Long Churn Cave – Underground Winter Madness   26 comments

As I suspect you may have gathered by now, I have a couple of screws loose or as others have remarked, I’m not wired in the head properly. This leads me to undertake activities that involve getting very wet and very cold. Hopefully you’ve come across some of my kayak surfing and gill scrambling exploits so now here’s another – caving – in winter!

I’ve dabbled in the speleological arts in the past including some of the dangling from bits of rope type but that takes a lot of things I don’t have. Like ability, skill, strength, commitment and the like. These days me and GM are more than happy with couple of hours scrambling about in easy walk-in, walk-out caves with no need to scare the crap out of ourselves abseiling into deep pot-holes.

Luckily the Yorkshire Dales has plenty of these easy caves so we met up for a pre-caving planning session in Bernie’s cafe in Ingleton over a lunch of Lasagne and chips. Despite the fact that we’d found numerous options we plumped for the local classic, Long Churn cave above Selside on the lower eastern slopes of Ingleborough. We’ve been down there many times and it has loads of interesting features as well as being easy and straightforward. This time however we had the advantage of waterproof cameras to capture all the various thrills and spills. Taking photos underground in a cave is not as easy as it looks. It’s, well, dark and, well, wet. Kind of hard to find a setting that works well and keep the water off the lens. Mind you, considering the limitations of severely testing conditions and little or no ability with a camera I don’t think we’ve done too badly.

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Pen-y-Ghent from Alum Pot

It was a miserable day, cold and wet and neither of us were particularly enthused by the idea of stripping off to put wet suits on in the pishing rain. Needs must though and after a very hurried apparel change we were heading off into the hills.

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Me in full garb

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GM ready for action

The views improved a little on the way up as we passed the entrance to Alum Pot, a massive hole around 100m deep. The Long Churn system runs just below the surface with several entrances before it eventually joins up with Alum Pot where novices reach their limit. We wandered about in the rain for a few minutes before we found the top entrance and the underground journey began.

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GM in the entrance point

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Me above Dr Bannisters Hand-Basin

The first section is the hardest as you descend a 4m waterfall called Doctor Bannisters Hand-Basin. It looks quite intimidating with the water dropping down a chute at angle into a deep pool. Not as hard as it sounds. Whilst out in the open air, Limestone is one of the planets slipperiest surfaces, underground without any sun to grow the green slime that lives on the surface, it gives really good grip. It looks and feels a little intimidating, especially with the noise of the water but you just straddle the stream and inch your way down before climbing down into the pool.

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Me descending Dr Bannisters Hand-Basin

It’s a great introduction to the cave and from there it’s a classic underground water passage, more than head high, snaking around with loads of small waterfalls and side passages from long abandoned courses with little mini-calcite features and crystals.

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Calcite features

Caving isn’t for everyone but for me it’s fascinating that there is a whole underground world just below the surface. Combined with some entertaining scrambling and crawling around and a chance to play in the water it’s a great day out. At this time of year it’s a bit cold on the hands and feet but providing you have a wetsuit on it’s actually not that cold as all the crawling and scrambling about is hard work enough to keep you warm. Mind you I have to admit that the getting changed at the start and finish is pretty unpleasant on a cold wet December day in Yorkshire.

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More calcite features

The main passage splits and we headed away from the water down a drier side passage. There are several spots of crawling and little falls, narrow squeezes and the like to keep the entertainment up as you head deeper into the system.

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GM descends one of the small cascades

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The Long Churn Ghost

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Calcite columns

You eventually pass one of the caves most famous and endearing sections. The Cheese Press. You get to crawl through a bedding plane just about high enough to squeeze your body through into a parallel tunnel. I’ve done it a couple of times before and remember feeling the rock on my back and stomach as I squeezed through. Both me and GM gave a look and decided we didn’t need to prove ourselves and more importantly didn’t want to get stuck now that middle age has had its inevitable impact.

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Me slithering about on the waterfalls

We squirmed and squeezed our way down to the point where mere mortals have to stop at the Dollytubs pot where the cave plunges into some serious potholes where you in fact come out in Alum Pot where we peered down earlier. GM has been all the way to the bottom on a previous outing but this was far enough for today.

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Looking into Dollytubs pot

We clambered back up, followed an alternative passage to rejoin the main flow.

