- Clearwell Caves, near Coleford, Gloucestershire is a great day out for families.
- Camp out in the Forest of Dean before spending a day at the caves.
- Go deep underground to discover the Clearwell Cave secrets, and pretend you're mining for iron.
- With plenty of events throughout the year, maybe this year you should spend Christmas at Clearwell Caves.
Clearwell Caves is near Coleford, Gloucestershire and were first opened in 1968. If you're looking for things to do in the Forest of Dean, this is a brilliant option as it's very nearby. There are many ways to explore the caves, and they offer plenty of experiences for families, so if you're looking for exciting things to do in Gloucestershire, this is the place to go. With ten caverns to discover, iron mines to crawl through and several bat species that call the caves their home, you can pass the day underground. If you want to explore Gloucestershire further, you might like Chedworth Roman Villa or Slimbridge Wetlands Centre.
The Clearwell Caves have been mined for ochre and iron ore for over 4,500 years. They are mined by the freeminers, an ancient title and Forest of Dean birthright that allows them to mine in the personal plot for iron ore, coal and stone. Providing they are born within the said Hundred of St Briavels, are twenty-one and have worked one year and a day in a mine within the Hundred, they are considered a freeminer. A Deputy Gaveller must register them, and then they are allowed three sections and any which become available after that. Originally the rule only allowed for men to become freeminers, but in August 2010 women were allowed, with Mrs Elaine Morman becoming the first female freeminer. The Hundred was an old Anglo-Saxon subdivision, so today it consists of the statutory Forest of Dean and each parish touching the Forest boundary. It is believed there are about 100 freeminers left at the moment. The caves were first opened to the public in 1968 by Ray Wright. The cave system is a complex maze that has been used from the Stone Age. Lots of what is mined is used for paint pigment, and these can be bought in the shop. The forest caves are full of tradition and heritage, representing the history of the Forest of Dean as well as Coleford, Gloucestershire, and more of the surrounding area. The caves have also been used as filming locations for Doctor Who, Merlin, The Chronicles of Narnia, Time Team and more.
There are nine show caverns to discover and then more below the surface too. A variety of bats including greater horseshoe, natterers and long-eared bats will be with you on your journey, but you're unlikely to see them. Children can test their strength in the mine with a 60-70 pound weight. Evidence has shown children may have previously worked in the mines, so would your kids have been able to? You might also be able to see the Pit Theatre Chamber, which allows for fantastic acoustics and has been the home of plenty of events. Find the Skeleton Pool, as you can see the creatures who would have lived inside millions of years ago.
Want to go deeper underground? There are four fantastic ways to do so. Beyond the Beaten Path, Semi-Deep Caving is around two hours long. A mine tour guide will guide guests around areas of the cave last seen by miners over 100 years ago. Dare to Go Deeper will take you deep under the Forest of Dean for an adventure like no other as you explore over 250 acres of passageways and caverns. You'll need to walk, crawl, and slither around the caverns over three hours with an experienced guide to help you. You can also go on a self-guided visit through the caverns, a guided tour which will take you to the iron mines, a semi-deep level visit where you'll get a little messy, and a deep-level visit, perfect for those who love potholing.
Want to attend some fun Clearwell Caves events? Luckily, they put on events all year, whether it's their Halloween party or a concert. The Clearwell Caves at Christmas is a particularly magical time. Forests grow underground, and underground stalls sell food and drink, as well as gifts for the celebrations. There's nothing quite like Clearwell Caves Christmas celebrations. The caves can even be hired for events; who feels like a cave birthday party?
If you're feeling hungry, there is a café on site. The Lamproom Café serves hot and cold drinks, snacks and meals, and delicious desserts. There's also a gift shop with a wide range of items; including sweet treats, ochre made from the mines below, handmade jewellery and more. If you want to stay overnight, Clearwell Cave has its own field in the Forest of Dean for campers to stay, though it costs a little extra. There's also lots to explore in the forest, like Symonds Yat Rock, Puzzlewood, and the Dean Forest Railway.
What to know before you go
- The Clearwell Caves opening times are 10am to 3.30pm.
- The caves are difficult for wheelchairs and people with mobility issues.
- You can take a single buggy through the walk.
- No dogs are allowed in the caves.
- Baby-changing facilities are above ground.
- Toilets, including disabled, are above ground.
- The Show Mine visits are suitable for any age, but some of the deeper underground sections have age restrictions.
- To get to Clearwell Caves by car, follow the brown signs from Coleford; the caves are one and a half miles south from Coleford town centre. Parking is free.
- The nearest Stations are Lydney and Gloucester. Lydney is five miles, so take a bus to Coleford, alight at Milkwall, and walk to Clearwell Caves. Gloucester is 21 miles, so take Stagecoach bus No.31, alight at Milkwall, and walk to the caves.