To bail or not to bail that is the question…

To bail or not to bail that is the question…

Trip date: 9th-11th December 2016

Team: Stuart Bennett, James Hallihan, Piers Hallihan,Duncan Hornby, Jo Myburgh,Helen Stewart, Malcolm Stewart, Phill Thomas, Claire Vivian

The team arrived on the Mendips Friday evening around 9.30pm. Abandoning Piers and James at the Shepton the rest went for the obligatory drink at the Hunters Lodge only to return and find Piers fully immersed in Southsea CC shenanigans.

Most of the team had either never visited Swildons or had not been in it for many years. After discussion it was decided that Swildons was to be the Saturday trip.

Shepton Mallet Caving Club hut, Sunday afternoon with sunset and mist providing an atmospheric backdrop.



A lazy start gave Duncan the opportunity to pop over to the MCG hut and pick up the Pine Tree Pot key for Sunday’s trip. We then all headed off for Swildon’s Hole.

It was going well so far. We were on time, had a callout sorted (thanks Toby!), were the first caving party to arrive at the barn in Priddy and were prepared to either visit Sump 1 (James and Piers), or complete the Swildon’s short round trip (everyone else).

Within minutes this all changed. Mike and Jann from CSS/GSS turned up and explained that they had been told one of the sumps on the Short Round trip was un-bailable. Hmm. Major sticking point for our group… We had a quick group chat and decided to stick with the main plan of going in to Swildon’s and just seeing how far we could get on the trip. It was Helen and James’ first visit to Swildon’s, so all of it would be new cave for them.

The SWCC team at Swildons Hole entrance.

The team all headed off downstream to enjoy the Twenty, Double Pots and Barnes Loop together, before breaking off into two parties at Tratmans temple.

Jo at the climb at what is known as the forty foot pot.
Piers safety lining Jo at the main pitch.
Duncan descending the main pitch.
Jo making the final climb down from Barnes Loop.

Piers at Tratman’s temple, it was this point that the team split into two.
As it turned out, this was a very good decision. Although over 20 minutes of bailing saw no noticeable change in the water level in Mud Sump – despite Stewart and Claire’s overly optimistic sighting of a tiny gap.
Claire and Stewart valiantly bail the Mud Sump without reward.
Malcolm pouring water into the contraption that syphons off the water away from the sump.

This was a bit disappointing, yes, but we still had good fun. We retraced our steps to Tratman’s Temple and then continued down to Sump 2. James got to try out his first caving ladder (on the Twenty) and Helen dived through her first sump, so altogether, an interesting day. As the pace was more gradual than expected, we had more time to actually stop and look around at the cave, admiring the formations. And, of course, no-one managed to fall in near the Double Pots on the way out…

Phil passing through Sump 1 only to immediately return to keep Jo company.

Claire passing Sump 1

Helen’s reward for passing through Sump 1!

James’ take on the trip
Jo and James

On Saturday it was my first ever trip into Swildons Hole – actually my first trip outside South Wales. Although a very good and interesting one it was a very wet and tiring one full of new experiences. One of the first was doing a twenty foot ladder climb under ground. Afterwards we thought that although it would make the other ladder climbs easier, perhaps starting on a calcite flow in a waterfall wasn’t the best place to learn how to climb a ladder. Another new experience for me was getting properly wet in a cave. For all of the nine years of my caving experience (being only 12 that is all I could sensibly do) I tried to avoid water in a cave. Swildons wasn’t the easiest place to do that. The first giveaway that it was a wet trip was the fact that I had to put on a wetsuit. If my dad had his way I would have got even wetter and gone through sump 1. No way! Being used to caving in the Brecon Beacons, I was used to seeing straight 15 degree rock strata so it was a shock to see the beds at Swildons were all wave shaped. I was glad that I had gone on that trip but slightly more glad that I went from the entrance to sump 1 and back instead of the round trip.

Eventually everyone exited the system and returned to the Shepton for a cup of tea and freshness up before heading out for a meal.

Relaxing in the Shepton.

James make short work of the Caving Table, the centerpiece of the Shepton Common room.

Team enjoying a drink and meal at the Queen vic, along with Southsea and Dudley caving club!



Sunday’s trip into Goatchurch was another significant event. Not only did it mark James’ 50th logged trip underground, it was also Lizzy’s first trip since the arrival of baby Aurelia 6 weeks earlier and Jo reminded us it was almost a recreation of her first trip with SWCC in 2009 when Lizzy and I led a team of new cavers, including Jo and Claire around OFD2.

Goatchurch is a fun little cave – there’s a few sporty squeezes and interesting traverses. There’s enough to keep you on your toes but it’s still a relatively safe cave for beginners too.

With this in mind, we put gave James a survey and put him in charge of route finding.

By the time we left SMCC after a leisurely breakfast, James had a round trip all planned out, taking in most of the cave, including both entrances. Packing all our kit to head for off I found that the SMCC drying room is largely ineffective and was very relieved at my decision to pack a spare undersuit!

We met Lizzy and family at Burrington Coombe car park – Mat was left in charge of looking after car keys and babysitting Seb and Aurelia and we set off on the stroll up the Coombe towards Goatchurch, seeing some significant signs of recent flood damage to the paths on the way.

Footpath to Goatchurch

Team at the upper entrance of Goatchurch

Once underground, James got to grips with the survey. The 3D cave is very different to the flat 2D map and doesn’t really prepare you for dangling over some interesting rifts with very polished handholds. We walked in the main entrance, past the remnants of a long abandoned attempt at making a show cave and, after working our way along a passage marked on the survey as “Bloody Tight” (it’s not that bad really) we made our way down to the Drainpipe, a nice, fossil lined low crawl that marks the lowest point of the cave.

Piers exiting the drain pipe.

James in the drain pipe!

We poked around the chamber beyond and decided that none of us (not even James) fancied what the survey described as a “Very Tight Final Rift”, especially as the guidebook adds “very difficult to reverse” to that description. Strangely, nobody fancied the “Hellish Tight” bypass either so we retraced our steps, climbing up over the Slide (or Coffin Lid, depending on which version of the survey you have) and into a maze of rifts of various sizes leading, eventually, to the Tradesmans Entrance to complete the round trip. James did have a bit of a surprise when he popped his head out of the flat crawl, almost into the mouth of a rather large dog which was looking into the cave!

Lizzy exiting Goatchurch via the lower entrance

The team out and alive!

After checking out the entrance to nearby Sidcot Swallet, we headed back down to the Burrington Inn for a well deserved lunch round the fire. There was even an early trip to Santa’s workshop – having found out that Mr “Starless River” Seddon was staying at the Wessex, we called in on the way back to SMCC to get a new pair of James sized knee pads and to order a replacement for my very well worn oversuit (When you touch the sides more than the average caver, your suit tends to wear much quicker!)

James’ take on the trip

Goatchurch was a very fun cave despite being very small and full of precarious rifts and climbs. At the entrance I was told that I had to navigate around the cave. After walking in through the main entrance we walked down a slippery calcite flow named the giants staircase, aptly named as some of the foot holds down it were very hard to reach. After we had gone giants staircase, we had to go down ‘bloody tight’ which as the name suggests should have been quite tight, it really wasn’t. After negotiating a very large step across the bottom of ‘bloody tight’ we were in boulder chamber. There wasn’t much to see and we were soon talking to some others staying at SMCC at the top of the slide. As there were three others yet to come over the actual slide we decided to climb down under the slide. After looking round the fairly unimpressive grotto we headed down to water chamber and down the drainpipe to nearly the end of the cave. We didn’t see the actual end of the cave as some members weren’t the right size to fit so we retraced our steps to the bottom of ‘bloody tight’ and to the other end of the cave by the coal chute. Whilst looking around to find the coal chute we noticed a single bat hibernating in the cave. After looking at the coal chute we decided that we wouldn’t climb up it without a handline (that we left in the bag in the car) and went around it. After slowly sliding up a calcite flow, we had a scary dog encounter where a dog appeared from nowhere and starting smelling my face. After we returned home, my dad pointed out to me that since our records began in 2011, I had done 50 caving trips, more than likely qualifying me for my cavers+ badge in scouts.

GB Cave

After a leisurely start on Sunday and a quite a bit of faffing Malcolm, Helen and Phill drove the short distance through rolling fog and mist banks and parked at the farm at Gorsay Bigbury. (For future reference note there is a £1 fee payable to the farm – apparently it goes to the childrens’ pocket money.)

A short walk across the fields (hopping over electric fences and high gates) got us to the right shakehole and the entrance blockhouse. Helen and Phill then made friends with the local ponies for twenty minutes while Malcolm went back to the van to get the cave key out of his trouser pocket…

Once in the cave we descended the steep entrance passage, adorned with various bats, and took the first left and generally headed downwards to enter the iconic impressive Gorge and then arrive at the Bridge. Further down we had a quick look at the view from the dizzying height of the waterfall and, after taking some photos, returned upstream and made our way over the Bridge and up towards the White Passage, where there are lots of fine calcite formations. 

Malcolm on the Bridge in GB

White Passage ascends steeply via at least one tricky climb to a boulder choke, with a similar steep dead-end passage reached through a short crawl near the top (West Extension). 

Back at the foot of White Passage we found the hole going down towards Rift Passage and followed this to traverse across the top of Rift Chamber. We were trying to find our way round the oxbow, working from Duncan’s half-remembered verbal description and a poor and increasingly muddy photocopy of an old survey. Rather than finding the way on we diverted off the main route up the narrow, and in places tight Rhumba Alley, oh what fun we had…. More bruises.

Error realised we returned to Rift Chamber and took the obvious easy route from the base of this, following the water. The Loop and Oxbow are fine sections of passage, with excellent stalactites visible in the roof and a couple of interesting down-climbs, which finally drop you out of Oxbow Inlet into the main passage, some distance downstream from the waterfall. Whilst posing for photos we could see the chain, at the top of the ladder dig climb, in the roof downstream of us.

Malcolm and Phill looking at the rigging points for the Ladder Dig in GB

After a quick break for a chocolate bar lunch Malcolm used an interesting method to rig a temporary ladder, so that we could explore the Ladder Dig. Once up we suddenly realised that it was much much wetter than we had been led to expect! The crawl led to a deep and freezing cold duck with only a very narrow airspace (apparently a damp crawl under normal conditions) and then within a few meters a second cold tight duck, which had us lying on our backs with our noses pressed to the roof!

Malcolm passing the ladder dig squeeze

To warm up we were met with a boulder choke with numerous routes up towards the Great Chamber. We made a concerted effort to find that chamber (almost losing the cave key down between boulders in the process), but eventually gave up as time was ticking on and decided to try and find Bat Passage instead. This was located by picking our way through the boulder choke guided by polished surfaces on the right hand wall, the only stable wall in the area. We were rewarded with a large taped passage, with some fine pure white formations lining the ceiling and walls. The passage ends at a large descending muddy dig with various tools and piping visible.

On our way back we exited by climbing up the waterfall in the main passage, which wasn’t as difficult as expected, and found most of Dudley Caving Club taking photos at The Bridge.

An excellent trip, to a similar level of difficulty as yesterday’s Swildon’s trip.

Trip time 5 hours.

Pine Tree Pot

The trip into Pine Tree Pot almost did not happen as on Friday the penny dropped and I (Duncan) realised that to do the trip one required some 8mm hangers. Luckily I met a Shepton member who was able to lend us the much needed equipment. Turned out that at the top of the main pitch there were 3 very nice new and shinny hangers in place, so I decided to use those instead of the rusting spit holes…

We had parked at the MCG and walked to the cave and I impressed Stuart and Claire with my uncanny ability to walk straight to the cave entrance. This had nothing to do with me previously looking at Google Earth…

Lifting the lid to Pine Tree Pot!

Duncan abseiling the entrance pitch (5m)

The entrance is a classic concrete tube which you can rig off to do the 5m pitch. Rules stipulated that the lid needed to be put back once in the cave but that would have been very difficult to lift off so it was dragged partially on to stop any sheep deciding to take up caving.

3m on into the cave is the main pitch. This was quite awkward as you had to post yourself almost over the edge to get access to the hangers, so in the photo below my feet are over nothing!

With a much appreciated double check from Stuart (who has more experience in rigging than I) and 12m later I was at the bottom of the main pitch.

Duncan rigging the top of Pine Tree Pitch with Stuart ensuring quality control!

The cave is quite small and definitely a Sunday tip, but that does not mean it’s easy as the name “Easy Street” implies! Following the obvious main way on down Rumble rift we followed Easy street which got progressively tighter. At some point Stuart had to do some strenuous reversing! If Claire says it’s tight I didn’t even bother…

We headed back and looked for Moonlight grotto, joking about the huge number of formations that were not there. We found the way into Moonlight Grotto and to our surprise it had lots of pure white calcite, a sharp contrast to the rest of the cave.

Claire and Stuart in Moonlight Grotto

Claire admiring formations in Moonlight Grotto.

Took some photos then headed out via another route back to the pitch. Stuart, Claire then I ascended the pitch, I derigged and we all came out into cool and sunny weather.


As it was such a short trip we decided to pop into the Hunters for lunch, only to find it had stopped serving food, so we went to the Castle of Comfort which had also stopped serving, then Burrington which was serving and we found the others with Lizzy and Matt enjoying lunch.

Trip time: 2.5 hours

Slip ‘n’ Slide

Slip ‘n’ Slide
Team: Andy Freem, Antonia Freem, Mark Hampson, Colin Hoare, Duncan Hornby, Phil Knight, Tim Lewingdon, Chris Taylor & Claire Vivian.

Trip dates: 22nd-23rd October 2016.

With the exception of Colin and Phil (who turned up Sunday) everyone arrived Friday evening at Whitewalls and bedded in for the obligatory Friday night drinking session. Plans were hatched for an assault into Ogof Agen Allwedd and the inner circle trip.

Getting to Whitewalls had been problematic as the main road was closed for road works (again…) so everyone came up the incredibly steep road from LLangattock, first gear all the way!


The team at the end of Sand Caverns, Agen Allwedd.

After some pre-caving faff we entered Aggy around 10:45. The entrance series is a fairly spacious walking and climbing passage, until it all got very narrow and tight, not what I remembered! We soon realised we had taken a wrong turn, back tracked and then found the way on.

We eventually got to the first choke and surprise we got lost again! For the record once you find the metal bar (which is a fairly new feature) head forward, right and then through a well worn tube at floor level on the left. Ignore the obvious stooping size page going straight ahead (which ends up in a dig a few feet further on)! Then it’s a crawl along a very worn section of the choke until you pop out into the impressively large main passage.

