Ireland Easter Tour
Cecilia Kan, Christopher Bradley, Dave Kirkpatrick, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Ana Teck, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Linus Thümmel
I left from cave house with Matti to catch a train to Peterborough where we met Diss for a ride to Rhys’ and Cecilia’s house. Other than the risk of knocking commuters out with our big rucksacks, the journey was pretty uneventful. In the car everyone got extremely excited about white chocolate & lemon cookies from Waitrose. Cecilia and Rhys have very comfortable beanbags and an excellent selection of teas.
We had to get up horrifically early to drive to the port in Liverpool. Diss, Ellie, Linus and I took the 8-hour ferry to Dublin. This was the smoothest ferry I have ever travelled on (but probably also the slowest). We concluded that this was far superior to the fast ferry from Holyhead though because we got lots of free food. They fed us breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus a continuous supply of tea/coffee/hot chocolate and biscuits. We had glorious weather and I highly recommend napping on deck in the sun. We then drove from Dublin to the Airbnb with a quick stop at Tesco (apparently British club cards don't work in Ireland, so rude). We had a great time laughing at the fast that give-way-signs say YIELD in Ireland and marvelling at the narrow lanes. Finally, we arrived after dark as the last team at the shiny, shiny Airbnb. Sadly, we were two humans short, because they managed to get covid on the day of travelling.
Doolin River Cave - St Catherine's 1 to Fisherstreet Pot: Cecilia Kan, Christopher Bradley, Dave Kirkpatrick, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Ana Teck, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Linus Thümmel
We met up with Stan and Brian, two local-ish cavers, to go to Doolin river cave. The drive to Doolin included some stunning views of the sea. We changed in the glorious sun behind The Lodge while Stan and Brian, with the help of Diss and Matti, pre-rigged the pitch in Fisherstreet. This entrance is so close to the main road in Doolin that music could be heard from the cafe in the cave. We then drove two of the four cars to a farm near Catherine's One. Some miscommunication and intentional misleading near the entrance resulted in some of us exploring extra crawls and a little streamway. Some photos occurred which involved a human pyramid. Some streamway happened that was smelly, but we did not get too soaked (Linus was happy to have changed out of his wetsuit). Overall, a fun through trip. We had a drink at the pub in Doolin afterwards and headed back to the house for delicious pasta bake.
Excited for our first day of Irish caving we arrived at the rendezvous point 10 minutes early, much to the dismay of the Irishmen who arrived just on time. Some faff was had since we needed some cars at the entrance and some at the exit necessitating all 11 of us to fit into 2 cars. I was thoroughly amused when us simple-minded Imperialites couldn’t fathom the idea of fitting 11 people into 10 seats until it was spelled out for us.
Brian gave us a rundown what to expect and, just before entering, mentioned that he had been trapped for a whole night when he had been caught out by rain. Anyway, we should be fine. Quite near the entrance we got to a fork. The ensuing conversation went something along the lines of:
Diss calls from the front: ‘left or right?’
Brian from the back: ‘Wherever the water goes’
‘There is no water’
‘Go where the water would go if there were water here’
‘If I were water… I’d go right’
‘Is it left?’
‘Could be, could be right’
‘Ok I’m gonna go right’
4 people went right ahead of me so I went right… and no one followed me. I figured the paths would just meet up later on. They didn’t.
After some crawling, Diss calls back: ‘Is everyone still there?’
I call: ‘No there’s no one behind me’
‘Haha funny… Are we still going the right way?’
‘No I’m the last person’
Ana: ‘Bruh what’ (or something to that effect)
I seemed to be the only person that found this funny. We turned and made it back to the fork. I think Ana wanted to reprimand Brian for actually letting us go the wrong way without calling us back but I’m not sure if she did. Once at the main chamber Rhys faffed with lighting for many many minutes to ensure I got to crush DKP and Chris for as long as possible for our group photo.
