Do you Yorkshire cavers appreciate the caves you've got? I sometimes wonder whether you do. I say that as a caver bred in a region where caving inspiration is far less forthcoming. I had to wait a long while for a glimpse of Britain's premier karst area. As a member of the Bristol Exploration Club and earlier as a member of no club at all, I got to know the caves of Mendip and this, along with a few excursions to South Wales, was the limit of my experience. And then Cambridge gave me the chance of my first real pothole (or should it be 'potoil'?), for such, by spurious definition, do not exist on Mendip. So I eagerly awaited the first Yorkshire meet. Were there really that many big pitches ? Were the caves (sorry, pots) really as magnificent as I had been led to believe? Did they really need five volumes of guide books ? What did grade III really mean ? What sort of beer do they drink? These questions were soon to be answered.
I awoke from my slumbers as the minibus rolled up in front of Greenclose, nerve centre of the famous Northern Pennine Club. So this was it. The cottage was bucolic, and dare I say it, a little squalid, but it had that familiar fusty smell common to any well bred cavers' lodgings. Comparing it with the Belfry of my homeland, I think that overall the Northerners' hut was about on a par. The living accomodation was better, the sleeping quarters and showers about the same and the conveniences worse. (I think I prefer the 'compactness' or is it 'crampedness' of the Belfry toilets to the decidedly draughty feeling one gets in the NPC equivalent).
And so with the morn, came the cold, the miserable drizzle and the caving. The powers that be had decided that in view of the weather and the experience of the cavers (the club was in its annual throes of breaking in novices), we would do Bull Pot of the Witches. The change before the cave was as sordid as they come, but my enthusiasm for my first Yorkshire Pot was not dampened in the slightest! We walked over towards the cave. "Right", I thought, "Now where's the blockhouse?" And then probably the most striking contrast between Yorkshire and Mendip caves reveals itself; the entrances. I stared in disbelief at BPW's massive crater-type entrance. I'd not seen or expected anything quite like this. With over 80% of Mendip's cave passage owing its discovery to the cave diggers, the entrances often tend to be artificial and often have those familiar little stone houses built over them. Yorkshire is so different in this respect, with many natural, spectacular and inspiring entrances. The cave itself was easy, wet and enjoyable. Not strenuous, but then it was only a grade III. (I had now correlated the Yorkshire grades with meaningful ones). And so the caving logically moved on to drinking and Tetleys is a little strange at first. It takes some getting used to, but is quite palatable and innocuous for the newcomer.
The next day saw me doing Calf Holes - Browgill and Red Moss Pot. Like BPW, Calf Holes, despite its lowly grade and novice suitability, is a tremendous cave. The entrance, the streamway, the Browgill waterfall all play their part to make a cave that could only be under Yorkshire soil. I cannot help but wonder at the appeal Calf Holes must have for the novice. It conveys so much more noise, energy and excitement than the Goatchurch of my fond memories. Red Moss POt on the other hand, (which is a pot in the same sense that Rhino Rift is a cave), swops the classic Yorkshire entrance for a Mendip-like rabbit hole, but compensates with a fine streamway.
And so ended my first taste of Yorkshire caving. I left the horizontal glaciated strata and limestone pavements behind. The caves had certainly been worth waiting for. Although I had not done any of the hard trips with their big pitches, I knew that their turn would come. I felt as though I had just scratched the surface of an area of real size and potential. What if Yorkshire was as intensively caved as Mendip? With Mendip diggers setting up for their next decade stand, their Yorkshire counterparts only need a crowbar and a day or more's effort. Unlike other more bigoted types, I would like to say that as a Mendip caver, Yorkshire's got the best caves; but I've not completely sold myself out. I still have a great affection for the Mendip that has taught me almost all the caving I know and that's the way I'll always feel. At least until the Hunter's is moved about 200 miles northwards!