We couldn't have picked a worse day to go underground. There were cloudless skies with bright sunshine - a rarity. Anyway, this turned out to be to our advantage because the recent period of beautiful dry weather had meant very low ground water levels in the caves.
I have done only a few caves in my life, but I am very interested so decided to join SOC. Kirsty, Alison, Paul and myself set off to Kirkby Stephen where the caves were located. I was told that none of our group had done any of the caves before, so that made it very exciting. I felt like a little kid again when we had to go on a hunt around the river for the cave mouth. There were many small nooks and crannies in the area, but the smallest had to be the cave didn't it! Pretty ironic really as once inside there were many different passages like a maze. Paul was first to squeeze in, and I could just see the bottom of his wellies wriggling their way into the "Angel's Drainpipe". Kirsty was next, followed by Alison and finally myself. It was a "battery pack on your side, one arm in front, one behind, wriggling on your side" type of hole. The rock had many inset jagged pieces (suit ripping material as Paul pointed out and Kirsty unfortunately found out) which made manoeuvring even harder. After a lot of huffing and puffing I entered into a wider section. We were now exploring, it was an excellent feeling even though I wasn't leading. It is a river cave so we were walking in water. The cave was filled with many small blocked passages. I am not very good at orientating myself so after going up a number of "wrong ways" and back again I was totally lost and just followed. It was easy to see that the cave floods to the roof as there was lots of debris scattered everywhere. The usual stuff, a number of camping pots and pans, a full lorry wheel and tyre etc. It was a bit like a ghost train as there were spiders hanging from the roof and long stringy things.
Our aim was to find the through route and we were hot on the trail until uncertainty set in. The water was quite cold and above my b.......................elly button, so I was slightly chilly. None of us could remember the exact details from the guide book so with a couple of tight exit options, any of which could be wrong, so we decided to exit the way we came in. Overall, this cave was very enjoyable, but only passable in dry weather.
Outside in the sun I warmed up quickly and we went for another adventure. We were searching for the "Devil's Grinding Mill". The entrance was in a small cliff face in a wood and we all piled in. This cave was much easier going so we shot through the first section stopping briefly to admire some of the calcite formations on the walls. They looked to me like a big frozen milkshake waterfall, but I've forgotten the proper name. We followed the flow of the river and came to a small set of underground waterfalls which were fun to climb down with a deep pool waiting for you at the bottom ... again post-belly button height. It was nice in this cave as at some points you met with relatively warm water in small side passages which warmed your hands. I also enjoyed some traversing we had to do over a deep pool, and round the corner SUNSHINE and the exit. To be so near (about 8 metres) but so far was a strange feeling. To complete it we would have had to swim in deep water out to the river. The problem being we were all wearing furry suits and I was told this was a bad idea as you float like a rock. Overall we could have completed it wearing wet suits and that made us feel quite good as we had found the way through this one.
I had really enjoyed myself in both caves with the exception of a few small incidents. Once when I thought I was completely stuck, but actually quote Alison "I wasn't stuck, I just couldn't move". There is actually a difference. The second was when I decided to make like a fish and gulp a load of water down in a crawl.
We completed the day with ice-creams which were very tasty. Thanks very much to you all, and thanks to Kirsty for picking me up. I hope to be back.