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YRC Committee. (1924) Little Hull Hole, Penyghent. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 5 Number 16: pp125-134. Leeds: YRC.

Little Hull Hole, Penyghent.

By The Editor.

Hull Pot on Penyghent we know, and Hunt Pot we know, but where is Little Hull?

Like Sunset Hole, it lies unnoticed at the end of a well-defined stream bed, and rumour says it was Palmer, the super-gymnast on the rocks, who followed a little beck from Whitber Spring at the foot of the shapely hillock called Whitber, west of Hull Pot, down a shallow valley 200 yards to an unlikely looking hole in a sink, and there discovered a passage and a big pitch.

Four years before the war, Hunt Pot was the only first-class pot-hole east of Ribble. Now it has two close companions, and in Hull Pot itself an interesting cave excursion has developed.

Palmer’s news being noised abroad, there came a large party over Penyghent from Stainforth on a miserable wet day in November, 1910. With the vaguest clues the cave was easily found, and Horn, R. F. Stobart, Barstow and myself entered the low passage. My diary says, “a nasty crawl through a deep pool and 100 yards to a fine pitch - very cold and wet.” We passed a strange place which appears to be a great drop, but is only a three-foot step into a pool, the deception being assisted by a small rock bridge and a sharp turn in the passage. Possibly Palmer stopped here, but there was no mistake about the real first pitch; the upper regions are carved in so curious a way that I cannot attempt to describe them.

Looking back on the exploration of what should have been called Whitber Hole, but grew familiar as Little Hull Hole, it is comical to find it taking four expeditions.

The first was in Coronation Year, when six of us coming by car from Stainforth on October 30, a misty morning with a hard frost, carried up two ladders and ropes from Horton. At noon Barstow, Stobart and I crawled in. It was warmer inside than out, but even when wet we had no chance to feel cold. A narrow awkward passage leads to a bedding plane nearly full of water, deep enough to float ladders, but allowing almost sufficient space to keep one’s body dry. It is a horrible place, and this pool is not like other pools; it goes on and on, and round a corner. When some of the floor rises out of the water, the roof drips furiously.

Finally the floor begins to fall and you enter a fine stream passage of the Douk Cave type. Bad as is the start, the journey to the big drop - the first ladder pitch - is a very fine one, and well worth doing.

Much water was going over this oddly carved first pitch, so that we were glad to see an alternative to a direct descent. Stobart went down six rungs or so, strode across to an extraordinary window in a thin partition, and on the far side descended 8 feet into a very narrow rift with a floor, forming a niche in the side of the great pot-hole. The ladder was passed through the window and sent down the open side of the niche. We then descended to the floor of a very fine shaft, 80 feet of ladder just reaching. From this a short lofty passage led to where the water roared into another fine pot-hole, one day to be the second ladder pitch.

The fury of the drips near the pool prepared us, as we struggled out, for the fierce downpour and gale outside, "which," said a miserable trio, “has been going on for two hours, while you blighters…” They vanished - with a totally inadequate proportion of the burdens. Never have I known food bolted, ropes and ladders wrapped up so fast; to change was impossible, and not until I had run half a mile with a heavy ladder bumping on my chest and a heavy rucksack on my back did I begin to feel I should some day be warm again. After a hot bath and tea at the hospitable “Golden Lion," we actually reached Stainforth at five by car, and somehow Barstow escaped pneumonia.

Next season was opened with another attack, May 4th, 1912, by a party mostly arriving on motor bicycles, Chappell early Sunday morning. Again at 12, we three went in, supported by Chappell and Addyman. A note in my diary indicates that in the bad pool Chappell already showed a leaning towards the sea; none of us were silent. Stobart and I gained much glory by working through this horrible place six ladders and three ropes in two journeys. We speedily gained and rigged the almost dry first pitch, and Barstow, Stobart and I descended. This of course took time.

The second pitch is the ideal in my experience. The top is wide and easy to work at. There is a huge rock pillar a few feet back for fastening, and best of all is the beautiful deep pool with a nice round lip on which to settle the ladder. Any amount of water can be kicked over the lip to stop the fall, and as Stobart descended over 90 feet of ladder he was perfectly dry and we could talk to him with ease.

On and on he went, and as he reported no sign of the bottom, we were glad we had economised every possible foot of the ladder line and had a good length over to lengthen out the body line. The knot ran over the edge as he came to the end of the ladder and proceeded to climb down a considerable distance till almost all the rope was out, a good 130 feet. A grand place and the end!

