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The pre-course information was spot on, and any questions you had were answered by our customer service team, meaning…you’re ready to go underground. Dashing between the rain drops from our car park to the Adventure Hub you’re greeted by your Pure Outdoor instructor. They seem pretty relaxed about the weather, thankfully we’re not on the hill or crag. By 0930h everyone’s arrived and chatting over coffee about prior experience and their aspirations for the course.

Planning

No doubt you’ll have your reasons for trying caving. Why we cave is a question with as many answers as there are cavers. As not only professional instructors but passionate cavers, we look through the often shallow media representation of caving as hardship punctuated with claustrophobia and embrace its true nature: adventure, beauty and fascination. So before heading underground we’ll take a little time to plan the day around you, look at the weather (especially if we’re visiting a cave with a streamway), introduce you to cave surveys and use our digital resources to look at the wider context of the caves of the Peak District.

Kit

Before striking out we’ll fit you out with all the specialist kit you need: oversuit, helmet, light, gloves, knee protection as well as harness and cowstails if you’re on a vertical trip. Transfer to the selected cave is less than 15 minutes by car, and the parking is easier than at the honeypot walking and climbing venues. Suited and booted, group kit in tackle bags, your camera in your instructor’s water-proof case, we’ll make a plan to be safe underground before heading for the entrance. Looking out for each other starts with confirming each other’s lights are working and checking harnesses, later you’ll be offered hands to help you up a climb or a reassuring voice and light will guide you at a bend in a crawl.

What it's like

The going is easy at first, the air surprisingly warm compared to the damp Spring air on the surface, about 12C year round. In Summer it’s refreshingly cool. Eyes accustomed to the perpetual dark we’re soon moving through tropical sea sediments, around 300 million years old, the abundant fossils confirm the rock’s marine origin. Lavas from the same period announce themselves with their darker, tougher appearance. Elsewhere we’ll encounter more recent, unconsolidated sediments washed in from the surface when the ice retreated a mere 10,000 years ago. The miners (T’Owd Man) then left their legacy - passages just big enough to accommodate man and pick, holes for charges and tell-tale blast marks chase the serpentine mineral veins.

The miners (T’Owd Man) then left their legacy - passages just big enough to accommodate man and pick, holes for charges and tell-tale blast marks chase the serpentine mineral veins.

Soon the passage lowers, we’re stooping, arriving at a junction. Your instructor tells you that both passages meet in the same chamber after 8ft, the left is a flat-out crawl, or you could choose the right which is hands-and-knees. You opt for the left with everyone else and stick your head in first. You back out, arms first is easier you realise, pushing the tackle bag along in front. Up close the coral and crinoid fossils are vividly detailed. You can see a bigger space ahead and wriggle on (thankful for the kneepads) emerging in to standing room. “I’m through”. The others follow, all in good spirits. The cave feels different beyond the constriction, more committing. This is not contrived, it’s real. And fun.



After snacks your instructor briefs everyone on the way ahead: a traverse around a waterfall. The stream re-joins the passage and plummets 5 metres, filling the space with a roar and spray. It’s spectacular, but exposed. The traverse line is rigged, tight along the right hand wall. A teammate clips their cowstails in and steps out over the drop, holding on to the rope, passing the anchors meticulously. A shout of “ROPE FREE!” tells you it’s your turn next.

A shout of “ROPE FREE!” tells you it’s your turn next.

After the adrenaline of the traverse the high, dry bypass passage is welcome relief. Echoey, beautifully sculpted by the streamway that now flows elsewhere as the cave continues to evolve. Away from the more easily accessible sections of the cave, the formations are pristine: Stalactites and stalagmites, curtains, nests of cave pearls, ‘Derbyshire Diamonds’ and tiny, exquisite helictites line the walls.

An entertaining series of down-climbs follows, through which you spot each other, your instructor leading the way but by now you’re moving together fluidly through the passageways. Finally, the stream returns, widens, nears the top of your wellies, fills the lowering passage, telling us we’ve come as far as we can. You take a few snaps of the still, blue pool, they’ll look amazing online.

The return journey upstream is more challenging, the traverse especially now gravity is against you, but a few pointers from your instructor and you’re using cowstails efficiently, even freeing up your hands for a spectacular shot of the waterfall. Your instructor de-rigs the traverse, packs and redistributes the tackle bags ready to return to surface, this time via the bigger passage.

End of the day

Clean and dry back at the Adventure Hub, adrenaline ebbing, appetite awakening, there seem to be more questions than we can answer in a day: Which caves did we visit? Can you really just walk in to these caves?

Author


This article was written by Pure Outdoor staff member - Stephen

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