Ogof Draenen – Sunday 20th March 2022

David MacDonald, Gareth Farr, Louise Lucas

By David MacDonald

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.

Fiddy’s Farm Cave – Wednesday 19th Decmber 2018

Huw J, Huw D, Harry D, Vernon A
By Vernon A
Photos Huw J

The four of us met on Wednesday morning to verify the rumours that new passages and chambers had been found at Fiddy’s Farm Cave. After seeking permission from the landowner we kitted up and headed off to find the cave. A piece of gating over the entrance and lots of dead leaves gave the initial impression that there hadn’t been any traffic lately, contrary to what the landowner had said.

Dropping down through the narrow entrance rift gave access to a low crawl, after a few meters and a couple of right angles we joined a larger passage with a small streamway. This gave way to a stooping/crawling section where after several more metres the mainstream joined from a narrow bedding plane on the right. Later Huw J crawled up the main streamway until it became too tight, but he could see it opened up again further on.

Following the stream again for a short distance we came to the first chamber, with a steep bank to our right, the stream disappearing on our left and a few Lesser Horseshoe bats. After an explore and a few photos we moved on to a short crawl which soon opened up into the larger second chamber. The breakdown chamber consisted of, a large dry flowstone bank and evidence of a dig in progress, which was apparent with barrels, trays, bangwire and other personal items placed on a large central boulder. Another explore, more photos, numerous bats and Huw J descending 7 or more metres in the far left corner to the terminal dig.

We made our way back out stopping for Huw D to drop down between some boulders in the first chamber to follow the stream for a short distance. With plans to find who was digging and if there is room for a joint operation, or a separate Brynmawr dig following the streamway we got changed and headed for Blaenafon and hot drinks.

    Huw J – Here is, what is I’m sure, a very inaccurate sketch survey I produced of the cave after the trip. It’s done from memory and without the use of a compass but it should give a general idea of the cave. The cave is supposedly about 200m long.

Ogof Draenen – Gilwern Passage and The Streamway – Thursday 29th November 2018

Patricia Hughes, Huw Jones, Lloyd Rielly

By Patricia Hughes
Photos – Huw Jones

The three of us decided to take advantage of a day off in the week to take a trip into Ogof Draenen. It would be the first time into the system for Lloyd and myself, both of whom are new members, joining the club during 2018. I was looking forward to a different kind of trip to face different, new, challenges. It had been a busy November for me, as a newbie. Two trips into Ogof Craig y Ffynnon (OCAF), the first a short trip to the base of the pitch before the 2nd choke and a more strenuous evening trip to Hall of The Mountain King. I had carried out my usual research, reading about the cave in the guidebook, watching some vlogs on You-Tube, reading some reports around the web and of course the logs here on the Brynmawr Caving Club site. My expectations, or perhaps worries were that of a long climb back out and many boulders to work my way past in various chambers. However, and I don’t mean to sound cheesy, this is just what I was after, something to stretch my novice skills, building stamina and learning new techniques. Oh and enjoying the wonders of the cave in great company.

We met up in Asda Brynmawr, resisting the temptation for a bacon roll and cup of tea. Popped up to town to collect the key and decided that, due to the recent heavy rain fall, that it would be interesting to take a trip down the main streamway, to see it in high water conditions. Of course, I had no idea of knowing what it looks like in low water conditions either, and so long as there was little chance of being swept away, or a flood to the roof, I thought, yeah sound like a great idea. The three of us headed up into the low clouds and parked up in the area, just before The Lamb and Fox. Maybe about this time I should expand on the weather. It was more than just heavy rain on that day, it was one of the named winter storms, Storm Diana. And up on the exposed mountain top parking area, she was giving us a good whipping with her wet, angry wind. Diana ensured that we did not dawdle over getting changed and checking our kit. A reasonably quick change was followed by an equally quick walk off the top and into the relative shelter of the cwm down to the treeline. The men took the opportunity to assist Diana in the watering of the surrounding vegetation before we headed in through the very drafty doorway. Very quickly into the cave, I encountered my first real challenge, something that even the second choke in OCAF did not provide, finding that my hips do not always fit where my legs do. A shuffle over to the left and I slid down easily. I think at this point the additional lubrication of the stream cascading down the entrance was more of a help than a hindrance. My memory of the ordering at this point is a little vague, but I clearly remember Huw pointing out some blocks in the passage where the bedding plane crawl is. This was to provide me with some comfort a few hours later. Down the scaffolding climb and we worked our way to the top of the pitch. Whilst many experienced cavers, or perhaps most will climb down using the fixed aids, we took the opportunity for some training. Huw rigged up a ladder and life line and demonstrated the caving technique for using ladders. I must say that it was a little weird compared to the loft ladder, I felt a bit robotic using my legs for doing the pushing and not pulling with my arms. But the efficiency of the technique really impressed me. If only I could get the hang of pushing myself away from the wall with more elegance, then I would be a happy lady. Ladder training done, we headed down to the Cairn Junction and signed into the logbook.

