A CAVING mystery of epic proportions has been unfolded with the help of Clitheroe-based caving club the Northern Boggarts.
Its members have been active in the Yorkshire Dales where “Witches Cave II” was discovered some 10 years ago by divers using sub-aqua gear. The divers swam underwater for around 300 metres and then, after ascending upwards for another 30 metres, discovered a cave with unique formations and massive underground passages.
Members of the caving fraternity were excited by the discovery, but unable to explore the cave without passing through the underwater passages. So the discovery lay dormant until last year, when one of the Northern Boggarts Club, Fred Rattray, and his brother Jim, both electronics wizards, built a radio beacon capable of sending signals through solid rock.
All that was needed was to persuade the divers to go through the underwater passages for a final time. They would take the radio beacon with them and climb as close as possible towards the surface and then leave the radio beacon switched on. On the surface Fred was waiting with his radio detection equipment and sure enough, he picked up a signal and, when he was confident that he was over the beacon, a marker was laid down.
The site of the proposed dig was on Leck Fell – land belonging to Lord Shuttleworth. Interestingly this part of the Dales is situated in Lancashire and furthermore the area is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, or SSSI. One of the team, Andrew Hinde, Cave Conservation Officer for Natural England, took charge of negotiations and eventually the all-clear to begin the excavation was given.
Digging began in September last year and a team of cavers dug some 17 metres down before breaking through to the radio beacon. One of the conditions laid down in the permit was that the whole process should be recorded scientifically and any bones or artefacts should be carefully excavated and identified.
This was fortuitous advice indeed as some nine metres down the shaft the diggers discovered the ancient remains of a giant auroch. This is the precursor of the modern domestic cow and the bones are believed to be at least 6,000 years old.
Clitheroe resident Pete Monk, who was involved with the project throughout, has just finished editing a 70-page report on the project. Copies of this are available from Pete, priced £8 (tel. 01200 427297).
Lord Shuttleworth, after whom the new cave has been named, took a great interest in the project and said that the report, “Shuttleworth Pot into Witches Cave II”, is a remarkable record of persistence and professionalism. Pete is also available to give talks on the discovery and the BBC’s Countryfile programme is to include an item on one of its forthcoming Sunday night shows.