Ogof Draenen Thursday 11th August

Andy Sparrow

Active member
Neil R and I are going to Ogof Draenen this Thursday. If any Cheddar CC members want to join us you are very welcome. We will probably go down the main streamway to Riflemans Chamber - a trip of about 3-4 hours. Anyone free on Thursday? Anyone feel a sickie coming on?

Andy Hebden

New member
My first trip into the cheddar caving club forum. How very exciting! Almost as exciting as I'm sure thursdays trip will be. I've spoken to mr B and will see you on thursday morning!



Welcome aboard Mr Hebden, finally worked out how to use a computer now?
I would love to go on this trip too, I loved the entrance series of Draenen, but I can't afford to take the time off :cry:


Hope you all had a good trip. Do you all make it through the slot in the entrance series?

cap n chris

Well-known member
We will probably go down the main streamway to Riflemans Chamber - a trip of about 3-4 hours

Do you all make it through the slot in the entrance series?

There's a bit of a story brewing... it may take me a while to write. Suffice to say my logbook contains the following entry "Role: victim. Mislead by a convincing liar".

"Hope you all had a good trip": when you posted that comment we were still down there!

cap n chris

Well-known member
Ogof Draenen: Thursday 11th August 2005
Andy Sparrow, Neil Rigiani, Ken Passant, Andy H, Judi D and Chris B.

Four days prior to this trip Neil and Andy agreed to visit South Wales before Neil had to return home to Holland; so a hastily advertised and texted invite was put together and a team of six were assembled, ready to do this “3-4 hour trip, probably down the main streamway”. It was quite an achievement getting six people together for a mid-week jolly at such short notice. Almost uncanny. I should have realised something was destined to happen which would not necessarily be “nice”. I had previously heard tales about “Ogof Dreary” and it being “a bit like Aggie” with “lots of boulder hopping and walking sized passage” and Andy S said that the ONLY obstacles were getting wet at the entrance and a narrow slot followed by a simple climb, all of which, when taken together, gave me the impression of a pleasant, straightforward and simple-sounding jaunt, worthy of bringing along my camera and a pleasant smile. I had previously decided against looking in my caving books to read about the cave (something which in the past I found only unnerved me), preferring instead to calm my mind with thoughts of a good afternoon's company.

So, up early and meet Andy H and drive on up for the traditional full English at Arts Café in Shipham where we meet up with Andy S, Neil and Ken. Judi was going to be met by us at Aust, near the Severn Bridge at 10:30am so we have a leisurely breakfast before looking at the survey (I didn't take in much detail, other than overhearing that Andy and Neil were considering doing a more comprehensive trip which would take “under or around six hours” to achieve…. This was news to me and Andy H and we thought we'd be able to restrain Andy S when we got to Wales and get him to agree on doing a 3-4 hour trip “as was advertised” – neither of us had been to this cave before and we were totally “in the dark” over what to expect and certainly didn't think we fancied a six hour “Epic”.

On arriving at the picturesque and not remotely bleak “car park” of the Lamb & Fox Tavern and Pleasuredome (please forgive any hints of sarcasm), we sorted ourselves out with gear, drinks, a bit of 9mm rope (“just in case”) and a karabiner each (“could be handy”).

A steep climb down a massive hillside with a view beyond the reach of light quickly brought us to a silly little gate in the side of the hill. When the door was opened the chilly draught almost blew us off the hillside – wow! Big cave in there! I sort of knew that Draenen was long, at over 50km, but had heard rumours that it was approaching 90km if not already exceeded it. But this still didn't have me wondering what our trip was going to be like. Oh!, the joys of ignorance.

The muddy crawl was as expected, and some climbing down through shoring was similarly as described, and then there was a tight bit through which I could not fit.

I breathed out but still didn't fit through so I breathed out some more and then got half way down and needed to breath in but couldn't so had a “moment” and just managed to pop down, catching my breath and then having to do a 180 degree manoeuvre and negotiate another squeezy crawl. I was not happy about that narrow slot.

