We’re off over the border into the wild and windy badlands of the Peak District in Derbyshire at Speedwell Cavern and The Devil’s Arse Peak Cavern. Off to see how the other half live, obviously they live underground.
Starting at Speedwell Cavern, we’re at the foot of Winnits Pass to dip down to the deepest part of the cavern. This is undertaken by stooping down 106 steps to a waiting boat in the tunnel below. A boat ride to an an underground cavern with the name called the “The Bottomless Pit.” I can’t work out if this is a Bond villain’s secret lair or a trip on some shitter version on Willy Wonka’s chocolate river. Incidentally, I am informed by those in the know, Google, that the boat in Willy Wonka was called the Wonkatonia. It would be quite easy to rename this boat placing an ‘A’ instead of the ‘O’ if I don’t like the cavern. Decorum prohibits me from saying the name but it’s spelt Wankatania.
Our guide looks like a poor Ed Sheeran who got dressed in the dark. I was assured though that he is very knowledgeable. Not surprising then that the journey on the boat is in complete darkness. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to catch much of his speech as a mother sitting next to me thoughtfully decided to place her screaming child at shoulder height aimed directly at my good ear for the time it took on the boat to get to the cavern. My only entertainment throughout this time was the thought of how best to murder strangers in complete darkness to match the screams of the child at my ear.
Eventually arriving at Speedwell Cavern, we disembark in the limestone cave to find it not quite cavernous. Sure its got a high ceiling and a few stalactites hanging down but you really can’t see that much. You can’t climb down to the bottomless pit, which surprise surprise turns out not to be bottomless. It’s supposed to be a deep vertical shaft but now filled with water and tons of rock spoil dumped by miners. Our guide assures us Speedwell Cavern is Britain’s least successful lead mine. Combined with the tour cost and the parking fee, he’s really selling this place to us. Instead of the boat trip and banging your head and trapping your fingers against the narrow tunnel to the cavern, I can’t help but think that this experience could be improved by forcing visitors to swim the 800 metres in the 3 degree cold water to the cavern may make them appreciate the place more. Those who perish along they way can be dumped in the bottomless pit along with your excitement.
Hot off the back of disappointment, off we trot Peak Cavern, also known by the much racier name of the Devil’s Arse. Now my dog has been known to make some pretty turgid noises and pungent smells, toxic cloud so thick can emanate from his rear end that a foggy haze envelops the room and you can choke it’s so thick. Surprised Hans Blix and UN weapons inspectors aren’t called every time the dog farts to test for chemical weapons. I’m pretty sure he’s got the Devil’s Arse, most people encountering it would probably agree, So to call yourself the Devil’s Arse is one proud boast you’d better live up to.
Arriving at the cave, we exchange hard cash for access to this almost entirely natural cave. Apparently, it was also home to some of Britain’s last troglodytes who use to make rope for a living. To be honest, I’n not sure they’ve all left. First up, a demonstration. I get stringed along and used as a guinea pig for rope making. I didn’t get paid and pretty sure I saw the rope I made on sale in the gift shop on the way out. I’ve just been used as slave labour. Tory Britain has truly returned to Victorian values.
Travelling further down the cave requires more stooping, ducking underneath some interesting avens and a noticeable drop in temperature as we venture down, its amazing how low some people will go to get a good view of a cave. Eventually we pass through the chambers of the great cave of the Orchestra Gallery and Roger Rain’s house. The amount of water dripping from the ceiling onto the delicate electronics of your camera while you attempt to take photographs should give you a clue with the name.
In 1880, the Devil’s Arse was renamed to Peak Cavern in order to avoid causing any offence to the dour Queen Victoria when she visited here. Turns out The Devil’s Arse name is due to flatulent sounding noises that the water flowing from the cave can make, we didn’t hear any, not a squeak. One is not amused.
You can find out more about Speedwell Cavern and Devil’s Arse Peak Cavern here.