Trying new things can be daunting. There’s that little part of you that always says, ‘what if this happens?’ or ‘what if that happens?’. I’m sure everybody has it and at some point it will have stopped every one of us from doing something we probably should have done. Be bold and brave. Give it a go! Be prepared, but do that thing you’ve always wanted to do and you might just discover, like us, that most of the worries we have are nothing like the reality (for the better!).
It was during a trip to Wales that we visited the National Showcaves centre. We had talked about caving, but neither of us really imagined that we’d be crawling around in tunnels that were dark, wet and only just wider than our shoulders anytime soon.
“Would you ever try caving properly? I wonder how you’d get into something like that”
“Perhaps you’d have to join a club? I’m not sure if they’d be very VI (visually impaired) friendly and it’s probably dark and cold’’
A few weeks later, we met Fraser, an outdoor instructor who seems to love being wet, cold and jumping off things into pools of water. We also found out that he’s a keen caver, working towards one of his qualifications, and he invited us to go caving with him ‘some time’. We all know that when somebody says ‘some time’ it usually never materialises, but not so with Fraser. A few weeks later we met him in the Inglesport Café (a place where cavers seem to hang out) in North Yorkshire. We sat down with a cup of tea, looked over a map and discussed plans. He seemed to have considered the fact that John can’t see, so we confidently left the café to collect our equipment.
We drove to the cave, got kitted up and felt super toasty in our bright red suits (a feeling that was to be short lived!) We reached the cave entrance; a fast flowing stream that disappeared into darkness. We put our head torches on, scrambled around holding on to the sides while we waded through the stream. We laid on a flat rock and entered a small tunnel. Lauren went first, John was in the middle and Fraser was at the back.
The tunnel wasn’t much wider than our shoulders and moving was a struggle. We’d gone perhaps ten metres down the tunnel and John said “I’m not sure I can do this. I think I may be slightly claustrophobic.” The tunnel seemed to widen, so we continued a little further, which is when Fraser realised that we’d taken a wrong turn. We went back through the twisty tunnel, back through the puddles and just 20mins into our caving career, we were wet, cold, had wellies full of water and were unsure as to whether or not we should call it a day.
We didn’t. John decided that as long as we didn’t have to ‘belly crawl’ too much, he could give it another try. Fortunately, things were much better down the right path and we were almost enjoying ourselves. It was a challenge for us. There were deep pools in places, key hand holds and lots to hit your head on, all of which John had a hard time seeing (his 3% vision becomes zero in the dark). Considering John was the first blind person Fraser had taken caving, he did a superb job of guiding.
We reached a place known as ‘Dolly tubs’ (a series of deep pools of water with just a small ledge of rock between) which needed crossing before reaching the abseil point. Fraser worked some magic with the ropes and told us what to do. The descent was pretty interesting. It was incredibly wet for starters! John had to take out his hearing aids but luckily, he still seemed to be able to hear thanks to the cave acoustics. It was a bit daunting dangling on a rope between walls of rock and a waterfall, but we made it down to ‘Allum Pot’ which was an opening in the cave. It was a great view, and one that we’d worked hard for, but getting there had taken a while and it was all too soon time to turn back.
‘Back’ involved ascending up the rope we’d previously abseiled on. It was tough and the water flowing on to our heads felt icy cold. The extra weight of the water in our wellies wasn’t at all welcome while we were trying to haul ourselves back up the rope with our climbing kit. We did it, but our hands were numb, we were soaked through to our undies and we were freezing cold. We upped the pace to warm back up and retraced our steps towards the cave exit. Daylight! Feeling the warmth of the outside air was incredibly welcome.
“How was that?” asked Fraser
It was almost everything we were worried about. But would we do it again?
*in a drier and slightly less squeezy cave
While caving for us fell firmly in the ‘Type 2 fun’ category, it was a great experience all the same and we look back on it surprisingly fondly. We had worries and doubts before giving it a go but what was true for this little adventure and as it is with nearly all others: the stuff we were worrying about beforehand wasn’t at all the stuff that gave us problems! We didn’t get trapped underground and have to cut off one of our limbs, but we never expected that John would be claustrophobic!
The lesson in all of this – don’t worry too much and definitely don’t let those worries stop you from stepping out of your comfort zone or saying yes. Things won’t always go to plan, but it’s part of the adventure and often the bit we talk (or laugh) about and remember the most. Problems will occur, but they are rarely insurmountable. We deal with problems all of the time and there’s some great comfort to be had in being able to think ‘I know problems are going to happen, I don’t yet quite know what they are but I’m prepared and I will probably be able to handle them’.
Check out the T-Shirt Twins’ video for more details on their caving adventure - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKDDrjgTrso