Matlock and Matlock Bath visitor guide
Illuminations, ice-cream and more...
With a wealth of attractions, excellent accommodation, restaurants, fish and chips shops, amusement arcades, classic high-level walks, family adventure parks and even a cable car service - Matlock & Matlock Bath are certain to keep you entertained! Let's Stay PEAK DISTRICT explores this Derbyshire tourist mecca...
GETTING TO MATLOCK
From M1 (south): take junction 28, then A38 to Alfreton. At major roundabout, take 3rd exit (A61 north), then next left (A615) towards South Wingfield. Remain on A615 through Wessington and Tansley to Matlock.
From M1 (north): take junction 29, then A617 to Chesterfield. Take first exit at roundabout (A61, Derby Road). At traffic lights turn right on to St Augustine’s Road/Whitecotes Lane and join A632; following it to Matlock.
From Manchester: take the A6 to Buxton, continue on A6 through Bakewell to Matlock.
From Stoke-on-Trent: take the A52 towards Ashbourne, head briefly north (A515) towards Buxton, then turn right on to The Green Road towards Kniveton, Knockerdown and Carsington. Continue on this road to Cromford then, at T-junction, turn left on A6 towards Matlock.
By Bus: Various bus services pass through Matlock including the number 17, Chesterfield – Ashbourne (summer Sundays); 140 from Alfreton and Ripley; 213, Wirksworth – Sheffield/Meadowhall.
By Rail: Central trains run a regular service from Derby to Matlock.
Airport: The nearest airports are Manchester, Robin Hood Doncaster, Birmingham or Nottingham East Midlands.
BRIEF HISTORY OF MATLOCK
Renowned as a mecca for bikers, a land-locked ‘seaside’ resort and the Peak District’s answer to the Alps, Matlock Bath has long been a prominent feature on the tourist map. But the riverside attractions are only a small part of this once-thriving spa town.
Matlock itself grew up as a lead mining settlement as far back as Roman times, and a recognized crossing point over the River Derwent. Its four-arched bridge – made famous by Joseph Turner’s painting The Bridge at Matlock – was built in the 1400s.
Thermal springs, at a constant 20 degrees Celcius, were discovered in the 17th century, but it was not until 200 years later that they were harnessed to make Matlock’s name as a fashionable Victorian retreat and bustling hydrotherapy centre.
A new turnpike road made the town accessible in the early 1800s and it soon earned a reputation as holiday retreat to the gentry. The arrival of the railway some 20 years later opened it up to ordinary people and at the height of its popularity there were more than 20 hydros in operation.
The man behind this change in fortune was John Smedley. He not only built the town’s first grand hotel and hydro, but was also responsible for Riber Castle, a hilltop fortress which is an accepted landmark, silhouetted against the skyline for miles around.
Both have undergone something of a reversal since their heyday: the hydro operated until the 1950s but has now become the headquarters of Derbyshire County Council. Riber Castle was home to Smedley’s wife for many years but has since served a variety of purposes, from boys’ school to zoo, and is now destined to become apartments.
Matlock – until relatively recently a collection of hamlets – has changed in many respects since commerce took its toll. The town itself retains its urban character with a range of shops and bars spiraling out from Crown Square.
Just over the bridge is the station home of Peak Rail, once a well-used line but now reliant on enthusiasts who run regular passenger-carrying steam trains between Matlock and Rowsley.
Further up the hill, at Matlock Bank, is St Giles’ Parish Church, parts of which date back to medieval times.
Meanwhile, a mile down river, Matlock Bath has taken on a different guise altogether, evolving into its accepted role as Derbyshire-on-sea and favourite Sunday haunt of the motorbiking fraternity.
Follow the road round picturesque Artists’ Corner and you will be confronted by the towering cliffs of High Tor, teeming with climbers each weekend and strung with precarious-looking cable cars en route to the Heights of Abraham on the opposite side of the gorge. Below them, the river is a playground for canoeists and boaters, messing about on the river in traditional English style.
The main street of Matlock Bath is its promenade, lined with gift shops, amusement arcades and fish-and-chip cafes. It even has its own annual illuminations festival.
Here too are the typical tourist attractions: not just the 21st century theme parks, but a petrifying well, that was once a favourite with Victorian trippers; the Peak District Mining Museum, tracing the history of an industry; and an aquarium, once part of the Victorian spa, whose spring-fed waters are now home to piranhas and terrapins.
GEOGRAPHY OF MATLOCK
Matlock and its surrounding townships are built on the banks of the River Derwent.
The whole area is dominated by the imposing limestone cliffs of High Tor and the Heights of Abraham, which tower 120 metres above the gorge.
The bedrock was laid down 330 million years ago, during the Carboniferous period, when both Matlock and Matlock would have been underwater.
Over the years it has played a crucial part in Matlock’s economy, initially providing stone which was quarried, and fluorite and lead ore which was mined. Now it has a pivotal role in securing the area’s future, serving as the foundation for its popularity as a tourist resort.
