Let the Digging Begin by Adele Ward

Chapel Lodge Cave: Ian Cummins, Denis Bushell, Elise Ward, Adele Ward, Faye Hartley (4 June 2017).

I had not appreciated the history behind this cave. Following my first visit and seeing the mass of work that had been undertaken, I needed to put that straight. This was assisted by reading the White Rose Journals newly acquired. Excited I set about trying to memorise the events detailed, looked at survey plans from Steve Warren and Phil Ryder, quizzed my friends and looked forward to another visit. Weeks previous had seen Ian, Denis, Phil Ryder, Graham (Hucky) and Richard Gibson digging out the mud-choked steam resurgence.

The White Rose Pot Hole Club assembles. Denis and Fay are to meet with myself, Elise and Ian at Hucky’s, to merge cars and reduce traffic at the farm. It’s been a while since I saw Denis and Fay. I am keen to induce them to the WRPC newest probationary member my daughter Elise. On fine form the gang tell stories of past experiences that will be a source of inspiration to a teenager keen to learn. It’s a warm summer’s day, the walk up the hill in my preferred wetsuit seems a little taxing, and as usual I’m walking at the back.

Faye (keen) clears the neatly-placed planks and branches disguising the entrance, releasing the flock of mosquitos. These little blighters have clearly been busy since my last visit as there seems to be more. Looking at the muddy hole, that I’m convinced must be also filled with spiders, I hear the words “head down first Adele, I will pass the bags down” … great that means I have to linger in this bit longer. Actually it wasn’t too bad – focus prevails, the team is down, carrying a fair bit of gear and moving forward.

Ian instructs I lead on, passing through the flat-out crawls to the first squeeze seems more taxing carrying the smallest of 3 tackle bags, although I don’t curse to much as I appreciate other club members are carrying far heavier bags. It’s tricky for me at this point. Fay, Ian and Denis are all far more experienced cavers than I am. They are going to find this far easier than me. Do I lead as fast as I possibly can, in the hope I don’t go too slow for them, or do I progress at my usual amble. Finding a happy medium we move forward with me shouting “do I go this way next” repeatedly.. Progressing well to the Kings Head rift, familiar areas are encountered and I’m frequently asking for advice as to how “obstacles” are best tackled… feet first, head first, on my belly or on back. The one time I don’t I slide head first into a lovely muddy puddle; all good fun. We have 2 tasks this trip:

a) Boulder removal duties

b) Aven climbing duties

Leaving kit at plan B we approach the area me and Ian have previously dug out, I’m imagining hauling buckets and bagging sand again. Entering Blackpool sands, reminded of the previous work others that has taken place to make today possible. Amazed there isn’t more digging in store, the team progresses through the sand choke with ease.

The sound of water is again heard, which engages all, it’s a marker in this cave. Team approaches task A) boulder removal duties. I won’t say too much about the antics undertaken here, but needless to say we all celebrated a success of moving an initial boulder, and cursed a boulder that despite being attacked from several different angles refused to budge. I felt utterly convinced that Ian balancing the boulder on his knees was not a long term option, the team agreed a different plan of attack…. to be concluded at a later date.

Moving to our secondary objective that Ian keenly spotted last trip we formulate a plan. Avens are to be climbed, curiosity has to be served. Ian is fairly keen on climbing, Ian has above average climbing skills – his brain is ticking over a plan of attack. Taking care to preserve to structures Ian begins an ascent. Any protection placed has to preserve the cave … there is little placed. Ian ascends the aven, the team hold our breath as to hear his observations at the top – will it be a new passage? Nope it’s a dead end – well it’s a dead end never fear spirits remain high – team acknowledging that was a gnarly climb. The conclusions – better to know it’s a dead end so no one else has to do that tricky climb.

Safely descending and following a drink of pop, it’s time to head back. Elise summons motivation to lead the way, feeling focused. Attempting to keep Elise in sight, as she is looking motivated, I request to lead the way through the tricky sections.

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Silly Picture.

Heading out we again stop to listen to the stream, looking up at the enormous aven – I hope Ian has no further climbing plans.

Why does time always pass more quickly on the way out? Is it some sort of underground distortion?

Before we know it we are passing through taped-off areas with care. Moments on and the exit is spotted. The mosquitos have retaken residence here and they hang like bats on the side of the wall. ….. excellent it offers motivation. Disturbing the flock of blood suckers we all exit promptly. Walking back the team is buoyant, covered in age old mud. Denis as always entertains all with his previous death defying antics, I’m feeling thirsty! Great times. A real club effort.