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CAVING IN BELGIUM
General information about Belgium and his karst


 

Situation 
Belgium is a small country (30.000km²), located in Western-Europe. It is "pressed" between big sisters France and Germany. Capital city is Brussels. In this tiny country, 10.000.000 people are stuffed upon each other! Luckily, only 2.200 of them are cavers...

Map of EuropeBelgium can be divided in two parts that are in many ways completely different from each other. In the Northern part (VLAANDEREN) people speak Dutch. This part is very populated (over 60% of total Belgian population), very industrialized, very FLAT and has not one single cave! In the Southern part (WALLONIE) people speak French, there are still lot's of beautiful woods and rivers, the land is quite hilly (highest "peak" is almost 700 m above sea level) and ...there are a lot of caves. So if you ever want to go caving in Belgium, you know where the action is!

How is caving organized?
Since there are two different communities in Belgium, there are two different Caving federations: the V.V.S. (Verbond van Vlaamse Speleologen) that houses the Dutch-speaking clubs and the U.B.S. (Union Belge de Spéléologie) that houses the French-speaking clubs. Only a few clubs are not members of these federations, since it is virtually impossible to go caving in Belgium anymore without the "UBS-key" that opens the gates of a lot of closed caves. Both federations work brotherly together... a surprising fact in a country were politicians are trying eagerly to separate the two communities as much as possible.

Limestone regionsWhere are the caves?
As already mentioned, caves are located in the Southern part of the country. But not everywhere: in fact only in a relatively narrow limestone "strip" that runs from East to West throughout the country. In this limestone strip, that covers about 1/3 of WALLONIE, two geological formations dominate: the DEVON limestones (Couvinian, Givetian, Frasnian) and the CARBON (Visean, Tournasian) limestones. Although these limestone layers can reach a considerable thickness; up to 600 m; the depth of the Belgian caves is less impressive: the deepest ones average around 140 m.

 

 

How many caves? Are they important?
During a very intensive inventory, done over the past 5 years by the "C.W.E.P.S.S., and which resulted in the formidable "Atlas du Karst Wallon", over 3500 karst phenomena were counted! Of course, even impenetrable sinkholes were counted as well. Nevertheless, many hundreds of them are indeed caves, and if we add up their lengths, we obtain +/- 150 kilometers of underground galleries. Actually, 35 caves are longer than 1 kilometre. We suggest you have a look at our webpage with the "deepest and longest Belgian Caves" if you want to have a quick overview of the 50 most important caves.

What are the caves like?
In fact, altough we do not have 50 km-long mega-systems, the variation in caves is very big. Vertical caves (Trou Bernard), narrow and very sporting caves (Chawresse, Weron), nice streamways (Sainte-Anne), very wet caves (Kin, Loutre, Bretaye), big multi-level horizontal systems (Fresnes, Hotton), extremely decorated caves (Vilaine Source, Han, Emotions), underground lakes (Fontaine de Rivire) etc..!

Belgian caves have a reputation of being muddy and narrow. Yes, we do have some muddy caves, but no more or less than in any other caving country. Yes, we do have some narrow caves, but again this is a prejudice of people that have kept to the small, freely accessible caves and never bothered to get permissions to visit the dozens of (often large) other caves.

In general, I believe that Belgium has a lot of interesting and fun caving to offer!

How do we get permissions?
Belgian caves have been under enormous pressure over the last decades. Too many cavers; too little caves; caves located in very dense populated areas (even in house gardens); but above all the pressure of commercial caving, have forced the caving community to implement a whole series of measures in order to protect the caves as much as possible.

A lot of popular caves have been locked with a special gate (so-called UBS-gate). All gates have the same lock; every club has at least 1 copy of the key. "Real cavers" (we don't mean the commercial ones, neither debutants or boy-scouts), who can prove that they are member of a caving club, can also lend the key at the federation-offices. But NEVER can they lend the key from another club: this is strictly forbidden. Of course, if the club agrees to accompany you in the cave, there is no problem at all. So, foreign cavers that want to visit a UBS-gated cave: contact the federations please!
Many (+/- 80) other caves are locked by clubs or landowners. Very often they can be visited, but of course after having asked permission. Sometimes you'll get the key... but most of the time you'll be guided by some representative of the club. However, keep in mind that it can take quite a while to get the permissions fixed, so arrange this BEFORE your stay. In some cases (e.g. Hotton) the number of visits per year is limited and you'll end up on a waiting list..!
Unfortunately, a considerable number of caves can not be visited at all (I mean by cavers). These are often the famous showcaves (Han-sur-Lesse, Remouchamps) but also caves such as Pere Noel, La Lesse Souterraine, Abime de Fermine etc.. that are often located on private land.

 

 
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