Monday, 27 May 2013

Gatekirk Cave: The Gem of a Vanishing Beck

After completing my wanderings under Whernside, I couldn't resist a visit to this beautiful cave, hidden away at the head of a beck that plays a fascinating game of hide and seek along its entire length.  This is Gatekirk Cave, another of those places worshipped by the early writers of the region, and probably the most attractive cave entrance in Yorkshire.

It was late afternoon, the sun moving to the west, and every feature of Ingleborough was lit up to perfection.  Philpin farm and grazing sheep provide a gentle contrast with the harsh slopes of the 'arks.'  I love that swathe of shadow hitting the lower slopes of the mountain.

Just before Philpin farm on the return to the Hill Inn, a path strikes up the normally dry riverbed to the left and reaches the important depression of Haws Gill Wheel.  Here, underground tributaries from sinks below Whernside meet Chapel Beck (called Winterscales Beck in its earlier reaches) and then promptly sink again, running underground for nearly a mile before dropping to valley level at the spectacular Weathercote Cave.  Only when the water reaches God's Bridge, some two miles away, does it finally see daylight again for more than a few seconds.  This is textbook karst hydrology for all to see.  An amazing spot.

Here, the water can be seen emerging from the bedding plane cave of Haws Gill Wheel, before sinking again into its bed only a few metres from the entrance.  In flood, of course, it's a different story.

Witness this active limestone stream emerging and sinking.

The main cave of Haws Gill Wheel carries a tributary into Chapel Beck.  In this photograph, the mosses take on an almost stalactite-like quality and turquoise reflections add real beauty to the scene.

Photograph by John Cordingley

A cave diver exploring totally flooded  passages inside Haws Gill Cave, just upstream of Haws Gill Wheel.  Divers have played a key part in extending our knowledge of the hydrology of this complex karst landscape, by linking the various passages underground after much intricate work. Note the underwater guide line - essential in poor visibility.

Photograph by John Cordingley

Recent dives have managed to connect nearby River Pot with the Haws Gill Wheel complex. This photograph, in Haws Gill Cave, shows the delicate structure of the limestone ceiling.

Photograph by John Cordingley

Wriggling between wonderfully sculptured limestone in Haws Gill Cave.  A picture that says everything about the complexities of cave diving as well as the beauty of a limestone landscape.

Following the beck upstream, it constantly appears and reappears, and this stretch is a memorable lagoon of normally slow moving water, no doubt enjoying the peace before things get troublesome just ahead.

This cave above Haws Gill Wheel, hidden by boulders and tree roots, has been cleverly named Spare Wheel Hole.  It doesn't go in very far, but I like it.

Above this the bed is dry once again.  The walls of the ravine close in and the sound of falling water is obvious ahead.

Caves start to appear in numbers here, including River Pot (in the bed of the beck) and the ironically christened Paradise Caves.  A paradise on the outside, maybe, but they flood to the roof in a matter of minutes in wet weather.  This is one of them.

Back with the water again, and this time deeper and more active, with a fine waterfall for the camera.

It's amazing how much Chapel Beck varies in mood. One minute a torrent, the next a peaceful swirl of calm water.  It has the moods of a human being!

The ravine becomes wooded in a stunning sylvan setting.  From this point onwards, there's a Tolkeinesque feel to the landscape.  Dippers and kingfishers are in evidence, with wagtails bobbing on the rocks.

You need to see it for yourself.   There's a wonderful mixture of sounds: falling water and birdcall.

A close-up of the busy little cascade ...

 ... and there you have it:  Gatekirk Cave, in as perfect a setting as you could ever imagine.

This hidden gem, an important habitat for bats, floods dangerously in heavy rain, so if you are planning on entering, choose a dry, settled day like this one.  Quite often, it is impossible to get inside.

Take a look at the area around this cave and marvel at nature's design.

The cave carries a large stream, a considerable portion of which becomes Chapel Beck.  The stooping entrance soon opens out to walking size.  Wellies and wet-socks are essential for comfort, but worth it for a view like this.

Once inside, the passage meets a large and beautiful chamber.  Up on the left is this abandoned exit to daylight, ten feet up and known as 'The Loft'.  Water will once have poured out of here before lowering of the floor led to the current exit point.  Bats, as you can imagine, love The Loft. Please take care not to disturb them and don't try to drop from the Loft into the main chamber.  It's not worth a broken leg!

Looking back from the main chamber of Gatekirk Cave towards the stooping entrance passage.

This great shot of the south wall of the chamber shows both entrances in the same view: the main entrance down on the left, and The Loft up on the right.  It gives some idea of how much the stream has lowered the cave floor since its days of using the Loft exit.  The limestone curves along the chamber in a great swirling arch of solid rock, rather like the tail of a huge dragon.

