I was really excited about the opportunity to explore some of the caves of Wensleydale, which I had ready so much about in the MSG Journals dating back to the 1970s. So with permission from Bolton Estate we headed up there on Friday evening, camping at the Old Hall Cottage camp site (around the back of the Cart House tea room) in Hardraw.
On Saturday morning, we headed off at a leisurely time to find Thackthwaite Beck cave. We chose this, over our other plans for Cliff Force Cave and Keldheads Cave as it was the one that sounded least flood prone, after the heavy rain the previous night. We were armed with a few trip reports and the Northern Caves guide.
We parked in a small but perfectly ideal nature reserve car park less than 1km to the east of the hamlet of Woodhall (as parking in Woodhall itself, although slightly closer, seemed unfeasible). From here, cross over the river at the neat little bridge in the car park and follow the vague footpath west (left) along between the bottom of the hillside and the river. After about 15 minutes walking (passing an interesting old mine entrance) we reached a spectacular waterfall. Climbing up the path to the side of this reaches the main footpath on the top of the hill.
We then took somewhat of the wrong direction from here, as we followed the grid reference from Northern Caves using a GPS (this is a good 300m out - the cave symbol on our OS map was closer to the mark), but having seen a photo on the internet we knew it was at the foot of a major rock scar so we soon found the entrance. Any future visitors should take these directions:
From the top of the waterfall, a major footpath is reached. This is not to be followed, but instead come off the path and follow along the right hand side of the river, up and along the top right hand side of a steep gully. At the top of the gully cross the wall at an old gate and then bear right heading towards the distant (most eastern) rock scar. Once in this field, simply regain the beck (it is temporarily lost at the top of the gully due to sinking) and follow this upstream to the resurgence from a huge pile of rocks at the foot of the scar. There is an interesting old mine adit on-route that can be investigated.
There are several entrances, but the best one is found by climbing up the boulder pile to the foot of the scar above the resurgence. There is an obvious (and dangerous) entrance with some wood covering it below the cliff, however, the best entrance is 10m to the east of this just beside a ruined fence, also directly under the cliff. This entrance is a plastic pipe, barely protruding from the boulders, covered with wood and rocks (and might not be immediately obvious so look closely).
The entrance pipe is easy going down but strenuous coming out so bear this in mind and consider taking a handline!
Below the entrance, a lovely spacious canyon passage with black cherty outcrops is followed to reach the streamway. Initially this is welly deep, but soon becomes a pleasant and refreshing waist-deep canal for a short distance until an ascent up boulders is reached on the left (we tried to continue in the water without climbing up the boulders but this soon proved to be wrong). Climb these blocks and then climb back down to the water again on the left after 10m (we initially tried continuing round to the right to drop down to the water, but this proved incorrect). From here the going gets wetter, and one must stoop in a low wet section of passage. Still refreshing after the warm walk up the hill in neoprene!
This becomes larger and more easy going after 20m, rising up into a larger blockfall chamber. From here routefinding is relatively simple and following the water, generally keeping right through blocks, reaches a larger chamber with a few straws. We though this might be Stalactite Chamber, and we were initially disappointed! However, continuing only 5 minutes further on we reached the true Stalactite chamber, which is extremely impressive! Well worth the trip to see.
Beyond Stalactite chamber, a larger section of blockfall is soon reached. We spent some time poking about, but the correct way through was found by keeping low and right (rather than the more tempting route over the blocks). The way through this is hard to describe but should be easy to find by trial and error. In general the route involves keeping near to stream level and after a sideways wiggle, a thrutch up to the right reaches another wet thrutch in the stream and then a climb up into a much more sizable chamber.
From here we found our way back down to the stream and continued upstream for 10 minutes in some more well-proportioned stream passage. However, by now the cave was becoming quite samey, and scum on the roof, and rain the previous night deterred us from continuing onwards. We probably got most of the way through the cave. The journey out was extremely quick indeed, maybe taking only 45 minutes if that.
This was a great trip! Neofleece is recommended, or a furry if you're particularly cold-resiliant. The cave wasn't as wet as I expected given the amount of rain the previous night though. Stalactite Chamber is an excellent reward for finding this cave, and the views on the walk up are excellent. This is a superb summer afternoon trip and I can highly recommend a visit.
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