Owners of Ingleborough Cave open their first cafe after converting the Grade II listed Dales Sawmill

The old sawmill at the entrance to the nature trail is a Grade II listed building and its heritage has been incorporated into the design – with the original saw and bench on display and old blades placed on tables. All old tools and equipment were salvaged from the sawmill, which was a carpentry workshop and storage shed before the renovation.

Owner Andrew Jarman began planning the conversion project three years ago and work began last fall.

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This is the first time the attraction, which is more than a mile from the nearest road, has had a cafe, as there is no running water in the store near the entrance from the cave.

The old sawmill as it was before the renovation

The sawmill is shown on a tithe map in 1851, at a time when the milling of corn and cotton – powered by water wheels – was an important local industry in Clapham.

In 1896, an Ordnance Survey map shows that the current building has been extended. There is also a drying shed and Sawmill Cottage – then a kiln – signposted.

In the 20th century, the sawmill remained an essential part of the logging operations of the Ingleborough estate. Until the 1960s this was mostly done manually, with timber being transported from the hillsides by horse and cart until the introduction of chainsaws in the 1960s.

The building gradually ceased to be used as a sawmill, but was retained by the estate as a carpentry workshop until 2020, with much of the old equipment remaining in place.

Its original features have been incorporated into the design of the cafe

Ingleborough Cave – a series of caverns famous for their stalagmite and stalagtite formations – was discovered in 1837 and has been run by the same family for 65 years.

Bob Jarman, a former head of technology at Lancaster University, decided to start showing visitors the cave system in the 1950s with two friends and a log cabin to prop it up. His wife Sue came on board and they opened a shop and installed electric lighting before their son Andrew joined them. Now in his eighties, Bob still helps out with maintenance.

Since the Jarmans took over the lease of the caverns at the Ingleborough Estate, they have witnessed some memorable moments, including the opening of the once legendary underground link to Gaping Gill by divers in 1983, the discovery of a prehistoric woolly rhinoceros tooth by a sixth elder working part-time in the caves in 2001, and an epic flood that washed away a footbridge in 2015.

It was first opened to visitors in 1837 by local landowner James Farrer. The features beyond the entrance were hidden behind large calcite dams and water had submerged the passageways.

History panels tell the story of milling and forestry on the Ingleborough Estate

After a severe flood, Farrer realized that there had to be water flow past the dams. It broke down calcium deposits, released trapped water, and exposed a hidden wonderland of formations and fossils.

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Ingleborough Cave reopens after longest closure in history

In the late 1950s, Bob Jarman and his friends were taking time off from their daily jobs to show around by the light of Tilley oil lamps, but they realized the spectacular caverns had so much more potential.

“At first they just had a wooden shed and the Tilley lamps, but gradually they put in paths and handrails to make it easier for visitors. Eventually my dad did the wiring for the lighting – he had previously worked at Rolls-Royce.” explained Andre.

Locals and cavers alike had long believed that Ingleborough Cave was the outlet of the stream that feeds Gaping Gill, the vast 100-metre chasm – if only divers could find the passage that connected them.

They have developed the attraction to the extent that it is now recognized as the best show cave in the UK – by no less than a trade association of other show caves across the country.

“We’re on a popular route for walkers so we get Three Peaks traffic from Ingleborough. We’ve done a bit of publicity and we’ve also grown through word of mouth. We’ve built the store, expanded it , added more refreshments and restrooms, a picnic area, and we want to add a new building next door to improve the facilities.”

Hundreds of children visit the caves each day as part of school trips, and poignantly many schoolchildren from Bradford, who stay at Ingleborough Hall Outdoor Centre. Many of them have never been to the countryside before but, according to Andrew, are “grasped” by the underworld.

Despite the harsh Dales winters, the cave’s staff – including a one-legged guide named Chester – open it daily between February and October, and on weekends at other times. Santa’s Grotto events (Bob himself was Santa Claus in his youth) attract over 1,000 people a day and Christmas has become their busiest time of year.

The mythology of the cave system has certainly captured the imagination of Andrew, who has followed in his parents’ footsteps and also runs the nearby nature trail.

“I remember when the rhino tooth was found in 2001 – a 16 year old girl who worked part time here was helping the Bradford Pothole Club dig. She scooped up a handful of dirt and spotted something with a texture We took it to a museum and they tested it and told us it was from a woolly rhinoceros, which is long gone and now it’s in a museum.

While finding the Gaping Gill link was the holy grail for the local caving community.

“The system was always thought to be connected to Gaping Gill, and in 1983 divers discovered it after 15 hours of hard caving, most of it underwater. They made the trip five or six times after that, but then there was a rock to crumble and it’s no longer accessible.”

While Storm Desmond in Christmas 2015 saw the caves catastrophically flooded as water tumbled over Malham Cove for the first time in living memory.

“He flooded up to the steel gate. It was locked because we had decided earlier in the day to close when we saw the forecast. He blew up the concrete path – he lifted it up. We We are very cautious about flooding and would never open if there was a risk,” added Andrew.

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