Useful links if you are coming on a trip
New to caving?
If you're new to caving. Speleology, caving and potholing - these are different words for the same activity; the discovery and exploration of caves. Virtually all caves are found within limestone rock and are formed by rain water, which is mildly acidic, dissolving away the rock leaving behind voids. Over thousands of years, the erosion of the rock by the acid together with the flow of the water form vast underground systems unlike anything on the surface.
Why do caves form in Limestone? It.s due to the nature of the rock. Its permeable, meaning water can pass through and it.s also soluble which means it can be dissolved by rain water. An area of limestone can typically be identified by a lack of surface drainage features such as lakes, rivers and streams. Such areas can also be identified by groups of people in bright orange and yellow overalls walking around with lights attached to their heads!
Within a few hours of London you can find the four main limestone areas in England, all of which have numerous cave systems. These are the Brecon Beacons of South Wales, the Mendip Hills of Somerset, the Derbyshire Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales.
Although the caves in each of these areas differ in character and size, each offers caving trips of a variety of standards, from the easy to the hair-raising. Even the easiest trip gives an introduction to a unique and fascinating environment.
The popular idea of a cave is a tight, wet, muddy hole and there are underground passages of just that description. That is far from the complete picture though, for there are plenty of caves with miles of walking size passage, leading to huge chambers containing strange rock formations that have taken thousands of years to form. Some caves contain deep underground shafts called pitches. These may be from twenty to hundreds of feet deep and are tackled with special ladders or ropes.
Caving is a co-operative sport, not a competitive one, relying upon a sense of team spirit. Most cavers belong to a club where the accumulated experience and skills (and not to forget, the tales and stories!) of older members are available for newer members.
The club organises about two weekend trips each month. These have either a pre-determined caving trip in mind or a 'see what everyone's interested in when we get there" approach. The club is not bureaucratic or overly organised! At least half the trips are to the Brecon Beacons of South Wales, with the remainder to Yorkshire or Mendip, and the odd weekend in Derbyshire or the Forest of Dean. A meets list is published in the club's newsletter and all activities from caving trip, days out, birthday parties and more are accessed through the interactive club diary in the member.s website. You can even check which members plan to attend each trip and share a car with them.
Within this caving programme, we aim to lay on trips suited to all levels of experience, from novice to hardened caver, while giving all members the opportunity to develop their experience and skills. Of course, the organised programme is not the end of our activities - there are plenty of other trips arranged by members. May 2006 saw us exploring the Victorian Sewers under West London designed by J W Bazalgette himself!
Indoor (pub) meets
The club has two evening meets, on the first and third Tuesday of each month. It.s a good idea to contact a committee member before coming along to your first London meet, so we can look out for you. There are good occasions to sort what caves you can be getting down and to sort out a lift to the next caving meet.
The First and third Tuesday of the month we meet at: The Ship & Shovell 1-3 Craven Passage, Charing Cross, London, WC2N 5PH We normally meet from 6pm onwards.
Caerllwyn is a 200 year old traditional Welsh cottage that WSG rented for many years and now own. It is on the edge of the 'waterfalls' area of the Brecon Beacons and close to many fine caves. It has sleeping accommodation for about 16 people, water, electricity, hot showers, a brand new kitchen, drying room, proper toilets, a big garden and a brilliant pub up the road. All you need for a weekend there is a sleeping bag and food. Members pay cottage fees of £7.50 a night, non-members £10.00 a night.
Benefits of membership
New members are very welcome at the WSG. The main benefits of membership are:
- A programme of caving events throughout the year, run by experienced cavers
- Regular informal meets in London
- Expeditions abroad most years
- Access arrangements to caves throughout the UK
- Use of Caerllwyn Cottage, owned by the members of the club
- A large library of caving magazines and books
- A good store of caving ropes, ladders, etc.
- Access to the members website containing details of non-public trip reports, parties, photos
Types of membership
There are two categories of membership - probationary and full. Everyone becomes a probationary member to begin with. Probationary members enjoy the same benefits as full members, except that they can't lead a caving trip in the club's name or borrow club tackle on their own. They can of course take part in club trips, and use club tackle, that is commensurate with their caving experience. This distinction between probationary and full membership ensures that club ropes and ladders are used safely (important if you're a beginner or the one using it next time!) and that special access agreements negotiated by the club are not jeopardised. It is common for probationary members to think about full membership after about a year - the main consideration is not whether you're a brilliant caver, but whether you're a safe caver. Membership costs £35 per year.
How to start caving
Start off by coming along to one of the Tuesday evening meets in London, where we can find out about the caving you're interested in doing and what sort of equipment and clothing you have that could be of use. We all started our caving wearing some old warm clothing, with a boiler suit on top and a pair of wellingtons. The two things that need to be arranged for you are a headtorch and a caving helmet. It is best to hire these for a few pounds from caving shops in the area we're going to. Some members have more than one set of these, so borrowing is an option as well. Most beginners start out by going down the big, old 'fossil' caves. These are either completely dry or have a stream running through them. The passages are usually big enough to drive a bus down, with occasional stretches of hands and knees crawling. Bridge Cave and upper Ogof Ffynnon Ddu 2 are typical 'first trips' like this. You can then progress onto caves like Pant Mawr Pot, with a ladder climb into a long stream passage linking big chambers, and Pwll Pindar, with a series of low crawls linking chambers (we discovered this one. so we're fond of it !). When to buy your own caving equipment depends on the level of caving you want to do. Most start off by buying their own lamp, belt and helmet. Trips like Little Neath River Cave, Ogof Fechan, Dan yr Ogof and Ogof Ffynnon Ddu 'Cwm Dwr to 2' are great fun, but you'll need a wet suit for them. Some members acquire the equipment to bottom the world's deepest caves within a couple of years of starting caving, while others go for years with just the essentials. It's down to you and your wallet.
If you are interested, or have any questions then please contact us at [email protected] we'd love to hear from you!