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Into Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II

by Peter I. W. Harvey                                                                                                                                            contents

Digging in Boulder Chamber

The choke in Boulder Chamber was always regarded as the most likely site for the eventual breakthrough into the remainder of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu.  The first serious attempt had been made by John Davies and Don Coase as early as 1948.  They got into a small passage on the left hand side of the choke in solid rock which eventually turned back into the boulders with a branch continuing parallel to the boulders and ending in a water- and mud-filled sump.  It was in July 1957 that  a group of us decided to examine this sump, taking with us a semi-rotary pump and some piping.  Brian de Graaf writes in SWCC Newsletter No. 20 (July 1957):

Although the pump had successfully stomached a large quantity of water, it jibbed at a diet of mud, and after the pump and hoses had been removed to a safe ledge, a line of mud slingers led by Peter Harvey and followed by Les Hawes, Gordon Clissold and friends began lying in the mud and paddling it towards the exit. ... In a short time the passage resembled a bath full of chocolate pudding of an interesting texture, and soon the cry came that the roof of the sump was visible.  Beyond, the passage was seen to rise steeply and become large enough to crawl in.  It was not long before it was possible to worm under the arch and up the slope. ... After a few yards crawling, the passage came to a stop in a grotto of jammed boulders, thinly cemented with calcite.  The small holes in this mass showed only more boulders so that further progress seemed impossible, especially as the only place to shelter (from explosives) was back through the mud sump.  It was a disappointed squad of ‘chocolate soldiers’ that regained the surface but, as someone remarked, at least the impracticability of the place can go on record now.

It was the divers who were to open the door to Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II but, before they could become involved, further digging had to be completed inside the boulder choke.  As has already been mentioned, I had had a look at the right hand side of the main choke in Boulder Chamber and did not really like the place because the boulders were rather small and appeared to be unstable.  However, in September 1957 this spot had been examined again by Gordon Clissold and some others and it was noticed that the solid right-hand wall did give a bit of protection, so it was decided that this was the place to dig.  A lot of work was put in at this site and, after being held back by boulder collapses and the sounds of boulders moving further on in the choke, they came to a short drop into a small chamber, with a lake which was christened 'Hush Sump' after the tunnel which had been dug towards it, 'Hush Tunnel'.  Gordon writes in SWCC Newsletter No, 3 (April 1958):

One evening whilst pleasantly armchair caving with Clive Jones our conversation turned to the problem of the Boulder Choke in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu.  Former parties had attacked the left hand side of the choke and the many spaces in the floor without success.  Little attempt had been made to dig in the right hand side of the boulders.  On the 22nd September (1957) we studied the choke and found a recess which would give us some protection from above.

On the 28th September, accompanied by a strong working party, very good progress was made but we soon lost the protective roof.  In a short time the tunnel became unstable and the appropriate name of ‘Hush Tunnel’ was given to it.  The following weekend a small space in the floor was pressed but this failed to produce the way on.  A  further eight feet was excavated but unfortunately the weekend finished with two feet less than when we started.  This seemed to be the pattern of events for several weekends, the digging parties being forced to seek the safety of Boulder Chamber when several loud rumblings of collapsing boulders could be heard somewhere deep ahead in the choke.  The location of these collapses has never been discovered.  During the digging on the 27th October we could hear rubble falling into what appeared to be a large space below our boulder floor.  We dug in that direction.  Shortly after, we were able to peer into what seemed to be a small chamber with only a large boulder preventing us entering.  This was soon chemically removed but a further rock fall took its place.  The new fall was cleared in record time.  The way lay open and we dropped 10 feet into a small boulder chamber.  Beyond our exploration was a deep pool which appeared to be sumped.  A small trickle of water found its way into the pool but the scolloping showed that the main flow was out into Boulder Chamber.

On the 3rd November we managed to get to Boulder Chamber in  a high flood, where we found the chamber at the end of Hush Tunnel to be completely full of water which, at the height of the flood, had been flowing out into Boulder Chamber.

After the disappointment in Hush Sump we tunnelled on towards the slight sound of falling water further on in the boulders.  The end of the weekend saw almost double the distance to Hush Sump excavated and a glimpse of what appeared to be a small chamber in solid rock with one boulder blocking our progress.  The problem of passing the one blocking boulder seemed impossible at first but a few small rocks which we thiught were keystones were gently removed with a lump hammer and the way lay open.

We were rewarded not with a small chamber but a large passage which seemed,  at last, to be the way into Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II.  This led to a junction of three passages.  The first and largest led to the right, down dip (Dip Passage), to a pothole in the floor in which we could discern two submerged passages (Pot Sump).  We carried on round a corner to a large pool (Dip Sump).  The passage leading  forwards unfortunately led us to a stalled boulder choke where we felt a slight draught.  The remaining passage, leading backwards, we climbed at a steep angle in the direction of Starlight Chamber above.  The floor was covered in sand and the boulders in the roof, where there was a reasonable draught, were covered in gypsum crystals just like some of the boulders in Starlight.

This was an important breakthrough but the all-important entry into Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II had not been achieved.  There were three ways on but unfortunately none went very far. The diggers had a go in the choke in the passage straight on.  David Hunt, myself, and several others tried to dig through the roof.  This meant standing on stemples screwed across the narrow rift and digging boulders out of the roof above our heads with a crowbar.  I was always hopeful that we were going to get somewhere but events elsewhere meant that this place was gradually abandoned.                                                                                     back to the top

Initial Exploration of the Sumps

The Cave Diving Group now took an interest in the new sumps in the Boulder Series and in the summer of 1958 Oliver Wells and John Buxton made an initial dive in Pot Sump, making a reconnaissance in the direction of Dip Sump.  Conditions were reported to be clear and he reported  ‘The discovery of a diving site in south Wales which at first sight seems to rival even Wookey Hole in the size of the passage and the crystal clarity of the water’.  It was after this dive that Brian de Graaf took an interest in cave diving and after a training for a year he was considered fit for diving inside caves.  In 1959 he quickly established that Hush Sump was connected to Pot Sump and Dip Sump.  From now on,  Brian and Charles George became the leading divers in the continuing exploration.  The main stream was met again, flowing out of Dip Sump over a lip into a descending passage which sumped, now known as the Culvert. It could only be seen in very low water but there was no necessity to explore in this direction as it was downstream towards the entrance.  Dip Sump was explored by Brian and Charles mainly by bottom-walking in the earlier dives using surplus ‘Frogman’ gear which consisted of breathing pure oxygen through a canister of ‘Sofnol’ for removing the CO2. The use of this equipment was described by someone as a form of organised suicide.

