Mendip, Sinc y Giedd, Pwll Dwfn etc., 1947-48
by Peter I. W. Harvey contents
After the excitement of the discovery of Ogof
Ffynnon Ddu, life gradually drifted back to normal. Petrol rationing
was still in force, which meant that excursions to Wales only took place
every four or five weeks. The return journey to Mendip, from Bristol,
could be done with less than a gallon of petrol on my motorcycle but a
weekend in Wales needed at least four gallons. Over a gallon could
be saved by travelling with the motorcycle on the train through the Severn
Tunnel, from Pilning to Severn Tunnel Junction. As the ration was
only about four or five gallons a month, a lot of my time was spent on
the Mendips. I had joined the WCC several years previously and this
became my main club whilst on Mendip.
The WCC at this time was run by its secretary, Frank Frost. With
Frank you were either in or out. I was usually out! I was
talking to a new member once and he said to me “I am not supposed
to talk to you, Frank said you were a bad influence.” One
year, I proposed somebody else for the job of secretary and Luke Devenish
seconded the proposal. By return of post I received a letter from
the chairman telling me to withdraw my proposal as Frank wished to be
secretary again. Luke also had a letter and, unfortunately, he chickened
out! This did, at least, start the appointment of an assistant secretary,
which made the running of the club a bit more open. I believe the
Wessex has now returned to the ranks of the democratic clubs! One
verse of a Wessex cave club song reads:
Frank Frost, he was
our leader, our leader was Frank Frost
And though he was a bastard, without him we were lost.
His wisdom was eternal, he was our guiding light,
He filled the Wessex journal with malice, hate and spite.
Back in Wales, now that the
exploration of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu was slowing down, Ian [Nixon] and
I were turning our interest elsewhere. Behind Dan yr Ogof, about
two miles to the north-west, was a large swallet taking a stream which,
in times of flood, was the size of a small river. This swallet was
called Sinc y Giedd and was about a mile beyond the one the Dolphin Gang
had been digging since 1938, called Waun Fignen Felen after the peat bog
which it drained. It was believed that both these streams resurged
at Dan yr Ogof but there was no evidence of any water testing having
been carried out. Bill Weaver told me that he had examined this
swallet before the war and had managed to get underground where the water
sank and reached quite a large chamber. As he was alone he had not
prospected any further. For all his knowledge of the area,
I always regarded Bill as great story teller.
We obtained permission to dig on the mountain from Mr. Ward, Lord Tredegar's
agent. This took rather longer than we expected because Mr. Ward
got the idea we wanted to open a show cave two miles from the nearest
road! Ian and I decided to start digging this sink at Easter 1947
by camping at the site in the Giedd Valley. We had visited Sinc
y Giedd several times during the winter of 1946/47 and had examined a
number of small holes in the vicinity of the sink but we never managed
to find the hole Bill had found. We uncovered one small bedding
plane which looked quite promising as it obviously got bigger inside.
It was much too small for Ian or me, but we had two girls with us, Brenda
and Phyllis. Brenda managed to squeeze through the nine inch space
but Phyllis, who was complaining that her chest was too big, got no sympathy
and was told, “Stuff them under your armpits and get in there”.
Unfortunately there was only 100ft of bedding plane and nothing else,
so we decided to dig at the main sink where Bill claimed he had some success.
I tried to visit the sink once more before Easter with a rucksack full
of tinned food, to sustain us during the intended camp, but the visibility
was so bad in the pouring rain that I stashed the food in a sink hole
to be picked up later and returned to the Tawe Valley. Food was
always fairly difficult to obtain as a lot of it was still rationed for
a number of years after the war, though vegetables were always fairly
plentiful. The usual procedure was to club together and make a stew
with whatever everyone had. I can remember many fine stews, but
it was often a good thing not to enquire too deeply into the ingredients.
I remember once when I had been lucky in obtaining a pound of sausages.
