Giants seem to figure prominently in the folklore of Britain; the stories of Tom Hickathrift (East Anglia), Bendigeidfran (Wales), Gog and Magog (London) to name a few. Now, I love a good folk tale and whilst looking through Alfred Wainwright’s book Walks in Limestone Country, I came upon a route that took in Yordas Cave, a small system in the slopes below Whernside, the tallest of the Three Peaks. Further investigation unearthed the story that the cave was supposedly named after a local giant called Yordas who had a predilection for catching and eating the local children (anybody else notice an absence of vegetarian or vegan giants?)
Wainwright’s notes indicate that the cave is fairly easy to explore for the non-caving type and my imagination was fired. I’m sure Sigmund Fraud would have posited that this was some deep-seated desire to return to the womb, but I happen to like caves. The limestone hills of the Yorkshire Dales are chock full of caves and galleries eroded by rainfall and underground streams and there are a number of show caves that are worth a visit. Despite being on private land, the cave is open to public access with the proviso that people behave responsibly (that’s me out, then).
I drove over to Ingleton on a bright sunny morning and parked in the pay and display car park. I only had enough for a four hour ticket, but looking at the map I estimated that I would be back with time to spare – if I didn’t spend too much time on detours. I could have parked in the Ingleton Waterfall Trail car park, especially as the route takes in half of the trail, but I’ll admit I just didn’t think of it at the time. Another instance of a lack of planning was the fact that I had left my spare camera batteries at home and the battery in the camera only had half a charge left in it. I prayed fervently that the hot weather would induce it to last until the end of the walk.
At the entrance to the Waterfall Trail car park there is a signpost to Thornton Hall and a gravel track that leads up to an open area and a metal kissing gate that leads into a verdant pasture. Under the trees it was blissfully cool and there was a beautiful view of Twistleton Scars and the lower slopes of Whernside in the distance. To my left I could see a clump of trees and, nestled in the middle, the spire of a small church. From where I stood it looked like it might even be in ruins and I swapped my wide-angle lens for a telephoto so I could have a closer view. Naturally I was tempted to take a detour and see if it really was a ruin, but common sense prevailed and I carried on up a gentle incline crossing two more fields before joining Thornton Lane.
Thornton Lane runs along the bottom of the dale towards Whernside and my route followed it a short distance, climbing all the while. With the sun burning the back of my neck I was, not for the first time, regretting that I’d left my hat in the car. Well, it was too late to go back for it now and so I turned the collar of my shirt up for a little protection; I’d hardly covered any distance and already the sweat was pouring off me. I’m all for a pretty walk under the summer sun, but by the time I reached the point where I had to leave the road and start climbing, I was beginning to question my own common sense.
The path wound up through green grass fading to brown under the sun and the fields and hills had the look of felt covered in dust. Either side of the path I could see dips and hollows in the ground, shake holes caused by water eroding the limestone under the surface. Farmers in the Dales are used to losing sheep when the animals have wondered into a shake hole and fallen through into the darkness below. Above all else, this is why I make a point of emphasising that walkers should always stick to the paths on these walks. Not only does it avoid angering the farmers and landowners, but it is also a matter of personal safety.
Anyway, moving onto lighter matters, the path ascends in a series of short inclines interspersed by plateaus that allows the legs to have a little rest. To the right there are the limestone scars that form the slopes of the intriguingly-named Gragareth. I’ve been unable to discover the origin of the name, though I suspect its roots are in the days of the Danish occupation in the Dark Ages, like so many of the other place and hill names in the area.
Before the path turns to the right, I had to stop and photograph the view across the lower hills and fells towards a mass of blue peaks in the distance lying under a blanket of soft-looking clouds.
I followed the path up once more, my boots scrunching on dried grass in a sea of sandy brown dotted with the occasional clump of purple-headed thistles that provided the only splashes of colour. I could hear bees and other insects around me and every now and then a butterfly would flit across my path too fast for me to bring my camera to bare. I’ve started using some old Minolta lenses with my DSLR and, if I’m honest, I prefer them to their modern equivalents. Yes, there is no auto-focus and I have to set the aperture manually as well, but I think the results are worth it even if it means that I’m a little slower to take a photograph. Although the feeding bee that I had intended to photograph had buzzed off once I started to raise my camera, I took the below photograph of a thistle and, I will admit, I’m quite proud of it.
The best news for my aching legs, however, was that the footpath was about to join an old track listed on Wainwright’s map as The Turbary Road that was (mostly) level for the rest of the walk along the tops. I slackened my pace a little (I always have a tendency to race up slopes simply to get them over with) and drank in the view of Ingleborough, the hill looking like the sort of thing UFO hunters carve in their mashed potato.
The valley below is called Kingsdale and, again according to Wainwright, is full of caves and pots for the intrepid caver to explore. I’m no caver, but just the names were enough to fire the imagination: Thorney Pot, Rowten Cave, Simpson’s Cave, Jingling Pot and , of course, Yordas Cave. Walking along the tops with only the sheep for company, I looked for openings in the earth to mark where these pots and caves begin. Of course, without leaving the path I saw nothing until I eventually came to the huge gaping rift of Rowton Cave. Somewhere below I could hear the gurgling and babbling of an underground stream and, based on the sound, my first thought was that this must be Jingling Pot.
Obviously, it’s hard to convey the size of the opening without anything to compare it with, but the sheep were keeping their distance and I wasn’t keen on getting too close myself. Suffice it to say that I reckon you could have fitted a bus through the opening with room to spare.
Beyond Rowton Cave was a stile into the next field and the last before I was to begin my descent. A cloud drifted across the sun briefly and the sudden cooling of the air was a welcome relief. I was glad that I didn’t have a mirror of any kind with me because I was certain my face must have been the colour of a ripe plum at that moment. The path across the next field was deeply rutted and awkward going for tired legs. The final insult, however, was the stile the farmer had erected for the use of walkers across their land.
The last time I had to clamber over anything like this I was in school!
I managed it with a great deal of grunting and swearing and began the descent towards the trees that marked the location of the cave and the half-way point of the walk. For those of you wondering at the paucity of photos from the tops, I’m afraid that there are only so many photos you can take of Ingleborough. The view is breath-taking, I will admit, but it changed very little as I walked. I don’t want you to think that the walk is boring, far from it. But for a photographer it doesn’t perhaps offer as much as I had hoped when I set out. Then again, I suspect that the majority of people who go on these walks do so for the adventure and the journey and the sense of achievement when it’s all over.
This kind of philosophical musing was far from my mind as I made my slow slippery way towards the trees at the bottom of the hill. It felt good to be going downhill again and I will admit I began to feel a little excitement at the prospect of exploring the cave. There was only one problem, though. I had taken nearly three hours to get there and I knew I wasn’t going to get back before my parking ticket expired.