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Almost Losing the Plot Whilst Potholing in Yorkshire

Yorkshire is the biggest county in the UK and one of the most historically influential. If you’re new to the Isles, it’s a great place to begin your Anglican adventure.

From the industrial revolution to the War of the Roses, antiquity is stitched into the fabric of Yorkshire’s social history, architecture and environment, making it a pretty amazing place if you like that kind of thing (which I do, loads). It’s literally smothered in castles, abbeys and ruinous churches that sprawl romantically on hillsides and across moorlands. Sounds ideal, right?

However, by far the most impressive experience to be had in Yorkshire has an ancient history stretching over thousands and thousands of years and human beings have absolutely nothing to do with it. It’s all geology, baby.

Potholing is the act of exploring underground cave systems just for the spoils and Yorkshire, with the largest cave network in the whole of the UK, offers an abundance of alternative adventures.

Sure, you could visit the various tourist hot spots and by all means, you should. But just imagine escaping the crowds for one day and travelling through the wide open mouth of the earth, where you are welcome to explore hidden passage-ways and echoing chambers. Along the way you’ll face some rather uncompromising situations (imagine squeezing between two rock-faces into the unknown blackness beyond) but that will pale in comparison to the beauty of the underground waterfalls and vast cathedral-like cavities you’re sure to discover.

Yorkshire is famous for its caving opportunities and whilst this isn’t exactly an activity for the faint-hearted, it’s an incredible way to connect with the power of nature and lose yourself in its awesomeness for a while. And getting lost is a major possibility, which is why there are tours and training opportunities available for those who want to do it properly (I would not, under any circumstances, recommend attempting this sport unguided. Without one, there is the potential for things to go seriously awry).

I went on a cave ‘holiday’ to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, a town in the Yorkshire Dales National Parks that’s famous for its potholing excellence. I use the word holiday with caution because it wasn’t exactly relaxing. It was, none the less, an unbelievable experience.

Usually, I’m not a thrill seeker.  I’ve sky-dived and white-water-rafted but that was opportunistic as opposed to something I actively sought out. I’m the kind of girl who likes to stay in a quaint thatched cottage by the coast and I did achieve this, to some extent, in between our potholing escapades. We stayed in a lovely self-catering property on the Whitby coast (my other half booked it without realizing that it was over 2 and a half hours away from the caves in question, but the less said about that the better). Happily, it was a charming place to stay and I’d thoroughly recommend it, so kudos to this company.

To this day, there remains undiscovered caves that have never been seen by human eyes and these caves comprise some of the only unexplored regions on earth, namely in undeveloped countries. It was this sense of discovery, this notion that I was seeing something that so few eyes had seen that gave me the motivation to continue- even when I thought that I couldn’t physically do so.

However, it was when I had to squeeze through a pitch-black gap that was no bigger than a cat-flap and I got my hips stuck that I started questioning my motives. Imagine the scene; a young woman wedged halfway through a hole in a cave meters beneath the surface of the earth. Pretty terrifying to say the least. I had to be forced through by three fellow potholers and after scrambling on my belly along damp, freezing cold stone in the darkness of the underworld, I had to have a serious word with myself. I could have panicked, easily, but there was no way I could bail. I physically couldn’t go back; it was out of the question. There wasn’t an escape hatch or an eject button, I had to keep going. I had to keep following the feet of the person in front of me. Claustrophobia doesn’t even cut it. It’s a difficult feeling to describe but being lodged in a maze of dank caves leaves you in quiet a peculiar head space.

But all of that fear and claustrophobia melted away when we emerged into a vast chamber that housed an impressively noisy waterfall which we consequently abseiled down, as if the episode before was merely a bump in the road to beauty.

Overall, it was an adventure of ups and downs (literally!) and such an absurd adrenaline rush. Would I do it again? Yes. It’s the kind of thing you can never imagine yourself doing and when realize that you can, there’s always room to do more, so maybe I am a trill seeker after all?

Have you been to Yorkshire? Would you go potholing?

By Emily Buchanan

Emily Buchanan is a writer and blogger. She loves holidaying in the British countryside and taking her dogs for long walks on the moors. 

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