The others were cooking the potatoes and beans so I was on my own frying
the sausages. I put them in the frypan with some fat and after a
minute or so it was obvious that there were little things inside trying
to get out through the skin, away from the heat. The topside of
the sausages looked quite hairy! The others had not noticed anything
so I quickly rolled them over and, after cooking them well, served them
up. There were no complaints or any ill effects. Whatever
the age of the sausages there were certainly some fresh ingredients in
Easter 1947 arrived, and I managed to get a lift to Wales in someone’s
car. The weather that year had been awful, with sleet, heavy snow
and high winds, and we had planned to camp at Sink y Giedd, high on the
mountain. On the Saturday morning we rose early. All the party
had arrived at the Gwyn and we were all at Sinc y Giedd before midday.
It was decided that because of the dreadful weather Kay Dixon and I would
camp at the sink while Ian and the rest would stay in the valley and come
up daily. The dig was started at the main sink. We managed to dig
down about 6ft that day, the day workers leaving about 6pm and the campers
retiring to a good night’s sleep at about 9pm. We were camping
beside the stream which flowed into the swallet, which is at an altitude
of about 1400ft. During the night, the noise of the stream ceased,
indicating that the temperature was well below zero. We rose at
6 am next morning and, after a good breakfast, carried on downwards.
Eventually, after wrestling with a large boulder in the bottom of the
hole, we drilled it and with a small charge the bits dropped down the
hole. We had broken the shafts on both our sledgehammers, which
had been at the sink since the previous November. At this point
it started to rain again and Mike Gummer arrived from the valley.
The hole was now 10ft deep, leading to two parallel passages each about
3ft high and joined by a bedding plane. From the far passage there
was another 10ft drop into another passage going north and south.
Ian, Brenda and Liz had arrived by now and the rain was coming down in
real Welsh style. We decided , as the river would soon be flowing
down our dig, we would retire to the valley and the Gwyn Arms. Next
day, in the rain, we removed all our equipment, hoping to return for the
Whitsun holiday when we might expect some better weather. The chances
of getting into a cave of some length now looked very promising but we
were high up on the open mountain, a long way from the road and the weather
was too much for us.
It was on our return that we learned that Dolphin, Lander and Colin Low, collectively known, with Norman Paddock, as the ‘Dolphin
Gang’ had found a promising hole in the Dan yr Ogof valley which
they described as “very dangerous”. They had been sheltering
from the wind and rain in a small depression to consume a snack when they
heard the sound of running water beneath them. It was not long before
they had removed enough soil and boulders to enter a sloping passage with
the stream running along the floor and which after about 20 ft dropped
down a pitch. They returned quickly to the Gwyn for some rope ladder.
They returned again later for all the available ladder. They had
descended one short pitch of about 20ft but there was another one immediately
beyond it. Unfortunately, at the bottom of the second pitch which
was about 55 ft, they found a third pitch for which there was no more
tackle. It was decided to acquire more ladder and have another attempt
at a later date. back
to the top
Immediately after the war, tackle consisted of ladders made from rope
with wooden rungs, which would have been made at least seven to ten years
previously and stored in unknown conditions. It was therefore fairly
unreliable. I was now making new rope ladder but up until then
had not finished very much. Later on, I managed to supply the needs
of both the Wessex and the South Wales Caving Club. I always enjoyed
climbing rope ladders, compared with the later wire and aluminium rung
variety. Rope ladders were, of course, much heavier and bulkier
but were slightly elastic so that, when climbing, one could get a rhythm
going with the bounce and this was a help in climbing.
On Mendip, meanwhile, I had been intrigued by a deep depression about
two miles north-east of the Hunter’s Lodge. Bill Weaver was
also interested, and we decided to have a go at digging it, perhaps with
the help of the Dolphin Gang. First of all we had to find out who
owned the field and Bill agreed that this would be his job. Looking
through the old mining maps, I saw that the area this depression was in
was called Cuckoo Cleeves, so we used this name when referring to our
proposed dig. Bill was lucky in locating the owner and, after getting
permission to dig, we decided to start at Whitsun helped by Leslie Millward.
