Interest in Silverdale Ghyll was first aroused by Mr. Caton of Neals Ing in the summer of 1947. He contacted members of the N.P.C. and suggested the club should dig in that area.
A party of club members along with Mr. Caton inspected the site and decided to dig out the main water sink in the Ghyll.
During the summer holidays, several members of the club spent a few days excavating a hole of some 18 feet depth in loose boulders and silt without any apparent success. Whilst this dig was in progress a rift about 25 feet deep was discovered nearby in a small depression. Although water from the main sink could be heard from the bottom of this hole, no trace of it could be seen.
Over a period of several weeks only a small amount of digging was done, together with the use of a large number of "Giant Powders" which littered the countryside with debris, frightened motorists and gave the sheep heart attacks. No apparent change in the dig was noticed. Later the hole was fenced around and completely forgotten as the time of merrymaking was close at hand.
Silverdale Ghyll was completely ignored for five years until 1952 when "Jim" and "The Little Stiff Chap" decided to have a further look at the rift discovered in 1947.
This intrepid pair found a small shaft leading from the level previously reached, and, on the following evening, came prepared to venture into the unknown. After much struggling T.L.S.C. succeeded in wedging his anatomy in this cul-de-sac of a rift. By attempting to retrieve T.L.S.C., "Jim" managed to pull several hundredweights of the roof onto his back and dare not remove them in fear of dislodging something onto T.L.S.C. With difficulty, the offending rocks were removed from the back of the "amateur Atlas" and a hasty retreat was made to the surface. T.L.S.C. was then heard to remark - "If that is speleology, I am promptly going to terminate my activities" - or words to that effect which are unprintable.
Now we come to the "New Team" who use their heads for purposes other than hanging their hats on.
I was spurred on to write this article after hearing, on good authority, that at least one per cent of club members waded through my semi-scientific dissertation on Fornah Ghyll Cave, in a former journal.
Knowing how about 99 per cent of N.P.C. members only bother to read short concise statements, I can summarise Silverdale Ghyll by:- "60 foot shaft dug out - leads to nowhere of importance."
To the other one per cent, anxiously awaiting details, here goes:
December, 1957. The Club's Great Fountains Fell Addict had developed a phase for digging on hilltops and impossible silted up fissures. He, in his peculiar way, insisted that they were promising.
Gordon Batty and I inspected one of his digs just to the East of Silverdale Ghyll Road, and agreed that it looked good, in that it might lead into the chimney of a disused lime kiln nearby. Apart from that, we weren't very interested in "Pot Pot".
We walked over to Silverdale Ghyll Pot, across the road. A little prodding uncovered a continuation to the main fissure.
The following day, suffering from the effects of the Christmas Dinner, we staggered to the pot accompanied by Keith Asquith of the B.P.C.
The water was now all sinking into a pool upstream of the pot, and we were able to descend the main pot - now completely dry.
And so commenced the months of bucket hauling of washed-in stones and clay.
We started hauling using a paint pot, on a rope. Quickly realising the immensity of our task, we widened the fissure. This gave sufficient room to use a bucket, and the inevitable tripod and pulley arrangement followed.
With January came the snow and biting winds, but we struggled on. An opposition team, in the race to Brantsgill Head also struggled on across the road at Pot Pot; led by the Great Fountains Fell Addict.
Every Sunday the G.F.F.A. and apprentices would visit us, muttering about impossible blockages of glacial drift. As we found out to our cost some months later, his remarks were completely true.
Only on one occasion in the club's history has the G.F.F.A.'s lust for digging on Fountains Fell been seen completely to break down:- A strong snow blizzard was blowing around the pot, one Saturday afternoon, when suddenly things started to look good. An open washed fissure appeared and a strong wind whistled through.
But the G.F.F.A., in his peculiar way, frozen and stiff with cold, threw down his crow bar and drove off at break neck speed.
