“ Cave and tourist attraction in Buxton in the Peak District. „
Poole's Cavern is situated just over a kilometre outside of the Derbyshire town of Buxton, on the fringe of the Peak District National Park. During a recent visit to the town I stumbled upon this place quite by accident, and since the weather was abysmal for trudging around I decided to pay this place a visit.
It is well sign-posted from the town centre so we decided to follow the brown tourist signs that led us out of the town centre, past the school and through a rather desirable residential district of this picturesque town.
I would describe Poole's Cavern as one of those little gems of a place I occasionally find when I wander off the beaten track. The only difference here is that this place is no hidden secret, yet despite my many visits to Buxton this is the first time that I was aware that the place existed.
On arriving at the point where the signposts direct you into a small car park I was initially somewhat disappointed. From here there is no evidence of any entrance to a cave and we assumed that it must be hidden away up in the woods in the background. In fact the entrance to the cave is tucked away just a few metres away from the visitors centre.
There is quite a bit of construction work taking place around here at the moment including a large portacabin that is taking up a large part of the parking area. This has been ongoing for some time now and is finally nearing its end. We decided to accept the apologies on the sign for "any inconvenience" and headed off to the visitors centre.
The visitors centre is where you have to part with your money to enter the cave. Foolishly I thought that it just might have been free, but now that I was here I decided to proceed. The visitors centre is quite small but contains lots of information relating to the history of the place.
There is a certain amount of debate regarding how the cave actually got its name, but there are two possibilities. Some people say that it derives its name from John Pole who was the man that owned this land that the cave was discovered on. Others say that it was named after a famous local outlaw called William Poole, who is said to have hidden out in this cave during the fifteenth century.
Poole's Cavern became a popular tourist attraction during Victorian times but long before this time the cave was used by the Romans and even before that by Prehistoric Man over 2,000 years ago. The cave itself is over 2 million years old.
Excavations from within the cave have unearthed over 4,000 different artefacts, many of these dating from Roman times. The first part of the cave is known as the Roman Chamber due to the large number of Roman related things that have been found here.
The first thing that we discovered on arriving at the visitors centre was that it is not possible to wander into the cave and explore it at your leisure. Instead you have to join a guided tour. These leave every hour during the winter months and every half an hour during the summer, although if there is a sufficient amount of people to make it worthwhile the guide will leave earlier. Our party had 9 people in it of all ages, including 3 Children. We waited for about 20 minutes for the tour to start.
The first thing that you notice when you approach the cave is that this has quite a large entrance. I have been in caves of all different shapes and sizes, including ones that I have had to crawl on my hands and knees through, but there is no danger of that here.
The interior of the cave is dark and damp but it was not cold as I expected it to be. The Victorians installed gas lamps along the wall of the cave to light the way and although some of these are still there they no longer work. Instead our guide had a torch to light the way.
All along the route the guide pointed out various things including a pile of human bones which were quite eerie. Apparently these were the remains a prehistoric man that was dug up here a few years ago.
The guide also explained how the stalactites and stalagmites were formed from the calcium deposits in the drops of water that were constantly dripping. He flashed his torch onto the hand-rail and pointed out a new stalagmite that was only a few centimetres tall, evidence that these features are still growing even today.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Poole's Cavern although it does work out quite expensive so it is probably the sort of place that you would only ever visit once.
The admission charges are:
Adults -£6.75 (10.5)
Children -£4.00 (6)
Concession - £5.50 (8.5)
Family - £20 (30) allows 2 Adults + up to 3 Children
The cavern is partly accessible by disabled people and wheelchair access into the main cavern is possible. Part of the current construction work is to improve the facilities for the disabled and this work also includes installing video cameras into many of the smaller caverns where access is not possible.
Telephone: (01298) 26978
Fax: (01298) 73563
** How to Get There **
The spa town of Buxton, in Derbyshire, is on the A6, which is the main road that dissects the Peak District.
