Fairyholes Saga Mark 2 by Adele Ward

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After several trips with Ian, which he documented – it seems fitting I add a little bit more to the tale.

We have come to understand the demands of this cave, to love it, admire it, think about its character and how the nature of that cave feels very different to others visited. The fine streamway with its Manganese magic turns qualities of this cave into rarely seen features. Be it mud or fossilised coral – all have received a dose of deposit turning them iridescent in places.

Black Fossils.

Higher level passages above the streamway are seen throughout the cave. The joint guided streamway strewn with numerous boulder obstacles and break down areas are often an access point to this – however many sand filled higher level “tubes” quickly choke or become too tight either filled with fine mud or closing down passage. This is similar to the stream passage in the principle – the streamway finally closes down to a unpassable sump. A trip to the sump provides a varied experience.

Black Sabbath Passage.

After exploring FairyHoles several times and feeling the changing nature we decided to explore Myers’ Passage, noting it looked to be a continuation of Via Delarosa. This passage is characterised by low crawling over blocks coated in fine clay. Numerous protrusions in the crawl firmly poke your knees and with some evidence of stream debris such as fine pebbles.

It’s a confusing passage with numerous branches leading off – it’s best to chant the slogan, “unless it’s too tight always go right “, as going left can lead to a huge loop and put you back at the start. Occasionally the mud filled passage has deep pits looking down to the streamway several metres below. Via Delarosa ends at a breakdown chamber. Myers’ higher level route is accessed by this break down area near the Sarcophagus Chamber.

This area is cold; a strong draught has been noted on all trips. This is the sort of cold that can quickly sap a caver standing still for much time.

Myers’ Passage begins with a low bedding wiggle, this quickly becomes more of a slither. Progress turns from fair to good dependant on your caving taste. Standing still for any length of time, there are no cosy spots, one becomes cold quickly. No major draught is felt however smoke tests suggest it’s draughting in.

What appears on first glance to be joint guided, mud filled passage – with no evidence of stream debris, continues on and on. Occasionally rising to several metres with no obvious way on, though a small climb, (Ian’s Window), leads to the Manganese stained fine mud formations of Black Sabbath Passage.

The name for these newly discovered passages are apt. Ian loved Black Sabbath and one of their songs was played at his funeral.

So this is the point in the exploration Ian left Myers’, we had attempted to modify some fins of rock that blocked our progress. Only to have our cave modulation rock fall in half leaving us no further tools. Several trips later we realised our biggest enemy was the cold when surveying. It wasn’t till after Ian’s death that this area was pushed to a conclusion by Si and Di whilst surveying. This area probably takes about 4 hours to reach on a good day.

I almost felt a twinge of guilt on this trip. I rather like Lee Smith, Diane Arthurs and Simon Cornhill, and wondered what I was inflicting one them watching Si travel through Via Delarosa armed with all their surveying gear. It didn’t look a pleasant experience for most normal cave mortals, (whilst I travelled light with a packet of smoke test devices) .

The ever cheerful Di reminds me they are in training for Matienzo , they love a bit of squalor and it does them good carrying bags.

By the end of the trip it was apparent by everyone’s happyish smiles or grimaces we felt we had done our job and obtained the required information for the lead survey wizard Phil Ryder to begin to weave his magic upon it.

Phil and Steve Warren have long been WRPC survey masters both spending time encouraging / rallying my spirits after tricky trips and explaining mystic words such as Survex and vectors. Within days I am presented with what I can only describe as a work of art, cross scrutinised by Steve Warren for errors.

Fairy Holes - Black Sabbath Plan


If Phil thought that was his job over …. ha little did he know the man hours longer it would take a team including Patrick Warren and Leif Andrews to produce further work.

Around this time Andrew Hinde asked me if I would consider presenting the exploration at Hidden Earth, this might not have been top of my agenda but Ian would have accepted so I will be damned if I let my mate down.

I also wrote an article on Black Sabbath Passage for Descent No. 270 (the magazine for underground exploration), along with Phil’s survey and a couple of my photos of Ian in there.

First Inlet.

Ian and I also turned our attention to an area known as the First Inlet, this area when approached is noticeable as the water becomes colder. We first stumbled across it by accident when Ian was trying to break his all time speed record for exit of the cave. This had been a day our friends at the YSS has allowed us to share their permit. Exiting ahead of the YSS crew to snow, was really peachy, waving at the ever cheerful Stuart trying to wrestle his now frozen solid caving oversuit off.

