I’ve never hidden the fact I’m a bit of a wimp.
A lot of things scare me; the dark, confined spaces, cows, creepy crawlies, water, large groups… The list goes on. It’s a wonder I ever leave the house.
I’ll tell you what scares me more though, The mundane. That’s really lethal.
I think this is what drives my quest for adventure and challenge. To push myself well and truly out of my comfort zone to where the magic happens.
And so I find myself making a spontaneous agreement on a generous Facebook post.
A lovely lady named Nikki offering a group of wild, outdoor loving, adventurous women the opportunity to come and give caving a go deep in the Welsh countryside. (Well I was kinda hoping it was genuinely a lovely lady called Nikki and hopefully not some sweaty middle-aged guy called Kev looking for some fresh blood on his new page on the dark web… *)
And so I found myself in very rural Wales. In a hamlet called Penwyllt. Heading to ‘The Stump’ A base for The Wealden Cave and Mine Society
Full of nerves as I follow my Sat Nav to a quarry.
It does feel a little bit murdery…
As I consider my options someone approaches my car. I expect a telling off for some rather dubious parking (Quick getaway and all that.) but with some relief I’m asked if I’m here for the caving.
Hurrah! Another victim. At least two of us will give sweaty Kev a challenge. 😉
A dirt track leads us to The Stump, our accommodation for the weekend.
A former Inn, now a lovingly restored bunk house nestled in the hills on the edge of the Brecon Beacons. conveniently above Ogof-Ffynon-Ddu, the deepest cave system in the UK.
Thankfully it seemed to be lacking an obvious resident serial killer, just a huge warm welcome from several members The Wealden Cave and Mine society who were wonderful hosts and accepted the group into their crazy caving world with lots of humour, friendship and information.
Now as much as I love an overnight adventure, I’ve never actually stayed in a bunk house.
It’s quite an adventure in itself. I can now with experience say that the best way to prepare for such a stay is definitely not sleeping in a rather lovely hotel the night before. 😉
The group spent a fab evening of chat, humour and gin as we all got to know each other and my nerves for the day ahead grew.
Not the best of nights sleep, although waking up in the dead of night in a state of panic in a confined bunk, was some could argue perfect preparation for the day ahead. When day finally dawned I was tired and an absolute bag of nerves.
I don’t pretend to be brave though, if I’m scared, I’ll mention it. A few times. *cringe*
The group was great for keeping my nerves under control though.
I was soon fully kitted up in scruffy clothes, welly boots and a pair of borrowed caving trousers. *Swit Swoo* It’s a good job it’s dark underground…
My group for the day were first to head off up the mountainside to the entrance of the cave.
Feet first I entered.
As I adjusted to my dark subterranean landscape I quickly discovered how muddy and slippery it was underground, Given how difficult I find it remaining upright in regular life today was certainly going to be challenging.
We worked our way carefully through various chambers and tunnels. Lots of scrambling up and down. It’s really physical work.
What a place though as we discovered the hidden treasures in the heart of the mountain.
As I’d previously predicted I soon began with my usual ‘I can’t!’
The last time I did this I was sat in a kayak on my maiden river voyage.
Mr Muddy took no notice however and launched me unsympathetically downstream.
Turned out I could. And loved it.
Today’s support was to be much more gentle. My fellow wild ladies never-failing in their kind words and patience as I tackled bits I found tricky (err short girl problems!) and also from the poor experienced caver who really drew the short straw and got stuck with me for the day.
They do say that not all heroes wear capes and I can confirm this is true. Mine wears a fluffy onesie. A top guy though who dealt with my every panic, gazillion questions (turns out I’m a control freak that needs to know everything to minute detail. fun.) and was also there to help out when I needed an extra physical boost.
It’s safe to say you bond with your group pretty quickly in such a situation. I really can’t imagine asking a guy I only just met to ‘Just shove my ass hard!’ as I proceed to gain leverage with my foot in his face in any other situation.
Yep. True story. *Blushes*
But with a little help from my friends I found that again, actually I could. Eventually.
Needless to say I found it really challenging, including moving through the corkscrew which requires twisting as you climb through small gaps in the rock.
Then onto salubrious passage, which requires straddling a water filled tunnel, especially challenging if you are also vertically challenged. Fun though. And I did them all.
Then came president’s leap.
Which requires backing onto a ledge, a fall of faith onto the rock face opposite, over a gap. You then shimmy your way along.
Oddly enough, I’ve never had a fear of heights, yet apparently I do have a fear of falling face first onto a heap of pointy rocks down below. 🤷🏻♀️
Having pushed and pushed myself I knew I’d reached my limit for the day.
I would say I sat and relaxed while the others finished President’s leap but I was very aware I would now be retracing my steps, whilst going uphill. Yikes.
Our route however seemed much easier in reverse. clambering back up definitely preferable to going down. Still a few ‘I cant’s.’ Several ‘But how’s?’ and apparently quite a lot of ‘Oh shits!’ too. Oops.
Tired and thirsty as I headed back towards the entrance, I’d really underestimated quite how physically demanding caving is as you clamber, twist and squeeze.
At one point I was trying desperately to scale a particularly steep and angular boulder and thinking I had no idea how I had physically managed to get my hips in their current position and I was still needing to go wider to scale the top.
I could only apologise to the person behind me although thankfully she’s a midwife, nothing new for her and at least caving trousers protect your backside in more ways than one.
And then the marvellous moment of emerging above ground.
Relief to have survived.
Disbelief that I’d actually done it. And planning how quickly I could pack my bag and get back home. 😉
But mostly enjoying the wind and rain as I stripped off my caving gear to feel the elements as I trudged back down the mountain.
Oh and then I fall over.
Clearly it’s far more dangerous above ground after all.
I soon feel much better for a shower, some food and yes, some more gin. I’m completely worn out and definitely in zombie mode for the rest of the evening. For the first time in my life, I’m the first person to head to bed.
I actually manage a fairly decent sleep in my little
coffin bed and ponder the fresh day ahead.
More caving. Hmmm
I’d really pushed my limits the day before. Could I do it again?
Of course I could.
The group reassured me we’d be river caving, which would be very different.
They weren’t kidding.
It’s brilliant fun!
We travelled to the caves at Porth yr Ogof. A fantastic place to explore.
A beautiful environment but so much fun to be had in water filled tunnels,
rocks to slide down and wonderful natural sights to see.
I didn’t even say ‘I can’t.’, not once. Although I might have asked a question or two. 😉
Adventure over, I’m now back in the flat lands of home. I’m glad I went, I’m glad I challenged myself and that I lived to tell the tale.
Would I go again?
You know what, I think I would.
I know what I’m getting myself into and I know that if I take my time and concentrate, I definitely can indeed do it. Except President’s leap. Sod that!
A huge thanks to all the wild women and the fabulous members of the WCMS. What an opportunity and thanks for putting up with a big scaredy cat like me. To learn more about trying caving or if you are curious about The WCMS please visit their site.
Photo credits to my fellow wild women and members of the WCMS.
* Internet safety always. Check profiles out, tell someone where you are going and always trust your gut.