We knew this cave was going to be a collector’s item even before we started. It was only 250 m long and Brendan thought it would occupy us for entire the day! There were also reports on the web of some rather squeezy bits. It was a good choice in the horrendous wet weather however, because it was located at the top of a limestone hill, the middle of which had been quarried away, so flooding was very unlikely to be a problem.
Lesser Garth Cave is located near Morganstown, north of Cardiff and is just above the Tynant Inn (where we parked). A path leads to the cave at the top of the hill, but it is very steep! The walk was made slightly more hazardous by a thick covering of leaves, damp slippery soil and a covering of garlic; it was very pretty though. The cave entrance itself has a gate, but it is unlocked and you could probably squeeze around it anyway if necessary.
The first section of the cave is a small chamber with a hole in the floor (which doesn’t go anywhere important). From here a boulder crawl leads to quite a large ‘boulder chamber’ with a drop down to another chamber on the right and a drop down a rift on the left. We decided to go right first. We rigged a pitch from a natural belay and abseiled down and explored the passages. There were some tight ones and some more roomy ones and we took a few pictures of some fairly pretty formations. But there wasn’t a huge amount of scope in this part of the cave, so we headed back, climbed out of the chamber, collected the rope and then rigged the 9 m deep rift. To be honest I wasn’t too happy about the p-bolt here. There was only one useful one, and there appeared to be a crack around the block that it was in. We discussed the alternatives for quite a while before sending Brendan down to test it. It was fine, but if I were to ever visit this cave again (which is unlikely), I would take some bolts and hangers to screw into the much better placed spit holes.
In the bottom of the rift there was a ladder! Not just a small ladder, but a proper 10+ runged metal ladder. It seems that some amateur explorers had been there. I wonder what they did when they reached the base of the rift because I don’t think they would have gone through the next bit of passage.
We followed the rift in a direction away from the entrance and soon enough we found a constriction that was possibly passable by thrutching whilst lying on the floor. I was in front, so I tried first. I went through legs first, and got them through, but I wasn’t certain that I could get my hips (and bum) through. So, I decided to let Keith have a go. Keith also managed to get his legs through, but as he slipped through to his chest, his clothes became bunched up on our side of the squeeze and at the point where his chest was becoming compressed he decided to come back out. Brendan had a go next, and to be honest his situation didn’t look very comfortable at all. Next it was Richard’s turn. He removed his helmet and with some trouble and grunting he managed to slip through. I figured that I could probably get through if he had and so had another go and managed to get through. Then Keith had a second go, and after unzipping his outer suit first, he managed to squeeze through… and then there was only Brendan on the wrong side. He unzipped both his inner and outer suit and with some significant effort managed to squeeze through. There is video, it was very very funny.
We followed the passage, going through a higher level hole in the left hand wall fairly shortly and then meandering our way through some zigzag passages into a small chamber where there appeared to be a slot in the floor that looked like a coffin. Brendan dropped into it first and it made me a little nervous because it looked really small and seemed to get smaller in the onwards direction. When it was my turn, I made a number of attempts before just going for it. It was slightly committing, I wasn’t entirely sure how I would get out. The tube we were in led to another chamber and then a continuation of the tube. I had a look at this first and got soaking wet in a puddle but could only see another tight bit and then a bit that closed down. We sent Keith in, who spotted the way on – in the ceiling. This tricky manoeuvre involved staying high in a rift and then moving vertically into a hole. This however was the hole that led directly to the final chamber, our destination.
The chamber was very close to the surface, there were roots descending from the ceiling everywhere and the formations were really quite nice. In particular there was a formation that had numerous curtains all parallel to one another. We photographed everything for about 40 minutes and then turned around to head back out. We were much quicker on the return journey, but there was significant grunting at times. The coffin did look impossible in the return direction, but actually it was just awkward rather than hard. Everyone even managed to get through the squeeze on the first try!
The pretty chamber at the end of the cave is very close to the quarry face and was once open to the quarry, but now that entrance is concealed by blasted boulders. This part of the cave was accessed from the quarry for sometime and so it feels quite ‘visited’, whereas the passages just after the squeeze feel much less visited as since the other entrance was covered, I don’t anticipate that many people pass though the squeeze.
It was a fine trip that kept us occupied for 5 hrs 30, despite there only being 250 m of passage. Not only that, but there’s a pub just at the bottom of the hill, and yes we did have a celebratory drink. We would like to recommend that the cave be renamed ‘Lesser Girth Cave’ however, because that is the sort of caver that will be suited to this trip. If you liked this cave, you should also try Ogof Rhyd Sych.
Thanks to Brendan for all the great pictures!