We enlarged the sink upstream of the pot, to ensure that it would be dry under all conditions of the stream. Several water diversion trenches were dug. I would especially mention the work and cooperation of the following in this task of trench digging and water diversion:-
William Holden - for making an excellent trench lined and slabbed over in Neo-Gothic architectural style. The whole thing proved to be completely useless apart from being a good hiding place for tools and a grand puzzle for archaeologists of future generations.
Trevor Reynolds - who excelled in making little diversion dams. These, though very pretty at the time, were soon washed away and quickly blocked the main sink that had been so arduously dug out by certain other gents a few days before.
By such coordinated efforts do our N.P.C. projects always succeed (?).
And finally, to Brian Beardwood and Brian Unsworth who dug most of a trench for diverting the main stream past the pot and on down the valley. May the North West Electricity Board bear no grudge against them for the chaos they so nearly caused to the scheme for laying on power to the valley ! Overhead power cables were being run up to Dale Head House and beyond. The N.W.E.B. erectd telegraph poles at 60 fot intervals up the ghyll, right past the pot. The following Sunday we arrived for the opening ceremony of the new diversion trench. We hoped the water would not flood on down to Stainforth. Our fears were unfounded - it chose to sink right at the base of one of the power cable poles.
We stood petrified, waiting for the pole to topple over, with the water undermining the foundation, and maybe dragging others with it. But it remained upright - and is to this day.
The attraction of the dig dragged one or two members from their armchairs, members whom we rarely see at Greenclose.
One such arrived with an enormous vegetarian lunch - slung over his shoulder, in a persil-white pillow case.
Having comfortably seated himself on a nearby slab of rock, he laid out his array of herbal mixtures and vegetable sausages.
So intent was he on his eating that he failed to notice that hundreds of eyes were watching - the sheep of Penyghent were wondering what had intruded on their sacred domain.
Two hours later, finished lunch, he slung the pillow case over his shoulder and set off across the field for home.
Then they descended on him - hundreds and hundreds of sheep; from Penyghent, Dale Head, and up the Ghyll they came. The poor fellow managed to scramble over the wall and roar off to Settle on his famous Harley-Davidson motor bike.
The weather grew worse, and so did our transport - Gordon Batty's Jowett van.
One memorable Sunday morning we set out from Greenclose trying to convince ourselves that a small knocking from the engine was only a loose something-or-other; nothing to really worry about.
Through Clapham there was a distinct knocking; in Austwick we felt rather embarassed by a loud clanking disturbing the village; and by the time we reached Stainforth heads were popping out of windows to see what sounded more like a decrepit steam engine than a Jowett van.
It gave one final gasp and collapsed in a heap, halfway up the Silverdale Ghyll road.
When N.P.C. members land in such a situation with their transport, one thought immediately flashes across the mind - SEND FOR JIM.
This was duly done, and during the following weekends, essential repairs were carried out.
Heavy snow presented an ideal opportunity to learn how to ski, and an excuse not to dig.
Bert Tucker discovered that broomsticks are not a good substitute for ski sticks. Bob Leakey tried to teach us jump turns, but his dog, always following close at heel, seemed to manage them far better than we could.
When next skiing season comes, Trevor Reynolds would be well advised to obtain a pair of skis that don't keep coming off his boots and sailing off downhill on their own.
The Jowett van was repaired, and we made anotherattempt to get it up the road to Silverdale Ghyll. This resulted in sliding back into the ditch and once again a SEND FOR JIM S.O.S. went out.
Then one fine Spring Sunday morning saw great excitement amongst those assembled at the pot - A "Member Of The Old Team" is due to arrive any minute to lend a hand !
At the respectable hour of 3 p.m. the M.O.T.O.T. appears over the horizon. Offers to lend caving gear are heaped upon him. He staggers into Graham Harrison's yellow pullover, and pops the seam; pulls on Gordon Batty's digging suit, and busts the zip fastener. Colin Green's helmet comes right over his eyes and is so large he can wear it backways, frontways or sideways.
