If you don’t know the area and are passing through Matlock Bath on the busy A6, you are in for quite a surprise. You would be forgiven for thinking you had taken a wrong turn somewhere, been mysteriously bungled into a time machine and deposited in a 1960’s seaside town. And no wonder, with typical Victorian buildings, fish & chip shops and amusement arcades lining the esplanade, and even illuminations in October, this jolly village has all the appearance of an English holiday resort.
The only difference is that instead of the sea, it has the river Derwent gushing through the steep gorge on the other side of the road. If you divert your eyes from the long line of eateries, hostelries, shops etc. and take the time to look around, you will note the imposing cliffs and wooded hillsides which form the spectacular backdrop to Matlock Bath; it is easy to see why this place became so popular - not just for the scenery, but for the medicinal waters found here in the late 1600’s; a bath was made in the waters - hence the name of the village. The Victorians also loved their spa towns and therefore the place flourished in the nineteenth century - even Queen Victoria visited in 1832.
Today, it has something for everyone, whether it is a family with younger children visiting the theme park “Gulliver’s Kingdom” set on the hillside above; a family with perhaps slightly older children wanting a thrill usually only reserved for ski-resorts - namely, a cable car ride up to the spectacular Heights of Abraham; couples of all ages wanting a delightful river stroll; inquisitive folk wishing to visit the Peak District Mining Museum; shoppers, window-shoppers, and hungry hoards. The earlier mention of fish & chips shops and amusement arcades may give a wrong impression; there is much more to Matlock Bath these days - especially in the summer time when there is a distinctly Bohemian feel to it. Smart cafés and bars are slotted in between more traditional pubs, restaurants, tea shops, ice-cream parlours and gift shops - so even gastronomically, it has appeal for all.
We also have the Victorian’s to thank for Matlock Bath’s Illuminations. This ever popular event is held from the beginning of September until the end of October, annually. The lights go on around 7pm and at the weekend there is a parade of beautifully-lit boats floating down the river - the floodlit cliffs illuminating their way.
If all of the above is not quite enough, Peak Rail is just along the way in Matlock where volunteers operate steam trains and old diesel engines along four miles of track up to Rowsley, and in the other direction you will find the Masson Mills retail outlet along with a working textile museum on its lower floor - something to interest Dad, perhaps, while Mum shops…
If you happen to arrive in Matlock Bath by train - the railway stations is one of the great advantages of this little resort - then you will find the Whistlestop Countryside Centre, run by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Here there is a wildlife garden, learning centre, exhibition and a gift shop. If nature is your thing, then you might also like to visit Matlock Bath Aquarium, fed by a thermal spring and housed in what was once the Hydro. There is a huge collection of British and tropical freshwater fish as well as a petrifying well - where all the objects thrown in eventually turn to stone.
Matlock Bath, you will soon come to realise, has more attractions than can be squeezed into one day, for all its compact appearance.
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