The BBC has been blamed for turning a dangerous cave into a tourist hotspot after a 50-year-old former Otago climber plunged 150m to his death.

Kevin Ryan had planned on spending a night with eight friends in the Priest's Hole, a shallow overhang high on Dove Crag, near Glenridding in the Lake District.

But the explorer from Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, fell off the cave mouth's ledge on the side of the 760m crag featured in the BBC documentary series Secret Britain.

The coronor ruled Ryan, a massage therapist who lived in Otago in 2008 before returning to his native UK, died accidentally and may have lost balance after drinking enough Cognac to be nearly one-and-a-half times the drink-drive limit.


At the time of the death, Mike Blakey, leader of Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team, blamed the BBC show for more climbers trying to reach the ledge.

The cave was shown on Secret Britain last March when presenter Chris Hollins (pictured in same episode climbing in another area of the Lake District) ascended on it. Photo: Secret Britain, BBC One
The cave was shown on Secret Britain last March when presenter Chris Hollins (pictured in same episode climbing in another area of the Lake District) ascended on it. Photo: Secret Britain, BBC One

The cave was shown last March on episode one of the third series when presenter and former Strictly Come Dancing star Chris Hollins made a daring ascent to it.

Last October, Blakey said: "This Priest's Hole has seen an increase in visitor numbers since the BBC covered its location in a documentary this year.

"In the summer a man sustained very serious injuries while attempting to access the location one evening and prior to this we were also called to assist a father and son.

"As a team we are seeing more and more people who are attempting to locate the Priest's Hole in the dark and without the right equipment."

Urging people who insist on travelling to the cave to carefully prepare, he added: "An Ordnance Survey map and good navigation skills are prerequisites.

"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.

"No matter how many times we deal with such incidents they are always tragic and very sad for all concerned."

The Priest's Hole, in the Eastern Cumbrian Fells, is southwest of Glenridding and is often considered part of the Fairfield horseshoe walk.

However, a direct ascent from Patterdale offers the most impressive views. The spot is about 4m deep and would comfortably fit about 10 adults.

But in April, just weeks after it appeared on TV, a father and son had to be rescued after trying to copy Hollins' climb.

Then on October 15, experienced climber Ryan, who worked in the oil refinery industry, joined eight male friends to also reach the cave.

By 9pm everyone had bedded down except one-time Mt Everest climber Ryan, who said he wanted to watch the campfire at the cave's entrance go out.

When he failed to return, fellow climbers searched but could only find his hat. The inquest heard he may have gone to the edge to urinate and lost his balance.

His body was found at the bottom with multiple injuries, including a fractured skull.

The seven-hour rescue operation involved almost 30 members of two mountain rescue teams, aided by seven search-dog handlers.

Police statements read out at the inquest said Ryan was not a big drinker but had consumed an amount of Cognac from a cycling bottle.

No one in his party believed him to be "drunk or incapable", but medical experts said alcohol could have affected his balance.

Tests showed Ryan was nearly one-and-a-half times the drink-drive limit. Otherwise he was fit, strong and never ill or depressed.

Coroner Robert Chapman said no one witnessed the fatal fall but he accepted it had been accidental.

"Clearly he had a bit to drink and he was not a big drinker and may be alcohol made him a bit unsteady," said Chapman.

"None of the group felt he was intoxicated in any way and this looks like an unfortunate and regrettable accident."

Climbing colleague Thomas Hall described his friend Ryan as the "kingpin of the group" and said his death had "rocked" his close friends.

Relatives described him as a "free spirit with a heart of gold". The family said he was an "inspiration" and an adventurer who "never sat down".

They added: "We would all like to thank the mountain rescue team for their continued help.

"Their actions on the mountain and the empathy they have shown is tribute to the amazing job they do."

A single man with no children, Ryan had lived and worked in Germany, South America, Hong Kong and New Zealand, among other countries.

His globe-trotting adventures included climbing Mt Everest in 2001 and recovering from malaria in Africa.

He also loved climbing, cycling, scuba diving and squash - and at 50 he took up two new sports by joining a kayak club and participating in a boxing match.

Friends said he had decided never to marry, have children or be "tied down". He was regarded a "living legend" by those who admired his passion for adventures.

A BBC spokesman was contacted for comment by MailOnline today. A source has previously said that the programme clearly told how it was a dangerous climb.