There are many caves of different varieties dotted throughout the length and breadth of the British Isles. However most organised caving expeditions take place in areas in the UK where the rock is formed out of limestone. Although, there are areas of caving interest in parts of Scotland, Cumbria and the East Midlands, the predominant attractions run from the Yorkshire Dales in the North down the central spine of England and then down to the South-West so, depending on where you live, you might have some distance to travel to explore some of the more well-known cave exploration sites.
The Yorkshire Dales contain some of England’s best limestone scenery and of special interest to cavers is the Gaping Gill system to the west of Ingleborough. The area around Ingleton also features the Lancaster Pot and Easegill Cavern systems. The latter has over 70km of known passages and is believed to be the most complex cave system in the UK.
The Peak District is full of natural caving systems of which the Peak Cavern, known affectionately as ‘The Devil’s Arse’ is probably the most famous. A tourist attraction as well as a cave, it’s located in Castleton in the centre of the Peak District. For those cavers amongst you who are interested in archaeology, Dove Holes in Dovedale, Poole’s Cavern in Buxton and Thirst House Cave in Deepdale are also well worth a visit.
Dan-yr-Ogof near Penwyllt in South Wales is probably the best known of the caving systems in the Welsh principality. Also featuring a show cave for tourists, it has a caver’s cave which you can also explore. Ogof Ffynnon Ddu is another well known cave in this area which is the UK’s 3rd longest cave as well as being the deepest.
Forest of Dean
The Forest of Dean has an ancient mining history spread over thousands of years and Clearwell Caves which has mined iron ore for over 3000 years are probably its most famous. However, Otter Hole and Wetsink are more recent cave discoveries and local experts seem to think that this area still offers great potential for discovering new cave systems in the future.
Situated in the heart of Somerset, the Mendip Hills is probably most famous for the Cheddar Gorge. Its sides reach up to 500 feet in places which make it Britain’s largest inland limestone cliffs. The Cheddar Yeo in Gough’s Cave boasts the UK’s largest underground river. Wookey Hole Caves in Wells, Somerset is an archaeologist’s treasure chest where you can discover that both man and hyenas used to alternate living within the caves up to 50,000 years ago. Today, whilst there are no hyenas, horseshoe bats hibernate there along with moths and mosquitoes. It’s also famous for its mythical witch which is said to watch over all these creatures.
There are numerous caving systems around the Dartmoor and Exmoor area but Kent’s Cavern in Torquay is probably one of the most important caving areas in the UK. It dates back over 700,000 years to prehistoric times and can boast evidence of the oldest recorded human dwelling in the UK. The Rock Gardens in Chudleigh not only features Pixie’s Cave but is set in a magnificent landscaped garden area. The cave is home to a colony of horseshoe bats.
Up in Scotland, Assynt is the place to go if you’re interested in caving. It has several long narrow river caves. Smoo Cave in Ullapool on the coast is probably its most famous cave system but there are several smaller caves which are of historical interest in St Ninian’s Cave in Glasserton and King’s Cave on the Isle of Arran. Named after Robert the Bruce, King’s Cave is of special interest to those who are interested in Viking history.
Whilst these are just some of the famous caves and caving areas of the UK, there are plenty of other caves which are well worth exploring for their fascinating history and archaeological treasures.