Review: Journeys Beneath the Earth, The Autobiography of a Cave Explorer

Dave William Gill (not to be confused with Dave ‘Icarus’ Gill) will be known to many cavers in this country – and abroad – as one of our leading ‘expedition’ speleologists. His CV reads like a Rider Haggard adventure story, embracing first descents into some of the earth’s most challenging and spectacular caverns and explorations in many world famous systems on three continents.

I was looking forward to this book with much salivation. I have known Dave for many years and followed his exploits with great interest. When it arrived, I devoured it from cover to cover, discovering fascinating facts about foreign expeditions ranging from Pierre St Martin to Clearwater Cave in Mulu, much of which I had never known before. If only all bald expedition reports were similarly coloured with such entertaining writing.

Following a short outline of his early life, Dave has compiled an exciting and eminently readable account of a caving life spent mostly in foreign parts, commencing with the 1967 Ken Pearce descent of the Gouffre Berger and the British assault on the lower series of Pierre St Martin (all on ladders), and then beginning to branch out with expeditions to such far-flung places as the Polish Tatra Mountains, Spain’s Sima GESM, caves in Chiapas, Mexico, even Nazi V3 tunnels in France. Then we arrive at the truly nail-biting stuff – the Untamed River Expedition to New Britain in 1984. This mind-boggling river (one should really say ‘torrent’) cave with its 300 metre entrance shaft presents one of the world’s greatest underground challenges, described in detail yet with an endearing personal touch by the author. Sometimes the burden of individual foreign travel with all its bureaucracy and pettifogging delays can reduce travellers to chewing pencils and stamping on the floor, but Dave seems to have a magic touch, sailing through all situations with patience, politeness and good humour.

Things then get even better with reports of several trips to China, where equally huge caverns were explored, and Mulu National Park, where the author played an important role both as explorer and latterly as park manager. The text is further salted with accounts of explorations in Indonesia, Russia and Vietnam.

Dave writes with vivacity and humour in a style that keeps the reader page turning. His achievements are amazing and well deserve their recording here.

One of the drawbacks of publishing physical copies  via Amazon – especially when colour photographs are involved – is an unavoidable hike in price, however this is worth tolerating for the book’s content, and the Kindle edition is considerably less expensive. I enjoyed the book immensely and recommend it as a really good read. Well done indeed, Dave – what a life!

Reviewer Alan L Jeffreys.

Journeys Beneath the Earth: The Autobiography of a Cave Explorer
David W Gill (2020)
Self published, available through Amazon
ISBN 979-8-6175497-4-6
Paperback £34.93
Kindle £8.50