I was to join them on the last day of the holiday when I returned from
Back in Wales, the Dolphin Gang had assembled some more ladder and invited
Bill Weaver, John Parkes and myself to join them on 27th April for the
exploration of their new pot, which they had named Pwll Dwfn, or ‘Deep
Pot’ in English. I was able to help them with a few lengths
of my own rope ladder. We descended four pitches, the last
being 80ft, and a short climb down to the head of another pitch which
was at least 60ft deep. Even using the ladder on the third
pitch again, we still did not have enough to reach the bottom. The
total ladder needed was about 260 ft. There was nothing for it but to
retreat and arrange another date, which was July 6th. The place
did not seem all that dangerous. The First two pitches were a bit
loose and seemed to have large loose rocks in the wall that were sufficiently
keyed in so that they could not fall out. The rest of the cave appeared
pretty solid. There was very little horizontal passage, probably less
than 50ft in total, as one pitch was followed closely by the next.
It was now Whitsun and Ian, Mike Gummer and I went over to Wales to see
how far we could get into Sinc y Giedd. We were lucky with the weather
and there was no water going in at our dig. It had not been filled
by flood debris and we were able to reach the furthest passage we had
seen at Easter. To the north it got too small after about 20ft,
but to the south it curled round and down into quite a large chamber.
This was could have been the same chamber that Bill Weaver said he entered
before the war. From this, there was a round passage about 3ft in
diameter leading off in a westerly direction, for the first time in solid
rock. After about 35ft, it cut into the top of an aven about 40ft
above the floor below. Just below our opening was a band of chert,
so we could stand one foot on either side looking down as the aven
opened out below us. Of course, we had no ladder with us so we decided
to call it a day and return in August, when we were intending to spend
a week in the area. Sink y Giedd was certainly still looking very
promising. The rock we were now in was solid. Until we entered
the large chamber, the cave appeared to be large rocks, the size of small
houses, just resting on each other, which suggested to me that it was
a very young swallet where little collapse had as yet taken place.
Looking at the surroundings, it could be seen that the stream had carried
on down the valley before the swallet was formed. In the cave there
were no formations of any kind and everywhere was waterwashed black rock
with flood debris lodged everywhere up to the ceiling. It was obvious
that in time of flood the whole place was filled with water - not a place
to be caught in during a cloudburst!
I left Wales with one day of the holiday remaining. This was reserved
for Mendip, to see how Bill and Leslie had fared with the dig at Cuckoo
Cleeves. When I arrived they were not there but it was obvious that
they had done magnificently. They had dug a shaft about 20ft deep
in glacial mud and boulders and there was actually a black hole at the
bottom, but I could see that if the sides of the shaft were not supported
pretty soon, everything would be lost. I tracked them down and found
them in the Hunter’s Lodge nearby, where arrangements were made
for obtaining timber and shuttering. The next Saturday, Bill and
I were up early and by midday had shuttered most of the shaft, although
a bit had fallen in. Leslie arrived after midday and by about 10pm
we had made an entrance. As it was now pretty late, we decided to
explore it on the following Wednesday evening. back
to the top
The following Wednesday saw the three of us at the entrance with 120ft
of ladder and associated tackle. One of Sod’s laws is
that if you need ladder you won’t have it with you and if you don’t
need ladder there will plenty available. At the bottom of the shaft,
after going through a small chamber, we were in a short descending passage
and then after passing a swinging block of stone, which seemed hinged
rather like a door, there was a short drop on which we used a handline.
At this point we were in a sloping chamber, at the bottom of which a narrow
passage led off in a south-easterly direction for about 200ft then changing
direction to the south-west, finishing in a bedding plane chamber sloping
at about 45 degrees. After about 10ft this chamber closed down to
a crack about six inches wide and much too narrow to get through.
