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Wookey Hole Caves () are a series of
limestone Limestone (calcium carbonate ) is a type of carbonate rock, carbonate sedimentary rock which is the main source of the material Lime_(material), lime. It is composed mostly of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different Polymorphis ...
caverns, a
show cave A show cave—also called tourist cave, public cave, and, in the United States, commercial cave—is a cave which has been made accessible to the public for guided visits. Definition A show cave is a cave that has been made accessible to ...
and tourist attraction in the village of Wookey Hole on the southern edge of the
Mendip Hills The Mendip Hills (commonly called the Mendips) is a range of limestone hills to the south of Bristol and Bath, Somerset, Bath in Somerset, England. Running from Weston-super-Mare and the Bristol Channel in the west to the River Frome, Somerset ...
near Wells in
Somerset Somerset ( , ; Archaism, archaically Somersetshire , , ) is a Ceremonial counties of England, county in South West England which borders Gloucestershire and Bristol to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the so ...
, England. The River Axe flows through the cave. It is a
Site of Special Scientific Interest A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Great Britain or an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) in the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland is a conservation designation denoting a protected area in the United Kingdom and Isle of ...
(SSSI) for both biological and geological reasons. Wookey Hole cave is a "
solutional cave A solutional cave, solution cave, or karst cave is a cave usually formed in the soluble rock (geology), rock limestone. It is the most frequently occurring type of cave. It can also form in other rocks, including chalk, Dolomite (rock), dolomite, ...
", one that is formed by a process of
weathering Weathering is the deterioration of Rock (geology), rocks, soils and minerals as well as wood and artificial materials through contact with water, atmospheric gases, and biological organisms. Weathering occurs ''in situ'' (on site, with little o ...
in which the natural acid in
groundwater Groundwater is the water present beneath Earth's surface in rock and Pore space in soil, soil pore spaces and in the fractures of stratum, rock formations. About 30 percent of all readily available freshwater in the world is groundwater. A unit ...
dissolves the rocks. Some water originates as rain that flows into streams on impervious rocks on the plateau before sinking at the limestone boundary into cave systems such as Swildon's Hole, Eastwater Cavern and St Cuthbert's Swallet; the rest is rain that percolates directly through the limestone. The temperature in the caves is a constant . The caves have been used by humans for around 45,000 years, demonstrated by the discovery of tools from the
Palaeolithic The Paleolithic or Palaeolithic (), also called the Old Stone Age (from Greek: παλαιός ''wikt:παλαιός, palaios'', "old" and λίθος ''wikt:λίθος, lithos'', "stone"), is a period in human prehistory that is distinguished by ...
period, along with fossilised animal remains. Evidence of
Stone In geology, rock (or stone) is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the minerals included, its Chemical compound, chemical composition, and the way in which it is formed. Rocks ...
and
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory and protohistory of humanity. It was preceded by the Stone Age (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic) and the Bronze Age (Chalcolithic). The concept has been mostly appl ...
occupation continued into
Roman Britain Roman Britain was the period in classical antiquity when large parts of the island of Great Britain were under occupation by the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Romanum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίω ...
. A
corn Maize ( ; ''Zea mays'' subsp. ''mays'', from es, maíz after tnq, mahiz), also known as corn ( North American and Australian English Australian English (AusE, AusEng, AuE, AuEng, en-AU) is the set of variety (linguistics), varieties ...
-grinding mill operated on the resurgent waters of the River Axe as early as the
Domesday survey Domesday Book () – the Middle English spelling of "Doomsday Book" – is a manuscript record of the "Great Survey" of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086 by order of King William I, known as William the Conqueror. The manusc ...
of 1086. The waters of the river are used in a handmade
paper mill A paper mill is a factory devoted to making paper from vegetable fibres such as wood pulp, old rags, and other ingredients. Prior to the invention and adoption of the Fourdrinier machine and other types of paper machine that use an endless belt, ...
, the oldest extant in Britain, which began operations circa 1610. The low, constant temperature of the caves means that they can be used for maturing
Cheddar cheese Cheddar cheese (or simply cheddar) is a natural cheese that is relatively hard, off-white (or orange if colourings such as annatto are added), and sometimes sharp-tasting. Cheddar originates from the English village of Cheddar in Somerset S ...
. The caves were the site of the first cave dives in Britain, undertaken by
Jack Sheppard Jack Sheppard (4 March 1702 – 16 November 1724), or "Honest Jack", was a notorious English thief Theft is the act of taking another person's property or Service (economics), services without that person's permission or consent with the ...
and
Graham Balcombe Francis Graham Balcombe (8 March 1907 – 19 March 2000) was a pioneer of cave diving in the United Kingdom and a founder of the Cave Diving Group together with Jack Sheppard (cave diver), Jack Sheppard. Life and career Balcombe began rock cli ...
in the 1930s. Since then, divers have explored the extensive network of chambers developing breathing apparatus and novel techniques in the process. The full extent of the cave system is still unknown with approximately , including 25 chambers, having been explored. Part of the cave system opened as a show cave in 1927 following exploratory work by Herbert E. Balch. As a tourist attraction it has been owned by
Madame Tussauds Madame Tussauds (, ) is a wax museum founded in 1835 by French wax figure, wax sculptor Marie Tussaud in London, spawning similar museums in major cities around the world. While it used to be spelled as "Madame Tussaud's"; the apostrophe is n ...
and, most recently, the circus owner
Gerry Cottle Gerald Ward Cottle (7 April 1945 – 13 January 2021) was a British circus owner and the owner of the Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset. He presented the Moscow State Circus and Chinese State Circus in Britain, founded Gerry Cottle's Circus, and co-f ...
. The cave is notable for the Witch of Wookey Hole, a roughly human-shaped
stalagmite A stalagmite (, ; from the Greek language, Greek , from , "dropping, trickling") is a type of rock formation that rises from the floor of a cave due to the accumulation of material Deposition (geology), deposited on the floor from ceiling dr ...
that legend says is a witch turned to stone by a monk from
Glastonbury Glastonbury (, ) is a town and civil parish in Somerset, England, situated at a dry point on the low-lying Somerset Levels, south of Bristol. The town, which is in the Mendip District, Mendip district, had a population of 8,932 in the 2011 cens ...
. It has also been used as a location for film and television productions, including the ''
Doctor Who ''Doctor Who'' is a British Science fiction on television, science fiction television series broadcast by the BBC since 1963. The series depicts the adventures of a Time Lord called The Doctor (Doctor Who), the Doctor, an extraterrestrial be ...
'' serial '' Revenge of the Cybermen''.


