Swarthgill, Dowbergill and Middle Scar.
A busy weekend of caving for the Bank Holiday! Sunday was Phil Ryder’s club meet to Dow and I’d planned to get through Dowbergill again, this time with daughter Beth for company. After seeing her style in Cliff Force and knowing her determination, I had no doubt that she was ready for such a big trip.
For Saturday, Simon suggested an off-beat trip to the obscure Swarthgill, lying in the hillside opposite Mossdale Scar. We reckoned it had probably seen little or no traffic for decades and fancied a look. It would be a good walk out anyway and I carried my wetsuit in my rucksack, whilst Simon sweated it out in his neoprene, which he gradually peeled off as he overheated. Walking up the dry beck, with its floor of grit cobbles, a few blocks of limestone at the side of the valley marked the sinking of the stream and the site – somewhere- of the entrance. A rusty spit in a block on the east bank showed promise and we began to clear the squeeze down to the 30-foot entrance shaft. With much heaving, trundling and whacking, a space was made and I squeezed down to shift a few jammed blocks, only to scare myself a little when I realised that the shaft flared out by my feet and I was not at all safe, ensuring a quick return to the surface to kit up and drop a ladder.
The first ten feet were tight, but the lower reaches were quite impressive and the 10m ladder proved to be just a bit short, necessitating a drop off to find terra firma above a slot in the chamber floor. From a decent rift passage, we explored several options, with a low crawl leading off to a promising passage, unfortunately proving to be choked. With the all-too-evident flood debris throughout the cave, we found every lead to be blocked and after the effort we had put in to excavating our way in, we didn’t have the energy or tools to do much more, agreeing that is one grim cave. Back on the surface we landscaped and capped the hole, doubting that we would make a rapid return and went in search of deep water to clean off.
Sunday morning and our arrival at Park Rash found Phil, Steve, Chris Dudman and Phil Sowden already relaxing in the sun. Chris even had a deckchair! With Beth well attired in 2 wetsuits and a nice pair of hiking boots, we were pleased to accept the offer of a lift over to the other side of the hill from Steve and were soon slogging along the path in the warm sunshine, pausing to cool off in the water issuing from a small resurgence close to the entrance shaft. Beth was down first, with a top rope and we were soon making progress, desperate to get into some water to cool off.
Reaching the impressive Stal Corner, we stopped to admire the scenery, before continuing on at a steady pace to reach Bridge Cavern, where Beth was initially a bit freaked by the climb down, but then coolly continued with a top rope, much to my relief! Following the stream all the way, water levels were quite high, but we worked our way through The Narrows with no problem, as Beth had no difficulty with any of the climbs or squeezes. We even managed to miss out a very tight section that Simon and I had managed to fight our way through the last time we had been down together and we were soon through the Rock Window and making our way along the superb deep-water sections. With helmets off and held ahead, we raced along with our noses out of the water, feet pushing on the sandy floor, until we reached the final block where the passage was sumped. Retreating a few feet, I climbed up and over, suggesting that Beth should place her trust in her dad and dive through the duck! Reaching through, we linked hands and with the instruction to breathe in and nip nostrils, the underwater manoeuvre was performed. A few curses were directed my way, but I think Beth was rather exhilarated by the experience and we had fine time making our way along the superb passage past Buddhist Temple and into Dow, as I tested the acoustics with a few verses of Trivium and Children of Bodom! Doing my usual trick of bouldering on the flowstone cascade of the BT, Beth was a bit concerned that we would have to climb it – especially when I told her I’d fallen off it previously!
Emerging from the Dow Entrance into the warmth of the afternoon, it turned out that we had done the trip in less than 4 hours – not bad at all and we enjoyed the fine floral display on the way back to the car, where Steve and Phil were waiting with a cup of tea. What a great experience and I was certainly very proud of Beth, who enjoyed the day out even more when I told her that this trip is one of the most sought-after in Yorkshire.
I’d fancied a rest on Bank Holiday Monday, but after a hot day working outside, I was glad when Simon called and suggested an evening trip, diving into Middle Scar. He’d been diving in Joint Hole, but still wasn’t sated and I was looking forward to a good soaking after getting a bit fried whilst hoeing the potatoes! Passing through a few showers on the way down, a few spots were in the air at Ribblehead, but not too much and we found the entrance to be drier than our visit last August. The dive was straightforward and we completed the trip to Parba Pot and back in a couple of hours, investigating a roof-level inlet to find a stunning grotto – a very pleasant surprise indeed.
What a great weekend. Can I have the week off to recover please?