Walking through the towns of Dorking and Reigate in Surrey, you’ll be forgiven for not knowing that there are caves hidden beneath your feet. Secret caverns of history that have their own stories to tell, all within easy reach of one another and only a mere 22 miles (35km) from the centre of London.
Descend under Dorking in this atmospheric cave
Dorking Caves, owned by Mole Valley District council, are opened up to the public between Easter and the end of October. Booking is essential to ensure a place on the informative 45-minute tour given by one of the friendly & knowledgeable volunteers. Hidden behind a nondescript blue door near the war memorial in South Street, Dorking, lie some steep stairs and a lot of buried wine bottles (now empty) filling this cellar-like cave. Even the British weather can’t spoil this tour. After a quick safety briefing (which does, however, take place outside), you walk almost behind the memorial wall before descending the newly made steps to the bottom. Sadly the original stairs have crumbled with wear over time, although they remain in place and preserved to one side of the newly cast set. The caves are dimly lit, with candles placed around for authenticity. The caves’ history is evident in the scratch marks etched into the greensand from which the cave is made. There is still a sense of mystery surrounding some of areas of the cave and, although parts have been bricked up to prevent would-be intruders, they retain their historic feel as inscriptions dating back to 1666 adorn the walls.
Take a tour in the Tunnel Road caves
The nearby town of Reigate boasts its own sets of caves run by the Wealden Cave & Mine Society. The Tunnel Road caves are based near the centre of Reigate town and are again quite hidden behind their own inconspicuous doorways. Built in 1823, The Tunnel Road caves are positioned on the east and west sides of an old road that runs under a vast tunnel set in the hillside. Although none of the caves are naturally occurring, the fact they have been dug by hand makes them all the more awe-inspiring. The tunnels have been used for many things throughout history, including purportedly wine storage and air raid shelters, and have also been used as a shooting range by a local gun club. It’s nothing short of vast, atmospheric and, if you have a vivid imagination, spooky. Due to the humidity and it being cooler below ground, you experience moments like those out of a horror movie where suddenly the main character sees his breath and everything goes silent and still.
If you like history, adventure and all things subterranean, then the caves are definitely worth a visit. Tours of the Tunnel Road caves run every 20 minutes on selected Saturdays throughout the year (see their website for further details).
Delving into history in Barons' Cave
Also in Reigate, Barons’ Ccave is accessed by a secluded entrance at the rear of the high street below the old castle grounds. Tucked away in the old castle moat, bordered by ivy like something out of a children’s fairytale, the caves were created in the 11th century below the Norman castle, which sadly no longer stands. Also used as an air raid shelter during the Second World War, its title supposedly refers to its use as the meeting place for barons drafting the Magna Carta prior to it being signed by King John. These caves, like many places within Surrey, are home to colonies of bats and if booking a private tour, dates are limited from April-November due to their hibernation. And no, there never were actual living dinosaurs in here, but tucked into a dead end in a domed-shape part of the cave sits a model T-rex.
Plan your underground adventure
It would be worth mentioning that due to the nature of caves in general, their history and location dictate that wheelchair access is unfortunately not possible. Climbing steps and walking on uneven surfaces is obligatory and ladies, ensure your attire is a little more like Lara Croft than catwalk models or entry may be declined. Oh and photographs will contain images of you in a hard hat, it’s obligatory and for insurance purposes.
Reigate caves tickets can be purchased on the day and no booking is required. Special joint tickets can be bought for both Tunnel Road caves and Barons’ cave. At the Tunnel Road caves tours run on the west side and take about 25-35 minutes. The east side is self guided and can take about an hour or more. General admission for both is 4.50 GBP (6.36 USD). General admission to Dorking caves cost 6 GBP (8.56 USD). Tours for Dorking caves must be booked in advance. Group tours can also be arranged and costs and contact details can be found on the Dorking Museum website.
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