Dow Cave

Yolanda, Vikki, Ray, Steve (2nd caving trip), Yulia (1st caving trip)

A nice little novice trip with Yulia (from Ukraine) on her 1st ever underground outing and Steve on his 2nd.

After quite a drive (albeit through some of the best of the Dales scenery), we parked up at Park Rash, just at the bottom of a very steep hill. The flies were something to behold, although thankfully they weren’t of the biting kind. The number of cyclists was also impressive – none cycling up the hill! A very pleasant walk took us to the entrance in about 15 mins. It’s just up the valley to the right in the following photo:

Soon we were heading down into the depths of hell. Too dramatic? Fair enough.

The streamway is a reasonable size for most of it’s length. Thankfully water levels weren’t too high, which was a concern given the recent rainfall. The stream could be avoided in some places, but there is also quite a bit of walking in the water. Being a climber, Steve valiantly attempted to traverse:

Unfortunately he lost all his kudos just after the above photo was taken as he fell into the water for more of a soaking than he would have had by simply walking in the stream. There’s a lesson there!

Shortly after a climb up and over a slope (near the Treacle Mines, I think), an inlet headed off to the left. We followed this, leading us into Gloop de Loop, an “interesting” oxbow passage leading directly to the Old Final Chamber. Yolanda bravely led the way.

Gloop de Loop is mostly a crawl, mostly in water. Never as big as you would like, but never too constricted. Yulia and Steve coped admirably. The passage ends at a balcony overlooking the Old Final Chamber… but some 5m up. Luckily there are anchors for a rope to aid a safe descent, unluckily we didn’t have a rope. So we improvised, with Yolanda & Ray forming a human chain down which the others could be safely(?) passed.

At the end of the Old Final Chamber is Hobson’s Choice – a huge boulder choke which, depending on who you believe, is either lethally dangerous or perfectly stable. Choosing to give the latter opinion at least a hearing, we ventured a short way in, until the inevitable “You will die!!!” signs curbed our enthusiasm.

One of these signs warned that novices, in particular, should steer clear. This is presumably due to their more feeble frames compared to experienced cavers, whose resistance to being squashed by 100 tonne boulders is much greater. Whatever the reasoning, having 2 novices seemed too good an opportunity not to take advantage of, so we turned round and headed for home, this time following the main passage the whole way, apart from one detour…

Of course we couldn’t resist a look up Dowbergill Passage on the way out. The echo at the Dow end of this passage is incredible. A very eerie place indeed. We pushed on through the duck under the Buddhist’s Temple. The duck had plenty of airspace on this occasion.

We eventually turned back where we would have had to climb up out of the water and start traversing. Another day! By now we were thoroughly drenched and beat a hasty retreat to warm, dry clothes and a cafe in Kettlewell.

A note on water levels: These were fairly low in Dow and did not appear to rise at all during our trip. However, the whole of Littondale and Penyghent Gill was much wetter on our return trip. While the Skirfare had been gently flowing in the morning, it was a raging torrent in the afternoon. The Scanty Lardos entrance was dry in the morning, but under a significant stream in the afternoon. Makes you think!


Gareth and Darren, knowing that we had undertaken the traverse from Providence Pot to Dow Cave on 2 previous occasions, had asked if they could be included on a further trip. What further trip?!! Was my response. The first time had taken us 6 and a half hours and was replete with arguments caused by neither of us knowing at what point it was safe to descend, several wrong descent decisions, a very scarey traverse and feeling bloody cold. The second time had been faster (just over 4 hours) but this was more by luck than judgement. We didn’t find the scarey traverse and instead found a rigged line down to the streamway. We had ventured along to the swim under the boulder but, without having read up on how long a complete submersion was needed, we retreated and climbed up onto the Gypsum Traverse in a near hypothermic state. On the positive side, it was a sunny day and we warmed up considerably with the long walk back to Kettlewell.

This time, the date chosen followed the snowfall and coincided with the snowmelt. Andy and I checked out the possibility of leaving a car at the end, feeling sure Gareth had a 4 by 4. He doesn’t—so even the drive to Dow was quite eventful! We almost got the correct gear in correct cars. Gareth was left at the end without shoes (& I’d left home in wellies, so had none either) and the flask of hot drink was left in the car at Kettlewell. But beer and tea bread were ready for us on exit.

A beautiful walk through the snow was followed by a swift passage through the entrance series. I could remember it all—except the Blasted Crawl through muddy water—how could I forget that! About 1.5h into the trip saw us enjoying hot chocolate in the 800yd Chamber—the half way point in distance terms. I had managed to get very wet and so was beginning to feel cold but everyone else had successfully navigated the climbs, traverses and squeezes staying relatively dry.

‘Is this Brew Chamber?’ was the much asked question over the next 2.5hrs. We did several boulder choke climbs and several squeezes at stream level, but still nothing fell into place. And it was only a short distance on the survey. We knew when we had reached the choke though. A dodgy handline stretched 12m up the vertical rift and was navigated without (major) incident by Darren and Andy. Gareth and myself had considerably more difficulty. By the time Gareth had reached the top I had tried on 3 occasions to squeeze myself through the very awkward short cut (an upwards and leftwards squeeze that wouldn’t let me through) and I had lost functional use of all points of contact before it was my turn to climb. Needless to say, Andy and Darren did a fantastic job of hauling me up the difficult bits and soon (ish) we were all in Brew Chamber.

We found the line down to the stream again and so, 20 minutes later we were standing in water, in an impressive rift passage varying between sideways walking and thrutchy traversing just above the water level. The levels had risen in the time we’d spent in the cave and the final portion of the passage to the sumped boulder necessitated a helmets off, chin (just about) above water level approach. On arrival at the boulder, there was no going back—we were far too cold by this point. So, aided by Andy’s leg as a dive line, one by one we submerged and re-emerged, ecstatic at having survived the ordeal!

Dow Cave is an amazing passage and we did stop twice for Gareth’s photo shoots but, teeth chattering uncontrollably, we probably didn’t appreciate it’s full geological worth….well there was a beer and tea bread waiting!

Birks Fell

A good trip to a fine cave – we didn’t get as far as we hoped, as the navigation isn’t as straightforward as the survey suggests. I’d heard it was pretty (it is), so took my camera, but all the underground pictures were well down to my usual standard. So here is a picture of an exceptionally fine formation above ground..

Birks Fell, Andy