2nd-3rd November. Gower

Last trip to Harry Thomas Cave this season, closing for bats.

Saturday: I had sorted most of my stuff out yesterday afternoon, just the final few things to pack and load and I was ready to set-off. The weather forecast wasn’t great for today and the drive west to Gower is going to be miserable. At least I’ll have the rugby to listen to most of the way. Left home at 08:05. Very wet and windy along the M4 and the rugby turned out to be very disappointing. The torrential rain resulted in flooded roads on Gower, some deep puddles to negotiate, and progress was much slower than expected. Arrived at Overton at 10:40, John was waiting.

A soggy walk along the coast path to Harry Thomas Cave. I kept my wet weather gear on to go underground, it was a cheap set I had purchased for just this sort of occasion. While I was sorting out the hauling system Danny McCarroll turned up, so a good team today. Danny took the first hauling stint on the surface and had brought along an umbrella to keep the rain off too, good forward planning. I was on the lower platform loading bags into the bucket, John carried a few bags up from the end chamber before returning to the surface to move bags along to the end of the path where they could be emptied later. We stopped for a bite to eat and drinks and then swapped around. My turn to haul out. Stone first, these were stacked neatly in the entrance, and then more bags. John disappeared for a short time to photograph surface run-off streams flowing into a sinkhole higher up the slade. When the lower platform was cleared Danny moved up to the next one and that was cleared. By now John was very wet and he hadn’t put any leggings on, the rain hadn’t stopped all day. It was close to 16:00, light was already fading, we were all damp. The last action of the day was to return underground to the end chamber to compare UV lights. I had recently bought a 365nm UV light and John had his 395nm UV [black] light. The difference was noticeable: non-flourescent material shows blue with 395nm, a more natural colour is obtained using 365nm. Interestingly, exposed fluorescent material under 365nm UV light showed a significant after-glow. Obviously, some more experimentation needs to be carried out. It was time to pack up and leave, the cold was beginning to set in, the cave was secured, and we made our way back to Overton.

John and I went to the Ship Inn for supper, Danny declined and went home to dry out and warm up. After eating john and I parted company and I headed up to Cefn Bryn for a nights ‘vamping’. It was wet and windy through the night. There were no other vans on the hill!

The Slade, opposite the entrance to Harry Thomas Cave.

Sunday: A wet and very windy night. I was disturbed by a vehicle in the early hours sounded like it was stuck in the mud. I went back to sleep.

I arose c.07:00, the wind had eased, and the rain stopped, there was even some sunshine to greet the day, a chilly breeze though. Hung my wet gear out to dry, packed away sleeping bags and got the water on for coffee, a wash, then breakfast.

There had been substantial dripping of water in Harry Thomas Cave yesterday and planned to wear wet weather gear over the cotton boiler suit today. Hopefully, will spend more time underground today, we’ll see.

A comfort break in Port Eynon, then up the hill to Overton to meet John at 09:30. Many of the puddles along the track yesterday have dried/drained away and the sun was still shining, blue sky too. At the cave we were quickly underground, John went down to the end chamber to do some recording while I set about de-rigging the hauling system, the ropes coiled and suspended from the back of the ladders, all the metalwork will go back to John’s to be cleaned and dried. I went down to join John in the end chamber. moved a few bags around, exposed more faunal remains, experimented with UV lighting and took some photographs. All done, sample bags filled with bones and sediment were transported out of the cave in buckets along with some more delicate items that were not to be left in the cave over the winter period. The faunal remains were re-packaged into a box to be carried back to Overton later in the day. Scaffold tubes and acrow’s that had been left on the surface were moved close to the cave entrance and will be covered over later in the week. Rucksacks were packed with equipment, samples boxed, the cave secured, and all was ready to go. The sun was still shining, and it was a warm walk back to Overton.

Back at the vehicles I decanted my rucksack into John’s car, then back to the van to pack away my own kit. A brief discussion with John before setting off for home at c.13:50. I was a bit tense, the clutch on the van was playing up making it difficult to select gears, probably a consequence of driving through the deep puddles yesterday. However, by the time I got back home it seemed fine. Hopefully, all dried out now.

