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Daren Cilau - First Impressions

by Jingles

I first heard of "Daren" in February 1985, when, in Whitewallls, after having introduced me to Agen Allwed and listening to me moaning about having to crawl for what at the time had seemed ages.  Duncan Price told me that "If you think that was fun you should try a little hole further down the mountain called Daren Cilau!"  He then proceeded with a description of the entrance crawl that made me tired just hearing it.  I made up my mind there and then to avoid this at all costs, it did not sound like the sort of thing I saw myself doing at all.  Indeed, the more I heard about it from others over the next couple of years only served to ingrain my conviction even deeper.

It was only as I got to know the people "intimately involved" with the ongoing pushes in the further reaches of the cave that I came to realise the futility of my stance. Slowly but surely it became clear that sooner or later I would sample its delights first hand, although I continued to fight against it doggedly for some time.  Until a short while ago, when I realised that my time had come...... !

And so it was that one fine Saturday morning I found myself rising early (at 6.30 a.m. no less!) to set off for Crickhowell and my appointment with destiny.  (or is that Fear???)

It was fitting that I was accompanied by Stuart Lain, himself a recent addition to those "caving elite" the Rock Steady Crew, as he had done his first ever trip with me and for some strange reason I felt that today was my first trip!!

We arrived at Crickhowell just as the cafe opened and spent a convivial hour breakfasting, shopping and generally procrastinating before heading up to Whitewalls where we killed another hour chatting etc ... while waiting for Ted Humphreys who had said he may join us. (Hunter's talk - Ed.!)  At 11.00 we decided that Ted wasn't coming and so got changed and headed off for the cave, my head ringing with last minute excuses "not-to" and wondering if I'd ever see Mendip again.!

One has only to look at the entrance hole to Daren, to get a sense of what lies ahead, and indeed the amount of work that has gone into the place over the years.  "Christ Stu, they even had to dig out the bleedin' entrance!" I said incredulously.  "Yes mate" said Stuart with an evil grin!  Well he knew what we were in for didn't he.

Armed with a tackle bag and a couple of BDH's, just to make the trip a little more fun, we got down on our bellies and in the time honoured fashion, in we slithered!  Ten seconds, and less than three feet later, I was getting soaked - what a thoughtful place to put a puddle, right in the middle of the first crawl/squeeze. The first thing you notice is how much effort is involved in moving even the shortest distance, but you haven't got time to think about it 'cos your too busy with the bloody BDH's.

Two hundred feet and a whole lot of cursing later we arrived at "The Vice" and what fun it is too! Having been warned by Stu of the tackle eating hole half way through, I naturally saw to it that the BDH's found their way straight into the deepest part of it.  A happy few minutes were spent retrieving these and extricating myself from its calcite clutches.  I remember Hank telling me he'd had a whole bundle of fun with this as he's so thin he just slips right into the trench that runs along the bottom and gets stuck. I've never been so glad to have a bit of a beer gut as I was then I can tell you.

It was now that Stu decided to inform me that it’s at this point most people consider the true beginning of the crawl to be.  We'd taken nearly twenty minutes to get this far (200 ft or so) - I nearly cried!  A nifty bit of mental arithmetic revealed that at this rate it was gonna take nearly three hours to get through.  I quickly changed my line of thought.  On with the slog though as there really is little alternative than to keep plodding on.

It’s at about this point that you realise what people mean when they refer to Daren as "The Cave of a Thousand One Armed Press Ups!" Could this be why regular "Darenites" have bulging bicep muscles on one arm??? - and I always thought it was to do with the lack of female company on prolonged camps!!!  I must remember to go in on my other side next time, just to even things up a bit!

After what seemed like an eternity of endless twists and turns in the passage, which had by now "ballooned" to a majestic 18 inches or so across, Stu called back that we had reached the first Canal.  I didn't remember anyone saying anything about canals, I thought that was Dan Yr Ogof, but I was so hot that anything with water in it was fine by me.  Indeed my enthusiasm at this point was so great that I lost my balance and ended up face down in the water ..... still breathing in ... not too clever!  One coughing fit later, my breakfast decides that it wants a first hand look at what’s going on and hurtles up my oesophagus out of my mouth and into the canal.  (No bits of egg stuck in my nose this time though Stuart!!!)  You think that’s bad ... you should try lying in it when it’s still warm!!!!  The Henry Bennett school of caving ....

Once again the passage shrank and the roof dropped and it was over onto one side again for a few more press ups (in water).  I was nicely cooled by the other end of it.  Then, guess what, more crawling!

We'd been going about an hour when we reached the first inlet where we stopped for a rest and a gratefully received drink of Ribena.  Stu reckoned we were about a third of the way here, which was in keeping with my earlier estimate of three hours in total.  It’s not the sort of place you want to hang about in, so pretty soon we were off again.

There are three more canals in between the first and second inlets, each progressively more awkward than its predecessor.  The final one having a strategically placed "s" bend about half way through!! It’s quite low at this point which makes it difficult to manoeuvre but its not too bad, unless you happen to have long legs!  I'd heard some horror stories about this from taller cavers, one claiming to have been stuck there for half an hour before getting through, but was quite surprised at how easy it seemed to me.  Until I got stuck that is.  The trouble with lying flat out in freezing cold water in a confined space is that it makes you over eager to get out of it, a case of more haste less speed!  It took me a couple of minutes thrashing around and making sure that any part of me that was still dry wasn't for much longer, before I relaxed.  Then Hey Presto - I wasn't stuck any more.  (There's definitely a lesson in there somewhere I'm sure of it!!)

More crawling, more "s" - bends, though dry this time and bigger, even more crawling and then we were at the second inlet.  Apparently there is usually a small stream comes in here, from which we intended drinking, but alas zilcho!  This meant that the cave was quite dry - could've fooled me ¬there was enough water in those canals alright!!!  God, what's it like when it's been raining??? - Wet that's what!  So no drink available we once again set off on the last leg and me just about on my last legs (sic).

Something had changed - I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first, then it dawned on me - I could almost stand up.  The passage had become almost human sized - quite uncanny.  What a pleasure it is to be able to move at more than ten feet a minute, actual progress no less.  But - alas - it was not to last, pretty soon and it’s back to the more familiar "rock in face" type stuff.  I was quite happy until we got to " Play School!"  There I was thrutching along (not so) merrily in passage so small I wondered that I could move at all, when on rounding a bend I was faced with a circular squeeze so small all I could do was laugh!  "The Round Window" - kiddies!

Fortunately there is a sort of trench thingy in the bottom for the old "Malham" generator to go in - (as well as a goodly portion of the old "Nuts!!") - without which I wouldn't've stood a hope of getting past it.  So with a wiggle and a kick and a few choice phrases, through you go only to be confronted by the square window!!!  Again I nearly cried, I'd thought the round one was tight - bloody hell!  I had much more fun with this one what with getting my arms caught up, my helmet jammed; light failure etc etc et bloody cetera!

Eventually after a small eternity I emerged on the other side (I swear I heard a popping sound too) feeling as if I’d just been born ..... actually that would've been far less traumatic.

Great, only 200 feet to go I thought famous last words again!  Those last 200 feet are the worst of the lot what with bloody great rocks in the middle of the "passage".  The passage being no larger than it was before!!!!  Twenty minutes later, five of which were spent trying to dislodge my helmet yet again, we emerged into a very small chamber from where I managed to lead us the last six feet out of the crawl into a passage that we could actually walk in.

It took me a minute to realise that we'd actually made it and for the third time in as many hours - I nearly cried!