Author Topic: Cave modification  (Read 1899 times)

Offline chunky

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Cave modification
« on: October 03, 2017, 11:20:05 am »
I was somewhat disappointed to hear of the removal of The Last Sandwich contortion in Ogof Draenen in this months issue of Descent as it was to be my pet project over the winter to tackle this.

I know this has most likely been covered a number of times, but thought it worth revisiting as I know there are a number of newer contributors / lurkers around now.

A few months in to having begun caving I did a really stupid thing, I was a full 18 stone back then and was in Giants hole.
Upon reaching 'The Vice' I had a bit of a panic trying to go under it and decided I would climb high in to the rifts to bypass it. Unfortunately this resulted in a rather inelegant face plant and left me with a shattered jaw (Reconstructed with a fair bit of metalwork) and nerve damage to my right side. The stupid thing is that during my self rescue I passed under 'The Vice' to exit!

My very first post on UKcaving was to ask advice about getting through the squeeze on the Swildons short round trip and I have endeavoured to do every squeeze I could find since.
I am proud of having entered the likes of Pen Eyre, managing the short round trip in Swildons etc. In my efforts I have bruised and dislocated bits and made high pitch noises that only dogs can hear!

Of course there are caves and parts of caves I will never see and I accept that, but I get a huge buzz out of accomplishing something that, for me at least, tests by my nerve and technique.

I have no problem with modification for rescue and where it is deemed necessary by the diggers for ongoing passage discovery. But where an 'established' obstacle is present my personal feeling is that it is part of the sporting nature of caving and should not be modified. Just my opinion.

Over to you

Offline MJenkinson

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2017, 11:49:35 am »
Agreed; if it's there and others have passed it then it's part of the cave.  If I really wanted to get down certain caves then I would stop drinking so much beer and lose some weight.  I also believe this attitude should also apply to caves that can be descended using natural belays and also to sumps. 

However it does all tend to get very "grey" and I am sure that many folk will come up with an example which contradicts the above, or shows it is unworkable.  The best example is digging, if you blast a passage so you can get through with your thin digging team then great.  But then what if further on you need some dive gear (or something) and need to make it bigger? In my mind that is still exploration and relatively justified.  But when does this stop? Can I take a dive cylinder down something tight and use the fact i wish to dive the sump "for exploration" at the end as an excuse to knock some rocks about and make a passage bigger?

I don't do tight stuff and my size will stop me well before any other suitable reason (need for other equipment past the squeeze etc) presents itself to make it bigger.

Offline darkreef

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2017, 11:59:21 am »
As one of the original Dreanen Diggers, I totally agree with all of your opinions.  Well said Chunky.

In the intervening 23 years I have found that a lack of flexibility, stamina and a certain increase in size prevents me from venturing to certain areas of the cave I had previously enjoyed.  However, I'm happy in the knowledge that the younger generation can, in the main, still view those remote areas of the cave in the condition they were when we discovered them.

Offline Fulk

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2017, 12:19:14 pm »
MJenkinson says:
Quote
The best example is digging, if you blast a passage so you can get through with your thin digging team then great.

Suppose, then some bigger guys come along and say 'Well, those thin folk opened it up by blasting, but we still can't get through; if they blew it up to get in, why shouldn't we blow it up some more so that we can get in?'

Offline Kenilworth

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2017, 12:32:10 pm »
I have done lots of digging during virgin exploration and survey. Since I never dig any more than needed in order to get through, and since I am very small, it is unlikely many other cavers could afterward follow. So letting the size of the discoverer dictate the final proper dimension of the cave is not exactly fair.

Then too I have also piled up rocks and soil to make a passage smaller and apparently impassable.

Offline NigR

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2017, 12:39:14 pm »
My personal opinion is that this particular piece of cave passage modification was unnecessary and ill advised. Not long after Drws Cefn was connected to Ogof Draenen (eight years ago) it was suggested to me (by a very well known and respected caver) that it might be a good idea to do the self same thing. I disagreed and declined to do so.

However, somebody else has now clearly thought otherwise. Presumably, (from their point of view) for a valid reason, the most likely of which are that either they were too fat to get through as it stood or they have a project somewhere deeper in the cave that will benefit from its enlargement. Of course, it may be (as has been suggested above) that they could already pass the squeeze, have no exploratory projects beyond and simply wanted to make it easier. If this is indeed the case then their actions should be rightfully condemned.

So, I would suggest that (in this specific instance) judgement is reserved until such time as we are in full possession of the facts.

