When Ian suggested a quick trip to Chapel Lodge Farm Cave one Wednesday in May I didn't really think much about it other than offering my usual “yes please, what time?” Quick searches on the internet didn't provide much information, feeling slightly flummoxed as to the lack of information soon my questions would be answered via a few emails.
I have previously hankered at cave digging and exploration, this had been noted, little to my knowledge because here we were armed with plastic sacks, buckets and a snow shovel Ian had swiped from the boot of my car. I was happy to donate said item to the greater cause when I realised the alternative was a small plant pot, that looked like it had seen better days. Fuelled up with information that described a min 4 hour dig at the sand choked areas that lead to the cheerily named Paranoid crawl - we were set.
A quick change saw me stripping back off due to the blazing sun that was beating down on us. The nettle field saw me pulling my wetsuit back up! Planks of old boards concealed under tree branches, did not look particularly welcoming. I had spiders on my mind. A swarm of mosquitos, and I mean a swam took off towards us with every plank removed. I was now wishing I had a face mask as well as my other attire. The swarm continued and realising following Ian down this muddy hole to face the spiders that must obviously feast on the mosquitos was my only option to avoid being drained of all blood.
This cave seemed best engaged feet first laying flat on my back, shuffling slowly, this offered time to inspect the rock cms about my eyes, surprised to discover there was a lack of arachnids. Progressing through a flat out crawl fuelled by excited thoughts and adrenaline. I see some odd “breast shaped” formation on the roof that make me chuckle. White calcite curtains , appear to have caught a case of the measles marked with black spots. This was an strangely enjoyable progression, flat out crawls, mud, squeezes and fine formations made progress enchanting. Carful not to touch formations we made our way sometimes getting a moments crawling, sometimes a sneeze was lubricated by more smooth glorious mud.
Boulder slopes negated at best looked a little dodgy, care is recommended .Traveling behind Ian makes these section easy, I observe and replicate his contortions.
After what seems like a very short space of time we reach a chamber that someone has done a lot of work in. I’m staggered by the amount of bagged up sand ! There looks to be hundreds - hats off, there is a lot of hours and effort spent here.
Arriving at the dig site, we are greeted with a sloping roof that sinks into sand. The plan is for Ian to head down and fill said builders bucket, then I pull it up and empty into farming sacks, keeping a count of the buckets - time check, 13-55. Both aware of the suggested dig out time being “ 4 hours min of hard labour” we begin. I rather enjoy this time, we are able to chat, and hope for 4 hours to pass quickly. My chattering only occasionally interrupted by anxiety pangs that I don't send all the sand down onto Ian. Between hauling buckets and emptying them I find myself furiously trying to sweep any likely looking sand to the side or behind me. I’m feeling in the zone, counting bags we reach 13 and I note something I haven't done before - it’s a draught? Looking down I'm met wth the words "can you feel that Adele? " Ian then proceeds to begin kicking and wiggling like some sort of sand creature, which I have to admit made me momentarily concerned but these thoughts are forgotten with the words, " I'm through - I can kick my legs in the air."
With giggling and excitement, Ian disappears, returning seconds later - there’s a way through! At this point I'm so excited for my friend and I think of all the people that have contributed to affording such a glorious feeling - ohhh I so love caves!
My pulse is raised for a second when I observe Ian laying perfectly still, silent with half his head sticking out the sand choke, enquiring if everything is ok, and wondering why Ian looks motionless - its ok - for he is just enjoying the breeze draughting in his hair.
Ian returns, we check the time its 14:35. The penny drops, I'm going to have to progress through the sand tube, and Ian suggests I go first so he can pull me out if I am, as i fear too fat to fit. Helmet off, wiggle wiggle - and I'm staggered it wasn't that bad!
So its off to paranoid crawl we go, rounding a corner my ears prick up. I can hear water and lots of it, walking now we charge towards it eager to find the source of this noise. This cave has previously been such a quiet place, the tone has changed.
Examining avens Ian’s eye is drawn to the top, he thinks he as spotted an opening could it be. This would require equipment lacking today, I was happy enough to announce.
Further areas that will require boulder moving duties follow, we reach the end of the cave, dutifully collecting a previously described stone for geological investigation. Unsure as to if we should bring a large or a small stone? I load up a few in my sports bra with a few stones - the only carrying device I have about me - well its batter than carrying them in my hands.
The exit from a cave as always passes quickly to me. Its a chance to see the place again - from another angle. I never want the experience to be over but fresh air is always a joy, no matter how much an underground time has been enjoyed. Lost in happy thoughts, I remember the mosquitos and lurking spiders ( that were obviously camouflaged on the way in). Ian assists with a sweeping mission. Walking back to the car, down hill I positively skip through the nettles immune to stings!
Quick Pint at The Old Hall, plans are made for a return. We acknowledge the efforts of all that have assisted.