“ Set in the middle of the picturesque Peak District village of Castleton, the approach to Peak Cavern is awe-inspiring. A riverside walk takes you past centuries old miners' cottages, opening out into a spectacular limestone gorge. Ahead of you are 280ft high vertical cliffs, with the ruins of Peveril Castle towering above. „
We arrived at Peak Cavern early in the morning, so early that they weren't yet open! We had our dog with us and he made friends with the resident dog there who popped up at various times throughout our visit. As we were so early we were the only ones on the tour which was nice as we could ask as many questions as we wanted, the tour guide was very funny and told us lots of information about caves that we didn't know before.
The rope making equipment for which Peak Cavern is famous for is still there, and replica houses where the rope makers used to live, tiny little huts that would house up the eight people at a time! My boyfriend helped our guide to make a piece of rope which we were allowed to bring home with us - which has been relegated to the garden as it stinks!
The tour through the caves was very interesting, as it has been used for many TV and film locations there are still some of the props around which you will probably recognise. The guide very kindly threw what looked like a very heavy boulder to me, thankfully it was made from polystyrene!
The caves do get quite low, watch your head! Also the ground can be a little uneven and slippy. At the end of the caves the guide explained how Peak Cavern is connected to Speedwell Cavern and how they know when the caves are about to flood. He walked back with us, retracing our steps to the entrance where there is a small information place and shop with the usual souvenirs.
Peak Cavern is located in the lovely Peak District town of Castleton. Visitors may sense they're going to see something special as soon as they see the sign outside which reads 'Welcome to the Devil's Arse'. The origin of the name will be revealed later!
The cave is worth a visit simply for the lovely walk from the road to the cavern entrance. This takes the visitor along a burbling stream, past some ancient miner's cottages, then into a spectacular limestone gorge with cliffs towering 280 feet above. Perched above the gorge is the grey limestone bulk of ancient Peveril Castle.
Upon reaching the cavern, you're witness to the largest natural cave opening in Britain. It's simply huge at 60 feet high, 100 feet wide and 340 feet long! Even seen from the outside, the scale is breathtaking. I've visited many caves in Britain, most start with a small opening; this is something else.
A whole community lived within the cavern for over 400 years, with the 'villagers' occupied with making ropes for the local mining industry.
Peak Cavern is cleverly presented. The remains of the old houses inside the entrance can still be seen and the roof is still smoke stained from centuries of fires. The visitor will then notice the ancient looking equipment, adorned with ropes in all stages of preparation. The cavern operators stage rope making demonstrations here; showing visitors the unique way Peak Cavern ropes were made for hundreds of years.
This is a fascinating demonstration and will enthral adults and children alike. A lucky few (including my niece on the day we visited) can help the rope makers construct today's rope. Ropes made on site are also sold in the tiny gift shop.
The main attraction of the cavern is the tour. To the right side of the cave entrance is a narrow passage where your guide awaits. On the day we visited, we were lucky to be taken through by a lady who had been guiding the cavern for many years. Her knowledge of the cavern was encyclopaedic and she encouraged visitors to ask questions (which we did).
Visitors first pass along the passage into the first chamber called the bell house. Lighting here and along the tour is quite atmospheric. The light is good enough to see by, but is not too intrusive, a nice touch. A river flows to the side of the passage; its flowing water has carved out the whole of this massive cave system over many millennia.
To travel along part of the passage, the trainee spelunkers have to endure 'Lumbago Walk', so named as adults have to bend over double to traverse it. Any small children will be quite smugly standing upright here!
Roger Rain's house is a huge cavern, so named for the permanent 'rain' that falls from the ceiling. The 'Orchestra Chamber' is where village maidens used to sing to distinguished visitors, such as Queen Victoria (incidentally, the cave's name was changed from 'The Devil's Arse' to 'Peak Cavern' just before this visit, I wonder why?).
Throughout the cave are excellent examples of stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone formations. These make the 800 year old Peveril Castle seem young by comparison having taken thousands of years to form from deposits solidifying from drips of water. These can form amazing shapes and it's possible to let one's imagination conjure images of animals and people whilst staring at these weird structures.
At the far end of the cave, the visitors will be asked to listen. Here' it's possible to hear a low rushing sound which is the river heard through solid rock. Water ebbs and flows in the cavern and when it recedes during dryer periods, a strange noise is heard. This is, apparently, the Devil farting! The river is known locally as the River Styx.
For me, however, the highlight of the tour was a small permanent pool adjacent to the passage. Here the guide shone her torch into the water. Small white shrimps could be seen moving about. The torch did not disturb them since they were blind. Hundreds of generations of shrimps had lived and died here, and over time, their eyesight had degenerated due to the darkness! I had no idea we had such creatures in Britain.
The visitors then have to retrace their steps back to the entrance and endure 'Lumbago Walk' again. The tour lasts for about an hour, but is fascinating due to the history of the cave given by the tour guide and the amazing caverns, passageways, pools and stalactites that line the cave ceilings.
The cave system is far more extensive than the public tour shows and passageways to other Castleton caverns exist. On the day we visited, cave divers were operating in the system. This is apparently the most dangerous sport in Britain. It's not for me, I was happy to visit the cavern for the short tour!
Entrance to the cavern costs £7.25 for adults and £5.75 for children although a combination ticket with the nearby Speedwell Cavern can be purchased for £12.00 (£8.50 for children). The cavern is open from 10:00 until 17:00 during April to October with reduced tours November to March. Apart from the shop, there are few other facilities on site, but Castleton town centre is only a short ride/walk away.