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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Radnor Hills - September 2012 - confronting fears

Sorry these posts are a bit back to front. A few weeks ago we met a bunch of people to go walking in the Radnor Hills. I was a bit apprehensive having only met a few of them before. For those who know me I've struggled in social situations over the last few years. I've never been great in crowds, big groups or people I don't know but it has become more debilitating of recent times. I love live music, but I can't face going to see bands anymore. I love walking with company, but unless it's people I'm close to or know well I shy away from it. I guess the way of describing the annoyingness of social anxiety is that your constantly thinking people hate you, you've said the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, it's not just a passing thought it's pretty much there all the time. So, to not have those feelings you just start to avoid those situations, because you start to believe what your thinking, then you miss out on things, and you feel bad because your missing out on them.

Enough rambling.. I've got over quite a few fears, and getting over quite a few others, so it's time to confront this one.

We arrived at the Campsite in Hay On Wye early evening (Radnor's End) - we'd pretty much filled up the small campsite with all our tents. It was a very neat campsite, which felt pretty luxurious compared to some we had stayed at. We said hello to everyone, pitched up and made tea. Emma had come away with us and was in a right grump, I had a stinking headache so was feeling antisocial and awkward. The weather was windy and drizzly (not quite what I had in mind for camping!). In the end Steve and I decided to take Emma for a walk to see the River Wye and to investigate if we could have a swim. It was further than we thought it would be and was a fair old stomp considering the late hour. Once there the current was too fast for me to consider swimming. Steve decided to give it a go because he could safely just float along the beach and some out straight away. The water temp for the time of the year was pretty chilly and Steve was soon out and getting dry. We walked back in the dusk, failing to find which pub the others were in. I was still in a grump when we got back to the site..(must have been having one of those days!)

Once Emma was in bed some of the others arrived back from the pub, and we joined them by Clive's camper van for a beer (right after Clive dropped and broke a load!) and some Pink Floyd. I went to bed feeling a little happier.

I didn't get much sleep, so felt pretty weary when we surfaced. Thankfully egg bread was on hand to sort that out. We then drove to New Radnor going the unique little Sat Nav way which took us over a bridge no-one else went over.., with happy tunes on to wake us up. More people were meeting us for the walk there so it was more introductions. Then off we went... The walk quite soon went into a bit of a steeply ascending lane, all my hill going ability seemed to shrink and I was soon near the back. It was good to chat with Paul one of the other people on the walk about our fear of heights. (I know I have too many fears...) I used to be very scared of heights, to the point of refusing to do most things involving heights and having to crawl across bridges etc. I still have quite a few moments of being scared, but I feel much more able to tackle things head on. It was interesting hearing someone else talk about their fear and agreeing with some of things we'd go through when confronting them.

After not much time the sweets came out and we had a bit of a breather. As we continued up we past a local chap who I stopped for a chat with, he was quite bemused to see such a large group walking in the hills, saying he barely ever saw anyone up there, he also told us about a nice waterfall we could drive to post walk. We said goodbye and I joined the group to decide who was going up Whimble and who was going round Whimble..For some reason I had a brain bypass and decided to go up it. It was a bit of steep slog, but it was soon over. The views were great from there and I was glad I'd done it. More sweets were had all round as a reward for our efforts.


We rejoined the others and were soon enlightend to the fact there was a rally race being held in the area that day - lots of cars racing through forest tracks. Luckily it didn't cause an issue with our walk.

Somewhere around this point we went to Bache Hill, I remember Emma racing Max/Clive to the top and us eating more sweets, but not much else!

As we headed uphill later on we crossed a bog which caused much amusement whilst two of the group tried to push each other in it. Further on into the walk we found one of the passing points for the rally race, there was a suggestion we should have lunch there, but it was disregarded due to the midgyness/dirtyness of the floor. We stopped to take some photos though of the cars zipping round the bend (the faster ones were coming later which was a shame)

The wind was blowing when we reached the top of our next peak - Black Mixen (best even hill name), it had some kind of radio mast thing at the top, we decided to head in underneath it to get some shelter for lunch - not the most glamorous stopping point! As it was one of our groups birthday coming up the chaps had kindly brought up and cake and two bottles of champers for her - possibly one of the nicest ever things I've seen done for someone.

