CTS 87.2291/a & CTS 87.2451/a: NPC Journal 4(1), Jan 1987, pp 3-5


Notts Pot : The Background

Andy Waddington

"In spite of its many attractions I doubt if it will ever become so popular as some of the potholes which are more accessible. From whichever direction you approach there is half to three-quarters of a mile to carry all the tackle, which is liable to be rather heavy. Nearer pots such as Lost Johns' on one side and Marble Steps on the other will tend to be the object of weekend meets. But whoever makes the little extra effort and descends Notts Hole will be well rewarded."

J.O.Myers: 'Three ways down Notts Hole' in 'Underground Adventure'

Notts Pot was discovered in early 1946 by the fortunate P.M.Stott of Nottingham University Mountaineering Club, who happened to be walking across the fell when he found the freshly collapsed shakehole. It was subsequently explored in three weekends mainly by BSA members, who hoped to follow the water through to the Lost Johns' Master Cave. The powerful inlet above the final pitch was, even then, surmised to come from Ireby Fell Cavern, and Myers thought it would be "still more interesting to accomplish a direct through-exploration". Thus, the ambition to connect Notts Pot into a larger system was born almost with its first discovery.

Later that same year, the discovery of Lancaster Hole with its Master Cave (Taylor, 1947; Simpson & Atkinson, 1948), and the subsequent exploration of the Easegill Caverns (Jowett, Aspin & Gemmell, 1952), set the scene for the progressive exploration of Britain's longest cave system. In 1967, a description of the system occupied the whole of a CRG Transactions (Eyre & Ashmead, 1967) and a great deal has been found since. Exploration is still in progress today and no doubt a lot more still awaits discovery under Casterton Fell. The caves of Easegill are by no means isolated however, as they share a resurgence with the caves of Leck Fell. The linking together of all these caves is currently an important goal of a number of northern clubs. The concept of the "Three Counties System" first came into being in the mid-sixties (Brook, 1968), at which time it seemed an extraordinary concept that caves as far apart as Bull Pot of the Witches and Bull Pot Kingsdale might one day connect. Since that time, however, pieces have regularly dropped into place and now there are few who doubt that all will one day be united: albeit through the exploration of several long and possibly deep sumps.

That all three routes from Three Ways Chamber should unite at three hundred feet depth and then lead to a sump with so little horizontal passage must have been something of a disappointment to the original explorers. Most subsequent explorations in Notts have been aimed to find older passages leading towards Lost Johns' or Leck Beck Head at a higher level. In the course of these explorations, the number of known ways down to the sump has more than doubled, and some of the higher level passages are some way beyond the start of the terminal sump. Unfortunately, all the digs are serious propositions, and little real progress has been made.

Ireby Fell Cavern was opened and explored by the BSA in 1949. The downstream sump was first passed by Alan Clegg in 1963 and proved to be a short but somewhat silted dive in a wide bedding to emerge into Ireby II. Further exploration by the NCC revealed some very large passages, including Jupiter Cavern: a huge phreatic remnant at a higher level than Duke Street (Hewitt, 1969). However, Myers' hoped-for through-trip wasn't achieved until Phil Papard dived the inlet sump in Notts Pot (Papard, 1976) to emerge after 225m into Ireby II. Although this sump has been 'almost drained' by the BICC siphon, Ireby II is still remote territory.

Exploration in Lost Johns' has led into passages off and above the upstream section of the Master Cave, with some very old phreatic passages above Lyle Cavern (Bowser, 1969). These seem to be associated with flow from the Notts Pot entrance area towards an old resurgence on the fellside, now concealed by drift. Recent finds by the Kendal Caving Club are making tortuous progress through chokes in old, decorated passages (Kendal CC, 1985), but the distance to be traversed to Notts Pot, and the remoteness of the passages for a regular digging site, suggest that a dry connection by this route is a long way off.

