The Wonders of the Peak
...seven of them, naturally
Echoing the classic Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Seven Wonders of the Peak became an accepted itinerary for a Grand Tour of the Peak for the rich and well-to-do during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Among those who followed the trail and wrote about the Peak’s Wonders were the redoubtable traveller Celia Fiennes and the somewhat disparaging journalist Daniel Defoe.
First mention of the Peak’s Wonders appears to be by the Elizabethan historian William Camden (1551-1623) who, in his Britannia, a history of Britain published in 1586, refers to nine, not seven, of which only three were worth a mention. “Nine things that please us at the Peak we see; a Cave, a Den, a Hole, the Wonder be.”
The number of wonders was reduced to seven with the publication of Poly-Olbion by the poet Michael Drayton in 1622. Illustrated by an allegorical map, Drayton’s original Wonders were:-
- The Devil’s Arse (Peak Cavern at Castleton, which recently reverted to its ancient name)
- Poole’s Hole (Poole’s Cavern at Buxton)
- Eldon Hole (the pothole near Peak Forest)
- St Anne’s Well (Buxton)
- The Ebbing and Flowing Well (at Tideswell or Barmoor Clough)
- Sandy Hill (Mam Tor, the so-called ‘Shivering Mountain’ outside Castleton)
- Peak Forest (the Peak’s medieval hunting forest)
The next author to extol the Wonders of the Peak was Thomas Hobbes, philosopher and tutor to Cavendish children at Chatsworth, in De Mirabilibus Pecci, published in long-winded Latin verse in 1636. He substituted Chatsworth for Peak Forest, perhaps wishing to ingratiate himself with his employers.
The theme of the Seven Wonders was next taken up by Charles Cotton’s The Wonders of the Peake, published in 1681. This more popular English version was circulated widely in the surrounding towns by Cotton, joint author with Izaak Walton of the best-selling Compleat Angler 28 years before. It became perhaps the first tourist guidebook to the Peak District, and was instrumental in popularising the place.
It is interesting to note that all the ancient Wonders of the Peak are situated on limestone except for Mam Tor, which is on the boundary between the limestone of the White Peak and the grits and shale of the Dark Peak. Perhaps that it is a reflection on ancient and modern tastes in scenery, because a modern list would probably include the Dark Peak’s Kinder Downfall and Alport Castles, both of which were strictly off-limits to 18th century travellers.
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Last Updated: 15 Jun 2015