Dow Cave, near Kettlewell
Turner visited Dow Cave on his tour of Yorkshire in late July 1816. He stayed at nearby Kettlewell and appears to have hired a guide to show him to the cave and to lead him underground. Turner belonged to the first generation to develop an aesthetic interest in visiting and exploring caves. The taste for exploring underground, though by no means so challenging as modern caving, was still in its infancy, but was sufficiently popular for a guide to the 'Caves of Yorkshire' to have been published in Turner's youth. It is probable that the guides of Kettlewell earned a steady income from showing visitors the local attractions.
It seems clear that Turner was intending a view of at least the exterior of Dow Cave and possibly one of the interior as well. In the event he did not complete the whole project as intended and it does not appear that he ever made any finished works out of his sketches.
Turner made two quite detailed and careful sketches of the entrance to the cave in one of his larger sketchbooks (A Figure at the Entrance to Dow Cave, near Kettlewell 'Yorkshire 4' sketchbook, Tate Gallery, Finberg number: CXLVII 1 and Dow Cave, near Kettlewell 'Yorkshire 4' sketchbook, Tate Gallery, Finberg number: CXLVII 2) and then a whole series of quick notes underground in a smaller pocketbook (Dow Cave 'Yorkshire 2' sketchbook, Tate Gallery, Finberg number: CXLV 155-158).
Working in the dark, or by flickering candlelight, many of these are so animated as to be almost indecipherable, but nevertheless do communicate his excitement at descending into the cave. The sound of waters underground would no doubt have been particularly dramatic since the summer of 1816 was one of the wettest on record.
The site is frequently visited by walkers and cavers and is one end of the famous Dowbergill Passage, 10-25 metres high but only 1 metre wide and completely straight for 1,500 metres. It was produced by solution along a fault and the stream goes through a spur of Great Whernside, sinking on one side and rising on the other.
The entrance of the cave (and Turner's viewpoint) can be reached by leaving the public footpath at SD982743 and following the path which crosses Open Access land. However, the cave is one of the great potholing adventures of the Yorkshire Dales and should not be entered unless with experts.
Discover The Landscape
The Turner Trails bench and panel are located in nearby Kettlewell, in the main National Park car park (the panel is located on the back wall of the toilet block).
Download our themed leaflet and let the rivers and waterfalls guide you around Turner's Yorkshire as water literally flows through many of his sketches and paintings.
Dow Cave, Near Kettlewell, North Yorkshire - Co-ordinates, 54 9 53.01N 2 1 38.43W
Map reference: SD983743View on map
Directions to Dow Cave, near Kettlewell:
Follow the B6160 to Kettlewell and then take the Kettlewell to Middleham road for about one mile. The site lies about 0.5 miles E of this road and is accessible via a public footpath only. Parking is available in Kettlewell village.