Poole's Cavern, and Grin Low and Buxton Country Park which is above the caves, is well signposted from the main routes in and out of Buxton, and is situated in the south-west corner, on the edge of a pleasant residential area.
It also has its own train station. Visit http://nationalrail.co.uk/index.html to find a service suitable for you.
Check out Buxton's website http://www.visitbuxton.co.uk/ if you want to combine this trip with more of the town's attractions. There are far too many to list in this review, but as I prefer good value outdoor attractions, the extra one that I enjoyed most was the Pavilion Gardens, which are free.
** Introduction to Our Experience **
We were very lucky with the weather on our recent week's holiday in the Peak District, and spent most of our time enjoying the great outdoors in lovely sunshine. We always intended exploring one of the many caves, with a guide, but thought we would leave it until the weather broke, as it is a constant cool temperature (7 C) in the underground caverns, whatever is happening outside. The weather stayed good all week, which meant that on the last day of our holiday, 25 May 2007, when we eventually took the Poole's Cavern Tour, we were afterwards able to visit the Grin Low and Buxton Country Park above.
The car park had a lot of building work going on around it when we visited, so we went to one of the temporary portacabins to buy our tickets for a guided tour. Here visitors could also buy light refreshments.
Tours were running approximately every half an hour, but we had to wait an hour due to the pre-booked school parties. (School worksheets are available for KS1 & 2.) Soon any waiting time could be spent in the new Visitor Centre, but as they were still building it when we went, we spent the time in the country park.
Both the caves and the country park are Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
** Below Ground **
All of the paths that we were taken along underground we relatively easy ones, by cave standards, but they are prone to being wet and slippery, so footwear with good grips is important.
Also remember that there is a constant cool 7 C temperature underground, so the guide and most visitors wore winter weight jackets.
Before entering the caves, I expected to be given a hard hat to wear, which is compulsory in many other show caves that I have visited. This didn't happen presumably because the height of the roof of most of the underground places visited was very high. I'm 5ft 3ins and only remember ducking once, just slightly, while going through the first tunnel leading to the main cavern, and that was probably just me being extra cautious.
At the entrance to the cave, our guide pointed our the Monkey House, a building that once housed monkeys to keep the Victorians entertained while they waited for their guided tour.
We saw more obvious evidence of the Victorians later in the form of an old gas lamp underground, but most of these old lamps have been removed. Our guide turned sufficient electric lighting on and off during our visit, so that you could get around safely but still appreciate the naturally beautiful surroundings.
Our guide also pointed out evidence of the use made of these 2 million year old caves from the prehistoric period, Roman times and right up to the present day.
We were told that the caves appear to have been named either after a local landowner or an outlaw. Poole the outlaw, who hid in the caves, is more interesting. He was a Flasher. Hundreds of years ago this meant that he made money out of money, by scraping the gold off the edges of coins, still used the coins, but also sold on the shavings. The milling on the edge of coins was put there to stop this sort of crime.
Back to the cave and its formations that were highlighted for us, by our guide flashing his torch. These included the longest stalactite in Derbyshire, known as the Flitch of Bacon, the Frozen Waterfall flowstone formation and the Mary Queen of Scots Pillar, so named after she visited that part of the cavern. Other interesting observations included graffiti that was hundreds of years old. Apparently some of this indicated use by white witches in the past.
At one point, after checking that no one in our all-adult party objected, our guide turned off all light in the part of the cave that we occupied. No one squealed despite knowing that we shared the area with bats. We didn't see the bats, but we knew they were definitely there, as they left their marks! The droppings were on the caves, not us, this time.
The formations that I found most interesting, as I don't remember seeing anything like them before while visiting other caves, were those in the Poached Egg Chamber. The stalagmites here have a colouring on their tips that resembles a poached egg. Our guide told us that scientists are still not sure why this is, but it may be due to organic material coming from the vegetation above ground, which is unusually close to the cave roof due to human interference. Others think it is just iron compound deposits, as can be found in other parts of the cave, although not in this shape. What is undisputed is that these stalagmites and their stalactites are growing a lot more rapidly than usual, up to 1cm a year.
