Speedwell Cavern in the Peak District National Park is a great destination for families to experience an underground adventure in a boat. The temperature stays more or less constant 10c, 52f as caves generally do, so it’s a comfortable medium all year round.
There are one hundred and six steps down to the boat where you will be guided through the tunnel by a really knowledgeable and friendly member of staff who will give you a very informative and fun tour underground.
Due to the occasionally wet and possibly slippery steps to the boat, it is not accessible for those with mobility issues.
Speedwell Cavern was once a lead mine dating back to 1771. Health and safety in the days of mining was virtually non-existent, but now you have fixed lighting, thank goodness, no tallow candles like the lead miners you rely on, and hard hats hanging at the top of the stairs ready to wear before descending the stairs, even small safety helmets for children.
My grandson enjoyed wearing his little helmet and it looked pretty cute too. The original steps to the cave were completed in 1778.
Before the steps were carved and the original entrance completed, there was a twenty-eight-foot deep shaft that descended into the cave space.
The original shaft is now marked by a flagpole in the parking garage. Even in the early days there would have been boat trips into Speedwell cave, I imagine it would have brought in some extra income.
From the earliest record of lead mining on the site, there was active work for about twenty years, this would have been extremely hard and dangerous work in pitch darkness with only tallow candles to light the way.
The blast holes can still be seen in the cave walls as the boat moves through the tunnel. It took about two hours to produce each blast hole using extremely simple and dangerous methods.
It was a two-man operation using a manual drill that was turned by hand and the second miner hit it with a six-kilogram sledgehammer, blow by blow.
Fifteen to twenty of these holes would have been required for each blast. Before each blast, each hole had to be filled with black powder and sealed with a stopper and then a straw fuse was used to fire the blast. miners crammed into a security hole and waited for the almighty blast. This is what I mean when I say there was no safety in the lead mining industry.
The tunnel took just over four years to complete. Mining was not a profitable concern as records show that £14,000 was spent on the entire mine set up from start to finish and only £3,000 was made in profit.
There is a significant network of caves connected to the Speedwell Cavern that are explored by registered and experienced speleologists. There is about thirteen miles of interconnected caves in total, some of which are more extreme to explore than others.
The cave system includes a connection to the Peak Cavern also known as The Devil’s Ass! It lies below Peveril Castle and Cavedale and has the largest natural cave entrance in the British Isles.
This part of Derbyshire, the village of Castleton is known for its spectacular cave systems.
Location and booking information
Speedwell Cavern is located high above Castleton Village in the Derbyshire Peak District, next to the iconic Winnats Pass.
To book an underground boat adventure or for more information about opening hours and questions, visit the Speedwell Cavern website.
The car park is opposite the entrance to the cave with the same zip code. This is a paid parking lot for cars and visitors to the cave receive a discount.
Coach parking spaces are also available. Please inquire for availability via the Speedwell Cavern website for more information on bus visits and school or large groups.
We had a wonderful family visit to Speedwell Cavern along with our five year old grandson, Elijah. We have been visiting the site for years now since our two eldest sons were little so it was lovely to join our second eldest son, James, and his son this time.
The five of us including our daughter Jemma booked for a late afternoon boat trip. It was a fascinating and fun underground journey.
Our grandson, Elijah, had the time of his life with the boat through the tunnel, taking it all in as always and asking Dad questions all the time.
The young guide was great at telling the stories of the lead miners and explaining the conditions they would have experienced underground in their daily lives.
The guide was very knowledgeable and approachable, he made the tour a lot of fun while giving us an informative tour of the Speedwell Cavern below the hills of the Peak District.
We highly recommend a visit whether you are a family or visiting as an individual, it is a great underground adventure with a lot of history. Even the actor, Paul Newman used to visit them.
The gift shop offers a wide variety of gifts from souvenirs, postcards, toys and beautiful pottery items to beautiful jewelry. I especially like the locally sourced and rare Blue John stone jewelry.
Blue John is a rare form of fluorite, a semi-precious stone with bands of blue and yellow color in it. It is only found in Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern in Castleton in the Derbyshire Peak District, UK.
The gift shop also sells a good variety of refreshments, including bottled water and snacks. I recommend exploring the village of Castleton while you’re here, it has so much to offer, you can visit some of the other caves, or Peveril Castle while you’re in the area.
If, like me, you love the local Blue John semi-precious stones, you can visit more wonderful jewelry stores. Make a day out of it by stopping for dinner at the local restaurants, cafes and pubs and make use of the large car park with toilets.
A beautiful area and an excellent, highly recommended experience at Speedwell Caverns.
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- Cave City, Nottingham
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