Tuesday, 19 February 2013
'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.
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.