Crowborough Caves, East Sussex – Excellent Caving Just Outside London

How did I come across Crowborough Caves, the ‘subterranean jewel of East Sussex’? Ms B & I like caving. So recently I googled for caves close to London and these caves popped up.

CROWBOROUGH CAVES’ WEBSITE, LOGO, SOCIAL MEDIA

They come with a full-blown website, professional logo, and continuously active social media presence. Until very recently they also had a great ranking on Tripadvisor with plenty of reviews.

NO DOUBT ABOUT THE IMAGINARY NATURE OF CROWBOROUGH CAVES

Already the third or fourth Google match links to a Reddit group that extensively discusses the imaginary character of the caves. The matches that follow are equally split between fake sources waxing lyrical about the caves and articles discussing the non-existence of the caves. Wikipedia marked the Crowborough article for deletion. The reasons for deletion make an interesting read in their own right.

 

CONSPIRELUNKERS VS CROWBOROUGH CAVES

Many reviewers and commentators are very angry. Even some fake sources pretend to be angry at “conspirelunkers” (a term coined by the Crowborough Caves team, from conspiring and spelunkers). They pretend to be upset that some people deny the existence of their beloved caves. I might be in the minority, but I find it hilarious, that a group of at least half a dozen grown-ups (by age, anyway) spend a significant part of their limited time on earth propagating fabricated news about caves that they made up.

PLAUSIBILITIES AND ABSTRUSENESSES

It’s a rather sophisticated web of half-truths and possible plausibilities interspersed with the odd screaming abstruseness and occasional obvious joke such as “join us and bring your own beef tea.”

 

PINCHED PICTURES

The pictures on the website and on social media are all from other locations, caves, quarries, railway arches, and so on.

A COMPLETE HISTORY OF CROWBOROUGH CAVES

There is a complete and detailed back story starting as far back as 1,000,000 years ago “+/- 3 years” when the caves were created by shifts in tectonic plates, via the Palaeolithic Crowborough Man who inhabited the caves from around 900,000 years ago, and whose remains have been found there, through to Medieval and Victorian times. During WWII the caverns were used as an ammunition depot.

After the war the caves partially collapsed and people forgot about them, until the late William Chipton rediscovered them and started a long battle for the reopening of the caves to the public.

 

CAMPAIGN FOR THE RE-OPENING OF THE CAVES

We learn about the grand re-opening of the caves to the public in 2012 and the recent emergence of leaks caused by fracking.

A LONG LIST OF PAST AND FUTURE EVENTS

There are a large number of reports of past events such as primary school class visits, parties, lectures, and a long list of future events:

Fr 13 May  –  Spring cleaning

Mo 20 Jun  –  Crowborough Cave Summer Solstice Party

Mo 4 Jul  –  Archaeology Dig with the help of the Crowborough Detectorists

Mo 30 Aug  –  Spelunking Sausage, Cider and Spotted Dick Festival

Fr 2 Sep  –  Cave closed for maintenance

Sa 26 Nov  –  Rock Concert featuring The Cretinaceous Silurians and Strata & the Sedimentaries

Tu 20 Dec  –  Hide & Seek (this year we have new safety procedures; this should reduce the number of people we lose)

GIFT SHOP AND THE FAMOUS CAVE CAFE

As you’d expect from any self-respecting imaginary cave, Crowborough Caves have a well-stocked gift shop. Among others, it sells smoked cheese in a tube as well as scratch and sniff stickers which capture the unique aroma of the Crouch Chamber. To top it all off, the Cave Café delights guests with “brilliant breakfasts, luscious lunches and delicious dinners.” No complaints.

Ms B, whose nickname at high school was Voucher Chick, was very pleased when she found out about the fact that you can earn triple points on your CaveCard (Crowborough Caves Loyalty Card) if you visit this January.

 

THE CROWBOROUGH CAVES TEAM

Unfortunately I was not able to get Crowborough Caves representatives to agree to an interview. However, I did manage to message back and forth with various members of the group on Twitter, not gaining any insights whatsoever along the way.

