Guides Index> Croston: "On Foot Through the Peak"> This page
Croston : On Foot Through the Peak, 1868* (6)
Eighteenth and nineteenth century tour guides about Matlock Bath and Matlock
Chapter XVI (part), pp.255-260

High Tor, one of the book's illustrations
On Foot Through the Peak
Next Page
Previous Page
Guides Index
Also see
About Matlock
About Matlock Bath
Find a Name

Cumberland Cavern

New Bath & Cat Tor from the Cumberland Cavern

The Bridge at Matlock, Bemrose
Bemroses' 1869 Guide has an advertisementfor the Cumberland Cavern

On this page:
- The Cumberland Cavern - Underground Scenery - The Harpsichord - A Rugged Road - Snow Fossil - The Roman Hall - Chaos - The Queen's Palace - Organic Remains - A Mischievous Propensity - The Sailor's Hall - Stalactite Encrustations - Return to Daylight - A Charming View - The Devonshire Cavern -

Still keeping the elevated ground, a path that leads through the thickly planted scrub conducts us to the Cumberland Cavern, situated on the upper slope of Masson. This cavern has been long, and is still occasionally, worked as a lead mine.

To those who take an interest in such exhibitions, the Cumberland Cavern will convey a good idea of the underground scenery ; it contains more natural excavations, and with the exception of the Rutland, its ramifications extend over a larger area that those of any other caverns at Matlock. In a geological point of view, it is also interesting, exhibiting so many interruptions and dislocations of the strata, with a numerous variety of spar and stalactitic encrustations.

There is nothing about the entrance of all indicative of the wonders displayed within - a small opening in the face of the rock being the only evidence of its existence. The guide unlocked the little door, and we walked in a few yards, whilst he got his light in readiness. The first part of the journey is made along a gallery or level, which has been blasted out of the rock by the miners in their search for ore ; whilst passing through this, the attention is directed to the first and second class measures which separate the lime-stone beds. In this level a dubious twilight prevails, which gradually deepens into gloom as we advance ; near the further end a flight of rugged and uneven steps conducts to the lower recesses of the mine, and as we descend these, a long narrow tunnel-like passage is pointed out that diverges in the direction of the river, and which is believed to have been an old working. Still descending, we wind between rugged walls of grey rock, dotted over with stalactitic formations, and dripping with moisture, which seems to ooze through the sides, whilst from the roof the water drops in constant plashes, forming small saucer-like depressions in the floor. On reaching the lowest step the roof slopes down, and we have to proceed for some distance in a stooping posture, to avoid being caught against the sharp and jagged projections overhead. By and by, we come to a huge unbroken block of lime-stone bearing the name of the Harpsichord, from its supposed resemblance to that instrument, and which appears to have fallen from the superincumbent mass. Passing this the path becomes more toilsome and difficult, leading over a surface broken and uneven and strewn with stones and fragments of rock, and winding down chasms and long narrow passages, that look more gloomy from the absence of ornament, then through rude cavernous openings hung with stalactites, and abounding with delicate encrustations of calcareous spar. In some places vast rents reveal themselves in the roof, caused by the cooling of the great limestone bubble in a primeval age ; the rocks yawn, and multitudes of detatched blocks lie scattered about in horrible confusion ; and the further we penetrate, the wilder becomes the scene.

We had some difficulty in keeping pace with the guide, who tripped lightly on before us, striding over the rocky fragments with the utmost confidence, as if darkness and gloom were familiar to him.

We now appear to be within the very heart of the mountain, and from this point the path begins to ascend, short slopes alternating with rude steps that have been formed out of the rock, and as we wend our way through the mighty fissures and undulating passages, we meet with several varieties of spar and stalactite, among the most remarkable of which is that beautiful substance denominated snow fossil ; fluate of lime also occurs in abundance, generally crystallized in cubes, and possessing great beauty and diversity of colour.

Further on we come to a vast natural vestibule or gallery, running in a north-westerly direction, 300 feet in length, the roof extending the entire distance in one flat horizontal surface. At the further extremity of this gallery is the Great or Roman Hall, an immense opening which has remained through countless ages untouched by the hand of man ; here the scene that presents itself is of the wildest character, immense masses of rock meet the eye, some standing singly and others grouped together or piled upon each other in the most picturesque and fanciful shapes, as if they had fallen from the roof by some violent convulsion of the earth, their huge shadowy forms looming through the deep gloom like spectral giants. From this point we have a good retrospective view of the gallery through which we have just passed - the guide having placed a few lighted candles at intervals upon the sides, the entire length is revealed, and we are enabled fully to comprehend the magnitude and regularity of form of this great work of nature. In this cavern a stratum of clay intervenes between the upper lime and the dunstone or magnesian beds.

From the Roman Hall we descend by a flight of steps, when the scene becomes even more frightful and chaotic ; the strata is everywhere riven and dislocated, and tossed up into every form of superposition; immense fragments which have fallen from above bestrew the ground, and huge beetling crags just out overhead, apparently so insecure as to threaten to crush you beneath the weight of misshapen forms. In one place we noticed an immense block of solid limestone, said to be forty tons in weight, which has become detached, and is so exactly poised, that it seems to rest only on two points of the adjoining rock.

