Cherry Tree Hole
After the beautiful frosty scenes of the weekend, the weather had reverted to typical Christmas conditions, i.e. grey, wet, windy and mild. I was still keen to have a Boxing Day trip and suggested the Dowbergill double. However, Simon reckoned I would enjoy Cherry Tree Hole and we met up in a surprisingly quiet Kettlewell, with only a few hikers in the car park. Since the café was also closed, I was relieved that I had packed a flask of coffee and we headed off in the direction of Arncliffe, passing some of my favourite scenery in the Dales en-route. We stopped off at Darnbrook Farm and then parked up at the very exposed spot next to the Tennant Gill drive. Such was the force of the wind that I got changed in my car, but at least my wetsuit was dry. Judging by the noises Simon was making, I surmised that his kit was still rather cold and wet!
With only a couple of ladders to carry, I decided to stuff my clothes and a towel into a tackle bag to stash in the cave, rather than walk down for a chilly, wet change. Finding the nice deep entrance shakehole to be out of the wind, this proved to be a good decision. Simon stuck a ladder down the entrance and although there is some loose stuff in the shaft, one can free-climb this with care.
Pleasant caving leads to a junction and leaving the ladder here, we carried on along the upstream Far Stream Passage. The first tricky obstacle to be encountered is a short climb up a waterfall, which proved to be a problematic chimney. If the water levels were any higher, combined tactics would be required here without a doubt. Continuing on is the sort of gloomy, atmospheric caving Simon and I really enjoy – dark rock and plenty of low, wet going. Some of the passages here are more of the character of Northern Dales caves, with their black, jagged walls, although the finely-decorated chambers, complete with CPC marker tapes and warning signs, provide some relief. Reaching the ducks, we pulled out our neoprene hoods and removed our helmets, although the minimum airspace was about 3 inches and the water was not too cold. Northern Caves describes the final section as being a filthy crawl, but we found it to be pleasantly sandy under the water, leading to an abrupt sump in the jagged rift. Again this sump is very reminiscent of Smeltmill Beck, albeit without the crystal-clear blue water.
Making our way back to the junction, we headed off downstream, initially down some fine cascades, followed by a very large, muddy and confusing fault chamber. The route finding through the boulders here is not straightforward and I made a loop back to my start point before Simon found the way on. Dropping down a hole in the blocks, the stream is regained just before the pitch, with the water flowing down a narrow rift of creamy-coloured rock. Having a laugh at the bolt here, which might just hold a washing line, I bridged up to place a sling over a trace-scarred spike and we climbed down into the chilly chamber below, getting a good clean on the final few feet, which were fully under the considerable flow. A climb up straight ahead leads to a fine view of the pitch and a chimney down allows a wallow in the sump pool.
On the way out, I took the time to have a good wash in the cascades, arriving at the surface in a pleasantly clean state. Cherry Tree Hole is a fine trip, with a nice variety of caving and the Far Stream Passage series is definitely top quality.