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Croston : On Foot Through the Peak, 1868* (4)
Eighteenth and nineteenth century tour guides about Matlock Bath and Matlock
Chapter XV (part 2), pp.240-248

High Tor, one of the book's illustrations
On Foot Through the Peak
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Southern Entrance to the Dale, 1900-1910

Matlock Bank from Masson

Matlock Bath, from the Heights of Abraham, 1866-78

From the Heights of Abraham to Crich Stand & Beyond

On this page:
- Cromford Mills - Scarthin Nick - Caverns: their formation - A Money-getting Race - Heights of Abraham -
- Sylvan Shade - The Cavern Terrace - Repose - Montgomery; his Impromptu on Matlock scenery -
- Victoria Tower - A Beauteous Scene - Reminiscences - A Magnificent Landscape -

Shaping our course homewards, we turn to the left, descending by a steep road that winds round the edge of a thick wood, and soon reached the open valley.

Varying the route a little, we returned from Cromford Bridge to our inn by the turnpike road, passing on the way the extensive cotton mills of the Arkwrights, a large pile of building standing on the right of the road - the nursing place, as it has been styled, of the factory opulence and power of Great Britain.

On leaving Cromford Mills we passed through Scarthin Nick, a deep and narrow opening that has been cut through the limestone, presenting the appearance of huge walls of lifeless-looking rock rising abruptly on each side, their naked fronts contrasting with the brilliant verdure of the trees and shrubs which fringe their summits, though relieved in places by the plants and trailing flowers that depend from the rents and crevices in the strata.

At the end of Scarthin Nick the road again comes close upon the river, and following the sweep of the stream, we come in site of Matlock.

After resting awhile we walked down to the parade, the general starting point for excursions, intending to visit some of the numerous caverns for which Matlock is celebrated.

As already observed in a former part of this work, the limestone measures, which extend over a large portion of the Peak of Derbyshire, are deeply penetrated by rents and cavernous chambers, that have for the most part been formed either by the disruption or the shrinking of the strata. The whole country about Matlock seems penetrated with these openings, many of which have been turned to profitable account, there being those in the world, as Sir George Head humorously observes in his "Home Tour," who, were an old woman to stand sentry over a jay's nest, would pay a shilling to be allowed to climb a tree and see it."

Among the owners of these caverns there exists a large amount of jealous rivalry, each proprietor loudly vaunting his own to be superior to any other. Some of these subterranean cavities are very interesting, but none of them will compare either for extent or splendour of mineral decorations with those of Castleton.

The High Tor Grotto we have already described, and the Rutland, the Cumberland, and the Devonshire caverns we purpose noticing in the course of our excursion. The Cumberland cavern was the first of the series we visited, the approach to which is by the zigzag walks leading up the famed Heights of Abraham.

Leaving the parade, we ascend by a steep path at the end of Hodgkinson's Hotel, then turning to the right pass Mr. Smedley's Phusitechnicon - whatever that may be, a spar shop we imagine - and continue along what is called the Cork-screw Walk until we reach the lower or octagon lodge, where the attention is arrested by a board bearing the characteristic inscription, "Heights of Abraham, 6d. each."

No visitor can be many hours in Matlock without becoming aware of the fact that the inhabitants are a money-getting race ; Nature has dealt bountifully with them, and they eagerly avail themselves of every opportunity of turning thee advantages to account. In this respect Matlock contrasts unfavourably with the liberal spirit displayed at Buxton, and were it possible to transplant the Corbar woods, the Hall gardens, the Cliff, even the covered walk called the Crescent, from the latter place to Matlock, we verily believe they would be seized upon, and converted into so many sources of revenue. If, after having wandered for some time among the gloomy avenues of caverns, you feel inclined to enjoy the pure air and invigorating breeze from the top of the Abraham's Heights, a toll of sixpence is demanded ; should curiosity prompt you to see where the Dungeon Tors have slipped from the parent rock, you are met by a similar charge, or, if at all amorously inclined, and you desire to seek the shady retirement of the Lovers' Walks, the same sum is claimed every time you enter, though this last charge is professedly for ferrying you across the river, when a simple rustic bridge might be made which would answer the purpose infinitely better ; and in this way the receivers of these several tolls realise a pretty considerable sum-total of sixpences from visitors during the season. We make these remarks in no unfriendly spirit ; but we feel persuaded that were the inhabitants of Matlock to manifest a little more liberality in this respect, their interests would not suffer thereby.

