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Early Exploration of the Black Rose
Putting the record straight
The Lost Caverns of Storrs Common
A Tale of Two Chickens
(First published in Descent Magazine No. 37 - December 1977.) by Ged Dodd
Nothing stirs a caver's blood more than tales of a fabulous lost cavern patiently waiting to be rediscovered by some intrepid explorer. Many an old-timer has held his audience spellbound with tales of unknown wonders, bottomless pits and huge formations, the likes of which you would never believe, but you do believe it. You want to believe it.
It's a fair swop. You provide the beer and he provides what you hope will be that one vital clue to glory that everyone else has overlooked, You casually pump the willing story-teller for more details. The cavern gets bigger and deeper and your pulse begins to race. For some reason, though, that vital clue to success gets more and more frustratingly elusive.
Round about closing time the penny begins to drop that the only bottomless pit in the vicinity is stood next to you supping your ale - and he found you. Nothing daunted you persist in keeping one ear to the ground and willingly pay the price.
Back in '57, as a very gullible youngster and newcomer to the Wheatsheaf at Ingleton, it was my turn to buy the old-timer's beer and listen enthralled to his tale of a lost cavern with huge rivers and would you believe three vast underground lakes? I did. I did. Tell me more. Another beer?
Well watered with strong ale the tale blossomed and began to bear fruit. He had done a job for the local council. It was him, he said, who had filled in the entrance to a big cavern because the council thought it was dangerous.
"It was by the roadside in a ditch. The council were afraid that somebody would fall down it."
"When was this then?"
"Some years back."
"Where was it?"
"Just up yon hill", he said.
"You mean Ingleborough?"
"Don't be daft," he laughed, "there ain't no roads ont' 'Boro. This hill, int' village, by Storrs Hall."
"But that's Storrs Cave" said I disgustedly.
"Storrs Cave ain't ont' roadside," he chortled, keeping me in suspense; "this is where that fella tied his rope to the 30 mph sign."
"One of you potholer chappies, he called it Bean Pot."
"Which 30 mph sign was that?"
"Opposite Storrs Hall, ont' right by the bungalow."
"What rubbish," I injected indignantly - "been up that hill dozens of times and there isn't any hole there. You're pulling my leg aren't you?"
"Of course there ain't no hole, I filled it in didn't I? You go and have another look," he insisted, "you can't miss it. There's a hole full of road chippings where we tipped the lorry."
"Deep hole was it?"
"It had a big river that went under the Hall. Did you know that place shakes in wet weather and you could hear the river rumbling underground under a manhole."
"How come nobody's dug it up again?"
"Ah well, you see, nobody but me knows exactly where it is."
He pondered a while. "You'll get me in bother with the council if you dig it up now," he said worriedly. With fingers crossed I promised not to get him in bother, if at all possible.
There were a lot of contradictory tales doing the rounds about the lost cavern of Bean Pot at that time. Everyone knew about it. Many had vainly searched for it; some were still searching. This was the only tale ever to pinpoint the entrance - it was well worth looking into.
The afternoon sun found me searching stealthily under every blade of grass within belay length of that 30 mph sign. Not one road chipping in sight. Absolutely nothing. Lots of grass, solid rock, the signpost, a lamp-post, a road-drain and an empty ditch but not one road chipping. Another wild goose chase.
Why, I wondered, was the old-timer so worried that I might find his secret hole when it is quite obvious that there's nothing here to find. As per instructions I should be stood in the hole, but I wasn't. Perhaps they moved the 30 mph sign, I thought, grasping at straws. No, that's stupid thinking. I sat on the edge of the drain and recapped all the available information. End result: nothing.
I was sitting in the only hole in sight. A stupid road-drain . . no . . . to be more accurate, a storm drain. Bone dry. That really was stupid. You couldn't get enough rainwater off this bit of rock to fill a teacup never mind a storm drain. Unless . . could it be, the flood comes from under the rock - out of a lost cavern - and the old-timer didn't know that the council had covered it with a drain? It ran up in the right direction, to the grassy patch that should be the Lost Cavern.
