In the Beginning

I make no apologies for digging up the past for: I am the past. It started one evening in August 1953 when a friend of mine, Derrick Whiteley, approached me and asked if l had ever been caving. Well one does not often get a chance to blow one’s own trumpet so l pulled out treasured snaps depicting my efforts at caving some years previous and a much-thumbed Norman Thornber Pennine Underground. We had a few trips together then Derrick got a job at Southern and Redfern Ltd, Refrigeration Engineers, Bradford where he persuaded a number of his newly acquired workmates that potholing was an exciting pastime. The Southern & Redfern Caving Club was created. This had advantages, the use of one of the firms lift trucks for transport, disadvantage – the management of the club limited to employees of the firm.

By May 1954 the membership was being drawn from further afield and it was decided we should go it alone. A new name was required and the White Rose Pothole Club was born. We held our first White Rose Pothole Club meeting on Sunday 2nd May 1954, the venue being Calf Holes Pot, Birkwith, Browgill, Old Ing and Dismal Hill Caves – (In the Beginning by Douglas T Richardson).

The 1960’s…

At 9:50pm I approached the bar. The landlord’s daughter looked at me and then continued serving other people. I plonked the bucket on the bar, placed the potty at the side of it and whispered ‘Fill ’em up’, again she looked at me and with a nervous smile asked me what I wanted. I told her! She looked at the bucket, then at the po, then at me, gave a nervous cough and said ‘Eh’? I replied loudly, ‘Fill ’em up’! Already a number of the giggling spectators had gathered, but I was not daunted and continued to stand there with a broad gin on my hairy face. She picked up the bucket and hesitantly asked ‘Is it clean?’ I told her that it had been washed out in the stream…

I spun a coin and the WRPC won, this nearly created another riot. Out of the confusion Dave Gallivants was elected as the first Flonker. Someone courteously passed him the Dwile from a distance of 10ft wrapping it round his head. Luckily I managed to get my hands on it before he did and prevented him from returning the gesture. The circle began to move with myself and the bucket of ale in the middle. I grabbed the bucket and made a dash for safety, not worried of course for my own safety, but for that of the ale. At the cry of ‘Dwile Away’ Dave let go of the wet Dwile striking the head of a WRPC member. IT was decided that this did not count as the Driveller was not used. He Flonked again twice, missing completely both times. The cry went up ‘Pot, Pot, Pot’, Dave grabbed the jerry, but luckily I was able to stop him before from downing the contents. You see, he hadn’t remembered the bit about passing the Dwile down the line. All was set. At the word he lifted the Pot to down almost 2 pints before the Dwile reached the end of the line, where upon he was instantly set upon by the NCC who in their turn disappeared under the squirming bodies of the the White Rose. The object being to stop him drinking the lot. The result was that the remaining contents disappeared into the grass along with the handle from the jerry. When everyone became exhausted I stepped in and formed them once again into teams – (Dwile Flonking 1968 by D Ramage).

The 1970’s…

Members of the Antro Del Corchia Expedition (Photo – R Cockeram).

The following day, laden once more like pack horses, we set off down the cave and made a non-stop carry through to case camp. As soon as all the equipment had been ferried across the lake we proceeded to gaffer the Pizza Della Cascata pitch which turned out to be a pleasant free hanging one quickly reducing to a tight rift at the top of the next pitch. Two small pitches and a short passage took us to the next large shaft. 

We were now at the top of the 140ft pitch and the small stream which had accompanied us since the Pizza Della Cascata fell into the black void too the right but we climbed a wall to the left and laddered the pitch dry via a secondary shaft of perfect cylindrical proportion. Once this had been completed we returned to base camp where five members stayed behind to push for the bottom in the morning. The others left for the surface – (Italy Expedition, Antro Del Corchia, 1972 by Derek Crossland).

The 1980’s…

Joe, Steve & Phil (Photo – Caddy)

Joe Querns and I purchased an old ambulance. I was the driver, and Joe was the Flight Hostess and Cook. The Whittingham brothers were frequent flyers, with Big Al riding shotgun providing repairs using parts he found blowing around. A paraffin camping stove mounted in the cabin. The air filter was an old frying pan. The exhaust system cut-up Hamlet Cigar tins. 

We’d just finished a trip down Swinsto, so of course Joe went straight to his on-board stove to brew-up. We didn’t have any alcohol to get the paraffin stove going, so he used his lighter to heat the coils. As usual, Joe had to knock off to light up his pipe. Unknown to him the flame had gone out, and the white vapours were filling the cabin. Joe sparked up. Outside, we saw a brilliant flash of yellowish light followed by black smoke spewing from the cabin.

