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Photograph of the volcano formation in Witches II Cave

Bull Pot of the Witches

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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"

Bull Pot of the Witches is not at all well described in Northern Caves, and such is the complexity of the cave, the survey is not too helpful. It is, however, possible to see the best bits in a day providing you know where you're going. It's a fun cave, well worth the effort, and it has the advantage that despite the profusion of P-bolts that decorate the walls, it doesn't need any tackle. A short handline, however, is useful.

The key to understanding the system is to realise that a couple of sumps divide the stream at the bottom into the upstream passages, with the water flowing from Aygill Caverns, from the downstream passages where it flows through to Wilf Taylor's Passage in Lancaster Hole, and that having explored the first, you need to almost start again to explore the second! Note that both the upstream and downstream passages get aqueous, and should be avoided in wet weather.

The entrance is one of the more picturesque in the Dales, especially in spring when the sides are a mass of colour from bluebells, wild garlic, and primroses. The usual descent of the open pot is to cross the stile, follow the path along the wall, to the corner, and then follow the descending continuation carefully to a small cave opening. The passage soon leads to a couple of easily climbable chimneys into South Chamber. You will see daylight to the left, but while you're here, it's worth facing the few feet of crawl on the right to visit Cavern 32 - a breakdown chamber, which used to link through to Hidden Pot on the surface above. A dangerous route down though boulders does connect Cavern 32 with the rest of the cave, but this is best avoided.

Returning to the base of the open pot, it's well worth getting your bearings before proceeding. Facing the waterfall at the entrance to South Chamber, there are three other passages leading off. Immediately to your left, tucked under the wall, is the main route descending to the downstream passages. Next is the obvious Roberts Passage, descending the boulder slope. This leads through to the upstream passages. Finally, to the right of there is North Chamber. North Chamber is worth looking at, but doesn't get very far.

The route described first visits the upstream passages, and then joins the route to the downstream passages. Other major points of interest, such as the impressive Burnett's Cavern, are also visited.

Follow Robert's Passage down past a couple of climbs to an active aven on the right - Robert's Inlet. There is a junction here with Burnett's Passage leading off on the left, and the main passage continuing straight on. Make a note of it. Keep going past a small depression in the floor to an area of calcite flow. Down to the right a small, unlikely-looking, hole disappears into a hading rift. Slip down here, keeping right near the bottom, and follow the rift along for a few metres until you see a negotiable route back up the rift over flowstone. This tightish ascent leads into the beautiful Gour Chambers - the finest chamber of its type in the Dales.

The way to the upstream series is to the right. Traverse round the obvious pool, and head straight on (a very fine chamber is to be found by climbing up to the left). A descending flowstone-floored bedding passage will be found at floor level. This leads down a couple of squirms to a ledge area halfway up a hading rift. The easiest way down to the stream can be found by crossing towards some boulders, descending between them, and then following a thin traverse line above a sump pool.

There is no obvious way on through the pools at the bottom, but a closer inspection may find an airspace to the left (facing away from the descent). If this is sumped, conditions are too wet to explore both the upstream and downstream passages. Follow the diving line through a duck, into a drier section, and then immediately through a further low wet section (more air space on the right) that emerges into a very fine vadose canyon. This eventually reduces to another wet crawl, and then into a phreatic tunnel which soon leads to the sump. Returning, a passage will be seen up to the left. This is 49 Cavern, which may be used to bypass the wet crawl.

Return through Gour Chamber to the vicinity of Robert's inlet, and follow Burnett's Passage to the right. After 50 metres there is a passage heading down to the left - ignore it and keep straight on. The passage then becomes larger, and enters a chamber with three ways on - up a slope to the right; up and over a chockstone boulder to the left; or a more obscure route which leads off under the same chockstone boulder. The way on is beneath the boulder, and this soon reaches Burnett's Great Cavern - the most impressive chamber in the cave. To the left an aven with beautifully fluted walls soars up at least 20 metres. It's well worth a visit.

Returning through Burnett's Passage, follow either the turn off to the right already seen, or one that takes off a few metres earlier, to enter a boulder chamber. Above, a very dangerous route leads back into Cavern 32. Below, a stream passage can be seen some 3 or 4 metres below which contains the Hidden Pot water. An easy route in the corner descends into this. This passage is that which leads from the entrance above to the downstream passages.

The water then descends three climbs. The first is easily free-climbable, but the following two benefit from a handline on the descent. Both are easily overcome in ascent by climbing up a few metres downstream of the pitch and traversing back over.

A hole in the floor and a passage then drop down into an isolated part of the main stream passage, but the way on is over the top which pops out into the rather muddy Long Gallery. Turning right leads to a section of stream way terminating in a sump close to Gour Chamber which is known to drain itself after a spell of dry weather; turning left leads to the downstream passages.

Long Gallery includes a couple of muddy low bits, but soon a hole in the floor appears, with yet another eco-bolt above. Descend this into a low wet passage containing the stream. This soon improves, and a fascinating series of passages wait to be explored before a particularly aqueous section arrives at the impressive downstream sump.

Following the wall of the sump chamber round to the left leads into a large, dry passage. If you follow the obvious route through this, you will reach a T-junction with a high inlet entering from the right. Turning left leads back into the stream passage having conveniently bypassed the second set of aqueous passages.

After that return broadly the same way, but instead of climbing back into Burnett's Passage, simply follow the draught up a number of interesting climbs back to the entrance shaft.