Gaping Gill is one of the most remarkable caves in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Not only is Gaping Gill home to the largest cave chamber in the UK; but, it’s also the site of the largest underground waterfall in the UK. Visiting Gaping Gill during a pothole club winch meet is one of the most exhilarating experiences on offer in the UK. But, the winch meets only operate two weeks of the year (on average). So, you’ll need to be well-prepared to take part in this adventure.
In this guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about visiting and exploring inside Gaping Gill. Indeed, there are some very important things to know before visiting. By being in the know, you’ll avoid the potential disappointment of missing out or queuing for hours upon arrival.
We hope you find this guide helpful. If you want information about other visiting epic caves in the Yorkshire Dales, read our guides about White Scar Cave, Stump Cross Caverns and Yordas Cave (guides coming soon).
Table of Contents
What Is Gaping Gill?
Gaping Gill (also spelled Gaping Ghyll) is a famous cave in the Yorkshire Dales. Most people referring to ‘Gaping Gill’ are often referring to the Main Chamber, which is the largest cavern in the UK. Indeed, if you’ve seen a photo of Gaping Gill, it’s probably of the Main Chamber, which is floodlit during a winch meet. But, the Main Chamber is just a small part of the Gaping Gill cave system; which, in turn, is only a fraction of the entire Ingleborough cave system.
By caving, it’s possible to explore a considerable amount of the Gaping Gill cave system, any time of year. But, for the average non-caving person, the Gaping Gill open days allow the opportunity to explore inside the cave. Also known as a ‘winch meet’, the Bradford Pothole Club and also the Craven Pothole Club, each set up a winch, for approx. one week, once a year. Often, the Bradford Pothole Club set up their winch at the end of May, whilst the Craven Pothole Club set up their winch in August.
So, what the heck is a winch? Essentially, in the context of Gaping Gill, the winch is a machine, fitted with a chair, that uses a cable pulley system to haul people down and into the cave as well as up and out of the cave. The Gaping Gill winch is a seriously impressive machine. Credit to the pothole clubs for setting this up and operating it. Without it, non-caving folk wouldn’t experience the delight of exploring the magnificent Gaping Gill.
So, exactly where is this cave located?
Where Is Gaping Gill?
It’s located in the southwest corner of the Yorkshire Dales in the northwest of England. To help you get your bearings, please click on the image below to access an interactive map of the North Yorkshire area.
Now you know where the cave is located, let’s look at how to visit.
FYI – people often refer to Gaping Gill as Gaping Gill Cave and Gaping Gill Pothole.
Essential Things to Know Before You Go
To help get the most out of your time at Gaping Gill, it’s worth being clued up about what to expect during a visit. Below, we’ll list some of the most important things to know before setting out to explore the cave.
- The winch only operates for two weeks of the year: visit the pothole club websites to find out the specific dates and then save the date!
- You can’t pre-book tickets: the winch meets are run in a pretty old-school fashion. There’s no online Gaping Gill ticket booking system or anything modern like that. It’s first in best dressed. Basically, you’ll need to arrive at the cave itself and queue in order to get a numbered tag (this is a necklace with a number on it, denoting your position in the queue to winch that day).
- It’s an approx. 4.5km walk to get to the cave: this is very important to know. The walk to the cave (The Gaping Gill Walk) can take between 75–90 minutes. Remember this when you’re planning your timings to arrive at the cave.
- Gaping Gill opening times: generally speaking, the winch is open from 8am to 5pm, except for the day of close, when it finishes at midday. But, it will close earlier if they reach full capacity for the day (approx. maximum capacity is 200–250 people per day).
- Leave early to reduce the amount of time queueing at Gaping Gill: personally, we started the walk (more details below) at 7am, arriving at the cave at 8:15am on a Sunday on a bank holiday weekend. When we arrived, we were the 77th–79th people in the queue. This meant waiting an hour to get a tag. We then had a two hour wait to actually do the winch.
More Useful Tips For Visiting Gaping Gill
Other than knowing the essential information listed above, there are other useful things to know to ensure an enjoyable visit to Gaping Gill. Let’s go through some of these practical tips below.
