It always rains on Sunday - especially an N.P.C. meet Sunday; and this diary originates from a number of cancelled meets.
In view of the atrocious weather conditions, our meet scheduled for A.G.Pot at Bank Holiday was cancelled. Fortunately we had no novices up for the holiday, and so the Old Guard found itself in the happy position of being able to go and do what it fancied instead of doing some abominable pothole that they felt they had to do in order to impress and inspire new members. A small party selected the Birkwith area as likely to provide amusement without undue effort or fatigue.
Five of us first of all made the through trip from Calf Holes to Browgill Cave, and surprisingly enough the only member of the party who had previously been in the system was Bert Tucker. The cave provided just what they had hoped for - amusement without undue effort or fatigue.
But it left us dissatisfied, and so we set off to "collect" a few more of the local caves. We decided to leave Birkwith until the last with a view to having a splash in the canal to finish off the day, and the next entrance we found after much searching was that of Dismal Hill Cave (and what a dismal hill cave it did indeed look). The description of the cave given in "Britain Underground" is rather vague, and we had little idea of what was coming apart from the description of the entrance, which is accurate. We crawled into the bedding cave, climbed down the pitches, crawled through a low cave with a gravel floor, and entered a rift. This closes in after a few yards at both ends, but in the floor is a very low bedding cave.
I made a half-hearted attempt to penetrate this which is not mentioned in "Britain Underground", but retreated to let someone of lesser girth go through first. Tony Newton went in and I followed cautiously and squeezily, repeatedly demanding reassurance that it was getting bigger all the time. I didn't relish in the least having to retreat feet first. However, it obviously was getting easier (and wetter), and soon Tony announced that he was into a large stream passage. I called on Dick Hylton and Colin Green to follow on while Bert kept a lone vigil on the outer end.
The stream passage we entered is a big one, and the stream it carried on that day was a very big one. Tony and I went downstream while Dick and Colin went upstream.
The water deepened downstream and we were soon traversing in the roof over a canal; it was at this stage that we suspected we were in an extension of the Birkwith canal - or even over the canal itself. We looked for signs of previous exploration and were disappointed to find them, although it was obvious that it was no well-trodden path that we were on. Rock flakes, footholds and handholds were very sharp, there were very few nail scratches, and formations showed little sign of damage. We continued to traverse downstream, always over the canal, until the roof traverse developed the shape of a cross and then closed in. Tony was able to go a few yards further than I could; he reported that the canal continued, but there was foam on it suggesting a siphon. Also there were two sets of initials with the date, July 1956. There are some very pretty formations in the roof traverse, and in particular I can recollect an ochre-stained curtain and some magnificent small crystal pools.
Upstream, Dick and Colin found that much the same happens. The water deepens after a few yards and soon becomes too deep to negotiate; however, an apparent end to the cave can be seen, with the walls closing in leaving only a small opening above water level. The roof traverse closes in almost immediately.
We were intrigued by this stream passage, realising that it was probably an intermediate section between Old Ing Cave and Birkwith Cave, and during the next few days we were told various stories which intrigued us even more. Norman Thornber was aware of a rumour that some local lad had in bygone days entered Old Ing Cave and eventually emerged from Birkwith. Jack Myers met an individual who knew an individual who had been through from Dismal Hill to Birkwith. A member of another club told me that he had once been trapped in the upper reaches of Birkwith by a sudden rise in the water level; the water was very high when we were in Dismal Hill, and perhaps the signs of a siphon that Tony saw are only there at high water.
There was certainly sufficient to create interest; a section of cave we had no record of and rumours of a through trip. We decided that further investigations were warranted when the opportunity presented itself.
I would not have missed our trip into Birkwith cave for anything. It is admittedly an easy cave, but nevertheless enjoyable, especially for anyone who is sufficient of a Water Baby to relish exploring the canal.
The cancellation of our Nick pot meet was, for me, one of the happiest decisions the N.P.C. ever made - cancelled on account of weather conditions again, thundery showers being forecast. So seven of us went up to the Birkwith area with the idea of surveying Birkwith Cave and Dismal Hill Cave and trying to make a connection between them.
