The water is brown and murky, and I can barely see the line in front of me.I am digging through a layer of old leaves, tree branches and gravel. I squeeze under the ledge, put my feet in the ceiling, and press myself through the restriction. After clearing some leaves from my mask, I find myself in crystal clearwater, in one of the most beautiful phreatic tubes I have ever seen. But this is not Florida nor Mexico, but southern France.
Cave diving in France

the cave continues with more dry passage and sumps. This is a shallow dive, maximum depth 14m, and a nice introduction to the area.

The area of Perigord and Quercy, through which the rivers Lot and Dordogne flow, hoists a wonderful scenery with charming small villages and beautiful river valleys. It has been inhabited since the earliest of times, and the famous Lascaux cave with its 14.000 years old cave paintings can be found here. Many of the villages date to medieval times.

With over 20.000 known caves, France is one of the premier cave diving areas in the world. One of the most interesting regions lies in the southwest, around the rivers of Lot and Dordogne. Here you find a multitude of long and deep caves with mostly crystal clear water and relatively warm water, offering superb diving conditions.

The cave I just entered is called Fontaine du Truffe. Situated near the river Dordogne, this beautiful but shallow cave provides some excellent scenery. The passageway twists up and down, and side to side and reaches an airbell after about 160m. The small chamber can be passed swimming and the cave continues 130m to a larger airbell. From here

Perhaps the best known underwater cave in the area is Emergence du Ressel. It is situated in the river Célé near the small village of Marcilhac. The cave has been explored some 2 kilometres reaching depths of near 80m and eventually also dry passage and sumps. The first part on the cave is an easy shallow dive, with a wide passageway. At 170m the passage forks, and after some 400m the cave reaches a depth of 45m gradually sloping down to 55m in an enormous passage.

Any trips to this region are a bit expeditionary in nature, as there are no real dive-shops in the area. With some luck air, nitrox and trimix

fills can be obtained, otherwise own compressors and gas is a must. The remote location has also to be considered from a safety point of view, as it is a long way to the nearest decompression chamber.

Another interesting dive is Source de Landenouse. The entrance to the cave is a bit tricky, as 5m high concrete walls surround the entrance pool. All gear has to be lowered and raise by rope, but it is an excellent dive, and certainly worth the effort. The cave is situated on the north bank of the river Lot, upstream of the town Cajarc.

The countryside in the Lot - Dordogne area is rich and fertile, and besides providing beautiful scenery it supplies ingredients for the terrific local cuisine. Specialties for the area includes goose in different forms, walnuts, black truffel and of course the local wines.

One of the most scenic dive sites is Source du Moulin de Cacery. Situated in the pond of an old picturesque millhouse, access to the cave needs to be granted from the landowner, who lets the house to holidaymakers in the summer. The entrance to the cave lies in 6 meters, and after some 30 meters a vertical shaft is reached, which drops down to 18 mete

rs. After approximately 160 meters at this level a second shaft is reached, which drops down to 24 meters. After an additional 140 meters a third shaft is reached, which reaches 40 meters depth. The cave then continues, reaching depths of over 50 meters. Moulin the Cacery is situated 2 km south of the town Martel, near the river Dordogne.

Over 100 caves are situated in the Lot - Dordogne area and there certainly is something for everyone, both dry and wet, deep and shallow. Most sites are freely accessible, other require permission from landowners or authorities. The water temperature averages 14 degrees and the visibility normally varies between 5 and 30 meters. The caves here have not seen the same kind of mass tourism as for example the caves in Florida have, and they seem almost untouched and virgin a bit in. The guidelines of most caves start in open water, and are relatively well laid. But further inside in most systems unmarked t-junctions and double or even multiple parallel lines are often encountered. Care should therefore be taken, and adequate amounts of line arrows and clothespins reserved. For anyone planning to visit the area, the Underwater Guide to the Lot & Dordogne by Andrew Ward provides useful information about the access and the layout of several of the caves.

Text Sten Stockman Pictures Ingemar Lundgren