"The cavers I’m with are so important"
WetWellies interviews Jane Allen of UK Caving forum.
Jane Allen is a seasoned caver and recently took over the only caving forum in the country: UK Caving. She has also set up a sister website, 'New to Caving' where all the information you need for getting into the sport is in one convenient place. We find out more about the lady who is determined to keep the sport alive and well...
Q: How did you get into caving?
Jane: "I went to Birmingham University and at the Freshers Fair saw the BUSS (Birmingham University Speleological Society) stand with a small photo of some stalictites and thought would be good to see it for real.
There was a caver up a rope demonstrating SRT (Single Rope Technique) and thought he looked really cool.
The BUSS cavers on the stand were friendly and welcoming and persuaded me to join there and then and sign up for Goatchurch trip – all for £3!
I never looked back."
Q: What do you feel makes a good days caving?
Jane: "Great question. The cavers I’m with are so important. I like to feel the trip has been hard enough that I’ve stretched myself in some way but not so hard that I’ve been pushed too far. I love the physicality (especially when I was younger), love the pretties but not so keen on big pitches! I’ve always enjoyed helping cave photographers, as getting that great shot makes all the effort worthwhile."
Q: Which is your favourite cave system?
Jane: "May I have two? In the UK – Easegill; an epic trip down Pool Sink as a novice sealed my love of the sport (I have never been so tired!), a recent trip to The Palace with Mark & Jess Burkey and The Dudley Caving Club to help with photography, resulted in one of my favourite photos and as for Main Drain, well as I’ve already said – wonderful.
Abroad has to be Mulu, with fabulous river passages, exploration, walking where no caver has walked before, formations of every kind...The wildlife above and below ground, underground camps, the rainforest but best of all being a part of an expedition."
Q: You took over UK Caving forum – what made you do that and how has it been going?
Jane: "It was my Husband’s idea! Tim was dismayed at the state of the forum at the time and wanted to improve it for cavers, I was happy to support him. Little did I know how much time, effort and dedication it would entail! It’s been a really interesting experience. I’ve learnt a lot about social media – and people too!
The forum is busy with a wide variety of topics being discussed at any one time. UKC has been going for over 14 years now and there’s a wealth of information on all aspects of caving on the there. It’s a valuable resource and I hope cavers continue to support it.
I particularly enjoy running the competitions and attending events such as CHECC (Council of Higher Education Caving Clubs) where we offer a Grand Prize. It's good to give a bit back to student caving after what it did for me."
Q: Do you think there are any barriers to people who might want to have a go at caving?
Jane: "I see the main barrier is people thinking they don’t want to have a go in the first place! How many times have people said to you ‘I get claustrophobic’?? It’s such a fabulous sport.
However, time and again the image the main media portray is mud, tight squeezes etc. This is a part of caving however, so is Main Drain in Easegill for example, but it's wonderful!
Non-cavers have an image of caving as dangerous so Health & Safety concerns must surely stop some folks from promoting the sport due to their preconceptions."
Q: What advice would you give to somebody who wanted to have a go at caving but was a bit nervous and unsure if they would like it?
Jane: "Go and try it! What have you got to lose?? Why do you feel nervous? Is it because what others have told you about caving? Well why not find out what caving’s like for yourself!"
Q: Why would you recommend caving as a sport as opposed to say, football or going to the gym?
Jane: "I met my husband Tim through caving. I have travelled to many countries when on caving expeditions and visited some parts tourists rarely if ever venture. My career was in the outdoors and being a caver helped me get my first job.
I live in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales because we want to live in a caving area and many of my friends are cavers. As someone who is not naturally a risk taker I believe caving has helped me live a life with a wider comfort zone than I may have had – enough said?"
Q: You set up ‘New to Caving’ website – what drove you to create it?
Jane: "The world is now online. We recognised the need for a modern, inspirational website to promote caving and hopefully help people venture underground for the first time – so we decided to create one ourselves.
We had a tremendous amount of support from fellow cavers – fabulous photographs, help filming the video, writing trip reports, putting up our New to Caving posters and linking their websites to ours – thank you, all.
The feedback has been great and we’re hoping that with the new contacts page and updated lists of clubs/useful links etc we will reach an even wider audience."
Q: Do you have any other hobbies? How do they fit around caving?
Jane: "My horse, Boris. I’ve always loved horses and owned one in my youth. Six years ago I was able to own one again however this time round I went down a different path rather than the more traditional route.
I do wonder if my being open minded to a new way was because cavers tend to walk a different path too? After 30+ years caving I now spend more of my time riding and ‘cherry pick’ my caving trips."
Thank you to Jane Allen for this amazing interview. Also thank you to Mark Burkey for the stunning images.