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Further Exploration in OFD 1

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu: Continued Exploration 1947-53

By Peter I. W. Harvey                                                                                                                                            contents

Following the excitement of the initial discovery and exploration of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu in the latter half of 1946, further progress became much harder to achieve but the next few years were not without success nor incident.  

A small extension was discovered in 1947 by Lewis Railton and Theo. Wild opposite the sump where the stream normally joins the main passage; this became known as the Railton-Wild Series.  It is made up of low crawly passages with gravel on the floor in many places, making it hard on the knees.  For this reason it has not been a very popular place to visit, especially as most of it had to be traversed on hands and knees.  Lewis Railton writes:Lewis Railton in OFD

Davies, Wild and I while surveying some short passages opposite the Sump, noticed a crawl passage that led to a pool about 1ft deep, with sufficient space above to keep the stomach dry.  To get out of this pool on the other side necessitated a flat out crawl on wet calcite. From the small chamber beyond there were three ways and we chose the right hand one; I led, crawling on my side, over some water filled gours until I managed to get into a crouching position, facing a four foot long pool.  I put one foot into what appeared to be 9ins of water and put my weight on it at which point the floor collapsed.  I swung forward, grasped the far edge of the pool, and got out quickly.  The actual collapse was only about 6ins but it seemed more.  For the next few seconds the pool resembled a miniature geyser, boiling up above my footprint: I had broken through a false calcite floor and released the air or gas trapped underneath.  In a short time all the water had drained out.

Their exploration continued and they finished up overlooking the main stream at the 4th Pot. This they proved by tying a piece of cloth to a stalactite which they could see when they returned down stream again.

About this time our thoughts were turning to the possibility of climbing some of the high places that we had seen in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu and Dan yr Ogof, to see if there were any extensions to be gained.  In the stream passage there were several places where high level openings could be seen.  I went to a firm of builders’ merchants in Bristol and bought some lengths of aluminium scaffolding and some clamps.  My intention was to attach a rope ladder to the top of the scaffold pole, push it up to an opening and climb the ladder.  Guy ropes would be used to keep the pole in position.  If the pole was strong enough to support a person who was at the bottom of the ladder it would also be strong enough when he was at the top.  All this sounds nice and easy when talking about it over a pint of beer in front of a nice warm fire but being 30ft above the floor at the top of a somewhat flexible pole is quite another thing.  One problem is that, while trying to climb off the ladder into a passage, the pole and ladder tend to move away unless a reasonable belay can be found to hold everything together.                                                        back to the top

We decided to try out the maypole, as it became known, in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu on the weekend beginning Friday 16th. April 1948.  The party was myself, John and Anne Parkes and her brother, David Boulter.  We caught the 1.05am train from Temple Meads, Bristol, on the Saturday morning, arriving at Swansea about 4.30am.  We caught the first bus up the valley with six 8ft. poles under the seats and arrived at the SWCC headquarters about 8.00am. We had to travel during these unsocial hours in order to catch the first bus up the valley because we had the idea that later on, with the buses full of shoppers and their kids, the conductors would be reluctant to allow us on with the scaffold poles.  We could not use our own transport because there was no petrol [post-war restrictions were still in force].

After a quick meal we carried the maypole complete with ropes, ladders and various tethers into Ogof Ffynnon Ddu and started up the stream passage, looking for a likely high level passage.  A short distance beyond the 3ft waterfall in the main stream we saw an opening about 25ft. up in the left hand wall.  This looked very promising.  We soon had the poles joined together, 30ft long, and raised the maypole to the opening with rope ladder attached to the top.  There were guy ropes up and down the stream passage supporting the pole in an upright position.  John climbed up the ladder and was able to enter an upward-sloping passage without much of a struggle. We had been rather apprehensive that moving from the top of the pole to the passage would create problems.  In the event, John found a good handhold which prevented the pole moving away as he tried to climb off it.  He re-belayed the ladder and we all climbed up to the new passage.  We found that we had entered quite an interesting series of passages at a higher level than the stream, in all about 600 ft. in length.  Towards the end there was a very interesting meander passage.  These new passages were, of course, known as the Maypole Series and were important later when they became part of an escape route for when the stream was in flood.