The final section of cave was quite a low stoop through waist high water, which I thought was uncomfortable enough, but Brian mentioned that the last time he had gone through here it was to do rescue training, dragging a stretcher through neck-high water, so I felt a bit better after that. This bit connected to the sea so we were frequently joined by terrifying monsters of the deep. Just before it got too arduous to be enjoyable we had reached the exit pitch. As I got to the top I noticed our rigging tree was less stable than bitcoin’s market value so tried to avoid its gaze as I made sure Linus got up safely.
Cheeky pint at the pub afterwards, where Brian and Stan told stories about the huge, slightly terrifying sounding matchmaking festival that takes place every September in Lisdoonvarna just down the road. That also spurred someone finding the Lisdoonvarna song about said festival by Christy Moore, which became the theme tune for the tour.
Our first Irish cave and we were lucky enough to have genuine (Ir/Pol)ish cavers as our guides, Brian and Stan. We waited for them outside “The Lodge” in Doolin and when they arrived they ushered us around the back of the building to a premium parking and changing space. It pays to have contacts it seems. We asked about wetsuits, and they said the water levels were low so they weren’t needed.
Once we were ready they wandered 50m into the adjacent field and disappeared into a copse of trees to prerig the exit. As this was the only SRT of the trip we also pooled our SRT kits into a bag to be lowered down. Finally, we squeezed 11 of us into 2 cars (legally of course, officer) and drove to a farm 5 minutes away. We parked outside the farm house (again it seems to pay to have contacts) and made our way to the cave which was only a short distance away.
Embedded in a mess of brambles and old fencing, the muddy entrance was not too appealing. Brian told us about the time he had been flooded in when a lagoon, constructed by the farmer, burst. He reassured us that the lagoon had not been rebuilt. The entrance series was a series of easy crawls and little climbs in boulders.
At one point Brian and Stan attempted to send us all down a passage whilst they scampered off down another. The wisest of us (Cecilia, Me, Dave, and Chris) followed them instead once we realised. We waited where they expected the other half to emerge. They did not. When we went looking for them, they had found a different route and were heading towards one of the smaller entrances nearby. Reunited we carried on.
Another obstacle blocked our path, “The Toilet Bowl”. Named not for it’s appearance but for the way its constriction allows the upper half of the cave to flood completely but leave the lower half relatively dry. Despite a warning that it was difficult to find the way through, it appeared to have only one junction, but were also warned that the boulders shift around a lot.
Beyond the cave is a walking tunnel following the stream most of the way to the other entrance. The characters changes somewhat throughout, with some meanders, some wide sections, some tall sections, some small decorated collapses sections, some very smelly sections. Overall though it was bizarre to be walking upright for so long in what felt like a UK cave.
Towards the end the roof lowers and a nearly flat out crawl marks the final trial before you emerge into small daylit shaft. Apparently this end of the cave is tidal, but we were approaching it at low tide. It was unclear to me if it’s impassable at high tide or not. Our rope and SRT gear were waiting for us so the drivers exited first and performed a very efficient shuttle to retrieve the cars.
We popped into the nearby pub with our guides for a creamy pint.
Our first caving trip in Ireland without local cavers: Poulnagollum to Poulelva through trip. I was tasked with rigging Poulelva for the way out, but it took me a while, and 4 extra sets of eyes, to find the correct side of the pitch. The entrance is a big pitch in the middles of a wild jungle-y patch of bramble and wild garlic (my kit may never smell the same). We first made the mistake of approaching from the wrong side and attempting some minorly dodgy approaches. Walking around the outside of the fence turned out to be the correct thing to do. The pitch is extremely beautiful, with loads of greenery, a scenic waterfall, and a ridiculous number of p-bolts. We then drove to Poulnagollum and met Matti running towards us, to find out why we were taking so long. We drove right past him. The descend into Poulnagollum was via slippery slope and a super short crawl. Then followed lots of streamway, some pretties, and then much crawling. Diss and Ellie, in wetsuits, enjoyed a 'whirlpool' and generally plunged themselves into every puddle they could find. Rhys picked lots of wild garlic, while Ellie derigged. Said wild garlic was used in a delicious meal of vegetable-potato gratin and fried broccoli.
