Some things never go out of fashion. Regardless of whether fire is still a necessity to modern man, it is still capable of bringing about a “stare-on” amongst the best of us. Another relic of bygone days that still rings true to the caveman within is the concept of “home” and in this case the intrigue held by caves. How many times have you seen a cave and had to fight the urge not to go and check it out? Afterall, why not…
After the rather bum-like experience of sheltering overnight in a pillbox, I was eager for more, but I wanted something that was not created by the hands of man, something crafted by mother nature herself, that probably held more history than my local library…who knows what has occurred in such a place over the centuries?
The cave in question is on a private estate and after a bit negotiation, was very kindly “lent” to me and super sharp shooter Greg Funnell, a friend and professional photographer who took some stunning photos for The Tree House Diaries as well as most of the snaps on this post. The pair of us mustered our primal instincts along with a couple of ales, steaks and took ourselves up to a truly Stone age landscape for some caveman revelry (no clubs, grunts or dragging of women by the hair allowed).
“Cave Adullum” so said the inscription outside, dated 1706, would be home for the evening and the roaming pheasants scratching about their pens sharing our section of woodland strictly off limits. The cave itself was quite homely…sort of. Looking out the entrance formed a perfect V-shape as if looking out of a tent, albeit a very large one, made of sandstone, at least it was nice and dry. There were a few oddities I noticed at first, the cave (as would be expected) was cold, inside the temperature difference was blatantly obvious and the surrounding birdsong of spring completely disappeared- there was certainly something eerie about this place.
Greg and I dumped our gear in the cave entrance and went to familiarize ourselves with the surroundings- believed to be one of the largest sandstone outcrops in the country. We examined the old graffiti left behind by hands past and thought about jumping the gap onto the pinnacle,but fearing a stranding overnight, or worse: a broken leg, we abstained from such ‘extreme’ Bear Grylls tomfoolery. We came across some evidence of an ongoing archaeological dig too, which had apparently turned up some ancient flint arrowheads, judging by the amount of rock shelters, this place must have been the Beverly hills of Stone age Sussex.
"What the....? Did that evergreen just move?"
When we returned to our cave (its not often you get to say that!), we bumped into the Landowner, who had very kindly allowed us to overnight, and he gave us a short lesson in folklore about the place.
“You know the rocks are haunted…” said he. Of course, a cave without a spook story would be unthinkable, but he continued…
“It’s a large Black hound the size of a horse, with Red Eyes, he appears at night and runs down the valley”.
“Ever seen it?” asked a slightly intimidated Greg.
“No…Sleep well boys!” and off he went.
Right. Big black hound, haunted cave, should be good. Although at first, we both thought it was merely banter and bollocks to folklore. Whilst collecting wood, I took advantage of that incredible 21st century resource; the i-phone and googled the evidence just to make sure.
There were a few listings and all referred to where we were and the exact description of said beast. There was even a quote following one description made by an old poacher (add your own Bristolian accent for true impact):
"There's one thing I dare not do; I'd be afear'd to walk through that girt valley below the pinnacle after dark. It's a terrible ellynge place and a gurt black ghost hound walks there o'nights".
Damn. This beast was also known as a ‘Black Shuck” and Wikipedia had quite a bit to say about it too (click here to see), basically, we were dealing with a hound of the Baskervilles: Conan-Doyle…you bastard. There seemed little more to do than fight fire with fire, or more appropriately: folklore with folklore. I took a few branches off an elder tree, which had the first leaves appearing and tied them to a stake outside the front of the cave. Why? As history dictates, on May’s eve (sometime off yet) folk used to hang bunches of Elder outside the front door to ward off evil spirits for the year ahead…no harm in trying? How else do you keep a ghostly black dog the size of a horse at bay: a bunch of leaves. Gotcha…
Hauntings aside, this place was awesome! We collected a few chunks of sandstone for a fireplace and got the kettle on for a well-earned cuppa. No sooner had the smoke begun to waft up to the roof of the cave, we were quickly joined by a continuous stream of arachnid paratroopers, dropping down from the ceiling either out of anger from being smoked out or curiosity, it was like a scene out of Arachnophobia! On further inspection, looking down a narrow gap at the back of the cave with our head torches, we could see rather unfriendly looking spiders, surrounding large, white egg sacks hanging off the sandstone walls. If the horse sized hound didn’t get us these buggers probably would. Now I am sat in front of the computer with the internet at my fingertips, I can confirm that they were in fact false widow spiders (a species fairly common in Southern Britain these days) and capable of inflicting a painful bite that can potentially numb your whole arm. Nice.
As the light gradually faded we lit my hurricane lamps and placed a few candles about the cave. The flickering of the fire on the ancient sandstone walls really created a caveman atmosphere and it wasn’t long before we were putting fat cubes of rump steak on skewers and roasting them over the fire. We wrapped the steak in fresh leaves of wild garlic and had a few ales whilst discussing various myths and legends and hoping that the local ones where perhaps all fart and no poo. Fingers crossed.
By 11pm it was getting a bit chilly, so we set about extending the fireplace and laying down a long log fire to keep us warm overnight. The long log fire is quite something, speaking from experience, you can quite happily sleep next to one in the clothes you are wearing in the middle of winter and feel like you are sat on a beach in Bali (imagination required), simply build up the fire quite high, once you have some hefty embers spread them out in a line with a Jooky stick (a Jooky is the name given to a stick with which one probes a fire), and add some long logs to the top- saves an awful lot of effort with a saw!
The rest of the evening passed uneventfully, the cave was warm, dry and comfortable and it wasn’t long before we were both out for the count.
Come 4am, I woke with a start. I couldn’t hear anything and I don’t know what woke me, but it seemed Greg had just done the same. The fire was out and there was an eerie silence about us…it was cold, very cold. For the next few hours I had the most bizarre set of dreams I’ve had in a while, but at least I didn’t wake to a giant black pooch licking my face! As I remember I was battling giant crayfish…but I wont go into that.
The morning view was a damn slight better than the pillbox: looking out at a scene of emerging spring with pheasants crowing their heads off was quite pleasant. The coffee and bacon and egg sarnies that followed only made things better. It seemed the mysterious ghostly hound hadn’t come out to play, perhaps it was the elder, perhaps it was a myth…who knows?
As Micro-adventures go it was a good’un, at least I can tick ‘sleep in cave’ of the to do list and move on to the next one. I believe the next is: Island on a lake, might have to dust off the coracle for that. Would I recommend sleeping in a cave? Definitely! Just make sure you check out the local myths and legends first…or don’t, and just hope you won’t be told about them just when you are about to settle in for the night!