Saturday, 26 March 2011

Underground explorations in the Yorkshire Dales (posted by James)

The incredible underground world beneath the Yorkshire Dales

I've been away in the Yorkshire Dales for a few days focusing on my photography, and judging by the reports of an extreme thaw in Glencoe that Alex has given me, I'm quite glad I haven't been in the Highlands!

I used to visit the Dales every year as a child, but the last time I spent any time there was in 2003. This spring, armed with my full photographic gear and eyes which see very differently from 8 years ago, I've had a wonderful time rediscovering old haunts.

The Dales are world famous for their endless network of limestone caves and potholes. They are surely amongst the most mysterious and emotive places in the whole country, and with this in mind I decided to try something new for me - underground photography.

Bizarre formations in Stump Cross Caverns

On the moors high above Settle there are quite a few caves, and I was lucky when I stumbled across an unnamed one a few days ago. It was surprisingly deep and I experimented with camera shutter speeds and exposures, but the experience paled into insignificance compared with what I did a few days later.

The entrance to an un-named cave above Settle.

Troller's Gill near Grassington…the most silent place I've ever known. Not caves here, but old abandoned, collapsing lead mine shafts in the middle of nowhere. There's one in particular that I've known about for about 15 years - I've peered down the tiny intimidating entrance a few times and had shivers go down my spine.

But as I say I'm a different person now, and on this day I saw it is a potentially very exiting way to spend an afternoon. So I carefully started to climb down.

The Mines of Moria anyone?

I can't really find words to describe just what an incredible place it was that I emerged into. Even though the entrance is only about 4 ft wide, the main chamber of the mine must have easily been 100ft from the floor to the "roof" above. Dark passageways and tunnels branched off in every direction, and holes above cast shafts of light down into the gloom below.

Rotten timbers and rusty beams seem to just about hold together place, but the feeling of fragility is so strong that it makes for a very unnerving place. Every now and then a stream of debris will fall to the ground filling the main tunnel with dust, and then silence resumes, broken only by the drip-drip of water falling from above.

I don't know how far the main tunnel went…but I climbed down quite a long way until it was becoming too unsafe to justify, and it still seemed bottomless below.

So a fantastic experience, and a very different one from the wide open skies and blustery hills of the Highlands! If there were more caves in Scotland I could see myself taking up potholing…

About to enter the black...

Back to Glencoe tomorrow!! I think the winter climbing season is all but over for me now, but I'm now turning my thoughts to for goals and aims for the Spring. Watch this space…


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