Hidden From View

Exploring England #22

The Peak District is renowned for its natural beauty. More than 10 million people visit every year to enjoy the excellent walks and beautiful scenery.

While there’s plenty to do above ground, there are also fascinating wonders hidden below the surface; several show caves are located close to Castleton. We visited three and were surprised to discover both their similarities and differences. They are all enormous, natural caverns created long ago by the movement of water and they all show evidence of human intervention. What’s different is the way people have used each cave in the past.

Peak Cavern is the closest to Castleton. A path from the centre of the village passes old miners’ cottages before leading into a forested limestone ravine. The cave entrance, the largest in England, is almost hidden by plants growing in the shadow of the cliffs.

A sign bearing the alternate, original name of the cave greeted us – it’s an indicator of rumbling sounds made by air currents inside. The cave’s name was changed to protect Queen Victoria’s sensibilities before she visited in 1880, but most people prefer the original.

Because of the vast, protected space in the overhang of the cave entrance, it was inhabited by rope makers for more than 400 years and our cave visit began with a demonstration of this craft. Mr ET volunteered his services as apprentice rope maker, turning the handle first one way and then the reverse, to twist the strands of fibre into one strong length of rope.

Once the rope was made we followed a self-guided track into the depths of the cave. The damp and slippery path led to a series of walkways and platforms high in the airy spaces above the cavern floor. Here the constant sound of running water echoed off the yellow limestone walls.

Water also features at Speedwell Cavern, a short drive from Castleton at the base of Winnats Pass.

The cavern itself is 200 metres underground and can only be reached by boat! Narrow water-filled tunnels created by lead miners in the 1770s go deep inside the mountain, and, with just a few centimetres between our heads and the roof, safety helmets were necessary for the 800 metre ride to the cavern.

After the closeness of the boat ride, the natural space of the cave seemed immense. The roof is so high it cannot be seen from the cave’s floor while to one side the Bottomless Pit, a naturally formed shaft, falls away another 150 metres into the depths of the cave. The 18th century miners tossed their mine spoil into the pit, but it barely made an impact.

At the top of Winnats Pass is the entrance to Blue John Cavern, where mining has made an impact on the cave.

Semi-precious Blue John stone is found only in the Castleton area and has been mined since the mid 1760s. Some areas of this cave are still worked – our tour guide mines in the cave in the winter months. The first miners were lowered into the natural cave through a small pothole on the surface but we went 70 metres below ground via steps and a man-made tunnel.

Once inside the cave, our path followed the bed of an ancient underground river which flowed more than 8000 years ago. Fossils are embedded in the cave walls and stalagmites and stalactites decorate each of the six chambers.

Veins of Blue John run across the walls of some of the chambers and, even in the dull electric lighting, the crystals sparkle. Old mining tools have been left near a shaft where the largest known pieces of Blue John were discovered.

We spent a lot of time in the Peak District looking out over the beautiful countryside and green rolling hills. In these three caverns, we discovered a new perspective on the area, our eyes turned upwards to the vast underground spaces that lie hidden beneath.

Up To The Top

Exploring England #21

Walking – it’s what people do when they visit the Peak District National Park. Some enjoy a gentle stroll through a pretty village while others take on the challenge of hiking the 431 km Pennine Way National Trail.

Somewhere in between the two extremes are 3,005 km of walking tracks with right of way through farming land.

Let’s go – through the gate

up the hill

over the stile

to a vantage point at the top of the ridge.

Walkers are rewarded with expansive views of the village of Castleton and the limestone hills bordering the Hope Valley.

Imagine the views when they go even higher!

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Atop

A Secret Place

Exploring England #13

Many attractions in Cornwall, like the Eden Project and Land’s End, are well-known and easy to locate. Carn Euny Ancient Village is different. We only learned of its existence from a map of English Heritage sites. It’s free to visit; the only cost is the effort required to find this hidden gem. With no local knowledge, we relied on our GPS to show us the way.

After negotiating narrow Cornish lanes lined by tall hedgerows, the road ended abruptly at a small car park. A dilapidated sign was the only indication we were heading in the right direction. It was as if we were searching for a secret place, known by just a few.


We set off on foot on a wide track lined by green fields, where the local inhabitants watched in silence as we walked past. On the opposite side, the hedges were laden with fruit and tiny flowers.



Even though we saw a couple of homes tucked away behind high hedges, barking dogs were the only signs of life. The mystery deepened when the track ended, replaced by a narrow path leading down into a shaded wood.


We passed the remains of a old chapel and a sacred well dedicated to St Euny, almost hidden by a jumble of fallen stones.



We knew we must be close and, as suddenly as we had entered the wood, we were out in the open again. Before us was the ancient village of Carn Euny. The area was occupied from as early as 800 BC until around 400 AD, and the stone foundations visible today date from the 2nd century AD. An information board showed us how the settlement may have looked around 300 AD.



The structures were stone courtyard houses, built in a style unique to Cornwall. As we explored the site, we found the entrance to an underground passage.



The passage, known as a fogou, is one of just a few found only in this part of Cornwall. The purpose of the fogou and the large underground chamber to which it leads is unknown, although archaeologists think they may have been used for storage or religious ceremonies.



Standing inside the fogou, the sense of mystery enveloped us and we wondered about the people who once lived here. Even with our GPS and mobile phones we felt alone in this place. Would they have felt as isolated 1700 years ago as we did in the 21st century?


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The Gardens of Eden

Exploring England #12

Everything about the Eden Project in north west Cornwall is large, including the statistics.

Every year 850,000 people visit the 13 hectare sustainable gardens. More than two million plants grow in the outdoor gardens and bubble-like biomes, which now fill what was once a disused clay china pit.


