In northern England, wedged between the counties of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, there is a limestone gorge brimming with cliffs and riddled with caves. Just outside the village of Creswell, the caverns contain fossils of ancient beasts, tools of early humans, and the northernmost ice age cave art in all of Europe.
The site is known as Creswell Crags, and it offers a unique glimpse into cave use during the Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Roman ages. There are four main cavities to explore (one is called Robin Hood’s Cave–it is close to Nottingham after all), as well as several shallow crevices and craggy bluffs.
The entire gorge, while open to the public, is protected as a “Site of Special Scientific Interest” (it’s also on the short list for consideration as a World Heritage Site), with a Visitors Centre and small museum of fossils, bones and artifacts representing the different eras of use. Inside the caves themselves there is evidence of ice age engravings, otherwise unknown to have been created so far north. Church Hole Cave alone has more than 80 examples from the period, around 13,000–15,000 years ago.
While the caves at Creswell were used as seasonal shelter for nomadic ice age humans, there is evidence of both earlier and much later use. From 60,000 year old Neanderthals to late-medieval Britons, the evidence of a vast survey of humankind has been collected here, with more presumed to be buried under layers and layers of flowstone (sheets of dissolved minerals that form into a hardened wall coating).
Added to the pre-historic associations there is even evidence of more recent use, including lead mining, and a pool filled with hundreds of metal pins believed to be Victorian, and left behind as tokens for good luck.
Know Before You Go
Creswell Crags is just east of the town of Creswell, about 20 miles southeast of Sheffield. There's no charge to visit the Creswell Crags site, to walk the gorge, or to visit the gift and coffee shops. There is a small fee for parking and the exhibitions. For directions, hours and the fee schedule of the full tours, check the website upper right. Telephone number is 01909 720378.
There are two cave tours: The Ice Age Tour in Robin Hood's Cave, and the Rock Art Tour (March to September only), which allows you to see Britain's only known ice age rock art.