Bonfire night at Whitewalls

We spent the weekend at Whitewalls with Chelsea Spelaeological Society celebrating bonfire weekend. We drove down to Llangattock early on Saturday morning and arrived to the dawn of a most beautiful day. Richard was to enjoy this lovely day on the surface, but I intended going underground. It appeared that there were two possible caving trips on offer. A through trip from Daren Cilau to Cncc or a through trip from Cncc to Daren Cilau. I have to say that I wasn’t truly excited by another trip into Daren Cilau and Cncc as a number of our most recent trips have been into there. However, I decided to go along anyway and I’m really glad I did.

After some deliberation I decided to go on the Cncc to Daren Cilau trip, mostly because there were less people going in that direction, but also because I prefer the Daren entrance crawl to the long exit out of Cncc. What I didn’t realise when we set off, was that one of the chaps I was caving with, Paul, was one of the original cave explorers who broke through to the ‘Large Chamber Nowhere Near the Entrance’ which then led onto the miles and miles of passage that we have today. Even more astonishingly Paul hadn’t visited Daren Cilau since 1996 and his memories of the cave were very-much based on his initial exploration.

Rachel ready to go underground

So, as we moved through Busman’s and then towards the Antlers, and onto the White Series, Paul recounted the thoughts of that first trip into these passages. Daren Cilau is perilously close to Craig Y Ffynnon and on that first trip, the group surmised repeatedly about their proximity to that cave. Before this area was discovered, Daren Cilau was not known for it’s spectacular formations and hence when they discovered the Antlers, a pagoda-type formation and other well-decorated passages, they wondered whether their new find connected to Craig Y Ffynnon. At one point on the route, we came across a ~30 foot pot in the floor, over which we traversed. Apparently when the original explorers reached that point they wondered whether they were above the Craig Y Ffynnon passages and that perhaps they were looking down on passages that they had already visited. On later inspection a connection had not been found, but the caves remain perilously close together.

Arriving in the Large Chamber Nowhere near the Entrance, we had a quick break before making our way along Jigsaw Passage, through the boulder choke and down the boulder slope where Richard broke his arm (I checked for broken boulders, but it looks like he didn’t cause any damage to the cave). Then, all that was left was the entrance series. As I said, Paul hadn’t been in Daren for a long time, and neither had Jo, our other companion on the trip. They were both a little nervous, but their moods lightened as we made progress through the crawl, having remembered it as being much worse than it actually is.

While I was caving, Richard went for a run as it really was a glorious day. Since he’d never been to Chartists’ Cave, and it’s less than 10km straight line from the caving hut, he decided to go there, and visit a few other interesting sites along the way. He headed along the Tram Road to the entrance to Agen Allwedd, then up between the crags to the top of the hill, where he headed west.

Readers with good memories will remember our wander around on this bit of moor looking for the shake-hole with Ogof Cynnes in it. In sunshine it was a little easier, and even better, it turned out to be on an old orienteering map he’d taken with him. In fact, the map showed a control in the Ogof Cynnes shake-hole!

Chartists’ Cave was easier to find (it was actually marked on the orienteering map), and happily it was the 172nd anniversary of the Chartists’ Insurrection, when weapons that were stored in the cave were used by the Chartists when they marched on and siezed Newport.

Richard outside the cave entrance
Sign outside Chartist's Cave

He also spotted some more of the mysterious “star jelly” on the moor, although it was rather less impressive than the stuff in Scotland. The fact that it had bucketed down with rain all Friday and the moors were running with water might have had something to do with that!

More gloooop

The Whitewalls bonfire was lit at 6.30 pm. The heat would have been lovely, but most of the wood comprised branches with leaves that flew from the fire as large blazing sparks, which prevented one from getting too close. The sight was almost better than fireworks! After the fire we enjoyed chilli and jacket potatoes, which were followed by fireworks! Everyone had brought just one firework. However, given that about 50 people had turned up, this was a lot of fireworks! We lit up the sky for at least 40 minutes! There were a number of really big ones too; not the type you would buy in the supermarket! Fireworks were followed by dessert and dessert was followed by birthday cake (there were a couple of birthdays this weekend, including Richard’s!).

Then the games started. Some of the Chelsea ladies had been busy preparing chocolate bats, which were hung from the ceiling of the caving hut. The bats were made of delicious chocolate. Some were made only of delicious chocolate, but others had been augmented with less familiar ingredients. In order increasing unpalatableness, the list was as follows:

Pure chocolate
Mild chilli chocolate
Hot chilli chocolate
Wasabi chocolate
Garlic chocolate

The game involved being asked a trivia question, if you got the question right, you were saved from having treats, if you were wrong (which of course most people were), you had the choice of taking pot luck on a bat, or having a shot of two fairly gross spirits (one being chilli-flavoured). I was extremely lucky, when I got my question wrong, I chose a mild chilli chocolate bat, which was fairly palatable. The garlic ones were the worst; when consumed the whole room stank!

Our Sunday morning view from the tent.
View towards Abergavenny