It was 4th September 1960 that the divers traversed through Dip Sump, a dive of about 200ft, and found themselves under an airspace with water falling onto it.  Brian and Charles’s diary of events appeared in SWCC Newsletter No. 34 (December 1960) as follows:

The search for Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II that has been going on since the South Wales Caving Club came into being has now entered a new phase.  In the summer of ‘58 Oliver Wells and John Buxton dived in Pot Sump and made a reconnaissance in the direction of Dip Sump.  Conditions were reported to be clear and at a point somewhere below Dip Sump Oliver entered what was apparently a large submerged chamber with passages leading off.  He also reported a branch passage coming into the side of Pot Sump and remarked that the system appeared to be ‘A diving site rivalling Wookey Hole’ which is the Cave Diving Group's favourite training ground in Somerset.  A year later, following a course of training sparked off by this visit, Brian de Graaf established the useful link between Pot Sump and Hush Sump which saved much of the long drag through the boulders. An attempt to follow this up with Brian Walton in Easter 1960 was cut short by a collapse of boulders in Hush Tunnel, but after this had been sorted out Charles George and Brian de Graaf there began a series of dives which is still continuing, with excellent prospects of breaking through into a large dry system.

September 5th 1960:  The two divers left base following previously discovered submerged passages through Pot Sump until they reached unexplored territory under Dip Sump, at the ‘parting of the ways’.  The left hand passage was followed and after traversing a meandering passage which fell at one point to a depth of 25ft, the roar of water overhead proclaimed a cascade which on surfacing proved to be falling from the roof of a high aven. The first diver was half out when the lid of his ‘aflo’ fell open and all the works fell on the diver below [An aflo was a hand held gadget carrying a line reel, lights and batteries, used by early cave divers.] but he had seen enough to be sure that there were dry passages above.  After having sat on the bottom and re-assembled the scattered fragments, No. 2 diver found he had a slight high pressure leak and a return to base was made, 55 minutes after setting out.

September 18 1960:  The divers set off to see what lay in the passages they had not been in on the previous dive.  Following the wire, they were soon back in Shower Aven where the presence of high level dry passages was confirmed.  Here a fresh wire was tied to the belay and the continuation was followed to the right down a 15 degree slope, eventually reaching the depth of 30ft, the limit for oxygen breathing.  At this depth an aven reached up, unclimbable for bottom walking divers, - ‘Oxygen Pot’

On the return journey they investigated a telltale trickle of water on the surface and they found a muddy chamber where they could sit and take their masks off and have a chat.  In homage to the shoals of Niphargus this was christened ‘Niphargus Niche’.

Back in Dip Sump they found the outflow to the system down what is now known as the ‘Culvert’.  It was seen that it would be possible to blow about two feet off the lip thus reducing the level of water in the submerged system.

October 8 1960:  The divers set out with fins to find out what was at the top of Oxygen Pot. The two divers lost touch with each other at the terminal brick at the end of the guide wire.  No 2 decided to sit on the brick and wait but was plunged into inky darkness by a shower of mud from above which heralded the arrival of No 1 on the head of No 2. The aven proved to be blocked.

October 9 1960:  The divers set off with 2 poles intending to examine the passage they had seen off Niphargus Niche.  The luscious mud soon turned this attempt into a real ‘greasy pole’ competition.  In the end one diver leaned against the poles and the other climbed up him.  After 200ft of a rabbit hole of a passage a chamber was reached with a perched sump and no way out.

This weekend had proved to be very profitable. Whilst it was disappointing not to have got into Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II, the objective of swimming up Oxygen Pot had been achieved, the entry of the main stream water had been determined and much detail filled in.

Once more may we thank our helpers.  Like major mountain climbs, the two who go forward are at the top of a pyramid of effort on the part of a number of people who can only sit and await results, sometimes in most uncomfortable conditions. We would like you to feel that you are all ‘equal sharers’ with us in what we achieve, and to say how much we appreciate the willing hands that push us in while we are still full of energy and haul us out again when we are exhausted.

It was about this time that Bill Birchenough and Eric Inson blew the lip off the dam at the overflow of Dip Sump into the Culvert.  They managed to reduce the whole level of the sump by about 2ft. and Niphargus Niche was now above water and made into an ideal place to leave the diving equipment while exploring in the Shower Aven area.  This  operation also taught us the dangers of using gelignite in too close association with water.  The fumes produced caused Bill to suffer very quickly from a pneumonia type of condition and he had to be sent to Morriston Hospital.  Luckily he was alright but there had been another similar case involving two cavers in the Dales which had  proved fatal.

During 1960 and 1961 Brian and Charles undertook a number of dives to find out more about the continuation from Shower Aven.  The main stream emerged from a hole at the bottom of Shower Aven and the low sloping underwater passage carried on downwards at an angle of approximately 15 degrees. The depth soon reached 30ft. beyond which it was not safe to go on the equipment they were using.  Charles George tells a story that while in this crawl the bypass to his breathing bag was knocked on and he was pressed to the roof of the passage until he could sort himself out.                                                                                     back to the top

Digging in Coronation Aven

Since Gordon Clissold’s digging efforts in the Dip Sump area, very little progress had been made.  Clive Jones explains why in SWCC Newsletter No. 26 (February 1959):

The reason being that digging in the Boulder Series [above Dip Sump where the boulders appeared to be smaller] was like digging up through a bag of peanuts, every nut removed brings down a shower of others to take its place.  However, our digging [in the Boulder Series] seems to have started some movement in the floor of Coronation Aven. ........... [Bill Harris] then persuaded a party to go to Starlight and have a look and after a preliminary survey the digging committee retired to the Gwyn.  Around a warm fire and a pint it was decided that the boulders in Coronation Aven looked safer than they ever had.  Another pint of beer convinced everyone that the aven was the place to dig.

