NPC Newsletter (2nd New Series) No. 28 - July 1990


George Cornes

My first experience of caving was when, as a pure youth of twenty years I took a day trip to cheddar in an old Riley 9 Monaco Saloon. The drive down the gorge was something to remember, but even more memorable was the trip into Gough's Cave. I well remember at the limits of the show cave the guide told the assembled peasant hordes of how the cave went on and on and was in the process of being pushed further into the hillside by special experts. Oh! how I envied them. The desire had entered my brain, but how to become one of those privileged people was outside the bracket of my experience.

Several years were to pass, working all over England on industrial steam plants when one day while in Grantham the consultant engineer asked me if I would go to Lancaster for six weeks to run a steam main from a cotton mill to a small chemical works. The object of the exercise was to save coal, this job was further north than I'd ever been. However I agreed to go. I arrived in Lancaster in the "Black-out", it was pouring with rain and it rained every day for six weeks. I thougnt, "What a bloody dump and worked extra hard to get the job over with. The trouble was, this led to extra work. Then one day my bicycle arrived from Peterborough and I was able to see the countryside and it gradually dawned on me what a wonderful area it was. One midday while dining in the works canteen, a character by the name of Wes Oakes said to me would I like to go potoiling owd lad? This was strange language indeed, however it transpired that this entailed going down holes in the ground and exploring caves. Needless to say he acquired a willing slave.

The run-up to this was a man called Leo Kitchen from tie chemical works who had read "Ingleton, Bygone and Present", a book which also contained a map showing the position of the caves. So Leo was our expert. We equipped ourselves with some new ropes - caught the train to Clapham Station - and walked over Ingleborough inspecting the holes in blank ignorance.

Eventally we landed in Ingleton and were drawn into the Wheatsheaf pub by a combination of thirst and tiredness whereupon the barmaid asked us if we were potholers. "Yes," we said. "You can't have gone very far," she replied, "Your ropes are clean." So we promised her we'd rub them in the mud before we came in again.

We gradually got more used to going in holes until one day we got into a pothole and after much effort got into a large horizontal cave with two stalactites like huge canine teeth. Atter much effort we emerged into the daylight, where we were accosted by a rough character by name Theo Wild who said, "What's the point of caving with ropes, how far did you get?" We described the passage (Hensler's) whereupon he said, "You bloody idiots had better join a potholing club before you get killed."

The next week saw us at the B.S.A. headquarters where we were ushered before the great Simpson who gazed with disapproval on us lesser mortals. It was a great pleasure to talk to his lordship and dip into his superior knowledge. We gradually got to know the devious side of his character when he asked us to post some letters addressed to himself from Lancaster and Morecambe. All in all we had some good times and learned a lot. Gradually we got to know the caving areas, we also got the digging fever. We dug out holes on Ingleborough, which these days would be recorded, but were not up to our wild expectations. In our way we were looking for a huge cave system with topless barmaids servi free beer in a cave with gold plated stalactites interspersed with chrome plated stalactites. Little did we think that one day we would stumble across what would turn out to be England's biggest cave system. The sequence of events that led up to the discovery was begun by old Cymmie sending us up to Lost Pot to look for a possible entrance into Leck Fell master cave.

Whilst we were there the shepherd from Leck Fell House told us about a shakehole that had collapsed into a cave near Hellot Scales Barn. We duly went over and inspected the entrance and climbed down until it became too narrow. So next week we arrived with crowbars, hammers and cold chisels. Bill Taylor and I spent all that morning enlarging the shaft coming out about mid-day.

After requesting Wes Oakes and Les Lewis to continue our work, we wandered over the fell looking for new possibilities. Bill Taylor was inspecting the high level whilst I dug in all the shakeholes leading from Leck Beck rising to Cow Pot. When I reached the spot where Lancaster Hole entrance was to be, I dug with little enthusiasm and was resting when I heard Bill Taylor so I called him over to where I was sitting and had only pulled out a few rocks when we heard a rock clattering down a big pitch. So we both dug furiously with our bare hands until we could see down a deep shaft.

As we had no ropes we went over to tell the others to fetch some. With the extra help we enlarged the hole to mansize. Wes Oakes volunteered to go down a short distance so we fixed a rope round his waist and lowered him down to the first ledge to assess the size of the shaft. His remarks filled us with caving fever. A huge shaft leading to all kinds of pastures new. As we had no ladders we had to return next weekend and also report to old Cymmie.

The ensuing week seemed never ending. Anyway next weekend saw us gathering round the entrance with 100 ft of rope ladder. Wes Oakes was the first down, Bill Taylor he second and I was third. There was a ledge about thirty feet down and I found myself life lining all the others to the bottom. By the time I reached the bottom most of the caves had been explored so the lads gave me a conducted tour of the Colonnades, Sand Caverns etc. and as a reward for being last down they took me to a small passage unexplored. "There George, that's yours!" so I duly went along until I came to a bridge nearly blocking the passage. Underneath was glutinous mud and over was just possible so over I went, my arms sinking in the mud as far as my elbows, then I touched bottom to my great relief. I proceeded on to a small climb down to where a strange sight greeted my eyes like a deserted graveyard on a muddy hill with a ravine cutting through the hill.