In more general terms, speaking as a digger myself, it is worth bearing in mind for future reference that this type of situation can very easily be avoided. Simply put, don't mousehole your digs and don't just make them big enough for yourself and the rest of your digging team. If you do then don't get upset when someone else comes along and makes them bigger, which they almost certainly will if your dig goes anywhere worthwhile. This has happened to me on several occasions and it is just not worth the hassle and the angst. Whilst you are there, try to visualise the fattest caver imaginable trying to get through your squeeze, take a little time to make it big enough for them and you will save an awful lot more time afterwards as there will be no recriminations to deal with.
« Last Edit: October 03, 2017, 01:13:15 pm by NigR »

Offline Kenilworth

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #6 on: October 03, 2017, 12:47:15 pm »
As NigR says in his last paragraph, there is really no difference between digging by the exploration team and digging by larger cavers in the same spot for the same reason years later. It is really nothing to get upset over, other than perhaps the loss of a sporting obstacle. I make my digs small because I don't want to waste time, or expect/want to be followed. However if someone finds the spot and wants to fit themselves into it, I would never dream of complaining.

Offline MJenkinson

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2017, 01:26:43 pm »
MJenkinson says:
Quote
The best example is digging, if you blast a passage so you can get through with your thin digging team then great.

Suppose, then some bigger guys come along and say 'Well, those thin folk opened it up by blasting, but we still can't get through; if they blew it up to get in, why shouldn't we blow it up some more so that we can get in?'

It was meant more as an example of a less than ideal situation and / or a hypothetical situation, and does support your response.

Offline MarkS

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #8 on: October 03, 2017, 01:33:24 pm »
I think, as has been highlighted by the opinions above, there is really no black and white  distinction between right and wrong. Whether it's OK to enlarge something therefore probably comes down to a consensus. It wouldn't seem great to me for someone really skinny to enlarge something just enough for them to be able to explore it, and then not expect it to be further enlarged if it was worth visiting. Equally, enlarging established narrow sections of popular caves that have been that way for decades also wouldn't be OK in my view.

I think in general passages rarely warrant further enlargement after a digging team consider a cave explored. It's unlikely that a digging team will comprise entirely skinny people, and if diggers have managed to cart drills/shovels/drag trays/scaffolding etc through, most people would be likely to be able to manage it as a tourist trip.

In the specific case of The Last Sandwich I think it's a real shame. It really wasn't a tight squeeze for most people.

Offline andrew

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #9 on: October 03, 2017, 02:35:15 pm »
One of the main problems with modifying a passage after it becomes a main route, is unless you can control access you can put people in danger. The Last Sandwich is a case in point. Chemicals were used to make this larger, with no signs placed to say that they had been used. Fumes and lack of air in the U-bend could have been present and less aware cavers may have entered these with dire consequences. Also there is lots of cave beyond, which digging teams can spend many hours in, goodness knows what would have happened if the modification had happened with a team on the inside, they would have been stuck for days.
Also it ruined my days caving, to get there and have to turn round without getting to the objective, minor I know, but very inconsiderate. I personally do not think this should have been modified and the modification was done in a very irresponsible way.

Offline MJenkinson

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #10 on: October 03, 2017, 03:04:15 pm »
I think a good general sense check is to imagine tapping your empty pint glass in one of the many caving clubs and pubs, and loudly announcing to the gathered cavers what you have just done.  If you suspect that you might just get "Grumpy Jeff" giving it the old "in my day we dug stuff with our bare teeth" then you are probably OK. If you sense that, at a bare minimum, there would be complete silence, or worse, you would likely require medical assistance either from physical assault or being admonished to smithereens by the gathered masses...then maybe don't do it.

"Roger, mind if I stand on your bar a sec..EVERYONE, TING, TING, I was down Swildon's and Not-Birthday-Squeeze was annoying me so I have blown the bast**d up. Just letting you all know. Carry on".

Offline Spike

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #11 on: October 03, 2017, 03:21:51 pm »
This ^^  :thumbsup:

100%

Offline Jopo

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #12 on: October 03, 2017, 03:33:52 pm »


I have no problem with modification for rescue and where it is deemed necessary by the diggers for ongoing passage discovery. But where an 'established' obstacle is present my personal feeling is that it is part of the sporting nature of caving and should not be modified. Just my opinion.

Over to you

As far as I am aware neither of the two (now one) cave rescue teams in South Wales ever contemplated enlarging a passage 'in case' Indeed the opposite was true rescue has never used the prospect of a rescue to either modify a cave or give 'safety'advice other than in most general terms. Cave rescue is there to recover - others can make the caving rules if they desire.

