Reminiscences of a female caver in the 60s
We were at the "courting" stage - such a quaint word for chatting up and impressing a woman, and Colin Grange asked if I would like to come on a caving weekend to Swildons Hole. At the time, a novice, I thought this would be a good weekend away and decided to pack a spare pair of jeans and top, walking boots, usual rain wear and that was all. What a big mistake. Ron Smith I remember was very scathing when I turned up in smart casual attire and asked where my boiler suit was - I hadn't got one. Colin said he had a boiler suit for me (courtesy of the heating and plumbing firm he was working for) and a hard hat so I only needed boots, which had to be my best walking boots!
We stayed in the barn near the New Inn at Priddy We got up early in the morning - it was absolutely freezing. After eating some basic cereal (the cooking facilities were minimal) we packed our gear and got in the back of the ambulance called Snowdrop (regular transport for cavers, but that is another story) and off we went heading to Swildon's cave. We parked up and walked quite a way over fields to get to the cave entrance.
In we went and some of the party were equipped with cave ladders and I was told we had to descent a 30 ft. cavern down this ladder, bad enough but wait for it, with a cascading river thundering on your helmet while you descended. At that time the lighting was a carbide light fixed to your helmet (just like the miners) which could easily be extinguished by water!!
When it came to my turn my heart was in my mouth, but down I went, and half way down the carbide light went out due to the water and the second half I descended in darkness. It felt very spooky and lonely for a moment but not for long for out of the darkness friend Dave Perrin was in front of me yelling up encouragement so I eventually got to the bottom completely drenched and cold only to be told that there was a bit of a wait for the next descent which was a 20 ft.!!
Eating chocolate and listening to jokes, the time passed and there we were climbing down again. We then proceeded along a passage to a small sump which we were able to wade across where we had food: sardines, jelly cubes,dried fruit and crisps!!. The coming out of the cave was something else. By the time we got to the 30 ft. ladder pitch, so many people had been up and down it that it was thick with mud and very difficult to climb.
As we were also wet and cold, particularly the hands, this made it even more difficult. Half way up I shouted that I couldn't get any further - no sympathy from above, "just keep moving, there are others behind you"! "I can't", I shouted, "yes you can, think of the pub and food just down the road!" With great difficulty I managed it. I got outside the cave and Colin and Ron and others were there laughing, cheerful, and dripping wet. Squelching our way back to the cars for dry clothes, we started to walk, but the air had become so cold that the ground was frosty and our boilersuits froze making us walk like robots! I can remember thinking, yes Colin Grange certainly knows how to entertain a lady for the weekend!!
Seriously though, I had a fantastic time and it was certainly a weekend to remember which is why I am writing about it now. Good luck to the old timers and founder members of Croydon Caving Club, my husband Colin Grange, Ron Smith, Brian(Soaps)Serff, Dick Ockenden, Shaun Norman, Tony Fuller. We had a great time.
Editor's note: Thanks, Jean, for your earliest memory of caving. Perhaps others may wish to contribute their recollections from a bygone age of caving (or any age at all, really). More scrapings from the memory barrel can be found on p.31