OFD1 – Main Streamway – 2nd April 2017 by Barry Burn

Barry Burn
Rob Johnston
Ruby Johnston
Dione Ball
Dave Gledhill

A somewhat poignant trip for me as this was to be Rob’s last caving trip before leaving South Wales for a life of retirement sailing the ocean’s and visiting far-off shores.

Rob and Myself along with Mark Wedlock were a regular team that explored a lot of the underground world of South Wales back in the 90s and early 2000s, but sadly, events transpired so that we gradually stopped caving together. Rob has now retired and is planning to whisk Paulyne, his wife, off on a life of mad adventure sailing the globe. But, before that, he wanted one last caving trip and especially one into OFD1 that he hadn’t visited for quite a few years.

Young Rob at LNRC

Young Rob at LNRC

A fine spring morning saw us meeting up at Penwyllt. Rob’s daughter Ruby joined us for her first taste of OFD and along with Dione and Trig we made our way to the layby where we changed and headed off to the entrance.There had been a fair bit of rain recently so the streamway promised to be sporting but we decided to carry on and to see how things looked when we reached The Step.

We had soon all descended the ladder and re-grouped in the small chamber at the bottom and then headed off into the cave. Ruby’s experience up until then had been much smaller caves with Porth yr Ogof being the biggest and so this was a suitably impressive step-up for her and she was obviously enjoying herself as the cave passage got progressively larger and better decorated. Rob, went into some sort of dreamlike state reminiscing about previous through-trips and we swapped tales about trips into the far reaches of OFD2 and other caves as well as fun times such as when nearly all of GCRT (us included) became trapped on the wrong side of a collapse.

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Ruby Goes Up The Toastrack Ladder

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Rob at The Toastrack

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Admiring Formations

A few photos on the way and we were soon at the calcite climb up into Column Passage and Trig kindly obliged to climb up first to rig a hand line. All were soon up and then along the passage to the small chamber that contains The Column where a fair bit of time was spent admiring it and trying to get Ruby and Dione to lead the way on to Eagle’s Nest through the duck. After is was clear that there was a sad lack of gullibility on this trip, we headed back and down the climb with varying amounts of grace.A few photos on the way and we were soon at the calcite climb up into Column Passage and Trig kindly obliged to climb up first to rig a hand line. All were soon up and then along the passage to the small chamber that contains The Column where a fair bit of time was spent admiring it and trying to get Ruby and Dione to lead the way on to Eagle’s Nest through the duck. After is was clear that there was a sad lack of gullibility on this trip, we headed back and down the climb with varying amounts of grace.

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Dione Admires The Column

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Ruby Is Not Convinced

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Formation on The Column

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Trig In The Column Pool

 

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Ruby Descending The Calcite Climb

At The Step the streamway was indeed slightly sporting, but just enough to make it more fun than the usual sploshing upstream, and so entered the water and progressed upstream. Everyone was more than eager to head off as some caring soul had decided that the passage just before The Step was a great place to relieve oneself and the stink of stale urine was overpowering here.

Heading upstream with more photos and a short diversion up to the start of the Maypole Wire and then a stop for a short break in Boulder Chamber before heading back downstream. Climbing out at The Step, we sent a few helmet-fulls of water onto the rock in a hope of cleaning it up a bit.

An obligatory visit to the passage beyond Pluto’s Bath and then back to the entrance. Trig and I went for a quick look at Gothic Sump before we headed back into the open air.

A shortish trip, but thoroughly enjoyable. It was great to be caving again and hopefully Rob’s travels will bring him back to Wales in the not too distant future and maybe then we can drag Mark back underground again. Ruby professed to having enjoyed the cave and was keen to see more so I hope she’ll continue the way she’s started and join us on some more trips.

OFD2 – Salubrious and Selenite 5th March 2017 by Barry Burn

Barry Burn
Tom Williams
Nick De Gare-Pitt

All photographs by Barry Burn

Having sampled most of what OFD1 has to offer, I needed to get back to OFD2 and start to re-discover the delights that the more complex part of this system presents. So, it was that Tom and I were joined by Nick, an old member of Isca who was returning to caving after a long break.

Meeting at Penwyllt we soon discovered that opting for a trip on a CHECC weekend has it’s own problems with the huge numbers of hung-over students that were milling around looking for their trip leaders. At one point, Tom and I were examining the survey in the common room when we heard a subtle groan and discovered a comatose male student looking up at us and wondering where in the seven circles he had found himself. We offered to show him an eighth one but he just cuddled up under his blanket and tried hard to ignore us.