The extension of Gavel Pot by the Northern Pennine Club in 1969/70 (Smith, 1970) revealed a window on a phreatic streamway below the wet pitches. Dye placed in the Notts streamway was reported to have been seen five hours later in the Gavel sump pool (Bowser, 1973). This is over thirty metres below the bottom of Notts, and the rapid flow-through time in low water suggested a lot of open passage.

Being more accessible, Gavel proved a more popular dive site than Notts for those in search of a connection. The way upstream became very unpromising however, ending in a deep shaft after a 110m sump to an airbell (See article later in this Journal). Attention was concentrated instead on the route downstream, where a connection with the line in Lost Johns' terminal sump was established (Churcher, 1975). These sumps are at the level of Leck Beck Head so little or no passage with airspace is to be expected downstream. Exploration downstream from the confluence continues until 680m from base at Gavel. This is very close to explorations downstream from Waterfall Chamber in Pippikin, though the much hoped-for junction has yet to materialise here. Also headed into this area is the upstream passage from Witches Cave. All three sumps are now at a similar depth (within 5-6m), though the initial part of the dive in Witches is quite deep.

The biggest and most promising gap left was undoubtedly the streamway between Notts and Gavel. The one dive in Notts (by Martyn Farr) seemed to show that the sump closed down and the site was left severely alone. Ways in from the surface were sought, resulting in the Cave Projects Group discovery of Dead Dobbin Pot. While heading into the right area, this becomes tight and exceedingly nasty (Lowe, Solari & Yonge, 1974). Other digs at Kango Hole and Committee Pot in the dry valley below Lost Johns' proved to be very long-term prospects.

Thus, towards the end of 1985, the biggest and most promising gap was left for the divers to fill by diving downstream from Notts. All the signs were good. With a fast flow time and over thirty metres to drop, there was every reason to hope that most of the way from Notts to Gavel would be open streamway. Only the carry over the fell to Notts and down all those pitches loomed to put people off. But the "little extra effort" was made by a dedicated few, and Jack Myers' prophetic comment rang true as the explorers of Notts Pot 2 were "well rewarded" indeed, well beyond their dreams, in fact !

References :

Bowser, R.J. 1969 "Discovery of Lyle Cavern High-Level Series"
LUCC Journal 10 pp 10-12
Bowser, R.J. 1973 "The Three Counties System"
LUCC Journal 14 pp 8-13
Brook, D. 1968 "The Three Counties System"
ULSA Review 3 pp 15-19
Churcher, R.A. 1975 CDG Newsletter, New Series No. 37 p 11
Eyre, J.
Ashmead, P. 1967
"Lancaster Hole and the Easegill Caverns"
Trans. Cave Research Group of G.B. 9(2)
Hewitt, J. 1969 "Ireby Fell Cavern Extensions"
'The Caver' NCC Journal 2(2) pp 3-8
Jowett, A.
Aspin, J.
Gemmell, A. 1952
"The Caverns of Upper Ease Gill"
NPC Publication, Leeds 1952; 23pp
(reprinted 1987)
Kendal C.C. 1985 "Tate Galleries, Lost Johns' System"
BCRA Caves & Caving 28, May 1985, pp 2-4
Lowe, D.J.
Solari, R.A.
Yonge, C. 1974
"Dead Dobbin Pot, Leck Fell"
Cave Projects Group Newsletter 5, pp 38-43
Myers, J.O. 1952 "Three Ways down Notts Hole"
'Underground Adventure', pp 63-75
Dalesman Publishing, 1952
Papard, P. 1976 CDG Newsletter, New Series No. 40 p 27
Simpson, E.
Atkinson, F. 1948
"Lancaster Hole, Casterton, Westmorland"
Cave Science 1(6) pp 202-217
Smith, B. 1970 "Gavel Pot"
NPC Explorations Journal 1946-76 (in preparation)
Taylor, R.W. 1947 "The Discovery of Lancaster Hole"
Cave Science 1(2) pp 34-37
Yeadon, G. 1985 "Diving under Leck Fell"
BCRA Caves & Caving 27, Feb. 1985, pp 10-12

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