Monk Caves, Pirate Caves, Spouting caves and now Castle Caves. I never really expected that the crew here at Strange New England would be encountering so many caves this summer. Each one seemed to be stumbled upon by accident. Castle Caves was no different. As I was examining an old United States Global Survey (USGS) topographical map of the Sutton MA area, the words ‘Castle Caves’ just jumped out at me. It was only a few miles directly south of Purgatory Chasm. I was surprised I had never noticed it before.
I spent a few weeks trying to find information on these caves but came up with nothing. I examine maps of all types spanning from the late 1800’s up to the present but didn’t find the caves marked on any of them. The only reference I had was this original marking I found on that one map. With only this information in hand I set off to find the caves. The map showed what appeared to be a dirt road that passed by the east side of the hill. I chose this as being the best access point. Unfortunately when I arrived, I found that it now passed through private property. As I was turning my car around to leave the property, I suddenly saw the landowner bolt out of his house. As he came barreling toward me wearing an angry grin, I was reminded of a similar event in my past where the man was accompanied by a shotgun. With this image in mind, I put the car in gear and was heading off his land. I gave the man a friendly wave and smile but it didn’t seem to bring him any comfort.
Using my GPS, I quickly located new access point that was only a quarter mile south of the caves. I assumed that after a short hike north, I’d arrive at the location in no time at all. My excitement quickly turned to frustration when I discovered that a deep creek and wide swamp stood between my goal and me. The swamp contained many small islands of shrubs and debris from fallen branches. Determined to reach my goal I decides to try to traverse the muck and mire. Crossing the stream was fairly easy to accomplish, but navigating my way across the swamp proved to be far more difficult. Each jump from one landing to the next, proved to truly to be a leap of faith. One wrong move and I’d be knee deep in water and mud. Feeling a bit cocky due to my rate of success, I soon started to pick up the pace. Without hesitation I’d size up and jolt for the next island of turf all at once. Soon I felt like a live action Mario brother trying to clear a level. Unfortunately, the years of game play provided little to no training for this real life experience.
Once I reached the steep rock face on the west side of the hill, I wasn’t sure where to start. There were many small crevices and fissures that could easily hide a cave but none of them looked very promising. I faltered each time I began to poke my head into one of the possible locations. Each could make a cozy home for some hostile woodland creature. After over an hour of searching, I had found many small caves and burrows. Each of them was providing various degrees of disappointment. Some were more like over hangings and others were barely large enough for a man to fit in.
I decided to give the entire area a second pass and this time I hit pay dirt! There it was up on a plateau half way up the Cliff. I had passed by the cave once before but missed it. I was too distracted by its more obvious and very disappointing neighbor. The graffiti sprawled on the pinned slab at its entrance is what got my attention this time. As I scaled the cliff for a better look, I could see that local kids had used the spot to kick back and enjoy a warm fire and cold beers. Once I was close enough I could see that this small niche opened up into as much larger cave.
As I crawled through its narrow threshold I could see that it went deep into the cliff side. Soon I could see how it interconnected with many of the small fissures and ledges that I examine earlier. Easily a group of weary travelers could take refuge in this cave for safety on a stormy night. There even was a spot that was excellent for building a fire. Just above it was a natural chimney to draw the smoke out of the cave.
After enjoying the cave, I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the rest of the area. At the top of the cliff I found several location that seemed like castle ramparts overlooking the countryside. With that feature along with its step vertical cliff, I can understand why the caves were given the name.
Though I was very proud of myself for finding these hidden gems, I was upset that I couldn’t find any history behind the caves. As I drove home, I couldn’t stop wondering how or why these cave made it onto the USGS map but no other maps at all. What made these caves come to the attention of the surveyors who plotted that particular map when all others had ignored them over the past 100 years? I couldn’t help but think that there was more to these caves. I felt there was a great story out there waiting to be discovered. Well, until next time their history will be a mystery to me.
~ Strange New England
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