Scrambling around on hands and knees through dark, wet networks of caves buried beneath some of Yorkshire’s most stunning countryside certainly isn’t everyone’s idea of a fun way to spend a weekend, but an adventurous breed of enthusiasts are celebrating 60 years doing just that.
The White Rose Pothole Club consists of around 50 members who like nothing better than to head out into the Yorkshire Dales armed with no more than a rucksack full of rope and a head torch to get ‘down and dirty’ in the club’s own words, exploring an underground world formed over the centuries by water courses.
IT consultant Andy Cole, 53, of Cowling near Skipton, has been a member of the group since 1984 and explains the appeal of caving.
“It’s something different. You go out and explore places you have not been to before with a bunch of mates and afterwards we go to the pub to talk about what we have seen.
“People think going caving is about crawling through tight spaces but some of the stuff that cavers have photographed underground is wonderful. There are some very gothic-type structures made out of flowing rock that has been dissolved and resolidified to form beautiful formations which if you’ve never been down there you would never know existed.
“It can be cold and wet but when you come out the other end you get quite a thrill out of what you have achieved.”
The club was originally formed by a small group of cavers who worked for Southern and Redfern Refrigeration Engineers in Bradford. By May 1954 membership was being drawn from further afield and so the White Rose Pothole Club was born.
Back then cavers would head into the countryside carrying ladders in order to negotiate vertical drops. Some of the more adventurous early pursuits involved enthusiasts wearing camouflage to sneak into an area undetected to dig an entrance to a suspected cave system. Water courses disappearing into the ground and their exit points offered hints of hidden worlds beneath.
Nowadays cavers request the landowners’ permission to dig for new networks and the advent of the single rope technique means participants abseil single-handedly into underground depths.
The White Rose Pothole Club itself has become one of the premier caving clubs in the country, with a full itinerary of trips this year. Members even travel to Spain to unearth new cave networks.
The discovery of new cave networks offer a real buzz, as Andy knows having been the first to enter Hagg Gill Pot, a mile long ‘through cave’ in Wharfedale in the late 1980s.
Given the terrain involved and the isolated circumstances cavers find themselves, the pursuit doesn’t always go to plan and a period of wet weather can render a cave network a death trap. Many of the club’s members volunteer with the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association who are on call around the clock all year to respond to emergency incidents.
To mark the White Rose Pothole Club’s 60th year, a diamond anniversary dinner will be held at the Herriots Hotel, Skipton on 29 March. A summer bash is also planned at Kettlewell Village Hall on 21 June featuring live music.
The club hopes that former members from across the country will be able to attend.
Former club president Steve Warren, 76, has fond memories of his pursuits with fellow members, including with one of the club’s founding members Douglas Richardson and hopes to see some familiar faces at the forthcoming celebrations.
“It’s all about being with good faithful companions, there are people that I haven’t seen for 20 to 30 years and we’re still really good friends.”
Steve knows only too well the dangers associated with the hobby and recalls nearly being hit by a boulder “the size of a living room couch” on one jaunt.
“We were 200ft down in an underground pothole and we just heard this noise, my friend knew what it was and pushed me into a crevice. He said that another man had a lucky escape as the boulder just scraped past his helmet.”
Appeal to ex-members
The White Rose Pothole Club is appealing for its former members to get in touch ahead of the forthcoming anniversary celebrations.
Claire Cole, the club’s social secretary, said: “There must be at least 120 names who have been members of the club for the past 50 years.”
Claire is planning to gather together photographs which document the club’s activities over the last six decades to be on display at the event in Skipton next month.
Harry Long, chairman of the Upper Wharfedale Rescue Association, will be a guest speaker at the dinner.
For further information about the anniversary get-together at the Herriots Hotel, email Claire Cole at email@example.com. Alternatively, visit the club’s website at www.white-rose.org.uk