When I think of the Peak District I think of Pride and Prejudice, and Lizzie Bennet in the wet shirt days of the BBC adaption, climbing up a weirdly formed rock. (Anyone else remember that?) And to be honest, it’s not far wrong.
We stayed bang in the middle of Matlock Bath and Matlock, in a cosy bed and breakfast with rooms as hot as a sauna, and a view of the bottom of the valley – the towering cliff of High Tor keeping us in shade most of the day. The two towns in the south Derbyshire hills, split by around two miles, are joined by the River Derwent and are both great to visit for the day. Matlock is famous for its antiques and you can spend a contented afternoon rummaging in the old rooms full of furniture from all eras; oak bookcases, pine dressers, antique shotguns, black and white postcards, ruby rings and fur coats.
Matlock Bath, on the other hand, feels likes it’s been picked up from the coast some 95 miles away and plonked down at the base of the valley. It’s full of play parks, chippy’s, Italians, and slot machines in the amusement arcade, open even in winter. There’s also a mining museum with a fabulous selection of precious rocks and crystals. My 4 year old is chuffed to bits with the sharks tooth I brought back for him.
The most famous attraction in Matlock Bath has to be the Cable Cars which carry you up to The Heights of Abraham. It’s a country park full of caverns at the very top of deep limestone gorge. It has fossils exhibitions and plenty of children’s play areas. You can get the cable car up, or you can walk up. We walked up. Incredibly the Heights of Abraham has been open to visitors since 1780. But instead of sightseeing we decided to walk from one town to the next, and take in High Tor, the incredible foreboding cliff that dominated the skyline from most angles.
On the climb up High Tor there are some excellent views of the industrial town of Matlock. The hillside contains numerous lead mines and you can still see the deep gullies and some mine shafts covered over by grills.
If you’re brave enough (and I wasn’t) you can dare to walk around ‘giddy edge’, which basically means you’re clinging on for dear life as you walk along the cliff edge. My legs shook before I even reached the single metal safety pole embedded into the limestone. I just wasn’t going to risk it.
As for places to eat, there’s lots of choice. Both Matlock and Matlock Bath are clearly busy places in the summer. And still on a cold February pubs and restaurants were keeping the pennies coming in. Some great pub food and good beer to be had. There’s always one or two though, which seem a little tired and run down. For a long long hour, we were half of the paying customers in one brightly lit pub, awkwardly playing dominoes in the corner under the dart board (no darts behind the bar) as the karaoke machine spluttered into life. After the fourth song from one of the locals, we made our excuses and said bye cheerily.
The drive home was stunning, the sat nav took me right through the centre of the Peak District, through A roads still lined with snow. The mist rolled in through valleys eerily fast.
It’s the strange limestone rock formations and the gentle sloping hills that remind me of Lizzie’s walk up to escape the dreamy Darcy. I learn later that the Ramshaw Rocks, where Lizzie was filmed in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice was merely 11 miles away from Matlock. I could have escaped too! Felt free as I scrambled to the top, my regency gown muddy at the hems as it drags on the floor! Quickly I remind myself that I was too scared to climb the ‘giddy edge’ of High Tor, and my romantic aspirations fade. It never happens like it does in the films.
- We stayed at StoneLodge Bed and Breakfast for £60 a night. The Cables, run by the same couple, has a Jacuzzi in the garden as well as pizza oven.
Places to eat/drink
The Fishpond in Matlock Bath had decent pub grub for decent prices.
The Balti in Matlock Bath also was an excellent Indian, very busy – so book beforehand if you’re planning on a Saturday night visit.
For a very good pint of beer and I daresay some excellent food (although we didn’t eat here)– try the Devonshire Arms, Beely, in the grounds of the Chatsworth Estate, just 6 miles from Matlock. Good pub with at least two roaring fires.
Things to do
The Heights of Abraham – Currently open from 10am to 4pm every day and a ride up in the cable car is adults £14.50, children £10 (under 5 go free)
There is a train station in both Matlock and Matlock Bath with great links to the rest of the country.