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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The transport arrangements are of prime importance in any expedition; the following article aims to provide the maximum assistance to those mounting similar expeditions.

A large mass of equipment was required by the expedition, so it was decided to purchase two ex-Army lorries, a 3 ton Bedford OY and a 1 ton Bedford MW. These had been standing in the open for several years and both looked rather decrepit and needed thorough overhauls.

Two amateur mechanics and a team of eager helpers set to, and within a few weeks turned out a pair or shiny green-painted, smoothly-running lorries. The load was so great that it was necessary to erect a roofrack extension over the cab of the three tonner, and this was constructed from slotted steel angle. It did excellent service in carrying two spare wheels and at least half a ton of assorted caving and survey equipment.

The great day arrived, and the expedition set off from Oxford in convoy for Dover, two lorries, twelve people and four tons of equipment. The one ton lorry usually acted as pilot vehicle. The two-way telephone from the caving equipment provided .an efficient intercom between the rear of this vehicle and the driving cab, and proved invaluable when items such as sunglasses fell out whilst the lorry was in motion, and for traffic commentaries.

On the long straight roads throughout France the average speed was about 40Mph (64Kmph). Both engines were running very sweetly, and consuming little oil. Further south, the temperature steadily rose until at one point it was 130° F (54° C) in the cab of the three-tonner, the dress for drivers being boots, shorts and sunglasses. However, on no occasion did the oil pressure in either vehicle fall below 40 psi (normal), and only on the steepest gradients did the three-tonner boil. The vehicles averaged 11 and l3 mpg fully laden. At Montignac a rear wheel bearing had to be renewed, and a leaking rear wheel brake cylinder was repaired by scouring using 'wet-and-dry' paper and a lot of hard labour.

After leaving the main roads in Spain, the road-surfaces were extremely poor, either two inches of fine dust or littered with spring-breaking potholes. The master cylinder and servo were completely overhauled on arrival at the expedition's mountain base, the Refugio de la Vega de Enol, and gave no further trouble. The one-ton lorry was used on the archaeological trip, covering a further 2000 miles, and during this time the effects of the 62-octane petrol gradually became apparent; the tappets needed increasingly frequent attention.

On the return journey, in order to catch the cross-Channel ferry on the date appointed, 1500 miles were covered in 48 hours, the four drivers working a shift system of four hours on, four hours off. At the end of this marathon journey the one-tonner gave up the ghost, and needed six new exhaust valves at Boulogne in order to get back to Oxford.

The High in the gathering dusk looked little different from its aspect eight weeks previously. Yet the members of the expedition felt themselves changed. As they dispersed, some for the coming term and some to new jobs, each knew he would remember the Oxford University Expedition to Northern Spain 1961 for the rest of his life.

D.A. Hukin, Thame, Oxfordshire