© 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:
The Editor. (1934) Rumbling Hole, Leck Fell. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 6 Number 21: pp229-234. Leeds: YRC.

Rumbling Hole, Leck Fell,

By The Editor

Rumbling Hole is one of the four well known open pot-holes on Leck Fell, the Lancashire pot-hole group, reached by 1½ miles of byroad and two miles of hard-climbing rough green lane from Cowan Bridge, a village on the mainroad between Kirby Lonsdale and Ingleton. All four lie in a hollow running down from the track a little below Leck Fell House, Rumbling Hole, 480 yards north of Lost Johns’ Cave, being the first met with, a few yards from where the little beck goes underground. Eyeholes, Death’s Head, and beyond a wall, Gavel Pot, continue the line, each with its trees (Map, Y.R.C.J.,Vol.IV.,p. 61).

As far back as 1899 the open shaft of 160 feet was descended in wet weather by Cuttriss, Parsons, Swithinbank, and Woodhouse. Cuttriss notes that a passage, heading east, was followed till the roof met the water, and the impression was formed then that there was nothing doing, an impression so strong that parties in 1908 and 1919 had nothing further to report.

So it comes about that, by accident of chance, the exploration of Rumbling Hole in 1932 can, not unreasonably, be described as the close of “the Golden Age of pot-holing,” that is to say, Rumbling Hole has been the last of the great obvious Caverns to be followed right down all its pitches.

Late one Saturday in July, 1926, W. V. Brown, J. Hilton, F. Booth and E. E. Roberts finished off the unexplored shaft of Gavel Pot, their first serious work on Leck Fell, with an unexpected dead-end at only seventy feet, and so turned their attention next morning to Rumbling Hole, in gentle steady rain. There was so much brushwood and vegetation round the mouth that to get the ladders down took much time.

Hilton descended the length of three ladders (108 feet) close to the waterfall heard in the shaft, and reported them hopelessly insufficient and the position wrong. The ladders were therefore raised, put over on the opposite, western side, and with considerable difficulty tied to a tree. The top rung was lowered twenty feet, and was reached by an earthy scramble, up which the ladders came finally in an incredibly dirty state.

Fred Booth went down and up, then I went. At the foot of the second ladder, 75 feet swinging free,i.e. about 90 feet down, was a wide platform extending back into at a joint under an overhang which gave complete shelter from anything falling. The hole is about 40 feet by 8 feet at this level. From the outer edge of the platform a much narrower crack led steeply to the floor, and was climbed first with the help of the ladder and then on the life line. The bottom is generally rather damp owing to the waterfall, but the rain had not yet set it going hard, so in spite of two dead sheep I climbed down a ten foot cave pitch, and unroping, rapidly followed the narrow but lofty passage, some pools but little stream, for a hundred yards with comfort until it became a narrow fissure. Here after some crawling I gave up, but quite clear that progress was still possible. Discouraged by the rain, we departed.

In the next few years our work on Leek Fell was concerned with the new district in Lost Johns’, and with descents of Death’s Head and the wet pitch of the former. Except for the actual days underground of the Whitsuntide expeditions of 1928 and 1930, Leck Fell maintained an evil reputation for rain; barring these, I have spent only one day there, intent on underground work, when rain did not fall, heavy rain too. Rumbling Hole would have been cleaned up half a dozen times had we had a fighting chance of using our time, witness the dreadful August Bank Holiday week of 1929.

At last at the end of September, 1931, its turn came. After an early morning wait at Bank Hall for people who did not appear, I drove my car up the awful Fell road once more, and found those determined enthusiasts, Higgins and Yates, had not failed to camp by Lost Johns’. The moment we reached Rumbling Hole we spotted a stake driven in, not far from the 1926 lead, and concluded that the Northern Cavern and Fell Club had been there. So they had, under very wet conditions, and had been turned back in the same belief as the first explorers. Three ladders, all we had brought, were put over from the stake, and a tree at the end of the 8 feet slope was used for a pulley for the life-line. This lead made the vertical climb to the platform seem quite long, and lands one just below its edge, Yates and I went down and each climb to the floor brought the knot on the 160 feet rope close to the pulley ; hence the depth is probably 150 to 152 feet.

There was a good stream falling, but we set off gaily down the passage expecting to be back in quarter of an hour with another pot ticked off, so firmly did we believe in the power of the first generation of Ramblers to make a really good job of exploration. Not a bit of it ! Where we had to lie down to the work we got through without any grave difficulty, and at once entered on ground of a character which had never been reported. Almost at once we came to little pitches. Then the water went down a thin slot, we took to an upper route and descended in an amusing way into a parallel dry fissure. The beck fell twelve feet into another slot and the dry fissure ended in what appeared an easy pitch.

We had no rope, so back we went, Yates ascended, and Higgins came down with one. It was soon discovered that the twelve feet waterfall led only to an impossible crack, but the companion pitch was deep and required ladders. Rumbling Hole promised to turn out a “ first class pot.” A great day!

It was a day unique indeed on Leck Fell, warm and dry without a drop of rain, so we lost no time in looking into the connection between beck and pot-hole. The swallet looks most unpromising, but in a few minutes the three of us had each found a way in, and after some crawling emerged into a fine passage, leading quickly to daylight and a glorious view of the picturesque shaft.

