Fairy Holes 2nd June 2013 by Ian Cummins

An unexpected invitation to join an early trip (thanks to Sam Allshorn) into this recently re-opened gem found me joining a team of all-stars from various parts of the British Isles to investigate the upstream sump and perform various other conservation duties assigned by English Nature.

Readers of WRPC Journal of recent years and CPC archives from the early 60’s will know of the history of this fine Northern Dales stream cave, but in short, quarrying of the area, including the cave, from 1964 onwards, resulted in loss of some of the passage as well as preventing access until recent CNCC agreements with English Nature and Lafarge.

Connoisseurs of Northern Dales caves will be familiar with Cliff Force, Smeltmill and Thackthwaite – expect more of the same, but on a much grander, darker and more impressive scale.  Having the rare luxury of living closer to the cave than the rest of the party, I had a leisurely drive up with Mike Cooper to meet the rest of our allotted number of 8 in Eastgate.  Upon reaching the quarry entrance, the first gate was unlocked and we drove up to change by a locked second and walked up to the bleakly impressive quarry face, escorted by the security patrol Land Rover.

The cave entrance is a metal pipe in the unstable first few feet of quarried rock, with locked gates at the start and half way, opening into a jumbled chamber leading into vadose stream passage.  Easy, but wet going along jointed passage leads eventually into a succession of breakdown chambers, one of which – Vein Chamber – allows access to a high-level rift with fine coral fossils – Coral Gallery, that can be avoided at a lower level.  The first really large and impressive chamber is ‘The Choir’, with its array of beautiful white stals, where we were tasked with collecting and removing 50-year-old litter that had been bagged and partially removed by some environmentally-conscious cavers some years previously.  This was achieved and the cave now looks as pristine as it could be.

Further on, the even more impressive ‘Sarcophagus Chamber’ was found only after some high-level meanderings that found us in a circle once or twice.  Remember the advice of the old CPC records and keep high and right as much as possible in these crawls until a squeeze down an improbable draughting hole on the left allow access to larger passage and soon the chamber.

This is a very fine place and soon leads via easy stream passage to the upstream sump, first seen in 1954 by the Durham Cave Club – must have been a wild ride with boiler suits and carbides.

A very draughty rift, too narrow for much passage, lies above the sump, which was dived by Martin Holroyd for a few feet before he returned, pronouncing it also to be dangerously tight.  One wonders if digging would lead to more passage here, although it would be a shame to disfigure these sculpted mineralised chert walls.

Returning to ‘The Choir’ was easy when you know how, although my knees and elbows were becoming sore and the plod out with 2 bulging bags of old Ever Ready batteries and other stinking relics was a bit of a chore.

After 10 hours or so, we emerged to a fine evening, where I played hunt the car key in the forest for Mr C’s key, finding the correct rabbit hole, but not digging deep enough, leaving my coffee and biccies tantalisingly out of reach for another 15 minutes!

Thanks to all the team for refusing to be perturbed by the rote-finding issues and to all the folks responsible for opening up the cave – please look after it.