by Tony Knibbs. Tony and
Denise came to our club's 60th Anniversary dinner in April 2006
and this is
what he had to say . . .
My Lords, ladies and gentlemen, you must excuse such a high mode of address, but
when I was asked to speak this evening I think there was mention of a peerage
- or was it 'porridge'? I suspect it was the latter, so I'll press on regardless.
will all be aware that history is but a series of seemingly trivial events which
pass unremarked at the time of their occurrence. The trivia which I am about to
recount took place even before the dinosaurs first populated Dan-yr-Ogof; and
even before the "scourge of the green jumpers" [a reference to Laurie
Galpin's inimitable garment] came rampaging down from the North. You will have
heard the ancient poem which includes the line " the Assyrian came down like
a wolf on the fold". This was but an adaptation of an even earlier work referring
to " the green jumper came down like a wolf on the fold". History is
full of just such curiosities.
06.00 hours on the fine autumnal morning of 18th September 1954 I sat in a café
in Merthyr Tydfil with my colleague Malcolm Cotter discussing where we should
spend a week's caving in South Wales. The street outside was noisy with the rhythmic
clatter of the hobnailed boots of what seemed like an army of passing miners.
Such an insignificant tête-à-tête had uncertain beginnings,
but gave rise to a week of memorable caving. Having finished our breakfast, we
shouldered our heavy packs (lightweight kit had yet to be invented) to catch the
next train to Craig-y-Nos.
Apart from the scaling
of Mount Everest, there were two important events in 1953: the discovery of St
Cuthbert's Swallet on Mendip and the publication of "British Caving",
the first book to provide a comparative, detailed overview of British caving regions.
It also provided a showcase for caves in South Wales - in 64 pages of photos,
21 featured caves in Glyntawe, of which 14 were of OFD.
Impending National Service in 1954 had prompted me to take a caving holiday before
the anticipated call-up in November. South Wales was chosen because it was unknown
to both myself and my colleague Malcolm. The mute recommendation of the photos
in "British Caving" may also have guided our choice. Neither of us had
any knowledge of Wales. I have a logbook entry from which I'll shortly bore you
with a few lines. In passing, may I say that anyone taking up caving should be
encouraged to keep a detailed logbook from the outset. The possibilities for scandal,
recrimination and simply boring people are endless. My own detailed logbook lasted
only two years.
Malcolm and I met at Cheltenham coach station at 03.15 am
on Saturday 18th September 1954 and at 04.00 am we took the coach for Merthyr
Tydfil. I suppose I must have taken the midnight coach from Victoria. To my surprise,
there was no visible border marking our arrival in Wales. Not even signs saying
"do not feed the dragons". My logbook records, "On arrival at Merthyr
we went to a café to discuss the Welsh prospect. The choice was Ystradfellte
or Glyntawe. We decided on Glyntawe as a base and set off with our packs to catch
the next train to Craig-y-Nos station We arrived there at 12.00 am after an extremely
pleasant journey through the Brecon Beacons via Brecon and Sennybridge. Morning
mist beneath a bright blue sky made the journey through the Beacons quite fascinating.
An ideal introduction to the area. SWCC not having had the good sense to establish
their headquarters at Penwyllt until 1959, we walked down the hill towards the
river Tawe until we reached the rising of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu and soon obtained permission
to camp at the nearby farm called Y Grithig. In the evening we crossed the Tawe
near the Adelina Patti hospital and examined the rising at Dan-yr-Ogof. Then we
paid a visit to the South Wales Caving Club HQ at Pen-Bont where we met Noel Dilly
NB My 180-mile journey to Craig-y-Nos from home in Surrey must
have taken a total of some 15 hours!
Sunday 19th [Sept
1954] Tunnel Cave trip with Dai Hunt.
20th Downey's Cave survey with Noel Dilly. This cave proved to be extremely badly
designed, low uncomfortable and occasionally wet The final station was at a gour
pool with small inlet from OFD Noel informed us that this impossible-looking squeeze
led directly into OFD. It must have been at this point that the "Dilly factor"
kicked in and we believed the manoeuvre to be easier than it actually was. I went
through first, bloody nearly drowning as by body dammed up the water above my
chest. This was a situation guaranteed to inspire a violent physical effort to
move on, simply to avoid drowning. As I sat in OFD thinking how close a shave
that had been, Malcolm followed me through. Meanwhile Noel had gone back out,
ostensibly to meet us in OFD and show us the way out, but he really just wanted
to keep dry, but an en-route duck which we had bailed from the entrance side had
. He did eventually come round to meet us in OFD, bemoaning his
21st We did some Shopping at Clarke's and walked up to Pwll Byfre, noticing several
possible digs. We spent the evening at the club headquarters; were promised a
guided trip into OFD next day. I mentioned that we had considered caving at 'Istradfelty'.
