A real underground adventure – The old Bath stone quarries


Our trip to Wiltshire was spurred by one particular cache series, BearClawz’s “Above Below“. We’re very fond of underground caches and this series was a step further than we’d been before with the other subterranean caches we’d attempted. The caches are hidden in old Bath stone quarries just to the East of Bath. We’ve visited a cache in a cave, in a quarry, and been in bunkers before, however these presented much more of a challenge because you have to travel a considerable distance underground to retrieve the caches. Much more of an adventure!

The quarries in the area were producing stone as far back as 1833. When exploring the quarries with modern day high-lumen torches and taking pictures with cameras with powerful flashes it’s easy to forget that the miners With just candle light or the light from home made oil burners to see whilst working down in the tunnels. The work was all manual with the blocks of stone being sawed by hand. Some quarries in the area were modernised with a rail system, however others used horse and cart to transport the cut stone up out of the quarries. More photos and information about the quarries can be found on Derek Hawkin’s website.

In order to work out the entrances for the quarries you first have to solve a puzzle. You also have to decipher some text to work out the route through the quarry as you obviously can’t use your GPSr down there. I’d solved 5 out of the 6 puzzles so we headed to Wiltshire to see what we could find!

Just for starters

In the series there is one cache that isn’t in a quarry… well, not anymore!: Above Below – The Steps With a lower d/t rating we decided to head there first to warm us up, so on a rainy Sunday we left the campsite and headed to GZ. It was a simple cache, however it was situated near a derelict site: Monkton Farleigh Ammunition Depot. This used to be Monkton Quarry, however it was converted into a sub-depot of the Central Ammunition Depot by the War Department in the build up to WW2. It was used up until the 1950′s. The ammunition dump took thousands of men 7 years to construct and it became Britain’s biggest ammunition store with the capacity to store over 12 million tons of ammo. It was constructed in a way so that it would not be obvious as an ammo depot to enemy reconnaissance. It is accessible from the transit shed where The Steps lead down underground with remains of the conveyor belts that transported ammunition either side of them. We only explored the entrance to the old store, but after seeing pictures online I wish we had ventured deeper in. It’s definitely a place I’d like to return to for a better look.

Looking down the steps

And looking back up

A peek inside

If there’s something strange, in the neighbourhood…

And then it was on to the quarries…

Down we go…

Those who’ve followed my waffling about previous caching adventures will know that I am an expert at choosing the wrong entrance to get somewhere. A fine example of this is when I went for an interview at my current workplace and had to choose whether to drive in via the “Staff entrance” or the “Visitors entrance”. Naturally I chose the “Staff entrance” as I was coming to be interviewed to become a staff member. Obvious eh? ;) As you can imagine, the security guards called me back! Lol! I still got the job though! :) So just bear all of this in mind and see if you can predict where this story will end! ;)

So off we headed to try and find Below Above- The White Bird.. All of the quarry caches are rated d5/t5, however the cache owner kindly provided extra ratings beyond these for the caches. This cache was rated lowest as a 6 and the cache description told us it’d take us about 40 minutes to get around. We decided that starting with the easiest cache would be the best plan. I followed the GPS to a waypoint I’d marked on the GPS and sure enough we were greeted by an entrance. Armed with a print-out of the route to take when in the quarry we got all kitted up and ready to go in!

All kitted out

Let’s go for it!

The cassandy hard hat!

I know what you’re thinking now: That hard hat is so cool! Yes it is! And the red “Cassandy” flames just scream “I’m from Essex”. I was contemplating constructing a spoiler on the back for extra speed getting through the tunnels… ;)

There were two things I thought would stop us from getting these caches: 1. Andy being too big to fit through the tiny entrances, and 2. Me being too scared to go in! We both easily slipped through the entrance which opened up into a massive chamber, but I wasn’t scared. Not at all! We followed a main passage up deep into the quarry. Following the route involved navigating over some “deads” (piles of waste stone) and “falls” (Places where the rock has fallen from the roof) our route told us where to take a right turn or left turn and where we’d expect to find deads and falls. It was essentially very simple, however we wandered around and around in circles and after an hour we still hadn’t found the cache. We decided to extend our search, but had no luck.

Piles of waste stone, or “deads”

This way?

Drip…

I climbed out the entrance to try and get some photos from previous logs up on my Geocaching iPhone app whilst leaving Andy inside the cave. “Ah, get away, get away from me!” came a little voice from inside, “Ah, it’s flying around my head, get away!” Andy was having an encounter with a bat at the quarry entrance and making noises like a little girl! [Note from Andy: He says he wasn't making noises like a little girl!] I told him that it wouldn’t hit him, “It’s so close! I can see his eyes!” Unfortunately my mobile internet was extremely slow and I couldn’t get any of the pictures up so I climbed back inside to see the bat. It was very cool and I watched it spin around my head before it flew off into a narrow passage way.

