Why I joined the caving club…

Like most who grew up in the South Wales valleys, I was always aware of the how important all things underground is to our lives. With the collieries now closed though, I doubt the 11 year old me anticipated a future where I would spend as much time as possible in time dark and damp subterranean worlds as I now do. Here’s briefly why I joined the caving club and how that future came to be my present.

A classic school trip for us from down there was a visit Dan Yr Ogof, “The National Showcaves of Wales”. My upbringing was no different and had visited there on many occasions. I have vivid memories of those times. The dinosaur next to the ticket booth, the long up walk up to the Bone Cave and mostly of the terrifying talking dog called Twm. During the summer of my 17th birthday, we as a family again embarked on our bi-decadely pilgrim west across A465 to the Swansea valley to visit the caves once again. My sister and I naturally attempted and failed to befriend the emus for the umpteenth time. This time though, I wasn’t too bothered by the lack of feathered friends, I was more interested by caves themselves. As I write this, I am once again there, listening to the Morgan Brothers (well, the actors who play them for the audio) guide me through the cave as if it were my first time hearing their fascinating and engaging tale of how they became the first known human eyes to see Dan yr Ogof’s wonders. Despite seeing thousands of caving photos since, one of my favourites is still the 1912 black and white image of those two moustachioed sheep farmers entering the cave in their coracles. (Interesting article about coracles if interested, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/23Fbd5ybr2CFG9BWYYZ7MZh/coracles-the-surprising-history-of-britain-s-strangest-boat)

Copyright: Dan-Yr-Ogof Show Caves of Wales

Unlike for the Morgan Brothers, it wasn’t the famous Bacon formation (a curtain with streaks running through) that held my attention this time. Instead, it was the small slot like door low on the left soon after you enter. “Original cavers entrance” the sign read attached to the door read. Obviously, I can’t remember what I actually thought after reading this, though I do remember this moment of noticing it quite well. I think that speaks for itself. This was the first time I thought I’d like to go caving.

Not long after this a railing is reached blocking a fork, beyond which, appears to be an aquatic way on. “I want to explore there…!”. Unfortunately for me, I was on the wrong side of said barrier and had spent long enough staring at an empty dark space and was told to move. I thought to myself I’d really like to go caving now…

Later on in the visit after I eagerly watched the short video by some guy called Sid Perou. “Over nine miles of passageways have been explored (…) and there’s many more to be discovered” the narrator informed me. It soon becomes apparent the reason my visit with my family doesn’t see all the cave is because I don’t think they’d appreciate a little bit of flat out crawling need to see stuff like Cloud Chamber. I was not deterred though by the arguably unpleasant footage of a pair of legs in the Long Crawl. I thought to myself I’d really really like to go caving now…

Naturally, when I got home I was determined to learn more about caves and caving. I found the likes of Caver Keith and Catchpool1 on YouTube and watched obsessively as rummaged through rarely visited cave related Wikipedia pages. I even learnt what a “speleologist” did!

It would be another year until I actually got my first experience of a wild potholing adventure. Something about A Levels apparently being important made it difficult to do so any earlier. They evidently were as they got me to university. Armed with some armchair caving knowledge meant I could maybe pick a university with a caving club! Since my first jolly down Giant’s Hole with Nottingham University Caving Club I have been fortunate enough to cave all over the UK and beyond and make new discoveries of my own! I may not have entered virgin cave passage while piloting a coricael – not sure if pilot is the right word there. But I have managed cave with a tache (much to my girlfriends disappointment) and finally go beyond the barrier and explore the wild parts of Dan yr Ogof. I’ve met some incredible people, including that legendary guy, Sid Perou, at Hidden Earth a few years ago, where I proceed to drunkenly recall how his videos inspired me to start caving. I’ve since graduated from my Mathematical Physics with a little bit of maths but actually more turning up late for 9AM Thursday morning lecture 10 minutes late covered in mud because your quick midweek caving trip turned into a six hour epic BSc (Hons) and am living in the French Alps where I basically am a full time caver waiting on French bureaucracy so I can join the real word… Would my not very confident 18 years old self believed this is how things would turn out? No, definitely not. As any good digger knows though, you follow the draft and with perseverance you find a way through the boulder choke…

That’s why I joined the caving club.

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