Descent 279: Underground, overground and even some womblingly!

It’s time to catch up with caving news from around the world again. There’s even a trip to Mars …

Descent 279 should now have reached you by now, but if not, it’s time to head over to Wildplaces Publishing to subscribe or if you’re lucky enough to have a caving shop anywhere near you, call in now that shops are open again, and get a one from them.

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Newsdesk is overflowing with fascinating snippets from at home and abroad and you don’t get much further abroad than an examination of the caving prospects on Mars! There’s casting news from the film 13 Lives about the Thai cave rescue, with some very big names lined up to play Rick Stanton and the others. The BCRA are putting on a series of lectures to support the International Year of Caves and Karst with two talks with a historical bias coming up on 10th May. In the Mediterranean, rare monk seals have been taking to caves to raise their young and over in Germany, bones are revealing new information about the domestication of dogs. Fish get a moment in the limelight as well, with new studies on the blind cave fish Astyanax mexicanus.

News from around the regions looks first at Wales with some news on the progress of the roadworks in the Heads of the Valley’s area, then over in the Peak District there’s more news from the new finds in Cussey and an updated website for Derbyshire caving. Meanwhile in the south-west, work continues on the problem of rubbish being tipped into Ash Hole near Brixham. In the Forest of Dean, discussions have continued with both Welsh Water and the Environment Agency on the pollution of Slaughter Stream Cave (Wet Sink). For mining enthusiasts, there’s the news that the AditNow website is having a makeover.

In the north, the CNCC’s booking system has been redeveloped and moved to a dedicated website. The caving world has said goodbye to two well-known local cavers, long-standing Craven member David Hodgson, and Ray Gemmell, son of pioneer cave explorer Arthur Gemmell. At the other end of the country, there are tributes to Mendip cavers Jim Hanwell and Ian Timney, as well as news of a rockfall in GB. Over in Ireland, there’s an examination of the work being done in Parkes Pot and in Pollnagossan, as well as a survey of Pollnagort.

The main features start with a fascinating and detailed report on the Stories in Stone project, a four-year facelift for the caves of Ingleborough and the surrounding limestone landscape of the Yorkshire Dales, where nearly 30 cave-based projects have been completed. Also in the north, there’s a description of the work done on the anchors n Newby Moss on the southern slopes of Ingleborough, with surveys and rigging topos, and a piece on the exploration of Hells Bells in the Northern Dales.

April 2021 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Cave Diving Group. Martin Wright looks back at the events leading to its foundation and some of the strong personalities involved in its early work. In South Wales, the investigation of a winze in a ‘lost’ lead mine has proved more difficult and costly than anticipated.

The Showcase for this issue features a stunning collection of photographs by Philippe Crochet taken in the Grottes de Han system, in Belgium. International news in this issue comes from Austria where a new 1,000m+ cave has been discovered, from Vietnam where the perennial question of what constitutes the ‘biggest’ is still being debated (yes, of course size matters!) and from Myanmar where cavers have taken to the streets in protest against the recent military coup.

Robin Weare recounts his latest adventures in Ethiopia, this time in search of deep caves with flowing water. His latest trip was rewarded by large chambers and impressively beautiful formations amply demonstrating why he keeps returning to the area.

Ric Halliwell pays tribute to caver Geoff Workman, once described as the ‘perfect human mole’. Ric looks at Geoff’s lengthy caving career and his frequent extended underground stays.

For those who enjoy books, Speleo Reader features Peter Burgess’ book on walks around Penwyllt in South Wales; More Journeys Beneath the Earth, the second volume of Dave Gill’s autobiography; Karst Caves and People, a stunning collection of photographs from around the world embracing every facet of its subject; the latest issue of Earth Heritage magazine and even a collection of poems inspired by the cavers and caves of Britain by Elise Freshwater-Blizzard. There’s also news of Aquanaut, diver Rick Stanton’s eagerly awaited autobiography, scheduled for a summer release.

The British Cave Rescue Council presents a summary of the cave rescue incidents in 2020 as well tables of the injuries that occurred between 2016 – 2020 and their causes.

Belay Point has an entertaining digging spat (only joking!) over the 2020 JRat Digging Awards, with insults being traded and honour besmirched. Fightin’ talk! In calmer fashion, Audrey Buxton provides some memories of her caving career.

Every issue of Descent is impressive, and this is no exception to that rule. Descent is produced by cavers for cavers and is excellent value for money. Copies can be obtained from Wildplaces Publishing. Take out a subscription now and if you already have one, check that yours is up to date!