The look of fear! (I just had to include this picture because the expression on his face cracks me up every time I look at it. I told him to “Smile for the camera!” and this is what I got!)

In the meantime I’d text the CO and asked for some help finding the cache. He phoned me and said that finding it should be simple and gave us a few pointers for the rest of the caches. We decided that The White Bird just wasn’t meant to be and headed for The Fallen Monarch

When we got to the entrance and I looked at the instructions for entering it described a completely different entrance to what we could see. “Oops!” I said as I checked the waypoint that I’d taken us to and realised my mistake. I’d taken us to “The Fallen Monarch” quarry to find “The White Bird” No wonder the instructions didn’t make sense! So in we went to try again. The instructions were a lot clearer now and everything fell into place. We got to a possible GZ and searched, and searched… An hour passed and there was still no cache in our hands. Out we came, disappointed, but with a strong feeling that we were in the right place!

We headed back to the entrance that we were originally searching and entered it again to try and find The Fallen Monarch. The instructions started to make sense, but after about a 3rd of the way down it didn’t make any sense at all. We climbed high up many deads in case we’d missed something, and we carried on to many dead ends. The only conceivable route ahead was down a 10ft vertical rock face. It was climbable, but we thought if we were meant to take that route then the instructions would have specifically told us to. We went around and around. A few hours passed and there was no cache, nor any sight of the cool mining relics that the instructions told us we would see. We did however get to see some tallies on the walls where the miners counted stones that they had, and some interesting writing on the walls.

Tally on the wall

To London… A note from a miner

Giving up! Out we go!

Our failures at these two caches dampened our spirits, but we didn’t give up. We headed to another quarry to find the entrance for Mind The Trains. The entrances to the other two quarries had been pretty large and we’d both been able to fit through with a little squeeze. The entrance to this particular quarry was tiny. Andy tried to get through, but he couldn’t get past his shoulders! It was time to give up and head back to the campsite.

So what went wrong?

I phoned the CO and told him of our quarrying woes! Suddenly the reason why we couldn’t get anywhere after following the route instructions for The Fallen Monarch became very clear: We entered via the wrong entrance!!! The CO suggested that we go to a pub and buy surveys of the quarries which would show us all of the routes inside and give us a better understanding.

If at first you don’t succeed…

The following day we headed to Bristol for a bit of shopping, but on the way back stopped off at the old tavern to get the treasure maps! ;) We studied these for a while before deciding to just go for it and try again! We headed back to The White Bird confident we had the right entrance and confident with the route we had followed last time. It took us about 5 minutes to get back to GZ and we both concentrated our search on the area we suspected. 5 minutes later and Andy had spotted the cache. Eureka! I can’t describe how happy we both were about this!

AT LAST! We actually found a cache!!!

Me with the prize!

With renewed enthusiasm we headed to attempt The Fallen Monarch again. We were still a little confused by this. We thought we’d explored all paths and were only left with dead ends. On the back of the survey that I purchased was a written tour route guide. This told us that we could get through via the other quarry. We followed those instructions first and got to the paragraph that started with “Squeeze through the narrow slit in the corner” and that’s where our attempt ended. Andy was not getting through that hole for love nor money!!!

A very tight fit!

We headed to our entrance, knowing it wasn’t the right one and decided to explore a few possibilities rather than following the route instructions. Our survey of the quarry that we bought showed a path through a section where we thought was totally blocked by a fall. On the map it was marked as a “rift”. We marched straight to this point, looked forward and noticed that there was actually a gap in the fall plenty big enough for us both to fit through!!!

Coming through!!!

And then the quarry opened up. We knew from that point on we were in the right section and about to experience all of the cool relics that were left down there by the miners. I was so excited! :D

Purple bricks

Major passage, complete with cart tracks

The roof with rails – The landmark we had spent hours on the day before hunting for!

We headed deep inside the quarry always taking the left path first and returning to explore the right one second. The paths all led to dead ends, but we didn’t want to miss anything!

The first left fork took us to some remains that the miners had left. We carried on through and found a second blocked off with stones and tape. Inside were the hoof prints from the horses that used to be kept down in the quarries. The trough that they used for water for the horses was also still there. The water in the trough was also used for cooling down the saws that the miners used to cut the rock

The first glimpse of mining relics

A section of hoof prins

Close up of the hoof prints

The trough – Someone had recently added a device to help water flow in

A lot of the sections led to rock falls and end workings. There were a lot of interesting relics to be discovered though including old tins that had been used to hold oil lamps and a saw used for cutting stone.

Old Tins

Lyle’s golden syrup tin

The stone saw

And the saw blade

Mining relics

Lost a shoe?