On our own this time we set sights on the longest cave in Ireland, Pollnagolum. Much like Doolin River cave it has a couple of through trips that are possible based around a main streamway. We were doing the popular Pollnagolum to Poulelva trip.
This one also required a rigged exit and shuttle so we split up and changed. I was picking up the exit riggers so I joined them after changing at the entrance. I found them trying to find the way down into Poulelva, which is a large shaft in the middle of a copse of trees, brambles, and an insane amount of wild garlic. The vegetation made it very hard to see anything of the shaft itself. We first looked for a way down on the side nearest to the road but eventually spotted the bolts on the far side. Wading through the allium forest and back round the fenced off enclosure, there is an obvious path to the first bolts. Ana rigged and we headed back to the entrance.
Unfortunately we’d taken some time and those waiting at the entrance were getting a bit cold. I grabbed the rope, supposedly for a handline and walked the 2 minutes to the cave. I would highly recommend the rope, as I would free climb it as the description suggests you can. Speaking of the description, it is extremely difficult to work out the main route. It suffers from the same disease as Mendip guides and describes every side passage and dead end as part of the main description, with little to distinguish from the main route. I guess it does encourage you to read it a few times.
In the end, despite being concerned that the trip would be long and navigationaly difficult, it was mostly very easy. In the entrance shakehole, we slithered down a hole in the boulders to get to the bottom of small shaft. From there we entered a walking size canyon and there was almost no route finding or non walking passage for the rest of the cave.
We soon joined the main stream and followed it, like the previous day, for almost too long. Just as one can contract stal poisoning in France, I think streamway poisoning is very possible in Ireland. One highlight though was where the stream had spread out into a very wide bedding plain at our feet, but the walking passage was tortuous, person width, and meandering above it. I think there is a similar bit of cave (though smaller) in Cliff Force Cave.
As we approached the end we realised it had gone a lot quicker than expected. It turns out if you can just walk then caving does not take a long time. Some of the group were in wetsuits (which were not needed, though the wetsuited claimed it was comfortable), and were wondering if there were any canals or watery sections nearby but it seems any hope of that was upstream of the entrance.
In the final section of the cave, the water disappears into a too low bedding and we entered into some smaller, dry passage, known as “The Maze”. The description was almost useless here and we mostly followed our nose, and some mud arrows on the walls. The passage itself was interesting, a square tunnel alternating between stooping, crawling, and walking size with small climbs, and tiny streams occasionally crossing from cracks in the walls near the floor.
Eventually we popped out in Poulelva which is a stunning shakehole. Lots of greenery and a nice waterfall pouring in which many of used as shower (as the cave covered us in mud in that final section, despite being clean washed for most of the trip). We exited and shuttled the cars. I picked wild garlic whilst waiting for the last prussikers.
Poll Gonzo: Rebecca Diss, Ana Teck, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Linus Thümmel
We experienced a slow morning with some boardgames, which I avoided. With a fair bit of rain and wind sweeping over the county, I thought that was the perfect time to go swimming at Fanore Beach with Diss, Matti, Ellie, and Linus. Linus made the warm decision not to get in the water. The waves were great fun, and I only had some brain freeze (note to self: invest in a neoprene hood). Changing occurred in the car park with extreme lack of any sensation in my fingers while fighting the wind, which was trying to steal my clothes. On the way back, we turned around multiple times on the same road and learned not to listen to google for navigating. After a quick stop at house to warm up, hang up the wetsuits, and eat some snacks, we went evening caving. We met Terry, Robin, Rowina, and Quentin at some pub car park for a trip into Poll Gonzo cave. We parked by a water plant thing and realised that Ellie had forgotten her SRT kit, but decided we could manage. Some crawling under barbed wire and walking through a field of cows led to the cave. While Diss rigged on some very shiny rope and krabs, Robin and Quentin disappeared down their dig opposite the entrance. They would later join us briefly. In the meantime, we constructed a temporary harness for Ellie out of a battery belt and a sling for leg loops, while two more slings served as cows tails. With this she downclimbed the first part of the pitch while clipped into alpines. The pitch was narrow and had good holds. Then Diss passed her harness up from the bottom of the pitch, via Rowina at the second rebelay, to Ellie at the first rebelay. We found a few leeches on a small detour to look at some pretties. The second pitch was a fun descend through a narrow-ish gap which met up with a waterfall. Again, Diss passed her harness up to Ellie. After the fun waterfall shower, a narrow rift with entertaining cascades and traversing led to a rather smelly sump. Only Rowina and I made it to the sump, the others had turned around just before as we were getting a little close to our call out, but they did not miss much. On the way back I decided to squeeze through a puddle underneath a bunch of boulders instead of traversing over - excellent fun and very refreshing. I derigged and we walked back to the cars. Robin and Quentin had already returned a while ago and updated our call out, so it was no problem at we rocked up one minute after our original callout. Gonzo is an excellent cave! We had a quick drink at the pub, which was open for some youth’s birthday party, and drove back. I ate delicious curry and fell into bed swiftly.
