Brian Heys, writing in an earlier number of this journal, claimed that no single person could be blamed for discovering Hammer Pot, and all the misery and suffering it brought to its explorers. During the similar exploration and toiling done at Echo Pot, one person kept very quiet, and watched us with interest from afar:- Echo's sole discoverer and christener, Brian Heys.
In 1958, Brian and I were prodding shake holes in the High Cow Close area of Fountains Fell. This area had for some time interested us, being flanked by the terminal points of Gingling Hole, Hammer Pot and Magnetometer Pot.
A stream normally sinks to the north, and a continuing dry valley runs down through the area. Work at the stream sink had yielded no results, but just below the sink a small shaft leading to a shattered chamber was later uncovered. The stream could be heard beneath the boulder floor of the chamber, but it was too constricted for further work.
Brian was hammering a block in the bottom of a shake hole in the dry valley, when he heard resounding echoes from each hammer thump. An accoustical assessment of the surroundings proved that the echoes were from a chamber immediately below, and a little clearing revealed the first 32 foot pitch.
I was not present the following weekend; it being the club's immemorable "climbing" meet in North Wales, with Bert Tucker's tilley truck. The only events I can recall are Trevor sitting down in Bethesda cinema, and a whole row of seats collapsing; and Bert's famous oration on Snowdon, condemning mountain top cafes, followed half-an-hour later by his gulping down many cups of tea at the summit cafe.
At Echo Pot the first pitch was descended and an easy winding passage followed to a narrow rift, later named the first quarried fissure. The surface party included Alan Jowett and his son. As Jack Myers emerged from the entrance great shouts of "Daddy, Daddy, why does Uncle Jack look so dirty today ?" came from Jowett junior.
With other work at Silverdale Gill, Echo Pot was forgotten about until September, 1960.
About this time we had given up at Silverdale for the third (or was it fourth ?) time; the stempling of Hammer Pot had been stopped and we were wondering where to dig next on Fountains Fell. Echo Pot's entrance was found to have collapsed, and a few weekends were spent digging it out and building a Gordon Batty type dry stone wall.
Then started the long quarrying work, Saturday after Saturday, at the first barrier. The chief quarriers were Jeff and Bob Hart, Gordon Batty and myself. Slowly the fissure was widened to body width. We were urged on by echo noises again that appeared to be resounding from a chamber beyond; and by the thought of Jack Myers' large theoretical cave that he had somehow calculated must exist beyond the fissure.
All this proved correct when after 12 feet of fissure we climbed down an 8 foot pitch into an easy walking passage.
This passage led to a chamber and in the floor lay a magnificent hemispherical bowl of limestone. We think it is quite a unique water worn rock. Beyond the chamber, the passage, now very low, was blocked with calcited boulders.
A 25 foot pitch just before the boulder blockage, landed into a roomy chamber with a perfectly circular floor. We were very disappointed to see that the way out of this chamber was a bedding plane no more than 1 foot high. Gordon wriggled on, and found a rock bridge blocking it; but he could see a crawlable way beyond. So again the quarriers got to work and removed this second barrier.
On the next trip were Jeff Hart, Gordon Batty and myself. Jeff pressed on first, along the bedding, past the now broken up rock bridge and wriggled flat out into a canal. He was just able to keep his head above water and protested loudly.
His 78 inches of body length were too much to wriggle back again, and anyway we were not going to let him, so he carried on followed by Gordon and I.
After a sharp and awkward bend we slithered out of this horrible water and mud filled canal, into a crawl with a very irregular and jagged floor. And for the third time the stone smashers had to spend a couple of weekends removing an obstructing block; the third barrier.
Beyond, the crawl continued with a narrow rift in the floor, which always delighted in swallowig hammers and chisels into irretrievable positions. A final headlong wriggle landed us in a small chamber with what looked like a sump, and no apparent way on.
Jeff examined the "sump", said he could see an airspace above it, and was prepared to have a go. Gordon and I just shivered and gave him every encouragement. After all, we thought, Jeff had just qualified in New Cave Exploration Techniques, at the probationary members training school, being run by a certain member at Limekiln Pot - and we would have attempted underwater squeezes when we were his age.
So through he went, and emerged into a dry bedding plane beyond. I have never liked this "Bird Bath" squeeze since on one occasion I jammed in it with my face under water.
Jeff carried on to a drop of 8 feet, and entered a narrow rift passage. Gordon and I could hear shouts of "Come on"; to which we replied that we would if he could drain the "Bird Bath" for us. So back Jeff wriggled, lowered the level by a few inches , and we followed on. The Limekiln Pot Training School had certainly taught him to respect the wishes of us older members !
The rift passage soon turned through a right angle where the fourth barrier was reached. Having broken up this awkward block, a long narrow rift appeared, about 60 feet in length, dead straight. The first 25 feet were too narrow to wriggle along, with any safety.
So started many weekends' arduous work of knocking down the walls of this narrow 25 foot section. Bob Hart was the best tool for this job. Being long and exceptionally thin he could wield hammer and chisel well along the rift.
Finally 21 feet were widened out; and with only a few feet to go we were able to get a look into 40 feet of easily crawlable passage.
In the distance was the rumble of a stream. We liked to think that this was the stream sinking further up the valley, where the digs at the beginning of this article were mentioned.
As usual, with the coming of better weather the work was discontinued. In August 1961 there were tremendous floods in Craven. The Club's tackle was trapped in A.G. Cavern, until a washed in blockage of gritstone boulders was removed. The drystone wall above Echo Pot was knocked down with the force of water; and Bob Caton told us that a great wave of water washed over his tractor bonnet. We did not worry about Echo Pot, assuming that nothing could block it.
In December 1961, Al Wilson, Ken Ashton and I were feeling very despondent after Ireby Fell Cavern had blocked, only one week after we had reopened it. Ken had missed both the trips that bottomed the Cavern, and when he finally came for his first trip down, the thing had fallen in. The Ashton "Hoo-Doo" had obviously hit the Cavern.
When on the following weekend he accompanied us to Echo Pot for his first trip down, I remember joking on the surface that his "Pot-Blocking" powers could have no possible effect at Echo.
Everything went well until the bottom of the 25 foot pitch. I landed in a pool of water, where normally was dry rock. The bedding plane was flooded with about 2 inches of air space remaining. I went in on my back as far as I safely could, and started swishing my legs in the hope that I might release a dam of blocking clay.
All I did was to make a wave that swished across my face. I swallowed an unpleasant amount, and my immersion suit filled up. So we sadly retreated.
Ashton's wretched blocking magic had struck again ! His friends now refuse to go on walks with him, that pass by Gaping Ghyll, just in case ......
The final catastrophe occurred at the entrance - an incident that we have never dared tell to Gordon Batty. The writer was climbing out up the dry stone wall, in his usual clumsy manner, when it partially collapsed beneath him. We are hoping that Gordon will come and rebuild it when he is tired of his present occupation of house building in Settle.
So now we will have to wait and see whether the next flood washes out the blockage, or makes it worse. The sides of the bedding crawl were of clay; so the floods in all probability washed these in.
With a good neck seal immersion suit it would be quite possible to progress further along the flooded bedding; the main trouble being that there is no room to turn.
The present Fountains Fell Team still consider that Echo Pot offers the best hope on Fountains Fell; if and when we can get into that section mysteriously shown on Gordon's survey as "Surveyed but Unexplored !"
And finally, our thanks to Mr. H.Caton for permission to open and explore the pot during the last few years.