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United Kingdom: Ambleside

1st August 07

ENGLAND - The Hodge Close Experience by Scott Laddiman


hodge1(350x233q60a2).jpgHodge Close is not for the faint hearted! I discovered Hodge Close years ago when I briefly lived in the Lake District, as I used to explore routes off the beaten track with my old Land Rover. One of these routes, which involved a drive through a river and up a rocky track, took me to the back entrance of this old slate quarry. It immediately made an impression on me, as Hodge Close has an eerie feel to it. I discovered the normal entrance later as I found others using the quarry site for weekend activities, such as mountain biking, orienteering & rock climbing, as there is woodland and several walks that surround the quarry. Be aware that there are no barriers around the quarry.

BSAC recommend the following-
Hodge Close Quarry.
Signposted off Ambleside to Coniston road (map reference - Ordnance Survey map 'English Lakes SW area' 318017). The quarry owners will not grant permission for diving - but will not stop divers using the site at their own risk. Access to the lower car park and tunnel can be obtained by paying 4.00 per car at the house with the A Flag in the garden. Access to and from the water is challenging! Height above sea level - 155 metres.

Warning: Several divers have lost their lives in Hodge Close Quarry, mainly hodge4(250x188q60a2).jpgas the result of getting lost in the underwater caves / tunnels. Since BSAC training does not prepare members for cave diving, the Club advises divers using this site not to enter the caves unless they have received appropriate training from a specialist body such as the Cave Diving Group. Furthermore, because access to / from the water is so difficult, and because the rock slopes which make up the limited shallow areas are unstable, BSAC does not consider this site suitable for use by divers of less than Sports Diver qualification.

The family and I were travelling from Aberdeen to Norwich for a holiday and as usual we had packed our dive gear. Since we decided to break the journey up halfway, I managed to persuade the wife that a stop in the Lake District would be a good idea, and that I may be able to accomplish my ambition to see what is under Hodge's waterline. She agreed and I set about finding a buddy, as we had the children with us and one had to be nominated babysitter. After several postings on forums and asking around I finally got a reply from Steve, who seemed happy to show me the site.

hodge2(250x166q60a2).jpgThe morning of the dive we met Steve at the main parking area and after a brief introduction he asked me to follow him in the car to the entrance point. This was where things started to get very interesting!! A short drive down the main track led us to the warden's house where we duly paid the car-parking fee and he unlocked the gate to allow us down to the entrance area. Once past the gate the road turned into a rough track and I was glad I was driving a Land Rover. We then started kitting up and I noticed Steve's set up was very different to what I was use to seeing. He had two side mounted tanks and not twin set that I was used to. Buddy checks were interesting and were completed before we headed off. At this point I had no clue where we were going and I am now glad I didn't know as I may have jumped back in the car and headed for the nearest pub! We walked into a small stream, which was in a deep gully. The gully headed off into the side of a mountain, and soon became a partially flooded tunnel. I could see light about one hundred metres in front of me, but the walk in my twin twelve's through the tunnel was slow going as I was up to my waist in water and Steve told me to crouch down until about halfway along as the tunnels ceiling was low and I may hit my valves on the roof. Finally we emerged at the end of the tunnel to be greeted by a sign warning you of the dangers of diving the Hodge Cave system.

 To my horror Steve then showed me the next obstacle, a ten meter vertical hodge3(250x188q60a2).jpgladder!! I managed to negotiate the ladder and after a short rock scramble I was at the waters edge. My muscles were aching, my heart rate was sky high, and I was sweating gallons and I wasn't even in the water yet, and I knew I had to go the same way out! Eventually sliding into the cool water gave me the relief I was looking for. I took one quick look around the impressive site and was ready to explore the hidden world beneath. We descended and kept the quarry wall to our right and I noticed Steve above me. Visibility was around 8m and water temperature reasonable. We levelled off at around twenty five meters, and Steve took the lead. Very shortly after reaching the bottom my main torch went flat for some reason but thankfully the visibility was good and I wasn't planning to enter any of Hodges tunnel systems, since I was not qualified. We took it slow around the quarry as it can be easily navigated in one dive and Steve was keen to show me around. The first thing to come into view was some old wrecked cars. We then moved around the main area and Steve stopped in front of an opening, which he had mentioned in his dive briefing that he needed to nip into the opening for one minute. After exchange of ok signals Steve gracefully finned off into the black hole. Like clockwork he emerged after one minute, and he then signalled we should continue the dive. I have no idea what he was looking for and decided not to ask!

We then continued to follow the main area in an anticlockwise direction, and I marvelled at the rock formations below the surface. Hodge Close has had several major rock falls and continues to this day, which makes the site ever changing and also very dangerous. This is obvious underwater, but also makes the site interesting. We rounded a large boulder and Steve beckoned me over to show me the main entrance into the tunnel system. This was a large rectangular opening with a line running off into the distance, which was obviously laid by qualified Cave Divers. The entrance looked daunting but my interest in exploration made me curious what was at the end of the line. Thankfully I kept to my senses and left the tunnel system to suitable qualified divers. Several people have died in the quarry and unless you are trained and competent, then don't be tempted to have a quick look into the tunnel system. Your quick look might end up a long one.

We continued on our route stopping to see if we could see another entrance, which has been blocked by a rock fall. Unsuccessful, we carried on until Steve took me to a shallow area behind a large rock, which was to be our halfway point. We then finned down to the middle of the main area where to my surprise I spotted a large circular saw. Much too large to play underwater Frisbee with! Due to the location of Hodge Close you will always find interesting items at the bottom, which have been discarded, but this adds to the fun. The rest of the dive was slowly exploring the main area, but I soon noticed that my VR3 was getting close to giving me decompression stops!!  Due to the fact this is an altitude dive and I knew I had to retrace my steps to get out, I decided to ascend slightly to try and avoid any decompression stops. After about 40 minutes we headed over to the exit point and started out ascent. Steve was happy to hang around for a three minute safety stop, and I just hoped I wasn't going to fizz too much climbing that ladder and fighting my way through the tunnel again.

 Finally at the surface I thanked Steve for showing me what was under the Hodge Close waterline and was grateful he took the time to show me just the main area, when clearly his interest is in the Cave system. We sat and had the usual post dive banter, but at the back of my mind, was the formidable exit. There was no escape as the only other exit out of Hodge Close is up a rock face or in one of those yellow taxis in the sky. Neither of which I fancied. This is something to seriously consider if are unlucky enough to have an incident in Hodge Close. Even as something simple as a broken ankle! The site would make an interesting Practical Rescue Management Course! With every last drop of energy I hauled myself, and my twin twelve's up the ladder, and collapsed on my knees at the top. After a moments rest, I made the long march through the partially submerged tunnel to the exit and car park. Steve seemed to make light of the entrance and exit, or he was just good at hiding the pain.

Mental note to myself- Must go to the gym more. Hodge Close is a demanding dive due to the entry and exit, but it is a very interesting site and not your normal quarry dive. Its main attraction is the tunnel and cave system, which is extensive. There are tunnels, caverns and sumps around the site, but trained competent persons must only explore these. The main area is an interesting dive in itself due to the nature of Hodge Close being so different from any other quarry. The underwater rock formations are interesting and you will never know what you may find discarded at the bottom.

Thanks to Steve Robinson for the dive and supplying the photos for this article