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.