To appreciate this page,
you should also visit:

Treacle Mines


The Natland
Pipeline Cave


The Helm
Gate Cave


Treacle Mines

  • Fact or fiction?
  • Can the reality be separated from the myth?
  • What scientific evidence is there?
  • Could there be more than one origin for the legend?
  • explores the topic
  • identifies several possible sources
  • considers the likelihood of substantial underground caves, and
  • puts forward a remarkable suggestion!


The Natland
Pipeline Cave

  • The original discovery
  • The survey
  • The concealment
  • The search to find the cave entrance
  • Helm Gate Cave and other explorations
  • Trying to track water flows from Helm


The Helm Gate Cave

  • Richard Mercer's illustrated description of the inside of this Natland cave.









The Barrows Green Cave

It was more or less a throwaway remark from Richard Mercer:

Incidentally, has anyone mentioned to you the cave found in 1855?

The Westmorland Gazette feature "150 Years Ago" in January 2005 had a report of a cave found at Barrows Green hamlet.

A friend of mine drank in the Punchbowl Inn at that time and said that the site was the overgrown area on the left of the road that leads from the pub towards the river. He said the owner had applied for planning permission for the site and this was refused because it is a filled-in cave.

Just behind the Punchbowl Inn lies .....

.....the Barrows Green Cave site

No, I hadn't heard of it so I went to Kendal Library to find out more.  The first visit was frustrated by the staff being on strike but the second attempt proved successful.

Richard was totally correct.  It did not take long scanning through the January 2005 Westmorland Gazettes to find under the heading "150 Years Ago" a summary of what had been reported on the 20th January 1855.

I then asked for the fiche for January 1855.  This was quite an eye-opener.  The heading of the paper was the familiar name The Westmorland Gazette in its familiar font although it also carried a subsidiary title of the Kendal Advertiser.  However the first surprise was the day it was published:  Saturday, not Friday.

The next surprise was the nature of the news- predominately national and international- the best part of three pages devoted to the Crimean War including Lord Raglan's despatches before Sebastopol.

Nevertheless a full column was devoted to the Barrows Green Cave.  The two long paragraphs make interesting reading.


Curious Discovery of a Cave

    One morning about five weeks since the occupant of a house at the hamlet of Barrows Green, on the Burton Road, about three miles south of the town, making forth into his garden, observed a disarrangement of the surface of his bed of winter onions which he first attributed to some trespasser having left his mark there, but on going nearer to the onions, he found that a number of those savoury esculents, together with the soil in which they grew, had disappeared to an unknown depth into a cavernous recess of the earth. After this strange occurrence, or, as a learned writer would style it, this remarkable phenomenon, had sufficiently roused the curiosity and wonder of the neighbours, a tramp who was passing that way was induced to allow himself to be let down into the hole by a rope, with a lantern to assist his investigations. The man came up again with a magnificent tale about an extensive and beautiful cave, and it has been since imagined that the roof of the cave was hung with beautiful stalactites, etc. Subsequently the place has been visited by more accurate observers, amongst others by Mr. John Ruthven, the able practical geologist of this town, and from him we gather that though not the "antre vast" into which rumour had magnified it, the cave so unexpectedly opened is curious enough to be worthy of a description. The descent of all the first visitors was, like that of the tramp, effected by a rope, but Mr. Ruthven having a natural dislike to suspensions of that kind, waited until a ladder had been planted at the bottom of the cavern. The descent for about twenty feet is through a well-like shaft or funnel, which at that depth opens into a dome-shaped cave about seven feet high at the highest part, and of course diminishing at the sides. On two of the sides of the dome or principal chamber, as we may call it, namely east and west, the cavity is continued for some distance, but at so little elevation from the floor that the explorer has to crawl on hands and feet to reach the limit of those low lateral extensions of the cave. It is in these recesses that some stalactites may be found, but they are very difficult to get at. The width of the cave from the extremities of these recesses is about eight yards, but the extent of that portion of the cave in which a man could stand upright is not more than half that space. The strata of the earth through which the shaft passes are as follows:- First, at the aperture, a foot or two of garden soil; second about four feet of samel; third, about five feet of sand mixed with small angular bits of limestone; and, finally, the fragmentary limestone of which the cave is composed. The opening at the top is about six feet across, widening considerably at about six or eight feet down, and again contracting in the fragmentary limestone till the immediate opening into the roof of the cave is only about two feet. The cave geologically is in the line of dislocation between the mountain limestone and the upper Ludlow rocks, at the base of the hill of Helm. The eastern of the two prolongations of the cave we have mentioned is forty- five degrees east of the magnetic north, and the opposite one forty degrees west.

