My caving weekend began in the hot underbelly of London, crammed between raucous French schoolchildren with no regard for tube etiquette and banker wankers spoiling my weekend get away by going on their weekend get away. This form of underground holds no appeal and I was glad to emerge in Paddington and find a seat on the waiting train.
I let my guard down and began to relax. As I settled in for an enjoyable 2 hours of reading, I was accosted by an unkempt and wild eyed man. He dropped into the seat next to me and aggressively asked me what we were doing, questioned his preparations for the trials ahead, and informed me that he only had one pair of socks. Thankfully this lunatic turned out to be Jack.
At Newport we used our spare 25 minutes to buy beer and marvelled that in such a fascist police state as ours, it is quite surprising that you can drink on public transport. At Aber we disembarked and tottered outside where we made a friend, a notably fat Welsh man. He asked where we were going, and after hearing our response confided that he had never been caving. He had however been to Big Pit. Tragically at the moment we learned that Dave was round the corner and said goodbye to the friendly man.
We piled in and Dave piloted us expertly to Asda. From there we arrived at an extremely reasonable time to a suspiciously quiet SWCC. It was not to last as various rowdy groups turned up over the course of the evening; OUCC, CUCC, and Fiona and Tony. We took advantage of the lovely evening light to wander towards Top, wine in hand.
Clive could only lead a small number in DYO so the Imperialists were left to fend for themselves. This we did by mewling and looking sorry for ourselves until we were so pitious that many kind souls offered us alms in the form of surveys and descriptions. Suitably armed we settled on a Cwm Dwr to OFD 1 trip. This combined Cwm Dwr, new to Fiona and Dave, with OFD 1, new to myself and Jack. And of course the actual through trip was new to us all.
I elected not to take a camera as I was weighed down with several kilograms of survey and cave cheese. We were in the cave by 11 and Jack began the trip with a light failure. After swapping batteries and AA adapters the light in the end seemed happy with a little pleading and began to work again.
We arrived at the famous boulder choke quite quickly, and feeling that we might have too much time on our hands did three circuits of it before deciding to take the correct way through. The description we have really gives up on the choke, suggesting merely that it is hard to find the way through. Here is my fool proof method:
Go in well polished stooping passage to the right before climbing up any boulders.
In small hollow beyond, descend the extremely well polished hole in the floor to the stream. Do not be tempted by the other polished ways on.
Crawl across stream for a body length or two and climb out. Then just follow polish.
The route was easy down into the Smithy, and then we followed the stream all the way to the confluence. I was almost lead astray by a handline disappearing 10m up into the ceiling but luckily was convinced to keep following the stream.
Eventually arriving at the Diver’s pitch we initially searched desperately for a way round. No way were we meant to climb this. We haven’t got any jammers, and anyway they wouldn’t fit round this shipping rope handline. Consulting the description (which we were unfortunately following backwards) we decided this must be the way. The description says remarkably little about several quite sketchy long climbs, considering the fuss it makes about the boulder choke.
We all made it up and wiggled into the entertaining crawls, leading to the Letter Box. At this obstacle I attempted a daring exposed handstand, and instructed Fiona to do the same. At Dave’s turn he rather sensibly turned round and stood up using the chain hanging from above. Not just a pretty face.
Around this point I completely lost track of how the survey corresponded to the cave and started relying instead on the backwards description. This worked well enough apart from a 15 minute stressful section where nothing seemed to match, and there was another terrifying climb, which was not much mentioned. Coming the other way and climbing up is perhaps less daunting? We were saved anyhow by perseverance and a timely round of Mexicana cheese.
As we arrived into OFD 1, Dave took over navigation and did an excellent job of staying in the streamway. Never tempted to divert up an enticing climb, even ones equipped with chains and ropes. OFD 1 is a beautiful bit of cave, and I was surprised that Imperial exclusively does a top entrance round trip on fresher weekends.
We made quick time to the water logger and the semi concreted way out. We emerged to sunlight and uncomfortably warm air, and made the long slog back up the hill.
It was only 4pm so we quickly restocked our beer at the nearest Spar with something weather appropriate (Corona, with something that was either a lime or a sad lemon). We relaxed in the glorious sunshine. The highlight of the evening was the bbq which was simply incredible. I was stuffed and still desperately trying to eat for the taste alone. And then there was desert which was also ridiculously good (ginger trifle!). Thanks Fiona!
Sadly the weather forecast was a little unsettled so we dropped our plans for Little Neath, instead opting for an OFD 1 round trip. I had not done most of this trip (only having done the stream on Saturday) and was again much convinced of its superiority as an introductory caving trip to the OFD 2 round trip.
Pleasant crawls, vast bouldery passage, stunning formations, and a stomping streamway, all in under 2 hours. I guess it is a little short.
We were led mostly by Fiona, with some misleading input from Clive every now and then (he seemed determined to lead us astray). On the way out, Clive did some photographical experimentation with warmer bulbs than he normally uses. Jack had the honor of being a flash handler and managed to avoid the allure of the blue button. Ignore the blue button.
Back on the surface we made it back to the SWCC just before the rain began. We stuffed our bags with our belongings and ourselves with food hastily, downed a tea and a beer and made our farewells.
Dave drove us to Aber to drop us off. On the platform it became clear that there weren’t going to be any trains for a while as we caught the end of an explanation by a station staff member. “Well, there’s a tree on the line a bit further up you see. Well, actually it’s across both lines. And actually a train hit it. So we don’t know if the track is okay. The train is definitely not okay. Replacement bus? We’re waiting to find out...”.
We phoned Dave who, tragically for him, had not yet made it off the station road. A kind, generous soul he agreed to give us a lift to Newport. I say agreed, we mostly just said things about trees and trains whilst reloading our gear into his car. Before he knew it he was committed to an extra hour of driving. Thanks Dave!
Photos of: BBQ food, and me and Jack at the train station. My phone camera has a beauty mode which results in incredibly smooth faces.