A challenging descent by ladder, winch and harness into a prehistoric underworld will open to the public for the first time this year, allowing exploration of shafts and galleries cut deep under Norfolk heathland more than 4,000 years ago... continues...
One of the mines, Greenwell's Pit, has been mapped by laser to allow visitors to "fly" in virtual reality over the surface and along the shafts and galleries. It should be in place next year as part of the overhaul of the visitor facilities at the site... continues...
Guided tour: Grime's Graves Neolithic flint mines
Grime's Graves is one of only handful of Neolithic flint mines in Britain, and the only one where you can actually go down into one of the 5,000 year old mine shafts... continues...
A 3-D image of the 4000-year-old flint mine at Grimes Graves.
A unique insight into the life of Stone Age miners in Norfolk has been unearthed for the first time with the help of high-tech laser equipment... continues...
We parked up on the grass field (which doubles for a car park) and made our way to the information centre/museum/shop. Sophie was too young to be allowed down the mine (minimum age 5) although I know she wouldn't have any difficulty getting down. She had to satisfy herself with an ice cream and a DVD of Peppa Pig sat in the car with Karen as myself and Dafydd headed for the entrance to the mine.
I was surprised to find a sort of Potacabin above the entrance as when I have seen the site on TV they always enter via a shaft which requires a hand winched hatch to be opened. (I later discovered that that particular shaft is not open to the public and is on the far side of the field - unless you happen to be Neil Oliver of course!)
We donned our hard hats and climbed down the ladder. There were only two other people there so we didn't need to wait. If you do have to wait there were replica hand axes/arrow heads/scrapers you could examine in the 'Portacabin'. Once at the bottom of the ladder our eyes soon adjusted to the gloom and we took it in turns to duck down and peer through the railings and into the tunnels.
In the main shaft many of the prized blac flints could be easily seen against the backdrop of the white chalk. I was surprised to see ferns growing on the sides of the top of the shaft. I was glad I had my hard hat on as several times I bashed my head on the stones! We were able to spend as long as we wanted at the bottom of the shaft before returning to the surface.
We then headed across the pock-scarred field to explore the 'lumps and bumps'. This is often referred to as being a 'lunar landscape' but to me it just seemed exactly what it was - a post-industrial landscape. Being from South Wales I am used to seeing the scars of industry making their mark on the landscape. This seemed no different.
As we walked back to the car two army helicopters landed soldiers in the field opposite and they then practiced their landing/taking off. Most of the land surrounding Grimes Graves is owned by the MOD.
I am glad I visited Grimes Graves - it is amazing that these ancient places are still with us - and I would certainly recommend a visit if you happen to be in the area. As an added bonus it's another English Heritage site knocked off the list!
It's strange where you end up sometimes. We just happened to be up near here collecting a moped from nearby Thetford and decided to pop over to take a look. It was of particular interest to me as living near Cissbury, another flint mining site, it would give an opportunity to actually go down inside a mine, which you can't do at Cissbury as they're all filled in. The visitor centre is quite interesting, but you can't help feeling it's primary function is to enthuse parties of young school children, not a bad thing, but the real draw is the mine itself.
Living in a safety-conscious and litigious age you have to wear a hard hat, descend the ladder one at a time and listen to the man carefully, though he is very friendly and informative. Unfortunately once you've descended the ladder and grown accustomed to the dark you realise that that's as far as you can go! All the galleries are barred after a few feet, but lit just so you get a tantalising idea of what might lie beyond. Having seen Neil Oliver on TV scrambling around on all fours down here, I imagined that we'd all be allowed to do that. Damn.
The overriding feeling is one of slight claustrophobia and it must have been quite an arduous task bashing pieces of prime flint out of chalk with nothing more than a deer antler and a weak light to guide you, but the lure of those massive layers of shiny black stone was very strong. The other thing that strikes you is how did these prehistoric miners know that this stuff was down here? I can sort of understand it at Cissbury as nearby chalk cliffs east of Brighton have seams of flint running through them, so it would stand to reason that if you dug down through chalk hills you might find unspoilt layers of flint. At Grime's Graves it seems to be a completely different proposition. It's mainly flat, forested and the only clue might be the chalk just beneath the turf. Because Cissbury, Harrow Hill, etc. predate Grime's Graves I wonder if that mining knowledge was passed on to people living in East Anglia. Maybe there were nomadic miners roaming the country searching for tell-tale signs of the treasures beneath their feet?
Later when we arrive at the home of the guy selling the moped, covered in chalk, we explain how we've just been down Grimes Graves. He tells us that as a kid he and his friends used to descend the shafts down rope ladders with torches and you could crawl around large areas of the subterranean galleries and ascend from different mine shafts! We should have come here 40 years earlier, or maybe 4000.
I had recently found an old guide book on Grime's Graves, from the 60's, by the exotically titled R. Rainbird Clarke, which had prompted me to revisit the site.
I haven't been here for around nearly a decade, and had forgotten the size of the surrounding area of the flint mines. It truly is quite a striking landscape, hidden deep within the forest.
Firstly I wanted to explore the mound, known as Grimshoe at the eastern edge. This mound found apparently much use later during Saxon times, as a meeting place. In fact understanding how the site had been used through the different periods, reinforced how uniquely important the site is.
I hadn't realised that the 'Goddess' figure found in Pit 15, is now widely thought to be a 'plant' to support the debated belief that the mines dated back to the Palaeolithic, which is kind of a shame. It's an intriguing tale, but would be more so if it were authentic.
