Fountains Fell Caverns


'Britain Underground' lists 15 pots or caves in the Fountains Fell area of Ribblesdale. Of these, prior to 1956, only Gingling Hole had been explored to any great extent, but a sustained N.P.C. attack on Gingling Sink has yielded a cave of equal length already and scope for more with hard work.

Gingling Hole itself was first explored by the Yorkshire Ramblers Club in 1923 (1), and a second descent was made in 1931 (2). On this second occasion, the way on was found blocked by debris and had to be reexcavated, whilst the entrance to Gingling Sink had opened itself up and the first ladder pitch was descended into a two foot pool. A passage was also entered under the dry stream bed and after a narrow crawl went down fifteen feet to a bedding plane where water was heard. This must presumably have been what is now termed the flood sink.

The next mention of Gingling Hole (3) is concerned with rescue operations; a member of the Moor and Fell Club broke a leg in the final chamber.

After this, the next move was by the Craven Pothole Club (4). In 1949, the Brindle brothers explored the bedding plane from the foot of the 25' shaft of Gingling Sink and after a series of short pitches reached another wide bedding plane with an undulating floor.

"In each hollow was a pool, but at last, a ridge in the floor coincided with a dip in the roof to make the passage too tight for further progress."

The N.P.C. has also been interested in the area ever since there was an N.P.C. Several of the smaller pots were explored for the first time and much thought was given to the problems of Gingling Sink. The flood sink was examined and on one occasion a storm broke whilst a party was below. They were called out hurriedly, and a few minutes later the entrance was deep under water. Malcolm Riley also reached the series of short pitches of the Brindle brothers.

My personal interest in the area started the day I dropped four pounds of fluorescein in Gingling Sink and three days later, when Brants Gill head turned green, Gingling Sink became one of my greatest obsessions. N.P.C. interests in the area became still greater (5).

Gingling Hole was reexamined and surveyed in 1951. Nothing new was found but an erroneous belief that Gingling Hole turned round on itself and that the final chamber was under the entrance shaft was dispelled. Instead, the general trend of the cave is almost in line with Brants Gill head and reaches under Fornah Gill.

By 1955, we became aware of the changeability of the area. The entrance of the flood sink disappeared under several feet of peat and gravel. But it was remembered that the explorers had been able to climb a small shaft inside and speak through the cliff face.

Our 1955 job was to open up this line of communication and pursue the original line of attack further. The first few weekends work merely established that our memories were at fault and we had to start tunnel driving again about ten feet away from our first attempt, successfully breaking in after a few weekends.

We got into the bedding plane and realised that with a bit more work we might reach the foot of Gingling Sink first pitch, but did not think this effort was justified.

After the failure of the indirect attempts, our minds began to turn to pressing the direct route - Gingling Sink itself. The Brindles' expedition had shown that even under drought conditions, the water level at the bottom could vary by 12", so it was clear that to make progress a super-drought must be established.

As genuine droughts on Fountains Fell are very rare, we began to design an artificial one. Jack Myers favoured a Grand Contour Canal to carry the beck along the moor past the sinks. I favoured getting two or three lengths of fire hose to carry the water across the sinks. I opposed Jack's idea because it sounded like too much work; Jack opposed mine because the pipe would not carry enough water.

And so, for a while, we just thought hard. Then I found myself a number of lengths of heavy duty rubber hose about five inches in diameter. I was confident we could squeeze the beck into one of them given reasonably dry weather.

Saturday, May 26th 1956, Jack, Dick Hylton and I conveyed three lengths, some 200 feet of the pipe, to Fountains Fell and made a preliminary assembly to get the water to the Flood Sink. We soon realised that the water had got back in at the foot of the first pitch of Gingling Sink.

The next day we continued work and got the water over the short stretch of turf below the Flood Sink, but once again, the water was back in at the foot of the first pitch. However, as the pitch was now dry, we had a look down to see what we could do.

