© 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:
Brown, W.V. (1924) Diccan Pot, Selside. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 5 Number 16: pp117-124. Leeds: YRC.

Diccan Pot, Selside.

By W.V. Brown.

The Editor, who by the time this appears in print will also be the President, and whose commands may not lightly be set aside, demands the story of Diccan Pot.

The tale is a long one and commences, in so far as it concerns me, as long ago as August, 1911, when Mrs. Brown and I camped at Alum Pot, and after exploring Long Churn, Sunset Hole, Weathercote, Gatekirk, and the delightful gills on Penyghent side, turned our attention to the opening crossed by a stream about 50 yards down the wall from Long Churn, but not named on any map in our possession. From the peculiar shape of a rock at the entrance we called it Alligator Hole, but we were told later that it was Diccan Pot.

I am not sure that this has always been so. Place names have a habit of becoming transposed, and a book entitled "A Guide to the Lakes," with an addendum "A Tour to the Caves in the West Riding of Yorkshire," published by W. Pennington, Kendal, in 1796, gives colour to this, as in it, the passage now known as Long Churn is described under the name of Diccan Pot. The description is so exceedingly interesting that I think it well to include it in this article.

"After having excited the several passions of curiosity, dread and horror, from the negative knowledge we got of the capacity and depth of this huge pot, we went a little higher up the mountain, and came to another hiatus called Long Churn. We descended down till we came to a subterranean brook; we first ascended the cavern, down which the stream ran, proceeding in a western direction, for at least, as we imagined, a quarter of a mile, till we came to a crevice which admitted us into our native region. We measured the distance between the two extremities above ground, and found it 241 yards, but it must be nearly double that distance along the passage below, on account, of all the turnings and windings. The petrifications here were the most numerous of any we had yet seen, few people coming either to break them off or deface them. When we were almost arrived at the western extremity, we came to a fine round basin of pellucid water from 3 to 12 feet deep, known by the name of 'Dr. Bannister's Hand Basin.' A lofty, spacious and elegant dome is placed immediately over it, which nicely corresponds to the hollow receptacle at the bottom; into this basin a rivulet falls down a steep rock about 6 feet high, which is very dangerous to get up, and must be done at the expense of a wet skin, except a ladder is taken along with the party, or the waters are less copious than when we were there; there is also some danger lest the adventurer should fall back and have his bones broken by circumjacent rocks, or be drowned in the Doctor's basin. After having surmounted this obstacle, and proceeded some yards further, we were favoured with an egress into our own element, as was before observed; no unwelcome change after having been so long excluded from it. After having rested ourselves a little, we returned to the chasm where we first entered Long Churn, and descending again pursued the river eastward, along another extensive subterranean passage, called Dicken Pot, which slopes and winds by degrees till it enters the ghastly and tremendous Alan Pot. We went 157 yards along this 'antre vast' till we came to a steep rock full 12 feet perpendicular; here we stopped; a wise consideration! We might have descended perhaps without danger, but the question was how we were to get up again; which, without ropes or a ladder, would be totally impracticable; at the far end was a lofty dome, called by the country people 'St. Paul's.' There is no doubt but if we had ventured further we might have come to Alan Pot, at least so near, as either to have seen the water that stagnates at its bottom, or the light that is admitted into this gaping monster of nature."

Clearly this tourist of the 18th century followed Upper Long Churn to the inflow P. 31, called by Mr. Wilcock, of Selside, Backseat Cove, and then went down Long Churn past where the stream leaves it, to the great master joint.

To return to August, 1911. The weather that holiday had not been too good, and a fair amount of water was entering the cave, making it impossible to do the first 10 to 15 yards without getting very wet, owing to the necessity of twice taking an absolutely horizontal position, but we got as far as the first small pitch, where the channel narrows and drops about 8 feet into a pool, which, in the poor light of two candles, it did not seem possible to pass. The rush of water down the scoop, the swirl and boil in the pool, and the roar that came to us from lower down, was a combination strong enough to make us stop; but it also implanted in me a desire to know more of it and to see what lay beyond.

Owing to the stronger claims of Gaping Ghyll, it was not until 1913 (August) that Ledgard, Frankland and myself found ourselves camping by Alum Pot. The weather was glorious. The streams everywhere were low, and had we known what we were up against, and provided for it, the story might have been shorter; but alas, we had only two 30-feet ladders and about 100 feet of rope, which turned out to be woefully insufficient.