Out walked Joe, looking like Wylie Coyote when the Acme All-purpose Stove failed. Eyes wid open, eyebrows gone, thin wisps of hair stood straight up and curled at the tip. A thin trail of blue smoke emerged from his pipe – (by John Rockett).

The 1990’s…

La Piaz, Vercors (Photo – Caddy)

With a devil-may-care smile playing across his handsome lips, Hucky tied on to the handrail and made to throw himself over the edge. ‘Smoke me a kipper boys’!

If he had a rose he would have thrown the same to Anita now. Clipped into the main rope he dangled underneath the bridge and with strong but sensitive hands, deftly threaded two slings around the bottom brace as though throttling the life out of his pet ferret. Humming a jaunty little rugby ditty about how he’d show the girls at the After Dark the biggest tackle ever, he changed over ropes and smoothly descended. In complete contrast Sweeny followed, made a bollocks of the change over, had to cross back through the loop, un clip his descender and re-clip on the other side. He then plummeted down the rope like a whale on speed to the jeers of those remaining.

Hucky had already traversed out, rigged three bolts and was rigging the fourth for the final 65m drop when. Tony and Caddy arrived. ‘What a man’ sighed Caddy, flicking back his natural blond locks. ‘Yes and he’s only 23’ Tony gushed. The only moisture was the drool from above – (Scailet De Maleterre by Sweeny).

Hucky with Ollie at Camp 1 in the Berger (Photo – Woody)

‘Right then get that  application form filled in, start caving with these people and get your SRT sorted out so that you’re competent enough to go’. I thought to myself. Through the last half of ’96 and up to August ’97 I spent as much time as I could, caving on SRT, learning all the techniques getting the experience in with different pitches. I had a year to get it sorted, but it went too fast and it didn’t seem like 2 months before I stood in the middle of this beautiful forest in the gem of a place they call Vercors, peering timidly into the mouth of the Berger. This was to be my second trip down there. I’d already been down on a gear carrying trip as far as Hall of the Thirteen. It was 10:15 in the morning, Tuesday 12th August. I was with Sweeny, Matt and Kiwi John. The plan for them was to stay down until the place was rigged to the bottom. I had mumbled something like a: ‘Yes I’ll cave that day’ – (A Personal Journey by Peter Whittaker).

Peter (Centre) with (Left to Right) Hucky, Steve Henry, Sweeny,  Fergus, Caddy and Joe at The Felix Trombe (Photo – Caddy).

Fergus Ferret was keen and could not wait to don the rope worn by one of his companions and began, unaided, to scale the watery fall that was said to lead to the new world. Up and up he climbed until he reached a suitable ledge and could rest and partake of one of his fags. His companions were amazed at Fergus Ferret’s progress and athleticism but suggested that at this point he should drive a piece of iron into the rock so that a rope could be attached, and allow him some safety. Rope was thrown to Fergus and iron hauled up. One piece was significantly larger than the many other tiny pieces of iron. Now with all the necessary trappings to continue his climb the two companions waved goodbye to Fergus Ferret and went about searching for other new worlds.

Fergus at Fossil Pot (Photo – Woody).

They crossed a shallow sea with dark low skies and climbed a silver ladder to a corridor so high. And it was here they busied themselves for a hour or so picking at rocks that seemed to have fallen across their way. Before not too long though they were driven back with fear as the stones began to move all on their own. And so they headed back to their good friend Fergus Ferret to see for themselves what progress had been made whilst they had been away. As they approached the shallow sea with dark low sky, they could hear the faint call of Fergus from across the water. Hurriedly they crossed the shallow sea with dark low sky and raced toward the watery fall with the cries getting louder and louder, ‘Help—Help—-Help——–Hellllllllllllllp—Help!’

What’s up, Fergus?” the two companions exclaimed as they rounded the corner and saw Fergus Ferret sat on the ledge where they had left him. Silly old Fergus Ferret! He had dropped the large piece of iron and had been unable to drive one of the tiny pieces of iron into the rock. What’s more, he could not attach the rope and was unable to proceed neither up nor down. And to cap it all Fergus Ferret had to sit on the ledge for an hour and a half in the spray from the watery fall and was rapidly running out of fags – (How Fergus Aven got its name by Richard Bendall).

The 2000’s…

The Illusion Pot team (Photo – Steve Warren).

