Ian, Denis, Jane.
I had been trying to get hold of Denis for days, without success and had resigned myself to a Saturday off. Settling down to watch ‘Escape From New York’ for the umpteenth time at midnight, a phone call….my neighbour on the beer again….no it was Denis. ‘Did I want to look down some cave or other?’ Of course, although not having taken in any of the details relayed by Denis, I left Snake Pliskin to his search for The President and got my head down.
Next morning was fine, despite the pessimistic forecast and we met up in Ingleton at 10, where I had my second breakfast of the day and lots of fine coffee in Curlew Crafts. It transpired we were to explore a little cave in the South Lakes Limestone – Wakebarrow Pot Grade II– in territory familiar to me from climbing, if not caving experience, lying on top of the spectacular expanse of rock that is exposed at White Scar and Chapel Head. Parking up at an area below White Scar, we paused to take in its imposing profile, having its base and top guarded by lethal steep scree slopes, yet having the contrasting bright white rock and black stripes more reminiscent of Stoney or Chee Tor in the Peak than its popular neighbour at Chapel Head or any of Yorkshire’s big cliffs.
Denis knew the way, thank goodness, as we were soon ascending forested trails into country that could have been in the south of France, with limestone boulders and pavements appearing from the misty, tree-clad slopes. After passing a small rock outcrop ‘Joe Hole’, said Denis, apparently an 8m Grade II cave…..must be a tough 8m to compare with what we were about to endure at an apparently similar standard.
A bit more trudging along the trail and we arrived at the jumble of blocks that is the entrance to the cave. Having walked up in undersuit and wellies, eschewing my usual wetsuit garb (dry cave said Denis…..) tatty 10-year-old Meander suit was pulled on (can one get anything like this anymore?) and SRT kit was donned for the descent that was apparently somewhere below.
I led off down the jumble of blocks, soon getting to a tight crawl that opened into a dripping chamber, with a not inconsiderable amount of water sluicing down the tight pitch head. With no obvious belays and an abundance of cheese-like calcite offering no safe anchor, the rope end was passed back to a distant block and a flake a few feet down the slot was snared for the descent (I did spot a spit in the floor upon exit, but we had no hangers and this is not rig-able to Grade A SRT standard). With most of the water running down my neck and into my wellies, I soon dropped onto a ledge and walked along to a dry continuation down more slippery calcite into a decent-sized chamber.
A final undercut drop that was just possible with the rope tied to a block allowed us to explore the lower limits of the cave that turned out to be choked with masses of glutinous mud and forest debris, although the passages here are not small and the depth of limestone is considerable should anyone wish to shift some muck here.
The exit left me thoroughly soaked and I had not even put on wetsocks, anticipating a dry day, so after donning jacket, hat and gloves, we trudged down the hill, making a quick change and heading off to the nearby garage for more coffee and munchies after a surprisingly satisfying day out. Even more surprising when perusing NC3 later (a rare volume for me to open) it transpires that the cave was explored by the Bishop Auckland Cave Club…where are they now?