The UK’s Best Caves and Caverns

Friday, July 01, 2016 Caving and Climbing by William Dorey

In this article I’ve compiled a list of some of the most interesting caves you can visit throughout the UK.

From the calm and the easy-going to the hard-core cave diving and abseiling into endlessly black holes.

There is a lot the UK has to offer.

1. The Reigate Caves (Surrey/London)

To start off my list of UK caves I’ve chosen a few locations close to its most thriving metropolis, London.

A short train ride from the heart of the city you can reach the town of Reigate in Surrey.

Reigate is well known locally for the ‘caves’ which run beneath the town centre.

Sandstone miners carved these caves, and the rock was mostly used for building fancy houses and public monuments.

This destination is less a site for hard-core UK caving, and more an interesting couple of hours strolling through the underground passageways admiring their subterranean beauty.

The most interesting of the Reigate Caves is the Baron’s Cave, located beneath Reigate Castle.

Reigate caves

Private tours can be arranged via their very own website: http://www.reigatecaves.com/private.php

2. The Chislehurst Caves (London)

Second on the list brings another series of man-made caves steeped in myth and legend.

The Chislehurst Caves lie beneath the suburbs of South East London in Bromley.

chislehurst caves

The tunnel network is 35 kilometres long and was used for mining chalk and flint. These mines are very old indeed, being mentioned as far back as the year 1250, and had been in use all the way up to the 1830s.

Not surprisingly, during World War II, the caves were used as an air raid shelter for up to 15,000 people. Whilst in World War I they were used to store ammunition associated with the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich.

Later on during the 1960s, the Chislehurst Caves were used as a music venue.

Hosting such stellar acts as Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Status Quo, The Rolling Stones and David Bowie!

If you wish to enter these caves, trips are by guided tour only, and can be arranged on their website:

http://www.chislehurst-caves.co.uk/

3. The Underground Hospital (Dover)

Next we move south of the capital to the big white cliffs of Dover.

Here you will find the ancient and beautiful Dover Castle, which dates back to the 11th Century.

It has been described as the ‘Key to England’ due to its defensive location and its role throughout history.

Naturally, the castle has been through many phases over the years, but at some point people began digging tunnels beneath it, deep into the chalky rock.

These UK caves were used in Napoleonic times to shelter troops, and as an air raid shelter in World War II…

What is interesting about this series of tunnels is that these tunnels were converted into a military command centre and underground hospital shortly after the war began.

Dover Hospital Caves

They even installed a military grade telephone system. Remarkably, the hospital has been restored to a remarkable condition.

You can visit the different chambers that seem as though they are still ready for use. This includes the operating theatre, which has bloodied bandages and shelves of knives that look like they were used no more than an hour ago!

4. Wookey Hole Caves (Somerset)

The mythical, idyllic and magical county of Somerset is hilly and as beautiful as England can be.

It’s the sort of ‘England’ you might see in a film, endlessly green and lush with lots of hills and hillocks, glades, little rivers, cows and fields. Yet beneath this landscape near the village of Wookey Hole, there is a surprise that is truly breath taking.

This is one of the best caves in England, and for good reason.

Formed naturally over countless millennia, the Wookey Hole caves are a series of limestone caverns. They have been used by humans for around 45,000 years.

They are not particularly long in comparison to some of the other UK caves I’ve mentioned in this article. Nonetheless, they are well lit and immensely beautiful.

Expect hanging stalactites, stalagmites and completely still underground lakes.

Wookey Hole Cave

As some bonus information, the Wookey Hole Caves are also used to mature the famous British ‘Cheddar Cheese,’ which like many great cheeses is matured in caves, due to the still and cool environment.

You can visit the Wookey Hole website for more, although be warned it has a silly audio advert once it loads!

http://www.wookey.co.uk/

5. Ogof Ffynnon Ddu (Cave of the Black Spring – Swansea Valley)

This particular cave earns its place here by being the deepest cave in the United Kingdom at a depth of 274m!

It is also at least 50 kilometres long.

This is one for the serious cavers, as it is notoriously tough, with windy passages, sometimes wide but often narrow, steep, and with waterfalls and potholes to navigate!

This caves in Wales was discovered by the South Wales Caving Club in 1946, and has over the years been explored further and further towards its end point.

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu is one of the most popular sites for UK caving, due to its myriad of tunnels, which vary vastly in degrees of difficulty.

If you are feeling particularly adventurous and have the right gear, you can even go ‘cave diving,’ that is to enter a section of tunnels that is submerged in water! Not for the faint hearted.

http://www.ogof.net/

6. The Three Counties System (Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire)

Another whopper on my list for UK caving is this beast!

While it may not be the deepest, this vast labyrinth of natural tunnels cover three counties and is over 86 kilometres long, making it the UK’s longest cave and the World’s 27th longest.

As with many natural cave formations, the Three Counties System has been carved by water flowing over carboniferous limestone rock.

The system is so big; you can’t visit it all at once, so I’d recommend visiting just one site in a day, perhaps two if you are feeling really pumped!

Highlights include the Ireby Fell Cavern with amazing Helictite mineral structures hanging from the roof.

The Three Counties System

Another cave known as Death’s Head Hole, has a 64-metre deep shaft as its entrance – making it quite a scary place to drop into – not to mention the name!

Other top spots include Lost John’s CaveRumbling Hole and Notts Pot.

7. Peak Cavern (Derbyshire)

This cave is also known (rather curiously) as the Devil’s Arse, a name given due to the flatulent-sounding noises the cave produces when floodwater drains away.

Located in the glorious Peak District area of England, it is a more genteel type of visit – suited for families and easy-goers, with a car park and relatively easy access (as far as caves go!).

It has the largest cave entrance in Britain. Moreover the cave system of which it is part is the largest in the Peak District area.

Peak Cavern

There are many ‘stages’ to this cavern, the entrance being known as the ‘Vestibule,’ then leading into other areas and passageways with names such as ‘The Great Cave,’ ‘Roger Rain’s House,’ and the truly bizarre ‘Pluto’s Dining Room.’

As some fun bonus trivia, Peak Cavern has even hosted events such as live music concerts (Richard Hawley, The Vaccines) and film screenings!

http://www.peakcavern.co.uk/

8. Blaenau Ffestiniog – Bounce Below (North Wales)

This cave/cavern is an old slate mine that was used in Victorian times.

It gets a mention on my UK caving list for a rather unlikely reason…

It has a big trampoline inside it. You think I’m joking…

Well I’m not! £750’000 of investment allowed the old mine cavern to be completely cleared of rubble and boulders to make way for this enterprising idea from the company Zip World.

Suitable for kids and grownups alike, you can bounce around (helmet on!) in this big beautifully lit cavern, with six different levels to explore!

Blaenau Ffestiniog

For more info, visit the website via this link:

http://www.zipworld.co.uk/adventure/detail/bounce-below