We then get into some awkward stooping/slippery going until rope on a ledge warns us of a climb – which obviously is simple and easy and doesn't require any effort whatsoever (Hello? … is that sarcasm again?).

By the time we regroup at the bottom and make our way into the “main part of the cave” I am beginning to feel concerned a) about the return climb and b) about my chances of getting back up through that VERY TIGHT squeeze. My quietness has Andy S asking whether I am enjoying myself. The honest answer was “Not really; I'm concerned about returning up those bits”.

At this stage I thought we were just going to be walking around and having a nice time. Andy S obviously knew that reality was going to be a lot different and he very wisely didn't let on about what was ahead of us.

Some boulder hopping and difficult terrain led us to Lamb & Fox chamber (I am not going to be able to remember all the named features of this trip, by the way) and the cave was indeed rather dreary and very much like Aggy. An “interesting” stacked pile of rocks, serving as a ladder, took me (leading) up into Indiana Highway (I should have guessed by the name that something was afoot). Andy S said this was his favourite part of the cave and the ceiling was nice and the phreatic nature of the passage was classic….. but, “nice”?…. I just couldn't see it, myself.

Aha!… yep, right; OK. Some traversing ahead, methinks.

I see the beginnings of the vadose cut-down in the floor and start to suspect that this is going to become akin to traversing – my worst horror of caving which rekindles all those nightmares of falling down bottomless pits that children frequently experience which awake them with a start in the middle of the night. Great. Effing brill. Thanks, Andy, for this.

OK, so it's not too bad to begin with and there are good foot holds as the way on becomes more sinuous and the void gets deeper and the traverse becomes wider. Then there's a “bypass” on the left which I thankfully take and crawl through to a big ledge and watch as the others make difficult progess through a higher thrutchy tube towards me. I can see a rope around the corner and think, “Good, that's going to make life more reassuring” but then have second thoughts and think “Why is there a rope all of a sudden?”. Then it dawns on me not to look down whatever I do. So I don't. I clip my karabiner into the rope (a bit tight – cowstails would have been MUCH better) and gingerly lean against one wall while shuffling along the ledge on the other, occasionally bridging out with both feet, needing to unclip my karabiner at the hanger and reconnecting it on the next section of rope. Then I sense a very dark bit below and specifically make no attempt to look towards it. While somewhat bristling with concern I see that some numpty has placed an eco-hanger right above this darkness and it is necessary for me to again unclip my karabiner and move ahead to reconnect it onto the rope again while my legs straddle this unknown abyss. This manoeuvre I make cautiously and while trying to reassure and calm myself. Having then gained a broad ledge ahead and the end of the rope I can look back to see what I have just walked over. Hmm. No idea how deep that is but it's pitch black and obviously drops down a VERY long way. At this point in the trip I'm beginning to start thinking “Whatever happens, I don't want to come back this way” and start to get tired of being anxious about the entrance slot and climb and more anxious about what other obstacles lay ahead in this “cave without any real obstacles” (as Andy S had described it earlier). I was also beginning to be convinced that I had been lied to, blatently, about our route. There was going to be a pay-back, sometime or another but it wasn't going to be just yet…. There was other stuff to worry about; like staying alive.

The question “Is this going to be another Sparrow Epic, like that horrifying OFD trip?” crossed my mind. In retrospect the answer was a resounding “Yep, too damn right!” but at the time it remained a borderline possibility rather than a solid reality.

We reach Megadrive and engage in a seemingly endless and arduous marathon of boulder hopping and rock manoeuvring which was tiring and repetitive. I recall that there was a 8.5m descent down a fixed ladder with a missing rung right where you weren't expecting it – which was “nice”!) and then we wandered off and got lost down the wrong passage and had to turn back and trudge our way amongst the boulders and loose rocks and regain the correct way on.

By this point in our trip I was thinking we were making pretty good progress and perhaps the trip would turn around “at 2hrs in” and we'd be doing the originally proposed “4hr trip” (I could manage the traversing again, I reckoned by now).

