Clearwell Caves 2010
Clearwell Caves and Symonds Yat, two of the spectacles of the Royal Forest of Dean.
Making up the English side of the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Forest of Dean is an old hunting forest that actually manages to satisfy the current meaning of "forest", by being largely covered with ancient woodland. It is also one of Britain's less-known caving districts, with a few caves on the Welsh side as well (most especially the stunning Otter Hole).
Clearwell Caves are one of a set of spectacular mined caves, and the longest cave in the Forest of Dean, with the shallow part run as a showcave, and deeper parts open to novice tours and experienced cavers. The caves are easily some of the oldest in the country, having formed about 180 million years ago. Some are thought to have been cavities in the shell debris beds that made up the limestone about 280 million years ago, with further development happening after the debris became rock and was exposed. Following that, the caves spent a long time being the conduits for water saturated with iron from overlying beds. The iron ore was deposited in the caves, coating the walls upto a couple of metres thick, or as little as a millimetre.
The caves have been mined probably for centuries - if not millenia - for ochre, with the iron being removed as a less important product. In places, the iron is so loose, it can be literally peeled off the rock with ease. In others, it must be hacked off, which of course removes some of the structural integrity of the rock. What results is a mine with virtually no natural rock surface still visible, and endless evidence of systematic mining. The miners explored all of the known cave, connecting it to various other mines, dropping to 166 metres below the surface. The showcave operators estimate that as much as 30 km of cave and mine may be known, of which cavers have estimated about 24 km is naturally connected cave, taking up about 107 metres of depth.
- Entrance buildings, with remains of the narrow-guage mining railway, and various industrial artifacts.
- Chimney above.
- Old boiler and furnaces.
- Old machinery and drill bit.
- Old railway tunnel and entrance to the mine itself.
- The first natural chamber, with man made pools collecting drinking water from an inlet aven.
- There is some recent natural stal on the walls, but most of the original cave walls have been hacked away.
- Bat Churn, the second natural chamber, and quite large, with several aven passages. And a piece of flowstone that the showcave calls the "White Lady". After all, it is a showcave, and every minor feature has to be made into a major attraction. "Ooooh!".
- Artifacts and building work in the Old Churn chamber.
- Natural arches with a winch. The curved roof shows off the phreatic nature of the passage, while the rough texture is actually caused by the miners hacking away the iron ore.
- Natural passages are hidden everywhere, with the telltale axe scratches.
- Truck wheels.
- Route to some of the working faces.
- A lump of processed iron with the handprints of an 8 year old mine worker, who would have to carry up to 30 kg of iron ore at a time across the chambers. This lump alone weighs 20 kg, which is difficult enough for an adult to carry by hand.
- A mine level heading to the next chamber. The walls show the odd solutional pocket, but the rest of the shape shows this is clearly man made, or at least drastically enlarged. Several of the passages were man made, heading out in search of chambers. Considering this, how could cavers possibly manage to accurately estimate how much length was originally natural?
- Very wide bedding as the next chamber starts.
- A huge chamber dropping through to the lower levels. This is the normal route used by cavers and deep-exploration groups to visit the extensive cave system.
- Ladders used to access the lower workings. The handmade chain ladder (originally with wooden rungs) is nearly 180 years old.
- The start of the Chain Ladder Churn, the very large chamber above the lower workings. The showcave route heads through the Chain Ladder Churn.
- Alcoves in the Chain Ladder Churn.
- Lower end of the Chain Ladder Churn.
- The enormous Barbeque Churn, used to host events. The original floor is about 5 metres lower, having been infilled with mining debris. Note the ochre on the roof.
- Minerals on the chamber walls.
- The Pillar Churn, named for the walled pillar that stands under a mine shaft, but attractive for the lake and ochre ceiling.
- The lake is clearly man made, with a dam holding back the water.
- A very natural passage, with some flowstone; the Frozen Waterfall. OK, it wasn't that good.
- A selection of tools for drilling shot-holes, used for blasting.
- Natural alcoves at the Pottery Churn, with all surfaces mined for ochre or iron.
- Fireplace or kiln at the Christmas Churn.
- No trip to the area would be complete without a visit to the ancient woodlands of the Forest of Dean, with it's tall trees.
- View over Symonds Yat West, and the Wye Rapids (bottom-left). On the far left is The Slaughter, an area of the forest that holds many of the area's big caves and the major resurgences. Above Symonds Yat West is the Great Doward hill (about 200 metres).
- The spectacular 320° view from Symonds Yat Rock, one of the classic views of the Wye Valley. This is made from two separate panoramas taken on either side of the rock, totalling 11 pictures. On three sides there are cliffs, with those on the left being hidden under the tops of the huge trees, and those on the right dropping 120 metres in stages down to the river. On the right are the Coldwell, Quarry, Ship and Needle Rocks, while the river forms huge meanders around The Windles (about 200 metres) on the right and Huntsham Hill (144 metres) in the middle. Between The Windles and Huntsham Hill is Goodrich, with Ross on Wye beyond it.
- Wood mouse feeding at the rock.
- Heading into the Wye below Monmouth, looking towards Redbrook.
- Below here, the river forms the border between England (left) and Wales (right). This is near Llandogo, and this part of the valley has been covered in other galleries, so that's all, folks.