Arnside Past

Morning Post (London), 2 Sep 1844 [also in other London papers]- from the Kendal Mercury, 24 Aug 1844:
DISCOVERY OF A CAVE NEAR KENDAL.- On the 30th of last month, Mr. J. Ruthven, the indefatigable geologist, of Kendal, discovered a singular cave, half way up the north-west side of Arnside Knot. He entered through a low archway into a cavern twenty feet in length, and from four to five feet high. In the floor were several holes, down one of which a candle was lowered, and a deep chasm was discovered running into the hill in a south-eastern direction. Mr. Ruthven let himself through the hole, and succeeded in safely descending to the bottom, which was formed of angular fragments of limestone, cemented together with stalagmite. The roof and sides were beautifully covered with calcareous depositions, clothing the rocks with drapery, and hanging from the roof in long translucent stalactites. Six yards from the entrance the fissure swells out into a cave six yards in length, three yards in width, and five yards high. At the further end is a narrow passage five yards in length, terminated by a wall of rock, preventing al progress in that direction. On the left side of the passage a hole was discovered, through which Mr. Ruthven squeezed himself into a beautiful circular chamber, the arch of the roof covered with transparent stalactites, and the door with stalagmites, rising towards the rof in the most fantastic shapes; the whole forming a most beautiful natural grotto. Last week Mr. E. Whitwell and Mr. Ruthven visited the cave, and comenced a diligent search for bones. They were successful in finding several beautiful specimens of the bones, claws, and teeth of extinct animals. Some of the teeth have been sent to Professor Owen for examination. There is no appearance of the action of water, and as the cave forms part of a vault which runs through Arnside Knot, it probably was once an open fissure into which the animals have fallen. G. Wilson Esq. has taken the means to preserve this interesting place from injury, by placing an iron gate at the entrance. He will, however, kindly afford every opportunity for scientific investigation.

Morning Post (London), 3 Sep 1844 [also in other London papers]- from the Westmorland Gazette, 24 Aug 1844:
THE SINGULAR CAVE IN WESTMORELAND.- We have been favoured, at some risk of damage to ourselves, habilimentary and personal, with the inspection of a curious cave, which, we understand, was first explored by that active and able geologist Mr. John Ruthven, in one of his scientific rambles. The cave lies, we believe, a little to the south of Arnside Knot, looking upon Morecombe Bay, and is somewhat difficult of description as well as of entrance. After effecting an ingress in a crouching posture, the adventurous explorer comes in the space of a yard or two to a strait, where the only mode of progression is literally that prescribed to the serpent after the fall of man, the intruder having to insert himself in a tortuous fashion through an aperture just capable of receiving a person of ordinary size, but not without close contact with the rock. The cave is completely dark, and just after this point a sudden and perpendicular descent occurs of some six or eight feet, which being effected the explorer is landed, safely or otherwise, as the case may be, in a species of long narrow gallery of considerable but varying height, the floor of which is covered with debris, which, we understand, promises a rich harvest to the geologist and naturalist. A number of bones, some of which are pronounced to be those of the hyena, the wolf, and other animals extinct in this country, have, we are informed, been discovered here, and have been forwarded for the inspection of distinguished zoologists. At the extremity of this gallery, or lobby, the explorer, after another wriggling process, is ushered into the penetralia of the cave, a natural chamber of irregular formation, the roof of which is completely overhung with stalactites, while the floor and sides are incrusted with the same formation. The cell certainly forms a remarkably natural curiosity, and the probability is that a little labour in removing the stones, &c., would carry the spectator considerably further into the bowels of the land. The length of the entire cavern is some sixty feet. It has evidently been formed by a rift during some natural convulsions long ago. We understand that a party of adventurous fair ones from Kendal, a few days since, explored the cave to its extremity- a fact which has been a marvel to us ever since. The cave is on the land of Mr. G. Wilson, of Dullam Tower, and we understand that Mr. Wilson has very judiciously secured the entrance with an iron gate, in order to prevent the mischief which in some instances have resulted to the natural curiosities of the cavern, from the desire of the parties to carry away mementos of their excursion.

Within a couple of generations the cave was forgotten even by the landowners, until about 1901, when local schoolteacher Joseph Anthony Barnes rediscovered it, gate unlocked but almost seized up with rust. In Chapter V of his book "All Around Arnside" (republished in 2014 by the Barnes Charitable Trust) he gives a detailed description of his exploration with a party of boys, and the consequent telling-off from matron over their grimy clothing. He also reports the subsequent discovery that, three or four decades earlier, the girls of Tower Farm used to show the cave to visitors, and ventured further in than he and his pupils had dared.

The cave referred to seems to be the one illustrated here, which is in a location that could genuinely claim to be both "half way up the north-west side" and "a little to the south" of the Knott, being on the north flank of the western ridge, yet almost south-west of the summit. I'm not going to reveal its exact location, because it is featured in a geocaching scheme, where it has its own web page with further information on its present state. I will, however, reiterate the emphasis the geocachers put on safety; a slip into the narrow fissure would be most unpleasant, and, as in any cave, a bump on the head is a high probability.

Comparing the description with the present state, it seems that not only has the iron gate been removed, the whole of the first metre or two of low entrance passage has been hacked or blasted away, leaving a sizeable gouge in the hillside.
The cave entrance in 2014
The upper and lower passages in 2014

The upper and lower passages in 2014