© Yorkshire Ramblers' Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted.
However, short extracts from it may be used, for non-commercial purposes, provided their source is fully cited, acknowledged and referenced as:
Green. J.A. (1901) Two Explorations In Ingleborough (Clapham) Cave. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 1 Number 3: pp220-228. Leeds: YRC

Two Explorations In Ingleborough (Clapham) Cave.

By J. A. Green.

(Read before the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club on Dec. 22nd, 1896.)

DURING the attack on Gaping Ghyll Hole at Whitsuntide, in 1896, it was suggested one night at dinner that the party should go into Clapham cave, and, proceeding beyond Giant's Hall, endeavour to find some passage leading in the direction of Gaping Ghyll. This was not done at the time, and as we now know, wisely, for the long and tiring work at the Hole would have been made doubly so had we undertaken this extra work, which has since proved to require no small amount of time and energy. After Whitsuntide the project formed a favourite topic of conversation as being intimately connected with the work we were pledged to further.

"One thing at a time" is a good working motto, and Gaping Ghyll Hole being our "one thing" and big enough to occupy our short holidays for some time to come, we decided that until it had been, at all events, well explored, we would entertain no proposals which did not immediately concern it. Clapham Cave, however, does concern it, and so, on 23rd August, a trio, consisting of Calvert, Ellet, and myself, went to try what could be done in the way that had been suggested. From the accounts of Mr. James Farrer's work there in 1837[1] or thereabouts, we understood swimming to be a necessary part of the undertaking, so we went into training several weeks beforehand, practising three or four times each week.

Harry Harrison, the guide to the cave, accompanied us, and assisted us with our weighty assortment of tackle, consisting chiefly of 350 feet of light rope, shorter lengths of heavier material, a rope-ladder, lamps, and last, but not least in weight and awkwardness, a pole of stout ash in two lengths of eight feet each, made to join securely together in the middle, and furnished at one end with a large iron hook. The device was Calvert's, and its purpose to lift the rope-ladder up to any likely opening in a chamber which could not well be reached by climbing on account of the wall being undercut or otherwise. This sort of difficulty we rather expected to come across, as passages at different levels were said to exist in the cave.

Arrived at the cave at 9 p.m. we proceeded merrily along the part usually shown to visitors, but further on matters became more irksome. The poles were an especial nuisance, and as Harrison held there was no place in Giant's Hall where they would be of use, they were left behind.

In traversing the Cellar Gallery we got our first wetting. There is a pool about thirty yards long and three or four feet deep, with a slimy, sticky bottom; this we waded through and soon reached the end of the gallery, where a little difficulty was experienced in finding an entrance to Giant's Hall. At length a way was found, and by crawling under a rock on a bank of sand we found ourselves in this mis-named place. Its width and length are small, though the height is perhaps sixty feet.

One of the first things done here was to examine a vertical cleft which looked as though it might lead to a higher passage, but on climbing up it we were disappointed. A large opening of very pronounced character was then noticed, some fifteen feet up in the opposite wall, but several attempts made to get up to it failed owing to the thick, smooth coating of stalagmitic deposit which afforded no climbing hold. This was just the sort of place our pole had been made for, but, alas! we had it not.

Exit from the Hall in the direction we sought appeared to be barred by a cause similar to the one which had made entrance troublesome, viz., silting up of sand and mud. At last a slit some six inches high was found running along the base of the side to the right of where we had entered. The roof of the slit was rock, below was sand. Through this we commenced to burrow.

Putting on the rope Calvert, possessing the smallest feet and therefore being best fitted to act as the thin end of the wedge, went feet first; after he had burrowed 'until his head had disappeared, I followed, then Harrison and Ellet brought up the rear, a post for which, in such a case, Nature has amply endowed him. His pedal extremities formed grand finishing tools, and when once they had been got through, the passage, which sloped downwards, was quite commodious. The mode of procedure was something in this wise - Calvert would kick and push his way down a few feet, and then crawl back and repeat the performance, and when he got a bit further I would proceed to shove sand down until he was nearly smothered. This he had to remove somehow, or else die, and so a lot of work was got out of him. Fortunately, half way down, a sort of bend afforded space for some of the accumulated sand as it was pushed forward. For over an hour we dug, scraped, and sweated before a passage was made sufficiently big to allow one to wriggle through on his stomach, and for many a day after our clothes dropped sand whenever they were disturbed.

