Two great outdoor attractions in one this time as we explore two cave systems, linked by a single beck (stream) and both are open to the general public.
The famous Ingleborough mountain in North Yorkshire, one of the Three Peaks of Yorkshire walking circuit, provides the backdrop for these two popular attractions.
Beneath the imposing mountain lies limestone, a porous rock which weathers under the action of variations in temperature and the force of water.
This area contains many underground streams, which, over many thousands of years, have carved their way sinously through the rock to create passages and caverns under your feet.
Some of these have been explored by curious adventurers who mapped the routes and brought them to the attention of the public. Ingleborough Cave was in fact discovered in 1837 and still offers up surprises. Remains of a woolly rhinoceros were only found here in 2001.
Starting from the attractive village of Clapham off the A65 Leeds/Skipton/Kendal road, there is a signed 1.3 mile walk which takes the visitor past the village stream and church to a Victorian nature trail through beautiful scenery,alongside a lake and waterfall.
Ingleborough Cave lies at the end of the wooded valley and is open from Mid February to October (see www.ingleboroughcave.co.uk for details).
There are guided tours every hour on the hour and although hard hats are provided, everyday walking clothing is fine to undertake the 0.5km of concrete path into the cave. Be aware that the temperature is a constant 9 degrees C inside.
It is easy going underfoot with no steps to negotiate, though there are gentle slopes. Most people will manage easily.
There are amazing natural limestone features along the system, which is floodlit throughout.
Once you have toured the cave, the more adventurous may wish to continue on to see the breathtaking delights of Gaping Ghyll.
This feature is another 45 minutes or so up the mountain and can be reached by an easy scramble up Trow Gill, itself the result of glacial melt-water caving out the gorge. It is an easy scramble, but stout footwear is recommended here.
Out on the southern slopes of Ingleborough, Gaping Ghyll will be found by following the obvious footpath out of the gorge onto the moors.
The Ghyll has the largest cavern in the UK, the second largest cave system and the highest waterfall.
Fell Beck flows over the lip of the cavern and drops a spectaular 330 feet to the cavern floor. It then winds it's way underground to emerge in Ingleborough Cave below.
The chamber is 361 feet high, which, to give some perspective, would contain the entire building of St. Paul's Cathedral!
I understand that if the loose debris from the bottom was excavated, the chamber would actually be twice as big. Incredible!
Even more exciting, members of the public can be lowered by winch to the chamber bottom, though it does require a litle nerve and daring.
Bradford Caving Club operate the winch on Bank Hoildays through the Summer and will provide hard hats and waterproof clothing. See www.bpc-cave.org.uk for dates of operation and further details.
This is a truly awe inspiring thing to do, hanging by a thread as you are gently lowered to the bottom.
There you will find that parts of the cave are floodlit with fascinating information boards to inform and impress the visitor with facts about the system.
You have ample time to explore before taking your turn to be lifted up gently in the Bosun's Chair back to the warmth of the surface, leaving you with something very different to tell your friends.
A truly remarkable trip then, and yes, that is me hanging by a thread in the photograph.
Readers, I survived.