A short walk along this then a right into main stream and head downstream. Part way along this, one has to pass through the second boulder choke. Eventually one arrived at the Northwest junction, which is where Main Stream and Turkey Stream meet, having slipped and slid most of the way there. This was a key location, and can be easily missed, as the group doing the Grand Circle that day discovered to their detriment when they had to retrace their steps all the way back down Main Stream and up Southern Stream after mistakenly arriving at Turkey Pool. Head downstream follows the main streamway, but upstream (Turkey) was the direction we were heading. If was such an important junction that a “race for life” water bottle was left prominently in the hope of stopping us stomping past the junction looking for it on the way out.

Heading upstream we passed through Turkey Junction with the infamous coal cellar passage coming in from the right. We eventually hit Turkey Pool a narrowing of the passage creating a deep pool. You know you are there as this is the only point along the river passage where one (if they wished) can be chest deep in water!

We passed through Turkey chamber and then took a right into Hawkins Horror and once through that into ever increasingly larger passages. Once at the junction with selenite needle passage we made an executive decision to not head into the inner circle. We had lost time in the entrance series and first boulder choke and decided to head into the Sand caverns. This allowed us to maximise our time in Aggy and not overrun our call out.

This turned out to be a good choice as the Sand Caverns are really quite large and although not packed with formations well worth an explore.With a team photo taken at the bitter end we headed out. The Freems had been filming along the way and the video of our trip is below.

Total trip time: 8 hours 30 mins

In the evening a bunch of us headed to the local Indian for a slap up meal!

Beer and Popadums at the Red Indigo restaurant in Crickhowell.


The team looking clean and enthusiastic, with Colin looking suspiciously clean… 

Fresh aches and pains emerged on Sunday morning for most people, so it was decided that a shorter trip was required today. Andy and Antonia fancied exploring Eglwys Faen and the rest of us thought that Craig a Ffynnon would fit the bill. We were also joined at Whitewalls by two extra club members, Phil Hughes and Colin Hoare. So it would be a good strong group of 7 that would head down the hill to the cave. Chris was really excited about this – he had wanted to visit Craig a Ffynnon for many years.

Unusually, the lock opened really easily today for Duncan, and we were in the cave within minutes. It was a later start for us today, so it was around 11am by this time. We then headed in through the pretty Straw Chamber up the ladder at First Choke on to the wet crawl through Gasoline Alley and all still fairly clean and fast going at this point. Arriving at the climb up to the second boulder choke we met a party of three on their way down and then suddenly a group of 8 Cardiff students also arrived to join us. Having been in Craig a Ffynnon several times before without meeting another group, the cave was suddenly looking incredibly busy! But we all got on well and had a chat while waiting for people to ascend/descend the pitch (although Chris had a rather close encounter with a small loose rock). The pitch was a fixed ladder up to a climb of around 8m that has a rope on it for the first part and then some metal plates bolted into the wall, via ferrata style, for the second bit – these are somewhat interesting if you have short legs.

One of the places it would be preferable not to meet another group travelling in the opposite direction, would be while you are actually in the Second Choke itself which is rather tortuous and squalid. So when we met another 3 people while in this we performed some interesting acrobatics to allow people to pass each other. It was then out into the big stuff and we soon reached the gloopy mud. Fun was had by most people in this as wellies came off and legs got stuck, it was soon followed by some slipping and sliding up mud banks and laughter was echoing around the passage. Great to have such good spirits on a caving trip. Onwards we went to the really big and pretty formations. Travertine Passage looked very impressive with its magnificent formations and gour pools, but the Hall of the Mountain King was even more so and almost rendered Chris speechless.

Hall of the Mountain King, Craig a Ffynnon.

After posing for some photos, we explored the area around Hall of the Mountain King and the passage on the right near the entrance to it. It was then time to turn around and head out (though we are all desperate to have a longer trip in here soon to visit the Promised Land!). We met the Cardiff group on their way into the Hall of the Mountain King, just as we were on our way out.

More entertainment was provided by the gloopy mud and the temporary loss of 5 wellies, where Claire and Tim proved absolutely useless at helping stuck cavers because they were laughing too much. The climb down from the Second Boulder Choke proved slightly more interesting on the way back down being as everyone was thoroughly covered in mud and very slippery, but there were no calamities and we all emerged out into a bright sunny day.

Total trip time: around 3.5 hours.

Muddy but Sunny! Colin looking not so clean!

Big pitches vs. sore knees!

Big pitches vs. sore knees!

Trip Dates: 16th -18th September 2016

Team:Derek Cousins, Celestine Crabbe, Mark Hampson, Duncan Hornby, Richard Sore, Helen Stewart, Malcolm Stewart, Phill Thomas, Claire Vivian

Another cracking weekend away, this time in the Peak District. With glorious weather and pubs dangerously close to the TSG hut in Castleton it was going to be a weekend well worth the effort (aka 7 hours of soul destroying driving).



The entrance to Titan is an innocuous looking and beautifully engineered sliding manhole cover high on Hurd Low hill to the north of Castleton. From this vantage point, in fabulous still sunny weather, we had views north as far as Edinburgh and to the south could see the M4 as it goes round Cardiff; it seemed a pity to have to wrestle into stiff SRT harnesses and depart the glorious high peaks for the dark depths below.

Celestine, Mark, Malcolm, Richard and Phill at the entrance to Titan.

However, the key fitted the lock, the manhole opened, all the lights worked, we had all the ropes, it was going to have to be done…

Richard rigged from the girder and shackles just beneath the manhole cover and we followed down the initial pitch, which is a 48m free hang. Largely mined out you are struck as you descend by the amount of effort, concrete, time and money that have been poured into this shaft – once beneath the surface you can start to appreciate what a major civil engineering project this entrance shaft was. Helmets off to the cavers who created and funded it!

Richard rigging the first pitch.
Phill descending the first 45m pitch.

At the foot of the entrance shaft, turning away from the tiny circle of sunlight way up above, a stooping height mined passage leads into a wellie deep pool of muddy water. This continues round a couple of corners, to suddenly end at a window onto a vast black space. A doorstep of calcite with a few lumpy stalagmites on it provides the final launch pad, into the insanely big silo that is the Titan main shaft.

Rigging the second 70m pitch is ‘interesting’. The bolts are high up and well out, and to reach them you have to stand on tip-toe with one foot on a polished 6” high stalagmite, whilst tensioned onto the rope to the back-up belay with a hand jammer. Reaching at full stretch, with the rigging krabs gripped in wobbly finger-tips, it is hard to ignore the black void sucking at your back.

Celestine looking down towards Event Horizon at the top of the second 70m pitch.

The distant bolts do however provide a free-hang and once on the pitch everything becomes a bit more comfortable. Down, down, down, the rope sliding through the rack. Spinning gently, huge calcite flows and half seen corners of the shaft are dimly seen, my Fenix HL55 even on setting 4 is not powerfull enough for this. This is a totally lonely experience, the rest of the team above at the window might as well not be there, there is as far as I can tell no floor beneath me.

Eventually I feel and hear the tackle bag hit the Event Horizon, and I bounce gently on the elastic rope down a boulder slope to bolts, and put a re-belay in. Now I can stand and wait, secure, whilst Phill’s tiny glimmer of light descends towards me. It takes forever.

Phill takes over the rigging for the final pitch, dropping over the sloping lip of the Event Horizon to find and rig the free-hanging Y-hang, that supports the final drop to the floor of the shaft 65m below. Celestine lands beside me at the rebelay, and I then follow Phill, and make a total RS of passing the y-hang. Not the best place to spend ten minutes sweating and swearing; everything seems to be rigged left-handed and the wrong length; annoying because I know my SRT technique is flawless. Maybe I am going demented because beneath me I can see more than one light and hear voices – surely I haven’t been dangling here long enough for Phill to multiply by binary fission? Eventually, using a footloop and with one leg braced behind my ear, I manage to free my short cow’s tail from the bolt and fall exhausted onto my descender.

The second half of the shaft is as vast as the first and passes through a spatter of welcome spray to land at the foot of a huge jumble of boulders.

The top of the pile represented a good place out of the draft to sit and watch the rest of the team descend, Phill (just one of him) reports that the other team have been and gone – they made very good time.

Celestine descends third and Helen then proved that the y-hang can easily be passed if you know what you’re doing (perhaps I need to look at my technique after all) and Richard and Mark arrive shortly afterwards.

Mark descending the third 60m pitch.

All down we leave three of the SRT kits in the bag hanging from the end of the rope and follow Claire’s party out of Peak, following a trail of little cairns like breadcrumbs through the cave.

Richard and Mark at the top of the “Bung”.

The duck full of Cow Arse Worms is memorable (strong motivator to hold your breath) and colostomy crawl is well named – imagine a Cwm Dwr sized crawl filled with diarrhoea and you won’t be far off. Dragging a tackle bag through this is just fabulous fun; I think I may have said a rude word.

Richard at Surprise View.

All told an excellent trip taking about six hours to reach the warm air of the show cave and then the daylight at the impressive Peak Cavern entrance.

(Titan was de-rigged the next day by Richard, Phill, Malcolm and Mark; de-rigging took about 2 hours.)

Back at base (TSG) – a very muddy Phill about to enjoy a well deserved cup of tea 🙂

Peak Cavern

Who must really enjoy crawling in liquid mud? It has to be Duncan, Derek and Claire who had fun passing through Colostomy Crawl, not once, but twice, in the same trip.

As Malcolm, Helen, Phill, Richard, Celestine and Mark headed for the entrance to Titan the three of us strolled along the riverside walk to the entrance of Peak Cavern in the sunshine (rather a fast-paced stroll as we had Keith from the TSG with us). This was only a second visit to Peak for us, so our plan was to focus on route finding and try and reach the bottom of Titan from Peak, then exit via Peak again. Keith was heading to the White River series to replace a rope, so it fortuitously turned out that part of our trips would overlap and Keith could show us how to get as far as the Whirlpool. We had a small copy of the Peak-Speedwell survey with us, and this proved pretty useful further on in the trip.

Despite having a tacklebag the weight of a small child, Keith was even faster underground than he had been on the walk through Castleton. We left the showcave and were through the Mucky Ducks and at Treasury Chamber in no time. We then climbed the fixed ladder there and found ourselves in the Trenches (muddy crawling) and Colostomy Crawl (even more muddy crawling). Here we wallowed our way through mud for around 20-30 minutes, passing the junction with the Wind Tunnel and then emerged reborn at the top of Egnaro Aven. This proved to be an easy climb down a series of fixed ladders, though we were all covered in mud and making everything around us rather slippery at this time. We then sped on to find the Short Bypass (first small climb on the right, for anyone wondering) and met another group who had entered via Speedwell at Block Hall. Moving on in the Bung Hole streamway we were able to have a look at the actual Bung in the dam, as the stream was low. Here you reach another fixed ladder climb (approx. 15ft) up the dam wall. As it had been dry in recent days, the ladder climb was easy, but if it has rained recently, you will find yourself climbing up through a torrent of water. It is then a fairly short wade past the entrance to Far Canal (gated access to Speedwell showcave) to reach the Whirlpool. The scaff bars that have been placed on the wall to enable you to cross give an indication of what the area is like in wet conditions, but today the water was several inches below them and I was able to wade through it- it was only around chest deep, no swimming required. By this point, we were around 2hrs into our trip and it was time to head off on our own as Keith went his own way to sort out the rope.

We expected the route finding to be harder than it turned out to be and within the next 30 minutes we found our way to Titan, having a fabulous game of ‘gates and ladders’ along the way. The most memorable sections were one particularly awkward gate to open from underneath whilst balancing on a rocking ladder, Stemple Highway with its mildly interesting for short legs traverses and a good few squeezes which were definitely easier in the opposite direction. Not to mention the smelly pool of water, almost a duck, that contains the notorious Cow Arse Worms (which we passed through twice and managed to avoid getting). We got slightly lost once following some bang wire, but this turned out to be a small detour and we regained the route fairly quickly. We then emerged through an uphill crawl into the bottom of Titan. This was incredibly impressive and Duncan had fun experimenting with the tremendous echo there. When we arrived, we could see a member of the Titan team was rigging the Event Horizon, so we decided to wait for them to come down to say hello. Before long, Phill abseiled down and joined us. The rest of the team were on their way down, but we decided to push on back to Peak as it was getting chilly waiting there. On the way out we made good progress – though Colostomy Crawl seemed even longer on the way back – and decided to spend some time exploring the Peak streamway as Derek had not been there before and it is a fine streamway. We headed to Surprise View and down another fixed ladder to the river – we headed downstream as far as Buxton Water Sump and then went upstream as far as the cascade.

We spent ages cleaning our caving kit before entering the showcave (as Peak access rules dictate) and this turned out to be time well-spent as there was a tour group at the end of the cave just as we arrived. We had a chat with a couple of tourists in the group on the way out and then emerged into the sunshine once again.

Trip time: 6 hrs.


Giants Hole

The trip into Giants Hole was to be their first visit for Celestine, Claire and Helen with Duncan leading the round trip. It should be noted that the landowner is now charging a whopping £3 per person to cross their land, this placed into a safety box where one parks.

We were to do the classic round trip, with Helen announcing that this was her first trip with Duncan, so no pressure then… 🙂

Celestine, Duncan, Claire and Derek preparing to leave the sunshine for Giants Hole.

Entering the cave we quickly got to the top of Garland Pot. My 9m ladder easily reached the bottom but a 20m rope would have been best (I only had a 15m). Several well placed bolts and an easy take-off make this a simple pitch to rig.

Duncan belaying Derek on Garland Pot pitch, Giants Hole.

Derek belaying Duncan down Garland Pot pitch.

At the bottom of the pitch is the start of the Crabwalk, a tight meandering passage very similar to maypole inlet in OFD. The main difference is that it just keeps going on and on! There is over 600m of Crabwalk there.

The team in one of the very few places within the Crab walk where people can gather!

One location (the Vice) requires the larger person to pretty much lie in the streamway as it is so narrow.

Going to the bitter end of the Crabwalk ends at a sump so we backed up about 15m and headed out of the stream to the left. At this point (the Eating House) there are several ways on but we needed to go up the awkward climb up where the knotted rope with footloops requires good upper body strength to haul yourself up ‘n’ out into Maggin’s Rift.

Then there was much memory loss, another longer but easier climb, leading ultimately to a junction known as Poached Egg.

Helen at top of a pitch (name unknown) on the return part of the trip.

