Hell Fire caves

The caves fascinated us. They were pure magic, and even more so in that we were only allowed to go in using candles, and we had to leave our catapults behind, which was a shame because we were hoping to have a shoot-out with the Downley kids.

And here's what it was like with Stubbsy and Hicken, who made up our gang.

The candles were flaming in the rack and we each took one and set off.  There was one main passage winding down and lots of smaller tunnels and grottoes branching off.  It was cold with sopping wet walls and a revolting sour decaying smell of chalk. 

   'Aaah –,' we gasped. 

   'Aaah – aaah –'

   'Aaah – aaah –,' went Stubbsy.

   'Aaah – aaah – aaaah –'

   There were voices in the distance, strange booming cries and weird mutterings, and then we'd see a dim glow creeping up the walls and the pin-prick of candle-flames coming towards us.

   We were always excessively courteous to other people, especially grown-ups, when we walked past each other because it gave us the chance to pass ourselves off as grown-ups too. 

   'Good morning,' we nodded as we walked past.  Whether it was morning or afternoon, it didn't matter, it was always 'good morning' to us, and they laughed and nodded back in the gloom.  We were only kids to them, messing about.  But as soon as they had gone past beyond reach, we shouted back 'Merry Christmas' and ran off making spooky noises before they could get us. 

   'Oooooooh,' we went and we'd hear them copycatting us, 'Oooooooh.' 

   Even though they were grown-up they loved making ghost noises as much as we did.

   We made all the racket under the sun just for the fun of hearing the booms and echoes.  We ghosted each other, hiding in the grottoes, blowing our candles out so that we couldn't be seen and then jumping out at the last moment.  The caves were wonderful for that. 

   'Johnny,' 'Hicken,' 'Stubbsy,' we clamoured as we went off exploring.

   Every now and again the main passageway split up and we had big discussions about which way to go.  Hicken had an idea of looking for the River Styx which was one of the highlights of the caves according to his dad who had taken him to see it once.  It was a great river with a boat that you could row in and nobody knew where it went to.

   'It's down there somewhere,' he pointed vaguely, but where it was exactly he couldn't remember.  He'd only been a kid when his dad had taken him and that was ages ago. 

   We wandered off our separate ways and within seconds we heard Stubbsy screeching for us,  'Come and look at this.' 

   We raced after him.  It was another crossroads with three tunnels leading off.  Stubbsy had his candle up and he was peering intently at a wooden board tacked on the wall.  

Some parts of the caves

are dangerous

go through at your own risk

We stood wondering, stepping inside the tunnels a few yards at a time, wondering what would happen if the whole thing cracked apart and buried us under millions of tons of chalk. 

   'What would you do if the roof fell on you, Hicken?'  I asked him.

   'I'd run for it.'

   'But what about if you were caught underneath it?'

   'I'd hear it coming.'

   'Supposing you didn't?'

   'I would.'

   'Might not.'

   Stubbsy bent forward and opened his eyes wide, commanding silence.  'Hang on, what's that?'

   Hicken was in like a flash, 'What?'

   'That –'

   'I can't hear anything.' 

   'That creaking noise – ' 

   'What  cre – ?'

   Stubbsy broke off and swaggered into one of the tunnels, 'You're mad, Hicken.' 

   He didn't stop either.  'See you later,' he swaggered on like a cowboy on Saturday morning pictures, his candle shimmering round the walls until it faded to nothing.

   Stubbsy's example gave me terrific encouragement and I ran into the other tunnel, winding down into a room a dozen yards across with a high domed ceiling.  I could see Stubbsy's light coming through on the other side and with our two candles held up the whole chamber glowed gently like a Halloween pumpkin.  Stubbsy's face was alive with excitement and wonder. 

   'Hicken,' we shouted, 'look at this.' 

   We wandered round holding our candles up inspecting every nook and cranny like professors.  This was the banqueting chamber that Miss Thomas had told us about.  This was where they came in the old days and had feasts and dressed up and got up to all sorts of tricks.

   'Come on, Hicken,' we kept on and on.  'Hicken, Hicken!'

Next  Meet Gaffer in class