Chislehurst Caves, Kent

Around mid-February, I and my partner had a little day out to Chislehurst Caves in Kent. This amazing network of caverns with a huge history is very close to us and somewhere we'd had on our list to visit for a while! 
We started our journey in the visitors centre, having a look at all the artifacts and history found within the caves, and a quick stop at the cafe as we had almost an hour to kill before our tour (we didn't book in advance so we had to wait for the first available tour, I would recommend pre-booking if you can!), so we had a couple of drinks and some sweet treats and then it was time to enter the caves! 
This is the first thing you see at the entrance building to the caves but once you get inside it's a slow decline into the depths and I was already feeling a little skittish. 

I'll give you a little history of Chislehurst caves before I tell you about our tour. The caves are man-made and began their life in the Victorian era as a mine for collecting lime, materials for bricks to start the building work in central London, and flint to make weaponry during WWI. The caves are almost 40 miles long and contain hundreds of little pockets of darkness as well as huge, wide-open spaces where workmen would have trundled through as they excavated materials. The caves have had many uses including a huge air-raid shelter for over 15,000 people in WWII, and a music venue that hosted Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie (amongst others) in the '70s. But the caves have now finally settled as a brilliant tourist attraction, secretly nestled in a housing estate 20 mins away by train from central London.
As we walked around the visitors centre they had so much information about the music events that used to go on down there, and as I and my partner are music nerds we were lapping it up! We saw this poster dated New Year's Eve 1957 where the caves were hosting a "Jazz BBQ" with over 20 acts playing, it sounds like an amazing time and a brilliant place to host a New Year's Eve party! 

Here are some pictures the visitor's centre has of Led Zeppelin visiting the caves, I used to be obsessed with them around 6 years ago so it was really funny to see they'd traveled all the way to these strange caves in Kent to perform, but then again, Robert Plant (that's the guy in the top-right frame with the long, blonde hair) is pretty mystical himself so it probably makes sense that he was down there. 

This is a picture of the visitors centre, I know it's not the most glamorous one but it's got a gift shop as well as a cafe and some amazing history in it and of course, the real excitement is right under that floor! 

This one is the last picture I got as you aren't allowed to take pictures in the cave, mainly because your eyes adjust very quickly to the pitch black down there, and the guide advised that flashes from phone cameras can be very dangerous to your eyes. So I just snapped this cheeky one without flash before we went in and let me tell you, that little light you can see on the left is pretty much all they have, after that you grab a paraffin lamp and walk through the pitch black! Yes, it is creepy but walking through these amazing caves with your guide and just a handful of paraffin lamps that only give enough light to see the floor makes for an unforgettable experience. 

So we entered the caves with our little lamp and tour guide, it was quite a large tour group of probably 20-30 people, which I didn't enjoy but it was kid's school holiday so we probably chose the worst time. We came up to the first part which showed a huge map of the full caves and highlighted some of the most interesting parts we'd be visiting which included a church, Druid Altar, WWII Air-Raid shelter, and the Haunted Pool. 

I'll start with the church and WWII Air-Raid shelter area. Our guide showed us a little set-up of a simple church with an altar, pedestal, and some chairs acting as pews (they'd also placed creepy mannequins throughout to make it look more real but I really didn't like them, haha!) as he explained that this is a sacred sight blessed by the Christian Church and was founded during WWII as people needed a place to come and pray, get married and christen their children, we weren't allowed to actually go into the church as they want to preserve it but it was amazing to see such a sacred place so far underground! The guide also told a funny story about the first-ever baby to be born in the caves during the war, the parents decided to name, really, apparently in her later life she liked to go by Rose but I think her parents thought it was funny or a nice testament to the unique place she was born. So onto the air-raid shelter part, apparently the caves became a place for a few locals to hide during the early Blitz, but word got around and soon people were coming from all over the local area to stay as it was safer than their home shelters. As the Blitz continued and especially being so close to London, people decided to stay in the caves permanently (mainly because some of these people had no home to go back to), this led to more people moving underground and soon there was an entire town inside Chiselhurst caves that protected more than 15,000 people each day from the bombing outside! People began to resume their normal lives in the caves so they set up schools, a post office, greengrocers, dentists, doctors surgery as well as a citizen's advice bureau so that everybody could maintain their normal jobs and serve their community! We saw most of these places and it was unbelievable, there were full storefronts, just like on the surface level but a bit shorter and it wasn't difficult to see how these people were able to survive down there. We were also shown the toilets and shower blocks spread throughout the caves, and although these weren't the nicest at least everybody had access to sanitation. 
We were shown all the "housing" areas where families were placed in bunk beds and (if you were lucky) separated by a bedsheet on a string, so they almost had everything they needed! This is one of the most well-documented parts of the caves so the guide had so much to tell us, but I'll leave that bit there as I don't want to spoil it too much. 