Description

The show cave consists of a dry gallery connecting three large chambers, the first of which contains the Witch of Wookey formation. There are various high-level passages leading off from these chambers, with two small exits above the tourist entrance. The River Axe is formed by the water entering the cave systems and flows through the third and first chambers, from which it flows to the resurgence, through two sumps and long, where it leaves the cave and enters the open air. The river is maintained at an artificially high level and falls a couple of metres when a sluice is lowered to allow access to the fourth and fifth chambers, two small air spaces. Normally, however, these are only accessible by cave diving. Beyond the fifth chamber a roomy submerged route may be followed for a further , passing under three large
rift In geology, a rift is a linear zone where the lithosphere is being pulled apart and is an example of extensional tectonics. Typical rift features are a central linear downfaulted depression, called a graben, or more commonly a half-grab ...
s with air spaces, to surface in the ninth chamber – a roomy chamber over long and the same high. High-level passages here lead to a former resurgence, now blocked, some above the current resurgence. An artificial tunnel leading off from the third chamber allows show cave visitors to cross the seventh and eighth chambers on bridges, and skirt around the ninth chamber on a walkway, before exiting near the resurgence. A second excavated tunnel from the ninth chamber allows visitors to visit the 20th chamber. From the ninth chamber, a dive of about passes almost immediately from the Dolomitic Conglomerate into the
limestone Limestone (calcium carbonate ) is a type of carbonate rock, carbonate sedimentary rock which is the main source of the material Lime_(material), lime. It is composed mostly of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different Polymorphis ...
, and descends steadily for to a depth of under a couple of high rifts with airbells (enclosed air spaces between water and roof) before reaching air space in the 19th chamber. The 20th chamber is at the top of a large boulder slope – long, wide, and high. From here a roomy passage some long ascends towards a now-blocked fossil resurgence in the Ebbor Gorge. The total length of passages in this area is about . A passage near the end connects with Chamber 24 near Sting Corner. The continuation is found in the 19th chamber, where of passage descending to a depth of surfaces in the 22nd chamber – of dry passages at various levels with a static pool. The way on is within this pool at a depth of where of passage ascends to surface in the 23rd chamber – of large passage, followed by four short sumps that arrive in the 24th chamber. This is of what is described in the guidebook as "magnificent" river passage, high and wide, which finishes at a cascade falling from a long lake. There are also more than of high-level passages above the river. The way on continues underwater for some reaching a depth of before surfacing in the 25th chamber – called the Lake of Gloom because of its thick mud deposits. The sump at the end of this has been dived for to a maximum depth of before gravel chokes prevented further progress. The end is about northeast of the entrance.


