“ Cable cars, caverns, and hilltop park. „
The Heights of Abraham are the name of a rocky outcrop that towers high above the town of Matlock Bath in Derbyshire's Peak District National Park. Matlock Bath is one the most popular tourist towns in the National Park and I am fortunate that its only a short drive from my home. During the 19th century Matlock Bath developed as a Spa Town, where wealthy Victorians flocked to be healed by the properties of its mineral water. It was never as famous as its neighbour Buxton but it was popular nonetheless and today it has retained its old world charms.
The Heights of Abraham have of course existed for millions of years but it wasn't until a cable car to their summit opened in 1984 that they became a favourite attraction on the tourist map. When the cable car route was opened it was Britain's first "alpine style" cable car with pods that would later become famous on big wheels like the London Eye. In fact the Heights of Abraham Cable Car Company designed those pods on the London Eye and many of the other smaller versions that we find in our cities. Each pod can carry up to 6 passengers (3 per seat facing each other) and their design ensures a panoramic view throughout.
The cable car station is located next to the railway station and on weekends and Bank Holidays you can expect quite a queue. Personally I've always been amazed by their popularity due to the extortionate cost and the fact that the trip only takes a few minutes but maybe that's just because I am a regular visitor to the area and the Heights of Abraham are such a familiar sight to me. Current charges for a return trip are £11.50 per adult and £8.50 per child with family tickets and concessions available.
For those that are fit enough it is possible to walk to the Heights of Abraham on foot from the town centre and this has always been my preferred method. There are several different routes, which all eventually merge but the most popular one is sign posted from opposite the Pavilion. This route is not for the infirm as it is a very steep climb to the top but there are several wooden benches to sit on along the way and numerous viewpoints, which become more and more impressive with every step. The path climbs up through mature deciduous woodland where you will see lots of squirrels and other wildlife and if you are lucky you might even catch a glimpse of a woodpecker. It should only take about 20 minutes from the bottom to the top but during that time you will have climbed over 350 metres.
When you finally reach the top you find a kiosk where you can purchase a one way ticket for the cable car ride back down (£9.50 per adult). However if you've managed the hard part of getting up there then the chances are that you will probably walk back down, unless of course you seek the novelty thrill of a cable car ride. Most people will however have purchased a return cable car trip from the other end and this also includes entry into Masson Park (where the cable car terminates). For those arriving on foot there is a separate admission charge to enter Masson Park which I think is about £3.00.
Masson Park not only features large open areas of recreation space and play areas for children but it also contains two caves, the largest of which is called Masson Cavern and the smaller one is called the Rutland Cavern. These caverns are former lead mines and guided tours are included within the price. Elsewhere within the park there is a large gift shop and a café. Visitors to the Masson Park will also find an exhibition area called the "Who, Why, What?" which tells the history of this private estate and there is also a fossil factory. Finally included within Masson Park is the Hilltop Gardens, which are an area of landscaped gardens and it is from here that the best views can be found.
Overall I would recommend a visit to the Heights of Abraham but I do think it is an expensive day out if you include the cable car ride. There is no denying that the views from the top are amazing and for those alone it is worth a one off experience and a day out. There is actually quite a bit to do at the other end so it is the sort of place that you could easily half a day and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend paying the separate entrance fee to the park.
Opening times and further information can be found on the official website.
I live in Derbyshire and frequently drive through Matlock Bath and see the cable cars above, but I had never actually been to or wanted to go to The Heights of Abraham. This is partly because I'm scared of heights and I think that there are so many more attractions in Derbyshire that I would rather spend my money on.
Anyway to cut a long story short I won 2nd prize in the school raffle and yes you've guessed it the prize was a family ticket to The Heights of Abraham. So I put on a brave face and took the children in the summer holidays.
The Heights of Abraham first opened to the public back in 1780 and today is still a popular tourist attraction both to those who live nearby and those a little further afield.
Up until 1984 visitors had to walk up the steep roads to get to the attraction but all that changed when they introduced the cable car system.
You will find that the best place to park your car is at the railway station where they offer pay and display. You can also get here by using public transport either on a bus or the train. Once you arrive at the car park you need to cross over the railway lines (which is quite safe). On the other side you take a short walk before you reach the cable cars.
Once aboard you have a short ride over the valley which takes approximatley 10 minutes. There are 12 cable cars that run over two lines and your cable car stops half way to let the other passengers off.
On arrival at the top there are several different things to see and do.
**Hilltop park and views**
The heights of abraham sit at nearly 1000 feet high so the views are spectacular. There are steps down to a graveled area where you can just sit and take in the view. There are also plenty of woodland walks to take if you fancy.
