A couple of weeks ago, Lost Earth Adventures invited Ellie on a weekend of caving in the Yorkshire Dales. I tagged along, of course.
CAVING WITH LOST EARTH ADVENTURES
The train ride from London to Giggleswick takes 3.5 to 4 hours. Then there’s a 15-minute cab ride to Horton in Ribblesdale. This tiny hamlet seemed particularly well-placed for the caves we were planning on doing with Lost Earth Adventures. However, you could equally book yourself a B&B in any of the other near-by villages.
JUST ON TIME FOR DINNER
We were lucky to arrive minutes before the kitchen at our tavern closed. At least off-season and on the weekend, there were no open shops in the vicinity. We felt rather pleased that we had brought sandwiches and vast amounts of muesli bars from London. Our aluminium bottles could be filled from the tap.
PACKING OUR BACKPACKS FOR THE NEXT DAY
Lost Earth Adventures provide detailed instructions for their trips. Following their check list, we packed our day backpacks and prepared what we were going to wear the next day.
GEAR PROVIDED BY LOST EARTH ADVENTURES
You will be provided with a caving overall, a helmet, a harness, gloves, neoprene socks and rubber boots. The next morning we dressed in our hiking gear, including fleece top above synthetic base layer, snood, beanie, goretex jacket, trekking trousers, woollen socks, and hiking boots. In the backpacks we had extra layers and another change of clothes, towels, etc.
Following a hearty breakfast, our instructor Graham picked us up at our tavern at 9:30am, as agreed. It didn’t take us long to realise that we had hit the jackpot with our instructor. The good man is licenced for all types of activities, but his passion has always been caving. Now in his fifties, but physically fitter than most anyone half his age, Graham worked in all types of different professions over the years. Like a proper Indiana Jones, he even worked as an archaeologist for a decade.
PICK & CHOOSE
No matter if you have your own instructor, like we did, or if you choose to join a group, Lost Earth Adventures offer a large number of different locations, caving styles, difficulty levels, and so on. Ever since we started to look into caving, more than two years ago, Alum Pot had caught our attention. We knew we definitely wanted to do Alum Pot. Even for this 100m deep and 30m wide cylindrical hole the options are endless. The weather with plenty of rain forecast prevented us from accessing the bottom of the Pot through one of the many subterranean passageways.
HOW TO GET INTO THE POT
Many cavers choose to abseil all the way from the top to the bottom of the Pot. We felt that perhaps that would have been a tad too adventurous for us right after breakfast. Instead we decided to make our way to a popular ledge about half way down the hole, from which nearly all photos you see on the web have been taken.
EASY VERSUS SQUEEZY
At first, we entered one cave entrance that involved a fair bit of crawling and squeezing alongside a stream right away. Ms B started to get a little uneasy. To our relief, Graham offered that we could access the Pot through another cave that was only 150m longer and less squeezy.
GETTING TO THE LEDGE INSIDE THE
WALL OF THE POT
The other entrance and the subsequent cave felt like child’s play in comparison and we quickly arrived at the point where both passageways merge. Sizeable chambers and tall passageway sections where you could walk upright varied with scrambling and crawling bits and some light climbing. The very last bit of the way to get down onto the aforementioned ledge inside the Pot involves an almost vertical 12m long abseil.
SKULL ISLAND OR JURASSIC PARK
In essence, the ledge is part of the floor of a relatively large chamber that opens up towards the hole. When you’ve finished your abseil, you unclip from the rope, turn around, and walk the past 20m towards the opening. You see the 100m tall waterfall on the opposite side of the Pot, the lush moss and fern vegetation on the vertical walls, the jagged bottom, the trees on the top. Ellie & I felt like we’d just stepped into King Kong’s Skull Island or into Jurassic Park. This looked more like Dominica or Hawaii than the Yorkshire Dales in good Old Blighty.
LIGHT MIST, DRIZZLING RAIN
The air was filled with a light mist, the rain was drizzling. For twenty minutes or so we sucked in the atmosphere, enjoyed the mystic beauty around us, and took a few photos.
HOW TO CLIMB A ROPE-LADDER
Then it was time to make our way back to the entrance. Neither Ellie nor I had climbed lengthy rope ladders dangling from rock walls before. It looks reasonably easy, but boy is it hard work. You are supposed to mainly rely on your legs to lift yourself up step by step. However, like many newbies, we used our arms to pull ourselves up and soon our arms and wrists felt so sore we had to take breaks every couple of rungs.
OVERCOMING OUR SQUEEZING HESITATION
When we arrived at the passageway’s fork again, Graham asked us if we wanted to take that path out that we had initially tried to get in on and had then opted against. Our instructor explained that it was entirely up to us, but that he felt confident that we’d be comfortable. When you are on your way out, you can see a few glimpses of sunlight while you go through the tight sections near the entrance. It’s not as scary as squeezing yourself towards complete darkness on a downward angle.
