In the summer of 2003 a motley crew of potholing types drawn from the Pegasus Club Nottingham and the Derby based Eric Caving club set out to explore parts of the vast karst regions in Slovenia, although only a relatively small nation there are over 10,000 registered caves in this country, plus countless opportunities for original exploration. No members of either club had previously visited this area before, so it was very much a case of the blind leading the blind. As we were only visiting for a short period of times our intention was to combine visits to some of the areas most famous and spectacular show caves along with undertaking a varied selection of well known sporting trips and of course a measure of equally serious drinking.
Assembling at East Midlands Airport for departure
The Pegasus Club Nottingham contingent comprised of Lee Hollis, Dave (Figg) Briggs, Mick Pritchard, Al Steans, Andy Walchester, Sam Garrad, Martin Bishop and Tony Bennett. There were eight Eric Caving Club members led by Toby Clark, including Dave Cowley, Pete Vale, Daryl Godfrey, Jim Thorpe & Craig Darlington plus two others, in all, sixteen intrepid explorers. Martin Bishop and the notorious Dave Cowley from Eric caving club submitted their personal photos from the trip in order to compile a CD detailing exploits speleological and social for posterity. Unfortunately no captions accompanied the pictures at the time, and the ensuing time lapse has made it almost impossible to edit these photos now, the CD does give a good indication of the caves and potholes visited, and also a flavour of the social aspect of this sporting vacation. All the photos that appeared on the CD can be viewed by clicking on the link at the end of this article.
Speleo Camp Laze, our bunkhouse
The trip was organised jointly by Lee Hollis and Toby Clarke, initially it was an Eric venture which to a great extent was hijacked by the Pegasus. An almost brand new Gite was hired for the duration of the expedition (8 Days) in the heart of the Laze caving region in southern Slovenia, the landlord I seem to recall provided us with some local knowledge so we had a head start. We also acquired a Slovenian cave guide book. We were pretty much self-sufficient for exploring a varied selection of caves, potholes and resurgences in the area, with an abundance of ropes, ladders, personal SRT kit and if I remember correctly an inflatable dinghy brought along by the Eric lads. Groups of cavers were assembled ad hoc and each day four cars would head off in various directions to seek out the many sporting trips available to us.
Craig, Toby, Figg, Lee & Daryl setting of on a cave walk
Tackle cleaning facilities at the Gite
In the immediate vicinity of our gite were a selection of cave walks of various distances and durations, each trail passed by the entrances to known caves to which there was free and open access, during our time there most of these sites were visited. On our arrival at the airport in Trieste, 4 Italian cars were hired, so we were able to split into smaller groups and explore caving regions farther afield than our base in Laze. This arrangement worked superbly, since many of the guided trips were limited to parties with a maximum of half a dozen visiting cavers.
Krizna Jama is a world famous resurgence which allows small pe-booked parties to go on guided tours in dinghy's. Due to the exceptional beauty and pristine condition of the calcite formations, each visitor is kitted out with clean oversuits and wellingtons along with suitable helmets and electric lights. The river cave consists of a series of lakes separated by natural calcite barriers, upon reaching each barrier our tour guide laid a clean piece of carpet underfoot to protect the calcite. The cave is a site boasting many fine examples of cave bear bones and is also the natural habitat of Proteus Aneminas, blind albino cave salamanders unique to this environment. When we reached the terminal boulder choke, our guide ferreted around amongst the boulders and produced a bottle of local schnapps which he shared with us as a reward for being very careful and diligent in our progress through the abundant calcite formation.
Pristine calcite Formations Krizna Jama
The entrance to Krizna Jama
Setting off to explore Krizna Jama
Survey on the cave wall where you exit from the dinghy
Predjama Castle Cave.
Predjama Cave is famous for having a magnificent renaissance castle built within it’s vast entrance (photo 38 on CD) It is situated in the historic region of Inner Carniola in the village of Predjama 11 km from the town of Postjama. The cave below the castle is the second longest showcave in Slovenia
Stretching over four distinct levels all interconnected by an impressive series of walkways and flights of steps. Huge chambers festooned with superb formations, well worth a visit.
Predjama Cave and Castle
Slovenia’s largest show cave with over 24km of underground passages, galleries and halls, the caves major cavern was discovered over 200 years ago. Standard tourist trip includes a 3.7 km Ride on a double track cave railway first installed in 1872, along with standard walkways through the magnificently decorated columns. A visit to this adventure park is a full day out in order to visit the famous Postojna Castle and the other theme park attractions.
