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Chislehurst Caves
Caveside Close
Old Hill
Chislehurst, BR75NL
+44 (0) 208 467 3264

Closest station: Chislehurst Main Line station

Opening times:
Wednesday – Sunday: 10am – 4pm

Prices: £5 entrance fee

Spine-tingling south London caves

It's a chilly morning in London and we're prowling through dark and quiet tunnels hidden inside the Chislehurst Caves. Armed with nothing but a lantern, we're discovering miles of mystery and history beneath our feet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Situated in the borough of Bromley, the caves at Chislehurst are a labyrinth of man-made tunnels forming a maze covering over six hectares below the woodlands above.

The unimpressive entrance does not promise much, but as you walk down further, you enter a cavern of sheer enchantment. For the next 45 minutes on the tour, when you're inside the caves, the bustling capital feels centuries away.

Wartime shelter

These underground caves were once home to nearly 15,000 people during the war, protecting them every night during the Blitz. Through the cobbled floors, people grew mushrooms for sustenance. They even had their very own underground health centre, where baby girl 'Cavina' was born. This rich history is the caves' biggest selling point.

That said, when the guide announces: "This is the altar where human lives were sacrificed. I'm going to leave you alone for a bit in pitch darkness," a chill runs down my spine that has nothing to do with the subzero temperature.

Blend of old and new

The warmly lit tunnels are lined with carvings and frescoes from previous inmates. There are also miniature models of wartime soldiers that add to its rustic authenticity.

The best way to explore the caves is with a personal guide. With their own quirks and gimmicky styles of dishing out information, they help make the trip just that bit more interesting and exciting.

There is also a stone stage set up, which has witnessed big-wigs like Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin perform.

Other delights

After tramping around in twisted tunnels and climbing down low-rise ceilings, we are ravenously hungry. The Caves Cafe serves home-cooked meals, breakfasts, lunches or just tea and cakes at affordable rates.

There is something about the Chislehurst Caves, which makes you strangely reflective. Maybe it's the deep nostalgia it preserves; complete with the lantern-lit tours and a personal tour guide. Or maybe it's the deathly silence that floods your senses once you are left alone in the darkness for a mere 30 seconds.

To be inside the caves, is to be far away. Cut away from your world and all its trappings. It's both disconcerting and vaguely thrilling – like discovering a secret garden in your backyard.

Preethi Ramamoorthy