Gareth and I arrived at Whitewalls with a stubborn white fluffy dog laying in the middle of the road, even after Gareth got out to coax it out of the way, it just walked along the middle of the road. We parked up, eventually, and got changed, sent the call out message and were ready to leave when Tom and Maxine pulled up outside Whitewalls. We were both planning an Inner Circle trip, so decided to head in together. Tom and Maxine got ready quickly and we were on our way across the tram road. Once in the cave we made quick progress through the entrance series into Baron’s Chamber, where we stopped momentarily to catch our breath and have a quick drink. In no time at all we were at the Second Choke, and into Keyhole Chamber. We each had turns in leading and all managed well, although I’m sure I suggested a wrong turn or two, but we were soon at North West Junction. From here we headed for Turkey Pool, but on the way through Turkey Streamway Maxine said she’d like to call it a day, she had been caving the day before and felt really tired. We parted ways, with Tom and Maxine saying they’d have a look at Beehive Chamber before they left, and Gareth and I heading for the Inner Circle. Soon we found ourselves at Turkey Pool, I managed to traverse it, only getting my legs wet, Gareth traversed it as well but got a bit wetter. The rest of the way was no problem, and soon we were at the rescue dump around the Inner Circle. We stopped here for a snack and a drink, then made our way around the inner circle clockwise…so we thought! Before we knew it we were in the Swiss Village, this threw us completely, and we both started looking at the survey and scratching our heads. We retraced our steps and made a few more wrong turns, then decided we would call it a day and start heading back out. For the best part we were okay, but we made a few wrong turns on the way out as well, mainly me I think, but soon we were in the entrance series, and then at the logbook. We checked for Tom and Maxine, they were both ticked out, so we signed ourselves out for 1805, and headed back to whitewalls to get changed just in time before the rain started. Overall a great trip, and worn out for a trip to OCAF the following day.
We wanted an easy day, so thought we’d check out the mines and wills hole, to the pitch head anyway. We met for 10am and got ready, and headed off after a cuppa. The mines were really interesting, but nothing compared to a cave, strange! We all commented on the steepness of them, then found ourselves in a shaft that went straight from the bottom to the surface, so we stopped for a snack and made our way onto the other mines. While walking the river we were stopping, looking at other bits of interest, and finding violets and wild garlic, but aiming to find Will’s Hole. Soon we found ourselves past both bouldering areas, and down past the lower caves, Ogof Bwa Maen Lower Cave, so doubled back and found Will’s Hole, which we all found disappointing because we could only go a few meters down into it. Ogof Bwa Maen caves on the other hand were quite an interesting, once I’d got past the spiders. We finished off looking down the rest of the river until we got to Ogof Pont Sychryd which we all enjoyed, but my highlight was finding a Morel Mushroom at the entrance, I’ve been looking for a while. After this we headed back to the cars, got changed and headed to the top of the Dinas Rock to enjoy the sun.
We started our day full of beans ready for the round trip, and had decided we’d try some alternative routes to the usual ones.
