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Offensive In The Ardennes

A TALE OF THE BEC IN BELGIUM

Friday 2nd December saw the invasion of the continent, once again, by the BEC.  An initial team of fifteen had dwindled to a mere six due to the problems of legally obtaining a university minibus for the transportation of uneducated drunks.  Those with the willpower and cash who remained were Mac, J'Rat, Barrie Wilton, Matt Tuck, Bob Cork and Alan Thomas - divided into two car loads.  After crossing the channel at different times on Friday we eventually met up at the Speleo Nedarland hut at Bohon near Dubuy in the Belgium Ardennes.

Unable to gain access to the hut we headed for the bars of Borveausc – expecting to meet the Dutch lads in (at least) one of them.  Meanwhile the Dutch lads were in Dubuy 1ooking for us.  Late that night we returned to the hut - full of ale and "joi de vivre" and minus the usual carrots and tomato skins.  With no Dutchmen in sight we removed a wooden window pane and attempted to get some kip in the prevailing artic conditions - only to be disturbed soon after by an even more paralytic bunch of Nederlanders.

Late Saturday morning, with blazing international hangovers, the assembled planned the days caving. Alan accompanied Peter Staal and Co on a gentle fester to the Grotte de Bohon whilst the remainder were taken to the steep swallet cave of Laide Fosse (Ugly Shaft) near Rochefort.  This cave was initially dug open by Marc Jasiniki and his team in the fifties and consists of a few hundred feet of usually dry passage on two levels.  In our delicate state we only visited the fairly well decorated upper level where all are under the impression there is more to be found.  A couple of interesting climbs and an exposed traverse were not made easier by the general lack of balance of the party.  Despite this we moved a lot easier than the Belgium novice groups infesting the cave.  It was near the entrance to Laide Fosse that a small foreign field will remain forever polluted by Matt’s gastric juices.  Too bad the electric fence was turned off!

Consciences eased we descended upon Rochefort.  While John, Fransh and Josh returned to the hut for Laurens Smits and Peter (Speleo Limburg) the BEC found the roughest cafe in town where a homely lady (Sylvie Hobbs double) turned out to be the local brothel Madame.  Following a visit to several other cafes and fritteries we returned here to meet the Dutch.  By now a regular fight was in progress amongst the locals with Mademe well in the thick of it - having forgotten all about her offer of free young ladies for the English Speleos.

With little to keep us here we were forced to take up Laurens Smits offer of an overnight caving trip.  One pub and many drinks later we were all gathered in a field, at midnight near the Grotte Le Han.  One of Europe’s most renown show caves with some 3km of tourists trails it is difficult to obtain permission to visit the several kilometres of undeveloped system beyond.  This can be solved by enveloping Laurens and Bob Cork in neoprene and persuading them to swim a hundred metres or so up the river exit from where they are able to open the show cave door.  Meanwhile the dry clad must creep past the restaurant trying to keep quiet in the foot deep frozen grass, very difficult.  Once safe inside a whole underground world is yours to play in.

We followed the tourist trail to the underground river, pausing to admire the huge underground cafe with its helium balloons and locked booze cupboards and the enormous Salle du Dome – 154m long, 136m wide and 200m from the base to summit of its underground mountain.  At the river a plastic dinghy was acquired and, like Jules Verne heroes, we embarked on a subterranean voyage across the mighty Lene to the far bank where the entrance to the Resau Sud led off.  Several hundred feet of walking and crawling passage ended in a huge boulder strewn hall with some of the finest formations in the cave - mainly tall white columns and pillars.  After some three and a half hours we returned to the entrance via the Salle du Dome, where a quick burst on the show cave lights revealed this gigantic chamber in all its glory.

The hut was reached at 5am on Sunday and sleep indulged in.  By 1pm we were inspecting another cave.  The Grotte d'Alexandre must be one of the most ideally situated caves in the world.  Leading from the back room of a caving pub with a very friendly Belgian landlord (who was a soldier in Melton Mowbray 1945!).   As we had already planned to visit another cave we left this one for another time and concentrated on the front room and beer.

Our afternoon trip was perhaps the most novel yet.  The entrance to the Resurgence Lucianne consists of a small hole ten kilometres up the inside wall of an active railway tunnel!  Keeping an eye out for passing trains and the other for passing gendarmes a large team of BEC, Speleo Nederland and Speleo Limburg climbed up the electron ladder into the system.  A series of thrutchy tubes is followed by a maze of much larger passages, cascades and streamway with well decorated chambers.  Perhaps the most memorable part of the trip being the babble of French, Flemish, Dutch, German and English as various hordes of illegally exploring cavers attempted to converse with each other.  An excellent trip, marred only by the fact that Peter Staal was not carried off by the train which hurled past him as he was climbing down the ladder!

For some this superb weekend finished with a Chinese meal in Danant - for others another nights drinking had to be endured.  In conclusion, our thanks to Peter, Janet, John, John, Fransh, Josh (Speo Nederland) and Peter Goosens and Lauren (Speleo Limburg) and to Alan Thomas for looking after us.  Over eleven cafes, five caves, one railway tunnel and some superb scenery were visited.  Roll on the next trip.

Tony Jarratt
January 1984