Craig a Ffynnon, Helictite Passage, 5th choke and The Promised Land – 29th May 2016 by Tom Williams

Tom Williams
Huw Jones

Meeting in the Craig a Ffynnon layby on a pleasant Sunday Morning, the sun already beating down made me reluctant to want to go underground and even more reluctant to walk up the hill in PVC suit and Neofleece undersuit. I didn’t have a choice though, today was the day that I was going to be doing a trip I’d always wanted to do. The Promised Land, 5th choke and Helictite Passage.

Making swift progress from the entrance, up through the chokes and into The Hall of the Mountain King, where we stopped to refuel. Upon opening his bag, Huw found that he had not left his phone and our car keys in a safe place as planned, but had instead drowned them in Gasoline alley.

Phone and car keys were left to dry in The Hall of the Mountain King, we began the crawl through Hurricane Highway. The initial calcite letterbox felt surprisingly spacious after everything I’d read and heard about it. After a tiring crawl we were into the Severn Tunnel and the 3-way junction.

Turning right saw us pass over the slot in the floor which lead towards Blean Elin Streamway and a vow to return and explore that at a later date. Route finding through the 4th choke was a bit tricky until I spotted an awkward looking crawl. Initially writing it off as a dead end until I took a few steps to the left to reveal it opening up around the back of some boulders.

Eventually we made it to the top of the pitch to The Promised Land and the junction which leads to the 5th choke. Here we stopped for water and food. I was overheating and made the mistake of removing my helmet to cool down. Big mistake. When putting my helmet back on, I’d found that the sweatband had gone stone cold, which came as a bit of a shock as I forced my helmet back on.

Time was getting on as we had been meandering and chatting too much. We needed to be quick. We did The Promised Land in its entirety, visiting first The Pagoda and then the 90 degree bend that leads towards Darren Cilau. Back up the pitch and it was time for Helictite passage. We took our time to admire the formations and trying to spot which ones had been featured in the Sid Perou film. We couldn’t decide which ones they were….

Quick progress to the 5th choke and a quick chat about the possibilities that lay beyond and we were on our way back out. Hurricane Highway brought thoughts of the struggle Sid Perou and his crew must have endured lugging cameras through there. I’m grateful we now have GoPro.

We were soon out into the sunshine and changed out of our wet caving gear.

What a brilliant trip, I can’t wait to return and have a look at the Blean Elin Streamway and to have a look at some of the pitches.

What a way to spend a Sunday.

Craig a Ffynnon North West Inlet 29th May 2016 by Vicky Blumel

Vicky Blümel
Bethan Perriman
Tom Perriman
Jenny Hurley
Cheryl Thomas

So the nice weather finally appears in Wales and guess what – a cave sounded a better option than a beer garden. With that in mind myself, Bethan, Tom, Jenny and Cheryl Headed to the North West Inlet of Craig a Ffynnon.

We had our usual layby change which is currently situated at the side of a busy road due to the A465 dualing project and we were soon off to the delights of my favourite cave. Tom Williams and Huw Jones tagged along as they were heading to the Promised land and one by one we crawled through the gate and into the first chamber where the log book is stored. After a quick sign in and a quick chat about the conservation and photography of bats we began our journey.

After the first stooping walk, where you’ll find a thermometer monitoring the caves temperature, you’ll enter the second chamber which is beautifully decorated with formations covering every inch of rock. Following on from that is a wide passage with a stream running down it and after a small scramble through this, we were up into the “Chamber of Straws.” As most of you will already know, this is the first of an endless list of breathtaking sights you will witness on your travels in here.

Straw Chamber

Straw Chamber (Tapes digitally removed) by Barry Burn

With a lot of oooos and ahhhs from our new recruits Jenny and Cheryl, we headed down the phreatic passage that leads to the first boulder choke. In this passage from time to time you can see the water marks up to at least 8 feet! Craig has been known to flood to the roof at this point which is why it’s suggested you do not venture in in bad weather for fear of being cut off, or worse.

The first boulder choke is somewhat simple but wet. The stream that you hear running from the first chamber is what is falling from this choke. A 12ft damp ladder climb up brings you to the scaffolding which results in a bit of handy work to enter the chamber above where Gasoline Alley begins. Gasoline Alley is the first of many crawls that this cave has to offer and is also an eye opener for anyone who is visiting as at elbow depth it can take your breath away with the sheer iciness of the water. It is usually at this point that I warn a group that the best, and coldest, is yet to come. The Alley is finely decorated with straws and the shingle stooped walk between the 2 wet crawls is somewhat beach like; yet not sunny and sadly no ice cream.

