Elph Cleugh Cave by Ian Cummins

Elph Cleugh, Weardale: Ian Cummins and Ed Tapp (Durham Uni) (17th February 2007).

Elph Cleugh may not be a familiar name to many cavers, but if you have encountered it you will not forget the experience. The entrance lies at 1500 feet, about 2 miles south of Westgate, high in Weardale and a convenient 20 minute drive for me. Curiously, the hillside is the home of the Weardale Ski Club, complete with tows and a chalet, which was busy the previous weekend, but was bare of snow on our visit. The entrance, like most Northern dales caves, is a resurgence, lying in the side of a larger beck running down the hillside. We changed into our neoprene gear here and crawled in. According to my vintage Northern Caves 5 (courtesy of Steve Warren), the system was a lowly Grade 2, with about 800 feet of passage, comprising 3 separate inlets.

On entering the cave, about 70 feet of hands and knees crawling led to the first junction, with a dry passage off to the right. We followed this through a number of squeezes to its too-tight conclusion, apparently beneath the bed of the stream. Curiously I found the skull and other bones of a fox or dog here – a walk-in or washed-in victim? Returning back to the streamway, it was apparent that the snowmelt water was extremely cold and that the cave formation here resulted in sharp black projections from all parts of the passage, a characteristic, I was assured by Steve, of the nearby, mythical Fairy Holes system. More crawling led to a miserable flat out section in very cold water, where the going became too tight for the amount of water present, although apparently this closes down too. Back and off to the right is the elegantly-named Green Elf Passage, which promised cascades up to a near connection with a shakehole sink nearby (Elph Cleugh Pot). Very sharp crawling and squeezing, with suit-ripping consequences eventually found us at a too-tight, sharp-edged rift.

We returned to the entrance cold and very bruised from our first encounter with Weardale limestone, in fact we reckoned the trip had taken more out of us than Dowbergill, due to the meltwater and the sharpness of the crawls. Perhaps a summer trip would be more pleasant and allow a push up the main inlet.