On Father’s Day earlier this summer my family gave me, among other things, a guidebook to South Devon, in preparation for our holiday this month. I flicked through it that same afternoon and noted Kents Cavern, a cave complex near Babbacombe, as a place to visit. Bones have been discovered here that provide the oldest evidence of Homo sapiens in the UK, going back 40,000 years. These ancestors of ours really were cavemen. At that stage in human evolution our bodies were able to produce vitamin C, but we have lost that ability at some point in the last 35,0000 years.
Over the weekend we discussed the things that we especially want to do on this holiday in South Devon. There are eight of us in this rather luxurious converted farmhouse: my wife, son and daughter, and another family of four (two daughters, close in age to our children). My son just wants to spend time on the beach. The other couple are very keen to do a coastal walk one day, and hire some bikes and cycle on a dedicated cycle-path somewhere around Dartmoor another day. My suggestion was a trip to the caves.
Late this afternoon we had a guided tour around Kents Cavern (which, for some reason does not have an apostrophe). It’s great, I recommend it if you’re ever in the area. It’s the first time my children have seen a cave. You know what caves are like, right? But at their age (she’s 9, he’s 11) would you have known? At that age I had no idea what stalactites and stalagmites were and now we have all seen some, close up. The first time I heard of them was in a geography lesson when I was around 12. The teacher asked if anyone knew the difference between a stalagmite and a stalactite. A friend offered the following, unforgettable, mnemonic: “Tites go down and mites go up”. The geography teacher tried to give us another way to distinguish them, something like: “Stalactite has a T, and it comes down from the Top of a cave. Stalagmite has G, and it comes up from Ground level.” Yeah, right. In a room full of 12-year-old boys “Tites go down and Mites go up” is all we needed to know.