Monday, 19 January 2015

A Three Peaks Up and Under

A Guide to Yorkshire's Limestone Wonderland

To be published by Scratching Shed Publishing in March 2015.  360 pages and many photographs by the author. Available for order:  0113 225 9797 

ISBN: 978-099 29911791

360 pages - 20 chapters - the definitive guide to the Three Peaks of Yorkshire ...

A book designed to awe-inspire and open eyes - as well as make you smile more than a little!

The author is a Lancashire Primary School Headteacher with a lifetime of experience exploring every nook and cranny of the Yorkshire Dales ...

Thirteen  chapters take you 'up' to the hundreds of highlights on the surface  of this world famous limestone landscape ...   Seven take you beneath ... into the mysteries of the Yorkshire underworld ..

Thanks to all the people worldwide who are continuing to follow my blog on this special part of the English landscape.  The blog merely touches on the detail contained within the pages of 'A Three Peaks Up and Under' - where the bare bones of an area are re-assessed with fresh eyes, obsessive detail and some good old fashioned northern English humour!

A lifetime of adventure at £14.99

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Great Douk Cave

Everyone's Favourite First Underground Adventure

'Oooooh - I don't like confined spaces!' comes the oft-repeated cry.  'No way you'd get me in there - I'd be having kittens!'    That is a shame I think as many caves have huge dimensions - and to avoid seeing them is to miss out on what makes the limestone country so special and spectacular. Maybe you are different??  Maybe you have enjoyed the showcaves of Ingleborough and White Scar and want to experience a 'wild' cave with no lights and handrails?  You may have the urge to descend, but are not yet at that stage where you want to commit to join a caving club?   You may be shy - and want the Yorkshire limestone to be your own little means of escape - where you can quietly reflect on life from another perspective?  If so - there is no better place than Great Douk Cave: a relatively easy and safe cave passage which - let's be honest - is not only beautiful - but great fun!!

You need, of course, to be kitted up - and it's not too difficult.  First of all - a helmet with a mounted lamp - and they can be hired from the legendary Inglesport and Bernie's Cafe in Ingleton - as can wellies and oversuits.  Best of all are wetsocks - you can see them glowing red in the picture above.  If you want to go splashing around in caves - even easy ones with the kids - it's worth buying a pair.  Once they fill with water  they simply warm it up - so walking in the freezing water is like having a warm bath. Well - not quite - but you get the idea!  My tackle bag usually carries a rope - spare torch in a waterproof case  - and the essential grub!  In the car - by the way - is a towel and a complete change of clothes ...

Equipment sorted, then?  Just three more things to remember and these are crucial.  1) Only go underground in fine settled weather and NEVER enter caves if you have doubts.  If it has been raining for a few days and water levels are high - stay out!  2) Always always always tell someone where you are going.  3) Beginner cavers are also best in groups of more than two - so if someone does fall and break a leg - they are not left alone while the third goes for help. Lecturing over for now .... let's go ......!!

Park in Chapel-le-Dale just beyond the Hill Inn.  You can see it's just a short walk - half a mile or so - to the cave entrance.  The walk is indicated by the blue line which in retrospect looks like a river and is not good enough for a seasoned blogger!  The yellow dotted line shows the appoximate underground route which is actually a lot more twisty and turny than that and is about 900 metres long.  It's a delight from beginning to end.  You can go in at that main entrance - up the waterfall - and splash your way up towards Middle Washfold - or brave the entire length by going in at the 'top' and crawling to meet the main stream passage.  We'll do both on this adventure - taking the easier option first.  Don't want to put you off just yet.

Cross the road from the parking spot and Great Douk is well and truly on the agenda.

Ingleborough always likes to remind you that she is in charge of this landscape - just in case you didn't know.

Follow the sign to a left turn and you will spot a clump of trees sticking out of an obvious hole.

The gigantic doline containing Great Douk Cave is very ancient.  It may even date back before the last two glaciations!  Formed on a fault - it has sheer sides of Great Scar Limestone plummeting into the depths, but as luck would have it, on the west side, a quaint little path winds its way down under the trees - towards the roar of a hidden waterfall.

Here it is!  A single joint has been eroded by the stream beneath a massive bedding plane to create one of the classic cave entrances in Yorkshire.  See that ledge up on the right with the ferns?  You can either crawl along that - or brave the waterfall.  Let's go the exciting way. We may as well get wet now as there is a a good drenching still to come.

