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Kent's Cavern (Torquay)

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91 Ilsham Road, Wellswood, Torquay, TQ1 2JF. tel = 01803 215136

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      26.09.2001 05:51
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      Even the English Riviera has occasional rainy days, and unsurprisingly most of them coincided with my recent visit! Kent’s Cavern therefore seemed a good place to go: if nothing else, it would be under cover. Happily, it proved to have a great deal more to offer than mere shelter from bad weather. Kent’s Cavern is only a few minutes from the centre of Torquay; if you have a car, it’s a pleasant five-minute drive through the town and has its own car park. Non-motorists can take the bus: routes 32 and 12A stop nearby. Once there, the buildings aren’t immediately impressive. A long, low building holds a café and shop; to the right is the entrance to the Cavern. However, don’t be put off. Buy your tickets from the shop, and if you’ve a few minutes before your tour you can browse not only a selection of tacky souvenirs (what seaside holiday would be complete without these?) but also an interesting selection of minerals and fossils. Tickets are £5.50 for adults. Cheaper tickets are available for children and OAPs, and a family ticket is available. We also took advantage of the special offer: £2 each for an evening tour on the same day. These are special themed tours, more of which later. Having grown up in Somerset, I’ve visited Wookey Hole many times and wondered how Kent’s Cavern would compare. Obviously, it did not have all the additional attractions: there are no paper mills, fairground museums and magic mirrors here. However, given its far less isolated position, in the middle of Torbay, those are hardly needed. What really interested me was how the cave tour would compare, and I was frankly a little sceptical. Happily, even hardened sceptics can sometimes be pleasantly surprised, and this was one of those occasions. There is an introduction complete with audiovisual effects, which gives a good sense of the cave’s history (it has been home to both animals and humans in the past), but the rest of the tour was refreshingly free of the needless high-tech gimmickry which now mars tours of Wookey Hole. Instead, there were demonstrations of moss-and-fat seashell lamps actually used by prehistoric cave-dwellers, a few moments in total – really total - darkness, and above all, information and a chance to simply appreciate the wonder of the caves themselves. The caves began forming about two million years ago, and have been inhabited by humans and animals for about half a million years. This means that excavations, from the 1820s to the present, have revealed a lot of fascinating information about their history, and as well as items currently on display in the caves, there are many more artefacts in Torquay Museum. Kent’s Cavern has everything a good cave should have: stalactites and stalagmites (particularly in the Grotto, which has the wondrous ‘wedding cake’ formation), the obligatory rock-that-looks-like-something-else (here, one that actually really does look like a head), and lots of passages of different heights and widths. (Unfortunately this does mean that the cave is not really suitable for people with limited mobility). It also has some brilliant extras including an area of roof where you can see ancient bear bones (including a skull) trapped within it. There’s even an Agatha Christie connection (well, in Torquay that’s pretty obligatory too): the cave excavations were the inspiration for the lead character’s father in ‘The Man in the Brown Suit’. At the end of a tour is a museum with finds from the Cavern and displays recreating life and excavations in the caves. Although small, it has a nice mixture of exhibits which will interest both adults and children. If you want to see more, visit the town museum which you will pass on your way back into Torquay. Having enjoyed our visit so much, we were pleased to be going back in the evening. There are a range of themed evening visits, including the Summer Evening Chiller and the Victorian Candlelit Walk. We visited on Ghost Night, and expected a pretty cheesy tour. However, Kent’s Cavern confounded our expectations yet again. Our guide was a keen pot-holer and member of staff who knew the cavern and other local caves very well, and told cave ghost stories in a matter-of-fact way which stopped them being cringeworthy and still gave some genuinely spooky moments. The cave itself was lit only by candlelight, which gave it a great atmosphere. Overall, the evening tour was lovely and as well as the stories, included enough information to make it interesting without repeating the day’s tour. Overall, Kent’s Cavern is definitely worth a visit. We enjoyed it very much, and everyone else on our tour (including children) seemed to have a great time too. It doesn’t have the all-singing, all-dancing technology which increasingly characterises attractions such as Wookey Hole, but is all the better for it. There is lots to see, lots of interesting information and anecdotes, and a real sense of experiencing something of the incredible history of the cavern. It maintains a lovely balance between personal, enthusiastic tours and enough special lighting, displays and so on to hold everyone’s interest. I would definitely recommend it! Finally, do check out the excellent website on www.kents-cavern.co.uk

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