After a while the eye becomes more familiarised with the gloom, and objects that at first appeared only in shadowy indistinctness, become to assume more clearly defined forms. Plodding on through the mazy intricacies, now scrambling and picking our way over the slippery and unsteady fragments, and now stopping to examine the curious spars and veins of ore, we come to a still lower cavity dignified by the name of the Queen's Palace ; this, like the others, contains of Nature ; here the roof suddenly descends, seeming to bar up all further advance, and for narrow openings until we come to another subterranean chamber, the top of which, like the ceiling of a house, is supported by perpendicular walls of solid rock, and presents shells, entrochi, coralliods, and other organic remains. This would appear to have been a place of special interest to a certain class of visitors, who have gratified their mischievous propensity by scratching their names and initials on almost every accessible spot, conveying to posterity the interesting information that Brown, Jones, and Robinson have, on the dates recorded, explored these subterranean recesses.

Passing beneath a natural archway, regularly formed and encrusted with spar and stalactitic formations, we come to another cavern, distinguished by the name of the Sailor's Hall ; the roof of this apartment is less elevated than some of the others, and is covered with letters and hieroglyphics, visitors who have not been sufficiently industrious to carve their names and initials having satisfied themselves with tracing them in smoke on the top by the aid of their candles. Crossing this chamber, we ascend by a narrow passage that leads through two recesses, from the further one which branches off a tunnel-like opening that extends for a considerable distance, and is terminated by a deep pool of water.

Having completed the exploration of the natural caverns, we proceed along the old workings of the mine until we reach the shaft employed in drawing up the lead ore to the surface. Here again the water trickles down, and the walls are slimy with the constant drip ; whilst we linger to admire the delicate stalactite incrustations that are continually accumulating on the walls, the guide holds his candle to shew us the effect of the reflected light upon their polished surfaces, and as we stand in the gloom, the picturesque groups gleam and sparkle with the most brilliant effect.

Near to this shaft the attention is directed to two veins of the lead ore which further on becomes united ; associated with the ore is found the sulphate of barites, denominated by miner's "cawke", a substance which, under the name of Dutch lead, is used in the adulteration of paint.

We are now more than four hundred yards from the entrance, and three hundred feet below the surface of the mountain. From this part we descend and proceed by a long narrow passage formed between continually dripping of the water through the fissures of the limestone overhead ; some are but mere nipples an inch or two in length, others depend in long spiral icicles from the roof, or hang in festoons from the ledges of the rock ; in some places the encrustation spreads over the entire surface, and as the crystallizations accumulate they assume various uncouth shapes and forms, over which the moisture trickles in tiny streams as it falls to the ground with ceaseless patter, and as the dim candlelight flickers upon the great stony fragments, they glitter and sparkle with a brilliant gem-like lustre. And so, on we go ascending and descending through natural openings and passages that have been widened and levelled, now on the smooth gravel, now on the naked limestone, now scrambling over great stony fragments, and now stooping as the rocks seem to close in upon us, until we again reach the point from which we started.

Not the least attractive feature in connection with the Cumberland Cavern is the magnificent prospect which bursts upon the view on regaining the entrance ; from this point the eye takes in nearly the whole of the picturesque scenery along the dale with the hills adjacent ; the High Tor, Masson, and the winding river, and the vast limestone crags opposite, backed by the lofty hills of Riber, with Scarthin Rock, Crich Cliff, and Stonnis in the further distance - the view embraces every feature of landscape scenery, hill and dale, wood and village, rock and river, with the minor accessories of cultivated fields, pleasant mansions, and smiling cottages.

When we came forth into the open air after a sojourn of more than an hour in the bowels of the mountain, the sun, which had long passed the meridian, shed a rich but softened radiance over the scene, illuminating the rock and hills, lighting up the vales, and dancing and playing upon the rippling waters with marvellously beautiful effect.

There is yet another of those natural openings on the side of Masson - the Devonshire Cavern - smaller than those we have already described, but possessing much to engage the attention of those who are interested in these curious formations. The interior presents the appearance of a wide and expanding opening fashioned in the inner recesses of the earth, and still exhibiting the same rough and chaotic state that Nature left it in. Vast piles of rock of every conceivable shape and size lie strewn about, some apparently so slightly connected that you wonder how they have so long retained their position, and as the feeble light of your candle falls upon the huge shadowy forms the imagination becomes excited, and you liken them to things the most unearthly. You hear the trickling and see the flickering of the water as it oozes through the limestone, falling with sullen and monotonous patter as it has fallen for unnumbered centuries. The roof of the cavern has the appearance of an immense layer of solid rock, extending for a distance of well nigh 200 feet, and supported on either side by perpendicular walls of limestone ; the surface is entirely free from inequalities, and slopes rapidly - the angle of dip being about 45° - and as you gaze upon it you realise something of the mighty force by which only these mountains could have been upheaved.

Near the south end of Masson the road separates, one path leading through the upper wood to the picturesque village of Bonsall, the other continuing for some distance along the side of the hill, and then descending to the bottom of the dale.

Following the lower way we came upon the high road at a point close to the toll-gate, immediately opposite the weir, from which a few minutes walking brought us to our quarters. Exercise and mountain air are excellent sharpeners of the appetite, and we sat down to our evening repast with all the relish and enjoyment of Sancho Panza at Camacho's wedding.

*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.