A "Harvey Skyhook"The maypole had proved its worth and was to be used again, in both Ogof Ffynnon Ddu and Dan yr Ogof, many times in the future.  Similar devices had been used in other caving areas, notably in France where Norbert Casteret had used them in Grotte de la Cigalere in the Pyrenees.  He often used a bare pole which must have been much more difficult to climb.  Various designs using scaffold poles were also used by Pierre Chevalier in his climbing exploits in the Trou du Glaz in Eastern France, which he describes in his book ‘Subterranean Climbers’.

With the introduction of equipment for climbing I had been toying with the idea of designing a gadget to leave behind so that climbs made with the maypole could be re-climbed without taking in all the equipment originally used.  I came up with a device which became known as the “Harvey Skyhook”.  The basis of the idea was to leave behind a loop of Courlene [polypropylene string] running through two rawlbolts, one above the other, such that the Skyhook could be drawn up with a rope ladder attached and would clip into the lower rawlbolt.  There was also a facility for the last man down to disconnect the Skyhook when he was safely down so that the Skyhook and ladder could be withdrawn, leaving the loop of string until it was needed again.  As far as I know only a few Skyhooks have been made.  One is my own and two others are at the SWCC headquarters.  It is well known that this club has a reputation for engineering ability, as it is recorded in a verse of one of the caving songs:                                                        back to the top

We are the clockwork cavers and South Wales is our home
and from our native valley we seldom care to roam
and when we do go caving, it is a certain bet
we always carry with us a large Meccano set.

Back in the Swansea Valley we were allowed into Dan yr Ogof again, where we used the maypole to reach the Red Chamber, a high-level passage off the Cauldron in the show cave section.  This had been entered before the war using a set of ladders made for the Morgan Brothers.  Off Red Chamber there was a narrow passage ending in quite a high rift.  Here we found a note signed by Ashford Price [senior] indicating that this was as far as he had got.  We climbed on up a tight chimney but did not make any further progress.  It was intended that we would dismantle the maypole and carry it across the lakes to examine the high level passages we thought we could see in the Sand Chamber, just beyond Lake 4, and in Boulder Chamber, but we did not get permission for this so we had to remove our tackle and for a number of years we could not get into the cave.  This was mainly because not all the original owners were still alive and the bank, as executor, was sorting out the legal situation.  While this was going on they did not want the problem of cavers on the property.

The Hanging Gardens OFD1Meanwhile, in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, we had been carrying on with our examination of the high parts of the Stream Passage.  We managed with the aid of the maypole to climb onto some jammed boulders about 30ft up and not far from the chain into Low’s Passage.  We did not get into any new passages but on the wall above were some superb formations, which were christened ‘The Hanging Gardens’.  There was no danger of these ever being damaged by vandals as they were well out of reach of anyone trying to touch them.

Some new discoveries were also being made in the Waterfall Series.  Off the East Leg, after a struggle up a tight rift, a large chamber was entered with a beautiful crystal pool on a shelf in one corner, hence Crystal Pool Chamber.  I believe this was first entered by the [Paul] Dolphin Gang some time before - anyway they were the first to tell me about it.  In the spring of 1948 Lewis and Marjorie Railton and Gordon Warwick were in the East Leg of the Waterfall Series.  Lewis records in the SWCC Newsletter:

I noticed a small passage with a short, tight crawl, that opened up and, after climbing a couple of giant steps, we were faced with an awkward looking rift with a narrow opening near the top and a black space beyond.  This was easier than it looked for Marjorie and me but Warwick found the tight bit at the top very tight and strenuous.  The size of the chamber in which we found ourselves was surprising, and in one corner was a crystal pool.  Here we noticed marks that indicated someone had been there before and subsequently, I learned that Paul Dolphin, Colin Low and Lander had found this chamber but had not fully explored it.  Eight feet up in the East wall of Crystal Pool Chamber, as it was christened, was an opening.  We climbed up and were soon crawling over undisturbed sand, but a few yards beyond the next bend we were stopped by a vertical hole in the  floor.  On the next trip, John Davies and one or two others carried tackle and descended the hole which led into a wide and lofty passage - “The Canyon” - surely this must lead down and around the rest of the cave beyond The Boulder Chamber.  Our hopes were soon dashed, as we proceeded and found the roof gradually becoming lower and the passage narrower until the final opening was too small to get any further.

During further exploration in the Canyon a small tunnel going north was discovered about 5ft up in the wall near the bottom of the 60ft pitch.  After 30ft or so they found themselves in another rift parallel to the Canyon which was called the ‘Canyon Annex’.  This contained some very fine helictites and also a small dried out pool on which there had been some cave ice, which was still there but had collapsed onto its floor.  The 60ft pitch was found to only need a hand line because it was only 4ft diameter and could easily be climbed down.  However, this did not provide the hoped-for route eastwards around Boulder Chamber.                                                        back to the top

It was while surveying the waterfall system that they discovered that there was a connecting passage between the East Leg and the West Leg.  Near the top of the East Leg the passage ascended as a narrow rift and finally descended sharply to the top of the West Leg.  At the bottom of the drop there was also a very tight passage which eventually finished near Idol Junction, first traversed by Lewis Railton and Peggy Hardwidge.  It was with great difficulty that they succeeded in completing it, a feat which involved the removal of some of their outer garments and it is said that when they eventually emerged into the West Leg it was rumoured that they were wearing each other’s trousers.  This passage is not visited very often and was named “Peggy’s Purgatory”.

During the making of the survey Lewis Railton, helped by Bill Little and others, had to delve into every little nook and cranny.  While he was surveying Low's Passage he examined the boulders in the chamber at the end.  Straight ahead was blocked but the top of the boulder slope to the left, he thought, looked interesting.  He therefore removed one of the top blocks with some explosives and was then able to squeeze through into a large ascending passage which led into a magnificent new series of passages and large chambers with sand on the floor and selenite crystals on the walls.  This they named the Rawl Series, using the initials of the four people present: Railton, Afford, Wild and Little.  Lewis writes in the SWCC Newsletter:

As we were passing Low’s Passage I remembered noticing a draught.  It had been particularly noticeable in the small passage at the far end on the day we surveyed it and also on one other occasion.  This was one of the items on my list for checking, so it was decided that we could spare a few minutes to have a look.  After reconnoitring all round Low’s Chamber we found the draught at the top of the long boulder slope.  After stripping down to vest and pants I was able I was able to squeeze between boulders in a corner and see through into a fair sized hole leading downwards.  In another position I could look upwards through a hole as big as my fist and see nothing but black space.  It appeared that two blocks were between us and some large chamber.  These were eventually removed from a safe distance and, as none of the other blocks had moved, we crept through the hole we had made and so the Rawl Series was discovered, although not all on that day.  Wild and I investigated the east boulder slope until we were stopped by the vertical walls at the end and noted what appeared to be a continuing passage 20ft up.  Afford and Little had gone up the other boulder slope and we caught them up in Roundabout Chamber.  At the end of Gypsum Passage our hopes that we were in an extensive system dwindled when we saw the roof dipping down to masses of dry sand.  Then Little found a flat-out crawl under one wall and set off, while we lazily sat and watched his efforts.  His sudden shout of “I’m standing up in a big passage” produced immediate and lively activity on our part.  At the end of this crawl (about 100ft.) we built a cairn to mark the way back.  The further we went, the bigger the passage became and in Pi Chamber we built our second cairn, where three large passages led off.  It looked as though we might go on for miles but, such is the way of caves, we soon found that all routes either led to interconnecting passages or to insecure looking boulder chokes.

