A Brief History of Exploration


The entrances to Gaping Gill and Ingleborough Cave have been known from very early times. Always a source of mystery and legend holes in the ground were regarded as places to avoid until the middle of the nineteen-century. The following is a record of the significant events, which eventually led to a connection between the two caves.

1842 - The first attempt to descend the GG Main Shaft. J. Birkbeck digs a diversion ditch half a mile upstream from the entrance to divert Fell Beck away from the shaft. He was lowered on a rope by local farm labourers until he reached a ledge 190 feet down, now known as Birkbeck's Ledge.

1872 – Lateral Passage entered and the depth of the shaft measured at 365 feet.

1882 – Alfred E. Clibborn from Bentham made an attempt on the main shaft but again only reached Birkbeck’s Ledge.

1895 – After extending Birkbeck’s trench the famous French caver Edouard Martel made the first successful attempt on the Main Shaft using wood and rope ladders. Martel stayed in the Main Chamber for about 2 hours and completed a remarkably accurate sketch plan. Artist's impression of Martel's ascent of Gaping Gill's Main Shaft

1896 – Members of The Yorkshire Ramblers Club reached Birkbeck’s Ledge. They later construct a jib using a large wooden beam in Lateral Passage and used this to arrange a vertical descend by boatswain’s chair to the floor of the Main Chamber. Thus Edward Calvert became the first Englishman to stand in the “Hall of Winds”. Over several more visits the YRC explorers discover East Passage and Mud Hall.

1900 – The Yorkshire Geological Society add half a ton of salt to Fell Beck; it appeared at Clapham Beck Head Cave eleven days later, proving the connection with Gaping Gill.

Artist's impression of Martel's ascent of Gaping Gill's Main Shaft
Artist's impression of Martel's
ascent of Gaping Gill's Main Shaft

1903 – T. S. Booth and W. Parsons explore a crawl off East Passage to discover South Passage and a connection with the Main Chamber.

1905 – YRC pass the “portcullis” in South Passage to explore Pool Chamber, T-Junction, Sand Cavern, Stream Chamber, Mud Pot, and the South East Passage to South East Pot. The YRC were also active in Ingleborough Cave, attempting to force the low level passages around Lake Avernus.

1907 – YRC descend South East Pot to the water table. The GG system reaches 1 mile in length.

1908 – Flood Exit Pot discovered by YSA, providing the first alternative entrance to the system. Blackburn Holden makes the second solo descent of the Main Shaft on ladders. 1909 – YRC partially explore the “Rat Hole” and discover the Spout Tunnel passages in Lateral Shaft. Rat Hole is used to divert Fell Beck from the Main Shaft.

1912 – Disappointment Pot explored to a sump.

1921 – YRC make the first winch descent of the Main Shaft using a “gantry” consisting of two timbers placed across one corner of the hole. A petrol engine is harnessed to drive the winch cable and a static guide cable is used to avoid contact with the walls and waterfall.

1930 – Craven Pothole Club hold their first GG meet, descending the Main Shaft on ladders.

1931 – CPC hold first winch meet with a gantry borrowed from YRC and begin exploration of the Rat Hole.

Gantry & boson's chair, circa 1932
Gantry & boson's chair, circa 1932

1935 – CPC members make first complete descent of Rat Hole into the Main Chamber.

1937 – Eric Hensler makes a solo trip into Booth-Parsons Crawl and discovers an extensive series of crawls leading to Hensler’s Master Cave.

1944 – R. D. Leakey dives the sump pool in Disappointment Pot. Follow up trips connect the cave with Hensler’s Master Cave, an important discovery but another disappointment. GG reaches almost 3 miles in length. 1947 – Bradford Pothole Club explore the Far Eastern Bedding in Ingleborough Cave as far as the First Wallows.

1949 – CPC Extend Carr Pot to a depth of 320 feet after passing the “letterbox” and the notorious Baptistery Crawl. The Northern Pennine Club explore Stream Passage Pot to a connection with Stream Passage in GG. The British Speleological Association explore Bar Pot to a connection with South East Passage in GG, thus providing an “all weather” entrance.

1951 – BPC discover Beck Head Stream Cave.

Junction of Hensler's Master Cave and Disappointment Pot, 1951
Junction of Hensler's Master Cave and Disappointment Pot, 1951


1953 – R. D. Leakey passes the Wallows in Ingleborough Cave and discovers the Inauguration Caverns and terminal sump. 1968 – BPC cavers pass the terminal sump in Far East Passage GG and discover the Whitsun Series. ULSA cavers pass the Blow Hole in Hensler’s Master Cave and discover the Far Country. Both series run out under Clapham Bottoms in the direction of Ingleborough Cave. The GG system reaches 6 miles in length. Bar Pot The 33m dry pitch in Bar Pot

1970 – T. Brown dives Deep Well in GG’s Far Country to a depth of 70 feet, the deepest point in the cave. M. Wooding dives the terminal sump in Ingleborough Cave and discovers Quicksand Passage (Gandalf’s Gallery).

1971 – Lancaster University Speleological Society cavers explore the Far Waters, a half -mile extension to the Far Country in GG, discovering Shallow Well.

1976 – T. G. Yeadon and R. Palmer pass sump 3 in Ingleborough Cave to discover Radagast’s Revenge.

1977 – Yeadon and Palmer reach Bilbo’s Buttery after passing sump 4 in Ingleborough Cave.

1982 – Radio location work and surveying in Far Waters and Redagast’s Revenge indicate that only a few feet separate Gaping Gill and Ingleborough Cave.

1983 – (January) Hand connection established between a dig in Far Waters and divers in Radagast’s Revenge. Dig collapses before anyone can pass.

1983 – (May) First Exchange of parties between Gaping Gill and Ingleborough Cave. G. Yeadon and G. Crossley abseil down GG Main shaft and emerge from Ingleborough Cave, while J. Griffiths and J. Abbott make the reverse trip.

The 33m dry pitch in Bar Pot
The 33m dry pitch in Bar Pot
Cave Diving made the connection possible
Cave Diving made the connection possible