Hydrology and geology

Wookey Hole is on the southern
escarpment An escarpment is a steep slope landform, slope or long cliff that forms as a result of faulting or erosion and separates two relatively level areas having different elevations. The terms ''scarp'' and ''scarp face'' are often used interchangea ...
of the
Mendip Hills The Mendip Hills (commonly called the Mendips) is a range of limestone hills to the south of Bristol and Bath, Somerset, Bath in Somerset, England. Running from Weston-super-Mare and the Bristol Channel in the west to the River Frome, Somerset ...
, and is the resurgence that drains the southern flanks of North Hill and Pen Hill. It is the second-largest resurgence on Mendip, with an estimated catchment area of , and an average discharge of per second. Some of the water is allogenic in origin i.e. drained off non-limestone rocks, collecting as streams on the surface before sinking at or near the Lower Limestone Shale — Black Rock Limestone boundary, often through swallets such as Plantation Swallet near St Cuthbert's lead works between the Hunter's Lodge Inn and Priddy Pools. It then passes through major cave systems such as Swildon's Hole, Eastwater Cavern and St Cuthbert's Swallet, around Priddy, but 95% is autogenic water that has percolated directly into the limestone. The southern slopes of the Mendip Hills largely follow the flanks of an
anticline In structural geology, an anticline is a type of Fold (geology), fold that is an arch-like shape and has its oldest Bed (geology), beds at its core, whereas a syncline is the inverse of an anticline. A typical anticline is convex curve, co ...
, a fold in the rock that is
convex Convex or convexity may refer to: Science and technology * Convex lens, in optics Mathematics * Convex set, containing the whole line segment that joins points ** Convex polygon, a polygon which encloses a convex set of points ** Convex polytope, ...
upwards and has its oldest
beds A bed is an item of furniture that is used as a place to sleep, Lying (position), rest, and Relaxation (psychology), relax. Most modern beds consist of a soft, cushioned mattress on a bed frame. The mattress rests either on a solid bed base, ...
at its core. On the Mendips the crest of the anticline is truncated by erosion, forming a plateau. The rock
strata In geology and related fields, a stratum (plural, : strata) is a layer of Rock (geology), rock or sediment characterized by certain Lithology, lithologic properties or attributes that distinguish it from adjacent layers from which it is separate ...
here dip 10–15 degrees to the southwest. The outer slopes are mainly of
Carboniferous Limestone Carboniferous Limestone is a collective term for the succession of limestones occurring widely throughout Great Britain and Ireland that were deposited during the Dinantian epoch (geology), Epoch of the Carboniferous period (geology), Period. T ...
, with
Devonian The Devonian ( ) is a period (geology), geologic period and system of the Paleozoic era, spanning 60.3 million years from the end of the Silurian, million years ago (Mya), to the beginning of the Carboniferous, Mya. It is named after Dev ...
age
Old Red Sandstone The Old Red Sandstone is an assemblage of rocks in the North Atlantic region largely of Devonian age. It extends in the east across Great Britain, Ireland and Norway, and in the west along the northeastern seaboard of North America. It also exte ...
exposed as an inlier at the centre. Wookey Hole is a
solutional cave A solutional cave, solution cave, or karst cave is a cave usually formed in the soluble rock (geology), rock limestone. It is the most frequently occurring type of cave. It can also form in other rocks, including chalk, Dolomite (rock), dolomite, ...
, mainly formed in the limestone by chemical
weathering Weathering is the deterioration of Rock (geology), rocks, soils and minerals as well as wood and artificial materials through contact with water, atmospheric gases, and biological organisms. Weathering occurs ''in situ'' (on site, with little o ...
whereby naturally acidic
groundwater Groundwater is the water present beneath Earth's surface in rock and Pore space in soil, soil pore spaces and in the fractures of stratum, rock formations. About 30 percent of all readily available freshwater in the world is groundwater. A unit ...
dissolves the carbonate rocks, but it is unique in that the first part of the cave is formed in
Triassic The Triassic ( ) is a geologic period and system (stratigraphy), system which spans 50.6 million years from the end of the Permian Period 251.902 million years ago (Year#Abbreviations yr and ya, Mya), to the beginning of the Jurassic Period 201.36 ...
Dolomitic Conglomerate, a well-cemented fossil limestone
scree Scree is a collection of broken Rock (geology), rock fragments at the base of a cliff or other steep rocky mass that has accumulated through periodic rockfall. Landforms associated with these materials are often called talus deposits. Talus depos ...
representing the infill of a
Triassic The Triassic ( ) is a geologic period and system (stratigraphy), system which spans 50.6 million years from the end of the Permian Period 251.902 million years ago (Year#Abbreviations yr and ya, Mya), to the beginning of the Jurassic Period 201.36 ...
valley. The cave was formed under
phreatic ''Phreatic'' is a term used in hydrology to refer to aquifers, in speleology to refer to cave passages, and in volcanology to refer to a type of volcanic eruption. Hydrology The term phreatic (the word originates from the Greek language, Greek , ...
conditions i.e. below the local
water table The water table is the upper surface of the Phreatic zone, zone of saturation. The zone of saturation is where the pores and fractures of the ground are saturated with water. It can also be simply explained as the depth below which the ground is ...
, but lowering
base level In geology and geomorphology a base level is the lower limit for an erosion, erosion process. The modern term was introduced by John Wesley Powell in 1875. The term was subsequently appropriated by William Morris Davis who used it in his cycle of ...
s to which the subterranean drainage was flowing resulted in some passages being abandoned by the river, and there is evidence of a number of abandoned resurgences. In particular, the passages in the 20th chamber are interpreted as a former Vauclusian spring, the waters of which once surfaced in the Ebbor Gorge. It is uncertain whether that was the original rising or whether it formed when the main rising at Wookey was blocked. The current resurgence is located close to the base of the Dolomitic Conglomerate at the head of a short gorge formed by
headward erosion Headward erosion is erosion at the origin of a channel (geography), stream channel, which causes the origin to move back away from the direction of the stream flow, lengthening the stream channel.Essentials of Geology, 3rd Ed, Stephen Marshak ...
with subsequent cavern collapse. The morphology of the passages is determined by the rock strata in which they are formed. The streamway in the outer part of the cave system that is formed within the Dolomitic Conglomerate is characterised by shallow loops linking low
bedding Bedding, also known as bedclothes or bed linen, is the materials laid above the mattress of a bed for hygiene, warmth, protection of the mattress, and decorative effect. Bedding is the removable and washable portion of a human sleeping environme ...
chambers, or tall narrow passages, known as 'rifts', developed by phreatic solutional enlargement of fractured rifts. The streamway in the inner part of the system formed within the limestone is characterised by deep phreatic loops reaching depths as much as , with the water flowing down-dip along bedding planes and rising up enlarged joints. In the far reaches of the cave the passages descend to below sea level.