We found a stopping off point, in a large chamber, when the clocks reached 2:10pm (we entered the cave, by the way, at 12:10pm); so we were now two hours in. Time for a snack and a drink.

Mildly refreshed Andy S said, “Time for someone to take over the survey and do some route finding”. I said, “Why don't you just get on with it and do it yourself?” but Andy persisted so I snatched the survey and headed off the wrong way.

On being corrected as to the way on I found myself slipping into “caver mode” and started to enjoy myself a bit since I was “in charge” and felt slightly more in control of events. The route finding was easy with plenty of way marks and features to reassure you that you were going the right way (i.e. IF this is the RIGHT way then around the corner there's a two way junction etc..). Simple stuff. The going soon became more up and down with some easy climbs, not exceeding more than 4 metres or so and then the going became odd; the chamber turned to the right through a crawl and opened into another gulf/traverse but there were good ledges and by now I was too nervously tired to be bothered about heights so I back & footed across the darkness to further ledges and a steeply descending narrow rift which got VERY STEEPLY descending to a dark void with a chockstone and then…. Nothing. Geesus Harry Crumpets! Not my idea of a fun place to be….

Andy S called and said perhaps the way on was back up slope and down the dark rifts but I was convinced the way on was ahead. There was a bit of tatty rope below me and I was beginning to slip towards the drop. Calling Andy S for reinforcements seemed like a good idea and he managed to squeeze past me and gingerly step onto the chockstone with a void between him and me and a void ahead of him. Starting to slip again I nervously called back for the rope to be passed to me, only for Ken to shout “I'll pass you the bag…” to which I shouted back “NO, JUST PASS THE ROPE, NOW!” as my grip began to fade and I genuinely thought I would be falling….

Andy quickly tied the rope in to the tatty belay and I clipped in on an assist so that half my weight was on the dubious belay (another smaller chockstone) and half was shared by Andy's stance; I went down, clipped only to my belt and holding the rope, hand over hand, down into the unknown depth – it was probably about 20-25ft before touching the ground. On reaching the bottom I looked back and saw the roof of the chamber close in at about 20' high and could look up the rifts which we had passed over…. Bloody hell, I thought; if we'd done as Andy suggested, and tried to descend the tight rift further back, we'd have got half way down only to find the rift opened out and we were 20' off the deck in the middle of a wide tunnel. Thankfully we'd taken the right route. Everyone was lowered and then Andy S abseiled to join us. Another break for water. Hot work. No wonder we were all wearing our warmbacs tied around our waists.

There was no way back now, I thought, since there's not a chance in hell that I could climb back up the way we'd just dropped down. The tatty rope was a joke, obviously used by nutters to tantalise the grim reaper into an alert state.

Andy said we were “probably about half way”. Well, that was reassuring. I was knackered.

We soon find the going getting harder. Some more traversing in narrow passages leads us down. I forget what we did next but do recall hearing that we had been underground for four hours and there was probably another two to go. This was not what I needed to hear. What I could have done with was swapping my worldly wealth for (a) A magic “get out of this cave, now!, ticket” and (b) enough energy to punch Andy's teeth out. [I wouldn't really do this, dear reader, but God I felt like it would have made me feel better].

I couldn't stop repeatedly thinking to myself, “Liar, Epic; Liar, Epic etc..” the whole time.

We reach water. Aha! – we must be on the return now, I thought, as I recalled there being a streamway and that was our way out. Wrong. This was a downward inlet, not part of the main stream. Mind you it was easy walking and progress was simple and swift. Until we reached the narrow stuff…. Some very difficult thin traversing which comprised mostly horizontal body thrutching as there were few, if any, foot holds led to tighter and tighter rifts until there was a drop down; I was unhappy to launch myself down (as I was in the lead again) as it opened out and the drop was too great so I called for the rope bag and this was successfully squeezed towards me but I damn nearly dropped it. Managed to get the rope out but again Andy dropped down below me and bridged and assisted the descent (ta! – won't punch you just yet). Relief! Not so hasty! More of the same followed with a nasty thin waterfall descent (used rope) and then a hideously awkward manoeuvre where the waterfall dropped down a stupidly narrow rift and the bypass was a hole high up on the left into which it was necessary to get your feet in first and then climb down almost blind – not my idea of fun and it took some effort (energy was not to be wasted and I was well aware of keeping my reserves) to negotiate.

