The potential of Ogof Fawr has long been recognised and in order to break into the large system, which was theorised to exist, numerous digging attempts have been made from caving clubs including Croydon and WSG and individuals such as Jeff Hill and John Parker. However the vast quantities of water this site swallows up has brought associated problems. An unstable, self-destructing entrance passage and vast quantities of stream debris that quickly blocks up any passage, which is cleared out.
In early 2007 Tony Donovan and Roy Morgan took up the gauntlet to try and crack Ogof Fawr once and for all. Fortunately, they were supported by numerous others including Paul Quill, Cardiff C.C. and even myself!
Initial work involved the opening of a new pipe lined entrance. This allowed the easy removal of spoil direct from the dig face and also avoided the original very unstable right hand entrance which had collapsed on Roy on Christmas Eve 1991 (see Descent 201). Rapid progress downwards was made, broken by periods when we pondered, whether we were actually digging towards our goal, the pitch discovered by John Parker in the early 1980’s and blocked shortly after. I can remember at least one weekend spent digging in totally the wrong direction!
We finally regained the pitch on Sunday 19th August 2007. Unfortunately, a large boulder was stopping us from descending. The boulder was dutifully vaporised and I gained a somewhat misty view of the pitch, which had not been seen for about 25 years. The following weekend the pitch was descended. Unfortunately, I was not there - the days of going down to Wales two weekends on the trot seem to be long gone! Beyond a chamber at the base of the of the 15-20 ft pitch a small drop led to the terminal point gained by John Parker in the 1980s. It is at this point where, in wetter weather, the stream, which is lost in the entrance passage, is briefly gained again. A short dig quickly gained another free-climbable drop and beyond this a clamber over large breakdown blocks in a drippy chamber come passage.
At the back of this chamber was an unstable looking scree slope, which was carefully descended to reveal a low crawl at the base of a choke. A way through the choke was quickly found to reveal a reasonably spacious chamber with an inlet pouring from the roof. A preliminary survey by Roy Morgan indicated that these new passages had passed underneath the entrance passage prior to the first pitch and seemed to be heading back to the surface. The ‘X’ on the first survey produced by Roy shows the position of the choke with the inlet chamber above. It was for this reason that the inlet chamber was ignored initially and a number of digs were tried in the other areas of the cave prior to the winter floods, which effectively close the cave. The main dig was a shaft dug at the base of the first pitch (see ‘A’ on the survey). After some effort, including the demolition of a railway sleeper, which somehow had made its way in amongst the silt and cobbles, a low crawl was revealed. Beyond the crawl a chamber was gained; however, any way on was effectively sealed by substantial amounts of stream debris. So there ended the activities for 2007, the cave had been extended a bit but the big break through had not materialised. Further set backs were revealed when we returned after the winter floods. The force of the water had pulled out a lot of the scaffolding in the passage prior to the pitch and as the shaft we had dug had not been covered, it had dutifully been filled to the brim again with more silt and cobbles.
At the start of 2008, for me, activities in Ogof Fawr definitely got put on the back burner. In fact, I was not doing much caving at all. So it was certainly a big surprise when I received a phone call from Tony in May, where he informed me after a bit of humming and hawing that Ogof Fawr had finally ‘gone’. The breakthrough had occurred at the inlet chamber mentioned previously, where Martin Groves of SWCC had made a 20ft climb to gain a passage at the top. The short passage quickly led to another pitch down and the view of a large breakdown chamber below. However, Martin had no more rigging kit so he returned to retrieve the rope he had left on the climb, presumably informing those below he was going to push onwards on his own. Returning to the pitch and securing his rope he abseiled into the unknown. At the base of the 30ft pitch, he was able to traverse round the top of the chamber to a point where he was able to make another climb downwards.
At the bottom of the climb a way on down to the right was revealed. This led through a series of loose steeply descending crawls to break out half way up the side of an impressive ramp type passage. The lone explorer picked his way downwards over the massive breakdown blocks, to eventually reach a point where the passage levelled out, and the entrance steam made a re-appearance out of a side passage. It was at this point that Martin decided to return to the others, rather bloodied and bruised. It was for this reason that he went on to call the series of climbs he had made “Hung Drawn and Slaughtered”, however he did exit the cave with the knowledge that the secret of Ogof Fawr had finally been cracked! My first opportunity to view the discoveries was on the weekend of the Knackered Old Farts meet at the cottage, July 2008. Eddie Webb, a former enthusiastic digger of Fawr was also staying at the cottage. This wouldn’t have been a problem apart from that he had just read Tony’s article in Descent on Ogof Fawr. He pressed me into a corner of the cottage and begun quizzing me on how we were getting. Sadly as I was sworn to secrecy, I had to tell a few lies!