The original plan was to bring down as many boulders as possible from the aven and drag them into Starlight using a pulley block and tackle.  However, luck was on our side and the larger boulders came down and jammed across the aven, leaving a clear and safe route [past Coronation aven] into Coronation Chamber ....... The way on seemed to be through a hole in the floor.  Bill Birchenough, Bill Harris, Eric Inson and a bloke from Aberdare whose name I can never remember [Edward Aslett - this is a reference to Edward's absent-mindedness] spent 4 or 5 hours removing the boulders from the floor of the chamber.  Then, by a form of chemical removal in which Pickfords do not specialise, the hole down was made big enough to squeeze through.  Another two hours, and they had progressed about 150ft beyond the aven. What a 150ft! It was a real prospect-wrecking passage, a bedding plane 10” to 15” high.

A larger party went in the following weekend prepared for a big find but got no further. There appeared to be two ways on. The first was a boulder choke where the draught dissappeared in a downwards direction, and the second in the bedding plane on the right.

With the start of serious digging in the Coronation Aven Series and the breakthrough into Dip Sump it can be said that the final moves had been set in motion for the exploration of the miles of cave which must exist beyond the known boundaries of  Ogof Ffynnon Ddu I and which were already being referred to as Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II.  The attack was now taking place on four fronts: digging at the end of the Boulder Choke near Dip Sump, Diving through Dip Sump, Digging through the Coronation Aven series and digging from Cwm Dwr Quarry.  During the ten years up to 1967 there was always a group of club members engaged in one or another of these options.  It was not always the same people or the same place.  There was a good draught at all three of the digging sites, indicating a connection with the main cave beyond the obstruction.  When enthusiasm waned at one place or the conditions in the dig became too dangerous or uncomfortable, the possibilities at one of the other sites started to look brighter.                                                                                     back to the top

The Discovery of Cwm Dwr Jama

In 1960 the club had moved into a row of ten former quarry workers' cottages situated at Penwyllt, not far from the station and the quarries.  This meant that any interest we had in the Cwm Dwr Quarry Caves could now, much more conveniently, be turned into a very active interest.

It was in August 1938 that Cwm Dwr Quarry Cave was originally examined.  This cave was then known as Cwm Dwr II as, during the previous year, Gerard Platten and E. E. Roberts, among others, had explored a cave 20ft up the side of the quarry; this was called Cwm Dwr I.  This cave can still be seen in the wall of the quarry.  A party which included Arthur Hill and E. E. Roberts examined the entrance of the new opening but did not go down because they considered that the loose boulders were unsafe. 

Les Hawes writes in SWCC Newsletter No. 21 (Nov 1957):

Quarrying activities in the 1930s brought to light the existence of a cave system on the eastern side of the railway line at Penwyllt.  In May 1937, Platten, Roberts and others made the first descent into Cwm Dwr cave (later called Cwmdwr I) and the following description was given in the YRC journal, no 23. - “Entrance 20ft. Above Quarry floor.  Ladder down 20ft.  Rotten rock, steep slope of scree, three connecting chambers and a short but interesting stream passage”

The personal notes of E. E. Roberts - 3rd/4th July 1938, indicate that the cave was still open when a new cave, Cwmdwr II was discovered.  This is confirmed by Arthur Hill’s notes. “A new hole opened by quarrying operations in Penwyllt quarry, brought to our attention by Bill Doyle, was examined.  A 10ft. climb onto a false floor and a small opening was visible, down which a stone would rumble for a considerable distance.  The hole was opened out and it was possible to see down a distance of probably 40ft.  A rope was hung down this rift and we proceeded to the main quarry cave as it was thought that this was a new connection.  No sign of the rope was found after a complete search and it would seem that an entirely separate cave exists here.”                                                                                     back to the top

Exploration of the new cave took place in August 1938 and a full report and survey by P. Raynes appeared the MES journal.  Paul Raynes writes  (MES Journal/British Caver,Vol.III p81):

Being interested in this report, a party consisting of Bill and Mrs. Weaver, Arthur Hill, Arthur Price and myself, decided to see if we could get through.  Bill, armed with a borrowed crowbar and securely lifelined in case the floor ran in, found that the floor under the boulders was solid and that a small passage ran from one corner, at a steep angle, into what appeared to be a large chamber.  Twenty feet of ladder was passed through this passage and Bill descended followed by the remainder of the party except Mrs Weaver who remained, keeping an eye on the lashings.

The top end of this 40ft long ‘Master Chamber’, as we called it, was some 30ft high and about 6ft wide, the roof sloping sharply to 10ft high at the middle and rising to 15ft  at the lower end.  This chamber lies roughly at right-angles to the entrance rift and contains a number of fine orange coloured stalactites and a few straws.  A fine calcite cascade flows down the left wall to the right of the ladder pitch, and there is a peculiar ‘cube’ of sand, about 3ft. high, standing against the opposite wall. The floor consists of loose boulders which are banked up at one end.

The cave then turns to the left at a rough right-angle, and, passing over a barrier of rock, 6ft high, which half -filled the passage, and beneath a very fine cluster of straws and stalactites, we entered a small aven some 26ft high.  At the time of the survey I had occasion to climb this aven and found that there were three small passages, forming an upper series near the top, which followed the direction of the main cave.  All were partly blocked by calcite deposits and were impassable.

Passing on from this aven I entered a constricted passage about 8ft above the floor of the aven which terminated  in a small chamber with a beautiful white calcite floor which flowed down a rift to the right, and which Arthur Price, who is used to such things, failed to get through.  A small passage guarded by a fine stalactite, runs back in the direction of the aven and is probably part of the old upper series.

Returning to the aven, I found that Arthur Hill had gone down a short passage to the right which terminated almost at once in a choked sink.  He had then taken a branch passage to the left which continued for some distance and then terminated in a small chamber and  another choked sink some 37ft.  from the point of entry. ...

The dig in Cwm Dwr Quarry was originally started to find this cave which had by now been filled in by work in the quarry, which was now disused.  Removing the debris from the quarry workings developed into a major operation.  A small cave was eventually entered which was assumed to be the same cave explored before the war, although it did not seem to agree exactly with the survey made at the time.  However, it was decided that this must be the same cave as it was in the same place.  Clive Jones writes in the SWCC  21st  Anniversary Publication  (p 31):

The discovery of this cave was a big disappointment to some of us as we had expected to see an obvious place to dig into bigger things. As it was, we had four alternatives, none of which seemed very promising. These were:
a) The south  end of the main chamber
b) A small hole in the side passage down which the stream disappeared
c) A hole further along the side passage which contained some very interesting scallop markings
d) The boulder choke at the end of the side passage.

