Symbols and letters scratched into the walls of Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset 400 years ago are set to be displayed to the public for the first time.
The markings will become part of guided tours through the caves, which are reported to have more ritual protection marks and symbols than any other cave in the UK.
Discover the symbols on a group trip
The marks were undiscovered for hundreds of years and were first thought to be graffiti. It was discovered that they were carved at a time when the ‘Witchfinder General’, Mathew Hopkins, was responsible for hanging more than 300 women for witchcraft in the UK.
Most of the markings are in a vertical feature known as the Witches Chimney, close to the stalagmite that legend says is a witch turned to stone.
More about the markings
Many of the markings appear to be the letter W or the letter M, but specialists believe they are really double V and are a reference to the Virgin Mary.
Many others are Christian symbols, also found in the timbers of houses as protection against evil.
According to specialists at Bristol University, the area in Wookey Hole where the majority of the ritual protection marks are located is a closed aven, which results in a convection draught caused by the body heat of those standing below it displacing the cooler surrounding air which then descends noticeably.
The specialists believe that the effect would have been more pronounced years ago before a low rock lip was removed to make it easier for visitors to pass through, but it can still be felt today.
The Wookey Hole cave system is said to be one of the largest in the world, and groups visiting can incorporate the witch markings with a visit to Chamber 20, a chamber that has also recently opened to the public.
In the summertime, Wookey Hole is open from 10am to 5pm, while in the winter it is open for tours from 10am to 4pm.
To book your tickets or to find out more about the caves, you can call 01749-672243.
For further information about group visits, go to www.wookey.co.uk.