We’d heard about Beer Quarry Caves from friends and decided to make a visit while we were in the area. The important thing to understand is that the emphasis on the title is quarry, not caves. These are not caves that are near a quarry, they are caves that are the quarry. Or were, anyway, they ceased production a while ago. So, the cave complex is carved by miners from the limestone. The quarry started about 2000 years ago and ended in the 1920s. It was the main source in England for Beer Stone which is known for its fine texture and colour, which was particularly favoured for cathedral and church features such as door and window surrounds because of its colour and workability for carving. We heard that it's quite soft while underground but, as it dries out, the stone hardens ... with this feature and its fine grain, it's ideal for carving into complex and fine detail.
It's also home to a very large number of bats, mostly horseshoe bats, most of which had left while we were there.
The caves are interesting, made more so by the excellent guide,
Viv, who was able to make the place come alive by her descriptions.
Don’t expect natural caves, though; this is a quarry and you need to
have that mindset as you come in - it's a series of caverns that have been hewn from the rock, rather than those which water has carved out as with natural caves.
You enter through a bit of a daunting gateway and first come across a nice little museum - we assumed to allow eye to dark adapt. There are some interesting facts there. Torches are frowned upon, presumably for the same reason.
This is a window topping from a church in Colyton - we went to see the church later, it's at the end of the Seaton Tramway, but more of that later. The church was remodelling, although I don't suppose they called it that then, and chucked the window topping, in pieces, into the graveyard. It was recovered and brought to the museum.
This is not a comfortable
place ... it’s cold and damp, uneven underfoot and inherently quite
boring really but our guide was able to include information that would
be of interest to all ages, including some quite young people. This was
quite a feat since this is not really a zinging place that will “wow”
youngsters; however it is somewhere that allows some interesting
explorations of “how we were” and Viv’s ability to drop in comments that
would appeal to everyone on the tour was super. She had an
encyclopaedic knowledge of where the stones from these quarries had gone
throughout the country and so could tell just about everyone there,
regardless of where they came from, that they had probably seen Beer
stone in a building near their home. This is the sort of place where if
you get a ropey guide it’ll be boring, but if you get a good one it’ll
be really interesting - we had a good one.
Be warned that you
need to wrap up, you’ll be underground for over an hour in the cold and
damp, and do wear decent footwear. There is an opportunity to “escape”
about half way round. Take heed of the warnings about the loos too ...
your last chance in is the car park and they’re not very salubrious!
The little tearoom is nice and does good coffee.