Thursday, 28 February 2013

Trow Gill: A Melt-Water Gorge

The South East slopes of Ingleborough are more gentle than those of the west - with a gradual approach to the summit that passes a host of internationally important karst features.  Trow Gill is a classic example of an abandoned meltwater gorge, and is easily accessible from Clapham.  Some 14000 years ago, during the last glaciation, all the major sinks on the limestone plateau beneath Ingleborough were frozen up, and blocked by glacial debris. As the ice began to melt, over thousands of years it formed a torrent that moved over the frozen land, seeking a place to escape and finding a major joint of weakness which it gradually eroded into this famous landscape feature.

Even today you can imagine that, at any minute - a great torrent is going to roar down there and sweep you off your feet.  The dry waterfall is an exciting scramble, bringing the explorer as close to the bare bones geology as it's possible to be.  Notice how swirling water has picked out a bedding plane on the left of the picture to form this small cavern - 'the devil's kitchen.'  It's a great spot, by the way, for shelter and refreshment, with its own 'kitchen table' formed by a boulder that has fallen from the ceiling.

Similar weaknesses in the Great Scar limestone have been exploited by the meltwater torrent as we look down the gorge from above, where the early stages of developing caves can be seen on the left.  

There has been some dispute by geologists as to whether Trow Gill was at one time a cavern itself, and that the boulders underneath the moss on the right represent a section of collapsed roof.  This theory is nowadays  rejected in favour of the gorge having always been an open meltwater channel. All of the limestone seen here originated from corals and tiny sea creatures that lived in a warm shallow sea some 340 million years ago. The two huge bedding planes in the cliffs on the left (one terminating at the devil's kitchen and one at top left) indicate periods of time when there was a lull in deposition of limestones - probably a result of falling sea levels.  Often in these situations, muds washed into the very shallow sea formed shales which can be picked out in the bedding plane.  The main 'wall' of limestone at left centre, above the cave, represents an immense time period with more or less constant sea levels where limestone formation continued without interruption for millions of years.  Altogether the band of Great Scar limestone around Ingleborough is about 800 feet thick - so here we are looking merely at the top 200 feet or so.  This means that, beneath the path, there is still another 600 feet of lovely white rock before we meet the basement rocks underneath - though this can vary owing to the undulating surface of the ancient basement. Little wonder then, that this wonderful mountain has so many caves to explore.  Water hitting limestone always finds a way in - and a way out!

This very different view of Trow Gill is from the summit of Norber to the east.  The gorge is clearly a slice through the landscape on the left, with the upper reaches tapering away up to Gaping Gill, on the slopes above.  This picture gives some idea of the force and action of the meltwater as ice sheets on the plateau above began to melt.  The large doline right of centre, in Clapham Bottoms, is one of the largest in the area - penetrating through the glacial till into the Great Scar Limestone, and likely to have originated in pre-glacial times when limestone slumped due to solution in passages below.  In this area is Body Pot, where, in 1947, the fully clothed corpse of a man with shaving gear, coins and a bottle of cyanide was found.  Had he been a German spy who, once discovered - had taken his life?  It remains one of the great human mysteries of the Three Peaks.

Trow Gill approach showing the dry waterfall, bedding plane caves and vertical cliffs of Great Scar Limestone.

Here the 'table' in the Devil's Kitchen can just be seen on the left, along with the full extent of the dry waterfall.  Following the Ice Age, after the melting of the glaciers, Fell Beck once again found its way down the shaft of Gaping Gill - and the relatively young meltwater gorge was abandoned.

Walking back towards Clapham from Trow Gill, a small valley on right reveals the hidden Foxholes Cave.  This has produced human and animal remains and is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Three Peaks area.  The dry valley in front shows that this is a long abandoned resurgence - the water now having found a new path and exit in its journey underground.

The water that falls into Gaping Gill now emerges from the Great Scar limestone here, at Clapham Beck Head - a short distance south of Foxholes Cave.  In normal weather the movement through the passages is extremely constricted.  Dye introduced into Gaping Gill can take a number of days to show up in the water here.  Movement of the water, is, of course, much more rapid in flood conditions.

In 1837 James Farrer broke through a stalagmite barrier to release the underground lake from Ingleborough Cave - now a superb show cave.  The link was only made through to Gaping Gill in the 1980s.  There is a small admission charge and it is about a 40 minute walk up through the woods from Clapham.  We'll visit it later in the year.

Further downstream, Cathole Syke reveals the basement rocks beneath the Great Scar limestone, brought to the surface by the tilt of the North Craven Fault, and forming a powerful tributary cascade in the wettest conditions.  