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GM in one of the more restricted passages

We took a short detour to look at the top of Diccan Pot, another serious and deep pothole. The water was much deeper and fast-flowing here as well as cold.

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GM en-route to Diccan Pot

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Me en-route to Diccan Pot

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The ghost is coming to get me

GM was giving me palpitations by standing far too close to the edge. We were both pretty cold by now as some of the pools were waist deep.

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GM climbing one of the smaller falls

To make the most of the day we followed the stream passage all the way back to Doctor Bannisters Hand-Basin so we could climb back up, again much easier than it looks.

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GM climbing Dr Bannisters Hand-Basin

We were back out in the open air again and it was cold and raining. Enough fun and stupidity for one day so it was a quick dash down the hillside to the car, and off to Uncle Festers for the weekend to take in some football.

We’re planning a return visit to the area in the summer when it’s warmer to explore some of the areas other easy caves. If you are ever keen to try this you can hire some basic gear and lamps at Inglesport in Ingleton and get some advice on where to go for an easy introduction. Go on, give it a try, you know you want to. 🙂

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26 responses to “Long Churn Cave – Underground Winter Madness

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  1. awesome photo,s looks like good fun…………. i think 😉

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    • It is a more pleasurable experience in the summer when you can bask in the sunshine when you get out, but if it’s wet and miserable on the surface then why not explore below ground. Does take a certain kind of madness to do this in winter but it is great fun and its accessible to anyone with no real difficulties (you can avoid the climb/up down the Hand-Basin by using another entrance).

      You’re tempted – I can tell 🙂

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  2. The men in the white coats will be round shortly to take you to a nice warm dry place with soft comfy walls and floors…

    Madness!

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    • I think I should also admit to wearing a fleecy romper suit not too far removed from Jane’s little outfit in the past when I went caving – minus the cuddly monkey motifs I should add. Trouble is when it got wet it used to sag a little such that the crotch was down by my knees.

      Sorry for sharing that truly disturbing mental image with you 🙂

      I think I should do some gear reviews……

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  3. Here was I thinking that you’d go for the obvious ‘Going Underground’ – full of surprises you are. Next time you might consider ‘There’s A World Going On Underground’ from Tom Wait’s seminal ‘Swordfishtrombone’.
    A lifetime ago, I used to accompany parties of school-kids in Long Churn. Don’t worry, there was a responsible adult in charge. I even did a course of some sort. Instructive to have a close look at the roofs in Long Churn – it’s not too hard to find bits of grass and debris – I think the water level can rise very quickly. Isn’t the temperature a fairly steady 9 or 10 degrees year round? We used to go after work, when it was already dark – doesn’t make any difference really. And aside from the getting changed it’s really not that unpleasant, you’re right.
    Alan: “warm and dry with soft, comfy walls” anathema to Andy then.

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    beatingthebounds
    • Yep that tune was just TOO obvious. Men at Work are an under-rated band – did some pretty decent tunes.

      Never knew you were a Long Churn local guide, quite a scary thought. I think any of the bedding plane caves with running water have the same risk of flooding but it is sobering to realise even this one can flood to the roof. We should definitely arrange a weekend at your place and take the some of the kids down there. They’d love it I reckon, a real adventure

      Oh and do you remember Great Douk Cave (the one behind the Hill Inn where GM found the “back-passage”) – apparently if you scramble up into the roof you can pop out onto the moors above rather than just retracing your steps. One for next time

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      • I do. Didn’t we venture down there in shorts and t-shirts with one iffy headtorch between us? (Or something equally daft).

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        beatingthebounds
        • Sounds like us in the good old days. Not as good as exploring caves in the Pyrenees in a head torch and sunhat. I peered down into a dark hole and GM asked me what was down there. “My Head Torch!” Doh!

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  4. Now that is one sport that is not for me, gives me the shivers even thinking about it!