I think there was a bit called the sewer – certainly there was a nice tube along which I was able to doggy paddle and wade alternately and I thought this was nice since I don't feel the cold like other people do (they're too thin and lack the seal fat I am lucky to own). So I could cool off a bit and sweat less. There was another awkward climb down and the passage seemed to get wider. This was reassuring. We reach a junction and hit the main streamway. Andy then announced unwelcome news. We should be able to get out in about two hours from here. … Hang on, you said it was going to take two hours an hour ago! What's going on?!! My patience had long ago died (shortly after the first traverse, actually) but I didn't have the energy to complain… and it wouldn't have made any difference anyway; we still had to get out and the only way was to keep going. The streamway was mostly walking but the going was hard since it was necessary to keep a constant look out for hidden holes and shin-traps. Everyone was quiet. I suspected I wasn't the only tired caver among the group.

After four days we reached a boulder choke and everyone was ahead of me apart from Neil (who was still valliantly carrying the tackle sack…. `cos everyone let him and no-one offered to take it from him).

Soon I could hear murmurings of “Chris will have to go on his back” etc. so knew something was afoot, especially as a small queue had formed and this was the first time in about two hours that I had seen everyone in the same place at the same time. The space through which I was supposed to fit was impossible. Correction, there was no space whatsoever….

Imagine a horizontal slot about 7 inches high with a square slot 8 inches across half way along it, resembling a fat “T” shape, uphill, surrounded by boulders. Well, head first, face down wasn't going to work; how about if I take off my helmet? – Nope. Ok, what about face up, one arm ahead? – No. What about face down, two arms ahead, no helmet? – No. Right. What about, helmet off, face up, arms ahead, lying backwards and pushing through with my feet? – No. Well, perhaps, but my ribs are getting compressed and everything hurts. Ok. Well what about just dying here? Nope. So, again, helmet off, face up, arms outstretched, lying backwards and force my ribs to compress and I'm through! No. I'm not. My chest is through and now my hips are wedged and compressed and it hurts. So, use my arms to push up off the surrounding rock and twist my hips as I wriggle. This slowly eases me through. With a re-expanding, previously totally compressed body I rejuvenate sufficiently to speak….

“I'm never visiting this ****ing cave ever again and I'm seriously considering never listening to another bloody word you say, ever, Sparrow!”. I think the point was well made.

Shortly after this horrid squeeze there appears to be another one only, thankfully, this one is easy by comparison (this is not to say that it IS easy but just that, having already experienced something so committing, this second obstacle is not daunting). Easily through. Well I say “easy”, but it wasn't.

The streamway now opens up more and the going is similar to OFD towards the top waterfall crossed with OFD I on the approach to Railton-Wild series perhaps crossed with a bit of Sculpture Trail in Slaughter Stream Cave and all crossed with hell – basically well scalloped limestone with moulins and cascades-a-plenty with a lot of edge treading and sharp stuff to avoid barking your shins against.

This continued for ages and ages and ages but with each step came the knowledge that our exit was getting closer (but our energy was also running out). No one suffered any minor injuries and that was probably testament to the quality of the cavers among our group as it would be easy to picture a tired person slipping; this was a good thing.

Some pretty formations soon loomed into view and this made for a pleasant sight after all that had gone before but we kept on going, keeping a steady pace.

Soon we appeared to have reached larger chambers and we had a final breather finishing off our now massively depleted drink reserves (mine was a final half mouthful) and some had some more nibbles to beef up their energy before we made our final leg of this demanding subterranean journey up towards Wonderbra and the Beer Challenge crawl returning to the big cairn marking our way to the surface.