Here's another view of Cathole Syke - the ancient basement rocks forming the streambed due to the uplift of the Craven Fault, where the limestones above have been eroded away over time.  These greywackes are similar to the rocks forming the Norber boulders in the adjacent valley of Crummackdale.

Clapham to Trow Gill.  The village of Clapham is just left of centre at the bottom of the photograph, with the lake created by the Farrer family very prominent.  Cathole Syke is in the woods by the path just above the northern tip of the lake.  Ingleborough Cave is just above and to the right of centre, where the two 'i' points are situated.  The path then swings to the left, where the wooded glen of Trow Gill can be seen, again marked by an 'i' point.  The  limestone scars on the right of the picture are the upper reaches of Norber, with the famous boulders just off the photograph to the right.

Trow Gill and back is a great little stroll from Clapham - especially when it's too misty to climb Ingleborough.  Hope you enjoy this special landscape.

Stephen x

Monday, 25 February 2013

A Three Peaks Blast from the Past

The places you drag your little ones trying so hard to convince them that it's better than Blackpool.  You do succeed eventually.  Some of these are a little grainy as they are copies of prints.  My teenagers won't thank me for them.

Valley Entrance, Kingsdale 2004.  This is actually the 'roof tunnel' leading to a drop into the Kingsdale Master Cave, for which you need gear - but it's a great romp through for any age as far as the drop itself.  You can also play at being a Clanger - as my son Joe is doing here.  He was six at the time so it will be a tighter squeeze these days.

Just inside the entrance things get very wet indeed at the 'duck' though there's less water than when I was a kid.  It's great fun, but in very wet weather it can reach the roof and cut you off - so you have to be careful! Joe didn't actually pose for this: I snapped him as he was passing through.  Remember this was taken in pitch black conditions.

The Three Peaks do offer less daunting, but still exciting pastimes, like the Settle Falconry Centre - taking Harris hawkie for a walkie!

Or peering into the awe-inspiring Juniper Gulf - way up on the wilds of the Ingleborough 'allotment'.  

Trying to move the unmoveable on Scales Moor ...

Attempting the Malham Tarn Splits ...

Or heading into the dreaded 'Tube' in Roger Kirk Cave at Ribblehead.  There's about 20 cm of airspace and a lot of cold water.  Fortunately it's only short but adults have to lie on their back in the water and keep the nose upwards.  It helps if you keep one arm in front and one behind, or you might get stuck.  

Climbing out of Rowten Pot in Kingsdale after a trip through Rowten Cave can be invigorating ....

As can posing in the beautiful and friendly Great Douk Cave - the first cave I did as a youngster.

Sometimes, however, it's grand to be up on the high ground in the good old Yorkshire air - such as here on Park Fell - with Ingleborough behind.

We'll revisit all these places over the course of the year in detail ...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Latest News For Limestone Lovers - 

Judging from the number of hits there's a lot of limestone-loving folk out there - so I'll just let you know that the full text of the Warrendale Knots chapter is now available online at  What better way to brighten up the thought of a rapidly approaching Monday morning?


Stephen x

Discover how to storm the fortress ...(click here)

'Hey - what 'Ewe' lookin' at, pal?'

'The Field of the Dead' Near Settle - a Boxing Day Wander Back into the Past

Harry Speight's classic book on the area, 'The Craven and North West Yorkshire Highlands' beautifully describes the now little-known burial chambers and cairns in what he refers to as 'The Field of the Dead.' On Boxing Day 2012 I decided to go and have a look for myself - parking near the wooded hamlet of Stackhouse and climbing up onto the fell near 'the Happy Valley.'  As I expected, these features are difficult to find, but once you do find them, they will stay with you.  There's a wonderful sense of being in another age in this silent landscape.

I actually missed the first features and had to turn back to look for them - but this burial mound is an obvious marker to the rest.  It is marked on the OS map as a 'Cairn' at SD805665.  As with many barrows in the area, the lie of the landscape has been utilised.  I am not 100% certain if this barrow has ever been excavated. Certainly it appears undisturbed, and because early OS maps refer to this field as 'Sheepscar' - I call it 'Sheepscar Chamber.' Warrendale Knots can be seen on the skyline to the right.

This is a view of the chamber looking east.  Construction has taken place around a natural limestone outcrop.     Close by - just behind and to the left as we look at the chamber - there is an overgrown but obvious 'circle' with the remains of a central 'cist' which was possibly a place of sacrifice.  The circle is hard to show on photographs, but I will have a go!