Recreational caving in Postojna
Lee, Fig and Dave in Postojna
The Skocjam cave system is another major site in this area, due to its significance it was designated a UNESCO heritage site in 1999 and has been the site of many important archaeological finds.
Another major cave system in the Regional Park Rakov Skocjan, the cave is accessed by a stunning open air free hanging abseil from a small natural rock bridge which was originally part of the collapsed cave roof, like most of the caves visited it comprises of an active subterranean river.
Andy abseiling into Zelske Jama entrance with dinghy
Preparing to enter Zelske Jama
Planinska Cave is one of the longest Slovenian water caves with the largest confluence of subterranean rivers in Europe.
One of the larger caves encountered on the Laze cave walk, it has two entrances and makes for an interesting through trip,
Another cave visited on the Laze cave trail, impressive arched entrance. Other caves that can be visited on the same walk include Gradisnica Jama and Tralca Jama.
There were several other caves visited by the various groups during our stay in Laze, but without the use of a guide book I cannot accurately name them. The caves themselves provided a wide range of caving options, from easy large walk-throughs, Yorkshire type potholes, tight muddy grovels to expansive river caves which required either dinghy's or wetsuits. One such cave according to Sam’s notes is Nadena Jama which was extremely muddy very similar to Derbyshire caving but with some very large chambers.
This cave contains a 65 metre entrance pitch which was dropped to a series of large chambers.
Descending the 65m entrance pitch of Gradisnica Jama
Despite the impressive number of caves visited, the group did manage to find the time for a few beers and the occasional bottle of red on a daily basis. The local brew was christened Goat beer, not I hasten to add because it was the Greatest Of All Time, but because the local wildlife featured on its label. We found a convenient bar located in the nearby village square and were made very welcome by the locals. As you would expect there were a number of incidents that occurred during our time in Slovenia, I am grateful to the many members of the team for reminding me of them. Andy recalls the time when Figg commandeered an electric moped from one of the locals and treated us to an impromptu display of wheelies amongst the cars, moving and stationary in the square outside the bar. Sam recalls the fact that practically the whole of the Pegasus contingent was hauled before the customs authorities at Trieste airport for interrogation, embarrassing as this was it paled into insignificance when compared to the indignation of a full body examination suffered by Dave Cowley (latex groves and all). Daryl remembers an old crone sitting outside her barn trying to entice the lads with crates of ale to take away back to the gite. Daryl also recalls the minibus reeking of weed, despite Figgs attempt to disguise it by pissing into an empty beer can on the way back to the airport.
Andy, Lee and Toby enjoying a typical breakfast
Another type of 'Pot' at the Gite
My main memory is one night when a young local wandered into the bar with a hunting rifle in one hand and a young deer over his shoulder. There was great celebration and congratulations offered in the bar, this was the young hunters first kill. The deer was chopped up into pieces and put in what looked like a large dolly-tub to be slowly marinated and cooked over the following two days, a local tradition we were informed. I also recall the night when a dubious local, a regular in the bar invited Figg, Andy and Toby back to his parents abode remotely situated somewhere in the middle of the forest in the early hours. When they arrived and were invited into the locals apartment in the cellar, a place resembling the set of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the intrepid trio became to question the wisdom of their decision to accept the invite back home, and to consider the ramifications of their predicament. Figg grabbed a big base drum and while banging it loudly he started chanting inanely “I’m a pissed up twat and I want to go home”. Fearing the din would wake his parents, their strange new friend ushered them out of his home.
Figg, oblivious to the local scenery!
Last night at the local bar, just before the scooter incident
On our return to the UK, Figg was tannoyed at the airport regarding a query about his luggage. These are my main recollections except that Tony Bennett spent every waking hour not spent underground, with his head buried in a book, so he can no way be blamed for any of the shenanigans perpetrated by his club mates.
Some of the Team
Top Row: Lee Hollis, Jim Thorpe, Daryl Godfrey, Craig Darlington, Al Steans,
Toby Clark, Andy Walchester and Dave Briggs. Middle Row: Mick Pritchett and
Martin Bishop. Lying down Dave Cowley
Al Steans, Nottingham 2021 with additions by Sam Garrad