This was followed by what Noel described as a "monstrous hoosh", and
my pronunciation was loudly corrected by a dark brown voice in a corner - Ystradfellte,
if you please!
Wednesday 22nd OFD
visit. At 08.00 am the sound of nailed boots passed by our tents without stopping,
so we set off guideless expecting them to be waiting inside the cave. The Guides
had gone, but we pressed on. I recall a wheelbarrow not far inside the entrance
and some strange-looking 'candles' on a ledge; but they had no wicks, but were
wrapped in waxy brown paper and were of a variety called Polar Ammon - just legible
by the light of our carbide lamps. We found our way around the Rawl to Pi Chamber
and came out by the Escape Route, relying on a mixture of caving instinct and
memory of things read or said to navigate.
Visit to Pwll Pant-Mawr which made us miss our train, but we were given a lift
into Merthyr by Bill Clarke and caught the coach back to Cheltenham.
It was many years before I became a member of the club. Eventually I had the good
fortune to marry the OFD permit secretary. I would like to mention in passing
that SWCC has always shown the greatest consideration to other clubs in its administration
of the caves it controls.
SWCC was not like any other club I had ever met.
It was more of an engineering company with caving interests. Going out in the
mornings, you had to become adept at recognising people by the seats of their
trousers as they laboured in the rain beneath the bonnets of their vehicles, mind
you, it was then the fashion for blokes to wear the same grotty garments for years
on end, so recognition was not so hard after a while. However, to address Peter's
rear end [Peter Harvey] with " good morning Bill!" usually produced
an unkind response followed by a comment such as, "pass me a three-quarter
Whitworth open-ended spanner will you?" The toolbox in which this was found
might be the size of an "Oxo" box or as big as a large suitcase. And
God help you if you passed a three-quarter inch AF by mistake! The engineering
enterprise also encompassed caving, for the pursuit of which, such gems as the
simpler 'skyhook' and the very complicated Balinka Pit winch system were created.
People aimed high in those days!
of us who hailed from outside the Principality, a lasting memory of early visits
were the Après Grotte festivities at such trendy places as the Gwyn Arms
where the quality of the singing, luckily, made up for the deplorable quality
of the beer. "Evan, Evans, Bevan Vale of Death Ales" was no idle threat.
It was an obnoxious concoction, likened locally to the Tawe in flood. It was probably
with this brew in mind that a drinker's version of a well-known hymn, retitled
"Imbibe with me" might usefully have been written. The arrival of Whitbread's
'Trophy' bitter simply added insult to injury. It's a bloody miracle that some
of us are still alive to tell the tale! As a colleague used to assure me, "it's
the beer that makes me stupid". The welcome
extended to foreigners had something in common with an old ex-army kapok sleeping
bag I once had, which offered 'variable warmth'. I seem to remember that the refrain
" Twll dyn, Bob Seis, I'ach-y-da" implied a criticism of those from
beyond the eastern boundary of the Principality. But then, nobody's perfect. Shit
Knibbs, April 2006
[Of the people mentioned
in Tony's speech, Peter Harvey, Laurie Galpin
and Noel Dilly were present
that evening] [Items in [ ] are clarifications by
PCW for those not familiar with life in the valley!]
by Eric Inson. Eric and Vicky came to our club's
60th Anniversary dinner in April 2006
and this is what he had to say . .
Good evening everybody. Thank you for asking me to speak to you on this special
occasion. I'll try not to be too verbose. Some of the older members will remember
a previous dinner held in Brecon when the guest speaker spoke for an hour! What
I would like to tell you is my memory of the early days in the Club and some of
the highlights of the sixties and seventies. One regret I have is not keeping
a diary, so please forgive me if some details are not quite correct, especially
The Club has been in existence for 60 years. I was not there at
the very beginning, but I have been coming to the club for 54 of those years.
I come from Cardiff, and was in Howard Gardens High School with Noel Dilly
(who is here tonight) - or rather what was left of the school after Mr Hitler
had done his worst. One part of the building that was still intact was a fine
Victorian Gymnasium which was two and a half stories high, and had climbing ropes
reaching up into the roof, so we learned to climb ropes. We started caving about
1951, in the caves and mines just north of Cardiff. I remember Noel bribing a
lad the princely sum of one shilling to show us where the entrance of the Lesser
Garth Cave was situated.