Tom was on his second trip into the system that weekend having helped out with leading hordes of students around the OFD2 system the day before. He was at pains to point out that technically he’d actually done 1 and a half trips as on exiting the cave with one group, he’d been grabbed, before he could escape out of the entrance, to help show another group around. He pointed out that this was the reason for the state of his kit, although I personally couldn’t see the difference from a normal trip.
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The three of us did the usual trudge up the hill, Tom dripping mud, whilst Nick and I looked more respectable alongside him (although Nick was glowing slightly in his nice new oversuit), to the OFD2 entrance. A pause for a selfie and we were off into the relative warmth of cave.

OFD2 Selfie

OFD2 Selfie

We were soon heading past Big Chamber Near The Entrance and via The Brickyard into Gnome Passage. The plan was to do one of the trade routes down Salubrious and then via Selenite Tunnel to Edward’s Shortcut and then back into Gnome Passage before heading out.

We were soon at The Wedding Cake that is more of a splat, perhaps it should be rename the Wedding Cake Smash. We headed up Chasm Passage for a look at The Chasm before retracing our path back to the start of Salubrious Streamway.

The Wedding Cake

The Wedding Cake

Chasm Passage

Chasm Passage

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There was a group of students in front of us when we reached the Corkscrew so we waited to allow them to get ahead.

We soon caught up with them though and they asked for directions to the Trident and Judge. We’d borrowed a copy of the old survey and using this we gave them what we thought were the correct directions. Thinking we’d let them get ahead, we decided to go past the junction and have a look around before coming back to for a look ourselves. However, we soon found ourselves at The Trident and realising that the survey may have lied, Tom went back to get them on the right path whilst Nick and I stayed to take some photographs.

Nick at The Judge

Nick at The Judge

Nick And The Trident

Nick And The Trident

Tom reappeared with the students in tow and they were suitably impressed with the formations although none of them seemed able to ‘see’ the Judge. They soon left back up Salubrious and we headed in the other direction to see Selenite Tunnel.

Tom in Selenite Tunnel

Tom in Selenite Tunnel

Nickin Selenite Tunnel

Nickin Selenite Tunnel

We now just needed to head back to Gnome Passage via Shatter Pillar and then into Edward’s Shortcut. The climb up at the end of this has always been a slippery awkward climb but since I was there last, it seems to have become a really slippery awkward bastard of a climb. However, we were soon up and then back in Gnome Passage then back out the way we had come into the cold, sleety outside for a chilly walk back down the hill.

Group Selfie

Group Selfie

Me

Me

OFD1 – A Wee Potter Around – 20th November 2016 by Barry Burn

Barry Burn
Adam Knapp

With a view to visiting the Railton-Wilde series in OFD1, Adam and I met up bright and early at Penwyllt after a period of heavy snow the night before and reviewed the plan for the day. Overnight, there had been a heavy fall of snow with significant accumulations that were now melting. This would mean that there would be a large amount of water that would have entered the system and it was possible that there would be an additional input somewhere that would result in water levels rising again or further. We decided to write out the ticket to indicate an intention to visit the series but also to have a general bimble around the Fault Series and other areas of OFD1.

The OFD system is a marvelous place that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of visiting. There are always other places to find and explore. In 2016, I enjoyed becoming very well acquainted with OFD1 and in 2017, I think I shall reacquaint myself with OFD2. there are some places there I may never see but I would like to get to know this extensive system and revisit some of the lesser visited places such as the Northern Lights that I haven’t seen for a good many years. But for this day, it was OFD1 again.

Driving down to the lay-by and changing, we were soon off down the lane and up to the entrance. A quick selfie (I still can’t get these right) and we were down through the gate just in front of a group of SWCC prospective members that were visiting OFD for their first time.

We quickly moved off into the cave to reach the Toastrack and then on to The Step. Here it was obvious that there had been a significant amount of water that had entered the system and the stream level was quite high. Not the highest I have seen but high enough to potentially give some problems. At this point the following group turned up to have a look and the leader decided that it would be better to take her acolytes into some of the upper series instead and they returned the way they had come. Adam and I stepped into the stream to see if it would be passable and found the stream to be over well over knee level. We found it was relatively easy moving against the current but turning around it was obvious that this is where the potential problems could lie. Without a lot of concentration, it would be easy to lose one’s footing especially when descending the small cascades and water chutes that are in the streamway. We felt that if the water levels were dropping that we would be okay, however, it wasn’t known if there was further snowmelt still entering the system potentially increasing the water levels further. So, deciding it was likely to be a geological age before the Railton-Wilde series went  anywhere, we entered into bimble mode.

