We arrived on the Friday in this adorable old-timey caving hut in Wales. Hung on the walls was an old helmet, not battery operated, but instead what looked to be an old gaslight fitted as the torch. I proceeded to follow my peers as we investigated the hut. Finding the staircase, it already felt like I was in part of a cave. The width of a mere one person were steps so small that barely one foot could fit on each one. They twisted in a tight spiral to reach the upper level, where the 3 rooms filled with bunkbeds and mattresses would become our abode for the weekend. Once I chose my bed and got settled into the hut I soon realised that this was going to be the first time I experienced not being able to use my phone for the lack of signal. What a refreshing feeling it was to be in an environment where there was no technology to distract anyone, allowing us to socialise and make quick friends.
The morning came, and off to Ogof Ffynnon Ddu we went, sights of the old quarry as we parked up took my breath away. We were soon separated into three groups and told which part of the cave we would be exploring. “Bottom”. And just after all the rain that Britain had had for the last week. “Well I guess my undersuit already being still damp isn’t such a bad thing now” I said to one of the leaders, making him laugh.
The walk down to the entrance was an adventure in itself, clambering through the trees and slipping on the mud, soaked from last night’s rain. But alas, we eventually made it down safely.
Entering the cave there was a set of two ladders guiding us deeper underground, an odd lingering smell somewhat similar to that of urine greeted us on the first ladder. At the bottom I could hear the sound of a rushing stream in the distance, our leader Chris became aware and stated that he needed to make sure that the water wasn’t too high for us to explore.
As we clambered through the first part there was a constant presence of shallow still water, approximately shin height. We found there were hidden bars in the water that we needed to get our footing on. After some time, we found ourselves at a junction with 3 separate directions to follow. The sounds of rushing water were much louder now. I knew we had to be close, and right I was because just around the corner we found the stream. Chris jumped in first, finding that the water reached just above his waist and given the all-clear I was next. The water was like ice, and due to my short height, it reached just above my stomach. It didn’t take long for the feeling of water rushing into my wellies to appear.
The water pressure was strong and we had to work together to get through the stream. Occasionally my foot would find a gap between rocks and I would end up slightly deeper in the water. And alas, more hidden pipes to walk along were hidden beneath the rushing water; thankfully our leader had been down here before and knew where they would be.
We soon came to a corner were the water was rushing in a downhill motion. “There’s a hole here, so you need to step over it and climb up onto this rock.” Chris shouted to me over the racket. God, it was so loud. As I lifted my leg to step forward, I was thrown backwards by the rush of the stream. I began to panic a little, but I wouldn’t let that stop me. Chris reached out a hand and grabbing it I tried once more. I made it! I had to go on a bit past my leader so that he could help the others, and I found another pipe that we would need to walk along. As I turned to watch everyone else, I saw Chris get swept down from the water and fall in the hole. “Oh, it’s not as deep as I thought!” laughed Chris and he remained and helped the others to cross from where he had fallen.
Coming to the end of the stream we got to stop for a bit. Taking the chance to have a good look around I was in awe. The formations hanging down were like diamonds, it was nothing I had ever seen before. As I tried to walk ahead, I suddenly felt the weight of the water in my wellies and had to empty them. I couldn’t help laughing, this was an experience that I never could have imagined having. I realized I was hooked. I could see myself doing this again soon.
We carried on the exploration, with our leader giving us scientific information about how the formations came to being; it was like having a fun science lesson! Unfortunately, the rest of the exploration I cannot remember in which order I saw things, but I will digress what I saw nonetheless.
One part was a wall of boulders so high I couldn’t even see any way out from the top of them, but apparently there was. So up we climbed, helping each other along the way, until we reached the top, and yes, there, right at the top, was a rather small hole for us to squeeze our bodies into and climb up and through.
Another section we came to was given the nickname ‘the roly-poly’ and I soon realized why. The hole was so low that there was no way you could crawl through it, you may have perhaps been able to army crawl through, but as I quickly learnt, this was painfully tricky and tiring. So, the best option was to lie flat, arm straight up above your head, and roll, and just keep rolling until you reached the other side. I was extremely dizzy by the time I reached the other side- but wow was it worth it! On the other side of the roly-poly there were formations everywhere, and hidden in a little alcove was a section where the floor, walls and ceiling were almost completely covered in glistening formations.
The scariest part of the cave was when we came to the traverse. Leading up to it I had my first experience of being clipped with the cowstail in order to climb across a part where there was a very big gap behind me. At one point we reached a part where we were not clipped on and I had to climb on top of a boulder and spin my body round, slide off the other side and shimmy my way around the boulder. As I stepped back, I realised that there was no floor beneath one foot. Then I saw it, the traverse. It just looked like a big black hole that went on forever. “Hug the boulder and shimmy across till you can clip on”- that was another fresher shouting to me from the other side. I felt panic rise up through my body again, but I soldiered on. Once clipped in, I moved along, but I was so fearful that the wire in the wall would give way that I chose to hook my arm over it and slide along holding the wire.
Towards the end two more sections were new challenges for me, first was the rope ladder. I had never used one before so it was an unusual sensation to climb a ladder that swayed with every movement that I made. Secondly was our 15 minutes of squeezing through tight holes, I was thankful that I was not claustrophobic at this point. We came to a part where there was about a two-metre vertical drop where we needed to slide down and stretch our leg out to catch ourselves on another rock to stop us falling and hurting ourselves. I froze up at this point because I have a fear of free-falling. Thankfully the other caver in front helped guide my foot to the rock as I slid down, and I did the same for the person behind me.
As we came reached the entrance once more to make our exit we came across more cavers just beginning their adventures. They could see from looking at us that they were about to get very, very wet!
I think in total we were in the cave perhaps 2 hours, but time became irrelevant while we were down there. I wasn’t able to get any photos because I decided it was not a smart idea to take my nice shiny phone underground were there were rocks and water. But I will never forget how beautiful the inside of a cave looked, and I am so excited to do it again!
Article by Jessica Lane