I’m not always a fan of caves: I don’t like the idea of dark narrow passages or the feeling of being trapped. But I couldn’t resist this description of White Scar Cave, deep in the Yorkshire Dales – “the path winds its way past cascading waterfalls… to an immense ice-age cavern adorned with thousands of stalactites”. I had to see that for myself!
Narrow Entrance to the White Scar Cave
We donned hard hats and set off down the dark passage. Margaret, our guide, told us about the discovery of the cave: a keen potholer had spotted a stream gushing out of a hole in the hillside and, arming himself with waterproofs and candles, he had wriggled inside to explore. Eventually he had found a wide open cavern full of water and strange limestone scenery. I shuddered a little at the tale and felt grateful to the Cornish tin miners who later excavated the opening passage to make it tall enough and wide enough for less intrepid explorers to walk along comfortably.
As we walked a river rushed noisily beneath our feet. There were a few low sections – I was glad of the hard hat – but any minor discomfort was more than compensated for by the sight of spectacular waterfalls and rock formations.
Strange Limestone Formations
It was a photographer’s dream. The water had sculpted strange shapes into the stones and many of them had been given names such as the Witch’s Fingers or the Devil’s Tongue. The light bounced eerily off the stone and it was easy to see how such names might have arisen. Then there were the waterfalls, crashing loudly to the floor, a surreal sight so far underground. And every so often we saw fossils, millions of years old, packed into the rockface.
Finally we came to the Battlefield Cavern – only discovered in 1971 – where stalactites have been growing from the ceiling for more than 300 million years.
Doing It the Hard Way
Margaret told us how the cave continues to attract serious cavers, who climb up vertical shafts, worm their way through unlit passages and swim across the dark subterranean lake. Not my idea of fun, I thought, as we emerged, eyes blinking in the sunlight, and went to photograph the river that bursts through the cave into the hillside.