We made our way back the way we had come stopping for the odd photograph and looking into most of the small series that can be found around that area such as the Upper Toastrack and Coral Pool series. We then headed back towards the Fault Series with the intention of finding a passage that we thought we missed last time, stopping on the way to have a long chat with a couple of SWCC members.

A quick visit to the stream again by traversing over Pluto’s Bath for a lunch stop and another couple of photos and then we headed off and were soon climbing up into the Fault Series. We found the missing passage but it was taped off and weren’t going to be able to visit it anyway and so contented ourselves with another visit to the previously visited passage and a look at the formations there.

We were soon back on the surface for another selfie (I’m getting better) after a shorter than intended but still thoroughly enjoyable wee potter around OFD1.

(Please note, photographs to be added later).

OCAF – North West Inlet 13th Sept 2016 by Barry Burn

Huw Durban
Dione Ball
Barry Burn

A short evening trip into North West Inlet (NWI) was decided upon although I wasn’t sure if I would be home from work in time for it. There was to be the full compliment but various childcare issues meant that the ones lucky enough to have children old enough to look after themselves were the only ones able to make it.

Meeting at the layby by UB40 and jumping out of the car made me pause. There was something odd and strange, something was different, then it struck me, tarmac! The layby had been given a very nice new surface that replaced the horrible mud and discarded rubbish.

We were quickly changed and off up the path to the OCAF entrance. Dione, our newest member hadn’t been into OCAF before and was keen to see what we had been waxing so lyrical about.

At The Log Book

At the log book. Huw and I seem to look worried, whilst Dione shows she knows how this selfie thing works.

Dione Ball

The North West Inlet trip is (or was) an often overlooked trip that takes you through a very wet approach passage just before the pitches up to the Second Choke. This passage, although never taking you out of your depth (unless very short) will get you very wet as you wade neck deep in places. It soon, however, rises up and leads to a short muddy section and then gets bigger and higher as you follow the streamway. Formations abound, with one of the best being “The Dragon” but also plenty of flowstone and stalctites are to be seen.

Flowstone Formations

Flowstone Formations

There is a bit where you have to drop through boulders to continue and here it was sad to see that people had tried to go past the tapes and the obvious marks in the mud the other side of the route through the boulder bore witness to this. It does make me wonder how stupid people can be to not be able to follow an obvious taped path.

Continuing on brings you to the end of the passage and the dig that John Parker and Jeff Hill pushed for a long time, installing a railway with miniature wagons for the removal of spoil. The dig itself is rather unstable now with some collapses within but I often wonder what the indefatigable OCAF diggers would have found if they’d continued.

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A look at the railway and the formations at the end of the passage and we were soon on our way back out and at the cars getting changed.

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Judging by Dione’s mad grin that seemed to now be a permanent fixture, I think she enjoyed herself and is now ready for a foray beyond the Second Choke and having already been into Nant Rhin, I have no doubt she will find it a piece of cake.

Pant Mawr Pot – Sunday 25th August 2016 by Tom Williams

Tom Williams, Huw Jones, Helen Stewart and Malcolm Stewart

After a long but pleasant walk from Penwllyt, we were finally at the entrance to Pant Mawr Pot. Huw went down to rig while myself, Malcolm and Helen kitted up and I had one last bite to eat.

Abseiling down in a daylight shaft for a first time made me a bit nervous. All my other abseils have been into darkness, meaning I couldn’t see how far I could potentially fall and lulling myself into a false sense of security. This one was different, being able to clearly see the bottom, seeing how far down Huw and Helen were, really put into perspective how deep I was about to go. What followed was a period of swearing, panicking and holding onto the rope for dear life before I was onto the boulders at the rebelay. Helen made it look so easy, I made a right mess of it. The actual abseil was rather fun, albeit short lived. And before I knew it, I was at the bottom.

