De Bournillon or ‘a Little Bit on
the Side of the Bourne Gorge’
Grotte De Bournillon or ‘a Little Bit on the Side of the Bourne Gorge’
Boasted as the biggest entrance in France, with easy walking sized caving, it was a must for a lazy person like me who detests crawling and squeezing, especially when on holiday. I managed to ‘con’, sorry persuade, Holly and Sam to accompany me on a photographic trip into this supposedly well-decorated cave with the proviso of an easy walk in near to the road, bargain! After a minimum of faffing about at the campsite in Autrans we all piled into the Hollymobile or passion wagon, with its in-situ bed, and set off for the Bourne Gorge. An uneventful drive down the gorge was followed by an exciting three-point turn on an acute bend into the entrance to the narrow road down to the hydro plant car park. The cave wasn’t visible from the car park but the enormous waterfall down the gorge from the plateau above certainly was, Wow!
Holly at the entrance
The track to the entrance starts straight from the car park and was, as one would expect, steeply uphill, great considering our mid-day start in the hottest part of the day. We English never learn do we, what’s that about mad dogs? After a good half hour slog I pointed out to Holly that we were passing lots of Marijuana plants on the way, it took Sam to convince her that I was in fact not joking, hey man, groovy. Eventually the cave hove into view and you didn’t need to have smoked that stuff to go ‘Wo Man Awsome!’ It is really, really big and the overhang above the entrance seems to go up and out behind you forever. We geared up in the sun while gawping at the size of everything and then proceeded to climb the slope away from the obvious entrance and into the equally impressive side entrance. More climbing up an enormous boulder slope and we still hadn’t left daylight but were now deep inside the entrance to the Upper Passage.
Our reasoning was that we would do a round-trip and it might be easier to find the connection from this end as it says in the guide it’s difficult to locate from the other end, sounded simple. It would have been as well if it hadn’t been for the sheer size of the place. Trying to light up the chamber, or was it a passage, for photographs was proving a little difficult as the flashes over-lit the subjects, Sam and Holly, whilst barely touching the ceiling and walls, hmmm! After more stumbling over boulders and more climbing we arrived at the top of the slope and then, formations! By now Sam had just about lost his rag as I continued to set off his flashguns with my calls of “finished” and then continuing to try for another shot. Two photographers on one trip is a serious error, still we weren’t surveying at the same time so still not too bad. At this point we were being dive-bombed by bats as both Sam and I tried to capture the scene, Sam even managed to get a blurred flying bat image. Anyhow we did find a bat that was actually on the wall and not whizzing past so we photographed that one instead.
From this area the guide says the passage “leads via a high level series and a squeeze to enter the main passage by the ‘Village Negre’”. Simple! Well not quite, as we were soon to find out. I’m sure that English caving guides are on a par with our climbing guides as I remember once being told by the guide when on the Cima Grande to “step right onto the arête” on a massive wall and thinking to myself, WHERE?
By now the passage dimension was down to less than ten metres wide and maybe three metres high and getting lower. Which way to go became a little more complex as there were now several levels and the cave had become more bedding-shaped. Sam foraged ahead and I clumped along with my numb Peli case camera box dangling around my neck and BDH on my belt. I was now starting to regret investing in a lovely new and very furry under-suit that was keeping me very, very warm.
“Hello! Hello! I didn’t order crawling and what’s this, mud!” Oh No! I’m on holiday it’s supposed to be nice walking passage with pretties and here we are crawling and stooping along a wide and split-level passage full of boulders with obvious traffic marks everywhere. There was the occasional daub of paint and a piece of tape to give the impression we were on the correct route and then I’m stuck in a squeeze between boulders and struggling to get through. Silly me I’ve still got my over-suit rolled down and forgotten to take the BDH off my belt, damn! Now I’m even more sweaty and Holly of course just glides through what I’ve spent minutes to negotiate, it makes you sick. We’re now confronted with a downward move, Sam who takes the lead squeezes through and informs me that I need to do it on my front but he knows how big I am so I trust him if he thinks I’ll fit, phew, I did. The cave has got a little darker and it’s not failing lights, it has changed from lovely light limestone to more Yorkshire colour. There follows a bit more crawling and stooping and then another downward movement as we seem to be heading down toward the streamway.
Then the character changed again and we’re in a sandier left slanting hading with gnarly, sharp and gripping rock. Sliding and crablike stooping eventually lands us at the face of an upward boulder blockage. Which way to go?
Sam attacks the left end of the choke and starts climbing up, whereas I head off rightward and climb up. Hmm! Not as many marks up this way and yet there’s a big black void up there and lo and behold we both arrive in the ‘Village Negre’, very aptly named as the rock is coated with black deposit reminding one that this probably floods to the roof. Having climbed up we’re now on the watershed and start to head downhill again on clean-washed blackened rock and then in front are the formations. Phew!
Holly looking out through the entrance
Now at last we can relax a little as the passage stays very big although there’s still a lot of large boulders to hop over and climb around and slide down but the draft and sound of running water below tell us which way to go. This is really the sort of stuff I signed up for, proper continental caving. The big, wide and high passage landed us on a balcony overlooking the entrance pool, photo stop, because it looks fantastic. The camera doesn’t really do justice to the view through the entrance from one end of the pool, with the high entrance chamber and the tiny walkway bridge across the far end of the pool. Well that should have been that but not quite. An awkward little climb across the right wall of the chamber caused us to get the rope out as a slip into the pool would prove very serious and then the triumphant walk across the bridge to warm, sunny daylight. A quick change, scuttle down the track and back to the campsite for a cold beer, brilliant!
For future reference if you want an easy trip don’t do what we did and just go over the bridge and enjoy the cave. However, in wet conditions it would be best to know where we went in so you could escape that way as the entrance does flood and makes it impossible to get back to the entrance.