Descent in the Dales that’s among world’s best adventures

In a sign of the changing seasons that is as reliable as the heather, two tented communities will shortly spring up in Yorkshire.

On the outskirts of Bramham, the sea of canvas will be awash with hedonism, as the young and young-at-heart let their hair down at the annual Leeds music festival.

But deep within the Dales, the tentpoles will mark out a commune with nature itself, for an adventure described today as one of the greatest in the world.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The site is at the surface of Gaping Gill, in the heart of Ingleborough, between Ingleton and Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

It is known as a pothole, but the phrase hardly does justice to the 400ft-high underground chamber that is the largest in Britain.

As enthusiasts prepare for the twice-yearly winching of members of the public into the chasm below, the experience has emerged alongside climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, trekking to Peru’s Machu Picchu and rafting the Grand Canyon, as among the most exciting on the planet.

The shortlist was created by Steve Backshall, the “celebrity explorer”, whose new TV series begins at the weekend.

In Britain, only conquering Ben Nevis is rated more highly than the descent in the Dales.

Andy Eavis, honorary president of the World Caving Association, said he was not surprised that Gaping Gill was on Mr Backshall’s list.

“It is the most wonderful repository of the history of the planet,” he said. “I’ve never met a tourist who has come away saying anything other than how spectacular it was.”

Mr Eavis, who was for many years chairman of the British Caving Association, added: “I’ve specialised in gigantic caves around the world – and by world standards, Gaping Gill quite a small one. But in British terms, it’s the biggest, and it’s certainly spectacular. Once a cave gets above a certain size, it loses its perspective very quickly, and you’re dropped into relative darkness. For an ordinary tourist, it’s a very impressive thing to do.”

The preparation for the Gaping Gill Winch would see a small village of engineers and safety experts encamped near Clapham, he said.

“This is probably the main one of the year. There will be tents all around the entrance and you can walk up from the village, through mixed forest and past the Ingleborough show cave. It’s really very pleasant,” he said.

Those who make the descent will be in good company, according to a survey produced by the Dave TV channel to accompany Mr Backshall’s series, Expedition with Steve Backshall.

More than half of the 2,000 adults under 40 who took part said they would prefer to seek out an adventurous experience than to sit on a beach or by the pool.

Nearly nine in 10 identified themselves as so-called adven-tourists who sought out white-knuckle experiences, and more still expected to participate in more adventures in their lifetime than their parents had done.

It was the “sense of danger” that attracted them to such pursuits, many said, with eight in 10 admitting to have dreamed of fashioning themselves in the image of Captain James Cook, Sir Francis Drake, or contemporary swashbucklers like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft.

Swimming with seals on Lundy Island off the Devon coast, rock climbing in Snowdonia, and diving in Scapa Flow were among the other British adventures to have made Mr Backshall’s top 10.

He said: “I have spent my life travelling to some of the most remote, dangerous and testing places on the planet. I’m always on the hunt for a new challenge to discover the unexplored.”