Ogof Cynnes

Another collector’s item.

Keith and Brendan had been talking about Ogof Cynnes for a while, so we figured that it might lack charm and any kind of destination, however this wasn’t a deterrent and so like obedient servants we turned up at Luigi’s at 9.00 for breakfast. It was wet… very wet. We were all lacking motivation (although Richard and I weren’t aware of why that was at that point). So, we sat in Luigi’s and waited until the leak in the roof stopped… but it didn’t. So then we drove to the middle of nowhere and sat in the car… but the weather wasn’t going to break, so eventually we got changed anyway.

"I started out looking like this"

The carpark for Ogof Cynnes in located in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Ogof Cynnes itself is located even further into the middle of nowhere. We were ready to go. Brendan took out his GPS and we set off down a track following the direction arrow precisely, with the wind and rain hurtling in our faces. It was 2 km to the cave – cross-country. After a little while we saw a square of fencing and soon after Richard announced that the rain was now horizontally hitting his back. Then a car drove past on the near horizon. Keith exclaimed that he thought the cave was in the opposite direction. We all stood around, walked a little bit to the east and then to the west, turned the GPS off and then on, discussed the location of the road (which wasn’t meant to be there), discussed the setting on the GPS and the meaning of the large directional arrow. We then had a surreal (serious) conversation about whether the magnetic poles had flipped…. and then whether the GPS would be affected by this. After this discussion we changed the setting on the GPS, decided it was now giving the right answer and continued to walk, past the square of fence (actually the third passing of this fence) and continued across the soaking moor.

An hour after leaving the car we reached the cave, our average been was 2 km/h…. or was it more than 2 km via the route we took?

Ogof Cynnes means ‘warm’ cave. It was certainly warmer than the outside, especially once inside the entrance, which had a small waterfall cascading into it.

The entrance was quite fun. It entailed a tight squeeze which turned into an open-bottomed rift, which after a short time was blocked with a huge boulder that rocked. The route went through the tight squeeze, over the open-bottomed rift and then onto the rocking boulder before climbing down to proper passage. A little further on after encountering a fun down climb, we reached the Main Chamber.

From here we explored everywhere. None of the passages really went anywhere and none of them were particularly remarkable… that is except for the mud. There was some pretty good mud… that is, extremely glutinous, adhesive and well, phhlllurbt. It not only formed the most gelatinous swamps, but also quite structural walls, slimy coatings, and well-modelled statues (and horns). The walls were perhaps the most amazing. We encountered one of 8 feet, one of 10 feet and one of 12 feet! These were rather fun to climb, but less fun to down-climb. Keith made a particularly hasty gravity-driven descent from one of them. Thankfully, Brendan’s box of flashes survived the ordeal despite making a slightly faster descent (which ended with them falling into a rifty bit).

Richard and co. in the Rat Trap
Keith in the Rat Trap!
A view typical of the roomy bits of Cynnes
Who says that dragons don't live in caves?

After a good look around we retreated towards the entrance and out of the ‘warm’ cave into the welsh rain and drizzle. The precipitation was welcome as our 30 minute walk (note, we took a relatively straight line route on the way back!) across the moor was sufficient to wash all the mud from our oversuits (aided by dips in a number of marshes). The weather was sufficiently wet that I even managed to wash the rest of my gear in the small stream that flowed down the road 🙂

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.

Ogof Craig a Ffynnon

We spent the weekend getting to know members of Chelsea Spelaelogical Society (CSS) by staying at Whitewalls (their club cottage) in Llangattock. On Saturday we went underground with them into Ogof Craig a Ffynnon… indeed there is no better way to get to know people than in a chocolate heaven. I don’t remember Craig a Ffynnon being that muddy on my last visit, but this time it was dampish everywhere, which meant that every boulder choke/crawl left us chocolate-coated.

Our first destination was the Hall of the Mountain Kings, where we took a few pictures and waited for the rest of the party to catch up. This large cavern has a domed roof with magnificent formations. Unfortunately the formations were a little too far away for us to photograph with the couple of flashes that we carried in. So… you can enjoy the not-so-quite-impressive formations that were on the floor:

Small crystally pond

We then found the way on to Helictite Passage (behind me in the picture below) and continued.

The passage to Helictite Passage is behind me

Helictite Passage is a very narrow rift with delicate formations along one wall. Here are a few examples:

Modelling a tribrow

On the way back from the passage, we found this specimen that we think is a helictite covered in chocolate (natural of course)!

A helictite naturally covered in {chocolate} mud!

