|Three Counties System|
|Depth||253 metres (830 ft)|
|Length||about 86 kilometres (53 mi)|
The Three Counties System is a set of inter-connected limestone solutional cave systems spanning the borders of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in the north of England. The possibility of connecting a number of discrete cave systems in the area to create a single super-system that spans the county borders was first proposed by Dave Brook in 1968, and it was achieved in 2011. The system is currently over 86 kilometres (53 mi) long, making it the longest in the UK and the thirtieth longest in the world, and there continues to be scope for considerably extending the system.
The Three Counties System's most southerly entrance is currently Large Pot (5 kilometres (3 mi). Between the two, the system passes beneath Ireby Fell and Leck Fell which are in Lancashire., NGR SD 6821 7685) on the northerly flank of Kingsdale in North Yorkshire, and the most northerly entrance is currently Bull Pot of the Witches ( , NGR SD 6623 8131) beneath Barbon Low Fell in Cumbria – a distance of almost
The system runs mainly north–south, its western extent being limited by the Craven Fault which truncates the limestone exposure, and the eastern extent where the limestones are conformable overlain by younger rocks. Streams flow from the higher topography from the east and sink into swallet holes at the edge of the limestone.The Three Counties System contains a number of major subterranean streams, all of which combine to resurge at Leck Beck Head above Cowan Bridge. At the northern end, swallets in Barbondale close to the Dent Fault drain south-west through Bull Pot of the Witches, and the water enters the Ease Gill Caverns system in Lancaster Hole; most of Ease Gill Beck to the south drains into the extensive Ease Gill Caverns, although some drains into Link Pot and thus into the bottom of Pippikin Pot; most of Leck Fell drains into the Leck Fell Master Cave, which is part of Lost Johns' Cave, although some drains into Gavel Pot, and some into Notts Pot; Ireby Fell in the south drains into Notts Pot. All these streams eventually reach the phreatic zone where exploration is only possible by cave diving. Some small streams in the south of The Three Counties System are known to resurge at Keld Head in Kingsdale, the next valley to the south.
The system is very complex, with sections formed at different times when the landscape topography and drainage patterns were different from today. Some of the system is believed to pre-date the Anglian glaciation which started at about 478 ka,with one stalagmite in Lancaster Hole being dated to over 350,000 years old, whilst other sections are still being formed today. Waltham has identified five distinct phases of development. The Leck Beck Catchment Area Site of Special Scientific Interest, which is based around the catchment area of the Three Counties System, states in its reason for notification: "The scale and variety of the caves makes this a most important site for the study of surface and underground landform development over a long period of the recent past." It is the interconnections between the sections that are the key to the existence of the super-system.
The Three Counties System is 253 metres (830 ft) deep. The highest point is the entrance to Large Pot which is at an altitude of 402 metres (1,319 ft), and the lowest point is in Gavel Pot where the upstream sump has been dived to a depth of −64 metres (−210 ft), an altitude of 149 metres (489 ft).
The Three Counties System comprises a number of smaller cave systems, some with multiple entrances. Whether or not a particular cave qualifies as a system in its own right is somewhat arbitrary, and arguments can be made for excluding some and including others. Running broadly from south to north, the systems include:
Most of the individual systems that make up the Three Counties System had been explored to a greater or lesser extent a long time before the possibility of an extended system was mooted. Thus Lost Johns' Cave was explored by the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club in the 1920s, Ease Gill Caverns by a number of caving clubs from the time of the original discovery of Lancaster Hole in 1946, and Ireby Fell Cavern in 1949.
The existence for the Three Counties System was first mooted by Dave Brook in 1968, when he proposed that the many fragmented systems stretching from Barbondale in the north to Kingsdale in the south could be part of a much larger system.Over the next 43 years, many discoveries by many cavers gradually knitted the fragments together, but the two most significant dates were 30 May 2010 when Rift Pot was connected to Ireby Fell Cavern, linking systems of North Yorkshire and Lancashire for the first time, and 6 November 2011, when Notts II was linked to Lost Johns' Cave, which was when the northern part of the system (including caves in Cumbria) was connected to the southern part of the system (including caves in Lancashire).