The drain was a foot high and two feet wide. The base, top and sides were lined with rough-cut loose slate slabs. The whole assembly was held together by a few inches of soil and grass. Large juicy spiders and grass roots obscured my very limited vision..
Delicately edging flat-out over wobbling slabs I popped head and shoulders into a three foot square dead-end chamber. The roof was slate slabs; the walls were solid limestone. The spiders which had managed to survive mass extermination dripped from my hair onto a floor of clean, white, loosely packed road chippings. EUREKA . . the Lost Cavern!
It couldn't have been better. That loose fill could be dug out without anybody being any the wiser. What was that faint rumbling sound? Running water? A river? Couldn't quite make it out. Chuckling out loud I edged forward to start work, then froze rigid where I lay . . . . .
A menacing loud growl erupted in my right ear as a cold sweat and icy fingers clawed up and down my spine. The hair stood bolt upright on a very naked exposed neck. Imagination ran riot to colour my anguish with a "Blood yell, I've got company!"
No helmet and a tight fit in the only way out of here. Dog? Fox? Badger? All claws and teeth. It'll eat right through me. I lay stock-still, not moving a muscle, for ages . . . and ages . . .
Nothing happened . . . Nothing at all . . . Sighs of relief after remembering to breathe again Must be nerves; imagined it. Feeling foolish I turned my dishrag-limp head to investigate. A few inches from my nose was the biggest, meanest-looking broody hen ever created. She half-rose off a full clutch of eggs and so help me she growled again, loudly.
A growling hen? I was held transfixed, hypnotised by that beady orange stare. A sudden flurry of feathers slashed that wicked beak within a hairs-breadth of my gaping terrified eyes.
Bloody hell, this old lady meant business! This was her hole and she was determined to keep it. Our intrepid hero panicked into instant reverse and shot screaming out of the drain to grovel fresh air into trembling lungs.
Game, set and match to the chicken. Well, at least the cavern did exist. Further exploration could wait until its guardian had given up residence. My secret was in very safe hands, and how.
The vanquished explorer slunk off to lick his wounds and repair his shattered ego with a few stiff drinks down at the Wheatsheaf.
A couple of months later found me staggering up Storrs hill weighed down with a mass of assault gear designed to overcome any obstacle, come what may, including irate chickens. This time total success would be mine. All of the Lost Caverns would be uncovered. 'Nothing would stop me now', I thought
To the consternation of a passing motorist I clanked to a halt in the middle of the road staring in shell-shocked disbelief at the level expanse of a beautifully flat grass banking. My drain had vanished!
Ingleton Council are very thorough in their work. They had covered up that open ditch right down the hill to an evil-smelling sumped inspection pit - and a 5" concreted clay pipe. A 5" high bedding cave I could drive a bus through, but a 5" diameter pipe was beyond even me.
Access was impossible without digging, and the council most certainly would not give permission to have their painstaking handiwork dug up. I figured that if this cavern was anywhere near as big as claimed, it should have at least one other entrance. I switched my attention to . . . but that's another story. . . and it took another 25 years before I finally got back into those Lost Caverns in 1977 - through the Bean Pot entrance higher up the hillside from my drain.
Lost Caverns - Update
Ged stands on the metal plate which covers the original flood drain entrance to the Lost Caverns. The council had grassed it over but parking motorists have worn the grass away to reveal the lost entrance. The 2002 photograph shows Bean Pot cover on the left as a white blob - the square brown drain cover at road level - and the trusty old 30 mph sign, which shortly after the photo has now been moved some 100 yards higher up the hill.
Ged's original entrance is impassable.
NGR SD 702733 Altitude 194m
Location :- A metal drain cover on the main road opposite Storrs Hall. See the photos. There is no way through now except a voice connection to the loose brick wall inside the main cavern.
