Gaping Gill

Ingleborough / Clapham / Yorkshire Dales, England, UK (Great Britain)

About Gaping Gill


Hiking Distance: 6 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 2.5-3 hours (hike); 5 hours (incl. winch)

Date first visited: 2014-08-17
Date last visited: 2014-08-17

Waterfall Latitude: 54.14939
Waterfall Longitude: -2.38262

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The Gaping Gill (I’ve also seen it referred to as Gaping Ghyll) was the name of a large and well known cavern or pothole
deep in the moors at the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Typically, the name pertains to the cavern, but I’ve noticed in the literature that it also pertains to the waterfalls within the cavern.

Gaping_Gill_086_08172014 - Waterfalls spilling into the Gaping Gill
Waterfalls spilling into the Gaping Gill

During my visit, I counted three of these waterfalls all spilling right into the cave from the surface.

In any case, I’ll adopt the convention where the name Gaping Gill will also encompass its waterfalls.

After all, it was the waterfalls that drew me to this landmark in the first place though this cave was more typically known to caving enthusiasts.

A Unique Blend of Waterfall and Cave Adventure

I’d have to say that this particular adventure had to have been one of the most (if not the most) memorable of all the waterfall experiences that I’ve ever been on.

Gaping_Gill_060_08162014 - Looking down at someone about to be winched into the depths of the Gaping Gill
Looking down at someone about to be winched into the depths of the Gaping Gill

The reason why this was such a memorable adventure (besides the lure of finding Britain’s highest unbroken waterfalls) was the unique experience of having to winch some 365ft into such a dark and forebidding cave.

In addition, there was also the uncertainty of even being successful on this excursion given that winch meets only happen on the pair of weeks of bank holidays each year (May and August) weather permitting.

I also had to earn my winch visit with a non-trivial hike along with the pre-hike preparation required to even get here.

And all that trouble was totally forgotten the moment my eyes adjusted to the low light conditions of the cave.

Gaping_Gill_071_08172014 - Looking back at the loud waterfalls thundering into the reverberating walls within the Gaping Gill. This happened to be my cave guide's favorite spot
Looking back at the loud waterfalls thundering into the reverberating walls within the Gaping Gill. This happened to be my cave guide’s favorite spot

At the same time, my ears were literally flooded with the echoing sounds of crashing water as they reverberated throughout the large chamber.

Compromises with Nature to enable visitation

While Julie and I had been to Ruby Falls as well as the Dan-yr-Ogof Showcaves, which were also underground waterfalls in cave systems.

However, there were a lot of artificial things like colorful lighting, altered or widened pathways, etc. that were employed to enhance the visitor experience or increase the accessibility to a wider general public.

With the Gaping Gill, I felt it was about as raw of an experience as one could get as it didn’t have such things that would have further deviated from Nature.

Ruby_Falls_082_20121026 - Ruby Falls in southeastern Tennessee was cave with a waterfall that contrasted with the Gaping Gill experience because lots of infrastructure and modifications were made to maximize accessibility of the general public
Ruby Falls in southeastern Tennessee was cave with a waterfall that contrasted with the Gaping Gill experience because lots of infrastructure and modifications were made to maximize accessibility of the general public

Sure, there were some compromises made to ensure a visit was even possible with the winch and temporary lighting, but just to even have this possible as a result of passionate cavers or potholers made this experience special.

I’m sure it’s a fine balance between cave accessibility and altering the Natural environment.

For example, they had to divert one stream called Fell Beck so the winch wouldn’t be even more dangerous than it already was.

Plus, the diesel-powered winch is needed to drop one person at a time into the forbidding pothole with just a minimum amount of LED lights in the cave to even enable picture taking with at least a 20- to 30-second exposure.

Dan-yr-Ogof_Showcaves__120_09042014 - The Dan-yr-Ogof Showcaves in South Wales, UK, were another cave system that didn't require as much as Gaping Gill, but it was a far more kitschier experience
The Dan-yr-Ogof Showcaves in South Wales, UK, were another cave system that didn’t require as much as Gaping Gill, but it was a far more kitschier experience

You can bet that I was very glad that I had come prepared to bring my tripod and fit it in my pack for the tight winch.

So given all of these considerations, I gave Gaping Gill the benefit of the doubt in terms of its high scenic rating.

Detailed Description of the Gaping Gill Adventure – The Hike

The adventure began from the National Park Centre in the village of Clapham (see directions below).

I then hiked for about 10 minutes through the village past a church, then past the manmade Clapham Falls before entering the Ingleborough Estate Trail.

There was a self-help ticket dispensing machine where I was supposed to pay 65 pence per adult (or 35 pence per child) on this trail.

Gaping_Gill_007_08162014 - Shortly after leaving the National Park Centre in Clapham, the trail to Gaping Gill passed through the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail
Shortly after leaving the National Park Centre in Clapham, the trail to Gaping Gill passed through the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail

Past the ticket machine, the trail then started climbing as it meandered into a small forest where there was also a manmade lake flanking the trail.

Around 20 minutes from the ticket machine, I noticed some stone building with a small cross on it.

I wasn’t sure what it was for, but it seemed to provide some shelter from the rain momentarily as it had started getting wet when I got there.

Another five minutes of hiking later, I’d end up on the other side of the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail where I went through a swinging fence to keep livestock from getting through.

Gaping_Gill_011_08162014 - Hiking through a forested setting on the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail en route to the Gaping Gill
Hiking through a forested setting on the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail en route to the Gaping Gill

At this point, the scenery opened up into sheep farming pastures as the tree cover ended.

The trail continued climbing, but the uphill was gradual along this stretch.

About another five minutes later, I then saw the entrance to the Ingleborough Cave (self-proclaimed to be “the best showcave in Britain”).

I didn’t have time to go into this cave so I can’t comment on what’s in there.

Anyways, once I got past the cave entrance, I crossed through a handful of more stiles or sheep fences while sharing the trail with sheep.

Gaping_Gill_032_08162014 - Approaching the head of a gorge beyond the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail where I had to climb the notch in order to reach the grassy moors en route to the Gaping Gill
Approaching the head of a gorge beyond the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail where I had to climb the notch in order to reach the grassy moors en route to the Gaping Gill

Then, the trail resumed its steeper climb as it eventually sandwiched into the head of a small gorge.

At the very head of the gorge, the trail steeply climbed up past the surrounding cliffs before entering into a breezier and more open expanse of moors.

The trail continued to climb even further and deeper into these moors where the footing was generally rocky and conspired to turn my ankle.

It was especially rockier and muddier as the trail skirted a long stretch of walls designed to keep sheep confined to an area.

Gaping_Gill_034_08162014 - Following stone walls in the grassy moors and sheep pastures that ultimately led to the winch meet at the opening of the Gaping Gill
Following stone walls in the grassy moors and sheep pastures that ultimately led to the winch meet at the opening of the Gaping Gill

After another 15 minutes of hiking in the moors, I then crossed another stile before the trail became a bit more faint amongst the combination of moorish grass and rocks.

Eventually, I’d see a series of tents up ahead that I knew came from the Craven Pothole Club running the winch meet for the Gaping Gill during my mid-August visit.

Detailed Description of the Gaping Gill Adventure – The Winch

After finally showing up to the registration area (some 90 minutes after I had set out on this hike), I paid my 15 pounds in cash.

Then, I got a numbered wrist strap essentially telling me when I should head down to the queue for the winch itself.

Gaping_Gill_099_08172014 - Context of the winch meet right at the top of the remote Gaping Gill
Context of the winch meet right at the top of the remote Gaping Gill

It would end up being about a half-hour wait for me (since I had shown up about 25 minutes after the first winch happened at 8am).

When it was finally my turn to get on the seat, I sat in prepared with wearing a hard hat that they provided.

I was donning two layers of rain ponchos to ensure my camera and tripod were not going to get wet from any waterfall possibly falling on me during the descent.

And under all that, I was wearing a jacket knowing full well that it would be cold and wet in the Gaping Gill.

I was then lowered by winch into the darkness of the cave.

Gaping_Gill_094_08172014 - Registering for the opportunity to be winched into the Gaping Gill
Registering for the opportunity to be winched into the Gaping Gill

The cave walls seemed to be very close to my body during my descent, which was why they told me to stay still and keep my legs tucked beneath the chair.

I’m sure someone with a Go Pro headcam could probably best convey what it’s like to descend on this winch than what I’m trying to describe here.

Nevertheless, after about a minute on the winch, I was then within the swirling mist from the three waterfalls spilling into the Gaping Gill.

Upon landing, staffers in the cave itself then guided me immediately to a waiting area where I would wait for a few more participants before we’d briefly tour the chamber.

Gaping_Gill_065_08162014 - Looking into the hole of the Gaping Gill, which each paying individual would be dropped into one-by-one by winch
Looking into the hole of the Gaping Gill, which each paying individual would be dropped into one-by-one by winch

Mist was everywhere, and it became clear why waterproofs and a jacket were necessary, especially given the amount of waiting in the mist.

Detailed Description of the Gaping Gill Adventure – The Cave Tour

When we finally got to our short tour of the chamber, we walked to a darker side of the cave very close to a pair of the waterfalls.

I was able to take tripod photos from here, but the falls were too close to really capture them without being cut off or totally filling in the frame.

Indeed, these waterfalls were that tall!

Then, we were guided to a more spacious and drier part of the cave still within view of the three waterfalls of Gaping Gill.

Gaping_Gill_083_08172014 - Inside the depths of the Gaping Gill where you can see three waterfalls drop right into the cave from its opening
Inside the depths of the Gaping Gill where you can see three waterfalls drop right into the cave from its opening

It was from this spot that we could take photos and explore at leisure for as long as we’d like.

Naturally, I took my time trying to document everything I could while soaking in this most unique of experiences.

When we’ve had our fill, we can then approach one of the staffers who’d then direct us to queue up within the misty torrent just a few paces from the winch path.

Anyways, it was from this larger drier spot that I took the photo you see at the top of this page.

Gaping_Gill_111_08172014 - Descending the grassy moors along the stone sheep walls after having had my fill of the Gaping Gill
Descending the grassy moors along the stone sheep walls after having had my fill of the Gaping Gill

It typically required about 30″ of exposure for enough lighting to fill into the photo using ISO400 on my Canon EOS 7D DSLR camera.

In the end, I probably spent a little over an hour in the cave before I was winched back up to the top.

Then, it was pretty much an all-downhill hike that took me about 75 minutes to get all the way back to my parked car in Clapham.

All in all, the entire excursion (including all the waiting and photo-taking) took me about 4 hours and 45 minutes (nearly 3 hours were spent on the hike itself).

Gaping_Gill_131_08172014 - Making it back to the small Clapham Falls shortly after traversing through the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail on the return hike from Gaping Gill
Making it back to the small Clapham Falls shortly after traversing through the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail on the return hike from Gaping Gill

This time commitment could easily grow if you happened to be here when the queue contained more people as only one person at a time can be winched in either direction.

Authorities

Gaping Falls resides in the Ingleborough Estate, but the trailhead resides within Yorkshire Dales National Park in Clapham Village of North Yorkshire County, England. The trailhead area is administered by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. However, the upper parts of the hike and the cave itself are administered by the Ingleborough Estate. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can visit the National Park website as well as the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail Facebook page.

Regarding the winch meets to actually go into the Gaping Gill cave, these are run by a pair of caving groups. You can find more information concerning the exact prices, dates, times, terms and conditions, and other logistics at the Craven Pothole Club (who runs the winch on the August Bank Holiday period) and the Bradford Pothole Club (who runs the winch on the Spring Bank Holiday period in late May).

