Friday, 28 March 2014

Ease Gill: Heavy Rock With No Sound
Part Two: Witches Cave and Beyond

The spectacular but hidden limestone ravine of Ease Gill Kirk is known for its silent atmosphere.  Rarely will you meet another visitor - and you can be alone with a world as it was intended to be ...

The normally dry bed of Ease Gill Beck was carved out by meltwater toward the end of the last glaciation, probably when the ancient caverns beneath were plugged by ice.  To the left of the image is the lonely mass of Leck Fell, while behind the camera and beneath the surface is the network of caves known as Ease Gill Caverns.  The caves on either side of the beck are joined by the appropriately named 'Link Pot' - which we'll visit on a later expedition.  At the top centre of the photograph the meltwater has carved through a major joint in the limestone to form the lower section of Ease Gill Kirk.

Close up of the dry beck.  When the waters rising off Great Coum and other fells to the north combine in times of flood, the 'Ease Gill Bore' can rush down here in a matter of seconds and cause chaos above and beaneath!

Looking north along Ease Gill Beck.

The valley narrows to a gorge at the approach to Lower Ease Gill Kirk.  There is a theory that this is itself the remains of an ancient high level cave system, having long since been abandoned by a fall in the water table and by actions of the glaciers. Kind of makes sense!

A sketchy path skirts the top of the Lower Kirk and allows a tantalising glimspe into the depths of Wainwright's 'shattered cathedral.'  The gorge is best accessed by traversing on a path to the left and doubling back into its confines.

Caves punctuate the rocky sides of the Lower Kirk - a full series of entrances known as the Lower Kirk Caves.  Many are fun to explore and have good bat and cave spider populations. This one, however, is tricky and requires a rope to get to.

Beyond the lower Kirk, in the right (west) bank of the normally dry stream channel is the eerie entrance to the Witches Cave.  Normally a dry entrance, it changes completely after heavy rain with a torrent of water gushing from its entrance.  The only way to get in the Witches Cave is to continue downstream and cross the beck, before a careful double back traverse to the entrance.

From the high level path one thing becomes immediately obvious.  Water has suddenly appeared - and a lot of it ..... but where from?

So much water, in fact, that the stream bed now contains a variety of attractive pools.

This is the point at which the water emerges, up a small tributary valley on the opposite bank of the beck.  All the water emerging here has passed through the caves in a hazardous journey, and it has now reached the base of the Great Scar limestone at the aptly named Leck Beck Head - as from this point Ease Gill Beck becomes .... you've guessed it .... Leck Beck .... and it's a beauty.

This is a view of Leck Beck Head.  The rocky knoll to the right separates the emerging tributary seen here from the main beck of Ease Gill which lies off the photograph to the right.  There's a wild and beautiful feel about this place.  It's fascintaing to see so much water suddenly emerging after the silence of Ease Gill Kirk.

Below Leck Beck Head - this stunning little waterfall and plunge pool should not be missed.  It is one of the most beautiful in the limestone dales.  I think Wainwright introduced me to this, many years ago, in his little book 'Walks in Limestone Country.'  To be alone with your thoughts here is a wonderful experience.

On a limestone shelf just below the waterfall is the attractive cave entrance to Whittle Hole. It doesn't lead in very far, but is very photogenic.

Turning back to that gorgeous little fall.  It looks stunning from every angle.

This photograph shows how the rib of bracken-covered limestone divides the tributary valley of Leck Beck Head (left) from the glens of Ease Gill Kirk to the right, where Witches Cave lies hidden away in the trees.

Witches Cave is one of those enigmatic spots .... and a place where even the most seasoned outdoor explorer can feel a shudder.  John Hamer, (1951) in his 'Falls and Caves of Ingleton', describes these caves as having 'dismal, black mouths, the larger one being low - and the interior is rank and fetid with ramsons and sometimes with the carcases of animals.'  Nice!

