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An Accessible Underground Adventure: A Comprehensive Guide to Caving in The Peak District

Updated: Apr 24

When most people think about the great outdoors, most will tend to picture mountains, forests, rivers and maybe even the cold. However, not many seem to consider what lies below and the vast array of complex caving systems that exist on our shores, as well as around the world.

A caving trip has the potential to involve all of those above ground activities, such as climbing, abseiling, crawling, scrambling and walking, but in places very few know exist.

Why do we go Caving?

For those that have encountered caving before, it’s well known for it’s tight squeezes, cavernous chambers and rich history. Caves (and mines for that matter) can be found throughout the UK, with the most common caving locations being the Yorkshire Dales, South Wales and the Peak District. Within the Peak District alone, there are 100’s of caves and mines to explore. So, we have plenty of chance for exploration and adventure when we head out with a group.

However, the main reason we like to go caving is because it’s an activity that most of our Adventurers have never done before, not properly anyway. There are certain show caves available in the Peak District that some have been to before, but this is proper caving, how nature intended it to be explored.

A group of Adventurers going caving
A recent caving trip - no suits required this time

Moreover, due to the number of caves we have access to the in the Peak District, there are varying levels of difficulty, meaning that everyone can get involved. These systems can be short trips that last only a hour or so, which are perfect for those not so confident. One of our favourites is Mouldridge Mine in Pikehall. A great example of a beginners cave.

But, there are also systems that can take all day (or several in some parts of the world) to complete. For example, Titan Cave, near Castleton, has a shaft (a shaft is a big hole in the cave, normally leading to another part of the cave) that is 464ft (141.5m) deep! That’s twice the size of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Though this isn’t a cave we access in the service, we do visit more complex systems, such as Jugholes, Carlskwalk and Giants, to name a few. So, there really is something for everyone.

Natural Formations in a Cave

Another reason why we love to go caving is because caves also offer some fantastic natural formations that hang from the ceilings. One of the most prominent features in the caves we visit here at The Adventure Service are stalactites.

Stalactites hang from the ceiling of the cave and look like a silvery coloured icicle. The growth of stalactites is so slow, that some predate modern humans. They are formed over many of thousands of year and take shape from rainwater, seeping through the cave. The droplets of rain collect at the bottom of the tip and over time, due to residue from the caves ceilings and walls, they grow downwards.

stalactites in Treak Cavern in the Peak District
Image courtesy of Peak District Online: An example of some of the stalactites inside Treak Cavern, Castleton.

What To Wear

Depending on the system that the instructor has chosen for the trip, will depend on what you will need to wear. For instance, Mouldridge Mine that we mentioned earlier normally doesn’t require anything different from what we put on our kit list, apart from maybe a pair of wellies if it’s rain a lot in the previous couple of days or so. However, for deeper systems and ones that are prone to be wetter and muddier, we make sure all of our Adventurers have a caving suit on.

For a system like Jugholes or Giants, caving suits are normally needed when we head down below. We provide the suits, along with headtorches, helmets and safety belt, so you don't need to go out and buy expensive caving gear.

Is it Cold in a Cave?

Actually, it isn’t too chilly in a cave. First time cavers normally layer up too much and get too hot. The temperature tends to sit around 6-10°c, year round. Now, that may sound cold, yet, when you’re moving around, with a big cave suit on, a helmet and a layer of clothing underneath, you tend to warm up pretty quickly. Plus, outside elements like wind, rain and snow don't happen inside a cave, so the temperature is perfect for the activity.

How Our Day Looks When We Go Caving:

A caving day is really no different to any other. The service still runs the same, but here’s a rough timeline of how we'd expect a caving day to go:

9:00 - 9:45am: Adventurers will join us at 9:00am, grab their breakfast and warm drink. We then aim to head out around 9:45am to the cave or mine of choice.

9:45am - 11:00am: From our Chesterfield site, it can take as little as 15-20 minutes to reach the caving system. However, from our other two sites (Mansfield Woodhouse and Top Valley) it can take anywhere up to an hour to get to the cave. So we make sure that we have a good playlist on the in the bus!

It’s important to note though, that we have a strict one hour policy when it comes to bus travel time - so if it takes over an hour to get somewhere, we don’t go. We want our Adventurers to be outside, not sitting on buses.

11:00am - 11:30am: Once we’re parked up, the instructor on the day will give a set of instructions to the Adventurers before getting off the the bus. Then, they will head to the back of the bus to get suited and booted with helmets and belts before heading off into the cave.

11:30am - 12:30pm: Sometimes, there is a short walk from the bus to get to the cave itself but after we’ve arrived at our caving location, we usually have an hour or so before it’s lunchtime. However, because we’ve ventured an hour into a cave, there’s no turning round to go out for lunch, so in the cave we stay.

