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By Martin Webster

Until recently Meregill was not one of Yorkshire’s most frequently visited caves, largely because of the lake at the bottom of the entrance rift which, if except in times of draught, kept the entrance passage under water and made the entry very difficult.

Recently however, it was announced that a bypass to the entrance had been blasted out so at the end of March some members of the Dining Room Digging Team (Derek Harding, Brian Woodward, Colin Clarke Bob Craig and myself) decided to have a go at bottoming this ‘classic’ of Yorkshire potholes.

We arrived at the camp site at about 1.00am and were pleased to find that the pub at the site was still ‘open’!  In the morning the clouds were hanging low over the moors when we arose.  Breakfast over and the tackle sorting over we started off across the fell in the direction of Black Shivers Moss.

After getting lost and looking at various sinks in the area we eventually found the Entrance Rift; it was not as impressive as I had thought it to be (although in Yorkshire I always seem to expect rather more than we find!)  The new entrance was in a small depression at one end of the shaft.  On inspection we were rather disturbed to find that the majority of the party were too fat to squeeze through an exceptionally light entrance passage.  After some discussion we decided to ladder up the shaft to see if the normal entrance was under water.  To our surprise we found that the lake was rather low, and the entrance was completely dry.  This was mainly because there had been a rescue a few weeks before and the main stream had been diverted away from the cave.

While the team was being lifelined down we took careful note of the shape of the entrance passage in case we were forced to dive back through.  It looked as if in very wet weather the sump would only become 12ft. long and the shape of the passage would have made diving moderately easy. So, feeling slightly more enthusiastic about the whole thing we raced off down the passage.

The first 70ft. pitch has a sturdy looking wooden beam across it, which provided a suitable belay point.  The pitch was in fact three quite easy 20ft. drops, the final one being quite wet as all the water channels into a trench and then fell directly onto the climbers head! The second pitch followed after a short section of meandering passageway.  This was easily tackled, being a drop of 20ft. followed by a slope and then a vertical drop of 65ft. into a high rift passage.  P.U. advises a 75ft.ladder at the Second Pitch, although we found at least 90ft. was necessary.  Unfortunately the rope wasn’t long enough for a double lifeline and so that last man down and the first man up had to do without.  No chances were taken however, as the sad fate of the caver who had to be rescued three weeks previous was still in our minds.  The way on was down quite some easy climbs (P.U. advises 20ft. ladder although we found it unnecessary) which soon brought us to the head of the 100ft. pitch.  This again was in two stages, a 40ft. to a sloping ledge, then a 60ft. down a round, rather water-worn shaft.  From here the whole character of the cave changes.  The passages get smaller, more horizontal, although there are one or two quite sporting 20ft. drops into deep pools.  After these had been passed the pace increased as we were now in a narrow passage which could, just, be walked along.  At one stage a very large stream entered from the left which increased the volume of water quite considerably.  Soon the rift diminished into a crawl and then degenerated into a very low bedding plane only just large enough to get along.  Finally we found it was just too small to get down so it was decided that either P.U. was inaccurate or the cave must have been built for the ‘little people’.

The return trip was completed very rapidly.  The pitches were very sporting as they all had quite large waterfalls coming down them – which added to the fun somewhat!  As it happened it was just as well we did return to the surface early in that it was raining quite hard, the dams were starting to fail, and our ‘dry’ entrance was rapidly becoming very damp!

The final shaft to the surface was quickly overcome (? – Ed) and we were soon off down the fell as fast as we could stumble after a hard, but on the whole very enjoyable trip.