…that is what my friend Mark said to us while we were having a lunch break at Rocking Hall (picture above) and admiring the landscape on that first Sunday of March. That was definitely the appropriate superlative (well technically it’s an oxymoron) to describe that moment. After two hours walk in the snow, cold and wet, the relative comfort of Rocking Hall refuge was most welcomed and one can understand why he said that. We were looking at a landscape so bare that in normal circumstances no one would think much about it but the snow, the low sky and the weary atmosphere of the place made that moment special.
It was bleak but gorgeous. And I think that is somehow what is magical about the Yorkshire Dales, even in the worst weather conditions, it still looks attractive. It’s like wanting to go and look at waves striking the coastline during a storm, it’s that force of nature that attracts us. The Yorkshire Dales is a force of nature in a way. The landscape was created after millions of years of tectonic plate movements, sedimentary rock accumulation, erosion (especially glacial erosion) and most recently human activities. And all this to our delight because today this landscape is the playground of a large number of Great Outdoors activities. And to quote Mark again, in the Yorkshire Dales, you can go either “underground, horizontal or vertical”, that’s caving, walking or climbing. I’m pretty sure you can go in the sky too but Mark didn’t seem too enthusiastic about that. Anyway my point is that there is so much to do in the Yorkshire Dales that you won’t believe it unless you are in the know. It’s no big secret though. Take caving for example, it’s actually really accessible in the Yorkshire Dales and the caving system is one of the most extensive in the UK with “over 2,000 caves and potholes (vertical shafts) in the area and more than 400km of surveyed passage” (see Yorkshire Dales National Park page on caving). Although you need to know where you are going and have the right equipment for it, there aren’t any restrictions to any cave apparently so it’s there for everyone to enjoy.
Well, thanks to my friends from Onna Walks, I had the chance to enjoy it too. Ever since I joined the group last year, Mumtaz had told me about her love for caving and said that I should try it one day. I’d never been really sure about it because of my claustrophobia – I like to see the horizon basically. The opportunity arose last year just before Christmas when Mumtaz told us that she managed to get some funding through Mosaic for our group to do some caving (see article I wrote about Mosaic). She kept nagging me to go and I finally accepted. Unfortunately due to adverse weather, the trip had to be postponed twice. It’s only after the third attempt, the day before my walk on Rocking Moor, that I had the opportunity for the first time in my life to experience caving. I must say I really enjoyed it! Beside my fear of enclosed space, I actually didn’t think much about it before and thought it would just be like a stroll underground. What a misconception, it’s much more than that and it’s quite physical too! There was a clue though when Mumtaz told me to take a full set of changing clothes because I would be completely soaked. And yes, you get soaked but what fun you have! Fortunately we had the expertise of the Yorkshire Dales Guides with us and they lent us the correct equipment, an under-suit and an over-suit, a pair of wellies and the vital lamp/helmet. There were six of us including Mark from earlier, brave enough to try it out and apart from Mumtaz we were all novices.
|Once ready and briefed we left for Long Churn Cave on the foot of Ingleborough. Our guide was Shaun and he really made us feel at ease. He kept saying he’d give us some challenges but I was still in the mindset of going for a gentle stroll and didn’t pay much attention, just following the rest of the group and trying not to get too wet. That’s up until Shaun told me to go through a hole not much larger than a cat flap. I might be exaggerating but I tell you, that was a real squeeze. Mark was leading the way but I couldn’t keep up with his agile manners and soon felt really exhausted. You really have to use all your body to make it to the other|
|side, it’s quite challenging but it feels really good once you’ve made it. I was completely soaked but didn’t feel cold at all, must be the adrenaline that ran through my body thinking I was going to get stuck in that hole! Then we carried on and went up and down the cave system following the stream, jumping in thigh deep pools, knee crawling in passages, climbing rocks and going through squeezes again. Along the way there were wonders such as Dr Bannister’s Handbasin, a large waist deep pool with a waterfall tumbling into it at the far end. We all had our picture taken behind the waterfall (see right). We eventually had to make our way back to daylight but what a spectacular adventure that was!|
So the Yorkshire Dales might be a “bleak gorgeous” place but don’t be fooled by its landscape, there is a lot more than you think under your feet too!