Saturday, 16 August 2008

Peak District Cave Boat - Speedwell Cavern in Castleton, England

Castleton, a pretty little village in the heart of Europe’s most visited National Park, isn’t exactly short on caves. The whole landscape of this part of the Peak District is dotted with underground caverns.
Of these, the Blue John and Treak Cliff Caverns are well worth a visit, as is the amusingly-named Devil’s Arse. But for sheer novelty factor, Speedwell Cavern wins hands down.
Entrance is via over 100 rather steep steps, so it’s not suited for visitors of limited mobility. Or, for that matter, anyone who suffers from claustrophobia.
What makes the Speedwell Cavern tour unique is that once down those steps, visitors leap aboard a small boat, which then ploughs its way through a flooded mining tunnel.
There’s not much room for manoeuvre in this tunnel. Tall people need to bend over a little, while any fingers dangling over the side of the boat are liable to get crushed against the sides of the walls.
The tunnel took four years to build, and the boat chugs through, the tour guide tells horrific tales of the life of a lead miner.
They would spend eight hours a day in these dark, dingy conditions, blowing up the rock and getting all manner of poisonous dust into their lungs.
The boat goes past the tiny holes that three or four miners would cram into to escape the blasts, and it’s easy to see why life expectancy didn’t even hit 30.
The cavern at the end of the boat ride is actually something of a disappointment, but this is one instance where it’s the journey that counts.

Getting to Speedwell Cavern in Castleton

Nearest international airport: Manchester International Airport
By public transport: Castleton is on the Hope Valley train line between Manchester and Sheffield. Buses also go reasonably regularly from both cities.

More information: Speedwell Cavern

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