CAVING IN BELGIUM
General information about Belgium and his karst
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...
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
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
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
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.