We persuaded Brian Heys, Peter Haworth and Roger Rhodes that they had the best physique for surveying Dismal Hill Cave. The rest of us went into Birkwith equipped with a rubber dinghy, Trevor's air-bed (secreted from Club H.Q. without his knowledge) and a measuring tape but no compass. Gordon Batty, in reply from a question from Dave Gibbon, assured him that the cave was perfectly dry apart from the water.
We soon reached the canal, having forgotten all about any surveying, and inflated our "boats"; the plug for Jack Myers' dinghy was missing, so we had to improvise with some well-pulped paper - but more about this later. I tried floating on the air bed and it obliged by immersing me to about the same degree as an iceberg - that is about threequarters underwater ! Loud guffaws of course from the rest of the party. Well at this stage one might as well complete the job of getting soaked, so I tested the canal to find out if it was too deep even for someone of my height - it was.
We next tried the dinghy. Gordon knelt in the front and I sat in the back with legs dangling in the water. Gordon could well use a few steering lessons, for we proceeded very slowly up (and down) the canal looking, as Brian Beardwood put it, "Like a ruddy lighthouse, lamps rotating, and slowly disappearing into the distance". Eventually we reached a place where Gordon could climb out onto some rocks and I returned for Brian. We soon sorted out the steering problem, and proceeded straight past Gordon until the dinghy could go no further. These dinghies are rather wide, and the walls of the cave had closed in until we were firmly jammed between them. It was obvious though that the air-bed would go further.
We returned Gordon, I climbed out and Brian went to pick up Dave and the air-bed. Gordon and I decided to try going forward on the rocks and were surprised to find that the water was quite shallow at that point for several yards; we went out of our depth on either side of this stretch and so returned to our sanctuary on the rocks. The rest of the party soon reappeared, and Brian decided to enliven matters by falling in as he climbed out of the dinghy. He quickly silenced Dave's guffaws by tipping him out also. Dave became the first of us to be completely submerged - and I am surprised that the surveyors in Dismal Hill could not hear our shrieks of mirth.
Eventually we sorted things out and, "determined but moist" like Sam Oglethwaite, set off to conquer the rest of the canal. At this stage it didn't much matter about lying partially submerged on an air bed, so I set off on it up the cave. A few yards beyond where we had got to in the dinghy the flat roof changed to a gothic arch; the walls closed in, the arch rapidly decreased in height, and the cave ended in a wall of rock. There is no hope of getting any further except by diving. A few yards before the end is a low arch in the right hand wall; it is possible to peer under this by submerging half one's face. There is something on the other side, but it is quite impossible to get through on any kind of float; something like a Mae West life jacket would be more suitable for this. However, there is no sign of ventilation from beyond the arch.
We inspected the roof with our lights carefully but fruitlessly, hoping to find a roof traverse which would take us to Dismal Hill Cave. We blew whistles for some time, and the surveyors in Dismal Hill had been asked to do likewise; but neither party heard the whistles of the other. The retreat was not without incident. We lost the bung from the dinghy and the support party only just made it back to the halfway rocks without foundering. Dave set off back for land on the air bed, but punctured it before reaching the shore - we could hear his desperate threshings over the last few yards from our rocks. Further attempts to improvise a plug for the dinghy from string, mud, cloth, and other miscellaneous items failed, and the first of two final trips back to land was made with a finger placed firmly over the plug hole, and a vigorous paddling to reach shore before the unfortunate finger dropped off. Ashore we scrounged some soggy cigarette packet from Dave; there is something about soggy cigarette packets which make them excellent for improvised plugs, and we were soon able to rescue Gordon without further incident. This isn't by any means the first exploration of the Birkwith canal, but, by Jiminy, I'll bet Fred Carnot's army could not have made a more slapstick job of the operation !
On the way out Gordon and I had a look at the low passage which continues straight back from the beginning of the canal. It rapidly becomes very low and develops into a wide bedding cave containing many old formations which reach from roof to floor. A striking feature about this passage was that it carried a strong draught which was going out from the canal - but there was no noticeable draught anywhere else in the cave. Perhaps there is some high level connection between Birkwith and Dismal Hill Caves, but if so it is not negotiable to humans.
