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Caving in South Wales, 7-8 June 2014

~~Caving News June 2014 – From the War of the Worlds to a Stone Church

If you want to see the War of the Worlds you will have to work for it – that is, if you want to see the War of the Worlds in Ogof Draenen, a major cave in South Wales.  Gary, Matt, Martin, Dave, and I were underground for thirteen hours on 7th June.  Admittedly, we spent a bit over an hour wondering at formations while Gary photographed them, but even twelve hours is a long time to be constantly on the go.  The entrance to Ogof Draenen, through a small, steel door in the hillside, is an unpromising, muddy grovel but it soon turns into an unpromising, clean crawl in a low passage carrying a little stream.  After a few minutes a climb down is enlivened by the stream, which elects to fall precisely where descending cavers are liable to get temporarily stuck as they try to shuffle sideways at first one and then another discontinuity in the narrow rift.
We broke out moistened and refreshed onto a short climb down the side of a spacious passage.  For the next few hours we stumbled among boulders, every step having its peculiar inconvenience.  There were rare, brief moments, when the boulders gave way to sandy floors but never for more than a few metres, except for a lengthy traverse in Indiana Highway.  Much of the rift below us in the Indiana Highway was narrow and so a fall would have taken more the form of a nasty scrape than a plummet and there were good footholds all the way but it was wise to take care as they were slippery.  For just one, short section we traversed above an open, deep shaft where a fixed safety-rope offered reassurance.
You enter the big passage called the War of the Worlds part way along its length.  We turned right first and found some pleasing formations high on the walls.  The passage was dramatic in itself because of its size.  Turning back, it was a twenty minute journey to reach the formations we knew to be somewhere towards the other end of the passage, where it narrowed.  When we found them, the efforts of the previous six hours were fully rewarded.  They were few in number, but astonishing in their beauty.  We gazed at them for some time before facing the task of finding our way out again on a journey that would take many hours.  In the event, we only got lost three times – and each time only a little bit lost.  There had evidently been rain during the day as the watery squeezes near the entrance were extra watery.  Soon after midnight (we had not started particularly early in the day!) we were out in the moonlight stripping off our caving clothes.
The next day being Sunday, and we being in Wales, it was surely proper to visit a place of worship.  Not that most of our party knew that the name of the cave we visited, “Eglwys Faen”, translates as “Stone Church”.  Come to that, not that most of our party went there anyway!  Just Martin, Tabitha, and I walked from where we were staying at the White Walls caving hut to Eglwys Faen.  The others preferred relaxation.  Tabitha led the way most of the time, along a maze of crawls on cushiony, packed-mud floors.  It was positively restful after all the boulder hopping of the day before.
Nobody seems to bother much with Eglwys Faen, which is admittedly minor compared with the local classics, Agen Allwedd and Daren Cilau, but we found it has a lot to offer.  After about two and half hours we thought we had done enough for a Sunday.  We popped out of an alternative entrance a few feet up the cliffside to the consternation of a dog which happened to be on the pathway below with its owner.  We exchanged the time of day with him for a few minutes (the owner, that is – the dog was too much in awe of our caving lamps to engage in conversation), and then returned to White Walls for sustenance before commencing our various journeys to far off parts of Britain.

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