When we were at this work we could distinctly hear water running, and guessed we were proceeding in the right direction. Once through the sand passage we found ourselves in a low culvert. Away to the left a reflected glimmer showed where water was, but we continued along the loftier portion - if the term lofty can be applied to two feet or so - until we came to a stream. Here, Harrison elected to stay, as, in the event of a rain storm outside, he thought it likely the whole place would rapidly fill with water, so, leaving Ellet with him to enliven the solitude with tobacco, song, and jest, Calvert and I went on.

First we crossed the stream - some six inches deep in the two feet high passage, and found a dry way proceeding roughly in the same direction as the passage just traversed. On leaving Giant's Hall we had commenced to lay out string, and this we continued to do.

The passage we were now in was eighteen inches high at first, and that seemed fairly small, but after proceeding some distance it gradually got smaller and smaller. This became very evident when we wanted to consult the compass in my waistcoat pocket, for it could not be got at in my present position. However, seeing a shallow pool of water at one side of the passage, I wriggled to it, and rolling over on my back in it was able to hand the instrument to Calvert. The operation took a good five minutes, a fact which speaks eloquently for the cramped space we were in.

The compass showed us that our passage pointed almost exactly in the direction of Gaping Ghyll, and it bore a marked resemblance in its straightness, height, and general characteristics to some portions of the main passage leading from the south-east end of Gaping Ghyll.

This was a cheering discovery, so on we went until at last we had to stop on account of the time it was taking. To be advancing at the rate of a yard a minute is not exactly "sprinting," yet this was about all we could do as the height was now at the most only twelve inches.

The rock above and below was ribbed with sharp edges, which threatened to peel us as cleanly as bananas if we persisted in going on. So, to avoid this, and also to relieve the probable anxiety of our two friends who were waiting behind, we returned as far as the water course. Before leaving this part of the cave, however, we thought it wise to proceed a short distance along the stream and see where it led to.

First we crawled, then we half walked in a cramped stooping posture, and a little further on were able to stand upright while we waded through eighteen inches of water. Again the roof came down abruptly, leaving a height of three feet, half of which was taken up by the running stream; and again the height increased to five feet. Arrived at this point we found the current much stronger by reason of its increasingly rapid descent, and after turning a slight bend we found ourselves facing the end of a long canal which ran straight away from us as far as the lights we had enabled us to see. The Canal at our end was four or five feet wide, and, with a Gothic-formed roof, about the same in height above the water level.

The first two or three steps along it showed a rapidly deepening stream, so we stopped to discuss the situation. For several hours we had been wet through, and though working hard, were feeling just a little cold. Still we decided to wade in as far as possible.

The water was soon up to our necks, and then, as probing ahead revealed increasing depth, we returned quickly. While wading only hip deep the cold was not much felt, but when the water reached above our loins the sense of numbness became painful. Yet the temperature was not as low as 50° Fahr., and though it was not the best place for swimming, the side walls being too near together, if we had had a rope one of us would have attempted to swim along the gallery and investigate further, but all ropes and in fact everything else had been left with Ellet and Harrison that we might prospect unhampered.

The struggle back up the loose sand-bank to Giant's Hall was great, and served to bring warmth back to our bodies, and the passage of the pool in the Cellar Gallery was enlivened by Calvert insisting on carrying Ellet across on his back that he might remain comparatively dry. The result was not happy, for Calvert slipped on the slimy bottom and both men went in more or less bodily.

This expedition afforded us material to think about, and we afterwards discussed various devices in rafts as a necessary part of our next equipment. Something was needed that would float a man, and would be light and portable yet strong enough to bear the rough usage it was bound to receive. Eventually a raft was made in the following way:- Two hermetically sealed tins, each 5½ feet long, and 18 inches wide by 8 inches deep, divided into eight water-tight compartments, so that it would still carry its share of the load in case two or even three got punctured, were held apart by several wood battens bolted across the tops forming an open framed support for the explorer. When complete this weighed 60 lbs., and would easily carry a freight of 200 lbs. Its draught unloaded was only about ¾ of an inch.

With this raft we went to Clapham a fortnight after the visit just recorded, now strengthened by the addition of Gray to the party. Harrison did not join us, but was good enough to lend us the key of the gate to the cave, so we were at liberty to go in when we liked. The apparatus was a big order this time, as we had the raft, in addition to the previously mentioned equipment, all of which had somehow to be got along to Giant's Hall, and much of it as far as we ourselves expected to be able to go. I think I am not wrong in saying we each carried about 56 lbs. weight of stuff, and although this is not excessive for a walk in the open, it is a no light or comfortable load in low passages where even unhampered progress is never quite easy.

