• Christine Grosart

Fast Moving Treacle with Foam On't Top

Updated: Feb 16, 2020

It's been a long time since I was caving in Yorkshire - and even longer since I had been cave diving up there.

With a never ending motorway covered in cones pretty much between Bristol and Settle, you don't get much change out of a 6 hour drive to the Dales, so it really needs to be worth it.

The UK had enjoyed glorious weather all summer and were basking in a heatwave right up until the moment I stepped off the plane from work.

I packed my van full of caving and cave diving gear. A whole bunch of sidemount cylinders, ropes and camera gear went in - all the while as the biblical storm hit the UK and took out a few stone bridges up North for good measure.

My Cave Diving Group trainee Mark Burkey scrabbled around looking for vertical caves that wouldn't flood and where pitches weren't too big and scary for Rich Walker, who hates SRT (Single Rope Technique) with a genuine passion.

The Cave Diving Group has a unique and rather accurate visibility scale for Yorkshire caves, which changes according to rainfall or lack thereof.

Water watchers scattered around the Dales report weekly, sometimes daily, to report back online how conditions are faring.

The CDG has a visibility scale which is remarkably accurate. A bunch of local weather watchers update it regularly with rainfall data and river levels.

Cave Diving Group Visibility Scale

Poteen White Wine Lager Pedigree (acceptable) Brown Ale Guinness (Dark, with foam on top)

It's a bit like branch watchers, when you're trying to work out if the dive boat will go out or not...

I looked at my camera gear in desperation.

What we salvaged from what was, basically, a monsoon was incredible in hindsight.

We went down Lost Johns, Cathedral route and abseiled some lovely pitches. I took my camera box which was like dragging a small unruly child with me for the entire trip.

Survey Copyright CNCC

Mark cheerfully rigged, waggy-tailed that he didn't have the camera box for once and sniggering each time it jammed in the cave passage and I growled at it.

Rich was left to hang on the rope while I perched precariously on a ledge and tried not to drop my expensive camera kit down the 30 metre pitch.

One's photography doesn't half improve when you are given advice and assistance by one of the best in the business. Self taught, Mark Burkey has a mantlepiece full of awards for his cave photography and a club full of novice cavers who all enjoy having their photos taken, for practise.

Mark was holding the flashguns at the bottom and was looking at them when I accidentally hit the shutter and they went off, momentarily blinding him.

Swearing came up the pitch, which was met with a "Woo Hooooo!!!" from me as my 'accident' had actually come out really well! This looked promising.

Not bad for the first accidental shot! Image: Christine Grosart. Lighting: Mark Burkey. Caver: Rich Walker

I don't know how long I made Rich hang there and one flash gun revolted - not good enough batteries in the flash guns, apparently.

But I was super chuffed with the results. After years of struggling with pitch shots I finally, thanks to tuition from the expert, had something publishable.

Shop for the camera used to take this image: Canon 100D

Cathedral Pitch, Lost Johns, Yorkshire. Image: Christine Grosart, Lighting: Mark Burkey, Caver: Rich Walker

We had a smashing few days, catching up briefly with Steph and Mike from Yorkshire Dales Guides who have a wonderful set up not far from the Helwith Bridge close to where we were staying.

What I love about the caving instructor business is that everyone are friends and we all support one another. It's great to see another lady cave leader going places and creating an amazing facility to get the next generation into such a fantastic sport. They cater for all ages, abilities and disabilities.

Richard Walker in his favourite position! Image: Christine Grosart

We also caught up with Jane Allen and her husband Tim. Jane is a force for change in British caving and my goodness did we need it.

Hugely driven, she owns the UK Caving Forum and set up 'New to Caving' which is a one stop shop of how to take those first steps underground.

Clean, up to date and easy to navigate, the website is a fantastic and badly needed resource.

I was thrilled to see one of my WetWellies images up on the wall in the caving cafe of choice, Inglesport. Jane had organised a photo competition and the top three were displayed in the cafe.

Even better, we came across the 'New to Caving' flyers which also had my image on them - of Veronika, who had been bought a WetWellies Caving experience by one of her relatives. What an amazing story to take with her back home to Canada.

Finally, we managed a curry in Settle with our good friend Dave Ryall. A 'proper' cave diver, Dave has been a good friend over the years and I missed his company and cheeky humour a lot. I was disappointed that his wife, Sue - mad as a bat - wasn't able to make it but my liver was grateful...

The visibility in the Dales that week was, according to Dave, like 'fast moving treacle'. That was one up on Guinness!

There was only one site that was even remotely diveable. Best done in wet weather apparently, as a solution cave the visibility didn't succumb to the peat tannins that other caves in the Dales did.

Except it wasn't in the Dales. It was in Cumbria and over an hour drive away. Oh well.

Mark and I kitted up in semi dry suits and put on our 7 litre sidemount cylinders and set off inside Pate Hole.

Christine and Mark at Pate Hole

I don't mind crawling so much, I don't mind carrying cylinders so much - but Pate Hole was a royal pain in the a**!

The large cobbles were rounded so your knee just slides off and cracks another rock - every step of the way.

It's hot, sweaty going and your bottles need to be rigged right to avoid smashing your teeth out - something I perfected many years ago.

After god knows how long crawling, we finally got to a canal. It looked like it was about to sump. We had crawled 100 metres fully kitted in high water. In normal conditions this was 300 metres...

I'm too old now for this sh*t....

Relieved to be in the water, we set off into a cave neither of us had dived but were super excited about it.

Paralenz (no video lights) footage of Pate Hole, Cumbria.

The visibility was excellent and Mark and I enjoyed swimming the low bedding plane that was normally crawled.

Then the cave changed and we met a deep rift where the cave briefly surfaced and then plummeted down to 30 metres. It was seriously impressive and we were very keen to come back with bigger bottles another time. Ideally when the cave is resurging!

Paralenz Footage of the shaft in Pate Hole, Cumbria

I love introducing people to caving for the first time.

Ryan McShane was keen to join our cave diving project so we needed to get him underground and moving through caves.

He had done a little cave diving and was a decent climber so not surprisingly he made light work of County Pot to Wretched Rabbit, or, 'Wretched Rabbit the wrong way round'.

I was glad Mark brought the ladder as my levitating days are long gone but it was a fun trip and reminded me of how fit I was in my youth!

Ryan, Christine and Rich at Bullpot Farm

We headed in almost convoy down to Sheffield where we had a few things planned at a nice little mine in Bakewell.

The first job was to get to grips with some dry survey practise with the ever helpful Jim Lister. I was super rusty and Rich had not done it before, so we spent two days sorting out the Disto-X and trying to learn a non iphone!

I also wanted to get to grips with cave diving photography and the crystal clear visibility in the shallow mine was the perfect place to practise. It was 8 degrees though so whilst I was cosy on my KISS rebreather, Rich was a little grumpy in the images - something that didn't go unnoticed by the British Society of Underwater Photographers judges!

Rich Walker in Holme Bank Chert Mine, Derbyshire. Image: Christine Grosart

*All images Copyright owned by Christine Grosart/CNCC. Reproduction is a criminal act and will be pursued.


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