We were slightly muddy when we emerged …

Richard with chocolate beard

A Mudathon

When the name of a race contains the word “Challenge”, I always question whether this is a realistic race description for seasoned competitors like us. Take this example… an undulating race in the Vale of Belvoir, where the elevation range is only about 100 m and refreshments are provided every hour or so. How hard can it be? Well first, factor in that the race was a marathon (actually 26.4 miles) and second, that the Vale of Belvoir has a bedrock of mudstone. After the first few miles it becomes blatently obvious that this race is a ‘challenge’; the route is >90% off-road in fields and on tracks that comprise sticky, heavy, slippery, waterlogged clay! Sometimes the fields were grassy, which were a joy, but many of the fields contained crops and hence the footpaths were paved with bare mud. Some farmers had managed to pulverise their soil to a strange dry mud consistency, which at first looked pretty harmless, but after 5 more steps, it became apparent that this fine pulverised mud was even more sticky than the waterlogged stuff and resulted in a cm-scale wedge of mud being attached to your shoes with two effects; a) a huge weight increase and b) a complete loss of traction.

The race meandered through many small, quaint villages beginning at Harby and passing through Goadby, Chadwell, Waltham on the Wolds, Croxton Kerrial, Woolsthorpe, Belvoir and Stashern. The whole 26.4 miles was waymarked with small bits of ready salted tape (red and white) … I don’t envy those that staked out the route! It worked pretty well, in fact I only saw route-finding problems once when they manifested in a group just in front of me completing an entire lap of a field before finding the way on … just before I got there 🙂 . The notable parts of the race were the check points which were stashed full of cake (sorry no pictures), Belvoir Castle, which was pretty and errr… the mud, which I saw a lot of when trying to make forward progress rather than fall over!

Eventually the end came and I finished in 4 hrs 25, which wasn’t bad considering the mud! Richard had to walk half-way around because his hips/knees/ankles were not enjoying it very much. My legs were pretty tired, but actually my back aches the most and I think that is due to the constant effort required to stay upright when sliding on the mud.

Ready at the start of the Belvoir Challenge
Belvoir Castle

Photos courtesy of Mark of the Peel Road Runners – well done to all the other Peelers who were challenged!

We probably would have stayed in bed on Sunday, but my back muscles just weren’t happy in a horizontal position, and it was the premier event on a new orienteering area near Ross on Wye. Our good friend Brian has spent the last 3 years mapping the woodland on the side of the M50, so we were keen to see how good the area was. I sensibly chose to walk around the light green course (3 km), which was devoid of too many slopes, tricky controls or stream crossings, whilst Richard chose to run around the black course (10k), which was rather more physical. I had a nice stroll and loosened up a little, whilst Richard struggled through half of his course with niggles in all the places where legs bend. Needless to say, we’ve been grazing all day and I’m still hungry!

Richard at the start in Dymock Woods
Can you spot the controls?

Mud over our knees

This weekend we had the Midland Orienteering Championships on Sunday, but Saturday was devoid of fun, so we thought we’d better do something about that. We called Brendan, and he readily agreed to a day of caving in Ogof Draenen near Abergavenny. Attentive readers of the blog may remember that we’ve been there once before.

This time we decided to go in the opposite direction, heading for the far northwestern end of the cave, Gilwern Passage. Draenen has a particularly fun entrance, a series of drops with a small stream usually trying to find its way down the back of your neck. We were soon beyond this and clambering over the boulders that feature prominently in the cave. After a while we reached Tea Junction and headed up Gilwern Passage. This has some rather nice formations including an impressive metre-tall stalagmite, The Guardian. It also features lots of sliding around in knee-deep mud in the stream.

A bend in Y Gwter Fawr streamway, Ogof Draenen
A bend in Y Gwter Fawr streamway, Ogof Draenen
Rachel in the straw-filled streamway.
Rachel in the straw-filled streamway.

Eventually we reached a larger stream with lots of straws and passages off in every direction. After a couple of hours of exploring these, we headed back to the stream, stopped for pictures at a particularly nice bend, and then headed downstream intending to try to get into Breadfruit Boulevard, which is also supposed to be pretty. Unfortunately, we were defeated by the rather unpleasant duck at the start, so beat a retreat back out of the caving, stopping again at the Guardian for more pictures.

The Guardian in Gilwern Passage
The Guardian in Gilwern Passage

After the entertainment of the entrance series, we were back in the outside world after about six hours underground. Thanks to Brendan for leading the trip, and also for providing the pictures.

Oh, and the Midlands Champs on Sunday? It was a lovely day, spoiled only slightly by the ridiculously high entry fee. Rachel was 6th; I was 6th; both of us ended up in mud over our knees. Neither of us is Midlands Champion. Maybe next year (if we can afford to enter).