By Harvey Connolly
This year, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to brave pastures new for more recently inaugurated members of the RUCC, with trips to seldom visited Derbyshire and Devon, but, with an annual tradition scheduled into the club calendar, we once again returned to our old stomping ground of Mendip, and more specifically, The Belfry, hub of the Bristol Exploration Club. Gathering on the evening of departure, our attempt to start our journey to the West Country was scuppered at the first hurdle, as we merrily piled our kit and equipment onto our hired minibus, only to find said bus completely unresponsive. A quick inspection revealed that a dysfunctional drive belt wasn’t having any our plans to leave as early as we’d hoped, but we were at least able to enjoy the university’s own Friday night firework display until our operational substitute arrived, ready to ferry us away to Somerset.
We arrived at The Belfry just after 10pm, having made remarkably good time with the drive, but upon entering, something felt…different. The Belfry, generally, is safely consistent in its atmosphere. The bunkroom, consisting of two tiered stretches of plywood serving as communal sleeping space, still had a ceiling decorated with faded beer mats and tap labels, chronicling the long history of the BEC’s pub adventures. The lounge area, complete with substantial wooden dining table, wood burning stove and dubiously acquired road and caving-related signs adorning the walls, had been altered slightly with the movement of the kitchen area into an adjacent room, freeing more space for a handful of plush sofas. But the change that struck us was how disconcertingly quiet the space seemed. The previous year’s firework celebrations had consisted of entering a room where a rabble of students were self-inflicting minor concussions with the slightly mad game ‘danger can’, before the weekend concluded with cleaning the fragmentary remains of a dozen smashed pumpkins from every conceivable surface across the hut (and the prone forms of several worse-for-wear residents on Sunday morning, too). Admittedly, it was relatively early by the standards of the average caving night, and after depositing our possessions on the crash-mats which were to serve as beds for the imminent future, we began our pilgrimage along the dark stretch of road connecting The Belfry to the well-loved local, The Hunters Lodge.