Tilly Whim Caves

Useful Information

a drawing by Thomas Webster (1816) of the quarry works at Tilly Whim Caves.
Location: Swanage, Dorset. On the cliffs west of Swanage. Cars should be parked near the hotel, signposted footpath to the cave entrance.
Open: for safety reasons not accessible to the public at the present time
Fee: -
Classification: artificial, quarries, Purbeck-Portland Freestone.
Light: none, bring electric torch.
Guided tours: L=150m, D=15min.
Bibliography: Grabau (1920): Text Book of Geology,
Keith Jones (1992): Tilly Whim Caves, Isca Caving Club Jl 15 26-31 + survey
Address: Tilly Whim Caves, W. Tanner, Durlston Castle, Durlston Head, Swanage, BHl9 2JL, Dorset (tel. Swanage 2713)
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.


1805 Tilly Whim first mentioned.
1820 quarrying finished.


Tilly Whim Caves are old quarries of the Napoleonic War. The area around Anvil Point and Durlston Head consists of Portland limestone. The whole area shows multiple karst features like dry valleys, but the caves are definitely quarries.

The caves are two square holes in the rock, of about the same size. From one of the caves a tunnel with steep steps leads up to the plateau. In front of the caves is a flat ledge, about 4 m wide.

The techniques of quarrying were rather unusual. No stone was ever removed inland because there was formerly no road. The stone was loaded into barges in calm weather, using a winch and a type of derrick or whim. This may explain the name of the caves.

In 1920, Grabau made a strange mistake when reproducing two photographs of Tilly Whim with the inscription "Tilly Whim Caves: Elevated sea-caves cut by waves in horizontal (Jurassic) strata".

Immediately upon entering the cave, one descends a flight of steps in a steeply descending man-made tunnel. In the distance a glow of daylight can be seen, and the tunnel leads out on to a wide, boulder-strewn ledge overlooking the sea. Several further openings lead off this ledge, which are not illuminated, so the visitor is advised to bring a torch.

The great American speleologist, Dr. William R. Halliday, remarked of these caves: "someone ought to separate the artificial/solutional/fittoral features here". Certainly the rock has been removed for building stone, but there are also signs that at some previous period in geological history, the sea has played a part in the formation of the caves.

The proximity of the sea also makes them a supposedly favourite haunt of smugglers.

Text from: Tony and Anne Oldham (1972): Discovering Caves - A guide to the Show Caves of Britain. With kind permission by Tony Oldham.