Harry Speight (1892) in his classic 'The Craven and North-West Yorkshire Highlands' gives some indication as to the origin of the folklore surrounding this cave.  It was named, he writes, 'from a tradition that mysterious and uncanny sounds, as of numerous sybils bent together in solemn conclave, used frequently to be heard proceeding from within.  But it is not known that the old cronies were ever actually seen.'  Before even reading Speight's article, which I did after this little adventure - I can with all honesty say that I thought I heard other cavers talking in the depths of this cave - and then wondered if I was imagining it.  Perhaps the sounds are of distant waters within the system sounding uncannily like human voices ... but it was fascinating to read Speight's comments after I'd visited.  Being alone here was certainly an experience!

Inside the entrance to Witches Cave, the clean-washe dfloor cuts down to a crawl which emerges in a boulder chamber.

As if in keeping with the name, there are some grotesque formations - almost gargoyle-like.

Stalactites have formed, limited in length by the height of the flood waters, which burst out of Witches Cave in a furious fashion: not a place to be in wet weather.

Is this the hand of an old cronie?

Witches have weapons for the unwary.  How would you like this monstrous boulder to topple? It's one of the biggest I've seen in a Yorkshire Cave, and it's hanging on by the skin of its teeth.  Dark pools of water can be seen through the cracks at floor level.  The sumps beyond have been explored by cave divers and must no doubt lead through to the passages beyond Lancaster Hole and Cow Pot (see part one).

Not only that, it's holding back a huge barrier of boulders - which don't bear thinking about!

And this one? Why of course .... it's the Witch's Tongue.

The entrance to Witches Cave is tucked away in the right bank of Ease Gill Beck, and well worth seeking out.

Here you can see my rucksack on the left - strangely out of place in this wild scene.

The view across the ravine from the entrance to Witches Cave is impressive, if forbidding.

Upstream, I emerged at last into the confines of Lower Ease Gill Kirk.  The specatacular dry waterfall overlooks a shallow pool and is active only in times of flood.  The name 'kirk' suggests some act of worship or at least of spiritual significance once took place in this lonely spot.

Gaping entrances to the Lower Kirk Caves are seemingly everywhere.  The light was fading fast, but I did manage a few pictures.

Nature has provided a route up the dry waterfall.  The cave entrance over on the right has always been known as the 'Choir' in keeping with the 'Kirk'.  Inside is a mass of stalactite ... 'The Priest' of Easegill.  I must get back in there and capture the priest on camera next time ...

A quarter of a mile upstream is Upper Ease Gill Kirk - and it doesn't get much more weird and grotesque than this.  This time the 'waterfall' is a perfect 'U' shape, while hidden away to the right is the notorious Kirk Pot: a series of passages that may look innocent - but can flood to the roof in seconds after rain.  Nasty up here, isn't it just?

The waterfall in close up.  I always call it the giant's arch.  It's an easy scramble up, by the way!

Here's another view.  Is it just me - or is that the face of a goblin just inside the walls of the 'fall' to the left?

Finally - the surreal view from the fall looks into a Hobbit-like land where the great head of Smaug himself , the black streak of his mouth beneath a winking eye - gazes onto all those intrepid enough to explore his kingdom.

Park at Bullpot Farm (SD663815) accessed by the Fell Road from Casterton, off the A65 near kirkby Lonsdale.  Part three of the adventure will take us to the caves and potholes of Leck Fell, and up the dry bed of Ease Gill to the lovely waterfall of Cow Dub.  Hope you've found something to savour.

Stephen x


  1. another Superb trip and great photo's thanks for sharing
    I don't think the 'red' writing on the google map works too well though maybe 'yellow' would stand out better
    cheers Danny

  2. I think you are spot on there Danny - I must have had too much red wine! Watch this space and I'll respond to my audience in yellow .... here goes :) Many thanks by the way ..

  3. That better pal? What was I thinking of, using red, being a life long Leeds supporter?

  4. spot on, I was just over the hill today 29/3/14