During the initial pushing dives, Notts Pot became an N.P.C. joke. Comments such as "Ha, Ha, Ha, ... They're down Notts again", "It'll never go ; let's go to the pub.", were frequently to be heard at Greenclose. Once at the New Inn, the prophets made similar noises : "They've no chance ! Whose round is it ?"
It's strange how quickly people can change their tune. During the week after the breakthrough, news spread across the country. Pennine divers and half-divers spent the week begging, stealing and borrowing a mountain of gear for what had to be the most exciting trip since Link Pot was opened. What made us even more frantic was the rumour that the NCC were working shifts on Leck Fell with a JCB !
The next weekend, no less than six divers, supported by seven sherpas and a surface 'Molefone' crew, assembled a veritable mound of gear at the entrance. About three hours later, the divers were kitted up at the sump, while the sherpas retreated from the cave in 'sporting' conditions. An hour later, kit was strewn about the sump pool in Notts II and divers were running down the streamway like excited kids. The Molefone, unfortunately, did not have such a happy day, having leapt out of its container down the largest available drop into the deepest and most spray-lashed available pool. Needless to say, when retrieved, it was unuseable, if not totally buggered. The Molefone crew were not particularly happy either, as they spent the afternoon wandering the frozen wastes of Leck Fell straining their ears for a phantom signal.
Although the day's trip was mainly sightseeing, numerous inlets were noted and given numbers working downstream from the sump. Most were examined and pushed to at least some sort of conclusion. Several promising sites were identified and wild speculations entertained about where we might end up.
John Cordingley, having promised to survey the cave, resolutely stuck to this task, resisting the temptation to stray up inlet passages as he paced his way down the main streamway. Occasionally a small group would appear from a hole in the wall, scurry past John and vanish into yet another recess further on, gleefully shouting such phrases as "Did you see that one ? Clean washed ... that stal. - five feet at least !" Eventually, after a kilometre and umpteen survey stations, John's willpower snapped. Those who know him will be able to imagine his ear-to-ear grin as he tossed four hours' work onto a sandbank and disappeared up Inlet 10.
After a visit to sump 2, we all plodded back up the streamway, stopping at the junction with the biggest inlet passage - Inlet 6 - for a feast of 'Hotcan' Chicken Madras. No-one had chosen any names yet, but we all referred to this as 'Curry Junction' after this trip, and the name stuck.
Thus fortified, we all dived out. Twelve hours after leaving daylight, we emerged on Leck Fell, exhausted but contented.
We'd done the easy bit, now came the hard work. Projects included sumps to dive, avens to scale, crawls to push, and all the inlets to be surveyed. We were to see a lot more of Centre Route over the next few months. Our Russian ambassador was despatched to far flung parts of the Dales, and returned with a shiny maypole to add to our burdens.
Dani takes up the story :
"The weather was far from clement. Torrential rain over the past several days had knocked any chance of diving on the head. However, the maypole (all seven sections - one and a half metres each) needed taking in at least to the tackle dump above the last pitch. Consequently, three of us were to be seen tramping over Leck Fell carrying a pair of outsize bazookas for all the world like something out of "The Sands of Iwo Jima". We found the entrance to be somewhat sporting : I was certainly glad to be wearing a wetsuit. In the small chamber just inside the entrance, the water was running wellie deep and the cave seemed surprisingly atmospheric. Three Ways Chamber was positively vibrant and Centre Route took on all the trappings of a collander working overtime. The water was raging down the sixth pitch, but a deflecting line held us well clear. We all arrived safely, with maypole, on the ledge approximately six metres above the foot of the penultimate pitch. I descended further and found the floor a seething mass of boiling water. An interesting few moments followed as I traversed around the chamber, unable to breathe because of the spray, to take a look at the final pitch. Instead of its usual five metre or so drop, it was a mere two metres. There was no hope of retrieving the kit left by the sump on the previous visit, so I returned to my companions and we retired."
