Exploring Devon Caves
Exploring Devon Caves (Part One)
I’ve always been fascinated by caves.
As a small child I spent a lot of days at Kinver, exploring its rocks and hollows. They say it’s a subconscious desire to recapture the warmth and comfort of the womb. They may be right. If I’d known Cameronomics was on the way I’d have tried not to be born at all. I never get claustrophobia – perhaps a genetic legacy from all those coal-mining ancestors.
Once upon a time, when I was seventeen, and had a motorbike, and petrol was about 3 bob a gallon, and a tank of it lasted a couple of weeks, I took up caving as a change from rambling and rock climbing. In those days I had the build for it, being skeletally thin. Every Saturday we would go out, find a hole, go down it, and get plastered in mud. We had plastic helmets, lights, magnesium flares – appropriated from my old chemistry set – and boiler suits.
Now these caves weren’t the dramatic potholes of the Peak or the Mendips, though those came later, but the milder holes of Devon.
We started on our old rock climbing ground at Chudleigh Rocks, in a marvellous cave called the Pixie’s Hole, once the haunt of prehistoric man, a Palaeolithic shelter. I had first explored it as a schoolboy as an exercise for my CSE geography field work notebook, going no further than a long ascending slope known as the Toad’s Penance. Now we went further high into the rock, then down into a ravine, full of bats who never seemed very bothered by our explorations. Climbing up on a homemade rope ladder we found that the cave exited through a smaller hole on the far side of the Rocks. Had we firsted a Himalayan summit we could not have been more thrilled.
Soon afterwards, crossing the pretty little Kate Brook, we found a tiny tunnel at the foot of the opposite cliffs. We crawled in a few yards and found it blocked by a fall, but were convinced it must go further. We dug enough of a passage to slip through. It ran for what seemed about a hundred yards, ending in a circular chamber. It was decided to remove the surplus earth to make the passage easier. While the boys did that I explored the far chamber, starting digging in what could be a continuation. For several hours they blocked me in completely, entombed under thousands of tons of rock, a weird feeling. I often wonder if modern cavers have found a way through into a greater cave system.
The last time I visited the Rocks, the caves were barred. They say to protect the bats, though I think that’s a lot of nonsense. Local word is that the powers that be don’t want the homeless living there, as our ancestors did a million years ago.
Young Cavers in Devon now must head further afield to appease their hunger for adventure.