An Introduction to Daren Cilau Print E-mail

An extract from "Visiting The Caves of Llangattock Mountain" (in press), by Clive Gardener, March 2003

Towering high above the village of Llangattock the limestone cliffs of Llangattock Mountain were known in times past by the name Darren y Cille or Rock of Refuge. In view of the present extent of the cave Daren Cilau, located immediately behind the rocky crags, containing no fewer than 4 underground camp sites, the name takes on a double significance. Whilst the local caves may once have provided a place of concealment, or retreat from an enemy, from the penultimate decade of the 20th century through into the 21st century they have hosted the spearhead of remote cave exploration within the British Isles. The cave was initially named Ogof-y-Darren, renamed Ogof Darren Cilau, adjusted to Ogof Daren Cilau, and then, since recent discoveries, has come to be commonly known as Daren Cilau.

For just over 35 years the fearsome nature of the Daren Cilau Entrance Series has led to many experienced caver's visiting the site no more than once or twice in their caving careers, often departing with the sworn pledge never to return again! In the early years of the 1960s Mike Boon, Tich Morris, Bruce Bedford and Paul Cornelius are perhaps the only people who could claim to have entered three times or more... Gradually members of University caving clubs would be unwittingly led into undertaking a toil-laden Sunday trip by more experienced, old timers at White Walls, who secretly smiled as they supped their morning cups of tea.

         Any serious accident in the cave was reckoned to harbour life-threatening consequences and a toy gun was hung at White Walls to remind cavers of the anticipated self-rescue technique. In fact, during the 1970s one caver gashed his leg open to the bone in the Old Main Chamber and had to drag himself painfully out through the jagged and contorted Entrance Series. From the time of the extension made by Mike Boon and Fred Davies in 1963 until the autumn of 1984 the nature of the entrance series changed little. In 1968, following a visit into the cave with his wife, Bruce Bedford, the original editor of ‘Visiting The Caves of Llangattock Mountain’ (in press) noted: “From the huge pile of rotting gear at the end of the entrance passage, it would appear that Daren Cilau is rather like an inside-out cheese grater.”

         With the passing of time, the degree of difficulty of the Entrance Series has been partially reduced as the sharp edges have become rounded smooth and boulder obstructions have been shuffled sideways and heavenwards. Lengthy trips of several days duration to explore the cave’s inner extremities, now more than 6km from the entrance, have also generated a revised mental picture of the severity of the obstacle. But however complacent one might dare to become, it should not be forgotten that a major accident inside the cave, rendering the casualty either unconscious or unable to bend and assist during evacuation from the tighter sections of the entrance crawl, could still have very serious consequences. This threat is partially eased by the recent opening up of a new entrance to the cave via Price’s Dig (or Ogof Cnwc) but will remain present until a larger alternative entrance is found or the divers’ route from Pwll y Cwm becomes significantly more accessible and sub-aqua rescue techniques are more fully developed.

         Daren Cilau contains the Time Machine, the largest known underground passage in Britain, and often in hidden locations spectacular aragonite, gypsum and calcite formations. It offers everything from tourist caving, demanding slightly higher than average caving ability, to the pursuit of very strenuous exploration caving and diving at the furthest limits of endurance in some of the most remote subterranean passages in the United Kingdom.

         The cave forms the central section of the Mynydd Llangattwg Cave System and presently holds 28km of passages with an overall depth range of 192m. The full depth is traversed on a trip from the quarry entrance to Terminal Sump at the World’s End.

         A visit to the formations in Epocalypse Way, Urchin Oxbow and Antler Passage is the ideal starting point for a newcomer to the cave and can take 4-5 hours to complete. A trip to the Terminal Sump at the World’s End through the Time Machine is recommended once one has become fully familiar with the earlier parts of the system. This requires a significantly greater commitment of both effort and endurance, entailing an average trip length of 8-10 hours. An expedition to Agua Colorada is a severe undertaking and camping is recommended to enable a complete and enjoyable tour to be made of the furthest frontiers of the system. A visit to just La Plaza (the Restaurant at the End of the Universe) can take 13-16 hours and requires rather more than the average caving food rations, good caving technique and plenty of stamina to be attempted safely. Ankle Grinder Bypass has been seen to flood with a sudden pulse of water in very wet weather conditions - sumping in several places to the roof.

         The present entrance passage is sufficiently strenuous to avoid the need for a locked gate. In fact such a device, if jammed closed, could prove to have fatal consequences for a tired party, unable to exit following the long cold outward crawl during winter months. In return please take some food, spare lighting, good route finding information and a more than average helping of safe caving practice - to help see you safely through your journey. Be aware of taped footpaths and crystal formations, taking care to apply the accepted cave conservation code of conduct of the day.

         Through cavers’ properly exercised self-responsibility let great sights and memorable experiences come your way - yours to share with the very many, or the very few, who have trodden the paths before you...
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