Newest Review: ... consists of travelling down a straight flooded, narrow tunnel. The lack of head room means that anyone of average height is at risk of ba... more
Travel deep underground, by boat
Speedwell Cavern (Castleton)
Member Name: markos9
Speedwell Cavern (Castleton)
Advantages: Very unusual experience
Disadvantages: Smutty tour guide
Have you ever been on a boat underground? If not, and you'd like to, Speedwell Cavern could be for you.
Speedwell Cavern is located in Castleton amid the gorgeous scenery of the Peak District. It is one of several 'show' caverns in the Castleton area.
To start the tour, you descend down a set of over 100 slippery, damp stone steps, to a waiting electric boat. Beware, the tunnel you descend, is not very high (all Victorian miners must have been 4 foot 6 inches tall, I think!) and you don't get your safety helmet until you get to the bottom (I can speak from experience, whacking your head on a stone roof, does not improve your day!).
Once at the bottom, you're given your hard hat and allowed to climb into the boat. This is low slung, and completely open. You're only inches from the surface of the water. Your head is only inches below the ceiling of the tunnel, too.
The boat journey consists of travelling down a straight flooded, narrow tunnel. The lack of head room means that anyone of average height is at risk of banging their head. My niece got endless amusement from sitting behind me and watching my head connect with the stone again and again (in my defence, I was not the only one; many other people did it too!).
The tour guide pilots the boat and gives an interesting summary of the history of this old lead mine. The history was fascinating, we were told of the various owners, all trying to make their fortunes in lead, and all failing miserably. The conditions they worked in, and the dangers they faced, really brought home to me how lucky we are to be living nowadays.
There was a downside to this talk, however. Our tour guide's patter, although interesting and funny, was unsuitable for children (making jokes about in-breeding, and making the words "far canal" sound like the 'f' word was not appreciated with a boat full of kids).
The sensation of being on a silent boat, cruising down an underground canal, is quite eerie. I've never had a tour like this one before and was fascinated to see the marks the miners left on the walls. It was also interesting seeing the lead ore that they were mining for set into the limestone walls.
At the end of the tunnel is a massive, natural cavern, also flooded with water. This is well lit and seriously impressive. It gives a graphic impression of the awesome power of nature when you're told that the entire cavern has been worn away by water over aeons, incredible! Apparently, the subterranean lake is 'bottomless' (but, in reality, it's just very deep).
After a short talk, and a chance to look around the cavern, you board the boat for the return journey. There will be a boat coming the other way, so there's a 'halfway house' where you pause on the way back to let the oncoming boat past. The canal is really narrow and only just wide enough for one boat, hence the 'halfway house'.
The whole tour takes only about an hour and a half, so is best combined with a visit to one of the other sites in Castleton, such as the wonderfully named "Devil's Arse" cavern. Price wise, the tour is quite expensive at £7.75 for an adult and £5.75 for kids. A two cavern ticket can be purchased for £12.00 for adults and £8.50 for kids, which is much better value for money.
Back up at ground level, there's a shop to peruse. This is typical of souvenir shops in the area, selling fossils, rocks, and also the amazing 'Blue John' stone which is found nowhere else in the world. It does sell some beautiful (but expensive) pieces, well worth a look.
Overall, this tour gives the almost unique experience of travelling on a boat on an underground canal. As long as you're not too claustrophobic, this is highly recommended. Take some soap to wash out the tour guide's mouth, just in case!
Summary: Definitely worth a look, there's few other tours like it.
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