Wales III


Ben Richards, David Wilson, Julien Jean

While not strictly a club trip, and with most people bailing on the weekend altogether, this unusual trip involved 3 brave souls joining an overnight digging trip in the far reaches of Aggy with friend of the club Alex Stacey. And as if all that wasn't weird enough already, the largest geomagnetic storm in 25 years gave us an incredible viewing of the Northern Lights on Friday evening as a good omen. So of course this trip had to be written up.

Corresponding thread on UKCaving:



Julien, fettling.

The decision to camp, naturally, elevated tackle faffing to unprecedented heights. It was clear that a mere Tuesday evening wouldn’t suffice. Instead, a Friday session was promptly derailed by the unfathomable chaos within expo stores. We engaged in a bit of Slov preparation by decontaminating some vile-smelling Daren drums and, to our astonishment, unearthed an entire blue barrel filled with wellies. Perplexing. We crafted some cowstails for our battery belts from slings and krabs before Davey arrived to whisk us away to the depths of Wales.

Julien, of course, couldn't let this stop the faffing and so just as we were about to embark proclaimed his need for a piss, and so we stopped by Blackett, where we managed to bump into Kevin and Ruairi. The car surged westward, no longer impaired by the burdensome weight of Julien's full bladder, and before we knew it we were at Reading Sainsbury's to fortify our provisions with an alarming quantity of snacks and sustenance for the journey ahead. Although we'd expected the group we were meeting to have already been underground by this point, led by friend of the club Alex Stacey, who I'd been on a trip with in June 2023, they phoned at about 9 pm letting us know where they'd hidden the key and finalising a few details of where when and how.

Davey’s mood and road speed were both remarkably buoyed by the consumption of an entire cherry liquor chocolate. Our conversation meandered through the fascinating terrain of peanut consumption records, sporadically punctuated by bass drops. Midway down the M4, my brother alerted me that he'd spotted the Northern Lights from North Wales. Gazing out, we discerned a faint bright cloud to the North, confirmed by a bright green photo on my phone.

Not bad, with a phone out a car window!

Julien, initially sceptical, was soon converted by the vivid green photo evidence. In no time, we were both brandishing our phones, capturing hues of purple, green, and red dancing across the heavens. As we ventured deeper into Wales and the night grew darker, enormous arcs of light became discernible, their pink and purple tints visible even to the naked eye. Davey, unable to partake in the spectacle due to his driving duties, was reassured that the lights were terrible and that he was by no means missing the most spectacular aurora in two decades.

While waving our phones out the windows I commented that it was weird the brightest ones were West of us, Julien and I then realised this meant they were directly above us. Julien was in the front seat he leant forward to get some amazing photos of the curtains radiating out from directly overhead, accompanied by "ooooo", "woooooah", "omg" and other various sounds of excitement much to Davey's mountain exasperation.

Julien enjoying the evening's entertainment.

After arriving at Whitewalls at exactly 23:59 (nice one Davey) and having just about successfully negotiated the rally driving course up the hill, the aurora were still putting on their show, albeit not as brightly and with much more cloud cover than before (typical). Davey seemed unimpressed and so went to unlock the hut (which we had to ourselves) and started packing the bags. Julien and I faffed a bit more with our phones, I attempted to use my tiny cave camera to no avail, and eventually, we agreed to go and help Davey be productive. The various caving group chats had slowly started realising the light show, with Ana claiming to have seen something in London and Rhys and DKP having sent amazing photos from further up North.

Downing a few more alcoholic chocolates and after sharing some further chocolate pots with Julien and me, Davey ate a large quantity of ham before we all then packed up our camping things, compressed our sleeping bags into Daren drums until they approached explosive pressures, shoved thermals and food in others and even managed to crush one of the three roll mats down the side of a tackle sack. After Davey had finished an alcoholic bottle of something or other, Julien commented that the Northern Lights were getting better again but at this point it was approaching 2 am and it was time for bed given the long trip ahead of us.



Aggy: Ben Richards, David Wilson, Julien Jean

A friendly white horse bid us farewell.

Up at the unholy hour of 6 am, the valley bathed in the soft glow of the low sun, Davey downed yet more chocolate shots—his preferred breakfast of champions—before embarking on the winding path to the cave, not to see the sun for another 36 hours. We got into the cave at about 8:30 and were soon stomping our way through Aggy. Julien had been once before, on his first-ever caving trip. Davey had once done the grand circle and I had never been in Aggy before at all, only once in Daren. Therefore we had little to no clue where we were going, paranoid at every junction and spending ages finding the correct way down through the boulder choke into the main passages.

