Gaping Gill is one of the best attractions in the Yorkshire Dales. If you’ve got a taste for adventure and outdoor activities, you’ll love visiting Gaping Gill. A massive underground chamber, its entry hole is right next to a waterfall, which drops 98 metres to the chamber floor. The only way to enter is to be lowered down in the waterfall’s spray.
Gaping Gill Cave is only accessible twice yearly when Craven Potholing Club opens a winch system to lower lucky visitors into the vast chamber below. Otherwise, you can still visit but will have to admire Gaping Gill from above.
Visiting Gaping Gill is quite a niche thing to do, and information about it isn’t available on a widespread scale. I visited Gaping Gill this year, and I’ve collected many first-hand tips for you to have an incredible experience. This guide will cover everything you need to know about visiting Gaping Gill. Let’s get started.
Where is Gaping Gill?
Gaping Gill is in the Yorkshire Dales, approximately an hour’s walk away from the village of Clapham.
If driving to Gaping Gill, you park in Clapham and make the rest of the journey on foot. To walk to the cave, you walk past Ingleborough Show Cave on the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail, reaching Gaping Gill around 30 minutes later.
How deep is Gaping Gill?
The waterfall entrance to Gaping Gill is 98 metres deep – the tallest part of the cave. You experience the depth of Gaping Gill best when travelling down the entrance hole in the chairlift. The rest of the main chamber has ceilings over 30 metres high and is 129 metres in length.
Can you go to Gaping Gill cave?
Yes, you can go to Gaping Gill cave all year round if you are happy viewing the cave from above. Can you walk into Gaping Gill? Not quite. To enter the cave itself, you’ll need to visit on set days when the Gaping Gill winch can lower you down in a tiny chair. The cave ‘entrance’ is just a sheer drop.
The cave entrance is located in a small crater surrounded by higher, fenced-off ground. The entrance hole on the crater floor is unfenced and dangerous to walk near. Ideally, stay on the higher ground, but at the very least, watch your footing as you definitely don’t want to fall down 98 metres. It is best to view Gaping Gill from the higher, fenced-off ground above it. It is safer, and you’ll get a better view looking down on it anyway.
To go into Gaping Gill cave, you’ll have to visit on set days. Craven Potholing Club set up a winch to allow visitors to access the cave for a week every August, and you can keep an eye on their website for updates. Bradford Potholing Club tends to run for a week in May/June.
There are no reservations available, and there is a cap on how many people can enter the cave per day, so arrive early, so you don’t get turned away. Pay close attention to the clubs’ Facebook pages, too, as sometimes poor weather conditions can make the winch unavailable for a day.
How much is it to visit Gaping Gill?
The only cost to visit Gaping Gill and just look at the entrance from above is the cost to enter the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail and park. As of 2022, to access the trail, adults must pay £2.50, and children (3-15) cost £1.00. Allow up to £10 for parking in the National Trust Car Park (unless you can be sneaky and find a street parking spot elsewhere for free).
If you want to go inside Gaping Gill, you’ll have to pay in cash to the potholing club when you arrive. Bradford Potholing Club charges £15 per person, and Craven Potholing Club charges £20.
When is Gaping Gill open in 2023?
The next available dates to visit Gaping Gill in 2023 are between the 27th of May and the 2nd of June with Bradford Potholing Club. Keep your eyes peeled for opening times for the Gaping Gill winch 2023.
How to get to Gaping Gill
The easiest way to get to Gaping Gill is to drive to Clapham, park in the Clapham National Trust Car Park, and walk 70 minutes along the Ingleborough Estate Trail. It is an out-and-back trail, so when you head back, you just retrace your footsteps.
Clapham is accessible by public transport, but you’ll need to be organised to make it work. The best way to reach Gaping Gill using public transport is to catch a train to Settle and then catch the 581 Craven Connection bus to Clapham, where you can start your walk. The 581 runs a limited service, so research the schedule ahead of time.
The Gaping Gill walk
When you walk out of the car park, you take a right, following a village road past a park and a church. You then take another right to reach the Ingleborough Estate entrance when you cross a little bridge. This section should take less than five minutes.
At the Ingleborough Estate entrance, you pay to access the trail (by card or cash) and have the opportunity to purchase tickets for the Ingleborough Show Cave as well. If you fancy a detour, you walk directly past Ingleborough Show Cave, making it an excellent addition to the trip. You can buy tickets at the estate entrance or the cave itself, so there is no pressure if you want to decide later.
