a walk to the chislehurst caves

in an effort to get my blogging chops back up (obviously, it’s been awhile), i want to talk about bill’s and my recent walk to the chislehurst caves. chislehurst is a leafy suburb of southeast london that is, incidentally, not all that far from where we live in hither green.

Chislehurst Caves
Image: Banalities, CC BY 2.0

now, those of you who know me know two very important things about me: i love exploring my local area and i also love google maps. the latter possibly to a troubling, or at the very least obsessive, degree.

when we first moved to london, i spent hours looking at google maps trying to orient myself to the local area, see what was nearby (translation: find the pubs) and generally figure out what the place looked like. one thing kept popping up in my searches of google maps: the chislehurst caves. now, i love anything cavey or geological or eerie historical, so i immediately asked bill if we could go. he was rather less enthusiastic than i was about spending time in dank, dark caves.

after almost two years, i finally convinced him to go last weekend (a testament that nagging works), and we decided to combine it into what turned out to be a fairly long walk from hither green to chislehurst (some 9.5k). to be honest, we’ve done a lot of walking in london – especially around the southeast – and this was not one i’d be likely to repeat, as there was a dearth of green spaces and also pubs or cafes at which to stop along the way and rest our feet (i mean, what is a walk without pubs?).

but finally, we arrived to the caves in time for the last tour of the day at 4pm. our guide was a funny older chap (bill said he looked like a scout who never stopped being a scout) who kept using cockney slang (“dustbin lids” = children, “elephants” = drunk).

Chislehurst Caves tour guide
Our guide explaining the caves’ history

the chislehurst caves are actually a man-made series of tunnels and caves that were ancient mines and have since been used for all sorts of purposes, most notably as air raid shelters during the blitz on london in world war II. incredibly, at one time it’s estimated there were 15,000 people living full-time in the chislehurst caves – there was a hospital, a chapel, two canteens, numerous toilets and thousands of bunk beds down there.

the tour takes you through the tunnels and offers a glimpse into the caves’ history, with a special focus on their role as a bomb shelter. each pair or group is given an oil burning lamp, which adds to the spooky effect. our guide’s cheeky sense of humour gave a lift to some of the drier history (like when he took away the lamps and left us standing in total darkness and then banged a massive gong) and he was also full of ghost stories and local historical anecdotes, many of which (i can only imagine) he was personally privvy to.

Chislehurst Caves map
Image: Auz, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

the tour lasts about an hour (ours a bit longer, as it was the end of the day and Scout Guide was feeling particularly verbose) and traverses about a mile of tunnels. at £6, it’s a serious bargain considering the amount of history and geology you learn, not to mention the interesting anecdotes. this is a must for anyone with an interest in london history or anyone looking for a quirky day out of the city.

this promo video offers a good glimpse into what the tour is like:

the chislehurst caves
old hill
transport: regular trains from charing cross and london bridge to chislehurst railway station. the caves are a 5-minute walk.

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