It was probably more interesting 34,000 years ago. Then, from Paviland cave you would have seen mammoths, rhinos, oryx, vast herds of deer, even the odd sabre-toothed tiger, all roaming across the plain below. Now it’s just water – the Bristol Channel swashing against the jagged rock beneath the cave, Lundy Island in the distance, the coast of south-west England beyond that.
Paviland is only accessible for a couple of hours a day – unless you fancy a tricky climb – so I’ve decided to stay here for 24 hours, sleeping in the cave, sunbathing on the rocks, and wishing I’d brought some board games to play with my companions, local survival expert Andrew Price and photographer Gareth Phillips.
Cave life can be a little on the dull side.
Paviland cave, on the Gower peninsula in South Wales, is a crucial site for tracing the origins of human life in Britain. It was in here, in 1823, that William Buckland, the first professor of geology at Oxford University, excavated the remains of a body that had been smeared with red ochre (naturally occurring iron oxide) and buried with a selection of periwinkle shells and ivory rods. Buckland initially thought the body was that of a customs officer, killed by smugglers. Then he decided it was a Roman prostitute – he wrongly believed the iron-age fort on the hilltop above the cave was Roman. This misidentification gave the headless skeleton its name – “the Red Lady of Paviland” – and it is still called the Red Lady, even though we now know two things Buckland didn’t: the remains are those of a young man, probably in his late 20s, and they were buried 34,000 years ago. Read more.