FATALITIES IN PORTH YR OGOF
By Tony Knibbs

Like many cavers, I have long been puzzled by the high number of fatalities - and maybe many more "near misses" - reported for Porth yr Ogof. Obviously the accident rate could be related to the intensive utilisation which this cave receives, but numbers alone cannot account for this phenomenon. On a numerical basis, taken with increased difficulty, a few other caves would have ahigher fatality rate.

Maybe Porth yr Ogof has something special about it which sets it apart from other caves - something which may lie outside our normal appreciation of the cave environment. I say "may" because supernatural phenomena are difficult to pin-point to the satisfaction of most of us, and I have hesitated for a very long time before offering this unusual anecdote for publication.

Let me tell you about Roy, a Senior Engineer with whom I worked in the aviation industry from 1972 to 1979, and with whom I am still in touch. True to his engineering background, Roy has an analytical approach to life's problems, and he was both intrigued and supportive of the powers of extra sensory perception which his wife, Ann, possessed and put to good use in healing.

One evening in 1978 I paid a visit to Roy who, I was amused to notice, had been using a pendulum - a small metal weight on a piece of thread. Apparently, following some work he'd been doing with the celebrated spiritual healer Bruce MacManaway, Roy had been experimenting with the pendulum to detect lines of earth energy ( ley lines ). He talked of positive and negative lines, and of how the presence of these could affect the "atmosphere" of certain places.

Half-jokingly, I asked Roy if he could work from maps; I had in mind those strange occurrences of dowsers helping a police enquiry by apparently locating something or someone, often at a great distance, by swinging a pendulum over a map.

Anyway, Roy said he would try. He had a large selection of OS maps and I chose Sheet 165 Weston-Super-Mare (OS one-inch series). Roy was not a caver and had no detailed knowledge of Mendip. I opened the map and indicated a point near Priddy, simply asking him to tell me something about the location.

I picked up a magazine and let him ponder my question as I read in silence. After a few minutes, he asked me why I had chosen this site - he was obviously intrigued. I told him that it was an area which I knew well and which I thought would interest him. It certainly did because he identified it as the junction of two very strong negative lines of energy ("black streams"), with possibly a third at greater depth.

I then explained that the site I had chosen was Eastwater Cavern which, alone of all the caves I had visited, occasionally held for me an oppressive atmosphere. The fact that a few other cavers had a similar opinion of Eastwater had always intrigued me. So here, out of the blue, came a suggestion of why some people experienced bad vibes in Eastwater.

Roy and Ann took a touring holiday that summer, around the Brecon Beacons area. Back in the office we swapped accounts of our holidays; their vacation had a strange aspect to it.

Part of their itinerary had taken them to the Mellte valley, and Roy asked me if I knew the cave into which the river flowed. I said that I did and told him that it was Porth yr Ogof, sometimes known as White Horse Cave.

He asked me if I had been into the cave - of course, I had - and if there was anything special about it. I could think of nothing special, except for the so-called "White Horse" feature provided by a vein of calcite visible from inside the entrance. I asked if he had seen this, but apparently neither he nor his wife could get near the entrance. Roy told me the reason without any kind of melodrama.

Descending the valley, they followed the footpath towards the entrance arch, but they wouldn't approach any nearer than about 50m - on account of the presence in the cave of a very powerful, malevolent spirit which Roy said equated with a "troll" in legend.

They had sensed it as they entered the valley, a forbidding atmosphere of increasing power which neither he nor Ann could endure, not because they were afraid but because they couldn't abide the evil, consuming force which lived in the cave. They left the valley without further ado, somewhat disturbed by their experience.

I told Roy that, although I had no personal reason to think that Porth yr Ogof was anything other than a normal, healthy cave, it did seem to have something of a reputation for fatal accidents - five at that date. I explained the physically harmless nature of the cave, but I think that Roger was more inclined to consider the "troll" as being at the root of the problem. We discussed the matter no further then and I have mentioned it only to a few people since.

Reading Chris Howes' article citing the current total of nine deaths in Porth yr Ogof, persuaded me that the time had come to publicise more widely the possible supernatural aspect of these accidents. I fully appreciate the enlightened comments which stress the need for greater vigilance concerning the equipment and conduct of led parties, the arguments for gating, more warning signs, etc. However, I feel that these may be the right reactions to the wrong problem.

I telephoned Roy on 13 January 1993, recalled our conversation on Porth yr Ogof in 1978 and told him the latest casualty figures, suggesting that maybe his observations should now be aired. He agreed that things had gone far enough and asked me for a grid reference so that he could dowse the site from an OS 1:50,000 map, just to check the situation again. He did this in close consultation with Ann.

