Thackthwaite Beck Cave and Whirley Gill Pot: Ian (29 July & 9th August 2009).
A couple of esoteric gems in the wilds of Wensleydale.
Thackthwaite has the classic ‘Northern Dales’ feel that aficionados of Cliff Force cave will recognise, with a spacious, yet slow-moving streamway intersected by low canals and block falls, but with the bonus of the beautiful ‘Stal Chamber’ before blocky crawls lead to an indistinct end. Oh yes – unless you are very skinny, don’t drop down the hole at the base of the cliff – it soon closes down to a very tight squeeze that I had a bit of a fight with. The normal way in is down a pipe hidden under scree to the right of the wire fence.
Not sure if I can totally recommend WGP – perhaps because it took me 2 trips to find it, the first ending with me waist-deep in a bog and the second being again a bit of a faff and I was pretty knackered when I finally poked my head into its midge-infested entrance! To add a bit more detail to Northern Caves 1 for any keen readers, I would suggest that one follows the fence line from the gate adjacent to the beck until a pond is seen on the left – the adjacent large shakehole is where the pot is, but the obvious sink on the east side is merely a sheep boneyard and drops into a tight dig, complete with old drill bit and the true entrance is on the west end, where a ladder or a 10m rope will suffice. I’ll spare you the grim details of my exploration! Also, I would suggest that having also inspected the botanical wonder that is the sink, the distance between them is more like 100m than 350!
For the entrance pitch, a block provides a poor initial belay, complete with ancient spit, but a spike inside the hole is a good, although sharp, re-belay.
Hastily dropping down to avoid the voracious midges that were chomping at my neck, following a record-speed wetsuit change, I slid down a couple of short, sharp climbs, sporting an ancient, remarkably peat-encrusted handline into the streamway. Being short of time on this Sunday evening trip, I decided to take the downstream route only, which is a wide, low, wet bedding, again having a generous organic coating, allowing some sledging down the inclined passage. This is pretty gloomy stuff – only 18 inches high for much of its 10 – 15m width and having plenty of grass and moss dangling from the rather sad-looking stals that have somehow managed to grow in this dismal spot. With a couple of chokes passed, I finally squeezed to a reasonable point for a reverse and hastily make an exit to beat my call-out.
A bonus was the fine view of the Muker valley from the car as I drove home – surely one of the prettiest vistas in England. Want to visit WGP – doesn’t it sound great?