Having paid the entrance fee, a shilling, which includes admission to the Rutland Cavern, we are permitted to ascend the "Heights," and to wander at will among the labyrinth of walks that have been formed over the steep front of the hill.

The Heights of Abraham, a name given to the lower slopes of Masson, from their supposed resemblances to those of Quebec, is a favourite place of resort with visitors, few, however brief their stay, failing to make the ascent, and assuredly a more charming and delightful spot even Matlock itself cannot boast. When the noonday sun pours down a flood of intense brilliance upon the landscape, and every object seems to glow with radiant heat, delight is to wander in the cool retirement of these shady walks, or to recline upon one of the numerous seats embowered by trees and bushes, watching the sparkling sunbeams as they dart through the intricate canopy of leaves, dappling the moss-grown rock and verdant sward with their flickering touches of light, or gazing through occasional breaks in the umbrage upon the varied assemblage of objects spread around.

Nearly the whole front of the hill is covered with a profusion of trees, larch and fir intermingled with dwarf oak, ash and beech, beneath whose shade the laburnum, lilac, wild bramble, and numerous other shrubs, display their varied hues, while the ground is covered with beautiful ferns, and a rich variety of wild flowers, whose brilliant colourings, agreeably harmonizing with the deep green of the spreading foliage, gives a character of sylvan loveliness to the scene. As we ascend, the road at first winds from side to side, and then diverges in various directions among the trees, the sides everywhere exhibiting a jungle of weeds and flowers, and harebell, the wild geranium, and sweet lily of the valley blending their delicate tints with the more vivid colourings of the blooming gorse, the foxglove, and the ragwort or yellow-top, as it is sometimes called. Here and there the grey rock protrudes, and then we come to hollows and glens, fringed with a profusion of drooping ferns, and exquisitely festooned with creeping ivy and brambles, and an interweaving of the long leaves of the harts-tongue and the delicate maiden-hair. With increasing height, the openings in the trees become more frequent, and we have at every turn a succession of ever varying, yet ever-pleasant, glimpses of scenery. A little more than half way up the Heights is the Cavern Terrace, a broad path that has been formed by the loose refuse brought out of the adjoining cavern ; here a few rustic seats have been placed, offering an invitation to rest. Surrounded by woods, and sheltered by the thickly foliaged branches of the trees we found it difficult to refuse the mute invitation, and so sat down a while, leisurely to gaze upon the beauteous scene spread below.

The morning was delightful, and the sun, now high in the heavens, shone out with unusual brilliance, filling the orient with his golden splendour, and imparting a charm to the surrounding landscape, until every object seemed to share in the universal gladness. Where his bright rays had failed to penetrate the dew still lay upon the grass, and the pearly drops sparkled under the countless spider webs that stretched from bough to bough ; a thin filmy veil, which had hitherto hung over the dale, was fast melting away and disappearing in white fleecy clouds, that floated around the adjacent hills ; the parade, with its busy throng, was partly hidden from view by the lower part of the hill, but the Temple, the Old Bath, the Church, and the shops bordering the road as far as the weir, could be distinctly seen ; and these, with the few Swiss-like cottages crowning the cliffs, and peering out from the thick woods - their pale blue smoke slowly curling up into the pure morning air - gave life and interest, and added to the picturesqueness of the scene. Across the dale the Derwent could be traced, winding round the base of the impending crags, now sparkling in bright sunlight, and now hiding from view beneath the overhanging trees. The further side of the valley was enveloped in deep shadow, but all besides was gleaming with light, and the slant rays, as they played through the branches of the trees, lighting up the edge of the woods and streaking with golden touches the bold front of the rocks, gave an indescribable charm that filled the mind with admiration and delight.

