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Caverns in Castleton

The caverns at Castleton are four underground caves which prove enormously popular with tourists and visitors to the area, drawing in coaches and schoolchildren and people of all ages to sample the diverse and different atmospheres the caves have to offer. The four caves all have different qualities, fascinating heritage and very interesting interior and are a must for any visitor to Castleton.

Their names are Blue John Cavern, Speedwell Cavern, Treak Cliff Cavern and Peak Cavern, also known affectionately as the Devils Arse!

Blue John Cavern
The name of this cavern is thought to have been made up by John Kirk and Joseph Hall, who worked the mines in the 18th century. It is a totally natural cave with the occasional remaining mine workings and there are 16 known veins where Blue John Stone is found in Castleton, half of them located in Blue John Cavern. The mineral is still worked here during the winter months in areas away from public view and the miners who work the remaining seams act as a guide for the Castleton underground tours.

Blue John cavern visitors start their visit with the drop of a short set of steps through a man-made passageway around 20 yards long, arriving immediately into the beginning of the natural caverns. It's easy to see how difficult the miners found accessing cave and it's not a particularly comfortable passage to walk down into the chambers. The first explorers were lowered on a rope into the caves down an old pothole high in the room which you can see when you reach the first chamber. This was the original entrance and the action of water is visible everywhere in the cavern with the etching of the rock walls.

There are six predominant natural chambers all with their own distinguishable features. The first is called Bull Beef, which is a working mine and produces some of the most spectacularly large pieces of Blue John Stone ever mined.  The second chamber is the grand crystallised cavern shaped like a dome, with a type of Blue John Stone that looks like a tree trunk sawn in half due to its markings.

The waterfall cavern is next, the left-hand side covered in stalagmites appearing like a frozen waterfall. The fourth chamber is the stalactite cavern, hanging from the high roof which bears a resemblance to an upside down riverbed.

The fifth chamber is Lord Mulgrave's dining room, formed when two underground rivers collided creating a whirlpool, which is responsible for forming the circular shape. It's named as it is the cause of the tale that stated his Lordship entertained a group of miners to a dinner. The last chamber is the variegated Cavern, named because of the variety of the etchings on the walls and in the room. Standing at nearly 200 feet high it is truly spectacular and it's hard to imagine the full force of nature and the power of the water which formed it.

It's quite an effort to climb back up to the chambers because the cave descends for some 214 feet, but he's certainly worthwhile. Thanks to the fantastic scenery. At the end of the tour is a craft shop, which has a variety of Blue John jewellery, ornaments and art.

Peak Cavern - the Devil's Arse
This is probably the most popular of Castleton caverns located just west of Peveril Castle and is certainly the most famous, with Peakshole water flowing through and out of the cave, very easily accessible from the car park just off Castleton high-street.

Known by the locals as the Devil's Arse, rumours and legends surround it, mainly because of the flatulent sounding noises that used to come out of the cave. It changed its name to Peak Cavern officially in 1880, in order not to offend the Queen Victoria when she visited the castle to watch a concert inside the cave.

It is certainly the least commercialised of the four show caves, owned by the estate of the Duchy of Lancaster, but is it is now managed by the owners of Speedwell cavern, which we will talk about later. Unlike the other show caves, Peak Cavern is thought to be almost exclusively natural with the only known synthetic section of the cave destroyed to bypass a low tunnel that was only accessible by lying down in a boat. The cave system is the largest in the Peak District.

The mouth of the Peak Cavern is the largest cave entrance in Britain, standing at 60 feet high, 340 feet long and 100 feet wide. More or less in the middle of Castleton, the approach to the cave is spectacular, a riverside walk taking you past centuries old miners cottages, which opens out into a limestone ravine. The cleft in the rock below the huge crag, which is over 280 feet high, with the ruins of Peveril Castle high above, promises a real adventure and the visitor to Peak cavern certainly won't be disappointed.

When it was excavated, houses were found inside the cave mouth and it is known that the cavern was home to Britain's last troglodytes, people who set up home inside dens or caves, until approximately 1915. They earned their living from making rope and selling it in Castleton village and while they were making their living at the entrance to the cave, inside the depths, were known to be a refuge for bandits.

The Peak Cavern was used by thieves, who had a secret language that was used by beggars and wrong doers, which was devised in 1530, by a meeting by the leader of the rogues and the King of the Gypsies, although this could also be a Castleton legend!

Approaching the mouth of the cave, on the left-hand side of the bridge, is a water exit called Russets Well. This is where the water from Speedwell cavern, resurges from the River Styx, through Castleton, and then onto Buxton, taking four days to get there, which can be seen inside the cave. The river is a subterranean river which flows through, forming part of the initial cave but as the cave grew, the ceiling collapsed. A small gorge was spawned which leads to the cave entrance of today.