History

Witcombe suggests that the name ''Wookey'' is derived from the Celtic ( Welsh) for 'cave', ''ogo'' or ''ogof'', which gave the early names for this cave of ''"Ochie"'' or ''"Ochy"''. ''Hole'' is
Anglo-Saxon The Anglo-Saxons were a Cultural identity, cultural group who inhabited England in the Early Middle Ages. They traced their origins to settlers who came to Britain from mainland Europe in the 5th century. However, the ethnogenesis of the Anglo- ...
for cave, which is itself of Latin/Norman derivation. Therefore, the name ''Wookey Hole Cave'' basically means ''cave cave cave''.
Eilert Ekwall Bror Oscar Eilert Ekwall (born 8 January 1877 in Vallsjö (now in Sävsjö, Jönköpings län), Sweden Sweden, formally the Kingdom of Sweden,The United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names states that the country's formal na ...
gives an alternative derivation of ''Wookey'' from the
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabita ...
''wocig'', meaning a noose or snare for animals. By the 18th century the caves were commonly known as "Okey Hole". It was known as such when it was first described in print in 1681 by the geologist John Beaumont. Fossils of a range of animals have been found including the Pleistocene lion (''Felis leo spelæ''), cave hyena (''Crocuta crocuta spelaea'') and badger (''Meles meles''). Wookey Hole was occupied by humans in the
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory and protohistory of humanity. It was preceded by the Stone Age (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic) and the Bronze Age (Chalcolithic). The concept has been mostly appl ...
, possibly around 250–300 BC, while nearby Hyena Cave was occupied by
Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistory, prehistoric period during which Rock (geology), stone was widely used to make tools with an edge, a point, or a percussion surface. The period lasted for roughly 3.4 million years, and ended between 4,0 ...
hunters. Badger Hole and Rhinoceros Hole are two dry caves on the slopes above the Wookey ravine near the Wookey Hole resurgence and contain in situ cave sediments laid down during the Ice Age. Just outside the cave the foundations of a 1st-century hut have been identified. These had been built on during the
Roman era In modern historiography, ancient Rome refers to Roman people, Roman civilisation from the founding of the city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. It encompasses the Roman Kingdom ...
up to the end of the 4th century. In 1544 products of Roman
lead Lead is a chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol Pb (from the Latin ) and atomic number 82. It is a heavy metals, heavy metal that is density, denser than most common materials. Lead is Mohs scale of mineral hardness#Intermediate ...
working in the area were discovered. The lead mines across the Mendips have produced contamination of the water emerging from the caverns at Wookey Hole. The lead in the water is believed to have affected the quality of the paper produced. The designation of the water catchment area for Wookey Hole, covering a large area of the Mendip Hills as far away as Priddy Pools, as a
Site of Special Scientific Interest A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Great Britain or an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) in the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland is a conservation designation denoting a protected area in the United Kingdom and Isle of ...
(SSSI) during the 1970s and 1980s was controversial because of conflicts of interest between land owners, recreational cavers and cave scientists. Initial proposals put forward by the Council of Southern Caving Clubs (part of the
British Caving Association The British Caving Association (BCA) is the sports governing body for caving in the United Kingdom. It is recognised by UK Sport, Sport England and SportScotland. History The British Speleological Association (BSA) was founded in 1935, but ...
) were that SSSI designation, which would restrict what farmers and other landowners were allowed to do, would cover the entire catchment area. This was opposed as being too restrictive and difficult to enforce. It was argued that agricultural use of fields not directly in contact with cave entrances would have little detrimental effect on the caves themselves. There was also debate about which caves and cave features should be considered "important". The final settlement resulted in a smaller area being designated and many agricultural practices being removed from the list of proscribed "Potentially Damaging Operations". The entrance weir and sluice gate servicing the paper mill was built about 1852. The tunnel excavated from the third chamber to the ninth chamber and then out to daylight was dug in 1974–1975 by ex-coal miners from the Radstock area. The show cave was further extended in 2015 by excavating a tunnel from the ninth chamber to the 20th chamber. The constant temperature of in the caves is used by Ford Farm of
Dorset Dorset ( ; archaically: Dorsetshire , ) is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The ceremonial county comprises the unitary authority areas of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole and Dorset. Covering an area of ...
to mature
Cheddar cheese Cheddar cheese (or simply cheddar) is a natural cheese that is relatively hard, off-white (or orange if colourings such as annatto are added), and sometimes sharp-tasting. Cheddar originates from the English village of Cheddar in Somerset S ...
in the 'Cheese Tunnel' – an excavated side tunnel between the ninth chamber and the exit to the show cave.


