Nine hidden caves in the UK: Inside the secret caves of Britain
Above ground, the UK looks beautiful whatever the season. But did you know that there is much to see below the surface? The rich tapestry of stalagmites and stalactites that have been formed across centuries extends throughout the UK’s giant underbelly. Forgetting the well-known cave systems, our pick of the UK’s hidden caves includes secret gems from Scotland to Cornwall.
1. Culver Hole
Best for: Unusual medieval architecture
A visit to the ancient Culver Hole cave, on the Gower Peninsular near Swansea, is less about the cave itself than what’s behind it. Hidden below a craggy cliff, the cave is sealed off by an enormous stone slab, peppered with windows hewn in all different shapes. This stone slab is thought to have been the dovecote (a nesting place for domestic pigeons) for the castle that once stood on the rocks above. The scramble down to get up close is tough but well worth it.
2. St. Cuthbert’s Cave
Best for: A spiritual pilgrimage
St Cuthbert is a bit of a legend up in Northumberland. A bishop, monk and early conservationist, his links to the northern landscape are strong, particularly on the craggy Holy Island and in its beautiful ruined monastery. St Cuthbert’s Cave, surrounded by lush green countryside, is thought to be the final resting place of the eponymous monk, and the cave is shrouded in a calming aura of peace.
3. Kents Cavern
Best for: Seeing stalagmites and stalactites up close
Once occupied by prehistoric people, Kents Cavern is one of the oldest cave systems in the UK. What’s more, with a prime position near Torquay, on the Devon coast, it’s the perfect day out. Keep cool under the earth’s surface, amid magnificent stalagmites and stalactites. These enormous structures have evidence that the caves were occupied during the Ice Age, improving our understanding of prehistoric
animals and people.
4. Gaping Gill
Best for: Sheer magnificence
Along with White Scar Cave and Ingleborough Cave, Gaping Gill is one of the most famous cave systems in the Yorkshire Dales, and also one of the largest. Over 100 metres in height, the cave could fit the entirety of St Paul’s Cathedral within its dark depths. It’s made more impressive by the waterfall Fell Beck, which crashes into the cavern with all of its might.
5. Thor’s Cave
Best for: Perfectly framed mountain views
Looking out over the rolling hills of the Peak District, Thor’s Cave stands proudly on high, framing those views with its limestone arch. It’s a relatively easy and very well-marked path up to the top, but those up for the walk should take care of the slippery surfaces and sudden drops. For those lucky hikers, they’ll get a pretty spectacular view of the UK’s beautiful countryside, laid out like a glorious green carpet.
6. Holywell Sea Cave
Best for: A healing pilgrimage
Holywell Cave, also known as St Cuthbert’s Cave (another one!), was once famed for its reputed healing powers. Easily found at the end of Holywell Beach, the cave is full of brightly coloured mineral deposits, which add a ‘wow’ factor along with the limestone steps inside. With an easily accessible car park and on the edge of a golden sandy beach, the cave is fantastic for families. But make sure you visit at low tide; otherwise, the cave floods.
7. Smoo Cave
Location: Scottish Highlands
Best for: An exciting boat ride into the cave
The dramatic Smoo Cave is a natural sea cave right on the northern coast of Scotland, near Durness. Visits to the cave are well managed, with a boat ride, wooden walkways and well-lit caverns. Just a ten-minute walk into the cave will bring intrepid visitors to a magnificent waterfall, plunging into the depths. Once you’ve visited the cave, make sure to spend some time on the beaches of northern Scotland - you’ll feel like you’re on a Caribbean island.
8. Chartist Cave
Best for: A shot of history
If you’re visiting the Brecon Beacons National Park, it’s well worth a visit to the Chartist Cave. While perhaps not the most visually impressive on this list, its place in the history of the UK is undeniable. Working class Chartist (pro-democracy) rebels hid their weapons here in the fight against the land-owning elite and the British government, in 1839. Their march on nearby Newport was one of the biggest civil clashes in Britain in the 19th century.
9. Peak Cavern
Best for: The largest cave entrance in the UK
The utterly magnificent Peak Cavern has a splendid holiday location, near the very pretty Peak District village of Castleton. With the largest cave entrance in the UK, directly below the picturesque ruins of Peveril Castle, the cave creates quite a spectacle. The cave once contained houses, and there is even some historical evidence of an alehouse dating back to the 1700s.