After you exit Gasoline Alley a short easy walk will bring you to the junction of NWI or HOTMK. Here I usually use the squeeze at the bottom of the pitch as a taster of tight spaces. Jen and Cheryl were keen to pop it through and take a look at the pitch so with that we shot through and explained where the pitch leads and what they would see if they got to the top. A quick gathering of thoughts and a wave to Tom and Huw who were at the top of the pitch and we were off back through the rabbit hole to the junction. Jen and Cheryl really weren’t looking that thrilled to see a somewhat small tunnel cut into the rock so I was keen to get straight in and show them the size of the wet passage before we continued with our trip. Cold is really not the word when you enter the water. Caving becomes a stupid idea, a hot shower is the best thought you’ve ever had and the language becomes extremely colourful however after a quick dunk you soon climatise to the conditions and off you walk/swim/hop to the delights of NWI. In all honestly the wet passage really doesn’t have anything overly exciting to offer you. There are a few formations high up in the rock above but the passage you are traveling through is out of this world and you really begin to understand how caves were formed when you can see how water has shaped the earth below your feet. Be warned though there are some large rocks under the water which you will usually miss until you fall over them or stand on top to lower yourself back in and get a dunking when you realise that there is a few extra inches the other side. After the water there is some mud… proper mud. Not the type you find in the garden. This mud is thick, stains and you can guarantee someone will get stuck.

My first trip here resulted in being dug out of the mud by Zeb while I flapped around like a wet fish trying to get to the other side. Some boulder hopping later you and will reach “The Dragon” She is a beauty! She sits there guarding her nest keeping visitors at bay. Not much further on you and will reach the end of the passage. There are magnificent straw displays to both sides and a muddy climb up to the dig where you will find the railway line. Yes – a railway line that was used to transport rocks and rubble out from a dig to be put down the slope. The sheer amount of rock that has been removed from the dig is outstanding.

Straws at the end of NWI

Straws at the end of NWI

We headed back out of the cave at a much quicker speed than we entered and into the outstanding weather we left behind. Jenny even got to see her bat!!

Porth yr Ogof, 15th May 2016 by Victoria Blümel

Victoria Blümel
Andrew “Zeb” Zerbino
Barry Burn
Cheryl Thomas
Jenny Hurley

Photographs by Barry Burn (Click on image for larger view)

With BCC headquarters situated near the lovely surroundings of Clydach Gorge and The Llangattock escarpment – the obvious choices for beginners trips are Ogof Clogwyn or Ogof Egwlys Faen. However after much debate – Mostly between me and Barry we had decided the give Porth Yr Ogof, Ystradfellte a go.

Today’s new recruits were my friend of 26 years Jenny and her wonderful Fiancé Cheryl. Neither of them was overly fond of the idea of caving but Jenny gave in to my frequent requests and they decided to come along for the ride.

After an extremely late night the night before where we watched Eurovision, drank beer and ate possibly the most amazing tapas board I had ever created – we somehow were up and rearing to go by 8am!

Tapas!

Tapas!

After meeting Barry and Zeb – We began our journey to the Neath valley while we discussed the days trip with our somewhat petrified yet enthusiastic guests and handed them some surveys to show them where we were visiting.

For anyone who has never been to Porth – be warned. You can guarantee the moment the sun is out, the whole of South and Mid Wales descend upon it like seagulls do to a dropped cheese sandwich, parking becomes a game of nerves and then once you finally park you’ll then be scrambling around the car for the £4 in change you need for the meter.

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Ready To Go

After a quick change in the car park (there are changing facilities available for public use) we were off to explore the depths of Porth Yr Ogof via the main entrance. By this point it was very clear that our previously enthusiastic Jen and Cheryl were having second thoughts but they continued into the cave and began to enjoy themselves and we took a short climb up that led to Upper Stream Passage and then out by one of the other entrances.


Re-entering via the Main Entrance again, we found some relatively squeezey bits near the entrance to the right to clamber through then headed to Upper Stream Passage. We exited the cave at this point then we went back down to the main entrance to take a look at the now somewhat busy White Horse pool. We then headed to The Maze and then slid into The Creek. It was at this point that Barry suggested we get the camera back in action and sent me down the wet underpass to take some photographs.

As we took a walk up the passage to the Great Bedding cave – I found myself some well polished rock and decided to use it as a slide. Sadly my antics resulted in me sliding down too fast and smacking my bottom on a rock just as a group of young cavers on an outward bounds trip came walking around the corner.

Vicky In The Rat Trap

Vicky In The Rat Trap

After a stooped walk through the Great Bedding Cave – Barry took Jen and Cheryl out while myself and Zeb went to take a look at the resurgence which was choked with trees however Barry has since informed me that more recently, it has gained a sheep.


