Being the eager beaver fresher that I am, I rushed down to stores after my Friday lab session to check if there were any vacancies for the second Wales trip. Much to my surprise, Sara decided to fall Ill and I had a spot! I quickly got some stuff together, packed my caving supplies and off we went to Tesco!
At Tesco, the till operator seemed particularly interested in the vast amounts of cabbage (and imposter cabbages (celeriac)) that we were purchasing which was rather odd.
A few hours later we arrived at the beautiful cottage where we pondered upon the adventures we were due to have the following day.
Eleven Freshers arrived en masse in stores on Friday evening and packed all the kit they needed. The minibus loaded and soon was bound to Ystradfellte, Powis. A gigantic traffic jam outside of Beit Quad all the way to the M4 meant the journey to Wales took longer than anticipated. Still, we arrived at 11:30 in the small welsh village nested in the midst of the Beacons. With the help of Barbora and Ben the Master Grater I cooked pasta, and all were sated by one o'clock. Heavy with sleep most went to bed in good time.
Got up to some lovely full English which was quickly devoured by the team. After breakfast, Dave and Tanguy went to get the OFD keys while we were stranded with a flat tyre. Luckily we had a licenced car mechanic on board (Lucien), who - with the help of the friendly welsh neighbour and his big hollow pipe - managed to change the flat tyre.
Upon arrival to the lovely OFD we were once again treated with beautiful views of the welsh countryside and an eager anticipation for that first whiff of fresh cave dust. Upon entering the legendary Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, we were delighted to find out that the name was everything but representative of the natural allure of the cave. After getting lost for a few minutes we were soon on track to Edward's shortcut where I was giving a whisper by Rhys not to tell the other freshers about the ankle-breaking drop ahead.
After the first drop had been concord we somehow ended up in a stream way where our attempts to remain dry were realised to be futile. The stream way was very nice but the thought of trying to climb up to get out of there was nevertheless lingering in the back of our minds. When the time came to get out of the stream way, we - like civilized cavers - queued to hoist ourselves up the rope that Rhys had prepared. Going up the rope was as much a physical challenge as a mental one, but one which was made much easier with Tanguy's caving expertise. All was peachy following the climb and even the 35 foot drop couldn't stop team Chef's rapid progress through the cave as team 2 slugged behind.
We exited the cave with Rhys' epic music still embedded in our thoughts, and heroically marched through the rain to the minibus where we enjoyed a deserved biere d'or and waited for team 2 to arrive. Back at the hut we played caving games and carved a bunch of pumpkins.
Saturday morning saw a host of eager cavers descending the steep stairs of the cottage to break their fast on a full English breakfast. We were making reasonable time in order to retrieve the key to the Top Entrance of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. That was however not accounting for a flat tyre on the rear wheel of the van. Nor was it for a flat replacement tyre. Nor was it for a jack too weak to support an empty minibus. But a caver's natural resourcefulness and Dave's car being here saved the day. Dave and I drove to Penwillt cottage to retrieve the key shortly after 10 o'clock whilst a neighbour helped the others out with a portable pump. By 12:30, we were in the cave.
Ogof Ffynnon Ddu is characterised by its very angular fossil passages, where boulders look like they have been quarried. To a first approximation he cave map looks very much like an newly built city with straight roads and countless junctions. We quickly lost our way after looking for Gnome passage. We met another group of cavers as we were retracing our steps to a known location and after asking few pointers we were back on track. We then split into two teams, Team Other, led by Oli and Team Chef led by Rhys and undertook the same loop in opposite directions with a plan to meet by the streamway. This happened and all of us were soon merrily slashing about upstream, bridging (or failing to) over the deep pools. At a small waterfall we decided to turn back and both teams set off separately. Team Chef undertook a small detour to the Trident and the Judge and paused for a few pictures. An hour later the team was out in the drizzle and trudged along the old railway path towards the minibus. Yet another hour later, Team Other was out too, and before long the minibus was whizzing through the night towards Ystradfellte.
There ensued a battle for space in the shower room, whilst Oli, Barbora and I undertook to cut a vast amount of white and red cabbages together with celeriac. The meal slowly cooked, and the fragrances filled the cottage. The rest took up pumpkin carving in the common room and my special note goes to James's pumpkin which I believe represented the duality of caving, the Yin and Yang, or simply the Sword of Damocles and the ever present fear of a stalactite growing so fast as to become the bars of a dark prison...
Dinner was soon served and such futile speculations put to an end. Caving games followed, the Tree and Ivy otherwise known as Sling and Pot, the Table Traverse. Johannes then let me know he was suffering from a slowly increasing pain in the foot, pain which could not be soothed by rest or ice cold towels around the ankle. An ambulance was called and by 3:30am he was back safely in the cottage having been given strong pain killers and the assurance that he would not be affected in the long term by the sprain.
We all slept a fair amount and most of us eventually got our soaking wet gear together and went on to the next cave. Unfortunately Saad and I were forgotten, but alas a minor quibble. Back at the hut we served some rather interesting blue eggs, cabbage and cheese for Sunday lunch. After lunch we headed back to the van and off to London.
We are very sorry about that. The advice is now to scream continuously when out of the group's line of sight to announce your presence.
Sunday morning saw the same host of eager cavers descending the steep stairs of the cottage to break their fast on a full English breakfast. A smaller contingent changed back into damp caving kit to visit Porth Yr Ogof in the early afternoon. It turned out the river was in high water conditions with a strong current by the entrance and a mid-calf depth. We briefly split into two teams again, and attempted a climb out. Being successful at that we re-entered the cave and followed a parallel stream way until again we emerged in the sunlight. We then decided we were not quite finished with the cave, so paid a visit to the syphon noticing the recent flooding of the cave and after a quick glance crawled out and trudged out through the main entrance, feet wet but almost content. That is why most of us decided to take a dive in the cave river just outside the entrance. Fortunately I was prepared and put on neoprene hood before immersing rather awkwardly in the foaming brown waters.
All our caving needs being sated at last, we made it off to the cottage one last time, ate some cabbage and loaded the minibus for the homeward journey. At last we left Ystradfellte, hearts light and spirits high. By 10 o'clock in the evening we had stormed through the breadth of England and that of Beit Quad to put the kit away in stores.