We didn’t like the look of (a) because we suspected that it went up to the surface, and the boulder choke (d) looked difficult to handle.  The scallop hole received a little attention but we got the impression that it was a long job and enthusiasm waned.  The stream was the obvious thing to follow especially as it was accompanied by a howling draught.  So we threw our lot in with the wind and the water and started to enlarge the 3” by 12” crack at the end of this miserable little passage.  This particular stretch of digging was probably the most bloody-minded hole the club has ever dug but it was also the most determined effort on one dig we have made.

Clive writes in the SWCC Newsletter No. 34 (Dec 1960):

The stream disappeared into a narrowing passage which eventually closed down to a miserable crevice some three to four inches wide and about a foot high.  We decided to dig as far as the first corner which seemed to be about four feet ahead. Our method of blasting was of necessity inefficient. ‘Deterrant’ was plastered to the rock and tamped with clay. Usually three to five charges were laid at the same time and after detonation a period of two to three hours was allowed  for the smoke to clear.  The usual procedure was to blast on Friday night, Saturday morning and afternoon and twice on Sunday. It was an easy matter to dispose of 10 pounds or more of ‘stuff’ on a weekend. The bend turned out to be eight feet ahead and on reaching it we were confronted with a second bend about 4ft away.  Having gone so far and still being convinced that this dig had possibilities we continued blasting.

A chance meeting with a company of  S.A.S. was the sort of luck we were wanting.  Stories of the vast cave which must be somewhere under their feet soon sold them the idea that Cwm Dwr would be the ideal spot for a demolition exercise. They returned a month later with a device known as a ‘Ffynnon Special’.  This device succeeded in making a hole big enough to take 14lbs. of banger. At first we thought the result of their bang was rather disappointing  but it turned out that a lot of rock had been reduced  to powder and had loosenned the solid rock wall. On the weekend of November 5th. Charles George continued the process of demolition and at I am. next day we could see past the blasted bend into what looked like a chamber. A half pound of banger was used to remove the final obstruction and we returned the cottages for sleep.

Clive continues in the 21st Anniversary Publication:

Usually the blasting started on Friday evenings with two or three trips on the Saturday and Sunday. The hole was forever being blocked by debris which dammed up the water and often charges could only be laid  lying on ones back with water up to ones eyes.  Progress was slow and we made only a foot or two each weekend but we always managed to get to the most infuriating corner by the Sunday evening.  Peering round it we always saw another foot or two of crack and another corner.  Then approximately on November 5th 1960 we had a bit of luck.  I arrived at the club at 10.30pm. on the Saturday, to find Charles George preparing to return to the dig having spent all day at it.  He was bubbling over; he had got round another  corner and there was nothing but black space beyond.  David Jones and I joined him and moved what seemed like heaven and earth to get into that space but by 1.30am we’d had enough.  9am the following morning saw  Charles, Seaton and me back at the hole and one hour later we were standing up on the other side.  All three of us were, as we thought, on the threshold of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II.

When  the handshaking and the backthumping was over we set off into what is now Dim Dwr.  Soon, the way was blocked with sand and some very beautiful mud formations so we returned to the stream and took the route to the “big stuff”.  The discovery of the drain was a bitter blow and we grovelled unbelievingly in that mud-filled mousehole looking for the way on.  We then got our senses back and realised  that we had lost the draught, so there must be a side passage.  Sure enough, upstream, there it was and it carried a draught but in a while it was too tight to get through.  We  then decided to return to the blasted passage for banger but found another tight side passage which claimed a pair of my trousers but which led nowhere.  On returning to the stream we met Bill Little, who has a nose for cave finds.  Whilst Charles and Seaton went for banger and Bill crawled into another tight hole I sat and smoked his cigarettes.  The Banger party returned and even after several bangs we were unable to get through.

The following weekend Bill Clarke got through the squeeze and reported an aven with the draught disappearing into a boulder choke half way up.  It took several more bangs before we were able to get to the aven and we spent five weekends at the boulder choke.  The draught was certainly the strongest in the cave but soon the dig was up through the boulders with no quick retreat if things began to move, and  this forced us to give up. We pushed some side passages at the top of the aven but, although they opened up there seemed little prospect of any way on.  In February 1961 the dig through Dim Dwr sand was started.  Metal trays were taken in, loaded with sand and dragged back to the bigger passage.  The draught was good, but not as good as in the aven, but the digging was easy and by the end of the month Seaton Phillips, Gwyn Thomas and Arnold Jones got to the end of the sand constriction and found 70ft. of passage big enough to stand up in.  The draught belted down a side passage on the right whilst the main passage,  for what it was worth, ended in a sand filled- pit.  We started to dig both, but soon gave up the side passage as it turned too many bends and we made the mistake of digging it too small.  This was probably the biggest mistake we made in Cwm Dwr as this led to the Cwm Dwr Jama by an easier dig than the one we decided to pursue

The shaft from the surface was now giving serious trouble and was in danger of collapsing at any time.  It was a bind to have to go back to stage one, but it had to be done or we’d lose everything,  or even worse, we’d be trapped in a hole we had dug ourselves.  Bill Birchenough’s cave-detecting device was used for the first time at Cwm Dwr and a route made up a very unstable aven.  John Harvey ‘obtained’ concrete pipes and after several months' work a safe entrance was constructed.

By  Whitsun 1963 we had blasted a hole over 70ft long from the bottom of the sandpit and were about  to give up this unequal struggle when a black space turned up round a corner.  There was the sound of a rushing stream, and the draught was stronger than ever.  Nearly everyone at the club worked at that hole over the holiday and on the evening of Whit Monday we squeezed into a miserable wet bedding-plane which closed down in about 20ft  to an even more miserable looking dig than the last one.  There was little or no draught that day and we were all dejected, tired and fed up.

The following weekend Bill Little’s nose was twitching and he decided to go with Bill Birchenough and Terry Lloyd to have a look at what all the fuss was about.  They dug at the bedding-plane but decided it was not much use and started to return to the surface.  Bill Birch then noticed that the draught was going up a rift in the roof and in two bangs time they were standing in a vast new cave.

