Springs and risings in Upper Wharfedale

Part 1: Grassington to Kettlewell

The pages below are under development and will be updated on a regular basis.
All images are from the author's collection unless otherwise indicated

Springs, wells, kelds and risings of Upper Wharfedale: see map below

In early 2020 Adele Ward was asking tricky questions about springs and wells in Wharfedale and these notes are intended to throw some light on those issues. Now, there is no easy way to define any outpouring of water from the limestones of Wharfedale, or any of the other of our Yorkshire Dales for that matter but essentially, there are two concepts:

1: In our limestone dales there are very few surface streams, because of the highly permeable nature of the limestone terrain, therefore any surface streams that may develop on the higher impermeable strata (the Millstone Grit - Grassington Grit) will almost inevitably sink underground when the flow reaches the limestone by simply entering an existing cave, or by disappearing down faults or joints in the limestone.

2: Water falling as precipation will only very rarely collect as a surface stream in limestone country because of this permeability. These underground waters will usually emerge by

a: appearing from a cave entrance, as at Robin Hoods Cave, Black Keld and White Keld, or,

b: appearing as a spring, or Keld, from the Norse word Kelda for spring, from an otherwise featureless limestone valley side, Davy Keld and Braith Gill are of this type, or,

c: draining down through the limestones into the alluvium flooring the valleys and consequently joining the general river flow. Such occurences are usually undetectable although there such an event known as ‘Butter Hole’ in the river further up the dale at Arncliffe where it is supected the water from Boreham Cave emerges into the river bed. (This came to light during a conversation with Mr. Jimmy Metcalfe of Old Cotes in the mid 1960s).

These underground waters may be guided as a complete stream in their underground course by the above-mentioned geological faults or joints which are very common in limestone strata. The Mossdale and Langcliffe streams reappearing at the Black Keld “resurgence” are of this type. This is a “brown-water” rising, the colour coming from the peaty collection grounds such as the gritstones and shales of the uplands. Another such feature is the brown water rising at Brow Well near Linton Falls. The origins of this water has yet to be determined. Otherwise, underground waters may reach an impermeable bed in the limestone sequence, typically a shale band, or in our local dales on what is known as the Porcellaneous Band. Typical of these are the intriguing “white water” springs or risings on the east side of Wharfedale at Braith Gill, Davy Keld, Dib Scar, How Beck, High Hills Springs, Mile House Well and elsewhere. On the west side of the valley, due to the underlying dip to the north-east of the limestone strata, there are several risings such as Robin Hoods Cave, Broad Keld, and the Kilnsey risings amongst many others.

The Kilnsey Cave white water risings are known to come out at the junction between the higher ‘Kilnsey Limestone’ and the lower ‘Kilnsey Limestones with Mudstones’. This lower limestone bedrock is an exceedingly tough impervious bed of limestone mudstone that drilling activities of 1994 and later could not penetrate whilst attempting to lower the floor of the cave to access the low flooded bedding cave beyond. THe question here is of whether or not this same junction is a controlling factor in the risings on the east side of Wharfedale.

All of these risings are of great importance to the farming community and one of the great features of Wharfedale is the number of field barns, one in nearly every field. These could only be used for housing livestock if there was was a nearby water supply. A field barn nearer to the river may have been accessed by a drive or ‘drove’ from barn to river often crossing the highway by means of a gate each side of the road. Otherwise a field barn more often than not will be sited close to a spring and, if this location is suitable, it will be built up into a trough, often designated as “Well” on the OS map.

What is known, often from the activities of the cave diving fraternity, is that there may be extensive cave passages hidden behind otherwise impenetrable springs and risings. These include ‘Black Keld’, a brown water rising extending for more than 2km, and White Keld extending for some 1.5km. Robin Hood's Cave extends for some 400m, Chapel Lodge Cave some 730m and Sleets Gill Cave 2.4km. Thus Black Keld and Brow Well are shown on the map as “BW” risings and the majority of the others as “WW” risings.

There have been a number of attempts to determine the original source of the waters emanating from such springs or risings but few have been definitive. The classic was that made by Jack Myers and his colleagues of the Northern Pennine Club in 1949. They carried out a series of observations to determine water flow quantities and the likely underground courses of these streams. This culminated in a masterly fluorescein dye test that quite convincingly showed that the Mossdale Beck waters reappeared at Black Keld.
“The test clearly shows that the whole of the Mossdale stream flows to Black Keld”. (The Mossdale Problem” Myers J. O. CRG Trans 1950)

In the 1980s several attempts were made to understand something of the hydrology of the area by the writer, accompanied by Patrick Warren and Peter Atkinson. All the white water springs, with the exception of White Keld, were examined (White Keld was not known about at that time). Water temperatures were recorded and flows estimated but no conclusive information was obtained.

In February 1998, headed by Andy Cole, members of the White Rose Pothole Club made an attempt to determine the source of waters emerging at White Keld amongst elsewhere. This resulted in establishing a connection between Pig Pot Puddle SInk and White Keld. (WRPCJ 2001 p41. Pig Pot Puddle Sink, Richard Bendall)



The enigmatic rising at Davy Keld: the mysteries of which are beginning to unfold.

July 2020

NGR: 981670

Alt: 192m





Black Keld in normal flow.

NGR 974709

Alt: 198m

March 9, 1997



Black Keld in high flood.

June 2000




White Keld in normal conditions.

March 9 1997

NGR: 975707

Alt: 198m




White Keld in high flood.

December 22, 1997




White Keld in high flood.

December 1997




White Keld meets Black Keld.

December 1997




Braith Gill in normal flow

NGR 996643

Alt. 170m

April 2000





Braith Gill in high flood.

June 2000





Brow Well in high flood.

NGR 007633

Alt. 160m

April 2000





Chapel Lodge Cave entrance in high flood.

NGR 976662

Alt. 235m

April 2000





Chapel Lodge beck in high flood.

April 2000





Robin Hood's Cave entrance in high flood.

NGR 978657

Alt. 180m

April 2000





Robin Hood's Cave outflow in high flood.

April 2000





Kirk Bank Spring in flood.

NGR 976652

Alt. 220m

April 2000





Kilnsey Risings in flood.

NGR 973684

Alt. 190m

April 2000





Moss Beck in high flow.

NGR 964692

Alt. 240

March 2019





How Beck in flood, often dry at this point.

NRG 980685

Alt. 198m

August 2020





High Hill Castles Spring.

NGR 983690

Alt. 230m

July 2020





Pumphouse Rising.

NGR 975706

Alt. 210m

April 1997





Pumphouse Rising with powerful stream emerging into Black Keld streamway


October 2002





Spring Trap Cave entrance.

NRG 975705

Alt. 198m

April 1997





Sleets Gill Cave entrance in flood.

NRG 959692

Alt. 290m

June 4, 2001





Sleets Gill in high flood.

June 4, 2001





Broad Keld in flood.
September 26, 2012.

NGR 976685 Alt. 220m

Broad Keld drains from Chapel Lodge Cave





Broad Keld can create problems on the highway..






Sykes Beck also known as the Fish Farm Rising.

November 2013

NGR 970675 Alt. 230m







Sykes Beck in good flow.. Novermber 2013






Mill Scar Lash showing Chapel House Limestone dipping to the north at approx. 12 degrees.

NGR 980656 Alt.180m

May 2012






Kirk Bank Quarry showing Chapel House Limestone dipping approx 10 degrees to the south.

NGR 978652 Alt. 200m

June 2012






Coniston Keld - usually dry
August 2020.

NGR 981674 Alt. 194m

A history of the keld can be found on the Conistone with Kilnsey Website



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Steve Warren

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