Very far from the madding crowd

It had become harder to find that same sense of humour he used to employ when writing trip reports, Jack reflected, perhaps because the novelty of caving had worn away. Fewer screw-ups, Rhys added. Half of his face was illuminated by the fireplace next to him. I quietly slouched on one end of the sofa as I tried to recall the day. It was pleasant, smooth, but indeed ordinary. Caving had been more of a sport than an adventure for me now, and the cave a sports field. Some part of Tatham Wife Hole was already blurry in my memory even then, though we only descended it earlier that day. But Fiona would not have suggested the cave if it did not have character. Its hading rift was remarkable. If only the conditions were a little damper, for I would love to see the action of water in the cavity I descended. On the flip side, the duck was effortlessly passed, and I was in no cave-induced discomfort while I admired the splendour of the stal-adorned rift, which shaped the light from Perry and Fiona to have the same tilt as they were coming through. Arun was first to complete the ceremony of physical contact with the dive line. I however, could only tolerate the scum on my sleeves, once Rhys made a point of the state of the sump, until visual contact was made. Rhys chuckled when he found me slumped expressionless against the bottom cascade on our way out, to let water wash down my shoulders.

No better place to savour the languor from a day of caving than in the hut. Fiona had taken the other end of the sofa. We lamented all the exciting trips that were aborted, then counted more caves we would like to visit in the near future. The hut was empty besides the four of us. The fridge was empty; the library was not. There will always be some aspects of the caving experience that are changing, as the hut improves, as we improve, and perhaps as other things may improve, too. For us, cheese, wine, good food, and fine company will likely remain the centre of that. During the summer, Jack found entertainment in an allotment and puffin-watching, and he had brought produce to share and his telescope this weekend. We ate heartily mashed potatoes, runner beans, and corn on the cob with butter. With the telescope, since he did not bring any puffin, he set it up so we could observe Jupiter and Saturn the previous night. Jupiter was a fiery orange sphere surrounded by three cold yellow moons whereas Saturn, being further away, was an oblong. We were playing Ticket To Ride and waiting for cheese to warm up by the fire, when Tony turned up with a chic fuchsia helmet for Jack. Naturally, the game gave way to a cave-related conversation which lasted the rest of the evening.

Aygill Caverns on Sunday to take full advantage of the dry weather. Beyond the waterfalls, we followed crawls with flooring of small smooth pebbles or of the texture of soft wet beach sand. These seemed to always quickly send you into another standing space with more junctions, thus lure you deeper into the labyrinth. I found the Curtain Chamber first. Its centerpiece was a large exquisite drapery, lone amid piles of disarrayed boulders like an alabaster survivor of a ruin. I shone my light on it from behind, so Jack could take some long exposure shots. Rhys made the bacon reference. My thoughts paused upon the image of fatty red strips sizzling in a black iron pond of grease from breakfast time this morning, only briefly. I dispersed the image, and refocused on the glowing translucent sheet in front of me. The sun was beaming down on Morecambe Bay as we drove back from Bull Pot Farm. It had been an excellent weekend.

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