Gaping_Gill_009_08162014 - Passing through the serene forested settings of the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail
Gaping_Gill_013_08162014 - Closer look at an interesting stone structure adjacent to the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail. It appeared to have slits shaped like a cross so I wasn't sure if it had a religious significance or not
Gaping_Gill_014_08162014 - Making it to the gate at the other side of the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail
Gaping_Gill_018_08162014 - Beyond the Ingleborough Estate Trail, the terrain opened up onto sheep pastures running alongside the River Wenning
Gaping_Gill_019_08162014 - Further beyond the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail, I encountered this building and infrastructure devoted to the Ingleborough Showcave, which I skipped past to continue pursuing the Gaping Gill
Gaping_Gill_022_08162014 - Looking at the entrance to the Ingleborough Showcave
Gaping_Gill_025_08162014 - Beyond the Ingleborough Cave, the trail continued through sheep pastures so I had to share the trail with them as they were wary of me
Gaping_Gill_027_08162014 - Crossing through another one of the sheep fences or stiles as the Gaping Gill Trail continued to climb up towards the moors
Gaping_Gill_029_08162014 - The Gaping Gill Trail then entered into a narrowing gorge, which I eventually had to climb out of
Gaping_Gill_036_08162014 - Beyond the gorge, the Gaping Gill Trail finally entered into the moors, but the footing alongside the sheep walls were quite rocky and uneven so I had to watch each step to avoid twisting an ankle
Gaping_Gill_038_08162014 - Approaching a crossing of one of the stone sheep walls where a reassuring sign directed me to go over to continue to the Gaping Gill
Gaping_Gill_039_08162014 - The clouds were low and they looked threatening on the way to the Gaping Gill, but that was part of the reason why I thought this was an adventure because the uncertainty of the outcome fed into the experience
Gaping_Gill_041_08162014 - Approaching the tents set up by the Craven Pothole Club and the winch meet to enter the Gaping Gill
Gaping_Gill_044_08162014 - Looking down towards the winch area surrounding the mouth of the Gaping Gill
Gaping_Gill_073_08172014 - Looking back towards the waterfalls of the Gaping Gill from the wetter side of the cavern
Gaping_Gill_090_08172014 - Context of the Gaping Gill Waterfalls and the cavern itself
Gaping_Gill_103_08172014 - Encountering sheep on the moors as I made the return hike from the Gaping Gill to Clapham
Gaping_Gill_104_08172014 - Julie told me that it had been raining in Kendal the whole time I was on this trail, but as you can see from this photo, the weather here in the Yorkshire Dales started to improve
Gaping_Gill_105_08172014 - Continuing the descent below the moors on the way back from Gaping Gill
Gaping_Gill_109_08172014 - Looking at the rocky and ankle-busting uneven footing on the moors as I was returning from the Gaping Gill to Clapham
Gaping_Gill_111_08172014 - Back below the moors and hiking back through the sheep pastures on the way back to Clapham from the Gaping Gill
Gaping_Gill_117_08172014 - Back at the man-made lake flanking the Ingleborough Estate Trail as I was getting closer to Clapham on the way back from Gaping Gill
Gaping_Gill_119_08172014 - Returning to the village of Clapham.  Note the ticket machine below, which was where you're supposed to pay to access the Ingleborough Estate Trail
Gaping_Gill_137_08172014 - Walking through the town of Clapham as I was almost back at my parked rental car

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The Gaping Gill excursion begins from the village of Clapham.

I managed to get there from Kendal so I’ll describe my driving route from there.

Heading south from Kendal onto the A6 motorway, I followed this high-speed throughfare for about 6 miles.

As it passed the M6 interchanges, the road then became the A65 road.

Gaping_Gill_001_08162014 - This turnoff led to the pay and display car park for the National Park Centre in Clapham
This turnoff led to the pay and display car park for the National Park Centre in Clapham

Next, I continued on the A65 for about 16 miles along a narrower two-lane highway with limited opportunities to pass (this stretch is where most of the traffic tends to occur).

I then turned left at a signpost directing me towards Clapham along the B6480 road.

After about 0.3 miles, I then turned left after crossing a bridge over the River Wenning, and drove about 100 yards to the National Park car park.

The car park was a pay and display area (I believe it was 2.5 pounds for up to 2 hours or 4.2 pounds for over two hours).

Fortunately, I had found street parking in Clapham where I noticed others were doing the same, and that appeared to avoid being subject to the pay and display fees.

Gaping_Gill_140_08172014 - The street parking situation near the National Park Centre in the village of Clapham
The street parking situation near the National Park Centre in the village of Clapham

From that point, I got out of the car and walked towards the north end of the village (going in the upstream direction) to approach the church, Clapham Falls, and the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail entrance.

This drive between Kendal and Clapham took me about 35 minutes in the morning when there was less traffic.

However, it took me 45 minutes to return when there were many more vehicles on the A65.

As for some geographical context, Kendal was 87 miles (over 2 hours drive) west of York, 73 miles (90 minutes drive) north of Manchester, 236 miles (4.5 hours drive) north of Bath, and 271 miles (over 5 hours drive or 3-4 hours by train) northwest of London.

360 degree sweep from the waiting area inside the Gaping Gill Cave showing the three waterfalls


Swirling sweep focused on just the waterfalls from the guide's favorite spot to take pictures


360 degree sweep of the full context of the Gaping Gill from the spaciious drier part of the cave, including someone descending on the winch towards the end of the video


Sweep of the attractive but man-made waterfall that I noticed on the way to Gaping Gill

Tagged with: ingleborough, clapham, yorkshire dales, national park, north yorkshire, england, uk, united kingdom, waterfall, underground waterfall, cave, winch, fell beck, clapham falls



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