13th October: A day trip to Gower.

With Alex Gee and John Cooper.

I decided against a nights ‘vamping’ up on Cefn Bryn and opted to drive over early on Sunday morning, so set the alarm for 05:00 am. Most of my kit had been packed the day before so just needed to pick-up the rucksack and go. Still, I didn’t get away until 07:15 am. Horrible driving conditions along the M4, heavy rain and lots of spray, thankful that there weren’t too many lorries on the road. Arrived at Overton at 09:35 am, John was already there and waiting, Alex had just arrived, we waited around a short time to see if David Hughes was going to show-up, he didn’t so we set-off along the path to Harry Thomas Cave.

At the cave entrance we quickly changed, and all went underground to assess today’s plan of action. There was plenty of stuff to shift, so the hauling lines were tensioned, Alex went up to the surface and began pulling up the loaded bucket. John was on the lower platform loading the filled bags into the bucket. I spent a short time in the end chamber and took a few photographs experimenting with UV illumination. Not sure the results are brilliant, will have to see and think about it later. I packed the kit away and started to move more filled bags up on to the platform ready to be hauled out of the cave.

After a while Alex called down for some help, the available stacking space was fast becoming crowded, so I went to the surface to move bags from the entrance along the path, even managed to empty a few. There came a natural pause and we stopped for a quick bite to eat.

All change, Alex went underground, and I stayed on the surface to haul the loaded bucket. About 13:30 we stopped hauling, the underground tidied things up, the tension on the haul lines relaxed and the last job was to empty the bags along the path visible to passers-by. All emptied, changed and on our way back to Overton just after 14:00. Back at the vehicles a brief chinwag and I was on my way home at 14:40. The rain had stopped, and it had turned into a pleasant afternoon. A steady uneventful journey home. I had decided to restrict my speed to c.60mph (max.) actually, it was less stressful and probably more environmentally friendly. Arrived home just after 17:00 pm. A fine day.

The end chamber; normal illumination.
The end chamber; UV illumination.

Harry Thomas Cave, Gower

15th September 2019

Saturday evening: I decided to drive over to Gower this evening rather than Sunday morning. After ‘phaffing’ around too much it was after 18:00 by the time I was on my way.  There was an amazing sunset as I drove west and a big harvest moon had risen when I arrived at Cefn Bryn, about 21:00. There were several vans already parked, I found a good spot and joined them for the night.

Sunday: The main reasons for driving over yesterday were, this morning, fulfilled – I’ve had a little ‘vamping’ fix and a peaceful, relaxed morning after a good nights rest. The sun was shining but I was thankful for having my down jacked. Fresh coffee, samosa, bhaji and vegetable spring roll for breakfast before setting off to Overton to meet John at 09:30. Stopped briefly in Port Eynon to use the facilities there. Looked at the sea and thought to myself “wish I had my swim shorts”, it was high tide and like a mill pond.

John was already at Overton and we were soon on the walk to Harry Thomas Cave. At the cave we went to the final ‘chamber’ at the current end and John gave a run-down of the latest progress. John has dug a pit to recover more animal remains and there were still plenty more to excavate. I had brought along a 100 LEDs UV flashlight (395nm wavelength), we turned off all the other lights and illuminated the finely decorated chamber with UV. The effect was even more dramatic than I had anticipated, revealing differences in fluorescence in the speleothems and the more recent moonmilk. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my camera, we will have to repeat and record the process next visit.

I returned to the surface, sorting out the haul lines on the way up. With the hauling system ready all the rocks stacked on the platform were loaded into the bucket and pulled up to the entrance. The rocks cleared I suggested we clear some of the bags, but John was determined to excavate some more. I returned underground and we picked over the cobbles and boulders to recover a variety of animal bones in variable states of preservation, including bovid, cervid, canid, lagomorph, rodent and avian. A mixed assemblage to be dried, cleaned and sorted.

John makes a photographic record. I didn’t have my camera but my phone was useful.

We recovered dog skull number 40 and there is every possibility that more will be revealed as excavation continues. Could really do with another spoil shifting session to remove a bulk of the cobbles and boulders. Time flies when you are busy and enjoying yourselves and before we knew it, time to pack things away and make our way home.

