Attermire and the caves

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 11:13 am

The path to Victoria Cave

Time for a walk in the Yorkshire Dales. We will stroll from the old market town of Settle, up into the hills and do a circuit of around 5 miles.  The route will take in the lonely starkness of Attermire Scar, the Victoria and Jubilee Caves and, along the way, encounter preparations for war.  This is limestone country.  Limestone is a sedimentary rock, laid down during the Carboniferous Period around 330 million years ago when Britain was somewhere near the Equator and much covered by warm, shallow, tropical, waters full of calcium-rich corals and sea creatures.  As they died, the creatures’ shells and skeletons settled, piled up, became compacted and, eventually, formed the limestones of the Dales, Pennines, South Wales and Mendips.  Limestone is partially soluble, which creates a distinctive topography known as karst.  A karst landscape has characteristic features, such as sinkholes, underground drainage, caves, crags, scars, gorges, waterfalls, limestone pavements (like the one at Malham) and dry valleys.  The drystone walls and sheep came later.  Anyway – the Yorkshire Dales’ limestone scenery has additionally been abraded by glaciers, moulded by wind and water – and further assaulted by man felling most of the trees, mining minerals, like lead, – and, of course, extracting lime from the stone. The lack of trees means that the scenery can sometimes appear to be barren and inhospitable; yet the big skies and panoramic views can also help make it stunningly beautiful.

Market Place, Settle, North Yorkshire

Our perambulation begins in Settle’s Market Place.  If at this point you realise you have forgotten your map (you need Ordnance Survey Explorer OL2, by the way), then you may struggle, because I will not be giving boringly detailed instructions of what stile to cross, and when.  You’re an adult – get on with it.  I hope you are wearing decent footwear too; those stilettos were all very well at the Young Farmers’ balls and such (be careful with that apostrophe now), but they won’t be much good up in them there hills.  You need decent boots.  You might need a head torch as well (more of that later).  And, if you feel you could get peckish, this might be a good time to buy a cheese roll, a piece of flapjack and an essential bottle of water.  Put them in the pocket of the waterproof you’ve very sensibly brought along.  You don’t need me to remind you to visit the…? – Good, I am exceedingly glad to hear it.

Pennine Bridleway, Settle

OK, then.  Head for the northeast corner of Settle Market Place, trying not to knock over too many motor cycles and substantial leather-clad bikers.  Steel yourself for a climb and go up Constitution Hill.  You will pass the Castlebergh Plantation and, hopefully, stumble into the relatively steep Pennine Bridleway.  If you’re lucky, a friendly pony will snort at you.  Look out for a 90 degree right turn east toward Malham.  This is the Dales High Way and it will make you breathe heavily until the pain stops.  Look back on Settle, by now a mere memory.  Haven’t you done well?  So far.

Settle from the Dales High Way, Yorkshire Dales

Underfoot, the going is relatively easy now (we did mention footwear, didn’t we?) and the path is straightforward.  There should be a drystone wall on your left and, behind that, a large limestone scar.  You may spot a cave or two in the side; the whole area is full of ‘em.  Ahead of you is a much grander cliff face – this is Attermire Scar.  Before you get there, and just after climbing over a ladder stile (example shown below), you may come across some rusting sheets of steel with bullet holes in them.  These are the remains of the Attermire Rifle Range, set up in 1860 to train the Settle Volunteers for possible action against the French.  Each of the sixty volunteers had to pay £2 and one shilling (£2.05p) for his natty grey uniform and £3 and eight shillings (£3.40p) for a muzzle-loading Short Enfield rifle and bayonet.  The range continued to be used up to the First World War, by which time the rifles and the enemy had changed, and was also put to good use by the local Home Guard during the Second World War.  It is a little glimpse into another time.

Attermire Scar is impossible to miss.  You need to turn left, in a northerly direction, along a wide grass path in front of it.  The path gets narrower and stonier.  Keep going and eventually you will find Victoria Cave a short scramble up on your right.  Once upon a time, I’m sure there was a helpful information board; however, it was missing the last time I was there. I assume the people whose tiny brains derive pleasure from being morons had taken it away, or hidden it. Or maybe my aging brain has misremembered.

Yorkshire Dales - view south from Attermire Scar

Everyone will tell you that Victoria Cave was discovered by friends out dog walking in 1837.  This is true.  However, I suspect it had been found long before that, when it was called something else.  Excavators found bones, the oldest 130,000 years old, including those of hippo, rhino, elephant and spotted hyenas. The suggestion is that the cave was the hyenas’ den and they dragged foraged pieces of other animals back to devour at leisure. After the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago, Victoria Cave had been used by hibernating brown bear. Most exciting of all – an 11,000-year-old barbed deer antler harpoon point was found; the earliest evidence of people being in the Yorkshire Dales. Possibly, it had been embedded in a creature that made its way back to the cave, and died there.  You wonder who the hunter was and whether he or she was a resident or just passing through.

Victoria Cave near Settle
View over Ribblesdale from Victoria Cave

An interesting collection of artefacts from the much later Roman period has also emerged from the clay of Victoria Cave.  This includes broaches and coins, and also a large number of broken personal items, such as spoons, combs and nail-cleaners.  There was a Romano-British summer farm directly above Attermire Scar; is it possible that farm workers or visitors used the cave as some kind of shrine?