We then made our way through the crawl and slid down through the hole to the right, better known as Wonderbra Bypass. We initially headed for Gilwern Passage. Upon entering, Huw suggested that Lloyd and I waited where we were so that he could make his way swiftly to the end of the line of sight, where he turned around and waited for us to join him. Had we had the benefit of Barry’s Sun in a Stick Fenix handheld lamp we probably would have been able to appreciate the length of this part. But as we just had our regular lamps, Huw, quite rightly suggested that the best way to appreciate the scale is for him to head down and us to watch, in appreciation of the size of this relatively tiny part of the system. Passing some pretties on the way, we went as far as the elbow, where a cascade came down from the right hand ceiling. I don’t know if this is a wet weather only or a regular cascade. Good excuse to break out the camera allowing Lloyd and myself to position ourselves for pictures.

Back to Tea Junction and on towards the streamway. As I have mentioned we wanted to see the stream in heavy flow as a result of all the rain. We were not disappointed. My only other experience of significant and sustained stream passage was my taster trip into OFD1. I must say that on this occasion, for me, it was a much greater challenge. Far more concentration was required and there were some parts of wading that made the lads raise their voices due to the water depth making itself know to their bodyparts. Huw selected a suitably pretty or maybe a suitably deep pool after a small cascade for some pictures. Lloyd being a really good sport for standing in deep and fast water whilst Huw and myself carried out the necessities with camera and lamp respectively for some more pictures. We passed what I called to myself Blorenge Beach on the left, a pretty but small sandy cwtch in a bend. Progress was made relatively simply to the first boulder choke, which being our destination was the point of turning around. On the way back up, I was able to get a better appreciation of some of the impressive formations and the height of parts of this area of the streamway. A few more pictures were taken, for example of a chunky Stal apparently named, “The Sentinel” that stood impressively
on a raised step to the left. Moving back upstream had a feeling of going up the down escalator. Especially in the narrower parts where the current was faster and stream deeper. By this point, my caving stamina was being tested with each cascade climb seeming to become progressively more thigh burning. Thank heavens for my regular walks up onto the mountains as without it I think that I would have been wanting to keep resting. But on we went and progressed one boot in front of the other, back to Tea Junction.

We stopped for a break here and much-needed energy replenishment to prepare us for the climb back out. We ate our sandwiches/nuts/chocolate with efficiency but did make time for reflective discussion about the trip so far. We did however continue before the cold had a chance to set in, we were all very wet from the streamway and did not want to become uncomfortable or end up having the cold have an impact on our performance. The return poke up through Wonderbra bypass was quite a challenge, with a well lubricated, steep floor assisting gravity and the cave not wanting to let go of its grip of us. Draenen wanted us to stay for supper. An inelegant thrust was made by me and perhaps my companions to get to the top of the constriction. Perhaps they managed with grace and elegance, but I did not. All out and into the crawl before a last bit of boulder hopping through cairn junction. By the way the log book pencil needs sharpening. The climb up the ladder was with the reassuring lifeline provided by Huw. To be honest I was so grateful for that lifeline as my confidence was a little dented due to the challenge of the trip. Ladder, rope and all the tackle neatly stuffed away oxymoronically into the backpack and I led the way to the climb out. I managed to take a wrong turn and unbeknownst to me, Lloyd, who was following did not see me fork to the right. I headed off to a dead end, I realised when I was in a gravel-bottomed crawl that I knew I did not pass on the way in. I called out but no reply. I could neither see nor hear my companions. I called out a couple more times, as loud as I could manage, having to consciously fight my creeping sense of fear. I had made two mistakes, taking the wrong turning and not noticing that Lloyd was not behind me. And then my novice caving imagination was trying its best to overrule my rational self. With no space to turn, I shuffled myself backwards until I managed to turn myself around and head back to the junction where I had gone wrong. It was only about 5 metres and I looked to the right to see the waterfall coming down from what appeared at distance, to be from nowhere. I approached the waterfall and looked up and could see the correct route out. I shouted once more, but the noise of the water prevented me from hearing any reply. I realised what had happened and made my way up the climb and when I reached the bedding plane crawl, I had the reassuring sight of the blocks that I had remembered noticing on the way in. My mind was still trying its best to scare me, I had visions of my fellow cavers leaving the cave, shutting the gate and heading back to the car, assuming that I had not waited. Of course, I knew that there is no way that this would have happened and in no time, I could see the soles of Huw’s boots and gave a shout out to him, who I think was surprised to see me coming up from behind. Once out my adrenaline rush subsided and then I started to get wobbly legs. Relief at being reunited and laughing at myself. This whole episode probably only lasted about 5-10 minutes, but my sense of timings were greatly slowed down by my mind working overtime.

