The History of UCW Aberystwyth
The History of North Cardiganshire Mining Club
For a long time I intended producing some sort of brief historical sketch of Aberystwyth Caving Club based primarily upon members' anecdotes from the mid seventies (Howard Davies was the oldest ex-member we were in touch with). A wealth of detail was available from 1979–80 with the commencement of the Log Book and Thrutch, but virtually no club records survived from before this time and the Athletic Union files were tantalising rather than informative.
Then in March 1988 Simon Timberlake brought his older brother Jon to Aber for a farewell weekend prior to his departure to Zimbabwe. I listened appreciatively to his stream of anecdotes and pressed him to put something down on paper. Having received Jon's account I started to trace other ex-members: Si Hughes was a mine of information from the early seventies and the College registry very kindly forwarded letters to the last known addresses of most of 1960s members whose names featured in CAB records. The process gathered momentum once a few people had been located. After three hundred letters and phone calls this booklet is the result.
The intimate link with the North Cardiganshire Mining Club from 1970 until that club's final demise in 1981 meant that an adequate sketch of NCMC had also to be included. It is particularly pleasing that Si's account rescues North Cards' wealth of activities from oblivion as it achieved a great deal of exploration and surveying which is now bearing fruit in Si's contributions to the "British Mining" series.
The older the ex-member, the more spontaneous the suggestion of a reunion. The result was a very successful gathering at the Bay Hotel in Aberystwyth in September 1989. The more foolhardy (or amnesic) indulged in a trip to Lefel Fawr Cwmystwyth and in the evening we gathered for a buffet and slide shows by myself and John Carter (history of ACC) and by John Gunn ("Around the World in Eighty Caves"). Highlight of the evening though was the reunion of ex-members for the first time in twenty years and the torrent of anecdotes. It was the Reunion that made the compilation of this history so worthwhile.
I can only thank everyone for racking their memories, attics and diaries for all the tales, anecdotes, photographs and memorabilia. Hopefully this booklet does the club some justice. The text may be a little repetitive at times but I have adopted the usual Thrutch practice of publishing everything contributed, with minimal editing. Some authors may be a little surprised at how their notes have grown into complete articles; I only hope that I have retained their original sense.
The club was known as the University College of Wales Caving Club for most of its existence up until the very late seventies, hence the use of that name in the subtitle. The main title is derived from a history of Aberystwyth town published in the early eighties—"Born on a Perilous Rock".
Thank you again to everyone for accounts and articles; I hope you have derived as much pleasure as I have out of UCW Aberystwyth Caving Club.
Caving in the mid 60s, like many other areas of social life, was undergoing a transformation. Boiler suits, goon suits (ex-RAF survival suits—horrible yellow, rubber-smelling sealed suits with a tube to pee from), hobnailed boots and carbide lamps were giving way to wet suits, lead acids and NIFEs, and vibram soles. Ladders were universally used, however abseiling down a pitch using a krab for added friction was coming in. No jumars or cloggers were available for prussiking so ascent was on ladders. Bolting routes were just beginning (Jim Kinsman in Eldon) and modern diving methods were being tried (Swildon's 4+).
South Wales was then relatively backwater, with only (!) OFD I, Aggie, Tunnel, Pwll Dwfn, Pant Mawr, and a few odds and ends. Most London cavers spent their weekends in Mendip (scrumpy being one and six a pint!—real stuff not commercial) and most Northern cavers in Yorkshire. Vague reports came from BUSS trips to Clare but Anglo/Cymric/Irish caving really started with Paddy O'Reilly (ex-SWCC?)
The SCM was then the BSA of Duke Street, Settle, Ben Lydon didn't make ladders and Descent was needed but didn't exist. Farmers and landowners provided access control—permits, chits, indemnities, & keys being limited to South Wales. UCW Aberystwyth didn't have a Union bar, and Cardiganshire (Ceredigion sorry!) was dry on Sundays, and there was no caving activity.
I heard I had a place at Aber whilst camping at Bull Pot Farm, Casterton Fell—which was a ruin in those days (still is!)—during a week long exploration of Lancaster/Easegill. I was a Derbyshire caver and had been caving with Eldon PC before leaving school.
On arrival at Aber armed with British Sub-Aqua wet suit (£25—a lot of money then), unlined and therefore requiring talc to put on—women's tights if caving for a weekend—Oldham lamp and sundry bits and bobs I came into contact with other like minded people who had done some minor caving. However no-one had any experience of caving or organising caving trips in the Swansea valley or at Aggie. A club was formed with Paul Barter, Dennis Aston, Pete Davies Simon Millett, Neil Gilkes, Steph Portlock, Neil's mate John (Hayles?) [2005 update: Neil Gilkes states that John Hayles was a member but this is probably a reference to John Little—RLS], Lyn Edwards being some of the original members (or so I remember).
No grant was available in the first year of establishment, however we could use transport arranged by the Union: minibuses, coaches, or the Mountaineering Club's Army lorry.
However Paul Barter was also on the committee of the Contract Bridge Club—so we managed to travel to tournaments in Penwyllt, Priddy, Buxton etc. Next year with a grant ladders and rope were purchased (from Brigham's, Manchester) and gradually members equipped themselves with NIFEs (from C. W. George, Chelmsford) and wet-suits ( don't remember where these came from but they were cheap, mainly because the neoprene was from housing work and tended to vary in thickness from 10mm to 1mm in the sheet. I remember Lyn Edwards having one of these—he had difficulty moving one arm as the rubber was very thick, the other arm used to develop hypothermia since the rubber was too thin!)
The first weekend trip was to Penwyllt in the Mountaineering club's lorry. This had a canvas back and cunningly designed exhaust that fed fumes directly into the back. Thus shortly before Aberaeron most of the club were unconscious through carbon monoxide poisoning. Since no-one knew the precise whereabouts of Penwyllt we traversed a circuitous route via Llandeilo, Ammanford, Gwaun-cae-Gurwen, Pontardawe and all stations west to Carmarthen. Some months later we finally arrived at the foot of the hill leading to Penwyllt. The driver of the lorry immediately took fright at the sight of the mountain rearing above us and we had to unload both the gear and ourselves to persuade the lorry to advance an inch. When the party finally regrouped at the SWCC hut the driver leaped dawn from the cab and immediately squashed a snail with his boot. I remonstrated with him for exterminating this poor, innocent creature. "That little so & so", he said, "has followed us all the way from Aberystwyth!"
The caving that weekend was, I think, down to the confluence in OFD II via Cwm Dwr, (Top entrance not then being open) and a through trip in Tunnel (before its show-cave days). Other notable weekends included one to Mendip, staying at the Queen Vic., in a 41-seater coach which stuck fast on Priddy green trying to do a three point turn. The caving included a Swildon's trip before the great flood, i.e. with the Elephant's trunk spewing water down the 40, and Eastwater.
Aggie was usually done as an overnight trip, leaving Aber at Saturday tea-time and finally getting underground around 9.00 p.m. and surfacing about 9.00 a.m. ready for breakfast. I remember an epic trip round the Outer Circle (Turkey Pool, Summertime Series, and the Coal Cellar) when this route had only just been opened; we had to follow the survey stations on the wall to find the route. We cooked, and non-cavers stayed, at a ruined cottage half-way up the road from Llangattock to the tramway (the minor road that crosses the canal near Julie Christie's, not the main road via Brynmawr) that a postgrad student named Jeff Davies (?) had access to.
Another notable weekend was during the foot & mouth outbreak of 1967 (?) when all caving areas were closed other than Burrington Combe on Mendip. We stayed at Mike Harris' house in Keynsham and queued up (yes queued up!) to do Rod's Pot and Goatchurch. Mike Harris wasn't too pleased when someone, smashed on scrumpy, puked in his fish pond and killed all the goldfish. The highlight of the weekend for me was sighting, outside Goatchurch, a member of the Homo Speleologicus Reactionarius Mendipus species. This callow youth sported a pair of hobnailed boots (Hobber Power!), the remains of a boiler suit, and a compressed paper helmet with a chin-strap of hairy twine. He appeared to be assembling the rusty remains of a "Premier" carbide lamp. "Youth", I said, "argh" he replied, "youth", I continued, "don't you know you should have a rubber ring between the two parts of the lamp?"
"Rubberrrr" he replied, "don't know nothing about rubberrrr, this be all metal argh".
I stood back while he struck a match, the flare of the phosphorus highlighting his acne craters, and applied it to the carbon-block, bible-black jet of his Bradford built wonder light.
A whoosh of acetylene came from the lamp's joint, immediately setting fire to the hairy twine round his chin. Startled by his sideburns actually burning and his cardboard helmet starting to smoulder, he threw the flaming helmet to the ground and stamped it into small pieces with his hobnailed boots.
This cave, the nearest cave of reasonable size, played a prominent part in the development of the club. For you modern types who wouldn't touch it with a scaling pole it is the resurgence of the river Loughor and consists of four large "river" chambers, separated by sumps, with a fossil passage sometimes parallel and sometimes above the active streamway. It is possible to reach the upstream final sump without going into the river chambers by following the fossil route. The river chambers however give good fun, especially if a lilo is used to paddle up and down the river! It is also possible to swim and to traverse along one or both walls. The first river chamber is divided into three by rock bridges across the passage thus necessitating climbing on and off the lilo several times with predictably hilarious results.
On our first visit there we were welcomed incredibly warmly by the farmer's wife. She immediately gave us permission to cross the land and, when we asked her for a barn to change in, insisted that we use the front parlour of the farmhouse. This was complete with harp, piano, antimacassars—the full monty! A liberal dose of talcum powder eased the wet suits on and turned the front parlour into a snow-laden Santa's grotto. The conflicting fragrances of the different brands of talc was redolent of the type of establishment occurring in ports of call rather than a chapel-reared farmhouse parlour. On returning from caving there were steaming mugs of coffee and bara brith. Such halcyon days!
Needless to say we were relegated to the barn on future visits, but I thin an electric fire was provided to take the edge off the Spartan nature of such an appointment!
The cave was used for novice trips and I well remember a female novice jumping onto the end of the lilo in the first river chamber. The lilo immediately reared up and she immediately sank down into about ten feet of cold water. I fished her out by the collar of her over suit and was startled to see a cascade of water roaring from the jet of her carbide lamp!
Neil Gilkes & John Hayles later spent a weekend or two camping at LL (as named by the Saes) looking for a bypass to the final upstream sump. I believe Messrs. Farr and Parker were looking at this sump recently and so, if any extension is found, ACC might well claim a historical interest in the place.
We used to have ladder and abseil practice from the promenade/sea wall by "the bar". (When facing to sea the belay bolt hole is in the middle of the wall, about a foot below the top).
We also traditionally collected for rag with our helmets during the procession and then went for a swim in the sea in wet suits of course.
We managed to get some spare gear, including NIFEs for beginners trips.
The tackle was usually stored in the Tackle Master's digs, but I have a vague memory of the Union Annexe being used for something.
The club met on Monday evenings in the Bluebell. We had a mounted survey of OFD on the wall and (maybe) some photographs.
The Offices of the club (& its first Officers) were:
Later on I feel sure that Mike Harris served as Tackle Master (he may have absconded with some ladder—don't necessarily print that!) and that Lyn Edwards, John Hayles, Neil Gilkes, Norman Martell, Simon Millett will probably have served as Officers.
The only "incidents" I can recall are:
Someone (possible Howard Prior?) received a bad KOH burn from an upturned NIFE. The doctor asked him to strip off in the surgery, and when the poor victim complied the doctor brought his school-age daughter into the room and showed her the effects of KOH on bare skin!
We had one visit to the Cwmystwyth mining area. Most of it looked pretty unsafe or flooded. Most members hadn't done many classic natural caves, so naturally there was more interest in South Wales, Mendips, & Yorkshire being too far, and Derbyshire not worth it. Of course there was also little interest in North Wales, and Otter Hole was not excavated (it had always been marked on the OS Map!)
I also remember writing to the owner of the goldmine at Dolgellau and getting a reply in Welsh, and also stopping to have a look at the gold workings in Pumpsaint.
So that's about it. Since leaving I think I rang Paul Barter once, when I was working and living in London but other than that I've had no contact at all.
Since returning to the North West I have caved with Stockport Cave Group, a local small club who have good times.
I joined the Caving Club in my second year not having caved previously at all, there being no caves at home—I'll try anything that sounds exciting. I had never done any caving and much enjoyed that which I did at Aber—I have never done any since although given time and opportunity I should have loved too. Life as an adult seems to get ever faster and fuller of things to be done which rob one of time!
I was a fringe member of the club which didn't seem terribly well organised. The Club seemed a bit fragmented and mostly seemed to be secondary—people had other primary interests which took most of their time. CAB grants were given only when a "club" with membership could be demonstrated to exist i.e. an individual couldn't just decide on his own to start a club and receive money etc. etc. Nevertheless money was available fairly easily—I was later involved in founding the Sub Aqua Club and we were able to secure £300—a sizeable amount then enough for a boat and an outboard—with about eight active members in its first season.
All clubs would set out their stalls in the quad of the Old College at Freshers' weekend hoping to woo new members, many of whom with eyes bigger than their stomachs joined far more clubs than they could ever attend! I can't remember the Caving Club having formal officers or membership cards when I was active. Everything seemed ad hoc and no one seemed to actually run the club. We had an active membership of about ten out of a total membership of only fifteen to twenty. Most of our irregular trips (about three per term) were to South Wales but we also went to Mendip. The main difficulties were our distance from the caves, and the general lack of experience—we needed always to arrange local leaders.
Equipment consisted mainly of old clothes, boiler suits and cheap boots. The club bought carbide, lamps, compressed paper helmets etc and would sell them on to individuals I think. Latterly a few people had some home made wetsuits; one person had a drysuit of sorts, and a few accumulators appeared. Wetsuits (all home made of course) cost about £10 as a kit. Mostly they were single skin—very warm but fragile—or double skin. No nylon linings so large quantities of fairy liquid or talc were needed to get them on without tearing. Zips, where used, were metal and soon corroded. The knees didn't last long even with an obligatory boiler suit worn over the wetsuit.
I don't know where the accumulators came from—they couldn't be purchased near Aber. S. Wales was the nearest source of supply I think. I've still got two carbide lamps somewhere in the attic. They were reasonable but went out in a draught, when you banged them on a rock, and every time you went up or down a wet pitch. If you were on a long trip you also had to carry (and keep dry) extra carbide and a tin to carry out spent carbide or it would soon have littered places down below. Also you needed water for the reservoir from time to time—usually when you were in a dry section.
The main problem we encountered was that it was very difficult to get good caving on day trips given the state of the roads and of members' cars in the sixties. Journeys to S. Wales caves were weekend affairs so the most frequent trip was to a relatively small cave called Llygad Llwchwr. As I remember the cave entrance is a hole six feet up a rock face out of which the Llwchwr river flows—hence the name "Eye of the Llwchwr". So it was always a wet start—quite important in winter without wetsuits. Most memorable trips I attended were to Mendip—drunken weekends where stiff opposition was put up but the scrumpy emerged the winner. We went down Swildon's and other pots I can't remember and stayed at a caving hut near the village of Priddy.
The biggest excursion underground I ever went on was to Agen Allwedd. Great fun—we were 14 hours underground and the scale of the cave was much greater than anything I saw before or since. Quite a few of the boulder chokes on the way in and then a main stream passage you could drive a drive a double-decker bus down. We went somewhere called Turkey Passage which I think was towards the end of our trip. We returned soon after that and I remember bridging along a narrow passage above a swirling fast moving river of unknown depth. We never aspired to sumps; no one had the knowledge or expertise. I remember taking photos with an instamatic camera taken down in a plastic bag—they always came out foggy from steaming bodies or breath!
Names I can remember are Malcolm Butler—a geologist and climber; Peter Davies who was in the Exploration Society and therefore could hire their lorry—a three ton truck which invariably made the juggled and jostled passengers in the back queasy with exhaust fumes. Neil Gilkes was a zoologist, latterly with a shaggy beard and hippy appearance like so many of us then. Howard Prior was another zoologist and a friend of mine. I also remember Glynis Powis and Stephanie Portlock. Glyn Wyche came from Yorkshire and may have done some caving previously. He waxed lyrical about his exploits but one got the impression that he embroidered his stories a little. He did have a dry suit—a thin voluminous orange rubberised cotton smelly type of a thing with a little tube of relieving oneself through. It doesn't seem very practical in retrospect but caving in pre-wetsuit days was a cold affair sometimes.
I was moved to reply because of the great fun that was caving—the silence, the beauty, the feeling that perhaps no one else had ever been there before. The danger to some extent highlighted the adventure overall. Things were like that in those days—we had little worry for the future and knew we'd get a job. For me and others in several clubs I belonged to the idea was to go and do the "thing" whatever it was and no one cared much for administration and formality, perhaps something of a pioneering flavour.
2 March 1989
How amazing to receive your letter this morning. I am currently living with my wife and daughter in Gibraltar aboard a boat that I built in the UK a few years ago. We move around to various countries from time to time and work involves writing for boating magazines, the odd book and writing pocket computer navigational software.
I had done a fair amount of caving mainly in the Mendips before coming to Aberystwyth in 1967. Probably best not to say too much about my academic achievements there other than to say that the last of my two years was one of conflict with the Chemistry department and damage which took me a fair while to make good.
Caving though was something different and it was good to be able to widen my experience to other areas. Senility makes my memory a bit rusty but I think we averaged around 15 moderately active members although the "Freshers weekend" recruitment campaign brought the signed and paid up members to several times this figure. I can't remember there being too many "social members". Most people that attended weekly meetings in the Blue Bell did manage to get underground now and again. Those whose Christian names and surnames I remember were: Lyn Edwards, Harry Peverett, Bernard Clucas (Perce), Gail Cheshire, Glyn Wyche, Billy Barker, Chris Kershaw, Neil Gilkes and Les Saker (whom I still keep in touch with).
I believe Glyn Wyche was a founder member and he was club president in the year that I joined. I took over the job in the second year when all of the above people played a major part even if they may not have been actual committee members.
Dinners, and special events... well there weren't too many of these, save for some rag week contributions. We did make an effort to get out an annual magazine though did not maintain a Log Book.
Except during the run up to exam times we tried to get out somewhere once a fortnight and most popular was the nearest cave Llougad Llougher (oh, so long away from Wales I remember the cave but not the spelling). A couple of times a term we would attempt long week end trips to South Wales, Derbyshire or the Mendips where accommodation was often a problem. Geof Baynes, Landlord of the Queen Vic on Priddy Green would often put us up at a reasonable rate although he was always keen for us to keep on buying the beer.
The worst night I have ever spent either above or below ground or even at sea in a small boat, was on one club trip to Derbyshire. We spent one wintry night in the Eldon Club hut behind Woolworth's in Buxton. You know how old foam cushions go after a couple of weeks on a rubbish tip—after the odd dowsing with sump oil, sprout peelings and cat litter? Well such furnishings would have had many years of useful service still left when used as bedding on one of the two bunks that ran the length of the hut. But these were no ordinary bunks, for each provided multiple sleeping accommodation for members and non members, friends and passing individuals that arrived throughout the night. Some quite advanced thinking went into the cooking and heating facilities. Camping gas stoves were used for cooking and this was supplemented with a solid fuel stove which also provided waste heat for the central heating boiler. This was fitted with a header tank, fabricated from a 5 gallon oil can and mounted above the top bunk.
A feature was that the system would get hottest during the early hours of the morning and jet boiling water over the sleeping bodies below. I forget what we paid for this accommodation but I have a feeling that these facilities are no longer available.
Transport was always a problem. Mainly we relied upon members providing their own although we occasionally hired a coach for more distant trips. There was also the Scouts ex army lorry but it was not always reliable. It did only 15 miles per gallon and few of us were licensed to drive. Motorcycles were more popular than cars which made carrying gear difficult though the Vincent or Triumph combination I used at the time were maybe better than some smaller more modern machines.
There was precious little contact with other caving clubs but I do remember attending an inaugural meeting of the Council of Southern Caving Clubs along with Oliver Lloyd from Bristol and Bill Little from South Wales. Not much activity in the local mines; I took a few trips around the area on my own and made some attempts to find out more from the National Library although time ran out for me.
A "big trip" would have been 12 hours in Aggie but a more typical one would have lasted 2 to 6 hours. Popular caves were of course those of the Swansea valley, including the Tunnel cave through trip, and Swildon's, Lamb Leer, Eastwater and the major Mendip caves.
Main limitations were transport that enabled you to arrive at caves without feeling cold and exhausted before starting, and recognition by other clubs. We had few contacts in the established clubs who in general viewed us as transient bunch with an unproven record for—reliability and safety. We made constant efforts to construct a sound image as only in this way would we be granted ease of access.
Our tackle amounted to about three 25ft. electron ladders, a couple of 50ft lengths of Ulstron rope and various crabs and some odd tethers. About 10 miscellaneous paper and plastic helmets and Nife and lead acid cells were kindly donated by Lyn Edwards. All of this was kept in a room joining on to the Carpenter Hall Laundry where we could also charge batteries. Certainly the College grant was not sufficient for equipment and trips had to be self financing. Most active members had their own helmets and lamps and we did not think of SRT.
Do you remember Goon Suits—those blow up orange outfits used by people that bail out of aircraft. They were popular before wet suits and used by one or two of us. I did have a wet suit made from a kit supplied by Aquaquipment of St. Albans. It was made from some kind of industrial grade of neoprene and the thickness was somewhat variable: about 12mm at the crotch and 3mm in certain other parts. It wasn't too resilient either and made swimming breast stroke or climbing ladders a somewhat jerky operation. Bending the limbs was hard but I could certainly spring them back quickly afterwards.
Thankfully there were no disasters during the time that I was at Aberystwyth.
I enjoyed the caving I did whilst at Aberystwyth very much but have not kept in touch with many ex-members. I have certainly not retired from Caving and worked as a part time leader for the County of Avon Education Department before leaving the U.K. However it is a while since I have been on a "decent trip". The last time I went down a cave was the St. Michael's Lower cave here in Gibraltar. An unusual cave to say the least. Formations are among the best I have ever seen as access has been tightly controlled by the army for years. It felt unduly geriatric to be taken around by the army reservist guide whose main concerns were in showing how the formations looked like E.T., Margaret Thatcher, the Queen etc. and in making sure that I should not slip. Lighting was also rather unusual as the army have taken the trouble to install electric lights, no doubt at the taxpayers' expense. In complete contrast was the Cuevas de Pileta a show cave in nearby Spain. Also a most beautiful cave in my tranquilo setting, as they say. There the attitudes to safety are somewhat relaxed and the guide issues every other member of his party with a paraffin pressure lamp.
In spite of not having done much serious caving for a while I am convinced that skills learnt caving are always useful what ever you do. I have not got a carbide lamp here, I don't even know what the Spanish for Carbide is, but only yesterday I did use the electron ladder for climbing the mast. Sailing and caving have much in common only the mud is missing.
Many thanks for contacting me. I do look forward to hearing something of ACC today.
At the start of my final year I discovered that my room mate Ian Wallace showed an interest in caving, and, by good chance we made contact with an influx of first year students who were members of the Hereford Caving Club and thus the club, which had nearly expired for various reasons, was reborn! The most significant of our Hereford members was Guy Richards and it was he I think, more than anyone, who inspired us to make a fresh start. Other active members were Norman Martell, our secretary, Ian Wallace, John Kindsey and Alan Pratt. Several other characters preceded us but did not take much active part in caving in my time were still in the club: Mike the bike Harris had been the soul of the caving club in his time but, I hope he will forgive me saying so, lost his way in the academic routine, and thus became a sort of honorary member and our Mendip guide. I also remember Lyn Edwards our tackle office and who was of great support to the club, but rarely ventured underground—I think in consequence of an earlier accident. A great asset to the club was John Dransfield who was on a year education course and was a good rock climber and general outdoor enthusiast. We went on caving together for several years after leaving Aber.
Because I had first been in residence there, as indeed had Mike Harris, our tackle room was the Carpenter Hall washroom! The warden kindly allowed us to keep tackle there for a nominal rent even after the last Caving Club member had ceased to live there. I recall many an afternoon of cheerful drudgery, washing mud out of the various club boiler suits (pre-wetsuit era at first!) and ropes and other tackle.
Much of our equipment in the way of lighting was ex-NCB and obtained through a trader in Leicester called Alan Coarse who I think was also secretary of the Cave Research Group. When we first resumed activities in the Autumn term of 1969 we were able to trace several Nickel-Alkali cells, although we had no means of charging them. The local Ford dealer whose name I forgot kindly put them on charge for us. No one seemed to know for how long or at what rate they should be charged, so we gave estimates for about forty eight hours at four amps! They were nearly cooked by the time we recovered them but somehow they were not much the worse for it. Very robust cells!
We used to meet on Monday evenings in the saloon bar of the Bluebell. I remember it was one of the town's quieter pubs. The landlord had been a Glamorgan county cricketer and cricketing memorabilia shared the walls with our own mementoes. I am sorry to hear that it is no more.
The first cave I entered was Tunnel Cave—I particularly remember it—especially the first moments on the ladder at the top. In fact I remembered it so vividly that I had no trouble finding my way through it again on my second visit a year later at the end of my time in Aberystwyth—a remarkable feat it will be allowed by those who may recall other subterranean peregrinations under my dubious guidance!
It was on that first trip to Tunnel Cave that we succeeded in offending the proprietor/manager of the Dan yr Ogof site by removing the main gate to the said site from its hinges to gain access. Obviously we had, I understand, permission to visit the cave, but when Dr. Price found our transport in the grounds he took umbrage and complained to SWCC who promptly withdraw permission for us to enter any of the caves under their jurisdiction. To redeem ourselves for this unfortunate incident (which you may not wish to make general knowledge) we attended cave rescue discussions at SWCC the following year to demonstrate that our club was a responsible institution.
Thinking back, as you have prompted me to do, makes me glad to have known all those characters and it is good to know that the club is obviously thriving.
When I moved to Aberystwyth I was already a member of Hereford Caving Club and had caved regularly with them since 1967, mainly in S. Wales. I was an ardent caver and was very keen to carry on my caving so I anxiously went in search of a Caving Club at the Freshen' Weekend Club Fair (was it really called that?) held in the Quad in the Old Call. There, surprise, surprise, was a caving club stand where I was welcomed with open arms by Ian Wallace (and probably Chris Kershaw and Norman Martell). It turned out that Ian also lived in Trefor Road with Chris Kershaw so we became friends and caving ensued.
UCWCC (the club was known as UCWCC not "The Caving Club" or "UCW Caving Club") had just over half a dozen active members, but non-members occasionally came caving with us. The main people were Chris Kershaw, Norman Martell, Lyn Edwards, Ian Wallace and myself.
Additional people I remember from about 1969–70 are Bob Moore, Mike Harris, John Kindsey, Dave Schofield, Alan Pratt, Harry Peverett, Martin Walton, Geoff Dendle and Graham Lott.
The character of the club was Ian Wallace the wild man from "Bexley Heath mate" caught with a paint brush in his hand writing Freedom, Equality, Fraternity for the Welsh People (or something similar) on Trefechan Bridge. Also, so pissed one time that he hit his head on the only iron bar in the nine foot square blockhouse above GB Cavern. Mention must also be made of Glyn Wyche—though not too much as he appeared to have been responsible for very sour relations with SWCC: one trip he had organised had removed the gates to the Dan yr Ogof property. Mainly as a "front" to try and book S. Wales caves and cottages after this event, Ian, Geoff, Dave Moore and I created the "Mid Wales Caving Club" which never quite came into existence as a separate and more respectable body with a mid Wales based membership—we had a bunch of lads around the Knighton/Presteigne area (i.e. my friends) who were nominally members.
A Caving Club badge was designed in early 1970 by Lyn Edwards, a bit on the lines of a Hells Angels 'patch' (1% er). I thought it sported the figure "5" because 5% of the population got to University but Ian Wallace has a different, probably more correct version—only five people in the club went caving. Chosen by unanimous acclaim of Edwards, Martell, Kershaw, Wallace and Richards I expect! In subsequent years when knowledge of the origins of the "5" became obscure we would reply to enquiries that it commemorated the five, but that we didn't like to talk about them. The enquirer would then retreat, imagining that he had inadvertently asked about some tragic accident!
Our tackle was basically a couple of milk crates full of Edison 3 cell (Nife) batteries or Oldhams batteries (much debate about the advantages/disadvantages, safety/danger of acid v. alkali). I guess there must have been about 15 cells in various states of disrepair. We had half a dozen ladders, and lots of funny rope—mainly Ulstron and Cowlene, with a little nylon. Both Ulstron and Cowlene had a particularly poor time in the caving press about ther by melting when abseiled on. Those of us who were regular cavers had batteries, helmets, and wetsuits (of sorts) of our own.
A continual problem was transport. We used Dave Gallimore's vans until he was imprisoned (I think), then we used Nelson's. There we always big fights as the Football Club, Rugby Club, any anything competitive got the Union vans before anyone else, and then the mountaineers and surfers got them before the cavers. We even tried to con the CAB into giving us our own minibus "for cave rescues", though we were quite seriously concerned that we should be able to something in a call out situation—especially for the Lead Mines. Regarding the Lead Mines I think we did something for the Cambrian Cave Registry (Noel Christopher) at sometime.
In 1969/70 a new storm water drainage system was put in from just below Bronglais Hospital through onto the beach, after going along North Road. Some was tunnelled and some was concrete piped etc. Ian Wallace had our eyes on this for some time and the first attempt was made after a session at the Angel, fully equipped with carbide lights. On that occasion only part of the Penglais Hill section was traversed and one waste bin set on fire. Later, Wallace and Geoff Dendle completed the "through trip" to emerge onto the beach. Soon after both the top and beach end were sealed off with wire grills.
The worst trip I recall was a Pant Mawr trip (I abseiled in using Ulston—aagh!) where we had a group of Aber scouts—experienced mine explorers though—and some friends of friends (i.e. novices but we didn't know it). It started well. We found Pant Mawr but had lost the raw bolt so by some intricate knitting we rigged up ladders and lifelines from the iron stake on the surface. Everybody down okay. Reasonable trip underground and up we go, or rather some of us do. One of the novices couldn't do it but we got the scouts up okay. Then the novice had another attempt and fell off, falling a fair way because he had been up and down the ladder so many times the rope had become entangled and "proper" tension was not being felt on surface. In falling he hit a UCWCC caver (I can't remember who) and hurt the UCWCC man's shoulder. To cut a tong story short we hauled the novice out of the Pot by which time it was virtually dark and at least two of the scouts were showing very definite signs of exposure. Wrapping the scouts up between us we ran for the van at Pont Cwm Pwll y Rhyd. By now it was pitch black but somehow Norman Martell navigated us back perfectly—well he did say he knew the way!
With the link up with the Scouts we became more involved with North Cards Mining Club and Simon Hughes. CAB funds were never enough for us. We wanted a van, a rescue kit, some decent tackle, some surveying gear, an overseas trip...
The records of the Central Athletic Board (fore-runner of the Athletic Union) are generally sparse concerning the Caving Club but do provide some insight on the birth of the club. Other than its very beginning however, the CAB Minutes are almost silent other than for procedural trivia. Of more interest are the CAB Accounts which recorded all transactions in handwritten ledgers prior to computerisation in October 1970.
