Friday, 20 June 2014

Skirwith and Great Douk Caves

 Climbing the 15ft waterfall pitch in Skirwith Cave

After emerging from the magnificent cave of Ibbeth Peril, I'd expected that the really memorable part of my day was now over. However Skirwith and Great Douk Caves both exceeded my expectations and I'll remember them well but for different reasons to the beauties of subteranean Dentdale.

I was surprised just how quickly you encounter the first beautiful formations inside Skirwith...if you can find the entrance, that is. A tiny grotto in the left wall looks like it has overflowed with flowstone "paint" and then dried, the excess running down to the passage floor. A few yards on and two beautiful calcite columns are met with some crystal clear gour pools close at hand too.

Ribbons and columns in Skirwith

The well known flowstone cascade.

The tall and impressive rift passage ends with a slightly hair-raising boulder collapse from above. It looks mighty unlikely, and the once easy way-on now involves an easy squeeze through the boulders. But it was clearly a regularly travelled squeeze, and my thoughts of ending my trip there were shelved.

A long and knee-deep pool caused me to traverse above with a foot on each side wall, trying to avoid getting a soaking with the knowledge that I still had another long cave to visit after this one. The roaring of water became loud, and I entered a chamber with a 15 ft waterfall thundering down into the pool beneath.

I didn't even consider tackling this, and at the time I had no idea I would in fact return to climb it later in the day and explore far more of the cave.

The beautiful 900m long stream passage of Great Douk. After some distance of this.... emerge into this. A stunning forested roof collapse in the Great Douk streamway. Several hundred metres of dark passage continues beyond me.

Great Douk Cave was next, and it was certainly the "magnificent romp" described by the guidebook. Almost 1000m of beautiful clean underground stream passage, with plenty of short cascades to climb and pools of crystal clear water to negotiate. The walls and floor are scalloped and cut so perfectly that the stream flows as effortlessly as it would in a water slide. It meanders for an impressive distance, and it was pure enjoyment the whole way. I knew this already, but it was here that I really learned that there are so many more beauties in a cave than just impressive formations.

The stunning river passageway of Great Douk.

Part of a large collection of bizarre formations, including extensive "cave popcorn".

On the return trip I found my thoughts wandering to that 15ft waterfall pitch in Skirwith. Why not give it a try? 

So an hour or so later I was stood underneath the waterfall again. I tried to look with eyes that saw past intimidating first impressions again, and soon saw a line of good handholds running up behind the cascade. No doubt the idea of climbing up head first into a waterfall was a little scary, but I felt compelled to try and confront this particular mental barrier.

And before I knew it I was up, and smiling at how straightforward it really was. Simply accepting I was going to have a full-on barage of water propelled onto my body was the key - once my head was around that it was just like climbing a wet rock pitch in wellies.

A long section of grovelling in a wet and low passage followed, as did something else which I found pretty surprising. You'll have to go and see for yourself, if you want to know what.

Going down the waterfall was less straightforward but it didn't take long. The hot sun on the surface felt like a gift, and I basked for a while reflecting on just how much I'd seen since I entered Ibbeth Peril at dawn.


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