There are two caverns called the Masson and the Rutland. You can take a guided tour of these and learn about the history of the caverns and the miners that worked them.
**The Fossil factory**
This is the place where you can learn interesting facts about rocks and fossils. It is also the home to a 3 metre long fossil called the Ichthyosaur which was alive at the same time as the dinosaurs. You can purchase small fossils at a resonable price from here.
**Places to eat**
There are two places to sit and eat. In the terrace coffee shop you can enjoy a lite bite and your favourite drink whereas at the summit bar you can sit and enjoy a proper meal. It offers a waiter/waitress service. Both of these places have an outdoor terrace area where you can take in the wonderful views.
As a guide to the prices if you plan on eating at one of these restraunts I would suggest that you take plenty of cash with you, we didn't eat there but did purchase drinks which cost almost £10 for 4 drinks.
There is a nice picnic area where you can sit and enjoy a packed lunch, there are a number of tables to choose from.
On offer is also an ice cream stand which again is quite pricey.
This is a tall brick tower. Inside there are hundreds of steps to navigate to get to the top, but once at the observation area the views are fantastic and well worth all the effort it took to get there.
**The Play Areas**
Now these are the areas that my children enjoyed the most, this is a fab place to let them burn off all that energy that they tend to have.
*The Explorers Challange is great for older children. It is a mini assault course made from lots of wood that tests their balancing skills.
*The Play Area is home to the biggest slide that I think I have ever seen, it is absolutley huge and all the children seemed to love going down it but the steps back up to the top are quite steep. I would reccommend parental guidance at all times on this slide. There are also a number of climbing frames here.
This is an ok day out for the family. I would reccommend that is taking children along with you that they are a bit older as mine are 7 and 3 and became distracted easily.
This is not a place to visit if like me you are afraid of heights. I managed to go up in the cable car and even up the tower, but the thought of having to return on a cable car was simply too much and I decided to walk back down.
I don't think that this is advisiable for the elderly or those who use a wheelchair as it is on several different levels and the walkways to each part are quite steep. Also the cable cars dont actually stop to let you on they just slow down so it is also a struggle to get a pushchair on which I found out. It would be advisable to take the child out of the buggy and fold it down ready beforehand.
I think that it is a little overpriced and if visiting Matlock Bath with children I would suggest visiting Gullivers Kingdom instead which is a small theme park (review to come at some point).
14th-22nd February 10am-4.30pm
28 Feb-14 March 10am-4.30pm Weekends Only
21 March-30 September 10am-4.30pm
1 October-1 November 10am-4.30pm
Under 5's Free
Family of 4 £33.00 2 adults 2 children
Family of 5 £39.00 2 adults 3 children
Just as I once went to Tasmania 'just' to go to the Cadbury Factory, I went to Matlock Bath 'just' to visit their cable car. I love cable cars. A lot. There's something so wonderful about swinging about in the wind in a tin can as they yank you up or down a hill, marvelling the view below. Recently in Taxco they had a cable car that had beautiful views of the silver mining town. In Cairns you can take one that soars you about the rain forest. Barcelona's pulls you over the beach. At this one up the road from me, the view is of the lovely British Rail car park and A-roads below, but still.
The Heights of Abraham is a tourist attraction located in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire. My sister came to visit and I wanted to take her somewhere for a day, and googled my way to this place. We weren't necessarily typical of the families who visit (she's a squirrel loving Astrophysicist, I'm a cheerleading project manager, we are in our mid 20s (me) and early 30s (her) and we had no kids in tow) but it sounded fun (hello...it's a cable car) so we set off one Saturday morning for the hour and a half drive from Manchester.
It's a nice route along lots of winding roads and through sweet little villages but if you prefer the place is very easily accessible by public transport as the train station is only a minute's walk from the cable car base station. The best place to park is in the station car park too, and there are lots of spaces though they fill up quickly on sunny days. It's £3 for up to 4 hours which is about the right length of time to enjoy all the parts of the attraction, and seemed reasonable.
The best and most fun way to enjoy the attraction is to buy the combo ticket from the booth at the bottom, and ride up to the top of the hill on the cable car, but if this isn't for you, you can hike to the top on foot. Since we were there for the cable car as much as anything else, this was naturally the option we went for. A combo ticket currently costs £10.80 for adults and £7.80 for children and seniors, and though it's not advertised, if you ask they'll also give a student discount. Family tickets are also available.
