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Little Neath River Cave

by Colin Priddle

Friday night after diving practice.

Pete: “Do you want to come down to Little Neath on Sunday to do some surveying and exploring afterwards?”

Colin: “Yes, I’d love to. Where shall I meet you?”

“Outside the Spelaeo Rooms. 8 o’clock.”

“8 o’clock! Well…..er…..oh…..O.K. then, 8 o’clock.”

Saturday night at the Hunters.  Thinks. ‘8 o’clock!  That means getting up at 7 if I’m to have some breakfast before I go.  That means sleeping in Bristol.  It’ll be quite impossible to get up before 6 on Mendip.  Suppose I drive back tonight.  That means I can’t get drunk now.  Daft of me to say that I’d go.’

The Spalaeo Rooms. Ten past eight Colin turns up.  By twelve minutes past, we were loaded up. By ten past nine we had collected John in Pontypool and by ten o’clock we were at the cave.

The river was ‘a little high but O.K. for divers as long as it does not rain, should be O.K. for sherpas.’ After putting a block of fluorescence in a stream about a mile from the cave entrance, we went back to wait for the sherpas.  They came. Nine of them.  Three sherpas per diver!

With Pete hurrying everyone up, we were all in the cave by 11.30am with each of us carrying a bag and hurrying towards sump II.  The Canal Bypass was used although it was much longer than the duck (1500ft instead of 300).  The Canal had only three inches of airspace – good enough reason for going the long way.

Soon, Pete, John, and Colin were crawling into Sump II, each still carrying a pack.  One of the packs was huge; it contained six caving boots and a large line reel containing about 900 feet of line.  After a hundred and thirty feet of large sump, we appeared in a sizeable passage which however disappeared after a few yards into another sump very similar to the first but two hundred and thirty feet long. Emerging from Sump III we made our way (weighted down, wearing fins and walking over boulders in a passage with a fast flowing river is not easy) to sump IV which is similar to the others and a hundred and seventy feet long.  Then we were in Little Neath River Cave V.

John took his diving kit with a spare bottle through Sump V and left it at Sump VI for a dive there later in the day.  Returning from Sump VI, he joined Pete and Colin who had made their way into the high level passages (it should be pointed out that the high level passages bypass Sump V so that John did not have to dive Sump V again).

We then started surveying a small dry passage which led to a stream passage.  We were apparently the second party into this particular passage and only the tenth party beyond the sumps.  After we surveyed the stream passage downstream to a sump and upstream to a boulder choke, we looked at a couple of side passages for easy ways to find new cave.  These side passages all had one pair of boot prints (Dave Savage’s) in their sandy floor. The passages were about two feet wide and six feet or more in height and were very twisty.  At one point we saw a large black space at the end of a small passage, and, after moving a couple of small rocks, we were able to squeeze into a huge passage only to find that we were about sixty feet from where we started surveying.  Somewhat disappointed by our ‘huge discovery’, we went off to look at another passage off recently surveyed stream passage.  This virgin passage split into two (no comment – Ed!).  We went left for sixty feet to a large aven which Pete climbed for sixty feet.  He did not, however, get into a passage.  Pete then decided it was time for him to get into another inlet passage where he expected to see the fluorescence that was going to be put into the stream at 3pm. We arranged that John and Colin would look at the left hand path of the passage and then try diving Sump VI.  After this, they would go back to meet Pete who wanted to look at some passages above Sump IV.

Leaving Pete, Colin and John went along this passage to a chamber.  One way on led to a stream passage about fifteen feet long, ending in a sump both ways.  It was thought that the upstream sump was the sump to which we had surveyed earlier.  A couple of short passages led off from the chamber but all closed down.  One passage, going up at about eighty degrees led into a small horizontal passage and, after about forty feet, to a rift fifteen feet deep.  It looked easy to slide down but going up would be a different matter.  It was proved to be possible, however, for one to get back up after going down.  The passage left went for fifty feet or so to a difficult looking muddy tube going upwards, so we went back to the right. We went along a winding passage about two feet high and fifteen feet wide.  A fork to the right led into a chamber about thirty foot square with no easy way on.  To the left, the passage got bigger and bigger until when it came into a chamber it was ten feet wide.  Up over a few boulders and another chamber was found after a short passage.  From this chamber, fifty feet by twenty feet by ten feet high, one small passage though boulders was found which led to another two large chambers.  We must have been fairly near the surface as we were going upwards quite rapidly.  All the chambers and passages we had been in were quite dry with fine sandy floors.  We reckoned we had explored nearly a thousand feet of cave, but as the time was now short we returned to where we had started the original survey and where we has left some of the gear.  Pete had left a message saying that it was after five o’clock when he left (he was now two hours late) so we decided to miss diving Sump VI and hurried off down a passage to collect the diving gear at the terminal sump.  Near the sump, John realised that as there was only on set of diving gear, it would be easier for one to dive back through sump V to Sump IV instead of going over the high level route with diving gear. The plan that was that Colin should go back to the gear left in the high levels and I meet John at Sump IV.  Colin got lost!  After an hour or so, John, who had been in the cave several times before, got a bit worried while waiting at Sump IV.  Pete dived through the sump to the sherpas and told them to wait.  It so happened that the sherpas were an hour and a half late and so didn’t mind waiting.  John easily found Colin who had failed to find what John called the obvious way on, and eventually we all met the sherpas.  Colin and John were only two hours late.

The sherpas who had stayed in the cave had surveyed their time away, 3 of them waiting for John and Colin to arrive whilst earlier sherpas had taken Pete’s diving gear out, so we were able to make good time to the entrance.  After the really gruelling entrance passages, everyone was out of the cave by 10.30pm.  An excellent day’s caving.

The excellent sherpas were all U.B.S.S. members.  Many thanks. The divers were Pete Standing (C.D.G. and U.B.S.S.), John Parker (C.D.G. and Cwmbran) and Colin Priddle (C.D.G. and B.E.C.)

Some data on the cave follows: -

Found originally by diving (U.B.S.S.) January 1967.

Dry Way in found.

Sumps II, II and IV passed March 1967.

Estimated passage before sumps 15,000 feet.

Estimated passage after sumps 9,000 feet.

Number of trips through sumps. 10.

Total length of cave.  Over 4 miles.

A sketch survey of the portion of the cave described in the article is below.  This has been reproduced from the survey and is published by kind permission of the C.D.G.