Mossdale Caverns

Shezi and John

Thursday 23rd May 2019

We had planned to visit Mossdale the previous week but the incompetence of DHL scuppered our plans. Fortunately we were both free the next week and the weather was behaving itself.

I picked Shezi up and we drove to Grassington, where we ate at the Cobblestones Cafe. We drove slowly up to Yarnbury, following a slow car with a dog running alongside! We wondered whether the dog was stray and following the car for entertainment, or whether its owner had kicked it out of the car it was now running alongside, to give it some exercise. We were answered at Yarnbury where its owner emerged from the driving seat and took the dog off for a walk.

We left the car and started our walk among many large black flies, which disgusted Shezi. We followed the footpath to the west of Gill House. We encountered much wildlife, including lapwings (pleasant), dead rabbits in various stages of decomposition (not so pleasant) and three or four small chicks wandering about on Bycliffe Road (strange). There had been rain the night before but the ground was now hard and dry, so the rainwater seemed to have been and gone. In 1941, a thunderstorm in the area at 6 am one morning had caused Mossdale Beck to dramatically rise at the scar at 3 pm, so rainfall the night before a visit is always a concern.

We rounded the corner where the scar becomes visible and approached it in silence. Mossdale Scar always looks hostile and, together with the flood debris and fallen boulders, commands respect.

The memorial plaque now has a short section of telephone wire from the 1967 rescue attached, presumably by Simon Beck, who has been very active in the cave over the past ten or so years. Another small plaque has appeared, dedicated to Alaistair Milner of ULSA who extended Minicow Passage in 1965.

We were alone at the scar so we quickly changed, left our bags inside the entrance and went underground. The entrance series is loose and a small amount of scaffolding now holds up a boulder a few metres into the cave.

We progressed through the various crawls and down to Blackpool Sands. This was Shezi’s first visit to the cave and she was astonished by the quantity of flood debris. I was more interested in the footprints; it meant the cave had been visited since it last flooded, which is a regular occurrence.

I noticed a white fish darting about in the water as we passed the junction with Broad Street. More were glimpsed in the various canals. These canals form a large part of the main route in the near series of the cave, and you soon get used to wading through chest deep water in stooping height passages.

At one point I spotted something in the water: telephone wire. In 1958/1959 LUUSS laid a black telephone wire from the entrance to Rough Chamber, as an optimistic safeguard against flooding. During the 1967 rescue a black and yellow telephone wire was laid to Rough Chamber. These wires remained in situ for decades, but since my last trip Mr Beck has removed almost all of the wire.

We passed the First Drown or Glory (after I told Shezi that this was indeed the way on!) and soon the Second Drown or Glory, which was hardly noticed. Boulder Hall was suitably impressive and seems unexpected in a cave of this nature.

Confusion Passage lived up to its name, and I failed to locate Confusion Cavern. An enjoyable walk through Broadway took us to Cigarette Junction, where we took a detour to the left to try to find the entrance to Syphon Passage, to see whether all the flow is still taken by Straightway or if some goes down Syphon Passage. After a few minutes of finding the way along an irregular wet passage I realised I didn’t really know what I was doing, so we returned to Cigarette Junction.

We took Right Passage then Easy Passage to Straightway and thence to Great Aven. I had not been here before. The dry conditions meant very little water was dripping down and we could see to the top. A rope is attached to a bolt around ten metres up, but as far as I am aware the rest of the aven remains unclimbed. The aven is impressive and is another feature that is out of character with most of the cave.

We went to Rough Chamber and climbed into the start of Rough Crawl, the start of the serious caving. Maybe for another day.

Making our way from Straightway back towards Easy Passage, I thought I heard a voice. The look on Shezi’s face indicated that she also did. I put the thought out of my mind as I didn’t want to become convinced that we were accompanied by imaginary friends. We heard sounds again, and soon saw two cavers making their way into Ouroborous Passage. ‘How often do you meet other people in Mossdale?’ I shouted. The two cavers (I presume Adele Ward and Ian Cummins) were making their way to Simon Beck’s dig which he had passed on to them. They commented that they had seen us at the entrance. We had kept a good lookout for other people there, so presumably they saw us as we were climbing into the entrance.

Confusion was caused at the eponymous passage, and it took a short while to find the way back from Boulder Hall. Fish were again spotted in the water, then from Blackpool Sands to Fossil Chamber we struggled with route finding again, resulting in a detour to the Assembly Hall. I was confused, as I didn’t remember navigation being an issue before. Then I remembered that the telephone wire had gone since my last trip, removing an inadvertent navigational aid.

From Fossil Chamber we were soon on the surface, where amusement was had while attempting to remove my wetsuit. We walked back to Yarnbury pleased with our trip but unimpressed with the increase in weight of our rucksacks caused by our now-wet caving gear.

Mossdale Caverns are fascinating and worthy of much attention. We will both be back.