- The ideal time to start the walk: in hindsight, we should have started the walk earlier, especially as it was on a bank holiday weekend. If you’re visiting during the week, leaving early may not be as important. But, if you’re visiting on the weekend, we recommend leaving early to avoid joining a long queue. It’s best to start the walk between 6–6:30am.
- Be prepared to queue (no matter what): even if you arrive early, much of the Gaping Gill experience involves queuing. That’s because it takes three minutes for the winch to go down and then three minutes for the winch to come up. So, in theory, each person in front of you equals six minutes of waiting. So, a modest queue of 10 people in front of you, actually means an hour of waiting. Something you won’t be told is that members of the pothole clubs do get priority and pre-book their positions at the start of the queue, which the general public can’t do. We have no bones to pick as it’s often these members who are the volunteers running the winch. But, regardless, it’s another good reason to arrive early (between 7–7:30am).
- Wear warm and waterproof clothing: the entrance of Gaping Gill is around 400 metres above sea level. And, the Dales can get very windy and cold. So, if you’re queuing and the weather turns sour, you’ll want warm and waterproof gear. Additionally, you’re bound to get splashed by Rat Hole Waterfall during the winch, so you’ll want waterproofs!
How to Get to Gaping Gill in Yorkshire
Now you know some of the most important information about visiting Gaping Gill, let’s talk about how to get there.
To do the walk to Gaping Gill, you’ll first need to get to Clapham. The quickest and easiest way to get to Clapham is to drive there yourself. If you don’t have your own set of wheels, we recommend hiring a car using Rentalcars.com. You’ll find a wide variety of cars on Rental Cars for reasonable prices. The website is user-friendly and booking online is super easy.
You’ll find the main car park in Clapham is located here. It’s a Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Car Park so charges apply. Otherwise, if you arrive early enough, it’s possible to find free street-side parking in Clapham. Personally, we found a spot to park here on Station Road near the Clapham Village Store. If you follow our advice and arrive early, you should be able to snag some free street-side parking.
From the main car park or from most street-side parking in Clapham, you’re around a five-minute walk away from the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail. This is where the walk to Gaping Gill officially starts.
Although it’s possible to get to Clapham using public transport, we don’t recommend it. That’s because you won’t be able to arrive early enough using public transport, to start the walk early, to avoid long queuing. Additionally, by arriving too late, you could also potentially miss out altogether if they’re closed early due to being at full capacity. Besides, depending on where you’re travelling from in the UK, you’ll likely have a slow and tedious journey to get to Clapham.
Of course, you may be planning a weekend or extended trip to Clapham for this experience and may be spending the night in Clapham (see details about where to stay in Clapham). In this case, it’ll be fine to use public transport to get to Clapham the day before. Basically, you’ll want to get to Leeds or Lancaster.
From Leeds, you’ll get a train to Settle and then a bus (581 Craven Connection) to Clapham village. From Lancaster, you can get a train directly to Clapham station, which is around 1.9km (1.2 miles) from Clapham village. If trains aren’t in operation, from Lancaster, you’ll need to get a bus to Kirkby Lonsdale and then another bus to Clapham village.
We recommend using Google Maps and Trainline to help plan your journey.
The Gaping Gill Walk
You’ll need to walk to Gaping Gill in order to reach and explore the cave. Below, you’ll find the trail specs and a link to a GPS-guided map for the walk from Clapham to Gaping Gill.
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 9.6km (5.95 miles)
- Time: 3 hours (depending on waiting time to access Gaping Gill)
- Accumulated elevation gain: 260m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Clapham
- Map: Wikiloc
Admittedly, the walk to Gaping Gill is fantastic in its own right. Along the way, you’ll enjoy the peaceful Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail and you’ll also walk through Trow Gill – an epic limestone gorge.
Below, we’ll briefly detail the walk from Clapham to Gaping Gill. Then, we’ll talk all about our experience of doing the Gaping Gill winch with the Bradford Pothole Club. Whilst we’re at it, we’ll provide some extra tips and tricks to help you enjoy a memorable experience.
Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail
From the enchanting village of Clapham, you’ll join the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail.
