Great es­cape: Peak District

Der­byshire’s Peak District has some of the coun­try’s most spec­tac­u­lar scenery and fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory, too. Our Clau­dia ad­mires the views

Practical Caravan - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy Phil Russell

‘En route to Castle­ton, the road is high, but eas­ily nav­i­ga­ble, with gor­geous views across the Dales’

Cross­ing the cat­tle grid by the Speed­well Cav­ern, you are left breath­less by the sight of the steep, nar­row road, wind­ing through what looks rather like a gi­ant, in­ter­lock­ing, craggy, green zip­per. Win­nats Pass, in Der­byshire’s High Peak District, is listed on a web­site of the world’s most dan­ger­ous roads, and I cer­tainly wasn’t go­ing to tackle it with a car­a­van in tow. I put my hands up to be­ing a bit of a wimp when it comes to driv­ing along steep, nar­row roads with few lay­bys, so I was very pleased when col­league Si­mon said he would join me for a cou­ple of days on my tour of this beau­ti­ful area. How­ever, I needn’t have wor­ried, be­cause the Ford Galaxy I was driv­ing on this tour took all the as­cents and des­cents with ease. The route to Castle­ton Car­a­van and Mo­torhome Club Site, where I was to make my base, took me along the A6187, which went a long way to pre­par­ing me for the vis­ual treats that lay ahead. The road is high, but eas­ily nav­i­ga­ble, with gor­geous views across the Dales as you pass the aptly named Sur­prise View car park on your right and start your de­scent into Hather­sage. This road goes along the won­der­fully named Hope Val­ley – such a pos­i­tive as­pi­ra­tion – past Lane­side Car­a­van Park, the vil­lage of Hope and the im­pos­ing ce­ment works. Per­haps this is not the most beau­ti­ful con­struc­tion to have in the mid­dle of a Na­tional Park, but it does pro­vide lo­cal em­ploy­ment. The Club site is on the right; do try not to miss it, oth­er­wise you have to ne­go­ti­ate a pair of chal­leng­ing right an­gles on the road into Castle­ton, which should be taken with care. That said, there is a large car park next to the vis­i­tor cen­tre, so it is easy to turn around.

Not so foot­ball crazy

It’s just a half-mile walk from the site into Castle­ton, so once the Bai­ley Uni­corn Cabr­era was set­tled on a pitch, I strolled into the vil­lage for a look around and an early din­ner. Ev­ery­where was busy: there was foot­ball on the TV, Eng­land were play­ing, and it seemed ev­ery pub had a huge tele­vi­sion screen, which Si­mon would en­joy when he joined me the next day. It was the same in Ye Olde Nags Head, which had one ta­ble free be­hind a pil­lar, with no view of the TV. This suited me, but I en­joyed the lively at­mos­phere as I tucked into my fish pie. Then I walked back to the tran­quil­lity of the well-or­dered camp­site, where TVS glowed like fire­flies in the gath­er­ing dusk. Castle­ton is an at­trac­tive place, built of lime­stone taken from the sur­round­ing hills. The steep-sided val­ley of Win­nats Pass – much loved by cy­clists (are they mad?) – and the lo­cal area were carved by the ac­tion of a glacier that, ap­par­ently, cov­ered the whole of the Peak District dur­ing the Ice Age. It was

the melt­wa­ter pass­ing through the lime­stone and the ac­tion of boul­ders car­ried in sub­ter­ranean rivers that carved huge cav­erns un­der­ground and caused the for­ma­tion of one of the world’s rarest semi­precious stones, Blue John. Sev­eral shops in Castle­ton sell jew­ellery and other ar­ti­facts made from the pur­p­ley-blue and yel­low stone. I was keen to buy some­thing, but even the small­est earstuds seemed quite ex­pen­sive – later I came to un­der­stand its scarcity value.

