Caving in Furness - April 10th. 2011

Present: Jim Newton, Steve Gray, Andy Hall, Pete Llewellyn, Mel and Sandra Wilkinson, Sarah Blundell, Carol Makin - together with guides, Martin Salisbury and Claire Asplin

A lovely sunny day for this trip to these lesser known caves important archaeologically for their confirmation of the presence of man here around 10,000 years B.P. (Before present) At this time Scotland and Ireland, England and France were still joined and it had been thought previously that man did not arrive this far North until much later.

This was a really excellent day out with ten of us in total, reminding me of the old monthly caving meets when you needed a large party to carry the ladders and lifelines. Ah those were the days! Anyway rant over, time to get back to the trip. Carol Makin and I traveling in Sandra and Mel Wilkinson’s car pulled into Grange Fire Station Car Park to find a lonely Sarah Blundell sunbathing! We were soon joined by our meet organiser Steve Gray together with Martin Salisbury, son of local archaeologist Chris, sadly now dead – and Claire Asplin our guide. Also present were Andy Hall and last but not least Pete Llewellyn.

Our first stop was Kirkhead Cavern an old stamping ground of Red Rose archaeologists in the 50’s. Pity they had to use dynamite (Bob Ashmead - between 1969-74) to expose the remains!  This cave has been excavated since 1866 and in keeping with the Victorian manner of archaeology (rough and ready) many items found ended up in private collections. Finds included Irish elk antlers and flints suggesting that this site was inhabited. After an inspection of the large chamber, we carried on round the cirque, up steep scree covered in copious amounts of wild garlic, giving a grade 5 ascent to the grade 2 caves in which a bit of further digging might pay off to expose more passage.

 

 

My thoughts of digging in that area were dampened by Martin who lived close by and told us the area was wick with badgers which even took bulbs from plots in his garden. Their claw marks were visible on the low cave wall and their latrine was just outside the cave entrance where they lived.

Entrance to Whitton’s Cave

Next stop was Whitton’s Cave, (also known as Allithwaite Cave) worthy of mention because of it’s use as a burial chamber. A skull of a female about 20 years of age was found here having apparently died of a tooth abscess. On the south side of the valley opposite this cave is Kents Bank Cave where two small entrances connect inside leading downwards which are blocked by deposits.

Back to the cars and we headed for Merlewood Cave, near Grange. I had visited this cave in the 80’s while working on the nearby motorway and found it to be a 10 foot rift, so did not expect much. Not like that now! Some mysterious cavers had extended it to 20 feet deep with 3 low passages going off and with a draught. Unfortunately we had started the dogs barking on a nearby farm and they wouldn’t stop! The commotion alerted a guy in a 4x4 who headed towards us like he was in a Western and about to open fire! We set Claire on him and she and I tried to persuade him that we were there with permission to visit the cave. This was a revelation to him as he had no idea there were caves there. Actually he was in dispute with a neighbour and thought we were surveyors measuring the land, so in the end he was quite happy with us being there.

Tired out with the mornings exertions, we headed for the nearest pub. The Top House at Lindale for beer and sandwiches in the beer garden in the blazing sun.

Refreshed, we headed for Lindale Low Cave and Broca Sea Cave. These caves have been back filled by badgers who are in this area in profusion! Past finds have included a bronze spear head which Claire showed to us. This is where excavations in the late 80’s and early 90’s led by Chris Salisbury, proved that caves around Morecambe Bay were occupied by ancient Britons. Here we nearly lost Steve Gray, as carried away by open passage he got stuck in a flat out squeeze Claire had told him had only been passed by two people. He vowed to return with a spade! Worthy of note too in this area were the row of calf sheds inhabited that day by a strange creature looking for a place to lay his head.

    

Local Wild Life?

Claire, who used to live in the neighbouring cottage, then directed us higher up the fell, to an open hole in the back garden of the cottage, dropping about 20 foot into an 8 foot high passage, unfortunately blocked after 30 foot. This hole is not recorded in any guide books I could find and we have named it as Broca Cottage Cave.

There was twine strung across the passage, left I assume, by archaeologists whilst measuring the passage. Another place for an enthusiastic digger!

 

Broca Cottage Cave

Claire then directed us along the A590 where we parked at a petrol station and set off up a footpath towards Halecat. We left this path and then entered a small gorge and streamway where we had to fight our way through overgrown brushwood and fallen trees. All along this broken path we could see holes appearing in the limestone cliff face. Then a body sized hole appeared into which Steve and Pete inserted themselves. Mel then heard them puffing and grunting about 100 feet further along the valley where we pulled out some large rocks to enable them to escape from this oxbow. (Now thought to be Fissure Cave)

Steve Gray emerging from  a first through trip – Fissure Cave

We soon reached the cave Claire was looking for. This was more like it. Six foot high and six foot wide.

After about 100 yards we came to water and only the hardcore who were dressed for caving carried on for a further 100 feet before the roof started to lower, where they came back.

Meanwhile the rest of us were searching the entrance series when Claire stumbled grabbing a protruding rock to save herself. On studying the protusion further she pronounced it to be a ‘calcited rib cage’  which certainly looked plausible to us novice archaeologists.

Calcited rib cage in Fairy Cave

By now we were covered in mud and burned by the sun, so returned to our cars vowing to return to find out more about these apparently unexploited caves. At home I looked in Northern Caves and found the last cave we had visited was reported as Fairy Hole explored by Duncan Baldwin in the 60’s. I checked Underground in Furness to find Fairy Cave Witherslack as being more than 250 feet long ending in deep mud and a final chamber.

 

Fairy Cave Entrance

I checked this with Andy Walsh and on seeing my photo he said Fairy Hole but he differs slightly with Eric Holland on the cave length and how it ends.

On a sunny day such as we had, this  makes an excellent cave exploration day out. With a digger and a crowbar who knows what we could find in this unexplored area. A great day out, and lots of thanks to Steve, Claire and Martin for organizing the trip.

Jim Newton 

-     with additional input from  Carol Makin and Mel Wilkinson

 

Caves visited:

 

Kirkhed Cavern       

SD 3909 7565       Alt. 34m    Length 1 m. 

 

Whitton’s Cave        

SD 3907 7590      Alt.40m    Length 18m.

 

Kents Bank Cavern 

SD 39097586                  Alt. 40m.   Length 24m.

 

Merlewood Cave     

SD 4110 7890    Alt.53m.    Length 10m.

 

Broca Hill Caves (Lindale Low Caves)  

SD 4176 8015      Alt. 10m.

                  Length cave 1- 6m.

                  Length cave 2 - 10m.

 

Broca Cottage Cave (unlisted in guide)

SD 415 802       Alt. 40m.  Length  10 m. 

 

Fissure Cave            

SD 434 824       Alt 9m.   Length  30m. 

 

Fairy Cave               

SD 434826       Alt 9m.    Length 160 m.



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