Cave photography envy

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Yesterday two of my photography friends went caving together to take photographs underground in extreme places. This morning a number of images have begun to appear via social media sites showing some of the precarious and difficult locations they encountered during their visit. I have to confess to being a little envious of their photographs but also have to remind myself that their trek yesterday was not something of which I would have been capable. You will recall I went caving with my friends a year ago and found it extremely hard, my age combined with my physical limitations just could not cope with the demands with which my body was expected to cope, nevertheless I’m quite jealous of what I’m seeing of their latest adventure.

I suspect there are very many like myself who’d like the experience of taking photographs underground but are wary, or perhaps physically incapable of adventures of that ilk. Well, there are many locations in the Glamorgan area where one can try out such techniques without expensive equipment or requiring physical endurance, the only items needed are torches, wellington boots and a great deal of common sense. Most of the photos here were all taken within a short distance of a tunnel or mine entrance, some illuminated with natural light from the mouth showing how far in I actually was at the time of taking. All locations I’m showing you today are centred around the Pont Nedd Fechan area of the Neath Valley.

The first photograph is of a tunnel. First seen on the Ordnance Survey map published in 1921, this tramway tunnel connected Dinas silica mine with the quarries at Dinas Rock. The tunnel is easily accessed from the eastern end only and can be walked for most of its length, the far end is now flooded but it is possible to wade delicately through in ordinary wellington boots (thigh waders would be better) but then you are shortly confronted with a blockage, whether purposefully done or a natural fall I know not. This image was taken at the entrance though and is illuminated with nothing other than natural light coming in from behind me.

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Across the river from the tunnel is Dinas silica mine, this needs much more planning if you intend to visit as the system is quite extensive. There are numerous caverns underground and probably the most photographed are those filled with water. When visiting I always take a supply of torches, one source of light is just foolish. The location of this photograph is reached after only two or three minutes of leisurely walking, it’s all on the flat or a slight incline and with very few underfoot obstacles to catch you out. I must stress however that you should not go alone and have plenty of back-up sources of light. This photo was illuminated with two LED camping lanterns and a small torch for the foreground. There are more photographs of this location on my flickr site which were taken in 1992 and 2010.

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Whilst in the Pont Nedd Fechan area of the Neath Valley there is one other location that is passed by thousands of walkers annually but most of which probably have no idea of its existence, Dinas trial mine. This is a short trial working dug in the early 20th century but which was never worked commercially, or at least if it was it was only for a very short period. A short distance from Sgwd Gwladys waterfall, the entrance to this working is on the far bank of the public footpath and can be accessed by crossing the two bridges at Pwll du yr Byrddin and backtracking on the far bank a short distance. This photo shows the easy entrance to the working.

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As you can see, the whole working is flooded and very muddy so you will need appropriate footwear particularly if you want to reach the spot that I took this next photo. Just a short distance in beyond the green rock in the previous photo, illumination is provided mainly by natural light coming from behind me but also from a flash gun focussed at the distant darkness. I’m showing this as a monochrome, with a slight hint of toning; more in colour on flickr. A very simple location to visit to obtain interesting photos and so comparatively safe I’ve even taken older children there, although that was many years ago now.

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In the past there has been some concern expressed about the wisdom and sensibility of exploring these old workings. I have been visiting the mines and tunnels of this area from an industrial archaeological point of view on and off for over twenty years. Firstly one has to understand that these are not mines like you probably imagine, there are no narrow seams and difficult to access confined spaces. The Dinas silica mine is essentially an underground quarry, and was dug out using the pillar method whereby a column of stone would be left to support the stone above, this way huge spaces could be opened up. Yes, there is deep water, but the fall-off in these areas is very gradual, if you were to fall in, the worst that would happen would be a wetting. As with all experiences with an element of danger, you need to take the right precautions, plenty of torches for example, it is pitch black inside and it would be difficult to find your way out again. As for being dangerous, the rocks and crashing waves at my favourite bit of Welsh coastline pose a far greater danger to my welfare and the waterfall and deep valley at Clydach Gorge was far more dangerous as I once found out to my cost, both physically and monetary; I have also fairly recently broken ribs falling down a waterfall near Brecon, so I consider pottering about in these underground locations is relatively safe.

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