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Castles and Caverns

Castleton is where the limestone of the White Peak and the shales and gritstone of the Dark Peak collide.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 820ft (250m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Path below Blue John Mines can be tricky in wintry conditions, a few stiles

Landscape Limestone ravines and high pastureland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 1 Dark Peak

Start/finish SK 149829

Dog friendliness Farmland - dogs should be kept on leads

Parking Main Castleton pay car park

Public toilets At car park

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1 From the car park turn left down the main street, then right along Castle Street, passing the church and the youth hostel.

2 On reaching the Market Place, turn left to Bar Gate, where a signpost points to Cavedale. Through a gate, the path enters the limestone gorge with the ruined keep of Peveril Castle perched on the cliffs to the right.

3 As you gain height the gorge shallows. Go over a stile in the dry-stone wall on the right, and follow the well-defined track across high pastureland. It passes through a gate in another wall before being joined by a path that has descended the grassy hillside on the right. The track divides soon after the junction. Take the left fork, which climbs uphill, slightly away from the wall on the right to the top corner of the field. Go through the gate here and follow a short stretch of walled track to a crossroads of routes near the old Hazard Mine.

4 Turn right beyond the gate here along a stony walled lane, which swings right to reach the B6061 near Oxlow House farm. Take the path across the road to the disused quarry on Windy Knoll.

5 At the quarry turn right on a footpath to the B road. After turning left to the next junction, take the old Mam Tor Road (straight ahead).

6 After 400yds (366m) turn right down the tarmac approach road to the Blue John Caves, then left by the ticket office. Cross the stile in the fence and trace the path as it crosses several fields. Beyond a stile the path arcs to the right, traversing the now precipitous grassy hillslopes. It passes the Treak Cliff Cavern ticket office. Go left down the concrete steps by the ticket office, then right on a concrete path with handrails.

7 Just before reaching the road, go over a step-stile on the right and follow a narrow cross-field path by a collapsed wall. On the approach to Speedwell Cavern the path becomes indistinct, but there's an obvious stile straight ahead which will take you out onto the Winnats road.

8 A path on the far side of the road takes the route through the National Trust's Longcliff Estate. It roughly follows the line of a wall and veers left beneath the hillslopes of Cow Low to reach Goosehill Hall. Here, follow Goosehill (a lane), back into Castleton. Beyond Goosehill Bridge, turn left down a surfaced streamside path back to the car park.

Castleton is the last settlement before the Hope Valley narrows and squeezes into the rocky ravine of Winnats. It's a bustling tourist town with a history evident back to Norman times, and a geology that has been responsible for many of its successes and most of its failures. At Castleton the shales and gritstone of the Dark Peak and the limestone plateaux of the White Peak meet. Here countless generations of miners have dug their shafts and enlarged the natural caves which riddle the bedrock in search of ore. Here too, they built an ambitious road that eventually succumbed to the landslides of Mam Tor, 'the Shivering Mountain'.

The castle keep is perched high upon an outcrop of limestone. It's one of the earliest stone-built castles in the country, built shortly after the Norman Conquest by William Peveril, William the Conqueror's illegitimate son.

The entrance to Cavedale is narrow and dramatic. One minute you're in the village square, the next you've turned the corner and entered an awesome limestone ravine. Geologists used to think Cavedale was a collapsed cavern, but current thinking places it as a valley carved by glaciers of the last Ice Age.

A little limestone path takes you through the ravine, climbing past cave entrances and over the tops of a wide system of subterranean passages, including those of the nearby Peak Cavern. The valley shallows and the next stretch of the journey is over high green fields enclosed by dry-stone walls. Mam Tor, the Shivering Mountain, dominates the view ahead and soon you look down on the crumbling tarmac of the ill-fated road, and the huge shale landslides that have plagued the valley for centuries.

The first Castleton cavern of the day is the Blue John Mine, high on the side of Mam Tor. It takes its name from the purple-blue fluospar, unique to Castleton. The floodlights of the chambers show off the old river galleries with crystalline waterfalls, and a fascinating array of stalagmites and stalactites.

Beyond the Blue John Mine a narrow path rakes across the steep limestone-studded slopes past Treak Cliff Cavern to the Speedwell Cavern, at the foot of the Winnats Pass. If you like boat trips, a visit to this cavern is a must. Here, lead miners excavated a level into the hill, through which they built a subterranean canal, 547yds (500m) long. This took them eleven years, but low yields and high costs forced the early closure of the mine. The fascinating boat trip takes you down the canal to a landing stage just short of the 'Bottomless Pit', named because the spoil thrown in by miners made no impression on its depth.

The last stretch takes you across the National Trust's Longcliffe Estate. Before retreating to Castleton, take one last look back up the valley, and across the limestone that was once a coral reef in a tropical lagoon.

What to look for

Treak Cliff cavern is one of the best places to see fossils. In the sedimentary limestone you can study the remains of sea creatures that accumulated in the bed of a tropical sea some 320 million years ago.

Where to eat and drink

To complete your round up of all the local places containing the word 'castle', try the 17th-century Castle in Castle Street.

While you're there

Besides the caverns seen en route, try and make time for Peveril Castle, now looked after by English Heritage. Besides having a well-preserved Norman keep it offers wonderful views up Cavedale and over the village.

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