Tutman’s Hole may be the most isolated cave in England, being about 1 hour’s walk in the wild hills Northwest of Alston. It came to my attention whilst browsing the trip reports of the Durham University club and despite the shocking grammar and spelling displayed by some of my institution’s finest, I was intrigued by the description of a passage they reckoned to be worse than most of Yorkshire’s nasty ducks, leading to a fantastically-decorated series. I reasoned that with 2 months of dry weather, it was a good time to investigate the cave and having failed to secure a partner for an all night trip to ‘the big one’, I decided on a solo trip to Tutman’s. It’s a fine drive up Weardale to Alston and a short distance North to meet the Pennine Way as the starting point for the walk in.
The cave entrance is large enough, and still had a healthy flow of water, a testament to the sponge-like quality of the hills. Changing into my wetsuit, I put on a hood for the ducks, stuck a spare torch around my neck and stashed my rucksack on a shingle bank 50 feet inside the entrance. Route finding was simple enough – just follow the source of the water, taking care not to injure the many speckled trout in the stream. Apart from a nice vadose canyon about 10 feet high, most of the progress is crawling in the gravelly streambed and I noticed a 19th century bottle on a ledge on the way (miners were in here 150 years ago at least. Eventually the water deepened and the roof lowered, leaving a minimum of 4 inches of airspace – not bad at all – and the water was warm, if only Langstroth were like this! Floating along the 30m long duck was very pleasant and opened up into a chamber. Looking left along the joint here was the sight I had come for, the passage named ‘Venice’, being a 2 foot deep canal in a 5 foot high passage, with hundreds of straws in the ceiling. Floating along, keeping low to avoid the formations for about 50 m, a large stal hung down and a turn right led to more ducks. Passing these led to a crawl and the shingly streambed closed down to a few inches. I reversed here and began the enjoyable float back out to a pleasant change in the warm sun.
A fantastic trip in the favourable conditions to enjoy some of the best formations in the Northern dales.