Volume 39 Number 2 Article 4
Our Lady's Cave
For years I have been prodding in Aygill, dreaming of joining Aygill Cave to Bull Pot and the Lancaster system. I looked at the map and assumed it was simply a matter of joining up the dots, i.e. Bull Pot, Casterton Pot, Rollerball, Herbert's Hole and Aygill Cave. A straight line right across the field in front of the farm. Then things started to go wrong with this theory. The Leeds dye-tested Casterton Pot to the Pre-Cambrian Series in Aygill Cave. The diver Ian Plant trying to push Bull Pot upstream sump, who was wearing a Molephone aerial tape, was traced to the field to the west of Green Lane where he unfortunately lost his line and died. This plus the fact that the sump in Aygill Cave is almost 130 feet below the surface proved all the holes in the farm field were inlets to Aygill Cave, not Bull Pot.
I had no luck in Herbert's Hole, the passage filling up with surface water. In an attempt to drain the pool I discovered a Stirrup Pump can only be used upright. As the passage is only 2 feet high the pump wouldn't work.
So back to Aygill. I theorized that there must be a hole on the west side of the gill, the opposite side from the cave, and came up with a small hole which took all the water I could put in it. This dig lasted a year until an unfortunate accident. While prodding the rift above the hole with an 8 foot long iron bar the wall collapsed and shuttered down. The bar trapped my legs and I was unable to get out. As luck would have it, Ron Bliss was walking up the fell and heard my shouts. We were unable to free the bar. Then Ron said the dreaded words "I'll call out the CRO." As it was raining and the gill was rising, perhaps he was right. To cap it all the police and paramedics arrived as well as the CRO. After Slug and Andy freed the bar I was pulled out and walked back to the farm.
After this came Foot & Mouth which put an end to caving for six months.
I returned to the dig, which after the callout and unfavourable publicity in the News Sheet, had got a bad reputation. So I turned to Terry Regan and asked for his help and experience to put some serious scaffolding in. He came to see the dig and obviously didn't think much of it, until I turned the stream in and it took the lot, no backing up. After that he soon had the first stage in.
We still had manpower problems, so I prevailed on "Souse" Mark and Lionel Rice to come and have a look. First thing, Mark jumped in the hole to move some boulders. Rumble, rumble, and Mark climbed out with only one wellie. The other was under a BIG boulder. Luckily he had pulled his foot out as the rock rolled on his wellie. This was retrieved when we hauled out the rock later. We never saw Mark at the dig again, but Lionel was hooked as holes were appearing and a strong draught was blowing continuously.
With Terry scaffolding and Lionel and I clearing out, work went on steadily for three months until we had to enlist the help of Hugh and Ray to Hilti cap three huge flakes that even the Sylvester wouldn't shift. We were now down about 20 feet and instead of rounded gritstone boulders, we were meeting limestone slabs.
A week later, Johnny Baker was holidaying at the farm and came over to join us. He went in third after Lionel and I had done a shift and we couldn't get him out. He too had got hooked by the strong draught! He nearly changed his mind after the big boulder we were pulling out, and he was pushing from below, rolled over and blocked his escape route. Once that was out, and Johnny freed, rocks could be heard rolling down a good distance as we barred a hole in the floor.
The next weekend, Sunday 28th July 2002, Lionel and I went to Bull Pot and found Johnny still in bed recovering. We said we were going to the dig and Neil Pacey said he'd bring Johnny over later. We inspected the hole in the floor and decided it needed more taking out. We had taken out about 10 bucketfuls when Neil and Johnny appeared and went in for a dig. Ten minutes later Johnny shouted for a rope and next thing had disappeared. Lionel and I climbed down to see Neil sliding through. He shouted back "Room for four." Lionel was next and caught me at the bottom of an 8 foot drop. I'd slid through on my back and couldn't bend to drop down.
I couldn't believe the size of the passage we'd dropped into; 10 feet wide and 15 feet high, sloping down at 45 degrees. For a minute we all stopped and gawped, then the red mist took over and everyone dashed to explore the passage. I was slower than these young lads and was left with a reversed T-shaped rift on the right hand side of the main passage to look at. When I poked my head in I could feel a strong draught and could hear water running.
