Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Going Underground ...

Kit yourself out with helmets and lamps - and try caving in the Three Peaks.  New chapters from 'A Three Peaks Up and Under' now available online.  Click the link of your choice below:


Saturday, 9 March 2013

All's Well that End's Well

Ebbing?  Flowing?  I've no Way of Knowing!

The Magical 'Ebbing and Flowing Well' as it was in its heyday ... before the lorries hurtled past ... (click for similar images)

(author's picture - December 2012 - minus the romance)

This well, situated below the cliffs of Giggleswick Scar, not far from Settle, was once - and I am not exaggerating - one of the wonders of England.  In the times when horse and cart slogged wearily up the length of Buckhaw Brow - it would have been a matter of ritual to stop and drink from this spring.  On Easter Saturdays, hordes of families would bring their offspring here to make 'spanish water' with their liquorice.  What was it then, that was the drawing power of this tiny spot of Yorkshire, hidden under the great cliffs of the scar?

This 1778 engraving by S. Buck and J. Feary indicates the special drawing power of this well - with its seemingly magical qualities.  Here, torrents of water are seen gushing from the cliffs at a point slightly above the well's present position.  Within minutes, however, the torrents could cease altogether and all would be peace, as the waters mysteriously 'ebbed' back into the hillside.  Any patient traveller would presumably just wait for another 'flow' which, in the 'good old days' seemed to be much more frequent than is the case today.

In fact, in many visits, and despite staring for hours on end .... even risking a snooze by the main road, I have yet to see any movement.  Apparently it works best after moderate rain ... and there are reliable accounts of it still working.  Ged Dodd and Bill Bartlett have intriguing videos on Youtube. (click here)  One of the most beautiful (and rare) phenomena is the celebrated 'silver chord' of air bubbles that has been witnessed when the well is active.

I have never been on one of these though.  Why, in those days of smoky chimneys and northern grime, was this little well of ours in such pristine condition?  I suppose the guy couldn't just get out his ipod!!!  (click here for more antiquarian images)  Maybe in those days, natural delights mattered far more.  

This picture - with the edge of the main road at the top left, indicates the possibly suicidal nature of kneeling down to watch for action these days!!  It is possible - but only with a great deal of care. Keep your bottom and legs well away (get it!?) The well outlet used to flow into the former Huntworth or Giggleswick Tarn - situated where the golfers now ply their skills across the road.  

In the late 17th century, notorious highwayman John Nevison was being pursued by the law and needed his horse to get a move on!  What better way than to let it quench its thirst at the Ebbing and Flowing Well?  Remounting his steed, he headed over the cliffs above, where, to the horror of his pursuers - horse and rider cleared a notorious 'gap' in the scars in one momentous leap.  'Nevison's Nick' is still marked on Ordnance Survey maps today.

These early motorists seem curious about the goings-on around the well ...

The well as it is today.  The strange 'ebbing and flowing' nature is caused by a natural siphoning process in the limestone, brilliantly explained in Harry Speight's classic work 'The Craven and North West Yorkshire Highlands.' (read it online here)  Has the 'siphon' been damaged by the Giggleswick quarrying activity?

The Ebbing and Flowing Well is situated more or less in the centre of the image - on the right hand side of the road as you drive to the north west.  There is a small layby, but take great care in crossing.  Don't forget your camera.

I would love to know if the well is still 'working' and would really appreciate any comments from those intrepid enough to pay a visit.

Stephen  x

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Prehistoric Three Peaks:  Part Four

Off the wild road between Stainforth and Littondale lies the lonely ravine of Penyghent Gill ....  I drove up there on Sunday after my adventures on Giggleswick Scar.

Penyghent from this position takes up the appearance of an ocean liner.

The Giant's Graves are situated by the roadside close to a cattle grid.  They were once probably a major burial chamber but have been robbed of their spoils over many years.  Once thought to be Danish - they are more likely Neolithic.  Arthur Raistrick excavated them in the 1930s and found human bones and teeth in the soil beneath the cists.

Here one of the slabs that made up the burial cists can be seen - as well as the obviously disturbed ground around the burial chamber.

A view of the Giant's Graves with ancient standing slabs at each end.  A place of intrigue!

The Giant's Graves showing the location of cists and flints: from the book 'Journeys Through Brigantia.'

The Giant's Graves with Penyghent Gill beyond and Fountains Fell in the background.

The Giant's Graves also give their name to a number of superb stream caves.  Let's seek them out ...

The bottom entrance to Giant's Grave Caves is in a field on the opposite side of the narrow road.  A thrilling spot, with the caves just a few inches below the surface and a waterfall inside.  Turning right in the passage leads under the road and pops out in a gorge close to Penyghent Gill.  We'll check it out in the Summer.