On the next diving trip (Boxing Day), Pete Riley and John Cordingley consumed ridiculous amounts of air and taught themselves to swear underwater as they dragged the two 'parcels' of maypole through the sump in predictably zero visibility. The final slope was found to be blocked after the floods, so a retreat was made leaving the offending items at the furthest point. Two days later, Rick Stanton and Dani were able to dig out the cobble slope and drag the poles to a place of safety. After their struggle, number one priority was any passage which might lead back towards Notts Pot and an easier way in. Dani again:
"The two of us eventually surfaced after dragging the maypole up the steep shingle slope out of the sump. Our first objective was the passage beckoning at the end of Inlet Zero. A hauling line saw the maypole safely across the sump pool and soon we were staggering around a meandering muddy passage towards a certain link back to Notts Pot. The passage became tubular in cross section with a diameter of about 1.75m just before we reached the limit of previous exploration. The way on was barred by a crevasse in the floor, but the tube continued beyond. Two sections of the pole were joined and a ladder threaded on before the pole was pushed across the yawning gap. While Rick descended and explored the hole to its termination at a sump, I pushed the ladder out and used it as a foothold whilst balancing against the pole. In this way I got to the far side and explored the continuing passage to its conclusion : a grand total of five metres or so ! The inlet was dubbed 'Moribund Inlet' and the yawning void 'Prosector Pot' in honour of a Pennine pseudonym."
The next trips were once again aimed at getting a useable survey. John dived early in the New Year, on an eight and a half hour solo trip beyond the sump during which his compass, pencil and pad brought back the goodies from five inlet passages. As the survey was sketched out, we started to see which passages seemed the most promising. If only we could confirm the accuracy of the survey, we would have a dry entrance in no time !
After the incident with the first Molefone, we were surprised to find that Bob Mackin had not broken off diplomatic relations with the Pennine. He was even prepared to lend us another 'fone! The trip took place on January 11th. With Pete on best behaviour, the Molefone reached only a fraction of terminal velocity on the pitches. Both the 'Old Notts' end and the Notts II end of the sump were successfully located, and a further four points down the main streamway were fixed. At one of these points, the facility for voice commmunication was much appreciated by one diver who had forgotten to do his shopping before rushing into the cave. By placing his grocery order from beyond a 200 metre sump he must have created some kind of record. The incident also gave us another food-related name - Mincemeat Aven - in Inlet 13. Confident that they knew where their next meal was coming from, Pete and Barry made their way uneventfully out of the cave.
Over a week later, a small gap in the appalling weather allowed Rick, Dani and Pete to dive the sump and start the assault on the most promising aven - in Inlet 11. We struggled the maypole down the streamway and started work. A few carefully placed bolts and two hours work saw Rick on a large mud platform 15m from the floor, looking up into a black void. Without enough gear to climb further he retreated, and the group bagged some more survey and pushed inlets. A traverse in the roof between Inlet 12 and the nick point revealed another inlet with a promising echo, and a potential dig on a corner opposite Inlet 10.
Of course, not everyone was absolutely sold on crawling up inlets and pushing the boat out on scaling poles beyond a 200m sump. Some were getting itchy feet again. We had partly answered the question "Where does the Notts Pot water go ?", but we still hadn't found the whole answer. Sump 2 was still a long way short of Gavel Pot. Conversations in bars started to centre on flow-through times and lengths of sumps. When the radiolocation results were applied to the survey and the lot superimposed on Leck Fell, the divers set their sights on sump 2.
A trip was organised almost at once. Barry and John carried to the downstream sump, but bad visibility made diving it impractical. All was not lost, though, as a traverse in the roof led to yet another new inlet - Inlet 16 - which John described as "damp, but not too unpleasant".
With most of the 'swag' in situ, the downstream sump was just waiting to be dived. However, persistent bad visibility and wet weather forced our attentions back to Inlet 11, by now dubbed 'Sir Digby Spode's Inlet', and the continued scaling of 'Count Lazlo Stroganoff's Aven'. Rick, Pete and Dani set off with enough gear to maintain the siege. Pete and Rick dived first. It is not unusual to have to wait up to an hour for the last diver to come through, especially if it happens to be Dani. After waiting one and a half hours though, something was obviously amiss. Even so, we took the decision to carry on with the assault. However, we didn't scurry down the streamway with our usual enthusiasm and vigour. It was a rather subdued journey: dark thoughts hanging over us all the way to 11.
On Dani's side of the sump, things hadn't gone well :
"Whilst assembling my diving swag, I found that one of my contents gauges had come loose at the union with its hose. A quick tweak and all was hunky-dory. I was third, and last, to dive. I had got only nine metres into the sump when the union erupted in a maelstrom of bubbles. I returned to base to investigate the problem. A small 'O' ring had blown. I lingered by the sump before commencing the journey out. Once in the relative comfort of my car I switched on the radio only to find that NASA had also had a problem with an 'O' ring that day."
