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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Caves, Old Hill, Caveside Close, Chislehurst, BR7 5QX. National Rail Chislehurst.
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