Just so you’re aware, it costs £2.50 per adult and £1 per child (3–15 years old) to use the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail. It’s possible to pay at the Old Saw Mill Cafe located at the entrance of the trail, which is open daily. But, the cafe is only open from 9:30am to 4:30pm.
Because you’ll be starting the walk well before the cafe opens, you’ll have to use the ticket machine located at the trail’s entrance. The ticket machine accepts both cash and card. We were told by the Bradford Pothole Club that it’s also possible to pay at the cafe upon your return.
If you’re on a tight budget, it’s possible to avoid the Inglebororugh Estate Nature Trail and use Long Lane to reach Gaping Gill. Typically, you’ll use Long Lane on the return walk to complete a circular route of Gaping Gill after walking to the cave via the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail.
But, to avoid paying, you could use Long Lane to get to and from Gaping Gill. In effect, it would be more of an out and back walk. The downside to this option is that the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail is more direct and less time-consuming to reach Gaping Gill. Because you’ll be prioritising arriving as early as possible, it’s probably best to simply bare the relatively small cost and reach Gaping Gill by the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail.
Besides the annoying cost, the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail is actually quite relaxing and nice. You’ll pass a serene lake, a money tree, an area rich in rhododendrons, ruins of ‘the Grotto’ and old hydraulic pumps.
After walking along the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail, you’ll soon pass the ticket office of Ingleborough Cave. This cave is one of the most famous show caves in the Yorkshire Dales. Indeed, Ingleborough Cave is well worth checking out (more on that later); but, for now, you’ll want to press on in order to get to Gaping Gill ASAP!
Soon after passing Ingleborough Cave, you’ll arrive at the impressive Trow Gill. It’s a truly mesmerising limestone gorge. Sure, there are many other outstanding limestone gorges in the Dales. You’ve got Gordale Scar, Trollers Gill and Conistone Dib, just to name a few. But, Trow Gill is definitely up there when it comes to the best limestone gorges in the area.
Gaping Gill: Join the Queue
Once you’ve climbed up Trow Gill, the trail then flattens. Soon, you’ll arrive at a double stile to your left. Cross over the stile and continue along the trail heading towards Ingleborough. Soon, you’ll arrive at Gaping Gill. Given the elaborate setup of the winch and the volunteer camp city, it’s hard to miss!
Once you arrive at Gaping Gill, you’ll join the queue. Hopefully, you’ve arrived in good time so you don’t have to wait too long to winch. As you wait, you’ll likely have to read the pothole club’s safety notice. For your reference, you’ll find the safety instructions below.
Also, there is usually information about Gaping Gill provided on the wall of the volunteer’s tent. So, you can also read and learn about the cave as you wait, assuming you’re with someone who’s keeping your position in the queue!
We were told by the Bradford Pothole Club that it’s cash only. But, in reality, they do have a card machine present on-site. Obviously, given the remote location and resultant poor reception, they recommend bringing cash, just in case the card machine isn’t working. But, personally, the people in front of us successfully paid by card. Personally, we paid in cash. It’s £15 per adult.
As mentioned, we had arrived later than ideal, which meant we had hours to wait before being able to do the Gaping Gill winch. If you end up in this situation, it’s really not the end of the world, as there’s plenty to do in the area to keep you busy as you wait. Please read What To Do If You’re Waiting For Your Turn for ideas on how to fill your time. FYI – your best options are to visit Ingleborough Cave or climb Ingleborough.
Gaping Gill Winch: Entering via the Main Shaft
Assuming you read the Essential Things To Know Before You Go section, hopefully, you’ve arrived early and don’t have long to wait. Near the entrance of the cave, there is a board showing what number tag the pothole club is up to. When your number is approaching, you can join a different queue – the one for people soon to be winched down! Whilst you’re waiting, you’ll collect a helmet from the volunteer’s tent.
Soon enough, you’ll be sitting in the winch chair, holding tight, as they haul you down the Main Shaft and into the stunning Gaping Gill! During the steady lowering, you’ll get a nice splash of water from Fell Beck, which pours into the cave. In fact, for the winch meet, the pothole club actually divert water away from the Main Shaft to avoid people getting too soaked during the winch!
