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Friday, August 17, 2012

Things To Do in Buckinghamshire: The Hell-Fire Caves

On our way home from dog-sitting we popped in to the charming surroundings of West Wycombe to find out what the less-than-charmingly-but-excitingly named Hell-Fire Caves were all about. I took some photos, as you'll see below. If you'd like to see the rest, they're on flickr.

If you're travelling by car there are plenty of car parks nearby, but I'd suggest that you do what we did- head straight for the caves, but carry on until you get to the very top of the hill. There's a car park up there that's very unlikely to be full (some of the others are very small), and the route back down to the caves takes you past the interesting sights of the Church of St Lawrence, with its striking and unusual golden ball...
The Church of St Lawrebce, West Wycombe
... and the Dashwood Mausoleum, backing on to the church's grounds. Both of these are relevant to the story of the Hell-Fire Caves and are easily missed if you park somewhere else.

The Dashwood Mausoleum, West Wycombe
Be warned, however, that the route down is quite steep and anyone who isn't particularly mobile will find it tough going.

Outside the caves is a courtyard with shaded tables and a cafe/ gift shop from which you can buy food (I had the very tasty Hell-Fire club sandwich; Emma had a cheese & tomato toasted sarnie. We agreed that it was better than anything we could have spent the same amount on at a service station), a small but pleasing selection of relevant gifts, and, of course, tickets to the caves.

The entrance to the Hell-Fire Caves, made scarier by the inclusion of picnic tables.
The caves were hewn from the rock beneath the church and mausoleum by a local workforce who were on the verge of joblessness following a couple of bad harvests. Sir Francis Dashwood employed the locals to carve a series of caves from the chalk rocks which were used as a meeting (and party) venue for the notorious Hell-Fire club made from members of the 18th Century aristocracy.

Can you see the ghost in this image? Actually, it's Emma blundering in front of
my long- exposure photograph.
As you wander through the 1/4 mile of caves and passages, there are regularly placed information boards. Many of these could do with being rewritten, and some repeat information given on previous boards, but they do a decent job of telling the story of the Hell-Fire Caves regardless. The passages are dimly lit: well enough so that you don't bump your head too often, but not so bright as to destroy the air of mystery and history that floats through them.

Regular information boards give an insight as to what went on down here.
As well as the information boards there are also eerie tableaux set up here and there...
Each one of these frozen scenes gave me the willies.
... and they wait until you get a little deeper in before telling you about the two ghosts that are said to wander the passages.

Is it a ghost? No. It's something much more terrifying.
The photograph above shows the eerie spectre that is Emma getting in the way of one of my shots again. She's standing in one of the entrances to the main hall, which is even now available to be booked for private parties. How cool is that?

The caves were dug by hand from the chalk rocks of the West Wycombe hills
It's cold, dark and damp inside the caves, and we were dripped on more than once. There's also an underground river (with a familiar and entirely relevant name). You'll want to make sure you're wearing appropriate footwear because it can be slippery!

These models were scary. I've said that before, haven't I?
It cost us £5 each to get in, and we considered that money well spent for the experience. We were in the caves for an hour or so, so you might want to find other things to do if you're travelling any distance to get there: There's West Wycombe Park and the village to explore, and probably a good number of countryside walks to go on.

If you want more info, it's here: