Castleton Caves & Caverns
...Blue John Cavern, Speedwell Cavern & more
The picture-postcard village of Castleton is arguably the most famous settlement in the Peak District. Named in honour of Peveril Castle - the ruins of which still stand tall high above the village - and overlooked by the lofty peak of Mam Tor, you could be forgiven for thinking your gaze should be fixed permanently upwards. Castleton’s main attractions, however, are dark, damp and deep, deep down.
The village is home to a quartet of show caves – Peak Cavern, Speedwell Cavern, Blue John Cavern, and Treak Cliff Cavern – which are open to the public for supervised tours, and remain as popular as ever.
The Devil's Arse! Peak Cavern
The cave nearest to Castleton village centre is Peak Cavern, which is also - somewhat amusingly - known as The Devil’s Arse. Your guide will doubtless reveal why! Peak Cavern’s impressive entrance is the largest natural cave entrance in the British Isles. Peak Cavern is the only entirely natural cave of the four.
Guided tours of Peak Cavern run every hour, every day, from April to October and at weekends every hour between November and March. The tour itself takes around an hour. Despite being a rather unusual concert venue, the Great Cave’s spectacular acoustics lends itself perfectly to musical performance. A series of special events such as Christmas Carol concerts, Murder Mystery Evenings and Halloween events feature at Peak Cavern through the year. The Tideswell Male Voice Choir also regularly performs here.
And in 2008, critically-acclaimed Sheffield crooner Richard Hawley played an intimate, one-off gig inside the Devil’s Arse. The show was very well received, the splendid acoustics of the cave an ideal venue for Hawley’s reverb and tremolo-infused 50’s influenced pop.
Speedwell Cavern is just to the west of Castleton village, lying at the foot of Winnat’s Pass. From the almost hidden entrance, a descent of 105 steps takes you down to an artificial tunnel filled with water. The ensuing boat ride makes Speedwell unique among British show caves. At one time the boat was propelled by the guide pushing gamely along the walls on either side. More reassuringly, today the boats are powered by an electric motor.
Once aboard, approximately 200 metres underground, you glide serenely through the workings of a 200 year old lead mine as your guide recounts the story of the mine - which ultimately opens into a network of underground rivers and natural caves.
Once alighted from the boat, you make your way into the cave where you will see thestalactites, stalagmitesand the so-called 'Bottomless Pit'. With a name like that it’s not difficult to envisage. This huge, imposing natural underground lake is so high that you can’t 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 discernible impression.
The now famous Titan cave was discovered in the Speedwell cave network in 1999, and revealed to the public in 2006. This cave is the tallest in Britain at 145m high and lies around 500m to the south of the Bottomless Pit subterranean lake at Speedwell.
Speedwell is open daily and all year round, with tours taking place at regular intervals. The cavern is open between 10am-5pm, with the last tour commencing at 4pm every day. The tour lasts for around 45 minutes.
Treak Cliff Cavern
Treak Cliff Cavern is situated just outside Castleton village, en-route to Mam Tor, and is most noted for its spectacular deposits of the beautiful Blue John Stone which has been mined here for generations. One of Britain's most beautiful natural stones, it is still regularly mined in Treak Cliff Cavern, only from areas not seen by visitors, and is crafted into jewellery, ornaments and other decorative trinkets.
The Gift Shop at Treak Cliff sells a wide variety of Blue John Stone jewellery and ornaments, and what better way to cap off your visit here than to pick up a nice piece of Blue John, and admire it as you slurp a refreshing cup of tea or coffee, made using water collected from the cavern itself.
Treak Cliff Cavern is open daily from 10am, all year round.
Blue John Cavern: The Mining of Blue John Stone
Last but not least of the cavernous quartet is the Blue John Cavern, which is just beyond the nearby Treak Cliff Cavern. Blue John Stone – which is Britain’s rarest mineral - has been mined here for hundreds of years and this beautiful mineral is still mined here today, out of tourist hours. The Blue John Cavern is home to eight out of fourteen known varieties of Blue John Stone.
Blue John Cavern is open all year round, 9.30am to 5.30pm in summer and 9.30 until dusk in winter.
Last Updated: 15 Jun 2015