The day of our trip dawned clear and bright. Waiting down at Tony’s for everybody to show up when Paul Quill appeared he informed both Rob Damen and me that as this was only the fifth trip into the cave we were both extremely privileged! The secrecy continued when, following Paul Quill’s van over to the cave, he drove twice round the roundabout in Hirwaun. Apparently this was to thwart the efforts of the Taliban caving club to follow us!
I got changed at our usual parking in the forest, with the special feeling you get when you know you are doing something different and exciting. Today there would be none of the plodding grind of the dig that was unlikely to go in the foreseeable future. I might even get to explore some virgin cave passage! We made our way through the old section of cave, to the point where Martin had made the climb into the new stuff. Climbing the short ladder pitch, I got a thorough soaking from the stream, which was bucketing down on my head. A short roped traverse took us over the top of the ladder climb chamber into the short section of passage which takes you to the pitch down. A large breakdown chamber lay beneath us, later named “Clive Jones’s Locker”. The late Clive Jones was a member of South Wales Caving Club and a man Paul Quill said inspired those around him in projects to find new cave but sadly never found much himself. Everyone shot off in a hurry at the bottom of the pitch. In fact I had the distinct impression that if I was not quick enough I and Rob would get left behind; on the other hand the descent of the large ramp passage, which was floored with potentially poised breakdown blocks had to be treated with some caution. Fortunately we regrouped where the passage levels off, to decide what was to be done and by whom.
After a bit of discussion it was decided that Tony and Paul Quill would install some system of tapes to try and protect one of the few areas of formations in the cave, me and Martin Groves would start the grade 5 survey while Rob and Gareth would try and push onwards at one of the principle leads in the cave. As mentioned previously, at the base of the ramp, the stream that is last seen in the entrance passages is regained. A few meters beyond this point the passage splits into two. The left hand branch goes to a large breakdown chamber “Sump Chamber.” The right hand branch is the start of the long westerly trending branch called “Penderyn Passage”. In normal non-flood conditions the passage leading to “Sump Chamber” takes the entire flow. However, in flood conditions there is ample evidence, i.e. foam marks, that “Sump Chamber” lives up to its name and floods to the roof. Foam marks have been noted at the base of the ramp. In extreme flood conditions it is likely that the water backs up from the sump and then overflows into “Penderyn Passage.” Certainly, after flood, any signs of footprints in the initial sections of “Penderyn Passage” are swept away.
At the end of the day we had met some of the objectives. Paul and Tony had installed a system of tapes to protect the formations. Rob had taken some photographs of the gour pool floor beyond the formations while I had helped Martin Groves do a bit of the grade 5 survey from the corner near the gours, underneath the “Bridge” - an impressive rock arch under which you have to pass - to the start of the choke. On this day Rob and Gareth were the only persons to pass through the choke. Here the previously spacious passage closes down. This comparatively tortuous section lasts for some 100 meters and might present some route finding difficulties. An exit from the choke is made where a prominent band of white calcite is seen.
On this day Gareth and Rob had made their way into passages beyond, and made their way to the next obstacle, later named “Desperate Domino” by Rob. This consisted of squeezing under a long table-like rock propped against the wall of the passage and at the end trying to squeeze into the continuation seen below. However, even after digging with hand tools, they were unable to pass the constriction. Fortunately, Tony made the blockage disappear shortly afterwards to reveal several hundred meters of passage. Near the current end the passage changes from an approximate east/west strike-oriented passage to one travelling down the steeply descending dip. It is at this point that the passage starts to close down.
