Famous for having the largest cave passage in the country (The Time Machine), two underground camps (Hard Rock Café and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe), and for the notably lengthy and arduous Entrance Series, consisting of 517m of crawling, squeezing, thrutching, wriggling and splashing about in a confined passage, this is a true classic of South Wales caving. Luckily for any cavers of more generous proportions, an alternative entrance through Ogof Cnwc (also known as Price’s Dig) was made possible in the early 2000’s by digging a connection through to Busman’s Holiday in Daren, though even this has failed the make the cave “easy”. Despite the strenuous nature of the cave, there are many wonders to behold well worth the effort of getting there, from intricate formations to immense caverns.
There are no formal access restrictions to the original Daren entrance cave as the cave has its own natural defence in the form of an arduous ½ km entrance series.
Ogof Cnwc, the alternative dry entrance into the cave system, is gated but can be opened from the inside without the need of a key. A through trip between the two entrances is possible in either direction, but a key is required to enter through Cnwc. This can be obtained from Whitewalls from any member of the Chelsea Spelaeological Society, with a £10 deposit. Caving clubs may also apply for a permanent loan key from Adrian Fawcett.
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From Whitewalls head towards the road then take the right-hand concrete track uphill past the neighbouring properties. Stay to the left and continue upwards on the grassy track to meet a flat path. Ignore this path and continue straight on across a tiny stream and up a small path through bracken to reach the flat grassy tramroad following the line of the cliffs. Turn left, then take the second grassy gully between spoil heaps heading towards the cliffs (the one with rocks in it), to reach the cave entrance at the foot of the cliff face.
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The Ogof Cnwc (or Price’s Old dig) entrance is located in a quarry to the west of the sheep dip (gasworks) junction. The normal approach from Whitewalls is to ascend to the grassy tramroad at the base of the Daren Cilau Quarry (as per the Daren Cilau directions), turn left and continue at the same level, past Ogof Pen Eryr at the far end of the Daren Cilau Quarry, then another 600m further until the gasworks come into view. The path drops down then back up, and the Cnwc entrance is to be found very soon after this on the right, behind a large grassy spoil heap and not visible from the path. The entrance is at the base of the cliffs, triangular in shape with a gate is just inside (key available from Whitewalls). This gate can be opened from the inside without a key to exit.
Route Descriptions for Trips in Daren Cilau
The Cnwc/Daren Through Trip
The Daren through-trip is a real Welsh classic, combining large passages, unique formations, lots of short climbs, ladders and of course the notorious Daren Entrance Series. This is a good sporting adventure with no repetition. This trip can be done in either direction, but Cnwc to Daren is probably the optimum route as it has the advantage of keeping dry until the exit through the Daren Entrance Series. However anyone wanting the get the hardest bit out of the way first may prefer to do the trip in the opposite direction, and larger-build cavers unsure whether they’ll fit through The Vice may consider that to be a better option too.Cnwc to Daren Route Daren to Cnwc Route
Variations on the Through Trip
- The Epocalypse Chokes – This is a worthy diversion to what was at one time the most remote part of the cave system. Located at about the halfway point of the through-trip it can be reached from either entrance or included in the through-trip if time allows. The side passage heading here from the main route is mentioned in both route descriptions, and the large passages beyond the initial crawl can be explored without need of a description.
- The Antlers, White Company and Urchin Oxbow – These formations are a major highlight of the through-trip and can be easily visited on a there and back trip from the Daren entrance. This is an ideal destination for anyone that enjoys the Entrance Series enough to do it twice, or wants a shorter trip.
- Busman’s Holiday – This is by far the easiest trip in the cave and can be explored in a mere couple of hours. After following the route description into Cnwc to the well-decorated chamber Price’s Prophecy, you can then head left and follow the route to the end of that part of the cave, then explore as much as you like in the other direction too.
Longer Trips in Daren
The Time Machine
This is a popular with cavers wanting to experience the biggest cave passage in Britain and a good destination for anyone’s first trip towards the further reaches of the cave. The trip involves a ladder climb up the 65ft pitch, a traverse and some rope climbs. This can be done by either entrance, but going via Cnwc will add at least an hour to your journey.Route Description
- Hard Rock Café and St David’s Sump – A burly day trip continuing beyond The Time Machine to Bonsai Streamway, the Hard Rock camp and the sump beyond, this is a trip not to be underestimated. However there’s plenty to see and some interesting diversions from the main route along the way that are well worth exploring, such as the Flyovers, Half Mile Passage and the Helibeds.
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe – Roughly 4 miles from the entrance, this is a long way into the cave! Getting here involves all of the hardships of getting to Hard Rock Café, plus some extensive low crawls in sand, but the effort is all worthwhile for sights such as the Blue Greenies, the Icing on the Cake and Where the Sun Don’t Shine.
- Spaderunner and Dweebland (i.e. the end of the cave) – This is the mother of all hard caving trips in the UK, roughly 6 miles of caving from the entrance to the end and plenty of difficulties along the way. If you’re feeling burly and willing to invest around 16 hours in hardcore caving then this is the trip for you.
A survey for the cave is available for purchase from CSS at Whitewalls. More photos and descriptions of some of the routes are available on the ogof.org.uk website.