Saturday, 19 March 2011

Billy Cans and Bats

I knew there were caves in Avon Gorge but other than St Vincent’s (or Giant’s) Cave, which every local’s been to, I’d never visited any, nor did I expect to, being far too old and substantial these days to want to squeeze myself into any more tight spots, literally or metaphorically.  Dru, however, claimed that access to Burwalls Cave was easy and offered to take me there.  I wasn’t so sure it was a good idea after reading her account of her visit – anyone who can nonchalantly hop over the parapet of the Clifton Suspension Bridge is a far braver soul than I – but she assured me there was an easier, albeit illegal, route over university property, so Thursday saw us nipping through a hole in the fence and scrambling down the well-trodden path to the cave, perched about a third of the way down the steep cliffs of the gorge, while buzzards soared overhead. 
















And there we were, ensconced in what is probably the oldest domicile in the city and still in use today – in fact, the ashes of the fire were still smouldering.  It’s hard not to feel as if you are intruding in someone’s private space when you are confronted with their sleeping bag, books and billy can, but there’s also a guest book (marked 'guest book') and a palpable feeling that this is a place which belongs to everyone, underlined by the presence of shrines to Buddha, Krishna, and Jesus, prayer flags, dream-catchers, a shaman stick, a little Aztec-style carving, and everywhere hearts - chalked, painted, hanging from crevices, or wedged on ledges. 

Dru brewed some tea and we contemplated the view, something which the well-heeled denizens on the opposite side of the gorge pay a fortune to enjoy.  It  wasn’t long before the white noise of the traffic-clogged A4 a good two hundred feet below us became the roar of an ice-age torrent cutting through rock, and a feeling of peace descended.  
‘Keep the secret,’ urges the guest book.  I resolved to do so, and managed for all of three hours, when a friend at a loose end stopped by and I found myself heading back over the bridge.  And this time we were lucky enough to get up close and personal with one of the inhabitants.

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