Dozens of artists and writers, including Milton, employed the concept of a cave as a backdrop against which they could express themselves. The engravings that illustrate this feature are of Weathercote Cave and Dovecote Gill, two caves in Chapel-le-Dale that appealed to writers and artists who visited Limestone Craven during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Both pictures were the work of William Westall, who toured the district in July, 1817. Dr Bill Mitchell, of Giggleswick, records the experiences of Westall and other notable early cavers in a district dominated by Ingleborough.

William Westall, a fine engraver, was inspired by a visit to Yordas Cave, in Kingsdale.

It was, for him, a significant time for a considerable change was in the offing. Westall portrayed a cave with a yawning mouth. A few days later, a waterspout burst on the hill above. “The torrent occasioned by it forced down great stones and masses of earth, which half fill the entrance to the cave.”

An early book about cave-visiting in Craven was penned by John Hutton, who for 40 years had been vicar of Burton-in-Kendal. (Hutton, a bright lad, had been educated at Sedbergh School and Cambridge). His travels were at a time known as the Romantic Period. Hutton, enchanted by the limestone of the Craven district, published details of his caving under the pseudonym ‘Pastor’ in The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1761.

For Hutton, the theme of cave exploration blossomed into a book, A Tour to the Caves (1780), which went into a second – and improved – edition. He had taken “the Yorkshire road through Settle, Skipton, &c”.

At the dawn of geology, his little book included odd notions. Some of Hutton’s arguments are sadly out of line with facts later established, but he did at least guess rightly at the marine origin of the limestone. It was made up of “the shells and other parts of fish.”

Hutton, a cultured man, well versed in classical writings, included in his book verses from Virgil, Ovid, Addison and Milton. (On the other hand, he may have looked up the references later and fitted them neatly into the text). When he and his friends were about six miles from Kirkby Lonsdale, they reached Thornton-Church-Stile, an inn near Ingleton.

Here they procured a cave guide. Among the equipment needed by a guide were candles, a lanthorn and tinder box. The best-known guide in the district was an old soldier called William Wilson, who lived at Ingleton. John Houseman, who jotted down his impressions of Wilson in 1800, recalled that this veteran “joins an easy familiarity in relating the history of each place we visit…An account of his own adventures fills up the vacant intervals of time.”

From what is now known as Thornton-in-Lonsdale, Hutton’s little party visited “the vale of Kingsdale”, in which stood the aforementioned gash in limestone known as Yordas Cave, inseparably linked with tourism. Hutton, on entering “this gloomy cavern”, had his first experience of being a caveman.

He reported that “a thousand ideas, which had been for many years dormant, were excited in my imagination…Several passages out of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Virgil and other classics crowded into my mind together”.

Hutton visited around 20 underground systems, entering some of them. He and his friends were by no means the first visitors to Yordas. At the western side of the cave, the rock was embellished with sketches and “the names of people now long forgotten, the dates of some being above two hundred years old”.

At Yordas, the guide came into his own, standing in a prominent place, holding up his lanthorn and enthusiastically relating what effect on the eardrums would be caused by the discharge of a gun. Happily, no one had a gun. Hutton had not wanted to “endanger or give pain to the organs of hearing”.

Chapel-le-Dale, with its impressive variety of underground systems, was another prime attraction in the Romantic Period. Also fearsome was Hurtle Pot, behind the church. Hutton noted that it had a “dreadful aspect” when viewed from the top.

The jaws of the visitors must have drooped with horror and astonishment when they arrived at the rim of this huge hole with a slithery side leading to a stretch of water of unknown depth. Hutton heard that in great floods the pothole ran over and that “some traces of it then remained on the grass”.

Weathercote Cave was to Hutton “the most surprising natural curiosity of the kind in the island of Great Britain. He described it as “of a lozenge form and divided into two by a rugged and grotesque arch of limestone rock”. Beyond the arch, a cascade of water appeared from under a huge rock “like the coffin of Mahomet at Medina”.

Another of the many caves they visited was Alum Pot, a 292ft shaft “two or three furlongs above the little village of Selside”. Hutton shrank back in horror when he could “get a peep into the vast abyss…the profundity seemed vast and horrible from the continued hollow gingling noise, excited by the stones we tumbled into it”.

The little party went further up the hill to “another hiatus called Long Churn.” Hutton and his friends ventured into the cave as far as “a round basin of pellucid water, from three to 12 feet deep” which was known as Dr Bannister’s hand basin”.

Among the artists who recorded their impressions of the limestone caves was JMW Turner (a visitor to Chapel-le-Dale in 1808). He had first set foot in Yorkshire in 1797, forming a close friendship with Mr Walter Fawkes, who owned the Farnley estates in Wharfedale. Turner, ultimately “discovered” by Ruskin, became nationally acclaimed.

Turner’s visit to Weathercote took place in mid-summer. His painting included a vivid rainbow in the spray that formed at the base of the waterfall, far below ground level. Ruskin found no pleasure in visiting Weathercote which, to him, “is the rottenest deadliest, loneliest, horriblest place I ever saw in my life”.

With their hoops and voluminous skirts, women bravely walked along the paths to the show caves or stood at the brim of potholes and “swallows”. Priscilla Wakefield, in a book published in 1829, wrote that “the sides of the mountains in this part of the country are full of caverns, chasms and deep openings, of all shapes and sizes.”

She continued: “Many of them are called pots, from being open at the top like saucepans, and most of them have their bottoms filled with water from some stream that flows through the bowel of the mountain. After heavy rains these waters sometimes rise to the top and run over…”

Priscilla unwisely descended down a slippery slope into Hurtle Pot, Chapel-le-Dale. She arrived at the edge of deep, black water. A large black trout rose in sight. Shoals of fish reportedly lived in the subterranean pools. From the 1770s until the 1820s, small groups of tourists arrived in the Ingleton district, to be greeted with guides bearing lanterns and candles. No real potholing had yet begun.