Dark horizons – the reality of caving


On October 10th, 2016 we held our AGM at the Friends Meeting house in Redland, Bristol.

AGMs have a reputation for being a little dull, but not this one! After just a short while reviewing branch business, it was the turn of Dick Willis to give a talk entitled Dark Horizons – the reality of caving. It was no ordinary talk. I’ll start with sharing some of the feedback we had, taken from our feedback forms (yes, they actually filled them out!)

Uniformly graded as excellent, comments included:

AGM & awesome talk about the science of caves.
A very interesting insight about the world of caving.
Surprisingly good.
Great speaker, well informed, passionate about his subject.
Bringing science to ordinary folk in an interesting and entertaining way.
Entertaining, informative, thrilling!
Very interesting, wanted more time for questions.
Interesting insight into cave exploration activities and purpose.
Popular science with an abundance of wow factor!

Why such praise?

Dick has a way of engaging with the audience – speaking their language with just the right amount of humour. We were not spared the odd expletive! Although he had a message about the importance of caving as an adventure at the very limits of human exploration of the planet, Dick clearly focused on the characters involved. This gave us an intimate account of what it is like to explore some of the most extraordinary ecosystems on, and in, the Earth. We heard about the countries and the communities that he has encountered, the different skills that people have, the details and the bigger environmental picture. Naturally, the photography was breathtaking. The only downside was that we didn’t have enough time for questions and discussion. So there is no doubt that we’ll have Dick back for a ‘proper’ talk as soon as possible.

This is how Dick introduces his subject:

Caving is portrayed in the media as a muddy, high risk activity usually carried out by scruffy, bearded eccentrics. In reality, the world of caves is one that encompasses stunning beauty and fascinating ecosystems.

Caves have multiple interests for people – they distribute water and pollutants, provide places of storage or refuge, they offer adventure and tourism opportunities and their sediments and formations hold a record of the history of the earth. But above all caves are the only true exploration frontier left on the planet and the excitement of entering a space that has never previously been exposed to light, let alone heard the sound of a human voice, can be overwhelming.

Dick read Zoology at the University of Bristol in the early 70s but a potential academic career was destroyed when, in his first year, a friend took him caving in Mendip. The trip, down Swildon’s Hole, introduced him to an entirely new world and started him on a path as a cave explorer which has dominated his life for over 30 years.

(see his work here http://www.spellboundtalks.co.uk/guest-speakers-talks/dickwillis-caver.htm).