Kents Cavern

Bears, Hyenas and Scimitar Toothed Cats…the rowdy mob have been coming to Torquay since pre-history.

Today started as a visit to the local play-cafe. You know the sort of place; dozens of kids charging about exercising their lungs, great castles of garish plastic architecture and Dad’s with a compromised look about them, (there’s a pub next door).

Fortunately for me the place was packed to capacity on account of the appalling weather, (a grey damp sky that seemed to be sat on the floor), so after a quick tour of Torre we left.

On our ‘visit list’ is Kents Cavern the famous cave network up in the all together posher Wellswood. They must think we are posh too; they’re charging for parking in a largely empty car park. No thanks, I parked on the road for free, (details of that below).

Gambling with Huey’s sleep (a long shot with frankly shit odds), we make the last tour of the day at 3.30pm. Our tour guide is a friendly chap called Simon who takes our tickets with a smile then takes us underground…

The first cave is a wide open space where Simon introduces you to the history of Kents Cavern set to a light show. It’s kind of cool and our small group dutifully stand listening and snapping pictures. I’m keen to get going though as I’m just beginning to wonder what Huey will make of this subterranean disco if he wakes up!

The caves are a beautiful, fascinating affair as you’d expect and Simon tells a good story that is a mix of legend and science. He points out a ‘flow-stone’ that with a little imagination is a huge face revered as a God by Roman visitors on account of the coins and valuable left here. Then he goes on to explain how the flow-stone forms; the constant, steady flow of water depositing calcite over the years.

We eventually reach what I’d think of as the classic cave; the postcard shot full of impressive Stalactites and stalagmites. Simon invites us to tell him if we know the difference between the two and in response our little group, rather smug with our completed secondary education, are all quietly muttering, ‘tites are the ones hanging tight’.

What he says next though gently breaks our smug spell and he has our full attention. Those ‘mites and ‘tites are rather old. Not decades old, not even centuries old, but old, old. If I’ve heard this right, he informs us it takes a thousand years to grow a few centimetres. The impressive stalactite to our left standing about 3ft tall has taken over 50’000 years to form…

I’m having one of those mortal moments we all get from time to time whilst looking at the night sky. That feeling that your time and existence here is virtually nothing in comparison to the universe. This rock formation doesn’t care if it’s a mite or a tite, it doesn’t care for presidential inaugurations or World Wars, it doesn’t even care for global climate change as it certainly wasn’t bothered by the last Ice Age.

This mighty ‘mite was here before the earths plates shifted and gave us the English Channel. The group is indifferent or tuned into this fact, either way they are all silent taking this in. Drip, drip, drip….for 50’000 years. The timescales here are literally counted in geological ages.

During this time Simon explains the caves have had successions of inhabitants. He describes the Hyenas, Lions, Bears and big cats that all lived here. He shows us reproductions of actual bone remains that have been excavated and found.

Coming back to recent times he introduces the idea of man living here and it turns out that Kents Cavern has been put on the ‘archaeologically important’ map. A jaw bone fragment found here from modern man, us, has been dated to be 40’000 years old. This turned out was some 30’000 years older than the original timeline for Homo sapiens living in this part of Europe. I imagine it caused quite a stir.

On the way out there’s a little exhibit of cave-men sat around a fire. Bec’s points out that they have a baby with them and is aghast trying to imagine how hard life could possibly have been. They are working with flint stones, catching their food and trying not to become food to the Hyenas…we can’t imagine. Later we look up how long they lived for; a lucky lifespan of 25 years.

For all that though, I am struck by a thought on our exit. Despite all our modern distractions and comforts, the bricks and mortar, the heating, the internet and iPad we chose to come here today. We have chosen to do exactly what our prehistoric ancestors did on a shit-awful January day. We’ve gone to the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs looking for shelter in the caves.

Free parking for Kents Cavern, Torquay

You can find this right on Ilsham Road outside the car park for the caves. We’ve been through here dozens of times and always seen spaces.

Head for postcode TQ1 2JF.

Is Kents Cavern suitable for a baby?

We managed perfectly well with Huey in a sling. A small narrow pushchair would be O.K not a big stroller. Best bet is the sling. The ground is firm and stable if a little damp in places.