TIME FOR DRY CLOTHES AND A HOT DINNER
Turns out Graham was right. The passageway back to the surface didn’t even feel like a challenge anymore. We were still glad when we were back outside the cave again. We had had a fabulous first day underground. However, the prospect of changing into dry clothes and having a nice hot dinner at our B&B and perhaps a drink or two did have an appealing ring.
PLANS FOR DAY TWO
On the short 10-minute ride back to the tavern in Graham’s van we discussed our preferences for Day Two with Lost Earth Adventures. We had been very happy that the first day hadn’t involved too many difficult sections or too much climbing. Lots of quick and easy wins to boost our confidence, combined with the perfect scenery. For Sunday, we asked Graham to do something with more abseiling and climbing, something slightly more challenging.
SELL GILL HOLES – THREE PITCHES
In the end it was agreed that we’d do Sell Gill Holes, a three-pitch trip. Like in climbing, ‘pitch’ refers to the distance from belay station to belay station. So three times Graham would set up a belay station and then lower Ellie & me down to the next level. On the way up, the process would be reversed. Graham, who would’ve left the belay station and rope in place, would ascend on his own using so-called ascenders. He would then lower the rope ladder and we would climb up the rope ladder, before our instructor would be removing the rope and belay station.
3 TIMES THE GEAR WEIGHS 3 TIMES AS MUCH
The next morning, Graham would pick us up again at 9:30am and we’d make our way to Sell Gill Holes. The caving bags with the gear were much heavier, because so much more gear was required. This meant that we had to carry some of the gear as well, which, of course, is only fair.
SETTING UP THE FIRST BELAY STATION
The hike to the cave entrance from where we had parked the car took about half an hour past picturesque rolling hills with ancient farm estates, walls, and fences. Only a few metres into the cave, our instructor started setting up the first belay station. Different from the abseil the previous day, the abseils this day were largely from overhangs.
ABSEILING FROM OVERHANGS
For the abseils this is more comfortable than having to walk backwards vertically down a rockface. That said, it is much more difficult for beginners like us to climb up a free-dangling, twisting and turning rope-ladder. It’s a blessing we didn’t know this on our way down the cave.
SUBTERRANEAN MEET & MINGLE
We bumped into several groups of cavers on our way to the bottom of the cave, a very tall chamber shaped cylindrical like the inside of a slim tower. We were asked to take photos of the other groups and they took photos for us. It’s all friendly amongst cavers.
With the previous day’s experience on rope-ladders Ellie and I felt overly confident that we knew what we were doing and that it would all be fairly easy. We were shocked when we learned how much more difficult the ascents were on free-hanging rope-ladders. At times other cavers queuing up behind us assisted us by stabilising the rope-ladders. They pulled the lower end of the ladder towards the ground as hard as they could. This made a huge difference for the better, but it was still incredibly hard work. Sometimes we took little breaks on every rung.
BELAYING ON THE WAY UP
You are always secured with a separate rope that goes up from your harness to the belayer above you, so you can’t fall to the ground. Every rung you climb on the ladder, your belayer will pull an equivalent distance of rope in. Graham sometimes went beyond that level of support and seemed to actively lift us up a bit here and there, but it’s not something you should count on.
Despite the hard work and despite the fact that there were no mind-blowingly stunning views like in Alum Pot, Ellie & I both felt that the second day was possibly even better than the first day. This felt like real adventure, almost like being on an expedition. This was no time for half-baked attempts and double-guessing, you really had to give it all and clench your teeth.
BACK AT THE B&B, TAXI PICK-UP
As we hadn’t done any longer breaks on our trip (even though Graham had offered) we arrived back at our B&B more than an hour before our pre-ordered taxi would pick us up for the ride to the train station. We thanked Graham and Lost Earth Adventures for a brilliant weekend of caving and ordered some chips while we were waiting.
MORE CAVING WITH LOST EARTH ADVENTURES
Lost Earth Adventures offer dozens of other caves in the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District. We’ll certainly be going caving with them again later this year, and I might also book some climbing. 5 out of 5 in our book.
The prices vary depending on type of caving (‘vertical’ with harness & climbing vs. ‘horizontal’ without harness or climbing), group size, type of group, location, and length of session/number of days. Half days start from £25 per person for school groups or £49 for adults joining open group events. Our weekend would have cost £169 per person per day, if we would have paid full price.
Looking for more outdoor adventures? Check out our posts about paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, ice-climbing, rock-climbing, indoor bouldering, and flyboarding. We’ve also visited Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan, the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo, a Carnival mask ball in Venice, Marche Aligre in Paris, and Kathmandu’s temples.