Yorkshire Dales caving and potholing is well known. Under the hills are huge caverns and miles and miles of passages. Growing up in the Mendips most of my teenage outdoor activities involved going underground. Caving was the major outdoor activity in the Mendip area and, from the first time I went underground, I was sold on it. It amazed me that I could explore another world of passages and echoing caverns that lies, like a well-kept secret, beneath everyone’s feet.
It was at university that I first came across that universal trait of all cavers, their compelling desire to get you underground. Cavers love their sport so much they want everyone to share it. It must be the friendliest outdoor sport I know. It was with the university caving club that I first came to Yorkshire and discovered the huge cave systems, caverns and potholes in the Yorkshire Dales.
Back now, some 30 years later, and this time it was my turn to compel my offspring to discover the underground world. We were staying at HARDRAW OLD SCHOOL BUNKHOUSE in a Yorkshire Dales village close to Hawes in Wenslydale. The bunkhouse was ideal for our early Christmas reunion of families with four bunkrooms (one for each family), a self-catering kitchen designed for groups and lots of room in the old school hall for dining together, playing games and relaxing in front of the log burner.
One of the attractions of the bunkhouse is that it is owned by qualified instructors who offer taster sessions in all sorts of adventurous activities. Helen and Andy have that trait of all cavers, the desire to share the wonders that lie underground. In fact, Helen is so persuasive that she recently formed the Hardraw Ladies’ caving club, providing adventure for local ladies aged 50-82. A bit of a chat with Helen and soon six members of our group, ranging from age 8 to 42, were togging up from Helen’s never ending supply of immaculate wellies, helmets and caving suits, ready to go underground.
Helen explained all the options of the various caves and routes – where it would be a squeeze and where there were waterfalls to climb. Making sure the kids knew what to expect and spurring them on to take the underground challenge. It was great they way she listened to each individual making sure they were happy and excited. Then they set off for Long Churn Caves.
The result ? Well I will let the kids tell you that in their own words.
The caves are extremely dark and full of beautiful rocks and crystal formations- you can see the stalactites forming up close. Hetty, age 15
By far the two most memorable sections of our trek through the caves, were the water-fall and the Cheese-Press. From the way we went, the only way out of the caves was up a hole in the ceiling (only about 1 metre up) which wasn’t too challenging, except for the waterfall shooting out of it. It was inevitable that I was going to get soaking but it still came as a surprise when I fell right into the centre of the waterfall and emerged dripping. Ellen age 15
I really enjoyed my first time caving! Before now I had no idea of the existence of such huge caves beneath the ground. I felt so safe with Helen and Andy, they took you carefully through every step of the way. I would definitely do it again!!! Stan age 16
It was amazing but it got scary at times like when we went up the waterfall. Tim age 8
First we went down the stream into a small passage then we came out into a series of deep pools we had to get round, we got very wet! We went through a small gap that was only 25cm high and a tight squeeze. Then we went up above a large crack which we had to go over it was very scary. Another crawl and past some more pools then we climbed up a waterfall to get out. I went first and slipped and for a moment the water was gushing into my face and pushing me away. I was attached to a rope so Andy pulled me up and we climbed out all soaking. We had a warm drink and walked back to the cars. Lily, age 11
Helen and Andy can provide adventurous activities for your group, as long as there are more then 4 people wanting to take part. The choice of activities is yours from caving, abseiling, climbing or gill scrambling. Costing from £25 per person these bespoke trips are great value way to have a new experience. You can find out more here. They are also providing mid week adventures breaks for adults who want to take part with an organised group. The first of these will be 20-23rd March and details can be found here.
Look here for details of accommodation at Hardraw Old School Bunkhouse and the adventurous activities they provide including Yorkshire Dales Caving. Here is a map showing the locations of other bunkhouse and hostels in the Yorkshire Dales.