Huw Jones, Maxine Bateman, Tom Williams, Vicky Zerbino, Andrew Zerbino, Xavia Zerbino
Tom Williams & David Gledhill
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.
Dave Trig Gledhill
Early start for this one as we had wanted leave a lot of time for route finding, with a belly full of bacon sarnies I set off for , The weather being a bit too nice for the 500m plus of crawling about to ensue. As I get to Abergavenny Tom texts to say his car key is in the washing machine so there will be a slight delay!
We meet in the car park and discuss whether maybe getting a key to OFD would be a more sensible option or even a wander in Dan Yr Ogof showcave. But after a nice cup of “Man Up” we find ourselves at the start of the entrance crawl.
Slithering into the icy waters the swear words could have probably be heard in Aggy but once we both negotiated The Vice the going eased off and normal conversation was had and pictures taken and plenty of “not as bad as I remember” remarks were said. We cleared the entrance in about an hour, stopping only for a drink and a couple of snaps.
One thing that annoys me about Daren is how the entrance just stops and you are suddenly in walking passage! God send really. We didn’t hang about and pressed on, Tom hadn’t seen the crystal pool before so we decided to go and have a quick look in there before Jigsaw, as its pretty much en route. Worth noting this part of the cave is quite easy for navigating as there are handy reflectors pointing you in the direction of Jigsaw Passage and vice versa for the Entrance/Exit. After a picture of the dried up Crystal Pool we pushed on into Jigsaw Passage and through The Wriggle.
Arriving at the logbook in ‘Big Chamber Nowhere Near The Entrance’ we signed the log book and consulted the survey. We both had been in the cave both and Tom had done the route before, but in reverse and we all know how different caves look in the opposite direction so this was going to be a good old fashioned survey and description following kind of trip. We carried on as per description but took several attempts and a compass reading! to find ‘Epocalypse Way’
Now this is when I started to realise what an amazing place this is, as after only a few minutes in the easy going walking chamber on the left hand side in the far distance something catches your eye…..a pure white glow. The pace increases to reach the famous formation of ‘White Company’. Can easily say it was breath taking and well worth the few hours of caving to reach such an epic. We stayed here for a short while taking pictures and having a rest and generally taking in such a sight for sore eyes.
Continuing on still impressed with White Company we are rewarded once again with a short climb into a very very very well decorated oxbow, ‘Urchin Oxbow’ to be exact with its deposits and crystal lined roof and yet again another reason to side-track from the planned route. Just round the corner from Urchin the aptly named ‘Kitchen’ is found, where we stopped for lunch and refilled water bottles with some of Llangatwgs finest council pop.
Now turning left and then left again we appeared in ‘Antler Passage’ and yet again the cave reveals another one of its secrets in the form of a gorgeous set of Helictites named ‘The Antlers’ (for obvious reasons). Now here comes (in my opinion!) the hardest part of the trip. Antler Passage is long….really long and its 99.8% boulder hopping up and down boulder slopes of which this mountain and its systems are famous for with the remaining 0.2% being awkward small pitches with ladders and lines in situ with one being rather tight at the top where I managed to sub humanly bend my knee in un-godly directions. Its easily to navigate funnily enough as its one long passage with ‘Man in the Roof’ dropping back into the passage at one point. But it does eventually end in the form of a lovely wet boulder choke and another climb……..decent.
Popping out into ‘Busman’s Holiday’ here our survey improved somewhat and route finding was relatively easy until we reached ‘Prices Prophecy’ which is an amazing, well decorated chamber where the way on looks to the right ( I have previously read about some guys a few years previous who took this route and never found the connection with Cnwc and had to turn back and travel the full 4-5hours back through Daren!) but is actually off to the left into a further decorated chamber and low behold a helpful sign reading “Cwnc exit this way!” too easy!
What else can I say about Cnwc…it’s a dig, it’s not hard but it certainly isn’t pleasant but certainly beats having to go all the way back. We exit covered in mud but high, very high spirits into the warm summers day. Back in the car park we entertain some holiday makers with our tales of crawls and endless passages much to their amusement.