CAB Meeting 13 October—Dennis Aston present on behalf of Caving Club—"Caving Club did not put in an estimate for a grant which therefore would have to be nominal. It was decided to give the Caving Club the defunct Ski Club's grant".
This first year's grant was indeed nominal—£10. The club spent £9-3-6 of it: £2-8-6 on 100' of rope from Ellis Brighan, and £6-15-0 on hiring the Exploration Club's lorry. At the CAB meeting of 20 January Glyn Wyche asked on behalf of the club that "grant saved from the present session could be carried forward to the next session. They had used all their grant for capital equipment and would rather wait and buy in bulk rather than in small quantities". The CAB undertook to consider the request.
Perhaps Glyn Wyche's appeal was heard for in October 1967 the CAB proposed a grant of £75 for the Club (it was later raised to £100) and resolved that "capital equipment such as ladders for the Caving Club will be paid for out of the Capital Equipment Fund, not General Grants". The accounts for the year mention trips to Llandeilo four times, the Swansea Valley twice, Derbyshire and Bristol though two breakdowns are also mentioned! The only items of interest are "21 January—W. Slack & Sons—No. 1 Viking Rope—£1-18-6" and "17-18 November—C. Barker and Glynis Powis—Hall Fees (Freshers Weekend Helpers)—£3-3-0 each". This last item looks suspiciously like a ploy to milk the grant!
The only item of interest is that Neil Gilkes and Stephanie Portlock informed the CAB meeting on 10 October the "Mountaineers and Cavers are considering a CAB jointly owned vehicle". Nothing more is recorded of this optimistic hope however.
The Accounts contain a plethora of interesting detail, mentioning trips to Little Neath, Agen Allwedd, Cwm Dwr, C yr Ychen (twice), Dan yr Ogof, Tunnel Cave, Mendips and Yorkshire. Prices of equipment seem ludicrously low: a lamp and helmet £3-1-0; a Nife Cell £2-10-0; one 10' and two 25' ladders £24-1-6; 240' of nylon rope, £1-2-1.
That the club was becoming more organised is indicated by the purchase of membership cards and programme cards from Aber Studios; 1:25,000 maps (6/6 each); "charts etc 16/-"; a compass; Nife spares and electrolyte; books—"Manual of Caving Techniques" at £4-4-0, and the renting of a tackle room in Carpenter Hall washroom at £1-0-0 a term. Rather more intriguing is the purchase of 25 plastic badges from Pen y Ghent Stores at 5/6 each—£6-17-6 in total. Most intriguing of all is the purchase of £5-13-4 worth of "mining materials" on 10 February! The detailing of petrol expenses against levies allows the total prices of trips to be established—£5-4-8 to the Mendips; £2-12-8 to Tunnel Cave. The actual amount of levied per head seems to have been about 5/-.
One ploy to secure minibuses from the CAB seems to have worked—on 24 January Norman Martell and Guy Richards convinced the CAB meeting to resolve "that because of the dangerous situation in S. Wales and the fact that the Caving Club could be called on at any time by the S. Wales Cave Rescue Unit, it should have the use of any available transport"!
In the run up to computerisation of the accounts very little detail is recorded; however levies of 5/- ahead seem to have been the norm in an era of petrol at 6/5½ a gallon and CAB minibuses at l0d/mile. The passing of an era is best marked by the annotation in early 1971 of "Decimal Conversion"...
Aber Caving Club was formed three years ago and is still a very active body. The Club sends representatives to Central Athletics Board meetings and in 1967/68 the Club was awarded grants for transport and additional equipment.
The Club has at present about sixty members, although the numbers are always increasing. A large proportion of members are active, some more than others. Women make good cavers but don't often think so. They are frequently more agile than men and attack cave obstacles without the usual (brute) force and ignorance techniques adopted by many males, often giving disastrous and amusing results.
Freshers who wish to join may do so at the stand in the Quad, after enrolment, but anyone can join the Club at any time by coming to meetings. Meetings occur in the Blue Bell back room on Monday nights. They are quite informal and all members shape club policy by speaking their minds. The Committee, an ever changing body, does not govern but organises future trips. People wanting trips can come along to those being arranged or, if there is not one to suit them, organise one themselves.
The Club is well positioned since Derbyshire and Mendip are easy week-end trips and South Wales is so close that single day trips can easily be organised. Keen cavers are able to organise trips to Yorkshire, Ireland or the continent during the vacations.
Beginners would probably start with a one day trip to an easy South Wales cave or an introduction to caving (and to the peculiar humour of a caving trip). Personal equipment such as a helmet, lamp, boots and a boiler suit is supplied to beginners but after they become wildly enthusiastic after one trip they want to buy their own.
New rope and ladder are being bought during 1968 with the intention of keeping the Club's tackle up to the standard of its caving. There is also a possibility of the Club obtaining its own transport in the near future. Recently the Club has carried out a number of trips with the intention of taking cave photographs. We have some quite varied results and hope to hold a slide show when we have a sufficient number.
If you have been considering caving as an activity, come along to the meetings and try a trip, it will be a worthwhile experience and good cavers are an asset to any club.
"Led by Guy Richards & Norman Martell; participants: Chris Kershaw, Ian Wallace, Bob Moore, Mike Harris and two others, John Dransfield, John Kindsey, Dave Schofield.
Open access but the farmer has tendency to demand 1/- from individuals.
Fairly tight and wet to begin with though the flood entrance was well down on its usual level apparently. One section is very tight in only one place. Afterwards quite a lot of wading about is involved. We went in by the Canal Bypass and the way down to Sump Two has no technical difficulties although one duck is involved. The Canal on the way out is impressive and one imagines with a lot of water present would be dangerous. We missed Sand Chamber and ended up at Bridge Cave Sump but on the whole route finding is not too difficult.
Those without wetsuits got fairly cold and after a complete rest from caving or considered as a first trip it proved reasonably strenuous. It took about four hours. Used Dave Gallimore's van, in too dangerous a condition to be used again. Some of the roads on the way to Ystradfellte are very narrow and it is easy to get lost. Norman drove".
"Impromptu trip with no planned accommodation. Used Chris Kershaw's tent, John Dransfield slept in his car and the rest slept in the van about 100 yards from the Burrington Coombe Cafe. Mike Harris led a ramble round Burrington Coombe in the morning and in the afternoon caving commenced in two groups". Seven, led by Mike Harris, did the Swildon's round trip. The party included five without wetsuits and two complete beginners—the trip was summed up as "a good trip but not a wise one. It needs a complete afternoon and wetsuits are really essential", cold and exhaustion being mentioned a number of times. The other five pottered around parts of the lesser caves of the Burrington area (Goatchurch, Sidcot, Avelines, Toads Hole, Spider Hole, East Twin, Read's and Rod's) and also Nine Barrows.
"After a steady night's drinking at Priddy we were reluctant to start on Sunday". The Burrington group did Swildon's to Sump One: "don't do Swildon's on a Sunday if you can help it. It is full of people—usually inexperienced". The remainder did Goatchurch and Chris Kershaw commented: "Hobnails aren't much use in Goatchurch. I fell down one of the two entrances into the lower part of the cave after negotiating the first fault passage".
"A rather too hasty retreat was beaten—gear being thrown into whatever transport was available and my tent flysheet was nearly wrecked as a result of leaking KOH. Always keep the bloody things upright! The CAB transit was purloined for this trip. Lyn Edwards drove. Alan Pratt took his car and so did John Dransfield. Though all were useful the eventual cost did not merit the number of vehicles. During a weekend trip it is generally necessary to recharge cells. It is probably advisable to make arrangements for this before the first cave to give the garage some notice".
On a day trip to S. Wales on 2 November the club failed to find Pant Mawr Pot—"the trip provided plenty of exercise" and the location of the entrance remained a "hotly disputed point"! A better time was had on 15–16 November when the club went to Llangattock and stayed at "The Ruin" for a charge of 2/- a head. Saturday was spent in Eglwys Faen and Agen Allwedd old entrance. On Sunday the group went in to Agen Allwedd proper, part of the group turning back at Main Passage and the rest continuing to Turkey Pool (Guy Richards, Chris Kershaw, Norman Martell and his brother in law Roger, and John Dransfield). Chris Kershaw summed the trip up: "The journey was very tiring indeed. I have seldom been so tired. Not a trip to indulge in without a very competent leader".
On 7 December five people went down to Penwyllt in Alan Pratt's mini to do Cwm Dwr. The account reveals that "some people in the club in the past have refused" to do the crawl. The trip down to the confluence was described as "bewildering—I still can't remember exactly where we went". Norman Martell and Chris Kershaw who possessed wetsuits ventured upstream. The trip was summed up as "ridiculously long but most of the trouble was finding our way".
The spring term of 1970 saw more trips—seven caving and one to the S. Wales CRO Conference at Penwyllt. Caves visited were:
Cil yr Ychen 18 January—"An easy cave but the mud is depressing. Since we had taken the Community Action thing into play there were several scouts and members of Borth Youth Club. The youngest was eleven—definitely too young. Most seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves".
Cwm Dwr—25 January—"Allen Pratt with smooth shoes on having forgotten his footwear was caving well. We decided to go upstream. The water was high but all went well until we ca to the pots. I led and fell into them all, but even this was not adequate marking for the others, most of whom found them just as much by accident!" On their return they "hardly got lost at all! (See survey to appreciate this achievement)".
Llygad Llwchwr—31 January—reconnaissance trip for the following week by Lyn Edwards and Chris Kershaw whose "light went out rather quickly"—as leader this rather handicapped him and the trip was a little confused.
S. Wales CRO Conference—7 February—attended by Messrs. Kershaw, Richards, Wallace and Martell. "Our contribution was minimal: in terms of distance we are a long way removed and in terms of experience we are sadly lacking". It was decided to levy a charge of 5/- a head on all members of S. Wales clubs; Chris Kershaw commented in the log that it "would be ridiculous for us. It will only raise £2". The problems of organising a system in North Cardiganshire was briefly considered: "David Jenkins of Llandrindod Wells was mentioned as having the best knowledge of the Cardiganshire Mines and it was agreed that some kind of a base should be made with him with UCWCC as the immediate support team". There then follows much discussion of a call out system and the obvious problems of manpower and equipment which would face UCWCC. One question posed was "whether to include local youths who certainly know the mines—The North Cardiganshire Caving & Mining Club". The technicalities of a call out system were still (optimistically!) under discussion at the A.G.M. on 27 April where the following note was made: "Rescue Call out—two teams of three, one on call over weekend alternatively on an exact timetable; Contact with Fuzz; Niel Robertson Stretcher and hauling ropes; Rescue equipment to have priority on capital". One wonders how long such an onerous system lasted—if implemented at all!
Llygad Llwchwr—8 February—"A Community Action trip with four scouts and Alison Matthews and Anne Richards. John Dransfield brought this party down on Sunday in the rowing Club dormobile which is the most comfortable transport we have yet had but it is expensive at 1/- a mile". Messrs. Kershaw, Richards and Wallace met the group at Llandeilo having spent the Saturday at the S. Wales CRO Conference. Chris Kershaw's car "burst its upper radiator hose for the amusement of the company" at the farmhouse. "Club members wore wetsuits since we envisaged hours grotting about in the river chambers. In the second River Chamber we put a ladder down and had everyone swimming about admiring the excellent formations. This was a mistake really, because it meant the party's trip had to be shortened". The third and fourth River Chambers were visited but Chris then "reluctantly decided the time had come for out for the younger members of the party. Exposure might have threatened. We took a long time getting everyone out with such a large party—every obstacle took ages for the whole party to negotiate".
Tunnel Cave—15 February—"Not a beginners' cave really, though not as dangerous as it looks".
Mendip weekend—20–22 February—A two car trip to the M.C.G. hut. Longwood August on the Saturday with a party of eight, one of whom without a wetsuit had to be escorted back shortly before reaching the end. The day's account ends with the observation "A lot of rain the night before—Swildon's was flooded", which makes one wonder why they didn't drown in Longwood August which is notorious for flooding! The following day saw the party in G.B. Cavern. The return journey was "much longer than need have been—we got well and truly lost in Somerset. Norm was amazingly sick in my motor". (Chris Kershaw)
Cwm Dwr/OFD I—28–29 February—Guy Richards, Ian Wallace and Chris Kershaw had intended joining a practice rescue at Maypole Inlet in OFD II but arrived late and so decided to join the rescue via Cwm Dwr and the main streamway. They reached the sump easily but couldn't find the by-pass: "the furthest we have ever been up the streamway". They had planned to spend the night at Norman Martell's parents' house near Port Talbot but "due to a lack of communication between Norman and his parents" found themselves instead at the Hereford CC hut to which Guy Richards as a member had the key. On Sunday the four were joined by Bob Moore and led by Oliver Lloyd portered diving gear for John Parker into OFD I to the upstream sump off Lowes' passage.
Firstly, congratulations to Aberystwyth Caving Club on reaching its 21 Anniversary apparently free from symptoms of delirium tremens.
I caved with ACC during the 1970–1971 academic year, as a postgrad in the Physics Dept. I had caved previously, for two years, when an undergraduate at Chelsea College of Science, London University, at the Mendip Hills, South Wales and Yorkshire. I joined ACC in order to continue caving. We could fill a van, say about nine members, but they might not have been the same members every time. We met at a pub in Aberystwyth, might have been the Blue Bell, about once a week. The club was run on very informal lines, by the keenest and most active cavers. Caver called Norman was the President, Dai Caux was the Secretary (I think) and I was the Tackle Master. The tackle was kept in a hut in the car park behind Carpenter Hall of Residence. I cannot remember any logbook other than the tackle Logbook. I can remember, however, attending, with Dai Caux, lectures on first aid given by a gentleman from the St. John's Ambulance Brigade. In addition, I can remember attending with other Club members, a lecture on the lead mines of Cardigan, though I doubt it was arranged by the ACC.
Trips were held once a fortnight during Autumn and Spring terms. I can now remember only trips to South Wales—Cwm Dwr Quarry Cave; Tunnel Cave down to the David Price Chamber before it was opened up as the Cathedral Show Cave. In fact, as we approached the chamber we say what we thought were the lights of a very large caving party ahead. It turned out to be the eventual "developer" of the cave, surveying with the aid of a 1000 Watt quartz halogen's lamp. We also did Pant Mawr Pot (I believe that was its name—the entrance resembled a bathroom sink with a plughole at the bottom), and the Little Neath River Cave. We also went mining around Old Goginan. All were day trips. We used either Union vehicles or a van belonging to the sailing (?) club. Once, when stuck for a vehicle my then girlfriend transported club members to the local lead mines—but declined to mine with us.
Most equipment was owned by the club, ladders, ropes, cells, helmets etc., individuals owned helmets (some), wet suits, boiler suits etc. I cannot now remember details of equipment except that the club owned mostly NiCad rather than lead acid cells—about a dozen of them. No carbides. Most members had wet suits. The Union tackle grant was never adequate for any club. However, in comparison with my previous college, the Aberystwyth grants for both caving and sub-aqua clubs were woefully inadequate. I was a member of both clubs in both colleges.
Fortunately we had no real disasters. Lost the brakes on the borrowed Sailing Club van in Brecon once, while I was driving, then lost drive to one half shaft and had to hitch back to Aberystwyth. Regretfully, we later learned that on the same day a Bristol University cave diver lost his life while cave diving near Porth Yr Ogof. Vandals had tampered with fixed guide lines.
Only idiosyncrasy I can now recall was demonstrated by Norman who, though showing great energy and physical (though perhaps not mental) fitness in the darkness of caves, puffed and blowed his way up the slightest incline when on the surface in the light: we considered providing oxygen supplies for him on the climb from the car park to the top entrance of Tunnel Cave!
Good club, friendly, good morale. I left Aberystwyth to live in the Antarctic for the next two and a half years, where I worked in huts 60 feet under the surface of the Brunt ice shelf, on the Weddel Sea, crawled down the occasional crack in the ice and entered the occasional crevasse—sometimes inadvertently—so one might say I continued caving after leaving Aber! However, I did not resume caving on my return to the UK—no time—heavily into scuba diving Summer and Winter. I returned to live and work at Aberystwyth from 1974 to 1986 but had lost all contact with ACC though I met Simon Hughes occasionally—in the early seventies he was a schoolboy miner from Ardwyn Grammar who attended Aberystwyth Caving Club meetings as a guest, led students on trips down local lead mines and was a natural historian.
Believe it or not the prime reason I chose Aber to do my Geography degree was that as well as offering what looked a reasonable array of courses it also had a caving club! I had caved previously with Whitehall Outdoor Pursuits Centre and the Peak District Mines Historical Society, mainly in the Peak District and Yorkshire. To be honest I can't remember very much about the state of the club when I arrived; my vague recollection is that there were only a handful of members, that there was no stand at Freshers Fair, and that I finally' tracked them down in the Blue Bell. The only other new member was Andy Roff who was to become my henchman! There was some tackle stored at the back of Ceredigion Hall and during the year the infamous Caving Club Transit (DTH 85D) was purchased. [ Ford Transit was purchased by John R. Law on behalf of the Caving Club on 16 November 1971 from an Ammanford garage. It required repairs almost immediately at both Aberystwyth and Swindon and the club became embroiled in claiming the cost of the repairs—which included a new radiator—from the garage under its guarantee. Eventually the University wrote a series of letters on behalf of the club threatening legal action and further repairs were carried out under the guarantee in early 1972. The minibus seems to have been a dubious purchase—by the Summer of 1972 the club was budgeting £40.00 for an "extensive engine overhaul" and its condition seems to have deteriorated still further later.] Trips were generally not that well attended and changes were made to the programme card. I think Steve Phillips was President and there was a postgrad who was his right hand man. We certainly had a number of trips but by the end of the academic year everyone except Andy and myself left Aber.
Andy and I made a concerted effort to attract members at Freshers Fair including draping gear all over one of the Statues in the Old College Quad and being admonished by porters etc. We recruited 31 members of whom a dozen never showed their faces after the beginners' trips to Porth yr Ogof. Of the four who lasted the term, Lyn Owen and Jon Timberlake were the most enthusiastic. Trips averaged an attendance of about six people and my diary records that we visited Tunnel Cave, OFD II, Aggie, Giant's, Oxlow, Waterfall Swallet (twice), Nicker Grove and Merlin's Mine in Derbyshire, and also ran a Yorkshire trip. Local mining trips were not particularly frequent although contact with NCMC was cordial, and Si Hughes took a fair number of us underground at one time or another. One NCMC member who came on several UCWC trips was Phil Nuttall. Several of us assisted NCMC in their digging/surveying efforts.
An even bigger recruiting drive by Andy, Jon, Lyn and myself saw 40 signed up and paid members, most of whom never even managed a beginners trip—but their money was useful! After the Porth yr Ogof beginners' trips we settled down to a hard core of about eight. Trips continued to average an attendance of half a dozen people and my diary records visits to Aggie, OFD II, Manor Farm, Swildon's, Lamb Leer, Carlswark, Merlin's (twice) and Waterfall Swallet. Things get a bit hazy here but I also recall trips to Bwlchglas, Cwmystwyth and Mant y Criau with NCMC. On 16 February we joined NCMC for a rescue practice which was filmed by BBC Wales—commentary in Welsh plus cursing in English! We also joined a Gwent CRO practice in Aggie and a NWCRO practice in Pandora Mine, Llanrwst.
In S. Wales we stayed at either Whitewalls or Penwyllt, or alternatively made it a day trip. In the Peak District we always stayed at the PDMHS hut as I was a member, and in Mendip we stayed at the BEC hut where I knew Jarett etc. Our main transport was the club transit until it was reclaimed by the Union in the summer of 1974; "Luggy" the caving club plastic duck lived in the Transit and did several trips with us; he is still in my possession! We had one close call when one of its front wheels fell off.
Most of our inadequate grant was spent on trips, especially on the transit. By this time its roadworthiness was in doubt particularly its bodywork. On cornering the side doors which had rusted away completely at the bottoms would slowly flap outwards like wings. When I took it to a certain garage near Aber for its MOT I was quote two prices—one if the vehicle was looked at, and another if it was not! As a result the club bought very little tackle—my recollection is that there was never very much: a few ropes, ladders, carbide lamps and boiler suits. Individuals purchased their own gear such as wetsuits, amino boxes and SRT kit. SRT was only use rarely but wetsuits were more common. Our main limitation was people i.e. commitment and ability.
Having graduated in June 1974 I obtained a scholarship to New Zealand to start in February 1975. I returned to Aber for a term on the social security and also assisted (or got in the way of) Lyn and Jon who took over running the club. In late 1974 or early 1975 (i.e. after my time as Pres was up!) Lyn turned a UCW transit over and several people were fairly badly injured.
Characters who stick in my mind are Andy, Lyn and John. It was Andy I think who on a visit to Mendip when we stayed at the BEC, slept upstairs in their not completed hut and stepped between the joists and crashed through the ceiling while attempting to answer nature's call in the early hours of the morning.
We had a lot of fun and it is probably not stretching the point too much to say that my life and career wouldn't have been the same without ACC. I was determined to do a cave related dissertation (on the Hydrology of Waterfall Swallet) and on the strength of that was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to the University of Auckland where I did the first PhD in New Zealand on cave hydrology. (I also became president of the Auckland Speleo Group, the largest in New Zealand). Alas my move from Aber to the antipodes resulted in my loosing contact with ACC and my caving colleagues. Since then I have worked/caved in Ireland, USA, Turkey, China, Australia, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria etc and am currently a Reader at Manchester Poly and Director of a highly successful Limestone Research Group. Currently I am infamous as "Mr. Radon"!!
In my day the club was quite small. In my first year there were two mainstays of the club—one was Steve Phillips and the other was a blonde-haired postgrad (Geography?) whose name I've completely forgotten. I'd caved previously with St. Albans Caving Club—a youth club—and had done three or four trips, some easy, some challenging. Heaven alone knows what made me join ACC. John (Ben) Gunn and I joined the club in my first year—the club was quite small and it's all a bit hazy after fourteen or so years but I can remember a couple of trips to S. Wales.
In the next year Ben became President and I became Secretary—really a result of lack of competition for the posts. There were very few people in the club in those days (about 15 regular members of whom half a dozen were active) so I certainly didn't do anything apart from turn up at the club meetings at the Bluebell. Ben did all the planning/appropriating funds/organising etc. (I suppose I should have paid more attention, but most of my efforts were directed in moderating or blocking Ben's more hair-brained schemes and generally keeping the peace). We ran about six trips a year, staying in cavers' cottages or sleeping in the SU transits. Ben was very enthusiastic and organised some good trips to S. Wales (OFD I, OFD II plus beginners' trips to Little Neath River Cave etc.) plus some trips to Derbyshire and the Mendips. That year two first years joined us—Lyn Owen and Jon Timberlake, who became the guardians of the flame in the next year.
I found a photo of the stall we set up for Freshers' Week 72. The long haired reprobate on the right hand side is me. The long haired reprobate on the left hand side is John (Ben) Gunn. The main purpose of the Freshers' Week stall was to attract young women to join the club (surprisingly we weren't particularly successful, though there was one girl who delighted in sitting and splashing in underground puddles—a psycho-analysts' dream...) The two ladies in the picture were occasional cavers—the one on the left I cannot remember now, but the one on the right is Gill. I hope Gill is a famous artist now—I've got a print made by her.
The university club was partially linked with the N. Cards Mining Club. This was a local (rather than university) club that explored the mines in the valleys. One busy member of the mines club was Simon—a local chap with a shock of pure white hair, rumoured to have appeared overnight after an incident with a quantity of explosive. The two clubs were jointly assigned responsibility for mine rescue in the Mid Wales region—luckily we were never called out.
Since we were part of the cave rescue organisation we took part in a large scale rescue practice. The chosen site for the rescue practice was in South Wales. We were warned and so were able to book the Student Union transit and Ben checked with the Police about what we could do. Interesting fact—to add realism to a simulated rescue, the rescuers are allowed to behave as if it is a real rescue... oh joy... We bought a yellow flashing light and when the call came, we all bundled into the transit and Ben drove like a madman to the Brecon Beacons. The thrill of the ride was followed by rather an anti-climax—by the time we reached the rescue, the site was a mass of cars, tents, and bald headed men in battered wetsuits ordering everyone about. Ben was still keen—he changed into his wetsuit and rushed into the cave. Lyn and I and the rest of the cargo in the back of the transit decided to tackle Lyn's bottle of cider/wine/whatever and got drunk. Ben was under-impressed when he finally returned—wet, muddy, tired and sober.
It is difficult to tell some anecdotes—there would be a chance of tripping up on the laws of libel. There was one member of the Caving Club who could undo a brassiere with his feet and toes; and there was another who had recently been introduced to religion, such that he would attend the meetings at the Bluebell, nurse a half pint of mild for the entire evening and tell us off if we swore... most peculiar for a caver, but never mind.
The philosophy of the club was to try to introduce beginners to the sport/torture of caving. We really didn't have the numbers, experience, equipment (and in my case, inclination) to do those heroic major expeditions to places foreign and caves horrendously difficult. I always believed ACC should be a social club and during my years it was. Nice club. Nice people. After I left Aber I began work on a ship (geophysics)—the first trips were seven months and six months. I never went back to caving. Now I'm an ex-caver—far too sensible...
On a visit to my old stamping grounds around Aberystwyth in March 1988, I met up with Rob Jones who asked me to put pen to paper concerning some of the early days of UCW Aber caving club when I was active in it.
In those days it was a small, ill-defined and very heterogeneous group, depending more on one or two personalities rather than any formalised structure. We met every Tuesday night during term time at, I think, the Bluebell pub somewhere near the Town Hall. Our President for much of this time, John "Ben" Gunn, was the major figure and also had possession of our major asset—the old caving club green Bedford van which still went and gave us a flexibility other Union clubs did not have. We had no formal structure as a club—a President (don't ask me how he was appointed) and a Hon. Sec. who seemed to do everything else. Our only subscriptions were to "Descent" and, I think, the Cambrian Caving Council. Paperwork consisted of writing off for keys to locked caves. No publications or minutes—just caves and mines.
I inherited a reasonable amount of equipment when I more or less too over Hon. Sec./Equipment Officer in 1974. SRT was only something in glossy foreign magazines in those days, so we had some lengths of older hawser-laid nylon rope, about 6 electron ladders, couple of ammo tins and belay wires, and various helmets and grotty boiler suits. Lights were second-hand lead-acid cells from Caving Supplies with just 3 NiCad cells to make life difficult when it came to recharging and maintenance. As always logistics and laziness meant the Equipment Officer ended up doing most of the cleaning—boiler suits being the worst. All this was housed in our tackle room, an old washroom, damp and reeking of cave earth, in the car park outside Carpenter Hall on the seafront. Little equipment was purchased, partly as we didn't need much for the type of trips we did, and partly as nearly all the money went on financing trips. Of course the keen ones had their own wet suits, but all other equipment was the clubs.
While the club had its own vehicle, used extensively for his own use but kept in good running order by Ben Gunn, we had frequent trips. South Wales was naturally the major area (Porth yr Ogof, Tunnel Cave OFD II, Agen Allwedd), but also occasional trips to the Mendips (Swildon's), Yorkshire (Lost Johns), and more frequently to Derbyshire—Ben's home area. They were weekend trips, mostly relatively easy as there was a high proportion of less experienced cavers, and of 4 to 8 hours duration. Some trips were longer and more of an endurance test—the trip to Lost Johns involved an 8 hour drive on Friday night, 5 hours sleep and then 9 hours underground, much of it spent waiting at the top or bottom of pitches half-asleep. In one recently discovered cave in Derbyshire (I forget its name and location) Ben was doing research into CO content of drip water and erosion rates in karst for his BSc dissertation. Various weekends were spent helping him collect data—why he had to have one of his recording points 2 hours hard caving in I'm not sure. The cave was horribly muddy in its inner reaches so that mouths and spectacles got covered too. It was there that I got well and truly stuck for a ghastly 20 minutes while the others told me to wait patiently before pulling me out as they were busy recording.
For our contribution to Rag Week in 1973 the caving club proposed a sponsored crawl by selected members through the Bron-yr-Aur storm drain down Penglais hill and through the main sewers of town. We all trooped off to the Council Offices in the Town Hall to get permission from the top brass. At first they didn't think we were serious, but after wavering they came down firmly against. Too dangerous, etc. If it was safe enough for us to risk who had more to lose, I would have thought it safe enough for them to risk their insurance no- claims bonus for charity; but councillors never think like this. Instead we went off to London to sell rag mags to Euston station!
As I said we were a motley bunch—a geologist, couple of geographers, few biologists, and the rest mostly arts-subject students, including two from religious studies. All undergraduates, and mostly from England. Ben was the boss until 1974 when he left; many are the stories about his dislike of swearing and "hippie" lifestyles despite his ponytail. He took it all seriously and was the only one who seems to have taken up a related activity (karst science) as a career. When he left the club lost something of a focal point and was never so dynamic, although his was in part due the confiscation of our vehicle by the Union. Andy Roff, the easy going geologist, ended up on oil-prospecting ships around the world. I attempted to do a BSc dissertation on bats in old mines, but found it too difficult, then started on looking at the chitinophilous fungi on bat droppings. The Biology Dept. stopped this saying it was too dangerous to go underground and Departmental insurance didn't cover my demise in such situations.
After looking at vegetation succession on mine tips in the Ystwyth valley I ended up doing vegetation on anthills! Other names that still spring to mind from those days are Lyn Owen, Rob Hornblower, Gill O'Rourke, Rosie Titterton and Sue Gyde although few others kept up caving for more than a year.
It was in 1974 that the Student Union started getting stroppy. They didn't like the fact that we had our own vehicle while other clubs didn't, despite the fact that we had bought it out of our own club funds. So without any discussion it was taken away and no compensation paid. The reasons behind their action were never really discovered but I suspect they didn't like us being the only club not dependent on them for transport and also took strong exception to th fact that Ben used it as his own vehicle. Perhaps they weren't convinced he was paying for wear-and-tear and petrol. Nor am I actually, as I really didn't know. Sufficient to say trips were a lot cheaper and a lot more frequent and a lot less hassle before they took it away. Presumably they sold it and put the proceeds in Union Funds—not ACC's. This left us at the mercy of Union transport, having to organise trips at some weeks notice and ensuring 6 to 8 people minimum to cover most of the hiring costs. Not an easy task, and thus trips became fewer and we couldn't afford to go so far afield. Most active members either didn't have a car or only a mini or similar, not appropriate for more than 2 or 3 people with gear. A later event made us even less popular. We had hired a brand-new Transit for a trip to Aggie in S. Wales. On the way back it skidded on a curve, went into a hedge and gently fell on its side. One woman suffered minor concussion and the rest of us just shock and bruises. It cost the Union quite a few hundred to get the body hammered out, so there was a marked reluctance to hire us vehicles afterwards. And of course as a club we didn't bring in kudos for the University in the form of competitively-won pennants and cups.