It was while we were sitting down at the end of the cave considering the
possibilities and all was quiet that a boulder moved below us and rumbled
down a slope. It was a very eerie sound and, not being sure what
to make of it, we all moved out of the cave. It could possibly have
been a boulder at the entrance, which of course had recently been disturbed
by our digging activities. I can’t remember if we had told
anyone where we were that evening!
The rift passages down to the terminal chamber were interesting in that
the rock contained numerous fossils and was worn away to leave the fossils
sticking out proud of the rock. I imagine that today, after the
passing of many cavers, a lot of the walls have been worn smooth.
July arrived and we were all back in Wales for the final exploration
of Pwll Dwfn. The same party as before had assembled in the Swansea
Valley with at least 350ft of rope ladder. It was arranged that
our party would ladder the cave on the Saturday and, on the Sunday, a
group of SWCC members would descend the pot and remove the tackle.
The 350ft of ladder plus the associated tethers and lifelines was a formidable
load for six of us to carry up the mountain so Paul had organised a horse
to help us, complete with a driver. This saved us carrying some
of the tackle, but took considerably longer because none of us seemed
capable of loading the cargo on the horse’s back reliably.
We had to reload the horse a couple of times when, instead of being on
its back, the load slipped and hung from its belly, thus making it difficult
for the poor animal to work its legs properly.
Of the trip itself, there is little to record. We were expecting
to drop into a vast system of horizontal passages behind the known parts
of Dan yr Ogof, but caving is never like that. There seems to be
some rule that allows only a bit at a time. We quickly descended
the first four pitches and, with great expectations, threw 60ft of ladder
down the fifth pitch. Paul and another climbed down but there was
no way on, only a miserable pool of water in the floor. This was
a big disappointment to us all, but there was the consolation that Pwll
Dwfn was like nothing else in Wales. It was more like the potholes
found in Yorkshire. Much later on, on January 24th 1964, Bill Clark
and Charles George organised a dive in this terminal pool but were disappointed
to find no way on underwater.
August arrived and Ian and I were back in the Swansea Valley with our
attention now again on Sinc y Giedd, ready to explore the miles of passage
that lay below the pitch. Mike Gummer and Kay Dixon had also arrived.
The SWCC had now been given the use of a cottage by Jeffrey Morgan, for
use as a headquarters, situated near the main road on the banks of the
Llynfell - the river which flows out of Dan yr Ogof. [The cottage
was known as 'Penbont' and has since been demolished as a result of road
realignment.] This was very convenient, being both close to the
caves and the Gwyn Arms. We had fitted it up with about a dozen
bunks and facilities for cooking. The girls were still accommodated
at the Gwyn as Arthur Hill, the club secretary, thought that the local
people in the valley would disapprove if they slept in the same building
as the men. This was quite an inconvenience as we usually rose in
the morning about 5am and this meant instead of just kicking them out
of their bunks, somebody had to run to the Gwyn, a half a mile away, to
throw stones at their window in order to get them up for breakfast.
It seems a very early start in the morning after the night before but
we could not afford to come to Wales very often because of the petrol
situation. Although we always tried to drink the Gwyn dry every
evening, it was only the wartime watery brew, which did not seem to do
the damage that more modern beers seem to manage.
When we arrived at Sinc y Giedd, the weather was fine but there was too
much water going down for any exploration to take place. We left
the tackle and went for a walk to look at the other sinks in the area.
There was one taking a lot of water about 100yds further up the Giedd
and, all the way up the Giedd until it reached the Old Red Sandstone,
there were also further small sinks. South of the main sink
there was a small peat bog which was the head of another small stream
also named the Giedd on the map. It seems that in the past both
streams were one until, as it flowed over the limestone, the water was
gradually captured by the waters flowing underground. We also examined
a swallet we had not seen before to the north of Sink y Giedd called Twyn
Tal Ddraenen. We pulled a few boulders out and noted it down for
attention later on.
We returned to our sink after midday and found that there was much less
water going down. We went underground and laddered the pitch which
we had looked down last time - about 45ft of nice easy climbing.
