The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Paviland Cave

Cave / Rock Shelter


Perhaps it is an inherent fear of death - a tragic irony when born into a monotheistic society nurturing an implacable rejection of life, of the here and now - that has resulted in me not being particularly fond of caves... with the notable exceptions of a rather, er, idiosyncratic gentleman named Nick.... and that overwhelming pitch black fissure within the Carreg Cennen. Guess I'd rather be afflicted by a dose of 'no pussy blues' (tell me about it) than entombed with a terminal case of the subterranean variety. Consequently I opted to heed the siren's call of the high places, a brutal environment offering no succour to the physical self, but arguably unlimited scope for that most human of traits, introspection. Like a moth unto the flame, a limited secular intellect, lacking the analgesic 'safety net' of religious faith, contemplating the most cosmic of questions with all the cutting insight of Rodney Trotter. Yeah, what could possibly go wrong? Suffice to say the project remains a work in progress.

So why come to Paviland, to the limestone cliffs of the Gower's shattered southern coastline... to the very aptly named 'Goat's Hole', if harbouring such a distinct reticence for entering holes in the earth to my doom? Well, the catalyst was as mundane as a ridiculously poor next day forecast for The Brecon Beacons upon returning from a sojourn upon Mynydd Epynt. What to do? Having recently re-read the hirsute Scottish dude's 'History of Ancient Britain' the insidious thought popped into the head. Oh dear. Not possessing the flowing locks and rugged, granite-hewn athleticism to contemplate abseiling, I conscientiously checked out TSC's tidal times link and... well what do you know? That's handy. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The specific archaeological allure of sites such as Paviland Cave is, to my mind, hard to define, if equally difficult to refute. Others may disagree. Perhaps an appropriate analogy might be visiting a now vanished stone circle, a completely ploughed-out long barrow, a henge only discernable as crop marks from the sky? Yeah, nothing now remains in situ within this deep gash perched overlooking the Bristol Channel. At least nothing tangible. But there is so much more to be experienced that must remain unique to each individual. So much more. Now I would assume most TMA'ers are well aware of what the Rev William Buckland excavated here in 1823.... the skeleton of, as far as I'm aware, the oldest anatomically-modern human to have lived and died upon this landscape we now call Wales - or Cymru, of course - that we know of. There were associated grave goods including a mammoth skull, ivory rods and periwinkle shells assumed to have formed necklaces. The most enigmatic detail, needless to say, was a coating of crimson ochre. Whatever the intended symbolism, to my mind there can be no doubt that the death .... and by definition the life... of this apparently young bloke some 33,000 years ago (at the last count) deeply affected those who knew him. OK, the gentleman resides here no more... at least in a corporeal sense. But the knowledge of the incredibly 'modern' emotional response seemingly evoked by his passing back then generates corresponding thoughts in this traveller, thoughts amplified manyfold - for whatever psychological reason - by physical association with place. In short the passing of this man matters to me, if only for the selfish opportunity proffered to 'gaze' with wide-eyed curiosity, albeit perhaps touched with a degree of morbid curiosity, through a window at my own species. Hey, myself. Arguably a treasure of much more intrinsic value than others reluctantly given up by the earth.

Needless to say I was oblivious to all the above as I struggle to park upon the verge of Pilton Green Farm access track, the sodden grass, courtesy of months of seemingly unrelenting rain, a far cry from last Easter. As previously I head - or rather slither - coastward upon a public footpath across the B4247. In about a mile I resist the temptation to break right for the superb cliff fort and instead descend to the rocky foreshore below, as of course it would be. The path ends abruptly at strata of jagged rock, thankfully arranged in a very roughly horizontal plane, so clambering down to the current(!!) sea level is not too intimidating (those in search of more perpendicularity need only glance up to left or right, the latter concealing the cave within, no less). I notice, by default, that the tide is most certainly out, so there is no impediment to undertaking what is actually a less strenuous scramble than I anticipated. As TSC relates, however, the rock is far from smooth rendering a fall potentially catastrophic. Fatal, even. I'm therefore glad I elected to wear 'soft' boots with plenty of grip. Then, suddenly, there it is.

