//I want to thank Creg and Gamble for putting in so much effort to organise and hide all the eggs. I also want to thank all the drivers who carried us back and forth to the mine and our homes, thank you, all of you, as you made this happen. I had the most fantastic time and I hope you enjoy my report.//
After a scenic drive with the sounds of Will’s wonderful road rage every now and then, we were all smiling and ready to put on our kit to start this journey into the mine. Not knowing what to expect, a few nerves ran through me. But, looking around at my fellow SUSS members, I felt a warmth of trust and love rise within me, and I knew I was ready to kick some ass and thrash them all.
Whilst I am not experienced, and always become a nervous wreck before any caving trip, this time felt a little different: I was feverishly excited. Gamble hands us all little Easter buckets we can collect our eggs in. We are all engrossed by its design. While we are spectating and discussing if we should go in pairs or go in on our own, and are distracted momentarily by a small group who ask us if we are potholing. The family tell us that they are going to have an Easter walk together in the small village we are in, and further ask us why we would go into a scary mine. Leo rolls of a line of: “well, it’s not scary”, while I think about ripping off my suit to go join the family instead.
We begin to walk up an overgrown path, and we arrive into a small forest-like area, everything is overgrown. I keep my head down and follow the others, I’m too nervous to really appreciate the complexity of my surroundings just yet. Issam decides to try and overtake me in a form of friendly banter, and I reciprocate this practice accordingly by letting my Southern accent go and tell him that he hasn’t a chance. This practice calms me down and makes me feel a little more centred.
In turn, we all are swallowed up into a small hole for the entrance. Once we all clamber down, our eyes adjust to the light and we begin to walk in. I notice Louise is already looking for eggs and a sudden urge to beat her kicks in. But I am still nervous, I am still scared the mine will collapse on any one of us, my closest dear friends. If I’m not thinking about where to put my footing underground, it’s where everyone else is and how they are doing. I must look out for them. Once we start to move, Will is giving advice. With his vast experience of caving and mining, I trusted him in those moments more than I trusted myself. With every word he says, I stop and listen and try my best to reciprocate. “Don’t touch the walls and DON’T TOUCH THE WOOD”. I tell him that I don’t touch wood. He laughs. We begin to stick together and I feel like a child who can’t move their body all too well in the mud and rocks. But we pick up the pace and begin to split up from he group. Glen joins in with us and we both tend to miss eggs right under our noses! We laugh about it and finding eggs makes me feel like a child again.
Will suddenly shines a light at the walls and says my name. I look, and I am gobsmacked at the graffiti on these walls, some dating back to the 1800s. He tells me the history of the mine over the years, how we were seeing miner’s graffiti, and how even a motorcycle gang once reigned these walls. Later on we find a room with graffiti all over the walls in thick, black paint. In the middle, we find old splintered wood- it looks like their hideout. Most of the graffiti makes no sense out of context, but some things read: “GUILTY” or “TROGGS”. (The name of the motorcycle group) The vastness of the graffiti covering the walls high up astounds me and, I feel threatened in some way. I try not to think about it and move on.
Now, competitiveness is very rare for me, so when it pops up, I am always surprised. But once I saw my fellow friends *cough* LOUISE *Cough* retrieve their first eggs, something switched inside me. This was no longer about survival: no longer did it matter if the walls caved in. No longer did it matter if the lank pieces of soft wood holding the ceiling up snapped in two. No. This was about the game. This was only the game. The game became me, and I became the game. The more we explored and found eggs, the more the nerves and worried melted away. Small crawls were now no longer something I had to ‘think about for a minute because I’m so scared’. No, the eggs were more valuable than my silly worries right now. I go off exploring by myself for a bit and spot Louise – she is disappearing off away from the broken showcave barriers and I shout ‘Hell no bish you ain’t gettin’ in there first!” and I follow her like a huntress. Previously, we had discussed how competitive she was and had some friendly banter about who would win the egg hunt. At the time I thought it was funny so I egged her on a bit. But now it is serious. I follow her and we manage to get to the previous caved in entrance to the showcave. We climb up and it gets into a small crawl, where we can see only a few steps to the closed off entrance. We see a root growing from the ground and the ceiling is being held up by metal grating. Louise mentions how hot it is and how the ceiling looks scary and unstable. I am not scared, and the only heat I feel is the heat of the game. However, she finds the egg this time, and I praise her for this, but the pressure was still on.
