22 February 2023

Foel Grochan

When our plan to go underground over the Christmas break didn't work out, Lydia and I picked a weekend in February instead. We checked if the likes of Kate, Miles, and Sharon were available, but none of them were. But one of our other students, Toby, was around and was up for it. And then we needed to decide on where to go. With not an awful lot of time to spare we decided on Foel Grochan. Lydia had been there and thought we would like it too. It wouldn't be a technical trip; no SRT kit needed. But it is in the Aberllefenni area, and there the slate vein is as good as vertical, which leads to very spectacular chambers. I had barely been there!

I picked Lydia and Toby up from Bangor, and then we set off south. It is a fair drive! When we got there, we saw some people clearly getting ready to go underground as well. Lydia recognised them; they were members of the Aberystwyth University caving club. That was nice!

It turned out to also be practical that they were there; Lydia had told me that the trip features a hand line. I had assumed that hand line was fixed. What she meant was that you need to bring a rope to serve as a hand line. None of us had done that! But we could use the Aberystwyth rope. Sorted.

Before going in. Pic by Toby.


They went a bit ahead of us. We got kitted, and I made sure to drink a flask of coffee. We also ate the honey cake I had made. I needed that after the long drive!

The walk to the entrance was short and scenic. When we got in we decided to first explore the entrance level. It looks quite old! And the spaces you look into are amazing. With the vein being vertical, the chambers are so high!

When we had seen it all we went back to the Aberystwyth hand line and went down. We descended a huge chamber, and then slipped out of it through an almost-gated passage on the left.

The big chamber in which you descend to the level with the round trip. Pic by Toby.

One of the first things we got to was a ladder down. That's where we caught up with Aberystwyth again. And then there was another ladder! I took the opportunity to eat something. Lydia and Toby worryingly didn't carry bags. Don't these people eat and drink?

The next level quickly revealed its next treasure. A structurally sound catwalk! We had seen remnants of Victorian catwalks on the higher level; these didn’t look inviting at all. If at all physically possible. But this one looked very 20th century, and we all went to the other side. And not much further down the level we found a train Lydia had spoken of. 

A fairly modern catwalk

Looking back across Catwalk Chamber


Passage. Pic by Toby.

A while later we came to a chamber with a big rusty crane. We made sure to properly admire it! 

Crane with caption. Pic by Toby.

The flooded chamber the crane lives in. Pic by Toby.

A while later we came to daylight. That already signalled our way back up and out. It seemed early! But we explored a passage that went in the opposite direction, and that lead us out of the hillside, overlooking the valley with another Aberllefenni mine on the other side. That was lovely!

Coming out into daylight on the way back.

Modern ladders

Unexpectedly coming out onto the hillside

More Aberllefenni quarries on the other side

Soon after that, we came into another big chamber that came up to the surface. And we saw two people there. We had a chat; they turned out to be Shropshire cavers. Lydia and Toby made sure to get their contact details so they could perhaps organise their caving club doing a Shropshire trip. I was mostly distracted by the amazing fossil ripples in the wall of the chamber!

We walked back to the almost gated passage, fuelled by Toby’s jelly babies. And then it was just a matter of clambering in the walking out! That Aberystwyth had taken their rope away didn't hinder us.

Coming out again

It was quite early! Which was fine. We just changed back into civilian gear and drove home. Another fairly long drive! But worth it. This is indeed a lovely place! 

No comments: