The man who went into Stump Cross Caverns... and came out 105 days later

A fundraising campaign to keep Stump Cross Caverns open as a tourist attraction has reignited memories of an extraordinary world record at the site. Chris Burn reports.

The future of Stump Cross Caverns, one of Yorkshire’s oldest tourist destinations, has been in the spotlight recently after a fundraising campaign was launched to keep the site open.

But that appeal, which has seen the couple who run Stump Cross putting their own luxury campervan in a prize draw to raise money after takings were hit by the pandemic, has revived memories of probably the cavern’s most famous moment almost 60 years ago.

Back in 1963, local man Geoff Workman became a world record breaker after spending 105 days on his own in the caverns – breaking the previous record by more than 40 days.

Geoff Workman being carried from the caverns at the end of his underground stint in 1963.

He had aimed to be down there for 100 days but lost track of time without the normal cycles of day and night. When he broke the record in 1963 his achievement was welcomed by a nation at the height of the Cold War.

A newsreader on Pathe newsreel footage taken at the time said: “He wanted to prove that if we need to head into caves in the event of a nuclear war all we need do is wrap up warm and take enough food. For that comforting knowledge we are indebted to this local hero Geoff Workman.”

In 2013, a then-84-year-old Mr Workman was joined by The Yorkshire Post as he marked the 50th anniversary of his astonishing effort.

Mr Workman said he had enjoyed reliving his achievement in what continued to be very familiar surroundings.

He spent 105 days underground for the challenge.

“It has gone quite well. It was quite pleasant,” he said at the time. “I still go into the caves once or twice a week. I do remember the 105 days and we went to the place where I set up my tent.”

When asked what first attracted him to potholing he said: “I suppose the first time I did it would have been caves at the beach on holiday.

“It is the thought of being the first person ever to have found a place. It is the joy of discovery.”

Mr Workman, who died last year at the age of 91, said back in 2013 that he had kept himself busy with a programme of geological work during the 105 days in Stump Cross Caverns.

Mr Workman pictured in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of his world record.

His stay also investigated the effect on the body of depravation of the day and night cycle.

But Mr Workman’s contribution did not stop there.

In 1996, while in his sixties, he discovered a passage that is now known as Reindeer Cavern which opened to the public in 2000.

His record-breaking effort lived long in the memory.

When a group of Chilean miners were trapped underground in 2010, British newspapers turned to Mr Workman for advice on how the men could survive the mental and physical challenges of such an experience. A group of 33 men were eventually rescued after 69 days.

Stump Cross is in the headlines for a somewhat different reason at the moment.

The family-run attraction, which is located between Pateley Bridge and Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales, has seen visitor numbers drop by 75 per cent as a result of the pandemic.

To help prevent its doors closing for good, Stump Cross – a limestone cave system discovered in 1860 by lead miners which has been open to the public ever since – hopes to raise £53,000 in funds through a two-part crowdfunder appeal.

The site’s owners have put their own luxury Volkswagen T30 Campervan up as the prize in the first draw, which costs £10 to enter.

Alongside this, in return for pledging £2, the second appeal offers the chance to take part in a £500 draw, with five prizes worth £100 each up for grabs.

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