SKIRWITH CAVE by John Southworth
Skirwith Cave is on the slopes of Ingleborough about a mile from Ingleton on the Hawes road. It is a resurgence cave and the first four hundred feet is a show cave which the farmer of the nearby Skirwith Farm owns.
The first trip this cave by members of the Club was in July, 1965 by Jack Pickup and John Southworth. They reached the final sump and decided to have a go at free diving it. This was done and it resulted in a ten foot dive to a cross rift. Then another free dive was accomplished, the length of which was fifteen feet, which brought them into a chamber about fifteen feet wide, fifteen feet high and forty foot long, but this also ended in another sump which they did not try to dive having been satisfied they had enough for one day.
Most of the Club were on the next trip into the cave and the first sump was lowered to make this into a semi-duck, this also lowering the second sump, but not enough to make it diveable. Many more trips into the cave were made, with the hope of lowering the sump, and it was tried as a free dive, but nobody got more than fifteen feet or so into it.
By this time some members of the Club had taken up cave-diving and had joined the Cave Diving Group. It was on April, 17th, 1966 that the Club with five of its divers (these being, Jack Pickup, John Southworth, Mick Melvin, John Ogden and Mick Ormerod set about another push on the sump. It must be said now that Skirwith Cave is not a very easy cave, especially when diving gear has to be carried, because most of its three thousand foot length is flat out crawling up to your neck in water. The divers reached the base for the dive and kitted up.
Having checked all the equipment, John Southworth went into the sump (with Jack Pickup as standby diver.)There was a 175 foot courlene line attached to him to be used as a guide line. All was going well with good visibility and the passage height was about three feet but the width could not be judged owing to the poor lighting under water.
This dive continued for twenty-five foot to an airspace twenty-five feet long where one can stand up comfortably, to another sump, which he then dived through, being the same shape and length, roughly, as first sump, to a large chamber where he belayed the end of the line. The total passage so far found was seventy-five foot, two twenty-five foot sections of these being submerged.
When the diver had returned to base it was decided that they should all go through and take with them the hundred feet of courlene still left. Eventually every diver was through the two sumps (which we called 1 and 2 respectively) and they began exploring the chamber which was quite large compared with the rest of the passages in the cave, but alas, after only forty feet of big chamber they came to another upstream sump. This was much larger than the others, being twenty feet long and ten feet wide. John Southworth and Mick Melvin donned their diving gear again and John dived again with Mick as standby diver.
The way on was found to be on the left hand side of the sump and after a dive down of about five feet under a flake, which rose a few feet at the other side, he entered a fifteen feet wide and about ten feet high passage with a gravel floor.
The visibility was good and rapid progress was made until the diver ran out of line after a hundred foot dive, but by very good luck the place where the line ran out was just below an air space, so he belayed the line to a boulder on the floor of the passage and then surfaced to the air space. A close inspection showed this to be about twenty feet long, five feet wide and two to three feet high. Obviously nothing else could be done without a guide line so John returned to base and the party retired to the somewhat warmer climate of the open air, hoping to come back another week-end with more line.
It was not until May 29th that the divers returned again, all these people being members of the Cave Diving Group: they were Mick Ormerod, John Southworth, Jack Pickup, Mick Melvin of the H.W.C.P.C., Bill Frakes of the B.P.C. and Ken Pearce of the B.S,A. Every diver had his own kit which includes a fifteen pound weight belt, diving bottle, demand valve, mask, flippers and so on and it would have been impossible for every diver to carry his own gear, so the Preston Caving Club was asked to do the job for us and they accepted, which we were very grateful for because without them the dive would have been impossible.
The trip to the sump was without incident and the divers kitted up and all passed sumps one and two without much bother. At sump three, Bill Frakes, John Southworth and Ken Pearce kitted up for the dive with Ken Pearce as standby diver whilst John and Bill went through to the air space for the push on sump four. Once they had arrived at the air space, the end of a two hundred foot coil of courlene was fastened to a belay and Bill stopped in the air space while John carried on into the sump for approximately thirty feet in a rift type passage until he came to a blank wall. On closer inspection of the passage the Way was seen to be down to the left
on a bedding plane which was about three foot high, fifteen foot wide which he followed for approximately fifty feet to a boulder choke.
John than decided to return to the air space because digging would have been impossible owing to the limitations of his air supply. Once there John and Bill returned to base and the party than set off back through sumps two and one and then back to the entrance.
We hope to do many more dives in Skirwith and also dig the final boulder choke. Incidentally, the boulders of this blockage were covered in calcite, which proves it must have been flooded comparatively recently.
The total length of new passage is 380 feet making the length of the cave 3280 feet long so far. None of the sumps in the cave can be free dived apart from the original duck and it would be foolhardy and dangerous to try them.