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Matlock Dale: High Tor Grounds, Fern Cave
Matlock Dale: Twentieth Century Photographs, Postcards, Engravings & Etchings

Derbyshire Times, 9 July 1870.


And other attractions recently discovered on the Top
of this famous Tor.

are respectfully solicited to come and view
these Wonderful Ancient Workings. Also,
With its natural Curiosities and the Switzerland-like
Scenery, which is obtained from the summit of the
stupendous Rocky Height.
Prices of Admission to these far-famed Wonders and
splendid Views 6d. each. Schools and Large Parties
Contracted with.
Lessee, Mr. Thos. Carding.

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High Tor Grounds Entrance, about 1903

Matlock Dale: The High Tor Grounds, from Masson

Matlock: Riber Castle & High Tor, Views from Masson

Thomas Cardin[g]

High Tor, the Rock Face (2)

The caves high up on the High Tor side of Matlock Dale were perhaps not quite as well known as those on the hillside below Masson as they were not so easily accessible but they still received plenty of visitors determined to climb High Tor[1].

Fern Cave was so named because of the rare ferns that were to be found inside it; in 1873 one visitor said there were "extensive natural openings, stalagmites, calcareous crystal spar, dog-tooth flour [sic] spar, fossil remains" in addition to the ferns[2]. A few years later another visitor and his young friends, who arrived on a day trip with a Band of Hope party from Northampton, looked into one of top openings and then confessed that "I dropped a stone down to hear it rattle against the sides and fall with a dull thud at the bottom" without realising quite where the stones were landing. However, reality suddenly dawned on them when the party subsequently ventured into the cave. They discovered that others were imitating them as more stones were raining down from above and concluded it was rather dangerous, especially as there were no warning signs on the top of the Tor![2] However, the open top to the cave explains the damp conditions that enabled the ferns to thrive.

Fern Cave was said to be 200 feet long and 50 feet deep[4]. "The Graphic" was to describe it as being "really a winding cliff or fissure in the rock, probably caused by some prehistoric shrinkage of the limestone of which it is composed"[5]. Another reviewer the same year (1929) commented that "This is really an open cleft running parallel with the edge of the precipice, and was almost certainly at some remote age the bed (or rather one of the beds) of the Derwent ... originally ran underground, and the roof of the Fern Cave had already fallen in when the water abandoned that course to flow solely through the channel adjacent, which had been more easily and rapidly eroded. Fern Cave was thus left high and dry as it is today"[6].

Boy Scouts from Boston in Lincolnshire visited in 1936. "After lunch had been eaten in the Park we climbed the lofty summit of High Tor and there explored the Fern Cave and the Roman caves, both of which interested and impressed us very much"[7].

In 1940 combined admission tickets for the Heights of Abraham, the High Tor Grounds and Lovers' Walks cost just 1s., with children under 14 being charged half the sum[8]. Tickets could be purchased from Matlock Bath station. By today's standards this does not seem to have been very much money for the upkeep or for provision of guides where needed.

View of the entrance to Fern Cave (enlargement of above), possibly 1930s.
A few iron bars at the "window" and a rustic gate at the bottom of some steep wooden steps.

Fern Cave is mentioned in:
"Holmes Hand Book to Matlock Bath & Neighbourhood", 1866. Admission was then 3d to enter the High Tor grounds and a further 6d to view the cave. Thomas Carding is also mentioned under The High Tor Grotto
"Croston's On Foot Through the Peak", 1868, chapter 13.

Also see:
Advertisement for Thomas Cardin's High Tor Grotto, Matlock Dale (also in Croston's)

"Approach to Fern Cave, High Tor, Matlock". Empire View Productions. Empire View 0152.15. Real Photograph by Charles N. Jamson (Copyright), Doncaster. Unused.
Postcard in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Information researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] "Derbyshire Courier", 20 February 1904. The Fern Cave and the Roman Caves were described as "part of the stock attractions of the district to summer visitors".

[2] "Derby Mercury", 2 July 1873. A Day Trip to Matlock (from Leeds).

[32] "Northampton Mercury", 23 July 1881. Nine hours at Matlock With the Band of Hope. The party seem to have caught a special train

[43] "Derbyshire Times", 26 August 1893. Round About Haddon

[5] "The Graphic", 4 May 1929. Fourfold Matlock. A Centre for Exquisite Scenery and Fascinating Caves.

[6] "Sheffield Daily Telegraph", 15 May 1929 Letter to the Editor from J.B.W.. " Then there is the so-called "Fern Cave" on the High Tor, Matlock ...."

[7] "Boston Guardian", 14 August 1936. Boston Scouts in Camp.

[8] "Nottingham Evening Post", 21 March 1940.