County Pot to Molluscan Hall via Dismal Bypass

17 July 2017

Posted by
Matt Ewles

After cancelling our scheduled weekend in Wharfedale due to the dodgy weather, my main aim during our substitute weekend at Bull Pot Farm was to learn more about downstream in County Pot, particularly the route via Dismal Junction and the possible connection to Ease Gill Aven, which we have visited from above on two occasions over the last year (via the Mancunian Way).

The weather on Saturday was a little dire, and despite very low water in the Main Drain during our Saturday trip, this was steadily rising. By Sunday morning Casterton Fell was saturated, and not surprisingly a substantial river was flowing down Broadway just inside County Pot, all disappearing down towards Dismal Junction. Things weren't looking all that good!

We headed down via Spout Hall and beyond, soon reaching Platypus Junction (apparently so called due to a platypus head shaped rock protrusion, although this was a little tenuous). Left here returns up Razor Passage back to Broadway to complete the famous short County round trip. Right however (taking an initial bypass to a low section) heads downstream towards Dismal Junction.

The going was all pretty good for a few minutes; stooping and easy crawling. Then it started to turn nasty. Ahead, a wide cobbled bedding meant a flat out crawl in the water. Gary and Jack seemed unimpressed, but I hadn't come all this way not to have a go, so I pushed on into the water. Around a slight bend, the water deepened and a rock arch presented a daunting obstacle which would require complete submersion and sucking air from the 10cm air gap. No thanks! The fresh foam on the roof emphasised how readily this passage sumps, and with the fells saturated I had no intention of continuing.

Returning to Platypus we headed towards Razor Passage, in search of a 'Dismal Bypass' that was marked on the survey. We had a copy of the survey (or rather, a printout of the relevant section), but we'd done no research on this alternative route. Still, we thought we'd have a go at finding it anyway. Our expectations weren't high for the quality of this passage. Given that most people prefer Dismal Junction, the bypass must be pretty hard work.

Only 20-30m up Razor Passage (from Platypus Junction) a 2m climb out of the stream on the right reaches a high level area, and a small scrotty passage disappeared off back in the direction we'd just come from. This looked well worn, and was going in the right direction so we followed it.

The passage continued, mostly awkward crawling and wriggling through blocks in a narrow passage for some distance, eventually reaching a small chamber with an obvious 1.5m high cone of mud, smoothed by the action of passing cavers, sloping up to a fissure. At the top of the fissure, we found ourselves in a much larger passage. In one direction (right) this was walking through liquid mud along a beautifully decorated passage, ending with a fine view towards a pristine white pillar and some flowstone. We didn't expect this especially somewhere so muddy! In the opposite direction an easy wide crawl passed several more (rather dirtier) formations and seemed to be the way onwards.

Soon, we reached The Funnel, a standing height chamber with a rusty metal bar, presumably used to pry open the boulder slope leading down and out of this chamber at floor level. More grim slithering over slabs and through deep mud in a small passage eventually reached what looked initially like a dead end; but squirming up through the boulders revealed darkness, as Molluscan Hall came into view.

We were delighted! Our recce has been successful and we were in the splendid elongated chamber of Molluscan Hall. A traverse along the right wall reaches the central point of the chamber where a steep route up boulders presented itself. However, we opted for the large hole in the floor leading down to the sound of water. Getting back down to the stream here requires an esoteric corkscrew climb down through blocks (with a few wrong turns that lead to exposed balconies over the stream) but with relative ease we found ourselves back in the stream beyond Dismal Junction.

Despite the temptation to continue exploring, we'd actually had quite enough. So feeling rather pleased with ourselves, we headed out, completing the round trip up Razor Passage. The cascades in Razor Passage provided an excellent place to wash off the thick mud now caking our entire bodies.

This has hopefully set the scene for further trips over the coming year or two to learn this less well visited, fascinating part of Ease Gill Caverns, with the ultimate aim being a round trip from County, to Stop Pot, then Mancunian Way, down Ease Gill Aven and then back via Dismal Junction. More research and recce trips are needed though before we try anything like this.

A lovely day out, and so nice to go somewhere we've never been before.

Those Yorkshire cavers who are reluctant to part from their trusty SRT kits take note; There is some top notch exploration and adventure to be had here. Get yourself the survey, some online descriptions, and instead of doing Rowten Pot for the umpteenth time, go somewhere new in Ease Gill Caverns instead.