Settle to Victoria Cave and the Craven Lime Kilns

Such a splendid walk today, although we weren’t sure about weather. The wind had finally died down, but we left the cottage in a fine drizzle to catch the train down to Settle. An incredible breakfast at the Naked Man Cafe and straight up the hills.

The sun graced us, lighting up the world below.

It only appeared now and then, but drew extraordinary colours out of land and sky. Blues I have never seen and clouds like feathers that touched the earth.

Still we climbed, casting many a glance behind us, where it seemed most beautiful. But this lay ahead.

We walked there alone today, at least for a while in this great space that made me feel small and wild and deeply happy. Excited about Victoria Cave, and its many layers of occupation from spotted hyenas and the bones they dragged there of hippos, narrow-nosed rhino and elephants, to brown bears. Richard Morris writes of it in Yorkshire:

Dry relict caves became collecting places for archaeological and natural deposits. Such residues are evidentially special because they were sheltered from the effects of later glaciation. Victorian antiquaries and geologists realised that animal bones found inside Craven’s caves could throw light on changing climate. Victoria Cave, in Ribblesdale near Settle, became–and remains–a centre for such inquiry. The cave’s main chamber was discovered in 1837 and received its name following the accession of the new queen in June that year. The formation of the Settle Cave Exploration Committee led to sustained study (Fig. 11). Excavations in the 1870s disentangled a profuse deposit of bones from animals that had been hunted or scavenged by hyenas. Among them were now-extinct species of elephant and rhinoceros, hippopotamus, bison and giant deer. Wolves, reindeer and brown bears that died during hibernation suggested colder times.

Modern methods enable us to assign dates to these remains with a preciseness that was not available to Victorian cave scientists. We now know that deposits inside Victoria Cave were formed across more than 600,000 years… (51)

Morris quotes this from Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, which I believe I may read:

As up towards Craven hills, I many have of those,
Amongst the crany’d cleves, that through the cavern creep,
And dimbles hid from day, into the earth so deep,
That oftentimes their fight the senses doth appal
Which for their horrid course the people Helbecks call.

Excavations unearthed an 11,000 year old antler harpoon point, the first evidence for people here. The Romans filled it and other caves here with carved bone and bronze and perhaps many other things long perished, enough to raise the question of whether it was potentially a shrine. I could not imagine a better place. Here is the world as it appears moving from inside out.

We continued on toward Jubilee Cave, and just far enough to look out over the hills towards home and Pen-y-ghent cloathed in mist. It is the only one of the three peaks we have seen, and that very rarely.

We came down off the hills then, the sun briefly lighting up the great scar that contains Victoria cave behind us.

We walked down to the village of Langcliffe and on towards the Craven Lime Works and Hoffman Kiln. Not on maps or signposted anywhere, though upon arrival you find a well-marked trail, this is also a wondrous place. The Hoffman kiln especially, an enormous oval stretched long to allow the continuous processing of lime along its lengths.

Tired we walked back to Settle, glad we could still enjoy a pint and a meal. Today was the Talbot Inn, and it was lovely.

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