A Knutters Day Out: Wookey Hole (with #MamiaDaysOut)
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
The end of Septmeber sees the culmination of a busy time for my family.
My brother, Mum, Dad and middle lad all have their birthdays within 3 weeks of each other and it’s often a bit of a crazy time of year! Fun, happy, memorable (the bank balance has taken a hit the size of Australia) and bonkers…
My Dad and my middle one have birthdays one day after the other so we used this as an opportunity to have a family day out at Wookey Hole, Somerset. We live in Surrey, so this was a bit of a drive for us, but we had planned it in advance (by that I mean I had looked on Google Maps at just how far it was, questioned my sanity, and then told everyone my grand plan whilst keeping my fingers crossed they wouldn’t think I had completely lost the plot…) Luckily, they all seemed up for it, none of us had been before, so we stocked the cars up with sweets, water, a picnic (including some ‘on the go’ snacks from Aldi’s Mamia Range for the toddler), clothes for all weathers, iPads and other brain-numbing electrical devices and set off in search of the Wookey’s hole…sorry, Wookey Hole. We weren’t looking for Chewbacca’s butt hole…
The drive down there really wasn’t too bad. It took just over 2 hours and the kids were amazingly well behaved in the car (thank you god of Apple!). They spent their time looking at interesting things during the journey which helped – Stonehenge, playing I-Spy, Pokémon Go and studying a squashed fly on the windscreen.
We had pre-booked our tickets online because you can save about £3/person by doing it this way. This might not sound like much but, when there is a large group of you, the savings made are enough to buy some Ice Creams at the end of the day…or Wine!
You can book tickets by visiting the Wookey Hole Website, here.
We arrived at about 10am, this is when it opens, and parked in the main car park which was easy to find and right near the ticket entrance. There are clean toilets and baby changing facilities in the car park which is fab when you’ve had a long journey and are all needing a Jimmy Riddle (cockney rhyming slang for piddle…you can thank my Nan for that one). The toilets are signed ‘Witches’ for the ladies and ‘Wizards’ for the Gents. The kids thought this was hilarious, as did I – Wizards, wands, boys, wands out…you get the gist 😉
We showed our online booking email to the ticket desk and they gave us our tickets. It was then a short, 5 minute stroll, from the ticket office to the cave entrance where you wait and queue for your tour.
The walk up to the caves is really pretty and gives you a glorious view of the gorge in which the caves are set.
In brief, Wookey Hole Caves are a series of limestone caverns and caves in the village of Wookey Hole on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills near Wells in Somerset, UK. The River Axe flows through the caves and you get to see it at various points on your tour. Wookey Hole is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for both biological and geological reasons. The temperature in the caves is a constant 13’c all year round so it feels cool in there in the summer and warmer in there in the cold of winter. Regardless of when you visit, it is advisable to take a jacket with you.
The caves have been used by humans for around 45,000 years, which is demonstrated by the discovery of tools from the Palaeolithic period, along with fossilised animal remains. A corn-grinding mill operated on the waters of the River Axe as early as the Domesday survey of 1086. The waters of the river are used in a handmade paper mill, which now houses the main part of the alternative attractions there such as a soft play, an exhibition on the history of Wookey Hole caves, a circus and a Victorian Penny Arcade. The paper mill is the oldest in existence in Britain and it began operations circa 1610. You can still see how the paper was made after the cave tour by going into the old Paper Mill itself which is included in your ticket price, and you can also buy some handmade Wookey Hole paper in the gift shop at the end.
The low, constant temperature of the caves means that they can be used for maturing Cheddar Cheese, the famous Wookey Hole Cheddar…oh, and wine! Basically, I would be quite happy living in these caves. A good temperature all year round, fresh water, peace and quiet, glorious cheese and wine. When do I move in?
The caves are also the site of where the first cave dives in Britain happened. Since the 1930s, divers have explored the extensive network of chambers developing breathing apparatus and novel techniques in the process. The full extent of the cave system is still unknown with approximately 4,000 metres (13,000 ft), including 25 chambers, having been explored. Part of the cave system opened as a show cave in 1927 following exploratory work by Herbert Balch. As a tourist attraction it has been owned by Madame Tussauds and, most recently, the circus owner Gerry Cottle. The cave is shrouded in legend due to the Witch of Wookey Hole – a roughly human shaped stalagmite which you see in the first cave (along with another that looks like her pet dog near it) – legend says a witch was turned to stone by a monk from Glastonbury and she remains trapped in the caves until this day. Who can blame her? She knows where the good cheese and wine are at… 😉
The tours run every half an hour, so 10am, 10:30am, 11am etc. I am unsure of when the last tour is but details can be found on their website.
We arrived about 10 minutes before the second tour was due to start so waited for that one. It really wasn’t very busy and there were lots of little ones there whose parents were also braving the caves with a toddler. We were all in it together at least!
A young lady came along selling glow sticks for the kids to use in the caves so we bought them one each in the vain hope that if they found the caves too dark and scary, their little glowing stick might cheer them up…clutching at straws maybe but I thought it was £2 (each) well spent to be honest.
The friendly tour guide arrived promptly and led us into the caves after a small health and safety talk. It’s best not to think about caves and tunnels collapsing too much as you enter the caves, you’d probably turn around and run the other way if you imagined how many tonnes of rock were above your head.
