Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Mined out!

Dates: 24th -26th July 2016

Team: Bill Buxton,Graham Christian,Brian Clipstone, Howard Dare (& Molly),Kevin Diffey, Andy Dobson, Dave Dobson,Clark Friend, Chris Grimmett (& Sheelagh), Mark Hampson, Duncan Hornby, Harvey Lomas,Fred Levett, Tim Lewington, David Mullin, Allan Richardson

Apologies if I have forgotten someone!


Tim and I had stayed at the SWCC hut Thursday evening so we could sneak a trip in on Friday on our way North for the annual North Wales mines weekend organised by Allan. Leaving Claire, Vince and Gary at the hut who were supporting a film crew filming an OFD through trip we made good time to the small village of Furnace about 6 miles south of Machynlleth.

We were to visit the mine Ystrad Einion a few miles up a narrow road. This mine is noted for the amazing water wheel just inside the entrance.
The Water wheel very near the entrance of Ystrad Einion.

The mine has some sizable passages seemingly held up by nothing more than rotting beams!

One of the stopes, if you look carefully you can see one of the many bright green formations at the bottom of the picture.

Further on just beyond a climb up is a rusting Kibble.

The Kibble

As well a bright green formations some of the passage were adorned with fantastic yellow formations.

There were many intense yellow formations within the passages of Ystrad Einion.
This is a relatively easy trip, no equipment needed and simple route finding. Total trip time was less than 3 hours, much of that me pratting around with the camera!
We then travelled North to join the others staying at the awesome Mynydd Climbing Club hut. That evening Tim and I “popped” over the mountain to Capel Curig for a meal.

A view to die for, which we almost did with the onslaught of midges!


The main event was a top secret location, so secret, if the very name of it was revealed it would destroy space and time as we know it and rip apart the very fabric of the Universe.

How a group of 12 blokes casually leaving the track and piling into one entrance was never noticed will forever remain a mystery.

So here is a pretty picture to distract you.

Many fantastic formations adorned “Area 51”.
Trip time: X hours


On our way to Parc mine Mark’s car broke down on the hill approaching the Hafna car park. Fortunately he was able to get phone reception and we left him to it. Mark please buy a new car!

We had split into two teams one entering level two, I and others entering level three (the wet one). I report our experience in level 3, which starts after a climb down into the cave like entrance, in a semi-flooded section, deep enough for the shorter person to wish they had never come on the trip!

Whilst this level is very wet and the constant strong draught chilled you very quickly, it has many interesting things and formations to enjoy.

Andy Dobson at one of the many ore chutes, this one had water cascading down through it.

This mine has many formations, some of them often full of stunning colours and patterns, here are just a few close-ups to show them off.

A multi-coloured stalactite.
An amazing red deposit on the walls of the mine.
A wasps nest like formation in the roof of a passage.
The general shape of the mine passages was rectangular with a constant flow of ochre stained water flowing usually no more than ankle deep.

A typical passage in level 3.
We had split into sub-groups with Brian, Andy and Dave exploring and photographing whilst the rest followed Allan as far as they dared! At one point Allan disappeared down a dark and ominous looking flooded passage. Apparently a lot of the old timber beams had fallen and were just below the surface making walking forwards tricky.

We eventually returned to the surface and met Mark at the car park, a tow truck was apparently on its way.

One thing to note about this mine is that Ochre water stains your skin a jaundice yellow, so don’t wear shorts for a few days until it rubs off!

Thanks Allan for yet another great mine weekend!

Trip time: 4 Hours.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Mud and Midges

Team: Adrian Brown, Duncan Hornby and Claire Vivian
Trip date: 12th June 2016

On Sunday Claire and I met up with Adrian to visit two caves in the western part of the Black Mountains: Pal-y-Cwrt (there is a detailed article about this cave in Descent Issue 250) and Heaven’s Door which I am going to call Death Trap cave!

Adrian picked us up at Penwyllt HQ then we headed over to the area and the local farmer kindly allowed us to park up in his farmyard. After a bit of banter, we got changed and headed over to “Death Trap” cave.

Heaven’s Door

This is a very short cave that none of us had visited before and is found in a deep sink hole. The entrance is a grim backwards crawl down a muddy tube full of mosquitoes. Highly advisable to put in a 15m handline. Adrian and Claire had entered first then it was my turn. After a few metres crawling backwards I sensed that I could kneel up but felt no floor. Turning around I had one of those OMG-WTF am I doing moments as I found I was reversing out over a pitch! There is a scaffold bar in the roof with a rope in situ to provide a handline down this pitch. I eventually joined the others who had moved on to what turned out to be the bitter end of the cave which was a sump.