We returned and reported an unexplored pitch of some 40ft in Bridge Passage, and the next day Peter Harvey and a party explored this and discovered ‘The Subway’.  Subsequently Donald Coase and Peggy Hardwidge crawled along a ledge that ran parallel and above the east boulder slope which gave access to the passage we had seen from below.  Again hopes were high.  Would this lead them over Boulder Chamber and beyond?

This was the first major discovery since the original opening of the cave.  The date was 29th May 1950.  That day, some of us had been digging in the Gent’s Dig, a site near the quarries at Penwyllt.  Next day we abandoned our dig on the mountain and we all went into the new series, taking with us some ladder.  The new passages seemed enormous and full of interest.  There were large dry chambers with boulders and sand on the floor; there were cave pearls, gypsum crystals and lovely formations.  It was obviously an ancient series abandoned by the stream, probably millions of years ago.  We came across a pothole in the floor which turned out to be 25ft deep, dropping into another large passage which ran parallel and below the top one.  In actual fact the two passages were a single rift with a floor of suspended boulders half way up.  The lower passage was christened ‘The Subway’.  Off Pi Chamber there was a steep climb leading up to what looked like another passage.  Jean Phillips, who was with us, managed to climb this with a bit of help from below.  At the top it was indeed a high passage but it gradually reduced in size until it was entirely blocked by calcite flow.  In any case Phill’s Parade, as it became known, was going in the wrong direction - back towards the entrance and not to Pwll Byfre.  It was suggested it could end up somewhere near Column Chamber.

On a further visit to Rawl Series, Don Coase and Peggy Hardwidge found a bedding-plane crawl at the top of the entrance slope, tending east.  At the end, after passing a small chamber with some fine calcite columns, they reached a huge chamber with a large pit in the floor.  We called this ‘Starlight Chamber’ because of the small crystals in the roof which occasionally reflected our lights, making it look like starlight.  We lowered a ladder into the hole in the floor and examined the bottom but could find no way on.  This was a collapse of sand and boulders leaving vertical walls of sand.  Climbing out was quite difficult because the ladder tended to sink into the sand making it awkward to find the rungs.  It was later established by the survey that this hole is directly over the boulders at the end of Boulder Chamber.  At the eastern end of this chamber was a small opening which later on was to see considerable activity; it was the entrance to Coronation Aven.

Lewis Railton and Bill Little were still engaged in constructing their high-grade survey of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu.  On Saturday 25th August 1951 they entered the cave at about 10am intending to survey Phill’s Parade, the high level passage in the Rawl series, and proposing to leave the cave about 8pm.  The weather was reasonable but during the afternoon it started to rain heavily.  By about 5pm the stream in the cave was impassable.  The SWCC kept a store of food and other comforts in the Rawl series for just this situation so Lewis and Bill were in no physical danger and could probably have survived for several weeks.  Marjorie, Lewis' wife, knew this and was not worried by the situation.  She hoped that on the Sunday the water would drop and they could come out.  Unfortunately there was heavy rain on Saturday night and on the Sunday, making it impossible for anyone to traverse the stream passage.  On the Sunday afternoon, members of the SWCC who were caving on the Gower Peninsula that weekend were alerted and, with the help of the Army from Sennybridge and some miners from Abercrave Colliery, the water entering the cave at Pwll Byfre was diverted down the Nant Byfre which flows down to the Tawe near the Gwyn Arms.  This was quite a big undertaking.  The water which enters the cave collects on the slopes of Fan Gihirych and, before disappearing down the swallet, flows through an extensive peat bog.  The same peat bog is the source of the Nant Byfre.  During a night of heavy rain, a diversion channel was dug through the sodden peat and the cave stream was blocked where it went under an old mineral railway line across the front of the swallet.                                                        back to the top

On the Monday morning some people from the Bristol area were called to help, and we arrived in South Wales at about midday.  By about 5pm the stream was still very high but just low enough for us to go upstream, so a strong party went in and found the trapped surveyors fit and well.  Everyone was out of the cave by about 8 pm.

