Wookey Hole


Useful Information

Image: the walk from the parking lot to the cave is hemmed by shops and cafes.
Location: Wookey Hole, near Wells.
Open: APR to OCT daily 10-17.
NOV to MAR daily 10-16.
Times of first and last tour.
Closed 25-DEC, Boxing Day.
[2017]
Fee: Adults GBP 19, Children (3-14) GBP 15, Children (0-2) free, Seniors GBP 17.
Online: 10% off.
Disabled: 50% off.
Groups (15+): Adults GBP 14, Children (3-14) GBP 11.50, Seniors GBP 12.50. Must be pre-booked 48 hours in advance.
Schools: Adults GBP 12, Students GBP 9, 1 adult free for every 10 children.
[2017]
Classification: karst cave,  river cave.
Light: electric
Dimension: L=3,890m, VR=141m, T=11°C.
Guided tours: D=2h. (includes all attractions)
Photography:  
Accessibility:  
Bibliography: T.R. Shaw (1996): Why some caves become famous - Wookey Hole, England, Cave & Karst Science 23(1), 17-23; Bridgwater.
Duncan Price: Full Circle. WOOKEY HOLE 75 years of cave diving and exploration. Hanwell, James; Price, Duncan; Witcombe, Richard (Eds.) Cave Diving Group, Wells (2010) pp. 329-340
Address: Wookey Hole Caves, Wookey Hole, Wells, Somerset, BA5 1BB, Tel: +44-1749-672243, Fax: +44-1749-677749. 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: 2015/11/20 13:18:47 $

History

 
The cave was first visited by Celts who were able to bury their dead in chamber 4. Later the water filled the link between chamber 3 and 4.
1040first record of a mill at Wookey.
1703first guided tour in Wookey Hole.
1857workmen digging the canal of the paper mill find remains of prehistoric man and the bones of animals.
1912archaeologist Herbert Balch excavates the almost complete skeleton of an old woman.
1935the first cave diving expedition of the world happened in Wookey Hole.
1948Chamber 8-9 and in a second expedition chamber 10-11 were discovered.
1951mill sold to the Inveresk Paper Co.
????installation of the first electric lighting by the electrical engineer Christopher Aloysius Carroll.
29-SEP-2004John Volanthen and Rick Slanton dive 76m deep.
2015show cave extended by excavating a tunnel from the ninth chamber to the 20th chamber.

Description

Image: a 3d model shown in the cave museum of Wookey Hole.

Wookey Hole is a river cave located at the small village of the same name near Wells. The cave is the source of the river Axe, both the cave and the spring is used by man since prehistoric times. The river was later used by a mill, then by a paper mill. The parking lot is located at one end of the village, to reach the cave it must be crossed by foot, about 10 minutes walk. The first part of the village is full of shops, kiosks, and fish and chips. Then at the paper mill, the Wookey Hole theme park starts. The cave tour is only one of numerous "rides" of this theme park, which also offers, Dinosaur Valley, King Kong, Wizards Play Barn, Toddlers Play Area, Fairy Garden, Handmade Paper, Magical Mirror Maze, Penny Arcade, Clown Museum, Pirate Play Area, and Wookey Circus. We do not review theme parks, so we will only comment on the cave and history related parts of the park.

The entrance to the Wookey Hole cave is on the right side of the valley, which means it is at the end of a gorge cut into the limestone by the river Axe. The trail from the paper mill to the cave entrance is in the middle of the park-like valley floor. The cave is entered through a dry section, the first three chambers show no sign of a cave river any more. It flows through younger passages right below, at least most of the time. When the water level raises after very heavy rains, this part might be flooded. However, river Axe is visble in chaber 1 and 3, but from chamber 1 it flows through two sumps to the resurgence. Chamber three or Witch's Parlour is famous for its size, a huge solution dome dissolved by the ground water when the ground water level was much higher. In comparison to its rather low ceiling, the room has an extreme diameter.

The following chambers are totally different, high and narrow clefts. Starting from chamber three, artificial tunnels connect them. The natural connection of the chambers lies below and is filled completely with water, only accessible for cave divers. The last chamber is chamber 9, which is called Cathedral.

The developed trail ended at chamber nine or Cathedral Cave for many years. From chamber 9 another artificial tunnel leads back to the surface near the resurgence of the Axe. In 2015 the tour was extended by the construction of 74m long tunnel from chamber 9 to the chamber 20. This is a dead end, so it is necessary to return to chamber 9 to leave the cave.

Today Wookey Hole is explored to chamber 25, called the Lake of Gloom. Until this point the cave is almost horizontal, going up and down, so the cave is partly water-filled and partly air-filled. But at the end of this chamber, the character of the cave changes. It starts to steadily go down. The sump is closed by gravel chokes after about 400m and 90m below water level. This is the deepest point of the cave, and as the water level of cave river is around 64m a.s.l., this spot is about 26m below sea level.

Wookey Hole lies in the same limestone ridge as the famous  Cheddar gorge, only a few kilometers to the south. The limestone is covered by a layer of dolomitic breccia, which is less prone to solution. There are less cracks and the chemistry of dolomite is different to limestone which also makes it a little less soluble. This difference explans many details of the cave formation.

Image: Chamber three.

The cave exit is on the left side of the valley, close to the spring of the river Axe below a steep limestone cliff face. The way back is following the tree-lined canal path, a trail along the paper mill canal which was build in 1857. The water was dammed for the canal, and so the water level inside the cave raised and chambers 4 and 5 were flooded. The canal is two meters deep and flowing steadily, a huge amount of water sufficient to drive the machinery of a paper mill.

Along the trail are three small rock shelters, named Hyena Den, Badger Hole and Rhinoceros Hole. When the canal was dug, the workmen cut through the Hyena Den and its 30cm thick sediments. The bones in the sediments were from rhinoceros, bear, mammoth and lion, animals of both warmer and colder epochs. There were also some flint tools, archaeologists believe that the cave was used by hyenas and man alternatively from 35,000 to 25,000 BC. Both used the cave for hunting, driving their prey over the cliff edge and then harvest the remains. Similar remains were later excavated from Badger Hole and Rhinoceros Hole.

The Cave Museum is dedicated to the local geology and the history of cave diving. It is located in a building of the former paper mill. Numerous items, like old diving suits and caving lamps are of great interest. The concentration on cave diving is obviously because the first cave diving expedition of history happened 1935 at Wookey Hole. Penelope Powell and Graham Balcombe discovered chamber four to seven. And the most exciting fact was, that the first cave diver was a woman! Later, in 1948, they made two more expeditions, using diving gear developed through World War II. First they discovered chamber 8 and 9 and then chamber 10 and 11. Robert Parker made the so far deepest dive in 1985 arriving a depth of 68m. In September 2004 John Volanthen and Rick Stanton reached a depth of over 76m setting a new record.


Wookey Hole Gallery