Tuesday 19 February 2013

The Darling of the Early Tourists:
Weathercote Cave

(source: www.britishmuseum.org)

'The rocks here ascend to a vertical height of 108 feet, and the water is seen leaping from a large cavity 33 feet below the surface, and, expanding into a misty sheet of bright dissolving particles, drops 75 feet below with such tremendous violence into the stony whirlpool at our feet, that the noise and reverberation of the clashing waters render conversation an impossibility.'

 (Harry Speight; The Craven and North West Yorkshire Highlands: 1892)

This 'pothole' in Chapel-le-Dale was praised so vividly by the early writers to the region that, some years ago, I decided to check out what all the fuss was about. Since then I've returned many times. This is the only place on the internet where you will see it for real and hear its raw wildness in full flow.  Weathercote Cave is my favourite place in the Yorkshire Dales - and that's saying a lot after the hundreds of places I've explored both above and below ground.  It is on private land, and special permission must be sought, and a disclaimer signed - before you can descend to where the man is on Westall's engraving.  Let's have a look, shall we?

Through the gate beside the road at Chapel-le-Dale.  Many are unaware such a monster lies hidden beyond ....

The lane passes Hurtle and Jingle pots, down on the left. Still no clue to what is just around the corner - all is rustic and beautifully undisturbed ..

A Mr Metcalfe lived here in the 19th century and a knock at the door resulted in him giving visitors a guided tour of the cave in his back garden.

There is the quaint little doorway to the hidden cave.  The noise from here is a give away.  Note the seat on the left for waiting tourists who had paid a shilling to be taken down.

Since a serious accident in 1971 - the cave has been closed to the public though admittance is given to intrepid souls who write for permission and know the risks  ....  visits are not actively encouraged for obvious reasons, and my letter of permission is one of my most treasured possessions as this place is unbelievable.  Children should be kept well away.  The scramble down is slimy, slippery and not without danger ...

Down the rough steps and under the limestone bridge ...

This picture from the 1930s hints at the greatness in store.

My 77 year old dad was the man responsible for my interest in the Yorkshire limestone, so it was only right that I took him to see this wonderful sight.  This video I filmed is the first impression before descending under the rock bridge for a closer look.

After heavy rain, it's a different story altogether ...

I let my dad go first ...

Sun glints under the limestone bridge before you emerge onto the collapsed roof of the hole to meet the awesome waterfall.  The noise is incredible and the rocky walls vibrate ..

Standing, for the first time, at the base of the waterfall shaft is quite literally a breath-taking experience.  The massive column of spray seems to suck all the available oxygen from the air.  The perfect white column of water contrasting against the darkness makes this, in my opinion at least, the finest of all the Yorkshire Dales waterfalls.

Mohammed's Coffin is the huge boulder wedged above the 77 foot waterfall.  Chapel Beck thunders into the hole from the flooded cave above the boulder then vanishes into fissures in the floor.  In flood, it runs down the dark cave passage on the left.  If you are mad, you can scramble down and wedge yourself into a recess behind the fall but you will be soaking wet.

On occasions the sight is overwhelming to the senses - water roaring down the usually gentle 'chimney' to the left of the main fall.  In the worst conditions, the entire hole fills up completely and overflows down the valley, past the house.

Note the flood debris next to dad.  You may also notice the old man's face in the cliffs to the right of the waterfall. This is even more prominent in the previous photographs. By old man - I don't mean my dad ... (ahem) though you have to admit he's not bad for 77.  I thought it was me at first!  

Watercolour by Turner from a similar position in 1808.  He painted from imagination, simplifying the rocks and increasing the height of the bridge for a dramatic effect.

It's also possible to explore along the terrace above towards Mohammed's coffin.  I got a picture of dad and added a bit of editing to give it a 1930s feel. (below)

William Turner's other famous painting shows not only the main fall, but another entering from the right along the normally dry river bed.  Take a look:

Turner painted 'Weathercote Cave, half filled with water' in 1818.
(source: www.antiquemapsandprints.com)

The engraved version is even better, don't you think?

