The Heights of Abraham at Matlock

The only time I’ve travelled by cable car to visit a cave.

Cable car, Matlock

I’ve visited Matlock in the south of England’s Peak District several times, but always stayed at the bottom of the gorge wandering round the shops and walking along the river.

When a friend and her seven year old son visited for the weekend, we decided to take a trip in the cable car up to the Heights of Abraham at the top of the gorge.

View of Matlock from cable car
View of Matlock taken from the cable car.

Although it was half term, it wasn’t particularly busy and we didn’t have to wait long for a cable car. The ticket price included a return trip on the cable car and all the attractions at the top.

Cable cars, Matlock

The enclosed area at the top is a lot larger than I was expecting and there was enough to do to make it easy to spend a whole day here. Especially with a young boy who wanted to have plenty of time to play in the adventure playground.

We didn’t have the whole day so did have to rush a bit. That didn’t stop us starting with lunch in the cafe though. The downstairs part of the cafe is self-service and was very busy. Upstairs is the restaurant with table service and this was much quieter and we were served straight away.

Then we were off to explore the many attractions.

There are two show caves. The main one – the Great Masson Cavern – is close by the cable car and restaurant, whilst the other one – the Great Rutland Cavern – is some way down the hill and involves an awful lot of steps.

Matlock Bath caves
The Great Masson Cavern

The tour lasted about an hour and we were given a lot of information about the caves and told stories from their past.

Matlock cave with pumpkin

As it was Halloween there were lots of pumpkin lanterns lighting the way through.

Although the caves did have electric lighting and some candlelight they were pretty dark inside. I had to use my flash to get anything to show up on my photos.

Matlock cave without flash
Without flash
Matlock cave with flash
Same place, but with flash

The caves have been mined for lead for centuries. It’s thought that even the Romans may have mined here. The lead became more difficult to find in the 19th century, a time when it was also becoming cheaper to import it. Fortunately this was also the time when tourism was becoming a ‘thing’ and the miners found new work as tour guides.

Great Masson Cavern, Matlock
A tour guide who wasn’t a former miner

The Great Masson Cavern first opened to the public in 1844. It was a bit of a latecomer to the party as the Great Rutland Cavern had been open since 1810 and there were already nine other caverns open for public viewing in Matlock.

It was in the early 1800s that ‘taking the waters’ became a popular health treatment and Matlock established itself as a fashionable spa town. Tours of the caverns provided an additional attraction for the health tourists.

Mine shaft at the Heights of Abraham
The cap over Tinker’s Shaft at the top of the Great Masson Cavern

Leaving the cave we walked up to the top of a mine shaft where we could see where the cavern shaft had been capped off and get good views of the area.

View from the Heights of Abraham

Within the Heights of Abraham area there is also a good visitor centre and a museum with fossils and gemstones. I particularly liked this fossilised ichthyosaur. It was a fish-shaped carnivorous sea-dwelling reptile that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.

ichthyosaur fossil

The grounds are nice to wander round too. There are plenty of interpretation panels, particularly here at this replica lead mining water chute.

lead mining water chute
Lead mining water chute

I felt a bit rushed as I tried to see and read and take in everything in the visitor centre and museum and completely missed out on climbing the Victoria Prospect Tower which had been built in 1844 to provide 360° views of the surrounding countryside. I also would have liked more time to explore the grounds.

Waterfall at Heights of Abraham

I wanted to make sure I saw the second show cave and so leaving the 7 year old and his mum in the adventure playground I hightailed it down the steps and just made it in time for the final tour of the day. Then I had to race back up the stairs to catch the final cable car down of the day.

Great Rutland Cavern, Matlock
Great Rutland Cavern

Moral of the story: don’t underestimate how much there is to do and allow a full day if you can. If you do finish everything by mid-afternoon you can go back down to the bottom and explore the small town which has shops, a museum and river walks.

Do you like visiting caves? Which do you recommend? Share in the comments below.

Author: Anne

Join me in my journey to live a life less boring, one challenge at a time.
Author of the forthcoming book ‘Walking the Kungsleden: One Woman’s Solo Wander Through the Swedish Arctic’.

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