The weekend after our new explorations in Lower Easegill, we should have been full of enthusiasm for pressing on into the further reaches, but on the Saturday night there was some rain and the Sunday morning was rather unsettled. As the entrance to the new cave was in the stream bed, we thought we would leave it for a better day and go somewhere else for a change.
We had heard tales of a new discovery in Barbondale by the Gritstone Club, so I suggested to Jack Myers that we go and have a look at it. There was also a cave in Dentdale which Jack and I had long ago thought would justify a scaling ladder expedition, so we planned to combine the two in one expedition. Roy Wilkinson and Alan Jowett also chose to come with us.
On the way, Roy told me what he had heard of the new Barbondale cave and I began to suspect it was a cave we had done in 1952. We stopped at Ingleton and checked with the Gritstone Club that it was in fact the same cave, so that when we reached Barbondale we decided to press straight on and deal with our second objective.
High Gill Cave, or alternatively Gawthrop Cave, is situated on the east bank of High Gill about a quarter of a mile above Gawthrop. It is most easily approached by following up the track at about 750' O.D. from the Barbon-Dent road to High House. The entrance is quite obvious above where a large spring runs down the side of the hill.
The opening is about three feet high over debris but the entrance chamber is about eight feet high and is walled up for about half its width. The first 100 yards is straightforward but the roof lowers steadily down to three feet high towards the end. Apparently someone has worked on this section to make it more accessible and there are stacks of rubble along the walls rather like miners' deads. At 100 yards we enter a chamber 25 feet high and 50 feet long with the major part of the stream entering as a waterfall at one end. Thus far is well known.
Whilst Jack and I surveyed in the first section, Alan and Roy were at work with the scaling ladder. We had taken 20 feet of ladder and fortunately there was a large rectangular boulder in the middle of the chamber which provided an ideal first step. Roy ascended first and secured the top of the ladder and then the heavier members followed. The take-off at the top was a little awkward since we had to traverse a few feet over rather shaky rock covered by stalagmite and then crawl between cemented blocks. Once through all was easy and we were in a large chamber, with floor of scattered blocks and profusion of stalactites. We had to crawl over or under these blocks at a few points in the first 50 yards, but after that it was easy going in a generally roomy winding stream passage. There was one difficulty which I was the only one to appreciate; throughout this section the passage floor was in a bed of shale which must have been at least 5 feet thick and my commando sole boots gave hardly any grip. Normally underground I am quite satisfied by them but on this occasion the others in nails were far better off.
Halfway along this new section, we had to crawl for a short distance near where two large stalactites almost fill the passage and then at 480 yards from the entrance we came to a stop. A heap of limestone blocks practically filled the passage and the hole in the roof from which they had come, whilst the stream splashing down through them deterred us from a very close investigation.
On our way in we had kept a watch for signs of previous visitors and at one point in a short dry oxbow, there appeared a corduroy knee print. When we got back after surveying the new section to the top of the waterfall chamber we found a heel print so we must admit we were not the first in. In the absence of any local knowledge of new explorations and in the light of the work carried out in the old section we are led to believe that it has been visited by the "Owd Man"* and since forgotten.
When we came out we walked up the stream for about half a mile to the waterfall where the water drops over a scar of shale but did not notice any distinct sinks. Then on the way down I noticed that a portion of the water was sinking in a fissure in a small cliff on the right bank. It was only a few minutes work to divert the stream and lift out a few boulders before I was able to slip in. Roy soon followed but Jack and Alan thought it was too small for them. After the initial constriction we were in a passage about 10 feet wide and four feet high dipping down with the bedding which was locally about 1 in 3. The large passage did not last long and after about 50 yards we were crawling again, then we entered another chamber well decorated with formations with floor of fallen blocks under which the small remaining stream disappeared. Keeping to the left to avoid a particularly fine stalagmite-covered bank we crawled through into an extension of this chamber. On the left a small inlet brought in a slightly larger stream than the one we had followed and this stream then disappeared in a low passage heading back towards the main part of the chamber.
As I was anxious to get back early we did not press any further but retreated to report back to Jack and Alan who were mildly sceptical about the abundance of formations.
The next weekend Jack, Roy and I were back again, this time with Peter Haworth and Alan Fincham. We were surprised to find on this occasion that no water was reaching the new hole and it was instead sinking about 100 yards further up by a ruined sheepfold. The fissure in the stream bed was quite open but too small to offer much hope of entry. We returned to the new hole and trimmed it by hammer to Jack's size. Peer and Roy went ahead while the rest of us surveyed in.
We caught up again in the stalagmite chamber and learnt that the inlet passage was not of much interest. The downstream passage from the far end of the chamber on close investigation seemed to close right down, so we returned to where the stream disappeared amongst the fallen blocks in the middle of the chamber. The way through was easy enough - it only involved lying down in the stream and wriggling through for a couple of yards.
After that, the next 100 yards was mostly hands and knees crawling with an occasional fallen block to scramble over. For a large part of this the floor was eroded sandstone, rather harder than the shale we had met in the lower cave. Then we came into another chamber with even more stalactites than the earlier one. One we particularly noticed was Y-shaped, being attached to the roof at two points.
The end of the chamber seemed closed by a stalagmite grille, but as we estimated that we were very close to a link up with the lower cave, we decided to sacrifice this grille to make further progress. Unfortunately this progress was not very much - a small chamber and we were into a boulder ruckle which did not look very attractive. We left it at that. Afterwards, having plotted out the surveys, it seems quite certain that the two caves are separated by a short boulder blockage but there is still rather a problem about the connection.
When we were in the lower cave we did not notice any appreciable inlets apart from that right at the end. On our visit to the upper cave the stream was sinking about 100 yards above the entrance and as we checked later, a stream of about the same strength was issuing from the lower cave, whilst only a very small stream was then in the upper cave. It seems very probable that there is still a main stream passage to be found continuing at the same level as the lower cave underneath the ruckle whilst the water which we saw splashing down through the ruckle was only the small fraction from the upper cave. With the showerbath turned off, another visit to the ruckle may be more profitable.
On our second visit we noticed another peculiarity about the drainage of the area. As we walked from the road to High House we noticed there was much less water in Oliver Gill than in High Gill whilst according to the map Oliver Gill is fed by streams rising high up on Crag Side and High Gill is fed by a small group of springs within a mile of the cave.
After we had finished underground we had a quick look up Oliver Gill and found most of the water was coming from Mickle Gill whilst the main stream was sinking at about 1300' O.D. A line of shakeholes running from here to Doctor's Spring feeding High Gill strongly suggests that this is the line of underground flow. We also checked that there is no obvious leakage from Flinter Gill above here to contribute to Doctor's Spring.
* The Miner