I took a couple of photos as I wanted to experiment with a firefly slave unit that had been lent to me. We then exited the cave, first Adrian then Claire.

Adrian and Claire at the sump in Heaven’s door.

As I was climbing up I got to a restricted part and stood on a boulder so I could shift into a better position, the boulder moved ever so slightly. No big deal boulders move all the time. With my left foot on solid wall me shuffling around in attempt to pass the awkward climb up I stood on the boulder again, a second later my right foot was in air and the very pitch face I was climbing up crumbled away with the boulder landing below with an almighty thud! If anyone had been below they would have surely been seriously hurt or worse.

I found myself anchored with my left foot on solid wall swing desperately on the hand line. Somewhat concerned for my immediate continuing existence my thoughts turned to my caving comrades, at least one of them will come and investigate as how could anyone not hear that almighty thud? None came and eventually I established a new foothold and was able to climb up and out.

Reaching the surface I found the others happily talking completely unaware of my “adventure”. Interestingly they would not have been more than 15m away from me.

With Heaven's door a new cave to me tucked under my belt, never to be visited again, we headed off to Pal-y-Cwrt.

Trip time: < 1 hour


Adrian has promised one thing, mud and lots of it, he did not disappoint!

The entrance to this cave is on the hill overlooking the farm. Whilst trying to capture a before and after cave photo we were constantly under attack from midges. Carl Rickard popped out of nowhere to wish us luck on our trip, unfortunately he was unable to join us due to a bad knee. With the midges winning the war we said our goodbyes and quickly entered the cave.

At the entrance of Pal-y-Cwrt, caked in Heaven’s door black mud.

The entrance has a Mendip like quality; muddy with a steeply descending passage. You enter an impressively large chamber with several possible routes. Adrian (one of the current digging team) showed us their latest find. This required crawling in gloopy red mud and a flat out crawl through a squalid duck. It took next to no time to be covered head to toe in mud!

We also visited the choke that Tony Donovan was half buried alive in (See Descent 250) and unsurprisingly did not hang around too long!
Eventually we left the cave, got changed and washed our kit in a nearby stream. Adrian got out his now famous kelly kettle and whipped up a brew. It was a great, if not somewhat muddy, bit of Sunday caving, thanks Adrian!
Caked in red mud!
Trip Time: < 2 hours

Sunday, 5 June 2016

A Highland Fling

14th-22nd May 2016.
SWCC team - Andy Freem, Antonia Freem, Lucy Freem (and Rosemary), Duncan Hornby, Harvey Lomas, Kevin Munn, Pam Munn, Helen Stewart, Malcolm Stewart, Claire Vivian.

A fun week was had by all SWCC in the Scottish Highlands around Elphin. Canoeing, caving, diving, sightseeing and walking were all on the cards and with the weather being mainly dry, if a little chilly, we managed to accomplish all this and have fun.
We stayed at the Naismith Hut of the Scottish Mountaineering Club.

The view from the doorstep


Trek up Cul-Mor: Helen, Malcolm, Pam and Kevin

Malcolm, Helen, Kevin and Pam arrived in Assynt, after a very long car journey from South Wales, to welcome blazing sunshine on Saturday afternoon. Not wanting to waste any of the precious sunshine the group decided to walk up Cul Mor, a dramatic Corbett with impressive views of Suilven and Stac Pollaidh. Stunning weather at the beginning of the trek, but by the time the summit was reached the weather had deteriorated to blizzard conditions.

View of Suilven from the summit of Cul Mor


Canoeing Loch Lurgainn: Andy, Antonia, Claire, Duncan, Lucy and Rosemary

The week in Scotland was never going to be all caving, in fact the Freem’s had brought their kayaks and a canadian canoe so the first day was to be a trip between two Lochs requiring two portages. Dropping one car at the end of our planned trip we started in Loch Bad รก Ghaill and paddled our way to Loch Lurgainn.See map here.

Preparing the kayaks and Canadian canoe, with Stac Pollaidh in the background.

I’ve never done anything like this and it was a great adventure. Andy, Claire and I were in the Canadian canoe whilst the others zipped around in their sea kayaks.

