A working mining museum, Clearwell Caves provides a fantastic family day out, and lets the caverns tell the miners’ story covering right up present day. So much more than just a museum, this caving and mining experience is unique offering that lets you explore the spectacular natural cave systems.
The mine at Clearwell was particularly known for its ochre, a natural clay earth pigment which is a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand. Visitors can learn about the specialist mining techniques used, and the refining process that has been used onsite for over 4,500 years in the wider Forest of Dean area. There is information about the last ochre freeminer – an ancient title given to coal and iron miners who were born in the area who have a legal right to mine at Clearwell.
Caves and their various rock formations offer a natural kind of magic that also works so well on film and television. In addition to being a working mine, museum and cave tour, Clearwell has also provided a fantastic filming location to programmes such as His Dark Materials, Cursed, Britannia, Dr Who, Merlin, The Chronicles of Narnia, Da Vinci’s Demons, Kidnapped, The Changes and many others.
The onsite gift shop sells a variety of unusual mementos and obviously visitors can also purchase ochre pigment itself that has been processed from the mine. The café sells a wide range of delicious food and cakes, with fancier hot beverages to people who may be interested, such as excellent leaf teas and organic espresso based coffees.
The caverns here have provided thousands of years of mining possibilities at Clearwell Caves and visitors can still meet the local Forest Freeminers here. They are men that have a legal birthright that entitles them to dig for the iron ores and precious ochres still found at Clearwell even to this day.
As more caverns have been uncovered over the years there have been a number of historical discoveries including a range of artefacts that record the mines’ story and show that children as young as seven used to be employed at Clearwell. Known as ‘billy boys’, they would use a ‘billy’ to carry 60-70lbs of ore at a time. Younger visitors who are feeling brave may want to test their strength down the mine and see just what 60-70lbs feels like.
People who are feeling more adventurous can book to go deeper into the workings and explore parts of the Caves well beyond the public areas. Clearwell provides hidden world beneath the forest. As part of a tour, you can climb and crawl through ten caverns in total, connected by winding tunnels, with displays throughout, making it a fascinating world to visit.
Set in a beautiful valley, near to the River Waye, these caverns have been opened to the public after commercial mining ended at the end of the Second World War. Iron ore in the form of ochre is still mined here, and is used for artists pigment; ochre pigmentation gives the caverns a distinctive orangey-red colour.
The Caves have a mysterious atmosphere, emphasised by a constant cooler temperature as with most cave systems, although many others of the UK cannot boast multiple episodes of Dr Who being filmed onsite over the years.
Those with a taste for adventure can try one of the caving activities advertised, going beyond the public pathways. More intensive cave tours do involve a lot more crawling, climbing and getting dirty, but also provide an exhilarating experience and are a fantastic idea for birthday treats.
The Caves are around 1.5 miles from the town of Coleford, and are around a 20 minute drive from the town of Monmouth. People travelling from Monmouth need to head to Coleford on the A4136 before following the B4228 in the direction of St Briavels and Chepstow. After approx 1 mile turn right for Clearwell (immediately past the Lambsquay Hotel). The coach and car park is clearly visible after a few hundred metres.
In December the caves are transformed into the ‘Christmas Fantasy’ spectacular, creating a whole new atmosphere and look for this ideal day out for the whole family.