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Ingleborough Cave - Some Notes on the Upper Series

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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"


Although pretty well explored, there is no real coherent description of the Upper Series of Ingleborough Cave. There is, however, a mass of useful information scattered around in club journals - primarily those of the Bradford Pothole Club. This article is intended to pull that information together into a coherent account, and to provide a brief description of the passages.

Basic Layout

The Upper Series (see survey) consists of a main passage about 200 metres long, divided into two by a right-angled bend where it connects with The Bye Pass Crawl from the Far Eastern Bedding Plane. The northern branch follows the main line of the cave below, and links up with Inauguration Caverns at three descents (much of this branch actually has two major parallel routes). The western branch follows the line of Trow Gill, with one further connection back into the cave below in the vicinity of the Middle Wallows. There are three significant avens (up to 30 metres high) in the series, along with a couple of smaller ones, and a few side-passages.

History of Exploration

The Upper Series was first spotted by Chris Dufton of the BPC on 31st March 1957 (Dufton, 1961) on what was effectively the second trip into Inauguration Caverns - the first being Bob Leakey's solo exploration of October 1953 (Patchett, 1956). Dufton climbed into them on the 12th August 1957, and having had a quick look round the immediate vicinity, left it rigged with a fixed rope. The following day a pre-arranged joint trip between the BPC and the NSG saw most of the major features of the Upper Series investigated by a team which included Bob Leakey and Ken Pearce. A follow up trip in the December saw much of the rest of the system explored, and it was surveyed on the same trip by Bob Leakey and Alf Hurworth (Brook & Brittain, 1969). A number of small extensions were made by the next generation of Bradford Pothole Club members in the 1960's.

The Entrance

The original, and easiest, way into the Upper Series is from Inauguration Caverns. At the downstream end of Inauguration Caverns is a deep pool, with an alcove on the true left. A fixed rope (replaced in June 2001) ascends a 5 metre climb into the series. This emerges at a complex junction, with The Creeps leading off to the right over a hole to the pool below.

The Creeps

Turning right from the top of the rope climb from Inauguration leads into The Creeps. This series of low passages was explored by the BPC to an "impassable letter box" into Inauguration Caverns some 50 metres upstream of the rope climb (Brook, 1969). This was passed from the other direction with the help of a lump hammer by Mike Wooding and John Gardner on 2nd October 1971 (Gardner, 1972), who at the time were ignorant of the BPC exploration.

The Upper Wallows

Three passages take off to the left from the top of the rope climb. The one on the right leads into a low passage, which soon becomes a flat-out crawl over calcite and rock flakes. After about 30 metres, the floor drops a metre into a cross rift.

From the lowest point of the rift you can drop into a 70 cm high passage, with a few centimetres of airspace, known as The Upper Wallows. This is about 10 metres long, and its negotiation entails getting an ear wet. There is a prominent cross joint half way along.

Beyond here, a small aven may be seen to the right of the passage. This seems to be about 10 metres high, and a metre across.

Rimstone Crawl

The other two passages that lead off to the left at the top of the rope climb, are both of reasonable size, and both take separate routes into Calcite Chamber. This is a fairly complicated feature, which drops about 3 metres over calcited boulders. At the bottom of the chamber may be found the start of Rimstone Crawl. This passage goes through some muddy pools held back by eroded gour barriers, and rejoins the other route on the far side of The Upper Wallows, before the small aven.

SB Aven and Gour Aven

SB Aven lies off a side passage at the top of Calcite Chamber, and was first entered in the summer of 1967 by George Cheshire and Mike Mason of the BPC. It was climbed by Mason to the top where it was found to be choked (Brittain, 1969). It was named after its tendency to Shit Bricks whilst being climbed!

Gour Aven, originally called SB II Aven, lies to one side of Rimstone Crawl. This is about 25 metres high, and was climbed by Gerald Benn during the water tracing exercise described below. It was found to top out at some small solution tubes (Brook & Benn, 1969).

An artificial dye test was successfully carried out by BPC on the 15th June 1969 between a small hole at the end of Clapham Bottoms and SB Aven. A 50 gallon drum of water dyed with fluorescene was poured down the small descending arch in the rock outcrop just a few metres upstream of the stile. It was seen emerging from the choke at the top of SB Aven almost immediately. Some dye was also seen emerging from the solution tubes at the top of Gour Aven (Brook & Benn, 1969).

There would be little point in opening up a new entrance, and any attempt would be unlikely to find favour with either the landowner or the cave management.

The Bye Pass Crawl

Continuing along the northern branch beyond the small aven, the next junction is one where a passage veers off to the left. The Bye Pass Crawl wriggles through a muddy tube into a flat-out crawl. This lasts for some 20 metres, and then drops steeply into the Far Eastern Bedding Plane, emerging close to where the telephone cable is belayed for the Near Wallows.

This was identified as a vocal connection during the original exploration of the series (Dufton, 1961), but it was too tight to negotiate and it wasn't until 1967 that it was dug through by the BPC (Brook, 1969). A rock flake in the floor, however, made it inaccessible for all but the skinniest of cavers The flake was removed in May 2001 (Jarman, 2001). At that time, Foot and Mouth disease restrictions that curtailed access to most caves meant that Ingleborough Cave was taking more traffic, and the management was nervous about parties being trapped on the far side of the Wallows.

