Home Rant A duck, a tree and a mine

A duck, a tree and a mine


… walked into a bar (not really, but it does sounds like the start of a joke)

I was keen to get in some more caving trips this summer, especially as I had a few weeks off from work with no travel planned. Luckily, Janey was up for the challenge – and provided a car – so we did three shorter trips over a couple of weeks.

Illusion Pot
Sunday 29/7/23
Janey Gregory, Ben Wainwright, Dave Entwistle, Ane Appelt

Our first trip had two people with limited caving experience (a total of two previous trips between them), so we needed to pick something short-ish with no SRT. Illusion Pot had been on my list for ages, especially after seeing the excellent photos in Northern Caves. I convinced Janey that this would be a perfect choice for our group. Thinking back, I’m not quite sure I mentioned anything about the duck, only that it might be ‘somewhat wet’ …

We had a leisurely start (10am meet at Chapel), keeping with the holiday spirit. Gear was quickly sorted and we headed out to the Dales, with a detour to catch Tony at BPC for Janey to buy a shiny new oversuit (and me a new braking carabiner, having yet again lost one on a pitch). Arriving in Kingsdale, the walk up to the entrance on the east side was somewhat circuitous and a bit longer than what we’d all expected. I’d recommend checking OS maps for the public footpaths before going, as the route is not immediately obvious when parking on Thornton Lane. It passes the upper part of the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, and so we saw an impressive number of families out on Sunday walks – many who clearly hadn’t seen cavers in full gear before. Once on the hillside, the entrance itself is easily found with an OS reference (but probably harder without).

A nice laddered climb takes you down to a horizontal passage, where we followed the stream, with some stooping / crawling / sliding over muddy surfaces. We soon got to the duck, where we promptly started on bailing out accumulated water. With a good line going, we managed to lower the water levels maybe half a foot or so in 15-20 min. Enough to not drown, at least.

I volunteered Janey to go first, under the guise of getting her leadership and navigational experience. Surprisingly, she actually agreed(!), followed by Ben and Dave, with me taking up the rear. A lot of loud screaming and exclamation followed as we one-by-one got fully submerged – brilliant fun.

(For reference, Janey went head first on her belly, but the rest of us found it quite a bit easier to go feet first on our backs, pulling yourself through on the handline.)

The Expressway was exactly as impressive as advertised, and we had a good explore up and down the passage, ending up in Rushton Chamber. Beautiful straw roof! We stopped here for a snack break, and I got out my camera. By the time I was done ordering people around and yelling at Janey for not keeping her head still (“no! you’ve just moved your light 2 degrees to the left!”), we were all getting very chilly and agreed that heading out might be the best option to keep the trip from getting tedious.

Back through the duck (more screaming, all of us agreeing that ‘water levels have definitely gone back up’), the crawl, as well as the laddered climb, and we emerged after a couple of hours of excellent caving. Add in the Brunel Rift (which we didn’t do), and I think most would consider this a reasonably full afternoon. It would definitely be a good option for Sunday trips on weekends away – although I wouldn’t take freshers / big groups into Rushton Camber, given how easy it is to damage the straws.

All in all a very successful trip. Not least for our two novice cavers, who with the duck may have gotten a bit more ‘experience’ than they’d anticipated – but both claimed it was a great introduction to slightly more involved caving.

Not Lost Johns’ (aka Sell Gill Holes)
Thursday 10/8/23
Janey, Hugo, Ane

What should initially have been a five person trip was reduced to three when some people bailed on us (you know who you are). Both Janey and Hugo wanted to practice rigging, so – after a bit of deliberation – I picked Lost Johns’, with the plan to do just the first half of the pitches, i.e. to stop at Battleaxe Traverse. I bloody love that cave, so I was really looking forward to introduce the others to the streamway, the initial traverse, and Centipede pitch. I even remembered to book it!