At the bottom, the rift went north and south. There was not much
to the north, as the passage gradually closed down, but to the south there
was a high passage which closed down to a bedding plane to the left.
This opened out into a number of walking passages but all of these became
too tight after a while. As the prospects of getting into the Dan
yr Ogof system were now looking rather slim, we decided that it would
be best to look for somewhere else to dig. At the bottom of Sinc
y Giedd we were something like 100ft underground. The rock was black
waterwashed limestone with flood debris in all the cracks, just as we
had found in the entrance passages. This gave me the impression
that there would be no easy route into the main Dan yr Ogof system.
Reluctantly, we called it a day, removed our tackle and returned to the
valley. On emerging from the cave we met Don Lumbard out walking
with some friends, who helped carry some of our tackle. To crown
the day, we found that we had succeeded in drinking the Gwyn Arms dry
during the previous evening. This was not an uncommon occurrence
in the years during and after the war. Luckily the Tafarn y Garreg,
a few hundred yards up the road, was open and had beer!
The rest of this holiday was spent in trying to dig through the boulder
choke in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. We dug in the floor on the right hand
side and did manage to reach a small passage in solid rock but it did
not look very exciting. In fact, it was so small only Peggy Hardwidge
could get into the first six feet or so. Peggy was very useful being
so small, because we could push her into any small hole we could not manage
One evening after the Gwyn had shut, I went with Peter Densham to the
rising across the road from Craig y Nos Castle, now used as a TB hospital.
This was known as the Hospital Water Cave. Up until now, nobody
had been in because it was thought that the hospital authorities might
refuse permission but, as they only used the water during droughts, a
very rare occurrence in Wales, we decided to have a little look.
There was a small system totalling about 600ft ending in a sump.
I remember in one place there was a horrendous looking boulder, which
did not look supported, that we had to climb over. Many people have
visited the cave since then and this boulder is still there so I suppose
it must be firmly in place. The sump has been dived by Martin Farr,
Mike Ware, and others but they have been unable to break through into
any worthwhile passages. Craig y Nos Castle was built by the Powells,
local industrialists, and was later the home Adelina Patti, the Edwardian
opera soprano. She had built into it a very pretty little opera
theatre, which is well worth a visit. She also had a private waiting
room at Penwyllt station. Madame Patti was a friend of Edward
the Caresser (Edward VII) and it is said that when he arrived for
a visit, her husband, Baron Cederstrom, retired to the hunting lodge (Ty
Mawr) at the top of Penwyllt hill near the station.
Our week in Wales came to an end and, with it, the end of a very busy
twelve months, with the opening of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, exploration of Pwll
Dwfn, Downey's Cave, the Hospital Water Cave and a small part of Sinc
y Giedd and then the opening of Cuckoo Cleeves on Mendip. It seemed
that, in October, when the petrol ration for private use was stopped altogether,
a brake was being put on our activities. It meant that we could
not go to Wales so often and when we did it was usually by public
Towards the end of 1947, I decided to prove the connection between the
swallet at Pwll Byfre and the river in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. On the
25th October 1947 I put 6oz. of fluorescein in the stream at Pwll Byfre.
This dye is a red powder in the bottle, stains ones hands yellow, and
yet turns the water a brilliant green in the sunlight. It was Saturday
midday when we dyed the stream. We watched at Ffynnon Ddu all Sunday
but nothing came through. It was not until midday on Monday that
Mrs. Bannister at y Grithig cottage saw that the spring had turned green.
The dye had taken approximately two days to travel the mile and a bit
underground. Soon afterwards, in March 1948, we introduced 35oz
of fluorescein into Sinc y Giedd. About 50 hours later it was seen
in the Llynfell, flowing out of Dan yr Ogof, taking about a day to clear.
We had now located the source of water of both the main risings in the
Swansea Valley. It was interesting that the Dan yr Ogof catchment
area went as far west as Sinc y Giedd; many people had assumed that
the water here went to Ffrwd Las, a rising in the Twrch Valley, a mile
or so further further west. back
to the top
My main interests in caving were now centred on the Swansea Valley and,
in particular, on Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, which had the potential of becoming
the largest and deepest cave in Britain. This did not mean that
I only caved in Wales. I was involved in several digs on Mendip.
