"It's one thing to come to terms with speleological heritage, it's another thing to come caving with it"
The fourth of July had dawned. All over America, millions of Americans were still in bed. Come to think of it, that's where I wanted to be. It was fairly early at Bull Pot farm, but already, a large Pennine contingent had turned up to join in with the annual 'Old Crocks Trip'. Three of us had been volunteered to go rig the pitches in County and meet everybody else somewhere under Casterton Fell. Considering the alternative was to stand around on some draughty moor watching somebody else rig and say 'bastard' a lot, it seemed like a sound plan. Just to add to the general hoards in Speleoland, the Craven turned up for an amble too.
[Editor's note: the Red Rose was also present in force. Mainly escorting the landlord of the New Inn!]
We trotted off to County with our spirits fuelled by lasts nights' ale and one of Rose's fine breakfasts. The fact it was the first day of the summer where the temperature had risen above minus six also helped. The pitches were duly rigged and we stopped for a mellow moment above Oxbow Corner. Bif nipped off to inspect a few passages at stream level, Andy contemplated life over a Camel Light and I tried to abate last night's hangover with a scotch egg. It didn't work.
We were soon on our way again, traversing carefully around some gaping maws in the passage that drop to the streamway. We stopped for a social with one of the Craven groups and passed the wine gums around. Their idea of Top Sink - Pippikin sounded too much like hard work, so we left them to it. Just before the Painter's Palette we heard a lot of sloshing and a familiar voice emanating from the lower levels. "That'll be Keith, then", we said in unison. We had no idea how many their advanced party contained, but it sounded like about sixty of them. I put it down to an echo, Andy said they were just loud.
It was just past the Palette that we met the first upper level party, headed by Chester and JNC, wearing a grin like a Cheshire cat. This seemed like a good spot for a rest, so the water and wine gums got handed around as Andy passed the fags about. Chester was pleased - cave, company, water, tabs. Happy as Larry. The fumigators in the party were concerned about smoking all Andy's fags until he revealed how to pack the thick end of sixty Camels in a modified caving lid. An impressive display of man's desire to cough! Onwards and outwards.
The journey through to Cornes' Cavern was a jovial affair accompanied by some hilarious tales of historic caving trips and historic cavers. Regular fags and drink stops ensured the high spirits of our party. At one point we heard another loud voice bouncing off the walls and saying 'bastard' a lot. "That'll be Kev" we said in unison. Kev always looks incredibly at home underground, like he belongs there. Like a boulder that got up for stroll one afternoon and just never sat down again. A boulder that swears a lot. The banter between Kev and Chester is funny though. After years of practice they can bicker expertly and it is an absolute joy to experience.
By Cornes' Cavern the groups merged into one and the next stop became a massive social affair. Time for the second bag of wine gums. Bert was bouncing from rock to rock and greeting folks like an excited whippet (but without that face licking thing), but his friend Eric however, looked a little less sprightly. For a first time caver, he was doing okay and he seemed to be enjoying himself but, he had banged his chest earlier and it was smarting a bit. It has since transpired he had broken three ribs in the fall, so no wonder it hurt!
The next break in the journey was just before the boulder hopping en route to Stop Pot, by which time it was back down to little groups. We were elected as the derigging team so followed up the rear. After chomping on a few more wine gums (I had about six left!) we made our way on. The boulders provided little of the problems that Chester said they would and progress was made swiftly. Not elegantly mind you, but swiftly. Now, I've taken 'fit and young' students on the same trip, and it takes just as long, if not longer, and they whine constantly. By the time they get back on the moors they're staggering about like pissed beagles and looking very sorry for themselves. Yet, they all come back. Any road, I digress.
The wet crawl at Stop Pot seemed drier than normal, which is one advantage of following up at the back, somebody else can mop the passage. Next stop, Eureka Junction and JNC got out the Jelly babies and various party members recounted more tales of days gone. These seemed to feature Jim Eyres, broken windows and acts of pyromania. By this time we all seemed to smell daylight and the final stretch of passage was covered at a rate best described as alarming.
About eight hours after disappearing down some hole in the ground we emerged back into a fairly pleasant day. Chester, Andy and Bif sat on the edge of Easegill and broke out the rollies, whilst I found a stray wine gum that had worked it's way to the bottom of my box. Once I licked the dirt off, it was quite tasty! On the stroll back across the moor I was accompanied by Eric, who certainly seemed glad to be outside. He explained how Bert had talked him into going caving after more years of nagging than he cared to remember. His daughter had said he was mad. I bet she was bloody furious after finding out what he'd done to himself! At least he was laughing!
After eating tea and returning the gear it was time for a pint down the New Inn. A great evening followed, with everyone pleased to see everyone else. There was a hangover out there with my name written on it.
I can understand why some folk won't go on the old crocks' bash, but for me it was a splendid day out. Yeah, it's a Lancaster trip and you can do it anytime, but you won't get the crowd. It's the characters that make that trip. It's the atmosphere, the laid back attitude, the sense of teamwork. It was the most 'club' thing I've ever done. So the question has to be, would I do it again? Yes. Would I do it again tomorrow? No, it's Monday and I have to work.