22nd - 24th November 2019
This year saw CHECC hosted in Parkwood Outdoors (Dolygaer) in South Wales, between the 22nd to 24th November 2019. This year I wanted to make the absolute most of my time in the mainland, which involved a significant amount of pre-planning well in advance of the weekend. This inevitably started in September with the usual attempt to get Ferries booked, but with no-one being able to give me a solid confirmation between those from Dublin and Belfast.
It wasn’t until the 2nd week of November I managed to get something booked, that being the overnight ferry from Belfast to Birkenhead via Stenaline. In the end, quite a sizable amount of us ended up coming over from Ireland, totalling 16 (12 from Belfast, 4 from Dublin) with those in my car being Niall, Daniel, Kyle and myself.
8 of 12 from Belfast whom attended CHECC 2019
If you are unfamiliar with CHECC, it’s a bit more hectic compared to what can be a nice relaxing weekend at the Irish Student Caving Forum. A lot takes place over the weekend and between the stomp, talks and caver-related games, you will get to meet a lot of people from the UK Student Caving Scene whom you’ll end up meeting wherever you go.
For pre-planning I took advantage of the contacts I had made from both the previous year at CHECC and those whom I had met on the Dachstein Expedition to get solidified plans for the Friday and an attempt at organising something on the Saturday. My main contact was someone I would call a pretty good friend at this point, Oliver Ray from Cardiff Caving Club. A trip was organised for Ogof Ffynnon Ddu (OFD) for the Friday and either Ogof Draenen or Ogof y Daren Cilau on the Saturday. Based on the face we’d have to ensure we were back in Birkenhead for around 8pm we elected as a group not to organise anything for the Sunday, except a possible outing to Chester Zoo on the way back.
The sail over was smooth, with no unexpected bad weather or rough seas and we were able to make the most of the sleep we could get, thanks to a quick last minute decision to book a cabin between the four of us, arriving in Birkenhead on time at 7:00am on Friday morning.
As with all journeys in Beluga (my trusty old ’05 VW Passat), the drive through Wales was a smooth and fun drive, getting a lovely mix of open motorways, to beautiful single-lane carriadges through the valleys of both North and South Wales. It really allowed me to appreciate just how good and responsive the Passat can be, whilst ensuring my 3 passengers could all have a quiet snooze!
However, if we take a step back to the time just before departure, I had sent Oliver a text to confirm plans for OFD on Friday afternoon. As with any advanced plans, it turns out he himself had gotten a bit confused between the different Irish groups and thus had thought that Jacob was going to be taking us underground, but in fact he was to take the group from Dublin underground! Some frantic texting and re-jittering of plans, in the end everything was sorted.
We met Oliver at South Wales Caving Club around 2pm and to my surprise Sabrina jumped out of the car, with both of us running over to say hello.
A quick sidenote here, especially for Irish Cavers only used to Aughnahoo; South Wales Caving Club (SWCC)’s hut is fantastic. A fire with functional backboiler, full cooking area, heating, electric, hot showers – honestly what is not to love! I also found out that a scene from Torchwood was filmed there, perfect for my love of all TV shows by Russell T. Davies.
Unfortunately, a bit of a later start than originally planned, a quick 4-hour trip around OFD via OFD Top entrance was completed and after which we all jumped back into the car and heading down to the venue!
To my surprise, after arriving I had found out we had been given 4 beds between the 12 of us. Friday night is mostly a blur, but was enjoyable catching up with everyone.
As with all of these events, a hungover start to the morning was quickly followed by trying to sort some plans of caving for the day. I had nabbed Rory Rose to try and get a trip out of him down Ogof Draenen, after helping them out with a couple of trips during their time in Fermanagh over the summer, I thought it to be the best place to start and he agreed!
However, what happened next would quite possibly be the most annoying and frantic hour of the weekend. Parking at the venue was tight and this meant that those sorting out the early parking for those arriving early, had lumped our cars into this narrow access road leaving around 10cm between everyone. To be honest, this was an excellent and extremely efficient method, however what wasn’t great was someone leaving their car keys at reception, marked as the wrong model with no registration, whilst simultaneously blocking 10 cars in. This involved about an hour of frantic running around between the Irish Cars stuck behind this car trying to locate this mysterious person, whom even their club didn’t know if they existing, ransacking rooms and bags and a bit of shouting about the place.
CHECC Chaos - Parking
In hind-sight, probably not my finest hour, but what the heck, especially with the amount of planning that had gone into this, I never thought that something like this would upset everything! Anyhoo – eventually someone actually tried that mis-marked key and hey presto – we were out. You can hopefully see the joy on my face as I flew up that ramp in the picture included.
We arrived at Ogof y Draenen finally at around 1pm, swiftly getting changed and underground. Draenan didn’t disappoint, with its excellent entrance series through blissfully cold water and opening out into fine passage it was great, all until a couple hours in when Rory realised, we had went the wrong way after much route searching. On the way out we took an hour’s detour into the correct passage and again it didn’t disappoint. I do plan to try and come back here again over Summer 2020 if time (and plans) allow for it to happen!
Saturday evening was then back to the usual, talks, catching up with a few people followed by caver games and stomp. I do particularly like the squeeze machine that they make use of at CHECC, with the adjustability offered through the use of the M12 threaded bar, nuts and washers – I might have to give it a go and possibly make an option which can sit alongside the Hoo’s one.
CHECC Chaos - Breaking Free
CHECC Games - Body Traverse
CHECC Chaos - Shoes
As with all great things, this marked the end of a fantastic weekend. Just before the AGM was held, I assisted in attempting to help get the Imperial Minibus started again with Josh, which had broken down due to suspected ECU failure. We had managed to get the engine to fire, but unfortunately after any sort of load it cut out.
The AGM was a simple affair this year, a bit long but what can be done when there are a number of new roles and positions to be filled. I did my bit by making those keen cavers aware of the Irish Student Caving Forum before heading up to try on (not buy!) some equipment from Tony. After this and a long chat with the DJ we packed our belongings and made for it back to Birkenhead.
With time to spare, I thought to organise in advance meeting up with my Dad whom had been away for work over the last 3 months. It was great to spend some time with him catching up over a meal, whilst introducing him to just how packed my car can get on a caving weekend before catching the return ferry.
Stenaline Ferry - Birkenhead Sailing
This was a fantastic weekend and I enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately with 2020/21 marking my final year in University and with the additional workload from my Final Year Project I’ll be expected to have, it will be unlikely I’ll be able to make it to CHECC next year.
Until then, I invite those from England, Scotland or Wales over to the Irish Student Caving Forum 2020 which is in County Clare this year, but also, those from Ireland over to CHECC for 2020.