Speedwell Cavern is certainly the Peak District’s most distinctive caving experience on offer, mainly due to the fact it can only be accessed by boat. Located at the base of Castleton’s Winnats Pass hill, visitors are first required to descend 105 steps in order to reach the cave entrance, and the mind-blowing underground canal dock found within. Once boarded, the boat makes a gradual descent of over 200 metres, as it gently drifts through the complicated, now sunken, 18th century lead mining tunnels, before reaching the Bottomless Pit lake at the bottom – a cavern so big that it’s often compared to a cathedral!
An expert tour guide is present for the duration of the voyage, who will meticulously explain the lead mining history of the cavern, as you descend deeper, and deeper into the limestone hill.
Speedwell Cavern first witnessed lead mining activity in 1771, following a 14,000-pound investment from Staffordshire businessmen. The cavern already boasted an intricate underground canal system, which was utilised during construction of the mine as a carrier of spoil and ore.
The name Speedwell was given by the miners, who noticed that the water level of the canals never increased, no matter how much spoil and ore they dumped into it. The cavern’s apparent bottomless nature lead many to believe it was actually a tunnel to hell.
Unfortunately for the investors, the mines proved to be unfruitful and were eventually abandoned in 1790. Thankfully, even as early as the late 18th century, Speedwell Cavern’s profitability as a show cave became evident, as hundreds of people flocked to the site to enjoy the pleasures of its unique canal system. Queen Victoria, who was known to frequent its neighbouring show cave Peak Cavern, was recorded as being an early visitor, and even partook in the cavern’s water-based transportation.
In the early days of Speedwell’s life as a show cave, guides were forced propel the boat along using their hands, and later were noted to have ‘legged’ the boat along, meaning that they lay on their backs and kicked the boat along. The boat is now, thankfully, electric powered.
Things to do at Speedwell Cavern
The Boat Journey – Learn the full story of the failed mining endeavours that took place in Speedwell Cave, while, aptly, passing through the old mining veins in a boat. Visitors are free to alight the boat at the end of the adit and explore the dry-land show caves and caverns, while marvelling at the stalagmites and fluorspar veins. The eerie 490-foot deep lake, known as the Bottomless Pit, is found at deepest part of the tunnel and will surely fascinate all.
Speedwell Cavern Gift Shop – The onsite giftshop offers a wide selection of unique mementos and souvenirs, many of which involve the Peak District exclusive Blue John gemstone.
How to get There
By Car – If travelling from Sheffield, take the A625, then head through Hope on the A6187 which eventually leads to Castleton. Follow the road towards Winnats Pass, which will appear on the left-hand side.
Postcode for Satnav – S33 8WA
Car Park – There is a 40-space carpark at the entrance of Speedwell Cavern, which charges £4.
Good to Know
– Due to current coronavirus restrictions, tickets must be booked in advance.
– Speedwell Cavern can be subject to flooding during particularly heavy rainfall. If the weather is, or has been, particularly bad around your planned time of visit, it would be best to phone them to double check if the cavern is still open.
– 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.
– Dogs are welcome on the boat.
– Unfortunately, due to the narrow steps that need to be descended, there is no disabled access at Speedwell Cavern.
– The cavern can be quite chilly during the winter months – be sure to dress appropriately if visiting during this time.
Monday – Sunday 10.00am – 4.00pm
Group Size Price per person
1-3 people £17.00
4-8 people £15.00
9-14 people £13.00
15-21 people £11.00
(21 participants max) £230.00 in total.