Author interview: Martyn Farr, The Darkness Beckons
- Friday 12th May 2017
Carwash Cenote, near Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Photo: Martyn Farr.
This summer we're releasing a fully updated edition of Martyn Farr's definitive cave-diving chronicle, The Darkness Beckons. Illustrated with spectacular images, the book has been revised since the 1980 first edition to reflect the latest developments, and features an all-new foreword by renowned cave diver and explorer Bill Stone, together with over 250 digitally remastered photographs and more than 100 hand-drawn diagrams.
Now the book has gone to print, we caught up with Martyn to talk about what attracted him to cave diving, his favourite cave-diving destinations and his career highlights.
How did you get in to cave diving? Was the danger element part of its appeal?
My father took me caving at the age of ten and I was hooked on the underground world from the very beginning. Within a few years I had experience from caves right across the UK and it was clear that much more remained to be explored. The 'danger' aspect was never part of the attraction. It was simply exciting and sporting, and I felt that I was well suited to the challenges it presented.
Which new caves did you discover at the age of sixteen?
By my mid-teens I was routinely squeezing into tight places, quietly extending the length of various small caves in Wales. I was very aware that there was vast potential for discovery within a few miles of my home and at seventeen I discovered a wholly unknown new cave high on Llangynidr Mountain. I recruited a schoolmate and together we explored the new site – Ogof Cynnes – to over half a mile in length. Slowly my interest extended into the opportunities presented by diving and when I went to university I was able to take advantage of training, all the while focussed on sites in South Wales.
Image to the right: Helen Rider in the longest underwater gypsum cave in the world: Ordinskaya, near Perm in the Urals, Russia. Photo: Martyn Farr.
Where is the best place to go cave diving in the UK?
I would love to say that the best place for cave diving is Wales, but simple geography shows that the most numerous, the longest and some of the deepest dive sites are in the Yorkshire Dales.
Which is your favourite international cave-diving destination?
There are so many cave-diving destinations around the world these days. Virtually every country has something to offer and every area is subtly different. The Yucatan of Mexico has the longest and most beautiful caves in the world and these are always a pleasure to visit as the water is a balmy twenty-five degrees centigrade. However I have to say that I am always drawn to the quiet, more remote destinations, and to New Zealand. For example it is extremely rare to come across other cave divers. The water here is only six to ten degrees centigrade but the exploratory opportunities are wonderful.
Image to the left: Geoff Yeadon looks up the passage leading to the China Shop, having just climbed a 15-metre pitch up from the main Boreham streamway. A flowstone cascade has left a dammed pool at the head of the passage, and its tranquillity has enabled the long straws of the China Shop to develop without disturbance. Photo: Martyn Farr.
What would you say is the highlight of your cave-diving career to date?
I am really pleased and privileged to have played a significant role at Wookey Hole caves in Somerset in 1976/1977 and again in 1982, on both occasions extending both the length and depth of this major cave system. In 1986 again I am really pleased to have been in the right place and the right time to make the first subterranean journey through Llangattock Mountain – the area where my father had introduced me to caving all those many years before.
Ordinskaya is a very special cave; at times it appears as though it has been sculpted in ice and snow. The water clarity here is unparalleled. Photo: Martyn Farr.
Are you still discovering new caves?
Yes, I am still trying. As more and more people enter the sport it becomes ever more difficult to 'go where no man has gone before'. But experience, determination and good research can prove very rewarding. Several miles of new cave have been found in New Zealand these past few years, while nearer to home I currently have interesting projects quietly moving forward in Ireland and France. There is a huge potential for discovery worldwide so the future will be very interesting.
Image to the right: Cavers stand in awe to view some of the formations discovered in Echo Valley Palace Cave in New Zealand. Photo: Martyn Farr.
Have you or anyone you’ve been cave diving with ever found yourselves in real danger while diving?
There is obviously a significant element of danger in cave-diving activities. This cannot be denied and certainly I have lost a number of good, close friends to this sport. I nearly died on my sixth cave dive and since then there have been many close calls. Losing a friend and surviving the event leaves one with extremely mixed emotions. It's all too sensitive for an interview like this. The all-important thing is to guard, as far as is humanly possible, against as many of the 'what if’s' as you can think of … and to have effective strategies for dealing with incidents.
What’s your camera of choice when photographing underwater?
I used a Nikonos 'film' camera for many years – absolutely fantastic! These days I use a Canon for dry cave photography and a Sony in a housing for the cave-diving shoots.
Image to the right: The Gouffre du Briant, France, a long cave discovered by cave divers in 1976 via the Gouffre du Blagour, near Brive-la-Gaillarde. Photo: Martyn Farr.
Have you taken any famous names cave diving?
Hmm… it all depends upon what constitutes famous. I have taken any number of TV personalities diving but without question I feel most honoured to have taken the Royal princes William and Harry caving two years running.
Image to the left: Helen Rider diving upstream in Porth yr Ogof. Photo: Martyn Farr.
What advice would you give to someone whose dream is to be a professional cave diver?
We all need dreams. But dreams are nothing without hard determination to see them through to reality. I count myself lucky. I knew from a young and tender age that I wanted to be a caver and cave diver, so I worked steadily from the very beginning to realise that goal. My early caving friends were dismissive but I couldn’t accept their views. I just kept working towards that goal passionately and today I think I can legitimately sit back and say that I did it. If you love something – or someone – enough, you don’t give up. So 'go for it' I say.
Find out more about The Darkness Beckons HERE.