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The Peak


N our way to Castleton from Bakewell we shall pass Hathersage, Mr Shuttleworth's place, and the church should detain us for a little while. It is built in the Decorated style, and was erected in the early part of the fourteenth century. It has a very lofty and battlemented square tower, from which rises a crocketed octagonal spire, very lofty and elegant.

In the churchyard is a grave said to he that of Robin Hood's lieutenant Little John; the head and foot are marked by small upright stones a good distance apart. To verify the tradition that the tall outlaw lies here, search was made for his skeleton in 1784, and after very deep digging, a thigh bone was found which measured 29 1/2 inches. It seems likely, therefore, that Little John is really buried here.

As we draw near to Castleton two tall hills strike our eyes, and still more remark. able is the great Mam-Tor we see before us. It is called the Shivering Mountain, for its side shivers off shale, which in the distance or the dusk sounds like falling water. On the top of the Mam-Tor are the remains of an ancient entrenchment; the Tor itself is one of the gigantic portals to the high rocky hills called the Windgates or Winnats.

The view from the Mam-Tor summit is magnificent, for lofty hills and lovely dales spread around on all sides. This Tor is one of the Seven Wonders of the Peak, and is 1300 feet above the level of the valley. On the opposite side of the Winnats are the Speedwell Mine and the Blue John Mine, which form two of the most celebrated caverns in the cave-dales. Blue John Mine is noted for the beautiful fluor spar it contains, which is of the loveliest blue; one can scarcely imagine how exquisite the colour is till one sees the Blue John Vase at Chatsworth, a specimen of this wonderful spar.

Beyond the Blue John Mine is the Variegated Cavern. It is a hundred feet high, while the great cavern called "Lord Mulgrave's dining room" is a hundred and fifty feet high. These vast caves glitter with sparkling stalactites. In the rock opposite the 'l or, and half a mile nearer Castleton, is the Speedwell Mine. The entrance to this cavern was made by miners in search of lead, but after years of fruitless labour and great loss of money, it was abandoned; it has, however, shown the way to a natural cavern, which is considered one of the curiosities of the Peak. A hundred steps. or more lead to a narrow canal, along which we are ferried, through a channel hewn in the rock, and by which we enter a void of impenetrable darkness. The torch's light is feeble in this place; it cannot illumine the great obscurity, the overpowering gloom of a darkness "that may be felt." Leaving the boat, a stage, erected above the level of the water, is ascended, and we stand where above our head rises a cavern whose lofty recesses the light cannot pierce, while below is an impenetrable deep - darkness above - darkness below - darkness around us - with a tremendous sound of rushing and falling water precipitated into the abyss at our feet. It is an awful place in very deed.

The Peak cavern, called by some the Devil's Hole, is close to the village of Castleton, and not five hundred yards from the parish church; it is under the hill on which the castle stands. The approach to Peak's Hole is beautiful. The trickling stream issuing from the cavern, the perpendicular rocks on either side; the rookery among the elms, are all charmingly picturesque. The entrance to it is by a dark and gloomy recess, formed by a chasm in the rocks which rise perpendicularly on each side to a great height, and it is a steep ascent to an opening in the hill-side which resembles a Gothic arch, and is 120 feet wide and 42 high.

This natural archway is adorned by "Nature's cunning hand" with a variety of coloured stones from which drips water that petrifies.

Just inside the cavern is a rope walk; a strange place for such au industry, and there are tables near it, where pieces of spar, and small objects made of Blue John, or the other spars and petrifactions are sold. We have walked all the way by the side of a running stream, and we follow it into the cave which recedes downwards to the depth of ninety feet. The roof is of solid flat rock, with no support but that of the side walls of rock. This is the Bell House. Towards the further end of the cave this roof descends towards the water. Lights of course have been given us, and we proceed by the stream, "the river Styx" it is called, till we come to an expanse of water - a pool fourteen feet across; here the rock forms an arch, under which the visitor is conveyed in a small boat.

Beyond this water is another cavern, vast and stupendous! It is the Hall of Pluto. The rain drips down at one part, and we are in Roger's Rain House, where the water always drips. At last we reach the Devil's Wine Cellar - an awful abyss; the eye cannot penetrate its depth.

