Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Caving in the Forest of Dean

When I learned I was going caving for one of the activities on the Forest of Dean #DeanWyeBloggers weekend, I was excited to be doing something new yet, wasn't entirely sure what to expect. What the heck IS caving?! 

Turns out caving is quite literally clambering around in, and exploring, natural age-old caves 200m below the surface. These caves are all over the Forest of Dean, hidden beneath the forest floor. Though they are naturally occurring, they were used for years as mining caves as they hold iron ore. We were taken on a tour of these beautiful wonders by Jonathan at Clearwell Caves.

Walking under an old sea bed!
Interestingly, once we had all been suited and booted in our boiler suits, we we were led away from the Clearwell Caves museum and reception, and taken out into a field. Turns out the entrances to the caves are dotted in random locations around the forest, with the majority of entrances having now been gated for public safety. The gate we were faced with looked like the door to Hell, but we all proceeded onward, tentatively stepping down into the unknown.... 

Once inside, we continued through the caves, crouching and creeping around stalagmites and stalactites. We stopped at an open space to sit and let our eyes get used to the darkness, the only light allowing us to see being from our head torches. Though it is deathly quiet in the caves, we were not alone; lesser horseshoe bats were all around us! Beautiful and protected creatures, we admired them with caution. If they are to be disturbed from sleep too early in the season, they are likely to die due to lack of food. Guttingly their protection status prohibits photos, but anything to allow the gorgeous animals to rest. 

The route we took continued through various caves, and I am immensely surprised at how well the guide knows his way around the caves as it would be unbelievably easy to get lost. We passed a huge edge drop, which really makes you aware of how deep these caves can go!

Continuing on, we had a bit of fun with some tight squeezes! The first of these was the rabbit hole. A fairly short squeeze between two boulders, it was a quick realisation to myself that I have no army crawling skills whatsoever. We all made it through though with delight. However, we were still to come across the mouse hole. This hole was so small that the two gentleman of our group were not allowed to go through, as they were too tall and broad! I managed through, just, as did all the other girls (admittedly felt like my arse was getting stuck between the boulders), and we stopped for a chat and a girls-only photo while we waited on the boys walking the long way around.

After this we headed back the way, through a slightly different route. Jonathan took a minute to show us what it was like for the miners back in the day. With no head torches, they used candlelight, and it is safe to say you can barely see your hand in front of you. We also experimented with our own eyesight: with no candlelight nor torch light, naturally in the darkness you would await your eyes to adjust. But our eyes need some sort of light to see, even if it is dull. 200m below the surface there is zilch, and it's a strange experience when your eyes don't adjust to your surrounding. Of course this was an apt opportunity for ghost stories, after which we thankfully headed outside! 

Photo courtesy of David Broadbent
With daylight striking our eyes on the way out I realised just how enjoyable the caves were. Having always had a fascination with them, it was an experience seeing the formations of stalagmites and stalactites, the natural water pools, to see the bats and to learn about mining and the history of the caves. But one of the most enjoyable parts? The silence. If you were on your own, there would be no noise other than an occasional water drip. (I wish I had my own little cave I could go to for some quiet time) It was a fantastic day out that encorpsorated both fascination and learning, as well adventurous climbing around the caves. Some worry about the dangers of it, but if you're with experienced guides such as Clearwell Caves, and you have some sense on you and watch your footing, there is nothing to be worried about! Book your own exploration with Clearwell Caves here!

Quick photo with our guide, Jonathan

Immy and I, clay-covered back at our cottage, after a wonderful afternoon!


  1. Hey, you left a comment last summer on my blog Pacific Northwest Seasons about sea kayaking in Sitka, AK, thank you. Apologies for never responding! I love reading about outdoors adventure in Scotland and am happy to finally make my way to your blog! I hope to come next year and do some hiking/walking in the Highlands. My father's family (Irwin) originated in NE Scotland I think (Aberdeenshire?). Anyway, happy trails from Seattle, USA.

    1. Hey Jill, I hope you do make it to Scotland sometime! There is so much to explore, the highlands are stunning :)


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