Marble Sink — The Bastard Hole!              

Stan & Alison, Andy Hamoni, Neil Pacey.

Alpine start up at Bullpot on a freezing cold Saturday morning in the middle of November. The original plan for the day was to try and bottom Quaking Pot but Professor Saville had been taken ill by a mysterious “ard” flu bug. So, Quaking Pot was put off until the week later.

Having spent the entire previous week living, breathing, and dreaming about Quaking Pot plan B was put into action. The local water levels were low due to the recent spell of cold weather and it didn’t seem much like rain today so Marble Sink was chosen as an equally hard alternative. After demolishing a full pan of porridge we all set off to Bernies equipped with seven (everlasting) 25ft. Red Rose ladder, Phew, Hue, McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, and Grub and a lifeline who was called ‘Snap’.

Andy Hamoni set off in his white Astra SR; go faster look alike, seconds later Mad Stan ‘The Rally Man’ and his girlfriend Alison, co-pilot followed in hot pursuit. Within no time at all we arrived in Ingleton. No matter how early you get up to go caving you always end up in Bernies drinking cups of tea and having a fag. I had a rendezvous to meet Chaz sometime around 10.00am, we waited and waited so at 11.00 Chaz still hadn’t shown so we set off for the allotment.

The weather had now changed, the temperature had dropped, the wind was blowing stringer, and sleet started coming down on the windscreen, a desperately cold miserable day. After Stan had nearly wrapped the backend off Alison’s company Cavalier we arrived halfway up the track which leads to Crummock Farm. We were now ready to get changed. Stan came close to bottling out due to having to go through a grade V miserable change with wet caving gear. I had come prepared, I had changed into my green teddy bear lookalike outfit back at the farm. You can’t beat a bit of forward planning folks!

After sorting out a various selection of ladders, slings, and bolt hangers (we were being optimistic), we set off up the lower slopes of Ingleborough onto the allotment. After losing the path as usual we suddenly arrived at a large classic open pothole. I instantly recognised it as being Rift Pot, as you do. From here we proceeded in a westerly direction until we came to a small shakehole with a miserable looking entrance, yes, this is Marble Sink, far from the splendour or grandeur of such entrances as Rowten or Juniper Gulf, or even Bullpot. It is probably the most uninviting cave entrance in the Yorkshire Dales, unless you know better! (Jim’s digs don’t count). Luckily the surface stream sank before the entrance, thus meaning that the entrance crawl would be dry. I had previously seen this entrance in wet weather with the stream flowing directly into the low crawl, a horrific spectacle.
After ridding ourselves o-f wooly gloves and warm hats we set off into the unknown. The darkness beckons.

The guidebook describes Marble Sink as a classic amongst tight holes since it maintains interest to the bitter end. It gives it a deserving grade V. The entrance crawl is best entered feet first due to its constricted nature at the head of the first pitch. Stan was in front with a ladder, I followed next with more ladders, Alison and then Andy at the rear with even more ladders. The crawl was warmer than the fell, so we all lay there quietly chatting, waiting for Stan to make forward movement.
After the initial shock of one minute being on the open fell, then seconds later thrutching desperately over cobbles and trying to negotiate your legs round a sharp right angled bend is to put it mildly a strange contrast. Marble Sink does not waste time in building up to be horrible, its horrible from the word go. After the first sharp bend an easy S bend follows onto the head of a 30ft. pitch, Pillar Pot. This was rigged on a manky bolt backed up round a solid iron bolt in situ. We already knew that this section would be fun on the return journey.

Stan climbed the fine shaft, ‘Pillar Pot’ which contains an unusual orange flowstone formation running down one wall of the pot. I lowered all the tackle down to him. I was ready to descend when Andy informed Alison and I that he was stuck. He couldn’t move forward or backwards because his knee was jammed in the bottom of the sharp right angled bend.

Shit. What do we do now after much thrutching and fighting with rock. Andy had managed to overcome this obstacle, with Andy being the largest of us all it’s a bigger achievement for him to overcome this than us undernourished midgets. Most other people with a little sense would have gone out, but not Andy, he’s a bone against rock man.
We all assembled in the chamber below the pitch. Alison produced the famous piece of cardboard which had all the answers to our questions on it. It was a rather short edited version of the guidebook. It went as follows — BEND — CRAWL — PITCH — TIGHT RIFT BASTARD HOLE, etc.