THE CABLE CAR
Opened in 1984, this was the UK's first 'alpine style' cable car and runs all day from the base station to the top of the hill, some thousand feet up. The cars are big enough for 6 people and whether or not they make you share with another party depends on how many of you there are and how busy it is - we shared going up but had one to ourselves coming down late afternoon. They're like the carriages you get on a big wheel, though smaller than those on the London Eye or Vienna's Riesenrad, and have glass sides which allow for excellent views of the surrounding areas. It depends on the weather, but the ride seemed nice and smooth and not too swaying on the way up although if you're scared of heights you really should avoid looking down onto the road below - it feels like it would hurt a lot more to crash down from here onto concrete than fall further onto a 'soft' treetop landing. Now you're not going to crash and fall, but these are the things some people think of during the ride. Actually, I'm exaggerating. Look down and you'll see and think this, but keep your head up and you'll be treated to stunning views of the Derwent Valley and surrounding Peak District. I loved this bit of our day and would have happily spent much longer riding up and down if you could have stayed on without having to pay again.
Once at the top, there are two cavern tours on offer which run fairly regularly. The caves used to be used for mining years ago, and evidence of this remains. Both our guides were really informative - one even had a degree in Geology (like Geography, but with even more colouring in, I believe) - and were full of stories about life back then. They could point out which rock was which from the ones on display, and were happy to answer questions. One of the tours starts out with a short film, and the other has an interactive part where a puppet suddenly appears out of one of the jutting rocks and starts 'talking' to you. The caverns are cool but not too cold - a cardigan's a good idea, but you won't freeze if you forget it, regardless of the time of year.
WHO? WHAT? WHY?
The Who? What? Why? Exhibit is housed below the Rock Shop and includes wall displays and looped videos about mining times and also about the effort it took to put in the cable cars. It explains about the cable car rescue vehicles they have and, if you want you can pose for a picture on a real one they've strung up in the corner of the exhibit. It's placed in front of a backdrop that makes you look like you're riding high above the town below and though it's blatantly not real if you look too closely, it's still fun to try. When we were there no one was sitting on it and I wanted to wait until everyone had emptied out before I did (not wanting to look like a silly 8 year old) but people kept coming as well as going, so eventually I just went for it. When I got off, several photos later, my antics were swiftly followed by a youngish boy (probably a true silly 8 year old) and a retired lady and her husband, so I didn't feel that silly anymore...
FOSSIL FACTORY & HEATH AND HEAVEN
These are two of the newer additions to the site. The Fossil Factory is an 'educational' bit on facts and figures about rocks and fossils, and how the Peal District formed in the first place. There's another short film here, and also a massive (3m) fossil from the time of the dinosaurs that is quite impressive. Heath & Heaven is a bit different - it's a exhibition of poems plus ariel photographs all taken on the same day that create a sort of patchwork view of the area. Not as interesting for the children, perhaps, but worth a quick glance.
AND THERE'S MORE...
There are several adventure play areas for children, a lookout tower to climb for more great views, picnic areas, a café, a restaurant and a bar (we'd recommend the ice cream and chocolate smothered waffle dish), a pleasant, not too expensive gift shop and a separate shop for rocks and gems, plenty of toilets and multiple woodland trails for those who like to walk. One of the caverns also brings you out halfway along one of these, so you have a short, pleasant, down-hill walk back to where you started from. The whole place is really nicely done with bark covered paths leading through the woodland areas, and lots of benches to stop for a rest on.
I though the Heights of Abraham was a really good, simple, British tourist attraction with helpful, friendly, well trained staff from the ticket sellers to the guides. It wasn't too tacky or commercialised or crowded, and though it depended on reasonable weather as the parts were all separate and require you to walk outdoors between them, it only has to be fine as opposed to raining, not boiling hot, for you to enjoy it. It has something for all ages and enough to fill a few hours. We did everything there was to do, had a picnic lunch outside, wandered around, took lots of pictures and set off home about 2.30pm. As with many places, it's good to get there when it opens, but people were arriving as we were leaving and though queues had formed, they were not unbearably long. You do get a lot for your money although it could soon add up if you go en masse. It's a nice place for all the family, and if you live in the area you could easily go and enjoy it for free by walking to the top and skipping the caverns, just enjoying the walks and the exhibits etc.
I was not dissapointed by our trip and would return even though you can't pay with Tesco vouchers...and that's saying something for me. I'd also take foreign visitors here since it's so properly British, from the views to the woodland walks, and certainly beats the Trafford Centre for offering a taste of the UK.
10am - 4.30pm / 5pm depending on the time of year. It's closing for the season on 1st November, so hurry!
Feb - March : weekends only
March - October : daily
Excellent website available telling you all there is to see and do:
There are lots of places to stay locally either in Matlock or nearby, and there are many other local attractions too if you are coming from further afield and want to make a weekend of it, though this is by far the most established.