An engagement beyond the Last Sandwich

On a fateful day last week, Brendan of the Dudley Caving Group emailed to ask us whether we would like a longish trip (10-12hr) into Draenen to the pretty stuff in the Dollimore Series. He told us that this was a typical Welsh cave with plenty of boulder hopping and no tackle required… must be pretty easy then?

We met at Luigi’s cafe at 8.00 am, Richard and I, Jess, Brendan and Chris. The day was almost cancelled when Luigi said that there were no tomatoes and mushrooms left for the full breakfast, however after a short deliberation we made do with the eggs, bacon, sausage and beans. We were in the cave by 9.30 am. The day looked to be a horrible one with wind and rain and so we were glad to head down into the cave. Only the entrance of the cave is wet, so once past the waterfall passing over the scaffolded pitch, we were dry. We headed through the Entrance Series to Cairn Junction and then down to the streamway and then to Lamb and Fox Chamber and then to Indiana Highway. All the caving prior to Indiana Highway was basically boulder hopping through huge chambers interlinked by a few bits of nice crawling and occasional nice walking. At Indiana Highway however the character of the cave changed for a short while and we walked and later traversed our way through a rift a bit like the crab walk in Giants, but wider. I really enjoyed this bit of the cave, it was easy going and interesting. Soon we arrived in Megadrive which was a long tunnel with a lovely flat roof and a bouldery floor. We would have liked the opposite. Megadrive eventually turns into passage called the Nunnery which has a few stals and then later turns into Perserverence II – a low crawl. Through fault chambers we walked and then through Elliptic Passage, through Gone with the Wind (where we saw the cornflake-like gypsum formations) and then into the Midwinter Chambers…. are you keeping up here? Brendan said it was a long trip! After rather too many chambers we reach the Hexamine Highway and Snowball Passage. In here there is a formation which resembles a large snowball and is again, made of gypsum: an amazing spectacle! We didn’t stay long as we still had to go through the Last Sandwich, a rather constricted crawl, ending in a u-bend type manouvre. Once this was negotiated, we were in the Dollimore Series.

Hooray … I looked around momentarily and thought, hmmm … this place kinda looks like the rest of the cave we’ve seen today, more brown rocks… So we continued. First, up the stream to the Pagoda formation, this was a bit of a letdown, but hey we needed another 1.2 km of boulder hopping! On returning we headed downstream through More Singing and Dancing and into Luck of the Draw. We hopped along there for about 20 minutes until we came to some formations which were reminiscent of tinsel balls: these were quite amazing and restored our hope for finding some better formations after 6 hours of caving. After 1 km in this passage we then came across the gold, Medusa’s children. A passage which is described as being “ranked amongst the finest collection of helictites in the British Isles” and I may have to agree. the roof was covered. There were helictites growing upwards and downwards, some spiralling and many with gypsum crystals stuck on them making them sparkle. The floor was white for some reason and there were huge stals on the floor and the ceiling, also covered in helictites. I sat under all these formations as Richard crawled towards me and then he proposed to me! I think he was on one knee, although I’m not sure whether that was because he was unable to stand up! He whisked a ring out of his camera box and presented it to me. I said yes of course.

The way back was long, but I was kinda happy, so I didn’t really notice. We did need the pork pies and the Mars Bars however and the litre of Caprisun we had each, went down a treat at regular intervals. As we made our way out we were a little concerned about how wet the entrance pitch would be, but we were all thankful that when we got there, it wasn’t too bad. We emerged at 10.30, got changed, jumped in the cars and headed to Abergavenny and to the curry house. We just got in before it closed. It must have been quite a sight for the waiters; four muddy-faced people, obviously not drunk, but too tired to talk and just wanting to drink coke and juice and eat. We headed home and slept like logs. 13 hours of caving!