If you’re ever near the Peak District, Matlock Bath is well worth a stop. It’s a small little town just on the outskirts of the Peak District, not to be confused with the larger town of Matlock just two miles north of Matlock Bath.
Matlock Bath is an old spa town, in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales. In 1698, three thermal springs were discovered, which led to Matlock Bath becoming a health spa retreat in the Victorian times. They claimed the water had medicinal properties, which, of course attracted many visitors.
The first ‘bath’ was constructed soon after the discovery of these springs, which was made of wood and lined with lead, and gave Matlock ‘Bath’ its name. Apparently poet Lord Byron compared the town to alpine Switzerland, which gave the village the nickname of “Little Switzerland” or “England’s Switzerland”. There are similar stories about other places in England like Devon, though, so I guess it’s not overly original.
The village of Matlock Bath is essentially just one main street along the River Derwent, with arcades, tearooms, fish and chip shops, pubs, and little shops. But it’s quaint, and pretty, and has a lovely charm to it. In the summer, there’s always tons of motorcycles along the promenade. In the off season, the town’s pretty quiet.
There are some lovely walking trails on the opposite side of the river, which can be reached by pedestrian bridges crossing the river. They’re actually called “Lover’s Walks” and trail alongside the river as well as up the cliffs. I was here later in the afternoon, so didn’t have time for an actual hike and opted to walk the main paths up the river and back down the main street.
The path along the river leads to cascades, a natural outfall from the thermal springs into the river. Here’s a picture of the Jubilee Bridge, which opened in 1887 for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, connecting the main promenade to the Lover’s Walks.
If you’re looking for a more intense walk, you can actually walk from Matlock Bath to Matlock via High Tor (roughly 2.5 mile walk). High Tor is one of England’s highest inland cliffs, at 300ft.
On my walk back down the main street, I stopped in to Matlock Bath Aquarium and Arcade. It’s a whole £3.30 entrance fee, which is a bit of a hint itself as to how exciting it is. I’m not a big fan of aquariums or fish anyway, so I suppose I’m not the best judge of the place. But it does have a petrifying well, where objects are turned to stone.
This place is also the site of another thermal spring, which used to be a bath house but now holds a bunch of big koi. You can feed them if you like.
It’s not a very big place, so I didn’t spend a whole lot of time here. The last room you go through is a bit random… a gallery of holograms and china and a bit of history. But all in all, for the couple quid it costs, might as well give it a look yourself.
Other things to do in Matlock Bath include the Peak District Mining Museum and Temple Mine, Masson Mills – an old cotton mill with a working textile museum; both of which were closed when I visited on a Sunday afternoon. And for the kiddos there’s Gulliver’s Kingdom – a family theme park.
Across the valley, set atop the hilltop overlooking Matlock and Matlock Bath, is Riber Castle. It was built in the 1860s for John Smedley, the man who the grand hydropathic hotel in Matlock which offered its guests hydropathic treatments. The hotel building is now the County Hall in Matlock.
Sadly, Riber Castle was derelict for many years. I was told it now houses apartments. I didn’t actually make it to the castle, but was admiring it from the Heights of Abraham. It’s difficult to see, but if you squint your eyes just right, you can see it in the picture below on the hilltop across the way…
Fun fact of the day – The Heights of Abraham have a connection to Canada, believe it or not… The wooded hillside in Matlock Bath known as the “Heights” are believed to be named after the “Heights of Abraham” in Quebec, which British troops scaled in the mid 1700’s.
In Matlock Bath, The Heights of Abraham sit on the top of the hillside overlooking Matlock, with Matlock Bath at the base of the Heights. People have been visiting the Heights since the 1780s, when visitors had to walk up very steep, winding paths to get to the top. In 1984, a cable car was built to save visitors from such exercise… and I must say, I was very thankful to not have to hike up a very steep hill in nearly 30 degree weather!
The Heights are open daily from 10am to 4:30pm, from mid-March until November. Buying a ticket at the base of the cable car for £17 will get you a trip up and back, plus access to everything at the top of the hill.
The views from the cable car and the Heights are incredible – you can see for miles and miles, and it really didn’t feel like I was in the centre of England.
Once you arrive at the summit, you have free access to the Treetops Visitor Centre, with a bar and restaurant, Terrace Cafe, and gift shop, the Victoria Prospect Tower, the Great Masson Cavern, Great Rutland Cavern and Tavern, Tinkers Mine Shaft, Masson Pavilion, High Falls, and the Long View and Fossil Factory.
The Great Masson Cavern and Great Rutland Cavern tours take you through some massive underground caves, which used to be used by lead miners. The tours are really interesting with great tour guides. I don’t have many pictures that aren’t blurry, unfortunately… Taking pictures while walking in dark, slippery caves is not advised.
After making my way through the caves, I headed over to Tinkers Mine Shaft (which is literally just a closed off mine shaft…) but you can see some great views of Matlock and Matlock Bath.
I climbed up Victoria Prospect Tower for some more views…
Then made my way back down in the cable cars to the train station, to head back home to Nottingham after a lovely afternoon spent in the splendid little town of Matlock Bath.