Clearwell Caves


Useful Information

Location: Near Coleford, Gloucestershire. Forest of Dean. 2km south of Colford, follow B4228 towards St Briavels/Chepstow. After 1,5km turn right for Clearwell. Signposted.
Open: 13-FEB to OCT daily 10-17, 17 last entry.
Other times tours by prior arrangement.
[2010]
Fee: Self guided/normal tour: Adults GBP 5.80, Children (5-16) GBP 3.80, Children (0-4) free, Seniors GBP 5.30, Students GBP 5.30, Family (2+2) GBP 17.30.
Semi-deep level visit: per Person GBP 10, minimum per group GBP 80.
Deep level visit: Adults GBP 20, Children (5-16) GBP 15, minimum per group GBP 120.
[2010]
Classification:  Iron Mine,  Karst cave, ochre mines, limestone cave in Carboniferous limestone known locally as Crease limestone.
Light: electric.
Dimension: Total area 245 hectares, VR=180m.
Guided tours: Self guided/normal tour: D=2h, L=820m.
Semi-deep level visit: D=2h.
Deep level visit: D=3h.
Photography:  
Accessibility:  
Bibliography: R. Fell, T. Grevatt (1989): A Visitor's Guide to Underground Britain, pp 65-66
Peter Naylor (1981): Discovering Lost Mines, 63 pp illus. Description and survey pp 21-23.
Tony Oldham (2002): The Mines of the Forest of Dean and the Surrounding Area, pp 20-22
Ray Wright, Jonathan Wright (1990): Clearwell Caves, Ancient Iron Mines, 16 pp illus surveys. On sale at the caves.
Address: Clearwell Caves, The Rocks, Clearwell, Nr Coleford, Gloucestershire GL16 8JR, Tel: +44-1594-832535, Fax: +44-1594-833362, E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
Last update:$Date: 2015/08/30 21:55:03 $

History

 
~500 B.C.mining began in the Iron Age.
1930commercial iron mining ended.
1968opened as Show Mine.

Geology

Clearwell Caves are a series of natural karst caves in Carboniferous Limestone, which is known locally as the Crease Limestone.

200 Million years ago, the caves were filled with iron deposits, an extremely pure form of haematite containing more than 80% iron. The iron ore is intermingled with ochre, a mixture of iron oxides produced by the oxidation of the ore. It is located in pockets both in the ore and the rock.


Description

Mining started at Clearwell Caves about 4,00 years ago in the early Bronze Age. At this time the people did not know how to melt iron, so they mined the ochre a pigment. The bulk of the iron ore was mined during Roman times. It was used to make tools, weapons and later in the manufacture of machinery. Most of the mines in the area closed between 1890 and 1900 because mining became uneconomic due to the thinning of the ore with depth, and the increase in competition from cheaper Spanish ore. But the ore is still mined today, not for the iron any more, but again for ochre. Ochre is a mixture of iron oxides, producing many different colours ranging through browns and reds to yellow and deep purple.


Ochre is used as pigment for various paints and for cosmetics:

Clearwell Caves is the only working ochre mine in Britain. It produces 3-4 tonnes a year, which is collected by scraping the ochre from the walls by hand. The ochre is sold in the shop on the premises. The colours of the ochre are not blended, which produces a large variety of colours, varying from pocket to pocket.

The underground tour is unaccompanied and takes the visitor through nine well-lit caverns or churns as they are known locally. Some artificial pools and plenty of flowstone of various colours including white, red and green makes the mine appear like a natural cave. Other features include Barbecue Churn complete with toilets and barbecues. The show section includes only a fraction of a complex which covers 245 hectares and comprises of hundreds of kilometers of passages which zig zag up and down the strata of the limestone from east to west at an angle of 15°. It has been mined to a depth of 180 metre below the surface. Since the mine closed the water level has returned to its normal level of around 120 meters. There are displays of minerals, mining tools and machinery. Traces of older mining techniques such as fire-setting and use of picks may be seen on the walls. Stout footwear is recommended, however the mine is unsuitable for the less mobile.

A fine two storey surface building of local stone, in typical Forest of Dean style, houses several vintage engines and a compressor. It also contains a tea room which sells snacks and refreshments, a Museum of mining relics and a Gift Shop which even sells caving lamps. Parking is free and there is a large picnic area.

Deep Level Visits can be arranged for the more adventurous groups (about 10 people). They involve some climbing, crawling and getting dirty. Experienced guides ensure that the trips are educational and interesting. Helmets and lamps are supplied. Telephone for details.


Text by Tony Oldham (2001). With kind permission.


See also


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