Wild Camping

Lake District Caves Wild Camping

A Night Underground in the Lake District

Spending the night underground might scare the bejesus out of most people but if you’re in the 3 per cent who’s blood starts to tingle, who’s adrenaline starts to flow at the thought of the adventure of wild camping in a hole in the rock under a mountain then read on.

I take Kath, Nicky and Tracy (who I met in the car park) into the wild, leaving their everyday life and civilisation behind, to camp in a cave deep in Borrowdale in the Lake District National Park.

Thinking up expeditions for adventure seekers can be tricky but all I do really is follow my own dreams, I want to have fun in my job. I love wild camping so spending the night outdoors, miles from the hustle and bustle of the world not only amazes me but it invigorates me, calms me, settles my mind and relieves stress.

Only The Brave

Every month I deliver a wild camping experience that differs from the last and there’s a new one you can enjoy all 12 months of the year. This is one of those events. Camping in a cave was on my list from day one and two of this group’s members were always going to be coming.

Mining In The Lake District

There are a number of caves in Lakeland but they’ve been blown into the ground using dynamite, some have even been dug using the pick, heating the rock to make it brittle, like the Seven Swarfs were doing in Snow White! Hey ho. All the caves here are mines actually, a search for riches; lead, zinc, banites, tin – veins of minerals running through the cracks in the mountains. Because of this they’re quite easy to spot, spoil spilling out of the hole in the ground, but as they are mostly now hidden with trees you have to be pretty close by to find them. Our accommodation for the night is such a cave, there’s a lot of spoil as there is a lot of cave.

Choosing A Cave To Camp In

Mining has been going on for hundreds of years in the Cumbria and there are many well known sites. Honister Slate Mine is the only working mine left in England. You can visit, even go on a tour, but it’s not the big holes and tunnels we’re looking for. We just need a hole underground big enough for a few of us to camp the night.

Cathedral Cavern might have been a contender but for the increased chance that we would find a bunch of teenagers there who might spoil the experience with it not feeling so wild and remote. It’s a beautiful site especially with Hodge Close so nearby. There’s a real sense of past activity, historic and eerie but not this time for us.

The National Trust owns nearly half of the National Park and most of it is kept pristine including the caves. Allowing anyone to wander in and advertising the fact on their members website creates possibility of mess but I’ve stayed in our cave before and just recently as well to make sure the standards have been maintained. Nothing but the best accommodation for my clients.

Millican Dalton

Our ‘Cave Hotel’ has been inhabited before. For 50 years, eccentric Lakeland Mountain Guide Millican Dalton occupied this place throughout the Summer. He would take groups out climbing, walking and canoeing on the Derwent all as part of his ‘Camping Holiday’ that he advertised in Keswick.

He was known to have said that the outdoors was a cure (not the cause) of tuberculosis, rheumatism and neurasthenia (chronic fatigue syndrome or M.E. today)! Millican left London at the age of 36, buying an acre of land in Essex where he lived in a wooden shack he built himself. Soon after he gave up his stressful position in fire insurance to become a mountain guide (sound familiar?).

Wild Camping Underground

We set off from the Scafell Hotel and through Rosthwaite and up by the River Derwent into the wood. Only a couple of kilometers away is an excavation, which clambering through leads you up the Castle Crag hillside to a small wet and boggy hole in the Crag, I’m happy to announce to the girls that we will not be staying here!

Just a bit further and we find Millican’s Summer home.

Wild Camping In A Cave

I’m here to teach them a little about wild camping, I don’t do a bad job, part of which must come first and involves an orange bag and a small shovel but that can wait for another article.

Once that’s out of the way we find a bed, rearranging the stones that have fallen from the ceiling over the years into flat pads for us to place our ground and sleeping mats on. I advise the girls to lie down for a few minutes and roll over, test and adjust, make sure you’ll be comfortable all night.

Cooking In The Cave

We take with us a Gas Alpkit stove and my alcohol set up, boil up some water and discuss dried food, boil in the bag pouches, army rations and compare how convenient they all are at altitude, on freezing cold nights or in caves. The nettle curry by the way was boring but filled and warmed me.

You have to be careful lighting fires in caves, someone told me that’s why there are two cast iron signs are bolted to the outside, some numpties lit a fire and scorched the ceiling, bringing down some loose rock. 200 years ago they might have had a career!

It‘s 12c in the cave and I sit comfortably for an hour in my T-shirt. It drops a couple of degrees, gets dark and passes 10 o’clock. We each retreat to our sleeping bags and bed down.

Sleeping In A Cave

You’ll be surprised one day how comfortable you can get sleeping on rocks.

I never sleep very well anyway and I’m awake every hour, seemed like the girls didn’t do too bad.

Next morning, early, the sun streams in through the large opening and the cuckoo calls over the water pouring over the edge of the cave from the downpour yesterday.

We’ve survived!

As the girls pack I boil some water and we sit around our dining area to porridge.

I have a scout around for bits of rubbish but it’s surprisingly tidy. What a beautiful place to stay for the night. I’m happy to say each of my companions confirm their agreement and we set off down the fell-side to meet the river and head off rather lazily back to what people call ‘civilisation’.


Thanks Kath, Nicky and Tracy for making this a great Lakeland adventure.

If you would like to buy the biography of ‘The Professor of Adventure’ Millican Dalton who lived in this cave you can find it on Amazon here…

If you’re interested in reading another adventure blog about finding the Priest Hole Cave and bivvying the night in Winter why not read this next: Wild Camp in the Priest Hole Cave