Going Underground (again)

Just the one mountain view today from the Col de l'Aspin on the way to Bétharram
Just the one mountain view today from the Col de l’Aspin on the way to Bétharram

Following our Big Night Out with Graeme and Sally we can be forgiven for having a lie-in on Sunday, can’t we? It was hot and sunny so we didn’t hang around too long in the aire, but got ourselves up and about by 10am and into the lovely town of Bagnères-de-Luchon for a coffee and a few urgent bits & pieces – like bread and drinking water. We use the fresh water from Vince’s tank for tea & coffee as it’s boiled, but we buy our drinking water at €0.96 for six 1.5 litre bottles at a time. It’s not that we don’t trust the French water, far from it, it’s as clean and germ free as in the UK. Our worry is what might be lurking in the recesses of Vince’s fresh water tank so we don’t take chances when bottled water is so cheap.

Bagnères-de-Luchon is famous for its healing waters and hot springs so we checked out the Thermes as recommended by G&S. Although the computer said no – they were shut on Sunday, the notice on the door said oh no they weren’t! We didn’t have any towels or anything with us so we had a quick coffee while we watched a procession of vintage cars go through the town, then walked back to the aire. A cunning plan was hatched whereby we would pack up and I would drop Gill off at the Thermes to enjoy the hot bubbly pool and vaporarium installed by the Romans as I’m not a vaporarium kind of guy. I would then drive Vince to a different aire – again recommended by Graeme & Sally – fill Vince with fresh water and have a shower in the cupboard then have a read* until Gill was ready.

A spooky night stop for Vince…

Amazingly it all panned out ok; I had a read**, Gill had a pamper, and Vince was fully serviced and parked by a… oo-err… graveyard. We expected to have a bit of a mosquito problem as the summer goes on, but (so far) it’s not been a problem. The issue at the moment is bloomin’ flies. I don’t know if the warmth of the van in the sun attracts them – or maybe it’s my socks, but as soon as a window or door is open we get half a dozen of the blighters buzzing round inside driving us nuts. Yes, save the planet. And yes, let’s go green and chemical free. However there’s a lot to be said for the nasty, chemical-laden fly spray we bought today. Relief!

Our destination for today was Les Grottes de Bétharram. You may remember our visit to Pech-Merle where we saw the prehistoric cave paintings – this gave us a taste for underground exploration. The caves at Bétharram have been open to the public since 1903 and there are lots of clues to this in the buildings at the cave complex entrance and exit. The architecture reflects a grander time; a more genteel time with tea rooms and oak beams and plaster mouldings. In UK terms it would be the late-Victorian to early Edwardian period.

Like descending into hell...
Like descending into hell…

A coach takes visitors from the main gates up to the cave entrance where the first section – the ‘dead’ caves are traversed on foot. By dead caves they mean those which are geologically stable – the river which created them is no more and the only water ingress is via seepage which gives rise to beautiful formations of stalactites and stalagmites.

Descending over 140m through spiralling chambers cut by ancient water flow, you enter the ‘live’ caves where the subterranean river is still slowly carving a path through the limestone rock. This area was a little tougher to negotiate as we had to walk through quite narrow passages, and be on the lookout for forehead-banging opportunities on low ceilings. The acoustics were amazing – deep and echoey. Good job we hadn’t had cassoulet the night before… One passage had to be tackled by boat on the underground river itself and the last leg of the trip was rounded off aboard a choo-choo train. Interestingly the caves straddle two regions – we entered the complex in the Basse-Pyrénées, (the low Pyrenees) and exited in the Haute-Pyrénées.

The Chandelier Hall
The Chandelier Hall

We are covering a lot of miles at the moment, trying to squeeze in as many attractions as we can whilst making sure we meet our Spanish deadline on Friday when we meet some biker friends who are touring Spain and Portugal. Our plan was to travel a little further towards tomorrow’s destination after the caves but unfortunately our aire of choice was populated by two dozen travellers’ caravans and transit vans. We didn’t feel too secure there so we moved on another 45 minutes to where we are now – Laruns – in a biblical downpour. On the positive side we’re even nearer tomorrow’s adventure which I’ll tell you about er… tomorrow 🙂

*go for a beer

The stalactites grow at 1cm per 100 years! These will meet in 5000 years. Puts our three score and ten into perspective 🙁
La Cloche (the bell)

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About Ken Tomlinson 217 Articles
Semi-retired biker, blogger and world’s best grandad. Doesn’t take life too seriously. Discovered motorhoming in 2015, sold up and downsized to fund more travels. Now with added Yorkshire.

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