I walked into the office after a week’s holiday to be greeted with the question ‘Where did you go on holiday?’

‘Oh I went to do some cave diving in France’, I replied, to which the response was ‘Oh that is a bit extreme’. How do you begin to explain what cave diving is like and why you would want to do it, to somebody who doesn't even dive?

Myself, my diving buddy Ken, Paul my husband, and Simon decided to do a return visit to cave country in France, centred around the Lot and the Dordogne. After driving through the night we arrived at our very rural villa in Gamotte on Sunday 10 September 2006.

After a few hours sleep, we headed off to the Cabouy, a site we have dived before, to do a check out dive. The weather was lovely, hot and sunny, and it looked like it had been that way for a while, as the water level was way down in the pool with lots of pond weed. Paul & Simon wanted to play with the scooters, unfortunately this meant Ken didn’t have a dive buddy, as I was still full of a cold and unable to dive.

The boys returned and were introduced to Kevin (caverkevin) and Cris (Rubis), also returning from a long dive to the Poumayssen. The boys then took pity on Ken and took him for a short dive leaving me feeling very sorry for myself as I could not dive.

Entrance Pool of Cabouy - Rubis in foreground

It was getting quite late by now, so we unfortunately had to go straight to Lynne’s for dinner and skipped out on a beer at Rocamadour with Kevin, Cris and Joe. Everyone was very tired, so after filling the tanks we headed home to our villa.

Slept like a log and Monday 11 September 2006 headed off to the Ressel. Simon & Paul were planning a deeper dive on their scooters. As we got there, we met some Dutch guys who were very sympathetic about my cold and if I could dive or not. At last some sympathy, which was lacking somewhat from my lot! I was amazed that the Dutch guys were planning on 4 dives that day. Also found out that they were Cave 1 trained.

Anyway, Ken sent me in the river with an O2 cylinder, dry suit, mask & fins to see if I would be able to cope with my sinuses. Hurray! I was able to clear and reached the river bed, so after our drills Ken & I headed off to the entrance. I was more than a little nervous, but excited too. The cave was very wide and I had forgotten the huge tightly packed slabs of rock close to the entrance, where the line drops to the left side, but you can head straight up and over the slabs. Ken & I took the shallow route and the line eventually joined up with the deep route. We made it to the ‘canyon’ which was as breathtaking as I remembered it. Dropped to about 40M and then turned. To date this is my deepest cave dive.

The next day Tuesday 12 September 2006,we went back to the Ressel again. Today Christophe Le Maillot was there too, teaching a Cave 1 class with 3 Italian guys. I did think about removing all trace of GUE, as the pressure was now on to dive well in front of him. Paul & Simon were planning on a repeat dive of yesterday. Ken & I decided to take the deep route and I was feeling much better today, both cold wise and in terms of confidence. Got to the ‘canyon’ again, but we were on a lighter mix today, so only dropped to about 30M. Spent a few minutes looking at the ‘canyon’ and the dramatic rock formations. On the way out, we passed Paul & Simon coming in on their scooters and I was struck by how cool they looked.

As Paul & Simon were going to be a while, and they had the key to the van, Ken & I decided to float up the river in our drysuits to the camp site! Ken managed to find a spider that could walk on water. We also felt a really cold thermocline in the river and jokingly thought it could be another cave entrance. When we got back, we had a chat with Christophe who seemed very chilled out, but then I guess it's his students who have all the grief!

Angie cools down whilst Christophe gives his students grief

I confessed I was Cave 1 and he didn’t ban me from the caves there and then, which was a huge relief! I had a chat with him about taking my time and getting comfortable being in caves before thinking of doing cave 2 again. I had realised when Paul & Simon did cave 2 with Dave Rhea, that this was so far ahead of where I was that I had dropped out.

I was definitely up for a 2nd dive, so this time we did the circuit, going in up the deep route and back through the shallower route. On the way in, we noticed the Italian guys coming out first, then suddenly, out of nowhere, Christophe was right in front of me with no torch! I tried to look as cool as possible and laughed later, when Ken told me that was exactly what he did too!

In the morning Wednesday 13 September 2006, we drove to Trou Madam. We had looked at this cave before on a previous visit, but gave up as the logistics of getting kit to the cave entrance looked really hard. Well nothing had changed and after a conflab we decided to go for it, with Ken & Paul more keen than Simon & I.

Paul carried my twins up and Ken took my dive bag. For that I owe them hundreds of beers!! We put the drysuits on outside the cave entrance, but actually kitted up 30m inside at the water's edge, with lots of scout torches lighting the way. It all looked very surreal. I remember saying that ‘you are all crazy’ totally excluding myself from the situation of course, even though I was there too!

Entrance to Trou Madame

It was funny how we all reacted to the impending dive. Simon was raring to go, I was very quiet, with Ken & Paul being very thorough and aware of safety. We floated our kit further into the system to a point where we could put it on. This cave was amazing and probably one of the best cave dives ever. The visibility was crystal clear, the colours of the cave were black and orange, the floor was jagged rock that looked almost volcanic. The ceiling was black, with sand to the sides of the cave that were curved in places.

Close up of the inside of Trou Madame

At one point we had to get out, remove fins and walk to the next sump pool. Eventually we came up a huge chimney and the detail in the rock ledges was amazing. When we got to another air bell Ken & I turned back. As my primary torch had been on for hours, it decided to go out when we were nearly back to the entrance. The actual dive had been 2 hours.