It felt like we had left 2016 behind and had stepped back into Jurassic Park. The sound of a waterfall in the distance, ferns high above us and a shaft of bright light piercing the darkness. This is what caving is about! Many a frog had somehow managed the journey from the surface without injury, there seemed to be a thriving colony in the underworld. A newt(?) was a pleasant surprise, I think it’s the first one I’ve ever seen in the wild. After a bit of photography, we started to move downstream, passing the first and second chokes with relative ease. Stopping off at Straw Chamber and the stunningly decorated Chaple, the helictites growing from the walls were a highlight. Travelling down through the oxbow, we arrived at Sabre Junction with the very impressive Sabre shaped formation from which the section is named. There is a rope hanging down from a climb just to the left of the Sabre, but due to the apparent age of the rope we decided against it. Later examination of the original 1959 survey doesn’t make reference to a high level passage there. Onwards through the third choke and a well earned pit stop. A number of small cairns in the area, some very impressively balanced, were the topic of conversation. But we couldn’t decide why they had been built. Next was The Graveyard, which links with The Vestry and The Organ Loft. Huw, Helen and I went off to investigate but shortly returned without seeing them. Next was The Great Hall and The Fire Hydrant, the force and volume of water from which was very impressive. A junction was then met, on the left was The Dead End and to the right the passage continued onwards towards The Sump. Malcolm went to look at the digs and abandoned digging materials, while Huw, Helen and I went to the sump and back. Much fun was had in the slippy mud en route. The fresh looking foam on the roof of the passages gave an indication of the heigh of the recent flooding in the passages. After taking stock of the digging debris left at The Dead End digs, we made quick progress back upstream and to the waterfall upstream of the entrance pitch. Huw made an impressive climb to then appear at the top of the waterfall. We washed our kit in the waterfall and decided to head home. I was looking forward to climbing back up the pitch, only to realise that I’d set my footloop a few inches too short. This made for difficult, tiring and slow progress back to the pitch head. I did get out…..eventually.

All in all a good trip, I wouldn’t mind a return trip to have a look at the higher level parts of the cave, above Sabre junction and into Dilly’s Despair.

OFD1 – The Fault Series – by Barry Burn

Barry Burn
Tristan Burn
Adam Knappe (Morgannwg)

4th September 2016

A short trip into OFD1 for a bit of a bimble up to the Fault Series and a poke around some of the other passages that are generally ignored by the majority of visitors.

There was supposed to be six of us but that had become three by the time we set off in the morning and it was only Tris and me from Brynmawr that met up with Adam from Morgannwg at Penwyllt bright and early.

There had been torrential rain the night before and we had to fend off a number of advisories to keep out of the streamway. I explained that we weren’t that daft and were only planning on a trip to The Fault Series. I did want to have a look at the Main Streamway though so intended to get close to it and see what state it was in.

We did our usual thing of driving the cars down to the layby to change where I discovered that instead of just forgetting my towel or clean undies, I’d managed to forget everything bar my oversuit, hat and lamp. “Ah well” I said, “It’s a dry trip, we’re going to be keeping out of the water” and so off we went with me less cosy than usual. We were soon into the cave and made our way to the start of The Fault Series that is a high level passage reached by climbing up a steep flowstone ramp. It was here that I remembered the unwritten rule of caving that every dry trip will always have a spot where you get wet. There was a lot of water flowing down the calcite ramp and at the top, there is a climb up through boulders where there was enough water cascading into it to give me a good wetting down.

Start of Fault Series

Start of the climb up into The Fault Series

Calcite Ramp

Calcite Ramp up into The Fault Series

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Squeeze through boulders at top of Calcite Ramp

The Fault Series itself is short but well worth the visit. There are some nice formations as well as some unusual mud formations. The whole area is well taped to protect these and they must be observed or the area would soon be trashed.

The passage after the mud deposits becomes larger until progress is halted at a large choke that hasn’t yet been passed. As we had plenty of time, we lingered awhile taking photos before returning back down the calcite ramp.

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Getting a good soaking coming back through the boulder squeeze.

We decided to have a look at the streamway at The Step so headed off there to be impressed with the torrent that was flowing. It would be definitely sporting to have tried to go upstream that day. Some foam flecks far above the current stream level showed that it had been considerably higher quite recently.p9040631

Instead of climbing back up The Step, there is a short section of passage, marked on the survey as Loopways so we had a quick look down there. This ends at a drop to the streamway but it is worth the quick look. In Traverse Passage, there is a window that looks down onto this short passage.

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A look up the start of the Escape Route and then coming back down the Toastrack, Tris and Adam decided to go through Pluto’s Bath and down to the streamway again. I was feeling the cold by now and didn’t fancy a dunking so elected to stay put. I soon heard calls that I really should come on down and see something. I was able to avoid the water by traversing across Pluto’s Bath and headed down the passage. The lower end of the passage was covered, walls and ceiling in foam and was a stark testament to just how high the Streamway can rise in flood. It must have risen to somewhere around six to eight feet above the current level. At this point is was possible to sit right by the water’s edge without getting swept away and this we did for a while before heading back out stopping briefly for Tris to perform his ‘ablutions.’