However there have been at least two instances when well travelled passage has been modified by persons without reference to anyone else, including the rescue team. Dan yr Ogof Long Crawl and Ogof Cnwc.

In both cases the whisper was 'to make the tight bits passable during a rescue' when the Long Crawl had previously seen several successful (and a couple not quite so) attempts to get a stretcher through. Practices had also been held through Ogof Cnwc.

In both instances the culprits are known and at least one was common to both instances. I have no idea who modified the Last Sandwich but it had nothing to do with cave rescue policy in South Wales - more likely a caver(s) who dislikes tight squeezes.

The number of cavers with licences is limited and as the timing of the incident can be pretty well tied down it might be possible to find out who was involved if of course anyone should feel inclined to investigate.

Or perhaps they will come forward and explain.

Jopo

Offline Huge

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #13 on: October 04, 2017, 10:07:21 am »
The modification of caves is a grey area but I think that the general principle should be to leave the cave in as close to its natural state as possible. The amount of justification for modifying a particular feature would depend on weighing up a number of different criteria. Some that come to mind are:-

How was the feature originally passed?
If it was just a narrow/awkward bit that was passed without modification, then there can be little or no justification for modifying it later on.
If it was a dig entirely through boulders, then there could be some justification, if it had originally been dug to a point where only a small number of very skinny people are able to pass through.
The same really, if bedrock is removed from a too small passage. In both these cases, if most people are able pass the feature, then there has to be much less justification.
If a passage is cleared of fill but no solid bedrock is removed, then there can be little justification, particularly if it is passable by most people.
This last scenario was the case with The Last Sandwich. A longish, shallow U tube was emptied to leave a small, awkward crawl, not really a squeeze, as has already been said. As far as I know, no solid rock was removed originally.

Where is the feature and how often is it passed?
If it’s at the end of some obscure side passage and it hasn’t entered cavers’ collective consciousness because hardly anyone even knows that it exists, there could be more justification for modification than if it is a recognised feature on a well-travelled trade route.
Again, it’s the second scenario that is the case with The Last Sandwich, it being the main route into the Dolimore Series, with hundreds of people having passed through over the years. So again, little or no justification for what’s been done.

The length of time since the feature was first passed.
If a feature is modified soon after it has been originally passed, then maybe not too many people would worry about it? But if time has passed and the feature has entered cavers’ consciousness, to the point that it gets mentioned whenever someone describes the trip, then it should be left as is.
Once again, it’s this later scenario with The Last Sandwich, it having been cleared out around 20 years ago.

Going by these criteria, there surely can’t be any justification for what’s been done at The Last Sandwich, particularly when you add in the idiotic way it was carried out, with no warning given, with fumes lingering in a small, constricted passage, on a trade route! If we assume it’s been done by a larger caver who needs to go through there to reach a dig, then tough luck, you should have either put up with it or found somewhere else to dig!

Offline NigR

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #14 on: October 10, 2017, 10:26:07 pm »
One of the main problems with modifying a passage after it becomes a main route, is unless you can control access you can put people in danger. The Last Sandwich is a case in point. Chemicals were used to make this larger, with no signs placed to say that they had been used. Fumes and lack of air in the U-bend could have been present and less aware cavers may have entered these with dire consequences. Also there is lots of cave beyond, which digging teams can spend many hours in, goodness knows what would have happened if the modification had happened with a team on the inside, they would have been stuck for days.
Also it ruined my days caving, to get there and have to turn round without getting to the objective, minor I know, but very inconsiderate. I personally do not think this should have been modified and the modification was done in a very irresponsible way.

Hi Andrew,

Having been hit by other people's fumes on several occasions over the years, I certainly agree that it can be a very unsettling, even frightening, experience. As you say, it is very annoying to have your projected trip ruined, particularly if you have had it planned for some time and have travelled a fair distance. So, I really do sympathise with you.

I am, however, somewhat confused by a number of things and I was wondering if you might be able to help clarify them for me? Although I have yet to visit the short section of modified passage myself, I have spoken directly to people who have and I have seen the photographs in the latest issue of Descent. The former have confirmed to me what is immediately apparent in the latter; that this modification has been carried out with clinical efficiency by someone who knew exactly what they were doing and what they wanted to achieve (such is the beauty of modern techniques of enlargement!). Put bluntly, if they had wanted to make it a whole lot bigger then they could have done so very, very easily. Now, the problem which presents itself here is that in order to achieve precisely what has been achieved in such an accurate way requires the use of, shall we say, particular types of "chemicals". Although these chemicals, once used, do produce fumes, these fumes are not especially harmful, being more akin to the smoke produced by large fireworks. This is one reason why this technique is so useful, you can go back almost immediately and carry on working without the fear of any ill effects. Yet the original article in the previous issue of Descent goes out of its way to emphasise the dangers you were subjected to, as do you in your post above. I find this very difficult to fathom and I would be grateful if you could shed any further light on this for me.

