I know, I know, the Hell-Fire Caves are not in the Cotswolds, they are in Buckinghamshire near High Wycombe but first I have always had a little penchant for caves and secondly, with such a lovely sounding name, I could not resist going to see what they were all about.
The charming bucolic path that leads to the caves preserves the suspense well as nothing prepares the visitor for what awaits them. What I saw first emerging from unruly vegetation is a dark looking gothic derelict church, the middle of which now hosts a café. At the back though, the entrance of a gloomy tunnel told me I was in the right place.
So, is it a church? Is it a Cave? Well, at the end of the 18th century, somebody decided it would be both and then some. This somebody is Sir Francis Dashwood, who got the caves dug out from the existing chalk and flint quarry so as to give employment to men of the region in times of crisis. However, being wealthy and well-travelled, he designed the caves following a mythological theme, added the church entrance and a mausoleum at the top of the hill and the result was a folly to rival the best of its era.
As I entered the network of tunnels that run 400m underground, I was really taken with the whole concept and especially liked the spooky aura the place has. This was reinforced by signs telling me the caves might be haunted by the ghost of a friend of Sir Francis and by a white lady, a young girl who was murdered by her three rejected suitors.
Today I learnt that I am only a Cartesian in a well-lit environment, above ground and surrounded by other people. As I was marching down the dark cold corridors alone, I can tell you I was crumbling inside quite a lot more than the chalky walls around me. It was almost a disappointment to find out my photos do not display any orbs or other unexplained traces!
It must have been fun though to attend a party there, like the members of the Hellfire club did. These important men of the time, friends with Sir Francis, met regularly in the caves. What happened in the Hell-Fire Caves stayed in the Hell-Fire Caves but just like in Magaluf, we can guess it involved lots of drinking, extravagant parties and sex. The 18th century could be very Rock and Roll and this place certainly proves it.
If you have ever thought that technical achievement, good deed, extravaganza, exclusive clubs, ghosts and mausoleums didn’t mix, go to West Wycombe and see how a combination of chalk and flint stone with a pinch of kitch makes it all alive.
If you are brave enough, they hold paranormal evenings and night vigilantes inside the caves. I’d like to hear about your experience if you have done it so do not hesitate to leave a comment.