Speedwell cavern

Speedwell Cavern in the Peak District National Park is a wonderful destination for families to have a subterranean adventure in a boat. The temperature remains more or less constant 10c, 52f as caves generally do, so it is a comfortable medium all year round.

There are one hundred and six steps down to the boat, where you are guided through the tunnel by a truly knowledgeable and friendly staff member who will give you a highly informative and fun tour below ground.

Due to the occasionally wet and possibly slippery steps down to the boat, It isn’t accessible for those with mobility problems. 

Steps down to Speedwell cavern

Speedwell Cavern was once a lead mine which dated back to 1771. Health and safety back in its mining days was, well, pretty much non-existent, but now you have fixed lighting, thank goodness, not tallow candles as the lead miners would have relied upon, and hard hats that are at the top of the steps ready to wear before you descend down the steps, even little hard hats for children.

Social Wellness Walks
Hard hats

My grandson enjoyed wearing his little hard hat, and he looked quite cute in in it too. The original steps into the cavern were completed by 1778.

Before the steps were carved and the original entrance was completed there was a twenty-eight-metre-deep shaft to descend into the cavern space. 

The original shaft is now marked by a flagpole in the car park.  Even in the early days there would have been boat trips in Speedwell cavern, I imagine it would have brought in some extra income.  

Caves and shadow in Speedwell

Lead Mining

From the earliest record of lead mining at the site there was active work for around twenty years on and off, this would have been extremely hard and dangerous work in the pitch dark with only tallow candles to light the way.

The blast holes can still be seen in the cave walls as the boat passes through the tunnel. Each blast hole took around two hours to produce using extremely basic and dangerous methods.

It was a two-man operation using a manual drill that was turned by hand and the second miner hit it with a six-kilogram sledgehammer, one turn at a time.

It would have taken fifteen to twenty of these holes for each blast. For each blast every hole had to be filled with black gunpowder and sealed up with a bung and then a straw fuse was used to fire the blast, timing of this was very random and so speed in getting away from the blast point was paramount, the miners would cram themselves into a safety hole and wait for the almighty blast. This is what I mean when I say there was no safety involved in the lead mining industry.

The tunnel took just over four years to complete fully. The mining was not a profitable concern since the records show that £14,000 was spent on the whole mine set up from start to finish and only £3,000 was gained in profit. 

Cave systems in Peak District
Boarding the boat

Cave Network

There is a substantial network of caves linked to the Speedwell Cavern that are explored by registered and experienced cavers. There is in total around thirteen miles of interconnected caves, some of which are more extreme to explore than others.

The cave system includes a connection to the Peak Cavern which is also known as The Devil’s Arse! It is beneath Peveril Castle and Cavedale, and has the largest natural cave entrance in the British Isles.  

This area of Derbyshire, Castleton village, is known for its spectacular cave systems. 

Tour inside Speedwell Castleton

Location and Booking Information

Speedwell Cavern is located high above Castleton Village in the Derbyshire Peak District, beside the iconic Winnats Pass.  

The address:

Winnats Pass
Hope Valley
S33 8WA

To book an underground boat adventure or for further information on opening times and enquiries go to the Speedwell Cavern website

Family Adventure Peak District


The car park can be found opposite the cavern entrance using the same post code. This is a pay and display car park for cars and a discount is available for cavern visitors.

Coach parking is also available, ask about availability using the Speedwell Cavern website for more information about coach visits and school or large groups. 

Blue John and gifts at Speedwell
Paul Newman Speedwell cavern

Personal experience

We had a great family visit to Speedwell Cavern together with our five your old grandson, Elijah. We have been visiting the site for years now, since our two eldest sons were small, so it was lovely to come along with our second eldest son, James, and his son this time.

The five of us including our daughter Jemma booked for a late afternoon boat tour. It was a fascinating and fun subterranean journey.

Our grandson, Elijah had the time of his life taking the boat through the tunnel, he was taking in everything as he always does, asking daddy questions all the way.

The young tour guide was great at telling the tales of the lead miners and explaining the conditions they would have experienced in their daily lives underground.

The guide was very knowledgeable and approachable, he made the tour a lot of fun while giving us an informative tour through the Speedwell Cavern below the Peak District hills.

Winnats Pass

We highly recommend a visit whether you are a family or visiting as an individual, it’s an amazing adventure underground with lots of history included. Even the actor, Paul Newman visited them back in the day. 

The gift shop offers a great variety of gifts, from souvenirs, postcards, toys and beautiful pottery items to stunning jewellery, I especially like the locally sourced and rare Blue John stone jewellery.

Blue John is a rare form of fluorite, a semi-precious gem with bands of blue and yellow colour in it, it is only found at Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern in Castleton in the Derbyshire Peak District, UK.

The gift shop also sells a good variety of refreshments, including bottled water and snacks too. I recommend exploring Castleton village while you are here, it has so much to offer, you can visit some of the other caves, or Peveril Castle whilst in the area.

Titan cave shaft Derbyshire

If you love the local Blue John semi-precious gems like I do, you could visit more gorgeous jewellery shops. Make a day of it by stopping for dinner at the local restaurants, cafes and pubs and make use of the large pay and display carpark with toilets.

A beautiful area and an excellent, highly recommended experience at Speedwell Caverns. 

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