La Grotte de Dargilan

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The purpose of our journey to the Jonte valley was to visit a show cave, la Grotte de Dargilan. Both the Dordogne and the Cévennes, being limestone regions, are dotted with caves, including many show caves. In fact, we’d driven almost directly past another show cave to get to this one, having decided that, from the leaflets we’d seen, this one looked the better bet. We lunched on a sunny terrace with a great view of the gorge and then joined our group to pass through an unprepossessing doorway in the hillside.

The cave was discovered, I think, by someone following a fox. Similar stories are told about Victoria Cave in the Dales and the famous Lascaux cave in the Dordogne. The huntsman will certainly have had a surprise when they found themselves in a vast cavern, stuffed full of amazing stalagmites, stalactites and flowstone features.

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As a boy, family visits to show caves in the Peak District were a favourite treat of mine. I’ve since done a little bit of caving and have also visited most, I think, of the show caves in the Dales, but I’ve never seen anything half as spectacular as this.

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There was so much to see that features which might have been considered highlights elsewhere were passed without comment by the guide.

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I took no end of photos, but, in the strongly contrasting light, the results were a bit hit and miss. I’m glad to have the mementoes, however.

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The huge scale, variety and sheer number of features was breath-taking.

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The tour took over an hour, and in truth I would have appreciated a little longer to take it all in.

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Mostly the tour guide spoke only in French and we were happy to ignore him and just look about us, but at one point he switched to English to explain that we would now be descending to ‘the best part’ of the cave. I was a bit sceptical about the claim that things could be any more impressive.

But he was absolutely right.

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We came to a long, high and relatively narrow passage where one wall was completely covered in tiers and tiers of flowstone.

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It was huge.

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And absolutely astonishing.

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Dargilan is known, apparently, for it’s coloured limestones. Minerals in the flowstone have dyed the rock in a variety of pinks, corals, yellows, white and cream. Here…

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…the dividing line between two different colours was amazingly sharp.

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The cave had one final surprise, a column, 17 metres tall I think, again covered with intricate flowstone features…

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I think most of the party enjoyed it immensely. B claimed to be underwhelmed:

“It’s just rocks though, isn’t it?”

But he’s a wind-up merchant and you have to take the things he says with a pinch of salt.

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La Grotte de Dargilan

Cliffs and Caves above the Céou

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The Dordogne region, at least the area we visited, is characterised by low, wooded hills (only just creeping above 200m above sea level) cut by steep-sided valleys, often with limestone cliffs and edges. The slopes above Maisonneuve were topped with cliffs and Andy had been told by his Dutch neighbours (based on our limited survey, all European campsites seem to be mostly populated by the Dutch) that a path led from the campsite up to the base of those cliffs and that there were caves to explore in the cliffs. Indeed, we could see one large cave opening high in the cliffs above.

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Looking down the valley to Castelnaud-la-Chapelle and its Chateau.

It was a steep, sweaty (for me anyway) climb up through the trees, but well worth it when it brought us to the honeycombed, honey-coloured rocks.

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There were small caves immediately…

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Irresistible to the DBs…

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Of course, when you climb up to a cave you then have to get back down again; B found getting down from this one much more difficult than getting up had been and I found myself guiding his feet down into suitable footholds.

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There were long lines of ants spreading across the cliffs.

Turning along the base of the cliffs we soon came across a larger cave…

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…with several entrances…

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…and evidence of former occupation…

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I think it’s fair to say that there’s a long history of cave occupation in the area – the famous Lascaux caves with their paintings are in the Dordogne after all.

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Of course the DBs found a tight little passage to crawl through…

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I preferred to be outside watching a lizard expertly negotiating the rock walls…

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I think that this is a Common Wall Lizard, rather than the Common Lizards we see at home, but I’m not confident about that at all.

We continued along the base of the cliffs, coming across more cave openings, this one…

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…being the largest.

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The path continued…

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…but we were feeling ready for a swim, so turned back.