The entrance to the Rutland Cavern is on this terrace, but the examination of its subterranean wonders we must reserve until our return from the Prospect Tower on the top of the Heights.

Quitting our resting place, we again ascend by a still more steep and intricate path, overshadowed by the thick umbrage. Here art has evidently been summoned to the aid of nature, and as a result we have a happy blending of the tall young trees, with wide-spreading elms, maples, and a variety of shrubs, while, from between the ramifications of the straggling roots, spring up long waving ferns, rank grasses, and gigantic weeds that grow in wild luxuriance, and thicken into underwood, deriving sustenance from the little rills that trickle down the mountain side.

And so we go on, winding round precipitous slopes of rock and sward, and now and then stopping to peep through the breaks in the foliage at the long range of beetling cliffs opposite - gaunt masses of grey and naked rock that tower aloft to a prodigious height, grim and savage enough at times, but now revealing many a charm, as the slanting beams of the morning sun illume their rugged crests, revealing every cleft and cavity, and chequering their broad sides with a succession of varying shadows.

By and by we come to an alcove, in which it is said Montgomery wrote his famous impromptu on Matlock scenery -

"Here in wild pomp, magnificently bleak,
Stupendous Matlock towers amid the Peak ;
Here rocks on rocks, on forests forests rise.
Spurn the low earth, and mingle with the skies.
Great Nature, slumbering by fair Derwent's stream,
Conceiv'd these giant mountains in a dream."

The last couplet, with some slight alteration, he afterwards adopted in his poem the "West Indies."

Still the path goes higher, as we mount upwards new beauties reveal themselves at every step. Now the ascent becomes more abrupt, and the grandeur of the scene below proportionately increase ; at length the summit is gained, and amply are we rewarded for our toil by the glorious prospect that meets the gaze.

On the platform stands the Victoria Tower, a neat stone erection, from the summit of which is obtained one of the finest and most extensive panoramic views which nature anywhere presents, including, it is said, within its limits the larger portion of five counties.

The atmosphere was now perfectly clear, and the vast prospect lay before us, unobscured by cloud or vapour, so that they eye was enabled to range over an expanse limited only by the pale blue range of circling hills that stretched away upon the horizon, until the summits, softened and blended by the mellowing tints of distance, could hardly be distinguished from the few light vapours that gauzed the azure dome above.

All within this limit was one continuity of swelling eminences, that rose and fell like the heaving waves of a rolling ocean; whichever way we looked nothing but an infinity of mountain tops could be seen, relieved with wood and rock and herbage, and broken up into endless varieties of form and colour.

Glorious was the prospect from these lofty heights, and the pleasant breeze, the sunshine, and the exquisite variety of scene combined to exercise an inspiring influence upon the mind. Refreshing was the view over the green and beautiful expanse, which, as it lay rejoicing in the summer sheen, seemed to look up with benignant smile at the cloudless sky above. What pen can tell of the beams of light that played around the summit of those hills as the gorgeous sun poured down his fervent rays, steeping the entire landscape in brilliance, and bathing every object in radiant beauty.

After contemplating for a while this glorious prospect, the mind is enabled to occupy itself with the details, and to note the various physiognomy of the country. The openings in the hills shew where the dales wander, and enable us to trace the entrance to every lovely vale that breaks the lofty ridges. Following the long rocky chain that extends from north to south, the eye passes over the beautiful and picturesque valley that bosoms the graceful Derwent -

Exulting and abounding river !
Making its waves a blessing as they flow,
Through banks whose beauty would endure for ever,
Could man but leave its bright creation so."[1]

From this elevated situation the High Tor loses much of its grandeur and sublimity, and sinks into comparative insignificance when contrasted with the majestic Masson, which rears its giant head considerably above us. At our feet is a dense mass of waving wood, through which we now and then catch a glimpse of a cottage or villa happily disposed upon some jutting promontory ; far below this, again, is the deep valley watered by the Derwent, on the banks of which cluster the neat and cleanly white buildings that constitute the town of Matlock Bath. Bounding the eastern side of the river is a long range of mural precipices, prominent among which is Riber Hill -

"Whose dusky brow
Wears, like a regal diadem, the round
Of ancient battlements, and ramparts high,
And frowns upon the vales".

