Morgan Specht, Huw Jones, Lee Garbett
Early on a Sunday morning at the beginning of December I drove from Abergavenny about 50 minutes through the beautiful countryside around Brecon en route to Penwyllt in the Swansea Valley. Penwyllt is the headquarters of the South Wales Caving Club who are the gate keepers for the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave systems. There I met up with Huw and a new man to the club named Lee. Lee’s other half Carolyn had meant to come but after doing her first BCC trip into Aggy earlier that week she was still a bit stiff and decided to give this trip a miss.
We changed into our gear and Huw grabbed the key and signed us out on SWCC’s caving board. Cavers on the whole are very enterprising with their approach to gear, producing bespoke and homemade/altered gear and Lee was no exception. He came to South Wales from the peak district and a climbing background, having done some caving, where he claims that he didn’t have much use for a helmet. The helmet he pulled out of his gear bag was an impressive creation. He had adapted a helmet with black duct tape to hold several head torches.
We walked down the hill to the cave entrance, about a 20 minute walk. This was a new way of approaching the cave for Huw, who said that years ago you had to drive down the hill, park and use someone’s drive, but recently the right of access and land had been secured by the club allowing us to walk down from the club.
We approached the entrance, descended the ladder and opened the gate to enter OFD 1. The plan was to do the round trip. Huw had printed out the surveys and route descriptions and highlighted our route. He gave me the opportunity to lead the trip and do the route finding. We got our bearings and set off through the lower section which had been set up to be a show cave with concrete floors and railings, now gone. We made our way to the Toast Rack which is a junction, either going straight on through Pluto’s bath or up the fixed step ladder that takes you up over a six foot smooth flowstone step. We went up and came shortly to another junction, where we took a right under some fine curtains and headed to the Step, which was a nice series of steps down into the main Stream Way. The Stream Way was brilliant, a long winding passage with rushing water carving great shapes and scallops into the rock. Crossing the pots is the main hazard at this water level and is fun because you have to balance on a rolling scaffolding bar which is attached on the upstream end. None of us swam, but we did fill our wellies! We made our way along to Lowe’s Chain which is a smooth 4 meter high wall with two fixed ropes hanging down it. We passed this and went on up the stream to a waterfall and the end of the passage, where I climbed up over a natural stone bridge to have a look at the entrance to the Waterfall series. It was a precarious climb and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with a fear of heights or a priority on self-preservation. I carefully climbed down and we made our way back to Lowe’s Chain where we climbed out of the Stream way. The climb wasn’t too tough, but this could prove to be the most difficult part of the trip for some cavers.
This took us up into the Rawl Series, a dry blocky series of passages, chambers, and chokes where Lee discovered the value of wearing a helmet. The cave here is similar in character to OFD 2 further up the hill. The route took us up and back around on ourselves until we arrived at Pi Chamber where we went left, and I found the way on behind a boulder which dropped us steeply down a small phreatic tube (a long way down surprisingly) to the beginning of the bolted traverse 50 feet above the Stream Way. If you don’t like traverses, cow’s tails are advised to attach yourself to the cable, but it is a wide and flat ledge that can be done without them. The start is the scariest bit because you have to slither over a polished bolder and carefully get your foot on the ledge beside the drop! I managed without attaching myself to the cable, tucking my elbow over the cable and slithered along the wall when the ledge narrowed!! Exciting!!!
After the traverse the passage meanders until you pop your head out of a dig and then crawl back to a recognizable junction where we saw the hanging curtains earlier. We had finished the round trip and done if fairly quickly so we headed back down past the curtains and scrambled up a smooth flowstone climb on the left and made our way to along Column Passage to The Column, which is well worth the visit. We then went back down to the stream to a fork which lead us back up to the Toast Rack, this time crossing Pluto’s Bath. I successfully crossed it without getting soaked due to my long legs. Lee got a bit wet!
We made our way out and back up the hill, to the showers and changing facilities at Penwyllt. It was a great trip and you can see why it’s a classic caving must do for any aspiring caver. It takes less 4 hours, its good practice for navigating, it has every variety of cave challenges, none of which are too extreme or unpleasant and it’s stunning. It’s a lot of fun and having a warm shower and a roaring fire to follow it up makes a perfect day.