Fool de Lauret - by Rich Walker
Updated: Feb 16
If you had told me that I was about to drive for two hours in 35C heat around the south of France looking for a cave, I would probably have believed you.
If you had also told me that we would have to walk through some bushes and undergrowth, up a precarious limestone wall, and then descend into a cave entrance while hanging on a rusty chain over a 50m high precipice, I would have still believed you. If you then added a simple fact that I would be doing this while wearing a Fourth Element 7mm semi-drysuit, I might have started to question the sense in the plan. Never mind though, in for a penny, in for a pound as they say.
The cave is called the Foux de Lauret and lies near the village of Lauret. Thats how it got its name, apparently. I don’t know what Foux means though.
Anyway, we arrived at the entrance, hanging on the rusty chain, to see a gate behind which is a small crawly tunnel. If you have heard me talk about caves before, you will know that crawling is almost my most favourite activity.
It comes second to hanging over a bottomless pit on a piece of wet string held to a slimy piece of rock by some sort of metal screw which looks a lot like something I had in a Meccano kit as a child. But I digress. The crawling is soon over and we arrive in large passageway. This is nice, impressive cave. I like it. Lots of meanders (s-shaped passage) follow where the water has worn it’s path through the rock and we end up at a clear blue pool. This is why I am wearing my semi dry suit. I jump in and try to cool off, but the suit is so good that no water comes in. I give the neck seal a pull and a pint of ice cold water shoots in, making my nipples... (oops, wrong blog).
Anyway, I swim over the pool to the other side, and carry on through the passage which remains very picturesque. There are more pools, which soon become canals requiring us to swim. Swimming in wellington boots sounds pretty easy (how hard could it be) but for some reason looks more like a valiant drowning attempt. I’ve swum a lot in my life, but the addition of wellies make me swim like a cat in a bag.
The French don’t seem to like getting wet, so there are lots of traverse lines hang in the roof of the cave. It must take hours for a group to cross these canals. Once out of the water, we soon come to a sharp left turn off the main passage, and rather than consider heading on a straight path, we turn off. We encounter rifts, traverse lines holes in the floor, and strange pegs hammered into the wall for us to stand on. You don’t to hang around on these pegs (or stemples as I’m informed they are known) as you can feel them bend under your weight. It’s not that there is a huge drop below you, just a gradually narrowing crack that with a decent drop would be sure to wedge you in good and proper. Keep moving.
Maybe we shouldn’t have turned off the main road. We come to a rather complex bit involving a rope and a long drop (see above). This was not supposed to be there, or maybe it was us that wasn’t supposed to be there, so we turned round and headed back to our turn-off point. And off we go again. This started to look more promising. More canals to swim in - great fun. I am developing a technique to swimming which resembles a cat that has just escaped from a bag, so I’m making progress.
People start climbing up out of the canal to try to find the legendary gour pools, which are apparently some of the most beautiful formations in the cave. Gour pools have been formed by crystalline deposits over millions of years, and resemble Asian rice terraces, but underground and sparkly. Water cascades down them when the river is flowing. Christine was determined to take photos, so we continue to hunt.
We come to what looks like the end of the canal, which makes little sense as these things don’t just stop. Further inspection shows that there is a tiny airspace over the water, maybe 3cm high and I fancy I can see the passage enlarging on the other side. I suggest that Jarvist goes through. I now know that it is possible for a human to make a snorkel with their lips.
I am banned from going through this delightful feature - I object for a moment to show some form of resistance and retain some level of manhood, then concede that I wouldn’t want to worry Chris. Ego intact, we turn and leave Jarvist and now Gerick to make snorkels with their lips and slither out.
My swimming technique is now so good that my trusty tripod that I have owned for 20 years fell out of my bag on the swim home. 10 minutes of touchy feely in the mud bottom of the canal failed to retrieve it. Oh well - it has served a long and useful life.
The exit was uneventful and took around an hour. The pools allowed us to flush the wetsuits from “heating fluid”.
Back out of the cave, up the rusty chain, down the limestone precipice and through the bushes put us back at the car and we decided to head off for a pizza. St Bauzille has a row of pizzerias along the waterside and makes an excellent place to stop for food, if you get there before 9pm.
9.05pm and you’re screwed, especially if you smell of heating fluid. There was one place left open that would sell us a takeaway pizza, on the condition that we waited outside in the garden.
We weren’t going to argue ;-)