The second aspect I would appreciate some clarification about is the actual purpose of your trip: your "objective" as you put it. Now, I am only guessing here (but it is a very educated guess based upon a lot of sound evidence!) that you were going to the long standing OUCC dig in Yellow Van Passage intending to use "chemicals" yourselves. Could you please either confirm or deny whether this is, in fact, the case? (Please bear in mind that I have friends who have recently visited the aforementioned dig and have told me precisely what equipment you have in place there.) So, my next question for you is simply this: were you carrying all the necessary warning signs etc. with you when you turned around (as there is nothing at all along these lines anywhere near your dig)?

Finally, I would like to ask you one final thing. As I am sure you are aware, Yellow Van Passage is situated on land not owned by Pwll Du Conservation Ltd (with whom PDCMG have the access agreement for Ogof Draenen). Chris Densham has been highly critical of anyone digging without the landowner's permission elsewhere in the cave and, being such a highly responsible person himself (being not only OUCC rep but also a Trustee of the PDCMG), I am certain he must have obtained permission for this dig prior to its being started nigh on fifteen years or so ago. So, Andrew, could you do me a favour and ask Chris (I don't think he posts on this forum anymore) who the landowner actually is? We have often wondered ourselves and I really would like to know.

Thanks.

Nig


Offline andrew

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #15 on: October 11, 2017, 01:14:34 am »
I have not been back since either. You may have to PM me with what you think was used, and what the products are, I'm not sure what you are on about. While I know some substances used can produce none posinous products, displacement in a u bend is even worse as the act removes the air leaving only the product which may not be smelt and leaves no oxygen, a death trap on a trade route. Setting off a firework in a closed space then returning to that closed space will kill the person. However, I'm pretty sure this was not used, the smell was distinctively of posinous fumes and headaches where suffered by both Chris and I. However, it's irreverent, there no reasonable doubt that what was done was extremely dangerous, it's a trade route. The trade route part is key, not what chemicals where used. To try to defend the way it what undertaken beggars belief (I'm not saying there is not an arguement to have done it, I do however strongly disagree with it haven't been done.) To use a distraction of Yellow Van, which is a completely different situation, at the end of a passage with a wire running down it, is obviously just a smoke screen (sorry ;) ) The only reasonable action  of a responsible caver is to condemn the methodology used at Last Sandwich. The foolhardiness of the action highlights itself.

I have little knowledge of Yellow Van, but for the bits I know the answers to your implications are wrong, please check your information before making allegations. For example I have no kit there. I'll let Chris answer for himself, I was asked to go allow to do a specific job, and yes I do carry warning signs.

So behind all you distraction your message can be summed up as,  you believe that use of chemicals on a trade route with no warnings is a good thing, it does not endanger other cavers and people who have said it does have made a fuss over nothing. Please correct me if I'm wrong.


Offline NigR

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #16 on: October 11, 2017, 02:42:35 am »
No, Andrew - I do not believe any of this is a good thing (please refer to the initial sentence of my earlier post if in doubt). However, if I am correct in my assumption as to the method used (and I think I am) then I can assure you that you were in very little real danger. Believe me, nobody is more wary of fumes than myself as they affect me very badly (the more you are exposed to them over the years, the worse the effects become). Hence, I took some convincing when first introduced to this technique but I have used it myself (often in very confined spaces) on numerous occasions since and have never suffered the slightest ill effect. Obviously, the more ventilation the better but the site in question here has a very good air flow and any fumes would disperse exceedingly quickly: you might still be able to smell them but they will not hurt you. Your headaches may well have been brought on by the stressfullness of the situation (as I said earlier, I do sympathise with you over this) or maybe it is simply that you are of an overly delicate constitution?

Regarding the position of Yellow Van Passage, I am confident my information is correct as it comes directly from the Grade Five survey data. Do you have access to this data yourself? If so, then why not check it to see if I am right? As for allegations, I fail to see where I have made any. I am merely interested as to the identity of the landowner and I would genuinely like to know. Will you find out for me, please?

I am pleased to hear that you carry lots of warning signs with you, that is a very good example to set.

