Foxholes, Kilnsey by Richard Bendall

NGR SD 97725 65925 Alt 250m Length c220m Depth 12m

Back in December 1999 Graham Huck and I went for a walk to check out an old site Hucky looked at back in his Craven days. Thought once to have been the home to vermin and issuing a strong draught my curiosity was aroused.

My next visit in May 2000 was with Richard Gibson. We decided to look into the hole and began re-excavating from the entrance. Rocks were removed to the surface, but to speed up progress soil was pasted to the walls. 10m of progress was quickly achieved to where the passage widened slightly and the floor rose 10 to 12 cm. This is thought to have been the previous limit of excavation. Richard Gibson pushed on another 2m to where the roof dome diverged.

A week later I returned with Graham Huck and Chris Smith. At the end a gap down to the left was opened up. An almost parallel tube joined the main route but also headed back toward the entrance and is thought to connect to one of the two holes adjacent to Foxholes entrance. To push on with the main route spoil was shovelled into the left hand void. Easy progress was made for 3m before the roof began to rise and broke out into a chamber. The chamber cut across and to the right of the tube, was 3m high, 3m long and 1m wide. The roof is a flat bedding with two small inlets at each end. The continuation of the tube could be seen under the opposite wall but was partially filled by the debris cone running in from the chamber.

FoxholesWe exited then but all returned that evening. About a cubic metre of debris was stacked in the chamber to allow Chris to slide into the tube with me following. What a continuation! Ribbed, like looking down a throat, and pebble floored, the tube descended slightly maintaining a straight line and bore, 0.6m x 1m. After 20m the tube split, ahead continued, but was low (needs digging). The main route on turned left and sloped away about 0.6m but was barred by a small mud bank and cobbles. Here, another tube entered from the left, united with the main route and continued into the hill to the right. Looking bigger beyond, only a little digging was needed to get on again. However, satisfied with the evening’s progress we swung our legs round at the junction to turn and rejoined Graham Huck in the chamber. Exiting we measured a total of some 35m back to the entrance with the tape. With tubes to be dug left, right and centre and an open continuation, spirits were high. Not bad after only three small trips!

On Saturday 3rd June 2000 Chris Smith and I braving the pouring rain set off to push the end where previously the open continuation could be seen but access had been restricted by a small silt bank. After only a short time we were through and the passage (Squealer Crawl) was open ahead. We had crossed over into another phreatic tube of similar dimensions to the one we had been in. There was a tiny trickle of water coming in from the upstream continuation of this left hand tube. The two tubes appeared to be running parallel to each other separated by only 2m. The water ran down the clean washed tube floor with only an occasional pebble in the way. The passage slowly descended with little deviation, continuing into the hill. After about 50m there was a small alcove on the left and immediately forward a silt bank was encountered. Sliding over this, the passage was seen to continue straight ahead but 90 degrees to the right a small tube could be seen with a blank wall about 3m away and the floor looked to descend. Draughts exited from both continuations. Another short dig and we emerged into a larger almost stooping height phreatic tube. It looked as if we had crossed back over into the right hand tube.

A small stream entered from the right with the upstream way on wide open. This was thought to be the continuation of the right hand tube. We decided to leave this for another day for John Clarke, and did not even poke our heads in but could see at least 6m forward.
The small stream had cut a vadose trench in the floor of the phreatic tube and could be seen and heard to flow beneath the mud floor of the downstream passage. The passage was bigger than that we had been in. We thought that this was it, we were off, caverns measureless to man! Chris shot down the passage passing a slot at floor level to the left but after about 15m the silt floor rose preventing easy progress. Ahead draughted and the floor could be seen to drop away again about 6m ahead. Chris began to dig at this blockage.

Whilst I had another look at the slot, also draughting and wondered if it linked back to the left hand tube so also began to dig. When it was big enough to get a good look in, I could see the up and down stream continuations of the left hand tube. The character of the passage was more towards a bedding cave, lower and wider than the tubes we had been following. A bit more digging and Chris gave up his efforts at the silt bank and joined me. We were through. Chris slid in, wrestled a fallen block from the clean washed streamway and shot off. I followed. About 12m of flat out crawling led to a pot taking all the water. Ahead the passage continued but was silted preventing access but the draught was still there. To the right there looked to be a mud run-in possibly from the right-hand tube. A good echo could also be heard. To dig forward would require sending spoil down the pot and possibly blocking a way on so we retreated the 12m back to the larger right-hand tube and decided to retreat. We guesstimated distances on our way out at 120m, getting bigger and still going.

