Stupid Wellies!

Going Underground – A Caving Adventure

When? Saturday May 28th
Where? Dan Yr Ogof Caves
Why? Because I was tricked into it.

I am not someone who is easily scared. I have quite happily jumped out of a plane for charity in the past, I’ve stepped into a boxing ring in front of hundreds of people, I’ve walked hundreds of miles alone through the Pyrenees. Generally, I consider myself reasonably willing to take a risk.

Despite this, for some reason the idea of squeezing my way through dark tunnels under hundreds of tons of rock has never quite appealed to me. Make some of those tunnels knee deep in water, and give some of them a not insignificant drop if you were to misplace your feet, and I would suggest other activities.

One of those activities was to go see the Manic Street Preachers live at Liberty Stadium for the 20th anniversary tour of Everything Must Go. They were supported by the Super Furry Animals, so yeah, well worth the travelling. This was suggested by a friend of mine for whom hiding in small dark places is something of a hobby. He had conveniently organised our accommodation to be the little cottages right next to the Dan Yr Ogof caves. Given he had driven me all the way to Swansea, it would have been rude to decline the offer of caving.

First of all I had to wear a load of stupid safety gear. The helmet I could understand. The overalls restricted my movement, but I supposed that at least I didn’t leave the caves covered in grazes, so perhaps it was wise to wear them. The one thing I couldn’t abide by were the wellies. I would much rather have worn my trail runners. Wellington Boots are not known for their grippiness. Still, I suppose for those who go regularly underground the durability is useful.

We started at Ogof y Nos Hir and made our way to the aptly named “Big Chamber Near the Entrance.” I blindly followed through random bits of cave with interestingly weird names – Gnome Passage, Salubrious Passage, passing points of interest that were called the Wedding Cake and the Judge, because if you squinted and tilted your head they looked a little bit like these things.

I was mostly enjoying myself, trying to keep up with the two people guiding me around, and trying not to do any damage to any of the delicate bits of geology near the paths – it turns out there are some seriously amazing rock formations underground.

I wasn’t sure I was all that built for caving, I was doing well but not spectacularly, until it was announced that we were three quarters of the way through the usual novice tour and we were going to finish far too early, so instead I was to be taken somewhere a little more exciting. This little more exciting place would involve me making my way down a thirty foot climb to a windy narrow passage that required you to walk sideways and led all the way down to an underground river.

This was going to be exciting. It also taught me that there actually is a little voice in my head which tells me when something was a bad idea. The voice that usually remains silent decided to break with 32 years of tradition to start screaming at me immediately after I slipped part way down the thirty foot climb. I didn’t even slip that far, I managed to brace my ass on a lump of rock sticking out one side of the crevice as my feet reached a natural conclusion on a bump opposite. My heart took some time to readjust to what had happened to it and I took stock of the situation. Here I was in a dark windy hole in the ground where it would be exceedingly difficult to rescue me if anything went wrong. This, the little voice in my head decided, was not okay. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I was convinced by my guide that I was already most of the way down so I may as well finish coming down and we’d make our way to the streamway. I made my way down and let my anxiety run riot as I wormed my way through the narrow winding passage to the aforementioned streamway.

Following a downpour outside, it didn’t seem that making our way up through the water was going to be a good idea, so instead we turned back up the narrow windy path and wormed our way back to where I slipped. It took some degree of coaxing from the other two along with a non-negligible amount of using other peoples arms and shoulders as supports, for me to make my way up what should have been a trivial climb. It’s amazing what a bit of panic does to competence levels.

We made our way back towards the exit and I was a little more cautious with my movements, although I did enjoy winding my way around a little corkscrew climb along the way. I was however rather glad to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could probably be tempted to try this again, theoretically speaking.

Anyway, it was another grand adventure and another stupid thing done this year.

Stupid Wellies!
Me having survived being down a cave.

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