The purpose of our journey to the Jonte valley was to visit a show cave, la Grotte de Dargilan. Both the Dordogne and the Cévennes, being limestone regions, are dotted with caves, including many show caves. In fact, we’d driven almost directly past another show cave to get to this one, having decided that, from the leaflets we’d seen, this one looked the better bet. We lunched on a sunny terrace with a great view of the gorge and then joined our group to pass through an unprepossessing doorway in the hillside.
The cave was discovered, I think, by someone following a fox. Similar stories are told about Victoria Cave in the Dales and the famous Lascaux cave in the Dordogne. The huntsman will certainly have had a surprise when they found themselves in a vast cavern, stuffed full of amazing stalagmites, stalactites and flowstone features.
As a boy, family visits to show caves in the Peak District were a favourite treat of mine. I’ve since done a little bit of caving and have also visited most, I think, of the show caves in the Dales, but I’ve never seen anything half as spectacular as this.
There was so much to see that features which might have been considered highlights elsewhere were passed without comment by the guide.
I took no end of photos, but, in the strongly contrasting light, the results were a bit hit and miss. I’m glad to have the mementoes, however.
The huge scale, variety and sheer number of features was breath-taking.
The tour took over an hour, and in truth I would have appreciated a little longer to take it all in.
Mostly the tour guide spoke only in French and we were happy to ignore him and just look about us, but at one point he switched to English to explain that we would now be descending to ‘the best part’ of the cave. I was a bit sceptical about the claim that things could be any more impressive.
But he was absolutely right.
We came to a long, high and relatively narrow passage where one wall was completely covered in tiers and tiers of flowstone.
It was huge.
And absolutely astonishing.
Dargilan is known, apparently, for it’s coloured limestones. Minerals in the flowstone have dyed the rock in a variety of pinks, corals, yellows, white and cream. Here…
…the dividing line between two different colours was amazingly sharp.
The cave had one final surprise, a column, 17 metres tall I think, again covered with intricate flowstone features…
I think most of the party enjoyed it immensely. B claimed to be underwhelmed:
“It’s just rocks though, isn’t it?”
But he’s a wind-up merchant and you have to take the things he says with a pinch of salt.