Cave surveying with Ray Duffy

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Hi! This is Ray Duffy and I’m President of the Red Rose Cave and Pothole Club ( Over the past 30 years our club has been attempting to re-survey the longest cave in Britain called the Three Counties system because it runs from Cumbria, under Lancashire and into Yorkshire. The system is the 26th longest cave in the world with many different entrances ranging from the easy to the tortuous and involving either walking, stooping, crawling, swimming or descending and ascending on ropes or ladders. So far I have been involved in over 300 survey trips to amazing areas of this wonderful system.

There was a survey of the cave produced in 1983, an awesome task in itself, but as more entrances and passages were explored the underground map become obsolete and our club took on the responsibility of producing a newer version. The advent of computers and a wonderful and free piece of software known as Survex ( enabled us to map and draw up the complex passages of this fantastic underground arena.The only instruments for surveying the original surveyors used was a chain and compass, but we started using compasses and clinometers, by Suunto, designed for Scandinavian foresters. These are waterproof and reasonable easy to use unless flat-out in water in a tight crawl. A Fibron tape-measure is generally used for lengths although modern lasers have tended to take their place. For recording the information we use a Watershed (all weather) note book as it’s possible to write on these even when soaking wet or covered in mud. The notebooks also clean up very well and enable us to scan the pages so we can archive the original readings and work on copies for drawing up the survey. So far we’ve produced 5 surveys covering a major part of the cave and are presently working on a 6th sheet to extend the survey under a river valley and into another area of the cave.

Unfortunately the trips needed to survey some passages are very weather dependent, as they flood to the roof, whilst others are size dependent and can only be entered by the thinnest of surveyors. There are also hidden dangers in some areas as they are still being formed and loose boulders, rock falls and silting require time and effort to make passable. It’s not like drawing a map on the surface as some time has to be spent exploring to find every single alcove, crawl or chamber.

There are positives in all this as it does tend to keep one out of the pub, cavers can do it in the dark, so night visits are quite a good way to get the job done. Also underground is one of the least visited parts of the planet and it is still possible to walk where no man or woman has gone before, a wonderful feeling!

In the top photo, Ray can be seen using our waterproof Chartwell Watershed notebook!

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