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Yorkshire 22nd August 2009

The compromise reached in the car park at the Dalesbridge campsite near Settle on Saturday 22nd may find historical significance for its break with accepted convention. Any properly constructed compromise is founded upon leaving all parties equally dissatisfied. On this occasion, the question was whether an introductory trip should go to Calf Holes or Long Churn. The compromise, reached within minutes, was to do both. It pleased everybody equally.

Calf Holes is a good introduction for the most nervous beginner because everything about it is straightforward. Admittedly, it starts with a climb down a ladder into a stream, but the climb is short and in daylight, and the stream is only just deep enough to come over the tops of your wellies. Will it ever be explained why cavers wear wellies, given that they invariably end up full of water? Never mind. Tradition is all.

You do not splash downstream in Calf Holes for long before you come to a place where the water disappears down through the stones and the way on is along a dry passage. A bit further on you turn into a side passage and find yourself again with the water. If you were entirely witless you could elect to stay with the water down a series of rapids and over a fifteen foot waterfall, but it is generally considered more appropriate to wriggle into a low side passage above the stream and follow that. It leads to an easy climb down and you find yourself back with the stream beyond the waterfall. After few minutes of wading you see daylight, and soon after that you emerge from an entrance maybe half a mile from the one where you entered.

It is not far to drive from there to the parking place near to Alum Pot, into which descends Lower Long Churn cave. We started, though, with Upper Long Churn. It offers the entertainment of a tricky waterfall descent (aided with a rope to cling to) and a delicate step onto a ledge where misjudgement means a ducking in a deep, cold pool. One member of the party, wishing to be in the best position to take photographs, went in there on purpose, but he was wearing a wetsuit and so he did not care. Everyone else managed to stay of out of it. Lower Long Churn, which you may not be surprised to learn is downstream of Upper Long Churn, is perhaps the most popular introduction to caving in Yorkshire. It offers everything – traverses around deep pools, a tight squeeze with a by-pass for those who do not want to try it, a climb in a rift and a free climb, and finally a ladder descent to a wide passage leading to a ledge half way down Alum Pot and thus affording one of the most spectacular views to be found in UK caving. Back almost at the entrance to Lower Long Churn, we elected to leave by the entertaining route, which is a low crawl in the stream. The sun was still shining and only the midges threw a cloud over the proceedings – literal and metaphorical – as we got changed.

I have been to Lower Long Churn cave so many times that I have lost count, but it still delights me every time. Come on you guys. This is an introductory cave. In the immortal words of the governor of California and one-time noted body-builder, “You can do it”. Visit Lower Long Churn with us next time!

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