The new discovery consisted of a large passage 15-20ft wide and 60-100ft high blocked at both ends with massive boulder chokes. The dig had come in near one of these chokes and it was pure luck that a collapse in the floor of this passage had joined with the rathole we were digging.  There was a reasonable size stream which fluorescein soon proved connected with Ogof Ffynnon Ddu beyond Boulder Chamber.

The concentrated effort on Cwm Dwr had paid off but the missing miles of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu were still missing.

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Back to Boulder Chamber and Dip Sump

Interest was again directed at the boulders in the Dip Sump area of the Boulder Series.  Noel Dilly writes:

Gordon Clissold and his helpers had been digging in the end of a passage in stalled-up boulders without making a lot of progress.  This was the situation when Bill Little,  Brian Fenn and I went in to have a look around and to do some digging.  Having decided that the previously dug site, although draughtless, was probably the best place to dig, we set to work.  Having no chemical assistance we progressed slowly, attacking stalled-up blocks ahead of us.  At first we ignored the persistent ‘drip-drip’ of mud which fell from above and to our left.  But soon we had to abandon our efforts on the stalled-up boulders and, just as enthusiasm was waning, we were joined by Arnold Jones and Bill Harris who attacked the mud-and-boulder mixture with enthusiasm.

The dig was now progressing upwards above the diggers and, because of the watery nature of the mud, the force of gravity and the slope of the passage, it was rapidly turning into a self-operating dig.  The passage was developing into an ankle-deep mudbath and the various digging implements were used as paddles to assist the mixture on its way to Pot Sump.

After two hours of digging, everyone in the party could be described as muddy.  Enthusiasm once more started to wane, the passage was fuggy and clammy and everyone was miserably wet and muddy.  But I had just refilled my [carbide] light and for sheer cussedness’ sake I decided to take another look at the mud wall at which everyone had decided to ‘call it a day’.  The mud wall was some  six feet high and about three feet above me.  Absent-mindedly I attacked the base of the wall with a crowbar thinking if I undermined it, it would collapse.  It did - on me !

Once more I became the abominable mud-man.  After digging myself out and extracting my helmet, lamp and spectacles from their respective balls of mud I was delighted and excited to notice that the fug had cleared.  The draught continued upwards into the boulders which formed two sides of the chamber which had formed, and with this interesting observation we left the cave with provocative and excited discussion of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II.

It was now July 1966 and Charles George and John Osborne dived again in Dip Sump (by now using SCUBA kit rather than oxygen rebreathers).  John writes in SWCC Newsletter No. 54 (September 1966):

On July 2nd (1966)  Dip Sump was found to be low, and a long-planned dive was put into effect by Charles and myself.  We swam through with only a little difficulty. We found that the work done by Bill Birch and Eric Inson had lowered the level by two feet on the ledge called Niphargus Niche, making it just right for leaving the kit.  Lowering the level has, however,  destroyed the musical effect of the water lapping the roof in Dip Sump, known as the Magic Xylophone.  We then swam to the end of Shower Aven and climbed out onto a small ledge.

Here we erected an aluminium ladder which had been bought especially for this purpose.  This fitted up into the small passage from which the water poured.  We climbed up into a dry, sandy floored passage.  After crawling up into a dry series of smallish passages for 160yds we came to a balcony leading into a largish passage 10ft  diameter, leading downhill to a deep pothole and upwards, after a small dig, into a larger passage.  When we returned that evening we had found five likely ways on although none was very large apart from the pothole.

On Sunday, 3rd. July, we returned to the attack, supported by Terry Moon.  We carried ladders and lifelines and rushed straight for the pothole.  This descended 90ft to a blank floor of water-covered boulders. 

Not daunted, we examined the other four ways on:  one ended quickly, another led back into the lower passage and the third was a squeeze into a small chamber.  This chamber had two small exits, leaving us with three possibilities.  We split up and each followed the one of his choice.  In the end we were left with one unexplored 12ft-wide passage, which was followed by Charles, and which appeared to stretch off into the distance.  Because it was getting late we had to return.

The Expedition to Balinka Pit in Yugoslavia had been promised the ladders, so one last visit was arranged for the 24th July and on this occasion  we were joined by Rod Stewart, making a team of  four divers.  As on the other dives, helpers were easily found and also more timber was carried in for the boulder dig, which had been given a new lease of life.  We first of all let off a charge in one of the new passages to make smoke.  This was seen in Coronation Series.  Hammer blows were heard in the boulder dig, but the radio device was not used as it is to be hotted up to increase its range.

We then went on in via Charles’s route.  Here a quicker way was dug through some boulders.  Soon the large passage was laddered and found to be 55ft. deep.  Whilst we were climbing the ladder Charles, who  had traversed on over some boulders and down into the passage further on, now came rushing back to announce with forced restraint, “It's Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II !”

This meant that Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II had now been entered, but the only way in was the 200ft dive via Dip Sump.  That day the divers explored the part of the system that we now know to be beyond the Cwm Dwr choke, and entered the main stream at the Confluence.  They also managed to get about 800yds upstream before deciding that time had run out and that it was prudent to return to the exit side of Dip Sump where their support party would be waiting.

All efforts were now directed at making an entrance for the ordinary caver.  The main sites remained the same: Cwm Dwr, Coronation Aven and the continuation of the Boulder Choke.  Initially, the Boulder Choke continuation was the preferred site because it was thought that Shrimp Series could be reached, so leaving only a swim across the lake in Shower Aven.  However, enthusiasm with this dig waned and it was obvious a better site was needed.                                                                                     back to the top

Another look at Coronation Aven

At the end of July 1966, the SWCC expedition had left for Yugoslavia to explore Balinka Pit, taking with them the ladder for the climb in Shower Aven.  This did not deter the divers and, in August, another dive was organised with three divers taking part.  The climb out of Shower Aven was to be accomplished with maypoles.  The main object was to find out if contact could be made between the draughting boulder choke and Coronation Aven.  John Osborne and Charles George reported:

The divers soon found that voice contact could not be made, at least, not from the new cave out and a charge was laid.  Interestingly, the party in the Coronation dig could hear everything, and they listened to the diver preparing the charge.  Within 25 seconds of the impressive bang, they collected the consequences of the fumes in the small space behind the Coronation dig.  However, the contact had been made.  The Boulder Series dig was discretely abandoned and a large scale attempt was made on the dig in Coronation Series. . .

