North of the Wall…

 

My home is close to the Peak District, so a drive to the north coast of Scotland is a long undertaking.

Last week I made the trip up to the Scottish coast road that runs across the top of our nation. It was one of the final trips I needed to make for a forthcoming book about the best things to do around the entire coast of the UK.

I’d long-planned going to this far-flung part of Scotland, and had heard great things about Balnakeil and Smoo Cave. Originally I wanted to include Smoo Cave in my Days Out Underground book, but it was one of the subterranean trips that didn’t make it as I was limited to just 50.

Having arrived at Smoo Cave on what was thankfully a glorious day, I was not disappointed. The hole you can see from the surface swallows the river, Allt Smoo, and the water cascades down into the unknown.

Walk down some steps onto a nice beach and you’ll find yourself at the huge cave entrance, with the previous day’s rain water dripping from the roof onto your head.

Inside the cave, a freshwater pool is formed by the river falling 21 metres from the surface down into this remarkable underground space. The noise is superb, and the trip can be enhanced by going on one of the tours that local guides put on in the peak season.

Just along the road, Balnakeil Beach provides magnificent isolation in the form of a clean beach that goes on and on. What a wonderful place to walk, framed by might dunes that have been formed by the fierce winds that often batter this shoreline.

The nearby craft village is well worth a visit. It was originally built with the aim of providing an early warning system for the UK during the Cold War but was never commissioned by the MoD.

During the 60s, the local council advertised for craftspeople to come and take up residency here, making all kinds of specialist produce and paying a very small rent.

The craft village thrives to this day, providing a home for woodturners, glassmakers, hair stylists and painters.

The place many people like the most though is Cocoa Mountain, a fine chocolate shop serving up tasty treats that are doused in chocolate.

There’s a nice community feel in the café and the range of chocolates on offer to have with your drink is fantastic. I went for a whisky and a maple syrup option, but you could stand there for ages making your choice. Many people do.

 

Order a signed copy of Peter Naldrett’s new book Days Out Underground here.

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A Cornish Delight

As the weather improves, more sunshine hours cheer us up and we start thinking about our holidays, many of us will be booking an annual trip to Cornwall – myself included!

While we may hope for the best possible weather on a trip to the surfing heaven of the south west, the skies often don’t turn out to be so fantastic. It’s a good idea to have a wet weather plan.

The Porthcurno Telegraph Museum is one fabulous indoor attraction that should be pencilled into your diary – and it’s one of 50 Days Out Underground to feature in my new book.

Porthcurno is the home of the telegraph – and remarkably, this is the place where underground cables leave the UK and go all over the world.

From the white building close to the shore, cables were laid in Victorian days along the floor of oceans so that Morse Code messages could be sent to all corners of the British Empire, from India to America and Australia.

Whereas delivering messages by boat could take weeks, the telegraph allowed messages to be sent and deciphered in seconds and allowed real-time conversations to take place between people at different ends of the Earth.

The communication hub at Porthcurno was so important during the Second World War that the entire operation room was transferred into a specially created bunker beneath a hillside so it could not be bombed by German aircraft.

This underground transmission centre was a key player in the war years, sending key information abroad and planting red herrings in case the enemy was listening in.

Complete with thick blast doors, measures to take against a gas attack and an emergency exit to the top of the cliff, much of the underground lair remains as it did back when this rural part of Cornwall was on the frontline.

The rest of the museum is a joy to tour around as well, keeping visitors informed about how communications has changed over time, from semaphore to the internet.

Top of the exhibits is a table where two people can sit end to end, sending and receiving Morse Code messages. Trying to decipher them is a lot harder than it sounds and the speed in which the experts did it is bewildering.

Days Out Underground: 50 Subterranean Adventures Beneath Britain is published by Bloomsbury and signed copies are available to buy here.

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Subterranean Peak District Gems

I enjoyed a return to Treak Cliff Cavern this week, a gem of the Peak District where you can literally see gems underground.

Never one to tire of the fossils and Blue John stone within the cavern walls, I always like to head back to the family-run attraction and spend some time beneath the limestone hills.

