Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Dropped right in it!

The stunning main chamber of
Gaping Gill (courtesy of Craven Pothole Club)
One of the best things about working at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is that you are reminded of how much there is to see in this beautiful part of the world – something you often forget when it’s all just down the road.

I’m currently compiling a list of the best and most popular tourist attractions for our website, and it’s pointing out some of the classic destinations I’ve never got around to seeing.

With that in mind, I headed out this summer with Craven Pothole Club on their annual winch meet at Gaping Gill.

With its enormous main chamber – big enough to fit St Paul’s Cathedral – Gaping Gill is one of the National Park’s most spectacular natural features, but it can be hard to access even for experienced cavers, often being filled with water.

Enter the Craven Pothole Club, who ran their traditional meet for members of the public this year from 18 to 27 August. They set up a chair on a winch on a little platform at the mouth of the cave, and for a small fee (£15) they’ll lower visitors down to the cave floor.

It’s brilliantly simple, opening the cave up to many people who would otherwise never see it.

The Club has run this event since 1930 (they only stopped for the Second World War and the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak), so it’s safe to say they know what they’re doing.

My day began with a nice 3 mile walk up from the village of Clapham past Ingleborough show cave and onto the flanks of Ingleborough itself, one of Yorkshire’s own Three Peaks. I arrived to find a little tent village had sprung up around the entrance to Gaping Gill. I handed over my money, got a wristband and joined the queue.
Watching others go ahead of me, the trip down seemed quite fast - and a bit frightening! When it was my turn, I was strapped into the little chair and then the floor literally slid away from underneath me, leaving me dangling over a sheer drop of over 100 metres.

After a few seconds of wondering if I should have stayed in bed, the winch started up and I shot straight down past the rocks and through the waterfall that was dripping down from the surface. The trip is thrilling but perhaps not recommended if you don’t like heights – or water!

At the bottom I found myself in a gigantic chamber. For a while it was pitch black apart from the twinkling lights of people’s torches and the shaft of light coming down from the top. As my eyes adjusted, the full splendour of it became clear. Apparently the floodlights weren’t working that day because of a problem with the generator, but it hardly mattered – the place is impressive even without lights, perhaps more so as your senses take over and you feel the enormity of the space. A Club volunteer took us on a tour of the chamber to get a real feel for it.

On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed by trip to Gaping Gill and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see a different side to the Dales landscape. The weather was pretty awful on Saturday which spoiled things a little - it started raining heavily while I was queuing and didn’t stop from the rest of the day!

Not that that mattered while I was underground.

Next year I’m planning to go back again and get the best possible view of this amazing place.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park’s cave systems are some of the most dramatic and extensive in Britain. Exploring caves takes knowledge, the right equipment and experience and it is best to gain these either through a course run be a qualified guide or by joining a local club. Alternatively, you can gain a taste of the experience by visiting one of our show caves. Find out more at

If you fancy following in Dave’s intrepid footsteps, why not join Bradford or Craven Pothole Clubs for their annual bank holiday winch meets – check out the events pages of our website for details.

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