Despite it looking like a river connecting the Lochs a section was in fact a very shallow river requiring everyone to exit their boats and drag them carefully between boulders on super slippy rocks!

What was a river on the map turned out to be a boulder strewn shallow channel requiring us to get out of the boats and carry them.

It’s that way!

A second portage required us to drag the boats up and over a heather hillock as the river had too many boulders to navigate.

The second portage.

We stopped after this for lunch on a pristine, exclusive sandy beach with amazing views of the surrounding mountains. As if it could not get any better Andy and Antonia whipped out a stove and started cooking some bacon! Something about fresh air, remotes lochs and the smell of bacon...I’m salivating now as I type! :)

The Canadian Canoe on the beach where we had lunch.

The beach we had lunch on, absolutely pristine!

Stac Pollaidh from our vantage point.

The final push got us back, not to the location we had left the car, but a place which was more sensible to get the boats out and up to the road.It was an amazing first day of what was going to be a great week with SWCC!

Andy steering (and filming) whilst Claire and I provided the power. We made a successful team.

Traligill Resurgence: Malcolm
Meanwhile, with the weather forecast to break after a long warm dry spell, Malcolm headed up the Traligill valley from Inchnadamph to the Traligill Resurgence to have a dive in the sumps there, before water levels rose as a consequence of the expected rain. On arrival the river bed was dry and the pool at the entrance of the cave, normally 8’ deep, only a puddle of water, supporting a few unhappy looking dehydrated trout.

With no water flowing in the cave portering the gear along the awkward ‘thrust plane’ was comparatively easy, but the diving was just as cold as ever and the lack of flow meant the vis didn’t clear quickly. With only a 4mm wetsuit and 3l cylinders the diver had to retreat from Sump 2 without reaching the previous limit established by Simon Brooks. Repulsed again, with cold, cold fingers.


Traligill to Bone Caves walk: Andy, Antonia, Claire, Duncan, Lucy and Rosemary.

Andy looking at the Water Slide in Cnocers Cave.
The pothole entrance to Cnocers.
Today we walked in one of the primary caving areas, visited several entrances, and followed a dry river bed exploring various sinks.

We eventually stumbled across a small entrance which lead into a large chamber with the rumbling sound of water. We later found out this was called Storm Cave. The walls were covered in peat and gave the cave a very dark and oppressive feel. It clearly flooded to the roof.

Storm Cave entrance

Leaving Storm Cave behind we walked up and over a peat area with a huge sinkhole and impressive peat gullies.

Incredible eroded peat channels.

On our way back down the valley towards the car park, Antonia, Claire and Duncan popped up to the Bone caves to have a poke around.

Antonia in the entrance to the Bone Cave.

Along the way we found an antler. The ice axe loops on Antonia’s bag provided perfect storage for this.

Towards the downstream end of the valley, what had been a dry river bed suddenly became a flowing torrent as water bubbled out of a rising.

The rising for Allt nan Uamh (NC2603817731)... My kingdom for a JCB!

Antonia and Claire posing by a waterfall near the end of today’s journey.

Scuba Diving at Drumbeg Wall and a Trip to Kirkaig Falls: Helen, Malcolm and Pete Glanvill (GSG) and George

Today the combined GSG and SWCC divers had a dip at the site known as Drumbeg Wall (turn left off the main road as it approaches Unapool going North, signposted for Drumbeg, and shortly after the road enters the forestry look for a broad track going down to a fish farm on the right). All launched from the bottom of the fish farm track, where there is a shallow bay, and swam round to submerge and follow the coast west, dropping down over boulders to about 20 - 25m. Loads of life; brittle stars, feather stars, a few scallops. The seal scarer working from the fish pens on the other side of of the loch, click, click, click… click, click, click... was very noticeable and we certainly didn’t see any seals.

Grumpy looking Juvenile Brill Fish

Malcolm looking at a Moon Jellyfish

Common Starfish at Drumbeg Wall

Later in the afternoon, after a light lunch at Achins Bookshop (does anyone fancy a lifestyle change?), Helen and Malcolm walked up the river to the Kirkaig Falls impressive even in fairly dry conditions.

Helen looking at the Kircaig Falls.


Smoo cave and back: Harvey, Claire and Duncan

Harvey suggested a visit to Smoo Cave. Claire and I had not been to this part of Scotland so it sounded like a good excuse to do some sightseeing whilst soaking up the awesome landscape of the Highlands.

