The perils lying underground

Craven Herald: Members of the Cave Rescue Organisation help a caver who fell 23 metres down Slit Pot in Simpson’s Hole, Kingsdale. Picture courtesy of the Cave Rescue Organisation Members of the Cave Rescue Organisation help a caver who fell 23 metres down Slit Pot in Simpson’s Hole, Kingsdale. Picture courtesy of the Cave Rescue Organisation

Craven has long been a magnet for the outdoor enthusiast – the moors and peaks are great places to walk, and for the more adventurous, the potholes have always attracted cavers from all over the country.

Inevitably, there have always been accidents, some of them fatal, and as a result, rescue organisations were set up. The work of the organisations is vital and last year, the Cave Rescue Organisation, based in Clapham, and Grassington based Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue, had their work recognised when they received special honours in the Welcome to Yorkshire Search and Rescue Awards Ceremony.

But now they both face a massive hole in their finances as their main fundraiser, the Broughton Game Show held every year in the summer, was forced to cancel because it clashed with the Olympic Torch relay through Craven.

Both organisations have said their rescue work will continue despite the cancellation of the event, which since 1979 has raised around £300,000 for them, but will have to look to other sources of funding.

Her Lesley Tate looks at how the rescue services were coping 50 years ago.

Today, hardly a week goes past when one of the organisations is not called out to rescue walkers caught out when the weather suddenly turns bad, or cavers stranded by rising flood water.

But 50 years ago, accidents and rescues, which could involve 100 volunteers, were more common – no doubt because of the numbers who went out ill-equipped and ill-informed of the potential dangers.

In the Sixties, caving was seen as adventure for young thrill-seekers, and many university clubs were set up.

In February 1962, a 27-year-old man died in a caving accident at Hell Hole Pot, Trollers Gill, Appletreewick, and just weeks later explosives were needed to divert a stream to stop two cavers from drowning in a pot near Ingleton.

The 27-year-old local man who died had been with three others when he lost his footing on a ladder and ended up being suspended upside down over a 70ft pitch with the full force of a waterfall lashing against his body.

At the inquest, members of the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue described the pot as one of the most difficult in the area, and made even more difficult at the time because of the amount of water entering it.

The coroner, Mr E Gilbert Sharp, recorded a verdict of death by misadventure, after hearing the man was inexperienced and had attempted the climb badly equipped and wearing just plimsolls.

But he declined to comment on the inherent dangers of the sport and pointed out that just about every form of physical activity or sport carried with it some element of danger.

The fatal accident did little to stop the groups of cavers heading for the Dales, and just two weeks later more than 100 volunteers were involved in the rescue of two young students who had got caught in Peg Leg Pot, near Ingleton, and on the same day, 50 were called out to get four young men out of Spectacle Pot, Kingsdale.

The two young men, from the University of Leeds, were rescued after being trapped for a cold 25 hours.

They had been part of a larger group visiting the area on a day out, but had been the only two who had decided to go caving. It was only when they failed to turn up at the end of the day that the alarm was raised.

Talking from the hospital in Leeds, where they were taken, the men spoke of how they had spent the night on a shelf behind a mud wall hastily built up against rising flood waters.

To ease the flood waters, the rescuers diverted the stream with the use of explosives. The man in charge of the rescue, Reg Hainsworth, then secretary of the Cave Rescue Organisation, was also in charge of a separate rescue operation, a short distance away at Spectacle Pot.

But it was in 1910 that the first-ever rescue was recorded in the history of Craven potholing.

There was no rescue routine laid down when Mr W F Boyd fell 30 feet while attempting a descent of Sunset Hole, near Ingleton.

Mr Boyd had been using a rotted untarred rope that had broken as he was attempting the descent.

He had been the last to climb and broke his thigh as he fell.

A man was lowered to find out what had happened, while others set off to find another rope.

The alarm was raised at the nearby Hill Inn and the landlord, a Mr Kilburn, set off to Ingleton on his bike to fetch the doctor.

Back in the pot, Boyd lay seriously injured in a pool of water. Although he was still conscious, his colleagues were at a loss how to get him back to the surface.

What was clear was that he couldn’t walk let alone climb back to the surface.

One of the group went to a nearby farm and returned with a stretcher – which was actually the leaf from a thick table.

When Dr Mackenzie arrived from Ingleton, he bravely decided to go underground and help the stricken Boyd.

The unwieldy stretcher was manoeuvred down to Boyd, who was strapped to it with bandages and puttees. The doctor then returned to the surface, where he spent the night in a tent, while the long process of getting Boyd out began.

With the aid of a couple of acetylene lamps, a group of men carefully carried Boyd from the pot. Bits were carved off the plank at awkward bends until it was almost the same shape as the patient. It was held in every conceivable way so that it could be moved through constricted parts without unsettling the injured man, who throughout the 17-hour rescue never lost consciousness.

The rescuers and their patient arrived back to the surface on a calm and sunny morning. Boyd spent the next five hours on the moor until he could comfortably be moved to the Hill Inn.

But it was in June 1967 that the two organisations were called out to the world’s worst caving disaster.

Six young men drowned in Mossdale Caverns, near Conistone. Classed as super severe, the cave was known as the most testing in the country, and following the disaster, was sealed up, although cavers still manage to get in.

The cave system was first explored in 1941 by Bob Leakey, now 97, whose method to cure claustrophobia was to go caving. He helped in the rescue – his knowledge of the system called upon in a bid to find the last missing body.

The weekend after the disaster, a memorial service was held at St Mary’s Church, Conistone. A jury inquest recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.

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