In 1972 UCW Aber CC got to hear of the North Cardiganshire Mining Club (NCMC) and Si Hughes, and joint trips started. It seems not many cavers feel the attraction of old mines, Lyn Owen and I were the exceptions, and so it was more a case of interested persons joining the other club's trip, and loan of equipment, rather than true joint meets. NCMC in those days was principally composed of boys at Penglais School, thus trips could be rather wild and adventurous. Plenty of enthusiasm—us students appeared old fogeys in comparison. The leading light was of course the ever-smiling and dynamic Si Hughes, with his myriad of new schemes and amazing stories of exploding fence posts and mine dumps, inspiring some and putting off those of nervous disposition. He was the local link, the person who bridged the gap between a cliquey group of students, and the local scene and life of Aberystwyth town and district. These trips were mostly "push" exploratory trips, but without any serious digging, and "tourist" trips. We introduced quite a few people to Level Fawr in Cwmystwyth—it was at this time that the sped record for controlled descent of the 60ft rail incline to the lower level was set at c.20 seconds, although the wellies were a little shredded after. However there didn't seem a great deal of interest outside of the hard core. A pity. It appears people go for caves, and not old mines; perhaps they consider them "cleaner" or just "less dangerous". Mines to me can be more interesting, as there is a fair amount of local history involved; an interest in mines leads on to an interest in local history and thus an understanding of the forces that shaped the area, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is interesting to note too that quite a few NCMC members went into mine engineering and related subjects after school.
There was the time when Harlech TV sent down a crew to film an NCMC/ACC mine rescue practice from the upper stopes of Level Fawr, Cwmystwyth. Paul Bird (NCMC) strapped in the stretcher had never been so scared, although renowned for his ability to tackle anything that others wouldn't. His reputation for fearlessness evaporated as he was slowly let down the stopes with his hands bound to his sides. The camera-man seemed to be the only TV crew member to enjoy himself, perched way out on old timbers to get the mug shots, while the sound recordist was continually muttering under his breath about how dangerous it all was, and the pretty continuity girl soon disappeared. A lot of heavy battery lighting which showed up Level Fawr as never before, and as a finale they lit up the big chamber on the main level with magnesium flares. Superb, but after 5 minutes nobody could see anything due to the white magnesium oxide dust. We got a few pints each at the Devils Bridge Hotel for our troubles as "extras"—well worth it.
There are plenty of other stories, some not repeatable, but then every club of every generation has similar ones—people panicking half way up a ladder, getting stuck, loose stemples in stopes holding up a lot of 19th century rock, but surprisingly few drinking stories. Anyway Ben wouldn't allow it...
I'm still caving; the bug never left me—Lava tubes in Kenya, small coral caves in Palan in the Pacific full of rusting artifacts of war and Japanese skulls, fossil caves in dolomite in Botswana, and at present old caves in dolomite in Zimbabwe where I'm carrying out vegetation surveys. Most of my caving is from the point of view of bats now, but also exploring and surveying new passage. Nowhere near as spectacular and long as caves in the U.K., but beggars can't be choosers. Also exploring old mines here, but they really are rather dangerous—mostly gold mines, some copper. Ever come out covered in hundreds of biting bat fleas, or been attacked in a narrow passage by a nesting barn owl?
Unfortunately I was not a very active member of the club, only really participating in my first year. The transit accident really put an end to Jean's and my involvement in the club—but that is Jean's story. I had previously been associated with the Derbyshire Caving Club and joined Aberystwyth Caving Club because of the presence of three or four other female members and because of the lack of "hard men".
The dozen or fifteen members met in the Bluebell. The club ran itself but Jon Timberlake, Lyn Edwards (he was quiet) and Simon Hughes provided some enthusiasm. Jean was a very dedicated member. I still have an embroidered badge that she made for all members of the North Cardiganshire Mining Club. I remember John Gunn well as established member of the club when I was very new—I wonder how long his hair is now (it was past his shoulders) and if he still wears orange smocks? I don't really remember it as a large thriving club—only a small nucleus of people, and mainly those who went out with Simon.
I think the first trip for the novices—me!—was to Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. I also remember a trip to Porth yr Ogof and another to Bristol to some sort of conference when we did some caving in the Mendips—very muddy with long ladder climbs (Lamb Leer Cavern?). I also went on four or five mining trips to the really big mine at Cwmystwyth. It was there that we participated in a televised mine rescue practice with NCMC. Most of the trips were on Sundays, exploring the mines with Simon, including the one with the water wheel (Ystrad Einion).
The club supplied cells, ropes, boiler suits and ladders (though we were just starting to use figure of eights). I think we all tried t get our own cells by the end of the first year—mine was nicked fr the NCB. Wetsuits-were beginning to be used more and more and we al went on wet trips. I remember making mine in Alex hall. It was pre Gull designer wetsuits and the cheapest way was to make up and glue your own. Jean even hand stitched every seam—I just kept repairing mine.
Overall my time with ACC was short lived and not very dynamic; the reason I didn't continue caving is best told by Jean.
I caved with ACC for 18 months until I had to drop out of college due to illness. The club consisted of eight to twelve active members including associates from NCMC (especially Si Hughes and Phil Nuttall). John Gunn was chairman and definitely the leading light of the club, with Jon Timberlake and Lyn Edwards on the committee. We met on Monday evenings in the Blue Bell, a good little pub opposite the White Horse. It's a pity it doesn't exist anymore. The barman's name I remember well as it was William Shakespeare. He was very tolerant of us holding meetings there.
We ran a lot of trips but were limited by transport (Union vans and Si's, Phil's and John's cars) and experienced cavers. Tackle was fairly okay but money for new ropes etc. was short. Cells were sometimes unreliable. Some equipment was shared with NCMC. Most of us owned wetsuits, made from kits ordered by the club at £15 each. managed a trip about one weekend in two—S. Wales (Aggie, OFD, Porth yr Ogof), Mendips (Lamb Leer, Swildon's), Derbyshire (PS) but offhand I don't remember many of the names. Accommodation was usually in club huts and I suppose our biggest trip to Derbyshire when we stayed at the Magpie Nine. Local trips with NCMC were run at least once a fortnight, especially to Cwmystwyth and Bwlchglas. Digging and surveying were done in conjunction with NCMC—mainly Cwmystwyth (surveying), and smaller mines (digging). A practice rescue down Cwmystwyth was televised in Welsh by BBC Wales with Simon's younger brother Toby as the "victim". Phil, Simon and myself attended a caving conference in Manchester; accommodation being under a railway arch in Mossdale in sleeping bags—very cold!
I didn't realise it had become infamous. I was a passenger in the back of the transit and so far as I remember there were five of us—Jonathan Timberlake, Lyn Edwards, Rosie Titterton and one other, a relative new corner to the club. If I remember rightly we'd been to Aggie and the crash happened just outside Brecon. A few minutes before we'd stopped for a quick half. Lyn took over the driving from Jon and off we went back towards Aber. We were eating dried prunes at the time—the only food we had left! We took a right hand bend, perhaps a little fast since it was wet, skidded on some mud and over we went.
I was in the back. On the seat opposite me was a gas cooker we'd picked up to take back to Lyn's flat. The floor of the transit was full of caving gear. As the transit spun round, the headlights showed that we were now heading for a considerable drop. The transit began to tip over and I remember thinking that my time was up. Nobody screamed and I wondered why I wasn't until I recognised that I had never felt so calm in all my life—and never have since.
As the transit rolled over so did the gas cooker on the opposite seat. As it hit me on the head the van stopped. For a while I was unaware of what was happening until someone asked if everyone was okay. Luckily we all were. I had two black eyes the following day and later found out that I'd fractured my skull although I didn't go to hospital at the time—all I wanted to do was get back to Aber. Luckily at the edge of the road there was a small hedge which had stopped us rolling down the slope. It was only about two feet high. To get out of the van without it going over we had to carefully climb out of the front door and along its side and down on to the road. It sounds fairly easy but we were all very shaken.
A passing motorist called the policy who parked their car on the bend to warn oncoming traffic—it didn't have a very healthy battery and I was enlisted to sit in the car with my foot on the accelerator to keep the engine going and the blue light flashing! A local garage righted the van whilst the policeman's wife kindly supplied us with mugs of tea. We managed to drive the van back to Aber—very slowly. I believe that the van was brand new (we were the first club to use it) and that it was a write off. We were all extremely lucky and very grateful to a very small hedge.
After dropping out of college due to illness I never returned to finish my degree. I have also done no caving since then. I'm now a Community Psychiatric Nurse working with people with drug problems—a bit of a change from geography.
It's good to hear the club's still going, and by the sound of things, a good deal stronger than before. I'm afraid I was a Botanist and then joined the Infantry so from a start point of near illiteracy as far as prose/rhetoric etc. goes, hope the following notes, are of use.
I'd started caving at school up in Lancashire in 73 but not done anything terribly exciting: Calf Hole, Dow Cave, Whitewell Pot and other odds and ends but stopped when the school club folded in 74 when the one teacher who was interested left. Joined ACC to get back underground!
At the start of the year we'd usually manage to persuade or bribe about 60+ people to sign on at Freshers Fair or thereafter. In practice about 20 odd would never get to more than a few pub nights let alone underground. Of the rest, novice trips put off a few more so actual regular, irregular and social (interpreted as those who willingly or otherwise came on meets) members usually hovered around the 15 to 20 mark. Names I remember were: Alan Biggs, secretary, a member of Wessex CC so useful for Mendip trips; Jim Hardy, postgrad microbiologist from Sheffield so again useful for accommodation, chairman/transport (he had a car!); John Ashton, a postgrad geologist who had done a lot of work on the Dolgellau gold mines and had even found a nugget; Si Hughes amateur industrial archaeologist and mild maniac, NCMC and had something to do with the Aberystwyth Museum. Very useful as he knew most of the mines in the area and at some stage or other he took us down most of the mines marked by the Ordnance Survey from Cwmystwyth north to Dolgellau. H'd surveyed and researched Cwmystwyth and had been blown up and shot by his brother at another mine (possible Great Darren); a diabetic which apparently accounted for the shooting as whilst in hyperglycaemic shock had chased his brother with a cleaver having emerged from some shaft or other and put a spike through his hand. In retrospect this is possible/probably three tales somewhat mixed; nevertheless, a character! John Steiert, chairman in 1975–76, a postgrad computer programmer I assume from the amount of printouts left in his room at Nanteos which I rented after him—kept me in tinder through the winter of 1976. The other ten or so I can't remember much of but they weren't dull!
Our tackle was kept in the equipment member's room/flat: started in Steiert's room at Nanteos, moved to Hardy's flat off Penglais, then I ended up with it for most of 1976–77, with Him Hardy keeping the remainder out in the Devil's Bridge area. Jim Hardy and Chris Hall moved in to Glyngorse in about 1977 and the tackle was then moved there. Kit was minimal and in a bad state—on a Cwm Dwr to OFD II through trip I used to take up to three Nife cells and a torch and usually come out on the torch We had about ten of the old Oldhams and got six new red Oldhams in 1976. If you've still got them I can confirm that they explode if you drop a match on them while on charge. Carbides were kept as backups but were seldom used. We had a few hundred feet of ladder, hawser laid ropes, figure of eights, spreaders, krabs, etc. and about ten helmets, belts and slings.
Regulars had all their own kit, of a fairly basic nature; Novices came in old clothes and usually got pretty cold—possibly had something to do with the wastage rate! The regulars usually had wetsuits (a Dolphin Aquaquipment MY kit then cost £17), or what was left of one held together by inner tube etc. Most of the club grant was spent on travel costs, only buying kit as old stuff got totally useless. Usually we relied on individuals buying their own kit, especially rope.
Trips were run every two weeks throughout the winter and spring terms, with the odd mine trip and summer trip. We usually tried for two S. Wales, one Mendip and one Yorkshire or Derbyshire trip a ten On S. Wales trips we either camped at the Ancient Brit or if well off stayed at SWCC. At most other places we camped or slept at Wessex, North Pennine, New Drop, Red Rose, Whernside Manor etc. As the club was fairly rich we could usually hire a CAB minibus despite the small turnout of six to ten on an average trip. If numbers dropped below five or so we would meet up after hitching or biking. Typical cave were OFD I and II, Cwm Dwr, Aggie, Pwll Swnd, Pulpit Hole (don't bother), Bridge, Town Drain, PS, Giants, Manor Farm, Swildon's (oft a night trip after consuming scrumpy at the Queen Vic) GB, Alum, Dough and Doubergill Passage, Easegill, Flood, Tatum Wife, Heron, Lost Johns, Meregill/Sunset. Our main limitations were experience and kit. In the winter term taking novices tended to make for fewer pre-planned epics. Lots of good caving. One of my most memorable trips was the Cwm Dwr—OFD II through trip along the high level traverses from the confluence.
Apart from the odd crash on route to or from the caves we never had serious problem. On a Pwll Swnd trip in 1976 we ripped the fuel tar but of the CAB transit in a quarry car park—can't remember how we got back. About the same time we had a minor crash on the Heads of the Valleys Road again in a CAB bus. As nobody else stopped we just drove on and painted over the scrapes. Some of the winter trips were a bit grim; the Dales during blizzards aren't the place to go looking for cave entrances in streams under snow drifts. The odd novice got claustrophobia, mild exposure etc. but nothing that required more than to abort the trip and get a mug of tea or a pint.
In 1976 when a lad left and moved to Eire we did an Easter trip to Westport in Western Ireland and explored the Aerou River Cave only to find telephone wire at the terminal sump (for non divers) left by Craven Pot Hole Club from about 1963 when they'd surveyed it—so much for new discoveries! There was even after much thought a copy behind the bar of the pub. The Ireland trip was probably the best thing we managed even if Craven had been there before.
The Aberystwyth Caving Club was a very good if small club that got most of the classic trips in the UK done given the limits of ladder (not many) and enthusiasm if not experience. Comparing what we used to do as the norm with the magic Army rules for caving I guess prove that whatever the experience and kit, with common sense and possibly a bit of luck, rules are unnecessary? I carried on caving with the Army Caving Association though as the limestone in Cyprus is mo like clay I've had to resort to copper mines again, though to date nothing on the scale of Dyfed found. I not heard from anybody since 1978—I'm staggered you tracked me down. You should be able to get a PhD out of this, or a job with the Police! When and if I ever get back to the UK I'll take a trip back to Aber and look you all up at the current pub. I don't remember there being many graduate/postgraduate members if any (other than Si Hughes) but if you're open to them now I'd like to rejoin if only to get back down Cwmystwyth again!
As a native of Aberystwyth my first contact with the UCWCC was in 1969 as one of a band of desperadoes at Ardwyn Grammar School (North Cards Mining Club) who were keenly involved in exploring the local mines. A lone UCWCC member took it upon himself to write to the Cambrian News complaining about irresponsible school-kids exploring dangerous mines. Little did he realise how much incentive all the resultant fuss gave us to continue our mine visits and take up careers in mining! Eventually some more worthwhile contacts between the NCMC and the UCWCC were set up and after Guy Richards and Ian Wallace had been given a few mining trips the UCWCC realised that some of the school kids knew a thing or three (e.g. how to make a 500 watt searchlight with a used Corona bottle and a few lumps of Carbide!) In fact the contact inspired several of us to widen our visions and visit some caves—which we knew nothing about. I returned to Aber in 1975—after 3 years at Imperial College where there was also an active caving club which had pursued expeditions to Northern Spain.
During 75 to 78 most of the caving was done in South Wales, particularly sections of the OFD system, Pwll Swnd, Agen Allwedd, Little Neath etc. with occasional trips to Yorkshire and Derbyshire. Membership was I suppose reasonable with usually enough "runners", say 6 to 9 "cavepersons", to organise a weekend away every few weeks and have a few pints in the Blue Bell (later the Nags Head) on Tuesday nights. Mnongst the regulars Jim Hardy, Alan Biggs, Mick d'Apice (hope I got that right), Howard Davies ("H") and Rod Lees come to mind. There were many more truly unforgettable personalities whose names I can't quite seem to recall... SORRY!
Contacts with the NCMC were good and many joint trips were held to local mines—Rosa Level at Cwmystwyth, Gwynfynydd (where I was trying to find some gold) and some of the Rheidol mines being popular. The main locals involved were Simon Hughes, Phil Nuttall, Robin Hill, Bob and Charles Hopkins and some of the crowd from the SCMC at Lampeter. It was Bob Hopkins who returned to Aber raving about the standard of caving and indeed "crack" in Ireland and invited to us over to Westport, Co Mayo (should have been called WETport) in 1977. (Some of the pre-trip sales banter was memorable—"Croagh Patrick highest mountain in Ireland 3000 ft"—"Cliffs of Moher 3500 ft above the sea").
We arrived on what the Irish refer to as Black Friday (Easter) when all the bars are officially shut (front doors only!) and spent a few minutes finding a friendly hostelry in Westport. The scene of the expedition was to be the Aille River caves (near McGings bar, Aille) where the eponymous river flows off the Partry Mountains and into th Carboniferous limestone for a few miles before emerging and finding its way into rocky Lough Mask. The entrance is an impressive sink where the substantial river hits a large cliff. We explored the cav intensively but did not find any significant extensions. It is a classic black, peaty amalgamation of largely water filled phreatic tubes and bedding planes which is reputed to fill to the roof in minutes on a flash flood. Some of us returned in the summer and visited Doolin, Co Clare where excellent caving and speleological facilities are available (O'Connors bar).
I firmly believe that caving is a much underrated sport which combines superb exercise with a sense of adventure, team spirit and development of self-reliance. These days my underground excursions take place by driving around the 200km complex of underground workings at Tara Mines, Navan in a Toyota pick-up. It is worth noting that the safety-consciousness developed by caving is an invaluable preparation for the rigid approach to safety necessary in any underground mine.
Joined ACC at Freshers' fair, club met weekly at the Nags Head. Active members were Jim Hardy, John Ashton, Mike d'Apice and Alan Biggs. My first trip was in OFD II in a borrowed wetsuit. On a Mendip trip in my first year we went on a midnight trip down Swildon's after a session in the pub. Our abandoned vehicle on Priddy Green caused an abortive callout and as we exited we met our would-be rescuers. This resulted in a predictable reprimand. In Easter 1977 a trip to County Mayo. Si Hughes came along. In my second year I became tackle master, keeping the tackle in my room in Plyn. Quite a few mining trips that year with Si. Always remember Mike d'Apice riding down to S. Wales in the winter on his moped. He was a tough ****—more holes than rubber in his wetsuit. Also remember holing the petrol tank in a Union transit and freewheeling down from the Black Mountains to the nearest pub to wait for a replacement. In 1978 the first Summer trip to County Clare was run—became an annual event after that. In 1979 the club went to the dogs. Fenton started caving in late 1979 or early 1980. Lil Henry, Pete Bradbury and Nick Reeves were active at this time—frequent trips to Ystradfellte, staying at Oliver Lloyd's caravan.
When I was initially asked to contribute to a history of the ACC I was flattered to be remembered after so long, and even more flattered to be asked. Then journal editor Rob Jones wrote to set out his requirements and I decided there was a lot to be said for honourable obscurity. After all, a sentence like "Has "respectability" overtaken you, or does the Roger Cross as portrayed by early copies of Thrutch and early volumes of the Log Book still live on?" doesn't exactly suggest a reputation to take pride in. No, I am not now, a have never been respectable. I may have become a little more diplomatic over the years, but that isn't the same thing.
I came to Aber in October 1977 as a biochemistry undergraduate, and left in June 1980 as a biochemistry graduate. During this time, ACC was subject to the same inbuilt handicap of most university college clubs—as soon as someone became experienced, they finished their course and moved on. The stirrings of ambition were apparent in my time, although how far this was to contribute to later developments is a matter for later members to determine.
I had some experience when I came to Aber, mainly OFD Bottom Entrance and Derbyshire lead mines. This came about through my father, who was introduced to caving by a friend in S.W.CC in the mid 70s. Its main significance was that I had some contact with non-university cavers, and this influenced Aber's involvement with cave rescue later on. Numbers remained roughly stable during this period. About 50 people would sign up at Freshers' Fair; about 20 of these were never seen again. A little over half of the remainder would get as far as at least one caving trip, and by the end of the year there would be a hard-core of about 10. The composition of the Club was a little more fluid. Years when several new, keen cavers made their debut would alternate with years when only one or two new faces would become established members.
Our inability to keep experienced members after graduation my have had some influence on this pattern. The year I—and a number of others—first joined, most of the ACC were in their final year and seemed to mature respectable types, contemporaneous with Oliver Lloyd or Edouard Martel. Compare that with the situation the following year, when nearly all the members had learned their trade in the previous year and our elder statesman was Howard Davies, late to become infamous as "Big H". That year, only two Freshers' became permanent members, and only one of those had previous experience.
Membership was almost exclusively student—the main exception was Pete Bradbury, a geography graduate from the other Aber (Aberdeen) who was something to do with land survey for the Ministry of Agriculture. He occupied the ground floor flat of Glyngorse for three years and was to introduce his flatmates Chris Cooke, and late Mel Humphries a.k.a. the Melatollah Khomeini, to caving. The other non-student cavers were Si Hughes and Dave Ely of the North Cards Mining Club. We met them mainly on a social basis; it was only when Steve Simmons was bitten by the mining bug in 1979–80 or thereabouts that we started doing much in the way of mine exploration. Our connection with North Cards was via Si and Dave rather than with the club as such.
In late 77 the Club met in the lounge bar of the Nag's Head, a small, intimate room. After a term we moved to the Weston Vaults, where we stayed for some time. Later, after a brief move to the Boar's Head (I think in late 79 or early 80) we moved to the Crystal Palace, where the Club was still based when I left. In these places beer was drunk, trips were planned, and more beer was drunk.
I don't recall any purely social members, unless Si Hughes and Dave Ely could be counted as such, or many social meets. There was the disco we held in the back bar of the Angel in autumn 78, music provided by the juke box (which was still going strong when it was turned back on the following morning), but after a while the only non-caving meets were on Wednesdays when we planned future meets. These were the province of the active members; as people left caving they left us and were seen no more. The nearest we got to running the Club on a formal basis was at the A.G.M. This consisted of the active members meeting in a bar and assigning jobs to anyone not leaving at the end of the year. The Secretary would book huts and caves for next year's meet programme, based fairly closely on the previous year's, and that was virtually it. Other matters, such as organising Sunday meets at short notice were sorted out in the pub with a degree of formality perceptible only to microbiologists.
The Christmas and Easter terms each had about 4 weekend meets, and with other meets organised at short notice, there must have been opportunities for trips every other weekend. We had a winter trip to Derbyshire each year, based at the Pegasus hut near Eldon Hole (I think we were allowed there as friends of Si Hughes), and one or two Yorkshire trips, but our home ground was S. Wales.
Weekends were nearly always based on huts; I can only recall two exceptions to this in our term-time meet programme. One meet in 1980 used a caravan somewhere in the Little Neath-Ystradfellte area,—chiefly remembered for its claustrophobic squalor. The weekend itself was marked by Colin Bunce demonstrating the free-fall abseil.
The other non-hut trip was a camping weekend near Ingleton. We took a petrol stove for cooking, but the fuel escaped from its container and marinated our food. An abortive attempt to use the thing on Saturday morning finally convinced us that Bernie's Cafe in Ingleton was the best base for a weekend roughing it.
The club never travelled to Mendip during the years I was there and a "Mendip Ban" was referred to, no more, when I started at Aber. I never heard whether it was a formal ban by the massed clubs of Mendip or just a self-imposed informal withdrawal by Aber after some particularly notorious drinking session.
Our principal means of transport was the Athletic Union mini-bus. We tended to only have one member at any one time who met Guild requirements for mini-bus drivers, which was a more serious constraint than the availability of the bus. We nearly lost our driver as a result of an incident in autumn 1977.
A popular day trip in those days was Pwll Swnd, in the relatively uncharted regions west of the Swansea Valley. Many members will recall parking in Herbert's Quarry and trekking 2 miles to the inconspicuous gully containing the entrance. On my first visit there, we returned to the 'bus after dark, changed and packed, and set off with a bump, a jerk and then a metallic crash which brought the 1 to a sudden halt. Jim Hardy, Club President and (more important) driver, had to reverse off the obstruction, which turned out to be a concrete block containing an embedded metal rod, which had impaled the petrol tank and released a tankful of petrol. We were just able to reach the Brynamman-Llandovery road, from whence coasted down to the pub at Gwynfe where we spent the evening (and a fair amount of money) while waiting for the 'bus to be patched up a refilled.
After that incident the AU were understandably reluctant to let J near the bus again. Apparently, permission for him to drive was on1 granted when the Club Secretary, John Ashton, pointed out that to b our only qualified mini-bus driver on the basis of a freak accident that could happen to anyone would be to make the Club unviable through lack of transport.
Tackle was stored in the Tackle Officer's own rooms, so that job went with the occupancy of a suitably large room, often in the seafront halls. The limiting factor as regards numbers of people was lighting. When I was in charge of lights in 1979–80 we had about 15 lead-acid cells, ranging from new type "T" cells good for 15 hours a pair of antiques which held 2–4 hours charge at best. Personal lighting was very much the exception rather than the rule.
The most serious lighting failure I can recall, caused by a technical problem with the charger, occurred on the way out of Pwll Swnd. The party was just leaving the head of the second pitch when a light started to dim—then another, and another. I recall my light fading in the Main Chamber, so I turned it off, waited a few minutes, and switched to pilot. I got a bust of glow-worm power, barely sufficient to enable me to make dash for the tube leading to the first pitch. I turned off again to save a microwatt or two for getting on the ladder, and proceeded in Braille along the tube to the pitch. Steve Simmons was shouting from the surface for me to get on the ladder—I was shouting back that my light had gone—both of us used language which the Editor will refuse to print!
Si Hughes inaugurated a brief infatuation with carbide when he sold lamps to a number of individuals. These were not particularly successful. They had a tendency to go out in a draught, as Pete Bradbury found when traversing above Maypole Inlet! "H" tried his in OFD II when his Oldham refused to work, and dropped it through a gap between boulders near the foot of Totem Pole Passage while trying to fill the water reservoir.
But the classic carbide incident must be Dino Fenton in Dudley Mines A group of us entered the main cavern, One-Four-Four, and descended boulder slope to the disused canal where Dino unscrewed the top half of his lamp and proceeded to dip the lower half, full of carbide, in the water. It dawned on him, as he reassembled his rapidly-warming lamp, that he may have made a mistake. "Er, I shouldn't have done that, should I?" he asked as he stood holding the fiercely fizzing lamp, now frothing at the centre seal like a rabid Dalek. He placed it on a relatively level boulder and retreated to a safe distance with the rest of us, collecting it at the end of the trip.
Other club equipment consisted of helmets, belts, lifelines slings and krabs, and the inevitable amino boxes. SRT was unheard of, unless you count abseiling on a figure-of-eight. (Colin Bunce developed NRT, or No Rope Technique, thus founding the Terminal Velocity Club but that's another story). In my final year we acquired some rack descenders and took them to a wooded gully for a try-out. I was unable to get the hang of mine, and descended a cliff face almost to the top of a 45-degree boulder slope literally pushing myself down the rope. Continued fiddling with the bars suddenly destroyed my positive buoyancy and allowed Newtonian physics to re-assert itself. I shot off the end of the rope and down the slope in a seemingly suicidal display of boulder-hopping which was necessary to avert the potentially catastrophic results of attempting a dead stop on the broken, treacherous slope.
I do not know what our limit, in terms of equipment was. The biggest trip I can remember, as far as tackle went, was at Alum Pot, when one group intended abseiling down the main shaft while another went in through Lower Long Churn to rig the exit route. The Long Churn party met another group coming out, having been stopped by thick ice on the Greasy Slab, and just managed to warn off the abseiling party before they dropped themselves into something warmer and smellier than Alum Pot in winter.
The main item of personal gear for most people was a wetsuit. I started out with a boiler suit and old clothes—and the debatable pleasure of walking from County Pot to the Red Rose hut with ice forming on my outer layer. Wet suits were definitely the thing for steam passages. I remember a group of us attempting the Cwm Dwr-OFD II through trip with one caver in dry gear named (I think) Rod, who tried to traverse round all the pots. When he eventually slipped and started to get cold, we retraced our steps. At one point I remained in a deep pot clutching two rather dubious handholds, to provide a bridge for Rod. He stepped onto my shoulders and stood... until one hand came loose and he leapt for safety, propelling t downwards through cold, clear water. I bobbed up inside of a minute and was disgusted to find Rod safe and well on the edge of the pot.
Wetsuits could be murderous to walk in, particularly in summer, but gave good protection against bumps while underground and were a valuable source of traction when thrutching up muddy chimneys. Dry gear was thus the preserve of those saving for wet-suits rather than something to be used under appropriate conditions. The cheap way was to make your own, as was done by Dave Whitaker with partial success. He christened his new wetsuit in Kingsdale and, while on the rope climb up to Toyland, the seams began to give way and knee patches detached themselves and dropped onto the crowds below.
This was also the spot when Steve Simmons decided to test the claim that you can have a pee in a wetsuit without suffering undue discomfort. He found, twenty feet up the rope, that the claim must have been made by someone without a fresh cut on his knee. He was down on the ground, his trousers half off and his wounded knee in a pool of water, in under a minute. Luckily, he did not wear a one-piece suit.
My overall impression of those years was of a bunch of cavers of limited experience, hell-bent on having a good time. There were signs that a more serious attitude could develop, given encouragement, although this never quite happened.
Training, for instance, was nearly all 'on the job', although in summer 1978 the outgoing members organised an above-ground training meet to pass their skills on to the new intake who were to become the old hands in a few short months. It is unfortunate that this did not become a regular event, as it may have averted the occasional near- miss: There was the lad who tied his lifeline, unchecked, before ascending the short entrance pitch in Calf Holes, Yorkshire (this was a specific pitch techniques session grafted on to the main trip). He was obviously on a taut line because the lifeliner took in slack faster and faster, until the end of the rope whipped over the lip of the pitch. It was disconcerting for the group on the surface, but even more so for the unfortunate found clinging to the ladder a few feet from the top.
Easter 1979 was the date of the ACC expedition to Eire. Steve Simmons masterminded it, wrote off to various firms for sponsorship, and wrote an article which appeared in 'British Caver'—possibly the first professional publication by an ACC member. On reflection, it was not sufficiently serious as a one-off trip to warrant any outside notice, but it was a starting point, a precedent, and something for future generations to build on. Maybe it was of pivotal significance in the development of ACC, maybe not, but it was enjoyed by everyone and that was the short-term aim.
The expeditionary forces met in Aber and Pete Bradbury drove us down to Fishguard in the Ad bus. Sealink took us to Rosslare and Pete drove to our centre of operations in Co. Clare. We camped here for most of our stay and took turns to cook the communal evening meal, in teams of two. Other meals were left to individual imaginations and appetites. Steve had borrowed Tratman's Caves of Co. Clare' from the Huw Owen Library, and with this as our guide we investigated most of the major systems of the region—including one day when the St. Catherine's-Fisherstreet through trip was completed three times by various people.
Our main omission was Coolagh River Cave, due to the unsettled weather which dominated our time in Co. Clare. No serious work was undertaken, apart from the sculpting of surrealist phallic symbols in mud to waymark the Poulelva-Pollnagollum through route. Quite possibly the most exciting moment was above ground, when some of went swimming and were caught by strong coastal currents. I was some time fighting my way back, three strokes forward to two strokes, back, and was undoubtedly in a dangerous situation.
One of the caving moments that sticks is after a trip, when we were changing on a roadside near a large estate. Suddenly car after car drove by, more cars than were in the province of Connaught, I would have thought. I have occasionally wondered if we ran across a secret summit conference, or simply a popular day trip for the locals.
