There are several caves in the vicinity of Buckfastleigh, on the southern edge of Dartmoor. Back in the 1970s, we made quite a study of the Pridhamsleigh system, not far from the farm of the same name.
The approach to the cave has now been ruined by the construction of the A38 trunk road. In those days it was much quieter, with farm fields leading up to a much more modest old coaching route. Nearby there was a lovely brook in which we bathed after caving, to get the glutinous Pridhamsleigh mud off our bodies. The stream as I knew it is no more, its lovely natural course destroyed by the new road, its waters trapped in concrete culvert – a horrible thing to do to living water.
You needed the brook. Prid was a filthy old cave to explore. You would be cleaner if you took up mud-wrestling. I wonder how today’s cavers manage to clean up for the journey home?
There was a quaint system of access to the cave in those days. You went to the farm first, rang a great bell, told the farmer you were going underground, and tipped him a shilling each. Terribly civilised, I thought. I hope it is not too bureaucratic in modern day nanny-state Britain.
The cave boasts an underground lake, a long, narrow stretch of water, of rather sinister aspect. I half-expected some troglodyte monster to emerge from its dark and muddy depths. The first time down we all took a wrong-turning returning from the lake, and it took us a few minutes to puzzle out the way to the exit.
Not far from Prid itself is a modest and much cleaner cave called Dog Hole, a welcome relief after a couple of hours muddy scrambling in the main cavern. I recall that it had a beautiful crystal floor.
To this day, I think of the dark depths of Prid when I want to imagine a muddy cave. I hope young people still have a chance to explore it as we did, free of care.