A PAIR of cavers have made history as the first people to traverse the longest cave network in Britain.

The two men - part of the heroic team who saved 13 Thai children who got stuck in a cave in 2018 - entered the Three Counties cave network on Saturday, September 25.

It took Jason Mallinson of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire and Chris Jewel of Cheddar, Somerset 17 and a half hours to travel more than 10km, from Ingleton, Yorkshire, to Top Sink, in South Lakeland, Cumbria.

Russell Myers, Chair of the British Caving Association, said: "It's like summiting K2.

"It's such an incredible achievement, it's hard to put into words.

"You could count in single figures the amount of people in the whole country with the skill to complete something like this."

The cave system is vast. Straddling Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire - hence 'Three Counties' - it contains more than 90km of tunnel and still hasn't been fully explored.

A route connecting the eastern and western section of the tunnels was only realised in 2011 and no-one has ever done the whole route in one.

Mr Myers said: "It requires skill of the highest order. The two that did it were at the top of their game. It was fraught with potential to fail.

"The equipment is highly technical and could go wrong. All along the way, caving obstacles like tight gaps and deep pools were present."

At one point, the men had to travel underwater for 750m along a stretch of water previously unexplored. In total, more than 2km of the trip was through submerged tunnels.

"You're talking about a 3-dimensional maze," Mr Myers explained. "It's not a straight line from A to B; there are offshoots and side passages. It's so easy to get lost.

"We weren't too worried though. Someone pointed out to me that we had half of the country's best cave rescuers on-site.

"Again, it's incredible. We really hope that an event like this can re-invigorate the caving scene in this country.

"The fascination of caving is that you can find places that no-one has ever been before."

He recommends that people exercise extreme caution. Caving is hazardous and should not be attempted without the necessary training, knowledge and experience to become a competent caver.

However, those interested can contact the British Caving Association, the Cave Diving Group of Great Britain & Northern Ireland or the Council of Northern Caving Clubs.