The first few yards on hands and feet, the horizontal squirm, and the space which is covered in a position strongly reminiscent of a patent medicine advertisement sketch, were accomplished, and we were soon standing all together at the point arrived at two years before, but the conditions were different. A gentle stream poured over the scoop, but though there was no swirl or boil in the pool, it still looked a very nasty place to slip into, and we all tried different methods of traversing it until I went down, only to find that the fearful looking water was about 2 feet deep. This being ascertained, we hurried across and found ourselves in a passage 8 or 9 feet wide and about 4 feet high, which we traversed for some considerable distance until stopped by a pool with vertical sides about 10 feet deep and the same across, which held us up for some time until Ledgard (I think) discovered a rather delicate traverse on a 4-inch ledge, about 1 foot below the surface round the right wall.

The roar of falling water, though not so great as on my previous visit, was now very close and intriguing us greatly, so we wasted no time, and after some 10 yards were peering with awe down an immense cleft into which the waters were pouring.

Our 60 feet of ladder were soon fixed to a perfect natural bollard in a plane on the left wall, and attempts were made by everyone to descend, but the water put out the lights, making it quite impossible for the victim on the ladder to see anything. We retired to camp for lunch, and on returning, pressed Ledgard's motor-cycle lamp into service, and by its light were enabled in turns to descend to the end of the ladder and inspect to some extent the gloom below. We soon came to the conclusion that at least four 30-feet ladders were necessary, and that we must give up hope until another visit.

Between 1914 and 1918 matters of more importance than cave exploration occupied the attention of everyone, and it was not until August, 1921, that Frankland and I were again camping by the entrance. On this occasion there were only two or three days when it was possible to effect an entrance, owing to the amount of water, and when in, it was impossible, owing to the fearful draught, to keep our lamps lighted, and matches were in constant use. The rush of water over the great fall, and the terrible noise, were awe-inspiring, and made the visits well worth while.

Whitsuntide, 1922, saw Frankland, Hilton and myself camped in our usual place, and waiting with much impatience until the camp at G.G. could give us ladders. On the Tuesday morning we carried over 120 feet, and by evening we had each descended, singly, on to a ledge at that depth, only to find another pitch immediately below. We used a bicycle lamp for the great descent, but Frankland was the only man who maintained a light all through; Hilton's was put out when halfway up, and I was so unlucky as to have mine extinguished as I stepped on to the ledge, and had to make the return in darkness, being nearly suffocated by acetylene fumes.

As we had to return on Wednesday we had again to give up, but we made up our minds not to fail again through lack of tackle.

At Whitsuntide, 1923, the same party, augmented by Roberts and Davidson, and supplied with 300 feet of heavy ladder, about 120 feet light ladder and plenty of rope, again camped, and the original party listened with joy and respectful admiration to the language used by one of the new men to describe the weather which rendered any attempt impossible. Hilton, who slept in my tent, had to get up at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, and he woke us up to share his joy at five inches of snow.

Early in July, Mr. Wilcock, of Northcote, Selside, who stored our tackle and who was very interested in our attempts, wrote me to the effect that another party had brought along some tongued and grooved boards and cement, with the idea of building a dam in Long Churn to divert the water, and so make a descent comfortably easy. I got in touch with Frankland (who was playing in a tennis tournament and unable to come), Hilton and Roberts, explained matters, and arranged for another expedition on July 7th.

We arrived in Horton at noon, obtained a car from the "Golden Lion" to take up the light ladders brought by Roberts, and were fortunate in persuading the driver to load up the rest of the stuff at North Cote and take it right up to Alum Pot; the first car, I think, to go so far up the fell. By two everything was over at Diccan Pot, but - thunder was rolling all around - Mr. Wilcock advised us not to go in, and it looked as if fate was against us once more. At 2.30 we started in with six heavy and two light ladders, of which we tied five heavy 50-footers together, and dropped them over the pitch. This took until about five, when we went out into the sultry afternoon to see what the weather was like. It was bad. Rain was evidently pouring down in the adjacent valleys, and our hopes got lower and lower. However, Maurice Wilcock came up about 7.45, and at 8.30 he decided that the storm had missed us and that it would be safe to proceed, so we returned once more to the 120-foot pitch and its appalling roar.

I had procured a special miner's electric lamp, with a storage battery in an aluminium case, to strap on the back, and a large bulb at the end of a yard of armoured flex, and hoped that our difficulties regarding light were solved.

In our previous attempt we had been able to make the Club ladders catch and hold on a buttress about 20 feet down the shaft, somewhat clear of the main bulk of the fall, but I found that our new ladders, owing perhaps to being shorter in the rungs, or because these were round instead of square, would not do this, thus we were forced to make our descent close to the fall for the first 20 feet, and the rest of the way in the mass of spray caused by the plunge of the fall on the ledge at that depth.

Hilton went first. The new electric lamp was a great success, and he soon had an acetylene lamp burning in a sheltered corner.