The bones were sorted into trays and I carefully carried them up to the surface where they were wrapped in cling film to be transported back to Overton where the vehicles were parked.

The assemblage safely on the surface ready to be wrapped with cling film.
The image above is an inscription dated Mid to late 18th century (1767) located just inside the entrance to Harry Thomas Cave. The image was taken with a Sony Xperia L1 and illuminated from the left side using hand-held caving light. It looks like there was at least one other attempt to make the inscription just above the ‘RD’

A weekend’s digging on Gower

13th to 14th July 2019

Saturday: Walked the dog, then sorted kit and loaded van, coffee, breakfast and, eventually, on the road to Gower c.08:15. I had left at 08:00 but forgot something and turned back. Arrived at Overton just after 10:30, bit of traffic congestion in Parkmill, got stuck behind a coach. John was waiting.

Looking down the slade.

We chatted while I got my kit sorted then, laden, a stroll along the coast path to the slade and Harry Thomas Cave. At the cave got changed and went underground to take a quick look at the recent progress and to assess what needed to be done to construct the next platform, the main project for this weekend. It was obvious that there was plenty of clearing to be done before any construction work could be started. I returned to the surface, set-up the haul line and pulled the loaded bucket up from the depths, John stayed below and loaded the bucket with bags and stones. There were some breaks while John broke-up some larger rocks, I took the opportunity to take the bags along the path and empty them onto the “scree” slope, I also managed to clear the last of the bags that had previously been dumped along the path. I returned to the cave entrance to haul more bags and stones, then, Danny McCarroll turned up to lend a hand.

When the bags and rocks were cleared from the proposed platform area I went back underground with Danny and together we got to work constructing the platform. Some new ‘acrow bars’ had been purchased and one of these was bolted into place, after a little bit of rock engineering. A second acrow was fixed and scaffold bars attached to make a firm base. Scaffold boards were cut to size to form the platform. Time had passed quickly, it was 17:00 and we decided to call it a day, the last few boards would wait until tomorrow. We packed up and departed the cave.

John and I went to the Ship Inn, Port Eynon for a beer, Danny had to get away so couldn’t join us. After a couple of beers, a fish and chip supper for me, then up to Cefn Bryn to park up for a night’s “vamping”. A chance to try out the extra layer of ‘karrimat’ inserted into the van. Time to write up the day’s events too. It had brightened up a bit but was still a bit chilly, breezy as well.

Sunday: I enjoy these peaceful “vamping” weekends. a decent night’s rest and awoke to a pleasant morning. Coffee brewed, an omelette for breakfast, reading Aldhouse-Green, et. al. 2000. Paviland Cave report and writing in the diary. I had arranged to meet John at c.09:30, after a brief stop in Port Eynon drove to Overton.

Today at Harry Thomas Cave, the platform was completed, boards cut to size and secured, the ladders re-jigged and the job was “a good-un”. We then had another hauling session, clearing bags and rocks from the current end chamber. Initially, the bags were carried up the short ladder and stacked on the newly completed platform before I went up to the surface to haul them out of the cave, john loaded the bucket. It was warm and sunny on the surface.

John then suggested I might lift the “horse” skull recently found to one side of the end chamber, so we returned underground. In the chamber I cleared some loose stones from around the skull and to make access a little easier – it didn’t look like a horse skull to me – took some photographs, also noted another dog skull and other remains. The skull was in fair condition and almost complete, it was easy to lift – it was obviously a sheep, John wasn’t so interested with it after that.

The skull.

By now it was time to start packing things away and exit the cave, there was some discussion regarding various aspects of the end chamber. I picked up my drill bag on the way out of the cave. The cave secured, we departed. A brief chat at Overton before parting company.

A visitor to the cave.

I was heading along the heads of the Valleys road (A465) to the Lamb and Fox, Pwll Ddu to a wake for Brian Lewis, the former landlord. 25 years ago, during the heady days of discovery in Ogof Draenen, Brian and Carol had been very good to us. Met up with several old friends and raised a glass to Brian.