We’ve kicked off Easter weekend 2018 with a hidden gem, Creswell Crags in Whitwell, on the border of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. While I have been aware its existence for about a year, since the organisation displayed some ancient artifacts at a local Summer fair, I had not heard much about how gorgeous the scenery at this place would be or that it’s a really active and interesting day out for the whole family.
You can simply turn up at the visitor’s centre and walk around the site for free, which would be a lovely way for any family to spend an afternoon. Twenty – six caves exist naturally in the area so kids will love scrambling up to the entrances to take a peek and imagine what life would have been like for the neanderthals. There is also plenty of wildlife to spot including three resident swans, ducks, pheasants and lots of different birds. Pack a picnic to enjoy outside or visit the cafe. There is also a play area for young children.
As it was our first visit, and Noah currently has a fascination with rocks and digging things up, we decided to take a tour inside the caves. There are a few different tour options, so there is something for all budgets; pay to take one of the two tours available and see the exhibition, pay just for the exhibition or buy a combined ticket to everything! The combined ticket is £13.50 per adult, £9 per child. There’s also a family ticket available for £38.25. We would love to see Creswell Crags introduce a special offer for single parents, but sadly, this isn’t an option. However, we were pleased to find that our tickets last a whole year! This is particularly helpful to us because we live quite locally and we didn’t get a chance to see everything we wanted to in one day.
Our first tour took us to investigate Church Hole Cave, home to Britain’s oldest rock art. We met our tour guide, Steph, at the visitor centre, where we picked up our hard hats. She actually took us for both of our tours and we thought she did a fantastic job. She was extremely knowledgeable, engaging and encouraged questions (which she always had interesting answers for). More importantly, she was tremendously patient with my son who asks A LOT of questions and wants to know what EVERYTHING is and then some.
It took about 10 minutes to walk to the cave and when we got there we were led onto a platform where our guide asked us to try to spot the ancient rock carvings in the limestone walls. This was a great game for both children and adults to play, but also quite frustrating as the carvings were hard to pick out. Once the pictures has been pointed out to us, they were a little bit easier to make out. Our guide explained that archaeologists do not know definitively why the carvings had been made, and Noah enjoyed using his imagination to think of possible reasons, suggesting that one of the etchings looked like a pirate ship in the sea.
After lunch, it was time for our ‘Ice Age’ tour. If you only have the time or budget to do one tour, this is the one we would recommend, as there are a few more things to see. Noah was really excited to see that, for this tour, we would have to wear a special hard hat with a light on it.
We walked to the Robin Hood cave on the other side of the gorge, again it took about ten minutes. This cave was far bigger and we were encouraged to think about what life might have been like for people who might have lived in the cave for short periods of time whilst hunting mammoths, bison, rhino and reindeer. There’s two levels to this cave and it was noticeably colder the further in we ventured so I’m glad we were wearing warm clothes. Our guide showed us lots of different artifacts that had been dug up in the cave and talked to us all about what they would have been used for. We also had a go at switching our head torches off to see what the level of light would have been like.
What we didn’t realise was that there was a third section to the cave, only accessible by bobbing down for a few steps through a passage in the rock (good job we were provided with hard hats). This had extremely limited light and was originally home to hyenas (archaeologists found their bones there, including a baby).
There was plenty of opportunity to ask questions, of which Noah had PLENTY. He was very curious about why some of the stone was a different colour to the rest and how stalactites and stalagmites are formed (there were none in this “dry” cave). We also had time to hunt out some spiders and their egg sacs.
With it being Easter, we purchased an Easter egg hunt trail sheet for £2 and then used the time we had left to head out on a walk around the site’s lake and stream – a short circular walk that’s just the right length for little legs. Noah couldn’t help check every cave, nook and cranny along the route for eggs while the grown ups enjoyed the fresh air and took in the great views.
When we returned to the visitor centre, everyone agreed we were too tired to go around the exhibition so we are looking forward to doing that on our next visit. There is also duck feed available in the gift shop so going to the lake and feeding the ducks would be a fun and relaxing activity to do.
Cave tours at Creswell Crags run most weekends and school holidays during the spring / summer months, check their website for more details. Please be aware that under fives are not allowed on cave tours but can still enjoy exploring the site, the play area, cafe and visitor centre.