A story of an innocent visit to the nether regions of sin and depravity by our staff reporter with no apologies for any slander or libel (Nah nah):
The story begins innocently enough...
Our band of intrepid explorers puts together a plan to visit Belgium. The intention to go caving. For the record their names are as follows:-
|George Pankiewicz||Government Scientist (Aka Herr Doktor)|
|Sarah Pankiewicz||Something in the City|
|Andy Syrnonds||In Computers and carnivore of note|
|Chris Grimmet||Beer is his business (in several ways)|
|Sheelagh Halsey||Chemist (non dispensing)|
|Chris "P" Fry||Computers, telephones and Plungers|
|Steve Wray||Noise engineer|
|Helen Wray||Nurse (ooer!)|
|Simon Davies||Robber of widows and orphans (Insurance)|
Three ears set off from the idyllic English countryside at various stages over the Thursday afternoon. It was 13 April and just before Easter. The ears were loaded with caving equipment, food, and other items too sordid to mention.
The first hurdle to be crossed was the channel tunnel. In the apparent wisdom of one of the so called organisers the cheapest route was taken. This was to be a tunnel under the channel. Two ear loads of people met up in Folkestone terminal as we awaited our train. Much duty free and burger type food was consumed all round. The call was made and our heroes headed for the train. On boarding they soon discovered that cars when fully laden cannot get over the inter-carriage dividers. This sensibly applies to any low vehicles such as Saabs, BMWs and any thing with a ground clearance less than a jeep. (It is important to note that high vehicles such as Jeeps cannot board the train.) Truly a testament to European design and ingenuity!
The departure from Calais was uneventful, and our heroes sped Eastwards towards the autoroutes of Belgium. The destination was Madame Hawser-Laid's in the small town of Villers St Gertrude, somewhere near Liege. They sped through the night stopping once for fuel. Soon, as dawn's dusky glow began to thread skywards the arrivals began to check in. Grirnmet et aI had arrived earlier in the day and had swapped their empty beer bottles for full ones, paying particular attention to Guinness extra special export.
The late arrivals attempted to find a potential pit. C.P managed to find space amongst the "Lebensraum" of some visiting Teutonic speleos. The rest discovered that they had a private room set aside. [Probably a good thing knowing the snoring that Chris Fry produces after drinking.] Alas he soon realised that he was alone and surrounded by the Hun.
The next morning...
Awake, awake, fling off the night!!! The group arose and commenced to break their fast in the traditional British fashion. While our European cousins ate mainly Mueseli and other such gurly things, the Britons feasted upon healthy and invigorating fried foods. Sausage, egg, bacon, mushrooms, beans, fried slice, etc. The superiority of this breakfast arose much interest amongst the visiting "Euros". In fact they herded in their offspring and explained "How strange the English cavers am" (Dutch accent required).1 Discussion upon the days activities ensued and as a result a mass assault upon the "Grotte de Moulin" (sic) was decided. The village of Rochefort was approached and a multitude of grimy cavers emerged from their carriages and changed. The plan was simple. Group one was to proceed through the lower tracts of the cave, climb to the middle series and head towards the large ladder pitch. They were to descend and meet up with group two. Group two were to enter the upper reaches and descend via the rope array and into the bowels of the catacombs and meet up and do a change over. Simple? No!
Things began to go wrong, as the way on was not clearly apparent to our intrepid heroes in group one. Grimmet lowered his body into a tube, and announced that although it was a short (and possibly irreversible) drop into deep water, the way on was clear. Scepticism abounded and the rest of the team scoffed at such a route, partly because the font of all knowledge Belgian (George) made no mention of such a drop. Either way CMG plummeted onwards. C.P and the others looked for the "upper" route. Much searching carried on. Presently strange and bizarre noises were heard from above. T'was the others. George then took over and led the balance of the group through a bizarre boulder choke and into a large chamber and a pitch which was no more than 40 feet - honest. Andy Symonds climbed down into the pit. Alas the ladder ran out some 30 feet from the end. Worse still, there was no sign of Grimmet.
The group beat a path back to the hole down which he travelled. Alas, no sign. After much to-ing and fro-ing a search party' was sent. The details are too lurid to recount in detail, enough to say that CMG found a very complicated route including a public convenience and an Oxygen starved trout (white).