We got in for around 11:05 and made steady progress through the entrance while getting good footage. We made it to Cairn Junction and headed for a bad decision, Beer Challenge! We just wanted to see for ourselves what it’s like, and I’m happy to take Wonderbra any other time now. After this the trip went great all the way through Lamb and Fox Chamber, Indiana Highway, Megadrive to St David’s hall, then the survey came out for Squirrel Rifts. This was another route we wanted to try, rather than Agent Blorenge II. Once at the two climbs, at the end of Squirrel Rifts, we got a little confused where the way on was, but soon found the climbs and made our way down them. The squeeze to get into Haggis Basher is surprisingly demanding and I struggled with my bag and bottle through there. We had a look along the passage, to the choke and then back on ourselves to head for far Agent Blorenge and Chocolate Blorenge, by this point the both of us were feeling quite fatigued after the crawling. We carried on towards the sewers, thinking we’d done the hardest bits, but soon found ourselves at a hole dropping down in a rift that I tried to pass through but felt it was too tight, we looked for an “eyehole” that’s shown on the map, but not even knowing what an eyehole is, and both being on our last battery, we decided to head back the way we’d come. Instantly I was filled with dread just thinking of the two climbs we faced to get out of Haggis Basher, as I’m not the most confident with heights. When we got to the squeeze out of Haggis Basher, we searched the survey for an alternative route to no avail, so pushed through to the climbs. I went first, both no problems with the first, but on the second the exposure got to me, and when I climbed it the first time I didn’t go high enough to climb out and convinced myself I couldn’t do it, but spotted a climb in the opposite end of the small rift, which I could then traverse across the top. I climbed up confidently and found myself on a small solid ledge so stopped to look where to go, panic set in rapidly and I felt extremely exposed, so I climbed to the top of the passage where there was a small dead end tube I could sit in. I shouted down to Gareth “I’m stuck, I can’t down climb from here and I can’t make that traverse”, he could see nothing from the bottom, so he decided to try the climb where I tried first. He climbed up, passed the opening confidently and easily into squirrel rifts, while I’d quietly been having a panic attack, thinking to myself “what’ve you done Dai, you idiot! This is cave rescue now”. Gareth started suggesting things while I told him “I’m stuck bro, I can’t go anywhere”, then I’m the next breath, “just let me calm down and I’ll get across the traverse now”, and continually switching between the two for about two minutes. I asked Gareth to turn his light down because it was blinding me, and by the time he looked back I was across the traverse. Once I’d calmed myself the traverse out was actually really easy. From here we headed for Agent Blorenge II to save on time as we were running out of it. The rest of the trip went fine and we were out before we knew it, making the long walk back to the car.
We met up on the not so bleak Pwll-du, the sun was beaming and the parking area was packed! Lou struggled to find us, but she got there in the end.
Gareth, Lou and myself kitted up and walked to the entrance. The entrance series was great and surprisingly easy to navigate, and before we knew it we were at the climb. None of us had a problem with it, well once Gareth and I transformed into human steps Lou didn’t have a problem. We signed the logbook at Cairn Junction and headed right towards Wonderbra. Once through Wonderbra we got to the “mud bank” and thought the left here was the left onto White Arch Passage, and carried on down the streamway.
Once we realised our mistake we turned around and headed back towards Tea Junction. We made good time through White Arch Passage, after a quick snack break at Tea Junction, and found our way into Lamb and Fox Chamber easily. We refilled our drinks at the cascade and then had another snack break at the cairn to Indiana Highway. Lou was feeling quite tired after the detour down and back up the streamway. Once we were ready to go again we were quite cold and tense. I don’t think this helped our nerves for the traverse. We climbed up the cairn and turned the corner into Indiana Highway, the mud bank was a challenge in itself! Once in the beginning of the passage we were all struck with its beauty, not that it’s decorated with formations, just the beautiful organic flow of the phreatic passage is enough! We quickly passed the side passages and round the tight corners to the start of the traverse.
I was first and headed into it around the first awkward corner to where it straightens out. I heard Gareth call and he was saying Lou was unsure about carrying on. We had a quick chat and decided amongst us we should just head back. On the way back we had a quick look at the side passages close to the start of Indiana Highway, we saw the fossil in the roof of the one chamber and couldn’t work out if we saw a shark tooth in the roof where you climb in/out of the side passage. On the way out we had no problems whatsoever and had a look in some side passages. We signed out on the logbook and headed back to the climb. We all had no problems climbing and route finding, and quickly found ourselves being soaked again on the final stretch. We got out and it was still a really nice day, so changing wasn’t too bad. We warmed up with a cuppa and headed on our way.
This was to be my first trip underground in a very long time. This time last year, we had missed a lot of caving due to COVID restrictions and I was looking forward to the prospect of caving again in the New Year. I was unaware that in just three days time, I would be looking at a positive test result followed by several weeks in intensive care and a further few weeks on a renal ward before finally coming home in the latter part of March. It’s been a long haul since then and had taken me a long time to recover enough fitness to even think about getting underground again. I was now thinking that a nice easy trip would be achievable and Upper Dinas Silica mine with its large galleries and no crawling with minimal scrambling would fit the bill. Previously, access to the mine has been via either the very steep path up the rock from the car park or by following the river upstream and climbing up the waterfalls. Now though, an old right of way has been re-opened due to the efforts of Roy Fellowes, the owner of the mine and I thought this would be an easy way up.
