Descent 291: Respecting Cavers Future and Past

It was with a good deal of reflection that I read the newly-published Descent 291. Within its pages there are no less than six tributes to cavers who have passed away recently. But as long-respected and valued cavers leave us, we also read that exciting new discoveries continue to be made by cavers across the country, and youngsters are being inspired and enthused to discover the thrills and adventures to be had by going underground.

The Newsdesk, as usual, has a fascinating mix of cave science stories, alongside a tribute to Professor Zhu Xuewen, a cave scientist who facilitated western expeditions to China, and was still active in his field at the age of 91, passing away in January of this year. The late Mike Meredith and photographer Jerry Wooldridge receive lengthy tributes from Ben Lyon and Dick Willis respectively. A classic Jerry photo graces the back cover of this issue.

The regional news sections contain a good mix of digging stories and conservation activity from the North, and news from Wales includes a summary of work in Llethryd Swallet prompted by the recent release of the latest of Andy Freem’s films on the caves of the Gower, and there is another tribute, this time to Arthur Millett.

Paul Taylor provides another of his regular collection of stories from the Forest of Dean, a full tribute to the late Henry David Parker, better known as ‘Sparkie’, and the recovery of two unfortunate deer that fell into Green Moss Pot and did not survive the fall. Some good liaison between cavers and the Gloucestershire Bat Group is covered, however we also learn of the irresponsible breaking of locks on some minor caves by unknown people to gain access, with significant risk to the resident hibernating bats.

News from Ireland includes a report on the SUICRO 2022 meeting, and a survey of Fenagh Cave and Badger Pot, the connection of which was reported in Descent 289. Mendip News is focused on one story, an excellent summary of digging and exploration work some way west of the Mendip Hills, in the Devonian limestones of the Quantocks.

In Descent 290 Frank Pearson described the work done over several years to open up Five Ways Pot in the Yorkshire Dales, in the first part of his account entitled “The Geometry of Deep Space.” The latest issue of Descent concludes the story in Part 2, and covers more recent major breakthroughs in this impressive cave.

Caving isn’t all digging and exploration, and the article by Professor John Altringham is a perfect example of how a well-presented account of scientific work can be every bit as fascinating as an expedition report. John covers studies made in the North Yorkshire Moors to understand better the use bats make of underground spaces, and at Darkness Below we believe that the more cavers appreciate this aspect of speleology the better it is for both cavers and bats.

Tin Mine Adventures is an account by outdoor writer Julia Goodfellow-Smith of her experiences visiting ancient tin workings in the west of Cornwall. It is clear that she thoroughly enjoyed the experience!

The British Cave Rescue Council 2022 summary of incidents in the UK provides details of 26 underground incidents that were dealt with by the various cave rescue teams that make up BCRC.

“Cavers of the future” is an account of a caving holiday for a number of families of young children, strongly focused on providing a safe but challenging and enjoyable experience of caves. Judging by the several accounts from the children, included in the article, this was highly successful. With many cavers approaching that time in life when they need to scale back activities, and hand the reins over to younger generations, giving this kind of attention to children must be encouraged and maintained.

Clive Gardener’s tribute to Bruce Bedford, founding editor of Descent Magazine, concludes with the second part of his long and detailed account of Bruce’s life, which we learn involved more than caving, as he also pursued a career as a writer of radio plays.

The occasional feature “Write it down” returns with an account by David Gill of a visit to a WW2 bunker in northern France where an Eternal Flame had been placed in memory of the many thousands of slave labourers and others who died at the hands of Nazi occupiers. Dave’s account of how they accidentally proved the non-eternal nature of the flame, and then restored it with a certain degree of drama, forms the core this entertaining anecdote.

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Correspondent: Peter Burgess