It’s hard to believe, but some people’s idea of an exciting and interesting day out is to crawl through tiny underground caverns and passages which are often half filled with water. Caving, which is also known as potholing, spelunking in the USA or speleology is growing in popularity with adventure seekers of all ages.
There are obvious risks in exploring caves which are deep underground, and the best way to get started in the sport is to join one of the numerous caving clubs and societies. Clubs have regular expeditions to local caves as well as trips further afield and even abroad. Caving can be a fantastic way of getting fit and seeing a totally different aspect to the British countryside. The main areas for cave systems in the UK are in North Yorkshire, the Mendip hills, Derbyshire and South Wales, so geographical proximity to these areas offers greater possibilities for caving. Bristol is the center of caving in the UK, and is home to the UK’s oldest organized caving club.
It is foolhardy and inadvisable to go off exploring caves without the proper equipment. There is a big crossover between caving and climbing equipment, and many of the same items are used. Cavers require hard hats to protect them from low roof areas or falling debris, and many have helmets with lights mounted on them to help with navigating through the cave system. Thermal and waterproof clothing is often worn, as are waterproof hiking boots. Climbing equipment such as ropes, harnesses and knives are used for ascending and descending almost vertical rock faces. All responsible cavers will also carry whistles and emergency supplies such as first aid kits.
Caving as a sport has been popular in the UK for over a century, and as a consequence of its popularity, all of the major cave systems in the UK have been thoroughly explored and mapped. This makes caving easier for novices, as comprehensive maps are available for guidance. For experienced cavers who prefer to strike out on their own and discover an underground world where nobody has gone before, the best caving opportunities are overseas. One of the most popular destinations for caving is Mexico, where there are large numbers of underwater caves just waiting to be explored fully.
Caving is thought of as a dangerous sport, but it does not necessarily have to be risky if a few sensible precautions are taken. Never go down into a cave system alone, and always let someone know where you are going and what time you expect to be back. Carry some emergency first aid supplies and extra clothing as the main causes of hospitalization due to caving injuries are hypothermia and injuries sustained in falls. Check the weather forecast carefully, as heavy rainfall nearby can result in dry caves flooding with water very rapidly. Getting lost is a problem sometimes experienced by novice cavers, so caving with experienced cavers is the best way to stop this happening.