Cwndwr to OFD 1.

With bones creaking and muscles moaning we unbend our unwilling bodies from well earned slumber. OFD is our aim today, Neil uncharacteristically lacks grip — not through over imbibing — he has been on surprisingly good behavior this weekend — and bimbles around fettling the speakers in his car, lights aren’t important, the sound machine is paramount’
We drive through the bleak South Wales landscape, scarred with ugly black mounds; attempts to re-scape and a few brave shrubs and moorland plants which struggle for survival on the unnatural ground, have softened the harshness, but the pi1s of industrial are still in evidence.

An hour later sees us ready to descend, “It’s Just a short crawl then it’s all big stuff,.” I’m told, and hope it’s right because my knees are still suffering from Daren yesterday, but the first obstacle is the pile of excrement smeared over the rocks at the entrance. It is smelled before it is seen and e beat a hasty retreat leaving our intrepid leader struggling with the lock — and the smell’ In we go 1,2,3,4,5, like submariners entering our vessel we slide down the tube, incarcerated as the heavy metal door clangs shut behind us. With knees still stinging we gingerly make our way along the winding passage, in some places it’s a flat out crawl in shallow water, in others we are crawling along pebbly floors, we are thankful when we emerge into bigger passage.

Into the Big Shacks, sandy floors, like wall to wall carpeting (a dream to walk along) clean high walls, gothic arches, all impressive stuff. A bit of route searching follows, we find ourselves flirting with a high level traverse over gaping holes which Charlie is sure he recognises, but as I look down through the yawning chasm I’m supposed to step across, at the pleasant sandy passages below, I mercifully hear a voice saying; “We should be down there!” Is it wishful thinking or am I really saved? Down we go and the yellow birdman leads us over massive boulders into an immense chamber with passages going off in all directions. We are in the Smithy but which way next? A brief foray up Nether Rawl, a pleasant sandy passage, which Andy is convinced he recognizes is dismissed when it starts to up-dip So we sit down and admire the view as Andy disappears out of sight to reconnoiter, only the gentle tinkling of the key reminds us of his presence.... close your eyes and imagine.......... you are in a peaceful, rolling, green, mountain pasture, clean air, the scent of Edelweiss, a rippling breeze, the sun burning down....., and the clang of bloody cowbells all around you! ! The sound dies away as Andy disappears up a passage, but as it fades stage left the “ting ting ting” gets gradually louder stage right and Andy re-emerges from the passage we had come out of half an hour earlier, having gone round full circle! Back we go to Nether Rawl and several yards further on over the ramp it starts to go down—dip and Andy’s memory is vindicated.

Divers Fitch, a relatively easy climb up a fault wall leads into a maze of low, narrow passages where we have a bit of trouble finding the way. After coming feet first through a hole which leads to a 15ft. greasy slope there is a crawl up to the right into a short bit of rift passage where Andy says there is a short climb on the left. Charlie leads but misses the way, another ten minutes is spent trying to recognise the holes above which we find ourselves until we decide to go back. A second run at it and we find the climb, some noisy shouting and heckling provokes Charlie’s retort; Just because lam at the front it doesn’t mean I’m leading!”

Up the climb and into a small chamber with two passages leading from it, Neil and Graham disappear up the wrong one — more abuse; “If you can’t keep up you shouldn’t ‘ave come!” A large piece of flowstone in the passage is pointed out as a useful landmark and we press on to the boulder choke. Apprehensively I follow Andy and Charlie, the log book in the SWSS warns visitors that it had collapsed two weeks earlier and was to be “approached with care”. We pick our, way through until we reach a small space, a bedding plane on the left, dodgy looking boulders all around. Just above us a T.V. sized blocks wedged between bigger boulders, partially blocks the way through, leaving a small gap which makes things very awkward. It poses us all a few problems as our legs dangle uselessly in the air, searching fruitlessly for something solid to push against, other people’s bodies suddenly become very useful! Neil, being the last emerges with arms six inches longer as we pull him through like a piece of rope in the local church fete’s tug-o-war, with the rocks as opposing team not giving in easily! Hanging around in there is not pleasant especially when the exertions of pushing and pulling loosen rocks; memories of jack straws and kerplunk spring alarmingly to mind, so we make our way rapidly out to more stable surroundings.

A quick visit to the main streamway which leads to OFD 1, a glistening black passage with a gentle babbling brook — it’s not hard to imagine what it would be like in wet weather. Now Charlie takes over — his brief — to lead ,is up Lowes Chain, where I try out my Tarzan impression, and out through the escape route. The teacher and pupil, a classic example of educational expertise, and Charlie’s turn to be on the rough end of the heckling as Andy sits back smugly and waits for the mistakes. “The only way to learn is to make mistakes” he says as Charlie beseeches Jut f —inq tell
me if I’m right or not but Andy leaves him to root around. There are one or two slipups but our pupil is none the worse for them and grudgingly agrees later with the “make mistakes and learn” philosophy. Through Roly—Poly passage, along the Rawl Series, up the Dugout, a brief look at the step, a splash up the main streamway, and an amble out into the open. Wearily we make our way up the hillside, and my first visit to Wales is over. Well..,., not quite, there is the beer to sample.

Anne Black.

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