Nestling beneath limestone cliffs with the River Derwent flowing below, in a beautiful wooded valley, is the popular tourist centre of Matlock Bath. The town has been a tourist attraction since visitors came to bathe in the thermal waters.
The name Matlock Bath, in fact, dates from the establishment of the first bath in the late l690s. It was little more than a stone structure filled by a thermal spring, with a constant temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit. As the number of visitors who came to benefit from the medicinal qualities of the warm spring water increased, some development to improve the facilities took place.
At first progress was slow, the amenities were poor and access to the town from the south very difficult. However, two factors hastened the improvement in business. Road improvements made Matlock Bath more accessible after 1780 and the French Revolution prevented foreign travel for the rich.
Matlock Bath’s beautiful scenery was compared to that of Switzerland and, together with the thermal qualities of the water, added to the attraction of the area. Facilities started to improve and the visits made by Queen Victoria, in 1832 and 1844, improved its reputation further.
Everything changed with the arrival of the Midland Railway, bringing with it day-trippers by the thousand. This quickly drove away the so-called ‘persons of quality’ to neighbouring Matlock Bank. Here, John Smedley had opened a hydropathic establishment, in much more genteel surroundings, well away from the hordes.
The site previously occupied by the hydro is now an aquarium. The former thermal pool provides a home for large mirror carp and other assorted fish - rather than the bathers of yesteryear, who hoped to relieve themselves of rheumatism.
Housed in the Grand Pavilion is the Peak District Mining Museum, the only one of its kind in the world. It tells the story of lead mining from Roman to recent times, in an interesting and innovative manner, with climbing shafts and tunnels providing a real insight into what working down in a lead mine was really like.
Close by is the Temple Mine which provides an opportunity to go underground on a guided tour to learn more about the history of mining. Reconstructions enabling you to see the mine as it was at the beginning of the century.
Part of the railway station has been converted into the Whistlestop Countryside Centre, where the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has created an exhibition and shop. In Victorian days, Matlock Bath, known as ‘Little Switzerland’ had the station built of Swiss design.
When Queen Victoria visited Matlock Bath in 1844, she ascended the Heights of Abraham on a donkey. Nowadays, visitors usually use the cable cars that first started to operate in 1984, or take the more strenuous option and walk.
The church of the Holy Trinity is a fine building of the early Victorian period, and in the car park next to it once stood the Royal Hotel, which had replaced the Old Bath Hotel, in 1878. Unfortunately, fire destroyed it in 1929.
A dramatic setting provides a natural backdrop for Gulliver’s Kingdom, a fantasyland for children. From a model village, it has grown into a theme park, providing fun and entertainment for the whole family.
The Fishpond Hotel stands on the site of stables, which belonged to the Old Bath Hotel. The sloping walkway originally led to the hotel, but now provides a route to the car park. Opposite, in the fishpond, at the southern end, immersed in the water is an old and very faded milestone.
One of the oldest buildings on the main road is probably Hodgkinson’s Hotel and Restaurant, which dates from 1780 and in former days was a coaching stage point. On the eastern bank of the river, over Jubilee Bridge, are the ‘Lovers’ Walks’ that provide a relaxing stroll in contrast to the bustling main street.
Matlock Bath is a popular haunt for serious rock-climbers who test their ability against the sheer rock face of High Tor. For those who just want to walk, ‘The Grand Walk’ provides fine views all the way to the top.
The highlights of the year are the Illuminations and Venetian Nights, which start in early September and continue until the end of October. The riverbanks, decorated by illuminated displays and the cliffs floodlit, offer a truly memorable show. The climaxes of the Venetian Nights, on Saturdays and Sundays, are when decorated boats, with coloured lights twinkling, glide down the river. A magical experience enjoyed by people of all ages.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Mining Museum and Temple Mine (Tel. 01629 583834) where you get a very realistic impression of what the conditions used to be like for men who toiled underground. After completing your absorbing tour of the museum you can visit Temple Mine that has been worked since 1922. The museum is open daily throughout the year. Temple Mine is open on a reduced basis in the winter. For further information see the special feature
National Stone Centre, Wirksworth (Tel. 01629 824833) tells the story of stone, its geological and industrial history. The exhibition inside shows how advanced technology makes use of stone in an incredible number of ways. Outside the visitor centre, the quarry trail takes you back over three million years. Open every day 10-4pm during the winter and 10-5pm in the summer.
The Heights of Abraham (Tel. 01629 582365) where you can take a spectacular journey by cable car to explore two show caverns, follow woodland trails and enjoy the magnificent view from the Treetops café and restaurant. For further information website: www.heights-of-abraham.co.uk
The Midland Hotel (Tel. 01629 582630) located by the bridge over the Derwent leading to the railway station. The wonderfully sited river gardens and terrace are a very popular place with visitors in the summer. Food available lunchtime and evening daily in the summer, please check for winter arrangements.
Teashops - the main street is lined with cafes and restaurants to suit all tastes.
THE DISCOVER DERBYSHIRE AND THE PEAK DISTRICT GUIDE
Provides a wide range of features with heritage trails and detailed countryside walks, through some of the most scenically attractive countryside in the UK.
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MATLOCK BATH WALK
Superb views are guaranteed on this short walk at any time of the year, but best of all on a sunny day when the trees are not in full leaf.
During the early stages of the walk the Heights of Abraham can be seen. In the summer, cable cars glide back and forth, taking visitors to the top of the pleasure grounds that have been in use since the 1780s.
Across the valley is the spectacular High Tor, and behind that the village of Starkholmes. Distant glimpses can be had of Riber Castle, built by John Smedley as his retirement home, which until recently housed a wildlife sanctuary.
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