As with the previous morning, despite my wishes to sleep slightly longer, my body decided that 8am would be the time to wake up, not a second later. I tried to get back to sleep for an hour or so but gave up and went for a walk. Following the road parallel to the sea, I was treated to some spectacular views for the hour and a half. I was also pleasantly surprised by how many people greeted me on the way – I guess I’m too used to London where everyone looks right through anyone unfamiliar lest they make eye contact, god forbid.
Back at the hut after some breakfast (bread with chutney and gherkins of course) we had most of the day to kill before we were to meet some people in the evening, so Calico was unpacked and we had an intense game of luring cats. My rug was deemed the most attractive (by 1 point) and the next game was begun where Ellie completely dominated through a combination of beginner’s skill and immense luck.
By the time the second game had finished it was already 15:00, so Diss, Ana, Ellie, Linus and I drove to the beach to go for a swim during a major storm. All except Linus changed into wetsuits and ran into the freezing cold water, battered by hail and rain, barely hearing ourselves over the wind. It was quite surreal to stand facing the ocean, jumping over wave after wave, seeing nothing except sky and sea for half an hour. My limbs did get steadily colder and by the time we decided to leave my arms were involuntarily tensed to the point of severe pain. Diss was reluctant to leave, but also exited with the rest of us. After a frustratingly wet change we bundled into the car and took a moment to warm up. I had avoided getting my head too wet which seemed to have been in my favour – once I was out of the wind and started warming up I felt fine again; the others were muttering about ‘tight skulls’ and severe headaches. Linus just gave us disapproving judgemental looks.
After recuperating at the hut for a bit we drove out to the pub to meet Quentin, Rowena and Robin. We were already late so didn’t spend too much time chatting, just got changed – until Ellie realised she had left her SRT kit at the hut. Some back and forth occurred, but it was decided we’d just pass someone else’s kit up and it’d all work out fine.
On the walk to the cave impressed myself by holding onto an electric fence, getting shocked, letting go in surprise, reflexively grabbing on with the other hand, getting shocked again, and falling into a ditch. Luckily the Irish cavers didn’t see that.
At the bottom of the first big pitch we swung over to a ledge and sheltered from the remining group while Diss attached her SRT kit to the rope, ready for it to be hauled up to Ellie who had free climbed the jagged entrance shaft, securing herself with periodically tied and untied alpines. Leaving the impressive chamber through a crawl we quickly reached a junction, where we had a peek down Marmite Passage, befriending several leeches on the way, and reaching the ‘impressive calcite formation at the end’, which Diss slandered as ‘battered fish’.
Down the second pitch – near the bottom Diss hid in a small alcove to stay dry, but I was keen to get to the very bottom. Clearly it looked immensely worth it as she followed through the water straight after. I didn’t think people were going to continue down the extensions so wanted to have a quick peek before turning around. A series of fun free climbable cascades led you from pool to pool, eventually reaching a semi-submerged duck which I didn’t fancy. Clearly I sold it very well to the others once back at the pitch as everyone but Robin went down. I was to leave with him as we were running short on time, but I quickly had a cheeky look into the northern passage while he was prussiking up. The entrance is completely obscured by the waterfall but walking straight into the wall magically reveals an alcove that leads on to passages similar to the southern branch. Well worth looking at if you have time just for the cool entrance.
