Wow – more than 4 years since we had been down this fine
pothole and with the continuing dry weather nagging at my subconscious that I
should be diving, this was a fine alternative.
With any trip in the Meregill area, an early start is required to secure
parking at the Hill Inn layby, due to the constant traffic of 3-Peaks walkers
and their support teams. This walk is
done to death now – surely alternatives could be found to give the landscape a
After sharing some of the walk in with a man (?) in a chicken
suit, we had to endure questions about our fancy dress (it’s even worse when you
are carrying air bottles) until the path along the wall to the west led us away
from the crowds and the problem of finding the entrance. With the aid of CaveMaps.org I had made a
sketch of the landscape and managed to quickly find the narrow climb down. Essentially one comes to a raised grassy area
which is level with a karst outcrop to the north and below – if you are there it
Climbing down the knobbly, slippery rock, it was unfortunate
to find that a lamb had fallen in and died.
As it was close to the watercourse I tried to move it, but it was too far
gone and had to be left and carefully avoided.
The cobbly first section was soon passed and the almost dry short pitches
were quickly descended to find the meat of the cave – the 80m drop down the very
impressive big rift. I had brought a 28m
rope for the first section and a 65m for the second – finding that my feet just
touched down with the stretch on the traverse ledge next to the block – 30m-plus
would be better, but with a quick rebelay to twin bolts and a deviation from a
bolt in the block, it was down and down.
It always amazes me how similar some features are in Dales caves, with
the traverse at the top of the big pitch being remarkably like that in Nick Pot,
Pasture Gill or Strans – even done on the same side!
The lower sections of the cave are nicely sporting, with some
very rough crawling requiring care on one’s knees. Hopefully I’m not offending anyone by having
a bit of sport down a cave, as apparently such activity is frowned upon in mines
which some folk regard as being purely industrial museums for the cognoscenti
only, or so I gather….but that’s another story and I’m prepared to go on record
that Smallcleugh has an awful lot of uninteresting passage in it.
A bit of fixed rope
was present on the last section (called the final pitch, although it’s
indistinct) where one can either drop straight down the 10 feet or so using the
knotted rope, or traverse the flowstone ledges to climb down a few feet further
on, where a diveline disappears into the clear water.
On the way out, whilst waiting in North Chamber, Denis
pointed out a short climb into a passage decorated with some super helictites,
attesting to the power of the draft down there and we hung back to let Steve and
Fay ascend the big pitch. Denis and I
agreed to tandem-ascend this to save time and in a fine demonstration of the
elastic properties of Mammut 10mm caving rope I managed to drop about 2m from my
position 30m above the floor when Denis followed – and he is definitely a
lightweight! Having a bit of a faff to
get my Pantin off the tight rope, I continued with 2 feet in my footloop to the
ledge next to the block, where we hauled up the bags.
As is my custom down here, I free-climbed all the other
pitches – easy enough in dry conditions on lovely rough rock with good holds
where you want them. Taking my time on
the final crawling sections to push, not drag the bags, (see how much I look
after your tackle folks) we were out in plenty of time to get tea and cake back