It’s typically warm and humid in the 16,000m²  Rainforest Biome. Lush, tropical plants overflow into every space. Slender palm trees almost touch the roof, 50 metres above the floor, and beautiful flowers bloom in profusion. Delicately formed or bright and brash, they all compete for attention.

A walkway leads from the forest floor high into the canopy and then to a lookout suspended from the roof. When the temperature and humidity rise, the lookout is closed for safety reasons.


Covering an area of 6,540m² and rising to 30 metres, the Mediterranean Biome is smaller but the garden is just as spectacular. It seems appropriate that red, orange and yellow are the dominant colours, from the potted pelargoniums at the entrance to the large variety of exotic tomato plants in the edible garden.


More than 3,000 plants from the temperate zones of the world fill the 8 hectares of outdoor gardens surrounding the biomes. Many are native to the region and encourage local fauna to make their home in the open sunlit spaces.



Twenty large artworks reflecting the Eden Project’s philosophy of community and sustainability are placed across the site. Driftwood horses greet visitors at the entrance to the gardens. A biodiversity chandelier decorates the roof of the Rainforest Biome. In the Outdoor Garden, a giant bee is a reminder of the importance of pollinators.




If you’re one of the 850,000 visitors to the Eden Project, be prepared. Whether you spend a couple of hours or stay the whole day, you’ll see and learn plenty. Just don’t try counting anything!

The End

Exploring England #9

On the southern coast of Cornwall there are two unique geographical markers. Land’s End, a barren rocky headland, is the most south-westerly point of mainland Great Britain while Lizard Point with its sheer, stony cliffs is the most southerly. The scenery at each location is wild and rugged; the surging ocean crashes onto rocks below the lookouts.


Like so many travellers through the centuries, we wanted to visit these special locations. Both have a colourful history of shipwrecks and lighthouses and both have cafés in remarkable positions, but that’s where the similarities end.

Land’s End, once part of the land gifted to Robert, Count of Mortain by William the Conqueror in 1066, is now owned by Heritage Attractions.




Along with beautiful views of the Cornish coast, there are several buildings dating from the 19th century to admire. The First and Last Cafe has been serving hungry travellers since 1854. Penwith House, established in 186o as a Temperance Hotel, sits alongside its counterpart, the Land’s End Hotel. The famous Land’s End sign, erected in 1957 and photographed countless times since, stands on the path to the headland.




Modern additions to the site include a family theme park with several attractions: an interactive quest led by King Arthur’s Merlin, a 4D cinema experience featuring a mythical land of dinosaurs and Greeb Farm, complete with cute baby animals.



For us, the highlight is the Shaun the Sheep Experience. We’re fans of Shaun and his fun loving flock, and it’s a thrill to visit Mossy Bottom Farm. In the Aardman exhibition, we learn about the skills and craftsmanship that go into the creation of the much loved show.


Lizard Point, managed by the National Trust, couldn’t be more different. There is a choice of walking tracks, with or without steps, although both follow the edge of the cliff around to the point.



Seals and sea gulls compete for attention in the waters below.


A tiny shop sells quirky beach themed gifts and a National Trust office has maps and brochures about the local flora and fauna.


A passionate staff member is ready and willing to chat with us and answers all our questions. Below the cliff on Polpeor Cove is the 1914 lifeboat station. It was abandoned in 1961 in favour of a new station in a more protected location further along the coast.




Perched on the edge of the point overlooking the cove is Polpeor Café, where the menu includes traditional Cornish food served on an outdoor deck. With the sparkling Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop, we order a Cornish Cream Tea – fluffy scones, homemade jam and rich clotted cream with a never ending supply of hot tea.


We enjoyed visiting both Land’s End and Lizard Point, but Lizard was our favourite – it was the scones that made the difference!


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Blooming Truro

Exploring England #8

Garden Photography: Urban Spaces

In the warmth of a September evening, Truro is bright with natural colour. Beautiful hanging baskets greet visitors to Truro Cathedral.



Window boxes overflowing with greenery and planters filled with late summer blooms decorate the streets.



Begonias, all velvety yellows, oranges and reds, are complemented by delicate purple salvia.



These vibrant flowers fill me with anticipation for my own Southern Hemisphere summer!

Enjoy more blooming urban spaces with Jude.

Which Shoes to Choose?

Exploring England #6

The best way to enjoy the dramatic scenery of the Jurassic Coast is by walking, and there are hundreds of kilometres of paths and trails you can take.


Some climb over high limestone cliffs,


while others lead to small isolated beaches.


One thing is certain – whichever path you decide to take, you need to think carefully about your choice of footwear.


At Lulworth, there are several walking tracks suitable for those looking for spectacular photographic opportunities. The path to Durdle Door starts off easily, although the wind blowing off the English Channel is icy.



Despite the chilly breeze and warnings of crumbling cliff edges, many walkers find places along the way to enjoy expansive views of the rugged coastline.


To reach Durdle Door, a set of steps winds down from the cliff top to the beach below. The steep steps are hard going at the best of times, but after heavy rain they’re muddy, slippery and difficult to negotiate.


By the time you’ve reached the bottom, you could be a few centimetres taller, with a new platform sole of mud on your shoes. If you’ve chosen real platform shoes, it’s a good time to discard them before setting out across the shingle beach.



It’s worth the effort though. The hard Portland stone of Durdle Door contrasts with the softer chalk cliffs stretching away in the distance.



The pebbly beach drops away steeply into the ocean, making it the perfect platform for special photos.


Eventually, it’s time to retrace your steps and return the way you came – you just have to walk back up!


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