Dowbergill by Steve Woods

The Mid-Way (2012) 

Dowbergill holds special meaning for me. Like most people I had trips either side before a first through trip. Whilst these are a bit hazy some fragments remain crystal. Free climbing the 60 foot rift when there were no ropes with Alison and Watto. The blasted crawl with no water. Dow Entrance before the collapse.

My first through trip featured a cast of thousands (well probably about a dozen) plus tour guide. Having himself learned the route from Terry Truman, who in turn had learnt this from Ken, Watto was now on scene to pass on the same to us. Turning up with two left wellies and following Russ’ advice of swapping them over should they become uncomfortable himself was in full characteristic form. At Hardy’s Horror (again pre-rope) one party’s wellies peeled off his feet. Him now suspended mid-air our guide casually catches him at the critical moment. Up through brew chamber and down and through found us all in safe hands and a trip completed in reasonable time. I’d had fun. I was hooked!

Seven through trips followed for me in almost as many weeks with many friends sharing  me gradually learning my own way through. Which is Dowbergill in a nutshell. Yes read the now widely printed route and have a go. But then have another one. Find another route. And learn it. From 800 yard chamber to many points of ascent and descent back into the stream infinite variations exist, and there’s so much to see. And the more you see it the more there is to find. Dowbergill is a good trip and good caving like good climbing is a connected sequence of carefully planned seemingly effortless movements. Infinite trips of discovery or a standard trip where your familiarity with each point of the cave evolves into a fluid motion of visual and physical memory.

DGP surv big

Like a journey well travelled internal-pictures of the cave began to fit together in a continuous sequence. A whole heap of something similarly now overlayed with this. Fun, moments, people and memories collected together into something much more than words could ever commit to this page. It would take a magician with a camera to even attempt this. But joined on one of my last through trips by Joe Mellor no unscripted words and one-liners could do justice to how well he captures this.

As Joe explains on camera without route finding the through trip has often led to long trips but with route finding generally means shorter. And this in itself begs the records that have been set whether it’s sub-1hr one-way in the stream, the double or treble or the club favourite of Sweeney on his stag-do matching the stream option but as a full traverse and in just wellies and y-fronts. Struggling now to climb Gypsum off-camera Joe confesses his own variation. The ‘Dowbergillathlon’. Having already completed the distance in the river and on the bike prior to arriving he explains post trip his intention to set off for the finish up Gt Whernside. I’ll stick to caving.

The Stream Way (2017/18) 

For various reasons 5 years now elapsed before I got back to Dowbergill and in many ways to Dowbergill caving. Post club digger’s dinner Ian and Adele suggest a trip there.


Kitting up sat outside the camera captures a different Dowbergill me. Apprehensive. A whole host of well-paid folks have told me now I need to take it easy. The fun I’ve had here now replaced with some un-fun in intervening years. Remembering the trip with Joe. I’m quiet, nervous, disappointed and frustrated. Not me.

It takes the best part of Dow and half way along before Gypsum for me to start to be here. Re-find what caving should be. Now over the block and following Ian and Adele under Gypsum each moment slowly begins to bring fun back into focus. Reaching the Narrows Dowbergill now working it’s magic. We sit and watch. Ian in his element.

Turning round. Heading back out. Back under Gypsum. Soon out through Dow. Back down in Kettlewell. A pint in the Blue Bell. A post trip laugh. We share a great time. I’ve had a great time.

Going for a run or a swim could be so easily compared with solo caving. Like loads of folks I know, I’ve got home from work and got out on the moors or got to and into the pool. Caving is the same. Recently in Fossil I’ve had days where work or other stuff has just taken a bit too much and wanting something back I’ve got my stuff together and just gone.

Wanting to get out and go caving and with all the usual suspects tied up with other stuff I thought about Fossil and then there again was Dowbergill. So kitted up and caving I had a half plan. A repeat of my last trip with Ian and Adele. But there was more to it than that.

With water levels much higher I’d planned this time to go over Gypsum and then try to get back under. At rock window evidence of the recent rescue and exceptionally high water levels was still visible. Reaching the narrows and out to the furthest point last time I’d chatted to Adele about the squeeze and prepared a plan to avoid getting stuck. Flawless advice from Adele and Steve Warren’s exceptional survey saw me through the other side and off past and now back finding my way through the unfamiliar. Dowbergill. Now this was familiar!


Carrying on in the stream for a bit more now pretty cold I decided I’d done what I set out to and turned round to head back. Soon back at Gypsum I was under the first bit but stopped half way by a block well underwater which now fairly shivering I decided would be there for next time. So climbing out I was again up and over and soon back out with a plan to come back.

Bank holiday weekend and with the cyclists gone and Park Rash quiet I got sorted and on the hottest day so far was soon this time with an extra layer back at Gypsum. With the water levels much lower I still opted for going up and over the first bit having decided to leave the last section should I feel like it for the end and my way out. Through the squeeze and to my final previous point in the Narrows I was back route finding.

Climbing up a knotted rope ahead lay a traverse. Time for a confession. I’d moved from the High Level to Mid not entirely out of any route finding evolution. I truly hate the traverses in Dowbergill. And here now was something I’d not even considered. Folks talk about the route through in the stream all the way. Well any amount of traversing no doubt is something worth forgetting. Sat there now looking ahead my plan was 800 yard chamber. I’d done these before. I wasn’t going to come off. A reasonable way up, that wasn’t an option.

Heading steadily for the first block I was soon out in space again traversing now in a much wider bit but again with a block ahead again. An idea emerging. I had an inkling where I was. A short length of rope hung from a block above so I climbed up again and forward then instinct took me up again and I grinned from ear to ear as I saw something familiar. It’s hard now to put into words this moment. Ahead was the mid-level boulder-choke. I’d been here before. Years before. Many many times. And I was back like before. Time for another confession. Yes when through the choke I did cheer. At least a few times.

Forward now the route was familiar. The cave played back through my memory as I reached each move and each block and corner. The memories and fun played forward to the fun I was now having. Back along the stream. Free climb up the rope I could remember climbing down with Joe filming and me grinning, along and down through the blocks back into the stream, forward through the Near Narrows and out into a space again so familiar, 800 yard chamber. Pleased as punch I found a comfy bit sat down and finished my pop and what I’d brought with me.

Now heading out and back at Gypsum again I was soon under the first bit to my point of exit last time. Warmer now in the water I was under and soon at the end. Here was what I’d really come for. Free diving under the block was something I’d wanted to do more than anything. So again with apprehension but this time overplayed with all the right stuff plus a good dose of excitement, with one hand through on the edge of the duck and helmet pushed forward I was down, forward and through and back out again. Grin now repeated.


Heading out back at the high block normally climbed over I spotted just enough airspace and was back down up-to my ears again. Back out through dow and over the stream I’d had a brilliant trip and I knew I’d soon be back. Surrounded by glorious sunshine over the stile and back down to the car by Wirral’s garage the camera this time catches why I’d come back. Dowbergill me.


Back down in Kettlewell a text to Chris (my callout) to say I was out and a follow-up reply to say meet in the pub. Him and Joe had been digging up at Fossil. Sat now outside the pub in the glorious sunshine mutal fun had that day was shared. Plans were made for more. The familiar. Good times; rediscovered.