Ogof Craig a Ffynnon – North West Inlet – 14th June 2018

James had shown himself to be more than capable with his first trips and so Gareth and I decided to show him something different with a trip into North West Inlet in Craig a Ffynnon.

We arrived at the layby and quickly changed, as the midges were out in force and caver was definitely a favoured treat for them, and made our way to the entrance. The lock gave some minor problems as the bar refused to come through the small hole it rests in but this was soon sorted and we were in.

 

James entering Craig a Fynnon

James entering Craig a Fynnon.

We were soon scrambling through the entrance series and James was suitably impressed. This was the first well decorated cave he’d visited and the formations that can be seen so soon after entering are had him in awe on several occasions. It’s easy to forget what these places are like when you first see them.

James in Straw Chamber

James in Straw Chamber

It is easy to become blasé and forget how special a lot of our caves are, it is only when you take someone who has not been exposed to what can be seen underground that you remember what it is that you are speeding past on your way to whatever objective you have for that trip. It is occasions like this that you get the opportunity to slow down and look around again and often it is with a renewed sense of wonder as you see things that you’ve missed before or re-see those things you always knew were there but for some reason have forgotten.

Philosophical musings aside, we made our way leisurely through the entrance series, up the ladder at the First Choke.

Gareth and James Explore Chamber above First Choke

Gareth and James Explore Chamber above First Choke

Here, in the first big chamber reached in the cave, James was keen to explore further so Gareth took him up the boulders to the further reaches of the chamber for a look.

It was then into the crawl in Gasoline Alley. Water levels were very low after the the recent dry spell and the pool at the end was passed with hardly a shudder.

Arriving at the entrance to NWI, the clear water looked very inviting but we first nipped up to show James the small attractive sump pool and the way on further into the cave with a promise that he’d be heading that way soon. It was then back to the blasted tunnel and into NWI.

James in NWI Deep Water

James in NWI

The water was as cold as ever, in fact I’m not sure that it really gets any warmer. Perhaps the perceived temperature is a relative thing. On a warm day, you will enter the cave already warmed up and will warm up more than usual if you enter on a cold day, and so, the water will feel colder than it really is. Whatever the temperature, I love this bit of passage. It always feels like this is more like the sort of caving that non-cavers think we experience all the time. Gareth was now enjoying himself even more and decided that the warm balmy waters were great for a swim so paddled up and down while I took a photo or two of James.

James in NWI Admiring Formation

James in NWI Admiring Formation, Gareth Doggy Paddling

All good things come to an end though and we were soon getting stuck in the short section of sticky mud. And then more wonderment from Gareth and James at the increasing passage dimensions and the formations. James had been asking (tongue in cheek) when we’d see the plastic dinosaurs so it was a great surprise when he clambered over the boulder to be confronted with the Dragon formation. This needed a photo.

 

 

James With Dragon

James With Dragon

Gareth in NWI

Gareth in NWI

Gareth in Deep Water

Gareth in Deep Water

Gareth Creature Impression

We’d soon seen all that NWI had to offer and, as we’d spent longer sightseeing than usual, we moved quite quickly back through the way we’d come and were soon back at the cars. Here the midges descended in great clouds on us, forcing us to change as quickly as possible, curtailing the usual chat about the trip.

 

 

 

A Chilly Trip into North West Inlet – 7th January 2018

Barry Burn
Adam Knapp

Report and  photos by Barry Burn

Adam and I decided that we needed to burn off some of the Christmas period’s bacchanalian excesses and headed into Craig a Ffynnon for a visit to North West Inlet.

Adam picked me up and we hit our first obstacle, the A465 roadworks that caused a diversion to the bottom of The Rock and back up again where our next obstacle was encountered. The usual place where everyone parks these days was full of cars. We could just about fit in but a chap in a van told us that the layby was to be used for lorries turning around so we could get back to find the car gone. Down to the remains of the Rock and Fountain revealed a building site, but, we were still able to park. This turned out to be a good spot, the temperature was near zero with frost and could nip into the old pub to shelter from the keen wind to get changed.

We were soon changed into our finest cordura and neoprene and heading up he road to the cave. a bit later than planned, but not too bad all things considered.

Adam took care of the lock…

Adam Opening the Gate

Adam Opening the Gate

..and we were soon inside.

Adam Inside

Adam Inside

We warmed up a bit but were soon confronted with the rather wet way into NWI. This proved to be far colder than usual and caused some language that you wouldn’t use in front of your mother-in-law.

Things were getting numb and shriveled so we moved quickly, and Adam, who was on his first visit to NWI, was impressed as the passage roof lifted and the way on grew to impressive proportions with some very nice formations.

We were soon at the dig at the end of the passage for a mooch around the still in situ mini railway.  A couple of photos were taken and then we headed back stopping for a few more photographs on the way.