We all went for a walk and swim at Fanore Beach, which supplied even better waves than the day before. And this time it wasn’t even raining, but the wind was very strong and icy. Soup was consumed at the pub in Doolin to warm up. At risk of going a whole day without caving, Rhys, Matti, Linus, and I went to Doolin show cave to see the longest free hanging stalactite in Europe (and third longest in the world). It was a nice cave, with some pretties in the bottom and some useful information from the guide. However, we did think that the two-hour entrance crawl (now closed) would have been more fun than the 120-ish steps in a huge artificial shaft. Back at the house, boardgames were in progress and eventually Rhys, Matti, and Linus created dinner.
A couple of wild and wet days in which we avoided caving happened. Instead we visited the Cliffs of Moher (where a cat charged us for parking) and a seagull danced for us, we went for a swim in the choppy sea at Fanore Beach, and saw the third longest free hanging stalactite in the world (once the first) in Doolin show cave (which cost £15.00 which was a bit much really).
Fauna Rusca: Cecilia Kan, Christopher Bradley, Dave Kirkpatrick, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Ana Teck, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Linus Thümmel
We headed to Faunarooska with the most amazing view of the sea while changing in the sun. This cave has a ridiculous number of pretties in the streamway. They just keep getting better and better. We split up at the letterbox, and I headed down the wet pitch series with Matti, Linus, Diss and Ellie. At the bottom of an awkward free climb we realised that that was indeed the 5m climb that is usually rigged with a handline. Due to a lack of short ropes, we had brought lots of slings for this climb. So, while Matti went on to rig the pitch, Diss and I did some acrobatics to get back up the pitch and put lots of slings in place. The wet pitch contained some scary looking hangers, but they proved sturdy enough. The last part of the pitch however did not have any bolts and while supposedly free-climbable, it looks quite slippery, so Matti rigged off a flake with the tackle sack donkey’s dick, as we were out of long slings. When Matti had reached the bottom, I noticed a crack along the part of the flake that we were loading, so we decided to turn around and Matti shuffled back up avoiding the rope. The others had appeared at the top of the letterbox and Rhys convinced Matti to get himself slightly stuck in a tight bypass, while I got myself slightly stuck at the top of the climb. All humans were freed from rocks quickly and we headed towards the dry pitch (not rigged because no bolts were located). Some more pretties, then some traversing. We reached a tight climb down into the rift. Matti went down first and also climbed down the next part. I made it through the tight part but did not much like the lower climb. Since no one was too keen to continue to look at even more pretties, we turned around at this point. A long meander-y exit followed and we emerged to more stunning views across the bay to County Galway. The day was completed with an evening trip to Ennistimon for music in a pub with Robin and Quentin. We got pizza from nearby shop and were allowed to bring it into the pub. We couldn't really hear the fiddles in the back and moved closer later. At this point Diss and Ellie decided to sit under a bar table (something something laughing gas), while Matti wandered off and talked to lots of people. Chris and I were wondering whether everyone had gone insane.
Fauna Rusca has an absolutely obscene collection of formations. The passage just walks over pretties that would be coveted and protected anywhere else, but they were in such an abundance here that their value had declined to a negligible amount. The winding streamway that meandered its way through the formations was quite reminiscent of a Yorkshire streamway.
At the intersection near the bottom my splinter group was determined by an intense game of rock-paper-scissors. I tried to rig a rope down the shitty pitch, but ran out of slings as they had been used for a handline earlier so I tried to improvise a bit with the rope available. Part of the way down an extremely noisy passage Ana called down to me that I had rigged off of a ledge with a giant crack in it, and that the group wanted to turn around, so we headed back to the junction.
Almost at the intersection: Rhys calls out that he’d found a bypass to the tricky climb. I squeeze through a crack in some rock and see his light through a tight wet squeeze at about head height. I managed to get my head through without too much difficulty but my SRT kit was giving me trouble, so I ended up wedged horizontally with my face in a puddle. Little did I know this was exactly what Rhys had hoped for – he had been waiting for an opportunity to mercy-drown me all week.
