Bread of Heaven   - South Wales, Easter

You know that good feeling. You’re off on holiday, a hard earned four day break - good caving trips ahead & plenty of beer swilling with your friends, The sun is shining, the air warm the car a magic carpet wafting you through the beautiful English countryside. The world goes spinning by in an effervescent euphoria. You never think to look at the fuel gauge.

Not, that is, until the sun has gone down and you’re on the most obscure B road in deepest, darkest. Wales. Then you look down in panic. The needle is entering the red zone and the chances of an open gas station are as likely as a love affair with Blondie. Help, I say to myself and instinctively knock it back to 40 mph but the needle continues to descend and Monmouth goes by, a gasoline ghost town. Next thing I’m on the big grind up out of Abergavenny and the tilt of the car accentuates the situation. Curse & double curse, smoke the other cigarette, wonder where I’m going to park up and spend the night. Question, answer, conclusion, resignation.

But all of a sudden, there he is. The Archangel Gabriel, face glowing above a fag-end, thumb pointing at the Pleiades, impeccably dressed in white leathers sporting a badge “Jesus rode Honda”. God’s own AA man to the rescue. “Jump in, Taffy, I say: and then ask him the whereabouts of the nearest gas station. After a volley of words, he points up the road. Truly a sign, which is just as well as I haven’t understood a word he’s said. Taffy gets out at the garage and “runs down through the fields” as he puts it, though I must admit having visions of him scree running on huge slag-heaps. Fifteen minutes later I cross the railway line and bump down to Penwyltt. True to form, in the last few yards the headlights pick out another angel, swaying gently in the still cold air, feet braced a yard apart as he waters  the flowers, hand clutching his Precious holy water to his chest.

Conversation leads to closer inspection and the holy water is a bottle of Pils. He’d obviously cracked before the 40 days were up. But the angel is most hospitable and after a quick baptism with the holy water I’m tucked up in my bunk and drifting off to sleep in a heaven full of leather jacketed angels reclining on fluffy clouds, drinking bottles of Pils.

I wake next morning to sunlight streaming through the window heralding four days of meteorological bliss. Down in the kitchen Chris Wilcox is limbering up with five rashers of bacon, three eggs and a mega pot of tea. I steal a brew and we go outside to  reconnoiter. Jim & Jacky are obviously here, and the ripple we trip over in discovering this is Jack Sheldon in an army special Camouflaged ground sheet with six inch poles. The smart Force Ten (to rebuff outer wind or contain inner wind? ) is Graham, Bill & Peter. Andy is in kip with his friends, our leaders. Others soon arrive including Bob, Dave, Jack German Jnr., Mark, Keith & Sedbo.

Fifteen members in all - a macro meet. “Get a grip!”, some idiot shouts, and the next minute fifteen cavers are flogging up the hill to Top Entrance. To describe the epic of the O.F.D. through trip would take a long to read as it did to do the trip, so I hope someone obliges with the full account. High spots should be given space though. Andy gets lost in the first few hundred feet - but isn’t that what leaders are for? - to find the right way out of the wrong way. Andy gets gripped up on the climb down into Salubrious Passage - a hearty Ho! Ho! Ho!. from Keith, who then follows suit. Jim grabs a precious shot of Andy even more gripped up on Maypole Inlet, though Mick grabs the star spot by actually falling off. Sploosh! In the main streamway Army Intelligence meets its match as Jack disappears in one of the potholes - one up to civvy street. Finally, Jim gets us all lined up for a group photo, first captive evidence that the Red Rose has more than ten active members .... if it comes out, which with Jim is ever doubtful. The rest of the trip is lost in a blur of turns, climbs, crawls marching streamways. A superb trip accomplished in four hours, such speed allowing us full use of the Ancient Brit, which said pub has discovered that a hand pump is not just a cycling accessory or a form of manual relief. Wearing hangovers like medals we stagger into Saturday.