Like a knight in armour, he descends to the bottom of the shaft. We on the surface are quiet, and listen - there is mumbling and scuffling in the depths. Then - a shout - a cry of agony and pain. Ten minutes after descending the Member Of The Old Team has resurfaced.
The M.O.T.O.T. gives us advice - we should "carry on digging" - and he disappears back to the comfort of his sitting room in Settle.
The dig soon developed into a second pitch that we shored up and rigged with a scaling ladder.
On the Sunday before Easter, we wriggled into a clean washed fissure, in which one could stand up.
At eye level were two boreholes, easily big enough to wriggle along - and the draught was terrific. Very excited, we celebrated at Helwith Bridge Hotel that evening. Once again, I was stranded at Greenclose for the Sunday night and rolled into work four hours late on Monday morning.
Good Friday - a large party gathered at the pot. Graham Harrison was first through the borehole and entered a small chamber, whose roof must be very near the surface. We crawled on following the draught into a chamber full of gritstone boulders, and that was the end; digging and boulder shifting was too dangerous.
The other borehole led to a chamber too dangerous to enter. An abortive attempt was made to clear some of the loose boulders with a hoe. (This hoe is now lying at the far end of Fornah Ghyll Cave. Anyone returning it to Dick Hylton at Greenclose will receive his blessing).
In 1958, a slump had occurred in Fountains Fell digging activities, but we had not forgotten the strong draughts that whitled down the Silverdale Ghyll boreholes. We decided that rather than potter about in the shattered chambers beyond the boreholes, we would dig straight on down the main shaft.
So we constructed a winch in Leach and Burgess' workshop. It was very effective - being driven by a JAP engine with a friction drum round which one looped the hauling rope.
The edge of the pot gave an excellent foundation for building a base pedestal, using limestone slabs from the side of Penyghent and lots of cement from Norman Thornber. Suitable building slabs were hard to find, but we had a couple of large iron trays to which we would harness Brian Beardwood when they were loaded.
After a month's building, the base bolts were grouted in, the winch fixed in position and the whole contraption unveiled by Bert Tucker at a short solemn ceremony.
The engine made a terrible noise, so a series of lights and electric bells were rigged between the digger at the bottom and the winch operators at the top.
At times the strong ingoing draughts carried down large amounts of fumes; so an exhaust sticking up 6 feet in the air was fitted.
The shaft slowly deepened - and more shoring was fixed, where a loose wall kept collapsing in.
At Easter, Gordon and I decided to dig for 5 days, non-stop. We erected my tent and set up a soup kitchen. Various members called to help with digging and drinking the soup. On Easter Sunday a flood washed in lots of debris from the shored up wall. We gave up again.
Some time later, while emerging from the borehole, I suddenly heard a stream through a small hole in the wall. A little enlarging showed a narrow rift parallel to the main pot. Further hammering revealed that the rift was 25 feet deep, and a stream could be seen at the bottom, but it was too narrow to descend.
So started another long session during the winter 1959/60. The rift was slowly made wider, and Roy Wilkinson went down it. He reported a 25 foot pitch reaching a stream passage with a further 10 foot drop into a chamber.
He had slithered down easily enough into the fissure - and although he was on two lifelines it took three people pulling hard to get him out.
A few more weekends were spent quarrying - and then we all descended. The stream disappeared into a silt blockage which would have been very difficult to dig. We went upstream and shovelled the upstream fill downstream, but this revealed nothing further.
Some attempts were made in the roof above the shoring. This involved bringing down tonw of loose boulders from the roof, and now the 25 foot pitch is blocked and the approach to the boreholes is sealed off.
Quite recently another aven has opened up, which looks promising and we have started again !
I think interest will continue in this place for several reasons:-
And finally - whoever enters the master cave will find a calcified smoking pipe - please return to Bill Holden. It fell out of his mouth while he was inpecting the pot under flood conditions.
We would like to thank Mr. H.Caton for permission to excavate, and for the interest he and his family have shown in the pot over the years.