Ludwell Fairy Holes


All caves, it would seem, were at one time regarded as the haunt of fairies (it would be a major advance in caving techniques if we could find out how they managed to keep clean and shiny), so it is necessary to distinguish one fairy hole from another by adding another name, so, as the Ludwell burn rises from this lot I call it Ludwell Fairy Holes.

At one time the system seems to have been called "The Kiddley Holes of Westernhope", a very nice name, vastly superior to the majority of cave names and well worth considering. It may be that "Kiddley" means "Fairy" - perhaps someone skilled in these matters knows or would investigate this.

Anyhow, the Kiddley Holes of Westernhope are mentioned by Morley Eggleston in a book about Weardale, written in the last century in which he publishes an account of a caving trip undertaken by some local worthies. They saw a waterfall and white fishes and stalactites. Of this trip evidence is visible in the cave.

Jack Newrick made the present discovery of the cave entrance; the entrance in the last century may have been directly in the stream bed which is now blocked by boulders. He also found the sinks in the Blaeberry Burn about two and a quarter miles away.

The O.S. Map required is "Teesdale" and the ref. for F.H. is 945373 and for the sinks 928347. The sinks are at about 1300 feet and the rising is at about 1200 feet. The limestone here is approximately 60 feet thick. So far the cave has been explored for about two-thirds of the distance from sink to rising, about two and a half miles of cave explored, about two miles surveyed. It is a single watercourse with no significant tributaries, so far, and it angles along the joints with a deep pool at every angle.

In the first three hundred or so yards there is some good calciting on the walls, but thereafter very little calcite is found, some in Vein Chamber, some in the Choir and some in the Sarcophagus.

Apart from the long traverse near the beginning and some scrambling over rock falls, the way lies in the water all the time and this makes for rather slow progress. The depth of water varies according to weather conditions and also according to the number of parties who have been up previously, kicking out dams and stirring up sandbanks. Under normal weather conditions the depth will vary from mid-calf to chest deep on the average man. At the end of the dry period in 1955 it was possible to go up without getting wet to the waist.

A year later Jack Myers and I were out of our depth in one pool, Corbel's Wader, named after a waterproof garment worn by a Frenchman called Corbell who boasted it had kept him dry in all European caves. In F.H. it sank with all hands.

The entrance is about 20 feet above the rising. It is a small hole and goes via a short crawl into a chamber, down a 20 foot easy climb into the water.

A few yards upstream you come to the waterfall, formed by a mineral vein across the passage which holds back twelve or so feet of water. On your right is a fissure leading by a devious route onto a traverse over the canal so formed, an easy traverse on broad ledges with a wide stride across a joint near the start, a clamber over a boulder and, some way along, a pool; this can be quite disconcerting the first time. After a few feet on hands and knees you emerge suddenly from a small hole eight feet above the water and clap the brakes on while you decide whether to come out head first or feet first. Here you can either go down into the water and up again on the other side or you can traverse round to the left on the calcite. At the end of the next stretch you might as well get down into the water; it's a lot quicker and you have to get there sooner or later anyhow.

Here, in the stream passage, is some good calcite; make the most of it, you won't see much more.

Four hundred yards in is Farewell Hall where the 1844 expedition turned back having left their names, the date and the name Farewell Hall chalked on the wall.

J.D Muschamp 3rd June, 1844 Geo Race and Jacob Walton

Leave their names alone, don't add your own insignificant monniker and pass on to Boulder Chamber, a large chamber 600 yards in with some fine big mussel shells in the roof and a great ramp of huge boulders opposite you.

At the foot of the boulder pile, a hole leads back into the stream and, via a duck, into the passage again. From here it is possible to climb back into Boulder Chamber arriving at the top of the boulder pile but that is a pleasure which should be reserved for floods, when the duck is too deep to negotiate and you need an escape route.

Plodge upstream until you get to Vein Chamber about a mile in. Here you climb out of the water and rest for a while in an insalubrious sort of chamber with a few straw stalactites on a vein of fluorspar.

From here, if you keep up, you get to Coral Gallery where some big corals stand out of the rock.

But back in the water lies the way, emerging at a rock fall to climb into Grave Chamber, so called because, to get further you lie in a square cut grave and wriggle through into a crawl, through another chamber and back into the water until, reaching the Choir, you finish with water for some time.

The Choir is a large chamber with a procession of stalagmites like choirboys in white surplices.

Appreciating that certain large angular blocks on the floor opposite fit precisely into large angular vacancies in the ceiling and reflecting on the effects of cave development on cavers' noddles, you pass via a short crawl to the Vestry, another large chamber which you leave by an upper way above the stream.

Somewhere about here is the end of the survey and from here the Via Dolorosa goes for an estimated 300 yards of crawling sometimes hands and knees and sometimes flat out. Mind you don't go to the left or you will land back in the Vestry.

At the end of the crawl you drop down to a sandy ledge and go up a most unlikely looking slant.

Don't take any other way. If you go forward you will get into a small chamber with difficulty and back out with even more difficulty. If you go back you will land in a curiously complex stream passage where you can fool about for hours.

So take the slant, unlikely though it looks.

Further than this I have not been but Dan Jones says that a twenty yard stoop brought him to the Sarcophagus or H Chamber, entering by the bottom right limb, and leaving by the top left.

A boulder floor here mounts to the roof then down through a small hole to a sandy passage, follows four hundred yards of roomy stream passage and the roof comes down to water level and that was drought water level at that.

Other ways have been tried with not much success though and only a little more has been added I believe.

No way in at the top end has been found though numerous searches have been made, even to the extent of reopening Westernhope New Mine in the hope that it might touch the cave, but no success was achieved.

There is some good photography in the first three or four hundred yards of the stream passage and in some chambers above formed by chocked boulders in the rift but pack your gear in a haversack under your chin; you will have to stand deep in water with nowhere to lay anything down for many shots, and it's a frustrating business when you reach behind you for your haversack and find it full of water all sloshing through your camera.

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