CCF Expedition Western Mole

CCF Expedition Western Mole

Over half-term a party of fifty cadets, NCOs and officers made for the beauty of the Mendip Hills in Somerset and Yoxter Camp, a collection of buildings gradually being picked off by sink holes in the middle of nowhere, a few miles from Cheddar Gorge. Saturday saw cadets abseiling at Split Rock, lowering themselves from a nauseating height in gusty conditions down a sheer cliff to the ‘encouragement’ of their friends at the top and bottom. Meanwhile, over in the equally-stunning Quantock Hills, an arduous and extremely muddy mountain biking package tested stamina and the claims of laundry powders in equal measure as cadets powered up and flew down the twisting woodland trails. An evening of laser tag allowed Cpl Palmer to demonstrate exceptional marksmanship skills and Cdt Auletta’s soi-disant friends manfully and literally to shoot him in the back.

A sunny Sunday brought a combined package of dry caving and rock climbing at Burrington Combe. Above ground, the dauntless cadets scaled six climbs on a tricky rock face, belaying one another under staff supervision. Far below them small groups vanished into the myriad natural caves of the Mendips, taking their first steps in caving and learning the basics of subterranean movement and navigation. The beauty of the rock formations combined with the exhilaration of the adventure in what was a claustrophobic’s nightmare, culminating in the Drainpipe: a thirty-metre tunnel just big enough for a grown man to wriggle along head first, and for Cpl Clarke to skip along. Such exertions amply warranted a relaxing night at the cinema before a good night’s rest.

Our final day was given over to advanced caving, and so more durable waterproof cover-alls and fleecy underlayers were donned as the party prepared to tackle the famous Swildon’s Hole. Entering the caves in the torrent of an underground river, juniors had an extended trip around the waterfalls and thigh-deep streams of the upper series; while senior cadets abseiled down (and in) several underground cascades to the first sump, where the water level meets the roof. A six-foot, pitch black, fully-submerged dive, head banging on the roof in vain search for oxygen, was an unforgettable and terrifying experience, but one which the senior cadets handled with courage and determination. For most this was the highlight of a very successful, tiring and enjoyable exercise – a unique and almost otherworldly experience in the chasms beneath the earth and a reminder of the beauty and adventure England has to offer so close to home.

Lt Mathew Owen

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