So last, but certainly not least, we walked up past Boots (on Reigate high street) up the stairs into the (so called) "Castle Grounds" (it's actually a park and what's left of the original 11th century Norman Castle - which is the hill (motte), a big ditch at it's foot, a pond (which was part of the wet moat) and the underground bit we had come to see - all the other original features were demolished in the 18th century when this mock castle gate was constructed) -
We followed the trail of handy bat signs along the paths to the steep steps that led down into Barons' cave -
- passing a group of about 30 people(!) coming out, our group was much smaller (again about 10 people, a similar number to our tour of the West Cavern) and upon having our tickets checked, everyone (except Thomas and I, who had our own) were handed torches or lanterns (as peering up into the cave it quickly became clear that the whole place was lit only by tiny candles and was going to be *dark*)-
The caves are full of carvings/grafitti, some of them accompanied by dates (going back to 1700s, which is likely when the caves were first opened to public visitors as an early tourist attraction/curiosity - coinciding with the construction of the folly above)-
The first section we were shown to was a long, winding stair that leads all the way to the top of the Motte from the main entrance (which was right at the bottom of the dry moat), terminating at the highest point under a stone pyramid (which was built at some point after the 14th century as it's roof and supports are made of brick, which didn't start to be used for construction until this point) -
Here a tiny bit of sun light filters through -
- allowing you to imagine what it must have been like to be a Norman soldier, climbing out of the caves up into castle with it's commanding view over the valley...(this entrance is now sealed)...so we trundled back down the steps and into the second section of the caves -
- where they have a map of all the caves that used to be on the wall in the underground cave/pub called Batchelors (which I actually visited a couple of times, many, many years ago - now closed down and filled with rock - as it was unstable and apparently ran underneath the main bus route, which the Council wasn't that keen on) - today it's the site of a Kebab shop...Oh, and also in that section -
- (of course!!) was a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex...no explanation was offered other than that one of the guardian cavers happened to have it laying around at home (as you do!) and thought it might look nice in the cave...the guide made it quite clear that historians were pretty certain that no T-Rex was really roaming around during the Norman conquest and we weren't to start thinking about it...
The last section of the cave, down another flight of stairs (getting really rather cold now) -
- (that's Thomas' breath you can see in that shot, being lit up by his torch) -
- was almost certainly a large wine store for the "Barons" of the name of the cave, it's like a 'fridge down there, and also a very secure location for something so valuable (that would have had to have been imported from France)...but there is no actual evidence that this was the case...the other theory that seems realistic is that the cave was an emergency exit from the castle above (or a way to flank an unsuspecting surrounding besieging army)...both of which are perfectly plausible...
And that was that! From there we walked back to the surface (and the welcome sun, after having got seriously chilly underground)...
An amazing day out, I heartily recommend it to anyone with an interest in history (and the secret places that lurk beneath)...Thomas absolutely loved every single minute of his adventure...! ;)
Update - Oh and in case you were wondering, I didn't fire the flash a single time underground (in any of the caves) and all the shots were hand-held... ;)