The next few trips saw John Clarke, Nigel Easton, Martyn Soliman and Steve Warren introduced to the delights of this cave. Photographing and surveying were well underway but little progress was made in extending the passage length although a voice and light connection was established at the end between the left and right hand tubes. It is a claustrophobic place to be at the end, you could crack and after a good session of flat out digging the journey out, although welcome, takes your last reserves; ‘a place not for the faint hearted.’

On Sunday 1st October 2000 John Clarke and Graham Huck and I set off to push the connection from left to right hand tubes. John set about digging the connection whilst we worked the right hand tube. Within 10 minutes John’s head popped up 1.5m in front of me. John could see open passage beyond but the connection needed a little modification to make access easier. We joined John as he slipped up and through the connection, immediately dropping 0.6m over the mud fill, into hands and knees crawling size passage. I opened the connection some more and joined John 8m forward where the passage lowered and widened and became more characteristic of a bedding cave. The two tubes we had been following had united at a wide junction. To the left was low, only 12cm high for 1.5m to the left hand wall but it also lead back to where Hucky was at the pot in the left hand tube. Ahead, a small roof dome led off for 5m and ahead on the right a 1m x 0.25m high tube led off. The passage was in all about 2.5m wide and allowed for turning round. John thought that to the left the floor dropped, possibly where water had once flowed away but this was very low. Ahead was too narrow, required a lot of digging and did not look promising and the right also looked too low and not promising. So much for the eye operation “old bat eyes” had forked out for!

Unfortunately John had ripped a stomach muscle writhing through the connection and retired to where Hucky was working to enlarge the connection. They both agreed to exit, Graham suffering with alcopop poisoning from the exploits with a hen party the night before. I had worked forward 1m and could look around the corner and see down the right hand tube. Open passage lay beyond. A couple of calcited cobbles in the floor were the only things preventing me wriggling through. Alas we were without hammer and chisel. Though 10m had been gained, a frustrated exit was made, as knowing that with little effort, it was about to go again.

Tuesday 2nd January 2001, after a long absence Graham Huck and I returned.
Hammer and chisel were carried in and Hucky made quick work enlarging the right hand tube and removing the calcited cobbles. I took over and dug through two further mud mounds to wriggle forward gaining 8m. Ahead the tube continued but a longer mud mound needed to be removed. Stretching my arm up between mud mound and wall I could feel the roof rising to my right. With a little more digging, the way through into a low 2m diameter chamber could be seen. On the far side of the chamber an arched roof suggested a tube led off and the echo was tremendous. The draught came from straight ahead but also from this chamber to the right. Sufficient had been achieved today so an exit was made but what a cave. It gives you a bit and then shows you a bit more.

Eleven days later John and I had a good session excavating under the right hand wall before Chris took over and was able to squeeze between the calcite floor and roof arch to enter the chamber and was off down the wide open tube seen at the far side of the chamber. Barely hands and knees crawling the tube headed down dip, back into the hill in a similar, parallel direction as the tube we had crossed over from.

I followed Chris into the chamber. Panic struck! The squeeze below the arched roof was tight and required a fair chest compression. Once through, the “chamber” that had looked so large and enticing, allowed for the minimal of head movement only. About 2.5m in diameter and floored with mud I began to create some breathing space and dug frantically at the floor. John was following close up behind and was encouraged by me to continue to improve the modest dimensions of the squeeze as in it’s current state a reversal back through the squeeze was a wholly frightening prospect.

It’s amazing how the distraction of digging calms the mind, pulse rate and breathing! Regaining composure I realised the sound of Chris scuttling off down the continuation was quickly becoming fainter and fainter. Eventually all communication was lost. John, a man slight of frame, was eager to follow, thinking the break we had been waiting for was now taking Chris off to caverns measureless to man. The trouble was some fat git was in the way! Work continued. I had now engineered a more comfortable position and was able to look at the upstream continuation past a few stals. John could now pass but chose to wait as the sounds of Chris activities returned.

Chris had followed the tube for some 30m of crawling to a calcited hole in the floor into which the tiny stream flowed. A glimpse up and Chris noted a hole in the roof but no apparent way on. Also, there was no-where to turn round. And, the incline of the tube had increased. A puffing Smithy came back into the chamber having had to reverse the whole way back up the inclined tube.
Enough was enough so the three exited. Next line of attack? Survey to the end (feet first!) and check it out. Best prospect, probably to dig forward from the arch squeeze in the original tube where the draught was strongest.

The site was never reported as it was still going and the diggers wanted to go back, but never did. The Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001 started shortly after this article ends curtailing most caving activities in The Dales until the end of the year and then Richard Bendall’s work took him out of Wharfedale.
Access to the dig was given by the local farmer, a lovely man who sadly passed away several years ago. Any future access would have to be negotiated with the landowner – P.R.