Volume 41 Number 3 Article 3
4th to 6th June 2004
I wrote the article below for my work's caving club's wed site. Having seen the plea for RRCPC fillers I have forwarded my scribblings. Swaledale is a superb spot, with lots to do / find. I hope you enjoy, and visit, what I consider Yorkshire most picturesque dale.
When I put the weekend meets list together I tried to get us out & about to different areas. Hence I put Swaledale on the list with two caves I have visited before, i.e. Cliff Force, opposite the Buttertubs, & Crackpot Cave for Sunday. When it came to firming up the details of the weekend I 'phoned my old friend Pete Roe, once of the Punch Bowl in Low Row. He told me that the punch bowl is now closed. When I asked him to recommend a campsite he very kindly offered his garden / floor-space. So it was that three cars headed to the northern dales. Doug & I from Derby after work on the Friday, Dean & Sophie via other parts of Yorkshire & the Stockport Beer Festival, leaving Dave & Colin to make tracks when Colin returned from France. When Doug & I arrived at Pete's Colin & Dave were already there. Introduction & re-acquaintances were made before we set of to the Kings Head in Gunnerside, where we met Dean & Sophie. Back at Pete's our hoist explained the idea, he had already sold to me, for the Saturday. This was for a leisurely start after those who wished had looked round his latest project / new house. Instead of Cliff Force Pete offered to show us Devis Hole. This is part mine / part natural cave with many artefacts. Pete & a small band of explorers (my spell check really did suggest exploders!) have spent a lot of time working in Devis Hole & by all accounts have been justly rewarded. All was agreed . In fairness it must be said that nether Pete or I muttered the words token & dig in the same sentence. If the final two tots from the litre of malt had gone I may have risked it.
Those of us who slept through the dog alarm had breakfast on for the others when they returned from Pete's new house. Doug & I jumped at the offer of a lift in Pete's Landy as this meant a lift all the way to the entrance. The others parked a few hundred meters away and walked over once changed. The 1pm start would have been very leisurely if it was for the thick heads.
Devis Hole defies a comprehensive description by me at this stage, but I will attempt to outline the more memorable aspects. I shall attempt to obtain a survey, so if anyone would like to know more, get in touch.
The entrance is up above the village of Grinton. This consists of a ten-foot climbable shaft which leads to a brick lined stooping height adit. This breaks out into much larger mined passage. Pete told us that lead had been mined here for most of the 19th century. There are various areas of collapse, which the modern explorers have dug through. Apparently the big break through came during October of 2002. After a few junctions we came to an area of collapse with a gate. A steady flow of water from the roof was rather pleasant as we passed. Pete said it was complete misery whilst digging this section.
Hang on, did I say gate in Yorkshire? Like the lads who enjoyed the October '02 break through I am fundamentally against the things. The reason for this one is that a group of wazzocks managed to all but destroy some of the artefacts. Beyond the gate we were asked to walk either on the railway rails or to the outside of them. This was to preserve T'old man's clog prints. In a five-foot high passage with large lumps of rock hanging from the roof this was an inconvenience for yours truly, a six-foot tall caver. After a few more junctions we arrived in Robinson Level at an dig abandoned . This was impressive. It had all the characteristics of the tunnels dug by the POWs in the film The Great Escape. Perhaps a little less dry, comfortable or safe. Various jokes were made to this effect, Do you think we are under the wire yet? Goons in the canteen, & Chalky & Ginger are on their way, etc. This project highlighted the commitment, perseverance and some would say the stupidity of the diggers. Apparently it has been abandoned because the diggers have got to where it is going. However the new rout has its own points of interest. After this we moved through more large passages past a couple of holes in the floor. It was the third one, which we were to descend. It was here that I was told that in mine speech a shaft or pitch is called a sump. Now the longest sump I have done (free dived) is Swildons 1 at six foot. Now I was doing a forty foot sump with no bottles. A good one for bar room waffle I thought. At the bottom of the ladder we saw the damage done by the aforementioned wazzocks. All that was left of one of T'old Man's bogies were the iron wheels and a pile of wood fragments. These old treasures are so fragile that the wood will disintegrate if touched, I understood the reason for the gate.