Our young friend E though had other ideas, she wanted to follow the path in the other direction up to the top of the crags to see the view. Her mum J…

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…and TBH and I decided to join us. Others may have too, but the message didn’t get to all of the party. The climb was mercifully short…

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And the views, when we got to them, were well worth the modest effort…

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The Céou Valley

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Camping Maisonneuve.

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There were a couple of Hummingbird Hawkmoths flying around near the top of the cliffs, which excited me greatly since they are rare visitors to Britain. I didn’t manage to photograph them this time, but would have many more opportunities.

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Céou Valley Panorama.

Castelnaud and its Chateau didn’t exactly dominate the view…

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…but they certainly stood out…

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…especially the Chateau…

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Finally, back down through the woods for a well-earned swim.

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Cliffs and Caves above the Céou

No Jokers on Ingleborough

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Pen-y-Ghent in a winter suit.

I felt like I was holding all the aces. It was the day before my birthday, the sky was completely cloudless and the hills had a new dusting of snow. What’s more, I was driving along the A65 with an appointment with Ingleborough. The only thing I hadn’t decided was quite which route I would follow. I’d been perusing the map and some favourite websites the night before to try to make a decision. I hoped to find Purple Saxifrage flowering as we did last year on Pen-y-ghent. Now, Saxifraga Oppositifolia is rare in England, but I’d found several references to the fact that it grows on Ingleborough as well as Pen-y-ghent, not least in John Self’s online book ‘The Wildlife of the Lune Region’ which suggests that an exploration of the steep and fractured cliffs of the western face would be the best place to look. I also found an enthralling description of a route which would fit the bill perfectly.

But now that I could see those western slopes through my windscreen, I knew that they were in a deep shade and seemed likely to be so for some time to come. Knowing that I had to play the hand I’d been dealt, I decided to start my ascent from Clapham instead.

The first trick of the day was to find the right path out of the village and then a steepish pull brought me to Long Lane…

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Long Lane. The edge on the right is Robin Proctor’s Scar which I photographed last year during a walk from Austwick.

Long Lane climbed slowly but steadily and, although it was cold, it was wonderful to be out in the sunshine.

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Long Lane again.

I generally try to climb a hill on my birthday, but over the years I’ve learned to be flexible when work or other commitments have not allowed me to. This year I chose to take my birthday walk a day early, simply because the weather forecast was much better for that day.

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Rayside Plantation and Ingleborough Cave.

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Trow Gill.

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Pretty soon I’d reached the snow. At home we’d had rain the night before, but here it had fallen as a snow.

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Ingleborough and Simon Fell.

We see Ingleborough from Eaves Wood and on our daily drive in to Lancaster, and it has a very distinctive profile, so the view from the south-east was oddly unfamiliar.

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Pen-y-ghent.

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Looking back towards Norber. Distant Pendle Hill on the left-hand skyline.

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From the area around Long Scar I’d turned left on a marvellous green lane which made the going very easy. Even through areas of limestone pavement…

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Ingleborough and Simon Fell.

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Pen-y-ghent.

The breeze was only gentle, but still chilling, so I was pleased, after passing through the gate into the large field called The Allotment, to find a small hollow by a stream which afforded some shelter.

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It was a real suntrap! Everything was coming up trumps. I parked myself beside the beck: time to get a brew on.

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A prospect to warm the hearts ♥.

I felt quite warm and cosy sunbathing here, although there was plenty of evidence that I was kidding myself a little:

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Ice diamonds? ♦

I’d been listening to Meadow Pippits serenading the sun and I think I saw a couple of Wheatears, although I couldn’t be sure. It was great to hear some birdsong after the cold spring we’ve endured.

I sat for around half an hour in the sun, but then it was time to get going again. After the very gentle climbing I’d been doing, the next section was a little steeper, but brought the compensation of even better views.

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Pen-y-ghent and Ribblesdale.

Soon I’d reached the top edge of the great bowl between Simon Fell and Ingleborough.

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And then I was on the ridge itself, with new views to take in.