The Monday was a bank holiday and Zeb and Xavier had said they fancied a trip and I picked them up at a nice reasonable time of about lunchtime and we managed to make reasonable time through the roadworks to the car park at Dinas Rock.
Dinas Rock is an imposing place and legend tells that this is the resting place of King Arthur and his Knights. It is also said that there are many fairies here and in British Goblins, Wirt Sykes wrote of the place’s bad reputation. More recently, the area has seen extensive mining for silica that was used for the production of fire bricks that were used extensively in the steel making industry throughout the world. Now, mining has ceased and the area is more likely to be infested with cavers, climbers and walkers.
There are a number of caves and mines here and we were to visit the largest, Upper Dinas Silica mine. The re-opened way to the mine is to come out of the car park and follow the road over the bridge and up a hill past some glamping pods on the right until a clear path is found leading off to the left. The path is well kept although muddy in places and takes you to the top of the gorge where some old structures that used to support the pylons for the aerial ropeway are to be found. The path takes you down a steep slope that ends at the bridge on the other side of the river from Upper Dinas by the entrance to the smaller mine opposite, Middle Dinas Silica Mine.
Middle Dinas consists of three levels, the lower of which floods, the level of which depends on the river level outside. On previous visits, there has been a large, deep pool in the main passage but this time it was more or less dry and we were able to have a good look around. Zeb climbed an ascending passage that goes up to another passage and a higher entrance. After a look around, we crossed exited and crossed the bridge to enter Upper Dinas itself.
Upper Dinas is a massive, impressive place with the upper, unflooded section being effectively a massive chamber on a steep incline, interspersed with many pillars that support the roof.
We did the usual thing which is to follow the big level just up from the flooded levels until near the end then drop down and continue to reach the furthest point east in the mine to find there had been some other idiots there before us.
Retracing our steps, we climbed up to the remains of the winch which has a large ventilation shaft that slopes upwards to the side of the winch. Zeb went off to explore whilst Xavier and I were more sensible and hung around below taking photos until Zeb returned with a tuft of grass to prove he’d found the the exit to the surface above.
Heading back towards the entrance, we gradually climbed upwards as we went by climbing up a level, following on for a way and then climbing back up again. This way we made it to the top entrances and emerged into the open. A short scramble then to the path that took us back down to the car park. It was great to get out and get underground again. It showed me that I still have a way to go as I found some of the scrambling and hills difficult. With time and effort though, I am confident that I will be able to get some way back to where I was before COVID. However, for my first trip back, I was thoroughly knackered but very chuffed to be back.
Surveys of the mines can be found in Caves and Mines of The Sychryd Gorge.
Information on access to this mine and others can be found at the website of Cambrian Mines
Today Gareth and I headed back to Aggy, with the dig at the closest point to Daren Cilau as our target. As usual we were late leaving, it’s always one or the other of us, and it was a cracking day, crisp but sunny. We parked at Whitewalls cottage and were amazed how quiet it was, so we wasted no time and kitted up. Gareth dropped his phone and smashed his screen, he’s a tad clumsy.
We got into the cave at roughly 12:20pm and made good steady progress through the entrance to Baron’s Chamber, but about 80m into the entrance Gareth dropped his drink bottle and split it, so had to leave it for us to collect on the way out. We headed off to the right at the first junction along Main Passage, faultless past Bastard Passage and Flood Passage, but we had to search around for a while to find the entrance to the Second Choke. Gareth heading to high, and myself to low, eventually Gareth found it and we were off again. We stopped a few times here and there for Gareth to have a drink from his filter, which we always carry with us just for times like this. In no time at all we found ourselves at North West Junction, and we were off into a section we didn’t know, Main Stream Passage. The description we had warned of how slippery it is and as we entered it Gareth and I jokingly said “This is the lethal bit now isn’t it?” And with that I was almost flat on my back in the streamway, a very good save! It was steady progress along Main Stream Passage, it was slippery, no more so than any other streamway we’d come along already though. We passed Maypole Dig, but didn’t spot Chocolate Passage. I really liked the way the passage was changing to more of a phreatic passage now as we headed through Wormcast Passage to Deep Water.
