Sitting snugly in the Vale of Hope, Castleton has been on the tourist trail for centuries. Once a royal hunting getaway, it later formed part of the Victorian Grand Tour (from which the word tourism derives) – its striking setting and notorious caverns drawing the likes of Lord Byron, Turner and even Queen Victoria.
Approached via Winnats Pass, a narrow cleft surrounded by limestone pinnacles, the village sits in a bowl of hills and forms the boundary between the Peak District’s northern gritstone (Dark Peak) and southern limestone (White Peak). Mam Tor (see also page 63), known as the Shivering Mountain due to its unstable shale layers, looms to the north-west, while Peveril Castle dominates a rocky outcrop to the south.
People have called this spot home since the Iron Age – there’s even traces of Stone Age life in the nearby caves. The Romans mined the rich lead veins that run through the hills, and shortly after 1066, William the Conqueror built a castle here – now one
of the most dramatic Norman castle ruins in England.
Since then, the village has thrived on the industries of rope-, candle- and boot-making. It’s also the only place in the world where you can find Blue John stone (derived from the French bleu-jaune). So rare is this semi-precious stone, that large pieces fetch massive prices. You can buy more affordable jewellery pieces from the Castleton Gift Shop.
After exploring the outdoor gear and gift shops, follow Castle Street past St Edmund’s Church and slog up the zigzag path to Peveril Castle, where an Easter family fun trail awaits. The castle was founded by one of William the Conqueror’s most trusted knights (allegedly his illegitimate son) and at least four kings used it as a base for hunting trips afterwards.
CHAMBER OF LEGENDS
Peak Cavern, 85m (280ft) beneath the ruins, boasts the country’s largest cave entrance. Inside you’ll find an ancient village, the remains of a rope-making factory. The 200-year-old boat on your right formed part of the Victorian tour, when visitors would explore the caves by candlelight, getting piggybacks over the wet ground. It is rumoured that Byron used the low boat ride to get closer to his crush, Mary.
Legend has it the cave was once home to a group of outlaws, variously portrayed as cannibals and Devil worshippers, headed by a notorious bandit named Cock Laurel. Dramatist Ben Johnson wrote The Ballad of Cock Laurel, a play about the roguish characters for James I, in which the cannibals use human brains to make sauce.
The path ends abruptly when the ground drops away into the underground River Styx. You’ll often hear the eerie sound of water flowing beneath you; if you can’t hear it, the water level has reached the ceiling. And if you were wondering about the origin of the cave’s more vulgar name (the Devil’s Arse) – when the water drains after flooding it spirals like a plughole and emits a sound like a whoopee cushion!
Rose Cottage, Cross Street, Hope Valley S33 8WH
This cosy tea room has been running for more than a hundred years. Today it serves tasty cakes.
The George Inn
Castle Street, Castleton S33 8WG
This traditional country inn offers unparalleled views of Peveril Castle and Mam Tor.
Castleton S33 8WG
A 13th-century hall and vicarage combine in this characterful hostel in the centre of the village.
Winnats Pass, Castleton S33 8WA
Adults £8.25, children £6.25.
Castleton, Hope Valley S33 8WS
Adults £7.75, children £5.75.
Adults £4.20, children £2.10.
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