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Pate Hole

by Dave Metcalfe

Just to the south of the village of Great Asby, near Appleby in Westmorland, lie three caves; Pate Hole, West Pate Hole and Lower Pete Hole.  From the fork of the narrow lane heading south from the village to three farms a pleasant stroll down through a small field, which is in fact an ancient dry valley, leads to the bed of Asby Beck which meanders between small cliffs past the entrance of Pate and West Pate Holes.  The stream, except in flood, is barely a trickle sinking in shingle downstream of Pate Hole Mouth, to reappear in no larger quantity in the village.  Following the dry stream bed downstream it becomes apparent that the stream, sometime in the past, must have been of a considerable size.

The Great Kettle, an almost perfectly cylindrical milled pothole in the streambed, is some eight feet deep and provides an amusing climb up its smooth sides.  Just downstream of this, above the left bunk, is Lower Pate Hole - a low, wide, abandoned bedding cave about eighty feet long.

Back upstream on the west bank, below Beck level, is West Pate Hole.  The cave is a low, muddy grovel and, mercifully, the entrance is blocked with boulders!  The main entrance to Pate Hole lies in the opposite bank.

Pate Hole in the main cave in the area and the entrance is obvious with its passage descending gently over scree involving a back breaking stoop until water is met where the way down continues over a series of fine gaur dams creating knee deep pools in places. The passage soon levels out into a larger canal passage running north/south.  A comfortable walk along the South Passage ends abruptly at a solid floored circular pool at a blank wall.  Up to the left is a muddy scramble up a cross rift to descend almost immediately to the deep sump pool.  Under normal conditions the crystal clear water laps gently over the lip of the pool and runs same 50 - 60 feet downstream to sink in four inches high bedding plane to the right.  This is the Main Stream Passage.  The water of the sump is so clear that details of underwater boulders and the submerged resurgence passage can be seen.

However, over the years, work in the sump has proved interesting.  On the original survey (1960) the sump was found to head horizontally upstream for about thirty feet to end suddenly at a deep flooded rift. Here the original divers, Phil Davies and Jack Whaddon, reported an airspace but B. Churcher, diving in 1975 - 1976, reported no such airspace and S. Pickersgill (1977) mentioned only small air pockets.  However, they all agreed there was a deep flooded shaft.  Churcher estimated it went some 120 feet but Pickersgill reached a boulder floored chamber at -75 feet and from there a wide, low elliptical passage, some 5 x 15 feet in cross section, continued uninterrupted.

On three dives during June 1977, Pickcrsgill laid 2 x 200ft lines in this lower passage and investigated eleven cross rifts mostly too tight to enter.  One of the cross rifts ascended for 30ft.  He reported that the passage continued horizontally at -75 feet and perfect visibility.  So where do we go from here?  The sump is still going – but where is its source?  The answer must lie in the vast limestone area of Great Asby Scar to the south-west with its magnificent limestone pavement and dry valleys - but there is a distinct luck of shake holes, sinks or shafts.  In times of flood, Pate Hole takes a large stream with which the bedding sink is unable to cope and eventually the whole cave fills with water and under extreme conditions it resurges through the main entrance.



Survey of Pate Hole by D. Wharburton, A.J. Surrall and J. Hanwell.

Journal of the Craven Pothole Club, Vol.5 No.5

C.D.G. Newsletters No.37 and 40

Northern Caves Vol.5



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