We got to Deep Water and instantly before the water was even over my feet I was sinking in the silt, like quick sand almost, and I must admit it unsettled me a little as we were just about to wade into Deep Water. I went in first, with the floor slowly sinking away from under me, plumes of silt turning the black opaque water brown. I gingerly put one foot in front of the other and felt my way through as Gareth started to follow me. Gareth called out to say he wasn’t to sure about carrying on, we’d both spotted the undercut on the sidewalls and had images of Porth Yr Ogof’s resurgence. I spotted the water lapping at a bank in the middle of the passage, so called to Gareth to say it levels out. We pushed on through, only reaching waist deep, but immediately were confronted with another section that appeared the same. We stuck to the left hand side, a skinny, sloping, soft silt bank that slowly disappeared into the black opaque water, the silt wasn’t even visible. Once again Gareth said he wasn’t sure if he was comfortable with carrying on, but I said I’d push forward just to see how it felt underfoot. I got to just above my belt deep, the bank almost completely disappearing in towards the left wall, but continuing downwards, while it seemed to constantly be eroding from the silt dispersing under my feet, all added up to me backing out and agreeing we’re better off heading back the way we came. At the next club meet we’ll ask for advice and go from there.
The way back went absolutely fine. We stopped at North West Junction for something to eat, and I got quite cold while we stopped, but quickly started warming up again on the return journey. We got out at roughly 4pm to the sun just about to set, and as we were walking back we bumped into Paul, also from BCC on his way back to Eglwys Faen to retrieve his kids’ trainers. We got changed, had a cuppa and a pot noodle, then headed home after another great day in the great indoors.
We hadn’t been caving in a while, a couple of weekends is a while for us, I’d been quite busy and been ill, but with a trip planned for Ogof Draenen on the coming Sunday we both thought a short midweek trip as a warm up would work well. I’ve also got a new camera so we wanted a play about with that.
We got to Llwyn Cil Sanws Farm for around 1830, we’d got permission from the owners to park and access the cave prior to turning up, we kitted up and headed down to the entrance. We got in for around 1900 and made good speed to the gun barrel while filming. It’s beyond the gun barrel that this cave starts to show it’s more intricate formations, mainly tucked in side passages, too tight for people, or in the walls of the cave at separate beds. We got to the dig at the end and headed back, but explored the side passages and oxbows on the way. The largest of the side passages, branching off from the main chamber, and has a nice calcite flow stone formation at the entrance. Once up on the calcite flow you can follow the passage for about 30m before a calcified boulder choke with a stream emerging from it is met. It’s a tight wet squeeze, but leads to a small passage with a lot more flow stone, but it quickly closes down again.
We always use the main entrance, but there are three, a resurgence, a small dry entrance just above that and the main one further up the gorge that joins the cave half way through. We’ve never used the lower dry entrance an it looks blocked to be honest. Ogof Y Ci is a great introduction cave, with dry and wet options for most routes, there’s a good bit of crawling once you reach the calcite cascade, and lots of squeezing, but nothing extremely tight.
This was the first time Gareth and I had been to this cave in extremely wet weather, there’s no warnings of flooding in this cave, and the water was definitely a lot deeper throughout the cave, but still not deeper than the top of my wellies, but outside the river was in full flow, which we don’t usually see. The river bed is usually bone dry, but tonight it was a fast flowing river. We got out of the cave for about 2120 and headed back to the farm yard to get changed and head home.
We met outside Whitewalls for roughly 9am. It was mine and Gareth’s first trip to the Inner Circle, and our first with Trigger. As we pulled up there was two Shetland pony’s trying to scrounge snacks from anybody that was willing to give up their lunch. We got chatting to another couple of cavers who were off into Aggy as well.
