Caving fun at Clearwell Caves
As part of the Dean Outdoor Festival, Explore Gloucestershire went along to experience one of the many exciting pursuits on offer in the Forest of Dean. Amongst the many things on offer, we opted to try something completely different and went on a caving taster session at Clearwell Caves.
Clearwell Caves are an extensive natural cave system which has been mined for its iron ore for over 4500 years and is one of Britain’s oldest underground mine workings. The caves are open to the public throughout the year and provide a fun and educational family day out. Caving taster sessions are offered on various dates throughout the school holidays (and if there is sufficient demand).
On our arrival we were kitted out in overalls, belts and helmets with torches – very fetching and we prepared to get a bit dirty!
An underground adventure awaits you at Clearwell Caves
Our small group headed off to the cave entrance, a short walk from the show caves and guarded by a locked metal door. Jonathan, our guide, talked us through the safest way to enter the cave system. Soon we were all below ground venturing into a labyrinth of caves connected by 20 miles of passageways in the old Hammer Mines. The only inhabitants were lesser horseshoe bats and the European Cave spider (the Meta menardi). We didn’t actually see any bats, although 750 had been recently counted. The temperature never fluctuates far from 50º, which did come as a surprise as we all expected it to be much colder.
Clearwell Caves boasts some fascinating natural features
Our guide told us to turn off our headlights and sit in the dark for a few minutes. This would acclimatise our eyes and allow us to see a little bit better. Although very quiet it was not actually an eerie silence and the 10 and 12 year old children were more than happy to head off into the dark unknown.
The caves are a natural system which once had rivers flowing through them. This left a crust of iron which has subsequently been mined over the years, giving much needed employment to the forest folk. We followed the pathways trudged by many a miner and were given a brief insight into their dark and mundane lives. A working life often spanning from the ages of 8 to 50 years – a daunting prospect working only in candlelight and only broken by the welcome break of Sunday!
Explore the wonders at Clearwell Caves - children will love the adventure
We were shown various rock formations and ochres which are still mined in very small quantities. Red, yellow and purple ochres are used in dyes and paints – and we all wore a stripe of each as a reminder of our adventure. (We emerged looking like tribal natives!) The natural characteristics were fascinating to find and we were shown small stalactites and calcite and algae deposits. We even drank water from a small pool which was perfectly clear and a welcome refreshment.
It was very exhilarating crawling through small gaps and spaces, some of which were aptly named the ‘rabbit hole’, ‘the corkscrew’ and ‘the mouse hole’. We were all completely at ease with our guide who was extremely patient given our slow pace!
Discover an amazing collection of caves and tunnels at Clearwell Caves
As we reached the end of our exploration, Jonathan asked if we would like to exit the caves in complete darkness. This was a joint group decision. We all agreed and were confident we knew where we were going… or did we? I’m not sure how but I managed to turn in a completely different direction! I was coaxed back into line and found myself jubilant to catch a glimpse of daylight!
Three hours after we left, we emerged into bright sunshine – bedraggled, exhilarated and excited. In need of refreshments we headed to the café for ice creams and drinks as we discussed our adventure and tidied ourselves up.
This really is a great day out for an active family and perfect for teenagers who always seem to be a bit difficult to accommodate on a family outing. We definitely want to return and would recommend it to anyone and found it to be very good value for money at £15 for adults and £10 for children over 12.
Various events take place throughout the year at Clearwell Caves, but their spectacular Christmas extravaganza is always a little bit special. (Details of all events can be found in our What’s On section).
N.B. Lisa and Grant – you were great company. Hope you enjoyed the rest of your holiday.
More information about Clearwell Caves...
Paint your face with the many coloured ochres found in Clearwell Caves
22 May 2008
For further information.