The central cist is the tiny stone protruding through the turf in the centre foreground.  Reverse back on your computer chair - as distance allows the raised circle to show itself - though it is easier when you are there - believe me.  I was very pleased as I was unaware of its existence and so 'discovered' it for myself - confirming my suspicions by reading the Megalithic portal.  I adore these mystical places.

This is a view of the 'Field of the Dead' with Sheepscar Chamber on the left and Sheepscar Enclosure - a walled burial mound in the centre.  The tiny slice of limestone pavement you can see at centre is perfectly semi-circular around the mound - a give-away that this is, in fact, a work of man.  This, known as 'Sheepscar Enclosure' is easily seen on Google Earth as a kidney-shaped mound with a the limestone 'wall' enclosing one side.  Apologies for the dull picture - but it was typical Christmas weather.

The Sheepscar Enclosure can be seen at the exact centre of this image above the obvious 'v' shape formed by the two converging walls.  The semi circular formation of limestone can be seen around it looking rather like a question mark. 2 cm north west on the picture and the paler Sheepscar circular chamber can be made out.  The lush green valley opening up at the top of the picture is the 'Happy Valley' - a place with an echo that has to be heard to be believed.

Here I am standing on the central cist of the Sheepscar Enclosure looking a the perfect curve of the surrounding limestone.  That's Stainforth Scar just behind, clothed in trees.  This is a wonderful place to bury your loved ones - if indeed they were loved!

The same position looking north,  The kidney shape of the mound I'm standing on can clearly be seen - with the enclosing limestone to the right.  Sheepscar Chamber is at top right.  (SD806665)  The OS map doesn't name this feature, but look carefully at how they've drawn the map and you can see the circular shape in the rocky outcrops.  The hole in the foreground may well indicate past excavation.

The best known feature in the vicinity is, however, the 'Apronful of Stones' - excavated in 1784 and described in the Gentleman's Magazine.  Again it is marked on the map as a cairn.  To reach it, exit the Sheepscar field by the gate near to the chamber and hut circle, then double back along a clearly marked path to the south east, keeping the wall on your left.  (SD807662)  Human remains and a disc of ivory were found in this chamber, but the explorers made a mess of it.  Have a look at how it once was:

Nowadays - the most obvious feature is a large slab in the centre that has clearly once been part of a stone coffin for somebody of importance.

Here the stone slab and the central depression can be seen clearly.  It's in a bad state of repair, but what a great feature - and one of the few neolithic sites in the Dales at some 3000 years old or more.  In fact, the more you look at the surrounding landscape, you do get the impression that there are nothing but dead bodies up here!

There's also always one of the Three Peaks not far away.  Here's The Apronful of Stones with Penyghent in cloud.  A forbidding sight.  

And here's our last look at the massive mound.  There are many other fascinating prehistoric features in the area - and we shall be visiting them all during the course of the year.  Why not get out the map and go and see them for yourself?  It's a rewarding half day's adventure.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Sample the Real Thing!

The full text of the 'Crummackdale Stadium Tour' - from 'A Three Peaks Up and Under' is now available on . 

The chapter accompanies the slimmed-down, illustrated version on this blog.  Just type 'Crummackdale' into the search box and it's all yours.  

Also published on the same website is 'Bruntscar Cave: The Hole Behind the Barn' - detailing  an exploration of a most unusual cave under Whernside, discovered in 1865 when a farmer broke a way into the cliff behind his house.  Nowadays, the few that know it call at the farm with simple caving gear and put a small donation in the church collection box.  Real Enid Blyton stuff!  Later this year I'll go back with the camera and post a photo tour.  Hope you enjoy the reading in the meantime.


read the full chapters and get ready for adventure!

How it all Began

That's me on the left, already finding limestone comfy, complete with open flies (once a zip had gone in those days you had to put up with it) and an awful Steve Austin vest that I can't remember.  That's Richard with me and he was born, brought up, and still lives in the shadow of Ingleborough.  It is that boiling summer of 1976 when I was trying hard to look like Allan Clarke.  It was this camping trip that sparked off an obsession for that solid stuff I'm sitting on.  So now you know.

Penyghent - The Lion of Ribblesdale

21 February 2013

Today's freezing adventure takes us from Dalehead, on the Stainforth to Halton Gill road (surely one of the wildest roads in England) along the foot of the western face of this wonderful mountain to some exquisite limestone features - some not bettered anywhere else in the UK.  Colin Speakman wrote in Walking in the Yorkshire Dales that Penyghent is 'one of the great mountains in England' and he is not wrong in his assessment of this majestic 'hill of the winds.'  There's an honesty box just over the cattle grid at Dalehead (SD843714), so having parked up, we take the Pennine Way behind Dale Head Farm ...