Following months of preparatory work, and with the support of over fifty cavers, the first complete traverse of the Three Counties System, between Large Pot in North Yorkshire and Top Sink in Cumbria, was completed by Chris Jewell and Jason Mallinson over the weekend of 25–26 September 2021. 10.8 kilometres (6.7 mi) of passage, of which 2.2 kilometres (1.4 mi) were underwater, in 17½ hours.In all, the two traversed
Sixteen cavers have lost their lives in the Three Counties System. These fatalities are listed in the chronology below.
This chronology includes the date of the original explorations of the major systems; the dates when two systems were linked; and deaths that have occurred in the system.
Although Dave Brook's vision for the Three Counties System has come to fruition, there is considerable scope for extending it in both directions. To the north in Barbondale, Aygill Caverns is known to drain into Bull Pot of the Witches, but a route through the underwater passages has yet to be negotiated. This would add 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) to the total system. Further north still, a major abandoned route in Aygill Caverns, known as New Year Passage, heads up the Barbondale valley, and may connect with other known caves. To the south, explorations in Large Pot have extended the current system to within 500 metres (1,600 ft) of Kingsdale Beck. Marble Steps, a major active system with large fossil fragments, could well be connected to Rift Pot. Marble Steps, some of Large Pot, and Low Douk Cave are all known to drain to Keld Head – a connection by diving would integrate both the West Kingsdale System (9 kilometres (5.6 mi) long) and the East Kingsdale System (7 kilometres (4.3 mi) long) into the system.
The Cave Diving Group (CDG) is a United Kingdom-based diver training organisation specialising in cave diving.
The Ease Gill Cave System is the longest, and most complex cave system in Britain as of 2011, with around 41 miles (66 km) of passages, including connections only passable by cave diving. It spans the valley between Leck Fell and Casterton Fell. The water resurges into Leck Beck.
Rowten Pot is one of several entrances into the 27-kilometre (17 mi) long cave system that drains Kingsdale in North Yorkshire, England. Its entrance is a shaft some 27 metres (89 ft) long, 10 metres (33 ft) wide, and at the southern end 72 metres (236 ft) deep.
Leck Beck is a watercourse in Lancashire with its source on Crag Hill in Cumbria between Leck Fell and Casterton Fell.
Great Douk Cave is a shallow cave system lying beneath the limestone bench of Ingleborough in Chapel-le-Dale, North Yorkshire, England. It is popular with beginners and escorted groups, as it offers straightforward caving, and it is possible to follow the cave from where a stream emerges at a small waterfall to a second entrance close to where it sinks 600 yards (549 m) further up the hill. It lies within the Ingleborough Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Gragareth is a mountain straddling the border between Lancashire and North Yorkshire in England. At 627 metres (2,057 ft), its summit is the second highest point in the post-1974 county of Lancashire. The highest point in modern Lancashire is Green Hill, approximately 3.2 km (2.0 mi) to the north and the Old Man of Coniston in the Furness Fells of the Lake District at 803 metres (2,635 ft) is the county top of the traditional county of Lancashire. The summit of Gragareth lies about 200 m west of the county boundary, but inside the 2016 border of Yorkshire Dales National Park. The western slopes are known as Leck Fell and the southern slopes form Ireby Fell.
Rumbling Hole is a cave on Leck Fell, in Lancashire, England. Its entrance is a 50-metre (160 ft) deep fenced shaft, and it rapidly descends a series of pitches to a low aqueous passage that has been connected to Lost Johns' Cave. It is part of the Three Counties System, an 87-kilometre (54 mi) cave system that spans the borders of Cumbria, Lancashire, and North Yorkshire.