But many memories are above ground, particularly the spectacular, sheer Cliffs of Moher. Someone picked up a postcard where the printing had gone wrong to give the sort of polychromatic multiple images normally seen after six pints of Guinness. Mid the bank which only opened twice a week, to the annoyance of members who had come without supplies of local currency and to the great advantage of publicans who were glad to accept English money at an exchange rate of one pound to one punt and gain an additional profit when they changed each pound for 1¼ punt at the bank.
And will anyone forget the bar where we stopped for a drink in our caving gear, and I sang "Wild Mountain Thyme" using a cap-lamp as a microphone? (Doubts about the wisdom of singing Republican songs washed out my entire Irish repertoire). We also performed a ritual mating dance of some sort, so the regulars certainly had an entertaining time.
We had rigged a device to charge the cells from the bus battery, but only while the alternator was running, to avoid damaging the 'bus electrics. This was less than successful and, while driving back to Rosslare, the electrics warning light started flashing. Pete mistook this for the oil light, and kept pumping oil into the engine all the way across Lire with the light flashing more and more urgently. We drove back from Fishguard using caving lights instead of headlamps to save what was left of the battery, which finally died at Aberaeron. We eventually reached Aber after a watt transfusion from the AA
"Space Invaders" were sweeping the country at this time. We saw our first machines on the Sealink ferry coming back from Ireland and claimed for a while to have introduced them to Britain—not something to be proud of in retrospect.
This was also the year that Alan and Jean Nutt appeared on the scene, and started the brief involvement of ACC with cave rescue. There is much to say about the ill-starred Mid Wales Rescue Organization, but in another place
I left MWMRT out of my original submission because it was a big subject, which seemed to warrant special treatment. When I came to deal with the events surrounding the early days of the Team, I found that I still felt very strongly about the subject.
Rob Jones decided I felt too strongly, and declined to publish my article as this would have reopened a wound which has not so much healed as been forgotten. I support his decision. If revival of the old dispute would act to the detriment of the local cave rescue situation, or of ACC, then it is best left alone. In any case, the Anniversary publication is the last place for reawakening old disagreements. I still think some comment is called for, but will confine this to a statement that relationships between ACC and MWMRT could have been better handled. Hopefully, the mistakes of the past will not be repeated by either party in the future.
1979–80 was finals year for many of us, but we still found time for a spot of caving. Apart from the Mine Rescue saga, this was the year that Steve Simmons conceived and started 'Thrutch', for which I wrote some pieces of doggerel and the Christmas edition (No. 1½). I am still fond of the latter article, although some of the in-jokes have dated badly. I have some regrets for the works that never were, particularly a Dudley Mines piece that never got past a draft for the historical background. The article on lobotomy and cave diving was also never written as it was in bad taste, even by my standards.
That was the year relations between ACC and the AU got somewhat cool. Steve Simmons had run for AU President in the Guild elections the previous year, and the eventual winner, a squat mound of self-importance named Dai Rudge, probably didn't appreciate the challenge. He may also have inclined to the view, not totally without merit, that caving was not a 'real' sport because we did not win competitions and attract favourable publicity. Whatever the reasons, there was definite degree of friction in our relations.
Some of this was fair enough. Once a poster went up which was in English only; this was quite justifiably removed and the Club fined. But when Steve Simmons put up some non-caving monolingual posters (one I remember for something called the Black Hole Club), these too were removed and the Club fined by the AU I met Dai shortly afterwards and attempted, without success, to convince him that Steve was not a wholly-owned subsidiary of ACC.
Matters were probably not helped when Steve hijacked the Guild car for a caving trip by tearing into the Guild offices yelling "Cave Rescue!", and vanishing with the keys before anyone realised that the Gough-Fitton tragedy had been the previous weekend. When we got to Penwyllt, Steve missed the level crossing and went over the rails at about 20 m.p.h. He unaccountably forgot to mention this when the car needed its suspension repaired shortly afterwards.
Pwll Swnd was another Club classic. That year I had a copy of Tim Stratford's Caves of South Wales', which included a compass bearing from Herbert's Quarry to Pwll Swnd. "Great", we thought, "no more hit-and-miss navigation. Success assured every time". So we drove down to Herbert's Quarry one Sunday armed with a compass. We strode off into the regulation West Wales mist in the correct general direction, and after a while Pete Bradbury set the compass bearing and followed it, blithely ignoring the fact that the bearing was good only from Herbert's Quarry, and not from a randomly-selected point on the Black Mountain.
That was the only time we ever failed to find Pwll Swnd. "H" and Dino split off from the main party and ended up on the wrong mountain, and how we all got back must rank as one of the minor miracles of our time.
We were not social assets—our absolute nadir in this respect must be in the winter of 1977–78 when we booked the bunkhouse at Whernside Manor. First, we found when we arrived that we were supposed to bring our own pots and pans; we did manage to borrow some for the weekend. Then one of the lads took it into his head to pull a Durex dispenser off the wall of the Gents in the 'George and Dragon' in Dent—while wearing an Aber sweatshirt! That of course got back to the Manor and drew a predictable and justified response; interestingly, the landlord was apparently quite philosophical about it when we took the heir to Genseric round to apologise the following day.
The memory from that weekend came just before we left. John Ashton and the treasurer, Mick d'Apice took the pots and pans back. As they were being taken back Nick said "Er, they're a bit dirty". "Oh", came the reply, "you'll just have to wash them, then". John left Hick to his stint of self-inflicted jankers and came back merrily, even though it cost us an extra half hour or so before we got away.
Caving skills never reached notable heights either. I remember Pete Bradbury at Pant Mawr, belaying a rope to the top of that isolated stile, which in those days was far less well-braced than it is now. But there were the seeds of better things, with the Ireland trip, "Thrutch", cave rescue, and our first tentative digging trips, at a Croydon site, Ogof Cader Fawr Upper, with Colin Bunce of Croydon CC.
Now I hear of foreign trips, and expensive gear, and would probably feel totally out of place with the new breed of caver in Aber. But I'm sure the current membership have as much fun as I did, which is the important thing. So hopefully things haven't changed so much where they matter, in getting out and having a good time. I hope I've communicated something of the atmosphere of ACC in the late 70s, and that it isn't too different from the Aber of today.
I joined ACC in 1977 as an undergraduate on the Environmental Science course. To that date I had little experience of caving so it was a shock to be taken on my first trip—Cwm Dwr through to OFD II in high water conditions! My time with the club spanned 1977 to 1980 but with decreasing involvement in 1980 owing to a three year backlog of course work to be completed and my standing for Athletic Union President (polled 300 votes).
When I joined there was a core of five or six experienced cavers and a large pool of novices. At the end of 1977 several key members left or retired to finish theses. From early 1978 the club began a revival. In the autumn 1978 I became Equipment Officer and started I to acquire some better gear; lights and rope being the priority. By the end of 1978 we had acquired a 400' length of Bluewater and several new lights. This allowed the club to expand rapidly and we could now cater for trips of about fifteen people! We met every Wednesday in the Crystal Palace back bar. Trips took place officially every two weeks but for several of the keen members, weekend trips were in order—usually to mines under escort with Si Hughes. The club was run by an executive committee with about ten key posts. This was equitable as everyone had a title. If not then we invented a new job title. Everything was informal and little time was spent keeping notes etc. This eventually led to a crisis when the treasurer (Stu Harris) lost control of club finances and promptly emigrated leaving us with a frozen account. When it was all sorted out we reorganised and I started to introduce better record keeping. In 1979 began a club logbook and in Autumn 1979 I produced issue of Thrutch (derived from the then popular club phrase of something being 'a thrutch' if it was a lot of trouble). It had taken a good year's work to bring the club back into shape. Tackle was kept at first in Carpenter Hall (my hail of residence) and then in Pantycelyn (Roger Cross).
Trips were organised to all caving regions including Ireland.
Generally we stayed at cottages or if unavailable we camped. The main cottages used were Croydon, Penwyllt, Pegasus, Cerberus and Red Rose (though we also camped at Ingleton). Trips to the Mendips were few in those days following a general ban on Aberystwyth in 1976 after an "accident" in one of the huts (details hazy). Each trip attracted between six and fifteen people with a core team of myself, Roger Cross, Nick Reeves, Lii Henry, Colin Bunce, Pete Bradbury, Dave Whittaker, Dave Ely, Si Hughes and Chris Cooke. Si, Dave Ely and myself also began some ambitious mine exploration projects including surveying and our links with NCMC were very close.
Largely we used either Guild or hired minibuses but occasional trips in Peter Bradbury's Landrover were undertaken in Wales. Pete perfected the 'dancing minibus' trick—swerving from side to side and throwing the cavers in the back all over the floor. When taking the Guild car up to Penwyllt in heavy fog I missed the level crossing, driving at sped into the railway track, denting the car and throwing the passengers over the front seat. Sue Bagshawe sustained concussion. I never lived it down.
Typical caves are not possible to generalise—we usually ran at least two trips a day on a weekend trip with a Freshers' cave (e.g. Alum Pot) and a more strenuous trip (e.g. Simpson's—Valley Entrance). We did attempt some testing trips, particularly in Yorkshire and S. Wales. Colin, Eurig and myself did Daren Cilau on a Sunday after a heavy night in the Britannia Inn, Crickhowell! A big trip was anything needing more than about 80' of ladder. We had a substantial length of SRT rope but few members had SRT gear so we were generally limited to laddering everything. Thus with a party of 15 people lots of pitches could be a real nightmare.
In 1979 we organised an Ireland expedition—two weeks in County Clare digging and exploring. We actually managed to get some sponsorship and opened a "private" bank account to handle the funds.
During my time with ACC we built the stock of lights up from about ten to twenty, most of which were T type Oldhams but with a few R types with only five to eight hours capacity. Thus after a weekend's caving, darkness was typical at the end of trips! A few of us had our own gear. Most club members had at least a wetsuit. We managed to get some kits exceedingly cheap! Dave Whittaker made his using evostick. It looked fine, if not excellent, until he tried it out in Valley Entrance when it slowly came to pieces. Dave ended up wearing his underpants and one or two shreds of neoprene—a painful exit! After that he kept his wetsuit in a bag and stuck it together before each trip.
Most of our gear was kept alongside North Cards' tackle so the exact ownership was always hard to establish. We had a high turnover of rope in particular, mainly due to the hard life they had in mines—excessive abrasion etc. The college tackle grant was never adequate but the Ireland trip allowed us to get a once-off grant for equipment which gave us a good stock. We bought a lot of gear including something called knobbly dogs. These were a length of wire with half ladder rungs every foot, designed to aid climbing slippy slopes. Avoid them like the plague!
During my three years there were only two incidents which were severe enough to remember—the first was Roger Cross's 35' fall in OFD II unharmed except for a slight back injury and the exclamation "I've broken my bloody spinal cord—I'll have to get a new one!" The second was Colin Bunce's fall into the dry stream bed near White Lady Cave—40' with no injury miraculously.
ACC was an excellent caving club with some fine achievements under its belt. After I left, regular encounters with the club in Mendip suggested that the lunatic fringe had taken over and I have no doubt that the general contempt that many cavers have for university clubs is at times deserved. However ACC has had a chequered history and things seem to be going well now. Since leaving Aber I had a brief spell (1980–82) with Aston Caving Club whilst doing my postgraduate research. In 1984 I left Aston University to set up a research company specialising in environmental pollution. My job has demanded regular contact with the caving world on contracts for mining companies, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Sports Council. In 1982 I started caving again with a small number of cavers in Worcestershire and we set up West Mercia Caving Club in 1988.
Alayne was doing a geography PhD and Nick was working for UCW; we knew many members of the club who eventually persuaded us to go caving. Around this time there were quite a number of good, relatively experienced cavers in the club—Stuart Harris, Martin Oates, Chris Cooke, Dave Whittaker as well as Roger Cross and Steve Simmons. Perhaps fifteen to twenty were active cavers but there was an ever growing number of social members. Tackle was kept at Glyngorse, North Road—the home of Pete Bradbury, Chris Cooke, Mel Humphreys, H and Dino at varying times. Cells were kept by Steve and Roger in Ceredigion and Pantycelyn Halls prior to storage in Glyngorse.
We tried to arrange a trip away once every two weeks—probably resulting in about four trips a term with a variable number of local mining trips thrown in. Trips were normally well attended and sometimes we had to turn people down because there weren't enough places. Trips went to:
Local mining trips went to Cwmystwyth, Cwmrheidol, Talybont, Corris, Llanfyllin and others. We liaised with North Cards Mining Club through Si Highest and Dave Ely. We used to stay in their cottage at Caegynon Mine for local trips and for purely social events. In 1979 the club went to Ireland, a trip which was well attended. We went digging at Cader Fawr in S. Wales, and Steve, Si and Dave worked on digging and surveying at several mines in the Aber area.
Most active members owned wetsuits and some had their own cells, carbides, belts and small bits and pieces. Most tackle was owned by the club.
Transport, tackle and at one stage lack of experienced cavers were the main limitations—for a while only Colin Bunce, Si and Dave Ely knew what they were doing.
All in all we had a lot of fun, a lot of laughs and did some interesting and exhilarating caving.
I joined ACC because I'd seen Bunce returning wrecked for the two previous years and there was the opportunity to drive a minibus as fast as I wanted—the limitations of the passengers' stomachs soon slowed me down and I ended up going on trips for "the crack" and the caving. The heroes were Bunce, Fenton, H, Lil and Nikki (Horton) and the antiheroes Nick (the other half of Nick and Lil), Mel and the rest of us naive or stupid enough to get dragged in.
A quick resume of notable trips if only coz its good to engage my memory:
Aggy "led" by Stephen Gale who got lost—we were heading up Main Stream and had to go back via Southern Stream Passage. Absolute misery with failing lights and real route finding problems in the entrance series which were solved by me initially and then Stu who saved us all from waiting to be rescued. If only Bunce had been there, the bugger seemed to have a sixth sense for route finding.
Do you remember Vince? I do, especially coaxing his frozen frame out of Swildon's (I think). His artwork was better than his caving and his use of various substances kept us amused on nights out in Aber.
The summers in Ireland all blur into one but I do remember Hywel (by this time a hero) being persuaded to do a narrow and vertical affair which "might go if we take a chisel". His own conclusion was that anyone over five years old had no chance. I tried murder Bunce in one drunken binge; Jaz ran half way to Ballyvaughn after another, and Simon Timberlake had to be rescued by the Doolin lifeboat.
Bunce was the club's SRT expert when I joined, and living with him soon took an interest. The epic SRT trip of the period was probably Bunce and myself in Long Kin West (300' SRT, 25' ladder, 150' SRT—have a look around and tandem prussik out). Carrying 500' of gear to the pot was probably the hardest part; the convoy of Minispecial and Moto Guzzi to get there the most enjoyable.
The more dismal moments (apart from Aggy) were sitting with a hangover at the sump in GE whilst everyone else did the Extension; realising that I'd just fallen far enough in OFD to kill myself but hadn't; and mining with Tim Lewis.
Whilst on the subject of mining I remember a trip with Simon Timberlake to some mine on the Clewedog-Machynlleth road which involved a lot of laddering. The first pitch involved a ladder tied to about 40' of rope belayed at the entrance—was I really that stupid? Mining is one activity I don't miss at all.
The skinny dipping at Cwm Rheidol was a delight in the summer of 82.
An aerial ropeway was made out of old SRT rope and we buggered every pulley the club possessed whizzing across. Horton, Fenton, Marie and I were the culprits.
No account of the club should pass without mention of Glyngorse. The hostel run by H and Fenton for the homeless, helpless and seriously deranged. Epics such as the all night porn video session and H's trunk of porn mags are worthy of note. Doug's destruction of the kitchen and parties in which manic dancing continued until dawn are other events I remember. People returned there after the Cwps on a regular basis for about three years.
Dave Eyre, H, Fenton, Richard (Trotsky), Fenton's sister and I met up in the Pyrenees over the summer of 88 for two weeks walking the same old group is still going. The nights out in Spain were as manic as ever—H's dancing is more flamboyant if anything.
What I'll do next I don't know. Climbing is about the only relief from my teacher training course (a totally miserable affair). Climbing is less dark, wet and dismal then caving but the practiquents egos are larger. I may return to Europe, this time to go climbing in the Alps—the lure of a warm climate and the satisfaction of operating in another language.
Apart from University Freshers' trips mining has never been to my knowledge a consistently popular student activity at Aber. Consequently most of the local trips (of which 90% of them were) tended to be organised on the spur of the moment, involving only 2 or 3 people as a whole (including non-student members), as a result of which they were rarely, if ever, written up in the ACC Log. In the absence of my own diary, let alone anyone else's, it would be difficult to get all the many activities in sequence, or indeed avoid missing at least half of them out completely, and thus I will stick to safe, sound, armchair reminiscences... you know, the sort of stories one could happily tell again and again to one's grandchildren:
"I remember when I was at Aber... God! It must have been years and years ago... way back before the reign of King Charles III (he was at University not long before me you know!)... Now where was I?... Ah, yes. We were a right bunch of devils then. No thought for anything. Used to wait until it started to pour with rain... or snow... then off we went driving around the countryside looking for a hole to go down. We were bonkers, I tell you! Used to tie a rope round a bit of old masonry or rotting fence post, attach ourselves on with a bit of old metal (figure o' eight we called them) and then... er... leap into space, yes leap into space down them there engine shafts... cor! It half used to make your hair stand on end that abseiling. Of course, we never knew how deep they were, that was half the fun of it!... There we were, I remember now, I was with old Raif Evans (now, now, I wonder what's happened to him. Still got my wet suit trousers he has!)... yes, and there we were... I'm on top and me half way through the car door of this Ford Cortina stuck 20 ft. down Perpendicular Shaft at Daren Mine, and he shouts down t' me: "I've forgotten to tie a knot in the rope, are ye' still on the ladder?... And there's I am listening to 'im and strung up like a fly in a blinking spiders web, me harness wrongly adjusted, me prussiks nowhere to be found, hanging on for dear life and looking up at the bottom of this ladder about 4ft above me... wishing I was there, and not here... And there's that noise again... Boom! Crash! Bang! as those rocks come tumbling down. Cor seems like yesterday!"
Yes. There's more than one good reason why I've now taken to pen-pushing instead of abseiling, and to digging out mine tips rather than mine levels. And so, a few more sundry memories for the scrapbook:
I first met a certain Dave Corbett when he drove 20 miles out of his way after an all night party to knock on my door one Sunday morning just to tell me that someone had mentioned my name in passing who thought that I might be mad enough to take over from the indefatigable Venerable Bedes who he had been dragging underground for the last three weekends to dig out a collapse in Jackilas's Day. Level (and so get into Level Fawr, Cwmystwyth via the back way), and whom he had very nearly suffocated in a roof collapse in the same said location. I protested, but to no avail... So began a new era in Cardiganshire Mining History.
One weekend the two of us went up to Llanrwst, N. Wales and descended 300 ft. down Cyffty pumping shaft, down into Parc Mine No. 3 level, through a horrendous waterfall only to discover that a loaded ore-hopper had recently collapsed in No. 3 and that the way on was blocked. I think that we were the first to find out, and the last to attempt a through trip for a good number of years (1982–4?).
Then there was the occasion when we were commissioned (for love not money) to adventure into the gas ridden, shit and water filled workings of the Talargoch Mine, Dyserth, Clwyd by our good chum Jamie Thorburn ostensibly for the purposes of "research" for his forthcoming book on the subject (now published: British Mining No. 31 1986). Painful memories flood back of his mother's dog who lived on a diet of 'Mothers Pride' and trouser legs, as well as of crawling for a third of a mile on my hands and knees along a brick-lined drainage adit through boulder clay (18th century hand made bricks no less). That we were the first for many a long year I think can be tested to by the need to burrow under a straw stalactite curtain some distance along the passage. Unfortunately our elation at reaching the workings soon ran out after coming face to face with roof-falls in all directions after little more than 50 ft. as well as by the flooded engine shaft beneath us. Nevertheless, I remember swimming out to retrieve a corked Victorian whisky bottle somewhere in the middle (either 'because it was there; or 'cos I was desperate for a drink). No whisky, but it did at least end up as somebody's Christmas Present after first discovering how not to get a ship inside it!
If I remember, the 1844 adit at Talargoch was where we spent a morning sliding along on liquid mud with a 20 inch air-space until such point at which I thought I heard a chain pull somewhere up ahead. As the water level rose, I saw by the light of my cap lamp a little lump of faeces riding the crest of the wave and sailing towards me. What does one shout out to one's colleague behind you in such an event? No such worry, he had seen sense (or should I say caught a whiff of something?) long before, and was nowhere in sight! Moral of the story: don't cave beneath housing estates.
Anecdotes are endless. There was the time when we swam across the flooded stopes in Wemyss Deep Adit dog-paddling whilst holding a camera floating above submarine canyons hundreds of feet deep trying to get a photo for D. Bick's book on Frongoch (British Mining No. 30). But most of all one remembers those moments of peace, when one turned off the lights and listened to the water dripping the absolute blackness. Captain Corbet has since retired from caving and is now a wandering minstrel on the Grand Union Canal. Ah! what days those were.
The years 1984–5 were spent walking mine sites as much as burrowing beneath them. Before the days of the manic Jones and Grade 3 surveys of every mole hole at Cwmystwyth, we were piddling around in senile imbecility, me and the aforementioned Mr. Evans, delving into the bare bowels of history on the trail of William Waller and the Co. of Mine Adventurers (c. 1700s) and that enigmatic Thomas (the prodigal) Bushell (c. 1640s). Memorable was the occasion when we tried to investigate a pocket of bad air in Waller's Pen Craig-ddu workings on the top at Cwmerfin. Comrade Evans pulling me out by the feet whilst a snow storm raged up above. Found a gunpowder barrel down there I remember. Apart from the unmentionable adventures at Darren there was the digging out of Bushell's cut and cover adit at Goginan. British Telecom (which was of course then the P had tried in vain to hinder our discoveries by knocking the base of a telegraph pole through the roof of the adit). Coming upon this underground one might well wonder, of course, what on earth a pit prop was doing in the middle of an adit, 6 inches of f the ground! Nothing is a surprise to the made mole intent on discovery—just dig out a 9 inch crawl around it and carry on until there is less than 6 inches of air space left. More work to do here boys! Untold riches await the next completely mad man of Aberystwyth!
Before the flood of reminiscences cease altogether a quick work or two about the capital combined endeavours of ACC in rescuing kibbles from old mines and subjecting them to a life of museums and cobwebs. If any of you care to peruse the local Aber Museum during your sojourn in this town that time forgot you might just happen upon the minute display (for such a major local industry as lead mining) and perhaps kick something by mistake looking rather akin to a iron riveted waste-paper basket—probably in the same position as I left it. This however is a Cornish kibble or ore-bucket from Gothic Mine, Aberffrwd(?). Not found by me, but rather winched out of a 70 ft. shaft by the venerable Dino and Bunce (God bless their souls, Sir!) by means somewhat akin to that used by the legendary Hywel ap Davies to remove the engine from the famous Abdulmobile at Trefenter. However, the kibble was the one that landed up on my doorstep during those final mad days of thesis writing in the summer of 1982, and which some years later was presented along with a miner's pipe from Rhoswyddol Mine, Machynlleth—another Aber miners trip.
A worse fate befell the wooden kibble removed from Gwaithgoch by myself and ACC in May 1983. Promptly presented to the Ceredigion Museum, it promptly began to fall apart! I shall never forget the tear-stained letter which duly arrived from the good offices of the curator explaining how it had dried out then collapsed to dust and a pile of old nails and barrel hoops within a couple of weeks. Moral of the story—never remove wooden objects from old mines!
At this juncture a brief note on the now moribund Ceredigion Mines Group. Alas! alas! yet another Aber mining group bites the dust. In a fit of idealism this was established by myself and others in August 1986 to try and act as a pressure group to help preserve the remaining industrial archaeology of mid-Wales mine sites. Starting off with an initial campaign to try and ensure some sort of future for the Frongoch enginehouse (the last surviving one of its type in Cardiganshire), the Group also tried to organise a Community Programme Scheme to restore the surface buildings at Ystrad Einion. The latter campaign was initiated after I had already left Aber but despite a very noble attempt it seems now to have reached a dead end, and all activity appears to have fizzled out.
Well, what more is there to say? I am now a lapsed caver reduced to archaeological digs on Welsh mine sites. Geriatrically sifting through the old man's spoil searching for his old tools and bits and pieces and trying to confirm my hunches on their antiquity. This too can be exciting. Carbon 14 dates from buried charcoal on Copa Hill, Cwmystwyth have proved Bronze Age dates of c.1500 BC. If we are not entirely mistaken the earliest datable evidence for metal mining in mainland Britain. So if there are any other lapsed miners out their whose fingers are still itching for the pick and shovel, you could do worse than turn up and join with us in an infinitely safer form of madness.
To Si Hughes and Rob Jones: the last of the Aber miners?
This brief period in the club's history, before the emergence of Eros, before the blanket invasion of vegetarians, feminists and lesbians, and when the grant was sufficient to keep you in thermal underwear for life, is now widely, nay universally, regarded by those in the know as being the pinnacle of ACC achievement. There were no pretences in those days, only exceptionally wicked bouts of manic drinking and sordid masturbation. My memories of the Caving Club with regard to caving are now somewhat dimmed by the consumption of one too many kippers. I do however remember the Freshers' Fair of 1981—the ACC presentation to attract the multitudes consisting of Hywel Wyn Davies, a sheet of paper and a leaky Bic biro. Hywel of course was to go onto much finer things—being the first man in Christendom to observe a whale in Cardigan Bay.
At this time Co Arthur Bunce was President and Glyngorse the centre of Caving Club activity, occupied by Messrs Fenton and H. Glyngorse was the only place in the United Kingdom to be granted honorary Third World status, but where you could still get a decent cup of tea. Buckets and dustbins of offal, human excrement and the odd unfortunate fresher brewed away under the beds and in the cupboards awaiting the Rag Tower to Tower Race. The Vicar, who owned the house, will surely be consigned to Hell for complacency.
Caving trips were frequent and I believe the Glyngorse tackle shed boasted a couple of good ropes, a stout walking stick and a few candles, though I may be mistaken. Interest was high in the local mines but much higher with regard to Liz Brown, the unfortunate result of which was the naming of the Lira. At this point in the ACC's history we were well known and most respected at the places of our weekend stays, "Fuck off students" being a particularly popular welcome from the Cerberus chaps. The only other event of note of Bunce's year was the raising of the Argentine flag on Aberystwyth Town Hall at the height of the Falklands War by freshers Lira, Stayte, Carruthers, Houldy and Rees. They were to rise profoundly over the following years.
The 1982 AGM saw Carruthers voted in as President. Fenton and H immediately formed the Peoples' Committee with its sole aim to overthrow the Fresher President. Unfortunately its goals were in tatters when said President joined said Peoples' Committee.
Under the iron fisted rule of Carruthers an enthusiastic plan was launched to recruit more Freshen. As such the Caving Club stand of 1982 consisted of Hywel Wyn Davies, a muddy cell and a new biro..
Glyngorse maintained its central role as did the Cwps as social venue. In those days men weren't poofs and drinking started at 8.30 p.m. every Tuesday, often not finishing until the following Sunday when no drink was to be had anyway. Meals were in the Indian and it was vindaloos all round and no tight crawls the following day.
By far the most prominent Caving Club event of this academic year occurred in the Mendips. The Cerberus outhouse to be precise, where crowds gathered to pay nothing at all to see a live sex show from the Stayte-Greyhair touring company from Soho. My, how his white bottom bounced. Alas, poor H slept through it all on the bunk above where it was all failing to happen.
I believe the Glyngorse tackle shed claimed ownership of a few encrusted karabiners and the odd industrial lathe, and Alison Platt had brown hair. The Caving Club's little offspring—"The Impotent Men and Frigid Women Society" flourished during this year, bringing coach-fulls of lager louts and bitter boys to cosy Carmarthen for twelve hours of drinking on the tax payer. Owing the Union vast sums of money, the society was then thrown into one of the Glyngorse buckets and later distributed over the foolish Tower racers.
The indomitable Frears, the woman with hoops, made an appearance this year but was quickly pounced upon by Underwood after he showed her Fenton's amazing coiled shit outside Caegynnon. She wasn't interested in sex however.
The AGM of 1983 was a landslide victory for Peoples' Committee supporter Lira, and the ACC boldly entered the nuclear age, with fast breeders all round. For Freshers' Fair, Hywel was sent to pastures somewhere in Herts, would be page three girls draped their scantily-clad bodies over ladders and tied themselves seductively with ropes. Free drink was supplied to every signatory. The tremendous result—Hazel Couch.
Lira's presidency did not, by any standards, begin well. An ancient curse was placed on the club when a human skull was unearthed during the summer expedition to County Clare. Stayte immediately fell 15' looking for the pitch, but his liquid filled knees saved him. On the first fresher trip Underwood fell even further in OFD, and in the Mendips in the same term, H managed to call out every emergency service having entombed himself in St. Dunstan's. The famous Dunstan's sump was drained to get H's head out and now the cave is a hands-in-pockets walk through trip. Mass death of a gaggle of geologists was only narrowly avoided when they abseiled down a rope that Underwood had used to take his engine out with. The President, now assured of his place in history as having led his members to hospital more than any other, offered up a human sacrifice in the form of Clare Greenwood and the curse was lifted.
With Fenton departed and Glyngorse back in God-fearing hands, 12 Trefor Road became the ACC house, tea and biscuits being provided by Mrs. Jones who made sure her boys were wrapped up well when embarking on caving weekends. Meetings were still at the Cwps, and it was here, one chilly night that Lira and H penned the ACC Constitution over a few pints of Best. Funnily enough it emerged that Lira and H came out highest in the Hierarchy, thus guaranteed beds wherever the caving took them.
The Lira era ended at the AGM of 1984 when he was ousted by Sara Frears and through postal vote trickery Alison Platt, now with blonde hair, was voted in as Club Goddess. The decline began, but that is another story.
Although joining the caving club was one of my priorities on arrival at Aber I got off to a very slow start with ACC, only really developing any enthusiasm by the time I was slung out at the end of my first year. During the following year whilst re-sitting externally I met up with ACC occasionally but my involvement was fairly minimal. However I made up for lost time during my last two years in College and for a further year whilst working for the Water Board at Aber. Since leaving three years ago I have maintained reasonably close contact with the club and have joined the ranks of the "Wrinklies"
The 1981 Freshers Fair stall was manned by a hungover Hywel Davies and Kev Dale. As an introduction it was inauspicious—a muddy helmet and ladder and precious little enthusiasm. Just across the way was the Impotent Men and Frigid Women Society manned by two rather alarming long haired hippy types accosting prospective members with cries such as "You look impotent sir!" Imagine my horror when in the Coopers that evening the aforementioned hippy types turned out to be mainstays of the caving club—Dino Fenton and H (Howard) Davies. Together with Colin Bunce, Simon Timberlake ('Abdul') and Si Hughes they formed the larger-than-life element that led ACC.
