So here’s a real journey into the earth, scrambling down rock with voices echoing inside ethereal caves. This is the Cathedral Cave in Little Langdale.
With kids in tow (ages 4 and up), this adventure provides you with a walk, a long dark tunnel, a bit of rock climbing, a dramatic cavern (so dramatic, in fact, Hollywood blockbusters have been filmed here) and a goldfish in an ancient pool of water. Oh and a couple of pubs. Practically perfect.
We parked in the National Trust Car park at Tilberthwaite Farm. You walk past the farm (they do holiday cottages) and take a right at the gate – the Highland Cows were calving when we were passing through, so careful not to worry the mums.
You walk through ancient woodland of oak and the ruins of quarries with piles of slate heaped up on either side of the path. After about 45 minutes, you’ll come to a stile on the left hand side of the track and another path going uphill onto an old quarry spoil heap.
This is one of the entrances to the Cathedral Cave. It’s the long one. All 400 feet of it. Take a torch. Grab onto the person in front and duck a little if you’re tall. The floor can be a little rocky but it’s not overly difficult to walk in the darkness. There may be puddles but this isn’t pot-holing. As you stumble out of the tunnel, a little dazed, you arrive into a clearing with enormous slabs of slate and trees hanging onto dear life. You peer downwards and climb further into the belly of the earth over boulders and more slate. This is quite a tricky climb for youngsters. But scrambling is all part of the fun.
At the bottom of this climb you are presented with the Cathedral. And you can see why they chose here to film scenes in Hollywood blockbusters. It’s enigmatic to say the least. A sharp giant’s needle of rock slants down from the roof of the cave to the floor. You walk underneath it, marvelling at its structure. The kids will shout and their voices bounce back, strange and appealing. And the large pool of water at the base of the cave has goldfish exploring the blackness. How long they’ve been there, no-one knows.
These caves are a network of inter-linked quarries above Little Langdale. The Cathedral, the biggest of the caves, stands forty feet in height, and is lit by two windows off the main quarry.
You don’t need to clamber out the way you came in – just take a right and duck through the much shorter tunnel to another entrance and toward the path.
The whole place, from woods to tunnel, cave to slate heaps, conjures an otherworldly feeling. You could be hobbits in Lord of the Rings.
And, a little further, the Britannia Inn in Elterwater. The Cumberland sausage sandwiches are always a good choice. The cask ales, as in most pubs in the Lakes, excellent.
When walking in the Lakes, or anywhere for that matter, look up your route first. It’s easy to get lost here. The hobbits always planned their adventures. Didn’t they?