Caves and potholes form a major part of our limestone landscape. This landscape is known as karst and the Yorkshire Dales National Park is the finest and most extensive example in Britain. There are over 2500 known caves in the Dales including the longest system in Britain, The Three Counties, and the famous large chamber of Gaping Gill. There are popular beginners trips such as Long Churns with its famous squeeze called the Cheesepress, and Great Douk Cave.
Caving is not all about crawling either – there are magnificent stream way passages where the ceiling is high in the distance and big chambers – Gaping Gill is large enough to accommodate St Paul’s Cathedral. If you think it is dank and gloomy you also need to think again, with their beautiful passages and shafts and calcite formations such as stalactites, stalagmites, curtains and flowstone, they can be places of great beauty and peace.
How do caves form?
The caves of the Yorkshire Dales have formed in limestone rock over a period of many thousands of years. Limestone is a strong rock but has many joints and cracks and is also soluble in rainwater, although extremely slowly. In cave systems other processes are also involved in their formation. Abrasion by sand and cobbles is very important. Spray erosion occurs near underground waterfalls. In larger chambers wall and roof collapse can speed up these processes.
How can I explore them?
Go on a course
Exploring caves takes knowledge, the right equipment and experience. It is best to gain these either through a course run be a qualified guide, or by joining a local club. If you know what you are doing and just need to hire some equipment, then Inglesports is the place to go.
Alternatively you can gain a taste of the experience by visiting one of the show caves in the Dales:
Annual winch into Gaping Gill
Each year members of the public can be lowered into Gaping Gill by winch to see the dramatic main chamber from underground. The winch meets are organised by Craven and Bradford Pothole Clubs and occur every year centred around the bank holidays at the end of May and end of August.