Descent 292: Hard Graft

Descent 292 has been out for several days now, but with summer in full swing, I have only just found the time to sit down and read it through!

When I put my copy down a few minutes ago, I was left with a strong impression of all the hard work cavers do simply for pleasure! This is especially the case with digging for new cave passage, of which there are a number of reports in issue 292. Reading these accounts might make one wonder whether there aren’t easier ways to enjoy oneself. Well, any true caver knows what the rewards are of seeking new cave and enduring all the discomfort involved to achieve that goal.

News from the regions includes short accounts of a few digs, alongside other reports. In Wales, explorations by Chelsea SS members around Llangattock are covered, and in the Forest of Dean we read about surveying and digging in Slaughter Stream Cave, as well as some worrying accounts of large sewage discharges into the local streams and caves.

Northern News includes a tribute to the late Ian Hopley, and a survey by Nick Bairstow of Five Ways Pot, demonstrating the eventual goal of many digs – a good sporting cave with a number of excellent pitches. The single story from Mendip describes a rescue exercise from a cave in the Isle of Portland, an area that falls under the remit of Mendip Cave Rescue.

Peak news involves, yes, more digging and explorations. A couple of false leads in Peak-Speedwell demonstrate that looking for caves involved disappointments as well as success, and here is also news of a diving push in Bagshaw Cavern, leading to some new cave, which is flood-prone, but work is not yet finished here and there should be more news later.

The remainder of the latest Descent largely comprises a series of short and varied features, from the UK and around the World. An article about a recent expedition to Thailand, to explore previously discovered caves and some new ones, is well-illustrated with some excellent photos. Exploration of Mulespinner Series, a recent extension to Bagshaw Cavern in the Peak, includes a clear survey of the new passages.

Alastair Evans describes the motivation he had to make a recently released film, “A Crack in The Mountain”, a film about how the discovery and development of the Hang Son Doong cave in Vietnam has impacted the individuals and communities of the area, which involved much filming in the cave, but done to convey on the screen the same visual impact that a visitor might experience – the deep shadows and the piercing rays of sunlight through the huge doline.

There is a two-page account of the recent Northern Explorers’ Forum, at which, throughout the day, cavers presented the details of digging and diving work around the North of England. This was the second such event of what seems to be a highly successful and popular concept, and more are expected.

As a break from digging and diving, Chris Scaife provides a well-written account of one of the great sporting trips of the World: the Cueto-Coventosa Through Trip in northern Spain. Chris invites any readers with a great sporting trip they have experienced to write it down and offer it for a future issue of Descent.

Harry Long takes us back in time to when taking good photos of caves was a big challenge before the age of digital equipment. Harry describes his project in the 1980s to take a series of good photos in Ingleborough Cave. Many issues Harry experienced are now history for most photographers – the choice of film, failing slave units, and the long wait for the results to be sent back from the processor!

A curious subterranean abbey, in the Provence region of France, is described by Pete Ryder. The entire church, the Abbaye de St Roman, is carved out under the summit of a hill with superb views up and down the Rhone valley. This is one of a number of subterranean features carved out of the Miocene limestone in this area, but Pete states it is one of the more interesting and complex of such places.

Nagaland is a curious, mountainous and independent state of India, and contains some interesting caves. These were the subject of a recent expedition, and Thomas Arbenz writes about what was discovered and explored. The final account in Descent of cavers’ “Hard Graft” is provided by Chris Fox, a member of the Black Sheep Diggers, who, over several years, have been busy in the Nidderdale area of the Yorkshire Dales. Chris describes three pots where attempts are being made to connect to the Goyden/New Goyden system, so far without success, but with good hopes for the future.

The final feature is a presentation of the winners of Italy’s Associazione Culturale SpeleoFotoContest in April; the winning photos of each of the eight categories are published along with the judges’ comments.

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Correspondent: Peter Burgess