Blue John Caves and Cave Dale, Castleton

Continuing my brief time away in Derbyshire, I decided to visit the Blue John Caves at Castleton. It is many years since I have ventured down under the ground, possibly thirty odd years ago, as I remember writing a children’s story about it at the time and my young son, Matthew, now with a child of his own, illustrating it. I still have his pictures tucked away in a drawer at home.

I was there early, so there was no queue. I paid my money, requesting an OAP ticket, which prompted the seller to ask me if I could manage the 245 steps down and up! As it was I managed them better than some of the younger people.

The caves are well lit, and the steps are a manageable height. There is a handrail all the way down, which the guide insists is used all the time, and photographs are only permitted when we stop. Some of the caverns are huge, others only moderately large, and you have to remember that the miners did not have the luxury of neat steps to negotiate and then they had equipment to lug up and down as well.

The mineral called Blue John, is a form of fluorite, a semi-precious mineral, and takes its name from its purple/ blue colour, unique to the two caverns here in Derbyshire (this one and Treak Cavern a mile away), and only found in China otherwise. It is still mined today, in very small quantities, and you can expect to pay quite a lot of money for blue John jewellery. Castleton has many jewellers selling the same.

Then, of course, it was raining, so what else to do but get wet and walk up another dale. This was after I had finished shopping.

Cave Dale is situated in the heart of Castleton itself and leads back up between the limestone hills. It is about a mile long and it is a glorious dale, and leads you to the top of the range of hills, from which you can get splendid views for a climb of about 500ft, so just a bit more than climbing from sea level to Milner Tower in Port Erin. It is a very gentle, grassy, stony climb, so do be careful on the rocks as limestone is so very slippery when wet.

On the right you can see Peveril Castle towering above you. This is a Norman structure, and woe betide anyone trying to attack. This steep sides were an excellent protection. Below Peveril Castle is Peak Cavern, also known as Devil’s Arse, the only natural cavern in the area, and this is worth a visit. Speedwell Cavern is also excellent, and includes a boat ride.

Cavedale was initially a wet dale, but today the water flows underground. Initially carved out by glaciers, it then collapsed further, creating the narrow gorge at the start. Even two hundred years ago, there was a ‘roof’ to the entrance. So, just think, when you walk through Cavedale, you are walking through history and over the top of an extensive cave system, much of which has still to be explored.

Having reached the top, and only wanting a short walk I followed the top of the hill leading steadily down the grassy pasture to the trees close to Peveril Castle, where the path turns into a fairly steep, stony and slippery path. They views are fantastic, even in the damp, foggy air.

At the most, starting from the car park by the visitor centre this is a 3 mile walk, so an easy walk to do at any time of day, and there are many places to eat and drink when you return to Castleton, and of course, the main other Caverns to visit.