Thursday, 9 May 2013

Gearstones and Holme Hill Cave
A May Bank Holiday Wander With Not a Soul in Sight

 Wandering from the Viking settlement at Ribblehead towards the ancient hamlet of Gearstones - I didn't see another human being in over four hours once I left the viaduct behind.  I was alone with only water, inquisitive sheep, and ancient, boulder-strewn pastures.  

At Gearstones, just before the turn down off the Hawes road, there was plenty of life - and sound.

Check out 'Gearstones' Got Talent' - a wonderful combination of bass and treble for true music lovers.

A typical Dales barn near Gearstones, close to the secretive but beautiful Ribblehead Cave.

Ribblehead Cave is in the middle of a bouldery pasture close to the barn.  There are two entrances, with the upper one leading alongside the barn to the so-called 'back door' entrance, but the way through is nearly all crawling in water.  The lower entrance leads to further crawling in a tight passage.  

Ribblehead Cave, looking towards the lower entrance and beyond to Gauber, Park Fell and Ingleborough.

The lower entrance, at right, is a squeeze down past a dangerous banking collapse - and is not recommended for the nervous ...

The two lower entrances with the collapsed material bridging them to form a pair of 'eye holes.'

The original upper entrance to Ribblehead Cave has been blocked by fallen boulders and is impassable.

An alternative excavated 'entrance' is now available above it and to the left - but only those with a healthy diet can attempt to fit under here!!  I'd had a few too many pies and puddings for this one.

Looking back in a southerly direction across the area of Ribblehead Cave.  We'll brave its interior later in the year.  The cave is situated just beyond the length of wall running from the left to the centre of the image. From here, Ingleborough's 'Big Blue Hill' label is very appropriate.

The old hamlet of Gearstones.  It formerly had an inn, shops and a school and was a self-contained little community, hosting annual cattle fairs to which people would flock from miles around.

Across the road from the Gearstones Lodge, this patch of bare ground is the site of the ancient and notorious Gearstones Inn.  It lost its licence in 1911 when it was feared that local workers were losing money by spending all their time drinking and playing dominoes here instead of earning their living and paying their rents! .  It did a roaring trade during the building of the Ribblehead viaduct when the navvies would stagger back, intoxicated, to the camps and huge brawls would break out.  The well known traveller John Byng stayed here in 1792, stating that 'the only custom of this hotel, or rather hovel, is derived from grouse shooters and from two scotch fairs. At the conclusion of the long squabble, the two nations agree in mutual drunkenness.'  Here also, in 1869, a railway engineer called Charles Sharland was cut off by snowdrifts for three weeks with six colleagues, before they finally decided to tunnel themselves out.  Lovely!

Turning right onto the packhorse track beyond Gearstones, a view to the north reveals a scattering of limestone boulders and a gnarled old ash.  

Far Gearstones Farm has a perfect rustic setting - its trees framing the Ingleborough massif to perfection.

Holme Hill Cave lies hidden beyond.  In the days before White Scar and Ingleborough Cave became the places to be, this was a primitive show-cave for intrepid travellers who would pay a small fee at Far Gearstones Farm before being conducted inside through knee-deep pools; and all this in the days before wellingtons and waterproofs.  How did the ladies go on in their long skirts, one wonders?

The entrance is attractive enough, with a stream emerging into the daylight and ivy adorning the limestone boulders.

Just inside are the remains of an old iron gate that once protected the formations inside. Nobody could have sneaked in without paying a fee.

An abandoned canyon passage turns off the main streamway.

Soon a wonderful limestone bridge spans the passage.  It is difficult to climb over so you have to duck underneath.  Many a Victorian lady would have well and truly wet her bloomers here.  Note the face in profile on the left, with distinctive nose, lips and chin ...

Stalactites and moonmilk in Holme Hill Cave.

More stalactite formations in the main stream passage.

Holme Hill Cave has a fine canyon passage cut beneath a huge limestone bedding plane.

This column, where a  stalactite and stalagmite have joined over a massive period of time, is an obvious highlight.

An alternative view, contrasting with the sharp darkness of the passage behind.

Eventually the cave becomes lower, with uncomfortable crawling on ribs of scalloped limestone.  Heavy rain outside would soon flood it to the roof.  Note the droplets of water like crystals on the bedding plane ceiling.

Strange contrasting colour flowstone formations on the walls of the main stream passage.

I call this attractively domed stalagmite the 'Sugarloaf Mountain'.  Part of Rio in miniature.

Boulders lining the floor of the stream passage.

A view of the moving stream shows the finely scalloped limestone and diagonal ribs of rock caused by the swirling of the water.

Another view of the bridge chamber - the rising steam indicating where I have just passed underneath.

Oldfield and limestone getting too close for comfort.

The bridge from the opposite side.

My final splash back out of the entrance.  You will notice a dipper jumping off her nest just before I exit.  I think she had her Bank Holiday ruined by a big man!  She's fine now.

Ribblehead Cave is the small depression in the field just below and to the left of the B6255 sign on the left of this image.  The hamlet of Gearstones is left of centre and Far Gearstones Farm is the large dwelling in the trees just above centre.  To locate Holme Hill Cave, note where a footbridge cuts over the dry beck just below the top right corner of the image.  To the left (west) of the bridge a diagonal wall can clearly be seen linking the path with the beck. Holme Hill Cave is to the left of this wall on an escarpment clearly visible in the image, just a few hundred yards from the main road.

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