White Scar Caves

White Scar Caves

The Three Peaks of Yorkshire – Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent – are riddled with underground passages and caves, of which one of the most famous is White Scar Caves. Unifying various visitor buildings near the entrance of the caves, this timber canopy ‘extends’ the mouth of the cave, radiating out from the rock to act both as an invitation and a shelter.

White Scar Caves by Mason Gillibrand
White Scar Caves by Mason Gillibrand
White Scar Caves by Mason Gillibrand

The Three Peaks of Yorkshire – Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent – are riddled with underground passages and caves, of which one of the most famous is White Scar Caves.

Formed by the erosive action of an underground stream on the soluble limestone rock over thousands of years, the cave system runs for nearly a mile into the heart of Ingleborough, narrowing into claustrophobia-inducing tunnels and opening into vast caverns of stalactites.

The guided tour of White Scar Caves is one of the main tourist attractions in the Yorkshire Dales and visitors now number over 60,000 a year. To accommodate visitors, various disparate buildings – ticket office, manager’s house, café and WCs – have sprung up at the side of the cave entrance over the years. The owner asked local practice Mason Gillibrand Architects to come up with some ideas which would unify the buildings and also give visitors some protection against the harsh weather – they were often soaked while waiting for the next tour.

The logical solution was a canopy which would link the buildings and give sheltered waiting space. But the design was also led by the site and its climate – this was not the place for lightweight steel and glass. “If you live in the south, it’s hard to imagine what conditions are like up here in winter,” explains project architect Richard Wooldridge.

“The site is well over 300 metres above sea level and on a clear day you can see the Irish Sea and experience the full force of south-westerly gales. In winter blizzards often block the cave entrance with over a metre of snow. It’s just another world.”

The new canopy is elemental and solid; a timber deck with a green turf roof which blends with the hillside above, so that it seems to flow over the assorted buildings. Seen from the road and car park the canopy metaphorically ‘extends’ the mouth of the cave, radiating out from the rock to act both as an invitation and a shelter. Similarly, from a distance, the canopy appears simply as an opening in the hillside.

To reach the cave, visitors park their cars and climb a new limestone staircase to the edge of the canopy. To one side is the café which has been extended; to the other side is a new resource centre, an extension to the cave manager’s house.

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