Victoria Cave is suitably cavernous, although you are strongly advised not to go in more than a few feet – especially if you don’t know what you are doing and haven’t got the right equipment.  However, do look up to the roof and see the stalactites forming.

Stagger back down onto the main path, still heading north-ish, and a few hundred yards further on you will rejoin the Pennine Bridleway you left earlier.  Keep on it, still heading north, and, up on your right, you will shortly spot Jubilee Cave. Apparently, this is named for the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935, but is also known as Tratman’s Cave.  Why, I do not know – but there was an E K Tratman (1899-1978), who was a dentist and speleologist (a cave expert – you knew that, didn’t you?), so maybe it was briefly named after him as well. Am I the only one that sees a link between caving and dentistry?

The way to Jubilee Cave
Jubilee Cave, Yorkshire Dales

Again, Jubilee Cave can be entered.  There are, apparently, inter-connected passages and this is where you might find your torch useful.  However, the roof is said to be somewhat unsafe so, personally, I believe a quick look inside followed by a rapid exit is both sufficient and prudent.  It is hard to pin down exactly what has been found inside and around about Jubilee Cave.  Some sources suggest human, possibly Iron Age, remains have been discovered there.  Historic England (and they should know), simply say, “In addition to Iron Age and Roman material, artefacts of Mesolithic and Late Palaeolithic type have been reported from the cave.” If anyone did once live there, I like to imagine them admiring the view with their early morning cuppa.

It is at this point that our expedition turns for home.  The more intrepid among you may want to continue, but we lesser mortals have a date with a cup of tea and a bun. Anyway, there is still some walking to do.  So, say goodbye to Attermire and the caves, go back down the hill and find that Pennine Bridleway.  As you join the road to Langcliffe, the bridleway heads left across country in a southerly direction and your legs will take you, as if by magic, back to Settle.

Settle, North Yorkshire

Visit the website of North Craven Heritage for more about the Attermire Rifle Range.

Visit the Dig Ventures website for more about Victoria Cave, including the finds.

See the Visit Settle website for more about the town.

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42 thoughts on “Attermire and the caves”

  1. A most excellent jaunt. I know Settle and have experienced the jaggedy limestone but never been to them caves. They sound exciting. Imagine if you’d seen offspring of that original bear still alive and living.

  2. Thank you for this lovely post, me on the other side of the world couldn’t get any closer to where you’ve been with such an interesting guide.Love your remarks, Heaps of thank you

  3. Many a happy time spent around there Mike. We often stayed in Langcliffe (cheaper than Settle) and, by the time we were last there, we found Settle to be inundated with “bloody tourists”!

  4. artandarchitecturemainly

    Settle’s Market Place looks by far the most attractive of all the photos you provided 🙂 If my beloved wanted to go on long route marches, I would happily cruise around the market place, take photos, look at the local art, read tourist guides, sit in the sunshine drinking espresso and wait for him to return.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed the humorous tour of this part of the Dales, thank you.

    The last time I was in Settle was many years ago while passing through on the Settle to Carlisle steam train. My friend and I with our young sons joined the train in Skipton, though the train’s journey actually began in Leeds.

    Even earlier in time, I was one of those bikers, well, a teenage pillion rider anyway. A group of us from the church youth club along with our leaders camped in the area. We went for long walks exploring and enjoyed our new activity of pot holing. Good times, long gone.

  6. Something to put on my ever-growing list of things to do and places to see for my next Yorkshire holiday. Thank you!
    It should not be too difficult to get a bus from Ripon to Settle (and back), but I hesitate to pack my hiking boots; they take up so much room in my suitcase, and I need to be able to carry/drag/lift that suitcase myself at all times.

  7. Mike, you are an excellent tour guide and of course a great historian. Thank you for the tour of Victoria Cave. I’d have loved to have been among the friends when the dog discovered the cave. There was much to enjoy and learn in this blog post. Thank you.

  8. One can only wonder if said Mr Tratman would view an epiglottis as a form of stalactite as he entered yet another client’s cave. And if he sported a head torch for each of his occupations. Any road up, I do hope your walk ended in a Settle pub, no country hike is complete without a pub visit.

  9. What a very mystical landscape. Thanks for sharing all these impressions, without my need to really wander around by myself. 😉 Oh, i am sure i will do someday in future, and with a great pleasure. Maybe after too much pints, to get the brain freed again. Lol Have a good weekend. Best wishes, Michael

  10. It sounds like a quite a trek, I like the scenery but I’m afraid the remains of the Victorian rifle range don’t impress me – they may be historic but they just look like an illegal fly-tip. The caves sound interesting though and I love your humour 🙂

    1. You raise an interesting point – when does waste become an interesting piece of history? Rather like old newspapers and letters – beyond a certain point, it is almost impossible to throw them away!

  11. Thank you for this lovely hike, Mike! Your writing is sublime — full of historic details AND humor. Have you heard any conversation in Britain about possibly re-planting trees in places where they used to flourish as an antidote to climate chaos? Your blog post certainly reminds me of how many different eras and environments have existed at different times in our planet’s history/evolution…

    1. Thank you, Will; you always say the nicest things! I’m pleased to say that there are many initiatives at the moment to plant trees in Britain and grants are available to support this. I have certainly noticed more trees being planted in the north when I’ve been out and about there.

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