Volume 37 Number 2 Article 5
Smeltmill Beck Cave
(plus other Angelic and Devilish Caving exploits)
Saturday 6 May 2000
The team, (only just a team): Duncan Jones, Andy Powell?
Pete Dale had phoned me earlier in the week to see if I was going to Smeltmill. At the time I was undecided as I may have had other things to do, so I said I'd call him on Friday and let him know. Friday came, and I phoned Pete, and he said he wasn't going because he was working. (I couldn't believe it, Pete missing out on a cave that's right next to the road!) He told me that a couple of other people were planning on going to Smeltmill so I phoned Sam Carradice and arranged to meet him and Andrew Whitney at Stainmore at 11.30 (ish).
I arrived at Stainmore about 11.30, no-one there; perhaps I was early I thought. So I waited and still no-one came, so I went for a drive around to see if I could see anyone, but there was no sign of any Red Rose members. I parked in a lay-by just off the A66 and dug the map out and had a look for somewhere to walk. After I'd picked a couple of spots for walking I decided to set off at about 12.00, but I thought I'd have one last look, just in case... No sooner had I set off than I noticed a car parked down a side road with the boot open... and was that caving gear I saw? It was! I quickly swung the car into the side road and met Andy digging gear out of his car, he was waiting and wondering if anyone else was going to turn up.
The pair of us, (what a well turned out RRCPC club trip!), decided that no-one else was coming so we got on with getting changed and decided to get the trip underway. After a ridiculously long walk it must have taken at least 1 minute we arrived at the cave entrance. It was at this point I started to question my choice of caving gear. I was wearing a fleece, Andy had a short wet-suit on, which was the sensible option I think.
The cave starts off low and wet, crawling through water. The ducks described in the guidebook posed no problem; it hadn't rained much during the week so the water level was possibly lower than normal, which may have helped, although it was still bloody cold. The crawling soon ends and you get to stand up and walk and walk and walk. This cave has a long stream passage. We did pause briefly a number of times to admire the fine formations which seemed to extend along most of the passage. Getting near the end of the cave I had warmed up nicely until we came across some deep water. The route then splits into two; one leads to a wet rift which closes down, which Andy went to the end of; I didn't bother because I was cold enough as it was. The other route takes you to a sump which leads into a small choked chamber. There's also a visual connection with the chamber. Andy had read the description in the book and it said the sump was short. He seemed keen to "do a sump," so I stood there feeling chilly and let him get on with it. (I thought he was mad.) He took a deep breath and disappeared under the water; a few seconds later he emerged the other side. (Yep, I was sure he was mad!) The return journey for Andy took a couple of attempts because the sump isn't straight; the rock sticks out which means you have to wiggle through it. He made it back through and he seemed to be happy to have done a sump. I thought I'd save that "pleasure" for another time. That was it: the end, nowhere to go but out, and so began our 1 hour march back to daylight.
Having got out of Smeltmill mid afternoon, we had time to spare, so Andy suggested going to Stenkrith Park just outside Kirkby Stephen to look for the entrances to the caves in the area. A quick drive and we were there, looking around a nice scenic park. I would imagine it could get very busy on a fine summers day. After finding all the entrances we realised we still had time to spare so, seeing as our feet had recovered from the cold, it was on with the caving gear again.
I made the right choice in clothing this time - my neofleece. We decided to get the harder one out of the way first; The Angels Drainpipe, (what a lovely name). The cave is basically crawling in wet, jagged passages with plenty of flood debris wedged in the roof. I was soon glad of my clothing choice, although the water was warmer than Smeltmill.
After much crawling we reached a very low airspace section, (a sump?) Andy reckoned he could see 1" airspace for some distance; we might have missed the turning that takes you to the lower entrance- we didn't know and we didn't care. We turned round and headed back out the way we came in, looking at a couple of side passages on the way, one of which could have been the connection to the middle entrance but it was choked with vast amounts of flood debris.
After the "fun" of Angels we turned to The Devils Grinding Mill, (where do they get these names from?) It's a short but interesting cave; (at least you can stand up in it). Unfortunately it ends all to quickly at the exit into the river, but it provides one last obstacle a short swim across the pool in the lower end of the gorge. I was just glad the water levels weren't any higher!
It turned out to be a really enjoyable days caving, I'd recommend Smeltmill Cave as a "must do", especially if you don't like long walks to caves. As for Stenkrith Park, if you've got time to spare its worth stopping and having some fun in the small caves. They may be short, but they're certainly entertaining.