Oxford University Cave Club

Cave Research Group publication 14

1961 Oxford University Expedition to Northern Spain

1961 Expedition Report (CRG 14)

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In common with most University expeditions, the foodstocks were built around the large quantities most generously donated by manufacturers. A further group of companies gave concessions in the form of varying amounts of discount, and so the expedition set off to Spain well laden with foods. Large quantities could be carried by the two lorries.

The types of food donated, although all most acceptable, were mostly high-calorie and starchy products rather than protein. It was found well worthwhile to plan the menus for the whole of the journey and to make up food boxes containing the rations for each day. These could then be packed accessibly - or such was the pious hope.

Customs clearance was negotiated with the aid of previously-obtained documents establishing the identity and aims of the expedition, and eventually the base in the mountains was reached. This was so remote that trips to the valley for provisions could only be made every ten days and this raised some problems in catering for twelve people.

The prevailing hot weather precluded the purchase of fresh meat so tinned meats and fish were purchased locally. Future expeditions would find it advisable to carry these from Britain where the variety is greater and the quality higher.

The carbohydrate backbone of the diet consisted of 440 pounds (200 Kg.) of potatoes, 70 pounds (30 Kg) of rice, 60 pounds of porridge, 18 tins of potato crisps and 110 pounds (50 Kg,) of bread. Crates of local cabbages, beans and fruits, together with fruit juices gave a balance to the diet, and no dietary problems were encountered. The only stomach upsets were probably caused by the consumption of food and water in the village in the valley; there was no general problem.

The staple beverages were tea, coffee and large quantities of local wine - to replace the generous stocks of the Refugio already consumed it was brought up to the mountains by the barrel during provisioning trips.

Ingenuity was needed in devising attractive menus from a somewhat limited range of foods. Stews, curries and paellas played their part, and during an excursion into the mountains on foot an acceptable meal was produced from garlic, Oxo, Marmite, rice and wild chives - a chive paella. One memorable meal was provided when a local shepherd asked whether los Ingleses would like to buy some rabbits. This offer of fresh meat was accepted with alacrity, but great resolution was required when the rabbits, delivered live, were found to have black and white coats.

The food brought from England included many excellent caving rations. These consisted of such items as lifeboat biscuits (20 lb), Marmite (15 lb), jam (in tubes), chocolate (28 dozen blocks), Dextrosol (6 dozen packets), chewing gum (400 packets), dried fruit-and-nut blocks, and sweet biscuits (9 tins). The lifeboat biscuits and dried fruit blocks were particularly successful. These stores were carried in ammunition tins during caving trips.

Tinned butter and dehydrated milk powder (36 lb.) were particularly useful, also Complan (24 lb) - a powdered concentrate which proved very acceptable when mixed with porridge. The 112 pounds of sugar taken out of Britain worked out to be just adequate.

Some members liked the local Spanish delicacies of squid, cooked in its own ink, and octopus tentacles.

 I.R. Gordon, Oxford, April 1964.