Castleton is one of the most popular centres in the Peak District. This is because the village has picturesque scenery, a ruined Norman castle, show caves, interesting geology, excellent walks and a pretty village. The village is small & compact and has 6 pubs to chose from, all of which serve food.
The village is centred around a square in which the church lies – this is just off the main road and directly beneath Peveril Castle on the hill behind. The castle was built in 1080 as a wooden building and rebuilt in stone around 1175 and the church was begun about the same time. It has a fine Norman arch across the Nave, which was constructed from 1190 to 1250. The tower was added in 1450-1500 and more additions were made in the 19th century. Other signs of the Norman era still remain – across the main road by the Bull’s Head Inn you can see a section of the Town Ditch, a defensive earthwork built around the village. This was once a feature of many of the villages of the region.
The two main features of interest, apart from the castle, are Cave Dale and Peak Cavern. Both are reached from the top of the main square – Cave Dale to the left (east) and Peak Cavern to the right (west). Cave Dale is a collapsed cavern and the very bottom part was covered by a natural arch until 200 years ago. It is a spectacular walk up the dale, which is very deep and narrow, with mineral veins crossing it at intervals. As you climb up the dale you get a good view of Peveril Castle. It is also worth thinking about the fact that a lot of the way you are walking right above the chambers of Peak Cavern!
Peak Cavern is probably the most impressive natural cavern in Britain. It is open as a showcave from April to October, but it’s worth walking up there even if it’s shut. Take a narrow lane from the top corner of the village square (past the chip shop) to reach Peakshole Water, the stream which flows from the cavern. Take a path up the right hand bank of the stream into the deep chasm which is the entrance, and notice on the other side a small stream flowing into Peakshole Water. This is the water from Russett Well, and the water has come underground from caverns on the west side of Winnats Pass – tracing the source of the water took the local geologists a long time! Now approach the impressive entrance to the cavern, which was once used by a family of ropemakers who built their cottages actually within the cave entrance.
Around the village square are some fine old houses and cottages, including a Youth Hostel and some pubs. On the main road there are several shops selling Blue John (a local variety of Fluorspar with a fine colouring), jewellery made from this or souvenirs. One shop here houses the Ollerenshaw Collection, which contains a range of fine specimens of Blue John. The main road has several more pubs. Towards Mam Tor there is a public car park with public toilets, and the Peak National Park Information Centre (01433 620679).
Castleton has a carnival at the end of May, the main event of which is called Garland Day on May 29th, when large garlands of flowers are made and the participants wear sprigs of oak. The Garland King and Queen are weighed down with immense garlands and a parade takes place through the village to the main square, when the King’s garland is placed on top of the church tower. The ceremony is said to commemorate the Restoration of Charles II (hence the oak sprigs), but may well be a relic of some ancient fertility rite.
The Castleton Caverns
The Castleton Caverns comprise The Blue John Cavern, Treak Cliff Cavern, Speedwell Cavern (all clustered around the Winnats Pass) and the great Peak Cavern, just outside Castleton village.
Speedwell Cavern, at the very foot of Winnats Pass, is probably the most popular cavern of the four. This is a mine with several natural chambers and an underground canal which forms the centrepiece of the visit. The cavern is open daily all year.
Steps lead down from the entrance to the canal, which was hacked through the rock by miners in search of lead in the 1770s. The project was led by James Gilbert who was the Duke of Devonshire’s agent for the Ecton Hill mines and made a fortune there, but at Speedwell eleven years of digging brought little reward before the venture closed. The water in the canal has already followed a tortuous underground passage from Perryfoot, near Sparrowpit, and eventually emerges at Russet Well, just near the entrance to Peak Cavern.
At the end of the canal is the Bottomless Pit, a large water-filled hole. This huge natural cavern is so high you cannot see the top and is so deep that when the canal was dug many tons of waste rock were tipped into it without making any visible impression upon it.
Opening Times & Prices
April to October open from 09.30am to 5.30pm, and November to March open from 10.00am to 5.00pm. Closed on Xmas Day. Last Tour is 45 mins before closing time. 01433 620 512
Adult £7.75, child £5.75, concessions £6.75, family ticket (2 adults + 2 children) £26. Joint tickets for Peak and Speedwell Caverns are available at a saving.
Peak Cavern, also known as ‘The Devils Arse!’ is the only wholly natural cavern of the four and is the least commercialised.
The approach and entry are very impressive, taking you into an immense cleft in the rock below the crag on top of which sits Peveril Castle.
Opening Times & Prices
April to October – every day, 10.00am to 5.00pm, November to March – weekends only 10.00am to 5.00pm. Last Tour is 45 mins before closing.
Adult £7.25, Child £5.25, Concessions £6.25, Family (2 adults + 2 children) £22. Joint tickets for Peak and Speedwell Caverns are available at a saving.
