Friday, 10 May 2013

Katnot Cave
Retracing a Reverend's Route

I promised last week that I'd return to the wonderful Katnot Cave or 'Catnot Hole' with my caving gear, so I could show you this most unusual cave passage, hidden away in the depths of Thorns Gill.  The main entrance, seen here, is now dry and spacious - the stream running to the right a few yards inside to where it emerges to the south in a tight exit.  

Katnot Cave was first described as far back as 1781 by the Reverend John Hutton in his now classic 'Tour to the Caves in the Environs of Ingleborough and Settle.'  I thought it would be exciting to follow in the Reverend's footsteps and look at the cave with fresh eyes - recalling some of his words along the way.

Once inside the cave, situated in a dry valley on the eastern bank of Thorns Gill, there is this stunning view out.

There are many scattered boulders in the entrance area.

The fallen boulder pile inside was, just a few years ago, very dangerous. Thankfully, those two on the right are now supporting the monster in the middle and it is possible to squeeze past in the gap, taking care not to pull on the big boulder as you do so.  Note the ghostly 'face' on the surface of the rock itself ....

Looking back between the boulders having just squeezed through the gap.  I don't like to hang around in this area too long!

The way forward is through a boulder-strewn dry passage towards a chamber, where we first meet the water.  The reverend wrote, 'We had not got out of sight of day before we were obliged to wade up to the mid-leg a few yards.'

The chamber, accessible to walkers without gear and just a torch, has been abused over the years with unsightly graffiti - much of it made by using the plentiful red ochre deposits which daub the cave walls.

Here the stream flows away under this bedding to the right, later emerging further down the gill.  In flood, it can be highly dangerous.

'We were in Danger,' wrote Hutton, 'of daubing our clothes with the red slime.'   This still holds true today, but my word it's worth it!  This is a wonderful piece of streamway and its colour is unique in the area.

Curtains of flowstone are covered with red ochre, as if painted by artists of the underworld.

Occasionally the ochre is spotted along the passageway as if flicked from a paintbrush.

The passage narrows and and in places you can't avoid painting yourself.  Don't wear your Sunday best!

'The rocks jutted out and were pendent in every grotesque and fantastic shape.'   We can see what you meant, Mr Hutton.

Here's a perfect example of the grotesque.  I call this 'The leg of Lamb.'

Vegetarians, on the other hand, might well see it as a mountain or melting candle.

Dissolved organic carbon from plant debris and the watershed soils often produces foam in caves, like this. Air in the water can also have a similar effect.  This is not pollution - but a natural phenomenon.

And this is another one:  curves of flowstone 'pipes' just below the bedding plane ceiling.

The calcite can take on the appearance of melting wax, and there are some lovely examples here.

Despite years of visiting tourists and easy access, some of the features are relatively undisturbed.  Perhaps, these days, less people know of the delights of Thorns Gill.

The cave becomes a high canyon where a joint has been eroded away beneath a smooth , flat ceiling.

Relatively new forming stalactites are replacing, at this height, those which were no doubt destroyed by earlier tourists.  Even William Dobson (1865) in his 'Rambles by the Ribble' commented on this destruction.

Zooming in for a closer look at the ceiling.

A mixture of colours here:  pale yellow on the cascade and deepening orange walls, darkening to a red background.  Perfect natural art.

Things then begin to look decidely ... er  ... bloody!

Approaching the 'Katnot Squirrel' - from this direction (it's that column on the left) it is shyly hidden from predators ...

Only when you pass it and glance back does it reveal itself.  I love its mop of grey hair, raised paw and yellow and orange tail.  Didn't have any nuts, unfortunately ....

Hutton wrote, 'The various coloured reflections made by the spars and petrifications that abounded in every part entertained the eye with the greatest novelty and variety.'    Perhaps he was well acquainted with our little furry friend.  

Don't be freaked out - but this I call 'The Entrails.'  More like the House of Horrors from Madame Tussauds.

