Exploring the history and delights of Matlock, Matlock Bath and Cromford

Matlock (C) diane10981/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Matlock (C) diane10981/Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Steeped in history, revered for its charm and as popular as ever - Matlock is one of our county’s greatest assets

Smedley Street, Matlock

Smedley Street, Matlock - Credit: Archant

Matlock is undoubtedly a jewel in the crown of the county’s superb offering, welcoming thousands of visitors from across Derbyshire and further afield all year round.

The reasons for Matlock’s reputation and popularity are many and varied. While the town’s history can be traced right back – it is recorded in the 1086 Doomsday Book as Meslach and potentially originates from the meaning ‘moot-oak’ (an oak tree where meetings are held) - it’s the more recent history that is responsible for its current standing.

Following an explosion in the popularity and perceived benefits of hydrotherapy in the 1800s, Matlock – largely under the stewardship of the famed industrialist John Smedley – exploded as a best-in-class spa town in the Victorian age, the remnants of which can still been seen dotted around the town today; indeed the building which now houses Derbyshire County Council, County Hall, was formerly Smedley’s Hydro until the 1950s.

Riber Castle above Matlock from the Heights of Abraham (C) Latsalomao/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Riber Castle above Matlock from the Heights of Abraham (C) Latsalomao/Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Such was Matlock’s standing at the time, the town’s population grew significantly, as did its attraction to visitors, to the extent that even when the hydrotherapy era began to subside, Matlock’s status as a go-to town was secured. Another aspect of Matlock’s popularity is its beauty and quintessential charm. Nestled in the valley on the edge of the famed Peak District with dramatic hills and imposing cliffs surrounding it – not to mention the Gothic-style Riber Castle which looks down imposingly on the town from almost every angle – Matlock paints a pretty picture.

Its location is also a plus – a short distance from the likes of Matlock Bath, Chatsworth, Bakewell, Cromford and Wirksworth, there is plenty of scope to branch out, while regular public transport means larger locations such as Chesterfield, Derby and Sheffield are less than an hour away.

Finally, Matlock offers an abundance of attractions in keeping with the town’s rich character – from the expansive and pretty Hall Leys Park, original and quirky independent craft shops, cafes, family-run businesses and even the local football club; Matlock Town. Whether local or living further afield, few leave Matlock after a day out feeling unfulfilled.

Hall Leys Park, Matlock (C) Robert Falconer

Hall Leys Park, Matlock (C) Robert Falconer - Credit: Archant

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Where to eat and drink

Dale Road, just off the town centre and the famous Crown Square, leads out of town towards Matlock Bath, however there are plenty of establishments here which may tempt you to delay your departure out of Matlock.

Matlock Bath from up high (C) Gary Wallis

Matlock Bath from up high (C) Gary Wallis - Credit: Archant

Here you’ll find a multitude of restaurants, from the high-end Stones nestled against the river to the popular Viva, Thailand No. 1 and HERD.

There are also traditional pubs such as the Remarkable Hare (the Old English back in the day), Mocha, with its array of real ale, and Twenty10 for those wanting a game of pool and live music.

There are also trendy bars such as Monk and a variety of takeaways along the stretch, all offering something different and catering for various preferences.

Mill Pond at Cromford (C) FatManPhotoUK/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Mill Pond at Cromford (C) FatManPhotoUK/Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

With Hall Leys Park a stone’s throw away there is plenty of opportunity to walk off your meal and with Dale Road famed for its unique antique stores and independent shops, you can easily spend hours here.

Fascinating fact

The Derwent River, flanking Lovers Walk in Matlock Bath (C) Steven Bramall/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Derwent River, flanking Lovers Walk in Matlock Bath (C) Steven Bramall/Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Riber Castle, the iconic 1860s Grade II-listed structure which towers high over the town on a hill, has led a varied existence.

Designed by John Smedley as his private home and an extension of his hydrotherapic empire, the castle has taken on various purposes and roles since his death in 1874 – including being used as a private boys’ school, storage for foodstuff during WW2, a zoo containing exotic European animals and, latterly, luxury apartments.

Things to do with the family

Hall Leys Park

From its expansive fields by the bandstand, the park cafe offering refreshments, playground, skatepark, boating lake and miniature train ride, families can spend hours enjoying the delights of the park, which is conveniently situated right in the middle of the town.

Matlock Meadows

Matlock Meadows is an ideal place to take the family, with something for everyone. A worked farm (Masson Farm), it includes a café (serving homemade ice cream), a soft play area, outdoor play area, animals, small shop and sitting areas; good whatever the weather!


Matlock Bath/Cromford

Distance from Matlock: 1.5 miles (Matlock Bath), 4miles (Cromford)

For two small locations, both Matlock Bath and neighbouring Cromford certainly pack a punch both in terms of heritage and things to do.

Once referred to by Lord Byron as ‘Little Switzerland’ and visited by Queen Victoria in 1832, Matlock Bath’s unique charm, situated alongside the River Derwent which flows effortlessly next to the main promenade, has led many to liken it to a seaside resort without the sea.

As with Matlock, it benefited hugely from its spa and hydrotherapic qualities and, in modern times, has become a staple for motor bikers who gather en masse to enjoy the abundant fish and chips and amusements on offer. The annual Matlock Bath Illuminations on the river are also a sight to behold and results in thousands of visitors each year.

Likewise, Cromford has a proud and significant past – it was here that the famed Richard Arkwright built his first cotton mill, making the village a significant player in the birth of the Industrial Revolution and the results of this are still very much in evidence. As such, certain areas in Cromford are designated as World Heritage sites.

Cromford has much to offer in the present day too; with scenery, shops, pubs, bars, cafes and walking routes in plentiful supply.

Must visit place

Lovers Walk on the opposite side of the river in Matlock Bath hugs the dramatic High Tor and makes for an idyllic walk, with the temptations of the bustling promenade just a wander over the bridge away.

For unrivalled views of the surrounding area, the Heights of Abraham and cablecars are a must.

Famous for...

Prestigious visitors such as Queen Victoria and Erasmus Darwin, spas, hydros, petrifying wells, illuminations, fish and chips (Matlock Bath); industrial heritage, mills and Richard Arkwright (Cromford)

6 walks near Matlock