After a mad ten minute spell searching the side passages we all gathered back at the slot and lobbed a rock down. Boom, boom, boom. I cheered, but Johnny said "Quiet, it carried on." So a second rock was dropped and, sure enough, another lower boom. Four excited cavers started quoting depths; everything from 50 to 100 feet, but it was too narrow to get in, and even hammering off flakes with our 2 lb "toffee hammer" didn't help. It would need capping.
Two days later, 30th July, Terry and I were back at "Our Lady's Cave" as we had named it, after the school where all the scaffolding timber had come from. Terry couldn't wait to get in. He slid down the slot and shouted back "It's blocked." I said "Rubbish" and we changed places. He was right! The heavy rain had caused a small slip and the hole had closed. So out with the bucket and rope again. Lionel had showed up and we soon had it cleared. However, as I was climbing out, another slip!.. and I was glad of Terry's hand to give me a pull up to the ledge. Terry went in to inspect the damage and found that with a lot of gardening the way was open again. He went down for his first look while Lionel and I tidied up the hole. Outside a thunderstorm was rumbling round the fells, so we left for the farm accompanied by peel and peel of thunder which carried on for an hour.
Three days later, 2nd August, Johnny and Paul Windle had a go at capping the slot but ran out of caps.
Next day, with more ammunition, Johnny and Paul, Andy and Milton got through and down a confined drop of about 50 feet.
On 4th August Ron gave me a lift up and I tried to get down the slot on my own. Sliding in feet first and unable to feel anything underneath, I found it too tight. Andy and Johnny took a line survey to the bottom of the pitch and came back to put it on the computer. Meanwhile Lionel arrived and went down on his own. The survey showed it going in a horseshoe shape for 50 feet, while the stream at the bottom of the pitch heading straight for Bull Pot Farm!
On 7th August Lionel and I were re-investigating Herbert's Hole which according to the survey looks 100 feet away from the bottom stream and in line. Johnny had gone down Our Lady's on his own to try and push the passage taking the stream at the bottom. When we came out Lionel went to back him up. He got about 15 feet in, and it seemed to be widening, but it was too wet and tight.
On 11th August Terry and I tried to get in the slot with a ladder and life line. Terry managed it without his battery and went to have a look at the stream down the pitch. Too tight for me. Terry returned ecstatic and said he could see the passage widening but it needed floor taking out. He chiselled the slot from the other side, then came back and with a scaffolding pole smashed some flakes away. Lionel appeared as I attempted to get through and this time I managed it. After getting through the slot a 12 foot climb down the rift emerged on top of a large broken shaft. As Terry had de-laddered the pitch and it was getting late, we returned. I was quite chuffed to get back through the Horseshow Corner slot as it is known.
On 23rd August Terry, Lionel and I went to Our Lady's Cave with a load of gear to dam and clear the running pool at the bottom of the 50 ft pitch. After getting the gear through Horseshoe Corner squeeze I went down the ladder for my first trip to the bottom. It was dry, for the first time, and I could see what had excited the lads on previous visits. An open passage, albeit a narrow one. I cleared a few rocks back from the rift as Lionel climbed down, then went up and gave Terry the chance to get stuck in. After they cleared the way on, Lionel went in feet first but couldn't get past the lip of a drop which had opened up. Then Terry had a go, and though he got to the lip and could feel the way opening to the right (west), without a rope he didn't fancy dropping down as he couldn't see. So we came out.
On 28th August Lionel and I went to the farm to find Johnny there. He said he'd been thinking about the open passage all holiday. When we told him we had cleared it out he couldn't wait. We told him we were going to Barben dig, where there had been a small collapse, but would call at Our Lady's on the way back.
We did, and Johnny told us the bad news that the drop we had seen was 4 feet into a 4 ft wide sentry box with a pool and a narrow rift at the bottom, but no draught there. We are missing something!
Our Lady's Cave