Jack had a go at the wet bedding plane to the left of where the stream disappeared but decided it was too tight to get far. I went far enough to see that there was no easy way over for a very flat man, and yet this must have been the way the Brindles and Malcolm went. I was puzzled. My view ahead was partially blocked by a boulder wedged between floor and roof and surrounded by flood debris. So to make quite certain that the low bedding plane was not opening up beyond, I pulled some of the debris to one side and was most pleasantly surprised to hear a clatter, clatter, plop.

A few minutes more work and there was a boing, boing, sploosh as the boulder which covered the hole disappeared. I followed too, a little more quietly, whilst Gordon Batty negotiated the bedding plane. We descended the "series of short pitches", deciding that the last one needed a rope. The climb is easy enough, but the approach has to be made feet first along a narrow tunnel so that one cannot see one's footholds and at the bottom is a deep pool where the main stream reappears. From here we followed the bedding plane to where the "ridge in the floor coincided with a dip in the roof" - the barrier which had stopped the Brindles and was to stop us for the day.

The next day of progress was June 10th, the day after the club dinner, so there were plenty of helpers on the surface who were not eager to go down. Our first job was to extend the pipe line by two more lengths, and we were eventually rewarded by hearing a roaring sound from Gingling Hole where the water was going down a hole about 15 yards from it. The water enters about 15' up the left hand wall above the manhole at the entrance to the canal.

Gordon and Bill Holden were the only two fit for a descent that day and they departed with a hammer and chisel. They abolished the barrier, partially at any rate, and Gordon got through. The surface diversion had been successful and had allowed the pool to drain away, leaving a reasonable airspace over a canal. The water had apparently got away through a 2" wide crack, but to the left was a man-size crawl up a boulder slope and then over rock to the next pitch.

This aroused enthusiasm, so we returned to the attack the next Saturday; Gordon, Bob Goodwin and I. We took a couple of ladders with us and found that the next pitch was 20', a rock flake on the left serves as a belay. Nearby, a shower enters from the roof. From the foot of the ladder extends a wet bedding plane and after a short stretch of gravel, the water deepens to 2' whilst airspace is limited to 8". Soon a fissure in the roof allows one to stand up and then scramble up into a dry bypass passage - the first place we have met below, where one can hope to stand out of the water in even a slight flood, although even this is not a place to be if it is raining hard.

Continuing, we crawl with the stream over pebbles, hearing a waterfall ahead, and then we can stand up in an aven where the water enters. That looks like a passage to explore another day, for now the large passage formed by the combined streams leads on easily round the corner.

That is, at any rate, what we were thinking at the time, but round the corner the roof dipped down to within 18" of the water. We were in a knee deep pool and the water was going out down a low bedding plane to the left. Straight on was a 100' hands and knees crawl to a dead end. We returned elated with our progress but did not feel over optimistic about further progress downwards.

Our next trip down was a week later. We put fluorescein in the top sink of the flood beck before going down, and about half an hour later we saw the waterfall below turn green. Gordon climbed the waterfall and fixed a rope for me to follow. We found a few hundred feet of easy passage and then met a high aven. Round a corner the stream entered by a low passage which we followed mainly on hands and knees to a ruckle of boulders down which the stream was cascading. On our return we ascended a boulder slope in the aven but decided it was a bit too precarious to do much at the top.

When we got back to the waterall chamber, we observed with alarm that the flow of water had increased. Our one aim then was to get out as quickly as possible. The siphon pool level was unaltered and once beyond it we paused a moment for breath - but not for long. A not far distant roar indicated that a flood was approaching us so we sped on up the short pitches and found a strong stream occupying the first bedding plane. The bedding plane is for the most part just under 8" high but a slight meandering channel in the floor gives just enough height to get through. It is bad enough when you can see the channel, but when there is a turbulent water surface 6" below the roof, it becomes most unpleasant. The one redeeming factor was that the water was warm, in fact the climb up the entrance ladder pitch was an enjoyable shower bath.

