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Trappiste As Newts - A tale of the B.E.C. in Belgium

Belgium was the January meet for the Belfry regulars….

By Tony Jarratt

The weekend of 18th - 20th of January heralded yet another historical assault on the continental mainland by the forces of British imperialism.  In the hirsute and motley forms of the Belfryites and the Geriatric Cave Club.  The advance party (with their uniforms and pennant bedecked staff car) of Macannus, Barry Wilton, Colin Dooley and Martin Bishop established themselves in various bars in the village of Hochefort on Friday evening.  Meeting up with Pieter Staal, and his Speleo Nederland irregulars, Edmond and Josh.  With fervent dedication to the cause, they all got swiftly arseholded.

The bright and calm morn that followed was marred for the inhabitants of the Ardennes by the arrival of another carload, fresh from the hill - Alan Thomas (straight out of retirement) Trefor Roberts and the Uglies (sometimes known as Dany and Bob).  Also, direct from a huge Belgian refrigerator, masquerading as a caving hut, came the remainder of the Expeditionary Forces:- Buckett Tilbury, Graham Wilton-Jones, Jeff Price, J'Rat and organiser of the whole issue Big John Watson.

After a series of cock-ups regarding rendezvous, Belgian cavers, etc., the team sample some local ale, got a cheap visit to the caving/archaeological museum at Han-Sur-Lene and eventually got underground.

Led by one Dominique, we were taken into the impressive Grotte de Pierre Noel for a two hour trip. Hydrologically part of the long and fascinating Grotte de Han system, the cave consists essentially of a roomy breakdown tunnel with white columns, bones and curtains - all on a grand scale and, in a reasonable state of repair considering the muddy path through the cave and grotty fingerprints on the lower pretties.  We were informed that a film was being made here in anticipation of the site becoming a show cave in the near future.

Barry, Buckett and Bassett photographed the place to death while the rest pottered about the place comparing it with Otter Hole, the Bergerete.  A short and easy cave but well worth a visit.

Intending to buy Dominique a beer for his troubles, all were prepared for an onslaught on the nearest bar. This became unnecessary when it was found that Trappiste (local nonentity brewed high Octane Newcastle Brown) and Stella Artois could be purchased cheap at Dominique’s club hut!

Refreshment was duly obtained, B.E.C. sticker emplaced and the entourage moved off for a vast meal of sauerkraut, mash and donkeys dickwurst provided by the Dutch lads at their cosy wooden hut (behind a caravan site and almost underneath a motorway!) Much of the rest of the evening has been pieced together from others memories.  Extreme field trials of various brews and-octane ratings washed down with Frog speleos wine have forever erased it from the writer’s memory. A packed bar in Hochofort emptied exceedingly fast on our arrival - as did the little bowls of peanuts provided by the landlord.  Two Belgian lorry drivers looked on bemused.  The local monks worked overtime on Sunday…..

Dawn - 10am. Those staying in the fridge (amidst bits of French carrot and tomato skins) were up early and across to the Dutch hut, where the others were still in their pits. What they did that day is doubtless another story but Graham Wilton-Jones, Jim Watson, Jeff Price, Buckett Tilbury and J'Rat managed a trip into the Grotte de Fontaine River with a mixed team of Belgians.  Again, a short and well decorated cave but very notable for its huge, deep lake at the end where the wet suited Englishmen played for some time, all but one oblivious to the fact that a Belgium caver they had rushed past when he fell in the water had a dislocated shoulder.  !Great fun.

Back to the Whiteman’s country - on the Sunday night boat - hangover, knackered and broke.  An excellent weekend.

Our thanks to Big Jim for arranging it all, to our Dutch colleagues for the grub and the hospitality, our drivers.  Belgium cavers and a bunch of monks somewhere who remain oblivious to the havoc and moral decline that they caused.