It is now, when I describe the results of this, that I realise how fantastic the situation is and, if the findings are reasonably accurate, how dangerous it is.

Specifically at the downstream end of the cave they detected a concentration of five negative streams and one positive (which actually makes matters worse). Within the cave were found several other"black streams" but no more positives.

Associated with the black streams are several "entities" - ghosts, if you like - which conform to the "troll" idea of malevolent spirits. Roy and Ann are of the opinion that the origin of these entities dates back to the 18th or 19th centuries and that they relate to the violent deaths of several women, pregnant mothers or babies conceived out of wedlock. It was felt significant that all but one of the victims of the cave accidents have been male; men would probably have had most to gain by suppressing evidence of illicit liaisons, hence the spiritual aggression could imply revenge on male targets.

Roy asked if I knew of any legends which concerned murders or mysterious disappearances in the area, but I could think of none. After hearing this information I read through the UBSS publication "Porth yr Ogof, Breconshire" dated 1970 and was slightly taken aback to read that the pool in the upstream entrance was known as Llyn y Baban ( Lake of the Baby ), and that a legend exists concerning a drowning infant.

Since 1978 Roy and Ann have responded to more and more requests to clean up the "atmosphere" in houses, often a factor in many depressive and degenerative ailments. The "atmosphere" at Porth yr Ogof is the worst they have encountered in over 200 cases.

It seems that there are two possible courses of action to avoid further trouble : one is to avoid the downstream end of the cave ( or not visit the cave ), the other is to "heal" the "sickness" of Porth yr Ogof. However, please note that Roy states emphatically that amateur dabblers in such a venture are at serious risk of coming to harm. Apparently, it requires a powerful group of healers, and well-connected ones at that!

Roy did not wish to be identified in this article but he is willing to consider any request ( initially via the Editor ) for further assistance, but this should come from the landowner or other responsible source, for ethical reasons.

I fully understand how many people feel about paranormal phenomena, so may I conclude by assuring you that this article is neither a joke nor a hoax; I am simply passing on for evaluation the views of two people who are quite unconnected with caving. If nothing else, it may shed some light from a different direction on the unusual occurrences at Porth yr Ogof.

© Copyright Tony Knibbs, Toulouse 12.02.93


Appendum to 'Fatalities in Porth yr Ogof'

Porth-yr-Ogof (Eng. Arch Cave) cave in South Wales is very well known to the cave-exploring fraternity. It is situated in the Brecon Beacons National Park. As its name suggests, the cave entrance is quite spectacular; it is an impressive arch in the limestone cliff which spans the valley of the river Mellte. The arch is 16ft high and nearly 60ft wide. The river runs straight into the cave which soon reduces in size. Within the arch the riverbed consists mainly of small rocks. Except in time of high water, the river can be easily followed, passing pools of varying depth and several incoming passages from other entrances. Finally the river returns to daylight at a 10ft deep pool where the cave roof is just high enough to allow a short swim out into the daylight continuation of the Mellte valley. In effect the limestone cliff is a very substantial bridge over the valley and the river. The river runs mostly in total darkness along a natural tunnel through solid rock.

Remote dowsing of the site has shown that the ‘entities’ are concentrated at the point where the deep pool begins at the downstream end of the cave, i.e. within about 50ft of the exit to daylight.

During the writing of the article, I completely forgot my own strange experience in Porth-yr-Ogof. I visited the cave as a passing tourist during a family outing to South Wales. I thought that a visit to the cave entrance would interest the two children. Having parked the car in the nearby car park we walked down the steep path leading to the cave entrance. While my wife and children waited just inside the entrance, I walked into the cave, continuing as far as the penetrating daylight would allow. The river flowed about a foot deep along the right-hand wall of the cave, so I had been keeping my feet dry by walking to the left. On my return I decided to move toward the right-hand wall. Just visible in the gloom was a small passage in the wall on the other side of the river. In those days I smoked cigarettes, and, using my lighter as illumination I stepped across the river into the gloom of the small passage. It was not quite high enough to stand up straight in for more than a few feet. The passage appeared to close down after about 25ft. I was contemplating where the passage might be leading when I became aware that I had begun to feel decidedly dizzy. I could think of no reason for this onset of dizziness, but decided that it would be prudent to leave these surroundings and exit the cave. I didn’t mention the incident to anyone, simply putting it out of my mind.

It has been suggested that victims of malevolent ‘entities’ simply have their ‘life force’ withdrawn. It occurs to me that I may have had a lucky escape. However, of the eight cases of drowning in the cave between 1957 and 1992, all except one was in the final deep pool, the exception was a cave-diver elsewhere in the cave. There has been no serious incident in the cave since 1992. My visit was probably in the 1980s.