Eurospeleo was officially entitled the 5th European Speleo Congress but was better described by the organisers as Hidden Earth on steroids.
I first became aware of the event at Hidden Earth 2015. Anyone booking at that point got a discount of some 50% and benefited from free camping. All on a book now pay later basis. After a discussion with Fiona on Saturday night I duly committed the Downer family to a week in the Yorkshire Dales. I then spent the following 10 months persuading club members to attend.
By the time the congress started the club had some 20 people (members and family) signed up and we set up a communal camp in the “quiet” campsite.
Like Hidden Earth there was a full programme of lectures during the day although these were more in the nature of sideshows rather than the main event. There were also trade stalls on site plus old favourites like the SRT race. The big difference though was that we were in the heart of caving country. Before the event started some 60 local caves were fully rigged for SRT giving delegates the opportunity to go down many of the classic Yorkshire pots without the hassle of rigging and de-rigging. Laminated guides to the caves were available and a booking system was in operation. As a result most people spent the days off-site caving, walking or visiting the local sights.
In the evenings there was entertainment in the main marquee – something different every night. There were several themed discos, a quiz night, student night (caving games), and a hilarious presentation / sing along – ‘The advent of Speleo Music’.
For those who didn’t want to do their own cooking, hot and cold food was available in the marquee. Fairly basic and limited choice, but all at reasonable prices.
The week started with wet weather whilst people were setting up camp. This gave rise to concerns that the grass car park would soon become impassable. In the event the weather dried up and we benefited from a week of lovely weather.
As we were en-familie for most of the week I was restricted to easier caves. The highlight of my caving week was due to have been a descent down the main shaft of Alum Pot, returning via the Dolly Tubs pitches. A group of us duly booked a 2 hour slot for Alum Pot followed by a 2 hour slot for Dolly Tubs.
We arrived at the Pot in plenty of time and discovered that the rope was in use with a party ascending. It turned out to be a group of French cavers with limited English. They did however manage to tell us that the rope was damaged in the middle of the main drop – it appeared to have stretched and was very thin. This rather put us all off and after some discussion we decided just to go down the Dolly Tubs.
It soon became apparent that the booking system was slightly flawed. It appeared that a number of groups had booked one part of the system with the intention of coming out of one of the other entrances. They had however failed to book the second cave. As a result we were totally unable to get onto the lower pitches due to a constant stream of people ascending from the bottom of Diccan. Eventually we had to retire having failed to reach the bottom.
Elsewhere though many members were taking full advantage of the available caves, with several people successfully completing difficult trips like the Dihedral route into Gaping Gyll.
Bradford Pothole club had their winch set up for the whole week and another benefit of being a delegate was a reduced price for a winch descent into the main chamber. £5 instead of the usual £15. This was well organised with you booking in advance into a specified 30 minute slot. One lunch time a large number of club members made the descent into the flood-lit main chamber. It was very sociable wandering around in the gloom and bumping into people you knew.
The week ended much as it had begun – with rain. This meant that nearly all of the caves were inaccessible and the site got a bit boggy. As a result we took a day out to visit White Scar show cave – again benefiting form a discounted admission. During the tour the guide pulled out her mobile phone to show some video footage from the previous year. This showed flood water gushing out of the show cave entrance.
As were were in the quiet campsite we had been told that we would need to be off site by 8am on the final day. This combined with the very wet weather led us (and many others) to decide to pack up a day early. There was a brief lull in the rain which meant we could pack up in showers rather than torrential rain. We only just got off-site in time though before the heavens opened again.
As a result we missed the final night’s entertainment – Rock Night with the band Rockaholic. Those who remained reported that it was another fine evening of entertainment.
From our nice dry hotel in Lancaster we were happy with our decision though. The news and internet had plenty of footage of the floodwater in the Dales. The entrances to both White Scar and Ingleborough show caves were issuing copious amounts of floodwater. The beck into Gaping Gyll which had been little more than a trickle was now a raging torrent that seriously over-topped the dam that diverted the stream away from the winch route.
So where is the club going next summer? Hidden Earth? Ireland? Matienzo? All it needs is someone to step forward and champion their destination of choice.