2 days near Matlock, Derbyshire June 2021
Updated: Jul 6
Travelling onwards meant heading south, so we headed towards Matlock, an area of Derbyshire neither of us had visited before. On the way, we stopped at Bolsover Castle, run by English Heritage, and just an 8 minute detour from the M1. The car park was full, but we easily parked the campervan a few minutes walk away on the street. From the M1, Bolsover appears as an imposing part building, part ruin, on the top of a hill. That is in fact exactly what it is, but well worth a visit.
William Cavendish was one of the grandsons of local dignitary, Bess of Hardwick. He was a friend of James I and Charles I, and tutor to Charles II. His father, Charles, built the Castle in 1612, but died in 1617, and it was his son William who was responsible for the interior decoration, and the Riding range and banqueting hall that you see today. He was a well educated young man, and ahead of his time in his interest in philosophy, science and the arts. He was also a very accomplished horseman, and is known as the father of dressage, when he showed how horses could be encouraged by a good rider to perform intricate movements without needing to use force. Up until his work was published, cruel methods had often been used to train horses. He built the riding range and stables to train his horses, and the huge banqueting hall and kitchens (now a ruin), for lavish entertaining. Kings and Queens, eminent philosophers , scientists and poets were frequent guests. No expense was spared. This is an example of 1 napkin, pinched into the shape of a bird!
Imagine creating one for each of 100 guests! The little castle is still intact, and has an incredible interior which was designed to impress. Todays plain walls would have been lined with glorious, colourful tapestries, and the effect must have been very splendid. The paintings and panelling are so ornate, and contain many examples of symbolism which was rife in the 18th century. Venus abounds! Say no more! A shoeless woman was unfaithful, a cat meant promiscuity. The paintings are about fun, wealth and pleasure.
This one appears to suggest that if you get to heaven, you meet a dancing Jesus!
The most amazing fact about Bolsover castle, is that it wasn’t for living in. It was a pleasure palace for entertaining and hobbies! The ultimate party patio and garden shed. The family actually lived at Welbeck Hall, 5 miles away!
A picnic lunch and a walk at nearby Carr Vale Wildlife Trust bird reserve, led to another discovery. The reserve had a section named after Peter Fidler, and a large monolith dedicated to him. It turns out he was born in Bolsover, but left for Canada in 1788, working for the Hudson Bay Company. He was instrumental in mapping inland Canada, creating the concept of Trading Posts and building them as he explored new regions. He named them after his local towns, discovered important coal and mineral deposits, and worked with local people. He married a local Cree indigenous woman, and was apparently a devoted husband and father to their 14 children. He is still held in high regard in Canada. When he died, he bizarrely asked that any residue from his estate should be put in a fund and allowed to accumulate interest until 1969, when it was to be given to his oldest living male heir! It has never been found!
From here it was a 30 minute drive to our campsite. Splash Farm sits up in one of the steep valleys, near the amazing warren of buildings that are Smedley’s wool mills. Although still in operation, they are well out of sight, and we heard no noise at all. The site is just 5 pitches, a Caravan club CL. Each pitch has water, a TV connection and a semi hardstanding. Fairly level pitches, screened with hedges. Lovely view and very peaceful, apart from birdsong. No toilets or showers, or wifi, and intermittent phone signal, so not for everyone, but we loved it!
It is possible to do some nice walks from the site.
Next day, we walked half a mile down to High Peak junction on the Cromford Canal, and walked the 2.5 miles to Matlock Bath.
The Cromford canal was a remarkable feat of engineering in the 1790’s. It cut through this hilly terrain, and remained level for over 12 miles, thus needing no locks. The embankment walls that held it up are still intact today. This was part of the Derwent Valley industrial heritage. Now so green, tranquil and full of nature, this valley was once full of industry, especially mills and mines! Barges were continually travelling along the canal loaded with coal, limestone, iron and cotton. Walking along the canal was lovely. Lots of birds, including this Little Grebe, with babies on her back.
Cromford was home to Richard Arkwright, whose family lived at Wittersley Castle. He built huge mills in the valley, and a village to house the workers, with a school, which you can explore. He is often mentioned in school history lessons for inventing first the Spinning Jenny, and then the Water frame spinner, which allowed more, and better quality threads, to be spun at the same time, which revolutionised the cotton industry. His huge mill complex, Masson mill, is still here, but it’s future is currently uncertain.
We walked into Matlock Bath, with houses creeping up the valley sides, and many splendid Victorian villas and hotels. This was a Spa town, with healing thermal waters, but it sat side by side with the local industry! The old Pavilion and Dance Hall are being restored, but the building also houses the excellent Peak District Lead Mining museum, which had lots of interesting information for adults, and interactive activities for children. It is a real repository of machinery and information about the local mining industry, and geology and minerals as well.
This Derbyshire oak stone was fascinating. Very rare, it polishes up like marble. For just a £3 extra we added a visit to Temple lead mine to our ticket, which the guide, Chris, really brought to life for us.
From Matlock Bath you can take a cable car to the heights of Abraham, and the activity park up there, but at £20 pp we decided it wasn’t for us. Matlock Bath is a nice town, with tea rooms and river gardens, which are illuminated at Christmas, and a very large number of fish and chip shops! Apparently 1 per 100 residents! Why? Well apparently, it was built as a spa town, but wanted to attract Victorian holiday makers, so modelled itself on seaside towns! After a stroll, but no fish and chips, we caught the local bus to Ambergate, 7 miles back down the valley, where we rejoined the Cromford Canal and had a lovely 4 mile walk back to High Peak Junction, with a tunnel to walk through and an aqueduct to cross!
Lots of birds and this incredible, huge Dragonfly, a broad bodied chaser. It was huge and the markings are incredible!
Near the end of our walk we passed the Leawood Pumphouse whose steam engine pumped water from the river Derwent to the canal from 1849. It is still in full working order, and does monthly ‘Steam Up’ demonstrations.
There would be lots more to do in this area, but we were only on a fleeting visit! We didn't even get to Bakewell to sample the tarts!