Cave archaeology

Archaeological investigations were undertaken from 1859 to 1874 by William Boyd Dawkins, who moved to
Somerset Somerset ( , ; Archaism, archaically Somersetshire , , ) is a Ceremonial counties of England, county in South West England which borders Gloucestershire and Bristol to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the so ...
to study classics with the vicar of
Wookey Wookey is a village and civil parish In England, a civil parish is a type of Parish (administrative division), administrative parish used for Local government in England, local government. It is a territorial designation which is the lowest ...
. On hearing of the discovery of bones by local workmen, he led excavations in the area of the hyena den. His work led to the discovery of the first evidence for the use by Paleolithic humans in the caves of the Mendip Hills. Middle Paleolithic tools have been found in association with butchered bones with a
radiocarbon Carbon-14, C-14, or radiocarbon, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with an atomic nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons. Its presence in organic materials is the basis of the radiocarbon dating method pioneered by Willard Libby and colle ...
age of around 41,000 years. Herbert E. Balch continued the work from 1904 to 1914, when he led excavations of the entrance passage (1904–1915), Witch's Kitchen (the first chamber) and Hell's Ladder (1926–1927) and the Badger Hole (1938–1954), where Roman coins from the 3rd century were discovered along with
Aurignacian The Aurignacian () is an archaeological industry of the Upper Paleolithic associated with European early modern humans (EEMH) lasting from 43,000 to 26,000 years ago. The Upper Paleolithic developed in Europe some time after the Levant, where t ...
flint implements. Rhinoceros Hole was scheduled as an
ancient monument In British law, an ancient monument is an early history, historical structure or monument (e.g. an archaeological site) worthy of historic preservation, preservation and study due to Archaeology, archaeological or cultural heritage, heritage int ...
in 1992. The 1911 work found of stratification, mostly dating from the
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory and protohistory of humanity. It was preceded by the Stone Age (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic) and the Bronze Age (Chalcolithic). The concept has been mostly appl ...
and sealed into place by Romano-British artefacts. Finds included a silver coin of Marcia (124 BC), pottery, weapons and tools, bronze ornaments, and Roman coins from
Vespasian Vespasian (; la, Vespasianus ; 17 November AD 9 – 23/24 June 79) was a Roman emperor who reigned from AD 69 to 79. The fourth and last emperor who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors, he founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empir ...
to
Valentinian II Valentinian II ( la, Valentinianus; 37115 May 392) was a Roman emperor in the western part of the Roman empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Romanum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) wa ...
(1st to 4th centuries). The work was continued, first by E. J. Mason from 1946 to 1949, and then by G. R. Morgan in 1972. Later work led by Edgar Kingsley Tratman explored the human occupation of Rhinoceros Hole, and showed that the fourth chamber of the great cave was a Romano-British cemetery. During excavations in 1954–1957 at Hole Ground, just outside the entrance to the cave, the foundations of a 1st-century hut and Iron Age pottery were seen. These were covered by the foundations of Roman buildings, dating from the 1st to the late 4th century.