With Leslie and Phyllis Millward we dug down 25ft in both the depressions
in the field adjacent to the Hunter’s Lodge. One of these
we filled in, the other we handed over to Oliver Wells, who carried on
with it and entered a pothole with a 70ft pitch. I had a theory
that most successful digs entered a cave before 25ft. There are
several examples of mammoth digs which tended to turn into someone's life's
work. I think I was unlucky with the Hunter’s Hole.
Looking at it now, the entrance is nowhere near 25ft. deep. We must
have been digging down beside open space! After that, we spent a
while digging at Manor Farm Swallet but were defeated by the regular floods
filling in the dig. Another dig we attempted was on the farm about
a mile south of Lamb Lair. The farmer gave us permission to dig
an interesting looking depression on his land but it was on condition
that we did not do any work on Sunday. Cave digging requires all-out
effort and in the end we lost interest.
also found time and petrol to visit Derbyshire and the Yorkshire Dales.
I never seemed to do very much when I went to Derbyshire. We visited
a few small caves and went down a few mineshafts, but I always had the
impression that I was on a social outing. Yorkshire, on the other
hand, was quite different. After the first day I was always aching
all over. Living in the south I was not brought up to climb ladders
all day or carry so much rope ladder around inside pots. The weather
never seemed to be very kind to us and my old Home Guard uniform (pictured
left) and old sweaters used to soak up enormous quantities of water which
I had to carry around with me and up and down wet pitches. After
one hard day, it seemed I was expected to do the same again next day.
I was always pleased when the weekend was over but the strange thing about
caving is that, in retrospect, I always realized that I had enjoyed the
The Chairman of the SWCC was now Dr. Edward Aslett (pictured right).
He was an eminent specialist in lung diseases and had spent many years
in South Wales in connection with the coalminers’ endemic lung disease,
pneumoconiosis. There are numerous stories of his absent-mindedness.
On one occasion he took a young lady out to dinner; after the dinner
went out to fetch his car but forgot he was out with a young lady and
drove home! He was in the pub one night and one of the locals asked
someone who he was. He was told that Edward was a very famous venereologist.
The local looked at him in wonder and said “Duw, there’s Culture
If one was in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu and kept finding things like a pencil
or a glasses case, it meant that Brigadier Aubrey Glennie was somewhere
around. He spent many hours in the cave studying the layout of the
passages and the different limestone beds these were in. He wrote
a number of very interesting articles in the Cave Research Group’s
publications on the formation of the cave. He once asked me to help
him enter a small chamber he had found; “A screwdriver will
be enough” he assured me. I happened to be carrying a crowbar
at the time and, after about two hours hard work, I managed to make the
hole big enough to enter. Glennie was one of the leading lights
who formed the Cave Research Group in about 1947 (which later became BCRA).
His niece, Mary Hazelton, was very interested in the underground fauna
and was recorder for the CRG on this subject for a number of years.
Aubrey Glennie was subsequently president of SWCC (from 1962-68).
Now that the club had a cottage in the area (Penbont) we were getting
numerous visits from other clubs. This meant that we were quite
often asked to show them round the local caves. On one occasion,
Les Hawes and I were taking a party from the Bradford Pothole Club round
Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. The stream was pretty high, more than a foot above
the step, which is generaly regarded as the limit. The visiting
party found this a very wet and strenuous trip. Being locals and
knowing the stream well, we had no difficulty. Anyway, some time
later, Les was in Yorkshire and the Bradford club were having their annual
meet at Gaping Gill with the winch. Les was strapped into the seat
and, just as he was going down, he was recognised by one of the party
we had taken into Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. They told him they were going
to try and beat the record for the descent into the main chamber.
I believe they managed 17 seconds!
Edited by Jem Rowland, back
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