We made it into Aggy for about 10:30, and made good time through the entrance series to Barons Chamber. We all emerged from the First Boulder Choke hot and sweaty, so we stopped for a drink and a quick look at the survey. We carried on along the main passage until we met the streamway junction on the right, and made our way to the 2nd Boulder Choke. We had cooled down a lot by this point and we were making good progress. The traverse was really slick, so we all kept a firm grip of the hand rope. Next we were onto the two short climbs, the first drop down was pretty easy, about 2m, and the second was more of a swing around a corner. After the North West Junction it was onto Turkey Streamway and to Turkey Pool for a good soaking, no surprise it was cold! We were fine though, we still had ground to cover, so we kept moving. The trip was faultless through Hawkins Horror, Sand Caverns and into Selenite Needle Passage. Trigger mentioned that it’s Selenite Needle Passage that left him wandering up and down Sand Caverns before, so I think the entrance is firmly printed in his head now. Once we’d gotten into the Inner Circle Trigger headed off on his own just to double check the route, and Gareth and I used the chance to have a quick drink and snack before Trigger got back, and when he did he was still unsure if we were in the right place, so we headed off together, and it turned out we were in the right place. We followed the Inner Circle anti-clockwise until we got to Swiss Passage, where we stopped for a few photos, then onto the Dome of St. Paul’s. Once back around to the beginning of the Inner Circle, we stopped for some snacks and a drink before heading off again. I felt a little chilly as we started walking again, but soon warmed up.
All in all the trip went really well in and out. We met the other cavers, that we’d spoken to in the morning outside whitewalls, just after coming back through Hawkins Horror, some cheerier than others. We got out of the cave for roughly 1630, so a great 6 hour trip.
This trip was really good caving, with no huge amounts of crawling or squeezing, mainly a lot of wide open passages, and although it’s not the most decorated cave, there’s still more than enough to keep you stopping for a look every so often. As well as actual calcite and selenite formations, the scalloping throughout this trip is absolutely gorgeous and not to be forgotten!
Sam Jones, Pete Jones, Paul Chilcott, Huw Durban, Huw Jones & Clive Westlake
By Pete Jones
Photos Huw Jones
Sam and I arrived to join Paul, Huw J, and Huw D at the SWCC HQ above Penwyllt. It was a damp morning, Y Brennin Llwyd was draped over the hill tops. After a quick chat, Huw J hatched a plan to enter the cave from the top entrance, have a look around the upper levels and bring back some equipment left in the cave after the rescue from the week before. Before heading up to the entrance we were joined by a spritely well-spoken old fella. Turns out he was Clive Westlake, the second person out of OFD top entrance in 1967, cave diver and cave photographer.
To be honest after entering and moving through Gnome Passage and Salubrious Passage to call on the Trident and Judge, I have no idea of our exact route. To a novice like me it was a maze of passages intersected with chambers, boulder chokes and stream ways. However, the names like Swamp Creek and Shatter Pillar stick in my head. The damp black limestones interrupted by calcite veins make it clear how the cave got its name. The formations are beautiful and the helictites are bonkers. At some point Clive disappeared only to reappear twenty minutes later, a welcome relief to Huw J who thought he’d lost a legend. I’ll give it to Clive, for a gent who must be in his 70’s he doesn’t hang around and glides through the passageways.
We eventually found some ropes left after the rescue and Huw D managed to palm off all the damp ropes on to another group, leaving us with a token dry rope to carry out. We emerged from the top entrance after three or four hours, I lose track of time underground. The sun was sinking into the west and the Bristol channel reflected the late afternoon light back.
Looking at the cave map back in the HQ, it was apparent we had only traversed a small fraction of the cave, which only increases my appetite to come back and explore the depths of OFD. A fantastic trip with great company. Thanks to Huw J and Huw D for leading the way.
We met in a layby around 6pm, and planned a trip to “the hall of the mountain kings” It was Gareth’s, and my first trip into OCAF, and we had been told this cave has everything! The first climb had my heart racing, and I was glad for the safety line, the second boulder choke is one of the best I’ve been through so far, with endless twists, turns and climbs to force you into all sorts of shapes. The formations in this cave are like none I’ve seen before, and many times stopped me in my tracks, from the ceilings filled with straws, stalagmites, stalactites, and helictites, and masses of flow stone, and gour pools, but none as impressive as “the hall of the mountain kings” It is by far the prettiest thing I’ve seen in my life, and I can’t wait to go again! It was a really enjoyable, wet, muddy, crawly evening!