A quick walk uphill followed and back to the cars. Getting the engine started to warm the car up and breaking into the flask of coffee that was waiting for me in the car boot. It was cold up on the exposed parking area, but more settled than when we got changed before the trip. Family priorities for each of us meant that we did not call into the Talisman for a post trip drink, instead all heading directly home, just beating the rush hour. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the trip into Draenen. It was a very different cave and one that I look forward visiting many times in my new caving career.

Ogof Cynnes – Saturday 27th October 2018

Dave Gledhill, Thomas Williams and Huw Jones
Words and photos – Huw/Dave

Dave – “Cynnes?”
Huw – “It’ll be fun!”
The cave description – Mostly horrid!

Not sure if the trip was fun or horrid (possibly a bit of both) but there were a couple of slightly worrying incidents!

I arrived at the car park near Blaen Onnue Quarry a few minutes early, to find Dave and Tom already there. Everyone was obviously keen! It was a very cold day and the other two wore jackets over their caving gear for some extra warmth. First we headed to the quarry, to check out the film set that’s been there for the last few months. They have been filming a big budget production of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, to be shown on BBC1 sometime next year. Filming must be finished as it looked like the set was in the process of being dismantled.

It was a nice, if cold, walk to the cave, accompanied by a bighting wind. Ogof Cynnes translates as Warm Cave and the difference in temperature inside to out was very marked. We’d brought a ladder, mainly to get into the lower part of the Easter Series but first we used it just inside the entrance to take a look down the First Pot. I’d dug here in the early 90s with the Poly of Wales Caving Club. After we’d dug into the Easter Series, at the far end of the Right Hand Series, our survey showed a possible link with the First Pot, which would create a round trip. The bottom of the pot and the dig had become a horrendous quagmire with water lying on top of the liquid mud!

Back up the ladder and quickly derigging it, we carried on just a little way along the entrance rift to Talk Back, which is a very narrow tube/rift and one of the two possible routes on. Tom shimmied through with no problem and the bags were passed to him. Then I tried but I didn’t fit! This was our preferred route all those years ago with the POWCC and the way I took when I did a solo trip to remove some of our digging gear so I was a bit gutted (no pun intended!) that I was too big now. Dave decided that if I didn’t fit, then he wouldn’t either and so our only option was to take the Second Pot route and meet Tom further into the cave. Now the Second Pot has a dodgy chain ladder hanging down it, that probably dates from the 1970s! When we were digging in the cave in the early 90s, we rigged our own ladder on the pitch, if taking this route. Of course, we had a ladder with us but we’d passed it through Talk Back to Tom and so rather than taking up more time, I decided to risk the chain ladder. There had been an aborted BCC/MCC trip to Cynnes a while back and at least a couple of people had climbed the ladder then, before turning around and heading out. It was in poor condition, with the chains loose from the ends of the rungs and slid together in the middle! I slid down the tube to the pitchhead and once on the ladder, pushed the chains apart with my feet. I was nearly at the bottom when a little shock ran through the ladder and looking up, I saw that a chain link on the left, that one of the rungs passed through, had snapped! The rungs below this slopped a bit but I was able to gently climb to the bottom without anything else breaking. Obviously it wasn’t a good idea for Dave to follow me and I didn’t fancy climbing back up the partly broken ladder. By this time, Tom had almost made his way around to where I was. I shouted to him to get our ladder to Dave so that he could rig it on the pitch. That all took a little while of course but eventually we were all in the ridiculously muddy chamber before the choke leading to the Main Chamber, having slid down the infamous Muddy Slot. After all that we hoped the rest of the trip would run more smoothly!

