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My day as a cave woman
AFTER writing the three counties cave system story, offers to venture into the labyrinth myself surfaced from a number of cavers.
So I felt compelled to get a helmet, some knee protectors, lots of thermal and dive on in.
The evening started with a relaxing drive up a beautiful fell near Cowan Bridge.
Blue skies, hardly any wind... I was thinking the event would be a breeze.
However, the mood soon turned - everyone stopped in the middle of an empty field.
At first I was bewildered as to why we had suddenly stopped. My heart sunk when I spotted the tiny hole which was clearly where we were heading down.
Within seconds it was my turn to start the descent.
I clung to a silver ladder, which shrieked every time it moved. This tiny ladder was at first the only salvation between me and a 200-metre drop.
Before I started I was worried the small spaces might be a problem - this was not the case.
In fact I was over the moon every time the cave’s walls closed in on me, as it made me feel a hundred times safer.
The people I was with did an amazing job telling me exactly where to put my feet and hands, which was all I could concentrate on.
It was only on reflection that I realised at some points the ladder ceased in exchange for holes in the wall or lines of scaffolding.
After a few ladders, the air turned very hot and I instantly regretted not drinking any water all day and drinking ten cups of coffee (standard for a busy Wednesday at work) which didn’t help in relaxing me.
Anyway, a few hundred ladders later, I landed at the bottom of the cave.
Relief isn’t a word satisfactory for my feeling but I’m not sure one has been created yet which would be fit for this emotion.
Once I had had a good ten minutes to calm down I had a chance to observe the beauty of my surroundings.
The vast walls, covered in melted limestone swirling down from all directions was just sublime.
The caves really are a different world.
Underground rivers filled some passages, while others were so small I literally had to shuffle head first and slither along on all floors.
The activities available to do underground included climbing, gorge walking and simply exploring.
At one point we reached a slippery high wall and my instructor said to me it was probably a bit too slippery.
I replied “we can give it a go” - a response I started to regret when I was clinging to a rope metres up from a running river with only spiky rocks to meet me at the bottom.
However, the team really knew what they were doing, so I was never really in any danger.
Once up the wall we slithered through to a chamber, filled with what can only be described as a natural sculpture of melted limestone.
It was like the real world had faded and all that resided was a world not too dissimilar to that of the Goonies.
We made our way through quite a lot of paths during our three-hour trip.
However, the time went so fast I couldn’t believe it when we were back at the dreaded ladders again.
I thought getting up must be better then getting down as this way round I could see what I was doing.
I was wrong. I had to use ever last bit of energy left to get to the top.
Overall it was a very enjoyable trip out and I would recommend it even if you only try it once.
It's definitely worth the ladders to see the unusual, fascinating world that exists just beneath our feet.