The Dig at Howgill Nick, Grassington Moor, by Phil Ryder

Main Photo – Hucky, Gibbo and Adele in Howgill Nick. The new cave entrance (hidden) is just above them. Photo by Phil Ryder.

NGR SE0233068385. Alt 450m. Length about 20m.

Howgill Nick is a great big shakehole, and is accessible by a long walk from Yarnbury, above Grassington.

It was first dug properly by the Craven Pothole Club for 5 years in the 1950’s, although other clubs are known to have also been there. A shaft was sunk and mud filled beddings were excavated on the west side of the shakehole. The very cold, strong draught present there was also noted.

In 1991 Chris Camm, the then and still Chairman of the Club, attended a Planning Meeting of National Park Authority and obtained 6 months permission to dig in Howgill Nick.

A joint dig was started with the CPC, where a shaft was sunk on the west side of the shakehole, below the one dug by the CPC in the 1950’s. The shaft was sunk to 8 metres deep, but became too dangerous as it was impossible to securely stabilise some very large boulders that were present in the bottom of the dig. The dig was filled in.

In this period a dye test was conducted where 5 litres of Optical Brightening Agent were injected into the sink at Howgill Nick two weekends in succession. But all detectors were negative and it still is unknown were the water sinking at Howgill Nick re-emerges, although there has always been loads of speculation! (Chris Camm. WRPC Journal 2001. Page 5.)

In the Noughties Richard Gibson and Brian Judd located a drop in the old CPC bedding plane dig but were unable to get into it due to a large block in the way. ULSA much earlier also found a pitch in the same area. We have been unable to locate these so far, but many large gritstone slabs have come loose from the upper rim of the shakehole and ended in the bottom, (and are still doing so), so they might have been buried?

But perhaps the most significant discovery was when several years ago, Simon Beck and Richard Gibson uncovered a rift under a very large gritstone monolith, directly under the stream that enters the North East of the shakehole.

The lads followed several ways in the rift, but centrally descending 3 metres they landed in a small chamber, a small constriction barring progress, with the stream passage seen to continue for at least 4 metres after that.

The tight (and sometimes wet) entrance. Photo by Phil Ryder.


In Spring 2018 Simon asked Hucky if we would take over the Howgill Nick dig, as he was fully occupied with his dig in Mossdale. Hucky aka Master Blaster, was fair chomping at the bit on the thought of sculpting some Howgill limestone, and readily agreed.

So the White Rose B Team Diggers, currently Gibbo, Hucky and I, could finally move out of Langstrothdale into pastures new. We soon saw the new Head Gamekeeper and got permission to dig up there. Our first trip was on 19th May 2018, so we have now been digging there just over a year. 

I see Simon has followed in the Clarkey and Smithy tradition of making everything small, so it’s a bastard hauling buckets out of the entrance. Even worse is shuffling up the entrance rift with the full might of the stream beating down on you.

A shaft of sunlight lights up the entrance chamber. Photo by Phil Ryder.

Progress has been very slow, due to the limestone beds in this part of the top of the Middle Limestone. After a quick start down joint controlled hands and knees passage, we came to a painfully slow advance when we hit a dense, shiny rock bed. On examining a piece Steve Warren said its called Sparite, a limestone containing coarse sand crystals.

(I think I’ve got that right?)

No wonder our drill bits are regularly going blunt and Hucky even managed to burn out a Bosch Professional Compact 36 volt drill after a particularly intense drilling session.

Gibbo at a right angle bend in the cave. The passage is formed under a thin bed of sandstone. Photo by Phil Ryder.

So why haven’t we given up with the dig?

We nearly have on several occasions, but the intense, cold draught present keeps drawing us back. Usually it is sucking in, and when Hucky does a Mega 6 or 7 Snapper salvo, no smoke is seen at the entrance, so the fumes are going into a big space somewhere? Also the passage is wandering in a Northerly direction, out of the shakehole, and into the hill. The end of Mossdale is about a kilometre away, is the draught coming from there? 

The White Rose A Team Diggers are also in the area, so we keep bumping into them. I’m sworn to secrecy where they are, but I am always amenable to bribes of beer!

The work up at Howgill was getting too hard for 3 of us, plus I’ve been struggling with a bad knee, so a fourth digger joined us. Dave Milner a Craven man through and through, a completely nice man and utter character. I’ve dug with him many times before and have probably learnt more about digging techniques from him over the years than anybody else. (I know the bullshit factor is high here, but it’s true!)

The first thing Dave organised when he appeared was to divert the stream into the bottom of the shakehole, to allow dry entry and exit into the cave. Well almost!

Others have visited from time to time to help. We’ve called one part of the cave “Adele’s Corner” as she has stoically moved tonnes of rock there in cramped, wet and cold conditions, for hours on end.

Hucky drilling at the bitter end. Photo by Richard Gibson.

Gibbo is an eternal optimist and has the ability to see and hear things that we can’t. This leads to lots of ridicule from Hucky and I. However one rift near the entrance, that he has been on about for a long time, was recently looked at by Dave. The rift needs widening to allow access, but there seems to be caveable passage beyond containing a larger stream than the one seen in our dig. Have we missed the main way on?

I may have to eat lots of Humble Pie. Yet again!