ATTRACTIONS IN MATLOCK
Hall Leys Park: currently undergoing restoration, is a popular haven for visitors and locals alike. Strung out along the banks of the Derwent, it was created on fields given to the town in 1898 by local benefactor Henry Knowles.
The park offers traditional recreations such as tennis, a miniature railway, boating lake and bandstand as well as innovations including a skate park and a wet-and-dry playground.
Peak Rail: offering nostalgic steam and diesel train rides along four miles of track between Matlock and Rowsley. Special events take place throughout the year, operated by volunteers. Palatine steam train restaurant also available for Sunday lunch, afternoon tea, or dinner.
Whistlestop Countryside Centre: based at Matlock Bath station and run by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. It includes a wildlife garden, learning areas, exhibition, family activities and gift shop.
Matlock Bath Aquarium: fed by a thermal spring, vast tanks display British and tropical freshwater species in what was the Matlock Bath Hydro. Also features the Petrifying Well, where Victorian trippers left objects which were gradually turned to stone’ the Hologram Gallery, a collection of 3D pictures produced by laser technology; and the Gemstone and Fossil Collection.
Heights of Abraham: once a Regency pleasure garden, now reached by cable car from the station at Matlock Bath. It incorporates a variety of attractions in 60 acres of wooded hillside. Two show caverns – the Masson and the Rutland – offer an in-depth (literally!) look at the life of a lead miner. There are woodland walks, videos, exhibitions, a café and, for dare-devils, an adventure play area.
Gulliver’s Kingdom: a family theme park aimed at younger children, with fairground rides, roller coasters, log flumes and fantasy attractions on the hillside above Matlock Bath.
Peak District Mining Museum: based in Matlock Bath’s domed pavilion, the museum offers a glimpse of the miner’s world. Climbing shafts, hazard tunnel, working models and a slide show offer a practical look at lead mining and visitors can explore the Temple Mine for a first-hand experience of the industry.
Masson Mills Working Textile Museum – Sir Richard Arkwright’s showpiece mills are now a tribute to his work, housing a unique collection of historic textile machinery and memorabilia.
EVENTS IN MATLOCK
Farmer’s Markets are held in the Imperial Rooms, Matlock, on the third Saturday of each month, 9am-2pm. An average of 14 stalls offer a range of local foods, produce and crafts.
Matlock Bath Illuminations were first held to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee and now take place each year throughout September and October. At dusk the river bank is transformed into a magical wonderland of coloured lights and illuminated displays. Each weekend the Venetian Nights take to the water with a carnival procession of ‘floats’, or boats decked out in fairy lights; concluding with a clifftop fireworks display.
Festival of Transport – the tenth annual event takes place at Rally Fields, Darley Dale, on Saturday and Sunday, September 8-9, in aid of Matlock Mencap. More than 800 vehicles will be on show alongside stalls, a craft fair, arena entertainment and refreshments.
Matlock Live! Is an annual celebration of the performing and visual arts. Supported by the Arts Council, it takes place during June at various locations around the town.
Boxing Day raft race – this unique event takes place each December 26 and is popular spectacle for both onlookers and participants. Teams, wearing fancy dress, set out to paddle along the river from Cawdor Quarry to Cromford Meadows.
ACTIVITIES IN MATLOCK
Matlock is a popular centre for various outdoor pursuits, particularly along the River Derwent at High Tor.
Climbing: the limestone crag of High Tor poses a formidable challenge to rock climbers. Tuition is available through numerous clubs and centre including locally-based Acclimbatize: 01629 820268.
Canoeing: Matlock Canoe Club has a permanent floodlit slalom course on the River Derwent. It comprises 35 gates and is classified as a grade 2 rapid. Details: www.matlockcanoeclub.co.uk
Fishing: The River Derwent at Matlock Bath is a good site for anglers. Grayling, trout, chub and barbel can all be had. No maggots until June 16. Day tickets are available from Bob Price newsagents (01629 582560).
Walking: The clifftops and woodlands surrounding Matlock and Matlock Bath make excellent walking territory – and what they lack in distance, they make up for in ascent! A walking festival is being organised in April and May, with input from local company Simply Walk – more details 01629 733269.
Cycling: This area is popular with cyclists – Matlock Cycling Club is one of the country’s premier groups, with a busy programme of events, and Stanley Fearn’s cycle shop is renowned. For those without their own bike, the nearest hire centre is at Middleton Top Visitor Centre (01629 823204).
Golf: Matlock Golf Club - 01629 582191. Super moorland course with great views, several demanding par 4s and the best selection of short holes in Derbyshire. £25 per round mid-week / £30 day. Weekends with members only.
Motorbikes: Matlock Bath, with its twisty lanes and hills is a well-established mecca for bikers, with literally dozens of leather-clad riders gathering each Sunday to see and be seen. By mid-afternoon gleaming machines of all shapes are lined up along the main road – quite a spectacle for fanatics and spectators alike.
WINING AND DINING IN MATLOCK
There’s no shortage of places to eat and drink in Matlock, no matter what your preference.
From one end of the town, at Matlock Green, to the other, at Matlock Bath, there’s a string of pubs, cafes and restaurants.