It was still quite early when we emerged from Birkwith, so Gordon and I decided to have a look at Old Ing Cave; the entrance is exactly where marked in "Britain Underground", although on our previous visit we had not been able to find it. Just inside the entrance we were surprised by an odour of perfume, but assumed that our senses of smell were playing tricks. However, further down the cave we caught up with three obvious novices - we presume that one of them was using a particularly pungent hair oil. These three were attempting some quite hair-raising traverses in a vain attempt to keep their feet dry; little did they know what was coming ! We followed them along, asking silly questions and being helped across awkward pools; presumably they hadn't noticed that we were already completely saturated.
Eventually we did reach the final pool. Our leader, complete with immersion suit, went in thigh deep and pronounced the end of the cave. Gordon and I insisted on seeing what a siphon looked like, and whilst our guides pottered back up the passage we investigated the pool in more detail. Its about 20 feet long, 6 feet wide and well over 6 feet deep. We could not reach the far end, but could see that the walls did not close in completely; a gap about a foot wide and three feet high (above water level) continued - and we thought that with luck it might take us into Dismal Hill Cave. But we shall need our Mae Wests on again before the connection can be attempted.
It was several weeks before I found a convenient opportunaity to visit the caves of the Birkwith area again. But in the meantime a lot of good work had been put in by Brian Heys and others. Brian had surveyed Birkwith Cave, and then, presumably to complete the area, surveyed the Browgill-Calf Holes system.
Brian and Roger Rhodes also had taken dinghies into Dismal Hill Cave and investigated the canals in detail. They chose an abominably wet day to do this (the Sunday we had to cancel our Rumbling Hole meet), when the water must have been at least a foot above its normal level. The first time we went into Dismal Hill Cave, Tony Newton had seen foam on the downstream canal and it is not surprising that foam was there in abundance when Brian went sailing. He apparently pressed on through it to the "bitter" end however, and according to Roger returned looking as though he had been wallowing in a tank of frothy bitter. They found that both ends of the cave terminated in siphons.
On the present occasion, Alan Fincham and I plotted to finish off the job with the aid of frogman suits; we had the final pool in Old Ing Cave and the low arch near the end of the Birkwith canal to investigate. He went up with the Leeds University Speleos who were having a beginners' meet in the area, and I went up "en famille". Brian Heys and an unknown frogman also appeared, equipped with a rubber dinghy.
My previous visits to the Birkwith area all seem to have yielded these little extra adventures which make the day especially memorable - and this trip was no exception. The family and I went up to Old Ing cave, and Alan Fincham said he would be up shortly, probably with others. I was intending to introduce Jowett Minor to his first wet cave, anticipating that he would enjoy a paddle down the nearer section. As we were preparing for the descent, Kathleen observed, "There's a black cow coming to visit us." I looked round at the black cow, and like all black cows, it was a bull. I raised the alarm as it started to trot towards us, and we managed by a few feet to beat it into the cave. I can honestly say that this is the first time I have ever been forced to go caving. The bull stamped and snorted around, tossing Kath's red plastic mac in the air, and we just sat and waited, wondering what kind of reception the others would get. Eventually we heard voices, and I went to the entrance just in time to warn Alan and another individual as the bull started charging. They also fled into the cave, and were shortly followed by rucksacks and other pieces of equipment. Fortunately, this latter performance had been observed from a distance by others, who disappeared over the nearest wall and then collected a farmer who was handy. As Alan and I made a desperate sortie from the cave, shouting rude words and flinging rocks (with good effect), a highly amused farmer appeared on top. "Nay lad, he's nobbut a baby", says he, and then proceeded to chase the beast over the moor in his Land-Rover. Its all very well saying things like that when you're in a Land-Rover !
After this little adventure we got down to business. The frogman suits were donned outside the cave, and we had the pleasure of being able to plunge through deep pools in comfort while others struggled to traverse over them or gasped for breath. We inspected the final pool in detail, but there is no continuation above water. Underwater the passage is still large and would be of interest to cave divers. The frogman suits were ideal for this kind of investigation; they retained sufficient air to allow us to float across the pool without effort, and the smallest of nooks and crannies could be investigated thoroughly - and, above all, we remained completely dry.