While this frenzy of exploration was occurring there was a nagging worry that due to the unstable nature of the entrance passages we might lose access to the cave permanently, when the winter floods hit the cave. To try and solve this problem a steeply descending dig was started in a small, dry cave adjacent to the main stream entrance. This small cave was long considered to be an abandoned sink for the cave. Further impetus to dig here was provided by the survey carried out by Roy, which showed that the dig, if carried down a bit deeper would connect with “Clive Jones’s Locker.” Numerous trips were taken at this site and, to aid spoil removal, a wooden slide was installed. Eventually the dig went vertical and Tony begun to scaffold his way downwards. After numerous digging sessions, the usual doubts about whether we were digging the right way began to set in again. To solve the problem, I was to be duly dispatched into the cave with Rob to try and make a radio/tapping/smoke connection from the Clive Jones’s Locker region and the bottom of the dig. The kit to do this was provided in a waterproof bag and as it had been raining quite a lot during the week previously I realised that if the kit was going to stay dry, we were certainly not. I kitted up with not a small feeling of trepidation; although only about an inch of water was running down the base of the entrance pipe, based on the thunderous roar I could hear below most of the water was entering via the old right hand entrance. If I had to go down there I just wanted to get the whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible, so I shot off in the lead.
At the base of the first scaffolded drop, I was immediately immersed into an intimidating wall of water, which was jetting in from the right hand entrance. The whole cave was leaking like the proverbial sieve. I followed the swollen stream down to the head of the pitch. A bit more care was required here if I did not want to be tossed like some piece of flotsam and jetsam over the pitch in the narrow confines at the top. It was at this point, as I turned round to climb down the pitch, that I noticed that Rob was not following me. I tried shouting but of course I couldn’t hear anything but the deafening roar of the water. I waited for a few minutes and, when I thought I saw a light behind me, I started to climb down the ladder to reach the comparative homeliness of the chamber below.
At the top of the next climb, I was greeted by the roaring sound of more water. This time in the small chamber below it had shifted from the horizontal to form what I could only describe as a vertical sump with the entire stream jetting from the roof. Like sticking my head in the proverbial lion’s mouth I put my head in the stream. I knew I only had a moment to try and find a way through but my light reflecting off this wall of water confused and dazzled me. The force of the water drumming onto my helmet pushed my head down, and when I tried to breath I couldn’t. I backed out quickly. That was it; I had given it my best shot, there would be no radio connection today. As those safety conscious people who do not go into the cave when it is dripping say “there is always another day” ,and of course there normally is.
A few weeks later in drier weather, we were able to gain the small chamber, above Clive Jones’s Locker, where it was thought a possible connection with the dig might exist. Switching on the radio provided, clear contact with Tony was made immediately. I was not so keen on the next stage, seeing if a tapping connection could be made. The problem here was that there was nothing very solid to tap on, just a mass of hanging death boulders. After a brief discussion on what we thought was the most solid bit of the chamber, we informed Tony we about to start tapping. We tapped away and then radioed Tony to see if he had heard anything. He had heard nothing. Somewhat disappointed, Tony started tapping from his side. Again he heard nothing. The final stage was a smoke test. We duly informed Tony that we were going to light the two smoke bombs provided and, with smoke drifting into the mass of boulders above our heads, we beat a retreat. Reaching the surface Tony told us rather unsurprisingly that he had not seen the smoke. With the exception of clear radio contact everything else had been a bit disappointing.
Roy later informed us that based on his survey; the bottom of the dig was some way from the boulder chamber where we had made radio contact with Tony. Indeed this was proved correct when Tony and Richard Frost broke through the bottom of the dig into a steeply descending rift, which popped out into the top of Clive Jones’s Locker. This rift fortuitously bypassed the boulder chamber, which would have been very difficult to dig through. Now that there was a new entrance, which avoided the original flood-prone entrance, my involvement with exploratory activities shifted to the known end of the cave. Here the passage direction changed from one along the strike to a steeply descending dip passage. At the constricted base of this ramp passage it was possible to look up through some poised boulders into a possible continuation. This boulder- choked ramp had already gained a reputation when, a few weeks before, Joel Corrigan had tried to squeeze up through the boulders when one of them had slipped, trapping his helmet with his head stuck in it! Fortunately, he was able to extricate his helmet and head without too much damage.