My mind still wrestled with concerns about the awkward 5m climb but we agreed to put an assisted line on it so some robust moves would see us up to the top and I determined to attempt the tight slot squeeze near the surface by removing my oversuit and helmet; this worked a treat and although the squeeze took a lot of leg pushing and constricted ribs (once again!) it was soon passed without hell or swearing. From here it was a simple “relax and take each turn as it comes” and so to the surface we all popped. A look at our watches – 6:40pm; it had taken six and a half hours to complete. It felt longer but I (for one) was simply happy to see daylight and be released from the arduous and intense work which was now behind, and below, us. I was tired and I suspect the others were too.

A slow trudge back up the stunningly steep hillside with attendant crawl under a fence and dodging the sheep soon returned us to our vehicles and the pub was open at 7:00pm; changed amid the early evening summer sunshine and ached our way into the bar to down two pints of orange in quick succession to rehydrate.

Gathered around a table we laid out the survey to recheck our route and get an idea of where we had been.

Summary: leave pub 7:30pm drive back, only taking two wrong turns, and arrive home in Cheddar at 9:00pm. Shower and walk to local by 9:30pm. Pints and takeaway finished off a very very long day. I'm glad to be back and, slightly masochistically, am contented that I managed to complete such a demanding trip – I should like it to be acknowledged that there were more tight, desperate and committing squeezes negotiated by me than by any others in the group and that I consider it a minor miracle to have got through stuff which makes the “tight squeeze” in Swildon's Hole Round Trip look like a railway tunnel. Contrary to Andy S's prior comment that the cave ONLY contained a “couple of obstacles near the beginning”, I have a burning recollection of there being in excess of 20 MAJOR obstacles, some of which could easily prove fatal or injurious if a caver slipped. (For instance, when traversing towards the streamway, one of the ledges on which I stood snapped off and I just managed to save myself from injury – Judi and I had long since been left behind and I was hastening to catch up…).

During the return drive my sense of humour was reawakened and Ken, Andy H and I all rediscovered our previously lost ability to spout almost endless filth and innuendo so all was back to normal. Quite a laugh was had pretty much all the way back to Blighty.

Note: On looking through my guidebooks for this cave I note certain expressions which, had I read of them before entertaining the foolhardy notion of visiting Draenen, I would never have agreed to go along in the first place. Of these expressions, phrases such as “The cave should not be underestimated and the round trip should be treated very seriously”, “….a long section of fine traverses, including an exposed section over a 20m pitch…”, … soon the passage enters the top of a rift, traversing out and then dropping down, reaches a 5m climb down into a tight rift…”, “… this is followed by some tight traversing in a rift which immediately leads to the top of two awkward climbs, care is required here…”, “… descending the waterfall through a hole in the left wall”, etc. etc.. So, I rest my case. Yep – if ONLY I had read this…. Think of the nightmares it would have saved me from; and the torrents of insults Andy S wouldn't have to put up with (mind you, I expect he's getting used to them by now).

N.B. Three printed references to Draenen state the length of passage variously as 28km, 55km and 62km although one imagines this shows the rapid expansion of the known system rather than any inaccuracy on the part of surveyors!

Andy Hebden

New member
'Cheddar Caving Club, a small, friendly club made up of like minded people who enjoy caving and each others company.'

“I'm never visiting this ****ing cave ever again and I'm seriously considering never listening to another bloody word you say, ever, Sparrow!”.

Such A harsh statement to come from the bosom of the Cheddar Caving Club family...... perhaps we should do some hand holding, or even better, a group hug! The stream way in Ogof Draenen would be a good place to do this........dont you reckon Chris?

Being a skinny sort of chap I have to say the trip wasn't quite as horrific for me, I actually rather enjoyed it although it was really quite a long way from the 3 to 4 hour jaunt that was advertised.