The waterfall inside is a refreshing sight - plunging from a hollowed out bedding plane in the limestone.

The caves keep popping out to the surface as you walk upstream - a great example of a wild karst landscape.

The huge bedding plane just beneath the surface is very impressive and invites a crawl through.

The scalloped limestone is creamy coloured, as it is in many active cave passages.

A final view down Penyghent Gill as the light began to fade.  Next time I'll return with my caving gear.  

Monday, 4 March 2013

Prehistoric Three Peaks - Part Three

In Search of the Kinsey Cave Bear

W. Kinsey Mattinson of Austwick gave his middle name to this cave in Giggleswick Scar, which he spent years excavating - and why not?  It's not many people discover objects like this in an average life.  This bear skull, dug out of the cave sediment, is an incredible 14 000 years old!  It is now on show in the Craven museum in Skipton  - but the cave that produced it is even more exciting ...

I parked opposite Scar Top Garage at Buckhaw Brow, not far from Settle.  Wandering onto the fell and turning right - I was greeted by this terrific view of Giggleswick Scar - one of the great views of England.  The South Craven Fault, which began to move some 300 million years ago, caused the mass of land to the right to slip down in relation to the land on the left, which was exposed as a series of cliffs.  Notice the farm on the right? Well, buried far beneath it is the same limestone that once lay level with the top of the cliffs on the left.  Incredible things have happened here - and the fault is still active!!  Earth tremors were felt in Settle in 1947.

Exposed limestone just loves the camera.

Just left of the path before turning right over the Scar are these 'chambers' - clearly with much to be discovered.  That's good old Pendle Hill in the distance, soaring over the Craven lowlands.  These lowlands once marked deep water beyond shallow lagoons in which the limestone was forming.

I quickly saw this opportunity to my left when Ingleborough and a nosey sheep presented themselves in perfect harmony .... wish I'd used my zoom in retrospect ...

Peering over the wall to the right are the partly mined Buckhaw Brow Caves which, according to Northern Caves, lie on a barytes string - a source of the mineral barium.

The trees mark the cliff edge and the drab fields below hide a special secret.  Here, until the mid 19th century, lay the ancient Giggleswick or Huntsworth Tarn, before being drained in 1837.  What a pity they can't bring it back.  A sheet of blue water with these cliffs behind must have been unforgettable. You can still see the stream channels that flowed into the tarn.

One advantage of the drainage was the discovery, in 1863, of this magnificent log boat or canoe - complete with paddles and carved from  a single ash tree. Originally believed to be over 2000 years old, it has since been dated to the 1300s so is in fact medieval.  With it were parts of a primitive anchor, and it was buried five feet below the surface.  Ironically, it was shattered by a direct hit from a German bomb in Leeds city museum in 1940.  Experts have pieced it back together and it is now on show in the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre.  

Some of us don't care a baa about canoes - but more about Oldfields wandering on our territory ...

A dry valley turns up to the promised land - the spot where Kinsey cave lies hidden under the scar.  The eroded lip of the scar gives away that, when the cave outlet was flooded - water once poured in spectacular fashion over these cliffs.

Only at the last minute do you see the entrance - and an imposing one it is too.

W. Kinsey Mattinson's spoil heap can be seen in the foreground.  Notice the undercutting by an ancient waterfall at the base of the limestone.  

The now dry valley shows the extent of the water that poured out of the entrance and over the fall at the end of the last ice age, when the ice at this level was melting.  As the whole ice sheet melted, the water found new escape routes in the valley below.  Notice the scree caused by freeze-thawing of the ice.

Mr Mattinson made this lovely colour survey of his beloved cave.  The red writing at bottom centre indicates the exact position of the cave bear's skull.  

And this is more or less the spot in which it was discovered.  Imagine dragging that up through the debris!  It's hard to believe this animal lived and died here.  

Badgers now utilise the cave.  A good thing, in that their activities have unearthed many human bones in recent years - a bad thing in that no-one wants to disturb the badgers by carrying out further investigation!!

The arrow at top left may well be a mark made by excavators to point out an object as the cave floor would once have been level with the arrow's position.  

Despite Kinsey being a largely dry cave, there are some lovely developing dripstone features.

And the view out has a real caveman's feel to it.  A textbook example of a prehistoric home.

Farewell for now - but I'll be back.  Kinsey Cave is the kind of place to sit and linger for a long time.

Kinsey Cave from the air - the obvious horseshoe shaped feature just above centre.  The position of the ancient tarn is at bottom left.

Please let me know if you enjoy your Kinsey cave experience.  I would love to hear from you.

Stephen x