At this point I shall list the artefacts that I can remember. Candles, nails, rope, bucket, winding spindles, det box, boot, bottle, lantern, shovel scraper, drills, hammer, graffiti, railway track gauge, railway rails & bogies. (fondue set & cuddly toy?) Some of these item have more mining type names but I sure you will agree the list is pretty impressive. I know I didn't mention the clog prints, but more of them latter.
These items were in groups or isolated in the passages we general walked along. There were, of course, collapses, which had been dug.
For me the highlight of the trip came after a turn off to the left. This lead via a climb & a crawl to natural passages. These are fantastic! We had entered a complex area of phreatic maze. The main passages are general walking sized with superb contours. The sandy texture and sparkling crystal gave the impression that there should be a lot of passage here. There is in fact about 2 miles of natural passage in the maze. The mining activities have changed the hydrology of the natural cave. Furthermore, the maze was formed many thousands of years ago under low flow conditions. Hence if it wasn't for the mines these wonderful passages may never have been discovered. The reasons I say mines is the maze broke into an other mine. This is much smaller than the levels entered via Devis Hole, with few points of interest and many areas of hanging death. Hence after a quick chat were returned through the maze via a different route. There are apparently some very tight rifts for the enthusiasts. Needless to say none of us were that enthusiastic.
Back at the mined levels we avoided the clog prints for a few hundred meters, before turning off at a smaller passage. This was a smaller natural passage enlarged by T'old man, and more recently by Pete & co. When I say enlarged I must stress that all things are relative. The diggers would dig a four foot tall working face and back fill the passage to two foot off the roof. This has resulted in a not quite hands & knees crawl that goes on & on, up & down, round & round passing several larger sections which are far less stable. (Ask Dean.). This lead us to a current dig site. We climbed up into an unstable chamber , which is now somewhat smaller and safer as if is packed to the roof with digging spoil. It was here that the words 'token dig' were uttered. It takes four people, as a minimum to work the dig. So in theory the six of us should be able to make good progress. Pete was suffering with a broken rib (he is barking) and so took a supervisory role. For the next three-quarters of an hour Dough extracted boulders & large rocks from a side passage below the chamber. Sophie put them in a bucket for me to pull up a climb. For the lager ones Dean assisted getting the 'Trig Points' up into the chamber. Dave & Colin then stacked the deads, making the chamber smaller & safer. Some people, I am sure would rather have paid Pete hut fees!
After a tonne or so of boulders had been shifted our supervisor inspected the working face. A good sign was that the pick marks, which had been exposed, appeared to have been made from the opposite direction to the one, which the dig is progressing. Just how many more trig points will have to be removed?
Memorable parts of our journey back to the surface included, the photographers being somewhat under- whelmed when the round trip joined our route to the dig and they realised that there was no need to drag ammo cans through the two foot high crawls. One part I would rather forget is the clog prints. Walking on the rails became a real pain in the neck (literally). I almost sympathised with the wazzocks who damaged the other artefact. 'If you want clog prints go to Holland!' I cussed. You will be glad to know that I managed to stay on the rails (not metaphorically). The pitch was soon passed and we reached the surface at a quarter to eight, after a mostly enjoyable six & three quarter hours underground.
A quick return to Pete's allowed him to take so more pills for his rib and us to light some logs for the evening's B-B-Q. After a quick visit to the pub & the B-B-Q we all retired at about midnight after a superb day.
On Sunday I manage to locate the entrance to Crackpot Cave, above the resurgence, without to many snags. It must be eight years since I last visited the cave. It is very much as I remember. Five to ten minutes of hands & knees crawling (three to four foot tall -luxury) leads to the streamway. We walked up this past many first-rate curtains & straws. At a fine column we climbed up into a side passage on the left. This took us under a couple of false floors festooned with stall to the Turnip Field. This is a large chamber named after the many stall bosses on the floor. There are also many straws hanging from the roof. Dean & Doug just had to open the ammo cans. Photos were taken of the chamber, false floors & the column. We then continued up-steam to the current end of the known cave. This is a boulder choke. Sinks which feed the cave lie some 7 km away. There must be more of this fine streamway. A low inlet between the boulders was partially pushed. Look out for the photo of Dean. More photos were taken as we returned along the streamway. We exited the cave to glorious view of the sun drench dale after two hours underground.
A stop at the Bridge Inn in Grinton provided the opportunity for lunch & Drinking In The Scenery. All in all a very pleasant weekend. Must do it again some time.