At the Dinner in November, Yates and Higgins approached me with a proposal to try again, the next week-end. I declined, on the ground that the place would be far too wet to drive home a grand attack. Undeterred, they and Dean went up and with the aid of a “ bobbin ladder ” of Yates’ invention descended a 50 feet pitch (No. II.) and a ten feet waterfall below, finding more verticals beyond. Of the wetness of that expedition they still speak with horror.

Whit Sunday in 1932 was early, the 15th May, and the week-end before was assigned for the assault. Preceding days had been cold and miserable, but morning and afternoon of the 7th were fine and warm. I had been up to Clapdale with my tent and G.G. luggage, and was past Ingleton when the inevitable Leek Fell storm smote the countryside in the form of a heavy snowfall which stopped nearly every car for some time. A good omen, for the stars in their courses fight on the side of the big pots! But not for this try! After some hours’ waiting at Cowan Bridge to let the snow melt away, I was very pleased to drive up successfully to Lost Johns’ gate, with a big load, eight ladders, a long rope, etc., and began portaging to Rumbling Hole. Other people came along, four ladders were tied up during a second snowstorm and left under a cover. The view was extraordinary; to begin with, the moors were covered with snow almost to our level (1,160 feet), and after the second storm the whole country was white for a short time. The other men made the best of it in camp, but I went down on foot to Cowan Bridge in the dusk.

The descent next morning was simplified by using four ladders, the last man coming down in the usual way with his line held below and running through a pulley on the tree. Six ladders were taken down but by some mischance only two ropes. The leading men of the party had got nearly everything through the narrows before the last group reached them. Two ladders were put on the dry fifty-footer and the short waterfall below climbed ; no longer was it partitioned off. The third pitch is a characteristic round pot, thirty feet deep, opening into a smaller edition, ten feet. The first landing was swept by the spray, the short bit of ladder had to be taken in the water, and shelter was only found below in a side tunnel. It now appeared that the next stage was down a narrow crack in which one could avoid the water by working far out, but as the sides are undercut the climb is not easy and is decidedly strenuous upwards. A stream tunnel led out of the small comfortable chamber reached, to a pool emptying over a biggish pitch. Everyone of the party (W. V. Brown, Yates, Higgins, Nelstrop, Dean, Vivian and I) was now down and painfully, conscious that the snow water was intensely cold, while all pleasure had vanished. As in such a case it is highly improbable that the bottom if reached will be properly explored, the word was passed to retreat, though Higgins howled vigorously for ladders. The last man was out at six, and home reached at 11.30 p.m.

Rumbling Hole Plan.  © Yorkshire Ramblers' Club
Rumbling Hole Plan

Rumbling Hole fell at last on 26th June, 1932, to a positive mass attack by ten men with abundant material. Armstrong took the President’s place, F. Booth and the Leaches were added to the party, with Butterfield in support and twelve ladders provided. The hot and sunny Saturday settled at five into the usual Leck Fell rain, but the Leeds section arriving first put down two men and lowered eight ladders between 7 and 8.30. The Manchester division had now arrived and the success of the expedition was due entirely to the work done between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. in moving tackle and rigging the second pitch by Yates, Nelstrop, Higgins and the two Leaches.

First down on Sunday at 10 a.m. the Editor and Booth were burdened with a saw and a piece of timber, for what purpose I cannot recall. The second pitch had been beautifully rigged, and needed no life-line. The third took two of Yates’ ladders, and ten of us gathered below the crack with four ladders and three ropes. The final pitch was only 51 feet and nine men were quickly at the bottom. It opens into a fine belfry with one exit, some short winding descending passages, and with a climb, the walls of which in its upper reaches show much straw embedded in a stalagmitic coating. It is clear that at rare intervals the belfry has filled and the straw has been left sticking to the walls.

Optimistic souls had estimated that we should reach 350 feet in depth (actually we were over 360 feet down) and, the mouth of the pot being well below Lost Johns’, should thus be somewhere near the Master Cave, and had speculated on coming out into it, even though the sceptical and often disappointed had commented that nothing likely opens out into the Master Cave. According to the six-inch map Lost Johns’ is only ten feet or so above Rumbling Hole, but I fear the 25 feet contours are of little value, as no one can believe that the short level stretch of track between Lost Johns’ and the gate rises over thirty feet.

On descending the final pitch I learnt that the only continuous branch had been faithfully dealt with, and after at painful, almost level, crawl of 80 yards found that it closed in hopelessly indeed. Had not the party reached the belfry in good heart, this would never have been forced to the bitter end, and a doubt would always have lingered. The retreat from the snow waters of May was justified.

A retreat with much tackle is always rather tedious; it took quite four hours. A fortunate decision was taken to gather everyone on the ninety-foot platform after two or three rnen were up, fortunate indeed, for within a few minutes a big rock, dislodged without striking the ladders, fell with frightful crashes to the bottom of the open pot, passing some distance from the sheltered ledge. It was 7.30 p.m. before Dean, the last man, came up.

I know of no conspicuous pot-hole to-day under any suspicion that there is a passage from the bottom which has not really been tried, The Golden Age is over! Lucky people will perhaps uncover more great pot-holes after many a fruitless attempt, another High Hull may open out, but the future seems to be with desperate crawls like Swinsto, chance discoveries like Foley’s, or the Gritstone Club’s in Selside Washfold Cave, or with excavation wherever there is hope, as Mr. Simpson’s in Marble Pot.

We have not done yet. Who comes next ?