Book Reviews - Beneath the Mountains, Race against time


Exploring the Deep Caves of Asturias
David Rose & Richard Gregson
Hodder and Stoughton, £12.95 192pp

Oxford University Cave Club have been exploring the caves of the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain since 1961. During that time they have discovered, explored many fine new caves. They have surveyed them to an enviably high standard and have written up their work in their regular journals which have become essential reading for all those who visit that part of the world.

Perhaps none of the caves found by Oxford have captured the imagination of other cavers quite as much as their discovories in Pozu del Xitu. The major part of this book is about the six year Beige on Sistema del Xitu that was required to explore it completely. The story is told by two people who were personally involved in the whole of the extended activity. It is not the usual serious proceedings nor yet the typical undergraduate write-up, full of wrecked vehicles and puking students - or do I mean wrecked students and puking vehicles -although it contains both of these. Instead it is a simple, straight forward, adventure narrative which manages to hold one's attention without resort to hyperbole or the introduction of phoney, "cliff-hanging", timing. The dual authorship which switches from one person to the other helps maintain the momentum, a bit like a literary version of News at Ten. The easy, journalistic (which is indeed the profession of one of the authors) style doubtless also helps. All in all it is what in former days would have been described as a "rattling good yarn". It is also, incidentally, the only caving book with a Glossary of Terms Used which is worth reading for its own sake.

Martin Hatton


Jim Eyre and John Frankland
Lyon Equipment (Books) £9.95 208pp

Cave rescue is the only aspect of spelaeology which appears to interest the general public. It is certainly the only aspect which receives regular coverage in the media, it is a bit surprising therefore that this should be the first English book on cave rescue since James Lovelock's Life and Death Underground was published in 1963. (Some purists might even argue that it is THE first book since Lovelock's focused more on disaster than rescue.)

This book records the history of the first fifty years of the Cave Rescue Organisation. . . well the first fifty two years actually, it took a lot longer for this book to come out than it does for the CRO to respond to a call-out, it contains a limited amount of factual record, a modicum of serious, but not too technical, medical matters from Dr. Frankland and a host of wittily illustrative anecdotes from Jim Eyre. Some of these have appeared in print before but many were new to me at least. Jim also contributed the many cartoons in the book. One of these provides a salutary warning to all potential rescuees: it consists of a pathetic figure standing out from a sea of hundreds of other people, vehicles, tents, press and photographers under the caption "I hope I haven't caused you any trouble". Many of the others are just as good.

Martin Hatton

P.S. I shall not be lending my copy out; buy your own, the royalties go to C.R.O.

P.P.S. If you have a sense of humour like mine do not read pages 73 & 74 in a crowded train, unless you want people to stare at you.

Martin Hatton