The Main Chamber
The winch takes three minutes; but, given the amazingness of the experience, it feels like three seconds! Before you know it, you’ll reach the bottom of the cave with your feet gently caressing the cavern floor. You’ll be met by a friendly staff member who helps you out of the winch. After descending roughly 110 metres on the winch, it’s time to explore the huge cavern!
Measuring approx. 125 metres long, 25 metres wide and 35 metres in height, it’s the largest cavern in the UK. Indeed, there is much to see in the incredibly floodlit chamber. But, undoubtedly, it’s the epic waterfall that will immediately grab your attention.
Rat Hole Waterfall: The Highest Unbroken Underground Waterfall in the UK
Also known as the Gaping Gill Waterfall, Rat Hole Waterfall is the highest unbroken waterfall in a cave in the UK. The waterfall doesn’t actually drop from the entrance of Gaping Gill. It falls from the chamber roof, through a passage called Rat Hole, which is a natural route that the water from Fell Beck flows.
But, with the temporary dam diverting water away from the Main Shaft during the winch meet, there is more water flowing through Rat Hole. So, the Rat Hole Waterfall is always more powerful during a winch meet. But, depending on several conditions and factors, the waterfall can either be a trickle or a raging torrent. Either way, given the height of the Main Chamber, Rat Hole Waterfall measures 40 metres, and, is considered the highest continuous single-drop underground waterfall in the UK.
Other than gawking at Rat Hole Waterfall, there are many nooks and crannies to explore in the Main Chamber. Whilst you’re in the chamber, make sure to look up to see the stunning stalactites. Even though the cavern is floodlit, having your own headtorch will help you see more features of the cave.
The Main Chamber is comprised of a North Passage, East Passage, South Passage and a West Chamber. For those who are caving, you’ll explore beyond these passages to other parts of the cave. For the non-caving plebs (Beck, my sister and I), we simply approached the passages, peering into the spaces and gaps beyond, wandering what delights lay hidden ahead.
Once you’ve explored the Main Chamber, it’s time to rejoin a third queue to be winched out of the Gaping Gill!
What to Do If You’re Waiting For Your Turn
Given the time-consuming process of the winch and its increasing popularity, it’s possible that you’ll have to wait hours before it’s your turn. As mentioned, there’s plenty to keep you busy in the meantime. Personally, during our wait, we visited Ingleborough Cave.
Visit Ingleborough Cave
Ingleborough Cave is actually part of the same caving system as Gaping Gill. So, to fully immerse yourself in the Gaping Gill – Ingleborough caving system, it’s worth checking out Ingleborough Cave. Initially, we had planned to visit Ingleborough Cave after doing the Gaping Gill winch (we were planning on doing an out and back walk). But, given the long wait to do the winch, we decided to backtrack to visit Ingleborough Cave before doing the winch. If you do the same, you’ll walk an additional 2km (roughly half an hour) each way.
By the time we walked back to Ingleborough Cave, explored inside for about an hour and walked back to Gaping Gill, it was time for us to winch!
FYI – Ingleborough Cave is usually open daily from 10am to 4pm.
Read more: Ingleborough Cave (guide coming soon)
Another option is to climb Ingleborough – one of the Three Yorkshire Peaks, whilst you’re waiting to do the Gaping Gill winch. From Gaping Gill, it’s a roughly 2.5km walk one-way with around 320 metres of elevation gain. The walk to and from Ingleborough may take anywhere between 1–2 hours depending on your level of fitness. Timing-wise, it would be a good shout if you’re looking for a way to pass the time as you wait for the winch!
Completing the Gaping Gill Walk
After doing the Gaping Gill winch, it’s time to return to Clapham to complete the walk. As mentioned, to complete a circular walk, you’ll join a different trail to return to Clapham. By joining Long Lane, you’ll return to Clapham via two interesting tunnels. By returning to Clapham, you’ll have completed your mission of exploring Gaping Gill!
Where to Stay
Given Clapham is a only small village, accommodation is limited. But, it’s more about quality than quantity. The New Inn is a highly-rated 18th century country inn, that’s by far the most popular and sought-after accommodation option in Clapham. The gorgeous country inn features a restaurant, two bars and modern facilities and amenities. We really enjoyed stopping in for a pint after doing the Gaping Gill winch.
