Today, we went underground. Quite a long way underground, as it happens. After a pretty leisurely departure from the gorgeous Venice campsite (a leisurely morning that descended into beaut maintenance and water tank refitting) we found ourselves crossing our first slightly more unknown border, into Slovenia. It turns out that the Slovenians don’t really go in for officialdom at borders, and there was absolutely no interest in the Beaut or us.
As I was in the back, enjoying the comfort of the “Chaise Long” sofa arrangement, I thought I’d have a cheeky perusal of the only guide book we seem to have brought with us, that of Slovenia. Almost on first opening the book I was greeted with The author extolling the virtues of a certain UNESCO world heritage cave system, in the village (apologies to the beautiful country of Slovenia for the spelling) of “Skotjan”. Not sure completely where this place was we then pootled gently in to the closest town off the Motorway looking for a bit of fuel and a supermarket. To our surprise we saw a sign for the caves, and after picking up the necessaries ( a mighty big sausage and some gherkins) we headed up the road.
We parked up just as everyone else was leaving and had, unsurprisingly, missed the last tour. We thought we’d best go and have a look at the viewpoint anyhow and, to be quite frank, we were blown away by the biggest (and eponymous) Doline in Europe. It’s a very large hole in the ground surrounded by glorious forest and sheer limestone cliffs, the Romans thought it the entrance to Hades and you can see why. After taking a million photos, one of which might have been decent, we went down the footpath to get a closer look. The walk in the cooler early evening was stunning and when we hit the locked gate half way down, we resolved to come back at 10am tomorrow morning for a tour.
The tour began with a short walk up the road to the artificial entrance to the Silent Chamber system, the most recently discovered. The guides spoke flawless English and gave us a great running commentary task we stepped into a subterranean world of irradiancent 5 m stalagmites and stalegtites, and a cavern which could have accomadated St Paul’s catherderal. Whilst desperately trying to take all this in, we were told this was the small bit…
The Water Mumering Chamber was the first bit of the system explored, back in 1904 by what appeared to be mostly one family. It is the largest underground canyon in Europe and is perhaps the most breathtaking subterranean feature I can imagine. As you descend down the very well made tourist trail, overhanging the sheer cliff face, you are struck by how skilled and, well, ballsey the first explorers were. This is hammered home by the ridiculous 100+ yr old bridge across the top of the canyon which they constructed with a handful of pegs, some hob-nail boots and stack load of hard grit.
As you proceed along the trail 150 ft above the river Rijeka, flowing along its temporarily abyssal course, you are struck by the immensity of the time it has taken for the river to carve this ridiculous place. Then you hear the bats, and there’s quite a few of them ( Long Winged, Horseshoe and A.N Other). Rounding a corner you get a treat, about three stories of calcite pools with edges straighter than any on the Beaut.
When you finally return to the sun after a good 2 or so kilometres underground, you are met with the spectacular main entrance to the cave system at the bottom of the doling, and a beautiful walk back up to the top whilst gazing incredulously at the soaring limestone walls and various waterfalls you pass. All in all, it’s really a site worth seeing- and even though we only spent that day in Slovenia, I can say with certainty that I’ll be going back to see what more this facinating country has to offer!