After the usual fresher trips had eliminated the less committed, my fellow freshers were whittled down to Chris Stayte, David Carruthers, Paul Grainger (The Lira—named for his leering at one Liz Brown), Niel Oakman, and Mark Vince. Vince was a complete liability both above ground (due to his enthusiasm for drinking and dabbling in dubious substances) and below ground (due to incompetence) and stuck to ACC like a leech for two years. I already possessed a light and helmet from my pre-UCW coal mine exploring days (not the best advised of activities!) and rushed out to buy wetsuit socks after my first Lefel Fawr trip. The usual range of caving trips were run but I only attended two or three a term as my enthusiasm was not all that great. My overriding memories are of wet, cold boiler suits and much waiting around at pitches and other obstacles. The Mining scene was rather quiet and I only managed a couple of trips, notably one to a fly infested 50' shaft at Darren in which the shaft "bottom" (only a blockage retrospectively) sank by 6' whilst we waited our turn to ladder out.
The most enjoyable trips I went on were a couple to N. Wales—(Llanrwst lead mines and Blaenau Ffestiniog slate mines). Most exciting was a through trip in Pandora: after laddering/abseiling from surface we commenced out along the deep adit, halting at a solid curtain of falling water. After debate on the advisability of running through it—there might be a shaft the far side—a brave soul eventually stuck his head through for quick look and then leapt forward. Unable to hear any shouts because of the water we each leapt through in turn, rather apprehensive at what we might find. Fortunately all we found was a continuation of the passage. Further on, just after edging along a plank across a large flooded shaft with a fine rising main disappearing into the depths, we paused to examine a ladderway in the centre of a massive stope. We each climbed higher in turn but bottled out a little above the previous person's limit. Eventually Sara Frears reached about 100' by which point the ladder had changed from 80 to almost overhanging; all its supports connecting it to the wall had rotted away and the whole contraption was tottering on its two feet resting on the floor. The stope was sufficiently long that we had visions of the ladder toppling sideways to come crashing down. Sara could see a level 15'above her and was contemplating transferring to the other side of the ladder to counteract the overhang. Fortunately after much shouting from the ground party she relented and came down. The exit along the adit was an interminable wade in deepening water culminating in an armpit-deep sludge of dead leaves—yuk!
Although SRT was a minority pastime it was starting to leak over into the club as a whole. Bunce, Hywel and Underwood were the main practitioners and after some exhilarating practice on the John Williams Hall fire escape I bought the least suitable prussiking gear on the market—Gibbs ascenders. These required two hands and a bench to be put on or off a rope on surface, so underground they were completely impossible even when clean. After a very brief and unadvised spell as a rope walking rig they were soon discarded.
All the keen individuals soon bought wetsuits (I didn't—I wasn't keen enough at the time) but the club supplied all the rest of the gear. All the gear along with a large quantity of miscellaneous debris lived with Dino and H in their ground floor flat at Glyngorse, North Road. Description is impossible but suffice to say that it made the set of 'The Young Ones' look respectable. The house was owned by the Vicar of Cardigan who made life difficult for his two tenants in an unsuccessful effort to persuade them to leave. Two choice tales—Si Hughes superintending an abortive lead smelting attempt in the tiny backyard using a massive bonfire and smothering the whole neighbourhood in smoke is not unreasonably asked by the Vicar coming to inspect his property "Who the hell are you?" only to be asked the same question in return. On another occasion H and Dino had been given a row for leaving the side door unlocked; H had lost his key and so was in the habit of entering through the bathroom window. On one such occasion he emerged from the bathroom into the living room wearing his coat and carrying his shopping bags to find the Vicar sitting in the room. Quick as a flash he said "Ah hello Vicar, I've just been taking a bath."
My recollection is of a club run easily and informally with Bunce, H, Dino and Hywel deciding the whens and wheres of trips and purchase of tackle; the latter two attending to the minimal paperwork of booking cottages and transits and collecting trip levies. It was all very informal, easy going and successful. The use of Hywel's and Kev Dale's cars and Niel Oakman's van (l'autoshed) made for extremely cheap trips and much money was devoted to subsidising the annual County Clare Summer trip. Extra money was available on my first Clare trip in 1983 as a result of a special grant "to replace the fixed lines in Cwmystwyth".
The SRT rope so bought was sold to Steven Gale at a very fair price to the club (Gale was a geography lecturer and keen caver who'd been invited to join ACC on his arrival in 1981 as it was presumed that he must possess a car. He turned out to be unable to drive and a miserable bastard to boot. Fortunately he left Aber in 1983. I had the dubious pleasure of having him as my tutor in my first year). As a result the financing of the summer trip was as follows: everyone paid a 15£ deposit which they had back at Fishguard to buy their foot passenger tickets, and after two weeks use of the transit in Ireland there was sufficient money left in the kitty for everyone to have a meal in Dublin. My only conclusion is that Fenton must have horribly miscalculated and unknowingly funded the trip from his own pocket!
Once I'd learnt that I'd passed my external resits my enthusiasm was rekindled and I joined the club on the annual Ireland trip which had run each summer since 1979. Carruthers sold me his old wetsuit jacket and also an "old" wetsuit trousers (which turned out to be Key's but he'd fortunately left Aber) for £11 and an Indian and armed with this gear I enjoyed trips to various straightforward streamway caves (the Cullauns, Doolin River, etc.). Cullaun V was memorable for Chris (who having done the cave the previous year and was leading) walking off the 15' pitch and landing on his knees, uttering the famous phrase "I wondered what that bolt was for!" Main events of our holiday other than the interminable games of Apocalypse in McGann's Bar at Doolin were the discovery of a human skull in Poll Grom—a 60' pot to a large chamber carpeted in animal bones—and three or four days of digging fever at Pollnaluchnacrua: Cave of the hard mouse. The Police were less than enthusiastic about the skull and in retrospect it could probably be attributed to the Civil War (early 1920s). The dig was an affair of glorious enthusiasm at a completely unpromising fossil cave—67' in four days, half of it dug. It was named for its very constricted nature: there was no room to swing a sledge, or a cat, but there was room to swing a mouse. Hence the need for a hard mouse.
Back at Aber in the autumn we realised with horror that all the experienced bods had left, leaving Chris, Dave, Lira, Sara Frears, Cathy Howarth and myself to run the club. Fortunately 1983 saw the start of continued contact between ex-members and the club. However a very poor intake of freshers coupled with a series of undistinguished trips made for a rather indifferent year in caving terms. On the social front however things went splendidly thanks to the Lira's presidential enthusiasm. Four of us (christened the "Naughty Boys" by our landlady Mrs. Jones after a particularly prolonged dinner party) lived at 12 Trefor Road and this became club headquarters in lieu of the now lost Glyngorse. The now familiar club calendar of dinners and parties was established and a large fortune spent at the Indian.
The year's round of standard trips was only marred by John Underwood's fall in OFD I whilst attempting to show the rest of the party how straightforward a climb was in a 30' rift he thought to be Maypole Inlet. On reaching the top for the third time—we weren't easily convinced—he fell off, sustaining head injuries and three cracked ribs. "Are you okay John?" "I think I've fallen..."(!) Whilst attending to his electrolyte burns from his cracked cell we heard a cry in the distance—Pete Harvey of SWCC, finder of OFD had fallen 12' to a ledge in exactly the same rift. Both he and John caved out though John was in the first stages of shock by the time he got out.
After the usual Ireland trip (Ballyvaughn rather than Doolin for once) October 1985 saw us with an amazingly enthusiastic horde of freshers who were not even put off by the neck deep ochre of Cwmrheidol Level 6. The irrepressible enthusiasm of Paul Flynn, Rob Graveley, Paul Wagstaff, Dave Forrow, Elaine Gilligan, Sophie Aspinwall and Robin Fisher (a local lad) made 1984–85 a truly golden year. More experienced active bods at this time were Chris and Dave (whose house Nos Nibor at Llanbadarn Square—where I moved to join them in July 1985—now formed ACC headquarters), Tim Lewis—postgrad geologist and climber who joined us in 1984, Cathy, Phil Wall—a final year agric, myself, and Raif Evans and Abdul who were mainly into grovelling up t'old man's workings in Cwrnsymlog, Cwmerfin, etc. A hectic calendar of caving and social events (notably joint Boathouse parties with the Canoe Club) was held and Nos Nibor seemed perpetually full of muddy gear and cells being charged.
Having bought wetsuits within a couple of months (oversuits and furry suits had not quite reached ACC) many people began investing in SRT gear. To respond to this interest the club for the first time had to start buying more than a token amount of SRT rope. Having only used SRT in mines, I cut my caving SRT teeth in Jingling and Rowten and never looked back. Although a great deal of good caving was done, lack of experience precluded mega-trips. ACC could just about provide enough lights etc. for a transit full but the decrepidness of the older lights led many keen people to build their own NiCad conversions. The heavy usage made maintenance a real chore (Nos Nibor's bath was perpetually full of rope!) and increased our replacement rate especially as a number of older ladders and belays were falling victim to rust, and older ropes and slings were falling victims to abrasion or simply suspicion on grounds of age. By mid 1986 however we were well equipped for both SRT (1,050') and ladders (225') and possessed 16 sets of reasonably reliable cells, belts and helmets, together with the usual plethora of accessories—slings, crabs, belays, spreaders, a club SRT kit, digging gear, board games, cricket bats, frisbees, spare parts and tools, etc, etc.. Cathy, Chris and I ran the club in my final year to be succeeded by Gray, Paul Wagstaff and Dave Forrow in 1985–86—although Cathy, Chris, Tim and I were still much involved.
On graduating in July 1985 I was fortunate enough to get a job with Welsh Water at Aberaeron—the fact that John Underwood was my immediate boss may have helped! This unfortunately prevented me from going on the mega trip to Ireland that year—swollen by various freeloading colleagues of Dino and Hywel no less than two transits were required. So I missed out on ACC's heaviest-drinking expedition and the discovery of Poll Aber: a 1000' tortuous streamway so horrible that it was left 'going' and as far as we know has never been revisited.
The following year when I was living in Nos Nibor with the rest of the 'Naughty Boys' and working for Welsh Water—actually being paid to visit mines!—was my most active year ever in terms of mining and caving. With a good team of experienced bods and a more normal intake of freshers to cope with (Andy Harding, Dave Cooke and Tony Nichol) ACC reached a high point of caving ability. Of most note were our five trips to Daren Cilau, getting progressively further each time and culminating with a portering trip to the terminal sump. It was on this trip that we realised just how fit Alex Langdon, a second year with only three minor trips behind her was. My main memory of the trip is of blundering out in semi- darkness sharing Tim's light after mine had failed at the sump. In the words of our president, Gray, it truly was "a very horizontal year'.
My acquisition of a car resulted in a great deal of local mining trips, at first to a wide and varied selection for prospecting and surveying but later reduced to a more manageable number and latterly to solely good ol' Cwmystwyth. Among the huge list of trips two enterprises stand out—the exploration of Glog Fawr Engine shaft to a depth of 600' amidst superb but unstable ironmongery and woodwork, and the 28 man days spent digging out and de-sumping Taylor's Level at Cwmystwyth—it revealed a great deal of workings but not unfortunately the hoped-for through trip to Lefel Fawr.
Tim's enthusiasm and devotion to the club outshone even the rest of us and in gratitude for his turning the cellar of 30 Bridge Street into a superbly equipped tackle store he was elected President in 1986. That summer he organised ACC's first continental trip (a Switzerland trip had been first seriously mooted in 1980 but during my time with ACC the post of 'Switzerland Trip Organiser' has become a joke at AGMs). Two superb weeks were spent in the French Jura and Haute Savoie and with a strong team of enthusiastic cavers many trips were undertaken. We learnt that French guidebooks greatly understate difficulties particularly after Grotte de Lanans where a 'quick hour's through trip' became an epic death struggle, not helped by Tim and myself forgetting helmets and not being bothered to go back and collect them for a supposedly easy trip.
Highlight of the trip though for me was Grotte de Chauveroche which really introduced us to the scale of continental caving. A kilometre of railway tunnel size entrance passages led via a pool of treacle-like mud (which almost swallowed Tim's camera tripod and the Lira) and a wet bedding plane to a series of 19 amazing gour pools—each was 25 metres+ long and generally 2 metres+ deep, and separated from the next by a 10cm thick dam, a difficult obstacle to negotiate whilst wearing a tyre inner tube. On reaching a conventional streamway (still railway tunnel sized) we abandoned the inner tubes, an action we regretted when we climbed a waterfall to find a canal stretching into the distance. After 500m of traversing and falling in in proportion to our ability to swim (I didn't fall in once...) we finally turned back.
On our return to Aber I learnt that I'd been successful in a job application and with very mixed feelings left Aber for Cardiff after five years. I'd been fortunate enough to have participated in two particularly enthusiastic periods in the club, the second of which can only be described as a golden era due to the large number (for ACC at any rate) of enthusiastic and competent members, and the range and quality of trips achieved. Despite the formality implied by AGM's and elections, the actual running of the club was informal and generally harmoniously carried out in the back bar of the Cwps with all keen/competent members participating. The disadvantages of a continual turn over of personnel were largely counteracted by the involvement of ex-members (a number of whom lived in Aber for a while after finishing), a feature of ACC which began in the early 1980s and which fortunately continues. This is of especial use on the summer trips when extra bodies and experience are always in demand.
The last three years have seen a steady flow of new members. 1986: Mike Johnson and Richard Griffiths; 1987: John Carter, John Price, Ro Charlton, Stuart Murray, Mark Hill and Ruben singleton; 1988: Jason Taylor, Paul Baxter (Logic), Simon Zippelin, Joanne (Mo) Cooke, Kern Stoker and Gavin Mellor. The involvement of the Wrinklies (as ex-members have become known of late) has grown as their ranks have been swollen by recent graduates. Their advice/interference on how to run the club ("When I was Treasury/Secretary/Tackle Officer...", "In my day we used to...") may not always be acted upon but it continues to be freely given! The attractions of endless fresher trips are limited but the Wrinklies are still in evidence on social occasions.
My recent involvement with ACC has centred around the apparently never ending Cwmystwyth Survey and since I left Aber Tim, Paul, Gray and John Carter have been my main co-conspirators in this ambitious project, all of whom must be heartily sick of surveying wet passages, loose rock and tottering deads by now. Special mention must be made of Paul's amazing feats of climbing (so often in blind rises unfortunately), of Tim's massive enthusiasm in the exploration of Pugh's Mine which saw our longest mega trips (including his finding of a major extension), and of John, Tim and Dino's enthusiasm for digging. There is a multitude of tales, mainly concerning loose rock and deads, but the digs must take pride of place: Taylor's East where Dino was rendered comatose and gibbering by 'bad air' (almost certainly oxygen depletion without CO build up in a freshly de-sumped passage); Herbert's Shaft in which we removed a boulder ruckle blocking the top of the shaft—John Price did a cartoon-style running-in-mid-air-act
when the ruckle finally dropped—and its subsequently capping and gating; Freeman's 26 Fathom Level where Dino and I risked life and limb beneath our dubious timbering to break through into a mere 150' of trial (even more exciting was our subsequent extraction of the props to re-use in 'Blue' Level!); and poking at a boulder choke from below in Lefel Fawr Comet Lode east drivage—a task unlikely to be completed.
But the survey is at last drawing to a close—now about 95% complete with about 45,000' of workings surveyed—and hopefully should be published within a year (as I have been threatening for at least three years!)
All in all my time with ACC has been one of great fun, good company, plenty of beer, and 350 very varied trips.
For a smallish university caving club I suppose that being an active member for over four years made me an established part of the club. As such I take great pleasure in writing this piece for the club anniversary. Although I think Rob will agree that it has taken me a bloody long time to get around to it.
I am Rob Graveley, better known as Gray, and I joined ACC as a raw undergraduate at Freshers' Fair 1984. It was an action of mistake rather than design. I had meant to join the Mountaineering Club but I had a hangover and joining the Caving Club seemed like a good idea at the time!
In keeping with this haphazard beginning I was at first indifferent about going caving but was more or less coerced into going on the first couple of Freshers' mining trips by another new member, my roommate Paul "Goatman" Flynn. I thoroughly enjoyed my first trips despite the seemingly small entrance of Cross Roads and the neck deep orange water of Cwm Rheidol.
In my first year the club was run by Cathy Howarth (secretary), Rob Jones (Treasurer), Sara Frears (President), the wild man of Borneo with masses of ginger hair, Chris Stayte, and the slightly eccentric David Carruthers. It was with this lot and a case of thousands that I set off to the Mendips on my first 'real' caving trip. On arrival at Cerberus we were greeted by Dave Eyres "My God! The Cubans have arrived!" (Army wear being in vogue) and Fenton's "Fuck Off Students!"
On Saturday with Robin Fisher, Rob Jones, Elaine Gilligan, Sophie Aspinwall, Andy Roberts, Paul Wagstaff and Paul Flynn, I set off to Hunter's Hole excited by the promise of an 80' entrance pitch to abseil. Unfortunately that was all the cave was. It took over five hours to get everyone down and back out. It also ended in near disaster as the harness that was put on me was put on incorrectly and as I went over the edge I fell out of it. I descended the shaft with only one strap of the harness around mid thigh—uncomfortable and a little worrying!
On Sunday I was one of the lucky few to be taken down G.E., a cave I though was fantastic then and which I still have a high regard for despite numerous fresher trips since. I think it was this cave and the great social life in the pub (getting pissed being an integral part of caving) that convinced me that the caving club was worth sticking with.
My next trip shortly afterwards in Yorkshire nearly dislodged that view totally. Myself, Paul Flynn, John Underwood, Tim Lewis, Dave Forrow and Sara Frears set off down Flood Entrance Pot, part of the Gaping Ghyll system. Only Paul, John and Tim had wetsuits. Flood Entrance is wet, and tight in places, and ideally needs a wetsuit. We spent over nine hours underground. Myself, Dave and Sara standing around for the vast majority of the time waiting for John, Paul and Tim to drop the 140' last pitch. On the way back down Trowgill at about 1.00 a.m. we met the rest of the ACC group on their way to look for us prior to calling out the CRO. We were all very tired. John, Paul and Tim from their exertions on the 140' pitch which had a lot of water going down it, and myself, Dave and Sara from cold. For us three the trip was far too serious and could have ended in serious trouble. However it was in retrospect very satisfying to have got through.
Despite Hunter's Hole and Flood Entrance Pot my enthusiasm for caving continued to grow during the year. This was helped by the weekly Tuesday meetings in the Coopers, innumerable official and unofficial club meals in the Indian, and Nos Nibor parties. The club had, still has, and as far as I can tell, has always had a great social side and this manifests itself with the great majority of the club being purely social members and only a hard core of about ten being active cavers. Towards the end of my first year with the club this was the case and has remained so.
One of the club's many social activities in 1985 saw the Rag Fancy Dress Ball invaded by about 30 bats all flapping around emitting inane squeaking sounds and drunkenly bumping into things and people.
Towards the end of the 1985 academic year the club held its AGM and in true tradition it was 'cocktails' in the Downies' Vaults followed by an Indian across the road in the Light of Asia followed by more heavy drinking back in the Downies. The old committee bowed out and. the new President (myself), Secretary (Paul Wagstaff), Treasurer (Dave Forrow) plus others were voted in.
So it was as President elect I set off with hundreds of others on the club's annual "Summer Scientific Expedition" to County Clare to scientifically sample the Guinness of the region. The holiday was so popular that we took out two transits, three cyclists, one mini special and a train passenger. For two weeks we camped in the field behind McGann's Bar in Doolin. For two weeks we drank Guinness, went caving and drank some more. Besides a good deal of fine caving the main pursuits were drinking, drinking and playing games with which to drink more. Zoom-Schwartz-Vigliano-Snort-Mugabe-Banana was played non stop. So too were the Appo and Judge Dredd board games. A game that was played only once and mysteriously never seen again was "A game for all the family—The Ascent of Everest", an essentially innocuous snakes and ladders type game until we got out a pen and added a penalty to each square which resulted in Fenton after one go having to drink a mixture of rum, pernod and blue bols and head a Mars bar sideways.
Not all the caving was tourist as John Underwood's prospecting persistence paid off with the find of "Poll Aber". An entirely predictable name for a tortuously tight 1000' long streamway passage. "Thin man" Hywel Davies declared a halt to exploration when he said the passage was so tight that he couldn't pace and breath to count his paces at the same time.
On the last night of the trip the whole motley band were bought a drink on the house. A sizeable round. Well we had spent about £2,000 on Guinness alone in McGann's.
Freshers' Fair of 1985 brought in its motley assortment of new members about sixty odd (very) of which a few stuck to the club: The year was to prove very active and adventurous. Quite speleological! About 36 caving and mining trips were run during the year, the vast majority of which I contrived to be on. Particularly memorable trips included Little Neath River Cave, Ogof Rhyd Sych, Peak Cavern and of course Daren Cilau. The mines of N. Cards also got a large number of visits.
Little Neath is particularly memorable for its sporting entrance series which is a winding crawl along a tight passage which is about half full of fast rushing water. This backs up in front of you as you are crawling out.
Ogof Rhyd Sych is definitely a cave for masochists—it is wet and tight, particularly one bedding plane crawl that is so tight in one place that to move forward necessitates breathing out first! Not long after comes 'milk bottle crate crawl'—a bedding plane crawl that would only entail stooping if it wasn't for the regular 8" high spikes that protrude from the floor. However the cave after this changes character completely, becoming a very roomy stream passage with very impressive clean decorations—clean because so few people ever get that far. Despite its hardships it is still one of my favourite caves. Thoroughly satisfying.
It is a perverse fact, or at least appears so, that the great majority of caving is done during the winter when being cold and wet is the last state anyone wants to be in. However it was on an extremely cold, clear weekend that myself, Tim Lewis, Alex Langdon, Paul Wagstaff and Dave Cooke went off to Derbyshire to "do" P8 Cave. On Saturday we "did" Perryfoot Cave (which by the way is shit!) and overnight our wetsuits froze solid in the car. We ourselves spent a very cold night in a camping barn, the external warmth coming from a bottle of ginger wine. The next day saw us trying to ease ourselves into stiff, ice-lined wetsuits in the entrance to Peak Cavern. A caver from Orpheus was so moved that he offered us the use of their club hut next time we were up—an offer still not taken up! However, the fun we had in Peak, a handsome system, was worth the pain and agony (I think!).
Daren Cilau saw heavy usage—five trips were run to Cilau at Llangattock, one however being turned away by the entrance being iced up. On one trip the White Company' formations in Epocalypse Way and the 'Antlers' were visited. Although the Antlers were disappointing, the White Company are breathtaking. Stupendous pristine formations made all the more special by the four hours needed to get there. Myself and Rob thrutched up into Man in the Roof passage and had the rare privilege if walking down near-virgin passage.
My second trip down Cilau took myself, Alex Langdon, Rob Jones and Tim Lewis to the terminal sump, 4km into the hillside. However we did not go empty handed. We happened to pick the day Martyn Farr was planning to extend the terminal sump, so in we went with Martyn, Arthur Millett, Clive Gardener, John Cooper and a multitude laden with bottles, valves and lead weights: sheer misery in the 2000' entrance crawl. Fortunately we exited empty handed having set off whilst Martyn was diving. However he still passed up on the way out!! Our slowness was in part due to Rob's light failure and in all of us having to light the way for him: especially difficult in Time Machine and in the entrance series. We were to see more of Martyn and his bottles.
1986 saw the instigation of the 'Golden Toenail Award' for the worst cock-up of the year, made by gilding one of Lewis's hematosed big toenails that was ripped off his toe while pulling his wetsuit socks on on a trip in Yorkshire. I had the dubious honour of being the first recipient—after a trip I led in Crossroads we all went to the pub, forgetting the call out time. So whilst a search was in progress we were in reality drinking. Ho hum! At least we knew our call out system worked!
The usual parties and dinners came and went as did some of the members Tony (the wanker) Nichol especially came and went after receiving his Christmas present of a pair of rubber gloves, pack of tissues and a few castration rings for services rendered to himself in borrowed sleeping bags on caving trips.
The summer expedition also came and went. Very successfully ca and went. That year's trip, mainly organised by Tim Lewis, took us to the French Jura and Haute Savoie. This was a superb holiday. The first week was spent in the Jura drinking impossibly cheap wine (Caves de Haut Loue), swimming in the river and visiting magnificent caves. Grotte de Lanans although beautifully decorated had us foxed for a while. The French guide book implied an easy afternoon's through tip so off we set: myself, Tim, Rob and Paul. After over six hours we emerged having scared ourselves silly when we couldn't find the exit—having pulled down our ropes behind us after increasingly serious pitches there was no return to the entrance. I found the exit which the guide said was prone to collapse—hence our increased fear of not getting out—after a solo exploration of the last lead down yet another pitch which turned out to be two thirds of the length of the cave. The lesson learnt from this was not to rely on French caving guide books all of which seem to underestimate on difficulty.
The language barrier also caused our stomachs a little bit of anxiety too. At one meal in a restaurant most of us thought we had ordered trout. It turned out to be tripe—the most foul smelling thing I have ever had on a dinner plate. Didn't taste too good either. Our interpreter (Alex) had ordered pork. Ummmmm?
The second week was spent in the French Alps with brilliant scenery; mysterious night visits to the camp, and to Gouffre Karen, a vertical system of 369m which we dropped to 233m over three days.
My third year was spent in London doing research at the Wellcome Labs in Beckenham. However I was still active, joining the club at meets up and down the country, spending £450 on rail fares in the process, including Aber for the ubiqutous dinners and the first ACC Pier Party (socially this went very well with lots of "old" members coming back for it. I don't remember much as I was so drunk but it made £5—I think. Worth going back for though). I also joined the summer expedition. This time we went back to Ireland. The first week was spent in the S.U.I. hut in Co. Cavan just over the border from Co. Fermanagh. The caving there was superb and again we found another cave that tried to retain us within its depths. The 300' entrance pot into Noon's Hole was a more or less dry experience, however the same way out was definitely very wet as it drizzled all the time we were down. By the time we came to exit the view up the entrance shaft was obscured by a boiling white mass of water. An entertaining exit to say the least.
An Israeli traveller joined us for the week. Benzi was a complete star: taught us games in Hebrew and bought us millions of bags of nuts and crisps in the pub. In return we made him laugh, taught him silly British games, and took him caving. It was sad to see him leave at the end of the week but he was moving on and we were off to Ballyvaughn, Co. Clare where it rained a lot giving us too much time to drink. One rainy day myself and Alex canoed out into Galway Bay and found ourselves surrounded by seals. A beautiful experience.
A lot of caving was also done, and there was our mistake when we again met with Martyn Farr and his tanks. This time we helped to porter into Fergus River Cave, a 31cm long system of which over 75% is flat out crawling or stooping. Fergus is a very wide bedding cave with one correct route through and plenty of places to go wrong so necessitating the (re)building of cairns to mark the route. We froze for six hours at the sump and then carried out.
Poll Aber was not revisited but it was another successful expedition/holiday.
At last in October 1987 I was back in Aberystwyth and out of London, looking forward to a year of caving and finals. However the year did not go at all smoothly for the club. The main obstacle was actually getting the transport together to get to S. Wales, Mendip, Yorkshire etc. The problem was that the AU transits, booked well in advance, became double booked and slipped out of our grasp in favour of the hockey club or the rugby club. Even when we did manage to get a transit it invariably broke down or...
Another disaster that befell the club was not so much of a club folly but more of a personal mishap. The transit was booked well in advance, it wasn't double booked and didn't even give a hint of breaking down on the way to Yorkshire. On November 14th the usual Saturday Lower Long Churn to Alum Pot fresher trip took place and as usual it was cocked up. The group going down Birkwith Cave and Calf Holes took the Long Churn tackle and vice versa. Everything so far normal. Sunday however turned out to be a little more exciting. As it had been very dry for a while and with no rain forecast it was decided by the powers that be (i.e. Rob, Paul and myself) that the awesome Gaping Ghyll 340' main shaft be bottomed by Rob, Richard and myself while Paul would take the freshers down Bar Pot. Rob and I would take the freshers out of Bar Pot leaving Paul to prussik out of Gaping Ghyll.
At Gaping Ghyll both Paul and Rob bottled out of the rigging so on a high I rigged the traverse and main hang. Meanwhile Paul set off down Bar Pot and Rob, one of my companions (in tomfoolery!?) tied together the two ropes that would together give us the length to reach bottom. Before the rope was lowered down the pitch I checked the way the two ropes were joined and hence held part responsibility for what followed: "Yeah, that looks okay to me", and down went the rope followed by an exhilarated self. I reached the knot just above Birkbeck's Ledge (-190') under the full force of the waterfall. I attempted to pass the knot in the normal SRT manner. When that failed I realised that may be you could pass it using abnormal manners. I came to realise that it was not going to be possible to pass it but the cold water pounding over me and down through the neck of my oversuit had befuddled my brain and instead of exiting I tried once more to pass and made the disastrous error of leaving my hand jammer out of reach above me on the rope. I was now well and truly fucked. After about twenty minutes of struggle under the water I was very cold and tired. I tried climbing the rope to reach the hand jammer but I could only make about one pull up before my arms gave way. I tried climbing the shaft walls to reach the hand jammer but because of the stretch of the rope it just kept moving up the shaft ahead of me. Nothing for it but "HELP" "I NEED HELP" "FUCKING HELP" "SHIT"! It is at times like that that you feel a complete and utter plonker. Luckily I could just stand on tip toe on the Birkbeck Ledge, and using cracks in the shaft wall pull myself out of the main force of the water. It was now a question of waiting.
Rob stayed at the shaft edge shining his bright light down on me (a real comfort when it started to get dark as I had turned mine off). Richard ran back down Trowgill and phoned for the CRO from Ingleborough Show Cave.
Three hours later I was rescued. Those three hours strangely weren't frightening but incredibly boring. There's not a lot you can do on the middle of a rope 190' down. The frightening, really scary part is the realisation that you are in deep trouble, and need help. I sang silly songs to keep myself awake. Incredibly I felt like sleeping even in my uncomfortable position of stretched toes, cramped fingers and numbing legs. Sleep would have killed me.
The Women's Institute were at the CRO HQ providing food for the rescuers. They mothered me wonderfully. They don't normally see the rescuees—they're too busy in hospital or body bags.
I was lucky, very lucky. I was told in the pub afterwards by the rescue controllers that twenty minutes is the time they expected anyone to live, stuck where I was. They were expecting to pull out a body. Ten feet higher or lower and they would have done so!
Aber was to meet up with the CRO once again later that year. On another Yorkshire trip, Aber together with members of the Leeds and Yorkshire University Caving Clubs were rescued form Swinsto because of flash floods. Nevertheless much more caving was done around the country.
The club, with its intake of new, keen freshers kept up its social side too with a mass gathering at a cottage in the LLeyn Peninsula in
N. Wales for New Year. Twenty people in a cottage for six. I will never drink tequila slammers again.
The highlight of the year in terms of prestige for the club occurred during the summer. Myself, Paul (transport officers) and two of the new members, Ro Charlton and John Carter, joined Lancaster University Speleological Society and cave divers from S. Wales for the 1988 Treviso Expedition in northern Spain. This was a three week trip to explore Cueva del Agua and related sinks in the remote Picos de Europa. Numerous shafts were found but none that went deep enough to link with the resurgence cave, Agua. One newly discovered cave, T408, petered out at 160m. If it had been in Yorkshire it would have been a classic.