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Whernside and the valley of the River Doe. (Doedale?)

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The western edge of Simon Fell and Souther Scales Fell.

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Black shiver? The fissured boulder on the left is so distinctively gritstone that it had me thinking of all the rock features of the Dark Peak which still seem so familiar even though it’s many years since I visited any of them.

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Black Shiver from the other direction. I think.

The broad plateau of the top of Ingleborough was busy with walkers eating their sandwiches. I walked around the edges, thinking I could find some sort of shelter, but it seemed to be impossible to get out of the icy wind. Even the four way shelter at the very top didn’t seem to offer much protection, so I decided not to join the clubs ♣.

So I carried on, dropping down towards the prominent notch which is where, at some time in the past, a landslip has dropped down the slopes (hence Falls Foot on the lower slopes).

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My descent took me past a layer of broken limestone crags…

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Which is what I was looking for. So I began clambering around beneath those, in search of the, initially elusive, Purple Saxifrage.

I spotted these prominent plant stalks in a cliff…

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They were much too large to be saxifrage, but intriguing none-the-less. I shall have to return later in the year to see if I can discover what this is.

Eventually I found what I was looking for…

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…but the flowers weren’t quite open. Or not many of them were…

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I’d read that the flowers are purple when they first open, then gradually turn pink. There’s quite a contrast in fact, with the flowers we saw last year:

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Further exploration brought me to a dramatic spot…

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…where, with snow on steep ground, a limestone cliff above and another cliff, of a different rock, below, I decided that discretion was required and turned back.

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Panorama of Whernside. Click to see larger version.

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Whernside and the extensive limestone pavements of Raven Scar and Twisleton Scar, part of the Great Scar Limestone.

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Gritstone rockfall below limestone crags. To say that the geology of this area is complex is a massive understatement.

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The Yoredale Series are layers of sedimentary rocks – limestones, sandstones, shales and a cap of gritstone – which characterise the Yorkshire Dales. In the photo above you can see two sets of crags, the lower limestone, the higher gritstone with gritstone boulders below the limestone.

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The crags at the top of The Falls. In shade still.

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And, on the other side of the gully, free of snow.

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Icicles, in spades. ♠

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Still quite cold, then!

Just along the edge from the Falls there are two heaps of stones…

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…that looked likely to be the remains of some sort of manmade structures. There’s a long history of Ingleborough being occupied, with an Iron Age hill-fort and hut circles and, even more improbably, a very short-lived Hospice Tower built in 1830, the base of which can still be seen on the summit. What age or purpose these small rocky piles might have had, I don’t know, but it’s interesting to speculate.

I climbed part of the way back towards the summit, detouring once again to check out a couple more limestone crags and find some more saxifrage.

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One short climb brought me to the Limestone Load, a level shelf between the two sets of crags which had gritstone features on the surface, but also a long line of dolines…

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Some of which had obvious limestone features…

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I was heading for Little Ingleborough…

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Looking back to the summit.

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Little Ingleborough.

On the descent from Little Ingleborough I finally found somewhere sufficiently sheltered to make me feel inclined to stop for another brew and a late lunch.

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Gaping Gill – Fell Beck falls 98m into the largest underground chamber in England which is naturally open to the surface.

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Gaping Gill pano.

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Bar Pot, another entrance to the Gaping Gill system. An exit too: whilst I was taking the photo some scraping sounds augured the emergence of a lone caver.

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Trow Gill.

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The path descends through Trow Gill, apparently formed by a meltwater torrent at the end of the last ice age.

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Foxholes a cave where human and animal remains have been found.

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Clapham Beck Head where the water from Gaping Gill finally resurges.

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Clapham Beck is one of the sources of the River Wenning and so is another tributary of the Lune, so that this walk is another instalment of my exploration of the Lune catchment area.

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Ingleborough Cave. I haven’t been in there for years, but it’s well worth a visit. Must take the kids.

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Clapham Beck.

