Cathedral Cave and Other top Caves in the Lake District  

Be they deep underground or high on a hillside; dark as night or flooded with light; whether by-products of industry or a wonder of nature; there’s something about caves that fire the imagination and inspire a sense of adventure in both the young and the not-so-young. 

Home > Lake District Guide > Cathedral Cave and Other top Caves in the Lake District  

A legacy of the area’s mining past

Most of the caves in the Lake District are evidence of our slate industry, a legacy of the area’s mining past, but they are no less interesting and awe-inspiring for that.

Let’s delve into the depths and explore a few. Don’t forget your head torch!

Cathedral Cave

Hidden in the wooded hillside above the Langdale Valley you can find the entrance to a network of abandoned tunnels and chambers known as Cathedral Quarry.

A long-abandoned slate mine, with a history stretching back to the sixteenth century, the star attraction is the dramatic main chamber, known as ‘The Cathedral’ – it’s forty feet high, bathed in light through the large ‘window’, and divided by a pillar of rock that looks like it might be holding the roof up.

Once you’ve explored inside, a short scramble will take you up a level and give you a view back into the cave and access to some smaller caves and several other tunnels – the longest of which will take you about 120 metres (400 feet) into the dark of the hillside and out the other side into the light.

Location: Cathedral Quarry, Langdale Valley

Where to park: The best option is the nearby Elterwater National Trust Car Park which is a nice base offering a 45-minute walk each way. Closer by, there is very limited on-street parking near the Three Shires Inn and the car park at Hodge Close.

Walk options: From the Langdale side there is the fantastic Waterfalls and the Cathedral Cavern, from Elterwater. Coming from the Coniston side there’s Cathedral Cavern from Tilberthwaite.

The Priest Hole Cave

The last thing you’d probably expect to find in a cave is a visitor’s book, but you will find one in Priest’s Hole Cave – if it hasn’t been removed again, which happens from time to time.

Perched on the side of Dove Crag, near Patterdale, it’s more of a gouge in the hillside with a shallow overhang than a cave (it’s about four metres deep), but it still attracts its fair share of visitors who come to admire the panoramic views of the eastern fells.

Offering shelter from the wind and rain, it’s become well-known as a wild sleeping spot for adventurous hikers, and you may well find supplies and equipment left behind by previous occupants when you visit.

Location: Dove Crag, near Patterdale

Where to park: There’s no easy way around it, this one’s got a long walk to reach it. The most direct route is from Cow Bridge Car Park next to Brothers Water.

Walk options: It’s not an easy, or safe place to find, so be warned! Straight up from Brothers Water is the simplest option if you know what you’re doing and your navigation skills are up to the challenge.

Rydal Cave

Located on the northern side of Loughrigg Fell, above Rydal Water, a short jaunt from Ambleside, Rydal Cave is a bit of a gem – it even appears in the Netflix series The Witcher (as does Hodge Close Quarry). 

The large cavern is often filled with water at the entrance (it doesn’t get too deep and you can usually spot some small fish) but a stepping stone path means your feet can stay dry as you explore the rock formations inside the cavern. 

More interesting we think, is looking back out towards the large cave opening – the silhouetted edges look like a row of jagged teeth; time to get the camera out.

There are some spectacular views from the hillside too, and look out for Nab Cottage on the shore of Rydal Water, once the home of writer and opium chomper, Thomas de Quincey, and later, Hartley Coleridge, son of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Location: Rydal, Near Ambleside

Parking: Pelter Bridge and White Moss car parks are the closest, but be warned, they fill up quickly! Both are pay and display.

Walk options: From the Pelter Bridge car park or from White Moss car park are the easy options. If you fancy making more of a day of it, you can set off from Ambleside or Grasmere.

Skull Cave! (Hodge Close Quarry)

Often called Britain’s scariest cave because of the skull-like reflection cast by the cave entrance and surrounding rocks, it’s no wonder Hodge Close Quarry has, like Rydal Cave, been used as a location in the Netflix series The Witcher.

A favourite of cave divers tempted by the underwater tunnels, and thrill-seeking excited by the sheer rockface, cave collectors love it too. But before you head down into the cavern, walk along to the viewpoint close to the car park and look down into the lagoon – it’s a breathtaking sight. Just don’t get too close to the edge!

