Great Douk is one of the few caves in the Yorkshire Dales that’s usually safe for an outdoors-competent non-caver to have a look around without expert guidance – although it can still get very dangerous in wet weather, so be extremely certain there’ll be dry and settled weather before heading in. If in doubt – stay out.
Parking is at the layby just uphill of the Old Hill Inn in Chapel le Dale [Link to Google Maps]. From here, head back down the road a few metres to the gate by a small water building. Follow the broad track from here up towards Inglebrough. At the second gate, a signpost to Great Douk points you left uphill. Head up here a few minutes until you reach the obvious wooded enclosure.
The entrance lies in a great wooded shakehole surrounded by a dry stone wall. A clamber over the rock stile drops you onto the steep track leading down to the floor of the shakehole.
On the left near where the stream sinks in cobbles, you’ll see the entrance to Great Douk Pot. This shaft needs climbing equipment and doesn’t lead to anything substantial, so don’t be tempted to do anything more than poke your head over the top for a look.
The entrance to Great Douk Cave is a waterfall cascading from a large gaping hole in a cliff. You can either use the chunky foothold to climb directly up the waterfall if you’re inclined to a crotch-soaking (take care as the rock below can get pretty slippery); alternatively a shelf up high on your right lets you wriggle in on your belly and remain reasonably dry. Once inside the entrance, it’s lamps on time, and up we head up the streamway. Make sure you don’t go wrong at the very start and take a left into a pool with a lowering roof – this is a diver’s route.
Well-sculpted walls lead you round a couple of corners, under a showerbath spilling from the ceiling, and suddenly out into daylight again in a cliff-walled shakehole – Little Douk.
Onwards upstream plunges back into the darkness, and ahead the roar of cascades can be heard. The streamway passage is pretty tall at this point, a good 10 metres above your head.
Eventually the stream begins gaining altitude as you clamber up a series of cascades and chutes, with a good dose of thigh-deep dunkings.
Above the cascades, the passage becomes calmer and the roof begins lowering. A few hundred metres later and a short oxbow leaves the stream briefly to offer mortals a dry and comfortable way to avoid an uncomfortable dunking.
From here on the roof lowers further, and a blockage of flowstone requires you to squat in the stream and moisten the nether regions.
The now crouching-height passage reaches a junction. If you’re reaching your limits here, this is a good point for a breather before turning back to enjoy the whole thing again in reverse. But if conditions are dry and settled, and you’re feeling particularly brave, you can follow the left passage flat out on your belly in the water, eventually popping up through a hole in the roof, followed by further crawling and a further left turn, to emerge with relief at the upper entrance of Middle Washfold. Now get back in there and take the underground route back down the hill!
A post-trip visit to the Old Hill Inn is an essential.