Mossdale Caverns. Wed 18th July 1990.

Pete Hall, Neil Pacey, Andy Hommonai.

After a disturbed night’s sleep at the farm, we woke to bright sunshine and settled weather. It was decided the previous weekend to take advantage of the dry spell .and to explore the infamous Mossdale Caverns. So with a huge amount of grip we made an early start and drove over to Conistone in Wharfedale.

The entrance to the cavern lies high up on the desolate slopes of Great Whernside and has a huge catchment area which responds very quickly to a heavy dew forming a beck of equivalent size to Fell Beck at Gaping Gill. The stream sinks at the foot of the impressive Mossdale Scar and does not see daylight until it resurges at Black Keld near Kettlewell (miles and miles away). The present extent of the system (10 km. long 200ft deep), all lies in the Yoredale series of limestone beds but somehow finds it’s way into the Great Scar limestone (it says Middle Limst. in the guidebook. Ed.) leaving potential for 700ft depth an many more miles of passage. It is also extremely flood prone, flooding the entire system to the roof after only moderate rain.. Along with the total lack of legitimate access this has stopped exploration since the mid-sixties when the worst disaster in the history of British caving occurred.

So as not to get caught by the farmer, who shoots cavers on sight, all the gear was packed into rucksacs at the car in Conistone and the four mile walk was done in shorts and T-shirts. After getting changed at t’entrance and hiding t’sacs down’t hole we set off into t’unknown with our only guide being a survey drawn by Neil on several Bernies Cafe meal tickets. After passing the complex entrance boulder choke we reached the Assembly Hall and soon after the main streamway at Blackpool Sands. The water was warm enough to swim in comfortably which was fortunate as no bugger was wearing a wetsuit. The stream continued as crawling through low, wide, wet bedding chambers with ducks or “drown-or-glories” in between. Fortunately it was not too oppressive as all the flood debris had been washed away by the force of water. Presently, Boulder Hall was reached , the largest chamber in the system but still not immune from total flooding. The way on led through some rare walking sized passages following a telephone wire to Rough Chamber, here the route starts to get complex because the phone wire ends and the remainder is nearly all crawling.

Rough Crawl leads on for 500ft of tedious hands and crawling with fast flowing water to Kneewrecker Junction where the water flows off dawn the Kneewrecker Series on the left. This was a taste of things to come, a short smaller passage lead to another sandstone floored crawl and several confusing passages leading off. Naturally enough we got the wrong one and crawled for about half an hour through a passage half full of freezing cold water through several ducks before reaching a boulder choke. Eventually we found the right passage and crawled down the Near Marathon Series, more hands and knees crawling leading to the Far Marathon Series which is flat out crawling and even further!

Leakey’s Marathon leads off here up a slope on the left and makes an even worse alternative to the Far Marathon. We opted for Far Marathon.

After several hundred foot of very miserable potholing a small waterlogged chamber was reached (well it was a chamber to us) and Neil saw a ghost down the passage so Pete had to take the lead and gerrit exorcised. The ghost turned out to be of the rock variety. The mood of the trip changed as we passed some old abandoned Nife cells and other assorted items of caving gear jammed in the passage in front. A greasy climb led up into the blackness of Mud Caverns and the only formation in the system was seen: a blood red calcite flow running down the wall. The whole area showed no sign of previous visits with loose boulders abounding and bits of digging required to find the way on. We were a bit gripped by the thought of corpses buried in the Mud Caverns so we didn’t explore them too thoroughly.

The way on was a tight climb down and presently the passage opened up leading to the major inlet of the Minicow series entering as a low duck on the left. Stream End cave continued as alternate walking and crawling in a fine stream passage with occasional ducks until we reached an unexpected 50ft high rift chamber with the water sinking in a shingle choke shortly before. It was the end. Thank god for that.

Before returning we set the clock and got the hell out as quickly as possible, we reached Rough Chamber in two and a half hours, all of which was crawling, and after a choccy break continued to the entrance in about another hour. The sun was just setting as we got changed as quickly as possible to avoid getting bitten to death by the midges then we steamed off back to the car and Andy got the privilege of a sixty mile round trip to take Neil back to the farm.

Even with the severe nature of flooding and the 10km of cave being mostly crawling it is still a very enjoyable and sporting pothole trip, well worth another visit on a very, very, dry day, preferably a drought.

Pete Hall.

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