In front is Matlock town and bridge, and on the slope of the hill the Hydropathic establishment, and the straggling cottages forming the village of Matlock Bank. Looking more towards the north, the eye passes over acres of meadow land, and over many a sloping hill, and smiling farmstead, and grey village church, until it reaches the blue range of the Yorkshire hills which bar up the view, meeting the sky, and forming an admirable perspective. Darley Dale appears in all its picturesque beauty - picturesque from whatever quarter held - and midway between is Oker Hill, the summit of which we scaled in our walk yesterday, rising abruptly from the plain, a mute but eloquent memorial that tells of days of dim antiquity, and carried the mind back to that period of our history when these peaceful valleys echoed the clang and fell shouts of war, as the trained legionaries of imperial Rome fiercely contended in unholy strife with the brave and heroic Britons for the mineral treasures of their native soil, when the verdant slopes of Oker streamed with the life blood of a bold and ardent race, who, if they knew not how to fight, knew at least how brave men should die.

Looking towards the south, the eye, as it traverses the romantic valley of the Derwent, is arrested for a moment by the graceful spire of the church, a striking feature in the landscape. Then, following the course of the stream, it takes in one side of Masson, dotted over with habitations, some near and others far apart ; the moors of Middleton and Bonsall, the graceful curve of Harp Edge, the Hag Rocks and Cromford Moor ; and beyond, Black Rocks or Stonnis, with its pine-crowned head towering above the landscape in infinite majesty, and rivalling in altitude the lofty eminence on which we stand. On the other side of the valley is seen Lover's Leap, Wild-Cat Tor, the range of battlemented cliffs, and the masses of intermingled rock and foliage of Willersley Castle ; further on are the woods of Willersley, Lea and Holloway, Tansley Moor, and Crich-Chase and Cliff, the latter with its lofty tower standing in relief against the blue of heaven, whilst between an opening in the rocks the eye looks over a wide and fertile vale, through which the Derwent pursues its meandering course between sloping meadows crowned with luxuriant woods, unbroken, save where the craggy rocks jut out like massive buttresses to the hills in the rear. In middle distance is seen the broad outline of Barrel Edge, the wooded heights of Alderwasley, and many a minor eminence crested with wood and clothed with verdant sward ; whilst far beyond a multitude of undulating hills crowd upon the horizon, summit after summit crossing and recrossing each other in seemingly endless succession, until their dim outlines become lost in the shadowy distance. Woods and hollows, rocks, hills and mountains, with new-shorn meadows, and fields of ripening grain, dotted with trees and bordered with hedgerows, that look more green and beautiful by contrast with the brown heathery slopes around ; the quiet villages and farmsteads scattered over the hill sides the little towns rejoicing in bright sunshine ; the rugged perpendicular rocks, all purple and grey, crowned and flanked with hanging woods ; the deep valley, and the river sweeping along with shining curves, shooting round projecting crags and promontories, leaping from ledge to ledge, and throwing up the white glistening foam-bubbles as it goes ; - all these rich varieties of nature combine to produce a scene which thrills the heart with delight, and which for grandeur and extent is hardly equalled in the Peak.

As we loitered about the summit, we were told of this hill and that mountain, and of such a cliff and such a tor, and we gazed again and again upon the glorious prospect, until our eyes became wearied with the effort to distinguish the one from the other.

*Transcribed by Ann Andrews in November 2008 from:
Croston, James (1868) (2nd Ed) "On Foot Through the Peak; or a Summer Saunter Through the Hills and Dales of Derbyshire", Manchester: John Heywood, 141 & 143, Deansgate. London, Simpkin, Marshall & Co.
With my grateful thanks to Ray Ash who provided copies for me to OCR.
Image scans Copyright © Ray Ash.
Intended for personal use only.

Notes on the text:

[1] From Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto III, L, with minor changes, by Lord Byron.