Names of Ribblesdale Caves

Helen Sergeant
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

One of the things which our area is famous for is its limestone caves and potholes. The more obvious of these will have been known since ancient times, but documentary research has shown that the names of some of them have changed over the years.

One of the caves which the novice caver is likely to be introduced to is Calf Holes. This lies beside the green lane, a couple of hundred yards north of Old Ing, and is a good beginners’ cave, with a short entrance pitch, a nice stream passage and some interesting wriggling and climbing, before emerging at Browgill Cave. However, the novice will have to be shown where Calf Holes is, because he will not find it labelled as such on any modern O.S. map. Up to the 1970s, the O.S. had this cave labelled as Dry Lathe Cave. Dry Lathe, or Dry Lade, was the name of a farmhouse which could be found in the 19th century, on the opposite side of the green lane to the cave, and a short distance further along to the north.

The Enclosure Awards for Horton-in-Ribblesdale give us the old names of some other well-known potholes. The 1847 map of Horton Moor names Cross Pot as Crook Cove. The outline of the shaft on the surface is definitely in the shape of a cross, whereas crook implies just a bend or hook. Could it be that an even older name for this shaft was ‘Crux’, which is Latin for cross, and over time the final ‘s’ sound has been dropped? The same award names Penyghent Long Churn as Long Churn Caverns, which makes this hole sound far grander than it actually is.

The 1821 Award for the Lower Division of Horton in Ribblesdale calls Hull Pot, that well-known huge gash on the way up Penyghent, Hurl Pot. This seems to be just two different spellings of the same word, but what is that word? A hull was a shelter, and a hurl was a pile of stones or cairn, not necessarily the same thing.

A large shakehole above Brackenbottom is known to us these days as Larch Tree Hole, but in 1795 the Dubcoat Scarr Award map labels it Heslepot Hole. This would seem to imply not just a change of name but a change of tree, hazel has become larch!

Half a mile to the west of Selside is another massive shaft, Alum Pot. Even the older documents such as the 1822 map of Borrens and North Cote and the 1791 Selside Enclosure map call it Allum Pot, which is no different. But why should it be called Alum? There are no deposits of the mineral alum in this location. There is speculation that it was originally called Helln Pot, meaning mouth of hell, and certainly on the days when clouds of vapour can be seen rising from the pothole, such a name is believable. The water which sinks into the sump at the lowest point of Alum Pot is not seen again until it resurges at Turn Dub, which curiously is on the other side of the River Ribble. (Was this originally called Tarn Dub, lying as it does just below Horton Tarn?) However, in very wet weather there is an overflow resurgence back on the west side of the dale at Footnaws Hole. I have often wondered how this name came about. Who was Mr Footnaw? The name does not appear in the parish registers. Or was there some ancient artefact or feature called a footnaw, and did this hole have more than one of them? Unable to come up with any answer, I gave up puzzling after a while. Then a few months ago I came across a map of land at Selside, the properties of Messrs Ayrton and Foster in 1868. The field lying immediately to the north of Footnaws Hole is called, rather surpisingly, Foot and Arse. The name is written on the map in the field, all 5 acres and 12 perches of it, and also in the list of fields belong to J.W.Foster, so there is no mistake. If you try to say that field name in a local accent, you will see how it was possible that the refined gentlemen who made the first Ordnance Survey map arrived at the name Footnaws. Why the field should have the name shown on the 1868 map is as yet unexplained.


  • 1795 Dubcoat Scarr Award, 1821 Horton Award and 1847 Horton Moor Award - all property of Horton-in-Ribblesdale Parish Council
  • 1791 Award for the division of Selside Shaws, Lamb Pasture and The Park - Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Leeds
  • 1822 Map of Borrens & North Cote and 1868 Map of Selside showing lands the properties of Edward Ayrton and J.W.Foster - North Yorkshire County Record Office, Northallerton

Footnaws Hole

Footnaws Hole