A Gothic Dream to Remember ~ by Tatu Jussila Jan 2013

In December 2011 I wrote to a friend:

"It's a paradise lost called Ogof Ffynnon Ddu - a gigantic cave system located under the Swansea Valley in South Wales. It is unreal. The underground world was beyond my imagination and syntax. I remember underground streams, small pools of crystal clear water, stalactites, deep gorges, high cliffs, tight passages, small fossils, a bat chamber, boulder fields, small waterfalls, strange colours and the cool air... like a wild fascinating dream that touches your every sense - a dream I had while being wide awake..."

I was born and raised in Finland. Unlike the surrounding countries - Sweden, Norway and Russia - Finland is flat. Lots of coniferous forest and thousands of lakes, but no mountains - only a few hills and minor cliffs to satisfy one's inborn need to climb and explore. Caves? The Finnish bedrock is solid granite polished by the glacial age. Spots of limestone are rare. Coming from Finland it's a miracle that I found caving. Actually, it found me…I remember the moment vividly.

It was a hot summer day. I was sitting in a shadow of an old pine tree, trying to hide from the merciless Sun. My youngest son was sleeping in his baby stroller and his older siblings were playing loudly together. A moment of poor judgment led me to do the common time-wasting act - I entered mobile Facebook. A friend of mine had "Liked" something so peculiar it made me smile. It said: "Jukka likes Finnish Caving Society". Having a true love for the outdoor-life and burning passion for nature photography I just had to check the Finnish Caving Society's web pages immediately. Within a few months I attended the Finnish Caving Society's introductory course to caving. The well-organized course included an excellent theory lesson and a full-scale excursion to the largest known Finnish limestone cave - the thirty-meter long Torhola Cave.

Sooner than I expected I was driving from Heathrow to South Wales with Dare and Miri. After my first weekend at Penwyllt I was a newborn man. I had seen a new world. It all felt like a strange dream. I was most impressed about the dark dramatic beauty the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. As I was underground, I realised how the atmosphere in some of the largest spaces connected to my memories about Gothic limestone masterpieces - Westminster Abbey and Notre Dame. Subconscious - the strangest of all the animals.

The first visit felt overwhelming. I had seen so much and yet I knew it was only the tip of the iceberg. Physically I was back at my office staring Powerpoint ten hours a day, but mentally I was still in Wales. Would I ever see the Airy Fairy, Pi Chamber, Eagle's Nest and most of all: Elephant's Posterior again? Photographically speaking I was somewhat disturbed that during my first visit I wasn't up to the challenge of capturing the underground beauty into images. I wanted to remember it all. Back in Finland I crawled into the Torhola Cave and practised. I wanted to be technically ready enough if I could have a second chance…In December 2012 I got the shots I dreamed about. Now its truly a dream to remember!"