The origins of the club actually go back to the first half of the 1950’s when a group of schoolboys formed the Heversham (now Dallam) Pothole Club. These chums, for reasons unknown, liked to spend their time slopping around the local caves of the Kent Valley. Something more than the mud of Fairy Cave at Witherslack must have made an impression because our horizons began to widen and, in due course, led to the establishment of the Kendal Age of the KCC. The club was formally founded in 1957, with our first club trip being to Sell Gill Holes.
This was a time when caving techniques were rudimentary, when ‘potholers’ were held in some disdain and regarded in some quarters as a lower form of life, much as the post-war rock climbing fraternity with which we had many affinities. Even a trip east of Kirkby Lonsdale was then an adventure requiring considerable logistical skills. Tackle was bulky and awkward, personal transport was the exception and members possessed physical skills at both ends of the spectrum. Our big showcase meets (i.e. Bar Pot) clearly emphasised that teamwork and co-operation were very necessary to ensure completion of meets within a weekend and the survival of all the participants. As has often been said, this is the spirit that caving can foster more meaningfully than most so-called team games.
However, we did all survive and one age of the club slid into the next. By the 1960s, technology had reached the caving scene: waterproof suits, lighter-weight ladders and ropes and (fairly) reliable lighting. All were more attainable as money became less of a problem when we had ‘never had it so good’. The increase in private motoring pushed the caving scene even wider, not just in terms of the ease of travelling and moving people further afield for regular club meets, but leading to interchange between the caving areas of the U.K. and the possibility of caving trips abroad in areas more remote than the Costas. That many members had now become used to being away from home at University and at work must also have been contributory to the changing scene in the KCC. Despite all these factors, the club retained its individuality and with the influx of recruits from Ermysted’s School (Skipton) at the end of the 1960’s, thanks to Dave Heap, the Third Age was underway.
Although regular Club meets based on a variety of HQ’s in the Dales continued, the trend throughout the caving scene was beginning to move towards original exploration. The cultural changes of that era encouraged personal expression and individuality and freed people from the conformities of the post-war era. With improving techniques and equipment, this led to cavers tackling, without reservation, what would have been regarded as very serious undertakings only a few years previously.. The KCC may have made rather fewer new discoveries than some other clubs at this time but I think it is fair to say that we were at the ‘sharp end’ of the digging scene in those days, despite our small size. Again, activities like these still required team effort and the large number of clubs pushing back the frontiers then only led to rivalry and redoubled efforts in individual organisations. Perhaps the down side of this, which contributed to the state of the club from mid eighties to nineties, was that the regular meet became less important. Membership was by invitation rather than application and the new blood needed to ensure an active future was not forthcoming.
We were not alone, though, but managed to avoid the demise that affected many smaller clubs. In the Fourth Age, the mid seventies, KCC activities became more fragmented with groups tending to follow their own interests. The membership fluctuated and the base of the club had long since ceased to be Kendal. Some of us virtually had second homes in the Dales. The situation was recognised and a major drive was made to acquire a fixed base. We bought a cottage in Horton. As well as construction and repair skills, this did begin to act as a new focus for the club. The cottage log book records a wide range of activities, some of which were speleological. However, we still were not large enough to sustain a traditional caving club life and the core membership was, inevitably, of an age when family commitments began to come first.
The cottage was also becoming a financial burden and the decision was reluctantly taken to sell up in 1982. End of the Fifth Age. Surplus funds were put away for a rainy day and what caving took place was done on a private basis with official meets largely confined to Annual Dinner weekends. This situation has continued until recently when the impetus for a regeneration of caving under the KCC name gained strength, in Kendal of all places.
After a long period of darkness in the 80s and early 90s, the club sprang to life once more with the help of original members and Keith Bradbury. In the early 00s, interest grew once more, the membership began steadily increasing. Covid of course affected the club as it did everything else, but after we were all let back out of our cages, meet activity is once again very healthy and we continue to onboard new members regularly.