Wookey Hole and Papermill is a series of limestone caves and other attractions situated near Wells in Somerset, UK. It is an eccentric collection of activities squarely aimed at younger children that had little to do with the actual caves. I was hoping for a good introduction to Speleology – cave formation – but instead our visit was an eclectic mix of witches, vampires, dinosaurs, King Kong, Faeries, Pirates, cave-aged cheese and a circus-magic show with children and teens of varying ages participating.
We arrived to a rapidly filling car park, a queue for opening time and then a second queue for entry to the caves. Staff were dressed in Halloween costumes and pumpkins were sprinkled throughout the caves.
The tour itself was around 45 minutes and particularly disappointing. We were in the middle of the crowd, couldn’t see well and had some difficulty hearing the tour guide. The content of the tour had very little anthropology or archeology, instead focusing on the story of the Witch of Wookey Hole. I am not sure whether it was particularly played up for Halloween, but my daughter soon lost interest and I was glad I had taken the time to read up on the caves before setting off so that I could answer her questions and point out interesting details.
The mix of attractions afterward has little or nothing to do with the caves. The 4D cinema had a very scary film over Halloween with no indication that it may not be suitable for young children. There were little navigational markers and we were never sure if we had missed something (and we did miss a room or two).
We spent a couple of hours wandering through dinosaurs, visiting the museum, watching a paper making demonstration and standing around the play barn/cafè waiting for a table to open up. We gave up after half an hour and continued on to the restaurant, where all tables were taken as well. It was a rainy day so we ventured outside in the hopes of finding a place to sit, but the outside seating was not under cover and wet, so we went to the circus/magic show.
Again, my daughter loved it. The seats were tiny and uncomfortable and it was very much an amateur performance, including regularly dropped juggling balls, but my daughter was blown away by the idea that children not much older than her were performing.
We left Wookey Hole with mixed feelings. The caves were impressive, but the day was more of an attraction for children rather than a family day out enjoyed by all.
Price: £18 Adults, £12 children over 3, seniors and students*
A 50% reduction is available for NHS, Police, Fire and Forces on standard day tickets. A 25% reduction is available for registered disabled and a carer on standard day tickets.
Included in the box: A day ticket that includes one cave tour and access to the on-site attractions.
Paid Extras: Mini-golf (£3-4 p.p, £12 family ticket 2+2)
* Terms and conditions apply, including that no discounts (including student rate) is applicable during themed holidays, which includes the half-term Halloween Event, over the Christmas period for Santaland (21 Nov – 24 Dec) or Wizard Wonderland (27 Dec – 6 Jan).
Retailer: Wookey Hole on-line booking
About Wookey Hole
Circus owner Gerry Cottle bought Wookey Hole over a decade ago and have developed it into the attraction it is today. He has added a collection of attractions that include a dinosaur park, a huge King Kong statue, small cave diving museum, 4D cinema and a circus school for children.
The Ergohacks Evaluation
Wookey Hole is not particularly versatile and its target audience is definitely families with young children. It is open year round and the temperature inside the caves is a steady 11C. Most of the attractions afterward are indoors, making it a good place to visit regardless of the weather or season.
The caves themselves are pretty good and a great introduction for younger children who have never visited anything similar. I would recommend learning more about caves before setting out and looking at Wookey Hole’s downloadable material for primary school teachers. In particular, there is a short fact sheet here that provides a little bit of information about each cave.
Wookey Hole Caves is not ergonomically well designed. The layout of the attractions are not very clear or signposted well. It is not particularly large, but it is easy to miss parts. There is little information available about the caves themselves in written format or for disabled visitors unable to access the tour with the bulk of information provided as part of an audio-only guided tour through the caves.
The caves have many steps and are fairly dark with low areas that require stooping and no seating. The other attractions have level or ramped access, but little indoor seating. The seating provided is mainly functional – in the cinema, in the theatre, in the restaurant or cafè. There isn’t enough seating over busy periods, particularly on a rainy day and many of the activities are for children, leaving the adults standing around obstructing walkways whilst waiting.
Environment & People
Wookey Hole is not managed with a particular environmentally policy in mind as far as we are aware.
£15.30 – 18 per person is a significant cost and a bit on the steep side for a 45 minute tour and a handful of mainly children’s attractions. It is in-line with the market price, but the market is more expensive than you would expect. I think part of the problem is that for an adult visiting a children’s oriented attraction, much of their time is spent waiting.
I was not particularly interested in brushing play sand off a plastic skeleton with a washing up brush or running circles underneath and through the legs of a giant gorilla. I have seen too many dinosaur statues to want to look at yet another set and I am not a fan of 4D cinemas. I don’t climb around in play barns and I prefer my shows polished before they are served up. As a result, I didn’t get all that much bang for my buck. I paid £18 for a spooky Halloween tour of less than an hour.
My 5-year old on the other hand had a wonderful time. The Halloween costumes were so realistic she thought the people wearing them were actually dead, which did cause a momentary freak out when they said hello. She not only discovered a set of caves, but learned (from me) about how caves were formed, the differences between stalactices and stalagmites, how these are made, about mining, animals, insects and plants that live in caves, engineering and how tunnels are made and best of all for a child with an extensive geode collection at home, she saw calcite in the cave walls.
Afterwards, we visited the papermill. She is a crafting enthusiast and loves paper. We spent a long time watching how paper used to be made, she was very disappointed that she couldn’t have a go at making it, but still loved seeing what happens. Her favourite activity is soft-play and there was a pretty big soft-play climbing area, although the bigger kids were rough and unsupervised. After getting knocked over a few times, she gave up and came out crying with a dislocation* which put a damper on her day.
She loved the circus, the mirrors and after 4 and a half hours, she was tired and ready to go home. She felt that £12 for her ticket was a more than fair price.
*She has a genetic condition and one of its symptoms is minimal-force joint dislocations/subluxations.
Travel season: Autumn
Location: Wookey Hole, Somerset, Southwest England
Booking: On-line or tickets at the door
Opening Times: Year round 10am until 4-5pm, closed 25-26 Dec
Restaurant and Cafè on-site.
We recommend taking your own picnic lunch – although signs are up stating that seating is only for food purchased on-site, the vast majority of tables outside and in the cafè were filled with customers enjoying packed lunches they brought with no objection from staff.
There is a mobility requirement for the cave tour.
Wookey Hole is an eccentric attraction with its own character and charm that is more olden days circus magic than site of scientific interest. Come with the right mindset and particularly if accompanied by younger children, it is certainly an interesting way to spend a day. The caves themselves were compelling and Cave 20 is a grand addition to the existing set. The 70 metre tunnel is also an interesting experience and it provides a great opportunity to introduce children to caves, their history and basic geology.
I wholeheartedly wish there was either the option of a more educational tour or the chance for a more free-flow exploration as the guided tour was packed and the number of people squished into each cavern made it difficult to really appreciate its beauty. I prefer my cave tours filled with scientific and historical facts and don’t want to look at a torch being shone on squigly bits of rock that for someone else looked like a witch, an upside down Bart Simpson or a beehive.
We spent about 4 hours at Wookey Hole that could be stretched to 5 or 6 with a round of mini-golf and spending a bit more time at each attraction, but it isn’t quite a full day out. It isn’t an attraction that I would visit repeatedly, but for younger children interested in Speleology or oblivious to its existence and ready to discover their first (or second or third) cave, Wookey Hole is a good place to start.
This travel review is based on a day trip during half-term in October 2015. First published on 21 November 2015.