Definitely one of my favourite caves and trips of all times and I think Tom would agree!
On Sunday 16th October – Myself, Zeb, Xavier, Tom and Hywel took a sporting trip to Pen Eryr on the Llangattock Escarpment.
As per usual myself and Zeb were late which is an ongoing trend these days but it was Xavier’s first real caving trip where we could challenge him and see how he would react in different scenarios. It was also my first trip in months due to health problems so this was the perfect one to break me back in so to speak.
We met at the Darren Ddu carpark which is situated about half a mile from Chelsea’s club house and after a quick change, light check and admiring the outstanding view we were off up to the quarry behind.
We passed the famous Darren Cilau where Hywel could have a look into the entrance series in which he quite shiftily suggested we leave that for another time and continued our walk along the quarry. It can sometimes take you a bit off guard with its constant movement of rock from above and the odd sheep that has decided to attempt to fly however today we were lucky enough to not witness any of this and we soon arrived at the entrance.
The entrance is pretty much directly behind the far end of the car park but due to the mass of fern, thistle, sleeping sheep and poo the walk can be arduous so a quick diversion to admire the view from a little higher is always a winner.
About this time last year a rather large boulder fell off the quarry face and blocks half of the entrance so it is usually a good idea to get straight in before you overthink things. Once you’re past the entrance you come into a small chamber which without much knowledge you would think there was nothing else to it but there is a slot in the ground below the far wall which can be a bit off putting but once you slide down and through you know you’re half way in… yes only half way.
So this is where the challenge is well and truly accepted. You are in a small passage chamber and to the end on the right hand side about 3ft up the wall is a tiny slot and you’ve guessed it you need to get in this. It is tricky but easily accessible with a little help from the wall to push yourself off. You will Enter a small cavern in which you will need to manoeuvre yourself into a position you would think your body was incapable of and progress up through a smaller hole and into the passage beyond. I can honestly say that my first trip here was absolute hell on the entrance and it took me 20mins to get through due to being vertically challenged and 3stone heavier than i am nowadays. However on this trip i was through in about 3-4minutes! Go me!
Xavier seemed to take well to this entrance yet slightly taken back by the fact he just got through holes which you would think a small child would struggle with and he was soon raring to explore.
Let the journey begin!
Pen Eryr is a sporting cave. It definitely keeps your heart rate up and uses muscles you didn’t know you had. It’s a range of stooping, some boulder hopping, drops, climbs and crawls. All of which aren’t overly challenging unless if you are like me the climbs can become an issue.
If you want a pretty trip then this really is not the one. The passage is very similar to Aggy but on a much smaller scale. The difference being that in Aggy at some point you will get to the pretty stuff where as here you bruise yourself in the entrance, possibly slip down some small climbs, contort your body in such a way you’ll ache for days and see absolutely nothing but rock, rock and more rock.
It was fantastic to have Hywel back in the mix. Due to his move to Scotland in recent months we don’t get to see him often but he was straight on the phone on his return to organise a trip.
People still ask me why do you cave? Are you mad?
Clearly I am mad but it is bloody fantastic!!!
Tom Williams and Huw Jones
When Huw suggested an after work trip, I assumed it would just be a quick, easy trip. The type I am usually accustomed to after a hard days grafting. How wrong I was…
After multiple attempts of navigating through the brambles, we were finally at the entrance. Helmets on and we took our last glimpse of daylight before we got moving. The entrance rifts didn’t feel as tight as I’d been told they were, horror stories of people not being able to lift their legs up enough to get back out were going through my head. But before long and without too much faff we were at the top of the pitch.
