Cradle Hole

COUNTY FERMANAGH

Walking down the Cradle hole doline

Cradle Hole is an enormous doline, measuring approximately 150 x 100m, located close to Marble Arch. It represents a substantial collapse of subterranean passageways and the subsequent in-filling. The Aghinrawn river, which gathers on the slopes of Cuilcagh, rolls down the gritstone mountain and sinks underground via Monsatir Sink and Pollbwee. From here it is channelled into Upper Cradle Cave passing beneath the collapse of Cradle Hole and following into Lower Cradle and, ultimately, feeding to Marble Arch.

The main streamway in Lower Cradle

I will eventually publish a page on Marble Arch itself but until then I have much work to do on finalising this cave, having focused my efforts on the larger passageways of Lower Cradle rather than the more well decorated but smaller ones of Upper Cradle.

A sole caver stands in the main streamway of the Aghinrawn river in Lower Cradle

As can be seen from the photos above, Lower Cradle is quite a dramatic spot. It features a short but triple layered series of passages that culminate in the Main Chamber, which must surely be one of the largest in Ireland. This photo is lit by the largest flashbulb I have at my disposal, a Megaflash 300, plus a G.E. #5 and is supplemented with the warm glow from the sole caver’s carbide lamp.

The very end of the main chamber, invisible in the above photos!

While lacking in pretty decorations the cave is best appreciated for its complex levels and intricately hidden passageways. The picture below shows one such lovely fossil phreatic tube in which the photo was taken as a long exposure using only the caver’s carbide light. For all its beauty, Lower Cradle has a tragic recent history, being the spot in which three young student cavers drowned in the 1990s trying to access the Grand Gallery of Marble Arch via a series of ducks in a high water-level passage. The cave has since been gated and a memorial plaque is mounted outside.

Carbide-lit passageway

Upper Cradle, the name given to the passages south of Cradle Hole, is connected to Lower Cradle via a 160 m long underwater passageway discovered in 2010 by Artur Kozlowski. It features deep and cold water that is occasionally interrupted by beautiful calcite formations. At its up-stream end, after heavy rain a spectacularly large quantity of foam is sometimes visible. My thanks must go to Michal who, as ever, braved the cold water without a wetsuit for no reason other than to get a good photo!

A “Guinness” pool

I intend to return to this cave to finish off photographing the pretty parts in Upper Cradle. Until then, here’s a few more shots from both caves:

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