A few shivering survey sessions produced a line survey of this passage. With no obvious way on, whilst it seemed to be heading in the direction vaguely of Myers’, we drew a line under it.

It didn’t take much persuasion to entice the ever keen Lee Smith to have a look at this inlet.

We trundled along this time armed with a crowbar. Problem is even with the mud banks removed the passage becomes narrower and narrower giving no sign of easy progress and wanting to maintain the nature of the cave. We called it a day.

FairyHoles Black Sabbath -First Inlet

Three Ways On.

After meeting several of the Moldywarps S.G. who seem to be rather keen on the Northern Dales delights, John Dale agreed to come and have a look with me. I couldn’t have been happier about this. I recall the situation of semi fibbing that I thought the water levels would just be sporting, but packing some extra kit and fags just in case our exit via the pipe was delayed.

Arriving at First Inlet – taking our time, looking up not just down at the streamway a breakdown area was noticed – with 3 ways on.

Scurrying up it became apparent to me that this felt like familiar ground… had I been transported to Myers’ / Black Sabbath by some mystery portal? Sadly not. This passage appeared to track directly about the main streamway. This was brought in to sharp focus for me as we reached an area I didn’t really like the look of – I could see the main streamway some 5m below.

Thing is in Fairyholes what you often think is rock turns out to be hard mud which doesn’t support a dithering Adele. John having longer legs and a braver soul than me gingerly made his way over. Happy to sit and wait to hear my colleague’s progress I decided it was a good time for a smoke. John retuned looking like a kid at Christmas, having found a pristine chamber with several passages leading off.


Roll on another month and another new traveller to Fairyholes – Chris Elliot, whom being from a diving and caving background was keen to enjoy the aquatic nature of FairyHoles. Marching quickly to the First Inlet we explored the 2nd of the 3 ways on.

Chris Elliot.

With Chris being taller than me, and the passage becoming tighter I felt relieved to see an area that we could climb back down, as a reverse crawl would have been a right pain. This passage had led downstream of the main streamway.

FairyHoles Above Streamway

Make way for the return of Lee! We made plans to visit FairyHoles several times only to have heavy rain thwart our attempts. This time it may have been a tad soggy but we prepped the game keeper, we might be late. Armed with stash bags to leave the cave for any unfortunate eventualities, we made our way to the last of the 3 ways on. I hadn’t really taken a good look at this bit before. I will openly admit I can be a bit of a fanny when it comes to heights and a lack of protection and sloppy mud dropping onto boulders.

Lee admirably made his way over the drop and disappeared to explore further, reporting that he has reached a T-junction. One way blocked by a boulder, the other way with open passage he progressed along until he go bored. Probably 100m in total.

Upon his return Lee I asked him what it was like – had he had a good time?

Well Adele, “you know what Via Delarosa is like ? I would describe this as Via Dela Worser!!!”

Following Lee’s return we did a little gardening work which would aid future progress.

What I was looking for was a way that followed the First Inlet and connected with Black Sabbath Passage. It was difficult for Lee to say which direction he travelled as the passage zig zags. However not reaching a final conclusion I was keen to muster a bit more balls and have a look.

John Dale is free a week of so later, I am not feeling very well but I can’t resist the offer of my friends help. Despite a crappy forecast and the cave being a bit more aquatic then usual, which means you are battling the water on the way in we are soon at the 3 ways on in First Inlet. Looking up at the higher level I’ve somehow to muster my nerves for, I’m feeling keen. Success I’m across the most dodgy of looking boulder collapse perched in First Inlet.

It’s crawl, crawl, crawl. This seems to go on and on and on for ever. Initially our chatter is if we can see Lee’s footprints and how long it was taking? How similar to Myers’ and other high level passage but soon turns to – this feels very remote, any ideas which way it’s heading? John’s like my internal compass is by this time totally confused and we could be heading out under the North Sea for all I knew. John places a small cairn at the limit of exploration – I got a bit bored beforehand.

On the return crawl we noticed the thin rift in the floor that was blocked by clay, had given way and shining a light down it was possible to drop rocks and see a streamway. I do not believe this to be the main streamway as the water was static.

So it’s back to FairyHoles we will have to go – for another look. My hope is that the third way meets the end of Black Sabbath, but as any cave explorer knows it could go anywhere!

What else has had this recent find given me to think about …. well that sump that doesn’t really look like an average sump… Did I look up there?

This exploration has been made easy to tell the tale of by the help and encouragement of many people to the explorers. It’s not often caver’s encounter landowners such as Mark that are encouraging exploration. Andrew Hinde of Natural England facilitating this has been fundamental.