19th C primitive-landscape-of-high-tor-matlock-1273-3

This appendix forms part of the ‘Bub Notebook’.

The appendix has no defined structure unless you see ‘rattlebag’ as structure, it’s an evolving set of lists, quotes, asides, memories, a blurry storyline, my own kind of ‘songline’. The appendix is based on a growing number of postcards in my collection featuring the prominent limestone outcrop High Tor which dominates the Derwent gorge between Matlock and Matlock Bath in Derbyshire. This is it’s first iteration, and will be added to as new information comes to light.

I became fascinated by the number of variations on a single theme available, that fascination prompted memories and digging.

High Tor 009update

“Throughout the mid and late 18th century it was a popular subject for artists seeking to capture “the picturesque scenery”. In the 19th century, the geological and botanical interest of the Tor became an additional attraction. By the 1830’s a show cave at the foot of the rock, the “High Tor Grotto” was opened to the paying public, approached via a newly erected wooden bridge. (This was subsequently replaced by a suspension bridge, now dismantled). During the mid 19th century, a network of paths was “at such labour and expense” constructed up the hillsides and across the summit of the Tor to enable visitors to experience the spectacular panoramic views. This was the work of Richard Arkwright, later Sir Richard, world renowned industrialist and entrepreneur of nearby Cromford. His descendant, Peter Arkwright, continued the work by constructing the “Grand Walk”, a cobbled roadway from Pic Tor to the summit, around 1857. By 1865 a further attraction, the Fern Cave was opened to the public.” (Reference HERE)

“The monument includes a group of rock cut clefts, produced by the mining of lead ore from sub-vertical veins. It lies close to the summit of High Tor, a prominent limestone crag. The two main clefts are `Roman Cave’ (running east-west and forming the southern part of the monument) and `Fern Cave’ (running north from the western part of `Roman Cave’). Both are 2m-5m wide and up to 20m deep, with surviving tool marks on their sides and small underground workings at their bases. There are smaller clefts adjacent to the west end of Roman Cave, and to the west of the central and northern parts of Fern Cave. Fern Cave terminates to the north as an impressive cleft in the cliff of High Tor, where a spoil heap indicates the site of an adit running beneath the exposed workings. The west end of Roman Cave is separated by an infilled length from the cliff face, but an adit and spoil heap in the cliff confirm the presence of workings throughout this length. Archaeological deposits remain in the infilled length, and in the bases of the clefts, where they may well overlie underground workings. Workings are documented here from the 16th to the 18th centuries; an earlier origin is possible, but there is no evidence for Roman working, despite the popular name. The scheduling excludes modern fences, a wooden kiosk at the east end, and modern tarmac paths, but the ground beneath these features is included.”

We played in the fern caves as children, the cousins, my sister and me. Most weren’t caves in any real sense at all, simply narrow clefts, gullies in the limestone where miners had followed rakes of lead that broke the surface, down into the hillside. They were little more than the span of a man’s outstretched arms wide, but deep enough to cause the rising sheer sides to leave only a narrow slit of sky in view. They were dark and mysterious and, being strictly out-of-bounds, were a massive attraction to us kids. They regularly formed part of our den-making, underground and overground chases and exploration games. Occasionally the connecting passages between rakes would tunnel into solid rock for short adrenaline-surge sections. When we were younger these were our boundary points, our ‘no-go areas’, but as we grew older and grew more adventurous we used the inky passages to sneak unseen nearer and nearer to the old cafe that sat on the clifftop. This was the early seventies, there were no health & safety considerations then. I don’t recall any of us coming to any kind of significant harm and, despite the odd panicky moment and the odd bumped head, we survived the fern caves. They were part of our outdoor childhood, a small intense and vivid world.

High Tor 010 update

Climbs: 111
Rocktype: Limestone
Altitude: 150m a.s.l
Faces: W
Crag features simply the best limestone outcrop in the country containing face climbing of outstanding quality.
Routes (up to 60m long)like Debauchary (E1 5b,5b), Darius (E2 4c, 5c), Robert Brown (E3 5c, 5b), Supersonic (E5 6a), Flaky Wall (E4 5c), Castellan (E5 6b,6a) and Bastille (E6 6b) are the most well known of a huge number of high quality routes here.
Of the few easy routes, Skylight (VS 4c) and Highlight (HVS 5a) and are well worth doing.
Only two sport routes, the best being Pump Out the Squeelies (7b+). Mad Max has also recently been sportingly bolted to give another tough ‘sport’ route. A large section of rock has fallen from the left wing leaving one of the bolt belays very close to the scar. Recommend avoiding this belay if at all possible. [7/06] (Reference HERE)

High Tor 011 update

“The imposing High Tor, which dominates Matlock Dale below, is reputed to be the last place in England where eagles nested.

This popular attraction was upgraded by Derbyshire Dales District Council as part of the Matlock Parks Project, an ambitious £3.6m five-year Heritage Lottery Fund supported programme to restore five historic parks and pleasure grounds. The project was completed in 2008.

Geological activity left a variety of minerals and ores which have been mined in the Matlock Valley for centuries, lead being the most dominant it having been mined in the area since Roman times. High Tor contains numerous lead mines with the most obvious being near the summit now known as Fern and Roman Caves. Workings are recorded here from the 16th to the 18th centuries. An earlier origin is possible, although there is no evidence for Roman working, despite the popular name.