Turning right eventually leads to the Devil’s Windpipe, which requires a flat out crawl into a duck that can sump. According to the sign placed at the entrance, if it sumps it should not be attempted as it is over 20m in length. After much crawling and going wrong only once we eventually popped out above the crab walk. Fortunately for us someone had left a rope in situ so we abseiled down it. It is possible to free climb it down further on, where the rocks offer good footholds.

Claire descending into Crab Walk using an Italian Hitch.

We finally headed up stream back to Garlands pot pitch and once de-rigged we headed out.

Trip time: 4 Hours

Authors: Malcolm, Helen, Claire and Duncan

Mined out!

Mined out!

Dates: 24th -26th July 2016

Team: Bill Buxton,Graham Christian,Brian Clipstone, Howard Dare (& Molly),Kevin Diffey, Andy Dobson, Dave Dobson,Clark Friend, Chris Grimmett (& Sheelagh), Mark Hampson, Duncan Hornby, Harvey Lomas,Fred Levett, Tim Lewington, David Mullin, Allan Richardson

Apologies if I have forgotten someone!


Tim and I had stayed at the SWCC hut Thursday evening so we could sneak a trip in on Friday on our way North for the annual North Wales mines weekend organised by Allan. Leaving Claire, Vince and Gary at the hut who were supporting a film crew filming an OFD through trip we made good time to the small village of Furnace about 6 miles south of Machynlleth.

We were to visit the mine Ystrad Einion a few miles up a narrow road. This mine is noted for the amazing water wheel just inside the entrance.

The Water wheel very near the entrance of Ystrad Einion.

The mine has some sizable passages seemingly held up by nothing more than rotting beams!

One of the stopes, if you look carefully you can see one of the many bright green formations at the bottom of the picture.

Further on just beyond a climb up is a rusting Kibble.

The Kibble

As well a bright green formations some of the passage were adorned with fantastic yellow formations.

There were many intense yellow formations within the passages of Ystrad Einion.

This is a relatively easy trip, no equipment needed and simple route finding. Total trip time was less than 3 hours, much of that me pratting around with the camera!
We then travelled North to join the others staying at the awesome Mynydd Climbing Club hut. That evening Tim and I “popped” over the mountain to Capel Curig for a meal.

A view to die for, which we almost did with the onslaught of midges!


The main event was a top secret location, so secret, if the very name of it was revealed it would destroy space and time as we know it and rip apart the very fabric of the Universe.

How a group of 12 blokes casually leaving the track and piling into one entrance was never noticed will forever remain a mystery.

So here is a pretty picture to distract you.

Many fantastic formations adorned “Area 51”.

Trip time: X hours


On our way to Parc mine Mark’s car broke down on the hill approaching the Hafna car park. Fortunately he was able to get phone reception and we left him to it. Mark please buy a new car!

We had split into into two teams one entering level two, I and others entering level three (the wet one). I report our experience in level 3, which starts after a climb down into the cave like entrance, in a semi-flooded section, deep enough for the shorter person to wish they had never come on the trip!

Whilst this level is very wet and the constant strong draught chilled you very quickly, it has many interesting things and formations to enjoy.

Andy Dobson at one of the many ore chutes, this one had water cascading down through it.

This mine has many formations, some of them often full of stunning colours and patterns, here are just a few close-ups to show them off.

A multi-coloured stalactite.
An amazing red deposit on the walls of the mine.
A wasps nest like formation in the roof of a passage.

The general shape of the mine passages was rectangular with a constant flow of ochre stained water flowing usually no more than ankle deep.

A typical passage in level 3.

We had split into sub-groups with Brian, Andy and Dave exploring and photographing whilst the rest followed Allan as far as they dared! At one point Allan disappeared down a dark and ominous looking flooded passage. Apparently a lot of the old timber beams had fallen and were just below the surface making walking forwards tricky.

We eventually returned to the surface and met Mark at the car park, a tow truck was apparently on its way.

One thing to note about this mine is that Ochre water stains your skin a jaundice yellow, so don’t wear shorts for a few days until it rubs off!

Thanks Allan for yet another great mine weekend!

Trip time: 4 Hours.

Mud and Midges

Mud and Midges

Team: Adrian Brown, Duncan Hornby and Claire Vivian
Trip date: 12th June 2016

On Sunday Claire and I met up with Adrian to visit two caves in the western part of the Black Mountains: Pal-y-Cwrt (there is a detailed article about this cave in Descent Issue 250) and Heaven’s Door which I am going to call Death Trap cave!

Adrian picked us up at Penwyllt HQ then we headed over to the area and the local farmer kindly allowed us to park up in his farmyard. After a bit of banter, we got changed and headed over to “Death Trap” cave.

Heaven’s Door

This is a very short cave that none of us had visited before and is found in a deep sink hole. The entrance is a grim backwards crawl down a muddy tube full of mosquitoes. Highly advisable to put in a 15m handline. Adrian and Claire had entered first then it was my turn. After a few metres crawling backwards I sensed that I could kneel up but felt no floor. Turning around I had one of those OMG-WTF am I doing moments as I found I was reversing out over a pitch! There is a scaffold bar in the roof with a rope in situ to provide a handline down this pitch. I eventually joined the others who had moved on to what turned out to be the bitter end of the cave which was a sump.

I took a couple of photos as I wanted to experiment with a firefly slave unit that had been lent to me. We then exited the cave, first Adrian then Claire.

Adrian and Claire at the sump in Heaven’s door.

As I was climbing up I got to a restricted part and stood on a boulder so I could shift into a better position, the boulder moved ever so slightly. No big deal boulders move all the time. With my left foot on solid wall me shuffling around in attempt to pass the awkward climb up I stood on the boulder again, a second later my right foot was in air and the very pitch face I was climbing up crumbled away with the boulder landing below with an almighty thud! If anyone had been below they would have surely been seriously hurt or worse.

I found myself anchored with my left foot on solid wall swing desperately on the hand line. Somewhat concerned for my immediate continuing existence my thoughts turned to my caving comrades, at least one of them will come and investigate as how could anyone not hear that almighty thud? None came and eventually I established a new foothold and was able to climb up and out.

Reaching the surface I found the others happily talking completely unaware of my “adventure”. Interestingly they would not have been more than 15m away from me.

With Heaven’s door a new cave to me tucked under my belt, never to be visited again, we headed off to Pal-y-Cwrt.

Trip time: < 1 hour


Adrian has promised one thing, mud and lots of it, he did not disappoint!

The entrance to this cave is on the hill overlooking the farm. Whilst trying to capture a before and after cave photo we were constantly under attack from midges. Carl Rickard popped out of nowhere to wish us luck on our trip, unfortunately he was unable to join us due to a bad knee. With the midges winning the war we said our goodbyes and quickly entered the cave.

At the entrance of Pal-y-Cwrt, caked in Heaven’s door black mud.

The entrance has a Mendip like quality; muddy with a steeply descending passage. You enter an impressively large chamber with several possible routes. Adrian (one of the current digging team) showed us their latest find. This required crawling in gloopy red mud and a flat out crawl through a squalid duck. It took next to no time to be covered head to toe in mud!

We also visited the choke that Tony Donovan was half buried alive in (See Descent 250) and unsurprisingly did not hang around too long!
Eventually we left the cave, got changed and washed our kit in a nearby stream. Adrian got out his now famous kelly kettle and whipped up a brew. It was a great, if not somewhat muddy, bit of Sunday caving, thanks Adrian!
Caked in red mud!

Trip Time: < 2 hours

A Highland Fling

A Highland Fling

14th-22nd May 2016.
SWCC team – Andy Freem, Antonia Freem, Lucy Freem (and Rosemary), Duncan Hornby, Harvey Lomas, Kevin Munn, Pam Munn, Helen Stewart, Malcolm Stewart, Claire Vivian.

A fun week was had by all SWCC in the Scottish Highlands around Elphin. Canoeing, caving, diving, sightseeing and walking were all on the cards and with the weather being mainly dry, if a little chilly, we managed to accomplish all this and have fun.

We stayed at the Naismith Hut of the Scottish Mountaineering Club.

The view from the doorstep


Trek up Cul-Mor: Helen, Malcolm, Pam and Kevin

Malcolm, Helen, Kevin and Pam arrived in Assynt, after a very long car journey from South Wales, to welcome blazing sunshine on Saturday afternoon. Not wanting to waste any of the precious sunshine the group decided to walk up Cul Mor, a dramatic Corbett with impressive views of Suilven and Stac Pollaidh. Stunning weather at the beginning of the trek, but by the time the summit was reached the weather had deteriorated to blizzard conditions.

View of Suilven from the summit of Cul Mor


Canoeing Loch Lurgainn: Andy, Antonia, Claire, Duncan, Lucy and Rosemary

The week in Scotland was never going to be all caving, in fact the Freem’s had brought their kayaks and a canadian canoe so the first day was to be a trip between two Lochs requiring two portages. Dropping one car at the end of our planned trip we started in Loch Bad á Ghaill and paddled our way to Loch Lurgainn.See map here.

Preparing the kayaks and Canadian canoe, with Stac Pollaidh in the background.

I’ve never done anything like this and it was a great adventure. Andy, Claire and I were in the Canadian canoe whilst the others zipped around in their sea kayaks.

Despite it looking like a river connecting the Lochs a section was in fact a very shallow river requiring everyone to exit their boats and drag them carefully between boulders on super slippy rocks!

What was a river on the map turned out to be a boulder strewn shallow channel requiring us to get out of the boats and carry them.

It’s that way!

A second portage required us to drag the boats up and over a heather hillock as the river had too many boulders to navigate.

The second portage.

We stopped after this for lunch on a pristine, exclusive sandy beach with amazing views of the surrounding mountains. As if it could not get any better Andy and Antonia whipped out a stove and started cooking some bacon! Something about fresh air, remotes lochs and the smell of bacon…I’m salivating now as I type! 🙂

The Canadian Canoe on the beach where we had lunch.

The beach we had lunch on, absolutely pristine!

Stac Pollaidh from our vantage point.

The final push got us back, not to the location we had left the car, but a place which was more sensible to get the boats out and up to the road.It was an amazing first day of what was going to be a great week with SWCC!

Andy steering (and filming) whilst Claire and I provided the power. We made a successful team.

Traligill Resurgence: Malcolm
Meanwhile, with the weather forecast to break after a long warm dry spell, Malcolm headed up the Traligill valley from Inchnadamph to the Traligill Resurgence to have a dive in the sumps there, before water levels rose as a consequence of the expected rain. On arrival the river bed was dry and the pool at the entrance of the cave, normally 8’ deep, only a puddle of water, supporting a few unhappy looking dehydrated trout.

With no water flowing in the cave portering the gear along the awkward ‘thrust plane’ was comparatively easy, but the diving was just as cold as ever and the lack of flow meant the vis didn’t clear quickly. With only a 4mm wetsuit and 3l cylinders the diver had to retreat from Sump 2 without reaching the previous limit established by Simon Brooks. Repulsed again, with cold, cold fingers.


Traligill to Bone Caves walk: Andy, Antonia, Claire, Duncan, Lucy and Rosemary.

Andy looking at the Water Slide in Cnocers Cave.
The pothole entrance to Cnocers.

Today we walked in one of the primary caving areas, visited several entrances, and followed a dry river bed exploring various sinks.

We eventually stumbled across a small entrance which lead into a large chamber with the rumbling sound of water. We later found out this was called Storm Cave. The walls were covered in peat and gave the cave a very dark and oppressive feel. It clearly flooded to the roof.

Storm Cave entrance

Leaving Storm Cave behind we walked up and over a peat area with a huge sinkhole and impressive peat gullies.

Incredible eroded peat channels.

On our way back down the valley towards the car park, Antonia, Claire and Duncan popped up to the Bone caves to have a poke around.

Antonia in the entrance to the Bone Cave.

Along the way we found an antler. The ice axe loops on Antonia’s bag provided perfect storage for this.

Towards the downstream end of the valley, what had been a dry river bed suddenly became a flowing torrent as water bubbled out of a rising.

The rising for Allt nan Uamh (NC2603817731)… My kingdom for a JCB!

Antonia and Claire posing by a waterfall near the end of today’s journey.

Scuba Diving at Drumbeg Wall and a Trip to Kirkaig Falls: Helen, Malcolm and Pete Glanvill (GSG) and George

Today the combined GSG and SWCC divers had a dip at the site known as Drumbeg Wall (turn left off the main road as it approaches Unapool going North, signposted for Drumbeg, and shortly after the road enters the forestry look for a broad track going down to a fish farm on the right). All launched from the bottom of the fish farm track, where there is a shallow bay, and swam round to submerge and follow the coast west, dropping down over boulders to about 20 – 25m. Loads of life; brittle stars, feather stars, a few scallops. The seal scarer working from the fish pens on the other side of of the loch, click, click, click… click, click, click… was very noticeable and we certainly didn’t see any seals.

Grumpy looking Juvenile Brill Fish

Malcolm looking at a Moon Jellyfish

Common Starfish at Drumbeg Wall

Later in the afternoon, after a light lunch at Achins Bookshop (does anyone fancy a lifestyle change?), Helen and Malcolm walked up the river to the Kirkaig Falls impressive even in fairly dry conditions.

Helen looking at the Kircaig Falls.


Smoo cave and back: Harvey, Claire and Duncan

Harvey suggested a visit to Smoo Cave. Claire and I had not been to this part of Scotland so it sounded like a good excuse to do some sightseeing whilst soaking up the awesome landscape of the Highlands.

As cavers we were given a free trip into the cave by Colin who runs Smoo Cave tours. He also turned out to be one of the people who helped dig out the Rana entrance.

The tour was an epic 20m boat trip then a 15 second walk to the “bitter end”. Made OFD look like a walk in the park 🙂

Smoo Cave, Durness. (There’s a patch of rare ‘mountain aven’ flowers just where the fence tops out on the left of the picture.)

Looking back at the waterfall created by the stream entering above. Note the large Chert nodules on left wall.

Harvey and Duncan on the Smoo Cave boat tour.

On our way back we picked up a hitchhiker who was trying to make his way to Lochinver. Having picked him up we then told him we were going to check out a tea room at the quay for getting onto the Handa Islands. I don’t think he had spoken to anyone for a few days so seemed very happy with our plan. We eventually dropped him off at the junction to Lochinver.