Luckily, you don’t need to abseil down to visit the cave; a short walk down via a woodland path will take you there. It’s a bit scrambly in places and at the entrance, so sturdy footwear is a must.

Once inside the chamber, you can look back at the impressive views outside through the eyes of the ‘skull’.

Location: The bottom of Hodge Close quarry

Parking: Hodge Close Car Park

Walk options: Why not tick 2 caves off the list? Starting in Little Langdale this short loop takes you to Cathedral Quarry and Hodge Close in one! Or, take an adventurous clamber all around Hodge Close (perhaps not one for less experienced hikers!).

Millican Dalton’s Cave

The man who lived in a cave in the Lake District

Lots of us have dreamed about saying goodbye to city life and starting again in the country, but not many have swapped a comfortable house for a cold, damp cave. The so-called ‘Professor of Adventure’, Millican Dalton did – at least during the summer months.

He chose a stunning place though – in the picturesque Borrowdale Valley, not far from Keswick. On the side of Castle Crag, in a split-level cave, the former insurance clerk spent nearly fifty years living frugally and self-sufficiently, making his own clothes and baking his own bread, while earning a modest living as a climbing guide.

It’s a bit of a hike to get there, so make sure you’re kitted out properly before you set off. Millican’s cave (there are several others on the climb up) is the highest one, with the best views over Derwentwater. 

Look out for the inscription etched on a rock at the higher entrance: ‘Don’t waste words, jump to conclusions.’

Location: Millican Dalton’s Cave, Borrowdale

Parking: Rosthwaite National Trust Car Park or adjacent Borrowdale Institute car park.

Walk options: Rosthwaite Circular Walk and Millican Dalton’s Cave

Brave the Cave

Kid-friendly spelunking at Brockhole!

If your little ones aren’t quite ready to tackle the depths of a real cave, they might like to try the indoor caving experience Brave the Cave at Brockhole

Your little adventurers will be kitted out with a head torch and helmet and be set a series of challenges, from seeking out ancient cave paintings to finding creepy creatures, while navigating the network of tunnels in complete darkness.

It’s suitable for children aged 5 and over but under 14s need to be supervised by an adult.

Location: Brockhole Visitor’s Centre

Parking: Brockhole on Windermere Car Park

Walk options: The visitor centre offers trails and orienteering or, take a more subdued meader through the gardens.

Tips to stay safe in caves 

While exciting, caves can be dangerous places to visit.

Most of the ones listed above are relatively small (you won’t be pressing through narrow passes a kilometre below the earth!) and don’t require any specialist equipment to get to and explore so, by exercising caution and using common sense, you’ll emerge unscathed from the experience.

Here are our top tips for confident caving. 

Take a torch 

A head torch is best as it leaves your hands free for scrambling or feeling your way in the darkness.

Make sure you take spare batteries too, and a fully charged mobile phone. 

On the subjects of heads, while you can probably manage without a helmet in Lake District caves, it’s not a bad idea to buy one if you plan on visiting some of the deeper, larger caves in the UK.

Dress warmly 

Caves can get cold and wet at any time of the year in the Lakes so make sure you layer up just as you would if you were going for a long hike in the fells.

Wear sturdy footwear 

You’ll encounter uneven bits, muddy bits, and downright wet bits so waterproof walking boots are ideal. 

Probably best to leave your favourite sneaks at home this time!

Take note of any warning signs 

Sheer drops, deep water, falling rocks, uneven surfaces. Warning signs are there for a reason; to keep you safe – so ignore them at your peril.

Tell someone where you’re going 

Ideally, you won’t be going caving alone, but if you do, be sure to tell someone where you’re going and when. And if the weather starts to look worse than you’ve prepared for, turn around and go back.

Be prepared

Pack plenty of food and drink – it’s important to stay hydrated when you’re out and about, and a supply of healthy snacks will keep you fuelled for the day’s exertions. 

Somewhere to rest your head? 

If the thought of spending the night on the side of the mountain in Priest’s Hole Cave doesn’t appeal, then we’ve got the answer.

One of our warm and comfy Lakeland Retreats will make the ideal place to head home to after a day out exploring the caves of the Lake District.

See you soon, adventurers.

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With weekly articles highlighting the very best of the Lake District, there’s always something to get you inspired for your next trip!

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