Get right into Shropshire’s Great Outdoors, and discover its natural and man made caves and tunnels
There are a number of features in the Shropshire countryside called caves, but which are actually only rock shelters. Some, enlarged by man to live in, date from the Stone Age, others were dug out for storage.
Caractacus’ Cave, a 4.3m deep cavity in volcanic rock on the north western side of the outer ramparts of Caer Caradoc Hill fort, is named, by tradition, after the legendary Celtic warrior Caractacus or Caradoc. It could date from when the hill was a Bronze Age Fort.
A limestone rock face near Easthope on Wenlock Edge, close to the Jack Mytton Way, bears the legend of being the site of Ippikins’s Cave, where Ippikin, a 13th Century knight, together with his band of robbers, was sheltering from a violent storm. The cave is said to have been struck by a bolt of lightning causing rocks to fall and block the entrance trapping them all inside. His ghost is said to still stalk the edge. A small cavern still existed there in the 1880’s as it is recorded by Georgina Jackson (Shropshire Folklore), but is thought to have been quarried away for lime burning.
Some caves are associated with quarrying like Kynaston’s Cave, just off the Humphrey Kynaston Way at Nesscliffe Hills and the Cliffe Countryside Heritage Site. Consisting of two chambers cut into the sandstone high up in the quarried cliff face, originally accessed by sandstone steps, one is reputed to have been occupied by Humphrey Kynaston, known as ‘Wild Humphrey’ for his outrageous lifestyle. His horse Beelzebub is said to have occupied the adjoining chamber. The steps up to the cave are now fenced off for safety, and the cave is barred due to bats having taken up occupancy, so can now only be seen from the ground.
Another cave dwelling at the base of a sandstone outcrop on Harmer Hill, with overgrown steps up, is the Goblin Hole, also known as Scoggan’s Hole, after a man who lived there, described in No 4 of Gough Walks from Myddle. There are Rock Houses nearby which can be seen from Lower Road, with rooms cut deep into the sandstone, and doors and windows on the face of the quarry, but others are thought to have been lost when the area was built over.
There are sandstone cave dwellings near Bridgnorth. Some are no longer enterable, and others have been renovated and extended to form part of modern dwellings. Castle Hill Caves at the base of a sandstone cliff, have been used as habitations for many years, and the Shropshire History site lists their occupants over the centuries. The caves are now grilled, with an interpretation board outside. Lavington’s Hole, dug under Castle Hill, Bridgnorth during the English Civil War by the Roundhead Colonel Lavington, forms one of the Castle Hill Caves.
The Hermitage Caves at Bridgnorth, located in a cliff to the east of the town and consisting of 4 carved caves; one 33ft long once used as a Chapel, were first recorded in the Saxon period. They are reputed to have been the home of a Mercian prince, a hermit, and the custodian of the Forest of Morfe. Last occupied in the l930’s, they then became a playground for local children until they were fenced off for safety following a roof fall in 2009.
Thought to have possibly been based on an old copper mine, there are a series of Grottos open to the public at Hawkstone Follies, Weston-under-Redcastle. These were created as an 18th century folly by Sir Rowland Hill and his son Richard.
The Tar Tunnel, now part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum can be entered for a fee. It has been a popular tourist attraction since the 18th century and has even been visited by royalty.
Shropshire is not known as a caving area due to the limited amount of suitable Carboniferous Limestone, as caves are formed where the limestone has been dissolved away by water. There are just a few limestone outcrops in south Shropshire around the Clee Hills and Little Wenlock, and some in the north-west, but they are mostly only linear escarpments on high ground.
There are two naturally formed cave systems located near Oreton in the Clee Hills. Foxholes, the swallet for a natural cave system, where a stream disappears under a low cliff, is now blocked, and is unenterable due to water issues from fissures in steeply dipping limestone. Truck Hill Cave, Oreton, is a natural cave with a 45 metre passage ending at a sump, with large bolder obstructions on associated resurgences.
In the limestones north of Oswestry, right on the Welsh Border, there is the caving system of Ogof Ceiriog at the foot of a cliff on the south bank of the Afon Ceiriog. Local tradition connects it with Llanymynech Ogof, 16km away! There are mine workings present in the limestones of Llynclys, and at Llanymynech where you can visit the Llanymynech Limeworks Heritage Area. This area has been extensively mined for limestone, but there is also evidence of old lead and copper workings there dating back to Roman times; the most famous of which is Llanymynech Ogof where silver coins have been found spanning a range from 30BC to 161AD.
WARNING – Underground exploration can be potentially very dangerous if you do not have the right equipment or skills. If you wish to explore do it safely by joining an organised group or club who can train you and lend you equipment.
Shropshire Caving & Mining, officially formed in 1961 was started by a group of friends in the 1950’s as “The Shropshire Mining Club” to explore and study disused mines and caves in Shropshire. Club members are a major force in the Midlands Cave Rescue Organisation.
For a mine of information on how to get started in caving or further information about the activity why not visit the Start Caving website at this link.