This was by no means the end of the evening.  Bill and Lewis were bathed and put to bed while the rest of us went off to the Gwyn Arms.  We got there at about 9.30pm and managed about two or three pints before ‘stoptap’ at 10 pm [all pubs closed at 10pm then].  At 10.15pm the police ordered another round so we did the same.  At about 10.30pm the chief policeman said “With my permission the pub will stay open until 2am”.  I can remember serving beer wearing a sergeant’s coat and, much later, standing in a circle in the middle of the road outside weeing into the centre.  It was pointed out that we were not doing this on the sidewalk, which apparently is an offence, and nor was it indecent exposure because it was dark.  Next morning I had to return to my work in Bristol on my motorcycle.  Luckily it knew its own way home.

This was one of the first cave rescues in Wales and, as there was no other significant news, the press latched on to the story in a big way.  All the papers carried exaggerated stories on their front pagesBill Little (centre) and Lewis Railton (Right) being interviewed by the BBC's Alun Williams of cave divers struggling against the flooded underground river to rescue the two trapped men.  From the News Chronicle there was :

Swimming through swirling, icy waters in the stalactite-studded Cave of the Black Well last night, men in frogmen’s diving kit, roped together, found two underground explorers who had been missing in the depths for 57 hours. And from the Ogof Ffyndu cavern under the mountains of the Swansea Valley - where he had been perched in a niche, shivering in shirt and shorts - a rescue team brought 45 year old Mr. C. Lewis Railton, President of the Birmingham Cave and Crag Club.  And with him, 31 year old Mr. William. H. Little of Wilde Green, Birmingham.  Under arc-lamps set on the mountainside the men were helped to a cottage.  They were exhausted.  But a doctor who had been standing by said there would be no ill effects.  Mr. Railton had spent altogether 3000 hours in exploring this many galleried cavern.  In the refuge niche he found a food box, a lamp and a pressure stove.  In the search were miners (a whole shift had volunteered at nearby Abercrave Colliery), soldiers, airmen, cave rescue teams from Somerset, Bristol and South Wales, and in the forefront, the men in the frogmens suits.  On the mountainside, three miles from the cave entrance, the miners, soldiers and airmen worked all day to divert the stream which pours into the cavern.  They sandbagged its source in a disused quarry and by last night they had reduced the underground flow by one foot.

The South Wales Voice ran a piece under the headline ‘Rescued by a human chain of Miners and Cavers’:  

Night was closing in when several hundred people gathered round the entrance of Ogof y Ffynnon Ddu (The Cave of the Black Fountain) on Monday.  It was 10 minutes past eight and the people waited with anxious faces.  Down in the subterranean depths of the cave 60 miners from collieries in the vicinity, 17 cavers, including two women, and five frogmen were fighting their way along the underground stream in an allout effort to reach two members of the South Wales Caving Club.  They were trapped by the stream which had become a raging torrent fed by the Pwll Byfre river, which was swollen by the heavy rainfall over the weekend.                                                        back to the top

Anyway, all the publicity made it obvious why I was not in the office that day.  The real heroes of this incident were the group from the Yorkshire Cave Rescue who drove all the way from the north to arrive just as Lewis and Bill were recovered then, after some refreshment in the Gwyn, they turned round and drove home again.