Lots of food and drink were scoffed then it was onwards to our last peak of the day Great Rhos- Howard who'd organised the walk led us through the heathery bog to the summit.

The pub was calling so we were soon back off again, ended up on a sideways path with good views over to the valley below. The sideways path was hurting our ancles so we had a stop and managed to loose Max and Howard to reassured us by waving and phoning (?!) to say they were A Okay.

It was then down some more, with views into the forbidden valley (a firing range which is barred from public access) - shame as there's avery pretty river running through it. On our way down I needed a loo stop so lost Emma up ahread as she was in deep conversation with all the other adults on the trip. Mike who was also walking with us spotted a lizard on the way down which was fantastic to see.

View of the day

When I finally caught up with Emma at the pub she already had a drink in hand and was busy chatting to everyone still - redundant Mum! Wish I had some of her confidence!

A small amount of cider was consumed then it was off to Water Break It's Neck waterfall which the local had recommended earlier in the walk. The falls were pretty impressive, esp the gorge which led up to them. It was so deep all the trees were covered in a layer of moss.

 Sadly the waterfall was not swimable as there was no pool underneath it. We decided we needed to get to the top of the falls to see if there was something swimable there, at the top it was steep and fenced off, and what we could see was not swimable. We decided to partake in a little bit of scambling along by the river to head upstream to see what was there.

fun was had exploring and we came to a final set of falls, the way on unclimbable. The pool at the bottom was not big enough for a dip but we were so hot and bothered we stripped off and had a shower. Due to the deepness of the gorge the water was freezing, and neither of us could bear to stay under it for very long..

Emma is shouting in the background because she thinks I'm going to get hypothermia!

We ended the day with chips in Hay and a quick drink with everyone in the pub. It felt hard not being able to stay out with everyone, but priorities first.

Wednesday night caving update

I've got a bit behind with reporting Wednesday night caving so this update will only be brief.

I was away for much of August so didn't get in much caving. We did fit in a club trip to Swildon's though. The plan was to go to Manor Farm, so myself, Steve met Dave and new caver Rob there. At we were unpacking kit Dave realised he'd forgotten a ladder so we quickly had to replan. We were already running pretty late so had to abandon any thoughts of visiting a cave which needed a key picking up from anywhere. I managed to pursuede the others that a trip down the pitch in Swildon's would be a good idea. I'd not done it for ages and was keen to practice a bit of easy climbing round the pots. It had been raining a fair bit so I was glad I'd had the foresight to chuck my wet suit in when packing up the gear.

We had a short wait in the first section whilst a group was coming out. Dave took a trickier looking climb down whilst the less adventurous of us waited for the group to pass and headed down the wet slab. The stream runs in this way, so for newcomers to the cave it's a bit of an intimidating entrance. Once you've done it once though you realise it's fine. The water is often amplified in the cave which makes it sound much worse than it really is. I wanted to have a go at navigation for this trip as I'm keen to lead my daughter round some of the easier bits of the upper series. Onwards we went down Jacobs ladder. The cave was drier than the last few times I'd be there which was almost slightly disapointing. Due to our lateness in leaving we made short work of the next section to reach the first mini waterfall climb down. Steve hadn't been in Swildon's before and I was worried he'd find the climb difficult but he made short work of it, as did Rob who is a climber so it was no bother for him.

The ladder pitch went smoothly, we all got a bit of a soaking though. Steve had a quick introduction to lifelining (he'd been practicing and reading up about it at home already) and safely belayed Dave down the pitch.