To make the most of the views, try the Horseshoe Inn at Matlock Green - a family-friendly pub with good food and stunning views; the Duke of Wellington, high above the town in Wellington Street; or the 18th century White Lion just outside the town at Starkholmes, above the Heights of Abraham cable cars.
In the town itself there are any number of bars and cafes: in Dale Road choose from the recently refurbished Harvey’s, the trendy Monk, Rochelle’s wine bar, the Riverside and the popular Rendezvous, as well as the Black Cat with its al fresco tables in The Courtyard or Frankies café bar in Causeway Lane.
Moving on to Matlock Bath, you’ll come across the Boat House, the County & Station, and the Midland Hotel plus any number of cafes strung out along the promenade.
Restaurants abound. Recommended are G&T’s at Matlock Bridge. In Matlock Bath try Hodgkinson’s Hotel, near the Pavilion, or the recently refitted Riva @ Rose Cottage.
For those who prefer something more cosmopolitan, choices range from the Lemongrass Vietnamese restaurant in Firs Parade, the Maazi restaurant in the old Ritz cinema, the Momtaz in Crown Square and the Balti House at the station end of Matlock Bath.
Fish-and-chip fans will be in their element – there’s the upmarket fish bar in the town centre and a whole host of seaside-style chippies in Matlock Bath.
SHOPPING IN MATLOCK
A joy to anyone who appreciates a good old-fashioned shopping street, almost devoid of the usual high street chains. Highlights include Matlock Antiques Centre, an Aladdin’s cave of treasures, including railwayana, tools and textiles alongside the more usual china and furniture.
Hambridge’s butcher offers that all-too-elusive old-fashioned service, with sides of lamb hanging in the window, local-bred meat, barn-reared chicken and even gluten-free sausages. Foodies will also enjoy the Derbyshire Larder and Birds the confectioners.
Old family businesses such as Shawe’s toys and gifts and Haydn Stanley furniture sit alongside more modern innovations like House of Fun fancy dress and party shop, and 100% skate and music.
Monthly farmers’ markets take place at the Imperial Rooms and the old market still occupies its regular place at the bus station, with a range of fruit, veg and tat.
Down in Matlock Bath the gift shops and amusement arcades mingle with gems such as Simon Dunn’s handmade chocolates, Morris furniture (in the old chapel), Peach motorcycle specialists and Equatorial fair trade clothing.
Just down the road – and not to be missed – is the Masson Mills shopping centre. Four floors of bargains, ranging from homeware, books, health foods and whisky, to the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, catalogue clearance lines and Pavers shoes.
The ever-popular towns of Matlock and Matlock Bath have a wide range of holiday accommodation choices. Choose from the large selection of b&bs, holiday cottages, pubs, hotels and campsites in Matlock and the surrounding area. See the full list of Matlock & Matlock Bath accommodation.
NEARBY TOWNS AND ATTRACTIONS
Matlock is a good base from which to reach numerous beauty spots and tourist attractions including:
- Arkwright Mill at Cromford
- High Peak Trail and Cromford Canal
- Lea Rhododendron Gardens
- Red House Stables working carriage museum, Darley Dale
- Caudwell’s Mill and Craft Centre, Rowsley
- Peak Outlet shopping village, Rowsley
- Monsal Head and viaduct
- Crooked Spire at Chesterfield
- American Adventure theme park, Ilkeston
- Belper North Mill and the River Gardens
- Carsington Water visitor centre
- Crich Tramway Museum
- Chatsworth House and Farm Shop
- Haddon Hall
- The plague village of Eyam
- Poole’s Cavern, Buxton
- Buxton Museum and Art Gallery
- Meadowhall Shopping Centre, Sheffield
- Sheffield Museums and Art Galleries
- Botanical Gardens, Sheffield
Tourist information Centres:
Crown Square, Matlock (01629) 583388
The Pavilion, Matlock Bath (01629) 55082
Matlock car parks at Bank Road, Matlock Station and Dale Road in Matlock; plenty of free on-street parking for up to an hour in the town centre.
Matlock Bath car parks off the main A6, at the railway station and Temple Walk; limited on-street parking, especially for motorbikes!
Matlock: bus station in Bakewell Road, and both ends of Hall Leys Park.
Matlock Bath: North Parade adjoining Midland Hotel and A6 car park.
Holy Trinity evangelical church, Matlock Bath 01629 583924
St Giles’ C of E, Church Street, Matlock 01629 582199
Matlock Methodist and United Reformed Church, Oak Road 01629 55809
All Saints’ Church, Smedley Street, Matlock 01629 583906
Dales Christian Centre, Chesterfield Road, Matlock 01629 55755
Our Lady & St Joseph RC, St Joseph Street, Matlock 01629 582804
Cavendish Private Hire 01629 583119
JB’s Taxis 01629 583535
Martin’s Taxis 01629 826787
Matlock Taxis 01629 584195
Lime Grove Medical Centre, Lime Grove Walk 01629 581586
The Surgery, 8 Imperial Road 01629 583465
© Let's Stay Peak District
Last Updated: 15 Jun 2015