History :- Original entrance to the Lost Caverns. Relocated 1957 by Ged Dodd. Now sealed off inside the drain by a loose brick wall - the other side of which can be seen up the South Passage in the Lost Caverns. Please don't attempt to dig it out. Please do not remove the drain cover. There is nothing in there except a small 5" ceramic pipe which is concreted into the side of the drain. Removing the drain cover to check for storm damage is quite dangerous..
May 3rd 1884. Craven Herald reported ... A new cave for Ingleton. A party of enterprising gentlemen last week commenced to explore what has long been supposed to be a fine cave, but has never before been explored, and a party of labourers were set to work in cutting a drain for the purpose of lowering the water, which at present is standing at a considerable depth.
Description in NC 2 :- Improbable entry via road drain - wrong.
Ged's drain viewed from inside the Lost Caverns up the South Passage. It is now blocked with loose fitting rocks and bricks to allow flood water to flow through it unhindered. One would be advised to take the advice of the Beatles famous song and Let it Be.
Reopening the connection would probably cause the road drain to collapse, or even the road itself to collapse. Far more dangerous to you however, is the fact that cars pass over the drain cover to park and if this was removed it could lead to an irate motorist landing on your head, or loosing a wheel, and then jumping on your head.
Saturday 14th August 2004 - Flood water has pushed up through the tarmac and one can reach down through the small hole, at arm's length, into the empty space of Ged's original drain.
Monday 1st November 2004. Further subsidence outside on the roadside has revealed the tops of a line of bricks which are blocking the drain inside the Lost Caverns. A good flood this winter could probably take half the road away.
Addendum :- It has been brought to my attention that I refer to the manhole cover as a metal cover and in doing so I have succumbed to the very political correctness that I despise - shame on me - therefore to redeem myself I must insist that I did refrain from calling it a person-hole, because we all know that anyone who refers to a manhole as a person-hole, is just an arsehole.
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Bean Pot Entrance
NGR SD 7019 7324 (702733)
Altitude 198m Length 120m Depth 14m
The entrance shaft requires a 25 foot ladder and lifeline. Belay to stake.
WARNING -Flood completely. Imps Chamber boulders are unstable
Location :- Opposite Storrs Hall, up the grassy bank.
History :- The Lost Caverns were originally used as a Show Cave entered at the location of Ged's Drain in the late Nineteenth century. Bean Pot was merely a skylight but is it now the main entrance to the system.
May 31st 1884. Craven Herald reported ... The New Cave. Workmen are still employed in the cave exploring and preparing a course to take away the water. They are also paving a road with stone for a distance of sixty or seventy yards, and if all goes on favourably the portion of the cave already explored will by the end of the present week be open to the public for inspection. A raft has been placed on the little lake in the cave for the use of those who wish to have a pleasure trip within the bowels of the earth.
South Passage Sump - and Adam traversing South Passage sump - photos Duncan Jones
July 3rd 1891. Craven Herald - Ingleton's Physical Features No 3 by Rev R. V. Taylor. Two caves have recently been opened on Storrs Common .... Two caves have been recently opened out, and the debris removed to render them available for visitors. The lower cave (Lost Caverns) goes down, down, down by several series of as yet rudely cut steps into still lower regions, it is supposed, about 140 feet below the upper cave. It is narrow, and in some places the rocks approach low enough to compel the visitors to crouch and to endanger the crown of the hat or head unless due care is taken. They are wanting of stalactite formations to make them attractive.
The Caverns were sealed off shortly after in 1898. Explored by the Leeds Cave Club in 1930 when they were still open, sealed off because the woodwork was rotting and were subsequently lost. They were refound again by Ged in the late Fifties, opened briefly in the late Seventies by the White Rose Caving Club under the auspices of Ged, and reopened in June 2002, permanently we hope, again at the instigation of Ged, by Robbie and Andy of IMPS who gave the place a good going over, and smashed through the boulder slope to find the Imps Chamber. Work continues, this place has lots of hidden assets.
