Barry Burn, Dai Williams, Vicky Blumel and Andrew “Zeb” Zerbino.
Photos – Barry Burn
Although having been caving in the South Wales caving region since 1994, with trips into most of the major cave systems, I had never ventured into OFD1. This was rectified with a trip with three other BCC members, for two of whom, this would also be a first visit. The recent weather had been predominantly torrential rain and so we doubted that the Main Streamway would be accessible and so we decided to content ourselves with a potter around the passages that lead up to The Step where the streamway is usually entered. I also wanted to see what my Christmas present; an Olympus Tough TG4 camera was capable of, so had packed it as well as a tripod for the trip in expectation of encountering some very photogenic cave passages.
The rain had left off on the Sunday morning and we arrived at SWCC headquarters at a reasonable time and filled in our ticket and received our key for OFD1. Jumping back in the car, we drove down to the lay-by to change and proceeded to the entrance. The cave is entered via a ladder that takes you down to a heavy steel door, that when opened allows a huge draught to flow, that gives some expectation of the size of the cave to be found within. A second ladder then drops down you into the cave itself.
We first decided to have a look at Gothic Sump so followed Gothic Passage to arrive at a most dismal looking sump. Foam marks on the walls indicated the depth to which the water had risen, which showed that the sump had backed up to a considerable height in Gothic Passage itself. Back at the ladder, a short section of stooping passage took us to Main Passage in the Cyril Powell series. The first evidence of an attempt to open the cave up as a show cave is found here with the stream running down the right hand side of the passage in a man-made channel. A junction is soon reached with a large passage to the right being the main way on but we elected to have a look at the smaller passage straight ahead first and find Skeleton Chamber. A quick stop for some photos of a formation and an attempt to photograph some water splashes (I need to work on this) and Skeleton Chamber was soon reached. This is entered by dropping down through a hole into a chamber that runs perpendicular to and back under the passage we entered from. It was here that the original explorers found a human skeleton, hence the name of the chamber. There is a tale of an itinerant castrator that visited the cave by some lost entrance. He walked off into the darkness with a burning torch, blowing a bugle never to be seen again. One theory is that the skeleton belonged to this man but it could also be a Bronze Age burial. Whoever he was, his bones now reside in a cardboard box in Cardiff museum. Turning our lights off for a brief “Derek Acorah” moment produced the expected result of absolutely nothing happening and we then climbed back out of the chamber and proceeded to Pearl Chamber for a couple of photographs before returning to the junction.
Following the other passage from the junction took us past the Cathedral and the Font to Flood Passage and on to The Toast Rack. Above The Toast Rack, more fine passage was followed that took us back to a roaring Main Streamway and then Traverse Passage. A quick crawl around the passages at the top of Traverse Passage and then we headed back down towards The Step which is the usual point of entry into the Main Streamway. Here the amount of water in the stream and the sound was quite staggering and it was obvious that any attempt to enter it would not be sensible so we went back a short distance to the short climb up to Column Passage, another fine passage that leads to a small chamber containing a pool and a large column formation, The Column. The description of this place on the virtual tour at Ogof.Net says that the pool has delicate calcite plates growing on the surface and that the pool should not be entered. Sadly, there was no evidence of these.
We went back to the step and took a few more photographs before exiting the cave after a thoroughly enjoyable trip. We didn’t cover a huge amount of ground but to me, these are often the more enjoyable trips, where you get to take your time and really look at everything rather than speeding past on the way to some other goal. OFD is a very complex cave system that offers a lot and I feel it will repay you greatly if you take the time to explore a small part of the system before later moving on to trips further into the cave.
The weather had taken a turn for the worse after we exited and so a rapid change in the lay-by was required although I missed a great photo opportunity when Zeb stripped off and ran to the passenger door of the car where his dry clothes had been left, only to find the door still locked. A naked Andrew Zerbino hopping about covering his modesty is not a pretty sight. I suppose I could have been quicker with unlocking the door but we were all giggling too much. A couple of pints in the Ancient Briton in time-honoured fashion rounded off a very enjoyable first trip into OFD1.