Doolin River Cave (St Catherines to Fisherstreet Pot)

29 June 2016

Posted by
Matt Ewles

Without a doubt the premium trip in County Clare and one of the finest river caves anywhere in the British Isles/Ireland.

Doolin River Cave is a splendid river passage which commences at St Catherine's on the outskirts of Doolin and ends a few miles away at Fisherstreet Pot, a pothole amongst a cluster of trees about 30m opposite the Irish Crafts gift centre in the centre of Doolin. Due to the distance, some car logistics were needed and we decided to drive all three cars to the farm where you park for St Catherine's entrance (where the lady was very kind in allowing us to park). The non-drivers were dropped off, and the three cars went down to rig Fisherstreet Pot. Two cars were left in Doolin next to the pothole and one car returned to the entrance with all drivers. All very complicated, and it meant that by the time the drivers had returned we had resorted to poor quality jokes to keep us entertained.

From the farmhouse, simply follow the track via a few gates towards the ruined nunnery. About 100m before the nunnery turn left off the track and into a fenced depression surrounded by large trees. In this unlikely looking location is the entrance to St Catherine's entrance to Doolin River Cave (the usual way in, I have never done Aran View Swallet which is the other way in). Overall the Selected Caves description is good, although the first section as far as the canal that it mentions seemed to bear little resemblance to the actual cave and is a little confusing. The entrance is an easy crawl (which was dry when we were there but may have a small stream). Simply follow your nose along the obvious passage for maybe 15 minutes. At the point where the canal is mentioned, this does indeed involve a (potentially hard to spot) letterbox down through well polished blocks into a fast flowing crawl in the stream for several metres.

As soon as the passage opens up, don't forget to climb up on the left into the fine well decorated grotto - we took some lovely photos here.

Back into the stream the cave is now just a matter of following the water downstream. Very soon some absolutely splendid very large dry passages are then reached and traversed through over blocks and then the stream is regained again after. This is followed downstream in absolutely stunning proportions. It is such a treat to be able to just walk easily down such an amazing stream passage. The OFD streamway in South Wales is probably the finest streamway in the UK, but that has many blocks, uneven floor and deep pools so it is a very sporting stream. The Doolin streamway is gently, cavernous and easy walking, and an absolute treat. You can imagine the pleasure UBSS must have had when they first explored this!

From here the Selected Caves description is good, and the streamway is followed all the way to Fisherstreet Pot (takes about 1-2 hours depending on your groups pace) except for a few dry oxbow bypasses to low sections.

In the final sections, some low stooping relents briefly to walking before returning to stooping and then the water deepens to waist deep. Shortly after this it becomes a crawl in a 1m high passage in 40-50cm deep water for 20m before popping up into daylight at the bottom of Fisherstreet Pot, with a 8m ladder ascent to the surface where a huge quantity of cow poo awaits.

The bemusement of the tourists at the Irish craft centre was plain to see, as 11 very wet and bedraggled cavers emerged from the innocent looking 10m diameter cluster of trees in the middle of the field. The tourists were then treated to a strip show as the drivers had seemingly parked our cars literally in front of the main door of the building with dozens of tour buses and tourists passing by every minute.

An absolutely magical trip, all very easy caving, but truly remarkable.

This is clearly not a cave to do if heavy rain is expected as shown by the high scum levels from earlier in the week, however, it had been a moderately rainy evening the night before our trip and water levels were very low. Therefore I suspect this cave can cope well with gentle rain and slightly wet conditions in the summer months, but may flood badly if any prolonged heavy downpours hit (but would drain off equally quickly after the rain subsides).