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Since I dropped into the shelter of Trow Gill it had been feeling much warmer, so in Clapdale Wood I stopped for one final cup of tea.

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The Lake. Imaginatively named, don’t you think? And – it’s a reservoir.

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Clapham Beck.

Scenes from Clapham…

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Market Cross.

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In ‘Walks in Limestone Country’, Wainwright wrote:

Of the many walks described in this book, the ascent of Ingleborough from Clapham is pre-eminent, the finest of all, a classic. A lovely village….charming woodlands……..an enchanting valley……natural wonders………a climb to a grand mountain-top. Oh yes, this is the best.

I can’t help feeling that in amending my plan for the day I made a good choice. You might say that I played my cards right. Or that I was dealing from a full-deck.

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What’s that? Which birthday was it? Haven’t you worked that out yet? Just to clear-up any ambiguity: I didn’t come across any humorous types on Ingleborough. No jokers, you might say. Which leaves?

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My mapping app gives 13½ miles and just over 2000′ of climbing. Not a bad little outing.

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No Jokers on Ingleborough

Norber, Crummack Dale, Austwick Beck

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Oxenber Wood, from just above Austwick.

My post-work walking outings this year have been exceptional. So much so that I’m almost regretting the fact that work has come to an end for the summer*. This walk started on a sunny afternoon in Austwick, a picturesque village which, inexplicably, I completely neglected to photograph.

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Robin Proctor’s Scar and Nappa Scars.

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Robin Proctor’s Scar.

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Moughton Scar.

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Wheatear.

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Skylark. I think.

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Classic perched Norber Erratic.

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Skylark and Meadow Pipit – the Proper Birder told me that Skylark’s are larger!

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I spent quite a long time exploring the famous Norber Erratics, zig-zagging back and forth taking photographs of birds, boulders and the expanding views. I was pleased that the erratics were so clearly of a different rock than the underlying white limestone, having been mistaken about erratics before.

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I wasn’t expecting to stumble across a manhole cover. A caver’s dig?

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Seems likely. A quick google reveals that this is indeed a dig, an attempt to find an easier route into Nappa Scar Cave, which was itself discovered by a digging party in 2013.

The very white, highly-textured limestone, made for very distinctive drystone walls…

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View to a distant Pendle Hill.

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Pen-y-Ghent above Moughton Scars

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Ingleborough from Norber.

Unusually, this post has no photographs of butterflies, although I did see quite a number of Small Heaths in the grassy areas between the Limestone Pavements and some Red Admirals later on.

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Pen-y-Ghent across the head of Crummack Dale.

Crummack Dale is surrounded on all sides by limestone scars and at it’s northern end by two sets of cliffs with a large area of limestone pavement in between. I’ve camped near Austwick on several occasions in the past and feel that I must have been this way before, but, then again, if I have then surely I would remember: this is truly breath-taking scenery. To me it compared with seeing High-Cup Nick or Malham Scar for the first time. My photos totally fail to do justice to it, but perhaps that explains why it isn’t as well known as it might otherwise be – it is difficult to capture the grandeur of this scenery in a photo.

This photo…

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…was taken at Sulber Gate. Next time I’m in this area I intend to sit here and make a brew and eat a lengthy picnic whilst I enjoy this view.

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Panorama, click on the photo (or any other) to see a larger version on Flickr.

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Thieves Moss.

I was a bit surprised to discover that this area, in amongst all of this limestone, is genuinely a moss, that is wet and boggy, with Bog Asphodel and Cotton Grass and a few acid-loving plants you might not expect to see hereabouts.

I wouldn’t normally include a picture of a stile…

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…but this is named on the map: it’s the Beggar’s Stile. A path continues from here along the edges of Moughton Scars and I must come back to try that path sometime soon, but on this occasion I wanted to drop down into Crummack Dale.

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To seek out another tributary of the Lune, Austwick Beck, which is the dark line in the middle of the photo below…

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And which flows out of a cave mouth, which was unfortunately rather difficult to photograph because the sun was just above the horizon, making the light difficult.