Cueva del Agua is a stupendous cave with large passage, clean washed active streamway and dazzling formations. The social life although being in an incredibly remote area was great fun. The whole three weeks were great fun and it was unfortunate that more cave was not found. The expedition meal was a very drugged and drunken affair in Anna's Bar in Satres, twelve miles from Treviso, which meant a very entertaining ride back along a dirt mountain track in the expedition vehicles driven by very drunken drivers.
My four years with the club can then be said to have ended on a real high. I still cave with Aber but because of my move to London only spasmodically but that's soon to change.
And so beginneth the final part of the saga of ACC, from its first humble roots.
The year of 87 was characterised from the start by a string of disaster of varying magnitude.
Many freshers were conned into joining the club, but there was a slow start due to cock-up by the AU not providing transits booked several weeks in advance. Eventually transport materialised and we chugged up to Yorkshire for what was to many a first caving trip. Day one was a trip down Lower Long Churn to be met by Robert "Prospero" Jones and Richard Griffiths abseiling down Alum Pot. However team "B" had driven off with Richard's SRT kit (and much of team "A"s Lower Long Church tackle) so on our arrival at the Greasy Slab we were confronted by said Prospero dangling 100' off any solid ground. Apparently he was "stuck" in that he could only go up—which he rapidly did so. Personally I think he was freaked out and wanted out as fast as possible. One thought is, if he could only go up, how did he get down in the first place? However, this was only a foretaste of what was to come.
The next day we opted for a traditional ladder trip down Bar Pot to view Gaping Ghyll Main Chamber. We were to be met here by the experienced cavers (Gray, Richard and the ubiquitous Rob Jones) abseiling down the Main Shaft. The Bar Pot descent went as planned but on our arrival at Main Chamber all we found was a rope. Looking up the shaft we caught a light half way up, so thinking it was Gray taking his time we shouted up some obscenities, totally oblivious to what was actually going on. After a while we realised something was wrong and exited via Bar Pot—not without incident on the 120' big pitch. Back at the surface (at 3.00 a.m.!) we learned the full story—on joining the two ropes required for the 360' Main Shaft not one of the party had known the correct way to link the ropes. Rob had had joined them with two double figure of eight knots and a krab, forming a 'knot' some two feet long. Poor Gray had found it impossible to pass and was stuck on Birkbeck's Ledge for three hours while the CRC was called to drag him out. Rob was given a 'severe bollocking' by the rescuers, especially after they discovered no knot in the end of the rope—we had undone it! Gray was ferried quickly down to the CRO depot where he spent an hour under a hot shower. We were a little surprised to learn that the CRO had nearly been called out for us by Gray because we were so late getting out—two callouts in one night would have been very embarrassing. Still, ACC managed the fame of an appearance in the CRO Rescue Summary for 1987, although it did cost us a barrel of beer.
A sobering postscript to this is that in February 1989 a caver died in the Main Shaft after being stuck at exactly the same type of joining knot for only one hour.
The year continued uneventfully with a shortage of transport and few trips. Sewer systems in the Mendips (Manor Farm, Swildon's) were descended and on a S. Wales trip John "Blackadder" Price acquired h nickname thanks to a memorable haircut.
In February 1988 disaster befell ACC once more. On an abseiling trip through Swinsto the ACC party came to walk out of the bottom and discovered the passage was flooded and totally impassable and so had to sit down and wait for it to subside. On the surface there was much consternation when the party failed to emerge so the CRO were I called out and quickly appeared on the scene. Whilst all this was going on the ACC party underground had been joined by two other groups of cavers, so when the CRO traversed upstream to reach them they found no less than 18 cavers waiting. The ensuing traverse back above the streamway to daylight has been a subject of much storytelling, especially by Stuart Murray who for two pints of Guinness and a bag of chips will recount "My amazing death-leap over the flooded depths of the raging Swinsto subterranean river" (© S. Murray 1988).
The culmination of the year was the AGM at which in a drunken display of total idiocy we managed to elect a President who was neither a caver nor a current member.
Following the resultant EGM to put things right (and to recommend that future elections took place before the manic drinking commenced), the four hardest members of the club (Ha, Ha) embarked on a caving trip to the Picos Mountains in northern Spain in conjunction with Lancaster University.
This was naturally an epic, and began with unwitting illicit dope smuggling by the ACO transit and ended with the club facing a £400 bill for travel costs which was to have been met by LUSS. However, many virgin caves were explored, many of which would have been classic potholes had they been located in Yorkshire, and several portering and photographic trips were undertaken into Cueva del Agua and Cheese Cave with divers Rob Parker and Gavin Newman. The aim of connecting the resurgence caves with the pothole sinks on top of the plateau was unfortunately not achieved.
After the hectic rigours of a months camping in the wilds of the Spanish mountains, a return to near-normality was made to the BCRA conference at UMIST in Manchester where the previous year's UK and foreign caving exploits were reviewed with lectures and slideshows. Much drinking, singing and dancing and eating of curries was done whilst staying at that most renowned of Manchester's hostelries, the multi-storey car park.
And so, back to Freshers' Fair. An incentive to join was a nip of whiskey; unfortunately most of it was consumed by those manning the stall! This, combined with the evening's excesses at the first meeting of the year culminated the esteemed secretary puking all over someone else's sleeping bag.
Strangely enough the year passed without incident worthy of mention apart possibly from a couple of abortive love affairs between senior members of the club and young naive fresher girls. Also a late corner to the club was Eugene now famous for lending his name to "Eugene", a publication set up in rivalry to Peoples Committee News, to retell stories of various members in what can only be described a porn mag.
The year ended with a numerically apathetic expedition to the Vercors massif in France. A respectable amount of caving was done in fantastically decorated caves, including a trip to the Gouffre Berger. On the return journey some ice climbing was done in the Alps, some caving in the Jura, and also some car crashing followed in close succession.
And that brings us up to the present moment with me preparing to go to work at Stapely Water Gardens, the largest in Europe, possible the world.
Just a short aside to point out that the club is still well and truly alive in 1989–90. Several trips to Yorkshire have been undertaken and much more surveying carried at a Cwmystwyth. Nice to see the freshers starting to take a more active interest in the caving rather than drinking aspects of the club. The Easter term culminated with an epic trip into Daren Cilau in South Wales to view the 20km extension beyond the 2000ft entrance squeeze. I feel that in view of the demolished state that everyone was in after exiting, the club may well collapse, due to that old problem. "I think I'd rather go drinking than caving today, Mr. President".
The first incident that springs to mind was during our stay in Ballyvaughn. After sussing out all the local bars we decided the Lobster Pot was marginally better (i.e. possessed pool table). Here we proceeded to get totally smashed. The next morning was made lively by the conspicuous absence of Pete. Reconstructing the previous night it seems that he and Dave Blunt had been arguing with members of the IRA about Northern Ireland. Pete had then accepted an offer of a bed for the night with one of the more normal Irish inhabitants who was in fact a Scotsman in disguise and working for the CIA international terrorism team. He arrived later that morning still in one piece!
While still imprisoned at Ballyvaughn we decided to go for a swim during a mild hurricane. Roger was amongst the happy crew who discarded all clothing and with 600 MPH winds leapt into the boiling sea. Well obviously he didn't drown completely as he is still with us apparently, but he had a very good try. Everyone was slightly concerned by his disappearance and a quick conference decided that all we could do was made Stu Narris go for a 2 mile to see if this helped matters. But during his absence while we all making frantic gestures at the sea Roger reappeared on the horizon and was obviously in grave trouble, so we all relaxed an left fate to rescue him. Fate came in the form of a rocky reef when the two collided Rog came off worst: much lacerating to elbows and legs etc. Still it's lucky we didn't have to call the coastguard, because the nearest one was 30 miles away.
Cullan 5 would to any average caver present few problems except odd squeeze through mud, but, to an Aberystwyth caver a whole new world of total confusion may be fashioned from the material of this cave.
It was the first underground foray we were making in Ireland and chose Cullan 5 for an easy introduction. Whether the chaos that ensued was avoidable, is a debatable point, but we made the most simple caving trip into a shambles. After an hour underground or party had accidentally entered Cullan 3 and were happily exploring this using the guide information for C5! The second party was actually in the right cave but were rapidly running into trouble Roger Cross attempting an unlikely looking water filled bedding plane that Bristol seemed to have given up at, and just thrown dye down. The proper route on, was filled in with foul mud and we decided not to dig it but try this new route Roger was so happily descending. Moving down this passage was easy, as the water pressure behind me acted as a pile driver. I closely followed him to make sure he not in trouble only to find that reversing was just impossible. Managing to turn round I was able to free myself. It took Rog much longer and much swearing in between writing a Will before he was free from his self made prison.
Although we did not realise it yet, this trip was to form a starting block in a self-entombment contest which the whole club entered.
By now on the trip, the cooking cycle was in full swing. Every ensuing pairs of mud covered cavers grovelled in knee deep grass searching for dropped food and tasty tit-bits. Luncheon meat, sp and macaroni formed the basis of a good vom for Chris Cooke in Foxy's brilliant Macspan concordii. Stews abounded, as we only had larg saucepans in which to perform these culinary epics. Pete's curry kept everybody guessing as to the effects of overdosing on curry powder. Food poisoning was kept at bay by generous application of medicinal Guinness at every opportunity conceivable. But we lost no-one from direct intake of either the eats or booze.
Cards also crept slowly into our systems along with the salmonella and alcohol. Vast sums of money were won and lost over ridiculous hands. 3 card Brag was the guilty criminal. Every evening it would creep through everyone's pockets for the odd fiver. I found it amazing that after 5 hours playing everyone would claim to be winning! Who was doing the losing?
The move to Doolin halfway through the first week was vaguely welcomed by most of us. This was where things really degenerated. The Rubber Dance in the nearby pub was a sign of things to come.
What is it about Cader Fawr? For the third weekend in a row I've ended up at this miserable hell hole, why, to dig! Digging has now become a plague in the club, let's hope that we grow out of it or discover something worthwhile. Having abandoned Cader Fawr Higher we started searching for the most un-promising hole we could find. We settled for a small sink next to a pond in a hollow. Being trained scientists we used our experience to waste as much time as possible. The progress made during the first three hours was halted by apathy despite my insistence that it was draughting. It is my opinion that this is one of the most promising sites in Wales as it is directly situated on a fault line of major proportions. One thing that our excavation revealed was that at three feet below the surface there was a horizon of 12 inches of frogs. How they were formed is a mystery to us but because of their apparently 'amorous' environment Dino called the hole "Ogof Wanking Frog" (Ogof Broga Camddefnydd) in true Aber style. As the afternoon was still young we went up the hill to a small depression above Cader Fawr Higher to investigate a recent collapse. Never in the history of mankind has so much destruction been caused in so short a time by so few! We named this newly created system Ogof Cader Fawr Even Higher, its length must be in excess of 6', one is tempted to say it is draughting strongly. By now the magical hour had arrived (opening time) so like any true caver we headed fro the Fuller's at the Lamb & Flag Penderyn. We will return!
Went down mine near Talybont. Dave Ely too ill to lead. Hywel turned up in shorts—a hard man! But he got his knees cut to shreds in a horrible crawl we sent people up two at a time for absolutely no reason, but who cares? Besides none (except three) of them have turned up tonight (the next Tuesday). Some of the freshers wanted to climb down a 50' shaft but being a good bloke I stopped them.
Went down Wills Hole first on Sunday. Rigged the entrance pitch and sent Nikki down. A few seconds later this little voice says "How deep is this water?" "About knee deep" says a confident Bunce. "But I'm up to my waist already". "Oh" That was the end of that cave—it wasn't flooded last time.
'Twas the Friday after Christmas, and all through the Bunce house not a creature was stirring when the peace and tranquility was shattered by a phone ringing. A wave of horror swept through my body when I answered it—it was Fenton, "Do you want to go caving on Monday?", vague plans had been made earlier but I hadn't been prepared for the full reality, "Meet at Nikki's on Sunday evening". Putting this phone down I slipped easily back into the post-Christmas spirit till Sunday morning. It dawned clear and sunny and I was soon packed. I set out strangely apprehensive, wondering what adventures lay in store.
Within hours I was hurtling up the M4 towards an obscure junction somewhere in Wiltshire. From here I proceeded on foot, jogging to an even more obscure village where I phoned "the manor" for assistance. As soon as the Muppet Show had finished Nikki and Cleverly came out and picked me up, returning to the manor we waited for the Fentons. (Yes—plural, the Fenton and his brother Lant). They arrived shortly and we set off for a good warming-up session on the Wadworths (6X and Old Time—you can taste the difference). A terrible night was had by just about everybody in the house, I think, due to Fenton's presence. However, we were all up bright and early for a splendid greasy fried breakfast courtesy of Nikki's mum. We soon arrived at Rocksport where we picked up vast quantities of equipment and met some of the Aston Uni team, they were staying at the Cerberus hut and said there was plenty of room, so at least we had somewhere to stay now we could concentrate on the caving.
On we went to Priddy, got changed and arrived at the little blockhouse over the entrance when my CELL decided it wasn't going to work anymore, I thought about going back but was sure the others would get lost without me, so I went on bravely into the blackness. The streamway passed with no problems—down the finger breaking 20' pitch, traversing round the double pots, before we arrived at the sump. "It's only 4 feet long" I told them—"just stick your head under and come up the other side". (I couldn't go first—my light still didn't work—conveniently). Many times Dino or Cleverly would say "Right—I'm going through now" only to turn back when the water got neck deep—"It's too bloody cold". After about half an hour of this we were just about to give up when Cleverly suddenly disappeared, we looked behind all the nearby rocks but soon realised, with a horrible sinking feeling, that he must have gone through the sump which meant that we would have to as well. Fenton put on a brave smile and disappeared. This was it—my turn, I went in up to my neck—it was bloody cold—took a deep breath and plunged through; was it really only 4 feet long, was there any truth in the strange stories of caver-eating fish lurking in the sumps; I emerged a split-second later wondering what all the fuss had been about. As Nikki and Lant didn't have wet suits they didn't go through, which meant we had to go straight back through again. Once back on the right side of the water spirits rose quickly and we set off back upstream and round the high level route, getting totally lost but managing to find a horrible duck with only half a nostril's air space behind a high mud darn. Through we went having a quick look around before going back through and out. We nearly lost Cleverly on the way out and got a bit worried because he had the car keys, but using his intimate knowledge of the cave he had used another route to reach the entrance where we found him.
We changed quickly and moved into the Cerberus hut for a truly revolting spag bol, composed mainly of sausages and cabbage. We asked the locals for information on the best watering holes, "Well, there's the Duke with Wadworths but no atmosphere, or the Oakhill with atmosphere but terrible beer'. After the previous night it had to be Wadworths again, when we arrived we realised what they meant about lack of atmosphere, the place was totally empty, we didn't have long to wait however. Cerberus soon arrived bringing with them an old wind-up record player and a stack of old family favourites. Everybody was soon crawling through bar stools to the music, Cleverley managed to break one but nobody seemed to mind, except the landlord, we collected about 50p in a whip-round to pay for it. As the evening progressed the first mention was heard of the infamous St Dunstan's Well Cave but more of that later. The Aston crowd challenged us to a game of shove-ha'penny so we all went round to the other pub (where over 50% of the people were wearing glasses) and gave Aston a severe thrashing. After this they had to challenge us to something else—St Dunstan's. After a couple of hours more drinking back at the hut the Fentons and myself accepted. At about 3.00 a.m. we changed and were shown to the entrance. The cave is termed a 'collectors piece', this should be 'drunken collectors piece'. The entrance is quite pleasant and lulls you into a false sense of security before—Domestos Bend—best described as exactly like the U-bend in a toilet with about 1 inch of air space. Once beyond this point the poor caver is totally sober and wondering what he is doing in this horrible muddy hole. The rest of the cave is totally uninspiring but Aber managed another first by not being able to find end sump in a cave with no side passages. We returned to the hut and crashed out.
Tuesday morning we set out again for Priddy and Eastwater Cavern. Changed at the Wessex and found the entrance without any problems only leaving Lant who decided he had had enough after getting changed. The rest of us followed the guide wire down through the horrible, enormous, loose boulder choke to the start of the traverse—a highly polished inclined rift down which it is almost impossible to stop sliding. At the far end of it we made our next mistake—going down to primrose path. Fenton and Cleverly gave up at this point, leaving Nikki and myself to struggle on for another 20 minutes down this totally boring passage before we too gave up and left the cave.
That's about it really, everybody got changed back and set off in their separate directions and lived happily ever after. (Or at least till the next caving weekend).
For the first time in my life more women then blokes on the trip including both drivers. Got caught by the Police for parking on double yellow lines—about 65 pence each I think. Nikki acted the 'dumb blonde' to try and avoid the fine.
In the Chelsea hut everyone claimed that they'd go down Daren Cilau in the morning—three hardy members (Nick, Lil, Wendy) made it. Only problem I (Lil) got my leg stuck a mere ten minutes into the cave. Told the others, who didn't believe me. Told them again with a hint of hysteria in my voice. They believed me. Four abortive attempts at Freedom caused concern all round. Reeves panicking ate a Marathon, Wendy shouted "Relax". I did, then sank further into the rift. Cell removal followed then frantic wriggling, swearing, exhaustion, more wriggling, only to result in a trapped foot as well. Got foot free, removed hip bone from beneath rock ledge and after twenty minutes with one last burst of movement I was free, having squeezed the leg to a quarter of its normal size. Then crawled lots and lots and eventually found the Crystal Pool—worth everything. Got back to cottage, met others after their Aggie trip and were about to go out at eight when another party arrived and announced that one of their group, Tim Flanagan, had a broken leg in Southern Stream.
Bunce, Fenton and Horton volunteered immediately and 'Johnny Seven' style risked life and limb to lay the telephone line which in fact didn't work. Reached Southern Stream passage but followed Upper Southern Stream Passage by mistake. As this became thoroughly hard work we realised the mistake and returned to wait for someone who knew the way. Soon ten rescuers arrived. We asked the way to get the reply "We don't know, we're following the telephone wire". Got out at 3.00 a.m. Sunday just after the lights ran out.
For my part (Wendy) I spent Saturday night and Sunday morning making sarnies, tea etc. Got four hours sleep (more than most men got), then lunch in Crickhowell and a few hours rest before kitchen duty in the cave with Cara and two other women. We arrived, sweating profusely at the end of Main Chamber and for the next few hours we made coffee and soup for the men (stretcher parties, rock bashers, runners, etc). Time passed quickly and duty was soon over however progress with the victim in the stream was slow and they were still some hours from the kitchen when we left. Morale was very high even after stretcher parties had been down hours—undoubtedly due to Tim's high spirits and cooperation.
5.30 a.m. Monday, Dunce, Fenton and Nick were back underground for extra helping of creds. Formed part of the first caver carpet at First Boulder Choke, covering the floor and holes therein with people to enable Tim to continue crawling out of the choke (he had crawled all the way through himself) and onto a waiting stretcher to be whisked away. A couple of hundred feet later there was another human carpet. The rest of the entrance series was passed without problems—somebody said it reminded him of an ants nest.
Memoirs of a catering executive: we relieved the first kitchen team at the start of Southern Stream and produced mega-sugared coffee, soup and jam sarnies. Several million gallons of soup later we were relieved by Karen, Cara and retinue. Later on again we reached peaks of excellence with mock turtle/onion soup at the First Boulder Choke until our establishment was overtaken by Tim and the stretcher parties so we had to close due to lack of custom. Further catering (sandwiches, mash, stew, coffee and tea) continued until 3.00 p.m. on Monday.
High spot of the trip was stopping at the Vulcan for a quick ego trip and to make up for lost drinking time and watching ourselves on TV three times. Got treated like the superheroes we are by the landlord and bored three hitch-hikers to death on the way back talking about cave rescues.
Quotes of the trip:
The strangest(!) character and richest man in O'Donaghues's Bar, Fanore, Michael was his name. He confided that a nearby ancient tomb contained vast amounts of gold and asked if we could help smuggle it to London. We were told a metal detector was available to locate the ingots but needed the services of a 'scientist' to repair it. Hywel fitted the bill but when the 'meedal dedector' arrived it was working anyway.
Avoiding the "fairies and banshees" which Michael warned us about we set off early. A massive procession with Michael, Joe—the owner of the meedal dedector, the scientist and Nikki in the lead. The rest of us carried helmets, cells, ropes etc. The first person in had a job to turn round, the 'tomb' was so small. As for the gold there was no sign at all, still we were within 5 minutes of the bar and it was good to see the richest man in Fanore living in squalor.
Decided on this after much looking at the book because it looked easy. Grovelled about in the woods above Aberffrwd Station and when just about to give up found a fenced off shaft about 100 feet above the railway line.
John abseiled down and Colin and I laddered to 50 feet down where short levels lead off either side. After much confusion we decided to go down the next 60 or 70 feet of shaft. This meant Alison lowering the ladders from surface for us to belay them again from the level because we had hardly any tackle. John went down but could see the ladders at least 15 feet short (and possibly more as the shaft doubles back out of vision) so we abandoned the trip.
But we pulled one of two iron kibbles up out of the shaft. John carried it to the car and home. We left it outside Abdul's flat with a note from the Glyngorse Mining Company.
Shocked Pain by being EARLY(!). Arrived at Aberffrwd, selected level to dig and began work when disaster of the first magnitude struck—no matches for the stove. The choice of China or Indian tea became rather academic. No problem with five intellectuals present having had thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money lavished on their education. This multidisciplinary team came up with the idea of lighting the stove with an electric spark. However after rendering two lamps ineffective we began to despair.
After many futile attempts to brew up we decided to dig on regardless. Hours later (or so it seemed) progress seemed not much further—until suddenly we struck rock. With great excitement we began to dig down, expecting a breakthrough to loose rock at any moment. However it was not to be and with darkness gathering (and a bunch of evil sounding birds) we decided to call it a day and go in search of the pot of tea we had been so cruelly deprived of.
Beware, beware of Fenton,
His path should not cross yours—
Whenever he is bent on
Chaos, snaps his jaws
and stalks the streets at midnight
Make sure that you're indoors.
Black horrors, past all telling
Infest this reprobate,
A tendency for smelling
Like something out of date,
A constant inclination
To drink and masturbate
Especially there is one thing
This demon does which sets
The teeth of brave men chattering
Like drastic castanets,
A deed that even elephants
Would hasten to forget.
No threat of Cruise or Pershing
Made all the Russians sore
And leave the table cursing
Refusing to say more,
Twas FENTON and his FRISBEE
That caused them to withdraw.
It's deadlier than ars'nic,
No shelter can be found—
Far better if atomic
Bombs should hit the ground
Upon which you're standing—
(Their impact's less profound).
In Glastonbury's crannies
Just like a swarm of bats,
It flew dispersing grannies,
And thudding into children
With several kinds of splats.
Property values plummet
When FENTON hits a town—
He is the very summit
Of horror, puts a frown
On the face of every person—
His smile makes babies drown.
So shun the FENTON, cower
When you perceive his scowl,
If all at once the flowers
Die and mad dogs howl,
Beware, he is approaching—
Beware the fiend most foul.
What a gullible lot this magnificent quintet were, none of us had been down the cave before, and surprise surprise, those who had been, didn't want to come along since (excuse) they'd been before. This should have told us something but we were told on good authority that it was a "Fairly easy crawl"
Huh! That soon was echoing in our ears—have you any idea how much a painful 200m crawl is? Well to put into perspective it's like going from the Talbot to the White Horse in a nine inch sewer. The bloody sewage board can keep their jobs!
No, mustn't be cruel, the spectacle at the end was truly magnificent: a six metre stalactite in a big chamber. David Bailey (Rob Jones) decided to take his camera and equipment with him—crikey it would be easier to take Green's camera shop with you. Mug here "volunteered" to carry the tripod as long as I was photographed with this phenomenal structure. It was a good trip; we stayed in the main chamber gaping at the stalactite for about an hour, getting colder and colder. It just shows how marvellous it was. However, I don't think you'll see me down there again, just like last year's crowd. The comforting thing is that this structure is so inaccessible that it is likely to survive for a fair bit longer.
Changed into wetsuits at Nos Nibor and walked over to the selected manhole in Parc Avenue. We set up official-looking yellow tape and road works lamps around the hole and dropped down into the water. A 2' high stone arch went off, so down we crawled in 6" of water on top of 5" of "mud". After 20' an inlet over a weir on the right was seen to have dubious looking objects and bog paper. Complaining that it wasn't a storm drain after all, Rob and Dave swiftly exited. Meanwhile the intrepid duo crawled on. After 500' chip fat stals and gour pools were passed (obviously we were under the chippy at the roundabout). At 1000' the passage enlarged to stooping height and a little later to walking size. We then emerged into a series of large arched chambers with central supporting pillars linked by 3' diameter pipes—obviously the sewage holding chambers at the harbour for when the tide is in. At about 3000', by mutual consent, we turned back, overcome by the indescribable smell of the waist-deep sewage we were now wading through. Wildlife seen on the return trip included big fat leeches and an 8" eel (which Robin put his hand on). The crawl back through the now disturbed "mud" was unpleasant to say the least, especially for Robin who opened his mouth at the wrong moment and tasted it. Robin and Chris finally emerged at the manhole in Parc Avenue to an anxiously waiting Dave and Rob (imagine telling the CRO where the missing two had gone!). We all squelched up to Court Mawr for showers, wondering why people were crossing the street to avoid us, and irretrievably polluted the showers in the flat next to Rob's. "A good trip".
A quiet evening's mining for six rapidly turned into a mega outing for all the club plus hangers-on in Aber for the summer. Straightforward trip down the 80' manway and 70' abseil to admire th& headgear and cages. The return trip was made more interesting by a number of personnel being unfamiliar with ladders, and especially Clancy's performance. 40' up she wailed "My boot's stuck". When she was still stationary after five minutes it became obvious that help was required. So Rob heroically abseiled down a waterfall to come to her aid only to find the offending boot was not stuck! Instead of thanks for this discovery all he received from Miss Clancy was a torrent of abuse. Everyone else laddered out, we changed and set off homewards in the trannie. BANG! GRIND! SCREECH! Much cursing—another f**king puncture! For the first time in recorded history we got the wheel off without destroying the wheel brace only to find a crumpled wheel rim, bent radial arm, broken shock absorber and much more besides. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth: a boulder lurking behind the bracken had maliciously leapt out and grabbed the wheel. Walked two miles to telephone box and arranged for LA to come out in morning and for Spadger to pick us up in his car. Got back to Aber by 4.30 a.m. eventually. Then Rob and Carruthers returned to collect all the tackle and erect the warning triangles, returned to Aber by 7.00 a.m. Cathey Pinder met the AA in the morning but they pronounced the transit "unrecoverable" and washed their hands of the whole affair. Fortunately Clarach Garage bent it back into shape and succeeded in driving it out. The bill came to £600 I'm told (I didn't up in the Union to ask!) and we lost half (£200) our next equipment grant. Not a good night at all.
"Now you come to mention it, there is a second pitch in Manor Farm", says Paul over a congenial pint in the Oakhill. I'm less likely to forget this fact than he, 'cos I thought if P.W. says it doesn't exist then it must be free-climbable. Thrutch!—I nearly thrutched myself to death trying to get out of that second "figment of my imagination" pitch without the aid of a safety net, safety line, ladder, or moral support from the girls. A second group we met also had problems with the Imaginary Second Pitch, but re-rigging the REAL first pitch and sharing gear we overcame the IMAGINARY PROBLEM.
Yet again I find myself thrusting my body into Mother Earth, squeezing through the tight wet confines of Daren Cilau entrance series. Popped out of other end like a cork out of a bottle after two hours, Phil and Robin having been hampered by carrying two cell bodies. Robin's first cell immediately expired due to a fault not repairable underground, so he continued on his second cell.
A pleasant slip, splash down jigsaw where we met Arthur Millet and Dave Ramsay returning from survey trip—famous comment that we must be the night shaft coming in. (It was 9.00 p.m. and we were doing an overnight trip to avoid crowds of tourists, and also because there were no spare bunks in the cottage). Route finding from Big Chamber to the pitch was straightforward. Passed the 65' pitch with some effort and much grunting, groaning and gnashing of teeth. The by pass to the 70' pitch was quite pleasant but not for those who suffer vertigo as it is necessary to do a bold-step type traverse over the top of the shaft. Without a rope it would be lunacy as opposed to merely "bold"—very exposed.
After each climb down in the pitch bypass large holes in the floor and distance echoes give an indication of the size of passage to come—Time Machine. Then in no time we were there—A ga, ga, it is biiiiiggg! Walked about half its length, our lights barely making out the walls or roof. Having taken 6 hours to get that far we realised we'd having to turn back, mainly because of the deteriorating lights situation. Took us 5½ hours to get out and it felt like it. An excellent trip, tiring but well worth going back to get to that sump at the end.
We had just cubed out of our freezing cold wetsuits when a lad came running up—one of his party from Aston University had fallen at the exit pitch in Valley entrance and broken her arm. Tim, Paul and Rob changed back and we went to see what we could do. We rigged a hauling system and splinted the girl's arm with a tyre lever, and then hauled/lifelined her up the ladder. Thank goodness she was not a 15 stone bloke, as it was still a difficult job to haul her up! She exited okay though. Met Phil at the entrance with a flask of tea—much appreciated. Then to the Marten Arms to boast to the others of our exploits.
Inspired by our success in mine exploration we have decided to form a new society which encompasses our aims: "The Most Honourable Dog and Muffler Free Forest Show Mining Society". The objects of the said society shall be as in the following constitution:
1. To enter show mines.
2. To do so free wherever possible.
3. To consume Sam Smiths in the Dog and Muffler at every opportunity.
4. Charlie to be elected to God status for somehow keeping his shoes and jeans clean despite wading through chest-deep mud.
5. When Society membership reaches 2,000, the 1,000 youngest members shall launch a suicide petrol bomb attack on Clearwell Mine Office.
9. Being the last single digit letter there shall be no rule 9 as a token of respect.
11. In all games of Apocalypse played in the D & M all members' aims should be to annihilate Fenton at the most convenient moment.
13. There shall be no playing of "Zoom-Schwartz-Vigliano" on pain of being fed to the goats.
19. "B" Reg cars shall be driven into whenever seen in the car park.
22. No iron bedsteads longer than seven feet in length shall be permitted in the marquee without the signed permission of the sovereign.
23. I'd quite like another pint, Marshall, my good man.
36. Anyone found wingeing about the strength of Sam Smith's bitter shall have their heads thrust into the innermost depths of Marshall's sleeping bag until he/she is violently sick.
57. Marshall quoth (11.15) "Christ I'm pissed"
After considerable plotting and planning the Otter Hole trip at last came about. For once, the trip list was positively overflowing as "retired" cavers crawled out of the woodwork and cited reasons why they should be on the trip. Warfare was only narrowly avoided by the use of considerable diplomacy by Paul and Tim in their apportioning of the available places on the two trips. Two trips were planned—a 12 hour over-tide one on Saturday and a 6 hour half-tide one on Sunday. Needless to say, competition was fiercest for the Saturday trip which was to be the first of the season. Spent an expectant evening at Ystrafellte, going easy on the beer before the big trip the following day.
