Gallery Five



Malham Cove

John Cordingley

Underwater Exploration at this famous beauty spot.

Malham Cove

120lbs of Gear

Filming "Cutting Edge"
Image: P Monico

This important resurgence, located at the base of the celebrated Malham Cove in North Yorkshire, drains a large area of limestone to the north and west. It is the source of the River Aire, which in the valley just downstream provided the inspiration for Charles Kingsley's book 'The Water Babies' (1863). No dry passages are accessible to the ordinary caver but almost a mile of underwater tunnels (in total) has been explored here by CDG divers. The Cave Diving Group has arranged permission for its members to dive here. However, unlike some other resurgence sites in the Yorkshire Dales, the difficult nature of some of the passages makes this site unsuitable for cave divers who have not come from a caving background.

Main Rising

Russell Carter in Main Rising

Kitting Up

There has been interest in the underground course of the stream since the end of the 19th Century when members of the Yorkshire Geological & Polytechnic Society conducted a series of classic water tracing experiments. They indicated a complex hydrology for the area with underground water also resurging from Aire Head Springs (to the south of Malham village). There was also the famous 'Spooky Parson' a few decades later, who claimed to have had 'visions' of the nature of the unexplored cave behind the Cove. He wrote down his predictions in a famous sealed letter, which was to be opened once the cave behind the Cove was discovered. The letter was actually opened by the Chairman of Malham Parish Meeting in 1997, but most of the contents were undecipherable!

Russell Carter, Main Rising

Flood Entrance,
Russell Carter

Re-Digging Flood Rising
Diver - Andy Goddard
The first diving activity at Malham Cove Rising took place in the early 50's when CDG members excavated the entrance to the Main Rising (in the centre of the Cove face), assisted by the Craven Pothole Club. Around this time the CPC was also involved in a major excavation in the dry valley behind the Cove (probably the most ambitious amateur cave dig up to that time). The divers explored 20 metres of submerged passage to some boulders which they were unable to pass with their bulky wartime 'frogmen's' apparatus (closed circuit oxygen rebreathers). These boulders were passed in 1966 by divers from the Happy Wanderers Cave and Pothole Club but they could only reach 50 m from base in a low passage before returning.

William Bryant in
Flood Rising

John Cordingley in the Bypass Dig
In 1975 Rob Palmer and Phil Papard did a series of dives and gained a further 10 m but shortly afterwards the Northern Cave Club dug open and explored the Flood Rising, 30 m to the right of Main Rising. Their terminus here was 120 m from base, which was extended to 150 m in 1979 by Geoff Yeadon. However, both risings tended to be filled up by tourists throwing in rocks, so interest waned.

Diving at Malham

Entering a Squeeze Upstream of Moon Chamber

Adrian Hall
Transporting Equipment
In 1988 I opened the Main Rising, looked at Rob Palmer's limit and decided this would be an ideal digging project when visibility elsewhere in the Dales was too poor. Russell Carter was soon enlisted and the low passage was forced through a lot of difficult terrain until at 90 m from base a connection with the Flood Rising was made. This breakthrough was highly strategic in that we now had access to the end of the Flood Rising without having to dig it out every weekend. Exploration resumed in the form of further digging beyond, and at 240m from base a after a year's work we had successfully opened a safe route upwards through loose boulders for 3 metres. Above was the breakthrough into Aire River Passage in 1989, a superb tunnel going both upstream and downstream. In view of this we later re-opened the Flood Rising and a lid was made by Mark Robson and Julian Griffiths.

Adrian Hall in
Hel's Bells 265m

John Cordingley Admires an
Underwater Stalactite Curtain
At 575m from the Cove face we hit another major choke, passed after further digging to enter the submerged Moon Chamber (named after a very helpful Malham farmer). A low bedding plane beyond was pushed over the next few years with the aid of a pneumatic chisel until a hole in the floor, the choked 625m Shaft, had the current welling up it. Many years of digging, including a major scaffolding effort, have failed to pass this obstacle and the project is still ongoing. There is also a branch passage on the right at 550m, which led to a choke not far from the 625m Shaft dig. This choke has been excavated for 15 metres over several years, reaching the point in 1999 where further progress was impossible with the technology currently available. This point is 716 m from base and has regularly needed 4 hour+ digging dives, the longest having been 5 hours and 7 minutes.

Flood Risings 100m,
diver - Adrian Hall

Adrian Hall in
Aire River Passage

John Cordingley
at 100m (horizontal!) in
Flood Rising

There are some airspace chambers around 265 m from base, known as 'Hel's Bells' (after the Norse god of the underworld). Also, near the downstream end of Aire River Passage an alternative route from the Flood Rising passages has been excavated, known as the Bypass Dig. This is still fairly claustrophobic but still easier than the Original Route described above. A large number of cave diving friends have become involved here over the last 12 years, particularly Clive Westlake, Andy Goddard and more recently Adrian Hall. The project is still ongoing and we are hopeful that one day the choke at 625m will be passed. If it is, there will probably be up to a mile of further underwater passage to be passed before hopefully emerging in the Malham master cave. That's if the YSS and other diggers on the surface don't beat us to it first . . .

John Cordingley

All Photographs © John Cordingley except where credited.

Page Updated Sunday 28th March, 2010 © Cave Diving Group

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