Mossdale by Adele Ward

Return Trips

Moss dale Caverns: Simon Beck & Adele (March 2018). 

I wrote this as an insight to what mixed feelings Mossdale can provoke.

I ain’t been to Mossdale for a bit this will be trip 21 – walking back, reminders appear that this is gonna be a pain in the arse and a pleasure all rolled into one.

Itching to return, the night before saw me packing my thicker wetsuit and caving kit. Remembering it’s winter and actually packing appropriate kit in my ever groaning bag. Trying it on…. it weighs a tonne. Somehow next morning I forgot all this,  loading up a small picnic and drinks!

Meeting Simon at Yarnbury and starting the walk up – first off all my shoulders are aching, this reminds me of first trips. Its funny how if you cave in the same cave, time and time again you develop a certain level of fitness specific to that particular  cave. Mossdale kind of gives you what you need to be happy The walk up carrying various items helps with this process.. Walking up Simon is cherpy, and leads off at a brisk pace.

We pause for a break. Squeezing in a relaxed smoke, and at the same time catching my breath  – I try to not look like I’m quizzing Simon about different caving questions that have occurred since we last had a trip, but I love a good caving gossip.

Kitting up on the near side of the river is a pain, but the scar looks fragile post winters ice nibbling. Rocks are falling, removing final layers is only welcomed by the thought of sometime these will be back on!

Fortunately once underground it all feels familiar – rambling to Simon, reckon I best be quiet about what a pain in the arse this capping gear is. He is carrying the drill that looks a right pain in the arse ! Oh this is gonna be fun.

Moving towards the swims,  all my cells have forgotten how perishing cold this section is.  Getting lost in a thought “ was it ever really this cold, or have i just gone soft ?”

Looking forward unable to see Simon for the vapour evaporating, it feels like jack frost is biting my toes. 

Boulder hall is always spectacular to me, perhaps its cos I’m still a newbie to this. Simon doesn’t stop for breath arriving at the start of Ouroboros, well best get this over and done with, I say to myself. Mossdale is hard on the arms, the dip down Ouroboros is slithery, bouldery, rifting, horrible shit at times .

Arriving at the dig Simon deposits some foam that has been used to transport scaffolding  in for me to sit on … what is the luxury !! This defiantly extends the time before I start trying to hide that I’m shivering. Simons keen to get capping, excited to see the outcome – first one feels … “I’m not gonna lie as a bit of a damp squib”. Simon looks bemused how this could have occurred.  Next one… “Yep that sounds to be more effective”… Simon lets out a chuckle.

So boulder removal duties from Simon follow and rift climbing antics, happy to offer verbal support from the side lines “ erm yes that looks safe, go canny mate…”

“Yeh well done mate”

“no  – fuck that I don’t want to go up there”

Heading out the dam capping gear seems even heavier… exiting to light is a joy. A thoroughly enjoyable trip. Rolling my now frozen wet suit up, I felt grim. 



We adopted to walk a different path back. Slowly but surly I’ve built up my post caving warm gear…its going to be put to the test tonight. The walk goes on forever, finally seeing the lights at Yarnbury is a welcome sight indeed.

Meeting Simon a fortnight later, this time I’m definitely in full over excitement mode. I ask Simon if I  am talking too much for him as he is observed to don a set of ear plugs …. I’m relieved, its ear protection for scaffolding bashing duties. Packs don’t seem any lighter carrying scaffolding  – Simons gets more weight than me so I  calm my complaining.  Traversing round the snow drifts. Always feeling like I’m trying to keep up at the back, the snow adds a new dimension.

Cutting down the bank at the turn I can hear the stream, its noisy today. Think the swims are gonna be hard work. 

Mossdale – Photo Simon Beck

This is the biggest I have ever seen the beck – its sinking all over.

There is a snow layer to most of the scar. Simon practices his javelin skills with the  scaffolding bar, much to my amusement, discussions are had.

 Mossdale has always been a place where plans needed to be flexible. No point in having an ordeal.  Resolving to get the kit underground to a cosy point, where it can be safely tucked.

Kitting up proves the usual pain in the arse, do I put my wet suit socks over or under my wetsuit ? Back in a routine of sorts, moving down the choke Simon’s carrying  a longer than usual scaffolding bar, I have a few bits and bats.

Off we pop down the boulder choke, the scaffolding bar is clad in foam looks a total pain in the arse to be navigating down the choke. Asking Simon,

“have we brought one down as big as this?”

Confirming he has, progress is made. Looking for my familiar markers, I’m struck by how familiar a friend this part of the system feels to me. Heading down, my feelings are usually of excitement, when I see my familiar markers. It stands in contrast to negotiating the area on exit, picking up the smell of fresh air, being excited to be out.

Progress forward is fast , arriving at assembly hall to deposit our haul. Checking out the water levels  within this part of the system on a trip like this seems a prudent, so time is spent exploring areas. I notice a rather pretty constructed Cairn, which I then manage to knock over with a bag. Trying to recreate the Cairn, thinking am taking it a bit too seriously when I ask Simon if he thinks its an improvement on the original ?

We grab a quick snack, sit and chat about ideas, theories, past trips and future ideas.  Momentary Assembly Hall becomes our planning meeting room. Formulating a list of priorities, a “ to do list “ we begin our exit out. On the surface it is bitter cold again, water levels to me look to have risen in hour short trip. Changing quickly, reminded of the highs and lows this place affords.

Post change, feeling a tad cold, wrestling packs on that seem heavier. Following the path, it turns and heads up. Arriving at what looks like a ski slope, the snow has drifted making passing rather tricky.  Crossing over soon becomes a pain when the depth of the snow is realised.  Simon sets the pace, I’m trundling along behind. The ground slows progress, but it affords a changed view point from the usual walk back. Time is extended by passing Gill House, listening to the creaking trees this feels an odd place. Looking at Gill House sink, I wonder whats below and if its all part of the puzzle? We connect up with the dry valley that holds fossil pot.There is a snow layer to most of the scar. Simon practices his javlin skills with the  scaffolding bar, much to my amusement, discussions are had doesn’t get any warmer so we make a quick retreat to the cars vowing to return in two days.