Cambridge Underground 1989 pp 5-6

Early Years of the CUCC

by Brian Heys

Brian Heys was the first secretary of CUCC in 1949/50. After leaving Cambridge he joined the Northern Pennine Club and played an active rôle in explorations, including the Fountains Fell systems. He is now 'virtually retired' from caving, but still enjoys walking and his motor bike. He lives near Ingleton. This article was submitted as part of the CUCC 40th anniversary display.

When CUCC started in 1949 there was much less caving activity than there is today. Britain was just recovering from war-time austerity. Schools did not include caving trips in their activities and there were no suppliers of caving equipment. Clubs or groups of cavers made their own ladders from wood and rope. As a member of the British Speleological Association based in Settle, I had used their ladders. They were very cumbersome to drag through a cave, particularly when wet, and both wood and rope were liable to rot. It was not unusual to find a broken rung, and two adjacent broken rungs did make climbing difficult.

Before 1949 I had done a bit of caving with college friends and members of CUYHA and we had a good nucleus of potential members when we decided to establish a club. We aslo had done some preparatory work in making our own ladders. There was a disused chalk pit at Cherry Hinton which was being used as a dump for wrecked aircraft. From here we were able to obtain alloy tubing and steel control cables as raw materials for about 300 ft of lightweight ladder. This was more or less comparable with present day ladders except that our method of rung fixing with nuts and bolts was very destructive of our overalls. 'Subterranean Climbers' by Pierre Chevalier told how French caves had been considerably extended by the use of scaling poles; a method that had hardly been used in this country. The Cherry Hinton scarp dump provided us with 4x7 ft lengths of alloy pole, which we could join together to give a 28 ft length with peg steps.

The only previous serious study of underground waterflow had been of the areas around Ingleborough and Malham in 1902-5. The Cherry Hinton chalk pit had a brilliant green lake; the colour coming from damaged packs of fluorescein used as sea markers for the wrecked planes. We collected quite a quantity of soggy packs for use elsewhere.

In those days it was difficult to get away from Cambridge except for the vacations and consequently during term time we were restricted to exploring the literature on caves. 'Pennine Underground', the guide to the North Pennine caves was a very small pocket book, about half the size of one of the set of five which now replace it. The Yorkshire Ramblers Club Journal was the premier caving journal covering the north & I think Bristol was the only university with a caving club journal.

There were few cave surveys available, so we spent some time surveying some of the easier caves. One area that interested us was around Mere Gill. YRCJ Vol IV page 38 describes how Roberts and Stobart in 1912 explored a passage they thought was leading into the cave at the north end of the mere. We surveyed this passage and made a through trip to daylight at what is now known as Sweetwater Hole and then used our scaling poles to explore the separate cave at the north end of the mere. Whilst we were doing this there was an elderly and very interested spectator, Mr E E Roberts, the editor of the YRCJ who had made the original exploration. And so in YRCJ Vol VII page 344 we found we had achieved fame.

Ireby Fell Cavern attracted our attention, having been recently discovered, and we took scaling poles down to explore the area close to the Craven Fault particularly hoping to find a route that might drop over the edge of the fault but with no success. Further on we found a very interesting phreatic outflow passage from the roof of Duke Street which was, however, choked with sand after about 100 yards. It looked a very promising place for a dig but we left it for another day. The BSA "Cave Science" published a report and survey of the Cavern in no. 9, July 1949 and our addition got a mention in the following issue no. 10, Oct. 1949.

We also used our scaling poles in Marble Steps and Sell Ghyll but no great discoveries. One of our members, David Crabtree had been evactuated to Alston during the war and had come across a report in an ancient book of a cave entered from a mine. So we had an excursion there to rediscover and survey Ayle Burn Cave. Although there were other mentions of caves associated with mines in the ancient books on the Northern Dales, these had not previously attracted the attention of the cavers of that era.

Our visits to other areas were much more of tourist trips where we relied on guidance from local clubs. For the Derbyshire meet we stayed at Castelton Y.H. and had a lecture by Dr. R E Davies before being taken by CDG guide into the recently discovered further reaches of Peak Cavern. We also did Giants Hole and Eldon Hole and in the Mensips, GB and Swildons.

As long ago as 1936 E E Roberts of the YRC was saying 'the supply of places awaiting exploration has long been exhausted'. Agreed most of the easy open holes in Britain have received a fair amount of attention, but Notts Hole appeared in 1946 as an open hole where none was known before, and in 1986 a hole 15 feet square by 30 feet deep appeared in the tarmac after a heavy lorry had passaed near Nether Kellet. It could have been a new entrance to Dunald Mill Hole if the cavers had got there before the County Council.

Nearly every exploration or survey ends with a note such as 'too tight', 'choked' or 'sump' which shows that the explorer has had enough. Bet the hext person to try may be able to squeeze through the tight bit, remove the choke or dive or dewater the sump. The more caves that are discovered the more loose ends there will be that could perhaps be pushed a bit further.

Our survey of Ayle Burn Cave in 1950 ended at a low wet bedding plance, but in 1969, small keen members of the Moldywarps Speleological Group were prepared to push it further and extended the system to about a mile in length, but it is still only half way to where we think the water resurfaces.

A great deal has been discovered in the last 40 years but there are still long stretches of underground streams we know to exist which we cannot folow. What is the CUCC 50th year journal going to contain?

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