One thing we were all very saddened by, is why someone would want to deface a beautiful cave with graffiti, and ‘Gaby’ certainly has a lot to answer for!

After a sausage sandwich, the kit had to all go back to the van. Was it worth it? well – YES. Needless to say everyone was very tired.

The next day, Thursday 14 September 2006, we went to St George. The visibility was not that good, so I didn’t see that much of the cave as we kept the line in sight. Turned at the restriction and saw Paul & Simon pass us on their way in. By now it was raining so we went for a beer at Rocamadour!

Friday 15 September 2006, to the RS2. It had rained all night and was still raining. On the way to the RS2, we stopped at the supermarket to pick up some brandy for the Farmer who lives next door to the Landanouse. Ken, who by now was coming down with the dreaded cold, took a walk to the Pharmacy. He came back to tell us that everything was behind the counter, except for pregnancy tests and condoms. We all wondered what went on in these sleepy French villages!

I did not remember this cave from our last visit at all, although the visibility had been bad the last time we dived it. Ken & I caught up with Paul & Simon as they were putting pegs on the line. We came to a ‘well like’ part, that got deeper. Our MOD was 36M so we didn’t go much further and took it nice and slow going back. Saw Paul & Simon put a jump in to head up a side passage.

Paul did a photo shoot at the entrance and Ken & I were so keen to have our photo taken that we both thought when Paul was frantically gesticulating back at the cave entrance, he was wanted us to swim out of the cave entrance again, so he could take a photo. Paul in exasperation wrote on his wet notes that Simon’s suit had flooded and did we want to go in for a 2nd dive? Paul needed to know, otherwise he would pull the reel out, to avoid a swim back across the river later on.

Exiting the RS2

For the 2nd dive Ken & I had Paul join us. Ken had a bit of bother with his ears on the way in. Paul was leading and for once, kept a nice pace. This time we had planned that instead of going to the left to the ‘well like’ part we would jump to the right. Both Ken & I were amazed when Paul said the side line was not a 'T', but a jump, as on the 1st dive, we had both thought it was a 'T'. The line headed up and looped back onto the main line, where our pegs were! We then carried on to the left, as per the morning dive to the ‘well like’ part, where there was a funny little orange fish swimming around. Came back up from 30M slowly and Paul put a jump in to show us where he & Simon had been in the morning. It went up and up, to a dome, where both Ken & I called the dive on gas.

After I had collected my pegs, I could feel Paul laughing at me from behind, as I was not very successfully trying to stow my pegs. It took me ages for some reason. Ken also got cramp on the way back, so more entertainment for Paul! At the entrance there was the remains of a boat squashed against a huge rock, so a wreck dive too! It was still raining, so we all had chocolate on the way home. The river was very muddy and we had to stop as there were sheep in the road!

The next day, Saturday 16 September 2006, we went to the Landanouse. We sent Simon off to chat to the Farmer’s wife in his best French and to give her the bottle of brandy. Ken who was not feeling that great anyway, was not impressed with the drop to the water level or the ladder!

I got in first to take the kit off the pulley system. After the drills, Ken & I set off. It was a very pristine cave, very beautiful, with lots of twists and turns. Saw Paul & Simon pass us, just as we had turned. I really enjoyed this dive and was very relaxed.

Inside the Landanouse

Once back I dropped my mask in the pool and also managed to put a tear in my neck seal while helping to get kit back up. Ken still could not go near the edge, but had managed to get back up the ladder ok. After a sandwich, we sent Paul to collect the van and loaded up.

On the way back Paul had to stop for fuel in a small town and there was a market on. I managed to persuade the boys that this would be a great opportunity for present hunting. They managed to find a stall selling wine & some tasting just had to be done. The boys tried all the cahors wines on offer and bought the van load too, much to the delight of the vendor! For a moment the sun even came out.

All too soon, it is our last day, Sunday 17 September 2006. I was feeling very tired today. We went back to the Cabouy. The boys wanted to scooter to the Poumayssen and Ken & I wanted some stage practice. What a surprise when we got to the Cabouy, the water level was incredible. The rain over the last few days had changed this site dramatically. The water was up to the edge of the path and was pouring into the river.

What 3.5 days of rain can do - the first picture above is taken from roughly where the rear diver is!

Paul & Ken found another cave flowing into the river and decided to investigate it after their dive. Ken had ear trouble again, but we dropped to the entrance and the visibility was very down, less than 3M. Ken & I decided not to dive, but Paul and Simon still did their dive, although they did abandon the scooters.

After Paul & Simon came back, they went to explore the new cave with Ken, while I fell asleep in the van. After they got back (having failed to get into the entrance), I felt much better and we all took a walk to the Poumayssen, which looked very inviting.

On the way back to our villa, we went to look at St Sauveur, which was very impressive. The pool was much bigger and seemed blue/green. It seemed to drop off quite deep. As we packed up the villa to go home we met the 2 Finns who had just arrived for a week and Ken left them his jigsaw puzzle to finish! Somehow we managed to cram all our stuff back in the van and drove through the night to Cherbourg.

After a ferry trip back to Poole, we got back home and unloaded all the beer & wine. Said goodbye to Simon & Ken who were heading back to Reading. The next day it was back to work for all of us.

I walked into the office after a week’s holiday to be greeted with the question………….