Raisgill Wood Cave and Pot by Phil Ryder

Raisgill Wood Cave NGR SD 90625 78335 Alt 371m

Raisgill Wood Pot NGR SD 90601 78352 Alt 367m

Total Length 134m Depth 25.8m (Cave entrance to dig)

Survey Drawn by Phil Ryder and Steve Warren.

Photos by John Clarke and Phil Ryder.

At the end of August 2010 Chris Smith suggested that we should look at a new area for a dig, given that our then current site was going nowhere fast. The area in question, the moor above Raisgill Wood in Langstrothdale with the known caves of Goon Pot and Hurrits Hole, had been looked at many times before but, though it contains several sinking streams, nothing of significance had been found. Smithy, John Clarke and I spent a couple of hours sweeping the fells, until John and I realised we had lost Smithy. We hunted high and low and screamed ourselves hoarse, all to no avail. Eventually, we heard the deaf old bugger shouting from lower down the hill: he had found something.

Below the moor a series of small scars step down into the valley and Smithy had found a draughting hole on a small terrace between two scars. And, by hell, did it draught!
The following week, with lan Cummins in tow, within thirty minutes we uncovered a muddy and very tight squeeze that led to the top of a 7m aven. The rest of them all set off, enthusiastically (I was far too large to fit), but they returned much later looking gloomy. Yes, they had found another bloody sump! We poked around on the surface before going home and John found another draughting hole by the side of a small cliff some 40m away from what is now called Raisgill Wood Pot.

 

Raisgill Wood Cave15
John Clarke in Raisgill Wood Cave. New water supply pipe can be seen at bottom. Photo Phil Ryder.

The start of the pot consists of three parallel avens in a rift; originally, the right-hand aven was laddered and descended. The normal route is to now veer to the left once down the entrance slope, traverse over a tight aven taking a stream, to reach the main aven and an 8.5m pitch. At the bottom, all three avens connect on a ledge and a second pitch of 3.6m leads to a chamber and the sump.

A week later, while the others were in the pot, lan and I dug out some rocks from the nearby draughting hole – lan was inside within twenty minutes. A flat-out crawl in a stream that contains three inlets, (all become too tight), led to some larger passage, until the going lowered and lan could hear Smithy and his drill in Raisgill Wood Pot. The new site was named Raisgill Wood Cave, as the two caves are obviously linked; the cave enters the pot at the inlet next to the aven with the 8.5m pitch, but this route was impassable.

The entrance to Raisgill Wood Pot lies in very hard limestone so we had trouble widening it to allow access for normal human beings, until Phil Parker, whilst recovering from an eye operation, capped it for us. We also tried opening up the constriction to connect the pot to the cave, but blasting resulted in two boulders appearing at the foot of the 8.5m pitch, so all further work stopped immediately. Ian reckons he could get through this tight connection now, but as far as I know it hasn’t been attempted yet.

With the help of Steve Warren we scaffolded the entrance to the pot and added a frame and cover (Raisgill Wood Cave received similar treatment, first being snappered then fitted with a frame and cover).

Raisgill Wood Cave and Pot

In 2011, attempts were made to pass the sump, which is formed in a rift in a shale band – the right-hand wall of the sump echoed when hit with a hammer, indicating a space nearby, and we thought that a flake of rock might have fallen and blocked the rift. Blasting ensued, but the sump ended by being completely filled with bang debris, so efforts here ceased.

From the chamber at the bottom of the pitches another passage led to a small hole emitting a powerful draught. We enlarged this, to enter a stooping-height chamber with a minute passage leading off that carried a cold, howling gale. Chris and John decided that it might produce a sump bypass, so we started months of gruelling work, banging and removing spoil, lan and Simon Beck occasionally assisted the pair, while I offered backup and safety.

Eventually, the diggers became despondent; the months of hard labour hadn’t resulted in a breakthrough, so we drifted away to other surface digs. Then, in 2012 after a flood, a trip to Raisgill Wood Pot revealed that the sump was completely free of bang debris, lan undertook a dive and thought he could see the wall cutting under on the right-hand side. In the dry week at the end of March, Chris, John, lan and Simon, armed with a large sheet of pond liner, installed a dam and a manually operated water pump. After two hours they emptied the sump, which turned out to be about 2.5m deep; like the other passage, it carried a howling gale. Ian entered the dried-out rift and managed to take a picture of a body-sized passage going off underneath the right-hand wall.

The following week the club generator and a submersible pump were taken to the hole. The pump worked well and this time the sump was dry in less than thirty minutes. We gave the right-hand wall a good thumping in an attempt to break through, but for the following months it kept raining so our sump bypass attempts were curtailed.

 

 

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Looking up the 2 pitches in Raisgill Wood Pot with John Wootton at the bottom of the first pitch. Photo John Clarke.

During that early part of 2012 the farmer, Stuart, moaned to us that he was having problems bringing water to his livestock below Raisgill Wood, as the usual springs used for decades were drying up.
We formulated a plan to brick up an inlet in Raisgill Wood Cave, then take a pipe to the surface via Raisgill Wood Pot – with a natural fall to the outlet, no siphon should be required and, with a tap on the end, it could be used to fill a couple of troughs. We transported all the building material to the cave, but it rained and rained and rained and no work was possible; the now-useless cement set in the bags. The task was eventually completed in May 2013. A length of alkathene pipe was pulled through the entrance to Raisgill Wood Cave and into the pot, connecting the source to the surface.

 

After months of being drenched and eaten alive by clouds of midges, Chris and John decided that pushing the tight passage at the end of Raisgill Wood Pot was preferable to our surface digs. On 2 February 2013 Chris and John broke into a narrow rift bearing to the left, where it is so tight they encountered problems drilling some flakes that must be removed. However, the cold, howling gale still whistled past their ears and they could hear a stream running, probably from the sump.

In all Chris and John progressed about 30m along this passage, via a chamber called Billy Fury, but eventually they realised they had to end it and go to new horizons. The last trip down the pot was by John Clarke and John Wootton in January 2015, where John W. rebolted the pitches.

Other diggers involved with the exploration of Raisgill Wood Cave / Pot were Graham Huck, Richard Gibson, Martyn Soliman and John Southworth.