Then we discovered the Iron Mine nearby. This
has holes and caverns hundreds of feet deep and lakes of similar depths. Noel
had acquired an old hemp rope, and I had a lifeline of sorts (thick string). We
used to slide down shafts up to 50ft deep, and often took our friends from school.
We had no proper equipment, no helmets, just hand torches, no proper boots. We
must have been lucky as there was no Cave Rescue to call and nobody knew where
Noel and I used to cycle from Cardiff to Ystradfellte, Pont
Nedd Fechan or Merthyr, visit the various caves and then cycle back. A round trip
of 60 miles. It was nice to be young and fit. On one trip to Dinas Rock we spoke
to a man who was working in the Silica Mine and we had a conducted tour of the
workings. The mine closed in 1964.
Cycling to the Caving Club was more of a problem with the extra kit to carry and
only an ex-army rucksack to carry it, so we came by bus. This took 4 hours if
you caught all the connections. It was quicker by bike. We came in 1952, 53, 54
before going to university.
The people I remember of that era were Peter
Harvey, David Hunt, Bill Little, Bill Fossil, John Truman, Brian De Graff, Edward
Aslett, Clive Jones, Les Hawes, and the Railtons. Bill Little was our mentor.
He showed us how to abseil, put nails in boots (no rubber boots then) and how
to use explosives safely. Bill used to crimp plain deteonators on to the fuse
with his teeth!
Dave Hunt gave us advice on photography - we used flash
powder, often referred to as 'flashless smoke mixture'. I remember a number of
people taking 3D pictures with two identical cameras mounted on a frame, and a
twin lens device to view the results.
Explosives were easy to come by.
The licence was issued by the Local Authority Weights and Measures department
- no Police involvement. Explosives were sold over the counter by the ironmongers
in Clydach near Swansea. A sign outside said 'Explosives Agent'. Your purchases
were wrapped up in brown paper just like any thing else you had bought. How times
The Club Cottage was by the stream just below Dan-yr-Ogof.
It was a small two up two down - or rather 1 ½ up 1 ½ down. It could
sleep 10 at a push. There was a separate falling down cottage used for tackle
storage and drying gear. The drying room had a small solid fuel stove with a long
flue pipe. There was more heat from the flue than the stove, with a great danger
of combustion, asphyxia or CO poisoning.
Water was from a tap outside by the
road. You washed at the tap or in the river. Cooking was by a double burner oil
stove called 'Florrie' or primus stoves.
The toilet was a chemical affair
in a lean-to shed, and it was the duty of the last person to leave to empty it.
If the river was high, it was easy, but otherwise you had to dig a hole in the
back garden, hoping the spot you had chosen had not been used before.
Carbide was the order of the day. Perhaps people were not so conservation conscious
then, as I can remember being shown how to bury the used carbide in the cave or
tip it into the stream if it was in flood. The main caves were OFD 1, DYO 1937
series, and Tunnel Cave - all within easy reach of the Club on foot. To get to
OFD you paddled through the river where the stepping stones now are at the top
of the [Craig y Nos] Country Park.
I went to College from 1954 to 1957,
and acquired a girl friend with various attributes but no interest in caving.
In 1957 I sold the engagement ring to buy a motor cycle and could then go to the
Club every weekend, only one hour from Cardiff.
Motor cycles were the
order of the day. Myself, Bill Harris (here tonight) Peter Harvey, David Hunt,
Seaton Phillips, Mary Boughton, Neil Jones all used motor cycles. What cars there
were were pre-war old bangers. Later vans were bought. These had the advantage
of being cheaper than cars as they were exempt the 33 % purchase tax, but being
commercial vehicles were restricted to 30 mph! Luckily radar traps had not yet
appeared, and later the restrictions were eased and then abolished in the early
I did a lot of caving with Bill Harris. On the Gower, we could go from cave to
cave by motor cycle without having to change clothes or helmets in between.
DYO was easy to get into, as there were several large gaps in the entrance passage
giving access from the river. The cave was opened commercially in 1939, closed
during the war, and not re-opened until 1964 due to a dispute between the family
shareholders. Originally the Club was allowed in, but then stopped, so we used
to creep in at night or early morning, walking up the river from the club very
quietly so as not to wake the dogs at the farm.
