by Jane Bradbury
6.30 am: the Beeches campsite: Five bleery eyed cavers (Jane Bradbury, Mike Clark, Gordon Scott, Neil Burgess and Reynard Speiss) reluctantly dragged themselves out of bed and tried to get excited about eating bread, cheese, cold meats and fruit. Why so early? Well, Otter Hole, a Grade 5 cave, is tidal and can only be entered for a few hours either side of low tide. Today that meant being at the car park above Wyndcliffe at 8.15 am all ready in our caving gear for the arrival of our Warden for the day Pete Mason.
8.15 am: the car park: Five slightly less bleery eyed cavers were dressed and ready to go. After a quick look at the survey, we followed Pete down the path to the edge of the Wye and the small cave entrance in the cliff.
9.15 am: the start of the “fun”: After a few problems with the cave door and lights we entered the cave. Otter Hole does not mess about. No gentle strolling into the dark, just an immediate flat out crawl through mud. For a full description of the joys of Otter Hole see Reynard’s description on UK Caving.
Highlights of the trip.
- Squalid crawling and climbing through the entrance series.
- Reaching the sump on the way in just before it closed so having to take helmets off and duck into the salty water.
- More squalid crawling and climbing before we finally reached the “pretties”.
- The Hall of 30: a massive chamber full of awesome stalagmites and stalactites.
- More boulder hopping.
- The truly beautiful Straw Chamber. Here, the straws are 4 or 5 metres long and the floor is covered with crystal pools (Photos).
- The lovely side chamber of straws and, after a short climb up, some more fantastic formations just before the Tunnels junction.
The return journey: Unfortunately with Otter Hole, more than five hours into the trip, after considerable effort and a lot of fine formations, the only way out is to retrace the route to the entrance. Although this tends to be easier in reverse, it is still a long way. To make matters worse, when we reached the tidal sump, it was closed, despite being low tide. Continuous rain all day had meant that although the sea had reteated, the streamway had kept the sump high. Luckily, we got back before a small keyhole above the sump had also closed so were able to scramble out of that before we were trapped but it was too close for comfort really.
9.00 pm: Six very muddy and very tired cavers finally emerged into a hot muggy evening.
Footnote: In June 1996, when I last did Otter Hole, I got past the Hall of 30 but not to Straw Chamber. I wrote: “v. difficult cave. Once is enough”. Now I am inclined to write “twice is more than enough”. But who knows, maybe in another 12 years I will feel differently!