A third "water" or pool, and then the cave slopes down almost to the surface of the water, and the caves are ended.

The Great Cave is 270 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 150 high. One cavern is named after the queen, Victoria.

About four miles from Castleton is a cavern called Elden Hole, which was long believed to be bottomless. A stone falling into it is never heard stop in its bounding descent; and the Earl of Leicester - Elizabeth's Earl - was said to have had one of his men let down into it, but he returned speechless, and died soon after.

This story is very apocryphal, for just over a hundred years ago, a Mr. Lloyd went to the bottom, and returned safely. Elden Hole, therefore, is not bottomless, though very deep.

Poole's Hole is about a mile to the west of Buxton. It has been often described, and is supposed to have been named after a famous robber who was wont to hide here. Queen Mary of Scotland was allowed to visit this cave when she was at Buxton.

Castleton is a most lovely village in a fair Derbyshire dale completely shut in by mountains, having no visible outlet except by skirting the bases of the hills in the direction of the little stream that flows to the east, or by climbing the precipitous sides of the mountains that shut it in.

Dovedale, Derbyshire

"Immediately behind this village to the south is a very high and steep rock, cut off from another still higher by a very deep and narrow valley, except at a point where au extremely narrow ledge connects both hills at the very part where the rock forms a perpendicular precipitous front towards the west of nearly loo feet in height. Here in this front is the entrance to the Peak cavern, already described, and on the very edge of the precipice stand the ruins of the castle that gives its name to the valley." 1

Of these ruins only the keep and part of the outer walls remain. There have been two towers, but the keep stands on the highest and most inaccessible part of the hill.

No one knows exactly when or why Peak Castle was built; but it may have been erected by William Peverell, a natural son of Norman William, who distinguished him self at the battle of Hastings. While the Peverells held it, and about this time, a splendid tournament was held here; the victor in it was to be rewarded with the hand of a fair lady, who thought that none but the brave deserve the fair.

The story runs thus:-

Pain Peverell, Lord of Whittington, in Shropshire, had two daughters who were both beautiful maidens. The eldest was named Mallet; she was sought in marriage by many noble young knights, but she declared that she would wed no one but a knight who had proved himself pre-eminent in martial skill and courage. Her father, delighted to recognise his own spirit in his first-born, proclaimed a tournament to be held on a certain day at "Peverell's Place in the Peke," and invited all young men of noble birth to contend for the hand of the beautiful Mellet, and her dowry of Whittington Castle. The contest for so rich a prize was severe. Amongst the knights was one with a maiden shield of silver, bearing a peacock for his crest - a youthful knight, who had to win his quarterings. But he proved the bravest of the brave; he unhorsed and vanquished the field opposed to him, overthrew a knight of Burgundy and a prince of Scotland, and by his daring gallantry won Mellet's heart as well as her hand. He proved to be a Fitzwarren, and Whittington Castle passed to him.

One cannot think where the tournament could have been held; but it is said that the lists were formed on the plain near the Castle.

The Peverells only possessed the Peak for eighty years; they lost it by a crime. The William Peverell of that time was convicted in Henry II.'s reign of having poisoned Ranulph, Earl of Chester; his lands and castles were of course forfeited to the Crown, and Henry bestowed them on his youngest son John, afterwards the evil king of that name.

In 1215 the Peak Castle was held by the Barons, who were in arms against John, but William de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, took it by assault for the king, and was made governor of it. In the reign of Edward II. John, Earl of Warren, received a free grant of the castle, and of the whole forest of High Peak for his life.

In the forty-sixth year of Edward III. it was granted to his son, John of Gaunt, and now forms part of the Queen's duchy of Lancaster. The Duke of Devonshire holds it at the present day, as lessee from the Crown.

The Peak Castle was used for keeping the records of the Miners' Courts. till the time of Elizabeth, when they were removed to Tutbury. 2 An entrenchment that begins at the lower end of the valley, called the Cave, enclosed Castleton, ending at the Peak Cavern; as much of it as can now be seen is called the Town Ditch.

The churchyard at Bakewell has a very fine prospect from it; near here the Wye and the Derwent mingle their waters,- and one of the finest baronial residences in the kingdom is seen amidst embosoming woods. It is Haddon Hall.

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1. Timbs
2. Timbs.

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004