Gaping Gill – North Yorkshire, England - Atlas Obscura

Gaping Gill

The largest cave chamber in Britain—big enough to fit a whole cathedral inside. 

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Gaping Gill is the largest underground cave chamber in Britain. It’s often said, without exaggeration, that this dramatic chamber is big enough to fit a cathedral. It is so big that there has been an attempt to fly a hot air balloon inside the cave.

The vertical main shaft from the surface to the floor of the chamber is about 98m deep and normally contains a substantial waterfall, the route by which the surface stream, Fell Beck, finds its way to the chamber floor.

The chamber and the extensive cave system it is a part of are usually only accessible to experienced and properly equipped cave explorers. But for two separate weeks of the year (around the August and late May public holidays) two local caving clubs provide a winch to allow members of the public to be lowered down the shaft on a boatswain’s chair, and later winched out again. 

The Gaping Gill cave system covers nine miles, but as of 2023 visitors are asked to remain inside the main chamber which has many interesting features. If you would like to explore the nearby passages you will need to be accompanied by an experienced guide. It’s a good idea to bring a head torch and wear waterproof clothing as the winch passes you through the spray from the towering waterfall. 

Know Before You Go

The top of the main shaft is normally reached by walking up the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail from the village of Clapham (in North Yorkshire). This is a private trail for which an admission fee of £2.50 (as of 2023) applies. Initially follow the signs to Ingleborough Cave, but after that there are usually a lot of people walking to the entrance in good weather at weekends. A map will be needed at other times and  is advisable in the Yorkshire Dales even if following a well marked trail. The path starts as an easy stroll but gets more strenuous after passing the entrance to Ingleborough Cave (a commercial show cave, itself worth a visit). This includes a spectacular, but steep, limestone gorge called Trow Gill. The walk to Gaping Gill from Clapham will take about an hour but the spectacular scenery makes it worth it. It is a real part of the overall package.


When you reach the top of the well trodden path to the plateau near the top of Ingleborough you should be able to hear the engine which drives the winch. At one (if not both) of the winch meets the chamber is spectacularly lit from time to time. 


The charge for the winch in 2023 was £20. No pre-booking is possible. For more information, look at the Bradford Pothole Club website for the May meet and the Craven Pothole Club link for the August meet. It is also advisable to follow the clubs on social media for daily updates about the weather and availability of tickets. There can be long waits for the descent and ascent so warm clothing and a packed lunch are a must - there are no facilities at Gaping Gill, and only a small shop selling snacks at Ingleborough Cave, half an hour walk away. The floor of the main chamber is very wet so waterproof boots are advisable, as is a head torch.


Plans of the system can be easily obtained from the internet (try: http://www.braemoor.co.uk/caving/ap.shtml ). However visitors are asked to remain inside the main chamber; if you would like to explore the nearby passages you will need to be accompanied by an experienced guide. 

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