Through the choke and we were into the impressively tall Main Chamber and from there headed into the Left Hand Series. The Left Hand Series isn’t particularly extensive but does contain probably the second largest chamber in the cave, Hope and Glory Chamber. One area I was keen to find, as I hadn’t visited it before, was the Black Hole Series. The way into this turned out to be a very obvious hole through boulders in the base of the chamber. We explored the upper part of the small series and found various places that probably drop into the lower part but as we didn’t now have a ladder, we couldn’t descend. Tom was keen to go back with gear, to take a look at what must be a very little visited area of the cave.

We headed back to the Main Chamber and then made our way through the Right Hand Series, exploring a couple of side passages along the way. We had to leave some other parts, like the Boulder Chambers area, for another day as getting though the entrance series hadn’t been straight forward and had taken some time and we wanted to get on to the Easter Series. We climbed up to and then crawled along a high ledge into Roof Passage, at the end of which are the series of three POWCC digs which lead into the Easter Series. The second dig, a U bend had developed a lovely pool of water to crawl through! We made our way to the end of the series, which is mostly in Millstone Grit, before heading out. We weren’t able to drop into the lower part of the series as we’d had to leave our ladder on the Second Pot, of course.

After our problems on the Second Pot on the way in, we were looking forward to a straight forward trip out. We got that until we arrived back at Talk Back! I’ll leave it to Dave to describe what happened next!

    Dave – After being fairly certain earlier on in the trip that I wouldn’t fit through Talkback, I for some reason decided on the exit that I’d give it a shot anyway as opposed to going up the horrible slippery muddy slot by the 2nd pot. My choice seemed the right one as I saw Tom fly up with my no dramas whatsoever, so I chucked the bags up and luckily (as will become apparent) I chucked him my belt which had my HMS crab and sling attached. I climbed up easy enough and “inserted” myself into the squeeze. It soon became apparent that square blocks don’t fit into Talkback let alone circular holes as I managed to get wedged….really wedged. Then panic hit, which didn’t help as then my body slipped into the rift below and my lungs compressed. “Don’t panic butt” I heard Tom shout with a hint of a giggle in his voice whilst he unravelled my sling. Meanwhile I’m making noises which could probably be likened to a moose who’s been smoking 20 woodbines a day. Moments later as my face turned blue (I’m guessing….couldn’t say really after all the mud that actually caked my face) the sling appeared and after several choice words and some tugging I emerged at the top with the same relief I experienced after somehow getting wedged in the entrance pitch of Bar Pot in Gaping Gill a few months previous. I think I’ll just be using the 2nd Pot and muddy climb from now on. If I remember rightly I think poor Huw was underneath all this palaver!

After that ‘excitement’ and with the horrible sound of Dave’s constricted breathing still in my head, I made my way around the other way, while Tom and Dave waited above. It was a real struggle getting up the Muddy Slot and the small tube/rift above the Second Pot and I climbed our ladder very gingerly as the bolts and hangers it was attached to, are probably of the same vintage as the old chain ladder!

It was still very cold outside and so, after a quick ‘after’ group shot, we made our way back to the cars, admiring the fantastic views along the way. An interesting trip and I think Dave and Tom were impressed with the muddiness at least!

Carreg Yr Ogof – Friday 19th October 2018

Huw Jones & Pete Jeffery
Words and photos – Huw

The original plan was for a trip into Craig A Ffynnon with Vernon but when Vernon had to drop out, I suggested a visit to the remote but interesting hill of Carreg Yr Ogof, on the Black Mountain. I’d wanted to explore the place for donkey’s years but had never quite got around to it. Pete runs the YHA at Llanddeusant, situated below the hill so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. The drive through the Beacons and around the Northern end of the Black Mountain is one of my favourites and I couldn’t help but stop to take the odd photo of the views up to the hills.

I arrived at the YHA at the appointed time to find no one around. Pete had had to sort a few unexpected things out and was currently at the tip! No problem as the weather was great and it’s a lovely place to just hang out. Pete turned up and quickly throwing his kit into a backpack we set off, in our wellies, on the hour’s walk up to Carreg Yr Ogof. There is plenty of height to gain in a relatively short distance but gallingly, the route actually starts off with a steep descent down a farm lane to the river! Starting up the other side, we climbed a bank to allow a herd of sheep to be driven passed, then soon turned off the lane to the farm and carried on upwards on a rough stoney track, that turned grassy before reaching the open hillside. The views are fantastic, with the Towi Valley spread out below us and the high peaks of the Black Mountain to the North, hiding the picturesque lake of Llyn y Fan Fach.