Churn Milk Hole is our first 'hole' of the day.  A massive collapse doline next to the Pennine Way - it has formed on a fault which crosses the area east to west including the two holes we shall visit later.  Note here how the great scar limestone is covered by a layer of glacial drift, like the top layer of icing on a cake.

From this angle the joints and bedding planes in Churn Milk Hole can be clearly seen - as can the way Penyghent sits proudly on the 600 feet thick limestone plinth.  Enlarging of prominent joints by solution in the limestone beneath, over a massive period of time, has caused the surface rock to collapse inwards and form the hole.

The curious name?  Probably a reference to the fact that it was on the path and was once a convenient place to store churns of milk long before refrigeration.  A large hole - but chickenfeed compared with the giants to come ....

This is how the lion of Ribblesdale dominates the scene on the Pennine Way.

Just beyond Churn Milk Hole, the way on is over the rough moorland behind this signpost - the only way it isn't pointing - as we want the first part of the adventure all to ourselves.  If we head about 200 metres over the tussocks, we'll meet the corner of a wall next to the first of the day's truly breathtaking natural wonders .. and it doesn't even have a name!  (SD833718)  A dotted line indicates the path on the OS map.

We've just come in from the left to reach the wall (this view is looking south) and if you look carefully there's the lip of a hole in front where things look a touch greener.

Resist the temptation to climb the wall.  Instead, a quick look around will spot this open gate - and that's snow-covered Ingleborough in the distance.  Once through the gate, turn left to a sight you won't forget in a long while ...

This colossal hole in the landscape must be double the size of Churn Milk Hole, and on Google Earth it looks like a massive bomb crater.  Cavers have likened the fragments of limestone in the bottom to sugar - so I call it the Sugar Basin.  There's a sketchy way down on the left ... see how long it takes you to walk round the rim.  

Seeing really is believing!

The strange thing is with these kind of features - you don't often notice them until you're about to fall in!  Such is the size of the Sugar Basin that even Penyghent looks precarious, as if she's about to be swallowed up by the monster.

Hands up if you're now a member of the Sugar Basin fan club?  Many attempts have been made to connect the hole with other well known cave systems.  Who knows what secrets may lie beneath?

From the Sugar basin, walking directly west and keeping Ingleborough in our sights as a guide - we soon drop over the brow of a hill and this view opens up.  Of course the trees hide another wonder - you knew that!

Lined up on the same fault as the other two, Larch Tree Hole is more a conventional pothole, formed by a now absent stream.  It's about 15 metres deep and surrounded by a wall so our woolly friends don't fall in . Having said that, it's full of bones, farm debris, bits of corrugated iron ... oh, and more bones ..

There's not much chance of a farmer being around.  It would be a miracle, so you can jump over the wall at the left corner and, if you are brave, descend the gully nearest the camera.  I startled a lovely tawny owl in doing so ...

This view is from the west side, with the green slope of descent clearly seen.  I had my first brew of the day under that old sycamore at top left.  Lovely.

Leaving Larch Tree Hole behind, we head north along the wall.  This view is looking back to the lonely scene - the only trees for miles around - and not a human in sight.

When they have been around here, though, they've done some pretty strange things.  Notice the sheet of rusty iron? This covers a hole known as Gavel Rigg Pot - and the spoil the cavers have dug out of it is neatly walled in on the right.  It doesn't lead in very far, is too narrow for me, and is yet another attempt to connect the underworld beneath Penyghent.

The mountain is watching over us all the time - of course ...

We soon cross the Three Peaks route up from Horton (SD831728) and continue north along the wall until this wall is met coming up the field (SD828733).  The trick now is to turn sharp right (in the direction of the camera) to locate an obvious dry valley just a few metres to the the east.  It'll be worth it ..

This innocent looking hole is the most daunting, notorious and exhausting stream pothole in Great Britain - the stupendous Penyghent Pot.

The 'boulders of dubious stability' described in Northern Caves - have been made safer with scaffolding.  The cave was discovered in 1949.  You can just see the stream glinting below.  

Some cavers can spend 12 or more hours in this pot, and the tiring thing is they have to come out the same way.  The first hour is a trying crawl in a freezing canal, followed by a backbreaking low passage - still in water - and then a horrendous series of underground pitches and waterfalls including the Niagara and Friday the 13th series.  In total - there's 5.2 km of passage in Penyghent Pot.  I love caving, but I wouldn't think about this one ... and I admire those who have done it.

