Half a century ago a small caving group had its birth; a bunch of lads, some still at school, who discovered a common interest in things subterranean, chose themselves a name and thus became an entity. In a neighbouring town was another cave club, which had flared and faded (as often happens); ten years or so before they had been involved in the exploration of quite a lot of new caves, but now they had passed into being simply a group of middle-aged men who met regularly for a drink and a reminisce. The young lads invited themselves along to their watering hole, itching to learn about caves in the area, for as yet there was very little written down and things like the internet had yet to be dreamed of. Some of the older club were friendly, but others were unwilling to divulge what they saw as their secrets, and in any case, these secrets were well on the way to becoming folklore. The younger lads, of whom I was one, found this frustrating . It is probably not fair to name the older club, now long extinct, but amazingly, forty years on, one of those older guys rang me up out of the blue to say that they had actually surveyed these mid-20th century discoveries, and he had copies in front of him – but that I was never going to see them! – this fact evidently gave him great satisfaction. Then he hung up. We felt it was selfish and wrong that folk should use caves as a means of private self-gratification.
So the new group, the Moldywarps, decided to try and handle things differently. If at all possible, new caves, once explored and surveyed, should be ‘put out there’ for all the world to share. So we started publishing newsletters and reports. One of our early surveys, of Lynkirk Cave in Weardale, made with a Silva compass and a tagged plastic clothes line, was scribed by hand onto a Gestetner stencil, to be reproduced on a hand-operated duplicator. It was the sort of technology that came soon after we had learned to chip flints, and realised a slice of a log could be made into a useful thing we called a ‘wheel’. Here is a scan of the Lynkirk survey from what is probably the only extant copy of that newsletter. But at least we tried!
It got better after that, but only slowly. Meeting Martin Davies of the YURT (Yorkshire Underground Research Team) was a major step forward – so much so that, living north of the Tees, the possibility of an ace acronym made us consider renaming ourselves the Durham Underground Research Team. Martin was a crack draughtsman who drew fabulously detailed surveys, and helped us survey (and drew up) our first major find, Smeltmill Beck Cave; we tried to copy his style – intricate detail and letraset (stick on, small and fiddly) lettering. The survey were drawn up on blue plastic drawing film, which sadly after a few years auto-destructed, turning yellow and brittle then disintegrating into a host of shards and fragments. Dyeline copies made from them were also short-lived, turning purple and opaque, just like some of the colour slides of the day.
But that was all long ago. Now the world has changed. Cavers and clubs grow old; somewhat to our surprise the Moldywarps, being no more than a disorganised bunch of folk who share a common interest in the Northern Dales, and seeking new caves in other less-well-known areas, are still around. And our founding principle, of disseminating knowledge of the wondrous things we have been privileged to find underground, is still with us. That is why the offer of the North York Moors Caving Club and York Caving Club, representing a generation of young, slim, fit and technologically-aware cavers, to put all our old journals online, is so welcome. Now Eskimos, Hottentots and Kalahari Bushmen may now consult their i-pads and gasp in wonder at what we found in Scroggy Bank Cave in 1968, and their lives will be immeasurably enriched.
Moldywarps have been around long enough now for simple common mortality to take its toll and two long-term friends in particular are now sadly conspicuous by their absence. First was Roger Cooper, ‘Dr Windypit’ from the Hull branch of MSG, responsible for our initial work in the North York Moors; he became the national authority on British landslips, but sadly died before his magnum opus ‘Mass Movements in Great Britain’ could be published in 2007. Far more recently we have lost Ernie Shield, caver, climber and all-round adventurer, who caved in the North York Moors and far beyond as well, he of ‘Ernies’ Inlet’ in Excalibur Pot, a great guy to have known. So this great-leap-forwards is dedicated to their memory. Who knows what the next one will be? Will it be that by wearing head-sets, or simply having microchips implanted in our brains, that any of us at any time can be transported into a fully-sensorial experience of the filthiest and most-constricted recesses of the most obscure Northern Dales Cave? Whether we want to or not? Watch this space
Pete Ryder January 2016