Smelt Mill Beck / Dent Camping Weekend by Phil Ryder

Smelt Mill Beck Cave: (10 June 2007).

What a superb weekend, good camping, excellent caving and company – just a pity more club members didn’t attend.

I arrived at the campsite at 17:00 and put up the tent in glorious sunshine. Steve Warren had come even earlier on Friday night and had already done a strenuous walk over the tops to look at some sinks. Chris Camm was next, followed by Andy Cole and his entourage, late as always.

When it came to food everybody stuck to frying pans and the usual fare except Chris. He proceeded to lay out his picnic tablecloth, then ate some luxurious delicacies from a Fortnum and Masons picnic hamper!

Steve and I then went to Sedbergh with Chris as he wanted to find an hole in the wall. We made an impromptu stop to look at a rising that Steve wanted to show us. A very impressive place. Especially as the road had a permanent flood sign and the trees had flood debris stuck to them at least 3 metres above the streambed emanating from the rising. I don’t know anything about the geology of Dentdale; I wonder if this is the main river water that just disappears underground and re-emerges through a thin bed of limestone? No doubt somebody will put me right.

I forgot about Appleby Horse Fayre when I organised this trip, Sedbergh was overrun by tinkers and the like. After Chris got his money we went for a pint in the Black Bull, however a crowd of gypsy types were drunk and breaking glasses and looking for somebody to beat up. Chris was also concerned about the contents of his car boot, the original Pandora’s box, so we made a hasty retreat back to the campsite.

The night was spent at the Sun Inn. I got talking to the owner of Whernside Manor, the former army/scouts/caving outdoor centre. He used to be in the Happy Wanderers C.C. and had many tales to tell. Alan Martin sporting his new knee joined us from the George and Dragon. I’ve been in the Sun many times but didn’t know the landlord was the same which ran the campsite next to Ben Lyon’s, (it was full), and was also in the Red Rose and a mate the Richard Bendall and Phil Parker. He recalled going to Crete twice with the Red /White Rose expeditions and was there when Hilary had her accident.

An early night for us all meant that we were decamped and fed the next morning to enjoy the beautiful weather. The trip to Brough in bright sun was a joy, passing many encampments full of gypsy caravans and ponies. Concern about our cars getting broken into led us up an old drovers track at the other side of dual carriageway, unseen from the main road. This made us late, but Ian was eventually found when we appeared through a large culvert under the road. I went the wrong way and did a long circuitous walk to the cave entrance, meeting Chris, we were the last in.

Being ‘hard’ men we both forsake the rubber and did the trip in furries. What a mistake! The canals were much longer, deeper and colder than I had imagined. Chris said he was so cold he was turning into a stal, my gonads were somewhere under my stomach.
Eventually we emerged in an easy walking rift passage that just went on and on, mostly wading in knee deep water. We first met Mike from Ingleton doing a solo trip, who I haven’t seen for years, then a digger from the BPC who said three more of his party were following. With this Chris broke out into strains of “Balls to Craven”, as Fred Rattray and two other Bradford appeared. After a short natter we carried on up the joint controlled passage, adorned everywhere with nice formations, until we met Steve taking photographs, (unfortunately they didn’t turn out). Chris turned back here, I went further to where the ways split, Keyhole Passage to the right and the Handwrecker to the left. My knees are wrecked enough so I turned around here and went out alone to enjoy the cave.

Ian caught me up in the canals, now more aquaeous as Steve had built a dam at the entrance to liven things up. We waited in the heat for the others, being eaten alive alive by various flying beasties. Chris went straight up the fractured cliff above the cave entrance, attempting to deposit several loose rocks on my head, the rest climbed up a dry streambed and via the culvert to the cars.

The gauge in my car said the outside temperature was 27degC, I looked forward to the long hot summer with plenty more camping weekends away. Needless to  say the weather broke the next day and it’s still raining six weeks later when I finally get to write this report – decorating taking over from my anticipated hot, dry weekends of pleasure.

After 30 years of trying, Smelt Mill Beck Cave was well worth the wait. Not for the tigers but a pleasant afternoons caving with some nice pretties. But if you do want to keep your wedding tackle intact wear neoprene!