Switching routes, our group headed down the dry route. A thoroughly enjoyable traverse (completely covered in decorations of course) led to a tricky free climb which most didn’t want to do, so they waited while Ana and I climbed down and had a quick look into the passage further down. This was possibly the most decorated place I had ever seen - every possible wall space was covered in calcite, and although it was quite enclosed there were little bridges and shelves everywhere that increased the surface area even more. The saturation of stalactites was almost sickening.
We were invited to an evening of live folk music and pizza by the fellow cavers - an offer too tempting to decline. The pub had proper local Irish pub vibes which I loved; quite a small space, everyone knew everyone, fantastic musicians at the front... We were a bit late to the party so had to take the last table by the toilets, so were gradually concerned when a steady stream of people entered and exited the toilets far more regularly than one would expect, and always holding a pint. We became convinced it was Irish tradition to take your pint to take a piss.
I was frustratingly far away from the music though so I occasionally drifted away from the main group to sit by the musicians at the front in the only free spot - squatting under the stairs. After a short while an intimidating man with an immensely thick accent turned around and shouted 'Ah! Join the Crack!' He said some more things which I didn't stand a chance of deciphering, but walked past later on and ruffled my hair aggressively while shouting 'Ah you're still young!' which I found hilarious. Later on another man struck up a conversation, first mentioning he used to run an art stall in Camden market, but rapidly switching to trying to convince me that two rods of hazel rods embedded with copper wire could find underground streams, which I was too confused by to disagree with.
Once we were finally back at the hut a walk was had in the early hours of the morning, where creepy faces stared out of the trees as Chris, Ellie and I crept through the deserted lanes.
Finally the weather cleared and we visited Faunarooska which was recommended by some of the Irish cavers. It has a very exposed parking spot, overlooking the sea so changing was grade 2. A 15 minute walk up the hill finds a brambly, muddy entrance (a pattern emerging). Cecilia, Chris, Dave and I formed the crack first time who were tricked into carrying bags.
Once again we the description was somewhat impenetrable but we had decided that there was almost no route finding, which turned out to be basically correct until the final bits.
The top two thirds of the cave are a narrow, tortuous streamway. Some found this tedious but it is my favourite kind of caving, walking sideways between the scalloped walls and climbing small cascades. There wasn’t much stooping and crawling and as we descended into the cave the formations and decorations got better and better. The entire way in we were ooo-ing and aaa-ing at each corner when a new formation came into view.
We arrived near the end of the cave where there is a wet way and a dry way, and up to this point you require no rope. I would say the cave is very worthwhile if you decide to bring no rope or SRT kit.
We split up, Dave, Cecilia, Chris and I heading off down the dry way. The cave is very different here, beginning as longish muddy traverse in the ceiling above a narrow rift. Eventually you climb down (the description suggests a handline but I think it does not help) and find more incredible formations, and many deepy silty pools, which you must climb over and between.
Finally we reached the pitch which supposedly just descends into a sump. We were somewhat miffed to find that there were no hangers here, just spitz, a fact that the description had not made clear at all. We had probably been spoiled by the previous caves all being bolted. Still we were not too sad about missing the sump, just a little put out to have carried the rope all way here (and worn SRT kits).
We return to the wet way just as the other group were emerging. Their way had hangers, and naturals so they’d been able to get down. They were also all wetsuits whereas we were not. We asked if the wet way was worthwhile, and all any of them would say is “the pitch is quite nice”. As we swapped I convinced Matti to climb up a narrow crack in the stream instead of taking the “letterbox” and it was very funny.
I descended the wet pitch. The other in my team entrusted me with deciding if it was worth them coming down. I looked at the narrow way on, and then at the terrifying old hangers that I descended on and decided that if they died just to look at a watery crack that I’d probably get haunted or something so I derigged.
We headed out, taking photos along the way. We emerged into one of the best views I’ve seen caving, with the sun blazing and the beautiful blue sea spread out ahead of us. A great trip!
