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Ogof Daren Cilau

Ogof Daren Cilau - a major cave system in Llangattock, Wales


Arguably one of the most demanding cave entrance crawls in the UK, acting as an effective natural barrier to protect the fabulous cave system within. The crawl leads to a maze of large and often beautifully decorated passages. The cave constitutes a major fragment of the vast Daren Cilau-Agen Allwedd-Pen Eryr-Craig-a-Fynnon master cave system. There is now a through-trip that can be undertaken via Ogof Cwnc (Price’s Dig), though some claim that this entrance is no easier than the traditional route, and therefore is not to be considered an easy alternative to the traditional route in. An excellent on-line guide to this cave can be found at

White Company, Antlers and Urchin Oxbow – 2nd August 2008

Weather conditions: Good.

Kit required: None for this particular trip. (Cowstails are recommended for the pitch bypass and traverse en-route to the Time Machine. )

How to find it: From the CSS caving cottage (Whitewalls), a great base from which to explore the caves of Llangattock, walk along the tarmaced tram road until you reach the quarry and car park on the right (don't park your car here unless you absolutely must – many break-ins have occurred in this out-of-the-way location). The entrance is a low triangular arch in the base of the quarry face and a telephone wire is usually visible, making it easy to distinguish from the similar-size-and-shape entrance to Ogof Pen Eryr further along the quarry face (to the left as you are facing the entrace).

Access: No access restrictions – the cave imposes its own in the form of its notorious entrance crawl! Please, no carbide or novices.

Description: A fine introduction to the varied delights of this stunning cave, this trip should take between four and six hours for a competent, small party; this allows for a few route-finding "moments" for first-timers to the system, plus additional time for a few photographic stops. If you can't get a copy of the fully-detailed paper survey, ), follow this link to get to an interactive zoomable map and plenty of information about Daren Cilau.

The flat out crawl into the entrance via a muddy puddle is an experience that few will forget, but the delights of reaching this point on the return journey cannot be over-emphasised. Immediately after this, the passage does enlarge some and a mixture of stooping, crawling and "monkeying" along reaches the infamous "Vice" after abut 80m. For those of slim build, this presents no problems, but larger or particularly long-legged people may find it a challenge. Best tackled on one's right side going in, aim to stay high through the slot and beware of dropping either tackle bags or legs/feet into the tight part of the rift. A short awkward manoeuvre around a bend to the left releases you from the Vice's grip and once again the passage is slightly more roomy before degenerating into further wet crawls and wriggles until the First Inlet is reached on the right hand side, approximately one-third of the way through the entrance series.

The passage continues relentlessly, with occasional respites to stand and stretch, until the Second Inlet is met, again on the right. This point is approximately two-thirds of the way through the entrance crawl and provides a useful mental landmark! After this, a more roomy (for Daren Cilau!) crabwalk meanders along until a fine array of flowstone is reached – the start of the calcite squeezes. Although these look intimidating, by virtue of being smooth, polished, and above all, wet, it's not too difficult to wriggle your way through them. However, it cannot be said that they are much fun and you will get a further unwanted soaking. All of a sudden, the passage enlarges and one arrives at a 'T' junction with a much, much larger – and drier – passage. To the right, a nicely decorated sandy stroll soon shrinks down to an impossibly tight rift, but gives an opportunity to stay warm and active whilst waiting for others to exit the crawl!

However, the main way on is to the left via a short dry oxbow (there's a small climb up) which almost immediately drops back down into a larger, more bouldery passage. This soon rises up into a chamber full of huge tumbled blocks. Though the temptation is to go left here, you need to head straight across this (uphill) to a low, smooth, straight, polished crawl that heads off to the left (this crawl is almost hidden behind a large boulder). Make a note of this point for the return in case you're tired later and miss the route back to the entrance crawl! This crawl spirals downhill through a well-travelled route through the boulder choke until a slightly awkward drop (on polished calcite) is encountered – holds are plentiful for the climb down, but don't try this head-first! Landing on a calcited boulder slope in a big passage, head downslope.

You are now in Jigsaw Passage, where you'll get an opportunity to warm up as you start to move faster through easy terrain. Don't, however, be tempted to move so fast that you miss the bonus sight of the many taped-off formations along the passage, which are really very attractive – and do respect the tapes as these are also helping to preserve some excellent undamaged mud floors. At one point the passage closes down to a short but skinny rift – The Wriggle – where you can laugh at your friends thrashing their way through this seemingly unnecessary obstacle. Eventually, the passage emerges into the Big Chamber Nowhere Near The Entrance, where you'll find the Daren Cilau log book and should enter details of your group and your intended route within the cave.

Climb up a boulder pile, heading more-or-less left (not TOO far left as you'll soon reach an impasse), and you'll enter a crawl which itself enters Epocalypse Way. This huge and elegant passage bores deep into the heart of the hillside and will, before long, bring you to the outstandingly beautiful White Company, a vast array of pure white formations virtually unparalleled in their beauty and diversity.

You will definitely want to spend some time here admiring the astonishing display of flowstone, urchins and helictites. Please respect the tapes and don't be tempted to lean over them to take photos – the slightest bit of dust or mud WILL impact on the pristine whiteness here and spoil it for ever. It's a magical place with a really special feel; let's help keep it that way for every new visitor to the cave.

Once you've feasted your eyes on the formations here, follow the small fluorescent markers along the continuation of Epocalypse Way. After some time, the passage takes an abrupt left turn – a smaller passage to the right carries a small stream, and a further right turn a few metres on is Locksmiths Passage – but ignore these and head for a climb up in the left hand corner, followed by a climb back down. A short rope-assisted climb down soon follows (useful to take your own few metres of string as the in-situ tat is both well-used and decidedly frayed), and almost immediately afterwards one encounters the unusual and attractive Antler formations – a very nice background for portraits of your fellow cavers! After the obligatory photo-stop, retrace your steps until you encounter a rift passage to your right. Enter this and follow the Urchin Oxbow loop back to Epocalypse Way. This section of passage is full of virtually unspoilt aragonite "urchins" and is extremely beautiful – treat with utmost care as the formations are very fragile. At the end of Urchin Oxbow, an inelegant and abrupt drop lands you back in Epolcalypse Way. All you need to do now is to follow the glowy markers back to the Big Chamber Nowhere Near The Entrance.

Ticking off the obstacles on the way out, it's almost a pleasure to approach the Vice, as once past this, you know you've cracked it (unless it's the middle of winter and you get to experience first hand the frozen-puddle-in-the-entrance horror, which a few unfortunate souls have).