The caves at Chislehurst are a labyrinth of man made tunnels located in Kent. I recently went to visit and was so surprised to find such a hidden historical gem so close to London.
Chislehurst Caves are a series of intersecting man-made tunnels and caverns covering some 22 miles (35 km). They were dug to mine chalk and flint over many years. The caves have a long and varied history with the earliest records of the caves dating back to the 9th century. The caves were dug and used by the Saxons, Druids and Romans.
Over the years the caves have had various uses including ammunition storage in World War 1 and mushroom cultivation in the 1930’s. During World War 2 the caves were used as an air raid shelter. During the Blitz a city was formed in the caves with 15,000 people sleeping their every night. The caves even became home to a functioning church, cafe and hospital. In the 60’s and 70’s the caves were used as a venue for concerts and dances and had a number of famous people play there. Now the caves are a tourist attraction and educational experience.
Parts of the caves go 30 metres below the land above. The caves cover an area of over 6 hectares and form a maze of tunnels and caverns. The caves are so vast and are divided into Saxon, Druid and Roman times depending on the time they were dug. You explore the caves in group with a tour guide using a paraffin lamp.
There is so much history and so many stories linked to these caves including a child being born in the caves during World War 2 and being named Cavena after the caves. Reconstruction of different time periods and people have been set up in the caves to try to give an idea as to what the caves were like when used in the past.
The caves can be dark in some places with some tunnels being smaller than others. It may not suitable for people who are claustrophobic or scared of the dark. There is a section during the tour when the tour guide turns all the lamps off so you can experience what it feels like to be in complete darkness. The tour guide also bangs a water tank for visitors to experience the way sound travels in the cave.
Notable carvings and graffiti can also been seen around the caves from famous visitors or events. The caves have been used as filming locations for Dr Who and Merlin. The caves are also home to a gift shop and cafe.
Getting There: The address for the caves is Chislehurst Caves, Old Hill, Chislehurst, Kent BR7 5QX. You can very easily drive there from London. It is about a 30 minute drive from Greenwich Park with lots of free parking on site.
The Caves are a few minutes walk from Chislehurst Railway Station, which is only about 30 minutes from London Bridge.
The caves are also close to Eltham Palace and Lullingstone Castle if you want to visit other places of interest near by.
Price: The price for adults is £6 and for children £4. Under 3’s are free to visit but may find the caves a little scary. Children must be accompanied by an adult aged over 21. Pushchairs and wheelchair users may have difficulty in negotiating the caves due to the natural uneven floor surfaces.
The caves are open Wednesday to Sunday every day including during school and bank holidays from 10am to 4pm. You can only explore the caves with a tour guide and tours start every hour. The tour lasts around an hour and does not need to be booked beforehand unless you are visiting with a party of more than 15.
Final Thoughts: Visiting Chislehurst Caves was very interesting and educational. It is a great thing to do if you are looking for a quick trip away from London or a rainy day activity. It is not for everyone but if you are not claustrophobic or afraid of the dark then it is a very interesting part of British history. On their website they say the caves are ‘Miles of mystery and history beneath your feet’ which they really are. For more information check out the official website: http://www.chislehurst-caves.co.uk