We concluded our trip by having a walk to The Blue Pool where someone who shall not be named dragged me in, a posh picnic of cheese and olives out of the back of the Land Rover and a beer in the pub down the road.

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The Resurgence Pool

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The Resurgence Pool

For me Porth is not on my list of favourites. There are too many visitors and not enough mud and tight spaces for my liking but if you’re a beginner or taking beginners out then jump at the chance as it gives you pretty much everything you need for a introduction trip.

Jen and Cheryl must have enjoyed it – They’ve come back for more!

Mission Accomplished

 

Will’s Hole, Sunday 1st May 2016 by Barry Burn

Barry Burn
Tristan Burn
Tom Williams
Vicky Blüemel
Andrew “Zeb” Zerbino

With the aim of allowing Vicky and Tom to try out their newly aquired SRT skills, a suitable pitch was needed and so Will’s Hole was settled upon.

It transpired that Vicky and Zeb were going to have some problem getting to Dinas Rock in the near future so Tom, Tristan and I continued on ahead to rendevous with Huw Jones, the club tacklemaster to pick up some club kit and then on to Dinas Rock find a completely packed car park. Luckily one van was leaving so we were able to squeeze Tom’s Disco, change and head on upstream to the cave where we quickly entered and made the short way to the pitch.

There are a load of ancient spit anchors placed all over the pitch in Will’s Hole, the majority of which are very dubious along with a piece of railway placed back from the pitch at floor level, the best of a bad lot were selected and the pitch rigged.

Tom was first off down the pitch followed by Tris and finally myself.

Tom sets off down the pitch.

Tom sets off down the pitch.

I’d love to say that Will’s Hole is an amazing cave that should be on everyone’s to do list, but I can’t. It’s a horrible, muddy dismal place and after taking some pictures, we were soon ready to head back out.

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Just as we were getting to the pitch, we heard a “Hullooo” from the top. Vicky and Zeb had arrived. The three of us at the bottom headed up to meet them and to allow them to visit the muddy delights that awaited them.

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Tom Sets Off

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Tom Approaches the Pitch Head

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Tris At the Top

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Vicky Heads Down

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Vicky Mid-Pitch

Zeb and Vicky also didn’t stay too long in the cave, just long enough for one of them to fall gracelessly into the mud taking the other with them. Then it was back on to the rope and back up and out.

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Vicky Appears at The Top

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Zeb On Way Up

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Zeb at the Top

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Will’s Hole is not a great cave and as it is used quite a bit, could probably do with some P-bolts placed to ease the rigging. However, we did enjoy the visit especially for the chance for some SRT.

 

 

Upper Dinas Silica Mine, 1st May 2016 by Barry Burn

Barry Burn
Tristan Burn
Tom Williams
Vicky Blüemel
Andrew “Zeb” Zerbino

After leaving the delightful Will’s Hole behind us, we decided to go back to the cars via the Upper Silica Mine that can be reached by following the river upstream until an obvious mine entrance is found up a banking and behind a low fence.

We entered via the lower entrance and had a quick look around the lower levels where you can walk to the far end of the mine with steep inclines to your left that lead to higher parallel galleries and lower flooded levels to your right.

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Looking back to the lower entrance

And we explored some of the lower levels of the mine.

 

Tris decided to have a look at one of the flooded levels.

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And we threatened Zeb with what might happen the next time he’s late.

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Late again and we remove the chocks…

A detour to the crane and then back out by climbing the slope up to an upper entrance at the top of the hill.

It is quite amazing when you pop out the top of the hill to realise that the whole interior of the hill has been hollowed out by mining activity.

A walk back down off the rock back to the cars followed completed an enjoyable double-trip day.

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Back Down The Rock

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu 1 – Waterfall Series, Sunday 10th April 2016 by Barry Burn

Victoria Bluemel, Huw Jones, Andrew Zerbino and Barry Burn

Photos – Barry Burn except Crystal Photos – Andrew Zerbino

I had a feeling that Ogof Ffynnon Ddu 1 could be addictive as we changed ready for another trip into this system, this time to explore the Waterfall Series.

Group

Group

As before, we made quick progress through the Cyril Powell series past The Cathedral and up The Toast Rack. A small squeezy passage on the right looked inviting to the lover of small places that is Zeb Zerbino and he happily inserted himself into it to see where it went. The rest of us took the sensible option of walking around the corner to watch him come out the other end. Continuing on soon saw us back at The Step and then into the Main Streamway.

