Cold, dark confined spaces are not what I would class as one of those areas of ‘Hidden Beauty’ previously referred to, neither are they places that I have a desire to frequent.
With this in mind, you would think that a day trip for mine exploration would be the last thing on my ‘holiday’ itinerary. It is something, however, that in August last year (2013) I was somehow persuaded to take part in. Although not a confined space it was cold and dark; somewhat intimidating and fear imposing with a traverse that left me suspended in a void of epic proportions (exaggeration or not that’s how it presented itself to me!). The trip’s only appeal was the fact that I was entering this experience not on my own but with a number of other people, who unlike me, seemed to be seeking the ‘thrill’ of the ‘underworld’!
Returning to Wales this year, it was suggested that an underground trip should be included on the list of activities to offer. With our ‘Community Holiday’ underway, and with a day to spare, Mal and I found ourselves heading for Cwmorthin Slate Mine; time to dig deep, take a deep breath and compose the tremble within.
The limited light of our head torches didn’t help much to illuminate the relatively spacious entrance tunnel or the descent along the incline plain; the darkness was appearing ever more threatening and overwhelming. Not far into the mine, having passed over our first very modest traverse, we landed at the head of a chasm of nothingness; before us a 60ft abseil to ‘nowhere’; my mind-set in tatters!
Irrespective of Mal's gentle encouragement and reassurance of safety, I could go no further, the elements had beaten me and I urgently needed to retreat. Retracing our steps the smell of air and the light of the outside was welcoming and comforting.
Pondering on the content of our hour’s activity, conversation was deep. We likened the situation to those times in life when worlds are shattered by events beyond our control and we find ourselves in those difficult, ‘dark’ places of life with seemingly no-where to go, no-where to hide and very little hope. Those times when we need to rely on the ‘light’ to help us understand our surroundings and to see the steps forward clearer, rather than allowing the darkness to absorb us.
I needed to ‘happen’ to Cwmorthin rather than Cwmorthin ‘happening’ to me!
The week rolled on, and with new visitors joining us on camp looking for an ‘extreme’ experience, I found myself bringing the idea that they might find the challenges of Cwmorthin enough to fulfil their desires; could I believe I was saying these things? No, but sometimes you have to be determined to achieve, so to Cwmorthin we were headed!
As the 6 of us kitted up there seemed to be a buzz in the air, for me encouragement and strength in numbers; although the mine opening would have been better served with less of an ascent, here was potential for enthusiasm to abate.
The walls of the mine seemed much more visible as we made our way through. This could only mean that the gaping voids would also be more apparent; as the 60ft abseil loomed my only option was to close my eyes and hope for the best! Pushing away from the ledge I was launched into the chasm that just 2 days before I had ‘run’ from. The contact with solid ground brought a sigh of relief, but there was no time to feel comfortable as a short distance away, in the dim light of the head torches, could be seen what is known as the ‘catwalk’. With a sickening feeling beginning to develop in the pit of my stomach it was my turn to interact with the 6 inch planks of wood that perched on the old miner’s metal spikes in the middle of an approx. 90ft chamber. Encouraged greatly by those around me, making sure ‘cows tails’ were in place, I tentatively started my ‘walking in the air’ journey; the sickening feeling increasing as the planks ran out into footholds of only metal spikes!
Half-way through, with a broken bridge to be negotiated and two more abseils to be conquered I was thankful for the continued quiet words and inspiration of those who went before me. Finally landing deep in the mine, I was ready to lead the ascent up the incline plane back out into the warmth and brightness of the sun.
Feeling accomplished in the ‘happening’ to Cwmorthin, my mind took me once again to ‘moments of life’ and how in those areas victory too can be known as we surround ourselves with the right friends who can bring light and encouragement to see us through. For me that has included ‘chatting’ with my friend Jesus, who directly and through other people helped me to see the ‘opportunities’ of life in a new light, to find and reach that warmth and beauty once again.