The morning was fantastic, amazing weather, great company, getting into the great indoors, but all of this was abruptly forgotten as we got out of the car in Pontsticill and got to the hill we had to climb. There’s no easy way to Trefil, other than a long flat walk from Trefil village, but it takes us about double the time to walk from there, so we go straight up the mountain.
We had two objectives for the day, get Chris past the first boulder choke, and get some footage for a video. We got kitted up at the cave entrance, for the first time we heard debris coming off of the cliff above the entrance, so stayed very cautious around the face. The trip went really well, and we got some great footage of the cave. Chris got through the first boulder choke, and managed to make it part way through the “second choke” before becoming exhausted, and soon after Peter had reached his limit. Gareth and I pushed a little further, reaching the tight end series, but soon after stopped to save the others getting cold hanging around.
Back on the surface we made our way back out of the main quarry, had some lunch, and headed around towards Cwar Yr Hendre – Quarry cave 8. We have visited this cave before, but pushed for time, we had to leave. We spotted some red and white tape in there previously, so wanted to see what it was protecting. Unfortunately Gareth and I think a thin layer of roof may have peeled off and covered whatever was there. With everything looking very unstable we headed back out. Last on the list is a cave which isn’t registered, as far as I could see, but I suspect it’ll fall into the Cwar Yr Hendre – sites 1-8, or 9+ if newer than the others, because it’s definitely been dug to join with another cave. High on the north face is where you come out, after entering through the opposite face to Cwar Yr Hendre – Quarry cave 8. Both caves were small, but still enjoyable. After being cooked in my caving gear, or so it felt like anyway, I was happy to get it off and chill out in the last of the sunshine.
Will’s hole is a relatively small cave with not an awful lot to see in the way of formations, but what it does have is a very simple pitch. Gareth and I have been learning basic SRT for a few months now, and have been keen to try it out underground. We know it’s a very busy spot along that river, so we had two mates, James and Steve come along and make sure nobody tampered with our ropes. We all met at Gareth’s house for 5:30pm, and made our way to Dinas Rock. Gareth and I kitted up, and we all headed up river to wills hole. There were loads of people out climbing and bouldering, and a few interested in what we were up to. It was about 7pm by the time we arrived at the cave entrance, and we didn’t hang around, straight in, down the 2m free climb and at the first rigging point, a railway track across the rift passage. Rigging was straightforward, I used my hand jammer as a lanyard to rig at the pitch head, and it worked well. Once ready we wasted no time, I couldn’t, I’m way to nervous with heights, so I loaded up my descender, and sat into my harness, I was really nervous, but confident in mine, and Gareth’s ability, and I started the descent of our first SRT trip. We were both soon at the bottom without a hitch. We got our SRT kit of and headed to the right side passage. There isn’t much in the way of formations on this section, but there’s plenty of mud! Thick, silty, sticky, glutinous, mud that you have to crawl through. We came to a choke and couldn’t see a way on, so headed back to the pitch to look at the other passages. The main passage is nicely decorated at the high levels, along with a lot of flood debris, giving a good idea how high the water gets in there. Before long we were at the end again and headed back out. Gareth went first, and both ascending without a problem, and de-rigging going just as well. In what felt like no time at all, but it was actually about 2 hours, we were back on the surface with James and Steve chatting to some climbers.
I arrived at Whitewalls first, then had the message I’d been waiting for, Gareth and Louise would be late, so I made a coffee, rolled a cigarette, and walked across the tram road a little and sat in the sun.
As I walked back to Whitewalls I could see Louise getting out of the car. We got kitted up, sent the call out, and made our way across to Aggy. Louise was excited to get into Aggy again, the last time she was in was on a newbies trip before joining the club.
We made steady progress through the entrance to Baron’s Chamber, but as usual we were all sweating by the time we got into Baron’s Chamber. After a quick drink stop we were off, and heading for Main Stream. Louise had a slip on the hand-lined section in Keyhole Chamber, but got herself back up and across fine. A little longer than I remember we were at North West Junction, we were all on guard as this section is really slippery. There definitely seems to be a theme emerging, Louise falls into water. We made speedy progress towards Deep Water, which is Gareth’s and my furthest point from the last trip we did here. Without hesitation I waded in getting to waist deep, as described in journals and online, and then Gareth asked “is it getting any deeper”, and as I was replying “I don’t think so” I slipped down to shoulder depth and started struggling to catch my breath, so I headed back still trying to catch my breath. We had a quick talk about the best way to approach it, then Louise opted for swimming so far and trying to stand, and she couldn’t reach the bottom after swimming out a short distance, so turned around and I helped her back to shallower water. We talked a little more, but being completely unsure of how long we’d be swimming for, and how we’d feel swimming fully kitted up, we all agreed the best thing to do was head back the way we came. Just before heading back Louise stayed true to form and had a dunk again, while trying to help her, Gareth had a soaking as well. Heading back was fine, apart from us all being a bit miserable after another failed trip here, because of this we just headed straight out.