Lunch is normally had in one of the chambers of the cave and once we finish, we sometimes turn our headtorches off momentarily, to experience real darkness, before jumping back up and exploring the rest of the cave again.

12:30pm - 2:30pm: Depending on the system will depend on what time we start making our way out and back towards the bus. We make sure that we are back at the centre for 3/3:30pm, ready for the end of the day at 4:00pm.

However, the trip doesn't end there, as the Adventurers then need to wash down their suits and clean their wellies. Sometimes this happens the following day.

So, the days we go caving are jam packed for sure. But of course, that doesn’t make any difference to us here at The Adventure Service...

Young man poses with his thumbs up, down a cave
Caving usually gets the thumbs up!

Doesn’t all that sound a bit dangerous…

Like with most of the activities we do here at The Adventure Service, there is an element of risk. But we ensure that the risk is managed and the safety of staff and Adventurers is our top priority when we step out the centre doors. That applies regardless of the activity, whether we’re going down a cave, out on a hill walking or tool work.

To ensure our safety when heading down into a caving system, we ensure we have the following:

  1. Helmets - Our heads are one of our most important assets as a human, so we make sure we protect them with a helmet. Due to tight squeezes, we often bang our heads on the walls and ceilings of the cave. So it’s important that we protect our heads.

  2. Ropes - Ropes aren’t always needed down a cave - it depends on the system we decided to go to. However, for the more complex systems, our qualified instructors ensure that they are equipped with the correct ropes, of the correct length.

  3. Headtorches - It's quite dark in a cave, so having a way to see is always useful. We make sure that we take a sufficient number of headtorches with us when we head down a cave, whilst also ensuring we have a few spare and some spare batteries too.

  4. First aid kits - This one goes without saying. We ensure all our instructors are fully qualified in first aid and are carrying up to date first aid kits, regardless of the activity.

  5. We let people know when we expect to be out - This is always useful to do in the outdoors, but for caving even more so. There’s no signal in a cave, so we can’t ring for help if we might need it. Therefore, we ensure we let one of the centre staff know what time we expect to out. The instructor will then call through to confirm that they have arrived safely back to the bus.

Don’t Try This At Home

Unlike the other guides that we’ve written so far on archery, paddle sports and weaselling, caving is not an activity that we recommend you try on your own. Firstly, caving must be done in numbers of at least three. In the case of an emergency, you need one person to stay with the causality and then one to go and get help. Caves are not somewhere you can explore without sufficient training or without an experienced guide or instructor.

The Dangers of Caving

Caving presents genuine risks for both novices and seasoned explorers, emphasising that even those with extensive cave experience aren't immune to potential dangers. Some of the most important things to be aware of when caving are:

Flooding - Flooding happens inside the cave and can often cut off entrances and exits when you’re inside the cave itself. Therefore, checking weather reports and how long the cave takes to flood after rain, are two of the most important factors to consider.

Rockfall - Being a part of nature, it’s obvious that changes will occur inside the cave. Rockfall is a natural occurrences inside a cave (although it can be caused by human activity) and is again something to bare in mind when we head into a system.

Open Shafts - There can often be cases in a cave where big holes (shafts) appear. Again, mostly a natural occurrence, but they can pose a real threat. Some shaft depths are unknown and due to how dark it is in a cave, it can be difficult to see them. This further emphasises the importance of a strong headtorch and back up torchers and batteries. Being down a cave without a light isn’t somewhere you want to be…

We ensure that all of our caving instructors are well equipped with knowledge of the caving systems they intend to go down and monitor the weather and cave reports in the days leading up to a caving trip, ensuring that it safe for the Adventurers to go down. Regardless of how excited the Adventurers are (or we are for that matter) if it isn’t safe, we will not go. The caves will always be there to explore when it’s safe to do so.

A caving instructor informing a group of young cavers how to be safe in a cave
One of our lead cave instructors informing the group on how to be safe in a cave

Are You Ready To Go Caving?

Hopefully now you are fully aware of what to expect when you come on your first caving trips with us. All of our qualified instructors are well equip to make sure you have a safe and exciting experience when heading off down below. Though, and we cannot stress this enough, caving is NOT an activity that we recommend you try outside of the Day Service or Short Breaks without having an experienced and qualified instructor or leader go with you.

Ready to become an Adventurer?

We are dedicated to helping our Adventurers achieve their pote

ntial through adventure and we’re always looking for new Adventurers to join us on our journey.

Follow the link to fill out our referral form, email or call 01623 232102 and one of our staff team will be on hand, to help you get you started on your journey with us.

See you out there!

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