Treak Cliff Cavern
Treak Cliff cavern is higher up the old Mam Tor road and contains a range of nice stalactite and stalagmite formations. It is open all year. The cave was originally a mine, dug mainly to mine Blue John, which is still mined here. The initial sections of the cave pass through the old mine workings and veins of Blue John (which is a fluorspar discoloured by blue and yellow impurities, much used for jewellery) can clearly be seen in the walls.
In 1926 the miners broke through into natural caverns beyond, and these have some fine natural formations, which have been christened by names such as the Frozen Waterfall and Alladin’s Cave.
Opening Times & Prices
Open daily (except 24th and 25th December) from 10.00am to 4.15pm. Adult £7.00, Child £3.60, Family Ticket £19.00, Student / YHA £6.00, Senior Citizen £6.00.
01433 620 571.
Blue John Mine
The Blue John Cavern is at the top of the hill above Winnats Pass and is reached from Castleton either by walking up the hillside or by going up Winnats Pass and turning down the old Mam Tor road (now closed between the Blue John Mine and Treak Cliff).
The cavern is open all year but opening times are restricted in January and February. Like Treak Cliff, the mine is part natural, part mine-workings, and contains natural chambers, veins of Blue John, fossils and stalactites and stalagmites. It descends a long series of steps to reach a large chamber known as Crystalised Cavern, which is followed by Lord Mulgrave’s Dining-Room and the Variegated Cavern, all of which contain fine formations and interesting minerals.
Opening Times & Prices
Open everyday except December 25th. Summer – from 9.30am to 5.30pm, Winter – from 10.00am to dusk.
Adult £6.50, Child £3.50, Concessions £4.50, Student £4.50, Family (2 adult+2 children) £18.00.
Mam Tor is a famous viewpoint and landmark, rearing up above the valleys of Hope and Edale. Known as the ‘shivering mountain’, it is comprised of shale and the East face is a dramatic and loose expanse of crumbling rock. The area below the face is constantly on the move and each period of heavy rain undermines the loose shale and causes it to slip further down the valley. The former A625 main road from Stockport to Sheffield once went down this way but was swept away by a landslide in 1974 and has not been rebuilt.
On the top of the hill was a large Iron Age fort, and the fortifications can still be seen. However, the site was almost certainly occupied long before this. The trig point on the summit of the hill is placed on top of a tumulus which probably dates from the Bronze Age, and a bronze axehead has also been found here.
The views from the summit of Mam Tor are superb, with a fine view of Edale and Kinder to the north and Hope valley to the east, and a splendid ridge leading from the summit down to Hollins Cross and along to Lose Hill. Mam Tor looks particularly impressive when approached across the limestone moors from the direction of Peak Forest.
The escarpments around Mam Tor and nearby Lord’s Seat and Rushup Edge seem to attract winds at all times and this has led to it becoming the most popular local centre for hang-gliding and paragliding.
Winnats Pass, is a long collapsed limestone cave system. The name Winnats is short for ‘Windygates’ and on a windy day you will see why it came by that name, for the wind seems to swirl around everywhere.
There are numerous footpaths around Winnats Pass and a short walk up the pass and down by another route is recommended.
Peveril Castle stands in an impregnable position on a cliff top above Castleton, flanked by the steep side of Cave Dale. It is an evocative place, with an impressive view in all directions and sufficient ruined remains to construct a good idea of how the castle looked in its heyday.
The castle’s name comes from William Peveril, who was granted the title of bailiff of the Royal Manors of the Peak – in effect the King’s agent for the Royal Forest of the Peak – after the Norman conquest of 1066. Peveril is thought to have been an illegitimate son of William I.
Peveril created Castleton and in 1080 he fortified the site of the present castle and constructed a wooden keep. Later, these buildings were converted into stone. However, Peveril’s son (also called William) became too independent for Henry II, and in 1155 the King confiscated the Peveril estates and the castle has belonged to the Crown or the Duchy of Lancaster ever since.
Henry visited Castleton several times, to hunt and, on one occasion, to meet King Malcolm of Scotland, who paid homage to Henry here in 1157. The court records show that an enormous amount of wine was consumed on this occasion!
The castle fell into disuse after Tudor times, and by the 17th century only the keep was in use – as a courthouse. When this was abandoned the castle gradually became ruined until what remained was restored this century.
The Castleton entrance leads in through the remains of a gatehouse which was built in the 12th century and into the main courtyard of the castle. Around this is the remains of a curtain wall, which was constructed in early Norman times by the Peverils, and includes Roman tiles which presumably were taken from the ruins of the Roman fort at Navio (Brough).
Opening Times & Prices
Open all year – from November to March the hours are 10am – 4pm (closed Tuesday and Wednesday), April, September and October the hours are 10am to 5pm and the rest of the year they are 10am – 6pm (or later). Adults £2.70, Children £1.40, Concessions £2.00, English Heritage Members Free, Family ticket: £6.80