On my return to the others, Wes Oakes took me into the Sand Cavern and showed me a narrow slit with air blowing out. So we lowered ourselves into the slit to remove wedged boulders until a man-sized hole appeared. We fixed a ladder and I was volunteered to go down. It was with great trepidation that I went down as I had to keep the ladder to one side to allow room for my chest. Also we could hear loud rock rumblings which set my yellow stripe glowing. However, I arrived on a ledge with a thirty foot pitch and a narrow crawl leading off. I went down the pitch which narrowed to a rat-sized rift. In the meantime, Wilf Taylor had crawled into a passage and had come across a boulder blocking the way so he enlisted my help. We spent a considerable time trying to manoeuvre the rock out of the way but failed, so we gave up with the vow to return next week with hammer and crowbar. We knew that that was the way on because there was a strong wind blowing.

Next week arrived with me with the necessary tools and a poisoned hand so I gave the tools to Bill Taylor with instructions as to the place and proceeded to look for new possibilities with Bill's father - a great man.

Then Bill surfaced and told us of his breakthrough and how he had enlisted the help of the surveyors to push into Fall Pot. Next weekend I was with Bill Taylor when we got into what was to be called Montagu Caverns (named after Miss Montagu - benefactor of B.S.A.) We proceeded over a sandy, mud covered floor until we came to Stake Pot. Because we had no ropes to go further we waited until the next weekend when we climbed down to the stream which was flowing out of a nearly filled passage which contained some blood coloured pools, something we had not seen before or since. We were not to explore that section for years although we suggested that other people should go there.

The discovery of Oxford Pot gave rise to the possibilities of linking the two systems of Lancaster and Easegill. As Oxford Pot was outside the lease that Eli Simpson had negotiated this situation gave rise to increased political moves which will be explained later.

During our many talks with old Eli (Simpson) it emerged that his great desire was to scientifically examine a completely new cave system. In order to achieve this it would be necessary to fix a lid on in order to control access. This made good sense to me so I devised a steel lid which locked itself when placed into position. To gain access it was necessary to hook a piece of wire into the slide mechanism, then to pull it back and lift off with two "T" shaped lifting handles.

During the same period I made an adjustable stand which could be made level however uneven the floor. Over this we made a corrugated roof. This was to house a recording thermometer and hygrometer and was placed in Bridge Hall. As the instrument was not sensitive enough to record the small variation in temperature and humidity it became more an excuse in scientific tomfoolery. I explained this to Mr. Simpson without avail.

During the same period I was expecting some action concerning bringing in interested parties. As nothing transpired I began to have doubts concerning his intentions. Our team was rapidly extending the Lancaster Hole System towards Oxford Pot. Full information of our discoveries was given to Mr. Simpson. He then told us not to go exploring but to spend our time opening the passages near to Lancaster Pot entrance. Needless to say, the lure of exploring new passages was the strongest of our desires.

It was about this time that Mr. Simpson pressurised me into putting a Yale lock on the lid as more and more people were gaining access without permission from the B.S.A.

At that time, it was my opinion that other clubs should be allowed in under the control of the B.S.A. This did not suit Mr. Simpson, so on went the Yale lock with Mr. Simpson in Control of the keys. This meant going to Settle to pick up the keys and returning them at the end of the day.

This was not really on so I was forced to become devious myself. The way round the problem was to drill up the lifting handles so as to weaken them to the point where a sharp tap would knock them off, then resort to the piece of wire and we could be in with the Yale lock in position. In order to cover our tracks I made six spare lifting handles and left them out to rust to replace those knocked off.This ruse worked well for some considerable time until one day emerging from the lid we found ourselves surrounded by loyalist cymmieites. So they asked me how I'd managed this seemingly impossible task. So I had to tell them that I got through from Oxford Pot.

Next week I got a letter from Cymmie asking why I'd kept this important information from the B.S.A.

One day after this Walter Pearson the shepherd heard a loud explosion from the Oxford Pot area. He went over to look and saw a person which he took to be Bob Leakey walking away from the scene. He also saw that Oxford Pot had been blown in. As this was at the time the only possible entrance that our team could have used for the through trip it seemed most likely that the bait had been taken and that this was the work of Cymmie and his loyalists. At the time I challenged Bob he was noncommital so I told him that the area was so full of possible entrances that it would look like a pepper pot. So he would be wasting his time even if he tried stopping us. All these events led to increased efforts on behalf of the Red Rose etc, who at that time forced the Rosy Sink entrance.

Then when Ron Bliss found the connection between Oxford Pot and Lancaster Pot - a distance of only twonty feet - the Easegill entrances grew in number until it was, indeed, like a pepper pot. Also this meant that the control of Lancaster Hole was not possible. This was the situation which possibly led Bob Leakey to form the Cave Preservation Society. From my point of view I have seen evidence of what used to be beautiful caves smashed, before humans had entered the caves by natural forces of cave formation. This does not mean that humans should deliberately destroy that which is very beautiful unless there is no other way as in normal exploration so much damage may occur however careful a person may be especially when large numbers of people go caving. Possibly the best attitude is that it is inevitable that caves will wear. But we must do our best to make them last as long as possible with special areas kept clear of wear and tear to try to educate people how to be careful.

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