On the surface again, the sun was shining and the thunderclouds were disappearing to the east. In the meantime, Bert Bradshaw, who had been keeping watch on the surface for us had been disturbed from his slumbers by heavy drops of rain. He had had previous experience of floods, and when he saw the dam was overtopped had gone to gather a rescue party from Green Close. Over Ingleborough the storm had been much heavier and the rescue party whom we met at Dale Head seemed surprised to see us again.

Whilst this trip had shown us that we could get out in the event of a minor flood, we realised that our pipeline had very little overload margin. If we were going to spend much time below, we would have to find a larger pipe and we now knew there was enough new ground below to justify a bit of work. Oil drums connected end to end had been suggested, but a large number would be required. We had a look over quite a few local rubbish dumps and decided that there were quite a large number available. The next Saturday we delivered 30 to the site and as the flow was small we planned to make a descent next day to make a survey using just the rubber pipe as before.

During the night there was a little more rain but not enough to upset us. Five of us got down and we started surveying back from the top end of the inlet passage. We were almost back at the waterfall when Jack claimed that the water was rising - I wasn't certain, but we didn't wait to make sure and once again we retreated at top speed. This time we got out about five minutes before the flood reached the entrance.

By now we were quite convinced that our new pipe line was imperative and Gordon, Jack and I planned to spend the second week of July on this project. We started on the Saturday and by the Thursday we had 80 oil drums leading from the dam to a weird trifurcation which we christened Flook. From here we had three rubber 5" pipes in parallel to a covered trench in the col below the Flood Sink. When we admitted water to the finished assembly, Fountains Fell lived up to its name - there were many leaks; we tried throwing in a few handfuls of sawdust to plug the leaks with some partial success, but whilst my back was turned, the tin containing the sawdust disappeared, but of this more will be said later.

In the end we decided to use the rubber pipe to carry as much water as it could whilst the oil drums would do their best to cope with any flood. After lunch we got below again and managed to finish off the survey. We also had a look where the stream finally disappeared down the low bedding plane and by removing a few boulders we eventually dropped the stream through the bottom of the pool which had previously inconvenienced us. A little more work and we were able to follow it down about eight feet to another flooded plane. As survey was our primary object, we did not push this bedding plane but left it for another trip - it is still waiting.

Since then we have not had much success below. The next time we got down we found the first bedding plane practically choked with soft peat washed in from the Flood Sink and had to plough a way through it. The level of the siphon pool had risen several inches so that we now had to duck right under to get through, so we were not in a very pushing mood when we got to the bottom.

The period July 28th to August 6th had been chosen for a mass attack by the "old timers" - but they were given an ample excuse for not descending. The period proved to be one of exceptional rainfalls, so the time was largely spent watching the great circling lakes into which the sinks developed. When we saw the cave entrance eight feet under water, we were glad to be on the surface.

During the floods we did a very rapid fluorescein test on a sink in the Flood Beck - in five minutes it reappeared 50 yards lower down.

Whilst we appreciated that the pipe line could not be expected to cope with large floods we were a little disappointed with its performance. The missing sawdust tin was blamed and we therefore broke the pipe to extract it, eventually finding it ten feet from the top end. With the blockage removed, the flow increased tremendously, but so alas did the leakage.

We had another short look down at the end of this period, but found the air space at the siphon pool to be down to two inches. We retired to await the next dry period.

When will that be ?


(1) Yorkshire Ramblers Club Journal Vol V p 215
(2) Yorkshire Ramblers Club Journal Vol VI p 154
(3) Yorkshire Ramblers Club Journal Vol VI p 314
(4) Journal of the Craven Pothole Club Vol I p 40
(5) Cave Research Group Newsletter No. 32 p 3


N.P.C. party - May 5th 1957, found the hole completely inaccessible due to a backing up of the canal which indicates a probable block of the outlet by flood debris.

The pipe line system has been dismantled and the hole temporarily abandoned for the other activities.

The Editor

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