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Dordogne 1989

By Vince Simmonds


Brian Murlis, Steve Redwood and I met at Steve's at about 5.30 pm and set off for Weymouth at about 6.00 pm.  We arrived at Weymouth nice and early for our 10.00 pm sailing only to discover it had been delayed for 6 hours.  So we had a wonderful meal of cod and chips and imbibed 'fizzy' ale in some local hostelries - Hunters was sorely missed already!  We returned to the ferry port and tried to catch some kip under the stars in the car park.  We eventually boarded the ferry at 6.00 am.


11.00 am saw us arriving in Cherbourg harbour and going straight through customs and immediately taking a wrong turn. When we sorted this small problem out we set off, a happy little bunch, not quite realising we had 12 hours solid driving ahead of us.  We discovered after several towns and several errors that the easiest way through a French town is to head straight for the 'Centre Ville' and then picking up the required road.  After nearly running out of fuel and tempers getting a touch frayed we eventually arrived in Gramat about midnight only to find the directions to the camp site vague to say the least.  Luckily there was someone in the station to give us directions.  Amazingly when we arrived at the site we managed to locate Nick Geh and his diving party and by about 1.00 am we were nicely tucked up in our tents after having hysterics watching Steve erect his one-man tent for the first time.


We arose to a marvellous morning so we proceeded to have a quick recce of the camp site.  This site proved to have quite excellent facilities, as with most French camp sites, hot showers, toilets, electricity points and running water.  The next task was to go to Gramat to buy the days supplies bread, cheese and Salame and the liquid refreshment necessary in this heat - good excuse that.  'Digger' Hastilow had also arrived the same evening as us so four of us set off to explore the River Dordogne planning to go swimming, however the low water levels (the area also experiencing a drought) put paid to this idea so we went back to Fontain St.Georges a very cold resurgence pool which proved excellent for swimming and diving though the water was extremely cold after having been underground for months.  A small cave above the resurgence was explored but was only about 40 feet in length if you're caving in swimming shorts and a zoom. We spent the evening, as most evenings would be spent eating bread, cheese and meats and drinking beer and talking with the divers who had reports of quite stupendous 'vis' and large swimming passage, so much that they were becoming quite blasé about it.


Today was to be the first day of serious caving since our arrival so we chose two relatively close caves, Reveillon and Roque du Cor.  We had located the entrance to Reveillon yesterday, to say it's impressive would be an understatement.  The huge entrance porch which measures approx. 150 feet by 150 feet leads down to a passage 30 x 30 feet with some fine gour pools.  There are a few pitches which we managed to negotiate with a 50' handline or free climbable using combined tactics.  Some side passages were explored, Steve leading us into one particularly interesting muddy one with a rope climb that proved a little awkward to get out of.  An interesting thing at the bottom was that the sump had dried out and some passage beyond was explored, this was to prove uninspiring being jammed with flood debris and mud.  On the way out we noticed a good few large toads in the muddy sections that were the sumps.

So then on to Roque du Cor, just a few kilometers away.  This cave also had an impressive entrance, a huge doline with a path leading to the bottom where the cave entrance was a low but fairly wide arch leading after about 75 feet to larger passage, perhaps about 1500 feet in total.  There were some quite nice decorations.

After the caving we stopped off in the 'Supermarche' for supplies and the evening was spent reflecting the days adventures before retiring to our respective pits.


Another lovely morning! Today's mission was to locate 3 caves, the first of them was Les Vitcirelles which proved to be just a stream sink with no known cave - (when we returned to England we discovered that Les Vitcirelles is an impressive river cave located in the centre of a nearby army camp and access is, as far as we know, virtually impossible).  Lots of caves seem to have the same name.  The next cave we visited was Pert du Themines which proved to be an excellent cave.  Situated in a blind gully the entrance is right under a pile of flood debris as was the whole cave, evidence of flooding was everywhere.  The cave needed just one 20' ladder near the entrance, we were later to regret not carrying the 50' handline.  The walls of this cave were superbly scalloped, leaving rocks like Thomas Moore sculptures, and coloured orange and browns.  From the pitch an obvious passage leads to the streamway, with a little wading this can be followed for about 100' until a sump is reached.  A tube just back from the sump can easily be climbed to a large fossil passage.  To the left, a slope down to a large chamber and the stream rejoined.  The chamber is about 50' high and flood debris can be seen jammed in the roof. The stream meanders to a second sump. A clamber up a muddy, gravel slope leads to another fossil passage.  To the right, an extremely muddy passage can be followed past some fine gours for 200'. To the left, the passage leads on to a decorated chamber and gour pools deep enough to swim through.  Returning to the first fossil passage and turning right we followed a small series of passages and by a process of elimination we eventually found ourselves in a clean washed passage full of gours which went on for several thousand feet through to a beautifully decorated chamber approx. 150' high.  Continuing along the passage, mainly by swimming, led to a 30'- 40' drop, which would have required the handline, to another section of streamway.  We believed this streamway to be a continuation beyond the sump. After these passages we made our way out.

The third cave we planned to visit was Theminette's in a village of the same name, as was Themines. The cave was very similar to the previous cave except that the entrance was completely blocked and exploration was impossible.


We had decided that today's cave was to be the Igue de St. Sol, part of the Lacave system.  On the way to the Igue we stopped and had a quick look at Lacave Show Cave natural entrance.

The Igue de St.Sol is located at the top of a track next to a cemetery just beyond Lacave.  The walk of about 1 km. is not difficult and the entrance is found in a fenced area just to the right of the main track.

The entrance shaft requires about 250' of rope. We started with a back-up to a fence post, down a slope and belayed from a tree for a drop of about 60’ to a muddy ledge with a rebelay just below the edge.  This gives a further 80' drop to another rebelay about 60' from the bottom.

The Igue intersects an old fossil passage about 40'x 40' and about 2000' long.  To the right are some old parachute cases left over from the war. Also to the right are the best of the formations, huge bosses, columns 30' to 40' high, flows and grottoes.  At the end of this passage is an old dig face in mud which has various sculptures littered around, these are made from mud. From the left of Igue the passage is muddier and has fewer formations and soon closes down.

On the way back down the hill we had a quick look at the Grotte de Combe-Culier, a small active dig that is well worth the look.


We deliberately left the Grottes de Saut de la Pucelle to be our last cave because of the reports we had of it being a good fun trip, this was proved to be the case.  We took 6 x 25' ladders, 50' handline and various tapes and slings.  The advice we had was to check which was a pitch and which was not, as some were easy to go over but not quite so easy to get back out again.  On the way down we met a couple of French caving parties who let us pass them, one party using S.R.T. in a cave with the biggest pitch being 30' and avoiding the water.  Although this active 3 km. streamway was relatively low whilst we were there it must really be impressive with a bit more water.  At the sump there is a plaque to the memory of Martel who was instrumental in the discovery of the cave 100 years ago (1889 - 1989).  Other points of interest were a rather smelly dead trout in one passage; a pool halfway into the cave had a resident white fish (trout like) and the first leech we had seen had taken up residency on one slippery climb.

All in all we had a fantastic week in an area well worth a visit.  It also has to be said that there is enormous potential in the area for new caves.  Also anyone with time on their hands might also like to visit one of the many show caves in the area - with time being so short we did not get around to seeing any.

We would also like to thank Rob Taviner (BEC & Wessex) who supplied us with much information on the area visited.