CRYSTAL CAVE - 1ST ENCOUNTER
Our first trip into the Crystal Cave was towards the end of 2009. I had borrowed a dingy from a friend so we could paddle across the stretches of water between the mud banks. The dingy seemed ideal as it was easily transported and small and light enough to be carried over the blockages easily.
However, after taking the dingy to the mine and pumping it up we found there was a small leak around one of the seals. As it was only a small leak we were not unduly worried. But we were about to push the two man dingy to its limits. Its passengers would be me, Rat Scabies, a camera woman, Pat and Ronny. Five in total and a very tight squeeze.
Although the water looks deceivingly inviting in the polystyrene boat image above, in reality it is far different. The water is not very deep, varying from a few inches to a couple of feet further in the cave. But below the water is a layer of thick mud that ranges from a few inches to very deep and would make swimming all put impossible in much of the cave.
After wading through the first patch of slimy mud we all stood on the first island, which was about two foot wide.
"Its this way," calls out Pat eager to continue as us reluctant amateurs slip off our shoes and socks and dip our toes into the cold slimy mud.
Now all we had to do was try and fit five adults in the small two man leaking dingy. After a bit of jostling we were all in and Pat and Ronny paddled us towards the next mud bank by the abandoned polystyrene boat. It took but a couple of minutes and on reaching this first obstacle we now all had to clamber out onto the small slippery pile of earth. The dingy was then manhandled over and plopped into the water on the other side. Ahead was another mud bank. We all clambered into the dingy again and headed onwards. We were all bare footed and as we climbed out onto the next mud pile we realized what a mistake this was, as the mud was impregnated with sharp shards of crystal that sliced at our feet. To cut a long story short we persevered to the end of the tunnel, which because of the frequent loading and unloading of the dingy, took about an hour. When we finally reached the end our feet were so sore or cut that it was almost impossible to walk over the hard, and in places sharp, rock to explore the cave fully. But we saw that it was a huge cavern.
A bare foot Pat climbs a high slope at one end of the large cavern
As we were two to three hundred metres into the hill of Rennes-le-Château, there was the chance that a natural tunnel may lead up towards the village. The dingy had suffered on the journey into the mine and we had all heard the air hissing from the leaky seam grow louder and faster as we had progressed. We decided to return to the entrance and visit the cave another day when our feet had healed and with a dingy that didn't leak.
On the return journey Ronny had to constantly pump air into the dingy to keep it afloat. Something that for some reason had us all laughing. By the time we reached the entrance we were all grateful to feel the sun on our faces and hard ground beneath our pained feet. Although the dingy had gotten us back safely it had also suffered again on the return journey and its life as a dingy was probably now over. I wasn't looking forward to returning it to its owner.
Above ground again - The Red Dingy - now retired from service - Rat Scabies drinking a much needed beer