Not just cider and The Wurzels, the West Country is home to our friends and a good selection of caves just waiting to be explored. And what better way to spend my next #take12trips challenge than catching up with friends whilst crawling through tunnels and caverns?
Our journey to the centre of the earth (okay, centre of Burrington Combe) started at Goatchurch Cavern with our guide, Andy from CaveClimb. Andy’s been climbing for years and years and spent our walk to Goatchurch pointing out hidden caves and regaling us all with tales about when they were first caved and when, what’s inside, etc.
Goatchurch Cavern itself is easily accessible, but also very slippery. Visitors have peered inside this space since the Victorian times, but not ventured far beyond its entrance. I mean, could you imagine squeezing through the tunnels in a corset? Luckily we were a bit better prepared than them with boiler suits, helmets and welly boots, and ready to venture further.
Beyond the entrance, the cave starts easy enough, with lots of clamouring down over giant boulder-looking rocks, albeit made all the more simpler if you just slide down on your bum. Hidden inside a large crack was a harmless little bat, taking a ‘batnap’ (I hope my puns don’t drive you batty!) (Okay, I’ll stop now).
Creeping past, we made it to the next section of the cave. Goatchurch Cavern is made up of multiple tunnels that range from easy-squeezy to you’re-going-regret-eating-that-big-lunch-fatty tightness and ability in navigating. They all eventually end up at the same place, but as the old saying goes, getting there is half the fun. Feeling fairly confident, we went for the ‘difficult’ tunnel option and ended up learning how to ‘Superman’ – slide arms and head first down tunnels.
Throughout our crawls around the cave complexes and tunnels Andy told us all about how water shaped the tunnels and caves we crawl through today, and how they continue to be shaped and changed over time. At one point we stopped and he showed us a cave wall crammed to bursting with fossils and shells.
Eventually we ‘did the worm’ and squeezed our way through a narrow tunnel and into a large cavern with huge slabs that conveniently worked as seating areas. “Beyond this area is a section called ‘The Drainpipe’ around 9 metres long, that will take you to the final section of Goatchurch Cavern. It is very tight and you will have to go front first, single file, but that section will open up into another cavern,” Andy explained.
He wasn’t lying about the tightness. Throughout the afternoon we had picked up the essential rule for caving, which is the quickest way to tired arms and bruises is depending solely on your arms to do all the legwork, so to speak. Instead what developed was a ‘caterpillar’ effect of alternatively taking small steps with my legs and sticking my butt in the air slightly, so that they almost met my hands.
After much huffing and puffing, we emerged, covered in dirt, to the final rift. Inside, an even narrower tunnel dropped further below, and a distant drip of water dribbled down the rocks. With mucky hands we produced our phones and captured photos of the deepest navigable point in the Goatchurch Cavern, prolonging our rest as long as possible before returning to The Drainpipe.
Another lesson we learned about caving; it’s always easier to descend than it is to ascend. After multiple sections of climbing and wedging myself up tunnels and clamouring over boulders, I was thankful I didn’t rely on my arms too much on the descent.
Suddenly we emerged from the entrance, soggy bottoms, wet fronts and all, and trudged back to the car park, already discussing our next caving adventure.
*Goatchurch Cavern is an excellent place to get a taste of caving, as it is a largely a dry cave and you learn multiple skills within an afternoon with options for different levels of ability. Additionally, extra equipment like ladders and ropes aren’t necessarily required. Contact Andy at http://www.caveclimb.com if you fancy learning to cave. Otherwise, if you decide to go in the summer, Swildon’s Hole in Priddy is another good beginner’s route, albeit a wet one. We’ll see you there!