Subterranea Britannica

Wookey Hole

Wookey Hole
Somerset BA5 1BB
Further information Wookey Hole

OS Grid Ref: ST531476
Date of visit:

[Source: Tony Radstone]

The Wookey Hole Caves site has provided rich pickings for archaeologists and anthropologists over the years, and several exciting excavations have been undertaken.

In 1912 an archaeologist, Herbert Balch, found the almost complete skeleton of an old woman, the remains of some goats, a dagger, some household items and a polished alabaster ball among Iron Age remains. Workmen digging the canal in 1857 found the remains of prehistoric man, including flint tools, as well as the bones of animals such as hyenas, mammoths, rhinoceros and lions.

Many of these are now on display at the nearby Wells City Museum, but most were retained and are now housed in Wookey Hole Cave’s very own museum.

Today the caves are home to different animals. Horseshoe bats hibernate in the caves during the winter and sleep there at other times of the year.

There are no fish but divers have seen frogs, eels and freshwater shrimps in the underground waters. Insects such as moths and mosquitoes spend their winters in the caves.

The Witch is said to remain in residence in the caves to this day – watching over all these creatures.

Legend has it that during the Dark Ages an old woman, who kept a dog and some goats, lived alone in the caves. Everything that went wrong in the village was blamed on her. The local people believed she was a witch who cast spells and caused misfortunes. Eventually, the people sought the help of the Abbot at nearby Glastonbury Abbey.

He sent a monk called Father Bernard to exorcise the witch’s spirit. He entered the cave armed only with a bible and a candle. In the faint light Father Bernard saw the witch stooping over her cooking pot. Quickly, Father Bernard scooped up a handful of water from the river, blessed it and threw it over the witch.

She turned instantly to stone and her frozen figure remains in this cavern – known as The Witch’s Kitchen – to this day.

Four hundred years ago there was no refrigeration and the caves were the ideal place to mature cheeses. The temperature is a constant 11°C all year round, and the high humidity is also ideal to stop the cheese drying out during its maturation storage. Cheddar Cheese has been made by the same methods ever since, and Wookey Hole still stores cheese today.

[Source: Tony Radstone]

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