Whoaa!! Hold it right there! No need to look so suspicious. This may well be Giggleswickisaurus: just one of the many rocky highlights around the ancient village. This is, in fact, a gritstone outcrop on Mill Hill, named after a mill that once stood nearby and which was powered by the waters of the ancient Giggleswick Tarn. Let's have a winter wander around this amazing place.
On the 25th May 1863, some thirty years after Giggleswick Tarn was drained, labourers were working on drainage ditches in the ancient tarn bed when one Joseph Taylor hit upon what he at first thought was a large log - some five feet beneath the surface.
Here, where now stands a golf course - once stood a sheet of water which must have been a magnificent sight under the towering limestone cliffs of Giggleswick Scar.
In the middle of the tarn stood an island called Gretna Green. The high ground below centre, backed by the conifers, was presumably the island. As the tarn was popular with skaters, it is likely the island was a place of romance, hence the name. You know - a quick kiss and kanoodle when no-one was looking place? Wonder if anyone was novel enough to tie the knot there? Schoolboy's Tower, a giant cairn linked to the pupils of Giggleswick School, dominates the scene at the top of the scar.
Below the scar lies the famous Ebbing and Flowing Well, first described in Drayton's 'Polyolbion' as far back as 1612:
How did the magical properties of this well orignate? According to Drayton, writing in the Polyolbion, there was a beautiful nymph who dwelt in the Craven mountains, and attracted the attentions of a determined satyr (in legend, a woodland creature with the features of a goat and a fondness for revelry!) :
In desperation, the nymph prayed to the gods, who promptly answered her call by transforming her into a spring which rose and fell with her exhausted panting. The Polyolbion writes how they:
Beyond the well, a the top of Buckhaw Brow, a path leads up onto the higher reaches of Giggleswick Scar, and impressive views over the Craven Lowlands open up towards another place of legend: Pendle Hill, forever associated with the witch trials of 1612, coincidentally the same year that Drayton was writing about the well.
This is the classic view over the scar. The road runs along the line of the South Craven Fault which began moving (under the sea) in late Carboniferous times. Essentially it is a giant fracture in the earth's crust and everything you can see on the right (the green bit!) slipped down along that fracture, while everything to the left was lifted upwards to form the cliffs. That's a simple way of putting it. The same limestone that once lay level with the top of the cliffs now lies hundreds of feet below the golf course (underneath the bed of the former tarn). Complicated stuff, but essential to understanding this wonderful landscape. As sea levels gradually lowered, it is likely that the cliffs of Giggleswick Scar once formed part of a dramatic coast pounded by waves: amazing to think about today.
The Great Scar Limestone cliffs of Giggleswick Scar are clothed in trees so it is difficult to make out their many features. Hidden beneath them are a number of superb caves, but getting to them is no easy feat. It requires a steady head for heights and firm footing.
Kinsey Cave, explored by W. Kinsey Mattinson of Austwick in the early 20th century, revealed human remains and the full skull of a cave bear. This one is easy to access along the first dry valley at the top of the scar, and it is believed that a pothole shaft once penetrated the ground at the top of the cliff (an abandoned waterfall) that has now been blocked by glacial debris, and that the bear could have met its end by falling down the shaft. Its skull is now in the Craven Museum, Skipton (see my post from March, 2013).
Wall Cave is another aperture in the face of the scars. These little caves were first introduced to me in the writings of Wainwright, many years ago. 'Don't wear your Sunday best' was his sound advice.
In seeking out the starkly-named Dangerous Cave, described by Harry Speight (1892) as being 'bad to get to' (that's an understatement!!), I had to wander very close to the cliff edge and find a breach through the scars into the upper reaches of the woodland. Here, I paused for a magnificent view over the South Craven Fault zone and along the Craven Lowlands to Pendle Hill. The club house of the golf course marks the southern shoreline of the ancient tarn.
And here is Dangerous Cave, hundreds of feet above the road, hidden under the ivy and pointed out by the lower branches of a larch tree. It's easy to miss - and very rarely visited.
A slippery slope descends to a small ledge above the main chamber - but it needs a rope to descend to the chamber itself - otherwise it would be almost impossible to climb out. I entered the cave knowing this: one slip and I'd have been down there a long time. That's why it's always wise to tell people where you are going when entering any cave. This one - small as it is - certainly lives up to its name.
The main chamber in Dangerous Cave, viewed from the ledge above. There is certainly a great deal of archaeological potential here - no doubt protected by the difficult access.
The last few metres of slippery rock plunging into the main chamber. There's not much for hands and feet to grip onto and many a sheep must have met its end here over the years.
Continuing over the crest of the scar - the highest point is reached at Schoolboy's Tower. Traditionally, each new boy of Giggleswick School has added a stone to this cairn, but its almost professional structure suggests it has been a site of importance for a long time. No doubt this was once a place important to early man, considering the amount of caves in the area. Only a few feet from the cairn lies the massive cliff of Giggleswick Quarry, now thankfully closed and being allowed to let nature take over. It should be a fine habitat in a few years.
Keeping to the edge of the scar on the return journey - a massive breach in the cliffs is soon reached - and not without a shudder. This is Nevison's Nick: named after highwayman John Nevision. When being pursued for robbery in 1645, he allowed his horse to refresh itself at the Ebbing and Flowing Well. The waters of the sacred spring gave his steed, it is said, magical powers, and it carried him up the scar and over this ravine in one magnificent leap. Despite its prominence on the ordnance survey map, few people have ever seen Nevison's Nick as it requires a gravity-defying pull up from the main road and is hidden from view by trees.
Nevison's Nick is well worth seeking out, and is one of my favourite places in the Dales. The horseshoe shaped 'nick' indicates a minor fault and it is likely that this was once an active waterfall, plunging down into the tarn. It is possible for agile and brave explorers to half climb, half scramble up the nick in the centre, while the flanks offer routes for more experienced climbers.
'Half way up the stairs is a stair where I sit .... there isn't any other stair quite like it' - and there isn't actually! This one has a lovely suspended pool and is described by Harry Speight as being a perfect 'little handbasin.'
Another view of Staircase Cave. I didn't have my helmet and lamp with me today so I pointed into the inky blackness and hoped for the best!
And finally ... on the way home I visited the Plague Stone. This was given an elaborate 'enclosure' in memory of Thomas Brayshaw, the local historian who spent long hours exploring where we've been today. During the 1598 Settle plague, coins were left in the recess in exchange for food and goods - to prevent the disease from spreading outside the town. These 'plague stones' were placed at the edges of towns throughout the country and this is one of the few still to survive. It is situated opposite the Craven Arms, just outside Giggleswick and close to the A65.