An el­e­va­tor would be handy

Perched on a hill over­look­ing Castle­ton is Pev­eril Cas­tle. You can see the keep from the town, and the hill re­ally didn’t look that high, so to dis­cover a lit­tle more about the area’s his­tory, I de­cided to visit. “It takes 15 min­utes, maybe more, depend­ing on how many times you pause to take in the view,” the woman in the ticket of­fice told me. I’m not sure how long it took me, but I did a lot of paus­ing and puff­ing and mut­ter­ing if one of the strate­gi­cally po­si­tioned rest benches was oc­cu­pied. I made it to the top, and once my heart­beat had re­turned to nor­mal, I was able to take in the fan­tas­tic dis­tant views over Hope Val­ley. Mil­i­tary-wise, you might think this was once a great de­fen­sive fortress, but not so. It was built in the late 11th cen­tury and used as an ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­tre by Wil­liam Peverel, a favourite of Wil­liam the Con­queror, who was granted Lord­ship over the Peak District. It then be­came a Crown prop­erty and was used as a cen­tre for the For­est of the High Peak. But how­ever the place was used, it was a won­der to me how they ac­cessed it on a daily ba­sis; me­dieval folk and their horses must have been very fit. To­day, the build­ing’s re­mains are looked af­ter by English Her­itage. Deep be­low Pev­eril Cas­tle is one of the four cav­erns around Castle­ton that can be vis­ited. The Peak Cav­ern is said to have the largest cave en­trance in Bri­tain; so large that con­certs are held there. Lead min­ing was the in­dus­try here: lead has been mined in the Peak District since Ro­man times, with its zenith as an in­dus­try in the 17th and 18th cen­turies, when there were 25,000 mi­ne­shafts, ac­cord­ing to the Peak District Mines His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety.

Jour­ney down un­der

You can buy a joint ticket for both Peak and Speed­well Cav­erns, which I should have vis­ited, be­cause much of the tour is by boat. But hav­ing seen pho­tos on the in­ter­net, I think claus­tro­pho­bia might have set in. In­stead, I opted to visit the Blue John Cav­ern. By this time, Si­mon had joined me, although he de­cided against go­ing un­der­ground. Here, we are talk­ing steps: steep, some­times wet steps, a cou­ple of hun­dred of them go­ing down and then com­ing back up. It’s a chal­lenge, so if you have weak knees, stiff hips or a dicky heart, you might want

‘Pev­eril Cas­tle is perched high on a hill over­look­ing Castle­ton, with fan­tas­tic views across Hope Val­ley’

‘Blue John, a rare type of fluorspar, is only found in Treak Cliff, and there are only two mines pro­duc­ing it’

to con­tent your­self with view­ing the trea­sures from the min­ing ac­tiv­ity in the gift shop. It was min­ers in search of lead in the 18th cen­tury who came across seams of pur­p­ley-blue and yel­low fluorspar. French crafts­men were brought in, more ex­pe­ri­enced at deal­ing with gem­stones and, ac­cord­ing to some, it is their de­scrip­tion of the fluorspar as ‘bleu-jaune’ that gave the stone its name. The first cav­ern has some ex­am­ples of the min­ing equip­ment used, but it’s the ac­cess route that the min­ers had to take down the shafts that amazes. Blue John is only found in this hill, Treak Cliff, and there are just two mines pro­duc­ing it. This par­tic­u­lar mine bears eight of the 14 seams. The cav­erns are only open to the pub­lic in the sum­mer months; in win­ter, our guide is a miner and he told us they ex­tract half a tonne of the stone a year. He fore­casted that the seams would run out in 20 years.

Six-foot sta­lac­tites

In one cav­ern, our guide pointed out a cur­tain sta­lac­tite, which looked pretty in­signif­i­cant from where we were stand­ing, but was about six feet long – it helped to get a mea­sure of the size of the cav­ern. In an­other, he played his torch­light over a huge rock that was be­ing held in po­si­tion at just three points. Thank good­ness the area is not prone to earth­quakes! It was a re­lief to get out into the day­light. Op­po­site the cav­ern en­trance is Mam Tor, which is pop­u­lar with walk­ers. The far-reach­ing views from here are breath­tak­ing, so do bring your hik­ing boots. While I had been un­der­ground, Si­mon had been ex­plor­ing the collapsed A625 road above ground, caused by the un­sta­ble east side of the Tor, ap­par­ently also known as the Shiv­er­ing Moun­tain. We climbed into the Ford and drove down past Bar­ber Booth and Edale, end­ing in Hope Vil­lage, where we stopped for a snack in the Old Hall Restau­rant. For our evening meal, we de­cided to try a dif­fer­ent pub in Castle­ton – one not show­ing foot­ball. A walk down Cas­tle Street re­vealed a charm­ing tri­an­gu­lar Mar­ket Place, com­pris­ing a small green with a large tree and a war memo­rial, plus a shop that sells just about ev­ery­thing. On Cas­tle Street, we found The Ge­orge pub, where we both chose the home-made steak and ale pie – it was pretty good!

