The Clearwell Caves is an iron ore mine at Clearwell in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England. It is still an operational mine, which much of it functioning as a mining museum. There are 2 aspects to exploring the caves, via the visitor center where nicely laid paths and guard rails allow you to explore 9 caverns in the comfort of placed lighting and signage. The other option is to go exploring the untouched mines as left by the miners decades ago during the ore age. Looking for a thrill, of course the latter was a no brainer.
We set off in the morning via a 200km 3 hour scenic route from Cambridge towards Coleford, Gloucestershire near the Royal Forest of Dean Clearwell Caves. The place was rainng then, but it was not hard to find the place which now operates primarily as a mining museum. Here we met out guides for our exploration, Mike and Steve. Who facilitated in suiting up in our overalls, mining helmets and wellingtons. Later do we know that these protection is actually very much appreciated in the caves.
It’s like seeing how deep the rabbit hole can be. We entered the caves via a small hole by a tree just by the country side. It’s not long before we got ourselves aquanitained in the darkness with our eyes adjusted where we can really appreciate the beauty and the danger lurking all around us in the caves.
The caves were naturally formed by underground streams around 330 million years ago. They have been mined for iron ore possibly as far back as Roman times and extensively in the last century, which considerably enlarged and extended the network of natural caverns. Ochre has been mined here for even longer. Besides the Bats in the caves, we found many ore deposits still in the caves which to our surprise come in various pigment colours, such as purple and black on top of the all common red.
Much of the exploration was spent climbing, crawling, abseiling from cave walls. Not to mention having to crawl through rabbit and mouse holes to get between caverns. Often having to go belly down and crawling on all fours or swimming in ground water all in complete darkness with the aid of only our headlamps. Exciting, thrilling and definitely not for the catastrophic. The danger here is raw- there were many hazards along our exploration which includes pot holes, sudden drops, cavern cliffs and ravines, and no, there are no guard rails here!
It’s also rather exciting taking point and going first into unexplored caves and tunnels (often head first) which often links the caverns together. These tunnels are so small you can never turn back if you need to and it’s always just a reassuring pitch black darkness ahead of you. I’ve visited many other caves worldwide, such as those in Thailand, China and Australia, but those are touristy type caves with everything all laid out for you. Nothing beats getting all down and dirty like this adventure!
You can view more photos of the exploration here.