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Austwick Beck Head.

To the east…

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…another stream flows down to join Austwick Beck from a spring at Moughton Whetstone Hole, somewhere else I shall have to come back to explore another time.

The Limestone Pavements had been busy with Wheatears, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. This wall was  host to several families of Wheatears, juveniles and adults alike, all perching on the crest of the wall, or the wire, or the fence posts…

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Juvenile Wheatears.

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Crummack.

As I approached Crummack I could near a Buzzard calling from the crags off to the right. I scanned in vain, but couldn’t pick it out, until it flew away from the crag and apparently straight for me. It made a bee-line, but then veered off when it was about half-way between me and the crag, landing in the trees surrounding the farm at Crummack. I wondered whether the apparent flight in my direction was just a coincidence and continued to check the trees trying to spot the bird. I couldn’t see it, but could still hear it calling and then I noticed a second, larger Buzzard, presumably the female, heading up the valley towards the trees.

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When I lost sight of this second Buzzard, I wandered a bit further down the valley, but stopped again a little way on to admire the view. The smaller Buzzard, the male, now made a second flight, arrow-straight and unmistakably heading directly for me, this time leaving it much later to veer off and return to the trees. This was nothing like the close shave I had in the past, but I definitely felt like I was being warned off. I did get a photo of the male, just as it changed course, but it is disappointingly blurred.

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Part of the reason I’d stopped was to consult my map in order to amend my route. The western side of the valley was now in deep shade, so I opted to take the track across the dale towards Studrigg Scar.

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Clapper bridge over Austwick Beck.

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The track on the far side of the valley turned out to be a narrow affair, slightly overgrown and overrun with flies. It might have been a disappointment, given how shady it was, but for the fact that many of the verdant plants hanging over the path were canes loaded with Raspberries.

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Most weren’t ripe, but there were still more then enough for me, and they were delicious. I don’t think I’ve seen such a fine crop of wild raspberries since I was walking in the Black Forest something like 30 years ago.

From the tiny hamlet of Wharfe, rather than heading straight back to Austwick, I crossed this little brook…

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…cheerful with Monkeyflowers….

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…then over Wharfe Gill Sike and round the hillside under Wharfe Wood and Oxenber Wood (more places to come back to explore). I had hoped that I could chase the sunshine up the hillside, but it was much faster than me and I finished the walk in shade, although I could see that the sun was shining still on the slopes of the hills above Bentham.

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Flascoe Bridge and Austwick Beck.

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The final section of path had a fine display of the tall and showy Giant Bellflower, though it was getting a bit dark to take photos. This has appeared here on the blog before, but I’m much more confident about my identification this time, partly because ‘The Wild Flower Key’ is excellent, especially now that I am beginning to know my way around it a bit, but also because there are several very detailed wildflower plant websites available now.

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Norber, Crummack Dale, Austwick Beck

Leck Beck and Ease Gill Kirk from Cowan Bridge.

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Another Wednesday night and another after-work outing, this time starting at Cowan Bridge which is between Kirkby Lonsdale and Ingleton. This row of cottages is the village’s claim to fame. It once housed the Clergy Daughters’ School, once attended by the Bronte sisters…

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…and the model for the Lowood Institution in Jane Eyre, although apparently the reality was even more brutal than the fictionalised version. Maria and Elizabeth both died of tuberculosis after an outbreak of typhoid at the school.

Fortunately, the walk along Leck Beck from Cowan Bridge is a much more cheery prospect.

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There were great swathes of flowers. An under-storey of Ramsons…

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…the subtle yellow tinge of Crosswort…

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…spikes of Bugle…

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…a really dense patch of Stitchwort…

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…lots of Bluebells and Hawthorn…

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…and another Wild Privet tree, which was heavily infested with webs full of caterpillars…

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The village of Leck.