Hangovers or not, there is little festering on Saturday morning & after huge breakfasts we follow the sunlight down the valley. With three Dan-yr-Ogof leaders it will be possible to accommodate the full Red Rose contingent in this revered cave - three parties on three separate trips. Access would no doubt be more difficult if the dinosaurs above the entrance were real. The duty guides wave us past groups of startled tourists and we are swallowed up by the black waters of the stream passage rumbling out of the underground paradise that, stretches far into the hill. I can only say “What a cave”. (Hugh running out of words, that’s a compliment. Ed) Let everyone tell their own story, but where I am taken, the Far North, is in my estimation the finest caving trip in Britain. Others go to the Confluence and back, & some on the round trip. But whatever the path the talk is all excited admiration & praise in the pub afterwards, and a large quantity of ale is .require to soothe he dusty tongues of the talkers. Only Dave Crellin is silent - incapacitated by a swollen knee, he’s missed the fun. The party still isn’t over though. Back at the hut, barrels of beer at 5p. a pint have been laid in, and despite the rigours of the day some of us prop our eyelids open long enough to get well and truly soaked. A night to watch match of the day. At 2a.m. I pass out.

 Sunday, traditionally a rest day. Primus’s are slow to light and breakfast is protracted into three course meals and umpteen brews, consumed to the harmonic melodies of Pink Floyd from Sedbo’s disco. Someone even mentions a fester in the pub. Such a blissful day as this should never be squandered underground, but dutifully we make tracks for Little Neath River Cave and indulge in a little rallying on the forest tracks. A brief stop is made at a remote store for an ice-cream, a snack that Jack is in dire need of after thumbing through the girly calendar on the wall of the place. Down by the river it’s like Oxford Street in rush hour, cars everywhere. With some deft parking we manage to block everyone in and then saunter off for a splash about in this pleasant and impressive cave. An interesting wet entrance tube leads to a huge stream passage with some amusing swims. Plagued by light trouble I follow Jack’s heels everywhere, which turns out to be up several dead ends and finally back to a group of boy Scouts to ask the way. Oh, the humiliation! And after the Far North the day before. Nonetheless we make it to the end and return via the dry oxbow route. After this some pot bashers go on and & do Porth-yr-Ogof while the rest of us return to Penwyllt. Another boozy night in the Brit and then our last day arrives.

Bank Holiday Monday, the ideal day for a pose. Those who have satiated their caving appetites take to the motorway and head for Lancaster. The keener lads are tackled up for Pant Mawr &
pointed over the hill and far away.. This leaves the exhibitionists to savour the dubious delights of Tunnel Cave. A sweaty walk up the hill to a nice 70 foot shaft and wire traverse into a warren of inclined tubes, each of which, according to Andy is the right one. Quote “Yes! I remember it now, it’s this one.” Jack is beginning to look like an unripe watermelon in his yellow suit and even Bill is beginning to lose his bottle with Andy. We end up with about as much confidence in him as Brutus had in Caesar. We’re just short of daggers!

 

Eventually we get it right and the tubes lead to some climbs and then without warning, the ever present iron gate. Inserting our key in the Welsh cavers chastity belt we break into the enormous, floodlit Cathedral Cave - truly an impressive sight after the preceding grot. But neither the cave nor those who tread it can claim star spot on the stage of the no expense spared, show cave world. Undoubtedly it is the wet suited dummies who steal the limelight with their frozen postures, neat ladder, rubber dinghies & untarnished carbides. And Madame Tussaud is smiling in her grave! Had we been more quick witted we should have leapt the fence and played statues for the party coming up the cave. Instead we walk quickly past, as nothing can compare with a hard-man pose far the crowds. Up through the concrete tunnel we come, steaming like fire gods, blinking in the sun an shaking the dried mud from our hair. Shutters click as Nippons raise their Nikons. Trendies remove their shades for a closer look. Mothers pull their  daughters a little closer, and the old ladies gesture with ice cream cones. Pandemonium breaks out in the dinosaur queue. Fathers turn a hundred little heads, a hundred little imaginations are fired. And so the flame that burns in us is passed on a new generation begins and the exploration of caves will never cease.

                                                                           Who  else but – H. St. Lawrence

 

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