I took no photos as I hadn't brought my camera ( I really need to get a waterproof case for it, roll on XMAS)
Here is one of Ivan on the ladder from a previous trip - taken by Dave

Beyond the ladder we continued down to the double pots, a series of pools you ether traverse around, fall into or jump into. I'd never fallen into them - so I was no a 'true son of Mendip'. Dave attempted to get me to fall into the pools, but instead managed to get himself well and truly wedged at the top of one of them, much to our amusment, he had the added presure of a large group of cavers from another club watching him. He got loose and jumped into the pot - up to his neck in water! Much ribbing followed..

We soon had the option of the rift or Barnes loop. I'd nearly fallen down the rift on a trip down in this part of the cave, so it always gives me the heebie geebies. We took the option of Barnes Loop. We continued onwards to Tratmans temple. Here is an old photo of it from the MCRA site:

We then went on to the Mud Sump which was clear of water, my memory of the route of is fairly slim, must concentrate harder next time. Pub time was approaching so it was time to backtrack and head out. We went back up through the rift, I made it up with ease (demons finally put to bed, can avoid Barnes Loop in future), Steve had a bit of a wobble but got up okay in the end. Coming out I got pretty cold at the ladder pitch, so made a swift exit once the gear was packed up - Steve complained that I was going too fast, but having forgotten my balaclava I was keen to warm up. We took the quickest exit (much to my disappointment as I really enjoy the wet way) and stomped back to the car. We arrived at 10.45 so I barked at the boys to get dressed really quickly, we were soon just about changed (shoes, no socks etc) and we zipped off to the pub, we realised we couldn't remember the way so had a very swift leaving of the carpark to attempt to keep up with Dave. We made it to the pub at 10.58 where we managed to get food and drinks - so it was an ethical caving trip after all!

A great trip, was good to speed through to the Mud Sump with ease, was a clear indication as to how I've improved at moving through the cave, and also felt good to remember most the route. I'm still get to do the round trip, having done a fair amount of it from either side. There is a section called the 'double troubles' which is the main stumbling block of me. I'm not keen on water especially where you are having to trail an ear in the water. Somehow these seem worse than the sump (which I have been through)

The next trip wasn't until September. The plan had been to do Wet Sink but Dave hurt himself doing football and as there were only 4 of us we decided something easier was in order. None of us aside from Tim had been to Lionals Hole before so me, Tim Rob and Steve headed up to Burrington for a trip there. It started to rain as we approached the cave so it was a relief to get underground. For Rob though not too much relief as I pointed out all the big cave spiders inhabiting the entrance (he's not too keen on spiders..) From there Tim gave us a grand tour of the upper section (easier bits) of the cave. There's a rather nice landmark called 'the tent'

In my mind Lionals was going to be a horrible small crawly cave but from the start it was full of big impressive passage and boulders. The rock was quite sharp, reminded me of the rock in Wet Sink, and full of nice handholds. Here is Tim in the cave entrance series:

In the tent:

Lionals is notoriously confusing, if you can do the round trip you are a true caver. We were not doing the round trip on this occasion due to only Tim knowing the cave. The idea was to get used to various landmarks and to learn various ways on.

Studying the survey

I faced my fears on the traverse (getting in a bit of practice for the scarier one in Eastwater). You basically have to wedge yourself in and shuffle along to stop yourself from falling down the drop and into the hole below. After some more exploring it was time to face the Labyrinth - an area of lots of confusion in the cave. We found our way through to the muddy tube. It was tight and going uphill, none of us liked the look of it. Tim went first, then Rob followed - he was not too sure, but decided to bravely push on (having only been in Swildons before it was a bit of a new experience for Rob!)

 We came out into another small chamber which we explored various small dead ends. There only appears to be one way on which looked horrible. Tim had a nose in it whilst we all took a break. It was then time to head out. Tim let me lead out some of it which I just about managed. We had a nose in a sumped bit on the way out, I was the only one silly enough to get into it and get wet, goaded on by Tim for refusing to explore further earlier. I didn't push on too far through it though..

