Wookey Hole

by Tony Oldham

People have been writing about this cave since the time of Clement of Alexandria, the famous Greek writer on geography and travel, in about A.D. 220. Perhaps there is something in the legend of the famous Witch of Wookey, that she has managed to cast her spell on so many people over the ages. The cave has changed a lot since it was first occupied by prehistoric animals about 60,000 years ago. The visitors' entrance is through a high level passage which was the site of excavation where so many priceless archaeological finds were made. In the Witch's Kitchen, human bones and skulls were found in the bed of the river Axe, some near the bottom of some steps, mysteriously cut into the rock; possibly the bones were the remains of some strange human sacrifice. Much pottery, glass and animal remains were found, including a skeleton of a human and two tethered goats, thought to be those of the famous witch herself and her two goats.

It would be unfair to tell the story of the Witch of Wookey, as the guides do it so much better, but suffice it to say that the wonderful formations and enormous size of the caverns make it a cave well worth visiting.

The show cave contains four main chambers, Goatsherd Chamber, Witch's Kitchen, Hall of Wookey, and Witch's Parlour. There is a splendid upper grotto, and the subterranean river Axe may be seen fiowing through the cave. Relics from the cave may be seen in the free museum outside the cave in the car park.

Exploration is still continuing. Beyond the lake at the end of the show cave, divers have penetrated into a further nineteen chambers.

Wookey Hole does not just provide a visit to a cave, for the area has been laid out in such a way that it is an ideal spot for a family to spend a day, for once they have been down the cave, there is still Titania's Palace, the swimming pools, and the nearby nature reserve of Ebbor Gorge, with its nature trails and wildlife to interest the visitor. Ebbor Gorge is well worth a visit. In many respects it is like Cheddar Gorge, without any of the commercialisation. The well-marked trails lead past several small caves, all with interesting histories, and the warden is always available to answer questions.

Note: there is now on show, in a specially prepared building in the Lower Car Park, Wookey Hole, the world famous Titania's Palace (England's smallest stately home), started in 1907, and opened by Her Majesty Queen Mary in 1922. It has sixteen rooms, all filled with exquisite objets d'art, and is unique.

Text from: Tony and Anne Oldham (1972): Discovering Caves - A guide to the Show Caves of Britain. With kind permission by Tony Oldham.