Descent 288: a special issue!

Descent 288 is now out, and marks a significant milestone in its long history.

This issue is a major landmark for a magazine, which can justifiably claim to have become an established institution of the caving scene, not just in the UK but across the world. Apart from the expected mix of news and reviews from around the nation and further afield, the main story reported is the transfer of ownership of Descent from Wild Places Publishing, run by Chris Howes and Judith Calford, to Stalactite Publishing, in the capable hands of Chris Scaife and Carolina Smith. The editorial column reviews the long and varied journey Descent has travelled since issue 84 in 1988 when Chris Howes became editor, to the present day, 34 years later.

The Darkness Below team joins the rest of the caving world in congratulating Chris and Judith for keeping Descent dropping through our letterboxes for more than three decades, for developing a reliable and enjoyable source of news for cavers, and for keeping the magazine fresh and affordable. It is clear they had a strong unwavering passion for producing Descent to the highest standard and that this shows in every issue published, right up to the latest.

This issue has a meteorological thread running through the news columns. The exceptionally dry summer experienced across much of the UK has provided some interesting cave exploration opportunities. In Derbyshire, the stream into P8 dried up in the spring and remained that way for many months. This resulted in some of the sumps opening up, allowing non-divers to reach parts normally out of bounds to them. The Mendip columns report that diggers in Home Close Hole have extended the cave, taking advantage of the dry conditions. In the Forest of Dean, dry conditions have allowed cavers to take a closer look at the nature and route of the Slaughter resurgence. Dry conditions have also made exploring the limits of Redhouse Lane Swallet much easier this year.

In non-weather-related news, the 2023 Underground Worlds calendar is now available via Wild Places Publishing, Greenwood Swallet in the Yorkshire Dales has been reopened, major discoveries are hinted at in both Fairy Holes, Weardale, and on the Black Mountain in South Wales. Cussey Pot in Derbyshire has seen more activity, seeking a fourth connection with A Race Against Time in the Stoney Middleton Master Cave, but progress is slow.

Access changes feature prominently in news from Wales, with Ogof Craig a Ffynnon, Ogof-y-Ci, and Ogof Draenen being caves where locks, ownership and management respectively have recently changed. Mendip news mentions some access updates for Stoke Lane Slocker, Brook Fields Mine, and the caves of Cheddar Gorge. A short Mining column this issue describes a fascinating discovery of an early 19th century cobalt mine at Alderley Edge.

There are brief reviews of publications short-listed for the 2020 Tratman Award, and the news that the winner is Rob Taviner for his two volumes of Somerset Underground, a pair of very welcome and comprehensive guide books. David Gill presents a well-considered argument for promoting tourism as the best means to achieve a realistic level of conservation for caves and karst, internationally.

Chris Howes reports from the 18th International Congress of Speleology held in south-east France in July. This major annual event was well-attended and much enjoyed despite the sweltering heatwave that dominated proceedings. In Descent 287 we read of the discovery and initial exploration of Fing Hopeless Pot under Leck Fell, and Frank Pearson brings the story up to date in the second part of the story.

The regular feature Speleo Reader features reviews of the latest books and publications. These include Caves of Assynt from Grampian SG, Digging Bath Stone by the late David Pollard, a new occasional publication from the Mendip CG being a transcript of MCG logbook entries describing exploration of the Blackmoor Valley, wherein lie several caves including Upper Flood Swallet. Other reviews include Hidden Worlds, a collection of superb photos from renowned photographer Robbie Shone, Caves of Southern Ireland from University of Bristol SS being the second of a trilogy of books covering the whole of Ireland, Guidelines for Cave and Karst Protection is a free download recommended for any caver involved with caves and karst conservation work, Lechuguilla Cave is a well-illustrated high quality volume describing many facets of the exploration of this famous cave, and last but not least we can read about The Cave Formation Repair Project describing techniques and case studies in repairing broken cave formations.

There are ten pages full of excellent colour photographs from the caves of Ardèche in southern France. These are the products of a week-long pre-congress camp devoted to cave photography, and the results speak for themselves. A summary of a cave hydrology project conducted in the Castleton area in Derbyshire over many years is presented over two pages. John Gunn’s article suggests an explanation for the sometimes odd behaviour of the sumps and risings in the caves of Castleton.

One final article in this issue describes the discovery and exploration of Draughting Hole, a complex and extensive hypogenic maze cave at Gretadale in Co. Durham. Fleur Loveridge gives chapter and verse on how this cave was discovered, dug out and explored, and leaves us with the tantalising suggestion that there is a lot more cave of this nature in the area.

And if you have been waiting for the winning caption for the illustration from Secret of the Sea Cave, you will have to get hold of a copy of Descent to find out! If you don’t have a subscription yet, then due to the change of ownership you need to visit the new website to set one up.

Correspondent: Peter Burgess