Next, we were shown a supposed Druid Altar, I don't actually think there is any written proof that Druids were using the caves but I think there are stories passed down, but this perfectly rectangular, 3ft tall platform/Altar with a definite drainage gulley down the side was unusual and not a natural rock formation. The guide explained that Druids would have taken their human sacrifice on a procession through the long pathway that built up this part of the cave and brought them to the altar to be sacrificed in front of the whole group. He explained the sacrifice would of likely been young (under 30) and most likely blonde with pale skin and blue eyes, the sacrifice would have been treated as a god in their life and given the best of everything so when the time came they willingly (supposedly) gave themselves as a gift to the gods. It was a fascinating story to listen to and our tour guide made all the stories come to life! 

The Druid Altar certainly made way for the creepy stories the tour guide had for us as we made our way round to the "Haunted Pool" just before the exit. This is where things kicked up a gear for me, I wanted to hear creepy stories about ancient caves haunted by ghosts and demons, and I was given what I wanted! The guide told us that in the 1980s there was a challenge called "The Chislehurst Cave Challenge" where you would have to stay alone in the caves for 12 hours with only a candle as your light source, there were literally hundreds of people that tried and all but one were banging on the exit door trying to run away before the time was up, but someone managed it. The winner of the grand prize of £5 (which is around £20-£30 in today's money) was a policeman and he stated that by the pool wasn't too bad, he was able to nap and rest quite peacefully until he started to hear things rustling around in the darkness and especially something that sounded so big it was shuffling and moving through, hitting the very tops of the walls, he tried to ignore it but noticed these sounds getting louder and more frequent, so he moved around a corner and began distracting himself by carving a horse into the rock. At this point the rustling and shuffling moved around the corner towards the policeman and apparently he felt breathing down his neck (this man was a fully grown 6 foot + man, so whatever it was was tall!) The policeman was so frightened at this point that he started frantically carving at the horse to stop himself from turning around, and this was where the security guards found him in the morning; sat on the floor, head against the wall and refusing to turn around. 
It really is a creepy story and the tour guide showed us the horse carving as we came around the corner, there are some quite deep gashes, around 8-10 inches long running from the horse's head and through its neck, I'm a big believer in spirits and energy so when my partner wanted to touch the carving I grabbed his hand away because I didn't want us "taking anything home", haha! 

And just to add to all these crazy stories, I think I may have had an experience of my own. We had just walked into the WWII air-raid shelter part (which is the only part with electricity) and I looked up at a light and saw what looked like a dust cloud or dry ice, I assumed they'd put a little dry ice in for effect but then I remembered they wouldn't be able to bring things like that down here and it certainly wouldn't be safe because of the limited air. I looked at some lights right next to it as well as the space in front of me and around the group, and they were completely clear, then it felt like that cloud whooshed against my face, I didn't actually feel anything touch me but I promise something whooshed right past my eyes and nose because I physically reacted and put my hand in front of my face (I and my partner were holding hands so obviously I let go which made him look at me), my partner saw nothing and no one else reacted and the sensation was over as soon as it began but it was so weird! Do you think I'm being crazy, or maybe did something happen? 

If you made it this far, thank you for reading through all that and I'm only sorry I wasn't able to take any more pictures. I hope I've piqued your interest in Chislehurst Caves because there's so much more history that I didn't even include in this post!
The caves are very accessible to get to via car, bus or train, there is free parking and tickets are £7 an adult or £3 a child, how could you pass up on this bargain?! 
Just one final accessibility warning that the caves are NOT suitable for those who are unsteady on their feet or struggle to see in low light, there are large cobblestones and rocks sticking up out of the floor and the path constantly moves up and downhill, and there is VERY limited light through most of the tour. Although I am a bit of a scaredy-cat I didn't find it all that difficult, the pathways are wide enough to walk next to someone else in most parts but if you're someone who's acutely afraid of the dark, tight spaces or mannequins, please go on their website and do some research before going as this may not be suitable for you. 

In my next post, we'll be diving back into our World Series!

H x