Peveril Castle occupies a commanding position at the head of the Hope Valley, where it stands imperiously on the triangular summit of a limestone hill, protected on all sides by high cliffs and steep slopes.

The south-eastern side of the castle is positioned high above Cave Dale, a dry limestone valley, where a narrow path runs between almost vertical limestone cliffs.

Curtain walls on the western side of the fortress look across the huge gash of Peak Cavern Gorge, leading to the largest cave entrance in Britain.

The perimeter wall on the northern side overlooks Castleton, a Norman ‘new town’, which looks like a ‘toy town’ when viewed from this height.

The castle dates from the 11th century, when it was erected as a fortified dwelling by William Peveril, who is often referred to as William the Conqueror’s illegitimate son.

Whilst this claim to William’s birthright is unsubstantiated, there is ample evidence to show that he was a great favourite of the Conqueror, who gave him estates in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, including those lands in the Hope Valley that the castle was designed to protect.

READ MORE: Peak District walk: Castleton, Peveril Castle and Cave Dale

Great British Life: The walkway between the two levels in the keep Photo: Mike SmithThe walkway between the two levels in the keep Photo: Mike Smith

Wickedness and treason

When William Peveril died in 1114, his estates passed to his son, William Peveril the Younger, who managed to lose the royal favour enjoyed by his father.

He backed the ‘wrong side’ in the civil war between the supporters of King Stephen and Empress Matilda. Then, to make matters worse, he alienated the powerful Earl of Chester, who became convinced that Peveril had tried to poison him.

According to Richard Eales, author of the guidebook to the castle, Henry Plantagenet vowed in 1153 that he would strip Peveril of his lands and grant them to the Earl of Chester, ‘unless in my court he is able to clear himself of charges of wickedness and treason’.

When the Earl died before he could benefit from this threat, Henry, who became King Henry II in 1155, decided that he would confiscate Peveril Castle and keep the fortress for himself.

READ MORE: 10 historic events that defined Derbyshire

Great British Life: The keep at Peveril Castle Photo: Mike SmithThe keep at Peveril Castle Photo: Mike Smith

Henry’s keep

Just as he did in his many other castles throughout England, from Dover to Newcastle, Henry built a keep.

According to Richard Eales, the prime purpose of this imposing structure was not to ensure security or even to provide accommodation, but to symbolise the king’s authority and emphasise his determination to maintain royal power in the region.

Whilst almost all the remains of William Peveril’s original castle, other than the perimeter walls, have been reduced over the years to a scattering of foundations, the remarkable keep has survived for more than eight centuries as a bold and upright tower, clearly visible from the surrounding hills and from the streets of Castleton, the village at its foot.

Despite being known as Peveril Castle, the castle that we see today is really the keep of King Henry II.

Although many of the smooth, well-shaped stones that faced the keep have been plundered to leave a rough ‘undercoat’, enough of them have survived to give an indication of the careful styling of the original structure. This is especially the case on the north-east corner and in the upper reaches of the south-east side, above the first-floor doorway to the castle.

Great British Life: 'Double Arch' at the visitors' entrance to the keep Photo: Mike Smith'Double Arch' at the visitors' entrance to the keep Photo: Mike Smith

This entrance, where today’s visitors access the keep, features a very unusual double arch, which was originally adorned with carved heads. Only a badly worn remnant of one of these heads survives - on the right-hand side of the doorway. Blink and you might miss it!

After entering the keep, you can walk along a wooden balcony which follows the line of the floor that once divided the interior into two levels.

The upper level was the main living space, which had a small garderobe (toilet) built into the thickness of one wall, with a chute running down the outside.

An internal spiral staircase descends from the upper floor to a badly lit basement, thought wrongly, but understandably, to be a dungeon by many visitors.

After leaving the keep for a walk around the grounds, you will find it difficult to interpret the stones that litter the area as being remnants of a chapel and the various rooms that were part of the original castle.

However, it is worth taking a close look at the herringbone masonry of the surviving curtain walls. Was this decorative or designed to improve stability?

Finally, you will want to linger at the northern curtain wall, which commands an extensive panorama over the Hope Valley - one of the most iconic views in the Peak District.

Whilst you are there

Peveril Castle is set in the heart of one of the most dramatic landscapes in the Peak District. Castleton, at the foot of the fortification, is a tourist honeypot. Its attractions include:

Great British Life: Cave Dale - viewed from the south-east curtain wall of the castle Photo: Mike SmithCave Dale - viewed from the south-east curtain wall of the castle Photo: Mike Smith

Cave Dale

The ‘secret valley’ of Cave Dale, which you may have spotted far below the southern curtain wall of Peveril Castle, is a scenic limestone gully.

The entrance to the dale is tucked away at the foot of Pindale Road, on the edge of Castleton, from where you can follow a steep, rocky path through the gorge before it opens out to give views of Mam Tor and the Great Ridge.

Great British Life: Peak Cavern - the largest cave entrance in Britain Photo: Mike SmithPeak Cavern - the largest cave entrance in Britain Photo: Mike Smith

The four show caves of Castleton

Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern are the only sources in the world of Blue John, a much-prized stone that is patterned with blue and yellow bands.

At Speedwell Cavern, a former lead mine, an exciting underground boat journey leads to a huge chamber known as the ‘Bottomless Pit’.

Peak Cavern, the only natural cavern in the area, is an extensive cave complex entered through the largest cave entrance in Britain.

READ MORE: 4 mysterious cave locations to visit in Derbyshire

Great British Life: Cross Street, with gift shops, a cafe and a restaurant Photo: Mike SmithCross Street, with gift shops, a cafe and a restaurant Photo: Mike Smith

Gift shops and places offering food and drink

Castleton has a wide selection of cafés and restaurants, as well as six public houses, all of which provide good food and a welcoming atmosphere. The fine gifts on offer in the many tourist shops in the village include ornaments and jewellery made from Blue John.

Castleton Information Centre

The premier information centre in the Peak District National Park includes digital interpretation displays, an interactive wall, a local history museum and a café.