The ceiling of the main chamber contains these unusual, bulbous stalactites, characteristic of this cave.  Note the two passages divided by a rocky pedestal.  Right leads 'through and out' while left follows the water to the upstream cave.

A prominent 'u' shaped passage where the stream has carved out a joint in the limestone.

The main passage has shelves on each side, liberally decorated with interesting features, and moonmilk in the ceiling.  The head of the Gatekirk Great Dane can be seen at the centre, giving the walls a lick.

Looking back across the full length of the main chamber, with a glimpse of daylight through The Loft.

The most spectacular feature of Gatekirk Cave is this powerful cascade, where the stream pours into the main chamber from the left hand passage.  In flood it is a raging torrent of spray.

Some idea of the raw nature of the cave, captured with camera and caving lamp.

Taking the dry, right hand passage, the ceiling is a mass of encrusted stalactites.

The way on is then a squeeze between these boulders.  I always take the large hole to the right.  The big fella can't move - he's well wedged in at floor level.  Nevertheless, leave him well alone.

Once the boulders are reached, daylight can be seen streaming in from the top entrance, one of the easiest 'through trips' for a beginning caver, and so good you will want to do it all again.

Out into daylight with a feeling of elation even after this short trip - that's because you know you've done something not many people have ever done.  It's that great 'This is mine - I've done it,' feeling.

There are several entrances back into Gatekirk Cave from this area, but stick to the one you've just emerged from as the others lead to loose boulders and rushing water.  You'll always know the one you came out of by the 'teeth' at the entrance, and the cute little 'dinosaur' of limestone peering in: Gatekirkisaurus.

Let's head back in then.  First of all, a squeeze through that gap on the left.  If you eat too many pies and have too many beers at the Hill Inn, don't lean against the boulder.

One of the great things about caving is that, on your return, you often see features you missed on the outward journey.  This is an example, where columns have formed beautifully on the right as we drop back down to the main chamber.

And here, where two pigs come nose to nose in an arena 'lit' by delicate stalactites.  I hope your imagination works like mine.  There's a distinctive 'wintery' feel about this place.  Are these lemmings, perhaps?

Leading off the descending passage, to the left, is this series of oxbow passages - former routes of the stream.  I have always called this one 'The Tomb' as it contains a spooky 'mummy' figure in limestone, whose head has been polished to look white by good humoured cavers.  Without my knee pads today, I gave the mummy a miss.

Another view of The Tomb.

Before leaving the cave, I wanted to explore the 'wet' passage above the cascade.  This view is of the cascade from above, as it plunges down into the chamber.

As with the dry passage, the walls and alcoves are a delight to look at and explore.

Then things get nasty.  These blocks are tricky to squeeze through and, just beyond, is constricted passage crammed with branches, grass and tree roots showing that the cave floods to the roof in this vicinity.  I usually leave this area well alone.

And why not when you can witness this?  Turning round at the blocks reveals this gorgeous terrace on the right with contrasting colours and an exquisite gour pool forming on the shelf above the flowstone.

The water laps onto the shelf with a tide line like an incoming sea in miniature, and the cauliflower-like granules of calcite are wonderful.  This is a delicate spot.  Look, but never be tempted to touch.  Let your great great grandkids have a look at what you did.

A close-up of the gour pool.  It looks edible, and is for me the finest feature of Gatekirk Cave, if I have to pick one.  The colour contrast with the deep blue walls is amazing.

Here the contrast can be seen well:  golden flowstone cascading from the pool, with creamy stalactites overhanging a dark blue background.  Artists and designers couldn't do better.

Bulbous, encrusted stalactites hang from the ceiling above the gour pool, like chandeliers.

You can spend a good half hour examining all the features and decorations on the way back to the cascade.  Caves are for enjoying, not rushing.

The colours are back again in this 'palace' with steps of stalagmite leading up to a well decorated hallway.

Look carefully and the face of a Barn Owl can be seen at the very centre.  This view is of the left side of the passage, just above the cascade.  Note the huge 'bulb' of stalagmite on the right.

Looking down from a height: a view from the natural balcony in the main chamber.

Formations on the raised balcony above the main chamber.

An interesting rib of limestone splits the 'balcony' in two.

A final view to the cascade, 20 feet below, just visible in the light of my caving lamp.

Gatekirk Cave is situated in the woodland at the centre of the image.  It is on private land, and permission should be sought from Philpin Farm (not Broadrake, as stated by Wainwright a long time ago).  To reach it, go down Philpin Lane from the Hill Inn until a path is reached following a line of trees to the right along the dry river bed.  The dry bed soon meets Haws Gill Wheel and its caves, and the beck can be followed above until the path turns off to the left.  At this point (the private bit) enter the upper reaches of the ravine by climbing a wooden fence at wall level on the left bank, and drop back down to the beck, following it up to the cave entrance.  

1 comment:

  1. Pleased you like the underwater snaps, i'm the diver :) All the best, Jamie