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Sunday, 23 August 2009

Gaping Gill - Courtesy of Craven Pothole Club

Just after the Hadrians Wall walk, I met TGO Challenger, Blogger (Pennine Ranger) and Pieblog follower Tony Bennet in the New Inn at Clapham for a cuppla small snifters and then for an overnight camp in a nearby farmer’s field. (sort-of pre-arranged)

And on Saturday we walked up to Gaping Gill where Craven Pothole Club were having their annual winch meet. This is a big event and it is one of the two chances in a year that the general non-caving public get to experience being winched down and enormous wet hole – and back out again for small fee (£10).

A small village of tents springs up alongside Fell Beck and, this year, this will stay in place for around a fortnight.

Visitors hurtling down the yawning chasm on a thin bit of wire will experience a hole in which, it is said, you could fit York Minster. The place is awesome in the truest sense of the word. It is enormous and scary and beautiful. The only way to get a real feel for just how big this place is on the inside is to give yourself up to the winch. The other occasion is Bradford Pothole Club's winch meet each May.

Our purpose was for Tony to do a shift or two at the bottom of GG as a guide and for me to join him at the end of the first shift for a wander around the cave system of which GG is but a part.

First, we made our prescence known to the booking tent. Then, we found a camping spot several hundred metres upstream. I had a good old snooze during which Kylie’s bra strap remained unsullied, and Tony went off to make arrangements, returning with a rubber wrist band with my number on it. (153 as it happens)

At about half-one -ish he left to do his shift and about an hour later I paid my fee and waited for my turn, which came just before four.

The victim is sat in a yellow chair suspended over a void on a couple of cables. He/she is instructed to keep the feet tucked under the chair and is then dropped in an accelerating kind of way alongside mossy walls into the flow of a thin waterfall. Rock walls speed by as the darkness swallows the winchee. After about a minute, hands from below grasp the chair and the tyro caver is ejected on to a cobble floor inside the main chamber, a hall of such proportions that without the odd bit of lighting, a lamp beam wil not reach from one wall to another. Dark figures and lights wander about in the gloom.

I joined Tony and his group for the last ten minutes of their tour, then , off duty, I followed Tony up a bouldery climb and along crawling passages and up muddy slides into Sand cavern. After this we had more muddy crawling (lovely stuff!) and a very scary moment passing the yawning black hole of South-West Pot and finally into the chamber beneath Bar Pot. We then reversed the journey, back over the even scarier-in-reverse rockstep down to a traverse about South West Pot (at which point I needed a certain amount of support, otherwise I would have probably slid down into the hole) – at which point another caver arrived, apparently from out of the sky.

Looking upwards, we could see lights, and, soon afterwards, another caver, a young lass called Anna, also arrived by abseil. She seemed to be enjoying herself immensely , and, in fact, it was this wee lassie who was making squeaky or otherwise howling and whooping noises as she was being winched out of GG as I was waiting to be winched in. This group were having a second trip into the system today, and using single rope techniques to get around quickly.

Reversing the rest of the route was a simple matter and we soon joined the queue to be winched out. This took a couple of hours – as it was a long queue. But hot tea and coffee regularly arrived by winch and were distributed amongst us. Finally, just before eight o’clock, I was winched out. This was just as thrilling as being winched in, I have to say.

I should confess at this point that I’ve been in this hole a couple of times before in the 1980’s. I didn’t like crossing SW Pot even then. Now its just too scary and slippery for me. Its an easy scramble, but the consequences of slipping off that mud-caked climb are just too disastrous to contemplate. Brrrrr…. Oooer….

Anyway, shortly afterwards we repaired to the Trenchfoot Arms. (Beer tent) . The evening was congenial, with the tent warmed by paraffin lamps and some kind of trick pipe being handed around. The trick was to blow the pipe to make a little wheel turn around. There was a technique to it, which, if the blower got it wrong, resulted in a large puff of talcum powder being blown into the blower’s face. There were numerous white faces in the bar that night.

This morning, I left at about half eight or so and walked back to Clapham – thence to Ingleton for a “Caver’s Breakfast” at Bernie’s gear shop. And very nice it was too.

Brian lent me the caving suit, lamp, knee pads and neoprene socks. Cheers Brian. I really must buy myself some underground kit.

Thanks also to Craven Pothole Club members for letting me be Tony’s guest and for being so damned friendly, and, of course, thanks to Tony. Even yet another example of TGO social networking paying dividends.
Craven Pothole Club's website, with all the details of the winch meet, and other meets/membership/history (its a very venerable institution) is at
And, as we're doing links, Tony Bennet's new blog is at

Cracking weekend, worra blast… absolute hoot…….


Pennine Ranger said...

Hi Mike

Just got back from GG. It's South East Pot (not SW). Also beyond Sand Caverns we got as far as Mud Pot (that big scary void we stopped at the lip of). It started to wellie it down as I was packing the tent but I did get the bags carried down on a quad bike by the farmer who just happened to be on the fell. Fab weekend - glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for coming and for the write up. I'll forward the link to the meet leader. Hope to see you in N Dales with a large ball of string in not too distant future! And now to wash off some of that especially sticky GG mud :)

mike knipe said...

Ah yes - South East Pot, thats what I meant, obviously. Probably too frightened to remember the details properly.... I couldn't remember the detail about the Mud Pot thing either, so I didn't mention it. The writing was getting a bit long anyway.
In any event, thanks for the trip, Tony. It were gradely.
I have to get the talc out of my eyes now... damn that pipe engineer

Pennine Ranger said...

LOL. Don't say I didn't warn you about that pipe! Could have been worse - you might have had a three man lift and you really don't want one of them.

Anonymous said...

Free to go down and £10 to get out I assume?
I see I have a lot of catching up to do.
I've long been vaguely aware of this going on - it's no too far from here after all - and have sometimes thought that I'd like to do it - just the once. Not sure that I have the bottle though.
Or the kneepads.

mike knipe said...

You don't really need the kneepads - although a bottle does come in handy!
But you can just explore the main chamber if you want - you don't have to go off caving.
Its quite an experience, though - thats one BIIIG hole. Its worth the ten quid just for being dropped down the hole.
You've a few days left. (They do supply helmets btw, but you need a light)