Reading Enid Blyton in my early youth, of children eagerly exploring hidden tunnels, it all sounded rather exciting. They would edge along in single file with a flickering torch and always reappear unscathed, readily emerging for adventure or any discovery that followed; hidden trap doors, boxes of stolen treasure, a robber´s lair and the like. Staring into the narrow mouth of this one, I was not so keen. In the sharp light of my torch, the tight ancient brickwork was still intact and inclined slightly down, the arched roof wet and dripping in places. There was absolutely no light beyond the glow of my beam, and the prospect of exploring alone was not welcome. However, I took a deep breath and stepped in.
Coming out of the sunny day into this sudden blackness was a strain upon the eyes. I yearned to see beyond the play of the beam which was swallowed up into the dark. The roof of the passage was a mere inch or two over my head, so instinctively, I bowed, rounding shoulders and creeping along gingerly, careful not to trip on the loose debris or slip into the muddy patches of the beaten earth floor. The strong earthy damp, mouldy vegetation and stale air assailed my nostrils, making me want to hold my breath, although I knew I couldn’t. I breathed shallowly with my mouth open, to allay the strong stench of decay. The silence was absolute until the odd drip of water broke it, and my breathing sounded very laboured .
The tunnel went on endlessly, seemingly tilting slightly uphill, or perhaps that was just imagination. I edged along, drops of moisture falling on my hair and shoulders and the occasional trailing root through the brickwork brushing against my face or neck. I was hot, uncomfortable and feeling very unnerved, despite my attempt at bravado. I was wholly enveloped in this underground passage. I stopped suddenly as that thought sank into my brain. Turning in panic, I shone the torch behind me, to confirm that there too, no trace of natural light was evident. This was how it felt, to be buried alive in some vault… The panic in my chest was rising. I could feel my heart beating ever faster. My body was sweating and I had no idea whether it was quicker to go on, or go back, before being able to emerge again into the day. I started to walk quicker, even breaking into a jog; running – blindly oblivious to the drips and slime, conscious only of a need to see an end to this close confinement… !
“ Hey Harry – wake up mate, the tent’s leaking ! Having a nightmare were you? I saw you, thrashing about in your sleeping bag.” shouted Ben, while George just poked me with his foot, grinning broadly.
It was almost light outside, the opened entrance showing a dim view of the wet field and rain bouncing off my boots, abandoned outside.. A torch suspended from the tent ceiling swung it´s beam wildly as Ben and George extricated themselves from their own sleeping bags and tried to grab clothes in this cramped space. I sat up, head and neck damp from rainwater and secretly gave thanks that I was no longer trapped in that tunnel. Perhaps coming on a caving trip with mates, may not have been the greatest idea?