White Scar Elaine, Clive, Gareth, Ed, Sophie, Jason
I was looking forward to this trip as I’d only seen it as part of a guided tour before, and at £2.50, it was a bargain compared with the public entrance fee! So it was a relief that the recent weather hadn’t meant a cancellation, but alas, our leader Mr Gordon was indisposed, so the mantle fell to Elaine – at least as far as paying the entrance fee.
The first section presented no navigational difficulties – follow the concrete until just before the steps, then take the ‘dead end’ (to tourists) to the right, and hop over the barrier. Very soon, we were in the 60’ lake – aptly, if unimaginatively named. Some of it was navigable, just, by walking tip-toe, but we were able to use the thoughtfully-provided fat yellow traverse line for the deeper parts – until someone pointed out it was probably the lighting cable for the Battlefield Series.
Soon after comes ‘Big Bertha’, a rock wedged in the passage that is, well, big – then the boulder choke. This gave some concern as a) we knew it was possible to go astray, b) the most recently anyone had been here was 10 years ago and c) maybe the water levels were high enough to block the way? Gareth intrepidly found a way through at (or slightly beneath) stream level – when asked how big the air-space in the duck was, he answered “it depends how big your nose is!”. This wasn’t sounding promising. Fortunately Sophie, who was next, was more sensible and found a perfectly dry wriggle through the boulders higher up.
After that, we soon found ourselves back in the spacious streamway, which continued on and on. Entertainingly, the water depth is apt to vary without warning leading to the odd sudden plunge or barked shin on an unseen shelf.
At length we reached the start of the phreatic section – wide lowish passages mostly filled with water. Once again, Gareth plunged ahead, with the rest of us following slightly less enthusiastically. Actually it was quite fun when you got used to it – you could keep your head (if nothing else) out of the water – nearly all the time – and with the slight buoyancy of a wetsuit/neofleece, you could float through quite comfortably paddling away with your hands on the bottom. Eventually (are we there yet?, are we there yet?) we reached the sump, which was fairly unremarkable, but at least we could say we’d made it.
On the way back, we had a quick climb up at the start of the vadose passage to see an alcove full of magnificent straws – easily two metres ! – well, big anyway.
Arriving back in the show cave, we sneaked up the steps to have a look at Battlefield Cavern between tours. I was briefly tempted to nip down and relieve the ‘caver’ manikin of his Meander oversuit – what a waste! – but thought better of it. On the way out it was gratifying to make our way past a party of kids who looked suitably impressed. Or was it horrified ? Or disgusted ?
Anyway, it was a fine trip, and my oversuit hasn’t been as clean for a long time!