After two previous trips to Aggie (Agen Allwedd) we were finally ready to tackle one of the caves classic round trips. We initially set off to do the Inner Circle via Coal Cellar Passage (as our previous trip to Aggie had terminated at Coal Cellar Chamber). However, we ended up doing the Outer Circle instead!
The entrance of Agen Allwedd (Aggie) is easy to find, approximately 35 minutes walk along the tramway from the Chelsea Speleo Whitewalls Cottage (turn left coming out of the cottage and follow this path, all the way round the valley edge). The metal entrance hatch is in the base of the cliff only meters from the path and can't be missed. Once inside, the entrance series is quite straightforward. There were some first class ice formations! The entrance passage soon degenerates to an annoying flat out thrash in a shallow pool of water under two low arches, but you can be careful and stay mostly dry through these. After this, the going is easy and generally keeping left is the key to subsequent navigation.
As the entrance series approaches the start of the first boulder choke (several minutes after the first sign warning of bats), navigation becomes trickier up and down through the jammed blocks, but perseverance and trial and error (you can't go far wrong) soon finds you scrambling through the main part of the choke (a scaffold bar across a small rift passage marks the start of the choke). Keep to the solid left wall through the choke and you soon pop out into the majestic Main Passage.
We took a pleasant stomp down the Main Passage, and dropped down through the opening in the right hand wall after a few hundred meters into the stream. This stream passage is followed over numerous boulders and obstacles for some distance (involving a few fixed handlines) to reach the second boulder choke (which has a sign to confirm you are in the right place). Once here, this is the worst of the navigation over. A recce trip to here (as we had a few years ago) is well worthwhile before attempting one of the round trips.
The second boulder choke drops down through blocks to a low section at stream level. On our first trip this was very wet and would have involved a very nasty duck, but on both occasions since (including this one) water levels have been fine, despite the weather not being the driest on the surface. Beyond the second choke the streamway is followed with relative ease (and one slightly awkward climb down for those with short legs) for some distance before the obvious merger with the caves main stream passage, Turkey Streamway. As you approach here, the rock becomes very slippy and I will get some new wellies before we return here!
Upstream in Turkey Streamway reaches after a few hundred meters a superb flowstone cascade, one of the finest! A few hundred meters further and the obvious entrance to Coal Cellar Passage is reaches on the right. Initially this passage is fairly easy going (though awkward by comparison to what we had been through so far). We got to the junction with Coal Cellar Chamber (which goes off on the right up into a large chamber with lots of black coal-like rock). This is where we turned around last time.
We instead continued right, up the main Coal Cellar Passage. This soon narrowed and became increasing more awkward. Sideways walking was often necessary, and then even this became impossible as the passage pinched in at the floor level with several jammed blocks, requiring frequent chimneying and traversing. This continued for an eternity - too long - before the passage changed character again and lowered, to a further eternity of thrutching over slabs and blocks at stream level. This passage was much more arduous that we'd anticipated! After some time following the small stream, with the passage showing no mercy and our energy draining, we were beginning to wonder if we had missed the climb up into the large passages of the Inner Circle. However, following the passage to the end, we eventually found ourselves in small chamber, which initially looked like a dead end, but with a tiny chute going upwards at the back, with clear signs of being well worn. Gary went first up this, soon discovering why most people choose to do the round trip in the opposite direction! After 10 minutes of shoving and grunting he was up and we all followed in our own time.
The decision was now made to complete the Outer Circle to avoid a return via Coal Cellar Passage!
We were pleased to pop up into a spacious passage, exactly where we were meant to be. After a lunch break, we stomped onwards up the passage (left as you pop up from Coal Cellar Passage). This became larger, but after a few hundred meters reached a confusing end, and it was not clear on the survey where to go. At the very end of the passage it degenerated into a low flat out crawl, not well worn, and 20 m back from here, a drop down a trench in the floor was marked with an arrow saying 'OUT' (this is confusing - Out of the cave, or the Outer Circle???). Dropping down here and following the obvious way on however soon reached further large passage - it turns out that this was not a junction at all, but simply a continuation of the passage at lower level (the survey we had was not accurate enough to shown this). At the end of this passage was a junction which matched the survey perfectly. Ahead (keeping right) was the start of the anticlockwise Inner Circle, but we went left, cutting off the Inner Circle altogether. All navigation from here was extremely easy with the survey all the way back down the Turkey Streamway.
Following the streamway downstream we had a refreshing dip in Turkey Pool (only belly deep, and only 10m long) and an easy stomp back down to the start of Coal Cellar Passage again. We romped back out, completing the Outer Circle in 7 hours. We exited to find several inches of snow having fallen and a rather treacherous walk back to Whitewalls.
A great trip! Maybe next time we will recce Southern Stream Passage.
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