Wookey Hole Caves

Wookey Hole Caves

Location: Somerset Map

Human habitation: 50,000 years ago

Age of limestone: 400 million years

Known cave vandals: Alexander Pope


Description of Wookey Hole Caves

Wookey Hole Caves are limestone caves in the village of Wookey Hole on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills near Wells, Somerset, England. The River Ax flows through the caves.

It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for biological and geological reasons. The Wookey Hole cave is a karst cave (English Solution cave), which is formed by weathering processes in which limestone is dissolved in the water. Rainwater also formed the cave systems of Eastwater Cavern, St Cuthbert's Swallet and Swildon's Hole. The temperature in the caves is constant at 11 °C. Part of the cave system was opened in 1927 as a show cave. The caves have also been used as a filming location for film and television productions.

The discovery of tools and fossilized animal remains from the Palaeolithic shows that the caves have been used by humans for around 45,000 years. Stone and Iron Age use continues in Roman Britain.

A flour mill was already in operation from 1086 on the Axe. Around 1610 the oldest paper mill in Great Britain started its work. Due to the caves' consistently low temperature, they were also used for aging cheddar cheese.

William Boyd Dawkins (1837–1929) began excavating a hyena in the caves in 1859. Wookey Hole Caves and Cheddar Gorge, ten kilometers away, are now inhabited by colonies of the greater and lesser horseshoe bat, two rare bat species.

The caves are the site of the first cave dives in Britain by Jack Sheppard and Graham Balcombe. Since the 1930s, divers have explored the network of chambers, developing breathing apparatus and novel techniques. The full extent of the cave system is still unknown, although around 4000 meters (and 25 chambers) have been explored. The cave is known for the Witch of Wookey Hole - an anthropomorphic stalagmite which legend has it the witch was turned to stone by a Glastonbury monk.