The cave entrance could be said to resemble a pear.... or, if looking for potential symbolism, perhaps the most intimate area of a woman. Let's go with the latter. No doubt Mr Cope would have an appropriate phrase which I find I clearly lack. My mind, instead, reels. Give me a break... what could be so wondrous, so life-affirming, so natural, so welcoming? A surrogate womb, maybe? Aside from this observation, what strikes me most is the sheer height of the gash in the cliff face, water dripping from the towering roof onto my camera lens as I venture inside. Doh! I'm not used to being underground. Especially not when half way up a rocky crag. The next surprise is the length of the cavity, another, following in quick succession, the abundance of natural light, even under today's overcast conditions. The only sound is that of the breakers thundering upon rock outside, sending me periodically scuttling without to check the current position. Hey, what's the big deal? Looks fine. The cave possesses an additional 'chamber'- hey, a 'cavelet' - set high up to the right, near the entrance. I agree with TSC, however. There was no way I was going up there. You would need to be one of the proverbial goats of lore. Or Neil Olliver. I stand and look at the cavity within the outer left hand flank of the cave. One presumes this was where the 'Red Laddie' once lay? Again, just the crash of wave upon rock down below. I sit at the inner extremity of the cave and eat lunch, gazing out of the gash in the rock to water that was apparently once many miles distant, an unfathomably long time ago for people like us - well, at least physically - to have been around. I try to imagine what it would have been like. But I can't. It is enough to try, perhaps?

Another 'crash' of waves shakes me violently back to the 'present day'. I undertake yet one more tidal status check and decide the water is probably close enough to warrant leaving. Er, possibly...... As I prepare to do so I approach the left hand flank (looking seaward, that is) and duly freak out. Seems I've seriously underestimated the velocity of the incoming tide which is now surging between me and the near shore. I look for an alternative way out, climbing above and across the rock... but it looks suicidal. No matter, since this has happened to me before, as I recall, cut off by the tide asleep on a Ring of Kerry beach. Hey, I'll just wade across. How deep can it be? The answer comes as a severe shock, the water reaching my belly button as I jump in and decide to make a splash for it. Not that wise, to be honest. It would have been approaching the Mam C's neck.... which is a very disconcerting thought indeed. Particularly concerning the subsequent fate of my neck. Yeah, for the only time I can recall I'm glad she is not here. A few more minutes and I would've had to have abandoned my rucksack, camera etc. Or stayed the night. However as the delectable Ms Harry sang 'the tide is high but I'm holding on' and I duly make the sanctuary of the far rocks to sit, soaking wet, finish my coffee and gaze up at the enigmatic Goat's Hole I've just vacated with such excess muppetry. I almost expect a young bloke to walk past, dyed red and leading a mammoth by a piece of string, pointing at me with his free hand whilst exclaiming "ha! ha!" Such is the surreal nature of the moment. But there you are. Thankfully it's only a mile back to the car and fresh clothes. And all is well. But only just. Not for nothing do I gravitate toward the high places, since I've clearly a lot to learn when it comes to the coast. But hell, what an experience.

SAFETY NOTE: In retrospect - as TSC has shown - a perfectly safe visit to this impossibly enigmatic site is possible as long as you know what you are doing. Clearly I did not. If I was to attempt it again I would arrive before low tide, watch the water recede, set my watch alarm for 60 minutes.... and then leave. No ifs, no buts. PLEASE LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES AND DO NOT MAKE THE SAME ERRORS I DID. KEEP A BEADY EYE ON THE INCOMING TIDE AND STAY SAFE.
4th April 2014ce
Edited 6th April 2014ce

Comments (9)

I hope to return to Paviland sometime this year after my failed visit last year. This is a place I am desperate to visit. Posted by CARL
4th April 2014ce
Wow, fantastic and dramatic notes Gladman, it sounds an amazing place, glad you made it out in one piece to tell the tale! Ravenfeather Posted by Ravenfeather
4th April 2014ce
Brilliant notes, top of my welsh list.

You take the high road and I'll take the low road,
then we'll swap over for a bit.
postman Posted by postman
4th April 2014ce
Thanks all.

As you probably gathered it affected me a lot more than I thought it would. Should you decide to go - for what it's worth - my advice is to keep an eye on the channel down the side. Can't see it from the cave entrance!

I wanna go back to Carreg Cennen now thanks to tales of the Red Laddie! Not to mention Postman's impeccable timing. "Some people might say my life is in a rut, but I’m quite happy with what I’ve got". Disagree with that. I want more.
5th April 2014ce
Loving these notes, told you it was worth the effort :)

thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
8th April 2014ce
I thought you said it was easy..... mind you I've still got the 'no pussy blues'. GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
8th April 2014ce
Ha ha! Never mind that, as MES (backed by the Inspirals) pointed out when he visited Paviland "No one ever said it was gonna be easy/A pain to tease me, the barrier's broken/Climbing aboard on a white knuckle ride/Churns my insides and the wheels are in motion". Which I think is about right. thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
9th April 2014ce
great description of your adventure. would have been a problem if I was there as I am under 5 foot. Have been cut off by the sea while on a cliff but I was able to climb up. Not fun though. Love your photos and wish I could see it for myself. Thank you very much for sharing. Posted by dgcece
29th December 2014ce
Thanks for that. It means a lot. Guess the point is I ended up making a hash of it since I didn't think it through properly. Engage the brain and it's certainly viable. GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
29th December 2014ce
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