Back at the aven, combined tactics had got Pete and Rick 25m up. With 6m to go, the way ahead looked reasonably promising. However, lack of time again forced a retreat from the hoped-for link into Lost Johns'.
With water levels still too high for good safe exploratory diving, the downstream sump project was postponed yet again. However, John's survey showed Inlet 5 heading out down-fell away from the rest of the system, while the furthest point reached was in a muddy downstream passage with the distant sound of a stream. Muddy water from this point had not reached back to the main stream, and speculation on its potential inspired Rick and Mike Thomas to pay a visit with Rick's home-made entrenching tool. They soon found that all that glitters is not necessarily gold - but sometimes glutinous mud !
Not having learned from this lesson, the next trip saw Dani and Pete in pursuit of another of John's great hopes - Inlet sixteen. Dani describes the trip:
"After a little to-ing and fro-ing, we found the trickle of water that marked the entry of Inlet Sixteen into the master cave. We climbed up to the inlet and prepared to survey, armed with compass, notebook, pencil and lumphammer. I had the book and pencil, whilst Pete had the compass and hammer. We had been told by John that the inlet was 'a little damp' in places. However, I did not expect to be laid out flat in muddy water with a twenty centimetre airspace trying to record bearings and distances. Eventually things improved ... the airspace rose to twenty five centimetres. That was when Pete told me he had dropped the hammer. I returned to search for it with notebook high and dry in one hand, pencil gripped between the teeth and the other hand groping in the mud for the elusive hammer. Fortunately I found it, as I did on the next occasion, about ten metres further on ! We continued without further loss to where a flake blocked access to a passage from which the roar of a stream echoed. Pete commenced hammering, each blow causing a spray of mud to fly up and shower him as he lay flat out in a pool of thixotropic goo. All this was for naught, for a mere two metres to one side was a bypass which led to a fist-sized hole from which the elusive roar issued. As we returned through shit and derision, we toyed with the name 'Cordingley's Bowel' for all of Inlet Sixteen. However, John would have none of it, and insisted on it being called 'Green Tape Inlet' after a bit of green insulation tape found near the end, suggesting a surface connection."
Over the next week or so, the Gods were finally on our side. A freeze meant that a dive downstream was at last a realistic proposition. Rick and Pete reached sump 2 in record time and the sump was passed by Rick after only 10m. John suddenly appeared out of the blue and, with Pete, dived the sump to share in the exploration of the new passages beyond. We weren't pleased to find that the passage sumped again after 50m. Not to be perturbed, Rick launched himself into the clear water wielding a big grin and 70m of line. About six minutes later he surfaced with an even broader grin and an empty line reel. Rick isn't renowned for communication, expression or, least of all, exaggeration, and if he says "It's looking good", he means it.
We couldn't wait to get back. Four days later, a return was made with Dani, Barry, and more gear. Barry dived first, adding an easy 100m to the original 70m. Rick followed and added 40m to reach an airbell with a significant inlet. Unfortunately, he was unable to climb out of the water to reach it, so it is something of an unknown quantity. Continuing into the sump without belaying the line, he passed a further inlet underwater on the right. After adding another 70m, he surfaced in Notts IV, a short section of walking sized streamway lowering to sump 4. A total of 295m of sump lies between Notts III and Notts IV. Despite the enthusiasm, the closed season was upon us, and this, combined with a shortage of sherpas ensured that an underwater connection with Gavel would not be found quickly.
Before detackling for the closed season, there was one more job to be done in Notts, yes: photographs. Who better than Captain Clive Westlake for the job ? With Clive in command, Barry, Mike, Dani, Rick and Richard Bartrop acted as minions and some excellent monochrome shots were the result.
Although we had only completed a fraction of our work in Notts II, we were all secretly relieved when the closed season arrived. A break from the routine was much needed by both divers and sherpas. But with summer holidays, Spanish expeditions and other commitments, the break has been rather longer than expected. With any luck, once the big freeze sets in this winter, we will have regained enough momentum to resume the work. Until then, the big question remains: Dry entrance ... or not ?