This time I was accompanied by a writer and photographer from the Daily Telegraph who are kindly putting a piece together about Days Out Underground, my book which features 50 subterranean adventures beneath the whole of Britain.

Treak Cliff Cavern is one of several in the Midlands chapter of the book, and one of four underground places to hide from the bad weather in the same Peak District village.

Castleton is close to Kinder Scout and Mam Tor. It’s beyond Hope, as the local joke goes (Hope being the village next door where a large chimney at the cement works dominates the horizon).

This small village, which punches above its’ weight when it comes to services like pubs and shops because of the influx of country-loving daytrippers, is pretty much the point where Dark Peak meets White Peak.

To the north, the peaty moorlands and wild tors made of gritstone are found, while the more rolling dales cover the white limestone to the south.

It’s the porous limestone, slowly worn away by streams over thousands of years, that is the creator of wonders in these parts, carving out underground caverns and exposing incredibly features that have been hidden until relatively recently.

Nestled in a hillside above Castleton, you reach Treak Cliff Cavern by travelling on what used to the be the main road from here to Manchester.

A massive landslip in the 1970s rendered the route impassable and journeys across the Pennines now leave via the incredibly beautiful Winnats Pass.

After walking up the steep path to the entrance, there’s usually enough time to enjoy the fossil shop and nip to the loo before the underground tour begins.

Treak Cliff Cavern is a joy to visit, and it’s not too far from the focus of another of my blogs about Speedwell Cavern.

Part mining operation, part cavernous wonder, Treak Cliff Cavern has so many features to write home about it’s impossible to do it justice without visiting.

You’ll see veins of Blue John – the previous stone that only found in these parts and was used extensively in the 18th and 19th Centuries to create the lamps and decorations of the region’s stately homes.

Some Blue John is still mined and a range of jewellery can be bought in shops throughout Castleton.

A little further into the cavern, you’ll stop to take a look at an amazing wall of fossils.

Sea creatures that lived in these parts 350 million years ago when it was a tropical ocean can now be seen in the limestone on the side of the Treak Cliff walls – and it’s an awesome sight.

Down the tour goes, into caverns created by underground streams, now revealing a treasure trove of crystal formations, stalactites and stalagmites.

Treak Cliff Cavern is open all year round, and if you head out there at Christmas you’ll be able to sing carols beneath the surface of the Earth.

It’s one of 50 Underground Adventures in my new book, with nearby attractions including Speedwell Cavern and Peak Cavern – more affectionately known as The Devil’s Arse.

 

 

Days Out Underground: 50 Subterranean Adventures Beneath Britain is published by Bloomsbury. Signed copies are available to buy here.

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Murky History Beneath Edinburgh

On the rare occasions I get invited into a radio studio to do an interview, I’m never at my most comfortable.

For a start, I’m not very good talking about myself and I’m so wholly focused on not making a mistake that I inevitably make a mistake.

This week, to mark the launch of my Days Out Underground book, I’ve been on BBC Radio Newcastle and BBC Radio Scotland to talk about subterranean attractions the listeners could go to.

The interview for Scotland was very 21st Century – the producer was in Edinburgh, the sound engineer in Aberdeen, the interviewer in Dundee and I was in Sheffield.

It all came together well, but there’s something quite odd about sitting alone in a small room carrying out an interview with somebody you’ve never met. You expect there to be a bit of a warm up and a countdown to the interview starting, but you’re slotted in at the allocated time and are one of many people making up the day’s programme.

If the listeners took one thing away from the interview, though, it’s that there are some surprisingly cool things to do beneath the surface of the Earth in Scotland.

One of the coolest is a visit to the Blair Street Vaults below the city of Edinburgh.

This needs booking in advance through Mercat Tours and after meeting on the Royal Mile the guide – dressed in period costume – will take you to the mysterious spaces that were found within one of the city’s bridges relatively recently.

When Edinburgh’s South Bridge was built in 1788, it was designed to take the unpleasantness of Cowgate out of the equation for the posher folk heading out of the town towards the university area.

This impressive 19 arch structure was originally home to dozens of traders selling their wares to the well-to-do passers-by. The high quality of the footfall meant these retail spaces were amongst the most costly in Europe, but all did not remain well.