At the pool in the Cellar Gallery we fitted up the raft and made a trial trip. It worked admirably, and though propelled in a somewhat erratic fashion, the effect of the lighted craft gliding over the black water was really fine. Four journeys were made and all of us got across dry, which at this stage was worth something, for although we were bound to get wet before our night's work was through, the longer we could keep dry the better.

Arrived at Giant's Hall, the rope ladder was slung on the pole (this time not left behind), and an investigation of the recess was made. Stalactites fringed its mouth and there was thick lime deposit all round, but it proved deceptive, as no outlet could be found.

We then proceeded to descend the sand-bank to the lower level and get the raft down to the water. This involved an amount of very arduous labour, owing to the size and coffin-like build of the tins, and the small space we had to work in.

Having got one section down two of us set off with it to the water which I have mentioned as showing l faintly away to the left of the passage. It appeared to be a sheet of considerable size, of slight depth, with a very low roof. In fact, so shallow was the water and so low the roof that for some time we could not find depth for one section of the raft to float in, and then there was scarcely height above it for a hand lamp, let alone a man.

On the arrival of the other half of the raft we bolted the parts together - a process which necessitated reclining in the water to screw up the nuts, and then floated it down to the long Canal. Here we placed upon it the few lights we could spare and sent it and Calvert away into the unknown. For some distance the current carried them along and then the raft had to be urged on by poling against the sides and roof. The effect was weirdly picturesque as the lighted raft and its voyager glided slowly away down the long and seemingly endless perspective. At length Calvert returned with the news that the Canal was impassable. For 100 yards it was of a regular width; then it narrowed, the roof gradually lowered, and finally the whole place closed in like a cigar end. The water for some distance from the further end was still, and large patches of foam here and there on the black mud-coated walls and roof, showed that the place must often - and indeed quite recently - have been full of water. Each member of the party made the voyage to the end of the Canal and Soundings were taken in the endeavour to discover a likely outlet, but without success. Nothing now remained to be done but the task of getting our tired bodies and bulky apparatus back to the mouth of the cave, this, too, without the stimulus of the unknown to urge us on. Daylight awaited our exit and revealed four wan, tired, and mud-besmeared mortals. The hotel was reached at 6.10 a.m. (we had left it at of 8 p.m. and entered the cave at 9 p.m.), food was scouted for in cupboard and pantry, and then hot baths and to bed, to rise again in a few hours feeling jolly and well T r after the night's work.

The result of our exploration was somewhat unsatisfactory, as we had hoped on first seeing the long Canal and noticing the strong current which apparently ran 3 through it we might be able to follow the water to its exit near the cave mouth.[2] However, speleology tends to a philosophic habit of mind, not only in the enduring of discomfort, but in that things are seldom what they seem. The most promising beginnings end nowhere, and things which look hopeless often lead to l places of great interest.

We never saw any place which agreed with the description of the scene of Mr. Farrer's swimming exploit. There was no place other than the Canal which would necessitate or even permit of swimming. That the swimming was done there is not probable, because it would be barely possible. Moreover, no one could be in the place without noticing the extreme regularity of its walls and roof, and in the case of a man swimming the walls would be a subject of considerable interest as affecting the welfare of his knuckles.

It is possible that his expedition was made at a time when there was either much more water than we found or when the formation of the cave was such that the water did not flow away with the same freedom it now does. Assuming this to be so it would seem Mr. Farrer's farthest point, and the one where he swam, was in that part of the passage leading to the canal which I have mentioned as being lofty enough to allow of walking upright. This is suddenly reduced to 3 feet by a lower stratum of rock, and here if the water were high the outlet would be submerged. At this point the place is quite wide and would agree with the descriptions which we have of Mr. Farrer's adventure.

It was about here that the writer came by an appreciation of the intense darkness which reins in the bowels of the earth. Being busily engaged in winding up and disentangling the guide-string, the rest of the party had got some distance ahead and were out of sight, when, alas! he stumbled into a hole and went completely overhead in water. As the novelist would say:- "To spring to an erect position was the work of an instant," but no amount of persuasion would induce the quenched lamp to re-light. Water-proof matches were used in vain, and then the utter blackness and sense of helplessness pressed in on him so that he was reduced to clamouring for assistance. The sight of a light, although only from a miserable, smoky candle, was one of the most cheering and at the same time among the most dazzling sights he has ever beheld!

[1] Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc., Vol. V., 1849, pp. 49-51, and Phillips's "Rivers, Mountains, and Sea-coast of Yorkshire, 1853," pp. 30, 31.

[2] It will be seen from the map on page 130 that there remain some 300 yards of cave yet to be explored between the far end of the Canal and the water exit at Beck Head.--ED.