Exploration

The cave as far as the third chamber and side galleries has been known since at least the Iron Age period. Before the construction of a dam at the resurgence to feed water to the paper mill downstream, two more chambers (the Fourth and Fifth) were accessible. Further upstream the way lies underwater. Diving was first tried by the Cave Diving Group under the leadership of
Graham Balcombe Francis Graham Balcombe (8 March 1907 – 19 March 2000) was a pioneer of cave diving in the United Kingdom and a founder of the Cave Diving Group together with Jack Sheppard (cave diver), Jack Sheppard. Life and career Balcombe began rock cli ...
in 1935. With equipment on loan from Siebe Gorman, he and Penelope ("Mossy") Powell penetrated into the cave, reaching the seventh chamber, using
standard diving dress Standard diving dress, also known as hard-hat or copper hat equipment, deep sea diving suit or heavy gear, is a type of diving suit that was formerly used for all relatively deep underwater work that required more than breath-hold duration, which ...
. The events marked the first successful cave dives in Britain. Diving at Wookey resumed in early June 1946 when Balcombe used his homemade respirator and waterproof suit to explore the region between the resurgence and first chamber, as well as the underground course of the river between the third and first chambers. During these dives, the Romano-British remains were found and archaeological work dominated the early dives in the cave. The large ninth chamber was first entered on 24 April 1948 by Balcombe and Don Coase. Using this as an advance dive base, the 10th and then 11th chambers were discovered. The way on, however, was too deep for divers breathing pure oxygen from a closed-circuit
rebreather A rebreather is a breathing apparatus that absorbs the carbon dioxide of a user's breathing, exhaled breath to permit the rebreathing (recycling) of the substantially unused oxygen content, and unused inert content when present, of each breath. ...
. The cave claimed its first life on 9 April 1949 when Gordon Marriott lost his life returning from the ninth chamber. Another fatality occurred in 1981 when Keith Potter was drowned on a routine dive further upstream. Further progress required apparatus that could overcome the depth limitation of breathing pure oxygen. In 1955, using an aqualung and swimming with fins, Bob Davies reached the bottom of the 11th chamber at depth in clear water and discovered the 12th and 13th chambers. He got separated from his guideline and the other two divers in the 11th chamber, ending up spending three hours trapped in the 13th chamber, and had much trouble getting back to safety. Opinion hardened against the use of the short-duration aqualung in favour of longer-duration closed-circuit equipment. Likewise, the traditional approach of walking along the bottom was preferred over swimming. Employing semi-closed circuit nitrogen-oxygen rebreathers, between 1957 and 1960 John Buxton and Oliver Wells went on to reach the elbow of the
sump A sump is a low space that collects often undesirable liquids such as water or chemicals. A sump can also be an infiltration basin used to manage surface runoff water and recharge underground aquifers. Sump can also refer to an area in a sump ...
upstream from the ninth chamber at a depth of . This was at a point known as "The Slot", the way on being too deep for the gas mixture they were breathing. A six-year hiatus ensued while open circuit air diving became established, along with free-swimming and the use of neoprene
wetsuit A wetsuit is a garment worn to provide thermal protection while wet. It is usually made of foamed neoprene, and is worn by surfing, surfers, Underwater diving, divers, windsurfers, canoeists, and others engaged in water sports and other activit ...
s. The new generation of cave diver was now more mobile above and under water and able to dive deeper. Using this approach, Dave Savage was able to reach air surface in the 18th chamber (chambers did not have to have air spaces to be so named; they were the limits of each exploration) in May 1966. A brief lull in exploration occurred while the mess of guidelines laid from the ninth chamber was sorted out before John Parker progressed first to the large, dry, inlet passage of the 20th chamber, and thence followed the River Axe upstream on a dive covering at a maximum depth of to the 22nd chamber where the way on appeared to be lost. Meanwhile, climbing operations in the ninth chamber found an abandoned outlet passage that terminated very close to the surface, as well as a dry overland route downstream through the higher levels of the eighth, seventh and sixth chambers as far as the fifth chamber. These discoveries were used to enable the show cave to be extended into the ninth chamber and the cave divers to start directly from here, bypassing the dive from the third chamber onwards. The way on from the 22nd chamber was at last found by Colin Edmond and Martyn Farr in February 1976 and was explored until the line ran out. A few days later Geoff Yeadon and Oliver Statham somewhat controversially reached the 23rd chamber after laying just a further of line. After a further three short dives they surfaced in the 24th chamber to be confronted by what Statham described as "a magnificent sight—the whole of the River Axe pouring down a passage high by wide" terminating in a blue lake after . This lake was dived by Farr a few days later for at a maximum depth of to emerge in the 25th chamber, a desolate, muddy place named "The Lake of Gloom". The 25th chamber represents the furthest upstream air surface in Wookey Hole Cave. From here the River Axe rises up from a deep sump where progressive depth records for cave diving in the British Isles have been set: firstly by Farr () in 1977, then Rob Parker () in 1985, and finally by John Volanthen and Rick Stanton () in 2004. The pair returned again in 2005 to explore the sump to a depth of , setting a new British Isles depth record for cave diving. This record was broken in 2008 by Polish explorer Artur Kozłowski, then later again by Michal Marek, on dives in Pollatoomary in
Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots: ) is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, in Northwestern Europe, north-western Europe. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel (Grea ...
. Taking advantage of the tunnel driven through to Chamber 20 by the show cave management in 2015, a team began seriously to investigate the leads in that area. One small passage was pushed to a sump that was dived through to Sting Corner in Chamber 24. In 2020 a dry connection was made to the same location. During 1996–1997 water samples were collected at various points throughout the caves and showed different chemical compositions. Results showed that the "Unknown Junction", from where water flows to the static sump in the 22nd chamber by a different route from the majority of the River Axe, is upstream of the sump in the 25th.


