'There was always the dread that one day you would get that call with bad news' - daughter reveals heartache of caver father's death

Harry Hesketh with his grandson at Salts Mill.
Harry Hesketh with his grandson at Salts Mill.
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The daughter and friends of an experienced caver who died after falling down a pothole in the Yorkshire Dales have spoken for the first time of their pain and heartache as they pay tribute to a "kind and loving" man.

Harry Hesketh, 74, fell 20ft inside the cave at Curtain Pot on Fountains Fell on June 1, breaking his leg.

Harry Hesketh with his daughter Wendy and grandchild.

Harry Hesketh with his daughter Wendy and grandchild.

A rescue team of 90 people spent 17 hours trying to save his life, but despite their noble efforts the retired computer programmer, who is from Bradley, near Skipton, sadly lost his life.

Mr Hesketh's daughter Wendy Uchimura and his closest friends have spoken exclusively to the Yorkshire Post to pay tribute to the remarkable man.

Mrs Uchimura, 43, said: "My earliest memories of dad are him reading The Hobbit to me as a bedtime story and him taking me on seriously long walks across the moors. He would then have to give me a piggy-back home.

"We spent so many happy times going on walks all around the Dales and the Lake District with him.

"Dad came across as strict and a bit scary - especially to my boyfriends - but was was actually very kind and loving.

"He gave me the freedom to do what I wanted, while being there for me if I needed and this is something I have inherited and try to do for my children too."

Read more: Rescuers speak of desperate attempts to save Yorkshire Dales caver Harry Hesketh
Mrs Uchimura remembers how her dad always liked to be active, with caving and potholing his biggest passions in life.

She said: "He joined the Northern Pennine Club in the 1960s and was involved in exploration of a number of potholes on Fountains Fell over the years.

"My dad went potholing at least twice a week, whenever possible. After retirement, I know he also made several trips to Matienzo in northern Spain to explore new cave systems there.

"He also helped at Stump Cross Caverns to remove debris from Reindeer Cavern, so it could be opened to the public in 2000."

Mr Hesketh also enjoyed karate and had a great deal of respect for both the Japanese people and their culture.

"This played an important part in my decision to move out to Japan," Mrs Uchimura said.

"He visited me there more times than I can recall and even learnt the language so he could converse with the in-laws and play with his two grandsons.

"Throughout his life, he did climbing, cycling, and walking. When the weather meant he had to stay home, he loved reading a wide range of literature and studying languages, in particular Spanish. I get my love of languages from him."

Read more: The beckoning darkness: A history of cave deaths in the Yorkshire Dales
Born in Chorley, Lancashire, Mr Hesketh, known to many of his friends as Eski, moved to Yorkshire in his late teens.

He trained as a computer programmer and worked for Craven District Council in the days when digitalisation was still in its very early stages.

He met his wife Tres in the late 1960s when he visited the village she lived for a caving meet.

The couple had their daughter and settled in the village of Bradley, just outside of Skipton.

They went on to divorce many years later, but remained good friends.

Mr Hesketh later found love again with his long-term partner Sue and they enjoyed many holidays together with their friends Mike and Lorna Thomas. When they were younger, Mr Thomas and Mr Hesketh had annual trips ice climbing in Glen Coe.

Mr Thomas said: "The first trip out we reached the CIC hut on Ben Nevis and, when I was being tempted by talk of Tower Ridge and other inappropriate routes, he said 'stick with me, we'll have a good day out'. It was the first of many good days out on the hill in Glen Coe and the Cuillin ridge on Skye.

"He was always helpful as I found out when, ahead of a Pennine minibus trip to Switzerland, I realised I'd left my passport in Durham. He drove me from Bradley to Leyburn for a passport exchange with my parents driving from Durham. Reminders of this were always subtle, delivered with his dry sense of humour.

"He was an amazing man and a true friend, I will really miss him."

Mr Hesketh's caving partner Frank Walker also has many happy memories spent exploring with his friend.

He said: "I first met Eski in the 1970s and we formed the Thursday night digging team.

"We worked on a lot of digs, including extending Coronation Pot, which was the deepest dig in the north at one time, opening up Logan Hole and finding Masada in Wet Sinks, the lost cavern of Fountains Fell, as well as exploring the pots Strangle, FOUL, Thunder and Split."

John Cordingley, a member of the Northern Pennine Club said he will remember Mr Hesketh for his "great kindness".

He said: "He played a big role in looking after our caving friend Chester when he was very ill with terminal cancer. And when another friend. Barry Andrew became ill, Eski was there all the time helping in all sorts of ways. The bloke was a rock.

"I liked and very much respected Eski, we've lost a good mate."

Mrs Uchimura recalls the day she found out her father had tragically died.

She said: "As a caver’s daughter, and as anyone who has a loved one who enjoys activities that have an element of high risk will understand, there is always the dread in the back of your mind that today might be the day you get that call. But to receive that news at this time of his life was surreal.

"I knew he was still as active as ever with his dig partners. They were always very careful and took all the precautions needed in case there ever was an accident. They’ve had so many close calls and lived to tell the tale over the years that I think maybe we all thought they’d just go on potholing forever. It didn’t really hit me until I arrived in the UK four days later that this time was it.

"We’re all devastated at his passing and it will take a very long time to come to terms with it. As he used to say about people he really liked, my dad was 'a little bit special'."

Mrs Uchimura would also like to thank everyone who tried to help save Mr Hesketh following his fall.

She said: "I will be forever grateful to everyone who came out to try and help my dad.

"The efforts put in by the rescue teams, cavers, and local community were way above and beyond anything I could have expected.

"It has also really brought home to me what a wonderful tight-knit community there is in the Yorkshire Dales.

"The rescue organisations work so hard to keep us safe on and under the fells, all on a volunteer basis, so it can’t be emphasised strongly enough how important donations are in order for them to continue their activities."