There were no wet-suits,
so each person had a large polythene bag and a towel. You undressed at the lakes
and re-dressed on the other side. One memory I have from about this time was the
early cave divers with cumbersome dry-suits, lead weighted boots, ex-submarine
re-breathing sets and the 'Aflow' device with light, reel of cable and compass
Club membership was increasing, putting a strain on the accommodation.
Powell St Penwyllt became available and was purchased in the late 1950's for the
great sum of £200. Much work had to be done. There was great enthusiasm
to knock holes in walls, but rather less to build up again. One of the first jobs
was to build a septic tank. Bill Harris and I used to go up to Penwyllt early
in the morning and do a couple of hours digging before going caving. When the
pipes were laid out they were about 2ft short so we had to dig the hole 2ft longer.
Finally the move was made (1960 ish). It was possible to travel to the club
by rail until Dr Beeching [famous for closing many of Britains branch lines] came
along in 1962. It was useful to have Bill and Betty Burton living in cottage No.
5 until they bought the bungalow.
Heating was rudimentary, a fire in
the long common room and a stove in the small room which also heated water. The
water supply was always a problem, with old iron pipes going to buildings demolished
a long before. Repairs were made with old fire service hose and jubilee clips.
There were severe winters in 1961/2 and 62/3. A gang of us spent Christmas at
the club. Everything was frozen, the quarry had to stop because the diesel fuel
froze. We had to get drinking water from the OFD resurgence, and to smash the
ice on a pond that used to be near Cwmdwr to get water to flush toilets. Cooking
was a problem, the butane cylinder was in the kitchen but we had to light a small
fire under it to cause any gas to come out! All windows were covered with ice
on the inside. However there was excellent ice climbing on the old quarries by
the engine house and we played a sort of ice hockey near the lime kilns.
The 1960's and early 70's was great time for cave discovery in the Swansea Valley
and for trips further afield. Bill Birchenough (here tonight) made the first Ogofone
[low frequency radio for communication through solid rock] although there was
no phone at that time, and Morse Code had to be used for communication. The top
entrance to Tunnel Cave was located and Laurie Galpin and I were in demand as
we were the only ones who knew Morse.
Cwmdwr entrance was dug, and work started on the dreaded crawls. They had to be
blasted from one end to the other, and after each blast it took an age for the
fumes to clear. Fortunately it was near the HQ so we used to arrive on a Friday
evening, go straight down and set off a charge, and leave it until the next morning
to clear the debris. I think many of us would have given up the job if it was
not for Clive Jones who somehow managed to keep up the enthusiasm.
Little one day appeared in a new fangled thing called a wet-suit. It was a single
skinned unlined 3mm suit which obviously would not last 5 minutes in a cave, despite
being worn under a boiler suit. After a year he was still wearing it, so the rest
of us took notice. They were all home made, and you needed assistance with the
marking out to get a good fit. Later the thickness increased and they were lined.
The aqua-lung appeared and a number of club members took up cave diving, some
using dangerous ex-gov cylinders. This enabled the divers to get through the OFD
sumps into OFD2, and one of them found the route out through the boulders into
Cwmdwr. The route was so convoluted that a cable was laid for people to follow.
It was later improved. A short time later Top Entrance was found using the Ogofone.
Shortly afterwards the Dan-yr-Ogof crawl was passed by Eileen Davies and
exploration there opened up. It all happened in a very short space of time. There
was a bit of controversy as the biologists wanted some time to themselves to survey
the cave before the explorers trampled over it. It came to a compromise that Virgin
Passage in the Lower Series should be left for them.
we descended the Abyss we inadvertently blundered into it from the other end.
A very pleasant week's camp was held in DYO Bat Chamber in the late 60's. Dave
Judson was surveying, and various bits were found. It was very comfortable to
be in dry kit for the duration, as we were beyond the lakes and Green Canal.
There was one later incident which turned out to be amusing in the end. Dave Judson
was trying to bypass the long crawl. The dig started to fall in, and the others
in the party drew back. Dave carried on and became entombed. Fortunately it was
a Good Friday, and as people arrived for the Easter weekend they were directed
straight to DYO and Dave was duly rescued. To show his gratitude he bought a barrel
of beer and started something of a precedent.
The 1960's also saw Club
trips to Yugoslavia which represented a considerable amount of work in organisation
and engineering. SRT had not been invented and the winch was king. Frank Salt
organised trips to Greece and France, some more successful than others. In both
Greece and Yugoslavia there were shafts at the bottom of which were human remains
and old handgrenades.