Grotto

Grotto

 

Ogof Craig A Ffynnon ’To The End and Back’ 12th March 2017

Dave Trig Gledhill
Tom Williams
Adrian Burton.

So this would be my first trip into this cave, I’d never really thought much about it until I joined Brynmawr and heard a lot about it so I was pretty keen to do this trip. Tom suggested a generous call out time so we could really see the most and reach the end where it is, oh so close, to the beast of Daren Cilau next door.

The day started by meeting  Tom and Adrian in Asda car park nice and early where I followed them to the car park (layby) to start the age old caving discipline of getting naked in car parks. After a quick ‘’before’’ shot we were off  to the entrance and after a quick faff with the gate we were in and straight away greeted with formations and straws! Through the first boulder choke, up the ladder we went and into a fun wet crawl (well I found it fun as my tackle sack *ahem* floated quite nicely behind me) which took minimal effort.

Before

We reached a junction and I was shown the famous ‘’North West Inlet’’ where we decided that could wait for a hot summers evening maybe. Continuing on, we approached two small pitches. One with a ladder and the other with a fixed handline but feeling slightly exposed at the top. This led straight onto the lovely 2nd Choke. Now this choke was slightly uncomfortable as it climbs and winds upwards but safe in the knowledge that  it could only be easier on the exit we pretty much flew up it.

Our heads poked out of the choke one by one like meerkats….relieved meerkats and we pushed on into ‘’Travertine Passage’’ with its stunning Travertine Dams and formations. Stunning place! But the best was yet to come as next was ‘’The Hall of  The Mountain Kings’’…..WOW what a place, I’d seen this in various books but nothing could prepare me for this place. Thank god for modern cap lamps which helped illuminate this place that day!

After a quick drink and the usual non-caving chat, we set off again to the right through the 3rd choke and on to ‘’Severn Tunnel’’ a nice crawl where at one point many a larger caver has not been able to continue. This uncomfortable passage turns into stooping after 200-250m or so. Here my memory is failing me and all I can remember now is being at a large junction with boulder choke 5 and the pitch down into Promised Land. We dropped the bags off at this point and spent considerable time looking for possible leads which there is no doubt but just need finding or effort. We also went to visit the famous ‘’Helictite Passage’’ a stunning  little passage but with amazing formations where only 2 cavers are allowed at once, now this is why this cave was so strictly controlled in its earlier days.

After a lot of admiration we carried on back to collect the bags and onto the pitch down into Promised Land where we met a small stream. The way on is right but we turned left to go and admire yet another formation in this cave, ‘’The Pagoda’’. Back on track we made good progress hopping boulder to boulder and then turning right we entered an oxbow from the stream which had a few crawls and chokes to overcome before re-joining the stream. We carry on gaining momentum and then suddenly it ends. If only there could be a way on into Daren. We have a breather and drink/food and do the honest thing of turning around to go home to our families to treat them all with our muddy smiles and bruised bodies!

The way out is un-eventful and the 2nd Boulder choke is a breeze with gravity on your side.

In summary its certainly is a highly decorated cave and certainly can provide a good days caving. I cannot wait to return hopefully by the end of the year. No pictures underground sadly.

5 or 6 hours underground…I think.

A journey to the Hall Of The Mountain King – Sunday 6th November 2016 By Vicky Bluemel

Today’s team is…

Vicky Bluemel
Dione Ball
Zeb Zerbino
Barry Burn

Once again – On another cold gloomy Sunday in the Brecon Beacons a caving trip was in order. The plan was a nice early meet for 9.45am but this turned into a 10.30am meet and then resulted in myself flying home via the never-ending roadworks to retrieve the key which I had stupidly left hanging on the cuckoo clock. Never a dull moment with us lot clearly.

After retrieving the ellusive key – we continued our clothing change n the usual Blackrock lay-by situated underneath UB40, a quick team selfie was in order and off we went to explore the sights and sounds of my favourite cave in the Gorge – Ogof Craig A Ffynnon.

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As already explained in previous trip reports – the entrance to OCAF is unstable and myself and Tom have had the pleasure of having a near miss with a breeze-block sized boulder at the beginning of the year. PLEASE anyone visiting here make sure your helmet is on and done up before you start the climb up to the entrance. The lock is a little tricky to master but today was an exception as we were in within no time and gathered at the logbook ready to embark on todays adventure. A quick sign in and brief reminder of cave conservation and we were off.

OCAF is possibly one of the most decorated caves within the gorge next to Ogof Nant Rhin and Ogof Capel and on every visit you will see something you didn’t notice last time. In recent weeks the rain seems to have calmed a little but that said the rain has been replaced by bitter temperatures so that coupled with the possible thought of having to crawl Gasoline Alley was pretty depressing however we were lucky enough to see that water levels were low much to our excitement.

