St. Michael's Cave

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Note: original spelling has been maintained.


IN May, 1865, we published an interesting account of St. Michael’s Cave, which had then been recently explored by a party of gentlemen, whose adventures we laid before our readers. They were unable to reach the extremity of the caverns. We now, however, are in a position to complete our former account, as some naval officers last year succeeded in completely exploring the innermost recesses of this interesting work of nature. St. Michael’s Cave is a celebrated cavern, situated about 850 feet above the level of the sea, on the western slope of the Rock of Gibraltar. There are a great many vague stories attached to this picturesque spot, arising from its inaccessibility, and the way the entrance is hidden. One version popular among the inhabitants was, that this cavern led under the Straits of Gibraltar across to the coast of Morocco. What gave rise to this belief was, that soon after the English took possession of the Rock, numerous monkeys were found, of the same species as those on the opposite coast; and, there being none in Spain, the only way one could account for their presence was by their coming through the cave. These monkeys are still to be found in solitary places on the Rock. Whilst lying in the bay, in December, 1869, in one of her Majesty’s ships, several of the officers determined to try and find the extremity of this mysterious cave; so, accordingly, a party of six, having provided themselves with three or four dozen candles, sixty fathoms of two-inch rope, some cod line, matches, and sandwiches, left the ship about ten a.m. When they got on shore, one of the number went to the Governor’s house for the key of the gate of the cave, which is always kept locked, whilst the remainder of the party carried the rope, &c., up to the cave; and, on reaching it, found the key had arrived and the gate opened; so, after having deposited the rope in a convenient place, they all proceeded to strip to their jerseys and flannel trousers; and each taking a lighted candle in his hand, and several spare ones and some matches in his pocket, they divided the rope into several coils, and each taking one, they proceeded in Indian file on their journey. The entrance to the cave is about ten feet high and seven feet broad, but immediately opens out into an immense cavern, the roof of which is supported in the centre by an enormous pillar, which is surrounded by hundreds of smaller ones, giving the cavern a magnificent appearance. The floor runs down very steep for about 100 feet, and at the bottom of this descent is Leonora’s Cave, which is partitioned off from the main cave by a small wooden gate. Leonora’s Cave is soon explored, as it runs very nearly horizontally for about 150 feet, in a zigzag direction, and then comes to an abrupt conclusion. It is full of stalactites, of all sizes, and is by far the most picturesque part of the whole cave.

Passing Leonora’s Cave, the main cavern runs on horizontally, but full of holes and inequalities, and covered with large boulders, for another 100 feet, until it is stopped by a precipice, running across the end of the cave. There were numerous bats flying about this chasm, and, it being pitch dark, they were not able to see the depth of it; so, after having ascertained it had a bottom by throwing stones down it, they made a bowline knot in the end of the rope, which one of them got into; and, after taking a couple of turns round a pillar, they proceeded to lower him for about fifty feet, when he cried out he had reached bottom, and got out of the knot; so, making the other end of the rope fast to the pillar, they all slid down the rope, and rejoined their companion. They now found themselves in another large cavern, about 100 feet long and forty feet broad, which they explored well, and found that the only outlet of any importance was at the end, to the right of where they came down. This outlet was composed of a large hole in the floor, about fifteen feet square, down which they passed the rope; and, with its assistance, clambered down about forty feet, and again found themselves in a large cavern. After passing away to the right for about too feet, over large masses of rock, loose stones, &c., they came to the end of the cavern. Here, in a corner, they discovered a sort of dry well, about ten feet in diameter, with smooth, perpendicular sides; above them they could distinguish daylight, there being a small opening in the rock, 250 feet over their heads. They again resumed the descent, and passed down the well, which opened out into a very pretty cavern, at the two ends of which they discovered two narrow, jagged perpendicular passages, both of which they explored, and found they joined about fifty feet below. After this they were able to proceed without the rope; the passage being so narrow and jagged, it was very hard work getting down at all. After squeezing and struggling down about sixty feet, they came to a very small chamber, about six feet long, three high, and four broad, which they thought for some time was the bottom of the passage; but they found a small hole in one corner, which communicated with another chamber, about the same size as the one they were in. After a great deal of struggling, three of them managed to get through the hole, whilst the remainder had to wait there until their return. They named this hole Clincher Hole, and cut it on the rock, for the benefit of the next explorers. Here the adventurers found the mark of the Government exploring party, showing how far they had gone. The adventurers concluded they had not been able to get through Clincher Hole, on account of their being full-grown men. They again found the passage the same as it was above, but in some places rather more jagged. After continuing their descent another fifty feet, they came to a small precipice, which they found some difficulty in descending without the aid of a rope. Some distance farther, they came to a good-sized chamber, full of jagged pieces of rock and stalactites. At the opposite end of this cavern, they found a continuation of the passage; and, after descending about sixty feet farther, passing through two small chambers, they came to another small cavern, which they discovered to be the actual bottom of the cave. In the centre was a pool of water, about a foot deep, beautifully clear, and cold, some of which, added to a “snack” of brandy, which they had taken the precaution to bring with them, refreshed them greatly; and, after staying long enough to cut their names, date, &c., they left their cards for the next comers, and commenced their journey upwards. By the time they rejoined the others at Clincher Hole, they had been away from them one hour and a-half, and found them rather impatient and anxious about their return. After a laborious ascent, they reached the mouth of the cave all right, climbing up the precipice, &c., by the rope, and found they had been in the depths of the earth for seven hours and a-half. After they had rested and eaten sandwiches, they explored all the upper regions of the cave well dressed, and, after having bade St. Michael’s Cave a triumphant farewell, they gave the key to a sentry, who had been sent up to see what they were about; and returned on board very tired, and covered with dirt; and were none the worse for a good wash and something to eat.