Some juicy cross-bedded pelletal limestone.

Julien pointed out some noice cross-bedded pelletal limestone. It looked almost like bubble tea with hundreds of identical dark grey pellets in the light-coloured limestone, which Julien explained were all fossilised poops, lined up in wavy cross-bedded lines. Geology. They did look pretty cool to be fair. After that, I found some very green rocks which Julien didn't spot so had no idea what they were.

The main chambers of Aggy are very cool, I can see why we bring freshers here. The desiccation cracks in the floor are enormous, and the biggest I'd ever seen. Zooming through the chambers, trying not to slip down the slippery mud, we eventually came to the turning with the Southern Streamway and after I poked my head in the wrong hole in the floor, we eventually found our way onwards and began the more "sporting" section of the cave.

The Southern Streamway is terrible. Davey and I both had a roll mat each, wrapped in their original packaging, which we would launch ahead of use before lugging our tackle sacks through the endless series of squeezes, crawls and stoops. Occasionally we could at least float the mats down the stream beside us. Julien and I both had two tackle sacks and Davey had taken the single heaviest one, ensuring that none of us were having a particularly good time. For hours we headed down the winding canyon, every few meters stopping to try and find the correct way on. Eventually, we came to a cup on the wall next to an inlet from which we could get a drink, and Davey said that this was only halfway through. Onwards we went, with the stream getting smaller and wetter, with multiple squeezes being considered too small or just big enough if we passed bags through first.

Some weird spiky pretties.

The only redeeming feature was that the further we went down the passage, the better the formations got. Overall Aggy isn't that well decorated, but the Southern Streamway does have really weird crystals coating the walls in places which look a bit like gypsum flowers, others more like aragonite urchins and some sections being these weird flake-creating zones from specific beds in the wall where the crystals fell off as they were replaced, piling up at the bottom of the wall presumably over tens of thousands of years.

Finally, the stream got a little bigger and for a change we were standing upright. We found the rope and set about filling our bottles from the stream we'd just filled with mud. A stash of bottles was hiding up above the rope and behind was a tiny tube leading away which naturally Davey shot down and reappeared from a few minutes later, saying it was absolutely terrible.

Julien staring into the continuation above the streamway.

Instead, it turned out that the correct way was the incredibly obvious walking passage with a roped traverse to it, so we went that way instead, with 5 or 6 extra kg of water just to add to the fun. This section of the cave was in some ways even weirder - the walls were completely coated in a thin transparent sheet of crystal that shimmered like glitter as we walked through. The floor had also become dry and sandy as we climbed out of the active streamway and into the series of phreatic tubes we'd be living in for the next 24 hours. This part of the cave would have been incredibly inviting had it not been for the endless tight crawls that welcomed us one after another as we continued towards the camp in Priory Road.

While crawling through tube after tube, we would occasionally pop out into the bottom of a huge aven, some of which must have been 20m+ high, only to continue into the tiny tube at the bottom of the far wall. Soul-crushing all that potential for SRT, squandered by being in Wales.

The camp at last.

Finally, after more endless crawls we smelt the camp and shortly after could see it also. The passage is very well suited to one, being wide and sandy with little to no draught and lots of convenient rocks around for making chairs and tables. The sleeping setup was a series of roll mats under a foil blanket held up by fishing wire. The wire itself was so thin that it needed reflected tape on it, but this did mean that it could be held up with nails and pitons rather than bolts and hangers.

We were all exhausted by this point as it was approaching 4 pm meaning we'd dragged our many heavy objects for about 8 hours since entering the cave around 8 am. We dropped our things, ate a flatbread and some sausages we'd stuffed in the bag for lunch and then headed on towards the front, to a passage named Trafalgar.

Julien admiring the camp.

As we were about to head off we realised that we were missing one of the surveys. Julien had last had it and was completely exhausted so we blamed him. Luckily David brought his phone which had a backup of it on there, since the surveys we still had weren't that useful compared to the written description.

We continued down the sandy phreatic tube and clambered over a few boulders before eyeing up the various tubes heading off into the left wall, not knowing which was the correct one. Davey investigated one with typical Dubz enthusiasm, having to be pulled out by his legs. Continuing onto the next hole we realised we'd lost another survey. Even though it was probably me that lost this one it was far funnier to blame Julien for losing two in the space of an hour.

Standing above a typical sand swim.