Scuba diving at Loch Carron and a cave recce at Applecross: Helen, Malcolm, Pete Glanvill and Derrick Guy (GSG) and George

Travelling south the four divers went to Lochcarron (the Spar there does good hot sausage rolls) and then dived off the slipway at Strome. This is one of the classic shore dives in the UK, with the underwater cliff to the west of the slipway famed for it’s huge plumose anemones and giant dead men’s fingers. With excellent visibility the dive was crawling with life, but the start of the flood tide pushed us off the wall before we had had a proper look, so we will have to go back another time. We surfaced to rain and this got progressively heavier as we got changed on the pier. Wet underpants, deep joy. :o(

Sea Slug (Tritonia hombergii) Loch Carron

Queen Scallop – Loch Carron

Cushion Star – Loch Carron

Back in the car, sitting damply, we crossed the Bealach na Ba to Applecross with the intention of finding and exploring the ‘Cave of True Wonders’ and the ‘Cave of the Liar’, but the piss awful weather modified this plan to an enjoyable lunch at the ‘Walled Garden’ followed by a fully saturated walk through thick undergrowth looking for and photographing cave entrances.


Rana Hole: Andy, Antonia, Claire, Duncan, Lucy, Helen, Malcolm and Peter +2

On Thursday we awoke to find that some friends had hitched a ride on us…

My friend had gorged on my blood, whilst Claire’s had simply locked in.

We then headed off to go caving. We were in two groups today. Helen and Malcolm plus Pete Glanvill and 2 friends (Derek Guy and George ?) who were staying at the nearby Grampian hut went to rig Black Rift pitch in Rana. We followed leisurely behind around 2 hours later and arranged to de-rig at the end of the trip.

Preparing the pitch at the entrance of Rana Hole.

Duncan climbing along second pitch top to fixed ladder.

Rana is the name of the cave and Rana sp. is what we found at the bottom of the entrance.

The team enjoying a brief rest before heading out.



Old Man of Stoer walk: Claire and Duncan

Today was to be a rest day which ended up being a walk out along the coast to visit the sea stack “Old man of Stoer”. It was raining, windy and overcast when we arrived but the weather eased off allowing us spectacular views of the sea stack.

Duncan also visited the remotest public toilet!

Claire and the Old man of Stoer

Close up of the Old man of Stoer

Durness, Smoo Cave and a Dive at Kylesku: Helen and Malcolm

Strong winds from totally the wrong direction resulted in the planned dive on the Fairweather being cancelled today. Instead the divers dived the Kylesku wall in two separate waves. Pete and George went in at midday on the start of the flood tide, to drift from under the bridge to the pier by the hotel, several hundred metres away. Helen and Malcolm went in from the slipway in the evening, having spent the day touring up to Handa Island (shut, raining, nice tea room, excellent lunch) and Smoo Cave (open, raining, zillions of French and German camper vans and motorbikes).

Mountain Aven – A rare and unusual plant found on limestone outcrops. We found clumps of this at Smoo Cave.

Following a surface swim from the slip across the bay in front of the hotel we descended by the rocks at the corner and worked our way west and deeper to about 30m. At the furthest end of the dive we were starting to get on the main vertical wall, plunging rock in clear green water covered in sunstars, huge anemones and pale orange dead men’s fingers, vanishing into the gloom below.

View across Loch Gleann Dubh, Kylesku

Common Sunstar – Kylesku Wall

The Kylesku Hotel has improved a lot in recent years and provided an excellent post-dive beer and supper. These were on the menu…
Long Clawed Squat Lobster – Kylesku Wall


Inverpolly nature reserve canoeing trip: Andy, Antonia, Claire, Duncan, Lucy and Rosemary

This was to be one of life’s great adventures, entering the wilderness of the Inverpolly Nature Reserve. We had paddle across a small Loch, then drag the boats up and over a small hill to get to main Sionasgaig Loch.

The main portage, dragging boats up and over a small hill through gloopy mud.

Initially the boating was calm and pleasant with the occasional squall. The sun kept popping behind clouds and the surrounding scenery changed dramatically from sunny mountains to dark and ominous shadowed backdrops.

Andy and Claire looking happy (before the boat tipping incident…)

Yet again Andy, Claire and Duncan powered the Canadian canoe whilst the others zipped around in their sea kayaks.

Antonia zipping around in her sea kayak.

The 3 sea kayaks with spectacular mountain scenery.

We had stopped at the central island for lunch, soaked up the sun and had a wander around the island. Being blissfully ignorant I had not appreciated that the wind had picked up and upon setting out for the return journey it very quickly became obvious that it was going to get a whole lot more interesting!

With some waves almost breaking over the top of the canoe, getting to the far shore was going to be a challenge, but thankfully Andy is a very experienced kayaker and read the situation well and got us across the main section of water between the island and far shore. We pulled into a shallow protected area and Andy asked Claire to move backwards to help distribute the weight. She stood up, got tangled in some netting and tipped the boat. Thankfully we could simply stand up and I for one was grateful that this had not happened in deeper water.

With boat emptied of water, the others joining us, we reconfigured with Andy in a sea kayak towing us as we desperately paddled against the oncoming waves. We eventually got into a zone of less wind and waves and were then able to paddle full steam ahead with my awful steering hindering everything.

We eventually got back to the cottage that the Freems were staying at and whilst drinking tea and reminiscing over the day we were treated to a spectacular sunset.

An awesome sunset to complete the day’s amazing adventure (before it started raining for 12 hours…)

Thanks Andy/Antonia for an amazing day out!

Storm Cave Again….Helen and Malcolm

Responding to stories of huge chambers, and a beautiful clear stream pouring down a walking-size passage to cascade into an inviting sump pool (by all accounts, warm, clear, tasting of gin and full of mermaids), Malcolm and Helen walked over the moors to Storm Cave. Reaching the sump wearing two three litre cylinders proved easy, it was only at the sump pool that the problems started. There was no cascade into the pool, instead the swollen stream flowed into a large long lake, black water that extended through a narrow rift to a further deep lake beyond, with no dry land, just an overhanging roof and a mountain of black peat mud. Furthermore the reported lead blocks for diving were nowhere to be seen, no doubt sitting on a ledge somewhere underwater, waiting for a more sensible diver to return in lower water conditions… Walked back off the moor to Inchnadamph without turning the cylinders on. We did have a fun hour exploring and photographing the river passages and chambers in Cnocers.
Malcolm above Traligill Rising; the river was back to its normal size by Friday.

Malcolm exiting Cnocers cave

Malcolm in Storm Cave


One last cave… Claire and Duncan

After Friday’s epic kayaking, Saturday was going to be an easy day, especially as it had rained for 12 hours non-stop over night.

Claire and I had decided to visit the infamous Allt Nan Uamh Stream Cave. The Valley which had been bone dry 3 days earlier now had water bubbling out of the ground feeding into the mainstream way.

Water bubbling out of the ground where there had been no water a few days earlier.

Borrowing a map from Andy we navigated our way around the cave, entering too tight crawls to large almost “OFD” size passages.

Access to the stream and current dig site was via a precariously balanced ladder.

Andy had suggested visiting a section of the system called the Farr Series which are beyond what is affectionately known as the Sphincter. We found this part of the system and were somewhat dismayed by the volume of water (in fact, we looked everywhere for a more inviting way on). A section that would require a flat out crawl in water with limited air space. There would be no escaping a soaking in this duck. We went for it, got to the pitch down to Thunderghast Falls then turned around and hurriedly exited that part of the cave system.

Claire exiting the Sphincter. As you can see water was pouring into this part of the cave from all directions.

We pottered around the entrance of the system exploring every nook and cranny and finally exited the cave to discover what had been a dry channel was now taking a fair amount of water as it flowed passed the entrance. In hindsight we thought it was fortuitous that we did not stay too long beyond the sphincter, otherwise the sh*t really would had hit the fan!

Yeah cave is dry, by the way I’ve not been in it for 5 years…uh oh!

Yeah cave is dry, by the way I’ve not been in it for 5 years…uh oh!

Team: Andy Freem, Antonia Freem and Duncan Hornby

It is a rare treat to be able to lead the Freems into a cave system they haven’t been in!

Meeting up on the Friday at the MCG hut, Mendips I found them huddled in front of the wood burner. With surprisingly little effort I managed to drag them away from the comfort of the fire for a customary pint at the Hunters!


Saturday was always going to be a short trip as Andy and Antonia had travelled to the Mendips primarily for a meeting at the Wessex CC about their involvement in supporting Eurospeleo.

I was to take them on the through trip of Fairy Cave to Hillier’s in Fairy Quarry. We parked at the Cerberus hut, changed then walked the 5 minutes to the quarry. A warning to those who have never visited the cave, the quarry is now fenced off and one needs to get a combination for the padlock on the gate to gain access. Fairy cave itself does not have a gate but Hillier’s does so the through trip can only be done in that direction if you do not have a key.

It had been cold that morning and we were surprised how warm the air felt as it poured out of the entrance, entering the cave felt positively tropical!

Andy and Antonia, doing a final equipment check before entering fairy cave

The beginning of the trip panned out as much as I had expected, not remembering any of it until I came across some squeeze for which I had a faint memory of.

Andy passing through the first flat-out squeeze in Fairy Cave

Andy in a chamber near the entrance

A water drop captured hitting a cave pearl

We stopped a few times to film and eventually came to a bouldery tube down to a duck. I don’t remember this! A flat out crawl into a pool with a few inches of air space, Andy surveyed it and was concerned that there was not enough space to maneuver as further on the ceiling forced you into even less air space. With valid concerns and recovering from a bad back he decided to go no further. New plans were hatched, Antonia and I were to continue and complete the through trip with minimal stopping, Andy was to navigate his way back out and find the entrance to Hillier’s and meet us there.

The duck was grim and I had to put half my face into the pool to get through; that turned out to be the easy bit, it was the tight squeeze immediately after that was “interesting”.

A lovely day to go for a dip!

With the duck and squeeze behind us we continued on with the trip doing the odd bit of filming. We eventually met the Hillier’s system at a T-junction which is an easy climb down. Heading left towards the exit the cave is noticeably more decorated with impressive flowstone formations. At some point along you pass through tar hall. Black shiny tar oozes out of the roof from past quarrying activities, like some grotesque alien life-form.

Tar oozing out of roof in Tar Hall chamber

After this is a section of passage with many broken formations caused by quarrying activities. Another flat out crawl, then you can finally stand with a climb up a slope to the exit.

Andy had been waiting patiently to greet us. It had obviously occurred to him that he could come through that entrance and we were keen to show him the rest of the cave. We headed back towards the T-junction filming various locations.

Andy and Antonia ensuring video camera lens is clean before filming

Once we got to the T-junction I said I had never actually gone right, I had always gone left to head out, so we went right! This turned to be a fantastic experience as the formations suddenly got even better with an explosion of coloured flowstone, crystal pools, straws, stalagmites and curtains, a Freem production filming wonderland!

Antonia and I pushed a contorting but easy to navigate choke, passing through a flowstone flat out crawl and with Antonia leading the way entered the section of the cave into what is known as Cambridge Grotto. This is very well decorated and we passed through to as far as Brenda’s Chamber. Andy had not followed through the choke, so after about 30 minutes of exploring we headed back to join up with Andy. At this point we headed out.

In the evening, we ate at the Victoria Inn at Priddy, then went to the Wessex for their meeting. I hung around in the common room chatting with others and then about 9pm the meeting finished and we all headed off to the Hunters.

Trip time: 5 hours


Plan “A” was to visit Pine Tree Pot, a cave near MCG which neither of us had visited. This was blown out by the fact no one staying at the MCG had access to the key cupboard. So rather frustrated we went to plan “B”, use a key we had picked up at the Wessex the night before and enter Hillier’s again with one of the Freem’s superior cameras to film some of the formations in higher quality.

We picked up two new MCG members who had been let down by other members and took them into Hillier’s. The cave is quite short so I took them as far as the T-junction into Fairy Cave, explained various options and left them to it. Andy and Antonia had made their way to just past tar hall and we began filming. We were working our way towards the pretties beyond the T-junction.

Antonia admiring a formation during filming

Filming took longer as the superior camera required setting up on a tripod, this gave me ample opportunity to use my stills camera for capturing various formations or scenes including bat poo! Yeah it gets very lonely on long filming trips…

Macro-mode still of fungus growing on bat poo!

With an almost celebrity like status Andy and Antonia were recognised by another group passing through the system. I on the other hand was not…

We eventually passed the T-junction into the next pretty section, filming the squeezes and formations. This time Andy joined us and passed through the choke into the flat out crawling section. At the end of this is another squeeze that turns into an awkward left-handed turn. Andy observed me passing through this and most wisely decided against continuing in case his back gave him trouble. Thus Antonia and I continued on, filming as much as we could do.

Close up of curtains in Cambridge Grotto

I realised just having 2 people meant that it was more difficult to set up scenes. A third person in a filming team definitely makes things easier and can act as a model for scale.

With time running out, regretfully Antonia and I had to give up and head back to the exit to ensure we did not overshoot our call out. There was plenty more to video…

Meeting up with Andy we shut the gate and headed back to Cerberus, just in time for it to start raining. Sitting in their camper van, scoffing pasties and chocolate, bruised and battered from the choke we were all very impressed with the many formations that Hillier’s had kept secret.

Trip time: 5 hours

Curtains in Cambridge Grotto

Beyond Cambridge Grotto, Antonia pauses to admire the formations she had just filmed

Now you have read the blog you can watch the movie!

How to have Mendip caves [almost] all to yourself?

How to have Mendip caves [almost] all to yourself?

Trip Dates: March 25th-28th 2016
Team: Bill Buxton, Brendan Hoare, Colin Hoare, Duncan Hornby, Malcolm Lloyd, Claire Vivian

The answer to this question seems simply to turn up on an Easter Bank Holiday weekend! Swildon’s is Mendips most popular sporting caving trip which usually has bus loads of University students pouring in and yet we were the only people in it! Goatchurch the most popular cave on the Mendips, and we saw only one other group and GB cave completely empty apart from a frog. The BEC “get everywhere” – I think not! 😉

We had all arrived at the Shepton Mallet Caving Club hut on the Friday. Bill had settled in for the night in front of the fire with a bottle of wine whilst the rest of us played around in what must be the world’s first ‘coffee table cave’ then went to the Hunters to plan out Saturday’s trip.


The two brilliant cave/tables in the Shepton Common Room. Complete with moveable ‘stal’ to make squeezing through more awkward! Having something similar to these in the Long Common Room at SWCC would liven up those long evenings…

More fun with the coffee table cave. Claire squeezing past some ‘stal’.

