No. 29 explore a cave

A group of visitors sit in the Grotto at Stourhead, Wiltshire

Exploring caves is an exciting one of our '50 things to do before you're 11¾' adventures that you can enjoy at any time of the year. Entering a cave is like visiting an entirely different world. There’s a distinct smell in the air, you might see creatures that you rarely see outside and everything sounds different. Grab a torch and jacket (and an adult!), and find a cave to investigate.

Use your senses

What can you see? You may be able to enter the cave without a torch. In which case, walk in slowly to allow your eyes to become accustomed to the dark. Look around you. What can you see? Are there any interesting shapes or formations in the rocks? Look up at the ceiling too.

Now switch on your torch. What is revealed by the light? Are there any vibrant colours in the rock formations? Did anything move or try to hide when the light came on?

What can you feel? Try touching the walls of the cave. What textures can you feel? Are they smooth or rough? Do they feel cold? Is the ground made up of the same rock as the walls?

What can you smell? Take a deep breath in through your nose. What does the cave smell like? How is it different from the world outside? Could you describe it to someone if asked?

What can you hear? Caves often magnify sound. Try closing your eyes and see how many sounds you can hear. What might be causing them?

Is there anything you want to photograph in order to remind yourself of what you saw? Or maybe a video will help you to recall the sensations of being in the cave.

Does anything live in the cave?

Some caves are barren and empty. Others are a home for plants and animals and insects.

Is there a hole in the ceiling? If so, look up - light may filter through and you may notice some ferns or moss growing where the light warms the rock.

Some of the creatures that might inhabit the cave you’re in are bats, cave spiders, insects, moths, fungi, fish, and hibernating animals – although you won’t find any bears in caves in the UK! See if you can spot any of these creatures but do be careful not to scare them.

How do you think this cave was made?

Most caves are created by water passing over soft rock. But not all of them are formed in this way. Perhaps you can discover - using a book or the internet - how your cave began. Can you see the years carved in its surface?

Many caves were used as shelters by people in previous centuries. Sometimes for living in and sometimes for storing supplies such as food and weapons in. What would your cave be like to live in? Can you try to imagine it?

What to take

  • Always take an adult with you when you venture into a cave. You don’t know how big it might be.
  • It’s worth having a jacket to hand – caves are always much chillier than the outside temperature. And you’ll want sturdy shoes as well. Caves floors can be very uneven and rocky.
  • Take a torch. Caves are usually dark and a torch will help you to find your way, but also to look at any interesting formations or colours on the floor, walls and ceiling of the cave.
  • If you’re exploring a sea cave, you need to take great care. Find out when low tide is and make sure you’re out of the cave well before the tide starts to turn.