The little group made for Bargate, winding up hill and out of the town, and soon found the claustrophobic canyon entrance to the jagged gash of Cave Dale which, carved by melt water at the end of a long past ice age, climbs south from the town to the moorland above. The narrow gateway, hemmed in by limestone cliffs had boasted a natural arch well into the age of industry, though it was now but a memory. The lower reaches of the dale are overseen by the glowering Norman cliff-top castle and Ferdy could make out white-furred and darkly begoggled faces under pickelhaubes and sallets peering down from the crenulated battlements at the jolly hikers so very far below.
Ginsbergbear broke into ‘I Love to Go A Wandering’ in a growly basso profundo.
“Try to look happy,” wheezed Boz; for theirs was a relentless, up-hill slog. The party hunched their shoulders, stomped down with their Leki poles and whistled along with the bear.
As they climbed, the dale widened. Where the steep rocky sides met the grassy bottom tubby, brown birds chattered, fed and fluttered. Gnarled and stunted trees clung to damp crevices in the moss-cloaked rock. Meadow flowers buzzed with pollinating bees. Soon the hiking party had rounded a bare pinnacle and were out of sight of the watchers on the keep. Pausing to peruse his map and check his compass Boz veered off along an indistinct track and with the gang following as quickly as they could, discovered a low orifice at the base of the cliff. On reaching the small cave mouth they found the apparently deep but restricted vent was secured by an iron gate that bore a yellow sign inscribed:
A low frequency hum welled up towards the intrepid group from the depths of the dank cavern.
After a brief sit down and the partaking of a square or two of mint-cake, Ferdy produced his Victorinox Spymaster Multitool Swiss Army Ensemble and, utilising the magnifying glass attachment, examined the lock. He considered for a moment and then folding out two long thin lock-picking tools began to fiddle. After a fruitless few minutes he re-examined the lock under the magnifying glass, flicked out two more attachments with twiddly bits on the ends and began again. Several tense minutes of deft manipulation later there was a click, the gate swung back in well-greased silence and they had gained access to a steep ventilation shaft.
Pausing only to take out their Petzl Pathfinder 21 head torches and fix them firmly over their bobble hats they warily began their penetration of the realm of Les Chats Souterrains.