Tel 01909 720378
Open: Everyday 10am, 5:30pm Mar to Sept | 10am, 4:30pm Oct to Feb | Nov - Jan: Saturdays and Sundays only
The area north east of Chesterfield on the way to Worksop is not usually the first place that springs to mind when visiting the Peak District; the former mining villages which abound like soul-less blots on the landscape are hardly inspiring places to sight-see. However, situated just beyond the Peak District, on the edge of this area, is a very inspiring place indeed.
Creswell Crags are hidden by a band of trees just out of the village of Creswell - not obviously visible from the road, so follow the brown signs once in the vicinity. There is a large car park by the visitor centre and easy access to the crags from there. The added bonus is that dogs (on leads) are welcome in the outdoor areas, so with gently sloping, well-defined-push-chair-friendly paths, a day a Creswell is an excellent place for the whole family.
What you see initially is not spectacularly dramatic, but the history contained within this small area tells the spectacular and dramatic story of our ancestors, reaching back through 50,000 years when, during the Ice Age, it was the furthest point in the north that the nomadic people could survive in that extreme climate.
These limestone crags ar Creswell were formed when the great ice sheet, which stopped just north of Creswell. melted and a huge river was formed which carved out the gorge and cave system as it raced downstream. The lake which is there today, however, was made in the 19th Century by the local Duke who owned the site; he also made good use of one of the caves and used it as his boat house.
Thousands of years before the area became the Victorian’s playground, the caves on the south side of the gorge would have been ideal summer dwellings for those ancient nomads and the ones on the north side, where the sun doesn’t reach, were perfect for storing food. The area would have been a rich hunting ground; bones of many different species have been discovered including bear, horse, lion, giant reindeer, Arctic hare, Arctic lemming, woolly mammoth, bison and hyenas. Evidence that the caves were used even before the Ice-Age has also come to light; bones of hippopotamus and a narrow-nosed rhinoceros have been found - and they would have found shelter in the caves when the climate was similar to the one in which we live today.
It is only possible to enter the caves with a guide, (sorry, dogs and push-chairs not allowed at this point) and it is certainly well worth doing a tour as the guide helps to bring those ancient times closer and gives an informed insight into what life must have been like for our ancestors. He or she will show you replica Ice-Age tools and explain how they were used, switch the torches off so you can imagine how it was when only fires could light the way, tell you how the Victorians blasted the surfaces of the caves - destroying most of the stalactites and mites - in their zeal to unearth the archaeology beneath, and how, in 2003, Britain’s only Ice-Age rock art was discovered at Creswell Crags. For the arachnophiles amongst you, the guide will almost certainly point out the European Cave Spider, which survives rather well in the cave system here. Whilst they aren’t rare or protected, they aren’t a species you are likely to see every day as they live mainly in tunnels, caves or old mines. And don’t worry, although they are one of our largest spiders, they won’t hurt you.
After exploring the caves and walking round the site, there is a well-presented and informative exhibition to view in the visitor centre, plus a gift shop to buy a souvenir of the day. There is also a café which has an outdoor balcony overlooking the trees. On a warm day this is a lovely spot to watch the birds whilst relaxing over tea and cake - you might even glimpse a bright orange flash of our smallest bird, the goldcrest, fluttering in the firs, or see a wagtail catching flies on the path below; a pleasant place to enjoy living in the present, whilst contemplating the discoveries of our amazing past.