16-18 October 2015
As an interloper from the West Mids to the Yorks Dales weekend I had the added bonus of a guided crawl (and walk) through Sleets Gill Cave, courtesy of Alex Ritchie who is a keen caver on his first GOC weekend with the Transpennine group.
After chatting on the walk Alex persuaded me that a trip down Sleets Gill and into the Railway Tunnel gallery would be good fun (really? I thought, as the last caving experience I had was Kent’s Cavern in Torquay when I was ten!). So a short drive from the bunkhouse found me donning old waterproofs and my work hard hat (luckily always in the car) and grabbing my head torch we were off up the hill. Just a ten-minute walk up to some limestone blocks and a three-metre wide oval hole led down a steep loose scree slope, Alex giving me good tips to use the ceiling for hand holds so you didn’t slide down (and told to shout “below” in case I start a small landslide).
Sleets Gill is described as having an “An alluring entrance; with a huge main passage”, how adventurous! The first crawl through was a bit tight but I was reassured that we could always dig more out if I couldn’t get through (you what??) but by breathing in and crawling along two short 15-foot sections we emerged into what is known as the “railway tunnel”. And it is railway tunnel sized and height (nearly half a mile long) with big calcite formations adorning the walls, like church columns with dagger like projections hanging off the ceiling.
There were a fair few that had been broken, apparently snapped off by the Victorians and it was quite eerie seeing graffiti with dates of 1881 and 1904 scratched into the walls. Luckily having my work wellies meant I could clamber and splash happily through the underground puddles and stream bed, very strange seeing silt and sand beds as you would in a surface stream. And of course we had to do the obligatory switching off of torches for me to state how obviously pitch dark it was; the near silence being accompanied with drip-drop sounds and the sound of trickling, running water from somewhere.
After half an hour we reached a dead end which meant turning back for me, Alex scrambled on a bit down some side tunnels and passages and remerged having been underwater (I was happy as a novice to leave that bit out). So going back the same way and reaching the crawl-throughs (if that’s what they call them?) there was more elegant scrambling along on me belly, and scrambling back up the sloping tunnel into day light after our 11⁄2 hour wander underground.
Alex then confessed the story of people being trapped by rising water and brought out by cave divers in 1992; I’m glad I knew that after the trip and not before! I had previously ruled out doing any caving as being scary, dangerous and why the hell would I want to crawl about underground anyway? But this short beginner’s trip has meant I will definitely be giving it another go; finishing off with a pint in the Queens Arms in Litton meant that my nerves were restored before heading back to the bunk house for dinner. Cheers Alex, nice one!
Thanks to Pete, Kevin and all the Transpennine lot on the weekend for ace walks and bostin’ fittle (great food) on the Saturday evening and a fun weekend.
PS. Apparently, the Americans call caving “Spelunking”, I can’t wait to tell people what I’ve been doing this weekend!;)) Disclaimer: Sleets Gill can flood completely so trips should only be undertaken by experienced cavers after consulting previous weather forecasts for rainfall in the area. Alex is with the Upper Wharfedale Fell & Cave Rescue Association, http:// www.uwfra.org.uk/. Donations are gratefully accepted and there is a fund-raising 3 Peaks Challenge in July 2016.