On Friday the 20th of November, a Scouting trip set out from Shropshire at 7pm in the evening. This trip consisted of 10 scouts who the previous weekend had braved an old copper mine with 4 experienced cavers.
Our destination was a little scout hut in south Wales where we would eat, sleep and live for the next two nights. In the daytime though, three caves, each one with a different challenge awaited us. Late Friday night we arrived and got settled in. After a game of football we snuggled up in our sleeping bags and thought of what Saturday would bring.
At 7:30 the next morning (way too early in my opinion) we were up with little hesitation and eating a cooked breakfast. Idris, the trip leader, talked us through what we were doing that day. First we would be doing Porth Yr Ogof and then Bridge cave. So after the washing up was completed we set out in the cars...
Porth Yr Ogof
When we got there I could hear a small river and guessed the cave entrance was down in the valley. Putting our caving suits and helmets on we trekked down a stony path. Reaching the river we saw the cave entrance. It was huge; the stone wall was at least 18 times as tall as a man.
No wonder it is the biggest cave entrance in Wales. Splitting into three groups, me and the two Adams went with Chris, another experienced leader. Staying at the back, we crossed the fast flowing river and got to the other side with just half a welly-full of cold ice melt water (it had recently snowed.)
Clambering on through the passage, we came to a place called the toilet where a five metre tiny passage, half full with water, looped back. It was a cold crawl and I was the first up. Taking my welly off, I poured its contents back down the hole onto Adam.
Wading through the pool we rejoined with the other groups who were having great fun sliding down these smoothed rock slides. I must say they were very amusing and for ten minutes we played on these wet and slippery rocks.
After having fun on the slides, we went on to the stream that flows through the cave and forged our way up until we veered off and arrived shortly after at ‘the letter box’ aptly named because it is a horizontal slit under a third of a meter tall. Mercifully, it lasted not too long and without getting wedged we were on the other side, panting and adjusting our helmets after that narrow experience.
Afterwards we had an even narrower and higher experience with the ‘Death Ledge’ This is a ledge as narrow as the letterbox, just 25 meters crawl and a drop of over two meters to one side. With the two Adams behind, we crawled on our precarious perch for what seemed like an age. The ledge was only a meter wide and made things a whole lot tighter. Thankfully, we came back into the main passage once more; this time just with a stiff back. Coming back via the Toilet, we emerged back into the sunlight and traced our steps to the cars.
After some lunch, we arrived at Bridge Cave, a privately owned system that we were given access to. It is called Bridge Cave because of an overhanging ledge at one point.
The cave entrance this time was much smaller but the system itself is way bigger than the last. We though were only going to just before the sump — a submerged piece of passage. Idris said that it boasted some nice formations, a boulder choke and a waterfall.
Down a very narrow passage we went, and soon came to the bolder choke, this is where rocks have piled or collapsed in a pile. We could’t go over this particular choke, so we had to go straight through it. This meant a treacherous and extremely narrow passage. It may sound terrifying but actually you don’t notice it.
Soon we were on the other side and in a cavern. Going up the river we got to a point where it tumbles down in a cascade of glistening droplets from the stream above. Back down the same passage we got to the other end of the cavern. Here, small formations in the shapes of curtains 6 danced in front of us. It was very important not to touch them because our hands erode the calcite they are made of. We could go no further as there was a long sump and so returning the way we came, we soon reached the entrance and ended our first day in Wales.
Ogof Ffynnon Ddu
That evening, Idris showed us a map of OFD (Ogof Ffynnon Ddu) 1, 2 and 3. The map stretched out for four meters. Looking at it, you could clearly see the three different parts to OFD all joined by one passage. We were doing OFD 2 which boasted Trident, a three pronged stalactite. And the Judge a huge stalagmite with all his robes on. In addition to this many smaller formations including ‘Gnome Passage’ and a great chamber. The next morning we were in the cars and shortly arrived at the rescue centre that we had unsuccessfully visited the night before. With all our gear on and equipped with a carabineer for one of the sections, we started the fifteen minute walk up the hillside to the entrance. The cave and the surrounding area are a nature reserve so we were bound to strict rules about group size and where we could go. Once there we waited until our group could enter and amused ourselves with a snowball fight. What fun!
Inside we found ourselves in a place called the brickyard as there were many fallen rocks in the shape of bricks. Carrying on down the passage we came to Gnome Passage. It is called this because it has numerous small stalagmites in the shape of little gnomes. On the cave roof there were many formations and in our bright torch light it looked spectacular.
Then we went down the Corkscrew so called this because you have to sharply twist round to get through the tight passage. On one side was a sheer drop, so we fixed our carabineer to a fixed cable so that an accident was impossible.
In a slightly smaller passage we trekked on down until we heard a small stream. Once we reached it we had to straddle some of the way from shelves on either side. This I found quite hard because I am of small build and at some parts couldn't quite get my legs across. Nevertheless, we forged on and turned off to see Trident.
Only a few meters from the stream was Trident. A great three pronged stalactite which was more than twice the height of a man. Chris told us that it was over 100,000 years old. Stalactites and mites are formed when water is dripped from the cave roof and deposits the calcite in this marvellous and unique fashion.
Almost adjacent to this was the Judge, with all his robes on. You better not mess about when he is around because he weighs over a ton. In front of all the formations in OFD is a red and white tape showing that you cannot touch or go near or damage the formations because they are of scientific interest.
On our way back out we stopped off to be presented with our Scout Cavers Badge before taking a look around massive cavern near to the entrance. You could easily fit five houses into it.
Back out into daylight we walked back down to the slope to the cars. Driving back to the hut we realised that the trip was over.
In the hut we packed our bags and said farewell to each other. It certainly had been quite a weekend and I would certainly like to do the advanced course. I would like to thank Idris, Chris, Josh & Ben especially for the trip and I hope the others have got the same satisfaction from the weekend as I did.
Harry, 1st Cleobury Mortimer Scout Group