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.