On coming out of Old Ing Cave, we met Brian Heys and his colleague; they had been in Dismal Hill Cave unsuccessfully trying to lower the water level by removing a flake of rock. They decided to accompany Alan and me on another inspection of the Birkwith canal, and one of the Leeds Speleos, armed with immersion suit and two inner tubes, decided to come also. Our battle flotilla of one dinghy, three frogmen, and bod with inner tubes must have made quite an impressive sight as it departed up the canal. We examined the end carefully and convinced ourselves that there was no way through either above or below water. Alan and I bobbed under the low archway and were delighted to find ourselves in a parallel canal about 60 feet long and three feet wide with a gothic arch roof up to four feet above water level. At each end the walls close in and the roof dips. In it are some fine white stalactite curtains and straws up to three feet long. This canal presumably forms a closed air pocket at high water; the formations appeared to be quite untouched by the water.
Our investigations in the Old Ing to Birkwith Cave system were completed on this trip. The rumour of a through trip is just a rumour now disposed of. There are still sections of unexplored cave but entry into these is not possible without spades, hammers, and in all probability cave divers; also it is not quite certain which streams are entering the system. Although our hopes of a through trip have been dashed, we are able to look back on many happy hours spent in this rather neglected cave system.
Prior to this August there has been little N.P.C. interest or activity in this area and there is not much reliable information in the Club Records. There have been rumours of interconnections between some of the caves, so to fill this gap in the records and clear up the rumours we started a survey of the known caves. Due to new discoveries elsewhere, attention was diverted from this project but the results to date are being published to show what prospects there are for further work.
Our first survey trip was Dismal Hill Cave, whilst at the same time Alan Jowett & Co. were in Birkwith Cave. On this occasion we were traversing in the roof above the canal and though we whistled we could not establish contact with the other party. Till then we had believed a connection was possible. On a later trip we took in a dinghy and managed to progress at water level for a further 30 feet beyond the limit of our roof traverse. The water level was abnormally high so we made yet another trip under drier conditions and a swimmer was able to add another 20 feet in a narrow fissure which eventually got too narrow.
When we surveyed Birkwith Cave we did not have a long enough measuring line to measure the canal. It has therefore been plotted as 110 yards long, the figure given in "Caves and Caving" volume 1, p 119. This means the unknown connection must be very short.
We already had a survey of Old Ing Cave but as it was of doubtful accuracy we decided to repeat the stretch from the entrance to sump. The inlet passage is from Arthur Gemmel's survey and is believed to be reliable.
When Gordon reported the low passage continuing from the downstream end in Birkwith cave we wondered if there could possibly be a connection with the known upstream passage from Calf Holes so we decided to survey this also though it was outside our initial area of interest.
This latter passage which is mostly crawling ends in a rather fine waterfall chamber - worthy of a scaling ladder trip, though there is only about 100 yards further to the sink which presumably feeds it.
At the same time we did the downstream passage in search of the known through way to Browgill. We had more or less abseiled down Calf Holes and it was therefore very desirable to find a through way. I had not been in before and so we surveyed a bit of branch passage which was off the route before managing to get through the right bit of tight crawl into the part of Browgill which I knew from a previous trip.
Our knowledge of the water flow in the area is still far from complete. Only one fluorescein test has given a result; fluorescein from the sink near the mouth of Dismal Hill Cave was seen later in the canal in the cave. It may be that it reached the canal through an underwater opening in the side of the canal or it may have come through the length of the cave from the sump. It was not seen in this upstream section but that might be because it was flowing so swiftly at the time. It certainly did not pass through the crawl.
The flow from Old Ing to Dismal Hill must be presumed because of the large size of the stream involved and the connection on to Birkwith is obvious from the survey.
The source of the stream seen at the entrance of Old Ing is doubtful. The survey marks three sinks to the north and east of the entrance but the most obvious of these, about 100 yards to the north, appears to be rather low in level and on occasions to take too much water to be feeding Old Ing.
Most of the water falling down Calf Holes comes from the rising 200 yards to the northeast which is presumably fed from a group of sinks 200 yards further east. This is near to the sink we have presumed to feed the upstream passage of Calf Holes and it is difficult to decide just which feeds which.
The writer is grateful to Bill Holden, Roger Rhodes and Peter Howarth, all of the N.P.C., and to Arthur Maxwell, imported from Rugby for an aquatic trip, for all the help they have given in the survey.