Kents Cavern is a spectacular natural cave system in Torquay, Devon, England. It is notable for its archaeological and geological features. The cave is only a short walk from Meadfoot beach and the beautiful South West Coast Path. It is easy to access by foot, by coach and public transport and is open for organised school visits all year.
Kents Cavern is fascinating for both its geology and human history. It boasts beautiful and spectacular geological formations and significant prehistoric finds, including flint hand-axes dating from over 450,000 years ago. Indeed, it is one of the oldest recognizable human occupation sites in Britain.
The caverns and passages were formed in the early Pleistocene period by water action and have been occupied by one of at least eight separate, discontinuous native populations to have inhabited the British Isles.
The cave system is open to the public and has been a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1952 and a Scheduled Ancient Monument since 1957.
Records show the mysteries of the caves have been enticing explorers to venture into their depths since 1571. However, archaeological evidence and research reveals that people and animals have been visiting the caves for hundreds of thousands of years. The oldest human bone ever found in Britain was discovered in Kents Cavern, a jawbone dated at 37-40,000 years old. Scientific research is ongoing to discover if the bone is from a Neanderthal or a modern human.
Attracting 80,000 tourists a year, Kents Cavern is an important tourist attraction and this was recognised in 2000 when it was awarded Showcave of the Year award and later in November 2005 when it was awarded a prize for being Torquay’s Visitor Attraction of the year.
There is loads to do outside the caves, with fun family activities throughout the school holidays, where you can channel the skills of your ancestors on our Woodland Trail. Hunt for animals like woolly mammoths, hyenas and cave bears; see if you could survive the Stone Age at our spear throwing and shelter building stations.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite head into Firestone Kitchen, the home of food and drink at the caves for top quality food throughout the day. (Top tip: you don’t need to visit the caves to enjoy Firestone Kitchen!)
Every day during school holidays, there are lots of extra craft sessions to get involved with. Loads of special events throughout the year including our famous Santa in the Caves experience, Carols Underground, Candlelit tours, Cave Cinema, Dinosaur Quest and more!
The following is an extract from the Kents Caverns FAQ’s page:
How big is the cave?
Kents Cavern’s total passage length is 934m. The visitor trail is around 33% of this.
Why the name “Kents Cavern”?
Kents Cavern was originally know as Kant’s Hole which derived from an old Celtic word Kant/Kantos which meant headland. Kents Cavern therefore, means ‘Hole in the Headland’.
Why is the cave so protected?
Kents Cavern is listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and therefore has the highest level of protection, equal to sites such as Stonehenge. The cave is ‘Britain’s Oldest Home’, with human occupation stretching over half a million years and its importance in proving human antiquity is paramount.
Is this a natural cave?
Yes. Kents Cavern is made from Devonian limestone and was formed by rainwater seeping through tiny cracks in the rock gradually dissolving it.
How old is the cave?
Kents Caverns Devonian limestone rock is around 385 million years old. The cave was formed around 2.5 million years ago, through a weak acid solution in rainwater dissolving the limestone rock.
What animals lived in the cave?
The oldest animals that lived in Kents Cavern are cave bears which date back half a million years. Other animals that have lived in the cave are; cave lions, scimitar cats and hyenas. Remains of woolly mammoths and woolly rhino have also been found.
What people lived in the cave?
Humans have inhabited the caves for over half a million years. Three different species of human have occupied in the cave; Homo Heidelbergensis, Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens. Kents Cavern is the only site in the world to yield evidence from all three of these different types of humans.
Do the caves ever flood?
The caves do not flood, but are still affected by large amounts of rain, which increases the drips of water percolating through the limestone ceiling of the cave.
Are there any more caves to be discovered?
Whilst it is possible, it is highly unlikely that any more caves will be found, there is potential for further passageways to be hidden behind calcite walls, or boulder chokes. The cave was extensively surveyed in 1988 by Dr Chris Proctor.
Who first discovered the caves
Kents Cavern has never been lost, and has almost always been occupied. Kents Cavern is the only cave in Britain which has three different species of human dwelling in it. The Romans were possibly the first early modern people to enter the cave, evidence for this is provided by a few Roman coins found in the cave. Early modern explorers of the cave also inscribed their names and date on the walls. These inscriptions range between the sixteenth and twentieth century. The oldest inscription dates back to 1571 and was inscribed by William Petre.