what is caving

What is caving? Go caving in the UK

What is caving, potholing or spelunking? It’s essentially the same thing – the exploration of underground caves and caverns. And what you might think would be a dark and dank uninhabitable world, can actually be full of natural geological wonders. But caving isn’t for everyone. Here’s our guide to give you an overview of what caving is all about.

What is caving like?

There are many different types of caves to explore. Some are manmade (having been mined for whatever reason), some are naturally occurring. Some you can literally just walk into and look around and they are open to the public and staffed. Others involve a boat ride to access huge underground lakes an caverns, which are run more like a tourist attraction.

But when you ask purists what is caving, they will tell you it’s about discovering and exploring the hidden underground world. These more wild caving spots are well-documented amongst the caving community and this is what the sport of caving is all about, rather than being a visit to a tourist attraction and this, the more adventurous sort of caving, is what we’re talking about here.

So what is this more ‘grass-roots’ caving actually like then?

Well, it’s a mix of canyoning, climbing and abseiling techniques, whilst being underground – which means it’ll be dark, so it’s not an activity for claustrophobics.

You could find yourself having to squeeze through tiny letterbox-size openings to access these underground caverns, there may be some abseiling involved using ropes and there may be metal wrought iron ladders to negotiate and lots of water too.

But the ‘holy grail’ of caving is coming across amazing underground caverns covered in stalactites, or glistening lakes for example. Vestiges of the glaciers that formed these series of geological wonders.

what is caving stalactites

This is what caving is all about – discovering magical stalactites in caves!

Sounds like you could get wet. What should you wear when caving?

Again, it depends what sort of caving it is. In the UK, most caves are damp to water filled, so you’ll need warm base layers, a fleece-lined one-piece if it’s really cold and waterproofs. You can get jackets and trousers, or the more heavy duty PVC all-in-one coveralls. Then you’ll need rubber Wellington boots with a good tread and maybe neoprene wet socks as well. One thing definitely not  to wear is jeans. These get really heavy when wet.

After that, you’ll be wearing a hard-hat style helmet and have a light source (remember it’s properly dark down there!). LED helmet torches are the most favoured lights by cavers these days – and remember to have a back up too.

Experienced cavers on more extreme caving expeditions that last many hours will also take supplies and extra gear to maybe even spend the night underground.

Dark caverns

Exploring the dark, underground caverns – that’s what caving is all about!

When is it possible to cave?

That’s the advantage of caving – it’s an all-weather activity, with temperatures inside the caves staying pretty much constant year round. You’ll need to check things like water levels to see whether caves are accessible at the time you want to go though.

Where can you go caving?

Nearly all caving in the UK is where there’s limestone rock. Some of the best and most accessible caving in England is in the Peak District. This is where you’ll find Titan cave, with its 141-metre shaft, making it the deepest known of any in the country. With several series of caves around Castletown, Bradwell, Lathkill Dale, Stony Middleton and the Hamps, there’s plenty of caving opportunities, including plenty of beginner’s caving in the Peak District.

Aside from the Peak District, top areas for going caving in the UK include Ogof Ffynnon Ddu (Cave of the Black Spring) in Swansea, Goatchurch Cavern in the Mendips and underneath the peaks of Penygent in Yorkshire, where there are lots of spectacular underground explorations possible.

Is caving safe?

Away from the staffed caves you can visit, you will need to be a competent caver to go caving. We highly recommend taking a guide, or going on an organised caving experience for your first taste of underground exploring. Then if you like it, why not join a caving club where regular group outings are organised?

Safety is fundamental to what caving is, as it can be a dangerous pastime. We advise you to take heed of the British Caving Association’s document explaining what is caving for beginners, for info on learning to cave safely.

Stay safe caving

Take a guide, or go on an organised group expedition to stay safe when you go caving

kayak or canoeing

What’s the difference between canoeing and kayaking?

Is it a kayak or a canoe? Both use paddles and both get you up and down the water, but just what is the difference between canoeing and kayaking? We take a look at the great canoe vs kayak debate…

Tell us simply what the difference is between canoeing and kayaking
The quick answer is that the paddle and the position of the paddler marks the difference between canoeing and kayaking.

Go on then, tell us more…
Well, in a canoe the paddler is kneeling or sitting on a bench and the paddle is single bladed. In a kayak the paddler is generally seated, with legs outstretched and the the paddle is double bladed.

So is that it?
No. That’s just the easy way to tell the difference between a canoe and a kayak. After that, it’s all about paddle technique, where you’re using your vessel and the pros and cons of both types of boat.

canoe and kayak paddles

Canoes and kayaks have different types of paddles

OK let’s have the rundown on paddling techniques
If you’re in canoe you’ll have a single blade paddle with a ’T’ shaped handle at the top. One had holds this ’T’, with the other holding the shaft half way down. You make strokes in the water to propel yourself forward by plunging the blade into the water and pulling back. You then alternate left and right hand side of the canoe.

Kayakers have a longer paddle, which has two blades. You hold the paddle with both hands shoulder-width apart in the middle of the shaft and dip the right and then the left side into the water to make the paddle stroke. You’ll notice the blades on the paddle are mounted at 90 degrees to each other, so a slight twisting movement is needed as you alternate sides.

kayak paddle

The double-bladed kayak paddle

What about the differences in where you can use a canoe or a kayak?
There’s one important difference between the way a canoe and a kayak is designed that determines where you can use both vessels. A canoe is generally open top with higher sides, whilst a kayak is closed in. Indeed, kayakers sort of look ‘sealed in’ to the kayak when they have a spraydeck fitted around them, which makes the opening of the kayak watertight.