However, that proved to be far from straightforward;  it seems that in this area, with large passages one above the other, there have been very large collapses, probably when the water table dropped.   Clive Jones writes in SWCC Newsletter No. 55 (January 1967):

A breath of fresh air has been given to the project by the divers.  No longer is the digging carried on because of a feeling that ‘It must be there’; we know ‘it is there’.

After the diving discovery our first thoughts were to follow the draughts inside the cave and the first ‘wind of chance’ to receive our attention was the one which blew in the boulder choke near Pot Sump.  Several people have have poked at this prodigious pile of boulders in the past and have produced a vertical hole upward through through the first 30ft of the choke. When we examined it recently, it looked interesting but extremely dangerous and the only way to proceed was to shutter.  Several railway sleepers were obtained and taken up to the Swansea Valley. These were cut to carrying size and hauled to Boulder Chamber and through to Pot Sump.

Two days' work and the top 10ft of the dig of the dig were secured and we pushed on upwards but only for a further 10ft. We had dug into a space in the boulders 15ft high, 15ft long and 3ft to 4ft wide.  There was no sign of solid rock.  The draught came from the ceiling of this cavity and the boulders were covered in moonmilk.  This looked too dangerous to dig without a mammoth quantity of shuttering.

Meanwhile, the divers had carried out a clever scrutiny of the other side and had found a passage which seemed certain to connect with Coronation Aven.  For those who don’t know Coronation Aven, it is at the far end of Starlight Chamber and is an aven filled with boulders.  A dig was started here in Coronation year [1953] and so named because a few unexpected coronations were almost carried out in the first few feet.  A route was made past the aven, and a strong draught was followed into a bedding plane crawl which terminated in a boulder choke.  But this choke yielded easily and led to a solid passage which seemed to be too good to be true.  As you probably guessed, this ended in a (wait for it!) boulder choked aven.  This was dug for a while but everything was too loose and the dig was eventually abandoned.  It was at this point that on another dive by means of shouting and a small explosion the connection was shown to be fairly close.

Eric Inson, John Osborne and I started to push our way through the boulders.  We dug out about a cubic yard of mud and small stones from between the bigger boulders and went down like the clappers.  Suddenly the draught increased and the bottom of the hole fell in with a beautiful rumbling noise, straight into Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II.  The hole was small but negotiable and Eric went down.  We heard lots of boulders crashing and shouts from Eric telling us that he was alright.  Five minutes later he returned with a piece of banger wire left behind by the divers.  This was it.

We examined the situation and even though we were very excited, we did not like what we saw.  Anyone going down stood a fifty-fifty chance of being clobbered.  We decided that shuttering was essential.

We found plenty of enthusiasm for the project that evening at the ‘Gwyn’ and soon had an army of helpers enlisted.  As you know I have always had an eye for a quick ‘quid’ and David Hunt turned up that evening easy prey.  I bet him a pound that the following day we would have a dry way into Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II.

Sunday morning and the battalion gathered at ‘Y Grithig’.  Timber, tools, ladder and rope were stacked ready for ‘in’; David looked suspiciously at this pile and said nothing but hung on to his wallet.  That evening I paid up a pound as the place had fallen in and we could see no way of tackling the problem.

Another week passed and we had another go.  This time we were able to start timbering and get get one round [of timber] and a roof in position.  Again the club worked like troopers and brought a vast pile of wood to the dig; Eric Inson, Terry Moon, Charles George and I were left to carpenter our way through the choke.

The boulders came out magnificently and the timber was driven, nailed and braced in position.  Everything went very well and in a couple of hours we had a hole through.  This enabled us to see the underside of the choke and this was not very pleasant.  We decided that it could be timbered and started to get the job done.  We had completed about half the shaft a few hours later when funny things began to happen.  Boulders had been dropping out from under us all the time and rumbling down into the space below and for the past hour a gritty dust had been falling like rain from the aven above us.  Suddenly everything moved.  The thick mud became liquid, the small pebbles rolled out everyware and a few medium sized boulders crashed from under us.  Then everything became solid again.  We continued timbering at a feverish rate and ten minutes later it happened again.  This time a boulder came down from the aven and crashed between Charles and Eric.  They scarpered yelling to Terry and me to do the same and the four of us landed in a record breaking pile in the solid passage and, whilst we were gathering our breath, boulders crashed down the aven.

We came out.  We decided that, for the time being, the two digs inside the cave, Coronation Aven and the dig in the Boulder Series were best left alone.                                                                                     back to the top

Back to the Sump

L to R: Sos, Laurie Galpin, Edward Aslett, a local friend, John OsborneAnother diving expedition was organised. This was a very ambitious effort and the team consisted of eight divers: Charles George, Rod Stewart, Terry Moon, Colin Graham, John Osborne, Bruce Foster, Clive Jones and Clare Harvey.  Clive could not swim and had purchased his diving equipment just for this trip.  The main object of the expedition was to carry maypoles to the Top Waterfall and find out what was beyond and also to see if there were any high level passages off the main stream passage.  In a letter to me later Clive gives a description of the day's events  (Oct 8 ‘66 ) :

Dear Peter

You asked me to write up the story of the time I was taken through the sump into Ffynnon Ddu II.  This has turned out to be more difficult than I thought for a number of reasons.  First, the events that led up to the dive are as significant as the dive itself and, secondly, on the dive we had so many near disasters that it is difficult to describe the trip without appearing to  over-dramatise.  Another problem is that at the time I had stopped keeping a caving diary and my account could be wrong in a number of areas.  If this is the case then you must ask your readers to be tolerant of my imperfect memory.

As you know, thanks to the drive and enthusiasm of Charles (George) a number of people had been through the sump and returned with stories of the caves beyond.  This drove the non-aquatic ones to greater efforts to get through either Boulder Chamber or Starlight Chamber.  Descriptions of "the other side" made both options seem likely.  We first tried the old dig up through the loose stuff in Boulder Chamber.  This proved to be very loose and one weekend nearly saw Bill Birchenough left behind as a permanent feature of the place.  We then decided to use timber.  This was difficult as we were digging up from the bottom of the pile and had little or no protection.  To try to make it safer we zig-zagged the shaft upwards but this proved too difficult, so we therefore turned our attention to Coronation Aven, beyond Starlight Chamber.