Otherwise, the Swallows Nest Bed and Breakfast is your next best accommodation option in Clapham.
If you’re struggling to find suitable accommodation in Clapham, we recommend staying in Ingleton, which is the next village over, which has way more accommodation options.
Below, we’ve outlined the best budget, mid-range and luxury accommodation options in Ingleton.
- Budget – Ingleton Hostel: the best budget option in Ingleton is Ingleton Hostel, which is conveniently located near the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail.
- Mid-range – Craven Heifer Ingleton: this beautiful country inn is one of the most affordable private room accommodation options in Ingleton. Additionally, Craven Heifer Ingleton is one of the most highly-rated accommodation options in the village.
- Mid-range – The Wheatsheaf Inn: you’ll want to stay at The Wheatsheaf Inn if you want to stay at the most popular accommodation option in Ingleton. Indeed, this B&B is an excellent place to stay.
- Luxury – The Marton Arms: the rustic-style Marton Arms is a brilliant country inn to stay at. It’s located just outside of the town of Ingleton. So, it’s the perfect place to stay if you’re after something a little more quiet and removed. You’re also just a stone’s throw away from the impressive Yordas Cave (guide coming soon).
Below, you’ll find the most frequently asked questions about Gaping Gill.
Can You Go In Gaping Gill?
Yes, those who are caving can enter all year round. For those who don’t participate in caving, it’s possible to go inside this cave during a winch meet.
How Do I Get to Gaping Gill?
When Is Gaping Gill Open to the Public?
Usually, the Bradford Pothole Club runs its winch meet at the end of May, whilst the Craven Pothole Club tends to run its winch meet in the middle of August. For the latest dates, head to the pothole club’s respective websites.
How Was Gaping Gill Formed?
Similar to all of the caving systems in the Yorkshire Dales, Gaping Gill was formed by four key elements – limestone, water, gravity and time. Over time, the water rushes and weaves over the land, simultaneously eroding limestone, and creating random and unique shapes in the landforms. Through this process, limestone caves, gorges and scars alike are formed.
How Deep Is Gaping Gill?
From top to bottom, Gaping Gill is around 110 metres deep. In terms of the Main Chamber, it’s around 35 metres high from the chamber floor to the roof.
How Old Is Gaping Gill?
The cave is likely 350,000,000 years old, forming during the Lower Carboniferous period when the UK was located near the equator!
Below, you’ll find our gear essentials for visiting Gaping Gill. Most importantly, wear or take warm and waterproof clothing.
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots or Wellies: you’ll want waterproof footwear.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for exploring the cave, which has plenty of space to store your gear. It’s possible to hook your backpack to the winch with a carabiner clip. Otherwise, you’ll leave your bag safely, with the volunteers, near the entrance of Gaping Gill, where you get the winch down into the cave. Most people explore the cave without their backpacks, stowing them under a rocky outcrop near the entrance to keep their belongings dry.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm. You may also want to pack a down jacket.
- Waterproof trousers: yep, pack all of your waterproofs!
Bonus Tips and Recommendations
- Take a backpack with supplies: pack plenty of food and water as it’s hard to know how long you’ll spend at Gaping Gill. Given its remote location, you won’t find any food or drinks for sale. The closest place to buy food or water is at the cafe at Ingleborough Cave.
- Toilets: thankfully, there is a portaloo near the cave during winch meets.
- Be patient: most of your Gaping Gill experience will involve queuing for some reason or another. Smile, be pleasant and patient. This will make the experience better for everyone involved.
- Gaping Gill deaths: sadly, there have been some reported deaths at the cave over the years. These deaths didn’t happen during any winch meet. But, it’s a reminder of the inherent dangers of exploring caves. The volunteers of the pothole clubs do a fantastic job of keeping members of the public safe. In order to stay safe, make sure to do your part – listen to the rules and follow them.
- Make sure to also explore the county of Yorkshire: there’s much to see and experience in the gorgeous county of Yorkshire.
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