HUMAN HISTORY OF IMAGINATION OF GEOGRAPHIC FEATURES

Ever since humans evolved from apes they have made up things, including geographic landmarks. To sex up an anecdote, impress mates, reduce boredom, or for many other reasons like misleading competitors. Map creators to this day regularly include minor (or, if they are daring or simply don’t give a proverbial: major) imaginary landmarks. This is to deter plagiarism or theft and to be able to prove it, should it occur.

MAP MAKING

If, say, a little hill that you’ve made up suddenly appears on a competitor’s map, then you can prove in court that they stole your map and you can claim damages and make them withdraw their product.

THE ISLAND NATION OF SAN SERIFFE

On a foggy London morning in March 1977 Special Reports Manager Philip Davies of the British newspaper The Guardian, came up with an idea for April Fool’s Day. An 8-page travel special about an imaginary country: the archipelago of San Seriffe. They even got advertisers to play along. Kodak ran a prize competition for the best photos of San Seriffe.

SAN SERIFFE LIBERATION FRONT

Hundreds of readers shared their completely made-up memorable holiday experiences in letters to the Guardian. The newspaper also received an angry letter from the “San Serriffe Liberation Front” that criticised the pro-government angle of the supplement in no uncertain terms.

NO END TO THE HOAXES IN SIGHT

Similar hoaxes were run the following year, another two years later, and again in 1999. A huge body of secondary literature has developed around San Seriffe over the years. You can purchase books about the booksellers guild of San Serriffe and the archipelago’s first fine silver coinage, to name just two examples.

I highly recommend these caves. 5 out of 5 in my book. 😊 Some of the best caving in Southeast England.

Looking for more adventure? Feel welcome to eyeball our posts about caving at Goatchurch Cavern, at Wookey Hole, and in the Yorkshire Dales, about canyoning, rock-climbing, and exploring temple caves in Bhutan, a Russian coal mine near the North Pole, and ancient Roman gold mines in Portugal.

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12 Comments

  1. Wow, how cool is this? I love caves too. Interesting too, that so many folks make up their experiences in these caves and others- located elsewhere or if they even exist. Really enjoyed your article!

    1. Thank you, Shannon. I am glad to hear you share my enthusiasm. I do find it rather hilarious that there is such a large number of people who dedicate a significant amount of their time to make up stories around those imaginary caves hahahaha….. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  2. What an interesting, elaborate hoax! It took me halfway through reading this to realize they weren’t actually real. Seems like a lot of effort by those people to promote caves that don’t even exist. I have a hard enough time keeping up with my blog about places that do exist! 🙂

    1. I know, right!? I’m really quite fascinated by this hoax. Half a dozen uber-determined actual adults (well, I’m saying adults, they are at least by age I’m guessing) taking time out of their presumably busy schedules to keep this hoax alive.

      I initially included the word “hoax” in the headline but then thought, this might harm their hoax, so decided to put it further down inside the text. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    1. Cheers, Steven, I know, right!?!! I’ve not heard either band since they warmed up for Jimi Hendrix in Chislehurst Caves in 1969. Those were the days, man… 🙂

  3. I think the thing that freaks me out most about the thought of caving is a worry about finding bats in caves. When I was a child a bat got stuck in our apartment and freaked me out. But I would not have worried once I read more about the Crowborough Caves in your blog post. How strange to have a whole mythical story including details about a gift shop. A fun story if nothing else!

  4. Despite what this article says, the caves are real PPL! The Ashdown Forest and nearby High Rocks in Tunny Wells also offer fab caving experiences. Come on down, you won’t regret it!

    1. I was of course joking about these imaginary caves being fake. They are real and Ellie & I regularly go caving there. We also highly recommend the gift shop and the Cave Cafe. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    1. Oh, mate, you’ll definitely have to join me caving some day. And Crowborough Caves would be perfect for a beginner’s session (and for great cave licking and beef tea obviously). 🙂 🙂 🙂

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