What a nice pitch it was. Trusting myself to the rope felt a bit unnatural but a few tentative seconds later and I was on my way down. It was good to finally use the rope I had got at a bargain price at the Cave Rescue Auction back in June, I still haven’t found a use for the pulleys though…
Soon enough we were in the streamway. A quick food stop and onto the appropriately named Midsummer Night’s Streamway. The formations and scalloping of the passage are stunning. It was all fun and games until we came to Hammer Passage and then the ominously named guillotine climb. Named, we guessed, due to guillotine nature of the rock, looking ready to come down with a swift chop. From there on it was crab walking interspersed with the occasional climb up slippery, sharp walls only to have to climb down again a few meters later, then having a flat out crawl through the streamway. It was sporting to say the least! It was a relief to see the end sump as Midsummer Night’s Nightmare Streamway had certainly lived up to its name, completely writing off my pair of kneepads in the process. After planning a through trip from Shakespeare’s to Llanelly Quarry Pot, we made good time back to the junction with the entrance, for more food and water before going to the more enjoyable end of the cave.
The highlights of this end of the cave included some amazing formations, including the Michelin Man, which actually looks like what it’s named after, unlike most formations. Ryan’s Duck was great fun, and quite possibly my favourite part of the trip, with the exception of abseiling down the main pitch. We failed to find our way to the Blue Sump, then we headed back towards the entrance, with a vow to return to find the Blue Sump and to explore the Totem Avens.
We made our way back to the entrance pitch. I was really starting to feel fatigued from the extreme nature of the downstream section of cave. Next came the dreaded climb back up the pitch and the tight entrance rift.
After a lot of swearing and struggling we were finally on the surface and on our way back to the cars. By the time we had gotten to the cars, it was just past 11, the quick easy evening trip I’d expected had turned into a 5 hour epic trip. Feeling reinvigorated by the cool night air, I felt like I’d be able to do it all again straight away!
The cave is definitely a collectors piece, especially the downstream section but I am glad to have made it all the way. I don’t intend on returning there in the near future, upstream on the other hand is certainly worth a revisit! All in all a very good, hard trip. Thanks to Huw for suggesting it and for rigging the pitch.
A great trip with Thomas Williams today – the Inner Circle in Agen Allwedd. It was nice to stretch the legs! We got underground at 10.20 and made our way through the Entrance Series, along the Main Passage for a bit and then down the Main Streamway to North West Junction. I’d taken a rope for the climb down from Keyhole Chamber but we found all the climbs around the Second Choke and Keyhole Chamber already had ropes on them so I left our rope there and carried on with a lighter bag! From Northwest Junction we turned up the finely decorated Turkey Streamway. After a refuelling stop near Turkey Junction, it was on to Turkey Pool. I managed to traverse across, not getting wet above the knees but Tom succumbed to what he said was the inevitable and slipped in up to his chest! A little after this we turned right through Hawkin’s Horror into Sand Caverns and soon turned right again into Selenite Needle Passage, which is festooned with crystals. This starts off as a crawl but after a bit turns into a lovely walking passage, with an easy-going flat mud floor.
At the end of Selenite Needle we reached a junction at the start of the Inner Circle proper. Left was our way on and straight on was were we would be returning from, to complete the Circle. We’d expected to take 6 hours to do the whole trip but a look at the watch showed we’d taken 3 hours just to reach this point and we hadn’t even started on the Inner Circle yet! We’d obviously been taking it a bit too easy so far! We picked up the pace and completed the Inner Circle in 45mins, which included going off to see the Swiss Village and a Mocha stop – yes really, Tom had brought a flask! There’s some truly huge passage up this way (plus some crawls just to even things out) and the Dome of St.Pauls has a very impressive ceiling.
The trip out went smoothly apart from me falling into Turkey Pool this time! We exited, to fabulous weather, bang on 5 o’clock after 6 hours 40 mins underground. Taking a tip from Huw Durban, I took a good supply of home prepared isotonic drink with me, which is very easy to make. I’m sure it made a difference, as I didn’t feel any real fatigue until about 5 mins from the entrance! A great trip – thanks Tom.
Sorry there’s no photos but neither of us took a camera.