I’m currently reading ‘Counting Sheep’ by Philip Walling and realising just how variable the sheep I pass on my strolls are. By Leck there was a flock of quite long-wooled sheep, very different from the hill-sheep you might expect to see in this area. Apparently, there are thought to be more breeds of sheep in the UK than in any other country in the world. Although, as usual, I really don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m going to stick my neck out and hazard a guess that this lamb…

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…is a South Down.

Leaving Leck I crossed a couple of fields and then entered Springs Wood…

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A substantial footbridge over the beck was leaning at an alarming angle…

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I suspect that after rain this can be a raging torrent.

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Just short of the boundary to open access land, I was intrigued by this lonely wooden cabin…

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…but can’t find any information about it on the interweb.

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I’ve walked this way at least a couple of times before, once with my Dad shortly after he retired, when he brought a caravan up and camped behind the Whoop Hall Inn near Kirkby Lonsdale and we had a very good week’s walking together. That must have been back in the early nineties and we had to stick to the footpath which follows the hillside somewhat above the beck. This time I decided to more closely shadow the watercourse, where possible. That immediately brought me onto some very soggy ground, an ideal place to find Marsh Valerian…

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Early Purple Orchid.

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Leck Beck.

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Cream-spot Ladybird.

I found three broken eggs on the ground, all around the same size (quite large) but all slightly different in colour.

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I had to climb away from the stream a little here to find a stile. I descended toward the stream again, but realised that the bank was too steep, so had to climb again to the path.

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I didn’t find Leck Beck Head, the resurgence where all this water flows from, but the path brought me to the edge of a steep sided ravine. I found a way into it, but, although no water was flowing through it, there were large pools and also rocky, dry ‘falls’, so that I was unable to make progress along the bottom of the ravine. I climbed out and then found another way in, further uphill which brought me to Ease Gill Kirk…

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…a really atmospheric spot where the walls of the ravine are absolutely peppered with caves, many of them, presumably, entrances into the The Three Counties System, “the longest and most complex system in Britain” (source) with around 89km of passages.

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I climbed out of the ravine yet again, then dropped down into it again a little further ‘upstream’. It was more open here and must have been very close to where I joined Ease Gill when I came this way last. (I’m a bit taken aback to find that was three years ago.)

A group of four Ravens were apparently very vexed by my intrusion and circled around ronking noisily. What I’m pretty sure was a Cuckoo dashed across the empty stream bed and into a tree above on the hillside. I followed, climbing away from Ease Gill, this time for the last time, and finding an outcrop of limestone to sit beside for a quick bite to eat.

The nature of the terrain changed from here on, as I crossed mostly pathless, heathery moorland, passing numerous sinkholes and quite a few potholes, usually marked out by the trees protruding from them.

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Smokey Hole or Peterson Pot, not sure which.

They have sonorous names – Smokey Hole, Peterson Pot, Death’s Head Hole, Eyeholes, Long Drop Cave, Rumbling Cave, Rumbling Hole and Short Drop Cave – but are not particularly exciting to look at, at least from above. Rumbling Hole does at least have the sound of running water to enliven it.

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Looking towards Morecambe Bay and Warton Crag – there’s a hot-air balloon flying in the distance.

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Great Coum and Crag Hill.

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Another largish egg, but clearly of a different species.

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Leck Fell House and Gragareth.

The moor was extremely busy with small birds.

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Meadow Pipit?

I heard lots of calls which had me thinking ‘Stonechat’, although why I felt so sure of myself I don’t know, because they aren’t birds I encounter very often. I was right though, for once; on a fencepost by Eyeholes I managed to photograph a male, though it wasn’t a very sharp image. Then a female regaled me from a perch on a Mountain Ash growing out of Long Drop cave…

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Leck Fell House again.

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This large, and slightly grisly, nest was in a tree growing from Rumbling Cave. I don’t think it was occupied. I’m not sure what the bone was, but it was quite substantial.

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Leck Fell Road, looking toward The Forest of Bowland.

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A parhelion, or sundog.

For the walk back to Cowan Bridge I stuck to the Leck Fell Road – I don’t usually choose to walk on roads, but it certainly makes navigation easy and this is a very minor road, although there was a bit of traffic, much to my surprise.

