In the deep, dark caverns of historic Wookey Hole, near Wells in Somerset, there once lived an old woman who was thought to be a witch. An old folk tale tells of a bitter woman who had been scorned by her lover, ever after living in the caves, cursing angrily all who came near and using the black arts to blight the lives of young lovers.
Legend has it that a monk from nearby Glastonbury entered the cave and holding up his Bible, exorcised the old witch, who instantly turned into a block of stone. This impressive stalagmite can still be seen in the first chamber of the caves and is now affectionately known as ‘The Wookey Witch’.
In truth, the awesome Wookey Hole Caves have been inhabited for over 45,000 years, first explored by Neanderthal Man, then the Celts and Romans. The River Axe runs through the cave from the limestone hills and is an impressive sight as it weaves its way through the caverns. The river was used to run a corn mill around 1080, as well as a handmade paper mill, the oldest in Britain, from around 1610. Also, the caves have been used for maturing the famous local Cheddar cheese and this still takes place today.
Back in AD 189 Clement of Alexandria, the Roman diarist told of the extraordinary noise of the ‘clashing of numerous cymbals’, a phenomenon caused by changes in air pressure in the caves. The sense of awe and wonder you feel when looking up at the most amazing rock formations is exhilarating.
These atmospheric, spooky caves are wonderful to visit and are even used as a wedding venue these days. But at a constant 11 degrees in the cave, the guests must have to wrap up warm and hope the bats stay away from their posh outfits. The cave has also been used for filming many films and televisions series, including Dr. Who, Blake’s 7 and ‘Robin of Sherwood.
If you are in Somerset, don’t forget to visit the famous caves, they are well worth a visit.