Our next few visits to Wales were spent developing an escape route from the Rawl Series.  It was seen from Lewis’s survey that a narrow passage in the entrance system passed over a passage at the western end of the Maypole Series and, according to the survey, there was hardly any difference in height.  It was ascertained that hammer blows could be heard from one passage to the other and so a connection was made by digging.  The distance was only about 6ft. but consisted of calcited boulders which could only be moved with explosives.  This squeeze into the Maypole Series became known as the ‘Dugout’ and in wet weather is quite unpleasant as a small stream splashes down the hole as one is struggling through.  Of course, being dug out, it is only just big enough to get through with a struggle!

Group at Grithig with ropes and laddersAt the other end of the Maypole Series, where it overlooks the main streamway, there was a small ledge going upstream about 25ft above the water.  Bill Little traversed up this ledge for about 100ft, as far as a section of wedged boulders where he let down a ladder and the rest of us climbed up from the stream.  From the top of the boulders it was possible to climb up into a small chamber from which a narrow passage continued upwards in a northerly direction.  After about 200ft of awkward progress, an area consisting of large boulders was entered and after rearranging some of the smaller ones a way was found into a very large chamber which we recognised as Pi Chamber.  We had come out into the Rawl Series just below the climb to Phill’s Parade.  This meant there was now a dry route to the Rawl and there was now no danger of being trapped by floodwater.  The traverse above the stream was technically quite difficult; Bill, who had pioneered the route, was an experienced climber and it was regarded as too exposed for general use.  Therefore, in order that the rest of us could use the route safely, a traverse wire was installed using Rawlbolts to hold it in position.  This has since been known as ‘Bolt Traverse’ although originally, when there was no wire, it was christened ‘Travesty Traverse’.

Bill Little reported:

Near the ‘wire traverse’ in the Maypole Series is the most upstream window over the stream passage in that series.  From this window a narrow sloping slimy ledge runs 30ft. above the stream for about 70ft.  Two pitons (pegs) were used to negotiate it.  This was severe by rock-climbing standards.  One piton is badly situated.  This traverse (I suggest Travesty Traverse for a name) ends at a platform of fallen blocks (Crows’ Nest).  6ft higher than these blocks and over the stream, a 4ft Diameter tube slopes upwards and was entered by using two sections of maypole.  This passage is climbable and after 30ft gives way to a small chamber.  The passage then goes northwards and upwards (say 25deg. slope) and then divides.  The right-hand path goes into a boulder choke which was not penetrated for any distance.  The lefthand path, which steepens immediately, leads on for 50ft or so, still north and into a boulder chaos through which access was made to the Rawl Series between Pillar chamber and the foot of Phill’s Parade.                                                        back to the top

A temporary wire rope fixed along Travesty Traverse cannot be regarded as safe, but can be used by a person accustomed to climbing as a balance hold.  The poles were left in place at the Crow’s Nest.  It is the intention of Railton and myself to make this part safe as soon as possible with suitable ironmongery.

The advent of this escape route meant that there was now a superb round trip in Ogof  Ffynnon Ddu.  Starting up the streamway, a diversion could be made round the Waterfall Series, up the East Leg and down the West Leg and out via the Rawl Series and the Escape Route.  As a tourist trip, I don’t think it had an equal in its time.  I preferred the trip in the reverse direction - up the Escape Route and out via the stream.  This had two advantages for me when leading visitors round.  In shorts and sweater, which was my usual garb for Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, I had an advantage over those in wetsuits in the dry passages leading to the Rawl system which were quite hard work, and also it meant that getting wet in the stream was left until the outward journey.  Nowadays, steel poles have been secured across the four deep pots and there is no need to get particularly wet anywhere in the cave.

On a visit to the Waterfall series in the winter of 1952 Bill Little found the water conditions unusual and writes in SWCC Newsletter (No. 3, March 1953):

November 22nd 1952 wintry conditions having prevailed in the area for some time, the ground around Pwll Byfre was covered with frozen snow.  Around Penwyllt however, the thaw had set in and the snow was rapidly melting.  Inside the cave the main stream was comparatively low but all the minor tributaries were in full flood.  There were heavy shower baths while going up Stream Passage and the waterfall leading to the Waterfall Series did not present an attractive climb even in oilskins.  From Boulder Chamber Dr. J. Aspin, C. L. Railton and Bill Little traversed along the ascending ledge and over the bridge to the top of the waterfall.  Where the broad ledge peters out except for small footholds a jammed handhold and a small knob provide support at a vital moment while stepping over the waterfall gully.