Met John Hutchinson (Royal Forest of Dean CC) and John Steenson (Hades CC) at the car park above the river and trooped off through the rain forest down to the insignificant looking entrance. The entrance series led to a long series of extremely muddy, frequently wet, crawls, gradually enlarging to a decent walking/slipping/sliding size. After an hour we reached the tidal sump, which because of the high water conditions did not open at all, not even the famous eye hole. Sat and glumly watched the sump until it was obviously rising again, and slithered and crawled our way out again.
Easily found on the east side of the Route Nationale 492, 3km south of Ornans. At least 30 bolt holes visible! Lovely dry freehang of 9am to a dead rat and something nameless but smelly in a poly bag. Gray's first words underground, whilst struggling with his brand-new expedition carbide were (appropriately enough) "Fucking Carbides!" Good to see that despite modern technology, some things never change. Al abseiled down with his eyes closed, and Alex had to haul herself down, having put all five bars of her rack on. After lunch we ascended 10m and found the continuation down to 98m via two small hangs of 10 and urn, both wet and a bit tight. Towards the bottom Paul, in a supreme fit of absent mindedness removed all the bars on his rack and slipped down to the bottom of the rift. (Free fall caving).
After Rob prussiked out, Al followed and got his top jammer jammed (as is their want), positioned inconsiderably beyond audible range of both top and bottom. There ensued a conversation of chaotic proportions. Al was obviously stuck but it wasn't that that worried me; what was more horrific to contemplate was an attempted rescue by the alert Jones. Always on the lookout for prey to descend on (one has only to recall the Jones rescue of Clancy in Blwlchglas in 1985 which reduced her to the gibbering woman she is today—more gibbering than women in general). Fortunately Jones didn't grasp this chance and the conversation carried on. "Speak Slowly", was a popular phrase shouted rapidly. Great amounts of technical information was exchanged, meanwhile Gray prepared to launch himself I upwards in a rescue attempt. Information on Karabiner characteristics were swapped, the question "Does it screw?" however was met by stunned silence... it didn't... or was unwilling. The possibility of an SRT rescue loomed. New scales of chaos opened up and the possibility of several members one below the other on a 300' pitch bouncing around offering each other advice tempted one to start digging for the resurgence even at the risk of coming into contact with the mandatory dead-animal-in-a-sack festering at the bottom.
However this threat and the knowledge that at least two of the rescuers had acetylene welders bolted to their heads encouraged a frenzied self rescue much to the disappointment of the onlookers. Alex: "Please repeat that slowly!" Al: "I'm swearing!"
Alex made her way up in extreme pain due to Paul's design of his Mk.V sit-harness, and Cray and Paul exited rapidly. Tim ascended at a steadily slower and slower rate, admiring the view en route, indulging in conversation (to hide the fact he was resting), examining the geology and wondering if he'd miss the return ferry.
Despite the horrors of the previous night, all were present and correct for a 11 a.m. start, more than could be said for Messrs. Farr, Judd, Bunce et al. Hoped they wouldn't turn up but they did so we loaded up and rushed enthusiastically into the cave. After about 10 yards it became clear that we were in for a dose of unadulterated misery. Lewis crushed his hand, half of us got lost and the ceiling got lower. Later the ceiling got very low. The bottle was something of a liability but got better as I got the dragging technique off pat. Pushing the bottle ahead in crawls was misery since you couldn't see the route ahead. The first 400m was crawls/squeezes and stooping passages—a real bastard. The second 400m in complete contrast was a series of low bedding plane chambers (up to 30m wide with cairns to mark the route) linked by bedding plane crawls. The whole cave is dry—no Fergus river to be seen—but muddy, and the misery can only be imagined.
Took 2½ hours in, then watched Farr and Judd kit up and plunge into a very clear sump. No way I would ever do it that's for sure. Then a 4½ hour miserable wait. The time dragged on and on and our wetsuits got colder. Endless hours of I-spy, cold, 'Little Dinners', cold, hot chocolate (limited supply), cold, and chemical chicken soup (main ingredient = salt). The 3 in wetsuits had decided that at seven we would exit. Unfortunately bang on seven Farr surfaced. This meant we could all exit (hooray) but carrying all the gear out (boo!). On the way in I was carrying a line reel which as not too bad. On the way out I was dragging a bottle. Bloody hard work. Especially when they go off and scare you shitless! The way out was a sweaty purgatory, and the exit bliss.
Mega-gathering crammed into a tiny cottage in the depths of the Lleyn Peninsular. Almost continual rain and check-ups by the landlady (there was room for six, and we eventually admitted to having eleven!) Three minor trips—a circular tour in Cwmorthin Slate Mine on Monday, a wander around Parc Lead Mine Nos. 2, and 3 levels on Tuesday and an abortive trip to the New Pandora Lead Mine on Wednesday which was abandoned when we discovered that the second winze resembled a bath plug hole! Also a little bit of sodden hill walking, but generally it was weather for staying indoors—so we stayed in the pub. Superb session on Wednesday night, and an even more evil one on New Year's Eve. One of the highlights of the holiday was Ro drinking half a pint of chilli vinegar and (surprise, surprise) being very sick. Still, she won 10 cans for doing it.
Now in the warm, comfortable MCG hut it all seems very distant. The fire crackles in the grate, Richard works out the accounts, John receives a cooking lesson from Delia Wagstaff, and my knees and elbows hurt. This weekend will be memorable for chasing around in circles, pushing the transit up hills, and going around smelling like a cess pit.
We'd intended doing Rhino Rift but it was already rigged so we tried for Manor Farm Swallet instead. I can only conclude that we went down the neighbouring "Manor Farm Shit Pit" by mistake— it's famous as the most polluted sewage system in the world. After a 50' and a 20' pitch the delightful aroma of cow shit greets you. I will always remember, fondly, wading through knee deep foam and trying not to swallow the evil brown liquid. The third pitch was the last straw—why didn't I get a troll oversuit with divers' wrist seals? Why oh why? I got soaked in the shit solution and it all went down the back of my neck and I swore. 'I never used to wonder why I liked caving; now I'm wondering. God, what am I doing down here?' Then I swallowed some of the numerous small flies. Totally revolting! Paul and John were maddeningly enthusiastic— "Where does this lead?" "Let's go up here!" I only wanted to get out. Wallowing in super saturated shit solution, we continued. At last we reached the sump. Brilliant! "Let's go back" they said. The best decision of the day. Ugh! Prussiking with shit going down your neck. Even the numerous pretties were no consolation. At last I prussiked out to beautiful daylight, rain and fog.
Pictures of the largest cave entrance in Europe at Grotte de Bournillon show the awe inspiring meltwater stream forcing its way out of it. Although it was summer and the gouged-out stream bed was dry, we were extremely impressed. The entrance is not visible from the road; a steep path leads up to it and we were quite close when the path turned a corner giving us our first view of the entrance.
The main entrance funnelled inwards from a very high cliff which curved around forming a cove. It would have been very hard to appreciate the scale were it not for the other visitors who were up there. As we were getting changed into our uncomfortably hot furry suits someone noticed a series of bolts going up the cliff in seemingly impossible places on the most overhanging parts. The entrance was so large and overhanging that it was difficult to decide at exactly what point we had actually entered the cave. The size of it was still daunting when the entrance had narrowed down. There were several creaking metal bridges over the gorge the river had cut and then a couple of very clear deep pools. We edged around these carefully, as the walls sloped down to them quite steeply and we were carrying tackle sacks. We filled our carbide generators at the second pool and got the temperamental things to work. They lit the large passages much better than electric lights.
The boulders strewn around the passage were transit sized and larger and the clean washed appearance of the cave gave us some appreciation of the river that had formed it. There were some good stal formations at the same scale as the cave, very thick and stretching from floor to ceiling. John and Rob took photos of them while Hywel and I were told to keep out of sight behind them and fire lots of flashes. The batteries were almost flat so this took a long time (and we got very bored because we'd been put behind different stals).
The passage continued downwards becoming narrower though it was still very large. The water is forced upwards quite a long way. Eventually we reached a canal (the water table?) which disappeared around the next corner while the ceiling got lower. The water was icy cold. Hywel waded in up to his waist but turned back because the underwater flake he was standing on ended in water which got deep quickly. The rest of us weren't inclined to go any further without wetsuits so we turned back.
During the Summer Vacation of 1965 a friend and I were inspired into exploring reasonably dry adits of the Allt y crib 1ine at Talybont. On my part the inspiration had been given by the then Manager of the Lerry Tweed Mills, William Llewellyn Morgan who in 1912–14 worked in Pryse's Adit as a boy trammer. Many of the weavers at the mill had also worked in the Talybont, Camdwr, Bwlchglas and Esgair Fraith Mines—Johnny Jones Edwards, Joe Edwards, Edward John Edwards.
There were also other ex miners living in the village, and Captain Edwards of Bwlchglas; all were always happy to devote as much time as was necessary to explain what they knew on the matter of Mines & Mining.
A constant friend throughout my youth was Simon Read and his motive was a mixture of curiosity and adventure.
Some of the first expeditions, in retrospect, were very amusing. Could we borrow a torch for the afternoon and remain undetected? Should we buy a torch between us and keep it for that purpose alone? Who was to be guardian of the torch? What would be the consequences of getting caught by our parents indulging in acts of such folly? In mitigation we did have some plans drawn by "Uncle Bill" and we always told a trusted ally where we were going—just in case. We also took candles and Mars bars as a back up—just in case. Having been into a dozen or so adits by March 1966 we were fairly confident that what Simon Read and I were doing was not a particularly hazardous pastime.
A moral dilemma arose in the March/April of 1966 when we discovered about 25lbs of fairly fresh gelignite dumped down a stope which had landed in Wilkinson's Adit. What if this was left and it exploded at a later date and injured or killed somebody? However any involvement with the Bomb Squad would land us in it with our folks. We reported the matter to our village bobby—a windy sort of character whose name eludes me. He was not prepared to get his feet wet and didn't like the dark, so he told us to sort it out and dump it down a flooded winze. When our parents found out they were livid that we had been delegated to do the job.
In Talybont at that time a sewage main was being installed and attracted a varied workforce. Some had worked in hard rock headings on a recently completed Hydro Scheme, an ex tin miner, some quarrymen and Emlyn Humphries formerly of the Aberllefenni Slate Mine. When the news of our exploits escaped from the Police Station many of these people donated their old hard hats, carbide lamps, pit boots, etc. to assist us and Emlyn donated several Saturday afternoons to show us how to tap on loose rocks, examine stulls, tie sound knots and other things.
Several school friends were interest in forming a society and in May 1966 the club was formed with a membership of half a dozen initially. Local targets were chosen initially as none of us were able to drive. Allt y Crib was a firm favourite and other around Talybont such as Rhydfach, Bwlchglas, Pandy, Allt Goch and Hafan.
Whilst on an evening visit to Erglodd Mine in April 1967 Simon Read and myself met Brynmor Ebeneezer, "Call me Beezer", who lived in Llandre and was also interested in mines and mining. Initially the Club was Simon Read, Beezer and myself and our school friends: Andy Fox, Mike Williams, Dennis Jones, my brother Nick, John Rees, Steve Martin, Geraint Lewis, Peter Titman.
By 1969 we were becoming reasonably experienced and my prime objective was collecting information about these old mine sites—the exploration of old workings was therefore necessary for the production of records as well as being an excellent physical sport.
Finances were very limited which was reflected in the standard of equipment—not that any sort of equipment could be bought in Aberystwyth. In 200 trips the most adventurous that we could allow ourselves to be was in the descent of Vertical Shafts to about 40 feet. Inclined Shafts or Stopes were explorable to 120' provided that footholds were available. A ladder was made from 2" square rungs on a ¼" wire rope. Whilst it never even creaked it did not inspire confidence and hence the double lifeline technique was perfected. The best rope was a ½" diam (13mm) Polypropylene Hawser—I recall that the breaking strain was quoted at 2000 lbs. Again, the rope was fine and there were no problems—it was highly respected, worked every time and never ever abused.
In 1969 a rift existed within the Club—several members wanted to explore without recording. The result was that in February the "Ardwyn School Mining Club" was formed with 10 members. The NCMC at that time also had 10 members, Andy Fox, Simon Read both having double membership. From a very dim and distant memory I recall that the ASMC changed its name to Mid Wales Caving Club in order to disassociate itself from the School. However I have a suspicion that it may have also been used for a breakaway group from UCWCC with Guy Richards and Ian Wallace in maybe 1972.
The NCMC tackle list for January 1969 contains more than I'd recalled:- 8 helmets, 2 headlights, various dry and wet cells, telephones and 250 yards of wire, 180' of 4000lb Nylon, 40' of 4000lb Nylon, 50' of 1000lb ladder, 20' of 1000lb ladder, 15' of 700lb ladder (hemp), 4 geological hammers, 100 watt gaz lamp, 4 rawlbolts and 12 pitons, 120' of 2000 lb polypropylene, 3 yds x ¾" chain. Of note from that era are some of the 8–12 hour marathon digs in mines like Allt y Crib and Cwmystwyth.
The School Mining Club was a strange rift because it deterred several potential members who in March 1969 tagged along on, firstly a trip to Cwm Rheidol, and the next week to Cwmystwyth. This was my first association with John Ashton, Robin Hill and led to a firm friendship of 20 years. We are now all engaged professionally in the Mining Industry.
The finance problem was solved in the April of 1969 in that I was offered a part time and vacation job by a Vancouver Based Exploration Company called Cambrian Exploration. The pay was £2 per day—a vast sum in those days when beer was 1/3d (6p) a pint and cigs about 2/ (10p) for 20. Petrol was 5/- a gallon.
In November Dai Roberts joined the regular foursome of John Ashton, Robin Hill, John Rees and myself. This now formed the hard core of the NCMC.
The School Mining Club was getting flack from the recently formed UCW Caving Club for a bad press release in the Cambrian News, and much of the enthusiasm was damped by the Headmaster who for various reasons could not allow the name of the School to be associated with an underground exploration club.
What we did in our own time was not governed by the School but a disassociation had to be made and the club dwindled away with the approach of "O" levels and "A" levels. After the demise of the School Club the NCMC and UCW Caving Club teamed up on many events starting with a trip of Ashton, Roberts, Hill, Rees and Hughes with Guy Richards to Level Fawr Cwmystwyth, followed by Taylor's Alderson's, Bonsall's, Kings and Queens.
Transport was still a problem and we had to rely on parents or the buses. The bus trip to Cwmystwyth almost became a ritual of getting up at 7.30, bus to town at 8.20, ½ hour in the Station Caf, 9.20 bus to Cwmystwyth, 10.00 call at Post Office for food and to leave an itinerary for the day. The bus driver then used to return by about 5.50, have a smoke and leave at 6.00 regardless. A frequent dialogue was "What's the time John Rees?"—"Quarter to six"—"Oh Jesus!"
Hitch hiking to Cwmystwyth in a wet suit can be hell. We arranged to take Malcolm Carr to Cwmystwyth one Saturday but he never showed up. However at about 6.15 on the way home we passed Malcolm near Devil's Bridge still hitching.
1969 was also the year that we met Pete Haney of the Llywernog Mine and it was on 8 April of that year that he and I managed to clear a way through the fall in the mouth of Level Fawr during a heavy frost.
The log book also shows the tendency to be driven to a mine on a Friday night, camp till Sunday and be picked up. If it was half term the stay could increase up to 5 days, consequently trips to the Dolgellau area and Dylife were made possible. During September I passed my driving test and bought an old Ford Thomas van out of my ill gotten prospecting gains. This was a tremendous boost to the area which could be studied and the more distant mines like Nant y Creiau and Esgair Mwyn could be managed without having to resort to Public Transport and walking or begging lifts off parents.
Immediately the log book shows trips to Cornwall, Dolgellau, Llanrwst, Nant Iago, South Wales, Lllanerch yr Aur, and Ogofau. The equipment situation was now very much improved and most members had Nife or Oldham lamps and wet suits. We also had about 80 metres of electron ladder and hundreds of feet of good ropes. It is at about this time that it was possible to easily obtain things like karabiners, tapes, wire belays and descendeurs by Mail Order. The confidence in equipment grew so that we now regularly descended shafts of 100–200 feet. The hard core of the club remained unchanged but we had a regular crowd of members who came on trips every fortnight or a month—Pete Watkin, Glyn Jones, Dai Bond and Steve Colley.
John Ashton and I met Steve Colley in Allt y Crib one afternoon in 1970—hanging off a washing line down in a 100' deep stope. He'd heard of our exploits and fancied having a look for himself. The big problem was that he couldn't find any friends to accompany him so he had to go solo. He was only 12 or 13 at the time and we felt that we either had to deter him or accompany and supervise him. Steve turned out to be one of the real stars of the club showing real stamina and agility and a degree of calmness and maturity seldom found in youth.
We continued to enjoy a good relationship with the UCW Caving Club and they lead us on several caving meets, notably in South Wales, whilst we led them on mining meets. The pooled resources of the clubs meant that both societies had sufficient tackle to undertake most situations. There was somewhere in the region of 600ft of electron ladder and about 2000 ft of good rope available to us both it needed. Mining Club members were also using a lot of Carbide lamps on reserves or working lamps and "saving" the electric lamps for pitches. Novices could now be given adequate illumination by borrowing members' spare lamps.
Apart from the various weekend trips we used to try and have a short trip on a midweek evening if possible, also various projects were undertaken. These included building a hut at Cwmystwyth for dossing the night and changing clothes; digging out the deep adit to Bwlchglas, surveys of the Llanrwst Mines and Metalliferous mines in South Wales.
During 1971 it was becoming more obvious to the "regulars" that we wanted to follow careers in mining—Rob Hill, Dai Roberts and myself even went on a fortnight's mining "induction course" at the South Wales School of Mines. The old regulars and founder members were rarely seen. Beezer had moved, Andy Fox too, Simon Read was at University, John Rees had been "banned" by his father—who thought that we were all totally insane. New faces were Tony Jarrat from Newtown and Paul Bird from Aberystwyth both of whom made valuable contributions to the club. Paul Bird teamed up particularly well with Steve Coley and perfected such techniques as back to back chimneying—the film "Time Bandits" contains some similar scenes.
The question of accidents and associated problems was taken care of by working out a rescue team scheme with regular practices.
1971 closed with a club trip to South Wales but due to unforeseen circumstances we couldn't use Penywllt so we spent four nights in Powell's Cave with heavy snow and frost. The old Ford Van had been written off by a Land Rover at Cwmystwyth and was replaced by a fairly new flashy Land Rover for business use. My "A" levels were not brilliant and I decided to take a year off before college and found a job in Llanelli as a Surveyor's Assistant. Mining jobs were scarce in Wales and my employers were involved in Schemes such as the Cross Hands Tunnel, Cynheidre Mine development, and Cardiff Sewers. There were still regular meets at the weekends and sometimes mid week. My personal experience by now was somewhere about 900 trips and I managed to get underground every fortnight or so. John Ashton and Robin Hill had both passed their driving tests and the venues remained fairly widely spread from South Wales to the Lake District. Arthur Beechey of South Cards Mining Club, Howell Stubbs and Harry Hughes joined the club in late 1971 and became very active in the Talybont area. The Llanrwst area was yielding lots of passage and many weekends were spend exploring Pandora, Llanrwst, Cyffty, Cae Coch, Parc and Aberllyn Mines.
Most of 1972 seems to have been spent exploring in the Llanrwst area with occasional trips to Cwmystwyth, Allt y Crib, Bryn yr Arian, Rhandirmwyn, Bwlch Glas and Cornwall. The joint trips with the UCW Caving Club still continued but Guy Richards and Ian Wallace had now left—though Ian was working for Norranda-Kerr on a copper prospect near Nantlle. Their keenness was replaced with even greater enthusiasm found in Lyn Edwards, Jon Timberlake and Gill O'Rourke. The NCMC gained the membership of Phil Nuttall who eventually took over the Secretaryship from Dai Roberts who was becoming involved with his "A" levels. John Ashton had departed to the Royal School of Mines in London and Robin Hill to the mining department at Cardiff University. In the 72–73 season John Gunn appeared on the scene and being a good Derbyshire man did not mind crawling about in old mines. There were frequent NCMC/UCW trips particularly with John Gunn, Lyn Owen, John Timberlake and Andy Roff.
The mining club was also putting in a regular appearance of delegates at the BSA, later SCRA, Conferences and had our own stall for several years selling odds and ends of tackle and books. This raised sufficient revenue to be able to purchase an average of two ladders each year.
From March 1973 we started having regular monthly meetings in Aberystwyth which became popular and resulted in a few Social Members. Total membership of the NCMC was now 32 members of whom 18 were very active—going on at least one trip each week. It was an important period in that whilst it was easy to store written records, artifacts were invariably left in situ. Caves and mines were growing in popularity throughout the UK—estimates suggested that interest had grown ten-fold in the previous ten years, as a direct consequence there was increasing damage, vandalism, and looting from the mines in Mid Wales. The solution to artifact preservation was solved by Petery Harvey forming the Mid Wales Mining Museum Ltd. at Llywernog and the District Council forming the Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth. Club policy was to loan larger items and machinery to Peter whilst the smaller, personal items such as lamps, hats, drills, etc were loaned to Ceredigion.
The more active of the new members were Charlie Hopkins, Matthew Slater, Steve Godden, Phil Bennington and Dave Jones who was sadly killed in a car accident some years later. Further good fortune arrived with our being allowed to use the Smithy at Caegynon Mine as a club hut. Many happy weekends were spent relaying floors, patching up the roof and windows, constructing an Elsan, rebuilding chimneys and fireplaces. It was not safe to store tackle there nor was it feasible as no members lived close by. As a club asset it was excellent in that other societies could use it as a meets base and it was self financing. North Wales Caving Club, NMRS, South Wales Caving Club and Cwmbran Caving Club were amongst the early users of the facility.
Cwmystywth was the most popular trip but old favourites such as Rhydfach, Blaenceulan and Ystrad Einion were still visited. Trips to Llanrwst, Cornwall, South Wales and the Lake District were made and the ability to descend to about 600 feet was possible by electron ladder. Most of the club members were in peak physical and mental form at this time, the average age being about 19. A limited amount of diving was being done particularly by Tony Jarrat and Ken James—I went 60 feet below the Kingside Adit in the incline at Cwmystwyth on one trip but that was quite enough for me. It was an unfortunate year in that several members lost close friends in caving accidents—mixtures of misfortune and plain stupidity. This did rather emphasise the need for a rescue co-ordination scheme for mid Wales and the task was split between John Gunn as Warden and Phil Nuttall J as Deputy. Finance was raised by the club organising a six day sponsored trip down Level Fawr at Cwmystwyth with Phil Nuttall, John Ashton, Paul Bird, Steve Coley, Steve Godden, Dave Jones, Harry Hughes, Matthew Slater and myself. Most of the time was spent on surveying the workings, digging through falls and studying the physiology and medical aspects of long durations of living in darkness and artificial light in confined conditions. From our stay we managed to purchase a Niel Robertson stretcher, 2 x 700ft 15mm ropes, a standard stretcher and a drag sheet. Several of us also attended a St. John's "First Aiders" course. Once again the exercise was valuable though never needed in mid Wales. Practical experience had been gained by John and Phil organising several mock rescues in the area and by a joint NCMC/UCW attendance at an Aggie mock rescue in which I became the victim after the first victim complained of rough treatment. This was followed by another mock rescue in Ogof Hesp Alyn in the late Summer.
I had been working for the Ceredigion Museum followed by The Llywernog Mining Museum but in the February of 1974 I went freelance on account of the amount of consulting work available. This commenced with a survey at Cwmystwyth for Haicrow's, an ideal situation as far as I was concerned—getting paid for looking at old mines, also I was able to employ club members to accompany me. Notably Jon Timberlake and Steve Coley, they were followed by Paul Bird in the Summer of 74 when I landed a contact with the Crown Commissioners to fence and gate old workings on their lands. The NCMC soldiered on with original exploration, surveys and caving trips. This meant that sometimes I was spending seven days a week underground.
From 1974 onwards my personal log book was split into business and pleasure but the NCMC log continued until August 1975. Trips to Cwm Rheidol, based on Caegynon, were popular and frequent also Cwmystwyth. The Llangynog Mines were visited one weekend and another in Yorkshire. Almost all shafts were now potential targets and I note a series of entries referring to the descent of shafts and stopes to between 350 and 600 feet, this was partly due to "the business" buying tackle and petrol and supplying a vehicle.
Jon Timberlake, Gill O'Rorke, Nick Lowe, Rosie Titterton, Jean Griffin, Rob and Cath were the main link members between the UCW Caving Club and the NCMC whilst the Lloyd brothers and several other new members left as quickly as they joined. We recruited Charlie Hopkins through his friendship with Steve Coley. Charlie's brother Bob was also active with the club for a while and organised several good caving trips to South Wales.
1975 must rank as the least outstanding year of the club. Many of the members moved away or had very little spare time. For a few months Charlie and I soldiered on but did not have the back up which had been enjoyed previously. The club, as such, therefore dwindled away in the Autumn of 1975 having been active for 10 years and organised some 2000 trips.
This though was not the end of the club—during 1976 I was asked what had become of the club by Dave Ely from Talybont. Not to disappoint the man I organised a Saturday down Allt y Crib—he was a born mole! Also, the Caving Club's Steve Simmons was keen on mines. For many years Dave and I did a series of trips to all manner of places some commercial and some for pleasure—if you can call them that. Same with Steve, some with the UCWCC and some with the South Cards Mining Club.
The latter was started by our old friend Arthur Beechey who had moved from Treddol to Lampeter: he'd raised the curiosity of John Donovan 4 and about a dozen other Lampeter lads who'd formed the South Cards. These lads were as keen as mustard and were having two, three or more trips a week to Ogofau, Rhandirmwyn and other places. The leading lights, John and Arthur, were employees of the Milk Marketing Board and when they were transferred to other depots in 1980 the club folded up after a short while.
The UCW Caving Club had a continued interest in mines which was again kindled by the freshers of the 1978–9 season (though "H" was quite stale by now): Hywel Davies, Roger Cross, Pete Bradbury, Nick Reeves and Lil Henry, Dino Fenton, Chris Cook, Mel Humphreys, Colin Bunce, 2 Wendys (Thorne and Bateman) and a host of camp followers. 1979–80 saw an injection of keen members but by this time I was spending less and less leisure time underground.
The most active person in the promotion of the study of mines was now Simon Timberlake, younger brother of Jon and an experienced caver/miner. It was Simon, in association with Bruce Cardwell, Gareth Thomas, Ifor Richards, Douglas Hague and others who started the Ceredigion Mines Group to try and save the buildings at Frongoch.
The Welsh Mines Society had been formed in 1978 by David Bick and other interested parties but it was not active in exploration or preservation nor could it become so due to a very widely distributed membership. The 0MG was intended as a preservation group though after some two years of getting nowhere the meetings diminished in frequency and have not been held publicly since mid 87.
Many were saddened by the waning of the CMG and started to meet informally on an irregular basis. This has now become more organised and has formed the North Ceredigion Mines Group, the active core being Ifor Richards, Matthew Slater and Tom Price. Independent exploration is also carried out by Kelvin Davies of Llanfon and John Mason of Talybont, sometimes in association with the NCMG sometimes with myself, and occasionally altogether. There may also be other "independents" working out at Mid Wales and there are a fairly regular stream of geologists and students entering old workings.
Very few of these trips are now coordinated towards precise targets, with the exception of UCW Caving Club and the emphasis is towards sport rather than study, in the majority of those who are active. Techniques have changed dramatically during the last 10 years most preferring SRT to ladders, carbide lamps have all but disappeared, wetsuits are still not as common as should be, Hawser laid rope has given way to sheathed kermantle construction, lightweight rechargeable lamps have come onto the market, harnesses now outnumber waistlengths of tape, and on the whole the equipment is lighter and easier to use.
During these 24 years I must have been underground with 1000 different people on an incalculable number of trips, maybe over 5000, I do apologise to those whom I have not mentioned—I trust you'll understand.
The Hughes Factor was usually used to entice unwilling participants and always had some catch. 200 foot pitches shrank to 100' but there was always a mile of passage at the bottom. In reality it is difficult to judge some things properly with loads of adrenalin pumping around the system. I could have enticed SCMC through the crack above Gill's Upper if I had suspected what was up there. (This was where Tim Lewis broke through in 1987 to the vast range of workings comprising "the rest of Pugh's Mine" at Cwmystwyth). As it was they were cold, wet, bruised and pissed off and the attitude of no way prevailed. Again no willing participant could be found to go up the rise above Top Adit to Bushell's Level; Steve Colley would not climb down the winze from Cross Roads Adit but climbed up the same winze when coming from Taylor's Shaft. In a really foul old working in Bwlchgwyn I decided that I was going no further when Steve Coley tries to entice me further by saying that he'd found an underground boundary stone. My curiosity got the better of me and it was true and I didn't regret it, but it took me ten years to persuade someone to come with me the next time because I told the truth of what was there. Ochre, dead sheep and shite.
In 1971 I did some youth leadership work for Stafford CC and on the 6th March we did a trip to Rhydfach, Pandy and Esgair Hir. We stopped at Bwlchglas on the way back as they had about 150' of ladder with them and I fancied looking down the shaft below the manway. I'd already done about 400' of pitches that day and was tired, the pitch was very wet and the ladders twisted with the lay of the wires. Half climbing and half being hauled was the eventual solution towards getting out. A stiff pitch deterred most people from visiting the cages and I stood accused of the Hughes Factor being applied to some old pulley wheels.
After the discovery of the cages in Bwlchglas the NCMC decided that it was probably worth digging out the deep adit in order to save the evil pitch through the stopes. The adit was dug out with a JCB initially, the plug at the bottom of the surface ore shaft was poked at by John Ashton and a large volume of ochreous water burst out. The story has grown in the telling but it was not as spectacular as legend would have it.
Eventually access was gained but at the point where the crosscut enters the stopes a large block had crumbled into a manway and the whole lot seemed to be held up by a single slab of rock. It was decided that the only course of action was to try and smash some ground up so that it would run and be more amenable to digging. After some initial thoughts it was felt that if a quantity of Plaster Gelatine was dropped into the ruckle from the top of the pile then it would fall into position. This meant that the shotfirer would have to climb back up the pitch to the intermediate level having placed and ignited the charge. We timed a couple of people up the pitch and two minutes was considered a slow ascent.
Everyone was jostled back up the ladders and took refuge in the shallow adit. Harry Hughes remained on the intermediate level to lifeline me back up the pitch and also to act as timekeeper—instructions were given that countdown was three minutes after I shouted "fire", he was then to inform me at 1, 2 and 2+ minute intervals as a three minute fuse had been set. I light the fuse, shout fire and drop the bundle into the choke; the next instruction was take up slack I'm climbing—nothing happens, shout, again nothing, scream and swear and still nothing. Now the big dilemma; if I climb I won't have a lifeline and could fall into the same hole that I dropped to charge into, if I retire to beyond the cages I'd be OK but would have a fume cloud to climb through and the flyrock could have damaged the tackle. Spur of the moment decision—climb steadily and regularly. Very relieved when I crawled back into the vacated intermediate level totally oblivious to the passing of time but not Harry and try to count the seconds passing. I had passed the 120 mark when the charge detonated. I must have climbed the pitch in under a minute though each rung seemed like an eternity. We returned about a week later and discovered that we had hardly disturbed the fall and resigned ourselves to the fact that it was easier to tackle the pitch.