I reunite with Will and the others, who now are gathered in a small circle on the floor. It is our break time. I am happy to see everyone and, I feel so lucky to have these people surrounding me in this moment. Through my exhaustion, the competitiveness melts away and I fall in love with SUSS all over again. We all count our eggs and it seems I went overboard- as having a 21 count at the time. I must admit that Will helped me a lot in this, as he would only collect 10 and helped point a few out for me. Our eggs don’t count up to 100 that were scattered in the mine, so we discuss where some might be. We found that none of us had checked the lower series.
As soon as this was mentioned, half the group shot off and the game was back on. I wanted to explore with Will, so waited for him down a corridor, and once I am on my own for the first time, I begin to realise just how scared I am of the dark. And for some reason, like a child, I begin to remember the weeping angles from doctor who, conveniently made out of stone. I begin to panic and call Will’s name out a few times, and he shouts back that he’ll only be a few minutes more. Every second of silence and darkness in that mine feels like a millennium when you’re alone. I don’t know how Will and Leo does it on the daily if I’m honest.
Will takes me down into a new entrance. We clamber down and note that the others seemed to go in the wrong direction. We come into, what seems like an endless corridor of the most exquisite rock. It is entirely different from the rest of the mine, almost reddish in colour. Will points out some rock still in the walls and I can’t help but feel astounded in the beauty of the place. We both split up and walk around some interlinked corridors- the silence of self-exploration hits me. For the first time underground, I thought of my parents and how much I wanted them to be with me in this moment. I wanted them to see what I was seeing, and how frustrating it was that they were not here in this moment with me, must I experience this alone? I wanted them to touch the rock that I was touching and see this vast corridor of sparkling rock, that shimmered when the light touched it. It made me reflect on the miners that originally hacked all of the rock free, and what they went through for it to be sold. I thought about how people buy the rocks in shops not having the faintest clue of the people that actually hacked it out in these dark and warm conditions, with no sunlight or toilets. It made me sad but so blessed to experience all of this at the same time.
“ELISE! You alright?”
I realise I’ve been silent and alone for a little too long and crawl along the small corridor back to Will to let him know I’m ok. We crawl together to a new place and we begin to hear voices of the others. I suddenly remember the competition and I begin to get tense once again. I hear somebody behind me. LOUISE. I crawled while searching sporadically for all of the eggs ,pushing my basket along, in the hopes that she won’t find any I’ve missed. We all explore much more of this redish rock area until we collapse together again in a small section, where we chat and talk about the eggs we’ve missed out. Gamble and Glen hop off for a bit in the hopes to find some more. We all turn our lights off and chat in the darkness for a minute or so, but I am not scared this time, I have my fellow SUSS members around me.
15 minutes later Gamble arrives back, and I am startled by his presence. He comes back sopping wet with sweat and out of breath. He sits down and plonks a small egg on the floor as his accomplishment. He mutters about an area where the air was gritty, and he seems unable to communicate. He takes a bit of time, but he livens up after some water. Everyone mutually agrees how hot it has been underground, but I haven’t felt it yet from being too excited. I don’t even dare eat for my excitement drives me. The game is my food.
We begin to exit the cave.
I climb out and see the leaves, I feel the wind slightly brush my face and the light dusts our backs with pride as we slowly feed ourselves back out. This time I notice the country side around me, and how mystical this place really is. I am so overwhelmed with the senses that I put my hands out to greet nature with a hug as the sun hits my torso and I give a never ending smile. I cannot remember my previous worries.
“It’s nice coming back out, isn’t it?” I look at Issam and open my eyes, my eyes adjust to his face and I laugh: “Yes, yes it’s WONDERFUL!”