SOME years ago, the owners of the Chislehurst Caves launched a challenge, offering a prize of £5 to anyone who could spend a night down there alone.

Only one man, Tony Bayfield, has ever succeeded, and he has since said that nothing could tempt him down again to the chill underground labyrinth, where he sensed something behind him, breathing heavily.

It is thought that the caves, created from mining, have existed for thousands, rather than hundreds, of years.

Most old places have myths of ghosts and hauntings attached to them, and the Chislehurst Caves are no different.

Visitors have told of incessant drilling sounds echoing through the caverns, although mining ceased many years ago.

Others tell tales of horses whinnying and neighing at the spot where some stables collapsed into the caves. The sound of children laughing and playing has also been heard.

Terry Hunt, the Caves' manager, is laconic in his description of the tales.

"There are a number of legends, although I've never seen anything myself," he said.

In 1985, the then owner of the caves, Anne Reekie, forbade anyone wanting to spend the night in them, convinced that there was something malevolent wandering the maze.

"A tour guide who used to work here decided to try out the challenge," said Mr Hunt. "He'd been down there a couple of hours when his screams were heard.

"When he was found, he was unconscious and foaming at the mouth."

The most notorious of the Ghosts of Chislehurst Caves is that of the White Lady in the haunted pool.

Two centuries ago, a flintnapper brutally hit his wife about the head and weighed the unconscious woman down in the pool with large blocks of chalk.

In times past, a supernatural presence has been seen glowing at one end of the pool.

In an atmosphere so dark that it aches the eyes, your imagination can pay tricks on you, according to the unflappable Terry Hunt.

In the mid-1980s, research on supernatural happenings in the caves was carried out by the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena.

Sadly, for fans of the unnatural and the spooky, their research remains under wraps.

On the other hand, perhaps it is fortunate for the owners that visitors' imaginations continue to run amok amid the silence of the caves.

For full details of opening times and admission charges call 0181 467 3264.

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