Under Earth by Ann Rutherford

Fossil Pot: John Wootton, Ann Rutherford & Steve Woods (Friday 9th August). 

I willingly put myself up for this trip thinking it would be a good work out for the muscles and give me a few hours off work. Plus neither me or John had seen our old pal Steve Woods for ages, so I was looking forward to it. It had been raining all night but the morning was bright and clear.

Steve pulled away the stones hiding the drain cover to Fossil Pot. I’m always surprised at the innocuous entrance to a cave. The understated portal to a vast underworld.

The passage narrowed into the high walled, water worn, gently fluted passage, narrower than our shoulders. After familiarising myself with the SRT gear, we descended down the first section.

Then came the passage way called the Pie Muncher.  Narrow twisting, corkscrew slots taking sharp, right angles that even for me being small, required some tricky scrunching up of the body and then squeezing the hips, widened by the metal gear, through the muddy passages and on, burrowing deeper and deeper. 

The fun with this pot is in the tight, tricky passages, and the challenge of contorting the body into unnatural positions to go where previously only water has flowed. 

We ascended, crawled again, dropped down some slippery vertical, fluted holes, one of which was flowing with a spout of cold water, the aptly named Pie Munchers Revenge.  After a good dousing we descended one last time to what Steve declared was the proper start of the cave. The passage was low in water and going left we crawled and walked bent double to a wide and impressive cathedral chamber. We lay for a while aiming our headlamps, admiring the scale of nature and the hypogenic forms.

This chamber seemed quite small, but was significantly filled with mud obscuring its size which could be 50 metres high. Droplets of water falling onto the mud had formed miniature worlds of skyscrapers and sharp peaks just a few centimetres high. Careful not to disturb these we returned to the last pitch and then carried on in the other direction through a Steve made channel that allowed the water to run along it rather than over all the mud at a higher level. We came out in a smaller chamber and took a moment to assess the situation. 

I was getting cold so the decision was made to return. The way out seemed fast. the longest amount of time returning was in the vertical well of gushing water. It took me three tiring attempts to get back up this. Each time sinking back down as I got the angle wrong or failed to find the foot, elbow or knee hold necessary. All the time I was under a spout of water which was cold at first, but gradually I couldn’t sense the water flowing over me at all. Either I had gone numb or just got used to it. Steve guided us through the intricate passages knowing every hold, every twist and turn of the body needed to get back out. 

Feeling cold, shivery and a bit odd I ate some slightly muddy Weatherheads sausage roll, drank some juice and started to feel much better. On we went and after a couple more tricky bits and the last ascent we were suddenly out on the surface, into sunlight and bathed in the welcome air, so  luxuriously soft and warm.  

Pics by Ann Rutherford & John Wootton.