As cavers we were given a free trip into the cave by Colin who runs Smoo Cave tours. He also turned out to be one of the people who helped dig out the Rana entrance.

The tour was an epic 20m boat trip then a 15 second walk to the “bitter end”. Made OFD look like a walk in the park :)

Smoo Cave, Durness. (There’s a patch of rare ‘mountain aven’ flowers just where the fence tops out on the left of the picture.)

Looking back at the waterfall created by the stream entering above. Note the large Chert nodules on left wall.

Harvey and Duncan on the Smoo Cave boat tour.

On our way back we picked up a hitchhiker who was trying to make his way to Lochinver. Having picked him up we then told him we were going to check out a tea room at the quay for getting onto the Handa Islands. I don’t think he had spoken to anyone for a few days so seemed very happy with our plan. We eventually dropped him off at the junction to Lochinver.

Scuba diving at Loch Carron and a cave recce at Applecross: Helen, Malcolm, Pete Glanvill and Derrick Guy (GSG) and George

Travelling south the four divers went to Lochcarron (the Spar there does good hot sausage rolls) and then dived off the slipway at Strome. This is one of the classic shore dives in the UK, with the underwater cliff to the west of the slipway famed for it’s huge plumose anemones and giant dead men’s fingers. With excellent visibility the dive was crawling with life, but the start of the flood tide pushed us off the wall before we had had a proper look, so we will have to go back another time. We surfaced to rain and this got progressively heavier as we got changed on the pier. Wet underpants, deep joy. :o(

Sea Slug (Tritonia hombergii) Loch Carron

Queen Scallop - Loch Carron

Cushion Star - Loch Carron

Back in the car, sitting damply, we crossed the Bealach na Ba to Applecross with the intention of finding and exploring the ‘Cave of True Wonders’ and the ‘Cave of the Liar’, but the piss awful weather modified this plan to an enjoyable lunch at the ‘Walled Garden’ followed by a fully saturated walk through thick undergrowth looking for and photographing cave entrances.


Rana Hole: Andy, Antonia, Claire, Duncan, Lucy, Helen, Malcolm and Peter +2

On Thursday we awoke to find that some friends had hitched a ride on us...

My friend had gorged on my blood, whilst Claire’s had simply locked in.

We then headed off to go caving. We were in two groups today. Helen and Malcolm plus Pete Glanvill and 2 friends (Derek Guy and George ?) who were staying at the nearby Grampian hut went to rig Black Rift pitch in Rana. We followed leisurely behind around 2 hours later and arranged to de-rig at the end of the trip.

Preparing the pitch at the entrance of Rana Hole.

Duncan climbing along second pitch top to fixed ladder.

Rana is the name of the cave and Rana sp. is what we found at the bottom of the entrance.

The team enjoying a brief rest before heading out.



Old Man of Stoer walk: Claire and Duncan

Today was to be a rest day which ended up being a walk out along the coast to visit the sea stack “Old man of Stoer”. It was raining, windy and overcast when we arrived but the weather eased off allowing us spectacular views of the sea stack.

Duncan also visited the remotest public toilet!

Claire and the Old man of Stoer

Close up of the Old man of Stoer

Durness, Smoo Cave and a Dive at Kylesku: Helen and Malcolm

Strong winds from totally the wrong direction resulted in the planned dive on the Fairweather being cancelled today. Instead the divers dived the Kylesku wall in two separate waves. Pete and George went in at midday on the start of the flood tide, to drift from under the bridge to the pier by the hotel, several hundred metres away. Helen and Malcolm went in from the slipway in the evening, having spent the day touring up to Handa Island (shut, raining, nice tea room, excellent lunch) and Smoo Cave (open, raining, zillions of French and German camper vans and motorbikes).

Mountain Aven - A rare and unusual plant found on limestone outcrops. We found clumps of this at Smoo Cave.

Following a surface swim from the slip across the bay in front of the hotel we descended by the rocks at the corner and worked our way west and deeper to about 30m. At the furthest end of the dive we were starting to get on the main vertical wall, plunging rock in clear green water covered in sunstars, huge anemones and pale orange dead men’s fingers, vanishing into the gloom below.

