Mossdale Beck rises on the slopes of Great Whernside in North Yorkshire. Gathering tributaries it flows South for several miles before suddenly disappearing into the base of a large limestone cliff 50 ft high and 250 ft long. It’s valley is dark, grim, wild – almost claustrophobic (some say hemmed-in) – it is miles from anywhere and bleak.
The explored 6 miles of cave under the scar (Mossdale Caverns) are known to flood totally when it rains. Mossdale Caverns were first explored over a period of several months by Bob Leakey and his friends in 1941. At first the caverns were roomy, if wet, but they soon degenerated to very low crawls which meandered for thousands of feet into the unknown.
Leakey explored these, mostly on his belly, and on his own as no one would dare go with him. Eventually he reached a place where the cave got bigger and following a large stream passage he was disappointed to find the ceiling had collapsed and the cave was blocked by a roof fall. This was as far as he could go. It was also very obvious by the flood debris on the roof that even this large passage flooded totally.
Leakey visited the far reaches several times on his own surveying and exploring – when he was tired he would calmly cover himself in mud and go to sleep! If it rained whilst he was there he probably would have drowned and if he had an accident no one could have rescued him. He was totally isolated. Eventually he explored all the leads and Mossdale stood unvisited for many years.
The lure of Mossdale lies in the fact that the known cave only scratches the surface of the fabled Black Keld System (Mossdales’ water reappears 7 miles away and 900 feet lower down – it takes 18 days for the water to traverse the distance). It is estimated that there is over 250 miles of cave system under the moors, just waiting to be discovered. But Mossdale is such a hard and dangerous cave that few go near it.
In June 1967, 10 cavers entered the system – after a couple of hours 4 exited leaving 6 to explore the far reaches. A thunderstorm hit the surface and all 6 were drowned – they were caught in a passage 18 inches wide and 2 foot high. They stood no chance. A massive rescue operation was carried out and when it was realised all had perished the Coroner had the cave sealed and the bodies were left in situ. Sometime later the mates of the dead cavers moved the bodies to the far reaches and buried them with dignity in the higher passages. You can read more about Mossdale here. It is a fascinating read.
Very few cavers visit Mossdale, permission is not given and the apalling danger put most people off…also it is in a very isolated place and requires a very long walk to get to it. But it will always draw those that believe the cave will eventually give up it’s secrets and will break through to the Black Keld Master Cave. I personally think the wait will be a long one but the breakthrough will eventually be made. ______________________________________________________________
The photos here are of the walk to the cave, and of Mossdale Scar, starting out on Grassington moor. The walk is superb going past the abandoned lead mines and through beautiful open moorland. I haven’t included any pictures inside the cave, there is not much to see as there are no formations – the cave is washed clean from the frequent floods. And you aren’t supposed to be in there anyway…..