HIGHWAYMAN Tom Taylor was on the run from the redcoats and needed somewhere to hide his ill-gotten gains – so the long, deep cave seemed the perfect solution.
It stretched back into the rocky side of How Stean Gorge, an 80ft deep chasm carved out by an ancient waterfall centuries ago in Yorkshire.
Trouble was, it proved a double-edged sword. Eventually, in 1741, tall Taylor was tracked by British Army troopers from nearly York.
Trapped in the Gorge he thought would offer him sanctuary,, he was unceremoniously shot dead.
Today, Tom Taylor’s Cave is a tourist attraction visited by better-intentioned folk who marvel at its 180-metre length and 15 metre depth.
How Stean Gorge has also become popular with adventure-seekers, thanks to all manner of activities offered at the destination, led by expert guides.
There’s rock climbing, canoeing, abseiling, caving, gorge scrambling and a Via ferrate – a series of high wire and zip wires above the gorge.
To add to the adrenaline attraction, the centre has just opened two new caves.
Hazel Close Cave – 120 metres long and only accessible via a ladder – features a walking passage for 37 metres. Meanwhile, Oxbow Cave is 25 metres long. Other caves on the site include Elgin’s Hole and Canal Cave.
The caves at How Stean Gorge are thought to have been home to Vikings from 866 to 1066, and in 1868 a trove of Roman coins was found buried here.
There’s a cafe perched on a cantilever platform above the gorge, with glass walls and glass panels in the floor so you can see straight down into the depths.
The visitor attraction has just undergone a major facelift, installing new eco-friendly luxury chalets with hot tubs and wood burning stoves, alongside the 20-pitch campsite.
Tony Liddy, director of How Stean Gorge, says: “We’ve transformed the site with our ambitious expansion plans to cater to the huge demand for adventure tourism.
“Acquiring the caves is an important part of that, as we want to showcase nature’s stunning playground in this unique gorge that has existed for ten thousand years, since the last Ice Age.”
Graded as a triple Site of Special Scientific Interest, the gorge hosts amazing geological formations, features bats hanging from its caves and fossils frozen in its limestone.
The limestone gorge is also a green oasis for marsh marigolds and lime-loving plants. Ancient ferns, cuckoopints and horsetails create the sense of entering a lost world.
The caves are also home to the remains of crinoids – plant fossils – and brachiopods – shell fossils, as well as the large European cave spiders.
For all activities see www.howstean.co.uk
Images: Hayley Gray. Pictures show her daughter, 15-year-old Zahra Gray, a regular visitor to the caves.