Picture the scene. It is the May Bank Holiday. Saturday morning. There are the usual group of people sitting festering in the cottage trying to decide where to go. Eventually out comes the Caves of South Wales book. "I Know," says someone. "Let's go and do Ogof Pant-y-Lin. It's miles away, not very long, and it says its interesting." "Just the thing," echoes the festering mob. "With a bit of luck my headache from last night's beer should have gone by the time we get there!"
So off we all go (the intrepid party consisted of Tania Jardine, Helen Hougham, Simon Davies, Steve Wray and myself) and eventually, after many a mile up Cwm and down Mawr and a stop at Ammanford, we arrive at the supposed site of said cave. Unfortunately, the guide book fails to mention any problem with access, which usually means that there isn't one, except that we are now looking at what you might expect to find around an Argentine mine field on the Falkland Islands: Barbed wire, Draconian warning notices every few feet, and a company patrol every ten minutes.
Only slightly detered, we confirm that we are at the right place and decide that a flanking approach is required to avoid confrontation with the border zone and so we withdraw to a layby down the road to change. Garb of the day is generally deemed to be dry gear. I however demur as past experience of these minor caves leads me to the opinion that they are often tight, sharp, and "grovelly with squitty wallows" (and how right I was!).
After successfully carrying out the flanking manoever we arrive at the lower of the two entrances to the cave. This is quite impressive. However, 20 feet inside it shuts down to the first of the forecast wallows. Noone wants to get wet so off we go to the upper entrance, reached by climbing a tree half way up a cliff face (though there was in fact a much easier route by a well worn path). This entrance is much less impressive and it also has an even more squalid wallow, although by the time you have realised this fact, the ooze has penetrated to the point where it isn't worth worrying about any more.
A thrutch through brings us out into the top of a fair sized breakdown chamber with various ways on. Carrying on across the chamber we find some reasonable taped off formations followed by a further series of smaller chambers. Returning to the original chamber we look for the way through to the other entrance - there are two ways on. Selecting the more obvious one, we set off - three quarters of an hour later we grovel up a ramp into a large impressive chamber - the one we had started from. At least we knew where the other passage went.
By this time we are completely caked in the sort of sticky squit you get down Otter Hole, so we decide to go out via the original entrance. I however mistakenly climb too far to the left of the breakdown chamber, and as I move back across, it occurs to me that the slope looks rather unstable. Just as everyone except Simon and myself has crawled through the entrance grovel, there is the rattle of little stones which gradually builds up to the rumble/bonk sound that inspires the ultimate cavers dread!
Unfortunately, as only two of us have had the near death experience, the others are keen to go back to the other entrance to find the way through from that end. Plunging through the entrance pool, we are greeted by a sulphurous sort of pong that is somehow familiar yet out of place. Ignoring this, we carry on down a ramp into a strange bouldery sort of place with lots of fresh looking rock. Stopping for a moment, I realize the significance of the smell: It is the reek of pulverised limestone and this is where it is coming from. Somebody remembers the guide book said something about a dangerous collapsing boulder choke and that it might be a good idea to use the other entrance.
After a rapid but careful exit, we emerge looking and feeling like sludge monsters from the deep. Fortunately there is a pool on the way back so we stop off to try and remove the glutinous gunge. Unfortunately the road is on the other side of the pool and as we are hippopotomising in the water, the afore mentioned security van draws to a halt. However, it soon drives rapidly off again, whether to report pirate cavers or gunge monsters we shall never know, as we succesfully make our getaway vowing never to return.