Thursday, 17 April 2014

Ibbeth Peril
The Haunt of the Dentdale Witch

Of all the caves that the intrepid adventurer in the dales can access without any of the complicated gear of the true caver, perhaps none can compare to the magnificence of this one.  The River Dee, winding its way down into Dentdale, gathers its water from Blea Moor near Whernside - and quite often its main flow is underground in narrow passages - but in flood it becomes ferocious indeed - the bare rock above turning into a swirling pool in a matter of minutes.  This is what makes Ibbeth Peril a 'no go' for so many people. Look at the cave entrance itself, to the left of the waterfall above ...

(Picture by kind permission of Alan O'Connor)

And then look at it in this picture, taken by my friend Alan just a few weeks back, with flood debris rammed into the cave entrance.  This is when Ibbeth Peril lives up to its name - with water sumping off access to the cave, meaning anybody inside would be trapped. At times like this, the pool must be at least 15 feet deep.  It is a cave of reasonably easy access - but it is absolutely essential that the weather is dry.  Today was a great chance to explore as not only was there zero(ish) chance of rain, but we'd had a few days of dry weather - believe it or not.  Yes - Ibbeth was definitely calling out for a visit.

I approached Dentdale from Ribblehead, down past the Dent Head viaduct.

The dale, an absolute stunner, is noted for its sylvan scenery and abundance of quaint farmsteads.

A convenient layby (SD741864) sees a path snaking off to the right before doubling back along the bed of the Dee to the confines of this enigmatic and legendary waterfall.  There was hardly any water coming down today, and the limestone surrounding the plunge pool was bleached white indicating it had been dry for some time.  Nevertheless, Ibbeth Peril is always an eerie place - and demands the greatest respect from all who visit.

Ibbeth was a feared old crone who inhabited this sinister ravine and lured drunken locals into her clutches as they passed by in the pitch dark of night.  Most, it is said, were taken into the chamber of the cave, beneath the fall, where she concocted her spells and dark magic.  If they were lucky she would leave them to sleep off their hangovers before abandoning them to a solitary quest for daylight.  The less fortunate were drowned in the plunge pool ....  

Masses of flood debris are packed up against Ibbeth's entrance, and cavers have provided a trap door to stop the material being washed inside.  Or maybe the old hag herself started the trend  ....

Whatever her intentions, there was no way old Ibby was putting me off today.  It's always easiest to clamber in feet first - once you have brushed the flood debris aside.  So what do you need to explore Ibbeth Peril?  Dry weather - number one essential.  A helmet and lamp, (hire from Bernie's or Inglesport in Ingleton) wellies, clothes that don't matter - and always take food and drink in with you.  Aside of that, a touch of bravery and an inquisitive nature help - as does a certain amount of common sense.  As with all caves, always always always tell someone where you are going.  You can see I have a back-up light on my helmet ... and another thing ... know your limits and don't take risks.  if you think you can't climb it, don't have a go!!

Inside the passage is just big enough to crawl through, on hands and knees - over sharp rock. Look at the flood debris ... indicating what it's like in high water. Scary!

This is the view back out through that tiny entrance - where Ibby will have waited for her victims!

You can find all kinds of junk in Ibby's cave - and its nature changes with each and every flood.

The passage then lowers to a flat out crawl, through which Ibby will have dragged her drunken victims towards the Main Chamber.  Note the scalloping on the floor caused by water action.  This is the worst bit for claustrophobics, but it's only a few yards in length.  As you pull yourself through, just don't think too much about rising rivers!!

The floor can be a bit sharp on the delicate bits - especially if you are male - which is probably just what the old hag intended!

You then arrive at a pool chamber with a superb bridge of limestone.  Oh look, Ibby's left her walking stick. She must be in there after all.

A right turn then leads the explorer into the massive main chamber of Ibbeth Peril: 61 metres long, 30 metres wide and up to 14 metres high.  It is difficult for a caving lamp to penetrate its gloom, and there is a tremendous roar from an incoming cascade.  This cairn has been built so that people can find their way out - kind of underground fell-walking.  Very handy for drunken men!