After climbing down a huge flake which seemed to be delicately balanced at the bottom we entered the tight rift, a short climb down led to the top of a small hole with about a 10ft. drop below, the Bastard Hole, it was an awkward squeeze with gravity helping on the way down. The guidebook says ‘Short ladder or combined tactics useful on return’. We would opt for combined tactics. A drop of about 20ft. looked down on a small stream below, but the way on was a traverse to the left which led onto a steep narrow boulder Lope. Bomb Alley, large block boulders were stacked at the top waiting for some one to trigger off an avalanche. We carefully crawled down the steep narrow alley being careful not to disturb the slope, this led directly onto the next pitch, Razor Pot, 4Oft. deep. The ladders were belayed round some calcite formations, and lowered down the shaft, the pitch is an easy climb with your back resting against one wall. The bottom section was rather wet. After making sure that the tackle was at the front, we set off down the Grand Gallery. What was good about the gallery I do not know, all I remember is crawling on your side and pushing ladders in front, rather miserable really. A traverse level led off at one point above the rift, we had a choice, we could either follow the narrow crawl in the streamway, or traverse above in the rift. We chose to traverse in the rift. Up until now things were running rather smooth, it was looking like a quick trip to the bottom then out again with no
cock ups. Could I have been wrong? The rift led off up round an awkward squeeze into a higher level, the stream below looked like it choked so we were positive that we were on the right route. Things now started to get very strenuous, tackle was a problem, it had to be permanently gripped so not to drop it into the Impossibly tight rift below. Movement was a problem, it involved horizontal thrutching, using elbow jams so as not to slide down, the serious nature of this passage began eating away at our energy levels, we were becoming tired. This passage was your worst nightmare, it was harder than anywhere else any of us had ventured before; it was worse than the stemple rift in Hammer Pot, or Brown Hill, or even the crux in Quaking.

We continued through a tight calcite squeeze, Stan was pushing in front when he noticed a straw, 3ft. long, extremely delicate. blocking the way on, we were on the wrong route, we had just seriously F***ED UP. After somehow managing to turn around, we set off back, the journey back involved a lot of cursing, swearing, and shouting at tackle which kept getting stuck.

We now followed the correct route, this time in the stream, after a sharp bend and a crawl through a pool we came to a 8ft head-first drop, I managed to slide my feet down first but Stan had to try at doing a suicidal skydive. What followed was a squeeze up round a tight bend (Speakers Corner). This led directly to the next pitch, Split Pot. The ladder hung in space and was an easy 20ft. climb. After about 1Oft, of walking the passage forced us up into the roof of a tight rift, then round some tight squeezes, down a headfirst drop, through more squeezes, then head first to an old bolt with hanger. This was the top of the 40ft. Discovery Pot; the two twenty-five foot ladders were unraveled and passed to the front. The top 3ft. of the pitch was tight, it involved some acrobatics with the ladder, getting back off this pitch and squeezing into the rift would not be easy on the return. The pitch was split by ledges nearly all the way down, the bottom 15ft. dropped back into the streamway, the character of the cave had now changed, the place was full of interesting formations of different colours, climbs revealed grotto’s full of straws. We followed an easy traverse to the head of the last pitch the Fault Chimney, large avens with orange calcite flowstones flowing down led off to our left we climbed up a tricky calcite slope, this led to the Devils Kitchen, above soared the huge Goliath rift into blackness. The formations were fabulous, over the other side of the shaft a high level passage could be seen, in order to get to this passage it involved traversing round a 30ft. pot. This was a dangerous operation, utilizing small stals as finger holds with no positive footholds, only mud.

We were now at the bottom of Marble Sink, our spirits were high as we ate our chocolate. After a quick dig we decided to head off back out. The ULSA 1969 exploration journal quotes “although the descent is fairly easy, the return journey is a different matter when they became more and more exhausted”.

The return journey was eventful with Stan getting stuck in the tight rift above Discovery Pot, this section is known as David’s Traverse, he tried to squeeze through with two ladders clipped to his belt, but the ladders got jammed and he couldn’t unclip them. We all had epics in this section, Speakers Corner involved a skydive keeping your feet straight up in the air in order to get round the sharp bend.

The Bastard Hole involved plenty of pushing and pulling as we tried out our combined tactics and Andy couldn’t coil the ladder at the top of the first pitch because there was no room so he pushed it in front of himself, by the time he got to the entrance it looked like Spaghetti Junction, we tried out a dragline in the entrance crawl but all the tackle got jammed.

After seven hours of miserable thrutching and groveling around in the bowels of the earth we were successful. We had been to the bottom of Marble Sink, teamwork was the most important factor in our success. The same teamwork and the same attitude should hopefully see us to Gormargast Chamber in Quaking Pot next week.

Neil Pacey.

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