Three Counties breakthrough

Press Release. 8th November 2011

Breakthrough connection unites counties in UK’s longest cave system.

Daily Mail Link

At 4.30pm on Sunday 6th November 2011 two dedicated teams of cave explorers broke through the final gap after 140m of tunnelling between the Lost Johns and Notts Pot caves in the Yorkshire Dales region of the country. The breakthrough was the final piece in a jigsaw which makes reality of the much postulated “Three Counties Cave System”. It is now possible for the experienced (and very hard) caver to go underground in Cumbria, travel below Lancashire and emerge in Yorkshire.

This is the culmination of 50 years patient but persistent exploration of the huge network of caves that lie beneath the moorlands just to the north-east of the attractive town of Kirkby Lonsdale.  The combined total of the new cave system is estimated to be around 100km long and the longest in Great Britain.

The existence of the mega system was first proposed by Dave Brook of the University of Leeds Speleological Association in 1968.  Since that time many different groups of cavers have striven to ‘join the dots’ between the known caves beneath Gragareth and Casterton fells.  Gradually individual caves were explored and extended and with each passing decade new connections were made.  Finally only one connection remained which has taken the last two years to pass.  And this is not the end, as although the system fulfils the dream of connecting the cave through the three counties, there are many possibilities for extending the cave much further into Yorkshire.

“That last 140m has been one of the hardest to complete, burrowing through an horrendous fault zone of broken rock. This sort of digging is not for the faint hearted, commercial miners would have nightmares”, said local caver Tim Allen, “and we have certainly had a few close shaves.  I was trapped under a collapsed boulder the size of a piano and only saved by a swift move with my crowbar.  We named that spot the ‘Piano Bar’ after that incident.   There have been a few minor injuries over the years, bashes to the face and crushed and blackened fingers, but we work as carefully as we can.  Normally we have the lead diggers tunnelling at the face supported by others moving scaffolding up, and rock and mud out.”

“Come rain or shine we have spent our Thursday nights mining away into the small hours”, said Joe Giblin of the Preston Posse of cave diggers.

“Lying flat out in liquid mud with my outstretched hand I thought this is a similar but far less glamorous moment than the famous Channel Tunnel handshake,” said Pete Hall of the Red Rose Cave & Pothole Club.

“It’s been my job to make the route safe as the diggers progress”, said veteran caver Andy Walsh, “I can’t begin to tell you how much scaffold and cement I’ve carried down that cave, and the job isn’t finished yet”.

After three years of slow progress through the huge collapse zone, a voice connection was finally established on Thursday 3rd November, and the cavers knew they were close to success. Strong teams gathered on Sunday 6th November for the final push.

“First we heard voices, then we saw a light. After a few hours we managed to pass a crowbar through the small hole, and soon after that we shook hands with the team on the other side.  Eventually we could pass through.  It was a fantastic moment.” said Hugh St Lawrence.

“Finding the right direction has not been easy”, said Frank Pearson from Preston, “We have used laser survey techniques, magnetic field radio location, followed the draught and eventually heard each other.  But in the end we were spot on.”