For thousands of years iron ore has been mined at Clearwell Caves. You can still meet a Free Miner here; men whose ancient birthright entitles them to dig for minerals within the Hundred of St Briavels and the Royal Forest of Dean.
Clearwell Caves are now a working mining museum where visitors can see impressive caverns with geological and mining displays. Iron ore from the Caves has been used over many centuries to make tools, weapons and machinery. Some forms of the iron ore occurs in powder form, red, yellow, purple and brown ochre; they are highly valued as pigments and still mined at Clearwell Caves. The iron mines are an important part of the Forest of Dean's history and environment.Clearwell Caves are run by father and son team, Ray and Jonathan Wright.
Ray Wright was a founder member of the Royal Forest of Dean Caving Club from its creation in 1964. Club activities were mainly based upon exploring the mysterious abandoned iron ore mines in the area. Over 45 years years ago, Ray could see that most people were oblivious to the hidden world beneath their feet in the Forest of Dean, so he began work on the idea for a visitor centre based around the most suitable iron ore mines here at Clearwell. In 1968 Clearwell Caves opened with just one cavern accessible to visitors, each year another cavern was opened up, until the present nine impressive caverns could be enjoyed easily by visitors. In 1984 Ray was joined by his son Jonathan and together they have continued to work on facilities at the mine, providing a wide range of exciting activities.
Earl of Wessex Enjoys a visit to the Caves
The Earl meeting Ray Wright, with Jonathan Wright and Elaine Morman
Thursday 24th April 2014 The Earl enjoyed a guided tour by Ray and Jonathan Wright through the underground caverns. He was visiting the Forest of Dean and asked particularly to include a visit to Clearwell Caves, we were pleased to show him what we do. During the visit he was presented to pupils from Clearwell Primary School, receiving a portrait drawn by one of the pupils.
Demonstrating a 'billy'
Explaining how the miners held their candles in their mouth
After looking around the caverns he was presented with a selection of ochre pigments mined at the Caves and although his children might not want to mix their own paints, the Earl suggested he has a brother that would like them! After signing the visitors book, he was whisked away to rejoin the Countess at the Speech House, where he met representatives of the Verderers, Freeminers, Commoners, and Forestry Commission. They unveiled the renovated obelisk marking the ventre of the Forest and planted two trees.
Filming at the Caves
Jonathan and Ray with Matt Baker from Countryfile in 2010
Dr Who: Matt Smith filming 'Time of the Angels' televised April 2010
The Caves have been popular with film companies who have used the atmospheric caverns to create stunning backdrops for their stories. Amongst the many popular programmes and films that have been made here are: Dr Who, Merlin, Dalziel and Pascoe, The Pirate Prince, Blakes Seven, Narnia, The Changes, Kidnapped and many others.
Merlin: 2009 - Bradley James and Colin Morgan hiding.
Merlin and Arthur meet the Druids in 2010
Jonathan and Ray still manage Clearwell Caves; their family having mined in the Forest of Dean for generations, many of them Free Miners and Jonathan is proud to continue this tradition into the 21st century.