R. Hart

The excavation leading to the discovery of Low Douk Cave was begun during Easter, 1961. The large cave entrance lies at the lower end of the same field as Marble Steps Pot, and the small stream which enters the cave sinks among the glacial drift which forms its floor. Colin Green, Gordon Batty and Jeff Hart started to dig a shaft against the northern wall of the open cave in an attempt to follow what seemed to be a major point in the roof and wall. When I joined them some weeks later, this shaft had reached a considerable depth and was walled up against the infill, some of the spoil being used for a dam to keep out flood water. The major joint showed signs of becoming a horizontal cave passage, but alas this turned out to be rather small and still contained a lot of infill. Much effort was vainly expended on this passage by the original trio before the dig was temporarily abandoned in July, 1961.

Gordon and I returned to the dig in the snow of December, 1962, mainly because Low Douk was a dry dig near the road, but also because Gordon had a bright idea about it. His idea was to try to continue the shaft downswards instead of trying to force the horizontal passage. Our efforts in this direction met with some success when the removal of a large flat slab revealed a more-or-less vertical open shaft about fifteen feet deep, taking in a strong, very cold draught. This could not be descended immediately because of a constriction about halfway down.

Some work with a hammer the following Saturday removed the constriction, but all that could be seen at the bottom was a slope a big black boulders. We concluded that the whole shaft was an oxbow, with the top end above the fill, the bottom end below. After scraping around in the bottom of the hole, we left, feeling on the whole, that things didn't look so good. However, Saturday 29th December saw us there again. Poking about in the bottom with a lump hammer, Gordon discovered that part of the wall was decidedly portable, and promptly portered it. He found that the draught was disappearing along a slope, between the wall and the boulders. Stones, thrown down this seemed to indicate considerable empty space beyond, and perhaps a pitch. Luckily, the boulders in this vicinity were not too large, and an hour or so's work with hammer and chisel made the gap just about man-size. Sliding down, we found ourselves standing at the bottom of a boulder slope in a large flat chamber, with a small stream emerging from a low bedding cave and vanishing into a narrow rift at the other side.

The exploration proper then began. We followed the stream along the rift passage, which was narrow and tortuous, and very high in some places. It frequently proved easier to traverse above the stream than to struggle along in the lower part of the rift. The passage was decorated with occasional small formations and numerous sharp projecting pieces of rock. Eventually, the rift emerged at the top of a short pitch in a large, high chamber. The pitch proved to be climbable (with care), and on the right at the bottom there was a heap of earth and boulders, which might conceal an inlet. The stream flows away to the left in a passage of roughly circular cross-section, having many gritstone boulders on the floor. This soon degenereated into a damp crawl lasting about fifty feet. The crawl opened out into a large rift passage, and a short distance along this we found a big aven with a small stream coming down it. There were a few possible climbs in the vicinity which might have revealed the source of this stream, but we ignored them and continued along the rift. This shortly split up into two smaller passages, with the stream following the right hand one down a short descent and into a sump. The left hand passage was dry and sandy, and went on for about a hundred feet before sloping steeply downwards into another sump. Both sumps seemed quite final, but we were still hopeful that we would find a continuation of the cave somewhere. We made our way out, not without some effort, to complete the first exploration of the cave in about three hours.

The next weekend, we returned with Jeff for another look round. On the way in, our compass showed that the general direction taken by the cave was south west. By traversing over the top of the pitch in "Steps Chamber", we entered a passage of good size: this went on for some distance and finall emerged at the top of a wide shaft about thirty feet deep. We were somewhat disappointed when closer inspection revealed that this was the top of the big aven up which we had looked the week before. Returning to the main passage, we went on to investigate the climbs which had noticed the previous week. These gave access to a sort of sloping ledge covered in sticky mud. Jeff tried hard to climb an aven where the mud seemed to be coming from, but without success. Gordon had better luck when he climbed into a small passage which crossed over the main rift and came out on the other side of the big aven again.

One other discovery was made; we climbed down into the stream to complete Jeff's conducted tour. After looking at the first sump, Jeff went along the sandy passage towards the second (on his hands and knees for some reason!). On the way, he found a small hole in the sand, which we had missed. This hole was draughting inwards, so there is presumably an airspace above the sump somewhere. A dig was started on the spot, and subsequently continued, but no way over the sump has been found yet.

The cave was surveyed some weeks later by Gordon Batty and Albert Wilson. A successful water test has yet to be done; the nearest sink, Marble Steps, has been tested to Keld Head in Kingsdale. However, the Ireby Fell Cavern is not very far away, and the stream here has been tested as far as Notts Pot, which is assumed to drain to Leck Beck Head. A successful test at Low Douk would serve to delineate the watershed between Kingsdale and Leck Beck. If it should turn out that Low Douk does in fact drain westward, this would point to the existence of a (possibly drowned) cave system crossing the whole of Ireby Fell and Leck Fell.

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