The last place we visited before retracing our steps to the entrance, was the Sculpture Chamber, which contains a white formulation that some think looks like a sculptured swan with its head tucked underneath its wing. It reminded me more of cauliflower cheese, and there were various other suggestions from our party, but all were impressed.
The guide showed as the Wye source here. Then told us that sometimes, in summer, the underground river dries up, and when this happens, adventurous cavers ask for permission to try to visit "Seventh Heaven". This is the next chamber on from the Sculpture Chamber, and is accessed by crawling through a very narrow tunnel. This is not accessible to the general public.
On the way back to the entrance our guide invited us to stop and take any photos that we wanted, and stayed at the rear of the group to make sure he didn't leave any of the photographers behind.
We were underground for about 45 mins.
** Above Ground **
Car Park - We paid £1 into a Pay and Display Machine to park for 4 hours.
The car park had industrious looking builders working at both ends. One group were working on a new Go Ape attraction, an above ground forest adventure course, for use by children aged 10-17 (baboons) and adults (gorillas). The other group were finishing a new visitor centre.
Sadly for us, at this in-between time, neither the old or new visitor centre was open, but I don't think this stage will last long.
For visitors wanting to explore the Country Park, we found a leaflet in the cabin where we bought our tickets showing a route and places of interest. The leaflet and entry to the country park is free.
Throughout the park there are notices explaining things of interest both formed by nature and man. One of the man-made features we saw were the remains of lime burning kilns used in the 17th and 18th centuries. This lime was used as a pesticide, to improve the soil, for lime mortar and leather tanning. Some of the lime heaps which formed a hard crust, were hollowed out to provide rough caves where the lime burners and their families lived.
Good views can be had from Solomon's Temple, which is a tall tower, with a spiral staircase, built in Victorian times. This is quite a long walk across the country park from the Poole's Cavern car park. If you aren't up to walking the distance shown on the map, you could find a car park closer to it. If in doubt as to which of the routes would suit you best, ask the friendly staff for advice.
** Disabled Facilities **
No unspoilt cave is likely to be totally disabled visitor friendly, but they are doing what they can here to make access possible to the main chamber, and also give the best views they can of the rest by using high quality video cameras. As our group didn't have any disabled people in it, I didn't see the cameras in operation, but they advertise that you can pan and zoom them to see the rest of the spectacular crystal formations and watch able-bodied members of your party walking near them.
For hearing disabled persons, with specially designed hearing aids, there are T-Loop facilities.
Anyone wanting to use their special facilities should phone them before visiting.
** Show Caves Comparison **
The other caves I have visited in the Peak District are those at the Heights of Abraham experience.
I prefer Poole's Cavern and Buxton Country Park to the Heights of Abraham because the surrounding area is less commercialised, it is better value for money and the slopes leading to the caves are a lot less demanding. There is a choice of routes in Buxton Country Park so that most people can take a path that is suitable for them. (Wheelchair users will want to note that all the routes we saw from this car park did mean going up at least one flight of steps though. I believe other entry points to the country park may be better suited to wheelchairs.)
For similar reasons to the above, I preferred Poole's Caverns to those at Cheddar George in Somerset.
** Seasonal Attractions **
Special events may be organised during the Buxton Festival in July, and on the run up to Christmas, Santa can be seen in a real life grotto in the caves.
** Recommendation **
I do recommend that those interested in caves and/or country parks give this place a visit, but not for a month or two, after which the new facilities should all be open. You might as well get you money's worth!
For me this was a 4 star experience, but when the new facilities are open, it should be even better.
If visiting this summer I advise that you use the telephone number or email address below to check that the new building work for all the facilities you want will be open for you.
