Report by Jules Barrett
Cavers: Jules Barrett (EPC) and John Taylor (EPC)
Llangattock Mountain is an area of limestone which rises behind the village of Llangattock in South Wales. The limestone here is riddled with caves and watercourses with Daren Cilau and Agen Allwed being the major systems. Daren Cilau has approximately 26 km of explored cave passage and new passage is still being found by a determined group of regular diggers. Discovered in the 1960s, Daren Cilau begins with it's tough and infamous 600m entrance crawl. From the end of the entrance crawl a number of different trips are possible including 'to the Antlers', 'to the terminal sump' and 'to the Restaurant at the end of the Universe'.
John and I traveled down to South Wales on the weekend of the CDG Welsh section AGM. After an entertaining evening in the Fountain pub and a night at White Walls - the Chelsea Speleologial Society hut - we were up at eight to head into Daren Cilau. We walked up onto Llangattock Mountain and to the small, old quarry that is the entrance to the cave. We'd been told that the first twenty metres of the entrance passage was the worst being low and particularly wet. Oversuits zipped up we crawled into the cave. Immediately it becomes apparent that this is going to be awkward! Apparently the best training for the entrance passage of Daren Cilau is to lie next to a wall in the rain doing one-arm press-ups and I wouldn't argue with that. After about a hundred metres there's a feature known as 'the vice' which is a particularly awkward piece of passage being tight and low. Towards the end of the passage there's the 'stal squeeze' which involves crawling through a body-sized hole in a flowstone curtain. Eventually we reached the end of the entrance crawl which breaks out into a large rift passage. The sense of relief amongst the party was tangible and only tempered by the fact that we had to go out the same way.
From here the cave changes character with some larger passage mixed with flat-out and hands-and-knees crawling. Before too long we arrived at The Big Chamber Not Very Close to the Entrance. Here there's a log book which we filled in with details of our intended trip. There's also a doll strung up with conservation tape which is something that I've not seen in a cave before but makes a handy landmark to identify the position of the log book. We decided that it would be nice to see the Time Machine so headed off towards St Valentine's Chamber and the ladder. The ladder takes you up from large rift passage into another series of passages twenty metres above. There's a rope and a pulley at the top so that people can be belayed up and down and you're pretty glad that there is because it's a big drop. From the top of the ladders some mixed crawling, stomping and handline climbs lead to the Time Machine - one of the biggest sections of known cave passage in the UK. I'd seen some photos of the place and was really looking forward to seeing it for myself. It really is a tremendous place. The floor is made up of large boulders and the route through is marked with reflective tape. It's one of those sections of cave that's just so big that you feel as though you're on the flanks of Scafell Pike at night rather than underground. The section of cave after the Time Machine is covered with crystals and there are also some stunning helictites in Bonsai Passage (see photo above). After much stomping, the final part being in a small streamway we arrived at the Hard Rock Cafe. This is the camp where digging teams generally stay whilst digging in the cave and is very well resourced with food, fuel and alcohol. We carried on through to the streamway at the end which was a torrent of water heading for the terminal sump. On the way back we stopped off at the Hard Rock Cafe for a hot drink and some food before making our way out the same way.
The journey out was steady up until the entrance crawl which is hard work no matter which way you look at it. We didn't rush on the way out and that makes things easier. Finally, we escaped into the cold night air and rain about eight hours after entering the cave. Daren Cilau is a great trip and one that every caver should do at least once. The entrance crawl is hard work but not too bad if you take your time and it's well worth it to see the amazing known cave and potential for exploration beyond.