Castleton, with Mam Tor dominating the skyline behind
Castleton is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to the Peak District. Maybe this is because it has everything the visitor might want - picturesque scenery, a ruined Norman castle, showcaves, interesting geology, good walks, places to eat and a pretty village. However, this also means that you must be prepared to share the village with the crowds, even on winter weekends.
Peveril castle from Cavedale
The village is centred around a square in which the church lies - this is just off the main road and directly beneath Peveril Castle on the hill behind. The castle was built in 1080 as a wooden building and rebuilt in stone around 1175. The church was begun about the same time and has a fine Norman arch across the Nave, which was constructed from 1190 to 1250. The tower was added in 1450-1500 and more additions were made in the 19th century. Other signs of the Norman era still remain - across the main road by the Bull's Head Inn you can see a section of the Town Ditch, a defensive earthwork built around the village. This was once a feature of many of the villages of the region.
The two main features of interest, apart from the castle, are Cave Dale and Peak Cavern. Both are reached from the top of the main square - Cave Dale to the left (east) and Peak Cavern to the right (west). Cave Dale is a collapsed cavern and the very bottom part was covered by a natural arch until 200 years ago. It is a spectacular walk up the dale, which is very deep and narrow, with mineral veins crossing it at intervals. As you climb up the Dale, directly above the subterranean chambers of Peak Cavern, you get a good view of Peveril Castle.
Peak Cavern entrance
Until very recently, Peak Cavern was the most impressive natural cavern in the Peak District. It is open as a showcave from April to October but is worth walking up to even if the cave attraction itself is shut. Take a narrow lane from the top corner of the village square (past the chip shop) to reach Peakshole Water, the stream which flows from the cavern. Take the path up the right hand bank of the stream into the deep chasm which is the entrance to the cavern. You'll notice on the other side a small stream flowing into Peakshole Water. This is the water from Russett Well, water that has come underground from caverns on the west side of Winnats pass - tracing the source of the water took the local geologists a long time! Now approach the impressive entrance to the cavern, which was once used by a family of ropemakers who built their cottages actually within the cave entrance.
The recently discovered Titan cavern under nearby Hurd Low dwarfs Peak Cavern and means that in the future Peak Cavern will have more competition for visitors but Titan remains inaccessible to the public for the foreseeable future.
Around the village square there are some fine old houses and cottages, including a Youth Hostel and some pubs. On the main road there are several shops selling Blue John (a local variety of Fluorspar with a fine colouring), jewellery made from this or souvenirs. One shop here houses the Ollerenshaw Collection, which contains a range of fine specimens of Blue John jewellery and artefacts.
Towards Mam Tor there is a public car park with public toilets and the Peak National Park Information Centre (telephone 01433 620679).
Castleton has a carnival at the end of May, the main event of which is called Garland Day on May 29th, when large garlands of flowers are made and the participants wear sprigs of oak. The Garland King and Queen are weighed down with immense garlands and a parade takes place through the village to the main square, when the King's garland is placed on top of the church tower. The ceremony is said to commemorate the Restoration of Charles II (hence the oak sprigs), but may well be a relic of some ancient fertility rite.