Smeltmill Beck Cave
Smeltmill Beck came to my attention when Steve showed me the new meets list after the Short Drop trip in November 06. I was intrigued to see a trip close to home and was determined to check it out. Reading Peter Ryder’s excellent ‘Memoirs of a Moldywarp’ on the Internet, it was apparent that this is a major cave. This became clear after driving up to Riding Mill one evening to have a chat with the man himself. Later, hearing from The White Rose’s Phil Ryder that he had been unable to get in there twice before due to the entrance being sumped, I was determined to make good use of the dry Spring spell and set off alone on Easter Monday for the 25 min drive West. Having been frozen in my Neofleece in the very wet Eller Beck Head at Bowes the day before, this time I was taking no chances, with a thick new wetsuit jacket and my Neofleece stretched over the top. Having put this on at home, I was pretty warm in the car, but when I reached the track under the A66, I just hopped out of the car, over the floodgate and was greeted with the resurgence of the cave entrance. Having only a spare torch in my SRT bag to carry, I waded/swam into the entrance series in about 3 feet of water. This continues for about 50 m to the ducks – again about 3 feet of water here, but plenty of airspace in the dry conditions – but very cold – not the time of year for fleece wearers I think. After this wet entrance, the cave follows rift passages, with typical Northern Dales black, jagged rock. This cave also has very straight passages to very sharp-angled turns, following the joints in the rock, making for concertinaed progress. The water is still knee deep most of the way, but the bulk of the cave is beautifully decorated, with stals of all shapes, sizes and colours, many being black, grey or blue-tinged due to mineral deposition. A stunning sight and totally pristine.
Reaching the end in about 1 hour, I returned, taking one false detour up a narrow inlet crawl, but also seeing a white trout on the way. The final wallow through the deepest water soon had sunlight in view and the noise of Lakes-bound traffic above. I drove home in my wet gear, sitting on a Bernie’s bag and was soon home to hang it out to dry.
A stunning cave, probably one of the finest stream passages in the country, I would say, so I hope conditions are good for the White Rose this Summer. Bring your cameras!