    We are not aware that any organic remains have been discovered, but the floor of the cave in the centre is heaped with a conglomorate of various soils, with occasional turnips, cabbages, onions, etc, which have been thrown down from the garden above. The cave has been recommended to the especial attention of the Natural History and Scientific Society of Kendal, but we do not apprehend that the torch of science will be brandished with much effect in the investigation, or that the march of intellect will be specially advanced by a passage through this particular hole. Discoveries of caves in the mountain limestone have been by no means infrequent, but we never heard that they led to any important scientific result. We may mention that some years ago one of these caves was discovered on the Low Mill Bridge estate, Stainton, and was filled up with about 200 carts of stone and rubbish. No doubt the owner of the garden where the cave at Barrow Green was found heartily wishes that his cave was stopped up in like manner, the influx of curious visitors having quite a devastating effect upon the garden beds. About sixty years since a cave, discovered on the farm of Mr. Allan Wilson, at Helsington, was explored by the late Mr Gough, the eminent naturalist, who collected therefrom a quantity of bones which were transmitted to London, but nothing more was heard of them. This opening had a shaft running horizontally for about eighteen yards, and people from Kendal flocked to it in such numbers that the owner, finding the assemblage of curiosity-hunters a nuisance, filled up the aperture. Many of our readers will recollect that some ten or eleven years ago a cave at Arnside, on the estate of G. E. Wilson, Esq., was explorer by Mr. John Ruthven, when some animal remains were discovered. The exploration of the caves at Barrows Green appears to be not entirely without danger, on account of the crumbling nature of the soil; and we are told that some lads, who had descended on Sunday last, were prostrated for a time by a fall of the loose earth.

Reproduced with the kind permission of The Westmorland Gazette








I hoped that a visit to the Cumbria Record Office (Kendal) would produce the Annals of the Natural History and Scientific Society of Kendal and a detailed account of the professional exploration of the cave.  

However all there was to be found was the Minute book.

Interpreting the Victorian handwriting was a challenge to an untrained eye but, as far as I could tell, the committee meetings seemed more concerned with the administration of the society, rather than its adventures.  

Pasted into the Minute book was a copy, presumably from the Westmorland Gazette, of an account of its 1855 Annual Meeting, held on 10th September at the Museum.

Natural History and Scientific Society Minute Book

The Report of the Secretary, William Wakefield, was read to the meeting.  

Reference is made to having received a mahogany cabinet containing preserved specimens or rare British and Foreign butterflies, moths and insects, to the skull of a bottle-nosed dolphin cast up on the sands at Grange and to a bust of the aforementioned Mr Gough, presented to the Society by his friends, but, alas, there is no mention of the Barrows Green cave.

It seems that the Westmorland Gazette reporter of the original incident had indeed been correct in his prediction concerning the likelihood of" the torch of science" being "brandished with much effect"!  I can only conclude that the cave met a similar fate to the previously discovered one at Stainton, namely being obliterated by the deposit of many cartloads of rubble.

The site is now quite overgrown.  Whilst viewing it from the road, I was told by a neighbour that she knew nothing about the cave, but she believed that the ownership of the piece of land in question was disputed and that an application for planning permission had been made but had been turned down.  

Reference to the SLDC planning department's website showed an application refused in 2003.  However although reference was made on the documentation to a Constraint of "Mineral Consultation Area - Limestone", this had not been mentioned in the reasons for refusal.

So once again we are left with a tantalising hint of what may be going on under our feet but nothing to advance the "march of intellect"!

Don Shore, August 2008


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