have been a femur. I knew human remains have been found in this area. Maybe just a sheep. But which ever how could such a large bone reach this part of the system? Remembering this is a very low bedding with the stream flowing against progress it would suggest there must be a continuation and the remains had been washed in. There is some  serious work to be done here to reveal the answers.

Heading back to Fay I led the way. Surprise on reaching Fay now chilled to the bone I did not notice any of the awkward sections. Fay set off out with myself and Ian following. Reaching the first aven which had the rope in I collected my SRT bag and had a good look at the crystal. Ian and Fay were long gone by now. At this stage my suit proving a winner on exiting.

Into the bright sunlight  of Langstrothdale. With Ian and Fay dutifully waiting for me we set off for the short walk to the cars. By the time we had changed my temperature had dropped dramatically and I was shaking as violently as Fay and Ian: should have left my suit on. We decided for the pub and hot food to start the process of warming up. Ian was soon back to normal, Fay slightly longer, myself still shaking. I had to wait to drink my coffee as on the first attempt I spilt all but a few drops out to the laughter of several couples who must have been amused by this muddy faced caver shaking to bits, saying it was a great trip. Thanks to Ian and Fay.