Wookey Hole - the blog

WOOKEY HOLE REVIEW

 

When looking for days out in Somerset Wookey Hole was always on our ‘places to go’ list but we never got there – so why?

Despite being billed as a strange, mystical place with a witch we were never sure whether it was age appropriate or accessible.

We didn’t want to give the children (or grandchildren) nightmares and it didn’t seem somewhere you could push a buggy around.

Well let me tell you after spending a delightful time at the caves and its other attractions Wookey Hole is a fantastic day out but be warned it is probably better if you are reasonable fit, not too fat and certainly under seven foot tall!

Our wonderful guide Temperance led the way through the caves helped by a pre-recorded computer commentary.

It was fun if a little damp and spooky as you were taken back to prehistoric times but at other times felt as if you were in a Harry Potter book negotiating narrow metal gantries.

There was a certain amount of squeezing past and ducking down but the 50 minute underground tour was so good I wanted to do it again.

We learned all about the animals and people who once inhabited the caves thousands of years ago and the bones and tools they left behind.

Archaeologists say cavemen made Wookey Hole their home between 25-35,000BC.

And it was the Dark Ages legend of an old lady living in the caves that became embellished over the years into a story about a disfigured woman who was turned to stone by a fearful monk.

Today the caves are home to several species of bats and spiders although there are no fish in the underground rivers divers have seen frogs, eels and freshwater shrimps.

In 1912 an archaeologist Herbert Balch found the almost complete skeleton of an old woman, the remains of some goats, a dagger, household items and a polished alabaster ball among Iron Age remains.

Workmen digging the canal in 1857 found the remains of prehistoric man, including flint tools, as well as the bones of animals such as hyenas, mammoths, rhinoceros and lions.

Many of these are on display in Wookey Hole’s very own museum.

Temperance told us modern day usage of the caves includes wedding ceremonies and making music videos the latter because of pitch perfect acoustics.

Outside is a prehistoric dinosaur playground but even on a wet day there is plenty to do like the indoor penny arcade, adventure play area, paper mill, (a)mazing mirrors, cinema and cafe.

Be warned I bought three hot chocolates and a coffee at the latter and it cost £9!

One of the high spots for our two 10-year-olds was the smelly cheeses stored in the caves and we all loved the ‘cave art’ and circus.

Some of the ‘themed links’ were a little tenuous – from The Lost World film show to the Hocus Pocus circus show – but  they were great.

Wookey Hole is almost on par with At-Bristol and Legoland and like all tourist places is has the obligatory souvenir shop full of tacky must-haves momentums which the children loved.

Our party of grandmother, mother and two children went in the school holidays on a very wet Wednesday and stayed from 10am-4pm.

It was agreed the optimum aged for children to enjoy Wookey Hole is eight to 12-years.

Not once did our children say ‘I’m bored’ in fact here is what they did say:

Brooke said: “I thought the caves were really good and I liked all the tours and the things they told you.

“I liked the fact we got to see bats – the bat we saw was called George and the lady guide lit up the cave for us to see.”

Molly said: “I would love to go again – it is good for any age...in some parts of the cave it is very narrow, the bit when we went on the bridges well there is lots of water underneath and it is really scary.

“The cave floor was wet and muddy with lots of puddles.”

Mum Madeline said: “It is pretty awesome really, you go through this hole in the rock face and then all these passages open up.

“It is amazing to see nature at work and what has been achieved over thousands of years.”

For times and admission prices click HERE.

Carol Deacon

Witch writings in cave

Mysterious symbols and letters scratched into cave walls approximately 400 years ago by people warding off the evil of the Witch of Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset are to be displayed to the public for the first time in the summer of 2017.

The marks, which lay undiscovered for hundreds of years, were first thought to be graffiti but specialists from Bristol University believe that an eerie draught of air spooked visitors to the caves prompting the ritual markings to be made.

They were carved at a time when Mathew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General was responsible for hanging more than 300 women for witchcraft in the UK.

Wookey Hole Caves was found to have more ritual protection marks and symbols than any other cave, most of them in a vertical feature known as the Witches Chimney, close to the stalagmite that legend says is a witch turned to stone.

 Daniel Medley, owner of Wookey Hole Caves said: “We are always discovering new things in the caves and four new ritual protection markings were discovered when we were creating the Wild Wookey attraction for this year.

 “Their discovery proved that the route our adventure cavers is the same one used in the Fifteenth Century, mentioned by William of Worcester in 1470.

 “The fact that the Wild Wookey adventure cavers get a close-up look of the marks made us look at ways to enable visitors on our guided tours view them.

"We are now pointing them out and looking at ways to use the latest technology to protect them and illuminate a

small area of the most accessible marks so that visitors to the caves can get a look at them.

 “It is quite chilling to think that people hundreds of years ago were deep underground carrying flaming torches for light and scratching these symbols on the rocks because they believed it would protect them from the witch and her evil.

 “Bristol University has carried out a full academic study and it is clear that the majority of these markings date from a period from 1550 to 1750.

"So there is evidence of 200 years of fear and superstition over the witch and her powers.”

The study carried out by Christopher Binding and Linda Wilson says: “The area in Wookey Hole where the majority of the ritual protection marks are located is a closed aven, which results in a convection draught caused by the body heat of those standing below it displacing the cooler surrounding air which then descends noticeably.”

The specialists believe that the effect would have been more pronounced years ago before a low rock lip was removed to make it easier for visitors to pass through, but it can still be felt today.

Many of the markings appear to be the letter W or the letter M but specialists believe they are really double V and are a reference to the Virgin Mary.

Many others are Christian symbols also found in the timbers of houses as protection against evil.

Daniel Medley added: “At first it was thought the markings were simply graffiti, people scratching their initials, but then you realise that it is the same letters over and over and the experts say these are symbols used to ward off evil and witches.

“Those were superstitious times and water for the whole area comes through these caves, so if there was a drought or illness among animals it was blamed on the caves and the witch. Of course in 1904 bones were found here along with other items, which proved conclusively that a woman lived here with a crystal ball, a goat and a bowl for mixing potions.

“The markings will now become part of our guided tours through the caves, which are enjoyed by visitors from all over the world.”

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