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    backpackingbongos
    • Not something I’d want to do every weekend – I prefer to be up on the hills in the sunshine – but for an alternative on a wet day it satisfies my need to do stupid things in the cold and wet 🙂

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  5. It’s a sport my hubby did for many years – up till about 5 years ago. Him and a mate tried to get me down Giant’s (Peak District) once. I only managed about 10 minutes, then exited in tears to wait for them at the entrance…

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    • Hi Chrissie – thanks for dropping by. Tears would be the reaction if I tried to convince my missus to go caving with me – or any other of my other cold and wet sports. I’ve been down Giants a few times, as caves go its a bit of a classic but you do need a certain kind insanity to want to do it – hence the reason I enjoy it 🙂

      Been meaning to catch up on your blog for a while. I’ll add you to my blogroll and RSS feeds

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      • Hi, thanks for that. I’ve not been blogging very long – it takes a while to work out who everyone is and which blog belongs to who etc doesn’t it!

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        • Takes up most of my spare time writing my own stuff and keeping up with everyone elses. Amazes me how much really great, interesting varied stuff is out there. I still reckon there is loads of stuff I haven’t come across yet if I do a proper read through of the blogrolls on the sites I read regularly.

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  6. wow! fascinating stuff. Although I don’t think Id be attempting it in winter. There’s a fair few caves within an hours drive of me at some photographic locations I frequent but I always forget to take a torch with me though. Have tried venturing in with the external camera flash but it’s not much use. Extreme darkness to extreme brightness, not good for the eyes.

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    • It’s not all that cold in the cave in winter other than the extremities – it’s the getting changed that’s the tough bit 🙂

      It’s fun for a change but not something I’d want to do regularly I have to say

      I need to do some research for next time on how to set the camera up for underground shots although considering we just pointed and pressed and hoped for the best I don’t think the results are too bad – at least it captures the feel of the underground world

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      • Your results look pretty good I have to say. Best way to set up the camera would be to use a small tripod, set the camera to a long exposure, and use your torches to light up the cave whilst camera is capturing an image. Must try this myself

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        • Thanks David – great to get some advice from an expert. I can manually set the ISO, exposure and shutter speed (amongst many other things) – any suggestions?

          I need to order one of those little Gorilla tripods that seem be just the job for outdoors. Best photos seemed to work with the lamp turned off of whoever was taking the photo and using the flash. It was all a bit random to be honest as we tried changing various settings and positions and I did what I normally do which is take loads and hopefully some will work. It’s all a bit dark noisy and cold down there to be too precise 🙂

          I’d would like to go back down again in summer and try to set up some proper photos and see how they turn out ow I know what to do

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  7. I would try a 30 second exposure to begin with, ISO 100 and the widest aperture you have. Try experimenting in a completely dark room several times. Use a high powered flashlight and evenly coat the walls – takes quite a bit of practice though.

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  8. Great Photos.That certainly brings back memories Andy. Around 20 years ago I explored these caves with a local caving team from Manchester.Thanks to them We had ropes, ladders,all the gear I remember crawling through the cheese press as if it was yesterday and a girl with a large chest getting stuck halfway.Everyone was trying not to laugh.The descent into Alum pot was one of the highlights of the trip.Game girl though she made right to the end and joined the caving scene soon after.There,s something really special about caving.You seem to have had more water in there than us though.

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    • It was a pretty wet day so there was lots of water. Long Churn is perfect for a little afternoon sport. Part of me would love to take up the proper SRT caving again but the rest of me says be happy with the easy stuff. I just love the whole underground world and tye sense of exploration of a hidden world. Best trip we did was Swinsto cave in Kingsdale. It’s a one-way, pull-through trip, pretty daunting when you reach the bottom of the first pot and pull the rope down and realise you can’t opt out now!

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  9. Andy, doing a lot of catching up. Went down caving in this area as a teenager, but encountered less water than you did ! Great photos.

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    • It’s a great place to be introduced to caving, loads of interesting features and very safe and hazard free – I’m hoping to persuade the kids to give it a go in the summer

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  10. did it today the waters were raging through… my first time managed 2 photos.. but not of this quality… camera covered on water and my feet still not recovered properly… would love to try it again… when its not too wet ;0

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    • Thanks Dave, it’s a great cave for a bit of play, must have been a real challenge with all the rain that fell over the weekend. Even with a waterproof camera it’s hard to keep the lens clear of water and take photos in the dark. I have some stuff to expel water from the lens (it’s for car windscreens so you can buy it in Halfords) and a small lightweight tripod. Time for another underground trip I think!

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