The People of Gibraltar
2019 – The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Introduction

In 1957 I did my National Service in Gibraltar. The regiment was called the Gibraltar Defence Force - much too cumbersome a name for Gibraltarians who invariably called it el ‘Gee-Dee-eF’. It entailed six months of sleeping away from mummy in Buena Vista Barracks, square bashing, and putting up with general military bull.

Buena Vista Barracks (1950s)

However, it didn’t take me long to learn that well-known maxim of army life - never volunteer for anything. Unfortunately, it was very easy to find oneself having volunteered for something without actually having done so.

Me top right, in front of Buena Vista Barracks – the huge cup suggests we had just won something important that I had volunteered to take part in - but I can’t remember what (1957)

So it was that on one memorable occasion several squaddies - including yours truly - “volunteered” to go on a caving expedition that involved exploring a section of what is today known as “New St Michael’s Cave” but which was then confusingly referred to as “Lower St. Michael’s Cave” – in other words part of the old one. The most important thing to bear in mind is that this was not the famous one that most tourists visit today. This was a new one that had been discovered in 1942. Entry was under the strict control of the military and in the 1950s very few civilians had ever been allowed in. 

The expedition was a nightmare which entailed crawling through endless, unbelievably small holes and tunnels. At the end of this claustrophobic horror there was a huge cavern, the middle of which was filled with a lake of pitch-black water. It was possible to walk right round it via an extremely narrow limestone ledge that must have formed over many millennia. The ledge was just underneath the water level and as we made our way grimly round the cavern the impression was that the next step would send us plunging into the thoroughly uninviting water. 

The cave was unlit in 1957 and was much more overwhelming and far less appealing than I am sure it is today.

And all the while on the back of my mind was the horrible thought that I would have to go through the whole claustrophobic bit all over again on the way back. All in all, it was not a pleasant experience. 

I mention all this en passant because New St Michael Cave is the only Gibraltar cave I have actually ever visited, which is surprising as local historian George Palao who was also a keen speleologist estimated that there were about 140 known caves at the time.  Perhaps even more surprising is that I have never visited the more than popular Old St Michael’s Cave. My excuse is that it was not open to the general public until 1960 by which time I had just left my home town for good.

Many years later, in 2015, Gibraltar’s caves were back in the news. The Government of Gibraltar successfully nominated our “Neanderthal Caves and Environments” for inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List – a nomination that was satisfyingly accepted and a large area of the Rock joined what must now be over 1000 World Heritage sites. Annoyingly – at least to me - it appears under the UK banner rather than Gibraltar, 

The Nomination – a massive tome that includes copies of other publications and runs to well over 1300 pages. 

My curiosity was finally piqued and I decided it was about time I produced my own list of as many caves of Gibraltar as I could find – something which I soon found was hardly an original idea as I found dozens of these all over the place in books, articles, maps and the internet. Unfortunately, these lists tended to be simply copies of older ones with a few unexplained additions or omissions. Internet references – with the exception of a few of the more historically important caves – are invariably described with the formulaic and irritatingly uninformative:
. . .  a cave in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar 
Yes indeed . . . but to take just one example - who was the “John” in “John’s Giant Cave” and why “Giant”? Was it that big?

I gave the nomination document a good read but found it disappointing in so far as caves in general are concerned.  I should have realised from the title. It’s mostly about the relatively few caves in Gibraltar that have revealed Neanderthal activity something that I suppose was thought of as the most likely reason to convince the World Heritage committee to agree to include a small area of Gibraltar on their list. 

Luckily a much larger area of the upper Rock had already been declared a nature reserve in the late 20th century. Better still, in 2016 the Government published a lengthy management plan for the reserve. This publication does mention and identify numerous caves – not all of them and of course it gives those that lie outwith the reserve a miss. But it was a start.

Light green – Nature Reserve of the Upper Rock – Dark green – World Heritage site (adapted)

Since George Palao’s list, the number of known caves in Gibraltar has grown to perhaps well over 200. I am not sure if I have managed to cover all of them in the following articles but I decided that “The 200 Caves of Gibraltar” appealed as a title. So even if the numbers do not add up – that is the one I chose. 

2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Introduction
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 1 - All’s Well - Beefsteak
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 2 - Blackstrap - Buena Vista
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 3 - Cave S - Coptic
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 4 - Devil’s Fall - Devil’s Tower
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 5 - Europa Pass - Forbes’ Quarry
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 6 - Genista - George’s Bottom
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 7 - Gorham’s - Harley Street
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 8 - Holy Boys - Ibex
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 9 - Judge’s Cave - Martin’s Cave
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 10 - Monkey’s - O’Hara’s
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 11 - Poca Roca - Ragged Staff
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 12 - Spur Road - St Michael’s -
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 13 - Star Chamber - Viney Quarry