The honeycomb of passages and caverns at Clearwell Caves have been created by centuries of miners searching for iron ore. Some workings are thought to date back to the Neolithic era, when ochre was collected for pigments. Areas of the mine are still being dug for the same material today.
The difficult and dangerous journey of miners underground can be followed from the entrance of Clearwell Caves, down into the first set of caverns. All that remains of the brightly coloured rocks are the pick axe marks – still looking as fresh as the day they were made.
Although there are relatively few early historical references to individual mines, it is clear that the village of Clearwell became a mining centre during the medieval period.
Early works were small-scale and undertaken with simple tools and techniques. In some areas soot can be seen – evidence of the use of fire and cold water to weaken the limestone before gunpowder was introduced.
During the 19th century output increased and over 62,000 tons of ore were produced. The majority of areas on show in the caves date to this productive period.
Walking down through the levels it is easy for the visitor to appreciate the hard labour involved in carrying the ore to the surface – a backbreaking task originally undertaken by women and children. A range of equipment is on display illustrating many aspects of the lives of the miners.
A visit to Clearwell Caves is an evocative reminder of the hard work and bravery of countless miners who created this beautiful underground spectacle in their quest for raw materials.
Don’t miss: The ‘billy’ – a box used by children to carry up to 30kg of ore to the surface.
Clearwell Caves, Ancient Iron Mines
Near Coleford, Gloucestershire
Open 13 Feb–31 Oct daily 10am-5pm;
27 Nov–24 Dec daily 10am–5pm.
Adults £5.80, concs £5.30, children £3.80
Coleford tourist information: 01594 812388