© 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:
Brodrick, H. (1924) Fox Holes, Clapdale ‑ A Rock Shelter. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 5 Number 16: pp112-116. Leeds: YRC.

Fox Holes, Clapdale ‑ A Rock Shelter.

By Harold Brodrick.

Ingleborough Hill in Yorkshire, if one considers it from the point of view of the pot-holer and cave explorer, is the most interesting part of England; but it was only shortly before the war that the hill was found to have in its flanks a "fortified" rock shelter which is probably unique in England.

The discoveries at Wookey Hole in Somerset are undoubtedly of greater interest, but those at Fox Holes present many features of exceptional value. During the explorations of Clapham cave and Gaping Ghyll, a low cave (which went by the name of Fox Holes) had been noticed some half mile above the water exit of Clapham Cave. On consideration of the surveys of Clapham Cave, and the lower passages of Gaping Ghyll, it was thought possible that, although these two systems of caves did not actually join, this low bedding cave might form a connecting link between the two. The entrance to the cave at the base of a thirty-foot cliff was almost obscured by a mound of talus, partly formed from the general weathering of the cliff and partly from stones washed down from the dry river bed above in times of excessive flood.

The first systematic investigation took place on June 7th, 1913, although there was evidence that some other party had previously worked in the cave. While some members of the party crawled along the cave others commenced to cut through the talus slope; the bedding cave was found to lead to no results, a crawl through wet mud for a distance of 30 feet ending only in a small hole, below which running water could be heard, but which was much too narrow for anything larger than a small terrier.

First Day. By Percy Robinson.  © Yorkshire Ramblers' Club
First Day. By Percy Robinson
Fourth Day. By C. Hastings.  © Yorkshire Ramblers' Club
Fourth Day. By C. Hastings
Fox Holes, Excavation

Those members who had concentrated their efforts on the talus slope cut a trench through the fallen stones, about 4 feet deep and 6 feet wide and some 10 feet in length. On the next day the trench was deepened to nearly 6 feet in an attempt to reach some opening below the upper cave. Naturally in an exploration of this sort it is not possible to continue from day to day, and it was not until June 15th that anything further was done. At this week-end there was only a small party, but the first object of interest was discovered, a human metacarpal bone, which entirely altered the aim of the exploration, and it was felt that not only was there a possibility of getting into the upper waters of Clapham Cave, but that there was also evidence of prehistoric man.

By this time the trench in the talus slope had been cut down to a bed of clay, and through this a trial shaft was sunk at the point furthest from the cave; this shaft was about 5 feet deep, but nothing except clay and waterworn pebbles was met with.

After several slight investigations, a very careful excavation of the floor of the cave was commenced on June 30th. The floor was found to consist of waterworn limestone, covered to a depth of 18 inches with clay; this was carefully cleared for a distance of about 10 feet inwards and all finds carefully noted. Portions of at least two human skulls were found and also bones of wild boar, horse, roe deer and red deer. On the extreme right of the cave the site of a fireplace was uncovered, the floor and roof exhibiting clear signs of calcining, while ashes and charcoal were found in considerable quantities. A few days later more fragments of human bones were found and also a small piece of what was evidently neolithic pottery.

As no further signs of human occupation were met with in the cave, it was decided to dig down through the talus in the hope of reaching some lower passage. This excavation was found to be exceedingly laborious as, after the surface rocks had been removed, the material consisted of a very heavy waterlogged clay, while at a depth of about 3 feet, pockets of waterworn gravel were met with. It was now found that what had been considered to be a cliff face was really the upper portion of a water-worn passage entirely obscured by glacial drift. In clearing the stones and soil from the surface of the drift, bones of numerous animals usually associated with neolithic man had been identified,[1] and also of practically all the animals which live in England at present, both wild and tame.

Plan of Rock Shelter, Fox Holes.  © Yorkshire Ramblers' Club
Plan of Rock Shelter, Fox Holes

During August, 1913, the party had the assistance of workmen employed by the lord of the manor, and the front of the cave was cleared of débris, i.e., rocks fallen from the cliff above. During this work it was noticed that the workmen were cutting through a roughly built wall running parallel to the cliff face. Great care was exercised at this part of the exploration, and a wall some 4 feet in height, enclosing a level floor of clay, was laid bare. This wall was finally completely exposed on the inner side and was found to be about 12 yards in length; there was also found a transverse wall running towards the cliff and cutting off a small corner of the area; this was on the right-hand side. In this enclosure were found more than a hundred fragments of pottery of a very primitive type, and also remains of burnt human bones. It is probable that these fragments are all that remain of an early burial place.

Human Remains, Fox Holes. By H. Brodrick.  © Yorkshire Ramblers' Club
Human Remains, Fox Holes. By H. Brodrick

Outside this portion of the wall, and at the level of the clay floor, two bone needles were found, similar to those discovered by Mr. J. W. Jackson, F.G.S., at Dog Holes, near Grange; many fragments of human bones were also found outside the wall. [See also note on Holocene Mollusca, by Mr. Jackson, published in The Naturalist, April 1914].

At a depth of about 3 feet below the clay floor, the evidences of an earlier occupation were found in the remains of a fireplace, near which was a charred vertebra of Urus. During the excavations below the clay floor, the front leg bones of at least five horses were found. These bones were similar to those of the Celtic pony (equus agilis), and it is a curious fact that only the bones of the front legs and the shoulder-blades were found. It is a coincidence that the only bones of the horse found in Kent's Cavern, Torquay, are similar to those found in Fox Holes.

There were also found a well-made hammer stone (limestone), three flint flakes (Bridlington flint), three chert flakes, and several bones of red deer, which had evidently been used as borers.

After the exploration of the dwelling-place and sepulchral area, it was decided to continue the search for the low level cave. Mr. Farrar kindly provided workmen for this excavation, and at a depth of some 30 feet, through sand, gravel and clay, a waterworn floor of limestone was met with.

This floor was some 10 feet below the level of the valley outside the entrance to the cave, and thus clearly indicated that the cave from which the water had flowed must have been of pre-glacial origin, as the valley itself is floored with glacial drift. From the foot of the shaft a waterworn passage leads into the hill, parallel to Trow Ghyll; this was found to be entirely choked with sand and waterworn boulders. The passage was in no place more than 3 feet in height and less than that in width. After very laborious work in removing the sand and boulders, it low bedding cave was reached at a distance of 20 feet from the foot of the shaft; this cave was filled to within a few inches of the roof with wet sand, but seemed to offer some possibilities for further exploration. The last work done was in July, 1914, after which the war put an end to the investigations. I wish to thank the various members of the Y.R.C, for their continuous help in the explorations, and also Mr. Farrar for the assistance so kindly rendered. I also wish to thank Mr. J. W. Jackson, of Owens College, Manchester, for the identification of the bones &c. My chief regret is that Dr. Charles Hill, who conducted all the investigations, did not live to complete the work.

Artifacts, Fox Holes. By H. Brodrick. By H. Brodrick.  © Yorkshire Ramblers' Club
Artifacts, Fox Holes. By H. Brodrick


[1] Bos Primigenius (Bos); Bos Longifrons (Celtic Shorthorn Ox); Cervus Megaceros (Irish Elk); Cervus Elaphus (Red Deer); Cervus Capreolus (Roe Deer); Sus Scrofa Ferus (Wild Boar); Canis Lupus (Wolf).