View across Loch Gleann Dubh, Kylesku

Common Sunstar - Kylesku Wall

The Kylesku Hotel has improved a lot in recent years and provided an excellent post-dive beer and supper. These were on the menu...
Long Clawed Squat Lobster - Kylesku Wall


Inverpolly nature reserve canoeing trip: Andy, Antonia, Claire, Duncan, Lucy and Rosemary

This was to be one of life's great adventures, entering the wilderness of the Inverpolly Nature Reserve. We had paddle across a small Loch, then drag the boats up and over a small hill to get to main Sionasgaig Loch.

The main portage, dragging boats up and over a small hill through gloopy mud.

Initially the boating was calm and pleasant with the occasional squall. The sun kept popping behind clouds and the surrounding scenery changed dramatically from sunny mountains to dark and ominous shadowed backdrops.

Andy and Claire looking happy (before the boat tipping incident…)

Yet again Andy, Claire and Duncan powered the Canadian canoe whilst the others zipped around in their sea kayaks.

Antonia zipping around in her sea kayak.

The 3 sea kayaks with spectacular mountain scenery.

We had stopped at the central island for lunch, soaked up the sun and had a wander around the island. Being blissfully ignorant I had not appreciated that the wind had picked up and upon setting out for the return journey it very quickly became obvious that it was going to get a whole lot more interesting!

With some waves almost breaking over the top of the canoe, getting to the far shore was going to be a challenge, but thankfully Andy is a very experienced kayaker and read the situation well and got us across the main section of water between the island and far shore. We pulled into a shallow protected area and Andy asked Claire to move backwards to help distribute the weight. She stood up, got tangled in some netting and tipped the boat. Thankfully we could simply stand up and I for one was grateful that this had not happened in deeper water.

With boat emptied of water, the others joining us, we reconfigured with Andy in a sea kayak towing us as we desperately paddled against the oncoming waves. We eventually got into a zone of less wind and waves and were then able to paddle full steam ahead with my awful steering hindering everything.

We eventually got back to the cottage that the Freems were staying at and whilst drinking tea and reminiscing over the day we were treated to a spectacular sunset.

An awesome sunset to complete the day’s amazing adventure (before it started raining for 12 hours…)

Thanks Andy/Antonia for an amazing day out!

Storm Cave Again….Helen and Malcolm

Responding to stories of huge chambers, and a beautiful clear stream pouring down a walking-size passage to cascade into an inviting sump pool (by all accounts, warm, clear, tasting of gin and full of mermaids), Malcolm and Helen walked over the moors to Storm Cave. Reaching the sump wearing two three litre cylinders proved easy, it was only at the sump pool that the problems started. There was no cascade into the pool, instead the swollen stream flowed into a large long lake, black water that extended through a narrow rift to a further deep lake beyond, with no dry land, just an overhanging roof and a mountain of black peat mud. Furthermore the reported lead blocks for diving were nowhere to be seen, no doubt sitting on a ledge somewhere underwater, waiting for a more sensible diver to return in lower water conditions… Walked back off the moor to Inchnadamph without turning the cylinders on. We did have a fun hour exploring and photographing the river passages and chambers in Cnocers.
Malcolm above Traligill Rising; the river was back to its normal size by Friday.

Malcolm exiting Cnocers cave

Malcolm in Storm Cave


One last cave… Claire and Duncan

After Friday's epic kayaking, Saturday was going to be an easy day, especially as it had rained for 12 hours non-stop over night.

Claire and I had decided to visit the infamous Allt Nan Uamh Stream Cave. The Valley which had been bone dry 3 days earlier now had water bubbling out of the ground feeding into the mainstream way.

Water bubbling out of the ground where there had been no water a few days earlier.

Borrowing a map from Andy we navigated our way around the cave, entering too tight crawls to large almost “OFD” size passages.

Access to the stream and current dig site was via a precariously balanced ladder.

Andy had suggested visiting a section of the system called the Farr Series which are beyond what is affectionately known as the Sphincter. We found this part of the system and were somewhat dismayed by the volume of water (in fact, we looked everywhere for a more inviting way on). A section that would require a flat out crawl in water with limited air space. There would be no escaping a soaking in this duck. We went for it, got to the pitch down to Thunderghast Falls then turned around and hurriedly exited that part of the cave system.

Claire exiting the Sphincter. As you can see water was pouring into this part of the cave from all directions.

We pottered around the entrance of the system exploring every nook and cranny and finally exited the cave to discover what had been a dry channel was now taking a fair amount of water as it flowed passed the entrance. In hindsight we thought it was fortuitous that we did not stay too long beyond the sphincter, otherwise the sh*t really would had hit the fan!