The gradient started to ease and Carreg Yr Ogof came into view, dotted with lots of old, small quarries. We carried on to the top on the hill (585m/1920ft) to get our bearings, where a large group of off road motorcyclists disturbed the peace somewhat. There are quite a few small caves spread around the hill, with lengths in the range of 20m-40m, plus a longer cave at 160m. We had planned to visit as many as possible but with the delayed start we decided to just check out the two best known caves of Ogof Carreg Yr Ogof and Ogof y Garimpeiros.

First we headed for Ogof Carreg Yr Ogof, the cave that the hill is named for. It’s all of 37m long but worth visiting. I’d loaded the co-ordinates into my GPS so we had no problem finding the entrance, where we got kitted up and headed in, Pete leading the way. The entrance chamber is rocky and bare. A short crawl then leads into the Main Chamber, where the floor is covered in many, many small stalagmites, a couple of inches to a couple of feet in height. They are unusual in that they are mostly white but each one has an orange top. The Main Chamber ends in a heavily calcited choke. A constricted route has been dug through on the right, leading to a very unexpected sight. Popping out of the choke, in front of you is a beautiful deep, green pool of water, looking not unlike a mini Dan yr Ogof Green Canal. There is plenty of pretty calcite on the walls and ceiling too. The passage carries on underwater but only for another 10m apparently.

Next, we made our way to Ogof Y Garimpeiros, the longest cave in the area at 160m. We’d noticed the location of the entrance as an interesting spot, on our way up to the top. The entrance is situated just above a sink and is covered with a green wheelie bin lid! Considering how loose the whole entrance area is, the shoring is pretty minimal, with just some thin metal bars and a few bits of rotten timber. Squeezing feet first through the entrance, it’s surprising how large the passage is so close to the surface. The extremely bouldery view before us set the scene for the whole cave. There is hardly an original, water-worn surface anywhere, with the walls and ceiling all angular facets, where the boulders have peeled off. Perhaps because it’s close below the surface, the walls and ceiling are almost completely covered in brown calcite. We joked that if it wasn’t for the calcite cementing everything together, the whole place would have fallen in!

Progress is made up and down boulder piles and includes a crawl through a choke half way along, before reaching the terminal choke. The stream is met at the base of the boulder piles and is a good size, considering it’s not far below the summit of the hill. The water has been traced to the Ffrwd Las resurgence on the Avon Twrch, right in the middle of the Black Mountain, a distance of 5.5km and 250m lower! That’s huge potential considering the equivalent figures for OFD are roughly 3.2km and 290m!

A really enjoyable day and somewhere I definitely want to return to, to check out the rest of the small caves. Best on a sunny day when it’s not too hot!

Ogof Cnwc – Tuesday 16th October 2018

Huw Jones & Pete Jeffery
Words and photos – Huw

Pete had been in touch with the club about doing some caving with us and with a week off work I was happy to oblige so we arranged a trip to Busman’s Holiday via the Ogof Cnwc entrance to Daren Cilau.

We met up in the Daren car park but Pete soon realised that he’d grabbed the wrong helmet as the one in his boot was tiny and didn’t come close to fitting him. I tried it and thought I could just about get away with it but then there didn’t seem to be any way of attaching a lamp so we were still a little stuffed. The only thing for it was to drive to mine to pick up my spare lamp/helmet and back, which was going to take the best part of an hour and a half. We jumped in Pete’s car and pulled out of the car park onto the Hafod road but had to immediately reverse up for a minibus full of kids in oversuits, which turned up into the car park.

“I wonder if they’ve got a spare helmet?” I joked.
“Might be worth a try.” replied Pete.
“Isn’t that Vaisey driving?” I asked.
“Do you know him?” asked Pete back and so we drove back into the car park.

Yes, it was Vaisey Bramley, leading a group from the Gilwern Outdoor Education Centre, yes they did have one spare helmet and lamp with them and yes we could borrow it! Thanks again Vaisey, you are a life saver!

We arranged how we were going to return the helmet and headed up to cave, which Pete hadn’t been in before. The first part of the cave was muddy as usual but with all the recent rain, it was wetter than I’d seen it before, with more lovely puddles to crawl through. The first 15 minutes or so of the trip aren’t the most pleasant, with the muddy and gravelly crawls but suddenly popping out into the huge and well decorated Price’s Prophecy chamber is a great experience.

