“It’s not often you get to slap the Queen on the backside,” says Tom, our expert guide at Ingleborough Cave on the Ingleborough Estate.
The cave, reached via a half-mile walk through vast woods and past deep lakes from the pretty North Yorkshire village of Clapham claims to be Britain’s ‘best show cave’ – and it’s admittedly pretty spectacular.
Like many other caves, it was discovered by brave Indian Jones-style, Victorian-era adventurers who had to break through subterranean limestone dams and wade through cascading streams to discover its hidden delights.
Guided only by torch and candlelight, the huge stalactites and stalagmites, created by rainwater slowly seeping its way through the limestone rock above us, cast eerie shadows onto the walls. And those self-same adventurers gave them evocative names to lighten the dark, damp atmosphere.
Which is why the two enormous filly edged mounds ahead of us were bestowed with the evocative title of The Queen’s Bloomers – it’s doubtful Victoria would have been amused at the thought, but it gives us a giggle.
We’re visiting the cave as part of Team LEM’s filming walk through the vast Ingleborough Estate – and if we’ve got one piece of advice (other than to wear sturdy walking shoes), it’s to wrap up warm. The 9°C year-round temperature in the cave can cause quite a chill if you visit in summer – we’re certainly left wishing we’d packed another layer or three.
The tour in the cave lasts for about an hour and Tom, along with manager Andrew, are expert guides, telling caving anecdotes from Ingleborough and elsewhere along the way, and pointing out more rock formations, including our other favourite the Crocodile.
That croc’s not real of course – but some bright spark apparently once had the idea of taking a fully fledged snapper to the depths of the cave to do some filming.
Unfortunately, they forgot that crocodiles are cold blooded and it promptly went to sleep and had to be carried out and back to the cave shop where it was awakened from its nap thanks to a couple of hair dryers.
One old lady got quite a surprise when she went into the cave nearly stepped on a 6ft reptile. Or so Tom’s legend goes.
Getting around the cave is fairly easy thanks to a concrete path that’s been laid throughout – so it’s a perfect introduction to caving for those who want to sample life underground at an easy pace. It’s even wide enough to take a wheelchair, providing you’re fit enough to wheel it up the half-mile track to the cave itself.
At times, the ceiling is a little low and you have to bend down to pass through. On the return we get to pretend we are free divers, taking a huge gulp of air and trying to make it back to where the cavern height returns to normal.
The cave ends at the underground version of a T-junction, both sides are inaccessible to the lay person, but one eventually leads to the lesser known Gaping Gill, which is where we head next, taking the overground route, after a reviving coffee and a flapjack in the cave shop.
Gaping Gill is reached by following the footpath to the left of the cave and passing first through Trow Gill, a stunning dry gorge with steep walls that have us craning our necks to see where they meet the sky.
A walker of moderate ability will have no trouble ascending through the gorge, but for those less steady on their feet, we recommend walking poles as there are some slippery, loose rocks.
After passing through Trow Gill, we follow a dry stone wall until we reach a double stile, which leads to a path a five-minute walk from Gaping Gill. At first, the incongruous (and pretty poorly maintained fence) surrounding the gill makes us question the fuss, but it really is spectacular – a huge 98m drop down a pothole into a cave below with the waters of Fell Beck cascading over the sides.
On our visit we can only view it from above – but for a real thrill, twice a year for a week leading up to the May and August Bank Holidays, you can descend into the cave on winches provided by the Bradford (May) and Craven (August) caving clubs. To do so, you just turn up on the designated dates, pay £15 and join the (sometimes long) queue.
We’re heading back to try our luck soon. Fancy joining us?
See our Ingleborough Cave Live Every Minute entry here
Dress up in layers when visiting the cave itself – it’s pretty cool in there at a constant 9°C, especially when visiting in summer.
* Waterproof top – it’s quite damp in
* Layered clothing – the walk to Gaping Gill is exposed and it can get windy
* Sturdy rubber-soled shoes or hiking boots for the walk
* Walking poles if needed
* Energy drinks and bars