What makes Christmas in Castleton so special?
- Credit: Gary Wallis
Words by Mike Smith
Ribbons of light
The brightly-illuminated Christmas trees create glittering ribbons of light throughout the village.
Their effect is particularly dazzling when viewed from the corner of Cross Street and Back Street, where the main road emerges quite suddenly from a chicane to head through an illuminated tunnel towards the dark hills that close off the valley in which Castleton stands. Have your camera at the ready!
As well as housing an excellent Italian restaurant, the main street contains three of the eight cafés to be found in the village.
One of these, Rose Cottage, has a walled garden that is one of the most delightful outside café areas in the country.
One sobering thought is that the cottage stands on a ‘coffin path’ once used by mourners from the village of Edale, in the next valley, as they headed for the church at Castleton to bury their dead.
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As this was a legal right of way until the 1970s, the front and back doors of the cottage had to be left open. The café is a much cosier place these days.
Another addition to Castleton’s café scene is The Blueberry, located in the Peak District National Park Visitor Centre, where there is a fascinating collection of historical artefacts, an information desk and a book and gift shop, as well as interactive interpretation panels and innovative video walls.
Illustrations of climbing, potholing and hang-gliding are so realistic that visitors almost feel they are taking part.
Six of the best
Castleton has nearly as many pubs as cafés. For a village with only 650 permanent residents, the existence of six inns is remarkable.
All the hostelries claim that they were first licensed in the coaching days and they feature welcoming interiors where hearty pub food can be enjoyed in the most atmospheric and evocative of surroundings - the Castle and the George even boast that they are haunted by ghosts.
Without exception, they offer first-class accommodation where guests can stay in cosy, well-appointed rooms.
With the addition of a large selection of holiday lets and guest houses, the village has accommodation for over 3,000 overnight guests.
Given the spectacular location of the settlement at the head of the Hope Valley, it would be hard to find a better place than Castleton for a romantic Christmas break.
Blue like the ice and gold like the sun
This famous tourist honeypot is also known for its remarkable concentration of shops.
These are to be found, not only along the main road that twists and turns its way through the village, but also in the ancient Market Place and in The Stones, a narrow street that descends from the Market Place to a fast-flowing stream called Peakshole Water.
Appropriately for an area that is a magnet for walkers, climbers and potholers, there are plenty of outlets for outdoor clothing and equipment. Gift shops, particularly those selling crafts and jewellery, are ubiquitous.
Cross Street alone contains three outlets for jewellery and ornaments crafted from Blue John stone, a form of fluorspar found uniquely in the bowels of the cliff beneath Mam Tor, the hill that guards Castleton from the west.
When the mineral is extracted and cut and polished, its surface becomes kaleidoscopically- patterned with zig-zag bands of blue and gold.
It has been suggested that the stone was first cut and polished in France, where it was christened bleu-jaune, which was freely translated as Blue John.
The Derbyshire writer Berlie Doherty wrote a wonderful children’s story about a boy called Blue John, who lived in a cave below Mam Tor and was ‘blue like the ice and gold like the sun’.
The show caves where Blue John is found are the Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern.
A visit to Blue John Cavern includes the experience of standing in an underground space called the Waterfall Cavern, where stalagmite formations look like a frozen waterfall, and a visit to a circular cave called Lord Mulgrave’s Dining Room, where his lordship is said to have entertained his miners to dinner.
Treak Cliff Cavern is a wonderland of stalactites and stalagmites, rocks, minerals and fossils.
The so-called ‘Old Series’ of caves contains rocks of Blue John discovered by blasting in the 18th century, whereas the ‘New Series’ has stalactites, stalagmites and flowstone, revealed when a new round of blasting took place in the 1920s.
Speedwell Cavern provides a very different experience. Visitors are taken by boat along an underground canal formed by the flooded workings of an eighteenth-century lead mine.
The culmination of their journey is arrival at the so-called Bottomless Pit, a huge underground lake deep inside the limestone hill.
Unlike Castleton’s other show caves, Peak Cavern, also known as the Devil’s Arse, is an entirely natural cavern.
It stretches deep into the hillside below Peveril Castle and is approached through a huge amphitheatre that forms the largest cave entrance in the country.
Famous past visitors include Daniel Defoe, Lord Byron and Queen Victoria, whose blushes were saved when the label Devil’s Arse was removed during her visit in 1842. Today’s visitors are less likely to be offended by the name.
These underground wonders are matched by the spectacular over-ground attractions of Peveril Castle and Winnats Pass.
The castle, perched high above the village, was built in the reign of Henry II. It is one of the earliest Norman fortresses in England.
Although its impressive stone-built keep was out of bounds to visitors at the time of writing to allow conservation to be carried out, the fabulous view from the castle precincts makes the ascent to the fortress along a steep twisting walkway very worthwhile.
Castleton, built as a Norman ‘new town’ looks like a neat model village when viewed from this lofty vantage point, the Hope Valley stretches far away to the east and Mam Tor, known as the ‘Shivering Mountain’ because of its landslips, dominates the western horizon.
Because the looping road that was constructed on the slopes of Mam Tor was closed to traffic many years ago due to chronic subsistence, the only route out of Castleton to the west is Winnats Pass, a narrow road that climbs a 1 in 4 gradient between towering limestone crags and pinnacles.
On a pitch-black winter evening, a drive through the pass is an eerie experience for motorists, relieved only by the view back towards those dazzling ribbons of light running through the Christmas tree-decked village of Castleton.