Over went more water and up he came. Despite howls, curses and protests from above the first pitch, I tied on and romped down this ideal pitch. The ladder just hangs against the wall and a toe well driven in brings it off without effort. At its end I found myself on a narrow ledge towards the bottom of a shaft, which struck me as semicircular. A drop on to another ledge, then to a wider one, and so on to the floor of the pot-hole brought one far below the ladder.

The shaft had evidently broken into a fissure. The little water flowing down fell into a miniature pot in the floor, and down two little pitches of some 8 feet each I followed to a pool in the fissure. To the right a dead end, to the left the water flowed under boulders where it appeared impossible and dangerous to follow. In the firm belief that the glorious second pitch was the end, we returned with all our tackle by our laborious route. We emerged at 7.30 p.m., a time which instilled the stern reproofs of our supporters, who, starting at nine, had to motor to Harrogate. We Monday people whipping in the procession made a joyous and warm but painful journey down the two miles to Horton, laden each with two heavy wet ladders. These were the days before the Botterill ladder had come to its own.

Later in the year Mere Gill Hole gave in at last, and 1913 found the Mere Gill party looking for new worlds to conquer. Then came the astonishing declaration from Stobart that he believed Little Hull could be penetrated further, and that we had turned too hastily. I was incredulous, but was obliged to confess that neither of us appeared to have seriously attempted to force a passage, and that the place would have to be tried again till the pot-holer’s test had been applied - that two men together and in one another’s presence had tried and failed.

So to a camp at Hull Pot the Meregillers went at Whitsuntide. There was a holiday spirit in the air, a promise that it was not to be all work. Only this as a reaction from Mere Gill days can explain why the cave was not finished off.

Arriving at Horton after 3 p.m., and loading up a cart and the famous Fiat, tents were up and the party complete by 6 p.m., Mr., Mrs. and Miss Payne, with Miss Bowden (afterwards Mrs. Stobart), Hazard, R. F. Stobart and self. Wilson was in India and Addyman absent.

The same night six ladders and a rope were run in to the head of the first pitch. The holiday spirit had so seized upon Hazard that the magnificent weather following a terrible week would not permit him to go underground. The result was that while Stobart and I were engaged in the arduous task of rigging the first pitch and passing the ladders through the window, we were surprised by Miss Bowden, who had most gallantly travelled alone from the pool along the eerie passage. Hazard could not leave us in the lurch and duly arrived after all, of course.

There was a lot of water in the cave, owing to the previous heavy rains, and quite a large amount for Little Hull ran over the second pitch and made one glad of the magnificent pool above it.

The contrast between this ideal pitch and the usual awkwardness of the first, where of course a pulley had to be rigged to permit the whole party to descend, was quite marked, for after getting down, receiving and tying up three ladders and the ladder line, I was engaged in settling the ladders on the pitch when the second man descended. He was followed by Miss Bowden and then by Payne and Hazard.

The second pitch to-day was no joke. The pool was half emptied, but though the first man went off at top speed, the water ran so fast that only the electric light saved the situation, when the fall came down with a swish and a roar as in the Mere Gill days. Once more, this time together, Stobart and I descended the miniature pot-hole in the main floor, and without hesitation one of us slid into the opening to the left. It went without trouble, to our amazement, and a few moments found us standing in a very narrow lofty fissure. Very soon we were held up, and failing to pass above the obstacle, were driven to contemplate two low wet tunnels The first attempts were useless, but getting well down to it and trusting to the electric light hung round my neck, I passed without much difficulty but much dampness. The impression of what followed was not to be lost for years. The passage was narrow, rocks seized our clothing and tried to tear it off, our feet jammed, rocks held us down as we chimneyed to wider regions, and still the fissure continued straight as a sunbeam. We travelled along high above the floor, and finally reached a place where the fissure seemed to close. We climbed high up but found no way over, lower there was evidently a continuation, but we could not force a way between the chockstones. Going someway back, we got down to the floor and worked forward till we were faced with an impasse, a ludicrously small tunnel. Stobart tried it and failed, but I, lying almost submerged in the water, with the electric lamp jammed between chest and wall, felt that faint widening that encourages one to persevere. It went and I rose dripping. With groans and curses Stobart’s mighty frame passed by the same route.

