Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Attermire Cave - Pool Chamber and Beyond
Tottering in Tot's footsteps

It's funny when you have to persuade your teenagers to help you achieve an ambition and get to the far reaches of a cave - even in blue nail varnish - but that was the case this afternoon.  I've always loved Attermire, but have variously had my large frame stuck in the 'neck' or 'horse collar' from time to time and have never seen the beauties beyond; that is - until today!  Here we were following Settle's famous son, Thomas 'Tot' Lord  (1899-1965) as this was one of his beloved places: a cave he excavated in the 1920s and 30s, finding coins, jewellery and human remains.  Would we find any evidence of Settle's greatest cave explorer on our adventures?  Only braving the crawl itself would tell!

The familiar slog up to the scar, having parked on the Settle to Malham road, in a biting easterly wind.

'Hold on, Joe - if you think I'm climbing up there you're mistaken!'

Joe heading (with yellow helmet) to the 'keyhole' entrance.

Playing 'Jesus' perhaps?  The entrance to this cave is spectacular no matter how many times you visit.  It is very ancient, dating back, it is believed, at least 600, 000 years and pre-dating two major ice ages.

Just need to kit up after a good supply of food and water!

Ten minutes later, Joe hits the crawl. ' There's no way you'll do it dad.'

Lucy follows suit - just keeping her trousers!  I decided I needed to be as thin as possible, so went through in just a jumper, rather than my customary caving outfit.  It worked a treat.

We all emerged at the 'Pool Chamber' although Joe made the usually clear water nice and murky before I got there, in a state of elation.  

The water in Pool Chamber is knee deep - and the chamber has a high ceiling with flowstone walls - one passage leading off at a high level on the left, with the stalagmite cascade passage on the right.

Lucy in Pool Chamber: 'There was nothing to it, father!'

Flowstone in Pool Chamber: the walls are adorned with graffiti from 19th century explorers.

The high ceiling above the pool.  The cave has suddenly changed from being two feet high, to being over thirty.

Two views of the beautiful stalagmite cascade staircase leading out of Pool Chamber into the main rift passage.  I felt guilty at having to clamber down this.  

Gazing upwards at a ceiling that soars to about 50 feet high.

Another wonderful stalagmite  floor.

The 19th century scribble looks much more artistic than recent efforts - though how these guys managed to crawl in through the 'neck' with candles in their Sunday best is beyond me.

 There are lots of interesting ups and downs in this wonderful abandoned passage.

Lucy pausing for a breather.

Squeezing through a narrower section.

Joe appearing to use his sister's head as a toilet.

I first noticed this signature from 1849 and thought it must be a relative of Tot's.  Richard Whinray's book about his grandfather mentions a John Lord moving to the Settle area around 1800.  I wondered if this could be John, or one of his immediate descendants??

And then just below ... carved into the calcite, was the unmistakable man himself.  Tot Lord set up the legendary Pigyard Club Museum in Settle and his meticulous nature was responsible for the survival and care of so many relics from these famous 'bone caves.' To stand in his footsteps was a privilege.

More wonderful ups and downs.

Lucy in a small chamber floored by golden stalagmite.

Beautiful flowstone, still being formed by water seeping through the upper reaches of Attermire Scar.

Ozzy Osborne, perhaps?  He's gazing to the right and his locks are amazing.

High avens are everywhere in Attermire Cave.

Another golden fall of flowstone.

This grotto contains tiny columns where stalactites and stalagmites have bridged the gap towards the back.

Haystacks of golden flowstone.

Some very strange formations are hard to describe.  This one?  'The Gremlin.'

Looking  down the stalagmite cascade staircase on the way back to Pool Chamber.

The climb up this flowstone in Pool Chamber leads to a very tight squeeze into a high level passage that has not yet been fully explored owing to the difficulties of entry. L.S. from Padiham no doubt had a go, unfortunately.

'Organ Pipes' in the Pool Chamber.

Heading out of the crawl: always easier when you've done it once, no doubt.  Tot Lord, it is reputed, once became stuck in here and had to be chiseled out by his friends, as all those beyond him were effectively trapped in the cave.

Keep your trousers on girl ... can't take you anywhere.

Easy does it!

Back to daylight, where Tot Lord and his friends discovered the remains of a Romano-British chariot.  This cave was never lived in, it is believed - but was used as a place for hiding objects and also for funerals and burial ceremonies.

It's a long, long time since water flowed out of this very ancient cavern.

Brother and sister - 'done and dusted.'

The combination of the exciting position in the cliff face with a stunning view, the amazing amount of finds from Neolithic through to Saxon times, the challenging crawl, historical graffiti and beautiful formations make Attermire Cave one of the great unsung highlights of the Yorkshire Dales.  Tot had his ashes scattered here - and who can blame him?


  1. This is great. Motivational and inspirational because it's from the heart. Your passion for the great outdoors is tangible

    1. Thanks Bev. Coming to something when I had to get them egging me on through the crawl. Six attempts at the cave later I've finally done it as my shoulders are a bit wide so very easy to get stuck in this one. My chapter on the area will be on scribd.com very soon.

  2. I live here in the Rockies just outside of Denver, CO - beautiful landscape, but what I'd give to have your Three Peaks nearby :-)