Back to the Drawing Board


A long, long time ago, Pete Hall, Paul Wilkinson and myself walked down the gill and after a lot of searching found the old entrance of Howgill Sink. It’s situated quite a way down the gill from Cow Dub just before the next limestone outcrop on the left bank. The sink hole was covered with a few rotten timbers through which had poured the whole torrent of the gill when in flood and as such was filled with boulders, grass and other objects.


Original condition of the entrance sink.


We spent some time removing all the surface material and then it was possible for Peter, Paul but not Mary to fit into the small hole and declare the bottom blocked. We built a little retaining wall around the entrance to try and prevent it disappearing altogether and left it in peace.

In the meantime Jim (the mole) Newton had had the bazzing idea of trying to bypass the collapse in Consortium Cavern, Andy Walsh had reported, by digging above the sink. I was brought in as the banging consultant and after several visits managed to convince Jim that it was a no-hoper.

As is the way of things I couldn’t let it just end like that, so years later I banged some bits off the offending lip so I could get in, then I managed to persuade Andy Whitney and Sam Lieberman to return with me to try again.


We dug in the bottom and hauled out cobbles and gravel until we had a sizeable retaining wall and placed some better lid material over it to stop floods filling it back up. After a few trips Andy dipped out and that left just me and Sam.

The small rift at the base had to be walled up to stop material collapsing on the digger but eventually Sam got to look into the very small bedding that supposedly led to Consortium and hence Silver Streamway and the Lone Ranger Series in Link.


Sam Lieberman standing in the retaining wall entrance


The thought of digging in this cramped position made us think of an alternative approach, if we could just force the rift above the bedding we may be able to bypass the ‘hanging death squeeze’ completely, grrrreat! We set to in the narrow rift and cleared out loose rocks, gravel and mud, slowly progressing in the right direction.


Sam inserting himself into the entrance


The end of the rift proved awkward to get into and dig so more banging. For anyone who has not had the fun of banging in a small rift, let me point out that a metre long metal rod sometimes doesn’t want to fit where you want, or are able to hit it on the end.


Trying to get out of the firing line of the flying debris is sometimes impossible and knuckles and elbows tend to take a battering on the walls as the hammer is applied. However, after several visits it was apparent that the Promised Land was not going to be reached by this method and the rift closed down.


Back to the drawing board we went and we began removing our walling to give easier access to the flat out bedding in the floor once again.

Our visits have tended to be on Thursday nights but only on days when the gill is not running. We did once make the mistake of digging when the gill was just trickling only to find it getting very wet underground. Leaving everything behind we rushed to the surface to find the raging torrent lapping at the top of our retaining wall that had prevented boulders entering but obviously not the water, oops!



So in nearly ten years of work we have not progressed a single inch, have expended masses of energy, lost loads of fingernails, skin and gloves. Sometimes digging is an end in itself, just as well given our progress and why? Well there’s a way through to Link and it’s not open at the present and that’s frustrating so why not.


Ray Duffy



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