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Pothole Formation


The Allotment: a garden of desolation

No matter which way you go – it’s a long way to the Allotment.  It can seem like forever.  This boggy, isolated area of grouse moor on the south-eastern flanks of Ingleborough is as far away from civilisation as it is possible to imagine.  There’s an old joke that a nudist camp set up here would go unnoticed for years.  Wainwright was spot on when he wrote: ‘It is a fine walk to the Allotment, and it is a fine walk from the Allotment, but the Allotment itself is a wilderness.’

Oasis in a drab wilderness: the attractive ancient shaft of Little Juniper, with Simon Fell, a satellite of Ingleborough, behind. Stephen Oldfield

As with many areas on Inglebrough, however, first impressions can be deceiving.  Behind the Allotment is a massive catchment, down which water funnels onto the drift covered limestone and exploits a series of faults criss-crossed along the moor like the gossamers of a spider’s web.   These faults run in a north-west-south east direction, effectively guiding any sinking water towards the resurgence at Austwick Beck Head.

The huge doline of Marble Pot. Stephen Oldfield
Bridge at the bottom of the doline hole hiding the entrance to Marble Pot. Stephen Oldfield

Beginning at the eastern end, Marble Pot (SD759730) competes as one of the biggest dolines on the mountain. A smoothly polished bridge of limestone at the foot of the crater leads into a series of passages and underground falls, dropping to a depth of over 100 metres (300 feet), but the passages have become impassable due to slumping of the glacial till into the doline; something that occurred with dramatic effect in 1980, and from which the sides of the hole appear to be only just recovering. Slightly south-east is Marble Sink, whose tight entrance crawl belies a series of harrowing shafts including the thoughtfully named ‘Bastard Hole’, ‘Goliath Rift’ and ‘Devil’s Kitchen.’ Unlike the rest of the potholes on the Allotment, these two characters connect to the Gaping Gill system under Clapham Bottoms, emerging at Clapham Beck Head.

Jockey Hole, lying at the base of a funnel-like doline. Stephen Oldfield
Close up of the entrance to Jockey Hole with a massive detached block allowing a view down the 67 metre shaft. Stephen Oldfield

Moving east across the shale boundary another doline (SD760729) admits to Jockey Hole, lying directly on a fault, which has wrenched a large block of limestone so that it appears to be wedging the shaft.  It is possible to step with great care across onto this block and peer down a straight fall of 67 metres (210 feet) in a shaft only a couple of metres across.  This is not a place to hang around for long – described by Wainwright as ‘a fit subject for nightmares.’

Due south, on the same fault, is Rift Pot (SD761729), a simple opening along the fault line, containing masses of loose fault breccia and described in Northern Caves as having ‘an air of austere grandeur.’ A favourite of experienced potholers, it drops to a total depth of 111 metres.  Albert Mitchell (1949) one of the founders of the Craven Pothole Club, recalls being lowered down this shaft on a length of ‘canal rope’ (which was designed to ‘give’), with ‘more enthusiasm than sense’ – and having the sensation of being suspended as if from a piece of elastic!

The entrance to Long Kin East Pot, which leads to a huge underground pitch and is dangerous in flood conditions. Stephen Oldfield

Close by Rift Pot are both dry and wet entrances into the vadose stream-way of Long Kin East Cave – one of the few horizontal passages on the Allotment, which can be explored a certain length even with a powerful torch. This cave passes under a walled pothole shaft, a long-lost former sink, before suddenly combining with Long Kin East Pot and falling down a massive 68 metre underground pitch towards the sump; eventually emerging at Austwick Beck Head.

Rift Pot, formed on a significant fault, and containing masses of very unstable fault breccia. Stephen Oldfield

Juniper Gulf (SD765733) is the most famous of the Allotment potholes and is discussed in detail elsewhere, but it is worth seeking out the attractive and ancient fossil shaft of Little Juniper (SD766733) – marked with its customary juniper tree.  It is a welcome little oasis in this otherwise forbidding garden of desolation.  The Allotment is owned by the Ingleborough estate and there is no access from March to October.  It makes a challenging adventure on a fine day in the winter months, and leaves a lasting impression.


Mitchell, Albert (1949) Yorkshire Caves and Potholes (Volume 2) Under Ingleborough

Wainwright, Alfred (1970) Walks in Limestone Country (Westmorland Gazette)

Wainwright, Alfred (1991) Wainwright in the Limestone Dales (Michel Joseph)

Waltham, Tony and Lowe, David (eds.) (2015) Caves and Karst of the Yorkshire Dales (British Cave Research Association)