On the day of my trip with Rob and Tony we had brought the necessary means to make objectionable boulders disappear. The offending boulder was duly dispatched and feeling adventurous I decided to investigate what the bang had done. I squirmed flat out up the slope with Tony’s instructions not to go too far as Rob was getting cold ringing in my ears. I did not know how far I would be allowed to get, as I thrutched up alongside a poised block. But that I could now see a reasonable sized chamber up above my head certainly spurred me on. Gingerly passing the boulders, the passage leveled out and I was greeted by the view of a motley clump of stalagmites. The small bits of twig that decorated them indicating that in flood this was probably not a good place to be, I crept past the formations and, kneeling down where the chamber lowered to a bedding plane, I could see past a portcullis of stalactites into a continuation. Not wanting to keep the others waiting too long, I returned to the top of the boulder slope. It is at this point that I noticed a possible continuation, in a short stub of passage to the left of the boulder slope. Another tight descending ramp type passage, which would require a bit of digging out, could be seen into below. This would have to wait for another day and I returned to the others, satisfied that I had explored my own small bit of Ogof Fawr.
Subsequent to our investigations that day Joel Corrigan and friends dug out the constriction and explored a section of tight passage beyond. This eventually gained a point where it was possible to look down into an apparently walking size passage. It would have been possible to reach this were it not for a constriction, which not even the ‘thin men’ could pass. My next trip into the cave included Croydon’s very own ‘thin man’, Paul Stacey, so I sort of hoped that we might gain some new ground today. Tony initially spent some time enlarging the U-type squeeze at the bottom of the ascending boulder slope. When we finally made the chamber at the top of the slope, I went for a look at the muddy crawls in the passage I had spied beyond the formations. Tony had informed me that these were heading back towards the surface but I thought I would go for a crawl round them anyway. After doing just this, I returned; I hadn’t found much apart from more mud and probably not the end.
The next thing to be looked at was the passage pushed by Joel Corrigan to the left of the boulder slope. It was agreed that Paul would go in first and I would follow. We started off down the tight descending slope feet first just in case we had to reverse out. I squeezed over a rock and then slithered my way down fairly easily to a point where the passage leveled off. Here a small alcove could be seen on the left where it might, with some interesting contortions, just be able to turn round. But it was decided not to try this and we both proceeded down the flat out bedding feet first. We seemed to be doing alright like this, when Paul informed me that he wanted to come back out. As there was absolutely no chance of him passing me, I knew I would have to come out also. Maybe it had tightened up and he couldn’t feel a way through with his feet. I must admit, I felt a bit disappointed but I was not so enthusiastic after coming back out to go back in by myself! This section of the cave is certainly an interesting one and needs pushing to a conclusion. However, as Martyn Farr pointed out in Descent, the strong draught noted in the passage near the entrance is not present at the far end of the cave. The fact that Joel Corrigan when looking through the constriction thought the passage might be approaching a sump might explain the lack of a strong draught in this region. The other alternative is that the main way on may have been missed. The Ogof Fawr stream is lost comparatively near the entrance in the Sump/Flood chamber, which might mean there is a parallel stream way to the long Penderyn Passage. The main stream disappears into a draughting choke, which seems to indicate there might be open passage beyond. Aside from this region there are other areas which, deserve some attention. During 2010 I only entered the cave once. This was on a tourist trip with members of Croydon C.C. We did not get right to the end but far enough to retrieve Tony’s drill, which had been left in the cave during the winter floods. I have not found out whether it was still working! I had heard the ascending boulder slope where Joel had got his head stuck had collapsed again. But as this section has appeared on the survey produced by John Stephens and friends of Chelsea S.S. obviously it must have been reopened.
Finally I would like to say if anybody reading this thinks I have left something out they are probably right, for one reason or another I missed the big breakthrough trips in the cave and this narrative is purely a description of my rather small part in the overall exploration of this cave.
- The Nant Cadlan stream in high flood. Original entrance is totally submerged. The new entrance is under the bushes on the right. (Roy Morgan)
- The Nant Cadlan stream in high flood. Entrance to cave directly below viewpoint. (Roy Morgan)
- The entrance to Ogof Fawr in normal flow condi tions. (Dudley C.C.)
- Penderyn Passage (Dudley C.C.)
- The author in the original flood-prone entrance. A lot of the scaffolding was ripped out in the floods of 2007/2008.
- Formations in Penderyn Passage. (Rob Damen)
- Formations in Penderyn Passage. (Rob Damen)