More left overs

End workings

There was a lot of graffiti on the walls from previous visitors, and stone tallies everywhere that the miners had left. On some spots along the walls you could see where the miners had chipped away at the stone from the marks on the wall. You could also see the ledges where miners used to rest their candles from the black soot that surrounded them.

A sooty ledge

Chips on the stone

Deeper in the quarry we could see some interesting geology. Calcite was forming down some sections of the walls. The photos I took don’t do it justice as it was sparkling under my torch light. There were also cave pearls forming on the ground. These form in limestone caves when calcite crystallizes when a current of water rotates it so that it gets an even coating and therefore builds up to form a little sphere. You can see these in the photo below forming in little puddles on the floor.

Calcite formation

Cave Pearls (In the little dips on the floor)

Close up of the calcite

Stalagtites forming on the ceiling

We made our way down the final dead end before the cache location and were surprised to see part of a plant creeping up the wall at the end.

A plant covering the wall

A closer look at the plant

It was then on to the cache location. It had been a real voyage of discovery spotting all of the old miners tools, but the real climax was at GZ where we actually saw one of the old cranes that they used to left the stone. Left in the position it would have been when the miners left. It was a fabulous sight and so worth the many fruitless hours we had spent exploring the mines. I immediately spotted the cache, but forgot about it for a while whilst we checked out the old crane. A much more rewarding find than any cache container! Whilst walking along the quarry we had noticed square holes in the roof placed very close to each other. These were “Chog holes”. The miners used to deconstruct the crane and reconstruct it a different points along the tunnel so that it could be used to move the stones in that area.

Chog hole for the crane

The crane!

The crane handle

And the hook!

The crane in use many years ago.

The cache find itself was very quick. We were delighted that our determination had paid off this time and we were rewarded with the most fabulous experience. With our overalls all dirty we made our way back out of the quarry to end this part of our underground adventure.

Filthy bum!

Up over the rock fall

And finally out!

Even though we spent about 7 hours searching for 2 caches that should have taken us no more than about 2 hours to find I can easily say that looking for the two Above Below caches that we attempted was our most enjoyable caching experience to date. The Fallen Monarch is easily my most favourite cache of all time knocking over the fabulous Look into the Light which has held the top spot for nearly 2 whole years! I will be recommending the Above Below caches to everyone I meet!

We still have unfinished business though. There is still Mind the Trains, Multi 1 and Multi 2 for us to find. I’ve been discussing the tight entrance for Mind the Trains with a friend who has suggested a few methods for getting into tight cave entrances and I think I’d like revisit to try again to get Andy inside the quarry. If anyone would like to join us in the not too distant future to do this then please contact me via my Geocaching profile. I will try and arrange a guide to take us around and I can promise it will be an absolutely amazing adventure! The quarries that are left for exploring are even better than the one I have just described! :D

8 Responses to “A real underground adventure – The old Bath stone quarries”

  1. sumajman Says:

    Geo-spelunking! I only had a short experience at a thing like this. I went after a geocache in a culvert underneath the highway that required a hunched over hike 100 meters or so just under the road. Found it and came out, headlamp blazing.

  2. professor benson Says:

    OK. This site goes on my recommendation blogroll for the caving venture alone. Your plunge toward the center of the earth easily trumps my hike into eastern Pennsylvania’s Black Rock Tunnel.

  3. Jubilee caching in Wiltshire « GeoCass UK GeoCaching Says:

    [...] leaving these for a separate blog entry as there are A LOT of photos to share… Click here to see that [...]

  4. ErikaJean Says:

    that looks SO SO fun! WE have old mines around here but they have them all fenced off and whatnot. ;-(

  5. Terry Hanewich Says:

    I like the way you tell your story and adventure, which really pulls you into the experience. That is one thing I never thought of when I was over to Britain in the 70′s and 80′s as there were a million other things to see and do. I have been sculpting in stone for many years and this is one place I never got to was any of the stone quarries near Bath. Terry, Alberta. CANADA.

  6. Below Above – Bath stone quarries (again) « GeoCass UK GeoCaching Says:

    [...] Above – Bath stone quarries (again) August 16, 2012 — geocass Ever since we visited the Bath Stone quarries in June for the Below Above series of Geocaches I’ve been slightly obsessed with underground caching. [...]

  7. Down, down, down into the underground – Below Above, The Fallen Monarch (GC2GAMT) – Geocache of the Week – Latitude 47 Says:

    [...] If you’d like to read more about the whole Below Above series (and see more photos), check out her blog. Also, the Below Above series is extremely popular and highly regarded by the geocachers that have [...]

  8. Dave the Cave Says:

    great blog – good quarry exploring up . dave_the_cave


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