Otter Hole
Sunday, 8 June 2008

After meeting in monmouth for a slap-up meal in Kings Kebabs……where only dan, henry and myself were brave enough to Sam Allshornple the triple quarter-pounder that is the king burger, we scurried off to the campsite near Trellech to set up tents, but it was the cloud of hungry midges that forced us in the direction of the pub for a couple of pints. It was here that I managed to offend the bar lady by asking if we were in england or wales. To which the reply was ‘WALES!!!!! You can tell because the sheep baaaaa louder coz they’re scared!!’ Of the Welsh or the english i wonder quietly?, but decide not to pursue a taxing discussion on the matter….

Anyways, we retired to the campsite before midnight and thankfully quickly fell to sleep, although I was woken by an angry dan at around 4am who was concerned as to whether I was dying an agonising death. Sorry about the snoring mate!!

The alarm rang at 6am and after collapsing the tents and forcing various bits of food down ourselves we set off to the car park to meet our guide, Nicky Bayley for 7am on a glorious summers day.
We all noted the downhill nature of the walk through the forest to the entrance, beautifully situated next to the river wye. The time was now around 7.45am…….the second earliest time I’ve had to go caving ever. From the entrance gate, the entrance series continues as a mixture of crawling through sludge, climbs and muddy fossil passage until the tidal sump is reached. Thankfully this was open (according to nicky only 50% of trips have made it past the tidal sump this year), and we waded through the seemingly warm thigh deep water to the other side.

Continuing on, the passage steadily got larger and we were soon in a fine section of streamway with the occasional hop over a boulder or short climb. Soon enough we arrived at a pile of scrubbing brushes and spent the next few minutes removing the mud from our oversuits before continuing on up to the extensions. This involved climbing up through a boulder choke to a large passage decorated with straws.

The next section of passage was superb, with the formations getting better and better with every minute. Some sections reminded me of the section of the Berger before camp 1, with huge stalagmites growing out of the boulder heaps as well as fine arrays of straws up to a metre or two long and wierd cone/anthill shaped mounds of stal rising up to meet thick stal hanging from the roof.
In some places, flows of white calcite filled up all the gaps between boulders and pristine white flowstone covered the walls…..awe-inspiring stuff. We carried on and the formations got better. We even noted 5m long straws at one point defying gravity, and in the hall of thirty, stalagmite bosses up to 3-4m tall and 1m wide made up the majority of the floor. Some of the chambers you go through were also pretty impressive, and foreign-like in their vast, light-swallowing qualities.

Carrying on through the large and quiet passages we came to one section where some of the stal were coated with some black substance and there was a wierd smell in the air. Unfortunately, it is thought that this could be related to the petrol station above.

Eventually we arrived at the tunnels junction, where we followed tunnels left through more large, decorated tunnel passage until we reached a very short section of streamway and the upstream sump, which marks the end of the cave. Nicky commented that not many groups bother to go to the end, which I find a bit odd.

After a short break to have some lunch, we set off out enjoying the cave a second time, trying to take it all in. Otter Hole is certainly a very, very unique cave, not only because of the formations, but because of the tidal sump and the really varied nature of the cave with the passages constantly changing character. We stopped occassionally so that Mr Cake could take some photos, but this was difficult considering the size of the passages and the lack of an external flash, or two. Sorry, should have brought mine really….

Upon reaching the tidal sump, it was found to look pretty much the Sam Allshorne as when we passed it several hours earlier…..We couldn’t quite believe that where we were standing was pretty much submerged and that for a time we were sealed off from the outside world.
The entrance series was then passed once again, and the porridge (or chocolate rice pudding as I thought briefly) enjoyed once more. We arrived back at the entrance at around 6pm to a fine, warm evening and after a quick post-trip photo, slogged back up the hill (via ‘the bath in the woods’ to get washed….) and headed off to the pub to buy our guide a beer and have some food before heading home.

An excellent trip in a really interesting cave. Well worth doing. Thanks to Nicky Bayley from the RFDCC for being our guide and sorting access.

would be great to see a few photos…
Nick McEntyre
Wednesday, 11 June 2008