Low wa­ter and low fly­ing

The birds rise early in these parts and there­fore I did, too. To­day we were ex­plor­ing a dif­fer­ent part of the area’s his­tory, at the trio of reser­voirs nearby. How­den, Der­went and the Y-shaped Lady­bower Reser­voirs in the Der­went Val­ley are fa­mous for pro­vid­ing the prac­tice runs for the WWII Dam­buster raids on the dams of Ger­many – last year marked the 75th an­niver­sary. There are a cou­ple of park­ing spots along the road and a Vis­i­tor Cen­tre, which has a pay and dis­play car park.

Park here and walk to the Der­went Dam with its two tow­ers, where you can read about how the dam was used by the RAF pi­lots to prac­tise low fly­ing. The Der­went Reser­voir took 12 years to build and the Lady­bower Reser­voir, built in the 1930s and ’40s, took two years to fill. We were sur­prised by how low the level of wa­ter was in the dams, but there was no sign of the vil­lages lost to the flood­ing. The reser­voirs were con­structed to sup­ply the cities of the East Mid­lands, and to­day are great for bird­watch­ing.

Bakewell for the pud­ding

We wanted to visit the towns of Bux­ton and Bakewell, and de­cided to drive a cir­cu­lar route that would take in first Bakewell and then Bux­ton. In Bakewell, we parked at the show­ground on Agri­cul­tural Way. I crossed the bridge and strolled by the River Wye, pick­ing up a beau­ti­ful bunch of sweet­peas be­ing sold from some­one’s back gar­den. Then I went in search of the fa­mous Bakewell Pud­ding shop and bought a slice of Bakewell tart. The recipe for the pud­ding is ap­par­ently a se­cret, but there are many vari­a­tions on the in­ter­net. Bakewell’s Par­ish Church stands on a hill above the town. It’s worth a visit for the beau­ti­fully carved frag­ments of 1000-year-old An­glo-saxon stone stored in the porch and the crosses in the church­yard. In­side, I loved the 14th-cen­tury carv­ing of God­frey and Avena Fol­jambe (God­frey was Lord of the Manor of Bakewell and later, Lord Chief Jus­tice of Ire­land).

Bux­ton for the wa­ters

In Bux­ton, we parked at first in the Syl­van Car Park on Bakewell Road, but then re­lo­cated to Wa­ter Street, where we found a spot next to the Opera House that al­lowed a four-hour stay. The Opera House, de­signed by the­atre ar­chi­tect Frank Matcham, was built in 1903 and is beau­ti­ful, with gor­geous stained glass. In the 1920s, it hosted Rus­sian bal­let dancer Anna Pavlova on its stage. Next to the Opera House is the Pavil­ion, a very im­pres­sive domed glasshouse that houses an ex­otic trop­i­cal gar­den, an art cen­tre and a café. Bux­ton, a beau­ti­ful town of Ge­or­gian and Vic­to­rian ar­chi­tec­ture, has served as a spa since Ro­man times. The town is built on the site of the Shrine of St Anne and ther­mal springs, and was a place of pil­grim­age in me­dieval times. The spa ex­pe­ri­enced mixed for­tunes over the cen­turies, but be­came pop­u­lar again in the late 18th cen­tury, when the Cres­cent was built as ac­com­mo­da­tion and assem­bly rooms to pro­mote Bux­ton as a spa town to ri­val Bath. I do like Ge­or­gian ar­chi­tec­ture, but sadly the Cres­cent was un­der­go­ing ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tion and was scaf­folded and boarded up dur­ing our visit, des­tined to be­come a five-star ho­tel and spa. We stopped at the Bux­ton Pud­ding Em­po­rium, just across from the Opera House, for a bite to eat. What, I hear you ask, is the dif­fer­ence between a Bakewell and a Bux­ton pud­ding? The short an­swer is al­monds; but again, there are lots of recipes on the in­ter­net. Si­mon was re­turn­ing to Lon­don, but I opted for one more evening at the Castle­ton site. I wanted to drive home in day­light, in this spec­tac­u­lar land­scape; and I knew for sure that one day I would re­turn.


Parked up to ad­mire the view at Win­nats Pass, in Der­byshire’s High Peak District. The pass is on the list of the world’s most dan­ger­ous roads, so is not to be tack­led while tow­ing a car­a­van!

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT Castle­ton has fine lime­stone ar­chi­tec­ture. Pev­eril Cas­tle is well worth the walk up the hill. Clau­dia ven­tures into the Blue John Cav­ern. Views from Pev­eril Cas­tle are breath­tak­ing

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT Clau­dia at Der­went Reser­voir. Bux­ton bus tour. Strolling in the Pavil­ion gar­dens. Shop­ping for Bakewell pud­ding. Be­side the River Wye. Tempt­ing dis­plays at the Old Orig­i­nal Bakewell Pud­ding Shop

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