More stomping and we found a far more obvious left turning and it finally did match the description. From here on in we were faced with the fearsome sand swims. These were weird. Given the tunnels were all phreatic, the water seemed as though it didn't care in the slightest which direction it headed in. The tubes varied from stooping height to about crawling-sized but would zig-zag up and down so drastically that the bottoms had sumped out with sand. These had been dug through, leaving the bare minimum amount of space for a human to squeeze through and begin digging the next one. Getting to Trafalgar involved many many sand swims.

Weird crystal things splattered over the walls.

Approaching each one without knowing the exit strategy was a recipe for twisted spines and aching backs as often they descended so steeply that you couldn't go head first, only to ascend just as steeply on the other side so you couldn't go feet first. This meant most of them were best tackled going down on your back, head first so that you could climb up the other side. However, this meant that the endless sand would enter every orifice and that much sand had to be removed from our ears. As if these weren't weird enough, the walls were often covered in the same glittering crystals as earlier, and occasionally white blobby crystals were scattered across the walls as if the cave gods had sneezed into their cereal bowl of calcite crispies. Occasionally there would also be silvery patches of crystals that were even shinier still, like high-vis patches of clothing on the dark cave walls. So weird!

Big pretties!

Finally, we saw some abandoned Daren drums and evidence of the recent presence of human beings. Although the path split in two, the left route looked so ridiculously small that we assumed it didn't go anywhere, instead walking down the path to the right. Before long we popped out into an incredible chamber, reminding me of Urchin Oxbow and the antlers in Daren next door. This must be Trafalgar itself, and as we walked along staring at the ceiling we heard voices and could see lights coming from further down the passage.

Some friendly "eh-ohs" later we found out the others were heading out for a break. Heading back to the kit dump we met Alex Stanley, Paul his Dad, two Daves, an Andy and an Andrey. They looked exhausted after digging but had only gone to bed at 6 am when we had woken up, so we felt it was reasonable that we felt as exhausted as we did.

The one and only Courtesan.

While waiting around, one invited us to go see the Courtesan, as it was just a few meters away. He disappeared down the tiny squeeze we'd assumed went nowhere and shot up into the roof of it as we looked on in surprise. I followed and Julien and Davey afterwards, and as we writhed our way out the top of the tiny rifty tube we were presented with an incredible stal, coated in wiry spindly helictites growing off in every imaginable direction. Some of these had grown their own stals, and the chamber behind was full of other weird and amazing pretties as well.

Further down was the corkscrew after which Corkscrew Chamber had been named, a small stal that had somehow formed in a spiral. Other similar ones were also hidden in the wiry helictites around the chamber and at the very back was another tiny sandy dig that looked far too tight to enjoy.

With this, we headed back and down to the dig they had all come from. With so many people, we doubled up and so Julien and I pulled the dig tray from the front, loaded it into another and then Davey and Alex pulled that one before unloading it at the end of the chamber with the pretties in a depression in the floor.

One of the corkscrew-shaped helictites.

Julien did an epic job despite being so tired that he wasn't sure whether to visit the dig at all or to stay at camp. Between us, we would haul the dig tray up the annoyingly steep slope, sometimes full of sand, then of sand and rocks, and then occasionally with nothing in it but a huge lump of wall. Emptying it we found beautiful shards of flowstone, presumably from the floor which they had hit as the dig headed up into the roof.

All this was done in a crawling-height passage just wide enough for the two of us. Pulling was incredibly awkward, and although I tried to deepen the sandy floor it took far too long and the call of "HAUL" from the front was too fast for us to achieve much else between shifts. After a dozen or so trays, Julien was exhausted and tapped out, soon followed by Paul emerging from the front who had hit himself in the face with the crowbar in his excitement. Despite the bleeding, he was completely fine, don't worry.

Julien showing a lump of crystalline flowstone from the front.

We all rotated, I moved back to where Davey was, who went forward to the middle to replace Julien and I. Alex went to the front and the digging continued. Davey and I flew through a couple more trays but soon began to get exhausted ourselves. I would unload the tray at the bag, stack the rocks in a wall and put the sandy mud into sandbags before crawling away with them and emptying them into a trench. A short while later the empty tray wasn't pulled back to the front as they were busy with something else. Davey was beckoned forward and emerged back with an enormous torso-sized boulder they had rollover up the slope and towards where I was at the back. Davey began furiously digging a hole in the mud for it and before long it slid out the way into the hole in the wall at which point we decided it was time for a break.

The back of the dig, opening out into the chamber of pretties with Julien recharging in the background.

The dig had apparently broken through into another chamber. They could see formations but some thought they looked as though they had been covered with mud by a person, meaning we'd either broken into a very badly surveyed part of Daren, or a very badly surveyed part of Aggy. Excitement was in the air, but we had served our time and on the way out followed the two Daves to explore the side passages behind the Courtesan down the tight squeeze.

