© Yorkshire Ramblers' Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted.
However, short extracts from it may be used, for non-commercial purposes, provided their source is fully cited, acknowledged and referenced as:
Brodrick, H. (1934) St Michael's Cave, Gibralter. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 6 Number 21: pp235-239. Leeds: YRC.

St.Michael’s Cave, Gibraltar.

By H. Brodrick.

 The Rock of Gibraltar, according to the late S. Baring-Gould in his excellent book, CliffCastlesandCaveDwellingsinEurope, is " too well known to English travellers to need description here.” He refers to the Rock as the most complete and marvellous of all Cliff Castles.

On the Rock are several caves through one of which it is said that the apes still to be seen on the rock arrived from Africa ! The nearest point of Africa is about fourteen miles away, but one is accustomed to tales of long underground passages in various parts of the world.

As a matter of fact the monkeys are now brought at intervals from Apes Hill on the opposite coast of Africa and are under the protection of the military authorities of the Rock; I am informed that they do breed on the Rock but as there is a tradition that the British will lose the possession when the apes leave, nothing is left to nature in the matter.

The largest cave, now known as St. Michael’s, seems to have been known to the Romans as early as B.C. 27.

Captain Webber-Smith of the 48th Regiment in 1840 seems to have been the first to make a detailed exploration and plan of it. I have taken his plan (reproduced in Vol. l. of the Journal of the Gibraltar Society) as the basis of mine, but I take full responsibility for the elevation. Two officers are reputed to have lost their lives in the Cave before 1840, their bodies never being discovered.

There are numerous other caves on the Rock, many of them being simply rock-shelters in which bone-breccia and human remains have been found associated with polished stone implements; others, such as the Genista Cave and Poca Roca Cave, are evidently fissure caves and were found to contain many remains of such Pleistocene mammals as elephant, rhinoceros, leopard, serval and African lynx thus postulating an early land connection with Africa, the adjacent (14 miles) coast of which exhibits a similar geological formation to that of the Rock.

This spring, through the kindness of Lieut.-Col. A. E. Beattie, Colonial Secretary to H.E. the Governor, I had the opportunity of exploring St. Michael’s Cave, the cave through which the apes are reputed to come. Captain E. E. H.Jackson of the Gibraltar Government Tourist Bureau and I with the assistance of two bombardiers of the R.A. spent a long and extremely interesting afternoon in the cave on March 21st, 1933. The entrance, above which is the inscription “ St.Michael’s Cave 1867," is close to one of the defence quarters, and leads at once into a large chamber with a floor sloping steeply to a depth of about 50 ft. The roof of this chamber is at least 80 ft.high and is formed, not of the usual Jurassic limestone of the Rock, but of an extremely hard limestone agglomerate which is common on the western slopes of the Rock; daylight can be faintly seen through numerous holes in this agglomerate. Immediately inside the entrance is carved :---

St. Michael’s Cave.

St. Michael’s Cave.  © Yorkshire Ramblers' Club
St. Michael’s Cave

The exploration of this Cavern by permission of His Excellency Lt.-Gen. Sir Richard Airey, G.C.B., Governor of Gibraltar, commenced 23rd Ju1y, 1867, under the direction of the Governor of the Military Prisons at this station—J.F.Brome, Esq., Late 46th Regt.

The first chamber is roughly 55 ft. long and 40 ft. wide, the floor being reached by a steep flight of steps ; to the left is the entrance to the series known as Leonora’s Cave, while the deeper part of the main cave is reached by a low arch to the right. Facing the entrance and between these two passages is a complicated series of passages and chambers in which are many good stalagmite pillars, but all these passages seem to converge and fall at various levels into the main tissure to the right. Many of them are very low but open out occasionally into fairly high chambers. In this main chamber are several very fine stalagmites and at least one enormous pillar roughly 50 ft. in height and 15 ft. in diameter. One stalagmite has been whitewashed so that it shows up rather well. The stalactitic formations in the cave have long ceased to be active ; in fact any such activity is impossible at present as there is no collecting ground for water above the level of the cave, this and the great size of the stalagmites indicating that the formation of the cave must have taken place at a time before the denudation of the overlying strata. The whole of the cave is coated with a thin layer of an extremely dirty, wet, red clay so that any exploration results in clothing of a super-speleological texture, and photography is practically impossible.

When one turns out of the main chamber to the right one finds oneself in a slightly falling passage some 20 ft. long, at the end of which is a vertical drop of 21 ft. The fissure here is too wide for back and knee work but a fixed rope hangs there, coated of course with the usual slippery clay, but as the rock surface is rough the descent is fairly easy. The less said about the ascent at the end of a long exploration the better, the wall is climbable but the hanging rope is a considerable help. After sliding down this wall we have a crawl through a very low passage about 40 ft. long, falling gently about ten feet, followed by a scramble downwards through a distance of 19 ft. ; as the floor here consists of cemented boulders and there is any amount of headroom this presents no difficulties. Here one arrives at the great feature of the climb, a bedding plane slope set at a dip of 60° down which hang two steel cables. Luckily the wall is fairly rough, but as the drop is one of 150 ft. great care must be exercised, a slip might easily have serious results, and we were not using life lines ; on one or two ledges a precarious foothold may be obtained but even with this help both the descent and ascent are by no means easy. As I have stated this drop is down a bedding slope and in one place, where the roof comes within five feet of the floor, there is a stalagmite pillar about two feet in diameter which has been fractured through a slip in the strata and has been cemented together again in a manner similar to several which occur in Desmond's Cave, Mitchelstown.

At the foot of this climb we crawled along a very dirty and low passage for a distance of 85 feet, to find ourselves in a chamber about 15 feet in diameter and about the same in height. From here two or three passages radiate, all of which have been explored by my friends the bombardiers; they assured me that all were exceedingly low and narrow and that in each case they had arrived at a point where further progress was impossible. At one point was a draught sufficient to blow a candle out but they could not find from where it came.

After climbing back up the fissure we inspected the other series off the main chamber, entered through an opening which had been enlarged and above which is carved the inscription “ To Leonora’s Cave, 1867." For a short distance the passage is fairly high, but in several places crawling through muddy pools is necessary; the passage is not very long and ends in a rather fine chamber, some 40 feet high, in which is a very pretty font with the only clean and active formation which I saw in the cave, an alcove in the wall some three feet high and two feet in width containing a small pool of clear water. A passage runs from here to the right to join the complicated central passages a little further on. It is a bedding cave tilted at an angle of 60°, the floor being level, a condition found in parts of the Great Eastwater Cave, but one curious feature must be noted, two or three stalagmite pillars join the two sides of the fissure in a nearly horizontal position. Evidently after the formation of these pillars there has been some earth movement to alter their position from the vertical; this is quite in accordance with the fractured stalagmite noted in the big descent.

We arrived at the surface in time to hear the bugles on the warships in the bay sounding the First Post, and to look down on the twinkling lights in the harbour below.

The entrance to the cave is 937 feet above sea level and we descended about 340 feet, so that at our lowest point we were still some 600 feet above sea level.