For most people, the idea of venturing into an isolated cave alone would fill them with fear.
But for former teacher Tommy Soames, it was his idea of fun – until he got lost inside and thought he was going to die alone with no hope of rescue.
That is exactly what happened when he went exploring in the underground network of caverns near the picturesque Lake Skadar in Montenegro last year.
Remarkably, he survived the six-hour ordeal by tearing out pages from historian Damien Lewis’s book SAS Great Escapes and using them, Hansel and Gretel-style, to mark every dead end until he found his way out.
Mr Lewis then received an email from the adventurer telling him: ‘Your book saved my life.’
The pair reunited last week at the launch of the author’s latest book, SAS Great Escapes II, at the Churchill War Rooms in Westminster.
Tommy Soames, 25, thought he was going to die alone in a cave network in Montenegro after getting lost. But he tore out the pages from the book SAS Great Escapes, by historian Damien Lewis, and used them to line all the dead ends until there was only one path left with no bits of paper. Above: Mr Soames with the ruined book
The entrance to the cave which Mr Soames got lost in, near Lake Skadar in the south of Montenegro
Mr Lewis was so inspired by Mr Lewis’s tale of survival that he told it in the preface of his latest volume.
Mr Soames, who went to Montenegro during last year’s Spring half-term, was initially told about the Obod Caves, near the town of Rijeka Crnojevica, by a fisherman.
He was attracted by a review revealing how they had an underground river and so set off. The caves were set amongst a stunning forest, as Mr Soames’s photos show.
The only thing he was carrying in his bag was Mr Lewis’s book, a tin of sardines and a pack of dates.
‘There was one enormous entrance. So I thought, one way down one way up. So I went in,’ he said.
‘And I didn’t think the river would be that far. So I just listened for the water and could hear it faintly rushing in the distance.
‘I think that’s why I got lost so quickly, because all I was listening for was the water and I wasn’t really watching where I was going, I was just following my senses.’
He said it very quickly became ‘pitch black’ as it started to get deeper. The only other sound besides rushing water were the shrieks of bats.
When he got to the river at the bottom after around an hour of walking, he filled up his water bottle and then tried to make his way out.
‘I followed one path back up, [it was a] dead end. I thought, okay, that’s fine. There’s obviously two tunnels, not one. So I went back down again, I took another tunnel.
‘And that was also a dead end. And it was after the second tunnel that I thought it was over. I was so sure in that moment that I was going to die.’
Whilst attempting to scramble back down to the river, Mr Soames took a wrong step and fell around 10 feet between two boulders.
Fortunately he only suffered cuts and bruises, but said the fall ‘sobered me up’ from the panic.
Once back at the river, he examined the contents of his bag and began thinking about the fairytales he knew.
His mind drifted to Theseus and the Minotaur, where the hero escapes the monster’s labyrinth using Ariadne’s ball of thread to guide him.
He also thought of Hansel and Gretel in the classic Grimm’s fairytale, which sees the siblings escape from a forest and the clutches of a witch by leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to follow.
Initially he tried to make a trail with the dates that he had, but realised their muddy brown appearance blended in with the rocks.
Remarkably, he survived the five-hour ordeal by tearing out pages SAS Great Escapes and using them, Hansel and Gretel-style, to mark every dead end until he found his way out
The pair reunited last week at the launch of the author’s latest book, SAS Great Escapes II, at the Churchill War Rooms in Westminster. Above: The pair with the ruined book
The Obod Caves were set amongst a stunning forest, as Mr Soames’s photos show
The caves were near Lake Skadar in southern Montenegro (shown above)
‘And then I saw my book and I just started tearing it up,’ he said.
‘It almost became a sort of clock face of failed paths from from right at the bottom.
‘And all the while I just tried to keep my hopes as low as possible.
‘I thought the chances are, I’m not going to make it out. But by god I’ve got to try because nobody’s coming find me.
‘I thought about my parents, my siblings, imagining the police knocking at their door and telling them you know, probably weeks later that my body had been found.
‘And that that’s what drove me on.’
Remarkably, he tore out every page of the book – which charted remarkable escapes by members of the elite SAS in the Second World War – as far as he had read, up to chapter six.
‘It wasn’t just the fact that I had a book on me, but it was that I had this book, because these guys kept calm under pressure and thought through their plan so logically,’ he said.
Mr Soames became so disorientated as he continued trying to make his way out over the course of a further five hours that when he finally saw the beam of sunlight that marked the exit, he thought he was looking at a ‘snowdrift’ and nearly turned back.
‘But I thought, I’ve tried everywhere else, I’ll just take it and see,’ he said. ‘And then I saw the exit and I broke down on my knees and cried for who knows how long.’
Fortunately, Mr Soames, who now carries the mauled SAS book on all his travels, emerged just before the sun went down, meaning the exit was clearly visible.
Mr Soames was attracted by a review revealing how the caves had an underground river (pictured)
Mr Soames became so disorientated as he continued trying to make his way out over the course of a further five hours that when he finally saw the beam of sunlight that marked the exit, he thought he was looking at a ‘snowdrift’ and nearly turned back
The day afterwards, he was back in the UK and heading to see a performance by hit band The Killers, which he said was ‘slightly traumatising’ because they turned off the lights during one song, forcing him to relive his cave ordeal.
Speaking at Wednesday’s book launch, Mr Lewis told MailOnline: ‘I was speechless when he sent the email, speechless when I spoke to him and speechless when I said “Tommy I want to include your story in my book” and he said “please do”.
‘Because he might have said, “please don’t do that”.’
He added: ‘I went to my family as we were sitting down to dinner and I said, “shut up and listen”.
‘I just sat down and I read the email out and they were like, “Oh my God”.’
Mr Soames, who grew up in London and Norfolk, was a Spanish teacher at St Thomas’s primary school in the capital until last summer.
He now hopes to get into travel journalism.