Highlights The Indiana Highway. I thought this was a great bit of passage and I enjoyed the traversing. Like Morg I also enjoyed the entrance seris, some good crawling and groveling around. :)

Lowlights. The inlet that joined the main Stream Way (looking in the book I think this is called Agent Blorenge, but I stand to be corrected) the high level tight traversing was more than a bit daunting!! :cry:

A nervous moment was also had when in the near distance a loud crash followed by tumbling was heard, this was either Andy Sparrow turning out the digested remains of his Arts Cafe full English,or falling rock. Luckily it was the latter and it had not randomly occured, it was Mr S 'making safe' some loose rock.

All in all a good day of varied caving and lots of laughs.


cap n chris

Well-known member
a group hug

Group fight, more like.

Anyway, I'm all relaxed and friendly now so there's no need for any nastiness; I only wrote in such a vein so that the report accurately portrayed how I was feeling at the time. I've chilled out now.


Andy Hebden said:
perhaps we should do some hand holding, or even better, a group hug!

Keep your hands to yourself.

In speaking to Heb beforehand I told him 'I wonder if Chris can get through the squeeze in the entrance series' I thought about warning Chris, but I didn't want to put him off and it wasn't to far in so you can exit the cave and go home! Seem like the answer was 'yes, Chris can fit through it!' From what I hear though, there was little or no water going through it, so it was easier than it could be!

The big hole in Indian Highway is 50ft deep, if I recall correctly. The most difficult part I found was getting off Indiana High way at the end away from the entrance.

My memories of Draenen when I went there a few months ago were the extreme heat, and dehydration (I couldn't wait for the water inlets to have a drink) and boulders, boulders and boulders! My knees were red raw when I came out!

Did you see any pretties though to make it worth your while?

cap n chris

Well-known member
The most difficult part I found was getting off Indiana High way at the end away from the entrance.

Is that the horrible little muddy sloping shelf along which you have to make a couple of steps to boldy cross onto another ledge on the left?

Did you see any pretties though to make it worth your while?

The formations we saw were not sufficient for me to gasp in awe despite being very pretty indeed. Gasping in knackeredness, now that's a different story.


cap 'n chris said:
Is that the horrible little muddy sloping shelf along which you have to make a couple of steps to boldy cross onto another ledge on the left?

Yes that sounds right, i rember carwling along the shelf which was sloping otawrd the drop. There are at least another two ways to get off Indiana Highway: the shelf on the other side, or down into the canyon. I the way out I went into the canyon then climbed up later, it was ok apart from a bold step which someone on the other side pulled me across :crazy:

I think it was called Indiana Highway because one of the original explorers was 'chased' by a big rock in it!

cap n chris

Well-known member
P.S. If you haven't guessed already, all is forgiven Andy S. It was indeed a character building trip & one for the album.

Andy Sparrow

Active member

Andy, Andy, Ken, Neil and Judi, smile, post trip, for our photographer, Mr Happy Caver.

Sewer Rat

New member
Chris that was the best read i have had for years!
An Epic account for an epic journey.
Pure entertainment!

Sorry you had to suffer ........a bit.
My very first caving trip was down there, but we went down gilwern and came back the way we went in .
That little trip took 6 hours .

I do know how you felt about the entrance series, because I too eat pies!

Now what would be fun?????
Andy S writing his account of cavers who moan at him.


Melanie lloyd

I just love your trip report Chis, It brought tears of laughter to my eyes. You wrote it so well, it's almost as if i were there, going through the same epic trauma, but i wasn't, and so I'm well up for the next trip down.... but only as long as you come too. We can panic together Chris.!!!! hey, I might even let you hold my hand. :wink:

PS.. Don't get mad with Andy. That's my job......... :LOL:

cap n chris

Well-known member
My chum Chris has just bought me a pint, enthused at length about yesterday's trip, and expressed a desire to go back!

You turned up after I'd already had a couple* of halfs** of shandy*** so my judgment may have been somewhat clouded and inaccurate.

* Many
** Pints
*** Lager