Sadly, the designers forgot to include waterproofing in the design – a bit of an oversight when you consider the city’s weather.

The arches and the spaces below them soon started to become damp and even fill with flood water, meaning many businesses had no choice but to move out.

With the dark, damp places empty, they took on an altogether seedier nature in the 19th Century.

Some of the spaces beneath the city were used as illegal whisky distilleries, while the famous ‘bodysnatchers’ dug bodies and transported them through these secret passages on the way to the research labs at the university.

It may be that some of the places on your tour housed dead bodies that were stored there are sunrise and kept hidden until nightfall meant they could be on the move once more.

Head out on the tour to discover an underground world beneath Scotland’s capital city that was hidden for decades and provides a window on the past.

Signed copies of my coverDays Out Underground book are available from my website www.peter-naldrett.co.uk

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World Book Day Reflections

cover

I always love World Book Day.

This one I loved more than usual.

There’s something joyous about walking to school and spotting kids in different outfits, trying to work out what they’ve come as.

Exceptional costumes need not break the bank and it’s great to see how inventive parents can be to turn their kids into Danny Champion of the World or Pippy Longstocking.

This is usually accompanied in school by a day of activities devoted to reading, sharing stories and promoting the love of books at home.

For much of the day I was invited into my local school to see what was going off – the proceedings started with a simply glorious assembly which saw teams of teachers racing to scoff all the food eaten by the hungry caterpillar, to the delight of cheering kids.

I was also judging a competition that encouraged children to write captions and draw illustrations for a spooky story.

It was all good stuff, inspiring kids to write and keep their love of stories close to their heart.

World Book Day 2019 meant a new book published for myself, and it’s the one I’m most proud of.

Days Out Underground is now in the shops and available at the usual online sites such as Amazon.

I have an option to buy the book on my website it you’d like the book signing.

Publication day is always a strange thing to experience. Writers invest so much time in their book, researching and writing, rewriting and editing, proofreading and revising.

It’s a bit of a cliché to say that a writer’s books are like their children, but I totally understand the sentiment behind such a saying.

I spent a full year travelling around the United Kingdom to visit the best underground attractions for a quirky new book showing the adventurous the subterranean treats our country has to offer, followed by many months of writing and revising.

When the manuscript is sent off, it’s over to the designers, editors and printers to do their stuff in a process that can take the best part of a year.

And when the book arrives at the door, a fully printed version of these ideas I had many months before, there is a rush of different emotions.

I’m obviously delighted to have the finished copy in my hands, but there’s also a slight distance from the product because it was written over 12 months ago. It’s a bit like welcoming an old friend into your house – you know them inside out and can’t wait to show them off to your friends, but it’s going to take a bit of time and a glass of wine before you fully familiarise yourself again.

Another key emotion on publishing day is disbelief.

This day – March 7th 2019 – has been engrained on my mind for the past 12 months, knowing that this would be the date when my first UK-wide travel guide would be released.

Yesterday was March 6th and it wasn’t in the shops. Today is March 7th and it is.

Overnight, this thing that I’ve been working on for two years has suddenly been switched on, it’s available to anybody who wants it.

It’s a weird experience, but one that I’m glad came on World Book Day, a cracking period of time when the whole nation seems to be celebrating the telling of stories and sharing the best of their tales.

Enjoy reading your books and if you happen to order Days Out Underground I hope you have a wonderful time exploring the subterranean history of our nation.

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The Rare Witch Project

Strange discoveries involving witchcraft and superstition have been made, deep inside a cave on the rural border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

In the underground spaces at Creswell Crags, walls covered in markings were spotted by experts late last year and identified as witch marks made as far back as the 1600s.

After academics were called in to confirm the authenticity of the markings, those working at Creswell Crags started to realise the significance of what had been revealed.

The biggest collection of confirmed witch marks in the UK had previously been 57 – the new discovery at Creswell Crags has uncovered over 1000 of them and instantly made the protected site one of the hottest tourist attractions of the year.

The Crags is best known for its ice age history – remains of creatures such as sabre-toothed tigers and bears had been found in the caves, along with the internationally significant cave art which is the most northerly example of ice age cave markings in Europe.

