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Croston : On Foot Through the Peak, 1868* (5)
Eighteenth and nineteenth century tour guides about Matlock Bath and Matlock
Chapter XVI (part), pp.249-255

High Tor, one of the book's illustrations
On Foot Through the Peak
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The Victoria Prospect Tower (1 of 2)

Roman Hall, Rutland Cavern

Romantic Rocks or Dungeon Tors, 1864

Hall's "Days in Derbyshire", 1863 has an advertisement for the Heights and Rutland Cavern

On this page:
- A Winding Descent - The Rutland Cavern - Ancient Workings - Minerals and Crystallisations - The Roman Gallery - An Embowered Path - Volcanic Agency - Romantic Rocks - Silent Solitude -

From the prospect tower which crows the Heights of Abraham, we descend by a circuitous pathway that winds hither and thither through a plantation of fir, oak and ash, with teeming undergrowth of brambles and briars. The trees meet overhead, and as the breeze plays sportively through their branches we catch glimpses of the sunshine and the blue sky above, and the sparking river gurgling and splashing into the depths below ; as we descend lower the gloom increases, and the subdued light seems to impart a tinge of greenness to the crags and precipices that gives to the place quite an aspect of sombre impressiveness. The rocks are covered in places with ferns and mosses, and every inch of ground, every crevice, is hidden by a dense tangle of climbers and creeping plants.

Pursuing this devious path

"With mazy error under pendant shades,"

we come again to the terrace on which is the entrance to the Rutland Cavern.

This cavern, originally known as the Old Nestor Mine, a name by which it is held under the Duchy of Lancaster, claims pre-eminence over the other subterranean curiosities of Matlock, both for the extent of its excavations and the abundance and variety of its fossil productions and mineral incrustatians. It has been worked as a lead mine for ages, so far back, it is said, as the time when the Romans where occupiers of the soil ; and it is recorded that, during the reigns of the earlier Henry and the Edwards, convicts were sent and condemned to labour in it. In some parts of the mine they shew the manner in which, in those distant ages, the ore was obtained when the use of gunpowder was unknown.

Having obtained the services of a guide, we enter by a small doorway in the side of the rock, and, receiving each a lighted candle, set forward to explore the inner recesses. A few paces takes us beyond the last gleam of the day, and the light, as it gradually fades away, is succeeded by a deepening and almost impenetrable gloom. Having proceeded for some distance along a narrow passage that has been blasted out of the rock, the pathway ascends and discloses a number of natural archways and lofty openings, which, diverging by degrees, lead to several clefts and cavities that radiate and extend into the innermost part of the mountain. The dimensions of some of these openings are of considerable magnitude, and their appearance is at once grand and imposing ; to the geologist and the lover of science they afford an unfailing source of interest from the several examples and combinations of lead, zinc and other metallic ores, iron and copper pyrites and calamite, as well as the infinite variety of the brilliant crystallizations of the carbonate and fluate of lime which they exhibit.

Then we continue along undulating passages, now on gravel and crushed spar, and now on the bare rock, between natural barriers that slope gently upwards until they meet and form a roof overhead. In some places steps have been cut out of the limestone for the convenience of explorers, and in others we meet with pools of water so limpid, that, in the treacherous and uncertain light, we are in danger of setting out feet in them in mistake in the solid floor. Now and then our attention is called to the vast cracks and rents in the roof caused by the shrinking of the strata, and the guide chambers up on to the great bulging masses of rock, and shews us the effect of the reflecting light upon their grotesque and uncouth forms ; and as we stand in the gloom we note the interesting and brilliant variety of spars that gleam and sparkle on their sides, and on every projection in the roof, strange feelings come over us, and the imagination becomes excited with admiration and surprise as we gaze upon the immense cavities and singular formations which nature here reveals.

Following the guide along the labyrinth of passages that lead through these recesses, we come to an opening of seemingly immeasurable extent, where all above is space and darkness, creating an idea of almost unlimited vastness and profundity. Whilst we are vainly endeavouring to penetrate the deepest recesses, and lighting up the shadowy forms that lie scattered around, rendering up the shadowy vastness of a thousand-fold greater, and raising a feeling of the profoundest awe and wonder. This display is but

[The image of the cavern interior is on another page]

brief duration before we have time to take an adequate survey, the sickly flame expires, and we are again left in all but perfect darkness. This chamber and the stone on which the light is placed have received the absurd names of the Roman Gallery and the Druid's Altar, a style of nomenclature too much in vogue at Matlock, and which, instead of adding to the interest, only tends to throw an air of ridicule over what is really beautiful and attractive in itself.

Having penetrated to the farthest part of the mine shewn to visitors, we return by devious windings and vaulted passages that lead to numerous openings and cavities, and as we move slowly through the gloom, and each projecting and overhanging point of rock displays itself in a succession of flitting gleams and shadows that render the scene singularly striking and impressive.

As we approach the entrance, the bright rays of the mid-day sun come streaming through the doorway, lighting up the sides of the rocks, and filling the mouth of the cavern with a radiance that seems more brilliant by contrast with the darkness and gloom from which we have just emerged.

Leaving the Cavern Terrace, we descend by a tortuous path embowered by woods, where the lavish foliage of the beech and chestnut trees is backed by the tall stiff pines, and where the jagged and broken rocks, which here and there thrust their grey heads through the turf, are nearly hidden again by the clustering ivy and trailing plants and flowers, which, sheltered from the scorching heat, here thrive in luxuriant profusion. As we saunter through the pleasant shade, the sunshine breaks through the verdant canopy in fitful gleams, streaking the pathway with bright golden touches, the leaves rustle overhead, and the birds chirrup merrily as they flit to and fro amongst the waving branches ; and we can hear the hum of insects busy among the tall grass and the waving ferns, the rushing of the river in the valley below, and the low still murmuring of sunny music - sounds of which the ear never tires.

