Going underground

I think I must have had a story book about potholing, probably impossibly brave children going underground with nothing but a rope and a helmet with a light on the front – or maybe just a candle… Or maybe there was a story on Children’s Hour on the radio about potholers, I really can’t remember but I know I’ve always been interested in the idea of going into the earth and exploring. Being born and brought up in Cambridgeshire there weren’t any opportunities to follow this interest except when we were able to visit Grimes Graves, Grimes Graves is described as a Neolithic flint mine, and is a site covered in pits dug deep into the chalk beneath the surface. This is what Wikipedia says:

Grime’s Graves is a large Neolithic flint mining complex in Norfolk, England. It lies 5 miles north east from Brandon, Suffolk in the East of England. It was worked between about 2600 and  2300 BC, although production may have continued well into the Bronze and Iron Ages (and later) owing to the low cost of flint compared with metals. Flint was much in demand for making polished stone axes in the Neolithic period. Much later, when flint had been replaced by metal tools, flint nodules were in demand for other uses, such as for building and as strikers for muskets. The area was first extensively explored by the 19th-century archeologist William Greenwell. The scheduled monument extends over an area of about 91 acres and consists of at least 433 shafts dug into the natural chalk to reach seams of flint. The largest shafts are more than 46 ft deep and 39 ft in diameter at the surface. It has been calculated that more than 2,000 tonnes of chalk had to be removed from the larger shafts, taking 20 men around five months, before stone of sufficient quality was reached. An upper ‘topstone’ and middle ‘wallstone’ seam of flint was dug through on the way to the deeper third ‘floorstone’ seam which most interested the miners.

When we visited as children, it was still possible to go down some of the mines and look at the amazing achievement of those ancient miners. We could even crawl along the tunnels coming off the shafts – health and safety would have a fit these days!

Later, visiting cousins and friends in the north of England we were taken to caves which we could explore, although none of them went very deep, it still gave me a thrill to be underground, surrounded by rock, with water running down the walls and dripping on my head, We moved to Somerset when i was sixteen, and of course the Mendips are riddled with caves and underground places and we went on trips to Cheddar caves, and Wookey Hole, although it was all very organised and safe, and the caverns were huge. There were potholing clubs, but I didn’t realise, I probably wouldn’t have been able to join even if I had as I had no transport then.

I eventually did have a potholing experience, probably about ten years ago when I was still teaching, when we took a group of students into the Mendips and went on a short adventure. Would I be scared in reality? Would I feel claustrophobic? Would I ate every minute of it and be disappointed? No! No I wasn’t, no I didn’t, and I loved every minute of it, from putting on the overalls and hat with a lamp and harness and all the rest of it!!

I guess the reason I’m thinking about it is that the book I’m reading at the moment, ‘One Last Breath’, by Stephen Booth is set in and around the caves and caverns and potholes of the Peak District, with gripping – and quite scary descriptions of being underground and being trapped underground. There are quite a few crime books with caving, potholing etc featuring, and I wrote about another I read by Nevada Barr, ‘Blind Descent’  – this is my post about it:


Yet another book I read, another crime novel  by J.R. Ellis was originally called ‘The Body in Jingling Pot’  T’he Body in the Dales’ which I don’t think is as interesting or intriguing as the Jingle Pot title!

What set me off thinking about going underground? Well, there’s a suggestion that our writing group should do just that. When it opens to visitors in May, we intend to visit Banwell Bone Caves:




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