HAVE you ever thought about trying your hand at caving? HAYLEY MILLS and DAVID GRIFFITHS meet those whose passion draws them underground.
ALTHOUGH spending several hours underground getting wet and muddy may not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing weekend, plenty of people enjoy caving, and Cwmbran Caving Club enjoys many trips to explore caves up and down the UK.
Geoff Morgan, 58, from Caldicot, is the honorary secretary of the Cwmbran Caving Club.
He explained that his main motivation for taking up caving was his inquisitiveness and that continues to be his drive to try caving in new locations.
Talking about why people become involved with caving, he said: “They want to see what it’s like down there. They want to know what’s in the caves. ”
He went on to explain that once people have done it there are several reasons for wanting to come back and do it again.
He said: “Some people like the physical aspect of caving; the crawling and the climbing. Some people enjoy the scientific side of it; geology, sedimentology, hydrology, or they want to see the flora and fauna.
“There are lots of things that live in caves. Last month we saw a bat flying past for the first time this year. Some people enjoy the aesthetic aspect of seeing the formations in the caves.”
Originally from Cwmbran, Mr Morgan’s interest in caving was sparked by a school teacher.
He said: “I had a chemistry teacher at school that used to go caving. He would tell us about it, and so I and three other boys asked him if he would take us with him.”
So after starting the hobby at the age of 14, he decided to join the caving club two years later and has been a member for 43 years, with no sign of losing his passion for the leisure pursuit.
He said: “The first time I went into a cave, it was just a hole in the ground. We went down, wandered around and came out. The second time we went into a much bigger cave, with more passages.
“To begin with I simply enjoyed going into the caves. Later I started to enjoy the scientific side of things. When you see the formations in the caves, the stalactites, the stalagmites, the cave pools, the crystal pools, you say to yourself, how on earth did they form?”
His advice for anyone wanting to try caving is do not do it alone but always go with a reputable club.
Founded in 1967, the Cwmbran Caving Club is still going strong, and meets every Tuesday at 9pm in the Green Lawn Social Club, New Inn, Pontypool.
The club membership is now about fifteen after slowly reducing from its highest membership of 45 people in the early 1980s.
There are no physical requirements for joining Cwmbran Caving Club, the minimum age is 16, and there is no maximum age, and the club offers introductory trips for beginners.
Mr Morgan said: “Our oldest member is 87, and only stopped caving last year. He celebrated his 85 birthday in a cave.
“We had a party for him with sandwiches and cake and a couple of cans of beer.”
Member of the club for 21 years is Julie Ahrens, who started caving at the age of 22 after hearing some friends talking about it and deciding that she wanted to try it herself and now is the club’s treasurer.
She said: “I really enjoyed the first trip I went on. I enjoy the peace in the caves. And I enjoy seeing things that other people have not seen.
“When you visit show caves you might get thirty tourists in front of you, making it difficult to see things. On our trips there are a maximum of 10 people, and normally only about five.
“I also enjoy the physical side of the caving. It is very demanding.”
Mrs Ahrens’ advice to anyone interested in going caving would be to join a club as it is safer for participants, and you can loan all the kit that you need to try it for the first time.
Also you will not damage the formations in the caves, as clubs are about conservation of caves, as well as safety.
Trudy Cooper, 45, started caving because her son, Ieuan, 15, wanted to try it.
She said: “Caving is not something I would have done normally. My son wanted to do it, but he needed to be supervised by a parent because he was under 16, and his dad was a definite no-no, he would not do it, so I volunteered to go.”
Despite having initial fears, Mrs Cooper said that she quickly overcome them and now the activity is perfect for her and her son to spend quality time together.
She said: “The first couple of times I found it very challenging, physically and mentally. A normal trip lasts four to five hours and I am always exhausted when I finish it, but I really enjoy it.
“It is a massive sense of achievement. I am not a natural adrenaline junky.”
She said that you can go from being scared stiff to getting a real sense of euphoria and some of the caves can have tight squeezes and very steep climbs.
She added: “It is a strange hobby, and some people think I am crazy. I know my limitations. We are always looking for new members, so if you are thinking of doing it my advice would be, just go for it.”
Most of our caving the club undertakes is in the Brecon Beacons, but they occasionally go to other limestone regions in Britain, particularly the Mendips, the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales.
The vast majority of caves in South Wales are caves as opposed to the majority being potholes, in the north, so most of the gear they they wear is casual clothes, with a helmet with lights, a tough oversuit, a warm undersuit, boots or wellies and a belay belt.
On the beginner’s trips they also take a rope, some tape slings and some karabiners just to help the first timers if they needed it.
For more information, search for Cwmbran Caving Club on the internet.