A growing number of visitors came to Matlock Bath during the 18th and early 19th centuries to sample the thermal waters, as first the French Revolution and then the Napoleonic Wars raged in Europe. Then in 1849 the railway arrived, bringing day trippers. This growing visitor pressure prompted the High Tor Grounds to be created and opened to the public by their owner Peter Arkwright (grandson of Sir Richard Arkwright, founder of the mills at nearby Cromford).

New walks and a carriage ride to the summit were created, along with the cliff ledge path ‘Giddy Edge’. The two lead mines – Fern and Roman ‘Caves’ – were opened as official visitor attractions. High Tor continued to be a tourist attraction when in 1879 the Matlock and High Tor Recreation Company leased the grounds from the Arkwright family and reopened the grounds in 1880 complete with new entrance from Matlock Bath and a refreshment building on the summit.

Although the grounds were bought by Matlock Urban District Council in 1924, the Matlock & High Tor Recreation Company stewardship of the High Tor Grounds continued until 1975 when the District Council took over the management and maintenance. Regrettably, the former ‘Caves’ are no longer open to the public, due to health and safety concerns.

The Matlock Parks Project included woodland management, a new entrance at the Matlock Bath end near to the Cable Car Base Station, together with improvements to fencing, paths and viewing areas.” (Reference HERE)


Look closely at the postcards and yes, it there’s, the hint of an outline of a tree which, in my childhood, still clung to the uppermost reaches of the sheerest and most precipitous part of the cliff. The tree, a stubby bonsai of a thing grew horizontally from the clifftop and out into the void. That gravity-defying tree held a special fascination, our ‘singing-ringing tree’. It beguiled us.

For me, it was enough to crawl on my belly towards the cliff, and with my head and inch over the giddy edge of rock, find reassurance by holding onto one of its lower branches. Not so for Tom Kelly…

We’d walked up through the fern caves one afternoon. We’d moved up to the grammar school the previous Autumn and these were the first weeks of the Summer holidays at the end of our first year in secondary school. I sat on a rock step some way from the sheer. Simply looking straight ahead, all too aware of the abyss a few steps away. Terrifying and as fascinating as a cobra. Tom Kelly stood. Then walked forward.

A few paces from the cliff edge he turned, grinned and ran. RAN! Straight ahead and over the edge of the cliff.

I leapt up, wanting to scream but the scream froze in my throat and turned to anger, as Tom grabbed the tree at the last moment and with deft athleticism swung out into thin air with such momentum that he circled the tree and landed back on solid ground rocking with laughter and breathless from the adrenalin surge of his short, insane flight. I punched him, then turned as my eyes filled with tears.

High Tor 012 update

“High Tor is a lofty limestone crag which towers over Matlock Bath which used to be privately owned but now belongs to the local authority. This means that entrance is free, whereas at one time a fee had to be paid by visitors, including the climbers who scaled the sheer face of the crag to get there! The view from the summit area of the tor is very impressive, all the more so because the cliff edge is totally unfenced and even those with a head for heights are likely to find the drop unnerving. There is an excellent view of Matlock Bath and the Heights of Abraham on the opposite hill. For those with strong nerves a narrow walkway called ‘Giddy Ledge’ winds around a section of the cliff and even though this is not the highest buttress of the tor, the situation is impressive. Behind the tor summit are Fern and Roman caves, deep clefts in the rock which are not natural caves but lead veins which have been worked to a depth of up to 10 metres and a width of between one and two metres. These workings are undateable but are probably among the oldest in the area and may even be Roman in origin. Both ‘caves’ are accessible. Roman cave is well over 100 metres long and it is possible to walk along the bottom of it quite easily. At the south (railway station) end of the tor grounds there is the terminus for the cable car to the Heights of Abraham, the lazy way to ascend the hill on the opposite bank. This operates in summer months only. The park can be approached on foot from the railway station, or from the road to Starkholmes, but the best approach is to start from the Artists’ Corner carpark on the A6, cross the bridge which is 100 metres upstream and enjoy the spectacular walk up the edge of the cliff above the River Derwent to the tor.” (Reference HERE)

High Tor 013 update

“Soon I came to a pillared gateway and archway indicating I was about to enter High Tor Grounds. Taking the invite willingly I did so and immediately began a winding climb up through delightful woodland. At several points I came across signs warning of the dangers around. They read “The BMC recognises that climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury and death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement” Strong words indeed, I heeded the words and continued with caution. The path through the wood was no risk however and sticking to the path the thing to do. I was aware that exposed edges were nearby though. On occasion near to the path on the west side of the zigzag up were more warning signs nailed to sections of fence. These said “STRICTLY NO PUBLIC ACCESS. This is not a public footpath and is not maintained by Derbyshire Dales District Council” I did not cross over the fences. Soon after I discovered why as I emerged on the proper path to open ground. Once there I walked carefully towards the edge of the bank and crawled a little further to peep over the edge of a sheer limestone cliff to the deep expanse of the gorge. It was awesome and toe curling at the same time. The view down to the traffic passing along the A6 was stunning as was the sight of the tree lined River Derwent flowing parallel to the road. Looking to my right and left the limestone cliff and its scattered shades of grey and white was sight to behold. I laid down still and safe with my head over the edge for quite a while taking it all in before crawling backwards slowly and then safely standing to continue the walk. As I did by crossing a field and then following a track down toward Old Matlock I looked over to Riber Castle, another awesome sight. And there was more still, a fantastic view of the terraced rows of houses on Matlock Bank in the new town. It was all so extra special and with all to behold I bounded down the track in high spirits.” (Reference HERE)

High Tor 014 update

high tor bridge entrance

More to follow soon…


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