One early August morning, we put on our hiking boots, packed our day bags and headed out for an adventure!
Ingleborough - view from Twistleton Scar
You see, there is a cave in Yorkshire which sits under the slopes of Ingleborough, Yorkshires 2nd highest peak (723m). The stream, Fell Beck, meanders around the surrounding countryside before free falling over 100m down a pothole as Englands highest unbroken waterfall into an incredible underground chamber!
There are quite a few entrances to the cave, but you would need to go potholing if you want to reach it... UNLESS you join one of only 2 events held each year by the Craven Pot Hole Club or the Bradford Pot Hole Culb. On these special events, there is no need to go potholing. They both provide a winch set up over the pothole which lowers you down into the cave (and back up of course!) for a minimal fee. They do try to redirect Fell Beck as much as possible for these meets, however some of it does escape and still fall - more on that later!
We decided to try our luck with Craven Pot Hole Club and started by parking up in Clapham. We took the path following the stream up through the woods and past the main entrance to Ingleborough Show Cave. We kept going along the narrow ravine of Trow Gill and on to the pothole entrance. In all, the walk took about 50 minutes.
Looking down at the winch entrance
On arrival, we 'checked in' at one of the tents. No pre-booking is possible - you turn up, are given a number and simply have to wait your turn. The earlier you turn up, the more likely you are to get to go down. We were there just before 8am (when the check-in opened) and already had quite a few people ahead of us. A wait of around an hour was expected.
Now, it's worth mentioning that you are in the middle of nowhere, so there are no facilities, and on a cold windy day in the middle of the Yorkshire countryside, an hours wait seemed longer. Had it been a brilliant sun shining day, I'm sure the time would have whizzed past.
All strapped in and ready to go!
It was our turn all soon enough, and once strapped in the chair, I was lowered down into the 'main chamber'. It was a lot quicker than I was expecting! Sort of lost my belly a little bit! Around halfway down, the path of the winch crosses paths with the waterfall. Now, I already mentioned they try to redirect it, but some water does escape and yes you do get wet, even with waterproofs!
With the water falling from above you may be thinking "Where is all this water going? Surely the chamber is full of water!?", however there is no need to worry. The water falls down onto a rocky plateau before draining through the cave system.
Down! Down! Down!
On reaching the bottom, I was released from the chair and pointed in the direction of a guide. The guide was full of fascinating information. For example, it wasn't until 1895 that a Frenchman, Edouard Martel, made the first descent to the bottom using only a rope ladder and candles! The main chamber is approximately 129m long, 31m high, and 25m wide and is one of the most complex and longest systems in the UK.
Looking towards the 'entrance', light streaming from above!
After our guided tour we were allowed to look around - of course being sensible and not doing our own potholing while we were there.
The temperature is around 8°C but feels a lot colder with the wind and spray from the waterfalls. The chamber is lit in various places by floodlighting, so even if you were a 'caver', this event would offer a totally different experience to viewing it with just your head torch!
Me in the winch on my way back to the surface
When we had explored as much as we could in the relative dark, were pretty cold and wet through, we waited for the winch to take us back to the surface. The ride up seemed to be a lot slower for some reason - staying under the spray of the waterfall a lot long longer than the way down! Back at the top, the weather was just as grim as when we descended, but at least a brisk hike back to the car would warm us up.
Daylight once more!
If you fancy going along, then make sure you take some warm and waterproof clothing, not just for the chamber itself, but for the surrounding area at the surface! Also a torch/ head torch. Be prepared for a potentially long wait - depending on when you turn up.
Oh... and don't be silly! Make sure you don't forget to check the batteries are fully charged in your torch/ head torch before you get lowered down... (no... I didn't get down there and realise mine was flat... nope... not me!)
Thanks for reading!