To the sump.
Ian and Adele.
The stories, tales and sagas regarding this place go back a long way. I first visited in September 2017, armed with many stories gathered from friends. Fairy Holes holds a certain joy for me – Ian’s enthusiasm is often infectious. At that time upon reaching The Choir, looking at the muddy traverse and window that was the way forward had me feeling a little nervous and quickly wanting to call it a day. Not progressing with confidence – found me huddling behind what I thought was a rock spike, on the wrong side of the traverse- only to discover its wasn’t rock, it was mud. This was the limit of that trip.
We have tried to get back a few times but conditions haven’t allowed. Since then, I can finally say I aint as nervous about traversing, heights or SRT in general. It is possible to cure an SRT phobia with Alum Pot and Clarity
Today was going to be a cracker – Fairy Holes is 20 mins from Ian’s farm, so this seemed a good time to have a little meet-up with family post-trip for drinks and fire pit in Yarm. Jumping around and clapping my hands in Ian’s kitchen – this was going to be a great day.
Arriving at Eastgate, County Durham, and hardly able to steady the steel gate due to wind, wasn’t such fun – weather was a bit poor, although others seem to think a warm wind only blows in Weardale. Walking up, loosely wearing my helmet, the wind was strong enough to have a little sneak under, and have a slight throttle of my neck. Nearly blown over we battled up, laughing at the ferocity of the gusts. The lake looked like a bad day at Redcar beach, white waters blowing over us.
Despite the weather spirits are high and after sheltering behind a boulder, armed with the key, Ian heads off tooled with WD40. Quick shouts and we are quickly down the pipe with hardly any water, to arrive in a familiar place. I really can’t stress enough what a fine trip this is – the longest stream passage in northern dales, its magnificent sculpted rock can’t be underestimated.
Passing the initial boulders the stream way reminds me of Cliffe Force Cave, but on a bigger scale, Ian comments. Ian has clearly decided we are going at double quick pace today, so chasing after him we admire the passage. I liken Ian’s ability to hop over boulders to be that of someone nipping over fences, quick skip: I liken mine to a stumbling bulldog. Heading towards the chamber near the Coral Gallery, looking at my watch, we are making good time and the rope marking the short climb down is found.
The spectacle of Fairy Holes holds my attention; water levels are low, quickly moving towards the next mental marker we arrive in The Choir. I’m aware Ian has a fondness for this chamber and I wish my iPhone could do the space justice – this will be a thought encountered a lot today.
After pausing for a picture and a quick slurp of soup … there is something niggling at the back of my mind that spoils my appetite – the damn muddy, crappy, small traverse to the window to the crawls and Sarcophagus Chamber. Last time this was the limit of what I felt happy with – today feels a little different, I don’t mind looking down so much – whilst due care and attention is taken – it wasn’t so bad.
Turning to Ian and congratulating myself – big smiles, let’s see what’s next. Ian tells me the route on is right right right. This rule has to be followed to avoid arriving back at the same spot.
Following one turn right, arriving at a junction up a slope – right looks a little tight – this time it’s straight on! By about this time the tackle bag is becoming a royal pain in the arse; various ways of carrying it all fail and we take turns at lobbing the damn thing as far ahead as possible.
Sarcophagus Chamber is reached and we enter via different routes – Ian chooses the more-tricky looking squeeze down after a right angle turn. Whilst sitting around I notice a bit that looks promising. Not wanting to deposit myself in a worse place, Ian shines his light along so I can see it’s a goer. The chamber is massive – where did this come from? Both feeling the splendour of the environment – it’s a good place to stop and take it all in. Quick smoke from me and a slurp of soup from Ian, pictures to remember the time.
Ian has carried diving gear in here to the sump to assist a cave diver and we are both keen to have a little look for curiosity’s sake. Carrying the bag has become a game of pass the parcel, it’s a right pain and we are both happy to off load it on each other given half a chance. Whilst the streamway past Sarcophagus Chamber is super, it has a feeling of isolation, every corner turned holds delight…. but talk begins of jeez this is a long way.
The sump looks to be an odd thing – I don’t know a lot about sumps, but there is a hell of a lot of water in this system at times here appearing out of a little …crack. Past times have seen friends offer caring advice on how this sump could be progressed past – as always the one that provokes the convention is that of Denis – “snorkel it”. Trying the size of the snorkeling ground Ian returns giggling and joking about hose pipes not snorkels – it’s time to head out.
The return to the pipe seems to progress remarkably fast; I keep falling behind as my eye constantly sees new features I have not previously seen. It also makes me feel sad every time I arrive at the concrete pipe and think about the now missing cave. Leaving Ian behind to toil with the locks, greeted by hail and wind the shelter of a boulder is taken. After the quickest change possible and quick pint we chat about the wonderful nature of this cave.