During conversation with the late Mr. Felix Roberts senior on the evening of the 16th September 1971 it was mentioned that there used to be a waterwheel in the adit at Cwm Einion Mine. I've never liked solo trips since Dave Carlisle discovered the body of a lone explorer in Swaledale who had perished c. 1910. This was a different case though and the following morning I was up to Cwm Einion shortly after breakfast. Very deep water in the adit and I seem to recall that I used a rubber dinghy and paddled up the adit until I grounded and a few yards further on lay a mass of rotten planks and cast iron. It took a few minutes to realise that this was the wheel and that it was virtually intact under the rotten shroud. The winding drum had come loose but we later built some shear legs and hauled it back into a better position and cleared away the shroud into a short drift.
During the 1960s Level Fawr was only accessible by squeezing under a 10' length of sagging corrugated iron sheet. It was impassable to all but the slimmest and eventually something had to be done but we buggered it up and had to abandon the attempt. Eventually Peter Harvey, brother Nick and myself ended up at Cwmystwyth on a frosty morning and found that the ground was sufficiently frozen to be competent—we dug a hole and pushed the inverted tram into place in about an hour, must be nearly twenty years ago. It was predicted that ground pressure would flatten it but it looks good for another twenty years.
The dive in the Incline was done at the end of the day when Ken James and Alan Mills from Mendip established the continuation of Level y Ffordd to the fall at the portal of Gill's Upper in the soft ground behind the old offices. There was about half an hour's air left in a couple of cylinders and Ken decided that he was going to take a look down the incline—I was invited to take the other bottle and follow him down the manway. I suppose that I went down forty or fifty feet but didn't like it much—zero vis and funny noises in my head (nothing new!) so I came straight back up within less than two minutes. I'd much rather free dive in retrospect. Ken and Alan were mates of Tony Jarrat who was a member of the NCMC whilst he lived in Newtown. Tony dived in Allt y Crib and Goginan as well as some odds and ends at Cwmystwyth and the club provided sherpas.
Another incident which is worth mentioning occurred in the Kingside Adit below Taylor's West. John Ashton, Rob Hill, How Stubbs and I had abseiled down into the water and were making for the portal; at the end of the stope the adit's roof was within a few inches of the water and sideways breathing was possible. Eventually it turned to a nose in a crack job and got quite grim, somehow How stumbled and sunk. There was very little that we could do with our noses against the roof. Somebody then noticed the sole of a boot drifting past and made a grab at it, after some shaking and heaving How reappeared on the surface. The main problem was that he had been carrying a very heavy pack and had inverted when he tripped up. It provided some light entertainment but with more knowledge we were very lucky that someone saw the boot.
A similar thing happened in West Blaenceulan when Rob Hill, Dave Roberts and I were in an almost flooded adit which involved a bit of bobbing up and down. As Dave bobbed up and drew breath the bow wave bounced back up the adit totally sumping it and coinciding with Dave breathing in. What was possibly worse was that he got a mouthful of jellied ewe which was floating by at the time.
Dave Ely and I decided to go out for a Sunday afternoon, pack some lamps, ropes, ladders, wetsuits, kitchen sink, and some bang which is turning a bit sour. Where can we use it? In the midst of sanity the Hughes Factor prevails—top of the rise off the Coffin Level above Level Fawr—easy climb and we can pop a hole through to surface—very useful job. We arrive a couple of hours later having decided not to change into wetsuits we find the water not only wet but deep and cold. Salvation seemed to lie in a quantity of fertiliser bags dumped in the mouth of Level Fawr—we'll put them over our legs says I—good idea says Dave. The problem lay in that all but three bags are in tatters—no problem says Dave we'll have a three legged race through the water. Absolute brilliance, however in practice not at all easy and a series of rapid lurches causes a puncture and panic sets in which results in us getting wetter than if we hadn't tried the bags.
Up the incline, up the stopes, up the rise and sit in the short drift at the top. At this point Dave enquired as to the length of the fuse. Five minutes? Let's climb back down and time ourselves, good idea says I. So we set off back down the rise. Most of the length of the shaft can be climbed using the old stemple sockets but in one short length there was a stemple which seemed superfluous during the ascent but proved absolutely vital in the descent. It came away under my foot, the five minutes came and went, I still couldn't find a hold so Dave suggested that we swap places and that I climb down and use his boot to hold on to. This was done and found to be too short—six inches more was needed. Dave in a flash of brilliance suggested that I return to his safe seat. Off with your boots then says Dave already unfastening his own pair—unquestioningly I oblige and hand them over whereupon the laces are whipped out and plaited into a loop about a foot long. With the loop around Dave's boot I then climb down into my previous position and move down onto the loop of plaited bootlace (1/8" Perlon), toes find the ledge and Dave follows on down.
By the time that we reached the Coffin Level an hour has passed and the mission plan is changed to producing plate XV in the Cwmystwyth monograph.
Dave and I doing a night-shift on the new drift at Llywernog. We've already spent five or six hours drilling and the time has come to load up the holes. It was difficult to get half second delay detonators at the time and so the old Bickford's Safety Fuse was being used with cortex links to each hole within that round. We therefore had four separate fuses to light before retiring outside, a distance of about thirty metres to the portal at this time. Dave's experience with explosives was confined to watching John Wayne movies and he felt quite at ease with the Bickford Fuses. Burns at 30 seconds per foot ±10% I instruct Dave, therefore the fuses all want to be eight feet long and I will light them in the correct sequence. There were no fancy igniters in those days either.
Having reassured this poor man that it was safe to travel in the car with half a case of gelignite, that it was safe to cut the cortex with a knife, no—you don't crimp detonators with your teeth, yes it is safe to tamp the stemming down, I then utter the famous words of wisdom "Whatever you do never panic and run". Acetylene lamp at the ready, light No. 1, OK, light No. 2, OK, light No. 3, OK, light No. 4—bugger all it's drenched. Persevere for a few seconds and call for the cutters to start again but they've been cleared up and taken out. Time passes like an express train. Dave produces a beautiful pocket knife honed to a razor edge and hands it to me—both of us are trembling a little by now. It seems like hours since I lit No. 1. Cut the No. 4 and start again this time she spits and fires, "What now Si?" enquires Dave as I almost knock him over in the rush to get out. What can one say apart from "Run!" Hearts pounding in a Nitro-glycerine frenzy we were totally disappointed to find that we had to wait a further two minutes for No. 1 to fire and to cap it all we'd left the knife behind.
On the first occasion that the Davey Shaft was visited in July 1976 with John Ashton and possibly Phil Nuttall or Steve Coley it appeared that it was blocked by debris at about 120 feet below the surface. However, the shaft was in good condition and I volunteered to go down to the block. This proved to be soil from around the collar which had lodged on a plat just above where the shaft turns onto the underlie. Below the plat was a second one used as a station for greasing the rope dollies, in the floor was a hatchway with a ladder heading off into the gloom below. I can recall going down the ladder road into a stope which equated to where the adit would have been. The ladder eventually ended where a piece of hanging wall had scaled off. I went into the stope for a poke around and found an old ore chute leading down to the 12 but didn't venture down. They must have had a wonderful course of ore here, the walls were 20 feet apart and maybe more in places. Twelve inch by twenty feet long stulls were starting to crush up quite badly and at the west end of the stope there was some soft ground that pinched out the ore to about 18 inches. I found a boulder of solid galena the size of a football but it was too heavy to move, I managed to chip a fist sized lump off it which is much admired in my office. There were some beautiful lumps of ore protruding from the fill but they were too heavy to carry back up the shaft. I don't recall anyone coming down the shaft which is why I was reluctant to go down the ore chute.
In August I returned with John Ashton, Paul Bird and Phil Bennington when we got down into the 12 fm level. To the west this ran into the soft crosscourse, the lagging had crushed to splinters and the way into the older workings was well and truly barred. Heading east, we passed the Davey shaft but the drift was only driven a matter of a few yards before it was abandoned. The Davey Shaft was in very good order from the 12 down to the 35 but desperately narrow. It was impossible to climb the ladders in any form of comfort with your chest pushed against the rungs and back scratching on the footwall. The skip road was in good condition and the telegraph wires still strung from porcelain insulators. At the 35 the hanging wall was dodgy and had scaled off in great slabs onto the ladder. A pile of these slabs had rested themselves precariously on the edge of the shaft which took a turn from underlying at 65–70° to almost vertical. To the west the 35 ran into the cross course and had squeezed the lagging, I think that there was also a short winze into the top of a cavernous stope—like Bwlchglas but a hundred times worse. To the east the 35 runs as a drift to the Penybwlch Shaft, it was driven on two ends simultaneously and didn't quite meet in the middle but it does now. Unfortunately the Penybwlch Shaft is badly run in and at the 35 the shaft pillar has been taken out, the stope is quite large maybe 60 or 80 feet high with well defined walls about two metres apart. Just before the stope a winze with a hatch was seen in the floor but not examined. Someone had cut their hand and someone else had a date so we decided to call it a day.
Eventually on 26 November 1978 Ely and I returned to the Davey Shaft with Arthur Beechey and the Lampeter lads with the intention of going down the winze below the 35 to Level Fawr which was about 350 feet further down. The weather could not have been worse and it was a day when I was glad to get down the shaft first. Dave and Arthur were too cold to come down so they volunteered to do the lifelining at the surface. About eight of us reached the winze on the 35 about two hours later and lifted the lid. One of the lads found a newspaper dated 1923 but it was beyond recovery or preservation and we suspected that it had been left behind for a purpose on account of the slightly smeared typeface. The winze was in beautiful condition with short ladders nicely inclined and maybe 15 feet between stagings. There was no sign of the 45 and presumably it never came much further east than the crosscourse. At 20 fathoms the winze came out into the side of a large stope which was curved so that despite being on the footwall there was a grave danger of sliding over the edge. I half expected the 60 to be some 50 feet or so below us but a stone confirmed that it was probable that the 75 had been stoped out as well. The drop of 200 feet, with the top section free hanging, was a bit daunting and everyone decided that they wanted to go home. The journey back up the shaft turned into a nightmare with incessant delay in rigging and de-rigging. Spent over an hour standing on the plat by the dollies with a good waterproof suit and a wide brimmed helmet feeling my boots filling with the water that ran in icy cascades down the walls. I tried half a dozen times to light a cigarette for warmth but failed. Further delay was caused when the lifeline for the guy above me got snaked through the buntons between the ladder and skip compartments. When I eventually got to the surface a blizzard was raging and the ropes were freezing, the rungs of the electron ladder were just starting to stick to wet hands. Some of the party had wandered off across the moors to see if they could find the cars but had got lost and then their lamps got too dim to see with. Someone was stark naked in this blizzard busy drying his body before changing into something warm—a bit desperate! Obviously a boy scout.
In the summer of 1979 Dave and I met up with Arthur and the South Cards lads to have a look at Glog Fach. In Skinners Shaft someone had dumped a plastic wrapped package which was sort of person sized and seriously smelt. It was either a world record case of halitosis or a stiff! Most of us favoured the latter so I was sent to phone for the Constabulary who arrived about a quarter of an hour later. By this time the short access tunnel to the pumping bob chamber had been dug out. Dave and I took a Detective Sergeant for a closer look at the festering black bag trapped behind the rod. A Chief Inspector stood on the very edge of the shaft to watch the operation where Dave stuck his hand through the bag for a sample of the contents. Unfortunately, or not, most of the contents had trickled out and gone further down and they wanted some lumpy bits to identify. I was contacted during the week to see if I was prepared to go down the shaft but it was decided that the risk was quite considerable and the chances of finding anything were rather slim, so ended the case.
[Editor's note (by Rob Jones): when I descended Skinners in 1986 I found that it entered a large unpleasant stope where it turns onto the underlie at 100 feet. At 200 feet the entire stope was blocked by a massive and apparently fresh run of deads. The contents of the bag are somewhere beneath this fall.]
After a day of being attached by giant spiders in a horrible wet little hole near Ingleton, we drove up to the Lake District seizing the engine in the process. After a couple of hours of swearing, manic spanner work and copious amounts of paraffin poured down various holes we were on our way and pitched the tent on the old mine site above Ambleside. "Ahyup Si, how the bloody hell can you keep eating peanuts like you do? You've got that huge bag full of the damn things, skinned and unskinned. You had them for your dinner last night mixed up with other strange things, and the night before and I see you're having them again tonight. Why don't you eat proper food like rice or potatoes, maybe you wouldn't fart so much in the tent or underground?" "What are you talking about—peanuts—I haven't got any bloody peanuts. Hang on a minute, you didn't mean my bag of mixed beans do you—I half cooked them before we came away".
Have you ever felt a pratt.
After a nearly sleepless night, the tent nearly being blown away necessitating rushing around at 3.00 a.m. ballasting it with ropes, ladders, batteries, wetsuits, etc, we set off over the hill to have a peak at Greenside Mine, having been warned not to go on the last fixed ladder on the pitch but use a rope instead.
Wow! what a hole, 800 feet to the bottom on fixed ladders of every conceivable combination, some in stopes, some in manways, and a couple down the side of the shaft—real willy wobbles those especially when the ladder starts to wriggle about and bits fall off and disappear into the darkness. We eventually got to the bottom, where was the last one we weren't supposed to go on—must have been this one we just came down, looks alright to me...—maybe we should use a rope on the way up. It was really nice of Si to let me lead all the way down, wasn't it! (Funny how he led all the way out).
Safely at the bottom we sat on a rock slab and put our lights on dim. "I'm going to have my lunch Dave, what have you got?"
"I've got half a ginger cake, but I'll finish my fag first".
"That's no good, here, I've got two pasties, you can have one".
"Thanks, Si, I'll eat it when I've finish my smoke".
While I was enjoying my smoke, Si was eagerly devouring his pastie along with a lump of cheese. I wasn't all that hungry, so when I had finished smoking I picked up my pastie...
"I'm not all that hungry Si, you can have half of this pastie if you don't mind fingers. Bloody hell Si!, look at this, the insides are green with mould". At this point Simon had one mouthful of his left and upon inspection we found that, yes that too was full of mould.
Needless it wasn't eaten. But a warning to anybody who ever dares to venture to the bottom of Greenside Mine, somewhere down there lurking in the shadows are one and a bit mouldy pasties just waiting to pounce.
One of the many joint NCMC/ACC trips to Cwmystwyth was fairly early in the University year; Simon and myself were still breaking a few in. We managed to herd everyone up the incline amidst cries of "Bloody hell", "I can't do it", "I'm going to die", "I'm falling" and "you rotten chaps are doing this on purpose".
After an hour or so of crawling, climbing, falling, swearing, thrutching, eating Mars bars and carbide and generally having a good time, it was time to descend the incline. One girl in particular (I will be kind and not mention her name, suffice it to say she had the best bum in a wetsuit I've ever seen!) had great difficulty in getting her footing right to the point of being dangerous. She was getting rather scared as well. Not to worry, a knight in shining armour came to the rescue—well not really, it was me in my grubby wetsuit. To get us both safely to the bottom I had her sitting astride my arm, moving from hold to hold very slowly to keep her confidence up. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.
When all were safely down, off we went to a nice little pitch of about 50'. A good fixed rope, lovely little abseil straight down, then walk off to explore more levels. The first to abseil down was a biggish sort of bloke, I can't remember who. Once at the bottom he unclipped his figure of eight and left it on the rope, which rose about 6 ft being minus his weight. Next to go down was Roger—da da—trumpet fanfares—waving flags etc. He being of a diminutive build didn't have the weight of the previous one, so when he reached the descender already on the rope he was still dangling 6 ft in the air. It was then that he uttered (or rather shouted) those immortal words "Now, can I have some more slack!"
A bus full of eager people made its way from Aber to the outward bound centre in North Wales above Llanrwst. Simon came down from Manchester where he had been to a wedding.
After a useful day's mining in Parc we all went back to the centre to get washed and changed, then of to hit fun city, Llanrwst. Fill up with 'specials' and monstrous looking sausages from the chip shop then on to the pubs to wash it down. We were asked to stop singing, the locals found the words offensive (they were better than me—I couldn't understand a word of it!) and our penny whistle player was asked to stop as the locals thought he couldn't play (don't appreciate good tunes, that's their trouble). Roger managed his party trick of spilling beer and dribbling on at least 50% of us. Closing time found us staggering back to the chippie for more greasy food and back to the bus to eat it.
I don't know why but somebody had the bright idea of climbing the big tree in the car park. He fell off so was followed by four more who said they would show him how it was done, all by moonlight. They all fell off as well.
Back to the centre and slowly bed down for the night, 15 of us in one small room. All was dark and quiet unless a voice shouted out "Quick, has anybody got a match?" Hoots of laughter followed by a match being struck. In that dim glow one could see a horrible vision of a hairy bum sticking up in the air. Brrzzph—following immediately by an elongated bluish flame. More hoots of laughter mixed with moans about the smell. Voices were heard criticising the feebleness of the blast—how they could better it four fold. More demands for matches, more horrible noises followed by flashes of varying length and the occasional squeal as the match made contact with a burn.
Simon had taken a milk bottle to bed. During a lull in the proceedings a tinkling sound could be heard followed shortly after by "I'm really cold, would somebody empty this bottle for me?" More hoots of laughter and numerous derisory comments, the outcome of which saw Si negotiating his way over occupied sleeping bags trying not to spill his bottle. When he returned he nearly gagged on the aroma—said it was one of the best he had experienced.
The next day saw us at Blaenau Ffestiniog working our way through the old slate caverns. During a bit of semi rock climbing Dino had the misfortune to gash his finger quite badly, so it was off to the local clinic with him to get it stitched. The locals thought it quite amusing to see all those people stripping of in a bus shelter in the middle of the village. After being suitably stitched the matronly type told Dino to drop his trousers for a couple of injections. Imagine his embarrassment when upon revealing his rather regions to the nurse, she gave a gasp of surprise and demanded to know how he got all those little burn marks.
A weekend trip was organised to North Wales in the middle of winter—snow everywhere. I had got directions from Si to an old copper mine—you travel for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness etc. Not quite but it might just as well have been. Saturday morning after a hairy drive up snow and ice covered lanes we set off to look for the mine. Along the whole length of the valley we searched for this bloody entrance (You can't miss it said Si). Pete ventured into a level that looked promising after some coaxing from me. "Yes Pete, it is this one I know that for definite". He slowly broke through the ice amid screams of erotic pleasure. When it was half way up to his chest he ventured in, breaking ice (too cold for wind) as he went; about 20 yds in he went round a corner only to shout back a couple of minutes later than yes this was the long lost mine we had been searching for. "Bugger off Pete you big plonker if you think we're following you in there you must be joking. I can tell from your voice you are at a dead end". "No, chatter chatter, no, it really is—honest". "Bugger off". And so it proved, he emerged rather peeved that nobody was daft enough to follow him but admitting it was a dead end. Hard luck Peter.
Eventually we gave up looking for the hole and climbed out of the valley—hello what's this we said. A large field with a gentle slope to a fence and trees, covered in iced over snow. Just the thing for whassing about on. One or two were lucky enough to find old plastic fertiliser bags but the rest of us just sat in our wetsuits and went careering off down the slope, amidst squeals of laughter or pain when one hit a lump, eventually crashing into the fence. This was much more fun than groping around trying to find Simon's bloody hole (ugh what a thought).
Due to the concentration we were applying to our new found sport none of us noticed the weird one walking towards us. Looking up at the group of wetsuited, behelmeted, belamped beings sliding down the field only to scamper back to the top to repeat the process, he said "Like er hey man who are you?" We told him, and thus being reassured (?) by such knowledge replied with another statement of world shattering deep meaning "Wow man that's really cool". Of course it was bloody cold, there we were scooting up and down on ice, freezing our nuts off—well us chaps were anyway.
It transpired that we were the first people he and his wife/lady friend had seen for a week, they having been blocked in by snow. We were all invited back to his place, which was a caravan with a wooden bit stuck on the side, for a drink of herbal tea—no milk or sugar, just herbal tea. All to do with being a oneness or something similar. What a lovely informal get together; a group of dirty, smelly wetsuited individuals sitting or standing in any bit of space available and our hosts who were competing to see who had the best earrings, the best plaited hair and who could say the most "Wow"s, "farout"s, "cool"s and "laid back"s in one sentence.
The evening session in the pub was quite an anticlimax after that.
A cold, windy snowy sort of day saw us gathering at Cwmystwyth for a joint trip to explore some old coffin levels which had recently come to light. After the usual grovelling about, trying to find something new and interesting apart from discarded shrivelled up ACC members we got down to business and made our way to the coffin levels. SCNC had brought the ladder and ourselves, the rope. The level was about 7–8 feet up one side of a large stope if one stood on the deads but it was considerably more to the bottom. Entrance necessitated climbing on peoples' backs/shoulders then hauling everybody else up. Not to worry we've got the ladder to get down again. After some group exploration we decided to explore the level. Somewhere along the way Si and myself parted with the rest. After we had seen enough we made our way back to the others. Where were they? The rotten sods had gone and left us, and taken the ladder with them. Looking over the edge where we had entered looked too hair-raising to go down by—too far to drop and nowhere to belay a rope to properly. Back we went to another hole in the wall. This was a better bet Si assured me—not so far to the bottom, and a rusty old bolt in the wall albeit very loose.
Neither of us had any harness, descendeurs—nothing, but Si being the experienced person he is said he remembered how to descend safely by looping the rope round here and over there then under here and you hold this bit. I was impressed making a mental photocopy for when it was my turn. Over the edge he went, this intrepid miner. "Everything alright Si?", "Yes, just fine; I'm letting go of the edge now, I'm on the rope now. Bloody hell Dave, grab me, I'm turning over!"
As he had let go of the edge his head had slipped slowly out of view to my left to be replaced with the appearance of his foot—stage right. Amidst great hoots of laughter from yours truly I had to hang over the edge, push back down the right and pull up the left and haul him back up. He, for some reason didn't appreciate the humour of the situation.
Having given that up as a bad idea we opted for burning our hands and sliding down the rope. I thought it was really good how Si called the SCMC silly chaps.
|Year Beginning||President||Secretary||Treasurer||Tackle Officer|
|1966||n/k||Dennis Aston||Paul Barter||n/k|
|1967||Glynne Wyche||John Hayles?||Bernard Clucas?||Lyn Edwards|
|1968||Mike Harris||Les Saker||Chris Kershaw||Lyn Edwards|
|1969||Norman Martell and Chris Kershaw ran the club; Mike Harris was elected President and after he left was succeeded by Norman Martell (probably) or Chris Kershaw, Lyn Edwards was elected Secretary, Mike Harris elected Treasurer, and John Hayles elected Tackle Officer.|
|1970||Guy Richards||Norman Martell||Norman Martell||David Jenkins|
|1971||Steve Phillips (President) and John Law (Secretary?) ran the club; John Kindsey possibly a committee member.|
|1972||John Gunn (President) and Andy Roff (Secretary) ran the club.|
|1973||John Gunn (President) and Andy Roff ran the club; Lyn Owen possibly elected Secretary.|
|1974||Lyn Owen (probably President) and Jon Timberlake (Secretary and Tackle Officer) ran the club.|
|1975||John Steiert||n/k||n/k||John Steiert|
|1976||Jim Hardy||Alan Biggs||n/k||Jim Hardy and Mike d'Apice|
|1977||Jim Hardy||John Ashton||Mike d'Apice||Howard Davies (and Mike d'Apice)|
|1978||Howard Davies||Pete Bradbury?||Roger Cross||Steve Simmons|
|1979||Steve Simmons||Pete Bradbury?||Stu Harris, later Steve Simmons||Roger Cross, and Steve Simmons or Pete Bradbury|
|1980||Wendy Thorne||Colin Bunce||Mel Humphreys||Dino Fenton and Howard Davies|
|1981||Colin Bunce||Hywel Davies||Angela Maynard||Hywel Davies and Dino Fenton|
|1982||David Carruthers||Club ran by Hywel Davies (Secretary & Treasurer) and Dino Fenton (Tackle Officer).|
|1983||Paul Grainger||Chris Stayte||Sara Frears||John Underwood|
|1984||Sara Frears||Cathy Howarth||Rob Jones||Chris Stayte and Rob Jones|
|1985||Rob Graveley||Paul Wagstaff||Dave Forrow||Rob Jones, later Tim Lewis|
|1986||Tim Lewis||Alex Langdon||Dave Cooke||Tim Lewis and Paul Wagstaff|
|1987||Sara Clancy||Mike Johnson||Richard Griffiths||Tim Lewis and Richard Griffiths|
|1988||Elaine Gilligan, later Mike Johnson||John Carter||John Price||John Carter|
|1989||John Carter||Paul Baxter||Jason Taylor||John Carter|
Steve Simmons launched "Thrutch" in late 1979 with a ten page issue covering major club trips and items of national caving news. Roger Cross produced an interim "Volume 1½" at Christmas 1979 (consisting of two pages of in-jokes worked into a speleological biography of a seventeenth century St. Nicholas) "to prove that Thrutch hadn't died".
The (re)commencement of a Log Book in January 1980 provided plenty of raw material for Thrutch and its future was assured. Colin Bunce edited numbers 2 to 4 in 1979–80 and Lil Henry edited numbers 5 and 6 in 1980–81. Dino Fenton produced number 7 in 1981–82 and its continuity was only just preserved by Hywel Davies producing number 8 in 1982–83. Rob Jones edited Thrutch from 1984–88, producing numbers 9 to 14, the "magazine" having become a "journal" recording all club activities at some length. Ro Charlton was elected to edit the 1988–89 edition and Paul Baxter to edit the 1989–90 edition.
To provide a lighter publication appearing more frequently than the annual Thrutch, Dino Fenton and Paul Grainger commenced "Peoples' Committee News" in August 1986 consisting mainly of in-jokes and references to noteworthy club and personal events worked into frequently defamatory articles. "PCN" clocked up nine issues up to May 1989 plus a two page "8x" edition auctioned blind as a limited edition on the 1989 Coniston New Year Trip.
PCN primarily covers "wrinkly" events and so the student members of ACC decided to launch their own competitor—"Eugene" in May 1989, covering current ACC events and people in a particularly vitriolic manner. Number 2 has not been produced but number 3 was published in December 1989.
PCN and Eugene vary from the inpenetrable to the libelous and rather than quoting them at length the following reviews of the rival journals give a hint at their content:
"The Lira/Fenton publishing team continued to pollute our postal service with PCN, best summed up by Mr Oscar Fingal O'Flattery Wills Wilde:
The accurate description of what has never occurred.
Still, I suppose it filled the gap which Thrutch left to a small degree. The main thing to create concern is the steadily deminishing grasp on reality exhibited by the editors of PCN. Not even the attempts of the Gasworks Gang to smother the arch fiend Fenton has prevented its continued noisome existence".
"Professional Wanker Prothero Jones's latest 'Thrutch' offerings once again slag off this esteemed organ. Jones even provides a quote from one Oscar Wills O'Flaherty Wilde, in support of his condemnation. Needless to say Jones has fucked up, and what Wilde has actually said can be quoted in support of P.P.'s crusade to bring smut to all who want it, in the comfort of their own wanking sheds:
'To give an accurate description of what has never occurred is not merely the proper occupation of the historian, but inalienable privilege of any man of arts and culture.
(The Critic as an Artist)"
"And now, due to the daring infiltration of the offices of 'Eugene', the new PCN rival, by one of our little known but highly respected Newshounds, we give readers a taste of the publishing miracle soon to be bestowed upon us.
The editorial opens with bold political plans and ambitious economic goals, which seem to hold as much water as is present on the editors' respective brains. That they want Gilligan out of Aber and Number 30 in particular is apparent from the first sentence. 'Get back to fucking Capel Bangor or you get a beating'.
The first article takes as its target John Carter who 'if he doesn't get the fuck out of Aber is going to get a beating, know what I mean?' Funnily enough the second article also deals with Carter as does the third and fifth. Unfortunately in none of them is mention made that as a freckled lad Carter used to be a train spotter, or that he played a French horn in a local band. So much for investigative journalism. The fourth article adds a little variety when the Wrinklies come in for a similar 'beating'. All these topics are then again covered in the article 'What Stu says', a rather transparent clone of the column in a popular daily paper. 'Gilligan, Carter and the Wrinklies', Stu's educated opinion begins, "String 'em up. And Kerry as well".
"PCN Editorial meeting—somewhere hundreds of miles away from Aberystwyth...
FENTON—Well Lira, dear boy what are we going to put in the next issue of PCN?
LIRA—I know Fenty, lets do an article on the Pointies.
FENTON—Yeah, Yeah Lira ha, ha great one.
H—Wait a moment lads, I've just had another brilliantly original idea: lets write about GILLIGAN and THE KAMPUCHEAN LESBIANS.
LIRA—Blimey that'll be rather witty Dr. Death, I could start it off with 'scenes reminiscent of World War II Poland...'
FENTON—I've spoken to my imaginary friend PP, and he says we might get some other dinosaurs to contribute something. I'm contacting all my old friends: Blutes the Bastard, Stayte, Vern, Spot, Crap, Spunk, and Pus.
SHIT—Splendidly comical chaps, save space for the totally unexpected...—feature on Lewis as the milky bar kid, written by that incredibly witty woman Rosemary Charlton!
ALL—Ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha chortle, chortle, chortle. Oh my god we're so fucking witty".
|1967||Storeroom at Carpenter Hall washroom|
|1971||Outbuilding at Ceredigion Hall|
|1975||Members' rooms (John Steiert, Nanteos; Jim Hardy)|
|1976||Members' rooms (Mike d'Apice, Nanteos; Jim Hardy)|
|1977||Glyngorse, North Road (Jim Hardy & Chris Hall)|
|1978||Glyngorse (Pete Bradbury) and members' rooms (Steve Simmons, Carpenter Hall)|
|1979||Glyngorse (tackle: Pete Bradbury) and members' rooms (lights: Roger Cross, Pantycelyn Hall)|
|1980||Glyngorse (Howard Davies & Dino Fenton)|
|1982||Glyngorse (tackle: Howard Davies & Dino Fenton) and members' rooms (lights: Hywel Davies, 12 Trefor Road)|
|1983||Rock House, Pier Street (tackle: Sara Frears) and members' rooms (lights: John Underwood, 4 Side Street, Penparcau)|
|1984||Nos Nibor, Llanbadarn Square (Chris Stayte, David Carruthers, Robin Fisher & Rob Jones)|
|1986||30 Bridge Street (Tim Lewis)|
|1989||Members' rooms (John Carter, Pen-y-Lan, Great Darkgate Street)|
|Autumn 1966||Bluebell, Terrace Road|
|Autumn 1976||Nags Head, Bridge Street|
|Christmas 1977||Weston Vaults, Northgate Street|
|Christmas 1979||Crystal Palace Hotel, Queens Road|
|Autumn 1980||Coopers Arms, Pound Place|
|Autumn 1987||Crystal Palace Hotel, Queens Road|
|Autumn 1987||Fountain Inn, Trefechan|
"Born in a Perilous Pub" is a history of UCW Aberystwyth Caving Club and North Cardiganshire Mining Club between 1966 and 1990. The book was collated and edited by Robert Protheroe Jones from writings by old members of these clubs. It was published as Volume 15 of Thrutch, the journal of Aberystwyth Caving Club.
© 1990, 2015 Aberystwyth Caving Club