Easter crept up quickly and a call for interest in their South Wales weekend by Shepton Caving Club stirred a few memories. I was a new member and wanted to kindle new relationships, along with some dark water revival and so I signed up.
Leaving mid morning Good Friday was a mistake as I joined the holidaying masses on the A303 but I got to walk with the Good Friday witnesses in Sherborne before I left. The Sat Nav took me via Taunton, Street would have been better. Further delays encouraged me to dip south below Newport before arrival late afternoon.
Saturday was the Primary meet day for the Shepton and the objective was Pant Mawr. A little research had identified it as a cave difficult to find and so armed with GPS and electronic OS maps we headed uphill from Penwyllt. With an air of confidence Andy led us there accurately; the trick seems to be solid point to point navigation. This leaves the possibility of compass use at the last moment – if required – open.
The entrance slope was rigged from two stakes and a newly constructed fence before a rebelay and Y hang. The drop to the entrance chamber was wet but we were glad to be out of the rain and wind.
Downslope the cave is relatively easy to follow, with climbs up over boulder chokes and very quickly the first chamber of formations is reached, Straw Chamber.
Continuation downstream is around the oxbow and past the dining table before the third choke.
The Great Hall opens up once you have accessed the climb. A shower sprays from the left and Andy posed Ade for a shot. From here the next key feature is the fire hydrant, on the right and the beginnings of the final stream way.
Photo: Andy Goddard.
Below this point the foam line creeps up the wall, the stream gathered pace and the bed steepened. Once or twice the steps down were to waist level and a real feeling of sump became apparent. I turned as its stillness ahead appeared and returned from this dark and dank place.
We stopped to chat to the remainder of our party, still engrossed in photography and helped out a little.
On the way back out we climbed up to a chamber of greater beauty than the main chamber, smaller, finer and neccesitating a climb up a calcite flow but quite enchanting.
Reversing the problems, we prussiked back up the pitch. I never really gained momentum, felt hopelessly out of practise and even fitted my foot jammer to the wrong foot, my time away from pots was beginning to tell.
The return walk was bracing, the pre-placed waterproofs were valued on our descent and the nature reserve unappreciated, we were in for a fierce evening.
Sunday 27th March – Easter Sunday
The Columns were open and most of the caving world seemed to be descending to view them and so we headed to Ogof Ffynnon Ddu 1 instead. Andy led and had some good prior knowledge, a black and white survey and sensible decision making.
Levels were high and so we decided to a do a dry double round trip. In other words, a trip to the chain and return without entering the stream way. The Main passage was followed past pearl passage and the toast rack and on to the traverse. Just beside Traverse passage we looked at levels at the flow meter sampling point. Column passage led us down to the step, crossing the stream way to the left bank. We then returned and climbed to the Dugout and Meander passage.
This led us down to the Bolt Traverse and the climb of Bolt Passage. The Helter Skelter is a well-worn vertical climb which popped us out into Pi Chamber through a final squeeze. We then followed the Rawl series around to Lows chamber a little bit more unsure when the sandy floor of Roly Poly appeared. We didn’t descend to the stream way but once we had found the connection could see the way on.
Don’s crawl was explored to find four columns and then a gentle return following Andy the whole way. We had a wander along Airy Fairy but were unsure of the way on if we crossed the stream and so returned as before.
Back up at the cottage the Columns parties had returned, after a much shorter trip, some calories needed replacing after an energetic day out.
In the evening we were in for a rare treat. Andy Freem had bought his recently completed film of Ogof Marras, the digging exploration that was quickly revealing a potentially massive system. We chatted about films, geology , geomorphology and he gave me some tips. His work on You Tube is well worth a look at – Catchpool.