The Priest's Hole on Dove Crag featured in the BBC programme. Photo: Mick Garratt CC-BY-SA-2.0

The Priest's Hole on Dove Crag featured in the BBC programme. Photo: Mick Garratt CC-BY-SA-2.0

A man has died after falling almost 500ft on a Lake District mountain while heading for a cave made popular by a television programme earlier this year.

The 50-year-old was trying to reach the Priest’s Hole on Dove Crag on Saturday when he fell to his death.

The seven-hour rescue to reach the fallen man and his seven companions involved three rescue teams, search dogs and a Coastguard helicopter.

The cave, high on Dove Crag, featured in BBC One’s Secret Britain in spring when presenter Chris Hollins made the ascent to the site and the natural shelter has become increasingly popular with hillwalkers since.

Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team was alerted shortly before 10pm on Saturday by Cumbria Constabulary after receiving a 999 call to say a man had fallen down the front face of Dove Crag.

A team spokesperson said: “The man had planned on spending the night with a group of eight friends in the Priest’s Hole, a shallow overhang, high on Dove Crag.

“Given the nature of the incident Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team called for the assistance of a Coastguard Helicopter, Rescue 999, from Prestwick in Scotland. The helicopter flew direct to the scene and by using its forward looking infra-red camera it was able to direct a member of the team directly to casualty’s location within minutes of arriving on scene.”

Team leader Mike Blakey said: “The helicopter was able to direct the team straight to the man’s location, approximately 50m below the bottom of the main crag.

“The man, who had slipped from the ledge, had fallen approximately 150m vertically and had sustained fatal injuries.

“The helicopter was unable to get close the scene but provided lighting from a hover position a few hundred metres away from the crag. Rescue 999 then returned to the valley bottom to uplift equipment and members of Penrith MRT who had been called to support us.

Priest's Hole, Dove Crag. Photo: Mick Garratt CC-BY-SA-2.0

Priest's Hole, Dove Crag. Photo: Mick Garratt CC-BY-SA-2.0

“Unfortunately, due to the weather conditions the helicopter was then unable assist further and the team evacuated the man over a large boulder field and then down the valley on a stretcher to a Land Rover ambulance.

“This kind of evacuation is always complex as it involves belaying the stretcher down the mountainside and team members literally manhandling the stretcher over each boulder, through dense bracken and over streams.

“We also deployed four team members to the Priest’s Hole to assist the remaining members of the party back to the safety of our base.”

Mr Blakey said the rescue lasted seven hours and involved more than 25 members of Patterdale, Penrith and Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue Teams. Seven mountain rescue search dog handlers who were on their way to help at the time the man was found also joined the operation.

The Patterdale team had also called for the early assistance of Cumbria Ore Mines Rescue Unit in case the man had ended up on a ledge below the cave. Mr Blakey said: “This area is notoriously difficult for the team to access as there are no safe locations to attach ropes for a safe lower and COMRU have the ability to place bolts for us if required.

“This Priest’s Hole has seen an increase in visitor numbers since the BBC covered its location in a documentary this year. Earlier in the summer a man sustained very serious injuries whilst attempting to access the location one evening and prior to this we were also called to assist a father and son.

“This group of friends were very well equipped and prepared for their adventure.

“However, as a team we are seeing more and more people who are attempting to the locate Priest’s Hole in the dark and without the right equipment.

“Indeed, during this rescue at about 11pm we came across three men who had been searching for the cave for a couple of hours. We really would like to remind people that the cave is on the front face of a vertical cliff, and it is only accessible by one route.

“It is always best to plan to stay in good weather and to arrive in daylight. An Ordnance Survey map and good navigations skills are prerequisites.

“Finally, and most importantly, our thoughts are with man’s family and friends including those were staying the night with him. No matter how many times we deal with such incidents they are always tragic and very sad for all concerned.”

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