The Caves of Northumberland Review
I THINK it's fair to say that few Dales cavers consider going to the uttermost northern part of England for underground entertainment, let alone those from other areas of the country. Traditionally, Northumberland has rarely featured on most caving clubs' meets lists. Yet most of us are aware of the existence of caves 'right up north' and when this new guide became available I was eager to read it and learn more.
With a foreword written by recognised Northern Dales oracle Pete Ryder, the book gets off to a good start. The author's introduction then sets the scene, giving a variety of useful information including basic geology and a simple (practical) grading system. The caves are described in three main areas: north of the county, heart of the county and the North Pennines AONB (the southernmost part).
Coastal caves are then covered in a fourth section. All the details needed to find the sites are provided, including eight figure grid references. An easy-to follow description of each cave is included (but no surveys; these would have been difficult to display in a book of this size and published surveys are easy to find in this internet age). The author acknowledges that many (but by no means all) of the caves are fairly short and that they are spread out over a large area. Because of this he also gives a 'Make a day of it' section with each cave description. For me, this is what sets the book above other similar guides: the additional information is fascinating and makes the whole thing much more readable.
It's certainly encouraged me to plan visits to the area in the future. Various short sections at the end add value, particularly a history of caving guides which have covered this area in the past, nicely setting the book in context. This includes a valuable list of further reading (separate from the more-familiar published guides) and is followed by a useful index. The longest system described (with 1.7km of natural passages) is Ayleburn Mine Cave. Although currently not accessible, this provides a sporting challenge to rival many trips in the Yorkshire Dales area. The description includes a photograph of the Banana Peeler (the first time I've ever seen a picture of this fearsome-sounding squeeze), together with useful information about the cave's exploration over the years.
When most folk pick up a book like this, they probably have little idea of how much time and commitment is needed to bring such project to publication. The author has an easy style of writing and it fills a gap in our speleological knowledge which will prove a great help to future compilers of the Northern Caves guides. To use the cavers' common 'beer analogy', what you get for less than the price of three pints is excellent value. With images in monochrome (apart from the colour cover), it's not a coffee-table book, but the photographs and maps support the text well, making it easy to follow.
The binding al so looks strong enough to take the book with you in a rucksack pocket, without fear of it self-destructing. I like this guide; it's ideal for when you throw another log in the stove, settle down 'Nith a mug of tea for a good read and start hatching future outdoor plans (which is exactly what I did when Storm Hannah arrived on the last weekend in April). Any serious caver should have it on their bookshelf and it should certainly find its way into most club libraries.