Porth yr Ogof

Cave details

2.53 km
Vertical range:
< 60 m
South Wales

An open access cave with several entrances and a very bad reputation for deaths. The cave is very much overused by adventure groups and for military training. The main route follows the river which in wet weather flows into the main entrance, the largest entrance in Wales (20 m wide and 3 m high). This route is generally very wide and between 10 and 1.5 m high. Upstream inlets enter a complex divers only area and to the right inside the main area, a complex of passages bypasses a deep section in the main route. A survey is available on the UBSS site.

The resurgence pool at the water exit is the area that has claimed so many lives, being 4-5 m deep and cold with undercuts and strong under-currents. As there are 15 entrances - the most of any cave in Wales - the exit is best avoided by using one of the other entrances. Notices within the cave before the exit pool warn of the danger and point to the safe ways out.

The current death list follows. Please do not add to this list. Only experienced cavers who are strong swimmers should attempt to cross the resurgence pool, and only ever with a wetsuit and some form of floatation device.

23 June 1957Leonard Garraway (experienced)20died crossing the resurgence pool
20 June 1966B. Speakmandied crossing the resurgence pool
7 August 1968Anthony Stannard (experienced)28died crossing the resurgence pool
18 October 1970Stephen Sedgewick (novice)18died crossing the resurgence pool
13 February 1971Paul Esser (trainee cave diver)21died while diving in an upstream sump - not the resurgence pool
19 July 1973Graham Alston (cadet soldier, novice)15died crossing the resurgence pool
22 July 1981Adrian Luck (novice)28died crossing the resurgence pool
28 July 1986Gwynfor Hughes (outdoor persuits instructor leading a party)45died of a heart attack whilst installing a rope across the resurgence pool
16 June 1992Amanda Stead (soldier [sometimes incorrectly stated as an army cadet], novice)26died crossing the resurgence pool
14 October 1992Graham Lipp (one of two leaders of a party of children from an outdoor pursuits centre)34died crossing the resurgence pool, while trying to retrieve the body of a 15 year old from his party who had just drowned in the pool but was successfully revived
22 July 2002Kevin Sharman (teenage trainee soldier, novice)17died crossing the resurgence pool

This complete list only covers the modern caving era, and the number of deaths is often misquoted or grossly exaggerated in various sources. Previously, deaths of early explorers or early humans may have occurred within the cave, but detailed records are not kept. Benjamin Heath Malkin's "The Scenery, Antiquities, and Biography of South Wales" (1804) mentions that "There is a practical passage through [the cave] [...] In one instance, a life was lost".

In modern caving, Porth yr Ogof holds the unenviable second place (after the Three Counties System) for the most number of deaths in a single cave in UK or Ireland. What sets it apart is its much shorter length, and the fact that almost all of the deaths happened in exactly the same place, despite being spread over so many years and incidents.

This description was quoted on 22/07/2002 and again on 23/07/2002 by the BBC NEWS in a story about the death of yet another non-caver in this cave.

Incident information gained from: Depth through thought - October 1992, A century of British caving, "The Secret World of Porth yr Ogof" (Martyn Farr, 1998, ISBN 1 85902 559 5), British Cave Rescue Council, Descent issue 198, "Outdoor activities, negligence and the law" (Julian Fulbrook, 2005, ISBN 0754642356, 9780754642350), BBC NEWS Wales and their follow-up story.