But Frequent flooding hampers exploration.
Poor sketch from memory and from verbal reports- hopefully survey to follow when it stops flooding.
Recently found photos of Bean Pot in 1930 taken by the Leeds Cave Club - the confusion about wether the Lost Caverns ever existed is not helped when they called it Storrs Cave - which we all know is higher up on Storrs Common.
Description in NC 2 :- Improbable entry via road drain drops into South Passage where original entrance (Bean Pot) is sealed shaft in roof. Steps descend to roomy Main Drain which sumps at each end. Dry branch passages soon choke but a small crawl to right of downstream sump leads up to the high level mud caverns.
The improbable entrance mentioned is Ged's Drain and this was the original way through which the visitors entered the old Show Cave. The writers for NC2 have not actually been here, but did their best with the available data. The cavern is now entered through Bean Pot and the ladder soon enters a roomy passage with some handy man-made steps descending into the main drain. Directly opposite the slope are several revolting mud filled sumps hidden down small passages. Bear in mind this place is frequently flooded and few have actually seen them.
In dry weather it is possible to follow the passage down to where the very small stream sinks into a narrow crack that shows traces of drill holes where blasting has taken place - in a futile effort to enlarge it and drain the cave. On the right is a low crawl going up with the dip of the limestone to some high level caverns choked with fine mud some 3-4 foot high that has been deposited during flooding. There is no reported way out of these chambers - but there must be a way out or they couldn't flood, they are not blind avens.
Turning right at the bottom of the slope one passes a boulder slope on the left and can by-pass an upstream sump via a climb through a roof tube to be confronted with another sump. It is presumed to be Storrs water (maybe?).
Tony Sedham of Northern Pennine Club has dived this sump and tells me it is choked with loose pebbles but draining the sump would give an easy dig. The sump in South Passage also dived by Tony is choked at about 6 feet down. The unstable boulder slope has been forced by Robbie into a large chamber (IMPS Chamber) estimated at 15m high with a small inlet passage that chokes with clay after about 5m. Boulders choked the far side to the roof and appear to have been tipped in from above.
1st November 2004 Adam and Ged do a quickie trip. The lower cave is flooded. The shaft was found to be 24 foot deep, not 30 foot as was always thought. The tight roof passage was attempted by Adam but was too slippery to climb in safety. A stalagmite boss high up on the right could be used to hang a short ladder. The tight roof passage appears to extend beyond a jammed boulder.
Later on we found some chicken bones protruding from the slimy mud on a flood prone ledge. It appears that perhaps Ged's original chicken was entombed when the workmen sealed the drain and it was drowned.
Turning our attention to where Ged's drain enters the system it is obvious that a six foot high wall of stones has been built across what was the original entrance passage for tourists, and it is supporting a roof of slate slabs, as reported by Ged in his lone exploits of way back in 1950's. Subsidence outside on the roadside has revealed the self same line of bricks which are blocking the inside of the drain.
A proper survey is needed as the sketch shown here is woefully inadequate. There is still potential in this place, but it is nearly always flooded. Ged swears blind that the flood water emerging at Lower Arch Cave and his drain are one and the same, joined by Storrs Master Cave. Time will tell.
The one sure way to find out is to drain the sumped moor using dynamite on the narrow water inlet in Beezley Quarry Cave. There is always water coming into the cave here in all weathers .. and draining away down through boulders into another cavern, which was covered over by the council in 1952, and down to the river bottom at Foss Pool.
In very wet weather the inlet can not release the flood of water and it backs up filling the Lost Caverns and flows out of Ged's Drain and out of Lower Arch Cave, which is at the same height .. we have dug over 100 feet along into Lower Arch but it still keeps flooding .. and is hard work ...
Anyone who actually wants to go caving should contact
Black Rose Caving Club
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