I will not bore you with the usual details of our trip upto the NWI and 2nd choke split so ill just go straight to the fun part.

We approached the entrance to NWI in anticipation knowing that today we would not have the pleasure (thankfully) of having to submerge ourselves into the icy water but we would be taking a much dryer trip today.

Dione has been down to NWI so today’s route was a new one for her. I led our party to the right past the beautiful almost blue in colour flowstone pool, past the formations and up the short passage to the 1st tight squeeze. This was the first time in a while I have used a caving bag on a trip and it was at this point – just 10mins into the trip I remembered why I stopped taking one. It’s such a hindrance especially as it only contained a flask of sweet tea, Lion bars and a camera which turned out to be a waste of space but more on that in a moment,

Our tight squeeze up to the bolted ladder at the bottom of the pitch was just a small taster of what was in store for us when we reached the top. Zeb flew up the pitch and used the fixed ropes to pull up the tackle sack which contained our safety lines. Barry then joined him at the top of the ladder as they spent a few moment rigging the pitch mostly for mine and Dione’s piece of mind. After 10mins we were up the top and ready to rock. It was at this point that Barry left us to potter about with his camera.

Half Way Up

Barry Half Way Up Photo by Vicky

Now the real fun begins!

Once at the top of the 15metre (49ft) pitch you are met with a claustrophobe’s idea of hell! a long winding upwards boulder choke of calcited and jagged rock which in all fairness could make a killing as a ride in a theme park! You journey upwards though small climbs and crawls where you contort yourself into something you’d find in a circus freak show. It really is a game of nerves here as if you panic your will be way up the creek and your paddle will be long gone. A few deep breaths and you push on through the fear until you pop out of the top and then question whether that was fun of sheer hell.

Usually there is a continuous flow of water down the choke but as said before there was a lack of water on today’s trip which would prove a problem in the next section of the cave.

Once you have popped out of the choke you will find yourself standing on a large mound of boulders and realise you just spent 10mins resembling an octopus when in actual fact you travelled about 15foot to the other side of the blockage. It was at this point i thought i would get the camera out and take some Choke exit images – Forgot to put the SD card in so clearly we were having no images today! As you descend you will start to notice the mud tracks covering the rock. These are the mud marks of the victims of the previous visit as you are about to meet your match.

Mud!

I can honestly say when I was first told about the mud in this part of the cave I could not believe that you would find such an abundance of it – I was wrong… Very very wrong. In comparison there is NOTHING I can use to explain what this is like. Zeb has recently described it as custard. It’s like the thick and lumpy custard your Nan would serve on your apple pie after Sunday lunch. You could throw it at a wall and it will still be there the following Sunday. It’s horrendous. They say to run through it which is fine until you find one of the hidden rocks below and fall face first into it. You will lose your wellies, as Zeb found out; lost a welly then on retrieval almost lost his head. It will be in your hair, underwear, your ears, nose… There is nowhere it will not go!

When we had finally navigated this obstacle we continued our trip but to then be met by a calcite “slide” which is a lot of fun when you resemble mudman. another quick walk bring you to a small mud pool where i lost a welly and then a celcite belly crawl upwards (upwards and muddy indeed – Better not to ask how that went)

This passage is filled with some beautiful formations. There was an image captured many years ago of Spike admiring said formation which is pretty famous within the Welsh caving community.

A quick walk/hop/run later and you are met with the magnificent gour pools which is a sight that really needs to be admired. As your headlamps light up the passage below you remember how beautiful the natural world really is.

Finally we arrive at the Hall Of The Mountain King! Every visit here makes me hum that tune made Famous by Alton Towers. Its is truly outstanding! The roof above you is adorned with some of the most impressed formations you will ever witness. The ground below mirrors what is above – It is utterly breathtaking.

After what seemed too short a time exploring it was time to make our way out.

The walk back was pretty uneventful bar myself slipping and cracking my hip on a rock. The mud floor however was once again proving an issue. Dione somehow managed to get out slightly unscathed however I lost the will to live at one moment and did my usual flapping like a fish to freedom. Zeb lost another welly.

As you can imagine, the climb back to the the top of the boulder choke becomes a game from Total Wipeout. It’s a case of 1 step forward 2 steps back.

The plus side of the mud is that it makes the boulder choke exit much easier. I like to use the term of a bullet leaving a gun so be wary as you will fly (literally) if you’re not careful.

A quick exit out of the choke and climb down the pitch to meet Barry who was ready and waiting and we were pretty much home and dry. The last decision to be made was do we take a dip and try and clean off or do we fly out and head to the pub Guess what we chose…?

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Pint of beer and some pork scratchings please

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.

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!!