First we headed North, through another decorated chamber with a noisy inlet stream and then into larger, bouldery passage, with not much in the way of formations but a bat or two here and there. At the end of the big passage is a longish but easy crawl, that leads into the most Northerly section of Busman’s. We soon arrived at the original breakthrough point, up from Antler Passage, where we stopped for a quick bite to eat.

On the way back I took a few photos and pointed out some of this newfangled Cryogenic Stal on the floor of the big passage. A check of the watch back at Price’s Prophecy showed we still had time to have a look at the southerly section of Busman’s. We wanted to time it so we’d get back to the car park a little bit before the group from the Gilwern Centre were due. The passage to the South is smaller than to the North and we soon reached a corkscrew dig up through boulders, quickly followed by another crawl through a dig. We then entered another large section of the passage at Stal Boss Chamber. There is a smaller rift passage to the right here, which we had a look down as it’s a bit of a change from the large, bouldery passages we’d been in so far. After taking photo’s in the decorated chamber, we started out. While crawling out I realised I’d only taken photos in the big passages. Looking ahead, Pete was in a nice small section so I called out about taking a photo there and asked if he was in a dry spot. Getting a very resounding NO! in reply, I didn’t push it further and we carried on out!

Roughly three hours underground in all, an enjoyable shortish trip into some impressive passage, rounded off with a nice pint in Llangattock.

Ogof Draenen entrance series – Monday 10th Sept 2018

Huw Durban, Harry Durban, Tom Williams and Huw Jones

By Huw Jones

A quick trip to grab some photos of the Draenen entrance series, for use in the presentation to the Blaenavon Townswomens Guild, which was only a week away.

Tom And Harry posed in various wet locations and I took several snaps at each to make sure I got at least one decent photo, while Huw provided lighting. Luckily for them the stream was particularly low so they didn’t get too soaked.

Once that was done, we traversed along Darling Rifts and took a look around the chamber and passages at the head of Big Bang Pitch, an area which is little visited these days. There’s some nice passage here and some interesting fossils, the most impressive of which are parts of large fin spines from 300 million yeah old early sharks.

Thanks to the guys for helping with the photos and the ladies of Blaenavon said they really enjoyed mine and Barry’s presentation on the caves in the area and South Wales in general.

Ogof Clogwyn, Sunday 19th August 2018

Huw Durban, Huw Jones, Patricia Hughes, Barry Burn and Tom Williams

By Patricia Hughes
Photos Huw Jones

Evening taster trip to Ogof Clogwyn

What better way to end a wet bank holiday Sunday, than an evening caving trip in the Clydach Gorge?

We met up in Brynmawr at 5, me trying not to be tempted by the sight of the pub opposite the car park and the smell of freshly cooked takeaway food.

Then into 2 vehicles and drop down towards the gorge and out of the low hanging clouds.

Time to don my borrowed kit, try on the helmet, err Barry, how do I unclip It? Lamp check, then tried to figure out how to turn it off…sorted. Barry offered me a spare set of batteries but advised me not to keep them in the sleeve pockets as it may cause discomfort in a future crawl. Hmmm useful advice for sure…read on to find out why later.
My next dilemma; “So lads, is it suit over wellies or wellies over suit?”
“Well Patricia,” came the reply, “that depends if you want water to drain back up your trouser leg or if you want gravel in your boots.” The lesser of the two evils was chosen for me by the clothes that I was wearing, as I could not easily get the bulk of the over suit trouser legs into my wellies.

A short and pleasant stroll around to the Gellifelen Tunnel entrance before walking through the rather muddy western bore. The cloud was probably moving through the tunnel as the lower entrance seemed to be steaming like a witches’ cauldron was bubbling away inside. Time to leave Tom and Barry at the top of the hill and head down into the gorge. The three Huws were caving tonight, Huw, Huw and Hughes. I think that I passed the first test, not getting wobbly legs on the steeper parts of the path, above the gorge below.

Quick stop for a photo or two and instructions for me on cave photo modelling (which I am sorry to say I never fully got the hang of on this trip) before hopping up the resurgence cascade and into Ogof Clogwyn. I spent the first few metres after the short crawl-in gingerly avoiding the deep water in the stream. I was trying to cleverly keep dry wellies. Then I realised, there was little point and I should just accept the inevitable and fill yer boots, as it were. The water was not that cold and I was more comfortable walking normally and not worrying about trying to keep my socks dry. We stopped a few times for the Huws to point out speleological features and explain a little about the local geology. This trip even had a little amount of conservation as we recovered two lost items of clothing from inside the passage. We had a chat and brief sit down at the terminal sump before heading back out, via an upper section involving some crawling and dropping down a couple of slots in the floor. It was whilst crawling that I had an uncomfortable pain in my thigh. Time for me to remember Barry’s words of wisdom about things in pockets. Oh well just another pack of knackered Polos then Patricia, or so I thought.

