WHEN you think of caves, the mind often conjures up images of dark and dismal places where no bird sings, no sun shines and the foul things live. Dan yr Ogof isn’t like that!

The National Showcaves Centre for Wales is about as far removed as possible from those damp and miserable cavities buried in the bowels of the Earth where our ancestors lived. 

A quick walk about this underground wonderland is enough to convince even the most cynical soul that caves are far more than mere shelters where an early breed of humanity sat around wrapped in animal skin, chewing bones, grunting incoherently, and shaking sticks at one another to pass the time until Netflix arrived.

Caves are a testament, carved out of rock and shaped by water, to nature’s artistry. 

The history of humanity may be defined by our desire to flee as far as possible from the caves where we first crawled into the world. However, buried not far beneath the neon glitter and digital illusion of the modern age is the collective cave! The place where our primal and primitive past lies undisturbed, hauntingly still, and forever patient. 

That’s why caves continue to loom so large in our imagination. These little kingdoms of shadow and stone are where we once lived and buried our dead. They’re also the place we first looked out at the stars from and wondered who and what we were. 

You may take the human out of the cave but you can’t take the cave out of the human! They are carved like scars deep into our psyche. 

As well as being symbolic of other worlds and other times, caves serve to remind us of that untouched and untainted part of the world that was here before and will be here long after civilizations have fallen to rot and ruin, 

It’s no wonder Dan yr Ogof continues to cast a spell over all and everyone who ventures into its enchanted kingdom.

Translated as “below the cave,” Dan yr Ogof’s story in the modern era began in 1912 when two brothers, Tommy and Jeff Morgan decided to go on a trip deep underground in the Swansea valley.

Farmers by trade but infused with a spirit of adventure common to an era when men would disappear into the Amazon rainforest in search of lost cities, the Morgan brothers were intrigued by a water supply that would pour out of a nearby limestone rock, even in times of drought. 

The source of water was considered magical by many living in nearby farms and armed with a couple of candles and some sturdy rope, Tommy and Jeff vowed to find out more. 

Thirty yards in and their journey to the centre of the earth came to an abrupt end when a huge underground lake impeded any further progress on foot. Not to be dissuaded in their historic undertaking, the brothers purchased a coracle from Carmarthen. Sailing away into uncharted realms the pair of prototype Indiana Jones bumped up against infinity when they discovered at the lake’s end a network of passages that was as complex as it was large. 

Feeling a little overwhelmed and a tad nervous by their discovery the brothers did what any self-respecting explorers would, rush home and grab an army revolver!     

Armed and ready for any eventuality, whether it be a horde of zombies, a sleeping dragon, or a gang of uppity Tylwyth Teg, the brothers went back in and began mapping their way with painted arrows and a ball of string. 

Slowly but surely the cave began giving up its secrets to the brothers as they stumbled in awe across more lakes, waterfalls, and notable landmarks such as the “Rasher of Bacon”, the heavenly “Angel” and the “Alabaster Pillar.”

Not wishing to keep their amazing discovery to themselves, the brothers felt the urge to show other people the caves. Being entrepreneurially minded, the pair began charging large numbers of people who were more than happy to wade up to the waist in the water and mud just to get a glimpse of the great unknown. 

As the years turned into decades, the brothers, inspired in part by the success of Cheddar Gorge, began modernizing the cave complex. Today visitors to the National Showcaves Centre for Wales can now walk in their footsteps. The good news is, that you don’t need a candle, rope, or a coracle to explore this strange world of blue-black rock. 

Because this hitherto realm of permanent darkness is now artfully lit up and free of any obstacles. Thus visitors can now go caving without the risk or hardship, just the joy of exploring a natural wilderness. 

And the good news is, once you’ve explored the airy loftiness and captivating natural architecture of Dan yr Ogof cave, there’s another even more magical cave complex a stone’s throw away - Cathedral Cave, that was found years after the Morgans made their initial discovery. 

If any cave looked like a palace where the elves in Lord of the Rings would set up home, Cathedral Cave is it. Its design and formation appear just too intricate to have been created by accident, but then caves are Mother Nature’s way of showing off. 

Caves are created by using three main ingredients. Soluble rock, a constant flow of water, and old father time.

When water seeps into limestone, it begins its magical alchemy of destruction and construction. Of course, all this is the work of centuries and remains invisible to the naked eye, but what is apparent to even the most casual gaze around the caves of Dan yr Ogof is the exquisite beauty of the cave and the formations within. You want pure white straw stalactites, stalagmites, and delicate, almost transparent helictites, you’ve got it!  

It’s almost as if nature is speaking through the caves and saying, “Just look what clever old mamma can do kids.”

As you wander through Cathedral Cave and admire its streams and pools, the showpiece has to be the memorizing cavern known as “The Dome of St. Paul’s.” Its cascading waterfall and awe-inspiring ambiance will live long in your imagination. 

In fact, some people fall in love with the Cathedral Cave so much that they choose to get married there. 

If all that splendour and majesty of Dan yr Ogof and Cathedral Cave leave you reeling, a quick visit along a low tunnel to Bone Cave will bring you down to earth with a bump.

More of what you’d call a traditional cave, Bone Cave gets its name because 43 human skeletons dating back to the Bronze Age were discovered in its chamber, alongside silver rings and fragments of Roman pottery.

In Bone Cave, you’ll get a real taste of what life would have been like living in a cave.

And once you leave and stumble like a Neanderthal into the fierce sunlight, you may find yourself face to face with a massive and ferocious reptile that can swallow 230kg of meat in a single bite. Or as it’s more commonly known, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Did we mention dinosaurs? Well, Dan yr Ogof has got loads of them. And although they’re plastic, they’re extremely life-like and add to the experience of stepping back into a land that time forgot.

Exploring caves is akin to walking on the moon - it’s both physical and metaphysical. As well as providing a sanctuary of sorts for thousands of years, caves help us connect to something buried deep within our subconscious. Something which was forged in the fire and flame of a far more primitive and simple era. 

In a modern world defined by permanent noise, constant movement, and the company of crowds, caves remain silent, still, and tranquil. They’re a cathedral for the soul.

As Master Yoda once told Luke Skywalker, "What's inside the cave is only what you take with you." 

Now go find out what that may be!