Go underground at the Chislehurst Caves

From a (supposed) Druid sacrifice chamber to a fully functional air raid shelter city and later a gig venue for Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, the Chislehurst Caves have played a role in nearly every chapter of English history.

Kerosene lanterns in Chislehurst Caves

The air stank of kerosene as we walked down the long white-washed tunnel to the entrance of the Chislehurst Caves. Our guide handed out lanterns, our only kit for the mile-long journey we were about to embark on into the otherwise pitch-black huge underground complex.

Chislehurst Caves map

London Thing 9 of 1000: Explore Chislehurst Caves.

After looking at the map of 22 miles of crisscrossing honeycomb-like passages, I was relieved to learn that we wouldn’t be doing any of the navigating ourselves. That was all left to our trusty guide.

Chislehurst Caves World War II noticeboard

What am I getting myself into?

The Chislehurst Caves are a slight misnomer in that there’s nothing natural about them. The tunnels are completely man-made and were originally used as a source of chalk and flint hundreds of years ago.  The wonderfully entrepreneurial Victorians opened it to the public, regaling visitors with tales of Druid sacrifices, smugglers’ hiding places and murders in the murky darkness.

Today, the stories (and the slightly creepy wax figures on display) mostly focus on life in these caverns during World War II, when the Chislehurst Caves were something of a fully functioning city, with two cinemas, a hospital, a consecrated church and bunkbeds for 15,000 people.

Chislehurst Caves World War II bunkbeds

Chislehurst Caves church

Chislehurst Caves music venue

Once the war ended, the Chislehurst Caves were quiet again, but not for long. They became a gig venue where some huge names in music, including Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, performed. Led Zeppelin launched a record label here on the spookily appropriate date of Halloween 1974.
Chislehurst Caves carving
The newest addition to the Chislehurst Caves is a beautifully haunting carving by an artist from New Zealand that weaves in stories from the history of these underground tunnels.
Entry to the caves is only by guided tour, which leave every hour. The tour guide was hilarious but gave relatively cursory explanations of the areas we passed by, though he went into wonderful amounts of detail anytime someone asked a question. There were a few kids on the tour we joined, but they seemed pretty petrified by the end, so this might be one to save until their 18th birthday.

Anything nearby to do when I’m done?

The pickins around here are mighty slim. You could try for a pub lunch at one of the few sprinkled around the town, but Chislehurst is basically considered the countryside, so don’t count on getting in on a Sunday if you haven’t booked in advance. Otherwise, hope you brought a Tesco Meal Deal for the train back to London.

See: Chislehurst CavesOld Hill, Caveside Close, Chislehurst, BR7 5QX. National Rail Chislehurst.

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