Offline Graigwen

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #17 on: October 11, 2017, 10:33:29 am »
To the best of my knowledge (I might be wrong) the surface above Yellow Van Passage is owned by the council but the mineral rights are reserved to the Coal Authority. I don't think there is any chance the land is owned by Pwll Du Conservation Ltd.

.

Offline andrew

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #18 on: October 12, 2017, 08:16:44 am »
The air flow was not good that day, maybe the passage was blocked. The important thing is that we are in agreement that it was not good, and whether it was dangerous or just appears dangerous is probably only to be know to the people who did it.

Offline The Old Ruminator

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #19 on: October 12, 2017, 10:08:04 am »
A good example of an unaltered obstacle is the entry to Green Lake Grotto in Withyhill. I have been able to pass it until recently but not on the last couple of occasions. A projection of rock sticks into your sternum and I believe that as you get older your ribs and sternum become less flexible so its not entirely to do with weight gain. Now the knob of rock could easily be knocked off with a lump hammer but there it has remained since 1972 barring access to the inflexible and chunky.  As original discoverer of Green Lake Grotto do I now have the " right " to enlarge the squeeze to view my discovery or allow the larger competent cave photographers like " Chunky " to take photos. Well it's a hypothetical question because I certainly will not do such a thing. Thoughts please.

Offline NigR

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #20 on: October 12, 2017, 12:09:14 pm »
To answer The Old Ruminator first:

Personally, I would say that the simplest solution would have been to knock off the knob of rock back in 1972. Presumably, you did not do so for a reason, the most likely of which is that you (and whoever was with you) were able to get through without doing so. So, would you have knocked it off if there had been someone with you who had been unable to pass the squeeze? Or would you have just said "Tough luck Fatboy, just wait here while we go off exploring!" All I can say is that you must have very patient caving companions if the latter is the case!


Secondly, as Andrew suggests we are in total agreement that the incident back in July which prompted the starting of this thread was most unfortunate and would have been best avoided for all concerned. We had a productive, extremely amicable, telephone conversation (proving, once again, that the old ways of communication are indeed be best) and are both of the opinion that such a thing must not occur again. I do still have severe concerns that the incident has been shamelessly exploited for political purposes, particularly with the publication of the article in Descent, and I will be returning to this aspect in due course. I am, however, happy that Andrew has not been a party to this.

Finally, during the course of our conversation, Andrew made it clear that he only visited the OUCC dig in Yellow Van Passage on an infrequent basis and that he was not involved in its beginnings. So, I will ask again (preferably Chris Densham, failing that any other OUCC members currently involved in the dig) if anyone can tell me who they contacted for permission initially? Some friends of mine have found a highly promising site elsewhere in that part of the cave and are very keen to begin work. Obviously, they cannot possibly do so until permission has been obtained, so if anyone can tell us who to contact that would be very much appreciated. Thanks to Graigwen for his input (his ideas confirm my own) but I would like to know for certain.

Offline MJenkinson

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #21 on: October 12, 2017, 12:17:51 pm »
As original discoverer of Green Lake Grotto do I now have the " right " to enlarge the squeeze

Do you? I am not sure you do.  Or again I guess it depends... if it was completely dugout (i.e. mined) then maybe - but it its a section of cave I am not sure you can go back and enlarge it just because you were first.

If Yeadon had packed in diving and gotten really old, then decided to blast the roof of the sumps to The Chinashop and install a ladder up the climb..would that be viewed as OK as he was first explorer?  Obviously all a bit more extreme than knocking a knob of rock off, but not sure you can claim unilateral rights to amend cave passage just because you opened it up / found it initially.

Offline Fulk

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #22 on: October 12, 2017, 12:55:23 pm »
Oh dear . . . TOR was asking a question, not claiming a right! (And he answers the question with a negative.)

Offline MJenkinson

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #23 on: October 12, 2017, 01:20:12 pm »
And I was responding to a hypothetical question; it wasn't aimed at anyone specifically.

I have no doubt that he wouldn't because as you say he answers his own question with a negative. But it is is rather rare for people to ask a question that they only want their own answer to. Especially when the phrase "thoughts please" tagged on the end, hence I answered with my thoughts....or I have I missed something?


Offline Laurie

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Re: Cave modification
« Reply #24 on: October 12, 2017, 01:27:58 pm »
I got hooked when I was about 7 or 8 (1950ish) when the BBC showed a film called 'Padirac, the black river'. It was years later in Scouting and then the Brighton Explorers Club before I achieved my objective.

Wish I could find a copy of that film, just to see if it's still as appealing.
2015 - Green insurance card swapped for a red one :(