There are numerous passages which lead from the entrance but the guides will take you through a narrow passage which leads to a chamber called the Bell House. Next is Lumbago walk, named due to the fact that navigating it requires most adults to crouch down because of the very low ceiling. The Great Cave and Roger Rain's House are the two main caverns. The Great Cave is about 60 m high and contains an opening in its roof which surfaces near Peveril Castle. The walking route from here has been extended considerably, going down the Devil's staircase to the Halfway House and then along the inner River Styx via a series of bridges and under the five arches, formed by the action of the River swirling through the passengers for hundreds of thousands of years.

Speedwell Cavern
This cavern is unique amongst the show caves in Castleton and indeed Britain as a whole, as guests journey by a special underground boat to get to Speedwell's several natural chambers.

Found at the foot of Winnat's Pass, just over half a mile from the centre of the village of Castleton, steps lead down from the entrance to the canal, which was hacked through rock by miners in search of lead in the 1770s.

Speedwell consists of a level passageway driven horizontally into the hillside leading to the limestone cave. It was flooded during the lead mining period in Castleton and the floor of the cave is flooded permanently as a result, which is what gives the cavern its unique quality. This means that unlike the other show caves, Speedwell cavern can only be explored by underground boat.

Several years ago, the boat was propelled by the guide pushing the wall on either side but later, a second guide was laid on his or her back and literally walked along the ceiling as it was so low. But now the boat is powered by electric motor under the supervision of the Castleton tour guide.

The canal is 800 metres long and takes the subterranean route directly to the entrance of Speedwell, 200 metres below the surface of the hill. At Halfway House, the canal tunnels splits into two to allow oncoming boats to pass. Now it's time to enter the magnificent cathedral like cavern containing the Bottomless Pit, a huge subterranean lake.

The boat stops and everyone walks into the cave to absorb the atmosphere of Speedwell, with spectacular natural sites to observe. There are fluorspar veins, which are minerals, fluorescent in ultraviolet light, stalactites and stalagmites, which look amazing and make the cave appear multicoloured.

The Bottomless Pit is a 35 metre deep vertical shaft which is only now 35 metres deep, thanks to the choking of the surface by rock spoil dumped by Castleton miners. The pit was so deep that when the canal was dug, many tonnes of waste rocks were tipped into it without making any visible impression and the original depths of the shaft has been estimated from the amount of spoil placed in it over the years, at around 150 metres deep. It lies at the very end of the canal and the visitor returns back to the cave entrance once again by boat.

Treak Cliff Cavern
Treak Cliff Cavern is a cave of geological importance situated a little higher up on the old Mam Tor road. It is famous for its stalactites and stalagmites formations and has been considered a site of special scientific interest. In agreement with the English Nature, all the Blue John stone deposits on the visitor route are preserved. The stone is regularly mined in this cavern, but from areas not seen by the visitors to Castleton. It is then crafted into stunning jewellery, ornaments and other decorative items which are sold in the gift shops around the village. Around 500 kg of Blue John is mined in the cavern each year.

This cavern is perhaps the least popular because although the walk from the village is not a difficult one, there are a small number of low roofs and some steps which need to be negotiated carefully. The veins of Blue John are easy to notice and many formations are excellently lit.

There are two series of caverns within Treak Cliff, firstly the outer series, which was exposed by miners during the 1700s and contains some attractive areas of Blue John stone. The inner series were found when the miners broke into natural caves in 1926, to find caves not seen by the public eye, with some fine natural formations. They were given names such as Aladdin's cave, containing one of the best displays of stalactites in the whole of Castleton, into a chamber known as Fairyland, containing a series of pretty stalactites that appear carrot like when looked at from below.

 The frozen waterfall is spectacular and you will see veins of Blue John stone across the cave ceiling, the Pillar being the largest piece ever found, as well as fossils in the limestone rock which formed the hillside above 330 million years ago. Dream Cave consists of the longest stalactite found here, merely four foot in length and underneath it, a stalagmite about a foot high, only one and a half inches away from it. It is said that with the rate of growth, it will take over 1000 years before they join up. There is a formation known as Crucifix and the elephant, but the most famous formation is the Stork, standing on one leg.

The next chamber is Dome of St Pauls and is nearly 40 feet high, a cascade of colours and stalactites, making it a wonderful exhibition.

Peak District Attractions - Speedwell Cavern - Castleton

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  • Area Castleton, Hope
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  • Pets Yes
  • Area Castleton, Hope
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Peak District Attractions - Speedwell Cavern - Castleton

  • Sleeps
  • Bedrooms
  • Pets
  • Area
Peak District Attractions - Speedwell Cavern - Castleton
Enter the inner world of the underground cave system in the heart of the Peak District National Park and absorb the atmosphere as a watery silence...
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