Volume 35 Number 2 Article 6
Red Rose go to South Wales
Through Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, and a visit to Dan yr
23-26 July 1998
Ray Duffy, Peter & Julie Mohr
The South Wales Caving Club is nicely located in a row of converted cottages in a small village, Penwyllt, in the upper Swansea Valley, near the OFD cave system. Originally the cottages were occupied by workers from the nearby quarries and old brick-works, but they became derelict after the Second World War, and the SWCC were lucky enough to purchase the cottages in 1960. The new kitchen, 60 bunk beds, drying room, showers, library, a cosy common room with an open fire, testify to the work that the Club has put into their conversion and improvement. The RRCPC has an agreement with the SWCC, and Red Rose members can stay at Penwyllt at the same rate as local members - £1.70 per night. Details of the Cottages can be found on Internet or from the secretary.
Day 1: Friday 24th July 1998
The Friday morning was sunny and warm - the first rain-free day for weeks! Ray, who is "certified", collected the cave keys, and confidently pointed out the route through OFD on his waterproofed survey. We also took a compass, 15 metres of rope, the usual backup lights, and a written description of OFD from Selected Caves of Britain & Ireland (1997) - all were to be used during the trip!
OFD is a large complex system of rifts and passages formed on multiple levels feeding into a large active streamway flowing roughly in a south-west direction for well over 3000 metres. It extends from its sink at Pwll Byfe (SN875151) to its resurgence at Ffynnon Ddu, the "Black Spring", (SN874151). There are now 40km of passage with a vertical range of 300m and three entrances; the lower entrance was blasted in 1946, but the top entrance wasn't discovered until 1967, and the survey published in 1969. A good account of OFD's history can be found in Limestones and Caves of Wales (1989).
We decided to do the through-trip upstream from the lower entrance to the top entrance; in retrospect it would have been easier the other way around, but we wanted to check the water level in the stream way at the start of the trip. Ray unlocked the gate; down the old showcave ladders, and away we went. Most of the passages are easy going - big enough to carry your tackle bag on your back, but the back-straps broke and later in the journey this turned what should have been a light-weight tackle sack into an awkward nuisance. Anyway 200 metres of winding passage, past "Pluto's Bath", soon brought us to the "Step" into the main steam; at this point the water should not be more than 6 inches above the Step if the trip is to continue. The stream was roaring but passable, and we made steady progress up small cascades and over four deep potholes in the stream bed, which are negotiated by balancing on scaffold bars (invisible in the water) fixed across the pots - clever stuff! Just when you are getting the hang of it you meet a sump. Onwards through the "vdlb" ("very dangerous loose boulders!") into the "Connection", a straight passage with interesting mud formations, which despite being taped-off, had at sometime been crawled over. This ends in a confusing junction; a right turn under some bacon wings leads to a devious route for 200m south with little climbs and boulder chokes, which end in a chamber with a sloping slab. A short climb leads to the misnamed "Letterbox" (protected by a ring), followed by a confusing low crawl which swings round in a "U° direction ending in a exciting 12m climb down at the "Divers' Pitch", (rope in situ) - this was Zig & Zags favourite bit.
The way on was a large passage heading west for 200m to "Piccadilly Circus", a sloping junction with some boulders - we went wrong here - the larger passage on the left, "Nether Rawl", is the way to Cwm Dwr, (the much harder middle entrance). The way we wanted was a narrower passage on the right, heading south, the "Flood Bypass". After 100m west the roof lowered and we regained the stream way at "The Confluence".
The main stream, "Nant Newydd" was beautiful, especially the "Marble Showers Series" - stunning jet-black rock shot through with white lines, but it was hard, exhausting work, struggling bravely upstream, traversing cascades and potholes. At one point Zig had to throw himself into a deep pool, swim across, crawl out against the torrent, and rig a rope so Ray and Julie could step across the easy way. Some slight relief at the "Great Oxbow', otherwise it was "on and on' in the stream for another 500m, until finally Ray spotted the marker for "Maypole Inlet.
We struggled out of the stream aided by a single metal step and our rope; then up a ladder into the passage. The way out of Maypole Passage is a rift climb on a comer where the passage widens, but we missed it and got lost for an hour. Ray showed superb leadership, quote: "listen you two, I don't bloody know where we are, so shut up". The problem had come about by aimless wandering, rather than constructive planning consultation. Once we consulted the guide-book, we retraced our steps and found the climb, "20m before a junction and waterfall". It was an easy climb of 11m up the rift and some boulders, followed by a short exposed traverse, protected by our rope (again).
Now we were motoring - north to "Crossroads", right into the milky coloured mud of "Salubrious Passage", up a steep slope, spiral through a boulder choke and - lost again! We new we were near the exit but the complex of large passages and chambers around "Chasm" and "Gnome" caused confusion, and aggravated by the fading lights of Ray and Julie's lamps. At this point the compass was brought into play; the direction was north, and we eventually found the rift leading to the top exit - Ray unlocked the door, and let in a great big "Ray' of sunshine!
Day 2. Saturday 25th July 1998
We had planned only a short visit to Dan Yr Ogof as some of us were still recovering from OFD. Nevertheless it was an early start - so early in fact that the cave hadn't opened! Dan Yr Ogof (DYO) is a show cave first discovered in 1912; its surrounded by large plastic dinosaurs which make strange noises that sound like Jim Newton when he's angry. Eventually, at 11 am, a sleepy ticket collector arrived, inspected Ray's "valid permit with photograph" and waved us through. Clad in smart wet-suites and caving gear, we mingled with the tourists in the show cave before wading down the submerged ramp to Lake 1. DYO had been inaccessible for weeks; there seems to be a lot of water in Wales, and most of it seemed to be in Dan Yr Ogof! The water was up to our necks; we floated along, hanging onto the lefthand wall. Zig and Zag were almost having second thoughts, but Ray urged us on and eventually we struggled up a magnificent cascade to Lake 4, and gratefully clambered up the dry rift! We explored some of the chambers; Ray took some photographs of Zig and Zag (aren't flash bulbs hot!), but we decided to give the "Long Crawl" a miss as Ray's kneepads were worn out (honest!) - we couldn't wait to get back into those deep Lakes! We had had a good scout around and are keen to return for a longer trip beyond the Long Crawl.
Day 3: Sunday 28th July 1998
The weather remained fair, and we decided to drive back north through the Welsh countryside and pay a tourist visit to Porth Yr Ogof (SN928124). Porth is a short drive from the SWCC cottages, near Ystradfellte village; it has the largest cave entrance in Wales and swallows the River Mellte. The cave is deceptively complex; there are 15 entrances - some dry, some for divers, and two even have pitches for abseiling. The main stream entrance is impressive and invites you into the cave; its very popular with novice groups, scouts etc., and there are various' safe ways through - we saw two people walk through with hand-held torches wearing shorts and boots in under 10 minutes! However the river passage route (the "White Horse Pool") is another matter - the water is very cold and deep, and only fully equipped cavers should attempt this route.
The final Resurgence passage, about 30m long, is notoriously dangerous; leaders are advised to exit the cave at a collapsed daylight entrance before the Resurgence - warning signs point out the risk for those foolhardy enough to attempt the final swim! Martyn Farr's new booklet, The Secret World of Porth Yr Ogof (1998), lists the ten cavers who have died in the resurgence since 1957; he advises all cavers attempting the Porth resurgence to wear wet suits, use a buoyancy aid, and have a life-saver standing by. Good advice, we are planning a return trip in the near future - Julie can't wait to be first through! A great weekend.
Peter & Julie Mohr