Last Updated on 1 October 2023 by Rich
I’m sure if you’re like us, during the summer of 2023 you will have been confronted by a weather forecast that is grey, wet and miserable. You’ll also probably have run out of all the ideas that you can think of that would make a great wet weather day out for the kids? Well, nestled deep underground, near the village of Castleton in the Hope Valley in Derbyshire lies one of England’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders – the Blue John Cavern. This ancient cave system formed over 300 million years ago and gets its name from the unique Blue John fluorite mineral found on its walls and formations. It also just so happens to be a perfect idea for wet weather days out!
✅ Perfect for cold and wet weather – the caves remain a constant temperature throughout the year
✅ Stunning scenery outside the caves and incredible within the caves
✅ Perfect for kids to feel like they’re exploring, making physical activity fun
✅ Brilliant tour guides who bring the caves and their history to life
🤔 Some tricky parts to climb for young kids but the hardest part is limited to the first descent – read this
🤔 Parking is provided by the Peak District Authority and limited across the whole of the Peak District. However, we’ve never not been able to get parked at the Blue John Cavern but it can be tricky (see note)
❌ Nothing of note
With stunning geological formations, spacious caverns and not too tricky sets of stairs, the Blue John Caverns makes for an unforgettable family day out from Manchester and the surrounding area. Read on as we give you the complete lowdown on visiting these magnificent caverns with kids!
- A Short History of the Blue John Caverns
- Taking in the Scale and Layout of Blue John Caverns
- Ideal Family-Friendly Features of Blue John Caverns
- Visiting With Kids – Our Top 4 Highlights
- Practical Information – Tickets, Timing and More
- Plan Your Family Adventure to Blue John Caverns!
A Short History of the Blue John Caverns
Nestled in the beautiful Hope Valley not too far from Disley and Lyme Park, Blue John was first discovered by the Romans around 2,000 years ago, Blue John is not only Britain’s rarest mineral, but also the only location (so far) known for it to exist across the world. In recent years, it has allegedly been found in excavations in Pompeii.
Excavation of this mineral has largely been done by hand with most of the excavation happening over the last 500yrs. According to our tour guide – George, it was with the assistance of some French miners who came over during this period that the name ‘Blue John’ came into existence.
The colour of the precious stone can have a blue – yellow tint to it. In French, this translates to ‘blue-jaune’. The local Derbyshire miners had no idea what this translated to, but kept hearing ‘blue jaune’. They came to like the name and decided to call it Blue John.
Taking in the Scale and Layout of Blue John Caverns
The standard walking tour through Blue John Caverns covers just a small section of the vast cave network. You can only visit the caves as part of a guided tour. You can’t book these online so arrive and then you may potentially have a 15 – 30 minute wait for the next tour. However, there is a little cafe selling basic refreshments and a shop selling some Blue John jewellery to keep you occupied.
The tour starts from the entrance tunnel fitted with lighting and safety rails. After a short descent (90 steps), you emerge into the grand first cavern with towering columns and fascinating banded Blue John seams in the walls. Kids will love spotting shapes and objects in the rocky walls and high ceiling here!
Fun Fact: The farthest point of the standard Blue John Caverns tour lies around 150 metres underground.
Beyond the Pillars lies the aptly named Giant’s Cavern with walls rising up to 12 metres. See if you can spot the distinctive Great Pyramid structure as you walk through this massive space.
The caverns save some of their most mesmerising formations for the end of the tour.
Kids will be thrilled to count over 295 steps in and out on the walking route through the caves. These are in sets of steps of around 50 – 90 steps at a time.
Sam was probably the youngest on the tour. He’s very headstrong so would never allow me to carry him. However, at the same time, there were definitely parts that I would not feel comfortable carrying him, due to the steps being wet and deep, with narrow spaces. The first part of the tour was definitely the hardest. There are 90 steps at this part of the tour and they do feel like they take for ages. However, once you get past this section, it’s pretty straightforward. It’s also easier going up than down!
This is one thing to consider when visiting. It would be fine to go with young babies carried in a sling, whilst Mila had no problems at all. But the 2 – 4 ish age range is a difficult age to assess suitability.
We went at the back and went at his pace. But just be mindful of this!
There is no way you could take a pram or stroller!
Ideal Family-Friendly Features of Blue John Caverns
While beautiful caves exist across England, few match the family-friendly layout of Blue John Caverns. Key highlights that make it an ideal family day out include:
- Overall gradual gradients and spacious tunnels generally perfect for children and adults alike. Avoid strollers and push chairs!
- Permanent lighting and secure rails throughout the route. Say goodbye to bumping in the dark!
- Interactive learning – Kids can touch mineral samples including cave snot!
- Underground streams – Spot an impressive subterranean river!
- Gift shop – Pick up educational souvenirs for kids to remember the day.
- Picnic spot – Enjoy your packed lunch just outside the caves after the tour.
Important Note: The caves maintain a constant 10°C temperature regardless of time of year, so bring sweaters!
Visiting With Kids – Our Top 4 Highlights
While every corner of Blue John Caverns captivates, below we pick 4 of the most memorable features for kids and families:
1. The Mysterious Entrance Tunnel
Lit by atmospheric bulbs, the entrance tunnel is narrow and winding – perfect for igniting kids’ imaginations before they even enter the main caverns! It feels like stepping into a fantasy novel.
2. Incredible Stone Formations
The caverns feature incredible stone structures. The best being one that resembles an owl? The Devil? A fox? See if you can find it and have fun working out what it looks like!
3. The Suspended Formations
Marvel at nature’s wonders like the magnificent wall of miners’ snot. The touch, feel and name is guaranteed to impress young kids!
4. The Winding Stone Stairways
Kids can let their energy loose navigating up and down the winding 295 stone steps! It adds a sense of adventure and discovery to the underground journey.
Practical Information – Tickets, Timing and More
To help plan your visit, here are some key things you need to know about visiting the caves:
Tickets: Admission starts from £18 for adults and £11 for kids (5-15 years). Children under 5 go free. They do not sell tickets online.
Opening Hours: The caverns are open from 9.30am to 3pm The first tour starts at 10am and the last tour is at 3pm.
Parking: Free onsite parking for cars is available at the Blue John Cavern. Parking is managed by the Peak District National Park. Due to the obvious need to manage car parking spaces as it’s a national park, the amount of parking provided by the organisation is relatively limited. On top of that, you’re competing with hikers looking to explore nearby Mam Tor. We’ve been out to the Blue John Cavern a few times over the years and never had problems getting a space, but just bear this in mind when visiting.
Refreshments: There is a small ‘cafe’ selling drinks and snacks available onsite. The nearest places for more of a substantial meal are 1 mile away in Castleton.
Walking Time: Allow around 50 minutes for the tour.
Plan Your Family Adventure to Blue John Caverns!
An excursion to the wondrous Blue John Caverns in Derbyshire promises an unforgettable day out with the family. Kids will be spellbound by the sheer magic of these caverns and their special mineral formations.
The spacious tunnels, gradual gradients, and interactive elements make Blue John Caverns ideal for families to visit together. Your kids are guaranteed to sleep well after a day of discovery and adventure here!
So don’t hesitate to plan your own underground voyage to Castleton and the Peak District. Just pack some warm clothing and a camera to capture those amazing subterranean sights.
Let us know about your experience exploring the natural marvels of Blue John Caverns!
And if you need somewhere to stretch your legs on your way out to, or back from the cavern and you are based in central or southern Manchester, be sure to check out Poynton Park, a great little spot to burn off some energy.