The floor is a mass of gigantic boulders that have fallen from the ceiling.  Take great care if you climb between them and always find the easiest route.  Some have nasty holes dropping beneath the chamber floor, so watch out as Ibby might be waiting for you.

The slope going down into the chamber is divided in two by a great reef of boulders.  Keep to the right and you head down to the floor of the chamber, while behind and to the left are the grottos - and you can't miss those!

The cascade in Ibbeth Peril is magnificent.  Above it is a passage with stunning formations - but to access it you need to climb onto a massive boulder and step across a 20 foot drop onto the upper part of the fall.  In recent years the boulder seems to have moved so the gap is getting slyly bigger.  This is best left to the support of a larger group - so I didn't take the risk today.

The cascade viewed from the boulder.  There was too much water coming down for my liking today so I avoided the step across - especially having seen Ibby's walking stick in the Main Chamber!

Still - it's a beautiful sight.

This is the boulder in question.  You can climb onto it at the far side - and though stepping up onto the waterfall is easy enough - stepping back onto such a narrow boulder with a sloping top is - well - dangerous!

Climb up to the left hand wall of the chamber and you hit the kind of things that put all thoughts of witches to the back of your mind.  

You can have an hour with a camera and it's unforgetable.

For a cave requiring no gear - the formations are pristine.  The witch was house proud, if anything!

The first grotto along the left wall is one of the finest sights in the Three Peaks area.  In the centre are Ibby's pet barn owls - the baby on the right looking admiringly at her mother - while two guards stand to attention at the far end.

The guards are hemmed in by masses of stalactites and flowstone.

A better view of the owls.  They must have been important to the witch, being eternally guarded.

The Main Chamber has many places to sit in flood - and the growth of stalactites along this left wall indicates that the water never quite gets this high.    They are stunning beyond words.

The owls and guards are, of course, stalagmites - formed when carbon-dioxide rich water has dripped though the ceiling onto the cave floor.  As it meets the cave air, the gas diffuses into it to create an equilibrium,, and in doing so a tiny amount of calcite is precipitated.  In other words, the owls and guards are growing .... 

The floor contains all kinds of beautiful calcite formations.  

Panoramic view of the grotto - Ibby's Menagerie.

The ceiling between the grottos on the left wall is breathtaking.

Each tiny drip is allowing those stalactites to edge downwards by a minute fraction.  

One of Ibby's cauldrons is flanked by this strange stalagmitic figurine.

Others see a massive ginger cat - with its face to the left and its proud tail in the air, waiting for its mistress.

Ibbeth is fond of owls isn't she?  You've met the barn owls - how about these for snowies?

Is this the bed where the witch made each drunken man sleep off his hangover?  I just wonder ...

Here the owls, with their backs to us, gaze across a lake to the witch with her pointed hat - waiting for her instruction.

The ceiling is a mass of white stalactites in perfect condition.

See the two beady eyes peering down between these?

A beheaded victim ..... (getting really imaginative now) with the skull grinning away on the floor to the right.  Honestly you can imagine anything in this place.  

The second grotto is weird beyond words, enveloped in a blackened shroud.

Some objects don't fit any description.

Ibby's salt and pepper pots, perhaps?

Faces seem to peer at you from every angle in this cave.  Can you see the white face of an old crone just left of centre - with prominent nose and mouth?

Stalactites meet stalagmites to form columns - and this will have taken one heck of a long time.

This one is a belter.

And here's an entire collection.

This archway leads through to yet another grotto.  Ibby was very sophisticated in interior design.

The flowstone is bizarre in parts.

Curtains of flowstone often bar the way to secret grottos beneath of great beauty.

Another meeting place ...

And in close-up.

The far left wall is where Ibbeth Peril shows beauty beyond words.  Masses of stalactites of every size, colour and shape.  If you could take just one photograph in the cave - this would be it.

