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The amazing story of Adulterer’s Bypass and the underground cave system connecting three counties

PUBLISHED: 17:00 11 April 2017

Martyn Farr in the Kendal Extensions, Boreham Cave, Littondale Photo: Dave Ryall

Martyn Farr in the Kendal Extensions, Boreham Cave, Littondale Photo: Dave Ryall

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It was the holy grail for cavers – finding the route linking Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria deep underground. Now Dave Haigh and John Cordingley have included this and other dangerous quests in their new book.

An amazing stalactite formation Photo: Dave RyallAn amazing stalactite formation Photo: Dave Ryall

The news of a cave system 90 kilometres long and spanning three counties, from Casterton Fell in Cumbria to Leck Fell in Lancashire and Yorkshire, made national headlines.

After many years of dedicated, sometimes dangerous hard graft by teams of cavers, the three counties were finally physically connected underground. However, the true grit stories of exploration by the caving heroes involved have not been publicly told – until now, that is.

A chapter within this new book, Adventures Underground, written jointly with expert Lancashire caver John Cordingley, regales the reader with exciting stories of the trials, tribulation, tears and elation experienced by the combatants while striving to achieve their goal.

For the first time, readers of Lancashire Life can read this extract relating how the caves of Lancashire and Yorkshire were finally connected:

First, the Yorkshire connection – Ireby Fell Cavern to Rift Pot, where a War of the Roses was about to be replayed. This joining of Yorkshire Caves to those in Cumbria and Lancashire may not have been a genuine war, but it certainly involved many a heroic battle.

Tim Allen on Monumental Pitch, in Perilous Pot - a cave first entered in 2016 Photo: Frank PearsonTim Allen on Monumental Pitch, in Perilous Pot - a cave first entered in 2016 Photo: Frank Pearson

From around the beginning of the 21st century a large number of caving clubs have actively pursued this coveted goal and greatly contributed, both independently and in mixed teams, to achieving that end.

During 2008 the Misty Mountain Mud Mining Corporation, a conglomerate of like-minded cavers from various clubs, started a serious attempt to forge a link between Ireby Fell Cavern in Lancashire and Rift Pot in Yorkshire. By 2009, they had narrowed the hunt down to a squalid, wet (only just body-sized – and then, for small people) mud-filled passage in Ireby called Adulterer’s Bypass. It was so named because they hoped it would lead to an easy way around the now-abandoned Adulterer’s Passage, which was tighter and even more squalid, and connect with their dig near the Temple of Doom in Rift Pot.

Their efforts in Adulterer’s Bypass were rewarded with a breakthrough into a decent-sized passage which, alas, ended after 66 metres at Cold Comfort, a miserable little passage in which it became too tight to continue.

Forgetting Ireby for a while, the explorers returned to the dig in Rift Pot with which they hoped to connect. Here they faced more grief as the digging became flat-out in thick slurry with not much air space. However, after several hours of work, the passage opened up and the cavers were encouraged by a good draught and an echo, indicating larger passage or a chamber ahead – such a thing is music to the ears of any digger.

It was a huge relief when they hauled themselves out of the sludge but, after 25 metres of good going, it was back to the horrors of another silt blockage. After a further 20 metres of digging with good progress made through sand, a halt was called in what was named Unadulterated Pleasure to allow time to produce an accurate survey of both ends of the project, in order to ascertain how far the two digs were apart.

Caver on rope descending Pinnacle Hall Photo: Dave RyallCaver on rope descending Pinnacle Hall Photo: Dave Ryall

Becka Lawson, George North, Paul Swire, Julian Todd and Patrick Warren spent five long trips in Rift Pot, surveying from Unadulterated Pleasure back to the surface. Becka and Neil Pacey also surveyed up to Cold Comfort in Adulterer’s Bypass in Ireby. I’ve named these people especially, as the importance and wisdom of these surveys cannot be stressed too strongly – not that all the other efforts by valiant cavers weren’t important, but I think the surveys have been their forte throughout. Becka and Neil deserve particular credit for having heroically ploughed through snow drifts up to Ireby in early January to survey to Cold Comfort knowing that the work would be carried out in relatively cramped, wet conditions, where jotting down the measurements was not an option as it was too tight to be able to write. The data had to be shouted back down the passage for someone else to record.

And it really did pay off. The two surveys showed a difference of only 27 metres between the two digs, the surprising thing being that apparently, the Ireby dig lay 20 metres higher than the Rift Pot dig – how could that be? Was there an error in the survey? Or had they missed a likely dig site at a lower level in Ireby – and were they presently at the wrong place to dig?

They studied the full survey again. Ian Lawton noticed a possibly significant location in Ireby Fell Cavern, but after undertaking a difficult climb to reach it, the passage was found to be choked. This left the right-hand branch of East Inlet – one of only two places not previously investigated by Neil. ‘That’s it,’ thought Neil, ‘it’s gotta be!’ The spot was 120 metres horizontally away from the Rift Pot dig but it did lie at the same level. The intrepid explorers went directly to East Inlet for another look. The 12 metre long passage was low, with only a tiny air space; it had to be negotiated flat-out on one’s back. After that it was easier going to a choke where, tantalisingly, they could hear a waterfall.

The team soon returned. By now it was May 2010 and the water levels were slightly lower, but even so Neil and Dave Ramsay dug a trench and almost drained the low air space ‘duck’ to produce far easier access to a much wider section which eventually – wonderfully – led to open passage that was up to three metres wide.

A few days later Neil and Dave were back, along with Becka and Patrick. Dave and Patrick dug while Neil and Becka surveyed, but the digging duo soon returned, announcing they were through into nearly walking sized passage, so they all went off to explore.

Gaping Gill main chamber, Ingleborough Photo: David Ryall and George NorthGaping Gill main chamber, Ingleborough Photo: David Ryall and George North

A short canyon passage disappointingly led to another choke, but it had a phenomenal draught! The completed survey of what was named South East Inlet showed that 140 metres of new passage had been found and the connection was obviously very close.

On May 30 two teams assembled: Yorkshire versus Lancashire. The Yorkshire team fielded Becka, George, Patrick and Neil in Rift Pot while the Lancashire team comprised Diana Arthurs, Simon Cornhill, Ian and Liz Lawton, Ruth McDonald and Dave Ramsay in Ireby. Sure of a quick victory, both sides were revved up and ready for some fun! Now the adventure was to begin in earnest ….’

Our book, “Adventures Underground”, takes the reader on a journey of exploration through the caves of the Dales – connecting Gaping Gill to Ingleborough Cave, hard won underwater passages beneath Malham Cove and the hunt for the Penyghent Master Cave to name but a few. The book’s concept and title were inspired by the classic “Underground Adventure” by Arthur Gemmell and Jack Myers, which was published in 1952 and details their discoveries to that date.

John Cordingley and I have continued the stories where they left off as we were personally involved in most of them. We have attempted to regale the reader with what has happened in the intervening years by relating them in the same entertaining and adventurous way as did those two brilliant writers of yesteryear.

Adventures Underground by Dave Haigh, who lives in Penrith, and Darwen born John Cordingley is available from Wild Places Publishing. www.wildplaces.co.uk. 01873 737707. Limited edition hardback £39.95 – laminated soft back £24.95 inc. post. 240pp colour throughout, 290 photos and maps. All royalties go equally between the authors’ chosen charities: Cave Rescue and MacMillan Cancer Support.

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