Does Shock survive a trip underground?
It’s a typically chilly British morning and I was heading towards Burrington Combe which is an area of North Somerset, just a few hours drive from London in the pretty countryside of the southern part of the UK. All I knew was that I needed a complete change of clothes and a hope that I’m not claustrophobic.
I drive through winding roads covered in fog until I suddenly hit an area of rocky valleys. I wait in a car park and after some time I am greeted with Andy Sparrow, a very experienced cave expert and the man who was the original contact cave expert for Simon Bowles, The Descent production designer. He reassures me that caving is very safe and that he has never come across crawlers in his many years of caving. After an hour, the rest of the caving party arrives and we are kitted up in caving suits, helmets with head lights, belts and our Wellington boots. Andy gives us a brief and once again reassures us we’ll be safe. Now, I wasn’t really that worried or had really thought about what we were really doing until this point. I think that now I’m in all the gear I realize that I’m going under the ground in the middle of bloody nowhere and itâs damp and slippery.
We have a short walk to our cave entrance and pass other caves entrances on our way. We stop by one which seems to just be a small hole in the ground surrounded by moss and undergrowth. Okay, getting a little worried now. Our last stop is what is to be our exit out of the cave we are about to climb into. We all look at each other, “How the hell are we getting out of there?”
We enter into our cave entrance and are told that this cave area was used as an attraction in the 18th century. I was a bit disappointed to see that the stalactites had been removed by senseless vandals. On entering, I did feel a bit nervous and one of the other girls kept saying that, “if kids can do this then I can.” It’s dark and our only light is our head torches which have been charged, once that charge is gone then we could be pretty screwed; the rocks and boulders are hard and when you are faced with nature you don’t really get that much of a chance. After a few slides through some smaller spaces I did wonder why on earth you would want to do this for fun as we are getting deeper into the ground and I don’t even know these people I’m with, but Andy our cave expert was very experienced and loved his caving. We had brief stops and lessons on cave rock patterns, learning that only bats and spiders pretty much inhabit the caves, but only around the entrance.
I felt lucky I’m not a big girl and was not afraid to throw myself around and get mucky as even though we had tough suits on. We had to maneuver our bodies to fit through small spaces and gaps and after a warm-up we were faced with a choice of large, medium or small. Feeling brave and challenged now I went for the small gap – horizontal and a space which you could shuffle yourself through with your face inches from the rock surface. I realized how important your helmet is as you hear it scrap along the surface, this was pretty intense and I really had to force myself through the rocky gap, I felt more confident if I didn’t stop and just got through as fast as I could. I came out with my heart beating. It was a real adrenaline rush! If you really were being chased by man-eating monsters in here it wouldn’t be an easy escape at all, which you definitely get from the feel from The Descent.
Feeling pretty revved up now and like I can conquer anything, the journey towards the center of the earth felt fun and mischievous. I had no sense of time and we all had a good bit of teamwork going on in the group, helping each other out as we ventured through the gaps and drops. We came to an area of boulders and had another chat with Andy about his caving experiences.
He told a story about how he lost his wife on a journey after she had taken a different turning and it took about an hour to find her. I, for one, would not like to get lost from the group. Andy also informs us that some caving trips can take about eight hours to get just to one side of a cave area and then if there is an accident, for every one hour in a cave you add 10 for a rescue party. Not really good news for us now that we are pretty deep inside. He also mentions that some of the caves the girls go to check out in The Descent, known as the Appalachian cave system in the U.S., are still undiscovered. He also told us caving is becoming more popular with women as they seem to enjoy the team bonding and can have a giggle while trying to worm through spaces, of which we were definitely guilty of on occasions.
We are now coming from a wider open space and are about to embark on a gap known as the “coffin lid,” a large flat smooth rock surface you had to slide down on your back, pushing your hands and feet onto the rock above you so that you don’t go too fast and crash onto the rocky parts below. This was kind of fun and a reference to The Goonies was brought up. We crawl over some more large boulders to a larger open area; to my right is what looks like rocks leading to complete darkness which could be more caving experiences I’m sure. We all make sure we are standing in a safe and sturdy area and Andy gets us to turn off our head lights.
It’s completely dark, so much so that I’m waving my hand in front of my face and I can’t see it. Silent, too, apart from the sound of water running through from somewhere. If I had no light now and had to get the hell out of here I have no idea how I would, I didn’t even have my mobile phone to help me out. It’s pretty difficult carrying anything with you and pockets are best left empty as youâre throwing your whole body about the caves to squeeze through spaces.
It’s now our time to head on out the caves and for the first time, heading back up. We have to get ourselves back over the slippery coffin lid; with a little shove from Andy it wasn’t too bad and I squashed myself around to force my body up. Back over the boulders we go and this time we are faced with a space called the Superman (I love these rock gap names) this means hands and heads first down a little gap, using arms and elbows pulling your whole body along some gravel-like flooring. I had one other guy ahead of me and while I’m hanging head-first in the gap we are trying to figure out if we have to go to the left or right. A strange and slightly claustrophobic situation to be in, which also brings me to a point where we were left in a line sliding through a space and faced with a left or right scenario. We started shouting at Andy and there was no response, for a split second we looked at each other and felt worried until we heard him echoing from a rock gap. For the experienced caver it’s probably not that bad, but for us – scary. For girls with man-eating Crawlers on their ass, then shit scary.
After some more climbing, I’m ahead of the group and told to go towards the light, which was a relief. The climb up reminded me of the final scene where Sarah climbs up towards the opening into the forest, only this was me, assisted with a rope and when I came out I took in the fresh air and was followed by the others.
Going on this caving experienced really did demonstrates the claustrophobic conditions of caving, the darkness and the danger that a loose rock could actually fall and crush you to death. A search party is going to take a long, long time to find you down there, team work is inevitable and it’s damp and slippery. Seeing the cave surface and patterns showed me how good a job the art department did at recreating the caves for the film, such a realism of color and texture. The sound and lighting in the movie is intense and true to nature. You’re surrounded by hard surfaces which don’t play on your terms and I have the bruises on my knees, shins and forearms to prove it. Go and see The Descent: Part 2 (opening in England December 4), it, once again, touches on all our fears of the unknown, the darkness of nature and its beasts.
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Source: Misartress Melanie