With the visit being made on a weekday, late in the lovely sunny afternoon, with virtually no one else there, made it well worth the trip.
An uncharacteristic trip east far beyond the Peak district, hah !! Norfolk laughs in the face of the Peaks easterlyness. It still took a yawning three hours to get here, and this was the only destination on the list (except Sherwood forest on the way back).
It was Saturday morning in early June and we had the entire site to ourselves, which was nice.
We bought our tickets and went straight to the shed that houses the stairway to below, which threw the guide a bit as most people have a look around first, but not me, time for chilling amongst the sleepy hollows later, right now I want my mind blowing, and Grim was the man for the job.
Our lad Eric chickened out and wouldnt go down, so me and the wife took it in turns, she went first, she came back up 5minutes later with a glazed look on her face, and said "uummm that was cool" . I'll be the judge of that said I, then the earth swallowed me whole and I was in a different world.
The air was cool down below and I was all alone, the only sound was the tour guide many feet above me wittering on about the Iceni no doubt, what do they say about a bit of knowledge?
I settled into the place and explored as fully as possible every nook and cranny. I really liked the well worn floor under the stoop, but I only hope ancient feet made it and not some self important
victorian dudes. Hayley was right, it was cool
Time to go back up top side, half way up is a line of big black flint nodules still poking from the mine walls, then when light starts to make a come back so does the mosses and ferns.
The tour guide was just telling Eric how the miners were six year old children and it only took one summer to fully excavate and fill back in again. My spidey (bollocks radar)sence tingling we exited the shed and the guideman sent us in a easterly direction towards Boudiccas mound where she may or may not have adressed her native followers to expel those dreadful Romans.
She's understandably a major theme round here as this was centre of the Iceni home turf.
More than four hundred mines, thousands of buttercups and a handfull of singing birds chilled me right out after too.
Why not visit Weeting castle afterwards a delightful ruin amongst strong mature trees ,we did, which was nice.
Back in the 1920's my father was the village policeman at Mundford. One day he was told that a motor cycle and sidecar had been seen standing at Grimes Graves for some time. In those days the site was on "common" ground. He cycled over and ultimately decided that the owner must have gone down into the mine. With the help of some locals and a ball of string to act as a life line, he went down into the pit and eventually found a young couple in one of the tunnels. Apparently they had got disoriented, their light had failed, and they were unable to find a way out. They were cold and hungry but otherwise none the worse for their adventure.
We visited Grimes Graves in Summer 2000, following a bit of a Megalithic crusade around the UK.
It is the only Megalithic site in East Anglia (apart from Seahenge), and it's pretty good.
We got quite an erie feeling coming out of the forest and seeing loads of pockmarked holes in the large clearing. It is very strange to don a helmet and descend into the earth to see a site - the temparature drops by about 10 degrees. Once down the ladder (a feat in itself) you can see the workings of the ancients as they scrabbled about for flint. It is amazing to think that they did this without A) electric light and B) a nice hard-hat!
Well worth a visit, but 2 words of warning:
1. Don't plan your trip during the school holidays as only a few people can descend at one time...
The mound called 'Grimshoe' is at TL8190289813. It gave its name to the Hundred of Grimshoe - the name coming from 'Grim's Howe', or the burial mound of Grim (Woden / Odin). It's probably a spoil mound from the quarrying, or maybe created especially from the spoil for the purposes of a special place for impressive Hundred Meetings. But don't let its mundane origin detract from its mythological splendour.
Are these just the suppositions of a Victorian Gentlemen or have they got some basis in local folklore? Curious ideas, whichever.
..In Norfolk one of the hundreds, or subdivisions of the county, is called Grimshoo or Grimshow, after (as it is supposed) a Danish leader of the name of Grime or Gryme. [..] In about the centre of this hundred is a very curious Danish encampment, in a semicircular form, consisting of about twelve acres.
In this space are a great number of large deep pits, joined in a regular manner, one near to another, in form of a quincunx, the largest in the centre, where the general's or commander's tent was placed. These pits are so deep and numerous as to be able to conceal a very great army. At the east end of this entrenchment is a large tumulus, pointing towards Thetford, from which it is about live or six miles distant; and which might possibly have served as a watch tower, or place of signal: and here the hundred court used to be called.
This place also is known by the name of The Holes, or Grimes-graves. This part of the country, being open, was a great seat of war between the Saxons and Danes, as appears from many tumuli throughout this hundred, erected over the graves of leaders who fell in battle; or as tokens of victory, to show how far they had led their armies and conquered.
I just want it noted that I went to Grimes Graves on 30/03/03. We arrived on motorbike, numb and slightly terrified with ringing ears - or was it skylarks? A friendly biker that works there chatted about his Ducati (I'm a push-cyclist - I know narthing) and told us to come back after lunch. So we had a decent veggie burger at the Crown Inn on Crown Road.
Funny place to visit really, an old industrial site, so don't expect it to awe and inspire like a stone circle. Its not exactly Magna either, but its a good stroll up and down the hummocks. There is a little section of mine that you can climb into, which gives some idea of how confined the mines were (but don't do as I did - don't enter this place with a flatulent friend). Did they use slaves or children? There is also a gift shop, which is essential these days, isn't it?
If you're into skeletons, there seem to be plenty of bones on the surface. I've got a lovely rodent skull. If you are not into bones, enjoy the skylarks and breath the fresh fresh Norfolk air...