There were seven weekends of concentrated effort in the boulders beyond the aven and a large number of people were involved.  Imagine a large aven, the top half of which is filled with jumbled boulders, and our dig came into the middle of these.  A dicey situation at the best of times and these were not the best of times as we were in a hurry to get through.  Get through we did - at least Eric Inson managed to squeeze down through a horrid gap in the stones one Sunday afternoon and return to report finding Charles' banger wire and other evidence of Ffynnon Ddu II. However, the gap was considered too dangerous as a main route and the following weekend we returned with seventy pieces of assorted timber hauled in by teams of willing helpers.  We hammered and nailed our way down for a couple of hours, all the time with the tantalizing gap to the big time open beneath our feet.  Then stones began to fall in other parts of the aven and a fine trickle of dry sand appeared from the roof above our shaft.  These we ignored until we felt everything move around us.  Suddenly it was like digging in a jelly.  We got out quick and a fair amount of stone came down just above the shaft.  This was the end of seven weeks of close shaves and  after considering the law of  averages some of us decided to give digging a miss for a while.  An examination of the dig on the following weekend showed a complete collapse and our timber munched up among the boulders.

Charles was keen that I went through the sump with him - but there was a snag - I could not swim.  However,  I was persuaded to purchase the diving gear and after a few evenings in a pool at an old quarry near Llantrisant I felt confident enough to at least go through holding his hand.  On the day we were a big party.  There were Charles, Colin Graham, John Osborne, Terry Moon and Rod Stewart who had been before and myself, Bruce Foster and Clare Harvey who were diving the sump for the first time.  The objective of the trip, besides showing the first timers around, was to scale the waterfall at the head of the stream.

I can vividly recall that dive, it was sheer pleasure - I remember standing in the water,  ready to go, people were crowded on the shore and the other divers were getting ready.  My hand was grabbed and I followed my drill - jack-knifed i.e. down twisted in the water into the tunnel - surprised at the clarity of the water.  Charles's  blue flippers were going up and down slowly and surely near my face and the thin red line disappeared into the distance.  It took a few minutes to get through but it seemed effortless.  On reflection I suspect that my guide did all the work.

We ferried all the equipment across the lakes at the other side of the sump and after a short climb up a wire ladder we were in Ffynnon Ddu II.  The first part of the cave seemed to me very grotty.   As I wanted to see the big stuff I did not take much notice of it.  We were soon down the next ladder and in the back-end of Cwm Dwr.  This was more like it for size and formations but the complexity had me baffled.

The stream turned out to be better than I had expected and, as you now know, is probably one of the finest stream passages in the world.  I don't know how long it took to get up it but whilst Charles and a few of the others pushed on with the maypoles the rest of us took it fairly easy.  We passed a number of large avens and one which had a wall of  square blocks looked particularly climbable, but this had to wait until the return journey.

When we reached the known end of the stream the maypoles were already in place against the waterfall.  This waterfall was the biggest obstacle in the stream being 25 ft high and 3 to 4 ft. wide.  The passage seemed to continue on above it.

The first two up the ladder soon reported 'no go' as the passage ended in a bedding-plane sump. That was that, and the poles were dismantled and the expedition was over, or so we thought.

We had a meal and cursed our luck a little before heading  downstream to look at avens.  The first aven was the one with the big blocks - big solid looking blocks.  Colin Graham and I climbed up about 50 ft but it got hairy this far from base and with 200 ft of sump in front of us.  As we started down, one of the big firm looking blocks raced ahead of us and landed on Bruce Foster's ammunition box.  Needless to say, the box was flattened and a few choice words from the party below greeted us on our return.

Time had flown and some quick calculations showed that we would already be late getting back to base where the porters would be waiting.  So we curtailed further climbs and made a speedy return to the Cwm Dwr area.  As we approached the ladder on the return journey Clare slipped and rolled down a boulder slope for about 20 ft.  She was badly shaken but soon recovered.

Charles was first up the ladder and as soon as he reached the top he seemed to be having one hell of a struggle and dislodged some stones which crowned Bruce.  It turned out that Charles had come off the ladder and had only just managed to hang on with one hand.  The Gremlins were certainly after us that day.  Once back in the grotty bit we split up.  Rod Stewart took the high route back to the lakes whilst Clare, Bruce and I followed Charles along the lower route - the one we had used on the inward journey.  John Osborne, Colin Graham, and Terry Moon, who were carrying most of the equipment followed behind us on the lower route.

Our timing was good because Charles arrived  at the point where the routes joined at the same time as Rod.  However, they did not have time to exchange pleasantries as the floor and walls fell in behind and below Charles, and all Rod saw was a head disappearing in a jumble of moving stones.  I was directly below Charles, about 10 ft. from him.  Clare was with me and Bruce was a further 10 ft. behind in a narrow cleft which was  the entrance to this boulder-strewn chamber.  We heard a shout and Clare and I were able to jump clear as boulders passed us and I was sure that they had landed on Bruce. . If this was the case then our way back was blocked.  An age seemed to pass but it could only have been a few seconds.  I crossed to the boulders to find Charles pinned against the wall by several big ones and uttering his last dramatic statement - "get out quick, I am done for!”.  This was some fix: three of us, maybe four of us, in that chamber, at least one wedged solid, and a 200 ft sump for rescue parties to negotiate. (We should have practised for this one !)

Then there was a second roof  fall but this time the gremlins were on our side and somehow or other the body in the boulders got spewed out in front of us.  He brushed himself down and all three of us greeted each other like long lost friends and then we headed, ladies first, down to look for, or at, Bruce.  He, too, had been bloody lucky.  As he was just entering the chamber he saw the boulders coming after him and was able to duck back into the the shelter of the cleft.  He was just peering round the edge of the biggest boulder when we arrived back on the scene.  He wanted to know what the hell we were up to but we had no desire to stop and explain.  We squeezed under the boulder and returned to solid passage.  Charles had escaped with some damage to his left hand and some cuts and bruising to his head.

By this time John had caught us up and we explained why we were heading back for the top route.  He did not believe us that day and I am sure doesn’t to this day as that was his favourite route.

