Ogof Rhyd Sych

We visited five caves this weekend, but Ogof Rhyd Sych deserves its very own post.

Prior to the weekend, Brendan and Keith had discussed a visit to Rhyd Sych a number of times and from their tone, it was obvious that it was another ‘collector’s item’; both tight and wet! Keith reflected on his previous visit…. “the entrance is a resurgence in a gorge”, “there is a duck after about 20 m”, “the cave is flood prone in wet weather and people can get trapped inside”, to which Brendan adds: “but it’s a resurgence, so if the duck turns into a sump, at least the flow will be on your side and flush you out”. Keith continues: “After the duck, the way on is through a narrow bedding plane with sharp protrusions on the floor”, “when you think the bedding plane can’t become any narrower, it does, and then shortly after you meet a stream, running through the bedding plane that you’re in”, “the way on is then through a rift; which becomes really narrow at one point”, “then there is another, particularly pot-holed bedding plane to thrutch through”. I ask whether there is anything pretty. Keith responds: “yes, it’s quite pretty after that”

Would you say no? of course you would, but as Keith says “We visit these caves, so you don’t have to!”.

And so it was, on the day of the Royal wedding we met in Luigi’s in Abergavenny for the best breakfast in South Wales before driving to the Nant Y Glais gorge, in the south of the Brecon Beacons. At the same time as Prince William and Princess Catherine were exchanging their vows, I was struggling to get into my ‘borrowed’ wetsuit that is just a little too small in places.

After a walk down a road and up a river valley, we traversed through a beautiful gorge (complete with a dead lamb) and arrived at the cave entrance; a resurgence in the side of the gorge. After some video and photographs we entered the cave and after 15 m arrived at the duck. Keith shot more video and Brendan took even more photographs until everything was documented and there were no longer any excuses not to descend into the crystal clear waters. Thankfully the duck was relatively low and hence we were only submerged to the neck.

Looking outwards towards the cave entrance... what beautiful formations so close to the sunshine! (B. Marris)
The entrance chamber (B. Marris)
Admiring gour pools near the cave entrance (B. Marris)

The passage on the far side of the duck was of stooping height and finished quite abruptly with a hole in the floor. I descended this first, and ended up once again in cold water; this was the beginning of the bedding plane. The first section of bedding plane was wide, but low. The bottom of the low, flat-out passage was pot-holed slightly. The second section of bedding plane was lower, the bottom was pot-hole slightly more. The third section of bedding plane was really quite tight and the pot holes were deeper and the pothole divides were sharper. In places the body required manoeuvring to allow onward progress. This would follow a repeated pattern. Helmet stuck, move head, cave floor and roof tight on chest and shoulders, wiggle through, hips less flexible, don’t fit through gap, wriggle through, thrutch forwards inch-by-inch, bag jammed, stuck (Richard carried the camera bag – I know he got stuck from the expletives). Just when the bedding plane couldn’t get any lower or any more uncomfortable, I heard the stream and felt momentarily jubilated at the prospect of roomy stream passage. After a few more metres of thrutching however, I realised that the stream was in the bedding plane, which was now tight, uncomfortable and wet. I had forgotten Keith’s description. Thrutching became slightly more rapid and soon enough we were in the rift. Glorious standing room. Brendan then explored a side passage in search of a bypass to the Cascades… I was soon to learn why a bypass was an attractive proposition, because unfortunately we didn’t find it. Continuing up the rift, the passage suddenly stopped – far too narrow to enter. But Keith carried on and then I realised that this tight rift was also my fate. It was marginally passable by lying in the stream and thrutching sideways along inch-by-inch on very uncomfortable boulders on the floor of the rift. I was glad to come out the other side. Then we were back into the bedding plane. The final section was higher than previously, however crawling was impossible because of the 40 cm deep pot holes and very sharp pot hole divides that covered the entire floor. This was particuarly bruise-inducing on forearms and shins. After what felt like 10 minutes we escaped the other side and entered large stream passage that was beautifully decorated with gour pools, stalactites, stalagmites and flow stone, along with interesting cave creatures. Much photography, video and exploration of the stream passage occurred until it was time to retreat.

First river chamber (B. Marris)

Keith in the first river chamber (B. Marris)
Little creatures in the gour pools in the deep dark depths of the cave (Brendan suggests that they are Diplura) (B. Marris)

The way out was as exhausting as the way in. The narrow rift looked even more impassable and Keith would still be there if someone hadn’t released his knee pad from a protruding rock. The low section of bedding plane looked completely impassable. In fact, Keith lay in the bedding plane for at least a couple of minutes wondering if he’d gone off-course because he couldn’t imagine ever fitting through the gap. This section of cave was rather tense, a situation which was not helped by Brendan letting go of his camera box, which caused it to slide down into the narrower, totally impassable part of the bedding plane, and by Richard who was entirely wedged by the bag at one point. The tension was particularly apparent on exit of the bedding plane, where Keith was videoing our reactions. When Richard was asked how he was, only expletives were heard.

The rest of the exit was simple in comparison and soon we were out in the gorge. A feeling of smugness befell us … we survived another of Brendan and Keith’s collector’s items. After building up the strength to remove slightly too-tight wetsuits, we retreated to Whitewalls for homemade lasagne and a fair amount of wine.

Thanks to Brendan for the fantastic photographs! Video will follow, but you’ll have to wait a few weeks until the director can fine-tune the movie.