** Prices & Opening Times updated for 2009 **
Children age 5 and over £4.50
Student, OAP £6
Entry to the Grin Low and Buxton Country Park is free all year.
The caves are open for about 10 months of the year, having an extended Christmas/New Year break.
Opening hours are 9.30am-5.00pm March to October.
Winter weekends 10.00am-4.00pm.
If you want to join a tour towards the end of the day, phone ahead to check availability.
Tel: 01298 26978
When you think of the Victorians, with their fancy skirts and stiff collars it's hard to imagine the gentry of the time doing little more than having tea in the parlour or strolling in the park on a sunny afternoon. It seems though that our Victorian ancestors were a lot more adventurous than many of us give them credit for. Apparently they had an absolute fascination with caves and thought nothing of clamouring around in the dark in pursuit of the admiration and accolades they would receive for their bravery. Poole's cavern in Buxton was a favourite tourist attraction for the Victorians but this fantastic cave had been in use a long time before that. The day we went to Poole's cavern was a beautiful hot summers day. The visitors centre is quite small but was really interesting. There were all sorts of artifacts on display that had been found in the cave dating from the earliest man to the Romans and beyond. Luckily for us there was a tour due to leave, although they are only half an hour apart anyway so had we just missed one we wouldn't have had too long to wait. The mouth of the cave wasn't immediately visible as we left the centre so we were quite surprised to find it tucked away a few yards down the path. Before we went in the guide, a young woman in her early twenties checked to see if anyone was claustrophobic or afraid of the dark. I am claustrophobic in some situations but I have visited many caves and have never had a problem so I decided to risk it. Living in Nottingham we have been able to visit lots of caves. Nottingham is built over a labyrinth of caves. In most of these you have a flight of steps taking you down into the cave so it came as some surprise to find that at Poole's cavern there were none. It was actually quite an experience to walk from the heat of the day into the cold, damp belly of the cave. The cold hits you immediately and it took a couple of seconds for my eyes to adjust fr
om the brightness of the day to the shadows within. That said the cave is actually lit, in sections. In the Victorian times guides would have given the visitor a candle but as the caves became more popular there was a line of gas lamps installed. There is one still standing within the cave, it doesn't work of course.The guide explained how they had to keep the lights off as much as possible as any seeds that were brought in on the clothes and shoes of visitors would germinate. She showed us a patch of grass growing on one of the damp rocks. This particular rock had a spotlight shining on it. She explained that they wanted to keep the cave as natural as possible so didn't want to encourage this artificial growth. I understood that, it did make me think however about the wonder of life, seeing that patch of fresh green in this dark, hidden corner. Using a torch to highlight different areas, our guide brought our attention to an area that had been excavated. It was sectioned into different squares and in a couple of sections there were bones, human bones, a femur and a skull. She explained that although we thought the cave extremely cold, the temperature within remained constant and was actually warmer than the bleak temperatures generated in an average winter back then. This was the reason that early man had come to the caves in search of shelter. Apparently altogether there were over 4000 items found, including Roman artifacts which led to the first part of the cave being known as the Roman chamber. There is a debate as to how Poole's cavern got it's name. Was it named after John Pole who owned the land that the cave was discovered on, or was it after William Poole, an outlaw thought to have hidden out in the cave in the 15th century? Of course being a romantic I prefer to believe the latter and there is evidence to prove that he was around at that time. William Poole was a flasher. No, not the dirty old man type. A fl