We joined an anxious Rod and headed back to the sump.  The lake was particularly nasty to all of us, probably because we were tired,  but there could be no hanging around and in no time we were under water and bobbing up in Dip Sump.  My return was not uneventful.  Charles was wounded and was being escorted out, so the friendly hand I had on the way in was unavailable.  I started swimming the lake towards the spot where the diving gear was left but kept sinking.  I then kept to the wall of the lake and by using the small irregularities in the vertical rock wall I  managed to traverse round in the water to where my diving gear was stashed in an alcove.  Even swimming back through the sump my helmet caught in the guideline and caused me an anxious few moments while I untangled it.

Clive Jones in OFDII with replacement pipeLuckily this expedition ended without any serious consequences.  Charles had a damaged hand, Clive had lost his pipe but had managed to struggle across the lake to Niphargus Niche without drowning, Bruce’s ammunition box had been flattened and Rod had lost a battery box in the sump and an aneroid barometer, which he was able to retrieve after he returned on a new air-bottle.                     back to the top

At last, dry connections...

The next dive was not until April 1967 when four divers took part.  These were Rod Stewart, John Osborne, Colin Graham and Mike Coburn.  The purpose of the dive was to examine the high-level passages in the Cwm Dwr area to see where  a connection could be made.  John Osborne writes in the SWCC 21st anniversary publication:

Once in the water the die was cast, and all four swam through crystal-clear water in convoy.  There was just one point of interest - a white fish, with black eyes - it did not attack so we left it alone.  The pitch was climbed and by mid-afternoon we gathered in the Smithy for a bite.  We had just agreed to meet back there at seven o’clock when there was a loud bang.  We immediately realised that it was Clive in Cwm Dwr, so we set off up the stream to trace the draught.  The passage smoking the most was blocked with boulders, but Rod could hear hammer blows for a while and then all was quiet.  We agreed to split up and follow the passage of our choice.  My route was up near the roof, which I chose because I could hear the stream down below.  After about twenty feet a steep, tight squeeze led into the boulders proper.  Although a bit hairy, I could see there was a window which looked into a chamber with a spongework boulder over most of the roof.  A stream could be heard in there.  Having proved that a tight boulder squeeze can be negotiated with all fingers crossed, the chamber was entered.  I climbed up a further thirty feet through boulders on the other side and found myself in Cwm Dwr Jama.

Filled with relief at not finding a party crouched over a banger wire, I searched for human company.  It was not until I found that there was no ladder in the entrance shaft that I was sure that there was no-one in the cave.  The pitch was tricky but it was really worthwhile to sneak into the club for a snack.  Whilst in the club I persuaded Bruce that there WAS a way through so he returned with me, to the astonishment of Colin who was waiting in the Smithy

With the discovery of the connection between Cwm Dwr and Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II, there was no longer any need to dive the 200ft sump from Ogof Ffynnon Ddu I.  Parties were now exploring Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II using the Cwm Dwr entrance which was within 200 yards of the club.  The climb through the boulders from Cwm Dwr into the new cave did not seem very safe but, after a bit of gardening, the route was considerably improved.

It was at this point that I returned from three years away.  I had, with my wife Phyllis, bought a small ketch in the Autumn of 1963 and spent three years sailing around the Mediterranean using Malta as a base.  During this time we had visited caves in Sardinia, Sicily and Tunisia.  Although an interesting period of my life, I found I was getting bored doing nothing very much. The Med. was a poor place for sailing as there was generally no wind.  If there was it was, either too strong or in the wrong direction.  It proved to be a good time to return to Penwyllt.

OFDII Entrance Passage the day after the entrance was opened in 1967. Photo: Jem RowlandParties now entered the cave every weekend. The main thrust of exploration was to find the way into high level passages above the stream passage.  The maypole was used to climb out of the stream into a considerable maze of passages.  Explorers frequently thought they were in new passage only to find their own footprints on the floor.  The main participants were Colin Fairbairn, John Osborne, Paddy and Sue O’Reilly, Terry Moon and many others.  Salubrious Passage, Gnome Passage and the Nave were some of the first passages to be explored.  Salubrious Passage had a stream flowing over  a thick layer of slippery white clay on the floor.  The old limekilns on the mountain above must have had something to do with this.  Gnome was a very large passage with numerous short white stalagmites on the floor (the Gnomes); it was about 30ft wide and varying in height between 20ft and 70ft.  North-west of Gnome Passage they entered another large passage which ended in a choke.  It was noticed that there were snail shells lying about and there were black spots on the wall which were found to be dead flies.  This became known as the Snail Dig.  The indications were that this was very near the surface so Bill Birchenough’s radio device was brought into action and  contact was made giving a position on the surface.  The following weekend, September 16th 1967, there was a party on the inside and a digging party on the surface.  A bang was let off on the inside, which was clearly heard by those on the surface.  It only took about an hour’s digging for an opening to be made.  Some digging tools were passed inside and, by the following day, the new entrance was completed and the outside landscaped.

There was, as yet, no dry way from Ogof Ffynnon Ddu I to the new part of the cave.  It was Bob Radcliffe who decided that a way must be found.  He wanted to dig in Shrimp Series but this was  sealed off by the Divers' Pitch and the swim across the Shower Aven lake.   He examined the pitch and found that he could free climb it.  With the help of Eric Inson, Bob Hall and Peter Cardy, he spent several months digging.  In the end, the difficulty of getting to the site and the nature of the material they had to dig through forced them to give in.  They then turned their attention to the other end of the dig, in the Boulder Series near Dip Sump.  Instead of digging upwards in the boulders, as had been done previously, they dug straight on. They found that the digging was much easier and  within two weekends they reported progress of 70ft.  Peter Cardy and Bill Little had a narrow escape as, after they had finished for the day, the working face burst, emptying the contents of a perched lake down their tunnel and opening the way from Ogof Ffynnon Ddu I to the new cave.  They had been digging the plug out of the bottom of it and if they had been in the tunnel at the time the face collapsed they might have been drowned.  This new route did not break out into Shrimp Series, as was expected, which would have meant a swim across the lake to Shower Aven.  It actually joined the passages behind Shower Aven giving a completely dry way through.  A dry way was now open between the two parts of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu and it was possible to enter the cave via any one of three entrances, Ogof Ffynnon Ddu I, Cwm Dwr or Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II on the mountain.  By now the cave was the longest and deepest in Britain.

Edited by Jem Rowland,                                                                                                           back to the top
March 2009