The happy party emerged blinking into the daylight with heroic tales of adventure and derring-do. Our victorious heroes headed for the nearest proprietor of beer and with a cry of "Vive la sauce Andalouse" they descended onto fine beers and things like chips.
The evening of Friday was concentrated on a simple formula:
1 Take beer bottle.
2 Open and drain quickly.
3 Repeat until unconscious.
In fact this was repeated on Saturday, and Sunday.
Saturday came and a delegation wearily made its way to visit Trou St Bernard. One of the few SRT trips in Belgium. It is situated miles from anywhere off some motorway. The audacious underground explorers struggled and battled their way down into the bowels of the twisting and turning system. In parts it was definitely as tight as a gnats chuff. The consensus was very much that since it was such a really exiting and sporting trip that they should help the next days trip. Consequently the ropes were left in for the next day. While this initially caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth, the second party to visit enjoyed the trip immensely.
A veil really ought to be drawn over the fun of Saturday, suffice to say it involved a giant ladle, a plunger, two crates of Belgian lager and a bucket of curry. Sunday morning and the ubiquitous pork boiled in lard. You can really tell that the Euro's are around cos they' just stare. And then they shuffle out in those Euro shoes of theirs. A secondary group visited St Bernard and the others in an international spirit of enjoyment and so forth, decided to visit the nearest show cave. This proved to an exceptionally' good giggle. For a start Grotte de Han takes at least one and half hours to get through and second it also. involves a trip on a mini railway, boat and a torch-lit descent. All this for about £5. The fun started with the local beer known as "Bierre de Han" with real pictures of stalagmites on the bottle. Then a trip through a safari park by train to the cave entrance. Here confusion reigns. Europeans are required to queue. Oh, and they also have to queue by language. Suddenly a notice went up, with the word English written upon it. Was this an advert? Did they' have another sign with the word Swahili on it? The group then had a strange five minutes attempting to converse with the guide in pidgin English. The Germans amongst the visitors pushed and wanted to go first, the French and Belgian just looked arrogant and the Dutch looked thoughtful, stroked their ludicrous beards (that goes for the women too)2 and saying "Hommmm". The cave is quite splendid and includes some quite spectacular formations and passages. The lower sections flood and this produces some interesting mud formations. The exit from the cave includes an underground "Son et Lumiere" display and an exit by boat. The final joy was the baby cannon which was used to illustrate the echo of the resurgence.
The return to Madame Hawser-Laid's revealed that 1 of the 3 Automobiles was severely disabled.3 Grimmet's Saab was in dire straits. Therefore after a slightly subdued Sunday evening Grimmet and Sheila struck out very' early on Monday morning. The rest of them had a civilised breakfast and headed home on Monday lunchtime. The roads were relatively clear and free of traffic and tolls. The tunnel was slightly easier than the outward journey, not without the typical Gallic inability to deal with organisation. The return was without incident, Grimmet managed to get back stopping under 10 times (including the tunnel).
The intrepid heroes stepped foot onto English soil, tired and dirty but happy knowing that we had flown the flag.
Madame Hawser-Laid operates a refuge in Villiers - St - Gertrude and can be reached at:-
Centre D' Hebertement (Le Refuge)
Rue du Village 37
549 Villiers st Gertrude
00 328 649 9055
(Her real name is HASER).
Rate is about 160 BFR PPPN.
The nearest Town is Marche en Femme or Barvaux.
The best beers are Kriek, Leffe, Guinness (Extra special).
The Belgian caving area "is about the same size as Belgium only twice as big" (Go figure. And CP hadn't touched a drop). Good caves: Grotte de Moullin, Trou St Bernard, Grotte St Anne. A good show cave is Grotte De Han near Rochefort.
Travel is easy, via the tunnel, it is straight onto the E40, then follow the signs to Lille and then head to Namur. Use a map!
Food is not much cheaper than in the UK, we took our food with us, mainly because it was over the Easter weekend and we were not sure of super market opening hours. And also we didn't want to waste drinking time by shopping.
For further information, George is putting together a guide book on Belgium.
- Interesting for the potential euro caver is a new spotters guide. They all eat Mueseli, they all smoke vile cigarettes, they invariable wear extremely silly shoes and they shout "Hoopla!" a lot when drunk on shitty beer.
- Especially the women!
- No not the owner - it had a buggered clutch.