Yorkshire Dales (UK) is a rather idyllic spot; perfectly quaint villages are scattered across green rolling hills that are dotted with lazy cows and sheep. It has been nicknamed ‘God’s own county’, which frankly is not surprising to anyone who enjoys their caving. There are lots of caves to play in, in fact, the area is home to Britain’s largest collection of caves. I was lucky enough to check out a handful of the classic Yorkshire caves and was well impressed.
Caving itself is half the battle and you tend to walk for several kilometers across the moor and gently rolling hills before finally reaching the cave entrance. This was actually incredibly pleasant as the sun was shining, the skies were blue and the surrounding scenery was breathtaking. I am glad however that I spent a few weeks leading up to the trip trampling around my local hills with a backpack stuffed full of lead and got the old fitness levels up. Caving takes a lot of effort, thus the fitter you are the more you can enjoy the experience and the underground environment.
Gaping Gill is probably Britain’s most famous cave and we dropped into it via Bar Pot. While it is one of the country’s longest and most complex cave systems with over 16km of mapped passage, it is the waterfall that falls into the Main Chamber that is the biggest attraction. The chamber is one of the largest in England and the stream Fell Beck sinks 105m into its depths. Quite a spectacular sight – it is the kind of place that makes you involuntarily gasp ‘wow’ when you see it. The water plunges down the pitch in dramatic fashion, gently illuminated by the light from above. The thundering waterfall is quite an impressive spectacle, as one would expect of the highest unbroken waterfall in Britain! The water then sinks into the cobble floor and reappears further downstream in the Ingleborough show cave.
The Ease Gill Cave System offers a wide range of passage and is actually the longest cave system in Britain with over 70km of mapped passage. We dropped into County Pot and followed beautifully sculpted streamway passage and a series of underground streams until reaching our destination, Easter Grotto. This was a truly beautiful place, as it has probably the highest concentration of straws in the UK. The trip was worth it to see this chamber alone, but this extensive system had a lot to offer and I was awed by the incredible variety and diversity of passage. Clive Westlake was my guide for the trip through and with 50 years of caving experience and a wealth of knowledge about the history of the cave, I could not have asked for a better guide.
By far the wettest experience was the through trip in between Swinsto Hole and the Valley Entrance, which was absolutely fantastic. A through trip means that you go into one cave and come out another exit, in this case further down the hill in the valley floor. To do this we had to do a pull through, this involves abseiling down the rope and then removing it to use on the next pitch – so the only way out is forward and on. After negotiating a 300m crawl, one I would suggest does not fall into the category of ‘friendly crawling,’ there are a series of pitches to negotiate. You get rather wet as you abseil down and through the waterfalls. My favorite part was the split pitch, which was quite spectacular, despite the fact that I was thoroughly wet and cold by this point.
The caving in Yorkshire is stupendous and there is an incredible amount of caves to see. Getting to visit a handful of the classics has only wet my appetite for more, so I hope to be back in Yorkshire sooner rather than later. I would like to thank local Yorkshire cavers Sue and David Ryall for their incredibly kind and generous hospitality and fabulous company throughout the week.