Lost Johns' Cave is an extensive cave system on Leck Fell, Lancashire, England. With its three major vertical routes it is a popular place to practise single-rope technique (SRT) because of the opportunity for exchange trips. Also it can be safely visited on wet days because many of the pitches can be rigged out of the water. It is an important part of the Three Counties System.
Ireby Fell Cavern is a cave system on Ireby Fell, Lancashire, England, near the border with North Yorkshire. It is a segment of the Three Counties System, linking the Rift Pot system to the south with Notts Pot to the north.
Leck Fell is a Site of Special Scientific Interest in Lancashire, England. An area of typically heavily grazed open moorland of rough grass and remnant patches of heather with little or no tree cover, it is characterised by the virtual absence of surface drainage and an extensive subterranean drainage network resulting in cave systems and numerous sinkholes. It surrounds the high point of Gragareth 627 metres (2,057 ft) between Leck Beck and Kingsdale.
Named after Eli Simpson, Simpson Pot is a limestone cave in West Kingsdale, North Yorkshire, England. It leads into Swinsto Cave and thence into Kingsdale Master Cave, and it is popular with cavers as it is possible to descend it by abseiling down the pitches, retrieving the rope each time, and exiting through Valley Entrance of Kingsdale Master Cave at the base of the hill. It is part of a 27-kilometre (17 mi) long cave system that drains both flanks of Kingsdale.
Short Drop Cave and Gavel Pot are different entrances into the same cave system on Leck Fell, in Lancashire, England. The main top entrance, Short Drop Cave, is a small hole in a fenced off shakehole near the main stream sink; Gavel Pot, a window into the system, is a large fenced shakehole some 40-metre (130 ft) deep requiring tackle to descend. There are two other smaller entrances into Short Drop Cave. At its base the system links via a sump with Lost Johns' Cave, and is part of the Three Counties System, an 87 kilometres (54 mi) cave system which spans the borders of Cumbria, Lancashire, and North Yorkshire.
Death's Head Hole is a cave on Leck Fell, in Lancashire, England. Its entrance is a 64-metre (210 ft) deep shaft. It leads into Lost Johns' Cave and is part of the Three Counties System, an 87-kilometre (54 mi) cave system which spans the borders of Cumbria, Lancashire, and North Yorkshire.
Lost Pot is a cave on Leck Fell, in Lancashire, England. It leads into the top end of Lost Johns' Cave, and is part of the Three Counties System, an 87 kilometres (54 mi) cave system which spans the borders of Cumbria, Lancashire, and North Yorkshire.
Boxhead Pot is a cave on Leck Fell, in Lancashire, England. It leads into the top end of Lost Johns' Cave, and is part of the Three Counties System, an 87 kilometres (54 mi) cave system which spans the borders of Cumbria, Lancashire, and North Yorkshire.
Long Drop Cave is a cave on Leck Fell, in Lancashire, England. It leads into Death's Head Hole, and is part of the Three Counties System, an 87-kilometre (54 mi) cave system which spans the borders of Cumbria, Lancashire, and North Yorkshire.
Swinsto Cave is a limestone cave in West Kingsdale, North Yorkshire, England. It leads into Kingsdale Master Cave and it is popular with cavers as it is possible to descend by abseiling down the pitches, retrieving the rope each time, and exiting through Valley Entrance of Kingsdale Master Cave at the base of the hill. It is part of a 27-kilometre (17 mi) long cave system that drains both flanks of Kingsdale.
The Long Kin East Cave - Rift Pot system is a limestone cave system on the southern flanks of Ingleborough, North Yorkshire in England lying within the designated Ingleborough Site of Special Scientific Interest. Long Kin East Cave starts as a long meandering stream passage but then plummets down a 58-metre (190 ft) deep shaft when it meets a shattered fault into which Rift Pot also descends. At the bottom, the stream flows through some low canals and sumps, to eventually emerge at Austwick Beck Head in Crummackdale.