A lovely circular walk in and above Clapdale either side of an exciting descent via a winch to the main chamber of the stunning Gaping Gill.
|Parking:||Clapham, car park|
|Route:||Download Route [GPX]|
Gaping Gill is one of the largest caves in Britain, the main chamber of which is at the foot of a near 100m deep pot hole. I've visited the spot where Fell Beck plunges into Gaping Gill a number of times but I never thought that I'd ever get to visit the main chamber. That changed a couple of years ago when I first heard about the annual winch meets held by the Bradford Pothole Club and the Craven Pothole Club.
The winch meets allow non-caving members of the public the opportunity to visit Gaping Gill. They do this by temporarily diverting the course of Fell Beck, setting up a winch above the main shaft and putting up some floodlights in the main chamber. The chance to be winched down into a cave about the size of St Paul's Cathedral for the cost of only £15 was not one to be missed. I was originally going to head up to the winch meet on my own but when I found out two friends from work, Sam and Tony, were also going to do it I tagged along with them.
"The waterfall is said to be higher than Niagra and even though it is nowhere near the volume of that famous fall it is still a magical sight."
Gaping Gill is an approximately three mile walk from Clapham. Knowing that it was likely to be popular and the waiting time to go down can be a long one we set off early, arriving in Clapham about 8am. There are a few route options, we took the one up Clapdale Drive alongside the lake and through Clapdale Woods. This section is on private land and requires a small fee of about 80p per person. It is worth spending the money as it is a lovely path.
Upon exiting the woods we soon reached the entrance to Ingleborough Cave. Not long afterwards the valley curved round to the left and we were soon passing through the dramatic gorge of Trow Gill. It was a cloudy start to the day and we discovered just how low the cloud was when we exited the top of Trow Gill to find visibility severely restricted. Not long afterwards we reached Gaping Gill, paid our fee, signed our names and collected a dog tag each with our number.
Although we'd arrived at about 9.15am we were still 92nd, 93rd and 94th on the list. With the winch only able to manage about 20 people per hour it meant we had a wait of just over two hours. Thankfully there was no rain and to be honest the time seemed to go quite quickly as we waited. We were certainly better off than people who arrived 30 minutes after us by which point the waiting time had stretched to almost four hours.
Eventually it was our turn to go down and suddenly after all that waiting Sam and Tony went down and it was my turn. I was strapped into the chair and then the fairly quick descent into the depths of Gaping Gill. There was not much to see on the descent as my eyes had not had time to adjust to the darkness. There was a brief moment where the winch drew close to the waterfall and then before I knew it I'd reached the bottom and I was able to leave the chair to explore the main chamber.
To truly appreciate the sheer size and spectacle of the main chamber it is necessary to walk about 25m to the north or south of the winch and look back. The waterfall is said to be higher than Niagra and even though it is nowhere near the volume of that famous fall it is still a magical sight. Quite frankly looking back up to the opening of the pot hole was quite awe inspiring especially with the added perspective of small figures being winched in and out.
Although the main chamber was flood lit it was still quite dark. My only regret was that I'd only discovered the night before that my head torch had broken and had no time to replace it, otherwise I'd have gone for more of an explore. Still we probably spent about 45 minutes down in the main chamber before joining the queue to come back up which took about another 45 minutes. The winch back up was even more enjoyable as my eyes had had time to adjust to the light and I could take in more of the surroundings as I went back up.
Once back at the surface it would have been easy enough to return to Clapham by our outward route that morning. Instead we varied the route by walking five minutes or so back to a wall with two gate stiles. On the other side of the wall we took a grassy path climbing above Trow Gill rather than the path that we'd used earlier that passes through it. This grassy track headed past scattered limestone before dropping down into Clapham Bottoms. By this time the skies were beginning to clear and we enjoyed views of Little Ingleborough behind us and Thwaite Scars ahead of us.
As we dropped down into Clapham Bottoms we made a short detour from the path to visit a giant shake hole with a very wide circumference. It also has a depth of at least 10m as the OS map shows a ring contour. Rejoining the path we continued dropping down until a short rise led us up on to Long Lane.
This enclosed track was our route for the next 1.5 miles as walked above our outward bound route and below the limestone outcrops of Thwaite Scars. The track provided us with nice views of wooded Clapdale and also a surprise view looking down at the entrance of Ingleborough Cave. At the foot of Long Lane we joined Thwaite Lane which dropped down next to some woods before passing through a couple of tunnels to re-enter Clapham.
All in all this was a fantastic day out. As a circular walk to visit the top of Gaping Gill it would have been enjoyable enough. The visit to Gaping Gill itself though was superb and took the day to a whole other level. The volunteers from the Bradford Pothole Club were all very friendly and reassuring to those who were nervouse. In fact the whole thing felt very safe and professional. I certainly plan on doing it again, only next time with a torch of my own!