Caving in the Mendip hills in north Somerset can vary hugely from cave to cave, so with in mind we decided to go with local guides from Black Rock Outdoors.
We decided on a cave called Rods pot as it was a little more of a challenge than the normally popular Goatchurch, and with a group of eight with mixed ability but up for a challenge it promised to be an interesting trip.
On arrival we met Andy, our guide for the day, who explained that the cave system was formed by water running off the sandstone tops of the Mendip hills and eroding its way through the limestone beneath. This not only created the caverns but also the pot shaped tunnels and holes with vertical drops, hence rods pot!
We got kitted up in our fetching jumpsuits and helmets, tested each others lights and headed across the bracken moorland to the small crevice where our adventure began.
After a quick run down of how dangerous this cave system can be, we crawled into the cave via the small entrance one by one, trying to avoid the small puddle which is renowned in this cave and somewhat difficult to avoid dipping one limb at least in to! A good start! Slowly and carefully, and with strict instructions from our guide Andy, we headed down through small crevices, across rocky ledges and down slippery routes. The actual ‘pots’ are a little deeper than you first expect, and as you crawl gingerly over the top of one on your belly and shine your light down your heart stops for a second when you realise that the bottom is nowhere to be seen. The experience becomes very real and your grip becomes a little tighter! Once across though you can breath a sigh of relief and life is all great again and you are onto the next challenge! One minute we were sliding down rocky slopes the next sitting in a small cavern looking at stalagmites and stalagtites. Laughing all the way of course, as we almost got boots in faces from being a little to eager.
We stopped for a break, and looking about we found a small bat hanging above us, it was probably wondering why a bunch of humans were passing through his favourite sleeping spot. It was amazing to see this and a stark reminder of how important the caves are to the ecosystem in this area. It’s worth mentioning here that bats are protected and you should only observe them from afar.
Its funny how being underground exploring such a beautiful, but potentially dangerous place, can make you realise how much of this world we could be missing for want of access points by the way of a small hole in the ground.
We continued to follow and explore the cave system and came across a small cavern where we took another quick break and were given a couple of options. We could either go down the final part of the route, take a small detour called “the purple passage” or a tricky climb up a passage that had only recently been blown through at the far end. Maybe led on by male ego a few of us headed straight for the tricky climb. Almost immediately we found ourselves out of our comfort zone as we climbed the steep slippery rocky slabs leading up steeply. The further you went up the tighter it got, to the point you had to position your head to one side to get your helmet and light through. And as you got to the top you had a tricky right angled bend with which was only passable by slithering your way on to your back with head turned to one side and slowly shuffling along inch by inch. It was a daunting challenge as you think of the millions of tons of rock surrounding you in all directions and that the only person to get you through the passage is yourself! Eventually after shuffling and squeezing your way through, you come out in another small cavern where you can look down on another much bigger cavern full of loose rubble. Experienced cavers are currently excavating this to try to link up other cave systems. After returning back down the route we all stood there exhausted although had an amazing sense of achievement. We had taken on a difficult section and succeeded, maybe its something to do with bare hands on muddy rocks or being underground, i’m not sure, but its something you get from testing yourself against mother nature’s creations.
I have a new understanding of why cavers do what they do, its not just about going down a dirty hole in the ground to “conquer it” but more to discover the hidden beauties and challenges of exploring underground. If you would like to find out more about or experience the thrill, visit your local caving club or get in contact with one of the many activity centres that do caving experiences and get underground. As scary as I may have made it sound, it is quite achievable and for a few bruises and scary moments you may get to see and do something just a little special!
To find out more about caving in the Mendip Hills, you will find the following links very helpful: