Back in Chapel Lodge by Phil Ryder

Chapel Lodge Cave: Denis Bushell, Ian Cummins, Richard Gibson, Graham Huck, and Phil Ryder (7 May 2017).

Chapel Lodge Cave is subject to total and unpredictable flooding: parts of the cave are flooded for most of the year.

The stream in the cave serves the dairy farm and there is no access to this cave.

For a proper description of our exploration of the cave please see White Rose Pothole Club Journal 2001. Here is a precis; found by Andy Colau of the CPC; the cave was 30 metres long to a choke. The choke was banged by Harry Long and Ian Watson to enter a nicely decorated chamber but the way on was blocked as a section of roof had collapsed.

White Rose diggers tackled this roof collapse from 1991 to 1993. Sterling work being done especially by Chris Camm and Graham Huck with a Hilti Drill and plugs and feathers, to advance over 20 metres through the collapsed bedding to enter large rift passage beyond. A sand blockage farther on was eventually passed, Hucky and I being first through, to reach even larger passage ending in a boulder choke below an aven, and an upstream sump. Over 700 metres of new passage in total were explored.

But the cave has a fearsome reputation and can only be entered after periods of dry weather, the cave flooding like Sleets Gill unpredictably after a days delay. Normally a stream halfway in the cave disappears and re-emerges via a pump house, for a farm water supply, the first half of the cave from the entrance being dry, but in flood the cave completely fills to the roof and even more worrying is that the cave floods at the entrance crawl first. The diggers had at least two very close calls.

After the flood has subsided, the collapsed beddings can take a month to drain away. Not a place for the fainthearted!

In the subsequent 24 years since the large White Rose extensions, the cave has only been entered once, in 2001, as far as I know. A club trip had been scheduled down Chapel Lodge for the last 3 years, but has had to be abandoned in each case due to the inclement weather.

Forward to Spring 2017, no Club Trip, but a dry spell so it suddenly becomes a reality for Sunday 7th. Things nearly collapse at the last minute as numerous visits by Hucky to see the farmer for permission go awry as he is out all hours tending his new born lambs. Hucky finally gets permission Saturday evening, but there’s another problem, the steep cliff above the entrance to Chapel Lodge Cave has collapsed filling the entrance full of large boulders.

Ian and Denis are still keen to try and get in the cave so at 10:30 the Famous Five have a go at trying to clear the entrance blockage. Denis is very ebullient after getting his life back following his liver transplant and starts removing the blockage like a man possessed. One big quartz-like boulder needs 3 sets of caps to break it up, Hucky banging it into submission, but at just after 13:00 with a couple of tonnes of soil and boulders shifted, we are ready to enter. We’ve had to dig down 1.5 metres to reach the cave entrance – a quite tiring experience.

At last into the cave again, after only 24 years for me. The cave was bone dry, all the mud and shingle formed into rock-solid formations; we should have brought the crowbar!

I headed off by myself as I wanted to see the cave again as I remembered it, eventually reaching the blasted bit with a 2 metre vertical squeeze up through calcited boulders. I knew this was one of the cruxes of the cave but couldn’t remember how to get up it easily. Launching myself up, I just ended as if in a straitjacket with my little legs flailing about in the air.

Denis, who was ahead of me offered to hang down a sling to help me up, but I knew there was an easier way so I went down again and waited for Richard G to arrive. Attempting the constriction again, Richard moved back my left foot only 2 cm to put it on a solid nodule that allowed me to propel up easily into the chamber above.

With Denis and Ian going forwards it was the beddings next. 24 years ago the beddings contained numerous shallow pools that ensured you didn’t remain there long. The constant traffic of the diggers wore a trench through the mud and also the mix of mud and water formed a lubricant that made it easier to slip through.

Not anymore, they were completely dry and full of rock hard mud that had built up since I was last here. I got to the end of the beddings where you have to twist sideways and go up into a large chamber, the start of Kings Head Rift. But my chest was stuck, where’s the crowbar when you need it! The elfin forms of Denis and Ian had passed through here earlier, but there was nowhere I was going to push it by myself.

Hucky eventually came up behind me and helped me reverse out of the tight, twisting beddings. My ribs hurt for a couple of days after the trip. When recounting the tale later to Denis he said I had eaten all the Fray Bentos pies and suggested it wasnÕt my chest but my fat gut that had got stuck!

We went back to catch up with Gibbo who was feeling under the weather after eating something that didn’t agree with him and exited, Denis and Ian appearing not long after. They had reached about 400m into the cave till they found Paranoid Crawl choked with sand again.

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Chapel Lodge Cave is subject to total and unpredictable flooding: parts of the cave are flooded for most of the year.

The stream in the cave serves the dairy farm and there is no current access to this cave.

This Article Was Published Originally in The White Rose Pothole Club Newsletter, Vol 36(2), June 2017 p16-21, and titled ‘Chapel Lodge Cave by Phil Ryder’