Out of the cave and up the hill to rejoin Tom and Barry. On the way back we explored the culverts, walking down the “dry one” and back up the “wet one.” Wonderful feat of engineering, and rather fun with the sound and feeling of the water tumbling over the cascades. I did think that at one point I would tumble down the cascade myself as a perfect hand hold came off in my hand, as a football sized piece of rock decided to give up its grip on the rest of the rock just when I was relying on it. Up at the top end there was a narrow traverse step into the bramble bank before walking up to the railway path, avoiding the freshly deposited dog trail.

I then had the opportunity to try a tighter slide into a short cave just beyond the cars. But firstly removing the offending item from my pocket. Turned out to be a lipstick of all things. I asked Barry to look after it on the promise that I would reclaim it when I exited the cave, so as not to cause any domestic explaining on his account when he returned home with my lipstick. I experienced a very short but cold, muddy and low slide into the cave. Another experience that I wanted to try as it was on the potential list of things to put me off the sport. No problems with it though, but I felt a bit bad getting the borrowed and freshly culvert-cleaned oversuit covered in mud. Back to the cars to change. In my euphoria and slight confusion following my first caving trip I had a bit of a wardrobe issue. I could not find a couple of small yet important items of dry clothing. Apart from general embarrassment I was also worried that Tom would have a much harder job explaining to his wife the discovery of my smalls than Barry of my lipstick.

Back off into the clouds and to the car park in Brynmawr. Already signed up for my next taster trip and could not express my gratitude and delight about the evening enough. Wonderful company, a wonderful evening trip and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking forward to my next trip to see if caving is for me.

I am sure that most of you have happy memories of your first trip, or you may not still be here right? Well my first trip was very memorable and I am glad that I went along. Thanks to my caving guides Huw Jones and Huw Durban as well as Barry and Tom, neither of whom went home with incriminating evidence as I found all of my dry kit in the dry kitbag where it had remained all the time.

“Commando” Patricia Hughes

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II, Saturday 11th August 2018

David Gledhill, Gareth Jones and Huw Jones

By Gareth Jones
Photos Huw Jones except where otherwise stated

A Saturday trip into OFD 2, lead by Huw Jones. My first trip into OFD 2, and Huw’s first trip for a few weeks. So he had planned a long trip at a good pace to try fit in everything OFD 2 had to offer. (well, we probably covered less than 10% of OFD2!! – Huw)

We’d planned to meet in Merthyr before 9am where Huw jumped in my car, after I’d bought a pork pie and sweets. Dave was going to meet us at Penwyllt.

Arriving at a very busy Penwyllt, we struggled to park. We got in eventually, and thankfully there was an entrance key spare.

After changing as quick as we could, we started off on the tram road, up the hill. After a 10 minute hike we arrived at the entrance, Ogof y Nos Hir, which is an unassuming entrance that you’d never notice unless you knew where to look. The story of its opening is interesting, with diggers underground and above pushing to meet each other, eventually leading to a top entrance into the vast system of OFD below, the deepest cave system in the UK.

We stopped for a photo outside the entrance, now a padlocked gate.

Opening the padlock and switching on my light, I lead the way in. To say I was gobsmacked would be an understatement. The very first chamber we entered through the tight entrance gate was so vast I struggled to imagine how it could exist so close to the surface, initially discovered from the inside from an entrance much lower down the hill. Oos and aahs aside, we had a cave to explore. So off we went.

Our trip took us through ‘Big Chamber Near The Entrance’, through bouldery ‘Brickyard’, and into the impressive ‘Gnome Passage’. Numerous stunted stals cover the floor of the chamber, giving the appearance of a garden full of calcited gnomes. Legend says in wet weather you can hear the gnomes whisper to each other, but with the recent dry weather, the chamber on this occasion was quiet.

Leaving the gnomes after a brief discussion, we decided to test my fear of heights, again, and as luck had it Huw had a ladder in his bag. So to my surprise, not far round the corner, in ‘Chasm Passage’ was a supposed 8m pitch we could practice climbing down an electron ladder and back up again. After 10 mins of rigging, Dave decided to show how it was done, with courage and dignity. At the bottom he called up he was at the bottom, safe.