Witch of Wookey Hole

There are old
legend A legend is a Folklore genre, genre of folklore that consists of a narrative featuring human actions, believed or perceived, both by teller and listeners, to have taken place in human history. Narratives in this genre may demonstrate human valu ...
s of a "witch of Wookey Hole", which are still preserved in the name of a
stalagmite A stalagmite (, ; from the Greek language, Greek , from , "dropping, trickling") is a type of rock formation that rises from the floor of a cave due to the accumulation of material Deposition (geology), deposited on the floor from ceiling dr ...
in the first chamber of the caves. The story has several different versions with the same basic features: A man from
Glastonbury Glastonbury (, ) is a town and civil parish in Somerset, England, situated at a dry point on the low-lying Somerset Levels, south of Bristol. The town, which is in the Mendip District, Mendip district, had a population of 8,932 in the 2011 cens ...
is engaged to a young woman from Wookey. A
witch Witchcraft traditionally means the use of Magic (supernatural), magic or supernatural powers to harm others. A practitioner is a witch. In Middle Ages, medieval and early modern Europe, where the term originated, accused witches were usually ...
living in Wookey Hole Caves
curse A curse (also called an imprecation, malediction, execration, malison, anathema, or commination) is any expressed wish that some form of adversity or misfortune will befall or attach to one or more persons, a place, or an object. In particular, ...
s the romance so that it fails. The man, now a
monk A monk (, from el, μοναχός, ''monachos'', "single, solitary" via Latin ) is a person who practices religious asceticism by monastic living, either alone or with any number of other monks. A monk may be a person who decides to dedicat ...
, seeks revenge on this witch who—having been jilted herself—frequently spoils budding relationships. The monk stalks the witch into the cave and she hides in a dark corner near one of the underground rivers. The monk blesses the water and splashes some of it at the dark parts of the cave where the witch was hiding. The blessed water immediately petrifies the witch, and she remains in the cave to this day. A 1000-year-old skeleton was discovered in the caves by Balch in 1912, and has also traditionally been linked to the legendary witch, although analysis indicated that they are the remains of a male aged between 25 and 35. The remains have been part of the collection of the
Wells and Mendip Museum The Wells and Mendip Museum is a museum in the city of Wells, Somerset, Wells. It is a registered charity and an accredited member of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. The exhibits include items of local history and archaeological finds ...
, founded by Balch, since they were excavated, though in 2004 the owner of the caves said that he wanted them to be returned to Wookey Hole. It was partly the legend of the witch that prompted TV's ''
Most Haunted ''Most Haunted'' is a British Paranormal television, paranormal reality television series. Following complaints, the broadcast regulator, Ofcom, ruled that it was an entertainment show, not a legitimate investigation into the paranormal, and "s ...
'' team to visit Wookey Hole Caves and Mill to explore the location in depth, searching for evidence of paranormal activity. The show, which aired on 10 March 2009, was the last episode transmitted in series 11 of the show's run on the satellite and cable TV channel Living. In 2009, a new actress to play the 'witch' was chosen by Wookey Hole Ltd amid much media interest. Carole Bohanan in the role of Carla Calamity was selected from over 3,000 applicants.


