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Over the Underground: Leck Beck and Easegill Kirk

A brief glimpse of the subterranean mysteries of limestone and a lot of fine wild country.

Distance 7.5 miles (12.1km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 968ft (295m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Field paths, indefinite moorland paths, quiet road, 3 stiles

Landscape Sheltered river valley, wild moorland, gorge and pot-holes

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL2 Yorkshire Dales - Southern & Western

Start/finish SD 643767

Dog friendliness Dogs should be on leads

Parking Park by Leck church (honesty box)

Public toilets Nearest are at Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, 2 miles (3.2km) up A65

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1 Turn right on the road then right again. Turn left by a post-box and go down a lane, bearing right at the bottom.

2 At the end of the tarmac take the lower, left track to a stile then continue on a good tractor track. Just after crossing a stream the track divides. Go left through a gate into a wood then continue through a long pasture, passing a small wooden house. Clamber over a stile at the far end. The track descends almost to river level then climbs away again.

3 Climb fairly steeply for about 300yds (274m) then go left in a slight dip past the ruins of Anneside. The path, now little more than a sheep track, runs fairly level and fairly straight until it meets a ruined wall. Cross the dip of a small stream then bear left out of it, crossing damp ground on to a grassy shoulder. Follow the crest of steeper slopes dropping towards the beck to arrive at the brink of a tree-filled gorge.

4 Go straight ahead on a narrow path across the slope. It's not difficult, but it's clearly no place to slip. This leads into the upper reaches of Easegill Kirk. Look around, then retrace to the crossroads and descend to a more level area below some small outcrops. Cross a steep grass slope into the gorge. After exploring this return once more to the crossroads.

5 Now take the uphill footpath. Where it levels off go sharp right on a narrow track to a ruined wall. Follow this up to the left then along, above some rocky outcrops to a green conical pit. Keep trending upwards and to the right, on sheep tracks, to meet a long, straight, dry-stone wall. Follow this up to the left to a clearer path. Several fenced holes now appear in a shallow dip in the moor. Bear left to the nearest one, then follow a narrow footpath past the second and third. Follow a shallow valley with no permanent stream, past several small sink holes to the deep shaft known as Rumbling Hole.

6 Turn right on a faint footpath across level moorland to another fenced hole, about 200yds (183m) away, called Short Drop Cave. From this head back towards the dry-stone wall and, just before reaching it, head up to the left to join the road. Turn right down it. After 150yds (137m) Lost John's Cave can be seen away to your left.

7 Continue walking down the quiet road for another 2½ miles (4km) back to Leck. Finally turn left near the church to return to the start of the walk.

Yes, this is still Lancashire. A long wedge of countryside squeezed between Cumbria and North Yorkshire, with the highest ground in the county along the borders, reaching 2,251ft (686m) on Crag Hill. But it hardly feels like Lancashire: the landscape, with its limestone gorges, scars and pot-holes, is what you expect of the Yorkshire Dales.

The crucial thing about limestone is that it dissolves in water far more readily than other rocks. It can produce gentle beauty, as around Silverdale, or it can yield high drama, as it does here. First, however, there's a lengthy preamble, following Leck Beck from green pastures to open moors, where you're as likely to see hen harriers as other walkers.

The drama begins with the gorge of Easegill Kirk. You can enter both its upper and lower reaches, though a vertical rock step blocks the direct connection between the two. The lower section of the gorge is particularly impressive, with leaning rock walls punctured by several cave entrances.

Most of these are gloomy passages, which many people will find uninviting if not actually repellent, though you can see evidence of digging undertaken by cavers to enlarge the entrances. At the back, just to the right of the rock step, is another cave, which you can safely look into. Some extra light enters from a slot high on the left.

It's back into the open on the wide moors above Easegill Kirk. Initially there are only faint sheep tracks to follow, but you soon pick up an old wall and then an improving path. But the drama's not over, as the level moor is pockmarked with holes, from shallow pits to gaping shafts. Fortunately all the dangerous ones are fenced off. The most blatant is Rumbling Hole. It gets its name from the constant sound - actually more of a tapping - of water striking stones at the bottom, 360ft (110m) down. Short Drop Cave is less spectacular, with a narrow entrance where the stream can normally be heard not far below.

Lost John's Cave, near the road, is the most important to cavers because of the extent of its underground passages. Further down, where the road runs in a slight valley, there's a small entrance right by the road, normally covered and bridged by scaffolding poles from where cavers start their descent.

Even if you normally hate road walking, the finish of this walk should win you over. The grass verges are kind to your feet and you'll often go the whole way without meeting a single car. Wide views stretch over Morecambe Bay and the Lake District at first, but as you lose height the perspective changes and increasingly it's a Lune Valley view.

Where to eat and drink

There are no facilities at Leck. You can get tea, coffee and soft drinks at Cowan Bridge but for meals and alcohol go straight across the A65 and 2 miles (3.2km) down a narrow twisting lane to the Highwayman at Nether Burrow, on the A683. There's plenty of room indoors and out.

While you're there

Kirkby Lonsdale, just up the A65, is an old stone-built market town full of nooks and crannies. It has been widely used for film and TV locations. It's best known for its church, parts of which are Norman, and for Ruskin's View, just beyond the churchyard. Just outside the town is Devil's Bridge, an elegant medieval structure, below which are limestone outcrops and deep pools in the Lune.

What to look for

Large-scale features like caves and gorges are one result of limestone wearing away in water, but it also produces distinctive features on a smaller scale. Many outcrops are marked by runnels and flutings, and level surfaces often form expanses of limestone pavement. These may appear flat from a distance, but the action of rain water often produces deep cracks.

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