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As well as the sunset, I was entertained by a Roe Deer racing away from me across a field and by a pair of partridges comically running away, apparently petrified by my presence, but inexplicably unwilling to fly to escape.

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Leck Beck and Ease Gill Kirk from Cowan Bridge.

Pen-y-ghent

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The kids and I were on a mission. I like to climb a mountain on my birthday, if at all possible, or failing that, as close to the actual day as can be arranged. I knew that this year I would be recovering from surgery, and so wouldn’t be up to much on the Big Day, but our Easter holidays had begun (although sadly TBH was still working), and the forecast for the Monday and Tuesday before my op were almost perfect. What’s more, I’d remembered that in ‘Walks in Limestone Country’, Wainwright says:

“April visitors will ever afterwards remember Penyghent as the mountain of the purple saxifrage, for in April this beautiful plant decorates the white limestone cliffs on the 1900′ contour with vivid splashes of colour, especially being rampant along the western cliffs.”

Purple Saxifrage, Saxifraga Oppositifolia, is one of the flowers which appear in ‘Wild Flowers in Danger’ which don’t grow in the immediate vicinity of home, but which can be found within striking distance, and which I’ve therefore decided to seek out.

The sun was shining, the kids were all on fine form, and we made rapid progress up to the south ridge and to the lower line of cliffs seen above. And there just a short, steep climb above the path, we found…

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Purple Saxifrage.

It was almost an anticlimax, but only in as much as I’d been expecting a bit of a hunt to find it. I’m not sure how patient the children would have been with any lengthy deviations anyway, so it was probably for the best that we came across it so easily.

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We climbed part way up the steep nose of the ridge, but by now, Little S, always the first to crack, was demanding a lunch stop. When we reached the second steepening of the ridge we found a relatively sheltered spot, out of the wind, behind a wall.

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For the first time in quite a while, I’d brought a stove and the makings of a brew. I really enjoyed my hot drink, doubly so since the boys, who had made their own lunches and seriously miscalculated on quantities, were soon eating my lunch as well as their own.

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The second, gritstone line of cliffs. “It’s so wrinkled, it looks like an old man,” opined Little S.

From our lunch stop it was quick work to make the summit.

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You can probably tell that it was very windy. There is a clever S-shaped shelter there in the wall and we sat for a few minutes. I think the kids would have quite liked to stop for another lunch, had it not come so soon after our previous halt.

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Ingleborough and huge flags for repairing the Pennine Way path.

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Our descent brought us to the western cliffs, where, just as AW predicts, the Purple Saxifrage is ‘rampant’.

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“Traces of the Purple Saxifrage have been found in Britain in deposits that were laid down 20,000 years ago, that is before the end of the last Ice Age. As each of the glaciers retreated north towards the Pole, the Arctic alpine plants – of which the Purple Saxifrage is one – followed up, going ever northward. The Arctic alpines were in turn followed by plants that could live at higher temperatures and, when the ice finally vanished for good, the Saxifrages and other Arctic alpines had to find refuge wherever they could on high mountains, cliffs and the like.”

“At first the plant looks as though it had been showered with white dust, but a close examination of the leaves reveals that each is flattened and truncated near the tip, and that, in the flattened area, is a pore from which small nuggets of limestone are expelled. One would hardly have expected this to happen, as the Purple Saxifrage favours sites that are rich in lime. But the plant also likes constant running water and perhaps this sometimes contains more lime than was bargained for. At any rate most Purple Saxifrages seem to have lime to spare.”

Wild Flowers in Danger by John Fisher

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Only Little S joined me for a short exploration of the base of the cliffs, A and B opting to sunbathe (and bicker) back down by the path. Wainwright has a drawing of a limestone pinnacle. I suspect that there may be a few such pillars along the entire length of the cliffs, but this one does look quite like the one in his drawing.