Sitting as innocently as it does in this tiny dry valley - you would never believe it!  

Leaving the pot, we keep along the wall until bogs force us to move eastwards slightly (towards Penyghent), and then we cross a beck and scramble through the couchy heather until we once again meet the Pennine Way.  We'll be following it up to the summit later, but first let's divert down the track to the left and pick up one of the greatest potholes in the country ... don't let children rush ahead, as this one is a death trap ..

Hunt Pot (once 'Thund' Pot) is everyone's idea of what a pothole should look like.  Here the beck rushes off the Yoredale slopes of Penyghent and has hollowed out a huge single joint in the Great Scar limestone.  Take great care.  To the left of that boulder at bottom right is a concealed 'eye-hole' that drops 30 metres to the foot of the shaft.  Today the water had formed a mass of ice crystals in the depths and was truly beautiful.

Clambering with great care across the stream bed, we get this fantastic view in.  The hidden eye-hole is just behind that small wedged boulder in the top corner.  The hole has never been known to fill up.  The first 30 metre drop leads to a suspended floor with another drop into the bowels of the earth - then the passages become too constricted for exploration.

Have a look at the quintessential Yorkshire pothole in the flesh!

The first waterfall into the Hunt Pot chasm is pretty enough - the poor water having no idea of the hell that awaits it.

Perhaps the more cowardly water droplets prefer to delay their descent into hell by being frozen in time.

A last goodbye to a truly awesome natural wonder - but can Penyghent go one better than that?  Oh yes indeed!

Return to the Pennine way and drop down a few metres to a crossroads, where a bridleway to the right should be taken: a seemingly monotonous first few yards .. nothing to write home about ...

Wait a minute ... just beyond that snow, there's a straight line across the landscape.  It's not a path ... it .. it can't be ... it can't be a hole ... surely ...

Oh .... my ... Gollums!!!!

Hull Pot - 270 feet long and 60 feet deep, pales into insignificance all other surface openings in the UK - or Europe, for that matter.  Formed on a fault - it has been ground out by water action from a stream which, nowadays, only plunges into the chasm after flooding.

Like this - for example.

There is no way into the hole, except with full climbing gear.  In extreme floods it fills completely and even overflows, causing chaos ... but what a view with Penyghent behind.

Here we are standing on the normally dry river bed at the lip of the fall.

At the western end, a massive detached chockstone looks, from certain angles, like a hippopotamus.  The Hull Pot Hippo - why ever not.  Some climbers use the Hippo as a convenient way in ...

We've been neglecting the lion all this time - so head back to the Pennine way and turn left for an uphill slog.

Eventually limestone cliffs are reached.  The top-most layer of limestone in the Yoredale beds, the Main Limestone - is thicker than it is on Ingleborough, and lies just beneath the gritstone summit.  It is very fractured - and has allowed such features as the Penyghent pinnacle to form.  A cracking object!

It can be difficult spotting this elusive feature.  You need to wander along the cliff face off the main path.  Recently he's lost his grassy hair and a bit of his head, poor fellow ...

First humans of the day - and they were stuck on the ice with a four year old.  They moved 50 yards in 50 minutes.  Scary!  Never underestimate the Three Peaks.

Reaching the summit of any mountain is special - especially when you have it all to yourself.  

That's Fountains Fell behind.  We are now at 2237 feet - but it feels like 20 000 in the winter.

Walking down from the summit onto the lion's head - you feel on top of the world ...

 And this guy permanently is .. The Old Man of Penyghent.  Big nose, hasn't he?

Freeze thaw action has resulted in huge hunks of gritstone cascading down the mountain .

Now it's just a case of rejoining the Pennine Way back to the car.  A brilliant day's adventure 
- one to remember for a long time.

Here's the entire route on Google Earth.  Parking is just under the 'G' of Google at bottom right (honesty box) and the Pennine Way can be seen snaking its way past Dalehead farm in a northwesterly direction to the left of the 'G'. The hole where the path turns at a sharp angle is Churn Milk - and the even more obvious Sugar Basin is clear above the word 'Ltd' - bottom centre.  Larch Tree Hole, a small black gash can be made out to the West of Larch Tree, some way above the 2 in 2013 - and then the wall can be followed northwards to two 'i' signs: the first being Penyghent Pot and the second, close to the path - Hunt Pot.  The massive opening of Hull pot can be seen as an 'i' at the top of the picture, covering the dark chasm.  The limestone pinnacle of Penyghent is situated on the swathe of limestone at the top of the photograph, slightly to the right of centre.  Enjoy!