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Spectacular tunnels and caverns carved into Yorkshire's biggest limestone deposits

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Yorkshire is a huge place, with a landscape that varies wildly from expansive plains to huge mountains. One particular section, in the Dales National Park, features significantly large deposits of limestone. These are often formed into impressive cliffs, like Malham Cove or Kilnsey Crag but in other places water erosion has carved paths through the rock, forming vast caverns and tunnels. The Yorkshire Dales contain over half of England's limestone, so caves as impressive as these are tricky to find anywhere else.
These natural formations have obviously been around for thousands of years, so people have had plenty of chance to stumble across them. Nevertheless, one of the most frequently visited caves was discovered just last century, in 1923. This is White Scar Cave, the longest cavern in England on public display.
As you explore its depths you'll pass waterfalls, rock formations and mud pools. Some of the rocks and stalactites have somehow formed themselves into unusual shapes. One supposedly resembles the Devil's tongue, while another bears an uncanny likeness to a human face. The tour climaxes with a look round Battlefield Cavern. At over 100 metres long, this is easily one of Britain's largest.

Weird rock formations inside White Scar Cave
Photo p_c_w
Just next door on the other side of the same hill is Ingleborough Cave, another show cavern of similar popularity. For at least half a kilometre into the mountain the path has been flattened and laid with concrete, making it easy to traverse. The ceiling and floor are covered with ominous-looking stalactites and stalagmites. The path ends after 500 metres, but the cave network carries on, deeper and deeper onward. It has still never been fully explored. Even as recently as 2001, a group of cavers discovered the remains of a woolly rhinoceros, buried in one of the cave's darkest corners.
If you want to follow in their footsteps and investigate the furthest recesses of the caverns, you'll have to be experienced. Caving and potholing requires high levels of fitness and skill. You'll also need to be immune to claustrophobia, as there are some very tight squeezes to get through. If this sounds like your idea of fun, then Yorkshire is your new playground. Some of the cave networks extend for miles and miles, spreading out into a labyrinth that's easy to get lost in. It's important to take safety seriously, but if you manage it, you'll be able to lay eyes on some hidden corners of England that almost no-one else will ever get to see.
One of the most well-known cave networks is at Gaping Gill, not far from Ingleborough. As you approach, make sure you watch your step, as the entrance is just a hole in the floor! This yawning chasm drops down for over 100 metres into the colossal main cavern. This is the location of the UK's highest waterfall, as the waters of Fall Beck tumble all the way down to the chamber floor.

Inside the main chamber at Gaping Gill. Cave
Photo Jarvist Frost
On one or two special occasions during the year, local potholing clubs give members of the public a chance to look around Gaping Gill in the most spectacular way imaginable. They set up a winch above the entrance, put you in a harness, and drop you straight in! You'll find it either a terrifying or an exhilarating experience, but one that's truly worth it! They use floodlights to illuminate the cave, so you can get a rare glimpse at one of nature's most dramatic constructions.
Visitor Information
White Scar Cave is open daily from 10am to 5pm February to October, plus weekends in winter. Entry costs around £8.50 for adults, £5.50 for children. White Scar Cave, Ingleton, LA6 3AW. Tel: 01524 241244
Ingleborough Cave is open daily from 10am to 5pm February to October, plus weekends in winter. Entry costs around £7 for adults, £3.50 for children. Ingleborough Cave, Clapham, LA2 8EE. Tel: 01524 251242
Gaping Gill is only open to caving clubs. However, the cave is open to non-cavers for a week in late May - booking is essential and it is organised by the Bradford Pothole Club. Tel: 01484 683260

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