Nature can be kind at times, and here she provides a step in the water.  Children can be helped up onto this and the rest of the climb is easy.  Just take great care as the limestone floor around the waterfall is extremely slippy.

The view out is awesome.  There is a sense of being immersed in the true wildness of an active underground stream passage.

Lights on - and we begin to follow the passage ahead into a small chamber - with shallow water beneath our feet and this remarkable bridge of limestone indicating a former floor of the cave many thousands of years ago.

Suddenly daylight is glimpsed.  Just as our eyes have become dark adapted, we once more pop out into daylight. This is the bottom of Little Douk Pot, and it's a delightful little garden of mosses, ferns and steam.  Look up - for a fabulous view out ....

This is the view up to the sky from the base of Little Douk Pot.  The limestone is completely bedecked in delicate mosses and other moisture loving plants.

Little Douk Pot is special indeed!

Heading back into darkness, the water gets deeper and the formations more bizarre than ever as the ceiling becomes much higher.

Suddenly we are confronted by the gargoyle-like presence of the Lion Duchess.  She has the body of a feline hunter - and the head of determined lady.  Some say Margaret Thatcher ....

Maybe she's the 'Iron Duchess'?

Next up come the Jacuzzi Rapids - as I like to call them.  The sound of rushing water indicates their presence: a delightful series of underground cascades where the water is knee deep - and where you can have the best fun you've had in ages!

Cascades are typical features of active Yorkshire stream caves - of which Great Douk is a fine example.

On the right hand shelf we meet some classic stalactites, stalagmites and columns - where the two have joined.  As my teacher used to say; 'When the mites go up, the tights come down.'  Easy way to remember I guess!

'Stals' as cavers call them - are a result of carbon dioxide diffusing into the cave air from water dripping through the ceiling.  As it does so - a tiny fragment of calcite is deposited - and naturally it takes an immense amount of time for pillars and columns to form.

Flowstone - by contrast, forms when the carbon dioxide rich water seeps down the cave walls instead of dripping from the ceiling - expanding them into bizarre shapes like these fine examples.

Flowstone typically forms these 'ribs' or 'organ pipe' shapes and these in Great Douk are beautifully pristine for so popular a cave.

The Great Douk Organ Pipes from the upstream side.

All cave formations are extremely delicate and should not be touched, much as it is tempting to do so.  Even a caving suit brushing against them can cause irrepairable damage.

Looking upstream we see the enveloping flowstone curtains concealing the Beehive - where even the most determined cannot help getting a soaking rear end!  

The beautiful golden flowstone of the Beehive is stained red by impurities in the limestone and is one of the highlights of a trip through Great Douk Cave.  

In high water The Beehive is dangerous as water completely fills the triangular space you can see here - and cavers have to clamber over the formation itself which is easier said than done.  In normal conditions - such as here - it's a case of squeezing through on your hands and knees -with a shot of cold water usually hitting the delicate parts.  No Beehive would be complete without a sting or two!

Beyond the Beehive there are more wonderful flowstone curtains.

Suddenly the stream, as we follow it, is seen to emerge from the left hand wall, and in a passage much too narrow to let us through.  Never mind .... we step up instead into this higher level dry passage where yet more delights await us ...

The higher level passage has a calcite floor and can be a bit tough on the old knees.  

The effort is well worth it, though - as the amazing sight of the Giant's Hand testifies.  This is perhaps the single most impressive formation in Great Douk Cave.  

Evidence that the cave does actually flood to the ceiling is seen in the way carpets of moss and other vegetation are draped around the stalactites in the upper end of the passage.  This is actually as far as most people will want to go - as the ceiling gets lower and lower until it eventually becomes a crawl in water.  There is a way out - of course, onto the limestone pavement at Middle Washfold, but I always prefer to go in at the top and come out at the bottom ... a bit like food does!!!  So splash back out and enjoy all those features once again - and let's go back to our map and set ourselves up for the 'through trip.'

It always makes sense - if you want to go in one end and come out at the other, to go in at the top - I think for two reasons:  1) You are already close to the car park and don't need to go back for any gear you've left, and more importantly 2) The narrow crawl is at the beginning - you get it over with first and you know the weather is good for this wet and crawly bit as you've only just left the surface.  Ready for your first ever 'through trip' then?  Let's get it done ....

