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A collection of images taken on this trip can be found here.
It’s quite curious how the human brain perceives time without an outside reference. How long had I been crawling for? It was impossible to know. Could you call it crawling? Not hands and knees, but rather supporting myself with a single arm outstretched in the water and pushing myself sideways along the narrow passage. My helmet scrapes noisily on the rock ceiling and my waist is constricted by each opposite wall. Any sense of progress is impossible – the next bit of passage is completely indistinguishable from the last and all other parts. Had it been twenty minutes? Forty? An hour?
Internally, I mull over whether there is a name for this eccentric method of sideways movement – generally, when people name a technique, it is because it is efficient, effective, or desirable – I’m not sure this is any of those. Everything is relative though, and it did seem to be the better option compared to crawling in the muddy brown water .
My bag is stuck. I attempt to free it blindly with my foot. This inevitably fails, and I must turn around, go backward and release it from whatever unhelpful protrusion has captured one of its straps. I crawl – no, sideways hop, for another few metres. My bag is stuck again. As I unhook it, I start to question what I am doing here at 1 am. Maybe this was a bad idea?
Following the jagged rock tunnel through a relentless series of 90-degree bends, I am often forced to my knees by a lowered roof or occasionally made to crawl on all fours. Constantly changing position seems to be taking just as much time as making forward progress. My internal debate as to how long I have been here is beginning to lose relevance, and I resolve that I should simply keep going until such time the going comes to an end.
A particularly nasty bit of cave soon demands me to be completely flat out in the stream, struggling to push my bag in front of me. Progress is very slow – why did I want to carry lights and cameras for photography? I’d learn for next time – or not. Eventually, a T-junction is salvation from my internal monologue. The torturous entrance series of Oddmire Pot – Strid Passage – has been passed, and the downstream continuation into Hammerdale Dub allows me to stand up properly for the first time since I left Slaughter Aven.
Ireby Fell Cavern is a classic Yorkshire caving trip that neither Gracie nor I had managed to do yet, so on 17th of June we set off to rectify that. We were enticed by the promise of spectacular sandy passage in Duke St, as well as what was reputed to be a fun bit of SRT to get there. The CNCC website housed a comprehensive route description, as us Dales cavers are privileged to be able to expect, and with a laminated copy in hand we set off for a trip down to Duke St II via the sump bypass.
Having been at work in the morning, we set off rather late, arriving at Inglesport around 3pm. We picked up some short lengths of rope that were missing from my collection, in order to prevent using a 30 metre rope on a 10 metre pitch. As it happened, we could’ve not taken any rope at all, as the entire cave was rigged with good quality (new looking) rope, with two separate pieces of rope on some of the pitches. Despite the good quality of the rope, the mallions it was attached to seemed to have seen better days. Having made the effort of bringing all the rope with us, we endeavoured to use it regardless, lest our efforts be in vain.
Knock Fell Caverns is a unique trip for the caver who fancies something a bit different than the typical Yorkshire Dales stream cave. Located under the summit of Knock Fell, which is conveniently accessed from the A66 at Appleby-in-Westmorland, the cave presents a hugely varied series of interconnected passages running in a broadly north-south and east-west direction. Wikipedia states that the cave is the “most extensive maze cave system in Britain” and the navigational challenges within are not to be underestimated. The total length of the system is around 4.5 kilometres.
The publicly available survey (also available without annotations) highlights the complexity of the cave. What the survey does not show, however, is the huge variety of passage located within the system. This is a cave that has almost everything; most trips into the cave will encompass tight squeezes, as well as generously sized chambers, beautiful formations, unpleasant muddy crawls, impressively tall rifts, leisurely walking passage, boulder chokes, and (of course) testing navigation.
Gracie and I, when visiting on 19th February 2022, got the impression that the cave does not receive a lot of traffic. Perhaps this is due to the location outside the main Yorkshire Dales caving area, or the intimidating complexity - either way, it seems a shame! Many of the passages within looked as if they had barely visited (even on the main ‘trade route’ marked on the annotated survey). The impressive, orange-tinted formations located throughout the system were very well-preserved.
On New Year’s Day, Gracie and I had the opportunity to take a trip down to the bottom of Titan, the largest natural cave shaft in the UK, which comes in at 141 metres from top to bottom. The total vertical distance covered in the trip is 174 metres (including the entrance shaft) — 16 metres taller than the Blackpool Tower. We had been looking forward to this trip for some time and the excitement was palpable when we picked up the keys at 10am. Originally, we had been a team of six, however due to the events of the night before (New Year’s Eve), only the two of us remained — we were not looking forward to carrying three backpacks and two drybags full of kit one and a half miles up Castleton Fell between us!
I have made a video of this trip and it is available on my YouTube channel. I’ve narrated the video with some information regarding the history of the cave and I really think it will help you get a better idea of what it is like to be down there. Text and images don’t quite do this natural wonder any justice — but then again, I’m not sure video can replace being there either.
The walk turned out to not be as bad as expected — the weather was dry and overcast, although quite windy, and we managed to reach the entrance in around an hour maintaining a slow and steady pace. The route through Cave Dale to the top of Hurd Low (where the entrance is situated) was beautiful, even if we did get some strange looks from the early morning holiday walkers.
On Christmas Day, 2021, I undertook a solo through trip of the Ease Gill cave system, from County Pot at the upstream end to Lancaster Hole at the downstream end. I’d previously explored the Ease Gill over a couple of trips — one into Lancaster Hole, and one from Lancaster Hole to Stop Pot and back — however this would be my first time going into County Pot and navigating the Manchester Bypass route back to the high level passages that form the “trade route” down towards Lancaster.
The entire trip was filmed using my helmet mounted GoPro, and the footage is available on my YouTube channel. The footage is quite good in places, especially the first half of the trip where the passages are smaller. Unfortunately, when I arrived into the gigantic dimensions of Monster Cavern where the passages enlarge significantly and remain so for the duration of the trip, the video quality degrades considerably.