P1100194This is only a short walk – Wainwright gives it as 6 miles – but there are plenty of points of interest along the way. The next one being Hunt Pot.

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200 feet deep apparently. For us it provided another place out of the wind for lunch stop number two. Or in my case, another cup of tea and the privilege of watching the Gannets demolish the remainder of my lunch. To be fair, they did magnanimously share some of it with me.

The rocky cracks and ledges here, sheltered and protected to a certain extent from sheep,  were decorated with Primroses and Coltsfoot…

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Dark clouds were hurling in from the west now, but we had one more landmark to locate. Due to a bit of navigational muppetry, we came at it from above, following Hull Pot Beck…

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Where there were both Pied and Grey Wagtails flitting about.

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The beck becomes a dry stream bed when the water disappears underground…

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…and leads to…

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…Hull Pot…

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…an enormous collapsed cavern.

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The missing water emerges part way down the cliffs…

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But apparently, after heavy rain a waterfall flows directly into the top of the pot, which, on occasion, can actually fill with water. I can see myself making a return visit to witness that.

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In all, a great day out, in marvellous company. Certainly on a par with some of my favourite previous birthday hill-days. But, being greedy, I was determined to try again on the Tuesday and see if we could go one better. (More to follow!)

The kids meanwhile are quite taken with the idea of ‘The Three Peaks’. The boys, having done two of them in quick succession, would like to knock off Whernside, in fact were angling to do it the next day, and all three of them are keen to have a crack at the Three Peaks walk. I need to get into training!

Pen-y-ghent

Chapel-le-Dale Weekend – Great Douk Cave

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Our original plan had been to go back to Runscar Cave up at Ribblehead next, but a last minute inspiration saw us heading for Great Douk Cave instead. I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to us before; the Shandy Sherpa and I had been there before, with our friend Geordie Munro, a couple of times, once after a long hot summer walk and then again a few years later to explore more thoroughly. Both visits were a very long time ago and it turned out that we both had rather sketchy memories of the cave. Andy remembered, but I didn’t, that the waterfall which pours out of the entrance can be avoided by a little crawl above to the right. I remembered, but Andy didn’t, that a short walk into the cave brings you to Little Douk Pot where daylight can be seen high overhead.

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B in Little Douk Pot.

Neither of us remembered the series of little cascades which we, probably rather pointlessly, struggled to ascend dry shod by straddling the narrow passage with a foot on either wall. (The boys loved it). Nor did we recall just how long the passage was, or the great wealth of flowstone features.

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I took an awful lot of photos. (If you want to see more, simply click on one of the photos and that will take you to my flickr account). Actually, carrying the camera in my hand proved to be quite awkward. The case worked very well however: at one point I fell over – a bit of a shocking experience, the water was pretty cold – and dropped the camera in the water, but somehow it stayed dry, even though the case isn’t really sealed, or waterproof.

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With wellies full of water, Little S was cold again, but he was still really happy, full of enthusiasm.

This feature…

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…proved to be quite awkward to get past. The others managed by squatting on their haunches and shuffling by; I went past on hands and knees, which filled my sleeves and my wellies with water – this was before I fell over.

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Andy remembered, but I didn’t, that this was where, when the passage gradually gets lower, Geordie Munro discovered a tiny crawl and got very excited when it brought him to a new, larger passage, or at least that was what he thought, but in fact he had doubled back to the original passage, where Andy and I were waiting, much to our amusement.

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I’ve since discovered that it’s possible to continue through a section of crawling to reach Middle Washfold Caves, but we didn’t know that at the time, so where the passage got very low we turned and retraced our steps (not that I would’ve been up for a lengthy crawl anyway). At this point we were soaked and had given up on our efforts to keep our feet out of the deeper water, which made our return journey an awful lot quicker.

Fortunately, it wasn’t as dark as this photo suggests…

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…we were all still smiling, and the bunkhouse and clean and dry clothes were only a short walk away.

Discussion about possible caving outings for next Christmas has already begun!

Chapel-le-Dale Weekend – Great Douk Cave