Madness in stores! So began the infamous trip to Derbyshire, with two minibuses to be loaded with gear and excited cavers. Packing your kit earlier on in the week is definitely the way to ensure you're not missing anything. Stores was stripped of oversuits, harnesses, SRT gear, and wellies (but only the ones in the size desired of course).
Jarv and company departed in their minibus for a journey of fun while the rest of us waited for Dan and Nathan to join us. Once present we jumped in the minibus and set off for the M1. The journey was uneventful until we actually got to the winding roads of Derbyshire, where various excursions up the wrong roads and into muddy fields that threatened to take the minibus as a hostage provided entertainment! Still we got to the Orpheus hut eventually, greeted by stern gusts of wind and the rest of our happy caving clan.
After a lot of faff exchanging kit bags between minibuses, freshers packing rope, and the standard breakfast of bountiful energy, we set off to our respective destinations: Giant's and P8 in one van, Maskhill mine and Winnats Head in the other. The wind was still well up and whistling across the hills; near took your breath away when changing, and certainly took your body heat!
Leaving our money in a box, we made the short walk to begin our relatively enjoyable jaunt around the Giant's Hole Round trip. Into the large entrance hole and follow the passage along to Garland's Pot, the ladder pitch, where while waiting for Dan to ready the ladder and lifeline we heard the familiar 'eyy ohh!' salutation of fellow Imperial cavers behind us. Jarv's group had, despite all the time preparing their tackle bags in the morning, managed to forget the rope for their trip - classic mistake! So they'd come to join us.
In a rift opposite the bottom of the pitch - I remembered ladders from Swildon's in the Mendips and thankfully did not crush my finger against the wall this time! - begins the aptly-named Crabwalk, which some have called an extended sick joke but didn't seem so bad to me, just tedious. It seems endless though of course it isn't, not at all. Some squeezes and many twists and turns later, the Crabwalk narrows to the Vice. You'll probably either not notice it at all or take a dip in the stream to continue on. Very refreshing.
Eons later (or maybe only a few minutes, who knows or cares) we reached the end of the Crabwalk. We took a look at the sump and a quick break to eat the insanely rich dark chocolate Saber had brought along for the trip. The whole group was needed for that. We entered the Eating House and one by one tackled an upwards climb with in-situ rope. Further on we could either go through a brief crawl or take an easy passage that looped around to the same destination. Dan proclaimed only boring people took the passage, not that Thomas cared! After this short crawl which a couple of us, watching others come through, nicknamed the birthing canal, we continued on through another crawl.
A free climb up a cascade followed; beyond we stomped upstream to the junction where the Oxlow Caverns can be accessed, or at least could be if the farmers allowed it. Here I became acquainted with the infamous Giant's Windpipe, with an ominous sign about sumping in wet weather. Having heard so much about it I wasn't looking forward to it, and it was rather unpleasant - an awkward flat-out crawl half filled with wonderfully muddy and cold water, where you can just about avoid getting your head submerged towards the end if you keep your wits about you. A few curses and a mouthful of muddy water followed - I could still feel it sloshing about inside me after the trip. Yum(!).
Clumsy and shivering we hauled ourselves out of the end of the windpipe - the water goes straight down inside your furry and I'm sure lesser men than we would wear wetsuits! Continuing along the passage, it emerges in the roof of the Crabwalk. Traversing the walk is faintly concerning, but amusingly followed by a tentative wedge-yourself-in descent to the bottom of the rift. Going back upstream looked nothing like going downstream did to me and I was pleasantly surprised when a climb up on the right emerged almost immediately at the base of the ladder pitch. You could feel the cold fresh air on your face as we headed to the entrance, and upon climbing out of the hollow the wind hit in full force.
But our journey didn't end there. Our arrangement was to walk and find the minibus at P8 if it wasn't waiting for us at Giant's.
We had no real idea of where P8 was.
An hour of traipsing down a sloping country road and then back up it followed, heads bowed into the wind, stars blinking behind clouds. There was no fun to be had here but the movement did at least keep us fairly warm, although Kate said her hands were numb by the end! Depressingly we couldn't find the van anywhere, so we went back to the Giant's parking here with faint hopes. No such luck. We were just approaching the road to find the other van when lo! ICCC headlights illuminated us. Saved, we crowded behind the minibus in the slight windbreak it provided, changed briskly, and heard all about what took so long at P8 on the trip back to the Orpheus hut.
Thomas set us to work on dinner once we got back, chopping and peeling numerous vegetables. I remember that dinner being splendid, but not very much about what it actually was. But all that really matters is that it was beautiful.
Woken at some unearthly hour as Jan, Jarv and eager freshers roused themselves for a caving trip to Peak Cavern, it was with relish I snuggled back into my sleeping bag and returned to sleep. After breakfast and cups of tea, thoughts of going caving were exchanged, followed by more tea. After generally lazing around watching the sheep through the window, and more tea, we roused ourselves enough to tumble into the van and take a trip to picturesque Bakewell.
Bakewell must have been the busiest place in England that Sunday, lit up with Christmas lights and heaving with people. Hilarity ensued as we tried to exit a car park that had no room for us, with accompanying shouts of, "Just keep going, Alex, they'll get out of the way!" We admitted defeat and went to less-picturesque Buxton instead. With all the time we'd spent faffing in Bakewell there was only limited time for a drink in Buxton before we bundled back to the Orpheus to clean up and eventually depart for the bright lights and ridiculous one-way systems of Londontown.