But the spooky new witch marks have added a new dimension to a visit at Creswell Crags – and they have attracted attention from media around the globe since the announcement was made earlier this month.

Creswell Crags is one of the top underground attractions in the United Kingdom and one of the most enjoyable visits I made when writing my Days Out Underground book – published by Bloomsbury on March 7.

Check out the Creswell Crags website for details of when to visit and have a tour of the witch marks – all those wishing to see them will need to be booked in to one of the guided tours that are proving incredibly popular.

As part of its’ mission to look after the ice age and witchcraft heritage found within the caves, staff at Creswell Crags – a Site of Special Scientific Interest – made the decision to only take visitors on guided tours so to minimise the impact and not have a constant stream of folk travelling through the site.

When not accessed by a guide, the caves are locked and off-limits, ensuring a sustainable future for the remarkable discovery.

The witch marks at Creswell were visible for many years, but nobody knew they were linked to superstitious activity down the centuries.

There are far too many markings – and they are made over too long a time period – for it to be just a handful of families, so speculation has started as to how so many were engraved on the walls.

The local population in these parts was very small so it’s possible that this was a place of pilgrimage for those troubled by unexplained phenomenon happening in the world.

Creswell Crags is one of 50 subterranean adventures in my new book, Days Out Underground. Signed copies are available from my website today.

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You Need Some Bounce!

ZipWorldCaverns (21)Deep beneath a Welsh mountain, in cavernous spaces where workers once mined slate, there is a world of extreme adventure awaiting fun-seeking couples and families.

Whether you fancy a gravity-defying hour bouncing beneath the Welsh landscape or an action-packed afternoon climbing and flying down zip lines, a visit to Zip World in Snowdonia is literally one you won’t forget.

The mountains just north of Blaenau Ffestiniog once supplied slate tiles that kept the rain out of buildings around the world.

And they provided a living for many local families; there were tough times when the mines closed and communities were forced to readjust.

Today, the mine occupied by Zip World brings in adrenaline-hunting tourists and is bringing a long-abandoned piece of Welsh heritage back into use.

The bouncing and the climbing and the zip-lining is just one of 50 subterranean adventures I dived into for my book, Underground Days Out.

There’s a handful of them in North Wales, so a visit to Zip World can be combined with other fun and informative activities below the surface.

In previous blogs, I’ve highlighted the thrills to be found by descending into Speedwell Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern in the Peak District, as well as the Secret Cold War Bunker in Essex – these are all other chapters in the book. Did I mention I’d written a book and that it’s out now?!

But the Zip World experience takes things to another level for those who enjoy binge on their fun in large doses.

The Bounce Below ticket is a passport to a sublime landscape, lit in atmospheric purple and blue, that has large, springy surfaces on three different levels.

All are connected by a series of slides and steps that mean you can explore and bounce to your heart’s content – and despite many of the sessions being full, there is still plenty of space to explore so you never really feel you’re in a crowded area.

To describe the bouncing as being like a trampoline would be wrong – this is not trampolining; they have a completely different feel to them, making the bouncing more like walking on the moon that most people are used to.

And if the weightless feeling gets a bit too much for you, there is a space to sit out until you’re able to get involved again.

I went with two kids and I certainly needed a rest half way through – it was exhausting, but a lot of fun. The youngsters could have done it all day, of course.

When you clip in to the safety wire for your climbing activity, you really are about to embark on three-hour fun mission.

This is a fairly challenging course, pushing many amateurs to their limits and providing a heap of exhilaration at the same time.

The most exciting part are the zip lines – and there are many of them.

At first, stepping off into the darkness with a huge distance below you to the bottom of the cavern is frightening, but it soon becomes a delight.

An optional section at the end could see you climbing up the mountain wall to a super steep zip line. To get there, the hardiest will manage the monkey bars that stretch over a deep cavern.

There’s an easier way round for those not willing to give it a go – I took this simpler way and was shown up by my kids again, something I became fairly used to when journeying around Britain underground.

 

Days Out Underground:50 Subterranean Adventures Beneath Britain is published by Bloomsbury and is available now. Signed copies are available via my website www.peter-naldrett.co.uk

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