On the Saturday Bill declined the trip as he had a dodgy knee and was was unsure if climbing the ladder would have been a sensible idea as all of us were intending to go beyond the ladder pitch.

Saturday – Swildons

With bad weather forecasted for the entire weekend it was surprising to see the stream so low when we got to the entrance. This was Brendan’s first trip into Swildons but for veteran cavers Colin and Malcolm it was a return trip but quite a few years had elapsed since they had last visited it. At Tratmans Temple Claire and I peeled off as we were going to do the Short Round Trip, the others headed for Sump One.

Duncan, Malcolm, Brendan and Colin – complete with matching over suits!

Our short round trip was an “interesting” one. We ventured as far as some horrible drop over nothing in Blue Pencil Passage. I was hoping to actually get into the streamway but we decided to turn around. This was fortuitous as the ducks further on in the trip required a lot of work to open up. The second of the “double troubles” really was a couple of inches of airspace (after we had bailed for ages). It’s a horrible experience with waves of water going over your face and up your nose and no space to move in… A third duck Claire desperately bailed as much water as she could into a dam that was leaking back into the duck, I tried to start a siphon working, sucking foul air and muddy water out of tube that would have helped empty the water behind the dam. Realising that the siphon was not going to work and the dam leaking back into the duck I took a quick look at air space that had opened up and went for it.

The rest of trip was a lot less stressful with us having a short detour into the Black Hole Series. Sump One was very low and a lot easier than those ducks!

That evening everyone looked suitably knackered and we ate at the Queen Vic pub. For the record you can get a “proper” pie for a meal which made Colin very happy.

Brendan, Colin, Duncan and Malcolm at the Queen Vic.

Sunday – Tween Twins Hole

Sunday was a Mendip first. I had heard through the RSS feed on the CSCC website that a new cave in Burrington Combe had been discovered and was now accessible with a leader. I have personally caved in Burrington Combe many times but have never heard of the cave called Tween Twins Hole. You can book yourself onto trips and find out more about this cave at the official website here.

Jonathan Williams was to be the leader and met us at the Club hut. After a bit of faffing we went and agreed to meet the others in about an hour. It is currently a short trip of about 1 hour and only 3 people + leader are allowed in it at any one time.

The entrance is muddy, has a short ladder climb and after this you get to a chamber where you have to remove your oversuit and clean your boots to avoid dragging mud onto the pristine formations.

The Water Lily formation.

A well decorated passage.

It is believed that Goatchurch would have been much like Tween Twins Hole before it became popular and got “trashed”.

Claire gets trapped in a gour pool!

It is very cramped in places and great care must be taken when moving around as formations would quickly get broken.

A close up of the surface of a stal boss, with a strange brain like pattern.

The Mendip first turned out to be that this was the first official leader trip for cavers that were not part of the digging team. So Claire and I had unintentionally beat the entire Mendip caving community to the post by being the first official visitors to the cave. So maybe it’s SWCC that get everywhere? 🙂

East Twin Swallet

After Tween Twin Hole Claire and I met up with Brendan and Colin and had a quick visit to the East Twin Swallet which has some amazing amount of engineering going on it. This was a quick trip of about 30 minutes.

Goatchurch Cavern

Brendan is new to the caving scene so it seemed fitting to thrust a survey into his hands and tell him to lead us! He did a fine job getting us lost and un-lost. We explored some extreme ends of the system discovering what appeared to be abandoned digs.

Brendan doing a sterling job with route finding in Goatchurch.

We eventually found our way to the famous Drainpipe and I managed to grab a couple of classic photos.

Brendan and Claire in the Drainpipe!

On the way out we had a good play on the “Coal Chute”, rigging a hand line to get up and down it. GoatChurch although small by Welsh standards can be a lot of fun and with time whittled away we had to leave as Brendan needed to catch a flight home to Dublin. It is cheaper for him to fly from Dublin to Bristol than it is for me to drive from Southampton, go figure…

Brendan looking justifiably pleased with his newly-found caving skills.

In the evening it was just Claire, Colin and I and we ate at the Castle of Comfort pub, then popped into the Hunters. I had a chat with a local caver about directions getting into the Great Chamber in GB Cave.

Monday – GB Cave Trip

With a lazy start after a serious night’s storm we discovered a huge sheet of metal had narrowly missed our cars and had been tossed into the wood shed. It seemed incredibly lucky that nothing else had been damaged.

We drove to Charterhouse farm, parked behind the house and marched off to GB cave in good weather. We made good progress to the ladder dig climb and into the crawling passage beyond. There is a tight section that can sometimes sump, fortunately it was more of a horrible duck.

Colin bailing out the duck. Claire then took the bucket and dumped the water into shallow depressions behind us.

With the duck behind us we entered the section of a passage that we had visited before but had never found the way on to the Great Chamber. We first went to Bat Passage which is well decorated.

Some of the formations in Bat Passage.

Duncan lazing around with nothing else better to do

Leaving Bat Passage via its corkscrew like entrance gave us a starting point to try and find the Great Chamber. We spent a long time searching and initially ended up in Disappointment Chamber, but Colin “The Ferret” Hoare eventually found the way on and we finally broke into the impressively large Great Chamber.

One of many stal formations in the Great Chamber.

Claire lights up the back wall of just part of the Great Chamber, Colin is the silhouette in foreground.

For the record descriptions like look for the pointy rock and letter box entrance in a boulder choke really don’t help…

2015: A Year in Trips

2015: A Year in Trips

A lot happened for SWCC members in 2015! Here are just some of the photographic highlights that I have found from both below and above ground. Here’s to an even more active 2016 for all SWCC members.


Whisky tasting at the Penderyn distillery, organised by Chloe Francis.

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Photos by Vaughan Budd.

Chilly white water rafting at Cardiff’s International White Water centre.

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Photos by Stuart Reedman.

14 Swansea University Mountaineering Club members visit SWCC to try out caving. 9 SWCC members supported this visit by helping to lead trips.

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Provisional Members’ Weekend.
18 people either new cavers or cavers new to SWCC attended this and had a great time. They were supported by an eager and helpful team of 10 current members. A further 5 of our members also helped Southampton University Caving Club find their way around OFD and cave entrances in the Clydach Gorge as well as taking them on a round trip in Dan yr Ogof. Following that trip, it was even possible for one of their members to be signed off as a DYO warden.
Thanks received from Southampton:

I wanted to e-mail to say thank you for your help during our recent visit to the SWCC (13th-15th February 2015).

Although you had your own things going on with your provisional members weekend, it was brilliant that you offered some guides to help us with the OFD through-trip, caves of the Clydach Gorge and Dan-Yr-Ogof. I very much appreciated the time taken to show us some of the lesser visited caves and to help us plan for trips there. I also was grateful for our trip into DYO as I had resigned myself to not being able to visit since an opportunity I had in 2000 where, as a committee member of SUCC, I had to give up my place on the trip so that others could go. We had an excellent weekend and I look forward to caving with some of you again sometime.

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The February Yorkshire trip was organised by Gary and Jo. Everyone stayed at the BPC hut, it was raining, there was an Easegill permit, but I can’t find any photos.


SRT training at SWCC.
2 days’ worth of training with the help of Helen Hooper and Andy Jones. Saturday was above ground in the quarry and Sunday was in Top Entrance and Pwll Dwfn. 12 members were involved in this.

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Whitewalls Weekend.
Staying at Whitewalls. Craig a Ffynnon and the Turkey Streamway in Agen Allwedd were visited. These were new caves for some of the trip members.

Mendip Weekend
The Shepton Mallet hut was the base for this and trips in GB and Swildon’s Hole were completed.

Mendips, Upper Flood Swallet
Several members also enjoyed a visit to Upper Flood and took some fantastic photos to show from it.

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                     Neverland photos by Mark Burkey.

Cantabria, Spain.
The club’s annual pilgrimage to Spain organised by Gary Vaughan. Trips were enjoyed in Gandara -fantastic formations and a first class through-trip and Tonio (15 pitch pull-through trip – almost 300m metres of abseiling) amongst others. If you haven’t been yet, you’ve missed out.

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AGM and Otter Hole


Before and after pictures at Otter Hole. Photos by Piers Hallihan.


Summer Yorkshire meet organised by Jo White.

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Photos by Duncan Hornby.

North Wales Mines meet arranged by Allan Richardson.

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Photos by Duncan Hornby.


Dent de Crolles expedition organised by Gary Vaughan.


Photos by Tony Baker


                                                           Photo by Tony Baker

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                                                            Photos by Miri Pihlaja

Via Ferrata in the Dolomites organised by Andrea Lewingdon.



Forest of Dean meet
Wet Sink and Miss Grace’s Lane.


Milwr tunnel and climbing in North Wales


Devon meet
Baker’s Pit, Bunker Hole and Reeds Cavern



Parys Mountain

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Croesor-Rhosydd through trip 

Rich abseiling in to the canoe in the Chamber of Horrors

 SRT training in Yorkshire
This was the second part of the SRT training with Helen Hooper and Andy Jones. Sell Gill, Simpsons and Bull Pot were visited.


Evening trips start
There is currently an active programme of evening trips among local SWCC cavers. Trips take place most weeks, usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening. All welcome! If you are interested contact to join in.

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Photos by Paul Tarrant and Andy and Antonia Freem


Box mine

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Photo: Duncan Hornby

Mendip weekend



Provisionals’ weekend
17 new provisional members made their first forays underground in OFD this weekend.

Whitewalls weekend. Photos: Mark Burkey.


I love to hate you

I love to hate you

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Cwm Dwr. Actually, that’s not true. I love Cwm Dwr, I just hate the entrance series. Since I’ve spent most of the last few years at a size that didn’t really suit that particular piece if cave, I’ve pretty much avoided it. In nearly a decade as an SWCC member and countless trips into OFD 1 and 2, I’ve probably been in Cwm Dwr less than 10 times. So, a planned 1 to Cwm Dwr through trip with additional time for some exploring around OFD 1 1/2 actually made me a bit nervous. Believe it or not, I’d never done the through trip before – after all, it meant going out through Cwm Dwr. On the other hand, even carrying a bit of excess Christmas weight, I’m significantly smaller than I was a year or two ago so it should be OK.
So, on a bitingly cold Saturday morning, off we go down the hill.
Our first detour comes quite early on. Tim’s been studying the new survey and it seems to suggest that there’s a way through that wasn’t clear on the old one. After a few misses, Tim manages to lasso the stal boss at the top of the calcite climb just before The Step and up we all go. After a refreshing wade through the waist deep pool, and a bit of crawling to warm up again, sure enough, it goes through and we arrive at the Eagles Nest, way up in the roof above the stream. A handy thread presents itself and, with a handline in place,  its an easy climb down to the first ledge where there’s a rock bridge over the steam and another climb down to the next ledge. With everyone down the first climb there’s a pause. I wait with the rope while Colin and Chloe wait the other side of the bridge. Tim goes down the second climb to check out exactly where we are. There’s a shout and I’m given the go ahead to pull the rope down. We all gather on the next ledge where Tim meets us with a grin. Turns out, the rope is only just long enough to get us back to the stream. More of a problem is that the ledge we’re on is directly above the 2nd Pot. Climbing down here would mean either a very careful descent onto the middle of the scaffolding or a big splash and an early bath. However, a short slope leads around the corner onto the escape route. We drop down the chain and carry on up the streamway, noticing that it appears to be a bit on the high side. Not scarily high, just high enough to draw attention.
The next bit of excitement comes as we make our way through the choke. Just as we pass the entrance to the passage leading off to the sump, there’s a massive booming sound. I recognise it straight away as the sounds of a sump either opening or closing. Trouble is, we don’t know which. Since it hasn’t rained for a while, I’m fairly sure the water level is dropping but this still adds a bit of urgency to the rest of the passage through the choke. Once we’re out, I suggest we head down towards the sump to check out what’s going on. The tide mark in the wet sand confirms that the water is indeed going down. We relax and head off up the Connection and on to the climb that leads into OFD 1 1/2.
Tim’s been here before so he leads the way up the climb, dropping the rope down for use as a handline. Once we’re all up the climb, we start exploring. Turns out, none of us have memorised the survey as well as we thought. There’s quite a bit of back tracking and circling for a while. On the way out of one particular dead end we meet a mixed party of SWCC and Morgannwg cavers apparently doing the same thing. We chat, then set off in opposite directions, only to meet again a few minutes later as the passages loop around to rejoin each other. We tag along for a while down the only remaining unexplored passage choosing opposite directions at the next junction. After a fairly snug crawl, we come to a bit Tim recognises. A spectacular dry crystal pool. The only way on is to traverse, carefully over the top of it. There’s more concentration going into this traverse, about 3 feet off the floor than any I’ve done high above certain death. Nobody wants to be the one who puts a muddy footprint in the crystals. We pop out at the top of a large rift. A well worn path leads off to the left but appears to simply stop in a small chamber. A hunt around and a passage in the roof is revealed. But there’s a problem. It’s a vertical tube and very tight. There’s no way I can climb it. One at a time, we all come to the same conclusion – this is definitely a one way passage. The only way out is back the way we came.
We head back over the traverse and into the crawl. Guess where we meet the other party! It’s a bit like one of those picture puzzles where you slide one piece at a time, sliding the next one into the gap in the right order to complete the picture. After a few minutes, we’ve worked our way past each other and we head out and back down the climb.
Packing the rope away we carry on with the through trip. A quick check of the watch suggests that we may have spent a bit longer exploring than we should have done so we pick up the pace, heading through the letterbox and on up to the divers pitch. The crawl up to the head of the divers pitch reveals a new problem. The sound of the waterfall up ahead makes me suddenly very aware that I’m lying on a very full bladder! It’s no better when I get out the crawl. I can’t take advantage of the running water – it runs over the pitch that Tim is standing at the bottom of and Chloe has started descending.
However, there is quite a lot of water running over, making hanging on to the handline a bit tricky. We manage to communicate with Tim over the noise of the waterfall and he sends our 20 metres of rope back up, attached to the end of the handline. A few minutes later, I’m safely attached and the pitch is rigged to belay Chloe through the waterfall. Colin follows and I de-rig, drop the lifeline down to be packed away and make my way down the pitch to take advantage of water that’s running away from everyone else.
Another check on the watch confirms that we spent a bit too long exploring. We’re going to miss our call out, the question is, by how much. We’re off into Cwm Dwr and picking up the pace until we get to the choke and the next bit of excitement. None of us are entirely sure of the way through but we follow our noses, or to be more precise we follow Tim’s nose, until we reach the “bastard puddle”.
It’s a low wet grovel in the middle of the choke that’s simultaneously an unpleasant place to be and a most welcome landmark, confirming that we’re on the right path. I start to slide down between the boulders into the puddle and come to a sudden stop. My belt is hooked on a protrusion. I’m upside down, on my back and going nowhere. I can’t get my hands around to take the weight and unhook myself. I call Tim to see if he can help with a push but then I realise that I can reach my belt. I slowly release the buckle. Knowing what’s coming, I brace myself and, as the belt comes undone, so does it’s temporary hold on my descent. I land, head first and rather ungracefully, in the ” bastard puddle”.
Gathering my breath and what’s left of my dignity, we head on up the Cwm Dwr Jama until we reach the hole in the floor that marks the start of my nemesis. I don’t know what it is about these next few metres of cave but it really messes with my head. I know I’m almost 3 stone lighter than I was when I failed to fit and had to abort. I know I’ve been through plenty of times since then but it doesn’t matter. As I get closer, I feel my breathing getting faster and I have to force myself to slow down. I know what comes next if I don’t. I’ll start moving faster, trying to brute force my way through instead of thinking. I hear the gravel moving. Tim’s at the tight bit. Then Chloe’s through and it’s my turn. With an apology to Colin, I take a final moment to get ready then I’m in. There’s a second where I’m not quite lined up and I stick but I’m ready for that this time. Don’t force it, just inch through. We’re still running late though so there’s no time to hang about. I catch up with Chloe in time to spot her up the awkward climb with the angled metal bar and we’re on to the final challenge. Just like the crawl, this gets easier every time. I learnt on an earlier trip that I don’t fit in the concrete pipes if I try to put my toes in the holes knocked in the sides. My femur is longer than the diameter of the pipe. The way up is to go backwards, put my heels in the holes and my femur is at 45 degrees not 90 and it all fits. One hand over the top of the last pipe and I’m out. Tim has run ahead to get the ticket off so technically we’re only 15 minutes overdue.
It’s been a great trip. Most people stomp along the through trip so we’re all glad we took the time to explore along the way. I still hate the Cwm Dwr crawl but I know how to beat it. It’s the key to some really great caving so I guess I’ll just have love to hate it.

