As we entered the cave it seemed almost impossibly dark. Our eyes still sought the bright summer sunlight that had guided us this far, but now we were on our own.
Head-torches were passed around and fitted over the helmets which had been such a source of amusement on the way up the gorge. In spite of all the headslapping that had gone on earlier they suddenly seemed like a very good idea.
We were led further into the cave and, slowly our eyes began to adjust, picking out strange features in the rock and, mercifully, guiding our hands to the rope fixed reassuringly firmly to the wall beside us.
As the darkness of the cave drowned out the sun’s rays so too it seemed to drown out our voices and we walked on in near silence. Every now and again some joker would make the sound of a ghost or clap their hands to see how long the echoes took to return.
Always a little too long for comfort.
Further down, further in, as the earth swallowed us up the cold made fingers numb, ears mute, and our feeble headlamps became a lifeline for our senses.
Eventually the cave opened out into a cavern, the sound of dripping water resounding off the walls so that it was hard to distinguish the original drips from their echoes as they bounced around. Our torches were no more than cobwebs threading their way across the vast chasm, announcing our alien presence in this ancient wilderness.
Then came the command, “turn the lights off”. We looked at one another in surprise – is she for real?! “turn the lights off”, she said again. So, one by one, we did. The first few showing typical teenage bravado, but it was the last light to go out that took real courage.
As we stood there in a darkness that was so all-encompassing you could feel it, the sound of dripping water was replaced by thumping hearts and shallow breaths then swoosh, a match was struck and the flame flickered into life, sending the darkness scuttling off into the distant corners of the cavern and revealing once more the figures huddled just a little closer together.
Before the match could go out torches were flicked back on and relief gave way to bluster as we each tried to convince ourselves that we hadn’t been just a little scared of the dark.
As we left the cave the summer sun seemed almost impossibly bright and the torches which just moments before had been a lifeline now seemed so pointless. So we tossed them back into the bag and headed down the gorge, quickly taking the light for granted just as we always had.