Winshaw Gill is one of those caves that I’d looked at a couple of years back in the guide and thought- great, lets do it, until I noticed the entrance led to an immediate sump, with more further in. Fast forward to the present and I was looking forward to getting down this Ribblehead obscurity.
The day dawned bright and sunny – unfortunately bringing out the biker hordes, who were probably swarming prior to heading off to the TT races, but it made me wonder, if there’s such a big recession, how come so many people can afford 9-grand toys? Parking near Gearstones Lodge, we first walked over the fell to try to find the entrance, which took us about 30 minutes of rambling and meandering, before anchoring the ladder from a rope tied to a distant block. Curiously, as we dropped the jangling ladder down the hole, we could hear a yapping from the depths! ‘Sounds like a fox’, I suggested and we returned to get kitted up in diving gear by the cars.
Back at the hole, I went down first, hearing the yapping again, turning round at the bottom of the ladder to find a fox cub staring at me from the top of a slope adjacent to the sump pool. Rather than being scared, the feisty little critter actually walked towards me and I attempted to shoo it away to where I assumed it had crawled in from the apparently un-navigable (to humans) Winshaw Cave connection.
With Simon down, together with a load of spoil from the rim of the shaft, we were surprised to see Reynard junior swimming in the pool and then getting stuck in the mud in an impenetrable crack. Seeing no way out for the little beastie and hearing nothing of any other family members, I managed to catch the cub by the scruff of the neck, stuff it into a tackle sack and haul it up to the surface, where it gave me a look of surprise and ran off into the rushes. Considering that the Pot probably hadn’t been entered in years, that was one lucky cub, either that or it just made total monkeys of us if it squeezed back into its lair after our departure!
Back to the caving and finding the dive-line intact, we were soon through the short, but flat-out sump 1 and heading off down the rugged, dark passage to the tricky sump 2. A nice bit of aqueous going led through a duck into a chamber where we kitted up for the dive. This sump is about 20 m long, but requires a squeeze down for 2 or 3 metres at the start. Going first, I certainly found this to be tight, having to work my helmet through as I slid down – this was almost like caving underwater!
More spacious going led to a squeeze over a gravel bank, before fun finning along through some arches to emerge in a large air bell. Finding the air to be nicely fresh, I waited for the signal from Simon following, but was not too surprised when I got the ‘not coming’ signal, as I wondered how he would get all his kit down the slot. Rather than do the second half of the cave alone, I dived back, taking my time to get up the squeeze back to the chamber, where Simon told me that his harness set-up was just too bulky for the dive, compared with my minimal side-mount.
We retired to The Station for a drink and a pie, resolving to return with a lid for the shaft to rule out any more drop-in surprises.