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Caving With The Lid Off !

1. Pennine Beck Walking

The other week, I went along with the Craven Pothole Club to Meregill.  The sky was clear and it was arm and sunny, but alas, the mere at the entrance was full and the duck impassable.  Thinner members of the party managed with some effort to penetrate the narrow slit entrance nearby.  I boasted of my ability to get through tight bits, but my ego was shattered and after a lot of puffing and swearing, I got out of the hole in disgust.  I was wet and muddy and sweating heavily.  Three other blokes had similar experiences. One of them, Ken Chappel – an extremely energetic bloke in his mid-thirties – suggested that we went for a beck walk.  “What the hell’s that?,” I exclaimed.  “Ah!,” said Ken, “Your miserable ignorance of northern ways shows itself again!” and I was duly transported to the scene.

Has anyone walked by the waterfalls near Ingleton?  I remember one wet day over Whitsun spent sightseeing with Alan Thomas and I thought on that occasion what a wonderfully sporting cave the river would have made if it only been roofed over.  Now, we had had quite a lot of rain and the river was much fuller than usual.  I was advised to keep helmet and boots on.  We also took a rope and set off to the head of the falls.  You just waddle into the water and let the current take you.  You can swim – float – do what you like.  The current takes you along.  We roped up going down the long drops but just jumped into the white water on the short ones.  Incidentally, if you’re not a swimmer, don’t try this sport because it can be pretty tiring and some becks run through narrow gorges where the current is very swift and the water very deep.

What an outrageous way travel a couple of miles!  It was quite fantastic and a very interesting twist on caving.  It has something in common with white water canoeing as well. Don’t be surprised if it catches on in a big way, and you see PENNINE BECK WALKS (Dalesman, Clapham) on the bookstalls before long.  Why not have a go?

Bob Cross

2. Highland Burn Walking

About the second time I went to the Scottish Highlands, I had occasion to stop the car on a lonely stretch of road for the usual reason.  Being a naturally modest character, I went a few yards away from the road to avoid offending any passers by.  Luckily, I was looking where I was going at the time, because I quite suddenly came to the edge of a most fantastic gorge.  It was some forty or fifty feet deep, but almost narrow enough to jump. The sides were completely vertical, and at the bottom a healthy stream ran over small pitches and amongst boulders. I thought to myself that this was a cave with all the attributes of a cave except darkness.  Once down, there would be no climbing out until the trip had been completed.  Unfortunately, I was chauffeuring some weegies around the highlands at the time, and so was not able to put the idea into practice.  Equally unfortunately, I omitted to note the exact spot where I found my gorge.

This summer, Sett, Janet, their small son Julian, Sett’s brother ‘Tich,’ Sally and myself found ourselves up in the highlands again.  I had mentally put burn walking on my programme.  The weather was against us in two ways – it was extremely wet while we were there, thus making long journeys to get to likely spots very uncomfortable unless one was prepared to take a complete change of clothing along and on the other hand, it had been extremely dry a month before we arrived, thus ensuring that most of the burns were dried up.  To give an example, the river Urquart was completely dry, without even a small puddle to show that it is normally a respectable sized river.

Some burn walking was, however, carried out.  There is a fine stream which you can start by a bridge on the north side of Loch Garry and which leads you upwards via an extremely fine set of waterfalls for a mile or so.  All the pitches are climbable without tackle but beware of the dreaded Scottish moss which covers some of the rocks.  Even when apparently dry, it remains the most slippery substance know to man!

A two mile scramble along the river Moriston followed this, and then we set out to find my gorge. Friends told me it was probably the Corrieshallock Gorge I had found on my previous trip, so off we went the ninety odd miles to investigate.  The weather was absolutely vile – wet and very cold with a howling wind.  Needless to say, it proved to be the wrong gorge but even so, well worth a visit.  It is over two hundred feet deep and has been formed by the cutting back of the falls of Measach.  There is a weegee path around the top which is surprisingly dicey in wet weather and a mini suspension bridge from the centre of which you can see the bottom of the gorge and also the falls.  As a caver it would be very hazardous owing to the amount of rock falls, one might get into difficulties from the authorities – it is owned by the Scottish National Trust.  The rest of the day was spent hunting – without success – for my previous gorge.

From this little experience, I can thoroughly recommend burn walking and an interesting variant of caving. If anybody wants to try it and have a go at finding the missing gorge, I can only supply the route I took on the first occasion.  It must be somewhere along this route!