Having helped Roberts to fix a block, and arranged a signal in the event of a reconnaissance beyond the 120-foot ledge showing that it might "go," two light ladders were lowered and I descended and joined Hilton. It was an eerie place, a floor not more than 10 feet by 12 feet, wet walls reaching up to a faint glimmer far above, the slender-looking ladder, and about a yard from where it touched the floor, another black and forbidding-looking pitch. This proved on trial to be less terrible than it seemed, and 30 feet of ladder touched the bottom. A quick rush was made down this, a quicker through the waterfall, a hurried inspection of the rift for some 30 or 35 feet to a large chockstone, and then a return to the ledge, from which six whistles were sent up to Roberts, who soon joined us, being played down over the block on a 250-foot line.

Taking two light ladders with us, we proceeded and soon reached the chockstonc behind which the water was pouring, leaving the ladder, which we fixed on a natural pin, quite clear. This descent, an easy one of 28 feet, was soon made, and another 10 or 12 feet descended in the rift at an easy angle before another ladder was necessary. This pitch looked like being a wet one, but we found, out on the left wall, a pointed flake which was easily reached, and over which it was possible to hook the loop and so allow the ladder to hang just clear of the water. Twenty feet of ladder took us to the bottom, which the rift became nearly level for about 40 feet, when the slope suddenly became very acute and the walls narrowed down to about 4 feet. Roberts made a short descent on a line, but found it very wet and cold. I tried a few yards further and came to the conclusion that we were at the top of the fall in the bottom chamber of Alum Pot. The extraordinary rift we had followed seems to be almost in the same straight line as that of Alum Pot. Hilton, being very young and eager, next tried and descended about 10 feet further, going right under a fall and getting very badly chilled.

We were now about 250 or 260 feet down, it was after midnight, and the water seemed to us to be getting stronger and deeper, so we decided to get back without unnecessary delay. The light ladders handled very easily and we soon reached the bottom of the heavy ladders.

Roberts went up first, we giving him all the assistance we could, but it seemed a very long time before his whistle came down to tell us he had arrived. I followed, finding the climb very tiring, and looking up when about 40 feet from the top, got the full force of the fall on my face, and had to hang on very tightly for some seconds to recover my breath. I stopped on the 20-foot ledge, getting Roberts to belay me above, the 150-foot line was passed down to Hilton, and Roberts and I had a very strenuous quarter of an hour hauling up the light ladders. Hilton came next, very glad of assistance, and after a breathing spell, we all bent our backs to the work of getting up 250 feet of heavy ladder, which by this time was so waterlogged as to be at least 40 per cent. heavier than usual. Hilton remained on the ledge; I was on the edge of the pitch, hauling with him, and Roberts was behind me in the passage lapping neatly in about 10-foot lengths. It was exhausting work, but it was done at last, and we turned without much enthusiasm to the task of untying and rolling.

At The Bottom of Alum Pot, The Unclimbed Fall by the late A.A. Scott.  © Yorkshire Ramblers' Club
At The Bottom of Alum Pot, The Unclimbed Fall by the late A.A. Scott

This was finished about 2 a.m. By 2.40 we had everything out on the moor, and at 3 o'clock we were in dry clothes and looking for somewhere warm and dry to sleep. We were not in luck. The grass was very wet, Mr. Wilcock`s high barn was empty, and the clints though dry were very cold; 6.15 a.m. found us in the dry cave at Long Churn, where we lit a fire, ate the balance of the food we had with us, and smoked pipes of peace and contentment. By 8 o'clock we had three heavy ladders down at North Cote, and another journey was sufficient to get all Roberts' own tackle down to the road, where a car picked him up at nine. Having to get the balance of the tackle down, Hilton and I were returning through the farmyard when Mr. Wilcock invited us in to a cup of tea, during the assimilation of which we heard the story of Maurice's adventure.

He had come in about 9 o'clock and had seen us descend, but not knowing our method of crossing the deep pool, had got in nearly up to the neck. On his way out the draught put out his candle just before the passage widens out into the bedding plane just above the upper pool, where the creeps from Long Churn join in. His matches were all wet, and he settled down to wait with all the patience he could muster until we should find him; but after about an hour, he managed to get a light by rubbing match heads together and got safely out.

Later we got the rest of the tackle down, then walked over the moor, had a long sleep in the sun on a grassy bank in lngleborough grounds and got the 7.30 p.m. train at Clapham.

I am looking forward to a week-end in 1924, when a strong party can go again and divide into two gangs; one to enter by Diccan Pot and pass through and out by Alum Pot, while the other does the opposite route.

It will be a sporting event.