Of all the caves that the intrepid adventurer in the dales can access without any of the complicated gear of the true caver, perhaps none can compare to the magnificence of this one. The River Dee, winding its way down into Dentdale, gathers its water from Blea Moor near Whernside - and quite often its main flow is underground in narrow passages - but in flood it becomes ferocious indeed - the bare rock above turning into a swirling pool in a matter of minutes. This is what makes Ibbeth Peril a 'no go' for so many people. Look at the cave entrance itself, to the left of the waterfall above ...
A convenient layby (SD741864) sees a path snaking off to the right before doubling back along the bed of the Dee to the confines of this enigmatic and legendary waterfall. There was hardly any water coming down today, and the limestone surrounding the plunge pool was bleached white indicating it had been dry for some time. Nevertheless, Ibbeth Peril is always an eerie place - and demands the greatest respect from all who visit.
Ibbeth was a feared old crone who inhabited this sinister ravine and lured drunken locals into her clutches as they passed by in the pitch dark of night. Most, it is said, were taken into the chamber of the cave, beneath the fall, where she concocted her spells and dark magic. If they were lucky she would leave them to sleep off their hangovers before abandoning them to a solitary quest for daylight. The less fortunate were drowned in the plunge pool ....
Masses of flood debris are packed up against Ibbeth's entrance, and cavers have provided a trap door to stop the material being washed inside. Or maybe the old hag herself started the trend ....
Whatever her intentions, there was no way old Ibby was putting me off today. It's always easiest to clamber in feet first - once you have brushed the flood debris aside. So what do you need to explore Ibbeth Peril? Dry weather - number one essential. A helmet and lamp, (hire from Bernie's or Inglesport in Ingleton) wellies, clothes that don't matter - and always take food and drink in with you. Aside of that, a touch of bravery and an inquisitive nature help - as does a certain amount of common sense. As with all caves, always always always tell someone where you are going. You can see I have a back-up light on my helmet ... and another thing ... know your limits and don't take risks. if you think you can't climb it, don't have a go!!
Inside the passage is just big enough to crawl through, on hands and knees - over sharp rock. Look at the flood debris ... indicating what it's like in high water. Scary!
The passage then lowers to a flat out crawl, through which Ibby will have dragged her drunken victims towards the Main Chamber. Note the scalloping on the floor caused by water action. This is the worst bit for claustrophobics, but it's only a few yards in length. As you pull yourself through, just don't think too much about rising rivers!!
The floor can be a bit sharp on the delicate bits - especially if you are male - which is probably just what the old hag intended!
You then arrive at a pool chamber with a superb bridge of limestone. Oh look, Ibby's left her walking stick. She must be in there after all.
A right turn then leads the explorer into the massive main chamber of Ibbeth Peril: 61 metres long, 30 metres wide and up to 14 metres high. It is difficult for a caving lamp to penetrate its gloom, and there is a tremendous roar from an incoming cascade. This cairn has been built so that people can find their way out - kind of underground fell-walking. Very handy for drunken men!
The floor is a mass of gigantic boulders that have fallen from the ceiling. Take great care if you climb between them and always find the easiest route. Some have nasty holes dropping beneath the chamber floor, so watch out as Ibby might be waiting for you.
The slope going down into the chamber is divided in two by a great reef of boulders. Keep to the right and you head down to the floor of the chamber, while behind and to the left are the grottos - and you can't miss those!
The cascade in Ibbeth Peril is magnificent. Above it is a passage with stunning formations - but to access it you need to climb onto a massive boulder and step across a 20 foot drop onto the upper part of the fall. In recent years the boulder seems to have moved so the gap is getting slyly bigger. This is best left to the support of a larger group - so I didn't take the risk today.
The cascade viewed from the boulder. There was too much water coming down for my liking today so I avoided the step across - especially having seen Ibby's walking stick in the Main Chamber!
This is the boulder in question. You can climb onto it at the far side - and though stepping up onto the waterfall is easy enough - stepping back onto such a narrow boulder with a sloping top is - well - dangerous!
The first grotto along the left wall is one of the finest sights in the Three Peaks area. In the centre are Ibby's pet barn owls - the baby on the right looking admiringly at her mother - while two guards stand to attention at the far end.
The Main Chamber has many places to sit in flood - and the growth of stalactites along this left wall indicates that the water never quite gets this high. They are stunning beyond words.
The owls and guards are, of course, stalagmites - formed when carbon-dioxide rich water has dripped though the ceiling onto the cave floor. As it meets the cave air, the gas diffuses into it to create an equilibrium,, and in doing so a tiny amount of calcite is precipitated. In other words, the owls and guards are growing ....
A beheaded victim ..... (getting really imaginative now) with the skull grinning away on the floor to the right. Honestly you can imagine anything in this place.
Faces seem to peer at you from every angle in this cave. Can you see the white face of an old crone just left of centre - with prominent nose and mouth?
The far left wall is where Ibbeth Peril shows beauty beyond words. Masses of stalactites of every size, colour and shape. If you could take just one photograph in the cave - this would be it.
And so they have stood, for generation after generation: locked in eternal conversation - or did she, like the queen of Narnia - petrify the lot of them?
We hurried home through Barbondale and said our last goodbyes.
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