FOUR CAVERNS TRAIL
From CASTLETON 10 km/6¼ miles 3½ hours
Via Mam Tor and Hollins Cross 11km/7 miles 4 hours
PARK: (GR 149830)The main village pay & display car park has public conveniences and the fascinating Castleton Centre information facility, well worth investigating ahead of a walk. There is also free verge parking on the A625 road leading out of the village towards the Winnats (GR 147828). In fact there are several formal and informal car parks dotted along this walk above the Winnats, notably, of the former kind, linked to the show caves of Speedwell Cavern, Blue John Mine and Treak Cliff Cavern as too a car park below Mam Nick for Mam Tor. So one could join or start this walk from any one of several points, but a vale base is always the more satisfying.
After-walk Refreshment: Castleton is well-blessed with a choice of tea rooms and six hotels enough to stem the thirst and charge the appetite of the walker.
Castleton owes its existence to the Royal Forest of Peak established soon after the Norman Conquest and presided over by William de Peveril from his bastion above Peak Cavern. The setting is almost surreal, a stronghold poised between a ‘lost valley’, Cave Dale and the huge gaping cliff-girdled cavern. The walker is entreated to explore both the immediate vicinity of the ‘town’ and the broad tracts beyond, where centuries of lead mining have left their mark across the early Medieval hunting moor. The route tracks back over the highest part of the limestone plateau to visit either the summit of Mam Tor, the brink of Winnats Pass, ‘portals where the wind rushes’ or simply complete the round via Blue John, Treak Cliff and Speedwell Caverns, source of the beautiful fluorspar (banded purple, blue and white) which is fashioned by local craftsmen into delightful jewellery and ornamentation. The walk leads back into Castleton with the opportunity to inspect both Peak Cavern and Peveril Castle. Wow, what a thriller.
Castleton is no ordinary White Peak village as the summer holiday throngs confirm, for while the community, in common with numerous upland neighbours, belongs solidly to the local limestone country vernacular tradition, it possesses a further subterranean dimension that sustains its tourist appeal. From this setting we may witness the dramatic landscape fusion of the Mam Tor sandstones with the ancient mountain limestones of Treak Cliff, the Winnats Pass and the reef limestone bluff upon which stands Peveril Castle dominating the village.
The village has mercifully grown little beyond the town ditch of its Norman foundation, but has continued to serve important roles throughout its history. William the Conqueror installed William Peveril here as his bailiff for the Royal Forest of the Peak with the particular function to protect valuable lead mining and hunting interests. In the Roman period the Navio fort had maintained a similar watching brief and it is interesting that bricks from that site have been identified incorporated into the fabric of Peveril’s curtain wall. The keep was erected by Henry II in 1176, twenty years after the Peveril estates had been confiscated. The castle is Derbyshire’s finest Norman stronghold and is well preserved by the English Heritage (entry fee). The castle site, which might have had Iron Age occupation, has the natural moat of Cave Dale to the east, a sanctuary wherein both New Stone Age and Bronze Age artefacts have been discovered. West of the castle the moat is equally emphatic, a sheer wall of reef limestone making an imposing façade above the gaping entrance to Peak Cavern. Before the days of the genteel Victorian ‘tourist’ it bore a less than flattering descriptive name the Devil’s Arse. In more recent centuries gipsy clans gathered here. The Cavern entrance was once used as a rope-walk the dank air being beneficial to the binding process (show cave with entry fee). The Peakshole Water which rises from the Russet Well and from the Cavern resurgence can be glimpsed on part of its subterranean journey within the famous Speedwell Cavern, a cave system which became available to public view subsequent to a disastrous lead mining venture which necessitated the cutting of an underground canal (entry fee).
The Castleton Centre
Cave Dale from Peveril Castle keep
Peveril Castle keep from Cave Dale
Win Hill from the top of Cave Dale
Heading towards Mam Tor from the highest part of the White Peak plateau
The Shivering Mountain landslipped face of Mam Tor
The Winnats Pass from the brink high above the road
View from above Treak Cliff to Castleton (in shadow) and the Pindale concrete works chimney
The Winnats Pass looking to the Devil's Chimney