New Year at SWCC

New Year at SWCC

Authors: Duncan Hornby and Claire Vivian

With the Christmas leftovers going stale in the fridge and daytime TV being a no-go option, it was time for some drastic action. Of course, that was going to involve caving.

28th December – OFD2
Team: Steve Hepple, Tabitha Oosterhouse, Elena, Paul Tarrant, Claire Vivian, Jo White

This was Elena’s first visit to SWCC so with the weather being appallingly bad outside, even for Penwyllt, we headed for an explore around Top. Slow progress to the entrance was made as lots of tea drinking and watching the rain took place before we left.

Once underground, we made fast progress to Timo’s Table, via lower Arete Chamber, with Elena showing that she was perfectly comfortable underground. We explored around this area a little to discover where my routefinding had gone awry last time I visited here, then headed back towards the Trident and Judge via a different route to make things more interesting. We marvelled at these formations and then decided to extend the trip by visiting Cross Rift.

Although totally new to both Tabitha and Elena, President’s Leap proved to be no obstacle for them as they powered across, eager to take in the sights of Selenite Tunnel. It was then time for us to turn around and begin to head out. We took a slight detour to look at the climb up to Peter’s Pretty Passage and follow the passage running parallel to Salubrious. By this point we had been underground for around 5 hours and the group were tiring, so we headed back for hot showers and food.


Jo near Timo’s Table; Elena enjoying her first visit to SWCC


Tabitha and Paul

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Steve at Swamp Creek; Elena on President’s Leap; Steve in Salubrious.


Tabitha in Selenite Tunnel; Tabitha and Elena helping Shatter Pillar out.

29th December – Ogof Draenen
Team: Derek Cousins, Stuart Cresswell (WCMS), Paul Fairman (WCMS), Steve Hepple, Duncan Hornby, Pavel Krawczyk (WCMS), Jo White & Claire Vivian

Duncan was not happy. An 8am start in order to get underground in Draenen before 10am!! We set off a little late after the obligatory faffing, but made good time on the way there. A cold wind and smattering of rain ensured minimal faffing whilst getting changed, then we were off.

Paul was keen to explore the area beyond Megadrive as he had not been there before, with the aim of finding the way on towards the Snowball. This was Jo and Steve’s first visit to the cave, so excitement was in the air. Fast progress was made through the wet entrance series to the signing in book and then we headed on to Lamb and Fox Chamber and Indiana Highway. Indiana Highway is a narrow, but fairly long traverse. The very end section is roped and is over a 22m deep hole, the ‘Lost Crusade’. Reaching Megadrive, we followed this for ages and then turned right down Going Square, instead of Perseverance I. It was new passage for all of us, but didn’t get us to the Snowball. After heading back to the junction we went for a quick look at the Nunnery and then went and found Perseverance. But with time no longer on our side, we had to turn around and head out. New passage for all of us, so a good trip. Total trip time 6hrs.

Disappearing in to Draenen.
Steve on the roped climb in the entrance series
Looking down on Indiana Highway


                  30th December – Transporting ladder to beginning of Midnight traverse
Team: Tony Baker, Derek Cousins, Andy Dobson, Martin Hoff, Duncan Hornby & John Roe

I have always wondered about how fixed ladders in caves get where they are and now I know, teamwork! Joining Martin Hoff and co. I helped carry a 3m fixed metal ladder to the beginning of the Midnight traverse. This ladder is to replace the old and failing Brigadier Glennies ladder. Once there, the others went along the traverse to consider best approach for the next stage of its installation.
Throughout this very efficient trip it was remarked on more than one occasion how useful it was to have a fixed ladder with you, making short climbs a breeze. If they were truly easy to carry around everyone would have one!

On the way in and out Martin was pointing out various fixed aids and to top it all off I was shown another route out of Top Entrance avoiding the monotonous brickyard.

The day was topped off by a group curry at Tiffin in Ystradgynlais.

31st December – Getting lost in OFD is fun!
Team: Paul Fairman (WCMS), Steve Hepple, Duncan Hornby & Jo White

With rain that never seemed to stop it was decided to go into Top Entrance for a “proper” explore. “Proper” being Paul leading us into the heart of the Labyrinth area, getting truly (and intentionally) lost! It was strange, as I would normally be worried, but with such a strong team of cavers we just kept going, exploring lots of side passages. Eventually we ended up at what was later found out to be a horrendous climb down from Northern Canyon. We turned around and wandered in some other direction which eventually popped out in Salubrious Stream Way.

Bumping into Iain and Tim who were on their way to do some bolting work, Iain quickly showed us one end of Peter’s Pretty Passage. With a mental note taken of its position we headed off to Shatter Pillar as I wanted to show the others a way down into Lugubrious stream shown to me by Martin the previous day. We continued on and ended up in some “chamber of death” with an unbelievable amount of hanging death. Not a place I wish to visit again!

We eventually decided to head out and I used my new route out from the Wedding cake formation to the entrance.

Last ones standing at New Year in the LCR. Photo: Miri Pihlaja

1st January – Hung over in Peter’s pretty passage
Team: Paul Fairman (WCMS), Steve Hepple, Duncan Hornby & Jo White

With lack of sleep from New Year’s Eve antics and a raging hangover I was dismayed by Paul actually turning up and wanting to go caving, something I had agreed to in an alcoholic haze…

We eventually settled on the idea of visiting Peter’s Pretty Passage. Fortunately for us it turns out that Steve is quite a good climber so when we got to the entrance of the passage he was able to climb up and throw down a ladder for us less capable. With everyone up we carried on only to be confronted by a rather bold step. Whilst I was able to do it, Jo was having none of it! I for one was grateful as about 2m on is an awkward climb up that throws you out over nothing. Whilst I’m sure all of us with some help would be able to climb up, coming back the other way would have been s**t scary! Even Steve was not happy… So we abandon him! De-rigged the climb down and went around to the other end of the passage. Steve had been waiting patiently and quickly set up the ladder so we could climb up and join him.

Paul admiring the crystal pool

This passage is pretty amazing, we many delicate helictites and crystal pools. GREAT CARE was needed to move around within the passage. My camera had ran out of power so the following pictures are from Paul Fairman’s camera.

Jo admiring even more formations

Delicate helictites

                      Duncan close and personal with a crystal pool

2nd January – Too many mince pies makes for a short trip…
Team: Andy Freem, Antonia Freem, Duncan Hornby, Phil Knight (+ Matt) & Claire Vivian

With New Year’s excesses behind us, today’s objective was to head to the Upper Oxbow series and descend the 20m pitch to Splash Inlet. Andy showed us how the Sky Hook worked to get the rope up there so that a ladder could be rigged – Matt had no SRT experience, so would only be coming as far as the pitch head. There are some incredibly pretty formations here, it is well worth a visit.

Andy rigging the pitch

With the pitch rigged by Andy the SRT team descended leaving Phil and Matt to explore other passages at the top.

At the bottom of the pitch is a chamber leading to another shorter pitch. Rope was rigged to a natural anchor and Claire went through a small hole at ground level to have a look at the pitch. The rope didn’t reach the ground, but it looked like it was only around 2 feet above the floor when it was unweighted, so it would be possible to get back on afterwards without the rope springing away after you got off it! Claire started to descend the pitch, saw an obvious rub point and asked for an empty tackle sack to protect the rope. Reached the floor, got off, could still reach the rope, no problem! Antonia was through next.
Andy attempted to slip through this hole but got firmly wedged! I like to think it was down to too many mince pies and sherry at Christmas, but who’s to say?

At chest level is a very obvious eye hole that could have been rigged through but we did not have enough rope. So at this point Andy had to accept he was going no further.

Andy at the eye-hole. Having another 10m of rope would have meant we could have rigged through this.

Moving like an inch worm Duncan was able to squeeze through the hole and join the ladies at the bottom of the pitch. We then gave ourselves 45 minutes to explore.

We travelled upstream to Mutiny Junction and explored various ways on and came across a fantastic crystal pool.

A close-up of the delicate crystals in the crystal pool.

Looking up the 20m pitch

We were also visited by some of our favourite Finnish members, Miri and Velma. Who spent a couple of days introducing 3 new members of the Finnish Caving Club to OFD. They visited all of OFD’s entrances during this time and gave their new recruits a great introduction to OFD and caving in general. Everyone looked happy and seemed to be enjoying themselves, so hopefully we’ll see them all back again soon. After their visit to SWCC they then went on to the Wessex to try out some Mendip caves. Please check out their Caving in Finland website.

Velma and the new Finnish cavers. Photo: Miri Pihlaja

Traversing Pluto’s Bath. Photo: Miri Pihlaja

Miri near the Wedding Cake. Photo: Velma Aho

The end of December also saw the launch of Toby’s new company and website, LandJourneys which will be offering guided walks along the Appalachian Trail from the Spring onwards. Just in time for people to work out how they are going to shed those extra Christmas pounds and improve their fitness this year.
Toby’s new website, LandJourneys. There’s also a Facebook page. Go and take a look!

All in all, it was a good New Year for SWCC and its members. Happy caving in 2016 everyone!

New Year, New Skills

New Year, New Skills

On Friday 1st January, me and my dad got up, had some breakfast, faffed a bit, waited for Simon to to get up, faffed a bit more, spoke to a few people suffering from hangovers from New Year, waited for Simon some more but in the end gave up and decided to go without him, because we couldn’t find where he was sleeping to wake him up.

Before we started I was very nervous because I had never done a trip like this with just two of us.
This was going to be our third time together to the columns. Although it was our third time together, it was our first time with just us.
When we went down to the columns, we took some rope which I carried and when we got to the slope down to cairn chamber, we decided to leave the bag of rope at the top. Normally we use the rope on the large hole and on the slope to cairn chamber but for the first time we decided not to use a rope on any of them. Based on last time, our trip was supposed to take four/five hours but it took us only two hours.
At the hole I was more nervous than before, I always had a rope and someone to hold onto to step across the hole because I can’t reach any of the handholds, because I only have little legs!  But we didn’t have enough people so I didn’t have the rope. (Not strictly true – we didn’t use the rope because he wanted to try without , and he managed to reach the handholds fine with just a spotter) After I got over the hole, I felt really proud and the same thing happened at cairn chamber.

From the entrance I had to find my way to the columns without any help from dad, because he made me! Which at first I was very nervous about but when we got to the columns and back I felt pleased with myself. I didn’t even get lost!
James – Age 11.

The twelve days cavers of Christmas

The twelve days cavers of Christmas

Trip dates: December 12th-13th 2015
Authors: Claire and Duncan

SWCC: Mark Burkey, Jess Burkey, Helen Hooper, Duncan Hornby, Andy Jones, Brendan Marris, Jon Tatton, Claire Vivian, Phil Walker, Jo White (& Dan).

SUGGS: Derek Cousins

This is a dark Christmas tale of long journeys (12 hours for Claire), human endurance (freezing one’s ass off) and cake. The story begins in the hobbit town of Hardraw… The fellowship of cavers met at Ye Olde School Bunkhouse of Hardraw run by 2 SWCC cavers/hobbits Helen and Andy.


The group arriving at about 7pm moved to the undisputed world champion of pubs the Green Dragon. Camped in front of a roaring fire, mugs of ale and 7 hours of motorway driving stress to release we drank beer and discussed our assault on Moria.

Our original plan was an exchange trip between Grange Rigg and Christmas Pot but the weather (clearly caused by Sauron throwing a wobbly) had put an end to that idea as the forecast was rain and snow. New plans were hatched and people were divided up into groups.
The road from Hardraw to Ingleton, in places the snow was so deep it could cover a whole hobbit!


It was the Middle Earth Gaping Gill system for the whole team on Saturday. Getting changed at Ingleborough Hall in the rain was distinctly unpleasant, the sole advantage being that the rain limited the faffing.

Changing in the freezing rain at Ingleborough Hall. With zero faff everyone was kitted and ready to go in minutes!

Given the size of the group, 3 trips were possible. There would be a rigging and photographic trip into Christmas Pot, a Flood Entrance to Small Mammal exchange trip and some members of the group were also able to take advantage of a pre-rigged Bar Pot for their entry to the system (thanks LUSS!).

The long walk up, which took around an hour, got more pleasant as time went on and we got warmed up as we chatted and walked. It was a very pretty area to walk in and it was good to look at Clapham, wander past Ingleborough show cave (which had plenty of visitors as it had been turned into Santa’s Grotto) and see Trow Gill.