We spent a while in Chapel going over trip planning, how to read a topo, picking and packing ropes, etc. No real faff other than that, and so we got to the drive up to Leck Fell around noon-time, anticipating to be underground well before 1pm. However, the best laid plans and all that …

Yep, that’s the Leck Fell road completely blocked by a fallen tree. It must have happened that same night, as others had been up there around 9pm the evening before. The tree clearly wasn’t going anywhere soon, and we were concerned about blocking the road for the farmer, so we retreated to replan. The initial idea to just park and walk up the fell had to be quashed due to lack of laybys. Another cave it was – so much for our careful preparations.

Eventually, we settled on Sell Gill Holes, as the dry route fit with our packed ropes. Not nearly as interesting a cave as Lost Johns’, but good for rigging practice. There was some grumbling about the walk up, which had now gone from 2 min to 30 min, but the weather was so glorious that it didn’t seem like much hardship. Actually, it was so warm that, even just wearing thermal leggings and a sports top, I was still far too hot by the time we got to the entrance. Getting underground as fast a possibly suddenly seemed very attractive.

Janey took on rigging the first pitch. After reminding herself how to tie the knots, she managed well and got us going. Hugo took over on the second pitch, rigging the traverse and the Y-hang. They both got to hear my lectures about dressing knots, but they tolerated it nicely. Slow but steady progress, before I did the final pitch, and the others got to remind me to do up my maillons fully … (oopsy!). We had a scramble in the downstream passage, but stopped at the duck – I think Janey and I had gotten enough submersion in that previous week. Alternated derigging on the way our, and we emerged to an absolutely lovely summer evening, and an almost absurdly picturesque stroll back to Horton.

Not the trip that we had planned, but pretty good nonetheless.

Pikedaw Calamine Caverns
Sunday 13/8/23
Janey G, Hugo, Joe, Ane

Janey, Hugo and I still wanted to do more caving, and Joe wanted to join in, but the only day we could settle on coincided with a wedding reception in the evening for Janey. We eventually agreed that we could just about squeeze in a trip and still be back at 5pm, provided we picked a short cave on the right side of the Dales and had an early start.

Somehow, we managed an extremely efficient morning, leaving Chapel at 8.15am – we were only delayed by me arriving 5 min late and insisting on repacking the rope in a different tackle sack (I hate having broken straps). We’d picked Pikedaw Calamine Caverns; a set of natural caves which were mined for zinc ore, copper and lead in the 19th century. Near Malham, so much closer to Leeds than our usual haunts in the Dales – optimal for our purpose that day.

Parking on the road above Malham, it was 30 min of uphill walking to get to the entrance; right next to the path and very easy to spot. Janey rigged the 23 meter shaft, with encouragement from the rest of us lounging about on the surface (and fielding questions from curious walkers passing by). 

Once in, there were multiple easy walking passages branching off in various directions, with many different bits to explore. Some pretty lovely flowstone and formations as well – see photographic evidence below. For one rift-like passage, Joe was very keen on trying to find the end, and got the rest of us to follow along through progressively narrower parts for quite some way, before we eventually gave up. Looking at the survey later, it turned out to be going absolutely nowhere, but it was a good half an hour of fun squeezes.

Other parts had more mined bits, with wooding support etc. And we found a selection of ripped up 1960s newspaper pages, from such respectable outlets as “The War Cry” (the official Salvation Army news publication). We all particularly enjoyed the advice column on ‘how to find a good man’.

We could easily have spent another hour or two exploring, but we were getting rather close to Janey’s evening commitment, so headed out mid-afternoon, after a couple of photo stops. Somehow, we even managed to get back to Leeds for 5pm, possibly making for the most efficient and least faffy caving trip that I’ve ever been on.

Janey proceeded to recount us with her wedding reception adventures all evening over WhatsApp, including getting hit on by the bride’s son in an extremely inappropriate (but very amusing) way. Maybe she should have paid closer attention to that advice column?


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