The rest was easier, and after about 120 yards of struggle we stood close to a third pitch. It was possible to get a good view down and the summing up was “a twenty-footer with a good big passage beyond.”

Back we went and found the other three had spent quite a cheery time between the pitches without attempting to get seriously wet. I was the first up the top pitch, and if anyone wants a really sensational position I can recommend the leading from the window up a ladder at an angle of originally 45° or less, which trembles and threatens to turn over first one side and then the other. We had not then found all the holds that permit this ascent to be done most gracefully.

Miss Bowden was splendid, but the final working out of the tackle consumed much time, still eight hours was not bad. So we resigned our chance of a finish, but we thoroughly enjoyed Monday’s delightful slack or tramp, according to taste.

Early in May, 1922, Stobart, after two years’ absence, reappeared in the North, and confident in the fact that Little Hull offers no grave difficulty from water, we two speedily arranged that with the assistance of Ellis along the top passage, we would complete the job alone. No recruits having been enlisted, Stobart brought up one of his men, Legge, but a few days before Whitsuntide the doubtful issue was turned into certainty of victory, when Addyman announced that he would certainly arrive, and bring one Bates, a stout soul who had done nothing but the Stump Cross crawl.

The clans gathered on the Friday. The cart from Horton had some difficulty in passing a yawning trench torn in the road by the record storm of the previous Sunday week, and it was with astonishment I found that Stobart had already driven his Fiat with an enormous load past it and up to Hull Pot. When he had struggled back on his way to Settle for provisions, my first job was two hours of road mending. With the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Ellis we put up an imposing camp of four tents for five people.

The weather was glorious. On Saturday the four men carried all tackle to the cave and took in six ladders and five ropes. The first little surprise was the length of the bit of passage to the pool. Legge retired at once - it is an awesome place on which to enter a complete novice. The pool was just as expected, and as the ladders were rolled out of it one thought the worst was over. Alas, the crawl was longer than expected and from the roof came countless drops, a forgotten trouble, putting out candles and compelling one to speed. After that the fine stream passage was just as two of the three remembered it. Three ladders were lashed up and put over, Stobart descended and received the other tackle, then back to tea, then to work in attempting to clear High Hull Pot, which the recent great flood had failed to open out.

The next excitement was the arrival of Addyman and Bates, who drove up with only such incident as carrying away the side car on the bad place, and spilling the passenger.

The fourth and final attack was delivered on Whit Sunday (4th June). Stobart, Addyman, Bates and I carried in two ladders and three ropes more, supported by Legge up to the first pitch, and as I closed the procession I met an awe-struck lad, holding three lighted candles, making his way back.

The crossing of the sloping ladder was not difficult when the right holds on the walls were used, and I was soon tying up three ladders in the chamber below. Then I sat down to twist and twist the new 250-feet rope for the body line, again and again, till the wickedness had gone out of it, with the memory vivid in my mind of the dreadful kinking of a new rope on the great Mere Gill third pitch.

By and by came Addyman to request me to move on. Down the long ladder I went, and down the steps to Stobart and Bates on the floor of the great shaft, to be met with the excited declaration that the place had changed. With a sceptical reply I climbed down the two steps into the fissure, and found it - as before! While I was exploring, Addyman came down, his body line held from below over a pulley, and my emphatic declaration that all was O.K. and the stuff could come along was drowned by the splash of the first ladder into the water.

With three ropes, a rucksack, and ladders of 36 feet and 24 feet, we began a painful journey. Very soon came the first difficulty. Both waterways seemed hopeless, and in spite of Stobart’s views, I tried two upper ways and was more or less stuck, while he was successfully negotiating the proper route through the water. Before the third man was through, the longer ladder had been dumped. Addyman and I struggled forward with the other. By and by one is driven off the floor into chimneying along the narrow fissure, and after going some distance thus, it became necessary, owing to a descent of the roof, to go down between two chockstones. I just passed, but Addyman could not manage it, so leaving him to his fate, I struggled on with the ladder, howling vigorously to the leaders. On Stobart’s return, I learnt that I had passed the second place where one must lie in the water.

The end of the fissure by the third pitch is almost the limit. It is only just possible to draw the ladder past one’s body and cast it over the edge, and there is precious little room to knot the rope to the ladder lines. Part of the fissure was wide enough, luckily, for us to get at a boulder a considerable distance up and belay the rope. Bates was now dispatched to help Addyman, and the air resounded with objurgations and appeals to the latter to get through somehow, take his clothes off, and other useless and useful advice.