Small Mammal/Flood trip

Helen and Andy were the first to set off with their descent of Small Mammal, then Jon, Phil and Claire headed to Flood Entrance and Duncan, Derek, Mark, Jess and Brendan went off to Christmas Pot. Last, but not least, Jo and Dan descended Bar Pot. We all started around midday.

This was my first visit to Flood, though Phil and Jon had both been there before on several occasions. My early impressions were very favourable as it was distinctly warmer inside the entrance than standing outside in the snow, being buffeted by the wind. Jon had elected to rig, Phil and I helped carry the rope.

The first pitch (15m) had a quite snug take-off (a slot in the floor), and my tackle sack was determined not to fit through the opening without some rearranging, then on to an easy re-belay on a ledge. This was soon passed without a hitch. Then came quite a few metres of mainly hands-knees crawling before the second pitch which was around 20m. Again, no problems encountered here. In fact, it was all going so smoothly that something had to go wrong fairly soon. Some small cascades were met next and these then took us on to the final big pitch, 38m, in South East Pot, along and through a large waterfall.

The first thing to go slightly wrong was when Jon could not find the first deviation and ended up rigging one from a piece of red cord looped around what looked like a chock stone part way down. He descended successfully and shouted up to me and Phil that one of us should look for the missing deviation on the way down… at least that’s what we found out he said later on, as at the time we couldn’t work out what the message was over the roar of the waterfall. I was next down. I had been standing on a ledge around 9m below Phil at a re-belay for a while getting cold. Now it was time for the big pitch. Reaching the level of the deviation, I could see this was not going to be completely straightforward as it was way out of my reach and I needed to pull myself towards it. As I pulled I could see the rope coming towards me through the deviation. Not good. It soon stopped this as I’m guessing it was then tied at the bottom of the pitch. Opening the deviation krab was the next problem as I couldn’t feel my fingers at this point. So after some considerable faffing, this was finally passed and I descended to the bottom of the pitch, through the waterfall. The others pulled me over to the ledge and then I tried to abseil slightly lower but I must have pushed the handle of the Stop in too far as it sent me into free fall to the ground. It was only 4-5 feet, but I still have a lump on my head to prove it happened and remind me not to do it again. Unsurprisingly, Phil made it the base with no problems whatsoever.

We met Jo and Dan here as they had caught up with us from Bar Pot. They told us that Andy and Helen had seen the waterfall and not fancied prusiking up through it, so had gone back to ascend Small Mammal again and were then going to descend Flood and de-rig above the waterfall. Jo then led the way to Gaping Gill main chamber. This was seriously impressive. When we got there, there was a massive waterfall completely filling the shaft. No daylight was visible. Spectacular. We then headed out via Small Mammal. We were fortunate to have 2 ropes on the big pitch up (around 30m) as our LUSS friends were still off exploring so this made things faster. All happened without incident until we had some route finding issues finding Small Mammal after the Greasy Slab and then communication errors. We thought Jo and Dan were going out of Bar, so began to de-rig Small Mammal. Then they both appeared at the bottom of the de-rigged Y-hang. Ooops. This was quickly rectified and they soon joined us. As this had been going on Helen and Andy had returned to give some bad news – the water had risen and they were unable to retrieve Jon’s 70m rope from the 3rd pitch in Flood Entrance. Following a mildly hypothermic walk back to the cars – OK, we also sat down and had some fun sliding down some of the snowy slopes on the way back to the path – we changed as quickly as we could manage with frozen fingers and then headed to the New Inn to wait for the Christmas Pot cavers. It was around 5pm by this point, so we were a bit surprised that the others were not already at the pub as we had expected them to finish before us. 5.45pm came and there was still no sign of them, so we begin to get slightly worried. However, not for long as they all walked through the door at 6pm.

Christmas Pot trip

Derek lead the way to Christmas Pot, we turned right after the style and followed the wall. At some point along we headed away from the wall to the entrance, located in a small sink hole.

Duncan and Derek at the Entrance of Christmas Pot.

I had asked everyone if I could rig the trip, to gain experience in the presence of people with far more rigging experience than I. The pitches are beginner friendly,with convenient ledges to stand on and easy access. Initially everything went well as I rigged each P-bolt. I eventually came to a Y-hang and did a bunny ears knot, when I loaded it, it started to slip. Derek who had been keeping a watchful eye suggested redoing it with a figure of 8 and alpine butterfly, a configuration I was aware of but had never done. So keen to impress I did this and cocked it up then got myself well and truly knotted up! At this point I had become aware of Christmas Carols echoing down from above as Brendan, Jess and Mark hung around trying to keep warm.

Un-knotted I descended the rope and just at the wet splashy part of the pitch my descender jammed up with kit pulled out of the tackle bag. I had reached the 1m from the end of the rope knot and this knot had stopped me abseiling off the end of the rope. So that’s why people put knots in ends of rope! At about 1.5m from the floor I had to swap over to my ascenders go back up to the Y-hang, pass this, turn it into a single figure of 8 knot to give me the extra metre. Whilst at the Y-hang the Christmas carols turned into Christmas curses…

The next section of the cave involved contorting our way through crawls to end up in a chamber with a dry-stone wall and a climb down to the next pitch head. This climb involved an awkward entrance over a 5m drop. I insisted on having a handline put in place and attached my petzl stop and thrashed around trying to reverse into the top of this climb. I was pleased to see everyone else found it as awkward as I had! It was easier to climb up and out but I would recommend a handline when trying to get into it.

The second pitch and it’s several rebelays went better with everyone joining me quickly at the bottom. We were at the point where Grange Rigg cave joined Christmas Pot. We went downstream and immediately entered a very pretty section of the cave. We passed through this to get to the end. Mark and Brendan headed back to the pretty section and I poked around in the end chamber and found the way on to the next pitch. This pitch was taking a lot of water and I decided against descending it as it would have just been a total wipe out!

Catching up with the others, Mark and Brendan did their photo magic and captured some excellent photos.

© Brendan Marris 2015, Derek in Christmas Pot Stream way

© Mark Burkey 2015, Derek in Christmas Pot Stream way

© Brendan Marris 2015, Duncan in Christmas Pot Stream way

With photos taken and constant shivering setting after standing around in the stream way for 30 minutes we headed out. Derek de-rigged whilst the other blasted their way up ‘n’ out.

What had been nothing more than trickles on the way in had turned into small streams. Whilst each pitch was fairly short and in some cases it was easy to keep out of the water this option got progressively limited with the final pitch just metres away from the entrance turning into a full on shoot of water which you had to prusik up through! I emerged out into the freezing night soaked. Mark had been a trooper and hung around in the bitter cold and we waited a further 20 minutes before Derek finally popped out looking like a drowned rat.

We quickly gathered our stuff and marched off the mountain to meet the others. I was surprised to see only our cars as I had expected the others to have been longer. Had I really been that slow at rigging, apparently so! We quickly changed and headed to the New Inn pub and found the others huddled in front of the wood burner. With everyone accounted for we were all beaming away and recanting our tales.

Eventually we headed back to Hardraw, went straight to the pub for a superb meal, huge puddings, lots of beer and several renditions of “Wonder wall” sung by a bunch of pissed up cyclists from Huddersfield trying to out sing the folk band next door!

Trip time (from car park and back): 6 hours

The team tucking into some well earned grub!


Sunday…despite much planning the night before everyone got up to a truly winter scene and thought….naaaaa not caving today!

View from the Bunkhouse

As a complete distraction to the cold reality of outside we managed to entertain ourselves with a bit of rope tying.

Duncan, Mark and Brendan practising knots

Breakfast included a healthy dose of rope tying… 

With time whittled away we headed our separate ways. Some of us headed over to Ingleton to meet up with Jo and Dan for one final coffee and cake at Inglesport cafe before heading home.

Ribble head viaduct and snow covering the hillsides

Jo, Dan, Duncan and Derek at Inglesport Cafe

Whitewalls weekend: Knee-knackering crawls, cool formations and mud!

Whitewalls weekend: Knee-knackering crawls, cool formations and mud!

Trip dates: November 28th-29th 2015

Authors: Claire and Duncan

Group: Mark Burkey, Jess Burkey ( trip leader), Mark Hampson, Duncan Hornby, Helen Langford, David Mullin & Claire Vivian

Mark, Duncan, David and Claire arrived on Friday evening at Whitewalls, the CSS club hut. We all had our mini-adventures getting there that evening with delayed trains and the A465 shut for road upgrade. Friday also seemed to mark the beginning of a miserable weekend of weather, so nothing new for Wales!


Saturday’s trip was to be the Daren Cillau through trip entering via the classic crawl in and exiting out of Ogof Cnwc. When Helen arrived we got changed and headed out to the public car park to meet up with Mark and Jess who were going to lead the trip.

I (Duncan) had made a faustian pact with Mark that if he were to lead I was to carry his camera box in. Why I was spared the horrors of dragging the large camera box through the crawl I shall never know but I suspect my debt has not yet been paid…

The Daren entrance series is infamous. 517m of narrow, twisting, passageway, a lot of it crawling size, with several squeezes, puddles and s-bends thrown in for good measure. It has a reputation for being both arduous and time consuming. Suggest a trip to Daren and you will see many eyes widen and heads begin to shake sadly. The fact that there is no gate on a system of this size – over 16 miles in length (26,000m) – is an indication that the entrance is considered to be a sufficient natural barrier to prevent non-cavers stumbling in and getting lost.

We had a good trip there and made fairly fast work of the entrance series. As a group of 7 we made it out of these in around an hour. Undoubtedly the entrance was more awkward for the taller members of the group. Being short had its distinct advantages for a change as I (Claire) barely noticed the Vice (a squeeze around 80m into the entrance) and there were plenty of times where I was able to walk when a lot were still crawling along. In my opinion, the entrance series isn’t anything to worry about, it’s just fairly sustained, nothing that should put you off visiting the excellent cave beyond.

I (Duncan) on the other hand have a completely different opinion of the crawl! Whilst not particularly technical and the squeezes were “fun” much of my time was hands a knees crawling or flat out crawls through annoying puddles and I suffered a severe attack of cramps in my right calf muscle. When we finally exited the crawl I felt battered and bruised and we had barely started.

We followed the standard through trip route with Jess leading the way. At one point Mark showed the way on to the deeper parts of the system so we would learn the routes.

During the trip we stopped several times for Mark to take some photos. The full set of photos are on his flickr account.

© Mark Burkey 2015.Claire at the beginning of Far Epocalypse.

Some of the most impressive formations we saw were in Urchin Oxbow. This passage can be easily missed but is well worth the effort as it is a simple diversion that loops back to the main route through.

Mark Burkey preparing for a photo of Mark Hampson in Urchin Oxbow

© Mark Burkey 2015. Mark Hampson viewing the urchins.

The delicate formations in Urchin Oxbow

More delicate formations in Urchin Oxbow

© Mark Burkey 2015. David in Urchin Oxbow

© Mark Burkey 2015. Duncan at the Antlers.

After all the pretties it was a surprisingly long and relentless stomp along Antler passage with the occasional up and down on chain ladders, teetering on metal plates on the side of boulders (being short did not help there). Jess also discovered a straightforward bypass to some traverses along this passage, which was welcomed by Claire.

© Mark Burkey 2015 Helen, Jess and Duncan in Price’s Prophecy.

After one final photograph in Price’s Prophecy it was the grim crawl out of Ogof Cnwc. This squalid muddy exit means by the time you finally get out you are covered head to toe in sloppy liquid mud!

© Mark Burkey 2015. Only Helen appears to be happy, I guess she was glad to be alive!

Total trip time: 7 hours


With non-stop rain and bruised and battered limbs from the Daren through trip options were limited. Duncan had never visited Craig-A-Ffynnon and was keen to at least give it a go. Another club staying at Whitewalls had been the day before and had mentioned the river in the section Gasoline Alley was pretty high and everyone agreed it could have sumped. Not every visit has to lead into some amazing stomp it can often be a simple fact finding mission which for Duncan was where was it, how do you get into it and when Gasoline Alley is bad, how does that look?

So Claire, David and Duncan headed out into the grim weather and off down the valley.

Where was it turned out to be easier than expected. Getting in was surprisingly difficult, especially as the other club had locked it incorrectly. For the record when locking, push the bar that will have the padlock on UP through the hole. This allows the lock to be handled much easier, the alternative being 15 minutes of arm dislocating back flips whilst spinning on one’s head…grrrrr

Now I’ve heard great things about Craig-A-Ffynnon, very pretty I’m told, Hall of the Mountain King is impressive, some sporting sections and it did indeed live up to the claims. However no one has ever mentioned the mud…Seriously how much can there be? Apparently more than enough! There was even one small, very innocuous, looking section where both we and it were so muddy that we kept slipping back down and had to form a human chain to get up.

Despite the mud and the threat that Gasoline Alley could sump we made our way to the Hall of the Mountain King and blimey it’s impressive! Well worth the effort. David showed us the way on then we turned around and head back out. Thankfully the river had not risen and getting out was fine. Route finding was easy, the second choke was easy to navigate and a great Sunday trip. I can’t wait to go back when the weather is a bit more stable!

Total trip time: 2.5 hours

Ogof Marros – a new cave discovery

Ogof Marros – a new cave discovery

Team: Phil Knight, Andy Freem, Antonia Freem, Michael Perryman, Ash Pursglove, Claire Vivian, Duncan Hornby, Emily Ivans, Storm Morris Fred Cook and David Kelvey.

A team of SWCC members and friends have been digging near Pendine in West Wales over the last year and have now gained access into what is likely to be a major cave system in West Wales, to be known as Ogof Marros.

Local caver Phil Knight and friends had spotted a potential entrance and had begun exploring once permission had been gained from the farmer whose land the entrance was on. Over several months the team was expanded with much of the initial digging done by those who lived locally.

By the end of May 2015, progress was blocked by a flat out bedding crawl, that would later be known as Fred’s Despair, due to Fred’s inability to fit through, unless as he said “his children were on the other side and in trouble”. On 6/6/2015 Antonia and Claire passed through Fred’s Despair, with helmets off as they would not fit through. The squeeze ended in a tight ninety degree bend which those of a taller persuasion would have found impossible to pass. Having got through, and being the only members of the team who could fit through the crawl, Antonia and Claire explored the chamber and passage beyond.

Antonia exploring the new passage, viewed from Fred’s Despair. The way on is to the left and then a crawl through boulders to reach Antonia’s Grotto, the limit of exploration that day.