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Of course, it is almost obligatory to visit the Ancient Briton after a good trip into OFD and so we called in for a swift half on the way home.

p9040672 This was a good fun trip. It was something different, a good easy trip looking into some places in OFD1 that see few visitors. This can be immensely enjoyable and almost therapeutic that allows you to really see the cave and enjoy it rather than rushing headlong to a remote destination for a quick look around and then rushing back. For me, caving is more about exploration and discovery than scoring ticks in the manner of Munro baggers and I always say that more people should slow down and look around them as there is a lot to be seen that is often missed.


Note to self: get your kit ready the day before then you won’t forget anything.

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu 1 Round Trip (Again)

Gallery

This gallery contains 16 photos.

Barry Burn Tristan Burn Tom Williams Adam Knapp (Morgannwg Caving Club) We planned to do a round trip in OFD1 today taking Tristan for his first visit to OFD. For this trip we were joined by a Morgannwg member, Adam … Continue reading

Otter Hole 12th June 2016 by Tom Williams

Tom Williams,
Gareth Davies,
Malcolm Stewart,
Kelda Jones,
Adrian Fawcett

“Otter Hole,” they said. “It’ll be fun”, they said.

When Huw Jones emailed me on the Thursday, “Are you free Sunday? Spare space on the Morganwg Caving Club trip to Otter Hole if you can make it. Meeting at 0830,” I had visions of being sat on the boot of the Land Rover in caving gear, enjoying a flask of tea in the sun while waiting for the others to get changed. Fast forward a few days and I’m sat in the car park on a typical Welsh summer’s day, wet and miserable. I sat in the car until the very last minute, reluctant to get out and change, eventually the other party members arrived and I had no choice.

The walk down was pretty uneventful and we were soon at the gate to Otter Hole, readying ourselves to say goodbye to the daylight for at least 8 hours. Then, we were off. The first section was a combination of a section of the entrance crawl in Darren Cilau coupled with the sticky mud of Craig a Ffynnon.

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The Tidal Sump

The Tidal Sump and Eyehole – Photo by Kelda Jones

After a short while, we were faced by the tidal sump, which hadn’t fully cleared. The way on was to go through the Eyehole. With a little trepidation I walked the tightrope and forced myself through and into the icy water the other side.

After more energy sapping, estuarine mud and a very nice streamway, we were faced with the second sump, which meant as good a time as any for a quick swim. A number of brushes were tied off to a rock, we were instructed to have a good scrub before being able to continue onwards to The Hall of the Thirty.

Up through a reasonably awkward rift passage and a few crawls we were into a stunningly decorated passage. After a few minutes of stunned silence punctuated with occasional “Ooohhh” “Ahhhh” “Wooow” Adrian said that The Hall of the Thirty was just around the next corner…

“What?! This isn’t it?! It can’t get much better than this!”

After a few minutes of rock hopping we arrived at The Hall of the Thirty. An amazingly well decorated chamber, which large intricately decorated formations. After some photography, it was time for a hearty lunch of peanut Lion Bar and water.

Next came Long Straw Chamber, while not as well decorated as The Hall of the Thirty, how the long, thin straws managed to support their own weight was a wonder unto itself. Continuing along the passage, through rocks and mud we eventually made it to ‘The Grotto’. Another finely decorated chamber with pure white formations. Then came the decision, to sprint to the end of the cave or to take a nice easy stroll back to The Hall of the Thirty and then onwards to the entrance.

Before I realised it, I was at the terminal sump in Tunnesl Left, then Gareth made short work of climbing to the aven looking for a potential way on. The decision was made to make a quick exit with a detour to Tunnels Right to yet more pure white formations.

With sugar levels running low, I was glad to arrive back at The Hall of the Thirty to have another Lion bar and some water. Suitably refuelled, we made good progress back to the sump, only to find it still shut. After a short wait, it had opened enough to allow us to pass back through the Eyehole. Then it dawned on me that between me and the entrance lay a combination of the worst bits of Darren Cilau and Craig a Ffynnon. My heart sank.

After much mud, crawling, sweating and swearing that I’d never go caving again, “What a silly hobby” I thought, “I could be relaxing on the sofa right now, but no. I’m muddy and moody. It would be fun, they said!”. We were finally out.

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The Aftermath – Photo by Adrian Fawcett

The final obstacle was the hike back up, which damn near finished me off.

OtterHole8So, as I lay here on the sofa, the day after the trip. My legs and back smothered in Deep Heat, I think back to what they said “Otter Hole, it will be fun”. I have concluded that they were right!! I can’t wait to do it again. ‘Tis a silly hobby anyway.

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!!