NEW lights have been installed at a Buxton tourist attraction – big deal, I hear you cry…
Well actually it is, when the attraction is a two million year old, natural limestone cave running 120 feet underground!
Exploring the vast rocky caverns and being able to see how crystal stalactites and stalagmites have lined the chambers over millions of years is the most important part of the visitor experience at Poole’s Cavern, the so-called ‘Wonder of the Peak’.
So it is understandable why so much emphasis has been placed on the installation of new LED lighting at the show cave – the final part of a long-running project to bring facilities at the Green Lane attraction into the 21st century.
Old tungsten lighting, dating back to the 1970s, has been carefully removed and replaced with a £60,000 state-of-the-art LED system, one of the first to be installed in a British show cave.
But installing such a complex lighting system in the 300-metre underground cave, consisting of around 250 delicate LED lights and several kilometres of wiring, was not without its difficulties, as Poole’s Cavern manager Alan Walker explains: “The challenges really were to find suitable positions for the lighting and the electrical cabling. Bearing in mind the cavern is very delicate, we had to be very conscious not to damage anything along the way.
“It took three of us, who are all cavers, around four months to complete. We installed a new footpath through the cave, and then set about installing the effect lighting in January/February time. During that time it was warmer in the cave than outside!
“Also, the highest chamber was about 80 feet above footpath level, so we had to rig ropes and use specialist caving equipment.”
Hard work, but the end results are spectacular.
A mixture of pure white LEDs with RGB colour-changing lights, they give off warm, natural tones that highlight the amazing rock formations.
As well as being a wireless system, the lighting is also completely programmable. Guides controlling the lighting can interact better with visitors – some of the LEDs are even installed with tiny sensors which recognise body heat and react to peoples’ presence.
Mr Walker continues: “The main reason for installing the new lights was to create a superb, enjoyable visiting experience.
The old tungsten lighting gave off a very yellow colour, when the whole aim really is to enhance the natural colours that are there.
“We have already been getting some fantastic feedback from people, saying you get much more of a feel that you are underground. Before you got the feeling of being in a church, where as now you get that feeling of mystery and awe, that you really are 120 feet underground.”
The system also means the cavern can be used for a variety of events, from musical to theatrical performances, many of them in connection with the Buxton Festival and Fringe, as well as special occasions such as Halloween and Christmas.
But aside from the obvious benefits to its 40,000-plus visitors every year, the new lighting scheme also brings with it ecological and cost-saving benefits which the cave’s owners, Buxton Civic Association, are keen to explore. This is one of the reasons why UK-based company Low Energy Designs were the chosen supplier.
“The old lighting gave out a lot of heat, causing plants to grow”, says Mr Walker. “The LED lights only generate a tiny fraction of that power, so it is a tremendous saving for us. As an Association, we are striving to be a green organisation, and the new lights reduce our carbon footprint massively.”
He adds: “This really is a tremendous milestone in the history of Poole’s Cavern, and really does bring it to the forefront of UK show caves.”