The Year of Living Dangerously (Part 1)

(or what's 60 feet tall, lurks on misty moors, and buggers cavers?)

After 9 years of caving marred only by occasional mishaps on the way home from the pub, new year 91/92 heralded a change of policy.

The new year break started inauspicously when we checked into Hotel Bull Pot Farm. It has never aspired to AA or RAC recognition, but it now seemed to have sunk to an all time low in terms of squalor. Heating and comfort were conspicuosly absent, but were compensated for by ample dirt and the occasional rat.

For reasons that will become apparent, my recollections of the day in question may not be wholly accurate. What I remember is that a mixed group of cavers from Croydon and Plymouth had agreed to an exchange trip between Lancaster Hole and Cow Pot. Martyn, Paul, myself (and one other?) descended Lancaster Hole and met the other (larger) group near the streamway. After an uneventful trip along the streamway, my group started to exit.

At the base of Cow Pot, Paul and Martyn ascended first, followed by myself. On the surface it was dark by now, and a mist had set in. Consequently we were in a hurry to derig and get back. On reaching the surface I unclipped from the rope, tucked some of my dangly bits away, and then moved away from the pitch head so Paul could pull the rope up. I had never seen the entrance to Cow Pot and was unaware of it's strange geography. Subsequent descriptions lead me to believe that the pot can be likened to an irregular shaped swimming pool, with the take off point at the end of a stone diving board. An unfortunate analogy in the circumstances. It is around this point that my memories become especially vague.

The first suggestion that I had made a mistake was when I started falling. At this point I didn't realise how big a mistake.

Time passed slowly. As it passed I gradually realised that I had done more than step off a boulder.

Then... Impact.

What a relief.

But no, I continue falling.

Another blow, harder this time.

"Oh dear," I thought. "This is serious."

Time passed.

"If I need rescuing, how will I ever live it down?"

Finally I stopped... Suddenly.

I was winded, and as I struggled for breath I was aware that I was lying on my back, in the dark, in a dish shaped hollow. Eventually I regained my breath, and Paul abseiled down to me. Fortunately I had landed on a rocky ledge and hadn't plummeted all the way down. After establishing that I could move, Paul helped me put my gear back on and I slowly prusiked back to the surface. Paul soon rejoined us, and Martyn set off into the mist to locate the path.

Slowly we picked our way through the freezing mist until the strangely welcoming lights of Bull Pot Farm appeared. No sooner were we back than I was bundled into the back of Sarah's car, and accompanied by Sarah, Paul and Catherine rushed off to Lancaster Royal Infirmary. Once again the mist conspired to make things difficult.

Eventually we arrived, and I was taken inside. The staff seemed to take it all in their stride and wasted no time in examining me. My wetsuit was removed without cutting and dropped in a muddy heap on the floor. Catherine tried to cheer me up by telling me her only 2 jokes:

"What's the fastest cake in the world? - Scone."

"What's the second fastest? - Merangue."

In spite of having heard them 20 times before, I still couldn't remember the answers.

I was prodded by a variety of medical people and then sent for X-rays. Surprisingly these showed that I hadn't broken any bones. As a consolation prize, a nurse put 12 staples into my scalp where a crafty rock had sneaked below the rim of my helmet. Fortunately, at this point Martyn turned up with my clothes saving me from the OXFAM rejects I was being given. A head bandage, sling and neckbrace followed and I was then sent out into the big wide world to return to Stalag Bull Pot Farm.

Epilogue: I suffered from after effects for at least 6 months, and at the time of writing (10 months on) still suffer from occasional shoulder pains.

Eric Downer