One very interesting visit was to the Rhosydd slate
mines at Cwm Orthin near Blaenau Ffestiniog in Snowdonia. These connected through
to the mines at Cwm Croesor, the entrance to which was protected by barbed wire
and 'go away' notices. The mines are vast, so much so that in cloudy weather the
cloud forms inside the caverns. To get from one mine to the other there were bridges
suspended by cables from the roof, but these had been purposely destroyed. The
party of us included John Osborne and Rob Williams (both here tonight). We used
some long lengths of ladder to get down the slopes and the last vertical drop
to the bottom.
On walking into the Croesor mine things were very different,
clean and tidy, lights on at one point and a pump to keep the lower level dry.
We went up to the next level and found ourselves in the middle of thousands of
tons of war-time military explosives. There was chamber after chamber after chamber
stacked up to the roof with boxes of TNT and cordite marked 'made in Canada 1942'.
The explosives were in good shape, being non-hydroscopic, but the same could not
be said for the containers. There was rot and fungus everywhere and in particular
there were steel drums of flaked cordite. The drums had disintegrated spilling
the stuff all over the floor just waiting to be trodden on.
I made some enquiries to find out who was responsible for the site - it turned
out to be ICI, and John informed the police. ICI eventually made the place safer
by flooding the lower level, but some electricity workers found their way in via
a level passage and ICI was forced to empty the place. There could have been some
very nasty occurrences if the wrong people had found out what was there.
In the 1970's a very interesting project was finding the dry route from OFD1 to
OFD2. Bob Radcliffe was the main mover. Attempts to get from Boulder Chamber fizzled
out, so we went through Cwmdwr to climb the Divers' Pitch where a line had been
left for a skyhook and ladder. However the line jammed, so I climbed up the opposite
wall and discovered the bypass (where the rope now hangs). Pete Cardy joined us
and we laddered down into the sumps, swam across, and climbed Niphargus Niche
to try to dig a way back to Boulder Chamber. Unfortunately the passage filled
with water, so attention was then given to the very narrow passage from Boulder
Chamber which is now used. This turned out to be underneath a water filled passage,
but by a great stroke of providence the water burst through when there was nobody
there, or someone would have drowned.
One person I must mention is Gwyn
Sanders. Gwyn was a pillar of the Club for many years, and there are many photographs
of him in the common room. Any visitors to the Club were sure of a warm welcome.
Gwyn was also very generous, and was always giving people presents, usually made
of metal, which were either useful tools or interesting artefacts. Our house has
a dozen or more such objects, including a nickel sculpture, a set of stainless
steel fire irons, and a mediaeval weapon - a spiked ball and chain.
I'll stop at that point, but I must mention Cave Rescue. The first major rescue
I remember was from Llethrid Swallet on the Gower in the early 60's, when a man
sustained a broken leg. Unfortunately the Police Chief at the time dismissed us
as a bunch of amateurs and called the Mines Rescue, who were completely out of
their depth. We ended up having to hospitalise the casualty overnight in the cave.
Dr Rob Williams (Lisa's father) set the leg, and I was sent to a local hospital
for supplies, bed pans and such-like. The next day, the rescue officer Gordon
Clissold told us to get in and get the casualty out, which we did, in a short
time. Times have changed since then.
Over the years, I was involved in
many rescues, including sadly the recovery of five deceased persons, fortunately
none of them being club members. In the 70's there were quite a number of searches
for parties lost on OFD through trips, and various dislocations and breakages
including Bill Little's.
The Rescue Organisation was part of the Club, and
it was suggested that it would be better as a separate organisation, as it would
be easier to incorporate members of other clubs and to attract sponsorship. Bruce
Foster was one of the people actively proposing this action. As you know it did
happen, and there was a ceremony at Dan-yr-Ogof when Simon Weston of Falklands
fame presented me (as Treasurer) with the keys of the first purpose built Land
Rover. Great strides have been made since then.
I have not been very
active recently, but I have had a great deal of enjoyment from the Club and its
activities for many years. I would like to think that the Club will still be here
in 60 years' time. I will not, but some of you younger members will be, so keep
the tradition going!"
Inson, April 2006
[Of the people mentioned
in Eric's speech, Peter Harvey, Laurie Galpin, Noel Dilly, John Osbourne, Pete
Cardy, Rob Williams, Bill Harris and Bill Birchenough were present that evening]
[Items in [ ] are clarifications by PCW for those not familiar with
life in the valley!]