Tourism

The cave was first opened to the public by the owner Captain G.W. Hodgkinson in 1927 following preparatory work by Balch. Three years later,
John Cowper Powys John Cowper Powys (; 8 October 187217 June 1963) was an English philosopher, lecturer, novelist, critic and poet born in Shirley, Derbyshire, where his father was vicar of the parish church in 1871–1879. Powys appeared with a volume of verse ...
wrote of the caves in the novel '' A Glastonbury Romance''. Hodgkinson took offence at the portrayal of his fictional equivalent, initiating a costly libel suit. The current
paper mill A paper mill is a factory devoted to making paper from vegetable fibres such as wood pulp, old rags, and other ingredients. Prior to the invention and adoption of the Fourdrinier machine and other types of paper machine that use an endless belt, ...
building, whose
water wheel A water wheel is a machine for converting the energy of flowing or falling water into useful forms of power, often in a watermill. A water wheel consists of a wheel (usually constructed from wood or metal), with a number of blades or buckets ...
is powered by a small canal from the river, dates from around 1860 and is a Grade II
listed building In the United Kingdom, a listed building or listed structure is one that has been placed on one of the four statutory lists maintained by Historic England in England, Historic Environment Scotland in Scotland, in Wales, and the Northern Irel ...
. The commercial production of handmade paper ceased in February 2008 after owner
Gerry Cottle Gerald Ward Cottle (7 April 1945 – 13 January 2021) was a British circus owner and the owner of the Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset. He presented the Moscow State Circus and Chinese State Circus in Britain, founded Gerry Cottle's Circus, and co-f ...
concluded there was no longer a market for the product, and therefore sold most of the historic machinery. Visitors to the site are still able to watch a short video of the paper being made from cotton. Other attractions include the
dinosaur Dinosaurs are a diverse group of reptiles of the clade Dinosauria. They first appeared during the Triassic Geological period, period, between 243 and 233.23 million years ago (mya), although the exact origin and timing of the #Evolutiona ...
valley, a small museum about the cave and cave diving, a theatre with circus shows, a house of mirrors and
penny arcade ''Penny Arcade'' is a webcomic focused on video games and video game culture, written by Jerry Holkins and illustrated by Mike Krahulik. The comic debuted in 1998 on the website ''loonygames.com''. Since then, Holkins and Krahulik have establish ...
s. In 1956, Olive Hodgkinson, a cave guide whose husband's family owned the caves for over 500 years, was a contestant on ''What's My Line?'' In the late 1950s, the caves were photographed by Stanley Long of VistaScreen, to be sold as both souvenirs and as mail-order Stereoscopy, stereoviews. The cave and mill were joined, after purchase, by
Madame Tussauds Madame Tussauds (, ) is a wax museum founded in 1835 by French wax figure, wax sculptor Marie Tussaud in London, spawning similar museums in major cities around the world. While it used to be spelled as "Madame Tussaud's"; the apostrophe is n ...
in 1973 and operated together as a tourist attraction until there was a management team buyout in 1989. A collection of fairground art of Wookey Hole was sold in 1997 at Christie's. The present owner is the former circus proprietor Gerry Cottle, who has introduced a circus school. The cave was used for the filming of episodes of the BBC TV series ''
Doctor Who ''Doctor Who'' is a British Science fiction on television, science fiction television series broadcast by the BBC since 1963. The series depicts the adventures of a Time Lord called The Doctor (Doctor Who), the Doctor, an extraterrestrial be ...
'': the serial '' Revenge of the Cybermen'' (1975) starring Tom Baker. This has since been referenced in the comedy of ''The League of Gentlemen''. The cave was also used in the filming of the British series ''Blake's 7'' (1978) and ''Robin of Sherwood'' (1983). The caves were used again for ''Doctor Who'' in "The End of Time (Doctor Who), The End of Time" (2009), including a scene with the Doctor sharing thoughts and visions with the Ood. In 2005, the museum reported that a Dalek prop had gone missing from its collection, and that they had received a ransom note and a detached plunger from the "Guardians of the Planet Earth". The prop was later recovered from Glastonbury Tor after thieves had supposedly considered it "too hot". Cottle denied that this was a publicity stunt. On 1 August 2006, CNN reported that Barney, a Doberman Pinscher employed as a security dog at Wookey Hole, had destroyed parts of a valuable collection of teddy bears, including one which had belonged to Elvis Presley, which was estimated to be worth £40,000 (US$75,000). The insurance company insuring the exhibition of stuffed animals had supposedly insisted on having guard dog protection. Cottle later admitted that he had invented this story as a publicity stunt, and no such bear had ever been owned by the museum. In February 2009 Cottle turned the Victorian bowling green next to the caves into a crazy golf course without first obtaining planning permission.


References


Bibliography

* * * * * * * * * * Dawkins, W.B. (1862) On a hyaena den at Wookey Hole, near Wells. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 18: 115–126. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


External links


Wookey Hole Caves / Paper Mill / Museum


{{good article Caves of the Mendip Hills Sites of Special Scientific Interest in Somerset Tourist attractions in Somerset Show caves in the United Kingdom Limestone caves Grade II listed buildings in Mendip District Somerset folklore Iron Age sites in Somerset cy:Wookey Hole ja:ウーキー・ホール