The Descent to Black Pool

Continuing on from The Bye Pass Crawl junction, a reasonably roomy crawl takes off to the right after a few metres. This leads to a rift in the floor, with Black Pool seen directly below. This is free-climbable.

Note that if entering the Upper Series from below at this point, there are actually two climbs leading into overhead passages. The first is an obvious sloping climb (The Ramp) that leads from above the shore of Black Pool, into a low passage appropriately called The Grimstone Way. This leads back over the streamway between the two wallows (there is a visual connection down a thin rift) (Brittain & Benn, 1968). However, to find the ascent to the Upper Series, you need to enter the pool itself, and look above your head.

These passages were discovered on the second exploration trip into the passages (Dufton, 1961).

July Rift

The next point of interest is July Rift. A few metres past the turnoff to Black Pool, the passage performs a dog-leg round some boulders. A narrow rift in the floor at the start drops about 5 metres to water. This has been entered from below from one side of the underwater route between Secret Stream and the Near Wallows (Cordingley, 2003). Climbing onto the boulders enters July Rift proper, developed along a 130° joint. This is a major feature, being about 15 metres long, and it can be seen to ascend past wedged boulders to a height of at least 15 metres above the floor level.

Circus Rift

The final major feature is Circus Rift, which is at the western extremity of the Upper Series. Some distance beyond July Rift, the passage divides into two. Both eventually reach the same point, but the left is easer. This almost immediately descends a 3 metre drop into a muddy pool some 4 metres long. This is a silted sump that has been proven to join the main streamway between Secret Stream and the Near Wallows (Cordingley, 2003). Beyond the pool, the passage ascends calcited boulders into the rift itself.

Circus Rift is the most impressive feature in the Upper Series, forming a chamber of significant size. The associated aven, also aligned along a 130° joint, has received the attention of some illustrious cavers. It was first climbed by Ken Pearce in December 1957 during the joint NSG - BPC follow-up trip to the original exploration, and was named after his antics in trying to retrieve a ladder. He succeeded in reaching a bedding plane passage at a height of about 10 metres, a couple of metres above a prominent ledge, which was explored for about 60 metres to where it became too low (Dufton, 1961).

It is an impressive passage with about the same dimensions as the Far Eastern Bedding Plane, well decorated and liberaly endowed with mud and pools. The end is relatively easy digging, although it does not obviously draught. It is suspected that it may connect to the bedding passage in the roof of Giant's Hall - a connection would create an interesting round trip, as well as allowing the flood-prone Giant's Hall Bedding Plane to be by-passed.

An easy but exposed traverse around the pitch leads to a narrow aven, which was climbed by Mike Boon and Bob Toogood on the 24th May 1965 to a height of a further 10 metres to an ascending chamber, some 15 metres long. This choked, but Toogood forced a strongly draughting bedding plane for 6 to 7 metres into a further aven, which closed at a height of 10 m. In all, a total of about 30 m of height had been gained (Boon, 1965 & Boon, 1977).

On the far side of the traverse, a step up leads to a passage at the same level as the main bedding plane passage, blocked by loose fill. This was dug for about six metres by John Cordingley and John Gardner in September 2004 to a right-angled corner with the passage continuing to the l eft.

Alan Brittain reported that Circus Rift discharges a considerable volume of water in wet weather (Brittain, 1969), and also that the survey places it near to Copper Pot in "Trow Gill side" (Brittain & Benn, 1968).

The climb up to the bedding passage was rigged with a well-secured permanent SRT line in September 2004, as was the traverse around the ledge.

The passage continues beyond the aven, and has potential for extension.


  1. Boon, J.M., 1965, "Circus Rift, Ingleborough Cave", BPC Bulletin Vol 4 No. 5, pp. 20-21
  2. Boon, J.M., 1977, "Down to a Sunless Sea", Stalactite Press, Edmonton, p 67
  3. Brittain, A.T.M. and Benn G.P., 1968, "Ingleborough Cave", BPC Bulletin Vol. 5 No.3, pp. 30-32
  4. Brittain, A.T.M., 1969, "Ingleborough Cave Notes, Continued", BPC Bulletin Vol. 5 No.5, pp. 27-29
  5. Brook D.C., 1969, "Ingleborough Cave 1968", BPC Bulletin Vol. 5 No. 4, pp. 24-27
  6. Brook D.C. and Brittain A.T.M., 1969, "Ingleborough Cave 1968", BPC Bulletin Vol. 5 No. 6, pp. 20-21
  7. Brook D.C. and Benn G.P., 1969, "Trow Gill / Gour Aven, Flood Test", BPC Bulletin Vol. 5 No. 6, pp. 19-21
  8. Cordingley, J., 2003, "Ingleborough Cave" Cave Diving Group Newsletter No. 146, pp: 13-15
  9. Dufton C., 1961, "Clapham Cave", BPC Jnl No. 3, pp. 73-91
  10. Gardner J.W., 1972, "Ingleborough Cave 1971", LUSS Jnl Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 8-9
  11. Jarman, R.A., 2001, Personal communication
  12. Patchett, A.N., 1956, BPC Jnl No. 2, pp. 41-44