It was really difficult to get out of the fissure on to the ladder. One had to lie on one’s side and work gradually outwards. Luckily the doubled ladder rope ran upwards. There were several loose pieces of limestone to be cleared away on the descent, which proved to be nearly 24 feet as estimated.

Nine years after our first view of it, Stobart and I stood in the fine and lofty chamber we had seen in 1913. The cave looked good for another pitch. If so, with the fissure passage behind us, it would rank with Mere Gill, the 36-foot ladder would have to be fetched, with perhaps worse labour to come. The first point of interest is that our chamber is a junction, receiving another small stream through a fine looking passage. But downstream first, round a corner to a division. I take the dry side, and before I have fairly embarked on it, a disappointed voice announces that Little Hull has finished in a pool. Only a little one, but as dead an end as ever I saw. A small dry tunnel further back, a flood channel, ended just as abruptly.

For abruptness, the end of Little Hull Hole compares only with the sudden finish of Gaping Ghyll East Passage. We had hoped for a long stream passage, as at the bottom of Mere Gill, but it must be confessed that we were just a little relieved that there was no other big drop. The “strait gate" is the absolute limit for the conveyance of tackle.

As we returned to the chamber, the crash of a rock announced Addyman on his way down after discovering the proper squeeze through a narrow waterway. Hopefully we entered the fine tributary passage. Presently the floor began to rise, the same stratum continuing as roof, and a 4~foot step left us looking into a bedding plane where the water flowed over a thick layer of stones and silt. It might be excavated, but how far to the point at which the water breaks through the stratum overhead? We could get in, but no more.

Bates had done nobly and did not trouble to descend the ladder. It was climbed unroped, but landing was tricky. The journey back to the second pitch was a nightmare, a climb of an eternal chimney against an ever-increasing weight.

Up goes the first man with a tail-line behind him, and as we pull in his rope, over the pulley high above, the patch of light from the electric lamp climbs higher and higher into the darkness, still ascending a mere faint glow till we lose trace of it, then the signal – one - stop, a pause, three - let out, a long wail, finally a bright glow far, far overhead. At the next whistle we pull down the end of the rope again by means of the tail line, and the second man ties on. Once the whole party is up, und the ladders have been persuaded to follow, everything is abandoned but three ropes, and tailing these out doubled scarcely checks our speed along the top passage.

Uttering divers yells and dripping water at every step we stumble through the heather to camp, about 9 p.m., with all that glorious satisfaction which the end of a big new pot-hole brings.

Ellis and his wife had been up Greenfield Knott and babbled of lovely views. Monday was brilliant, too, and the morning passed in a heavenly loaf in perfect surroundings. Bates’ outfit being strictly limited, he was excused a further wetting before returning that evening to town and toil. In three hours the others, nobly assisted by Ellis and Legge, got out all the tackle, Legge making three double journeys through the pool, and Ellis two.

The exploration of Little Hull Hole was by no means the only success of our holiday, for while Ellis and I were proving that Larch Tree Pot, two miles north, does not open out into a passage, Addyman and Stobart met with such success in their excavations at High Hull Pot that a hole was opened out, into which the tons of accumulated silt were being swept, bit by bit, by skilfully directed flushing of the beck, until the place began to resume something of its appearance in 1919.

Next morning we took five ladders over to Hunt Pot and enjoyed one of those perfectly idyllic expeditions down a single shaft pot-hole, which are so charming to look back on.

A short time before, the long rift of Hunt Pot had been spanned by a series of beams, which supported a complete covering of wire netting to prevent shot grouse falling into it. The recent great flood had carried away most of the beams and left the wire netting hanging from end to end, like a great hammock full of stones. We had to put out all our strength to land this great load.

Stobart and I descended in turn. The coolness of the first 90 feet was most grateful in contrast to the baking one enjoyed in the rocky sink-hole, and the view wonderful. The next 70 feet was just as vertical, but in the water. It is odd there is no stream passage at the bottom, but so it is.

Three hours was sufficient for Hunt Pot, and the rest of the day was given by Stobart to High Hull Pot, which he had the satisfaction of leaving swept clear of silt down to the limestone and ready for an attack, then our 1922 camp broke up and the loaded Fiat ran down the grass road to Horton for the last time.