Thursday, 6 March 2014

White Scar Caves - Ingleton

Last weekend I met my old pal, Bev, for a few days wandering around Yorkshire. On Sunday morning we found ourselves at the Whitescar Caves near Ingleton, having driven the 40 odd miles from Hardraw. Driving through the Dales offers many spectacular views but on a Sunday morning the road needs particularly careful watching to avoid the unusually numerous cyclists (have they not heard of breakfast in bed and the Sunday papers). We arrived with enough time before the tour for a much needed cuppa and a bite to eat in the cafe.

The Whitescar caves were discovered in 1923 when a Cambridge Student by the name of Christopher Long thought it a good idea to climb into a crack he had found in the ground. Wearing shorts and a hat with four candles mounted on the brim, on that first morning he made it as far as this waterfall which must be a couple of hundred yards from the entrance. Mr Long didn't live long enough to see the caves developed but in 1925 the tunnel was blasted out by local miners and opened for the first visitors in April of the same year.

Much of the cave has an unworldly appearance due to the action of rainwater seeping through the local limestone over the millennia. On it's way the water dissolves some of the limestone and deposits some of it back on the roof where it leaves the rock and deposits some more on the ground where it lands, often in the form of stalactites on the roof and stalagmites on the floor. The average growth rate for a stalactite is about 0.13 mm (0.0051 inches) a year but it can be as fast as 3mm (0.12 inches) a year. At these rates even the smallest of stalactites and stalagmites are likely to be hundreds of years old and many of those we saw will be several thousand years old.

The damp limestone coated rocks look quite slimy but they're not at all really, just wet.

Many of the formations have been given names, usually based on what somebody thinks it looks like (usually somebody who has spent a long time under the ground!). This one is  called the Witches Fingers.

This is The Judges Head.

For most of the walk the path follows the route of a stream. Gratings have been mounted over the stream to walk on. On the day we were there, the stream was safely a couple of feet below our feet most of the time but on other occasions the water has been known to lap over the grating. Any higher than that and they close the caves. On larger floods the water has been known to flow out of the cave entrance.

The Devil's Tongue.

Sometimes in small pools of water, the limestone crystallises into shapes that look likes lots of tiny cauliflowers.

There are fossils to be seen at several points in the caves.

I'm told that this is fossilised coral.

There were a couple of long sections where standing upright was impossible.

The tour ends in a cavern known as the Battlefield - that's what rubble covered floor (caused at the end of the last ice age probably, when the roof collapsed) reminded Hilda Guthrie, who discovered it, of. When it was discovered in 1971, an underground lake had to be swam and a huge rock known as Big Bertha had to be swam under before climbing up into the cavern by a different route. Some of that original route can be seen in this little film on Youtube. In 1991 a 65 meter passage was blasted into the cavern and it was added to the tour. The guide tells us that though the caves goes on for some way after this, it is unlikely that the tour will ever go further as the local authorities are opposed to further blasting here.

A large number of much thinner straw stalactites can be seen on the roof of the cavern - these are some of the faster growing stalactites.

The floor of the cave has quite a lot of mud on it which was laid down centuries ago and is still damp. In places it has cracked and limestone has deposited in the cracks to produce this crazy paving effect.

The whole walk was about 1 km in length (or about 2/3rds of a mile) and of course the same back. This map of the caves was taken from a notice board outside (an easier to read one is here on the caves website)


Reifyn said...

Firstly, I haven't seen a BT phone-booth in quite a while...I wonder if that one isn't a disguised TARDIS. (I wonder what one would see through the transparent glass if it were?) These caves are very spooky. I'm not sure I've ever heard of them; when you said the man who discovered them 'didn't live long enough to see' the opening of the caves to the public, I thought sure that you were implying he went missing down there and his bones are somewhere about, making up new fossils in the walls. Some of the shapes are positively diabolical, so it wouldn't surprise me if people disappeared down there. I'll have to see it myself one day.

John @ Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

We have lots of caves here in the States but I was unaware of any in your neck of the woods this impressive. Nice that you have such a great resource there. Any cave critters live in there like blind crickets, spiders, shrimp or small blind fish?

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

An excellent set of photographs. I visited a few years ago on a rainy morning when walking didn't look a good prospect. When we emerged the sun was shining and we had an excellent stroll to see some of the many waterfalls in the area - I'm hoping that you had time to do the same as the falls should be quite spectacular after the recent weather.

The Glebe Blog said...

Brings back memories of 1967 Sandy.
Looks like there's a lot more opened up since then. Great pictures.
After visiting the caves with my platoon we returned to barracks at Weeton Camp.
That night me and my mates went on the town down Blackpool. Waiting in the bus station for the last bus partly inebriated, I met the love of my life.

Sandy's witterings said...

Reifyn, the caves didn't seem all that creapy to me but at the time I hadn't read the tale about the disembodied murmuring that follows the last guide out at night.
Christopher Long it seems didn't come to grief in the caves but rather over estimated the amount of chloral hydrate he could safely take (recreational I think)
Tardises are clever things, being see though like a phone box should be well within their scope.

John, no sign of critters down there at all (perhaps eaten by whatever does the closing time murmuring!). I think Britain has a reasonable supply of caves and people mad enough to go into them no matter how tight the gap is.

John, we had just come from Hardraw where we had looked at the waterfall. Not as big as I had expected it to be - more than last years visit but not as much as the 2005 visit - both documented here

Jim, there was as much again opened after the 1991 blasting. Interesting to hear the caves features in a significant day for you.

Louise said...

I really enjoyed this post as it reminded me of our visit to White Scar, which I can't believe was almost a whole year ago! We went last April as we stayed with family not far away.

Sandy's witterings said...

Thanks Louise, just followed up on your visit there.

Shundo said...

Well, I have some breakfast and the big print parts of the Sunday papers before going out on my morning rides. Then I can spend the rest of the day lazing about. I have been in one or two cave systems in my time - there was a big one in Cape Province that I was dragged to, but it is not my favourite kind of exploring by any means.

Sandy's witterings said...

I should think that under the ground doesn't suit a lot of people. Have a great day on top of the world Shundo.

Anonymous said...

Trips to "Ingleton caves" and waterfalls was a favourite for school trips when I was a lad many years ago. Can remember going at least twice

Pam said...

That's a lot to see in a relatively short walk. Love the fossils especially.

Sandy's witterings said...

Greatacre, the guide mentioned school trips - he said that they can be very noisy things down in the caves.

Pam - fossils are facinating things. I found one once - about as unimpressive a fossil as you could think - a little piece of a shell that you might find today but just increadable to think that it is thousands of years old.

Zia Wolf-Sun said...

Wow! That looks cold in there! Great those sort of trips into the "centre of the Earth" ;) You got some great shots in there though it looks pretty scary too" You never know what you might meet down there!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting photos! I've often driven past but never been down these caves - we live not the far away.

I have been down other caves in the Dales though. The used to be a good Constable Guide to caves in the Dales "non-potholers" can explore armed with nothing more than a torch and a pair of Wellingtons. Yordas Cave in nearby Kinsdale springs to mind.

Mike @ A Bit About Britain said...

Great post. It's difficult to get decent photos inside caves - but you did!