Sunday, 9 June 2013

A North Ribblesdale Adventure
High Birkwith to Ling Gill

Before my exploration of Ling Gill, I revisited many familiar places in North Ribblesdale.  Wainwright wrote: 'I count North Ribblesdale among my favourite places on earth.'  So do I.  There is a perfect combination of limestone delights, but they need seeking out - and the seeking out is where the fun lies.

Horton Tarn, to the left of the narrow lane to High Birkwith, is an unusual sheet of standing water on the limestone.  Harry Speight (1892) in his classic work on the area, suggests this was once a pothole that was jammed with flood debris and eventually filled up and overflowed.  The original offender, he says - was a dead sheep!   Lovely.  Just left of top centre can be seen the isolated plantation surrounding Alum Pot, with Simon Fell behind, while Park Fell dominates the view - with Whernside peeping through on the right.

To the right of the lane, Penyghent, the lion of Ribblesdale, rears its head above the lime-rich grasslands, its gritstone cap and forbidding cliffs very much in evidence.

High Birkwith is a lovely isolated hamlet, tucked away in a fold of the hills.  It is possible to park on the spare ground nearby, but it is always courtesy just to ask - as I did.  You don't want a ten ton truck or tractor crushing your beloved car.

Leaving High Birkwith and heading up the lane to the many hidden limestone highlights nearby.

High Birkwith is well sheltered by pines and old sycamores:  a place where nothing seems to change, and where time has stood still.  

Old Ing is another isolated farmhouse nearby and one of the most remote farmsteads in the Dales.  It has a splendid, active stream cave nearby, but we'll leave that for another day and head to this little area's best known feature.

And here it is:  Birkwith Cave - stunningly situated at the head of a wooden glen, and surrounded by bluebells and wild garlic.  The beauty hides the risky potential for the unwary.  'Warning,' says Northern Caves, 'floods drastically. Novices liable to be flushed out!'

In good weather the cave is great to explore and leads through to a deep, underground canal.  It is, in fact, the point of resurgence for all the water from three major cave systems on the moor above:  Red Moss Pot, Dismal Hill (lovely name!) and Old Ing Caves all make their jolly ways to here ... then surge out with a vengeance!

A view from the entrance shows the sketchy path into the glen, requiring care to avoid the steep drop.

Crawling inside gives a wonderful view of the bedding plane from which the water resurges. In torrential rain, water would reach roof level in a matter of minutes, as this entrance passage is not exactly roomy!

Birkwith, despite the reputation, is very photogenic. It seems likely that the boulders were once part of the cliff and that the entrance has been cut back ... or could they have been pushed out of the entrance by massive flooding having fallen from the ceiling? 

Moss covered boulders and fresh green foliage give Birkwith Cave its own beauty.

From this angle, fangs of rock dangle from the ceiling, indicating that these boulders once did so ... and that the cave must have originally been an extremely narrow slit.

There are not many more beautiful places to leave your gear.

Beyond the floral display, the secretive little stile can be seen, admitting those who know the delights of this wonderful Yorkshire stream cave.

Birkwith Cave even as its own secluded little gill - well worth a leisurely exploration, where water resurging from the cave has eroded away a joint in the Great Scar Limestone.

It is possible, with care, to scramble into the narrow refines of the gill.

This is an unsung little gem of North Ribblesdale.  A lovely subject for the camera.

Junctions between joints and bedding planes have, in the past, been exploited by the stream in flood, to leave fantastic shapes carved out of the limestone.

One example is this 'porthole' perfectly hollowed out like the door of a Hobbit's house.

Whernside catches shadow above the pastures, as we head eastwards towards Calf Holes.

Calf Holes rears its head where a stream falls over a series of small cascades on pinkish limestone, before plunging down a major joint to lower level.  Correctly termed Dry Lathe Cave, it is one of the best systems in Yorkshire for novice cave explorers.

Cavers can descend this smooth worn shaft for 40 feet and then make their way down to Browgill Cave, half a mile away.  I well remember climbing out of here on ladders once, and it's a special experience.

Calf Holes consists of three shafts.  The waterfall shaft, in the foreground, swallows the stream; beyond is the dry shaft - the easiest way in, and hdden above the hawthorn is a higher entrance .. dropping 60 feet or so to the pool at the bottom.

Close-up of the waterfall shaft.  The stream curves gracefully like a lamb's tail over the precipice.  This is one of the finest sights in the area.

Enjoy it - as it is!

A high banking gives a superb vantage point for a bird's eye view of the shaft.

Above Calf Holes, this is the first of a series of cascades.  Note the pink colour of the rock caused by impurities in the limestone.

The top cascade is the best of the lot.  Peat in the water from the moorland above stains it brown and the acidic nature of the stream is the main reason why it has found it easy to form the pothole - dissolving away the limestone over thousands of years.

Best sandwich stopping point in Ribblesdale this.  The right hand bank just invites the solitary limestone explorer to sit and chill!

A view into Calf Holes from the opposite bank.

Looking across the hollowed-out joint of the waterfall shaft to the dry hole beyond, with a distinctive bridge of rock lying between.

Walking north towards Ling Gill, Park Fell shows up superbly, framed by a barn and sheepfold.

Ling Gill, wildest of the Dales ravines, shows itself for the first time as a swathe of trees, with the looming barrier of the Ingleborough massif made up of Simon Fell (in shadow) and  Park Fell, with Whernside on the right.  From this angle, it's hard to appreciate that Whernside is the highest fell in the area.

Most people's view of Ling Gill.  Intrepid limestone fans will want more of course.

After a bite to eat at Ling Gill Bridge - it was time to tackle the main attraction itself.  See my Ling Gill Post for the full adventure.

It is possible to park at High Birkwtih, the hamlet below the two woodlands left of centre.  Birkwith Cave is found by following the lane north eastwards from the farms and cutting back south east along the pennine way to where a stile admits to the head of the large, tree-lined gill.  It's a lovely spot.  At the top centre of the image, just beyond the large farmstead (Old Ing) the track leads north to where the stream channel can be seen cascading into Calf Holes.  Take this little adventure leisurely and enjoy the views.  


  1. Great pics Stephen and a great bit of exploring as well - I might have to go and check some of these out for myself.

  2. Thanks Matt - greatly appreciated. All the best with yours too. I will have a good look at your blog again tonight. Check out Ling Gill for yourself - it's an awe inspiring place. Stephen :)