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Bucket-list builder: Amazing caverns to visit when lockdown is lifted

PUBLISHED: 10:00 08 May 2020

Looking for an amazing post-pandemic experience? Explore an amazing cave: this is Dan-yr Ogof in Wales   Picture: Kiran Ridley

Looking for an amazing post-pandemic experience? Explore an amazing cave: this is Dan-yr Ogof in Wales Picture: Kiran Ridley

© KIRAN RIDLEY 2005

Great caverns to add to your post-pandemic bucket list.

England's longest show cave, White Scar Cave in Yorkshire, is a full of amazing rock formations   Picture: White Scar CaveEngland's longest show cave, White Scar Cave in Yorkshire, is a full of amazing rock formations Picture: White Scar Cave

As we’re all adapting to being kept indoors, you might not think the natural place to go once the lockdown is lifted would be a cave – surely we’ll all be craving wide-open horizons, not any confined space? But the thing is, nature’s more spectacular caverns tend to be found in beautiful places, well away from the bustle of humanity. Adding a good subterranean destination to your post-pandemic bucket list ensures a great trip to a lovely location, followed by a memorable change of scenery as you enter a world so different to what we see on the surface, it’s even stranger than life in isolation.

Of course, there are spectacular caverns all over the globe. The world’s largest is Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, though if your trip of a lifetime takes you to America you could consider visiting Carlsberg Caverns in New Mexico or Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. Closer to home there’s the Blue Grotto on the island Capri in Southern Italy and the Niaux Caves in the French Pyrenees, while closer still are the caves of Cheddar with the beautiful gorge to visit as well. Great as they are, though, none of them makes it onto our short-list - but which one will you add to your bucket list?

White Scar Cave, Yorkshire

Thre's a wonderland to discover beneath the Brecon Beacons, in Dan-yr Ogof   Picture: Dan-yr OgofThre's a wonderland to discover beneath the Brecon Beacons, in Dan-yr Ogof Picture: Dan-yr Ogof

England’s longest show cave is in the glorious Yorkshire Dales, between the village of Ingleton and the madly picturesque Ribblehead Viaduct. There’s no shortage of stunning views inside, too. Though potholers have been exploring here since 1923, the gigantic Battlefield Cavern wasn’t accessible to general visitors until 1991, when a team of Cornish miners created a tunnel to save people wiggling down a narrow underground river. There is one narrow point to squeeze through, but nobody’s ever got stuck. The mile of caves you see on the 80 minute tour is just a part of a much larger system but it’s still a feast for the senses, with dramatic rock formations like the Witch’s Fingers and the Devil’s Tongue.

For information or to book a visit, click here.

Dan-yr Ogof, South Wales

Fingal's Cave on the island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides is formed by columns ofvolcanic basalt rocks   Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoFingal's Cave on the island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides is formed by columns ofvolcanic basalt rocks Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Nestled in a fold of the beautiful Brecon Beacons, the National Showcaves Centre for Wales was once voted Britain’s greatest natural wonder. A series of underwater lakes and spectacular rock formations are accessible to the public, though they’re just a portion of a huge system that extends more than 11 miles (and could be larger – it’s still being explored). It was discovered in 1912 by three brothers who, so it’s said, were so unsure what they might find inside that they took a revolver when they began exploring it. Nowadays, just a packed lunch would do.

For more information and to book a tour, click here.

Fingal’s Cave, Scotland

The Gouffre de Padirac is 33m wide and more than 100m deep, leading to an underground river   Picture: Christoph Gerigk / SES de PadiracThe Gouffre de Padirac is 33m wide and more than 100m deep, leading to an underground river Picture: Christoph Gerigk / SES de Padirac

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This is probably the world’s most famous sea cave, thanks to Mendelssohn naming an overture after it. This staggering structure on the isle of Staffa off the west coast of Scotland really has to be seen to be believed: towering columns of hexagonal black basalt rise vertically from the waves, with a gaping hole carved into it. As the sea extends into the cave, it’s flanked by a natural walkway made of the same hex-topped stone - at low tide, it’s possible to explore inside (carefully – the rock may be slippery). Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, Staffa is a nature reserve and there’s no accommodation on the island, but it’s possible to visit on a boat tour or day trips from Oban and other nearby ports.

For more information, click here.

Eisriesenwelt - the. World of the Ice Giants - is a natural limestone ice cave inside the Hochkogel mountain in Austria.  Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoEisriesenwelt - the. World of the Ice Giants - is a natural limestone ice cave inside the Hochkogel mountain in Austria. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Gouffre de Padirac, France

If you tire of the vineyards, castles, markets and midday heat of the stunning Dordogne region, why not seek refuge in the cool bosom of mother earth? Or rather, more than 100m below the surface... The Gouffre de Pardirac (somewhere between “chasm” and “cave”) is a 30m circular opening through which tourists have been venturing into the depths for more than 130 years – there is an elevator to make 75m of the descent easier. When you reach the bottom, a boat trip on an underground river carries you to a further series of spectacular galleries. The full cave system is vast, but on 2km is open to the public – but that’s enough for an unrivaled underground experience.

For more information and to book a visit, click here.

The Glowworm Cathedral - a must-see highlight of any trip to the North Island of  in New Zealand   Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoThe Glowworm Cathedral - a must-see highlight of any trip to the North Island of in New Zealand Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Eisreisenwelt, Austria

With a name that means “world of the ice giants”, you know this cave is going to be a bit different. From the outside, the entrance to this cavern in the mountains south of Salzburg looks like something from a JRR Tolkien illustration or classic legend – the kind of place a dragon might live. But as you approach the wind blowing from the cave is icy cold, not hot, as temperatures inside Eisreisenwelt are below freezing all year round. Inside is a succession of huge limestone caverns with ice-clad walls and enormous icy structures. It’s an astonishing, otherworldly place.

For more information and to book a tour, click here.

Waitomo Glow Worm caves, New Zealand

This really is a special place: a cave that looks like the sky at night, lit by a million stars. Except these aren’t stars – they’re glow worms, dangling illuminated silken threads to trap other unsuspecting insects. Any trip to New Zealand is guaranteed to be memorable, but it’s possible that the highlight could be visiting these caves on the North Island – part of a system of more than 300 known caves in the Waitomo region. After descending through three levels (the catacombs, the banqueting chamber and, finally, the cathedral) you leave the glow worm caves on a boat along the subterranean Waitomo River, with the only light coming from the glow worms suspended on the ceiling above. Magical.

For more information and to book a visit, click here.


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