Now it was my turn. I’d like to say I followed Dave’s example and climbed down graciously with style. But that would be a lie. I panicked and panted and cursed and shook and eventually, I made it down. Now for the climb back up. I went first so Dave could capture the event on camera. After a few failed attempts, the thought of the sweets and pork pie at the top spurred all my courage and energy, and slowly but surely, I managed to climb back up. Dave quickly followed behind.

I spent a minute getting my wits back while Dave and Huw packed away the kit.

We headed off continuing down into the depths of OFD 2. We descended a corkscrew obstacle to arrive into ‘Salubrious Streamway’ where we tried to find a way upstream, before giving up and heading off down the streamway.

Eventually after a few sporting obstacles, climbs and traverses we made it down a side passage off the streamway, into arguably OFD’s most famous formations, the ‘Trident’ and the ‘Judge’. After some more pictures we headed off up ‘Swamp Creek’ to see another impressive formation. From here, we turned around and headed back into ‘Salubrious’ and continued downstream heading for ‘The Maze’.

We stopped to look at the survey and decided to explore a bit. None of us had been in this part of the cave before. We found lots of formations, and some impressive fossils of coral. After spending some time getting lost in ‘The Maze’, we again back tracked and made our way to ‘President’s Leap’ via ‘The Crossroads’.

Why this obstacle is called ‘President’s Leap’ I can only imagine, because traversing over a certain drop to your death, one is leaping anything but presidentially. However, this obstacle is entirely worth the shaky knees. It leads straight into, in my opinion, one of the finest passages I have yet seen in my life, ‘Selenite Passage’. This densely decorated passage filled with selenites, is what makes the leap worth it. It truly is breathtaking passage, and no pictures would do the endless formations justice. You really have to get in there to see them.

At the end of the passage at ‘Shatter Pillar’, we stopped for lunch and a chat. We then decided to have another look at ‘Selenite Passage’, before we realised we had to pick the pace up if we were to cover more ground and see as much of the cave as we had planned.

So at a quicker pace, we headed up into ‘Midnight Chamber’, where we bumped into another group of cavers. Then quickly on to see ‘Skyhook’. Then onwards down to the end of ‘Deja Rue’. We had a look at the junction to ‘Northern Lights’ but unfortunately time had caught up with us. So we decided to start making our way out. So we headed back the way we came, back to ‘Shatter Pillar’ where we then made our way to ‘Edward’s Shortcut’ to exit. However, Huw had one more amazing place to show us on the way. After ascending what felt like a never ending boulder collapse, we were back up at the upper levels of OFD 2, where we took a side passage off to a passage equally as breathtaking as ‘Selenite’.

We had entered ‘Frozen River’. This passage involved a bit of stooping and hands and knees crawling, and a slide down some calcite. The whole way the passage was lined with endless straws and helictites. We reached an amazing column at the end, with conservation tape barring the way on. We took some time to admire and take in everything there was to see. Everything seemed so fragile that even our booming voices felt like they may shatter the pretties.

Realising time was running out, we headed back on our journey out the cave. We arrived at ‘Edward’s Shortcut’ to face another crazy traverse, so wide we were almost horizontally spanning the lofty rift, and at the end, with a foot at either side of the traverse I was doing the splits for the first time in my life.
We reached the last major obstacle, a slippery 4m vertical climb that Huw shimmied up, putting my following attempt to shame. With huffing and puffing, anyone round the corner might have thought I was giving birth. But with Dave pushing from below, and Huw pulling from above, I eventually made it. Dave followed swiftly behind.
From there we were plain sailing. Back into ‘Gnome Passage’ and following our route in, we swiftly made it back to the gate, 6 hours after we entered. Dave opened the gate to a, not so typical as of late, warm and wet beautiful hillside.

Weary but elated, we made our way back down the tram road to Penwyllt, to get changed and dry off.
A thoroughly enjoyable trip. If my achy joints are anything to go by the following day, as I do this write up, a very physical trip too. Some call OFD a show cave. Yes the formations, scale and grandeur are worthy of a show cave, however, the physical undertaking we endured is not comparable to the concrete footpaths and handrails in nearby show caves. Show cave yes, but no gentle walk in the park. This cave is a show cave for cavers.

The longest I have been underground yet. Potentially one of the most memorable trips, I’m sure I will never forget. Thanks to Huw and Dave for letting me experience this one.