Clearwell Caves

Useful Information

Location: The Rocks, Clearwell, Nr Coleford, Gloucestershire GL16 8JR.
2 km south of Colford, follow B4228 towards St Briavels/Chepstow. After 1,5 km turn right for Clearwell. Signposted.
(51.771062, -2.614313)
Open: APR to AUG on open days 10-15:30.
Open days as specified by booking system.
ExplainPost-pandemic Aftermath
Fee: Self guided: Adults GBP 10, Children (5-16) GBP 8, Children (0-4) free, Seniors GBP 9, Students GBP 9, Family (2+2) GBP 34.
Semi-deep level visit: Adults GBP 30, Children (7-16) GBP 25, minimum per group GBP 80.
Deep level visit: Adults GBP 40, Children (7-16) GBP 35, minimum per group GBP 120.
Classification: MineIron Mine, SpeleologyKarst cave SpeleologyKarst Cave ExplainOldest Mines
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: T=10 °C, Ar=245 ha, VR=180 m.
Guided tours: Self guided: D=1 h, L=820 m.
Semi-deep level visit: D=2 h, MinAge=7.
Deep level visit: D=3 h, MinAge=7.
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: R. Fell, T. Grevatt (1989): A Visitor's Guide to Underground Britain, pp 65-66
Peter Naylor (1981): Discovering Lost Mines, 63 pp illus. Description and survey pp 21-23.
Tony Oldham (2002): The Mines of the Forest of Dean and the Surrounding Area, pp 20-22
Ray Wright, Jonathan Wright (1990): Clearwell Caves, Ancient Iron Mines, 16 pp illus surveys. On sale at the caves.
Address: Clearwell Caves, The Rocks, Clearwell, Nr Coleford, Gloucestershire GL16 8JR, Tel: +44-1594-832535, Fax: +44-1594-833362. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


~500 B.C. mining began in the Iron Age.
1930 commercial iron mining ended.
1968 opened as Show Mine.


Clearwell Caves are a series of natural karst caves in Carboniferous Limestone, which is known locally as the Crease Limestone. 200 Million years ago, the caves were filled with iron deposits, an extremely pure form of haematite containing more than 80% iron. The iron ore is intermingled with ochre, a mixture of iron oxides produced by the oxidation of the ore. It is located in pockets both in the ore and the rock.

The area is a karst area and drains underground. The cave is located in a dry valley, and the cave system is actually rather dry, even for a fossil cave. During the last Ice Age, which ended about 10,000 years BP, the valley was reactivated. It was a tributary to the river Wye.


We classified Clearwell Caves despite the name as a mine. Actually it is a natural cave system which was filled with very high quality iron ore and hence it was mined. So its actually both, show mine and show cave. Nevertheless, the important part is probably the mining aspect.

Mining started at Clearwell Caves about 4,00 years ago in the early Bronze Age. At this time the people did not know how to melt iron, so they mined the ochre, a pigment. The bulk of the iron ore was mined during Roman times. It was used to make tools, weapons and later in the manufacture of machinery. Most of the mines in the area closed between 1890 and 1900 because mining became uneconomic due to the thinning of the ore with depth, and the increase in competition from cheaper Spanish ore. But the ore is still mined today, not for the iron anymore, but again for ochre. Ochre is a mixture of iron oxides, producing many colours ranging through browns and reds to yellow and deep purple. Ochre is used as pigment for various paints and for cosmetics:

Clearwell Caves is the only working ochre mine in Britain. It produces 3-4 tonnes a year, which is collected by scraping the ochre from the walls by hand. The ochre is sold in the shop on the premises. The colours of the ochre are not blended, which produces a large variety of colours, varying from pocket to pocket.

Quite exceptional is the self-guided visit of the mines, show mines are normally guided. There are two different so-called Deep-Caving tours, which are actually cave trekking and as this is also a cave the name is actually fitting. The tours require full caving gear, which is provided. This includes helmet, overall, and headlamp. We suggest to bring gum boots, a towel, fresh underwear, and a plastic bag for wet and dirty clothes. Also, a pair of gloves is probably a good idea.

The site is still operated on an online-booking and time-slot mode, which was introduced as Corona measures. As Corona is over and the system is still unchanged, we guess it will stay so, as long as visitors do not complain.

The underground tour is unaccompanied and takes the visitor through nine well-lit caverns or churns as they are known locally. Some artificial pools and plenty of flowstone of various colours including white, red and green makes the mine appear like a natural cave. Other features include Barbecue Churn complete with toilets and barbecues. The show section includes only a fraction of a complex which covers 245 hectares and comprises hundreds of kilometers of passages which zigzag up and down the strata of the limestone from east to west at an angle of 15°. It has been mined to a depth of 180 metre below the surface. Since the mine closed the water level has returned to its normal level of around 120 meters. There are displays of minerals, mining tools and machinery. Traces of older mining techniques such as fire-setting and use of picks may be seen on the walls. Stout footwear is recommended, however the mine is unsuitable for the less mobile.

A fine two storey surface building of local stone, in typical Forest of Dean style, houses several vintage engines and a compressor. It also contains a tearoom which sells snacks and refreshments, a Museum of mining relics and a Gift Shop which even sells caving lamps. Parking is free and there is a large picnic area.

Deep Level Visits can be arranged for the more adventurous groups (about 10 people). They involve some climbing, crawling and getting dirty. Experienced guides ensure that the trips are educational and interesting. Helmets and lamps are supplied. Telephone for details.

Text by Tony Oldham (2001). With kind permission.