There was always a substantial stream flowing down this pitch and it was soon after this trip that a wire was installed on this traverse so that the wet way up the waterfall could be avoided.Phyllis & Peter Harvey, ManFromHangmanDept, David Jenkins

Continuing the theme of high level exploration, we were interested in the way Upper Flood Passage which, for most of its length, was 80/100ft high came from the Waterfall Series and, instead of carrying on down to the stream passage, turned into Low’s Passage.  At the point where Low’s Passage meets Upper Flood Passage there is a 15ft climb, and a steel chain was installed to make the climb easier.  The height of Low’s Passage here is 80ft but this quickly reduces until, at about 200ft. from the chain, it became a matter of crawling.  We thought it strange that such a large passage should reduce in size so quickly.  During April 1953 a number of us, including Bill Little, David Hunt, David Jenkins and Peggy Hardwidge decided to look at the top of the passage using the maypole.  We were lucky in that the walls had a few ledges, so we climbed about 30ft up one side, using the maypole, to a suitable ledge and inserted a Rawlbolt, using a lump hammer and 1-inch stardrill, to which we fixed a rope ladder.  The maypole was then raised to another ledge with its foot on the first ledge belayed to the Rawbolt.  The whole process was repeated up the other side of the passage, leaving us with ladders up both sides of the passage.  The Rawlbolt holes, after some practice, took about 20 minutes to drill so there was quite a lot of hanging about in both senses.  At the very top of one climb we thought there was an opening round a bulge in the wall just out of view.  We therefore erected a swinging boom and attached Bill to the end of it with an abseil rope and swung him round the corner.  He was able to see that there was only a hollow in the wall so he abseiled down to the floor.  We spent several months in this area completing several high climbs but without any positive results.  There were no high level passages which we could explore. (See SWCC Newsletter No. 5, July 1953).

1953 was Coronation year and it was also the year that a high aven beyond Starlight Chamber was first opened up.  It was a horrid looking shaft with numerous dangerously poised boulders on the walls waiting to crown anyone moving about below, so there were two reasons why it became known as Coronation Aven!  A number of us including Clive Jones, Dr. Edward Aslett and David Hunt examined the possibilities.  We found that by pulling a few rocks out on the right-hand side it was possible to tunnel round the aven leaving a roof on top which would protect us from the occasional missile falling down the aven.  By 1955 we would have passed the aven and entered a safe passage with a strong draught coming through boulders but for now we did not persevere for very long because we were busy in Boulder Chamber at the same time.  Some years later, this aven would be the scene of considerable activity and incident.

Boulder Chamber was where we thought the best chances of success would be.  The stream could be heard in various places to the side and underneath in cracks in the rock.  We had opened up a number of these but in every case any space was much too constricted for any progress to be made.  We managed to push Peggy Hardwidge into a hole in the floor.  She did manage to get in a few feet and actually see water flowing, but the place was so tight that there was no hope of getting through into any reasonably sized passage.  Nevertheless there was obviously a way through somewhere because, in flood conditions, the river rises and flows out of Boulder Chamber down the usually fairly dry Upper Flood Passage.L toR: Aslett, Hunt, Truman, Harvey, Hardwidge

I was in Boulder Chamber one day when the water started to rise.  It is a very eerie sensation when the background noises of flowing water suddenly cease and all goes quite quiet.  Then slowly water began to appear in the floor rising imperceptibly at first and when this water overflowed into Upper Flood Passage the noise started again.  This is the time when it is prudent to leave Boulder Chamber and exit via the chain at Low’s Passage, the Rawl Series and the Escape Route.  In flood conditions Upper Flood Passage becomes impassable.  David Hunt went in one day especially to watch the water rising and reports in the SWCC Newsletter (No. 6, September 1953):

In February 1953 we again had the chance to see the floodwater rising, only this time we watched it from the beginning.  It was raining quite heavily outside and with the stream six inches over the normal again.  John Truman and myself went straight up Stream Passage to Boulder Chamber, hoping for a high flood.  We were not to be disappointed.