Although there were a few digs and flowstone things back there, it wasn't particularly worthwhile given how tired we were and after a short while, I lay on the floor and waited for the others to return, having reached the same state of non-functionality that Julien had an hour beforehand.

After this Davey and I both headed back to the camp via the sand swims to find a very tired Julien starting to cook some food. Davey and I got to work constructing our camping spot for the night since the existing floor space wasn't enough for 9. This involved me removing stones from the top of a sandy bank while Davey industriously quarried for sand elsewhere, loading it into a tackle sack for delivery to the site.

After about 45 minutes Davey and I were exhausted, the food was ready and the ground was as flat as it was going to get (which turned out to be very flat indeed actually). After consuming a huge pan of instant chicken pasta with chicken soup sachets and cheese medallions we got ready for bed. Davey had brought a tarp to experiment with and left it on the ground as an insulating mat. We unpacked our soaking wet roll mats, I wiped them down with my furry, we tried to not let the lids of the sleeping bag Darens hit the ceiling and settled down for a hard-earned night's sleep.

Our newly flattened sleeping area.

Unfortunately at this exact moment, the rest of the digging crew returned, announced that they'd unfortunately broken through into a badly surveyed part of Aggy, and promptly started having a party. Loud tunes were put on, bottles of alcohol uncovered and much shouting exchanged. Julien and I couldn't take any more and tried to get some sleep regardless, while Davey went and socialised on behalf of us with the others.



Davey reported that the partying continued until about 8:45 am, when the last of them went to bed, giving him a grand total of 15 minutes of sleep before our alarms went off at 9 am to head out. Given he got practically no sleep and refused my offer of some earplugs, he also filled us in on all the gossip from the night's discussions, which was highly entertaining.

We tiptoed out of the camp, with a farewell from a very sleepy Alex Stanley who came over and relieved his bladder in the vicinity of our sleeping area. We packed up some empty water bottles to leave by the stream, and some rubbish to take out with us and left our rollmats and tarp for the other diggers in case they wanted a touch of luxury the next night. After realising there was no hand sanitiser or detol by the "toilet", and given everyone else had only just gone to bed, we decided to rush out of camp and just down a ginger cake and some chocolate in the morning instead of our planned cous cous sachets.

On our way out we quickly found Julien's lost survey, adding it to the other Julien found on his way back from the dig the day before. Instead of the 8 hours it took us to get from the surface to the camp, we got out in about 4 hr 30 minutes, mainly powered by the incredible bowel pressure we'd all built up over the previous day. Julien and I managed to suppress the movements, but Davey became more and more in pain to the point that he asked to take my heavy tackle sack to stop him from running out of the cave.

Southern Streamway was also terrible on the way out, with Julien saying he felt like he had a strong hangover, Davey's turtle threatening to show its head and me at the back with a headache and a body full of bruises and pain. We got a little lost trying to find the way out of the main chambers, later realising that every navigation point is conveniently near a bats or formations warning sign (no coincidence I'm sure) before one final assault on the entrance crawls where both my tackle sacks caught on everything and I seemingly shouted and wailed my way to the entrance by sheer force of will.

The survivors.

Eventually, I emerged to an outside world so warm it felt like Slov, with a blue sky above, and a Julien collapsed on the floor below. Davey was nowhere to be seen as he made a quick pace for the hut. Julien and I wandered back, unable to believe what we'd just been through on practically no sleep for the last two nights, with Julien having also had his final week of exams beforehand and about to head off to Scotland the next day.

Fortunately given we got out at about 3:30 pm (having set off from camp at about 11) we had plenty of time for showers, toilet destruction and a round of instant cous cous that we'd not felt up to eating that morning. Davey proudly declared that his bowles had produced a footlong baguette, neatly cinched in half, thus showing him the exact length of his large intestine. Apparently, it was an extra brusher and a double flusher.

Finishing up our cous cous while watching a large thunderstorm roll in, we headed off, with me getting some much-needed sleep in the back of the car while Julien froze in the front as Davey tried desperately to keep himself awake with cold air. We made it to cave house in time for dinner and unloaded all our kit onto the floor. I found out my socks were covered in sugar from the Daren drum but other than that there seemed to be no further casualties, and we all headed off for Gus' Kebab. After recounting our bizarre adventures to James, Ana and Chris, Davey headed off home before an early start for work the next morning, Julien headed upstairs to bed before leaving for his flight at 7 am and I washed my kit in the garden before walking back home down the road, in disbelief at the weekend that had just past.