Diving in the northern dales – March 2010
Notice to the reader – please note that this trip took place almost 1 year ago and it has taken much consideration before I decided to record my experiences, not because of the trauma I endured, but out of respect for the eponymous mammals I encountered. If you visit the cave avoid the breeding season and keep disturbance to a minimum – oh yes, ask at the farm as well – seemed like a reasonable fellow.
Perusing NC1 in the bath, as I’m sure you all do, I came upon Otter’s cave, Melmerby, a mere Grade 1 cave leading to a series of sumps. Further queries resulted in some info from Steve – a survey and an article from the CPC record by Dave Morris describing some stunning cave passage. Now I recall Dave Morris from my teenage reading – didn’t he teach Martyn Farr to dive? Anyway he was (is) a very experienced diver and his writing conjured up bizarre images in my mind – I had to visit the cave. Speaking to White Rose diver extraordinaire Martyn Soliman on the phone, cautionary words should have made me worry, as this veteran of White Keld boulder chokes described conditions of zero vis making him quickly abandon a dive into the cave. However, I had been diving alone regularly and felt that if things got tough I would just head back.
Driving down on a chilly morning, I checked out the map and picked the nearest farm to ask for permission. This proved to be the right choice and I was directed to a nearby gate to walk down the fields to the resurgence, where the impressive entrance was spouting a large volume of water. Leaving my bottles by the entrance, I decided to check out the approach to the dive, which turned out to be pleasant wading until several pairs of shiny eyes appeared at the sump pool. Bollocks! – If those are rats I’m not diving, I thought, but closer examination showed the creatures to be a fine family of otters, seemingly oblivious to my presence as they swam in the pool. I decided to head back for my bottles to dive only if the natives were settled and upon my return I found that they had moved off out of sight.
Carefully kitting up, I had the usual calmness and resolve that comes before a dive or a big climb – you’ve got it in hand or you don’t start is my philosophy. Making the first dive through in horrible brown soup, I emerged in the first airbell, pausing only for a few seconds before making depth to the slot low in the right wall. According to Mr Morris, a pleasantly-sized passage is followed for 100m or so, passing 2 airbells en-route. I didn’t find much pleasant at all –zero vis and a meandering jointed route – imagine the turns one finds in Smeltmill, Cliff Force, Thackthwaite – felt pretty much the same to me with depth changes of several metres too, until the line stopped at a squeeze – eek! Reaching through, I could feel the tied-off continuation and wiggled my way through in the gloom – but surely things must improve! Oh no - the process was repeated in even more nasty circumstances until a bit of open water was reached with the line totally buried in silt. Progress had been slow until this point and the airbells I’d been counting on to gauge my distance had not appeared, so fearing for my air supply, I turned back.
Passing the squeezes turned out to be somewhat traumatic as the vis was nil, so it took ages to find the continuation line through the restriction and my position was such that I almost considered heading back upstream and waiting to be rescued! Maintaining a calm attitude this thought was discarded and a methodical search found the line. Moving through I bashed my face, flooding my mask – clear this – OK, then my hose got caught pulling my reg from my mouth – reach out, replace, purge, breathe –OK – line round fin and bottle – reach back, clear – OK!
More straightforward progress found me exiting the final slot to the airbell and some relief. Exiting to the streamway, I sat on the gravel bank for a few minutes to contemplate what might have been.
The haul back up the hill was accomplished in 2 trips and I recovered with a welcome hot coffee. Great fun eh!