Victoria Caves

May 5 2019 Part 2 – Settle, North Yorkshire.

Inside the cave mouth it is near silent; no bird call, no wind. Just the occasional bleat of a ewe calling her lamb, and the steady yet slow drip of water falling from the rock above It feels like the outside world is slowly ceasing to exist. The further I move into this, most shallow of caves, the more the outside disappears. As light slowly reduces so does sound, natural noise cancelling headphones.

Caves terrify me. That is not totally correct, as THIS particular cave doesn’t terrify me. It is quite large and open and at a glance it does not appear too deep and foreboding. Being a law-abiding citizen, I am not going to pass that safety rope, so I don’t have to explore its crannies and tunnels. I can safely ignore any paths into the dark below, into the underland. It is they, and the unknown terrify me.

One person who does know what lies in the dark below is the author Robert Macfarlane, who has just published a new book ‘Underland’. Exploring ancient and future history by looking at what is under our feet and hidden from view. Cave systems, mines and melting ice fields revealing all sorts of things that humans have buried or disappeared. I started reading it in the pub on Friday night, and have been reflecting on the passages I have read over the weekend, I am going to take my time with this book. it intrigues me.

After five hours of job application writing I was finally ready to back out again, it was getting late in the afternoon, though I still decided to take a walk up into the hills and try to find Victoria Cave. It was clearly marked on Google maps and was do-able in the time I had between now and it being too dark to be out wandering alone in strange hills.

The first 40 minutes just seemed to be uphill, with a little bit of flat before going back up hill again. I am not as fit as I used to be, but managed to keep pretty good pace given I didn’t have a lot of time.

I love the dry stone walls here in Yorkshire. There are very few trees in the hills. Not knowing the old history of the area I am assuming that this was not heavily forested back when these walls were built, some possibly date as far back as the bronze age, though those old stones will be very low down in the walls as remedial work has taken place over the centuries. They are a thing of beauty, and control in this otherwise slightly disordered landscape.

I wish I had taken more time, exploring the bluffs and craggs that surrounded me would have been so much more interesting than writing job applications. Though I guess being in work allows me the time to indulge in walking and photography in places that are a way from home.

At the top of the first climb I came across this ruin. I have no idea what it was, and do not really want to know as my imagination ran riot trying to work it out. Why are there blast holes in both directions on that panel, what the heck blew holes that size?

I also want to know if this plate, made in Bishopsgate, in what is the heart of the finance centre of the City of London is covering, is there something under here ? did it blow up ?

There are not a lot of trees here, the land does not look it would sustain many, and I wanted to photograph each and every one. How old are they? And why one? So many questions.

It is very unusual for me to not be listening to music, I have headphones glued to my head on my commute and as much as possible in the office. I play music when I cook, sometimes it is why I cook. I am playing music as I type. I listen to it a lot. Except when I am walking in the country, when I walk I want to listen to nothing but the countryside and the questions in my head. There are often a lot of questions.

My object for this afternoon’s walk, the Victoria Caves are somewhere in this bluff, the Attemire Scar. There are a lot of cave systems in the Dales, including some managed commercial systems. If I had more time I would have had a look at some, though I doubt they would be as amazing as those mega caves I visited in Malaysian Borneo. I am intrigued by what fears me.

I reached the cave about 5:00pm and had a sit down, a drink of water and a snack bar. I had walked quite quickly up to the cave as I had no idea how long the loop would take to do. The return journey was simpler than the way there. So arrival with plenty of time meant a relaxed walk back.

The cave is not deep, or at least access is not deep, there is a lot of rock fall and most of the cave is roped off. I could have gone deeper, there is no-one there to stop you, but I am a chicken so only went as far as the barrier. The darkness, dankness and silence was calling me further in, I really wanted to see and learn more, perhaps find someting so far undiscovered, new bones, a few coins. Something newly revealed by rock fall or fissure. 

The caves were discovered in 1837, the year of Queen Victoria’s coronation, hence the name. They were apparently an archaeologists dream find, with loads of prehistoric bones as well as a collection of Roman and pre-Roman artifacts. The question remains as to what it was used for.

Between the main cave and the much smaller second cave I found two climbers, playing on a wall. The wall was not high, not particularly dangerous looking, though I was terrified just walking up the scree slope to the caves. As well as not doing dark narrow tunnels I also do not do heights, and the older I get the worse the vertigo gets and I really struggled getting back down from the caves to the level grass below.

The path that makes up the second half of the loop was more clearly defined than the one I followed on the way up, which was at the best of times a mown strip in the grass. This path leads to a nearby car-park, and then the road,  following a very wiggly line of dry stone wall.

I came across another solitary tree, as this one was in my path I stopped to take a few photos, intrigued as to how and why it was growing on this particular rock outcrop.

I think this is a hawthorn. I love how nature has allowed a seed to grow between the rocks of this harsh environment, forcing its way up into the light, pushing the rocks apart to allow its growth.

I was soon walking down the road towards Lancliffe, passing these very friendly lambs on the way, I thought they were trying to come with me for a while. Maybe my sheep voice is better than my Scottish accent ?

On the outskirts of Lancliffe I passed what I am assuming is a private forest, possibly surrounding some large manor house. The variety of shades of green in the walls, the moss on the banks and the trees was incredible and I have failed to capture them with any accuracy. The light was low and I had no tripod. After spending so much time with few trees, it was wonderful to be reminded of why we need more, not less of these wonderful things, and that wandering amongst them should not be just the privelidge of the wealthy.

That was pretty much the end of the walk. It was lovely and I wished I had more time to enjoy it. I did deserve the massive meal and couple of pints I had in one of the pubs!