Cambridge Underground 1983 pp 24-25


Tony Malcolm

Yes I really did cycle to the Pyrenees from Wimbledon Common. It was good training for a few weeks work as a builder's mate on the hottest French summer on record, and made the fortnight's caving at the Pierre St. Martin less tiring than in might have been; but it wasn't all that much fun, not least because the beauty of the Dordogne has to be appreciated from the tops of' hills, also French bike spares do not necessarily fit English bicycles.

Once there I saw all the old boys from ARSIP at the PSM for their 30th Anniversary reunion, toasted in excesses of Spanish Ricard, and was fortunate to be part of the Spéléo Club de Gascogne's annual expedition - the club being described by an illustrious ARSIP person as being more concerned with their food than their caving - very sensible I might say, though lugging all that tinned stuff up to the campsite was not.

We entertained ourselves by prodding about over square kilometres of shattered limestone looking for the entrance to "La Rivière", but this year no productive entrances were found, and previously known ones could not be pushed past the schist band at -350m despite liberal persuasion. (An eye was kept open for columns of Spanish military which frequented the area of no-man's land, in case they imagined the Basques had risen in earnest). Camping at 1900m was very nice, emphasised by the days of glorious sunshine whilst the valleys below remained enshrouded in impenetrable seas of undulating clouds; life seemed pretty good for a while. The camp itself consisted of numerous two person tents and a large mess tent with tables and seats constructed from materials carried up especially for the purpose of providing comfort to the exhausted cavers as they sat for their six course evening meals, as well as making the passing of the wine gourde more economical. Water was however very scarce once the rain stopped, and so was snow due to the exceptionally hot summer. The hundreds of melons were kept down one blind pot where snow had survived whilst a pulley system was rigged up at another for supplying snow to the water machines (black plastic, hose, buckets). Washing required a 20 mile drive down into Spain for some "We're all boys, and girls, together" bathing, whilst vultures wheeled far overhead.

Needless to say I was "invited" below ground on a pushing trip in a hole that was stopped at -350m in 1981, and was able to experience the thrill of Alpine Traverses disappearing around sharp bends into the void, as well as beautiful large freehangs, The known end of the cave was in the schist band and of proportions sufficiently minimal to have been left alone in the Dales never mind anywhere else. But the worst thing was that there wasn't any water around to make the soup for which we had brought half of an expensive German fitted kitchen. It was generally more enjoyable strolling up the Pic d'Anie and through the Poitevins camp in the sun, smiling at their dejected expressions as they struggled once more to reach their "riviere". (Shortly after we left they increased the depth of the PSM by 10m.)

The food was always good enough to raise spirits during the first few days when we lived in the clouds, and the end of camp celebrations proved to be sufficiently excessive. My team convoyed into Spain for a wash, back to a Spanish bar for several bottles of Ricard, down to the ski resort where "couscous" was consumed in a restaurant owned by an old friend of the club who opened his "discotheque" especially for us for liberal application of vodka-based anaesthetic and other mind-bogglers - fresh air proved to be the lethal ingredient, but a brisk walk over the hills back to camp in the morning, pausing to reflect on the abundance of wild flowers to be found in that area, soon cleared the cobwebs.

Three members of the expedition came over to the Dales for Christmas and decided that Tatham Wife resembled the sort of caves found in the Ardennes, but that the English pub was a uniquely wonderful institution. Yes they were a good bunch, and images of that fortnight help keep British winter depression at bay.

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