The first cave dive in the UK took place in Swildon’s Hole, Mendip, back in the mid-30’s, and it was to be another ten years before the Cave Diving Group (CDG) was properly constituted – incorporating those divers who had pushed Swildon’s and Wookey Hole previously. As an organisation the CDG was there for anyone who had an interest in passing short sections of flooded passage, and these folk became members of the CDG whilst maintaining their allegiance to their normal ‘home’ caving club.
Unlike the underwater passages in Wookey, which were spacious with good visibility and relatively warm water, the nature of the sumps In the Dales – cold, dark & murky – meant that explorations there were slow to get off the mark. In the early 1950’s members of the Bradford Pothole Club began its tradition of assisting the exploration of sumps by providing ‘muscle power’ in the shape of porters to carry diving gear to the sumps in Beck Head Stream Cave. In the next decade BPC members including Bill Frakes, and Colin Vickers started diving – passing sumps and exploring the onward ‘dry’ passages – such as those in Rowten and Langstroth. Sadly the Mossdale incident meant this potential was never fully realised.
On occasions dives were undertaken by BPC members who were not CDG members – such as that at the bottom of Lower Stream Passage Pot. But advances in equipment, techniques and attitude led to a new generation of BPC members taking to sumps and joining the CDG.
Sometimes the dives & explorations they carried out were with CDG mates and/ or assisted by sherpas from other clubs (such as those at Keld Head/ King Pot/ Nidd Heads), and the credit for these would have to be considered CDG finds. But often the team of divers included a significant proportion of BPC members, and these were supported by mainly BPC sherpas. In this category could be listed many dives at various sites in the Gaping Gill system (including the historic link between GG and Ingleborough Cave which also involved ateam of BPC diggers), and also Dub Cote, Weathercote/ Jingle/ Hurtle/ Midge System, Thorns Dub, Manchester Hole, to name but a few.
Further afield, visits by BPC cavers to the Dordogne area in France in the mid-1980’s led to a subsequent return by a team of our divers who not only realised that here were some delightful underwater passages to enjoy, but also succeeded in exploring some new cave passage. The Dordogne/ Lot area has since gone on to become a ‘honey pot’ for a whole generation of open water divers from around the world who wanted to experience the thrill of diving in caves.
BPC divers also explored a number of sumps in Slovenia and the Cook Islands during the late 80’s/ early 90’s before becoming involved as trusted ‘support divers’ in major explorations on the continent such as the Doux de Coly (where the record for the World’s longest sump was broken), at the Goul de la Tannerie (where the European record for the deepest sump was broken)a few years later, and latterly at the Pozo Azul (the end point over 11 kilometres from the resurgence pool being currently the most remote point explored anywhere). Between these expeditions in ‘suppor’t roles, BPC divers have organised their own trips and dived & explored new sites in Spain – typically in small and murky passages ‘written off’ by local cave divers – and the lava tubes of Iceland.
Most cavers experience that excitement and curiosity of thinking “What lies round that next bend” and the BPC has enjoyed a long tradition of digging succeses – which are covered elsewhere on the BPC website.The divers in the BPC have never encouraged fellow members to take up cave-diving. What they have done is to take under their wing those cavers who find the draw of exploring new cave by diving irresistible, and try to mentor them with help and advice to adopt a safe & sensible approach via the CDG.