Although you do see canoes on white water, kayaks are generally the best choice of vessel for riding rapids and white water (in an open canoe the water would just overflow into the canoe). It also means kayakers can do those famous ‘eskimo roll’ moves where they ‘capsize’ and right themselves using their hips and the paddle.

Canoes, meanwhile, are great for calmer waters such as rivers, inland lakes and the like. And of course, kayaks can be paddled here too! But again, the key to be able to tell if it’s a canoe or kayak is the paddle. One blade for a canoe, two blades for a kayak.

river canoeing

A leisurely canoe safari along a gentle river

Is kayaking an Olympic sport?
Yes – and so is canoeing. Sprint and Salom events for both canoe and kayak are the most well-known of the Olympic paddle sports events. There’s also marathon, freestyle, wildwater, canoe polo, ocean racing and paraolympic canoeing too. Some are solo or paired events, whilst the dragon boat racing is a whole team of paddlers gunning it along the water!

white water kayaking

Competitive kayaking on white water rapids

Where can beginners go to learn kayaking or canoeing?
There are paddle centres around the UK offering kayaking and/or canoeing lessons. Some are very much at a leisurely pace with canoeing and kayak tours along gently flowing rivers, combining paddling with sightseeing. We’re talking canoeing past Hampton Court Palace, along the Thames at Windsor or around the famous Eel Pie island in Twickenham.

It’s worth noting that the British Canoe Association (BCU) oversees both canoeing and kayaking in the UK and is also the body that accredits canoe and kayak centres. You should make sure that the centre you’re interested in is a BCU accredited centre with BCU qualified instructors too. The centres featured on our Intotheblue.co.uk canoe and kayak page are all BCU accredited.

So now you know what the difference is between canoeing and kayaking, it’s time to get out on the water and get paddling, be it in a canoe or a kayak. It’s a great sport out in the fresh air and can be as adrenaline-fuelled, or as chilled out as you like!


Battle Archery - what is it?

What is Battle Archery? IntotheBlue investigates this on-target experience!

So what is Battle Archery all about then? We can tell you that Battle Archery, which is a bit like a cross between paintballing and archery, is brilliant fun.

Here’s all you need to know about Battle Archery:

What actually is Battle Archery?

Invented in the US of A, Battle Archery is also known as Tag Archery. Either way the idea is the same. You have a special bow that fires foam-tipped arrows and it’s played as a team game in an outdoor field or arena.

What is Battle Archery - the basics

What is Battle Archery? It’s a mix of paintball and archery, that’s what!

How do you play Battle Archery?

We won’t bore you with all the ins and outs of the rules (as each centre may differ anyway), but the essence of what battle archery is all about is easy – you run, dodge arrows and shoot arrows. Some games are based around point scoring, others are an elimination task.

Unlike paintball, your ‘ammo’ is unlimited and you don’t actually carry a stock of arrows with you. Game marshals put stashes of the foam-tipped arrows around the playing arena and, of course, there’s nothing to stop you picking up a fallen arrow and re-using it. In fact, it’s actively encouraged!

Foam Battle Archery arrows

Foam-tipped Battle Archery arrows

Some venues, such as this Battle Archery operator in Bristol, also offer a version called Aerial Archery, where you take aim at moving targets flying throw the air. The targets look a lot like clay pigeons, but they are made of foam. And similar to clay pigeon shooting, the targets can come at your from all different angles, trajectories and speeds.

Aerial Archery

As well as Battle Archery you can try Aerial Archery and shoot arrows at moving targets

Does it hurt?

Now here’s what sets Battle Archery apart from paintballing. There’s no stinging sensation after you’ve splatted and no bruises either. One Battle Archer game-player described it as ‘like being hit with a sponge’, which we think is quite a nice way of putting it.

Safety remains paramount through and all players will be kitted out with a full face mask and goggles, which are very much in the paintballing style.

Battle Achery mask

You’ll be kitted out in a full-face Battle Archery mask

What other kit do you need to be a Battle Archer?

As well as your face mask and goggles, you’ll be issued with an arm guard and a specific Battle Archery bow. These come in different sizes and are ambidextrous, that’s to say can be used by left or right handed shooters.

Do you need to be an archer to be able to take part in Battle Archery?

No! The instructors at Bristol’s Battle Archery centre always make sure players have a practice in the training area before going out into battlefield. This is to make sure everyone knows how to load and fire their foamy arrows.

Where it gets tricky is when you try to run, load a bow and fire it, whilst dodging getting hit by the very opponent you’re aiming at! It is pretty physical, as you’ll be sprinting and crouching down quite a lot and it’s also surprisingly tactical too.

Any tips on what the best battle tactics?

Watch out for snipers hiding behind barrels, keep your eyes peeled at all times and maybe work together to orchestrate a charge towards enemy lines? Oh and watch out for the game battle marshals, sometimes they can strike with their arrows too!

Battle Archery charge

One of the Battle Archery tactics could be a co-ordinated charge!

Where can you play Battle Archery in the UK?

The game is already really popular in Canada and the USA and it’s just coming to our shores. Keep an eye on our archery experiences page for the latest Battle/Tag Archery venues in the UK.

Now you know what Battle Archery is, it’s time for you to sign up and take the plunge into the foam-filled combat zone to see if you’ve got what it takes to be an ace Battle Archer!

Night Battle Archery

You can even try a night time Battle Archery challenge!