Peak Cavern is unique amongst Castleton’s many other show caves due to the fact that it has been altered minimally by human touch; besides one narrow area that was blasted to allow for easier access, the rest of the caves’ layout is of entirely natural formation.
Peak Cavern has often cited as a ‘wonder of the Peak District’ throughout history by poets and historians alike, and upon entering this grand cavern, it’s very easy to understand why. The entrance to Peak Cavern is sometimes comically – and aptly – referred to as ‘the Devil’s Arse’ and is in fact the biggest cave entrance in the whole of Britain. Gargantuan features can also be found from within Peak Cavern; the cave’s complex tunnels and chambers cover more surface area than any other show cave in the whole of the Peak District.
Peak Cavern’s alluring grandeur has inspired a great deal of folklore and mythology – most notably relating to the devil – and has been used as a setting by such writers as Arthur Conan Doyle, Lord Byron, and Daniel Defoe.
During the tour, visitors can explore the former rope-making villages which used to occupy the cavern – in a gorge situated below Peveril Castle – and marvel at the impressive selection of stalagmites throughout. Expert tour guides will detail exactly who lived in these caverns, while explaining the geological history of the cave.
Today, concerts are regularly held in Peak’s vast chambers – most noteworthy billings have included Jarvis Cocker and the Vaccines. The site has also become a popular filming location, most notably for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair.
In the early medieval period, Peak Cavern was a notorious meeting place for thieves and crooks; it was a place of refuge for infamous outlaws and vagrants, including leader of the rogues, Cock Lorel, and Giles Hather, ‘King of Gypsies’.
William Camden first referred to the cave as ‘the Devils Arse’ in his chorographical survey, Britannia, in 1586.
The cave had always been a prominent Victorian-era show cave; wood bridges were installed around this time to help visitors get around. Initially, the larger section of the cavern was only accessible via narrow tunnel – so narrow, in fact, that guests were required to lie down on a boat in order to gain access. This narrow section was blasted in 1842, mainly to accommodate a visit from Queen Victoria, and visitors no longer had to stoop thereafter.
Unlike the majority of other caverns and caves throughout the Peak District, Peak Cavern never witnessed any industrial scale mining operations during the industrial revolution, which is why it has been able to maintain its natural formation. Instead, Peak Cavern, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, was utilised as a space for the making of rope, which was to be used for lead mining purposes at nearby mines. It’s huge entrance and interior provided a dry area to work, and even a place for rope-makers to construct a small village in which to stay; a report from 1794 suggests that there was once even an onsite alehouse within the cave. With a population of around 30 people at its peak, this small community remained residents of the Peak Cavern until the end of the lead mining age in 1915 – they were in fact some of the last examples of troglodytes (Cave-dwellers) recorded in Britain.
Peak Cavern continued to be a popular tourist spot throughout the 20th century, and much of the cavern that is open to the public today was only discovered after the rope makers moved out. The Far Stump Extension was discovered in 1980, and the Titan Shaft – recognised today as Britain’s deepest rock-climbing pitch – was discovered in 1999.
Things to do in Peak Cavern
Peak Cavern Guided Tour – The Peak Cavern’s guided tours take place regularly, and last roughly one hour. An expert tour guide will lead you to the imposing cliffside, through the biggest cavern entrance in the whole of Britain, and deep into the Cavern’s tunnels and chambers. Tour guides will thoroughly run through the history of the cavern as you pass by the ancient village, traverse through such chambers as the Devil’s Cellar and the Orchestra Gallery, and marvel at the exquisite stalagmites that decorate the cavern throughout. The tour also provides the opportunity to learn how to make traditional rope.
Christmas Carol Concerts – For a highly atmospheric festive sing-along, look no further than Peak Cavern’s Carol Concert offerings. Each week of December, Peak Cavern welcomes in a different brass band to play traditional Christmas numbers, while members of staff provide the audience with mince pies and mulled wine. With the unique acoustics that the cavern boasts, there truly is no Christmas carol experience like it.
Kiosk and Gift Shop – There is a small onsite shop, which is where you’ll find hot and cold drinks, snacks, and souvenirs.
How to Get There
By Car – Castleton can be found on the A6187/A625 from Sheffield. Peak Cavern itself is only accessible on foot from Castleton and can be reached easily by following the river located in the village in the direction of Peveril Castle.
Postcode for Satnav – S33 8WS
Carpark – There is a carpark opposite the Castleton visitor centre, which is just off the A6187, that charges 2.50 for 2 hours.
Public Transport – The No. 274 bus goes to Castleton from Chesterfield, and the 272 goes from Sheffield to Castleton. Hope Railway Station is 2 miles away from Castleton.
Good to Know
– Peak Cavern is subject to flooding all year round; please check the website on the day you plan on visiting.
– Besides the light snacks available at the kiosk, there is no onsite restaurant or anywhere to buy hot meals.
– Peak Cavern is only a 22-minute walk away from Speedwell Cavern, and it is very easy to complete both caving experiences on the same day. It is possible to buy a joint discounted ticket that permits access to both Peak Cavern and Speedwell Cavern.
– The cavern can be quite chilly during the winter months – be sure to dress appropriately if visiting during this time.
Open Daily, 10.00am – 5.00pm
Last tour is 4.00pm
Adult – £9
Sixth Form – £7
Secondary School – £6
Primary School – £5