So, next up, after our exhaustive poke around the East Caves, we stepped over to the entrance to the West Caves to await our guide -
- with about 10 other people...we only had to wait about five minutes, but were warned that the tour could take quite a while (at least 40 minutes - in the end I think we were underground about an hour)-
- after a quick safety briefing (by our two guides - this chap did all the talking, the other chap stood patiently at the back of the group shepherding - i.e. - making sure none of us got lost/left behind - which was frequently me trying to get a decent shot of something in the pitch black - my apologies!)-
- and then we were in! The very first bit of the caves you enter is actually a long gallery used (today) as a shooting range!
According to the guide the bricked up areas on the right and left used to be used by a local band to practice their playing, but they gave up when one of the side tunnels collapsed in protest (which would, admittedly, be fairly discouraging)...
This is where the targets are set up (right at the end of the gallery) - ironically the marksmen have to bring in their own (heavier grade) sand to place behind them - as the sand from this mine isn't quite up to the job of effectively stopping a bullet - well, according to whoever regulates this sort of thing, anyway...
The guide then went on to confess that (in the black area on the right of this shot) there is another bricked up tunnel which runs along the back of most of the shops in Reigate High Street...apparently some of the cavers (presumably just for a laugh) carefully measured out exactly where they thought the back of one of the high street building societies should be and managed to give the manager a bit of a scare by making loud banging noises clearly audible *inside* his cash-filled vault...You would just *have* to do it though, wouldn't you? Given the chance? ;)
From there we proceeded down a steep, low tunnel (watching my head) into another steep gallery (really steep this time) but very high ceilinged -
- which used to be filled with bunk beds (more WW2 Air Raid Shelter space), you can also see the standard Anderson Shelter-style steel/corrugated iron plates (most likely steel, as it's damp down here and there is little visible rust) bracing the sandstone wall on the right -
- this area was also complete with it's own emergency entrance (now bricked up with breeze blocks) but which would have opened at ground level somewhere behind Church Street (all associated ladders/stairs have also long-ago vanished)-
Next, we went into one of the largest areas of the caverns, used during World War 1 to store explosives, it's now (another) firing range -
-complete with spent rounds in buckets-
-(by now Thomas had mastered the art of "light painting" pitch black objects for me with his torch while I kept steady and long-shutter-cycled)-
- all around this area were still the carefully excavated candle stands, there to provide light for the original miners, from there, moving deeper into the cave we passed into (yet another) firing range-
- this one looked like it was used for air-rifles (judging by the pellet tins)-
- and then we made our way into the last (and deepest section) -
- through a very low passageway -
Here, the tour (in years gone by) used to have to halt, due to the sheer volume of sharp fragments of broken glass and twisted rusty metal-
- they have actually left a few areas untouched so you can see the extent of the mess...all this was left over from the cavern's "middle age" when it was used as a wine and beer store (although quite how this many valuable bottles managed to get smashed is a bit of a mystery)...anyway, volunteers spent many, many hours digging and sieving and eventually managed to clear out 99% of the dangerous material from the sandy floor, and now visitors can walk the extent of the caves -
Right to the back wall, where the valuable sand ran out...(and the mine then closed)...
- on the way out again (passing another group coming in) we were given a demonstration of how the caves were (painstakingly) carved -
- and then we were back out in the daylight! Time for a spot of lunch, and then on to the last of the caves - Barons' cave (under the site of Reigate Castle)...! ;)