Standing on top of Mam Tor, gazing out over the Hope Valley towards Castleton, you can’t help but be blown away by the beauty of the Peak District.
To the left is Kinder Scout – site of the famous mass trespass of the 1930s when ramblers dug in over access issues – and to the right the rolling hills of the ‘white peak’ trundle on south.
The Peak District was the first area in the UK to be designated as a National Park back in 1951 and there’s no wonder people rushed to protect this place, which attracts thousands of annual visits from folk in the big cities of Manchester and Sheffield.
This pioneering National Park is not only a beauty on the surface; there are some tremendous sights to be hold as you dive beneath the surface of this magnificent national treasure.
While I was researching my new book, Underground Days Out: 50 Subterranean Adventures Beneath Britain, it became clear that the Peak District had more than a fair share of attraction below the surface.
In this series of subterranean blogs, I’m going to share with you the subterranean wonders of the Peak District and, one by one, explore the Premier League attractions you can explore on a spare weekend.
We’ll start with an unusual visitor attraction that has fascinated generations of tourists, with Steve McQueen and the cast of Coronation Street among them.
Speedwell Cavern is situated in a glorious spot. It’s at the foot of Winnats Pass, surrounded by incredible limestone scenery and within walking distance of Mam Tor and Peveril Castle.
Back in the 18th Century, the local economy around these parts was thriving thanks to some profitable lead mines. A local prospector saw the chance of making a fortune beneath the hills of Castleton and paid miners to start exploring for lucrative veins of lead.
They found nothing, the enterprise went bust and lead mining never took off at Speedwell, but money started to be made for a completely different reason.
An innovative subterranean water canal was built way below the Pennines to transport miners below the surface.
Even when miners were still looking for lead, some visitors were enjoying boat tours in what was a totally unique experience for them.
The trip took them to a majestic cavern, shaped by underground waterflows over millions of years and now a place where the wealthy could stand in awe of nature.
The little building that stands on the surface is no indication of the grandeur you find in the cavern beneath the hill.
When you descend the stairs lined with fairy lights and clamber into the little boat, you are genuinely embarking on an experience that can’t be found elsewhere.
But keep in mind that it’s not for the faint hearted! You’ll be travelling along very tight spaces, with metres of rock above your head and no way to turn around until the tour is finished.
I’ve known people who have bottled it halfway along because of the claustrophobic conditions down there and wanted to turn around.
But for most, the trip is one that will be remembered for ever. And adventurous kids will be beside themselves with their boat ride beneath the Peak District hills.
Days Out Underground: 50 Subterranean Adventures Beneath Britain is published by Bloomsbury and available to buy here.