Volume 35 Number 2 Article 4
Short Drop - Gavel Pot Trip
Sunday 30th August 1997
Tim, Heather & Zoey Eastwood, Paul Wilkinson, Lizzie Boyes, Peter & Julie Mohr, Dave Edland, John Shaw, Pete Hall, Alan Swan, and Dave Jump.
A rather wet and dull Bank Holiday Sunday. Short Drop and Gavel Pot are located on Lack Fell, conveniently near to the road; Selected Caves describes the caves as a "fine and underrated trip" (ULSA has surveyed over 2,000 metres of passage). They were originally explored in the late nineteenth century by the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club, but the full extent of Gavel has only been realised since the 1970s, when, after further excavation by the "living legend" Gordon Batty, the third and fourth main pitches led to a terminal sump which cave-divers - Geoff Yeadon in 1975, and Rob Palmer in 1985 - have discovered to be over 60 metres deep up-stream, and 900 metres long down-stream (Northern Pennine Club Journal 1987).
The planned "exchange" didn't go as planned but a "good time was generally had by all", as they say. Pete ("Zig") went ahead and laddered the route out from the end of Short Drop, while Julie ("Zag") led Zoey, Heather, Tim, Paul and Lizzie from the entrance of Short Drop. Meanwhile Dave and John went to rig Gavel for SRT, followed by Pete Hall who went digging in Southbound Passage, while Swanny & Jumpy swanned and jumped around, in & out, up & down.
The Short Drop team had an interesting trip exploring the oxbows, gasping in amazement at the amazing Boulder Bridge, and generally getting excited. Someone (who was the swine?) told Zoey it was a "dry trip" so she toughed it out without her gloves or wet-socks (fully "Jim trained"). At the waterfall pitch Tim carefully rigged the ladder out of the water on one of the new eco-hangers, so its hard to understand why everyone got so wet? Heather screamed the loudest. Zig met everyone at the bottom of the ladder and escorted the party to look at the roaring, foaming, dangerous, second waterfall plunging down into the bottomless blackness (8 metres); then everyone climbed out to daylight into the cold Bank Holiday wind and rain at the south-east comer of Gavel (Zoey was magnificent up and down on the ladders), and then back home for tea. What about the exchange? Well that's a long story, but Dave and John showed what tough guys they really are; they just smiled ironically, turned, and went back-down Gavel to de-rig it - what heroes.
While looking at the Short Drop waterfall pitches Tim commented on the old rusty metal belay bars across the pitches; he had read that they were a 100 years old! The article by Stephen Craven in Descent, June 1996, gave a clue to their origin, but the full story by Cuthbert Hastings can be found in the Gritstone Club Journal,1926, and the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal, 1930. Hastings describes how he and his brother Geoffrey, and a third friend, William Eckroyd, determined to explore upstream from "Low Dowk Pot" (the old name for Gavel), in August 1885 - yes - 112 years before our trip!
Eckroyd had been in the cave before and knew about the upstream waterfall; in order to pass it he got the mechanic at his mill to make a ladder out of two lengths of iron pipe with cord rungs, and held rigid top and bottom by short crossbars bolted to the uprights. Caving wasn't quiet as easy and convenient as today, their expedition took three days! Day 1: Arrived at Melling Station, and were driven to a farm on Leck Moor where they stayed the night; they dropped-off their tackle by the roadside on the way, and got permission from the gamekeeper who was on the Moor with a shooting party (what no permit!). Day 2: Descended Gavel on a rope ladder; traversed with difficulty through to the daylight end of Short Drop. They set-off upstream in a "lofty and wide" channel and reached the bottom of the waterfall; where they left their iron ladder and other tackle, then retreated back to daylight, because they had "not much time". Day 3: Back to the waterfall for lunch - a sort of "lunch and ladder" trip! "Fair sized stream", but they easily climbed up the iron ladder and continued upstream for some considerable distance before turning back to exit the way they came - they left the iron ladder in situ.
Hastings continued the story: in 1898 three Yorkshire Rambler Association members - Cuttriss, Swithinbank and JH Buckley - made the first complete traverse from Short Drop to Gavel. They found "to their astonishment the remains of our ladder; up to then they thought they were the first to discover the existence of this underground water-course". In 1926, the ladder was found "still in position" (YRC Journal Vol.5), and photographed by Reg. Hainsworth from Ingleton (Stephen Craven, Descent, June 1996); there were only three of the cord rungs left; later the two iron tubes were found jammed across the roof, possibly for a belay.
Could the present one-metre long rusty iron bars across the two waterfalls, (and a third length at the bottom of the chamber), really be the remains of the original ladder from 112 years ago? Tim and I think so! My advice is use the eco-hangers!
Peter & Julie Mohr