As I got out of the cave there was a guy asking, do I knew if the small phreatic tube outside connects into Aggy, I said it didn’t as far as I know, and asked “why’s that” he said his dog has gone into it, as I walked over to him, Louise and Gareth got out. We tried looking in with our lights, whistling, calling, and putting food down, but there was no sound at all. He said he’d called Cave Rescue, so they were on their way. We said we’d head back and ask some advice about it and maybe see if anybody else can head over to help. Once at Whitewalls the police and cave rescue arrived, so we left them to do their work, and we headed home. Once home we heard the news that the dog was safe and with his owner again.
We started the day joking about Gareth’s forgetfulness, and it definitely set the tone for the day! As we’re pulling off the A465 at Brynmawr, to collect the key from Barry, Gareth says “I think I’ve forgotten my helmet”, which also means his torch as well. We collected the key, and then heading back to Merthyr Tydfil to collect Gareth’s helmet, we were on our way again, with Gareth reassuring us “I’ve got my batteries, because I charged them last night” he didn’t have his batteries, he’d forgotten them as well, but I’ve got spares so it was fine. After changing we like a cuppa and cigarette before getting going, Gareth had also forgotten his tobacco!
We quickly headed for the entrance as we were all starting to get quite hot in our caving gear. This was Peter’s first trip into a gated system and instantly he was shocked with how tight the entrance was. We made great progress through the entrance as we talked Peter through certain sections, and finally helped show the technique needed for the entrance pitch. Before we knew it we’d signed the log book at 12:30, and Gareth and I were trying to convince Peter he should try Beer Challenge, on his own, and we’ll meet him in White Arch Passage, he declined our challenge! We made it to Indiana Highway in a good time, and got straight into it after a drink stop. As we got to the end of the traverse, someone said they’d forgotten their phone and snacks at the start of the traverse….so Gareth headed back to the start of the traverse line to retrieve his stuff, fortunately this was the last time he forgot something….that day! We made our way to the junction for Megadrive and Megadrive North, and headed to Megadrive North, and then back down Canyon North to the guano pile at the start of Canyon West. After this we headed for Siambre Ddu passage, where we were all coming up with different pronunciations for Siambre. We got back to Megadrive and continued towards the Nunnery, where we detoured to Arms Park through Perseverance II, just to show Peter the way on to the other parts of the cave. Once done we headed back out in good time, and in time to enjoy the sun while changing. Overall it was a great trip, especially for Peter, who is keen to find out more about becoming a club member.
We all arrived at SWCC cottages for around 10am, and couldn’t believe how busy it was, there’d been an AGM meeting the day before, and it was the bank holiday weekend.
Key acquired and we headed for the entrance, a tall opening with a short ladder climb down to the gate, which was opened as there were a few guys going in to do some scaffold work, so I volunteered to carry a few short lengths down for them.
Soon we were in, and off with Gareth leading the way. We passed the concrete walkways fairly quickly and got into some lovely passages before dropping into the Main Streamway. A lot quicker than we all expected, we were passing the 1st pot, 2nd pot, and Maypole Chain. The streamway is really something special, with the white veins running through the black rock. We passed 3rd pot, 4th pot, and the sump, and carried on along the streamway for quite some time. Eventually we were through Boulder Chamber and out of the Main Streamway, we found ourselves scratching our heads and looking at the survey, following the description we’d gone too far and ended up in OFD 1 1/2, so doubled back to get on route again. After a few more survey stops we were back at the fixed rope and ladder to get into Lowes Passage, which has a huge boulder slope to climb, but not before Louise had a proper dunking in the Main Streamway. Then we were soon into Roundabout Chamber, this whole section of cave is stunning, all the way through to Rawl Series, and Pi chamber. Helter Skelter and Bolt Passage were fun, basically like a big slide, with vertical bits though! Soon we were traversing across Bolt Traverse and Maypole Wire, which definitely got my heart thumping, even with my cowstails clipped on. Before heading across Maypole Wire, Gareth suggested heading the other way, towards Rocky Holes Chamber, and in hindsight I should’ve turned around, but I was committed to the wire route, and we headed down Maypole Chain into the Main Streamway for Louise to have a good dunking again. The rest of the way out was great, and without fault. At the ladder to climb out I found a frog, so took it outside with me, and we posed for a few photos before heading back to the cars after another great trip!
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