Agen Allwedd Grand Circle
Sunday, 11 September 2016
Foreword: thanks for Mike Butcher in remembering the trip and assisting greatly in the rant write up.
After the mishap of 2014, I was quite determined to be prepared for this trip. We stopped off in Newport City Library (a characterful venue) to print a survey and description (Caves of South Wales) of the grand circle and took a leisurely walk to the cave entrance and beyond on the Saturday. There were a large group of odd-looking fellows staring at a quarry we can only presume the BCRA had an incognito event on. I packed three Mars bars for myself, a large bottle of water and stuffed the description into a map case. Mike, perplexed by Velcro, tore through the fastening on the map case, rendering it somewhat useless against water. This was particularly problematic in the canals and ducks and what laid beyond.
We started the Sunday at dawn and were underground by 9am, signing into the logbook as SMCC (Shepton Mallet Caving Club). Mike, who had been digging in Gibbets previously, left an orange mud stained route through the entire entrance series. We worked our way through first boulder choke, getting a little lost. At this point we decided to do the trip anticlockwise, as opposed to clockwise, making navigation easier, but leaving the more strenuous Southern Stream Passage for the end of the trip. From Main Passage we beared right to join the main streamway, and followed our noses through the second boulder choke to (the obvious in this direction) North West Junction.
From here, the Main Stream Passage was visually inviting and seemingly splashy fun boulder hopping. It transpired, however, to be very slippery underfoot and never-ending. Whilst I usually pride myself on balance and agility, the great Goddess Aggy wasn’t taking any prisoners. I resided myself to slow, ungaitly movements whilst Mike slipped around like a Herring out of water. Here it transpired that my Mars bars were (un)fun-sized and Mike had neglected to bring anything but himself and some unfaltering optimism.
We climbed out of the Main Stream Passage and through the fourth boulder choke, where a crawl entailed along the solid Biza passage. This felt to continue longer than it ought and I hoped we hadn’t missed a turning, instead going along Bat Passage by mistake. Fortunately, we soon emerged at the rope climbs back down to the streamway.
Here the streamway was more featuresque than previous, with fun cascades. We passed the rope up to High Traverse Passage on the left, and continued in the Streamway towards the terminal sump. Whilst Mike was interesting in seeing the sump, I was chasing the dream of Mars bars, which had recently been rationed. After reaching the turning point at the end of Main Stream Passage, we headed out of Southern Stream Passage. Leaving the slippiness of the Main Streamway behind, the SSP started off quite refreshing and welcomed. For morale, SSP can be partitioned into six sections, each roughly 300m in length. The dimensions of the passage in each section slowly decrements as you head upstream. The passage is featureless apart from two inlets, of presumably good water for drinking, complete with mug.
Emerging from from a low crawl at the end of Southern Stream Passage, we beared left, believing we were in the Main Passage. This was however Upper Southern Stream Passage. Retracing our steps, we found our way to the Main Passage. By this point, my batteries were nearly completed dead and I stumbled around, hoping to be close enough to Mike to see my own nose.
Fortunately, the Gibbets mud kept us straight and true through the entrance series like an undesirable trail of jelly beans. Apologies to those who inhabit Ogof Agen Allwedd or those that try to conserve the cave. Passing the logbook again, I scored out ‘SMCC’ and proudly signed ‘ULSA’ next to our names, emerging triumphant into dusk. A very fun and enjoyable trip, potentially longer than 1.5 (un)funsized Mars bars.