Beneath are delicate ribs of white flowstone.

How can words adequately describe this?

It is a great privilege to be inside Ibbeth Peril Cave.  It is a truly wonderful underground experience.

And the memory of being inside here will never fade.

And so they have stood, for generation after generation: locked in eternal conversation - or did she, like the queen of Narnia - petrify the lot of them?

If old Ibbeth did, she didn't do a bad job.  She was an accomplished artist ...

It's nearly time to leave the majesty of her cave behind ...

As the fingers of her sisters reach out for all who pass by ...

And the last of her ceiling decorations point the way to the cairn ... and the crawl to freedom.

She wasn't all bad - there was delicate beauty, too ...

Even in the intricate scalloping of her bare walls ...

Back out to daylight, and when you've seen the beauties it no longer seems forbidding.

In fact, you can grow very fond of it - only remember one thing .....

Leave your alcohol at home.

And don't forget to watch that water ....

Most of the time the Dee is dry ...

With just a pool or two ...

And with each boulder it's easy to think ...

That someone's watching you!

There's cauldrons on the river bed ...

And cauldrons backed by falls ...

There's ivy-laden cooking pots ...

Between the limestone walls ...

Where Hackergill is spouting forth ...

And plunging through the gap ...

We draw ourselves downstream to Dent ...

Where Ibby used to nap.

They say she's buried in the church - I think it's rather wise ...

We hurried home through Barbondale and said our last goodbyes.

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  1. that's at least another pint, I owe you !
    thanks for posting

  2. Thanks - next trip for Teddy that one :) I

  3. Superb post Stephen and stunning photographs. As I said previously I haven't been Ibby but it looks a great trip. Reminds me a bit of Goyden Pot with the flood debris.

  4. Thanks - I'll go in there with you one time if you wish. It's unforgettable. :) First time I've been in for 8 years and I used to think nothing of climbing the waterfall into the upper passage - but alone ...... I think that's too risky!!! Pictures come out well underground on my little canon IXUS digital - in fact it's better in caves than on the surface - bless it! When I'm crawling, to keep it dry I put it inside my helmet ...!

  5. Awesome. As I've said before, I'm unlikely to get inside the cave, but all those pools on the river look awesome. Another place I have to go visit. :-)

  6. Great article, just a word of advice though, the yellow dot that is placed on the google earth pic above showing the location of Ibbeth peril is incorrect. It is actually to the left of the car park as you look at that pic. I fond out the hard way as went out on a bike ride and thought I would just go and look for the entrance, ended up walking 400 yards upstream and found nothing!! I enjoyed the walk tho.

  7. Many thanks for that - I must edit the map! We don't want anyone getting lost. Hope you enjoyed the visit. Very valuable feedback - much appreciated. Stephen :)

  8. Superb cave, but one that has to be treated with respect. It lies on a geo fault line, is unstable and floods like a XXXXXXX. Known it for 30 years & always treated with trepidation. Not nice crawling though entrance with dead sheep & disintegrating bits. But, Ibith Peril (locals say "Ibi Peril") is an astonishing cave if you can get to the back of the main chamber & down the glacial meltwater cave with it's incredible formations. Full of glacial till & cobble. I've seen this cave change over years & it ain't friendly. Got lost in main chamber once, so always leave lights at entrance to main chamber. Roof prone to cave ins, entrance prone to flooding, but that's why the yobbos can't get down there & destroy the formations, which at the back "phreatic" cave passage is/are possibly the best & wildest example of formations one will see without SRT kit or everyday caving trips in Dales. IP is superb, for a "cave walker", but not to be taken lightly. I don't believe in anything "daft" but the main chamber can give you the "willies". Fantastic, but not a "friendly" cave. Well worth doing & only with experienced. The lime stone blocks on the cave roof in the main chamber fall with regularity because the Craven fault makes the bedding plane rather unstable. Most excellent post, but treat IP with the utmost respect.