The Fell Road from Casterton, just off the A65, climbs steeply and all comes to an end here at Bullpot Farm, now the headquarters of the Red Rose Cave and Pothole Club. Its surroundings appear to offer nothing of interest on first inspection. Indeed, they are repelling to many. 'Timid folk of urban disposition,' wrote Wainwright, ' will flee the place and never return.' Limestone anoraks like myself find it difficult to keep away.
Looking back at Bullpot Farm then, from the south - the till-covered limestones of the 'downthrown' area extend to the right of the picture, while the greywackes of the Barbon Fells lie to the left or west.
Just beyond Bullpot Farm, the sound of falling water beckons the eye to this great chasm, where bedding planes wrenched to the surface by the fault have been hollowed out by torrents of water and further enlarged by collapse. This is the classic 'Bull Pot of the Witches.'
John Hamer, in his 'Falls and Caves of Ingleton' (1951) called this 'an ugly black rift' but I disagree. It is one of the most beautiful potholes in England, encrusted with mosses and ferns - and steaming with mystique.
First descended in the late 19th century, the splendid name originates from there being two Bull Pots in the Dales, the other lying in Kingsdale to the east. To distinguish this, romantic explorers named it Bull Pot of the Witches as it was connected with Witches Cave, in the gill to the south, and associated with an ancient coven.
The path leading down into the depths of Bull Pot of the Witches comes to a halt a few metres above the boulder strewn floor ....
But there is a secret way in for cavers. The cave entrance on the shelf leads into a slippery 'chimney' climb that emerges into the bottom of the hole. From here, passages radiate to Burnet's Great Cavern - and the awesome Gour Chambers for which the pot is famous.
(click here to visit their great caving site)
The entrance to the 'chimney passage' seems to have altered since I last went through there in 2006. I am sure those boulders have moved, and one or two 'danglies' hanging over the entrance don't bear thinking about ...
Nearby, on the left of the track down to Ease Gill is Hidden Pot; once covered by brushwood and debris - and now an attractive aven for a garden of ferns.
Another Hole in the 'Dent Thrust'- is Galegarth Pot - leading into such delights as 'Dracula's Altar,' 'The China Shop' and 'Octopus Chamber.' All caves from this point onwards require special permission from the Council of Northern Caving Clubs (CNCC) - which helps to limit the erosion and despoiling of beautiful and irreplaceable features.
Attractive twin lime kilns are met on the track down to Ease Gill. Works of man are few here, but are admirable where they do occur.
A wall turns left off the main track to Ease Gill and soon an area of limestone boulders is reached, signalling the presence of two of the most important potholes in the area.
Cow Pot, surrounded by a wall, is a fearful place, swallowing a stream at its northern end. It consists of three main shafts - this one having a hood of alder catkins softening the horrific drop into total blackness. First descended in the late 19th century ... or so we believe. Early explorers reported the signature of a Mr Moorhouse at the bottom of the main shaft dated 1736! Mr Moorhouse may well have been one of the very earliest cave explorers ... if his signature is genuine!!
Cow Pot's deepest shaft is spanned by this intricate limestone bridge. Rumours are that sheep have been known (mad as they are) to edge themselves across it.
The viewdown the northern shaft of Cow Pot is stunning. Pink walls of water-worn limestone and a superb detached pinnacle looking like a blacksmith's anvil. I crawled gingerly along on my stomach - held the camera out .... and hoped for the best!
George Cornes, a Lancaster caver, was wandering this way on a hot, still day in September, 1946. Pausing to rest in the shallow valley beneath Cow Pot, he noticed a patch of grass waving agitatedly though there wasn't the slightest hint of a breeze. Being an inquisitive chap, George investigated by pulling aside the loose stones. At that moment, as Jim Eyre famously described in his classic study of the area: 'a strong draught of air blew up the soil ... and George Cornes into caving history ..'
George eventually unblocked this: a 33 metre shaft opening up into a vast series of caverns on different levels - known to cavers ever since as Lancaster Hole, after George's home city. Why not Cornes' Cavern?
The entrance shaft today is covered by an iron lid ... and there have been many. During the 1950s a 'caving war' developed between members of the British Speleological Association as those wishing to preserve the fine formations became restrictive even to those with better intentions and a desire to explore. Many cavers broke away to form their own groups and gain access - such as the Red Rose Cave and Pothole Club - based at Bullpot Farm.
The shallow dry valley below Cow Pot, aligned on a fault, indicates water flow when the ancient low level caverns and shafts were frozen up or blocked by glacial debris during the last glaciation.
Then things start to get exciting - and spectacular - even up here on the surface, as the wonderful limestone grotto of Ease Gill Kirk is encountered for the first time, shrouded in trees with the immense expanses of Leck Fell and Gragareth keeping perpetual watch ....
Join me next time as we explore the two sections of Ease Gill Kirk in riveting detail, wander down into Witches Cave and the spectacular Leck Beck Head ... and finally return up the bed of Britain's most fascinating stream: Ease Gill Beck. I hope you've enjoyed the adventure so far .....