Following the route on the aerial photograph above, head south towards a gap in the wall and you will soon be crossing the Great Douk Cairn Field.  The womb-like entrance to the great cave obviously meant something to the early Bronze Age people who chose to bury their dead in its vicinity.  This cairn shows evidence of having been excavated in the distant past.

There are scores of cairns - and they are believed to date back to at least 2000 BC.

Keep Ingleborough in sight and head for the gateway through the wall.

Just through the gate - and continuing on the path takes us to an area of pavement on the barren moorland, where a layer of glacial drift otherwise covers the limestone.

The pavement lies behind this ancient sheep enclosure - hence the name: Middle Washfold. It's an enchanting place and was celebrated by Wainwright who was always 'loth to leave.'

People with no intention of caving can still have a great time wandering in the passages beneath the fissures in the limestone.  Children, in particular - will love it.

This is the entrance we are looking for, however - at the northern end.  Attractive slabs of pavement seem to form a canopy to the doorway, which leads through a series of crawls to the upper reaches of Great Douk Cave.

In we go, then - taking great care on the slippery limestone.

The trick - all the time - is to keep right.  Squeeze betwen these fissures - onto hands and knees - and turn right at the bottom.  Remember that one!

As we turn sharp right we enter a low tunnel.  In places like this I often like to pull myself along on my back.  It's quicker that way.

The tunnel swings round in a fabulous horse-shoe shaped passage - like being in a giant 'U' bend in the plumbing.  It's even possible to stand up for a few seconds.  Now that is a luxury.

Down a step in the floor .... nice and easy!

At this point the only fear (for some) comes in the form of gigantic cave spiders - but leave them alone and they'll leave you too.

As the passage begins to close down - remember our rule of keeping to the right - and slide under this boulder.  Again I like to go feet first.  

Then shuffle round into a head-first position, as what you are looking for now - believe it or not - is a hole in the floor ....

Got to be round here somewhere ...

There it is!  Drop down through this hole - keep to the right again - and that's the top end of Great Douk Cave - beyond where we turned back on our first trip.  It looks daunting - but it's a bit like climbing under a low table - only with a flowing stream for company.  

This sight greets you when you drop through the hole.  The stream looks awful to crawl in - but it gets easier as you keep going - and there are dry shelves to avoid a wetting in parts. Keep on your tummy and use your arms to pull yourself along.  It's about the length of two swimming pools and the floor is a mass of gastropod fossils.  Just keep telling yourself that you'll soon be standing up.

'You'll soon be standing up ... Stephen, lad!'

Yes indeed! Whoopee! Halleluia!

Now it's time to relax - but when you stand up with a caving suit full of cold water for the first time - it's not pleasant when it runs down over your delicate bits. Brrrrrrrrrrrrr!  This, by the way, is a side passage leading off at high level - decorated with columns and stalactites.

How about this for a fantastic red grotto?

The passage is now big and beautiful - a luxury indeed after the tough crawl in.

Back on familiar territory - just look at that flowstone.

All the high level shelves contain beauty - as well as evidence of total flooding.  Notice the mosses wrapped on the stalactites!

Dearie me - we're back at the Beehive!

The ancient route of the stream can be seen here, up on the right - in an abandoned passage known as an oxbow - with the main passage on the left.  Children will love clambering through the oxbow, if properly supervised.

We missed this on our upstream journey - didn't we?  A fabulous gour pool flanked by ribs of flowstone at high level.  Beautiful.

Over time the flowstone curtains across the passage will meet - forming another duck like the Beehive - but I'll have been pushing daisies for years by the time that happens.

Beyond the skylight of Little Douk Pot - the cave changes in nature as we head towards the main exit.

Two lovers - about to kiss goodbye?

Finally - it's back under the limestone bridge for that reassuring glimpse of daylight, and the roar of the water as it plunges down the waterfall.

Climbing down is trickier than going up.  Hold a knob of rock at the top and feel around for the step.  Take great care with the slippery floor.  It would be a shame to spoil it all now.

And back we are at the impressive Great Douk Cave.  Hope you've enjoyed the tour and that it may have inspired you to have a go.  Just remember - choose good weather - good equipment - go in numbers - and tell someone where you are.  Great Douk Cave is one of the most exciting days out I know of - and a place that you will return to again and again.  It becomes a familiar friend. Please treat it with respect. :)

Stephen x