20/06/15 Ian and Denis.
It had been 2 or 3 years since I had been up to Tutman’s, when Leif and I had a photographic trip in hot, dry conditions providing the low water levels necessary for a safe visit to the end of the cave. Tutman’s is one of my favourite trips, being off the beaten track, requiring no gear and providing lots of water and formations – on this occasion too much water!
Denis had never done the cave and the plan was to meet in Alston at 10 on the Saturday morning, which was grey and drizzly, but surely after the weeks of dry, windy weather in the north-east, the water levels would be fine? Anyway, driving into Alston I could see Denis’ Fiat ahead and we had a café stop before driving out to the intersection of the Pennine Way in my car. It turned out that Denis had broken his phone by giving it a clean in his washing machine and had been driving around hoping to bump into me after a night in the local YHA.
Packing wetsuits into rucksacks, we started the hour-long trek to the cave into a stiff breeze and a fine, soaking drizzle, getting a thorough soaking on the final boggy approach down to the beck. I was a bit perturbed by the amount of water flowing, with the bulk of it issuing from the cave, which serves as a short underground oxbow to Gilderdale Burn.
Hiding out of the wind to pull on wetsuits, we stuffed neoprene hoods into our jackets and clambered down the blocks into the verdant entrance chamber that soon lowers to wet crawling. The flow in the cave was much greater than on my 2 previous trips to the end and the ducks proved to be just do-able by aiming for the series of scallops in the roof, before entering the fine canal of ‘Venice’, with its collection of pristine formations, where Denis was suitably impressed as we floated along.
My memories of the rest of the cave from previous trips led me to anticipate easy going, with a final gravelly crawl in a low bedding to a terminal ‘chamber’ (in reality a rising of the roof by a few inches) where the going then became too tight. Not on this day, with the final bedding having minimal airspace for a desperate nose-in-roof section to the end. Coming out I missed a crucial turn at one of the joints, squeezing ahead through a tight, low duck before realising my mistake and managing to gurgle a message to reverse back to Denis. Thankfully finding the correct route in the murky, rising water, we made the final nasty duck section into safety, both complaining of leg cramps from fighting the cold water as we viewed the welcome few rays of light at the entrance.
Was the sun shining? Not a chance and a miserable change in the rain was endured where I noted that my toes had lost all feeling, although the slog up the hill in full winter walking gear had me warmed up. The toastie and tea in the café were very welcome after a top day out.