Pollnagollum: Rebecca Diss, Ana Teck, Matti Mitropoulos, Linus Thümmel
While some humans went off to Coolagh / hiking, I found myself in upper level Poulnagollum with Robin, Matti, Diss, and Linus. I was tasked with the challenge of keep a drill dry that was only wrapped in a plastic bag. But that paid off when I got to put in a bolt - yay! A traverse was created and then Robin bolted a pitch. At the bottom of this a rock flew perilously close past my face, and I decided I would rather freeze standing in water, than get knocked out. A stunning canal passage led to another small pitch, which we rigged as a pull-through. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the graffiti from the first explorers. We were briefly reunited with big streamway that we saw on Monday but soon climbed up to traverse above, which involved a small jump across the stream. When we resurfaced, there was hail at the pitch, but luckily we were only exposed to glorious sunshine. In a bout of laziness, we all ordered fish and chips for dinner. Diss and I went for an evening walk on the Cliffs of Moher and some games followed.
It was our final day, so a few of us bundled into Diss' car and met Robin at the familiar yet still epic Pollnagollum entrance, where he offered to lead us through a little known path, and bolt a section of cave where supposedly only he had ever been before. Robin was super into the history of exploration of the cave and stopped every few minutes to tell stories of where the original explorers had trodden.
Bolting the new section of cave was slightly terrifying – it started as a traverse along a ledge above a tall streamway, but Robin left so much rope between anchors that if he had fallen its only use would be to haul his corpse back up. Fortunately no one fell, but a rope bag did slip down the slope, precariously teetering on the edge before Robin retrieved it. It took quite a while, but the ceiling was blanketed in thousands of tiny fossils so I was quite happy relaxing at the back.
More board games featured in the evening, and the walk presented a beautiful moonlit view across the bay, the flickering lights of Galway twinkling across the water.
Polldonough: Cecilia Kan, Christopher Bradley, Rhys Tyers, Ellie Pizey
I noticed whilst looking at some maps that one of the big caves of the area, Coolagh River Cave, went basically underneath the house we were staying in and that all of the entrances were about 10 minutes walk away. This seemed like providence enough to do a trip there.
We planned a trip from Polldonough South to Polldonough and we ended up going as a 4, me, Cecilia, Elley, and Chris (who had basically been dragged out of bed for the trip). Three of us, excluding Chris, wore wetsuits. I think I would’ve been completely fine in an undersuit, but the wetsuit was fine (I was mostly quite warm!). We had been reassured by Robin (another Irish caver) at the pub the evening before that it was actually quite dry, despite all the drizzle.
The entrance cave was, as is Irish tradition, guarded by an almost impenetrable ring of brambles. We found the most brambleless approach and entered. The cave is a stream sink, and the entrance is a wide low bedding plain. We craled in, flat out with chests in the water. It is quite wide, quite low, and choked in many places with logs and flood debris which is quite disconcerting. It did improve to a hands and knees crawl as it passed another entrance, a rift in the ceiling which let some light in. I think the description mentioned this is “B9a” and it is presumably inaccessible due to brambles.
Here we were glad to climb above the scary streamway into the top of the passage, which was now hourglass shaped. And truly hourglass shaped, as it was narrow and walking height on top, with a constriction beneath, and then the stream below. It’s hard to describe but I’m not sure I’ve seen anything quite like it.
The description at this point makes a point about looking for chockstones wedged in the narrow bit below as a sign that you should climb down into “Column” chamber. This was a bizarre bit of navigational advice as the passage just dumps you directly in front of the grotty flowstone column. Like every other bit of this slightly terrifying cave, it was covered in flood debris.
We crawled in the passages beneath and found our way into the taller “Gour Passage” so named for the remnants of Gour pools that cross the floor suspiciously regularly. They too are covered in flood debris. This leads into a small pitch into the main stream. We brought a ladder for this but there was an in situ handline, Usefully there were hangers to attach the ladder to. I think I would’ve been perfectly happy with just a handline here.