It was then back through the boulders and out of the cave, with me gleefully pointing out more cave spiders :)   We had to drive Rob to the pub as his campervan would not fit round the sharp bend (plume of feathers, burrington) his cat who lives with him in the van looked pretty put out it couldn't come too.

I now need to return to Lionals asap to see what I can remember!

Hunters Lodge Inn Sink Aug/Sept 12

So I've been a bit behind in updating my blog recently, allotment has been taking up allot of time an I've had some health issues. Last month we took my Dad to Hunters Lodge Inn Sink cave. It was discovered during foot and mouth after he'd stopped caving. It is underneath the pub he used to always drink/eat in as a caver. We had a great trip just doing the upper level. Dad enjoyed it and is talking about doing more caving!

Pre cave

Carefully taking a break

Zoomed in moss rocks

Getting towards the end of the cave, belly slide (only 2 of us carried on to this point and beyond)

Post cave

Great tip, think my Dad was surprised how unhapless I was underground..

Emma had seem my photos and was really keen to explore the cave so this weekend we combined it with a trip to Wookey and a visit to our usual post cave pub for lunch.

I had some free tickets to Wookey courtesy of Tesco, and having recently watched the cave diving DVD (my Dad copied an old show from video to DVD for me from the 80's all about the exploration) I felt the need for a revisit having not been since I was a kid.

The tour guide did her best (given the amount of screaming children) but it all felt pretty rushed (about 15 mins underground in total) It was interesting (but a bit sad) to hear the tales of Stals being shot down to decorate grottos (before people knew better) and the soot on the walls from when they used to toss parafin onto the walls for lighting purposes. There was no witch of Wookey, only a projected picture on the side of a rock (credit crunch biting?)

Blackened chamber

St Paul's

Huge chamber

It was interesting to visit the museumy bits afterwards and see some of the finds (including a very pristine looking alabaster ball) and to watch another recording about the cave diving. The footage of the last section they'd dived to made us all shudder, very brave people.

Next up it was Emma's first visit to the Hunters, she rated highly the Ham and Mushroom pasta and enjoyed being aloud into the front bar to have a look at the finds from the cave next door. Our next stop was a visit to the cave itself.

Emma was a bit apprehensive about the ladder climb, but once roped up(belayed by Steve) she zipped on down, pausing on the ledge to admire the now abandoned birds nests 'the best she'd ever seen' apparently..

She made light work of the slightly claustrophobic bum slide down (barmaids crawl?), and some of the awkward (for an 8 year old) bouldery sections.

A bit of scaffolding limboing later and we were into a chamber. Emma was amazed, and kept pointing out all the different types of formation.

Despite the long chat about conservation pre cave we reiterated it again, told her about the tape, and told her to crawl as much as she could in the lower sections. She spent the rest of the trip lecturing us about conservation! We carried on through the cave until we reached the climb with the handline. Emma roped up again (for a lifeline) and climbed up it very well. (climbing lessons paying off!)

Some more chamber/s and (not squeezes) for Emma and we were soon at the end of the upper section of the cave. We didn't go beyond the curtain formation as time was ticking on and it was good to end on a high note.

We carefully picked our way out of the cave, making light work of the 'squeezes' (Emma verbally directing Steve through one of them so not to touch the stal accidentely), quick work of the mini climb, then onwards and outwards to the sloped belly pull out. I had Emma behind me telling me to hurry up (when your 8 years old you can do these things on your hands and knees). We were all trying not to speak on the way out as the entire last section was swarming with insects! Trying to tie a figure of 8 onto a harness in a swam of insects is no fun! Off Emma zipped back out on the ladder into the sunny, warm daylight. We were sadly too early for the Hunters (a rare occurance for us, seeing as we're usually so late we miss it..), quick chat and key pass back to Roger (with many thanks) and it was off to Priddy for some chips and a play in the pub play park.

The rope love heart to the left was unintentional!

I've now come to the sad conclusion that my 8 year old is probably a better caver than me!