A model witch greets you as you enter the caves and then it’s down some steps into the dark of the caves.
The caves are not suitable for pushchairs, wheelchairs, those who aren’t sure footed (no gin before you go in) and a backpack baby carrier is also pretty useless because you have to crouch under some very low overhangs at points. Ben, our toddler, is 2.5 and he managed fine holding our hands.
Also, wear good shoes because it does get VERY slippery in there. No stilettos or flip flops…
The caves are beautiful. They’re other worldly, mysterious and awe inspiring.
Yes, they’re lit up with coloured lights which some people don’t like because they think it’s tacky, but because the caves are used for events and weddings, they need these lights to create an ambiance. I quite liked it if truth be told and the kids thought the coloured lights were, quote, “epic”.
The tour lasts roughly 40 minutes and takes you in about 5 caves. There is so much information to take in and interesting things to that you could easily stay in there longer. Truth be told, the tour did feel a little rushed and we could have done with a little longer to linger and look in each cave before moving on, but with lots of people waiting for the next tour, it’s understandable as to why you can’t stay in there too long. see and it’s truly amazing to think Stone age man lived in these very caves you’re walking in, you’re literally following in their footsteps. It really captivated the adults and the kids and my eldest declared Wookey Hole better than Legoland. High praise indeed!
The toddler was amazingly fine in the caves. He stayed with his best buddy, Grandad, for most of it and loved putting on a hard hat like Bob the Builder so we could go in the newest cave to open. It’s only been open for a year (at the time of writing – September 2016) and so you have to wear a hard hat at the moment in case any rock falls happen (keep calm Gemma, keep calm. It’s only a few hundred thousand tonnes of limestone above you, no need to panic…)
After the main feature of the caves is finished, you exit out into the bottom of the gorge and can walk around the beautiful grounds. The river flows with crystal clear waters, there is a Yew Tree which is thought to be over 1000 years old and there are some enormous dinosaur models to discover…oh, and a giant King Kong. Obviously. The toddler thought it was great and was shouting ‘Dinosaur!’ as much as George Pig would be on a day out at the Natural History Museum.
There is a 4D cinema there, which you have to be aged 3 and over to go in. It’s dark and loud and the seats move/shoot air out so if you have kids that are of a nervous disposition, I’d give it a miss but we went in with our 8 and 7 year olds (Nanny and Grandad hunted for more Dino’s with the toddler whilst we were in there) and they loved it. There was a bit of an odd moment where something poked you from under your chair which caused me and my husband to burst out laughing like naughty children. My son said there might be a ‘Slow Poke’ from Pokemon Go under our seats…which didn’t do anything to stop our hysteria! Pahahahaha!!!!
We then headed into the old Paper Mill for a look about.
There is an exhibit on how paper was made, another on the diving equipment over the years which has been used to explore the caves (one of the old divers loved his bottle of Aldi Mamia Apple and Blackcurrant Juice incidentally) a soft play, a mirror maze, a circus, a Victorian Penny arcade and a shop. There is certainly plenty to do in there!
We didn’t watch a circus show but we spent an hour in the old Victorian Penny Arcade and the kids were totally amazed by using the old coins and machines.
Our favourite parts of the arcade were Victorian Table football, a psychic future reader (think the movie Big…), a sweetie grab machine and a puppet that looked possessed who tells you something interesting about what might happen to you called Charles…
After buying some Wookey Hole cheddar, a couple of souvenir cups and a wind up torch for the toddler (yep, that’s what he chose out of the whole shop!) in the gift shop, we made our way out of Wookey Hole and went back to the car park to get our picnic.
There is a Mini Pirate Golf course there but this costs extra and we didn’t play because our tummies were rumbling too much!
We sat on some picnic tables near the Wookey Hole hotel which is there (we didn’t go in but it does look like a lovely place to stay for a night or two if you were driving a long way to visit. They also have some wooden lodges you can rent which looked fab) and tucked into our picnic. The kids had decorated Grandad a birthday cake which I took with us and we all sang happy birthday and stuffed our faces with it. Ben tucked into some of his Aldi Mamia snacks (he especially enjoyed the Rice cakes and fruit pouches) and then we went and hunted for conkers to burn off some of that cake. During our conker hunt, we found an ENORMOUS one, bigger than any I have ever seen before, and it filled my eldest son’s hand. Inside were 2 very big conkers which have now been added to our collection of 200 or so which are currently sat in our fruit bowl because apparently the smell of a conker scares spiders away and my eldest HATES spiders…life with kids eh?!
I think it’s safe to say my dad and Zak had a lovely day – I hope it’s one they treasure forever. I certainly will.
Thank you to Aldi (and Britmums) for the items from Aldi’s Mamia Range which we used for our day out. Our toddler scoffed the lot so it’s a thumbs up from him and, because it’s all organic and really reasonably priced, it’s a thumbs up from Mummy too!
We would thoroughly recommend Wookey Hole as a day out for families, you really could spend the whole day, and maybe even a weekend, here. Educational and a traditional (slightly eccentric) British day out. Perfect.
We drove home via Cheddar Gorge just to have a look but we didn’t stop because we needed to get home. This is somewhere I would certainly like to go back to because from what we saw of it, it was STUNNING. Our little island we call home really is quite a special place you know…