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RECOMMENDATION | My 98m Decent Down Gaping Gill

By Lyndsey Thomas | 20th August 2016

Now imagine being strapped to that chair, on the coldest, wettest August day on record, whilst not one, but several hundred buckets of ice-cold water are being thrown at you. From all directions. All this is happening whilst you are being winched down a 98 meter drop into a cold dark cave. A whole two minutes of having to endure the ice bucket challenge with nowhere to escape.


And then imagine being winched back up, after 30 minutes in that cave, where you have just about managed to star-jump off the onset of hypothermia, imagine having to endure the whole experience again for two more minutes. Only this time it’s colder, and there are a few hundred more buckets of ice cold water being chucked at you head on.


Oh no it doesn’t stop here. Because then, in your soggy knickers, soddened socks, waterlogged waterproof jacket (and it certainly didn’t turn out to be that!) with mascara streaked across your forehead, you have to walk four miles back to the car in torrential rain which is lashing against your cheeks thanks to the gale force wind blowing across the utterly exposed fells of Yorkshire.


Whilst most where probably spending their Saturday out shopping for a new handbag in a lovely, dry shopping mall, trying to avoid the dam-right wet and miserable day dealt to us today in Yorkshire, I was getting piss wet through as I attempted, with my equally as crazy business partner, his father-in-law, and Miles, our very talented film maker, to get to the bottom of Gaping Gill.


Gaping Gill is one of the largest underground chambers in Britain a mile or so past the entrance to Ingleborough Cave in the Yorkshire Dales. From 20th August through to Bank Holiday Monday foolish folk like yours-truly can wander round the cave’s chamber (similar in size to your average Tescos superstore) once you’ve being dropped 98 meters into it.


Now to put this into perspective – the drop is just over twice the height of Niagara Falls, so if (God forbid) something was to happen to the winch, and I was assured it absolutely couldn’t because of the many safely measures in place, you’d be high-fiving the magic man in the sky almost immediately.


So when we hit the half-way point between the car park in the Yorkshire Dales village of Clapham and Gaping Gil, only to be informed by the chaps running the guided tours into Ingleborough Cave – a show cave, which in comparison to Gaping Gill, is on par with a Premier Inn, that the winch was closed for an hour or so due to a ‘technical issue’ – well you can probably imagine what was running through my mind.


My wise suggestion to knock the idea on the head and go home fell right on deaf ears by my three male counterparts refusing point blank to throw in the proverbial towel (if only we had taken a few towels!), so off we trotted; we trudged our way across the very wet, muddy and uneven terrain (although equally breathtaking in parts) up to Gaping Gill with the rain beating down on our inappropriate clothing and camera equipment in search of a very big hole.

We arrived to find a mini village made up of tents, mud and lots of water erected in the middle of god knows where miles away from anywhere. We were piss wet though and I’m trying desperately to cling on to my last shred of sense of humour but it wasn’t going to last long.


Luckily, the ‘technical fault’ has been fixed (or incredibly unluckily, depending on how you view the situation, and the severity of your vertigo) so we are kitted out in hard hats and sent down to the winch. I’m very inappropriately dressed, so much so that I’m taken pity on and given a poncho.


For all the good it did I might as well have stripped off down to my underwear and left my damp clothes in the tent. But I didnt, and then I’m ordered to sit in the rather precarious looking chair hanging from a steel rope and before I can re-arrange my plastic to cover my legs and arms, a trap door opens and off I go! (Miles pictured below).


I’m clinging on for dear life! The ice bucket challenge has well and truly kicked in and all I can think about is that ‘technical issue’…


Looking up at the light-filled hole above was pretty awesome as I was winched further away from it. Or at least it was until a pint of water landed in my eye which temporarily blinded me. Looking down was a different matter. As I did exactly that it dawned on me that I was hanging from a rope, my life in the hands of rather dense, wrong side of 50, bearded caver types with steamed up glasses operating the motorised winch, which half an hour ago was experiencing a ‘technical error’ that resulted in them shutting the thing down and turning people away (whoever thinks this shit is fun in weather like this is dense in my book).


I clung to my camera with one hand, and clung to the chair in the other, closed my eyes and prayed. With ice bucket challenge in full swing I took the battering of the water, defeated, drowning, on the verge of death is how I felt for those two long minutes.


Eventually, after what felt like a lifetime, I was in the cave, which of course brought with it a whole lot more of ‘what ifs’. Out of the chair I jumped and waited eagerly for my fellow crazy cavers who were a few minutes behind me. I’m not going to lie, it’s a cave, it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s wet, it’s miserable – but, standing there, looking around this huge cavern with water pouring in from above, the enormity of it all – my journey to the centre of the earth – it was a pretty incredible experience. Now get my back on wet land!


I wasn’t looking forward to my journey back up to ground level – another two minutes of pure soaking wet, ice bucket challenge hell. I just about managed to get myself out of the chair at the top without dropping to the floor in a hypothermia-induced coma. I was ushered to the tea tent and wrapped in a grubby fleece and handed a plastic cup of piping hot tea. More heavily waterproofed men in their 50’s and 60’s took the piss out of me for 15 minutes or so before my gang eventually came to my rescue.


Gaping Gill 6

We trudged back to the car, all of us shivering and shaking and not really caring what we were stepping in along the way. We just wanted to be home, in a hot bubble bath (not together obviously), and warm again.


We made it, and I’m here to tell the tale, half a packet of Lemsip and a prawn madras later. Get up there folks, on a dry day this week, as long as you can dry off in the Yorkshire sunshine after the 300 ice bucket challenge you’ll love it. Promise.

Lyndsey Thomas GirlAbout.co .uk
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