A fine trip with many untouched perfect formations, probably some of the best in the dales. And it’s easy. What do you need for this trip? Nothing, well perhaps some wellies so your socks don’t get wet. So on a very fine sunny day we all met. Ah forgot to say who came along! Nigel, Jan, Mike, Ian, John, Abby, Kris, Steve and me. No sorry Steve didn’t come along, he went off on a secret dig, and took John with him, but he’s a dog so that doesn’t really count anyway.

The entrance is a climb down a concrete pipe on iron foot holds, and then the rest of the way is down iron ladders all the way to the bottom. No tackle needed at all as said. A light might be useful from here on though. After a short bit of easy crawling/walking and a small climb (useful iron peg makes a good foothold), a damp bit is met. There is a small dam and a bucket here to make the dampness a little less. It’s not long so go for it. You still don’t need any tackle but a hybrid could be useful here. Now you’re out of Illusion and are caving in Chaple-Le-Dale. The back end of Dale Barn Pot I think. At the junction left leads on up to some of the best kept formations, a bit of a secret really. The way on may be deliberately hidden, but look and down you will find. A camera would most definitely be of use here! As in the other direction, right at the junction carries on though large chamber like passageway. Just before the end of this on the left on the floor is a hole with a bit of twine down it. This leads down into another large chamber at the bottom of which is a traverse line. Still don’t need any equipment but some cows tails maybe of use here.

Over the traverse and a climb down leads to sumps. And very nice sumps they are too. From here on I think that you just might need a little tackle. Mask flippers, wetsuit and maybe some diver’s bottles would be useful. Ian had a little dive into a small sumpy looking passage to get to a sump proper, but I decided that it would be a drier and nicer to go through over the top – (Illusion Pot; It’s not that Illusive by Gary Rhodes).

The 2010’s…

Scoska Team: Jane, Ian, the Viking, Chris, Geoff (Photo – Steve Warren).

Not quite spring weather, but at least the flowers were trying  – primrose, butterbur, marsh marigold and cowslips were brightening the soggy landscape as we waded up the flooded lane, passing the mighty white cascades from Bown Scar to clamber up for my first sight of the cave.

Having previously enjoyed a rather sporting trip into Bown Scar Cave, I’d always written off Scoska as being a simple plod – not true by any means, as my swollen kneecaps testify!  Steve had suggested that kneepads were essential and it turned out that my holed wetsuit trousers, threadbare patches and neoprene pads were not quite sufficient for the amount of crawling required.

Ignoring the rather wet-looking Historic Way on this trip, we took the right-hand branch, passing the historic graffiti, to emerge at a junction after a fair bit of hands and knees crawling.  Having no idea where I was going, instinct told me to keep heading up and right, with seemingly interminable crawls over mud banks leaving me in danger of succumbing to heat exhaustion in my wetsuit before a long section of chilly canals cooled me off until the air ran out.  Finding that I had no company, a return to the junction found us following more crawls towards a distant roar and draught.

Eventually bumping into Chris and Jane on their return from the stream, I carried on finding Steve and Geoff taking photos in this rather wild spot, with the foaming stream dropping into a tight rift.  Very nice indeed.

On the way out the loop was completed for an easier exit and a return to the entrance passage showed a much-increased flow from the Historic Way stream.  Donning my hat and gloves, I was prepared for the chilly walk back, finding the cascades from Bown Scar to be much increased and very impressive, with the beck being about 6 inches deeper than 2 hours before – must have been some downpour filtering through the hills – wonder what Sleets Gill was like? – (Scoska Cave by Ian Cummins).

Hucky & Richard Gibson at the coal face in Raisgill Farm Sink (Photo – Phil Ryder).

You know you are in for it when Graham goes quiet and you get the ‘Hucky Stare’. I still can’t enjoy a pint with him without him bringing up the subject of Ryder The Old Git, the most useless navigator in the world. And for God’s sake don’t give him a GPS or we really are in trouble!

We moved our digging site up 3 metres in the streambed; I breathed a sigh of relief when the lost scaffold pole was exposed again, about a metre down. The rapidly expanding hole was scaffolded and shuttered with boards to hopefully protect it from floods.

It is now the middle of May, the dig is over 4 metres deep and needs some more scaffolding and boards fitting to make it safe. The squadrons of midges are now lining up; ready to start their endless onslaught, so the dig will have to be abandoned again till winter.

I still can’t enjoy an après dig pint with Hucky. My navigational transgression temporarily forgotten a new subject eats into his soul.

“Where is the draughting bedding that persuaded me to this dig? Was it a mirage? Because so far we have been unable to find it!’ – (The Rediscovery of Raisgill Farm Sink by Phil Ryder).

AGM at the Office (Photo – John Boocock)