How Stean Gorge has opened two new caves - Hazel Close Cave, which is about 120 metres long and only accessible via a ladder, with a walking passage for 37 metres and Oxbow Cave, on the north side of and is 25 metres in length.
Tony Liddy, director of How Stean Gorge, said: “We’ve transformed the site with our ambitious expansion plans to cater to the huge demand for adventure tourism.
“Acquiring the caves is an important part of that, as we want to showcase nature’s stunning playground in this unique gorge that has existed for ten thousand years, since the last Ice Age.”
The visitor attraction has also undergone a major face-lift, installing new eco-friendly luxury chalets with hot tubs and wood burning stoves.
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How Stean Gorge underground cave system was carved out over thousands of years by waterflow and has seen many historic uses.
Tthe Tom Taylor’s Cave, named after the highwayman, is 180 metres long and goes to a depth of 15 metres.
One of Britain’s most famous bandits, Taylor used the cave as an escape route and hiding place for his loot along with Dick Turpin.
In 1741 Tom Taylor was followed by the British Army Red Coats from nearby York to his underground hideout and, after a gunfight, was shot dead in the gorge.
The caves are thought to have been home to Vikings from 866 to 1066. In 1868, a trove of Roman coins was found buried in the cave; a 300-foot tunnel, which can be explored today with hard-hats.
Anna Bowman, Curator at Nidderdale Museum, said: “Archaeologists believe that the Romans used caves or rivers as places to leave religious offerings.
“Given the time period which the coins found covers and that the coins were discovered in the cave hammered into the wall, it would indicate that these were possibly an offering.
“Nidderdale Museum’s collection includes part of the horde. It was donated by the Metcalfe family, who owned How Stean George at the time of the discovery, in 1868.”
Other caves include Elgin’s Hole and Canal Cave.
There are two extensive and impressive cave systems in Upper Nidderdale, most linked.
The Eglin cave system in How Stean Beck is connected to a larger Goyden cave system under the River Nidd. About 8.3km of passages have been explored. A local team of cave diggers, Black Sheep Diggers, work to connect the caves.
The gorge has become one of the UK’s leading visitor attractions, with a team of outdoor adventure experts offering rock climbing, canoeing, abseiling, caving, gorge scrambling and a Via ferrate – a series of high wire and zip wires above the gorge.
Graded as a triple Site of Special Scientific Interest, the gorge hosts amazing geological formations, features bats hanging from its caves and fossils frozen in its limestone.
The limestone gorge is a green oasis for marsh marigolds and lime-loving plants.
Ancient ferns, cuckoopints and horsetails create the sense of entering a lost world.
The caves are also home to the remains of crinoids – plant fossils – and brachiopods – shell fossils, as well as the large European cave spiders.
The adventure facility has a 20-pitch campsite and aims to install a total of 11 new chalets, with six completed this summer.
The team has planted hundreds of trees around the new chalets. It is the only group-scale accommodation offer in the tourism hotspot, sleeping up to 10 people per chalet.
Online enquiries have shot up as the appetite for outdoor activities and UK staycations continues with the on-going disruption to the travel industry abroad and the cost-of-living crisis.
Tony said: “It’s been incredible, there’s just a massive appetite out there to get into the great outdoors and experience adventure on our doorstep. We want to showcase the caves a bit more, and display previously unseen historic surveys and maps of the 10km cave network.”
Other upgrades include a 1000lt hot water system with underfloor heating in its shower block and new kitchen facilities.
The team has also installed a new shower, toilet and bunks in its Bunk House at based at Scar House Reservoir, a unique wild accommodation offer that sleeps up to 17.
In 2017, it built a cantilevered extension with glass walls and glass floor panels that sits over the gorge in its café and bistro, offering a dining experience like no other.
How Stean Gorge has been attracting visitors for over 100 years. Up to 10,000 people book its outdoor activities each year, with 20,000 visitors attending the café and venue.