Claire popping out through the flat out crawl, Fred’s Despair. The pagoda style rocks on the right, which forced a 90 degree bend, have now been removed. 

A well decorated area was reached, this was named Antonia’s Grotto. We also had a discovery of a grotto around the corner by Ash and this is now known as Ash’s Grotto.

Unusual bent formation which had a rude name to start with, but is now known as the Lama. 

The diggers’ campsite.

Following a draft down through boulders near the grotto, Claire was the first to push the section now know as Claire’s Clamber which ultimately lead towards the descent into the first choke. This was a climb down through boulders of around 2.5m reaching a small chamber on the right (now full of boulders dug out from the choke). The removal of a boulder, with the lifting assistance of Andy, Ash and Antonia enabled a second smaller chamber to be discovered and a drafting way on looking likely against a solid wall.

Surface de-brief and survey sketching. 

Antonia Freem climbing out of Claire’s Clamber.

Many months were spent following a draught through a progressively dangerous choke with one false lead, pit one, that nearly squashed Ash and then tried to turn Phil in to a smear. This led to digging at the end of the rift after lots of rock “tetris”. Essential scaffolding was purchased and put into place in the newly named Sciatica Shaft (following back problems experienced by several members of the team). Three Man Chamber, at the base of Sciatica Shaft, has now become a storage area for recalcitrant boulders after pit one became filled. It is also a convenient place to store digging kit waiting to be put into good use.

Several attempts were made to push towards the water which could clearly be heard. Some potential ways on were abandoned as they were simply too dangerous to follow, including the Chamber of Terrors.

It became a regular event that the team would dig like crazy, retreat with shattered nerves and Andy passing judgement of the next best course of action.

Emily Ivans cutting scaffolding to size ready for protecting the dig.

By July 2015 the team had gained access to a stream within the boulders and had seen an obvious way on with a tantalising view of stalagmites. With a bit of work the way forward became just passable in the stream. Whilst under the protection of boulders in the constriction, Andy tested a rock up in the ceiling and several boulders dislodged. The following month was spent removing this pile of boulders which were blocking the view beyond.

A team returned to the cave on 21/10/15 to try to move one final boulder. The boulder had spent many weeks working its way from the roof, swinging and teetering before falling and blocking the way on. In a very confined space Antonia managed to drill a hole into the boulder, place a bolt and tie a rope into it. Andy and Duncan pulled whilst Phil rocked the boulder with a crowbar. It was finally manoeuvred and bought within safe working distance, thus securing the name of ‘Back to the Future’ for the newly ventured part of the choke. Upon exiting the cave for the day Phil mentioned it was his birthday! He would have to wait 2 days before he could open his present!

On 23/10/15 the team returned with Claire and proceeded to take it in turns to drill then plug ‘n’ feather the boulder. This was frustrating and a very intense experience as one would be laying flat out in a stream, no room to manoeuvre, under some probably less than secure protection!

By lunch time the boulder was destroyed with much of the credit going to Phil!

Exiting the choke requires a flat out crawl in the stream in a very restricted area.

Antonia and Claire, were first through, whilst Andy, Phil and Duncan remained on the outside of the choke. Who said chivalry was dead, ladies first!

Antonia and Claire had taken a walkie talkie through and were describing the scene, we sat in the choke gobbed smacked listening to their description. They were joined by Phil and off they went down the newly named Wildest Dreams passage. About 30 minutes later they returned and the ladies came back and Andy and Duncan joined Phil.

We pushed to the limits of where Antonia and Claire had reached and had left a going lead as they had felt they had their share of first discoveries and we entered a large stream passage.

Phil Knight and Andy Freem in large stream passage.

We headed back to the choke and Phil and Andy were replaced by Antonia and Claire. We went back to the large stream passage and headed up stream, it was clear that it was heading nearer the surface and we completed the first round trip in the cave.

Antonia Freem and Claire Vivian at the upstream limits of our initial exploration.

Some of the best formations were just downstream of the choke, one a twiglet like formation defying gravity.

Andy Freem admiring “twiglet” formation downstream of boulder choke.

Our remaining time in the cave was spent standing on a boulder strewn floor, looking down a 3m climb, trying to ascertain the best route to the ground below, where the stream was visible, flowing off down a passage into the distance. A visit by Phil and Ash the next day showed that this passage was blocked some 20m further on by another choke.

We all came out feeling “shell shocked” having just discovered 300-400m of passageway in a totally new cave system. After much group hugging and jumping up and down the adrenaline started to wear off, we went back to the car got changed and had a celebratory fish ‘n’ chips. I don’t think any of us slept well that night!

Since then we have gone on and explored beyond the climb on the way to the second choke. A new round trip has been found, along with another pretty grotto. More has also been discovered upstream. Antonia, Phil and Claire pushed the area near the original limit of upstream exploration and found a further c.25m of generally crawling sized passage amongst boulders beyond “Tickled Trout” Inlet. A small upper level passage, near this area was also pushed by Antonia and Claire, past a tricky 90 degree bend, until it was found to end at a small inlet cascade. A very pretty crystal pool was also discovered in the floor of a small chamber (Crystal Carpet Chamber) near the ‘unshattered pillar’. Phil and Ash were the first to spot and name ‘Jimmy’ the trout in the streamway. Since then, 2 more trout have been sighted in different locations.

Jimmy the trout in the streamway. 

It is hoped a more detailed article is to be published in Descent. The cave is locked, please use the email below if members are interested in seeing the cave and supporting the discovery.


Now you have read the blog watch the movie of its discovery!

SWCC Provisionals’ Weekend November 2015 – Piers crawls his way into his 40’s…

SWCC Provisionals’ Weekend November 2015 – Piers crawls his way into his 40’s…

It was a grey and drizzly weekend at Penwyllt, but still some 17 provisional members made the trek to SWCC to take part in this weekend’s caving exploits. All these were either brand new to caving, or experienced cavers new to the club itself. Some of these members went to extraordinary lengths to come to SWCC for the weekend and these efforts certainly deserve to be recognised here. We had Brendan Hoare who flew over from Dublin to join us, Chris Taylor who made an heroic cycle ride – carrying all his kit – from Neath Railway Station to Penwyllt in driving rain and fog and Heledd Griffiths who found herself having to take a coach back to London at 3.30am Monday morning in order to arrive at work there in time for an 8.30am start. That’s without mentioning Stewart and Taine Avey who also came and caved with us for 5 hours, despite knowing that they would have no sleep that night as they were photographing a night rally!

As well as the excellent turnout from provisional members, a whole load of fireworks went up in smoke and Piers turned 40! This was all lubricated by 3 barrels of beer supplied by what I can only assume is the mysterious beer barrel fairy…

Honestly where does the beer come from? The beer was complemented by tasty curry cooked up by Team “Annie”.

Although there were multiple provisional trips over the weekend the following are descriptions provided by Claire and Duncan.


Saturday morning Provisionals and trip leaders met in the long common room and all were introduced to each other then assigned to their respective groups based upon experience, ranging from total beginners to hardened expedition cavers.

Duncan lead a trip into Cwm Dwr, a special trip as it was Piers’ 40th birthday trip and a trip he had not done for some time. Jon and Paul, provisionals but capable cavers completed the team. Originally it was going to be a through trip but the bad weather made that impossible. We visited the Confluence, the river was up by a metre and tanking through. The approach to the confluence was a bit eerie as the sound reverberating in the passage sounded like any second a flood pulse was going to come hurtling around the corner and take us all out…

The confluence, definitely not the day to do a through trip!
Piers, Jon and Paul just upstream of the confluence

We back tracked up to the Smithy and entered Piccadilly then down to the other end of flood by-pass. We were amazed at how much foam there was and the height it had reached.

Piers at flood by-pass with foam up to 3m high on the walls.

We did a quick visit to Heol Eira and headed back out of Cwm Dwr for another knee grinding exit.

Piers now deciding he wished he had never gone on the trip!

James Hallihan decided he would like a chance to lead a group of beginner cavers in OFD2 so that he could both practice his route finding in the cave and perfect his group management skills. At only 11 years old, but already having an impressive 8 years’ worth of caving experience under his belt, James would be our youngest caver, let alone cave leader. Two more experienced cavers came along on the trip to ensure that no problems would arise, but they kept their interfering to a minimum so that James would have the full experience. He did admirably well, which was no surprise to anyone on his trip. The new cavers on the trip were Stewart and his son,Taine (12 years old) and Kate. Phil and Claire came along to make up the numbers.

James and Taine

James showing the new cavers that squeezes are not to be feared.

The trip went well throughout. Taine, a budding photographer, saw plenty of places he would like to come back and photograph one day and had a great sense of adventure trying every aspect of caving involved in the day, even the traversing, which he had been fearing. We will return one day to have a go at the crawls, so that he has a fuller sense of what can be involved in caving.

The group near the Wedding Cake

Taine in Swamp Creek 

Stewart enjoyed trying to learn the route and seeing Taine have fun. Kate conquered some fears along the way and showed a vast improvement in the way she moved through the cave, gaining in confidence as the trip went on. We also met Jo White and her group using her OFD huff to navigate in the Entrance Series. You can get yours from the Publications cupboard, priced at £9 each and also available in Cwm Dwr design as well.

Jo using her OFD huff to navigate

The new cavers even opted to extend their trip by a short while through tagging on a visit to the Mini Columns at the end. A total time of 5 hours was spent underground.

James wearing the burden of leadership and the group returning to the surface
Other trips that day were completed by Adrian and Kate, who took Andrew and Chris around OFD1; Iain took Colin, Brendan, Heledd and Rhys on a round trip in Top Entrance and Tim took Chloe, Will and Phill on a tour around OFD2.

Saturday evening went with a bang! Loads of fireworks were let off, beer was drunk and curry scoffed! Piers got an excellent Birthday cake and long room packed out as everyone sung happy birthday with the Cwm Dwr crawl a distance memory!

Excellent firework show and no one lost a limb…

As always the party went on late and much drinking done!

Mr Alderman “photo bombing”without spilling his pint!


Duncan enjoyed the Cwm Dwr crawl so much that he went and did it again on Sunday. This time with provisionals Steve and Phill. Just as we were about to leave Phil Knight joined the trip. This trip was successful for two reasons; Steve learnt more of the route through Cwm Dwr and I managed with the help of the team, and advice from Mark Burkey, to visit a part of the system new to me called Tapioca which had stunning white formations.

Catrin, Vaughan and Claire took Rhys and Heledd in to OFD1 for a trip on the Escape Route, being as the river was still on the sporting side. This went well with Vaughan and Cat consolidating their knowledge of OFD1 and Rhys and Heledd enjoying the different challenges of the trip, including using cowstails for the first time.

Antonia took Colin, Brendan, Chloe and Will in to OFD1 for their first visit. Having managed to stagger the groups fairly well, both OFD1 teams only actually got to be within chatting distance on one occasion.

Damian took Andrew on a trip around Top Entrance and Chris joined Jo and her team of cavers on a trip to Speedy Caver and the Bedding Chambers.

Top Left: the team looking at foam near Pluto’s Bath.
Top Right: Heledd and Vaughan in Bolt Passage
Bottom Left: Roundabout Chamber.

Many thanks to all who led trips on the weekend:

Adrian Brown, Kate Brown, Catrin Budd, Vaughan Budd, Antonia Freem, Piers Hallihan, James Hallihan, Duncan Hornby, Phil Hughes, Phil Knight, Tim Lewingdon, Iain Miller, Damian Thomas, Claire Vivian, Jo White.

New provisional members to watch out for:

Stewart Avey, Taine Avey, Andrew Baldwin, Paul Edwards, Kate Furness, Heledd Griffiths, Rhys Griffiths, Steve Hepple, Brendan Hoare, Colin Hoare, Chris Jones, Chloe Partridge, Will O’Connor, Jon Tatton, Chris Taylor, Phill Thomas, Andrew Williams.

OFD 2 Photo Trip, 4.11.15

OFD 2 Photo Trip, 4.11.15

SWCC: Stewart Avey, Paul Tarrant, Claire Vivian

Just for a bit of variety we had a photo trip in Top Entrance tonight (when we found it in the mist), instead of the usual caving trip. Paul and Stewart were eager to try out new photographic equipment and techniques. Paul had a new camera and flashguns, whilst Stewart was taking some of his first photos underground and using light painting. Here are the results of this:

Paul – using flashguns

 Stewart – using light painting


Photographing the resting photographers.

One Poached Egg too many 28.10.15

One Poached Egg too many 28.10.15

SWCC: Tabitha, Paul Tarrant and Claire Vivian

This was a trip to introduce Tabitha to an area of OFD2 she hadn’t yet had the chance to visit. Missing out on my usual fight with the lock on Top Entrance, I managed to open the gate and remove the key from the lock first time. I should have known something else was bound to go slightly awry to compensate for that.

Paul and Tabitha in the passage behind Timo’s Table

We were underground by 7.15pm and, with only a little guidance, Tabitha managed to lead to the Wedding Cake. We then headed down to Salubrious and took the passage opposite the climb to the Corkscrew to reach lower Arete Chamber. After a brief look around here, noting the way off to the Labyrinth and the climb up to Middle Arete, we moved on to take the meandering passage/ crawls to Timo’s Table. So far so good.

We arrived at Timo’s Table and then decided to have a bit of an explore in the immediate area, dropping down to the lower level and heading up the slope on the left to what eventually turned out to be a dead end with a traverse over a slight drop to the right. We had a quick look at the entrance to the Prokofiev Series and then went to look at Poached Egg climb. All as planned so far.

Reaching Poached Egg, we looked at the route across, talked about the route on to the Crevasse and OFD3, had the inevitable chat about what it feels like to fall off the climb and then started to head back to Timo’s again, chatting as we went. We walked, talked, looked at some formations, turned a couple of corners and found ourselves … back at Poached Egg. Great. So we walked, talked, looked at some more formations and arrived back at Poached Egg again. Even better. Possibly one of the shortest round trips in OFD and a first for me.

Distinctly uncomfortable with finding myself gravitating back to Poached Egg, one of my least favourite places in OFD. We decided to give up on going back to Timo’s and instead followed the passage that heads back to upper Salubrious. No further unplanned detours were made and we exited in to a clear, dry, night. Whereas the week before Penwyllt had looked like a scene from Watership Down, tonight it was the turn for an invasion of giant black slugs. All in all, a good trip. New routes for both Paul and Tabitha and a brand new round trip for Claire. Back at SWCC by 10pm. 

Tabitha sitting on Timo’s Table – we did get there!