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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chislehurst Caves: The Underground Town 11.9.11

Read all the way to the end for a brand new awesome giveaway!

It’s not often we get to see what happens underground, which is a shame, because many times it can be super cool. In the past few years I’ve been fortunate to see many underground attractions, like Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels. One of the others I add to my list is Chislehurst Caves. A short train ride from London will get you there and it’s not a far walk from the station. Chislehurst Caves was listed as an included attraction with our London Pass, so we figured with our free day, we should go check it out and then either head on to Windsor Palace, Eltham Palace or head back into London to hit up the zoo. We are always on the lookout for fun and unusual places and we enjoyed the novelty of taking a train, so we made plans to check it out.

“Orpington, this is Orpington.” The robotic woman’s voice announcing the stop made it feel like we were stepping into a sci-fi adventure. Oddly enough, Chislehurst Caves was similar, having been used in the original Dr. Who show as the set for The Mines of Solos. Of course, we didn’t know that yet. We didn’t really know what to expect. Having visited near opening and also in the middle of the week in the late fall, we ended up at the Caves and found ourselves practically the only tourists there. There were a few visitors, but it appeared that they were just leaving. As a result, we had a tour guide all to ourselves and were able to ask all the questions we wanted, chit chat about TV shows and get a closer look at some of the sets and artifacts.
Stage that has seen acts like David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd
What drew me to the caves in the first place was not the fact that they were chalk mines and mined for bricks for London buildings or even that it was used as the set for multiple shows and movies or a concert venue for up-and-coming acts like the Rolling Stones. I mean, sure, those things are interesting, but the fact that it used to be an air-raid shelter. During WWII thousands of families took shelter down in the caves and a whole city was built and life was conducted underground. Imagine going to school, church, the doctor and then going “home” in the labyrinth of caves to escape the horrors of war. The caves housed over 15,000 people at that time.

The caves may seem creepier than they would if they were lit up, because you carry a lantern throughout your 45 minute tour. The shadows can play tricks on you and you also wonder what lurks in the darkness beyond the circle of light cast by it. The walls have a twinkle to them, from the flint that is also found there, and was a big reason that Dr. Who used them to film in. You will see some items that were left behind when the caves were closed as an air-raid shelter and wonder if it was just as frightening when those people were living there. Each family was assigned a set of bunks to call home and were allowed to bring only what they could carry, which couldn’t have been much.

Even now you can view remains left from WWI, when it was used to house artillery. Bring a sweater and your camera, plus make sure to wear good walking shoes, as the ground is uneven and you will walk about a mile down there. Make a detour to the gift shop and café on your way out to commemorate your visit and also help to keep the caves open and available to tour. Prices are very affordable and only cost 5£ for adults and 3£ for seniors (over 60) and kids under 16. Under 3 are free! I would certainly suggest this as an addition to another activity out of the city if you will be taking the train, as it will give you an excuse to buy a day pass (if you don’t have the transportation option on your London Pass or an Oyster Card) and make the most of your money. If you’re driving, Chislehurst Caves is easy to find and also has free parking. Score!

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Need another reason to visit London besides all the totally awesome stuff there is to see and do there? Plan a trip in the next 9 months and book a flight out on British Airways by November 15 (for travel through March of next year) and get low rates on fares and also 2 free hotel nights! Enticing yet? Find more things to do by checking out London Pass and also some of these fun articles I've written to show you that you can plan a trip to London on a budget!

There's a new giveaway starting! Ebates is sponsoring a $75 Ebags gift card. Remember those reviews I did for the Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes and the Emerson bag? Well, win this gift card and you can buy those or any of the other fabulous items on Ebags. The only rules is that you must be an Ebates member and "like" Shereen Travels Cheap on Facebook. All other options are for extra entries. Drawing will take place at midnight EST on Sunday 11/13. 
Good luck!

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