Quitting the romantic Heights by the lower lodge, we passed along the lower slope of the hill, and then on to the parade, where we spent an agreeable half hour in examining the vases, statues, and other objects of art manufacture in Mr. Walker's museum.

In the afternoon we had a pleasant stroll to the Dungeon Tors, or Romantic Rocks, as they are more generally called, and the Cumberland Cavern - two favourite places of resort, situate within a short distance of each other on the side of Masson.

On reaching the foot of the Old Bath Terrace, we pleased ourselves under the care of one of the numerous guides who are always to be met with in that locality, on the look-out for visitors.

Starting from the Old Bath, a few yards brings us to a little cottage, in front of which is exposed for sale a variety of spar ornaments, fossils, guide books, and cheap engravings of Matlock scenery. Here a toll of sixpence is demanded for the privilege of viewing the Tors - if a visit to the cavern is included, a shilling is the stipulated charge. Having paid the old woman her fee, we are conducted along a well-gravelled path that winds round rocky acclivities, prettily screened by trees, and mantel with green ivy and flowering plants, the variety of tints of which agreeably contrast with the cold grey colour of the limestone cliff. Like the Heights of Abraham, of which this slope may be said to be a continuation, the ground everywhere exhibits a profusion of shrubs, mosses, and wild flowers ; great crags overhang the way, and delicate lichens peep out from every niche and crevice. Anon the vegetation thickens, the brambles and underwood become more dense, and the lovely blue sky tempers its soft light as it peeps through the network of branches which meet overhead, crossing and re-crossing each other until they impart a green tinge to everything around.

For some distance the walk is carried over the stratum of toad-stone forty feet in thickness, part of a bed which extends for a considerable distance, attesting the presence of that volcanic agency, whose paroxysmal action formed the continents, and lifted the hills and mountains to their present elevation.

Proceeding southwards, a few minutes' walking brings us to the Tors, a singular group of isolated rocks - huge monolithic blocks - that have been riven from the parent mass by that mighty catastrophe which shook the earth to its foundation. The smaller fragments are scattered about in the most picturesque disorder, but the vast obelisk shaped stones or "tors" stand boldly out, and still maintain their upright position. Some of them attain a height of forty feet, and exhibit a sharp and clearly defined outline, with angles so exactly corresponding with those in the parent cliff, that, were it possible to remove them, they might again be fitted to the mass from which they have been torn.

The whole assemblage is embosomed in wood - oak, ash, elm, and sycamore, with hazels and brambles in thick profusion : the "tall patrician trees happily blending with the plebeian underwood," and their leafy branches meeting in a rich canopy overhead, whose deep shadow creates a sombre and mysterious gloom in perfect harmony with the loneliness of the scene. The huge beetling rampart of rock which bounds one side of the path is covered with lichens and mosses, whilst every inch of ground, every fragment, and every stone, is hidden by rank weeds and grass and trailing plants, among which the hearts tongue sways its long drooping clusters of graceful fronts, and the white convolvulus, the gaudy foxglove and the purple periwinkle, and the golden hued furze, exhibit their varied blossoms in a world of floral beauty. Clusters of delicate blue-bells gem the path and tinge the mossy banks with their azure hue, the white cistus and the woody nightshade are here, the delicate lily of the valley peeps forth from the overlapping verdure, swaying its drooping blossoms to and fro as it perfumes the air with its fragrant incense, and the tall Canterbury bell lifts up its elegant chalice to catch the moisture that trickles down the indented fissures of the crags. The giant tors are fringed with the lighter foliage of the woodbine and briar, the wild gooseberry and bramble, and hung and festooned with the graceful tendrils of the ivy, which droop in long streamers, or creep over the surface of the rock, mingling their glossy leaves with the mosses and lichens and wild strawberries, that grow on every ledge and jutting fragment. A cold sepulchral gloom pervades the place, rendered more imposing by the deep and solemn stillness broken only occasionally by the drops of moisture that trickles at intervals from the rocky ledges, plashing from leaf to leaf, then falling to the earth with a heavy leaden sound, that startles you by its sullen reverberations.

Though occupying an area comparatively small, there is not, we conceive, even at Matlock, where nature presents so many fascinating attractions, a more picturesque or charming retreat than this secluded spot. Shut in by rock and wood, you seem completely isolated from the outer world, and the mind becomes impressed with these scenes of savage and romantic beauty, and estranged as it were from earthly objects. It is just the place for a day-dream : a chill perpetual shade, and a stillness almost painful in its intensity, hangs over all ; everything in fact bespeaks solitude and seclusion, with nothing to break or mar the quietude of repose.

Contiguous to the Romantic Rocks is the Fluor Cavern, an old lead mine, formerly shewn to visitors, but now abandoned ; it is only of limited extent, though interesting, the sides of the passages in many places being formed of cubic fluor spar.

*Transcribed by Ann Andrews in March 2020 from:
Croston, James (1868) (2nd Ed) "On Foot Through the Peak; or a Summer Saunter Through the Hills and Dales of Derbyshire"
With my grateful thanks to Ray Ash who provided copies for me to OCR.
Image scans Copyright © Ray Ash and intended for personal use only.