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Photograph of the volcano formation in Witches II Cave

Aygill Caverns

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This series of articles is intended for the guidance of experienced cavers, who may not be familiar with the details of the best routes through the more complex systems in the Yorkshire Dales. To echo the sentiments in Northern Caves, it "is intended as guidance for the wise, not the obedience of fools"

Aygill Caverns is a fascinating system which one day may well provide the link which incorporates the caves of Barbondale into the Three Counties System. To the south, the main Aygill Beck water finds its way through the cave to be next seen in Bull Pot of the Witches, whilst to the north the large New Year Series heads resolutely up Barbondale. However, route finding in the system is not easy, especially on the first visit, and this guide is intended to show the best that Aygill Caverns has to offer whilst at the same time providing an introduction to the layout of the system.

From the bottom of the entrance ruckle enter the crawl on the left, and almost immediate ascend a three metre polished chimney. Follow your nose through some low passages which lead to a traverse into a chamber. Behind the boulder on the left is the first pitch. A stream is joined at the base of the pitch, and a slide down a rift enters a low downstream passage. A couple of drops follow to the head of the second pitch. This is inevitably wet, and it is worthwhile getting a deviation in. The pitch drops into a large passage carrying the main Aygill water.

It is worth spending five minutes exploring the upstream passages, to where the floor rises and they degenerate into cobble-filled crawls. Going downstream leads immediately to a set of fine cascades which are great fun getting up again. At the bottom is a very complex area with a number of oxbows at different levels. It is worth taking some time out to follow your nose through some of these, but in order to give a flavour of what they offer, we'll go through one way and return through another.

Just above the last small cascade a passage enters from the true left. Follow this for a couple of metres until another passage enters via a sloping climb on the right. Climb up to a window that overlooks Cascades Chamber below. A hole at head height on the left allows another passage to be entered which also overlooks Cascades Chamber. Go left as far as an overhanging drop into another chamber. Take the passage on the left which enters a different chamber down an easier climb. You are now back on the orthodox route.

Leave this chamber by going down hill, and as you do note a low passage on the left partially blocked by a false floor - this is the way by which we will eventually return to the cascades. At the bottom of the slope, veer left to arrive at a junction. Just 'upstream' is Sand Junction - recognised by the sand bank on the true left of the passage.

Sand Junction marks the way to New Year Series - a fine passage well worth a visit. Go up the sandy slope and veer left into the obvious passage. After mixed going there is a climb up a calcited boulder pile into a chamber with a large curtain that gives it its name. This chamber is on a hading fault and there are some interesting little avens and small passages at various levels. However, for the route onward, return down the calcited boulders and look for the small inlet passage that emerges from under the boulder choke. It doesn't look very inviting, but its bark is worse than its bite, and it opens up almost immediately. The continuing passage continues (mostly) in fine style, until a clamber through some boulders drops into a chamber with a rift in the floor. The way on is over the rift and along a low passage with the stream, but it soon opens up again to eventually choke in a large chamber with a dig and a draughting aven.

Returning to Sand Junction and going downstream leads into a chamber with a slope on the left. The next chamber is best reached by taking the obvious bedding passage a few metres up the slope, which finishes back in the main stream passage in Shatter Chamber. The boulder slope ahead and to left is very unstable, so take care. The way on is along a boulder-floored crawl at floor level, the entrance of which has been known to be hidden by bouldes falling from above. This soon enters Middle Chamber.

Up to the right at head-height is an unlikely looking crawl which is the entrance to the Middle Series, also worthy of a visit. After a few metres a complex junction is reached with passages overhead, a stream gurgling through a trench in the floor, and passages to the left and right. Following either of the latter leads to an aven which is adjacent to the source of the water. The passage continues past this to a steep slope which ascends to a roof passage which can be followed back to where a couple of routes descend to the complex junction. It's all very confusing and great fun.

Returning to the main passage, a damp crawl leads to the impressive sump pool.

The return is made by the same way, except that the best route back into Cascades Chamber is to wriggle into the passage partially concealed by the calcite false floor noted above.