The Lake District of rural Cumbria is famed for its sprawling mountains, rolling hills, and torrid nature but Rydal Caves and all of the caverns of the Lake District offer an alternative adventure for the explorer in you. This is an introduction to 5 of Lakeland’s caves and the thrill of being under the mountain.
Caves of the Lake District
Due to its vast array of terrains, the lake district is considered by many to be the model hiking spot. Yet, after trekking new heights, you may wish to discover new lows – you’re in luck – the lake district is also home to numerous caves.
You may be questioning how Northern England came to be home to such an abundance of substantial caves and caverns. If you already know about the booming mining industry of Northern England in the late 20th century, then you already know the cause. Many of the caves were dug with the purpose of mining ores and other valuable materials. By the 21st century most of the mines, composed of quarries and tunnels, had become wholly disbanded. What lies in the wake of the mining industry of the lake district is a wide range of cavernous tunnels, engineered for the industry. This is not to say that there’s a complete absence of caves formed by natural geographic processes – many exist alongside the man-made caves.
Thanks to the National Trust, a variety of these caves are open to the public to enjoy and discover. The association understands that most people trekking through the area will either be an adult or under reliable adult supervision. Since adults have hopefully long since learned the basics of safety, such as how to cut bread correctly and which way to hold scissors, the National Trust has put faith in us. With the possibility of sharp drops, falling rocks, it is best to honour this faith and your own safety by learning a few safety precautions before attempting to adventure within any of the caves. If you intend to enter parts of the cave that are dim or lack light exposure completely, a hard hat with a light attached could certainly come in handy as well as a guide and suitable gear.
These man-made caves are considered a must-see by weathered cave explorers. Found on the east side of Loughrigg fell, the Rydal Caves are situated just on the outskirts of the quaint village of Ambleside. Previously used as a quarry, the Rydal Caves are perfect for those looking for a trouble-free experience finding the cave. It’s a relatively short walk from the nearest car park.
Entry to the cave is, on the other hand, undertaken at your own peril. Caution is advised due to the possibility of falling rocks and scree. Sturdy footwear is a must due to the spectacular crystal clear water that sits at the entrance of the exquisite cave. You certainly won’t lament the possibility of wet feet upon discovering the humbling, serene feeling from this beautifully structured and cavernous cave – it is truly something special.
One of the most prominent and visited caves within the area is the Cathedral cave in Langdale, Cumbria.
It was built during the 19th century to extract ore and valuable stone. To access the cave, you must first pass through a refreshing curtain of dripping water droplets and into a dry tunnel which leads to the main cavern.
Once inside, you can begin to marvel at the illuminating light shining in upon the cavernous structure from two square windows cut in the rock. This lighting effect makes it clear as to why the cave is named after a cathedral. The cave is comprised of links between multiple quarries, this may sound somewhat banal, but in person, the scenery is truly something at which to wonder. Lighting is particularly necessary while traversing this cave, with dark tunnels often reaching up to 400ft in length.
Priest Hole Cave
Sticking with the religious theme, the next cave is called “The Priest Hole Cave”, located in the Dovedale in the Eastern Fells, just over a ridge from Rydal Caves. Requiring past and thorough experience, an excursion to this cave should not be attempted by beginners or intermediates without a guide. If you manage to make it inside this hole in the crag, you can note your achievement by leaving your name and message in a visitor’s book kept on a small natural shelf in the cave. You will also be awarded the fantastic panorama from the cave entrance.
I camped there with a friend one freezing winter. After it took us hours to find the cave, in the dark, the two of us bivvied up at -15c in the small space scooped out of the crag where four people at the most could lie.
This Priests Hole wild camp is probably one of the best adventures I’ve had in the Lake District.
Hodge Close Quarry
Found in the TilberWaithe valley adjacent to Coniston village on one side and Lansdale on the other, the Hodge Close Quarry is relatively easy to access. It is possible to take a guided tour of the quarry where you will see its waterfilled 140ft drop, which is often braved by abseilers.
Approaching from Little Langdale, a beautiful little village with a pub, you’ll cross the spectacular Slater’s Bridge, crafted from slate excavated from the mines. Mining took place in the quarry from 1850 through to the early 19th century.
Millican Dalton’s Cave Hotel
Over into Borrowdale now, and with a little guidance, you’ll find a small old quarry hidden in the trees. Two man-made holes in the eastern flank of Castle Crag were the summer home, for decades from the early 1900s, of Mountain Guide and ‘Professor of Adventure‘, Millican Dalton.
These excavated caves made a great base for Dalton in the summer months as he took groups out climbing, hiking, white water rafting and wild camping, all part of his ‘Camping Holiday’ he advertised in Keswick.
I highly recommend you get a map or a guide, go exploring and imagine living and sleeping here a hundred years ago.
If you plan on visiting the lake district, the chance to visit Rydal Caves or one of these caves cannot be passed up. Each cave is completely unique, and with proper preparation, visiting them should be quite safe.
Use the map below, focussed on the Rydal Caves, to find accommodation for your stay.
Take a wander on the Coffin Route around Rydal Water. The best little Rydal Caves walk.