In the main stream we stepped upstream briefly for a dip in Balcombe’s pot, a 5m deep pool, and about the only place where the water was actually deep enough to need a wetsuit. Cecilia, Elley and I were glad to cool off, and Chris was glad that he did not need to cross it. Then we marched downstream following the impressively proportioned passage. The description mentions a “Gravel Pool” that might require swimming, but for us it was just about neck deep. I gave Chris a piggy back across it so that he would not miss out on the rest of the cave.
The rest of the cave turned out to be quite short. Beyond a section of boulder collapse (through which there seem to be a couple of routes) we found a sump in an ominous low passage. One alcove was jammed with frogs of all sizes, in green and orange varieties. We also found a pool that was 50% shrimp by volume, and a newt in unknown health. The flood debris here was very green which disturbed me greatly and I was quite keen to leave, whilst the others were quite keen to examine frogs.
We returned to our ladder and derigged it (though the wetsuits did briefly cross Balcombe’s pot for a look upstream, it was nice enough and I think we identified the end of the Second Bedding Plain). We were trying to exit via the main Polldonough entrance so as we reached the column, we carried on crawling instead of climbing into the hourglass passage. Here the navigation is not obvious and we flat out crawled through some smelly pools and passed a few junctions mostly following the sound of what we hoped was the Polldonough stream in the distance. We emerged into the stream with relief.
This whole section of cave was smaller than I think the description makes it sound, mostly stooping and just about wider than a person. The description is also written for coming from Polldonough so our route finding was mostly based on knowing that we should remain with the stream where possible.
At one point the stream comes out of a flat out bedding plain, next to a drier stooping passage. We followed the stooping passage which eventually came to a small awkward climb, which eventually led (via a crawl) back into the streamway. I think maybe this was the Four Foot pot but the description did not entirely match up. Anyway once back in the stream we were reassured to find the inlet from the West series where it should be and continued on with confidence.
The only other difficulty was a small section where following the greatest flow of water leads you into some low dead end canals, but Chris followed another bit of the stream and found the way. I suspect that as long as you keep trying not completely grim ways that you’ll find the correct way. Here the streamway improved to walking height and we enjoyed a stomp upstream. We found many large white fish who, whilst a bit shy, weren’t entirely bothered by our presence.
Finally the scent of the outside led us to the exit and we emerged into a beautiful glade. Once again the sun was shining and the woods surrounding us had a magical feel. Chris and Elley for reasons only known to themselves immediately disappeared into the woods, which seemed unwise as I was the only one who knew the correct way back to the house. Cecilia and I waited for a few minutes and shouted before we decided to go home and change. We did that and I drove back, returning to the cave entrance apparently just as Elley and Chris returned. They seemed surprised that they’d spent about 25 minutes wandering round the woods, so maybe there is something fay going on.
A good trip, though the cave was quite different to my expectations (very worthwhile though), and I would certainly avoid it in anything but confirmed dry conditions. I found the navigation upstream through Polldonough a bit stressful, hopefully the others didn’t notice, but in hindsight I suspect there weren’t actually many places where you could go wrong for very long.
Morning cleaning occurred to remove all evidence that caving kit had been drying on every available surface for the past week. Lots of goodbye waving needed to happen as the first two cars left for their reasonably timed ferry. The third ferry got cancelled (thank you P&O) and we got put on the night ferry instead. So Diss and I had a sleepy morning at the Airbnb involving pancakes and final tidying attempts. We stopped in Limerick to stroll along the river and have some very hipster lunch in a café. We also attempted to discover Dublin a little, which was very until, but this did end up with us sprinting back to the car (while drinking coffee) to not miss the ferry. We got to see lots of tugs manoeuvre big lorries onto the ferry at shocking speeds. Excitingly the overnight ferry came with a cabin + en-suite. As is the luxury of this ferry, we were very well fed that evening, to the point of nearly exploding.
My day started at 2am to look at the stars and the night-time sea. Based on some unhappy grumbling from Diss’ bunk, she did not much care for going on deck. The real start was not much later with breakfast at 5:45, but the buffet made up for the horrific time of day. Soon after we were driving South, and I am impressed that Diss did not fall asleep. She kindly drove me all the way to Peterborough, where I caught a train back to London. At this point I was in zombie mode but somehow managed to stay awake to write this tour report.