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Boy oh boy. What a trip!
There are two options for caving near the Dome Garden. The first is a pleasant enough stroll through 7 lighted caverns with displays on mining and geology. Its very nicely done, the caves are littered with equipment and artefacts that chart the convoluted story of the caves as both natural phenomena and industrial production hub. It’s accessible to all and a great wet weather option for young and old. At Christmas they do a very nice underground market too. All great and really worth a visit.
But cross the road, turn left down a track and there, in the ground, buried in the roots of an ancient tree lies a magical portal to an underground world which reaches back 4000 years in time and down 600ft into the ground. .
We went with two adults, five children, aged between 10 and 13, and John our indispensable guide. John is a charming, gentle man, born and bred in The Forest. He’s full of tales of adventure and daring do and has been exploring these caves for 50 years. Without him we would have been lost in seconds amidst a maze of tunnels and caverns and boulders that litter the subterranean landscape. He is incredible agile and has an infectious, boyish enthusiasm that completely belies his age… “I’m supposed to be retired” he says with a grin “but I don’t think that’s ever really going to happen” as he drops to his knees and wriggles out of sight down a tiny tunnel at floor level.
The “200 level” trip is three hours long and takes you down 200ft below the ground which is the deepest you can go without lots of special equipment. It’s a bit scary and it’s a bit of a scrabble. You start trying not to get your hands dirty, but by the time you leave you’ll be daubing your face with rare purple ochre and switching your lights off to see who screams first.
Two often overused words to describe the trip? Awesome. Truly awesome!!