This ochre-covered stalactite constantly drips water onto a ledge below, and over many years it has formed  a small pool in the process. 

Watch the process in action and hear the raw sounds of this active cave passage.

I captured a droplet just about to fall and do its job.

This 'Red Bulldog' feaure is an ochre-covered mass of stalagmite at high level.

Relatively new stalactites forming beneath a flowstone curtain.

Steam in the beautiful 'ribbed' stream passage ahead.

The nature, and colour, of the stream passage changes completely at the 'Seven Sisters.'

The Seven Sisters are ghostly figures huddled together, sharing their secrets of the distant past.  Don't disturb them.  Those in the middle appear to be leaning in and whispering to each other.

The passage then widens out, steep on the left where the stream is at its fastest, and sloping on the right where slower flow has left large scallops in the limestone.  Beyond this it lowers to a crawl in water. 'Perhaps if we had mustered humility and fortitude enough to have crouched and crawled a little, we might have come to where the roof again would have been as high as we should have desired.'  Wishful thinking, Reverend - but it wouldn't. I don't think he liked having a wet bottom.

The scallops in close-up, showing the intricate structure.

A delicate flowstone feature.  I can see a flamingo here bending over to fish, with it head between its legs.  Only problem is, it has three legs.  Perhaps cave flamingoes do ..

Curtains in close-up, with features forming at floor level.

A great combination of moon-milk, stalactites and flowstone curtains: cave architecture at its very best.

This delicate gour pool on a side ledge is one of the cave's most beautiful features.

Stretching up to peer in with the camera - and the gorgeous crystals of gour or rimstone can be seem forming in the clear water.  This is a wonderful sight.

The Yeti's legs are a bit more scary!

Delicate white calcite

Tiny crystals forming within the cauliflower-like structure.  

'In some places there were alleys out of the main street,' wrote Hutton.  This is one of them, an abandoned oxbow - good for testing your crawling skills.

Emerging to daylight at last.  Soggy wetsocks and water-filled wellies - oh - and I still can't get that red slime off my jacket!  Thanks for the inspiration, Mr Hutton.

Katnot Cave is suitable even for properly supervised children on a fine day - but keep away in rain.  There are no nasty crawls, the walking is comfortable, and there is something round every corner.   Just take great care when passing the boulders just inside the entrance.  I hope you enjoy your adventure ... and it won't cost you a penny.  The memories will last a lifetime.  Hire wellies and lamps from Bernie's or Inglesport in Ingleton - and if you keep enjoying your caving, invest in a pair of wetsocks.  They are a gift from heaven .....

Katnot Cave is situated on the east bank of Gayle Beck in Thorns Gill, just to the left of the little orange man on the google earth image.  To reach it, walk alongside the Hawes road from Ribblehead and take the second gate on the right after about three quarters of a mile, turning down through a sheep fold. Cross a small drumlin to the packhorse bridge, go over the bridge and then take the east bank of the gill to the obvious cave entrance.


  1. Visited 22nd September 2013. The roof above the rock-fall just inside the entrance is looking quite unstable, with more about to come down soon. Be careful! In the chamber beyond this some visiting low-life has sprayed a lot graffiti with black paint "Rave in da cave 2013". Quite sad. I wonder what's the best way to get it cleaned off?

  2. Hi. I noticed that when I was in. Very sad indeed. I would gladly help you to get rid of it if there was a way. Thankfully they didn't seem brave enough to take the 'rave' further in . The roof has appeared like that for several years and is actually a touch safer now than it was five or six years ago - but thanks for that. It's definitely a 'go in at your own risk' cave. For something written about as a remote location by the early travel writers, to see it defaced like this is upsetting.

  3. Just discovered your marvellous blog after visiting Katnot last weekend. I can confirm that the entrance boulders a still somewhat unstable, a largish one moved as we exited the cave, and that the formations are among the most diverse and interesting I've seen. The more modern graffiti has been cleaned from the chamber by members of Bradford Pothole Club under supervision of official archaeologists. Thanks for your work here Simon. :-)