Author: Barney McAdams
Disarray is good. Disarray leads to stress and swearing and barely making it onto a bus and that makes the sigh of relief when you are sitting comfortably on the Ulsterbus Goldliner all the sweeter. Four newbies (myself included), we sat as the bus hurtled into the dark Ulster countryside, ferrying us to Enniskillen where our adventure would begin. When we got to said thriving metropolis we had some immediate concerns, rations had to be purchased, the finest Subway sandwiches and some refreshing alcoholic beverages. A taxi was then called. "Taxi man, to Cladagh Glen, and make haste for tis Baltic!" we cried, but no one knew where it was so we drove in the direction of marble arch caves while frantically trying to contact our caving brethren who had got there before us. Eventually, one surprisingly cheap taxi fare later, we arrived at the scout hut where we were to spend the weekend, met the others and libations abounded. Everyone got on like a house on fire (screaming and wailing and crying and smoking) and we made friends with some southern chaps who were also up to cave. One of them, a chap called Petie took myself and another QUB miscreant for a scramble up the side of a hill in the wet, primordial dreamland of Cuilcagh mountain park, so we could meet some guys who had been caving all night. This was circa 4 am. They did not show up but even at night by the light of a headtorch obscured by a drunken haze the surroundings were something to behold.
The next day we awoke rather late and surveyed the pre-emptive retribution wreaked upon one of our number in his sleep (the work of some marker wielding goblin, no doubt). We feasted on sausage and tea, packed our wetsuits, oversuits and caving accoutrements and jumped into the more experienced dudes'(our guides on our trip to the netherworld) cars. We stopped in Blacklion, a wee town just over the Cavan border to get batteries and then went to our destination. Pollnagollum of the boats. After we had stuck on our gear for deep play we ambled up the road a short distance then over a wire fence into a field, as we approached a copse of trees the ground fell away before our feet and a giant cleft in the earth was revealed. We scrambled down the uneven, sodden, green banks and cast our eyes upon the massive rock face that seconds before had been hidden from view. There was a large opening at the bottom of the grey stone but upon inspection it did not seem to go anywhere, confusion gave way to a twinge of panic as we were ushered into a hole in the ground about three foot across. It went straight down, twisting it's way through massive boulders, collapsed in the way back when. "don't touch that one, it's loose." Oh shit. There was a small chamber, another descent through twisting tunnel and then the cave opened out. Apparently 40 metres down. The torchlight picked out a high ceiling and a rope extending into the blackness across a dark lake. A FREEZING, dark lake. Much climbing and swimming and freezing ensued as we pushed our way through the alien landscape with its stalagmites and stalagtites and fossils frozen in time and then made our way back. Climbing up the boulder choke was a pleasant struggle and then we burst out into the cold Fermanagh drizzle. A hurried clothes change in the nippy pissage, into the car and back to the scout hut. Iceland Bolognese sauce turned into a greasy mess which was wolfed down with no ceremony. After some sitting about Al and Steve took us to the shop/pub respectively. Nice pub, warm fire, sleepy pub. NO! NO! don't fall asleep on the stool Steve! you'll fall into the fire! Back to the scout hut to bed I think.
The next day a massive fry was cooked. The dubs and cave champions went to practice rope work and us inexperienced chaps, led by slightly more experienced Conor (The Cap'n) pulled on our damp, cold gear for deep play and went in search of caves to climb through. After a good bit of searching we finally found a cave (beside another barred off cave with a memorial to some cavers who had died in it) we made our way through it, it was a lot easier going than the one before, but still had some speleothems and fun bits of climbing, ducking and freezing water, we came out out of puff. We looked for some more caves and were unsuccessful, walking through the lovely countryside was great craic though.
On our way back to Belfast everything went wrong, buses were missed and many utterances unfit for the ears of children were spat out. Four of us were stranded in the wasteland that is Enniskillen for the night, it is a cold, dark place, full of sulphurous fumes, misshapen, shoggy beasts and ale houses which close early on a Sunday night. Ach no, it was grand. We were taken to a hostel, left off our stuff, finished off a bottle of rum and went to wetherspoons for some yummy scrummy microwaved cardboard washed down with fine strong cider. We went through a couple of bars until the town appeared closed for business and then back to the hostel and to sleep.
Morning. Bus home. The empire. Going to class with a giant barrel of helmets, finally getting rid of said barrel of laughs in the P.E.C., Ringing a Belfast taxi firm whose receptionist did not know where the P.E.C. or the embankment was. Getting home. Bliss.