Caving in Britain - a lost art or just a lost article

It would appear that either Croydon Caving Club is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan or it's members cannot be bothered to write up trips while in the UK deeming them not fit to publish.

Well rather than preaching I am writing up some of my recent trips. This may stimulate some activity from the less loquacious members of the club.

Memories of a late night Caver !

One of the joys of living in the Cotswolds is that it is a long way from Croydon no sorry, is that the Mendips is but 1 hour away, S. Wales is 1½ hours away and the Forest of Dean / Chepstow is but 35 minutes. This is further improved by working in Bristol meaning the Mendips and better still the Hunter's is about 30 minutes from the office (less time than it takes to get home!). This has encouraged myself and Phil Brooks who is based in Cheltenham to go caving after work from time to time.

There is a special magic to an after work trip. It wears away the stresses and strains of office life in minutes, gives you a good work out and allows you to feel as if you have really earned your pint. Taking two trips at random...

It was late last year and the urge for activity and exercise drew upon us, it was a Thursday night and it had been cold and wet for about a week. The next thing we know, Phil and I are belting down Swildons. The trip was organised on the hoof. We arrange to have our caving kit in our cars and decide on the day. A phone call at 4.30 made the Rendezvous Priddy green. The trip itself need not be recounted here, primarily as most people know it backwards. It was cold, it was wet and the Hunter's was warm and the beer good. I was home and ready for my pit before 11.30, extremely smug in that I managed to get to sump 2 less than 1¼ hours after leaving the office.

A more recent trip did not go to plan, Phil and I decided to go to Mendip, meet up outside the Wessex and think about Sludge pit. Lesson one, make sure that you check access arrangements from a recent guidebook. Still there we were changed and with no place to go. A likely looking character appeared in a grubby Citroen. "allo lads - off caving". The usual pleasantries were exchanged with none other than the Wessex hut warden. Who proceeded to show us all the shiny new alterations to their hut and ask us that since we seemed nice enough fellows - did we want any key in particular?

What followed was very entertaining. A bit of to-ing and fro-ing left me and Brooks tramping across the wet grass looking for GB blockhouse. A magical little soiree ensued, tumbling down climbs, exploring avens and generally having a ripping good time. An hour and a quarter later we emerged, sweaty and smelly and gasping for a pint having completed the round trip at what felt like light speed. Off to the hunters - beer and chilli and a chat with the locals.

What does all this tell us ?

Caving after work is a rare privilege for most members of Croydon since most of us are a fair distance from a caving area. However, for many clubs many of their members' only caving is after work. It is also a good way to get chatting to the real local cavers who, it could be argued, are at the grass roots of digging and arranging access.

Of course the trips are necessarily shorter and tend to be of the more "classic" nature, but if for most of us the evenings are spent parked in front of the box, then a few hours caving keeps you fitter, and certainly makes caving at weekend easier in terms of exertion. It can't be done every week since one has to fit around the office, but it beats the hell out of 5 a side football in my opinion.

Where next ? Well it seems Phil and I will probably join a local club (we have the right contacts now) enabling wider access, keys and Charterhouse permits and a core group of regulars who like the idea of a two hour trip, a couple of pints at the Hunter's followed by an overnight stay at the hut. Up early, shower and into the office by 8.30. Wonderful !

Simon Davies