Thursday, October 26, 2006

Peak District Holiday Updated Saturday, October 28

Bradwell, Derbyshire, with Mam Tor lost in fog in the distance.

Bradwell is an old mining village clinging to a hillside in the Peak District, a short walk from both Hope and Castleton, both of which are better known to tourists. In the nineteenth century Bradwell was the home of Samuel Fox, who in 1852 received a patent for the first steel-ribbed umbrella. As one local historian remarked: "I should say that Mr. Fox had the Peak to thank for some of his commercial success. He was born in the Peak. There the rain-clouds are always gathering. What more natural than that Mr. Fox should turn his attention to umbrellas?" We could have used a few of Fox's umbrellas on our long walk around the western end of the Hope Valley along the ridges of Lose Hill, Back Tor, and Mam Tor—a classic walk known as the Peakland Ridge. A heavy fog persisted through most of the morning, and when that cleared off, the rain started. Despite the poor weather, there were many other people out walking. Whenever we became pleased with ourselves for braving the elements and tackling such a demanding walk, we would pass a mother manoeuvering a stroller down the steep path. Here are some highlights of the nine-mile walk:

The path from Lose Hill
Back Tor
The summit of Mam Tor (1696 ft.) in the fog
Mam Tor
(from the Blue John Cavern)
The Descent into Castleton
(footpath from Blue John Cavern to Treak Cliff Cavern)
On the ridge in the background, left to right: Hollins Cross, Back Tor, Lose Hill

After the walk, we were completely drenched, so we dried off and had lunch in The Castle in Castleton, then had an enjoyable tour of Peak Cavern, the largest cave in Britain. In the photograph at left, you can see the enormous size of the cave entrance. You can also see rope-making equipment. From 1600 until about 1860, the cave was used as a factory where rope was produced for local lead miners. The rope makers lived in stone huts inside the cave entrance. They also served as tour guides for visiting luminaries, like Queen Victoria and Lord Byron (whose signature we saw scratched into the cave wall). In the middle ages, the cavern was a hideout for gypsies and bandits, and was reputed in local legend to be the entrance to Hell itself. Ben Jonson, in his 1616 play The Devil is an Ass, mentions the cave's colorful original name:

Fit. What's your Name?
Pug. My Name is Devil, Sir.
Fit. Say'st thou true. Pug. Indeed, Sir.
Fit. 'Slid! there's some Omen i' this! what Countryman?
Pug. Of Derby-shire, Sir, about the Peak.
Fit. That Hole
Belong'd to your Ancestors?
Pug. Yes, Devil's Arse, Sir.

Each winter, the cave floods. As the floodwaters subside and are sucked back into the recesses of the cave, there is a great roaring, flatulent sound: the sound of the Devil's Arse.

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