NEW caving guidebook publications are uncommon – most of the current regional guides in book format date back to the first half of the 1990s with the most recent being that for Mendip in 1999. The sixth edition of Caves of the Peak District was published in 1991 but has now been replaced by a new seventh, picking up from John Beck and Dave Gill’s compilation with a new pairing of John with Iain Barker.
Traditionally, caving guides once fell into an immediately recognisable small format with an encapsulated PVC cover, just like climbing guides, but more recent products have moved to the more cost effective (in publishing terms) laminated cover, and Caves of the Peak District is no different (plus it is the first to change to an A5 format). The publication, prepared by Hucklow Publishing on behalf of DCA, has a high quality feel as soon as you pick it up: the paper stock is good, the binding is stitched (essential for any book that will be subjected to years of rigorous use), the typeface modern, photographs and surveys are plentiful (and the line drawings are well printed: no jagged, fuzzy maps here!), and colour has been used to good effect throughout.
The bulk of the guidebook is divided by catchment areas, with the caves of each section in alphabetical order. Colour is employed to highlight warnings in red and clarify features within some surveys and maps. Cave names (with the basics of grid reference, grade, altitude, length and depth, and the nature of some sites, such as mine or dig) appear in a tinted box, thus giving a colour to each catchment as well – it all helps to find the location with greater ease.
Having said that, finding a specific cave does depend on an intimate knowledge of the Peak – if you do not know that Pritchard’s Cave is in the Hamps and Manifold catchment, you will search for a long time, given that there is no index. Too obscure? For cavers outside the region, you cannot assume that the catchment for some major sites are known: Titan (discovered since the old guide was published) does not have its own heading, so you must look within the Peak Cavern entry under Castleton.
This lack of indexing is a major failing in such a book, which exists to impart information. That early editions were unindexed is reasonable, as caves were presented in alphabetical order throughout, and not by catchment; however, with the introduction of the latter organisation in the sixth edition, the index came in but has now been lost. It appears that work is ongoing to prepare one that may be printed off and tucked into the back, but until then you may find yourself, as did I, looking up caves in the old guide to determine where to locate them in the new.
Other comparisons with the previous version are inevitable. In its slightly larger format, arguably maps and surveys are clearer (black ‘blob’ surveys have been replaced with a neater outline form) and, with a larger font, the pages are more readable. The old guide ran to 257 pages while the new has 316, representing an increased number of sites and extensions having been discovered (such as The French Connection in Bagshawe Cavern, as detailed on p32 of this issue).
Relevant sections record both tackle required and choice references for sites, just as the last edition, but with references laid out far more clearly; pitches and lengths remain mostly recorded in feet with metre equivalents in brackets (an oddity perhaps, given the time since caving and surveying in the UK essentially shifted to the metric system), with a brief list of suggested rope lengths (details of ladder and line have been removed).
Some imperfections exist (a number of typos were spotted, including the spelling for Alderley Edge in the title and running header, plus other errors of consistency in text and layout that suggest the book was not fully proofed, at least for the latter). Even so, while regrettable, some occurrences of this type are perhaps inevitable in such a fact-packed, wide-ranging publication and they do not diminish the worth of Iain and John’s work. They have assembled an incredible wealth of data here and Caves of the Peak District is eminently useful – it will certainly be well received and become a huge success.
That sentiment is tamped home by the very reasonable and realistic price of £20: its content easily imparts a higher value, so cavers seeking the latest information are in a win-win situation. Congratulations all round.