asher was someone who would clip the edges off coins, melt them down and make money. I suppose you could call him the equivalent to a forger these days. Anyway when they excavated they found evidence of the clippings that were made. I think for me the most exciting visitor to the caves was Mary Queen of Scots. I have read much on the life of Mary and I know that from the time she was imprisoned she was held in some pretty poor conditions. Mary developed chronic rheumatism and came to Buxton to drink its healing waters. It is said that Mary came to visit the cave and when she could walk no further she asked for the pillar she stood under to be named after her. Apparently some of the guides have been in the cave alone and heard footsteps in the dark. Some even think that it is Mary. It was amazing to be standing there, where she might have stood too, all those years ago. I of course had to touch the cold, wet wall of the pillar. It felt good to be so close to the history surrounding it. There is a section where many of the visitors who walked the caves in previous centuries had scratched their names into the rock. In those days it was a way of recording that you had been there. Quaint....18th century graffiti! If I may I would like to try and tell you about the physical structure of the cave. Poole's cavern is huge and magnificent. The moisture that drips through the walls is acidic and forms calcium carbonate which drips down from the ceiling and becomes stalagmite and stalactites. Very technical I suppose but what does it mean? It means that the cave is always growing, always changing. The stalactites that hang from the ceiling look like needles, or even long spindly fingers. The biggest has the end missing but still hangs magnificently in the centre of the cave. It is known as the flitch of bacon as it is supposed to look like half a pig. On a visit to Peak cavern in Castleton we discovered that they also have a structure t
hat has been given the same name. Ironic that in a time when food was scarce, both structures were thought to resemble food. There is an area of the cave where stalagmites are growing up and they look like poached eggs, being white with a yolk coloured peak. Evidence of the growth within the cave is the tiny stalagmite that has started to form on one of the hand rails in the cave. I wish I could tell you everything we saw but not only would that make this opinion too long, it would also spoil it for you if you should choose to visit the caves. I have no doubt that I would be unable to describe the beauty and the wonder that is on display in this cave. You will have to go see for yourself. I will tell you that at the end of the tour there is a huge rock that shimmers in the artificial light around it. To me it looked like a cauliflower covered in a light frost, you know the type you get on a November morning. We spent a few minutes here as everyone tried to decide what they thought this resembled. This particular structure was the subject of a competition on Blue Peter and someone got to name it. It is officially called the Sculpture. James said he would have called it mashed potato. This being the deepest part of the cave, the tour guide talked a little about some of the unscrupulous people that would have hung around at the caves entrance offering to give tours to the nosey Victorians who wanted to venture inside. She explained how many an unsuspecting visitor would follow a guide into the bowels of the cave only to find them at the mercy of the guide, who after placing them in the most vulnerable of positions, would rob them and leave them to find their own way out. With that, she turned off the light. When we came out into the sun again we had a great laugh as all of our glasses kept steaming up and we couldn't see a thing after emerging from the cold into the heat of the day. The cave i
s open from 10.00am to 5.00pm daily from March to the end of October. It is open in the winter but it is advised that you call ahead to check as rain can make entrance difficult. To get there we followed the A6 from Bakewell. (The views along the way are spectacular and the cave is well signposted.) We paid for a family ticket to the cave which cost us just over fourteen pounds but that covered us for two adults and three children. This was a great price and value for money is guaranteed as if you pay and don't complete the tour you could have a refund. There were toddlers and oldies in our group and everyone enjoyed the tour. My kids loved every minute of it. I would definately say this is a visit that suits the whole family. Take my advice and take your camera. For those of you that don't like tight, closed spaces I can reassure you. The cavern is very high and very wide. Nowhere were we asked to crouch down, or mind our heads and hard hats were not even needed. The floor felt a little slippy in places but not so bad that you had to take tiny steps. All the raised areas have a decking floor and I felt safe and secure during all parts of the tour. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and the guide was confident, knowledgeable and really friendly. Disabled access is limited but I think just getting into the cave is an achievement and they have done a lot of work to level the walkways and make the footings firm. There is a gift shop, nice clean toilets and a café and outdoor seating area. The car park is large and free too. I think the great thing about this cavern is the great pain that the staff are taking to preserve it and keep it natural. I got a real feel that they want the cave to continue to grow and change in the way it would have done if it had been left undiscovered. Good for them. I definately appreciated it. Go visit, you'll love it. Thanks for reading........Mandxx