BOB Jarman ran the Ingleborough show cave, near Clapham, for 65 years, and in all that time, he never saw it as deserted as it has been in the last several weeks of the coronavirus lockdown.

Ingleborough Cave, and now accompanying nature trail on the path to Ingleborough, the second highest of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, is now open again, following the relaxing of coronavirus restrictions.

There are strict measures in place to ensure the safety of staff and visitors at the popular attraction, but an upside is that visitors can temporarily explore the cave on their own, without the more usual guide, and to cut down on potential contact with others.

Bob, who has run the cave since the 1950s, firstly from a shed with a couple of partners, and for the last 30 years with his wife, Sue; has now passed it over to their son, Andrew, although he is still very much around.

During his 65 years, Bob, a cave rescue diver in his younger days, was around for the discovery of a woolly rhinoceros tooth in the recesses of the cave in 2002, and also the much anticipated discovery of the famous link with the 100m deep Gaping Gill pothole.

But, never before has he seen the cave and surrounding area so deserted during what would usually be some of the busiest weekends of the year.

“Even when we started operating from a small wooden shed in the 50s, there would still be people around,” he said.

“Watching the area outside the shop on our CCTV cameras over the Easter and May bank holiday weekends was almost surreal - it was like a ghost town.”

The cave has now reopened daily, after nearly four months without any visitors.

“Previously, visitors have only been able to access the cave on a guided tour, but now, to minimalise contacts between visiting families and groups, we have implemented a self guiding system with information points throughout the cave,” said Bob.

“Staff are on hand inside the cave, to give that all important personal and local touch, and to help out where needed.

“It is quite a unique opportunity, and the sense of adventure that one takes from venturing underground without a guide can really inspire visitors, particularly younger ones.”

Ingleborough Cave has been welcoming visitors since it was first discovered by James Farrer in 1837; in Victorian times, ladies with voluminous skirts would come to visit with their families.

Bob’s involvement began in the 1950s, when he took over the reigns with two friends. They took turns to take time off their ‘proper’ jobs, to sell tickets and take people around.

At the time, visitors would be shown around with old fashioned Tilley lamps, before Bob used his knowledge of electrics to install mains lighting throughout the cave.

Gradually, numbers increased, and the cave began to gain a reputation for its spectacular formations and colourful guides.

Soon, Bob and his wife Sue bought out Bob’s two colleagues, and they ran the cave together.

They built a more purposeful shop, and Bob would take trips around the cave and deal with maintenance, while Sue ran the shop and worked on the advertising.

Today, the show cave and the accompanying Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail that leads to the cave and onto the footpath to Ingleborough, is run by the second generation, Andrew.

“It is absolutely fantastic to have our wonderful visitors back,” said Andrew.

“One of my favourite things about working out here at such a beautiful, remote location is seeing the enjoyment families, particularly those from inner cities, get when visiting.

“ It is absolutely wonderful to see children so engaged, asking questions and wanting to know more.

“It is almost as if a light has been flicked on - they catch the bug for the adventures and the outdoors, and it can last a lifetime.”

Looking ahead, Andrew says he would like to run more events in addition to the evening photography sessions and guided geology walks looking at the 450 million years that have shaped the cave system.

Before the coronavirus lockdown, he had been working hard to bring about a partnership performance between Skipton Town Hall, Ingleborough Cave, Skipton Building Society Camerata and Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.

It was planned that a small brass ensemble and soprano would perform, a specially written piece, ‘The Beckoning Darkness’ - an innovative work that examines our changing relationship with caves - in August of this year.

Sadly, the performance has had to be postponed, but it is hoped it will now take place sometime next year instead.

Andrew says he is also eager to continue making improvements on the trail, which started last year with help from the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.

Work included the installation of interpretation panels that tell the fascinating stories of the history, nature and geology of the trail.

Just before the lockdown, a lakeside picnic area had also been installed with the help of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, and at Christmas, families can visit Santa in his cave grotto.

In addition to self guided tours, visitors are given single-use information sheets, hand rails are regularly cleaned and there are sanitising points, there is also restricted entrance to the shop.

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