The Main Streamway was well behaved as the weather had been settled and we quickly proceeded along it, stopping for a few photos on the way, past Lowe’s Chain where Vicky again told Tom and I off and then to the start of the traverse up into the Waterfall Series. The traverse begins at stream level and gradually ascends up via a fixed wire to a short climb through boulders to bring you out in a high passage that is followed to reach a junction with the Dry Way straight ahead and the Wet Way to the right. We carried on along the Dry Way to reach Idol Junction where a climb up to the West Leg can be taken or another branch followed to the East Leg. Here one wall is covered in a pure white formation that seems to cascade down from the roof high above and I spent a bit of time trying to get a half decent photograph of it while Huw climbed up into the West Leg for a look.

Carrying on to the start of the East Leg, a passage can be followed to a climb up into Crystal Pool Chamber and The Annex. My back was complaining a bit by this time so I elected to stay behind and photograph the many helictites that were here whilst the others went on to explore. When they returned, we had a further look around with Zeb squeezing into a small passage with an incredible floor mad of crystals and then started to return. On the way back, Zeb and Vicky decided to go via the Wet Way whilst the two sensible members of the party took the easier Dry Way. Back to the top end of the fixed wire and soon we were back in The Main Streamway. Hopefully when my back and neck improve, I shall make a return with a view to exploring some more of the series.

Back at stream level, before returning, we carried on around the corner into the impressive, but rather forbidding Boulder Chamber. Here a way on through the boulders by the right hand wall will take you through to the connection with OFD1.5 and the possibility of a through trip to come out via Cwm Dwr or to the top of the hill and the OFD2 entrance. I hung back and waited as my back was definitely twinging by now and the others crawled into the boulder choke to have a look around and then it was back along the streamway when they returned.

Boulder Chamber

Boulder Chamber

This time The Step was passed to continue on to leave the Main Streamway at the passage that leads to Pluto’s Bath, a deep pool that can be traversed across but is probably easier to just accept that you are going to get wet. Zeb made a brilliant show of how not to traverse over it and created a good splash as he hit the water. Luckily, I had the camera on video at the time. It was at this point that I discovered that buying cheap isn’t always the best policy as the fleece undersuit I’d bought to replace the one I shrunk turned out to not be very free-draining and I doubled in weight.

Worms

Worms

Emerging back at The Toast Rack, we quickly made our way back to the entrance although the strange sight of a large number of white worms in one of the artificial pools was intriguing. Having a close look, they revealed themselves to be earthworms that had lost their colour. They must have been washed in during recent wet weather to be deposited in the pool. But why they would be ‘bleached’ almost white though?

A quick change and back to drop the key off at Penwyllt and after a chat with the duty warden, Huw had to dash off but Zeb, Vicky and I took the opportunity for a couple of pints in The Ancient Briton to round off another excellent day in OFD1.

Agen Allwedd, Inner Circle – Sunday 8th May 2016 by Huw Jones

A great trip with Thomas Williams today – the Inner Circle in Agen Allwedd. It was nice to stretch the legs! We got underground at 10.20 and made our way through the Entrance Series, along the Main Passage for a bit and then down the Main Streamway to North West Junction. I’d taken a rope for the climb down from Keyhole Chamber but we found all the climbs around the Second Choke and Keyhole Chamber already had ropes on them so I left our rope there and carried on with a lighter bag! From Northwest Junction we turned up the finely decorated Turkey Streamway. After a refuelling stop near Turkey Junction, it was on to Turkey Pool. I managed to traverse across, not getting wet above the knees but Tom succumbed to what he said was the inevitable and slipped in up to his chest! A little after this we turned right through Hawkin’s Horror into Sand Caverns and soon turned right again into Selenite Needle Passage, which is festooned with crystals. This starts off as a crawl but after a bit turns into a lovely walking passage, with an easy-going flat mud floor.

At the end of Selenite Needle we reached a junction at the start of the Inner Circle proper. Left was our way on and straight on was were we would be returning from, to complete the Circle. We’d expected to take 6 hours to do the whole trip but a look at the watch showed we’d taken 3 hours just to reach this point and we hadn’t even started on the Inner Circle yet! We’d obviously been taking it a bit too easy so far! We picked up the pace and completed the Inner Circle in 45mins, which included going off to see the Swiss Village and a Mocha stop – yes really, Tom had brought a flask! There’s some truly huge passage up this way (plus some crawls just to even things out) and the Dome of St.Pauls has a very impressive ceiling.

The trip out went smoothly apart from me falling into Turkey Pool this time! We exited, to fabulous weather, bang on 5 o’clock after 6 hours 40 mins underground. Taking a tip from Huw Durban, I took a good supply of home prepared isotonic drink with me, which is very easy to make. I’m sure it made a difference, as I didn’t feel any real fatigue until about 5 mins from the entrance! A great trip – thanks Tom.

Sorry there’s no photos but neither of us took a camera.