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Photograph of the volcano formation in Witches II Cave

Mancunian Way and Molluscan Hall, Ease Gill Caverns

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This series of articles is intended for the guidance of experienced cavers, who may not be familiar with the details of the best routes through the more complex systems in the Yorkshire Dales. To echo the sentiments in Northern Caves, it "is intended as guidance for the wise, not the obedience of fools"

The connection between Mancunian Way, just off the high level route in Ease Gill Caverns, and Molluscan Hall in County Pot, allows yet another round trip in Near Ease Gill or an interesting variation on the Lancaster Hole to Near Ease Gill traverse. Route finding, however, is a little tricky, and it should be avoided in very wet conditions unless you are familiar with the Dismal Junction Bypass in County, and you are prepared to suffer the indignities of a very wet, if short, pitch.

The entrance to Mancunian Way is well hidden, which explains why people walked past it for 25 years without its presence being suspected. It was, in fact, discovered from the inside. To locate it from the top of the slope at the 'upstream' end of Cornes Cavern, follow the wall round to the left for about 10 m over boulders to where a large slab is resting against the wall. It is possible to slip between the two for a couple of metres to a hole in the floor. Drop into this feet-first, and follow the passage at the bottom through mixed going until it enlarges and the walls become tastefully lined with mud bricks. A hole on the left leads into a low, gravel-floored, bedding. Follow this through a tighter section into a boulder chamber.

At the top of the boulder pile at the end of the chamber is a drop into a slab-covered crawl which soon enters an open passage. Follow this round to the right to a choke where ahead a hole can be seen above a pit. Enter the hole (most easily approached along the right wall) into a short section of passage. On the right is a low ridge - wriggle over the top of this into a well-hidden, cobble-floored bedding which is followed round to the left for 10 m to a hole in the floor. This is Ease Gill Aven, an 11 m pitch into County Pot which was the original point of entry into Mancunian Way. There is usually a fixed rope in place - whether you use that or rig the shaft with your own is your choice. A non-CNCC P-bolt and a natural both in the roof provide the anchors. To be sure of being able to follow the rest of the route, there shouldn't be more than a splattering of water going down.

Once at the bottom you are in County Pot, and from here there are a number of variations on the route to Molluscan Hall: some are muddier than others; some are more awkward than others; some are looser than others; and some are more complicated than others. The route described is the cleanest, the easiest, the most stable, and the least complex.

From the foot of the aven, follow the obvious passage over a clean-washed hole, and climb down the next hole into an independent passage. After a few metres it enters a boulder chamber with a large block in the middle. The way on is through a bedding at roof level on the right, most easily entered by tiptoeing across a couple of blocks to a small rift passage, which ascends into it. The two morph into a breakdown passage which is followed as far as a pit in the floor with a muddy traverse round to the left. Ignore the traverse and descend into the pit in two stages. On the far side, a wriggle through some boulders enters a very low chamber. Two crawls lead off - the one that forks left is the easier. Follow this, initially over bedrock, into a low, wide, gravel-floored bedding. This soon enlarges and drops into the County Pot stream.

Continue upstream until you are forced up a boulder slope, and follow the obvious route along the left-hand wall until you can step down into Molluscan Hall. To reach Platypus Junction, locate the unlikely looking slot under the wall where the water emerges, and follow a hands and knees crawl through a short canal. It soon lowers to where an obvious stream enters from the right. This is Dismal Junction, and rather than follow this more inviting passage, keep straight on flat out over cobbles. The going gets easier after a minute or so.

Once at Platypus Junction, the junction of two major stream passage, you have a choice of reaching the entrance series by either going straight ahead (more fun), or via Spout Hall by turning left.

This is a satisfying route, and strongly recommended.