With your ticket, you head through onto a little wooded trail, zigzagging up a couple of switchbacks before joining a wide trail alongside Clapham Beck. The woodland trail continues for around 20 minutes. You’ll pass a few viewpoints and an old cobbled building that a wealthy local woman used to ‘admire the scenery’.
After this time, you emerge onto limestone moorland and a rocky trail. Shortly after, you’ll pass Ingleborough Show Cave and a small café selling snacks and souvenirs. There are also toilet facilities and benches here if you need them. Once you’ve stopped for a break (if you need one), continue through a gate and along a rougher track with larger rocks and obstacles.
The hardest part of the trail comes next, and you’ll enter Trow Gill gorge with seemingly no exit. To continue the route, you must scramble up a massive pile of rocks and boulders. Take care on this section, as it can get slippery. Still, once you emerge, you are onto nice, easy moorland again (albeit the route continues on uneven ground and sheep tracks).
The final fifteen minutes or so reward you with stunning moorland views, with the imposing shape of Ingleborough ahead of you. Stick to the largest main path to bear right, and you’ll arrive at Gaping Gill.
What to expect when you arrive at Gaping Gill
When you arrive at Gaping Gill, you’ll reach the fencing overlooking the crater and the cave entrance below. Follow the fence to the right, where you’ll find a large information board, and take a left down some steep (sometimes slippery) steps to the crater floor.
You’ll find tents dotted all around the crater when the potholing clubs are set up. Most club volunteers camp at Gaping Gill for the whole week, running operations from the ground. This area is usually windswept and has an expeditionary feel – like you’ve reached a base camp, which essentially, you have. Head to the sign-in tent, where you’ll pay your cave fee in cash, provide your details (including your car registration number if you drove), and receive a wristband with a number. You then grab a helmet from a large box outside and queue at the winch.
Gaping Gill winch is controlled by multiple people. You have one person in charge of operating the winch, one strapping cavers into the chair lift contraption, and a few people waiting at the bottom to strap cavers in who are coming back up. The process operates continuously, with someone going down, a slight pause, and then someone coming back up.
Descending in the chair is the most exciting part. You descend fairly rapidly, veering scarily close to the walls (keep your legs in) and through waterfall spray before being engulfed in darkness. The light takes a while to adjust to; you might want to have a torchlight handy for the first few minutes once you land. After this time, your eyes adjust, and you can wander around without issues.
You are given an information sheet to take a self-guided tour around the chamber. You’ll learn about ‘Herman the German’, the supposed ghost of a German parachuter who accidentally landed in the cave. There are also plenty of fun facts about the cave itself.
After, you queue to head back up in the chairlift, finishing your experience and beginning your walk back to Clapham.
What to wear to walk to Gaping Gill
Don’t underestimate the walk to Gaping Gill. It takes only around three hours to complete the return hike. It is relatively untechnical, but the uneven ground (especially the scramble section) can get very slippery after wet weather. You’ll need a good pair of hiking boots.
The moorland section of the walk is also completely exposed. Dress according to the weather and check the forecast beforehand. In hot weather, a hat and suncream will be a good idea. In cold or wet weather, waterproofs and layers are the way forward.
Often it is considered a good idea to wear bright colours when hiking. Bright colours make you easier to spot and rescue if you get into trouble, especially if visibility drops. This is not unheard of on Yorkshire’s bleak moors.
What to wear to go inside Gaping Gill
If you want to descend via Gaping Gill winch, waterproofs and thermals are a must. Since you are lowered down through Gaping Gill waterfall, you should expect to get wet. After periods of heavy rain, Fell Beck gets even stronger, and the spray becomes more powerful. Be extra prepared if visiting in wet weather.
Thermals are a great idea, even if you have to strip off a few outer layers on the walk to Gaping Gill. You often have to queue to be lifted back up from the chamber (we waited 20-30 minutes to get back up). You can get cold quickly in the drafty, damp cave.
My main suggestions are gloves, thermal base layers, waterproof trousers, and a waterproof coat.
Gaping Gill is a fantastic place to visit and should definitely be on your bucket list. Visiting Gaping Gill has a real expeditionary feel – with sections of unmarked paths, temporary pop-up tents, and no signal on much of the trail. Descending into the cave through the spray of the Gaping Gill waterfall is one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done. Arrive prepared and ready for adventure, and you’ll have one of the most memorable experiences of your life.