(source:  Yorkshire's Hollow Mountains: W.R. Mitchell : Castleberg)

William Westall's classic early 19th century engraving shows a couple clearly in another world. It's a beautiful image.

It was the Reverend John Hutton in the late 18th century who first gave the name 'Mohammed's Coffin' to the wedged boulder.  A careful traverse of the moss covered terrace allows this brilliant view of Weathercote's 'window' into the karst.

I once spent four hours in here - alone - and even then it was hard to drag myself away.  I'm going here at the very end - and why not?

Robert Story wrote:

'And oh!  when I think on the struggle, the strife,
The pomp and the pride, and the nonsense of life,
And know that all ends when the turmoil is past,
In the quiet and the calm of the churchyard at last - 
The toils of the learned, and the feats of the brave,
Seem the vain noise of waters in Weathercote Cave!'

To see this very special place - write to Weathercote house, Chapel-le-Dale, stating your interest in limestone and geology.  Entry is strictly at the owner's discretion.  Children and caving parties are not encouraged.  It is a hazardous place with much loose rock, and entry is strictly at your own risk.  A disclaimer is usually signed before entry.  Weathercote Cave is one of the great natural wonders of these islands ... a beautiful place indeed, steeped in romance and history - and long may it remain so.

Stephen x


  1. My father was taken in and brought up here at Weathercote House from the age of around 7. This was his back garden.

  2. Hi - that is superb to know! I have just received an email I think from your mum and will be responding to that, too. It is a place set in its own time and one of the best sights in England. I have always been fascinated by it. Good to see you found it on here. Hope you enjoy the site. I've been neglecting it these past few days taking my aughter off to uni - but more articles will be coming soon.


    1. Hello again. I see the house has recently been sold .... seeing the particulars it is as if the interior hasn't changed since my father was brought here as an orphan by Mrs Metcalfe in around 1944.

  3. Hi - that is superb to know! I have just received an email I think from your mum and will be responding to that, too. It is a place set in its own time and one of the best sights in England. I have always been fascinated by it. Good to see you found it on here. Hope you enjoy the site. I've been neglecting it these past few days taking my aughter off to uni - but more articles will be coming soon.


  4. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I thoroughly enjoyed your well researched and well written blog post. Another wonderful treasure so near to where our ancestors lived. I know I will be rereading this post over and over as will many other people I'm sure. Keep up the awesome work.
    Gaylene Harrison

  5. Thanks very much. I have always been in complete awe of this place - like no other in the Dales. I can sit there for hours on end - just staring. It really is sublime - and you can understand why it was worshipped so much. A pity that times have changed and it is now quite risky to visit. In a way I'm glad it's been left how it is as concrete and railings would destroy it; it is so rustic and ancient. When you are down there, you almost expect to see a Victorian couple .... it's a weird place ..... and of all the thousands of situations I've been in in Yorkshire ... this is the best.

  6. Oh I would love to see this, but what a treat to have such a wonderful virtual tour! Thank you Stephen!

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Re the picture by Turner with the normally dry river running in from the right:
    A friend Norman Hinchcliffe and BSA members were in the lake behing Mohammeds Coffin and the water started rising. They reached the vertical slot which is the way into the bedding plane behind the waterlall, to find it was full of water spilling into it. They had to take a breath and drop through it onto the ledge. As they reached the surface a one metre wall of water came down the stream bed and poured into the main shaft, The shaft was full within half an hour and the water continued down the valley - Sid Perou

  9. First, your blog is great, with wonderful pictures. I caved from 1964 to 1989 more or less every week and was in the CRO. But in all that time I've never been to see Weathercote cave. My interest now is watercolour painting and I know about Turner's trips to the Dales. I've lived in Ingleton and the area for the last 45 years, so perhaps I should get out my sketch book and make the effort to see this wonderful place.
    John conway