One of the inescapable things about being a doctor is that you meet a lot of people, as patients. A few turn out to be potholers - yes, even they occasionally go down with Dobie's itch or the black bile. All such victims are questioned closely as to recent trips and digs etc. One only has to approach them slowly with a large needle and syringe and words tumble from their lips. If this fails one can always get out a large sigmoidoscope and murmur, "I'm afraid this may be a little uncomfortable", as you lubricate it. Even the toughest usually crack at this. It was after one such encounter that I found myself on Whernside one week-end. There, sure enough, was the secret dig. Abandoned, I might add, for some considerable time, lest someone whispers 'pirating'. Sometime later Gordon Batty and I went up armed with a bucket and spade for a closer inspection. On a further trip we took a slightly different route up and walked through Growling Hole basin.
"This looks interesting", said Gordon, as we walked past a largish stream sink. There was a line of shakeholes and another stream sink. We subsequently spent most of that day digging up the hillside between the two sinks. Pulling up a large slab in one shakehole revealed a small opening. This was enlarged and Batty went down feet first. Although tight it went for about 15 feet. Someone had in fact been in before because there were boot marks in the mud. By pulling out rocks in the floor progress could be made since the rift widened downwards. Progress was eventually stopped by a bulge. Ahead could be heard a largish stream with a good draught. We eventually walked thoughtfully on to the original dig. A few weeks later we were back to work on the bulge. Re-entering the hole we found a bat squeaking in the mud on the floor, its nervous system being obviously unable to cope with its hibernation being interrupted by chemical means. It was placed on a ledge but was subsequently found trampled under Gordon's boots with a broken wing. Finally, I had to drown it to save it from further beastliness from Batty.
The common bat is called Pippistrelis which means evening. As that sounded rather similar to a well-known pot on Leck Fell and evening in Latin is vesper, we decided to call the hole Vesper Pot as an epitaph. The bulge now removed, Batman Gordon could now squeeze through and see a fair-sized stream passage through a small keyhole to the right. The hole was now officially designated a Thursday-night dig. Gordon had been banished to France for a week by the R.S.P.C.B., so Mike Warren and myself got through the keyhole after enlarging it and were away in a hands-and-knees-size passage. Soon beautiful formations of curtains and stalactites were met as the passage enlarged to walking-size vadose streamway. The passage did a sharp left-hand bend then a long straight section, with a mass of straws decorating it, was met. Many had to be sacrificed to go forward to the top of the first pitch. As we had no ladders we returned to the surface where Tony Foster and Jim Birkett listened sceptically to our ravings. Batty flew back overnight from France in case he missed anything and that weekend we all went down with tackle.
The first pitch turned out to be 25 feet and was followed by a joint controlled passage which led to an awkward, twisting section - 'The Meanders'. This ended abruptly at the second pitch of 25 feet - 'The Window Pitch'. At the bottom of this was a largish chamber with a slot in the floor down which the water flowed. A climb down and a squeeze led to a rift with a slot at the end and only dark space beyond. The slot needed enlarging before we could get through so we called it a day. On the return journey, Tony, our thin man, was sent first up the first pitch as the top is a little constricted. The larger members of the party bit their nails as Tony struggled, apparently stuck. It was now after midnight and the hole was so secret that even the wives didn't know where it was. Rescue seemed improbable. However, Tony sorted himself out and we got out just as our wives were starting a telephone conference.
Subsequent trips saw the top of the first pitch enlarged and [*] this turned out to be a pleasant 90-foot vertical with smooth water-washed walls and ledges at convenient intervals of 30 and 60 feet. It landed on a ledge at the edge of a huge rift. The take off from this is through a large rock arch and this pitch turned out to be 150 feet (the bottom 75 feet free hanging) which lands one on a steep boulder slope. Here we found beams and timbers and we realised we had joined Spectacle Pot, just above the dig at the bottom of the Great Boulder Slope. I suppose it was a slight disappointment but we had always realised it was very likely to happen. Still it was the only exchange trip on this side of the valley and we had only found it by accident.
All the obvious exploration being exhausted and the survey completed the inevitable Spectacle Pot / Vesper through-trip raised its ugly head.
Unfortunately for us B.I.C.C. were keen on doing an exchange trip, so we unwillingly said that we would oblige. The reason for the apparent lack of enthusiasm lies in the legends of Spectacle's reputation for being tight, wet and loose, but to save the club's dubious honour an exchange was arranged for Saturday, May 20th, 1978.
Representing B.I.C.C. were Trevor Ilston, Dusty Spencer, Tom Lambert, Rick Wiggans, Geof Williams, Bill Tinkler and John Conway.
For the N.P.C. were Jim Eyre, Talking Pete, Roger Williamson, Malcolm Lodge, Andy Colau and Gordon Batty. Chaperoning Jim Eyre was Jim Newton of the R.R.C.P.C. This latter pair decided that Splutter Crawl was too tight for them, so they volunteered to act as guides in Vesper.
My personal recollections of Spectacle Pot were of a very wet night in November, some years ago, taking part in the rescue of some early explorers of the place. I had visions of people being pulled through Splutter Crawl on a running rope, with bow waves of water covering the individual's head as he was accelerated to safety.
To our delight, and due to the dry May weather, Splutter Crawl was found to be bone dry giving a pleasant (though rather exacting) crawl of some 30 feet and ending in a squeeze and a short drop down a metal ladder into a small chamber above a 20-foot pitch. A running rope was used in Splutter Crawl to tail the tackle through - a slow but efficient system.
A couple of hundred feet or so of alternating flat-out and hands-and-knees crawling led to the start of the big pitches. Expecting the pitches to be fraught with 'hanging death' we were pleased to find the reverse; it was no worse than any other Yorkshire pot. Laddering the pitches we could hear voices below; the B.I.C.C. lads had obviously made better time than us.
Thinking that Spectacle could never live up to its reputation again, we were, on laddering the final pitch into the Great Rubble Heap chamber, soon to change our opinions. This final short pitch runs down what may be likened to a tottering dry-stone wall, terminating in a forty-five degree slope of large, sliding scree.
Two hours later both parties were on the surface agreeing that the Spectacle/Vesper exchange through trip was an excellent expedition.
Footnote: the text here is exactly as in the published journal, but it would appear that the original typist missed one or more lines out. It is not the first pitch that is 90 feet, but the third (and newly explored) pitch, Ed.