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Tatham Wife Hole

An account of this cave by Derek Sanderson and Roger Wing

Length: 2100'+ Depth: 509' N.G.R. 733 746 ( Sheet 90 )

After parking the car at God's Bridge Rising in Chapel le Dale, Derek Sanderson and myself packed our rucksacks with caving gear and set off up the footpath by Bold Haw (not shown on the one inch map).  The cave was found after about an hour and a quarter's walk over the lower slopes of Ingleborough.  It is in a shakehole with a small stream running out of the banks into the cave entrance.

The entrance to the cave slopes steeply, with a pebble and boulder scree floor which slips underfoot. After a short climb down, the development becomes quite high and roomy and leads into sharp meanders in clean, lightly coloured rock.  These meanders follow on until the stream falls over a 30' pot (30' ladder, short belay to bolt).  The stream, although small (on this occasion) falls straight on to the ladder but the pitch, in a fluted alcove, is a superb one, the water adding to the pleasure. This pitch is quickly followed by another of 40' (40' ladder, 5' belay to small column at eye level on right). The pitch is again wet and consists of a smooth descent of 28' to a wide ledge from which a further 10' drop leads to the floor of the shaft.

From here, the passage is initially roomy, but soon a sharp joint-controlled left turn leads to a crawl on a very smooth, clean rock floor with the stream flowing over black pebbles to one side.  After a short section of larger passage, one enters a further section of crawling but this time the atmosphere of the passage is different, the floor being pebbly and uncomfortable, winding through rough, close walls which catch one's clothes as one passes.  After about a hundred feet of this, progress is halted at the head of the third pitch.

The third pitch is also a wet 30' (30' ladder, short belay to bolt) and leads to a chamber with a narrow rift to the left.  This is the head of the 30' ramp - a superb piece of cave consisting of a smooth slide down a near vertical cleft about two feet wide.  The stream also flows over this ramp.

Most of the cave from this point on is fault-controlled and from the base of the ramp the passage is quieter.  After a short distance of narrow rift passage with evidence of a thick calcite vein along the fault line, one soon reaches the Duck, a low section which is tight rather than wet.  Immediately after the Duck, the rift becomes too narrow to follow at stream level, and it becomes necessary to traverse above the stream for about thirty feet until it becomes possible to climb down into a wider part of the passage where the roof rises to a height of about fifty feet.  On the right of this handsome passage is an alcove, behind which is an inviting side passage which soon closes down among boulders after some distance of deep calf wading.

Back in the main stream passage and about 300' past the side passage, is the final 25' pot (25' ladder, short belay) which is probably the wettest pitch of all - the ladder hanging in the full force of the stream.  The surface of this pot is also more broken than the others, making it more difficult to climb the ladder.

From the deep pool at the base of the pitch, the passage continues as a wide, towering rift with some shallow canal sections, until the roof lowers to form a crawl in slow-moving clear, cold water with ducks under formations.  From here, the water gradually becomes deeper and the walls become darker and close in.  Little alcoves cause the water to make those eerie glooping noises, and in this fashion the passage peters out into the sump at the remarkable depth of just over 500' below the surface.  The sump has been successfully dived, as described in the S.M.C.C. Journal (Vol. 5, No.5, 1973)

Although not as severe as sane longer Yorkshire pots, the cave is still strenuous and should not be treated lightly.  Our tackle consisted of 6 - 25' ladders, a life line, a 50' handline for the Ramp, which meant that the trip was just possible for two people.  We surfaced after almost four hours, feeling very satisfied.  Under high water conditions the Duck and the Ramp probably become impassable, and lifelines would be essential on all the pitches.


The following day, we met up with Keith Sanderson and Bob Harper (both Wessex) and abseiled through Simpson's Pot.  This trip has been reported before in the B.B., but some additional points might be worth making.

1.                  The rawlbolt on one of the pitches (31' Carol Pot, I think) has come out, so a flake of rock has to serve as a belay point.  Care has to be taken not to jam the abseil rope.

2.                  There is no bolt on the 25' Aven Pot either and one has to use a rock flake again, and the same precaution applies.

3.                  No bolt on 13' Lake Pot, and we didn't find a suitable belay point from which we could retrieve the rope, so we chimney down the top half of the pitch and then jumped!

4.                  The top of the 80' Slit Pot is as awkward as ever!

(A plan of Tatham Wife Hole will be found below. - Ed.)