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Cavers Bookshelf No.2

Caves Of South Wales

By Tim Stratford

Published by Cordee,

Leicester, 1978.  92 pp

Photos, maps.  £2.75

Reviewed by Graham Wilton-Jones

This new publication is similar in size to the recent spate of caver’s guides stitched and bound in cloth cover like Mendip Underground.  It is always easy to criticise something so I will note the points in favour first.  It is about time someone brought out a new guide to the caves of Wales, and the author is to be praised for making the effort.  As fate would have it (according to rumour) Caves of Wales and the Marches, Edition No.3 is in preparation and Caves of South Wales may have been turned out in rather a hurry, as will; be seen.

In the 90 or so pages, South Wales has been divided into nine distinct regions, more logically than C. W.M.  The layout of information on each cave is excellent name, grade, grid reference and maps, length and depth, location, access, description, tackle and history. The writing on each region is preceded by an area map, most of which could show a little more detail.  Caves of over 200ft. are described in detail together with a few similar, but important sites, while the majority of caves of less than 200ft. length are simply listed with map references at the end of the appropriate section.  Small surveys would have been useful with some of the larger systems, but there are none. The author has generally adhered to the idea of a main route through the cave and side passage descriptions are brief and in italics.  For bibliographical reasons the history is important (not merely for interest) but this is usually too brief.  There are insufficient bibliographical references, e.g., there is no reference of the UBSS publication on Little Neath River Cave.  Information on surveys is scant, e.g. the BCRA Aggie survey is the one noted as containing a survey for Daren Cilau and the much better SMCC one is not mentioned.  Access notes are not always given despite, on p.7 'remember that the land always belongs to someone'.  Wig was irritated that for LNRC says 'Wet  suit essential.'  Though not irritated, I must agree.  Wet suits are not tackle and rarely essential.

What of my guess that the guide has been turned out in a hurry?  Some of the info is already out of date, some by several months, some by years. Rock and Fountain goes no further than the 3rd choke, passed in summer ’78.  Turkey sump bypass in Aggie is not mentioned.  Ogof Pen Eryr was extended in summer ’78, another fact omitted.  There is no reference to the Paul and Barnabas extension in Tunnel cave.

The length of description relates in no way either to cave complexity or passage length.  Rock and Fountain (6,400m+) has no more description than Bridge cave (311m).  The Ogof Cynnes (915m) description is very detailed as far as the main chamber (150m) while five more lines deal with the rest of this complex system.  The totally inadequate description of Summertime in Aggie suggest that the author has never been there.

A precedent is set with the description of the entirely submerged caves of the Hepste area and yet there is no description of the New World Series in LNRC – just '8,000ft of sumps and passage'.  Another precedent is set with the inclusion of Carregwylan Cave; this is a sea cave in the Ordovician volcanics.  Similar long caves are exceedingly numerous in the contorted belts of Pembrokeshire coastal and island cliffs.  Surely it is a case of all or nothing?

A detailed description of the complexities of OFD are wisely avoided, but at the same time many important parts of the system are omitted.  The section on Dan-yr-Ogof has a brief reference to the Mazeways and Dali’s Delight and yet these are perhaps the most significant areas of the whole cave, being the key to the elusive DYO 4.

The 100m long Cathedral Cave on Caldy is not described, nor the very significant 200m of Sink-y-Giedd.  Ogof Coel-y-Ffyrnau (70m) is missing altogether, along with Ogof Craig Ddu, Ogofd Cwmafon and probably several more.

However, he has made a guide book and a very useful one at that.  Hopefully the 2nd Edition will follow close on the heels of the first (I am sure that the 1st Edition will sell out rapidly) and will show that the author has found more time to do the job properly, and has paid attention to the inevitable barrage of comments and criticisms that such a guide book heralds.

If you are a collector of cave books then obviously you will buy this one.  If you want a cave guide for the area, perhaps your will wait for the rumoured Caves of Wales and the Marches to appear before you make a decision.  Me?  I shall usual do as usual.  Pinch someone else’s copy!

Cavers Bookshelf No.3

Descent NO. 40

Jan/Feb….1979

Price 50p.  43pp.,

Photos, surveys, etc

Size A4.  Pub. By

Mendip Publishing

Reviewed by ‘Wig’

At last the long overdue issue of 'Descent' makes its appearance to a mixed reception on the Hill.

As a magazine its contents are excellent except for the fact that they are at least six months old (Los Tayos expedition report is nearly three years old!)  If the Editor, Bruce Bedford, had been able to get it out when he promised as a September/October 1978 issue he would have been on top of the news.  The contents include Los Tayos, mentioned above, in itself a superb article, notes and sketch surveys of two recent Northern discoveries - King pot and Vespers Pot and the usual round up of news from the U.K. and abroad.  Also, three of our own members have material published or are mentioned in the text (G. W-J: Dachstein, Wig: Trat’s Obituary and Tim Large reported as 'stuffing the NCA!')  However, having complained about the news content perhaps it is worth mentioning that some 75% of British cavers are not member's of established clubs linked closely to the 'national grapevine' and so the contents will be NEWS to them.  Anyway, if Bruce would get his digit out and produce Descent every two months then most of his news content will be news to many of the regulars of the caving regions.

The important improvement by increasing the size from the old imperial sixmo to A4 is great to say the least, better page layouts results and somehow makes the adverts seen less obtrusive.  With competition being offered by BCRA’s 'Caves and Caving' and 'Caving International', the presentation is equal to any professionally produced magazine at a price that will certainly hurt no-one.  (BCRA’s Caves and Caving costs 50p for effectively a 'home-type' offset magazine that simply is not in the same league and the new Canadian produced Caving International with its colour cover and internal photographs at between £1.00 and £1.50 depending on your source seems very expensive.

I for one, am eagerly waiting to the March/April issue (probably it will make its appearance as Jan/Feb 1980) with its news up to date.  If this is achieved and Descent appears regularly every two months then it can only be a winner to the point that it might put club and international organisation’s own publications out of business!