As has already been pointed out there are several places where the stream can be heard along the southern wall, the main one being in the floor near the boulder fall.  This however was quiet, indicating the passage below was already full.  The other places are fissures between there and the end of the Waterfall Traverse, but the usual drain-like noises gave way to rumbling and bangings gradually dying down to silence, leaving only the sound of the waterfall from further down the passage.  This rather ominous silence found us wandering up and down the wall wondering just where the flood would break through.  But no, it just crept up on us.  Just the smallest trickle of water at the furthest fissure downstream, gradually creeping across the chamber.  Then another fissure started leaking and the depression in the floor started to fill up.  The silence was broken by the water starting to flow into the first pool and so into Upper Flood Passage.  The noise increased to a roar and soon the water started to come straight through the boulders.  As the water was approaching waist deep another photograph was hurriedly taken and we made our way to the safety of Low’s Passage.

Having failed to make any headway in the floor and walls of Boulder Chamber we decided to try our luck digging through the boulders themselves.  We started off high up on the left hand side as this looked the most approachable and after a couple of sessions we had burrowed along between the choke and the solid wall for about 10ft when we came to an opening leading off to the north.  This was a tight crawling passage which after a few feet came to a T-junction, the left-hand branch leading back to Boulder Chamber and the right hand going parallel to the Boulder Choke and dividing again; one turned back into the boulders while the other finished in an evil looking mud sump. The prospects in this area now looked very poor and so we transferred our attention to the right hand side of the choke.  Soon after we started, we reached a window in the wall in which we could hear water.  We pushed Peggy into the hole but the place was much too tight and also it gave the impression it was going down to a sump, so we pulled Peggy out and retired for a think.

It was obviously going to be very difficult to make any significant progress in the boulder choke.  Ahead of us looked highly unstable.  Every stone we pulled out seemed to make the choke groan in a most unpromising manner.  In this area there seemed to be a lot of smaller boulders in the choke making it much more unstable than larger ones.  The boulder choke itself was a pile of boulders nearly 30ft high and we were digging out a passage at floor level.  Our enthusiasm for loose boulders became so reduced that we deserted the dig in favour of a pint in front of a warm fire in the Gwyn, where we would decide our future strategy.

Some time later I spent a while digging in the sand south of the Shale Crawl in the Rawl Series, helped by David Hunt and Bill Little.  I had an idea that this extensive bedding-plane, filled with sand, must end somewhere down-dip and perhaps there might be an aven or some enlargement we could enter.  Unfortunately, other more interesting projects intervened, such as Coronation Aven and the boulder choke and, although we had made some progress in the area, the end of this bedding plane was not reached.  I still believe that this site should be continued.

Lewis Railton’s survey was still in progress and kept showing up small extensions.  When surveying the cave it was quite possible to see things that had been missed before.  In the Waterfall Series, Lewis climbed an aven at the head of the West Leg and let down a ladder for the rest of us.  From here, Aven Chamber, there was a short passage south to another chamber, with a huge boulder on the floor looking as if it ought to rock.  The whole place looked pretty unstable.  There was no way out so we named it ‘The Grand Piano’ and left it alone.  I doubt if this place has ever been visited since our initial intrusion.

By now, virtually all of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu One, as it is known today [2009], had been explored but, of course, the secrets of Boulder Chamber have since been revealed.

Edited by Jem Rowland,                                                        back to the top
March 2009