A reconnaissance trip to the Franche-Comte region of France by Martin Upfold and Vicky Stratton:
The Franche-Comte region of France is an area of Jurassic limestone comprising the Haute-Soane, Belfort Doubs and Jura territories, and is located south of Alsace Lorraine. The biggest town is Besancon.
I had decided on a long ferry crossing (Portsmouth to Le Havre) just for the sake of it. The crossing was calm and the cabin comfortable.
We disembarked at 7.3Oam on Friday 7th October and drove around Paris and south on the Autoroute de Soliel before turning east to Besancon, then south again to the town of Oranans which seemed fairly centrally located. We arrived at 5.3Opm and found a quiet and pleasant campsite which was still open.
Oranans is situated on the banks of the Loire river valley, the source of which is a huge resurgence cave 30km roughly south. The valley itself is fairly green with odd limestone cliffs dotted about. The whole place looked a bit Mendip-ish.
Come the early evening, it was time to go into town to seek dinner, followed by an early night. We awoke early to find the tent soaked inside and out by a heavy dew. After breakfast and some food shopping, we set off to explore armed with a map and a caving guide book.
First stop was the source of the Loire river. The resurgence here sumps a few metres inside the entrance. A short walk away we located the entrance of the Grotte de Noailles. The entrance is hidden by a hydro-electric power scheme and is gated. The gate is secured by 12mm bolts. We did not enter the cave, but the survey showed that it goes horizontally straight into the hillside and is 521m long.
The rest of the day was spent doline spotting and entrance locating for future trips. Certain systems are dangerously active and permission must be gained in advance before planning a trip (notices at the entrances point this Out). The source of the Dole river was another massive resurgence. Next to it was an enormous collapsed chamber. The only way in appeared to be a fairly wild abseil to the floor or a pendulum 200 feet down the sheer wall into some fossil passage.
Next day was a caving day, so after packing the car, we spotted a few more entrances before arriving at the Gouffre de la Belle Louise. We parked a short way down a track next to the doline and then waited half an hour for some local cavers to exit. The plan was to do the 48m entrance pitch only before leaving. Rigging was a fairly simple affair: a short handline from a tree to a spit in a boulder to back up the two spits over the narrow pitch head. A Y-hang here and a short deviation at -l2ni gave a fairly free hanging drop to the bottom of the pitch which leads to further short pitches and the system beyond.
Upon exiting we drove to the flash Novotel at Colmar in the Vosges national park about two hours away. The following day involved a quick exploration of the ancient city of Colmar and the uneventful drive back to Lc Havre and the ferry home.
The Franche-Comte region is an interesting area well worth an extended visit. For practical purposes it would be better to use Calais or Dunkirk ports as these would only be about three hours drive. I shall probably return at Easter.